Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My Hugo Pre-Ballot Draft

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Yesterday I mentioned that I would post the draft form of my 2010 Hugo Nomination Ballot. I've still got a little more than a month to submit the ballot and there are two novels in particular I hope / want to read before I do so (The Windup Girl and The Red Tree). I'm struggling a bit with most of the other categories as I'd like to get five nominees per category, but I don't know what I'm missing.

Anything with a *** is something I consider a lock to get my nomination. Everything that doesn't have it...I don't know. I will, of course, post my final ballot when I submit it.

Novels
***By the Mountain Bound, by Elizabeth Bear
***Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest
Warbreaker, by Brandon Sanderson
***Finch, by Jeff VanderMeer
The Quiet War, by Paul McAuley
City Without End, by Kay Kenyon

Novella
***“Getaway”, by Emma Bull (Shadow Unit)
“The Language of Dying”, by Sarah Pinborough (PS Publishing)
“Starfall”, by Stephen Baxter (PS Publishing)

Novelette
***“First Flights”, by Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor.com)
***“Eros, Philia, Agape”, by Rachel Swirsky (Tor.com)
***“It Takes Two”, by Nicola Griffith (Eclipse Three)

Short Story
***”Snow Dragons”, by Elizabeth Bear (Subterranean)
“Swanwatch”, by Yoon Ha Lee (Federations)
“…That Has Such People In It”, by Jennifer Pelland (Apex Digest)
“Bespoke”, by Genevieve Valentine (Strange Horizons)
“The Carnivale of Abandoned Tales”, by Caitlyn Paxon (Shimmer, #10)

Best Editor – Short Form
***Jonathan Strahan
***John Joseph Adams
***John Klima
George R. R. Martin
***Ann VanderMeer

Best Editor – Long Form
Beth Meacham
***Lou Anders
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
***Jeremy Lassen
***Ann Groell
***Liz Gorinsky
Juliet Ulman

Best Semi-Prozine
***Electric Velocipede
***Shadow Unit
***Fantasy Magazine

John W. Campbell
J. M. McDermott
Peter V. Brett

Professional Artist
***Raphael Lacoste (The Windup Girl)
Fred Gambino (Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume 3)
***Richard Powers (Eclipse 3)
Raymond Swanland (An Empire Unacquainted with Defeat)
***Melanie Delon

Best Graphic Story
DMZ: No Future, by Brian Wood
Fables: The Dark Ages, by Bill Willingham
***Unknown Soldier: Haunted House, by Joshua Dysart
The Walking Dead: Fear the Hunters, by Robert Kirkman
I Kill Giants, by Joe Kelly
***Air: Flying Machine, by G. Willow Wilson

Best Fan Writer
Larry Nolan
Adam Whitehead
Abigail Nussbaum
Me? (I mean, what the hell, it's not like anyone else is going to nominate me)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Gender, Hugos, Pre-Ballot

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Cheryl Morgan, she of the Best Fan Writer Hugo from last year (among other notable things) has a post over at Feminist SF regarding the Hugo Awards, the general lack of women on the ballot, how to get involved and nominate, and finally, some options on who to consider nominating.

Excellent post and I hope that it does help lead towards some change / diversity / variety.

What I appreciated the most about the article is that Morgan did not run through the four primary fiction categories and stop there, she offers options throughout the entire ballot.

The one I want to call attention to is Best Editor: Long Form.

This isn’t a category with a lot of history. Only a few years ago was it split off of Best Professional Editor, which was a blend of what we would now consider the Long Form and Short Form categories. The last two years have had the same line-up of Long Form editors, and while I have no doubt that the work each of these editors do makes them worthy of nomination, I do think that it is very easy to overlook the work of the editors because a) they are generally not publicized, and b) it is difficult to judge the specific work an editor does.

I would try to judge the editor on the lineup of books they have in a given year and what the overall impression is of that lineup.

Problem is, that’s still tough to do.

Back to why I’m calling attention to this category. I’ve been working on my ballot for the better part of this month and Best Editor: Long Form is one of the categories I’ve been struggling with. I’m very familiar with the work of Pyr and Lou Anders consistently has an extremely strong lineup of fiction. Lou Anders is also the public face of Pyr, so when you think of all the great stuff published by Pyr, you also think of Lou Anders. Rightfully so, and it makes him an easy choice for a nomination, but other publishing houses don’t have that same editorial visibility.

Cheryl Morgan’s article highlights a number of female editors AND points out a writer or two each have published.

I wish there was some sort of master list from the major publishing houses (and I include the smaller but prominent presses in this) of who their editors are and what works they edited from the previous year.

Morgan’s list was invaluable to me for highlighting Anne Groell and Liz Gorinsky. Because of my lack of familiarity with most of the editors working today I would have missed both of them. Now, they’ll likely be on my ballot.

Speaking of which, in a separate entry, I’ll post my pre-ballot of what I’m thinking about nominating. I’ve got certain works / individuals who I consider a lock at this time, and a whole bunch of stuff that I’m just not sure about right now.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Scenting the Dark and Other Stories, by Mary Robinette Kowal

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Scenting the Dark and Other Stories
Mary Robinette Kowal
Subterranean Press: 2009

Scenting the Dark and Other Stories is the slim debut collection from Campbell Award winning writer Mary Robinette Kowal. Astute readers of this blog will realize that I’ve been a fan of Kowal’s work for several years now, but the surprise here is that I had only previously read three of the eight stories collected here. So, despite being familiar with the work of Mary Kowal, Scenting the Dark and Other Stories offers surprises and discovery.

This collection opens with “Portrait of Ari”, a story which can be viewed as a college conversation, but with a twist. It’s a quick and simple story, but certainly an enjoyable one. The second story, however, is the one which really sets the standard for Scenting the Dark. Kowal writes in the Postnote to “Death Comes But Twice”, “I also admit that I wanted to see if I could write an epistolary tale where you know the narrator dies but still worry about him.” She could and she did, and it is a fascinating story. There is a Victorian feel to this story and it is a wonderful piece of fiction.

