Tuesday, June 30, 2009

victory!

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Achievement!

I have this co-worker. She’s young, just turned twenty-one a few months back. Very nice girl, but she doesn’t read much. It’s a character flaw, I know. She reads Harry Potter, Twilight, and the Eragon books. I’ve no beef with Harry Potter, and I wouldn’t have a beef with the other two if that wasn’t all she read. Over and over. And over.

My goal is to add to the series of books she will read and re-read.

My first recommendation: Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld. I figure if you’re gonna start somewhere, you might as well start with some of the best. She bought the first book, read it. Ran out to the store and bought Pretties and Specials. She didn’t pick up Extras because she wasn’t sure if she’d like it – see, it doesn’t feature Tally and she’s not sure how that’ll work for her.

But, victory! Successfully recommended a new series of books.

Now I just have to figure out what to recommend next. Problem is that I haven’t read much YA. I’ve read Magic or Madness from Justine Larbalestier, but didn’t love it enough to make it an easy recommendation.

I’m a little stuck as to where to go next with this. I can tell her what is considered good and popular, but not so much stuff that I know is worth recommending from personal reading. I may just tell her to read everything else Westerfeld has in the YA section, maybe starting with the Midnighters series. Haven’t read it, though.

Hmm!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Bone Shop

Monday, June 29, 2009 0
Seems to be going around, but Tim Pratt is offering a reader-supported novella on his website. It'll come out in chunks. Details here.

"Bone Shop" is a Marla Mason story, the heroine of Pratt's series (begins with Blood Engines).

I haven't read any of Pratt's novels, but his short fiction collection Hart & Boot was a good one.

The story, which begins today, can be found here.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

New Weird Intro

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Jeff VanderMeer posted the introduction to The New Weird anthology which he co-edited.

In the 1990s, “New Weird” began to manifest itself in the form of cult writers like Jeffrey Thomas and his cross-genre urban Punktown stories. It continued to find a voice in the work of Thomas Ligotti, who straddled a space between the traditional and the avant garde. It coalesced in the David Lynchean approach of Michael Cisco to Eastern European mysticism in works like The Divinity Student. It entered real-world settings through unsettling novels by Kathe Koja, such as The Cipher and Skin, with their horrific interrogations of the body and mind. It entered into disturbing dialogue about sex and gender in Richard Calder’s novels, with their mix of phantasmagoria and pseudo-cyberpunk. It could also be found in Jeffrey Ford’s Well-Built City trilogy, my own Ambergris stories (Dradin, In Love, etc.), and the early short work of K. J. Bishop and Alastair Reynolds, among others.

Makes me want to go find a copy of the anthology and check out the stories. I don't know if the fiction would be my cuppa, but I think it is essential reading for the modern fantasy reader.

Robert Sawyer's "Identity Theft"

I stumbled across this, but it seems that for a limited time Robert J. Sawyer is offering his story "Identity Theft" for free on his website.

He explains why, here.

The little I've read from Sawyer has been rather good, so check it out.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

2009 Locus Awards

Saturday, June 27, 2009 0
The 2009 Locus Award winners have been announced.

Science Fiction Novel: Anathem, by Neal Stephenson
Fantasy Novel: Lavinia, by Ursula K. Le Guin

First Novel: Singularity's Ring, by Paul Melko
Young-Adult Novel: The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman

Novella: "Pretty Monsters", by Kelly Link
Novelette: "Pump Six", by Paolo Bacigalupi
Short Story: "Exhalation", by Ted Chiang

Anthology: The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty Fifth Annual Collection, by Gardner Dozois (editor)
Collection: Pump Six and Other Stories, by Paolo Bacigalupi
Non-Fiction / Art Book: Coraline: The Graphic Novel, by P. Craig Russell and Neil Gaiman

Editor: Ellen Datlow
Artist: Michael Whelan
Magazine: The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
Publisher: Tor


Congratulations to all the winners.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Pride of Baghdad, by Brian K. Vaughan

Friday, June 26, 2009 3
Pride of Baghdad
written by Brian K. Vaughan
art by Niko Henrichon
2006

Wow. Simply wow.
In the spring of 2003, a pride of lions escaped from the Baghdad Zoo during an American bombing raid. Lost and confused, hungry but finally free, the four lions roamed the decimated streets of Baghdad in a desperate struggle for their lives. In documenting the plight of the lions, PRIDE OF BAGHDAD raises questions about the true meaning of freedom - can it be given or is it earned only through self-determination and sacrifice?
That is the copy on the back cover of Pride of Baghdad, and any attempt I might have made to describe the premise of this graphic novel would have failed utterly in the face of that short paragraph. So, why try?

The words I would normally use to describe this story would be "heartbreaking", "powerful", "brutal", "beautiful", and perhaps "amazing". All of them would fit. None of them would do Pride of Baghdad justice.

What words would? I honestly don't know. Haunting. Exceptional. Think of a word you might use to praise something and I'm not sure that word is quite right either.

Boiled down, this is a simple story of four lions escaping from a zoo in the midst of the beginning of a war and all the wreckage and damage that implies. The only existence these lions have known for most of their lives is the zoo (though not entirely). They are lions, not men, and despite the fact that they converse, they converse as animals might - though perhaps more eloquently at times. These aren't talking animals in the "fantasy" sense. They're real animals in a war torn city. They question if they are truly free, they hunt for food, they try to survive.

Pride of Baghdad is about freedom and survival. And heartbreak. Perhaps it is more moving because these are lions, proud and strong animals, and not humans. These aren't helpless animals, even coming from a zoo, but what chance do they have in the face of war?

I think that's the story Vaughan is telling here. That any way, this one in particular, has casualties we don't think about and maybe haven't imagined. Here's a face. Here's a damn good story. You get both.

Worse. It's based on a true story of four lions which really did escape the Baghdad zoo.

