Sunday, September 28, 2014

TAKEN OVER BY ANOTHER MIND

By setting myself the task of reincarnating someone, I was inspired by John Milton, who has a line in an essay he wrote where he says that books are not absolutely dead things but do contain the essence of the living intellect that bred them. In other words, that books are alive and that they've got the quintessence of the author inside them.

And I think that everyone who loves books has experienced the feeling of being taken over by another mind. And I suppose one of the things I wanted to do in the book was celebrate the act of reading, which is such a mysterious and not sufficiently remarked upon transaction between two consciousnesses, only one of which needs to be alive.

-Marcel Theroux, http://www.npr.org/2014/02/08/272661891/genre-bending-novel-uses-body-swap-as-a-metaphor-for-reading

Monday, September 1, 2014

UNREAL ESTATES

ALDISS: One thing that the three of us have in common is that we have all had stories published in the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, some of them pretty far-flung stories. I take it we would all agree that one of the attractions of SF is that it takes us to unknown places.

AMIS: Swift, if he were writing today, would have to take us out to the planets, wouldn’t he? Now that most of our terra incognita is--er, real estate.

ALDISS: There is a lot of the eighteenth-century equivalent of SF which is placed in Australia or similar unreal estates.

LEWIS: Exactly: Peter Wilkins and all that. By the way, is anyone ever going to do a translation of Kepler s Somnium?

AMIS: Groff Conklin told me he had read the book; I think it must exist in translation. But may we talk about the worlds you created? You chose the science fiction medium because you wanted to go to strange places? I remember with respectful and amused admiration your account of the space drive in Out of the Silent Planet. When Ransome and his friend get into the spaceship he says "How does this ship work?" and the man says "It operates by using some of the lesser known properties of--" what was it?

LEWIS: Solar radiation. Ransome was reporting words without a meaning to him, which is what a layman gets when he asks for a scientific explanation. Obviously it was vague, because I’m no scientist and not interested in the purely technical side of it.

ALDISS: It’s almost a quarter of a century since you wrote that first novel of the trilogy.

LEWIS: Have I been a prophet?

ALDISS: You have to a certain extent; at least, the idea of vessels propelled by solar radiation is back in favour again. Cordwainer Smith used it poetically, Blish tried to use it technically in The Star Dwellers.

LEWIS: In my case it was pure mumbo-jumbo, and perhaps meant primarily to convince me.

AMIS: Obviously when one deals with isolated planets or isolated islands one does this for a certain purpose. A setting in contemporary London or a London of the future couldn’t provide one with the same isolation and the heightening of consciousness it engenders.

LEWIS: The starting point of the second novel, Perelandra, was my mental picture of the floatng islands. The whole of the rest of my labours in a sense consisted of building up a world in which floating islands could exist. And then of course the story about an averted fall developed. This is because, as you know, having got your people to this exciting country, something must happen.

AMIS: That frequently taxes people very much.

ALDISS: But I am surprised that you put it this way round. I would have thought that you constructed Perelandra for the didactic purpose.

LEWIS: Yes, everyone thinks that. They are quite wrong.

AMIS: If I may say a word on Professor Lewis’s side, there was a didactic purpose of course; a lot of very interesting profound things were said, but--correct me if I’m wrong--I’d have thought a simple sense of wonder, extraordinary things going on, were the motive forces behind the creation.

LEWIS: Quite, but something has got to happen. The story of this averted fall came in very conveniently. Of course it wouldn’t have been that particular story if I wasn’t interested in those particular ideas on other grounds. But that isn’t what I started from. I’ve never started from a message or a moral, have you?

AMIS: No, never. You get interested in the situation.

LEWIS: The story itself should force its moral upon you. You find out what the moral is by writing the story.

AMIS: Exactly: I think that sort of thing is true of all kinds of fiction.

ALDISS: But a lot of science fiction has been written from the other point of view: those dreary sociological dramas that appear from time to time, started with a didactic purpose-- to make a preconceived point--and they’ve got no further.

LEWIS: I suppose Gulliver started from a straight point of view? Or did it really start because he wanted to write about a lot of big and little men?

AMIS: Possibly both, as Fielding’s parody of Richardson turned into Joseph Andrews. A lot of science fiction loses much of the impact it could have by saying "Well, here we are on Mars, we all know where we are, and we’re living in these pressure domes or whatever it is, and life is really very much like it is on earth, except there is a certain climatic difference .... " They accept other men's inventions rather than forge their own.

LEWIS: It’s only the first journey to a new planet that is of any interest to imaginative people.

AMIS: In your reading of science fiction have you ever come across a writer who’s done this properly?

