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Friday, April 30, 2010

Haul of Books 2010: Stuff For Me v.4

Not too long ago the University of Florida had a little book sale in their used book store thing in Library East. It's hard to pass up book sales if you're like me. I should take a picture of my apartment one day so you all can see what it looks like. For the last few weeks there have been books all over my floor, piling up on top of shelves, and residing just about everywhere I can find a place to put them without tripping over them in the dark.

So, here is part one of my grab bag journey, with a few other things tossed in because they fit into the picture (image should appear after the fold, but for some reason Blogger is being a pill about that):
And, as usual, here are the descriptions, from left to right, top to bottom:

1. Genre Fusion: A New Discourse Practice by Marleen S. Barr (ARC; called Genre Fission in print)
What do Amsterdam prostitutes, NASA astronauts, cross-dressing texts, and Star Trek characters have in common? Only Marleen Barr knows for sure. In Genre Fission, the award-winning author revitalizes literary and cultural theory by proposing an entirely new discourse practice of examining the points where genres and attendant meanings first converge, then reemerge as something new. Part literary analysis, part cultural studies, part feminist critique flavored with a smattering of science fiction and utopian studies, it is witty and eccentric, entertaining and enlightening.

Barr expands postmodern assumptions about cultural studies by suggesting that "genre fission" is occurring among discrete literary and cultural "types" of events--mainstream novels, science fiction, historical narratives, film, paintings, and museum displays. For her literary insights, Barr turns her attention to such mainstream authors as Saul Bellow, John Updike, Marge Piercy, and John Barth as well as science fiction writers Ursula Le Guin and Octavia Butler and Hispanic American writers Julia Alvarez, Ana Castillo, and Cristina Garca, among others.

Barr moves from literary to culture studies by addressing such phenomena from contemporary mass culture as the urban landscapes of New York and Los Angeles, Jackie Kennedy, the Star Trek industry, Lynn Redgrave, Amsterdam's red light district, Lorena Bobbitt, and the Apollo astronauts--to provide only a few of the relevant examples. Thus Genre Fission attains what Barr herself designates (in describing the art of Judy Chicago and Lee Bontecou) as "utopian interweavings of difference," crossing numerous boundaries in order to frame a larger territory for exploration.
2. PMLA, Volume 125, Number 1, January 2010 (subscribed; publication by the Modern Language Association)
There's actually a lot of stuff in this issue, with sections dedicated to Textual Materialism, Museum Studies, Visual/Literary Cultures, and other things. There are some great resources in this for English majors (mostly relevant to those at my level, though).
3. The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness by Reinhold Niebuhr
All I know is that it is about Democracy, but since it has no description on the back and nothing online, that is only a guess. It looked interesting, though.
4. The Apartheid Regime: Political Power and Racial Domination edited by Robert M. Price and Carl G. Rosberg
Should be self-explanatory. I can't find a description for this one either, unfortunately. I've been very interested in Apartheid in the past, primarily because one of my focuses is "the Other" and it's representation in science fiction. This is an old book, but it should be useful anyway.
5. The Myth Makers: European and Latin American Writers by V. S. Prichett
Essays on the personalities and works--and how they reflect each other--of Boris Pasternak, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Anton Chekhov, Leo Tolstoy, Ivan Goncharov, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Alexander Pushkin, August Strindberg, Franz Kafka, Jean Genet, Emile Zola, George Sand, Gustave Flaubert, Stendhal, Eca de Queiroz, Benito Perez Galdos, Machado de Assis, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Jorge Luis Borges.
6. The Literary Use of the Psychoanalytic Process by Meredith Anne Skura (I'm on a Freud/Lacan kick lately)
No description again, unfortunately. But, I don't think the title is unclear on what this book is about. It might be of use to me while I continue working on my thesis, in which Freud and Lacan are making an appearance. The funny part about that is that only a few years ago I was not at all interested in these two and had planned on avoiding them like the plague. Look at me now...
7. Historicism (the New Critical Idiom series) by Paul Hamilton
Historicism is the essential introduction to the field, providing its readers with the necessary knowledge, background and vocabulary to apply it in their own studies. Paul Hamilton's compact and comprehensive guide:
--Explains the theory and basics of historicism
--Presents a history of the term and its uses
--Introduces the reader to the key thinkers in the field, from ancient Greece to modern times
--Considers historicism in contemporary debates and its relevance to other modes of criticism, such as feminism and post-colonialism
--Contains an extensive bibliography of further reading
Well, there you go. Anything sound of interest to you? Have you bought anything recently? Let me know in the comments!

Asimov's Science Fiction: Now Taking Electronic Submissions!

For those of you who write science fiction and have grown as tired as I have of spending money on postage to send stories to the big three, this will come as great news.

Asimov's Science Fiction has officially adopted the electronic submission system used by Clarkesworld and several other magazines! That means you can now send them electronic subs!

Greatest thing ever? Yes. Is this the sign of pending doom in 2012? Absolutely.

Reactions elsewhere: Clarkesworld and Scalzi at Whatever.

Video Found: The Anachronism (Steampunk Short Movie)

I love independent film, especially on the Internet. While Hollywood spends its time doing remakes and crappy special-effects monstrosities like Avatar, other folks with very little in terms of cash go out and make amazing short films like The Anachronism.

The basic story of the video below is: two kids discover a strange squid-shaped contraption while exploring the wilderness in the 19th century (it's filmed in Canada, but I don't know if it's set there). You might recognize the young boy as the same fellow who played the 5-year-old version of the main character in Jumper.

My only complaint about this movie is that it is a little too short. It should be a feature-length film. See it for yourself and you'll understand why. Great direction, pretty good acting, beautiful cinematography, and decent effects. Whoever made the movie should be handed a larger budget and given the opportunity to do something bigger and even more amazing.

I'll shut up now. The video appears below the fold:

The Anachronism (Full Film) from Anachronism Pictures on Vimeo.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Haul of Books 2010: Stuff For Me v.3

Another edition of the Haul of Books has arrived, featuring stuff I bought or received for myself! This particular edition is magazine-heavy, since I bought a whole bunch of magazines and what not some time back and have since received a few special copies of magazines in the last month or so. A lot of the stuff below might be unfamiliar to a lot of you, and that's really unfortunate. GUD and Tales of the Unanticipated really are top notch venues that haven't received nearly as much attention as they should.

That's enough from me. Here's the image, followed by the descriptions:
The descriptions are, from left to right, top to bottom (taken from Amazon or publisher websites):

1. Tales of the Unanticipated, Number 30 signed by Jason Sanford (won)
Includes fiction by Eleanor Arnason, Stephen Dedman, Martha A. Hood, Patricia S. Bowne, Patricia Russo, William Mingin, Jason Sanford, Catherine Lundoff, Patricia Russo, Cornelius Fortune, Douglas J. Lane, T. J. Berg, Barbara Rosen, Terry Faust, Kurt Kirchmeier, Matthew S. Rotundo, and Sarah Totton; poetry by F. J. Bergmann, Ann K. Schwader, Ruth Berman, P M F Johnson, Ann Peters and Ellen Kuhfeld, Alexis Vergalla, G. O. Clark, KC Wilder, Zoë Gabriel, and Sandra Kasturi. Featuring the Art of Jules Hart.
2. Tales of the Unanticipated, Number 21: Ghosts and Machines Issue
Our "Ghosts and Machines" issue, including fiction by Eleanor Arnason, Stephen Dedman, Martha A. Hood, Judy Klass, R. Neube, Fred Schepartz, Sandra Rector & P.M.F. Johnson, Manfred Gabriel, Naomi Kritzer, Kelly David McCullough, Robert H. Beer, Douglas M. Stokes, Steven E. Burt, and William Laughlin; and poetry by John Calvin Rezmerski and Ruth Berman.
3. Crossed Genres, Issue 12: The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Issue
- 10 diverse stories of queer characters
- "Heinlein's Friday: A Trans Novel?" by Cheryl Morgan
- "Why Gay Sci Fi and Fantasy Is Important" by Lee Wind
- Interview with author & outlaw Kate Bornstein
- Astounding cover art by Julie Dillon
- 7 pieces of creative art & comics by Megan Rose Gedris, David Willis, Michelle Gruben and Katoo Deziel
4. Tales of the Unanticipated, Number 18: Myths, Folk Tales, and Legends Issue
Spring 1998. "Myths, Folk Tales, and Legends" issue, including Ursula K. Leguin interviewd; fiction by Neil Gaiman, Stephen Dedman, Martha A. Hood, Patricia Russo, Mark W. Tiedemann, Judy Klass, Gerard Daniel Houarner, and Amy Benesch; and poetry by John Calvin Rezmerski.
5. Greatest Common Denominator, Issue 4 (Spring 2009) (subscription)
Issue 4 begins with the end of the world and moves on from there. From the unromantically magical take on Ragnarøk in the lead story "Unbound" to the curious history of squid in "A Man of Kiri Maru", this issue is steeped in mythos, making use of the old familiar tales and some new ones, mixing cosmologies from around the world--and from other worlds as well.