The title story is a science fiction horror tale where the protagonist is blind and the sense of smell is all-important. What “Scenting the Dark” demonstrates so well is how scent can impact a story, that while readers frequently don’t think about the smells of a world or a story, those scents really enrich the story. Here they are essential, but in general smell can very much enhance a story. Kowal uses scent to great effect in this fantastic and heartbreaking story.

Mary Robinette Kowal closes the collection with “Jaiden’s Weaver”. This is a story born of the question “Could a habitable planet have rings, too?” and then wondering how that would impact life and culture on that planet. The thing is that despite how central the world is to the story, “Jaiden’s Weaver” is a story of a girl and her desire for a “teddy bear spider”, a pet nothing like what we would imagine. “Jaiden’s Weaver” is the newest story in this collection and it is absolutely wonderful, but that can be said about so many of Kowal’s stories.

There are only eight stories in this 80 page collection from Mary Robinette Kowal, but there is not a wasted word here. The stories of Scenting the Dark and Other Stories should delight readers as much as they delighted me. With two novels and more short fiction pending, you’ll want to pay attention to Mary Robinette Kowal.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Diviner!!

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I poked around on Melanie Rawn's message board for news on Captal's Tower, the long-not-written volume of her Exile's trilogy. I have a copy of the first book The Ruins of Ambrai, but I've held off reading when I found out that the trilogy has no anticipated completion date (take THAT, Ice and Fire fans!)

First, I came across a post titled "CT put off again...vent here", which I assumed was going to be rife with complaints that Rawn was working on Spellbinder 3 rather than Captal's Tower. That's what I thought. But, the first post included an update from October 2009:

What a stunning surprise! Melanie just announced she finished Diviner!!! It's much smaller than the Golden Key, but it's finished and hopefully we'll have a release date soon. I honestly thought she'd abandoned the project.

As far as I know, her next project is Spellbinder 3. She hasn't made any promises on Captal's Tower, but I for one am faithfully hoping it will get it's turn after Spellbinder.

Melanie is trying to sell her house and move to Oregon. Whenever that happens will only push back publishing dates for Captal's Tower or Spellbinder 3.

Oh, really?!

Honestly, it didn't even occur to me to think that Rawn was going to write Diviner. I chocked that one up to a lost opportunity. Diviner is either a sequel or a prequel (not really sure, doesn't really matter) to The Golden Key, an outstanding fantasy novel written by Rawn, Jennifer Roberson, and Kate Elliott. The Golden Key was intended to spawn three spin-off novels, one written by each of the original co-authors. Only hitch was that Roberson and Elliott couldn't write their entries until Rawn wrote Diviner. Well, here is Melanie's announcement.

The Golden Key was published in 1996.

(again, fellow Ice and Fire fans, you've got nothing on Melanie Rawn fans...unless you're waiting for more Haviland Tuf stories from GRRM, in which case, I feel you)

So.

Color me extremely surprised but quite happy to find out about Diviner. I don't know if we can expect a 2010 publication or 2011, but Diviner is automatically one of my most anticipated volume for whichever year it is announced. Yes, The Golden Key is that good.

What inspired me to even check Rawn's website / message board was that I'm seriously considering doing a re-read series of posts for the blog on her Dragon Prince / Dragon Star trilogies and I wondered if there was anything new. All I expected was that the third Spellbinder book was on the way and not much else. Didn't get Captal's Tower, didn't expect to.

Got the unexpected. Got Diviner.

Thank you, Melanie. I can't wait to read this one.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Best American Fantasy 2

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Best American Fantasy 2
Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (editors)
Prime: 2008

In the introduction to the first Best American Fantasy anthology, editors Ann and Jeff VanderMeer attempted to define in very broad strokes what they meant by “Best”, “American”, and “Fantasy” and used a very broad definition of what constituted a fantasy story. This second volume is intentionally tighter in the definition of fantasy, here “the manifestation of fantasy is real within the story, even if only hinted at in some” (pg 12).

There are some absolutely fantastic stories in this anthology, in both meanings of the word “fantastic”. This would normally be where a disclosure of what the standout stories in Best American Fantasy 2 are, but all of the stories more than have merit. There are very few questionable stories here, all are solid, and which story rises above the rest will likely depend on personal taste. My standout stories are written by Kage Baker, Michelle Richmond, Peter Beagle, and Rachel Swirsky.

“How the World Became Quiet: A Post-Human Creation Myth” from Rachel Swirsky is a powerful closing story. Originally published in Electric Velocipede #13, “How the World Became Quiet” is a future history of mankind after numerous apocalypses. This future history is completely unexpected and the shape of humanity is nothing like readers will expect. This is a spectacular story from one of the best new writers today.

The closing story is a far future science fiction tale, but “The Ruby Incomparable” from Kage Baker is a more traditional fantasy. Baker works with magic, gods, and a desire for immense power. This could be just any other story, but in the hands of Kage Baker, the result is nothing less than magical. Pardon the cliché.

The range of fiction in Best American Fantasy 2 is impressive, but perhaps no story demonstrates just how varied the fiction here can be is Matt Bell’s “Mario’s Three Lives”. This story harkens back to the childhood of every reader within a couple of years of thirty who played Nintendo in their childhood. Yes, it’s that Mario. This rather short story is far more moving than one would think and it perfectly encapsulates what the “Best American Fantasy” really means.

The editors VanderMeer have put together an anthology with a distinctive voice and which lives up to the billing of truly containing some of the best American fantasy published in 2007, though the stories here know no year. Best American Fantasy 2 is should be considered a “must read” anthology. Period.


Reading copy provided courtesy of Jeff VanderMeer

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Steven Brust interviewed

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In a post designed very much to make me happy, Jo Walton interviews Steven Brust over at Tor.com.
Jo: Did you write Dragon that way to make it impossible to read the series in chronological order?

SKZB: Jo, I am a serious writer, attempting to explore the limits of my craft while expressing my observations on the human conditions by the interaction of form and content within the....

