Monday, October 29, 2007

News Worth Repeating: Chris Roberson Serialized Online

Given my personal history with the Celestial Empire stories, this is very exciting:


BL Publishing is very excited to announce an exciting new project with Chris Roberson, author of Set the Seas on Fire and The Dragon’s Nine Sons.


Three Unbroken is the next epic novel in the Celestial Empire sequence and details the explosive war between the Chinese and Aztec empires as they battle for control of the red planet, Fire Star.

Based on the sixty-four elements of the I-Ching, Three Unbroken follows the lives of three soldiers from their induction into the armed forces to their eventual fight for survival on the frontline. The events of the novel are contemporaneous with those of The Dragon’s Nine Sons, the first novel in the sequence, set to be published by Solaris in February 2008.

In a bold move, Solaris Books plans to serialise the entirety of Three Unbroken on their website for free, at a rate of two chapters per week.

The project will start in late November 2007, with details to be confirmed on the Solaris website nearer the time.

The novel will then be published in book form in 2009.

Watch the Solaris website at for more information.

Consultant Editor George Mann said of the deal “I’m delighted to be working with Chris again and this is a truly exciting project, not least because it’s our first online publication. Chris is exactly the right person to do this, and Three Unbroken will be an excellent introduction to the Celestial Empire for those who have yet to discover its delights.

Chris Roberson’s novels include Set the Seas on Fire, The Voyage of Night Shining White, Here, There & Everywhere and Paragaea: A Planetary Romance. He is the editor of the anthology Adventure Vol. 1 and co-founder of publishing house Monkeybrain Books. He has been a finalist for the World Fantasy Award, a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and winner of the Sidewise Award for Best Alternate History Short Form. Chris lives in Austin, Texas with his wife Allison and their daughter Georgia. Visit him online at

Praise for Chris Roberson

“Chris Roberson is one of that bold band of young writers who
are taking the stuff of genre fiction and turning it into a whole
new literary form - a form for the 21st century. A talented
storyteller, he has a unique ear, a clever eye, an eloquence all
too rare in modern fiction.”

Michael Moorcock

“[Chris Roberson] possesses a unique talent and his tales boast
a refreshing originality...”

SciFi Now

“The highly talented Chris Roberson, recent winner of the
Sidewise Award for his story ‘O One’, continues that tale’s vein
– in this alternate timeline, Imperial China dominates the world
in place of Europe – but exacerbates the peculiarity of the
setting by transferring it to a partly terraformed Mars ruled by
the Mandarins. The atmosphere is sumptuous, the invention
lavish; the experience of reading the story is mind-expanding.”


Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Big Book Cover Post: Part II

I love talking about book covers, and I particularly like it when the blogosphere takes up the discussion in force, since more discussion of the wonderful art and artists who are such an integral part of our field is always a good thing. Since George Mann kicked it off with Marrying Authors to their Market and my response, The Big Book Cover Post: Wizards & Spaceships, there's been a flurry of book design-related activity online.

First, our mutual author David Louis Edelman displays the matching covers for the forthcoming Solaris Books mass market edition of Infoquake and the forthcoming Pyr trade paperback edition of the 2nd book in the series, MultiReal. (Follow the links to David's blog, both to see larger versions of both covers, and to join in the wealth of comments the covers are engendering.)

Then Torque Control chimed in with Cover Art. The post is mostly a pointer to other discussions, but with some very interesting comments in the thread. Most interesting to me is this comment from Gollancz editor Simon Spanton: "Are our SF covers going more abstract? Quite possibly. Are they doing this in order to reach the ‘wider readership’? Well if they are it isn’t going to work as, 99 times out of 100, the books, whatever their cover, are still going to be stocked in the SF section. Are they, instead, merely reflecting a wider trend away from strictly illustrative covers that the rest of the industry has been following of late? Much more likely. I have no illusions about our ability to transform the way that SF books are seen. What I am hoping is that we can alert one-time readers, and occasional readers and regular readers to the fact that SF is not stuck in some sort of time warp. I’m coming to think that the only jobs a genre cover has to (and can) do are to alert the reader to whether it is SF/fantasy/other (that other still retaining elements of the fantastic because, remember, it’s in a genre section) and try and convey some sense of the books quality by, itself, being a high quality design (not necessarily incorporating a high quality traditional illustration)... I think to assume that the traditional fantasy and SF readership are in some way not being catered for within the current movement towards some covers being more ‘designed’ or more ‘abstract’ is danger of assuming that said readers aren’t aware of and comfortable with how design moves on. SF and fantasy fans don’t dress like they did in 1985, the music they listen to isn’t packaged as it was in 1985, the cars they drive don’t look like they did in 1985 (I could go on), so why should their books? And I’m also suspicious that this move towards design and abstraction is something new, something that is leaving the more traditional fans, floundering in its sleek wake. Take a look at SF and Fantasy covers from the late 60s and early 70s and there is plenty of abstraction, modish design and garish colour. Just like there was in every other area of design of the period."

