Saturday, June 25, 2011

2011 Locus Award winners announced

The winners of the 2011 Locus Awards were announced today in Seattle:

Science Fiction Novel: Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis (Spectra)
Fantasy Novel: Kraken by China Miéville (Macmillan UK; Del Rey)
First Novel: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit UK; Orbit US)
YA Book: Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (Little, Brown)
Novella: "The Lifecycle of Software Objects" by Ted Chiang (Subterranean)
Novelette: "The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains" by Neil Gaiman (Stories)
Short Story: "The Thing About Cassandra" by Neil Gaiman (Songs of Love and Death)
Magazine: Asimov’s
Publisher: Tor
Anthology: Warriors by George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois, eds. (Tor)
Collection: Fritz Leiber: Selected Stories, Fritz Leiber, edited by Jonathan Strahan and Charles N. Brown (Night Shade)
Editor: Ellen Datlow
Artist: Shaun Tan
Non-Fiction: Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century: Volume 1: 1907-1948: Learning Curve by William H. Patterson, Jr., (Tor)
Art Book: Spectrum 17, Cathy & Arnie Fenner, eds. (Underwood)

This looks like a good result. I have significant problems with the choice for science fiction novel (see review), but was not surprised by the win. I haven't read Kraken, although I have read China Miéville's most recent novel, Embassytown, which is science fiction and I liked it quite a bit. Hopefully I will have a chance to post a review soon. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was goodShip Breaker was exceptional, as was "The Lifecycle of Software Objects." I liked "The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains" and haven't read "The Thing About Cassandra." Asimov's magazine is certainly having a good run. Most of the rest I can only claim a browsing familiarity. Still, it looks strong, and Datlow and Tan are deserving winners.

2011 Locus Award finalists announced

The top five finalists in each category for the 2011 Locus Awards have been announced. Below are the novel categories. The winners will be named in Seattle WA, June 24-26, 2011.

Science Fiction Novel
Surface Detail by Iain M. Banks (Orbit UK; Orbit US)
Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen)
Zero History by William Gibson (Putnam; Viking UK)
The Dervish House by Ian McDonald (Pyr; Gollancz)
Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis (Spectra)

Fantasy Novel
Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay (Penguin Canada; Roc)
Kraken by China Miéville (Macmillan UK; Del Rey)
Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor (DAW)
The Fuller Memorandum by Charles Stross (Ace; Orbit UK)
The Sorcerer’s House by Gene Wolfe (Tor)

First Novel
The Loving Dead by Amelia Beamer (Night Shade)
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit UK; Orbit US)
Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)
The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi (Gollancz; Tor)
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu (Pantheon)

Young Adult Book
Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (Little, Brown)
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones (HarperCollins UK; Greenwillow)
I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett (Gollancz; HarperCollins)
Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld (Simon Pulse; Simon & Schuster UK)

A good looking list. I've read eight of the 20 novels listed and all of the ones I've read have been strong entries.

Related link:
Complete list of the finalists for the 2011 Locus Awards

Edited to add:
I changed a "label" search term to make this blog post easier to find, anticipating the upcoming Locus Awards announcements. Blogspot decided to change the date to the present day, instead of leaving it back in May or whenever it was. Live and learn.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Virginia Kidd to Anne McCaffrey

This correspondence is from early in Anne McCaffrey's writing career. Her first novel, Restoree was published in 1967 by Ballantine Books. The letter predates the publication of her first Dragonriders of Pern story, "Wyer Search" (Analog, October 1967). The manuscript mentioned in the final paragraph, "DaD" being considered by Betty Ballantine, is likely Decision at Doona, published in 1969 by Ballantine Books.

Virginia Kidd (1921-2003) was at one time the literary agent for Ursula K. LeGuin, R.A. Lafferty, and Gene Wolfe, among others. Kidd was married to author James Blish from 1947 to 1963.

Transcript follows. The image is from the Univerity of California, Riverside, Special Collections and Archives.

 Image from UCR Special Collections and Archives. Click to enlarge.


Virginia Kidd Blish
BOX 278 MILFORD, PA. 18337

8 August, 1967


Hate to do it, but I’m returning THE FALLEN ANGEL to you. [Hand written marginalia:] (Original only, in case you want to confer, using the carbon, come conference time.)

As you have probably heard one time and another, the reason the slicks pay such fabulous amounts is because their stories are fine-honed, incredibly carefully shaped to the market’s specific demands and taboos. Many slick stories may well not have been worth the writing. Most. Who knows. But the thing is, an enormous amount of care is expended to achieve the exact effect and nothing else.

THE FALLEN ANGEL (while a perfectly effective slick story is concealed within it) (and a charming story, besides) gives the effect of haste and a great deal of unnecessary wordage.

First page struck me as awkward. Why did it alert her? Did he not always arrive that way? Was it the wrong time of day for him to come home? “I gasped to myself” a heavy locution. Neither one of those hypotheses belongs to be in quotes in the first place. “. . . for I had more or less decided” is lumpy as old oatmeal. A simple “I had decided” is sufficient.

Second page (just a couple of for instances:) “My mind whirled with random considerations including:” (over-explicit. . . just let her gahdam mind whirl. . . give the considerations, not a sentence about there being considerations.) And: why not “He has this irresistible urge to succour things--not cats or dogs or housewives--but things. Will adopts inanimate objects and restores them to their pristine glories with loving care and a good deal of solid cash we invariably cannot spare that month.” “To wit:” (Whatcha mean, to whit?)

And so on. All the way through. Wordy and lumpy. I canno’ market it as is, sweetie. I don’t know whether it needs to shed 1000 words or 3000, but it’s all in the overwriting, what’s wrong with it. (I don’t mean the story is purple, just unpruned.)

Hope to see it again, much shorn and polished to the proper level of amused inconsequence and utter charm. (Which may imply that I’d like to see a little less venom expended against Amy. And every word considered. Vide midpage, page 2: “I don’t” is not true. By the end of the story, she does. It should be  “I didn’t.” No?)


Still await further word from Betty Ballantine, as to my brash suggestion, or else the contracts. (I told you, I think, she has DaD, and didn’t want to consider the Gothic?) Helen was unable to draw her into conversation, though. Busy busy.


Related link:
UC Riverside Special Collections and Archives: Anne McCaffrey papers

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Yesterday's Tomorrows

We came across a store that was part art gallery, part collectible toys shop, called Hot Tonto, in the Semaphore Beach area of Adelaide, Australia, last year when we were touring after attending Aussiecon 4 (the World Science Fiction Convention) in Melbourne. Hot Tonto features retro-futuristic spaceships, robots and other sculptures made from old teapots, vacuum cleaner canisters, and other recycled objects. We thought they were wonderful. Our thanks to proprietor Graham Shaw for giving permission to take pictures.  (Click images to enlarge.)

Friday, June 10, 2011

Sturgeon and Campbell Memorial Awards shortlists announced

The finalists for the 2011 Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for short fiction have been announced:

“Mammoths of the Great Plains” by Eleanor Arnason (Mammoths of the Great Plains)
“Under the Moons of Venus” by Damien Broderick (Subterranean Spring ’10)
“The Maiden Flight of McAuley’s Bellerophon“ by Elizabeth Hand (Stories)
“The Sultan of the Clouds” by Geoffrey A. Landis  (Asimov’s 9/10)
“Flower, Mercy, Needle, Chain” by Yoon Ha Lee (Lightspeed 9/10)
“Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance” by Paul Park  (F&SF 1-2/10)
“Dead Man’s Run” by Robert Reed  (F&SF 11-12/10)
“Troika” by Alastair Reynolds (Godlike Machines)
“A Letter from the Emperor” by Steve Rasnic Tem (Asimov’s 1/10)
“The Night Train” by Lavie Tidhar (Strange Horizons 6/14/10)
“The Things” by Peter Watts (Clarkesworld 1/10)

And, the finalists for the 2011 John W. Campbell Memorial Award for science fiction novel have been announced:

Yarn by Jon Armstrong (Night Shade)
Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear (Orbit)
Zero History by William Gibson, (Putnam)
C by Tom McCarthy (Knopf)
The Dervish House by Ian McDonald (Gollancz/Pyr)
New Model Army by Adam Roberts (Gollancz)
The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi (Gollancz/Tor)
Veteran by Gavin Smith (Gollancz)
The Waters Rising by Sheri S. Tepper (Eos)
Aurorarama by Jean-Christophe Valtat (Melville House)
Anthill by E. O. Wilson (Norton)
Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis (Spectra)
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu (Pantheon)

Both awards will be presented during the 2011 Campbell Conference Awards Banquet, to be held July 7-10 at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas.

These are jury-chosen awards. The jury consists of Gregory Benford, Paul Di Filippo, Sheila Finch, James Gunn, Elizabeth Anne Hull, Paul Kincaid, Christopher McKitterick, Pamela Sargent, and T.A. Shippey.

Having read eight of the 11 short fiction nominees it looks like a strong list. The stories I've read were good to excellent, which makes it a more consistent list than, say, the Nebula Awards.

I've only read four of the 13 novels on the Campbell shortlist. Three of those were solid and one (Blackout/All Clear, see review) was a clunker. The novel list is particularly interesting, since it includes some authors and titles that I don't know.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis

Here is a landmark case of lack of editorial judgment, or more precisely a lack of necessary editorial action. This is a novel that never should have gone to print in its present form. Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis, published by Ballantine Spectra in two large volumes in 2010, tells the story of a team of historians from the future who come to Britain in World War II to observe first-hand the home front in the Battle of Britain. This should have been edited down to a single volume, perhaps 500 pages, not the incredibly bloated 1100 pages that have been foisted on the reader.

There is material here for a good novel. The story touches on several of the highlights: the evacuation of troops from Dunkirk, the bombing of London, and the fire watch at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Each of the future historians inhabits multiple roles: shopgirl in London during the Blitz, ambulance driver during V-1 and V-2 attacks, nursemaid to evacuated children, counter-intelligence operative, and more. The emphasis on women’s roles is laudatory. There are scenes that are dramatic, humorous, poignant, and the story eventually resolves in what should be a satisfyingly weepy ending. Unfortunately the good bits are hard to find in all the mountains of dross.

It’s clear what Willis is trying to do: contrast the large events of history with the daily concerns of average people living ordinary lives. When the story offers the details of being a shopgirl, or ambulance driver, or nursemaid and so on, the dynamic works well enough. Instead, Willis’s characters have other concerns on their minds.

The historian time travelers spend much of their time worrying about missed buses, trains and every other form of transportation. They worry about “time slippage” and not being where they are supposed to be when they are supposed to be.  When their time travel portals don’t open to allow them to return to the future, they worry about that, and speculate endlessly about what has gone wrong. Have their actions during the war altered history to the extent that their future doesn’t exist? It’s an interesting question the first time or two that the characters consider it. It chafes the reader after the next six or eight times, and Willis is only getting started. This repetitive, neurotic worrying by the characters about things that can have little or no interest for the reader fills up hundreds of pages. No, that is not an exaggeration. Will their actions change history? After a while I was hoping, please, yes, change history, maybe then these characters wouldn’t have been born and I wouldn’t be trudging through endless pages of their tedious anxieties.

Nor are these the only problems. There is heavy reliance on “idiot plotting,” where characters don’t share important information with each other and the reader is left to mutter, “Why are these people behaving like such idiots?” There is the nonsensical notion that time travelers would not be able to communicate with their handlers in the future by some agreed upon protocol of putting messages in a newspaper of record, or a safety deposit box, or a buried time capsule. There is the unfortunate authorial sleight of hand in which the same characters are referred to by different names in various situations in order to generate unearned suspense and drama.

