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?