LEWIS: Well, the one you probably disapprove of because he’s so very unscientific is David Lindsay, in Voyage to Arcturus. It’s a remarkable thing, because scientifically it’s nonsense, the style is appalling, and yet this ghastly vision comes through.

ALDISS: It didn’t come through to me.

AMIS: Nor me. Still ... Victor Gollancz told me a very interesting remark of Lindsay’s about Arcturus; he said, "I shall never appeal to a large public at all, but I think that as long as our civilisation lasts one person a year will read me." I respect that attitude.

LEWIS: Quite so. Modest and becoming. I also agree with something you said in a preface, I believe it was, that some science fiction really does deal with issues far more serious than those realistic fiction deals with; real problems about human destiny and so on. Do you remember that story about the man who meets a female monster landed from another planet with all its cubs hanging round it? It’s obviously starving, and he offers them thing after thing to eat; they immediately vomit it up, until one of the young fastens on him, begins sucking his blood, and immediately begins to revive. This female creature is utterly unhuman, horrible in form; there’s a long moment when it looks at the man--they’re in a lonely place--and then very sadly it packs up its young, and goes back into its spaceship and goes away. Well now, you could not have a more serious theme than that. What is a footling story about some pair of human lovers compared with that?

AMIS: On the debit side, you often have these marvellous large themes tackled by people who haven’t got the mental or moral or stylistic equipment to take them on. A reading of more recent SF shows that writers are getting more capable of tackling them. Have you read Walter Miller’s Canticle for Leibowitz? Have you any comments on that?

LEWIS: I thought it was pretty good. I only read it once; mind you, a book's no good to me until I’ve read it two or three times--I’m going to read it again. It was a major work, certainly.

AMIS: What did you think about its religious feeling?

LEWIS: It came across very well. There were bits of the actual writing which one could quarrel with, but on the whole it was well imagined and well executed.

AMIS: Have you seen James Blish’s novel A Case of Conscience? Would you agree that to write a religious novel that isn’t concerned with details of ecclesiastical practice and the numbing minutiae of history and so on, science fiction would be the natural outlet for this?

LEWIS: If you have a religion it must be cosmic; therefore it seems to me odd that this genre was so late in arriving.

ALDISS: It’s been around without attracting critical attention for a long time; the magazines themselves have been going since 1926, although in the beginning they appealed mainly to the technical side. As Kingsley says, people have come along who can write, as well as think up engineering ideas.

LEWIS: We ought to have said earlier that that’s quite a different species of science fiction, about which I say nothing at all; those who were really interested in the technical side of it. It’s obviously perfectly legitimate if it’s well done...

AMIS: The purely technical and the purely imaginative overlap, don’t they?

ALDISS: There are certainly the two streams, and they often overlap, for instance in Arthur Clarke’s writings. It can be a rich mixture. Then there’s the type of story that’s not theological, but it makes a moral point. An instance--it sounds like a Sheckley story--is the one about Earth being blasted by radioactivity. The survivors of the human race have gone away to another planet for about a thousand years; they come back to reclaim Earth and find it full of all sorts of gaudy armour-plated creatures, vegetation, etc. One of the party say, "We’ll clear this lot out, make it habitable for man again." But in the end the decision is ’Well, we made a mess of the place when it was ours, let’s get out and leave it to them." This story was written about ’49, when most people hadn’t starting thinking round the subject at all.

LEWIS: Yes, most of the earlier stories start from the opposite assumption that we, the human race, are in the right, and everything else is ogres; I may have done a little towards altering that, but the new point of view has come very much in. We’ve lost our confidence, so to speak.

AMIS: It’s all terribly self-critical and self-contemplatory nowadays.

LEWIS: This is surely an enormous gain--a humane gain, that people should be thinking that way.

AMIS: The prejudice of supposedly educated persons towards this type of fiction is fantastic. If you pick up a good science fiction magazine, the range of interests appealed to and I.Q.s employed is pretty amazing. It’s time more people caught on. We’ve been telling them about it for some while.

LEWIS: Quite true. The world of serious fiction is very narrow.

AMIS: Too narrow if you want to deal with a broad theme. For instance, Philip Wylie in The Disappearance wants to deal with the difference between men and women in a general way, in twentieth-century society, unencumbered by local and temporary considerations; his point, as I understand it, is that men and women, shorn of their social roles, are really very much the same. Science fiction, which can presuppose a major change in our environment, is the natural medium for discussing a subject of that kind. Look at the job of dissecting human nastiness carried out in Golding’s Lord of the Flies.

LEWIS: That can’t be science fiction.

AMIS: I would attack you on this. It starts off with a characteristic bit of SF situation: that World War III has begun, bombs dropped and all that...

LEWIS: Ah, well, you’re now taking the German view that any romance about the future is science fiction. I’m not sure that this is a useful classification.