Meanwhile, author Mark Chadbourn has some very long, very interesting responses to George and my posts. In Selling Fantasy by the Pound he draws comparisons to other industries, cautioning that "In the music industry, where I worked for a while, the marketeers have struggled. By focusing on the tribalist music fan that has emerged over the last twenty years, they have had trouble gaining breakout hits from genres. Attention shifted to marketing bland fare that would appeal to all tastes to gain those mainstream hits, and sales have fallen dramatically (yes, I know there are many other factors, but this is a core concern). The comics industry in particular has faced a great many problems because of the loss of its mainstream audience. That was caused by the collapse of its distribution network in the late seventies and early eighties and the shift to specialist comics shops. But the comics producers then found that to maintain sales in this rarefied atmosphere required stories that excited the jaded palates of the core fan - and were nigh-on incomprehensible to the casual reader. Sales fell further, the core fan market had to be shored up to a greater extent, and a desperate retreat from the centre ground took place, that is still damaging the industry."

I think Mark is confusing my use of the term "core science fiction and fantasy" with the core of the readership when he talks about catering to jaded palates (though, admittedly, he's also drawing from George's essay and George and I, though we share certain views in common, are not saying exactly the same thing.) I would cite something like John Scalzi's trilogy, Old Man's War,The Ghost Brigades,and (my personal favorite) The Last Colony,works which deal brilliantly with all the "core" iconography of science fiction - planetary colonization, galactic federations, cloning, aliens, mind transference, supersoldiers, FTL - and yet are utterly, totally accessible to brand new SF readers. Scalzi's trilogy is absolutely quintessential SF&F, but it by no means is catering to a small, jaded elite. The books are HUGELY successful, with readers young and old (and from what I understand from Adventures in SciFi Publishing, they are even being passed around the Stargate cast and crew.) What's more, their covers, by John Harris, are a perfect example of presenting SF iconography in a mature light. As is, by the way, the cover for Scalzi's novel The Android's Dream,a beautiful cover (and title) which is hardly hiding its genre affiliations.

Mark's post sparked Darren of the Genre Files to return to the topic with with Genre fiction marketing follow-up - Lou Anders and Mark Chadbourn, where he asks, "Can you achieve all those aims at once? Can you write high-quality, literary genre fiction that's successfully marketed to a core audience of fans, yet still has enough break-out potential to escape the genre-ghetto and achieve mass-market sales?" Darren then makes an impassioned plea for "helping the readership to raise its standards; to expect, to want, to demand much more from their genre fiction, and thereby move the mainstream audience closer to the credible, literary end of the spectrum. In other words, expanding the middle ground between 'long tail' and 'short head' (it would help if I had time to draw the graph, I'll try to add one at a later date) and creating greater potential for higher quality fiction to thrive. If the readership demands richer, better quality genre fiction, and the readership then votes with its credit cards and buys more of it, then the publishers of the world will respond by publishing more of it. And I know for a fact that this would make a lot of genre fiction publishers immensely happy. "

In the comments section, the always interesting Andrew Wheeler pops up with this bit of wisdom: "It's a beautiful vision, but...the world of 'literary' fiction is not the mainstream at all. It's a small backwater, which moves fewer units annually in aggregate than the SFF genre (though the big hits are much bigger -- which of course means that the average sales are notably smaller). Trying to 'break out' into literary fiction is an attempt to jump into a smaller pond, merely because they have better press. (Which is reasonable, if what you really want is good press.) The real mainstream in fiction consists of two genres that are so large and important that they're not consistently called genres: romance/women's fiction and the thriller. If writers primarily want to reach very large audiences, they need to find ways to write in those genres. (Which doesn't necessarily mean abandoning SFF: the former has been combined with Fantasy very successfully over the past decade, and technothrillers are the merger of the latter with elements of SF.)"

