Saturday, February 27, 2010

Asimov's and F&SF Nebula Stories

Asimov's and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction have posted their Nebula Award nominated stories on their website.

Here they are.

"Act One", by Nancy Kress
"Arkfall", by Carolyn Ives Gilman (previously available)

"I Needs Must Part, the Policeman Said", by Richard Bowes
"Vinegar Peace, or the Wrong-Way Used-Adult Orphanage", by Michael Bishop
"Divining Light", by Ted Kosmatka (previously available)

Short Story
"Bridesicle", by Will McIntosh
"Going Deep", by James Patrick Kelly (previously available)

I've updated my post of the Nebula Nominees to include the above links.

All that is missing now is Michael Burstein's story "I Remember the Future" (see here) and the three novellas which were published in book form rather than in magazines. Well, and the novels, but I wouldn't expect those.

The F&SF links will very likely be dead shortly after the winners are announced, so get your reading on now.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

almost hugo

There’s only two weeks left before Hugo nominations are in. I’m not exactly hustling, but I want to give myself a buffer, so I plan to send in my ballot early next week.

I would really like to knock off a couple of potentials over the weekend.

I’m both excited to send in my first nomination ballot as well as feeling slightly overwhelmed. I don’t feel like I’ve read enough, though I’m fairly content with what I’ve got set up in the ballot. I’m sure there is something I’ll read on March 16 that will blow everything else out of the water and make me wish I could still have nominated it.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

PEN / Faulkner Award Nominees

The nominees have been announced for the PEN / Faulkner Award.

War Dances, by Sherman Alexie
The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver
Homicide Survivors Picnic and Other Stories, by Lorraine M. Lopez
A Gate at the Stairs, by Lorrie Moore
Sag Harbor, by Colson Whitehead

I'll cop to not paying much attention to non-genre awards that aren't the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. But, when I saw the nominee list and noticed Kingsolver was on it, I realized I should really pay a bit more attention to PEN / Faulkner. In the past I've noticed that books that I was reading and enjoying the hell out of also had the PEN / Faulkner Award stamped on the cover of the book.
The PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction is a national prize which honors the best published works of fiction by American citizens in a calendar year. Three judges, chosen annually by the directors of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation, select five books from among the more than 300 works submitted, making this the largest peer-juried award in the country. The winning writer and four finalists are honored at a ceremony held in Washington at the Folger Shakespeare Library in May.

Some previous winners
Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett (2002)
The Human Stain, by Philip Roth (2001)
Mao II, by Don DeLillo (1992)

Factor the nominees in, and you've got one hell of a reading list. I was convinced that Louise Erdrich had previously been nominated, but I can't see that she was. Weird.

SF Signal: Books We Love, Books We Hate

SF Signal has posted the latest entry in their Mind Meld feature, "Books We Love That Everyone Else Hates (and Vice Versa)".

My response is included among a bunch of other cool kids.

You'll have to go check it out to see what I said.

I struggled quite a bit with it and was really only able to grapple with the Vice Versa part of it. Reading through the other responses I was able to figure out what i missed.

Though "love" and "hate" are a bit strong for how I feel about most books, they'll do for conversational purposes.

Rob Bedford came up with the last two Ender novels, Xenocide and Children of the Mind. Yes! Those two! I thought both were just fine and don't get the hate I've seen pushed on them.

What i forgot about in terms of hating what folks love: Lord Foul's Bane. Oh, dear lord I hated that book.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Nebula Award Nominee: "Non-Zero Probabilities"

Non-Zero Probabilities
N. K. Jemisin
Clarkesworld: September 2009
Nominated for the Nebula Award: Short Story

So Adele sets out, swinging her arms, enjoying the day if it's sunny, wrestling with her shitty umbrella if it's rainy. (She no longer opens the umbrella indoors.) Keeping a careful eye out for those who may not be as well-protected. It takes two to tango, but only one to seriously fuck up some shit, as they say in her 'hood. And lo and behold, just three blocks into her trip there is a horrible crash and the ground shakes and car alarms go off and there are screams and people start running. Smoke billows, full of acrid ozone and a taste like dirty blood.


They should have known better. The probability of a train derailment was infinitesimal. That meant it was only a matter of time.

This is a story with luck writ large. Adele lives in a New York City where the improbable occurs with greater frequency than it should. Luck runs both to good (too many lottery winners and the Mets winning the World Series) and the bad (the train), but “Adele girds herself for the trip to work as a warrior for battle”, because leaving the house is a crapshoot. Depending on the point of view, the city’s going to hell.

Jemisin’s story is a delightful tale of the vagaries of luck and whether increased occurrences of the improbably are truly that remarkable. The story’s perspective is told through Adele, a woman who seems somewhat neurotic off all the risk involved in leaving her house, but readers buy into the possibility that all the unlikely things are happening with a notable frequency.
It's just that this is the way the world works now, and everybody gets that. If crossed fingers can temporarily alter a dice throw, then why not something bigger? There's nothing inherently special about crossed fingers. It's only a "lucky" gesture because people believe in it. Get them to believe in something else, and that should work too.

There is no explanation for how New York changed, or why, just an acceptance that it did. “Non-Zero Probabilities” is wonderfully told.

I’d like to see more like this. Not necessarily with this particular theme, just quietly good like this.

I also wonder if this just isn’t a metaphor for New York. “There are eight million stories in The Naked City…”, the saying goes. The city that never sleeps. The city so nice they named it twice. If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. Is New York City not the city where anything is possible? Perhaps the giant swings of luck are just something that happens in a city like New York, even if the outside media notices and thinks it is out of the ordinary and the state had to shut down its lottery for too many winners. Strangely, this doesn’t seem implausible in New York.

And hey, if the Mets can win the World Series again, how bad can things really be?

Monday, February 22, 2010

a comment turned into a post: Burstein's Nebula Story

(I started to write this in the comments section of my Nebula Nominees post before realizing it was getting a bit lengthy)

Hm. Well, the Burstein may not be available to read online.

