About Jeff VanderMeer

Jeff VanderMeer's sense of adventure is so strong that as a kid he hoped he'd lose his eye in a tragic accident so he could wear a pirate patch. Maybe that's why as an adult he likes fantasy, SF, horror, magic realism, slipstream, interstitial, and whatever-you're-calling-it-over-smokes-and-coffee-this-morning. An author inspired by everything from Nabokov through Hindu superhero comics and Hong Kong cult action films, he has been known to write about squid, frogs, and fungus. Once, he wanted to be a marine biologist, but only so he could putter around in tidal pools.

Posts by Jeff

True Blood: An Interview with Charlaine Harris

Since the first appearance of Sookie Stackhouse in Charlaine Harris's Dead Until Dark, readers have been addicted to this exciting and charming series set in the South. But that addiction has reached fever pitch with the debut of the new HBO series by Alan Ball, True Blood, based on Harris's "Southern Vampire Mysteries" series. Earlier this year I was lucky enough to meet Harris briefly at a convention in New York, and found her to be down-to-earth, approachable, and generous to her fans.

I recently interviewed Harris about both her books and the TV series via email. She answered my questions "sitting in my office, which is across the carport from the main house. It was intended as a mother-in-law apartment. It's one large room with a bathroom and a big closet that used to be the tool shed; I had the outside door blocked and an inside door cut. It was an inadequate tool shed, anyway. My office is "decorated" with photos of New Orleans tomb art, the usual awards and stuff, and some incredible mementos. Plus, a picture of our three children, all beautiful and talented. Of course."

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        (Dead Until Dark, original cover and "True Blood" cover)

Continue reading "True Blood: An Interview with Charlaine Harris" »

Behind the Scenes: Writing a Predator Tie-in Novel

Inasmuch as I'm known as anything in the writing world, it's as a "literary fantasist". In fact, my last novel, Shriek: An Afterword, was about as literary as you can get and still be published by a large New York publisher. So it came as a surprise to some of my readers that this month Dark Horse has published Predator: South China Sea, written by yours truly. This novel is unabashedly action-adventure with a SF veneer. It's my idea of the ideal third Predator movie, preferably as directed by the ghost of Sam Peckinpah.

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The Dark Horse edition (art by Stephen Youll), the Romanian edition from Millenium, and a joke "limited edition" (John Coulthart)

Why did I take on this project? First of all, I like the Predator movies quite a bit. I think the second one is underrated simply because it has a very outdated sense of fashion. I also welcomed the opportunity to invert my normal ratio of action and experiment with cutting scenes and creating tension in ways different than in my other novels. I knew my next novel, which I'm completing now, would be a mix of fantasy and noir mystery, with an intricate plot. Doing the Predator novel would teach me a lot. Finally, the contrast to Shriek appealed to me--I hate doing the same thing twice.

As it turned out, I had a lot of fun writing Predator: South China Sea. It features a battle-tested Predator against an island full of ex-military men, spies, crooks, and pirates. I managed to reveal a little more about Predators generally, which should appeal to the core fans, and I added touches that are specific to my original work: like a fungus-based invasive species that comes to Earth as a result of the Predator's sloppy hygiene. It's got shoot-outs in ancient temple ruins, fights with 28-foot-long African crocodiles, double and triple crosses, and characters I grew very fond of by the time I'd finished writing the novel.

I got so immersed in writing this novel that I remember that about six weeks before I was supposed to turn it in, I went out to my car to run an errand and was relieved to see I had a flat tire. A flat tire meant I couldn't leave the house. So I went right back in and kept working on the novel. I didn't have the tire fixed until six weeks later. I only left the house on weekends, with my wife driving her car. I converted one room into a gym and did my weightlifting in the mid-afternoons before going back to writing.

Continue reading "Behind the Scenes: Writing a Predator Tie-in Novel" »

Geoff Ryman at Omnivoracious: The Week in Review

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  (Just a few examples of past editions of Geoff Ryman's fiction...)

All this week, we've been featuring Geoff Ryman and his new US release The King's Final Song. Many thanks for his time and effort in sharing his teaching experiences and Cambodian adventures.

Here's a quick Ryman "Week in Review" in case you missed it:

Introductions

Cambodian Tales, Part I

Cambodian Tales, Part 2

Cambodian Tales, Part 3

Teaching at the University of California, San Diego

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Geoff Ryman, Author of The King's Last Song, on Teaching in San Diego

In celebration of award-winning novelist Geoff Ryman's latest US release The King's Last Song (Small Beer Press), we're running a series of exclusive short essays from the author. Check out all of Ryman's fiction available through Amazon.

Ryman currently teaches at the University of California at San Diego, and did a stint as an instructor for a week at the famed Clarion Writers Workshop, also at UCSD.

As he told Locus in an earlier interview, “Making your living from a nine-to-five job rather than from writing wears thin after a while. If your job feeds your writing...it's great. Mostly it doesn't, and then you have maybe ten hours a week to write on Saturday and Sunday. That works as long as everything in your personal and professional life is fine too. But sooner or later, all you've done for 20 years is work. When do you have time to read? These days, any job you have, you work overtime. So I've changed it, and I'm working part time as a writing teacher.”

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         (Geoff Ryman; photo from Gaylaxicon site)

Continue reading "Geoff Ryman, Author of The King's Last Song, on Teaching in San Diego" »

Mysterious Company: An Interview with K.J. Parker

Orbit continues to impress in their new US-UK incarnation, aggressively supporting a variety of strong titles in science fiction and fantasy. One of the best of their current releases is The Company by K.J. Parker. Only vaguely fantasy because of the setting, The Company is a brilliant blend of first-rate characterization and a great plot. It takes place on an island colonized by veterans of a war that they soon find out hasn't really ended. If you don't usually read fantasy, don't be put off by the fact The Company has been put out by a genre publisher. Revelations, rising tension, and the fun of watching a satisfying story unfold should captivate most readers.

"K.J. Parker" is, as my advance copy of the novel reveals, "the pseudonym of a successful writer who wanted to try something new," although one of Parker's answers below confuses the issue and Orbit, when I asked for clarification, said they could neither confirm nor deny...anything. Hmmm. Meanwhile, according to the Amazon listings "K.J. Parker" has had a slew of published novels already. And Parker's website is not particularly illuminating on the subject.

So, um, "new"? Maybe. Mysterious? Definitely. Brilliant stuff? Absolutely. Parker recently agreed to a short interview via Orbit publicist Alex Lencicki, leading me to determine: Alex Lencicki is actually K.J. Parker! Okay, maybe not...

Company

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Geoff Ryman's Cambodian Tales, Part 3

In celebration of award-winning novelist Geoff Ryman's latest US release The King's Last Song (Small Beer Press), we're running a series of exclusive mini-essays from the author. The novel takes place in the past and present of Cambodia, and has been highly praised in the UK and by Booklist.

Ryman's previous novel, Air, was set in Kizuldah, Karzistan. Kelly Link, author of the much-lauded Magic for Beginners and half of the husband-wife team running Small Beer Press, wrote that "Air has the texture, richness, and fantastical complications (ghosts, visions, layering of mythology and folklore and technology and history) of other slipstream Ryman novels. It's a remarkable and magical act of transformation on Ryman`s part, and it's an experience that transforms his reader as well. I fell in love with his characters, and am still carrying them around in my head."

Here's the last part of Ryman's essay on his Cambodian experiences. Check out all of Ryman's fiction available through Amazon.

* * *

Continue reading "Geoff Ryman's Cambodian Tales, Part 3" »

Sample the Mega Awesome METAtropolis on Audible.com Today

What happens when you get several stellar SF authors together to come up with one setting? METAtropolis, that's what! Created by 2008 Hugo Award winners John Scalzi and Elizabeth Bear, Campbell Award winner Jay Lake, plus fan favorites Tobias Buckell and Karl Schroeder, METAtropolis is "a world where big cities are dying, dead--or transformed into technological megastructures. Where once-thriving suburbs are now treacherous Wilds. Where those who live for technology battle those who would die rather than embrace it. It is a world of zero-footprint cities, virtual nations, and armed camps of eco-survivalists." Frankly, this sounds like something I'm going to enjoy--a lot.

Even more interesting, the concept was devised as an audio book, now available on Audible.com, and they're offering a free chapter, part of Jay Lake's contribution. I've listened to it, and it's very cool indeed. Especially since the audiobook is brought to you by actors from Battlestar Galactica, among others!

Earlier today, I spoke to Jay Lake about his involvement in the project...

"One of the most interesting aspects was the advance world-building. We were working in shared continuity, but not in a true shared world mode. Once we'd had the pins set, we kept passing our drafts around, so people could weave in nuggets of one another's backstory. For me personally, the best part of the project was completely extratextual. I was diagnosed with colon cancer immediately prior to the time I'd allotted for this work. I informed editor John Scalzi and our publishers at Audible that I'd need to drop out, as I planned to spend most of the month of May either in the hospital or at home heavily medicated. The response was to move the entire project back three months so I could still be included, post-operatively. This story was the first fiction I wrote after my surgery, and it was a very important moment for me to be able to deliver something which seemed to suit the project so well.  I hadn't been sure I would find my way back to my fiction."

Go check it out--you won't be disappointed!

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Geoff Ryman's Cambodian Tales, Part 2

In celebration of award-winning novelist Geoff Ryman's latest US release The King's Last Song (Small Beer Press), we're running a series of exclusive short essays from the author.

Ryman lives in the United Kingdom, is currently teaching in San Diego, and has Canadian citizenship. As he told Locus in an earlier interview, "Canada spends an inordinate amount of time worrying about its national identity, which is a really boring topic. I got kind of narked because for some time they would never call me a Canadian writer, though I carry a Canadian passport and I feel Canadian. It's because I've lived out of the country. You could never have a film called A Canadian in Paris.”

Here's Part II of Ryman's essay on his Cambodian experiences. Check out all of Ryman's fiction available through Amazon.

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Continue reading "Geoff Ryman's Cambodian Tales, Part 2" »

Geoff Ryman's Cambodian Tales, Part 1

This week's Omnivoracious guest, writer Geoff Ryman, has expressed an abiding interest in Cambodia through three major fictions: The Unconquered  Country, "Pol Pot's Beautiful Daughter" (short story), and his latest US release The King's Last Song, the only one of the three not to include an element of the fantastical.

As Ryman told Locus in 2006, "My next book...is a mainstream novel set in Cambodia. It doesn't have a chapter set in the Khmer Rouge era, because that's been beautifully done by people who lived through it, so why do it again? In this age of post-colonialism and appropriation, why am I writing a novel of Cambodia? Number one, you have to write about it. The alternative is just to ignore the Third World and pretend it isn't there. Number two, there's the international culture. If it hasn't happened already in Cambodia, it certainly has in India, and it's going to happen in loads of places. The educated--they're going to join us, and they're going to write about their countries. The whole thing will become less of an issue. We're going to get some fantastic post-colonial science fiction, written in English. A book like Ian McDonald's River of Gods indicates there is a future for these other countries and subcontinents, these huge tracts of Earth. And if there's a market when we do it, there'll be a market when they do it."

Ryman talks about his Cambodian experiences below the cut, in the first part of three entries...

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Continue reading "Geoff Ryman's Cambodian Tales, Part 1" »

An Omnivoracious Week with Award-winning Writer Geoff Ryman

   

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This week at Omnivoracious, you'll be hearing from Geoff Ryman, the multiple award-winning author of the newly released novel The King's Last Song (Small Beer Press): "Archeologist Luc Andrade discovers an ancient Cambodian manuscript inscribed on gold leaves but is kidnapped--and the manuscript stolen--by a faction still loyal to the ideals of the brutal Pol Pot regime. Andrade’s friends, an ex-Khmer Rouge agent and a young motoboy, embark on a trek across Cambodia to rescue him. Meanwhile, Andrade, bargaining for his life, translates the lost manuscript for his captors. The result is a glimpse into the tremendous and heart-wrenching story of King Jayavarman VII: his childhood, rise to power, marriage, interest in Buddhism, and the initiation of Cambodia’s golden age. As Andrade and Jayavarman’s stories interweave, the question becomes whether the tale of ancient wisdom can bring hope to a nation still suffering from the violent legacy of the last century."

When published in England, The Sunday Times called the book “Sweeping and beautiful...The complex story tears the veil from a hidden world.” Booklist, in a starred review for this edition, called it "An unforgettably vivid portrait of Cambodian culture past and present."

I have been a huge fan of Ryman ever since reading his devastating The Unconquered Country, his first major work set in Cambodia. One quality I find in all of Ryman's fiction is a restless intelligence and thoughtfulness about the modern world, sometimes wedded to a willingness to experiment when necessary. For example, Ryman's 253, which won a Philip K. Dick Award, had an incarnation as an innovative internet text.

Recently, Ryman's been "thinking about blogging. I have my doubts about it. Self-expression is art, but self-promotion is an agenda that curdles art into advertising. The blog becomes an online publicity, the comments a way to draw attention, marking territory," although he says he admires "people who READ blogs. They must have a real and abiding curiosity about other people’s lives and even more extraordinary, other people’s views...My deeply ingrained response is to keep quiet until I have something worthwhile to say. And it has to be said, something worth paying for. But here goes: me, blogging."

In that context, Ryman has graciously agreed to provide a few mini-essays on topics that include Cambodia and teaching SF/F. Look for them Monday through Friday.

Graphic Novel Fridays: Lynda Barry's Incredible What It Is

Published earlier this year, Lynda Barry's What It Is is one of my favorite graphic novels ever. An exploration of the imagination, an invitation to create, and a moving autobiographical account, What It is is one of those rare books that offers solace for the soul and brilliant commentary on the artistic impulse. The images by themselves would be amazing, the text by itself wise and luminous yet pragmatic. The combination of text and art provides new insight that feels three-dimensional and oddly soothing. I cannot over-emphasize the therapeutic effect of What It Is.

I've been working very hard on a novel with a deadline of December. It has, in many ways, been a war of attrition, which tends to produce good fiction but is exhausting. As I read through Barry's book, I began to feel refreshed and rejuvenated. What It Is has that kind of effect--it makes you remember, on a gut level, why you do what you do as a creative person--and that everyone can be creative. It reaffirms the value of play, of the imagination, and of story-telling. It reminds you of the powerful link between image and memory, of how images are charged and luminous. (There's also a sly humor at work here that keeps the book from getting too self-important.)

Excerpting the text on any randomly chosen page (35 in this case) gives you a good idea of the collage effect at work here, used masterfully by Lynda Barry:

"No," she answered, "one is of tin and one of straw; one is a girl and one is a Lion. None of them is fit to work, so you may tear them into small pieces."

Can We Remember Something That We Can't Imagine?

What Makes Us Able to Imagine Something?

Your description of the fist fight really makes me lonesome.

Why do we say "recall"?

At the risk of sounding over passionate...

In the afternoon the sun shone hot in their faces, for there were no trees to offer them shade.

In another section, Barry talks about how she was drawn to the gorgon in ancient myth, and then relates that to her personal situation: "We never need certain monsters more than when we are children and a furious woman with terrifying eyes and snakes for hair was the perfect monster for me. That I had a very gorgon-like mother never occurred to me, and if it had, I would have been lost. Did the gorgon help me love my mother? I think she helped me very much." On that same page, we see a chain-smoking woman in curlers shouting at Barry-as-child. For all that Barry makes this book seem effortless, very sophisticated and complex techniques are at work here.

However, divorcing the words from the images is a perilous way to excerpt What It Is, so I've reproduced a few pages below the cut. I can't recommend this stunning graphic novel highly enough. There's also a PDF preview on the publisher's website.

Continue reading "Graphic Novel Fridays: Lynda Barry's Incredible What It Is" »

A Celebration of Jeffrey Ford's Well-Built City Trilogy: The Beyond

This week we've been talking to Jeffrey Ford, one of America's best fiction writers, about Golden Gryphon's reissue of his Well-Built City novels--The Physiognomy (1997), Memoranda (1999), and The Beyond (2001). Compared to the work of Kafka, among others, these highly surreal and original works launched Ford's career. Each volume comes with a new introduction by the author and features a stunning new cover by award-winning artist John Picacio.

Ford's series concludes with The Beyond, which relates Cley's final adventures. As Golden Gryphon's webpage for the novel summarizes, "Now shunned by the village he saved, and seeing no future in the ruins of the Well-Built City, Cley ventures into The Beyond, a wilderness peopled with demons that feed on humans, where the strange and weird rule, where Paradise is hidden...He encounters wonders and horrors, friendship and hate, mysteries almost beyond comprehension. But will he finally find what he seeks?"

I asked Ford about The Beyond in the conclusion to our interview...

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A Celebration of Jeffrey Ford's Well-Built City Trilogy: Memoranda

Today, I continue my interview with Jeffrey Ford, multiple award-winner, this time on the subject of the second of his Well-Built City novels, Memoranda (1999). The trilogy has just been re-released this month by Golden Gryphon Press, with stunning new covers by award-winning artist John Picacio. Compared to the work of Kafka, among others, these highly original works launched Ford's career.

Memoranda is a much more surreal novel than the first in the series, The Physiognomy. In the book, his protagonist, Cley, takes a trip through the dark mind of the Well-Built City's creator. Ford addressed the subject of dreams in our interview...

Memorandalarge

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A Celebration of Jeffrey Ford's Well-Built City Trilogy: The Physiognomy

Jeffrey Ford is one of America's best fiction writers. He's won multiple World Fantasy Awards as well as an Edgar Allen Poe Award, establishing his reputation through a series of iconic short story collections and quirky, beautifully written novels. Now Golden Gryphon Press is reissuing Ford's Well-Built City novels--The Physiognomy (1997), Memoranda (1999), and The Beyond (2001)--with stunning new covers by award-winning artist John Picacio. Compared to the work of Kafka, among others, these highly surreal and original works launched Ford's career.

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(Jeffrey Ford's novels fit well on my somewhat omnivoracious mantel...) 

What are the novels about? They revolve around Cley, a complicated character who changes dramatically as the novels progress. As Cynthia Ward wrote for Amazon.com when The Physiognomy was originally published, "In the Well-Built City, Cley is the perfect judge and jury, the infallible arbiter of life and death, for he is trained in the art/science of physiognomy. To the physiognomist, body shape and facial features reveal every aspect of personality, expose every secret, and even predict the future. When Drachton Below, Master of the Well-Built City, sends his premier physiognomist into the primitive outlands to uncover the thief of an unperishing fruit that may grant immortality, Cley discovers love and the truth about physiognomy...The Physiognomy may be read with equal success as either fantasy or SF, but it does not much resemble the fiction of either genre. This novel's closest relatives are In the Well-Built City, Dante's Divine Comedy, Kafka's black allegories, and Caleb Carr's crime thriller The Alienist. The brilliant and sardonic Physiognomist Cley is SF/F's most entertainingly arrogant narrator since Richard Garfinkle's Celestial Matters."

To celebrate the re-release of the Well-Built City trilogy, I recently spoke to Jeffrey Ford about each book, starting with The Physiognomy. (My interviews with Ford on Memoranda and The Beyond will run Wednesday and Thursday.)

Continue reading "A Celebration of Jeffrey Ford's Well-Built City Trilogy: The Physiognomy" »

Ten Good Reasons to Read David Wellington's Vampire Zero

This month, David Wellington's third vampire novel, Vampire Zero, will be unleashed upon an unsuspecting world. In this installment, reluctant vampire hunter Laura Caxton is faced with the unenviable task of hunting down her former mentor: U.S. Marshall Jameson Arkeley, now a bloodsucker himself. If you've read the first two volumes, 13 Bullets and 99 Coffins, you know how ruthless Arkeley was when he was living and breathing. Now that he's undead, Caxton is going to have her hands full if she wants to stop him from fathering a new generation of vampires.

I recently asked Wellington for ten reasons why readers should pick up Vampire Zero...

Vamp_zero

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Special Tin House Issue Tackles Politics with Jose Saramago, George Saunders, and More

In case you missed it, the always interesting Tin House just released a special issue titled "The Political Future." It features fiction by Jose Saramago, J.C. Hallman, and others, as well as nonfiction by the likes of Brian Evenson, Francine Prose, John Barth, Lydia Millet, Eduardo Galeano, and David Rees.

As always, Tin House showcases fascinating prose by using a clean, crisp, pleasing design. Timely but not likely to become quickly dated, looking to the past as well as the future, the magazine has put together yet another superlative issue. "The End of Democracy?" by Win McCormack is a special highlight. You can find a full contents listing, with excerpts, here.

(Note: If you do want something that takes on the issues of right now, in the current political season, check out Black Clock 9, edited by Steve Erickson, and featuring contributions from Jonathan Lethem and Rick Moody.)

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Economic Collapse Imminent? Brian Francis Slattery is Here to Liberate You

This month, Tor Books publishes Brian Francis Slattery's Liberation: Being the Adventures of the Slick Six After the Collapse of the United States of America. By chance, it's a timely release given the near collapse of our banking system. The book gives readers a dystopic view of a future in which the dollar has collapsed and the United States with it. The international criminals known as the "Slick Six" travel across a transformed America on a quest to save the country. Despite describing a dystopia, Liberation is a powerful evocation of the United States, at once loving of its virtues and unforgiving of its faults. It is a stunning achievement.

Slattery has extensive experience working with publications about economics, public policy, and international affairs. It seemed like a perfect time to interview him about the novel and his views on the financial crisis that has unfolded over the last few weeks.

Liberation

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Graphic Novel Friday: Flight Volume Five

Never heard of the Flight series, edited by Kazu Kibuishi? Shame on you! It's only become a fixture of fantasy/SF comics, featuring some of today's most interesting talents. Now Villard has published Flight 5, and it's just as good if not better than previous volumes.

Highlights include another installment of Michel Gagne's Saga of Rex, with mind-blowing full-color alien landscapes, “The Dragon” by Reagan Lodge, which features Japanese-style battle between mecha-assassins and a wily fox plays out on dark, snow-strewn streets, “Mountains” by Matthew Bernier (basically an excuse to draw a series of surreal fish, but I for one don't mind!), and perhaps my all-time favorite,  “Igloo Head and Tree Head in Disguise” by Scott Campbell. It follows the absurd antics of creatures who indeed wear trees and igloos on their heads—along with small tanks, apples, delivery trucks, and dragons. logic behind all of this, as it plays out, is as delightful as the oddly primitive yet sophisticated artwork. Volume five also avoids falling into the trap of recurring kid-chasing-monster plotlines that seemed to plague at least one prior installment.

If you had to say one negative thing about Flight 5 it's that "Beisbol 2" by Richard Pose seems positively pedestrian with its hardly-fantastical-at-all baseball story. But other than that, the book lives up to the promise of the series. Highly recommended for anyone who likes imaginative storytelling.

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Margo Lanagan's Brilliant Tender Morsels

Readers may already remember Margo Lanagan from the beer-and-book posts I did several months back. She gave one of the best answers with regard to her novel Tender Morsels, now out in hardcover:

“[It] goes perfectly with a schooner of Toohey’s Old Black Ale, ‘a great Australian dark ale’ to go with a great Australian dark tale. Not knock-you-over in the alcohol stakes (4.4% alc/vol), this is probably a good thing, because there’s a lot to keep track of in this book: bears, babes, treasure, dwarves, giant eagles and a spot of time slippage. The story is lightly hopped, giving the reader/drinker a few underhand laughs during the smooth transition from malty, dead-sexy beginning to bitter, none-too-clean finish. The black malt enhances the forested gloom of much of the book, as well as its nicknames, ‘Black Juice revisited’ and the Doylesque Tender Morsels Bwa-Ha-Ha. Many readers/drinkers are timid when it comes to dark (t)ales. If you are curious about the dark side of beer/bears, Toohey’s Old/Tender Morsels is a great place to begin your exploration. Broad-hipped childbearing flavour gives way to the berry nice esters, which blend well with hoppiness and a hint of raw ptarmigan to finish with a bitter blend crescendo that will leave you wondering WTF? Why haven’t you been a dark ale drinker all your life? Do you dare to turn off your bedside lamp tonight? Try Tender Morsels and Tooheys Old Black Ale with a juicy, still-slightly-bloody roast, with game pies and slow cooked meats. Old is also a great flavour to go with strong cheeses such as gorgonzola, blue vein and Wensleydale. But pretty much anything fart-producing will do. Just don’t expect a comfy night’s sleep after you’ve stomached this lot.”

Tender_morsels

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Alex Irvine and the Vertigo Encyclopedia

The Vertigo Encyclopedia by Alex Irvine is one of the sharpest-looking books to appear on my doorstep recently. A copiously illustrated full-color coffee table extravaganza, the encyclopedia covers the famous Vertigo comics line from 100 Bullets to Young Liars. Modestly priced for the value, the book includes an introduction by Neil Gaiman, multi-page spreads on the most popular series (including Constantine, The Sandman, and Fables), and features an original cover by one of my favorite artists, Dave McKean.

Readers may be familiar with Alex Irvine as the author of several excellent novels, including A Scattering of Jade, The Narrows, and One King, One Soldier (all of which you should pick up if you haven't already). I interviewed him recently about The Vertigo Encyclopedia to get his behind-the-scenes take on both the book and Vertigo's importance to the comics field.

Vertigo

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Dark Roasted Blend: Serving Up A Surreal, High Quality Cup o' Joe

You may be familiar with Dark Roasted Blend already, but if not...you should be. Where else can you learn about "Unique Pigeon Towers of Iran," "The Most Alien-looking Place on Earth," "Some of the World's Strangest Fences," or "Monowheels: The Weirdest Transport Known to Man"? To mention just a few recent entries.

Dark Roasted Blend was founded by Avi Abrams with his wife Rachel in 2006. Since then, it's become one of the most popular blogs of its type on the internet. I interviewed Avi Abrams via email recently, to find out more about this intriguing site...

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Graphic Novel Friday: The Odd Fun of Rapunzel's Revenge

Every Friday, Omnivoracious turns the spotlight on a graphic novel. You can let me know who or what you'd like to see featured by commenting on this post. And please welcome Alex Carr next week, as he and I will be trading off doing this column every other week...

"Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair! Slog through a swamp, lasso huge watersnakes, and come out West!"

Huh? Odd. That's not the way I remember the old fairytale. Nor do I remember Rapunzel finding out her real mother is slaving away in a mining camp while she lives it up in a weird castle. And my memory's foggy on her escape from a huge tree, encounters with wild pigs, cowboy adventures, magical vines, "wanted" posters with her face on it, or anything else in this exuberant, fun-for-all-ages romp re-positioning Rapunzel in a setting reminiscent of the Old West.

Bold, brash full-color art drives the engine of Rapunzel's Revenge, and, strangely enough, it works!

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Judith Tarr Brings Down the Sun

Bring Down the Sun by Judith Tarr is an intriguing historical fantasy about Alexander the Great's mother. This is stylized melodrama at its best. The novel is often sensual and erotic, but not in an embarrassing way--in part because Tarr's style is somewhat stripped down and tight and also because Tarr doesn't wink at the reader during those scenes. Somehow, also, Tarr manages to effectively convey the historical setting without long pages of description. I interviewed Tarr via email to find out more about the underpinnings of the novel and her approach to historical fantasy...

Amazon.com: Can you tell Amazon readers where you are as you’re answering these questions?
Judith Tarr: I'm sitting in the living room of my house outside of Tucson, Arizona, looking out at the horse barn and the hot and cold running Lipizzans.

Tarr

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Top Shelf's Savvy "Veeps" Campaigns to Sweep Blue and Red States

There's been a veritable Vice Presidential squall the past month, complete with potential scandal, raucous argument, pundit puffery, good imitations of Mongolian throat-music from Right and Left, classic Saturday Night satire, and in general a soap opera of pit bulls, lipstick, and scenic views of Russia from afar (I welcome that awesome day when I approach a country's coastline and all knowledge about it auto-downloads into my brain).

Into this mazy-mess of an election process comes Top Shelf, which enters the arena with the soon-to-be published Veeps: Profiles in Insignificance by Bill Kelter (illustrations by Wayne Shellabarger). As the press release puts it, "Over more than 200 years, the American voters have sent a platoon of rogues, cowards, drunks, featherweights, doddering geriatrics, pillars of hapless ambition, bigots, and atrocious spellers to Washington D.C. to sit one bullet, cerebral hemorrhage, or case of pneumonia away from the highest office in the land."

Our latest VP even shot a man in the face--and got an apology from the victim! You'd think that would be hard to top, but Veeps succeeds in making face-shooting seem banal compared to some VP antics. Arm-severing anyone? For example. "I don't want to work. But I wouldn't mind being VP again," said Thomas R. Marshall, the 28th vice president of the United States, but after reading these accounts I'm not sure I'd take the same position.

Accompanied by Shellabarger's fine caricatures, the book makes good on the cliche that some reality is stranger than fiction. Definitely satirical simply because of the outrageous nature of some of the material, but also serious. Not quite a graphic novel but not quite a "normal" nonfiction book. The writing is excellent, too. Check out some sample pages here. I think after reading part of it, you'll agree that this is one issue on which we can all come together as a nation, whether Democan or Republicrat: we've had some mighty suspect VPs.

There's even a fairly spectacular Veeps website, which I highly recommend.

Veeps

Stan Nicholls' Orcs Cometh! Me Prettify Orcs! You Read...

      Img_6102     Img_6103
      There. Isn't that better, dear reader? Now Auntie Gertrude won't take away your copy...


Stryke couldn't see the ground for the corpses. He was deafened by screams and clashing steel. Despite the cold, sweat stung his eyes. His muscles burned and his body ached. Blood, mud, and splashed brains flecked his jerkin. And now two more of the loathsome, soft pink creatures were moving on him with murder in their eyes.

That's the opening of the intimidating new edition of Stan Nicholl's Orcs, released this month from Orbit Books. It collects three novels previously published in England. The books provide an alternate rationale for those perennial bad guys, the orcs, and have sold over a million copies overseas. Orbit's cover for the book matches the tough-guy prose inside. So much so that I got sick of looking at the ugly mug on the outside, effective as it might be, and decided to "prettify" my copy of Orcs. Just look at what a few randomly applied stars, flowers, smiley-faces, and the like can do to make a cover more humane! In fact, maybe Orbit should even run a "Beautify Your Orcs" contest. I bet readers would get a kick out of that.

All silliness aside, this is a significant release, with a striking cover, from one of the hottest publishers in genre fiction at the moment. Check it out if you want some gritty realism with your fantasy.

Graphic Novel Friday: Slow Storm

Every Friday, Omnivoracious will turn the spotlight on one or more graphic novels, with future installments also including news and special features. You can let me know who or what you'd like to see featured by commenting on this post. (In October, Graphic Novel Friday will return to its normal weekly schedule.)

A female firefighter and a Mexican illegal named Rafi form an unlikely bond in the aftermath of a storm-burnt barn in Slow Storm by Danica Novgorodoff. The book juxtaposes the present-day of rural Kentucky with Rafi's memories of Mexico. Novgoroff excels at showing the alienation of both main characters against a backdrop of sullen, moody clouds and fields. Both the Kentucky landscape and the Mexican landscape have a simultaneously rich and barren quality that Novgoroff's nuanced watercolor approach brings to the fore with aching beauty.

In the few gestures these characters exchange as they pass on their way through different journeys, Novgoroff has captured as much or more as any novel or movie. Clearly a contender for best graphic novel of the year.

Slow

The Seeds of Change: Top Five Things You Can Do

Seeds of Change is a cool new anthology edited by John Joseph Adams and featuring work by Jay Lake, Tobias Buckell, and many others. A compact, small-sized hardcover from Prime Books, it's a work of art just in the design alone. The stories, which deal with social and environmental issues, are thought-provoking and strong. Recently, I asked Adams to give me a list of things readers can do in connection with the anthology, which is itself a call for being proactive in helping with some of the most pressing problems facing us on a global level. Here's his response...

Seeds

John Joseph Adams: In the introduction to my anthology, I said: "It is my hope that reading these stories inspires some to plant their own seeds of  change—that when we see something wrong, we'll do something about it, whether that means writing to your representative in congress or researching a cure for a disease or simply speaking out against inequality and prejudice. We're all in this together—and the first step toward change can begin with any one of us."

So, obviously one of the main ideas behind the book was that science fiction can be a mode of social change. With that in mind, I'd like to offer up five ways--not necessarily the top five ways--you can plant seeds of change of your very own.

(1) Donate. We live in a land of privilege, but some of us are more privileged than others. If you can afford to spare the money, consider donating to a charitable organization. Uncle Sam will thank you come tax time, but do it for the karma, not the tax write-offs. Not sure who to donate money to? Check out Network for Good, which acts as a charitable clearinghouse, allowing you to discover and donate to a number of different charities and track your contributions.

(2) Volunteer. If you can't afford to donate money, or just want to do more than that, try donating your time. Charitable organizations of all kinds are always in need of volunteers to help make their organizations work. Not sure how to get involved? Check out VolunteerMatch.org, which helps match up volunteers with charitable organizations that need their assistance. (Network for Good can also help you find volunteering opportunities.)

(3) Recycle. Mother Earth has given us a lot; recycling is one of the ways we can give back. To learn more about recycling, environmentalism, and the different ways you can lessen your own environmental footprint, visit Earth911.org.

(4) Vote. One of our greatest freedoms is to be allowed a voice and to know that it will be heard; vote today to ensure a better tomorrow. If you're not already registered to vote, visit RocktheVote.com.

(5) Listen. Because that's the most important step.

Sly Mongoose by Tobias Buckell: Five Reasons to Grow Up on Planet Chilo

Center stage in rising star Tobias Buckell's new novel Sly Mongoose is the unpredictable planet Chilo. As the press release informs us, "Welcome to Chilo, a planet with corrosive rain, crushing pressure, and deadly heat. Fortunately, fourteen-year-old Timas lives in one of the domed cities that float 100,000 feet above the surface, circling near the edge of a monstrous perpetual storm. Above the acidic clouds the temperature and pressure are normal. But to make a living, Timas like many other young men, is lowered to the surface in an armored suit to scavenge what he can. Timas’s life is turned upside down when a strange man crash lands on the city. The newcomer is fleeing an alien intelligence intent on invading the planet and discovering the secret hidden deep inside the perpetual storm—a secret that could lead to interplanetary war." And from there, things just get worse.

Still, in its day, Chilo must've had a few years when it was a vacation hot spot... No? Well, er, maybe it was at least "a nice place to raise a family," as they say.

Not convinced? Maybe this will help. Buckell, who was recently tagged to write the next Halo novel, has provided Omnivoracious with this compelling top five list from the Chilo Chamber of Commerce...

TOP 5 REASONS TO GROW UP ON THE PLANET CHILO

1) Forced anorexia means never having to clean your plate
2) Sulfuric acid rain is just nifty, as long as you wear your protective armor
3) Everything you say and do is seen by a technocracy, smile for the camera
4) Group mind zombies don't need to eat your brains
5) Caribbean cyborgs sometimes drop from the sky and hit your floating city

Mongoose

Graphic Novel Friday: The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard

Every other Friday, Omnivoracious will turn the spotlight on one or more graphic novels, with future installments also including news and special features. You can let me know who or what you'd like to see featured by commenting on this post. (In October, Graphic Novel Friday will return to its normal weekly schedule.)

Ah, The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard--how well I remember you. Your acrobatics displays were such a fine fusion of geometric precision and untamed artistic angst. Your path across the hushed air spelled out in graceful cursive any number of elegant phrases in French.

What a shame you die on page 13 and are replaced by your young nephew Etienne.

But that's the way it is with Eddie Campbell (and story co-conspirator Dan Best)--never happy to leave well enough alone. Thus, a great man dies not at the end of this wonderfully chaotic freak show of a graphic novel, but near the beginning. This provides the catalyst for Etienne's rather unusual and surreal adventures. Talking bears in waistcoats? Check. The Titanic? Check. Calabrian fighting midgets? Of course!

Campbell's light touch with the art--beautiful yet often disturbing watercolors--proves supple and fluid enough to convey scenes of whimsy and scenes of horror. This might just be my favorite Campbell yet--I can't recommend it highly enough.

Of course, he's not done even when it seems like he must be. The last page reads: "Nothing occurs on this page." And so it goes. Long live the amazing remarkable monsieur Campbell!

Leotard_2

John Scalzi on Why You Should Care About Zoe's Tale

Hugo Award finalist (and now winner!) and John W. Campbell Award recipient John Scalzi brings readers something new and different this month with Zoe's Tale. The protagonist is a 17-year-old girl. The milieu is the same as for his Old Man's War novels. Rumor has it this new novel has made a few librarians cry. Has Scalzi gone soft? Not likely. Something tells me the man who had the guts to put bacon on his cat's head has probably just gone and taken it to the next level.

   Scalzi

Continue reading "John Scalzi on Why You Should Care About Zoe's Tale" »

Not So Fast: Reconsider Simon Morden's The Lost Art

Oh, I know you, Omnivoracious reader. You're already browsing the August books. You're even looking ahead to what's coming out in the fall. But there's a little time travel trick that would benefit both you and your children: take a trip back to June, when Random House released The Lost Art by Simon Morden. It's a delightfully complex children's book that explores a post-apocalyptic world.

