Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Life Afer WorldCon, Anaheim 2006

I'm back from the 64th World Science Fiction Convention, this one held in Anaheim, CA and host to about 6,000 fans. This was my busiest convention ever - I was on 9 panels and had another 17 or so meetings, signings, dinners, coffees and whatnot, for a total of 26 items crammed into 4 1/2 days. Which meant I spent a great deal of time rushing about from place to place, didn't see a single event I wasn't part of, and didn't get to talk to much anyone I didn't have a prior meeting with. As a result of such a schedule, I had previously made the executive decision to replace my usual beverage (Newcastle) with my prefered drug of choice (Starbucks nonfat double-shot cappuccino with two Splendas). Given that I had a coffee at most of my meetings, I ended up buzzing with so much jittery energy I felt like I was channeling Cory Doctorow. (Which was a blast, btw). Excepting a few late night conversations, it really wasn't until Sunday that I felt I really got to sit down with a few dear friends and relax, and still there were some wonderfuI people I missed seeing entirely. But I have to say that personally it was a very gratifying convention, and may rank as one of my favorite cons to date. It's hard to know, since I could live at a con if time and space would conspire to allow it and everyone seems better than the con before.

That being said, highlights for me were:

* Dinner with Mike and Carol Resnick, where Mike my friend and author got to meet "Mike Jr." (Don't ask.)

* My first kaffeklatsch. Don't understand the spelling of that one but really enjoyed dialoguing one-on-ten with you guys. Hope
you enjoyed it too.

* A "reunion" dinner with my new Campbell friends Rob Sawyer and Paolo Bacigalupi (pictured here later at the Hugo reception), where we were joined by Jack McDevitt, Paolo's wife Anjula, Carolyn Clink, Robert Charles Wilson and wife Sharry. I've already enthused how much I like Rob and Paolo. RCW was seated at the other end of the table from me, so I wasn't able to talk as much with a man who I'm rapidly coming to consider one of the best contemporary SF writers, but I did get the opportunity to get to know Jack, something I've wanted to do for some time now.

* Getting to hang with the guys from Solaris, the new imprint
from BL Publishing. I spent a lot of time with George and Mark, and with their friend Michael from Waterstone's (who I see from his business card has the wild title of "Fiction Core Range Co-ordinator.") Great guys all and I hope to see them again soon, perhaps at WFC.

* Being able to congratulation John Picacio on his Chesley Award for Artistic Achievement. Talk about rising stars.

* Getting some real time in with both Toni Weisskopf and Sheila Williams, both of whom I enjoyed meeting and both of whom I hope to talk much more with in future.

Friday morning I went to the business meeting to lend my support to the amendment to split the Hugo for Best Editor into Best Long and Short Form categories, and to the amendment to require artists in the Best Artist category to provide proof of eligibility by citing works produced in the relevant year. I was very gratified that both amendments passed. Parliamentary procedure, though bizarre, is - I now realize - very much necessary in such circumstances, even if it did feel as though we should all be wearing powdered wigs and tricorn hats to really sell it.

Friday was also the Pyr Panel, where I spoke to a crowd of some 70 or 80 people (it was hard to tell, but the room was packed), along with Fiona Avery, David Louis Edelman, Alan Dean Foster, Kay Kenyon, Ian McDonald, John Picacio, Mike Resnick, Chris Roberson, Dave Seeley, Joel Shepherd, and Sean Williams. Unexpected fun from the dualing ringtones - Ian McDonald trumped my David Bowie with the theme song from the A-Team. (Thanks to Fiona Avery for the photos!)

Saturday afternoon, the wonderful people of Borderlands Books were kind enough to host a Pyr signing for Ian McDonald, David Louis Edelman, Joel Shepherd, and Sean Williams. That's David and Ian on the left, Joel and Sean on the right. (Thanks to Dan Zieber for the photos! Thanks to Alan and Jude for everything!)

Meanwhile, I was delighted when Mistborn author Brandon Sanderson stopped by the booth. Everything I've heard about Brandon's work intrigues me, and after meeting him and sharing a panel with him, I'm happy to report that I like the author very much. I picked up a copy of Mistborn from Borderlands as well, which features another wonderful Jon Foster cover and beautiful Isaac Stewart maps.

Saturday night - the Hugo ceremony was properly ceremonial and sufficiently dignified, apart from Harlan Ellison's performance (which was embarrasing) and the inexplicable Robot Maid (who was not, though confusing).

As for Saturday latenight, well, the picture below on the right, taken outside the Baen party I believe, speaks for itself:

Sunday evening was the most relaxed, with a long conversation with friends Fiona Avery and Mike Colbert, dinner with Alan Dean Foster, Sean Williams, Ian McDonald, and Jonathan Strahan, and then late night drinks with the usual suspects. I didn't get as much time in as I usually do with my brothers, John Picacio and Chris Roberson, so it was good to see them there at the end.

Overall, I felt that the excitement for Pyr was palpable, with people coming up to me all through the convention, or - as I rushed past from panel to appointment - opening their bags and backpacks to show me the Pyr books they'd just bought at the dealers' tables. Thanks to everyone who lent their enthusiasm and their support. I think this whole week was a tremendous success in terms of promoting Pyr-awareness and also tremendous fun.