I sort of understand his reasoning, but I ultimately disagree with it.

He goes through a couple of reasons which make sense, including the fact that it is not eligible for the Hugo, but then he gets to this:

And I'll be blunt here – I'd like to sell more copies of the book I Remember the Future and I imagine my publisher would like to as well. This Nebula nomination is a chance for us to spotlight the book one more time, and possibly to convince a reader who hasn't bought it yet to finally get it. If a reader is interested enough and the story is only available in the book, it's that much more likely we'll sell more copies of the book.

Well, no. I really don't think so. I haven't read any of Burstein's fiction and though this is a collection chock full of award nominated work, what I want to read right now is "I Remember the Future" because of the Nebula nomination. Folks who have never heard of him (like me) will be coming in cold and have a chance for that story to be our first experience - one which could lead to sales.

I want Apex to sell more copies so they can keep publishing good stuff (and I did purchase Jennifer Pelland's collection from them last year), but I am deeply skeptical that withholding the story from public consumption during the awards period would really increase sales any more than giving people the chance to discover the story would.

I get that the obvious benefits for Burstein are limited: posting the story online will not lead to a Hugo nomination as it is ineligible. He's not going to get paid for the story again (most likely, but depending on what the electronic rights are for it, maybe he will - shoot, Ill pay him $20 if he'll let me reprint it here, but that's just about all I can afford and I'm sure he can net much better rates to sell a reprint elsewhere).

But, until this year, posting Nebula stories online could never lead to a Hugo nomination. The eligibility has been wonky in the past and there wasn't a Hugo benefit.

So, why do it?

I think it's a chance to reach an audience who don't have access to all the magazines and may not have discovered the writer via the Apex book or his (or her) website to check out a sampler.

The Nebula ballot is relevant right now, and this is a several month opportunity to reach new readers and maybe make some sales.

I'm not going to buy the book just because it has a single story nominated story I haven't read yet. But if I discovered the story due to its nomination and if I thought it was fantastic, I might.

I don't think I'm necessarily alone in that.

Flood, by Stephen Baxter

Stephen Baxter
Roc: 2009

Let me start with a disclaimer about myself. I am inexorably drawn to disaster movies, even the cheesy made-for-tv disaster movies. Especially the cheesy made-for-tv disaster movies. I am endlessly fascinated by various ways the environment can cause destruction across the globe, and even more fascinated by the potential for changing landscapes and coastlines. When I was a child there was a television special on various “prophecies” of how our world would change and that Denver would be a coastal port city. There was a map on the screen showing just what America would look like. I was hooked on the concept. Hypothetical disaster is *cool*. That personal history absolutely colors how I read a novel like Stephen Baxter’s Flood and what it triggers in my mind.

Flood is a novel centering on that hypothetical disaster which I so adore in fiction.

Rather than working as a print version of a disaster flick with buildings crashing down under the force of huge tidal waves, Flood is a thoughtful examination of a future in which the sea levels rise beyond all current predictive models. The novel takes place over thirty-six years, allowing for Baxter to demonstrate both the human cost of such a global flood as well as capacity for human adaptation to seemingly impossible situations.

The first Section of the novel begins in 2016 with a note “Mean sea level rise of 2010 datum: 1-5 m.” As time passes, that simple note shows the inexorable rise of the sea, and through Baxter’s prose, the reader learns what that means for the world.

The pacing and tonal content of Flood is nothing like that of a disaster movie, but that same itch of curiosity of how high the water levels will rise and what the shape of the world will look like is still there for me. While I no longer want most of the novels I read to include maps or graphs, there is a part of me that really wishes that Baxter had included an appendix with maps showing the drastic changes the titular flood caused. It is a petty want that stems entirely from that childhood fascination with global destruction, the kind that doesn’t think too deeply about what is happening to real people.

Flood is concerned with real people. Though the protagonists of the novel are the fortunate elite who are connected to those with both means and money, Stephen Baxter is very concerned with the human cost of the global catastrophe.

The novel opens with the rescue of four hostages: Lily, Helen, Piers, and Gary. They were taken five years prior and were passed from terrorist organization to terrorist organization. They knew nothing of the increased sea level and the beginnings of the global flood that had occurred between 2011 and 2016. Stephen Baxter tells the story through the eyes of these characters, most often Lily. The hostages are rescued by AxisCorp and are somewhat adopted by Nathan Lammockson because they know how to endure a crisis. Lammockson is an extraordinarily wealthy man, one who intends to make money in any circumstance. He is always looking to the future and preparing for the possibility the rise of the sea level will not cease. Given that this is a novel titled Flood and the jacket copy suggests that land will become scarce, it is not difficult to realize that Nathan is preparing for a flooded future that is already arriving.

What this does is to put the protagonists of Flood into a position where they can observe and participate in the human exodus from low ground to high, but to do so in such a way that they are as protected as possible. Where the “average” civilian would either be a refugee or dead at various stages of this novel, the protagonists have this special status that may not entirely be realistic but allows for the reader to follow particular characters over the course of decades. There is a sense that these characters (Lily, most notably) are swept along by circumstances, rather than being players in their own destiny, but the viewpoints presented gives scope to the novel.

Flood is a conceptually thrilling novel. Stephen Baxter does very well in writing about human characters and the physical and emotional displacement they undergo. A blurb for on the front cover of the hardcover from Niall Harrison calls the novel “bold, compassionate”, and that didn’t make much sense. How can a novel about such an extreme catastrophe be “compassionate”? By its very nature, the flood is anything but compassionate. The novel is, though. It treats the human characters with respect and shows a variety of viewpoints and circumstances across the globe. Baxter shows various means of coping and survival and the knowledge of what is occurring is nothing short of horrific.

Though the central premise of the novel is horrific, the relentless rise of the water and reader’s imagination of what that might look like takes a novel focused on people and provides a sense of the thrill of the disaster movie. Yes, Flood frequently consists of people standing around talking, and much of the “action” takes place off the page and between chapters and years, but the tension-laden thrill is still there.