Damn this is a good book.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Cyteen, by C. J. Cherryh

Thursday, June 25, 2009 2

Cyteen
C. J. Cherryh
1988


Who killed Ariane Emory? This isn’t exactly the central question of Cyteen, but it’s the one which perhaps readers of Cyteen would like answered most.

Cyteen is set in C. J. Cherryh’s Alliance / Union Universe, a future expansionist history of humanity in the stars. The opening pages of Cyteen provides a full background of the colonization and political history of that universe and how the various factions got started. It takes all of four pages and is perfectly fascinating on its own. Then Cherryh rolls into the story and introduced Ariane Emory, an aging scientist potentially nearing the end of her life. Emory is a member of the Union governing Council of Nine and the founder of Reseune, the leading science labratories in the universe. Emory is known as a brilliant woman (she is one of very few certified as a Special), though also a difficult woman. The reader is given all of this introduction, which Cherryh quite naturally handled far better than I am right now, and it serves to create a sense of the political and social landscape of Reseune. Cherryh reveals the Reseune plans to clone and recreate Specials so the Special brilliance is not lost when they die. There is one notable previous attempt and failure.

When Ariane Emory is murdered early in the novel there are several major developments put into play. First, another Special at Reseune is implicated – Jordan Warrick. Warrick and Emory had a once close professional (and personal) relationship which strained. Emory, shortly before her murder, began a relationship with Jordan’s son Justin – except the relationship was not an equal one, it was a very dominant one on the part of Emory. The second major development is that the cloning program goes forward – only with a particular change. Because Reseune needed Ariane so badly, they cloned her and attempted to recreate as much of her upbringing as possible in order to bring out the exact genius that was Ariane Emory. It is a long term strategy.

That’s the background and set up of Cyteen. Cyteen spans perhaps fifteen to twenty years and provides two major viewpoints during that time: Justin Warrick and young Ariane Emory (the clone). Justin’s storyline is that of survival, of trying to fit in at Reseune with all of the political drama and upheaval caused by Emory’s death AND by his father’s confession. Note: the reader never sees the murder occur, so what we don’t know is if Jordan Warrick told the truth with his confession. We assume not, but can be wrong. Emory’s storyline is of a young and isolated genius child growing up and figuring out her place and potential power.

Cyteen starts out strong, but the novel only improves at the story progresses and the reader meets Ariane Emory as an incredibly precocious teenager – one who is led, in part, by the writings the older Ariane Emory left for her clone. Cyteen is many things at once – political drama, social commentary, coming of age (for both characters, really), science fiction, a story of morality, and probably a handful of other things I can’t quite work out on the first read.

What it is more than anything is an outstanding novel. Cyteen quite rightly won the 1989 Hugo Award for Best Novel. It is regarded as one of Cherryh’s best novels and after years of avoiding Cherryh’s work (for no particular reason I can articulate), I am completely sold on C. J. Cherryh. From one novel. From this novel.

Cherryh quietly and subtly asks questions about morality in terms of artificially created humans called “azi”. Azi have few rights and are property of Reseune. They are grown / born to do a particular job and are raised to spec and taught by “tape”, a method of deep teaching that programs (in a sense) learning and behavior. Cherryh looks at the responsibilities of those with power over azi and a bit on the morality of such a workforce.

There are references to conflicts and debates in the larger universe, though Cyteen is almost exclusively set at Reseune (with the occasional foray out and into a nearby town).

Cyteen is a big novel that hints at an even larger universe. It is an excellent place to begin one’s reading of C. J. Cherryh, but after you do, I imagine you’ll want to continue. After finishing Cyteen I rushed out and purchased a small (but growing) handful of Cherryh novels. That’s my ultimate recommendation – Cyteen was good enough to make me spend more money.


You'll also want to read Jo Walton's thoughts on Cyteen.
After you've read the book, see this post from Walton as she thinks about who killed Emory.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Hugo Award Nominee: "Truth"

Tuesday, June 23, 2009 0
Truth
Robert Reed
Nominated for the 2009 Hugo Award: Novella


Narrator watching a man in prison, never met him. Man has been in prison for 12 years, 5 months. Underground.
There was no sun underground, and there were no birds to hear. But after twelve years and five months of captivity, one man seemed to be absolutely thriving.
The initial question is “Why?” Five daily prayers, salat. So, muslim. This is what I think about in the first two pages of the story. It’s an attempt to piece together what is going on and who the prisoner is. Unless the prisoner doesn’t matter, but I think he does.

The prisoner is codenamed “Lemonade-7”, but refers to himself as “Ramiro”.

Then we find out that this is a CIA prison, and shortly after learn the date is August 5, 2014. Twelve years, five months places the capture as March 2002.

The narrator is a new interrogator, coming in to work with “Ramiro”, her predecessor had stopped the prisoner’s torture.

Ramiro was captured smuggling bomb-grade uranium across the Canadian border.

“Easy to do, as long as you understand that the dates are based on the Islamic calendar. The significance of both notations, taken together, would have been answered on maybe a dozen websites. But that answer was crazy. And it left you with a much bigger puzzle sitting inside a cold, cramped cell. Even the earliest dates on Ramiro’s list occurred after his incarceration. And each one marked the day and position of a supernova bright enough to be noticed by earthbound astronomers.”

Except it isn’t that simple. It’s not just another terrorist.
“To be truthful? This entire situation terrifies me.” I hesitated, and then said, “It’s not every day you have the opportunity, and the honor, and the grave responsibility of interviewing somebody who won’t be born for another one hundred years.”

This can read as a spoiler, but given that it is revealed so early on in the novella, I don’t think it is. It’s the underpinning of the story, though that last sentence was the end of the first section of the story and is more than a bit of a reveal.


“Truth” is a thrilling story to read, even if most of the revelations and details are done during conversation. It’s a future history with time travel and terrorists and damn, does the reader (this reader) want to know more. Robert Reed makes it work. It’s all conversation and interrogation, a new spin on the Iraq war, and it all works.