What's it about? "One thousand years after the formidable war machines of the User cultures devoured entire civilizations and rewrote planetary geography, Earth is in the grip of a perpetual Dark Age. Scientific endeavor is strongly discouraged, while remnant technology is locked away—hidden by a Church determined to prevent a new Armageddon. This is the world to which Benzamir Michael Mahmood must return. A descendant of the tribes who fled the planet during those ages old wars, he comes in pursuit of enemies from the far reaches of space. The technology he brings is wondrous beyond the imaginings of those he will meet, but can its potency match that of the Church’s most closely guarded treasure? For centuries it has lain dormant, but it is about to be unearthed, and the powers that will be unleashed may be beyond anyone’s capacity to control. Even a man as extraordinary as Benzamir..."

This is an audacious concept for this audience, but it works. If you're looking for something different, you should check it out before you go a-seeking amongst those alluring August titles.

Lost

Shared Worlds, Stephanie Meyer, and Alien Babies

Meyer_book_party Hindmarch
Shared Worlds student Katherine Buchanan admonishing me to read Stephanie Meyer at a Breaking Dawn book release party; Will Hindmarch talking to the students about world-building from a game development point of view.

Nothing could've better served as a grand finale to the Shared Worlds teen writing camp at Wofford College in South Carolina than taking the students to one of the recent Stephanie Meyer book release parties. These are kids, you have to understand, who read constantly, who have to be told to put away their books to pay attention in class, and who when asked what activities they'd like to do outside of class pretty uniformly replied, "take us anywhere we can buy more books." Talk about omnivoracious!

Shared Worlds ran from July 20 to August 2 and started off with a week of world-building, in which the students split into groups to create distinctive SF-fantasy worlds. Then, in the second week, they wrote short stories and novel excerpts set in those worlds. In addition to Wofford College teachers and other personnel, I was there as the writer-in-residence and assistant director. Other writers came in to conduct guest lectures and workshops, including Tobias Buckell, Ekaterina Sedia, and Will Hindmarch. Buckell is known for writing Caribbean-influenced SF, Sedia has a Russian background and is a strong advocate for diversity, while Hindmarch has swiftly shot to the top of the gaming ranks on the strength of his work for White Wolf, among others.

Continue reading "Shared Worlds, Stephanie Meyer, and Alien Babies" »

Hugo Award Winners Announced: Michael Chabon for Best Novel

As reported by Cheryl Morgan and by OF Blog of the Fallen, the Hugo Award winners have been announced, with Michael Chabon winning best novel for The Yiddish Policemen's Union. Check out Morgan for the running commentary during the ceremony and OF Blog of the Fallen for the complete list of winners. Congratulations to all.

Galen Beckett's The Magicians and Mrs. Quent

Set on the imaginary island of Altania, the enchanting The Magicians and Mrs. Quent evokes memories of other pseudo-Victorian-Edwardian fantasies, but the writing and execution are vastly superior to most of the others I’ve read. Ivy, the eldest of the three Harrowell daughters, takes a position a governess to the wards Mrs. Quent, a compellingly odd character. The house she inhabits, Heathcrest Hall is suitably stark and strange. The pleasure in watching Ivy navigate through multiple mysteries, including the madness of her father (for which she hopes to find a cure), provides much of the narrative drive here. Eldyn Garritt, scion of a bankrupt trading company, also figures into the mix. While I preferred the sections from Ivy’s point-of-view, readers should also find Eldyn an interesting character. As their two stories come together, along with the discovery of secret societies (who, exactly, are those shadowy men in the black hats?) and much else that will delight readers, the novel really comes into its own. The discussions of and uses of magic may be familiar from other books, but somehow Galen Beckett reconfigures what could be stereotypical into an exciting and clever romp.

Beckett

World Fantasy Award Finalists Announced--Gone Trad?

Locus has posted the list of World Fantasy Award finalists. There are many fine selections here--including much deserved praise for John Klima's efforts--but I can't help but note a lack of daring on the part of the judges. This continues a trend, in my opinion, within core genre, toward the more conservative. Here, for example, is the list of best novels:

Fangland, John Marks (Penguin)
The Gospel of the Knife, Will Shetterly (Tor)
The Servants, Michael Marshall Smith (Earthling Publications)
Territory, Emma Bull (Tor)
Ysabel, Guy Gavriel Kay (Viking Canada; Roc)

Territory is one of my favorites from last year, and I'm happy to see it on the list. I also think the others are solid, solid novels. But I'd put Michael Cisco's The Traitor up against any one of them. Or Ekaterina Sedia's A Secret History of Moscow. Or Hal Duncan's Ink. Or, perhaps most criminally, Dan Simmons' The Terror, a novel that in scope and execution dwarfs everything just mentioned. David Anthony Durham's Acacia is missing from the list. Nor does the intricate second volume of Catherynne M. Valente's Orphan's Tales, In the Cities of Spice and Coin, get any love. Great novels by Daniel Abraham, Nalo Hopkinson, John Crowley, and Paul Park also apparently didn't strike the judges the right way. Or Patrick Rothfuss. Just for example.

Granted, the final ballot includes voter choices as well, but the judges have the ability to add a sixth or even seventh choice to a category in cases where they don't agree with those voted-in choices. In the major categories, however, there are only five finalists this year.

Another striking omission is the lack of any content from online sources. With online magazines now providing some of the strongest and most original fiction, this seems somewhat reactionary. Or an oversight.

It's hard to complain when the job of judging is so thankless, but I do find some of these choices puzzling. The great thing, though, is you get to make your own lists. If there's something that I've mentioned or is on the ballot and you haven't read it, pick it up. Let us know what you think of it. Be your own judge.

Hocus Pocus: A Tale of Magnificent Magicians

It's not every day you receive a book that's been blurbed by David Copperfield, but there it is, right at the top of the press release for Hocus Pocus: A Tale of Magnificent Magicians (Scholastic) by Paul Kieve with illustrations by Peter Bailey. Copperfield is endorsing the author's approach to teaching magic while also telling an interesting fictional tale. Believe it or not, he's right.

Hocus Pocus is the delightful story of a boy who wants to learn magic, and along the way Kieve shows how more than thirty magic tricks are done. Throw in some whimsical yet informative drawings and you've got a kind of coffee table book for kids. If you're looking for a birthday present for an 8- to 12-year-old who likes magic, this is definitely the book for them.

Added bonus: The actor Daniel Radcliffe, star of the Harry Potter movies, contributes the introduction.

Hocus

How to Raise and Keep a Dragon: The Post That Keeps Giving

Months after I posted about Joseph Nigg's How to Raise and Keep a Dragon, debate still rages in the comments thread about where to get a dragon, whether dragons exist or not, and related subjects. At least one parent appears to have perhaps tried to finesse their way through this minefield by providing their child with a dragon egg...that may never hatch. My own attempt to say that there are no such things as dragons was ignored or skillfully circumvented by the commenters--to which I respond, "More power to you." There are worse things to do than sustain a belief in dragons. For more perspective, check out this article from the Edmonton Journal about Nigg (writing under the pen name John Topsell) and his unusual tome.

How_to_raise_2 

Summer Reading: Night Shade Books Brings Readers New SF from Neal Asher and Greg Egan

Night Shade Books is teaming up this summer with award-winning authors Neal Asher and Greg Egan to provide SF fans with thrills, chills, and spills. Two books that are perfect for the beach, the mountains, theme parks, or anywhere else you decide to go on vacation. And, if you take a stay-cation because of rising gas prices...hey, they're perfect for stay-cations, too.

UK author Asher's novels have been translated into half-a-dozen languages, with tons of acclaim for his Polity series. Australian Greg Egan has won the Hugo Award, the John W. Campbell Award, and many others. His short fiction has appeared in several year's best anthologies. Both writers are known for a high level of SF invention, exciting ideas, and mind-expanding imaginations. Here's a little more intel on both books...

Neal Asher's Shadow of the Scorpion:
Raised to adulthood during the end of the war between the human Polity and a vicious alien race, the Prador, Ian Cormac is haunted by childhood memories of a sinister scorpion-shaped war drone and the burden of losses he doesn't remember. Cormac signs up with Earth Central Security and is sent out to help restore and maintain order on worlds devastated by the war. There he discovers that though the Prador remain as murderous as ever, they are not anywhere near as treacherous or dangerous as some of his fellow humans, some closer to him than he would like. Amidst the ruins left by wartime genocides, Cormac will discover in himself a cold capacity for violence and learn some horrible truths about his own past while trying to stay alive on his course of vengeance.

Greg Egan's Incandescence:
The long-awaited new novel from Hugo Award-winning writer Greg Egan! The Amalgam spans nearly the entire galaxy, and is composed of innumerable beings from a wild variety of races, some human, some near-human, and some entirely other. The one place that they cannot go is the bulge, the bright, hot center of the galaxy. There dwell the Aloof, who for millions of years have deflected any and all attempts to communicate with or visit them. So, when Rakesh is offered an opportunity to travel within their sphere, in search of a lost race, he cannot turn it down.

Graphic Novel Friday: Alex Robinson's Too Cool to be Forgotten

Every other Friday, Omnivoracious will turn the spotlight on one or more graphic novels, with future installments also including news and special features. You can let me know who or what you'd like to see featured by commenting on this post. (In October, Graphic Novel Friday will return to its normal weekly schedule.)

Alex Robinson's Box Office Poison is one of my all-time favorite graphic novels. Since then, he's published Tricked and now Too Cool to be Forgotten. The noir-ish Tricked suffered from a plot twist that undermined most of the great set-up, but was still definitely worth reading. Too Cool to be Forgotten suffers from a similar flaw, in that Robinson flirts with the "it was all a dream" cliche. It's almost as if since Box Office Poison he doesn't trust himself to tell a great story with great characterization sans structural cleverness. If you can overlook that, however, Too Cool to be Forgotten is a potent mix of nostalgia and longing, with universal high school experiences thrown in as a bonus.

The concept is simple: Andy Wicks has been trying to quit smoking, but can't. This inability to quit is symptomatic of a larger problem: he's leading an unhappy life. When he's transported back to his high school years circa 1985, he gets to relive his past, including the moment he had his first cigarette. During this sojourn, he faces several key turning points in which he has to decide if he's going to follow the desires of his younger self, or rein that younger self in. Despite making Wicks a little whiny throughout, Robinson has, in the core story, created a fascinating snapshot of a lost time that's tantalizingly almost but not quite within reach.

Robinson

NPR Correspondent Rick Kleffel on Books, Insomnia, and The Agony Column

Kleffel Kleffel's famous rolling shelves, 7/1

Rick Kleffel may be the hardest-working man in the book review/author interview business. Not only does he post daily updates to The Agony Column, his first love, including his famous Rolling Shelves (which inspired me to post photos of books received on my own blog), he also interviews hundreds of authors, both for his local NPR affiliate and for national NPR, usually for Sunday features. Kleffel's particular area of emphasis is science fiction, fantasy, and horror, but he also enjoys non-genre fiction and his definition of genre is wide and deep. Having been interviewed by Kleffel in the past, I thought it was time to turn the tables and see what makes this at times insanely dedicated individual tick. I interviewed Kleffel via email and asked him about his hellacious schedule, his interviews, and, of course, books.

Amazon.com: How do you keep plugging away doing book reviews, doing features, at The Agony Column day after day? Do you ever feel like you need a break?
Rick Kleffel: A compulsive routine and insomnia are the key ingredients. The insomnia I inherited from my mother's side of the family.  We're on the low end of the bell curve for sleep required, so I generally sleep about four hours a night, which gives me four hours a day more to work. I wake up--usually before the alarm goes off--at 3:30 AM every day and have a very set routine I work through. That basis gives me the time and energy to deal with the avalanche of worthwhile reading out there. There are so many great books worthy of our time and attention coming out that I feel it my duty to bring them to the attention of like-minded readers. My hope is that so long as the books are selling, they'll keep making more worthy of my time. I'm simply ensuring that I'll have something to read tomorrow by talking today about the books I read yesterday.

Continue reading "NPR Correspondent Rick Kleffel on Books, Insomnia, and The Agony Column" »

Ramsey Campbell's The Grin of the Dark

Horror readers will be pleased to find out that critically acclaimed British author Ramsey Campbell has a new novel out from Tor Books: The Grin of the Dark. Advance praise is ample, including this from Booklist: "Anotherexcellent piece of inventive, chilling suspense. Unemployed London film critic Simon Lester receives an apparent lucky break when his old film professor commissions him to write a book about forgotten silent-film comedian Tubby Thackeray. Once deemed as good as Chaplin's and Keaton's, Thackeray's movies are mysteriously missing from cinematic archives. In tracking down references and attempting to solve the riddle of Thackeray's anomalous absence, Simon treks across the seamier landscape of film production, from porn factories to Amsterdam brothels. After many maddening false leads, encounters with sinister clowns, and e-mail exchanges with a particularly snide film buff, Simon stumbles on a disturbing secret about Thackeray's real identity that may have less to do with comedy than with an ancient evil."

Campbell is a master of atmosphere and the scare. Check this one out.

Campbell

Ekaterina Sedia's The Alchemy of Stone

Ekaterina Sedia burst onto the literary scene with The Secret History of Moscow, a delight of a novel of which Neil Gaiman wrote, "The prose and the atmosphere is beautiful and decaying, and everything's grey with astonishing little bursts of unforgettable colour... Deep, dark, remarkable stuff." A rave review in the LA Times read in part, "[The novel] really feels like a secret: an alternative world a half-dimension removed from ours, a place woven out of whisper and shadow, populated with forgotten creatures and even less-remembered thoughts," while the Guardian Unlimited wrote, "Sedia's novel is emblematic of much that is good about contemporary fantasy. It unites a classy prose style...with first-hand experience of a 90s Moscow crippled by post-Soviet economic decline. The story is infused with the tropes and traditions of fantasy, but set amid the grim reality of that decade's turbulent politics."

Sedia's latest novel, The Alchemy of Stone, is being published this month by Prime Books. It's about "Mattie, an intelligent automaton skilled in the use of alchemy, who finds herself caught in the middle of a conflict between gargoyles, the Mechanics, and the Alchemists. With the old order quickly giving way to the new, Mattie discovers powerful and dangerous secrets--secrets that can completely alter the balance of power in the city of Ayona. However, this doesn't sit well with Loharri, the Mechanic who created Mattie and still has the key to her heart--literally!" I recently interviewed Sedia about her fiction, her editing projects, and gargoyles...

      Alchemy

Continue reading "Ekaterina Sedia's The Alchemy of Stone" »

Three from Tor in July

Tor Books is one of the most prolific SF/F publishers in the business. And some months, they hit the trifecta, as they do in July with three excellent releases: Jay Lake's Escapement, Daniel Abraham's An Autumn War, and David Weber's By Schism Rent Asunder. Each of these big bad tomes brings awesome imagination to pulse-pounding page turners featuring cool Big Ideas.

Jay Lake's Escapement is a sequel to his critically acclaimed Mainspring and follows the journey of a brilliant young woman and her robot sidekick across the world toward civilization. Throw in submarines, steampunk, and Lake's signature style and you've got a recipe for summer fun.

Daniel Abraham's An Autumn War is book three of The Long Price Quartet and really puts this fantasy series into high gear. Intrigue, war, and vividly drawn characters drive this brilliant novel blurbed by George R.R. Martin.

David Weber's By Schism Rent Asunder blends religion, cybernetic avatars, secret knowledge, and vast far-future ambition into a potent cocktail of conflict and adventure.

Marie Brennan's Midnight Never Come

Midnight Never Come by Marie Brennan is a rock-solid, highly entertaining tale of intrigue, magic, and adventure. It received a starred review in Publishers Weekly, which read in part: "Stunningly conceived and exquisitely achieved, this rich historical fantasy portrays the Elizabethan court 30 years into the reign of the Virgin Queen, often called Gloriana. Far below ground, her dark counterpart, heartless Invidiana, rules England's fae. Brennan pairs handsome young courtier Michael Deven, an aspiring agent under spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham, with bewitching fae Lune, who attempts to avoid Invidiana's wrath by infiltrating Walsingham's network in mortal guise. History and fantasy blend seamlessly as Deven and Lune tread their precarious tightropes between loyalty and betrayal." This novel is definitely worth seeking out.

I interviewed Brennan via email recently. For more information on Brennan and the novel, check out the official website for the novel (they're running a contest with a $500 prize).

Amazon.com: Why is underground London so compelling?
Marie Brennan: Underground things of any stripe are neat because they're hidden--the original meaning of "occult." The notion of there being a secret world right next to the ordinary one produces an interesting frisson for the reader or writer--that's the appeal of urban fantasy, at least for me--and if it's underground, it's dark, it's buried, it's a good place to find creepy things or relics of the past.

It isn't just London, of course; Ekaterina Sedia, for example, does it to Moscow in her debut novel. London works well, though, because it's familiar enough to be recognized by your average Anglophone reader. You need a city old enough to have a buried history--I don't think it would work in a suburban housing development, though I suppose you could try--and you need your reader not to feel totally lost. As much as I'd love to read a fantasy about, say, underground Hong Kong, I know nothing about the city or its history, and so much of what's cool in such a book would be lost on me.

  Midnight

Continue reading "Marie Brennan's Midnight Never Come" »

Nancy "Two Book" Kress: Nano and Dogs

Science fiction writer Nancy Kress returns with not one but two titles this summer: a story collection called Nano Comes to Clifford Falls (Golden Gryphon Press) and the biotech thriller Dogs (Tachyon). Kress has won the Nebula, Hugo, Sturgeon, and John W. Campbell Memorial awards.

Nano collects stories first published in Asimov's SF Magazine, SCIFICTION, and many other prestigious genre venues, featuring an introduction by Mike Resnick. Dogs evokes both The Andromeda Strain and Cujo with its mutated flu, quarantine, and enraged canines. There's even a contest your dog can enter.

For more on both books, check out Dark Roasted Blend's interview with the author and Kress' blog.

Kress2 Kress1

David Schwartz' Superpowers

David Schwartz's first novel, Superpowers, came out this month by Three Rivers Press. The book has been praised by Kelly Link and Karen Joy Fowler, with Fowler saying, ""A thoughtful and convincing blend of magic and realism. I believed in these ordinary, recognizable college students with their extraordinary abilities. As their powers change and fail them (and vice versa), Superpowers tells us a story both soaring and sober." I interviewed Schwartz recently about his book. He answered the questions via email while "sitting at Nina's Coffee Cafe in Saint Paul, Minnesota.  Nina's is a great little place in my neighborhood, despite having a redundant name.  It sits in a corner of the Blair Arcade building, which used to be the Angus Hotel and the Albion before that; it's a gorgeous five-story red-brick building with lots of stonework and wrought iron detailing, built in 1887."

Amazon.com: So your superhero novel has no villains in it, I hear.
David Schwartz: In a way I think that the powers themselves are the villains, or at the very least a major complicating factor to the challenges the characters already have in their lives.  It was important to me that the characters remain normal people, aside from their new abilities.  I think that super-villains have a tendency to move stories to a different level, one that's more mythic (and, well, heroic) but is also less relatable, and less open to questions about the personal and societal implications of that sort of power.  It's nice, sometimes, to think of evil having a recognizable face, like the Joker's.  That way everyone knows who to punch when bad things happen.  But aside from being an oversimplification, it's also a way of distancing us from the terrible mistakes that ordinary people are capable of making, even without a lot of power.

Superpowers

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Graphic Novel Friday: Dead in Desemboque

Every other Friday, Omnivoracious will turn the spotlight on one or more graphic novels, with future installments also including news and special features. You can let me know who or what you'd like to see featured by commenting on this post. (In October, Graphic Novel Friday will return to its normal weekly schedule.)

If you like crazy Mexican westerns, you'll love the new graphic novel from the always fascinating Soft Skull Press: Dead in Desemboque, written by E. Arellano, illustrated by W. Schaff, R. Schuler, and A. Thibodeau. Some sections use black-and-white art techniques akin to sophisticated woodcuts, albeit woodcuts with the quality of watercolors. Others use a more traditional approach similar to R. Crumb, conjuring up surreal Day of the Dead celebrations and spaghetti Westerns. There's a storyline running through this melange of imagery, and it's often bawdy and surreal. But it's the art I kept going back to.

Arellano is a Hispanic novelist and indie musician, and Dead is apparently in the tradition of pocket-sized comic books called historietas sold in Mexico to readers of all ages. Soft Skull Press calls Dead the first one to be sold north of the border. Whatever you want to call this very cool graphic novel, it's something readers should take a look at--definitely recommended.

         Dead

Stephen Hunt's The Court of the Air

           The_court_of_the_air      Huntdroid

The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt is an entertaining romp of a novel that should satisfy readers of fantasy, SF, and Steampunk alike. As fantasist extraordinaire Jay Lake has said of The Court of the Air, "If Charles Dickens and Jack Vance had ever collaborated, they might have written this book...a collision between English letters and the hard-edged vision of grunge fantasy." Rogues, brothels, murders, balloons, and orphans populate this clever adventure. Hunt recently signed a major six-book deal and has had much (and well-deserved) movie interest in his work. I recently caught up with Hunt via email to find out more about this inventive UK writer.

Amazon.com: Can you describe for readers where you are as you’re answering these questions?
Stephen Hunt: I’m actually reading the questions and blasting the answers out on my laptop as I’m on the train. I get most of the writing for my novels done on the hoof – normally on the train as I commute back and forth in the mornings, or the dead time when I’m stuck in hotels in the evening. It used to be said that a private in the army would learn to snatch sleep in five-minute bursts while standing ramrod straight on a parade ground. I’ve learnt the same trick for pushing out wordage, but doing so while queuing in Starbucks or stuck on the Tube/Subway/Metro!

Continue reading "Stephen Hunt's The Court of the Air" »

Alastair Reynolds' The Prefect

I've been a huge Alastair Reynolds fan ever since I read Revelation Space--a big, sprawling space opera that showcased an amazing imagination. Reynolds knows how to plot, and his characters have more depth than some critics give him credit for, but I read his novels because of the core strangeness in them. Somehow, Reynolds manages to convey the true alienness of life in a far-future in which humans have spread out beyond the solar system. Endlessly inventive, endlessly weird in the best possible way, Reynolds' novels satisfy the page-turner in me and also the reader who wants something more than that.

Now he's back with The Prefect, set in the same milieu as Revelation Space. It tells the story of Tom Dreyfus, a policeman who patrols the Glitter Band--the vast array of space habitats orbiting the planet Yellowstone, a teaming hub of a human interstellar empire. An attack on his area of responsibility leads to an investigation that uncovers all sorts of intrigue. It's a perfect summer novel. If you like SF, you need this book.

Prefer

L. Timmel Duchamp's Marq'ssan Cycle: An Epic Progressive SF Series Decades in the Making

Stretto, the fifth and final book in L. Timmel Duchamp's stunning Marq'ssan Cycle has just been published by Aqueduct Press. Taken as a whole, the Marq'ssan Cycle is one of the most ambitious political SF series to appear in the last twenty years. novels have received praise from the likes of Samuel Delany and Cory Doctorow, with Doctorow calling them "a refreshing read and a rare example of deft political storytelling."

Unfolding over a span of 22 years through the perspective of eleven viewpoint characters, the Marq'ssan Cycle envisions radical social and political change, from dystopia-- our current political reality of plutocracy and a savagely exploitative capitalism-- to a desirable situation in which to live, one that boasts a viable, vibrant polity and a minimum of hardship and suffering for the many rather than the few. The story begins with a global intervention by extraterrestrials, who assume that humans can simply be led like rational beings to change--and quickly discover just how deeply they are mistaken; their role then becomes one of facilitating change that humans must bring about themselves. The story explores how such a change might come about by unpacking the infinite detail, the fractalness of thought, in human relationships, laying them bare. Political reality is located not in a "system," but in the human beings who produce and keep it running. And so the story the Marq'ssan Cycle weaves is really the story of people processing change in their most intimate, daily lives.

Here's the most complete answer Duchamp has yet given about the origins of the series and how they came to be published. (Excerpted from the Broadsheet interview by Cat Rambo.)

Continue reading "L. Timmel Duchamp's Marq'ssan Cycle: An Epic Progressive SF Series Decades in the Making" »

Shawn Klomparens' Jessica Z: Twenty-First Century Hybrid?

Here's an intriguing mix of post 9-11 modernism: Jessica Z, a near-future novel that Lisa Unger, New York Times bestselling author of Black Out says "offers an intense and startling vision of the near future where a young woman struggles to find a roadmap for life beneath the thunderheads of terror, lust, and art. Perfectly capturing the ubiquitous sense of dread in a post- 9/11 world dominated by violence and mass media, Jessica Z. is gripping, unsettling, and dreamlike. A dazzling debut that kept me anxiously turning the pages—and stayed with me long after the book was closed." I was honestly going to give this one a pass, but the "mix" alluded to by Unger intrigued me. I'm about half-way through the novel and it's tight, well-written, and fairly unusual. It's an audacious move to add terrorist acts to a story about relationships and eroticism, but it seems to be working. Shawn Klomparens is at the very least a genuinely original new voice in fiction. Definitely check this one out.

Jessica

NYT Bestseller Michelle Richmond on Borges, Graham Greene, and No One You Know

NYT bestselling author Michelle Richmond is a bit of a chimera: her novels certainly have mainstream, commercial appeal but there's often a dark core to them, along with influences that include Italo Calvino and Paul Auster. This gives them a lot more depth than the breezy covers might suggest. Her latest, No One You Know, is as much Borgesian mystery as it is the story of a complex relationship between a woman and her sibling. Twenty years after the murder of Ellie Enderlin's sister, Lila, Ellie acquires a strange book of mathematical equations that might hold the key to finding out who killed Lila. What follows is a fascinating exploration of the past, of family secrets, and of a centuries-old mathematical puzzle.

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Arthur C. Clarke Award Winner Richard K. Morgan: Omnivoracious Guest Blogger July 7 - 11

           Morganthirteen    Morganfury

Next week, all week, Arthur C. Clarke Award and Philip K. Dick Award winner Richard K. Morgan, author of such future classics as Altered Carbon and Thirteen, will be guest-blogging on Omnivoracious (fresh off a vacation in Spain).

Continue reading "Arthur C. Clarke Award Winner Richard K. Morgan: Omnivoracious Guest Blogger July 7 - 11" »

Graphic Novel Thursday: The Fog Mound

Every other Friday (or in this case Thursday, because of the July 4 holiday), Omnivoracious will turn the spotlight on one or more graphic novels, with future installments also including news and special features. You can let me know who or what you'd like to see featured by commenting on this post. (In October, Graphic Novel Friday will return to its normal weekly schedule.)

Some children's books are perfect for kids and adults, even if they don't include that kind of winking irony that can be required for that combined audience. In the case of Susan Schade and Jon Buller's Fog Mound: Travels of Thelonius series, there's another synergy going on as well: between comics/graphic novels and traditional kid's fiction. Each book is a combination of comics-with-words and words-with-drawings, the latter chapters being more like a standard illustrated book. This hybrid works very well, as the word-heavy sections are mostly reserved for conversations and the comics sections reserved mostly for action and the introduction of new settings.

The milieu is a post-apocalytic world in which things are coming back to life and talking animals populate the ruins of deserted human cities. Separated from his home during a flood, Thelonius the talking chipmunk, long enamored of human creations, has various surreal and miraculous adventures. The books, from Simon & Schuster are lovingly constructed and should take pride of place on any collector's shelf. The latest, Volume 3: Simon's Dream, was released in May. Highly recommended.

Fog_mound

Barbara Hurd's Fascinating Books on Caves, Swamps, and Shorelines

            Hurd1       Hurd2       Hurd3

Barbara Hurd has three superlative books out from the University of Georgia Press this summer: Walking the Wrack Line: On Tidal Shifts and What Remains; Stirring the Mud: On Swamps, Bogs, and Human Imagination; and Entering the Stone: On Caves and Feeling Through the Dark. The latter two are reprints that were honored with being a Los Angeles Times book of the year and Library Journal's best natural history book of the year respectively. Walking the Wrack Line is more than likely to win some awards as well, being just as good as the first two, if not better.

In each book, Hurd collects her essays about the subject at hand. Each is a finely crafted gem of insight, imagination, and information. The way in which she collects specific detail and makes it as interesting to the reader as to her is a kind of gift. The focus of her attention in Walking the Wrack Line is as finely tuned as it is at times lyrical. In such essays as "Moon Snail: Unseemly Proportions," "Spider Crab: Disguise," "Jellyfish: The Unfinished," "Bottle and Feather: A Different Question," Hurd not only celebrates the natural world, she also slowly builds up a complete picture of an ecosystem through its component parts. In addition, she manages to infuse her observations with universal themes.

But, for me at least, there's another pleasure that comes from reading Walking the Wrack Line, and it's selfishly personal. I'm one of those readers who also likes mucking about in tidal pools and searching the beach for seaweed, driftwood, and exotic creatures washed up far from home. On that level, Hurd's book also has great appeal. Because nothing in Walking the Wrack Line seems false; instead, it's as if someone had had the same experience, and knew the best way to get it down in prose.

I should add that I not only recommend these books for their content. The University of Georgia Press has done a marvelous job with the packaging. All three volumes are beautiful books, and deserve space on your shelf.

Corrupted Science by John Grant

Clarkesworld, an excellent online venue for SF/F fiction and nonfiction has posted my interview with John Grant, author of Corrupted Science. The book is in the middle of a relaunch sparked by word-of-mouth and positive buzz. It's a hilarious and at times infuriating account of hypocrisy, avarice, and plain old fraud in the world of science down through the ages.

It Happened One Knife: Humorous Companion to Summer Movie-Going

Okay, so It Happened One Knife is a terrible pun on the movie title It Happened One Night, but don't hold it against Jeffrey Cohen--either the title or the knife. Cohen, who has been described as "the Dave Barry of the New Jersey Turnpike" (which actually makes him, er, Jeffrey Cohen), is a first-rate comedic mystery writer. It Happened One Knife features independent movie theatre owner Elliot Freed. Elliot Freed couldn’t be happier—his all-comedy-all-the-time movie theatre has gotten a makeover, he might be getting back together with his ex-wife, and he's lifted his ban on non-comedies so he can show his projectionist’s gory film-school debut. Then things go seriously wrong. The film goes missing and one of his boyhood heroes is implicated in a fifty-year-old murder. And that's just the beginning of Freed's troubles...

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The Resurrection of Jack O'Connell, a True American Original

                      Jackoconnell           Resur

Jack O'Connell's The Resurrectionist is one of the most original American novels of the year. A quest by a father to save his son, a tale of mad scientists and dream-logic, the story of a band of "freaks" on their own strange journey, and the chronicle of an odd coma clinic, the book defies easy classification. As I wrote in my recent Washington Post Book World review, "I've read The Resurrectionist twice now, and both times it came as something of a revelation. It seems odd we should care so much about the freaks, for example, when we know they're merely characters in a boy's comic book. Nor should the dream-life of a coma patient be so resonant, and yet it is."

The Resurrectionist has been reviewed by the LA Times, BookPage, The San Francisco Chronicle, and many others. The New York Times Book Review wrote of the book, "“To call Jack O’Connell’s novels imaginative, or even original, doesn’t begin to say it...There’s something both exciting and unnerving about [his] kind of hallucinatory writing.” Ron Hogan at Galleycat also posted a very nice feature. A website for The Resurrectionist exists at Enter Limbo.

The novel comes nine years after O'Connell's last, in part for reasons revealed in the interview below and in part because his previous novel, Word Made Flesh, "was an extremely dark book. By the time it was published, I had two young kids. And I didn’t want to go back in the darkness for a while. So I spent a couple of years writing a satirical road novel. It’s a book I still like but my agent convinced me that it was not what readers expected or wanted from me. And that it might diminish whatever small readership I’d built up over these last 15 years. So I put it in a drawer and launched Sweeney’s story. Which was soon invaded by a troupe of wandering circus freaks." Other novels by O'Connell include the cult classic Box Nine, The Skin Palace, and Wireless, all set in his iconic, uniquely American creation, the rustbelt city of Quinsigamond.

As a long-time fan of O'Connell's unique surreal noir approach to fiction, I was thrilled to have a chance to interview him. When I asked where he was while answering my emailed questions, he replied, "I’m in the lab. The sepulcher. The dreaming vault at the top of the house. Hermetically sealed and insulated with 40 years worth of collected pulp. It’s about 5 a.m. and I’m stupid with jet-lag..."

Amazon.com: Where did your city of Quinsigamond come from? How has it changed over the years?
Jack O'Connell: Quinsigamond is my home-city as refracted through a quarter century of fever dream. I’ve lived my whole life within about three square miles of central Massachusetts. That was not the intention. No kid ever fell so hard for the standard clichés of an imagined writing life. I haunted the corner Rexall store and memorized the bio-blurbs on the rear covers of the paperbacks. Was long convinced that I needed to travel the globe, drive dynamite trucks, pan for gold in the Yukon, and fight fascists in Spain in order to become a writer. Things didn’t work out that way. And so, to paraphrase Thoreau, I have traveled much in my old, rustbelt, native city.

Continue reading "The Resurrection of Jack O'Connell, a True American Original" »

Mirrored Heavens: David J. Williams on the Future

David J. Williams' intriguing Mirrored Heavens is set in a 22nd century in which a space elevator has just been destroyed by a mysterious insurgent group called Autumn Rain. US counterintelligence agents Claire Haskell and Jason Marlowe are assigned to finding out more about Autumn Rain. Superpowers move to the brink of war and Haskell and Marlowe find themselves as much hunted as hunter in this action-packed thriller. The novel comes with glowing endorsements from Stephen Baxter and Nancy Kress, among others. I interviewed Williams recently, via email, to get his thoughts on the future...

Mirror

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Pop Culture Report #4: Bringing the Big Books

Check out my latest Pop Culture Report (#4), in which I look at some great graphic novels, coffee table books, and one huge art book on an iconic dark fantasy figure. This time around, visual reviews of work by Greg Broadmore, Taylor F. Lockwood's Chasing the Rain, Out of Picture 2, Andrew Bolton's Superheroes: Fantasy and Fashion, First Second's Drawing Words and Writing Pictures, Centipede Press' The Art of Lovecraft, classic reprinted Moomim comics from Drawn & Quarterly, and a Fog Mound children's book featured in this week's upcoming Graphic Novel Fridays. As always, this is a DIY, come-into-my-home-and-look-at-some-books kind of video...

Daniel Grandbois' Lucky Unlucky Lucky Days

Daniel Grandbois' writing has appeared in Conjunctions, Fiction, Boulevard, Sentence, Del Sol Review, and the anthologies Freak Lightning and Online Writing: The Best of the First Ten Years. An accomplished musician, he has played in several Denver-based bands. This month his first book, Unlucky Lucky Days hits bookstores. It's an intriguing, nicely-packaged fiction collection divided into a week's worth of 73 short-shorts. Some of these stories are funny, others unsettling. One of my favorite writers, Brian Evenson, has said of Unlucky Lucky Days, "Grandbois is the master of the double-edged word, of stories that both cut through the world like butter and double-back to saw themselves to bits." I recently interviewed Grandbois about fiction, music, and Buckwaldo Mudthumper. Included after the interview is an exclusive excerpt from the book.

Grad  Grandbois

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Friday Night Videos: Origami Book Winner Catherine Cheek--and Eoin Colfer Under the Bright Lights

Welcome once again to Friday Night Videos, where we usually match up book-related videos against each other in mortal combat--to satisfy the blood-sport instincts of rabid bibliophiles. This time, though, it's the origami book contest winner and a cool video in support of Eoin Colfer's summer book tour for The Time Paradox (Artemis Fowl, book six). A programming note: After tonight, this feature will go on hiatus for a little while, returning with a slightly different focus.

First, the origami. Last week, we ran a video on how to make an origami book, along with a contest. The winner would get the coolest tiny book in my house. Turns out it's harder to make one of these things than you'd think. But we do have a winner: Catherine Cheek. Cheek is what you'd call multi-creative, as evidenced by the other cool stuff on her website. She's also recently signed on with Kate Schaefer Testerman to represent her on her cool novel Alternate Susan--and she has short fiction forthcoming in several anthologies and magazines. Here's her origami book, with more photos on her site.

                Kater_book

Continue reading "Friday Night Videos: Origami Book Winner Catherine Cheek--and Eoin Colfer Under the Bright Lights" »

Graphic Novel Friday: Greg Broadmore on the Imagination and "Hardly Any Beatings"

Every Friday, Omnivoracious will turn the spotlight on one or more graphic novels, with future installments also including news and special features. You can let me know who or what you'd like to see featured by commenting on this post.

This time out, I interview Greg Broadmore, author of the sensational Doctor Grordbort's Contrapulatronic Dingus Directory (Dark Horse Comics), which I reviewed in a previous installment of this column.

