"Lou Anders is an accomplished anthologist, adept at choosing themes likely to encourage originality of concept from his writers. His latest project, FutureShocks, is not quite as inspired as his last (Live Without a Net, in 2003), but is very solid all the same.... FutureShocks does everything the great SF anthologies of old did, stunning the reader with novelty, making the future seem like a cornucopia again, sometimes a menacing one, admittedly, but something of the infinite horizon it once was."
Thursday, December 29, 2005
Friday, December 23, 2005
Starred Review. British author Brooke's engrossing far-future parable intertwines old, old human questions: Who am I? Where am I? Where am I going? Must I go? After centuries of biotechnology gone berserk, "True" humans inhabit a land of mortal fears where a chance microbe or the changing vats of their enemies can dehumanize them forever. "Mutts," grotesque "Lost" subhumans, outwardly devote themselves to their True masters, though like pre–Civil War slaves, the mutts secretly talk of finding "Harmony," freedom from their inborn servitude. Flint, a True human, leaves his clan to find his rebellious sister, Amber, sold by their abusive father into a horrifying slavery. Though he dreads change, Flint himself passes through successive fragments of a degenerate civilization, first adopting the Lordsway of the gentle religious Riverwalkers, then becoming a "Watchman" in an army bent on purging the Lost from the world. In this impressively conceived, poignantly drawn object lesson in the implacability of mutability, Brooke (Lord of Stone) posits one constant: that only change is eternal.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
"One of the most compelling stories is the first part of Lou Anders's serial novel, 'The Mad Lands, Part 1: Death Wish.' Anders is well-known as an editor, but few know of his writing prowess, according to Roberson's introductory notes; if this story is any indication, Anders's writing prowess won't be a secret for long. In 'The Mad Lands,' Anders tells a complex and gritty tale, set in a sort of apocalyptic western landscape, peopled with con artists and gunslingers and strange animal/machine crossbreeds such as the horsecycle and the tank-turtle. This first installment is delightfully bizarre and refreshingly original, and my only complaint is that the story ended with me wanting more."
What can I say? Thanks, John. Your check's in the mail.
Sunday, December 18, 2005
Generalizing horribly, Benford decries the market share fantasy has won over science fiction, and announces he's going on a temporary haitus from writing any more novels while he writes nonfiction articles in support of science and science fiction. Schweitzer counters that a better answer to the problem might be to write better books, producing another Dune or Stranger in a Strange Land that can be the phenomenon that Harry Potter, American Gods or Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell was. John Scalzi argues in favor of more entry-level science fiction, as well as respect inside genre for those who would write such, and Hal Duncan enumerates a half-dozen different categories of science fiction and suggest individual points of entry for each category.
I don't have an argument with any of their responses - who can argue against more good books actively reaching out to more readers. But it was some of the comments these comments drew that fascinated me, and dovetailed with something I've been considering lately.
Now, first, I was surprised by how much ire Greg Benford drew down by daring to decry fantasy. Benford is definitely a member of the "true believer" core of the genre, for whom the "science" of science fiction is an important aspect, and sees the rise of fantasy as indicative of problems inherent in contemporary American culture. In fairness to Benford, we are not exactly living under a science-sympathetic administration at present. And the concerns Greg outlines for the future of Western civilization are very real, as recounted in Thomas L. Friedman's The World is Flat. (Side note: I'm not a xenophobe - if India and China are poised to take the lead, more power to them! What is bad for America is not necessarily bad for the world or humanity at large. And I will be thrilled if China's space program takes off, since somebody should be going and we sure aren't.) As Gardner Dozois writes in the introduction to Galileo's Children: Tales of Science vs. Superstition, "The battle of science against superstition is still going on, as is the battle to not have to think only what somebody else thinks is okay for you to think. In fact, in a society where more people believe in angels than believe in evolution, that battle may be more critical than ever. One of the major battlefields of that war is science fiction, one of the few forms of literature where rationality, skepticism, the knowledge of the inevitability of change, and the idea that wide-ranging freedom of thought and unfettered imagination and curiosity are good things are the default positions, taken for granted by most of its authors."
But what I see as far more damaging than the rise of fantasy is the rise of media tie-in works. The previously cited American Gods is a brilliant and thought-provoking work, and my personal favorite novel published the year it debuted. But that Forgotten Realms novels consistently outsell the real stuff by a factor of five-to-one is a cause for true concern. Especially given the quality of those books! (And yes, I've dabbled enough to know whereof I speak.)
In my view, it's all about narrative complexity and whether the speculative material you read (whether SF or F) serves to turn your brain on or turn it off. See Steven Johnson's Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter. It's similar to Neal Stephenson's division between "vegging out" and "geeking out." The gist of it is that the complexity of the medium may be more important than the message it conveys.
And I agree with Darrell that the challenge is for science fiction to write that compelling novel, not throw in the towel. The solution is to compete not retreat. For my money, (and - disclaimer time- I publish him over here, but I've been saying this for two years before Pyr was even a possibility so I can still say it with integrity), John Meaney's Nulapeiron Sequence (Paradox, Context, Resolution) is that novel, combining all the swashbuckling adventure of an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel, and the world-building and scope of Dune, with some marvelous hard SF extrapolations and a real sense-o-wonder. As Paul Goat Allen writes in B&N's Explorations newsletter, "Science fiction fans looking for the next big genre classic need look no further than the Nulapeiron Sequence, a highly cerebral sci-fi trilogy by British author John Meaney that has been (deservedly) compared to Frank Herbert's epic masterwork, Dune... Meaney's Nulapeiron Sequence (Paradox, Context, and the forthcoming Resolution) is a landmark work for multiple reasons: 1) Unparalleled world building: The world of Nulapeiron is one of the most vividly described and utterly unique realms ever imagined in the history of science fiction; 2) Plot density: Like Nulapeiron's multi-leveled society, the story of Tom Corcorigan has innumerable layers, dozens of secondary themes, and subplots; and 3) Readability: Fans of hard science fiction will not be able to put this sweeping and thought-provoking saga down. Although there are no sandworms or spice on Nulapeiron, readers will inevitably compare this unforgettable epic with Frank Herbert's classic."
But leaving shameless plugs aside (and hey, I had to leave off Paul's wonderful quote on the back of our edition of Resolution's jacket earlier today, so please don't fault me for wanting to work it in somewhere), what this whole debate has me really thinking about is whether science fiction should be accessible to a large mainstream audience in the first place. There's a very interesting comment posted in response to Scalzi's take by someone called Kyeikki which says:
I don't think the problem's lack of outreach. If I had to guess - and it's only a guess - I'd say the problem was religion.
Most modern hard SF assumes a philosophy of atheistic materialism, and it's generally unfriendly to Christianity and other theistic religions. (This comes through fairly strongly in the Benford/Schweitzer article.) There are some authors who don't fit this trend, but it's the dominant trend all the same.
Now, last time I checked, the USA was about 80% monotheistic, 10% atheistic, and 10% other. So if you write a novel intended exclusively for atheists, you're excluding around 90% of the population. So it shouldn't really be all that surprising if it doesn't turn into a bestseller.
