Textbook publisher sues librarian for pointing out that their books suck

(via Boing Boing) According to a public survey ranking 34 textbook publishers against each other, Edwin Mellen Press is the worst publisher of philosophy textbooks.  It's possible that may not be strictly enough to demonstrate truthfulness over the libel suit that Mellen has brought against a librarian at McMaster University, who wrote, "The Edwin Mellen Press was a poor publisher with a weak list of low-quality books, scarcely edited, cheaply produced, but at exorbitant prices," but it's not an argument much in their favor.

There are not many college students who are thrilled about the common practice of price gouging on textbooks, something I've written about before, but at least in those cases it's a shakedown over access to information.

Edwin Mellen Press has brought a lawsuit against the librarian for Three Million Dollars. For pointing out that their books aren't very good.  This isn't the first time they've done it, either.

I hope what comes out of this, if it goes to trial, is some new case law severely restricting the ability of textbook publishers to do basically anything.  Like, it would be cool if there were a law requiring that textbooks be sold at maximum a certain percentage over cost, so at least if I'm going to pay eighty bucks for a book, it'll be printed on paper I can't see through.

SWG: How'd you like that book? Star Wars: Red Harvest

Greetings! Today is your first taste of the Star Wars Geek "How'd you like that book?" In a pact I've made with myself, much like Watson has done, I plan to review every book that passes under my nose!

...assuming it's a Star Wars book. I mean, I could review the other stuff too, but that'd be hardly keeping in theme.


Stop looking at me like that[1. Yes, I'm battling my conscience here.]...

Sigh, alright, I'll review every book I read. They're 90% Star Wars anyway[2. Which may not be the case for the rest of this summer as I've mostly read through my latest binge purchase, and they only write new SW books so fast.]. To pace myself, these posts will come on Sundays, and only if I'm really on a roll would I think of posting two in a given week (I'll stagger post them on that Sunday). To clarify, with my schedual, don't expect one of these every week, either.

So, Star Wars Geek, how did you like...

Star Wars: Red Harvest by Joe Schreiber

Star Wars: Red Harvest is the second Star Wars horror novel. It is set 3,645 BBY and is a prequel to the first Star Wars horror novel, Death Troopers, which takes place 1 BBY. Let me say up front that I don't normally read horror. Nor do I watch horror movies. This I attribute to not getting scared by such things very easily[3. At all, really.], and with out that element horror doesn't seem to hold much else[4. I do love psychological thrillers.].

One of the greatest things about Star Wars, is it offers so many different genres packed into another genre. From romance[5. Not strickly the kind of romance paperback you find at the pharmacy, but it's definitely a love story first.], to action adventure, to... well, ok, it's mostly action adventure, but there are definitely departures into other avenues here and there, and this is one.

That being said, this book gets a thumbs down: there were flaws in the writing, particularly when locating characters during a scene which could be disorienting, I didn't really feel attached to the characters (and therefore didnt feel concerned at their danger), and it felt like a rehash of the book it was supposed to set up, but with less credulity. Analysis below fold.

Review with spoilers continues below the fold.

One problem that I had with Red Harvest was that I'd already read Death Troopers. Don't get me wrong, I thought Death Troopers was cool. But the two books share a trait which as a reader I find profoundly off-putting, which is that people drop like flies. You better not be hoping to see some of these characters get fleshed out, because most of them don't last that long. Even the dramatis personae seems to be trying to trick you into thinking some of these characters are important by listing them in the first place, when one or two die pretty much on their first or second appearance.

The problem with gratuitous killing is that it destroys suspense. If you think a character is going to die, then you aren't apt to get attached to them or care if they are suddenly in mortal peril because you start getting really good at predicting what is going to happen: gorey death a or gorey death b.

The writing itself wasn't spectacular, and though there were moments where the voice and tone I had hoped for (a sort of creepy unease) were there, the feeling wasn't global. There also weren't any stylistic clues to make this feel like an Old Republic novel. While there isn't a ton of consistancy in the Old Republic as to in what ways people speak differently given the several thousand years of separation from the classic era, (let's face it, people even speak a little differently in the prequel era, and that is only 20-30 years before the OT[6. Original Trilogy]), as a reader I like if at least the colloquialisms don't come across like this is set in contemporary America.

