Tuesday, July 31, 2007

22nd Annual Chesley Awards Final Ballot

The Association of Science Fiction & Fantasy Artists has just released their list of the 22nd Annual Chesley Awards Nominees. ASFA members can download the Final Ballot here, and vote by August 10th.

Obviously, I'm thrilled that Stephan Martiniere's wonderful illustration for the Pyr edition of Ian McDonald's River of Godstops the list of the "Best Cover Illustration -- Hardback Book." Stephan is nominated again in the category of Award for Artistic Achievement.

Meanwhile, my dear friend and illustrator for all five of my own anthologies, John Picacio, is also up twice, for the amazing work he did on the cover of the Eos reissue of A Canticle for Leibowitzand for the cover of Interzone magazine's 204th issue.

But beyond all that, I'm deeply honored to have shown up on the shortlist myself for Best Art Director. I don't know if this is the first time someone from editorial has made the shortlist, but it's got to be a rare occurrence if not a unique one. So I want to say upfront that while I'm very pleased and proud, what this nomination means is that people think our books look really damn good, and that is a credit to a great many people. Beyond the fabulous illustrators we've had the privilege to work with -- Picacio, Martiniere, Caniglia, Brian W. Dow, Greg Bridges, Bob Eggleton, Jim Burns, Dave Seeley, among others -- my parent company Prometheus Books has a fabulous art department, and one that is very patient to put up with me breathing over their shoulders to the degree that I do. Jaqueline Cooke, Grace M. Conti-Zilsberger, and Nicole Sommer-Lecht are all tremendous, very talented, and I am very grateful to them to work so hard and so well in the service of the Pyr line. What's more, I owe an eternal debt of gratitude to Irene Gallo and John Picacio, who have both been very free with their time and their advice and are much wiser souls than I.

Now, here's the full list:

Best Cover Illustration -- Hardback Book
* Stephan Martiniere, "River of Gods", by Ian McDonald, Pyr, Mar 2006
* Jon Foster, "The Demon and the City", by Liz Williams, Night Shade Books, Aug 2006
* Donato Giancola, "The Thirteenth House", by Sharon Shinn, Ace, Mar 2006
* Todd Lockwood, "Temeraire: In the Service of the King", by Naomi Novik, SFBC, 2006
* James A. Owen, "Here, There Be Dragons (Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica)" by James A. Owen, Simon & Schuster, Sept 2006

Best Cover Illustration -- Paperback Book
* John Picacio, "A Canticle for Leibowitz", by Walter M. Miller, Eos, May 2006
* Daniel Dos Santos, "Moon Called", by Patricia Briggs, Ace, Feb 2006
* Vince Natale, "Queen of Attolia", by Megan Whalen Turner, Eos, Jan 2006

Best Cover Illustration -- Magazine
* Steven Gilberts, "Dark Wisdom: the Magazine of Dark Fiction", Winter 2006
* Renee LeCompte, "Fantasy Magazine", Summer 2006
* John Picacio, "Interzone" #204, May/June 2006
* r.k.post, "Dragon" #336, January 2006

Best Interior Illustration
* Tony Di Terlizzi, "Care and Feeding of Sprites", by Holly Black & Tony Di Terlizzi
* Omar Rayyan, "Cricket Magazine"
* Yvonne Gilbert, "The Ice Dragon", by George R.R. Martin, Starscape, Oct 2006
* Justin Sweet, "Kull: Exile of Atlantis" by Robert E. Howard, Del Rey, Oct 2006
* Ruth Thompson & Lawrence Allen Williams, "The Book Angels" by Todd Jordan, Sterling 2006
* Michael Kaluta, "The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden" by Catherynne M. Valente, Spectra, Oct 2006
* James A. Owen, "Here, There Be Dragons (Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica)", by James A. Owen, Simon & Schuster, Sept 2006

Best Color Work -- Unpublished
* Jim Burns, "Dryad of the Oak", acrylic
* Donato Giancola, "Tristan and Isolde", oil
* Stephen Hickman, "Galadriel's Harp"
* Michael Whelan, "Retrospection", acrylic
* Benita Winckler, "Changing", digital

Best Monochrome -- Unpublished

* Donato Giancola, "Red Sonya", pencil & chalk
* Stephanie Pui-Man Law, "Plum Blossoms", ink
* Alex McVey, "Love Bites", pencil
* Tom Fleming, "Spring", pencil
* Joe Bellafatto, "The Great Temptation: Angel of Death"

Best Three Dimensional Art

* Laura Reynolds, "Ice Dragon", mixed
* Gabriel Marquez, "Cthulhu V2", porcelain
* Scott Webb, "Head over Heels", polymert clay
* Forest Rogers, "Sea Maid's Music", clay and misc.
* Luke Eldridge, "Gargoyle Descending", wire

Best Gaming Related Illustration
* Carl Critchlow "An Ill Wind Blows"
* Ralph Horsley "Thri-Keen"
* Todd Lockwood, "Dragons of Fearum"
* Richard Sardinha,"Coils of Set"
* Eva Widerman, "Seed of Undead"
* Paul & Michael Bielaczyc, "Knightly Order of Ansalom"

Best Product Illustration
* Douglas Fitch, production design for LA Opera's,"Hansel and Gretel"
* Nathan Crowley, architectural design for the movie, "The Lake House"
* Eugenio Caballero and William Stout, production designer and conceptual designer for the movie "Pan's Labyrinth"

Award for Artistic Achievement
* Stephan Martiniere
* John Jude Palencar
* Kinuko Y. Craft
* John Howe
* Alan Lee

Best Art Director
* Irene Gallo, Tor Books
* Matt Adelsperger, Wizards of the Coast
* Lou Anders, Pyr
* David Stevenson, Del Rey
* Jeremy Jarvis, Wizards of the Coast
* Judith Murello, Berkley Publishing Group
* Nicolas Sica, Bookspan (SFBC)
* Justin Stewart, Apex Magazine