Blogger S. M. Duke joins in with Cover Designs: Yet Another Take, and this valid reminder: "The sad thing is, I don't generally buy books by the title or the author. In fact, unless a book comes off to me as genre, I probably won't even look at it. That's just the way it is and the way it is for a lot of people. For me, the trend of making books look more mainstream isn't working. I've never read a Neil Gaimen book because of the way they are packaged, and as I'm learning, that is a very horrible thing. I saw the Stardust movie and it was one of the best films of the year--yes, it was that good despite what the stupid box office reported for sales. I should have read the book, and his other novels too, but I never have because the covers never strike me as fantasy. If Ender's Gameby Orson Scott Card had not had this cover, I would have ignored it entirely."

Which is a perfectly accurate representation of a portion of the SF&F readership, as well as being reflective of a lot of comments I frequently hear from fans around these parts.

Elsewhere, Design Unit 38 doesn't like three of our titles' illustrations, (including one that has been a major success with the all important chain buyers) as pointed out in "Cover design and science fiction." At least they offer the concession that "Lou Anders at Pyr has shepherded many good novels onto the racks at Barnes and Noble." I take that and move on.

To where Calico Reaction admits that Michael Moorcock's The Metatemporal Detectiveisn't targeted at her, and adds that "that damn cover kept glaring at me, and I must say, kudos to the artist: he captured Elric (aka Zenith) so perfectly that I could not HELP but visualize that illustration every time I saw the character described in the book."

In the comments thread, Dawtheminstreal adds: "I recently heard TNH and PNH of Tor talking about what leads people to buy books and they both thought the cover art had a big influence. They said the cover sent out mating signals, and the reader responded or not."

Finally, SFFWorld has a very interesting discussion thread going titled "Embarrasssing/Awful cover art." Well worth reading, if for nothing else, the range of opinions expressed. You see some readers coming down in favor of the purely designed covers as typified by something like George R R Martin's fantasies and you see other readers proudly embracing the covers on R A Salvatore's Forgotten Realms novels - which always catch my eye, personally - but which must represent the other end of the spectrum from GRRM.

Which has to be the final word - that, as illustrator John Picacio recently reminded me, no book can be all things to all people. Responding to the "mating signals" comment, John says, "I see that analogy, but that metaphor triggers a deeper thought to me. I see this tendency from book publishers to more and more want covers that send disingenuous mating signals, or more specifically, mating signals that say
'hey, I want everyone to like me' and so you fall in love with the cover, but then you buy the book and read it, and you hate it and you tell your friends because you feel deceived. Haven’t we both bought CDs (pre-Itunes) because we heard a single that was kick-ass and then the rest of the album wasn’t anything like it and sucked? ...Point being, I tend to think that it’s the same with books, and I wonder if the notion that 'as long as the cover sells the book, it’s done it’s job' isn’t a flawed statement. Seems like a very short-view approach, if the mating signal of a cover is viewed as being JUST about selling the book, as opposed to connecting it with its rightful readership. Bottom line: I think the 'mating signal' thing doesn’t replace selling with integrity, and in the end, if you can create a cover with integrity (true to the spirit of the book, etc.) and that can connect it with its rightful audience, then that two-pronged goal is the one to shoot for, in equal harmony, rather than one without the other. Seems to me the publisher builds a better relationship with their audience over the long haul that way. ...Sometimes the real truth is that a book is only going to sell to 'x' number of people, and I think the troubles arise when the sales department says, ‘yeah, but if we put a non-illustrative/more generic cover on this, maybe we can FOOL other readers into buying it.’ I think the audience remembers when it’s deceived and I think the industry serves itself poorly when we do that."

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Big Book Cover Post: Wizards & Spaceships

My good buddy George Mann, consultant editor of newish imprint Solaris Books, recently wrote an article for UK book trade magazine Publishing News on the packaging and branding of SF&F novels. Now, George has put the entire article, "Marrying Authors to their Market: A Genre Perspective," up on the Solaris website. The article is well-worth reading.

Therein, George makes the distinction between two schools of thought in cover design, namely "to package your SF/F novel to appeal to as wide a readership as possible, in the hope of enticing readers from other areas of the bookstore to pick it up on a whim; or to package your SF/F novel to appeal to the perceived core readership of the genre, or indeed, fans of Battlestar Galactica and Doctor Who, people who want a book with a spaceship or a wizard on the front of it."

