Friday, December 10, 2010

2011 Eaton Conference to honor Ellison and Delany

Authors Harlan Ellison, Nalo Hopkinson, China Miéville, Karen Tei Yamashita, Gregory Benford and Howard V. Hendrix are among the expected participants at the 2011 Eaton Science Fiction Conference, a three-day event intended for authors, scholars and fans, Feb. 11-13, at the Mission Inn and Spa in Riverside, California.

Quoting  from the UC Riverside news release:
“ ‘We’ve attracted almost three times as many scholars than we’ve ever hosted, and there is greater diversity of presenters and topics,’ said Melissa Conway, head of Special Collections & Archives at UCR and co-organizer of the conference. ‘I’m particularly pleased that Harlan Ellison will be coming.’
“ . . . Authors Samuel R. Delany and Harlan Ellison will receive the 2010 and 2011 Eaton Award for Lifetime Achievement in Science Fiction. . . . Delany and Ellison are two of the most important science fiction writers of the past half-century, said Rob Latham, associate professor of English and co-organizer of the conference.”
Registration is $165 for the entire conference or $75 for a single day. Student admission is $55. The Mission Inn has extended its $120 conference rate to all attendees to Dec. 31. The Eaton Science Fiction Conference is sponsored by the University of California, Riverside.

Related links:
UC Riverside news release
Eaton conference website

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Thoughts on the passing of Irvin Kershner

The key to appreciating pop culture or an art form is exposure at an early age. It doesn’t matter the form or genre: books, movies, paintings, theater, ballet, sports, science fiction, fantasy, etc.

David G. Hartwell, in his enjoyable and informative book Age of Wonders: Exploring the World of Science Fiction (1985), holds that the golden age of science fiction is 12. My interpretation of Hartwell is that the reader who is exposed to science fiction books at that tender age is able to fall for the genre in the way that only a 12-year-old can: hopelessly and totally in love. At a later age, when the critic that we all grow inside our minds asserts itself, it becomes difficult to achieve that bonding emotion.

I had passed the golden age of 12 when Star Wars (1977) arrived. I could appreciate the visuals. The story was another matter.  I had already read Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany, We Who Are About To by Joanna Russ, The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin, Pavane by Keith Roberts, The Forever War by Joe Haldeman, and several more of the most interesting, most challenging and rewarding science fiction books available. By comparison, the unsophisticated, intentionally retro storytelling of Star Wars resembled a Saturday morning children’s television show with a big production budget.

The production budget for the second movie was bigger. The surprise that The Empire Strikes Back (1980) held was that the story and direction were both considerably better than the first movie. A sequel that was an improvement on the original was a novelty. Certainly none of the four Star Wars feature films made since The Empire Strikes Back can make that claim.

The credit for the surprise that was The Empire Strikes Back goes to director Irvin Kershner (1923-2010) and screenwriter Leigh Brackett (1915-1978).

Related links:
Wikipedia on Irvin Kershner
Wikipedia on Leigh Brackett

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

2010 World Fantasy Award Winners

The World Fantasy Awards were announced on October 31, 2010, in Columbus, Ohio. Eligible works were published in 2009.

The City & The City by China Miéville (Macmillan UK/Del Rey)

“Sea-Hearts” by Margo Lanagan (X6, coeur de lion publishing)

“The Pelican Bar” by Karen Joy Fowler (Eclipse Three, Night Shade Books)

This gives me a chance to say again that the World Fantasy Awards judges do an excellent job year after year of finding outstanding work to recognize. All the winners and nominees are listed at Locus Online.

The City & The City was a fine novel and “The Pelican Bar” was exceptional, one of the best short stories of the decade. I haven't read “Sea-Hearts” by Margo Lanagan. I did purchase the X6 anthology in the dealers room at Aussiecon 4.

By comparison, the Hugo Awards seem inconsistent, frequently unable to find and recognize the best work. The 2010 Hugo Awards was a pretty good year, especially if we overlook the short story shortlist.

Next year the World Fantasy Convention will be in San Diego. That's too nearby to have any excuse not to go.

Related posts:
The 2010 Hugo Awards: Short Story Shortlist
The Pelican Bar by Karen Joy Fowler
The City & The City and The Other City

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Bacigalupi's Ship Breaker short listed for National Book Award

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
Congratulations to Paolo Bacigalupi for making the short list for the National Book Award in the Young People's Literature category for his new novel Ship Breaker (Little, Brown & Co., 2010). This is Bacigalupi's second published novel, after his Hugo- and Nebula-award winning debut novel, The Windup Girl (2009).

I enjoyed listening to the interview with Paolo Bacigalupi at Adventures in SciFi Publishing podcast episode 98. The interview is about 10 minutes into the podcast.

I learned about the Bacigalupi interview by listening to Galactic Suburbia podcast episode 18. In addition to the usual news, this episode featured an fascinating discussion of the horror genre from a feminist perspective. Topics included misogynist content in horror, what crosses the line of acceptability in horror fiction, and who are some of the hosts' favorite horror writers.

Edited to add: Over at Techland there is a transcript of an interesting interview with Bacigalupi conducted by Lev Grossman (who named The Windup Girl as one of Time Magazine's top 10 fiction books of 2009). Be prepared to click through three times to read the full interview due to irritating web design.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

LA Times Festival of Books moves, embraces profit model

The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, one of the largest annual book fairs in the United States, has decided move to USC after spending its first 15 years at UCLA.

“[T]he newspaper expressed a desire to increase profits from the event,” according to the UCLA Office of Media Relations press release. “This year, UCLA provided $176,000 in services and funding to help stage the festival.”

“This April [2010] at UCLA, approximately 140,000 spectators and 400 authors attended the event,” according to an article about the move in the UCLA Daily Bruin.

Edited to add a link to the Los Angeles Times article, which is dated September 23.

Friday, September 17, 2010

More about Aussiecon 4

Here at the SF Strangelove household, the three travelers are still recovering from jet lag and sleep deprivation from the 14-hour return flight on a Qantas Airbus A380 from Sydney to Los Angeles. The airline seats in steerage (aka Economy), which at first seemed moderately comfortable, transformed over time into medieval torture devices. Between the three of us there may have been one successful if brief catnap.

While we accomplished many tourist goals while traveling to four cities in Australia and New Zealand, the main event was Aussiecon 4, aka Worldcon, aka the World Science Fiction Convention, held September 2 through 6, 2010, in Melbourne, Australia.

As Cheryl Morgan noted (follow here), the convention facility was the best ever for a Worldcon. It was modern (almost new), compact, and highly accessible. On the other hand, it did not have drinking fountains and the convention committee did not provide water coolers or bottled water, making for a rather parched convention. Otherwise the convention went quite well as far as I could see. The dealer’s room seemed small to me. Over at the Galactic Suburbia podcast (follow here) the dealer’s room was described as large by Australian standards. Perhaps it’s just my USA-biased perception. There were books that are rare and hard to obtain in the USA, making it full of delights for me and a challenge to come in under the weight limit for airline baggage.