Um, yeah.

Jo: I knew it!

Brust is, not surprisingly, playful and inscrutable, but always interesting.

I'm two books into Brust's Vlad Taltos series, loving it, and I really need to read the rest of it sooner rather than later.

Also, I'll try not to make the blog a Tor.com / Jo Walton love-fest, but Walton's entries over there are absolutely must-read for fans of the genre.

Interfictions Reading - Minneapolis Folks!

Local independent bookseller Magers & Quinn is hosting a reading from Interfictions 2: An Anthology of Interstitial Writing.

Info here.
Interfictions 2: An Anthology of Interstitial Writing is a genre-spanning collection of short stories from 21 authors from around the world. An amazing four of the authors are from the Twin Cities, and they'll all be reading at Magers & Quinn Booksellers, Friday, January 29, at 7:30pm.
I point this out for a couple of reasons, but mostly because of the line up.

Alan DeNiro

Kelly Barnhill

David Schwartz


William Alexander



All four are local (Twin Cities) writers. I'm not familiar with the work of William Alexander, but I am of the other three. Well, I've only read David Schwartz's novella The Sun Inside (very good), but Barnhill and DeNiro are the draws (for me). Alan DeNiro is the author of the excellent Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead and Total Oblivion, More or Less, which I very much want to read. Kelly Barnhill has thus far been a short story writer (see Jeff VanderMeer's "Conversations with the Bookless" interview with Kelly), but she has a novel coming out from Little, Brown later this year. Can't wait to read it!

I've met Alan and Kelly and they are both quite delightful people and I think this should be a fantastic reading. I should really go, huh? So should you.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Dazzle of Day, by Molly Gloss

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It’s very well written and very absorbing. It isn’t a cheerful story though—thematically it’s about worlds and boundaries, and it’s about those things very much on a human scale. This very much isn’t a fantasy of political agency, one of the things it faces is the knowledge that change can be frightening, that responsibility can, but that the answer to that is not refusing to change or refusing to accept responsibility. I sometimes read something and think “I’d have loved this when I was eleven.” I’d have hated The Dazzle of Day when I was eleven, it’s all about grown-ups, it has a lot of older women as significant characters, and while being on the generation starship is essential to everything, everything that’s important is internal. But I love it now for those very things. If there’s an opposite of a YA book, this is it.
The above quote is from Jo Walton's Tor.com review / article on The Dazzle of Day, by Molly Gloss.

I've been following Walton's Tor.com posts for a while and she's turned me on to a fair number of books (Steven Brust and C. J. Cherryh foremost among them) and after reading this post, I was intrigued. I tend to be when Walton writes about books.

What struck me was Walton saying that she would have hated the novel as an eleven year old, and after reading, I agree. I would have also hated it at fifteen, eighteen, and maybe twenty two (maybe twenty two).

At thirty I think it is a beautiful book.

As Walton wrote with the first sentence, "The Dazzle of Day is an astonishing short novel about a generation starship." This isn't a novel so much about the destination as it is about the life of the people who will be the ancestors and first wave of the colonists of a new world. It's about the people and very much not about the journey or the science or the discovery. It's about the people and the more emotional challenges they face as the journey nears its end, not so much the physical challenges.

I've not read many novels set on a colony ship. Most (that I've read) skip over the travel and have the colonists wake up at the new world. But, I've read Paul Chafe's novel Genesis, which has a significant section of the novel in transit. There are differences, of course, between the two novels. The Dazzle of Day is good book, to start, and Genesis is not. But, Chafe's novel was still more about physical and cultural conflict. Molly Gloss is writing about the quiet lives of thoughtful people.

This is a quiet novel. I may not rush out and insist that everyone read this, but when I put it down I sat quietly for a while, decided it was good, and my thoughts have come back to the story from time to time over the past week. To particular characters and to the opening diary entry of a woman who was to leave Earth for the first time. Like the characters, this is a deliberate novel. The Dazzle of Day may not be great, but it is definitely good.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Daniel Abraham on writing Wild Cards

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Since I posted my review of Busted Flush earlier today, here's a post at Tor.com written by Daniel Abraham about what it was like writing for the Wild Cards series and how it is so very different than writing his own fiction.

Good stuff.

Sounds like his next article is going to be about writing Hunter's Run, which I've got sitting on my shelf unread.

Wild Cards: Busted Flush


Busted Flush
George R. R. Martin (editor)
Tor: 2008

The end of Inside Straight featured many of the new characters introduced in that volume joining together to form an organization of superheroes. The organization is called The Committee and is an arm of the United Nations. The UN sends the Committee to troubled areas across the globe to help out as they can.

Busted Flush continues in the Wild Cards tradition of telling a story as a “mosaic novel”. Busted Flush is told with a series of short stories written by different authors and each builds to a large and complete story.

As always, there are a few things going on in this novel: New Orleans is on the cusp of being ravaged by another tornado and a small group of Committee members are there to help, a civil war in Africa, an oil embargo in the Middle East, and an unexplained nuclear explosion in Texas.

These events seem unrelated, and they are, except that as the various members of the Committee get involved they all tie together before the novel ends in a stunning confrontation.

One of the great strengths of the Wild Cards series is the excellent characterization. Yes, the action and the plotting is equally note-worthy (certain television writers would do well to pay attention and see how it is done), but where Wild Cards lives or dies is in how well written the characters are. Melinda Snodgrass delves into the character of Double Helix, a teleporter who can change between male and female and is used as an assassin by competing agencies. The character was introduced in Inside Straight and while Noel (Double Helix) was used, it isn’t until Busted Flush that the character is really fleshed out. The other major character introduction here is Niobe, occasionally known as the Genetrix. Niobe looks like a joker, has a tail, but is actually an ace. For Niobe sex always leads to giving birth to a clutch of little potential aces and jokers, and the newly hatched aces are in command of their powers right from birth. Niobe’s story is consistently heartbreaking, as is her meeting of a young boy named Drake. Drake is the only survivor of the nuclear blast in Texas. There is more to that story.