But the focus, be it of prose, poetry, or art, is always on the human--on the clashes between imagination and reality, on choices and redemption, on what the Other can tell us about ourselves. And like any GUD magazine, this one's eclectic; browse around between the covers and you're sure to come upon some things you'll like, whether you're a genre junkie or a generalist. We hope you'll find some beauty, something uncommon, and that, for just a moment, the angle of the light will seem a little bit different.
6. Greatest Common Denominator, Issue 5 (Winter 2009) (subscription)
Issue 5 wraps a scientific core with our most eclectic selection to date—including two mini graphic novels and a script that will have you bubbling over with mirth.

We open with Rose Lemberg's "Imperfect Verse", a tale of poetry, deception, and warring gods; then span the years to Andrew N. Tisbert's "Getting Yourself On", which sees mankind taken to the stars but suffering new forms of wage-slavery.

There's science fiction that stretches to the fantastic, science that once stretched the fantastic and has now become brilliantly pervasive, and dollops of science in otherwise mundane lives (see "The Prettiest Crayon in the Box").

Of course, we've got fantasy, psychological horror, humor, and drama; poetry serious, sublime, and satirical; and art that stretches from the real, to the surreal, to the violently semi-abstract.
7. Electric Velocipede, Issue 15 & 16 (Winter 2008)
Issue #15/16, our first double issue, 164 pages and almost 100,000 words of content! Featuring an amazing color wraparound cover from T. Davidsohn. There's also fiction from people like Patrick O'Leary, Patricia Russo, William Shunn, Rachel Swirsky, and more. Lucius Shepard takes our Blindfold Taste Test this issue. The issue debuted at the 2008 World Fantasy Convention in Calgary, Oct 30 - Nov 2, 2008.
8. The Sense of Falling by Ezra Pines
This is our first chapbook. Readers of the zine should already be familiar with Ezra Pines, particularly his Mr. Brain stories. Ezra is a curmudgeonly sort, and it shows in his writing. He also has an amazing imagination that can literally stun a reader. The chapbook features 10 previously published stories and two brand-new stories: "Antevellum," a response to Hal Duncan's excellent novel, Vellum, and "Of Light and Snow."
9. Life's Simple Pleasures by John Klima
I don't have a description for it, but the story inside can be found at Diet Soap.
10. Psychological Methods To Sell Should Be Destroyed Stoires by Robert Freeman Wexler
"Psychological Methods To Sell Should Be Destroyed: Stories" by Robert Freeman Wexler.

This is our third chapbook. Six stories in all, with a new novellette: "Sidewalk Factory: A Municipal Love Story." Cover art by Tim Robinson. Introduction from Zoran Živković.
11. Gents by Warwick Collins (won)
Ezekiel Murphy takes up a job as an attendant in a London lavatory. The other two attendants explain that they are under pressure from the council to reduce the amount of casual sex that goes on in the cubicles, but in doing so, they risk putting themselves out of a job as turnstile takings fall.
12. Subtropics, Number 2, Spring/Summer 2006
Fiction

Rachel West Carpenter Travel Story
Tony D’Souza Magic Muffler
Willem Elsschott Will-o’-the-Wisp
Allan Gurganus "We, of Weedland"
Sheila Kohler The Golden Dove
Padgett Powell Did We Party Last Night?
Liz Prato Underneath the Magnolia Tree When Magnolias Were in Bloom
Jarret Rosenblatt Rhythmically

Poetry

Jennifer Atkinson The Black Fox of Salmon River and Rafting Lowe River
Geoffrey Brock Flesh of John Brown’s Flesh: Dec. 2, 1859 and Charles Graner Is Not America
Billy Collins No Things
Paola Corso Step by Step with the Laundress
Peggy Smith Duke Hen Party
Matthea Harvey Museum of the Middle
Brandon Kershner Liberation
Michael Loughran Incident Report and My Relationship with With
Jacques Prévert (translated by J.T. Barbarese) Le désespoir est assis sur un banc (Park Bench Sphinx),
Chanson des escargots qui vont a l’enterrement (Did You Hear the One About), and Riviera (Taking It In)
Vivian Laramore Rader Everglades, On Having and Hads, and Hens

Nonfiction

James Lord Giacometti’s Goddess
Robert Schultz The Ephemera
Cynthia Zarin Real Estate
13. The Lost Sister by Megan Kelley Hall
Sisters are born, not chosen. . .

Maddie Crane is grappling with the disappearance of Cordelia LeClaire, and trying to escape the grasp of The Sisters of Misery--an insidious clique of the school's most powerful girls, whose pranks have set off a chain of horrific events, and who have Maddie in their sights-

Beware the sister betrayed. . .

Now in a prestigious boarding school far away from her mysterious hometown of Hawthorne, Massachusetts, Maddie feels free from danger. But when an unmarked envelope arrives at her dorm containing a single ominous tarot card, Maddie realizes with terror that some secrets won't stay buried. Knowing she must return to Hawthorne--a town still scarred by the evil of the Salem witch trials--Maddie prepares to face the fears of her past. . .and the wrath of the sister she wronged.
14. Glass Coffin Girls by Paul Jessup (won)
This is a crevice book . . . a shadow volume whose pages were written in the cracks of ancient cities and long since forgotten. Nine stories, nine shadows . . . words tattooed on skin, locked in towers, frozen under glass and sleeping with apple hearts, refusing to be defined. They are carved of light, and slither through your fingers like winter rain.

In these shadows you will find:
- resurrection, quantum vampires and magic tricks
- jealous mothers, dead birds, and a cannibal princess
- a high school trapped behind a wall of snow
- a man who makes art out of misery
- a surreal war and a chance for survival
- feral children, a dead mother and the bogeyman
- hypnotism, speaking to the dead, a girl in thorns and a haunting
- a drought, a story in reverse, and a man who makes a star out of a mermaid

Step inside . . . but be careful. The path is uneven and will melt with every step, trapping you between worlds.

Paul Jessup is a critically acclaimed writer of weird, strange and slippery fiction. He's been published in many magazines, both offline and on, and updates a blog on occasions at pauljessup.com.
15. An Alternate History of the 21st Century by William Shunn
"An Alternate History of the 21st Century" by William Shunn; illustrations by Mattias Adolfsson; introduction by Cory Doctorow.

This is our second chapbook. William Shunn has been nominated for the Hugo and Nebula awards. This collection contains two stories previously published in the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, two stories published on Salon.com, and two previously unpublished pieces.
And there you have it. Anything look of interest to you?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Haul of Books 2010: Stuff For Review v.2

After this post I will be all caught up on books for review, with only a few more to go to do the same for things I've bought or received for myself. The cool news about this particular edition is that I recently won a book that comes later in the series for one of the books below. I'm quite happy about that! But who wouldn't be? People who don't like books, that's who. But we're not going to talk about them on this blog anymore. They know who they are.

Anywho, the four books below are from a lot of strange places (one from Tor, two from small presses, and one from a very unusual place indeed). I'm looking forward to reading most of these, and some I hope will provide some surprises. I'll shut up now and give you the books:
Here are the descriptions, from left to right, top to bottom (taken from Amazon.com):

1. The Silent Gift by Michael Landon, Jr. and Cindy Kelley
The 1930s were a decade of enormous uncertainty--for the world, for America, and in particular for one lonely, struggling mother and her disabled son. Their story is one of love and enormous sacrifices in the face of circumstances horrendous beyond belief. When her husband leaves her for someone whose time isn't wrapped up in a silent, handicapped kid, Mary and little Jack are out on their own in a world that has no room for the poor and disabled. Especially not at a time when most Americans are simply trying to survive their economic woes and job losses. But then arrives The Gift...where has it come from, and why? How can a young boy who can neither hear nor speak provide comfort, direction, and sometimes challenges to seekers who learn of the special ability? Whatever the source, its presence brings a single shaft of light and hope to Mary and her beloved Jack. Will it be enough?
(By the way, this is written by the son of the other Michael Landon, which is quite cool!)