George goes on to discuss the risks associated with both camps. In trying for the broader market, one risks missing the mark, ending up with a book still shelved in the SF&F section, failing to hit the elusive "mainstream" reader AND failing to appeal to the core as well. In marketing for the core, the novel "is appealing to a much more limited readership and has little or no chance of transcending the genre and breaking out into the bestseller lists."

He states that from its inception Solaris decided "for better or for worse – to place ourselves directly in that second camp." This was done both because their parent company - Games Workshop - had eight years experience marketing directly to a niche audience with their Black Library imprint of Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 titles. But also because of a perceived market niche not being serviced: "Essentially, at the heart of the genre, the midlist was disappearing. The result of this was that the core SF/F readership was not being as well served as it had been in the past; people who went into a high street bookshop to browse the SF/F section were not necessarily seeing those aforementioned books with wizards and spaceships on the front."

George's sentiments are very close to my own thoughts and ongoing decisions for the Pyr imprint. In setting up the imprint to begin with, we made the decision to go for books which Norman Spinrad, writing in the pages of Asimov's, once described as "science fiction written specifically for experienced and intelligent readers of science fiction, with a bit of fantasy more or less in the same mode thrown in." Although there are exceptions to the rule, we have largely forgone literary experimentation or watered-down "mainstreamed" SF&F for (to quote Norman again) "actual science fiction...and fantasy...of an overall higher literary quality."

And this is reflected in how we've chosen to package it.

Personally, I do not not not like the move away from illustration to design that I see coming out from a lot of houses (though it has its place for individual books - I'm talking about a general trend). I think to forgo illustration is to sacrifice one of the core strengths of SF&F and one of its unique selling points. I do, however, think you can have cake and eat too. There is a world of difference between what Tor art director Irene Gallo has done with John Scalzi's Old Man's Warcovers - which do indeed feature spaceships and planets, albeit beautifully rendered in John Harris' very "painterly" style - and the sort of archetypal cheesy metal bikini and Bug Eyed Monster cover that is sometimes associated with the worst of genre illustration. Both styles of cover prominently feature the central SF&F imagery, but one does so with taste and the other, not so much. What's more - I'm not married to the core imagery so much as I am to the idea of provocative illustration. I also really like the way Bantam here has packaged Lightand Nova Swing- cats and dice, cats and cards - doesn't necessarily say SF to me at, but they do say cool. I'm intrigued by the image. Those are nice looking books and I enjoy looking at them. And, hey, if I'm going to shell out $25 for a hardcover, I want more than the author's name in enormous type with a stylized sword or an embossed fleur-de-lis or some other squiggle of design.

I am not talking about creating a book that appeals to both genre and mainstream people in the crossover way George suggest. I am talking about creating a book cover that appeals to genre fans, fully celebrates genre elements, but does so with some artistic merit to it. I think both John Picacio and Stephan Martiniere (to name two of my favorite artists) fully embrace those aspects of genre fiction that embody sense of wonder, yet present them in a way that also qualified as art. (As does the latest illustrator to work with Pyr, Sparth, pictured right.) Which is how I think you reach, not the never-read it, never-will uninitiated, but what Gollancz editor Simon Spanton once defined as the "lapsed catholics" of science fiction - those who read more as children and now read maybe one book a year, generally by an author they know. These readers have grown up - show them their fiction has grown up with them. I think what makes a success like John Scalzi or Richard Morgan is not going after mainstream readers, but going after the whole field, from the core to the fringes, and that you do so, neither by hiding/omitting your genre elements nor presenting them in an off-putting, garish manor, but by presenting them in a mature, intriguing, attractive, inclusive, compelling 21st century light.

George and I were talking all this over with the aforementioned John Picacio, and this is what he had to say (and kindly consented to allow me to republish here): "The field must visually celebrate itself, rather than run away from itself. Couldn’t agree with you [George] more. And I realize the context in which you’re saying this, regarding the midlist specifically. When sf/fantasy publishing shows an insecurity about its visual strengths, that insecurity rubs off negatively not only on our audiences, but in the broader media, and we push ourselves backwards every time we do that. How often do we hear sf/fantasy film actors make apologies for the 'sf-ness' of a film or TV show, or say that 'if it didn’t label itself as sf, more people would check it out'? Complete bullshit. But when I hear comments like that, I think that attitude reflects two important things. It’s bad because those comments get doled out via the larger media and that attitude gets disseminated to the larger populace as a popular opinion, which is damaging, but more importantly I think it reflects how poorly the field sees itself at times, and by 'the field' I mean us over here in publishing as the root of that problem. My point is, the field can’t expect larger audiences and bigger sales numbers, unless it stops being insecure about itself and stops projecting visual insecurity via cliched design decisions that hide the gusto, spirit, invention and provocativeness of a book. I’ve always been a firm believer that it’s real simple — the book is God. It’ll tell you what it wants to be every single time."