The point here is that the characters are so well written they consistently come across as regular people who just happen to have incredible powers. The other aspects of Busted Flush are just as strong.

Busted Flush is a wonderful entry to the Wild Cards series and is the second volume of the Committee Triad (which concludes with Suicide Kings). This is a series which very much deserves to be read. Just go back and read Inside Straight and you’ll be good to go.


Reading copy provided courtesy of Tor Books.


Previous Wild Cards Reviews:
Wild Cards (bk 1)
Aces High (bk 2)
Jokers Wild (bk 3)
Aces Abroad (bk 4)
Down and Dirty (bk 5)
Ace in the Hole (bk 6)
Inside Straight (bk 18)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Neglected Authors

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Over at Tor.com Jo Walton has a post asking readers to list out great writers who we felt should have far greater commercial success than they do. Walton includes both the writers who are great, but never seem to be in the conversation AND the ones who receive decent critical acclaim, but not the sales AND the ones who consistently sell, but have never quite had that breakout novel.

Walton nicked the idea from James Nicoll.

I've contributed to both posts, but I wanted to do it here, too.

The first two that came to mind were Daniel Keys Moran and Charles Saunders, and I think they are the best examples of this. They were able to publish several novels, but those novels didn't sell well enough for them to get the chance to keep publishing new ones.

Daniel Keys Moran has a series of related novels in his "Continuing Time" milieu. When I was in high school I absolutely fell for his novel The Long Run, a book about a legendary figure "Trent the Uncatchable", but couldn't find his other stuff for nearly a decade. I eventually did read the first book Emerald Eyes and then later The Last Dancer. Emerald Eyes was a bit of a disappointment, but I did like The Last Dancer. I've been holding out hope that some goodly publisher will put his books back in print and will ALSO be goodly enough to publish the long missing AI War. I believe Moran has been publishing it in chunks on his blog, but I would love to get the whole thing in one go. You can find free electronic copies of his novels here. I should like to mention that I recently found a copy of The Armageddon Blues in my local used book shop, which is one DKM novel I haven't had the pleasure to read.

If you've read my review of Imaro then you won't be surprised that Charles Saunders is my next pick. Saunders is a recent discovery, but Imaro was so fantastic and the publication history of Charles Saunders is so disappointing (retrospectively to me, but to Saunders himself and to the readers who discovered Charles Saunders back when he first published these novels all those years ago). Night Shade brought back the first two Imaro novels a few years back, but it looks like sales weren't enough to publish the third or contract for new Imaro stories. Truly disappointing, but Saunders appears to be working on new Imaro novels and self-publishing them. When I catch up with the series, I'm going to buy them. The lack of a Charles Saunders presence is SFF today is damn near criminal. Hopefully the looming resurgence of Sword & Sorcery fiction will bring Saunders back on that wave. Please.


I'd also bring Matthew Stover into the conversation. His Caine novels are fantastic. Unlike DKM and Saunders, Stover is still selling well enough to continue to publish, but I would love to see Matthew Stover get the big time household recognition his awesomeness deserves. I believe we've got two more Caine novels forthcoming and some other stuff on Stover's plate, and he's published some of the best novels in the Star Wars Universe, but a new Stover is cause for celebration.

And finally, Nicola Griffith. Y'all know how I feel about Ammonite, right? Like Stover, Griffith is still publishing and like Stover, Griffith is very well regarded for the fiction she does publish. But, being a greedy reader, I want more. I've only read the one novel and the one story (you will hear more about Griffith and "It Takes Two" with the various awards this year, or I will be sorely disappointed), but Griffith is fantastic and I really think she should have massive popular sales.

So, that's my list. I'm sure I could add others if I thought more about it (like, I'm hoping that Jennifer Pelland sells her first novel and it is a smash - I am enamored with her short fiction, and despite the fact that she consistently publishes new novels at a rate that boggles the mind, Elizabeth Bear deserves greater sales, especially for her Promethean Age novels), but I'm going to leave it with these four...er...six.

Who do you think should have greater recognition?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Graphic Novels: Identity Crisis

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Six months I asked for some comic book recommendations and one that I received was DC’s Infinite Crisis. This is one of a number of “Crisis” events for the DC Universe and because I am an absolute idiot I did not listen to the warnings and I started from the beginning. See, before Infinite Crisis is Identity Crisis, and before that is Crisis on Infinite Earths. I was warned off Crisis on Infinite Earths, but because I prefer to read stuff in order, I gave it a go anyway.

It sucked.

I went back to reading whatever series I was in the middle of at the time and put the DC superheroes to bed for a while. I had just about all I could take from the superheroes. It’s not what I’m interested in reading.

Six months pass and I’m thinking I want to revisit the recommendation. After all, I was warned and I disregarded the warning. I talked it over and we figured out that Identity Crisis was published first, before Infinite Crisis, and I should check that out.

I went in with a certain amount of skepticism. Still not a fan of the capes. Identity Crisis is loaded with characters in full costume.

It begins with the murder of Sue Dibny, the wife of The Elongated Man and the rest of the seven issues follows the Justice League of America’s B-Cast as they attempt to find her murderer, and protect their families. A good portion of the story is told from the perspective of the Green Arrow.

The first issue had a strong emotional aspect to it (most of them do), and I responded to that while still not being comfortable with all of the costumes. The writing was strong, but I had to work out just how much I cared about the characters.

In the end I was very impressed by the storytelling. Identity Crisis is not a story of superheroes, but about the people behind the masks. It is about their personal lives and protecting family and friends. This is a rough story with murder and rape and revelations of dark deeds done by the heroes.

One thing I really appreciated was the deft handling of the legendary characters: Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. The characters are all there, but they’re not front and center (or ignored entirely). They are the leaders of the team but are also only called in when the heavy hitters are required.

