Monday, June 30, 2008

Paolo Bacigalupi on NPR

Monday, June 30, 2008 0
Not a huge fan of Paolo Bacigalupi's short fiction, but Bacigalupi was featured / interviewed on National Public Radio's Weekend Edition on June 29. It's a solid 4 minute segment and well worth the listen.

Listen here
.

Thanks to Jeremy Lassen for pointing out the piece. Lassen is also featured in the piece.

Interview with Nancy Kress

Nancy Kress is the author of twenty five books (18 novels, 4 short story collections, and 3 nonfiction books on writing). Her most recent books are the collection Nano Comes to Clifford Falls and Other Stories (review) and Dogs (review).

Nancy graciously agreed to answer a few questions.



How would you describe yourself as a writer to somebody who has never read any of your work before but may be interested? What do you see as your particular strength as a writer?
I write character-driven SF, often about genetic engineering. The genetic engineering part is because I believe this is the future, and not such a far-away future. The character part is because although science is interesting all by itself ("This is how the universe works"), it only becomes stories when it happens to people that readers can either care about or feel an interest in (not necessarily the same thing).

Would you talk a little bit about the origins of your new novel Dogs? Specifically, what lead you to blend the terrorism subplot with the canine plague infecting Tyler?
Probably because both interest me. I know that's a vague answer, but the creative process, most of which goes on below the surface of a writer's mind, is something of a mystery to me. Still, after thirty years! In this case, I was interested in hot agents, pathogens that may cause plagues. I also lived for a brief time while young in an Arab country, and came to have considerable respect for Arab culture. I'm not knowledgeable to write about it from the point of view of an Arab, so Tessa seemed the right lens.

Outside of perhaps demonstrating America's vulnerability to highly original forms of terrorism, is there anything in particular you tried to accomplish with Dogs? Or, is there anything you would hope readers take away from the novel.
I would hope, first of all, that they enjoy reading it. "Enjoy" can have many meanings, and I don't necessarily mean "be entertained by." I mean be interested, wanting to know what comes next. That's what drives good stories.

Then, I would hope they take away a renewed sense of how global our civilization is. An African pathogen can reach the United States by plane in about eight hours. We dodged the bullet with Ebola, when it was imported with research monkeys to Reston, Virginia, in 1989. Who's to say we will be so lucky next time? You don't need terrorists; you just need a mutated hot agent.

Although we are vulnerable to bio-terrorism.

Can you talk about specific challenges you faced researching and writing Dogs?
Not too many challenges. The science is not gone into in great detail, and I had already read a lot about epidemics. Also, I'd read many books about how the FBI is structured and functions for my two previous thrillers, OATHS AND MIRACLES and STINGER. I lived in Maryland for six years. So this book didn't require as much research as, say, my Probability series did. And, of course, when a book is set in the present, a writer is saved from having to create an entire future world.

In Nano Comes to Clifford Falls you write that "Mirror Image" is your favorite story in the collection. Is there a particular story (or novel) of yours which you are especially proud of but hasn't received the attention you hoped it would?
Yes, "Mirror Image." I liked that story, on several levels, but it sort of just disappeared. Often a writer's preference is not a good predictor of public reaction.

Instigated by the announced Table of Contents of Eclipse Two, recent weeks have seen a good deal of conversation regarding an overall lack of female contributers to anthologies and magazines and the supposed "genderblindness" of editors. As the only woman published in Eclipse Two, what is your perspective on the short fiction market for women and what do you think can be done to improve it?
I didn't know I was the only woman in ECLIPSE 2. I looked at the last few issues of both ASIMOV'S and F&SF, and you're right, there are only one or, at the most, two female-authored stories in both magazines. I don't know why this is. We have so many terrific female writers: Connie Willis, Karen Joy Fowler, Elizabeth Bear, Lisa Goldstein, Kris Rusch, Mary Rosenblum, Vonda McIntyre... I could go on and on. I don't understand the situation.

Related to the previous question, have you noticed any changes in the short fiction market since you first began publishing in the early 1980's? Are there certain types of stories selling now that wouldn't have twenty years ago, or different opportunities available for publication?
Well, of course, twenty years ago we didn't have on-line magazines. In general, I think short fiction is more accomplished now. I look at my first few sales, and I don't think that a new writer could sell those same stories today. SF is deeper, more complex. It's also more willing to publish edgy stories. Connie Willis could not find a publisher for her child-abuse story "All My Darling Daughters" until she included it in her own collection, but that kind of story is published now. I just finished M. Rikert's "Holiday," in the Strahan Best of the Year, and it's creepy and powerful and way, way out there.

What is the one question you wish somebody would ask you and how would you answer it?
I wish someone would say, "Will you accept one million dollars for the movie rights to this novel of yours?" And I would say "Yes."

Thank you very much for you time, Nancy.

Thanks also to Matt Staggs for helping to set this up.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Dogs, by Nancy Kress

Sunday, June 29, 2008 2
Dogs
Nancy Kress
Tachyon Publications: 2008

We've seen this before, right? Vicious dogs? It's been done, right?

Not quite like this.

With Dogs, Nancy Kress does something different with what we might expect from a novel where there are killer dogs roaming the streets of a small Maryland town. Dogs is not straight horror like Stephen King might have written and it certainly is not your average (is there such a thing?) rabid dog story.

Dogs is a thriller. Here's the story, more or less: Tessa Sanderson retired from the FBI after her husband was killed by a drunk driver. She moved to Tyler, a small and quiet town in Maryland, to get a way from the Bureau and her old life. Instead she has moved into a town where something very bad is about to happen. Formerly peaceful dogs turn vicious and attack their owners, or anyone else in the area. Tyler hospital sees a rash of dog bites from breeds that are not known to be biters. Then it gets worse.

The government steps in, FEMA cracks down hard in hopes to reclaim its image and get something right for a change, and the CDC quarantines the town.

The dogs of Tyler can be considered the primary storyline of the novel (along with the Animal Control workers and just understanding what is happening to the dogs), but there is a secondary storyline intertwined with the primary: Tessa Sanderson is being sent threatening e-mails in Arabic that appear to be linked to the plague infecting the dogs of Tyler.

It's scary and riveting stuff.

For any dog owner or dog lover, simply reading a novel where such bad things happen to dogs and perhaps the only solution to the plague is to kill dogs, and where the plague could infect anyone's dog (mine, yours, the cute neighbor dog), it's terrifying to think about.

Initially there were some things that bothered me about Dogs. The first was the pit bulls. Not that I am in any sort of denial that yes, there are some horrible owners who are entirely to blame for the behavior of their dogs and help perpetuate the stereotype of pit bulls, but that what Kress does here is also help perpetuate the stereotype by having already vicious pit bulls get the virus. Yeah, of course they're nasty. They're pits. Except that there are perhaps just as many well behaved pit bulls with good owners. But, this is only half of a complaint about how Kress handled the introduction to the infected dogs (and breeds) and half of my personal issue on the perception of dog breeds. This is worth noting, and worth injecting myself into the middle of the review because who I am, and how I feel about dogs will certainly influence and pervade my perception of Dogs. What the writer does is only half of the reading experience. The other half is what the reader brings to the table and with a book about dogs, Kress is definitely going to touch on the flashpoints of many readers.

