Friday, December 29, 2006

The Voyage of Night Shining White

The weekend before Christmas, I opened up my mailbox and was delighted to find Chris Roberson's The Voyage of Night Shining White, just out from PS Publishing. I've been waiting for this book for a long time. A really long time. Not only do I think it's one of the best stories Chris has written and a shoe-in to appear in a few Best of anthologies, maybe even a Hugo nomination for Best Novella if enough people see it - but I'm proud to have a bit of personal history with it and with the genesis of the succession of stories of which it forms one part.

The Voyage of Night Shining White is part of Chris' Celestial Empire sequence, an ongoing collection of stories set across hundreds of years in an alternate earth where the Treasure Fleets of the 15th century Chinese Empire were never recalled, but continued to carry Chinese expansion throughout the world (and beyond). The first of these stories, "O One", was written for my anthology Live Without A Net(Roc, July 2003), and featured a challenge between an English inventor appealing to the Emperor's patronage for the development of a mechanical calculating device. Said ur-computer is matched in a competition with the head of the Ministry of Calculations, whose organization employs an army of abacus-weilding scribes in order to handle all the mathematical needs of the empire. It was part of the backstory that the Emperor of that era was interested in space exploration and, hence, very eager for anything that could spead up the process of calculation.

"O One" was one of my three favorite stories in the anthology, and was called out in several reviews. Although the anthology is now out of print, copies can still be had on Amazon and elsewhere, and you can read it online here. Please do! You won't be sorry. Meanwhile, I was quite taken with the notion of an Imperial China in space and wanted to see more. So although Chris hadn't initially planned to develop any more of these tales, during my brief tenure as a magazine editor, I commissioned a novella from him, specifically requesting a story about the actual migration to the red planet. The Voyage of Night Shining White was the result. But, alas, in a tale about which no more need be said that has been said already, it was not to be. Suffice to say, this brilliant tale was left without a home. (Aside: you can see the intended Stephan Martiniere cover here, never utilized, but available afor sale as a print.)

But while NSW floated in limbo, Chris continued to write Celestial Empire tales. “Red Hands, Black Hands” (read online) appeared in the December, 2004 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction (December, 2004) to good acclaim. Nick Gevers, writing in the November 2004 issue of Locus, praise it thusly:

"The highly talented Chris Roberson, recent winner of the Sidewise Award for his story 'O One', continues that tale’s vein of opulent Sinophilia in 'Red Hands, Black Hands' – 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 Emperor’s oppressive writ runs severely, and a woman novelist, part of a circle of rather dilettantish bohemians, becomes involved in serious seditious activity, falling in love with a revolutionary and spreading his propaganda via her writings (which include an opera libretto portraying a uchronia under Aztec supremacy, wheels within counterfactual wheels…). The atmosphere is sumptuous, the invention lavish; the experience of reading the story is mind-expanding."

Step in Pete Crowther and PS Publishing, who bought a subsequent tale, "Gold Mountain." The story, about the construction of the Space Elevator as the first stage to colonizing Mars, appeared in Postscripts Magazine, Issue 5. It was around that time that PS Publishing bought The Voyage of Night Shining White as well - to my considerable delight. (The full illustration for the PS Publishing book, by Tomislav Tikulin, can be seen here.) I can't tell you how thrilled I am that this novella is finally out, as I've been aware of its brilliance for some time and eager for others to share in it. It's been like having a secret and being unable to tell anyone.

Meanwhile, Chris has two more Celestial Empire stories forthcoming, "All Under Heaven," appearing in the Firebirds Soaring anthology (Firebird, 2008) and "Metal Dragon Year" due to appear in Interzone. I've not read either of these yet, but I can't wait for their publication.

But wait - there's more! Two Celestial Empire novels are also on the horizon. The Dragon's Nine Sons will appear from the new Solaris imprint in 2008. From their press release:

"The Dragon’s Nine Sons
is an epic story of war in space and of the people caught in-between when empires clash. A disgraced naval captain and a commando who knows secrets he should never have learned are picked to lead a suicide mission, piloting a salvaged Mexica spacecraft to Xolotl, the asteroid stronghold of their enemies, armed with enough explosives to reduce the Mexica base to dust. But when they arrive to find dozens of Chinese prisoners destined to be used as human sacrifices, their suicide mission suddenly becomes a terrifying rescue operation. The Dragon’s Nine Sons is the first novel in The Celestial Empire sequence, an epic, sprawling alternate history sequence in which China rises to world domination in the early days of the 15 th century and goes on to conquer the stars."

And, also due in 2008, a Celestial Empire Young Adult novel from Firebird – Iron Jaw & Hummingbird is the tale of "two youths caught up in the revolution against a despotic Martian government controlled by the Dragon Throne of Imperial China." As Chris says, the novel is "essentially an opera on a terraformed Mars, it's got bandit chiefs, revolutionaries, religious fanatics, corrupt generals, wastrel second sons, and thieves.... the same old, same old."