Soft SF and space opera generally isn't as strongly atheistic, and fantasy isn't atheistic at all. And they're all very popular. I think that's a big part of the reason why. Star Wars would never have been a success without the Force, and no-one would read Robert Jordan's novels if it wasn't for the upcoming battle with the Dark One.
People do pick up on these things. Your average guy in the street might not be able to spell "atheistic materialism" but he can figure out pretty well if the philosophy and beliefs behind a book are basically friendly or basically hostile to his own - and it has a huge effect on what he's going to buy.
Of course if your number one priority is to keep the faith - as I think Benford's is - then it's not really a problem. But if you want people to buy your stuff, then you have to consider your audience, too.
Now, I'm in that 10% "other" category, and earlier this week, I was mulling over how the forefathers of science fiction, H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, were aetheists and rationalists, whereas the 20th century's most famous fantasicts, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R.Tolkien, were both Christians. Even the most-celebrated science fiction work to approach religion, the aforementioned Dune, does so in a scientific context. In this case (as in the case of the Matrix), a religion has been engineered by a powerful, technical elite as a means of control, and the self-fulfilling prophecy they've orchestrated ends up becoming a tiger by the tail which turns and bites them on their respective asses. But the religion is an emergent property of the pre-orchestrated farce, which may hint at powerful forces in the collective unconscious, but certainly is a far cry from the theophanies prevelant in a lot of popular fantasy.
I think Kyeikki has nailed an important barrier to mainstream acceptance that few others are examining - my only quibble being that I don't see accomodating the mainstream in this area as a positive thing. Which brings me back to Benford and true believers of a different sort. As someone who grew up in a much deeper south than even the region is today, it was exposure to science fiction that had a direct and measurable influence on deprogramming me from the prejudices and ignorance prevalent in a lot of my immediate childhood environment. I grew up around Christians who believed in a seven day creation, preached the reality of Hell and Judgement, and railed against the lie that was evolution. They were also, for the most part, racists and homophobes. They told jokes using the N-word, would never date a minority or someone who had, and generally represented a host of values I find base and inexcusable. And the only difference between them and me was that I had a father who shoved a science fiction paperback into my pre-teen hands and ordered me to read it. After all, it's pretty hard to be prejudice against blacks and gays when you're a-okay with Klingons and the Green Men of Mars.
Gardner Dozois has pointed out elsewhere that science fiction really began with Charles Darwin, with the notion of evolution, geological time, and the concept that there was a future that would continue for long enough to be potentially different from the now. Pre-Darwin, the world hadn't been around for more than a few thousand years, and was probably going to end in the next hundred or so, so how could you have anything like off-world colonies, alien species, or a future radically different from the present? Post-Darwin, there was no one running the show and no guarantee that the engines that ran the world wouldn't shake us off and carry on without us.
Now, I know that there are a lot more interpretations of Christianity than just the Fundamentalist angles, and also that there are some very fine writers of science fiction who happen to hold religious convictions (Louise Marley and Paul Cornell being good examples as well as friends). Furthermore, Charles Stross and others have pointed out how the Singularity, the "rapture of the nerds" may just be an eschatological wish expressing itself inside of supposedly scientific rationalism. And yes, I applaud the efforts of Christians like Jim Wallis, whose God's Politics: Why the Right gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It seeks to wrestle morality back from the religious right.
But, as a wise man once said, "A tree is known by its fruit," and I don't see a lot coming out of a very large segment of Christianity that I can condone or support. And I do see some very serious trends in contemporary America being driven by a certain segment of the population, trends which have very real, and in my mind, very negative consequences. Now I don't feel like pandering to their practicioners one iota. Quite the opposite. And one small but very real way I know to combat their evil is to open people's minds, and one way to do this is down a path of which I have direct personal experience: to expose them to ideas through fiction. And science fiction is the fiction of ideas. It's entertainment, but not just entertainment to me.
So there I've said it. Maybe I'm a true believer too when everything is said and done; and while my definition of science fiction may be broader and my solution somewhat different, ultimately I can't fault Gregory Benford for raising the issue in the way that he has. And I think his nay-sayers should cut him some slack. He's certainly generated quite a bit of food for thought, and that's the best kind of food there is for my money.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
Update: SF Crowsnest agrees: "Resnick's writing is effortless, full of snappy dialogue and a fast moving plot. The real delight to reading this novel is the banter and jokes in the conversations between Cole and the crewmates he does get on with, the insults and sarcastic comments with those he doesn't get on with and the real feeling of camaraderie and society it creates. It's very easy to imagine this as a real world and setting because the characters act so naturally together.This was my first time at a Resnick book, so I had no expectations coming in. Needless to say, I was impressed. This is high quality work. It feels a lot like if they made Star Trek without all the campness and most of the scientific gaffes. There's a veneer of quality and above all believability that makes this heads above many space operas."
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Monday, November 14, 2005
Thanks to the wonderful John Joseph Adams, an interview with Yours Truly went up today at Sci FI Wire. John talked to me about my upcoming Roc anthology, FutureShocks, due out in January 06, as well as about Fast Forward, my upcoming-unthemed-original SF anthology for Pyr.
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
Ironic framing: the night before the convention, hanging out in Jonathan Strahan and Garth Nix's suite (thanks guys), discussing definitions of SF with Borderland's Alan Beatts, who floated the criteria that for a work to be SF an author had to be deliberately and consciously writing within the tradition, aware of the history of SF and part of the community, a definition which excludes works like Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife and Philip Roth's The Plot Against America. Then, the night after the convention, a final late-night conversation with Paolo Bacigalupi (or someone claiming to be Paolo Bacigalupi, hugs to Cheryl). Paolo, it turns out, reads only nonfiction and The New Yorker, and confessed that he had no idea who any of the writers he met during the con were. This did not stop him from writing the Hugo-nominated "The People of Sand and Slag." My own 2 cents: When Professor Roy Hinkley Jr. invents a flying plastic disc in his new university lab in Rescue from Gilligan's Island, it's still a frisbee, whether he knows it or not.
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
Now, I'm happy to report that it has found new life in the pages of the Greek science fiction and comic book magazine, 9. The Greek language version of "Crowd Control" appears in issue 263 (8/03/05). "Crowd Control" has found a home in a number of foreign language markets, as well as an English language German magazine, but 9 is the first to appear. This is particularly gratifying to me, as I grew up amid the Greek community in my home town in Alabama - my first night of intoxication was on Ouzo - and I can now ask some old friends to translate it back for me! Also, 9's Editorial Secretary Anna Boviatsi extends an invitation to all my "fellow authors" to contribute. They appear to be weekly and are looking for science fiction stories (no fantasy or horror) between 2,000 and 4,5000 words - 9,000 if they can split it into two or three installments. I should say that my short dealings with them have been most professional. My three contributor's copies arrived promptly and in good condition, and the check, though it hasn't materialized yet, promises to be most adequate. 9's contact information and submission guidelines appear here on this wonderful foreign market list.