Meanwhile, after everything is said and done, I think that taking my 16 month old son to Disney may be my favorite event all year. He didn't quite get it at first. I believe he was thinking, "Hey, I've been in a plane, a taxi, and a bus, and now a flying elephant. It's just another vehicle." But the second time through It's a Small World he began to squeal with delight and point at everything, leaning forward in the dark tunnels, straining to catch a glimpse of the next room. It was wonderful to see the penny drop for him. I only got 3 1/2 hours in the park, most of that spent in lines, but his wild, shrieking enthusiasm for the animatronics made up for the short day. And, of course, these picture of, uh, Batman and Robyn-with-a-y, were worth the trip entire. That's it for now. See you all next time, same Bat time, same Bat channel.

A Host of Pyr Praise

Just back from WorldCon and playing mad catch up. More on the convention soon. In the meantime, I was thrilled to find a host of positive reviews upon my return:

First up, Rob H Benford posts a lengthy and very enthusiastic review of David Louis Edelman's Infoquake on SFFWorld, wherein he says that "the genre might not be quite the same after this book…a stunning debut novel by a lucid, precise, and talented new voice in the genre...With an already impressive list of authors in their stable, Pyr looks to have nabbed one of, if not, the next big thing in Science Fiction. This may be THE science fiction book of the year.”

Rob compares Edelman to Frank Herbert and Neal Stephenson, adding, "Like Stephenson and Herbert’s work, Edelman’s novel seems to have come along at the right time, capturing a sense of the world as it is now, reacting to and projecting a fully realized extrapolation of it."

And, not done there, over on his personal blog, Rob's Blog o' Stuff, he adds "Infoquake just might be THE Science Fiction novel of the year, if not the past five years. David Louis Edleman has done so many things right in this book, from the plausible next steps in human society to the characters, all the notes ring true. The future history only begs for MORE background, to the Reawakening to the Three Jesuses to the typical lunar colonies, he has it all mapped out and Infoquake is only the tip of the iceberg. Edleman has a fascinating background and timeline mapped out at http://www.infoquake.net... I've said it before and I'll say it again, Pyr is publishing some great books, but this might be the book that puts them over the top in terms of US genre publishing."

Meanwhile, Andi Shechter of January Magazine has some nice things to say about Joel Shepherd's just released Crossover, which she describes as "
an example of a book that brings up the gosh-wow excitement of futuristic ideas at the same time that it -- very sneakily, I might add -- tackles one of the basic themes of modern-day science fiction: what is human? What is it to be a human being?" While admitting that she isn't a fan of protracted battles (she finds blood icky), Andi adds, "This is an exciting story, a well-written adventure, and an impressive debut novel."

What's more, Alan Dean Foster's upcoming Sagramanda draws praise from Publisher's Weekly:

“SF elements make colorful window dressing for this unpredictable thriller, whose multiple threads Foster juggles like the professional he is.”

And Justina's Mappa Mundi, out any day now, has Booklist -

“Robson’s take on the problems associated with anything that can re-write a human personality is a complex one, and also a solidly written, entertaining story.”

And Bookpage -

“…an engaging pyrotechnic slice of a near future in which computer software for humans is the next big research front…Robson delves into how the aphrodisiac of power can affect individual and social identities. She is a romantic, but the stakes here are high and she pulls no punches.”

-adding themselves to the list of those who sing her praises. Not a bad bit of news to come home from a con to, no?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

SFSignal Interview

Greetings from an airport terminal! I board within the hour for the flight to Anaheim & WorldCon. Meanwhile, I see that John DeNardo has just posted the interview he conducted with me for SFSignal. This one is pretty indepth, conducted one question at a time via email across a couple weeks, and hits on what I suspect are becoming some of my trademark concerns. (Nor did John ask any easy ones!)

Meanwhile, on the issue of the instant-access to knowledge that I think defines the paradigm shift of the last few years, John C. Wright has already posted an interesting comment:

"Let me tell you, the existance of Google as an aid to writing is so huge that it cannot be overstated. ...My assumption is that my readers have equal access to Google, and that if I make a mistake, even on a small fact, not merely one expert, but EVERYONE will have an ability to fact-check it. We are all experts now. "

I recall that Michael Pillar once commented that when on Star Trek: The Next Generation they had shown a starscape over southern France, a group of astronomers had written in to say that the stars weren't in their correct alignments for the 24th century. He thought that showed the scrutiny they were under and the incredible need to be accurate. Today, we might all be under such scrutiny. Meanwhile, I wonder how long it will be before blogger.com, Word, and my cellphone automatically research and fact check for me as I type.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Job of Science Fiction and Then Some

Meme Therapy is swiftly becoming my favorite blog; certainly it's one of my top three. Once I realized this (and not before), I started bugging one of its three founding members, Jose Garcia, with ideas. Jose has proved to be very kind about indulging me when I suggest authors or topics. He's done so again, allowing me to posit the question "What is the job of contemporary SF? Does it have a job?" The results are posted today under the heading "What's the Point of Science Fiction, Part 1?"