Who is Greg Broadmore, and why should you care? Well, in addition to having illustrated over 30 children's books, he has worked as a designer and sculptor on, among others, Peter Jackson's King Kong and The Chronicles of Narnia. He's also a member of the famed Weta Workshop and a responsible for an awful lot of ray gun designs. In short, Broadmore is one of those multi-talented wretches doomed to spiral off ideas from their giant, imagination-stuffed brains on a daily basis. He's also, as this interview shows, a lot of fun...

Amazon.com: What was your childhood like? Do you remember any early "projects"?
Greg Broadmore: My childhood was good. I was smaller than I am now, and was into Star Wars more... Very little trauma, hardly any beatings. Lived in a coastal town called Whakatane in Aotearoa (New Zealand), which was nice. Yeah, I give my childhood a thumbs up. Early projects? I remember drawing lots of tanks, soldiers, dinosaurs, spaceships, robots... Mostly in scenes of destruction. I suppose that's not really a project. At primary school I did this project where I drew lots of German tanks shooting shit. Not sure what the teachers thought of that. I liked it.

Continue reading "Graphic Novel Friday: Greg Broadmore on the Imagination and "Hardly Any Beatings"" »

A Digital Plague Top Ten from Jeff Somers

Orbit recently published Jeff Somers' second action-packed near-future novel, The Digital Plague, a follow-up to his first novel, The Electric Church. "A strong techno-thriller," (PW) Digital Plague continues the adventures of Avery Cates, killer-for-hire. As the press release reads, "He's probably the richest criminal in New York City. But right now, Avery Cates is pissed. Because everyone around him has just started to die - in a particularly gruesome way. With every moment bringing the human race closer to extinction, Cates finds himself in the role of both executioner and savior of the entire world." The novel was also recently featured on io9, with Annalee Newitz writing, "If you like nano-noir (and who doesn't?), you won't want to miss [it]."

In an Amazon exclusive Jeff Somers has been kind enough to share with our readers TOP TEN REASONS MY DYSTOPIAN VISION OF THE FUTURE IS BETTER THAN YOUR DYSTOPIAN VISION OF THE FUTURE...

Somers

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Brooks Hansen on The Brotherhood of Joseph

Brooks Hansen has written an account of his ultimately successful journey to becoming a father, after much disappointment, called The Brotherhood of Joseph. Like everything Hansen writes, it's honest and unusual and at times very heart-rending. Hansen has written a number of fine novels, including The Chess Garden which is one of my favorites of all time. I interviewed Hansen recently about the book.

Amazon.com: Many people go through difficulties in having children. Many of them are writers. Not all of them write a book about their experiences. You did. Why?
Brooks Hansen: Well, a quick glance at my output will reveal it’s not my first inclination to write intimately about my life. My books have tended to be about distant times and places. In this instance, I made an exception for two reasons, I guess. The first is that what Elizabeth and I went through is something a lot of people are going through these days, and that a lot of people are talking about. But there’s a real gap in the conversation. One doesn’t often hear the husband’s point of view. I don’t assume that I’m a typical husband or that our story is a typical one, but I still thought it might be worthwhile to get a male perspective out there.

Ultimately, though, if I’m being honest, that alone would not have compelled me to write the book. What compelled me to write the book is what happened to us in Siberia, specifically, in the course of around thirty-six hours. That day, day-and-a-half, was so far beyond anything I had ever experienced in my entire life, and ever hope to experience, I really had no choice but to try to express it. Given what I do for a living, it would have been cowardly, weird, and mildly deranged not to.

              Brooks_2

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Michael Phillips on Fiction and E-Books

Last week, in one of those surprising coincidences that seem to happen more often than they should, Michael Phillips emailed me. Phillips had read and enjoyed my novel Veniss Underground and was looking for an e-version of City of Saints & Madmen. Oddly enough, I'd just learned about Phillips because of a piece about him that appeared on Showtime's This American Life. Despite having a physical condition that has effectively paralyzed him, Phillips reads a lot of books, using e-books and audio books to overcome the problem of, for example, turning pages. Among other things, I wondered what someone's perspective on e-books would be if they had to use them to enjoy good fiction. Phillips was kind enough to agree to an interview via email to talk about books, fiction, and his favorite authors. (BTW--although an e-book of City of Saints exists, it requires Windows XP to view it, so my editor at Bantam is working on getting Phillips a PDF instead.)

Amazon.com: Can you give me an idea of your general reading tastes? Do you read fiction and nonfiction? What kinds, etc?
Michael Phillips: I really prefer fiction. Stark reality is everywhere, when I read I like to go somewhere else, somewhere far away. I mostly like darker fiction, I don't read to go somewhere "better" than the world around us. If anything, I read to see something far worse. I love fabulism, magic realism, darker works of fantasy, and I read classics because so much modem fiction alludes to classics.

Etched_2 MartinThe_road Veniss

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Meg Gardiner, China Lake, and Stephen King: The Complete Story

Meg Gardiner's China Lake was released earlier this month by Obsidian Mysteries after a convoluted path to U.S. publication. It's a firecracker of a novel featuring Gardiner's trademark character Evan Delaney. In this first of a five-book series, Delaney gets deeply involved in a murder mystery after her ex-sister-in-law Tabitha joins the religious group called the Remnant. The writing throughout is taut and exciting, and I'm looking forward to reading the other books in the series, which Obsidian will release shortly. I recently interviewed Gardiner via email about the novel...

               Megmugnew

Amazon.com: Can you tell us where you are as you’re answering these questions?
Meg Gardiner: I’m sitting at my kitchen table, watching thunder clouds knock around the skies of southern England. 

Amazon.com: The story of how you got a U.S. publisher is an interesting one...
Gardiner: I wrote China Lake after moving to London for my husband’s job with an American IT company.  We expected to be in the U.K. a short while before going back to Santa Barbara.  But our time in London was extended, so when I finished the book I sent it to a British literary agent. He assumed that because I’m American, I’d get a U.S. publisher right away. He thought he’d have to coax the Brits into taking me.  Instead, a British publisher snapped up China Lake. French, Dutch, and other foreign language publishers did too.  But American publishers said, No thanks.

I don’t know why. I’ve heard theories: that U.S. publishers thought I was English--and wanted English crime novels about England, not about California. Or that the plot, featuring a survivalist sect that tries to bring on the apocalypse, ticked off the authors of the Left Behind series, and might have riled up fundamentalists. (Yes, that sounds nuts. But I’ve heard it more than once from publishing executives.) Or that New York publishers weren’t in the mood for a novel that mentioned biological warfare.

Anyway, once U.S. publishers shrugged at the first novel, they shook their heads at the rest. Nobody wanted to pick up a series part way through. Back home, my relatives began looking at me funny. They’d smile and say, “Of course we believe you write books, dear. I’m sure they’re very nice.” Then they’d point at their heads and make a circling motion with their index finger.

Then luck intervened. It intervened in a great, loud, Maximum Overdrive way.  Stephen King was looking for a book to read on a flight to London. He and I have the same British publisher, so from a stack of novels they’d sent him, he grabbed China Lake.  He liked it. He read the whole Evan Delaney series. He thought I should have a U.S. publisher. He mentioned my novels on his website. He wrote a column about the books in Entertainment Weekly. Within a week of his column appearing, ten American publishers wanted to publish the Evan Delaney series, along with the new novel I was writing, The Dirty Secrets Club. And I swear, I didn’t pay Stephen King off, or threaten him, or take his dog hostage. Scout’s honor. He truly wanted to help another writer he thought deserved a boost. I can’t express how grateful I am for his support.

Continue reading "Meg Gardiner, China Lake, and Stephen King: The Complete Story" »

Locus Awards Announced in Seattle

This past weekend, Locus Magazine announced the winners of its annual awards for SF and Fantasy. Winners included Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union for best SF novel and Shaun Tan's marvelous The Arrival for best art book.

Locus Online editor Mark Kelly has a detailed post about the awards weekend in Seattle, which includes this insight into an interview with William Gibson:

Gibson talked about how he reads so little genre SF in part because the packaging is so ugly; how he's native to SF, but not a nationalist; how JG Ballard has always been far more important to him than RA Heinlein; how he's liked recent books by Charles Stross, Junot Diaz, and Michael Chabon; and perhaps most interestingly, how his own novels start with tiny seeds and then grow, like an accumulation of rubber bands into an ever-enlarging ball with a single knot at the center, in order to 'explain' and justify the initial image.

Friday Night Videos Contest: Make Yourself an Origami Book

Welcome once again to Friday Night Videos, where we usually match up book-related videos against each other in mortal combat--to satisfy the blood-sport instincts of rabid bibliophiles.

Tonight, though, it's a primer on creating an origami book. A little arts-and-crafts for a lazy Friday night. Here's the deal: if you follow the directions in the video and create your own book, send me a couple of photos at my personal email (vanderworld at hotmail.com) or post them on your blog and put the link in the comments for this entry before next Friday. (Nothing offensive, please--PG or G.) If you can write in your little book or illustrate it, all the better. If I get more than 10 entries, I'll pick a winner and send that person the coolest tiny book I own. Now, how more committed to books and Amazon can you get than that?

Have a great Friday, buoys and gulls...

Jeff

Graphic Novel Friday: With Mr. Fooster, Cynics Need Not Apply

Every Friday, Omnivoracious will turn the spotlight on one or more graphic novels, with future installments also including news and interviews. You can let me know who or what you'd like to see featured by commenting on this post. This time, I give you the skinny on a hybrid...

Mr. Fooster: Traveling on a Whim, written by Tom Corwin and illustrated by Craig Frazier, is a little like Ray Bradbury Lite. In this whimsical, sometimes magical story of Mr. Fooster walking through an anonymous rural landscape, Corwin has crafted the kind of tale that teeters along the fine line between precious and profound. I still haven't made up my mind about where, finally, it falls, but I do know this: the illustrations by Craig Frazier are most definitely magical, in part because they have a solid quality that insulates them against being too breezy. Also, the art is integral to the text, specifically because it does keep the text grounded. (You could even argue that, with another twenty or so images added, the book would be just as effective without words.)

The book has gotten some great pre-press, including this quote from NPR's Kitchen Sisters (Davia Nelson & Nikki Silva): "Magical and haunting. Mr. Fooster is a lyrical story that asks questions big and small, with illustrations that compel you to peer into them over and over again."

The press release informs us that "Mr. Fooster seems like your average fellow, albeit one who likes to carry around an old bottle of bubble soap.  One Tuesday morning, however, he takes us into a rich and vivid world unlike any we’ve seen before--a world where questioning your assumptions can set you free.  As he heads out the door with no particular place to go, Mr. Fooster’s boundless curiosity leads him to reflect on questions such as: why is it that you never see baby pigeons? And, who figured out how to eat artichokes?"

This kind of reverie has been codified and made cliched by any number of predecessors. The real strength of the book is in its reminder to all of us that quiet contemplation, that time to think by oneself--a vanishing destination these days, with so many portable devices to distract us--is an important part of life. Inasmuch as Mr. Fooster will hopefully make its readers go take a walk in a natural setting, making us realize the rejuvenating potential of such a simple thing, it's a worthy endeavor. As a beautiful little gift book for the un-cynical amongst you, Mr. Fooster will also serve admirably.

For a sample of the book, check out the website, which has sample chapters with audio.

Fooster

Peter Zheutlin on Life in the Balance

Sometimes writing a book is as much of a life-changing experience as reading it. In the case of Life in the Balance: A Physician's Memoir of Life, Love and Loss with Parkinson's Disease and Dementia, helping a friend write a book can be just as profound. The memoir of MD Thomas B. Graboys would not have been completed without his friend, journalist and author Peter Zheutlin. With Dr. Graboys currently scheduled to appear on ABC's Good Morning America June 25, I interviewed Zheutlin via email.

Why should people read Life in the Balance?
Anyone who has experienced serious illness, either as a patient or a family member, will find a lot of wisdom in this book from a distinguished and beloved physician turned patient. Dr. Graboys brings thirty years of experience helping patients and their families cope with heart disease to his personal struggle with Parkinson's Disease and dementia. It's not an easy read because the story is tragic and there won't be a happy ending because Dr. Graboys' disease is chronic and progressive. Nevertheless, readers will be inspired by how proactive he is about living life to the fullest within the boundaries imposed by his illness.

How did writing this book change you or your perspective on the world?
I knew Tom Graboys for more than twenty years before we collaborated on this book. He gave me the rare privilege of being privy to his most intimate feelings and struggles, and helping him share his story was deeply gratifying. The process of writing the book made me realize that people have so much to offer one another in times of heartache and grief. One lesson that Tom conveys in the book is that the patient can do much to alleviate the burdens that fall to loved ones and caregivers by how they conduct themselves through their illness. Working with Tom also taught me a lesson about determination. That Tom was able to persevere and create a book given the toll dementia has taken on him taught me a lot about perseverance and courage.

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Continue reading "Peter Zheutlin on Life in the Balance" »

Francie Lin's Corker of a First Novel: The Foreigner

The Foreigner by Francie Lin is one of my favorite novels of the year thus far. It's a smart, sometimes slyly humorous mystery that gives readers a gritty look at the urban underbelly of Taipei, Taiwan. The writing is also first-rate, and the narrator is unique and complex.

My view of the book is probably best exemplified by the Publishers Weekly review: "In Lin's stunning debut, a crime novel set in Taiwan, Emerson Chang, a 40-year-old virgin who's a financial analyst, travels from San Francisco to Taipei on a quest to scatter his mother's ashes and re-establish contact with his shady younger brother, Little P, who's been bequeathed the family hotel. At a meeting with Little P, Chang encounters two peculiar cousins, Poison and Big One, as well as Little P's devious friend, Li An-Qing (aka Atticus), who's anxious to get Little P to sell the family hotel to him. Emerson soon finds himself mixed up in machinations involving Atticus and extortion due to Little P's unsavory dealings. In addition, Emerson loses his job back in California, and the property he's inherited in Taipei turns out to have its own mysteries. Chang's distinctive voice propels a strong and original plot...this novel will satisfy readers of thrillers and general fiction alike."

Recently, I interviewed Lin via email...

Amazon.com: Emerson Chang doesn't strike me as your average fictional narrator. Was it hard to find and keep his voice throughout the novel or did it come naturally?
Francie Lin: The general tone wasn't that hard to find, but it was hard to refine and maintain, definitely. Emerson was originally more pathetic, and he was prone to long, poetic, ruminative passages about death and love. He had no edge at all, which made him kind of tiresome to write. Only after a few revisions did he develop a little more backbone, and then it was fun to play his fastidiousness off the more hardened characters.

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Continue reading "Francie Lin's Corker of a First Novel: The Foreigner" »

Seeing Lovecraft in a New Light: The Ultimate Art Book

Every once in awhile you receive a book that displays true evidence of genius. This month that book is A Lovecraft Retrospective: Artists Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft from Millipede Press. The vision of Millipede Press founder Jerad Walters, it features over 400 pages of art either influenced by the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft or directly commissioned over the years for various editions of the iconic writer's work. With several full-color fold-out pages, essays by Harlan Ellison, Stuart Gordon, and Thomas Ligotti, among others, and a clear mission to provide variety (the art styles vary from pulp to pop to avant garde), this is the kind of tome that people leave as an heirloom to their children.

Millipede Press's mission is to bring "the finest in horror and crime fiction back into print. Our books are printed on acid-free, recycled paper, and are all, hardcover and trade paperback alike, sewn rather than glued. Millipede Press books are known for high quality printing, binding and interior design. They are painstakingly proofread."

I asked Walters how long it took to bring this amazing project to completion--his answer displaying a refreshingly fanatical approach to the details. "It took about two years. The hardest part was simply contacting all of the involved artists and narrowing down the range of material. It was physically demanding, too, in that hours and hours were spent color correcting all of the scans. Many images took upwards to 20 hours to get just right."

As for his own favorites in the book, Walters told me he likes it all, but "perhaps the Lee Brown Coye section and some of the fold-outs. The thumbnails section is useful. With any project of this size, of course there are going to be small details that you wish you could change. However, I feel very fortunate in that everything I wanted to be in the book is in the book, and everything I wanted to do has been done. I do miss the presence of Wayne Douglas Barlowe, whose Old One would have been a good inclusion. However, I feel very privileged to have made a book that includes at least one work of every major fantasy and horror artist of the last 50 years. Wrightson, Frazetta, Whelan, Giger, Morris, Potter, Fabian, Coye, Rowena, Palencar, Eggleton, Bok, Finlay, Ian Miller, Tim Kirk--they are all in here."

Millipede Press has several other books scheduled for the next year or so, and I'll keep Amazon readers in the loop as they come out.

Lovecraft

Friday Night Videos: Poppets on a Book Tour

Welcome once again to Friday Night Videos, where we usually match up book-related videos against each other in mortal combat--to satisfy the blood-sport instincts of rabid bibliophiles.

Tonight, though, it's poppet theatre, featuring a really cool library heavy with Neil Gaiman offerings. So, it's either eerie surreal poppetry you're enjoying...or a nice review of bookshelves. Only serious bibliophiles need apply. David Kirkpatrick shot the video in his library, with his ten-year-old daughter, Alia: "She wanted to do something with the poppets, and we hit on the idea of doing a stop-motion movie. When we decided to use the bookcase, the plot for the movie jumped out at us."

(For more cool poppets, visit Lisa Snellings-Clarke's website.)

Graphic Novel Friday: The Picture's The Thing

Every Friday, Omnivoracious will turn the spotlight on one or more graphic novels, with future installments also including news and interviews. You can let me know who or what you'd like to see featured by commenting on this post.

Back after longish vacation, I'm focusing this time on graphica that emphasizes the art over the words. Three recent books provide serious visual satisfaction...

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Doctor Grordbort's Contrapulatronic Dingus Directory (Dark Horse Comics)

Greg Broadmore has written and illustrated an amazing Steampunk compendium of retro-weapons, along with some stunning visuals of the weapons in action. This might indeed be a Boy's Life dream on the page, but who can resist such insane creations as Ignas Fraunhoffer III Gas Driven Gadabout or Dr. Grordbort's Highly Popular Portable Inertionaut. The concluding section, Lord Cockswain's Marvelous Interplanetary Excursions, is part wacked-out sci-fantasy art, complete with weird aliens, and part send-up of Imperial intent. Yes, there are nice descriptions of the inventions, but the primary joy here is in the intricate detail of the full-color art.

Continue reading "Graphic Novel Friday: The Picture's The Thing" »

Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Marriages

In Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Marriages noted cultural critic Katie Roiphe examines seven marriages between 1910 and World War II. She uses private memoirs, personal correspondence, and long-forgotten journals as source materials for this attempt to re-create the lives of these fascinating couples. Among those examined are H.G. & Jane Wells, Katherine Mansfield & John Middleton Murry, and Vanessa & Clive Bell. How did Roiphe choose her subjects? As she writes in the introduction, "The couples I have chosen were more than usually involved in questions of freedom and attraction. Their relationships were depraved or innovative, depending on one's point of view, and they tried to solve the problem of intimate relations in more or less creative ways." Why the period between the two wars? In part, she writes, "because it was as richly conflicted as our own. The lives of the writers and artists emerging from the Edwardian period bridged an enormous gap in attitude: their earliest education was infused with the exquisite restraint of the Victorians, and they came of age amidst the seductive freedoms and sexual frankness promised by the new century."

The book has received great praise from the likes of Publishers Weekly, The New York Times Book Review, and Slate. In reading through Uncommon Arrangements, it's clear to me that Roiphe is also interested in telling stories. There's much here that from a plot or narrative perspective fascinates, in addition to Roiphe's observations about the couples and the times in which they lived. Highly recommended.

Uncommon

No Sissy Spidey Senses Here: The Essential Batman Encyclopedia Brings the Darkness

That paragon of virtuous darkness, that scarred noirish almost-anti-hero, Batman, is back in theaters soon--and back in the spotlight with a new release this week: The Essential Batman Encyclopedia by Robert Greenberger. From "Abbatoir" to "Zur-En-Arrh" (extra credit if you knew that was a planet), Greenberger brings the Learnin' but makes it fun. Copiously illustrated with drawings, photographs, and some full-color comics action in the middle of it all, this batty encyclopedia means business. Want to know more about Batman's origins? Read this book. Want biographies of every major character in the Batman universe? Check. Want more classic comics mojo than you know what do with? You know where to turn.

Personally, Batman's always been a favorite because he's ultimately almost as twisted as the villains he pursues. Whether it's the cheesy kitsch of the TV series, the stylish dark fantasy of the movies, or the psychological pulp shadows of the comics versions (remember the Arkham Asylum?), Batman's essential character is appealing almost in spite of his freakishness.

Greenberger is a former editor at DC Comics, and it shows. Meticulous detail and care went into this encyclopedia. It's really worth your time and attention.

Bat

The Reveries of Author John Domini on His New Tomb and the Power of Things

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John Domini's distinguished career has included fiction in the Paris Review, nonfiction in The New York Times, and a Pulitzer Prize nomination for his last novel, Earthquake I.D. Now he returns with A Tomb on the Periphery, which takes place in contemporary Southern Italy and features Fabbrizio, a fatherless twenty-something looking for work around, as the press release puts it, "the rotted husk of a turbulent urban hive." Encounters with the mob and a beautiful archaeologist provide the fuel for this intricate and nuanced novel. Jay Parini had this to say about the novel: "This is a delightful crime novel, with a setting to die for, and at the same time a moving story that should interest a wide range of readers."

I recently interviewed Domini. Here are his thoughts about the novel, and fiction generally, which form a kind of reverie...

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Continue reading "The Reveries of Author John Domini on His New Tomb and the Power of Things" »

Clarkesworld and Laird Barron

Clarkesworld Magazine is one of the latest and most interesting of online sources for original genre fiction and nonfiction. Within its virtual pages you can find stories from the likes of rising stars like Catherynne M. Valente, Tiptree Award Winner, as well as from relative newcomers like Paul Jessup, who may help form the nucleus of a new explosion of creativity and imagination. You'll also find interviews like the one I conducted with Laird Barron, who recently garnered three nominations for the Shirley Jackson Award. His The Imago Sequence is a bravura performance, a first collection that borrows from the macabre literature of the past while bringing his own viewpoint and modern sensibilities to the mix. Check out Clarkesworld, which has a new issue up every month, and also check out my interview with Barron, which I've excerpted below.

Continue reading "Clarkesworld and Laird Barron" »

Preview: Naomi Novik Explodes into Hardcover with Victory of Eagles

It's grim days indeed for the dragon Temeraire--removed from military service, his captain sentenced to death for treason and the dastardly Napoleon pushing on toward London. Novik's latest novel, Victory of Eagles, chronicles these harsh times in this fifth book in the series.

But while things might be dark in her fantasy world, Novik's real world is nothing but sweetness and light. There are six million copies of the series in print, Peter Jackson has acquired the film rights, and Victory of Eagles is being released in July in hardcover. Novik will also tour behind the novel--another first.

And, I'm happy to report that Novik will be giving us a report from the road for an Amazon exclusive!

Here's a little sneak peek, the first paragraph of the novel:

The breeding grounds were called Pen Y. Fan, after the hard, jagged slash of the mountain at their heart, like an axe-blade, rimed with ice along its edge and rising barren over the moorlands: a cold, wet Welsh autumn already, coming on towards winter, and the other dragons sleepy and remote, uninterested in anything but their meals. There were a few hundred of them scattered throughout the grounds, mostly established in caves or on rocky ledges, wherever they could fit themselves; nothing of comfort or even order provided for them, except the feedings, and the mowed-bare strip of dirt around the borders, where torches were lit at night to mark the lines past which they might not go, with the town-lights glimmering in the distance, cheerful and forbidden.

Note: Both the Friday graphic novels and video features will return next Friday.

Victory

SF-Fantasy Heavy Hitters for the Summer

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Want a big fat science fiction or fantasy book to lead the way into summer? Well, for SF you could do worse than pick up the huge new (definitive) Orson Scott Card collection from Tor, Keeper of Dreams. It includes story notes and commentary from the author and the sheer variety and talent on display will keep you on your toes.

For the kind of dark, epic fantasy that resides somewhere between China Mieville and George R.R. Martin, be sure to sample Iron Angel from Alan Campbell. His previous novel Scar Night was a great steampunkish debut, and this one contains even more of the same grand storytelling and exciting adventure.

Another fantasy sequel by Kate Elliott, Shadow Gate, takes readers back to a rich fantasy world of fabled cities and mysterious gods. A little lighter but just as engaging as the Campbell, Elliott gives readers a great heroic fantasy, complete with spirits and flying animals.

Finally, for fantasy a little closer to home, Paul Park weighs in with the concluding volume to his Novels of Roumania series, Hidden World. Award-hyped and brilliantly written these intelligent and stylish books deserve your immediate attention. If you haven't read any in the series, start with A Princess of Roumania. You'll be glad you did.

Juno Books Brings Smart, Savvy Supernatural Thrillers to Readers

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Urban fantasy, supernatural suspense, paranormal romance--all of these subgenres are hot right now, and Juno Books has been publishing a cornucopia of such novels in bright, sharply designed mass market paperbacks. There's a wide variety of fiction between those covers. For example, Personal Demons by Stacia Kane is about a reporter and a demon lover, while Clockwork Heart by Dru Pagliassotti is set in an imaginary world and has more in common with steampunk and epic fantasy. Blackness Tower by Lillian Stewart Carl is in a Mary Stewart Merlin vein, except featuring a Spanish armada. Matthew Cook's Blood Magic chronicles the adventures of a necromancer named Kirin. Three other Juno Books seem to fit snugly into the supernatural suspense category: House of Whispers by Margaret Lucke, Dancing with Werewolves by Carole Nelson Douglas, and Apricot Brandy by Lynn Cesar.

These trends in book publishing appear to be driven by the success of TV programs like Charmed and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as well as the huge success of such writers as Kim Harrison. The audience for such imprints is predominantly women, and most of the writers are women. What's interesting is that Juno, an independent press, seems able to compete on an even playing field with the big publishers for quality fiction in this area. Whether this is a self-sustaining niche or a category that will ultimately become overly familiar has yet to be determined, but in the meantime check out some of these interesting titles.

Already Seen Prince Caspian? Pick Up the Book of Stories That Inspired Narnia

So you say you've already seen both Narnia movies and read all of C.S. Lewis's novels? Well, you could do worse than pick up a copy of Tales Before Narnia: The Roots of Modern Fantasy and Science Fiction, subtitled "Classic Stories that Inspired C.S. Lewis." Edited by Douglas A. Anderson, who also brought readers Tales Before Tolkien, the anthology includes stories from J.R.R. Tolkien, G.K. Chesterton, Kenneth Grahame, Charles Dickens, Hans Christian Andersen, Sir Walter Scott, George MacDonald, William Morris, and many others. It also reprints "The Wood that Time Forgot: The Enchanted Wood" by Roger Lancelyn Green, the direct inspiration for the first Narnia book. Selections of poetry help round out the collection, with an elegant design enhancing reading pleasure. And, in the back of the book, Anderson has provided an excellent recommended reading list for those who wish to explore further pre-Narnia fiction.

Anarnia

Kay Kenyon's The Entire and the Rose: Part of a Modern Classic?

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Imagine "a five-armed radial universe that exists in a dimension without stars and planets and is parallel to our own universe. Stretched over the Entire is a lid of plasma, called the bright, under which live many galactic species, copied from our own universe."

Can't imagine that? Okay, it's tough for me, too, and I was reading Isaac Asimov when I was three while benchpressing a copy of Stranger in a Strange Land.

Okay, how about this instead: Kay Kenyon's Bright of the Sky and just-released A World Too Near feature a brilliant SF setting that rivals Larry Niven's Ringworld and Philip Jose Farmer's Riverworld series for sheer invention, adventure, complexity, and a sense of wonder.

The storyline involves the Quinn family--it is Titus Quinn who breaches the divide between our universe and the Entire. It's Titus who must go back to try to save his wife and battle his daughter, who found her way to the Entire in book one. In addition to the evolving family dynamic, there are wars going on between rival factions of alien species. Not to mention a continuing exploration of the strangeness that is the Entire.

Here's a short excerpt:

Continue reading "Kay Kenyon's The Entire and the Rose: Part of a Modern Classic?" »

Friday Night Videos: Bluesman with a Hell Hound on His Trail

Welcome once again to Friday Night Videos, where we usually match up book-related videos against each other in mortal combat--to satisfy the blood-sport instincts of rabid bibliophiles.

This Friday, though, something a little different. With the forthcoming release of the Bluesman graphic novel by Rob Vollmar and Pablo Callejo, the book's publisher has created a book trailer that gives readers a great idea of what to expect from this highly lauded project. But, since the trailer is silent, I've added a second video below it as a soundtrack. Just start both of 'em going at the same time and you've got yourself a nice little one-two punch. A kind of YouTube mash-up.

Don't say we never supersaturate your senses here at Friday Night Videos!

Programming note: FNV will be taking a break next Friday and returning on May 30.

Graphic Novel Friday: 'Toons for the Kids

Every Friday, Omnivoracious will turn the spotlight on one or more graphic novels, with future installments also including news, relevant links, and interviews. You can let me know who or what you'd like to see featured by commenting on this post.

Last week, a reader asked for more information on manga and anime. We're going to restrict ourselves to books in this column, but in terms of manga, anyone who wants to learn more might consider referring to the interview with and guest column by Robin Brenner at Bookslut (she also has a great website).

Little Lit TOON Books for Younger Readers

The classy Little Lit gang has come up with something new, TOON Books, which they describe as "the first high-quality comics designed for children ages four and up. Each book in the collection is just right for reading to the youngest but, perhaps most remarkable, this is the first collection ever designed to offer newly-emerging readers comics they can read themselves. Each TOON Book has been vetted by educators to ensure that the language and the narratives will nurture young minds."

The first volumes in this hardcover series are Silly Lilly and the Four Seasons by Agnes Rosenstiehl, Benny and Penny in "Just Pretend" by Geoffrey Hayes, and Otto's Orange Day by Frank Cammuso and Jay Lynch. Silly Lilly is the least kinetic of the three, using a deliberately flat style and even tone to provide a primer on the four seasons. Benny and Penny, on the other hand, features two bickering mice who fight over the reality of a pirate ship. Otto's Orange Day uses exaggeration and good-natured banter to establish its mood. All three are note-perfect for what they're doing.

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Two for Kids and Adults

Julian Rodriguez: Episode One, Trash Crisis on Earth by Alexander Stadler and Dungeon Monstres: Vol. 1: The Crying Giant by Joann Sfar, Lewis Trondheim, John-John Mazan, and Jean-Christophe Menu fall into two categories of illustrated narratives suitable for both adults and children. Stadler's lively, clever tale of an extraterrestrial genius trapped in the body of an eight-year-old boy is the kind of story that adults will enjoy reading to their kids. Reminding me in tone of Nickelodeon's Invader Zim, although not as dark, Julian Rodriguez uses a simple line-drawing style combined with spot color throughout to create his witty and dynamic narrative.

The latest Sfar/Trondheim Dungeon, on the other hand, is the kind of story that adults will pick up whether they have kids or not, but the kids will enjoy the heck out of it as well. This volume contains two stories by guest artists, which may diminish the appeal, especially since the beloved characters of previous volumes only have cameos. Still, despite the lesser nature of these adventures, it's worth your time and money, especially if you've already become hooked on the series.

Fantastical Craziness

The Super Scary Monster Show (featuring Little Gloomy) by Landry Walker and Eric Jones delivers on its promise, with a bevy of wonderful creepy-funny monsters, and adventure galore. It includes takes on the classic Universal Monsters and, in addition to the human girl who lives amongst these creatures, Carl Cthulhu, who just happens to love bunnies. I have to say that the drawings of Carl, with a kind of squidular head, are particularly wonderful. It's snappy, savvy fun.

The ubiquitous Kazu Kibuishi has launched a new anthology series as a companion to Flight. This one, Flight Explorer, is aimed at children, and features the same marvelous fantastical approach to comics, albeit for a younger audience. You'll find a lot of favorites here, including work by Kean Soo, who created Jellaby. Cute, clever, and timely, Flight Explorer is genuinely kid-friendly, like the TOON books, and provides yet another outlet for imaginative, sometimes surreal comic creators.

Programming note: Graphic Novel Friday will be taking a break next week and returning on May 30.

Asimov's SF Magazine Meet Kindle, Kindle Meet Asimov's SF Magazine

Asimov's SF Magazine recently joined the growing number of mags available through Kindle, and editor Sheila Williams is pretty happy about it. "We've been number one for the past 18 hours or so--we've been duking it out with Newsweek for the past three or four days!" Using Kindle is in keeping with Williams' latest forward-thinking push for the one of science fiction's most venerable publications. Asimov's also has a website with fiction and nonfiction. The online forum in particular is very lively.

Check out the wide range of magazines you can put on your Kindle, including other SF pubs, like Analog.

Asimov_kindle

Iron Man: He Lives! He Walks! He Conquers!

Fans of both the Iron Man comics and those who love the crazy-successful Iron Man movie but haven't encountered the superhero before should consider picking up the compact but comprehensive Iron Man: Beneath the Armor by Andy Mangels.

If you've been living beyond the reach of modern technology for the last six months and missed out on the fun, Iron Man is, as the jacket copy goes, "the ultimate smart weapon: man and machine combined for maximum impact. He’s Iron Man, AKA millionaire industrialist and visionary genius turned superhero Tony Stark."

This new book detailing the history of Iron Man includes a brief introduction to the movie and copious panels/covers from the comic book, as well as extensive commentary. It also has an overview of the armor's design evolution throughout the years--something to warm the cockles of our little geek hearts--and provides a complete background of Tony Stark and such classic sidekicks as Virginia “Pepper” Potts and James Rhodes/War Machine. Villains like Mandarin and Crimson Dynamo also get their due respect.

Del Rey has put together a sharp, crisp package that doesn't seem like just an attempt to cash in on the movie version. Check it out!

Iron_man

Steampunk and Jake von Slatt: Retro Tech for the Now Generation

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The cover of Steampunk and one of Jake von Slatt's steampunk creations...

Steampunk fiction features a heady blend of influences like Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and inventor-hero fiction from the American pulps of the 1800s. It typically includes some mix or mash-up of airships, mad (or, at least, heavily-invested) scientists, eccentric inventors, Victorian-era adventure, and clockwork technology of the sort that we've largely abandoned. Its godfather may well be Michael Moorcock, with his novel The Warlord of the Air, and it gained huge popularity in its first wave because of novels like William Gibson and Bruce Sterling's The Difference Engine in the 1980s and early 1990s. Other classics include Paul Di Filippo's The Steampunk Trilogy, K.W. Jeter's Infernal Devices, and Tim Powers' The Anubis Gates.

Now, it's returned in full force through what's being called the "steampunk subculture"--a subculture my wife Ann and I have encountered and enjoyed while editing our most recent anthology, Steampunk. The book collects iconic short stories of the subgenre by the likes of Joe Lansdale, Michael Chabon, James Blaylock, Neal Stephenson, Mary Gentle, Rachel E. Pollock, and many more. Quite purely by accident, Steampunk's release has coincided with major features on steampunk in the national press, like a recent article in the New York Times. Not only has our anthology already gone back to reprint, but we've been inundated with requests for interviews (including from the Weather Channel website!), with the anthology featured recently on the LA Times blog and on Australian national radio. (For an amusing moment or two, listen to the radio interview and wait for my major brain freeze when asked about steampunk fashion, whereupon I babble about "mechanical corsets," which prompts the interviewer to ask, "What are you wearing?")

Amoorcock  Aanubis  Asteamtril

But the great thing about having edited this anthology is the cross-pollination. Some in the steampunk subculture--brought there by other media like comics or movies, or simply through their friends and social groups--are encountering these classic stories for the first time. Meanwhile, we're getting a crash-course in the steampunk aesthetic, which especially appeals to our tastes in art. Baroque laptops and other retro-fitted gadgetry show that functional does not have to be seamless and slick to be pleasing to the eye. Websites like Brass Goggles, Voyages Extraordinaires, The Steampunk Librarian, and Dark Roasted Blend, among others, frequently hold forth on steampunk-related subjects. There's even a Steampunk Magazine, and bands that create steampunk music, like Abney Park.

One of the best-known "steampunks" is Jake von Slatt, the driving force behind the Steampunk Workshop. He's been featured on Boing Boing and in the previously mentioned NYT article, among many others. I interviewed him recently to satisfy my own curiousity about steampunk and the surrounding subculture...

Continue reading "Steampunk and Jake von Slatt: Retro Tech for the Now Generation" »

Life Sucks--or Does It?

