Thursday, February 28, 2013

Ted Chiang to speak at UC Riverside

Ted Chiang, one of the great short fiction writers, will speak at the University of California, Riverside at 7 p.m. Monday, March 4, 2013, in Riverside, California. The event is free and open to the public.

Quoting from the press release:

Chiang is the author of the collection “Stories of Your Life and Others,” the novellas “The Lifecycle of Software Objects” and “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate,” and many short stories. He has won the John W. Campbell Award for best new writer, four Nebula awards, four Hugo awards, three Locus awards, a Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, the Sidewise Award, and a British Science Fiction Association Award. 
“Ted Chiang is the premier writer of short fiction in the field today,” said Rob Latham, professor of English and a senior editor of the journal Science Fiction Studies. “Every story he writes seems to push the borders of the genre further. His work engages with some of the core themes of science fiction — alternate worlds, alien encounters, artificial life forms — but always with a metaphorical twist that gives them fresh literary resonance.”
Related link:

Monday, February 25, 2013


Lincoln is a sumptuously mounted production that seeks to teach us how to pass a Constitutional Amendment through Congress. The mechanics of legislation, with which the film spends the bulk of its time, alas, are of only passing interest. The central issue, slavery, is addressed as an ethical and moral issue, yet it’s held at arm’s length. It is never a visceral issue.

On the positive side, Lincoln has some excellent acting. Daniel Day Lewis is very good in the title role. Tommy Lee Jones is great as the larger-than-life politician Thaddeus Stevens (which stands in blinding contrast with his quiet and internal portrayal of the sheriff in “No Country for Old Men”).

There are several very good scenes buried in this overlong, overly explanatory movie.  One of my favorite scenes is Lincoln’s young son looking at photographic glass plates by candle light. (Technical note: Those should have been negatives, not positives, shouldn’t they?)

On the other extreme, there was an unfortunate scene where white Union soldiers try to recite the Gettysburg Address to Lincoln from memory and botch the job. After they leave, a black soldier finishes the recitation flawlessly. My criticism is that the scene is too “on the nose” -- meaning it bangs hard on the most obvious emotional note in the most obvious way, on top of which it’s a cheat for modern audiences who, if they know anything that Lincoln wrote, they know that speech.

This “on the nose” mawkish awkwardness is a common failing in movies directed by Steven Spielberg, and this movie is rife with the problem, especially in the musical score, which pounds on every emotional moment. Spielberg seldom is willing to let the audience decide for themselves what to think. He insists on hammering home exactly how the audience should feel about each scene. This is beyond annoying and nearly unbearable. The brilliance of Tony Kushner’s screenplay is consistently undermined by Spielberg.

Finally, the movie, which was already too long, makes the misstep of not ending where it should have, with the passage of the 13th Amendment through Congress. It skips forward several months in time to show us Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, followed by Lincoln’s assassination, both of which feel unnecessary and outside the concerns of the previous story.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Locus 'Year in Review' for 2012

Locus magazine's "year in review" issue is now available. It features recommended reading lists and commentary from reviewers, editors, and professionals in the science fiction and fantasy community.

Jonathan Strahan's Top 6 Books of the Year:
The Drowning Girl by Caitlín R. Kiernan
2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson
Empty Space by M. John Harrison
Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce
A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge
At the Mouth of the River of Bees by Kij Johnson

Russell Letson's list:
The Hydrogen Sonata by Iain M. Banks
Bowl of Heaven by Gregory Benford and Larry Niven
Intruder by C.J. Cherryh
Caliban’s War by James S. A. Corey
The Rapture of the Nerds by Cory Doctorow & Charles Stross
Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds
Ashes of Candesce by Karl Schroeder
The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross
Slow Apocalypse by John Varley
The Fourth Wall by Walter Jon Williams
American Science Fiction: Nine Classic Novels of the 1950s edited by Gary K. Wolfe

Graham Sleight's Half a dozen best books of 2012:
The Pottawatomie Giant and Other Stories by Andy Duncan
Empty Space by M. John Harrison
At The Mouth of the River of Bees by Kij Johnson
Rituals: A Novel of the Fantastic: Rhapsody of Blood, Volume One by Roz Kaveney
The Unreal and the Real: Selected Stories (2 vols) by Ursula K. Le Guin
American Science Fiction: Nine Classic Novels of the 1950s edited by Gary K Wolfe

As with last year (follow here), my own tastes line up more closely with Strahan and Sleight, rather than Letson, whose list I find uneven.

For the complete Locus 2012 Recommended Reading list, compiled from input from all of their contributors, follow here.

Related links:
Locus 'Year in Review' for 2011
Locus Online: The Website of the Magazine of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Field