Monday, July 30, 2007

The One That Got Away: Jeff Carlson's The Plague Year

Tomorrow, Ace is going to release Plague Year by Jeff Carlson. This is a book and an author I'm very excited about. I read it in manuscript form a year ago, when it was called The Invisible Sea. The story is a grim and gritty near future in which a nanite that eats flesh has escaped from a research lab and decimated the world. The very small silver lining on this very dark cloud is that it can't function and breaks down above a certain elevation, so tiny pockets of humanity exist on mountain tops, slowly running out of resources and going through the expected horrors of surviving in isolated communities where hunger and desperation has had a devastating effect on civilized behavior. These few survivors can make quick runs down into this "invisible sea" however, scavenging as quickly as they can before they feel the burning sensation that indicates the nano-plague has found them and started feasting. At which point they have to hightail it back uphill before they loose too many pieces. After a few of these runs, you really start to show it. The novel is gruesome, dramatic, exhilarating, and, as I told one Hollywood production company looking for near-future biotech thrillers, it's HIGHLY filmable, since all you need are a few weeks at a ski resort coupled with a few CGI shots of a space shuttle crash landing. (There rest of the cost is just who you cast.) If there's not a film option on it already, I'll be surprised. And if there isn't, I can't imagine there won't be one any day now the book is coming out. But the short is, I really recommend it and will be excited to see how Jeff does. So, what's my interest in this, you ask?

Jeff writes on his website that Plague Year "sold to Ace/Penguin after a small bidding war between two publishers and strong interest from a third." That's be me. I loved the book, but didn't feel I could follow the price up when it started to rise. Not out of our reach, just more than I was comfortable laying out at that time for a debut author when I had the rest of that season's list to think about. (These are the trade-offs one must make.) So I bowed out respectfully with nothing but admiration for the text. I'm sure Ace is going to take very good care of Jeff - I hear a sequel is in the works, and I, for one, can't wait to read it. And I plan to kick myself resoundingly when the movie opens.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

SF is Dead! Long Live SF!

Bruno Maddox has an interesting piece in Discover magazine, called "Blinded by Science: Fictional Reality," with the subtitle "Sci-fi helped make the present; now it's obsolete." The article uses the occasion of the recent Nebula Awards weekend to ask the question why, if SF helped usher in so much of the science fictional present in which we currently live, it has degenerated into "a fairly drab and subdued sort of bunch. The demographic is middle-aged to old," and a weekend that is "palpably low on excitement."

Maddox suggests that "the genre that lit the way for a nervous mankind as it crept through the shadows of the 20th century, has suddenly and entirely ceased to matter." Then he goes about establishing his bona fides with a pretty good description of the difference between hard and soft science fiction - using Wells and Verne as examples - and he gets points for taking it as rote that there is both a back and forth between science fiction and actual science as well as an important social roll that SF has to play. "Space precludes a full listing here of every real-world marvel lifted straight from a work of futuristic fiction," Maddox writes, and he says, "Would we even be bothered by the proliferation of surveillance cameras if we didn’t recognize the phenomenon as 'Orwellian' and know, therefore, that it is bad?"

So his depression is palpable and sincere when he asks, "Why are the heirs to such a grand tradition dipping their tortilla chips into bean dip that has not even been decanted from its original plastic container into a proper bowl? ....Why are they not holding their annual meetings in some sort of gilded purpose-built pyramid while humanity waits breathlessly outside to receive their inklings into our future?"

His explanation is two-fold. First, that science fiction has ceased to matter because the larger category of fiction in general has also ceased to matter. "...it was around that time, the mid-1990s, that fiction—all fiction—finally became obsolete as a delivery system for big ideas. Whatever the cause—dwindling attention spans, underfunded schools, something to do with the Internet—the fact is these days that if a Top Thinker wakes up one morning aghast at man’s inhumanity to man, he’s probably going to dash off a 300-word op-ed and e-mail it to The New York Times, or better still, just stick it up on his blog, typos and all, not cancel his appointments for the next seven years so he can bang out War and Peace in a shed."

Then Maddox proposes that an even bigger threat to SF is that the technological world is speeding up, and "Why would I spend my money on a book about amazing-but-fake technology when we’re only a few weeks away from Steve Jobs unveiling a cell phone that doubles as a jetpack and a travel iron?"

His conclusion - that SF has outlived its usefulness, but that it deserves the love and respect of the world, or as he puts it, "If, through their talent and imagination, our species has progressed to the point that it no longer requires their services, then that should be a source of pride, not shame, and the rest of us should be honoring these obsolete souls..."

Now, to be fair, I've lamented myself the shift I saw in media from years previous, when science fiction writers would routinely show up on the Discovery Channel, on the news, on technology panels, etc... But I've said before that we're returning to that period, that this was only a lull or a dip in the pendulum (or even a failure of my own perception), and that we're on an upswing. We can site Greg Bear's recent Daily Show appearance, or his Sigma think-thank of SF writers trip to a Homeland Security conference, as proof that the larger world really is listening to SF writers and their opinions. For that matter, wasn't Cory Doctorow just labeled on of the 25 Most Influential People on the Web by Forbes magazine? (Cory ranked number fifteen.) And don't I see Charles Stross pontificating about the future of surveillance and recording technology over on the BBC News site? And here's Warren Ellis talking to William Gibson over on Wired magazine's website. For that matter, Amazon's bookstore blog has a three part interview with Gibson up now. (For those who prefer, here's the full transcript.) And as I write this, Spook Country has an Amazon sales rank of 58. To say nothing about McCarthy and Bradbury's recent Pulitzer prizes, the former for a work of post-apocalyptic fiction and the latter for his "distinguished, prolific and deeply influential career as an unmatched author of science fiction and fantasy." So let's see, that's a phenomenally successful television show, the government, a major business magazine, a major world news site, a major tech/culture magazine, a major Internet commerce site and a major literary organization. Gee, looks to me like the world has never been more focused on SF than at the present moment.