At the risk of getting into the weeds, I will mention that some of description of the London tube system is not historically accurate. I will leave it to those with an interest in trains to spot those errors. There were those who objected to the novel being published in two parts (I’ve already mentioned my solution to that problem). Some insisted on reviewing the first half of the novel as if it were complete unto itself and found it wanting. This makes as much sense as choosing a single volume from The Lord of the Rings or Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun and reviewing each as if it was complete and freestanding.  Such silliness reveals more about the reviewer than the work in question.

I understand that it’s hard for an editor to tell an author who has won 10 Hugo Awards and six Nebula Awards (now seven) that her novel isn’t ready for publication, that she needs to cut most of the pages she has spent the past eight years writing. Yet, if an editor isn’t willing to say it, and make it stick, they have ceded all editorial authority. The editor is not doing the author any favors signing off on a novel with such significant problems. The difficulties with this novel are reparable with good editing. A better book helps the author’s career and makes readers happy. An editor who doesn’t engage in the hard work of making books better is just a book packager and nothing more.  

This sort of novel, badly broken and not fixed before it goes on sale to the public, is not an isolated case in today’s publishing world. It is the most egregious example of lack of editing in many years that I have managed to read to the end. Why would I read it to the end? To give the novel a fair shake. I don’t believe in criticizing a book that I haven’t read. Also, there’s the fact that it just won the Nebula Award for Best Novel, presented by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. This is the one novel that SFWA, an organization of professionally published writers, thinks everyone in the world should read. The novel they endorse as the best science fiction or fantasy novel published in 2010. This result provokes in me both wonder and dismay.

At his blog, writer and editor Nick Mamatas says the Nebula Award went to “the worst possible choice” for Best Novel. I’ve read only one other of the novels on the Nebula Award shortlist, a first novel that showed more promise than accomplishment. Still, I find little evidence to dispute Mamatas’s conclusion. My own choices, which are limited to 2010 novels that I have managed to read, are The Dervish House by Ian McDonald (Pyr; Gollancz) for best science fiction novel of the year, and Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay (Penguin Canada; Roc) for best fantasy novel of the year. Neither of these novels is on the Nebula Awards shortlist, alas.

Looking into the future, I predict that Blackout/All Clear will win the Hugo Award for Best Novel at the World Science Fiction Convention in Reno, Nevada, this August. It will do so without my vote, and it will win by a comfortably wide margin. Willis is a popular personality at conventions. I can vouch that she is wonderfully entertaining on panel discussions and as a master of ceremonies.

Looking even further into the future, in 20 or 30 years when knowledgeable people recommend the Nebula or Hugo award winners as a reading list, Blackout/All Clear will be one of the novels new readers will be told they can skip.

Related link:

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay

Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay (Roc) is beautifully written, poignant, and suspenseful.  I can’t think of a more gorgeous and enjoyable book from 2010 that I have read. Set in a somewhat fantastic version of Tang Dynasty China, the novel is layered with imagery and poetry of the period.

There is one questionable subplot, where once again a prostitute with a heart of gold falls in love with her client. If the reader can forgive that, there are many delights to be had in these pages. It’s part ghost story, and partly about war and the consequences of war, yet the largest part is a Romantic journey of self discovery.

I had previously read Kay's novel Tigana (1990) and I had thought quite highly of it. With his new book Kay has shown remarkable growth and mastery.

I regret that I didn’t read Under Heaven before the Hugo Award nominating deadline. I struggled at the time to come up with five exceptional novels to nominate. Judging from the Hugo shortlist that emerged, most of the other nominators struggled to find five exceptional novels, too. Despite the fact that I usually prefer to nominate science fiction for the Hugo Award, I would have put this fantasy novel on my ballot. It likely would have been the strongest novel on my ballot. At least I read Under Heaven in time to put it on my World Fantasy Awards nominations ballot.