In addition to the blog posts (all two of them) that I was able to write while the convention was underway, I did use Twitter (@strangelove4sf) during the Hugo Awards (#hugos) and at other times during the convention. Here is a sampling:
KSR: "I can say to you flatly the book of mine that I am most proud is The Years of Rice and Salt." #worldcon #aus412:53 AM Sep 4th via web
KSR: "My original notion of Mars: That would be a good place to backpack." #worldcon #aus4 12:51 AM Sep 4th via web
KSR: "The people living in cardboard shacks do not complain about the boredom of Utopia. They are willing to give it a try." #worldcon #aus4 12:50 AM Sep 4th via web
When SF becomes literature panel: Simon Spanton says publishing is the thin neck in hourglass between writer and reader #worldcon #aus4 7:36 PM Sep 3rd via web
GRR Martin Game of Thrones panel: No film clip, no stills, no snap shots, no real news. Just George talking. Still enjoyable #worldcon #aus4 12:03 AM Sep 3rd via web
The three quotes from Kim Stanley Robinson (KSR) came from the question and answer period at the end of his Guest of Honor Speech.  Robinson gave generously of his time at Aussiecon 4, appearing on several panels and giving three talks: Time and the Novel, Climate Change and Utopia, and his Guest of Honor Speech. I attended several of these and they were easily the highlights of the convention programming for me.

The George R.R. Martin-related tweet above refers to a talk he gave about the upcoming 10-episode series based on A Game of Thrones, the first book in Martin’s massive and unfinished A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series. Martin explained that HBO was not willing for him to show any images from the TV series other than the brief teaser that already has been released. Martin gave a rambling talk about the history of how the TV series entered development, who is involved, and his thoughts on various aspects of the adaptation. It was a pleasant way to spend an hour.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

2010 Hugo Results and Reactions

2010 Hugo Award winners September 5, at Aussiecon 4, Melbourne, Australia.

The City & The City by China Miéville (Del Rey; Macmillan UK)
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (Night Shade)

“Palimpsest” by Charles Stross (Wireless)

“The Island” by Peter Watts (The New Space Opera 2)

“Bridesicle” by Will McIntosh (Asimov’s Jan. 2009)

Two of my four top picks in the fiction categories won. No complaints there. As a bonus none of the really weak stories on the shortlist won. Woot! Short story was the most dicey category in terms of what was on the shortlist. I didn’t expect “Bridesicle” to win, still it’s a respectable result.

A tie is rather rare. This is only the third occurrence in the Hugo novel category. The last one was the 1993 Hugo Awards with the tie between Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (Bantam Spectra, 1992) and A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge (Tor, 1992).

This year both winners are particularly strong novels and very different from each other. Not flawless novels, if there are such things. Some people may be frustrated by a tie. When the presenter, the writer guest of honor at Aussiecon 4, Kim Stanley Robinson, stalled for time, spoke of statistical improbabilities, and then revealed that there was a tie, it was an electric moment in the convention hall. There were gasps in the audience. When Robinson named the tie winners I thought it was a particularly satisfying result.

Related posts:
Reviews of The City & The City and The Windup Girl.
The 2010 Hugo Awards: More on the Shortlist
The 2010 Hugo Awards: Novelette Shortlist
The 2010 Hugo Awards: Short Story Shortlist

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Day Two: Robinson and Silverberg in Conversation

Aussiecon 4, Melbourne
In conversation: Kim Stanley Robinson and Robert Silverberg

Asked if they either one writes in the nude, KSR says no. RS says he has written at the same desk and chair for many years. “A leatherette chair does not lend itself to writing in the nude.”

KSR said they have a common interest in archeological hoaxes and that RS has written a book on the subject. They mention the Kensington Stone, a rune covered rock that suggested that Vikings had come to Minnesota in the 14th Century. KSR describes how appealing this fiction was for him as a boy. RS quotes an Italian proverb: “Even if it was not true, it was well invented.”

Science fiction and history are inextricably linked. RS: “The past and the future are both strange countries.”

Moving away from hoaxes: a Caucasoid skeleton found in Washington State is dated at 9,000 years old (Kennewick Man).  The Native American community is upset by this. RS describes their reaction as: “We know our history and it’s not like this.”

Tollund Man was discovered in a peat bog in Denmark. He was a human sacrifice, found with a rope around his neck. RS: “His face is beautiful. The face of the Dalai Lama.”

KSR asked RS about his transition as a SF writer into a leader of the New Wave in the late 60s and early 70s. KSR said RS was banging out stories at “inhuman speed.” RS responded, saying, “Just improbable speed.” Of the transition RS said: “I’m an overnight success after 25 years of hard work.”

RS described some of his background. Columbia education, studied Latin, read Mann, Faulkner, etc. He started writing for the pulps, “two-fisted space stories.” RS tried emulating the best SF writers, Theodore Sturgeon, Jack Vance, Fritz Leiber. He couldn’t sell those, so he wrote potboilers and those did sell. His transition to the New Wave came after he had mastered technical skills. He asked himself: “Why do the minimum?” Newcomers Roger Zelazny and Samuel R. Delany had entered the field writing at a high level. “I thought: Why not? Do it.”

KSR said he doesn’t read much current SF. He said there are benefits. “The less you know (about current works in SF) the more idiosyncratic you become.”

Regarding the writing process: KSR said he prefers not to know how many words he is writing each day. He likes to be surprised at how many pages pile up when he eventually hits the print button.

RS: “Not only do I know how many words I am writing, I know how long the story will be.” For his novel, The Alien Years, RS told his editor that the book would be about 600 pages. It came out at 597 pages. “That’s close enough to be a rounding error.”

KSR on the current state of SF: “There is something in the water in Great Britain.” He said there are 20 or more very strong SF writers at work there at present.

RS: “You’re something of an environmentalist.” (Eliciting a chuckle from the audience.)
KSR: “Except when I am flying to the other side of the world for parties.”

KSR: (Reacting to the notion that there is a “pure” environmentalist.) “Notions of purity are close to evil.” (For example:) “There is no such thing as wilderness.” There is no part of the earth untouched by humanity. (Another example:) “We might need nuclear power as a bridge technology.” Purists disagree. KSR can see a role for nuclear power in the process of moving away from fossil fuels.
“The planet is simply our body. That’s not some poetic notion. Try holding your breath.” The planet is an extended part of your body. Even if you are completely selfish, only interested in sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, the better you take care of your “body” the more sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll you get to experience.

RS is pleased to hear of KSR’s flexibility and impurity. “In Adam’s fall we sinned all.” (The New England Primer, circa 1687).

RS describes himself as conservative and that he arrived at his views in a thoughtful manner. “I am not an oppressor. I want to aid the masses in my patrician, aloof way.”

