Thursday, June 28, 2007
The New SciFi
McLean's article is interesting, and seems to take three tacks:
1. That advances in CGI and reduced costs associated with same make "mainstream" television audiences more capable of accepting the wonders of science fiction and fantasy as legitimate, by presenting them in compelling, quality special effects in a way not capable at any other time. As McLean writes, "For starters, the advances in CGI and the relative inexpense of creating it for the small screen has meant that sci-fi and fantasy have become more believable and spectacular." Hey, no need to suspend your disbelief when its more human than human!
2. That the tensions and terrors of a post 9/11 world make people more interested in drama that addresses these tensions head on, as typified by BSG when it takes a hard look at terrorism by making it a tool of the protagonists. I was particularly struck/amused by this line, which sets SF telly not on a par with mainstream TV, but above it, in terms of the sophistication of its engagement with reality: "The only other major US drama to do so is 24, and its all-guns-blazing approach is to the detriment of any thoughtfulness."
3. In contrast to point 2, that these same tense times also make people more susceptible to escapism. "Tim Kring, creator of Heroes, concurs... he didn't set out to make a post-9/11 show - but 'the wish-fulfilment aspect of the show feeds off a feeling that the world is a scary place. Issues like global warming and diminishing natural resources and terrorism are issues that seem really out of control and huge. That these ordinary people may be coming along with special powers and can ultimately do something about these larger issues taps into a sense of helplessness we may feel.'" Sentiments hinted at again when McLean writes (emphasis mine), "As Doctor Who supremo Russell T Davies notes, albeit while emphasising the optimism of his own show: 'We live in a time of terror.'"
The article goes on to discuss how science fiction has gone from being a dirty word in Hollywood, something relegated to the interests of teenagers, to being what the studios want to the exclusion of everything else. Of some forty-five shows picked up by US networks for series this coming season, apparently roughly one quarter have some SFnal content. As McLean says, "Somehow, though, the suspension of disbelief that sci-fi and fantasy often require was too much for television audiences to swallow, and there the stigma remained. But Battlestar Galactica, along with the likes of Lost and Heroes, has changed that. All three shows are prime-time in America - Lost and Heroes on ABC and NBC respectively. Those are networks and not cable channels. This is a big deal."
The article concludes: "Science fiction and fantasy have changed and, in turn, are shaping other genres... BSG is the vanguard of a slew of sci-fi and fantasy shows that work within their genres, within our times, and - most importantly - as good old-fashioned emotional, engaging dramas. The producers of these dramas have created credible, cool shows - ones that are earthier and more grounded than many apparently firmly placed on this planet in the here-and-now. The drearily domestic but strangely alien Brothers and Sisters, I mean you. Why gaze at navels when you can gaze at the stars?"
Then, right on the heels of the Guardian article, I see that my friend and award-winning author Robert J. Sawyer is busy being his usual fascinating and erudite self in an interview conducted by author John Scalzi on the Ficlets Blog. Cutting to the heart of the matter, Scalzi asks, "Why is there this disconnect in the minds of non-SF readers between what they think written SF is, and what it is in your book and others?"
Rob's response: "I really think a large part of the problem is Star Wars, which has become indelibly etched in people’s minds as the standard example of science fiction. But it’s not – it’s science fantasy, or some other category – and it has almost no extrapolation, and no real moral or emotional dimension, and that’s what most people think SF is. ...it’s an uphill climb to get people who don’t already read science fiction to try the genre; you can see in many cases the look of disgust on their faces when you hand them an SF book. And, of course, there’s Sturgeon’s Law, which says that 90% of SF is crap, so it’s not true, despite what some SF evangelists say, that if you get them to read one they’ll be hooked for life. A lot of SF is pretty unreadable, even by hardcore fans, but the best stuff has new and important things to say to everyone about what it means to be human."
As if in response to this observation, Infoquake author David Louis Edelman has launched a major discussion on his blog with his post, "Introductory Science Fiction Books for Literary Readers." David writes:
"Let’s say your readers in question are already discerning connoisseurs of quality literature. They’re not typically readers of so-called pulp novels or airport thrillers. They would think nothing of bundling down with a Philip Roth or a Don DeLillo or a Barbara Kingsolver or something that The New York Times Book Review would approve of. They know who Michiko Kakutani is, and they were reading Cormac McCarthy years before Oprah ever heard of him. But as soon as you mention the words 'science fiction,' they picture Klingons with light sabers jumping off spaceships with big-breasted ninja assassins in tow and bug-eyed monsters in hot pursuit while a supernova goes off in the background. What do you hand to these people to convince them that there’s a lot of intelligent literary science fiction that’s worth reading? "
The 60 or so comments that ensue are well-worth reading, though there does seem to be some confusing as to what constitutes "literary" fiction vs. popular fiction, and I would humbly suggest that rather than pursuing a niche readership that's smaller than our own, SF would be better served in convincing readers of popular fiction that science fiction is quality entertainment with something for all ages, adults of both sexes included, not that it's quality literature.