No offense meant, but Maddox's disappointment with the Nebula weekend may have more to do with the SFWA organization itself and some of it's problems than with science fiction literature and the wider world. And one wonders what he would have thought had he attended the Hugo awards at the 64th World Science Fiction Convention last summer in Anaheim instead? The building wasn't pyramid shaped - it was an enormous shiny glass rectangle - and the audience was packed, the guests were in tuxedos, the food at the private reception was top-notch, and a very distinguished delegation came from Japan. (No, there were no Klingons in attendance, but there was "robot maid." Someone explain that to me.)

True, in his Amazon interview, William Gibson does elaborate on the difficulty of imagining the future in a sped up world. "I don't know if I'll be able to make up an imaginary future in the same way. In the '80s and '90s, as strange as it may seem to say this, we had such luxury of stability. Things weren't changing quite so quickly in the '80s and '90s. And when things are changing too quickly, as one of the characters in Pattern Recognition says, you don't have any place to stand from which to imagine a very elaborate future."

But Gibson's not exactly abandoning ship. "
But science fiction is definitely where I'm from. Science fiction is my native literary culture," he says. And the fact that he can't see the way forward may have more to do with his own perspective and generation and "place to stand." The man's already done his part to get us to the here and now. He created the word "cyberspace" for God's sake! It's okay (and very relevant!) if he wants to write about the science fiction present he ushered in and let Stross, Doctorow, McDonald, MacLeod, Morgan, and others envision the next few decades past that for a while. (Note: I'm not counting him out. Pattern Recognition was my favorite book the year it came out, and I can't wait to read Spook Country. As Amazon's Tom Nissley writes, Gibson's present day science fiction makes you "feel like I had put on special headphones tuned into the frequency of our lives with a sensitivity that my own biological antenna could never match." Or as Gibson says, "I thought that writing about the world today as I perceive it would probably be more challenging, in the real sense of science fiction, than continuing just to make things up." Emphasis on "in the real sense of science fiction.")

In fact, Gibson himself hints at the answer when he says, "...over the last five to six years it's started to seem to me that there's something else going on as well, that maybe we're in what the characters in my novel Idoru call a 'nodal point,' or a series of them. We're in a place where things could just go anywhere. A couple of weeks ago I happened to read Charlie Stross's argument as to why he believes that there will never, ever be any manned space travel. It's not going to happen. We're not going to colonize Mars. All of that is just a big fantasy. And it's so convincing. I read that and I'm like, 'My god, there goes so much of the fiction I read as a child.'"

So yes, a lot of the SF of the past may be collapsing in on itself. Nothing dates faster than hard SF, but that's also a direct function of its relevance to the time in which it is written. And it's something that is true of all narrative. I remember watching Rebel Without a Cause in college and being utterly mystified by the motivations of every single character in the film. Cinema had taken a jump in psychological realism a few years later, and I just couldn't get my genie back in their bottle.

Look at this recent article from Freeman Dyson, "Our Biotech Future," from the New York Review of Books. (Speaking about the back and forth between science and science fiction!) Dyson writes, "I predict that the domestication of biotechnology will dominate our lives during the next fifty years at least as much as the domestication of computers has dominated our lives during the previous fifty years." And then goes on to blow our minds with what that prediction portends. So maybe manned space travel and silicon chips as classically presented to us in fiction have an expiration date (and maybe not), but read Dyson's article and tell me that's not several decades work of work for our science fiction writers. His description of Green vs Grey technologies reminds me of nothing so much as Walter John Williams' "Green Leopard Plague." And then go check out some of the works of those aforementioned writers, Stross, Doctorow, McDonald, MacLeod, Morgan, etc....

As William Gibson himself says, right now "We're in a place where things could just go anywhere." ANYWHERE. Now how can that not be good news for writers - and readers - of science fiction everywhere?

Update: First, I want to make sure that no one thinks I'm slagging off Gibson by suggesting he's changed his focus from the future to the present. To begin with, he hasn't changed his focus. He's always been concerned with this period right here in time and now that it's arrived - largely inspired by his writing - he's as relevant as he's ever been if not more so. And, for that matter, I don't read Gibson to see people jacking in. I read Gibson for his singular ability to describe our techno-culture in ways that make me gasp in recognition while marveling at his oh-so-articulate perspective. I read him for all the moments I have to set his books down in my lap and shout, "Yes! Yes! That's exactly right!" Second, in suggesting we are in a "nodal point" between 20th and 21st century SF, I wouldn't be too quick to count the concerns or the set pieces of 20th century SF out yet. In a really inspired rebuke to the Mundane SF movement, scientist and science fiction author Rudy Rucker outlines four mind-blowing alternatives to FTL that still get us to that space opera future. More importantly, he reminds us that its predictive and directly-inspirational qualities are only one of the reasons that SF matters. As he writes, "I don’t think SF is necessarily about predicting possible futures. I’ve always felt that SF is more like surrealism. The idea is to shock people into awareness. Show them how odd the world is. Whether or not you draw on realistic tropes is irrelevant... Let it be said that futurism and SF are quite different endeavors. A rude person might say that futurism is about feeding inspirational received truths to businessmen and telling them it will help them make more money. SF is about unruly artistic visions." So anyone really think the age of "unruly artistic visions" is drawing to a close? Get real.

Update: Thanks to Kathryn Cramer for pointing to JR Minkel's article on Scientific American.com, "Science fiction is not obsolete--do you read me Bruno Maddox." Minkel points to the works of Neal Stephenson, the nonfiction writings of Bruce Sterling, and Marc Andreessen's recent list of the top 10 science fiction novels of the 2000s as evidence that "the world has not outpaced science fiction. Rather, science fiction has outpaced Bruno Maddox."

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

DeathRay is Damn Impressive

I picked up the second issue of former SFX-editor Matt Beilby's new magazine, DeathRay, and I must say I'm more impressed than I expected to be. In fact, as the subject line says, I'm damn impressed. Although I came up through the media magazines myself, I don't read them very often these days. I only picked up DeathRay because it had both an 8 page piece on Michael Moorcock and a 2 page review of Ian McDonald's Brasyl. And to have one issue on hand so I could see what kind of treatment this magazine gives to literary SF&F. Because although prose science fiction and fantasy is the wellspring from which all things flow, it's usually given short shift in film, TV and game-centric glossy publications like this.