2. The Sin of Addison Hall by Jeffrey A. Onorato
Breaking the Mold of a Traditional Hero Results in a Gripping Tale of Fiction... First-time author soars with his spellbinding story of a man fighting with human nature... Residing in a country where beautiful people are considered superior, Addison Hall is an anomaly. A mildly repugnant man, he is forced by the twisted hierarchy of his dictator to live in less than adequate living situations. The days become increasingly arduous as he toils in an unpleasant job, stricken with the disappointment of his current situation. Besides the dark comedy of his disastrous attempts at romance and his friend s antics, Addison s life is fairly dull. Then he meets Otka, a beautiful woman who owns the local coffee shop. After witnessing a chance encounter where Addison risks his life to save the life of a dog, Otka takes an obvious interest in him. Addison is perplexed by her reciprocated intrigue. Past experiences with such a valued creature of the opposite sex has left him tainted and doubting her motives. Jeffrey Onorato sensationally draws us into his world of relatable characters and witty dialect. He victoriously shatters the conventions of the true-blue hero to create a story that has both depth and originality. The Sin of Addison Hall entrances the reader with delicious conflicts of human wanting and wavering uncertainty with an ending that will leave you begging for more.
3. The Crown Conspiracy by Michael J. Sullivan
THEY KILLED THE KING. THEY PINNED IT ON TWO MEN. THEY CHOSE POORLY
There is no ancient evil to defeat, no orphan destined for greatness, just two guys in the wrong place at the wrong time. Royce Melborn, a skilled thief, and his mercenary partner, Hadrian Blackwater make a profitable living carrying out dangerous assignments for conspiring nobles until they become the unwitting scapegoats in a plot to murder the king. Sentenced to death, they have only one way out...and so begins this epic tale of treachery and adventure, sword fighting and magic, myth and legend.
4. Secret of the Dragon by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
New gods are challenging the old high god, Torval, for rulership of the world. The only way to stop these brash interlopers lies with the five Bones of the Vektia Dragons—the five primal dragons hidden away by the dragon goddess, Vindrash, during the creation of the world. Without these dragons, one of the new gods, Aelon, cannot seize power. The only hope of the Vindrasi lies in finding the dragon bones before the followers of Aelon can use them to destroy the old gods. But the Vindrasi gods have a traitor in their midst…

In the land of mortals, Raegar, a Vindraisi turned Aelon warrior-priest, searches for the spirit bones. The gods have a champion of their own—Skylan Ivorson, sea-raider and high chief of the Vindrasi clans, and sworn enemy to Raegar. But Skylan is a prisoner on his own ship. The ship’s dragon, Kahg, has vanished and some believe he is dead. Skylan and his people are taken as captives to Sinaria, where they must fight in a game known as the Para Dix. The fates of men and gods and are dragons are rushing headlong to destruction. Skylan can stop the calamity, but only if he discovers the secret of the dragon.
So, any of these grab your interest?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

eBooks and the Future of Books: A Question From WhoHub

Someone on WhoHub recently asked me the following and I thought I would respond here:
What is your experience with ebook readers? Are they comfortable for your eyes? Will the paper book fade away?
One thing that an old-school book lover like me has had to admit is that eReaders have gone from being clunky, annoying devices, to aesthetically pleasing monsters with a lot of potential. Personally, I don't think eReaders are quite there yet. The Apple iPad, while not strictly an eReader, has the potential to essentially destroy the entire eReader market, but the 1.0 is far from being the device it should be. Likewise, eBook-specific devices like Amazon's Kindle, the various Sony readers, and Barnes & Noble's Nook all have a lot of great features, but also a lot of bugs; all of those are heading in the right direction, but none of them have quite reached that point where I, as a potential buyer, see the benefit to me. Why is that?

First, eReaders are expensive. Almost all of them are over $200; for me, that's a lot to spend on a device that a) doesn't excel at what it does, and b) is not at the pinnacle of its device history. MP3 players, for example, have gone well past their peak, but the result is that pretty much every major MP3-specific device still being sold right now is excellent at what it does and reasonably priced. The eReader market isn't quite there yet. For example, most of the eReaders have significant problems with justified text, which is pretty much the gold standard for text formatting for any book, and part of what makes them pleasing to the eyes. When you have lines with strange caps or ragged edges, it strains the reading process (and this might also explain why professors are always quite irritated when they have to grade papers).

Second, I still love dead-tree media. Books are lovely things. They have strange smells, interesting texture, and a load of other appealing features that other forms don't have. No eReader can match this, but with a low enough price tag, features that work at a more-than-adequate level, and more attention paid to how we read books, I might be influenced to buy an eBook-specific device. Right now, the only purpose I have in purchasing an eReader is to make it easier for publishers to send me review copies of books without incurring unnecessary shipping costs (it costs basically nothing to send me an electronic file); even that, though, is not as easy as it sounds, since publishers and their friends use annoying DRM on everything they create for the electronic market. DRM, by the way, is generally despised by anyone who regularly uses the Internet, and for good reason.

Having said all of this, I think it only fair that I point out some of the things that I do like about eReaders based on personal experience with them. I've already talked about the Nook before, and eReaders in general, but one thing that I think eReaders and devices that have the capability to display eBooks have going for them is functionality. No, they are not, as I have already pointed out, perfect, nor all that wonderful at what they do, but things like the Nook, or, hell, even the iPad (which I loathe simply because it's Apple) have great interfaces and sleek design, something that, unfortunately, the Kindle and the Sony Reader currently don't have. The result is that these two devices have a lot of potential (the iPad more so than anything else, since it can do so much). But most eReaders do have weight going for them, with the exception of the iPad, and reading from them doesn't hurt the eyes, which should alleviate any concerns people may have about them--this despite the clunky design of some of the bigger eReaders out there, like the Kindle.

Really, there are a lot of great things to be said about eReaders, despite the fact that I'm not ready to throw down $200 to get one. They have come a long way, and I absolutely believe that the next ten years will bring us superior, standard-setting devices, better functionality, and a larger market. While I don't think eBooks will destroy the print market, I do think that eReaders have the potential to increase the market of readers ten fold by tapping into a demographic of non-readers or infrequent-readers that have gone relatively unscathed by the print market (with the exception of the YA market, which has exploded and sucked in a lot of young would-be readers; I'd argue, though, that you can't really count young people in the non-reading category until they become adults, but that's another discussion entirely).

The worst-case-scenario for the print market is one in which eReaders dominate the reading market, and print is relegated to special-edition/collector status. Things like signed editions of books really don't work in the eBook market simply because their value in the print market is predicated upon limited printings, which is not possible to reproduce in electronic form (and even if you can, someone will simply hack that form and distribute it online; you can certainly scan books, but an electronic scan can never reach the same value plane as the printed article).

The best-case-scenario is a larger reading public. This is the one that I both think will happen and hope will happen. Instead of taking over, eReaders simply suck in new readers, take a few readers from the printed medium who are more inclined to read on an electronic device anyway, and, overall, triple the size of the publishing industry (which means more books, more writers, and more money for publishers and writers alike). That, in my book, is a darn good thing.

But, these are all predictions that, quite honestly, will probably turn out to be wrong. I was wrong way back in the day when I said that eBooks would never catch on (I don't have a quote because I don't think I said it on this blog); a lot of people were wrong about that one, what with eBooks taking up 3-6% of the market (I could be wrong on that figure) and establishing themselves as here to stay. For all I know, everything I say here will turn out to be a load of crap and something entirely unexpected will happen. Only time will tell.

What do you all think about eBooks? Do you think they'll destroy the print book?

Video Found: Prince of Persia Trailer

I'm not much for film adaptations of video games, but this might be one of the few such adaptations worth paying attention to. A decent cast, great effects, and careful attention paid to the source all amount to good things in my book. Let's hope the movie is as good as the trailer!

Here it is for your viewing pleasure (video is after the fold):

Video Found: "Space Monkey"

Apparently this video was made by the World Wildlife Fund (i.e. the WWF, which should not be confused with the wrestling people) in collaboration with Ben Lee, who wrote the song featured in the video ("Song for the Divine Mother of the Universe") and Leo Burnett, who made the video.

On the one hand, this is a brilliant movie. The chimpanzee used in the video looks remarkably real and the way the video progresses is really quite beautiful, if not a little disturbing. On the other hand, it's also kind of creepy.

Thanks to SF Signal for pointing me to this one.

Here goes (video after the fold):

Space Monkey from Leo Burnett on Vimeo.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Immortality: If you could live forever, would you? (Poll)

(Note: There is a poll on the left sidebar. Vote away!)