It is, after all, a genre, not a style. SF isn't a like a school of anime where everything produces must be a carbon copy of a house style, though that is how it is oft viewed from the outside. McLean's article, however, is the latest evidence in my argument that this is changing. Or, as Rob Sawyer says later in his interview, "As I said at the outset, good science fiction has things of value to say to everyone."
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Adventures in LouCasting
Toby gives his thoughts on Space Opera, talks about augmented reality (or "reality mark-up"), and shares a lot of love all around too. I'm in at the end giving (hopefully cogent) advice to new writers. I didn't recommend Tobias in the list of writers everyone should read, the interview having been conducted some weeks ago, but I suspect when I get a few more chapters in I will. Now I'm off to read me some more Carribean SF.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
SOLARIS CONFIRM DEAL WITH LOU ANDERS
A Solaris Press Release out today, about which I am suitably excited:
BL Publishing is very excited to announce the purchase of a major new anthology from Hugo Award short-listed editor Lou Anders for its unmissable SOLARIS imprint.
Alternative History Mystery! Sideways in Crime is a brand new anthology of all-original stories from some of the genre’s foremost writers.
Featuring an eclectic range of alternative history crime stories, from Jacobean power-plays to far future empires, this new anthology explores the darker side of the alternative history genre. Includes new stories by Kage Baker, Stephen Baxter, Tobias Buckell, Pat Cadigan, Paul Di Filippo, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Theodore Judson, Jack McDevitt, John Meaney, Paul Park, Mike Resnick & Eric Flint, Mary Rosenblum, Chris Roberson, Justina Robson, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, SM Stirling and Liz Williams. (Subject to change)
Sideways in Crime will be published simultaneously in both the US and UK by Solaris, in trade paperback, Summer 2008.
Consultant Editor George Mann said of the deal “I’m delighted to be working with Lou. He’s one of the very best editors in the field today and Sideways in Crime is a fantastic exemplifier of his keen eye and depth of knowledge.”
Lou Anders is an editor, author, and journalist. He is the editorial director of Prometheus Books' science fiction imprint Pyr, as well as the anthologies Outside the Box (Wildside Press, January 2001), Live Without a Net (Roc, July 2003), Projections (MonkeyBrain, December 2004), FutureShocks (Roc, January 2006) and Fast Forward 1 (Pyr, February 2007). He served as the senior editor for Argosy Magazine's inaugural issues in 2003-04. In 2000, he served as the Executive Editor of Bookface.com, and before that he worked as the Los Angeles Liaison for Titan Publishing Group. He is the author of The Making of Star Trek: First Contact (Titan Books, 1996), and has published over 500 articles in such magazines as Publishers Weekly, The Believer, Dreamwatch, Star Trek Monthly, Star Wars Monthly, Babylon 5 Magazine, Sci Fi Universe, Doctor Who Magazine, and Manga Max. His articles and stories have been translated into Danish, German, Greek, French, and Italian, and have appeared online at Believermag.com, SFSite.com, RevolutionSF.com and InfinityPlus.co.uk. Visit him online at www.louanders.com.