AMIS: "Science fiction" is such a hopelessly vague label.

LEWIS: And of course a great deal of it isn’t science fiction. Really it’s only a negative criterion: anything which is not naturalistic, which is not about what we call the real world.

ALDISS: I think we oughtn’t to try to define it, because it’s a self-defining thing in a way. We know where we are. You’re right, though, about Lord of the Flies. The atmosphere is a science fiction atmosphere.

LEWIS: It was a very terrestrial island; the best island, almost, in fiction. Its actual sensuous effect on you is terrific.

ALDISS: Indeed. But it’s a laboratory case.

AMIS: The business of isolating certain human characteristics, to see how they would work out...

LEWIS: The only trouble is that Golding writes so well. In one of his other novels, The Inheritors, the detail of every sensuous impression, the light on the leaves and so on, was so good that you couldn’t find out what was happening. I’d say it was almost too well done. All these little details you only notice in real life if you’ve got a high temperature. You couldn’t see the wood for the leaves.

ALDISS: You had this in Pincher Martin; every feeling in the rocks, when he’s washed ashore, is done with a hallucinatory vividness.

AMIS: It is, that’s exactly the phrase. I think thirty years ago if you wanted to discuss a general theme you would go to the historical novel; now you would go to what I might describe in a prejudiced way as science fiction. In science fiction you can isolate the factors you want to examine. If you wanted to deal with the theme of colonialism, for instance, as Poul Anderson has done, you don’t do it by writing a novel about Ghana or Pakistan...

ALDISS: Which involves you in such a mass of detail that you don’t want to go into...

AMIS: You set up worlds in space which incorporate the characteristics you need.

LEWIS: Would you describe Abbot’s Flatland as science fiction? There’s so little effort to bring it into any sensuous--well, you couldn’t do it, and it remains an intellectual theorem .... But probably the great work in science fiction is still to come. Futile books about the next world came before Dante, Fanny Burney came before Jane Austen, Marlowe came before Shakespeare.

AMIS: We’re getting the prolegomena.

LEWIS: If only the modern highbrow critics could be induced to take it seriously ...

AMIS: Do you think they ever can?

LEWIS: No, the whole present dynasty has got to die and rot before anything can be done at all.

ALDISS: Splendid!

AMIS: What’s holding them up, do you think?

LEWIS: Matthew Arnold made the horrible prophecy that literature would increasingly replace religion. It has, and it’s taken on all the features of bitter persecution, great intolerance, and traffic in relics. All literature becomes a sacred text. A sacred text is always exposed to the most monstrous exegesis; hence we have the spectacle of some wretched scholar taking a pure divertissement written in the seventeenth century and getting the most profound ambiguities and social criticisms out of it, which of course aren’t there at all .... It’s the discovery of the mare’s nest by the pursuit of the red herring. (Laughter.) This is going to go on long after my lifetime. You may be able to see the end of it, I shan’t.

AMIS: You think this is so integral a part of the Establishment that people can’t overcome--

LEWIS: It’s an industry, you see. What would all the people be writing D.Phil theses on if this prop were removed?

AMIS: An instance of this mentality the other day: somebody referred to "Mr. Amis’s I suspect rather affected enthusiasm for science fiction .... "

LEWIS: Isn’t that maddening!

AMIS: You can’t really like it.

LEWIS: You must be pretending to be a plain man or something ... I’ve met the attitude again and again. You’ve probably reached the stage too of having theses written on yourself. I received a letter from an American examiner asking "Is it true that you meant this and this and this?" A writer of a thesis was attributing to me views which I have explicitly contradicted in the plainest possible English. They’d be much wiser to write about the dead, who can’t answer.

ALDISS: In America, I think science fiction is accepted on a more responsible level.

AMIS: I’m not so sure about that, because when Spectrum I came out in the States we had less friendly and less understanding treatment from "serious" reviewers than we did over here.

LEWIS: I’m surprised at that, because in general all American reviewing is more friendly and generous than in England.

AMIS: People were patting themselves on the back for not understanding what we meant.

LEWIS: This extraordinary pride in being exempt from temptation that you have not yet risen to the level of! Eunuchs boasting of their chastity! (Laughter.)

AMIS: One of my pet theories is that serious writers as yet unborn or still at school will soon regard science fiction as a natural way of writing.

LEWIS: By the way, has any science fiction writer yet succeeded in inventing a third sex? Apart from the third sex we all know.

AMIS: Clifford Simak invented a set-up where there were seven sexes.

LEWIS: How rare happy marriages must have been then!

ALDISS: Rather worth striving for perhaps.

LEWIS: Obviously when achieved they'd be wonderful. (Laughter.)