But while you wait, read the two existing Celestial Empire stories online, track down "Gold Mountain," which was reprinted in The Year's Best Science Fiction Twenty-third Annual Collection and by all means, get yourself a copy of The Voyage of Night Shining White. I am quite proud to publish Chris' other wonderful series at Pyr – the multiversal tales of his extended Bonaventure-Carmody clan that include Here, There & Everywhere, Paragaea: A Planetary Romance and the forthcoming End of the Century – but I'm convinced that the Celestial Empire stories will shortly be viewed with the same respect and affection that Allen Steele's Coyote stories garner. And hey, Night Shinging White is dedicated to me. So what are you waiting for?

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Pyr Makes 3 of Bookgasm's Top 5 (point five) & 3 of Pat's Fantasy Hotlist Top 10 Novels of 2006

Bookgasm has posted their list of the 5 Best Sci-Fi Books of 2006.

David Louis Edelman's Infoquakeand Joel Shepherd's Crossovertie for fifth place. And, in a list that includes Tobias S. Buckell, Kim Stanley Robinson, and John Scalzi, the number one spot is given to Ian McDonald's River of Gods.

Of Infoquake and Crossover, Ryun Patterson writes:

"This pair of books is a great example of what Pyr is doing right. Infoquake is a tech-heavy exercise in scientific speculation that combines economics, high technology and business mechanics into an all-too-human story of greed, loss and redemption. Crossover isn’t satisfied with being just another hot-chick-android-assassin book and goes for some heavy-duty characterization (not unlike what’s been going on in TV’s Battlestar Galactica) that makes the kicking ass that much more tremendous."

As to River of Gods:

"It’s at once cyberpunk and post-cyberpunk, awash in the verbiage of globalization and emerging-markets uncertainty. As the story’s huge cast of characters tumbles toward their individual destinies in tomorrow’s India, it’s hard to believe that McDonald doesn’t have a time machine stored somewhere in his backyard..."

And they open the list with this comment about the Pyr imprint:

"The biggest story of the year, in my opinion, is Pyr’s rise to prominence as a high-quality sci-fi imprint. Pyr has managed to round up a stable of authors and titles that represents the cutting edge of sci-fi and backs it up with promotion and marketing that pretty much outdoes the other imprints out there. Bravo, Pyr. Here’s hoping for an even greater 2007."

Congratulations to all six authors. On this end, we'll certainly do our best to make 2007 even better than 2006.

Update: Three must be a magic number, because Pat's Fantasy Hotlist has just posted their Top Ten Novels of 2006, and once again Pyr is on the list with three titles.

Ian McDonald's River of Gods comes in at # 4.
Joel Shepherd's Crossover is # 7.
And Sean Williams' The Crooked Letter is # 9.

Pyr is also given the "Best Thing Since Sliced Bread Award", with the comment that we are "a breath of fresh air in both the fantasy and science fiction genres."

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A Climate of Opinion

Hot on the news that James Gunn will be named the next Science Fiction Grandmaster - an award he will receive at the 2007 Nebula Awards ceremony in May- John Joseph Adams ran an interview on SciFi Wire that I only just stumbled on now (I've been away). At the close of the interview, Gunn articulated something so well that I'm going to repost it here, italics mine:

"Let's save the world through science fiction. Built into SF is a concept that the world is changing, and we can influence the direction of that change by the choices we make today. I believe SF thinking has the potential to save the world, not in specific ways—it always has stressed the need to do something about pollution, overpopulation, war, racial and gender prejudice and all the other crimes against humanity that we could change if we chose—but in the more important general ways. So it isn't any one thing, but our human outlook that can save the world. To offer one illustration: Isaac Asimov said, 'SF writers and readers didn't put a man on the moon all by themselves, but they created a climate of opinion in which the goal of putting a man on the moon became acceptable.'"

It's that climate of opinion that I think is so important. I remember when James Cameron's Terminator 2 came out in 1991 , being really struck by how important it was that Cameron suggested the annihilation of humanity via technology (which I took then as a strong metaphor for our nukes) wasn't inevitable. Even the uber-optimistic Star Trek always just assumed that WWIII happened sometime in the 1990s. It was an assumption that was pretty universal (even in comics continuity - poor Jonah Hex) all through the 60s and 70s, and Cameron was the first time I registered someone standing up and saying "Maybe this doesn't have to happen." And say what you will about Arnold Schwarzennegger - putting out a mass meme like that is of major importance. Because the ideals of our media do trickle down into our collective consciousness and take root. (There's a great line I seem to recall reading in Japan Edge: The Insider's Guide to Japanese Pop Subculture that talks about how we're the generation that got our morality from The Brady Bunch but saved the higher philosophical notions for Empire Strikes Back. True.)