So imagine my surprise to find that Matt's review of Ian McDonald's Brasyl, though by no means entirely favorable, displays an awareness of Ian's body of work and the larger SF canon into which if fits well beyond my expectations. The actual writing of the review itself is far better written, more literary and detailed, than I would have thought, and, for that matter, two whole pages is more than I'd expect Ian to get in a magazine where he must share space with the Transformers and killer zombie sheep. That it is the editor-in-chief himself penning these two pages impresses me too. Here's a sample of his analysis, "Ian McDonald has gained quite a reputation as a science fiction writer in recent years - he could broadly be categorised as cyberpunk, sure, but there are other prominent interests here too, notably the impact of rapid technological change (and the social change that follows it) on non-Western countries... I don't think it's perfect, however, and the prose style annoyed me almost as often as it thrilled me. But by God, there are ideas here. And tellingly, I'm still thinking about it days after I finished reading it, a sure sign of a worthwhile book." Yes it is. Meanwhile, a sidebar summarizes five other novels from Ian's backlist. Minor quibble - as the magazine is distributed in B&N's all over America, I do wish they'd let us know they were planning this piece so we could have given them the US cover to run alongside the UK one. (But they do say that Brasyl is "probably the most important science fiction novel of the year so far" on their Table of Contents page. I guess I can quote that, right?)

The Moorcock piece is likewise detailed, in depth and well-written. The interview is roughly four pages, with a sidebar explaining "Michael Moorcock's Multiverse" and a two-page spread called "8 of the Best." My favorite bit from Mike: "Most economists agree that roughly between 1920 and 1970 wealth was spreading more evenly across the classes. Essentially wealth was moving from capital to labour. As a result we were all far more optimistic because we understood, albeit dimly, that we could change the world; that there were more of us able to affect change. By 1970 that power was being grabbed back until, by 1980, those represented by Thatcher and Reagan had put 'monetarism' in place, and if there was every a system designed to put the most wealth in the fewest hands that's it. Even better at preserving power than feudalism was in some ways, because we do get better crumbs from the table than the old peasants did--so we're less likely to revolt--but we're still getting crumbs. We're not getting the power. I think all this is exemplified in the problems of modern democracy, too." This in a magazine called DeathRay.

There are at least another 11 pages devoted to books and authors in this issue, though it's hard for me to be sure, as the magazine mixes its book pieces throughout its 130 pages, rather than consigning them to a section at the back fans of non-dead tree media can easily skip over. And I'm equally impressed by their media bits. In Jes Bickham's review of The Fountain, when discussing the casting changes that necessitated a lower-budget production, he writes, "It's hard to see the original Fountain--the big budget vehicle that was to star Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchette--being as effect as this, the scaled-back version that Aronofsky doggedly got made." The review praises the risk taking of a film that may not quite work but gets points for not dumbing down. (I haven't seen the film yet myself - it's upstairs waiting to be watched - so I don't know if I will share their opinion, but I respect their attitude.)

Meanwhile, an article called "The Best SF Show You'll Never See," written when ABC still hadn't scheduled their Masters of Science Fiction anthology series, speculates that, "maybe the lack of spectacle frightens the network executives. Who would want to watch a show that's talky and clever? Well, quite a lot of us, as it happens." And they lament that, "It'd be a terrible shame to see something so literary and intelligent fall by the wayside." And Red Dwarf co-created Rob Grant even tackles the question of "what is science fiction?" in his piece, "The Eternal Question," though his conclusion is of the "you know it when you see it" variety.

Of course, DeathRay emerges at a time when mainstream media is granting more respect to literary SF and where we've seen a rash of intelligent films and television shows like Children of Men, Serenity, Heroes, certain episodes of Doctor Who, etc... So perhaps it should come as no surprise that a magazine should arise that follows suite. Final analysis: despite the really lamentable title, I think I'll pick up issue three.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Richard Morgan and Ian Mcdonald in conversation (part 2)

Part Two of a conversation between Richard Morgan (author of Thirteen/Black Man) and Brasyl author Ian McDonald, recorded at Eastercon 2007 and uploaded by their UK publisher.

Richard Morgan and Ian Mcdonald in conversation (part 1)

Part One of a conversation between Richard Morgan (author of Thirteen/Black Man) and Brasyl author Ian McDonald, recorded at Eastercon 2007 and uploaded by their UK publisher.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Last Leg of the Space Race

(via Futurismic) I'd love to see this work its way through the SF bloggosphere. Dr. J. Richard Gott III's Copernican Principle gives a 95% likelihood that the human race will survive at least 5,100 more years but not longer than 7.8 million. These odds can be improved if we colonize other planets, but - get this - he gives a 50% chance that we're already at the midpoint of the space program, giving us only another 46 years to beat the odds. I'd love to see some smarter minds than mine discuss this, though his answer to the Fermi Paradox should be of interest to all writers and readers of speculative fiction.

RoboCup 2007 Final, Humanoid League

Go read Dave Edelman's post about "The End of Science Fiction" again, then watch this.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The End of (Future) History

Over on the group blog Deep Genre, Infoquake author David Louis Edelman posts "The End of Science Fiction," in which he ponders if the lack of science fiction entertainment in the imagined worlds of science fiction novels doesn't indicate an assumption that SF will have served its purpose when the future arrives. I.e., the people on Star Trek seem to prefer historical dramas and mysteries in their holodeck games, given that they are out there exploring new worlds and civilizations as a day job. Or, as Dave puts it, "There’s no need to look off to some far-off feat of scientific progress because there are feats of scientific progress all around them." He references the iPod, which is undoubtedly the most SFnal gadjet this blogger's ever owned, and concludes by asking, "Perhaps the universe will one day become predictable enough — perhaps scientific change and progress will be so much a part of us — that looking into the future will just be an exercise of more-of-the-same."