ALDISS: I find I would much rather write science fiction than anything else. The dead weight is so much less there than in the field of the ordinary novel. There’s a sense in which you’re conquering a fresh country.

AMIS: Speaking as a supposedly realistic novelist, I’ve written little bits of science fiction and this is such a tremendous liberation.

LEWIS: Well, you’re a very ill-used man; you wrote a farce and everyone thought it a damning indictment of Redbrick. I’ve always had great sympathy for you. They will not understand that a joke is a joke. Everything must be serious.

AMIS (quoting): "A fever chart of society."

LEWIS: One thing in science fiction that weighs against us very heavily is the horrible shadow of the comics.

ALDISS: I don’t know about that. Titbits Romantic Library doesn’t really weigh against the serious writer.

LEWIS: That’s a fair analogy. All the novelettes didn’t kill the ordinary legitimate novel of courtship and love.
ALDISS: There might have been a time when SF and comics were weighed together and found wanting, but that at least we’ve got past.

AMIS: I see the comic books that my sons read, and you have there a terribly vulgar reworking of the themes that science fiction goes in for.

LEWIS: Quite harmless, mind you. This chatter about the moral danger of the comics is absolute nonsense. The real objection is against the appalling draughtsmanship. Yet you’ll find the same boy who reads them also reads Shakespeare or Spenser. Children are so terribly catholic. That’s my experience with my step- children.

ALDISS: This is an English habit, to categorise: that if you read Shakespeare you can’t read comics, that if you read science fiction you can’t be serious.

AMIS: That’s the thing that annoys me.

LEWIS: Oughtn’t the word "serious" to have an embargo slapped on it? "Serious" ought to mean simply the opposite of comic, whereas now it means "good" or "Literature" with a capital L.

ALDISS: You can be serious without being earnest.

LEWIS: Leavis demands moral earnestness; I prefer morality.

AMIS: I’m with you every time on that one.

LEWIS: I mean I’d sooner live among people who don’t cheat at cards than among people who are earnest about not cheating at cards. (Laughter.) Look, you want to borrow Abbot’s Flatland, don’t you? I must go to dinner I’m afraid. (Hands over Flatland.) The original manuscript of the Iliad could not be more precious. It’s only the ungodly who borroweth and payeth not again.

AMIS (reading): By A. Square.

LEWIS: But of course the word "square" hadn’t the same sense then.

ALDISS: It’s like the poem by Francis Thompson that ends "She gave me tokens three, a look, a word of her winsome mouth, and a sweet wild raspberry"; there again the meaning has changed. It really was a wild raspberry in Thompson's day. (Laughter.)

LEWIS: Or the lovely one about the Bishop of Exeter, who was giving the prizes at a girls’ school. They did a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the poor man stood up afterwards and made a speech and said (piping voice) "I was very interested in your delightful performance, and among other things I was very interested in seeing for the first time in my life a female Bottom .... "

Magdalene College,
Cambridge.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

SOME DRAMA AS YET UNDEFINABLE

"If I am correct, the signs of the past thirty years or more indicate that man's relations with nature are changing. Nature is no longer experienced wondrously as a rich source bestowing harmony on all things, as wisely ordered of itself, as benevolent with its favors. Man today distrusts nature, he cannot speak of "Mother Nature." Nature has become alien and dangerous to man. The religious sentiments expressed calmly and clearly by Goethe as he stood before nature are not the sentiments of man today. Nor are those expressed by the Romantics or those expressed dithrambically by Holderlin. Man has been sobered, perhaps by the disappearance of the modern sense of the infinite. Although science continues to measure distances ever more enormous in scope or more minute in detail, these measurements are always finite. And man is aware of their finiteness. The "infinity" of Giordano Bruno and of German idealism was more than a concept to express measure; it was preeminently a concept for expressing quality. It signified the godhead of the world whose being was inexhaustible, triumphant, the very origin of all things. This experience of infinity declined as the modern age drew toward its end. Today man experiences his world as finite, but a finite world cannot inspire the devotion which was inspired by the limitless cosmos of the recent past. The new sense of the finite refers not only to a limitation in expanse but also to a limitation in the core of being, at the heart of matter. Since the world is finite, it is fragile; since the cosmos is expanding, its very being is a venture. It is menaced and endangered on every side and becomes the more glorious and precious. Man now feels responsible for his universe; man must now take care of being. We feel that man has taken the universe into his own heart; we know that this act spells mystery. It seems as though some powerless force in being were groping for the hand of man. It seems as though some drama as yet undefinable were being prepared at the heart of the world, a drama which needs the heart of man."

Guardini, Romano. The End of the Modern World.