Nor do I think Cameron's subtitle Judgment Day should be overlooked. Because there's no literal final judgement by the machines of the humans in the film; no judgment imposed from the outside (by robots or dieties) - the day in question is the day in 1991 where the concept that the future is predetermined (uh, predestined) is undermined. And it was around that same time, sometime between August 2, 1990 and February 1991 - a period I spent mostly in London - when I was back in Alabama watching with horror as those around me, some of them relatives, all speculated if the Gulf War wasn't the start of Armaggedon - the general opinion of the time being that if it was, they were all ready to meet Jesus. (I sure as hell wasn't!) And the realization then that we had a man in power with his finger on the button who might share the same crazy notion as those around me sent a chill down my spine. So, for my money, the importance of fostering a climate of opinion in which we have some positive alternatives to blowing ourselves up was and remains vital.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Covering the Artists' Story

I'm thrilled with the way the bloggosphere has been focusing attention on SF&F illustrators lately, between artists' blogs and blogs about artists, and a rash of interviews with artists. Now, Up Againt the Wall has just posted "Shadowboxing with John Picacio," an interview that ranges from his first Moorcock assignment to his current one - the forthcoming Del Rey Elric reissue I personally can't wait for! John talks about his process:

"I definitely start with reading the book.... I’m generally looking for things that are evocative more than things that are representative. If an author has described something in very, very vivid detail, I tend to shy away from images like that. I’m going to look for the moment that is either before or after something has happened. I’m going to try to find something that is complementing the manuscript rather than trying to mimic it. It’s not much fun for myself as a reader to read something and then see a picture that says exactly what I’ve just read, or tries to. I would use the phrase 'you steal the reader’s right to imagine' by doing things like that. There’s a very fragile line there."

Meanwhile, a few days ago Irene Gallo posted an interview with Stephan Martiniere on her blog, The Art Department, where he talks about a career highlight that was also a turning point, directing the animated Madeline specials:

"It was really the first time I was able to realize a vision and direct without all the battles and the politics associated with bigger project. The show ended up a success and received numerous awards. Directing "Madeline" was also decisive in my career. It forced me to reevaluate myself as an artist. In this business it is seldom that one is given this kind of opportunity to work on something really meaningful and rewarding. It was likely that my next animated project would end up being another political battle with mediocre results. I decided to shift gears and go back to design. I went to work for a theme park company as a concept artist. It's always amazing to realize how small things sometimes can have a huge impact in your life."

I don't think it's any secret that John and Stephan are two of my very favorite artists, as anyone can tell from a glimpse at the Pyr catalog. Stephan has done 8 covers for us, with two more on the way, and Picacio has done 10, with two more also on the way. My personal favorites displayed above. Working with both of them is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Bob a Day Keeps Godzilla Away

The wonderful, talented, friendly and (from where I stand) hairy Bob Eggleton has launched a blog. Bob's Art du Jour begins his "painting-a-day" online exhibition, where he will produce one work of art a day, just like it sounds, and offer the results, along with commentary, for enjoyment, illumination, and sale. I'm really excited to see this play out. Lately, I've been really grooving on his work, including the cover of Mike Resnick's Ivory he did for Pyr and the recent piece he's done for John Scalzi's upcoming The Sagan Diary. And the recent trend of artists blogging (and blogging about art) is something I heartily applaud.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The New Lou Review Number Two (or maybe Three)

Casino Royale: Once upon a time, Batman films were very silly things indeed. The villains, who were always more interesting than the protagonist himself, were filled out by a procession of famous actors like Christopher Walken, who hammed it up as a over-the-top, pantomine baddies, while two dimensional love interests like Kim Bassinger clung to our hero's hand, blond bombshells required to do little more than scream, swoon, ask the right questions, and get rescued at the appropriate moments. Then, something happened - Batman Begins, the first Hollywood live-action adaptation of the Caped Crusader to actually pay attention to the source material. In an easy parallel, once upon a time, Bond films were also very silly things indeed. The villains, who were always more interesting than the protagonist himself, were filled out by a procession of famous actors like, well, Christopher Walken, who hammed it up as a over-the-top, pantomine baddies, while two dimensional love interests like, well, Kim Bassinger clung to our hero's hand, blond bombshells required to do little more than scream, swoon, ask the right questions, and get rescued at the appropriate moments. Then something happened. As Paul Cornell has already said, and said beautifully: "Well, it took us fifty three years, but finally someone has made a movie based on James Bond. You may recall the character. He’s an assassin, who’s been horribly injured, both mentally and physically, in the course of his career. He regards it as his job to do terrible things, but wishes innocents to be spared the sight of those things. He can be ruthless, and enjoys killing in the moment, but we care for him because of the awful personal cost. He rewards himself with the finest cuisine, and has complex and difficult relationships with women. Daniel Craig is perfect as the first screen James Bond. And I hope we’ll now see a whole series of such tremendous movies about him. The potential is enormous. I don’t know why nobody’s thought of doing it before." Certainly all the hype you have been hearing is true. The Best Bond since Connery. The Best Bond script since (my personal favorite) On Her Majesty's Secret Service. The most developed female character since Diana Rigg, etc... So, so nice to see a Bond that bleeds, too. As a childhood fan of the books, I'm so glad there are now three good, accurate Bond films out of the 21. Don't know what "Bond 22" is going to be, but since we've rebooted from Book One, it would sure be nice if they had the guts to actually shoot the books in order, as written but adapted for the 21st century as Casino Royale was. Surely an updated, Daniel Craig version of From Russia With Love need not feel itself in competition with a 1963 film. I mean, we'll always have Paris and all that, but think about it...

And speaking of Batman...

