18 August 2014

The Return of the Amazon Customer Review



Okay, so they never went away – but they did from this blog. I had a grand old time a few years back tearing strips off homophobes, book burners, prudes, egotists, and those who think they know something about history and geography.

I wonder why I stopped. Too much fun? I do remember thinking that change was coming. After the Orlando Figes scandal, how could it not? No responsible retailer would allow its customers to be so grossly misled.

Sure enough, 2012 saw Amazon deleting all sorts of customer reviews. “My sister’s and best friend’s reviews were removed from my books,” sniffed self-published author M. E. Franco. “They happen to be two of my biggest fans.”

Now, there's a coincidence.

How many reviews did Amazon delete? The company was mum. Writing in the New York TimesDavid Streitfeld described the exercise as a "sweeping hazy purge". Neither friend nor family to M.E. Franco, I noticed nothing.

Then came 2013, a busy year in which Amazon's customer reviews cropped up in a trio of unrelated Canadian news stories.


The first concerned the resignation of Toronto District School Board director Chris Spence, who had been caught plagiarizing all sorts of things including – improbably – an Amazon customer review. Might it have been one by educator Rudy Patudy? Reporters were not so specific.


The Spence scandal was followed closely by a hysterical, media-created controversy over a print on demand publisher's sexy blonde Anne Shirley. Then came Stephen King, who just happened to give his latest the same title as a very fine 2006 graphic novel by Emily Schulz.


This in turn led to all sorts of nastiness from semi-literate folks who purchased the wrong book in error:


Good souls worked to repair the damage:


The author endured it all, recording her experience on a blog and coming out a winner with a refurbished MacBook Air for her suffering.

The current year had been much more quiet until I began receiving emails from a publisher encouraging me to ask family and friends to post reviews of my "books" on Amazon.

Before continuing, I want to make one thing clear: I have no books with this publisher. I have no book with this publisher. That said, I did play some small role in one tome's journey to print. This modest effort has resulted in messages such as these:
If you/your family and friends are unfamiliar with posting online reviews, we have included some guidelines below. Online reviews are a great way for authors and readers to interact online. Reviews are critical to both publishers and readers alike, and many consumers rely on these opinions when making purchases on Amazon. 
Lord knows this is anything but the golden age of publishing. I wish the publisher well. I wish the book well; it deserves to by widely read. But I cannot call on family and friends to plant online reviews. I cannot ask them to laud something they haven't read or encourage them to think better of a book because of some small connection to yours truly. Amazon customer reviews are unreliable and ill-informed as it is. Who wants to be part of that mess.


More anon.

13 August 2014

Richard Rohmer Recycles (Again)



Starmageddon
Richard Rohmer
Toronto: Irwin, 1986

Starmageddon takes place in a future past. We know this because the Office of the Vice-President of the United States is held by a woman. The president calls her a bitch, primarily because she never supported Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative. It's the year 2000, seventeen years have passed since The Gipper initiated the program and – glory be – the thing works! Doesn't the VP have mud on her face!

Time, 4 April 1983
When an American general insults the South Koreans, the lady vice-president is sent off to do damage control. Air Force One has been booked by the Secretary of State, meaning she and her staff have to travel on a commercial airliner. Seats are booked on a 747 that will follow the very same route taken in 1983 by doomed Korean Air Lines Flight 007.

What could go wrong?

Plenty.

The captain is distracted by the vice-president, another pilot is distracted by the hot purser, and the first officer is legally blind. As a result, the wrong coordinates are entered into the navigation system and the 747 flies over a site where the Soviet Union is at that very moment testing its own strategic defence system.

Well, you can imagine.


Starmageddon is the twelfth book tackled as part of the Reading Richard Rohmer project. By now, I've come to expect a fair amount of self-plagiarism in the author's books. For the most part, this takes the form of passages, speeches, chapters and fictitious documents lifted from previous novels. Separation Twothe most egregious act of self-plagiarism in Canadian literature, is the most extreme example.

