Sunday, August 31, 2008

Portable Childhoods: "Basement Magic"

The first story in Ellen Klages's World Fantasy Award nominated collection Portable Childhoods is the 2005 Nebula Award winning novelette "Basement Magic".

"Basement Magic" focuses on a six year old girl, Mary Louise Whittaker and her broken relationship with her step-mother, Kitty. For whatever reason, Kitty dislikes Mary Louise and barely tolerates her, if even that. So, "Basement Magic" is something of a "wicked step-mother" story. The only friend Mary Louise has is the family's maid, a woman named Ruby. Ruby knows some earth magic, which she teaches to Mary Louise in order to protect Mary Louise from Kitty. Things do not go as Ruby and Mary Louise and Ruby plan, as one might expect.

The storytelling in "Basement Magic" simple and easy. This is not to say that "Basement Magic" is a simple story, because Ellen Klages has put a good deal of thought into how to tell this story and any simplicity is deceptive. It is a powerful story, a beautiful story.

This will likely be said several times as I work my way through this collection and Klages says this in the Afterword, but though the stories are about childhood and children, they are not "children's" stories. "Basement Magic" is no different. It is about a 6 year old child and the family's maid, is told in a simple style appropriate to the perspective of a 6 year old, but "Basement Magic" is not a children's story (though, I imagine a child could find plenty of enjoyment and appreciation of the story).

It is, however, a good story.

Friday, August 29, 2008

mostly final thoughts on "The Church on the Island"

I’m trying to walk a fine line between giving a sense of what a story or a novel is about and turning a review into a plot summary. In that effort I’ve begun to dial back on plot summary. The problem is that I’m not sure this always works, especially if I don’t spend enough time then talking about what works and doesn’t work in a story.

My review of “The Church on the Island” never quite satisfied me. I don’t think I really got at what bugged me about the story, except to say that it didn’t work.

And yes, this post is partially driven by Jonathan McCalmont’s comment, but I was also thinking about this before I read that comment.

After Charlotte meets the priest she thinks about leaving the island. Given that this is a greasy, smelly, sort of scary looking priest, I just don’t know why Charlotte didn’t get the hell off the island. Instead, she follows the priest as he gives her a tour of the island and the church and informs Charlotte of her new duties. And she accepts this!

Unsworth’s story just assumes the inevitability of what is to come next, as if there was no other choice. The moment Charlotte decides that it is time to leave the island and not spend the rest of her life as a caretaker for the church performing daily ritual to keep the “darkness” at bay, the priest tells her that she is already forgotten, that in another day all traces of her life will have been erases from existence.

Perhaps this is the “horror” of the story, that by stepping foot in the church Charlotte will never be able to leave.

It feels like a cop-out, like a cheap way of telling the story. I don’t have a better option, but the choices Unsworth made simply do not work for me.

There are some interesting ideas about darkness and the true role of the church is to keep a manifest darkness out of the world. That there should be caretakers in those entrance points for darkness. Those interesting ideas would be a different story. Here they are overwhelmed by too many descriptions of the church and the flat out assumption by the author that this is the only way the story could play out, that once Charlotte set foot on the island her life was over. A stronger story might still have that sense of inevitability but that inevitability would “feel” like a natural extension of the story, that there really was no other choice. “The Church on the Island” feels like Unsworth is forcing the story.

I’m still banging my head against the story, but hopefully this explains my issues better.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

World Fantasy Award Nominee: "The Church on the Island"

"The Church on the Island"
Simon Kurt Unsworth
Nominated for the 2008 World Fantasy Award: Short Story

"The Church on the Island" is the first story from the anthology At Ease With the Dead and is a World Fantasy Award nominee this year. Naturally I had to find a way to get my hands on a copy of the story.

Charlotte is on vacation and her hotel room overlooks a lake. Across the lake is a small island on which is a white church of indeterminate size. From the moment Charlotte first sees the church she is obsessed. She must swim across to the church. She rationalizes about how this is a touch of freedom from her boyfriend and that is just for her, but she is unable to stop thinking about the church.

The first several pages of the story are description of the church of how Charlotte swam to the church, and of Charolette's disappointment that even though this is a Greek Orthodox church apparently abandoned on a small island in the middle of a lake, the church interior looks nothing like a Greek Orthodox church. And then, just as she is about to open the door to the church...

a priest opens the door and greets her. The priest is dirty, smelly, unkempt, and says "Come, I will show you around and explain what needs to be done", as if Charlotte was expected.

I'll grant the inherent creepiness of this ill-groomed priest, a priest whom one might expect to do bad things to Charlotte. So, in this description-heavy story there is good potential for something special to come out in the story, some bit of goodness that will cause "The Church on the Island" to rise above and merit the acclaim that comes from a World Fantasy Award nomination. Something that will explain what the nominating panel saw in the story.

Frankly, I don't see it.

Oh, the story is decent enough and there is some genuine horror in the story and the anticipation of horror (because what else is true horror than that which we don't see but fear?), but it never quite delivers.

I'll go into a bit more detail in a category wrap-up post on why I think "The Church on the Island" is one of the weaker nominees for Short Story, but for now, let me just say that this story is a disappointment as the opening story of At Ease with the Dead and also as a World Fantasy Award nominee. It's an interesting choice, but I just cannot see why this story made the short list.

I intend to review each story in At Ease with the Dead, so expect more from this anthology. Hopefully they get better. There is a story from Kealan Patrick Burke in the anthology, so I have high hopes for at least that one story.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Midland Specter

So..."The Midland Specter" by David Prill? It's good and stuff. Something of a ghost story, though the Specter itself is never clearly defined, and it gets creepier as Prill moves the story along.

Good stuff.

I wanted to know more. More about the Specter (much more!), more about Jack and Emma, and even more about the small town of Midland. Just wanted more.

The story does end a bit abruptly, but it's still worth reading.

so you liked The Last Colony, huh? like John Scalzi and you liked his Hugo nominated novel The Last Colony? Missing out on that whole thing where DVDs has extras and deleted scenes but books don't?

Well, miss out no longer and head on over to Subterranean Online where Scalzi has a whole deleted chapter of The Last Colony up.

Why do I feel like a carnival barker right now? I don't rightly know, but quite obviously I need to go to bed.