Friday, July 4, 2014

ALWAYS TRYING TO SHOW US SOMETHING

"Our monsters are always trying to show us something, if we would only pay attention. The word "monster" itself goes back to the Latin verb monstrare, "show" or "reveal." Monsters are inherently demonstrative. So what are they trying to show us now?"
-Timothy Beal, Our Monsters, Ourselves

Disenchantment, or, "WHERE ARE THEY NOW?"

"Almost everyone can agree that one of the big differences between us and our ancestors of five hundred years ago is that they lived in an “enchanted” world, and we do not; at the very least, we live in a much less “enchanted” world. We might think of this as our having “lost” a number of beliefs and the practices which they made possible. But more, the enchanted world was one in which these forces could cross a porous boundary and shape our lives, psychic and physical. One of the big differences between us and them is that we live with a much firmer sense of the boundary between self and other. We are “buffered” selves. We have changed." -Charles Taylor, quoted by Alan Jacobs, Fantasy and the Buffered Self

 "What a different earth do we inhabit from that on which our forefathers dwelt! The antediluvian world, strode over by mammoths, preyed upon by the megatherion, and peopled by the offspring of the Sons of God, is a better type of the earth of Homer, Herodotus, and Plato, than the hedged-in cornfields and measured hills of the present day. The globe was then encircled by a wall which paled in the bodies of men, whilst their feathered thoughts soared over the boundary; it had a brink, and in the deep profound which it overhung, men's imaginations, eagle-winged, dived and flew, and brought home strange tales to their believing auditors. Deep caverns harboured giants; cloud-like birds cast their shadows upon the plains; while far out at sea lay islands of bliss, the fair paradise of Atlantis or El Dorado sparkling with untold jewels. Where are they now?" -Mary Shelley, "On Ghosts"

Friday, June 27, 2014

2014 SF Mid-Year Reckoning

2014 - The year in which I attempt to read as much science fiction as I can so that next year my very first (and probably last) Hugo nomination ballot will change Hugo history.

What I've read - the numbers.
3 novels
7 novellas
29 novelettes
144 short stories

Further breakdown with a little bit of commentary:

Novels

The novels were disappointments. Hang Wire is American Gods Lite. Afterparty gets lost in its crime trappings (not to mention its preachiness.) Annihilation promises better and more but I'm not sure yet whether or not I'm fully on board VanderMeer's project. I am a few chapters into Walton's new book and so far it is very good, though I'm not sure if it's actually sf.

If I had to nominate a Best Novel right now, I couldn't do it.


Novellas

I hated two of the novellas. I'm on the fence about another one. Two are solid. And two I'd definitely recommend, both from Mag of F&SF. Seth Chambers' In Her Eyes is a sensitive exploration of sexuality and identity. Too often, "mature content" means prurient lowest common denominator pornographic winking. Chambers' story is sexually explicit and contains foul language. It's also a frank exploration of what sexuality might mean to a polymorph, someone with a new body every week. It takes a common sf/fantasy idea and digs deep at one implication of such an idea. It's the only novella so far that I've felt like I'd like to re-read. The other novella I quite liked is Bartleby the Scavenger by Katie Boyer. As its title suggests, the story playfully interacts with and updates Melville's classic original Bartleby tale.

If I had to nominate right now, this would be my list:

1. "In Her Eyes" by Seth Chambers (Mag of F&SF)
2. "Bartleby the Scavenger" by Katie Boyer (Mag of F&SF)
3. "Each in His Prison, Thinking of the Key" by William Preston (Asimov's)
4. "The Lightness of the Movement" by Pat MacEwan (Mag of F&SF)
5. No vote


Novelettes

Of the 29 novelettes I read, 14 are pretty good. I'll only mention a few of these.

"Reborn" by Ken Liu and "The Common Good" by Nancy Kress could be companion stories and I do think that they benefit from being read close together as I did. Both are "post-invasion" stories in which humans live as a conquered species. Both explore interesting ethical choices and big questions while still both being compelling, entertaining stories.

"The Museum of Error" by Oliver Buckram was the announcement of a major new talent to me. The story is a lot of fun and reminds me of the best zany fun of Blaylock. The story is a silly mystery set in a museum devoted to the world's worst mistakes. Buckram is someone I'll be following from now on.

I'm still surprised by how much I like Jordan Jeffers' "A Fierce, Calming Presence." It's a pretty standard action piece about an inspector called in to deal with an unusual situation. It's a solid tale told really well.

As long as I'm praising solid tales, I should mention Brian McClellan's "The Face in the Window," which could maybe be described as a "flintpunk" fantasy tale (I don't think I made that up so maybe it already is being described as flintpunk.) Gunpowder as efficiency drug versus witchcraft. The story is interesting enough that I'm tempted to check out his debut novel set in the same world.