Okay, so it's still Monday, which isn't good, but it's also another day in First Second's self-declared "Vampire Month," in honor of Little Vampire and, drum roll please, Life Sucks by Jessica Abel, Gabe Soria, and Warren Pleece. Life Suck reads as if Joss Whedon and Dazed and Confused movie director Richard Linklater collaborated on a graphic novel about a 24-hour convenience store run by vampires. Just imagine if you're the night manager for that convenience store and you're "facing an eternity of restocking beef jerky and blood brew for Radu, your crappy boss and Vampire Master." Throw in romantic complications and you've got the undead recipe for something pretty unique as far as vampire stories go. Stylish and modern, Life Sucks made my Monday worthwhile.

For another unique vampire story, you could do worse than check out Sergei Lukyanenko's Night Watch. This heady blend of adventure, intrigue, surreal imagery, and savage supernatural conflict set in modern-day Moscow totally re-energized the vampire subgenre. (The movie's not bad, either.)

(Also remember--the extraordinarily cool First Second blog has brought readers a downloadable vampire kit, and links to features at Comics Worth Reading, Colleen Mondor's blog, and Interactive Reader. And in reply to your question, no, I'm not on First Second's payroll--I just think they're one of the coolest graphic novel publishers out there.)

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Amazon Exclusive: A Review of Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s El Juego del Ángel (Angel's Game)

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   (The cover of the Spanish edition and the author.)

This week marks the official release of Carlos Ruiz Zafón's El Juego del Ángel in the United States. It's a follow-up to his international bestseller The Shadow of the Wind. As Amazon reported back in March, the novel had the highest initial printing for any novel published in Spain.

The catch? For now, it's only available in the author's native tongue, Spanish. With an English-language version just barely on the horizon, we turned to Larry Nolen to write a review based on his reading of an advance copy of the Spanish edition. Nolen divides his time between being an English and History teacher, engaging in amateur translations of Latin American authors, and operating a blog devoted to literature--a blog that was one of the first to provide any information about El Juego del Ángel in either language in the months leading up to its publication. Nolen, with both the review and the translation of two paragraphs from the novel, gives us limited creatures who don't read Spanish a tantalizing glimpse of the rich treasures to come. Visit Nolen's blog for English translations of two recent interviews with the author.

Continue reading "Amazon Exclusive: A Review of Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s El Juego del Ángel (Angel's Game)" »

Vampires? In May? Why, First Second, You Are a Cheeky Publisher, Aren't You?

One of my favorite graphic novel publishers, First Second, has declared May "Vampire Month" in one of those audacious out-of-season moves that means October/Halloween is now officially "Island Vacation Month". So far, the extraordinarily cool First Second blog has brought readers a downloadable vampire kit, and links to features at Comics Worth Reading, Colleen Mondor's blog, and Interactive Reader.

In heavily related news, First Second is promoting Little Vampires by Joann Sfar this month. The book collects a previously published story about a vampire going to school with two new adventures. The artwork is stunning, with crisp, deep colors and genius-level compositions. These are sly, funny, often slapstick narratives that adults and children alike will find delightful--all in one neat, new trade paper edition put together with First Second's usual attention to detail.

In spirit if not style, Little Vampires reminds me of one of my favorite kid's books: Bunnicula, the tale of a carrot-draining vampiric rabbit. Both are mischievous and hilarious, for one thing. Narrated by the family dog, Harold, and enriched by the clever cat Chester, Bunnicula recounts Harold and Chester's investigations into the new rabbit in the house. When tomatoes wind up being sucked dry, suspicions arise that the the bunny might not be as innocent as it seems. Although it seems unlikely anyone hasn't heard of Bunnicula by now, definitely check it out. It's a classic.

As is Little Vampires, frankly. Sfar is just a brilliant artist and storyteller.

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Friday Night Videos: Bright Shiny Morning versus Vodka Chelsea

Welcome once again to Friday Night Videos, where we aim to give you the kind of match-ups you deserve for hanging out here on the weekend. Tonight, in honor of his guest posting right here at Omnivoracious, it's James Frey talking about his new book Bright Shiny Morning (May 13) versus Chelsea Handler talking about Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea, which just hit the NYT bestseller list. Frey you already know about from his posts. Handler, who has a show on E! every weeknight at 11:30, is a little newer to the spotlight, but very talented. She's got incredible comic timing and has a great blend of irreverent, self-deprecating humor and biting satire. The Q&A from a bookstore gig displays her sharp wit and her quick-thinking approach to comedy. (More videos here.)

Graphic Novel Friday Spotlight: Shadows, Empire, Heavenshields, Bibles, and More

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Every Friday, Omnivoracious will turn the spotlight on one or more graphic novels, with future installments also including news, relevant links, and interviews. You can let me know who or what you'd like to see featured by commenting on this post.

Three Shadows by Cyril Pedrosa (First Second) - A rich allegory in which a man and his son embark on a journey to save their family, while haunted by three shadows. Their trip takes them to many strange places, and although the underlying symbolism is at times obscure, the emotional pay-off is definitely worth the experience.

The Manga Bible: From Genesis to Revelation by Siku (Doubleday) - To me, there's something crazy about trying to render the Bible in graphic form to begin with, given that the rich texture of the language provides much of its power. A manga Bible seems perhaps even crazier, given the stylizations of the form. The results, though, seem much weirder than even that, which I mean as a compliment. Either the Bible was always odd or Siku has chosen to dramatize the stranger bits. I'm not sure the standard manga approach really adds anything new to the experience, but it's a worthy experiment that manga fans in general should consider checking out.

Continue reading "Graphic Novel Friday Spotlight: Shadows, Empire, Heavenshields, Bibles, and More" »

Obsidian Murder Mysteries Crash the Party

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Niche mysteries are very popular these days, and the New American Library Obsidian series has just released a bevy of them out into the wild this month. From haunted bookshop mysteries like The Ghost and the Femme Fatale by Alice Kimberly (aka Cleo Coyle) to garden mysteries complete with gardening tips like Perfect Poison by Joyce and Jim Lavene (authors of Poisoned Petals), no matter what your interests in life, you can find a novel you'll enjoy.

Dance enthusiasts may want to pick up Natalie M. Roberts' Pointe and Shoot, a Jenny Patridge dance mystery, while clay crafters and crochet hobbyists may flock to The Cracked Pot by Melissa Glazer (okay, now, c'mon, Obsidian--surely that's a pseudonym?!) and Hooked on Murder by Betty Hechtman respectively. Both books include interesting tips and projects in addition to the fiction.

Finally, if you like mysteries about mysteries, Selma Eichler's Murder Can Crash Your Party, featuring Desiree Shapiro, might be just your thing. When Shapiro is invited as a speaker at a mystery writers' convention, she receives a truly bizarre proposition from a special fan: read my unpublished novel and if you can solve the mystery between the covers, I'll give you $25,000. What follows is more sinister than Shapiro could possibly expect.

All of this is light, harmless fare for readers looking for some entertainment, especially on vacation--on the plane, at the beach, while getting a pedicure. Mystery purists and lovers of brutal noir fiction need not apply. But never fear--a Ken Bruen or Tom Piccirilli novel can't be far around the corner. In the meantime, have a little fun--read a niche mystery in your particular area of interest. You might be surprised at what you find.

James Owen's Search for the Red Dragon

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Some multi-talented creators can write books and produce cover art for them. That's the case with James Owen and his Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographic series for young adults. The second book, The Search for the Red Dragon, was released this year. It's a gorgeous book in addition to a thrilling adventure, in no small part due to Owen's marvelous illustrations and cover art. The sketches above showing the creation of that cover art come from a page on his website where he details the whole process. I've posted the finished cover below so you can see the full realization of his vision.

The Search for the Red Dragon has been getting great reviews, and I recommend you pick it up. Here's a little bit more about the book:

It has been nine years since John, Jack, and Charles had their great adventure in the Archipelago of Dreams and became the Caretakers of the Imaginarium Geographica. Now they have been brought together again to solve a mystery: Someone is kidnapping the children of the Archipelago. And their only clue is a mysterious message delivered by a strange girl with artificial wings: "The Crusade has begun." Worse, they discover that all of the legendary Dragonships have disappeared as well. The only chance they have to save the world from a centuries-old plot is to seek out the last of the Dragonships -- the Red Dragon -- in a spectacular journey that takes them from Sir James Barrie's Kensington Gardens to the Underneath of the Greek Titans of myth.

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Stephenie Meyer's The Host Invades Your Mind Today

In an interesting case of a YA author turning to the adult market, Stephenie Meyer's The Host appears from Little, Brown today in hardcover--this after selling over three million copies of her Twilight saga in the U.S.

As the press release tells us The Host "may possibly be the first love triangle involving only two bodies." Earth has been invaded by aliens who take over the minds of their human hosts, so now poor Melanie has to walk around with two minds. The "Wanderer" is surprised to find Melanie so tenacious--it had expected to subsume her immediately. So Melanie infuses the Wanderer with memories of the man she loves, leading them to both (naturally) go off on a quest to find this man. Thus, a love triangle involving only two bodies.

Sounds pretty claustrophobic to me! Check out the official book site and the author's site, too, both of which have some interesting extras.

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New Anthologies: The Starry Rift and The Del Rey Book of SF and Fantasy

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The prolific anthologists Ellen Datlow and Jonathan Strahan have been up to their usual creative antics again, bringing to fruition yet more unique fiction projects for hungry genre readers.

Datlow's The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction & Fantasy is an unthemed collection of stories by the likes of Margo Lanagan, Elizabeth Bear, Maureen McHugh, Nathan Ballingrud, Jeffrey Ford, and eleven others. Locus wrote about the anthology, "....Datlow's ambitious volume could easily be [the now defunct online fiction site] Scifiction resurrected in trade paperback. Much the same authors, much the same sensibility--edgy contemporary or near-future stories, full of good prose and suspense, with a touch of horror often evident. ...a feast of good short fiction..." Although not as focused as Datlow's previous anthology, Inferno, genre enthusiasts should enjoy this interesting selection of tales. Datlow also has a blog where she writes about a variety of topics, including her anthologies.

Strahan enters the YA world with his The Starry Rift, which collects new science fiction stories for teens by Neil Gaiman, Kelly Link, and Scott Westerfeld, among others. Strahan says about the anthology, "started with the idea that when people talked about science fiction for young adult readers they kept talking about the classic juveniles of the 1950s. Those books, novels like Robert Heinlein’s A Door into Summer, are wonderful, but they were written by people born before the First World War and were published not that long after the Second. However great those books might be, I wondered if they could possibly be meaningful to someone who’d been born in 1995. It seemed to me that it would be worth asking today’s best SF writers to write new stories that hopefully would resonate with readers today. And writers responded." For more information, check out the website created for the book.

Friday Night Videos: Plummer as Nabokov Lecturing on Kafka versus Headless Sexy Man

Welcome back to Friday Night Videos, where we aim to give you the kind of match-ups you deserve for hanging out here on the weekend. Our first video, in honor of Dmitri Nabokov's decision to release The Original of Laura, is a curious cultural remnant of a time when novelists had more importance than they do today. It's a television re-creation of a Nabokov lecture on Kafka featuring Christopher Plummer as Nabokov. (I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.) Nabokov's opponent tonight is Diana Holquist's promo video for Sexiest Man Alive from Warner Books. This video features excellent use of a cat. Enjoy!

Graphic Novel Friday Spotlight: Superspy by Matt Kindt

Every Friday, Omnivoracious will turn the spotlight on one or more graphic novels, with future installments also including news, relevant links, and interviews. You can let me know who or what you'd like to see featured by commenting on this post.

Superspy by Matt Kindt seems the perfect way to launch this new feature. It's innovative, adult, exciting, horrifying, brilliant, and one of my favorites from last year. Alas, it also seemed to go unnoticed by many outside of comics, until the Eisner nominations last month. Superspy's interlocking and stand-alone spy stories, told in a variety of art styles, gives readers an unromanticized version of spy life--the danger, the boredom, the subterfuge, the violence. Anyone who likes the structure of noir fiction or complex narratives in the novel form will find much to love about Superspy. Shadows, odd angles, cryptic messages, sudden brutality all play a role in the sobering success of the book.

Also check out Kindt's blog for all things comics-related, as well as his how-to video, below.

1984 in 2008: Cory Doctorow's Little Brother

This week marks the publication of Cory Doctorow's Little Brother, which as we reported here last month is a young adult novel that functions in part as a correction and update of such dystopic novels as 1984 and Brave New World. Except here the hero is Marcus, a smart seventeen year old caught in the aftermath of a terrorist attack in San Francisco. Picked up by homeland security, interrogated brutally, and then released, Marcus finds himself in a world where fear rules and every citizen is treated like a potential terrorist. Marcus has a choice to make--and he decides to fight back. Doctorow has wedded his fascination with cutting-edge technology and the choices we make about technology to a riveting suspense plot in this potentially controversial novel.

Reviews and previews are all over the internet, of course. Ed Park in the LA Times writes that Doctorow is "terrific at finding the human aura shimmering around technology." SFF World believes the novel will "only further reinforce Cory Doctorow’s presence as one of the visionaries of free speech advocacy and great storytelling in the twenty-first century." Strange Horizons comments on the distinction Doctorow draws between privacy versus security: "Doctorow offers a distinction between the two which I am still pondering. He suggests that privacy is individual, with no implications of power over anyone else. Secrecy, in emulation of the old formula ('power + prejudice = racism') can then be framed as power + privacy = secrecy. Secrecy is what you do to others; it is withholding information or demanding access to another's privacy, or demanding of others that they keep 'private' something you have done to them."

A Publishers Weekly feature that ran in January suggested that "Time will tell if the book’s political awareness and tech-savvy will resonate with readers (teen or otherwise), but [Patrick] Nielsen-Hayden [Doctorow's editor] hopes that it will inspire them to become more active and involved. 'It’s not a call for anarchy in the streets,' he says, 'but it is a call for a more reasonable social order.'" Nielsen-Hayden shares more thoughts about Little Brother on the Making Light blog.

Doctorow also talks generally about SF and young readers at the website for a new YA anthology, The Starry Rift, edited by Jonathan Strahan.

Tonight he's in Toronto to kick off his book tour. Check out the reviews and check out the novel--you'll be glad you did.

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Breaking News: Richard Morgan Wins Arthur C. Clarke Award

As reported here via text message, Richard Morgan has won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Thirteen (published as Black Man in England). Thirteen made Amazon's best SF/Fantasy list last year.

Now Morgan has one more reason for readers to pick up the book. Last year in an exclusive Amazon interview, we asked him to tell us what made Thirteen special. His response then? "It is, by all critical accounts, the best thing I’ve written so far. It’s stuffed full of contentious material that, whether you agree with it or not, will give you conversational ammunition at dinner parties for months to come. Shock and Awe your guests with Provocative Genetic Science! It’s my first conscious attempt at a world that is not dystopian--roll up and see a cheery(ish) future society, one you might not actually mind living in for a change. It has a very unpredictable storyline--I know this because I had no idea where my characters were going half the time, and if I couldn’t guess, it’s unlikely the reader will either. If thirteen is a thriller, it certainly isn’t what the gaming community would call 'mission-based'. It isn’t as long as "Against the Day", and is therefore both easier and lighter to hold while reading. You could take it with you on the bus, easy.

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Suffering Succotash, Why You Little Bleep!

You could burn your ears several times over reading aloud from Curse + Berate in 69+ Languages, edited by R.V. Branham (and brought to you by the ever-cheeky Soft Skull Press). It's so filthy and rife with controversy, I can't possibly quote from the book itself, except, possibly, from the introduction, in which Branham raises a series of questions, then answered in footnotes so the easily offended won't jump out of their chairs: "What insult has the most time zones, and what is the language of this insult? And what is the most common insult south of the Kush, in south Asia? What was Vladimir Lenin's favorite word?" No, it was not "hushpuppy," "whimsical," or "contented." Instead, it was something that would sear your grandma's eyebrows right off.

I should probably leave it there, though, and let the more adventurous @#&*%! Amazon readers discover more on their own.

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Tom Piccirilli: Award-winning Master of Suspense Pens an Instant Classic

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Tom Piccirilli is one of the hardest working writers out there, selling his first book while in college and never looking back. Over the last twenty years, he's created keen psychological portraits of people in extreme situations, mysteries as noir as they come, and suspense-thrillers that'll keep you, as they say, on the edge of your seat.

Some of the most recent of his books include The Midnight Road, The Fever Kill, and, in another week, the amazing The Cold Spot, of which suspense superstar Ken Bruen says, ""[the book] is truly dazzling. Piccirilli has taken the mystery to a whole other level."  Publishers Weekly calls The Cold Spot, "a violent and dark tale in an appealingly noirish narrative style, highly economical yet bracingly intimate." As ever, Piccirilli approaches his work with honesty, humanity, and a keen sense of the traditions he's working in and with--highly recommended for anyone who loves mystery and suspense. This may just be the book that catapults him to the top of the bestseller lists. I read a lot of suspense/mystery novels and The Cold Spot has an intensity, economy, and tough lyricism that just plain blew me away. As far as I'm concerned, it's a stone-cold instant classic of hardboiled/noir fiction. (Click here for my full review.)

I caught up with Piccirilli recently and interviewed him about his perspective on fiction generally and his own work...

Amazon.com: From your perspective, how has horror and suspense fiction changed over the last 20 years?
Tom Piccirilli: I don’t know if there’s been much of a change in form or content. New subjects come to popularity of course. At the moment it seems like readers can’t get enough of the Knights Templar or Da Vinci or historical mysteries, whereas fifteen years ago it was courtroom dramas. The topic of the hour is always changing. In the field, there’s still a lot of fine and intriguing material being produced, as well as plenty of garbage. That’s just the way of all things, and always will be. So far as publishing is concerned, I think we all know that “Horror” is a despised term. I’m not even sure that Leisure Books, who was one of the few publishers with a dedicated horror line the last ten years and who actually put the word “Horror” on the spines of their books, does that anymore. The word itself is anathema although the subject matter of ghosts, monsters, serial killers, etc. is still popular. Maybe even more popular now than ever thanks to “paranormal romances” which take vampires and werewolves and inject a little erotica and Hepburn and Tracy dialogue in order to mine a whole new extremely popular niche. As for suspense, I think that nowadays writers, readers and publishers appreciate the good old crime stuff a lot more than they once did. There’s been a resurgence in reprints of pulp, noir and hardboiled material from the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, and that seems to have had an influence in producing neo-noir stylized writing. 

Continue reading "Tom Piccirilli: Award-winning Master of Suspense Pens an Instant Classic" »

Pop Culture Report #3: James and Kathryn Morrow's European SF Anthology

Earlier this month, Tor Books released the trade paperback edition of James and Kathryn Morrow's The SFWA European Hall of Fame, a collection of sixteen stories translated from a variety of European countries. Contributors include Jean-Claude Dunyach, Panagiotis Koustas, Joao Barreiros, Andreas Eschbach, and many more. Most of these writers are well-known in their own countries but have had very little work translated into English. Our Pop Culture Report #3 (above) gives you more information on this intriguing, some would say essential, anthology. I conducted the interviews with the editors and Greek contributor Koustas in Nantes, France, last year, at Utopiales, a wonderful speculative fiction festival.

From Publishers Weekly's starred review: Wondrous worlds await U.S. SF fans in this sensitively chosen, impeccably translated anthology of Continental European science fiction stories, ranging from 1987 to 2005. Offering "emotional satisfaction and cerebral excitement," as James Morrow puts it in his introduction, highlights include Johanna Sinisalo's "Baby Doll," a Finnish denunciation of materialistic exploitation of children; Romanian Lucian Merisca's "Some Earthlings' Adventures on Outrerria," an excruciating political satire; Valerio Angelisti's "Sepultura," which offers a neo-Dantean Infernoscape; and W.J. Maryson's "Verstummte Musik," a Dutch near-future Orwellian nightmare. A French twist on human-machine interface lifts Jean-Claude Dunyach's "Separations" into a meditation on the nature of artistic creativity, while Elena Arsenieva's "A Birch Tree, a White Fox" exquisitely illustrates the quintessential Russian soul. These "disciplined speculations" by European writers and their painstaking translators not only excite the mind, they move the heart.

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Nebula Award Winners Announced

Breaking News: Michael Chabon wins the Nebula Award for best novel. The Yiddish Policemen's Union was announced the winner last night at the Nebula Award banquet in Austin, Texas. Michael Moorcock was awarded the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award. For the full list of winners, visit Locus Online.

Friday Night Videos: Hidden Cities versus Toddler Reading a Dinosaur Encyclopedia

Tonight on Friday Night Videos, we bring committed bibliophiles across the world a clear choice--a clash of Titans that pits the brand-new Hidden Cities series by rising star Tim Lebbon and best-seller Christopher Golden (Mind the Gap, book one, out in May) against over five minutes of mind-numbing dinosaur name-reading by an anonymous toddler.

Yes, it's what you asked for in the non-stop phone calls, emails, and missives sent through my window with bricks. Lebbon and Golden beating up on a defenseless child. Enjoy!

(And remember: If you're here on a Friday night, you're not alone. There's at least one other.)


T.A. Pratt's Poison Sleep Might Just Infiltrate Your Dreams

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T.A. Pratt's Marla Mason urban fantasies, Blood Engines and now Poison Sleep, relate the adventures of a "smart, saucy, slightly wicked witch of the East Coast" who combats murderous hummingbirds, weird frogs, and all kinds of human enemies in these lively, imaginative supernatural thrillers with elements of humor and whimsy. I talked to Pratt recently via email about this evolving series...

Amazon.com: You have tentacles of fungus in your latest book--and that's the first page I flipped to, oddly enough, given my fascination with both squid and mushrooms.
Pratt: There's even more fungus in the fourth book--a whole sorcerer dedicated to things fungal, who worships the giant honey mushroom colony in eastern Oregon as a god...

Amazon.com: Okay, now you're just pandering! However, if you had to pitch your book to Hollywood in two sentences, what would you say?
Pratt: "Ass-kicking sorceress fights plague of nightmares. She also gets laid." Speaking of Hollywood, a company called Phoenix Pictures optioned the series a few months ago, and, without getting into specifics, it looks like cool stuff might potentially be happening, barring the usual sorts of distractions and derailments. Though, this being Hollywood, it'll be a while before anything definitively materializes--or definitively dissolves in a puff of vapor. I try to cultivate an air of detached optimism...

Continue reading "T.A. Pratt's Poison Sleep Might Just Infiltrate Your Dreams" »

Book-Beer Pairings (Part II)--T.C. Boyle, Chip Kidd, Margo Lanagan, James Morrow, and More

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(Large beer Drayman's Porter with Small Beer's Ant King; Dudman's novel and Old Speckled Hen.)

Much has happened since posting Part I of the book-beer pairings feature. First, I tested out Three Philosophers with Lauren Groff's The Monsters of Templeton and found that (1) it is indeed a great Belgian-style beer, with some very subtle yet strong flavors, and (2) it goes very well with Groff's book.

Then, I decided to check in with Gavin Grant of Small Beer Press because...well, how can you do this kind of feature and not talk to a publisher called Small Beer Press? Gavin has a lot of respect for both books and beer--and access to both locally. “We have a fantastic brewery (ok, we have a few) in the Happy Valley in Massachusetts: the Berkshire Brewing Company. Their Traditional Pale Ale is a summer time treat and all winter we survive on their Drayman's Porter. Which is what we were drinking when the UPS guy delivered galleys of our next collection, Ben Rosenbaum's The Ant King.” (You can now download John Kessel’s excellent new collection The Baum Plan for Financial Independence and Maureen F. McHugh's powerful Mothers & Other Monsters from the Small Beer website.)

So, without further rabbiting, the continuation of this landmark feature...

Guinness Versus Everything Else?!

Although most participants in the second half of this feature preferred matching a dark beer with their books, a few hold-outs for lighter imbibification include Thomas Disch, Nick Mamatas, and Chip Kidd—Kidd mostly because, as a purist, he deferred to his novel: “In The Learners, Happy and Himillsy down Rolling Rocks at Modern Apizz in New Haven, so that would appropriate. Otherwise, everyone drinks martinis.”

Mamatas probably wouldn’t typify his pick as a light beer, although it is: “The official beer of Weinbergia, the country in Under My Roof, is Red Stripe.  Short and hip, sweet and a bit more dangerous than you might at first suspect.  Plus, hipsters dig it like they dig uncombed hair and T-shirts from 1985.”

Similarly, Disch, author of the forthcoming The Word of God: Or, Holy Writ Rewritten (coming July 1 from Tachyon Publications), selected either Rhinegold or Lowenbrau for his forthcoming farcical “memoir”: “In the New York of my youth (I was 17 when I got here in '57, and Miss Rhinegold was then an annual tradition. The contestants had their pictures posted in the subways. There was also a Miss Subways. They have both disappeared in our new, unsexed era, but there is another good reason to serve Rhinegold at the book party. It is the beer Wagner made famous. Not much of a beer in itself, as I recall, which is why it may have become extinct, and not the best opera in the Ring either, but no one has ever dared to bring out a beer called Gotterdammerung....I was actually in Lowenbrau Hofbrauhaus in Munich (in 1966). There were tiers of drinking halls where roisterers bellowed out drinking songs. A kind of Valhalla.”

Continue reading "Book-Beer Pairings (Part II)--T.C. Boyle, Chip Kidd, Margo Lanagan, James Morrow, and More" »

Bothering the Coffee Drinkers: The Multi-Talented Doug Hoekstra

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Doug Hoekstra has quietly become an icon of Americana music and the Nashville scene, writing beautifully spare songs that contain genius-level observations about people. As Wired magazine has said about Hoekstra "a lot of people write songs, Hoekstra writes five-minute worlds." So it comes as no surprise that Hoekstra also writes fiction and nonfiction, collected in Bothering the Coffee Drinkers, which won an Independent Publishing Book Award.

The book is just as fascinating as Hoekstra's music. I really can't put it any better than the Midwest Book Review: "Each detail segues compactly into the next and before you know it, the book has hooked you in a distinctly quirky and entertaining way. Like all great music, it sounds easy to do. As all great musicians know, this is a deceptive effect that is only maintained through constant work and practice. [Hoekstra] is like a quirky art collector, putting together odd bits and ends, and then making them into something with an effect so much more than the mere sum of their collective oddities."

Hoekstra has just released a CD, Blooming Roses, which consists of another eleven perfectly understated songs that incorporate elements of country, rock, and even jazz. From the easy-going "Naper Vegas Scrabble Club" to the quirky/driving "Your Sweet Love," Hoekstra has crafted some great new songs. I interviewed Hoekstra recently to talk about both writing and music.

Continue reading "Bothering the Coffee Drinkers: The Multi-Talented Doug Hoekstra" »

Book-Beer Pairings (Part I): Arianna Huffington, Michael Chabon, Lauren Groff, and More

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(Lauren Groff's Monsters paired with Brewery Ommegang's Three Philosophers, along with another great Ommegang beer, and an interloping stout.)

For a long time, I’ve wondered why wine and food should have all the fun. Here at Omnivoracious, we also believe in the complementary pairing of books with...beer. Now, please note that we’re not advocating irresponsible reading, but with the current popularity of micro-breweries and the role of beer in the writing of books over the centuries, it seems somehow irresponsible not to pair the two. We’re frankly a little surprised no one’s done it before.

Thus, I took it upon myself to explore the connection between hops and writing chops, going far afield to ask a diverse group of writers what beer or beers would go best with their latest work. The results were so revelatory and comprehensive that we’re running the first half of this feature today and the second half on Thursday...

Light Beers, Lambics, Arrogant Bastard, and More!

Naturally, everyone approached the question in a slightly different way. Eastern European surrealist Zoran Zivkovic appeared to have already sampled a brew or three, sending in the rhyming verse, “Drink Bud West, drink Bud East,/Drink Bud reading Steps through the Mist.” Elizabeth Hand echoed Zivkovic, even while confessing she hasn’t drunk beer in thirty years: “But the last time I did have one, it was almost certainly a glass of Bud with a shot-glass of Jack Daniels in it. A boilermaker, which is what Cass Neary in [the dark thriller] Generation Loss would drink--24/7, and minus the beer.”

Arianna Huffington, author of the just-released Right Is Wrong, decided on a more political (and surprisingly conservative) approach, writing, “Busch, of course!  Besides the homonymic convergence, distribution of this beer helped make Cindy McCain rich and funded John McCain’s political career.”

Other books that apparently take a lighter approach include Karen Joy Fowler’s Wit’s End, paired with Sierra Nevada Pale Ale: “The company describes it as a new take on a classic theme; it's light, but complex.  This is a North Californian company, which fits me and my book.  But what I like best is the slogan--‘the beer that made Chico famous.’ The where?”

Continue reading "Book-Beer Pairings (Part I): Arianna Huffington, Michael Chabon, Lauren Groff, and More" »

What's the Fuss About Patrick Rothfuss?

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Patrick Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind, recently released in mass market paperback, is an Amazon staff favorite--and, really, what's not to like? Rothfuss doesn't write down to his audience, takes on epic themes, and manages to be original at the same time. He's also a down-to-earth, no-nonsense kind of guy, as evidenced by this new interview on SF Site, which fans should definitely check out. For example, asked about working on The Name of the Wind, Rothfuss says, "For more than a decade I worked on the book knowing I was more likely to be hit by a bus than get published...I do remember that fairly early on someone pointed out that I used the word 'alloy' and 'counterpoint' in the same sentence. That person pointed out that some people wouldn't actually know what an alloy was. I made a conscious decision right then that my book was written for people who either knew what that word meant, or were willing to look it up."  That's the kind of attitude that, perversely enough, more often than not produces great novels.

The next book in the trilogy is due out next year.

Friday Night Videos: Shelf Monkey vs the Monsters of Templeton

Welcome to a little thing I like to call Friday night videos. If you're here on a Friday night, you're definitely a bibliophile, so to you Omnivoracious gifts: Corey Redekop talking about Shelf Monkey and a very trippy trailer for Lauren Groff's The Monsters of Templeton.

For the rest of the Redekop interview, check out the author's blog--and go to Cultpop TV, a great resource, for more interviews, including one with Groff!

Checking in on YA Titles: Gwenda Bond's Picks

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Shaken & Stirred, run by Gwenda Bond, is one of the most literate and interesting blogs out there. Especially in the last couple of years, it has also been of great use for those interested in Young Adult fiction. Bond is a bit of an expert on the subject--in addition to writing for Publishers Weekly, the Washington Post, Kirkus, and Strange Horizons, she is working on a young adult novel and pursuing an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College. She also writes an advice column for Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet as everyone's Dear Aunt Gwenda. You can read much of her published work online for free (or buy some in print if you'd rather).

I recently interviewed Bond about current and classic YA. Bond is an enthusiastic advocate for the form: "The great thing about YA--and children's literature, in general--is that genre divisions are a lot less set in many ways. All the books are in the same section of the bookstore, with the exception that series books are generally broken out on their own. I believe that the overall level of quality in YA is higher than in adult books--perhaps because less is published--and so I'd encourage a person to just wander the section and take a chance on something that piques their interest."

Continue reading "Checking in on YA Titles: Gwenda Bond's Picks" »

The Martian General's Daughter: Military SF with a Heart

Sometimes you come across a novel that doesn't quite fit your expectations of a genre--in a good way. The Martian General's Daughter, set two hundred years in the future in a world very much like Imperial Rome, is military SF told through the viewpoint of, well, a general's daughter. Steeped in historical and emotional resonance, this slim but satisfying novel is often willfully didactic in the way it treats political/military issues--but it works because of the context. These are the issues the characters are dealing with, this is the way they would talk about them. It's rare that a book will make you think and make you feel in quite this particular way.

As Philip K. Dick Award finalist Adam Roberts says, "The novel is a wonderfully judged character study, a highly readable narrative, often witty, sometimes cruel...but best of all is the narrator, the general's daughter herself--a diffident and modest individual who is nonetheless vividly and marvelously alive, strong and likeable."

You can read an excerpt from the novel here. Go forth and check it out!

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2008 Eisner Award Finalists Announced

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(Just one half of one table of comics considered during last year's judging weekend.)

The Eisner Award finalists for best comics/graphic novels have been announced, in a dizzying array of categories. So many categories, in fact, that I'm just going to let Amazon readers peruse it all themselves, and say I'm happy to see such imaginative fare as Shaun Tan's The Arrival, Jeff Lemire's Essex County, Jason Shiga's Bookhunter, and Matt Kindt's Super Spy making the list. The 2008 Eisner Awards judging panel consisted of John Davis (director of pop culture markets, Bookazine), Paul DiFilippo (SF and comics author), Atom! Freeman (owner of Brave New World Comics in Santa Clarita, CA), Jeff Jensen (senior writer, Entertainment Weekly), and Eva Volin (supervising children's librarian for the Alameda Free Library in Alameda, CA).

Having been a judge last year, knowing how much effort goes into the process, it's mind-blowing that they survive the experience. In addition to their regular reading, the judges are flown to San Diego and basically locked in a room for an entire weekend to read anything they've missed and to thrash out the finalists.

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Liz Williams' Near-Future Detective Inspector Chen Novels

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Looking for something different? Something immensely entertaining and yet with some depth? Something you can sink your teeth into? Well, I've got just the books for you: the new mass market paperback editions of Liz Williams' Detective Inspector Chen novels: Snake Agent, The Demon and the City, and Precious Dragon. (Night Shade Books)

In these near-future occult mystery novels set in Singapore, Chen and his demon sidekick Zhu Irzh--one of the Underworld's vice-detectives!--explore cases that involve ghosts, Chinese mythology, feng shui, martial arts, and travel between Heaven and Hell.

Booklist says readers looking "for something uniquely imaginative will find it in Williams' surreal fusion of Chinese mythology, paranormal high jinks, and satisfyingly suspenseful sleuthing," while Publishers Weekly praises the unique storylines, "colorful characters and imaginative settings extrapolated from ancient Chinese mythology...that fans and new readers will enjoy."

Whatever makes you tick as a reader, you'll something to like in this unique, well-written, and fast-paced series.

Author Fact: A British novelist with a background in magic, Williams is a past Philip K. Dick Award finalist.

Tiptree Award Winner: Sarah Hall's Daughters of the North

The James Tiptree Jr. Award has been announced, and the winner is Sarah Hall for Daughters of the North (published in 2007 in England under the title The Carhullan Army). The winner will be celebrated on May 25 at Wiscon, a convention held in Madison, Wisconsin, and receives $1,000. The jurors for the award were Charlie Anders, Gwenda Bond (chair), Meghan McCarron, Geoff Ryman, and Sheree Renee Thomas.

As stated in the press release for the award, "The James Tiptree Jr. Award is presented annually to a work or works that explore and expand gender roles in science fiction and fantasy. The award seeks out work that is thought-provoking, imaginative, and perhaps even infuriating. [It] is intended to reward those women and men who are bold enough to contemplate shifts and changes in gender roles, a fundamental aspect of any society."

Judge Bond wrote of the winning novel, also a winner of European literary awards, “Hall does so many things well in this book – writing female aggression in a believable way, dealing with real bodies in a way that makes sense, and getting right to the heart of the contradictions that violence brings out in people, but particularly in women in ways we still don't see explored that often. I found the writing entrancing and exactly what it needed to be for the story; lean, but well-turned.”

"James Tiptree Jr." was the pen name of Alice Sheldon, whose short stories were, as the Tiptree administrators point out, "notable for their thoughtful examination of the roles of men and women in our society."

What Do You Find at a SF Convention? Ernie Hudson and Corrupted Science, That's What!

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As guests of I-Con at Stony Brook University on Long Island this last weekend, my wife and I participated in the literature track of this sprawling multi-media SF convention that features over 100 writers, actors, gamers, artists, and comic book creators. When you have a science fiction convention this big, part of the appeal is the interplay of subcultures, whether it be Trekkies and anime fans hanging out together or actor Ernie Hudson appearing at the same convention as respected author Peter S. Beagle. The dealer's room at such events is a maelstrom of different influences, with the Long Island Advanced Rocketry Society sharing space with graphic novel vendors, jewelry makers, and clothing sellers, among others. Seeing Hudson was definitely a treat--especially signing autographs for amateur ghost-busters, as above. I've always been a fan of his acting, and think Congo is an overlooked gem of a movie.

But the real treasures of interest to Amazon readers were two books by John Grant, Corrupted Science and Discarded Science, which I found nestled between heroic fantasy trilogies and space operas at one of the book dealer tables...

                 Corruptedsciencelg_4          Disc_science_2  

Continue reading "What Do You Find at a SF Convention? Ernie Hudson and Corrupted Science, That's What!" »

Book Preview: Cory Doctorow's Little Brother, Coming in May

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(Author photo by Bart Nagel)

Author and Boing Boing contributor Cory Doctorow makes his YA debut in May with Little Brother, a novel Doctorow told Amazon is "enormously" influenced by dystopian/fascist regime classics. "The genre fascinates me; the novel 1984 is one of my favorite and most re-read. Adolescents are the perfect protagonists for these stories, too--hence Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower and Jack Womack's Random Acts of Senseless Kindness."