Monday, October 17, 2005
The Iron Sunrise by Charles Stross I'm just going to have to read everything Charlie writes, which would be a damn sight easier given my sluggish pace and my day job if he didn't write so damn much. I came at Stross initially on Michael Swanwick's recommendation, like so many of us with the Accelerando tales that Stross maintains isn't necessarily representative of the larger body of his work. Since then, I've read most of the stories in Toast, been fortunate enough to have published him twice, and read the two books in the Eschaton series. Here I was slower to engage with The Iron Sunrise than I had been with Singularity Sky, largely because the underlying concepts were new in the first book and reiterated in the second. It felt like a retread for the first few chapters, and aside from one interesting revelation about the Eschaton's motivations and concerns which I won't spoil though it isn't given a lot of space, the ball of what we know about this universe isn't carried many yards in this second novel. But what began to hook me, and, in fact, resulted in my enjoying Iron Sunrise even more than Singularity Sky, was the unfolding of the plot itself. Without giving anything away, I wasn't prepared for Iron Sunrise to turn into quite the action-novel it becomes, and I was delighted to discover that Charlie - who is the finest extrapolator out there when it comes to the intersection of cutting edge computer tech and economics - is damn good at writing action-adventure too. The second half of the book flew by for me at edge-of-your-seat pace. Now I've noticed Charlie once or twice defending the stereotypical Baen books when others dismissed them. I wonder if he's been reading them, taking notes, and applying what works very well for their audience to the" higher order" of big-concept, sophisticated-idea SF from whence so many of us look down our noses at Baen. Ironically, the net result of my reading Iron Sunrise may be that I pick up an Honor Harrington novel one of these days. Not something I would have extrapolated to be the result of my reading "Lobsters" a few years ago.
The Briar King by Gregory Keyes I've had this novel on my shelf for some years after having picked it up at a World Fantasy Convention. I don't read much epic fantasy, but Greg and I once got into a wrestling match following a drinking contest, and that plus the fact that it's a gorgeous hardcover was enough to let the novel survive several book-winnowings. Then, lately, I've been offered more and more traditional fantasy submissions at Pyr, and while fantasy is not a large percentage of what we publish, we are doing enough of it that - after reading an "almost there" first novel and perching on the fence on it for some weeks - I thought I could benefit from checking out some of the recent crop of successful fantasy writers. And was hooked from the first chapter. Keyes has constructed a remarkably believable secondary world, peopled with three dimensional characters whose personal dramas and political machinations are as interesting as the novel's fantastical elements. So much traditional fantasy seems to exist in sanitized quasi-medieval worlds, where the most notable staple of actual medieval life - the Catholic church - has been replaced by a not-very-well realized magical system, oft based on Celtic themes or goddess-worship. By contrast, Keyes constructs a church ever bit as ornate and stratified and believable as the Holy Roman Empire, but functioning along entirely different (if analogous) lines. Nor are his characters wholly black or wholly white; all are well-drawn "real" people, even (or especially) the villains. If all epic fantasy read like this, I'd be an enormous fan. I suspect that readers of George R. R. Martin might enjoy Keyes while they are between books, and possibly fans of Steve Erikson as well. At any rate, I picked up the Charnel Prince immediately upon closing the Briar King. I hope to have that read before Christmas.
Old Man's War by John Scalzi Let me say right off that I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am very glad that I read it. This is surprising to me. Not only is it "not the sort of thing I normally read," but initially, I quite deliberately held off checking it out. First, because I had heard that Scalzi admitted to (cynically?) seeking out what sells (military SF) and then writing same, and second because Scalzi put me off on his blog by quoting my most hated cliché, "If you want to send a message, use Western Union." I read for entertainment, yes, but part of what is entertaining to me is the act of learning, of bettering myself, and I have always held the occupation of writer as something laudable on the level of that of teacher or scientist and expect writers to be somewhat smarter than average. I read to learn, and when a writer tells me upfront they have nothing deep to say, I take them at face value and go elsewhere. But I found I kept going back to Whatever, where I (at first) reluctantly found many of Scalzi's posts to be quite entertaining, informative & altogether worthwhile. Then Charles Stross started touting Scalzi and when I spoke with him about it, Charlie told me there was more going on in Old Man's War than I was giving it credit for. Thus shamed, I sought out John in Glasgow, and while we only spoke briefly, I thought he was a genuinely nice guy and liked him immediately - and that, more than anything, always makes me want to read someone (the reverse is also true). Nor did it hurt that I love the Donato cover. So, in what was increasingly feeling like an inevitable move, I picked up Old Man's War and read it in about three evenings. Yes, I agree America needs to get over Heinlein. Yes, I agree there's something cynical (or is that brilliant?) about discovering that military SF outsells everything else, then writing a Heinlein-lite wish-fulfillment tale for a graying fandom about 75 year olds becoming young again and going off to fight in a Heinlein military SF space adventure. But the book is executed so well, the narrative so engaging, that I was drawn in from the first line: I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife's grave. Then I joined the army. I teared up at least twice during the read, once at the start and once at the end. My wife came in the bedroom as I was finished OMW, and I tearfully told her how much I loved her. She saw right through it and laughed at me for getting emotional with Scalzi's book. Suffice to say, yes, I'll certainly be coming back for the Ghost Brigades.
Meanwhile, while there is some blatant Starship Troopering going on, I don't actually think that was Scalzi's primary model for Old Man's War. Structurally, the Heilein OMW most reminded me of was Job: A Comedy of Justice - the first Heilein novel I ever read and an altogether underrated work. With a warning about SPOILERS, if we view outer space as the afterlife (and Scalzi makes this metaphorical association clear throughout the narrative), then both novels are about a man who enters the afterworld only to find that the woman he loves isn't there, then discovers her in an adjacent afterworld he's not allowed in, and breaks rules and braves hell to be reunited with her again (in a third, "quiet" life). So, deliberately, subconsciously, or accidentally, Scalzi has actually combined the setting of one of Heinlein's most famous works with the structure of one of his little-known ones, in a narrative that is more original than derivative, and absolutely deserving of its status as one of the most impressive (and successful) authorial debuts in a long while. Pick it up if you haven't already. If I can read it in three nights, you can probably read it in three hours, but however long it takes, it will be time well spent.
Update: John Scalzi has responded at great length to my post, and I am both flattered and embarrassed to have sparked such a long and considered reply. For the record, Scalzi and Anders do seem to be in accord on most of the points enumerated, and I found his discussion of the difference between process and net result most illuminating. And minty fresh.
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
Monday, October 10, 2005
This time out, we have such titles as the U.S. debut of Ian McDonald's Hugo-nominated masterpiece, River of Gods, (with a gorgeous new cover from Stephan Martiniere), the final installment in John Meaney's acclaimed Nulapeiron sequence, the first of a new fantasy quartet from Sean Williams which has already won both the Ditmar and the Aurealis Awards in his native Australia (the first fantasy novel ever to do so), and an Edgar Rice Burroughs-style "planetary romance" from Chris Roberson.
