Monday, April 25, 2005

Recent Rave Reviews

This last week or so has brought in a flurry of positive reviews for various Pyr books. So much so that I can't resist aggregating them here.

B&N's Explorations newsletter calls John Meaney's Paradox a cerebral science fiction thriller of the highest order and a substantial novel in every sense of the word. While SFSignal's review called the book a fast-paced, immersive space opera that's sure to please... a very good mix of adventure, sense of wonder and good, old-fashioned fun and added that the sequels are not something I want to miss.

Chris Roberson's time-travel adventure novel, Here, There & Everywhere, receives a rave review from Michael Berry at Michael writes that Roberson displays an infectious enthusiasm for the conventions of pulp adventure fiction and sufficient wit and skill to maneuver around their pitfalls. His book is always fun, thoughtful and clever in the way it uses the latest theories about cosmology to rationalize Roxanne's multidimensional sojourns, and says that Here, There & Everywhere is an enjoyable romp by a promising new voice in science fiction.

Earlier last week, Entertainment Weekly gave Roberson's novel a grade of B and said: Roberson's irreverent alternate histories of the Beatles, Sherlock Holmes, and H.G. Wells are a welcome stitch in the age-old time-travel tradition. While the Library Journal wrote: Roberson's deceptively lighthearted take on the phenomena of time travel and alternate universes features a likable heroine whose quick mind and caring heart should appeal to adult and YA fans of sf adventure with a conscience. And Jonathan Cowie of The Science Fact & Fiction Concatenation called the novel a gem and a cracker and an accomplished treatment of a trope in his review. Furthermore, Steven Silver's Reviews says: while many of the ideas Roberson plays with in the novel will be familiar to many readers of science fiction, whether through the writings of Robert A. Heinlein ("By His Bootstraps"), Isaac Asimov (The End of Eternity) or H.G. Wells (The Time Machine), Roberson combines the elements in an interesting and often unique way. When paired with Roberson's writing style, it makes for an entertaining and intriguing novel.

Meanwhile, Sean Williams' The Resurrected Man, a crime novel set in a near future of matter transportation, receives a grade of A and a rave review from Paul Di Filippo on Paul writes: His book is in fact the first truly rigorous and envelope-pushing attempt in a long time to deal with this trope. Not only is Williams meticulous in teasing out all the implications of such a device, but he embeds his tale in a future world that's truly different from ours, yet a rational extension of many current-day trends (such as the growing tug-of-war between privacy and full-disclosure demands)...for sheer speculative bravado and tale-telling power, this novel ranks high not just among the subset of matter-transmitter stories, but among recent SF in general.

The Resurrected Man was also highly recommended by Laura Lehman of BellaOnline who called the novel a fast-paced blend of science fiction and mystery. Earlier, School Library Journal said: this book raises interesting and unique questions of legality, technology, and identity. Slightly reminiscent of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Ballantine, 1996), it’s sure to thrill readers.

Charles Coleman Finlay's The Prodigal Troll received some good love from Kirkus, who proclaim: up-and-coming author Finlay expands one of his popular stories...into a fresh and affecting first novel with echoes of Tarzan of the Apes and The Jungle Book...unusually intriguing and satisfying work from a writer on the rise.

Booklist describes Fiona Avery's The Crown Rose as a noteworthy historical fantasy, and goes on to say that: sage readers probably won’t be surprised to learn that they have been deeply drawn into yet another fantasy based on the legend of the Holy Grail. Indeed, they will likely feel it is such a good one that they just must continue reading it to the end––and look forward to coming back for a possible sequel. Even better, the Library Journal calls The Crown Rose essential for lovers of historical fantasy. And Publishers Weekly describes the book as a superior historical fantasy. Meanwhile, Fiona Avery has launched a website in support of her novel worth checking out at

Perhaps more a preview than a review of The Healer, Rick Kleffel of the Agony Column says of Michael Blumlein that he is an author on the order of Jonathan Lethem or Jonathan Carroll and praises him for being the sort of author who manages to make all sort of left, right and U-turns when you least expect them.

