J. Mark Bertrand reviews a new, rather different set of God’s Word for readers. “This is a beautiful concept executed beautifully. It’s one of the best editions I have ever covered at Bible Design Blog.”
Researchers at Google Brain are having their artificial intelligence read 11,000 novels to improve its sense of language. At least one author thinks that a weird idea and wonders why she wasn’t asked for her permission before her book was used. The books used were supposedly unpublished and free for download. Should a company like Google be expected to pay for the books its machine reads, or does it matter since the books were all available as free downloads?
“Seth Grahame-Smith, author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Unholy Night(among other titles), is being sued by Hachette Book Group for breach of contract,” reports Locus Online this week. Hachette says they agreed to publish two new books from Grahame-Smith after publishing Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter in 2010, and they did receive one manuscript, but the second one, after some months delay, was, according to The Guardian, “too short and substandard, ‘in large part an appropriation of a 120-year-old public domain work’ (unnamed, but presumably 1897’s Dracula).”
I owe you an update. You know I’m done with my graduate work. That’s kind of an annoyance, in a way, because I’d gotten used to using school as an all-purpose excuse. “Gee, I’d like to help you move on Saturday, but golly, I’ve just got so much homework to do!”
Hard on the heels of that consummation, I was asked to do another edit on the Viking book I translated. I did that, and then when I had sent it in I re-considered and asked to have it back for one more pass. Because I like to do these things right. I have an idea that this translation will be a large part of the footprint I leave behind in this life.
Yesterday they sent me a draft cover for the book (to be called Viking Legacy, by Torgrim Titlestad). I’d share it with you, but I don’t have permission to. And it’ll probably change anyway. But I felt a quiet swelling of pride in my chest when I saw it. It’ll be good. Watch for it. This fall. Sometime.
Looks like I’ll be having some more translation work to do in the future too. I’m going to have to work out how to balance that with my novel writing.
I have been working on the next novel too, though. The problem is that this one’s a toughy. Of all the books in the Erling series, this will be the hardest to plot. It involves the lowest point in Erling’s life, and by extension in Father Ailill’s. I’ve got to figure out how to keep this one from combining the optimistic sparkle of Dostoevsky with the cheery fun of Game of Thrones.
Last night one of the characters did something I didn’t see coming. I’m still working out (while time is paused in his world) how Ailill will react.
Jonathan Yeager tells Thomas Kidd about the great puritan preacher’s desires for the appearance of his work in print. No doubt, he would have loved today’s world of easy publishing.
Edwards was a meticulous author, and wanted his books to look a certain way. He was not the best judge on how his books should be printed, if the purpose was for them to sell well. Edwards wanted his books to have wide margins, generous line spacing, and to be printed on fine paper, with good type, and priced affordably. The model for Edwards was his book Misrepresentations Corrected, published in 1752. Ironically, Misrepresentations Corrected was his worst-selling book! A key reason, I believe, was that it was not economically printed. If a printer allows the use of wide margins and generous line spacing, it follows that it would require more pages, and therefore would be more costly.
Edwards vocalized his disgust with the way that his book Religious Affections was published in 1746, probably because it was concisely printed, with tightly cropped margins and line spacing. Despite his complaints, the printer for this book feared that he had not printed enough copies to meet public demand. In an advertisement at the end of the book, the Boston printer Samuel Kneeland remarked that some 1,300 subscriptions had been taken for Religious Affections, at a time when a colonial author would have rejoiced if 500 copies of a book sold.
I know, I know, I am a broken record about this stuff. But it never ceases to amaze me (in an unhappy way) how the so-called writers of Science Fiction, seem to be in such a huge hurry to run away from the roots of the field. I’ve read and listened to all the many arguments — pro and con, from both sides — about how Campbell rescued the field from the Pulp era, but then New Wave in turn rescued the field from the Campbell era. So it might be true that we’re finally witnessing the full maturation of SF/F as a distinct arena of “serious” literature, but aren’t we taking things too far? Does anyone else think it’s a bad idea for the field to continue its fascination with cultural critique — the number of actual nutty-bolty science types, in SFWA, is dwindling, while the population of “grievance degree” lit and humanities types, in SFWA, is exploding — while the broader audience consistently demonstrates a preference for SF/F that might be termed “old fashioned” by the modern sensibilities of the mandarins of the field?
Most publishers think authorial self-preservation, strict contracts prohibiting plagiarism, and a good team of editors will result in a plagiarism-free book. But when plagiarism is unintentional—a missed citation or a miscopied note from a research assistant or just sloppiness—those checks can be insufficient.