Also upcoming is the next "Structure" book from Martin Sketchley, a short story collection from Mike Resnick, and debut novels from authors David Louis Edelman and Joel Shepherd, both the first novels of planned series.
In addition to the aforementioned cover by artist Stephan Martiniere, we're happy to have worked this season with such talented illustrators as Jim Burns, Greg Bridges, Dave Seeley, Jon Foster, and designer Dave Stevenson.
We've also accumulated a 16 book backlist by this point, which means that our catalog is rapidly becoming substantial and getting some physical heft to it. Paging through all the books, I still can't shake the feeling that all this started up only yesterday. Where on earth does the time go?
Friday, September 23, 2005
Still, almost as intriguing to me as the Days Before Internet are it's early days - not of its conception and birth, but its emergence into popular culture. I had one of the first Apple Powerbooks, and steered by the very hip magazine Mondo 2000, I was downloading My Own Personal Jesus from the BBS, Private Idaho. Around that time, Apple came out with a hypermedia program called HyperCard, sort of a digital version of interlinked index cards. (Case in earlier point: for a moment, I couldn't remember the word "index card". I was thinking "post cards, note cards..." etc... I logged onto Office Depot, typed in "card" and...) Anyhow, Hypercard allowed you to publish a manuscript with hypertext, images, and sounds. I read William Gibson's Count Zero that way, in a program that could instantly call up the first, previous, or all appearances of any character. And I was hooked.
But my most cherished hypercard stack was Beyond Cyberpunk! A huge, sprawling, encyclopedia-cum-manifesto that sought to gather cyberculture, cutting edge tech, and science fiction under one cool interface. It was practically my bible for a few years running. This virtual tome was a major, major influence. My first screenplay, in fact, The Life and Times of Mondo Zark, was a directly derivative piece of drivel about a young hacker, whose murdered mentor survived as a distributed mind across a laboratory of various inventions, out to stop a madman from subsuming the world with nanotechnology, and aided by a tribe of technonomads who lived off the grid and traveled on computerized bicycles. Fortunately, I don't think there's a copy (soft or hard) existing anywhere of this mondo-monstrosity. But even more fortunate, the creators of Beyond Cyberpunk!, Gareth Branwyn and Peter Sugarman, have made the whole incredible thing, wonders, warts and all, available online! It's amazing to see how much of it holds up, and to discover how many people I know and work with today who were involved with it then (as if the future was all around me and I was unawares). Beyond Cyberpunk! is an invaluable piece of pop cultural history and an amazing resource, and now it gets to live again, in the very future it engendered so much enthusiasm for in me and so many others back in 1990. In many respects, we've moved quite a bit beyond it now, but it's vision stretches further.
Sunday, September 04, 2005
In contrast to Ray Bradbury's "butterfly effect," I believe it was Isaac Asimov, who in The End of Eternity, submitted the “wave” theory of elastic time, proposing that the effects of any change would be most noticable immediately after the point of interference/insertion, but would gradually diminish in intensity as you moved past the event. So, killing Hitler would radically alter the 20th century, marginally alter the 21st or 22nd century, and might leave the 23rd century or beyond virtually untouched and have no effect on the 30th century at all. Of course, the largest alterations would carry further forwards, while smaller ones would fade out more rapidly.
Oddly, this reminds me of a recent article I read on the resurgence of the “Great Man” theory of history. The idea that, at any given time, there are about 12 people who are creating the world had falled out of academic favor for some decades, replaced with the notion that economic, social, political trends were shaping events more than individuals, who were simply stepping in to fill roles dictated for them by larger forces. I.e., if you did assassinate Hitler, someone else would have stepped into the power vacuum in Germany and mobilized tensions there to similar effect. However, ironically, George W. has renewed interest in the “Great Man” theory. While the artile wasn’t suggesting W was in any way “great,” it pointed out that in almost-single handedly forcing a war that a) wasn’t necessary and b) wasn’t popular with congress, the people, or the world at large, he has demonstrated how much (catastrophic) effect one individual really can have on the course of history.
The other thing this discussion brings to mind is the way that science filters through into pop culture and effects our fictions even at the most visible layer. The original Star Trek very much adhered to the notion of “one timeline”, which, when broken, was always repaired - the break and it’s correction (as Spock points out in “City on the Edge of Forever”) always part of the design. This holds sway through the TNG episode, “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” in which Guinan senses the wrongness of a universe in with the Federation and Klingon Empire are at war, and impresses Picard on the necessity of repairing the damage. (Picard raises the question, “How do we know this timeline isn’t any more right than any other?” but Guinan steamrollers him into accepting her position.)
But this notion of a single timeline begins to break down with the latter episode “Parallels,” which sees Worf permeating through a variety of alternative timelines until everything culminates in a clusterfuck of thousands of Enterprises from a myriad different universes.
By Deep Space Nine, the notion of one time-line has radically broken down, as withness an episode whose title escapes me, in which Chief O’Brien is constantly teleporting back and forth to a future in which the station is destroyed. Despite the fact that each trip exposes him to radiation poisoning, he makes one final attempt to avert the encroaching disaster, meets himself of just minutes later on, dies, and sends his minutes-into-the-future self back in his stead. Upon his return, he wonders if he really has the right to call Kieko his wife, given that “her” O’Brien died in a timeline that was then prevented from occurring, and is reassured by his best friend that he’s still the Chief, even if his memories are out of whack by a few minutes. Since “most of him” is the same, that’s good enough for government work, what?
Finally, when we get to Voyager’s first few seasons (where my knowledge of Trek ends, as my viewing of Trek did too), time has become elastic, fractal, alterable, permeable, and generally good for twisting into any shape the writers need. The two-part episode “Future’s End” sees multiple versions of characters encountered with no attempt to match cause to effect. Here, a crash-landing in the past has resulted in a boom in 1990s computer technology (seemingly the boom we ourselves experienced - thus the alteration IS the correct time, was always meant to occur, etc..), but the 29th Century timecop that is sent to prevent it is re-encountered twice, once as a sane individual aware of and contributing to the outcome of the episode’s action, and once as a homeless man wandering deranged from the initial crash. Both versions co-exist in the same (final) timeline, and alterations and corrections made in the episode do not erase or negate the mad homeless version’s existence. I quite watching soon afterwards, but kept enough tabs on the show to know that they continued to play with multiple versions of their characters, and multiple co-existing and interacting timelines.
Finally, while I haven’t quite put my finger on it yet, I do think that the move from an absolute time to fluid/fractal timelines somehow coincides with blurring questions of individuality and identity unconsciously co-opted from the general zeitgeist. It used to give me fits when Jeri Taylor would tell me “absolutely the holographic doctor is a person” and Brannon Braga would turn around and tell me “absolutely he is not.” They didn’t know themselves, but unconsciously, a lot of that series was about ascribing “personhood” to inanimate, but sentient-seeming, objects, as witness the sympathy everyone gives the doctor when his holographic family breaks down, despite the fact that a simply tripping of a reset switch would have them all up and running again. This inability to distinguish between a long-running program who had achieved self awareness over time and the game-pieces conjured into existence on the holodeck typified the entire series, which, to me, was perfectly appropriate for - and indicative of - an age where a woman driver ran over a biker because her tamaguchi needed immediate food. As tragic as that was, one day I'm sure our robot masters will cite it as a watershed in human/machine empathy.