Seriously, Scalzi's stuff is good and this is a fun way to see a bit of the "writer's process" and see what changes from draft to novel and why.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Scenting the Dark

I'd like to point out that Mary Robinette Kowal has a new story up over at Apex Online: "Scenting the Dark". I had a chance to read it a few months ago in draft stage and it was really good then. I imagine it's even better now!

I never really considered how smell can impact a story or how it can be important (outside of the novel Perfume, that is), but it works well here.

So, go check out Mary's story!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Jennifer Pelland: Confessions of a Serial Short Story Writer

Over at Apex there is an article up from Jennifer Pelland where she writes about why she hasn't / won't return to any of the worlds created in her short stories.

I find an idea, woo it, play with it until it bores me, and then move on to the next idea that entices me with a flash of comely ankle. The thought of expanding “Captive Girl” into a novel fills me with horror. How could I possibly lengthen that story without ruining it? Suggestions that I use the world of “Brushstrokes” as the setting for a novel leave me boggled. That world was created strictly to prop up that one story–surely no other story will fit into it.

Other than than the fact that I wouldn't mind more from the worlds of "Captive Girl" and "Mercytanks", I do get it. The stories were great and they were complete, but because the stories were great I want more story.

Pelland writes later:
what’s the point in going back to see how Big Sister is getting along in “Big Sister/Little Sister,” or seeing how well Marika and Alice’s relationship is going in “Captive Girl?” Maybe if I didn’t put my characters through such massive trauma over the course of their stories, I’d have something to revisit. But what’s the appeal in that?
My answer to that would be that Marika and Alice don't have to be the focus of the new story, but there is so much going on that we never see that I have to believe that there are more stories to tell. Not that I want Pelland (or anyone) to write stories they're not fully behind because then the story would suffer.

It's that natural inclination, though, to wonder what happens next or what is happening over there where the camera isn't pointing.

On Deck

In lieu of actual content, here's what I think I'll be writing / reviewing in the next week or so:

Wild Cards IV: Aces Abroad, by George R. R. Martin (editor)
The Wreck of the Godspeed, by James Patrick Kelly
Renegade, by L. Timmel Duchamp

Plus, a link-laden post on Shadow Unit giving all of the Season One related content in one place (besides the actual Shadow Unit website), and probably a bunch of short fiction.

I'm going to start on some of the World Fantasy Award nominees so I'll cover the nominated collections one story at a time and as I can get to the nominated stories I'll highlight those individually with a category wrap-up to follow.

The reviews will come first, though.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Lou Anders on SFF Nostalgia

Over at Pyr-O-Mania, editor Lou Anders has a great post about what SFF we recommend to others and why recommending the "classics" of the past may do the genre a disservice.

Lou writes:
I was in Barnes & Noble some months back and bumped into a friend of mine with his daughter. He told me she had been assigned Fahrenheit 451 at school, to which I replied, "You poor girl. You are going to hate it. It's about an old man whining that his wife watches too many soap operas, and nothing happens it it until the cities arbitrarily blow up at the end on cue. Please don't think that's the sort of thing I do for a living. Come with me." Then I walked her over to a display of Scott Westerfeld's Uglies books and said, "Here, this is much more representative of contemporary SF. Try this."

Now, lest the "classic-loving reader" get into a tizzy, read the rest of Lou's article. There's a context.

And for my take: I agree.

Friday, August 22, 2008

free weird tales

Matt Staggs is giving away a free copy of the latest issue of Weird Tales (ya know, the one I mentioned a week ago).

Still haven't read that issue (or the three before it), but Weird Tales is a great mag. It's worth a go to enter and see about scoring some free fiction.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

"Road Dogs", by Norman Partridge

Does telling the reader what kind of story “Road Dogs” is spoil the surprise of discovering what kind of story it is? Would knowing up front give a different expectation and reading experience than if one did not know?

I think it might, so with that tease, go read “Road Dogs” from Norman Partridge. The story is up over at Subterranean and is well worth checking out.

To give a brief overview, a man who is estranged from his sister returns home when he is notified that his sister was murdered. Gary believes that his sister was killed by her boyfriend Kale. The police claim it was an accident. Gary’s ex-girlfriend doesn’t want him to get involved and would rather he let the police handle it. But Gary can’t, because he knows it was Kale.

That’s the set up. What Norman Partridge does with “Road Dogs” is not to be missed. Top to bottom, the entire story has an edge to it, the characters an air of hardness, of violence in the past and promised for the future. It’s a setting that you would not want to walk into, except from the safety of being on the other side of the page. Everyone else is at risk.

There is set up, an "oh shit" moment, and then violence.

It is dark and it is dangerous and it is good.

Which, having read his World Fantasy Award nominated Dark Harvest, is exactly what one would expect from Norman Partridge.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

VanderMeer at Huffington Post

So, Jeff Vandermeer has an article up at the Huffington Post on political fiction.

This first article covers:
Jessica Z, by Shawn Klomparen
Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow
The Pisstown Chaos, by David Ohle
Stretto, by L. Timmel Duchamp
Black Clock #9

And then a quick take on Seeds of Change, Use of Weapons, Slaughterhouse Five, and Corrupted Science.

It's worth checking out (the article).

Edit Note: I originally included something in this blog post (which Jeff Vandermeer references in the comments) and I was factually incorrect. I will not normally edit the blog for saying something stupid (I don't think), but I will edit when I say something that is flat out wrong and inaccurate. For anyone who did read the original version of this post, let me correct myself: Jeff did, in fact, disclose his contribution to Black Clock 9.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

a good day and a sad day

A couple of days ago I received the newest issue (#350) of Weird Tales.

It's a good day because I thought my subscription had expired with #349, but it's a bad day because my subscription just expired for real.

I suscribed a while back when Weird Tales had a new subscription drive and 6 issues went for something like $12. I had to try it.

I've only read two or three of those issues, but I thought they were fantastic (I'm a bit behind). Those two issues of Weird Tales were far more satisfying than the mini subscription I had to Asimov's or the trial issue of F&SF.

I'm a bit inspired now to pour through the issues of WT on my table and catch up with my reading. Despite not wanting to pay full subscription price of $24 (still not bad, per issue), I might break down and do it if I'm still as satisfied after reading these last couple issues as I was with the first two.