Praise for Lou Anders
“All the selections in this outstanding volume prompt thoughtful speculation about what kind of tomorrow we're heading toward and what we'll do when we get there.” —Publishers Weekly Starred Review on Fast Forward 1
"Lou Anders is establishing a reputation as one of the most interesting editors of original anthologies…” — Rich Horton, Locus
“Wildly imaginative, thoughtful, and thought-provoking looks at a subject that is nearly unthinkable: a future free from the Internet.” — Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing on Live Without a Net
“The year's best original SF anthology...first-rate and highly inventive." — Gardner Dozois, Locus on Live Without a Net
"as good a survey of the latest, greatest and best as you could hope to find. ... Fast Forward 1 is a definite contender for best anthology of the year." — Jonathan Strahan, The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year
or call George Mann on ++44 (0)115 900 4172
Monday, June 25, 2007
The Clown Prince of Crime
That being said, I've discovered a really excellent fan-produced mash up of the Joker that I think I prefer to the early images of Heath Ledger that Warner Bros. has released. Take a look at this photo on the right. It's made using an old b&w photo of Conrad Veidt from the original 1928 film, The Man Who Laughs, which inspired Bob Kane to create the Joker in the first place. Looks like something by Brian Bolland come to life, doesn't it? Now, the Ledger shot is early-days, and Warner is deliberately testing the waters, hinting, holding back cards, not really showing anything... so it's way, way too early to make any concrete judgments. And as I said, with Momento, Batman Begins and The Prestige as evidence, I suspect Batman will be fine. And, hey, nobody asked me anyway, but just right now, I think I like black hair / black lips with real white skin better than makeup and the cut lips heresy!
Again though, it's the script that matters! I'm just sharing photos at this stage.
Salon.com Recommends Brasyl
Friday, June 22, 2007
And despite this being a media con with the usual gaming and tv/film tracks, they are apparently very interested in having a well-developed literary side, with such notables as Alan Dean Foster, David Drake, Ben Bova, Steven Brust, David Weber, Eric Flint, and Sherrilyn Kenyon already on the guest list. Furthermore, in a post in their forum, Convention President Shaun Knopf states "All authors are welcome with us; we plan on this track truly being HUGE."
Even more impressive, they even have a hard science track, with topics like "The Future of antimatter" and "is the future science fiction?"
Now, I've had no contact with the OmegaCon staff, don't know anything about them yet, and only just learned about their existence from a post on Tobias Buckell's blog, so I'm only being partially self-serving when I say this looks like a marvelous opportunity to get in on the ground floor and ensure that OmegaCon has a strong literary track from day one. Because god knows the South needs such a convention! So if you are an SF&F writer in the South East, here is their contact page.
Nebula-Award Winning Ways to Die
So, given the above, I shouldn't be surprised that it was The Daily Show and not CNN that hosted Greg Bear last night, (June 21st), on to talk about his role as a member of Sigma, the group of science fiction writers who recently advised the Department of Homeland Security at the Homeland Security Science and Technology Stakeholders Conference . What did surprise me - given that his latest, Quantico, is a techno-thriller out from a non-genre press - is the way that host John Stewart introduced him as a "science fiction writer, a hard science fiction writer" in a tone that seemed to apply respect for that implied distinction. Stewart's humor was largely self-deprecating (as always, but he avoided the low hanging fruit we can easily imagine others stooping to pick), as when he said Bear was "here to tell us Nebula-Award winning ways we can all die." Whatever your politics, I chalk this up as another sign that respect for SF in the mainstream is on the rise. (And yes, The Daily Show is the edge of that mainstream, but things seem to start here and filter in.)
Steam Trek: The Moving Picture (Star Trek Parody)
A little long, but worth it for the "Captain's logs" pun alone. Also, I've just signed up with YouTube and want to test it.
Monday, June 18, 2007
The Science Fiction Age is Just Beginning
Now, where was Ian McDonald in that list?
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Doctor Who: Blink
Point is, while I wouldn't restrict Who to being just one thing, Solaris Editor George Mann and I (along with Sean Williams and Chris Roberson), have been dialoguing about whether I'm too forgiving of the sillier (non-Moffat penned) Who episodes. Plot was never really what you watched the old series for; it was all about the Doctor himself. So I tend to be lax on some of Russell Davies' inanely connected dots as long as there's good character bits to be had. George has been maintaining that in today's day and age of incredible TV - Rome, Sopranos, Life on Mars, Heroes, Lost - you really can't get away with sloppy anymore, and the really excellent Who - like Paul Cornell's recent "Human Nature/Family of Blood" - show up some of the less clever episodes and demonstrate there really is no excuse for anything less. And I gots to say, after watching "Blink," I think I agree with him. If this is what Doctor Who is capable of - my god. If only the show could consistently be this good, it really would be the greatest science fiction show of all time. Lou's dream come true? An entire season of Who divided between Cornell and Moffat, maybe with Douglas Adams' old "Shada" script dusted off, polished up and dropped in somewhere in the middle. Because occasional good comedy is important too.
Meanwhile, without spoiling anything - the way Sally and the Doctor's cross time conversation worked twice blew me away. When you watch it, you'll know what I mean.