Batman & Son: Though I think Grant Morrison is an absolute genius, one of a handful of comcbook names that will endure for all time, please don't kill me but I just don't think he can write for Batman. I said that last century when he wrote Arkham Asylum, and, yes, I know he did some interesting things with the Darknight Detective in the pages of Justice League while I was away, but when it comes to the new run in Batman comics, I am bitterly disappointed in his Batman. Loved the man-bat stuff and Bruce Wayne as a return to the Playboy days, but how "on the nose" can you get with a name like Damien for the "bad" son? It's not like the didn't just remake the Omen this year. And I thought Wayne's reaction to having a son was horribly misportrayed. I'm a very big fan of Mike W. Barr's brilliant Son of the Demon graphic novel. In that tale (spoiler), when Batman learns that Talia is pregnant he immediatley packs it in and hangs up the cape. Reason? In his mind, the absolute worst thing he can image is to be an orphan, a child whose parents were taken from you at a young age. This is the fate worse than death that drives his entire modus operandi. There is no way in Hell he'd risk doing that to someone else. So when Talia says she is going to conceive, he quits in no uncertain terms, forcing her to return him to himself by giving the child up for adaption and faking a miscarriage. Mike W. Barr understands Batman's motivation and what happens when events take him back to his core. But Morrison has never gotten inside the cowl. His Batman just leaves the kid hanging around the Batcave to wreck the place, murder my favorite long-absent 70s villian, and nearly slaughter Robin. This gets him a "bad boy, we don't kill" lecture and an "I guess you can come out adventuring with me after all, but no more cutting people's heads off, okay?" a few minutes later. Okay, this is asanine! And Batman's proposed solution to the problem of procreating? Just dumping the kid back with his mom, the international criminal and terrorist so they can have a second chance? At what? Blowing up the world together? Come on! This makes Batman as big a dead beat as the woeful Clark Kent of Superman Returns. "Don't worry Lois, I'll be around." Yes, I suspect that a lot of what was GOOD about the issues was Morrison himself, and BAD about it orders from above, but this sucked. I've also realized that Batman exists for me from Denny O'Neil to the (long gone) "good" Frank Miller, with moments like Long Halloween and Dark Victory tacked on, but that post-Dark Knight Batman of current DC continuity is pretty much infintile and I should stick with the animated series for my fix (and with Paul Dini, whose doing a great job over at Detective).

But, having now mentioned comics, superspies and Paul Cornell, a comic I'm much more excited about is...

Wisdom: Paul Cornell's new Marvel 6 issue is off to a fantastic start. Pete Wisdom is a sort of John Constantine ghost-buster if he worked for MI-6, or in this case, MI-13, the branch of British Intelligence charged with protecting the British Isles from anything supernatural, superhuman or just plain strange. Wisdom was created by Warren Ellis in the pages of Excalibur, but I never encountered him until now. Assisted by a motley cast of characters that includes fairy dissident Tink and John the Skrull (essentially an alien copy of John Lennon), I'm hooked, even though issue one is mostly just "let's meet the gang" and now it remains to see where it goes. But I LOVE the set-up, and I wouldn't mind seeing this mini-series graduate to a full on ongoing monthly.

But the supernatural ought to allow for my finale segue into magic and...

The Prestige: Smartest film I've seen in a long damn time. Never read the book, or anything by Christopher Priest, so can't speak to how good or poor an adaptation it is, but as a film, it's utterly brilliant and Christopher Nolan, who had me at Momento, is on the fast track to be my favorite director. Just so, so refreshing to see a film that has both complicated plot and character and script all coming together, and the script - wow - it just sang it was so masterfully executed. No wasted scenes or bad dialogue. Loved it. There are flawed films that have resonated with me more (Batman Begins for one, natch), but to find another example of the kind of "perfect film" this one is I have to go all the way back to L.A. Confidential. I'm trying to get with the Net Flicks mindset and get over the oh-so-20th century mode of ownership of cinema, and it's not like with a child to raise and an imprint to run I'm ever, every going to have the time to read or watch anything twice again, but it's going to be really hard not to own this one when it comes out. Favorite film of the year!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Medieval Dead

Over on new blog No Fear of the Future, Chris Nakashima-Brown uses Tom Stoppard's The Coast of Utopia as springboard for a nearly-incomprehensible-in-its-hippitude essay which asks the question "Is the idea of Utopia rendered completely frivolous in a world that has made the cyberpunk dystopia so completely real? In a world where the pragmatic inevitability of market capitalism seems to have proven the inherent truths of its basic assumptions about the innate self-interest at the core of human nature?"

C N-B laments that Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy was the last compelling vision of utopian SF in relatively recent times, and that one has to look "back further for the rest: Aldiss, LeGuin, Van Vogt, Stapledon, Dick." (I can, I hope, be forgiven for pausing to add Zebrowski to that list, as his 1979 novel Macrolife is still unsurpassed in its unique take on viable utopias).