Weird Tales is doing some good stuff with their magazine. Expect to read more about it here.

Friday, August 15, 2008

sometimes it pays to listen

On the heels of her Campbell win, Mary Robinette Kowal was interviewed by Liz Gorinsky of The interview is available as an audio file, so take a listen and hear Mary talk about her experience at Worldcon, the Campbell, the Campbell dress, and her fiction.

After talking about a forthcoming story in Apex Digest ("Scenting the Dark", I believe, it's a good story), Mary quietly mentioned something that she did not elaborate at all on and that I just had to get confirmation on before linking the interview.

Just before she won the Campbell, Mary Kowal sold a short story collection to Subterranean Press!!!! Go Mary!

According to Mary, the collection will bring together some of less available previously published fiction. I think it's awesome. Subterranean puts out great work in beautifully bound books, and perhaps this will help expand Mary's audience a bit.

Plus, there are actually a few stories of hers which I don't believe I've read yet and I'm guessing / hoping this collection will include those earliest stories as well as some newer stuff.

Mary also has an original story coming up in Subterranean Online (the exact issue is unknown for the moment), so this has been a very good year. It'll be wonderful to actually hold a book of Mary's in my hand. Her fiction is good enough and she definitely deserves it.

There's also some other unannounced goodness to look forward to in the future.

(and yes, I did get confirmation that the news was fit for public consumption and that it wasn't just a slip of the tongue)

Lists!! Of Books!!

Niall Harrison has a list of "essential" fantasy novels over at Torque Control plus a handful of links to other such lists.

This isn't a list of the usual suspects of fantasy novels that many read as a primer into the fantasy genre (the Tolkien, Feist, Brooks, Jordan list), but provides, perhaps, a more advanced reader list of what to read next.

Good list(s)

"Down on the Farm", by Charles Stross

I finally got around to reading “Down on the Farm” from Charles Stross. The story was published on as one of the first two rollout stories for the new website / community that is being built there.

“Down on the Farm” is a Bob Howard / Laundry story (The Atrocity Archives, The Jennifer Morgue, “Pimpf”, “The Concrete Jungle”) and follows Howard from his office at the Laundry down to a mental institution. The Laundry is the Bristish version of MI-6 focused on the supernatural, complete with absurd bureaucracy.

Have you ever wondered what happens to normal people who end up dealing with the supernatural and just can’t handle the mental strain of something so out of the norm? What happens to those who are actually possessed or damaged by the “other”? Well, if it happened to you or I then most likely we’d be put away in a public asylum or end up living under a bridge somewhere. However, if you happened to become so impaired while working for the Laundry, you will be put away at St. Hilda of Grantham’s Home for Disgrunteld Waifs and Strays, which is a long winded and obfuscating way of saying “government funded asylum”.

Something has happened at the asylum and Bob Howard is sent to find out exactly what happened and also to do some stuff that is never made explicit.

While I may have issues with the short fiction I’ve read from Stross and much of his longer fiction, for some reason the Bob Howard stories work for me. Stross can get overly technical in his other science fiction, but outside of his repetition of code words for covert projects, the Laundry novels are reasonably straight forward and comprehensbile, even if the reader doesn’t know exactly what is going on.

As such, I liked “Down on the Farm”.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Demon and the City, by Liz Williams

The Demon and the City
Liz Williams

Liz Williams returns to Singapore Three with the second Detective Inspector Chen novel The Demon and the City. Singapore Three is a future city where the boundaries between Earth, Heaven, and Hell are blurred and demons and angels are very much real. Williams introduced her readers to Detective Inspector Chen, an investigator of crimes which touch upon Heaven or Hell in some way. During Snake Agent Chen ventures deep into Hell and finds an unlikely accomplice in the demon Zhu Irzh. Zhu Irzh liaises with the Singapore Three police to assist Detective Inspector Chen and when Snake Agent left off, Zhu Irzh were partners, with Zhu Irzh on loan to Singapore Three.

Given that The Demon and the City is listed as a "Detective Inspector Chen" novel, one might expect Chen to take a starring role in the novel. It is his series, after all, and this is only the second novel. Instead, Liz Williams twists the formula before it can become a formula. Detective Inspector Chen is off on vacation with his wife. Readers follow Zhu Irzh as he investigates mystical crime in Singapore Three. Zhu Irzh's various unorthodox investigations (he is a demon, after all) lead him to the beautiful and powerful Jhai Teserai, a scientist and CEO of Paugeng Corporation experimenting on non-humans. This is vitally important, though the reader does not know exactly what Mhara is, but Mhara (the primary test subject) will play heavily in later in the novel. There are various murders and intrigues, plus the politics of Singapore Three and the bureaucracy of Heaven and Hell.

Where I expected Liz Williams would start to play a formula with an "Investigation of the Week" styled series, Williams seriously shakes things up. Yeah, the ultimate play in The Demon and the City will touch the fabric of reality and stretch from Heaven to Hell, but in not sticking with Chen as the lead and by giving the reader different looks at Singapore Three, Williams is demonstrating that she is not going to give what might be expected and that readers can expect something fresh from this series. At least for now.

Chen does play a role midway through the novel, but even so, this is very much the novel of Zhu Irzh and also of side characters like Robin (the researcher working under Jhai Teserai on Mhara) and Mhara itself.

Williams has built herself a rich and deep city to play in (and destroy) and while there are many more stories that can be told in this setting, I hope Williams explores the world at large because while Singapore Three has its own Heaven and Hell, other ideologies and nations also have their own distinct Heaven and Hells which reflect what their citizens believe. There is just so much here to see.

The Demon and the City is a stronger novel than Snake Agent. Snake Agent, itself a good novel, can get away with living partly on the freshness of discovering Singapore Three for the first time. The Demon and the City, on the other hand, must not only build off of what Snake Agent started, but stand on its own feet after the sense of new has worn off. Flipping the novel over to Zhu Irzh may have been the best thing Williams could have done in the supernatural urban fantasy detective series.

Bring on Precious Dragon! After two Detective Inspector Chen novels, I'm left wanting more.

Reading copy provided courtesy of Night Shade Books.