Sunday, June 10, 2007
The New Lou Review 4
Curse of the Golden Flower: I'm about 50/50 on Zhang Yimou's films. I really, really loved the 2002 film Hero, with its bold use of color to underscore the twists and turns in a narrative concerned with what is true and what is deception. But 2004's House of Flying Daggers is really just a bit of pretty nonsense. Here, plot twists are thrown in by the handful, for no reason whatsoever but the twist itself, and the result, when everything is said and done, is incoherent nonsense of no significance whatsoever. So this time out, how do I feel about Man cheng jin dai huang jin jia, which my wife tells me literally translates something like "All the gold armor on the floor?" Well, mixed, unfortunately. The film is definitely an improvement on Flying Daggers but nowhere near as good as Hero. What is wonderful about the film is the lavish depiction of the empirial court, as well as the passions and deceptions running through same. What is bad is a plot that pretty much degerates into a pointless bloodbath. With allowances for the fact that there is a simi-historical basis for the story, the only moral I could extract from it was, "if you go up against an emperor who is tougher than you, even if he's corrupt, you all gonna die." Apologies for the spoiler, but, really, it's not a film where there is anything much to spoil. And I think I'm over the wire stunt work now. Films like Casino Royale and the Bourne Identity movies have replaced The Matrix for us now, and while all the flying about is pretty, I think I'd like to see some real hardcore martial arts in my martial arts epics again. This one's not recommended unless you are really interested in all Chinese cinema, are an artist or writer looking for some breathtaking settings, or have some time to kill and just want to stare at the always excellent to watch Chow Yun-Fat strutting around in gold armor. But really, watching Curse of the Golden Flower, I felt as I do about the new Star Wars - all this jaw dropping artistry. Too bad it wasn't put to the service of a better story. One thing though, I am ready for a filmmaker like Zhang to give us the Chinese equivalent of The Lord of the Rings. This film proves the tools are there, just waiting on a story with the scope. I can almost see it in my head, which means I hope somebody else out there is already working on it.
9Tail Fox by Jon Courtenay Grimwood: I read this over a year ago in manuscript form, and have been waiting all this time for a US edition I could put on my bookshelf without violating my oft-expressed Buy in Your Region principles. I was hoping that Night Shade would hop on this and also that when they did they'd put Jon Foster on the cover, so I couldn't be more thrilled when both of these things happened. Though, to give credit where credit is due, at least half the genius of the finished book has to be accorded to designer Claudia Noble. That being said - I was surprised when this novel wasn't snapped up by a mainstream or mystery press. The story is only tangentially SF, and what Grimwood has really done is write a killer mystery novel that also has to go down as one of the best San Francisco books around. Having lived there myself, I have to say he got the city dead to rights and you'd never know the author wasn't a bi-racial Californian himself. The story concerns a not-too-nice SFPD cop who is murdered, only to find himself given the opportunity to investigate his own killing, a little a la DC Comic's Deadman. Whether the agency of his resurrection is fantastical or SFnal is an open question, and I'm not going to say any more that might spoil this great read, so you can just go pick it up for yourself. Highly Recommended.
The Manchurian Candidate: Even knowing that Robyn Hitchcock had a pivotal role in this, I'm such a fan of the 1962 John Frankenheimer original that I put off seeing the remake until recently. That being said, I have to say that Jonathan Demme does an excellent job at updating Richard Condon's novel to the 21st century. The plot stays very close to that of the first film, and even improves on it in two respects. First, as much as I love the utter absurdity of the scene in which Janet Leigh picks up a deranged Frank Sinatra with lines like "Are you Arabic?," Kimberly Elise's Rosie makes a whole lot more sense in the context of the story. Without spoiling anything, screenwriters Daniel Pyne and Dean Georgaris have given a lot of thought to why a woman would actually pick up a man so clearly losing his marbles. Second, they've also thought a bit more about the plot, and, as such, actually improve on the structure of the original by borrowing a bit from another film in the conspirarcy canon, the 1974 film, The Parallax View. (A lesser film, but elements incorporated to good effect here.) Finally, despite liking the actor enormously in everything else I've ever seen him in, it took a bit for me to warm up to Denzel Washington's Ben Marco, simply because I've long considered it Sinatra's best role (and one I've rewatched countless times). But Denzel does a tremendous job, and bits of both performance and script also seem to partake of Mel Gibson's wonderfully manic character in the 1997 film, Conspiracy Theory (another gem, despite what Gibson might be today). Finally, Liev Schreiber is eerily identical to Laurence Harvey's Raymond Shaw. So, Highly Recommended, particularly if you are interested in screenwriter and/or like admiring how clever remakes are crafted. A solid film all round.
