Wednesday, June 19, 2013

On 'Magical Realism'

“When you say fantasy you’re always bringing up that doppelganger: science fiction. Magical Realism is not a very well-defined term, which is why I like it so much better than either fantasy or science fiction, both of which have strong connotations of dragons, rockets, aliens and so on. You can shove a great deal of fantasy and science fiction into the pockets of Magic Realism and leave the store and no-one will notice you. Magical Realism is like literary fiction running into a store and shoplifting the fantasy and science fiction.”
-- E. Lily Yu, on the Coode Street Podcast, Episode 146.

The previous episode, Episode 145 of the Coode Street Podcast, with guests M. Rickert and Christopher Barzak was pretty great, too.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Jack Vance (1916 - 2013)

Novelist Christopher Priest writing a Jack Vance obituary for The Guardian:
“His prose – detailed, exotic, resonant of feelings, sounds and fragrances – soared well above the requirements of the genre; he described alien landscapes with bizarre and inventive energy in language that was ambitious, wordy, sometimes lurid, always bold.”

From a 2009 New York Times profile of Jack Vance:
"Jack Vance is the most painful case of all the writers I love who I feel don't get the credit they deserve," Michael Chabon said. "If 'The Last Castle' or 'The Dragon Masters' had the name Italo Calvino on it, or just a foreign name, it would be received as a profound meditation, but because he's Jack Vance and published in Amazing Whatever, there's this insurmountable barrier."

John Clute writing in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction:
“(O)ne of the two or three most deeply influential authors in the sf and fantasy genres after World War Two … creating an oeuvre whose surface flamboyance never obscured an underlying seriousness. Authors clearly (and often explicitly) influenced by Vance include such widely divergent figures as Jack L Chalker, Avram Davidson, Terry Dowling, Harlan Ellison, Ursula K Le Guin (though the influences here were almost certainly governed by a mutual concern with Anthropology), George R R Martin, Michael Moorcock, Dan Simmons and Gene Wolfe.”

Related links:
Obituary: The Guardian (by Christopher Priest)
Obituary: LA Times
Obituary: NY Times
NY Times profile (2009)
Encyclopedia of Science Fiction: Jack Vance entry
Jack Vance official website

Monday, June 3, 2013

Meeting the Alien

     “Do you have a wife back home?” the Queen asked, still looking at Edison but directing the question to Piyopok. 
     “I am neither he nor she,” Piyopok sparkled.  “When I am old, I will return home and spend a few years caring for the children of others.  When my time comes, I will become my own children.”
     “How will you become your own children?” the Queen asked.
     “I will divide into parts,” Piyopok sparkled.  “Each part will become a new Gek.”
     “There will be two of you?  Three of you?”  The Queen pondered aloud.
     “Not really,” Piyopok said.  “Each will have a vague memory of me, but will not be me.  I fondly remember my forebear Guyopol, but I am not Guyopol.”
     “How remarkable,” said the Queen.
     “Your highness, be assured that how you reproduce is equally remarkable to me,” Piyopok sparkled.
-- From “Edison Wedge and the Gek”

We meet two distinct species of interesting aliens in two new young adult stories from Jon O. Neher.  In the novella “Edison Wedge and the Gek” human civilization is slowly recovering from the collapse of the oil economy and the effects of global warming. Edison Wedge is a naive young man from a backwater town who gets a job on a cattle drive that will take him to Fort Franklin, Canada. An economic center, Fort Franklin is visited every 440 days by the Gek, a race of interstellar traders, who buy ordinary goods from Earth and provide exotic items in exchange. Edison learns the ways of the big city and becomes a translator for the aloof Gek, developing something akin to a friendship with a particular Gek named Piyopok.

Edison’s rise from humble circumstances to a career working for the Gek traces a Horatio Alger trajectory, until disaster strikes, disrupting his comfortable life. His fellow humans lie, steal, and kidnap, and the sphinx-like Gek aren’t always reliable, either. Edison’s path has a few bumps until opportunities open out in new directions in a satisfying ending. This is just the sort of story bright young readers are looking for: a lively adventure story with fascinating aliens set in a future full of possibilities.

The novelette “The Froon Cycle,” by the same author, concerns an alien species that travels by spore across the vacuum of space and, finding an amenable environment, grows into an entire community of alien frooners, complete with its own customs and culture. On Earth, they find favorable conditions living in places no human would want to live. The story observes the frooners’ sojourn on Earth over several decades from a variety of human perspectives. Eventually the frooner reproduction cycle fails and there will be no more generations of frooners. They turn to humans for help.

Told with a dry sense of humor, the story resolves in a manner that follows naturally from what we have learned of the frooners.

Neher’s stories recall the early work of Larry Niven, with exotic aliens and an unyielding internal logic underlying the events of each story. These stories are evidence that a promising career awaits this new writer.

Both stories are available as Nook ebooks:
Edison Wedge and the Gek by Jon O. Neher
The Froon Cycle by Jon O. Neher