Previous Review:
Snake Agent

"Mercytanks", by Jennifer Pelland

I've wanted to read "Mercytanks" for a while now, ever since I read the Nebula nominated "Captive Girl" earlier this year. You see, "Captive Girl" was easily my favorite of the Nebula stories and I wanted to read more from Jennifer Pelland. Somehow I missed the fact that most of her stories were available on her website, and I was semi-frustrated by my library not having a copy of her debut collection Unwelcome Bodies, so since March I haven't read anything from Pelland.

Then came Transcriptase and I knew it was time.

Between "Captive Girl" and "Mercytanks", Jennifer Pelland writes stories about people who are physically broken or damaged in some way, who are physically unlike what you or I might understand.

"Mercytanks" presents an interesting view of the future, one where humanity is able to modify itself into sometimes unrecognizable bodies, such has technology advanced over hundreds of years and humans have taken to the stars. Now, in itself this is not an exceptionally original idea. What Pelland does with it next is.

Figure as space travel becomes more affordable and realistic that people will send out ships to start colonies on far away worlds. Assume this will be possible. Well, some of the earliest ships may take 500 years to reach their destination. How much may technology and space travel advance in 500 years? Think of where we were 500 years ago and try to push that forward in time. By the time those first colonists arrive 500 years later the rest of humanity may already have arrived and settled in. That's what 500 years of interstellar technology can do. That's not what the story is about, though. What "Mercytanks" is about is what happens when those colonists arrive and find that human society has changed to something nearly unrecognizable from what they left.

Then, Pelland tells "Mercytanks" not from the perspective of the colonists, but from the perspective of Tanjel and MackMACK, two post-humans set to greet the colonists and assimilate them into the new human society. Except, technology and humanity has advanced so much that except for one child on the colony ship, the colonists will never be able to adapt and the real purpose of Tanjel and MackMACK is to transmit the experience of the confused colonists for entertainment purposes.

Once it becomes clear what story Jennifer Pelland is actually telling here, "Mercytanks" is a heartbreaking story. The longer the reader spends in "Mercytanks", the more it hurts, the more the real story here becomes clear. The heartbreak is for the colonists in not achieving their dream, for the colonists for the situation, for the young girl, for Tanjel, for humanity itself, and how Pelland twists all this around.

Between "Captive Girl" and "Mercytanks" I think I am quickly becoming a fan of Jennifer Pelland's work. There is one more story of hers up on Transciptase which I expect I'll read in the near future and then I'm just going to have to pony up for a copy of Unwelcome Bodies. Well, that or read most of the stories on her website, but I like the idea of having the book in my hand. Yes, I do know that I mentioned buying the book earlier this year, but I had to get the two Bear books first.

So..."Mercytanks" = good.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Seeds of Change Website, now with Free Fiction!

John Joseph Adams has unveiled the website for his newest anthology: Seeds of Change

(my review)

The website features some good content, besides just plugging the book. We've got links to a bunch of reviews (including mine, so...yay), and various "bonus features" which includes author bios, interviews, and, in some cases, links to articles about topics raised in the stories. Oh, and three of the nine stories are available for free, in their entirety.

"The Future by Degrees", by Jay Lake
"Arties Aren't Stupid", by Jeremiah Tolbert
"Resistance", by Tobias Buckell

I liked two of those three stories.

So, if you want to get a hint about what the anthology is all about (beyond my review, of course), the book's website isn't a bad place to start.

now don't that just figure?

(thanks to Spontaneous Derivation for the heads up)

So, back in July I was fortunate enough to be able to receive a blogger's review copy of Fantasy and Science Fiction. I wasn't horribly impressed, but it was cool that I got a chance to read the magazine since it isn't something I subscribe to and I sure haven't seen it on a local newsstand. I'm sure if I went to one of our two specialty stores in the area (Uncle Hugos and Dreamhaven), I'd be able to purchase a single issue, but that would take me out of my way and I'm lazy.

Why am I writing now?

There's a new offer out for the Oct / Nov issue. Mr. Van Gelder also requests that folks who received the July issue sit out this one, and I think that's perfectly fair and reasonable. I don't want to monopolize the publication and keep getting free swag to review. Well, that's not true. I do want to get a subscription for free just for blogging about it, but let's be fair here to F&SF. I (and everyone else who received the July issue for free) should sit this one out.

One of my complaints about the July issue was that it was just "average" and not outstanding and with little star quality. I wanted something enticing, and in the comments to the post Mr. Van Gelder explained why an All Star issue wouldn't be fair to the reader considering subscribing (and hey, it should be a representative issue).

So, who's in the Oct / Nov issue on offer?

Carol Emshwiller.

Michael Swanwick.

Robert Reed.

M. Rickert.

Stephen King.

Now don't that just figure?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

not much

I'm tired and just not up to writing a review right now (pending: The Demon and the City, Extras), so, in case you missed it, here is a free electronic copy of the debut collection from Benjamin Rosenbaum: The Ant King and Other Stories.

Rest assured, I do plan on having actual content this week still and at least one of those two reviews.

Maybe I should take a picture of books I've received recently.

Oh, here are the books I've recently received to review:

The Stress of Her Regard, by Tim Powers (Tachyon)
The Shadow Pavilion, by Liz Williams (Night Shade)
The Court of the Air, by Stephen Hunt (Tor, via Stephen Hunt)
Implied Spaces, by Walter Jon Williams (Night Shade)
All the Windwracked Stars, by Elizabeth Bear (Tor)

I also bought both Ink and Steel and Hell and Earth, both by Elizabeth Bear.

Still on the "To Read / Review" pile include:
A Fortress of Shadow, by Glen Cook (Night Shade)
The Trial of Flowers, by Jay Lake (Night Shade)
The Wreck of the Godspeed and Other Stories, by James Patrick Kelly (Golden Gryphon) - I'm halfway through this one

And finally, because I'm kind of enjoying this book listing, here's what I have out from the library:
Wild Cards: Aces Abroad, by George R. R. Martin (editor)
The Swarm War, by Troy Denning
Renegade, by L. Timmel Duchamp
Children of the Company, by Kage Baker
The Green Glass Sea, by Ellen Klages
Jedi Twilight, by Michael Reaves

Books make me happy.

July 2008 Reading

Here's my reading list from July. Links are to the reviews, when I actually wrote them.

1. Alanya to Alanya - L. Timmel Duchamp
2. The Joiner King - Troy Denning
3. Mothers and Other Monsters - Maureen F. McHugh
4. Grey - Jon Armstrong
5. The Sandman: Seasons of Mists - Neil Gaiman
6. 9Tail Fox - Jon Courtenay Grimwood
7. Snuff - Chuck Palahniuk
8. Seeds of Change - John Joseph Adams (editor)
9. 13 Seconds: A Look Back at the Kent State Shootings - Philip Caputo
10. My Own Kind of Freedom - Steven Brust
11. Sly Mongoose - Tobias Buckell
12. Scardown - Elizabeth Bear
13. Specials - Scott Westerfeld
14. Sweet Silver Blues - Glen Cook
15. Extras - Scott Westerfeld
16. The Unseen Queen - Troy Denning
17. Blood Follows - Steven Erikson
18. Ink and Steel - Elizabeth Bear

The Best Books this month: Alanya to Alanya and Ink and Steel.
The Worst: The two Troy Denning Star Wars novels. Crap.
Special love (no pun intended) to the two Scott Westerfield books. Extras is better than Specials.

The only review pending is Extras, I still need / want to write it. Ink and Steel is written, just out there in the ether. We'll see where it lands. :)

I can't see August being quite so busy for finishing books since two weeks are almost completely given over to watching the Olympics.

Previous 2008 Reads

Monday, August 11, 2008

Forthcoming 2008: Quarter 4

I'm off from work today and I've got some time to put together a list of some forthcoming books I want to read. I like lists, so below are books scheduled to publish in Quarter 4 which I am most looking forward to. This does not mean, of course, that something won’t slip my notice or that I haven’t missed a book, but given that disclaimer, here we go!

Fast Forward 2, by Lou Anders (editor): The first Fast Forward was outstanding and this is an anthology I've been looking forward to since finishing the first one.

A Dance with Dragons, by George R. R. Martin: Alright, alright. I don't actually believe it will come out in October, but Locus still has it on the list. If it does, my anticipation level may go through the roof. As will that of a goodly number of other people, too.

The Company, by K. J. Parker: I'm suddenly blanking on what this is about, I think something about a group of soldiers and a dark secret, but it sounded good when I read the description.

The Hero of Ages, by Brandon Sanderson: Let's see if he can wrap up this Mistborn trilogy in a satisfying manner.

Eclipse Two, by Jonathan Strahan (editor): Controversy about the gender balance of the E2 TOC notwithstanding, I liked the first Eclipse an awful lot and I think Strahan is an excellent editor. I want to read these stories.

All the Windwracked Stars, by Elizabeth Bear: I have the ARC sitting at home right now, but this should still be recognized. New Bear is a good thing and while All the Windwracked Stars is something like Bear's 4th or 5th novel this year, I'll take them all.

Ender in Exile, by Orson Scott Card: I actually sighed while typing this. Except, perhaps, for Ender's Shadow, all of the Bean novels have been more than a little bit disappointing and fairly devoid of anything that interested me. I'm hoping that bringing Ender Wiggin back into the fold will finally get us a good Enderverse novel...but I doubt it. I think Card should have quit the Enderverse after Children of the Mind.

An Empire Unacquainted with Defeat, by Glen Cook: This is another odd choice, given that I didn't like A Cruel Wind and have delayed reading A Fortress in Shadow, but Glen Cook is (sometimes) a master and I have this hope beyond hope that the last Dread Empire omnibus won't suck.

Just After Sunset, by Stephen King: I like Stephen King and I perhaps like his short stories best of all. How is this not a good thing?

The Lees of Laughter's End, by Steven Erikson: I'm approximately 100 pages from finishing Reaper's Gale and it's reminding me why I like Erikson - because he can finish novels with a bang. That said, his novellas generally capture the best of Erikson without all the excess which so mar his novels. This is Erikson's third novella and I've been looking forward to it for a while.

Madness of Flowers, by Jay Lake: I haven't read Trial of Flowers yet, though it's on my shelf, but if I like Trial like I think I will then I'll be looking for this. If not, well...

Fathom, by Cherie Priest: It's a novel from Cherie Priest. Do you need any other reason? If you do, I suggest you start with Four and Twenty Blackbirds, move on to Wings of the Kingdom and finish with Not Flesh Nor Feathers. If you still need a reason to get excited about Fathom, I just don't know what to say to you.

Those Who Went Remain There Still, by Cherie Priest: See Above.

Thanks to the Locus list which captures pretty much everything coming out in the genre.

(here's my Q3 list, which somehow missed the new Abercrombie)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

"Cerbo en Vitra ujo", by Mary Robinette Kowal

In honor of Mary Robinette Kowal's Campbell win, I wanted to write a little bit about one of her stories I've meant to read for the last year or so but for some reason never got around to: "Cerbo en Vitra ujo".

The story was originally published in the Summer 2006 issue of Apex Digest.

Sometimes when you read a story you should really take note of what the cover of the magazine says. See, right above the big word "Apex" are four smaller words: "Science Fiction and Horror". Somehow having those four words on the cover of Apex Digest simply did not register and I was not prepared for "Cerbo en Vitra ujo". The story is science fiction and it is horror.

Grete is about to lose her boyfriend / brother / lover. The story is not clear as to what exactly Kaj is to Grete. Kaj is an illegitimate child and in this science fiction setting, illigits have to struggle to earn scholarships to go to school. Kaj was fortunate enough to win one and Grete will miss Kaj deeply. My initial thought was brother, but I think the story intends boyfriend / lover.
There is mention early on about body harvesting, but that Grete's Station doesn't have truck with that, so we briefly put it out of mind.

Kaj never contacts Grete after leaving for school so Grete attempts to find him without letting her mother know, as Grete's mother does not support Grete's relationship with Kaj. This is where the story turns dark.

"Cerbo en Vitra ujo" turns downright disturbing and nasty and it doesn't get better (better in terms of good things happening, not in terms of quality). Yet, the more disturbing the story gets, the more impressive it is. Kowal does the horror of "Cerbo en Vitra ujo" quite well. Yes, once the body harvesting is introduced we have a good idea where the story is going but it doesn't matter. Kowal is good enough to take the expectation of what Grete will find, deliver it, and have it not matter.

Disturbing story.

Good story.