Dave's question dovetails nicely with an article in the Houston Chronicle by Amy Biancolli which takes the occasion of the Transformers movie to wonder if there is a future for serious science fiction. In "The Future of Futurism," Amy asks, "Is science fiction thriving amid the pyrotechnics, or is it dying a slow and hideous death, suffocated by publishing-industry group-think and unimaginative movie execs drunk on sequels?" She then takes a survey of opinions that includes those of Monster Island author David Wellington - "It's much more respectable than it used to be," animator Craig Elliot - "There's too much bling on the screen," and artist Dave Dorman - "There's no better time in the history of films for science fiction...On the other hand, I think the writing of science-fiction films is not up to what it was..."

Of all the opinions, A Fate Worse than Dragons author John Moore's offers the most useful thought. "Science fiction is the present. We live in a science-fiction society, and I don't just mean the gadgetization of society... projecting into the future, once the province of the science-fiction writer, has become our dominant way of thought." Or, as Amy concludes, "In an age defined by the Internet, designed by software technicians and dominated by fan-driven campaigns in the blogosphere, science fiction and its fanatics have at last nestled into the mainstream."

Looking at the wealth of SF she cites, on screen and in print, good and bad, excellent and ridiculous, it looks to me that when "scientific change and progress" truly become a part of us, as Dave speculates, the result isn't the end of SF but a renaissance of it.

Or, as James T. Kirk said all those years ago (and in the future!) at the close of The Undiscovered Country, "Some people think the future means the end of history. Well, we haven’t run out of history just yet."

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

I read the first Harry Potter book back in 2000, for the very same reason I read The Da Vinci Code the next year, which is that I thought it was irresponsible for anyone working in publishing not to have at least a passing familiarity with any genre work that succeeded on this scale. Fortunately, I enjoyed the former a good deal more than Dan Brown's collection of painfully unsubtle cliques cobbled onto a long chase scene. Unlike a lot of what I see produced for children and young adults these days, the Harry Potter books are free of the sarcasm and knowing in-jokes and celebrity references that clutter so much children's entertainment (Lou = not a big fan of the Shrek films. Pixar, however, rocks!) What Rowling has written, you don't need me to tell you, really is timeless and really has slotted perfectly into place alongside the enduring classics of children's literature and probably will be read a century from now, alongside Lewis and Pullman and yada yada yada. But I've never read past the first book, for the same reason I've never read past The Gunslinger,which is that I just don't have time to read seven books that get fatter the further you go when I'm being paid by someone else to read books I might actually have a chance of publishing myself.

My brother, however, has read all the Harry Potter books, I suspect several times, and as, oh, Batman is to me, Harry Potter is to him. (He's also a big fan of Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, and the new Doctor Who, if that helps get a handle on his tastes.) So, I'm aware that the more complex the novels get, the more the films become less stand-alone narratives on their own right and more postcards from the novel. (This is how I feel about the relationship between the film and the book, The World According to Garp, btw, which is one of my top five favorite novels of all time.) So, given this - and all the details of the previous 4 books that David has filled me in on, I was pleasantly surprised that, in contrast to the last two films, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix really holds together well as a film in its own right. Watching it, there were certainly moments when my brother, along with about one-third of the audience, would give knowing little chuckles of recognition, when some beloved scene or character or set-piece made its appearance, where I knew I'd be appreciating it more if I'd read the novel first, but this awareness of a deeper level didn't stop the film working on the level I interacted with it on, which is as someone coming in fairly cold to see a good movie. It might be my favorite of the Potter films after The Chamber of Secrets (Azkaban really doesn't work, so much is chopped out, and while I liked Goblet of Fire well enough, talks with my brother have clued me in on how much vital material was cut). And bro? He who actually reads the book? He thinks it's the best book-to-screen translation of the last three as well. So there you go. The expert and the ignoramus both agree!

Now, two things strike me about this franchise. One, it now rivals Star Wars for the depth and complexity of the world-building, from the cast of characters, the categories of magic, the vastness of the sets, the scale of the story. This kind of epic really is only possible in cinema when you have such a huge franchise in support of it - Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings - and so it's good when, unlike Lucas' incoherent disappointments which are such a waste of the talent of all the artists and designers and actors and model makers who pour their genius into his black hole - the core material really is worthy of the attention given to it. Second, while they may not be "famous famous" in American eyes, these films have aggregated the largest collection of tremendous British talent outside of the RCS. Fiona Shaw, Maggie Smith, Gary Oldman, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane... the list goes on and on and grows with each film. They're all back, and I boggle at the ensemble thus assembled. And Gary Oldman is just incredible! He can find so much nuance in the most innocuous lines. I love it when he is allowed to play something other than a stock British villain (as, apparently, is he.) To see so many great actors in supporting roles...

So, anyway, I am unabashedly enjoying these films and wish by some miracle of time distortion I could actually read books 2 through 6 before July 21st. Baring that, I look forward to reading them to my kid one day, if he can take the implants out and drag his attention away from the data-nets long enough to care about an old man intoning from a dead-tree edition in real time long enough to let me.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

More Adventures in LouCasting

I'm back with another segment of "From the Editor's Desk" over on Adventures in SciFi Publishing, along with an interview with Tate Hallaway (aka Lyda Morehouse) and the latest "Ask a Writer" installment with Tobias S. Buckell. This time I'm talking about whether or not SF is dying (sigh, not again), giving my own opinion that we're at the start of a new boom, unprecedented mainstream attention, the upswing of the pendulum, etc... By now, you know the drill. I also quote Paul McAuley, Eric Spitznagel, and Paolo Bacigalupi, at least two of whom are a lot smarter than me and one of whom is funnier. (I start about 37 minutes in.)

Meanwhile, I see that podcast host Shaun Farrell has opened this segment for questions from the audience too. As he writes: "Now is your chance to ask an editor a question! Given the success of Toby's Ask a Writer column, we've decided to open up From the Editor's Desk to listeners as well. If you have a question about publishing that you would like to ask to an editor, please email it in or call the voicemail." I don't know if I'm the editor in question or not, but it sounds like a good idea either way.

2 Years, 4 Months and Counting...

...since we launched Pyr in March, 2005. For my edification, and not meant to be comprehensive by any means, I put together this round-up of awards, notable recommendations, recent news etc... that I could have to hand, to be filed under "why we're hot." This is what I came up with, which looks so nice laid out in one place like this I had to post it here and on the Pyr blog both. Again, not comprehensive. Just a few hot current titles and then a list of awards, recommendations etc... Does look good all laid out though...

"Pyr is quickly becoming the standard by which all other sci-fi imprints are judged." - Bookgasm.com

Ian McDonald's Brasyl:
Quill nominee, Salon.com's Summer Reading Recommendation, Starred Review in PW, Starred Review in Booklist, A grade in SciFi Weekly, B+ in Entertainment Weekly. Ranked # 5 on the bestselling hardcover list at San Francisco-based independent genre bookstore Borderlands Books for May 2007
  • Boing Boing: "...his finest novel to date"
  • Salon.com: "...you will delight in Brasyl."
  • Amazon's Bookstore Blog: "McDonald deserves to be going up against most of the world’s top fiction writers, period."
  • Sci Fi Weekly: "...hot and tropical and full of music."
  • Publishers Weekly: "Chaotic, heartbreaking and joyous, ... must-read"
  • Locus: "...without doubt one of the major SF books of 2007."
Ian McDonald's River of Gods (paperback available September 2007):
BSFA Award winner, Arthur C. Clarke nominee, Hugo nominee, starred review in Library Journal
  • Washington Post: "...a major achievement from a writer who is becoming one of the best sf novelists of our time."
  • Library Journal: "Highly Recommended.”
  • Asimov's: "A literary masterpiece."
  • San Francisco Chronicle: "...one of the best science fiction novels published in the United States this year.”
  • Publishers Weekly: "...sure to be one of the more talked-about SF novels of the year."
Justina Robson's Keeping It Real (Quantum Gravity Book One)
Locus Recommended Read, Starburst Five Star Review
  • Entertainment Weekly: ""For fans of Tolkien, had he gone electric, dropped acid, and discovered tantric sex."
  • Ain't It Cool News: "This isn't SF for SF readers. This is SF for a generation raised on anime, manga, and MMORPGs. This is SF for the Wii gamer. "
  • Monsters & Critics: "This action-packed futuristic sci-fi that will appeal to techies and fantasy fans alike."
  • Library Journal: "...skillfully builds a seamless connection between sf and fantasy in this fast-paced series opener featuring a strong, action-oriented heroine and a unique world setting."
  • SFX: "...a novel packed with memorable characters and ideas but that doubles as holiday-reading escapism.”
Kay Kenyon's Bright of the Sky (Book One of The Entire and the Rose):
Starred Review in Publishers Weekly, A grade in SciFi Weekly
  • Publishers Weekly: “Kenyon’s vision of a unique universe ranks with those of such science fiction greats as Frank Herbert and Orson Scott Card.”
  • Sci Fi Weekly: ""a bravura concept bolstered by fine writing; lots of plausible, thrilling action; old-fashioned heroism; and strong emotional hooks."
  • Booklist: "...a fascinating and gratifying feat of worldbuilding... a grand epic, indeed. "
  • Library Journal: "Reminiscent of the groundbreaking novels of Philip K. Dick, Philip Jose Farmer, and Dan Simmons."
David Louis Edelman's Infoquake (Volume One of the Jump 225 Trilogy):
Barnes & Noble's # 1 Editor's Choice Top 10 SF&F Novels for 2006, John W. Campbell Memorial Award Nominee for Best Novel 2006, Bookgasm's 5 Best SciFi Books of 2006
  • Publishers Weekly: "Bursting with invention and panache."
  • B&N Explorations: "The love child of Donald Trump and Vernor Vinge."
  • SFFWorld: "This may be THE science fiction book of the year."
  • Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show: "Like a more accessible Charles Stross."
  • Asimov's: "A high-speed, high-spirited tale of capitalist skullduggery."
Mike Resnick's Starship: Mutiny and Starship Pirate (5 book Starship series):
B in Sci Fi Weekly
  • Publishers Weekly: "Readers craving intelligent, character-driven SF need look no further.”
  • Analog: "...a fast, smooth, utterly effortless read.”
  • SF Reviews: "...simply pure escapism, impossible to resist by anyone who still remembers that good old fashioned sense of wonder.”
  • Sci Fi Weekly: "...good old-fashioned space adventure."
  • Library Journal: "Snappy dialog, intriguing human and alien characters, and a keen sense of dramatic focus."
Recent Awards & Nominations for Pyr:
  • 2007 Quill Award nominee: Ian McDonald, Brasyl
  • 2007 Hugo Award nominee - Best Professional Editor - Long Form - Lou Anders
  • 2006 World Fantasy Award nominee - Special Award, Professional - Lou Anders
  • 2006 John W. Campbell Award for Best Novel nominee - David Louis Edelman, Infoquake
  • 2006 Independent Publisher Book Award winner - John Meaney, Paradox
  • 2005 Philip K Dick Award nominee - Justina Robson, Silver Screen
  • 2006 John W Campbell Best New Writer nominee - Chris Roberson
  • 2005 John W Campbell Best New Writer nominee - Chris Roberson
  • Locus magazine’s Recommended Reading: 2006 : Joe Abercombie - The Blade Itself, Justina Robson - Keeping It Real
  • 3 Pyr Books included in the B&N Editor's Choice: Top Ten SF&F Novels of 2006: David Louis Edelman - Infoquake (#1), Sean Williams -The Crooked Letter, John Meaney - Resolution
  • 2 Pyr Books included in Waterstone's Top Ten SF for 2006: Joel Shepherd - Crossover, Chris Roberson - Paragaea: A Planetary Romance
  • 3 Pyr Books included in Bookgasm's Top Five SciFi Books of 2006 - Ian McDonald - River of Gods (#1), Joel Shepherd - Crossover, David Louis Edelman - Infoquake
  • Sean Williams, The Hanging Mountains selected as a BookSense Notable Book for July
  • Kay Kenyon, Bright of the Sky - one of four novels selected by ReaderCon "the con that assigns homework" for their attendees to read pre-convention
  • Justina Robson, Silver Screen selected for Kirkus Reviews Best SF&F Books of 2005
  • John Meaney, Paradox - #2 on Barnes & Noble's Editor's Choice: Top Ten SF&F Novels of 2005
Foreign Awards given to Pyr books for their overseas editions:
  • 2007 Arthur C Clarke Award nominee - Adam Roberts, Gradisil (Gollancz)
  • 2005 Arthur C Clarke Award nominee - Ian McDonald, River of Gods (Simon & Schuster)
  • 2004 British Science Fiction Association Award winner - Ian McDonald, River of Gods (Simon & Schuster)
  • Spain's Xatafi-Cyberdark Awards. nominees: Mike Resnick, New Dreams for Old and Ian McDonald, River of Gods.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Cartesian Theater wins Sturgeon

A big congratulations to Robert Charles Wilson, whose "The Cartesian Theater" is winner of the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for best short fiction of the year. The awards were presented this past weekend at the Campbell Conference in Kansas City, Missouri. "The Cartesian Theater" is set in a future called the "Rationalization" where machines have made work obsolete and humanity has a hard time justifying their existence and filling their free time. The story first appeared in my anthology, Futureshocks. A second story called "YFL-500," set in the same universe, opens my latest, Fast Forward 1: Future Fiction from the Cutting Edge. Although the stories share no characters, in addition to the setting they are both concerned with the artistic process. They are also both expertly rendered and damn powerful. Hopefully, Bob will revisit the Rationalization before too long.

Monday, July 09, 2007

The New Lou Review 5

The Lies of Locke Lamora: - I picked up Scott Lynch's debut when it first came out, and read the first 40 pages on an airplane flight. Before you raise your eyebrows, I had my child with me and he was mostly crawling in and out of my lap, else it would have been more. But it's taken me this long to get back to it and finish it, given that most of my pleasure reading occurs on airplanes and time not spent on the air is time spent on the Pyr submission pile. That 40 pages, however, was enough for me to recognize that Lynch was going to push all my right buttons, and I'm very, very glad to report that now that I carved out the time to finish it (ultimately justified as "research"), that initial assessment still holds true. I'm late to the table telling you that this is brilliant, briliant stuff. I kept thinking Ocean's 11 all through the read, having neglected to spot that comparison on the jacket flap, but really what it reminds me of more than anything else is Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser tales. And it was interesting to me to see how Lynch danced a tight line between a narrative that had enough of a New Weird vibe to appeal to readers of China Mieville or Jeff Vandermeer while maintaining enough of a traditional fantasy feel to appeal to readers of Raymond E. Feist or Guy Gavriel Kay as well. I'll certainly pick up the sequelwhen it comes out, though it will probably take me even longer to get to it, as I'm not flying anywhere anytime soon, and I think my next "research" slot has to go to Patrick Rothfuss. Or Brandon Sanderson.

Farewell My Concubine: I'm a big fan of Kaige Chen's 1998 film, The Emperor and the Assassin (or "Jing ke ci qin wang"), which is an incredible epic about the founding of the Qin dynasty, the first time in history China was united as one country. No less epic is "Ba wang bei ji," though it starts off in 1920s China and covers 50 years of Chinese history in its narrative. The tale of two youths trained for the Beijing Opera, the rigorous and unforgiving nature of the boy's training actually reminded me a bit about the thieves school in The Lies of Locke Lamora, though the narrative goes in a very different direction. As a boy, Cheng Dieyi is forced against his will into the role of the concubine in the eponymous Chinese opera of the title, and with very little else in life, essentially lives to embody the role. This doesn't sit well when Duan Xiaolou, who always plays the King to his concubine, finds love outside the theater. Nor is Dieyi prepared for the twisting fate of Beijing Opera across the Japanese occupation and the Cultural Revolution. This is a beautiful, brutal, tragic, awe-inspiring epic that left me emotionally wrecked while helping me to contextualize a lot of 20th century Chinese history. Highly recommended.

Crystal Rain by Tobias S. Buckell: Been wanting to read this for a LONG time. I've known Toby since meeting him at ConJose in 2002. Hung out with him quite a bit, love him lots, regularly check his blog, have hit him up for blurbs, etc... and so it's a crime and a shame that it's taken me so long to get to his debut novel. But damn was it worth the wait! I've read stories of the cut-off colony that forgets its roots before, but what makes this one so interesting to me is that most of such tales are set untold centuries after, when no one remembers the way things were or recognizes the bits of mystical ancient machines for the high tech they were. In Crystal Rain, however, there are characters still around from those days, people (and things!) born with the benefit of genetic engineering and biotech, who have lived the 300 or so years since the break with galactic civilization. These are people who have gone on to have children, knowing that the children will be born sans benefit of these technologies, will age and die at the "normal" rate. So you have parents outliving their kids and their grandkids. Maybe its being a relatively new parent at a relatively late age myself, but I find this really poignant and intriguing both. Equally welcome was the much-touted Caribbean culture. Airship battles with Aztec warriors doesn't hurt either. Though it was the quiet moments between the ailing General Hayden and Prime Minister Dihana that were the stand-out bits for me as I look back. This was a high action adventure novel that gave me some new twists on old ideas. Bottom line: Glad to know that my friend Toby can really write! I'm in for the ride on this series (of related stand-alone's it looks like.)