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
Human Nature / the Family of Blood
Now, Paul has written more Doctor Who novels than I can count, as well as quite a few spin-off books, audio books, etc... But apart from Doctor Who, he's also written comic books (2000AD among them), and has written for several UK television shows - Coronation Street and the new Robin Hood among them. He's even had his own series, Wavelength, on the telly. Pretty much universally regarded as the best of the Doctor Who novel scribes and with years of television experience, in an act of cosmic justice so rare in television Paul was indeed tapped to write for the new series. His first outing gave us "Father's Day," the very touching episode in which Rose went back in time and met her deceased father. Good, certainly. One of the better episodes, yes, with good moments for the actors, but it didn't unseat the best of the new season. But the last two weeks on the BBC saw a two-parter, "Human Nature" and "The Family of Blood," and as you might guess, this was the long-anticipated (by me) adaptation to the small screen of my favorite Who novel ever. So, was it any good?
Now, Paul knows that I'm not closed lipped when I don't like something, so hopefully he - and you - will believe me when I say this: Not only is it the best story to arise from the new series to date, but it just might be the best episode of Britain's number one television show in the entire five decade history of the series. It might just be tied with Steve Moffat's "The Empty Child/the Doctor Dances" (and Moffat's "The Girl in the Fireplace" makes any top three list), but if it's tied then it's neck-and-neck and I'm not sure but what Cornell isn't pulling ahead. I'll of have to watch it again to be sure! I've already watched part one twice and gone back to other bits. I think they're going to be talking about this one for a long, long time. Certainly, this is my vote for Best Dramatic Presentation Short Form in next year's Hugo awards. Watch it, vote for it, buy the DVD when it comes out in your region. It's rare when you get perfect television and this one is a real gift.
After years of teasing him about everything I can think of, I am suddenly in awe of my friend. So before I let that get in the way, here is a picture of Paul, his wonderful wife, and David Tennat (the reigning Doctor) that I unapologetically nicked from his blog:
Monday, June 04, 2007
Brasyl Nominated For a Quill Award
The nominations for the 2007 Quill Awards were announced Sunday at Book Expo America, and lo and behold, Ian McDonald's Brasyl is a nominee in the science fiction and fantasy category! Brasyl has already been labeled "outstanding" in a starred review in Publishers Weekly, "magnificent" in a starred review in Booklist, called "extraordinary" by SFRevu, and proclaimed Ian McDonald's "finest novel to date" in a glowing review by Cory Doctorow on BoingBoing. Obviously, we are very happy with the reception this wonderful novel is garnering and continues to get.
For those not familiar with the Quill Awards, this is the award sponsored by Reed Business Information, parent of Publishers Weekly, and The NBC Universal Television Stations. It is billed as "the only televised literary prizes." Winners will be chosen by the Quills Voting Board, comprised of over 6,000 invited booksellers and librarians, and the Awards Program will be televised by NBC-TV’s Universal Stations on Saturday, October 27, 2007.
WNBC Anchor Perri Peltz, Publishers Weekly Editor-in-Chief Sara Nelson and Quill Awards Chairman Gerry Byrne made the announcement the last day of BEA. Cormac McCarthy's SF novel, The Road, was included in the category of General Fiction. The full list of nominees can be found here. Congratulations to all authors.
Infoquake Nominated for John W. Campbell Award
And remember, this follows Infoquake being chosen as the # 1 book in the Barnes & Noble Editor's Choice: Top Ten SF&F Novels of 2006. Pyr books (and its editor) have picked up nominations now for the Hugo, World Fantasy, Philip K. Dick and Independent Publisher awards as well. Plus, while a lot of our authors already have a history of nominations and wins for prior work, this is David's first major award nomination, so we are just tickled pink for him.
For those who haven't read Dave's masterpiece yet, check out the website, where he has uploaded around 30,000 words of content from the book. Along with a timeline, a glossary, and host of background articles on the world of Infoquake, you can read the first seven chapters online there, or listen to the first four chapters on audio.
The award will be presented during the Campbell Conference Awards Banquet at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas. Congratulations to David and to all the nominees.