The price for this indulgance, of course, is that I had to answer the question myself (that and a rather unflattering picture they've dug up of me in the captain's chair of the White Star), but my favorite response comes from science fiction author Paul McAuley, who says:

"Science fiction is the holy fool of literature. It can say what it likes and get away with an examination of truly radical and subversive ideas because no one takes it seriously. When it’s at its best, we’re generally in trouble. Science fiction flourished during the social and economic upheavals of the 1930s, during the Cold War, and during the Iron Age of the 1980s. It should be flourishing now, damn it, but too many people who used to hang out with it have wandered off into some kind of fluffy make-believe world or other. Real science fiction doesn’t make stuff up. It turns reality up to eleven. It takes stuff from contemporary weather - stuff no one else has bothered or dared to question - and uses it to make an end run on reality. It not only shows us what could happen if things carry on the way they are, but it pushes what’s going on to the extremes of absurdity. That’s not its job: that’s its *nature*. And what’s happened to science fiction lately, it isn’t natural. It’s pale and lank and kind of out of focus. It needs to straighten up and fly right. It needs to reconnect with the world’s weather, and get medieval on reality’s ass."


Meanwhile, I notice that Richard Rose, who I haven't met on or offline, has just posted his review of David Louis Edelman's Infoquake (the first review to be posted on Meme Therapy I believe). Rose remarks:

"With his debut novel Infoquake, David Louis Edelman constructs a believable yet highly imaginative vision of the future where nanotechnology and the science of bio/logics has erased the boundary between the real and the virtual. The first book in the Jump-225 trilogy, Infoquake focuses on Natch, a ruthless bio/logic programmer and head of a ‘fifecorp’ as he strives for commercial success... Infoquake definitely hooks in the reader and I for one can’t wait to get my grubby wee paws on the second installment of the Jump-225 trilogy and see where Edelman takes the story."

And speaking of Edelman, he has an interesting piece on digitizing Michelangelo over on the blog Futurismic:

"Can a reproduction ever entirely recreate the effect of the original? What if the reproduction was an exact molecule-for-molecule copy? How much is it worth to have an item that was actually touched by the artist, as opposed to an indistinguishable replica?"

Which makes me think of the "forged" Mona Lisa in the Doctor Who episode "City of Death." As the Doctor says, "Serves them right if they don't recognize good art."

Friday, August 18, 2006

A Reminder

A reminder that we are holding a Pyr panel "Pyr: A Look Forward" at the World Science Fiction Convention, on Friday at 2:30 pm in Room #201-B. In attendance will be David Louis Edelman, Alan Dean Foster, Kay Kenyon, Ian McDonald, John Picacio, Mike Resnick, Chris Roberson, Dave Seeley, Joel Shepherd and Sean Williams. Also expected to attend, Fiona Avery and possibly Bob Eggleton. We'll talk about the upcoming season and debut a LOT of artwork, including Stephan Martiniere's cover for Kay Kenyon's upcoming sci-fantasy work and Eggleton's cover for Mike Resnick's classic Ivory.

Also, Borderlands Books is holding a signing on Saturday at 2pm at their table in the dealers' room for Pyr authors Ian McDonald, David Louis Edelman, Joel Shepherd, and Sean Williams.

My panel schedule is posted here. I'm now up to 20 panels, events, meetings, signings, greetings etc... so I'll be that caffeine-fueled blur that races past you in the hallway on the way from point A to point B,C &D. Apologies in advance.

Update: My friend Paul Cornell reminds me that I have also agreed, of my own free will, to participate in his live-action game show thingy, Just a Minute, at 10am on Thursday 24th. I do not really understand what I am in for and that is probably why I will show up.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Two Hemispheres in the Bloggosphere

Now that I'm running a Pyr blog as well as my personal blog, I try to avoid cross-posting too often. I'm loosely designating Bowing to the Future as a place to discuss general topics of interest to science fiction and fantasy fans at length, and using Pyr-o-mania as a place to go into Pyr related news, debut cover art, and promote our authors and their books. But every now and then I get excited enough about some bit of news to post it to both sites, such as this review of David Louis Edelman's Infoquake that John Joseph Adam has written for Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show:

"If all novels were as chockfull of ideas as Infoquake is, then science fiction would never have to worry about a shortage of sense of wonder. The author who Edelman reminds me most of is Charles Stross, for the sheer complexity of his ideas and his thrusting of the reader into a new and daringly different, yet plausible future. If anything, Edelman is like a more accessible Stross; whereas Stross's fiction is about as dense as it can get and still be readable, Edelman's style is more inviting, and, to me, more appealing."

Now, let me say right off that Charles Stross is one of my favorite authors, and certainly one of the most important science fiction authors of the first decade of the 21st century, but, obviously, as Edelman's editor, I'm thrilled with the comparison. Edelman has also drawn comparisons to Vernor Vinge and Cory Doctorow, not shabby company to be keeping.

I'm also pretty chuffed about this, which Adams posted to his personal blog: "As someone who is both a lover of books as entertainment, and as a lover of books as physical objects, it just has to be said that Pyr puts together some of the finest-looking books on the planet--both on the inside with their lovely typesetting and on the outside with their beautiful covers. Coincidentally, they've also been publishing some of the best books period, so it's a mighty fine combination."

To give credit where credit is due, the cover for Infoquake is by David Stevenson and the interior layout by Prometheus' uber-talented Bruce Carle who does all of our layouts.