My reviews of other Kowal stories:
"The Bound Man"
"Horizontal Rain"
"Rampion" (well, just a brief line or two as part of the Prime Codex anthology)
"The Clockwork Chickadee"

To read some of Kowal's stories, go here. Kowal has made quite a few available.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

2008 Hugo Award Winners

Thanks Larry for the list (and to David Anthony Durham for the heads up about MRK's Campbell!):

Best Novel:
The Yiddish Policeman's Union, by Michael Chabon

Best Novella:
"All Seated on the Ground", by Connie Willis

Best Novelette:
"The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate", by Ted Chiang

Best Short Story:
"Tideline", by Elizabeth Bear

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer
Mary Robinette Kowal

Excitement!!! Seriously, I couldn't be happier for Mary Robinette Kowal right now. I love her short fiction and I've had the opportunity to advance read some of her stories and she's just awesome (and rather nice over e-mail, I might add). I want to see pictures of the official Campbell Tiara. I believe both Bear and John Scalzi have previously worn it. :)

Further Excitement! Elizabeth Bear wins a Hugo! Bear's fiction is also awesome, and rather nice in person. That this isn't the story of Bear's I would have chosen for a Hugo does nothing to lessen my happiness that Bear's getting to put "Hugo Winner" next to her name.

Can't say I'm too surprised about Ted Chiang's win. Great story, as one would expect from Chiang.

Some folks don't like Connie Willis, but obviously the Hugo voters do. I thought the story was delightful.

Never finished the Chabon novel, but not surprised about that one. It's been winning everything else, so why not this one, too?

Oh, and John Scalzi beat some chap named Langford for Fan Writer. I read an Ansible column once and didn't see what the big deal was.

Folks I like won, that makes me happy. A couple of stories I liked one, that makes me almost as happy as seeing people I like win.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Ink and Steel

Since my review of Elizabeth Bear's Ink and Steel probably won't be posted for a while, let me just say that it was awesome, possibly better than Whiskey and Water, and I loved it.

More telling: I actually paid money for the book and also for Hell and Earth (which came in the mail yesterday).

I beseech thee, go buy it. Spend money on it. You may tell yourself that you're doing it to support Bear, and you are, but you're really doing it to support me. How am I possibly supposed to read more Promethean Age novels if people don't buy them? This is about me, you see, and my need for Bear to write Balm and Oil and Unsuitable Metal.

Think of the kids.

That is all.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

World Fantasy Award Nominees 2008

From Niall Harrison via Lucius Shepard (with side props to Emma Bull for making me aware of the whole thing), the 2008 World Fantasy Award Nominees have been announced.

Territory, by Emma Bull [Tor]
Ysabel, by Guy Gavriel Kay [Viking Canada/Penguin Roc]
Fangland, by John Marks [Penguin Press]
Gospel of the Knife, by Will Shetterly [Tor]
The Servants,by Michael Marshall Smith [Earthling Publications]

The Mermaids, Robert Edric [PS Publishing]
Illyria, Elizabeth Hand [PS Publishing]
“The Master Miller’s Tale”, Ian R. MacLeod [F&SF May 2007]
“Cold Snap”, Kim Newman [The Secret Files of the Diogenes Club, MonkeyBrain Books]
“Stars Seen through Stone”, Lucius Shepard [F&SF July 2007]

Short Fiction
“The Cambist and Lord Iron: A Fairy Tale of Economics”, Daniel Abraham [Logorrhea, Bantam Spectra]
“Singing of Mount Abora”, Theodora Goss [Logorrhea, Bantam Spectra]
“The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park After the Change”, Kij Johnson [The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales, Viking]
“Damned if you Don’t”, Robert Shearman” [Tiny Deaths, Comma Press]
“The Church on the Island”, Simon Kurt Unsworth [At Ease with the Dead, Ash-Tree Press]

Five Strokes to Midnight, Gary A. Braunbeck & Hank Schwaeble, Eds. [Haunted Pelican Press]
Wizards: Magical Tales From The Masters of Modern Fantasy, Jack Dann & Gardner Dozois, Eds. [Berkley]
Inferno: New Tales of Terror and the Supernatural, Ellen Datlow, Editor [Tor]
The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling, Eds.[Viking]
Logorrhea: Good Words Make Good Stories John Klima, Editor [Bantam Spectra]

Plots and Misadventures, Stephen Gallagher [Subterranean Press]
Portable Childhoods, Ellen Klages [Tachyon Publications]
The Secret Files of the Diogenes Club Kim Newman [MonkeyBrain Books]
Hart & Boot & Other Stories, Tim Pratt [Night Shade Books]
Tiny Deaths, Robert Shearman [Comma Press]
Dagger Key and Other Stories Lucius Shepard [PS Publishing]

I love major award nomination lists. It's a great place to find some excellent books and stories to read. As the days, weeks, and months go by and I read some more of this work I'll post up my thoughts. There's a bit from PS Publishing on the list, which is cool, but my problem is that as a British publisher I might have difficulty getting a hold of those books. Bah!

Big congrats to Emma Bull and Will Shetterly for their dual novel nominations.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

"Tetris Dooms Itself", by Meghan McCarron

So, “Tetris Dooms Itself” from Meghan McCarron is not actually about Tetris. I’ll chock that one up in the “disappointed” column.

The story’s a Clarkesworld story. This is actually something of a description. It’s a bit on the weird side and I’m not sure that describing the story will really capture it. Running at just under 3300 words, it’s worth the time to check it out.

It’s a story with random kidnapping, disfigurement, re-growing limbs, obsession, some sort of a “sham-game”, and I think this is all somehow metaphor for emotional abuse and being the “other woman” in a relationship. I think. Maybe.

Oh yeah, and Tetris does make an appearance, but it isn’t really about that.

“Tetris Dooms Itself” is a bit grotesque in the abstract (or, perhaps it is grotesque in what gets described, but if the story is metaphor, is it really grotesque in the physical? Does this even make sense?)