People want to believe that in another twenty or fifty or one hundred years, the earth will grow into an enduring utopia. But among the prisoner’s unwelcome gifts was a narrow, knife-deep vision of a disturbingly recognizable world. Yes, science would learn much that was new and remarkable. And fabulous technologies would be put to hard work. But cheap fusion was always going to need another couple decades of work, and eternal health was always for the next generation to achieve, and by the twenty-second century, the space program would have managed exactly two walks on the Martian surface and a few permanent, very exclusive homes hunkered down near the moon’s south pole.
Seeing the shape of a future world is always fascinating, and those little tidbits Reed throws out there to explain Ramiro (but never too much at any one time) are wonderful details I might hope would be expanded into a novel, but I think they work best as tidbits.

A story that runs as little more than extended conversation, or as two extended conversations, probably should not work so well, but damn, this is stuff I want more of! “Truth” isn’t political diatribe or rhetoric, it’s just the story of a time traveling terrorist.

It’s just a really good story that I wish was a little longer. It’s horrifying, but beautiful in the very nasty way a looming apocalypse can be.

I've read a handful of Reed's stories, but this is easily my favorite and, I would suggest, the best.

Not sure I've said things as well as some of the folks linked up on Torque Control.

Remembering Octavia Butler

Posted by Nisi Shawl on the anniversary of Octavia Butler’s birthday


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Genesis, by Paul Chafe

Sunday, June 21, 2009 0
My review of Paul Chafe's novel Genesis is up at Fantasy Magazine. For those so inclined, it can be found here.



For the blog, I've been a little slack. I've struggled with my review of L. Timmel Duchamp's Tsunami. I know sort of what I want to do with it, but not enough that I'm doing the job I want to do with it. Not compared to my reviews of the first two novels in the series. I set myself a bar which I would prefer to at least continue to meet and that's my struggle. Everything I have to say isn't good enough. I don't know what my resolution is here.

Following that, or before if I don't progress, I want to review C. J. Cherryh's Cyteen. Very good novel, and I entirely blame Jo Walton for hooking me on Cherryh. I doubt I can cover Cyteen near as well as Walton, but who can?

After that? I dunno. I've sent back a bunch of books to the library unread so I can focus better on those I have to review for Fantasy Mag, the one for SBR, the stuff I've accepted to review for the blog, and the oodles of used books I recently picked up - including damn near the full set of Wild Cards novels and a handful of Cherryh novels.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Shared Worlds

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Found out about the Shared Worlds camp the other day, more from Jeff VanderMeer here, and it's very much worth sharing. I think this is quite a cool thing, to get a creative writing camp (and other forms of storytelling) with this level of talent, all focused on teenagers.


**********

Shared Worlds asked Elizabeth Hand, Nalo Hopkinson, Ursula K. LeGuin, China Miéville, and Michael Moorcock: “What’s your pick for the top real-life fantasy or science fiction city?”


At Shared Worlds our students create fantasy and science fiction worlds to fuel their art and writing projects. But even the strangest made-up place can have some real-world spark, and some of the real world’s cities can be stranger than anything found in fantasy and science fiction.


With this in mind, we asked some of speculative fiction’s brightest minds to tell us their own picks for real-life fantastic cities, and you can read their answers here.


“Our own planet is often surreal, alien, and beautifully strange—and cities tend to focus our fascination with these qualities,” said Shared Worlds Assistant Director Jeff VanderMeer. “Sometimes the exoticness comes from finding the unexpected where we live, and sometimes it comes from visiting a place that’s foreign to us.”

Want to join the discussion? Help one of the most unique teen "think tanks" in the country by posting the above link on your site or blog and asking your readers what cities they would choose.

Shared Worlds is also proud to announce Tor Books, Wizards of the Coast LCC, and Realms of Fantasy magazine as major sponsors. Thanks to them for their enthusiasm and support.


More information about Shared Worlds:

Now in its second year, Shared Worlds is a two-week unique summer camp for teens ages 13 to 18, held at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. This year the camp runs from July 19 to August 2, with registration still open to the end of June. Creative and fun, Shared Worlds emphasizes writing fiction, game development, and creating art—all in a safe and structured environment with award-winning faculty. Participants in this “teen think tank” meet like-minded students and learn how to work together and be proactive on their own. The first week, the students form teams and create their own worlds; the second week, they create in them. Faculty for 2009 will include Holly Black, co-creator of the Spiderwick Chronicles, Hugo Nominee Tobias Buckell, White Wolf game developer Will Hindmarch, World Fantasy Award winner Jeff VanderMeer, Weird Tales fiction editor Ann VanderMeer, and more.


Relevant links:
Related SF Signal MindMeld feature

Main Shared Worlds page

Registration page

Video from last year's camp

Thursday, June 18, 2009

John Rogers on Tara Chace

Thursday, June 18, 2009 5
Tara Chase can shoot, fight, drink you under the table and unravel complex terrorist plots while fighting a hangover. One could argue male readers don't fall in love with Tara because she's the woman we always wanted; we fall in love with her because she's the man we always wanted to be. - John Rogers
To which I say, yes, but I don't think that Tara necessarily comes across as a man with girl-parts, but as a woman who happens to have a man's job. At least, that's how I read Tara.

Oh - I'm reading the introduction to the fourth Queen & Country trade paper, Operation: Blackwall.

I wrote about Queen & Country once before and now having read three collections and the first of the Declassified volumes, I still very much like this.

But, I posted that paragraph from the introduction because I think it's a great teaser for the series as a whole, and because I think it's a fascinating concept.