Meanwhile, my friend Paul Wargelin points me towards an article by Jason Silverman of Wired lamenting the lack of series SF cinema. "Hollywood Eats Sci-Fi's Brains," keys of the recent box office failure of Darren Aronofksy's The Fountain, which cost $35 milllion to make and earned a whopping $5million over the extended Thanksgiving weekend, to ask why Hollywood has stopped making series sf. Drawing on opinions of Hollywood insiders, Silverman diagnoses the problem as being a combination of the fact that SF films are always hit-or-miss, never a "slam-dunk" - with the fact that the budgets necessary create a barrier for entry. As Gordon Paddison, New Line Cinema's executive vice president of new media and marketing, says, "You have to put a certain level of budget into these films. You have to swing for the fences, otherwise you just aren't in the game at all."

This perspective seems to me one likely to date fast, as we see an increased democratization of the tools necessary to produce special effects. A more relevant question is found in Silverman's closing paragraph, where Paddison asks, ""The Gene Roddenberry form of sci-fi was the accepted template for years and years, the vision of what the future was to be for many, many people. Then it evolved into the horror sequences of Alien. So what is it now? What are we and our children fantasizing about?"

I don't know, but I suspect, as Silverman comes just short of hinting, that a good place to look for clues might be on YouTube.

Meanwhile, I wonder why no one ever thinks to suggest that the reason a film like The Fountain failed at the box office was not because of the subject matter, but because the trailer looked completely uninspiring and failed utterly to suggest a compelling reason to see the film. The other recent Hugh Jackman vehicle, The Prestige,which exited my local theaters to make room for The Fountain, while by no means a blockbuster, faired considerably better and was a very smart, very demanding film.

Hollywood has a very bad habit of blaming the genre or the setting when they should be blaming the script or the directing. I've just seen the trailer for Eragon, and am significantly underwhelmed. I imagine the legions of fans devoted to the book is enough for them to get their money's worth out of it anyway, but supposing that the film tanked at the box office, or, more realistically, simply underperformed. Then all those producers currently in development on adaptations of books by George R R Martin and Terry Brooks and whatever other fantasies were greenlit immediately following the success of The Lord of the Rings beware. The men in suites will look at Eragon's failure and proclaim that fantasy is dead, without ever once considering that maybe John Malkovich is a poor substitute for Ian McKellen and that cheaply CGI'd Dragons are no match for the decade plus of painstaking, loving, obsession that went into bringing Tolkien to the screen. But why should they when an easy excuse is close at hand?

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Because Things are Stacking Up... has gone and given Chris Roberson his own author page, and uploaded an online profile as well. The online profile is really a (fairly bizarre) questionaire and I don't quite understand why Roberson's fiction is reminiscent of books by Alexandra Fuller, but it leaves me very curious to know about Chris' four hour employment by Wendy's fast food chain!

Meawhile, Space Archaeology have uploaded an interview with Sean Williams. More discussion of his science fiction than his fantasy, so the end result is that I am even more eager to read Geodesica and the upcoming Astropolis than before. Of the latter, he says, "I can tell you that the first novel is a fast-paced picaresque journey through the ruins of a galactic empire (lots archaeology there) with a structure vaguely reminiscent of the classic Gothic novel Melmoth the Wanderer. The second novel concerns the middle years of a new empire, one that's trying to fill the shoes of the one that's gone (expect expeditions to contact old and deeply isolated post-human minds for reasons I won't go into here). The third book is a chase through various environments, one of them based loosely on the Twentieth Century--which certainly qualifies as an archaeological experience for those inhabiting that future." Oddly, the quote reminds me of the quest for the last of the Old Ones and makes me realize for the second time this week how underated Babylon 5 is by our side of the cinema - literature fence. I am feeling the need to rewatch it soon, as well as the rise of the oft-contemplated wish that Straczynski had written it all as five massive tomes, rather than as five years of television.

Finally, I see there's a new group blog of note, No Fear of the Future. Contributors include Zoran Živković, Jess Nevins, Alexis Glynn Latner, Stephen Dedman, Chris Nakashima-Brown and Jayme Lynn Blaschke. With blog posts already about the real Doc Savage and ancient Greek astronomical computers, I will definitely be checking this one out on a regular basis.

Monday, November 27, 2006

PodMan & Lou Dog

The new, and most impressive Adventures in SciFi Publishing, has uploaded its fifth podcast, an interview with Yours Truly. I won't get to listen to it until tomorrow, so I have no idea how I come off. The interview was conducted by the wonderful Shaun Farrell during the World Fantasy Convention weekend, who was quite the professional, but I was practising my new "diet" at WFC, which consists of basically not eating and drinking only copious amounts of cappuccino. I suspect that listeners will get a pretty high words per minute rate. Meanwhile, I am honored to be in such illustrious company as Ray Bradbury, Paul Levinson, R. A. Salvatore, Jamie Levine, Sam Enthoven, and L. E. Modesitt Jr. Not bad at all for a brand new site either. Hence my "most impressive."

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction

I'm a big fan of anthologies. Works like the Science Fiction Hall of Fame volumes constituted my primary introduction to the field, and I like the fact that in the space of one novel, I can be acquainted with the work of 15 to 20 different writers and be explosed to 15 to 20 different mind-blowing ideas. I don't expect to like every story in an anthology when I read it. In fact, if I do, the anthologist is doing something wrong, because that means he's collecting only birds of a feather and not challenging me enough or pushing the envelope, and when you have 15 - 20 stories and writers to play with, it's okay to take risks with a few of them. Anthologies also have their own character, and, like the mix tapes of the pre-iPod era, there is a certain artistry to putting them together.