Friday, September 02, 2005
"...the United States is busily turning itself into a Third World nation, and at the worst possible time, too, at a time when many other nations are becoming increasingly progressive and scientifically sophisticated. American workers are already at a severe disadvantage in the global marketplace, because they're just not as well-educated, particularly in the sciences, as workers from other countries; see the recent book The World is Flat [by Thomas L. Friedman] for a discussion of this. It certainly isn't going to help that their science education is going to have to be watered-down and distorted even further to make room for stuff like 'Intelligent Design' because of political expediency."
Meanwhile, the Guardian ran a very cogent article by Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne arguing that allowing "Intelligent Design" into the classroom may have seriously detrimental long term effects. At the risk of sounding like a true believer, I think that science fiction's position as a literature of rationality, skepticism, and an open mind has never been more potentially important than it is today.
Friday, August 19, 2005
Now, I love the film, and this is by no means grousing on what I think is a near-perfect effort, but I am in the camp that wishes they'd had the guts to forgo the body armor introduced in the 1989 Batman film.
The problem I have historically had with the Bat-armor is similar to the one that Sandy Collora (director of the Batman: Dead End short) has - which is that there is no body armor currently available capable of deflecting bullets that still leaves one flexible enough to do karate. Sandy argues that you are faced with a suspension of disbelief either way - either that a man can fight sans armor and survive or that a super-armor has been developed that doesn't exist in the real world. Similarly, I've always felt that Batman relied on fast moves and close combat instead of armor, and, in fact, the Batman Begins filmmakers seem to understand this too, as evidenced when Henri Ducard tells Bruce, "You know how to fight six men. I can teach you how to fight six hundred." Lucius Fox's later statement that the armor can stop anything but a direct shot also suggests they are actually "playing down" the armor of previous films, where their choice to keep Batman to the shadows reflects their understanding of his M.O. (Side note: I do like the heavier cape of some of the Batman films, which suggests that the cape itself may have some defensive qualities. Capes are impractical, yes. But you can't dispense with Batman's, so I'd like to see a martial art worked out specifically with that in mind, incorporating his cape into the combat in a way that made sense - both defensively and offensively.)
My second problem with his use of armor goes back to my analysis of his primary motivation - which you know from my previous post I conceive of as his (selfish) need to prove to himself that death cannot catch him unawares no matter what the situation. The use of armor negates the threat, and therefore, fails to feed the psychological need that compels the character in the first place. Simply put - it's a cheat. Recall again the line from Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns when Batman switches off the (rubber bullet firing) guns of the Batmobile, stepping out to face the Mutant Leader because, "he has exactly the type of body I wish he didn't, and I honestly don't know if I can beat him."
My third objection to the armor is that it is a strong connection to the previous franchise, whereas every other aspect of this film is a relaunch. The armor was the invention of the 1989 Batman (along with the unfortunate misconception that the Joker's mouth is frozen in a grin - a mistake that prevented Nicholson from using the full range of his facial expressions, and one which I hope the filmmakers will forgo for the next film in this new franchise. But I digress...) It was interesting to watch the statements released to the press before Begins was released. The studio was officially calling the film a "prequel," while the filmmakers, possibly cautioned about dismissing the previous franchise too openly, hemmed and hawed about whether it was a prequel or a reboot. However, their inclusion of Joe Chill as the murderer of Thomas and Martha Wayne (as opposed to the Joker) is an obvious indication of their intent to separate from the Burton/Shumacher monstrosities - and their allegiance to the continuity of the comic books - and it's even possible the body armor was a studio-insisted upon aspect of the production they were not allowed to challenge.
However, despite all of the above, I am slowly, grudgingly accepting the necessity of armor in a world where street gangs can have access to military grade weaponry, and if armor we must have, appreciate the attempts in Batman Begins to justify it as cutting-edge prototype technology. Furthermore, while no such armor currently exists, every day our technological world makes it a more credible fiction than it was in 1989. I am also a big fan of the animated spin-off Batman Beyond, so much so that I wouldn't object to that story becoming part of official DC continuity, and since that future Batman relies on a high-tech suit decked out with sensors and weaponry, it necessitates a gradual evolution from the current cloth suit to the future suit. In fact, something of the sort is already happening, as witness the computer-assisted vision and armor plating of Jeff Loeb and Jim Lee's recent two-part graphic novel, Batman: Hush.
One thing I'd really like to see incorporated into the live-action suit is the traditional white eye slits. I was hoping they'd forgo the black eye make up in favor of something like the plastic eye-bubbles used in the recent Daredevil film (the only aspect of Ben Affleck's costume I liked actually). Spiderman showed us that you don't have to have an actor's face visible at all for him to emote or for the audience to connect with him emotionally. And masking the eyes might actually lend Batman a psychological advantage and add to his intimidating visage. (It also makes it less likely that close associates like Rachel Dawes will recognize him.)
As to the cape - absolutely it should detach from the cowl. One of my favorite visuals is still the Denny O'Neil penned, Neal Adams draw desert swordfight between Ras Al Ghul and Batman, where Batman removes his shirt and cape but retains his mask. Also, the cape should fasten in the front, under his neck, not at the shoulders, so that it can hang down straight in front and completely cover him.
As to the yellow oval, revisionist history/fan opinion holds that it was added when Batman began his formal relationship with the police and was meant to reflect the Bat Signal, so its absence is justified here. Personally, I prefer the black and grey outfit to the blue and grey one, though it would be nice to see the actual blue and grey of the comics on the screen one day - just to see it "brought to life" somewhere other than (and hopefully more convincingly than) the old Adam West series.
A word on his height - Batman's height in the comics has long been established as 6'2". Of all the actors to portray him on screen, only two are this height - Adam West and Christian Bale. But Bale's Batman isn't heavily muscled. He's much closer to Bob Kane's original idea of the "acrobat-man" or Neal Adams renderings than he is to Miller's Dark Knight. (His temperament is closer to the O'Neil Batman as well.)
Finally, a few years ago, at the San Diego Comic Con, I met a guy in a Batsuit who I actually thought look the part. Both the quality of the suit, and the physique of the person inside, simply worked. Standing next to this Batman, it was the first time in my life I actually believed that someone could wear the costume and not look silly. This in broad daylight too. In fact, this guy was actually a little intimidating. And I'm not sure but what I didn't like the mask better than any of the movie versions. The utility belt could use some work, and I'd certainly go for a non-reflective grey for the tights, but otherwise I think this costume is spot on. And his torso should amply demonstrate to Hollywood producers that they can dispense with those sculpted latex muscles once and for all if they have the right actor in the part. Click on the picture for a larger view and see if you don't agree with me.