Meanwhile, if I can be forgiven for sending some love to my professional site, we've also recently posted a few things of note to the Pyr blog, including the front cover of our edition of Adam Roberts' upcoming novel Gradisil, the full jacket spread for Sean Williams' The Blood Debt, and earlier the front cover for Ian McDonald's Brasyl, and the full jacket spread for Alan Dean Foster's Sagramanda. Feel free to ooo and aaaah.

Monday, August 14, 2006

A Scanner Darkly

A Scanner Darkly was always my favorite PKD book, though I've not read one or two obvious works from the canon that might one day supplant it when the glaring omissions are rectified. I'm gratified to report that I thought the film was a faithful adaptation - the most faithful adaptation the multiply-filmed SF writer has ever gotten. Very well done, and with a painfully, beautifully poignant ending, and, while I am not among Keanu Reeves' detractors (indeed I admire him greatly for his continued support of so much smart SF), I must say that Robert Downey Jr. stole the show.

Which was not, as some reviewers have asserted, confusing in any way. However, as others have testified, after sitting through two hours of stoner-babble, I did walk out of the theatre with something of a contact buzz. Slightly bug-eyed and thinking"Are they looking at me funny? I'm acting normal, aren't I?" and all that. It was bad enough that I went into a Barnes & Noble to shake it off, where, coincidentally the first snatch of overheard conversation that wafted by me was, "Think of it as an auditory hallucination." Thanks for the synchronicity. That sure didn't help. Thankfully, normality was restored with the very first sip from my one & only drug of choice these days - a double-shot cappuccino from Starbucks with skim milk and two Splendas. And all was as it should be. Welcome to the truly wired world.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Lou Anders 2.0

It took most of the day, and toward the end I got in over my head and had to call in the calvary (my wife, the computer expert), but in addition to revamping the blog (as you can see), www.louanders.com has also gotten a much needed update and overhaul. I'm particulary proud of the desperately needed Pyr page (the single page that lives on my personal site, not the company's website www.pyrsf.com). This hadn't been altered since midway through our first season, so please do check it out. All those covers aggregated together sure look nice! And while I see a few tweaks I need to make, I'm pretty happy with the new home page too. New works added to the anthologies and nonfiction pages as well. Since this was all I did today, please do heap compliments upon me.

Greasemonkeying with Reality

David Louis Edelman, author of Infoquake, has just posted "Greasemonkeying with Reality" to his blog, a very interesting post about the self-censorship we are rapidly rushing into. Earlier this month, I had a conversation with a friend and noted critic about the dangers of our Long Tail / total freedom of choice society, in that it becomes increasingly easy to self-select yourself into what Robert Anton Wilson called a "reality tunnel." Essentially, "I hear only what I want to hear" (as Supertramp sang so long ago in "Soapbox Opera.")

As David writes, "The Greasemonkeying of information won't just stop with the web. It's not going to end with the editing of digital bits on your computer screen. It's going to move onto your telephone and your television and eventually, inside that thick skull of yours."

I'm a big believer that the Long Tail is allowing us to drill deeper into niche content, discovering and rediscovering content we'd never encounter in traditional retail, but it's also true that the amount of time I spent with my head buried in the future - editing Pyr, corresponding with writers and artists, keeping up with the SFnal side of the bloggosphere and blogging about it myself - is making me feel like I've got my head in the sand when it comes to the real world. I wouldn't know jack about the foiled transatlantic bombing if a friend hadn't just emailed me about it. And while I'm pretty fond of my particular reality tunnel, the last thing I need is the ability to Greasemonkey myself even deeper into the future.

Monday, August 07, 2006

The State of Science Fiction, Part III

Charles Stross is once again lamenting the state of American science fiction again, in his post Genre Neuroses 101. This is reminiscent of thoughts he expressed last year in which he speculated that the collective American consciousness simply can't see much of a positive way forward from current political events and that the loss of Empire, etc... was forcing a retreat into fantasy and alternate history.

This time out, Charlie writes, "Science fiction is almost always a projection of todays hopes and fears onto the silver screen of tomorrow, and so you get such excesses as the cosy catastrophe genre in British SF, 1947-79 (in which all those annoying Other People get put away in their box — six feet under — while the protagonists have post-fall-of-civilization adventures, all with a bone china tea-set: John Wyndham was of course the master) or the sixties counterculture and lysergide fueled paranoia trips of Philip K. Dick and William Burroughs — and the deafening silence about the future that is radiating from the United States today."

Particularly, I find it interesting that Charlie laments the state of horror before turning his gaze to the state of SF. Especially in light of that recent USA Today article, "Science Fiction Gets Real," in which Hollywood types like Russell Schwartz, president of domestic marketing for New Line Cinema, says things like "The big boon we had in the '40s and '50s came from war and Cold War tensions. When times are tense, it causes us to look forward and imagine what it's all going to mean." Schwartz says this in the context of predicting a resurgence of serious, socially-relevant SF film in direct response to (not retreat from) current political unrest. That the article also suggests quite a few in Hollywood are looking to serious SF as a replacement for the now-flagging boom in recent horror is also interesting. Moreover, I think it's telling that Hollywood, who chases the almightly dollar in all things, sees SF as a way to address our contemporary problems, not run from them into the "mad collective ostrich-head-burying exercise" that Charlie sees contemporary American publishing engaged in "rather than engaging with the world as it is."(My own athology, FutureShocks, was more sci-horror in original concept than it proved to be in execution, but still, I think, does a good job at coming to grips with these aforementioned tense times. See stories by American authors Caitlin R. Kiernan, Alex Irvine, and Louise Marley in particular.)