Obviously, we're thrilled with the overwhelmingly postive response Pyr's first season continues to receive, and we promise good things in season two as well.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Oh, the Agony!

Rick Kleffel of The Agony Column Book Reviews and Commentary has just posted a fairly longish interview with Yours Truly entitled "Being Smart: An Interview with Lou Anders." Despite being slightly embarrassed by his too-gracious title, I'm very proud of the piece. Rick got me to open up on a few things I hadn't anticipated addressing, and the interview that results is a fairly comprehensive assessment of my career thus far and my views on such things as the nature and purpose of SF, the ongoing debate about fantasy vs. SF, Pyr's editiorial vision, the dreaded media tie-ins, etc... There are also a few pictures from the set of Babylon 5 that I don't think anyone's ever seen before.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Pyr's Second Season and related

A number of Pyr related items if I may:

First, our second season catalog is now up for download as a PDF here. I'm thrilled with the line up, which features books by Keith Brooke, John Meaney, Michael Moorcock & Storm Constantine, Mike Resnick, Justina Robson, Martin Sketchley, and George Zebrowski, and also very excited about the cover illustations from the talented Jim Burns, Brian W. Dow, Dave Seeley & John Picacio.

Second, we have posted a short Q&A with Charles Coleman Finlay about his novel, The Prodigal Troll, at

Third, we've just received our second Entertainment Weekly review, this time for Chris Roberson's Here, There & Everywhere, which was given a B grade and concludes: Roberson's irreverent alternate histories of the Beatles, Sherlock Holmes, and H G Wells are a welcome stitch in the age-old time-travel tradition.

This follows earlier reviews in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Locus, Library Journal, and the Florida Sun-Sentinel, the last of which called Here, There & Everywhere "the Bridget Jones of time travelers."

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Golden Tickets to Hell:Willy Wonka – Tour Guide of the Abyss

In 1971, Warner Bros. released Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the now-famous children’s musical based on the book by celebrated author Roald Dahl (and shot from his own screenplay).[1] Directed by Mel Stuart, the film starred Gene Wilder as the eccentric, slightly sadistic, famous candy maker, Jack Albertson as Grandpa Joe, and Peter Ostrum as Charlie Bucket.

In the story, Charlie is a poor boy living with his mother and four grandparents, none of whom have been out of bed in twenty years (and, unpleasantly, it’s the same bed). Charlie is bravely struggling to support his family when he hears that the famous recluse Mr. Willy Wonka has placed “golden tickets” into five of his candy-bars. The finders of these special items will be given a full tour of Wonka’s famous candy factory – the inner workings of which are a tightly kept secret – and a lifetime supply of chocolate.

Charlie wants to win more than anyone, and encouraged by Grandpa Joe, foolishly spends his money on a single bar of chocolate, which, sadly, is ticket-less. He is heartbroken when the news reports that all five tickets have been found. But later, when the fifth ticket turns out to be a hoax, he risks it all on one more chocolate bar, and viola – the coveted fifth ticket is his.
Before the big day, however, he is approached by the villainous Arthur Slugworth, rival candy-maker, who offers big bucks in exchange for a sample of Wonka’s latest creation, an everlasting Gobstopper. A stranger Tinker also appears, warning Charlie in a bizarre poem about “little men”. These forebodings are soon forgotten, however, amid a media circus in which the five winners are ushered into the candy-maker’s world.

Upon entering the Chocolate Factory, reality is checked at the door, as Wonka’s abode is a psychedelic wonderland full of chocolate rivers, giant edible mushrooms, lick-able wallpapers, and sanctimonious orange midgets (the Oompa Loompas[2]). And yes, each child is given their own Gobstopper, a candy that can be licked forever without ever dissolving away.
As the tour progresses, the four other children reveal themselves to be gluttonous, greedy, spoiled, and ill-behaved; traits that backfire, bringing bizarre disasters down upon their heads. One by one, the small tour is reduced in number, until only Charlie Bucket and Grandpa Joe remain.