The second thing that bothered me about Dogs was any character who was overly idealistic came off as extremely one dimensional (think some of the government folks who wanted to use Tyler as an opportunity, the dog owners, and the dog haters). But, while this rubbed the wrong way, in many cases, this may have been spot on. Dog owners will get extremely narrow minded when it comes to their dogs, even if the larger society is at risk because of the virus. Dogs are not just pets. Dog haters will feel much the same way, and some politicians will play political games.

So, now that I think more about it, the seemingly negative may be one of the more realistic aspects of Nancy Kress's Dogs.

Enough about the negative, on to the positive: Once I started reading Dogs, I didn't want to stop. This isn't because I was excited about the dog plague, though Kress does a good job with it, but more that I really wanted to know where Kress brought the story next. Dogs was exciting and to use a well worn cliche, a "real page turner".

The melding of the terrorist story with the primary story of the dog plague is very well done. It is believable. Sure, the science is not explained in detail, but I don't think that is necessary. Dogs hits a very real fear: our pets should not be targets and if there is nothing we can do to protect them... That's something that would terrorize a population AND have said population be unwilling to work with the government.

Bottom line: Dogs works.

The novel has a rough patch or two (a couple more than I expected having read some of Kress's short fiction), but the reader is likely to be turning the pages so fast that any rough patch will be gone in the blink of an eye as the storytelling propels the reader a long.

Dogs is a good read and a good introduction into the novel length fiction of Nancy Kress.


Reading copy provided courtesy of Tachyon Publications.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Fourth Street Fantasy: Day Three

Thursday, June 26, 2008 2
I started out in the consuite with a combination reason of seeing if there was any grub available and also seeing if there was anyone to talk to before the first panel. I saw cloudsudding and went over to the couches to join the conversation. Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette were both there. I joined the conversation without really intruding on it. It was a good start to the morning.

After the first panel, and just before lunch, I got a quick signing from Bear on my still unread copy of Undertow.

I was a little sad that this was the final day of Fourth Street. Even though I had gone to bed at fairly reasonable hours, I was tired but not ready to be done.


Panels:

10:00 AM: Writing in the Negative Space
Panelists: Steven Brust (moderator), Elizabeth Bear, Sarah Monette, Will Shetterly

Emma Bull was originally on the panel, but needed a bit more rest than what is normally available at a con. Will Shetterly gave a great example of what the concept of negative space means, and that is if you try to describe something directly the description is going to be lacking and only in two dimensions. However, if you describe around the thing you want to bring attention to you’ll get a more clear picture of that thing even though you never directly describe it. This is a bit vague, but Bear gave another example: in art you don’t draw the person, you draw the stuff around the person so that what you see in the end is the person you wanted to bring out. Pretty much, how I understand this is that the negative space is that which we don’t say but is still the overall shape of the story. Negative space is what we build the story around. All this was much more clear in my mind until I tried to type it out. Good thing Brust never called on me when I had my hand raised. This was one of the better panels of the con.


12:30 PM: Writer’s Lies
Panelists: Steven Brust (moderator), Pamela Dean, Ellen Klages, Marissa Lingen, Will Shetterly, Caroline Stevermer

This is a panel dealing with the lies writers tell themselves in order to do their best work. Like the Cool Idea to Story panel from Friday, I’m not sure this panel really answered the question in a way that is truly helpful. The panel identified several lies (I’ll never publish this, this doesn’t suck, Grandpa will never read this story) that has helped them get through and finish work, but then the panel sort of devolved into coming up with lies on why their work ISN’T good (led by Bear’s question from the audience about her incredibly negative inner critic) and that’s when I think the panel got off topic a bit. I don’t mind the off topic bits because listening to the panelists riff on various ideas and topics is great. I think the topic for this panel wasn’t quite sufficiently broad enough to get to the core of Brusts’s questions.


2:00 PM: Stuff
Panelists: Patrick Nielsen Hayden (moderator), Elizabeth Bear, Emma Bull, Arthur Hlavaty, Sarah Monette.


Throughout the con, and probably any con, there are things that come up in panels that the only appropriate response to the question or idea is: And that’s really another panel. This is that panel. The focus of this panel ended up being...well, I don't really remember. I remember discussion about researching, wikipedia being like the children's nonfiction section of your library, metafilters, and something that is juuust grasping at the edge of my consciousness but failing.


Following the last panel was the Closing Ceremonies. This included a drawing for a Kindle. I didn’t want one, per se, but I’d have loved to have won one. Closing ceremonies were much like the opening ceremonies, with a little bit of info on next year’s con, and other quick goodness. Steven Brust seemed quite happy with how this con went and I’d say he should be. It was a great experience.


Before the closing ceremonies I had the chance to speak with Will Shetterly. I let him know that I enjoyed his Disney copyright story and this led to a conversation about copyright, Disney, Cory Doctorow, Canada, and the odd dynamic of wanting a company like Disney to hold on to their copyright so they can protect the Mouse as a brand while understanding that doing so can be damaging to the public discourse and the ability to write stories using 100 year old characters which in most cases, should no longer be protected by copyright. In that case the brand may be the trust in Disney’s brand even if there are knock off stories and property out in the public domain using the mouse. But, we both suspect that Disney may not necessarily want the company to be the public brand as opposed to Mickey, even though the company has already pretty well branded themselves with the Disney “name”. Good conversation.

After closing ceremonies I had a chance to thank both Elizabeth Bear and Emma Bull for coming, say goodbye to a couple people I met, and then head on home to finally sit down and relax at home for the first time that weekend.

I’m quite happy that Fourth Street returned, that Bear was the Guest of Honor, that the Shadow Unit crew was almost all able to attend, that most everyone at the Con were interesting to talk with (when I talked), and that the whole thing was a fantastic experience and one which I hope to repeat next year.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Fourth Street Fantasy: Day Two

Wednesday, June 25, 2008 0
Saturday was an awesome day at the Con. I don’t know in what order I met people, but I had some great conversations with cloudscudding, aedifica, karenthology, somebody named Ginger, and a bit with seabream. I wish I got to talk more with seabream, he seemed pretty cool and he came from Toronto for the con, which I think is just nuts (not necessarily more nuts than Texas, but still). And I chatted with other people in larger groups up in the consuite and I have no idea who they are, but collectively, it was a great group.

This was the big long day with 6 panels. On Sunday Steven Brust talked about maybe having one or two fewer panels next year, and I think I like how many panels we had. Saturday was crazy and some of the meal breaks ran long when the hotel restaurant wasn’t really staffed to handle the volume of con guests (even the 60 – 100 guests we had), but I think the panels were a good length (no clue how long...some felt longer than others, the Shadow Unit panel felt way too short, and others felt rushed at the end when there was still good panel going on. I think that’s the way of it, though. There is always something more to be said.

Because I really prefer going to panels and hearing what the professionals have to say, I’d be just as happy with shorter breaks. Yeah, I had a great time talking to the other con goers, and I know that’s an essential part of con experience, but we’ve got some really great panelists here.


On to the Panels:


9:30 AM: The Dreaded Second Draft
Panelists: Elizabeth Bear (moderator), Eleanor Arnason, Emma Bull, Pamela Dean, Catherine Lundoff, Caroline Stevermer.

Cool! There are folks here I’ve never heard of, though obviously they are here for a reason. Maybe because this was 9:30 AM or the room was arranged weird (different room from Friday night), but this was a quiet panel. What was interesting was just how many different ways the various writers drafted. From outlines to running through a complete draft to constantly revising on screen so that by the time the first draft is done it is quite a bit more polished than the average first draft. Good stuff, though a quiet opener.