What was most interesting, though, was the dynamic of Superman and Batman. There is a definite Mom and Dad vibe to these characters. Superman is the Mom of the team. Batman is the Dad. Superman’s the one who is firm, strong, and protective. You go to Mom first. Batman, on the other hand, is the “Don’t Tell Dad” version of Dad. The characters all seem somewhat afraid of Batman. They don’t want Bruce to get involved. There’s a sense that nobody is sure what Batman will do, and you sure as hell don’t want to get on Batman’s bad side.

It’s a fascinating dynamic.

I was skeptical of reading Infinite Crisis, but now after Identity Crisis I feel better about it. I have a certain expectation of quality now that I didn’t before.

Still not a fan of superheroes, though.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Walking Dead: Days Gone Bye

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In my quest to find a great new comic series to read I’ve been working my way through Paul Cornell’s list of Hugo eligible comics. I’m not going to link it right now for fear of the man thinking that I’m stalking him. Seriously, I’ve got the most recent four links to that entry and it’s just going to get worse because Cornell’s list is such a great reference. Here, I’ll link to myself linking to it.

Moving on. I’m going to spoil a couple of major story points of the first volume of The Walking Dead, so if you want to go in pure, just stop here and assume that I recommend the comic. Otherwise, while I’m spoiling a point or two, it’s nothing you wouldn’t figure out right away or just flat out assume. This is a zombie story – things aren’t going to go well. It’s the nature of the beast.

From the large stack of comic collections I borrowed from my wonderful local library was the first volume of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead. This is an ongoing series set after a zombie apocalypse and focused (at least initially) around a small group of survivors. I think the story begins a month or two after the beginning of the outbreak. The characters don’t know just how widespread the outbreak is, only that Atlanta is completely overrun. They hope that “soon” the government will return and restore order and rescue them. Except, this hasn’t happened yet and there is no communication with the rest of the world. I kind of have to wonder about radio since that’s the sort of thing that would be likely to keep running for a time after zombie-pocalypse, but you never know.

The first volume centers around a guy named Rick. Rick was a small town Kentucky Sheriff’s deputy who was wounded in the line of duty and ended up in a coma. He woke up in the hospital to find there were no doctors there, and, well, zombies. After doing some fairly level-headed stuff for a man who just woke up from a coma to find his town overrun by zombies, Rick stocks up and heads to Atlanta on the assumption that’s where his wife and child would have gone. The story starts out with Rick as a grounded and solid man, but Robert Kirkman promises in the introduction that over the course of the series we’re going to see some major changes. Kirkman states that his plan is to treat The Walking Dead as a character study of what he believes would be realistic human response in survivors of a zombie outbreak.

What I know from the first collection, Days Gone Bye, is that Kirkman is off to a fantastic start and that there are another ten collections to read. This is exactly what I was looking for – an excellent and long-running series that I could get behind.

Tony Moore's art is done in black and white and perfectly fits the story. I kind of expect a certain amount of art shift to match the changing mood / atmosphere of the series, but if not, it should still be appropriate for the whole thing.

I assume the quality will hold, but so far, this is good, folks.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Underland Press

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One thing I have not done much of at all is write about particular publishers. Oh, I have my favorites and different reasons for each of them, but I just don’t write about them. And yes, I do believe that who the publisher is does matter. There are certain expectations of quality and sometimes of content that comes with who publishes a particular book. A reputation.

I’m five chapters into Jeff VanderMeer’s Finch. In a couple of text messages I attempted to convey the sense of atmosphere, the rot of Ambergris that seeps into the mind of the reader. I explained the basic concept of the novel, the grey caps, the rot. Then, knowing that she very much enjoyed two previous novels I recommended, I mentioned that this was the fourth novel from the same publisher of Last Days and The Pilo Family Circus.

That’s when I got the response of “ooh”.

The publisher matters.

I’m talking about Underland Press. Underland Press was created by Victoria Blake, a former fiction editor at Dark Horse. From the publisher's "Mission" page:
WE LIKE STORIES that scare us. We like the macabre-monsters and magic and men with nothing to lose. More than anything, we like to be intrigued and entertained.

UNDERLAND PRESS was started to bring the best of the world’s scary and strange stories to life and to light.

CALL IT THE NEW WEIRD, or fantasy, or dark fantasy. Call it what you want. We like reading by flashlight under the covers at night. We want to make books you can’t put down.
Blake published Underland Press’s first four books in 2009 and it was an impressive debut year. 2010 sees Underland taking over the Best American Fantasy series with the third volume. Both Last Days and The Pilo Family Circus were disturbing and twisted and quite good. I haven’t had the chance yet to read Chaos, but given that Blake published it, I have high expectations – though my stomach is wary.

So, I’m reading Finch. The first five chapters are fantastic and that isn’t a surprise. When I do my Year’s Best lists in late December I only go to the Top Nine because I never know what book I missed or didn’t get a chance to read. It’s early yet, but I kind of think it might have been Finch.

Published by Underland Press.


Oh, and here's a great interview Victoria Blake did with Charles Tan last year.

Friday, January 08, 2010

The Living Dead, by John Joseph Adams

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The Living Dead
John Joseph Adams (editor)
Night Shade Books: 2008


You want zombies? John Joseph Adams has your zombies right here. It’s The Living Dead, a World Fantasy Award nominated anthology. The stories collected in The Living Dead present a varied vision of what a zombie story can be. While Dan Simmons tells a more conventional zombie story in “This Year’s Class Picture”, Clive Barker’s “Sex, Death and Starshine” presents a more animated zombie interested in the theatre, and Hannah Wolf Bowen lists out reasons why “Everything is Better with Zombies”. The breadth of fiction here is impressive.

There are some extremely disturbing stories in The Living Dead. George R. R. Martin’s “Meathouse Man” is the first story that comes to mind, with the grotesqueries of the necrophilic sex trade depicted. The story provokes a visceral reaction, but Nina Kirki Hoffman’s excellent “The Third Dead Body” provokes an emotional one.