I suspect that, as has been pointed out, now that Bush's approval rating is falling even among his own camp, we'll see more American writers willing (or able) to engage the times in ways Charlie would like to see. As the ever-thoughtful John Scalzi opinions on Whatever, "I don't think Americans largely care if other people don't like our political leaders, so I don't think building a theory on that notion is useful. We knew the rest of the world despised Ronald Reagan, for example; we didn't give a crap what anyone else thought (well, some did; they were just ignored). Right now, we're aware the rest of the world despises Dubya, but it's rather more important to us that we don't like him; everyone else not liking him really is an afterthought in the American psyche." Certainly, to take another example from Hollywood, the Wackoski's V for Vendetta was able to present discussions of terrorism and rebellion against a corrupt government in a way that the latter Matrix films were unable to do so in the immediately-post 911 enviroment in which they were released because the number of Americans who would be shocked and outraged at such a film dropped as opposition to the war grew (or was perceived by Hollywood to have dropped). So if we were stunned into (ahem) futureshocked silence for a few years immediately following 911, we're certainly coming out of it now in our most conservative media (big budget Hollywood filmmaking), and Charlie's statement that "This turning away from the near future is going to be remembered as one of the hallmarks of the post-9/11 decade in American science fiction, as the chill wind of change blows through the hitherto cosy drawing room of the American century" seems overly melodramatic and a bit premature.

Also interesting is a comment from writer Walter Jon Williams, who says, "Please don't blame the US'ian authors for the dearth of exciting, cutting-edge skiffy. Blame the editors who won't buy it-- who in fact run screaming from it. They know how to sell military SF, they know how to sell space opera, they know how to sell alternate history (at least if it's got a Confederate or Nazi flag on it), they know how to sell Furry Fantasy S&M, but try going to a sales conference with a book that screams 'near-future social critique!,' and see them all hit the deck like someone's told them Osama is in the room with a vest packed with Semtex. That's why the Brits get to have an Invasion right now-- their editors are braver. Or better. Or something."

Which raises a question about the degree to which editors must cater to tastes vs. the degree in which we can lead by example, helping to define tastes. I'm always amused by statements (sometimes reflected in panel topics at conventions) that make editors sound like little more than couriers passing material between writer and reader, with no understanding of the very real gatekeeping that determines exactly what gets read in which editor's engage. (Or of the very large amount of drek one must wade through to find each gem.) But Williams' statement needs to recognize that an editor's primary responsibility is not to a writer's unsigned manuscript - no matter how brilliant said writer thinks it is - but is a split between reader and publisher, one of whom votes with his dollars and the other of whom expects to see said dollar. William's won't have us blame the USian authors, pointing instead to the editors, but this buck can continue right on to the readers (and isn't passing the buck the real legacy of our post-911 times?) Still, I hope readers of this blog and followers of my work know that it's been a personal mission to present SF&F "dialed to eleven," with a real effort - hopefully realized more often than not - to publish books and short stories of better than average quality. Critically, this goal seems born out. Recently, I tallied all the reviews of Pyr books I have archived, and while I am sure that I missed one or two, of the 309 reviews I've logged, only 12 were negative.

Now, certainly, one look at the Pyr catalog and you know I've got a strong predilection for British and Australian speculative fiction, though at least in the case of UK fiction, this is a life-long anglophilia more to do with a certain quality of prose than trends in contemporary narratives. And while Charlie does single out Vernor Vinge for boldly looking at the near-future, I'm grateful to Jetse de Vries for pointing out our own David Louis Edelman's Infoquake, called incidentally, "the love child of Donald Trump and Vernor Vinge" by Paul Goat Allen of B&N. While Infoquake does take place a millenia or so from now, David's future history works out all the points from now to then in impressive detail, enough I think to qualify for what Charlie is talking about. And though the book in question isn't spoken for yet, Chris Roberson's just completed space opera - excerpts are online at his blog - also includes a quite detailed near-future history that connects the dots from here to there. Then there's the aforementioned John Scalzi and Paolo Bacigalupi, both of whom write very well in futures right around the corner from today.

Mind you, I'm not in complete disagreement with Charlie's points, but I see this retreat from mundane futures as a temporary phenomenon, one which will recede in the wake of the general rise in science fiction I predicted in my initial "State of Science Fiction" post. Finally, I find the aforementioned David Louis Edelman's comment quite interesting: "One could very well argue that near-future SF has been co-opted by the literary novelists. Witness: John Updike, T.C. Boyle, Paul Auster, Margaret Atwood, Philip Roth, Walter Mosley, Kurt Vonnegut, Jonathan Lethem, all authors of near-future SF in the past decade, all members of the Respectable School." With Hollywood on one side and contemporary mainstream "literature"on the other, how can the future really be over? All I've got say is, stay tuned.