Starmageddon is something else altogether. Here Rohmer lifts and tweaks page after page from Massacre 747, his 1984 book on the Korean Air Lines disaster. Behold, fiction born of non-fiction:
Like a lumbering elephant, Flight 315 began to move down runway fourteen, accelerating rapidly toward the computer-precalculated speed of 196 miles per hour. When the speed was reached, the co-pilot called out "rotation"and the captain, both hands now on the wheel of the control column, hauled back smoothly and strongly. Instantly, the nose rotated up into the climb position, and the enormous aircraft, 196 feet between its blinking wingtip lights and 232 feet between nose and tail, leapt gracefully up into the black night. It was 2:02 on the morning of August 29.
— Starmageddon 
Like a lumbering elephant, Flight 007 began to move down runway 31L, accelerating rapidly toward the computer-precalculated speed at which the co-pilot would call for rotation. When the rotation came, the captain, both hands now on the wheel on the control column, hauled back smoothly and strongly. Instantly, the nose came up into the climb position, and the enormous aircraft, 196 feet between its blinking wingtip lights and 232 feet between nose and tail, leapt gracefully up into the black night. It was 12:24 on the morning of September 1.
— Massacre 747
August 29, not September 1. The flight and runway numbers are different, too. Again, Starmageddon is set in the future; albeit a future in which the lessons of Flight 007 are forgotten. Oh, people still remember the disaster, its a real topic of conversation, but that doesn't prevent this from happening:
At 5:53 the Soviet pilot reported: "804. I have executed the launch."
       In one second the lights of the rockets, as burning propellants thrust the missiles ever faster toward the target, had become mere pinpoints in the distance. The rockets headed unerringly for the brilliant navigation lights and the red rotating beacons of the target.
       Pilot 804 knew this his heart-seeking missile, if functioning properly, would have locked onto one go the river of intense heat that the target's huge engines pouring out into the frigid high-altitude air.
— Starmageddon 
At 18:26:20 the Soviet pilot reported: "805. I have executed the launch."
     In one second the lights of the rockets, as burning propellants thrust the missiles ever supersonically faster toward the target, had become mere pinpoints in the distance. The rockets headed unerringly for the brilliant navigation lights and the red rotating beacons of the target.
       The fighter pilot knew this his heart-seeking missile, if functioning properly, would have "locked on" to one go the target's huge engines pouring out a river of intense heat into the frigid high-altitude air.
Massacre 747
One can understand Rohmer's temptation; Massacre 747 is one hell of a book, and it contains some of his very best writing:
The mortally wounded 747 cut through the night sky, illuminating it for miles around. With only one wing it slowly began to roll. It was like a comet. Its long, distinctive humplike cockpit and nose thrust ahead and clear of the ball of flame as if trying to run away, to avoid being consumed. Inside the roiling fire all was being engulfed or spit out by the explosion into the icy air. Bodies were torn apart. Blankets, luggage, seats, toys – everything movable or ripped away from floors and ceilings at the rear of the massive aircraft – were spewed out the hole where the tail had been.
— Massacre 747 
The flaming and mortally wounded 747 cut through the night sky, illuminating it for miles around. With only one wing, it slowly began to roll. Its long, distinctive humplike cockpit and nose thrust ahead and clear of the ball of flame, as if trying to avoid being consumed. Inside, the roiling fire engulfed all that was not spit out into the icy air by the explosion. Bodies were torn apart. Blankets, luggage, seats, toys – everything that was movable or had been ripped away from floors and ceilings at the rear of the massive fuselage – were spewed out the hole where the tail had been.
— Starmageddon
Who wouldn't want to revisit those images. Besides, it gave opportunity to fix that awkward sentence about the roiling fire.

Did anyone notice?

Books in Canada, May 1986
John Gellner, who wrote glowing reviews of both books for the Globe & Mail, didn't mention the self-plagiarism; as editor of the Canadian Defence Quarterly, you'd think he'd have noticed. But what interests me more is Irwin, which was then in its death throes. Did anyone there know that large portions of their big fiction offering where copied from a book being sold by a rival publisher?

Best sentence:
Pieces of the shattered engine blade penetrated the thin fuselage skin like a knife through gossamer.
— Starmageddon 
Pieces of the shattered engine blade penetrated the thin fuselage skin like a knife through gossamer.
— Massacre 747
Object: A 241-page hardcover in blue binding. The cover art by Peter Mossman reminds me of the very worst albums sold during my time at Sam the Record Man (1983-85).

Access: At eight, I count more copies in public libraries than academic libraries.

The hardcover first edition – there was no second printing – is Less common is the mass market paperback. The only cover image I can find (right) comes courtesy of Toronto bookseller David Harris, who offers his copy for all of two dollars.

Worth every penny.