The Living Dead is chock-full of fantastic stories, but if there is any flaw with the anthology it is simply that there sheer volume of zombie stories here can overwhelm the reader (like, well, zombies do). This is not an anthology to read straight through with very few breaks (unless one is a true zombie aficionado). Rather, to achieve maximum enjoyment, readers would be better served to dip in and read a story or maybe two per day. With thirty-four stories to choose from, this is a necrotic meal to savor.

The Living Dead is a fantastic introductory volume of zombie stories. John Joseph Adams has pulled from renowned authors and from the seminal zombie-fiction anthologies. This is a fantastic volume to jump in and see what is possible with zombies. Some readers may question the exclusion of Max Brooks from The Living Dead, but there is little else to quibble about with this massive anthology. The fiction here is top rate and JJA has a knack for picking an outstanding story.

Open the cover. Turn the page. Check out the zombie delights.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction: Sixtieth Anniversary Anthology

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The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction: Sixtieth Anniversary Anthology
Gordon Van Gelder (editor)
Tachyon: 2009


The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
is generally acknowledged as one of the Big Three of SFF magazines published today. Along with Asimov’s, F&SF annually accumulates a significant number of the genre’s most prestigious award nominations. Stephen King is on record saying that the magazine is “still the gold standard for short fiction in America”. This is all to say that an anthology titled “The Very Best of” this well regarded magazine has some inherently high expectations to meet. By definition, the bar is set very high.

This Sixtieth Anniversary anthology truly spans the decades, leading off with 1951’s “Of Time and Third Avenue”, by Alfred Bester and closing with Ted Chiang’s 2008 novella “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate”. This anthology is packed full of the legends of the genre: Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, Damon Knight, Shirley Jackson, Ursula K. Le Guin, Roger Zelazny, Kurt Vonnegut, and James Tiptree Jr. Van Gelder has also included a healthy selection of modern masters, including Jeffrey Ford, Neil Gaiman, Ted Chiang, M. Rickert, and Peter S. Beagle. Without knowing anything about what stories are included, the names on the cover should be enough to inspire people to pick up a copy. These are the masters of science fiction and fantasy.

Gordon Van Gelder has included two truly legendary stories in this anthology: “Flowers for Algernon”, by Daniel Keyes, and Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron”. There is an excellent chance that many readers first encountered these stories in their school textbooks (really) and they hold up both as classics of the genre as well as simply excellent stories. While these two stories are perhaps the most notable stories included in this anthology, there are other fine gems to be found.

"The Women Men Don't See" from James Tiptree, Jr is a standout, as is Ursula K. Le Guin's "Solitude". Shirley Jackson is perhaps most famous for her story "The Lottery" (not in this anthology), but her story "One Ordinary Day, with Peanuts" is excellent.

This anthology represents both a cross-section of the history of science fiction and fantasy stories and an overview of the stylistic changes the genre has undergone. The earliest stories collected here represent a kind of “classic” science fiction story. Mr. Van Gelder mentions in his introduction to “I See You” that he could have saved himself a fair amount of time over the years if he simply wrote on rejection letters that "Damon Knight used this same idea better and more succinctly years ago." The later stories reflect a more magic-realist type of story. The genre element is often inherent in the story, rather than being the hook of the story. Now, that is a very gross generalization and counter-examples can be given on both sides of the divide, but it serves to demonstrate a stylistic shift in the sort of story published today compared to fifty or sixty years ago. This anthology represents that shift and the change in style and tone is noticeable.

What is rather curious, though, is what is only evident if readers look through the bibliography pages. While nearly sixty years of fiction is included in this volume, Mr. Van Gelder declined to include any stories published in the 1980’s. Now, there is no reason Van Gelder should be required to include stories published in a given year or a given decade, but it is curious. Was the 80’s a weak decade for F&SF? Was it an oversight? Were those stories previously included in the Fiftieth Anniversary anthology and Mr. Van Gelder did not wish to duplicate the many previous anthologies F&SF has put out? Does it matter?

There is also the curious practice where Gordon Van Gelder would mention in story introductions that he could have included better known stories from a particular author and he included the Zelazny story "partly because I think it's overlooked too often and partly because this story left a huge impression on me when I was thirteen." Not necessarily because he thought it was best.

Readers more familiar with the history of F&SF can identify which stories may have been neglected and merited inclusion. Readers less familiar with that history can only judge what is included here.

If a reader was to only consider the best of the best stories included here, this anthology could easily be considered one of the best retrospective anthologies to ever hit the marketplace. When taken as a whole anthology, however, the reader is left to settle for a very good anthology that was likely three or four stories away from being great. The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction: Sixtieth Anniversary Anthology does represent the best writers of the last sixty years, but with the exceptions of some true standouts, there is some question that it represents the best work those writers contributed to F&SF. Not to mention the missing decade.

Included in The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction: Sixtieth Anniversary Anthology are some very good stories which likely rank among the best published in this magazine. They just may not be “The Very Best” of the best which the title indicates.

Is this anthology worth picking up? Oh, absolutely. There is some fine, fine fiction here.


Reading copy provided courtesy of Tachyon

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Canticle, by Ken Scholes

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Canticle
Ken Scholes
Tor: 2009

Canticle is the follow up to Lamentation, the debut fantasy epic from Ken Scholes. With Lamentation, Scholes introduced readers to The Named Lands and a world still struggling to come out of their version of the Dark Ages following some sort of apocalypse several thousand years prior. Lamentation opened with the destruction of a Vatican-like city called Windwir, the depository of nearly all the surviving technological knowledge of the previous age. Lamentation ended with the revelation of who was behind many of the conspiracies surrounding the fall of Windwir and everything that happened next.

What happens next is the story of Canticle. Ken Scholes takes readers in very different directions than might have been anticipated after Lamentation. The conspiracies and plots of Lamentation are only a shadow of what is revealed in Canticle to be the “true story”, though even these new revelations leave the reader wondering. As solid an offering as it was, Lamentation should be viewed as mere prologue to The Psalms of Isaak, an introductory chapter. Canticle gets into the heart of the conflict and expands both the world and the threat.