In the novel, Doctorow's teenage protagonist, Marcus, finds himself caught up in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on San Francisco, with civil liberties suspended and the Department of Homeland Security conducting merciless interrogations. "Marcus...is a smart-alecky, brainy kid who loves showing off what he knows (I was that kid)." Some of these same qualities lead Marcus to try to take down the DHS.

Little Brother comes with glowing praise from the likes of Neil Gaiman, Scott Westerfeld, and Brian K. Vaughn. And the publisher, Tor, has a novel approach to promotion: the book will be sent out to high school newspapers for review. Doctorow says this idea came from "the brilliant people at YPulse, which is probably the best site on the net about marketing and communications for young people. They were an enormous help in formulating the publicity strategy for the book."

Can't wait until May for Little Brother? Doctorow has released a podcast excerpt, which you can listen to here.

Pump Six: A Conversation with Paolo Bacigalupi, a Next-Generation SF Writer

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Paolo Bacigalupi isn't the most prolific writer, but like another talented SF creator, Ted Chiang, he makes each story count. His fiction has appeared in High Country News, Salon.com, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. It has been anthologized in various “Year’s Best” collections of short science fiction and fantasy, been nominated for the Nebula and Hugo awards, and has won the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for best SF short story of the year. Bacigalupi's new (and first) collection, Pump Six and Other Stories, contains all of his short fiction (as well as "Pump Six," original to the book) and is getting raves, including a starred review in Publishers Weekly. PW wrote in part "Deeply thought provoking, Bacigalupi’s collected visions of the future are equal parts cautionary tale, social and political commentary and poignantly poetic, revelatory prose." In short, Bacigalupi is the real deal. I talked to Bacigalupi earlier this year via email...

Amazon.com: Where are you, right now, as you're writing these answers?
Paolo Bacigalupi: I'm sitting in my office. It's a one-room work space above the local bookstore. I rent it for $150/month. Its got mauve walls. Carpeting with a green twining vines and pink vaginal flower patterns. The place used to be a rooming house; I gather that's where the carpet comes from. It's poorly heated, so I've got a space heater. The window view is of our local grocery's parking lot: a lot of gray snow, pickup trucks, and some rich person's Land Cruiser. The bookstore has a deck off the front that overhangs the sidewalk, so I can go out there and watch dump trucks drive by.

Continue reading "Pump Six: A Conversation with Paolo Bacigalupi, a Next-Generation SF Writer" »

Bravo TV's Top Writer, Flying Penguins, Vollman's New Children Book: It Must Be April 1

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    (Squidpunk--a new genre? And the cover of William Vollman's new children's book...)

Ah, April. The full flush of spring, fields overburdened with wildflowers, birds singing, trees a thousand shades of green, and, of course, a sudden seasonal outpouring of very creative nonfiction on the internet. Even Information Week is reporting on it this year. So, here's a short selection of the weird and the silly, all of it as true as you want it to be...

Ed Rants reports on a number of fascinating news items, including William Vollman's new children's book and the creation of a new "pretentious fiction" category in the bookstore.

Locus Online gives us an inside look at Bravo TV's new Top Writer series, tells us that Cory Doctorow is releasing himself under Creative Commons, reveals that George R.R. Martin turning in his final manuscript has caused mass suicides at Bantam Books, and much else.

Meanwhile, the BBC reports that scientists have discovered flying penguins:

Elsewhere, J.K. Rowling moves to trademark the words "Harry" and "Potter", Brandon Sanderson's The Way of the Kings stirs controversy, and, finally, some weirdo in a squid hat tries to start a new literary movement from his living room. Enjoy! And feel free to link to more in the comments section.

Thanks to Shaken & Stirred and Antick Musings research assistance.

Are You Infected? A Comprehensive Interview with Author Scott Sigler

Scott Sigler, author of Infected, released today by Crown, is known by some as the world's most successful podcaster, with more than 30,000 fanatically devoted subscribers per book. He's also been profiled in The New York Times, among others. Sigler's background is as a reporter, marketer, and project manager, although he was "writing the whole time." Infected is pulse-pounding suspense fiction with horror and SF elements, involving radical personality shifts and parasites. The novel has already received NPR coverage and an enthusiastic endorsement in Entertainment Weekly. When I asked Sigler if the book had a soundtrack, since he seems to bring a very punk feel to his fiction, he told me: "It runs from metalcore to Frank Sinatra to the blues to AC/DC and The Donnas. Killswitch Engage can pop up next to the Bee Gees then Evanescence. Lately I'm really into American melodic metal influenced by the 'Sweeds' (Killswitch Engage, Trivium, Bullet for my Valentine, etc.). I interviewed Sigler via email recently to give Amazon readers more of a sense of both him and his writing--including his insights about podcasting, parasites, fans, and secret fears...

Amazon.com: Let's pretend for a second no one knows who you are. How did you get started doing podcasts, and was it always fiction you were podcasting?
Scott Sigler: I started podcasting fiction in March, 2005, with my first novel Earthcore. The book was originally going to be published by AOL/TimeWarner in May 2002, but they shut down the imprint the book was on, and I was back on the slush pile. It took my agent a few years to get the rights back, and by the time we did, we'd lost interest and momentum. I'd had enough. When I discovered podcasting, I went looking for fiction novels, as it seemed like a great way to revive the weekly serialized fiction of 50s radio--but I couldn't find anything of the kind. No one was podcasting fiction at the time. Once I realized I could be among the first, I figured out how to record, edit, make an RSS feed and scrambled to get an episode up.

Amazon.com: Do you find that writing fiction for podcasts is any different than writing fiction with the idea of a "book" in mind? And did this come into play during the editing process with your editor at Crown?
Scott Sigler: Fiction writing and podcasting fiction is the same for me, because I write a manuscript first, then podcast. I write, edit, re-write, re-write some more, then when the book is finished I podcast it. So the process is the same, but I get some great feedback from the Junkies and that lets me tweak the story in ways that will appeal to the fans. It's like market-testing your fiction. The changes are usually subtle, but significant. I find out what characters they like, or when they do NOT like my main character, plot holes, factual errors and more. I consider this a job, and my employer is my listening audience. I work hard to make stories that entertain them, so if they can point out problems I'm always listening to whatever they have to say. This makes the final print version much, much stronger. The Crown editor (Julian Pavia) brings another level of analysis to the story. He rocks the house. Between Julian and 30,000 avid listeners making suggestions, the story is forged into something cohesive and logical with a big payout at the end.

Continue reading "Are You Infected? A Comprehensive Interview with Author Scott Sigler" »

Jim C. Hines Brings the Fantasy Funny

Goblinquest  Goblinhero  Goblinwar_2 

Jim C. Hines is the comic mastermind responsible for the Snort-Fest Trilogy--my name for it--consisting of Goblin Quest, Goblin Hero, and, now, Goblin War (DAW). In these hilarious novels, Hines pokes fun at anything and everything while still maintaining a tight plot arc and creating believable characters. The result, to an old fantasy buff like me, is both entertaining and oddly nostalgic. I interviewed Mr. Hines via email recently to see what makes him tick, and to ask that all important question, "Ogres or goblins."

Amazon.com: How hard is it to do humorous heroic fantasy that also spoofs or satirizes serious heroic fantasy? There’s Shrek, there’s bad serious heroic fantasy, there’s all kind of competition.
Jim C. Hines: Actually, this is the kind of writing that's always come naturally to me. My first big sale was a story called "Blade of the Bunny." I whipped that story out in a week, and it won first place at Writers of the Future. Then my insecurities took over, and I spent years trying to write deep, serious, award-winning literature. One of my proudest moments was the first time I made someone in my writer's group cry with one of my stories. (On purpose, I mean.) I still do serious stories sometimes, but I've finally gotten comfortable with the lighter side of the genre. Heck, if a Campbell award winner like John Scalzi can write chapter-long fart jokes, I can certainly get away with a nose-picking injury...As for the competition, I've found that there's a pretty wide range of silly. I don't want to do outright parody, because I like keeping my own characters and stories at the core of the books. And to be honest, I'm not smart enough to do the kind of wickedly sharp satire you get from someone like Pratchett. Mostly, I just try to have fun with the story. If I'm making myself laugh, I figure most of my readers will be amused as well.

Continue reading "Jim C. Hines Brings the Fantasy Funny" »

Thunderin' Felix Gilman's Thunderer

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Felix Gilman's epic urban fantasy Thunderer was published in hardcover by Bantam Spectra earlier this year, to a rousing round of praise from the likes of Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and SciFi Weekly. Realms of Fantasy reviewer Paul Witcover wrote in part, "Gilman exuberantly plunders sources literary, historical, and mythological in bringing his protean labyrinth of a city to life, and the mysterious act of creation by which the imaginary is made real, and the real imaginary, becomes one of the novel’s main themes...This masterly first novel is as stunning and unexpected as a thunderclap out of a clear blue sky..." I recently interviewed Gilman via email about being a first-time novelist, our mutual contacts, and much else.

Amazon.com: Can you describe where you are while answering these questions?
Felix Gilman: In the day-job office, on a weekend. I am somewhere near the top floor of a very tall jet-black building. Through porthole-thick pressure-sealed windows I can see fog, wintry haze, the topmost parts of the Brooklyn Bridge, hundreds of thousands of other, more distant windows. Inside the office things are mostly beige, with some patches of grey or powder blue and highlights of brushed steel and glass. Document heaps flourish in the corners. Computers are hunkered down on every flat surface, whirring, watching. Beetle-like BlackBerrys rustle through the carpety undergrowth, foraging for scraps of unoccupied Time. Beware! There are lawyers here.

Amazon.com: Is being a published novelist everything you thought it would be? What didn't you expect?
Felix Gilman: I don't know what I expected, particularly. I'm very psychologically self-defensive, so I went into this with cringingly low expectations. I was genuinely surprised to see the book On Shelves! In Stores! Like A Real Book! But of course one’s expectations only ratchet up. I believe social scientists call this the "hedonic treadmill." Before you're published, you think if only I can get this turkey published, that'll be OK, I don't care what happens after that because I will be PUBLISHED and then everything will be OK forever. That lasts about three days, then you get used to being PUBLISHED, and it starts to seem normal, just an unremarkable background fact about yourself, like height or gender.  And then you start thinking screw this, why haven't I got a bestseller? Life is so unfair.

Amazon.com: What's the most absurd thing that's happened to you since the book came out?
Felix Gilman: All the pressure to join the Scientologists. You know how it is, I'm sure--your name gets out there a bit, you've got a bit of a public profile, you’ve given one or two interviews, next thing you know the bloody Scientologists come calling. "Tom," I keep saying, "I'm sorry, I just don't think it's right for me." He won't take no for an answer, and he's so eager. I always end up letting him leave some literature and saying he can come back next week, just to be polite, you know, but I haven't read any of it yet and it's getting really embarrassing.

Continue reading "Thunderin' Felix Gilman's Thunderer" »

Shooting War Optioned for Possible Mini-Series

As announced on the Shooting War website, the provocative and controversial graphic novel Shooting War, which started out as a web comic, has been optioned by Power for TV mini-series development. Shooting War takes place in the future of the Iraq War and is a powerful commentary on journalism and how the eye of the media affects our perceptions of events.

According to journalist Anthony Lappé, who wrote Shooting War (Dan Goldman did the art), "Power sells a lot of their films...to networks like Discovery and Sci-Fi, which would be an awesome place for it. I'd also love to see it on FX, Showtime, HBO or AMC, which has the killer [show] Breaking Bad. Power is also in a co-production to do a new series for NBC, so they are in a great position to develop Shooting War."

Lappé will write any adaptation and be consulted on every element of production. Although it's too early to discuss who might direct, Lappé had some definite opinions on who might make good choices for the acting roles. "I'd love Woody Harrelson for [the character of] Crash. I think Emile Hersh would make a great Jimmy. Dan Rather would be an awesome Dan Rather."

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Although he is a respected journalist and documentary maker, Lappé has never experienced anything like the publicity surrounding Shooting War. The graphic novel was covered by, among others, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Publisher’s Weekly, Newsweek, Los Angeles Times, New York Magazine, Wired, Entertainment Weekly, New York Post, Financial Times, Times of London, Globe & Mail (Canada), The Guardian (UK), GQ, British GQ, Rolling Stone, Village Voice, Penthouse, San José Mercury News, Wired.com and Forbes.com.

"The reaction has been incredible...So it's been humbling and exciting at the same time. Since this was my first work of fiction since fifth grade, I've really appreciated the constructive feedback. Writing a semi-science fiction comic that was rooted in the political realities of the day made it very accessible for a lot of different types of readers. While there's a lot of satire in there, there are also a lot of big ideas."

Lappé hopes he has gotten readers to think about media ethics in the age of blogging. Now, with a mini-series in the works, he may be able to do that on a much larger stage. (Shooting War was one of my favorite graphic novels of 2007--check out my review here.)

It Must Be Something in the Air: Science Fiction Awards Frenzy!

Wow. You turn your back for one second and SF award announcements pop up like colorful exotic weeds.

First, the Philip K. Dick Award goes to Omnivoracious favorite M.J. Harrison for Nova Swing, then the British SF Association Awards in London announce another favorite Ian McDonald as the winner for best novel with Brasyl. (Those crazy Brits also annointed Brian Aldiss' Non-Stop as Best Novel of 1958, marking a really odd trend in SF of literary time travel.)

And, finally, the Prometheus Awards for "best Libertarian SF" of 2007 announced their finalists. It's a virtual monopoly, with all five novels published by Tor: Ragamuffin by Tobias S. Buckell, The Execution Channel by Ken MacLeod, Fleet of Worlds by Larry Niven & Edward M. Lerner, The Gladiator by Harry S. Turtledove, and Ha'Penny by Jo Walton. Apparently, there's not a single libertarian at Eos, Bantam, and Del Rey, et al.

What this means for Tor isn't clear, but I would expect startling effects. As the libertarian infiltration continues, the publisher will no doubt seek readers without the tyranny of bookstores or printed pages. Editors will declare their desks separate sovereign territories and render them tax-free. The Flat-Iron Building Tor occupies--narrow enough as it is--will become a libertarian stronghold, with the hundred thousand different libertarian flags flying overhead.

Which is another way of saying awards season has me delirious. (But, seriously, what's up with the BSFA awarding a best novel from 1958? Did they forget to do it...in 1958?)

Lydia Millet's How the Dead Dream

Howthedead300_2 Lydia Millet is one of my favorite writers--she takes chances, she isn't afraid to get political but manages to do it in the context of character and situation so the results aren't preachy. Her latest, How the Dead Dream, is a deceptively quiet novel about T., a real estate developer who, as Millet put it via email recently, fetishizes "actual dollar bills instead of the things they can buy." When he starts to lose his tightly wound control, T. begins to obsess about vanishing species. The details of T.'s descent and the empathic way in which Millet describes animals in the book are both remarkable. On a sentence level, Millet's prose has a restrained but muscular quality--as of emotion just beneath the surface, held in check. Several times I re-read sentences just for the quality of their invention.

When I asked Millet about the idea of taking risks, she responded that she'd like to see "the publishing establishment to take more risks with literary fiction--to throw ambitious, thoughtful and exciting writing the marketing money they throw at schlock. I think people would simply read more, better books if literature were pitched to them as hard as pabulum is. And in other media, too, books should be vaunted – we need desperately for good books to have a more privileged role in pop and mass culture. Corporate America acts like that's not a goal worth pursuing, which is tragic."

Millet's character T. does not see, at least initially, the connectivity in the world, how animals and people are intertwined in a landscape of finite resources and habitat. Millet believes that people in general do understand this point, but that "there's power, and greed, and the hope, or excuse, that science and technology can sweep in and save the world after we eat it up. And that can be a powerful tool for rationalizing doing whatever you want to do...It's [also] interesting that fiction is so much more focused on love than labor--interesting and problematic. It's as though we're afraid to tread on the domain of work and its meanings and reverberations, maybe because of our fear of talking about class, among other fears. Americans have such pretensions to being a classless society--delusions really."

As for the consciousness of animals--there's an encounter between T. and a dying coyote that is particularly powerful--Millet thinks "we should revere the subjectivity of animals even without knowing exactly how our consciousness compares to theirs. It should be enough that these are beautiful, unique beings that have taken millions of years to evolve."

How the Dead Dream is a favorite from 2008 thus far. It's a novel that makes you feel and think simultaneously while being topical, and that's a rare thing.

Hugo Award Finalists Announced

The 2008 Hugo Award finalists have been announced on the website for the 2008 World SF Convention. The nominees in the novel category are as follows:

The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon (HarperCollins, Fourth Estate)

Brasyl by Ian McDonald (Gollancz; Pyr)

Rollback by Robert J. Sawyer (Tor; Analog Oct. 2006-Jan/Feb. 2007)

The Last Colony by John Scalzi (Tor)

Halting State by Charles Stross (Ace; Orbit)

The Hugo Award is perhaps the most venerable of the science fiction awards and tends to provide a core sample of the "center of genre" in any given year, sometimes with what might call "celebrated outsiders" getting a nod (in this case Chabon). The best book on the list, for my money, however, is Brasyl by Ian McDonald and I'll be crossing my fingers that the Scotsman gets the win. The winners will be announced at the World SF Convention in Denver, held August 6-10 this year. Congratulations to all of the finalists!

Amulet: The Fantasy Worlds of Kazu Kibuishi

            Kamulet       Ikazukibuishi
            (The cover of Amulet, and author self-portrait from Scholastic's Amulet site)

One of the great pleasures of reading is coming across a book that surprises you and exceeds your expectations. Amulet, Book One: The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi is one of those books, a graphic novel from Scholastic that is aimed at children and young adults, but which rewards adult reading as well. Right at the beginning of the book, a family loses its father. The mother, son, and daughter relocate to an old ancestral home, only to be immediately engulfed by a rich, fantastical world beneath the house.

Kibuishi, who edits the magnificent Flight series for Villard, does several things incredibly well in this opening volume: he raises the stakes from the beginning and makes it clear to the reader that this is serious and that actions have consequences. He also manages to create a vivid, deeply imaginative fantasy world that is evocative of his influences but not derivative of them. From the strange house underground to be-tentacled assailants and bizarre tick-like creatures, the setting comes alive and seems deeply believable. Scholastic has an amazing interactive webpage for Amulet that explains even more--definitely something to amuse and entertain you for more than a couple minutes. Curious about the origins of what seems to have all the makings of a modern classic, I recently interviewed Kibuishi via email...

Amazon.com: Please describe where you are while answering these questions.
Kibuishi: I am sitting in my studio where I work, located in Alhambra, California.  It's a fairly large loft with hardwood floors and lots of natural light.  A few of my friends work here with me on their own projects, and when we're at the final stretch of production on an Amulet book, a few more artists are working in here to help me get it done.  Today, my wife Amy and I are the only ones working in here.

Continue reading "Amulet: The Fantasy Worlds of Kazu Kibuishi" »

Arthur C. Clarke: An Appreciation of a Life Well-Lived

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Arthur C. Clarke led at least three different, extremely successful lives. As a scientist, his work with satellites led to the coining of the term a "Clarke orbit." As a visionary award-winning science fiction author he influenced several generations of writers, became an icon of the SF subculture, and had an award named after him. And, in his collaboration with Stanley Kubrick on the classic film 2001: A Space Odyssey, Clarke also became part of movie and pop culture history.

Over his lifetime, Clarke received many honors, including being knighted and having the Apollo 13 Command Module and the Mars Orbiter both named "Odyssey" in appreciation of his work. Clarke remained a vital force up until his death. He authored books, made appearances via videophone from his home in Sri Lanka, and continued to deny the polio that had kept him mostly wheelchair-bound for two decades.

Chris Schluep, Clarke's editor at Del Rey for his last few books, was in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, when he heard the news: "It's a very, very sad, and a strange place to find out about Sir Arthur's passing. I can't help but think that without his ground-breaking work on satellite technology, it wouldn't even be possible to have heard the news and provide such an immediate reaction. Somehow, I know he would have twisted a joke out of that. He was a very nice man with a wonderful sense of humor."

Arthur C. Clarke's fiction embodied a fundamental optimism about the future, tempered by a healthy skepticism about the human condition and an ongoing fascination with certain forms of spirituality. Unlikely to indulge in dystopic visions, but rarely sentimental or unrealistic, Clarke was, quite simply, curious about the world.

Schluep met Clarke on his last visit to New York City, a decade ago, and remembers that curiosity vividly. "He was staying in the Chelsea Hotel, where he wrote 2001 with Stanley Kubrick, and...the first thing that struck me was how excited he seemed about everything. People he had encountered on his trip, books, various meetings he'd had about issues he thought were important. Despite the fact that he was already in his eighties and wheelchair-bound, he glowed with optimism. I remember thinking that he seemed like a man from another era."

Continue reading "Arthur C. Clarke: An Appreciation of a Life Well-Lived" »

Science Fiction Giant Arthur C. Clarke Dies at Age 90

Sad news today, that Arthur C. Clarke, science fiction visionary, and collaborator with Stanley Kubrick on the iconic movie 2001, has passed away at the age of 90. He leaves behind a prolific record of accomplishment, with more than 70 novels, short story collections, and nonfiction books, as well as a science fiction award that bears his name.

I still remember my first encounter with Clarke's fiction. The story "The Star," with its mix of anthropology, interstellar travel, and awesome ability to convey the vastness of space (not to mention its horrific ending), absolutely stunned me when I first read it--as did 2001 when I first saw it in the theater. Clarke often had under-estimated range and versatility in his science fiction, able to deliver close, personal portraits of characters and situations but equally able to zoom out and give readers mind-bending glimpses of space and time.

Tomorrow, Omnivoracious will run a longer piece commemorating the legacy of Arthur C. Clarke. In the meantime, readers can be in equal measure sad at his passing and appreciative of his long and lasting legacy.

Science Fiction/Fantasy Cornucopia for a Lazy Tuesday

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For your Tuesday reading pleasure, the Omnivoracious Paper Parrot presents a selection of recent SF and Fantasy--a little something for everyone, really, in terms of your reading tastes, from cult to bestsellers and everything inbetween. Starting at the top of the stack...

Bruce Taylor's Edward: Dancing on the Edge of Infinity - As blurbed by award-winning author Jay Lake, this latest book from cult author Taylor, sometimes known as "Mr. Magic Realism," is "Steal This Book, The Anarchist's Cookbook and Jonathan Livingston Seagull...written by the love child of Tom Robbins and Philip K. Dick." It's definitely pretty wild.

A. Lee Martinez's The Automatic Detective - Mack the robot must investigate the kidnapping of his neighbors, leading him into a strange quest through Empire City, and even stranger conspiracies. From the Alex Award-winner. Funny and delightful.

Wade Tarzia's The Sorceror's Chain - Underrated writer Tarzia chronicles the life of the city of Fenward in this complex and interesting swords-and-sorcery tale. A hammer-wielding wizard comes to Fenward, with disastrous consequences. Curses, shunned houses, and a young prophetess all feature in this very original novel.

Robin Hobb's Renegade's Magic - Perennial reader favorite returns with the thrilling conclusion to her Soldier Son Trilogy. Some people have indicated they think this series is slower than her previous efforts. It may be, but it's also deeper and more satisfying.

L. Timmel Duchamp's The Blood in the Fruit - The latest book in the Marq'ssan Cycle might just be the best yet, part of a series that is the most important political SF published in the last decade. Praised by the likes of Cory Doctorow and Samuel Delany, Duchamp's accomplishment here is deadly, sharp, emotional, and intelligent.

Continue reading "Science Fiction/Fantasy Cornucopia for a Lazy Tuesday" »

Apocalypse Redux: The World of Justin Taylor

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(The Apocalypse Reader cover and Justin Taylor in his "bomb shelter".)

Last week I blogged about Wastelands, an anthology of contemporary post-apocalyptic fiction. This time, because Monday is all about post-weekend devastation, we here at Omnivoracious bring you some historical, and sometimes hysterical, perspective to the subject via the multi-talented Justin Taylor. His The Apocalypse Reader, published last year by Thunder's Mouth Press and featured on National Public Radio, is the perfect companion volume to Wastelands. It contains a rich mix of stories from a wide variety of time periods, from Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne to Kelly Link, Michael Moorcock, Tao Lin, Steve Aylett, and Ursula K. Le Guin. The range of tone is quite remarkable. Taylor, who recently edited a second anthology (Come Back, Donald Barthelme, published as part of McSweeney's 24) has done a great job of including everything from black humor to extremely serious and unsettling views of the way the world ends. I recently interviewed Taylor via email, to find out just how serious he is about this whole apocalypse thing...

Amazon.com: For the edification of our readers, can you describe where you are right now, while you're answering these questions? Are you in a bunker or other shelter, for example?
Justin Taylor: I'm writing to you from my special bunker, which is craftily disguised as a bedroom with good natural light on the 3rd floor of a small apartment building with bad pipes. It's all really high-tech next-gen kind of stuff. In the event of Apocalypse, my bedroom will float here in space while the rest of the building and/or world crumbles around it. Oh and the pipes stay connected too, so I'll be floating in space but still able to use the bathroom and shower and stuff, though nobody really knows if I'll be able to get hot water or for how long, though that won't be much of a change from how the water situation is now. Of course the exact location is confidential, but I can tell you it's in Brooklyn.

Amazon.com: Does an apocalypse, by your definition, have to be society-wide or can it be singular and personal?
Justin Taylor: It can definitely be either, or both at once. Not to get philosophical on you, but reality is only ever experienced by individuals, so in that sense all Apocalypse is personal. If God returns to earth later this afternoon and Judgment Day begins, that will be something that happens to every person who ever lived, including me, you, Christopher Hitchens, Oprah, Stalin, and every member of the Ming Dynasty. But my experience of Judgment will be my own; it's not something I can share with Oprah.

Continue reading "Apocalypse Redux: The World of Justin Taylor" »

Shadow of the Wind Author Zafon Set to Release New Novel

According to a Spanish web site, El Juego del Ángel, the follow-up to Carlos Ruiz Zafón's wildly popular The Shadow of the Wind, will be published in Spain on April 17, with a planned print run of 1,000,000 copies, the highest initial printing for any novel previously released in that country. The new book will "tell a story of ambient intrigue in the Barcelona of the 1920s and will return to submerging the reader in the Cemetery of Lost Books," a location that featured in The Shadow of the Wind. More information, in Spanish, can be found at the official website for the book, and the literary site OF Blog of the Fallen has an English translation of the news. Earlier this month, one of Spain's largest newspapers also ran a piece about the new book.

The Shadow of the Wind has been an international bestseller and catapulted Zafón to the ranks of the elite, as perhaps the most widely read writer in Spanish. While we're all waiting impatiently for an English translation, or for the Spanish version to become available here, I highly recommend picking up the first book. It's a wonderful read and a personal favorite. (Thanks to Larry for some of the information in this post.)

Jeffrey Ford's The Shadow Year Has a Soundtrack

Jeffrey Ford has followed up his Edgar-winning The Girl in the Glass with the richly nostalgic coming-of-age novel The Shadow Year, which is something of a hymn to long-lost summers. There are elements of a mystery and some small elements of fantasy, but this is largely a mainstream novel that should appeal to a wide range of readers. Praise for the novel includes a starred review in Kirkus: "...Properly creepy, but from time to time deliciously funny and heart-breakingly poignant, too. For those of you—and you know who you are—who think the indispensable element for good genre fiction is good writing, this is not to be missed."

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                                                                             (Author photo by Ellen Datlow)

Yesterday, Ford was on the majorly cool Largehearted Boy blog talking about the music behind The Shadow Year: "I hadn’t thought about what type of music might make up the soundtrack of the novel, so to speak, until I was contacted by Largehearted Boy, but once the question was put to me some choices immediately became clear. Much of the novel is based on my own childhood, growing up in a neighborhood very like the one in the book, although the story is very definitely fiction. I remember when my siblings and I were the age of the characters, a time when there was a real revolution going on in popular music, namely the rock and roll era of The Beatles and The Stones and the rise of Motown." Check out the rest of the feature.

Apocalypse Wow: Wastelands Conquers All

Wastelands: Stories of Life After Apocalypse, edited by John Joseph Adams, has been one of the great success stories of the early part of 2008--selling out its initial print run (and going back to reprint), garnering rave reviews, and just generally conquering all in its path. Given the volatile nature of anthologies, which have a high failure rate, that's quite an accomplishment. But it's no surprise, given the careful editing and packaging of Wastelands, which has its own website (including free downloads of some of the fiction) and includes reprinted stories from the likes of Orson Scott Card, Jonathan Lethem, George R.R. Martin, Gene Wolfe, and many other luminaries.

Why wastelands, why now? According to Adams, the appeal of post-apocalyptic fiction is that "it allows us to strip away the artifices of civilization and take a long, hard look at ourselves--to speculate about how we would think and act if we had to do it all over again, and knew what we know now."

In the wake of recent environmental disasters and looming world-wide threats to civilization, it makes sense that readers would be fascinated with an anthology of this nature. "There's certainly a good dose of horror to be found--which to me is really the most potent form of horror in fiction, since the world really could end, and we really could end up in a scenario like one of the ones in the book."

But Adams also says there's an adventure fiction factor, too: "Post apocalyptic fiction typically contains elements of the Western...but what post-apocalyptic fiction most closely resembles is epic fantasy or swords-and-sorcery: there's often a lone protagonist on a quest to save his village and he finds himself confronting forces he doesn't quite understand."

So what's a typical Wastelands story like? Here are some first lines from stories by Jonathan Lethem, Stephen King,  Catherine Wells, Octavia Butler, George R.R. Martin, Elizabeth Bear, and Richard Kadrey to jump-start your imagination. If you want to find out who wrote which ones, you'll just have to read the book!

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Tony D'Souza Reports from the Road

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Some times the best things happen to the nicest, most talented people, and that's definitely true when it comes to Tony D'Souza, as dynamic, friendly, and gifted writer as you're likely to discover. The Konkans is his new critically acclaimed novel about a somewhat messed up family. It's funny, wise, and bittersweet, and an interesting comment on the immigrant experience. Mostly, though, it's riddled through with stories, great details, and brilliant character studies. One thing about D'Souza's fiction--it displays an essential generosity without being sentimental or soft.

Right now D'Souza's in the middle of "thirty-three stops on The Konkans tour." I checked in on D'Souza to quiz him about pivotal moments in his current book tour,  to quiz him about pivotal moments in his current book tour, which features a "mix of colleges, bookstores, and the odd bar. Well, lots of bars, but I actually read in one, Stain Bar in New York City."

Favorite Meal: "A dozen oysters on the half shell and two glasses of super cold pinot grigio all by myself on a sunny afternoon in the Castro District. Nothing like catching a breather and a buzz before a reading!"

Worst Meal: "Honestly? At the College of Wooster in Ohio. A few senior English students took me for lunch to their cafeteria. The entree was penne pasta with sun dried tomatoes, but somehow they had managed to sun dry everything. I asked one of the students if it was always like that. He nodded as he chewed and said, 'Oh yeah.'" 

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Arthur C. Clarke Award Finalists Announced

The Arthur C. Clarke Award finalists have been announced, and they are:

Matthew de Abaitua – The Red Men – Snow Books

Stephen Baxter - The H-Bomb Girl – Faber & Faber

Sarah Hall – The Carhullan Army – Faber & Faber

Steven Hall – The Raw Shark Texts – Canongate

Ken MacLeod – The Execution Channel – Orbit

Richard Morgan – Black Man (published as Thirteen in the US) – Gollancz

Former winners of the United Kingdom's most prestigious Science Fiction award have included China Mieville, Geoff Ryman, and Pat Cadigan. This is only the second time in the award's existence that the shortlist has been composed solely of UK authors. The annual award is presented for the best science fiction novel of the year, and selected from a list of novels whose UK first edition was published in the previous calendar year.

From the administrators: "Featuring visions as diverse as a dystopian Cumbria and a future Hackney, time-travel adventures in 1960's Liverpool and an alternate world British Isles in the throes of terrorist attack, through to tech-noir thrillers and a trawl through subconscious worlds where memories fall prey to metaphysical sharks, the Clarke Award has never been so close to home and relevant to the British literary scene."

I'm thrilled to see so many books on this list that I haven't read, to be honest. Half of the nominees couldn't be called the "usual suspects" at all, while Richard Morgan richly deserves his nomination for Black Man. MacLeod's The Execution Channel was too didactic for my tastes, but a worthy attempt to inject politics into fiction. One glaring omission from this list, however, is the lyrical, daring, satirical, and just plain brilliant The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson. (US readers are just now having a chance to experience this novel, as it will be published in North America next month.)

Congratulations to all of the nominees. The winner will be announced on April 30th

In the Country of Men Now Available in Trade Paperback

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Powerful, political, and personal, In the Country of Men, a debut novel by Hisham Matar, takes place during the early days of Qaddafi's Libya (summer 1979). Told from the point of view of a nine-year-old boy, this slim novel captures a time and a situation that has rarely been made so immediate. The New York Times wrote that In the Country of Men "brings to mind 1984 and Fahrenheit 451...in the way it posits a cruelly simplified and nonsensical narrative." I tend to disagree, simply because this isn't an extrapolation into the future--it's about the past, and the here-and-now. Every detail is perfect and feels true, with the tale more chilling because of it. The brutality on display has much more impact because we cannot find distance from it.

In the Country of Men made many year's best lists when it came out in 2007. This month it's finally available in trade paperback. If you haven't read it, now is your chance. It's at times grim, yes, because it has to be, but it's also an evocative portrait of a place, and there is great comfort in the muscular quality of the writing.

Toby Barlow's Poetic Responses About Sharp Teeth

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Toby Barlow has converted many with Sharp Teeth, his "werewolf" novel in poem form, published in January. It's been getting great reviews and I can report happily that, despite not being fond of either werewolves or long poems, the result is not only delightful but exciting, intense, oddly tender, and complex. To get more insight into Barlow's book, I interviewed him via email. (I have already received a special pardon from the International Council of Real Poets for my questions...)

Amazon.com:
There once was a man from Detroit
Who found he was quite adroit
At writing with poetical pen
About territorial wolf men.

"
What? No vampires or witches,
Ghosts, ghouls, or liches?"
I asked with a fanged and carious smile.
His reply? "Wolves haven't been done for awhile."

Toby Barlow:
Seems like every era has its beasts,
Reagan's unnatural youth
and that dark 80's culture of cocaine
gave birth to the Orlean's vampires of Anne Rice.
But here in this new century,
as we begin seeing things heading south
and as the seams in our civilization
become slowly unstitched,
the vibe is getting a little more feral, a little wild,
and people are starting to look 'round for the pack
they can curl up
and keep warm with.
These seem like they're werewolf days.

Amazon.com:
the dark chill howl
a shadow in the trees
Idea blossoms

Toby Barlow:
I was mulling over writing a love story when
I came across an article about a dogcatcher
which then reminded me of a pack of dogs I once saw in L.A.
So I made it a love story about animals
of a kind
'cause after all, that's what we are.
We like to kid ourselves
that we're more interested in the Platonic ideals
than a plate of steak
but really, that ain't the case.
We're animals, through and through.

I hadn't been thinking about it for years
it just sort of came to me.
Though once I started
I realized
dogs had been nipping at my heels
for most of my life.

Continue reading "Toby Barlow's Poetic Responses About Sharp Teeth" »

Taylor F. Lockwood's Marvelous World of Mushrooms

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Taylor F. Lockwood strikes me as being a little like the Indiana Jones of the mushroom world. He goes out to all kinds of exotic locations to study and photograph fungus. In the process, he brings back evidence of a world far stranger than we could imagine. Lockwood's photos have appeared in publications all over the world, including The New York Times, and he's appeared on numerous TV and radio shows. His latest book, Chasing the Rain, is a compendium of alien beauty here on Earth. I talked to Lockwood via email recently, asking him about all things mushroomy.

Amazon.com: What, in your opinion, is the world's strangest mushroom, and why?
Lockwood: That is hard because there are so many strange ones. Two groups I really like are the Cordyceps and the Stinkhorns. The Cordyceps because they control the proliferation of insects as well as make them do strange things before they devour the insects from the inside out. Some Cordyceps are not only specific to the species of insect host that they will attack, they might be specific to the body part, leg or joint that they want to host upon. Other Cordyceps can make an insect climb up a tree to better spread the spores when the fungus fruits out of the insect's body. Stinkhorns fool insects into spreading their spores by attracting them with brightly colored bodies and a smelly spore mass. The insects land on the sticky mass of spores and unwittingly carry them off to other habitats. One thing you can be sure of is that there will be many more surprises as we find out more about the Kingdom of Fungi.

Amazon.com: Do you ever feel that you're exploring something alien, not of this world?
Lockwood: The best part of the deal is that they are part of this world. I believe that my work is about finding and photographing natural beauty that we humans haven't seen before...[That said,] I think that it's likely that there is a googol of fungus spores floating around the universe. This could very well be from a tangential impact hitting the Earth or other terrestrial body and blasting spores into space. Certainly all spores firmly attached to a meteor or meteorite would burn up upon entry to a planet with an atmosphere. However, there is always the possibility of drifting on their own in the planet's shadow or during a "cool" era like after the dinosaur-exterminating "winter". At this point it's all a matter of numbers. Many species or fungi can and do exist as filaments of single cells without having to fruit into larger (and more vulnerable) bodies. This would certainly help their chances of survival in a new habitat.