Finally, I'll give a nod to Derek Kunsken's "Schools of Clay." The class warfare stuff bogs it down, but the description of the colony and space travel is great "sensawunda" material, truly strange and well-thought-out.

If I had to nominate now:

2. "The Common Good" by Nancy Kress (Asimov's)
3. "The Museum of Error" by Oliver Buckram (Mag of F&SF)
4. "A Fierce, Calming Presence" by Jordan Jeffers (Analog)
5. "Schools of Clay" by Derek Kunsken (Analog)


Short Stories

Of 144 stories, I count 44 that I'd definitely recommend (and a much smaller subset of that 44 that I think are excellent.) There were more than that that were fine and entertaining stories, okay stuff, but there's also more in this category that I actively disliked.

If I had to nominate now:

1. "Whaliens" by Lavie Tidhar (Analog)
4. "A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide" by Sarah Pinsker (Mag of F&SF)

"Whaliens" is hilarious fun and actually had me laughing out loud. "The Meeker and the All-Seeing Eye" is huge in its scope, challenging my little mind in the same way that I felt when first reading about Galactus as a kid. He eats planets! "His Elbow, Unkissed" introduced me to the Kaslo Chronicles. I'm hooked. "A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide" has stuck with me since reading it. I'd be very excited about Pinsker if she hadn't also written one of the year's worst stinkers, published in Asimov's. Finally, "The Totals" made me smile. And that's worth a lot. 

These stories probably reveal a lot about my personality/tastes as a science fiction fan. "Whaliens" is just plain silly but is also brilliant in the way it interacts with genre history and tropes. "The Meeker and the All-Seeing Eye" is cosmic fantasy played out on a massively large scale (of both time and space.) "His Elbow, Unkissed" is Vancian fantasy, playing a bit with the dying of scientific methods but mostly a fun fantasy romp. "A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide" is the most solidly science fictional story of the bunch, but it's also very odd. A young man goes in for surgery and gets a faulty computer chip installed in his body, convincing him that he's a stretch of Interstate. In its quiet way, it is a strong exploration of memory and identity and body modification. "The Totals" is a giddy monster party story, published in a horror mag, qualifying as fantasy but definitely not science fiction.

Also worth singling out as close runners-up to the above mentioned stories:
"The Avalon Missions" by David Brin (Analog)
"The Carl Paradox" by Steve Rasnic Tem (Asimov's)
"The Chimp of the Popes" by James Patrick Kelly (Book of Silverberg)
"Phalloon the Illimitable" and "The Ba of Phalloon" by Matthew Hughes (Lightspeed)
"A Struggle Between Rivals Ends Surprisingly" by Oliver Buckram (Mag of F&SF)
"Seasoning" by Alan Dean Foster (Robot Uprisings)

Finally, for Ben, here's a full list of online fiction, all available for free. These are all stories that I think are worth reading, though I enjoyed some of these stories much more than others. There's at least something interesting about each of them.

(Note: I'll edit this post in a few days and provide links. It's too much for me to do on my iPhone during slow moments at work. Edit: DONE)

Beneath Ceaseless Skies (I've read issues 138-143)

Clarkesworld (I've read January through June issues)

Lightspeed (I've read January through May issues)

Nightmare (I've read January through March)

Strange Horizons (I've read January through February)

Tor.com (I've read January through a couple of stories in February)

Note: I've only read one Subterranean story (I didn't care for it), but I'm expecting good things. I haven't read any Apex stories. And I guess I could be reading Giganotosaurus and Daily Science Fiction. I'm not.

-----

After all of that, I've decided to also list print mag stories for Abigail, who has been reading the mags after me (and some before me now, I think) via Kindle. Again, these are all stories that have at least something interesting going on in them, regardless of how much I may or may not have ended up liking any specific story.

Analog (I've read January through May)
"This Quiet Dust" by Karl Bunker
"The Problem with Reproducible Bugs" by Marie DesJardin
"Racing Prejudice" by John Frye III
"The Avalon Missions" by David Brin
"A Fierce, Calming Presence" by Jordan Jeffers
"Whaliens" by Lavie Tidhar
"Pollution" by Don Webb
"Cryptids" by Alec Nevala-Lee
"In Perpetuity" by Ellis Morning
"Repo" by Aaron Gallagher
"Another Man's Treasure" by Tom Greene