As the Gyspy King Rudolfo attempts to restore the great library of Windwir and usher in a new era of peace and cooperation, two visiting monarchs are murdered at the celebration of Rudolfo’s newborn son. More murders follow and the blame seems to be laid at the feet of the distrusted Marshers, except that the hidden ruler of the Marshers, Winters, is not responsible for this. With The Named Lands once again at the brink of war, Ken Scholes reveals the true aim of the murders and even of the Desolation of Windwir.

This is where Scholes does his best work. His handling of the various conspiracy threads and ensures that they follow what came before while still building to something much larger that the reader only has a bare hint at. The final execution of these conspiracy threads will remain to be seen, but Scholes has created a familiar world before pulling the structure of the world out from under the characters. What was believed to be true no longer is, and Scholes does well with the fallout.

One of the more interesting parts of The Psalms of Isaak is the suggestion that this is a post apocalyptic world, that this is a post-technical world thrust back into a pre-technical existence. The Andofrancine Order (Windwir) was slowly bringing The Named Lands back into a more civilized society, doling out precious bits of knowledge while attempting to prevent anything like the previous fall from happening again.

While the various societies and even the history of The Named Lands is presented in very simple terms, there is a richness to this world that is just under the surface. Canticle does an excellent job at tapping that richness. Though Scholes never completely brings that richness out to the surface, and thus prevents Canticle from truly being a fantasy novel of the highest order, there is enough there to leave the reader believing that great things are just on the next page. Like Lamentation, Canticle never fully satisfies, but this second volume is a stronger novel than the debut.


Reading copy provided courtesy of Tor Books.

Previous Review
Lamentation

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Campbell eligibility?

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Does anyone know where I can find a list of writers eligible for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer?

Writertopia, the usual referent
, has not updated their page from last year. Kinda bummed about that, it was a great resource. So, while I can consider writers who were on their first year of eligibility last year, I really I don't know who I should be considering.

Any other resources out there? Or recommendations of folks eligible for the Campbell this year I should think about?

See, this is tough because if you didn't know Ken Scholes had published qualifying short fiction in the mid 2000's, you'd think he was eligible from Lamentation and Canticle this year. I'm 90% certain that he is not. It's that story in the past that you don't know about or think about (see Pat Rothfuss not being eligible a couple years back after The Name of the Wind was published)

I think Peter Brett is. Based on the Writertopia page from last year, I know that J. M. McDermott and Ann Aguirre are.

What's a brother to do?

Hit me up, folks.

Hugo Nomination Period Open

A review of The Living Dead was supposed to post here, but I just don't have it ready yet.

So, instead, let us talk Hugos.

The nomination period for the 2010 Hugo Awards is now open.

Nominating ballots must be received by March 13.

But, if you want to be able to nominate, you have to have registered by January 31. To nominate, you have to be an attending or supporting member of this year's Worldcon in Australia, or have been an attending member of last year's Worldcon.

Now, since I will be unable to make it to Melbourne this year, I intend (in the next week) to purchase a Supporting Membership to this year's Worldcon. That'll run me $50.

This will allow me to nominate works for the Hugo, and then to vote.

Is it worth $50?

Yeah, I think it is.

Here's how I see it: It's going to be fun to be part of the conversation of the Hugo Awards, to nominate my favorite works published last year, and then to read all of the nominees knowing that my vote will matter.

Fun.

Hell, I enjoy reading the nominees and writing about them anyway, and I think this is a great way to expand that fun. Is it worth $50?

Well, I wish there was a Nominating / Voting membership for $25, but $50 isn't unreasonable for the amount of enjoyment I expect to get out of this.

I'm going to spend some time thinking about what I want to nominate, come up with a solid list of five for each category.

Cause, you know, it doesn't take many nominations to get something on the final ballot.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Five More Comics from Paul Cornell

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Months back I posted a link to Paul Cornell's list of thirty comics which Hugo voters should consider for nomination.

A couple of weeks back Cornell added to the list with five more comics to consider.

I've been using Cornell's first listing as a wonderful reading list which has introduced me to a goodly number of great comics. Now I've got a few more to consider.

I plan to register to be a supporting member of this year's Worldcon so I can nominate and vote for the Hugos, and I'll probably need to use Cornell's list as a referent. I should probably register soonish, too, before Jan 31 (or I can't nominate, and nominating is going to be half the fun).

Eclipse Three, by Jonathan Strahan (editor)


Eclipse Three
Jonathan Strahan (editor)
Night Shade Books: 2009

Eclipse Three is, as one might expect, the third volume of Jonathan Strahan’s Eclipse series of anthologies published by Night Shade Books. Eclipse is an anthology series featuring all original fiction and, unlike most other original anthologies on the market, it is unthemed. Stories may leap from fantasy to science fiction to a blending of the two without blinking an eye and without having to fit any set framework. This is more akin to what readers might find in Strahan’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year anthologies. Rightly so, as several stories in Eclipse Three are Year’s Best worthy*

Nicola Griffith’s story “It Takes Two” is the absolute highlight of this anthology, but other standouts include: Elizabeth Bear’s “Swell”, "The Pelican Bar" from Karen Joy Fowler, Nnedi Okorafor's "On the Road", and "Useless Things" from Maureen F. McHugh.

Only two stories truly disappointed here. Paul DiFilippo’s “Yes We Have No Bananas” and Molly Gloss's "The Visited Man".

The rest of the stories range from the solid to the specatular.

Despite the subtitle of the Eclipse series, the stories of Eclipse Three are generally not heavy on genre elements. Most of the stories are set in a version of the real world, just with elements of magic or impossible technology. The genre elements are seamless parts of these stories about character, about people. The tech and the magic are never the point.

The stories here are beautiful, heartbreaking, thrilling, moving, and hopeful - each in their own way.