Rogers is right, in many ways Tara is the man we want to be (except for the drinking part in my case, but I've got issues). Or maybe the man I wanted to be - working as a spy for my government, helping to make the world a better place, being able to kick ass, and still having morals at the end of the day. Still trying to do the right thing. Sometimes still being broken - I identify with that even if I'm not a woman or British or a spy or able to kick ass or able to unravel terrorist plots. I think there's something universal here. It's not escapist, because Rucka's writing doesn't allow for escapism. But, I think there's something universal - or, Western, about it.

Whatever it is, it makes Queen & Country damn compelling reading.

Excuse me while I finish the rest of the introduction so I can actually start on the story.

Horns: New Joe Hill Novel

For those wondering when Joe Hill's second novel was going to come out, I have an answer for you: February.

Actually, Hill has the answer.

It's called Horns.

I don't know anything else about the, but everything I've read from Hill has been quite excellent, and after Heart-Shaped Box I've been eagerly anticipating.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Shadow Unit: "Getaway"

Wednesday, June 17, 2009 0
I’m two weeks late on this, but I finally read the new Shadow Unit episode.

Way to completely rip out my heart and pour lemon juice on it, Emma, thanks.

Getaway” is the fourth episode of Season 2 and it is a Chaz centric-episode. If you’ve read the first season, and you should have, “Getaway” is the episode where we really get the fallout from Refining Fire. Well, part of the fallout. I’ve been anticipating something in particular since Season 1 ended and while I still expect it, the Powers That Be aren’t pulling the trigger on it. Yet. Because I still believe.

But what I really want to say about “Getaway” is that this is one of the heartbreakingly best stories in Shadow Unit, and that bar was already set extraordinarily high.

You could jump in and just read the story without knowing what came before, but the impact would be severely lessened by not knowing Chaz from the previous episodes. The thing about this Chaz-

But…holy God…


(don't forget the DVD extra for this ep)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

World's End

Tuesday, June 16, 2009 3
My review of World's End, the first volume in Mark Chadbourn's Age of Misrule trilogy, has been posted at the Sacramento Book Review.

Go check it out.

I'll be reviewing the second volume, Darkest Hour, for SBR. It's tentatively slated for the August issue. I'll start on it in a couple of weeks.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

Monday, June 15, 2009 0
It's going around the internet right now, and rightly so.

There's two real points to this.

First, Catherynne Valente is writing and publishing a YA novel online, free for the reading. It's on the pay-as-you-will method that the good people at Shadow Unit are using. That's the awesome bit for readers. New chapters every Monday.

But, here's the deal. Catherynne Valente needs some help. Here's her words.

Fast forward to the summer, six months after my partner was unexpectedly laid off from his job, a situation that, to our growing dismay, was not resolving. The old dance of resumes and job sites was not working as it had always done. My work as a freelance writer, more than I could make in the public sector with my meager qualifications, but not equal to our bills, kept us going for awhile, but finally, it was just not enough, and our lives hung in the balance. And so one night, trying to think of how to fix all the things that had broken in such a short time, I thought of Fairyland, and September, and her ship.

I didn’t want charity, or something for nothing. I wanted to work, and support my family. I decided that in the world of new media and online literature, I could try to do what I do best: write a novel. I could offer up a book to the world, and try to feed us with it. I wanted it to be free, so that everyone could read it, not locked behind a password. But we needed money—so I posted to my blog and asked my readers to pay whatever they thought it was worth.

(emphasis mine)

Full details here.

Nick Mamatas has a perspective
on how a writer who does make decent money can still struggle with bills, and it has to do with the speed of getting money in the publishing industry and what he calls "fast money".

So.

The novel is here. Maybe read it. Maybe, if one is so moved and has the means, throw a couple bucks Valente's way.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Ark

Sunday, June 14, 2009 0
So...I wonder.

I just finished my review of Genesis for Fantasy Magazine and what I didn't include in my review was a bit of musing about titles. This isn't the text of what I cut from the review. I never wrote it because I knew it didn't fit, but it covers what I was thinking about as I was wrapping up the review.

This book was titled Genesis. It appears to be the first volume in a series. The next volume, according to that page which lists the other novels by the author, is Exodus: The Ark. It's listed as forthcoming.

So, what I wonder is whether this is a five volume series and the next three will be titled Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. With subtitles, of course. And, if so, what does that say about the direction of the series.

If that is the direction Chafe is going (and this is all conjecture on my part), and if titles are intended to help sell the novel in some way, would those three titles sell? Numbers might. It's generic enough. But Leviticus and Deuteronomy?

Not so sure about that.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

more books

Saturday, June 13, 2009 0
In an effort to exponentially increase my library, I returned to Uncle Hugo's for a second time this past week and came back with another handful of books.

Brothers of Earth - C.J. Cherryh
Hunters of Worlds - C.J. Cherryh
Serpent's Reach - C.J. Cherryh
Revelation Space - Alastair Reynolds
Shatterday - Harlan Ellison

I may never catch up or recover, but I'm quite happy.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Jonathan Strahan on the Eclipse series

Friday, June 12, 2009 0
Jonathan Strahan has suggested earlier this year that this year's offering of Eclipse Three would mark the end of the Eclipse series, that he was done with it.

I had hoped he would change his mind because Eclipse One was an outstanding anthology and I expect to pick up Eclipse Two as part of the Night Shade sale, and I've been very much looking forward to Eclipse Three.

In today's post over at his blog, Strahan writes about his thoughts on the future of the series and THIS TIME he is saying he might not be done with it, that he is starting to feel revitalized.

Oh, I hope so, sir.

There aren't a lot of unthemed anthologies of original fiction out there, but in my mind, Eclipse is one of the two best (the other being Fast Forward), and I think we're all well served to have the series continue.

With any luck Strahan and Night Shade will work something out and continue this excellent series.

Strange Horizons reviews Regenesis

Strange Horizons posted a review of the new C. J. Cherryh novel Regenesis today. Regenesis is the sequel to 1988's Cyteen.

What confuses me here is that Nader Elhefnawy spends much more time writing about Cyteen rather than the purported subject of the review.