KSR: Science fiction has a belief in the scientific method as a way to make the world a better place, leading to the greatest good for the greatest number. SF is a lively political literature, a conversation, a dialectic.
KSR believes in a modesty of action. Ameliorist, slow paced, measured. Erecting a scaffolding (a framework to improve quality of life), generation by generation, each building on the past. Don’t build it too high at once or the scaffolding could collapse.

RS: Advocates Hegelian homeostasis. He celebrates the American 19th Century robber barons as the great builders, who created much. By the 1920s they had gone too far and needed a corrective. The “tyrant” Franklin Roosevelt imposed changes. These corrections are dialectic swings to arrive at a happy middle.

KSR: We all have blank spots in our vision. We seldom see the poorest two billion people on this planet. The ones who live on a dollar a day or less.

Related posts:
More about Aussiecon 4
2010 Hugo Results and Reactions
Day One: Environmental Politics in SFF
Preparations for traveling to Australia

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Day One: Environmental Politics in SFF

Aussiecon 4, Melbourne
Academic Panel: Destroying the Future to Save the Planet: The Environmental Politics of SFF

Panelists: Kim Stanley Robinson, Glenda Larke, John Clute, Jonathan Cowie, moderator: Tom Moylan

Referenced an academic conference he had just attended where Clute spoke of Lord Byron’s Darkness. This work and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein are early examples of science fiction that were concerned with current science and its impact on people, Modern examples are John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar, Jagged Orbit, The Sheep Look Up, and The Shockwave Rider, which were excellent examples of using science fiction to address immediate concerns.

On his trip to Antartica (15 years ago, now), KSR found that climate scientist were excited about data that suggested actual climate change was happening. There were excited that something dramatic might happen in the next 1000 years or so. Discussion of “abrupt climate change” began in 2002. The gulf stream moves about a petawatt of warmth to Europe. A Greenland melt could throw a wrench into the gulf stream, causing a major shift for Europe. Since he wrote about this the science has moved on and this is considered less likely now.

Glenda Larke:
We should not take water for granted. The most affected will be the poor and marginal. Conflict over water could lead to war. (It does in her book.) In an earlier book, Gilfeather (2004), a sustainable society is achieved through the loss of individual freedoms.

J. Clute:
Most of the great examples of fantastika are sadly not science fiction. They are about “dignified terror.” Frankenstein is an example. The creature learns quickly, adapts quickly. Better than humanity.
Many have written Utopias. Stan has written how to get there.

J. Cowie:
Recent survey of physics grad students shows 26 percent were inspired to work in their field by science fiction. U.N. middle estimate for world population in 2050 is 8.5 billion. The year 2050 represents a “pinch point” of several social and environmental factors: poverty increase, food security, fresh water supply, climate change, energy supply, and population increase. We will need everyone who can to work to solve these issues and science fiction has a role in bring these issues forward and motivating people to enter the sciences.

J. Clute:
“Linear” engineering approach of science and technology that 50s science fiction described is not adequate to the present challenges.

The dangers are significant. Don’t give up. Find a way to make a difference. Our current economics needs to be broken. Like a Brazil nut, it will be tough and it needs to be cracked (by the “pinch point” Cowie refers to). Economic policies (and the guns protecting them) need to change. Current economics is pseudoscience where all the numbers are cooked, where the third world is ignored or exploited. We need a new praxis (combination of theory and practice). The “wedge diagrams” from Princeton give some comfort that can change our carbon output and perhaps prevent a tipping point.

SF Strangelove note: Most of these notes are loosely paraphrased. This is just the briefest of overviews and I welcome additions and corrections in the comments.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Preparations for traveling to Australia

First preparations for attending Aussiecon 4 in Melbourne involved choosing movies to watch over the preceding months.

These included Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), which holds up quite nicely, re-watching it after many years. Gorgeously photographed, it retains a sense of wonder. The story concerns the inexplicable disappearance of members of a private women's school at a remote rock-outcropping in 1900.

John Hillcoat's The Proposition (2005) is a gritty, violent film about the murderous Burns gang in the dusty Australian outback in the 1880s. It features excellent actors including Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone, Emily Watson, John Hurt, and Danny Huston. The movie is well done throughout. Not for the squeamish or faint-hearted.

Nicolas Roeg's Walkabout (1971) is, I think, the strongest film of the three, and the most open to interpretation. The simple narrative follows a white school girl and her young brother, abandoned by their father in the outback. They wander and struggle to survive. Eventually they encounter an Aboriginal boy who has the skills to survive and he helps them and travels with them. There is little dialog and the Aboriginal boy doesn't speak English. The version I saw had quite a bit of nudity, which supports the unrealized sexual tension between the school girl (Jenny Agutter) and the Aboriginal boy (David Gulpilil, who is also in The Proposition). The cinematography is exceptional. The film intelligently touches on issues of race, gender, language, culture, sexuality, survival, and death.

Preparations included listening to Midnight Oil, a rock band from Sydney. I remember buying their CD (or was it a cassette?) Beds Are Burning shortly after its 1988 release. I listened and appreciated once again the songs "Beds Are Burning" and "Truganini" (1993).

And then there are the books. I will highlight three.

Bill Bryson's In a Sunburned Country (2000) is both informative and funny, which is a winning combination in a travel book. It's well-written, too, and Bryson has a wonderful eye for detail.

Robert Lawlor's Voices of the First Day: Awakening in the Aboriginal Dreamtime (1991) is a mixed bag. It's quite good when describing Aboriginal culture and ceremonies, and the photos and artwork throughout the book are fascinating. On the downside, the author has his own pet theories about various issues that are best passed over lightly.

Ronald M. Berndt and Catherine H. Berndt's The Speaking Land: Myth and Story in Aboriginal Australia (1988) is packaged as a dry, academic book. It turns out to be a treasure trove of oral myths and stories told by Aboriginal story-tellers and translated into English. This book is endlessly rewarding for anyone with an interest in mythology or anthropology (or even science fiction and fantasy).

The last two books were loaned to me by Monkeyblake. Many thanks.

On the practical side, we have applied for and received three visitor visas for the three members of the Strangelove household who are traveling to Australia. We will arrive first in New Zealand (not in time for the Au Contraire science fiction convention in Wellington), then to Melbourne for Aussiecon 4, then to Adelaide, and finally to Sydney before heading for home. There will be blog posts and tweets if all goes according to plan.

Related posts:
More about Aussiecon 4
2010 Hugo Results and Reactions
Day Two: Robinson and Silverberg in Conversation
Day One: Environmental Politics in SFF

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Notes on rereading Dhalgren during the Summer of 2010

A guest-post and photo-illustration from Monkeyblake, a simian friend of ours:

Unreal City. Moscow. Set off by a historic heatwave acrid smog from the fires burning across the forests outside the city is seeping into apartments, offices and even the underground  Moscow metro, forcing many Russians to abandon the city. All over Russia, the worst heatwave in memory has blanketed the region in 110 degree or more heat, triggering wildfires, igniting peat bogs in central Russia, and choking Moscow with dense unbreathable smog for days on end. Plumes of smoke have gone as far away as Finland. At the same time, a heatwave has descended on the Eastern Coast and parts of the Great Plains of the United States this August. On the the radio reports of flash floods across Pakistan, thousands killed,  many others swept away and marooned, 600,000 homes destroyed, the worst flooding in 80 years...