11:00 AM: The Chewy Bits
Panelists: Teresa Nielsen Hayden (moderator), Steven Brust, Emma Bull, Pamela Dean, Jim Frenkel

Kevin Maroney was listed as a panelist, but I’m not quite sure that he was there. I’m also not sure who he is. My apologies if he was actually up there and I’ve forgotten it. The core of this is that the Chewy Bits are the aspects of the story that really makes the reader think, even if they are missed on the first read through. It’s what makes the story deep and what we talk about with our friends when we talk about stories. It’s not the Shiny bits (the cool ideas that are fun to write and read), but where we get our nutrition from. I may not be saying this right. There were some interesting dynamics going on here. I believe I said yesterday how much I was impressed with Emma Bull (and seriously, she’s awesome), but Steven Brust is one of the most entertaining people ever on panel. When he is in the audience he asks great questions, he’s a fantastic moderator, but the man has clear opinions and states them very well with a high dose of entertainment. He’s smart, cares about all of this in regards to writing, and just how honestly interested he is in how this all works comes across. I wouldn’t complain if he was on every panel. I’ll talk about Teresa Nielsen Hayden when I get to the 8:00 PM panel.


1:30 PM: Advice From New Writers
Panelists: Teresa Nielsen Hayden (moderator), Reesa Brown, Jennifer Evans, Marissa Lingen, Michael Merriam, Kit O’Connell, Jon Singer

Rather than giving advice to new writers, we got advice from new writers. The first piece of advice: sit in the comfy chairs. Rather than simply take what is given you (i.e. a table with uncomfortable chairs), go grab the plush comfy chairs from the hallway. If there is a single point that defines this panel and what the New Writer panel is about, that’s it. I don’t know that the panel really gave advice in the sense of what can help other new writers, but it was a collective conversation about changing the landscape of fiction, what new writers hate and don’t want to see anymore (from other writers, from publishers, etc), and just the overall sense of what these particular new writers think of when they think of fiction. This was probably my second favorite panel of the day and this is mostly because of the entertainment value of the panel. I don’t mean mindless entertainment, that’s not what I want to get across, but it was just so fascinating to listen to. Different perspectives.


3:00 PM: Playing with Structure
Panelists: Elizabeth Bear (moderator), Alec Austen, Emma Bull, Jim Frenkel, Jon Singer

I’m starting to blank and people on the panel. My program has a Bernadette Bosky on the panel, but this is another case of I really don’t remember that person. We start with a bit of varied definition of structure, some examples of variations of story structure, and a wide ranging question on how to use it, what it means, what it can be used for, and how structure can be just as important as the story (example – the movie Memento). Good panel, but I’m not sure it really was a favorite of mine. This is because I’m not really a writer or using structure in any informed way. I think other people took a lot from this panel.


4:30 PM: 21st Century Storytelling
Panelists: Steven Brust (moderator), Alec Austen, Elizabeth Bear, Emma Bull, Sarah Monette, Will Shetterly.

Ostensibly this panel was actually about with models will be used to tell stories in the twenty first century. This was the Shadow Unit panel. Shadow Unit was used as the lens with which we viewed 21st Century Storytelling because while not completely original (stuff like this HAS been done says a grumpy guy named Pat who seemed somewhat bitter that his history wasn't really recognized), it is part of what the new wave of storytelling may look like. What is old is new again. Plus, four of the five writers of Shadow Unit were on the panel. Emma Bull gave a run down on the history of Shadow Unit, how it came about, what they intended with it. I love Shadow Unit (surprise!), so I thought it was a great panel. The only part that I didn’t quite get was Patrick Nielson Hayden’s taking issue with the SU folk seeking a publisher to print the SU stories as a book. It took me a while, but I figured out that PNH is concerned that the website will be considered publicity for the “real” story, the book. How the panelists are taking this is that the book is publicity for the website. Or, better yet, merchandise for the more interactive storytelling done online. The reason I want a book is because a) I like having a book, and b) I want Bear / Bull / Monette / Shetterly / Downum to get PAID so that not only is it fun to create Shadow Unit, it is profitable. This is also why I’ve been donating a couple dollars at a time via the website. Shadow Unit is professional quality work given away for free. This was my favorite panel of the Con.


8:00 PM: Food, Fashion, and Fornication
Panelists: Elise Matheson (moderator), Elizabeth Bear, Catherine Lundhoff, Sarah Monette, Kit O’Connell, Jon Singer

This was probably the most informative panel of the entire Con. What does food, fashion, and sex have to say about the fantasy worlds being written about? The best way to really get to the main...thrust...of the panel is to try to paraphrase what Teresa Nielsen Hayden had to say when asked about fabric. She was called on and asked what lace and linen and some other fabric meant in terms of economics. She started with lace. In a pre-industrial society lace is a true luxury item. Like everything else it has to be hand made and it takes a lot of time. A lacy trim on the dress of a noblewoman would take approximately a year’s worth of labor to create. Think about that. The average lower class townfolk or provincial would NEVER have a lace trimmed dress because they could not possibly afford it and they wouldn’t take the time to make one because if it takes a year to make there are many more things they could be doing with their time (making the rest of their clothing, sheets, curtains, or, doing other manual labor). Not to mention the possibility of sumptuary laws. The core of this panel, to me, was that what characters wear and eat says a lot about what sort of world / land the story is set in and is something that really does need to be carefully considered. And then there’s fornication. Apparently there was a woman from England who is a serious historical sex scholar in the audience and she was invited up on panel because she’s extensively knowledgeable about the topic.


The point I wanted to make about TNH was simply that she was a wealth of knowledge about a huge range of topics and even though she was not involved in many panels, it was so cool that she was there. I was more than impressed with how much TNH knew about and all of her contributions to panels (both as moderator and just when called up in the audience).


This was such a great day at Fourth Street. I don’t what I’ll think about other cons as I start going to more of the local conventions, but Fourth Street was a perfect Con to have for my first one. I met some great people, went to awesome panels, had good conversation about fantasy / bookish type stuff and overall just had a great time.

I’m glad I went.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Fourth Street Fantasy: Day One

Tuesday, June 24, 2008 7
I stand in the very short registration line to get my name badge and whatever other miscellany is given out at the con. I hear a woman talking with somebody else about her drive up from Texas and I think, “I wonder if that is txanne”. Txanne, because apparently I think in Livejournal tags, is a very active member of the Shadow Unit forums who I knew was coming to the Con. I take a wild guess that txanne is short for Texas Anne. Deep, I know.

I tell the lady at the table (Beth Friedman) my name and mystery woman from Texas excitedly repeats my name and introduces herself as...well...Txanne (pronounced Tex-Anne).

The start of my convention experience is already kinda cool.

I should add, at this point, that Fourth Street is my first convention.

I head in to the room which host the panels for the evening, have a nice Shadow Unit discussion with Txanne about the ending of the first season. Txanne repeats my theory on Chaz in a loud stage whisper because apparently Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette are sitting two rows in front of us, but we’re ignored.

A guy walks by in black jeans, black t-shirt, leather vest, and a black cowboy hat. I only see him from the back. I ask if that’s Steven Brust because just from that back, that’s exactly what I expect Steven Brust to look like. It is.

Opening Ceremonies: Steven Brust introduces himself, welcomes us to Fourth Street, gives a bit of a background on how this happened so many years after the last Fourth Street, briefly introduces our Guest of Honor (Elizabeth Bear). Elise Matheson stands up, says that the con is going to happen NEXT year, too, that she will be running it, and that the confirmed Guest of Honor is Cory Doctorow. I haven’t even been to a single panel yet and I already want to go next year to hear Cory speak.

After Opening Ceremonies txanne introduced me to Emma Bull and Will Shetterly in order to briefly share my Chaz theory. Bull looks at me and says “and you know that we’re not going to tell you anything, even if you’re right. It’s just too much fun” Bull was awesome. Bear came over and gave Bull a small carved platypus, which makes sense if you know Shadow Unit.


Two Panels on the First Day:

3:30: From Cool Idea to Story. This is where writers talk about how they take the Great Idea they have and make it a Story.

Panelists: Jim Frenkel (moderator), Alec Austen, Ellen Klages, Marissa Lingen, Will Shetterly

I don’t know when I got this idea, but Jim Frenkel is an awesome grump. He just seems cranky on panel, but not necessarily in a negative way. In a damned entertaining way.

I also don’t know if the panel ever *really* answered the question of how the cool idea really gets to be a story, though I think they tried, but it was fascinating listening to the conversation. Ellen Klages: funny as hell on panel.

This is also where I noticed Alec Austen. Not necessarily because of anything he said. He spoke kind of quietly and so I am pretty sure I missed a good deal of what he said. But Alec has a fairly severe stutter when on panel and it was very impressive and VERY cool that he was up there. I was slightly bugged by some of the other panelists finishing the occasional sentences of Alec’s, but I don’t know his opinion on it. I did briefly tell him on Saturday that I was thought it was awesome he was up there, because that takes a bit of courage, but this wasn’t a panel / con on stuttering, so I really didn’t bring it up ever again.


5:00: Grinding Buttons and Pushing Axes for Fun and Profit. A panel on “message” stories, anything that tries to push an agenda. This was a damn interesting panel that ran the gamut of Left Behind (but only barely) to Pilgrim’s Progress and other didactic literature, to pretty much anything trying really hard to make a point.

Panelists: Elizabeth Bear (moderator), Alec Austen, Emma Bull, Marissa Lingen, Sarah Monette.

Bull is great on panel. She has a lot to say and she takes a bit of a different, more moderate perspective from the others. Not necessarily a more academic perspective, because I think that’s where Sarah Monette comes from, but it was a great panel.


After dinner there was “A Very Shiny Evening of Readings and Celebration”. On one hand it was a jewelry showcase for Elise Matheson, but also readings of poetry (some very funny haiku: Bring on the asps!) and short fiction. Lois McMaster Bujold was there, too.

I only stayed for the first reading, which had a short story from Sarah Monette. I left at 10:00 after the first round of readings because the next round wouldn’t be over until 10:45 and it felt late. Unfortunately, I missed Bear’s reading and then I missed the party where there was singing, but that’s okay (well, the fact that I left...I really, really wished I got to hear Bear read)


For a first day at my first convention, I had a good time. I wanted more panel, but that shouldn’t be a surprise. The social aspect isn't my forte, but I like to listen.

It was a very good day. I'll wrap up Days Two and Three soon and then make some concluding comments, overall impressions, and try to link to as much Fourth Street commentary as possible.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Vandermeer's Favorite Short Fiction Fantasists

Monday, June 23, 2008 0
Jeff Vandermeer just posted his list of favorite short fiction fantasists. All women.

Vandermeer's post was more in light of the Tin House: Fantastic Women issue as well as his reading for Best American Fantasy, but I see it also in relation to Eclipse Two.

After making a list of women who were NOT to be on the list, Vandermeer then goes on to list twenty three MORE women who are talented writers.

And I wonder: How the hell did Strahan only manage to include ONE woman when Vandermeer lists 36 and didn't include novelists?

Sometimes stuff don't make sense.

Pretties, by Scott Westerfeld

If you have not yet read Uglies and have no desire to be spoiled on a major plot point of the novel, please stop reading at the end of this paragraph. You can safely assume that I think that Uglies is a delightful novel and is chock full of awesome shiny bits. It is. You should drop everything and go read it right now. Afterwords, please return right here and read the rest of the review to find out if you should read Pretties, too. (You should). This is the part where you should stop reading the review if you haven’t read Uglies. The first sentence of the next paragraph is a rather major spoiler for Uglies but is also essential to the story of Pretties.

At the end of Uglies (I warned you)...


At the end of Uglies Tally Youngblood made the decision to return to Prettytown to be made Pretty. She knows that doing so will subject her to a surgery to change her overall physical appearance, but that it will also damage her brain. Reversable brain lesions are somehow caused by the surgery to ensure that the Pretties stay fairly docile, unthinking, and unquestioning. Tally made this decision so that she could later test an experimental cure for the lesions. The only ethical way to test the cure was to have an ugly agree before she is made pretty, because after the surgery, Tally won’t remember.

So, Pretties starts out with Tally as a Pretty. She is vapid and uncaring and engages in all the Pretty fun that occurs in New Prettytown. The last time we saw her, she had a working brain and now she’s just like the rest of the Pretties. Pretties is a very different novel than Uglies was. Up until the very last pages of Uglies, this is not what I expected from the second novel, but now it is the only possible way to tell the story given how Uglies ended.

The book starts out interesting, but annoying. The Pretties would have gotten on my nerves anyway. They are the personification of the spoiled rich children of Hollywood (or, just spoiled rich children). They don’t care about anything but themselves and maintaining their status, and they behave accordingly. Granted, in New Prettytown, this is completely appropriate for who and what they are, but I still dislike them.

Scott Westerfeld does something very interesting with Pretties. Tally Youngblood was already something of an annoying protagonist (aka, a seemingly realistic teenager in an unreal world). Now he ratchets up the annoyance by making her Pretty. This should be enough to kill the book / series for me, but it isn’t. Westerfeld’s storytelling is just so damn good that with each page I want to know more. I want more. Not necessarily of Tally, but just of the whole experience, the world of Uglies and Pretties.

What we know and what we expect is that at some point Tally will receive the note explaining why she is Pretty and what it means and what the cure is. This has to happen and it does. We know a central conflict will be Tally’s decision on whether or not to remain Pretty and also dealing with her new identity as a Pretty and how this will affect how she views the Uglies from her past. This is a central conflict of the novel, but Westerfeld also expands the world in ways I will not describe so as not to take away the sense of discovery that still pervades this, the second novel in a four book trilogy (yes, you read that right).

Where Scott Westerfeld reset the story with the ending of Uglies, he does the same thing in a different way with the ending of Pretties. This is another ending I did not expect at all. Perhaps the ending was inevitable, but it was not until the book was almost over that I saw it clearly.

The real review here is that if someone liked Uglies, they can expect more of the same competence in storytelling from Scott Westerfeld. Pretties isn’t going to change anyone’s mind who did or did not like Uglies. That said, Pretties is well worth reading. Westerfeld is telling a damn good story here and he deserves all the audience he can get (and that’s fairly large).

It’s good stuff.


Previous Review:
Uglies

Sunday, June 22, 2008

future posts

Sunday, June 22, 2008 1
The next week or so should feature the following entries
  • A multi-part wrap up of Fourth Street Fantasy, which has been an awesome experience
  • a link filled post trying to cover the range of responses to the TOC of Eclipse Two.
  • A review of Pretties, by Scott Westerfeld
  • A review of Dogs, by Nancy Kress
  • A review of Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow
And then I'm sure I'm going to come up with something else that I'm just not thinking of right now because I have to leave soon to get back to the Con.

I do have to say, and I'll expand on this in the Con wrap up, that Emma Bull is full of awesome and an absolute delight in person.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

oh, and...

Thursday, June 19, 2008 0
Oh, and since I'm feeling cranky right now...

Cujo sucks.

Meme this...

Mary Robinette Kowal tagged me with the dreaded "Page 123, fifth sentence" meme.
To participate, you grab the closest book, go to page 123, find the fifth sentence, and blog it. Then tag five people.
Reaper's Gale, by Steven Erikson.
Well, for one, it was self-contained, walled, entirely covered by multi-level roofing - even the plazas, alleys and streets.
What a boring ass sentence.

But then I'm struggling with this book. I'm just tired of the damn Letherii storyline.

I'm also breaking the chain of tagging, mostly because I'm a little tired and have blisters from spending an hour trying to start my car after work until my wife rescued me with a spare key that wasn't stripped.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Fruitless Recursion

Wednesday, June 18, 2008 0
Who reviews the reviewers?

Jonathan McCalmont introduces
us to Fruitless Recursion. Fruitless Recursion is a paying market for reviews of SFF nonfiction.

Fairly cool idea, and while not the paying review site that Scalpel was supposed to be (sorry for bringing up that hot mess, but it was a great idea for fiction reviews), Fruitless Recursion will provide a showcase for nonfiction works.

From the website:
Fruitless Recursion is an online journal devoted to discussing works of criticism and non-fiction relating to the SF, Fantasy and Horror genres. It will cover biographies, substantial works of critical theory, collections of reviews as well as any interviews, profiles or examinations of any other works that are deemed to be fitting.

The aim of FR is to stimulate discussion of these kinds of works, raise the profiles of the people producing them and to help inform the purchasing decisions of people who might otherwise have to turn to journals to find reviews.

I'd love to submit something, but I have no clue what.

Monday, June 16, 2008

One Woman? Really?

Monday, June 16, 2008 6
I thought Eclipse One, edited by Jonathan Strahan and published by Night Shade Books was a great anthology. Not quite as full as awesome as, say, Fast Forward 1, it was still a damn solid anthology and I enjoyed reading it. So much so that I looked forward to Volume Two.

Then I saw the table of contents posted over at SF Signal.

I remember the debate last year regarding the lack of female names on the cover Eclipse One (despite women making up nearly half of the anthology). The debate is summed up here and is wrapped up in regards to a panel at Wiscon.

The table of contents is nearly final, with one left to be determined, but here is the list courtesy of Strahan's website.
  1. The Hero, Karl Schroeder
  2. Turing’s Apples, Stephen Baxter
  3. Invisible Empire of Ascending Light, Ken Scholes
  4. Michael Laurits is: Drowning, Paul Cornell
  5. Elevator, Nancy Kress
  6. The Illustrated Biography of Lord Grimm, Daryl Gregory
  7. Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, David Moles
  8. The Rabbi’s Hobby, Peter S. Beagle
  9. The Seventh Expression of the Robot General, Jeffrey Ford
  10. Skin Deep, Richard Parks
  11. Ex Cathedra, Tony Daniel
  12. Truth Window: A Tale of the Bedlam Rose, Terry Dowling
  13. We Haven’t Got There Yet, Harry Turtledove
  14. Fury, Alastair Reynolds
Now, I'm willing to accept that I may be missing androgynous names here, but I checked and Terry Dowling is male.

One woman? Seriously.

Think that argument last year was rough?

One woman? I'm not sure how that happens. You'd think accidentally Strahan would have selected a second woman. Like, by mistake and all.

Ouch.

That's embarrassing. I'm sure each of the stories are great and all, but I'm going to have a difficult time looking at Eclipse Two and not consider the fact that only woman was included. Conscious decision or blind selection / submission process, it's a slap in the face.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Shadow Unit: DVD Extra

Sunday, June 15, 2008 0
You thought I was done talking about Shadow Unit?

Nope!

There will be bonus features throughout the summer. Tonight brings us "Vigil", a short from Elizabeth Bear.

Anyone pissed off at Reyes after Refining Fire should check out "Vigil". This is the beginning of what comes after.

It's heartbreaking.

Sense of Wonder

David deBeer attempts to define "sense of wonder" in comparison to "sublime" when talking about SFF.

The closing statement and quite possibly the perfect answer:

If sense of wonder is an invitation the writer extends to the reader, saying “take my hand and walk with me in never-neverland,” then the sublime is that ideal idea of perfect grace we project onto something.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Is it Over?

Saturday, June 14, 2008 1
Is it over?

Is it safe?

Is it safe?

Is it safe?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Is it?

Friday, June 13, 2008 0
Guess we're not as safe as I thought. Some zombies broke in. Bit the girl. After we shot them, we had to shoot her too. Then we burned her. When I say "we", I mean "they".

It should be over soon, though, right?

house

I'm in some Hmong guy's house in Deephaven right now. We've got more guns than are technically legal. They've given me a couple that I really need to just point and pull the trigger and the gun will take care of the rest.

Did you ever feel as if your life was one big video game?

Minnetonka was damned overrun with zombies. I hate those fucking things. Zombies everywhere.

Did you know that zombies shit? Seriously. That town was covered in zombie shit. I guess all that flesh and brain they eat has to go somewhere. I had no clue zombies still had a digestive system.

Anyway.

I feel as safe as possible. Bloomington, to the best of my knowledge, is under water. Even the parts that it doesn't make sense, it's underwater. Something weird, I tell you. I'm in a house with twelve other people (does that make me Judas?) and only one of them speaks English. It'll come as no surprise that I speak neither White Hmong nor Green Hmong. Shoot, sometimes I can barely not stutter my way through English.

We'll see.

hitch

I hitched a ride with some stupid motorist. Stupid because he stopped for me, not because he was dumb. I'll take it.

I told him I didn't care where I was going.

Where did he take me? Minne-freaking-tonka.

What is in Minnetonka? Lake Minne-freaking-tonka.

I'd complain, but I do live in a state with more than 11,000 lakes.

still alive

Still alive. Still alive. Still alive.

Out of breath.

I'm pretty sure I'm over by Wood Lake right now. This would have been an easier day if my busted up knees hadn't kept me from staying in marathon shape. I swear I could amputate my knee without anesthetic right now and I would hurt less than I do.

Umm....

The more I think about it, the more I think Wood Lake is a bad idea. Water = Zombies. Zombies = Bad.

I saw a small child eat his mother this afternoon. I didn't have time to vomit.

On the Move

I see them, those ghosts of Christmas past – waving their chains, moaning, calling out for brains, grasping mindlessly but with purpose.

I may be medicated, but I ain’t stupid.

Time to go.

River

The river has risen much faster than expected. The flooding is stretching past Old Shakopee Rd and is expected to reach the Hyland Park Reserve within the hour. Houses that we weren’t going to evacuate for days are now underwater.

It’s not even raining.

Something is coming out with the water. People are dying, and not just from the flood.

My office has received so many calls the phone line fried itself.

Why am I so calm, you ask?

If you must know, I’m heavily medicated right now. My family is out of the state and so is out of harm’s way, and I am on so many different medications that standing too close to me might get you strung out. That’s how I plan to get through today.

I haven’t even tazed anyone yet.

Reports

There are reports of strange shapes seen coming out of the river. I don’t have good footage, just something shot with a camcorder. The guy’s hand was shaky and there is a whole lot of “oh, my gods”, but those shapes seem a bit familiar.

This shouldn’t be possible.

I called the governor. Or, more accurately, I tried to call the governor, but Pawlenty’s secretary wouldn’t put me through. Said he has better things to do than talk to just any crack pot city councilman. I told her that he just lost my vote, but to be honest, I didn’t vote for him the first time around. Didn’t plan on voting for him next time, either.

I want to provide leadership, as if anyone would listen, but I’d kind of like a little bit of leadership myself.

This is just going to get worse.

Disappearance

Umm...

A couple of less stupid people have disappeared while investigating down by the river. These are people who know better and were just doing their jobs.

Not to be cliché, but I’ve got a bad feeling about this.

ZGW

A film crew from Girls Gone Wild is now in town. They’re shooting a new video special: Zombies Gone Wild.

I think I might taze myself.

Drowning

Natural Selection has begun to take place. I just got a call about some drownings down by the Minnesota River. Because of all the rain we’ve had the last few weeks the river has been rising and isn’t expected to crest for another couple of days. We’ll probably issue evacuation orders for southern Bloomington in the next day or so. Until then, I’ll be happy to hear that we’re weeding some of the stupider people out of the gene pool.

Oh, folks have been setting up parties over by the river so they can go swimming and mix beer, swimming, and pretending to be zombies.

Morons

A bunch of yahoos wearing nothing but zombie masks and jock straps just ran by my office.

I’m going to taze the next ass-hat who does something stupid.

Anniversary

Today is the One Year Anniversary of the Zombie Apocalypse of 2007. Do you know what the drunk ass clowns of Bloomington have planned to honor the dead?

24 Hour Zombie Parties.

Yeah, because that’s a good idea.

A few well organized parties have already been going for 8 hours. Most people are going to wait until sometime in the afternoon, I think, and the rest will party after work.

I hate people today. I was elected to the Bloomington city council in a special election last year after most of the city government was eaten. Apparently enough of the survivors had liked my book reviews to get me through. Well, that, and not too many people wanted to take the vacated seat of someone whose brains still stained the chair. Not me. I don’t have any class.

The rest of the city council overruled me and authorized official zombie parties.

Morons.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Blog Like it's the End of the World 2008

Thursday, June 12, 2008 0
Dear Gentle Reader,

Tomorrow is June 13. This is the official "Blog Like its the End of the World" day. You know, like I did last year.

So, tomorrow will be filled with zombie apocalypse related posting. I'm going in a different direction than last year. Less exciting, perhaps.

I have a few entries preloaded into Blogger right now, and they'll post throughout the day.

Advance apologies to Cherie Priest. I loved Not Flesh Nor Feathers so much I completely, though with love and admiration, cribbed the essential non-spoiler plot point from the novel for the zombie posts.

So...all credit, honor, praise, and respect goes to Cherie Priest for the brilliance of the idea. It's her idea. Not mine. All blame for the poor execution...well...that goes on me.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Why I Stopped Reading City of Saints and Madmen

Wednesday, June 11, 2008 5

I have heard nothing but praise for Jeff Vandermeer’s City of Saints and Madmen, and I wanted to read the book for several years now. Only problem is that my library only had City of Saints and Madmen: The Book of Ambergris, a shorter edition published by Cosmos Books. After a couple of years I gave in and grabbed The Book of Ambergris from the library.

The collection opens with “Dradin, In Love” and from the start I was disappointed.

I think this is a case of Vandermeer’s style just not working for me. Obviously, Jeff Vandermeer is a talented writer. He has a World Fantasy Award on his shelf, Michael Moorcock wrote the introduction to this collection, and pretty much anywhere I go online I see high profile praise for Vandermeer whenever his work is mentioned. People like his work.

I couldn’t get in to it.

“Dradin, In Love” is written in a curious mix of present tense and past tense (at least at the start of the story, I didn’t notice it after a couple of pages) and Vandermeer works his descriptions of Ambergis in such a way that the stank of the city comes alive and off the page. But, the story *feels* description heavy to me. There are little tidbits I liked in how Vandermeer built Ambergris with the story, the mushroom dwellers, the book store, the chase / doublecross at the end of the story. There is much to admire here, but I was never in a position where I wanted more from the story and instead, I had to force myself to keep reading.

I started the second story, “An Early History of Ambergris”, which is written exactly like what you would expect from the title – as a history – complete with absurd footnotes. I like the footnotes, but this is where I checked out.

What this means is that I’m missing the World Fantasy Award winning novella “The Transformation of Martin Lake”. In an intellectual sense I would like to read the story someday, but I’ve completely checked out of Ambergis and though I’m two thirds of the way through the collection, I’m done.

I know that City of Saints and Madmen was skillfully constructed, and I appreciate the construction of this collection more than I did The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, but this impressive work of imagination is not at all for me.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Fantasy & Science Fiction: July 2008

Monday, June 09, 2008 6

The good people at The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (F&SF) offered up the July 2008 issue of their magazine to bloggers to read and review. As I fit the bill, I requested and received a copy. This is a magazine I have considered subscribing to, and one which had a good number of stories included on the list of Nebula Nominees and is considered one of the Big Three SFF magazines. So, why not?


This issue opens with “Fullbrim’s Finding” from Matthew Hughes. It is a Henghis Hapthorn story, which may mean something to those familiar with the character. Henghis has appeared in several stories as well as two novels from Hughes. Hapthorn (unnamed in the story, I believe) investigates the disappearance of Doldam Fullbrim, a scientist of some renown. From the start, I was bored. The fact that I was not familiar with the character had no bearing on my interest in the story, but this is just one of those tales that didn’t work for me. Not the most auspicious of starts to the issue.

“Fullbrim’s Finding” is followed by two sections of book reviews. Charles de Lint covers Duma Key and a Repairman Jack novel. James Sallis takes on The New Weird and The Dragons of Babel. De Lint succeeded in making me more interested in Duma Key than I was from reading the short story the novel is expanded from, and Sallis does good work in his section.

For those keeping track at home, the opening story in the magazine was underwhelming, but I like the reviews.

On to the second story, this one from Lisa Goldstein: “Reader’s Guide”. Loved it. It starts as a list of questions as one might find in those reader’s guides at the back of YA novels (or book club editions), but the questions turn ridiculous. “10. Are these symbols and coincidences so obvious that Donny might come to suspect that he’s in a story?” Just perfect. Then it moves into the story of the person who wrote the reader’s guide and the story gets even better.

“Reader’s Guide” is followed by the lone novella in this issue: “The Roberts” by Michael Blumlein. Here we have cloning (eventually), but really a story of a man who loves a woman and when in love he does his best work as an architect. When he does his best work, he begins to neglect his woman, and thus the work suffers when the relationship falls apart. Rinse, wash, and repeat. It ends in cloning. Other than my fairly basic disgust with the man, who should be adult enough to know how to prioritize or accept, the story is fine. I can imagine some readers will delight in “The Roberts”, others will be bored. I’m somewhere in between. I expected a bit more from the novella and I’m not sure I got it.

Not much to say about Paul Di Filippo’s “Plumage from Pegasus: Galley Knaves”. I started out thinking it was nonfiction, but by the end, I think there is a healthy dose of fiction in it. It is an interesting story (sort of) of the lengths publishers may / could go to get their Advanced Reading Copies noticed by reviewers. Silly, fun, but what the hell is this supposed to be?

Scott Dalrymple’s “Enfant Terrible” is a highlight of this issue. A man from “university” looks in on an elementary school class for extraordinarily gifted children. The story is told straight, but there is still a decent layer of humor in the story. Good stuff.

Albert E. Cowdrey's novelette "Poison Victory" is something I did not expect to like, but I did. It is an alternate history tale set in 1949 AFTER Nazi Germany won the war. It features a former soldier turned landowner recounting a dual story: his actions in the war which allowed the Nazis to win, as well as his quiet rebellions in 1949 Nazi Germany. Well written and dark, "Poison Victory" was an unexpected story, but a solid one.

This issue concludes with "The Dinosaur Train" by James L. Cambias. It's about a traveling dinosaur show in the present day (or in the 80's, I can't tell) and a sick dinosaur. It was...I don't know. Fine. Boring. Moderately readable. Sort of compelling. A mixed back that didn't amount to a whole lot? All of the above. I expected a bit more from this one and got a bit less (which is the exact opposite of my experience with "Poison Victory".


So, now, having read the July 2008 issue of F&SF, would I actually spend my hard earned money on a subscription?

Nope.

I’ve been far more impressed with the Nebula Nominees which have come out of the magazine than I have been with the stories in this collection. Naturally I wouldn’t expect every story to be Nebula level, but I was disappointed with this issue. There were two stories that were good (“Enfant Terrible” and “Reader’s Guide), another that I liked but I can’t get excited about (“Poison Victory”), but overall a bunch of blah. That’s my basic impression of this issue: Blah. There is nothing to get excited about here and as a promotional copy I would have hoped that the quality would be a bit better than average to really excite new readers. It didn’t. I would not actively seek out a subscription to F&SF based on this issue or recommend that others do the same.


Reading copy provided courtesy of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

April / May 2008 Reading

Sunday, June 08, 2008 0
I'm a bit behind in my monthly wrap ups, so here is a two-fer. Blessings to all, huh?

All links are to the original reviews.

April
1. Snake Agent - Liz Williams
2. Darth Bane: Rule of Two - Drew Karpyshyn
3. The Shadow Speaker - Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu
4. Magician: Volume One - Raymond E. Feist
5. I Live for This: Baseball's Last True Believer - Bill Plaschke and Tommy Lasorda
6. Force Heretic: Refugee - Sean Williams and Shane Dix
7. Shooting War - Anthony Lappe and Dan Goldman
8. Magician: Volume Two - Raymond E. Feist
9. Star Wars Legacy: Shards - John Ostrander
10. The Armageddon Rag - George R. R. Martin
11. Selling Out - Justina Robson
12. Skeleton Crew - Stephen King
13. Judge - Karen Traviss
14. The Best of Lucius Shepard - Lucius Shepard
15. Wrath of a Mad God - Raymond E. Feist


May
1. A World Too Near - Kay Kenyon
2. Rollback - Robert J. Sawyer
3. Dead in the West - Joe R. Lansdale
4. Not Flesh Nor Feathers - Cherie Priest
5. Empire of Ivory - Naomi Novik
6. Force Heretic: Reunion - Sean Williams and Shane Dix
7. The Final Prophecy - Greg Keyes
8. Before They Are Hanged - Joe Abercrombie
9. Uglies - Scott Westerfeld
10. The Complete Peanuts 1967-1968 - Charles M. Schulz
11. Nano Comes to Clifford Falls and Other Stories - Nancy Kress
12. The Life of the World to Come - Kage Baker

Previous 2008 Reads
January
February
March

Friday, June 06, 2008

The Life of the World to Come, by Kage Baker

Friday, June 06, 2008 0

This is the first time I have truly been disappointed with one of Kage Baker’s Company novels. At first I thought my disappointment had to do with the fact that the novel opens with Mendoza in exile 150,000 years in the past and after that opening she only shows up once for a short chapter. I am a fan of Mendoza. But, then I realized that what I liked about Sky Coyote had little to do with Mendoza, and The Graveyard Game was entirely absent of Mendoza. While I would have appreciated more of Mendoza in The Life of the World to Come, her appearance in the novel is not required.

What was it, then?

Alec Checkerfield.

I pretty much can’t stand the character of Alec Checkerfield. His first appearance in the novel is a chapter titled “Smart Alec”, which was a story in Baker’s Black Project, White Knights collection (my other Company disappointment). The Life of the World to Come seems to alternate chapters with some Company operatives a few years before The Silence, and with Checkerfield. Unfortunately, we get Alec Checkerfield chapters dealing with Alec at various ages. Yeah, it gives the reader a full and complete background of Checkerfield, but I’ve got to tell you – it sucked. Unfortunately, Checkerfield is the spitting image of both Edward and Nicholas, the two previous loves of Mendoza, and this means Checkerfield is about to become integral to the remainder of the series.

God help me. I love this series, but have a borderline literary hate for Alec Checkerfield.

The one real plus to this novel, besides the couple of brief Mendoza interludes, was the Company scientist chapters when we got a glimpse of them manipulating things in history and when we discover the whys and hows of Alec / Edward / Nicholas.

And then things get just stupid when we get the 23rd Century Alec pulling multiple personalities with both Edward and Nicholas.

I’m reading a series with immortal cyborgs who love twentieth century movies, time travel, and a company that snatches artifacts from the past for future profit. I can buy into a whole lot of stuff. But that multiple personality thing...Baker damn near lost me there.

I sincerely hope that The Children of the Company is better and that Alec is somehow less obnoxious a character, because The Life of the World to Come was rough going.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Shadow Unit: The Complete First Season

Tuesday, June 03, 2008 3
Elizabeth Bear and Emma Bull wrapped up the first season of Shadow Unit with their short novel Refining Fire.

Shadow Unit is a blend of The X-Files, Criminal Minds, and probably a half dozen other police procedural / supernatural type programs. Rather than being broadcast on television, the collective minds of Bear, Bull, Sarah Monette, Will Shetterly, and Amanda Downum have delivered over the course of seven short stories and one novel a full season story arc that most television shows would kill for. Except that Shadow Unit would never be broadcast, except maybe on HBO or Showtime.

The teaser description of Shadow Unit from the website:
The FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit hunts humanity's nightmares. But there are nightmares humanity doesn't dream are real.

The Behavioral Analysis Unit sends those cases down the hall.

Welcome to Shadow Unit.
They had me from hello.

Shadow Unit is a division of the FBI much along the lines of The X-Files where the Anomalous Crimes Task Force works on cases involving what has come to be called The Anomaly. The Anomaly is *something* that can take over a normal person, give that person some extra power and strength, and tends to push that person to do some really bad things. Local police and regular FBI can’t handle these sorts of cases, they don’t know what to look for or how to respond to it. Shadow Unit, colloquially called the WTF (yes, it means what you think), does.

Our Creators have written a series of stories with an exceptionally strong and well defined character list. With each episode the reader learns more about the characters. Some episodes will focus more on one or two characters not featured in a previous episode, but the strength of the series is that we are given a core group of characters to follow and fall for, and feel for. They make mistakes, but they are quite competent at their jobs. They are all at various stages of their careers and understanding of the Anomaly. They all have their backstories and over the course of this first season, we get a good look into the backstories of several of the characters, or at least enough of a look to feel like we know who they are.

I could not be more impressed and more thrilled with the Shadow Unit stories.

Shadow Unit is fairly interactive, with 8 stories, character livejournals (they respond!), various teasers, artwork, a message board frequented by three of the four primary authors (Sarah Monette doesn’t come round much, if at all).

Season Two should begin sometime next year, and I have heard it suggested there are plans for five seasons. One can only hope.

One comment I want to make about Refining Fire. Damn, it was good! Bear and Bull split up the finale into five parts, released over five days and each day I was left wanting more. By the end of the story, I was short of breath. Seriously. I had fear for Chaz, fear for the other agents, a bit of disgust at Reyes (and yet, I’m sympathetic towards him and I don’t know his backstory), and chills at the storytelling. If this isn’t nominated for awards next year, I just won’t understand.

The whole season is available to read for free online. If you like what you see, perhaps shoot a couple of dollars in the direction of the creators via the links on the website. This is professional level work provided gratis from professional writers. A couple bucks wouldn’t hurt, eh?


Episodes:
1. "Breathe" by Emma Bull
2. "Knock on Coffins" by Elizabeth Bear
3. "Dexterity" by Sarah Monette
4. "A Handful of Dust" by Will Shetterly
5. "Ballistic" by Sarah Monette, Emma Bull, Elizabeth Bear, and Amanda Downum
6. "Endgames" by Emma Bull
7. "Overkill" by Elizabeth Bear
8. Refining Fire by Elizabeth Bear and Emma Bull

Teasers and Deleted Scenes

Artwork

Playlists

Character Livejournals

Emma Bull’s essay on the origin of Shadow Unit

Message Board

There is more than a little bit to do and see here. I loved every moment of Shadow Unit's debut season, and am now eagerly awaiting Season Two. They should really get paid for this, and paid well. It's damn fine work.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Nano Comes to Clifford Falls and Other Stories, by Nancy Kress

Monday, June 02, 2008 3
Nano Comes to Clifford Falls and Other Stories
Nancy Kress
Golden Gryphon: 2008

I cannot remember when I first heard of Nancy Kress. It may have been in regards to her novel Crucible (and not Beggars in Spain for some reason), but I first paid attention when I read her Nebula winning and Hugo nominated story "Fountain of Age". I still am convinced I've read another related story to this one, but I can't find it. Regardless, I was impressed with "Fountain of Age" and when the opportunity arose to review this collection, I jumped at it.

So, here are the stories.


Nano Comes to Clifford Falls: The opening story in the collection is one of the best. It is also representative of what we will find in this collection. The fiction of Nancy Kress frequently deals with the intersection of people and technology, and “Nano Comes to Clifford Falls” is exactly that. It takes a small town and shows what happens with the introduction of a device which can replicate nearly anything by using nanotechnology. Suddenly people don’t need to go to work because they can get nano food, nano clothing, nano homes. Businesses close and much of the population is excited by Nano, but there is a segment that rebels against Nano and lives a more natural life. Society begins to collapse with the collapse of the economny. The story encompasses all of the technology and the effect of technology on society, but the story is about people, specifically the people who do not choose to use Nano. As I mentioned, one of the best in the collection.

Patent Infringement: This is a much shorter story, and is a series of letters (or e-mails, for all I know) about how a company is willing to cheat to protect their patent even when the company is initially at fault, and then twist everything so that the person who was defrauded ultimately ends up taking the blame. Naturally. This is one of my favorites in the collection.

Computer Virus: What happens when a rogue AI hides in a computer protected house and takes the family inside hostage? "Computer Virus" happens. Kress could focus on the AI, the technology involved, and the hunt for the AI. In part, she does, but like most of her more successful stories, she focuses instead on the people involved and "Computer Virus" is all the more successful for it.

Product Development: A short-short originally published in Nature magazine, and it is a nearly all dialogue story about a hypothetical product which turns off electronics. Kress doesn't write too many stories this short, or even as short as "Patent Infringement", but she should. She's quite good at it.

The Most Famous Little Girl in the World: This story wasn't quite as successful as the previous stories in the collection. It still focused on the people, cousins, one of whom was abducted by aliens and in turn becomes the title girl of the story. Their estrangement seems to mirror that of the aliens / humanity, sort of, though not fully. Kress's afterword speaks to the changing of allies she is attempting to demonstrate, but I don't know just how interesting this is. There is nothing inherently wrong with the story, it just doesn't work for me.

Savior: On the other hand, "Savior" is far more interesting despite the fact that it covers a couple of hundred years of non-communication with an alien artifact which landed on Earth. Kress shows the changing of society and technology and what an alien craft might be waiting for. Fascinating.

Ej-Es: Originally published in an anthology of stories based on the songs of Janis Ian, “Ej-Es” works on its own terms, about the discovery of a failed colony of humans on another world where the power of speech has been limited to basic sounds and the residents act as if they can see things that aren’t there. The scientists on the mission work to fix the problem, but the solution itself is heartbreaking. The title doesn’t make sense until we get into the story, and the last line of the story (as Mike Resnick points out in the introduction) can only make sense having read the entire story. It raises the question of whether the scientists did right and what was taken away from those colonists by their actions.

Shiva in Shadow: This story feels a bit more techy than most of this collection and as such, doesn't work for me. There is some odd dual storytelling with transfered consciousness to some sort of biometric programming to do scientific in deep space...but because it is the same characters (sort of) in each storyline, sometimes it is easy to confuse the two. There was an interesting moment with the same bit of dialogue and narration in each storyline that I had to work to realize what just happened. Bottom line: Not a favorite.

First Flight: A cheerful story (almost out of place in this collection) based around the concept of a 1960's Space Cadet show. It has the feel of Connie Willis (think D.A.) and what I'd expect if Scalzi wrote a juvenile story (Zoe's Tale notwithstanding). It's on the forgettable side at the end of the day, but a very pleasant read.

To Cuddle Amy: A different kind of horror story and one which barely touches upon science at all. Two parents are despairing of their daughter, Amy, and the teenager she has grown up to be. There is a list of ages of photographs of Amy and then the next line lists Amy’s age as she walks in the room. It reads like a typo, but it isn’t. That’s when we realize something else is going on here. The more you think about it, the nastier this story gets.

Wetlands Reserve: In her story afterword Kress mentions that "Wetlands Reserve" was the first story she wrote about environmental issues (still about the people, not the science) and I'm glad she did. Kress is good at it. I can't say I'm too surprised at how the story ended, but right up until the ending - good stuff.

Mirror Image: I believe that "Mirror Image" feels more science laden than it actually is. The problem (my problem) is the AI QUENTIAN, the ^563's, and the overriding sense of "otherness", or alienness that pervades the story. Kress pulled off what she tried to do, I think. She says the story is "very high tech and very far future" and it is, at that. It is also her favorite story in the collection. It's not mine. I suspect everything that she likes about it, is what I dislike about it.

My Mother, Dancing: A weird conclusion to this collection, a shorter story, but one which remains on two readings fairly incomprehensible. I want to like every story in a collection, but sometimes it just isn't possible. This is another far future story, set in the year 3000, and just does not connect with me.


Thinking about the collection, I have a good, positive feeling. I enjoyed more stories than not, and the ones which did not work were inoffensive enough to not mar my overall enjoyment. If asked (and what is a review if not an answer to an unasked question?), I would say that I can see myself reading more of Nancy Kress based on having read this collection. Her writing feels familiar, but new at the same time. Nancy Kress is a damn fine writer and Nano Comes to Clifford Falls is a wonderful place to experience her for the first time. I wasn't a Kress fan before this collection, but I am now.


Reading copy provided courtesy of Golden Gryphon.
 
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