Decent story. I liked it, but I’m not sure I really know what it is about.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Alanya to Alanya, by L. Timmel Duchamp

Alanya to Alanya
L. Timmel Duchamp
Aqueduct Press

When the aliens came in 2076 they announced themselves with a worldwide message stating who they were (Marq'ssan from a distant world), why they came to Earth (to remake human society / culture into a more cooperative and peaceful society, just like the Marq'ssan), what they expected (each nation to provide three women to negotiate on behalf of the nations), and what the Marq'ssan were about to do (block all electronic signals and communication devices on the planet). Then, the Marq'ssan did exactly what they said and a worldwide blackout was in place. The reader experiences this through the eyes (third person perspective) of Kay Zeldin, a history professor in Seattle. The logical first thought was hackers. The second, when the extent of the blackout in Seattle became known, was terrorists. It was the only possible explanation becase, after all, aliens aren't real and terrorists are.

As the story progresses Kay Zeldin is constantly insulted by the members of the Executive, the true leaders of the world and of the United States government. Her former lover is the Executive in charge of all Security in the United States Robert Sedgwick and he recruits Zeldin to be one of the three US women to negotiate. Except that she is not to actually engage in any negotiation because she is not a member of the Executive Class nor is she male. Zeldin is to observe, report back, and let the men negotiate. From Sedgwick and the other Executives who appear in Alanya to Alanya there is a very strong anti-female / anti-feminist viewpoint and it is both insinuated and stated clearly that for Zeldin to be successful she needs to act more masculine and that no male would be subject to fits of emotion or compromise like a woman is.

Were Alanya to Alanya not published by Aqueduct Press the feminist perspective of the novel would be obvious and would be noted as it is inherent to the story Duchamp is telling. However, being published by Aqueduct makes this explicit as the first paragraph of the publisher’s mission statement is:
Aqueduct Press dedicates itself to publishing challenging, feminist science fiction. We promise to bring our readers work that will stretch the imagination and stimulate thought.

Alanya to Alanya is exactly that. Outside of a bit of over-the-top female-hating at the Executive level of government / society, Alanya to Alanya does not slap the reader in the face with feminist diatribe (or anti-feminist, which gets the point across just as well). The Sedgwick stuff, in particular, is difficult to read because of just how insulting and degrading it is to women. While it is certainly possible that such behavior exists in America in particular spheres of society (whether government or business), I sincerely hope that such behavior is extremely limited. The problem, I suspect, is that while the overt behavior is limited there is still a symptomatic hierarchy where men have the majority of the most powerful jobs and government positions and while they (we?) can point to examples of women who have achieved such power and position, those women can be used to demonstrate just how progressive they (we) are when, in fact, achieving said position may be more aberration than the general rule. What Alanya to Alanya does so well is make what may be hidden under the surface or flat out denied (yet remaining true) to be out front and over-obvious.

Beyond this Executive level overt hatred which underlies the core of the story and creates the backdrop which is 2076 Earth, the rest of Alanya to Alanya interacts with that hatred but is not ruled by it. The Marq’ssan envision remaking Earth in the manner in which they were able to remake their homeworld: by completely changing their society. However, the challenge for the Marq’ssan is that on their homeworld they were able to impose changes from within. Their society changed. With Earth they are imposing their will on humanity and even though they strive to have humanity negotiate its own terms and the Marq’ssan just supervise, it is still an imposed change upon the ruling elite. That such a change is not necessarily a bad thing or wrong (unless one happens to be a member of said privileged elite) it would / will result in great social, economic, and political upheaval and the cost will not be cheap.

Perhaps more than anything else, this is what L. Timmel Duchamp excels at with Alanya to Alanya: She gets that any social change will not come easy and even if the political / social structure of 2076 is an exaggerated dystopian vision of today, changing any entrenched political / social structure will be incredibly difficult and painful. Even if there are aliens with “magic” weapons that can safely turn anything into rubble, the problems caused by upheaval still have to be solved by the people on the ground: i.e. humans. Despite the opening riff with the message from the Marq’ssan and the various forays onto the Marq’ssan ship, Alanya to Alanya is a deeply human story that gets into how people interact and view each other based on gender. The aliens are only a quiet sideshow, the tool in which Duchamp uses to explore behavior and the repression (suppression?) of women.

Great. That’s what Alanya to Alanya is about. More or less. But is it any good? Is it worth reading as a story?


L. Timmel Duchamp has created a compelling and mostly believable protagonist in Kay Zeldin. Zeldin is hyper-competent at what she does (historical analysis, seeking patterns, communication), but that which falls outside her sphere of ability she struggles with (anything physical). Zeldin’s journey through the invasion and her role as an agent of a government which hates her as much as it needs to use here is not only an interesting concept, but well executed by Duchamp. Most importantly Duchamp has written a highly readable and compelling narrative. Compelling is possibly the perfect word for Alanya to Alanya because most readers will feel compelled to keep going, to turn the page, to find out what happens next all the while being told a story which happens to be “challenging, feminist science fiction””. Alanya to Alanya works and works well enough that readers will want to seek out, run not walk, and grab a copy of the second volume of the Marq’ssan Cycle: Renegade.

still waiting, Mr. Stolar, still waiting

Waaaaay back in early 2004 I read the debut short story collection Daniel Stolar: The Middle of the Night.

Loved it.

I've kind of been waiting for another story collection or a novel, but I checked Amazon and nothing. I hope something is in the works, but I'm guessing not. Note this post from 2004 (it links this article Stolar wrote about trying to get the word out on his collection, my link is a reprint of Stolar's 2004 article).

Hope he's still writing. I'd like to see more from Stolar, but if it takes another four years before I think of thinking of it again, I might not remember.

I did find one of his stories online: "The Trip Home"

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Warren Ellis on Short Fiction Circulation and Quality

Warren Ellis weighs in on the state of SFF short fiction publishing and pulls the circulation numbers from the most recent Dozois Year's Best SF anthology. (via Elizabeth Bear)

It's interesting to note the declining sales of the Big Three (Asimov's, Analog, and Fantasy & Science Fiction) and how this can be and has been used as proof positive about the "death" of short fiction or perhaps of SFF in general. Not something I'm really going to get into here, though if I cared to, I'm sure I could pull up a whole host of posts covering the issue with more in depth knowledge than I possess.

Elizabeth Bear has a theory on the current short fiction marketplace and community (from the above link):
I think SFF short fiction is turning into a club scene, hothouse, by writers for writers. I think it serves an important purpose as that club scene. But I'm not sure how many non-writer readers it attracts anymore. This is the film festival stuff.