"Unreal City," Eliot repeats like a refrain in The Waste Land (1922).  "A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many," He quotes Dante in hell: "I had not thought death had undone so many. Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled, And each man fixed his eyes before his feet..." like cars bumper to bumper fleeing New Orleans during Katrina.

Unreal City. Suburban wasteland. Nameless. I live where the heat usually goes above 110 even into the 120s during summer.  This summer is unusually mild. Rarely above 90. I am reading Dhalgren again this summer. I was a boy of 15 the summer it came out, the summer I read it, lured by the image of the giant sun on the cover and the thickness of the paperback that to my 15 year-old-mind meant quality, meant serious, Russian-serious. The paper I remember smelled quite  good, though it has since browned quite badly. The summer of 1975. 

When the book came out cities were not like Bellona, the city that is Dhalgren -- cities were not abandoned, off the grid, emptied of most of their populace... Describing such a place was Science Fiction: Dhalgren, Stalker.

No longer. Unreal cities are no longer rare. When I read the book in ‘75 no American city had been abandoned like New Orleans to disaster and its own fate. Not in living memory anyway. Not like Europe or elsewhere. Abandoned. Ruined. Emptied, the fleeing, the fled.  Some survivors and hold-outs trapped or lost.  Standing on roofs to keep from drowning. Shitting in stadium corners. A hole ripped in the man-made dome. Unreal New Orleans. 

Dhalgren was my first Unreal City. It helped me -- withstand the shocks of the later ones I became exposed to, Dresden, Hiroshima, Detroit. A homeopathic post-apocalyptic gem or germ. A shot in the arm for a 15 year old.

Why am I rereading it now? Harder to answer -- and more personal -- the kind of ruins you see around you at 50. A booster shot maybe. That and Samuel R. Delany was suppose to come and visit where I live to receive a prestigious Science Fiction award. We waited for weeks foolishly hopeful after the award was announced that he just might come. He declined. This place, nameless, too much of a wasteland even for Delany.*

As a genre descended from the Gothic, science fiction has many ruined landscapes to roam around in.  Post-apocalyptic novels are made from them. The gritty winds blasting the streets brownstone tenements of 1984. J.G. Ballard's divine books, The Drought and The Drowned World are alike post-apocalyptic and set in ruins. 

Some are even as beautiful as Dhalgren. Though they have plot. Things they say, mean. Things happen in Dhalgren, sure, but really, Dhalgren feels more like a place than a story. A landscape that is coextensive. Not a narrative, an unfolding. As a place, it is one of the most vivid places in letters you can roam in. Roam like the Kidd. You don't care if things happen or don’t happen, don’t care where you go or don’t go, you are happy to forget yourself for a while, keep reading, keep roaming, all 879 pages and then read again.

*Though the guy who is getting the same prestigious award, the Eaton, the guy with a big mouth who must scream, is coming (though few I know can reread him, though we try, no longer 15). He hated Dhalgren by the way.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The 2010 Hugo Awards: More on the Shortlist

This is the third post regarding voting for the Hugo Awards to be presented September 5, at Aussiecon 4, the 68th World Science Fiction Convention, to be held in Melbourne, Australia.

Belatedly, since the voting is over now, I would like to describe how I voted in the remaining fiction categories that haven't been discussed in previous posts.

SF Strangelove's Hugo ballot for best novel:
1. The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (review)
2. Julian Comstock by Robert Charles Wilson (review)
3. The City & The City by China Miéville (review)

First, it must be said that having three novels this strong on the ballot is a good thing for the science fiction community and for the Hugos. It's been a few years since there were three novels this strong on the Hugo shortlist (2005 to be precise). I would not be disappointed if any of these three won. Of course, there can be no certainty that one of these will be the winner. The other novels on the Hugo shortlist include the Locus Award-winning Boneshaker by Cherie Priest. I already have written about my concerns regarding it (review). I have started reading Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente and I continue to dip into it from time to time to enjoy the wonderful writing. The conceit of a city which only can be reached by having sex with someone who already has been there is delightful (and makes me think, for some reason, of Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany). I haven't read far enough to be able to vote for it. Also, I haven't read WWW: Wake by Robert J. Sawyer, the remaining novel on the shortlist.

After I voted, I noticed that the recently announced John W. Campbell Memorial Award matches my Hugo ballot exactly:

Winner: The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
Second Place: Julian Comstock by Robert Charles Wilson
Third Place: The City & The City by China Miéville

My vote wasn't influenced by this result, still it does fuel my suspicion that my taste in science fiction is more closely reflected by jury-chosen awards such as the Campbell Award, rather than popular-vote awards such as the Hugo.

SF Strangelove's Hugo ballot for best novella:
1. "Vishnu at the Cat Circus" by Ian McDonald
2. "Shambling Towards Hiroshima" by James Morrow
3. "The Women of Nell Gwynne's" by Kage Baker

"Vishnu at the Cat Circus" is wonderful. It is a free-standing story that is part of McDonald's cycle of stories about a future India. It first appeared in Cyberabad Days, which was one of the best single-author collections to appear in 2009. "Shambling Towards Hiroshima" is a fine nostalgic mashup of 1940s Hollywood and a secret history of World War Two. I found that I admired it more than I enjoyed it. "The Women of Nell Gwynne's" was enjoyable, if short of Baker's best. The remaining novellas on the shortlist, sadly, I have not yet read. Someday I will learn to leave more time to read the shortlists.

Before leaving the topic of awards, I want to note that one of the truly excellent short stories of 2009, "The Pelican Bar" by Karen Joy Fowler (review) won the Shirley Jackson Award for best short story. The Jackson Award is a relatively new jury-chosen award for horror, psychological suspense, and dark fantasy. It didn't occur to me that "The Pelican Bar" was a horror story when I read it. Nor does it concern me, since I am not interested in using genre categories as blinders. I am glad to see the story get the recognition it deserves.

Related posts:
2010 Hugo Results and Reactions
The 2010 Hugo Awards: Short Story Shortlist
The 2010 Hugo Awards: Novelette Shortlist

Monday, July 26, 2010

The 2010 Hugo Awards: Novelette Shortlist

This is the second post regarding the upcoming voting for the Hugo Awards to be presented at Aussiecon 4 in Melbourne, Australia.