You Go Away for the Weekend...

...and look what happens. Wow. Congrats to Graham, Hal, Caitlin, Susan, Ginger, Chris, Allison, Jess and everbody else. Quite a list of nominees this year. I am deeply priviledged to be among such company.

Friday, August 04, 2006

The New Lou Review

As hard as it is for me to see over my own slush pile, and with apologies to all my friends who are also writers and wonder why I haven't read their own books yet, I think that it's vital that an editor read outside the job, to keep his tastes honed and his sense of the industry up to date. It kills me all the incredible books that I don't have time to read when they debut (current thorn-in-flesh: David Marusek's Counting Heads, which I will get to.) And thank God for River of Gods, because given the glacial speed at which I read I've determined that the only chance I stand of reading the talked-about books as they come out is if I publish them myself. But I've managed to read the following four titles over the last six months or so, and thus, here we go:

Michael Moorcock's Multiverse

Mike and I are talking about a new project (details soon, I promise) in which a number of his famous characters feature. I've read a lot of his books, but he's written a lot more, and he suggested I pick up a copy of Multiverse to bring me up to speed. I remember when this came out originally, but I hadn't bothered with it then because I thought it was merely a novelization of some of his more famous tales in comic form. (Not that that isn't worthwhile, but I don't pick up too many comics these days.)

I had no idea. No novelization this, but the codex to the whole damn multiverse. This is essential Eternal Champion reading, the multiverse laid bare. I am astounded that Mike chose to pull back the curtain so far on the multiverse of his many famous novels in other than novel form. It's so interesting to me that he chose the comic book / graphic novel to be, not an introduction to his other works, but practically the last word on them. Even now I'm not sure how I feel about it - other than astounded it took me so long to read it and grateful that I did. I still sort of feel that someone should convince him to novelize this as the big, fat final book of the Eternal Champion series. (Then Mike can retire and go to sleep under the hill until such time as England faces its greatest need, when surely, he and his mightier-than-a-black-sword pen will return.)

But the other thing that struck me (aside from realizing how much Grant Morrison really pinches from Moorcock) is how similar two of the seminal influences from my youth actually are - at least thematically. I read tons of Moorcock as a teen, but as an early 20s something, I was heavy into Robert Anton Wilson. Seeing it all laid out in Multiverse, the parallel between Moorcock's Law vs. Chaos and Wilson's Illuminati vs. Discordians is so obvious. If it had been a snake, and all that. Especially with all those wacky Second Aether ships buzzing around (which reminded me a little of the ending of Schrodinger's Cat), and the games within games, people stepping in and out of their narratives, etc... Not to say that either was pinching from the other - (though maybe drinking the same koolaid around the 1960s) - only that there are striking similarities I'd never noticed until now.

Anyway, any Moorcock fan who hasn't read Multiverse needs to rush out and get a copy now.

Altered Carbon
by Richard K. Morgan

Yes, I know, I am way behind the curve on this one. And like Multiverse, my initial impression was off. I didn't realize how speculative Altered Carbon was. I knew about the sleeves and the noir, and my uninformed impression was that it ended there. The reviews I'd skimmed seemed to be focused on the violence and the grit, and I didn't grok how firmly SFNal this work was. I didn't realize that - apart from being just a plot contrivance - he took sleeving to the Nth degree (I love "dipping," for example; Morgan does for being resleeved what Sean Williams' does for teleportation in The Resurrected Man, in terms of looking into every single ramification), but I really didn't expect all the stuff with the Martians, etc... I found this book less gritty than promised but a good deal richer, more nuanced and layered. I can see why it was such a hit, and while it will take me years at the pace I read and the amount of spare time I don't have, I'm in for the whole series. Kovachs, you're the man.

The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

I managed to snag an Advance Reader Copy of this at BEA and thought I'd be all clever and blog about it in advance of publication, but the best laid plans and all that. The short of it is that I finally found a book that really is, as the hype promises, the new Tipping Point. If you recall, I was dissatisfied with Freakonomics on that scale, though I owe Freakonomics an apology in that it has given me more than one item of dinner party conversation since, but it was by no means as meaty a work as the Gladwell. The Long Tail, by contrast, should be required reading for anyone in sales, publicity or marketing, as well as content producers (whether musicians, artists or writers) everywhere. There's enough written on the Long Tail all over the net that I really don't have to go into it here beyond saying the book lives up and the ideas are fascinating. But I am gratified that Anderson's future - which I was afraid was only good for content aggregators not content creators - does seem to have an upside for the artists and producers after all.

I'm also indepbted to Anderson for this great quote from David Foster Wallace:

“TV is not vulgar and prurient and dumb because the people who compose the audience are vulgar and dumb. Television is the way it is simply because people tend to be extremely similar in their vulgar and prurient and dumb interests and wildly different in their refined and aesthetic and noble interests.”