The flood is also a character. This is not to say that the water has personality, but rather that just as much as any of the human characters and the human viewpoints, the flood is so large and so important that the setting comes across as character. Of course it is central to the novel, but the water is more than setting.

Flood is a fantastic novel. There are no blockbuster set-pieces of water rushing into New York City and knocking down the Statue of Liberty, but Flood is stronger for taking the long-view of the global catastrophe. While Stephen Baxter may have made have given his characters some convenient opportunities to be connected to the powerful and thus have access to the science, the novel as a whole is well reasoned, horrifying, and exciting all at the same time. Various collapses and thrusts for power are given appropriate attention and Baxter doesn’t flinch from the human cost, even if the characters look from a distance of privilege. Flood is moving, exciting, and compels the reader to keep on through just one more chapter – until the book is done and the reader is hungry for the sequel, Ark.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

January 2010 Reading

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

1. Abyss, by Troy Denning (January)
2. Darth Bane: Dynasty of Evil, by Drew Karpyshyn
3. The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction: Sixtieth Anniversary Anthology, by Gordon Van Gelder (editor)
4. The Great Bazaar and Other Stories, by Peter V. Brett
5. Busted Flush, by George R. R. Martin (editor)
6. The Drawing of the Three, by Stephen King
7. The Dazzle of Day, by Molly Gloss
8. Best American Fantasy 2, by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (editors)
9. Scenting the Dark and Other Stories, by Mary Robinette Kowal
10. Finch, by Jeff VanderMeer
11. Dawnthief, by James Barclay
12. The Taborin Scale, by Lucius Shepard
13. The Book of Dreams, by Nick Gevers (editor)
14. The Fortunate Fall, by Raphael Carter

Graphic Novels
1. Bone: Rock Jaw: Master of the Eastern Border, by Jeff Smith
2. Unknown Soldier: Haunted House, by Joshua Dysart
3. Scalped: The Gravel in Your Guts, by Jason Aaron
4. 100 Bullets: Six Feet Under the Gun, by Brian Azzarello
5. Air: Letters from Lost Countries, by G. Willow Wilson
6. The Walking Dead: Days Gone Bye, by Robert Kirkman
7. I Kill Giants, by Joe Kelly
8. Identity Crisis, by Brad Meltzer
9. Air: Flying Machine, by G. Willow Wilson
10. 30 Days of Night: Dark Days, by Steve Niles
11. The Sandman: Brief Lives, by Neil Gaiman
12. The Walking Dead: Miles Behind Us, by Robert Kirkman
13. Bone: Old Man’s Cave, by Jeff Smith
14. Bone: Ghost Circles, by Jeff Smith
15. The Walking Dead: Safety Behind Bars, by Robert Kirkman
16. American Widow, by Alissa Torres
17. Bone: Treasure Hunters, by Jeff Smith
18. Bone: Crown of Horns, by Jeff Smith
19. Ex Machina: Dirty Tricks, by Brian Vaughan

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Great Bazaar and Other Stories

My review of Peter Brett's The Great Bazaar and Other Stories has been posted at the Sacramento Book Review.

Go take a look.

That was my first experience with Brett's fiction and I quickly grabbed The Warded Man from the library after.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Nebula Award Nominees

The SFWA has announced the final ballot for the Nebula Awards and from top to bottom, this has to be the most interesting ballot I’ve seen in some time.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I wonder just how much of the tonal change of the ballot stems from this being the first year the nomination voting was done by secret ballot. From my perspective of taste, I think this is a much stronger ballot than previous years. That’s a taste thing, but I really like the looks of this ballot.

Congratulations to all of the nominees.

I would also like to say that I am extra pleased to see the recognition given to N. K. Jemisin, Paolo Bacigalupi, Rachel Swirsky, Cherie Priest, Jeff VanderMeer, and Catherynne Valente. This is really, really cool.

Short Story
"Hooves and the Hovel of Abdel Jameela", Saladin Ahmed (Clockwork Phoenix 2, Norilana Press, Jul09)
"I Remember the Future", Michael A. Burstein (I Remember the Future, Apex Press, Nov08)
"Non-Zero Probabilities", N. K. Jemisin (Clarkesworld, Nov09)
"Spar", Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld, Oct09)
"Going Deep", James Patrick Kelly (Asimov’s Science Fiction, Jun09)
"Bridesicle", Will McIntosh (Asimov’s Science Fiction, Jan09)

"The Gambler", Paolo Bacigalupi (Fast Forward 2, Pyr Books, Oct08)
"Vinegar Peace, or the Wrong-Way Used-Adult Orphanage", Michael Bishop (Asimov’s Science Fiction, Jul08)
"I Needs Must Part, The Policeman Said", Richard Bowes (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Dec09)
"Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast", Eugie Foster (Interzone, Jan/Feb09)
"Divining Light", Ted Kosmatka (Asimov’s Science Fiction, Aug08)
"A Memory of Wind", Rachel Swirsky (, Nov09)

The Women of Nell Gwynne’s, Kage Baker (Subterranean Press, Jun09)
"Arkfall", Carolyn Ives Gilman (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Sep09) (also here)
"Act One", Nancy Kress (Asimov’s Science Fiction, Mar09)
Shambling Towards Hiroshima, James Morrow (Tachyon, Feb09)
"Sublimation Angels", Jason Sanford (Interzone, Sep/Oct09)
The God Engines, John Scalzi (Subterranean Press, Dec09)

The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi (Nightshade, Sep09)
The Love We Share Without Knowing, Christopher Barzak (Bantam, Nov08)
Flesh and Fire, Laura Anne Gilman (Pocket, Oct09)
The City & The City, China Miéville (Del Rey, May09)
Boneshaker, Cherie Priest (Tor, Sep09)
Finch, Jeff VanderMeer (Underland Press, Oct09)

Bradbury Award
Star Trek, JJ Abrams (Paramount, May09)
District 9, Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell (Tri-Star, Aug09)
Avatar, James Cameron (Fox, Dec 09)
Moon, Duncan Jones and Nathan Parker (Sony, Jun09)
Up, Bob Peterson and Pete Docter (Disney/Pixar, May09)
Coraline, Henry Selick (Laika/Focus Feb09)

Andre Norton Award
Hotel Under the Sand, Kage Baker (Tachyon, Jul09)
Ice, Sarah Beth Durst (Simon and Schuster, Oct09)
Ash, by Malinda Lo (Little, Brown & Company, Sep09)
Eyes Like Stars, Lisa Mantchev (Feiwel and Friends, Jul09)
Zoe’s Tale, John Scalzi (Tor Aug08)
When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead (Wendy Lamb Books, 2009)
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making, Catherynne M. Valente (Catherynne M. Valente, Jun09)
Leviathan, Scott Westerfeld (Simon, Oct09)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

19 Books of the Decade

When I write up my annual “Best of” lists I make sure to leave one spot of the typical Top Ten open, because I recognize there are so many good books out there and so little time in which to read them. I read heavily in the fantasy genre, a bit less so in science fiction. Yet less so again outside of SFF. Any list I make can only be considered inclusive of the books I have read, and suggesting anything grander would be hubris.

So, when Jeff VanderMeer wrote about compiling his Best of the Year lists for Omnivoracious and Locus, I nodded along when he said,
If a year’s best list is a kind of “possible impossibility,” then a decade’s best list is a fool’s errand, an absurdity, sometimes even an atrocity. I have seen decade lists with nothing on them from 2000 through 2005. I have seen decade lists weighted down with books from 2009. I have seen decade lists corpulent with the quivering fat of over-hyped books I am pretty sure will be footnotes sooner rather than later. I have seen decade lists supersaturated with one particular kind of fiction. In short, I haven’t seen much in terms of decade lists that I thought was comprehensive, level-headed, or fair.
When I read Matthew Cheney’s list of “Some Books” of the Decade and he quoted VanderMeer’s statement “Personally, I think everyone should post a list of the books that delighted or awed them over this past decade, without pretending it’s anything definitive.”, I knew that I wanted to put together my list.

The struggle here for me is that remembering the great books I read published in the first part of the decade was difficult. Did I miss something published in 2001 which I read in 2004 because I just can’t remember that far back, no matter how much I was delighted by the book at the time? I’m sure I have. I’ve done my best pulling from different lists I’ve made over the last decade and researching publication dates from some of my favorite authors.

I could write about which genres and subgenres I have not read deeply in, or which years I haven’t read enough of, but I’ll just disclaim that by stating: All of them. I read somewhere between 100 and 200 books a year, every year, and I don’t feel there is a single genre in a single year I have read deeply enough to say anything definitive about it.

What this is, then, is a list of nineteen works published between 2000 and 2009. I found delight in each one. The list is no more definitive than that.

A Storm of Swords, by George R. R. Martin (2000): Nearly any of Martin’s novels could make this list, but A Storm of Swords is generally considered the best of his Ice and Fire novels (and perhaps the best of his entire body of work – I don’t know about that, The Armageddon Rag is quite excellent). However Martin’s work is viewed, A Storm of Swords is a superior novel.

The Human Stain
, by Philip Roth (2000): I still can’t understand how American Pastoral won the Pulitzer for Roth when The Human Stain did not. This novel of a professor who questions whether two absent students are “spooks” and comes under fire when it is later revealed that the two students are black is quite possibly Roth’s best work. The personal contradictions of Coleman Silk’s past and of his personal actions at age 71 are well handled and quietly thrill.

Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser (2000): You think of Morgan Spurlock and Super Size Me taking on McDonald’s and what the fast food does to the body (not that the results are at all a surprise), but check out Schlosser’s investigations into how the whole industry is put together.

Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea, by Charles Seife (2000): This was recommended to me by a college professor who explained that the book contained a mathematical proof that Winston Churchill was, in fact, a carrot. How can I not read a book that proves Winston Churchill was a carrot? The rest of the book is a history of the concept of “Zero”. On the surface, this would appear to be the basis for a very short book (we all know what zero is, right?), but the contentious history behind the concept of zero is fascinating.

The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, by Louise Erdrich (2001): When asked my favorite author, the answer I inevitably give is “Louise Erdrich”. Ever since I read the opening passage of Love Medicine with June Morrissey walking out into the snow, I have been hooked. The inclusion of Little No Horse, however, is not to honor my favorite writer, but is instead to recognize one of Erdrich’s finest novels.

John Adams, by David McCullough (2001): Reading McCullough’s bio helped to develop my interest in early American history and presidential biography. Once McCullough gets out of the childhood of Adams and into the politics, this biography soars.

Blade of Tyshalle
, by Matthew Stover (2001): The rumor goes like this: Matthew Stover had a series of significant health concerns when he was writing Blade of Tyshalle, to the point that he didn’t know if he would live to write another book. So, to make sure he said everything he wanted to say, Stover loaded Blade of Tyshalle with as much story and ass-kicking action as he possibly could. Now, I don’t know if that story is true. It’s a good story even if it is completely wrong. Regardless of what the origins of Blade of Tyshalle are, this is one awesome book.

The Scar, by China Mieville (2002): Despite all the praise, Perdido Street Station never quite connected for me. I appreciated the breadth of Mieville’s imagination, and it was an impressive and nasty book, but it wasn’t for me. Despite this, I gave The Scar a shot and was immersed in the floating city of Armada. It was a long book, but I wanted more.

The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini (2003): It’s been enough years that my memory is probably hazier for this book than any other on the list, but I do remember that the novel and Hosseini deserved every bit of attention and acclaim that it received.

Shutter Island, by Dennis Lehane (2003): A US Marshal investigates the disappearance of a patient at an island prison for the criminally insane. Shutter Island is taut and filled to the brim with tension and offers surprises I couldn’t have imagined.

The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger (2003): It has been suggested that my bedtime more closely resembles that of an eighty year old man than one who is thirty, but I stayed up deep into the night, past midnight even, to read just a little bit more of The Time Traveler’s Wife. This strange, slightly uncomfortable, love story between Henry and Claire is absolutely fantastic and Niffenegger’s internal chronology for the novel is fascinating. This is good stuff.

Acts of Faith, by Philip Caputo (2005): Caputo may be best known for his memoir A Rumor of War, but he has spent the subsequent thirty plus years as a reporter and novelist. Every now and then I stumble across one of Caputo’s novels, love it, and wonder why I haven’t read more Caputo. Then comes Acts of Faith, a novel set in the midst of a civil war in Sudan, and I am floored. The breadth of this novel is stunning.

No Country for Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy (2005): You know Cormac McCarthy. Pulitzer for The Road, the film version of No Country was awarded the Academy Award for Best Picture. Maybe you know McCarthy back from All the Pretty Horses (the book, not the movie), or even earlier. No Country for Old Men is one long chase and is a brutal, fantastic novel. I much prefer this to The Road.

All Rivers Flow to the Sea, by Alison McGhee (2005): Where my first answer for a favorite author may still be Louise Erdrich, I quickly mention Alison McGhee’s name next. McGhee’s debut, Rainlight, is a gorgeous novel, but All Rivers Flow to the Sea is as good as the best McGhee has written. This is a short novel focused on the grief of a teenage girl and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Heartbreaking and healing.

Harry Potter Series: Books 4 – 7
, by J. K. Rowling (2000 – 2007): I could probably get away with leaving this entry with no comment. Instead, let me just say that the Harry Potter series thrills from start to finish and the four books published in the last decade are absolutely delightful.

The Stratford Man
, by Elizabeth Bear (2008): Comprised of Ink and Steel and Hell and Earth, Elizabeth Bear’s Elizabethan era duology featuring Will Shakespeare, Kit Marley (Christopher Marlowe), several angels and a devil, is breathtakingly good. The “small angel” scene near the end between Marley and an angel is simply heart-wrenching in the best possible way. Moreso than any other book (or series), I wish more people read / purchased these so Bear could keep writing more Promethean Age novels. I’m still hopeful.

Shadow Unit: Season One (2008), by Emma Bull, Elizabeth Bear, Sarah Monette, and Will Shetterly: If you read this blog, and I can only assume that you do if you’re reading this, you’ve seen me post about Shadow Unit over the last two years. I describe Shadow Unit as a blend of Criminal Minds and The X-Files, only the monsters are human. This is the best television show which never existed. You should really go read it.

The Gathering Storm, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (2009): This is the point where I feel I should get defensive about the inclusion of the latest Wheel of Time novel, and even bringing that up is itself a defensive statement, but in terms of pure delight, little holds a candle to my experience of reading the latest Wheel of Time novel. While there is no way to know what The Gathering Storm would have been had Robert Jordan lived to finish it, Brandon Sanderson did one hell of a job and in the end it was everything I hoped it would be.

Finch, by Jeff VanderMeer (2009): I only read Finch in the last month and it is still very much fresh in my mind, but in terms of “delight” and “awe”, Jeff VanderMeer delivers both. This is an impressive novel. Check out my recent review if you don't believe me.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Women of Nell Gwynne's

My review of Kage Baker's The Women of Nell Gwynne's is up at the Sacramento Book Review.

Excellent novella.

Check out the review.

Edit: I should note that this review was written and submitted in late December and that the time from submission to publication is normal for online reviews at SBR. At the time I wrote this I was genuinely hopeful we would have the opportunity to see more Nell Gwynne's stories (there is a new one at Subterranean Online).

Kage Baker passed away on January 31. Until her final weeks, Kage kept her health from being a public matter.

This is to say that I apologize if the close of my review comes across as uncaring or ignorant. Neither was intended.

I also do not intend any slight to be given to SBR regarding the timing of the review's posting. The lead time for publication was typical and appropriate. It's just an unfortunate circumstance that a review hoping for more fiction from Kage was posted two short weeks after she passed.

Kitty's House of Horrors, by Carrie Vaughn

Kitty’s House of Horrors
Carrie Vaughn
Grand Central Publishing: 2010

What does a popular radio show host and the most famous lycanthrope in America do after she gets married in Las Vegas? If you are Kitty Norville, you accept an invitation to be on a supernatural themed reality show filmed at a palatial resort cabin in the wilderness of Montana. If you are Kitty Norville, this won’t be the two week vacation you anticipated. This is Kitty’s House of Horrors, the seventh novel from Carrie Vaughn featuring the midnight radio show host and werewolf.

By this point in the series Carrie Vaughn should be running short on ideas and Kitty’s welcome should be wearing thin. It is entirely to the credit of Carrie Vaughn that Kitty’s House of Horrors feels as fresh and new as the first volume, Kitty and the Midnight Hour. Through each volume and each “adventure”, Kitty Norville has grown in confidence and grown as a character, much as anybody might if put through similar circumstances. Kitty is recognizably herself, but the Kitty Norville of Kitty’s House of Horrors is much stronger and self-assured than the Kitty Norville of Kitty and the Midnight Hour. It is maturity and it is part of the success of Vaughn’s fiction. There is character development and Kitty is not Super-Wolf-Girl. She fears and she perseveres.

Where previous volumes had varying levels of conflict, violence, and deadly risk to Kitty’s life, Kitty’s House of Horrors takes the story to full-on survival horror mode. Suggesting that things do not go “well” in Montana would be a vast understatement. Kitty and the other participants in the reality show Supernatural Insider think they are going to Montana to convince a skeptic that the supernatural is real, but end up hunted to the death.

Carrie Vaughn does well with her entry into the survival horror genre. Kitty Norville brings humor and personality to a grim situation, but Vaughn doesn’t relent on the grim. Kitty is in a bad place and Vaughn gets that across.

Something of particular note about the series is that Carrie Vaughn took one of the more interesting characters of the first three novels and, because of his actions, took him out of commission for the next four books. I’m referring to Cormac, the bounty hunter of the supernatural and friend to Kitty. Next to Kitty, Cormac was the most compelling character of the first three novels and he’s been out of the picture ever since. In Kitty’s House of Horrors, Kitty’s husband Ben mentions that Cormac is up for a parole hearing. So, in the midst of Kitty fighting for his life, readers know that life in Denver hasn’t stopped.