Best Novelette Shortlist
“Eros, Philia, Agape” by Rachel Swirsky ( 3/09)
“The Island” by Peter Watts (The New Space Opera 2)
“It Takes Two” by Nicola Griffith (Eclipse Three)
“One of Our Bastards is Missing” by Paul Cornell (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction: Volume Three)
“Overtime” by Charles Stross ( 12/09)
“Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast” by Eugie Foster (Interzone 2/09)

Three of these stories (the Foster, Griffith, and Swirsky) are about romantic, sexual relationships that are revealed to be false and artificial. The strongest and most intriguing of the three is “Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast,” which is a cross between the Jack Vance classic "The Moon Moth" (1961) and Joss Whedon's recent, short-lived Dollhouse television series. Vance describes a society where status and wealth are dependent on choosing a mask and a musical instrument. Foster offers a society where individuals are blank slates and the mask they choose programs them with a role to play, as with Whedon's programmed dolls. Foster takes the further step of making her protagonists non-human, possibly insectoid, possibly hermaphroditic. Unexplained is why the masks create such human-seeming tableaus as a male-female marriages, torture scenes, etc. The plot concerns an effort to subvert the control of the masks.

I have already discussed “It Takes Two” (follow here). Among the three it has the most compelling description of human sexuality.

“Eros, Philia, Agape” works through the emotional issues the most thoroughly of the three stories. It concerns a woman who purchases a robot lover and falls in love with him. It's well done, if a little staid.

The best of the remaining stories is “The Island,” a taut and layered story set on board a spaceship, which I have previously discussed (follow here). It easily has the most hard science fiction content of the novelettes on the shortlist.

“One of Our Bastards is Missing” is handicapped by clearly being a fragment of a larger story, leaving loose ends and missing context. The story is set in a class-stratified British Empire, circa 1800s, with space-folding technology.

Stross' “Overtime” is a one-joke Christmas-Cthulhu story that goes on too long. It is part of Stross' series of stories concerning Bob Howard and the secret agency called The Laundry. I've enjoyed previous stories in the series. This is a weak addition.

SF Strangelove's Hugo ballot
1. “The Island” by Peter Watts (The New Space Opera 2)
2. “Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast” by Eugie Foster (Interzone 2/09)
3. “It Takes Two” by Nicola Griffith (Eclipse Three)
4. “Eros, Philia, Agape” by Rachel Swirsky ( 3/09)
5. “One of Our Bastards is Missing” by Paul Cornell
6. “Overtime” by Charles Stross

The novelette shortlist has more quality work than the 2010 Hugo short story shortlist. Still, it would be a stretch to say that these are the six strongest novelettes of the year.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The 2010 Hugo Awards: Short Story Shortlist

The Hugo Awards ceremony will take place September 5, 2010, at Aussiecon 4, the 68th World Science Fiction Convention, to be held in Melbourne, Australia.

Best Short Story Shortlist
“The Bride of Frankenstein” by Mike Resnick (Asimov’s 12/09)
“Bridesicle” by Will McIntosh (Asimov’s 1/09)
“The Moment” by Lawrence M. Schoen (Footprints)
“Non-Zero Probabilities” by N.K. Jemisin (Clarkesworld 9/09)
“Spar” by Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld 10/09)

“The Bride of Frankenstein” retells the story of Victor Frankenstein from the viewpoint of his unhappy wife. This treads overly familiar ground. The character of the wife and her relationships with Victor, Igor, and the monster are tired and predictable throughout. This is far from the best work the genre has to offer and it is disappointing to find it on the short list for the Hugo Award.

“The Moment” is a series of vignettes describing far future star-faring races and superhuman entities as they stumble upon a human footprint on our moon. The vignettes pale quickly and grow tiresome. The payoff for the story is the realization that the footprint represents the moment that humanity became a star-faring race, which is trite. The self-congratulatory attitude toward human achievement is painfully simplistic. Like “The Bride of Frankenstein,” this story is well short of the best work the genre has to offer.

“Bridesicle” brings speed-dating to the frozen dead. Preserved dead women are woken for conversation with men who will pay for a woman's full-revival if the woman will agree to become their bride. The story works best in the moments when it makes clear how this process is creepy and exploitive. Among the numerous questions the story doesn't adequately address are: why does this process only involve frozen women and why would a man choose to pay for an expensive revival rather than find a living woman? The relatively happy ending feels a little unearned, but at least it's tempered by some sadness.

I discussed “Spar” recently here. It's successful in that it is a disturbing story. On rereading it seems more empty and less engaging.

“Non-Zero Probabilities” depicts a present-day Manhattan where unlikely events have become commonplace. If a train crash was once a one-in-a-million chance, now any mass transit travel is a life-or-death risk. On the positive side, remission of cancer is now frequent. We follow Adele's quotidian life. She is an appealing character. She decides, with the altered odds, to try again on the dating scene. This is my choice as the strongest of the five short stories on the shortlist.

SF Strangelove's Hugo ballot
1. “Non-Zero Probabilities” by N.K. Jemisin (Clarkesworld 9/09)
2. “Spar” by Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld 10/09)
3. “Bridesicle” by Will McIntosh (Asimov’s 1/09)
4. No Award

Anyone approaching the shortlist of five short stories who assumes that it represents a selection of the best that the science fiction genre has to offer would be sadly mistaken. Any of the best of the year anthologies offers a better cross-section of the genre with consistently stronger stories than this list. This list is especially weighed down by “The Bride of Frankenstein” and “The Moment.”

Related posts:
2010 Hugo Results and Reactions
The 2010 Hugo Awards: More on the Shortlist
The 2010 Hugo Awards: Novelette Shortlist

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Spar by Kij Johnson

I enjoyed "Spar," although not as much as some others on the internet. One human and one alien share a tiny lifeboat after their ships are destroyed in a collision. Their only communication is sex. The description of their wordless interaction is unsparing. There is little context. The story starts after the collision and ends at the moment of rescue, as the lifeboat is opened from outside. The bulk of the story is interior monologue as the human woman endures within the lifeboat. Since her partner in the lifeboat is alien and all communication is non-verbal, the story is claustrophobic. The non-verbal nature of the story leaves it ambiguous as to whether the alien is sentient. Another reading is that the relationship is pre-verbal and that the story's subtext is that of childhood sexual abuse.

The story fits within Japanese tradition of "tentacle erotica." There's a Wikipedia entry for tentacle erotica.

Related post: The Years Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, Volume Four, table of contents

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Pelican Bar by Karen Joy Fowler

This story is taut and suspenseful, immersive and unpredictable. It is a character study that starts with an unsympathetic character and by the end the reader is cheering for her. Norah is an out of control teenager. Her parents contract with an organization that will set her straight. Without warning, Norah is kidnapped from her bedroom and taken to a rundown motel where she endures "group," where she must reveal her faults and secrets. For lying, she is sent for TAP, the Think Again Position, where she must lie face down on the bare floor without moving for hours. If she moves she is put in restraint where one staff member places a knee on her spine while others pull her arms and legs up and backward. Norah must earn points for the privilege of having a toothbrush and hairbrush. There are indications that the people running the organization are not human.