Given the nature of Regenesis (a direct sequel), I can see that you'd have to talk about Cyteen at the start of the review, but I was confused as to which novel Elhefnawy is reviewing. This review does get into some of the flaws of the novel and addresses some of the positives, but as a coherent whole...it's a bit of a mess.

I only point this out because I'm reading Cyteen right now and I'm thinking of picking up Regenesis and Elhefnawy only half talks about it.

Shrug. Only about half of my reviews are up to snuff, but I was disappointed in this one - and not so much because the reviewer didn't like the book.

The Six Directions of Space

My review of the Alastair Reynolds novella The Six Directions of Space is up over at Sacramento Book Review.

Check it out.

In other Reynolds related news, I picked up a copy of Revelation Space the other day. I hear it's a good read.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Are Women Human: The Conversation

Thursday, June 11, 2009 0
Yesterday I posted the text of Nicola Griffith's author's note for Ammonite. In a nice bit of recursiveness, here's a continuing conversation about some of the ideas raised in the essay over at Nicola's blog.

She writes, in response,
I wrote this seventeen years ago--as a combination rant, explanation, and PR exercise. I read it again today for the first time in years and wondered if I would write it now--wondered if I would need to.
Her answer is ultimately yes and then she continues the conversation. There are a small handful of comments that are also worth reading. It's good stuff.

As a reminder - go read Ammonite. You'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

"Nicola Griffith talks about writing Ammonite"

Wednesday, June 10, 2009 4
The below essay followed the text of Nicola Griffith's novel Ammonite. I wanted to include a passage from the essay in my review of the novel, but the more I thought about what I wanted to say and how I wanted to convey it, the more I realized that I really wanted to quote the entire essay. Her words were far more eloquent and powerful than anything I could have said. Below is the complete text of the essay "Nicola Griffith talks about writing Ammonite". I think it's important.

It is reprinted here with the permission of Nicola Griffith.

********************


“Are women human?” That question forms the subtext of more speculative fiction novels – fantasy, SF, horror, utopia and dystopia – than I can count. I intended Ammonite as a body blow to those who feel the question has any relevance in today’s world.

I am tired of token women being strong in a man’s world by taking on male attributes: strutting around in black leather, spike heels and wraparound shades, killing people; or riding a horse, swearing a lot, carrying a big sword, and killing people; or piloting a ship through hyperspace, drinking whatever pours, slapping boys on the back, and killing people. I am equally tired of women-only worlds where all the characters are wise, kind, beautiful, stern, seven-feet-tall vegetarian amazons who would never dream of killing anyone. I am tired of reading about aliens who are really women, or women who are really aliens.

Women are not aliens. Take away men and we do not automatically lose our fire and intelligence and sex drive; we do not form hierarchical, static, insectlike societies that are dreadfully inefficient. We do not turn into a homogeneous Thought Police culture where meat-eating is banned and men are burned in effigy every full moon. Women are not inherently passive or dominant, maternal or vicious. We are all different. We are people.

A woman-only world, it seems to me, would shine with the entire spectrum of human behavior: there would be capitalists and collectivists, hermits and clan members, sailors and cooks, idealists and tyrants; they would be generous and mean, smart and stupid, strong and weak; they would approach life bravely, fearfully and thoughtlessly. Some might still engage in fights, wars and territorial squabbles; individuals and cultures would still display insanity and greed and indifference. And they would change and grow, just like anyone else. Because women are anyone else. We are more than half of humanity. We are not imitation people, or chameleons taking on protective male coloration, longing for the day when men go away and we can return to being our true, insectlike, static, vacuous selves. We are here, now. We are just like you.

But Ammonite is much more than an attempt to redress the balance. It’s a novel. One about people – how they look at the world and how the world makes them change; one that attempts to look at biology, and wonder What If . . . ; one that shows readers different ways to be; one that takes them to other places, where the air and the temperature and the myths are not the same. If, a week after reading Ammonite, you pause over lunch, fork halfway to your mouth, and remember the scent of Jeep’s night air, or on your way to work daydream about the endless snow of Tehuantepec, or wonder for a moment as you climb into bed whether or not a virus could enhance our senses – then I’ve down my job.

--Atlanta, 1992.


copyright belongs to Nicola Griffith

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Ammonite, by Nicola Griffith

Tuesday, June 09, 2009 7

Ammonite
Nicola Griffith
1992

The incidence of infection of Company personnel was one hundred percent. Eighty percent of Company’s female personnel recovered; all of the men, including Courtivron, died. The planet was closed; no one on, very few off. Pg 14

Welcome to Jeep, the setting of Nicola Griffith’s debut novel Ammonite. The opening pages give a sense of claustrophobia as Marghe Taishan, in a quarantined part of a station orbiting Jeep, readies herself to be inoculated with a vaccine against the virus. Marghe is an anthropologist working for the Settlement and Education Council of the Durallium Company. Her contract is to travel to Grenchstom’s Planet and “study over a million people who had been out of contact with humanity for two or three hundred years” (pg 6). Jeep was a former colony planet, but the virus closed the world and the people of Jeep are now unknown quantities to the Company. The Company, perhaps as any company would, sent Marghe as a test subject for the vaccine and probably to find what Jeep can be worth to the Company. Marghe is there for the opportunity as an anthropologist. She carries some emotional baggage with her relating to her previous stint working for the Company. Nicola Griffith explores Marghe’s history as a natural part of the storytelling of Ammonite, and manages it without infodumping the reader.

Now, it would be perhaps an attempt to avoid the elephant in the room if I didn’t bring up the fact that this is a novel featuring a planet populated entirely by women – and moreover, that all female population manages to reproduce without males, and further – that all men die from some strange virus on the planet.