Related posts:

11 August 2014

Harlequin Librarians: So Many Secrets


Hospital Librarian
Margaret Malcom
1961
The Librarian's Secret Wish
Carol Grace
2009
The Librarian's Secret Scandal
Jennifer Morey
2010
What the Librarian Did
Karina Bliss
2010
Related posts:

07 August 2014

No he didn't.



He Learned About Women
Ted Greenshade [?]
Toronto: News Stand Library, 1949
Tex had lived long enough to realize he had more than average appeal to women. All his life they had either wanted to clutch him to their bosoms and mother him or have him clutch their bosoms and make mothers of them.
Oh, brother.

I won't say that He Learned About Women was News Stand Library's worst book, only that it's the worst of those I've read.

The publisher positioned its author – Ted Greenshade or Ted Greenslade – as a "soldier of fortune who knows whereof he writes", encouraging us all to consider this a roman à clef.

Let's hope it isn't.

He Learned About Women opens on Tex Lane, a mercenary in the employ Israel's "Jewish Army", belly down on the desert sand, facing an unforgiving "arab horde". As he awaits certain death, thoughts drift back to the women of his past.

"A THOUSAND NIGHTS, A THOUSAND WOMEN and ONE LESSON"

A THOUSAND WOMEN?
I count twelve, beginning the Methodist Sunday School superintendent's daughter, who let teenaged Tex touch her during a clubhouse initiation. Sexy, sporty Peggy McLean is next; she capped a day at the beach by taking his virginity. Third is the wanton wife of his instructor at Sandhurst.

Wait.

Tex starts out as a lower-middle class, middling schoolboy from Hamilton, Ontario. How did he come to be accepted at England's most prestigious military academy?

More than a soldier of fortune, Tex Lane is a man of mystery. He moves about the globe – London, Paris, Shanghai, Montreal – with impunity. Inexplicably wealthy, Tex can become the rattiest church mice when plot requires. By turns a journalist, an ad man, an actor, a captain and a carny, he is everyone and no one. Meanwhile, women come and go, each more fully formed than the protagonist. The most interesting to these eyes is Helen Demoskoff, a sympathetic young Doukabor who was once arrested for removing her clothes as a form of protest.

Helen is a woman of conviction and character. Tex, on the other hand, is the sort of man who will sleep with a woman, then accuse her of being a slut. He's the type who will pressure a woman to give up her child because he isn't the father. Tex is the kind of guy who will abandon a woman, return, then feel betrayed that she has married.

In short, he's not a man you'd want to know.
 
Best sentence:
Looking into her worried face Tex felt like someone who has been caught putting a feather up the nose of a child in an iron lung.
Epigraph:


Ibid?

It's from the Book of Ezra (1 Esdras 4:22).

Speculation: The idea of the trapped soldier revisiting his past may owe something to James Benson Nablo's 1946 novel The Long November, which News Stand Library reprinted in two editions prior to He Learned About Women.

Trivia: Back cover copy refers to a "girl who died in the Cathay Hotel because of a millionaire's lust and passion." No such character features in the novel.


Object and access: A 160-page mass market paperback with cover art by Syd Dyke.

He Learned About Women is nowhere to be found on WorldCat. As of this writing just four copies are being offered by online booksellers. The lone copy of the Canadian printing looks to be in about the same condition as mine, but is a bargain at five dollars. The three Americans range from  US$2 (Reading Copy) to US$14 (Very Good - Fine).

Related post:

05 August 2014

Of the German Attack on Nova Scotia, the Battle of New Jersey and the Edmonton Real Estate Market



One day after Canada's entry into the Great War, the Edmonton Journal works to sell papers.


Meanwhile, realtors recognize opportunity.


Update: Where I see misinformation, another sees misunderstanding. Mark Reynolds, son of Cole Harbour, writes:
Nova Scotia's shores are shelled: mussels, clams, snails – it's quite dangerous, you can cut your feet if you're not careful.
Coincidentally, Mark reviewed The Sixth of December, Jim Lotz's less than middling novel of the Great War, for this very blog.

04 August 2014

The Great War: The Call



On this, the hundredth anniversary of Canada's entry into the Great War, patriotic verse drawn from Douglas Durkin's The Fighting Men of Canada (Toronto: McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart, 1918).


A professor of literature at the University of Manitoba, the poet did not answer the call.

Related posts: