Friday, March 23, 2012

More new book arrivals

More new book arrivals, two British titles (MacLeod and Harkaway) and three from the U.S. (Buckell, Jama-Everett, and Powers). Four are from major publishers, one title is from indie publisher Small Beer Press (The Liminal People by Ayize Jama-Everett).

Click images to enlarge.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Coode Street Podcast

Hosts Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe have created a relaxed and knowledgeable podcast about books and the science fiction community. They frequently have read and praised the best books of the year before they become available to the public, which is valuable to any reader.

As The Coode Street Podcast has matured, their interviews have improved and become the strength of the podcast. I would go so far as to say that these interviews have become important listening for anyone interested in science fiction, fantasy, and related fiction.

Here’s an overview of interviews so far in 2012 that were remarkable:

Elizabeth Hand
Hand discusses her two new novels, Available Dark (sequel to Generation Loss) and Radiant Days. Gary Wolfe suggests that the arts are central to Hand’s recent work, which frequently deal with struggling artists, photographers, painters, the theatre, and Rimbaud in Radiant Days. Hand finds that novella-length may be her natural story length. (follow here)

Ellen Kushner
Kushner shares the process of adapting her novel Swordpoint into an audio book, available on (follow here)

Barry Malzberg
Malzberg, a grand old man of the science fiction field, whose memories and experiences are a treasure, advances his theory that the 1950s is the Golden Age of science fiction. Kindly overlook the comically maladroit use of Skype. (follow here)

Michael Dirda
Essayist and long-time book reviewer for the Washington Post, Dirda shares his enthusiasm for the fathers of genre fiction: Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. (follow here)

Peter Straub
Straub and his hosts consider the wonders and joys of reading Gene Wolfe (I could listen to listen to them talk about Gene Wolfe all day long). Straub praises the work of Brian Evenson and Caitlín Keirnan. He calls Keirnan’s new book, The Drowning Girl: A Memoir (2012), a masterpiece. They discuss the limitations of genre boundaries and the Library of America’s notions of genre. (follow here)

Older episodes of The Coode Street Podcast have featured many fine guests, including Ursula K. Le Guin. Unfortunately they spent the Le Guin interview discussing the (by all accounts) under-informed book of essays about science fiction by Margaret Atwood, instead of talking about something more interesting, like what writing Le Guin herself is working on, or what books that she has read recently that she is excited about.

A list of prior guests reads like a Who’s Who of the science fiction community: Kim Stanley Robinson, Ian McDonald. Alastair Reynolds, Jo Walton, John Clute, Ellen Klages, Eileen Gunn, Geoff Ryman, Terry Bisson, Greg Bear, Karen Lord, Ellen Datlow, Jeffrey Ford and many others.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Recent arrival

The Pottawatomie Giant & Other Stories
by Andy Duncan
So this arrived in the mail. It's Andy Duncan's second collection of short fiction, The Pottawatomie Giant & Other Stories (2012), from PS Publishing. His first collection appeared over a decade ago. This new collection includes "The Chief Designer," one of my favorites, a novella that was shortlisted for the Hugo and Nebula awards and won the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. It concerns Sergei Korolev, the innovative man behind the early successes of the Soviet space program. Until his death, his name was considered a state secret and he was known only as "Chief Designer." Michael Swanwick wrote in Locus: "A portrayal ... of the single most positive enterprise of the twentieth century -- the emergence of life into outer space. Shorn of the usual American jingoism, the beauty and tragic romance of that emergence is laid bare."

Duncan, one of the best short fiction writers in the science fiction and fantasy genres, frequently explores themes relating to the Southern U.S. The title story, the novelette "The Pottawatomie Giant," won the World Fantasy Award.

Related link:
PS Publishing

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Oscars, Hugos, the nature of awards

All award systems are flawed; I hope we can all agree. Popular vote awards reflect popular tastes, but rarely reward artistic merit or innovation or subtlety. Small jury awards can become echo chambers for a narrow set of viewpoints. And so on.

Still, some are more flawed than others. Take, for instance, the recent Oscars awarded by the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  There probably are no more commercially successful awards in the world than the Oscars. As a marketing exercise it is rivaled only by the Grammy’s. Unfortunately, the quality of the award winners is less remarkable.

There is something systemically wrong with the methods of the Academy, as evidenced by the premier award category, the Best Picture. Most results are blandly likable and safe (The Artist, The Kings Speech), or bloated epics that rely too heavily on their own seriousness (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Titanic, Braveheart, Dances with Wolves), or sentimental slop (Titanic, Forrest Gump, Driving Miss Daisy, Out of Africa, Terms of Endearment).

Only rarely does the Academy find its way to a movie that reflects the best in film. Looking down the list, I think the hit rate for finding excellence is roughly once every 10 years. While you, dear reader, and I will likely disagree on which film is that once-a-decade wonder, I hope we can agree that one-in-10 is a dismal, dysfunctional hit rate. There were two movies in recent years that I thought demonstrated achievement at or near the best of the year: The Hurt Locker (2009) and No Country for Old Men (2007). Weighing against these is the truly bad Best Picture winner, Crash (2005), the most egregiously odious choice in the past 10 years.

Among 2011 films, I’ve seen three so far that I thought were first rate: The Tree of Life, A Separation, and Martha Marcy May Marlene. Only one of these, The Tree of Life, was on the Best Picture shortlist and, not surprisingly, it didn’t win.

Closer to the topic of this blog, the Hugo Awards, a popular vote award open to anyone willing to pay for a supporting membership in the annual World Science Fiction Convention ($50 this year), is subject to the same blind-spots. For all the criticism of the Hugo Award choices I have made on this blog, the Hugos have a better record than the Oscars. Just glancing at the Best Novel winners:

The Windup Girl (2009) by Paolo Bacigalupi
The City & the City (2009) by China Miéville (tie)
The Yiddish Policemen's Union (2007) by Michael Chabon
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (2004) by Susanna Clarke

That’s four first-rate Hugo Best Novel winners in the past 10 years. Not bad.

Related links: