Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Thoughts on Hugo Nominees 2008: Novellas

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"Fountains of Age" by Nancy Kress (Asimov's July 2007)
"Recovering Apollo 8" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (Asimov's Feb. 2007)
"Stars Seen Through Stone" by Lucius Shepard (F&SF July 2007)
"All Seated on the Ground" by Connie Willis (Asimov's Dec. 2007; Subterranean Press)
"Memorare" by Gene Wolfe (F&SF April 2007)


Here is what I wrote about “Memorare” when discussing the Nebula Ballot, it still applies here: “Memorare” is a love story in deep space. Windy is a television producer investigating the practice of burial tombs in the orbit of Jupiter. Kit is his girlfriend who, after a time, joins Windy and brings along a friend in need of a place to stay. Complications arise, as complications are wont to do. The more I read of the story, the more I was impressed with the emotion Wolfe was building. I can’t quite name the emotion, but it is there and it builds. Vague, huh? This is why I don’t write about short fiction on a regular basis. Anyway, the story. An impressive job describing the locations, the actual detail is probably not as vivid as it feels, but there is a definite sense of place to the story. I could picture it. Wolfe does this remarkably well. It’s well worth reading and feels like a more thoughtful science fiction, but that isn’t quite right either, because it would suggest that Bruce Sterling or Nancy Kress aren’t thoughtful writers, and that’s not true.

Here is what I wrote about “Fountains of Age” regarding the Nebula nomination: “Fountain of Age” by Nancy Kress is an interesting story. It deals with gypsies, future technology which can restrict aging (D-Treatment), family, and the goal of an aging man to find a woman he used to know. The odd thing is that I swear I’ve read a different version of this story. Certain characters appeared in each story, there was D-Treatment (same treatment), and a good deal of similarity...but it wasn’t the same story. I’d remember that much. So...did Nancy Kress write the other story, too? Or is this a spin-off of somebody else’s story? Either way, “Fountain of Age” was a bit of a treat. Fascinating story, I’d like more in this milieu, and I’d like to read more from Nancy Kress.

Here is what I wrote about “Stars Seen Through Stone” for the Nebula entry: The story was originally published in Fantasy and Science Fiction and later in The Best of Lucius Shepard collection (forthcoming in August 2008). Like many other Lucius Shepard stories “Stars Seen Through Stone” is not an overtly SFF story. His fiction takes place in the real world, but a real world where sometimes something unexpected and unreal can occur. This is actually addressed early on in the story when the narrator mentions that the world contains all sorts of weirdness, but it is only the most extreme that anyone notices at all. “Stars Seen Through Stone” is set in 1970’s (sort of) Pennsylvania in a town called Black William (great name, by the way). Vernon is a small time, but moderately respected independent music producer and he signs a talented, if creepy, singer. There is an early incident with some odd ghost lights at the town library, but after that early incident the story follows Vernon developing his creepy singer, but comes back to the history of the town and the history of those odd lights. It is a quietly fascinating and compelling story, one that doesn’t necessarily jump out as being the story readers bang down the doors of their friends house to talk about, but it is also a really good story and one definitely worth the recoginition of the various award nominations it has received.

A new story by Connie Willis is generally a treat. Her fiction is a pleasure to read, is highly entertaining and simply tells a story which engages my imagination. “All Seated on the Ground” is no exception. It is a Christmas story, of sorts, complete with aliens, first contact, choral arrangements, dopey religious nuts, the spirit of togetherness, and well placed humor. Aliens land near the Denver convention center and simply stand, glaring at everything, ignoring all attempts to communicate. Thus begins “All Seated on the Ground”. What follows is a story of joy, of laughs, of fear, of disappointment, and of hope. What follows is a Connie Willis story, one which is well worth the time to read it. Wills is quickly becoming an author I want to seek out and find more of her fiction.

After taking a two week break between reading the Connie Willis story and starting up the Kristine Kathryn Rusch, I’ve read “Recovering Apollo 8”, a story which is both alternate history / alternate future, as well as a love letter to the space program and the inspiration it provided during its nascent days. The story is told in several parts, and it opens with the Apollo 8 mission from 1968. It is the same Apollo 8 mission, but different. Rusch takes the framework of what the mission was to be, a lunar orbit, the reading from Genesis, the television broadcast; but turns the framework into a different tale when a mistake is made the crew of Apollo 8 is lost. Jim Lovell, Frank Borman, and William Anders are victims in the first loss of life in United States space exploration (in the story). This is the background to cause young Richard Johansenn’s obsession with space travel and with Apollo 8. When the lost shuttle is spotted, it the older, richer Richard who seeks to recover the ship. The rest of story is Richard’s quest to recover the shuttle and the astronauts. “Recovering Apollo 8” feels like a love letter, a thank you note, to those astronauts and to all astronauts. It is a story about the power of dreaming, striving, and dealing with success as much as failure. It is a story which captures the childhood excitement of space travel and translates it for older readers. Simply put, “Recovering Apollo 8” is outstanding.


Where does this leave us? It leaves us with an outstanding lineup of nominees for the Hugo. The least of these is a very strong story, and the best of these are quite exceptional indeed. So what story deserves the award? This time around I would be more than happy if any of the stories won, and I wouldn’t be surprised by any winner.


My choice: “Recovering Apollo 8”.

Gene Wolfe and Nancy Kress were impressive (Kress won the Nebula for this same story), Shepard puts forth another solid effort, I love the fiction of Connie Willis, but “Recovering Apollo 8” is a story which truly captured my imagination. That’s worth more than a trophy.


Previous Thoughts:
John W. Campbell Award

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

okay, it's official

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I’m going to the Fourth Street Fantasy Convention. I paid my registration fee yesterday morning, a good two weeks before the early registration deadline and saved myself some cash.

This is both exciting and a little scary. My wife thinks that the convention is something that I’m really going to love or really feel out of place at, and I suspect she is right (she usually is). I’m not exactly a social butterfly, so this will either go great or I’ll be standing by the wall.

We’ll see.

I really hope this is something that I like (obviously, since I just paid $40).

I’m excited.

(I don’t suppose they’ll be giving out duffel bags of free books like at the Nebula Awards convention)

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Best of Lucius Shepard

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The Best of Lucius Shepard is a career spanning collection of short stories from award winning author Lucius Shepard. Unlike the recent Dreamsongs collection from George R. R. Martin, The Best of Lucius Shepard is not so much a retrospective of Shepard’s career, but rather a true “Best of” collection. Each and every story in this collection is outstanding and high quality, even the couple which I could not fully engage with. There is no doubt that when reading a Lucius Shepard story you are reading a carefully crafted, thoughtful, deliberate, and beautiful piece of fiction. The Best of Lucius Shepard collects stories and one poem.

Even the most action filled stories from Lucius Shepard have meditative quality to them. A story like “Hands Up! Who Wants to Die”, which features a robbery, a bludgeoning, and several other acts of violence, still remains a story which undulates its way through the reader. The stories are quiet, yet dangerous. Shepard unfolds the plot, reveals surprises and character at the appropriate time without rushing anything. Shepard casts a spell. These are Science Fiction and Fantasy stories because in each story there is something, oftentimes one thing that is in no way possible in the real world. The stories themselves, however, feel real. The stories, as fashioned by Lucius Shepard, have a feeling of authenticity, as if Shepard is not simply spinning together lies, but rather telling us something that actually happened.

The first half of these stories are set in either South America or Vietnam. This brings a vastly different perspective to the fiction, one that allows a feeling of an alien landscape to most American readers yet one that we can recognize is a natural setting. Even more impressive is the fact that the settings feel authentic. I keep using that word, but it is the most appropriate term: Lucius Shepard brings authenticity to his fiction. I don’t know if he has been to Vietnam or South America (I think he has), but he brings Vietnam and South America to the reader.


The Man Who Painted the Dragon Griaule: Shepard opens this collection with what could rightly be considered a representational story of what readers will find in the collection. In 1853 Meric Cattanay proposes to the people of Carbonates Valley that he can help them rid themselves of their dragon problem by quite literally painting the dragon to death, slowly poisoning the dragon with the lead paint. The 21 page story takes a leisurely pace over the course of the fifty years required to poison the dragon Griaule to death. This is a representational story because we (readers) get a sense of how Shepard tells a story: with deliberate pace and beautiful description.

Salvador: With "Salvador" Shepard brings the reader the first mind-trip of a story. "Salvador" is the first overtly South American story in the collection and also introduces readers to Shepard's blend of American military and the fear of the jungle which will crop up again and again in various forms in this collection. "Salvador" is a scary drug addled Special Forces mission with something which is unclear whether it is a drug trip or something scarier and supernatural out in the jungle. If "The Man Who Painted the Dragon Griaule" was the opening quiet story, "Salvador" takes that quiet and cranks it up into quiet danger with brief flashes of muffled explosion. I continue to mention "quiet" because there is nothing flashy about Lucius Shepard's solid work. This is a great story to continue the collection and a stronger, more interesting and exciting story than "Dragon Griaule".

A Spanish Lesson: Where "Salvador" was a military focus, "A Spanish Lesson" takes the early Shepard story another direction. "A Spanish Lesson" introduces the Shepard reader to some counter culture (for deeper counter culture go read his collection Two Trains Running), and keeps the South American setting with a drifter finding an alternative community and then finding some deeper almost supernatural weirdness when the community gains two newer members. Like most Shepard stories, this one does not end where anyone might expect it to, and yet when we reach the end, it feels right.

The Jaguar Hunter: Staying in South America a man is forced to hunt a rare and sacred jaguar because of his greedy wife, and this begins a supernatural quest for the jaguar while the man tries to juggle his wife's greed with his own desire to not kill the jaguar. Thus far in the collection each unrelated story has built off the power of the previous story and has each been better than the previous story.

R&R: American soldiers take their leave in South America, and rather than find peace, they find anything but. This story is filled with danger, violence, sex, prophecy, and beauty. In a sense, this describes any Lucius Shepard story, but "R&R" just works. Broken down to a base description, a story does not sound like much. It is not simply the sum of basic parts, but rather the way Lucius Shepard tells the story which makes nearly every story in the collection something special.

The Arcevoalo: Here is the first time I was disappointed with a Shepard story. This was not quite what I had hoped for, though I'm not sure what I expected. Some alien (?) creature awakens with a task it does not understand and has to fulfill it. Simply put, "The Arcevoalo" is not a satisfying story, not a story which makes a whole lot of sense, and when finished I simply wondered what exactly I just read, rather than thinking about the nature of the story. Disappointing.

Shades: "Shades" is the first story in this collection to turn to Vietnam, though not in an active war setting. Rather, "Shades" is a post Vietnam story where a former soldier turned reporter returns to Vietnam because the ghost, the shade, of a former soldier, a man he once knew, has revealed itself in country. It is a story less about war and more about what war does and how soldiers and civilians respond to it. Good stuff here and a nice recovery frm "The Arcevoalo."

Delta Sly Honey: Now we get deeper into Vietnam, back into a war setting during the war itself. It's a story that works with radio broadcasts on a base and a spooky company (or something) named Delta Sly Honey. When Shepard is truly on his game there is no describing exactly why the story works, only an acknowledgment that the goods were indeed delivered. Consider this that acknowledgment.

Life of Buddha: Something of an oddity to this set, "Life of Buddha" is set in America with Americans but features a quiet (really) protagonist who says little and does less and acts like a fat buddha watching over people, getting his nightly fix, and very rarely dispensing advice, though sometimes. "Life of Buddha" is a weird little story, but still a decent read. I'm not sure what to make of it.

White Trains: My confession is this: I didn’t read “White Trains”. This is the one poem in the collection and I tend not to enjoy poetry that tells a story rather than evokes a feeling, and I have no idea how to write about poetry. With that said, “White Trains” is perhaps four pages out of nearly 600, and the rest of the collection is more than worth the price of admission.

Jack's Decline: "Jack's Decline" assumes Jack the Ripper lived out a life of quiet (there's that word again) captivity, but meets his end when the Nazis arrive on the scene. There's more to it than that, and Jack's bloodlust never ceases, but this was a story I didn't expect. After skipping the poem it was nice to get some nasty darkness from Shepard.

Beast of the Heartland: Shepard does boxing with an aging, nearly blind fighter taking one of his last fights in the hopes of earning enough money and exposure to get some television fights and be able to retire with some money. Like all the Shepard stories, this isn't about what you think it may be about.

Radiant Green Star: When we finished with the South America stories and the Vietnam stories what we are left with are the simply fantastical stories. "Radiant Green Star" seems like a story simply about circus and revenge, but, again, the revenge is not whatever may be the expected revenge, and the circus isn't even what it seems. If the poem was a breather, Shepard is picking up steam here, moving through and ripping off story after story, getting stronger again.

Only Partly Here: The 9/11 story. I'm not sure there is a better quick description of it. Well, there is, but that short description would reveal too much. This is a romance, a story of a man working cleaning the rubble of the towers and a woman obsessed with knowing more without being engaged by emotion. Powerful, sad, beautiful.

Jailwise: The prison story. Yes, I am reduced to describing stories in three words or less. But, like any good Lucius Shepard story (and this is a good Lucius Shepard story) there is a supernatural jail that makes no logical sense and Tommy Penhaligon finds himself transfered to a prison where he doesn't know the rules and there is no explanation even though there is expectation. There is a meditative quality to much of Shepard's fiction and this is quite evident here. This is a very strong story.

Hands Up! Who Wants to Die?: Ahh, I can't describe this in three words. As I mentioned in the second pargraph, there is a robbery, bludgeoning, several other acts of violence, and a story that just works its way to a conclusion in no discernible way. For three fourths of the story there is no sense that this is in any way a science fiction story. By the end there is only the barest hint of SF because what happened might not have actually happened. Doesn't matter. What matters is the journey, not the conclusion. This is a hell of a journey.

Dead Money: The gambling story! Woo! "Dead Money" opens as a gambling story, but any Lucius Shepard story isn't just one thing. There is gambling, but also zombies, voodoo, more violence, some sort of criminal underworld, and a damn fine story with a wicked ending.

Stars Seen Through Stone: Nominated for both a Hugo and a Nebula award for Best Novella, "Stars Seen Through Stone" may be the story that brings new readers into this collection. While it is a very good story, it would not mark as one of the best of the collection...and this is not meant to disparage the story but rather to stress just how strong the rest of the collection is. I will copy what I have previously written about the story.
The story was originally published in Fantasy and Science Fiction and later in The Best of Lucius Shepard collection (forthcoming in August 2008). Like many other Lucius Shepard stories “Stars Seen Through Stone” is not an overtly SFF story. His fiction takes place in the real world, but a real world where sometimes something unexpected and unreal can occur. This is actually addressed early on in the story when the narrator mentions that the world contains all sorts of weirdness, but it is only the most extreme that anyone notices at all. “Stars Seen Through Stone” is set in 1970’s (sort of) Pennsylvania in a town called Black William (great name, by the way). Vernon is a small time, but moderately respected independent music producer and he signs a talented, if creepy, singer. There is an early incident with some odd ghost lights at the town library, but after that early incident the story follows Vernon developing his creepy singer, but comes back to the history of the town and the history of those odd lights. It is a quietly fascinating and compelling story, one that doesn’t necessarily jump out as being the story readers bang down the doors of their friends house to talk about, but it is also a really good story and one definitely worth the recoginition of the various award nominations it has received.

Several stories in this collection are available to read online for free. I mention this because getting the chance to experience some of these stories should only whet ones appetite for more. My base conclusion is that The Best of Lucius Shepard is likely to be the single best short story collection published in 2008 and one that will surely deserve a spot in any reader's collection. There are some damn fine stories here and this fiction is not to be missed. The jacket copy states that The Best of Lucius Shepard "is destined to be recognized as a true classic of the field".

Damn right.

This review is for the trade hardcover edition of The Best of Lucius Shepard. The limited edition includes a bonus trade paperback volume titled Skull City and Other Lost Tales and features 10 additional stories not included in The Best of Lucius Shepard.

The Free Shepard Stories:
"Stars Seen Through Stone"
"Jailwise"
"The Jaguar Hunter"

Reading copy provided courtesy of Subterranean Press.

Shadow Unit: Episose Six is live

Episode Six of Shadow Unit is now live. "Endgames" is written by Emma Bull. Bull is the author of the season premier, "Breathe". Haven't started Shadow Unit yet? I just linked the first story and "Breathe" is a GREAT introduction to Shadow Unit.

Only two episodes left in the season, including the novel length season finale.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

2007 Nebula Award Winners

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Novel: The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon
Novella: "Fountain of Age" by Nancy Kress
Novelette: "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" by Ted Chiang
Short Story: "Always" by Karen Joy Fowler

(Source: SFWA via John Scalzi)

Well, I'm reading The Yiddish Policeman's Union as we speak (well, not exactly as we speak, I'm typing and there is nobody in the room to talk to because my wife went to bed), and it's good so far in the first 50 pages, but this isn't a category I really got excited about. Hell, I thought Ragamuffin was great, was impressed by not overwhelmed by the Nalo Hopkinson, and that's all I read.

When I wrote about the Novellas I thought that the award would either go to Lucius Shepard or Gene Wolfe would win, and I still think the Shepard story was stronger than the eventual winner, Nancy Kress. With that said, I thoroughly enjoyed the winning Novella and have a whole collection of her stories to read and review in the near future. I have nothing bad to say about Nancy Kress.

Anyone surprised that Ted Chiang picked up the win for his Novelette? No? Me, neither.

While I'm disappointed Jennifer Pelland didn't win for "Captive Girl", I'd have been almost as happy (though not quite as happy) with most of the other nominees. I don't think "Always" is the best short story, but it could have been worse. "The Story of Love" could have won. Still...I wish Pelland could have gone home a winner (though...the nomination surely got her a great deal more attention...and that's a good thing)

Friday, April 25, 2008

Ink and Steel: Act 1, Scene i

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Can I be more excited for Elizabeth Bear's next novel? Doubtful.

Here's Act 1, Scene i.

Woo!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

another list of books...

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I like lists. I could make a list of pretty much anything and be happy. In my younger days (I’m staggeringly old now) I made lists of favorite songs, bands, baseball players, wrestlers, books, movies, food, etc. Anything, really. Recently I’ve been thinking about making a list of the books I would like to read. This would be different than my list from a couple months ago of the 2008 publications I am looking forward to. This list won’t include the three Elizabeth Bear novels coming out later this year (or Dust, published in January), George R. R. Martin, Scott Lynch, Raymond Feist, Terry Brooks, or any other “major” author who has a publication scheduled sometime in the next 12 months. Rather, this list is going to be of the books which sometimes are a bit overlooked. This is subjective, of course, because the book that I don’t talk about often may be the book that someone else can’t stop talking about. I imagine that most people reading this list will have read (or heard of) some of these books, but this is some of what I’d like to read this year (or next).


Unwelcome Bodies, by Jennifer Pelland. The first (and only) Pelland story I have read is her Nebula Nominated story “Captive Girl” and I was impressed enough that I want to read more of Pelland’s work. While I know that she has several stories available on her website, I would rather hold her debut collection Unwelcome Bodies in my hands. It’s just the kind of reader I am. Once we get past the “major” releases of 2008, I find myself thinking more about buying a copy of Unwelcome Bodies if I have the available funds. Given that I don’t buy many books, I think it says something that I’m even considering spending money on this.

Caine Black Knife, by Matthew Stover. Heroes Die and The Blade of Tyshalle are two criminally overlooked and under recognized novels, and even though Stover is -also- a popular Star Wars author (he’s one of the best), I’m not sure his original fiction gets noticed the way I think it should. This third novel following Hari Michaelson will be a must read the moment it is published. Stover’s blend of fantasy, science fiction, violence, and balls to the wall writing is not to be missed. Stover is likely not for everybody, but fans of the genre (and fans of hard edged writing) should give Stover a shot. Think a darker-toned Scott Lynch.

Territory, by Emma Bull. This is an acclaimed release of 2007, but I know Emma Bull first as the creator and co-writer of Shadow Unit. Because of how much I love Shadow Unit and that Bull’s work there is quite strong, now I want to read some of her novels. I suspect Territory is the place to start.

Soldiers Live, by Glen Cook. It may be unfair to have Soldiers Live on this list because I know I will read the book this year. It is the final Black Company novel. After the goodness of Water Sleeps, my interest in Glen Cook and The Black Company has been revitalized. I just wanted to use this spot to throw a little bit more attention at Glen Cook and The Black Company.

Shadow Matrix, by Marion Zimmer Bradley. I have a soft spot in my heart for the Darkover series. Looking back, the writing isn’t that strong, but I have enjoyed the culture clash blend of low tech fantasy with a technologically advanced science fiction society. I have only two Darkover novels left that to read that were at all penned by Bradley and I believe this one was at the most only partially written by Bradley. Still. If there is such a thing as a guilty pleasure in SFF, Darkover is mine.

Fathom, by Cherie Priest. No clue what this is about, but I love her Eden Moore books and I don’t see nearly enough people talking about Cherie Priest. Myself included, I suppose. This is one of two novels published by Priest this year. The other is a more limited edition from Subterranean Press (Those Who Went Remain There Still)

AI War, by Daniel Keys Moran. I first read The Long Run years ago back in high school and the book hit me at just the right time. The story of Trent the Uncatchable was exciting, dangerous, fresh, and fun. But this was the Second book in the Continuing Time sequence. It took me several years to find the first book, Emerald Eyes, and I was very disappointed. It was a rough effort. But then, I found the third book, The Last Dancer, last year and was pleasantly surprised. While not quite hitting me like The Long Run did, Moran kept me glued to the page all the way through. The AI War is forthcoming sometime in the next year or so. I think...and I hope. It's going to be published, right?

Windhaven, by George R. R. Martin and Lisa Tuttle. I’ve read every other novel length work Martin has published, so this is a good time to finish up his longer fiction before I go hunt down all of his short story collections so I can get a hold of the stories not published in Dreamsongs. I finished The Armageddon Rag last week and seriously, the man range is breathtaking.



I don't have anything to say about the below books because I don't know anything about them, but I've heard some goodness about the titles. Just don't know anything about the content.

Grey, by Jon Armstrong
Raw Shark Texts, by Steven Hall
The Secret History of Moscow, by Ekaterina Sedia

Monday, April 21, 2008

Ink and Steel: The Prologue

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In lieu of actually writing about the Lucius Shepard stories, you are hereby notified that Elizabeth Bear has posted the prologue to her forthcoming Promethean Age novel: Ink and Steel.

Go read some Bear.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

i keep checking

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I keep checking the website for the Fourth Street Fantasy Convention as well as the blog, but alas, no new content describing the programming for the Convention. There is a nifty little list of all the people who have paid money and are planning to attend.

Interestingly enough, there is now a link to a page detailing the programming in 1995, which is great because I'm completely in the dark here.

I still need to send over my $40 before May 15, but I'm fairly certain I will attend Fourth Street Fantasy Convention. It'll be my first, doncha know?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Ooh! Books!

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This first picture is of all the books I currently have out from the library. I'm midway through Selling Out and Skeleton Crew and expect to finish both this weekend. Note the placement of the bookmarks hanging out. The Robert Sawyer book lost in the reflection is Rollback.


This second picture is of the books I have accepted for review. I am currently working on the Lucius Shepard collection as well as the new Kay Kenyon book. After which I will dive face first into the stack of Night Shade books. The White Space on top of this picture is Nano Comes to Clifford Falls and Other Stories, the new Nancy Kress collection from Golden Gryphon. Golden Gryphon sends out ARC's with just a plain white paper cover...which explains why I somehow didn't get the picture in the shot. On top of that, and not in the picture is a memoir from Patricia Hampl, and on top of THAT is the second Inspector Chen novel from Liz Williams.


Normally I am a delightfully fast reader, but this last month at work has been quite busier than usual and I've been losing weekend reading time by going back to work. I expect my reading volume to pick back up and I'll motor through all this in a decent amount of time.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Free Scalzi: How I Proposed to My Wife: An Alien Sex Story

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John Scalzi is offering his short story "How I Proposed to My Wife: An Alien Sex Story" for free on his website, though with a caveat that he would appreciate donations. Half of the proceeds go to The Lupus Foundation of America.

The story was previously available only as a very limited edition chapbook from Subterranean Press, and that's a shame, because I had the chance to read the story earlier this year and I think it is probably Scalzi's best short fiction effort. Unlike his other published short fiction, "How I Proposed to My Wife: An Alien Sex Story" actually has a plot and follows a storyline and has a beginning, middle, and end (ya know, like a story). It's funny, too.

So, go to Scalzi's entry about the story and why he is releasing it to the wild, read the story, and then perhaps throw a dollar or two his way. Half of it will go to a good place, the other half will put bread on the man's table.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Why I Stopped Reading Halting State

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Halting State is nominated for the Hugo for Best Novel and is yet another generally well regarded novel from Charles Stross. So why did I pull out my bookmark around page 85, close the cover, and place the book on the pile to return back to the library?

Well, first, because it is due in three days and I'm pretty sure I'm not going to finish the book given that I spend the last week and a half reading the first 85 pages.

Second, because once again I find a Charles Stross novel to be far more exciting for its ideas than for the actual writing. I loved the concept of the police being called in to investigate a theft that took place within an online video game and the further explanation of exactly why this was a serious crime and what the real world repercussions were. Fantastic idea. The actual execution of that idea? Not so fantastic. Halting State is told in Second Person Perspective (where the reader is the character and the word "you" is used frequently...think the Choose Your Own Adventure books). Again, another great idea and actually well done, but somewhere in the midst of the Second Person narration I got a little bit lost. 85 pages, three viewpoint perspectives, and no real clue how it all fits. Yeah, Stross was beginning to bring things together and I know that I missed the real story of Halting State, but I felt that 85 pages was a little bit too long to get into it for Halting State. My other problem? The use of Scottish Dialect. At times it was damn near incomprehensible. The language might be English, but I had to work to parse sentence containing dialect.

But the real reason, and the main reason I stopped reading Halting State is because no matter how much I was interested in the idea of Halting State, the reality of Halting State was not a satisfying reading experience. I had copies of George R. R. Martin's The Armageddon Rag, Justina Robson's Selling Out, a couple of Elizabeth Bear novels, short stories from Lucius Shepard, Vandermeer's City of Saints and Madmen: Book of Ambergis, a zombie western from Joe R. Lansdale, and however many thousands of great books I've never read....and I really didn't want to spend the time reading Halting State and be frustrated by what I consider is not the man's best work.

I have something of a love / hate relationship with the fiction of Charles Stross. I believe his two Bob Howard / Laundry novels are absolutely fantastic. His Merchant Princes series is hit or miss, but is still overall fun to read. And then there is his more technical SF, I didn't finish Accelerando, I forced myself to read all of Singularity Sky, and I gave up on Iron Sunrise.

I know that Stross is extremely well regarded in the SF community, and I know that I am clearly not his target audience, but I really wanted to like Halting State and sign songs of praise about it...and I can't. I may be a bit simplistic in my reading and it may be that Stross just runs at a level way over my head, but I can't recommend that folks pick up the book.

Now...if Stross writes a third Laundry novel (following The Atrocity Archives, and The Jennifer Morgue), well, I'd be all over that.

Monday, April 14, 2008

short stuff

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I've got some stuff I want to write about this week:

The first four stories of The Best of Lucius Shepard (and then maybe the next four), why I stopped reading Halting State, the first two volumes of the Magician: Apprentice graphic novelization, but until I get around to writing those up...

Go read Shadow Unit!!!! The fifth episode, "Ballistic", was damn fantastic.

Start with "Breathe" (by Emma Bull), and then keep reading!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Shadow Unit: Episode 5 is live

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"Ballistic", the fifth episode of my favorite tv show that never was, has gone live tonight. "Ballistic" was written by Elizabeth Bear, Emma Bull, Sarah Monette, and Amanda Downum.

Can I say excitement?

Well, I'm sure I can, but every two weeks I most look forward to a new Shadow Unit story being posted. The only bad thing about this being the fifth episode is that after "Ballistic", there are only three more episodes left. And then what am I supposed to do? Read them again, I suppose.

The final episode of Season 1, "Refining Fire", is a (short) novel length effort from Bear and Bull. Given that Bull and Bear have individually delivered my favorite two episodes of the season, I can't wait to see what they collectively bring.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Thoughts on Nebula Nominees 2008: Novellas

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"Kiosk" - Bruce Sterling (F&SF, Jan07)
"Memorare" - Gene Wolfe (F&SF, Apr07)
"Awakening" - Judith Berman (Black Gate 10, Spr07)
"Stars Seen Through Stone" - Lucius Shepard (F&SF, Jul07)
"The Helper and His Hero" - Matt Hughes (F&SF, Feb07 & Mar07)
"The Fountain of Age" - Nancy Kress (Asimov's, Jul07)


Let’s start with Bruce Sterling, shall we? “Kiosk” is set in some future Russia with a man running a small fabricator, a tool which can make a variety of cheap products. The novella unfolds with some of the political and economic situations of the neighborhood being revealed and the man gets a larger fabricator which can make better products, though uniformly black and featureless and indestructible. Perhaps this was the Soviet ideal? I don’t know. What I do know is that I struggled through “Kiosk” and there was no joy in mudville. There doesn’t have to be joy, but there is no life, no vibrancy to “Kiosk”. At least, there was no vibrancy which engaged me, as a reader.

“Fountain of Age” by Nancy Kress is an interesting story. It deals with gypsies, future technology which can restrict aging (D-Treatment), family, and the goal of an aging man to find a woman he used to know. The odd thing is that I swear I’ve read a different version of this story. Certain characters appeared in each story, there was D-Treatment (same treatment), and a good deal of similarity...but it wasn’t the same story. I’d remember that much. So...did Nancy Kress write the other story, too? Or is this a spin-off of somebody else’s story? Either way, “Fountain of Age” was a bit of a treat. Fascinating story, I’d like more in this milieu, and I’d like to read more from Nancy Kress.

I wanted to dislike Gene Wolfe’s “Memorare”. I disliked his second and third New Sun books so much that the very name Gene Wolfe is enough to make me avoid a story or a novel, but this was nominated for the Nebula and it is available to read for free, so one doesn’t look a gift story in the mouth. “Memorare” is a love story in deep space. Windy is a television producer investigating the practice of burial tombs in the orbit of Jupiter. Kit is his girlfriend who, after a time, joins Windy and brings along a friend in need of a place to stay. Complications arise, as complications are wont to do. The more I read of the story, the more I was impressed with the emotion Wolfe was building. I can’t quite name the emotion, but it is there and it builds. Vague, huh? This is why I don’t write about short fiction on a regular basis. Anyway, the story. An impressive job describing the locations, the actual detail is probably not as vivid as it feels, but there is a definite sense of place to the story. I could picture it. Wolfe does this remarkably well. It’s well worth reading and feels like a more thoughtful science fiction, but that isn’t quite right either, because it would suggest that Bruce Sterling or Nancy Kress aren’t thoughtful writers, and that’s not true.

Judith Berman’s “Awakening” opens with a woman waking up in / on a pile of corpses and finding her way out of wherever it is she is. Interesting opening, but what follows is that I stop caring almost instantly, and after I stop caring I struggle to finish the rest of the story. “Awakening” should be a scary story, but it isn’t. I was very disappointed with “Awakening”.

I find myself having read “The Helper and His Hero” by Matt Hughes and not having a single thing to say about it. So, I’ll say this. I can see why other writers like the story. The story seems technically proficient and well crafted, but it was an utter chore / bore to read. I’d rather go read Gene Wolfe’s New Sun books. This is not a compliment.

Finally, this brings us to “Stars Seen Through Stone”, by Lucius Shepard. The story was originally published in Fantasy and Science Fiction and later in The Best of Lucius Shepard collection (forthcoming in August 2008). Like many other Lucius Shepard stories “Stars Seen Through Stone” is not an overtly SFF story. His fiction takes place in the real world, but a real world where sometimes something unexpected and unreal can occur. This is actually addressed early on in the story when the narrator mentions that the world contains all sorts of weirdness, but it is only the most extreme that anyone notices at all. “Stars Seen Through Stone” is set in 1970’s (sort of) Pennsylvania in a town called Black William (great name, by the way). Vernon is a small time, but moderately respected independent music producer and he signs a talented, if creepy, singer. There is an early incident with some odd ghost lights at the town library, but after that early incident the story follows Vernon developing his creepy singer, but comes back to the history of the town and the history of those odd lights. It is a quietly fascinating and compelling story, one that doesn’t necessarily jump out as being the story readers bang down the doors of their friends house to talk about, but it is also a really good story and one definitely worth the recoginition of the various award nominations it has received.



My conclusion? This is something of a disappointing category for me. I like “The Fountain of Age”, but I am not sure it is quite as good as either “Memorare” and “Stars Seen Through Stone”. It is difficult to say just how the Nebula votes will vote, but I guess I would be surprised if either Gene Wolfe or Lucius Shepard don’t win. Both are well respected, talented authors. If I had a vote, I would probably give my vote to “Stars Seen Through Stone”. I hold the fiction of Lucius Shepard in very high regard, and this was another excellent story for Shepard. Quietly filled with the fantastic, “Stars Seen Through Stone” is not a bad choice for the Nebula. This is just not at all an overall exciting or very interesting category.


Previous Thoughts
Novelettes
Short Stories

The only category left which I would like to cover is that of the Novels, but I don't think I will be able to get to it. I've only read two of the books (Ragamuffin, and The New Moon's Arms). I would much rather have read at least three of the books before I start writing about the category, and that just isn't likely to happen. It's possible, but not likely. I have The Yiddish Policeman's Union at home from the library, and I'm going to get to it before the Hugo's, but I'm not sure I see it in the next two weeks. I've had Odyssey at home for two months and, I don't know, I just don't really have much interest in it. If it wins I'll get that copy back and read it right away, but nothing about it shouts to me. Or whispers. That leaves the Haldeman. I should read more of his stuff. I was impressed with The Forever War, so why not give more of his fiction a shot. This is a long way to say that I like Ragamuffin and out of the two books I have read, I'd like to see it win.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Asimov's Hugo 2008 Stories

Thursday, April 10, 2008 0
The nice people at Asimov's have once again posted ALL of their Hugo nominees online. That's a good amount of quality fiction there, with a couple stories I really, really wanted to read.

"The Fountain of Age", by Nancy Kress (also nominated for a Nebula)
"Recovering Apollo 8", by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
"All Seated on the Ground", by Connie Willis
"Dark Integers", by Greg Egan
"Tideline", by Elizabeth Bear
"Distant Replay", by Mike Resnick
"A Small Room in Koboldtown", by Michael Swanwick

For what is worth, the stories I am most interested in reading are the Connie Willis, Elizabeth Bear, and Mike Resnick.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

GRRM: Starlady and Fast-Friend

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Somehow I overlooked that Subterranean Press is offering up a nice throwback to the old Ace-Doubles of yesteryear, a publication from one George R. R. Martin called Starlady and Fast-Friend, a double helping of two Martin novelettes.

I almost squee-ed with glee before I realized that
a) I have no idea what that means, and
b) "Starlady" and "Fast-Friend" were originally published in Martin's 1981 collection Sandkings and that these are not brand new stories.

But, that's okay because I haven't read these two stories and this is a nice limited edition type publication for collectors.

That Sandkings collection, though? It's bookended by the outstanding stories "The Way of Cross and Dragon" and what is quite possibly my all time favorite Martin story, the titular "Sandkings".

Regardless of whether or not I get my grubby hands on a copy of the limited edition book, I think I'm going to track down a copy of Sandkings and read the stories anyway.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Snake Agent, by Liz Williams

Sunday, April 06, 2008 2

Snake Agent
Liz Williams

With Snake Agent author Liz Williams introduces her readers to Detective Inspector Chen and the city of Singapore Three. Snake Agent opens with Chen in Hell, in captivity, hanging from his heels, and attempting to escape before something worse than being held captive in Hell occurs. The first chapter then jumps back a week earlier and after the tease of a prologue, the story begins. Detective Inspector Chen takes a job to rescue the soul of a young girl which has been waylaid on its way to Heaven. Meanwhile, Zhu Irzh, a Seneschal from Hell is tasked with taking that very soul to Hell. Not exactly the beginning of a beautiful friendship, but it will have to do.

Liz Williams imagines a world and a future where Heaven and Hell not only exist, but actively interact with humanity...quite naturally through layers and layers of bureaucracy. Souls really will go to either Heaven or Hell, and it is also quite possible that the method of transit depends on where you live and what, exactly, you believe. Technology will no longer be mechanical, but rather biological.

Snake Agent encompasses these ideas and much, much more, but what works about Snake Agent is not so much the details of the story, but rather how Williams tells it. The details, great as they are, are the window dressing to entice readers to open the book. Once readers do, and they should, the readers will find a mystery spanning both Earth and Hell, humans and demons, goddesses, lost and found souls, cover ups, Hellish conspiracies, an expansion on what exactly the mystery reveals, and nice detective action. But this is still the window dressing.

The deal is that with each revelation Liz Williams has things set up so that not only does the reader want to know more, the reader needs to know more. Snake Agent may begin with a "simple" mystery of locating a lost soul, but it quickly becomes so much more.

The simple answer to the question of "yes, but is it good?" is a resounding yes. It is.

Good enough that I will be looking for the next three volumes in the Detective Inspector Chen series in the very near future.


Reading copy provided courtesy of Night Shade Books.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Fourth Street Fantasy Convention: A New Old Con?

Friday, April 04, 2008 3
A couple of days ago I read on Elizabeth Bear's LJ that she is to the be Guest of Honor an "an intimate little con in Minneapolis" and I was intrigued.

I've wanted to go to a convention for a couple of years now. I was aware of Minicon, CONvergence, and while pulling links here just came up with a fall con associated with Minicon: Convivial.

And that all sounds good, but I've never been to a con before and I'm not horribly social, so the whole thing makes me a little nervous / uneasy / uncertain / something. I'm just not quite sure what all goes on and what one is supposed to do there. And they're expensive!!!

So why am I posting now? The Fourth Street Fantasy Convention. Guest of Honor: Elizabeth Bear.

From 1986 to 1995, Steven Brust and his friends put on a deep, intelligent, and intimate convention on the literature of the fantastic. In 2008, it will return.

Fourth Street is a small convention for people who are serious about good fantasy and good books– serious about reading them, serious about writing them, serious about appreciating them in all their various forms. It’s also for people who are serious about having a good time. It’s a weekend of high-quality, high-intensity, mind-stretching fun, focused on books– there’s a single track of programming that is at the heart of it all. When everyone sees the same panels, it leads to fascinating conversations in the consuite, hotel bar, and corridors.

Typical panel topics range from the sublime to the frivolous, from the uses of symbolism in fantasy to the symbolism of shoes in fantasy, from subtext to developing taste. The always controversial Moral Fiction panel is a favorite. Come and argue for yourself! (link)

There's an odd mix of wanting to go to a slightly smaller con so I don't feel lost, and wanting to go to a larger con so I can kind of just pass through and feel like I'm getting my money's worth.

But, Elizabeth Bear is the Guest of Honor and she's a kick ass writer (and may use that blurb on all future novels at no charge), and I am seriously thinking about Fourth Street Fantasy Convention.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Not Flesh Nor Feathers: Chapter One

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I have Not Flesh Nor Feathers checked out from the library. Here is Chapter One of Cherie Priest's third Eden Moore novel.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

March 2008 Reading

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1. A Cruel Wind - Glen Cook
2. Dreamsongs: Volume II - George R. R. Martin
3. Black Powder War - Naomi Novik
4. The Sandman: Dream Country - Neil Gaiman
5. Eclipse One - Jonathan Strahan (editor)
6. Water Sleeps - Glen Cook

(above links are to the reviews)

For some reason, and I cannot say exactly why, March was a very, very slow reading month. I’m not sure when the last time I only read six books in a single month. Not many reviews, either.


Best Book: Dreamsongs: Volume II. Is there really any question why? Reading the two volumes of Dreamsongs I was delighted to experience the full range of George Martin’s fiction. He is good at nearly everything he writes and while he is best known and these days first known for his Ice and Fire novels, Dreamsongs just goes to show that the man had two decades of quality fiction behind him before he ever wrote A Game of Thrones. I cannot recommend Dreamsongs strongly enough. There are some outstanding stories in this career retrospective. When Martin is done with Ice and Fire I hope he returns to short fiction (while thrilling us with new novels we never expected)

Most Disappointing Book: A Cruel Wind. I wrote about this in my review, but I had high expectations for this first Dream Empire omnibus and my expectations were not met. Given that this is an omnibus of three novels of The Dread Empire I have started to wonder if I am simply a Black Company fan instead of a Glen Cook fan.

Pleasant Surprise: Water Sleeps. Being a Black Company novel I expected to enjoy Water Sleeps, but the past couple of Black Company novels were fairly disappointing. Having switched from Croaker and Lady as narrator to Murgen just did not work. He have another narrator switch here, this time to a character named Sleepy, one of the survivors of the rest of the Company trapped under the Glittering Plain. The Black Company novels seem to work best on the strength of who narrates and Cook does a very good job in having the narrators feel like distinct characters. Sleepy works. Also, Water Sleeps is a novel of discovery, of action, of progress, and while it feels like an ending, there is still one more Black Company novel to go.


Previous 2008 Reads
January
February
 
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