As an ocassional anthologist myself, I'm also pretty hard on them. I'm not a fan of frivilous themes - Even More Stories About Vampire Cats, etc... - and my preferences run to anthologies that illuminate some particular facet of the field or which shine a spotlight upon some specific subject in the ongoing dialogue that is science fiction. Yesterday, I finished reading an anthology that answers a very specific question that I image I share with a lot of people right now, namely "What is this new Solaris Books imprint all about?"

This coming February, by way of introduction to their new line, the imprint will release The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, edited by George Mann. It's an unthemed collection of science fiction stories which includes writers like Neal Asher, Peter F. Hamilton, Mike Resnick & David Gerrold, and Brian Aldiss. My criteria for endorsing anthologies is that I have to appreciate more than 50% of the stories inside, so I'm happy to report that I enjoyed 12 of the 16 stories in this volume, or 75%. Enough that I can heartily recommend it here.

Standouts for me include Paul Di Filippo's "Personal Jesus," which introduces us to the perfect combination of spirituality and technology, the godPod, "Zora and the Land Ethic Nomads" which returns us to Mary Turzillo's Mars of indentured homesteaders, and James Lovegrove's absolutely briliant "The Bowdler Strain," about which too much said could give the game away, but which I will say was $#!+ fantastic! I also admired what Tony Ballantyne was doing with his "Third Person," laughed out loud at Mike & David's PKD pastiche "Jellyfish," and was quite taken with Jay Lake & Greg van Eekhout's "C-Rock City." I'm still contemplating the ending of Neal Asher's "Bioship," and wish that the Wakowski brothers final Matrix film had looked a little more like Keith Brooke's "The Accord," a very interesting little piece that strikes me as an attempt to justify the ways of Agent Smith to man. So, all in all, certainly enough here to get the Lou endorsement, and I recommend checking it out. Meanwhile, I understand a Solaris Book of New Fantasy is planned and I look forward to it enthusiastically.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Cylon God: How Special is your Revelation?

With the caveat that I think Battlestar Galactica is brilliant, that it is doing great things for SF television - and for SF in general - and that it has raised the bar for all time in terms of production quality and viewer expectations for what is possible...

Here's what bothers me about the Cylons. When they spoke of God in season one, with their talk of being God's Chosen People and God's Plan, etc..., they very clearly seemed to be doing so out of some form of direct experience. You don't, after all, just decide to commit genocide on a dozen planets on a hunch or a feeling. Their rhetoric very clearly implied that they were acting on what was - or what they interpreted as - Special Revelation, i.e. "that burning bush told me to do it."

But at the end of season two, and particularly in the "occupation" portion of season three, when we learned more about the Cylons and their religion, we don't see any signs of any special revelation. They bicker among themselves, they have doubts, they change their plan completely, some of them even have doubts that God exists. No indication of special revelation at all.

Okay, that's realistic and in keeping with our own world. Only, Battlestar Galactica exists in a universe where special revelation of some sort definitely exists. I mean, Roslyn's visions have lead them directly to Kobol, the Arrow of Apollo and the path for earth, and a Human Priestess, with knowledge of her dream, fortold that D'anna would find the child. This is a show where the ground rules establish pretty clearly that some sort of supernatural is operating from the sidelines, at least where the humans are concerned.

Ergo, it's a fair assumption the when they talked of knowing God's will and being his children, the Cylons had some concrete interaction with divinity - or something they perceived as divinity - before formulating their great plan. And I, for one, have been eagerly anticipating seeing what that would be when the writers revealed it.

Only they didn't. And it's painfully obvious sometimes how the writers are making it up as they go along. Which is okay, and is how most television, even good television works - and these writers are great writers - but man, don't hammer it in one way then shift gears. It's really thrown me for a loop.

Then, a couple of episodes ago, I saw a way out. After all, between "yes" and "no" the universe always contains a "maybe."

The Hybrids, folks!

Cylons who plug themselves into baseships, and in so doing experience the universe more completely or from a different altered state, who may go mad as a result but who, in the opinion of other Cylons, may be touching the face of God.

A-ha! This is how you can have special revelation and yet get the details fuzzy - so you think God's really telling you to wipe out all the humans one week and make nicey-nice with them the next. They have oracles - and oracles aren't always clear even if what they say seems divine.

That satisfies my problems, rationalizes the shift in their agendas, fixes everything perfectly. Problem solved!

Except for the fact that the writers themselves don't seem to have realized the potential of what they've introduced. We haven't seen the hybrids again, and now D'anna is shooting herself repeatedly to try and conjure her own Special Revelation between death and resurrection. Which makes me worried that even when they get it right, Ron Moore and company don't know they've got it right.