Asimov's (I've read January through May)
"The Carl Paradox" by Steve Rasnic Tem
"Memorials" by Aliette de Bodard
"The Common Good" by Nancy Kress
"Static" by William Jablonsky
"Schools of Clay" by Derek K√ľnsken
"The Long Happy Death of Oxford Brown" by Jason K. Chapman
"Ball and Chain" by Maggie Shen King
"Declaration" by James Patrick Kelly
"The Plantimal" by Mike Resnick and Ken Liu
"Each in His Prison, Thinking of the Key" by William Preston
"The Principles" by Robert Reed
"Of Finest Scarlet Was Her Gown" by Michael Swanwick
"Rules of Engagement" by Matthew Johnson
"Scout" by Will McIntosh
"Like a Wasp to the Tongue" by Fran Wilde
"Slowly Upward, the Coelacanth" by M. Bennardo
"The Talking Cure" by K. J. Zimring
"Dolores, Big and Strong" by Joe M. McDermott
"Someday" by James Patrick Kelly

Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (I've read January through part of May/June)
"The Museum of Error" by Oliver Buckram
"In Her Eyes" by Seth Chambers
"The Man Who Hanged Three Times" by C.C. Finlay
"The Via Panisperna Boys in "Operation Harmony"" by Claudio Chillemi and Paul Di Filippo
"For All of Us Down Here" by Alex Irvine
"A Struggle Between Rivals Ends Surprisingly" by Oliver Buckram
"A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide" by Sarah Pinsker
"The Lightness of the Movement" by Pat MacEwan
"Apprentice" by Jon DeCles
"Collar" by Leo Vladimirsky
"Bartleby the Scavenger" by Katie Boyer

I think that the only major print magazine being published in 2014 that I haven't read anything from yet is Interzone. Maybe I can live without reading Interzone. Maybe I'll try to keep up with that one too. Maybe not. I'm exhausted with short fiction at the moment and plan on taking a short break now.

One more thing I remembered. Quickly, I'll add that both original anthologies that I've read this year, Robot Uprisings and The Book of Silverberg, have been full of good stories (though the best stories in the Robot book were reprints.)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

sf/f/h books 2014

I always pay attention to new science fiction and fantasy (and to a lesser extent, horror) releases each year. The "speculative fiction" genre umbrella is the literary place I call home. This year, I'm going to attempt to not only keep up with the news but actually READ as many new titles as I can. I've had a good start in January, keeping up with most of the short fiction periodicals, but I haven't started any 2014 novels yet. I'm currently in the middle of Gunn's Transcendental (from last year) and Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (from longer ago). Once I finish those two, I'm planning on dedicating most of my non-Libripox non-Simak reading to 2014 titles. Of course, I'll be happy if Ben agrees to a few 2014 sf titles for future Libripox picks.

Here's a list of what I'd like to read:

Short Fiction

I'd like to keep up with (in the order that I prefer them): The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Subterranean Magazine, Clarkesworld, Asimov's, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Lightspeed, and Analog. I'm not too impressed by the fiction in Strange Horizons and I haven't yet tried Apex. But all those I've just listed are the major mags. I'll have a post soon about a few of my favorite stories so far.

There are also several upcoming anthologies that look promising:

Multiverse: Exploring Poul Anderson's Worlds edited by Greg Bear and Gardner Dozois
Strahan's next "Fearsome" antho

(I'm also looking forward to the new KJ Parker collection, the next NESFA Anderson reprints, and whatever Centipede Lafferty titles we get, but none of those qualify as new 2014 releases.)

Novels

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer (and the two that follow it)
Lock In by John Scalzi (I dislike Scalzi, but everyone reads him so I guess I have to)
Beautiful Blood by Lucius Shepard (maybe this is releasing this year?)
War Dogs by Greg Bear (also not much info about this one)

(I'm most excited about Subterranean Press's limited edition of Drawing of the Dark, one of Tim Powers' best novels, but that also doesn't count as a new release)

And a few other books that I'm keeping an eye on. And probably a whole lot that I haven't even heard of yet. I don't know if I'll actually get around to reading many of these, but I'm going to try! I'm hoping to start Hang Wire soon and then Annihilation. Not sure what I'll read after that.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

SF Academy

As he guessed, I am happy to know that Jeff will be taking a Science Fiction class.

Here's the reading list for his class:

H.G. Wells, War of the Worlds
Yevgeny Zamyatin, We
Isaac Asimov, I Robot
Ursula Le Guin, The Dispossessed
Greg Bear, Blood Music
Kim Stanley Robinson, Red Mars
William Gibson, Neuromancer
Vernor Vinge, Rainbow's End
Paulo Bacigalupi, The Windup Girl
China Mieville, The City and The City
Philip K. Dick, Dr. Bloodmoney
Charles Yu, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe
Ben Bova, Mars

Of that list, I've fully read two titles. So much for my sf cred. It just went down the automated waste receptacle. Oh well. That won't stop me from commenting on the above titles.