Jonathan Strahan talks about how this particular cover came about, but it is worth pointing out just how awesome the Richard Powers artwork is for Eclipse Three. This is a beautiful volume in person and is quite striking. The artwork would have gone to waste if the stories between the covers were not equally striking, but with very few exceptions, the stories are more than up to the task.

Eclipse Three is a must read entry in a must read anthology series.


*Strahan has already announced the TOC for the fourth volume of his Year’s Best and two stories from Eclipse Three are included (Griffith and Fowler). Gardner Dozois included the Griffith and the McHugh in his annual anthology.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

December 2009 Reading

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Here's my monthly wrap-up of what I read the previous month. Links, as always, go to the reviews.


Books
124. The Lost Symbol, by Dan Brown
125. PostSecret: Confessions on Life, Death, and God, by Frank Warren
126. Death Troopers, by Joe Schrieber
127. Cut Time, by Carlos Rotella
128. Wall and Piece, by Banksy
129. Button, Button, by Richard Matheson
130. Nightmares and Dreamscapes, by Stephen King
131. Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld
132. Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins
133. Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest
134. Shadow Boxers, by Jim Lommasson
135. The Women of Nell Gwynne’s, by Kage Baker
136. Imperial Commando: 501st, by Karen Traviss
137. Makers, by Cory Doctorow
138. Eclipse Three, by Jonathan Strahan (editor)
139. Canticle, by Ken Scholes


Graphic Novels
113. Locke and Key: Head Games, by Joe Hill
114. Ex Machina: Smoke, Smoke, by Brian K. Vaughan
115. Preacher: All Hell’s A-Coming, by Garth Ennis
116. Preacher: The Alamo, by Garth Ennis
117. Ex Machina: Ex Cathedra, by Brian K. Vaughan
118. Scalped: Casino Boogie, by Jason Aaron
119. Scalped: Dead Mothers, by Jason Aaron
120. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Predators and Prey, by Jane Espenson
121. 100 Bullets: The Counter-Fifth Detective, by Brian Azzarello
122. Jack of Fables: The Big Book of War, by Bill Willingham


Previous Reading
January
February
March
April
May
June
July
August
September
October
November

Saturday, January 02, 2010

The Year in Comics: 2009

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Until 2009 I pretty well eschewed reading comics. Oh, I gave Joss Whedon’s X-Men books a spin, dipped into Sandman, tried Star Wars: Legacy, and read Buffy: Season Eight, but those were notable exceptions. This year was different. My comic reading in January and February was fairly light since I was just dipping my toes into the world of comics, but starting in March things began to get heavy.

In March I started three major series: Fables, Girl Genius, and Queen & Country. This began my comic obsession. I read as much as I could get my hands on and when I ran out of those first three, I dipped into Y: The Last Man, Preacher, and Transmetropolitan.

Now, at the end of the year, I have finished or caught up with the following:
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight
DMZ
Ex Machina
Fables
Girl Genius
Jack of Fables
Preacher
Queen & Country
Star Wars: Legacy
Transmetropolitan
Uptown Girl
Y: The Last Man

I’ve read such short-run work as:
The Arrival
The Bottomless Belly Button
Burnout
Locke and Key
Mouse Guard
Pride of Baghdad
Watchmen
WE3
Whiteout

Now, there are a few series I’m working on right now: 100 Bullets, Bone, and Scalped. But, I’m looking for some new series to try out in 2010.

I’m using Paul Cornell’s Hugo list to get some ideas, and that’s where I discovered quite a few books I read last year.

Books I plan on trying are:
Air, by G. Willow Wilson
Fear Agent, by Rick Remender
I Kill Giants, by Joe Kelly
Incognito, by Ed Brubaker
Madame Xanadu, by Matt Wagner
Rasl, by Jeff Smith
The Umbrella Academy, by Gerard Way
Unknown Soldier, by Joshua Dysart
The Unwritten, by Mike Carey
The Walking Dead, by Robert Kirkman

The only problem that I have here is that I’m limited to what my library has (and my library is awesome, mind you) because I have no budget for purchasing individual issues or collections, with a related problem being that most of the comics I just listed are very early in their runs and that means I will probably only have one collection to read and then wait.

What I need is something that has been out for long enough to have accumulated five or more collections. Hellblazer is an option, that’s something that’s been recommended to me. Greg Rucka is only just beginning his new title Stumptown, so no matter how awesome I think it will be, we’ve only got an issue or two, not even a collection. Once I finish Bone and 100 Bullets, I really need to have something awesome to step up and ready to roll (and even if I wasn’t caught up with Ex Machina, it isn’t awesome).

Friday, January 01, 2010

Reading Resolutions

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Two years ago I made a couple of resolutions for what I wanted to make an effort to read during the year. Looking back at that year, I did okay. Last year I decided against doing the resolution thing and while I have no complaints about the books I did read, I’ve got a few about what I didn’t read.

So, this year I want to adjust my focus just a little bit.

Like two years ago, I am setting as a goal to read 10 short story collections and 10 anthologies. This past year I only managed 5 of each and it’s just not enough short fiction in my diet.

I’ve got this stack of magazines on my floor that’s been growing for the past couple of years. I want to clear this off. So, along with the collections and anthologies, my next goal is to clear off that stack.

The stack is comprised of:
Asimov’s (one issue)
Weird Tales (four issues)
Realms of Fantasy (one issue)
Interzone (five issues)
Electric Velocipede (two issues, plus three chapbooks)
Sybil's Garage (one issue)

The final thing I would like to accomplish in my reading also relates to this blog. I want to expand my award coverage a bit. I’ve done fairly well in the past in getting through most (if not all) of the story nominees, but generally I miss at least half of the novels and the collection / anthology categories.

I want to get through more of the novels. In the past I’ve ignored the Nebula novels and depending on the year made a half-hearted effort on the Hugo and World Fantasy novels. The World Fantasy anthologies have likewise been ignored. I resolve to make an honest attempt to read all of the nominated fiction in 2010 (Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy).

Before I get too ambitious, I think that should cover my reading resolutions for 2010.

What are yours?
 
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