I don't watch Lost, but I hear it's starting to wear out its welcome with some viewers who are upset that the show isn't working to more of a plan. I'd hate to see BSG go that route as well. I don't think it will. For my money, it's still the best damn SF series ever in terms of the execution of its individual episodes and its character development, but how it all comes together in the end - and it does need to come together one day and it does need to end- will determine whether it's a show you watch over and over again when it's all said and done, or just something you enjoy in real time while its unfolding, but don't go back to with the same level of enthusiasm. Meanwhile, I continue to be impressed with Heroes, which clearly does have a plan, and while few individual episodes ever rose to the level of a good DS9 or BSG, its still Babylon 5 - for all the unanticipated plot and casting twists and turns Straczynski was forced to take out of necessity & network interference - that ranks as the best series ever when it comes to having a clear story to tell from the beginning and then telling it. And thank God Rome is based on, well, Rome. I'd hate for them to run out of material and have to do a boxing episode. Didn't Moore promise us none of the usual cliches? We've seen that on Oz, the short lived Untouchables series, maybe even Gilligan's Island. Talk about being lost....

The 50 Most Significant SF&F Books

This is the Science Fiction Book Club's list of the fifty most significant science fiction/fantasy novels published between 1953 and 2002.

The Key:
Bold the ones you've read.
Strike-out the ones you hated.
Italicize those you started but never finished.
Put an asterisk beside the ones you loved.

1. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien*
2. The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov
3. Dune, Frank Herbert*
4. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein*
5. A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin
6. Neuromancer, William Gibson*
7. Childhood's End, Arthur C. Clarke
8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick
9. The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
10. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
11. The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe
12. A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.*
13. The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov
14. Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras
15. Cities in Flight, James Blish
16. The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett
17. Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison*
18. Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison
19. The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester
20. Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany
21. Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey
22. Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card*
23. The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson
24. The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
25. Gateway, Frederik Pohl*
26. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, J.K. Rowling
27. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams*
28. I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
29. Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
30. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
31. Little, Big, John Crowley
32. Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
33. The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
34. Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement
35. More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon*
36. The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith
37. On the Beach, Nevil Shute
38. Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
39. Ringworld, Larry Niven*
40. Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys
41. The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien*
42. Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut
43. Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson*
44. Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner
45. The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
46. Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein
47. Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock*
48. The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks
49. Timescape, Gregory Benford
50. To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer

So I've read 22 of the 50, 6 of which I've not finished, 16 of which I have. I tended to love almost everything I did finish and didn't hate anything (though I was underwhelmed by the Bradbury).

Some explaination on how I can not complete JRR's work and yet put it down as a favorite. As a child, I saw the Bakshi film, fell in love with it, started the books, but quit before Return of the King to read 1/2 of The Silmarillion but quit that when it got boring to read The Tolkien Companion and paint pewter figures. But I had a five by three foot table top covered with a battle between the Riders of Rohan and an army of Orcs in my room for years, and I ruined my eyes painting the little guys, so how canI say I didn't love it?

As for not having read PKD's greatest - both my college film teacher and my post-graduate history of theatre teacher were of the type who felt "I don't want to show you the classics you can see anywhere, let's look at the obscure works." So I'd seen all the lesser known works from the great directors like Hitchcock, Polanski, etc... before I'd seen their major ones. The attitude/approach apparently rubbed off. Galactic Pot Healer is my favorite PKD.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Top 10 Books I'd Be Reading Now If I Weren't Reading Other Books

The title of this post isn't as wonky as it probably sounds. I'm not a fast reader by any means, and I just worked out this morning that I have exactly fourteen manuscripts that I need to read between now and, oh, five minutes from now. And this doesn't count the 6 or 8 manuscripts I agreed to consider at WFC which are now winging their way through the post to my P.O. Box. Comes with the territory and I'm not complaining. I'm in this business because I love books, but it does mean that reading outside my own submission pile is a rare activity, becoming rarer as Pyr grows in size and reputation. And thank god for books like Ian McDonald's River of Gods, because I'm starting to realize that the only way I'm going to be able to keep up with the "talked about" books is if I have the good fortune to have published them myself. Nonetheless, I still buy books at a rate ridiculous for someone who gets a lot of them for free, in what can only be seen as some insane urge to fill up every square inch of my house with pretty artifacts that taunt me from their shelves. But there is a lot of really interesting work being done right now that I wish I had time to consider, and which I hope to somehow miraculously get to between coming up for air from my submissions pile and playing with my not-yet-two year old child. So, here it is, for all of you to tell me what I'm missing out on, my:

Top Ten List of Books I'd Be Reading Now If I Weren't Reading Other Books:

10. Vellum: The Book of All Hours by Hal Duncan. First, Hal is just the greatest guy. Second, Chris Roberson has been telling me what a genius work this is for months. Third, this book is burning up the charts. Forth, Hal is just the greatest guy. (So great I said it twice). And fifth, I'm so damn curious to see what the fuss is all about. I read the first page already and that was enough to give me a taste - like giving a coke addict one pinch and then telling them they'll have to wait till next year for another fix. Oh, and I've carried the book around with me all weekend at WFC, since Hal handed it to me to look after for a minute on Friday night - "There's this fookin' dinner I have to go too, right?" - and didn't take it back until Sunday afternoon.