Getting over that complaint, the prose could be pretty, but wasn't beautiful. There was good use of metaphorical language, for instance, "On either side, shelves were shuddering and collapsing with frightening speed, dumping their contents like squadrons of firey angels falling into the abyss."

However, I found myself repeatedly being disoriented by a lack of spatial description, which in the end was the most condemning part of the writing for me. Take for instance this passage, about halfway through the novel,

Trace staggered forward, waving away the smoke in front of his eyes. From here, he saw a gaping hole that the tree had torn through the library's outter wall, and through it, the frozen surface of Odacer-Faustin's snow covered landscape. He could already hear the hiss of steam as the flaming architecture met the sub-zero air outside.

Help me...

Trace felt his sister's scream go burning throughout his entire body. This wasn't just an impression, some random emotional flash--he actually felt her pain as it wrenched through his right arm, throbbing into his shoulder and chest, blasting up to the roots of his teeth. Tears boiled up in his eyes and the wind whipped them away. His legs went numb and he stumbled, almost falling over in the snow. [empasis mine]

Now, at no point did it describe him leaving, and there was no snow inside the library. If it is unclear if he actually left, another paragraph later we get, "He took a step back to the burning hall of the library." Now, if this had been an isolated incidence, I probably would've stumbled a little then continued on my merry way, but alas, this happened consistantly throughout the novel.

While I can understand some scenes require a certain amount of confusion and disorientation, particularly when the section's narrator is undergoing just that, having it all over the place, and often where it doesn't even follow the from the narrative is just bad writing. It's an easy fix to add one sentace saying, "He stepped out of the library through the hole," or whatever may be appropriate.

My other complaint is that this is a book where zombies do battle with an entire Sith academy, and win. While the book does suggest these aren't creatures to be trifled with, I felt like the reaction of standing back and screaming wasn't what I expected from people who have the power to crush the decomposing zombies with their minds. That is where Death Troopers really had more credibility, as I expect a prison barge with minimal gaurds to go to hell in a heartbeat with zombies on board.

To be fair, the penultimate chapters actually did pique my interest and concern level with the remaining characters, and even had me sympathizing with a couple of the characters briefly. Unfortunately, it was too little, too late.

In the end, I have to give this book a 2 out of 5, and reccomend that if you're in the mood for some SW horror, check out Death Troopers, which I enjoyed more (even though it wasn't my cup of tea.)

Until next time, May the Force be with you, -Michael DiTommaso, the Star Wars Geek

New JK Rowling cover

(via Phil DeFranco) This morning, the cover for The Casual Vacancy, J.K. Rowling's upcoming for-adults book, was unveiled:

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling new release book cover

Little, Brown -- the book's publisher -- is describing the book as "blackly comic, thought-provoking and constantly surprising," which sounds awesome.

Rowling's books were a huge part of my childhood, and one of the things I liked best about the Harry Potter books is that their content and subject matter grew up with me.  It wouldn't be hard to argue that Rowling is responsible in substantial part for my love of reading today, and I'm thrilled about this book because now that I'm 23 years old and into literary fiction, she's releasing something targeted in the direction of my age group.

The synopsis, which I've seen on a few sites linking back to the above-linked page on the Bookseller (which doesn't appear to contain that synopsis) sounds like it deals with a lot of the relationship struggles between fundamentally separate but intertwined groups that pervade every aspect of human civilization as we know it.  It makes me even more eager to read the book than the name at the top of the cover, and here it is via Mugglenet:

When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock.

Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty facade is a town at war.

Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils…Pagford is not what it first seems.

And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity, and unexpected revelations?

A big novel about a small town, The Casual Vacancy is J. K. Rowling’s first novel for adults. It is the work of a storyteller like no other.

Oh, and her name is smaller than the title of the book.  That's always a selling point when it comes to big-name authors, as far as I'm concerned.