There are many wonderful things happening: a lost teenager seeks her identity, a horrible and possibly rehabilitative center is revealed layer by layer, and images and events suggest a science-fictional underpinning. This is an outstanding story.

"The Pelican Bar" by Karen Joy Fowler first appeared in Eclipse Three (Night Shade Books) edited by Jonathan Strahan.

Related post: The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Four, table of contents

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Locus Awards Results and Reactions

The 2010 Locus Awards winners were announced June 26.  Here are the novel-length categories:

Science Fiction Novel: Boneshaker by Cherie Priest (Tor)
Fantasy Novel: The City & The City by China Miéville (Del Rey; Macmillan UK)
First Novel: The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (Night Shade Books)
Young Adult Novel: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld (Simon Pulse; Simon & Schuster UK)

Congratulations to the winners. As reported in the July issue of Locus. There were 680 valid ballots. Of these 36 were paper ballots, and the remaining 644 were electronic submissions. Locus subscribers cast 306 votes, or 45 percent of the vote. Since 2008, when online voters outnumbered subscribers, Charles N. Brown changed the system, doubling the point value of subscriber votes to better reflect Locus readership.

Then comes this quote: "It didn't make a difference in the winner of any category this year." That may be true, strictly speaking, regarding the revised point system, but what were the Locus subscriber results? Aren't there two polls going on here with quite different sensibilities? In describing the SF novel results: "Subscribers put the Robinson first by only 100 points, not enough to dent the large lead non-subscribers gave the Priest." That's Kim Stanley Robinson's Galileo's Dream. That's the poll I want to know about. Priest's novel is a fine young-adult steampunk adventure novel, but really rather slight. I am surprised it was on the short list, much less the winner. (For the SF Strangelove review of Boneshaker follow here.)

Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl, which won the Nebula Award, placed only 15th among Locus Poll SF Novels. What they don't mention is that it wasn't part of the pull-down list of SF novels that the online voting form offered as choices. Every vote for The Windup Girl for SF Novel was a write-in vote, which couldn't help but reduce the number of votes it received. Since it was a first novel, that was the only category where it appeared in a pre-built list in the online form.

The Locus Poll is interesting and rather complicated. As I've already mentioned, there are two polls here that have been mashed together: the subscribers and the non-subscribers. Why not report them separately? The numerous categories are sometimes ill-defined. Isn't Boneshaker better listed as a fantasy novel or a young-adult novel? Is The City & The City really fantasy and not science fiction? Why shouldn't The Windup Girl have been present in the list of SF novels built into the online poll?

For a brief overview of Locus Poll results, follow here.

Monday, June 21, 2010

"A Wild and a Wicked Youth" by Ellen Kushner

A "coming of age" fantasy, it feels a little like a story ticking items off a checklist: Here we learn that Richard is fabulously agile and has an unusually developed sense of balance. Here he meets a broken-down old swordsman who will, over the course of years, teach him about swordsmanship. Here is a homosexual encounter. Here is Richard's first public display of his early mastery of the sword. Here is his first heterosexual encounter.

That makes it sound overly routine. Instead, it is quite fine. It takes place within the author's "Riverside" series of novels and short fiction. I haven't read any of this series before. Now, I would like to.

"A Wild and a Wicked Youth" by Ellen Kushner originally appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, April/May 2009.

Related post: The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Four, table of contents

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Ferryman by Margo Lanagan

A gem of a story, told in evocative prose, it is a literalization of the ferryman of the River Styx. To bring the ferryman his lunch, his daughter, Sharon (which I don't think rhymes with Charon, but nevermind), descends a dark stairway while singing. This is excellent throughout. My minor protest is that the story seems too hermetically sealed. I wondered what might be visible outside the windows of Sharon's house.

"Ferryman" by Margo Lanagan first appeared in the anthology Firebirds Soaring (Firebird-Penguin, 2009) edited by Sharyn November.

Related post: The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Four, table of contents

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Island by Peter Watts

There is a struggle for survival both inside and outside the starship. Inside the ship the human crew contends with Chimp, the artificial intelligence that runs the ship. Outside, a vast alien "island" must negotiate for its own existence. Watts story is rigorous and bleak and easily one of the best science fiction novelettes of the year. It is a finalist for the upcoming Hugo awards.

Coincidentally, I was listening today to the Notes from Coode Street podcast, Episode 6: Live with Gary K. Wolfe, where Wolfe and Jonathan Strahan were discussing "The Island." They were drawing a distinction between the kinds of stories that work and don't work as good introductions to the genre for non-science fiction readers, and they both agreed that "The Island" was an example of a story that would not be easily understood by non-science fiction readers. I can see their point, to an extent. I think "The Island" asks a lot of a reader who is not familiar with standard tropes of science fiction. Still, this is exactly the challenging material that I would want a non-sf reader to engage with. This is science fiction at its best and its most rewarding.

"The Island" by Peter Watts first appeared in The New Space Opera 2 (Eos-HarperCollins, 2009) edited by Gardner Dozois and Strahan.

Related post: The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Four, table of contents

Thursday, June 10, 2010

On the Nature of Story

Alien eye-stalk
First in an open-ended series.

What is it we do when we read science fiction? What is it we do when we write science fiction? What is the nature of story?

Story, it has been said, is a way of organizing life experience. Story is remembering. Sometimes, as with Gene Wolfe, story is explicitly ordered by the function of memory.

Story imposes order on incident for the purpose of gathering meaning. If too much order is imposed the story becomes rigid and artificial. If there is too little order the story becomes formless and incoherent. There is a magical middle ground between order and chaos that replicates life. Or at least it replicates the way we perceive life in our story-based view of the world.

Does that mean that story is a valid way of processing information about the world, or more valid than some other way? Not at all. It happens to be the most accessible way that humans process perception of the world, and prior to the emergence of math and science it was the only way.

I had been noodling around some of these ideas when I read Graham Sleight article, Excellent Foppery, which he gave as a talk at Readercon 2009. It is about habits of human cognition and touches on Shakespeare, Wolfe, James Wood, Breughel, and more, and you should go read it. Sleight manages to make more sense than what I wrote above.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Night Cache by Andy Duncan

"The Night Cache" is a love story. While working at Yarns Ignoble bookstore, Jenny and Destiny have a "meet-cute" moment. They share an interest in scary old movies, ciphers, and geocaching. They become lovers. Tragedy intervenes. The story is told sweetly, with a charming sense of humor and a wonderful ear for dialog. It left me wanting more.

"The Night Cache" by Andy Duncan first appeared as The Night Cache (PS Publishing, 2009) by Andy Duncan.  This novelette was produced in an excellent hardback edition from the estimable small press PS Publishing. Having that edition at hand, I can say it is worth getting a copy. PS Publishing produces remarkable books year after year. Please see the "SF Small Press" list of links at the right for this and other small publishers that deserve your attention.

