Friday, July 27, 2012

More July book arrivals

More July 2012 book arrivals, including what promises to be a major new novel from M. John Harrison and significant new single-author collections of short fiction from Kathleen Ann Goonan and Jonathan Carroll.

"No point is more central than this, that empty space is not empty. It is the seat of the most violent physics," John A. Wheeler, is the lead epigraph in the new novel, Empty Space: A Haunting by M. John Harrison. I expect it will be one of the important science fiction novels of 2012. This is the third in a loosely related series. The earlier books were the landmark novel Light (2002), winner of the James Tiptree Jr Award, and Nova Swing (2006), winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award. Harrison is one of the major literary talents in the science fiction genre, mostly unknown in the United States.

The Song of Synth and Absinth, two novels by Sebastien Doubinsky, presented back-to-back, each with its own cover, like the old Ace Double paperbacks. This is a high-quality hardback from PS Publishing. There are introductions for each novel: one by Lucius Shepard, one by Paul Witcover.

Black Wings II: New Tales of Lovecraftian Horror edited by S. T. Joshi contains stories by John Shirley, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Nick Mamatas, and Brian Evenson, just to name a few.

Eat Jellied Eels and Think Distant Thoughts, or The Conspirocrats by Kris Saknussemm. Saknussemm is the author of Zanesville and Enigmatic Pilot.

The Lonely Hunter by John Grant. Grant won a non-fiction Hugo Award and a World Fantasy Award  as co-editor with John Clute of The Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997).

The Wurms of Blearmouth: A Tale of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach by Steven Erikson is the latest in a series of stories featuring two characters from his enormous Malazan Book of the Fallen series.

Angels and You Dogs by Kathleen Ann Goonan is the first collection of the author's short fiction. Goonan has created a significant body of excellent work, both in novels and short fiction. Her first novel, Queen City Jazz (1994), began her Nanotech Quartet. Her sixth novel, In War Times (2007), won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. It was followed by a sequel, This Shared Dream, which your humble blog correspondent thinks is one of the best SF novels of 2011.

I've been an admirer of Jonathan Carroll's short fiction since reading "Friend's Best Man" in the January 1987 issue of F&SF. It's a pleasure to receive this generous-sized collection of 38 of his stories, The Woman Who Married a Cloud: Collected Stories by Jonathan Carroll. His novels are worth your attention, too.

The Coldest War by Ian Tregillis is the second in his Milkweed series. The first book was Bitter Seeds (2010).

The new fiftieth anniversary edition of The Drowned World by J. G. Ballard, the author's second novel. This edition includes an introduction by Martin Amis.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The 2012 Hugo Awards: Best Novel shortlist

Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey (Orbit)
Deadline by Mira Grant (Orbit)
A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin (Bantam Spectra)
Embassytown by China Miéville (Macmillan / Del Rey)
Among Others by Jo Walton (Tor)

Starting from worst to best, here are my rankings:

I won’t be reading Deadline by Mira Grant. I read the first book in the series, Feed, which was on the Hugo Award Best Novel shortlist last year and I had a strongly negative reaction to it. It will be a long time before I am likely to give the author another chance.  The main problem with Feed for me, as someone who worked in journalism for many years, is that since the main character is a journalist, the author needs to convince me that he or she knows something about journalism. Unfortunately, Feed demonstrated some basic misunderstandings about what journalists do and how they do it. As a result I lost confidence in the author. I did finish reading Feed. It read as an early draft of the novel that was intended. It’s about zombies, which scores negative points for lack of originality. (For more about Feed follow here.)

Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey (a pseudonym for Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) reads like two novels mashed together. Story one: a hard-bitten detective pursues a missing person’s case across the asteroid belt. Story two: an idealistic space-ship captain and his faithful crew have a series of adventures across the solar system. Unfortunately, neither story is particularly interesting. The world building and the plot points are built from over-used parts. The prose feels rushed and hobbled with clichés. The characters are thin. The fascination with weapons and violence suggests that the novel is intended for 13-year-old boys. It features zombies, which scores negative points for lack of originality.

A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin is a category error. The Hugo Awards don’t have a category (thank goodness) for a middle volume of an unfinished and apparently endless series. This book doesn’t belong in the best novel category. It’s certainly not self-contained. It reads like a very long set of middle chapters excerpted from an incredibly long novel, which is exactly what it is. I enjoyed it, even though it is overlong and could use some editing. It comes from the more-is-better school of series fiction, so any complaint I have that it is too long is only a recommendation to those who like this sort of thing. It features zombies, which scores negative points for lack of originality.

Among Others by Jo Walton is a cleverly constructed character portrait of a teenage girl dealing with issues of arriving at a new boarding school, relationships with boys, a dysfunctional family, and grief over the unnatural death of her twin sister. It is also a fantasy novel that confounds reader expectations by being set entirely after the climactic battle between opposing magical forces. Along the way the reader encounters remarkably alien faerie creatures and a vivid and original magical system. Our main character spends much of her time in the school library and discovers a variety of science fiction and fantasy novels from the 1960s and ‘70s and offers her impressions of each reading experience. What could be seen as calculated fan-service instead provides a surprising depth of insight into the thoughts and maturation of our young viewpoint character. Among Others is an excellent novel with layers that reward close attention.