Monday, August 15, 2005
I arrived at 7am Wednesday morning, and forced myself to stay up 38 hours till midnight Glaswegian time so as to be on the right schedule with everybody else, whereupon I slept till 9am and felt reasonably well the rest of the week. But this was as difficult convention to work. Ordinarily, World Cons are held in one central hotel – with maybe two or three ancillary hotels, all conveniently located. I can usually plant myself in “the” bar in the evenings and trust that everyone I need to talk to will amble by at some point. But this convention, the conference center was between a river and a convoluted octopus of highways and on and off ramps, and unless you were smart enough to get into the small adjacent hotel called the Moat House (I wasn’t – it having sold out before I’d even clued in), you were a cab ride away across the octopus in one of some ten or so hotels scattered throughout Glasgow. This meant that we had to cab it to the SECC in the mornings, stay all day, and cab it back in the very late evenings, making this a very hard day. To make matters worse, the Moat House had two bars, fore and aft, functionally impossible to negotiate between without going outside, but the official “party” hotel was the Hilton a good cab ride away, so there were at least three different locations where people gathered in the evenings. This, coupled with the spread out nature of the convention, meant you really had to work to find everyone you needed to see, and, indeed, I never found several folks I was hoping to meet up with. (Additionally, there was nothing else in the way of bars or restaurants in the immediate area, so I saw very little of Glasgow despite three excursions detailed below.)
Despite all this, I did managed to locate our international authors fairly quickly, and must say that the best aspect of the convention for me was spending some real time with Ian McDonald, Keith Brooke, Martin Sketchley, and Joel Shepherd, all of whom I met for the first time. (It was wonderful to see Justina Robson as well, and John Meaney is always a pleasure). The highlight was definitely hanging out with Martin and Joel, neither of whom were anything like I was expecting. (To write such sex and action-packed, turbo-charged adventure stories, Martin Sketchley is extremely quiet, exceedingly polite, and soft-spoken. Think a mild-mannered David Byrne.) We all got on famously and I look forward to a long working relationship with all of them.
Thursday night Chris Roberson’s policy of convention bar etiquette paid off. Chris’ M.O. is to pick one member of the wait staff, treat them well (something sadly not all con attendees do), and appoint them our single waiter for the duration. This time he picked Lauren, only two weeks into the job, and by week’s end she was refusing further tips, giving us all free drinks, and serving us after hours while turning everyone else away. That's Lauren on the left, along with John Picacio, Chris Roberson, and Yours Truly. Well, Thursday night she recommended a restaurant in town, which, although they were booked up, themselves recommended The Ubiquitous Chip down a cobble-stoned alley across the street. We were joined by authors Jay Caselberg and Laura Ann Gilman (former senior editor of Roc turned novelist), as well as my good friend Paul Cornell (excellent British author, also writes for television, including Coronation Street and Doctor Who) and his wife Caroline Symcox. In addition to wonderful conversation, I must say, the Ubiquitous Chip served the only good meal I had all week. I’ve also developed a fondness for “black pudding” – to my wife’s horror when I told her upon my return. (Google it if you don’t know what it is.)
Friday afternoon, Alan Beatts of Borderlands Books (one of the finest genre bookstores in America) hosted a Pyr signing. On hand were John Meaney, Chris Roberson, and Fiona Avery. They are pictured right, along with Alan himself and John Picacio. Alan would like to make the Pyr signing a regular feature of World Con, for which I am very honored. I lived in San Francisco in 2000, and of all the things I miss about that city, attending Alan's readings and events is probably the thing I miss the most.
Friday night was an adventure in itself. I’d been asked by John Parker of MBA literary agents to join him and a group of about twelve people for dinner at a Chinese restaurant called Loon Fung in downtown Glasgow. But the adventure arrived when he phoned to say dinner was being pushed back, and could we meet him at a private party being hosted by PanMacmillan at Borders Books. The party was fun – and everyone was there, but crowded and with bad beer. However, no sooner had we (Martin and I) arrived than Parker disappeared to another party, appointing Justina in charge and asking us to follow shortly. This one was held in a private upstairs room of a bar called TigerTiger. The party was fabulous, but, of course, John Parker was nowhere in sight at TigerTiger, though our game of “chase the white rabbit” continued when he called from the restaurant to summon us on. Loon Fung was unexceptional (hence I’m not bothering to hunt up its url), but was worth it as I got to spend a relaxed hour or so outside the con talking to John Meaney and his wife Yvonne. John is still the nicest person I’ve ever met and one of the top science fiction authors working today in my admittedly-biased opinion.
Saturday morning I was on a well-attended panel entitled “Not the Hugo Panel” about who should win the fiction awards (verses who would). I was quite flattered to be asked, as my fellow panelists including Gordon Van Gelder of the Magazine of Science Fiction & Fantasy, Charles N. Brown, publisher of Locus, and Ginger Buchanan, executive editor of the Penguin imprints Roc & Ace. The general consensus was that Ian McDonald should win in a just world, and I was pleased to be able to mention our edition of his novel, along with Mike Resnick’s upcoming collection New Dreams for Old (as two of the short stories to be included therein were on the Hugo shortlist for “Best Short Story.”)
Saturday night I attended the best party I’ve ever been to at one of these things, thrown by Harper Collins’ Australian imprint Voyager. Chris Roberson, Allison Baker, John Picacio, Martin Sketchley, and Pyr & Voyager author Joel Shepherd came along. But what made it was the venue, “the Tall Ship at Glasgow Harbour,” a converted sailing vessel build in 1896, later converted to a freighter and given an engine, now a dance hall with kitchen and bar. As we boarded, we were given a pirate kit which contained pirate hats, pirate eye patches, and, for a lucky few, swords and hooks. I didn’t get the latter, but did manage to grab a necklace and some gold dubloons, which sadly were solid plastic and not the chocolate I was hoping for. (That's me with Martin Sketchley and Joel Shepherd on the left.) I was also able to catch up with English novelist Graham Joyce, and meet his wife and adorable children. I was also able to indulge my newfound fondness for black pudding (have you googled it yet?).
Sunday was a panel entitled “Where is the Heart of Genre”, addressing the question of whether short fiction or novel-length fiction drives science fiction today. I was on alongside Analog editor Stanley Schmidt (editor of the oldest running SF magazine), authors Harry Harrison and Ian R. MacLeod, and critic Paul Kincaid. Sadly, my role as moderator kept me fairly subdued, as this was a topic I felt I had quite a bit to say on. The panel went alright, but was in a huge space with a raised stage, and the combination of bright lights and four hours sleep the night before made it not as exciting as it could have been. Later in the Moat House bar, the aforementioned super barmaid Lauren came over, asked me “Can I get you anything?” and when I declined, told another drink-seeking famous author to his face, “You have to go to the bar for service!” Lauren really did make an unexceptional bar exceptional! If her boss is reading this - give her a raise!