They mistakenly assume they’ve won the promised lifetime supply of chocolate, but are told that their own drinking of an off-limits experimental soda has disqualified them, and they are curtly dismissed. Grandpa Joe is incensed, promising to get even with Wonka no matter what it takes, and encourages Charlie to hand over the secrets of the Gobstopper to the rival Slugworth. But Charlie has a heart of gold, and returns the Gobstopper to Wonka despite the money it could mean for him. “So shines a good deed in a weary world,” says the candy-man, who explains that this was all a test to find a good and worthy child.

Wonka admits that he was looking for a replacement, and that in addition to the chocolate, Charlie will get the entire factory to run on Wonka’s behalf. Then they get in the Great Glass Elevator (the Wonka-vator, actually), and blast off into the sky, presumably to live happily ever after. [3]

Considered a classic now, most parents view the film as a good lesson in morality, as children are shown the errors of greed and poor impulse control. However, this view ignores the fact that many adults, when they recount their own impressions of the film, admit that it scared the bejeezus out of them as children. Only later, in adult life, do they revisit this film and enjoy it for its sophisticated humor on multiple levels. In fact, Wonka himself displays a very sinister edge, taking a perverse glee in the sufferings of some of the children and showing a dispassionate apathy to the plights of others, as witnessed by his line when Augustus Gloop is stuck in a pipe, “The suspense is terrible. I hope it will last.”

So how do we account for this sinister streak in the candy-man, as well as the frightening nature of some of the stories elements? I submit to you that Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is nothing more nor less than a decent into the abyss, a journey through a dark, stygian underworld, a descent into the depths of Hell.

Leaving Hollywood aside for the moment, let us jump back in time to the 14th Century. Written from 1306 to 1321, Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy[4] is generally considered one of the greatest poems in world literature. Comprised of there parts, Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso, the first section, Inferno was published independently in 1314 and is the most widely read and studied.

The poem begins when Dante the Pilgrim, halfway through the journey of his life, suddenly finds himself lost in a dark woods without knowing how he came to be there. Three savage beasts – a leopard, a lion, and a she-wolf – arise to menace him. But then Dante sees a hilltop “shawled in morning rays of light sent from the planet that leads men straight-ahead on every road.”[5]

Virgil, the famous Roman poet, appears, and offers to guide Dante on his path, but Dante learns that in order to go up, he will have to go down first. They enter into the Vestibule of Hell, a nowhere place of souls who have lived a life without blame or praise, and now suffer a pointless, eternal existence. The pair then confronts Charon, the boatman of Hell, and convinces him to ferry them across the river Acheron into Limbo, the first level of the Inferno.

The Inferno of Dante’s poem is a vast funnel, with nine ledges, each of which comprises one of the levels of the underworld. As the journey progresses downward, Dante seems example after example of sinners suffering for their crimes, all punished in appropriately matched and fiendishly imaginative ways. For example, the soothsayers, those guilty of foretelling the future, have their heads twisted around backwards so they can no longer see in front of them.

At the very center, Lucifer is bound, his body half submerged in a frozen lake. The pair must climb down the devil’s hairy body. Midway through their climb, gravity reverses itself. They have passed through the center of the earth, and now make their ascent towards Purgatory and Heaven.

Chances are, aspects of this story are already starting to sound familiar to you. Returning to WonkaLand - we have five children, escorted by their guide through a magical realm. Along the way, one child at a time falls victim to their own vice. Augustus Gloop drinks from the forbidden river and falls in, become stuck in a pipe. Violet Beauregarde snatches an experimental gum and is transformed into a giant blueberry. Veruca Salt[6] threatens to throw a fit if she isn’t given everything she wants immediately, and falls down a shoot for bad eggs into an incinerator. Mike Teevee, rushing in to be the first person “sent by television”, is shrunk to a mere few inches tall.
Finally, only Charlie Bucket is left. And although Charlie isn’t blameless, he is repentant. Even when rebuffed by Wonka, Charlie does the right thing, returning Wonka’s Gobstopper despite the fact it represents much needed money for his family.