Well said. Meanwhile, I'm delighted to see that over at The Genre Files, "Ariel" has managed to tie George's philosophy in with Wired-magazine main man Chris Anderson's brilliant The Long Tail, when he writes (emphasis mine): "In this Internet-enabled information age, data on the variety and wide availability of a range of products in a given product area is - for practical purposes - both limitless and free. From the point of view of the Long Tail audience for a particular product, the most pressing task is therefore to filter that vast flood of data in order to select the products that offer the best fit for the customer's needs. In short: they need to boost the signal-to-noise ratio to the point where they can reach an informed purchasing decision. Similarly, from the point of view of the producer, the trick is to somehow rise above the vast sea of info-noise; to make their product stand out and be noticed, yet to do so in a manner that emphasises its authentic appeal to the potential customer."

To make your product stand out and be noticed. Get above the signal-to-noise ration. That means let your SF&F light shine - not hide it under a bushel! Hey, what's a bushel anyway?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

World Fantasy Convention

My World Fantasy Convention Schedule, for Saratoga Springs, New York November 1 – 4, 2007:

FRIDAY, 2 PM. City Center A

How a Book Cover is Chosen. Art directors and artists discuss what makes a cover work.

Lou Anders, Irene Gallo (m), Tom Kidd, John Picacio, Jacob Weisman

And that's it.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The New Lou Review 6

Kaige Chen is rapidly becoming, hands down, my favorite Chinese director. Farewell My Concubineand The Emperor and the Assassinare both brilliant, epic films about pivotal points in Chinese history. They are tonally very different films, one dealing with an attempt to assassinate the Qin emperor - the man who united all of China for the first time, but wasn't exactly Mr. Nice Guy when he did it - the other about the impact on the lives of two stars of the Beijing opera as they live through first WWII and then the People's Revolution. Both equally brilliant. Both cinemagraphic masterpieces. Both highly recommended. So I was thrilled to hear that Chen had directed a fantasy film. I keep waiting for a Chinese Lord of the Rings, and The Promise(Wu ji) is as close as anybody's yet come. Breath-taking scenery, and some truly incredible staging, and the goddesses flitting about are amply inspiring. Problem is the story sits closer to a tall tale a la Paul Bunyun than it does to epic fantasy. People outrunning bows and arrows and jumping across mountaintops, that sort of thing. And the actual story is very small - the usual king, princess and bad guy involved in a three way argument, with no sense of any actual residents of the kingdom beyond the inexhaustible supply of faceless toy soldiers to knock over. Really incredible to watch, mind you, and one all lovers of fantasy films should see, and its not fair to judge a movie for not being something else. But I can't help but thinking the expertise, the landscape, the talent, the means and the money is all there to make a truly sweeping fantasy epic - if only the right story would come along. When it does, I hope Kaige Chen will give fantasy another go. In the meantime, as eye candy goes, this is utterly tremendous.

The Science of Sleep (La Science des rêves) This film was written and directed by Michel Gondry, who co-wrote and directed the brilliant Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind earlier, that film being one of my favorite SF films of recent years. Here Gondry has crafted another quirky masterpiece. But, while it's billed as science fiction according to NetFlix, it really isn't, any more than a Wes Anderson film might be, but that doesn't mean it wouldn't be of interest to any fan of genre. (In the same way that a Wes Anderson film is.) The dream sequences are worth it alone, and it's a very funny, imaginative, and original film. It's also amazing what you can do without a budget. Sometimes a lot more than you can do with one.

Pan's Labyrinth - okay, I'm way late to the table on this one. What can I say? Loved it utterly. Am reminded of something John Grant (aka Paul Barnett) told me years ago, which is that while the average Hollywood SF film was two decades behind the literary version of science fiction, the best of filmic fantasy was as good as its literary variety. Certainly I enjoyed this as much as anything I've read from Neil Gaiman, with whom it bears some similarity. A darker, horrifying and adult sister to Labyrinthin some way, minus David Bowie and the Muppets. Guillermo del Toro is a genius. Now, did she really or is she? I think I know how I feel about the (possibly) ambiguous ending.

