Thursday, November 19, 2009

The book as object

Having received the finely crafted object that is the limited edition of Finch by Jeff VanderMeer (Underland Press, 2009), pictured here with the accompanying Finch CD from Murder by Death, and the trade paperback, I did pause to consider the physical object. Yes, I buy multiple editions of the same book. It may be a sickness. You decide.

On the subject at hand, the book as object, I can say that I am not ready to make the leap to digital books -- at least exclusively. Having thousands of books on a single sleek techno-object would simplify packing and moving to be sure. Still, I remain a skeptic. I’ve been through decades of software and hardware upgrades in computing, and then there are rights issues and format changes. How useful will those thousands of digital books be in 20 or 30 years? My wager is that a well-made hardback book will still be useful and valued long after today’s digital readers are a footnote in history.

Oh, and I can’t wait to start reading Finch. If you haven’t heard the name already, be sure to try some fiction by Jeff VanderMeer.

On the sidebar list of small press publishers I’ll be adding Underland Press and some others.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Syfy cancels columnists

Locus Online reports: “SCI FI Wire, the online news division of Syfy (formerly the Sci Fi Channel), has canceled all their columns, including long-running series from John Clute, Wil McCarthy, and Michael Cassutt.”

The folks at Syfy have reduced the chance that I will visit their site. A tip of the hat to Erin Kissane at for providing links (and links to links) to John Clute’s Excessive Candour book review columns dating back over 10 years. Clute's columns are more than just book reviews: They are meditations, offering a depth of insight rarely seen elsewhere in the science fiction community. Here’s hoping Clute and the other columnists will find online or print homes for their future work elsewhere.

John Clute’s book review columns have found a new home, every six weeks starting in 2010 at Strange Horizons.

Locus Online on cancellation of columns
Locus Roundtable on rescued Candour
Update link:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Amazon's Top 10 Books

Amazon's editors' picks for the best Science Fiction and Fantasy published in 2009:

  1. Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente (Spectra) 
  2. The Red Tree by Caitlin R. Kiernan (Roc) 
  3. The Other Lands (Acacia, Book 2) by David Anthony Durham (Doubleday) 
  4. American Fantastic Tales (Boxed Set) edited by Peter Straub (Library of America) 
  5. Boneshaker by Cherie Priest (Tor Books) 
  6. The Other City by Michal Ajvaz (Dalkey Archive Pr) 
  7. Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts (Gollancz) 
  8. Eclipse 3: New Science Fiction and Fantasy edited by Jonathan Strahan (Night Shade Books) 
  9. Interfictions 2: An Anthology of Interstitial Writing edited by Delia Sherman (Small Beer Press) 
  10. The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart by Jesse Bullington (Orbit) 

Amazon calls this list "editors' picks." The plural is a bit misleading since this list was compiled by noted author and anthologist Jeff VanderMeer for Amazon. This is a diverse and interesting list, and includes a couple of authors who are completely new to me, which is a delight. It has pointed me toward some books I might not have picked up.

Links: Top 10 Science Fiction and Fantasy 2009
Cheryl's Mewsings with Jeff VanderMeer's response
Jeff VanderMeer blogs: Ecstatic Days and Omnivoracious

Monday, November 9, 2009

Caught reading in public

Being a nosy sort of person, I like to check out what people are reading when they read in public. At lunchtime today at Chipotle a young woman was reading George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones (1996). In terms of fantasy and science fiction, Martin is the clear leader in my unscientific observations of what people read. It used to be that Stephen King was the genre’s favorite read-in-public author, and maybe it will be King again with Under the Dome (2009).

Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire epic, of which A Game of Thrones is the first volume of four extant, is a remarkable multithreaded novel, inspired by the Wars of the Roses, and it’s far from finished. The several thousand pages so far published read quickly and are dark, surprising, intricately plotted, and full of sex and violence. The story is told from a wide variety of well-drawn viewpoint characters.