Wonka, Charlie’s Virgil in this retelling of the Inferno, then rewards the boy for making it through Hell, by taking him up in the sky – ie. up to heaven – in the great, glass elevator, just as Virgil lead Dante through the Inferno and up to Purgatory and Paradise.

Roald Dahl has cleverly taking the classic medieval poem and transposed it into the setting of a children’s novel. But when deconstructed, its roots in the Inferno are painfully obvious. In fact, at one point in the film itself, the veil of metaphor is completely torn away and Wonka actually tells us where we are. Standing beside a Chocolate River, the tour group sees a wonderful boat – the Wonkatania – crewed by Oompa Loompas. Leaving the wonderful candyland receiving area behind (the Vestibule of Hell), they cross the Chocolate River by ferry. Here, the Chocolate River is no less than the River Acheron itself, as Willy Wonka, now in the guise of Charon the Ferryman, makes plain as he sings out, “Not a speck of light is showing, so the danger must be growing. Are the fires of Hell a blowin’? Is the grisly reaper mowing? Yes!”

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory truly is Dante’s Inferno, a slice of Hell served up with a sugar coating.

[1] Roald Dahl also wrote screenplays for two Ian Fleming films, the James Bond movie You Only Live Twice and the film of Fleming’s own children’s book, ChittyChitty Bang Bang.

[2] Though uncredited for their performances in Willy Wonka, several of the Oompah Loompas had illustrious Hollywood careers, appearing in such films as Star Wars, Return of the Jedi, Labyrinth, and Time Bandits, and cult classic TV shows like Doctor Who and The Prisoner. One of them, Norman McGlen, continues our Dahl-Fleming connection by appearing in the James Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service as a janitor in underworld leader Draco’s office. Alas, McGlen isn’t credited for this role either.

[3] The film ends there, though in the follow-up novel, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator: The Further Adventures of Charlie Bucket and Willy Wonka, Chocolate-Maker Extraordinary, they travel to space and meet such creatures as the Gnoolies and the Vermicious Knids. Oddly, it is interesting to view Wonka in context of a contemporary British television show. As a bizarre eccentric, sporting pseudo-Victorian dress and looking for the perfect child companion to take on a journey into outer space in his magic flying box, he certainly resembles the BBC’s popular creation, Doctor Who.

[4] Originally titled only Comedy, “divine” was presumed to have been added to the title later by Renaissance writer Boccacio, who repeatedly refered to Dante as a “divine poet.”

[5] Lines, 15 – 16.

[6] The rock group Veruca Salt took their name from this character.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Hobbits in Hyperspace?

I'm happy to report that I have an article examining the impact of the rise of fantasy on the science fiction genre running in the April 4th edition of Publishers Weekly. The article, "A Hobbit Takover?" (not my title - I prefer the one above) has been placed online here. They clipped a few of my more "opinionated" comments where I suggested that the fantasy boom might have some detrimental repercussions, but otherwise I'm very happy with the piece and very proud to be in PW.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Cowboys and Trotskys and Golems, Oh My!

Recently, I was asked by an old friend and new editor at the Believer if I had any interest in writing for them. Now, it's been a few years since I made my living as a journalist, but as it turns out, The Believer is one of my all-time favorite magazines, and so I said that I would if and only if I could interview one of my all-time favorite authors. The piece that resulted appears in their April 2005 issue, on stands everywhere this week, but it's also been posted to their website. So, with fair warning that it contains some minor spoilers, here is a piece of journalism that I'm as proud of as anything I've ever done, my interview with China Miéville.