Also, Carrie Vaughn continues to tease a larger storyline of a bigger supernatural conflict, one which Kitty may only be a small player in, whether she wants to or not. Vaughn has been slowly unspooling the nature of this threat while telling personal stories for Kitty. It is well done. Carrie Vaughn continues to impress and improve with her Kitty Norville novels. That there are three more planned is good news.

Reading copy provided courtesy of the Hachette Book Group.

Previous Reviews
Kitty and the Midnight Hour
Kitty Goes to Washington
Kitty Takes a Holiday
Kitty and the Silver Bullet
Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand
Kitty Raises Hell

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Forthcoming Lansdale: Deadman's Road

Subterranean Press has announced a new Joe Lansdale collection: Deadman's Road.

The announcement:
Seeing as Joe R. Lansdale’s God of the Razor gathering of novel and stories did so well for us, we’ve decided to offer up a similar book, this time featuring Reverend Jedediah Mercer, from Dead in the West.

Deadman’s Road will contain not only the seminal weird western novel, but four other tales of the ruthless preacher in a west that was certainly not covered in the history books. Included will be “Deadman’s Road,” “Gentleman’s Hotel,” the never collected “The Crawling Sky”, and a never-before-published novelette, “The Dark Down There.”

Look for more details and ordering information soon!
Oh. Hell, yes.

Look, I'm a fan of Lansdale's work. I've written about a few of his books, but specifically about Dead in the West and "Deadman's Road". I haven't had a chance to read the other stories, but a collection that pulls together all of these preacher stories AND brings us a new one?

I am so there.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The best military books of the decade

One thing you might not know about me from reading the blog is that one of the subjects I am most interested in is the modern American military.

Thanks to a retweet from Lambda Literary, I found out about Military Times posting a list of the best military books of the decade.

The actual list has some blurbage, but I'll list out the books below. I've read a couple of them and have had a few others on my radar of stuff I'd really like to read. I'm really excited for this list and working my way through it.

Shane Comes Home, by Rinker Buck
Joker One: A Marine Platoon's Story of Courage, Leadership, and Brotherhood, by Donovan Campbell
The Fourth Star: Four Generals and the Epic Struggle for the Future of the United States Army, by David Cloud and Greg Jaffe
The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell: An Accidental Soldier's Account of the War in Iraq, by John Crawford
One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer, by Nathaniel Fick
The Forever War, by Dexter Filkins
The Good Soldiers, by David Finkel
Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America, by Nathaniel Frank
The War I Always Wanted: The Illusion of Glory and the Reality of War, by Brandon Friedman
Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq, by Michael R. Gordon and Bernard E. Trainor
Just Another Soldier: A Year on the Ground in Iraq, by Jason Christopher Hartley
The Unforgiving Minute: A Soldier's Education, by Craig M. Mullaney
The Long Road Home: A Story of War and Family, by Martha Raddatz
Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, by Thomas E. Ricks
Jarhead: A Marine's Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles, by Anthony Swofford
Generation Kill: Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America and the New Face of American War, by Evan Wright

Monday, February 08, 2010

Finch, by Jeff VanderMeer

Jeff VanderMeer
Underland Press: 2009

It begins with two dead bodies and an investigation. Only one corpse is human, the other a grey cap, one of the fungal overlords of occupied Ambergris. John Finch, human, is the detective tasked to discover the identity of the victims and the cause. Finch is not simply a noir detective novel, but to attempt to talk more about the core plot and betrayals and rebellion and fear and mysteries of Ambergris would be folly and miss the mark.

Finch is not simply anything. It is a mystery that begs for unraveling, though unlike the hypothetical onion, readers are not likely to see all the layers they peel away and they may not recognize the core. That’s okay. There are plenty of different ways to read Finch and all of them are wholly satisfying. There is Finch for the Vander-neophyte, which is semi-straight forward in the detective tale. The ending is less important than the journey. The answers Jeff VanderMeer provides for long time readers of his work serve as teasers for the new reader, and those are just the ones the new readers will recognize as referencing the earlier work. The Vander-faithful will be rewarded for what may well be their last trip through Ambergris in a story set a few hundred years after they first visited. Changes are afoot. Other readers will look for the political aspects of the grey caps building two towers and the nearly broken rebellion the humans insurgents are still fighting against the occupying grey gaps. There is a lot to Finch as told through a not entirely straight forward narrative.

While the staccato prose of Finch is initially off-putting, after only a few pages the rhythms of Jeff VanderMeer’s writing seeps in and becomes part of the discordant atmosphere of Ambergris. The city is rotted and somehow the short sentence fragments helps to convey this fungal rot.

The doorknob cold but grainy. The left side rough with light green fungus.

Sweating under his jacket, through his shirt. Boots heavy on his feet.

Always a point of no return, and yet he kept returning.

I am not a detective. I am not a detective.

-Finch, pg 2

This is fantastic stuff. The above quote jarred at first, but now feels perfect. The rest of the novel builds from there and, not to use cliché about a book “grabbing hold and not letting go”, but once the Ambergrisian rot settles over the reader, this is a city the reader would never wish to live in but will also not want to leave. This is a novel which commands attention from the first framing page of an interrogation and which rewards both careful and casual reading.

Longtime fans of VanderMeer’s Ambergris stories will likely have a number of lingering questions answered, but prior knowledge of Ambergris is not a requirement for admission to Finch. VanderMeer provides everything a new reader needs to step into Finch and not feel any more lost than VanderMeer intends the reader to be. Finch is a incredibly well crafted novel and should be on everyone’s short list of novels to read next. Finch is a novel to be excited about.

Reading copy provided courtesy of Jeff VanderMeer / Underland Press.