I don’t wish to diminish Nicola Griffith’s intentions and accomplishments with Ammonite to call the gender issue “window dressing”, but the fact is, when you read Ammonite you’re probably not going to pay too much attention to the fact that there isn’t a single male character in the novel (excluding a flashback). What you’re going to pay attention to is the fact that Ammonite is entirely populated with “people”. What you’re going to pay attention to is the story Griffith is telling. What you’re going to pay attention to is everything you pay attention to when you read.

It is only after the fact that we realize just what it is that Nicola Griffith did here. She twisted a number of conventions of science fiction and she did it so skillfully that if you don’t look closely, you might have missed the mechanism because you were caught up in the show. This “sort” of novel of discovery and exploration tends to be male focused and male dominated and here, the women are not simply men with female names. They are women. The idea of the all-female society doesn’t look like the various cultures and tribes of Ammonite because the idea of the all-female society is a broken cliché that doesn’t treat women as actual people. Griffith gets at this in the essay that follows the novel. If you think this was all some great accident that Griffith just happened to write into the novel, think again. This was intentional and it was skillful and it was seamless with the actual storytelling.

We will feed you, and clothe you, share everything that’s ours with you, without reservation, without condition. You in your turn must do the same. Will you do that? Pg 210

As much as it is about anything else, Ammonite is a novel that questions what family and identity really means. To Griffith, or more accurately – as presented in Ammonite, family is about what is chosen and what the responsibilities and consequences of that choice are. Most novels don’t really get at this in such a clear way. There are families, and sometimes characters get to choose a family, but seldom does what that acceptance of family means come across so succinctly. Sometimes it takes different cultural norms to spell it out and have it not feel like a lesson. Taken out of context, the above passage is a good explanation of what a family is. Taken in the context of Ammonite, it is a beautiful and powerful moment.

Ammonite is filled with such moments. As a collection of individual moments Ammonite would probably still be a powerful novel, but Nicola Griffith does so much more than just string together moments with string. Ammonite is a complete novel, strong and whole, with depth and layers I’m sure I haven’t seen yet on a single read. This isn’t to suggest that it is dense and impenetrable, because it isn’t at all. It is to suggest that Ammonite is filled with richness of storytelling and is a novel that should sit with the reader long after the last page is turned and the cover closed. It is to suggest that Ammonite features oh so very real characters who all have their own agendas and needs and wishes, and that I may not have parsed them all correctly the first time through. It is to suggest that Ammonite is, without question, one of the best novels I have read so far this year.

You know those books you finish reading and you know you must read everything else the author has written? Ammonite is that book.

Monday, June 08, 2009

"The Parable of the Shower", by Leah Bobet

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"The Parable of the Shower"
Leah Bobet
Lone Star Stories: June 2009

The angel of the LORD cometh upon you in the shower at the worst possible moment: one hand placed upon thy right buttock and the other bearing soap, radio blaring, humming a heathen song of sin.

Fear not! he proclaimeth from the vicinity of the shampoo caddy, and the soap falleth from thy hand.

Motherfu—thou sayest, and then thou seest the light, the wings, the blazing eyes like sunlight and starlight both at once, and since thy mother raised thee right thou coverest thy mouth with one hand and makest the sign of the cross with the other. It is the soap-hand which covereth thy mouth: thou gett'st soap in thy mouth, and spittest—away from the angel of the LORD—and do not curse again though it is terrible hard.

So begins Leah Bobet’s “The Parable of the Shower”, a story about the visitation of an angel and the task it gives to the narrator - to make her pregnant. Leah Bobet strikes just the right tone with “The Parable of the Shower”, with the incredulity and irreverence from the narrator (because really, an angel appearing the shower?).

To answer your first question – yes Bobet does use “thee”, “thou”, and “-eth” throughout the story. In any other circumstance it would be overdone and obnoxious. But, when there is constant angelic communication AND when the narrator continues to protest up the angelic chain of bureaucracy, this is a damn funny sorry. Umm...please excuse the blasphemy.

“The Parable of the Shower” is not a strict comedy, though it is quite funny (to me). There is a deadly serious aspect about how this sort of thing might go down today. This is not entirely a re-imagining of the manger story with a modern spin. Jesus already came and went and there is such a thing as the Bible. This is for the next Son of God. Maybe this is the official Second Coming, maybe not. Doesn’t matter.

It’s a delightful story.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Used Book Haul

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I picked up a crazy number of books this weekend. See, Dreamhaven Books was having a garage sale, so I had to check that out. Though - from reading that post, I didn't actually see a garage. There were extra books set up inside the main store, so I wonder if I missed something. Hmm!

From Dreamhaven
Electric Velocipede #4
Duck-Footed, by Joe R. Lansdale (I thought this was out of print, but apparently not)

Then, because that's how I roll and I wanted to show off the delights of the Used Book section of Uncle Hugo's, I stopped there, figuring I'd get one or two books.

Forty Thousand in Gehenna, by C.J. Cherryh
Merchanter's Luck, by C.J. Cherryh
Jhereg, by Steven Brust
Wild Cards, by George R. R. Martin

That's where I thought I was going to stop. The Cherryh and Wild Cards was book club edition hardcovers. Jhereg was a well read mmpb. But, since anytime I go to Uncle Hugos I check to see if they've got any Wild Cards books in stock (the HC was just a bonus). For the first time in about a year of bi-monthly visits, they did. I bought them all. Except for book five, which I already own.

Jokers Wild (3)
Aces Abroad (4)
Ace in the Hole (6)
Dead Man's Hand (7)
One Eyed Jacks (8)
Jokertown Shuffle (9)
Double Solitaire (10)
Dealer's Choice (11)
Turn of the Cards (12)
Card Sharks (13)
Marked Cards (14)
Black Trump (15)

So, now I own copies of all the Wild Cards novels except Aces High (2), Dueces Down (16), Death Draws Five (17) and Inside Straight (18). I expect to pick up a copy of Inside Straight soonish. The crazy thing is that when Tor starts reissuing the original series with new editions, I'll probably pick those up, too.

