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May 2008

The Torn-Down House Tour

Within the past week or so, three houses within a two block range of our Pleasantville, NY house have been torn down. I took the kids on a tour of them this evening. Driving by, I remarked, "Look: there's nothing left but the shrubbery!" Elizabeth asked what shrubbery was and I explained that shrubbery was bushes.

I presume they were bought by the same builder who previously bought three houses in this area as tear-downs and replaced them with two-million dollar McMansions.

Magnificent Stone & Clapboard Center Hall Colonial in construction NOW in the prestigious Byram Hills School District. Offering "State of the Art" granite Kitchen and Baths, High-Tech wiring for computers and cable. stereo and TV., central vacuum, alarm, landscaping, fireplaces, etc. 1-acre of park-like property. All the amenities an upscale home should offer.

Interestingly, the real estate advertisement for the house on Cecilia Lane claims that it is "near schools" when in fact the Byram Hills schools are in Armonk and the school where they house the Kindergarten is seven miles away. (Our property is on the district line between Byram Hills and Chappaqua and that very issue is why our kids attend the Chappaqua schools which are much closer.)

Two of the houses just torn down were, like ours, built in the 1950s as part of the Old Farm Hill development. This real estate listing appears to be what will become of one of the new holes in the ground.

This Magnificent 4,500 sf brand new home is in one of Westchester's most sought after neighborhoods boasting Armonk schools. Beautiful, One-of-a-Kind luxury colonial on a level 1 acre of lush property. This exquisite home is currently under construction, so you can customize your selections to your personal taste. The home will feature 4 bedrooms, 3 ½ baths, 3-car garage, custom detailed woodwork, and much more including the top-rated Byram Hills school system. This home will feature all the amenities imaginable. Gourment Kitchen, luxurious baths, custom woodwork, granite tops, professional appliances, professionally landscaped grounds, automatic sprinkler system, central vacuum system, 3-car garage, Walk-Out Basement, Alarm System, Grand 2-story Entry, 10' Ceililngs, and so much more...This is an absolute TREASURE of a home!!!!

Asking price: $2,150,000. There seems to be an issue with verb tenses, since as I write there is no house on that lot at all. Presumably "lush" refers to the shrubbery. Or perhaps the listing refers to the yellow house they built, but I'd heard that had been sold. It doesn't have a lawn yet, as I recall, so how would that be "lush"? [5/30/08 UPDATE: The yellow house is the one in the ad and is next door to the new hole in the ground at the beginning of Old Farm S. where they just tore down a house. The yellow house does indeed have a lawn, but the sod was recently rolled out since I remember very recently the front yard had no grass. there are some small shrubs recently planted along the front of t he yellow house.]

One of the houses torn down was a proto-McMansion built in the 1980s as part of the Heritage Court development. Though I've never been in the houses in question, I doubt they were torn down because of defects but rather because of the commercial potential for a big new house on that spot. I wonder how this makes the immediate neighbors feel. None of the vanished houses were in any way eyesores, and the new ones -- probably 5,000 square feet replacing a house that was 3,000 square feet -- will probably be much closer to the property lines and occupy a much larger footprint on the one acre lots.

As I have remarked previously, the area where I live is one of the places the suburbs were invented. The Old Farm Hill development is a decade older than nearby Usonia, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and friends. When I give a neighborhood tour, I point out the elements in our neighborhood imitated from Usonia: what the builders of Old Farm Hill emulated; and also what they didn't. Usonia is a community of individually designed houses carefully set into large lots. In Old Farm Hill, there are about 6 house plans, endlessly repeated, but the houses are carefully placed on the lot, as with Usonia. When I give my tour for visiting friends I present Usonia as "what the suburbs were supposed to be like" and I end with a nearby area of excessively large houses built in the 80s smacked down in the middle of lots which have been leveled with all the big old oaks felled, presenting that as "what the suburbs are actually like."

But now a 1980s McMansion has been razed for a 21st century McMansion. I do wonder what this place will look like when most of the houses are like that, offering "all the amenities an upscale home should offer," but I doubt we'll stick around long enough to find out.

PW reviews Year's Best Fantasy 8

Publisher's Weekly has run a featured favorable review of our Year's Best Fantasy 8, published along with a review of the new Dozois Year's Best under the headline Two“Year's Best”anthologies approach the superlative.