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Peter F. Hamilton's The Dreaming Void

As I reported at the beginning of the year, bestselling author Peter F. Hamilton's The Dreaming Void is scheduled for publication this month, whereupon it'll no doubt be snatched up by his legion of fans. Here's a preview: It's the start of a new series, set in the same universe as Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained, but as Hamilton explained via email, "it's not a direct sequel. The novel begins about 1,200 years after the events of Judas Unchained. So it features a whole new set of problems, but given rejuvenation and memory downloading technologies have been perfected, some of the old characters are still around, though in a much changed form." Hamilton says "evolving the technology and societies was the most enjoyable part. It was fun making really big leaps of possibilities, yet still keeping the Commonwealth recognizably human."

As for the characters, Hamilton liked writing Edeard, whose story forms half the book. "He lives in a quasi-medieval world, yet with SF overtones. People who've read it have commented on how close to straight fantasy it is, which is something of a departure for me."

Fans of his earlier books should really enjoy The Dreaming Void, but if you're new to Hamilton's work, this is also a good place to start, as the book stands alone.

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The South Carolina Book Festival: Great Hospitality, Great Literature

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(Showing the diversity of the festival, from left-to-right, high-energy SF/Fantasy writer Jay Lake, the somewhat unclassifiable and delightful fiction writer Lauren Groff, dynamic poet Sean Thomas Dougherty, and "Southern" fiction writer Man Martin--who gave one of the best readings I've ever witnessed.)

I just returned from the South Carolina Book Festival, where my wife and I had a great time as guests, participating on panels and other events. (Ann's the fiction editor for Weird Tales and co-editor on our various anthologies). I can honestly say that it was one of the best-run festivals I've ever seen, and that we were made to feel like royalty the whole time. Which is not to say that at other events we've stepped off the plane and been instantly kneecapped by the organizers, but you could tell that the people running this festival really took pride in getting the details right. Not only that, they also really enjoyed themselves, which rubbed off on the participants.

Highlights of the festival included hanging out with the ever-entertaining Jay Lake, whose SF novel Mainspring will soon be released in a mass market edition, as well as meeting The Monsters of Templeton author Lauren Groff, not one but four state Poet Laureates (Marjorie Wentworth--South Carolina; Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda--Virginia; Joyce Brinkman--Indiana; Lisa Starr--Rhode Island), mystery writer James O. Born, historical thriller writer A.J. Hartley, legal thriller writer James Sheehan, mainstream literary novelist/short story writer Jason Ockert, YA novelist Alan Gratz, cookbook author Sallie Ann Robinson, and journalist Peter Zheutlin, among others. That's the great thing about a book festival as opposed to a convention focused on a narrower spectrum (for example, SF/F)--the sheer number of writers you meet from other genres and disciplines. To give you another example, I even met up with Lola Haskins again, a great poet I'd published in a 1980s literary journal and who I hadn't seen since. Ann, meanwhile, actually got to dance with the keynote speaker, Kevin O'Keefe, author of The Average American: The Extraordinary Search for the Nation's Most Ordinary Citizen.

Of course, making sure that diversity doesn't become chaos can be one of the biggest challenges facing a festival. Festival director Paula Watkins told me the most difficult part of her job is actually "Narrowing it all down to fit the space and time we have available. There are so many great writers out there. Getting ten pages of ideas down to three is a challenge."

Continue reading "The South Carolina Book Festival: Great Hospitality, Great Literature" »

Jonathan Barnes' The Somnambulist is Nothing to Sleep Through

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Set in Victorian London, The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes is the kind of fun book that I couldn't resist blurbing when Barnes' editor at William Morrow asked me to a few months ago. This is what I said: "Sneaky, cheeky, and dark in the best possible way, this massively entertaining book manages to make the familiar daringly unfamiliar. I enjoyed the heck out of this novel." The Somnambulist has just been published in hardcover in the US, and I highly recommend you pick up a copy. It's received a starred review in Publishers Weekly as well as a lot of other praise. I think you'll find the exploits of, among others, the odd detective Edward Moon and his even odder sidekick, the Somnambulist, well worth your time. It's one of those books that both fantasy and non-fantasy readers should enjoy.

Nebula Finalists Announced

As reported on writer Jay Lake's livejournal and elsewhere today, the finalists for the Nebula Awards, one of science fiction's top honors, have been announced, with winners revealed in April. In the novel category, they are:

Odyssey - McDevitt, Jack (Ace, Nov06)
The Accidental Time Machine - Haldeman, Joe (Ace, Aug07)
The Yiddish Policemen's Union - Chabon, Michael (HarperCollins, May07)
The New Moon's Arms - Hopkinson, Nalo (Warner Books, Feb07)
Ragamuffin - Buckell, Tobias (Tor, Jun07)

Congratulations to all of the finalists. It's worth pointing out that each of these books is, to some extent, completely different from the next. I don't envy the voters picking one, since it's almost impossible to compare them, but I think anyone handicapping the race would have to put some money down on the Chabon. That said, how do Amazon readers rate these books? Well, Odyssey gets the lowest ratings, followed by The Accidental Time Machine and The Yiddish Policemen's Union, with Ragamuffin and The New Moon's Arms tied at the top with a ranking of four-and-a-half stars.

I mention Jay Lake above not only because he's generally johnny-on-the-spot with this kind of news, but because his Mainspring was on the long list for the Nebula, and I've just acquired an advance copy of a loose "sequel," Escapement, which features one of the most interesting protagonists I've come across in awhile: Paolina Barthes, a young female genius stuck in a small village shadowed by the huge clockwork wall that figures so prominently in Lake's post-steampunk milieu. I wouldn't be at all surprised, based on my reading thus far, if Lake got another shot at the Nebulas next year. This is a very close-in character study, richly detailed. --JeffV

Moomin Moomin Moomin: Bliss for the Whole Family

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Everybody give a big thank you to Drawn & Quarterly Press, which has begun reissuing Tove Jansson's Moomin comic strips in graphic novel form. The second volume just arrived at my door and like the first it's a beautiful oversized book featuring the antics of the hippo-like Moomin and his family. From dealing with obnoxious neighbors to doing ridiculous things for love, the Moomin family's adventures are funny, surreal, sometimes melancholy, and always rich and whimsical. In less skillful hands, this would be fodder for sticking one’s finger down one’s throat in revulsion at the treacly whimsy of it all. However, Tove Jansson was a pragmatist and also, if her work is any indication, a wise person. Beneath the gentle surface of Moomin there is a sly, wicked wit and much non-didactic commentary about the world and people’s place in it.

Something must be said about the effortlessness of these comic strips. There isn’t a word or image out of place. I cannot think of another comic strip that gives me as much pleasure as this one. There is also something uniquely calming and stress-relieving about reading Moomin that I can’t quite put into words but has something to do with the effortlessness I mention above. As Neil Gaiman says, "A lost treasure now rediscovered--one of the sweetest, strangest comics strips ever drawn or written. A surrealist masterpiece. Honest." You owe it to yourself to check it out.

World Fantasy Award Winner John Picacio's Take on Michael Moorcock's Elric

Multiple award-winning artist John Picacio recently completed work on Del Rey's new edition of Elric: The Stealer of Souls, volume 1 of the Chronicles of the Last Emperor of Melnibone. Picacio not only created the spectacular cover but many interior pieces, creating a truly unique book. This isn't the first time Picacio has animated Moorcock's work with his art--he also did the thirtieth-anniversary edition of Behold the Man awhile back. For Picacio, "[It] really feels like things coming full-circle because not only am I working with Mike again, but this time it's for one of the most iconic fantasy characters ever."

Picacio found Moorcock as easy to work with as the man's reputation suggests. When Picacio unveiled his "battleplan" for the Elric book, he met with Moorcock "to break it down with him [and] he just kept smiling and giving me the nod. A kind word here, a kind word there, but he...gave me virtually free rein. When I had questions, he was always quick to clarify, but never told me what to do. He's not only one of the great authors in the history of fantasy, but he's one of the great gentlemen."

Since Elric is an iconic character, I asked Picacio if he ever worried about trying to match the vision of the many readers who already have an idea in their heads of what Elric must look like. "Early on, a good friend pulled me aside and said, 'No matter what you do on Elric, you know a lot of people are gonna hate it, right?' Oddly enough, that really took the pressure off of me. I felt like, 'Hey, I might as well do my thing because there's no way to please everyone, so let's just go for it.'...[Besides,] Mike expects you to bring the absolute most potent and personal vision you can offer to the audience at the given moment."

Looking over this beautiful new edition, I'd say Picacio has accomplished what he set out to do. The art is vibrant, fluid, and complements the text perfectly--as the examples below attest. Also check out MonkeyBrain Books' beautiful Cover Story: The Art of John Picacio. And for more examples of art from Elric and a very cool contest, visit Revolution SF.

Continue reading "World Fantasy Award Winner John Picacio's Take on Michael Moorcock's Elric" »

A Brilliant New Talent: J.M. McDermott

Debut novels are supposed to be creatures of a kind of limited, quicksilver brilliance: honest and earnest and showing flashes of talent. J.M. McDermott has eschewed that approach, producing the stunning Last Dragon, a kind of collaged swords-and-sorcery tale that owes as much to Gene Wolfe and the magic realists as to Fritz Leiber or George R.R. Martin. In fact, it uses a technique similar to that of Steve Erickson in his highly-acclaimed Zeroville from last year: short, sharp chapters that allow the reader room to make the book their own even as there's still a great sense of the dangerous and the surreal. It's the kind of triumph that any writer in mid-career would be proud of. As Paul Witcover wrote in a recent Sci Fi Weekly review, "this extraordinary first novel traces the labyrinthine history of a dying ruler whose patchy memories of the past swerve from the vivid to the unreliable in a hypnotic tangle of stark realism and impressionistic fantasy that has the visionary power of a fever dream. The comparison goes only so far, however. McDermott is not writing magic realism but robust fantasy, investing the traditional subject matter of the genre—magic, dragons, golems and more—with high literary craftsmanship." You can read a sample chapter on the publisher's webpage for the novel.

Who is J.M. McDermott and where did he come from? These were just two of the questions I set out to answer when I interviewed the author earlier this month...

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Continue reading "A Brilliant New Talent: J.M. McDermott" »

Enter Ellen Datlow's Inferno

Inferno

Published late in 2007, Ellen Datlow's dark fantasy anthology Inferno was a highlight of the year that got overlooked by some readers. With the holidays behind us for good, though, it's been picking up steam. As part of spreading the word, I recently reviewed it for Sci Fi Weekly, where I wrote in part, "In reading Inferno, I was reminded at times of the old Whispers series I used to love, as well as such iconic stand-alone horror anthologies such as Prime Evil and Dark Forces. Time will tell whether Inferno is as good as those books, but for me it provided several fun hours of atmospheric, intelligent, scary, entertaining reading. Here's hoping Ellen Datlow can be persuaded to edit an Inferno 2 in the near future."

Featuring great work from Jeffrey Ford, Lucius Shepard, P.D. Cacek, Laird Barron, Nathan Ballingrud, Joyce Carol Oates, and others, Inferno should appeal to anyone who loves to curl up on a quiet night with a good scary read.

Datlow also includes an introduction about the horror and the rationale behind the anthology, which she's allowed us to excerpt below as an Amazon exclusive.

***

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Tiny Books, Big Imaginations

Do you like small books? If you do, I've got a couple of recommendations: the Jabberwocky series and its sly, if shy, companion Bandersnatch. They all come from Sean Wallace at Prime Books, winner of a World Fantasy Award a couple of years ago. Jabberwocky (named after a poem by some obscure English children's writer) contains poetry and prose of a whimsical and surreal nature from the likes of such award-winners as Tim Pratt, Jane Yolen, Catherynne M. Valente, and Holly Phillips. Each of the three current volumes is a gem of a tiny paperback, perfect for carrying in a back pocket or bringing on a trip. Bandersnatch, meanwhile, is a tiny hardcover, so mysterious and self-effacing it doesn't even have a title or editor listed on the cover. You'd never even know that it's co-edited by Paul Tremblay, who just inked a huge deal with Henry Holt for a couple of mystery novels. Bandersnatch may be even better designed than Jabberwocky and has been meticulously edited by Tremblay. You may not recognize as many names in Bandersnatch, but it's fiction of high quality in the perfect little package. If you know someone who likes surreal fantasy and magic realism, this would be a great gift as it's unlikely they'll already have it.

Why do I like small books? Well, when I'm on vacation, it's a great rationalization for buying books in the first place: Oh, I'll just get this microscopic book here, that I have to pick up with tweezers. That way, it'll fit in my luggage. Of course, I wind up buying so many tiny books using that rationale that I wind up with less space than if I'd just bought big books to begin with. Not that I'm complaining...

Here's the full wrap-around art for Bandersnatch:

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Are You Feeling Better?

                 Gawabetter       Gawandecomplications

Well, you may or may not be after reading Atul Gawande's Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance. It's his fascinating follow-up to the National Book Award finalist Complications, a book of essays on odd and unusual cases. In Better, now out in trade paperback, Gawande focuses on issues like hand-washing (if everyone in hospitals did it, many more lives would be saved), medical malpractice suits (the issue is more complicated than you might think), and advances in saving lives on the battlefield (due mostly to improved processes rather than new technology). Throughout all of the pieces in Better, Gawande's questing, curious, thoughtful, and empathic nature comes through. If you've ever watched Scrubs, ER, or (shudder) The Kingdom and wondered what goes through a surgeon's head in real life and what issues they face, this book's for you.

Feeling Strange? It Must Be The New Weird Bug

Nwnew                  Insect_labbeetle_original 

This week Tachyon published The New Weird, an anthology edited by me and my wife Ann. It consists of reprints and over 100 pages of original fiction and nonfiction encompassing everything, well, "New Weird." What is New Weird, you might ask? This is a question we actively explore in the book, which includes commentary from editors, writers, and others. In 2000, China Mieville published Perdido Street Station, a mix of fantasy, SF, and horror that did some cool new things, crystalizing the idea in readers' heads a new kind of "weird" fiction had arrived on the scene. This kind of edgy, urban fantasy partook of influences like Clive Barker and his Books of Blood but also the work of New Wave writers like J.G. Ballard, Michael Moorcock, and M.J. Harrison.

A raucous online discussion archived here punctuated the creation of the term "New Weird," and we've even preserved some of that lively debate in the anthology. Contributors include Mieville, Harrison, and Moorcock, of course, but also a plethora of other great writers like Jeffrey Ford, K.J. Bishop, Hal Duncan, Felix Gilman, Sarah Monette, Kathe Koja, Jay Lake, Paul Di Filippo, and Thomas Ligotti. You can find more information, including a web exclusive, on the publisher's page for the anthology. We're also running a contest where you can win a copy of the anthology, along with tons of other cool stuff.

From an insider's point of view, one interesting aspect of the anthology concerns the creation of the cover. We all wanted a clean, modern look, but also to convey the idea of something fantastical, bizarre, and intriguing. When I saw Mike Libby's work at the Insect Lab, it seemed to fit perfectly (and Ann Monn created a great cover using it). The beetle portrayed above is close to the original that inspired us to contact Libby and commission a piece specifically for the anthology. Of course, Libby works with many kinds of beetles. Here are a couple we also considered as prototypes for the cover, each of which, I think, conveys a different mood. The one on the left seems like more of a Steampunk beetle, while the one on the right could well be a delicate but popular young adult/Harry Potter fantasy beetle.

Insect_labbeetle_1         Insect_labbeetle_2   

The Multiverse: New Links for SF and Fantasy Readers

A round-up of what's been going on in the SF/Fantasy world...

Noted author Caitlin R. Kiernan blogged about her medical condition, which has forced her to have an ebay auction to pay bills. This talented writer needs your help.

Want to write science fiction? Check out the new SF Idea Generator.

Papercuts writes about Philip K. Dick's forgotten children's book.

The Guardian interviews Iain M. Banks, author of the new SF novel Matter.

Behold the amazing Predator Lego!

Cult Pop TV talks to the cool YA-writing Justine Larbalestier and Scott Westerfield.

Discover Magazine reveals 20 Things You Didn't Know About SF.

Baen's Universe posts its February issue, with tons of great fiction by David Brin and others.

And finally--drum roll--George R.R. Martin blogs about the Super Bowl!

How to Raise and Keep a Dragon: Feedback from Kids

My friend Joe Nigg, channeling dragon buyer John Topsell, published a book called How to Raise and Keep a Dragon back in 2006. Joe has written a number of wonderful books about mythological and folkloric creatures, but this one had a particularly interesting story behind it--one that's still unfolding. As Joe explains, "A funny thing happened. The book went from a commissioned adult spoof of animal-raising guides to [being] marketing as an illustrated children's book. The book's surprisingly enthusiastic reception internationally (see matches for John Topsell on Google.com) has shown how fervently many young readers dream of raising their own dragon--and that many adults shared that dream as children, some apparently still believing there are such creatures."

Fueling this impression, Joe says that "Topsell lists fictitious Dragon Suppliers in the back of the book," a resource page that has, in part, led to a lot of correspondence from kids--a veritable outpouring. They run the gamut from literal belief and doubt to imaginary play. Sometimes, Joe says, he responds by writing, "John Topsell's dragons have been in myths and stories worldwide since time immemorial. But there are real animals called 'dragons': the Komodo Dragon of Indonesia (which grows up to 10 scary feet long!), and Chinese Bearded Dragons and Water Dragons, tiny lizards that people raise as pets. What I recommend is that you create your own imaginary Dragon friend. Select its breed, size, and color. Name it, and raise it as you read the book."

Below you'll find some wonderful (uncorrected) excerpts from the many emails and letters received by Joe, which once again show just how imaginative and passionate kids can be about the things they love.

How_to_raise        Dragons_2 (The cover of How to Raise and Keep a Dragon and another great book by Nigg, The Book of Dragons and other Mythical Beasts)

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The Art of Bryan Talbot

Bryan Talbot's on a roll. The prolific artist and writer produced a bona fide masterpiece in Alice in Sunderland, which hit my Bookslut list of the top graphic novels of the year at #1, and this month he has a beautiful full-color retrospective of his talent, The Art of Bryan Talbot, with an introduction by Neil Gaiman. Arranged chronologically, the book covers early underground art, posters of and for rock stars, and, of course, sketches, drawings, and art from some of his most famous work, The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, Judge Dredd, and The Tale of One Bad Rat. It's a well-deserved honor and a book that art fans and comics fans alike will want as part of their collection. I recently caught up with Talbot and asked him about his approach to his art.

Amazon.com: What motivates you and keeps you passionate about your art?
Bryan Talbot: I really don't know, I've never considered doing anything else. Writing and drawing is what I do. I suppose it's because I enjoy the results.

Amazon.com: How sensitive are you to falling into ruts and do you take conscious steps to avoid repeating yourself too much?
Bryan Talbot: It's easy to get into habitual ways of drawing things and I'm as much guilty of this as anyone else--after all, it's part of what makes a recognisable personal style. But I always try and think a lot about each image beforehand, try and envisage the best way of approaching it. When it comes to creating graphic novels I always deliberately work on something completely different to the previous one. After the non-genre realistic The Tale of One Bad Rat, I did the adult SF adventure Heart of Empire. After that I did Alice in Sunderland, which was different to anything I'd done before. Now I'm working on a steampunk detective/thriller with anthropomorphic characters. I've been describing it as Sherlock Holmes meets Sin City--with animals! If I didn't do something different each time I'd get very bored.

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Musician Daniel Grandbois on the Books He Reads

Dravidimg2       Munly_2


Daniel Grandbois is one of those genuine double threats: an accomplished musician with three bands and a talented writer with a collection of short absurdist tales called Unlucky Lucky Days out in June. In his role as musician, Daniel plays or has played in three of the pioneering bands of "The Denver Sound": Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, Tarantella, and Munly. Described by some Amazon customers as alternative "gothic Americana," I'd add descriptors like country punk and some gorgeous gypsy/Eastern European folk music influences as well, especially when thinking of Tarantella. Which really means that this is really original and captivating American music. Other veterans of “The Denver Sound” include bands like DeVotchKa and 16 Horsepower. The latest Frommer’s Colorado guide identifies Munly and Slim Cessna's Auto Club when noting the rising international notoriety “The Denver Sound” is gaining. MTV’s Roadtrip Guide lists Munly’s “Amen Corner” as one of the five songs you have to listen to in Denver. If you haven't heard about Daniel Grandbois yet, you heard it here first: this talented, hardworking writer and musician is someone to watch. Recently, he talked to me via email about his reading habits and how it informs his music.


Amazon: What have you read lately and liked?

Daniel Grandbois: I’m in the middle of a gorgeous textbook from Oxford University Press, called The Evolution of Trees. Imagining the transformative journey plants had to make to leave the sea and colonize land sends shivers down my spine. I love seeing things from alien perspectives. Other nonfiction I’ve loved lately: Cabeza de Vaca’s account of being shipwrecked and stranded for a decade on this continent shortly after Columbus’s voyage, and Bartolome de Las Casas’ Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies, which tells, grimly, of the wholesale slaughter of Native Americans by the Spaniards in the name of their “truer” God. Then, there would be Marie-Louise von Franz’s Archetypal Dimensions of the Psyche. In the world of fiction: Robert Pinget’s Mahu, Calvino’s Cosmicomics, Coover’s Briar Rose, Grove’s collection of Beckett’s dramatic works, Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales, and Charles Martin’s translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

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Essex County Volume 1--A Highly-Recommended Alex Award Winner

As reported on Amazon a couple of weeks ago, the American Library Association have announced their Alex Award picks, spotlighting adult books with specific teen appeal. One of them was a favorite graphic novel from 2007, Jeff Lemire's Essex County Volume 1: Tales From the Farm. It's been five years since a graphic novel made the list. As I wrote in a Bookslut column several months back, "In this heartfelt and beautifully sparse tale of an orphaned ten-year-old named Lester, Jeff Lemire uses an illustration style that perfectly captures the wide open spaces of rural Ontario. After Lester’s mother dies, he’s sent to live on his uncle’s farm. He hardly knows his uncle and his father has long since left the scene. Lester forms a friendship with a gas station attendant named Jimmy Lebeuf who used to be a professional hockey player until a bad hit knocked him out of the game. Together, the two comics fans build a rich fantasy life revolving around the possibility of an alien invasion. In a watermark grayscale, Lemire also provides flashbacks to both Lebeuf’s career and the details surrounding the death of Lester’s mother. Another section, showing pages from Lester’s own home-made comic book, is imaginative and funny."

1talesamazon   1talesghost_3 

Highly recommended for all ages--and best of all, the equally evocative Essex County Volume 2: Ghost Stories is also available! - JeffV

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Gregory Frost on Shadowbridge, His New Fantasy Epic

Frost_portrait     Shadowbridgeweb

Gregory Frost's Shadowbridge, just out from Del Rey, seems poised to intrigue both readers who like traditional fantasy and those who are into cross-genre or interstitial fiction, with its rich blend of interlocking stories set in an intricate fantasy world, combined with the mysteries of a possibly continent-spanning bridge. Frost has always been a meticulous and thoughtful writer, whose novels include Tain, Remscela, and, most recently, Fitcher's Brides. His short fiction was collected in a beautiful book from Golden Gryphon Press, Attack of the Jazz Giants & Other Stories. In addition to writing fiction, Frost is also a wonderful instructor who has taught at the Clarion Writers Workshop several times and, along with Rachel Pastan, is directing the writing workshop at Swarthmore College. (Guests of the workshop this spring will include Frost's former teacher at the University of Iowa, T. Coraghessan Boyle.)

Shadowbridge has received fulsome praise from several sources, including The San Diego Tribune, The Denver Post, The Kansas City Star, and Fantasy Magazine. Gary K. Wolfe at Locus Magazine, the "Billboard" of the SF/F industry, wrote in part, "For all its painterly beauty, Shadowbridge is a tough-minded novel that confronts some disturbing issues, and that is remarkably efficient in the telling...Frost could be on his way toward a masterpiece." However, it also received a scathing review from John Clute at SciFi Weekly. We talked candidly about that review, about Shadowbridge, and about teaching in an email conversation earlier this month. (For more information on Frost, visit his website and his blog.)


Amazon.com: Let's cut right to the chase. Shadowbridge, which has received fulsome praise from most reviewers, was recently ripped by critic John Clute, which was followed by a series of posts online in your defense. Your own response to the review, in an email to me, was:  "One should never review books while suffering from hemorrhoids." Although this gives me an inkling of the answer to this question, I have to ask: How do you generally deal with negative reviews? And do you think the reading public has any idea of how a negative review can ruin a writer's day?

Gregory Frost: Humor tends to be my way of reacting--which, as a lot of humor does, emerges from pain. I find negative reviews very painful. I think if you give a damn at all about what you write, you’re going to feel the sting of a bad review.  If I started my day by reading reviews and hit something like that, I probably would spend the rest of the day if not the week unable to work.  Michael Swanwick put me on to the best solution some years back when he explained that he has his wife read the reviews and decide if he should see them. 

I think now, with the internet, we get reviews posted on fly-by-night genre sites by people who don’t know the difference between critiquing a work in progress in a workshop environment and a review. I might go so far as to suggest that some of them have no business whatsoever reviewing anything that doesn’t involve crayons. That can hardly apply to John Clute, so the most I can say there is I have no idea how I pressed his buttons, but the book does exactly what I want it to do and I’m sorry he was expecting something entirely different...at least that’s how his review felt to me. He also seems to be beating up the publisher for greedily splitting this story in half, you know, to make more money with two books instead of the one, whereas that was entirely my decision and not theirs. It was two books as it was pitched to Del Rey. At one point in its creation, I thought it might even be a trilogy, but as the story evolved, I saw that wasn’t going to be the case and I was not about to pad the thing out to make three flabby books (what Gary K. Wolfe in his review called “brown-bag trilogies”--gotta say, I love that term).  So once again I had a lean two-book work. John seems to have reacted as though if it had been a trilogy, then splitting the story would have been okay, but since it’s only two, that’s not okay. Well, tough.

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Brandon Sanderson on Robert Jordan and The Wheel of Time

With the tragic passing of Robert Jordan last year, the world lost a writer who had become an iconic figure to his millions of fans. In the weeks following Jordan's death, many of those same fans understandably wondered how or if the fantasist's bestselling The Wheel of Time series would be completed. Then news came from Tor that Brandon Sanderson, a fantasy and children's book author, had accepted an offer to write a final volume called A Memory of Light, using Jordan's dictated notes about the plot. Sanderson had been working on his own Mistborn series and a follow-up to Alcatraz and the Evil Librarians. I recently talked to Sanderson via email about Jordan's legacy and about how he became involved with A Memory of Light, which is scheduled for release in 2009.


Jordan_robert      Brandonsanderson_3

(Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson)


Amazon.com: How well did you know Robert Jordan?

Brandon Sanderson: I didn't know him at all. I saw him once at a convention--once--and didn't even realize who it was until someone told me. To me, Mr. Jordan still is--and will probably always be--something of a mythical figure.


Amazon.com: What about his fiction do you particularly enjoy?

Brandon Sanderson: Robert Jordan's genius, in my opinion, was in his ability to blend the familiar with the original. When I read his books, particularly during my younger years, they felt like fantasy to me without reading like the same fantasy books I'd read so many times before. By now, he has become his own archetype, but at that point he was just so much more fresh than anything I'd read before. To this day, I love his world-building and his ability to get deep inside a character's mind and show you who they are and how they feel. As I've grown older, I have come to appreciate his ability to work lavish description and extensive world building into his stories without breaking the narrative. Reading his books is a treat for both the senses and the mind.


Amazon.com: What are your impressions of Jordan as a person and a working professional?

Brandon Sanderson: One thing stands out to me. During those last weeks before his passing, Mr. Jordan spent a great deal of time dictating the plot of this book to those around him. He felt that he had promised an ending to his fans, and was dedicated to making certain this book got finished for them. This coincides with everything else I know of the man. He was always kind and generous during signings and tours. He always spoke highly of his readers and the people around him. He was selfless. His mind was focused on his family first, his readers second, and himself as a distant third.


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Getting Lost in Strange Museums

The Museum Vaults is the second in a series of four graphic novels published through an arrangement between the Louvre in Paris and New York-based publisher Nantier Beall Minoustchine. Written and illustrated by French artist, Marc-Antoine Mathieu, the graphic novel describes an art appraiser's descent into the depths of a strange, apparently limitless museum. Rendered in rich sepia tones, his journey takes on a Magritte-like quality, enhanced by several large panels, such as the one reproduced below the cut, that give a dizzying sense of space and perspective. According to the publisher, Mathieu has "managed to bite the hand that feeds him" with The Museum Vaults, by sending up "the pomposity of art history and of such museums as the Louvre...each chapter an additional exercise in the absurd aspects of organizing, showing, and critiquing art." This may or may not be true, but the overall effect shares more in common with the luminous sense of unease found in the work of Franz Kafka, combined with the spatial manipulation common to the stories of J.G. Ballard. As the reader descends into the museum along with the narrator, the sense of being plunged into a subtle and surreal adventure becomes ever more heightened until you find yourself almost literally lost in the book.

Museumcovsmall Glacial_2

The Museum Vaults is fully the equal of the first book in the series, the extremely talented Nicolas De Crecy's Glacial Period, which describes the efforts of archaeologists thousands of years from now to dig up the ruins of the Louvre. It's a brilliant mirroring concept, since they're digging up not only the ruins of the museum, but the ruins preserved within the museum.

Before I visited the Louvre late last year I would have thought a graphic novel collaboration to perhaps be out of keeping with the museum's image. But the Louvre, like any great museum, is really just an assortment of odd objects created by often eccentric craftspeople and geniuses organized by scientists in love with the past to look as if said objects are, in fact, quite normal. That is the charm and mystique of a museum, along with, especially in the most venerable institutions, their use of space and light--both of which are masterful in The Museum Vaults.

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Locus Online: The Best SF and Fantasy of 2007

Recently I contributed a year's best SF/Fantasy article to Locus Online that I think will interest book-hungry Amazon readers. If you're unfamiliar with Mark Kelly's Locus Online, it is perhaps the best internet source for all things genre, and the electronic presence of the hardcopy magazine.

My article includes several titles familiar to readers from the Amazon Best SF/Fantasy list posted last year. However, it also includes many book not on that list, all of which are linked to Amazon. You'll find novel, first novel, anthology, reprint, and graphic novel recommendations galore. And, for your immediate reading pleasure, I've turned the spotlight on four recommended titles below. (In addition to my article, also take a look at Claude Lalumiere's recommended reading.)

Locuswinterson Locusswanwick Locusbright Locuslog

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Hunter's Run Explored: An Interview with Daniel Abraham, Gardner Dozois, and George R.R. Martin

Hunter1_3 Hunter3_4 Hunter2_4

(The US, special limited, and UK editions of Hunter's Run.)

What do you get when three stellar writers team up on a high-octane SF novel? You get Hunter's Run, which has been described as "Predator meets Camus' The Stranger". Out from Eos this month, it is the brainchild of NYT Bestseller George R.R. Martin, Hugo and Nebula Award-winning writer and editor Gardner Dozois, and critically acclaimed writer Daniel Abraham, one of the best of the next generation of fantasists. Hunter's Run mixes action and suspense with fascinating characters. Ramon Espejo comes up on the wrong side of the Enye, rulers of the planet of Sao Paulo. As Espejo tries to make sense of his fragmented memories, the stakes rise in a battle between powerful and ruthless species. Fans of all three writers should enjoy this well-crafted novel and, as with the best examples of synergy, it's difficult to tell who wrote what. (Completists may wish to check out the novella version still archived on Ellen Datlow's SciFiction.)

Now, collaborations between two writers are common. Collaborations between three writers are not. In part to satisfy my own curiosity, I recently conducted the following interview with Abraham, Dozois, and Martin, who talked about the process of creating the novel.

Amazon.com: Who came up with the idea for Hunter’s Run and how did the collaboration come to be?

George R.R. Martin: The story started with Gardner. The first time I read it, it was an untitled novella fragment that Gardner had submitted to a writer's workshop in Iowa in 1977. After a strong start, he had gotten stuck on it, and I suppose he was hoping that getting some comments and suggestions from other writers would help get him going again. I don't recall what suggestions I made, but I do remember liking the story...so much so that a couple of years later, when Gardner asked me if I'd like to collaborate with him on the still-untitled, still-unfinished novella, I was glad to jump in. I can claim credit for being the first to suggest that the story should be a novel. It took a couple more decades and another collaborator to accomplish that, but the idea was sound.

Amazon.com: What was the process of collaboration like? Layering, taking separate sections as your own, or...? And how did you resolve any disagreements?

Gardner Dozois: There were a lot of layers here, since it consisted of George overwriting me, Daniel overwriting both of us, and then me overwriting everyone else for the final draft. The major problem was keeping the voice as consistent a possible from section to section, since we didn't want a particular section to stand out in a "Oh, this must be the part Dozois put in" kind of a way. This was occasionally difficult, since, as a good modernist, Daniel prefers things to be as stark and minimalistic as possible, where a lot of the effect of my work and George's depends on color and the richness of the detail and the emotionality of the prose (making it either "evocative" or "purple," depending on your tastes). I handled this by putting back in a lot of the color and detail work that Daniel had cut as unnecessary to the plot, and also by adding paragraphs rich with color and detail early on in the novel as well, so that there'd be a consistency of tone from beginning to end. As the one who was doing the smoothing draft, I got the final say most of the time, although, of course, I consulted George and Daniel on controversial points.

Amazon.com: Daniel, I assume when you were growing up, you always imagined you would be collaborating on a novel with Gardner Dozois and George R.R. Martin. Am I right?

Daniel Abraham: Of course, but I always imagined it more as a regency romance with overtones of William S. Burroughs. Seriously, it never entered my mind as a possibility until George made the proposal. But I read over the draft they had and the outlined notes for how to move forward with it, and it was a good looking project. Plus it was Gardner and George. All very Marlon Brando offer-you-can't-refuse.

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The Wind in the Willows: Papercutz Resurrects Classics Illustrated

For those who may have grown up with the original Classics Illustrated (1941 to 1971), Papercutz's decision to resurrect the series, starting with a wonderful version of The Wind in the Willows, will be welcome news. Adapted by Michel Plessix, this edition (originally published in 1998 independent of the CI series) features painstakingly detailed panels while preserving the best parts of Kenneth Grahame's original book. I have to admit I was skeptical at first because the original is a childhood favorite of mine, but Plessix understands both the playfulness and the soulfulness of Grahame and his adaptation is a sheer delight from cover to cover. The greatest pleasure for me was being able to experience all of Grahame's characters in this new light, as an adult.

Albert Kanter was the visionary publisher behind the original Classics Illustrated, which ranged from titles like The Corsican Brothers to Don Quixote. I remember many of these quite clearly from my reading in the mid-1970s, the comics so worn that I no longer have them. It was my first introduction to many of these classic, canonical books--and a very entertaining one, which made me want to read the original texts.

Upcoming volumes in both the Classics Illustrated and Classics Illustrated Deluxe series include Tales from the Brothers Grimm, Great Expectations, and The Invisible Man.

Here's a full-page reproduction from Plessix's The Wind in the Willows.

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Science Fiction and Fantasy Links for a Lazy Tuesday

For SF/Fantasy fans just recovering from a long weekend, here's a links roundup for your Tuesday reading pleasure!

Read the prologue to space opera genius Iain M. Banks' new Culture novel, Matter: "A screen flicked into existence a couple of metres in front of the woman, filling half her field of view.  It showed, from a point a hundred metres above and in front of its leading edge, an army of men--some mounted, most on foot--marching along another section of the desert highway, all raising dust which piled into the air and drifted slowly away to the south-east. Sunlight glittered off the edges of raised spears and pikes."

Download bestselling fantasist Robin Hobb's Shaman's Crossing as part of Eos celebrating their ten-year anniversary: "Eos is 10 years old! To kick-off our yearlong anniversary party, we're giving away free e-books!  Every two months for 2008, we'll give away a new free e-book."

Wired Magazine weighs in on the role of the philosophical in SF: "If you want to read books that tackle profound philosophical questions, then the best--and perhaps only--place to turn these days is sci-fi. Science fiction is the last great literature of ideas."

SF Site lists the best science fiction and fantasy of 2007: "All in all, I'd say 2007 was a very good year, good enough so that the main problem was not in finding enough titles to make the list, but instead the problem was cutting titles that in many other years would have been automatic inclusions."

Sample J.G. Ballard's forthcoming autobiography: "I slipped out of the hotel and began to walk the street. The pavements were already crowded with food vendors, porters steering new photocopiers into office entrances, smartly dressed young secretaries shaking their heads at a plump and sweating 60-year-old European out on some dishevelled errand.

Duo Howard Waldrop and Lawrence Person's split review of Cloverfield: "When I first heard about Cloverfield, I was pretty lukewarm about the whole idea. After all, a great deal of the fun of a monster movie is seeing the monster. The other problem was the nature of the protagonists: When it comes to monsters eating club-hoping 20-something yuppie Manhattanites, right off the bat I'm rooting for the monster."

Techropolis attempts to parse what makes for a good SF movie: "Ah, the question that burns like a fire in the soul of every science fiction fan. Finally we shall know the answer."

And, finally--drum roll!--the top five celebrities zombies would avoid eating:  "5) Keith Richards--Zombies consider it bad form to turn on one of their own. They’re not cannibals, for goodness sake."

Ambush: David Coe's Shift In Focus

Coe_2   Coephoto

As part of a new feature, I'll be checking in on various writers and asking what's currently on their minds. Think of it as a literary ambush, Amazon-style. Today, it's David B. Coe, author of the recently published The Sorcerer's Plague, the first of his Southlands series, and a former winner of the Crawford Award. He's a very interesting and to my mind underrated fantasy author. If you haven't read his work, starting with this new Southlands series would be a good place to start. Coe has been tackling what I'd call a sea change in his fiction: a switch from multiple third-person characters to a single, first-person narrator. Sometimes this occurs in a single series, like the bestselling Michael Connelly's Bosch detective novels changing from third to first person, sometimes, as with Coe, to tell a radically different story.

"For the past few weeks I've been working on a number of new projects in addition to the Blood of the Southlands series that I'm currently writing. The interesting thing is that I think I'm going to be writing all these new projects (two new multibook series and a short story--none of them related to one another) in first person. Sounds like a small thing, I know. But epic fantasy, which is what I usually write, tends to be written in third person and from the points of view of many characters. This new work I'm doing will have only one point of view character, who will be telling his or her own story. Because of this, these stories tend to have more intimate voices, to be more character driven, and, in some ways, more coherent. The other thing about these projects is that, while all are fantasy, all of them also involve crime mysteries of some sort. They draw upon the tradition of first person narrative originated by the old mystery masters (Spillane, Hammet, etc.) and brought over to SF/Fantasy by people like Philip K. Dick. Anyway, this all represents an artistic departure for me, and I'm having fun with it."

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Nebula Awards Long List Announced

The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America has announced the long list for the prestigious Nebula Awards, from which the finalists will be chosen by SFWA members. It's quite a hodge podge of types and authors, plenty for everyone to choose from. I'm not sure who my money would be on--newcomers like Tobias Buckell, Hal Duncan, and Jay Lake, "famous outsiders" like Michael Chabon or J.K Rowling, established SF writers like Nalo Hopkinson and Peter Watts, or what I'd call "distinguished Old Masters," like Joe Haldeman and Jack McDevitt. Should be interesting--stay tuned! Before they parse it down, here's the list of novels for Amazon readers wishing to seek out some great SF. For the entire long list, visit the SFWA website.

Ragamuffin, by Tobias Buckell

The Yiddish Policemen's Union, by Michael Chabon

Species Imperative #3: Regeneration, by Julie E. Czerneda

Vellum: The Book of All Hours, by Hal Duncan

The Accidental Time Machine, by Joe Haldeman

The New Moon's Arms, by Nalo Hopkinson

Mainspring, by Jay Lake

Odyssey, by Jack McDevitt

The Outback Stars, by Sandra McDonald

Strange Robby, by Selina Rosen

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling

Rollback, by Robert J. Sawyer

Blindsight, by Peter Watts

Ambushed: Sarah Monette on the Definition of Heroism

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As part of a new feature, I'll be checking in on various writers and asking what's currently on their minds. Think of it as a literary ambush, Amazon-style. Today, it's critically acclaimed fantasy author Sarah Monette, whose creepy-cool The Bone Key features linked stories about a museum archivist who can see ghosts, ghouls, and incubi--a delightful combination of M.R. James and H.P. Lovecraft. She recently collaborated with Elizabeth Bear on A Companion to Wolves. Monette has also written a series of highly praised novels set in the milieu of the strange city of Melusine: Melusine, The Virtu, The Mirador, and the forthcoming Corambis. Her short fiction has been collected in several year's best anthologies. Monette has been thinking about the definition of heroism:

"I just finished reading Ordeal by Hunger: The Story of the Donner Party by George R. Stewart, so I've been thinking a lot about definitions of heroism. Who's eligible to be a 'hero' and why? For Stewart, writing in 1936, action is heroic, and so he focuses on the men and on the relief parties which struggled to cross (and recross) the pass. But what stands out to me, reading his account, is the heroism of the women, especially Tamsen Donner, who died at Donner Lake but could have gotten safely to California if she had been willing to abandon her dying husband. And also the heroism of the children. Half of the Donner Party were under eighteen, and those children's suffering and courage is every bit as real and admirable and tragic as the suffering and courage of the adults. But it's harder to see, because it isn't the heroism of action; it's the heroism of endurance. And action makes for a better story."

Michael Moorcock Goes Metatemporal

Michael Moorcock, recently named one of the top 50 British writers of the post-war era, has written just about every kind of fiction you can imagine. That includes cross-temporal detective fiction. Say what? That's right. Cross-temporal detective fiction. In Moorcock's latest, The Metatemporal Detective, Seaton Begg and his constant companion, pathologist Dr “Taffy” Sinclair, both head the secret British Home Office section of the Metatemporal Investigation Department. As the book's dust jacket reveals, "Begg's cases cover a multitude of crimes in dozens of alternate worlds, generally where transport is run by electricity, where the internal combustion engine is unknown, and where giant airships are the chief form of international carrier." But the story is much richer and deeper than that. For example, who is the mysterious Sexton Blake? And why is Zenith the Albino such a compelling character? To get to the bottom of it all, I recently interrogated Mr. Moorcock...

Amazon.com: Why do you persist in mixing genres and ideas and milieus? Why can’t you just stand still every once in awhile?
Michael Moorcock: I'm easily bored. For that reason I usually don't read much genre fiction. I like fiction which precedes genre or when it has begun to parody or otherwise question the tropes.

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(The marvelous cover of The Metatemporal Detective, by John Picacio, side-by-side with the original art.)

Continue reading "Michael Moorcock Goes Metatemporal" »

Robin E. Brenner's Understanding Manga and Anime

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(Author Robin E. Brenner in two of her animated incarnations, and the cover of Understanding Manga and Anime)

Ever wondered if there was more to anime and manga than meets the eye? Ever wondered if the fact that these primarily Asian (especially Japanese) art forms come with a different cultural context means they should be read differently? Librarian, author, former Eisner Award judge, and founder of the website No Flying No Tights Robin E. Brenner provides answers to this question and more in her superb Understanding Manga and Anime. Not only does she include a great capsule history of anime and manga in Japan and the West, she also breaks them into various categories, notes trends, discusses themes unique to both, and provides a recommended reading list. What I especially love about the book are the sidebars, which range from recipes for dessert sushi to unique visual clues in anime/manga, as well as stock character types, rising stars, and popular websites. The information is so well-organized and direct that even readers not interested in manga or anime will find much here to enjoy. And, for an indepth conversation about manga, read my interview with Brenner. - Jeff

Ship of Fools: A Classic Definitely Worthy of Philip K. Dick

Shipoffools_2In a happy confluence of timing, considering the announcement of the PK Dick Award finalists last week, my holiday reading included Ship of Fools by Richard Paul Russo. Russo's creepy, haunting novel won a Philip K. Dick Award in 2001. I really loved this novel, which mixes space opera and horror with religious themes in an intriguing way. In addition to complex internal politics on the huge multi-generational spaceship/colony, Russo throws in a strange planet and a truly eerie alien spaceship. I've really never read a better description of an encounter with an alien object. Even better, Russo provides the closure the novel needs while still leaving some things open-ended. If you're looking for a suspenseful, exciting, and thoughtful read, this novel's for you. --Jeff

Philip K. Dick Award Finalists Announced

The 2007 Philip K. Dick Award nominees, for "distinguished science fiction published in paperback original form in the United States," have been announced: Jon Armstrong's Grey, Elizabeth Bear's Undertow, Minister Faust's From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain, M. John Harrison's Nova Swing, Adam Roberts' Gradisil, Karen Traviss' Ally, and Sean Williams' Saturn Returns.

Elizabeth Bear and M. John Harrison have both been featured on Amazon in recent months, and both have now received their second PK Dick Award nominations.

Contacted by Amazon, Bear said, "I was totally surprised...there's been so little buzz over Undertow that I was pretty sure nobody on Earth had read it. It's absolutely a thrill. Writing is a broadcast medium, in some ways--we have no idea what people think when they read our stuff. Just knowing somebody out there thought it was a worthwhile book...makes me feel less like I'm killing trees for no good reason except to feed my own ego (there should be an emoticon here, but it would be a complicated one comprised of chagrin, self-mockery, and sheer excitement)."

While Bear received her first nomination last year, for Carnival (which received a Special Citation from the judges), Harrison's first nomination came back in 1984 for the now-classic In Viriconium. Harrison was also surprised,  but believes "Nova Swing is in the Phil Dick tradition." The reception of the novel in the United States has been good, while "winning the Arthur C. Clarke Award helped in the UK. Currently, Harrison is working on a new novel.

The judges for the 2007 award are Steve Miller, Chris Moriarity, Steven Piziks, Randy Schroeder, and Ann Tonsor Zeddies. The winner and any special citations will be announced at Norwescon on March 21. - Jeff

Visits with Contemporary Cartoonists

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In the Studio: Visits with Contemporary Cartoonists, compiled and edited by Todd Hignite, is an elegant soft-cover coffee table book. Containing extended, indepth interviews with such marvelous creators as Charles Burns, Daniel Clowes, Robert Crumb, Chris Ware, Ivan Brunetti, and Art Spiegelman, In the Studio provides an unofficial, history of comics over the last thirty years. Hignite's introductions to each cartoonist create additional context, as do color and black-and-white panels. The interviews are completely in the cartoonists' own words, without questions included, which puts the focus squarely on the person being interviewed. The art and comics integrated with the text helps create a dialogue, Hignite inserting visuals from the history of comics when the interview topic demands it. (For example, the piece reproduced above is from a scrapbook made by Charles Burns' father, a source of great inspiration for Burns.) Reflecting thought and concern for the total package--from design to contents to typography--In the Studio is perfect for graphic novel enthusiasts.

Ambush: Hal Duncan on Why SF is Really Fantasy

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For the second in the "ambush" series, in which I check in unexpectedly on SF and Fantasy writers to see what they're thinking about, and in some cases struggling with, I contacted Hal Duncan, whose highly praised Vellum and Ink are two of the most mind-blowing and ambitious SF-Fantasy novels of the past decade (well worth reading if you haven't already). Duncan has been working through the "difference" between genres and gave us this snippet in advance of posting his complete thoughts on his blog.

Duncan writes: "As SF writers and readers we are ready, it seems, to abandon the limitation of light speed that comes with Einsteinian Relativity so we can play with FTL, or to ignore the physical foundations of mind in the neurochemistry of the brain so that we can use ESP. We are willing to ditch the Conservation of Energy that is a basic aspect of Newtonian thermodynamics in order to portray teleportation as an act of mere will, to swallow jaunting as an ability to transport oneself instantaneously through space-time. We are more than able to throw away the very coherence of the space-time continuum we exist in so we can imagine a road that links all possible times and all possible histories. If we're ready, willing and able to play this fast and loose with science why should we draw the line at equivalent paradigm shifts that, for us, render a work fantasy rather than SF? Aren't the secondary worlds of fantasy simply alternative realities where the archaeological distinction of gracile and robust hominids translates to elves and dwarves as distinct races? Aren't the magical powers of fantasy just the telekinetic talent to manipulate a reality tractable to the human will? Aren't all the spurious fabrications of fantasy in fact equally as recastable as rational speculations if only we accept paradigm shifts no more radical in truth than those required with the seminal SF of Bester and Zelazny?"

I'll be interested to see what Amazon's hard core science fiction readers think of this argument. When does a work of fiction become fantasy in your eyes? What is it about science fiction that makes you appreciate it more than fantasy? --JeffV

Selah Saterstrom's The Meat and Spirit Plan

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Coffee House Press' PR kit for The Meat and Spirit Plan uses the word "searing" to describe this unusual coming-of-age story set in Scotland and the the southern town of Beau Repose, and for once I can't argue with a publicist. Selah Saterstrom's novel will, in fact, sear the hair off your head and leave you muttering "wow" more than once. Composed of short, darkly muscular chapters, The Meat and Spirit Plan has no fat on it at all. The intense and sometimes cryptic scenes featuring our sometimes strung-out heroine are often so personal and revealing that we begin to feel we're reading a truly original novel. When Katherine Dunn, author of the classic Geek Love, writes about the book that it's "ferocious and dazzling, the work of a savage poet," each scene "a hard polished gem of raunch and revelation," she's not kidding. Definitely recommended. It makes me want to check out her previous novel, The Pink Institution.

Age of Bronze: The Story of the Trojan War

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Part One of Eric Shanower's Age of Bronze: Betrayal, originally scheduled for July of this year, is finally out from Image Comics in a handsome graphic novel edition. For those who haven't been following this saga, it's the tale of one man's quest (that's Shanower's) to detail all of Ancient History's greatest legend in comics form. If you were disappointed with the movie Troy and you're not sure you want to go back to the original source material, definitely check out Shanower's creation. He rather effortlessly has managed to re-imagine the myth as an illustrated narrative. If you think that's easy, just check out the list of character names with descriptions in the back of the book--or the copious bibliography of research materials.   

The Oak King: A Conversation with Peter S. Beagle

Omnivoracious readers may remember my brief post on Peter S. Beagle's great novel A Fine and Private Place back in November. As I wrote then, "If there's one novel that makes you contemplate life, friendship, love, and your place in the world, A Fine and Private Place is that book. A love story with ghosts that features a talking raven, told with a quiet eloquence and a wisdom that is satisfying without being sentimental, it's still my favorite novel by Beagle." Since then, Beagle took time out of his busy schedule to answer the following questions.

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Amazon.com: When you were writing A Fine and Private Place, did you have any idea it was going to have such staying power?

Beagle: No. Not at all, of course. When I was 19 years old I never thought in terms of classics or being permanently around. I’d known enough writers, even at that age, to see that what happens to your work is so far out of your control you simply can’t afford to let that kind of concern enter your thinking.

Amazon.com: The publisher asked you to remove four chapters from the book. At the time, did you agree with the decision? Have your feelings about it changed over the years?

Beagle: At the time I was outraged. I fought every step of the way, and every sentence. Today I’m inordinately grateful to Marshall Best, the editor who did that. Marshall is long gone, so I just hope that back then I had sense and courtesy enough to say thank you. But I don’t think I realized fully what his effect on the book had been until many years later. If it weren’t for him I don’t think the book would still be in print. He’s also the one who came up with the title and the allusion to those marvelously appropriate lines from Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress”--I'd originally called the book The Dark City, after the way that Jonathan Rebeck saw the graveyard. Titles, sad to say, have never been my strong suit. Most of my best have actually come from friends or editors.

Continue reading "The Oak King: A Conversation with Peter S. Beagle" »

The Behemoths Approach: Three Major SF/F Titles for 2008

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That thunderous, earth-shattering sound vibrating through the pavement and up-ending your coffee is the harbinger of approaching giants: three novels of prodigious page count and ambitious intent. Yes, that's right, Iain M. Banks' new Culture SF novel Matter, Peter F. Hamilton's latest space opera The Dreaming Void, and first-time novelist Felix Gilman's incredibly imaginative New Weirdish urban fantasy Thunderer will all be unleashed upon the world in winter-spring 2008. You can either start running for your lives now, or show some spine, buckle down, and prepare to read over 1,600 pages of science fiction and fantasy goodness.

The only real question for the serious genre devotee is what plan of attack will work best--something you must work out before receiving the books. Once gazing upon their thick spines and mind-blowing covers, you will no doubt be struck dumb and senseless, unable to think properly.

Personally, I recommend beginning with Thunderer, the purest fantasy of the bunch (as well as the shortest and, well, it's always polite to give a brilliant new author the first position), followed by Matter, because it has a fair amount of fantasy in it. Much as in Banks's previous novel Inversions, Matter concerns the all-encompassing space-faring Culture impinging on a less technologically advanced culture. In this case, that culture resembles a somewhat Medieval society. Thus nicely protected from the bends by this gentle transition (Matter is also the second-longest of the three), you may easily pass on to Hamilton's all-out SF novel, The Dreaming Void (also the longest). There you'll find your space battles, your mysterious alien research facilities, and surprises galore.

Once digested in this order, these novels, while still unruly monsters, will be much better behaved than they might otherwise, and you may safely leave them on the shelf without fear that they might devour your smaller, more timid books. --JeffV

K.J. Parker's The Engineer Trilogy

Devicesanddesires_2 First published in England a few years back, Devices and Desires, Evil for Evil, and The Escapement--the three books of K.J. Parker's The Engineer Trilogy--were released by Orbit in North America on an audacious one-a-month schedule starting this past October. Which means that you now can pick up the entire set in what I can only describe as beautifully designed editions. I haven't yet made it through all three novels, but from what I have read I think it's unlikely readers will be disappointed. This is well-written, complicated adult fantasy fiction. From one single act--a death sentence for an engineer who has violated guild law--comes a firestorm of consequences when the engineer escapes and vows vengeance. Especially in the second and third books, this then opens up into even more complex intrigue and war. Parker's muscular prose, fascinating characters, and intricate world-building should appeal to anyone who likes fantasy fiction.

Monster Spotter's Guide to North America

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This holiday season, on those long, endless hikes you take with your squabbling extended family into anonymous woodland prior to sitting down to a feast of carbs, you could do worse than take along the Monster Spotter's Guide to North America. Here in Florida, for example, you'd look up the section on the mighty Skunk Ape (p. 51) and pick up some pointers--like the fact that it enjoys stealing "pots of lima beans." Oh--and it smells like something found in a dumpster. These are important facts to know if you want to survive out in the wilderness. From Abominable Swamp Slob to Zombies, divided up by region of the country (with additional sections on Mexico and Canada), this book has you covered--complete with drawings and maps. Check out their website as well.--JeffV

Virginia Woolf's Return

Virginia_cover_2 What if you could walk in Virginia Woolf's shoes in the classroom and imagine how she might have taught creative writing? What kind of advice might she have given? That's the premise of Danell Jones' audacious The Virginia Woolf Writers' Workshop: Seven Lessons to Inspire Great Writing. To be honest, I was skeptical. Jones has chosen to dramatize Woolf in the classroom, creating little fictional scenes that include Woolf's advice as conjured up by the author. Each chapter ends with a series of exercises. What gives the book legitimacy is Jones's copious research, using Woolf's essays, letters, and diaries as source material. It's clear that Jones loves Woolf and means to reanimate her with respect and fondness. It's still a somewhat jarring effect at first, but as you slide into the book you forget the conceit and become fascinated by the advice. From Killing the Angel in the House (about the value of modesty) to quotes like "A true novelist can no more cease to receive impressions than a fish in mid-ocean can cease to let the water rush through his gills," you do get a coherent impression of Woolf as a creative writing teacher. More importantly, by the end of The Virginia Woolf Writers' Workshop, I realized that I was getting more context and more of some hard-to-define but essential element from encountering Woolf's words clothed in Jones's conceit. So, if you're one of the millions of would-be writers here in North America, pick up this oddly beguiling, lovingly designed guide.

Poly-Creative: An Interview with Writer and Actor Michael Boatman

The multi-talented Michael Boatman, star of movies and television, has now turned his attention to writing fiction, with a first collection of "mean little stories from the wrong side of the tracks" called God Laughs When You Die, featuring an introduction from horror master David J. Schow. Boatman's fiction is taut, honest, and dark. Joe Lansdale said about the collection, "[he] writes like a visitor from hell. Someone out on short term leave for bad behavior. I love this stuff. He's one of the new, and more than promising writers making his mark." (For Boatman's fascinating recent essay "Lady Hollywood", click here.) I recently interviewed Boatman via email about his new direction.

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Amazon.com: First off, please describe where you are as you’re answering these questions.

Michael Boatman: I'm sitting in my office, which is downstairs in the basement of my house. The windows in my office look out over my backyard and a thick patch of woods. It's 9:00 AM on a foggy December morning.

Amazon.com: How long have you been writing?

Michael Boatman: I've been writing for about thirteen years. I started after I injured my leg in a freakish household accident. I was unable to work for about twelve weeks. One day, Don Cheadle, who is a good friend, stopped by for a visit. He took one look at me, fat, bearded and depressed, and encouraged me to explore writing, as I had always expressed an interest in creating a screenplay. The screenplay was terrible, but I loved the process and I've been writing ever since.

Amazon.com: Where do writing and acting intersect creatively? How do they influence each other in your life?

Michael Boatman: Acting and writing both stem from the most primal form of entertainment, which is storytelling. I've come to believe that I actually became an actor as a kind of creative misfire. I was always a voracious reader. To this day, I'm unable to go anywhere without a book. However, writing was something I'd never considered. It seemed too mystical, something working-class kids from the inner city weren't supposed to do.  I stumbled into acting in high-school, (of course to meet chicks) I discovered that I enjoyed being a part of a creative endeavor. After more than twenty years as an actor, I've realized that, at least for me, the two art forms are linked. An actor communicates his part of the larger story in which he participates, but a writer creates the story. Now I find telling my own stories more compelling than communicating other authors' stories.

Continue reading "Poly-Creative: An Interview with Writer and Actor Michael Boatman" »

Ambush: Author David Keck on Fame and Obscurity

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As part of a new feature, I'll be checking in on various writers and asking what's currently on their minds. Think of it as a literary ambush, Amazon-style. To kick it off, I pinged critically acclaimed fantasy author David Keck earlier today, author of the highly recommended In the Eye of Heaven and the forthcoming In a Time of Treason, and he had this to say:

"Today, I’ve been thinking about every writer’s nightmare: obscurity...At this very moment, my wife is climbing around our bookshelves (reorganizing our little library in preparation for a move). And, as she turns over the stack, I keep spotting books that I’ve never heard of. Magical novels plastered with rave reviews--that never quite caught on. All around the room are award winners whose fame vanished with the echoes of the authors’ acceptance speeches. Smiles, applause, and then poof! Obscurity is a little like death for the book that is its victim. And so, for a writer, thoughts along these lines can become like a morbid fear of germs. You don’t want to end up locked in your penthouse breathing through a literary dust mask. Really, you don’t. Of course, the reading public can help writers avoid obscurity through any number of simple and inexpensive means. Buying books is one, of course. Talking about books is another. And we live in such an interconnected age, that a little spark of goodwill can prairie-fire its way around the world. It’s easy to follow our various curiosities and to seek out new and interesting work (even if no ad company ever knew its name). As for the writers themselves, I have a sneaking suspicion that every writer keeps a secret and egomaniacal flame deep inside that tells him that his book must live forever. That his book is different."

Elizabeth Bear: Leaving the Competition in the Dust

Elizabeth Bear might just be one of the hardest working writers out there, with a flurry of novels over the past few years that have garnered her Philip K. Dick Award consideration and won her the John W. Campbell Award for best new writer. Praised by writers like Richard Morgan and David Brin, she brings a gritty toughness and honesty to her fiction, mixed with an unexpected lyricism. Her new book, just being released by Bantam Spectrum, is Dust, the first in a new space opera trilogy. The basic situation--a space colony orbiting a doomed sun struggles to retain order--may sound familiar, but the weird society that has evolved in the colony is nothing if out-of-the-ordinary, having as much in common with fantasy as science fiction. There are angels in this colony and a much diminished god, among other mysteries.

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Bear said in an email interview about Dust that "Everything I write is in some manner a comedy of ethics. [But] I've never written anything quite in this mold--sort of space-opera-like and epic--before. Basically, I got to spend a lot of time coming up with crazy ideas, and having a heck of a lot of fun doing it." Despite those "crazy ideas," Bear's favorite part of writing Dust was something much more central: creating the protagonists. "Rien and Perceval were more fun to write than almost anybody else I have ever written. They're scrappy, basically decent people, and I like them both a lot."

Since Bear has been a full-time writer for the past few years, I asked her if anything about the full-time writer lifestyle had surprised her. "You know, I think I had a pretty clear idea of what it would be like. My dad is a self-employed luthier and a musician, so the freelance lifestyle was pretty much devoid of shocks for me. Also, I know a lot of recipes for dried beans and pasta, so I do all right!"

You can read more from Bear on freelancing and other interesting topics on her always lively and sometimes controversial blog. Next for Bear is the novel Ink and Steel, the latest in her Promethean Age series, due out in July 2008, with the follow-up to Dust, Chill, to be released in 2009.

John Scalzi: The Man with a Plan (and Sheep)

Arguably, no author has made a bigger splash in Science Fiction in the past couple of years than John Scalzi. Winner of the Campbell Award for best new writer and a finalist for the Hugo Award, Scalzi's brand of adventurous, clever, and fun SF has garnered him a legion of fans. His Whatever blog is one of the most popular on the internet, and he continues to engage a variety of sometimes controversial subjects with typical intelligence, verve, and tenacity. Recently, I sat down with Scalzi for this exclusive video interview. Among other topics, we talked about The Android's Dream, recently published in a sleek new mass market edition, which entailed also talking about, er, strange sheep and unusual death, among other topics. Enjoy.

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Four Great SF/F Gifts

If you're still looking for holiday gifts for your friends and family who love good SF and Fantasy, I've got a few great suggestions for you--books either released late this year and thus might've slipped under your radar, or books that got lost in amongst the thousands of books released earlier in the year.

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The SFWA European Hall of Fame: Sixteen Contemporary Masterpieces of Science Fiction from the Continent edited by James Morrow and Kathryn Morrow - Featuring meticulously translated short stories from 16 different writers, this anthology showcases a kind of "alternate history" of genre fiction. Included herein are classic stories from France, Spain, Germany, Greece, and many other European countries. From the funny to the profound, time travel to space exploration, you'll get a uniquely different perspective with these tales. Some of these writers have never even been translated into English before. Definitely worth your full attention.

Amberlight by Sylvia Keslo - Australian Kelso has created an iconic fantasy city with the fiercely matriarchal Amberlight. A battered stranger enters the city, setting off a series of events steeped in suspense and warfare. This one's original and gritty, with some amazing writing. From new imprint Juno Books, Amberlight has had a little trouble getting the review attention it deserves--a unique gift for the fantasy fan in your family.

Chronicles of the Black Company by Glen Cook - Classics don't come any more hardboiled than Cook's Black Company novels. This new omnibus from Tor collects the first three novels, which I'd describe as heroic fantasy by way of Vietnam. The Black Company adventures read like a combination of fantasy and war fiction. Seeking the prophecy of the White Rose, the Black Company goes from one harrowing adventure to another. These books have been praised by just about everyone under the sun, and I guarantee you won't be disappointed.

The Metatemporal Detective by Michael Moorcock - Put out in a gorgeous hardcover edition from Pyr, featuring the art of World Fantasy Award winner John Picacio, this collection of short fictions will entertain anyone who loves wild imagination wedded to impeccable storytelling, along with liberal doses of humor and suspense. Detailing the exploits of Seaton Begg and his companion Dr. "Taffy Sinclair" as they solve mysteries in alternate universes, The Metatemporal Detective ranges far and wide, from 1960s Chicago to the wild west to Paris and points unknown. Another example of the range and depth of Moorcock's prodigious talent.

Stephen Gallagher's The Kingdom of Bones

Set in the nineteenth century, Stephen Gallagher's The Kingdom of Bones is one of the more intelligent and suspenseful historical thrillers I've read recently. Pursued by Inspector Sebastien Becker, suspect and former boxing champion Tom Sayers must evade the law while trying to discover the truth behind a series of murders of possible supernatural origin. Not only does the novel manage to evoke a bygone era without overwhelming the reader with too many details, it includes Bram Stoker as a character in a way that isn't facile or gratuitous. Gallagher, a screenwriter and director in addition to the author of fourteen novels, kindly took time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions for Amazon. (For more information on Gallagher, visit his website.)

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Amazon.com: Could you describe your surroundings as you answer these questions?
Stephen Gallagher: I'm in my study with a bare wood floor and a beamed ceiling that goes all the way up to the roofline. The lighting comes from a rack of spotlights on one of the beams. There are two desks back-to-back with a flatscreen monitor on each and a swivel chair so that I can spin from one to the other in your basic Evil Genius world domination setup. The house is a rural Victorian cottage about half an hour's drive from Lancaster, England, and until ten years ago this room was just space above the garage. Back then I rented an office in town, but it made more sense to spend the money creating a dedicated workspace while putting the house back to its period look.

Amazon.com: What provided the spark for The Kingdom of Bones?
Stephen Gallagher: Writing a short story called "Old, Red Shoes" for a Ripper-themed collection edited by Gardner Dozois. It was a contemporary tale but the work involved visiting all the Whitechapel locations and researching the period, and I came out hooked. Not so much on the Ripper stuff as on that whole rich and epic environment. I saw the prospect of attempting something utterly real and historically accurate, but with a genuine operatic sweep.

Amazon.com: I assume there was some research involved. Can you share a few interesting details that didn't make it into the novel?
Stephen Gallagher: It was fascinating to sort through Bram Stoker's working papers for Dracula in Philadelphia's Rosenbach museum and get a sense of another writer's process. The way he sketched out rough structures for each chapter and set a wordage target for each, striking each one out with a single pencil stroke when the chapter was done. Sudden flashes of insight scribbled on hotel stationery. None of this makes any direct appearance in The Kingdom of Bones, but it helped me get a real sense of Stoker's presence. As you probably know, he was Henry Irving's right-hand man and stood right at the heart of the theatrical and social scenes of the day. But no contemporary portrayal ever quite seems to nail him.

Continue reading "Stephen Gallagher's The Kingdom of Bones" »

Novelist Ellen Kushner's Golden Dreydl

In addition to writing exciting, thought-provoking fantasy like the World Fantasy Award nominated The Privilege of Sword, NPR personality Ellen Kushner has now become a children's author, with The Golden Dreydl, a beautiful little gem of a book. I interviewed Kushner via email in early December, she sitting in her study, "perched on the edge of my brown leather club chair, looking out the window at Riverside Park" in New York City.


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Amazon.com: What was the spark for the Golden Dreydl, and had you done a children’s book before?

Ellen Kushner: I was living in Boston, working on my national public radio program, "Sound & Spirit," when a new album appeared on my desk. A local band called Shirim had taken Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite" and (re-)arranged it as klezmer music. (Klezmer is the traditional party music of Eastern European Jews). As band leader Glenn Dickson explains: "Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite shares Russian roots with klezmer music...When we started to experiment, the results surprised us: this was not just a novelty, but a piece of music which made sense and had its own integrity and charm." You can hear samples of that album here. I loved it, and wanted to write a story to go with the music: a modern, Jewish version of the "Nutcracker." The band and I turned the story into a stage show, and then a radio special, and then an album. I was secretly hoping to turn it into a book someday, and so I was delighted when an editor from Charlesbridge came to me and suggested we do an illustrated version of The Golden Dreydl together. I'd always wanted to write a children's book, and this was the perfect way to start for me.

Continue reading "Novelist Ellen Kushner's Golden Dreydl" »

First Second: In the Business of Entertaining Your Imagination

As the holiday season not only approaches swiftly but ambushes us and beats us over the head with the need for gifts, it's nice to be able to depend on not just individual authors but individual publishers to provide us with dependable, entertaining go-to options when deciding what to pick out for loved ones and friends. Over the last year or so, my favorite graphic novel publisher has quickly become First Second, which operates out of New York and has a real knack for putting out lovely, compact, well-designed editions of classics by a variety of great creators, from Eddie Campbell to Joann Sfar.


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A few highlights great for kids but also fun for adults include Robot Dreams, Tiny Tyrant, Vampire Loves, volumes 1, 2, 3, and 4 of the hilarious Sardine series of SF pirate adventures, the multiple award-winning American-Born Chinese, and the meticulously researched, emotional Laika, about the first dog in space.


For adults, the amazing A.L.I.E.E.E.N. by the great Lewis Trondheim is still one of my favorite graphic novels of the past few years. Akin to work by the great Jim Woodring, this series of harrowing interlocking adventures by cute-but-deadly creatures is horrific and funny at the same time. Also highly recommended are Campbell's The Black Diamond Detective Agency and Italian master Gipi's Balkan Notes For a War Story.


It's rare that I like all of the books from one publishers, but First Second does it for me almost every time. They also have a highly creative and seamless website, with excerpts, screensavers, and all kinds of other fun stuff.

Canadian Steven Erikson: Genuine Emotion, Genuine Talent

Canadian Steven Erikson (not to be confused with Steve Erickson, author of Zeroville) is one of our best writers, having created a world in his Malazan fantasy series that has all of the complexity and grit of real-life, informed in part by his background in archaeology. As a result, since the 1990s, Erikson has garnered tons of critical praise while building a large and fanatical fan base (exemplified by the Malazan website). Erikson's most recent novel is The Bone Hunters, sixth in his Books of the Fallen, with the seventh, Reaper's Gale, to be published in North America next year. I caught up with him via email earlier in November. He is, without question, one of the most fascinating and provocative of interview subjects. (For more with Erikson, check out the latest installment of the online magazine Clarkesworld.)

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Amazon.com: Can you describe where you are as you're answering these questions?

Steven Erikson: I am sitting in a cafe called The Black Stilt, in the city of Victoria, British Columbia. It's twelve-thirty and the sun is bright. If lucky, I find myself at one of the copper tables in the center area, within range of an outlet for my laptop, but there is a college and a university relatively near so the opportunity is rare, as this place fills up with students some of whom actually work with their laptops (the rest look at photo albums...all day). So I find myself in the "lounge" area, in a comfy chair with the laptop on my thighs. iPod Touch is on, and I'm listening to Jon Anderson's cover of "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands." To date, I have written three novels and one novella here at the Black Stilt. And spent a small fortune on coffees and lunches. They know my name here, and are pleased to see the cafe mentioned in the acknowledgements of my novels. At the Bar Italia in Winnipeg, I got free coffees at least once a week. Here, I'm still waiting. But then, I'm told that's how Victoria is. You get nothing for free in this city, mate.


Amazon.com: What are you working on at the moment?

Steven Erikson: 've just finished Toll the Hounds, which is the eighth novel in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series. At the moment I am working on a co-written novella with Ian C. Esslemont set in the same world, and I confess I've started the prologue to the ninth in the series. As for Toll the Hounds, I guess I can say I'm pleased with the result; that's a statement that needs qualification, however. The novel is about love and grief, and integral to that exploration was my fair share of both this past year, as my father fell ill and in the course of four months withered away and died. There is something mercenary in writers, something that others might view with faint disgust, and that is the terrible desire to feed off one's own circumstances, using genuine emotions (including suffering) to infuse a fictional tale that is, at its core, meaningless. I don't mean that as a disparagement of fiction; as writers we play a game of illusion, pretending to a reality that does not exist, and if we can, we use that false reality to generate real emotion. And that's what can make a normal person understandably uneasy, as the writer guides that person into a very personal world; as, in this instance, I happen to be inviting him or her to share in my grief. Does all this stem from an overblown ego? I'm not sure; I feel pretty humble these days. At the same time there is an undeniable ego to the presumption of being writers: that we actually possess something worth saying, not to mention the conceit that words possess real efficacy (but those are topics for some other time). All that makes the novel sound like a downer, but while there are tragic elements to the tale, there are plenty of lighter ones, too. It's more like a wake. You get laughs, you get tears, and maybe when it's all said and done, you walk away thoughtful, standing in the afternoon light, saying goodbye to someone who is no longer there. As I did.


With each of these novels I work at finding something that sets it apart from the ones that came before, while remaining true to the spirit of the series. In the case of Toll the Hounds, that uniqueness was found in the narrative voice coming directly from a character that readers should know well by now. The risk is that those readers happen to be fairly split on whether they like the bloke or hate him, with equal amounts of passion. To those who happen to hate him, sorry for this, but: tough luck. It is what it is. As the eighth in a ten volume series, some pretty huge events occur by the book's end. According to my advance readers, there will be surprises--things no-one can anticipate (despite all my foreshadowing, which has been going on for seven books now), and for me that remains a measure of success. As to how the novel is received by the majority of my readers, that remains to be seen.


Continue reading "Canadian Steven Erikson: Genuine Emotion, Genuine Talent" »

Great SF Adventure Fiction: Chris Roberson, the I Ching, and You

Award-winning writer and all-around nice guy Chris Roberson has a fascinating promotion for his forthcoming novel, The Dragon's Nine Sons. Each week from now until the book's release, Solaris Books will be posting another part of the related work Three Unbroken, each chapter on based on a different hexagon in the I Ching. Here's a description: "Three Unbroken is the story of the war between the Chinese and the Aztecs on the red planet, Fire Star. The grand sweep of the war is presented through the eyes of three members of the Dragon Throne’s armed services - Bannerman Niohuru Tie, an elite member of the special forces; Guardsman Micah Carter, an infantryman of the Green Standard Army; and Pilot Arati Amonkar, an officer of the Interplanetary Fleet Air Corps - who time and again find themselves locked in a life-and-death struggle with the Jaguar Knights and Eagle Knights of the Mexica Dominion, with the fate of a new world held in the balance."