Yeah, maaaaybe. Or, at least to an extent. I think the most visible (read: online) conversation about short fiction IS coming from writers talking about other writers. This may stem from workshops where groups of writers all come up together, reading each other and already talking about each other and as they get published the conversation becomes more visible.

In that sense, yeah, I think there is a club scene aspect of short fiction publishing today (and perhaps always, but that's more info I don't have). I think this is something of what Jennifer Evans was talking about on the "Advice from New Writers" panel at Fourth Street, which to sum up: young writers want to see what other writers are doing, how they are pushing the boundaries of fiction, to take that fiction and springboard it into something else and likewise have their work used as a springboard - an ever evolving world of fiction driven by excitement and ideas.

That's the club scene and it provides a vibrant community for writers to thrive in and also for the exchange of ideas within the community. But, it isn't the entire community. It can't be.

Can it? Do I feel this way because since I don't write (much) / publish short fiction nor do I consider myself a writer but I do read short fiction that I'm projecting my own experiences here? Am I the aberration claiming simply that because my experience doesn't match what is perceived as the norm, that their norm is wrong?


I don't like that idea, but it might be right. I just want to believe that the readership of the club scene is broader than Bear thinks it is, that there are just as many reader-readers of short fiction out there as there are writer-readers. I don't know why this matters to me, but it does.

So what do I read?

I had a six issue subscription to Asimov's but I let it lapse when I realized that the Asimov's stories were, as a whole, not nearly as exciting or even as interesting as I wanted them to be (the 30th Anniversary Anthology notwithstanding). I did not want to spend my money on the magazine, despite having had a great deal on the subscription.

I confess it, I've never read an issue of Analog. What I find most interesting here is that despite having sales numbers of Asimov's and F&SF combined, I never see anyone talking about Analog. It doesn't pick up Hugo, Nebula, or World Fantasy award nominations anymore. How does a SF magazine with the highest subscription numbers have such a small online penetration? Or, do I just read the wrong websites?

F&SF? Nope. I received a single issue to review a few months back and wasn't impressed.

I did have a trial subscription to Weird Tales at a good price, but the subscription lapsed and the price jumped back up. This is the one major print mag that I want to subscribe to and have every intention of renewing when I have some extra funds. I was quite impressed with the issues I've read and I like the direction WT is heading.

So what do I read?

Mostly online zines, with the occasional single issue purchases of smaller print zines.

I really like Electric Velocipede. I've bought several issues of EV and plan to purchase more. The crazy thing is that if you look at EV compared to Asimov's, on an issue by issue price, EV is more expensive than Asimov's. It's only published a couple times a year so throwing $5 at John Klima twice a year hurts less than throwing $20 for six issues of Asimov's. I know this doesn't make much sense, but there it is.

I've tried Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet and need to give it a second shot. I'm not sure it's for me, but we'll see.

What is for me, however, is the proliferation of online zines. Below are some of my favorites and even though I may not read as consistently as I want to, these are the markets I turn to when I want to read a story. I'd recommend them to you.

Strange Horizons
Lone Star Stories
Apex Digest

There are other zines out there which I'd like to read, but the above seven are where I turn to first. There are a lot of good stories out there and what I've read from the above seven (plus EV), it's just as good (if not better) than that which is published by the Big Three. The names just aren't as well known (both the zines and the writers).

Saturday, August 02, 2008

No Cisco?

Why the hell doesn't my library have anything from Michael Cisco?

Furthermore, why the hell doesn't my interlibrary loan system have anything from Michael Cisco?

*grumble grumble*

Friday, August 01, 2008

Tetris Dooms Itself?

There is a story up in the new issue of Clarkesworld titled "Tetris Dooms Itself".

How awesome is that? I don't know what the story is actually about (though if it really is about Tetris dooming itself, I may be in love).

No matter what I may think of the story after I read it - Thank you Meghan McCarron for what I firmly believe is the best story title I have ever seen.


I don't believe I ever posted here about the Helix / William Sanders (Sanders is the editor of Helix) racism / prejudice blow up from a few weeks back. It's insane. I bring it up because it has led to something which I feel deserves some support and a wider audience.

That something is Transcriptase, a website chock full of stories originally published in Helix, but available at Transcriptase without the baggage.

Go here to read Rachel Swirsky's excellent overview of the whole thing (both the Helix issue as well as Transcriptase). Tobias Buckell offers commentary here and here on the fallout. The comments section of each Buckell entry says a lot.

From the Transcriptase website:

We are Helix writers who believe in a speculative fiction community that welcomes all readers—inclusive of all races, genders, and marginalized people of all backgrounds.

In July 2008, Helix editor William Sanders stirred up controversy in the community with remarks that many found offensive. The blogosphere exploded with discussion. You can find a summary of the events here.

As the controversy continued, several Helix writers asked to remove their work from the magazine and were met with unprofessional treatment. This upset all of us. We agreed that we would not stand by in silence.

Transcriptase hosts reprints of our stories and poems originally published at Helix. During the controversy, some of us removed our work from Helix; others left it up. There are valid reasons to make either choice, and we hope you’ll respect that we had difficult decisions to make. We offer our stories and poems at Transcriptase so that you can enjoy our work away from Helix, if you choose.

There is now fiction from the following writers up on Transcriptase:
Mike Allen
Beth Bernobich
Maya Bohnhoff
Eugie Foster
Sara Genge
Samantha Henderson
Janis Ian
N. K. Jemison
Vylar Kaftan
Ann Leckie
Yoon Ha Lee
Jennifer Pelland
Margaret Ronald
Vaughan Stanger

With poetry from
Elizabeth Barrette
Samantha Henderson
Rachel Swirsky

I think this is exciting. These writers will hopefully gain more exposure from this mess (one of only two positives to come out from the situation). I believe there should be some good stuff here. I've only read Jennifer Pelland's Nebula nominated (and awesome) "Captive Girl", but there are two more Pelland stories on Transcriptase.

At the very least I want to read N.K. Jemison's work and Yoon Ha Lee, and some Vylar Kaftan. All are writers I've heard of, all are writers I've been kind of interested in before, and now there is the perfect opportunity.

I'm sure I'll be writing more about some of the particular stories I've read from Transcriptase. This is something worth supporting.