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Kirkus Reviews Special Edition on Sci-Fi & Fantasy

Via David Anthony Durham's blog, I've just learned that the Kirkus Reviews Special Edition on Sci-Fi & Fantasy is out. You can download the whole twelve page document here, which, I'm very proud to say, features Yours Truly quoted in the opening paragraph, and then leads off with a review of my own anthology, Fast Forward 1: Future Fiction from the Cutting Edge. The document is comprised of these combination review/interviews, with the various authors saying a few words about their books mixed in with the reviewers' opinions. In addition to such impressive folk as Kevin J. Anderson, Kage Baker, Jim Butcher, and M John Harrison, our own Justina Robson says a few words about crafting her urban fantasy, Keeping It Real. My favorite quote, on the anything goes nature of her Quantum Gravity universe: "It's good to be very serious, but the really important stuff you just have to let all hang out."

Friday, July 06, 2007

Uchi Deshi in America

When I was a child, I trained under the South Eastern head of Kyokushin karate, a full contact style founded in Japan in 1964 by Masutatsu Oyama, who, among other things, could kill a bull with his bare hands and trained Sean Connery for his martial arts combat in the film You Only Live Twice. I got to be a brown belt-black stripe before leaving home for college, and have always regretted not taking a year first and getting that full black belt.

Roll the clock forward two decades. Masatatsu Oyama died, and the Kyokushin organization fractured. Somewhere in there, my instructor and his older brother founded their own style, then older brother eventually retires, and the result is that my instructor is now the head of World Oyama Karate, a globally renowned school of martial arts with branches in the United States, Japan, Canada, the Republic of Georgia, Greece, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Trinidad. In the world of martial arts, he is a Big Deal, and he runs the operation out of the very same dojo I worked out in as a child, right in my hometown. (And we are VERY lucky to have him.)

Meanwhile, after 21 years of moving around the US (and the UK), Yours Truly comes back to the same dojo a fat old man and starts over again from white belt - it goes white, blue, yellow, orange, green, brown, black. I've made it back to green so far, and it's once again become an important part of my life, but that's not what this post is about. This isn't a martial arts blog after all - it's a book and media blog. Which brings us to...

My instructor, Saiko Shihan Yasuhiko Oyama, is the author of quite a few best-selling texts on martial arts, but he's just published his first book of fiction, translated into English with the assistance of a black belt named Sempie Karl, and put through a few rounds of story structure notes and a light editing from Yours Truly.

Uchi Deshi in America is the tale of a young man who comes from Tokyo to Alabama to find his life's direction, training under a fictionalized version of Saiko Shihan, enrolling in the time honored program of being an Uchi Deshi - someone who dedicates themselves to full time martial arts training. Although the book is a work of fiction, it's based on the personal experience of a score of Uchi Deshi's that Saiko Shihan has trained over the years, as well as his own experience of traveling from the Far East to the Deep South (one alien world to another!).

You can read an online sample here. Don't expect Shakespeare, but what you will find is a very accurate and insightful look at the martial arts mindset and the Uchi Deshi program, as well as a fun examination of what it's like to travel between two distinct cultures. I'd say the story is comparable to the original Karate Kid - which is higher praise than it might sound; that's one of the few films that actually gets it right - with a little bit of Rocky thrown in, and there is even a nice romantic subplot that plays out between our hero and a young college student. The story would make a nice film (and might - plans are afoot!). I'm very proud of my small contribution to the finished product, and I learned a great deal from the experience, both about my instructor and about the martial arts in general. What's more, I was training for a tournament at the same time that I was editing the manuscript, and the book definitely helped me to find the inner strength to fight. All in all, it was an honor to be involved with the project. Or as we say in the dojo, "Osu!"

Thursday, July 05, 2007

News Round-Up

I try to keep my personal and professional blogs away from too much overlap, and have lately made a real effort to make the Pyr blog more than just review notices (not that those aren't very important and appreciated!), but I'm aware this blog still gets the most traffic. So a few things worth mentioned here from there:

Ian McDonald is interviewed in the Culture Northern Ireland podcast. And speaking of Ian, his latest, Brasyl, was just named in Salon.com's List of Summer Reading Recommendations.

Justina Robson is interviewed on John Scalzi's Ficlets blog.

Readercon (in progress now) has urged their attendees to read Kay Kenyon's Bright of the Sky, along with four other books. I love their description as "the con that assigns homework."

And the first three chapters of Alexis Glynn Latner's just out debut novel, Hurricane Moon, are online here.

Meanwhile, not on the Pyr blog, artist John Picacio alerts me to an interesting development. The Association of Science Fiction & Fantasy Artists (aka ASFA) has posted their 2007 Chesley Awards Suggestions List. Not at all surprised am I to see John on the list twice, for Best Cover Illustration - Paperback Book and Best Cover Illustration - Magazine. But surprised and elated to see myself on the suggestion list for Best Art Director. Who'd have thunk, huh? Also on the list, Irene Gallo of Tor Books and Matt Adelsperger of Wizards of the Coast. I am proud and humbled to be in this company, and if I actually did end up on the Chesley shortlist after this, it would be entirely due to the wonderful advice that John and Irene have given me since Pyr was born.

The Science Fiction Bazooka

One of my favorite short story writers these days is Paolo Bacigalupi, who in a relatively short while has already wracked up 1 Sturgeon win and 2 Sturgeon nominations, 3 Hugo nominations, and 1 Nebula nomination despite having a hard to spell last name. Paolo is the second interview in the current issue of Locus, and something he said therein about the purpose of SF struck me just right:

"I feel like science fiction has been given this fantastic bazooka: we have tools that no other genre has, we have ways of talking about people and humanity - our fundamental qualities - that are just not available to most other genres. And yet we take this bazooka and shoot chipmunks with it, we shoot prairie dogs and squirrels, but we never go after the dinosaurs! We've got these amazing tools, and we use them for entertainments... My sense is that right now the role of science fiction is to calm and assuage people so they don't think about how bad shit is, but I don't write anything to make people feel good. I write to make people worry about the same things I worry about. The role of science fiction should be to bitch!"