I saw this kind of unintentional plagiarism or sloppiness while editing a set a workbooks a few years ago. Usually I was verifying a quotation to see if the attribution was correct, and some of them had incorrect or odd punctuation, so I tried to find an adequately sourced quotation in order to correct what my manuscript. A couple times I found the quotation and surrounded text were all quoted from another work and improperly attributed.
Professor Collin Garbarino gives World this explanation for this persistent problem. “We’ve got some pastors writing books on topics that they only superficially understand. If you haven’t mastered the subject matter, you’re going to have to rely on someone else for your ideas. If you’re under a deadline, you might cut corners.”
According to Geoff Dyer, who says his next book is “a mixture of both fiction and non- but will be published as non-”, the strength of the distinction in anglophone culture has waxed and waned. “Orwell’s biographer Bernard Crick points out that ‘12 of the 14 pieces in Penguin New Writing in 1940’ – which included Orwell’s Shooting an Elephant – ‘were of a then fashionable genre that blurred the line between fact and fiction,’” Dyer explains. The nonfiction novels of Truman Capote and Norman Mailer blurred the lines again in the 1960s, he continues, and the boundary is “perhaps going through another porous phase right now.”
The division between “the writing of imagination and the writing of fact” that seems so obvious to the anglophone readers “doesn’t seem straightforward at all to much of the rest of the world.”
But how many non-fiction books do not represent the truth, because of shoddy research or editorial bias? How many fiction works have taught us profoundly deep truths (isn’t that what we love so much about some novels)? Perhaps claims of truthfulness should be done in ways other than publisher brands or bookseller shelving, but the reason we say truth is stranger than fiction is because when something bizarre actually happens, it doesn’t have to be as believable as something we make up. You might say, “That could never happen,” but if it in fact happened, that’s all the rationale you need.
What manuscripts by accomplished authors have been lost to us over the years, snatched by bibliophilic Huns or discarded as immature? The Smithsonian has a list of ten of would likely be the best lost books. The Shakespearean play on a character in Don Quixote is incredible to imagine, but here’s a good story of the great Melville doing his normal thing and finding a dead end.
On a trip to Nantucket in July 1852, Herman Melville was told the tragic story of Agatha Hatch— the daughter of a lighthouse keeper who saved a shipwrecked sailor named James Robertson, then married him, only later to be abandoned by him.
The tale would serve as inspiration for a manuscript titled The Isle of the Cross, which Melville presented to Harper & Brothers in 1853. But the publisher, for reasons unknown, turned it down. And no copy of the manuscript has ever been found. In an essay in a 1990 issue of the journal American Literature, Hershel Parker, a biographer of Melville’s, claims, “The most plausible suggestion is that the Harpers feared that their firm would be criminally liable if anyone recognized the originals of the characters in The Isle of the Cross.”
Gui Minhai, a naturalized Sweden, originally Chinese, has worked with four other men in “publishing books about political intrigue among China’s Communist Party leaders; now they are in the custody of mainland Chinese authorities, apparently charged with selling illicit books.”
In January on state-controlled TV, Gui “confessed” to being convicted and paroled for vehicular homicide. Now he is emprisoned for having broken that parole. His daughter, Angela, doesn’t believe it. She’d never heard of any wreck, killing, or conviction until the newscast. What won’t be confessed is the government’s rounding up everyone in Gui’s publishing company to stop them from writing criticism of the government.
Angela Gui said she received a Skype text message from her father’s account a day or so after his TV confession on Jan. 18, when she was widely quoted in foreign media as saying she had never heard of the vehicular homicide case he cited. The message told her to “please keep silence.” Judging from the grammatical errors, Gui said she didn’t believe her father was the author.
The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (VOC) has announced a new film award “to highlight Hollywood’s feats of cluelessness, naïveté, and deceit when telling the history of socialism, communism, and the Cold War.” The Duranty Award is named for reporter Walter Duranty, who took what Stalin said as gospel and used his reports as PR for the Soviets.
“With each passing year, Hollywood’s historical amnesia about communism and the Cold War grows more disturbing,” said Marion Smith, VOC’s executive director. “The film Trumbo portrayed Hollywood’s most influential communist as an American martyr for free speech, ignoring the fact that communist regimes were—and from China to Cuba, still are—serial abusers of human rights and freedom of conscience.”
The award is an attractive chunk of fool’s gold to be given this year to Trumbo, a film about a communist screenwriter, and that film’s lead actor.