Sunday night was, of course, the Hugo awards, made more thrilling this time by my first ever attendance of the before-hand reception and the after-hand “Losers Party”, made possibly by virtue of my being John Picacio’s date. The reception featured some really nice Glaswegian smoked salmon, along with other good finger food, and I was able to catch up with several authors, among them China Miéville, Kelly Link, Christopher Rowe, Benjamin Rosenbaum, and Ian McDonald. (Pictured left are Campbell nominee Chris Roberson and Hugo nominee John Picacio.)
The Hugos themselves were quite interesting, the SECC’s Armadillo theatre being the nicest venue I’ve yet attended the ceremony in. Authors Paul McAuley and Kim Newman were splendid MC’s, preparing an hysterical speech that attributed the awards to French writer Victor Hugo (as opposed to Amazing Stories editor Hugo Gernsback) and projecting an alternate world in which France developed the atomic bomb first due to the influence of its “fiction philosophique,” going on to dominate the world through an army of automatons who will execute any gauche enough to serve red wine with fish.
Of our folks up for awards, only Mike Resnick and Jim Burns won. (John Picacio did take a Chesley award at an earlier ceremony, for a cover he did for a Tachyon Press trade paperback). Mike’s “Travels with my Cats” took Best Short Story (to be collected in New Dreams for Old along with his other nominee, “A Princess of Earth.”) Jim Burns is the artist for John Meaney’s four novels, Paradox, Context, Resolution, and To Hold Infinity. I met him earlier in the convention, along with his agent Alison Eldred, both of whom were very nice, and they both had glowing things to say about Pyr.
But it was at the Losers Party afterwards that things got interesting. You see, Ian McDonald was up for Best Novel. Now, very predictably, that went to Susanna Clarke’s bestseller, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell. The book was Time Magazine’s pick for Best Novel of the Year, as well as the pick from BookSense. It took her ten years to write, weighs in at over 800 pages, and had sold film rights and foreign language rights in 30 countries before it even appeared in the US, so there was no way this 800-pound gorilla wasn’t going to win. (And I am very happy for Susanna that it did - make no mistake.) But up against it and River was China Miéville’s Iron Council (the finest fantasy novel I have ever read), vanguard SF writer Charles Stross’ Iron Sunrise (who also had two nominations in the Best Novella category, one of which won), and bestselling Scottish author Iain Banks, (huge in his home territory). So when I learned that River of Gods came in second behind Jonathan Strange, and trailed by only a few votes, I was blown away. This can only mean good things for Ian in future.
Poor Martin Sketchley, who had managed to sneak onto the private bus after the Hugo Ceremony, couldn’t get in the party. By the time we smuggled him out an invitation (donated by Paul Cornell), he was gone. Chris Roberson did spend the rest of the evening getting folks from the bar outside into the private room, but Martin had called it a night. I did spend a late evening with Liza Trombi of Locus and Jetse de Vries, co-editor of the new Interzone, and this proved to be one of the highlights of the whole con for me.
Monday was the Pyr panel. In attendance were Keith Brooke, Ian McDonald, John Meaney, John Picacio, Justina Robson, Chris Roberson, Joel Shepherd, and Martin Sketchley. They were all crowded onto a stage on one side of the room, with Yours Truly at a podium on the other side, and a big screen between us. The room was packed to capacity with about 60 people. I gave a talk with a PowerPoint presentation, showing our second season titles and artwork from our third season. Then each of the authors said a few words. Then we opened the room for questions. Of all the panels I sat on or attended, this was the most lively, with a lot of enthusiasm, questions, interest, laughter, and even a thunderous ovation for my rapid-fire description of Martin’s The Affinty Trap. Which - with pseudo-spoilers - went something like: “Bruce Willis’ character from the Fifth Element is interrupted in his pre-credit sequence rock-climbing vacation for his Mission Impossible 2 assignment, which is that George Bush slash Barron Harkonnen of Dune wants to send him to kidnap the empathic metaphor from Star Trek: The Next Generation. But along the way, the lead falls under the grip of her pheromones and they have wild Species 2 cocoon sex before absconding to Babylon 5. Then, when George Bush slash Barron Harkonnen kidnaps her back, Willis has to team up with the riffraff outside Judge Dredd’s Megacity for an assault on Bush’s fortress.” All delivered in one run-on sentence burst, thank you. Now breathe.
Afterwards, I talked with Steven H. Segal, publisher of the upcoming Earthling lifestyles and culture magazine, and then pronounced the con well and truly done. As everyone else was too tired to move, Allison Baker (who was horribly sick but adventurous) and I left everyone behind and heading out in a cab in search of a real Irish pub (we found two), and some real Guinness (sadly, it was being served “extra cold” everywhere now, as a ploy to attract stupid young people who won’t drink it properly room-temperature. I learned for the real stuff I must now go to Dublin, but what we found in the pubs was at least better than what the hotel bars served). Along the way, we spotted a real blue Police Box, one of only 12 still in existence, and, of course, the model for Doctor Who’s time traveling TARDIS. Chris, who refused to budge from his Moat House bar seat all day, was well and truly mortified when he learned that he missed it. Sadly, neither of us had our cameras with us so this fan-produced model of the interior shall have to suffice.
And that's all folks. All in all, it was a fantastic convention.
Saturday, August 13, 2005
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
Now, while I lament their observation that the short story is no longer the driving force of the genre (and have my own humble plans brewing to address this - more on that later), when it comes to giving more opportunities for the great editors of our field to be recognized, I say "Hell Yes!" It's just an embarrassing shame that we (the community) thought it more important to create two separate Hollywood categories before addressing this.
I'd go one step further and suggest a Best Original Anthology category. It drives me bonkers that the World Fantasy Awards have a Best Anthology category, but the genre that gave us Dangerous Visions, the Orbit series, and The Science Fiction Hall of Fame doesn't recognize the category. That last volume was my introduction to science fiction to begin with!
Anyway, suffice to say I am 100% behind this proposal.
Tuesday, July 26, 2005
Friday, July 22, 2005
The convention itself was insane. Top Cow had Buffy & Austin Powers' star Seth Green signing his new comic book The Freshman on Friday and Saturday, so I spent two days staring across at him whenever the sea of people let up. For some reason, Showgirl's Elizabeth Berkley was hanging around there on Saturday too. I have a good friend in Los Angeles named Stephenson Crossley (pictured left) who had volunteered to drive down from LA and help out. A few weeks prior to the show, he got a gig working on a film in Baton Rouge, but he wanted to keep his word, so he flew at his own expense, arriving Thursday night at 1am and departing Sunday at 9pm. The poor guy had a red eye back, arrived at 7am, and went to work on his film set at 9am. I am immensely grateful and absolutely could NOT have done it without him. The aisles were constantly thick with people and there was never a moment when someone wasn't asking questions or looking at books.
Highlights of the con for me included evenings spent with artists Stephan Martiniere, Jon Foster, and Dave Seeley (all of whom are contributing covers to Pyr's third season) and Tor art director Irene Gallo, as well as Monkeybrain's Chris Roberson and Allison Baker, and artist John Picacio. I also got to see old friends Mike Colbert, Paul Silver, Eric & Jill Frederickson and Eric & Karen Forsberg, whose daughter, Lola, is pictured here on the right receiving a signed copy of Fiona Avery's novel The Crown Rose.