Embassytown by China Miéville is an ambitious, difficult, and brilliant novel. There are problems with the structure and pacing of the novel, none of which matter when rereading the book. I can imagine that many readers new to Miéville will give up in the first hundred pages or so. I’ve read other Miéville novels; he has earned my trust. I knew that if I stayed the course I would be rewarded.  It’s a novel about language. The central metaphor is to literalize certain aspects of language: that language limits our experience of the world, that language circumscribes identity, that language is an intoxicant. It’s set on a far flung alien planet with an intelligent species whose language is confoundingly different from our own. Communication breaks down in a dramatic fashion, causing a revolution among the aliens, and conceptual breakthroughs are required to reestablish communication. This is a fascinating novel, with thoughtful ideas about language incorporated into a compelling story.  Judging from the four Miéville novels that I’ve read, this is his best yet. (For more about Embassytown follow here.)

SF Strangelove’s ranking of the Hugo Awards Best Novel shortlist:
1. Embassytown by China Miéville
2. Among Others by Jo Walton
3. A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin
4. No award
5. Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

Anything after “no award” doesn’t matter in the voting. A Dance With Dragons only barely makes it above “no award” in my estimation.

It’s a relief to be able to say that two of the five best novel nominees are actually worthy of a best novel award. That makes it an above-average year for the Hugo Awards Best Novel shortlist.

Here are novels I’ve read that deserved a spot on the best novel shortlist:

The best science fiction novels published in 2011:
This Shared Dream by Kathleen Ann Goonan
Embassytown by China Miéville
The Islanders by Christopher Priest
Home Fires by Gene Wolfe

The best fantasy novels published in 2011:
The Uncertain Places by Lisa Goldstein
Among Others by Jo Walton

I’m sure I missed a few. Still, that’s more than enough to fill my ideal Hugo shorlist. Simply put, the Hugo Awards nominators missed several superior novels.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Ursula K. Le Guin, Ray Harryhausen, Stan Lee to receive Eaton Lifetime Achievement Awards

To quote from the news release:
"Award-winning author Ursula K. Le Guin, special effects creator Raymond F. Harryhausen and Spider-Man co-creator Stan Lee will be recognized with the J. Lloyd Eaton Lifetime Achievement Award in Science Fiction at the University of California, Riverside’s Eaton Science Fiction Conference April 11-14, 2013.

The conference will be held at the Riverside Marriott Hotel and will examine science fiction in multiple media. Conference registration opens Aug. 1 and may be completed online. Registration for students is $95; early-bird registration, $150 (ending Feb. 1, 2013); general registration (after Feb. 1, 2013), $170; and single-day registration, $95.

Le Guin, who will receive the Eaton Lifetime Achievement Award for 2012, has written 20 science fiction and fantasy novels, among them “The Left Hand of Darkness” and “The Dispossessed,” each of which won Hugo and Nebula awards. She is the author of many short stories, six volumes of poetry, 13 books for children, as well as criticisms, collections of essays and screenplays.

“Ursula Le Guin is probably the most significant American writer of science fiction and fantasy to have emerged in the past 50 years,” said Rob Latham, professor of English and conference co-organizer. “Her work has consistently pushed the envelope in terms of serious ethical and political engagement with these popular genres.”

Conference organizers decided to present two awards for 2013 “to honor both science fiction film culture and science fiction comic book culture, which we felt deserved to be recognized separately,” said Melissa Conway, head of Special Collections and Archives of the UCR Libraries.

Harryhausen, who created a type of stop-motion model animation known as Dynamation, will receive the award for his groundbreaking contributions to science fiction film. Among his best-known productions are “Mighty Joe Young,” for which the ARKO team won an Oscar for special effects in 1949; “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad”; and “Jason and the Argonauts,” which included a swordfight against skeleton warriors.

Lee, former president of Marvel Comics, also will be recognized with the award for 2013 for his various contributions in the realm of comic books. Lee, who began as a comic-book writer at age 19, moved on to become editor, producer, publisher, and president and chairman of Marvel Comics.  The co-creator of Spider-Man, the Hulk, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Thor and other superheroes is also being recognized for his successful challenge to the Comics Code Authority.

Previous recipients of the Eaton lifetime achievement award are Ray Bradbury (2008), Frederik Pohl (2009), Samuel R. Delany (2010) and Harlan Ellison (2011).

The 2013 conference theme, “Science Fiction Media,” reflects the increasingly diverse forms of expression of science fiction.

