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.