Is the literary mash-up a passing fad or a fertile new genre? The art of mashing up involves putting together two completely incongruous genres, only to discover that something in the high-cultural original matches the low material with which it is mixed. In Pride and Prejudice and Zombies the Bennet girls prepare themselves for encounters with the undead just as enthusiastically as they prepare themselves for husband-hunting in the original.
John Milton was surely a super-hero bard avant la lettre. All those angels tumbling from heaven’s crystal battlements, flying across the universe to visit Earth. Think of the war in heaven, where the fallen angels pit “their engines and their balls / Of missive ruin” against the less well-armed Cherubim. It could surely have profited from the involvement of Wolverine and Gambit, while Satan’s concordat with Magneto would challenge the Archangel Michael, even with his sword that “felled / Squadrons at once, with huge two-handed sway”.
For months, the news on Twitter has been that they don’t know how to monetize their platform of 232 million users. We’ve seen some advertising and promoted messages, but apparently they don’t make enough money. Ian Schafer suggests Twitter and its many critics don’t know what kind of company it actually is.
For years, social media companies have been besieged by a new wave of progressive advocacy groups who demand restrictions on political speech under the guise of preventing “online abuse.” These are the groups who now make up Twitter’s dystopianly-named “Trust and Safety Council.”
That council has acted within the last few hours to suspend popular conservative tweeter Robert Stacy McCain (@rsmccain). Before this, they were slowing down the use or discovery of certain hashtags, as described below.
Breitbart.com argues for organization for all of us.
Conservatives and cultural libertarians are the most likely constituency to rise up, as they are the ones being predominantly targeted, but this is really a battle that should be taken up by all social media users. The Twitters and Facebooks of the world are not like the media empires of old; they are entirely reliant on users. Properly organised, users could hold them to account, in a way that would make investors sit up and listen — but they are not yet properly organised.
For several months, the publisher Scholastic had plans to release a book this year called A Birthday Cake for George Washington in which slaves in the Washington estate scrambled to make a cake after running out of sugar. School Library Journal said the beautifully illustrated book painted a “dangerously rosy impression of the relationship between slaves and slave owners.” Particularly troubling was that the slave were shown to be smiling.
Activists on one side are pleased the book has been pulled, but activists on the other side are saying they’re shocked.
The National Coalition Against Censorship and the PEN American Center argued in a official complaint, “Those who value free speech as an essential human right and a necessary precondition for social change should be alarmed whenever books are removed from circulation because they are controversial.”
I have to wonder what Scholastic was thinking when they edited, reviewed, and produced this book. Were they of the same mind as the NCAC to publish anything of a certain quality? And what of that mindset; is no topic, view, or depiction of history unpublishable? If Scholastic had rejected this book upon its proposal would that have been the same censorship they are decrying now?
Freedom of speech or expression is a great principle within a sound moral framework where truths and recognized authorities can be appealed to. But secularism and its attending ills have pulled the banner of freedom from its pole and dragged it with them wherever they go, saying freedom is meant to be sullied, torn, and battered because it is a virtue on its own. Liberty in law is bound by the privileges of patriarchy, but freedom means whatever the ___ I want or anyone else wants with the enabling of the rest of us. That’s unsustainable.
I hope I’m not out of line quoting a paragraph from my own translation, in progress, of a promotional booklet for the Norwegian Flatøy Book project. This passage discusses the decision of the Icelandic bishop Brynjolv Sveinsson to turn the big manuscript (two volumes) over to King Fredrik III of Denmark in 1556. The original author is Prof. Torgrim Titlestad:
Brynjolv built on insight that had been developed within the Icelandic culture ever since Arngrimur’s pioneering work in the 16th Century, but he was possibly more aware than the others of the unique civilization-building impulses contained within the Norse heritage, as especially expressed in Flatøybok. Flatøybok can be understood as a kind of “Noah’s Ark” of ideas, stocked with the fundamental concepts of the Norse world in order to survive as a time capsule in a threatening future. This distinguished Flatøybok from older saga literature. The book was a “generational ship,” laden with the experiences of many people over many generations. The Norse culture had grown up outside the sphere of Roman dominion, and thus was different from European feudal culture with its comprehensive, hierarchical class structure. The Icelandic author Bergsveinn Birgisson (1971-) has expressed himself on the message of these medieval authors to the world (2015): “We had our own unique culture up here in the North, with a value of its own, which we desire to preserve for future generations.” And as his spiritual ancestor Brynjolv might have said, “And we would wish that the world would learn from it.” Brynjolv desired to send this “ark” to Copenhagen so that the book might be published and made available to European readers. Flatøybok was meant to sail out into diverse intellectual harbors and then cast off again for further voyages around the world.