Some time ago there was a news story about a species of jellyfish that is essentially immortal. Apparently this species is able to revert back to its earliest stage of life over and over, effectively removing natural death from its biological spectrum. This would be similar to a human being having the ability to revert back to an infant and relive through childhood, adolescence, and so on, again...and again...and again.

Since scientists are hard at work trying to figure out how to reverse, or at least stop, the aging process, it seems only fair that I would bring up the age old question:
If you could live forever, would you? Why or why not?
Personally, I don't know. Assuming that to live forever means to live forever in general good health (unless I screw that up on my own by becoming a drunk or a parachute ninja), to answer that question is rather difficult. I mean, if you could live forever, but you kept aging, that would be nothing but terrible. Who wants to spend two hundred years with a walker or stuck in a chair watching re-runs of old sports games and eating Grape Nuts and prunes (because they're good for your bowel movements, after all)? Not even old people want to do that. They think they do, but in reality...they don't. They've simply come to terms with the mediocrity of elderly existence (E.E. for short).

But if I could live forever without aging terribly, without having my organs fail for reasons not of my own doing, or without having to revert back to childhood or turn into a half-robot monstrosity, I think I would. Here are a few reasons why:

--Space. The unfortunate thing about being alive in this time is that I'll get to see the space tourist industry rise to the occasion, but by the time I can afford one of these cool space trips, I'll be too damned old to survive the flight. Living forever might mean I get to see the stars with my own eyes from the safety of Earth orbit, or, if I'm lucky, maybe actual stars and other planets. Maybe I'll discover, once and for all, the planet where all the ninjas come from (you know what I'm talking about, so don't pretend like you're not on the up-and-up on Nunchuckto 9).

--Flying car. Happening in my life time? Yes. Will I be able to drive one before I get too old to have a license anymore? I doubt it. If I were immortal, well, enough said about that.

--The cure for cancer. I'm a survivor and, as such, have a soft spot in my heart for this discovery. It'll happen soon. I'd like to see us come up with the cure for everything. That would be kickass.

--Laser swords. You know some crazy guy in his basement is going to come up with one of these in 40 years, and it'll work, and we can go back to feudal times when duels were acceptable. And in 40 years, we'll be able to grow back limbs and all that, so a laser battle won't be such a bad thing. But, I'll probably be three-quarters-dead in 40 years. I want a laser sword. So. Yeah.

I am, of course, fully aware of the downsides to being immortal. For example, if you're the only immortal person in the universe, then that means you'll have to watch all your friends and family members and pets and politicians die. The last one might not be so bad, but the first three would suck, especially if you kept having to go through that century after century. Not to mention that after living for a few hundred years, there's not much you can do to avoid being that creepy old guy who hits on college chicks. You might not look old, but you really are, and if ever there was a need for an international law to protect the young from creepy old guys, it would definitely be for this.

The other downsides might be:
--Monogamy. I don't know many people who can stand being with someone for centuries and centuries. One century is pushing it, and if your significant other is immortal too, then you're in for a rude awakening.

--Crazy religious people will hate you. You'll either be loved like a God (which would be cute for about ten minutes, and then it'd get really old), or hated for being Satan (in which case you could spend an entire immortal life running from people who would rather have your head on a plate than see you outlive them). You'd likely have to keep it secret, particularly because of the next downside...

--Evil old white guys who don't want to die and crazy pseudo-scientists who want to use you as an experiment to discover the true meaning of life or whatever it is they're searching for. This all depends on the kind of immortality you have, and whether you're the only one alive or whether you're on a planet full of immortal people. But the worst case scenario doesn't look good.

So, now that I've pontificated on the great immortality debate, I want to know what you think: Would you want to be immortal? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments and check out the poll on the left sidebar!

Haul of Books 2010: Stuff For Review v.1

Time for another edition of the Haul of Books. This time I'll show you some of the books I've received for review. I haven't received a whole lot of stuff in the last few months. There have been a few books from Tor, some books from random small presses and small press authors, and other fun things. So, without wasting any more of your time, here goes:

The books are, from left to right, top to bottom, as follows (descriptions taken from Amazon.com):

1. The Hunt For the Eye of Ogin by Patrick Doud
Elwood Pitch is only thirteen years old when he is carried away to the land of Winnitok, in the otherworld of Ehm. Desperate to find a way back home to his family, Elwood's one hope is Granashon, the land's immortal protector. But Granashon is missing, and her power that protects Winnitok is fading fast. When Elwood dreams of the Eye of Ogin, a legendary object with the power to see Granashon wherever she might be, he vows to find it. With his dog Slukee and two newfound companions, Drallah Wehr of Winnitok and her talking raven Booj, Elwood sets out on an epic quest.

Legend states that the Eye was lost in the Great Swamp of Migdowsh, a land of nightmare ruled by a horrible frog demon known as the Otguk. The Great Swamp is far to the west, and a vast wilderness lies between the companions and their goal. Many dangers threaten them along the way-hungry nahrwucks, cruel green yugs and their Graycloak masters, a despotic girl queen and the powerful witch who counsels her-but by their wits and courage, as well as an unseen hand that seems to guide and protect them, the companions reach the Great Swamp at last. And then their troubles really begin…

Will they find the Eye and Granashon? Will Elwood find a way home? And how will he live with the terrible truth the Great Swamp reveals to him? Patrick Doud brings memorable characters, poetic language, and a driving narrative to this timeless tale that recalls classic epic adventure stories.
2. Goddess Fire by Meg Westley
The god of dreams has fallen silent; the goddess of nightmares ravages Egira. Her emissaries, the towering, indigo-skinned Vleth, conquer the land and transform its culture. Women wield exclusive power and men are slaves. Those who worship the god of dreams are incarcerated in underground catacombs.
3. Molly Fyde and the Parsona Rescue by Hugh Howe
Growing up an orphan in the Milky Way hasn't been easy, especially as a teenage girl in the Naval Academy. Unfortunately for Molly Fyde, things are about to get worse. Just as she's finding her place amongst the boys, her unfair expulsion from the Academy takes away the only two things that truly matter: flying in space and her training partner, Cole. Sent off to a normal school, she feels destined for a dull, unspectacular future. Then, a marvelous discovery changes everything: Her father's old starship, missing for a decade, turns up halfway across the galaxy. Its retrieval launches Molly and Cole on the adventure of a lifetime, one that will have lasting consequences for themselves and billions of others. What starts off as a simple quest to reconnect with her past, ends up forging a new future. And the forgotten family she hoped to uncover is replaced by a new one she never foresaw: a band of alien misfits and runaways... The crew of the starship Parsona.
4. Shadows & Light: Tales of Lost Kingdoms edited by Alva J. Roberts
Stories of the fantastic have captured the hearts and inspired the dreams of people since the sagas of Gilgamesh, The Odyssey, and Beowulf were first uttered. These mythic tales have helped mankind define the concepts of good and evil, and the epic struggle between the two. Shadows & Light: Tales of Lost Kingdoms continues this tradition with twenty-two fantastic tales of magic, forgotten worlds, and the conflict between the hero and the villain. From burning deserts to the center of the sea, from enchanted forests to King Arthur's court, and from dueling wizards to beleaguered cities, Shadows & Light has something for everyone who has ever wondered "what if?". Authors in this volume include: Jean Rabe, Vaughn Heppner, Max Wright, Scott Harper, Christopher Heath, Laura Eno, JW Schnarr, Jessy Marie Roberts, Bill Ward, Christopher Jacobsmeyer, Kody Boye, Lydia Sharp, Martin Turton, D.M. Bonanno, Jessica A. Weiss, Carrie Harris, Gustavo Bondoni, Paul L. Bates, Ray Kolb, Alva J. Roberts, Jonathan Shipley, and John B. Rosenman.
5. Shadow Prowler by Alexey Pehov
After centuries of calm, the Nameless One is stirring.

An army is gathering; thousands of giants, ogres, and other creatures are joining forces from all across the Desolate Lands, united, for the first time in history, under one, black banner. By the spring, or perhaps sooner, the Nameless One and his forces will be at the walls of the great city of Avendoom.

Unless Shadow Harold, master thief, can find some way to stop them.

Epic fantasy at its best, Shadow Prowler is the first in a trilogy that follows Shadow Harold on his quest for a magic Horn that will restore peace to the Kingdom of Siala. Harold will be accompanied on his quest by an Elfin princess, Miralissa, her elfin escort, and ten Wild Hearts, the most experienced and dangerous fighters in their world…and by the king’s court jester (who may be more than he seems…or less).

Reminiscent of Moorcock's Elric series, Shadow Prowler is the first work to be published in English by the bestselling Russian fantasy author Alexey Pehov. The book was translated by Andrew Bromfield, best known for his work on the highly successful Night Watch series.
6. Warriors edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois
From George R. R. Martin’s Introduction to Warriors:

“People have been telling stories about warriors for as long as they have been telling stories. Since Homer first sang the wrath of Achilles and the ancient Sumerians set down their tales of Gilgamesh, warriors, soldiers, and fighters have fascinated us; they are a part of every culture, every literary tradition, every genre. All Quiet on the Western Front, From Here to Eternity, and The Red Badge of Courage have become part of our literary canon, taught in classrooms all around the country and the world. Our contributors make up an all-star lineup of award-winning and bestselling writers, representing a dozen different publishers and as many genres. We asked each of them for the same thing—a story about a warrior. Some chose to write in the genre they’re best known for. Some decided to try something different. You will find warriors of every shape, size, and color in these pages, warriors from every epoch of human history, from yesterday and today and tomorrow, and from worlds that never were. Some of the stories will make you sad, some will make you laugh, and many will keep you on the edge of your seat.”

Included are a long novella from the world of Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, a new tale of Lord John by Diana Gabaldon, and an epic of humanity at bay by David Weber. Also present are original tales by David Ball, Peter S. Beagle, Lawrence Block, Gardner Dozois, Joe Haldeman, Robin Hobb, Cecelia Holland, Joe R. Lansdale, David Morrell, Naomi Novik, James Rollins, Steven Saylor, Robert Silverberg, S.M. Stirling, Carrie Vaughn, Howard Waldrop, and Tad Williams.

Many of these writers are bestsellers. All of them are storytellers of the highest quality. Together they make a volume of unforgettable reading.
7. The Magician of Lhasa by David Michie
When novice monk Tenzin Dorje is told by his lama that the Red Army is invading Tibet, his country's darkest moment paradoxically gives him a sense of purpose like no other. He accepts a mission to carry two ancient, secret texts across the Himalayas to safety. Half a century later, in a paradox of similarly troubling circumstances, Matt Lester is called upon to convey his own particular wisdom as a scientist, when Matt's nanotech project is mysteriously moved from London to a research incubator in Los Angeles. Tenzin and Matt embark on parallel adventures which have spine-chilling connections. Tenzin's perilous journey through the Himalayas, amid increasing physical hardship and the ever-present horror of Red Army capture, is mirrored by Matt's contemporary, but no less traumatic challenges, as his passionate relationship with his fiancée, Isabella, and his high flying career undergo escalating crises. It is at the moment when both Tenzin and Matt face catastrophe that their stories converge, spectacularly transforming our understanding of all that has gone before.
8. Alex Detail's Revolution by Darren Campo
17 year old Alex Detail has been kidnapped and sent off to fight in a hopeless war against The Harvesters, an alien force that is trying to extinguish Earth's Sun.

Unfortunately for Alex's kidnappers (and the world) he has lost the mega IQ that allowed him to win the last war with The Harvesters ten years ago when he was just 7 years old.

But now the House of Nations is out of options. The end of life is imminent.

Alex must save his ship, fight his evil clone and survive the war long enough to make it to Pluto, where, underneath the planets frozen surface lies the only force in the solar system that can stop The Harvesters.
Well, there you have it. By the way, I am totally looking forward to digging into Warriors. The book is both enormous and filled with a lot of great authors, many of which are on my list of favorites. It's hard not to look at that list of authors and not drool. Hopefully it will be as good as it looks.

So, anything here peak your interest?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Haul of Books 2010: Stuff For Me v.2

Time for another edition of the Haul of Books. Since I'm playing catchup for 2010, a lot of these are either old news for me, or just things I forgot to talk about in the last few weeks that I very well should have.

This batch is a mixture of stuff I bought, stuff I snagged at the conference I recently attended, and stuff that I'm either subscribed to or that came in the mail for whatever reason. Here goes:

Here's some brief descriptions of the images in the picture, moving from left to right, top to bottom.

1. SFRA Review, Winter 2010, #291 (subscribed)
The SFRA Review is available to all members of the Science Fiction Research Association. This particular issue contains a pretty interesting, though sadly brief, article on the New Weird movement (it'll be useful to me, since I'm writing a paper on that very topic). Other elements include professional book and movie reviews for all kinds of things, such as Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan and the movies 9, Zombieland, and loads of others. Obviously it's a little dated now, but it's still a very interesting little magazine.
2. The Journal of American Culture, March 2010, Vol. 33:1 (subscribed)
This is the first issue I have received from them. It contains several academic articles on everything from county fairs to the emergence of outdoor grilling in postwar America, and other things (this was a special themed issue on parties and celebrations in American culture, so the articles clearly lean towards that). There are also a number of book reviews, two essays on media education and American politics, and a lot of interesting stuff to look forward to. Apparently Abe Lincoln is making a come back this year; there are a few books dedicated specifically to honest Abe in this issue.
3. Bull Spec, Issue One (bought online)
I'm going to send you to their website for a description. The table of contents looks interesting, and hopefully I'll get a chance to read this soon.
4. The Journal of Popular Culture, February 2010, Vol. 43, #1 (subscribed)
Another first for me. The articles here are a little more up my alley than those in the American Culture journal above. The articles range from British opera to the film Salem's Lot to Japanese dolls on Western toy shelves. I'll definitely read the Salem's Lot essay soon. Book reviews are, as usual for academic publications such as this, in copious supply, and there are some interesting titles on film noir, Alan Moore, and Japanese horror cinema. Looking forward to this one for sure!
5. Science Fiction Studies, March 2010, Vol. 37, Part One, #110 (subscribed)
I've seen SFS before, but this is the first time I've ever been subscribed. I don't think I'll ever go without it again. As an emerging science fiction scholar, it seems stupid that I have gone so long without this fascinating academic journal filling my mail box.

This particular issue has a section devoted to science fiction and history (apparently as a result of the 2009 SFS Symposium), book reviews for a number of non-fiction books on various aspects of science fiction (pretty much all of them critical works, with the exception of The Routledge Companion to SF, which I suspect is less critical than everything else on the list). The essays seem heavily focused on cyberpunk and issues of selfhood in tech-oriented hacker culture and cyberspace. I've always wanted to spend time looking into cyberpunk, but the problem with that particular genre is that it has either already been mined for ideas, or it has, as a distinct genre, more or less died out in American literary circles (we still read it and elements appear elsewhere, but there are few American cyberpunk writers doing anything of note in that genre). Cyberpunk is still big in the Eastern European bloc, though. Another goodie for my academic brain!
6. FemSpec, 2002, Vol. 3, Issue 2 (bought at the PCA/ACA conference)
I'm new to FemSpec. I've known about it for a while, but I didn't know what kind of journal it was until the PCA/ACA conference. This issue contains fiction from Tananarive Due (who I absolutely love; read "Like Daughter"), and articles on everything from Planet of the Apes, the Empresss of China, utopian impulses in Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents, and even an article by Darko Suvin, who is, if you don't know, one of the foremost science fiction scholars still breathing. I may subscribe to this journal. It seems like one that I need to have filling my academic coffers...
7. The 40th Annual PCA/ACA Conference Program Book (received at the conference)
Not much to say about this one. You can't buy it anywhere. It contains all of the programming for the entire conference, along with contact information for pretty much everyone that was there (it's a long list) and other nifty information (there are some advertisements in there too, and contact information for professional purposes).
There you go. Did you get anything interesting this week? Let me know in the comments!

International SF/F: Does it get an out from the "cliche" argument?

I've been meaning to talk about this subject for a while, and it is result of an experience I had a few weeks ago when the fine folks over at Tor sent me Alexey Pehov's Shadow Prowler.

I am, by all accounts, somewhat more critical of fantasy for its lack of originality than I am of other genres. It's not an unusual position to take, since so many arguments launched against various fantasy titles typically include terms like "derivative" or "Tolkien-esque" and so on. The genre is saturated with familiar tropes. But, as I've argued many times before, a good writer can take a fairly cliche idea and make it good. Additionally, Sometimes the way a book presents itself (i.e. via the cover and the cover synopsis) can alleviate a lot of the knee-jerk reactions readers may have when they discover a new fantasy title. It is this reaction that I want to talk about here.
When I received Shadow Prowler in the mail, I was immediately pleased by the cover (see above), which led me straight to the text on the cover jacket. That is where the problems started. The description of Pehov's story is, to put it mildly, about as cliche as it gets. Read for yourself:
After centuries of calm, the Nameless One is stirring.