Finally, I was impressed with how many people from Alabama, both on my flight out and my return flight, were heading to the convention. It really pulls from everywhere and is not just drawing from California. On Sunday, I bumped into Ed Cunningham from my local comic store, Empire Comics. As Stephenson had to leave at 5pm to catch his flight, Ed kindly helped me break down the booth and cart it back to the hotel for shipping. I couldn't have done it without him either.
Oh, and while I mostly resisted the cornucopia of merchandise for sale, the geek in me has come home with 6 diecast metal Corgi Batmobiles. They have a whole line of them, from the 1940s roadster through the classic 60s open top to the weird manga cars of the late 90s and the rocket-like car of the 2000s. Heaven.
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
I've come home from the San Diego Comic Con to discover that my upcoming anthology, FutureShocks, is now available for preorder from Amazon.com. No cover or book info online as yet (though you can see both here in an earlier post and the cover is pictured again right), but it's good to see this book slowly coming to life.
Tuesday, July 19, 2005
The article was picked up by the Cox News Service and ran in a few other outlets (sometimes truncated, and sometimes with slightly different quotes). Here it is at the Kentucky Lexington Herald-Leader and the Berkshire Eagle as well.
Wednesday, July 06, 2005
Saturday, July 02, 2005
Obviously, this is their bid to create something like the Oprah Book Club for geeks, and the editorial director in me has to admire their marketing ingenuity. But whereas that world famous committee-of-one selects from the pool of all books - or at least, all books that might appeal to Oprah personally enough to get on her radar - this one is paid advertising by and for only one publisher. Now, as the largest SF&F publisher in the world, that's still a pretty large pool to draw from, and I'm sure the selectees feel damn lucky (Karl Schroeder is next up, followed by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson), so more power to them. But I'm bothered that there's no mention in the press release nor on the site itself that I can find as to what the selection criteria are, nor who is doing the selecting. I think I'd feel better about this if there were a recognized jury of SF peers involved, or even Ellen Datlow over at SciFiction, rather than what I suspect is a purely marketing & publicity-derived listing. I feel it's a shame that the Sci Fi Channel didn't launch something like this independent of Tor and offer their stamp-of-approval in a way that potentially commanded more authority and garnered more respect.
Still, I don't actually feel that the stamp-of-approval from the Sci Fi Channel is going to sway anybody in the core community of science fiction readers. Readers who are paying attention enough to have heard about this, or care, are already well-aware of who Cory Doctorow is and don't need the stamp-of-approval from a channel primarily known as rerunning a lot of really slocky horror movies and some direct-to-video embarrassments to tell them what's what in genre writing. (For my part, if I pick up Someone Comes to Town it will be for the aforementioned gorgeous cover, only now the collector in me will be hoping I can get that dang Sci Fi Channel sticker off without damaging the jacket!)
No, this isn't aimed at us, at least not as the number one target, but is, I believe, aimed primarily at that larger pool of science fiction viewers, they who watch every episode of every Babylon 5 spin off but never buy a book that isn't a Quantum Leap or Buffy tie-in. Now, those of you who have followed my writing here and elsewhere know that I've long been irked by the disparity between literary and cinema SF. And, honestly, if this new marketing scheme results in a few of the SF viewer crowd actually discovering "the real stuff" who wouldn't have done so before, well then, I don't think I'm going to fault it.
Ultimately, I think I feel about this about the same as I do about the somewhat controversial Quill Awards, that joint venture between Publishers Weekly parent-company Reed Business Information and NBC Universal Television Stations. (The controversy here revolves around the potential of Publishers Weekly to reap enormous profit in ad revenue from publishers anxious to impress the voters - select industry professionals who are all PW subscribers.) Still, as an effort to encourage reading and literacy in the mainstream with the creation of an "Oscars for books," I can't really begrudge the Quills success. I'll be watching it closely and hoping-against-hope that NBC doesn't get bored with it and drop it in a year or two.
So, congrats to Cory and more power to the Sci Fi Channel & Tor. I'll be watching this with interest as it develops. Meanwhile, I wish the Sci Fi Channel had the good sense to start filming our own Oscars, the Hugo ceremony. Maybe more Hollywood producers would start picking up their awards if they knew they were going to be on television, and the exposure for all our writers would certainly go a long way in bridging the gap between the literature of science fiction and its too often inferior cinematic counterpart.
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
Apologies to Harlan and Roddenberry both, but that is some lousy science. Or is it?
Later, when time is altered and then set right, our good Vulcan rationalizes their belief in one true timeline by suggesting that both the alteration and it's correction were predestined.
This was pretty much the Star Trek position for the original series, the original cast films, and into the start of The Next Generation, right up through the episode "Yesterday's Enterprise" (and Denise Crosby's only decent performance) . But then something happened. The Graham-Everett-Wheeler many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics finally broke through into the popular consciousness.
Then we got episodes like season seven's "Parallels," in which a quantum fissure in space-time propels Worf through a series of alternate universes. The episode's climax sees a myriad different versions of the Enterprise converging, all from their own realities, all equally "real" to their inhabitants, some radically different from our own. The singular time line is gone.
This plays out even more in Deep Space Nine, especially in the episode "Trials and Tribble-ations," in which we learn that - far from having it's own self-correcting mechanisms as Mr. Spock proposed a century ago - time actually requires Federation protection in the form of the "Department of Temporal Investigations."
By the time of Voyager's two-part episode "Future's End," the notion of one sacrosanct timeline has been shot all to hell, and the writers don't even bother with resolving or explaining the multiple temporal paradoxes they introduce. This will become a staple of Voyager episodes, with multiple stories showing the plurality of existence, and the subsequent loss of individuality that results. Of course, some of this is just lazy writing, but the impact of the Graham-Everett-Wheeler depiction of the multiverse was certainly still reverberating through the science fiction writers' zeitgeist.
And now this....
Physicists Daniel Greenberger of the City University of New York and Karl Svozil of the Vienna University of Technology in Austria claim to have demonstrated that the most basic features of quantum theory may inherently rule out paradox. Essentially, their argument resolves around a quantum object's ability to behave as a wave. Ordinarily, such an object split into component waves and traveling through space-time is most likely to end up in places where its component waves recombine "constructively." But, when the component waves travel into the past they behave surprisingly different, their various components "interfering destructively", canceling each other out and actively preventing anything from happening in contradiction to that which has already taken place. If I'm wrapping my head around this correctly, this means that you can travel into the past, but only that past which results in your future.
It seems that all those heavy-handed, self-correcting mechanisms science fiction writers used to put in their stories showing the universe itself acting to prevent paradox might actually have a basis in reality. And Harlan Ellison's "river of time," far from looking like a hackneyed plot device to get Kirk and Spock where they needed to be, is seeming a bit damn prescient about now.