It's more than I planned to buy, but the odds of my finding all those books in one place again and almost completing the full set were quite small.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Realms of Fantasy giveaway!

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This must be free magazine week, because on the heels of the F&SF giveaway, there is a giveaway of 200 copies of the newly rescued Realms of Fantasy, a mag I've never had the chance to read before.

Details here.

As with F&SF, you have to blog about RoF. Fair enough.

F&SF Giveway: Aug / Sept issue

Gordon Van Gelder is running a giveway for the August / September issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction. It's for anyone willing to accept a copy and then blog their thoughts of the issue.

I've already had my shot with the July 2008 issue, so I don't qualify, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't get a chance to read some F&SF for free.

Friday, June 05, 2009

50% off sale at Night Shade Books

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You know all those books you wanted to buy, but couldn't? Now you can! Night Shade Books is having a 50% sale for all books currently in stock AND all forthcoming books currently in their catalog.

Seriously.

The word came from here.

The books are here.

No lie, I've been making a list. You've got to buy four to qualify, but with that discount you're getting four for the price of two. To sweeten it, you still get the discount on the trade papers and hardcovers even if you buy three mass markets to go along with it.

Sale runs through June 17.

Personally, I'm looking at some anthologies and a copy of Imaro.

I like Night Shade's product, so go buy some stuff.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

RIP: David Eddings

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Goodbye Mr. Eddings.

When I was just into my teenaged years you were the second writer of fantasy I read and the first to really open my eyes and immerse me into another world. Back then I devoured Pawn of Prophecy and all five volumes of the Belgariad. I couldn’t get enough of Garion, Silk, Barak, Durnik, Belgarath, Polgara, and the rest of the rather large crew trying to save the world from the Mad God Torak. This was a world I would escape into again and again. If I’m being honest, I should probably add a few more “agains” to that last sentence. I wanted to be young Garion and have this fantastic destiny shrouded in sorrow and mystery, I wanted to be a young farmboy with good morals and strong family who would rise to become a hero with great magical powers at my command. If part of fantasy is wish fulfillment, the Belgariad was my wish.

I read through your next series, the Mallorean, with delight at the chance to accompany Belgarion and Friends on a new adventure, one that felt slightly more adult at the time. Belgarion had grown up a bit, and so had I, and I welcomed one last adventure. With open arms I welcomed the two prequels which filled in the gaps and jumped headlong into the Elenium with the Pannion Knight Sparhawk. Your novels filled my days and I dreamed dreams of fantasy.

One brief confession, when I was sixteen I attempted to write my first novel. I had a marble notebook and I wrote it out by hand. I drew maps and imagined this great series and vast world that would dwarf that of the Belgariad. I finished a first chapter and read it over to admire my brilliance. I was shocked to discover that it was nothing more than a poor copy of those opening chapters of Pawn of Prophecy. Of course it was.

Though I haven’t read your work in many years, there will always remain a fond memory of those worlds you created and a gratitude for the opportunity to experience and share them at just the right time in my life. Your fiction enriched my childhood and helped to open the door to the fantasy genre. So, thank you, Mr. Eddings.

Good night, Mr. Eddings.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Nisi Shawl Interview at Fantasy Mag

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Excellent interview with this year's Tiptree winner Nisi Shawl over at Fantasy Magazine. It's more like a conversation between Shawl and Eileen Gunn.

John Joseph Adams at Whatever

John Scalzi has an ongoing series on his blog titled 'The Big Idea". It provides an outlet for writers and editors to give a bit more background / inspiration on their latest work than they are normally provided.

The latest Big Idea is editor and anthologist John Joseph Adams talking about Federations.

I've got a copy of Federations with me right now and the table of contents is a combination of giants of the genre and some newer names who just might be the giants of tomorrow. This should be another excellent anthology from JJA.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Lamentation, by Ken Scholes

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Lamentation
Ken Scholes
Tor: 2009

Lamentation begins with the destruction of a city called Windwir. Windwir was a great center of learning, the home of the Andofrancine Order and their library. Scholes notes that Windwir was the “home of many wonders both scientific and magickal.” This destruction is the catalyst for everything to come in the novel, and ultimately everything to come in this series.

Ken Scholes introduces a number of characters in the first chapter, all of whom will be quite important in very different ways. Rudolfo, Lord of the Ninefold Forest Houses, is the first character the reader meets and through his eyes the reader sees the distant destruction of Windwir. He, and his Gypsy Scouts, rides to the aid of Windwir knowing that the city was gone, and that “the world had changed”. Then, Petronus – an old fisherman noting that he has lived a lie for more than thirty years. Jin Li Tam, the consort to Sethbert, the Overseer claiming responsibility for the destruction of Windwir. A boy named Neb, far enough to survive but near enough to see the destruction first hand. These are to by the primary characters of Lamentation, the vehicles through which Ken Scholes will deliver the story of his debut novel.

It is, perhaps, impossible to overstate the impact and importance of Windwir’s destruction. It is central to the narrative of Lamentation, but it also looms large in the mind of perhaps every character in the novel. It would be akin, I think, to the destruction of the Vatican (moreso if the Vatican also housed the bulk of the scientific and historical knowledge of the world). That’s how important Windwir’s destruction was.

The world of Lamentation is a very old one. It has undergone great upheavals to its civilization, and before the destruction of Windwir, the world was slowly building back up. The loss of the great libraries and guidance of Windwir threatens to push the world back into a dark age.

What is most interesting about the understated touches on the history of this land is that this is a world where magic and technology both exist, and once flourished. While there is no reason, exactly, to believe that this land was once our own, there is plenty of reason to suspect that its technology once equaled that of our world. There is the occasional mention that the Androfrancine order helped recover some of the lost knowledge and only doled out that new technology and information when the order deemed the world was ready for it. Controlled technological growth. Something to kill for.