An army is gathering; thousands of giants, ogres, and other creatures are joining forces from all across the Desolate Lands, united, for the first time in history, under one, black banner. By the spring, or perhaps sooner, the Nameless One and his forces will be at the walls of the great city of Avendoom.

Unless Shadow Harold, master thief, can find some way to stop them.
Epic fantasy at its best, Shadow Prowler is the first in a trilogy that follows Shadow Harold on his quest for a magic Horn that will restore peace to the Kingdom of Siala. Harold will be accompanied on his quest by an Elfin princess, Miralissa, her elfin escort, and ten Wild Hearts, the most experienced and dangerous fighters in their world…and by the king’s court jester (who may be more than he seems…or less).
Great. Another novel about some Nameless One with elfin princesses and a city so cleverly called Avendoom (ha ha ha, get it, Avendoom...and the city is threatened by the Nameless One). But then I read this and my reaction changed:
Reminiscent of Moorcock's Elric series, Shadow Prowler is the first work to be published in English by the bestselling Russian fantasy author Alexey Pehov. The book was translated by Andrew Bromfield, best known for his work on the highly successful Night Watch series.
Something about the explanation of the texts' origins caused me to pause. A Russian fantasy epic originally published in Russian? A link to another fantastic series by another Russian SF/F great? Suddenly I was interesting and a little inner dialogue shot off in my head:
Me: Oh, well, he's a Russian author writing fantasy. That's interesting.
My Head: So?
Me: So, I want to read it.
My Head: But a minute ago you rolled your eyes and sighed because it sounded too cliche.
Me: Yeah, but that was before I knew he was Russian.
My Head: So, if you're Russian, you can get away with it?
Me: Apparently.
My Head: You realize how stupid that sounds, right?
Me: Quiet, you. You're just my head talking.
While the dialogue didn't proceed exactly as described above, it does provide a basis for the complete turnaround I had when I discovered the novel's origins: translated from Russian. I even gawked at my own idiocy. Why was I suddenly okay with a novel that sounds horribly cliched? Why did the fact that it is an international book change my mind? Stranger yet is the fact that I am/was fully aware of the long tradition of genre fiction in Russian history, dating back centuries. But, there I was, suddenly excited about a novel that only moments before I was about to toss onto my "likely will never read because it's too cliche" pile. Maybe it's a good thing, though. Maybe more reactions like this should happen so that novels like Shadow Prowler don't get lost in the sea of English-based fantasy titles loaded with just as many cliches. Something about that makes me feel strange, though.

To end this, I have a few questions:
--Does international SF/F get an out from the "cliche" argument simply because it is international? (apply this to any international SF/F, not just Russian)
--Is it a good thing that one can go from being annoyed to being excited about a book due entirely to the discovery of its international origins?

I feel uneasy saying yes to the first question, simply because of the stages many developing or developed nations go through in terms of genre fiction (you can, largely speaking, trace the same general literary developments in science fiction in just about every nation, with some exceptions). And, I feel uneasy saying no to the last question, because excitement for any text is a good thing; if my interest in this text leads me to read it and, perhaps, love it, it might engender a willingness to open my mind to more fiction in this particular vein and more fiction from international venues (which I'm already fairly open to, though I don't go out of my way to find the stuff, with exception to Caribbean SF--more on that some other time).

What do you think? Am I insane? Has this ever happened to you?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Shared Worlds Teams Up With Science Fiction and Fantasy Greats!

Matt Staggs recently sent me this via email:
Sci Fi and Fantasy's Best Writers Join Forces with Shared Worlds Writing Camp for Bestiary of Strange Beasts!

Here there be monsters! And beasts! And fantastical creatures. The faculty of Shared Worlds creative writing camp has called on some of speculative fiction's most compelling storytellers to chase down and gather up all manner of wondrous beasts, and you can examine them all here.

Featuring contributions from:

Elizabeth Bear, Michael Bishop, Tobias Buckell, Jesse Bullington, Gail Carringer, Cory Doctorow, Steven R. Erikson & Ian C. Esslemont, Ed Greenwood, Daryl Gregory, Lev Grossman, Elizabeth Hand, Will Hindmarch, Kathe Koja, Nancy Kress, Jay Lake, Jeff LaSala, James Morrow, Nnedi Okorafor, James O’Neal, Robert V. S. Redick, Ekaterina Sedia, Paul G. Tremblay, Marly Youmans and Zoran Zivkovic.

Shared Worlds is a summer think tank at Wofford College for teenagers who have an interest in fantasy and science fiction literature. For two weeks, students create imaginary worlds and write fiction under the guidance of writers and professors.

As part of the program, this year’s students will illustrate the fantastic beasts in our bestiary, so be sure to return at the end of the summer to see what they’ve done!

Instructors for 2010 will include Spiderwick Chronicles creator Holly Black, critically acclaimed YA and adult authors Kathe Koja and Marly Youmans, Nebula Award winner Michael Bishop, writer and gaming expert Will Hindmarch, and World Fantasy Award winner Jeff VanderMeer. Artist Scott Eagle will also conduct a workshop during the camp.

Register online today!
Jeff VanderMeer talks a little more about it here.

Talk about an impressive list of people! The teens who get to go to this thing are lucky bastards indeed. Where's Shared Worlds For Old People when you need it? This will definitely be one of the biggest events of the year.

Haul of Books 2010: Stuff For Me v.1

I'm rebooting the Haul of Books feature to show you all what I've been buying or getting in the mail (for review or otherwise). My hope is that you'll at least find some interesting new reads to add to your own collection.

Since I'm rebooting this, I am also changing the format. I'd appreciate comments on the format, if you can spare the minute or two to scribble something down at the bottom of this post. If you don't like it or have suggestions, let me know!

So, without further ado, here is the first of my Haul of Books posts for 2010:
These books should seem familiar, because I talked about them very briefly here. I bought all of these (and a couple others to come later) at the Popular Culture and American Culture Association Conference in St. Louis earlier this month. Back cover information about the books, in order from left to right, top to bottom, follows (taken from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk):

1. Cyberculture, Cyborgs and Science Fiction: Consciousness and the Posthuman by William S. Haney II
Addressing a key issue related to human nature, this book argues that the first-person experience of pure consciousness may soon be under threat from posthuman biotechnology. In exploiting the mind’s capacity for instrumental behavior, posthumanists seek to extend human experience by physically projecting the mind outward through the continuity of thought and the material world, as through telepresence and other forms of prosthetic enhancements. Posthumanism envisions a biology/machine symbiosis that will promote this extension, arguably at the expense of the natural tendency of the mind to move toward pure consciousness. As each chapter of this book contends, by forcibly overextending and thus jeopardizing the neurophysiology of consciousness, the posthuman condition could in the long term undermine human nature, defined as the effortless capacity for transcending the mind’s conceptual content. Presented here for the first time, the essential argument of this book is more than a warning; it gives a direction: far better to practice patience and develop pure consciousness and evolve into a higher human being than to fall prey to the Faustian temptations of biotechnological power. As argued throughout the book, each person must choose for him or herself between the technological extension of physical experience through mind, body and world on the one hand, and the natural powers of human consciousness on the other as a means to realize their ultimate vision.
2. Red Planets: Marxism and Science Fiction edited by Mark Bould and China Mieville
Science fiction and socialism have always had a close relationship. Many of novelists and filmmakers are leftists. Others examine explicit or implicit Marxist concerns. As a genre, if is ideally suited to critiquing the present through its explorations of the social and political possibilities of the future. This is the first collection to combine analysis of science fiction literature and films within a broader overview of Marxist theorizations and critical perspectives on the genre. This is an accessible and lively introduction for anyone studying the politics of science fiction, covering a rich variety of examples from Weimar cinema to mainstream Hollywood films, and novelists from Jules Verne and H.G. Wells to Kim Stanley Robinson, Ken MacLeod and Charles Stross.
3. History, the Human, and the World Between by R. Radhakrishnan
History, the Human, and the World Between is a philosophical investigation of the human subject and its simultaneous implication in multiple and often contradictory ways of knowing. The eminent postcolonial theorist R. Radhakrishnan argues that human subjectivity is always constituted “between”: between subjective and objective, temporality and historicity, being and knowing, the ethical and the political, nature and culture, the one and the many, identity and difference, experience and system. In this major study, he suggests that a reconstituted phenomenology has a crucial role to play in mediating between generic modes of knowledge production and an experiential return to life. Keenly appreciative of poststructuralist critiques of phenomenology, Radhakrishnan argues that there is still something profoundly vulnerable at stake in the practice of phenomenology.

Radhakrishnan develops his rationale of the “between” through three linked essays where he locates the terms “world,” “history,” “human,” and “subject” between phenomenology and poststructuralism, and in the process sets forth a nuanced reading of the politics of a gendered postcolonial humanism. Critically juxtaposing the works of thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Adrienne Rich, Frantz Fanon, Edward Said, Michel Foucault, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Martin Heidegger, David Harvey, and Ranajit Guha, Radhakrishnan examines the relationship between systems of thought and their worldly situations. History, the Human, and the World Between is a powerful argument for a theoretical perspective that combines the existential urgency of phenomenology with the discursive rigor of poststructuralist practices.
4. Cylons in America: Critical Studies in Battlestar Galactica edited by Tiffany Potter and C. W. Marshall
"Cylons in America" is the first collection of critical studies of Battlestar Galactica (its 2003 miniseries, and the ongoing 2004 television series), examining its place within popular culture and its engagement with contemporary American society. With its fourth season due to air in January 2008, the award-winning Battlestar Galactica continues to be exceptionally popular for non-network television, combining the familiar features of science fiction with direct commentary on life in mainstream America. "Cylons in America" is the first collection of critical studies of Battlestar Galactica (its 2003 miniseries, and the ongoing 2004 television series), examining its place within popular culture and its engagement with contemporary American society.Battlestar Galactica depicts the remnants of the human race fleeing across space from a robotic enemy called the Cylons. The fleet is protected by a single warship, the Battlestar, and is searching for a "lost colony" that settled on the legendary planet "Earth." Originally a television series in the 1970s, the current series maintains the mythic sense established with the earlier quest narrative, but adds elements of hard science and aggressive engagement with post-9/11 American politics. "Cylons In America" casts a critical eye on the revived series and is sure to appeal to fans of the show, as well as to scholars and researchers of contemporary television.
5. Conversations with Samuel R. Delany edited by Carl Freedman
A key figure in modern science fiction and fantasy, Samuel R. Delany (b. 1942) is also one of the most acclaimed figures in contemporary literary theory and gay/lesbian literature. As a gay African American writer, Delany's cerebral, experimental prose crosses lines of genre, gender, sexuality, and class. Several of his works--Dhalgren, The Einstein Intersection, Babel-17, Stars in My Pocket like Grains of Sand, and the Nevèrÿon quartet are considered landmarks of "new wave" science fiction. His essays and critical works approach a wide variety of subjects from a perspective that is both resolutely philosophical and deeply provocative.

Conversations with Samuel R. Delany collects interviews with the writer from 1980 to 2007. Delany considers the interview an especially fruitful form for the generation of ideas, and he has made it an integral part of his own work. In fact, two of his critical works are collections of interviews and correspondence. He insists that all interviews with him be written correspondence so that he is allowed the time and space to deliberate on each response. As a result, the conversations presented here are as rigorously constructed, elusive, and intellectually stimulating as his essays.
6. Conversations with Octavia Butler edited by Consuela Francis
Octavia Butler (1947-2006) spent the majority of her prolific career as the only major black female author of science fiction. Winner of both the Nebula and Hugo Awards as well as a MacArthur "genius" grant, the first for a science fiction writer, Butler created worlds that challenged notions of race, sex, gender, and humanity. Whether in the postapocalyptic future of the Parable stories, in the human inability to assimilate change and difference in the Xenogenesis books, or in the destructive sense of superiority in the Patternist series, Butler held up a mirror, reflecting what is beautiful, corrupt, worthwhile, and damning about the world we inhabit.

In interviews ranging from 1980 until just before her sudden death in 2006, Conversations with Octavia Butler reveals a writer very much aware of herself as the "rare bird" of science fiction even as she shows frustration with the constant question,"How does it feel to be the only one?" Whether discussing humanity's biological imperatives or the difference between science fiction and fantasy or the plight of the working poor in America, Butler emerges in these interviews as funny, intelligent, complicated, and intensely original.
7. Conversations with Ursula K. Le Guin edited by Carl Freedman
Conversations with Ursula K. Le Guin assembles interviews with the renowned science-fiction and fantasy author of The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed, The Lathe of Heaven, and the Earthsea sequence of novels and stories. For nearly five decades, Le Guin (b. 1929) has enjoyed immense success--both critical and popular--in science fiction and fantasy. But she has also published well-received works in such genres as realistic fiction, poetry, children's literature, criticism, and translation. In the pieces collected here, Le Guin takes every interview not as an opportunity to recapitulate long-held views but as an occasion for in-depth intellectual discourse.

In interviews spanning over twenty-five years of her literary career, including a previously unpublished piece conducted by the volume's editor, Le Guin talks about such diverse subjects as U.S. foreign policy, the history of architecture, the place of women and feminist consciousness in American literature, and the differences between science fiction and fantasy.
And there you go. Anything seem interesting to you?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Why SF/F Awards Are Meaningless To Me

I used to care about the awards. Seeing "Hugo Award Winner" or "Winner of the Nebula Award" on a book used to excite me and make me want to pick something up and buy it. But not anymore. Things have changed.

In the last year or so, I've sort of lost interest in the awards (most of them, anyway). The Hugos, Nebulas, and Locus Awards haven't really made me excited about SF/F literature the way they used to. That's not to say that I'm not excited about SF/F literature, just that the awards aren't making me excited about particular works; those of you reading this are probably just as aware of my SF/F lit obsession as my closest friends. Adding to this, there are all these dozens of other awards (Clarke, PKD, Gemmell, and so on), and none of them seem to matter to me as a reader (as a writer is a different story).

With James Long over at Speculative Horizons stirring up the controversy pot, I don't feel particularly alone in the discussion of the value of SF/F awards. But what is it about the awards that I find meaningless?

For starters, as a reader with only one brain in this head and one set of eyes, I can't possibly read all the books and stories that are nominated for the various major awards. The result is that I feel completely out of the loop, as if somehow I missed the SF/F Cool Train and ended up on the SF/F Ghetto Express. I read a lot of great books, some of which have been nominated in the past, but the awards have a tendency to leave readers like me so far outside of the spectrum of recognition that I find it rather difficult to get excited about the vast majority of the stuff on the various nomination lists. Maybe that's normal (the result and not so much the reason leading to it), and it's likely something that can't ever be resolved, regardless of whether an award is voted on by the public or given out by committee.

Second, I get the feeling that the awards have been spread so thin by the Internet as to render them valueless. There are too many damned awards now, all with some level of prominence. There's the Hugo, the Nebula, the Locus, the Gemmell, the Clarke, the PKD, the Sturgeon, the Tiptree, the Campbell, and dozens of smaller awards, nationality specific awards (these seem reasonable considering what they are for), genre specific awards, and so on, all of which have some notoriety, if not the same pull as the big three (Hugo, Nebula, and Locus, which aren't really the big three anymore). The field is too full of these things (and I'm certainly contributing by hosting the WISB Awards here, the most useless awards ever). Who am I, as the reader, supposed to pay attention to? Why? Which awards matter? Which don't? Which are there to highlight authors for readers, and which are there to highlight authors to fellow authors? I don't know. Maybe someone that attends the ceremonies can; regardless, with so many awards, it's difficult to determine their value.

I'm sure there are other reasons swimming around in my head, but I'll leave the ending open for discussion. Whether you agree or disagree, I'd like to know your opinion. Are awards valuable to you? Why or why not?

Update: I mistakenly put Worldcon on the list, despite the reality that there is no such award. Worldcon is where the Hugos are presented. Thanks to Kevin Standlee for pointing that out.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Science Fiction and Fantasy in Airports

As promised, I do have something interesting to point out about the presence of science fiction and fantasy in airports, and something that might be a good indicator of the power of books among travelers.

First things first, I can honestly say that I've seen a significant increase in the number of book-specific shops in airports. I don't know if this is national or international, but I've traveled a little bit over the last few years and I have noticed two things: 1) that there are more book-specific shops springing up all over the place, and 2) that some areas are insanely more book-friendly than others (St. Louis and Atlanta, for example, have a lot of book shops and places that carry books).

But what is more interesting than this is how strong of a presence science fiction and fantasy have. When you walk into a book-specific shop, there is almost always a section specific to science fiction and fantasy (and a section for YA, which is usually loaded to the teeth with fantasy titles). Sometimes the section is quite small, and other times it's about the same size as all of the other sections (non-fiction, general fiction, and so on).

The only downside to this is that these shops have a tendency to carry very little in terms of new work, which means that many of these SF/F sections are more like the classic literature section that most of these places have. It's unfortunate, but there must be a reason for it; you don't carry old SF/F (as in classic SF/F) if you're not selling it. This isn't to say that these stores don't carry newer titles; they do, but they typically only carry the more prominent new titles, such as works from various high-profile urban fantasy authors or big names in SF literature. But, what's to complain about? They have SF/F in the bookstores in airports!