I don’t, as a rule, read or recommend an unfinished work. I’ll make an exception and recommend this one.

George R.R. Martin: Not a Blog
Soon to be an HBO series? Update

Sunday, November 8, 2009

World Fantasy Awards 2009

A week ago the World Fantasy Awards were presented in San Jose, California.

  • Lifetime Achievement: Ellen Asher & Jane Yolen
  • Best Novel (tie): The Shadow Year, Jeffrey Ford (Morrow, 2008) & Tender Morsels, Margo Lanagan (Allen & Unwin; Knopf, 2008)
  • Best Novella: “If Angels Fight”, Richard Bowes (F&SF 2/08)
  • Best Short Story: “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss”, Kij Johnson (Asimov’s 7/08)
  • Best Anthology: Paper Cities: An Anthology of Urban Fantasy, Ekaterina Sedia, ed. (Senses Five Press, 2008)
  • Best Collection: The Drowned Life, Jeffrey Ford (HarperPerennial, 2008)
  • Best Artist: Shaun Tan
  • Special Award – Professional: Kelly Link & Gavin J. Grant (for Small Beer Press and Big Mouth House)
  • Special Award – Non-Professional: Michael Walsh (for Howard Waldrop collections from Old Earth Books)

The judges for 2009 were: Jenny Blackford, Peter Heck, Ellen Klages, Chris Roberson & Delia Sherman.

Having read enough of the fiction award winners to be able to say this is a strong group of winners, it appears to me that in the past decade the World Fantasy Awards are more consistent than the Hugos in handing awards to top notch work. Could it be because the World Fantasy Awards are not just a popular vote by convention members, but a hybrid of judging and popular voting?

World Fantasy Convention 2009: Awards
Previous discussion: Toward Better Hugo Award Winners

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Three films: Stalker, Bright Star, 9

Stalker (directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979)

This Soviet-era film (movie poster at left) is loosely based on the excellent short novel, Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. The Strugatsky brothers wrote the screenplay. This is an extraordinary science fiction film, which I have only now caught up with. A Stalker is a guide who brings people into and out of “the Zone,” a region where natural laws do not hold, space and time are bent in curious ways and constantly shift. Missteps can be deadly. Within the Zone is a room with a powerful, inexplicable object. Scenes of decaying buildings and tunnels are wonderfully photographed. This multilayered film touches on an amazing range of topics: family and trust, social responsibility, the limits of science, and how we think about the universe. For me, it has vaulted to the front ranks of all-time best science fiction films. I can’t wait to watch it again.

Bright Star (directed by Jane Campion, distributed by Apparition, 2009)

This is the best romantic movie (and, yes, Romantic movie) I have seen in years. The story follows the love affair between poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne, told mostly from her point of view. Their relationship develops leisurely and naturally. It has little in common with Hollywood romance films, which rush from one plot point to another, constantly hammering at the audience with what emotion should be experienced at every step. Bright Star has everything: exceptional acting, dialog, cinematography, and a convincing sense of period. It even has intelligent discussion about poetry. It’s the sort of quality film that won’t get much recognition from the Academy Awards (see an earlier post about how wide of the mark the Oscars usually are). Perhaps they’ll give it a consolation prize for costuming.

9 (directed by Shane Acker, distributed by Focus Features, 2009)

As much as this film is a visual treat, the story is a disappointment. The CGI animation gives a spectacular sense of scale and details of cavernous cathedrals and other architecture are impressive. Alas, the story is full of inconsistencies, a kind of grab-bag of post-apocalyptic clichés. The MacGuffin, a talisman that canvas doll come-to-life, 9, unwittingly uses to activate evil mechanical forces, was apparently not necessary to trigger all the evil mechanical critters that 9 and his friends were fighting up to that point. The mystical ending is unsupported by the preceding story. The canvas dolls are reminiscent of the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, one of many subtle and not so subtle nods to that 1939 film.

Wikipedia on Romanticism
Wikipedia on MacGuffin