I'll go one further, now that I'm out of the bounds of the review. I was initially very skeptical of Finch because I had previously attempted City of Saints and Madmen and while I recognized the craft, I wasn't engaged (or, perhaps, I didn't engage well enough with the early Ambergris stories, not sure it really matters at this point). I just didn't connect with the stories. It happens. I chocked it up to stuff that just doesn't work for me for some reason. On the other hand, I completely "got" The Situation. Now, though, I want to go back to City of Saints and Madmen and see how I respond after the inoculation of Finch. And also read Shriek: An Afterword.

This is to say that I have a weird relationship with Jeff VanderMeer's fiction before Finch, but I'm damned passionate about the awesomeness of Finch. I really want people to read this and love it as much as I did.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Shadow Unit: Season Three begins

The third season of Shadow Unit began late last night with "The Unicorn Evils", written by Emma Bull and Elizabeth Bear. (it may be short-novel length, I'm trying to verify)

Back when I wrote about the first season, I said,
Shadow Unit is a blend of The X-Files, Criminal Minds, and probably a half dozen other police procedural / supernatural type programs. Rather than being broadcast on television, the collective minds of Bear, Bull, Sarah Monette, Will Shetterly, and Amanda Downum have delivered over the course of seven short stories and one novel a full season story arc that most television shows would kill for. Except that Shadow Unit would never be broadcast, except maybe on HBO or Showtime.
It is just getting better (and it was damned good to start).

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

The Behavioral Analysis Unit sends those cases down the hall.

Welcome to Shadow Unit.
Go read it.

Go on.

Friday, February 05, 2010

someone else's Hugo draft ballot

Following my Hugo Pre-Ballot, Niall Harrison posted his.

It's interesting seeing both the differences and the similarities, and there were a number of fictions on Niall's list that I really owe it to myself to get to sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

A Brother's Price, by Wen Spencer

A Brother’s Price
Wen Spencer
Roc: 2005

Imagine a world where women outnumber men by a factor of something like twenty to one. Women are the soldiers, the butchers, the bakers, and even the candlestick makers. Women do all the jobs that, in another world, might be considered “men’s work”. Because of their scarcity, men are heavily protected and valued for breeding (if a husband) or for building alliances in trade or sale (if a brother). The gender roles in this world are completely flipped.

The basic plot structure of A Brother’s Price is fairly simple and standard. Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Girl falls in love with boy. It can never be because girl is a princess and boy is not a prince, except, you know, maybe he kind of is. Will love win out?

The twist, of course, is that it is the girl that has to pursue the boy and have her family negotiate with the boy’s family regarding any possible marital union. Jerin is loved by his family, but Jerin is also a commodity and his “brother’s price” could earn his sisters a husband or a good deal of money. If he remains pure.

Without assuming the intentions of the author, my impression is that the point of this book is to tell a straightforward romantic adventure story with a pointed flip of gender role. The flip serves to make the reader think about the social mores of this culture. Is it right for men to be treated as property, even humanely? Is this right?

The quick answer is that no, it isn’t. That despite their relative scarcity in this world, men should be as free as the women are. Free to be whatever they want to be. Those are our modern American mores and are what we feel are basic human rights.

This may be the point, to force us to examine more closely the historical role of women in society.

Now, perhaps that is too obvious. Perhaps part of the point is to answer the assertion that if women ruled the world, everything would be different and so much kinder. A Brother’s Price tells us that it will not, but that women are just as capable of ruling and creating technology and culture.

Had Spencer chosen to tell A Brother’s Price with traditional gender roles, this would likely be viewed as a deeply offensive novel. Instead, because of the flipped gender roles, the reader may experience some discomfort, but not the level of offense as yet another repressed woman story would cause.

Here’s the thing, though. I spent all this time talking about what the novel might be saying that I haven’t spent a single word on what it did. That’s because the largest part of me is more fascinated by what is or may be going on behind the scenes.

The reason I spent all these words on the behind the curtain stuff is because A Brother’s Price is a book I could not put down. I read A Brother’s Price in great big chunks and I was completely wrapped up in Spencer’s storytelling. Sure, this is a fairly standard story with a twist, but it’s damn compelling. Readers can fairly well guess how this is all going to end, and there is a little bit of a telegraphed “surprise” coming near the end, but it doesn’t matter. Once you start reading A Brother’s Price, you’re going to want to continue to the end.

This is a believable and rich world. There is a history to the setting and to the characters, and though A Brother’s Price is a standalone novel, I would really love a chance to visit the Whistlers once more. Spencer left me satisfied with the story she told, but also left me wanting more.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Interfictions Reading: Thoughts

Friday night I went to a reading at Magers & Quinn. Four Twin Cities authors took part, three of them reading stories from the Interfictions 2 anthology. The fourth, Kelly Barnhill, read her story "Four Very True Tales", previously published in Interfictions Annex. There was a little bit of confusion (by me, but also by at least one other audience-member) whether Kelly was in Interfictions. We assumed she was, but alas.

The one bit of news I have coming out of the reading is that Kelly Barnhill’s debut novel, The Boy Without a Face (if the title sticks), has been pushed back from it’s original publication date of October 2010 to Spring 2011. That’s a bit of disappointment. I’ve been looking forward to reading it for a while now.

This was only the second reading I had been to. The first was Paolo Bacigalupi last year, so I definitely set the bar high.

On to the reading.

It’s worth noting that except for Barnhill, the writers were not able to read their entire stories in the allotted time. This led to some great teasers.

Alan DeNiro led off with his story “(*_*?) ~~~~ (-_-) : The Warp and the Woof”, which I’ll admit has something of a frustrating title. DeNiro explained that the first part of the title was made of something like Japanese emoticons. I really like DeNiro’s writing, and he read well, but he seemed just a little uncomfortable at the podium. I can respect that. You won’t catch me anywhere near a podium, benighted things. The story was quite good, as one expects from DeNiro.