The two I've read are War of the Worlds and Red Mars. You've probably heard Welles' radio adaption of War. If not, stop reading this now and give it a listen. I don't remember much of the book itself besides thinking as a child that Welles was telling an incredible story in the most boring way possible. I don't know if that is fair or not. I should re-read it as an adult.

I read Red Mars when it first came out in paperback, either late 1993 or mid-1994, I guess. 20 years ago! It was the first really "hard" science fiction book that I ever read ("hard sf" being sf that stresses detailed scientific realism). The science in it is serious and it convinced me that terraforming Mars would be completely crazy and also completely possible. I liked it enough to read Green Mars the following year. I never did read Blue Mars.

We has always interested me. I couldn't find a copy back in the dark ages when I had to rely on finding copies of books in physical stores.

I've read a handful of Asimov's robot stories but I haven't read any of his collections. I'm pretty sure that I, Robot is just a collection of some of the Astounding stories, right?

Growing up, I knew Le Guin as the Earthsea author. At the time, I didn't realize that she was a critical darling and mostly known for The Dispossessed and Left Hand of Darkness. I've never really liked any of the short fiction I've read by her and never tried any of the novels.

I'm looking forward to hearing what you think of Bear's Blood Music. I recently read Bear's original novelette that the novel was expanded from. I thought that it worked incredibly well at that length. It's definitely science fiction but its impact is the impact of horror. I can't imagine how Bear expands it out to novel length without sacrificing its succinct gut punch.

Gibson's Neuromancer is the one on the list that I'm most ashamed to have never read. I grew up in the midst of the cyberpunk "movement" but I was only dimly aware that it was going on. My experience of the genre was largely one of discovering older writers like Heinlein and Sturgeon and Silverberg while my contemporary reading often skewed more toward the (epic) fantastic.

Vinge is a writer I only know by reputation. I'm pretty sure that his work was relatively early in jumping on the singularity bandwagon.

I like Bacigalupi. I've only read a couple of his stories as they were published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (or maybe Asimov's) throughout the Aughts (I think they're all collected in Pump Six now). His stories are dark and depressing and truly relevant. He's one of the few writers I'm aware of who has thought through some of our insane contemporary agri-biz practices and tried to show how much worse things could get if we continue down the same road. Paul di Fillippo just wrote a funny/loving parody of Bacigalupi in the most recent F&SF.... http://www.sfsite.com/fsf/2014/pdf1401.htm

I've heard nothing but good things about China Mieville. And I haven't read any of his books.

Dr. Bloodmoney is a strange Dick choice. I haven't read it, though, so I don't know. Maybe it fits in well with the rest of the choices. I remember seeing it mentioned somewhere else recently, too. Maybe it's lesser Dick that is finally getting its moment. I'll definitely check it out, maybe this year.

I avoided the Yu when it came out because it looked too cute.

I've read some of Bova's Analog columns in a collection a while back but I haven't read any of his fiction. I think that Mars is his most recent, right?

Overall, it looks like a decent list of books. I'd want to take this class!

That said, I do wonder what the stated goals of the class are. The above titles are a decent representative sample of novels treating various major issues (alien invasion, artificial intelligence, ecology, microbiology gone awry, massive terraforming, etc). This isn't a survey course because most of these titles are from the last 30 years. I don't know if the above titles will be supplemented with any short fiction. I sure hope so. Science fiction is at its best in short form. Science fiction, more than almost any other genre or area of literature, has kept alive the novella and the novellette as vibrant and necessary forms of lit.

I might try coming up with my own alternative "master's level" sf course. It would be highly idiosyncratic and not at all better than the above list.

I do hope, Jeff, that you'll get me a copy of the syllabus. Besides short fiction, I'm curious to see if there will be any assigned non-fiction readings. And I'm curious about what sort of papers will be required.

Somewhat related, I've been seriously considering buying a "supporting membership" to next year's WorldCon. It's a silly thing, but I've wanted to vote for the Hugos since I was 10 or so. I've already started off this year by reading about ten stories from places like The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Tor.com, and Subterranean (and I'll get to Strange Horizons and Asimov's soon and maybe even Analog though it may be a lost cause). I'm going to try to keep up with 2014 fiction and cast my small vote next year. I'm pretty sure that my little vote will mean next to nothing. Still, I plan on enjoying keeping records and making a ballot. Maybe this enthusiasm won't last. Maybe it's all just mad rambling and crazy thinking brought on by the nearness of a new year. I like to think that this will be the year that I wreck the Hugo.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2014: The Year of Love Rampant

Yes!

2014, "year of Love’s Roar, the year of Love Rampant, the Year of the Love-Beast!"

http://danielottojackpetersen.wordpress.com/2014/01/01/a-new-years-poem/ 



May it be so!