Proven Guilty
by Jim Butcher

One of the problems with a customizable Internet environment is that it's very easy to self-select yourself into a bubble, where the only news you get confirms your preset opinions and the only media you enjoy is guaranteed to be like all your other media. Anderson makes a good case that the sort of user-generated filtering the Long Tail is bringing about actually acts like stepping stones to drive consumers deeper into niche, but sometimes it still takes effort to step farther afeild of your comfort zone. The Dresden Files are a pretty big departure from my usual reading habits, as I'm sure anyone who follows this blog knows. But, apropo of our recent cover art discussion, I've been staring at that gorgeous Chris McGrath illustration on the cover at the local B&N for some weeks now. So when a copy fell into my lap on a recent visit to NY, a trip on which I had over-estimated how much time it would take me to finish the aforementioned Altered Carbon, I found myself with nothing to read on the plane home. And I was curious to see what all the fuss is about.

Now, if I'd known ahead of time that a portion of this novel actually involves the old horror movie monsters coming to life ploy - a contrivance so worn one would think that it would be afraid to rear its clichéd head outside a Scooby Doo cartoon - I would never have picked this book up. And, it must be said, I was irritated by his K.I.S.S. descriptions - as when someone arrives wearing a "Greek style tunic." Greek style? Do you mean Minoan, Mycenaean, Hellenic? Are we talking Roman Greece? Surely not modern? Nope, just "Greek style." But, hey, we all know what that means. One of those nondescript white costumes they pull out of wardrobe whenever they have a visiting goddess or demigod on Buffy or Angel or Xena or Charmed. So instead of grumbling that no one who writes the books I normally read would have penned that, I decided to get with the program. And guess what?

I had a blast. An absolute blast. The horror movie cliché is the smallest part of the plot, which is quite convoluted, and, despite the enormous backstory (seven previous novels I've not read) and the huge ensemble of characters, gave me no trouble when it came to diving in. And there is a real lesson to be learned in the way Butcher handles all this, because while I never felt left out, neither did I notice any horrendous infodumps or "for those who came in late" expository pages. This is very firmly post-Buffy storytelling (even if it wasn't inspired by Buffy, it's riding a Buffy-wave), but I found that I liked it for all the same reasons I liked that - likeable characters, secret cabals, ancient orders that are ostensibly good but are a bit high & mighty to be trusted to have the protagonist's best interest at heart, a superimposition of supernatural on a contemporary setting, colloquial/naturalistic dialogue. There's an RPG feel to the combat that probably sits better with RPGers, and some of the protagonist's "manly" character is a bit reminiscent of the gender-biases I left at the threshold of my fraternity when I graduated college in the 80s (a "guys don't hug each other" mentality that I don't relate to, but that's just me). But what Butcher does, he does VERY well. This is a fast, fun, suprisingly engaging read and by no means simple in the crafting of its extended universe. So while I've got no immediate plans to stop bemoaning the deluge of vampire-slayers flooding our shelves, nor hoping for an end in sight to paranormal romance, I wouldn't mind checking in on Harry Dresden again next time I find myself on a long plane flight looking for something fun to pass the time. Or buying Butcher a beer at a con and thanking him for the pleasure he's afforded this commuter.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Superman Reruns

Finally saw it, and, before the Spoiler Warning goes up and anyone left who hasn't seen it takes off, I have to say that - while I thought Brandon Routh was amazing (particularly as Kent) and I would love to see him in the tights again - I was very and sadly disappointed.

And now the requisite


Little touches like the bullet impacting his open eye, that breaking-the-sound-barrier ring and the way heat vision was rendered were great, but story-wise,I was very surprised to find myself bored. Moreover, I realized as we were catching guys falling off buildings and saving airplanes that those kind of stunts are now humdrum. Over and done for me. The Spider-man films and even Singer's own two X-Men movies show how much more interesting, layered and rich superhero movies can be. Remember when Superhero stories on TV used to always omit the interesting rogues galleries and just pit the hero (whether George Reeves or Nicolas Hammond) against a few bankrobbers, kidnappers, and an occassional mad scientist or clunky robot? I thought we were done with that, and that, as the wave of continuity-rich recent films has shown, we were able to make super hero movies as nuanced and complex as their source material. There is nothing interesting anymore about catching damaged aircraft or people falling off buildings. We need to see Superman matched with worthwhile opponents - lots of them. I really thought this film dragged and was slow.

And rather silly. I hated Lex Luthor - the melodramatic villian is so dated. Luthor has become so wonderfully complex in the animated Superman and Justice League cartoons and in works like Brian Azzarello's Lex Luthor: Man of Steel. And while this film hinted at a better motivation (his Prometheus speach was one of the few bits of the film I approved of), in the end, he just likes to kill people, as camp as he ever was when Gene Hackman gloated about "causing the death of millions of people." Just a warped brain getting his kicks. That's so one-dimensionally Saturday morning melodramatic. It just doesn't play anymore.

And to think, Luthor has all the knowledge of "1,000 words spanning 28 galaxies" and all that he can think to do is grow some land - which is the first thing we've been shown the crystals can do? He just grabbed the first thing out of the box (as did the screenwriters). The problem here - particularly evident with the inclusion of Parker Posey's innane Kity Kowalski - is that Singer is slavishly immitating a 28 year old film, and so he is carrying the outdated plot contrivances of that work forward, their flawed trajectory ever more apparent in view of the sophistication of the intervening decades. You've got to carry the ball forward, not write a love letter to a four-decades old film. I was so annoyed when Wired magazine ran the tagline on their cover "Brian Singer Reinvents Superman." Reinvention is the very last thing he should be accused of. And the first thing he sound have done. (It's very telling that it's Batman Begins, but Superman Returns.)