David Schwartz followed with his story “The 121”. Schwartz had a very commanding presence at the podium and he read exceptionally well. I don’t know if it is his normal reading style or if he was working the story, but what seems to be a somewhat morbidly funny story was very much served by his reading. The bitter humor jumped out at the audience (or just me), but I’m very much enthusiastic about “The 121” from Schwartz’s reading. It would be very difficult to describe this story and there are some assumptions I’ve made about what is going on without knowing the ending, but I am definitely going to track down the anthology just for this story.

The first two stories were both somewhat post-apocalyptic science fiction stories (though Schwartz’s is somewhat more fantasy due to something potentially impossible occurring), but Barnhill shifted the tone with "Four Very True Tales", a more personal story. Barnhill mentioned that Delia Sherman described her story as being “Domestic Surrealism”. I’m blanking on what the second half of the phrase was. The story was made up of four vignettes of family and was quite nice.

William Alexander wrapped up the evening with assorted scenes from “After Verona”. I liked what I heard, but Alexander’s choice to jump around in the story and just give disconnected scenes made for following a story thread all but impossible. Certain things happened, a death, perhaps a murder, and that thread was there. There was another thread set in a bookstore admittedly modeled on Magers & Quinn, perhaps it was the same bookstore, but I don’t recall the story giving a name to the store. I don’t even know if the scenes were in order, so I have a difficult time identifying whether I’d really enjoy “After Verona”. Did Alexander just cherry-pick the good stuff?

The reading was good and Schwartz definitely hooked me on “The 121”. I only knew his work from his novella The Sun Inside (published, interestingly enough, by Alan DeNiro for the Electrum Novella series). He’s also written the novel Superpowers.

If DeNiro and Schwartz reflect the quality of fiction in Interfictions 2, I am very likely to track down a copy. I think this also reflects some of the very talented writers we have here in the Twin Cities*.

*Not to mention that when they were first getting their starts, we had a local writing group made up of Steven Brust, Emma Bull, Will Shetterly, Pamela Dean, and others. Other writers like Alison McGhee, Louise Erdrich, and Lois McMaster Bujold also come to mind. Again, among others.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Richard Powers and the Hugo

I’ve had a couple of very interesting conversations since I posted my preliminary Hugo ballot. Both centered on my inclusion of Richard Powers as a probable nominee for Best Professional Artist.

I placed Richard Powers on my preliminary ballot on the strength of the cover art of Eclipse Three. I’ve listened to several interviews with Night Shade Books publisher Jeremy Lassen where he talks about how he got this particular cover for the book. Any mistakes here are mine, but as I understand it, Lassen contacted the estate of Powers and asked if there was any unpublished artwork available to use for a cover. It just so happened that there was this one particular piece of artwork which had been commissioned several decades ago and for whatever reason, was never used or published. At this time nobody knows what the original commission was. Lassen, no fool, snapped up the art and used it for the cover of Eclipse Three. It’s spectacular.

One of my first thoughts when I decided to purchase a supporting membership to this year’s Worldcon was that I had to recognize the Powers cover. I absolutely love it.

There’s only one thing. Richard Powers died in 1996.

I received two e-mails asking me to reconsider my potential nomination of Richard Powers for the Best Professional Artist Hugo.

Now, the conversations I had were private correspondence, but Lou Anders was gracious enough to permit me to publicly use some of his words here.

The conversations were not simple “Dude, don’t give it to Powers”, but were rather well reasoned explanations stating that while the Powers cover is excellent, the intent of the Best Professional Artist Hugo is to recognize the art of artists working today and who are actively producing new work. The Powers cover would be akin to finding a long lost novel from a deceased master.

I do not believe I was following the awards at the time, but was there ever a campaign or a conversation around nominating The Children of Hurin for a Hugo? That would be a similar case to the Powers cover. Or, let’s say that sometime after Harlan Ellison is no longer with us, Last Dangerous Visions is finally published and everyone recognizes that compared to Last Dangerous Visions, the discovery of fire and the inventions of the wheel and sliced bread really weren’t all that impressive. Harlan gets nominated for whichever of the two Best Editor Hugos he is eligible for. We’ll ignore various impossibilities of this happening and just accept it for a moment. Though Last Dangerous Visions may indeed be excellent, such a nomination would not represent the state of the genre today.

Lou Anders responds to this,
I think you hit the nail on the head yourself when you said LDV wouldn't represent the state of the genre today and I think that's what an annual award needs to do. Again, Powers was just inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame - which is utterly appropriate and LONG OVERDUE. He's a giant. But he's not TODAY's giant.
This is the heart of the issue and the conversations I’ve been having. There is a distinction in the name of the category, “Best Professional Artist”, that suggests the award is not honoring a single work, but rather the body of work over the previous year.

Can a single piece of art, no matter how good, honestly outweigh the collected output of a working artist? If, as Lou Anders says, “artists have fought so hard recently for the Best Artist Hugo to be a reflection of current work”, do we do a dishonor to working artists and to the spirit of the award if we nominate and vote for work produced decades ago?

This is where I waffle.

The Powers cover was first published in 2009. This is not a case of Lassen recycling a cover that was previously on the market. So, from the perspective of a fan who wishes to honor a single piece of art which can be considered one of the best works published in 2009, the work of Richard Powers for the Eclipse cover certainly qualifies and merits a nomination. This is also a particular cover which reflects a 70’s aesthetic while still presenting as modern and something today’s artists would do well to aspire to.

On the other hand, the arguments of Lou Anders and the other correspondent are sound and they hold water. While Powers does fit the letter of qualifying for a nomination, there is a serious question of whether Powers fits the spirit and intent of what such a nomination should stand for. Also, the cover of Eclipse Three is only one piece of artwork and the category is intended to honor the body of work published in a given year. Once again, does one piece of art outweigh the collected output of a working artist who produced multiple pieces of high quality art?

I don’t know what I’m going to do. I am honestly torn between honoring an excellent piece of art that may have been produced thirty years ago and using my nomination in the spirit in which the Best Professional Artist is intended.

It’s something to think about.

I very much appreciate the courtesy of the e-mails and the conversations which resulted. They caused me to think through the nomination more fully and they challenged me to become more informed about a somewhat vague category and about the artists working within.