The Departed - not a bad Scorsese film, but Siu Fai Mak & Felix Chong's Infernal Affairs (Mou gaan dou) is way better, doesn't have Jack Nicholson ad-libbing over the script, and doesn't have the tacked-on Hollywood ending, which is infinitely inferior to the more subtle Chinese original. Not saying you wouldn't enjoy The Departed - most everyone who saw it did, myself and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences included - but you owe it to yourself to see the original. Also, while I usually dislike the need for sequels, Internal Affairs II threads itself back into the first film in a way I've never seen any sequel but Back to the Future II do (though it bears pointing out in an entirely different way), and leaves you with certain scenes and events skillfully reinterpreted. Complex, but brilliant. I haven't seen Internal Affairs III, so can't speak to that, but if you are tossing a coin between Matt Damon and Tony Leung, let me weigh in for Tony.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Batman of Birmingham, Part Two

Over a year and a half ago, I posted about one of my childhood heroes, the Batman of Birmingham. I only had sketchy memories of the do-gooder, a man who spent his evenings and weekends driving around in a suped-up car helping stranded motorists. Since the post, dozens of people have written in with confirmation that I didn't just dream the whole thing, and more of his story has come to light.

Batman was really Willie Perry, who in his not-so-secret identity was general manager of window distributor J.F. Day & Co. The car, which was called "the Batman Rescue Ship," was a maroon and white 1971 Ford Thunderbird with six antennas and fluorescent neon lights, and was fitted with television screens, a toaster, 12 audio speakers, a soda fountain dispenser, a phonograph turntable, strobe lights, a microwave oven, and a kitchen sink with running water. A sign on the car said "Rescue Ship . . . Will Help Anyone In Distress" as indeed, he would. He assisted stranded motorists, worked to keep drunk drivers off the road, and never accepted any money for his services.

And yes, he died of
carbon monoxide poisoning while working on his car, in 1985 at the age of only 44. The only real-life superhero I ever met, and I feel privileged to have done so.

Now, thanks to fellow Alabama native Ben, we have this photo of his car (more here), as well as a link to this 2005 article, "Runaway Bridegroom" by Ed Reynolds, which ran in the Birmingham Black & White. Thanks, Ben!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Con*stellation XXIV: Lou on the Road

This coming Saturday, the 13th, I will be making a appearance at Con*stellation XXIV, a small convention in Huntsville, Alabama. The only panel I am on is the "Pyr Books Cover Art Slideshow" at 5pm Saturday evening, where I will be debuting the entire Spring/Summer 2008 catalog, with a host of brand new cover images that have never been seen anywhere to date, with artwork by John Picacio, Stephan Martiniere, Dan Dos Santos, Sparth and more. Also in attendance: Mike Shepherd Moscoe, Dr. Travis S. Taylor, Pat McAdams, Julie Cochrane, and my new friend William H. Drinkard.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Spook Country Discussion at SFAW

Recently, it was my privilege to take part in a discussion of William Gibson's Spook Countryhosted by the new Science Fiction Awards Watch. The discussion is between yours truly, noted anthologist Ellen Datlow, Michael Levy of Publishers Weekly and Rick Kleffel of The Agony Column and NPR, and is moderated by the wonderful Cheryl Morgan. I hope you all enjoy it. And, if you do feel free to drop over to this post and comment. Personally, I found Rick Kleffel's opening (and only) salvo the most profound comment on the novel:

"William Gibson’s latest novel, Spook Country, evokes the desolation that we find ourselves immersed in with a skill that is clearly the work of his unconscious. And that unconscious has a rather odd reaction to its isolation; it laughs, or at least it wants to laugh."