I also found the ending extremely unfulfilling. Not only is there NO RESOLUTION for Luthor - a scene that his gruesome execution of the Man of Steel begs for - but the whole movie is like a showcase of irresponsible parenthood. We see Lois ignore her child, show up tardy for picking him up, bring him into a dangerous situation for the sake of a story. And there's not a real mother in the world that would say "My child has just been saved from drowning. Let's take the child back to the heart of the danger again." Especially since she has no firm idea if the Kryptonite she knows the villain possesses will kill her offspring. Jesus, where is social services when you need them?

And what a horrible situation between father and son - Superman, absentee father? You mean after dealing with the loss of Jor-El, he isn't going to reveal himself as this child's father or be an active part in his life for the sake of a loveless marriage? The best he's going to do is whisper at him in his sleep and then conveniently get out of the way. "I'll be around???" Thanks for nothing, dead-beat dad. Come on. How long before that kid figures out who dad really is, and how much harder on poor Richard White is it going to be then. How screwed up is Jason going to be when the penny drops. Great, here comes one maladjusted super teen. I don't buy this - not at all. These are the most "super irresponsible" parents I've ever seen.

On the small scale, I things like the dog eating the other dog was tasteless in a kid's movie. But more importantly - having Jason's first use of his superpowers result in a person's death is an utter travesty totally out of step with the entire Superman mythos. Oh, and Superman doesn't kill either, does he? Well, now he does, since his action directly resulted in smashing two of Luthor's henchmen. The problem here is that while Singer has memorized every detail of the first two films, he's probably never opened the first comic book.

Overall, I just think that there is so much potential to this character - I don't need to see him catch another downed plane or retread the first two films. I want to see the kind of rich, multilayered tale that Batman Begins, Spiderman II, and XMen II offered. This dragged, retread the past unnecessarily, and was really very story-light. I really hated this film, and I'm very sorry to have to say that.

I would love to see Brandon Routh in a sequel, preferably written/directed by Paul Dini & Bruce Timm. Or even Christopher Nolan & David Goyer, if it didn't drag them away from more important projects. This was not worth Singer's abandonment of Xmen III and the travesty that resulted in. Not at all.

For Your Viewing Pleasure

I've already mentioned this in the comments section of another post, but I wanted to say "up front" that we've uploaded a number of new cover illustrations to the Pyr blog. You can see the full cover spread for Alan Dean Foster's Sagramanda and Justina Robson's Mappa Mundi, as well as the front cover to Ian McDonald's Brasyl.

Artwork for Mappa Mundi and Brasyl is by Stephan Martiniere. Sagramanda is courtesy of John Picacio. Design on all three are by Jacqueline Cooke. Nice, no?

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

World Con Schedule

I am on a whoppin' 8 program items this year:

Panel 1: Wed 8/23 4:00 PM, 60-90 minutes.
Lou Anders
John-Henri Holmberg
James Patrick Kelly(M)
Mark von Schlegell
Gary K. Wolfe

Precis: Not long ago, we were awash in Splatterpunks, Cyberpunks, and even Steampunks. What happened to those SF literarymovements? What's the next trend?

Panel 2: Thu 8/24 12 Noon, 60 minutes.
Title: AUTOGRAPHING: Lou Anders
Lou Anders

Panel 3: Thu 8/24 3:00 PM, 60 minutes.
Title: KAFFEKLATSCH: Lou Anders
Lou Anders

Panel 4: Thu 8/24 5:30 PM, 60-90 minutes.
Lou Anders
Jaime Levine
Anthony R. Lewis
Alan Rodgers
Michael J. Walsh(M)

Precis: From small press to major publishing houses, science fiction is a popular place to be. What's it take to know the field and to get your books into the stores?

Panel 5: Fri 8/25 2:30 PM, 60-90 minutes.
Lou Anders
David Louis Edelman
Kay Kenyon
Ian McDonald
John Picacio
Mike Resnick
Chris Roberson
Dave Seeley
Joel Shepherd
Sean Williams

Precis: One of science fiction's newest major publishers give a look at their future publications.

Panel 6: Sat 8/26 1:00 PM, 60-90 minutes.
Lou Anders
Robert Meyer Burnett
Lydia C. Marano
Richard Pini
Evo Terra(M)
Gordon Van Gelder

Precis: Publishers from different areas of publishing -- a major imprint, a small press, an on-line magazine, a prozine --compare the similarities and differences in their tasks.

Panel 7: Sun 8/27 10:00 AM, 60-90 minutes.
Lou Anders
Ellen Datlow(M)
David Hartwell
Stanley Schmidt
Sheila Williams

Precis: Do editors publish what the readers want to buy or does the field reflect the editors' tastes?

Panel 8: Sun 8/27 11:30 AM, 60-90 minutes.
Lou Anders
Pat Cadigan
Stephen Eley
Kelly L. Perry
Brandon Sanderson(M)

Precis: Science fiction has had a moniker of being junk food for the mind; escapist fare only. Is that true? Not all of it is literature but surely some of it must be? Mustn't it? What literary trends can be found? What will withstand the test of time? And does it matter?