Related post: The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Four, table of contents

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

William Gibson's Top Ten SF Novels

William Gibson (his new novel, Zero History, is expected this September) has chosen his top ten science fiction novels:

  • Tiger! Tiger! (The Stars My Destination) (1956) by Alfred Bester
  • The Crystal World (1966) by J.G. Ballard
  • Pavane (1968) by Keith Roberts
  • 334 (1972) by Thomas M. Disch
  • The Forever War (1974) by Joe Haldeman
  • Dhalgren (1975) by Samuel R. Delany
  • Arslan (1976) by M.J. Engh
  • Great Work of Time (1991) by John Crowley
  • Random Acts of Senseless Violence (1993) by Jack Womack
  • Holy Fire (1996) by Bruce Sterling

This is an exceptional list. If you google "top ten science fiction novels" you'll get some pretty low-grade results. Gibson's list looks even better by comparison. Note Gibson's parameters: novels only and the time frame is 1956 to 1996. I've read eight of the ten (not the Ballard or Womack), but I know enough about those two novels to respect their inclusion. I could argue with some of the choices. The list is short on women (Mary Jane Engh is on her own). I would add Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed (1974). If there's only one novel from the 1950s I might favor Theodore Sturgeon's More Than Human (1953), but I will concede that the Bester novel is just as important. For Crowley, I might have gone with Engine Summer (1979); or for Sterling, I might have chosen Schismatrix (1985). These are minor quibbles. I might have to go back and re-read Great Work of Time. Holy Fire is a favorite of mine and it is probably Sterling's most accomplished novel, but Schismatrix was the first Sterling novel I read and sometimes it is hard to separate my person experience of a novel from my critical view of a novel.

Be sure to read Gibson's brief commentary on each title on his list.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Three Twilight Tales by Jo Walton

These three very short linked stories are a delight. There is nothing particularly original or innovative about them. They are fantasy in a rural, medieval mold that is familiar to genre readers. By turn they concern a man made of magic, a peddler, and a king. They are slight, yet they are well done. The passage describing the items on the mantelpiece of the village pub has more wonder and stories within stories than many longer works achieve.

"Three Twilight Tales" by Jo Walton first appeared in the anthology Firebirds Soaring (Firebird-Penguin, 2009) edited by Sharyn November.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
Boneshaker (Tor Books, 2009) by Cherie Priest is composed of interesting parts: airships, zombies, a new drug, an 1870s Seattle locale, and a fraught mother-son relationship. Each piece works pretty well. It does not, alas, add up to more than the sum of its parts. If the reader is new to the genre, and this novel appears to be marketed to the young adult audience, then the reader may be satisfied. For those of us who have read about airships or zombies before, we might have hoped for something more. For instance, the mother-son relationship might have had a little more depth to it. In fact, they rarely occupy the same scene.

The mother, Briar, spends most of the book searching for her missing son inside the walled, zombie-infested remains of Seattle. She is appealing and entertaining, which makes it all the more painful when the author pointedly tries to mislead the reader about Briar's relationship with the evil Dr. Minnericht. An important conversation between the two characters makes little sense after revelations late in the story.

A colorful cast of characters are brave or crazy enough to live inside the walled section of Seattle. They are there because the poison gas that created the zombies can be distilled into a profitable, addictive, and illicit drug. The problem is that we are shown that no-one needs to live inside the wall to harvest the gas. Airships can scoop up the gas without ever touching down. Why, then, would anyone choose to live there?

Boneshaker is an enjoyable, action-oriented read, and it is a finalist for the upcoming Hugo awards. It probably won't get my top vote for the Hugo for best novel, but that is the subject of another post.

Friday, June 4, 2010

It Takes Two by Nicola Griffith

Nicola Griffith’s story treats gender and sexual behavior in an intelligent manner. It is stylishly written, moves well, and has a good resolution. Unfortunately, I didn’t believe it for a moment. The internal logic of the story demands that the main character, Cody, would allow herself to be the subject of experimental modification of her personality and behavior in order to sign a client. I didn’t buy it. There is nothing to suggest that Cody is reckless. This problem is doubled by the fact that another woman has to be brought into the scheme and convinced to undergo the same experimental personality modification. Even more damaging to the logic of the story, Cody and her friend Richard, both believe they know exactly what the client’s reaction will be when Cody displays the behavior she is programmed to perform. I didn’t buy that either. Real people (as opposed to abstract characters used to advance the plot) behave in unexpected ways. Even if the client has a fantasy about witnessing a public display of sexuality, when his fantasy becomes reality his reaction could be strongly negative. A very interesting story where the internal logic didn't hold up.

"It Takes Two" by Nicola Griffith originally appeared in Eclipse Three (Night Shade Books, 2009) edited by Jonathan Strahan.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Lost: A Look Back

Lost represented the triumph of appealing characters and fine acting over an incoherent story. What kept me coming back for six seasons certainly wasn't the multitude of never-explained mysteries or the numerous plot-lines that were dropped by the writers like hot potatoes. If this had been a written work, rather than television, I would have abandoned it long ago, and I suspect most of the audience would have done likewise. As a visual medium, it revolved around the people. Lost had a large cast of well-chosen actors and they sold this unhinged, rudderless story. Long after I had given up hope that the writers knew what they were doing, or that the story would make a lick of sense, I kept watching. As the end of the series approached the question became: how bad would this train-wreck be?

Lost should be a case study in why a room full of writers should not be asked to produce long-form narrative. If Lost had been episodic, with discrete hour-long stories, no problem. Whoever had the initial vision for the show -- J.J. Abrams presumably -- apparently left the writers on their own sometime during the first season ("See ya, losers!"), and the writers were left to tread water ever since. Lost is what happens when a story is written by committee.

Compare other television series: Twin Peaks or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which represented the singular vision of their creators. Love them or hate them, those two shows are examples of originality and strong creative leadership. Lost had no such integrity, no guiding vision.

The final season was especially disappointing, focused as it was on the simplistic good versus evil story of Jacob and the smoke monster, yin versus yang, light versus dark, weighed down with heavy amounts of Christian imagery. After seasons with more interesting conflicts, to end up where the story did was both trite and dull. Where were the days when Jack and Locke argued about the guiding principles of faith and science? When was Ben, easily the most compelling antagonist the show had to offer, last actually a factor in the story? As a substitute for Ben, the smoke monster was not nearly as interesting. When were the mysteries of the island last intriguing and dangerous? When did the show last have a sense of humor? Not during the last season.

The self-indulgent final episode had its entertaining moments and its howlers. This wasn't an ending to a six-season show, this was a six-year cast reunion. The number of tearfully reunited friends and romantic couples was taken to such an extreme that it became self-parody. In the end it was a series that overstayed its welcome, undercutting what was once enjoyable about the show and diminishing the series as a whole.

Related post: Lost in the Writers' Room

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Four: Introduction

Jonathan Strahan's introduction to The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Four, is brief, unlike the thorough year in review that Gardner Dozois provides in his annual year's best science fiction anthology. He notes the current trends in science fiction toward zombie stories and what he calls the "retro-futurism" of steampunk. Strahan sees a more significant trend in how we consume books, with a surge in popularity for electronic book readers such as the Kindle and the nook. Since he is writing in 2009 about 2009, and can be forgiven for not seeing the future, he cannot mention the big debut for the Apple iPad, which has, for now, stolen the thunder from the other electronic readers.

In the publishing world the year was one of new efficiencies, cutbacks, and hard economic choices, especially in the short fiction markets. Print magazines were published in new formats or reduced to bimonthly schedules. Realms of Fantasy ceased publication and was later revived by another publisher. Online, the changes came even more quickly, with sites closing or cutting back, and newer sites ( and Clarkesworld Magazine) quickly establishing themselves as sources of excellent short fiction. 

Strahan mentions the most interesting anthologies of 2009, including The New Space Opera 2 edited by Dozois and Strahan, Eclipse 3 edited by Strahan, Other Earths edited by Nick Gevers and Jay Lake, The Solaris Book of Science Fiction, Volume 3, edited by George Mann, and Firebirds Soaring edited by Sharyn November.

The best single-author short story collections of 2009 he lists as Ian McDonald's Cyberabad Days, Greg Egan's Oceanic, Gwyneth Jones's Grazing the Long Acre, Charles Stross's Wireless, and Peter S. Beagle's We Never Talk About My Brother. He also cites excellent career retrospective collections: The Best of Gene Wolfe, The Best of Michael Moorcock, Trips by Robert Silverberg, the first two volumes of The Collected Short Works of Poul Anderson, and the staggering six-volume Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny.

Strahan ends his introduction with a tribute to Charles N. Brown, the co-founder of publisher Locus, who died in 2009. "He was, I think, science fiction's best and truest advocate. His passion for the field was deep, profound, and perspicacious. He influence me greatly but he influenced the field he loved far more." Clearly, Brown was an important figure in the field for the past 40 years or more, and Locus is the best evidence, but I think many stories have not been told about his career advice to writers and his work on unpublished manuscripts. Someday I hope those stories will be told as well.

Related post: The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Four, table of contents

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Four

I'll be writing briefly about each story in The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Four, edited by Jonathan Strahan (Night Shade Books, 2010). Items on the table of contents below will be updated with links to each review as it is posted.

  • Introduction -- Jonathan Strahan
  • It Takes Two -- Nicola Griffith
  • Three Twilight Tales -- Jo Walton
  • The Night Cache -- Andy Duncan
  • The Island -- Peter Watts
  • Ferryman -- Margo Lanagan
  • "A Wild and Wicked Youth" -- Ellen Kushner
  • The Pelican Bar -- Karen Joy Fowler
  • Spar -- Kij Johnson
  • Going Deep -- James Patrick Kelly
  • The Coldest Girl in Coldtown -- Holly Black
  • Zeppelin City -- Michael Swanwick and Eileen Gunn
  • Dragon's Teeth -- Alex Irvine
  • This Wind Blowing, and This Tide -- Damien Broderick
  • By Moonlight -- Peter S. Beagle
  • Black Swan -- Bruce Sterling
  • As Women Fight -- Sara Genge
  • The Cinderella Game -- Kelly Link
  • Formidable Caress -- Stephen Baxter
  • Blocked -- Geoff Ryman
  • Truth and Bone -- Pat Cadigan
  • Eros, Philia, Agape -- Rachel Swirsky
  • The Motorman's Coat -- John Kessel
  • Mongoose -- Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear
  • Echoes of Aurora -- Ellen Klages
  • Before My Last Breath -- Robert Reed
  • JoBoy -- Diana Wynne Jones
  • Utriusque Cosmi -- Robert Charles Wilson
  • A Delicate Architecture -- Catherynne M. Valente
  • The Cat Who Walked a Thousand Miles -- Kij Johnson

Friday, May 28, 2010

Back from the Land of Enchantment

New Mexico
I have just returned home to California after a wonderful week of vacation in New Mexico, aka the Land of Enchantment. I'll post more pictures as time permits. Click the photo above for a larger view.

Recently read
I have read Boneshaker by Cherie Priest (Tor Books, 2009) and The Sorcerer's House by Gene Wolfe (Tor Books, 2010) and I will have something to say about each book soon. Boneshaker is a Hugo finalist (voting deadline is 31 July 2010), it is on the Locus Awards short list, and it was a Nebula Award finalist (won earlier this month by The Windup Girl).

Currently reading
I am reading The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit, 2010), the author's first novel, and The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume 4 edited by Jonathan Strahan (Night Shade Books, 2010), which I may review on a story-by-story basis as I did for Year's Best SF 14.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Of Nebulas and Cities

Nebula Awards announced May 15
Novel: The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (Night Shade Books, Sept. 2009)
Novella: The Women of Nell Gwynne’s by Kage Baker (Subterranean Press, June 2009)
Novelette: “Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast” by Eugie Foster (Interzone, Feb. 2009)
Short Story: “Spar” by Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld, Oct. 2009)
Ray Bradbury Award: District 9, Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell (Tri-Star, Aug. 2009)
Andre Norton Award: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente (Catherynne M. Valente, June 2009)

I’m pleased that Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl won. For the SF Strangelove review follow here. I’ve read half the nominated novels so far and this would have been my choice. The remaining winners seem pretty strong, at least those that I have read. The one clear disappointment here is that District 9 beat Moon for the screenwriting award. District 9 had some good ideas, then when it should have taken those concepts to the next level it devolved into a trite action movie. Moon continued to explore its ideas for the length of the film and was much more satisfying. SF Strangelove reviews of District 9 and Moon.

Notes from Coode Street Podcasts
I have been enjoying the first few Notes from Coode Street Podcasts from Jonathan Strahan. These are much like listening to a really good discussion panel at a science fiction convention. The two conversations, so far, with Gary K. Wolfe are wonderful, covering topics such as what it’s like to work for Locus and how decisions are made about which books to review, canon formation, the work of Joanna Russ, what books they are excited about reading at the moment, and what books they are looking forward to in the near future. The latest podcast features a conversation with Graham Sleight that is quite good, where they discuss Joanna Russ’ short fiction and the Gollancz Masterworks reprint series. These are bright, articulate people talking about what is best in science fiction. (Get the podcast direct from Notes from Coode Street or syndicated through iTunes.)

Would Borges have been a fan of Wikipedia?
A short item at the Los Angeles Times blog quotes Jorge Luis Borges in 1977 pondering a vast, all-encompassing encyclopedia where everything is linked. (LA Times article.)

John Clute turns his attention to Michal Ajvaz
Astute SF critic John Clute writes about two Michal Ajvaz novels, The Other City and The Golden Age, drawing lines of comparison to H.P. Lovecraft and China Miéville. (SF Strangelove review of Ajvaz's The Other City.)