Now that I've pointed out the more obvious aspects of SF/F's presence in airports, I think it's worth noting the much more hidden and telling presence: book sections within non-book-specific shops.

While I was in St. Louis a few weeks back, I decided to check out this little tech shop (headphones, phones, DVDs, games, things like that--InMotion Entertainment, I think) in the airport and was surprised to discover that they had a book section that was not only SF/F friendly, but possibly one of the best SF/F book sections I have seen for the size (four shelves no more than three feet wide). What was so special about it? The titles they carried represented a wide range of unique titles you might not find in your local bookstore, and all of the books had gorgeous covers. They had, for example, Paul McAuley's Gardens of the Sun:
They had loads of other titles too, many of which I hadn't heard of until then and most of which looked fascinating (yes, I've heard of McAuley's work, but I didn't write down the titles of all the others, and I've since forgotten them). I might have bought a book or two if I hadn't already spent over $100 on books during the PCA/ACA conference. The selection was simply fantastic. If you wanted something new and a little less popcorn-y, then you'd have to go to this shop.

The point of all of this is that airports are incredibly SF/F friendly. While the selection is not always the greatest (depending on the airport), there are almost always SF/F titles somewhere. I'm not sure what this says about our culture. These stores don't carry SF/F if it doesn't sell, so people must be requesting and buying the stuff. Do SF/F books make great travel reads in the same way that others genres have been for decades? Perhaps.

What do you think?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Random Excerpt: The Lands of the Alger

I had the pleasure of word warring1 with some folks from Young Writers Online the other day and I thought I'd share the 500-word bit that I wrote (it came out of nowhere). I'm calling it The Lands of the Alger for now, and I have no idea if it is going somewhere. All I know is that I had a blast writing it. If you'd like to comment, feel free. I'd love to hear all of your thoughts on this.

Here goes:
The towers of Alger stood for two thousand years against the bitter cold of the mountains beyond. Their shadows were cast as long, watchful beasts across the great valley below, and within the confines of the arched walls outside, one would be assured of safety from the barbarian hordes or the impending wars from the North and South, from the Bespectacled King and the Lords of the Olgen. And on a fine winter’s morning, when the air swung low, dragging a chill breeze that cleansed even the most terrible of colds and drove a spike of warmth, solitude, and wonder into the most staunch of hearts in memory of the thousands who had lived here among the tribes of the Alger, the small white and blue flowers of the Hegemon awoke from the snows and dispensed their glittering seeds into the world.

Orin Dol stood along the gates at just such a moment, tears in his old eyes. He was covered head to toe in thick, tanned wool, which hid his wrinkled, decaying features from the trade caravans moving along the Alger River below. They were heading north, to the black lands where the Bespectacled King was awaiting his offering from the tribes of Irion, who he had finally achieved dominion over in a long, petty dispute over lands along the outer edge of the mountains.

What fools, he thought. Fools indeed. Trading their lives to a king of lesser blood. His ancestors would never have done such a thing. It was unheard of until the Garion of Calin became High King of the tribes of the Alger and sold his soul to the devils. In olden days—so long ago now, as Orin recalled—the High King kept the borders stocked with warriors and the great walls of the ancestors manned and in prime shape—the repairs never ended. The lands of the Alger were not prized for their fertility, for the land was so arid in parts that even the hardiest crops could not grow, even with the aid of irrigation from the fertile lands beyond. The Bespectacled King and the Lords of the Olgen pried the lands of the Alger for the pure desire of ownership. There was a bloodlust in their eyes when they saw what new territories they could add to their coffers.

Looking deep within the walled center, Orin could see that very look on the face of just such a lord—Lord Pinwaul of the southern lands. The young, vibrant looking man could have rivaled the Bespectacled King in garb, adorned from head to toe in pristine armor engrained with gold filigree—shaped like the monstrous orbax of the southern plains, a great beast with curled and spiked horns and eyes that bled steam—and a crimson cloak framed with the spotted fur of the snow leopards that once hunted in the upper tundra of the southernmost portions of the lands of the Alger—before the Lords of the Olgen wiped them out.
That's it!

1. A word war is a writing game which involves two or more people. The participants select a period of time (usually 10-15 minutes) and then, at the same time, do nothing but write for that amount of time. In the end, everyone counts up their words and the person with the most words wins. The object isn't necessarily to win so much as write something. It's also a great way to kick writer's block (if you believe in such things).

Book Review Up: Harbinger by Jack Skillingstead

A very unique read and one I would recommend to anyone who likes lighter-flavored SF. You can read my review here. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

PCA/ACA Conference: Day Five and Six (The End)

Well, to wrap up my brief recap of the PCA/ACA conference, I have some general impressions, a discussion of a screening of the director's cut of Aliens, a few more words about some panels I visited on the last day, and some new reading for the reading list! We'll do it in that order. Also, I have a post in the works about the presence of science fiction and fantasy in airports, which clearly hinges off of this trip. Look forward to that in the next few days. Now, to the final days of the conference!

The conference was pretty much all kinds of awesome. I learned a lot of amazing things and made some great contacts (professional and otherwise). Career-wise, I think this conference has been more influential than any of the others I have attended. I made contacts with two publishers who are working on two separate projects: McFarland and Intellect. The former has a running series of scholarly work on various aspects of science fiction and I may be submitting a proposal to them early next year (once I finish my MA). The publisher of that particular track ran a brief Q&A session where scholars could basically ask questions to the editors involved (very helpful indeed). The second is an academic journal publisher who primarily focuses on film, culture, and horror; the fellow who was there indicated to me, however, that they are trying to put together a science fiction journal (which would make the grand total of serious academic journals for SF to six: Foundation, Extrapolation, Science Fiction Studies, FemSpec, and Science Fiction and Television)--I brought his contact information to some of my professors at the University of Florida (apparently they're working on building a science fiction track here, which is totally awesome). Additionally, I found out about two book projects that are looking for essays and I intend to submit to both!

Beyond that, I had a blast hanging out with people and talking about science fiction and all sorts of other topics. I made some excellent new friends and I may propose a panel next year on ninjas (from an academic standpoint, obviously; yes, there is a lot to say about ninjas). We'll see. Any emerging scholars out there might consider checking out the PCA/ACA conference next year, which will be in San Antonio, TX. It'll a lot of fun!

Now, for other things.

The last night of the conference ended with a viewing of the director's cut of Aliens, one of the best science fiction movies ever made. I've never seen this particular version, and it is certainly enjoyable to see (they added in a few scenes that give more context to the overall narrative, which definitely makes it better). The best part of going to a film screening like this, however, is being in a room full of like-minded fans. Why? Because when you've seen a movie like Aliens a few dozen times (or even once), some lines of dialogue in the early parts of the movie actually become quite comical. Take, for example, when Burke says he'll keep Ripley safe and that they're going to the colony to destroy, not collect; having seen the movie, you know that's all a load of bullcrap, and when you're in a room full of people who know this too, laughter ensues. You should try it. Best film screening ever!

Moving on to the recap of the panels:

--The most fascinating paper on the last day of the conference dealt with the interesting relationship of various characters to books/literacy in a wide-range of post-apocalyptic fiction. The presenter made an interesting argument that, in post-apocalyptic literature, books and other written mediums become a kind of survival mechanism (at least in some cases). Very interesting approach.

--The last panel I saw was actually a roundtable on teaching horror films. I didn't attend any pedagogical panels at the SWTXPCA conference in February, but I attended this one because it seemed more geared to my interests. I have no idea how I can work in a horror film in a composition course, but the advice they gave was excellent. We'll see if I can work it out.

Reading/Watching List:
--Supernatural
--Earth Abides
--"The Long Emergency"
--After London
--The Edukators

And that's basically it. The sixth day mentioned in the title was actually my last day in St. Louis; the conference ended on day five. The trip back was pretty much uneventful, but somewhat depressing. I didn't want to leave. I really enjoyed the conference and I hate going home knowing that so many of these fascinating people are floating out there in other places, inaccessible to immediate conversation. I hope I'll have the opportunity to meet some of the same folks again in the future (I talk to a number of them online now, but that's not the same).

In any case, that's all I have. So, back to regular programming!

P.S.: I had my first ever Shepherd's Pie at this conference and also experienced a tapas (small portion) restaurant. The former was pretty freaking good and the latter was tasty, but not quite worth the money; I am not tapas friendly.