This is all background, of course. The opening chords played by Ken Scholes. What happens next is continuing political maneuvering on both sides, a giant clash of armies and ideologies, and a series of crosses and doublecrosses. There is much here to like, and wherever a reader thinks Scholes is going with the novel, Lamentation will probably take a different path. Things are not 100% as they initially seem, which is perhaps a lesson to understand about Lamentation as a whole. There are complications to everything, and Scholes is quite willing to change the nature of the game on his readers several times throughout the novel.

With such a smooth writing style, Scholes is able to keep Lamentation moving along at a brisk pace all the while building a deep richness the world and the political structures. Lamentation is an impressive work of fiction.

One point to quibble in Lamentation is the role of women in the novel. The only woman of any prominence (and possibly the only woman in the novel, period) is Jin Li Tam. Jin is a central character to the novel, a scion of the wealthy and powerful Li Tam family, but also a courtesan.

That’s right, the only notable female character in the first half of the novel is a high class prostitute. Because of her family situation there is a little more to it than that, but her worth in the novel is in how she relates to men and how she can be used as a tool to build alliance. Oh, Jin is a skillful, intelligent, strong willed woman, there is no doubt. It can also be suggested that in such a semi-feudal and low tech society that Jin’s social position is comparable to that of what a woman could achieve in a similar era.

I didn’t notice this until halfway through Lamentation, and then only when Ji Li Tam is given instruction to get herself pregnant.

Really? This mars an otherwise excellent novel, and can be considered a minor frustration in the overall reading of the novel, but it is a point worth recognizing.

The follow up thought to Jin Li Tam is that midway through the novel a second female character is introduced who presents a significantly different portrayal of what a female can be in this setting. For the sake not of not spoiling aspects of the novel, I’m going to leave out discussing that character at any length, but this, at least, is a welcome change to the initial impression of women in Lamentation. Even so, with only two women of note, the portrayal of women is disappointing.

One other thing that bugs me, and this is picking nits, is that one of the historical dark wizards can reasonably be named Wizard XYZ. Seriously. Wizard Xum Y’Zir. I’m all for trying to come up with a good name that isn’t “The Wizard Jeff”, but Wizard XYZ is something that I just can’t get past. Naming is one of my minor issues, as much because I think Rudolfo is a ridiculous name (no offense to anybody actually named Rudolfo), and every time this major character is on the page I’m pulled slightly out of the narrative. Sethbert is also a silly name, but it works because Sethbert is a villain here.

That’s enough with the negative. There is more than enough positive to go around and enough to make those brief negatives to be worth overlooking. The history, richness of world building without stalling the story, the political upheaval, heartbreak, characters to care about, and a fair amount of twists to the reader’s expectations is all just a part of what makes Lamentation such a strong debut. It is not perfect, but Lamentation is well worth experiencing. It offers a somewhat fresh take on epic fantasy and does not follow all of the well-worn paths. I don’t wish to overstate Lamentation as being the best thing since sliced bread (let’s face it, sliced bread is pretty darn awesome), but if you like traditional / epic fantasy, you should read this. Ken Scholes is doing something a little different and he’s off to a fine start.


Reading copy provided courtesy of Tor Books

Monday, June 01, 2009

State of the Story

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Neil Clarke has an editorial over at Clarkesworld Magazine with some new data regarding magazine sales and the overall state of the short fiction industry. As he mentions in the article, this is an update to a similar editorial from last year.

Also at Clarkesworld is an interview with ten SFF magazine editors:
Patrick Neilsen Hayden (Tor.com)
Shawna McCarthy (Realms of Fantasy)
John O'Neill (Black Gate)
Cat Rambo (Fantasy Magazine)
Mike Resnick (Jim Baen's Universe)
Stanley Schmidt (Analog)
Jason Sizemore (Apex Digest)
Gordon Van Gelder (Fantasy & Science Fiction)
Sheila Williams (Asimov's)
Ann Vandermeer (Weird Tales)

That is one powerful lineup and includes most of the largest and most significant publications in the genre today (I'd include Subterranean, Strange Horizons, Electric Velocipede, and LCRW, but that's just quibbling over further inclusion of stuff I like. I can't argue with that lineup).

Good stuff there, if nothing earthshattering.

Gunpowder, by Joe Hill

Gunpowder
Joe Hill
PS Publishing: 2008

Joe Hill introduces readers to a group of children seen through the eyes of a woman named Elaine. They call her Mom, but she’s not really.

Jake had made grass grow where grass could not grow, could never grow. In the acre of sand before her, the world was no longer as it should be, as it had always been, but as Jake wanted it. Reality was a manuscript, recorded in rocks, gasses, DNA. Jake had just rewritten a few lines.

Right from the start, before we know anything else about the boys or the setting, we know that at least one of the boys is some sort of savant who can do amazing things. What we learn later is that each of the boys, except Charley, has some sort of special psi power that lets them change the world. Gunpowder develops our understanding of the complex situation the boys and Elaine are in.

This is straight science fiction. Distant world, psi-powers, terraforming, and starships. Except, these are children with all the power, children developed to have terrible powers available to use, to shape a planet. Yes, it spoils nothing to say that those initial plans go awry. Plans must. The boys aren’t perfect, they aren’t angels (or demons). They are kids with remarkable power. Elaine is assigned to them, but loves them and they love her. It’s that love, naturally, that is the cause of all the pain that is to come.

What works here is that Joe Hill builds to a natural confrontation, and then twists it all to go not where we might expect, but in a direction that suddenly feel organic and natural and right – and brutal. Gunpowder has a tough ending that very much works, and one which raises the question of what happens next.

Oh - if you weren't sure - I liked it and I wanted more of it.


Joe Hill suggests there may be more novellas connecting to this one in the future. I welcome it.

Also, feel free to check out Ziv Wities’ review over at the Fix. He does a much better job with the review.
 
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