9. Un Lun Dun by China Mieville. Finally, a novel by China that isn't 700 pages long! I'm a huge Mieville fan - his Iron Council will probably emerge as my favorite work of the fantastic in over a decade - but it takes me a long time to read his books because I'm a slow reader and when the prose really hits my buttons I slow down even more, staring off into space to consider what I've just read or backing up and reading a single paragraph over and over. It took me ages to read The Scar for this latter reason, so when Iron Council came out, I managed to finnagle an interview commission at the Believer with China, so that reading the book became work - not play - and could be prioritized. But Un Lun Dun is a YA, shorter, and I have an advanced copy. I'd love to be able to actually read it before it comes out for once! But don't place any bets to that affect.

8. Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson. When Brandon's first novel, Elantris, came out, I was very curious. No way I could get to it, so I recommended it to my brother, an avid fantasy reader, who had good things to say. Then I met Brandon on a panel at World Con this past year, and was very favorably impressed. So I picked up a copy of Mistborn there and had him sign it, just so he knows I've got it, and therefore I'll have to get to it sooner rather than later. And I'm very excited to do so. Just look at that amazing Jon Foster cover, incredible illustration from an artist that's at the top of his game right now.

7. Anything by Michael Moorcock, but especially the new Elric Trilogy, The Dreamthief's Daughter: A Tale of the Albino, The Skrayling Tree: The Albino in America , and The White Wolf's Son: The Albino Underground . Recently, it has been my privileged to "have" to read a lot of Mike's fiction for "work," while collaborating with him on putting together the forthcoming book The Metatemporal Detective, a collection of stories featuring Sir Seaton Begg and Count Zodiac (sometimes known as Elric of Melnibone). And well, truth is that nothing makes me hungry for more Moorcock like Moorcock. I'm getting all geared up for Del Rey's upcomingg reissue of the original Elric saga, while enjoying some of Mike's more sophisticated works of the last decade or so - and the recent trilogy seems like the perfect blend of both worlds. Of course, blending worlds is what you expect from the creator of the multiverse.

6. Counting Heads by David Marusek - I've been digging David's short fiction for a long time, and I really wanted to read this book back when it was the "hot" just released hard SF novel. Missed that boat, but Counting Heads is still calling out to me from its place of honor on the book shelf. Fortunately, Marusek is a slow and careful writer, so hopefully he won't accumulate a Charles Stross-sized backlist before I can read this one.

5. The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch - I started this on the plane out to World Con, hoping to have read enough of it there and back that I could justify another day afterwards finishing it up. As it was, I found out that traveling in the sky with a 14 month old baby is not the same as traveling with a six month old. So, as it turned out, I only read 50 pages. Sadly, with all the books I have in my to-read pile, it's going to have to wait until I get more than a day's break, and when I do get back to it, I'll start over from the beginning. But what I read was fantastic and has me itching to dive back in. And I feel pretty safe saying that this is the kind of fantasy I like.

4. Snake Agent: A Detective Inspector Chen Novel (Detective Inspector Chen Novels) by Liz Williams. I just can't get over this cover, another Jon Foster. I've showered so much love on it on this blog and in person - both in private and on convention panels - that I need to find out if the contents are worth their exterior. I bet they are.

3. The Ghost Brigades (Sci Fi Essential Books) by John Scalzi - I really loved Old Man's War, and since meeting John in person, I love him too. Plus, OMW was a fast-paced enough read that I did it in a record (for me) two days, which means I stand a reasonable chance of reading The Ghost Brigades sometime in the next six months. I'd like to get to it before the third book in the series comes out, and before I feel hopelessly left out by all the praise for The Android's Dream. Plus, I really want a copy of The Android's Dream too, but I'm not going to let myself buy it until I've read the Scalzi I already have. At least, I've resisted so far.

2. The Charnel Prince (The Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone, Book 2) and The Blood Knight (The Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone, Book 3) by Greg Keyes. The first book in this series, The Briar King, is still my favorite epic fantasy that I've ever read and my personal metric for judging works in the post-Tolkien tradition. I'm going to count these two books as one, since I can't very well read book 3 without first reading book 2. Meanwhile, Joe Abercrombie's The Blade Itself - which Pyr will be bringing out in the U.S. next year I'm happy to report - may very well have recently tied with The Briar King in the race for my affection, but Joe and I have never been thrown out of a party for drunken wrestling on the floor (yet), so I'll let Briar King hold onto the title a bit longer before declaring it unseated.

1. Geodesica: Ascent and Geodesica: Descent by Sean Williams and Shane Dix. I am just chomping at the bit to read these books. They sound like, both from their descriptions and the reports of trusted friends, just the sort of wildly imaginative, post-human space adventure I'm craving, but here's the deal: As slow as I read, it's very, very hard for me to justify reading multiple books by a writer I'm already very familiar with when I could devote that time to filling in holes in my education by reading the work of writers I've yet to experience. And, since I've worked with Sean Williams on multiple Pyr books, his brilliant sci-mystery The Resurrected Man and his Books of the Cataclysm fantasy quartet, the Geodesica duology would really be a guilty pleasure indeed. But I suspect I'd be shouting the praises of these works if I'd read them. As it is, they'll have to wait a long time. On the other hand, it occurs to me that I'm not familiar with Shane Dix's work at all. So maybe there's an angle that can bump this forward after all...