The science-fiction writing competition for full-time undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in the UC system will continue in 2013. First prize is $500 and second prize is $250. The deadline for submissions is Jan. 7, 2013. Further details, including instructions for submitting entries, and length and format requirements will be posted at

The conference will also feature the fourth Science Fiction Studies Symposium on the topic of “SF Media(tions)”  on April 11, 2013, at the Mission Inn Hotel & Spa. Admission is free.

Symposium speakers will be Mark Bould, reader in film and literature at the University of the West of England and co-editor of the journal  Science Fiction Film and Television;  Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr., professor of Engish at DePauw University and author of “the Seven Beauties of Science Fiction” (Wesleyan University Press, 2008);  and Vivian Sobchack, professor emeritus of film, television and digital media at UCLA and the 2012 recipient of the Society for Cinema Studies’ Distinguished Career Award.

The conference is sponsored by the University of California, Riverside Libraries and the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences. In 2013 the conference will partner  with the Science Fiction Research Association, the largest and most prestigious scholarly organization in the field.

UCR is the home of the Eaton Collection of Science Fiction and Fantasy, the largest publicly accessible collection of its kind in the world. The collection embraces every branch of science fiction, fantasy, horror and utopian/dystopian fiction."

Related links:
The full Eaton Conference news release
Eaton Conference registration

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Recent book arrivals

Here are some book arrivals from June and July 2012.

This is a new translation of the seminal Soviet-era novel Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. The translation is by Olena Bormashenko and it restores a fair amount of text that was excised from earlier editions. James Morrow does a side-by-side comparison of translations at the Locus Roundtable. The story was made into one of the greatest of all science fiction films, Stalker, directed by Andrei Tarkovsky (follow here for a short review). The film itself is the subject of a book-length analysis, Zona by Geoff Dyer (LA Times review of Zona). The new edition of Roadside Picnic includes a brief introduction by Ursula K. LeGuin and a fascinating afterward by Boris Strugatsky on the conception of the novel and the difficulties he and his brother had in getting it published in the Soviet Union, including specific passages that the censors objected to. I've included the brilliant Robert Penn Warren epigraph above.

Caliban's War by James S. A. Corey (actually the pen name of authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) is the second book in their "Expanse" series, following Leviathan Wakes, which is currently nominated for the best novel Hugo Award. (Hugo voting closes at the end of this month.)

Unlike the first two books, which are new, Stone Spring by Stephen Baxter came out in 2011. This is the U.S. hardback edition. First in a trilogy.

The new book Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels 1985-2010 by Damien Broderick and Paul Di Filippo is a sort of sequel to the earlier Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels 1949-1984 by David Pringle, published in 1985. Pringle contributes a forward to the new book. As with the earlier book, there is plenty here to argue with and discuss. I'm pleased to see consideration given here to books by Gene Wolfe, Paul Park, Karen Joy Fowler, Maureen McHugh, Kim Stanley Robinson, Justina Robson, M. John Harrison, Kathleen Ann Goonan, Ian R. MacLeod, to name a few favorites, although I sometimes disagree with which title is chosen for a given author. There are a few authors I was disappointed to see included here: Orson Scott Card and Audrey Niffenegger for instance. Series fiction is treated in a confusing manner, sometimes listing groups of books, such as The Hunger Games trilogy, and at other times a single title of a book that does not stand alone and should be read as part of larger narrative. There are several I haven't read and hope to get around to reading, even some I had never heard of before, which is fun. Since the contents pages, above, only list the titles of the books being discussed, you can play along with the game of how many of the books can you name the author.

The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy: 2012 edited by Rich Horton is the latest in a series of year's best anthologies. The stories are actually all from 2011, of course, from diverse sources and are reprinted here in 2012. Judging from the stories I've read so far, it's a pretty good year.

In an unprecedented move, The New Yorker dedicated a June double-issue to the science fiction genre, both fiction and non-fiction. The Daniel Clowes cover has the science fiction genre crashing the party. A couple interior illustrations give a sense of the look of the issue.

The Laughter of Carthage by Michael Moorcock is the second in his Colonel Pyat Quartet. This is the 1984 first U.S. hardback edition. The first volume in the series was Byzantium Endures. PM Press is reissuing the series in trade paperback this year.

Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce is the latest novel from the acclaimed British author, unjustly not well known in the U.S.

My Dirty Little Book of Stolen Time by Liz Jensen, published in 2006, was discussed in the book Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels 1985-2010, above. I'd never heard of it. It looks quite fun.

The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Ninth Annual Collection, edited by Gardner Dozois, is the biggest, in terms of word-count, of the best of the year science fiction anthologies, and the longest running. Each year it keeps readers abreast of the best short fiction in the genre, and highlights new authors whose work readers should seek out. It's fascinating to compare the contents of this anthology with those of the Horton, above, and the year's best anthologies by Strahan and Hartwell & Cramer mentioned in earlier posts.

The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross, is the fourth book in the author's Laundry Files series, a Lovecraft-flavored espionage thriller series. The epigraph is the timeless Peter Principle.