There is, however, an error in the review that I think I ought to say something about. The PW reviewer didn't like the Michael Moorcock and Elizabeth Hand stories. Fair enough. Reviewers are of course entitled to their opinions. But expressed in this way, one has the impression of what may be a cut-and-paste slip-up:

The standout selections, such as Darryl Gregory's “Unpossible,” a lost boy's poignant return to a fantasy world, and Laird Barron's “The Forest,” an exquisitely sinister exploration of a Lovecraftian landscape, are far better than those by bigger names, such as Michael Moorcock's bitter, solipsistic “A Portrait in Ivory” or Elizabeth Hand's paint-by-numbers sword and sorcery story “Winter's Wife.”
Elizabeth HandUm. How is the Liz Hand story "sword and sorcery" except inasmuch as it is fantasy? While I think it is hands-down the best story in the Dozois/Dann anthology Wizards, and while other stories from Wizards have swords and sorcerers and are set in bronze-age or medieval settings and have magical battles and supernatural foes and such, these would not be the Hand story in which the magical aspects are quite understated and the setting is present-day Maine.

Perhaps the reviewer tangled up the critical remarks about the Moorcock, since that at least is an Elric story set in the S&S milieu? Or perhaps another was intended to be the reviewer's target? Looks like a mistake to me.

Though PW reviews are anonymous, I think this particular reviewer owes Liz Hand an apology.

An interesting photo credit

In case you were wondering where Wikipedia got the lede photo-illustration for the entry "Penis", the generous contributor, one "Olaf H." explains:

Description a photo of my penis in erected form. the foreskin is fully retrected, thus the penis head is completely visible. this photo was made and created by my own. / ein bild meines errigierten penis. die vorhaut ist komplett zurück gezogen. dadurch wird die gut durchblutete eichel sichtbar. dieses foto wurde von mir selbst erstellt und stellt mich selbst dar.

Source own work

Date May 2007

Author Olaf H.

Olaf explains that he is the copyright holder of the photo of his erect member and that he releases it into the public domain. (Free content!!!)

Of course, if he exposed himself in the grocery store or the subway, he would get arrested. But instead he has posted his throbbing manhood on the Wikipedia entry that most high school kids check out first before going to the Wikipedia the teacher intended for them to read. It's been there for ten days. (It's not like Wikimedia Commons is short of penis pics. They've got plenty.)

Looking further at his contributions, it appears that "Olaf" specializes in providing Wikimedia Commons with naked and semi-naked pictures, most of which seem to be the work of a Dutch photographer Peter Klashorst.

UPDATE, 6/2/08: Someone else seems to have noticed the photo, and it's been removed from the Wikipedia article a couple of times. As the article exists now, the it still shows Olaf's penis, but no longer in an erect state.

Cory Doctorow makes the New York Times Bestseller List

51dp3kqlrcl_sl500_aa240__2 I'm told that our friend Cory Doctorow's book Little Brother debuts at #9 on the New York Times Children's Bestseller list for 5/25/08.

Congratulations, Cory! And congratulations to his editor, Patrick Nielsen Hayden.

I am especially pleased at the book's success because not only is it a terrific book that I read from cover to cover in essentially one sitting, but it is a book that the world really needs.

Cory has set up a system whereby people can donate copies to teachers and librarians who request them. After you've bought a copy for yourself, why not buy one for a teacher or librarian who needs one?

(Republished from May14th; I took the post down after a few minutes since I wasn't sure if this information was embargoed. See also BoingBoing from yesterday.)

Friday night at Boreal

We're at Boreal, the French language sf convention held in Montreal: some of us come to the con even though we don't speak French.

Last night after a panel on genre and literary movements, a bunch of us sat around in a pub. Conversation turned to Cory Doctorow's new book Little Brother. Michael Swanwick, Jo Walton, and I all raved about what a terrific book it is. It is not often that one sees writers in a group pushing to get a work in edgewise about how wonderful someone's new novel is. I think this bodes well for the book's reception.

dinner at Boreal
Michael Swanwick, Don Kingsbury, Kathryn Cramer, Liz, & Peter at the Indian buffet

Today I take the kids over to Chinatown and David spends the day attending the program.

Chappaqua Tales #2: It's not every day that one is mistaken for a former Miss America

I was driving home from the grocery store this afternoon with the windows open and my hair blowing freely in the wind. As I turned the corner onto Old Farm Road North, a teenage boy driving the other direction leaned out the window of his car and yelled to me, "Vanessa! We love your music!"

He had mistaken me for Vanessa Williams: I was driving on the street that leads to her house.

I never expected at age 46 to be mistaken for a former Miss America!