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Pyr Round the Blogosphere

Chris Roberson uploads a free fiction sample, Benu's Story, from his novel Paragaea: A Planetary Romance.
Michael Moorcock is interviewed about The Metatemporal Dectectiveon Adventures in Scifi Publishing.
Justina Robson muses on whether empathy is possible or even desirable.
David Louis Edelman discusses what the Bourne trilogy says about Americans and government in his post The Bourne Paranoia.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Meet William H. Drinkard, Author of Elom

Recently, it was my privilege and pleasure to have a long and pleasant lunch with William H. Drinkard, a fellow Alabama native whose first novel, Elom, is coming out from Tor this coming March 2008 with another gorgeous cover illustration from Stephan Martiniere. Bill first came to my attention via the OmegaCon website, where he is listed as a guest, though I realized later that I'd already seen his cover art on Tor art director Irene Gallo's blog.

Elom is described as being Clan of The Cave Bear meets Close Encounters of the Third Kind. When I read that the novel concerned a meeting between aliens and prehistorical humans, I had to meet him - since the notion that there is a "pre-history" is still a hotly debated issue round these parts. I've got no idea what Bill's writing is like, but after 3 1/2 hours of conversation, I know he's a kindred spirit where the purpose and relevance of science fiction is concerned, so I certainly am eager to find out. What's more, he's a hell of a nice guy, who has a lot to say, and is - I'm sure - bringing an interesting perspective to our field. And, hey, it's a gorgeous hardcover, so we should all pick it up in March and encourage this sort of radical thinking before someone burns him for witchcraft.

Bill himself is a self-described life long SF addict, as well as a collector of Pre-Colombian Art. He's had a varied career, including stints in politics and as Chairman of the Alabama Historical Commission. He doesn't have a website yet, though I expect one is right around the corner. He's already working on a new book, Fair Chance, about the possibilities of alien life.

Meanwhile, here's what David Drake (pictured left with Bill at DragonCon 07) has to say about Elom: "Engaging characters in a story told with the feel of a myth passed down by word of mouth."

And look - mammoths!!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Bionic Woman and Journeyman

So, I was a huge fan of the original Bionic Woman when I was a child. Huge. I had the Steve Austin doll with the hole in the back of its head, as well as an Apollo capsule meant for GI Joe that I used to reenact his original crash, but it was really Jaime Sommers that had my heart. Meanwhile, my wife, who never saw the original, has been devouring the extensive and very smart backstory up on the new show's website. So we were both very excited by the potential.

And hence, we are both pretty damn disappointed. It was about 5 minutes in, when her boyfriend was spouting the cliché-riddled nonsense about how she was the unpredictable factor in his ordered life that I started to worry. And it just went downhill from there. The pilot's plot is just a patchwork of clichés that relies on a familiarity with the concept, the original, or the standard set pieces of the genre to make any sense. The boss is an asshole because that's what bosses do. Jaime's life is threatened if she doesn't agree to work for them because that's what they did in La Femme Nikita. When she escapes and runs home to her sister, who is worried sick about her, she doesn't tell her "Hi. I've been held captive in a government facility and now I'm bionic." She lies about what's happened to her - not because she has any reason whatsoever to cover for her captors (and isn't going public the easiest way to ensure your safety?) - but again because that's what you do in situations like this. (I caught 5 minutes of Chuck, where his hot spy contact was explaining to him why he couldn't tell his friends where he'd been. That's a comedy, and they handled it 1000x better.)

Now, I could maybe (maybe) overlook this in a pilot, giving the writers time to settle in, if the acting had been good. But apart from Katee Sackhoff, who can do no wrong even when given nothing to work with, the supporting cast is terrible. And poor Michelle Ryan - I've no idea what they saw in her. She is so bad I'm going to have a hard time convincing my wife to watch Jekyll, for which I am very bitter. So, bad script + good acting = I can give it time. And good script + bad acting means I can give it time. But bad script + unwatchable acting means I don't need to worry about this show ever again.

So thank god for Journeyman. I loved Kevin McKidd in Rome, and after this, I think I could watch him read a laundry list. Good, smart show, fantastic naturalistic dialogue, great acting across the board. Yes, it seems to be Quantum Leap on a budget so far, but it's really well done, with enough originality and a few curve balls to keep my wife and I interested. I'll be very curious to see what the explanation for this is - mystical or scientific. My problem with the original Quantum Leap was that a scientific accident resulted in a situation where moral determinacy came into play.(Why should there be a "correct" future and who's calling the shots?) Of course, this was all explained in the final episode, but I never made it that far! With Journeyman, and the lessons learned with shows like Lost, Heroes, BSG, etc..., I suspect they'll have to be forthcoming with answers a lot faster. They've certainly kept the twists coming, and meanwhile, I'm loving what little we've seen so far.