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How can you beat that? So, while you wait for the far-future The Dragon's Nine Sons (February 2008), enjoy Three Unbroken. For more great books featuring Roberson's imaginative blend of science fiction, action-adventure, and fantasy, pick up Paragaea: A Planetary Romance (which has its own website), Roberson's Napoleonic-era Set the Seas Afire or his recent X-Men: The Return. And, if it's short stories you're after, the entertaining Adventure anthology edited by Roberson and with stories by Michael Moorcock, Mike Resnick, and Kage Baker is the book for you. (Thanks to the ever-resourceful Lou Anders for intel.)

Weird Tales Asks You to Vote for the Weirdest Storytellers

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In addition to a new look, a new approach, and a new website, the venerable fiction magazine Weird Tales has a new contest in honor of their upcoming 85th anniversary: Name the 85 weirdest storytellers ever! Although known for featuring some of the masters of supernatural and strange fiction, like H.P. Lovecraft and Ray Bradbury, Weird Tales also published Tennessee Williams' first story. Now, that is truly weird.

Given all of this weirdness, I thought I'd call up editorial/creative director Stephen H. Segal and put him on the spot. Just who would he say was his choice for the weirdest storyteller ever?

"Since we're running a weird storytelling contest, not a weird writer contest, the one who really set my imagination afire was Laurie Anderson. I remember flipping channels somewhere around age thirteen and catching sight, on PBS, of this person wearing a weird white full-head mask and talking, slowly, through a deep voice-altering filter, about 'ones and zeroes.' I was hooked, and I've followed her storytelling career ever since, from song-poems about 'Strange Angels' through her stint as NASA's official resident artist, to her multimedia re-imagining of Moby Dick."

I'm not sure anything can really top that answer, to be honest. But if you're interested in learning more about Weird Tales, now subtitled "Gothic Fantasy and Phantasmagoria for the 21st Century," pick up a copy of their new Weird Tales anthology to sample a whole new generation of strange storytelling. And, if you want a good nonfiction book on the subject of Weird Tales, Robert Weinberg's The Weird Tales Story gives a comprehensive history of the magazine, with chapters on the writers, stories, editors, and much more.

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As for my vote for weirdest storyteller ever, I've read so many kooks, ne'er-do-wells, wackos, eccentrics, yahoos, and crazies that it's really difficult to pick a favorite--although the brilliant Alasdair Gray would definitely be in the running.

Odd tale-spinners aside, Weird Tales has always been quite vivid in my memory because I associate it with something macabre in real life. As a young 20-something writer, I was falsely diagnosed with a fatal illness the day I got one of my first professional short story sales--from Weird Tales! I remember having a very strange few hours before the nurse called to correct the mistake, during which I kept thinking "I'm going to die! I made it into Weird Tales! I'm going to die! I made it into Weird Tales!"

Now that's a weird story...

Steve Erickson and Zeroville: An Interview with a True American Original

Zero Steve Erickson's Zeroville is by far one of my favorite reads of 2007: smart, funny, absurd, sad, and strange in the best possible way. Following the misadventures of the "cineaustic" Vikars in the Hollywood of the late 1970s and early 1980s, Zeroville will appeal to film buffs and fans of good fiction alike. The novel has received fulsome praise from, among others, the Los Angeles Times Book Review, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Bookforum, The Believer, and Entertainment Weekly. In fact, the EW website recently featured Zeroville as part of their "Five Reasons to Live" series and this coming Sunday the New York Times Book Review will include a good full-page review of the book. For those unfamiliar with Erickson's prior work, he's the author of eight novels that have been praised by the likes of Thomas Pynchon, each book as unique as the last, and tending toward the surreal. (You can find more information on his website.) Erickson was kind enough to answer my questions about the book and his writing in general via email earlier this month.

Amazon.com: Could you describe where you are as you're answering these questions?

Steve Erickson: At the moment I'm in my home office in Topanga Canyon, which I can see outside my window.

Amazon.com: How do you feel your fiction has changed over the years, beyond the changes that occur from acquiring greater mastery of technique?

Steve Erickson: Well, being a novelist yourself, you probably understand this is something it's better for a writer not to think too much about. While I do believe I become a technically better writer over time, in others ways writing gets harder because inspiration is finite. On the other hand, though energy and inspiration diminish, experience grows--the theme of parents and kids, for instance, which lurked under the surface in earlier novels like Days Between Stations and Rubicon Beach and Arc d'X, has come to the forefront over the course of my last three novels including Zeroville, just because my own personal experience has become more first-hand.

Amazon.com: Because you've got more ways to tell a story now than when you were first published, does that also make it harder to write? Do you ever find yourself debating the merits of more than one approach to the same material?

Steve Erickson: The material dictates the approach. I tell the stories in the way that feels natural to tell them. Certainly the last thing I want is to be "difficult." In my previous novel Our Ecstatic Days, a lake has flooded Los Angeles and a young single mother believes it represents the chaos of the world that has come to take her small son. She dives down into the water to the hole at the bottom through which the lake is coming--and at the moment I wrote that scene, I had this idea she should "swim" through the rest of the novel, through the next twenty-five years of the story, and the reader sees this in the form of a single sentence that cuts through the rest of the text. A lot of people identified this as "experimental," but to me experimental fiction ultimately is about the experiment and I'm not interested in experiments for their own sake, and if anything I've always steered a bit clear of that kind of thing, because it seems gimmicky to play around with text rather than do the work of telling a story and creating characters. In the case of Our Ecstatic Days, it was just a way of conveying the world of that particular novel. A number of people have noted that Zeroville is more "linear" than the earlier novels but that was calculated only in the sense that I thought a novel about the Movies and why we love them (as opposed to a "Hollywood novel" about the movie business) should have the pop energy of a movie. People have mentioned how fast Zeroville reads--that's because I felt it should move the way a movie moves.

Amazon.com: What really sparked Zeroville? Was there a moment where you suddenly realized you had a story to tell?

Steve Erickson: The idea was born in a short story I wrote for a McSweeney's anthology, but the novel really fell into place when the character of Vikar came into focus, when I got a handle on this guy who shows up in Hollywood in 1969 on what happens to be the day of the Manson murders, with a scene from George Stevens' A Place in the Sun tattooed on his head. He's identified by one of the other characters in the novel as not a cineaste but "cineautistic"--movies have become his religion after he's rejected the one his father imposed on him, and he sees movies through the eyes of an innocent. Once I had Vikar I had everything--the story, the approach, the perspective, the tone.

Amazon.com: How difficult was it to layer in all of the movie information that's in Zeroville? For example, you include several real movie people in the novel, sometimes anonymously so the reader has to guess who they are. Was that all there in the initial drafts?

Steve Erickson: The whole novel wrote itself from beginning to end, including the film stuff. It was the easiest novel I've written. I almost feel like I can't take credit for it--it was like the universe said, Here, you worked pretty hard on all those other books, so we're giving you this one. You type, I'll dictate. If anything, when I went back over the novel, I took film stuff out. The stuff about movies had to support the story, it had to support the characters and be informed by them -- the novel couldn't just be a compendium of movies I happen to like. It's not a DVD guide.

Amazon.com: Did you know going in that this was going to be a very funny novel? And do you think reviewers have, in the past, missed elements of humor in your work, or is this new for you?

Steve Erickson: I knew it was going to be funny once I knew who Vikar was. Once I knew we were going to tell the story pretty much from his vantage point, it couldn't help being funny. There are moments of humor in earlier novels like Tours of the Black Clock and The Sea Came in at Midnight that probably are so dry and dark that some people didn't understand they were funny. But with the exception of Amnesiascope, which generally is considered a funny novel, the humor usually hasn't been this overt.

Amazon.com: How much of your writing process is by instinct and feel and how much would you say is planned out ahead of time? How would you describe your relationship with your readers? And are you your own ideal reader when you write?

Steve Erickson: I think most novelists I know, maybe including yourself, certainly including me, feel the novels choose them rather than vice-versa. Some people--my wife, for instance--wonder why I didn't write a novel about the movies a long time ago, and from a career standpoint I don't doubt it would have been a good idea. But for whatever reason I wasn't ready to write it before. In the end I write the novels I need to write when I need to write them, and yes, I'm my own "ideal reader" in the sense that I write novels that I would want to read. Accordingly I write almost purely by instinct. I've never made an outline. Before I begin a novel I have a strong sense of at least one central character and how the story begins, and a more vague sense of where things may wind up, but at some point, if the novel is any good at all, the story and characters take on lives of their own and take over the book, and the writer has to be open to that.

Amazon.com: Nabokov said that characters don't have a life of their own, inasmuch as they're still the writer's creation -- it's still the writer making them do what they do. In fact, he said, and I paraphrase, "I don't want the characters to come alive. I want them to do exactly what I tell them to do." Was he being disingenuous? What does a writer really mean when he or she says "the characters take on lives of their own"?

Steve Erickson: I wouldn't say he's being disingenuous; we're just different kinds of writers. That's probably presumptuous to say, given that it's Nabokov, but I believe novels can have secrets from their author, a notion I imagine would appall Nabokov. There have been times I thought that when I got a certain point in the story, a certain character was going to do a certain thing, only to get to that point and have the character make clear that he or she doesn't want to do that at all. That long phone conversation I thought the character was going to have? He hangs up the phone before the other person answers, and twenty pages of dialog I had half written in my head go out the window.

Amazon.com: Ed Champion, in the Philadelphia Inquirer, wrote "(It can't be an accident that an old man named Chauncey shows up at a movie theater.)", saying this showed the influence of Being There on Zeroville. What fictional influences do you feel you were drawing from?

Steve Erickson: Fortunately, the similarity to Chance the Gardener in Being There didn't occur to me until after I finished the novel. I mean, it seems obvious now. But whereas I remember Chance in Being There as clearly, uh, challenged, shall we say, it's never entirely apparent if Vikar is just dim or socially arrested or a savant. Sometimes he's a little of all those things at the same time. Mostly the character is based a little bit on one guy I knew years ago, a tattooed punk with an otherwise completely childlike disposition who was part of the most violent hardcore scene in L.A., and a little bit on that whole Seventies generation of filmmakers whose rapture for film was practically theological--you know, Scorsese who started out wanting to be a priest, Malick who studied philosophy in college, Schrader who came from a very repressed religious childhood. As for the character of Chauncey who accompanies silent films on the organ, without necessarily disputing the Being There connection nor Champion's observation, which is very smart, there was a real guy in L.A. named Chauncey Haines who played for the silent movies in the Twenties and then later in his life, in the Sixties and early Seventies, played for all the silent movie revivals at UCLA and at the silent-film theater on Fairfax that Vikar goes to in the novel. I interviewed Haines for a local magazine around 1974, one of my very first published pieces, not many years before he died.

Amazon.com: Finally, what is it that you yourself find fascinating about the movies, and what are some of the best movies you've seen in the last year?

Steve Erickson: You know, I wanted to write a novel of, by and for people who love movies, for whom movies are part of the modern nervous system, if you will, who don't just theorize about movies but have a visceral feeling for them. This year there have been movies that are easy to admire but hard to love. The Coens' No Country For Old Men is an extraordinary well-made movie on every level and I'm damned if I can get it out of my head, but it verges on the nihilistic, though I can understand others might find in that same nihilism an uncommon moral clarity. Ang Lee's Lust, Caution is a bold movie with what I think is the performance of the year by a young Chinese actress named Tang Wei, but I don't know that I could stand seeing the picture again. I like a lot Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited, yet I know people whose opinions I respect who find it precious or even silly--if you see it, try to catch the Parisian prolog that Anderson weirdly is showing separately online. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is an audacious Western. The German film The Lives of Others is really from the tail end of last year but overshadows anything I've seen this year.

Experience The Secret History of Moscow: Audio Exclusive

Asecret5side Buzz has been building around the November release of Ekaterina Sedia's first novel, The Secret History of Moscow, which blends reality and folktale in a genuinely original and satisfying way. The Great One himself, Neil Gaiman, said of the novel, "A lovely, disconcerting book that does for Moscow what I hope my own Neverwhere may have done to London. The prose and the atmosphere is beautiful and decaying, and everything's grey with astonishing little bursts of unforgettable color. Deep, dark, remarkable stuff." Great reviews from the likes of Library Journal and Kirkus Reviews have commented on both the prose and originality of this take on modern Moscow. The plot follows Galina, whose sister has turned into a jackdaw and disappeared. With the help of a detective, she searches for her sister and discovers an underground city with weeping trees, creatures out of fairytale, and old gods. But it's not just these elements that make the novel interesting--it's the realistic touches about Moscow, where Sedia grew up, that ground A Secret History of Moscow, providing an effective counterpoint to the fantasy. All in all, it's an excellent first novel by an author I think you'll be hearing a lot from in the coming years. And we're happy to provide you with this audio exclusive excerpt--the first recording ever of Sedia reading from her work.

A Fine and Private Place: A Classic That's Perfect for the Holidays

A_fine As we prepare for Thanksgiving (at least, here in the US) and the entire holiday season, I've been thinking about the books that I associate with this time of year. The one that has kept its hold on my imagination the most for over two decades is Peter Beagle's A Fine and Private Place. If there's one novel that makes you contemplate life, friendship, love, and your place in the world, A Fine and Private Place is that book. A love story with ghosts that features a talking raven, told with a quiet eloquence and a wisdom that is satisfying without being sentimental, it's still my favorite novel by Beagle. I find it impressive that this was Beagle's first novel, written in his twenties, because it contains insights you'd expect from a much older writer. As The New York Times wrote, A Fine and Private Place is "one of literature's most beautiful works about ghostly times and places . . . told with wit, charm, and a sense of individuality." Immensely entertaining, too.

Earlier this year, Tachyon Publications reissued the novel, allowing a new generation of readers to experience this timeless classic. I can't think of a better book to buy for someone you love this holiday season, no matter what kind of fiction they enjoy.

You might also check out Tachyon's most recent titles as well, including a reissue of Harlan Ellison's Shatterday, Michael Swanwick's great new collection The Dog Said Bow-Wow, and Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology, edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel.

Give Robert Charles Wilson's Axis a Spin

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(Robert Charles Wilson and your loyal blogger at Utopiales in Nantes, France)

Meeting Robert Charles Wilson at Utopiales in France recently gave me an opportunity to rectify a large hole in my reading. Wilson's Spin, winner of a Hugo Award, had been on my list for awhile, but getting a signed copy and having several hours on the flight home allowed me to savor and enjoy one of the great "what if" novels of recent years. In Spin, unknown alien entities dubbed the Hypotheticals put a semi-permeable "membrane" around the Earth. The stars and moon can no longer be seen, and research soon determines that there's a time differential between Earth and the rest of the universe--a differential that means that outside of Earth's atmosphere millions of years are passing in the span of an Earth week. For some reason, the Hypotheticals are bringing the Earth forward toward the death of the Sun. Against this backdrop, Wilson tells a very compelling human story involving unrequited love, societal upheaval, Martians, and much else.

Now Axis, the "sequel," is out and without giving away any spoilers for those who haven't read Spin, I can tell you from my reading so far that Wilson has created a great adventure story with a strong sense of wonder. Axis isn't Spin--it's a different kind of novel--but both of them deliver first-rate characterization and extrapolation. Whether you're a regular reader of science fiction or you'd like to start, Wilson's fiction is a great place to start. --Jeff

The Faith Between Us

Afaith This month Bloomsbury USA releases the rare and fascinating The Faith Between Us: A Jew and a Catholic Search For the Meaning of God. The book is written by Peter Bebergal and Scott Korb, who separately have written nonfiction for the Boston Globe, Salon, the Believer, and Harper's, among others. The Faith Between Us collects Berbegal and Korb's dialogues about their belief in God--a series of essays that ranges from the funny to the haunting, and represents a refreshingly moderate, non-dogmatic view of religion in America. As Publishers Weekly wrote in its starred review, "Like a conversation that continues all night and into the early light of dawn, this collection of stories is filled with the deepest of personal feelings and confessions." Whether you're religious or not, this book about friendship, respect for different points of view, and spirituality in the modern world is captivating and necessary reading. I highly recommend it. --Jeff

Peter LaSalle: Master of the Short Story Form

Lasalle One of America's most accomplished short fiction writers, Peter LaSalle, has a new collection out from the University of Georgia Press. It's called Tell Borges If You See Him, it won the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction, and it's a marvel of modern storytelling, slipping back and forth in time, featuring a variety of fascinating characters, from a troubled college hockey player to an out-of-work businessman. The writing is absolutely lovely, with comparisons to Nabokov not hyperbolic. LaSalle has a way of seeming postmodern and yet traditional because he employs some interesting narrative tricks in the service of the characters, not just to be flashy. A personal favorite is "Brilliant Billy Dubbs on the Ocean Floor," which begins "It was tough to stay dead like that. And who cared if everybody said that his had been a long life, making it until eighty-two? Who cared if they had all taken their own consolation in convincing themselves of such." Losing yourself in this collection is a little like losing yourself in a dream the details of which are sharper than those in the real world. A sentence can cut and a sentence can heal in LaSalle's reality, and he knows which is which. It's no wonder that in addition to appearing in some of the most prestigious literary magazines in the country, LaSalle has also had work picked up by Best American Short Stories and Prize Stories: The O'Henry Awards.

Musicians and Books: The Church

1achurch Continuing our new series asking musicians about the books they're into--new, old, and influential--I recently checked in with the legendary Australian rock band The Church to see what they'd have to say. Their latest CD is Uninvited, Like the Clouds, and you can check out their entire back-catalog here. Knowing that they're heavy readers, with a lot of SF/Fantasy influences in their lyrics and, I should've guessed I'd get some pretty cool and eclectic lists. Steve Kilbey, Marty Wilson-Piper, and Peter Koppes all respond below. (And check out the interesting projects of Tim Powles, their ever-busy drummer, at his Spacejunk Studios.)



Amazon.com: What have you read lately that you really liked?

Steve Kilbey: The Children of Hurin by J.R.R. Tolkien. Old stuff by the master, much better than new stuff by pretenders.
Marty Wilson-Piper: L.P. Hartley's The Hireling. [He has] the great old-fashioned skill of making what seem like inconsequential incidents into captivating reading, and Alain De Botton's The Architecture Of Happiness. Modern tuned-in, turned-on philosopher simplifying the complex universe of ideas and translating them for the man on the street, this man is an intellectual philanthropist!!

Peter Koppes: Fierce Invalids From Hot Climates by Tom Robbins.

Amazon.com: What are a few of your all-time favorite books?
Steve Kilbey:
The Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake and The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.
Marty Wilson-Piper: Cervantes' Don Quixote and everything by Camus.
Peter Koppes: A Clockwork Orange and Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess, Illusions by Richard Bach.


Amazon.com: How has your reading influenced your music?
Steve Kilbey: The literary world cross collateralizes the music world. The two are in constant dialogue.
Marty Wilson-Piper: A lot of great rock 'n' roll works because it is visceral, [but] I like it when it co-habits with intellect.
Peter Koppes: Flights of fancy may have influenced my creativity or maybe just appeals to me in writing as well.

--Jeff

Blog Breeds Book: Roy Kesey's All Over

Kesey Sometimes blogs beget books. In the case of Dan Wickett's Emerging Writers Network, it's resulted in an entire publishing company and related apparatus. EWN was already known for being a great source of information for anything and everything literary. Now, however, their Dzanc Books press has published its first project: Roy Kesey's short story collection All Over. Not only has Kesey's work been blurbed by the great George Saunders, but Stephen King took the Kesey story "Wait" for the just-published Best American Short Stories.

My favorite quote about the collection comes from Lee K. Abbott, who writes, "For those keen to know the next generation of the American short story, consider All Over, which features the loopy paranoia of Don DeLillo, the po-mo-mo whimsy of Donald Barthelme, the spooky learnedness of Thomas Pynchon, the high-minded literary sleight-of-hand of Robert Coover and John Barth, and the secret geek speak of George Saunders. Add a touch of the Brothers Grimm, Jules Verne, and the Looney Tunes, and you've got a book of a million moving parts, all working in breathtaking harmony to keep illusion aloft."

I don't really know how you top that, and yet it's true. Kesey's a true original. Kesey's stories have appeared in The Iowa Review, McSweeney’s, The Kenyon Review, and The New England Review among others, and this collection is well worth your time and effort.

The next offering from Dzanc will be a "best of the web" anthology series, out next year. For information on that project and more, visit the Emerging Writers Network. --Jeff

Wasteland and Antony Johnston: Apocalypse Future

Wasteland1_cover This week, Oni Press releases the latest single-issue comic of the Antony Johnston (writer) / Christopher Mitten (artist) project Wasteland, a Harvey Award nominee for best new series. Set one hundred years after a world-wide catastrophe called The Big Wet, Wasteland follows the adventures of Michael, a desert scavenger. And strange adventures they are--action-packed but also at times contemplative, with all kinds of secrets for readers to discover. It's not just about surviving in a bleak landscape--there are multiple layers to this comic, and multiple mysteries. The drawing style is stark and evocative, with Johnston's writing bringing depth and excitement.


As Johnston said when I contacted him about Wasteland, creating the comic was a challenge: "It was my first ongoing, episodic comic; it has a massive world and back story, all of which had to be worked through and then kept in mind while writing; it was a story I'd wanted to write for more than a decade, so the drive to 'do it right' was very strong." At the same time, Johnston had the most fun "Coming up with the world, the back story, and the big mysteries."


Johnston still gets a thrill receiving finished copies of his work in the mail. "No matter how much of a veteran you might be, if you don't get excited and a little nervous when something is published for the first time, you should probably think about doing something else.


With Wasteland Book 1: Cities in Dust (collecting the first six issues) out this past March and Book 2 (Shades of God) out soon, "the biggest ongoing challenge is juggling the multiple plots and mysteries--making sure they not only fit together, but do so in an interesting and compelling way. If I stop to think about it too much I get the cold sweats, frankly."


Up next for Johnston, in addition to more Wasteland, is the third Alex Rider graphic novel, Skeleton Key, plus Dead Space, a comic prequel to the upcoming videogame, with Ben Templesmith, and a young adult fantasy novel called Blackguard that Johnston hopes to have finished early next year. Visit Johnston's website for more information.

George R.R. Martin's Dreamsongs

1amartin_2 New York Times Bestseller George R.R. Martin's Dreamsongs, consisting of collected fiction with copious story notes, is being published by Bantam in two volumes, the first now and the second in late November. Well before the success of his current heroic fantasy series, Martin was known for classic tales like "Sandkings," "Night Flyers," and "The Pear-Shaped Man." Having a selection of his stories in this two-volume set is an over-abundance of treasures. Fans and new readers alike should enjoy these sometimes horrific, sometimes moving, and always intelligent fictions. Recently, Martin took time out of his busy schedule to talk to me about Dreamsongs.


Amazon.com: How do you think you’ve changed as a short story writer over the years?

George R.R. Martin: Like any writer, I'd like to think I've gotten better. I know I've gotten longer.  In the early part of my career, I wrote nothing but short stories.  A novella like "A Song for Lya" seemed like an immensely long work to me, and I was so intimidated by novels that I did not complete one until six years into my career.  The me of 1972 would be astonished by these massive tomes that the me of 2007 is writing. Longer stories allow for more complex plots, deeper characterization, more nuanced examinations of the themes you're wrestling with, etc.  But there is something to be said for the clean, sweet simplicity of a good short story.  I wish I had the time to do more.


Amazon.com: Is this all of your published short fiction or did you leave some pieces out?

George R.R. Martin: This collection was intended as a retrospective of my career, so I wanted to include samples of all the different sorts of things I've written--SF, fantasy, horror, various hybrids of same, my Tuf series and my Wild Cards series, some teleplays from my Hollywood years, even some juvenilia from my days as a high school kid writing superhero "text stories" for the fanzines.  And of course it has all my award winners, and most of my award losers.  All of which makes it a huge collection, which is why Bantam is publishing it in two volumes.  Even so, we had to leave lots of stuff out. 


Amazon.com: “Sand Kings” was a huge influence on me as a young writer voraciously wolfing down story collections and fiction anthologies. It’s also clearly a classic story by this point. Did you have a sense when writing it that it was going to be something special?

George R.R. Martin: Heh.  Actually, no, not at all.  I talk about this in the commentary in Dreamsongs.  At the time I wrote "Sandkings" I was teaching at a small Catholic girl's college in Dubuque, Iowa. I did most of my writing over summer vacations, and during the Christmas and spring breaks.  The winter break in 1978-79 was especially productive for me, and I finished three stories in three weeks--"The Ice Dragon," "The Way of Cross and Dragon," and "Sandkings." If you had visited me the week after I completed the last of those, I would have told you that "Sandkings" was the weakest of the three.  I mean, I thought it was okay, mind you... but it was "The Ice Dragon" that I felt was really special. All three stories have done very well for me over the years, mind you, but "Sandkings" has become far and away the most successful short story I ever wrote.  It has earned me more than several of my novels, and until A Song of Fire and Ice it was the single thing that I was best known for.  So maybe it's true that an author is the worst judge of his work.


Amazon.com: Do you have a personal favorite or favorites in the collection?

George R.R. Martin: A bunch of them, for different reasons.  "Second Kind of Loneliness" was a breakthrough story for me, both personally and commercially.  "A Song for Lya" was my first novella, my first Hugo winner, the most ambitious story I had attempted to that point.  The aforementioned "Ice Dragon," which I still feel is one of my best crafted stories.  "The Hedge Knight," which introduced Dunk & Egg.  And "Portraits of His Children," which comes last in the book for good reason.


Amazon.com: Are you currently working on any short fiction?

George R.R. Martin: The third Dunk & Egg novella... although I've had to put that aside for the moment while I try to finish A Dance With Dragons.  I do intent to contribute a Dying Earth story to the Vance anthology [I'm co-editing], of course, and I have been noodling a few ideas for that one.

--Jeff

David Lubar: Taking His Halloween Weenies On the Road

Ever wondered why pigeons always poop in the park? Or why you should be nice to your math teacher? Award-winning children's author David Lubar serves up horrifying answers to these questions and more in his just-released The Curse of the Campfire Weenies, a follow-up to In the Land of the Lawn Weenies and Invasion of the Road Weenies. These witty, exciting, and hilarious books have been wildly popular--to the point that the publisher, Starscape, had a publicist dress up as a weenie at a library conference a few years back (see photo below, of Lubar posing with said publicist/weenie).


Weiner_2


The hard-working Lubar has been doing events around the country, and we caught up with him long enough to ask a few questions about kids and his books.


Amazon.com: What're some of the best experiences you've had talking to kids at various events?

David Lubar: Basically, it’s an amazing experience to meet a group of kids who have read my books and are excited about them. I was never one of the cool kids in school, so it is somewhat surreal to be greeted this way. The fat kid who was really bad at sports, not much better at socializing, and rarely invited anywhere now generates excitement when he walk into an auditorium I think one of my absolute favorite moments was when a young lady in sixth grade held up a copy of Hidden Talents and said, “This book is da bomb.” I'm fairly certain that was a compliment. Earlier this year, I got to give the keynote at the annual conference for Mayor Daley's Book Club in Chicago. I spoke to 800 high school students who cared enough about reading to get up very early on a Saturday morning. I still might not be cool, but that day, and that group of kids, was definitely way cool.


Amazon.com: Do you learn anything from talking to them?

David Lubar: Yeah. There’s no better way to learn whether an anecdote is interesting than to tell it to an auditorium crammed full of seventh graders. Especially after lunch on the day before a vacation. The middle school arena teaches you the necessity of holding the audience’s interest, which is a skill that translates well onto paper. During question-and-answer, and through casual conversations, I also learn what parts of my stories and books they enjoyed and what parts weren’t as clear as I had believed. Kids are not shy about letting you know when something doesn’t work. This is as it should be. Above all, I’ve learned that reading is still alive and thriving in our schools and that books are here to stay.


Amazon.com: How has your writing changed since your first book?
David Lubar: I’d love to offer some major technique I've learned about narrative structure, or recount some great revelation about the role of epiphanies as they relate to unreliable narrators, but the change has come through hundreds of small lessons. I've been studying writing for more than 30 years, and I continue to learn and improve...I know I've gotten better at description, which is something I tend to avoid as much as possible. I think my ability to weave subplots through a novel has improved. I've kept the advice of Robert McKee (Story) in mind when it comes to structuring scenes, along with the advice of Orson Scott Card (Character and Viewpoint) on a number of topics, topping it off with the wisdom found in four shelves filled with writing books. Though I have to admit that I'm far from the perfect student. I can get sidetracked by ideas that aren't central to the story, or introduce more characters than necessary. And I still tend to overwrite my openings. (Though I now have the discipline to go at them with a razor.)


For more information on Lubar's books, visit his website. --Jeff

David Michael Slater's Fun Books for K-5 Kids

Thesharpesttoolintheshed Fun books for Kindergarten to Grade 5 kids are hard to find sometimes. David Michael Slater has written a good half-dozen, for Magic Wagon's Looking Glass Library: Seven Ate Nine, Ned Loses His Head, Missy Swiss, Flour Girl, The Sharpest Tool, and Comin' Through. There's a delightfully literal quality to some of them. Ned Loses His Head, for example, starts out as a story about a kid who is forgetful, and then becomes a wild romp when Ned does lose his head. Seven Ate Nine features talking numbers and, er, an unfortunate incident. A series of them, actually. Some of the other books tackle topics like being the new kid at school, wanting to be a hero, being the youngest (in this case, with talking tools), and how too many "cooks" can spoil a "recipe." It's very funny at times, and I can just see young kids giggling at the art and the situations.

Says Slater about his books, "The most enjoyable aspect of writing picture books for me is taking on the challenge of writing stories that will appeal to both children and adults. As the parent of a six-year-old, I know what it's like to have to read a book a few thousand times! It has been gratifying to hear back from adults who like the books as much as their kids."


All of the books are published in a handsome rectangular hardcover format with the art printed on the boards, schoolbook style. The art is lively and fun. And while Slater may cover some important topics for young children, he rarely preaches. Highly recommended for parents who are looking for good, wholesome, but never boring books for their kids. --Jeff

Thesharpesttoolintheshed2_2 

Heroic Fantasy Part II: A Discussion with Hot New Authors

Heroicruckley Joe Abercrombie, Karen Miller, Brian Ruckley, and Brandon Sanderson are four of the new generation of fantasists currently putting their mark on the field. Today I'm posting the conclusion of my round table interview with them. You can read the first part here.


Amazon.com: What literary influences do you have that readers might be surprised by?


Joe Abercrombie: Off the top of my head and trying not to get too pretentious--Charles Dickens (for weird and wonderful characters and dialogue), Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn (for how people really behave under pressure), James Ellroy (for shocks and surprises in both plot and character), Philip Larkin (for fearlessness, brevity, and withering cynicism). Okay, so that was pretty pretentious, but hey, I'd stick J.R.R. Tolkien, Ursula K. Le Guin, Michael Moorcock, and George RR Martin in there with 'em. That's quite a dinner party, thinking about it. Then a lot of writers of history as well--let's pick out Shelby Foote for his Narrative History of the Civil War. But I'm a film editor by trade, and so I tend to find a lot of inspiration in film and television as well--everything from Manga, to Westerns, to Film Noir, to Cop Shows.


Karen Miller: Theatre, and Dorothy Dunnett. I'm a playwright, and I act and direct with my local theatre company. Theatre is psychological writing, and it's dialogue-driven storytelling. I think my love of theatre has really impacted on my style--which might explain my answer to question 1. Dorothy Dunnett was an extraordinary writer of historical fiction. Her six-book Lymond cycle, set in sixteenth century Scotland and Europe, really showed me what was possible in terms of creating character, revealing character, writing emotionally. The depth and richness of her work is magnificent. I'm not in her league yet, but it's something I'm working towards.


Brian Ruckley: I'm not sure exactly how surprising it is, but I've always read a lot of history books--everything from the prehistoric Stone Age through Rome and Byzantium to the British and American civil wars. I'd recommend it for any aspiring writer of fantasy fiction: one thing you quickly learn is that real world history is almost always more bloody, brutal, surprising and dramatic than what fiction authors make up. Little bits of all that reading show up throughout Winterbirth. The prologue has a scene that's an echo of the Spartans holding the pass at Thermopylae; one of my non-human races--the Kyrinin--is loosely based on a combination of prehistoric European and Native American cultures; there are hints of the Scottish clans and even of medieval Venice. 


Brandon Sanderson: Herman Melville. Moby Dick is an awesome work for a fantasy reader. The detailed world he creates might have been something from the real world, but it feels as alien and interesting to me as anything from an epic fantasy. I eat that stuff up.


Amazon.com: What are you working on now?


Joe Abercrombie: Editing of the last part of the trilogy, Last Argument of Kings, has just now finally been completed, so it's time to start something new.  In this case it's going to be a stand-alone novel with a simpler, more focused structure, called Best Served Cold.  You could term it a fantasy thriller, kind of a cross between Corum and Point Blank, and in case you didn't guess...It's about revenge.


Karen Miller: I'll be starting the third book in the Godspeaker trilogy. The first book is called Empress, and it's out in the US and UK next year, 2008. It's character-driven, again, but a lot darker than my previous work. The setting is more sweeping, not so self-contained as in the two Kingmaker, Kingbreaker books. It's a huge challenge, but I'm having a lot of fun with it.


Brian Ruckley: I'm working on the third and final book in the trilogy (book two, Bloodheir, is already done). I've always known how the whole story ends, but inevitably there are some slight surprises along the way, even for the author, in terms of how exactly we get there, who lives, who dies, all that fun kind of stuff. It's very satisfying to feel that you're drawing near to the end, and starting to bring all the various plot strands together.


Brandon Sanderson: I've recently begun a questionably-sane foray into the world of children's publishing. The first book, Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians, was just released. Other than that, Mistborn 3 is done and turned in, as is the next book after it. (Not a Mistborn book, but a different setting.)


Amazon.com: Thanks! It's been a pleasure to talk to you.


You can find "outtakes" from this interview here. --Jeff

Heroic Fantasy Part I: A Discussion with Hot New Authors

Heroicabercrombie_3 For awhile now, the heroic fantasy field has been experiencing a revival through the stellar efforts of authors like George R.R. Martin, Robin Hobb, Steven Erikson, R. Scott Bakker, and the godfather of modern heroic fantasy, Glen Cook. Now, another wave of re-interpretation and innovation is sweeping across the Fantasy field like an invading army--providing gritty, realistic, and complex storylines and characters, within the wider context of giving readers hours and hours of exciting entertainment. I thought it would be a good idea, then, to interview a few of the most interesting authors from this "next generation": Joe Abercrombie (The Blade Itself), Karen Miller (The Innocent Mage and The Awakened Mage), Brian Ruckley (Winterbirth), and Brandon Sanderson (The Final Empire and Well of Ascension). And, over the next year, I'll make sure to feature ever more of the new generation of heroic fantasy writers, including Patrick Rothfuss, K.J. Parker, and Daniel Abraham.

 

Amazon.com: What makes your take on heroic or epic fantasy different?

 

Joe Abercrombie: I try to write fantasy (emphasis on try), with all the grit, and cruelty, and humour of real life, where good and evil are a matter of where you stand, just like in the real world. I try to write characters with real contradictions, confusions, complexities, obsessions, and to put the reader right inside their heads. I try to leave world-building in the background and concentrate on the people and the interactions between them.

 

Karen Miller: My work is predominantly character-driven. Most of the action derives from the internal landscape, desires and psychologies of the characters, rather than huge external set pieces and sweeping vistas, as it were. Those tend to form the backdrop of my novels--what really interests me is the impact of events on a cast of individuals. How the big picture looks through the eyes of the people involved.

 

Heroicmiller_3 Brian Ruckley: The single commonest word used by readers to describe Winterbirth seems to be "gritty," so I guess that might be it. I tried to make my imagined world pretty realistic, in everything from its landscapes to its politics, its characters to its battles. This is fantasy in which no character is safe once the world starts to slip towards chaos, and where even the bad guys think they have good reasons for most of what they do

 

Brandon Sanderson: I'm the magic guy. (Hum. That sounds a little odd when I write it that way.) How about, "I'm the guy with the cool magic systems." I love the old epic fantasies, but I always felt like I wanted to understand the magic better. What exactly are Gandalf's powers? Why does this hero suddenly gain this ability at this time? I was a chemist my first year in college, and though I jumped ship to English, I retain my love of the sciences. I love magic that feels like a science, and have a distinct love for the old days of alchemy when magic and science blended together.

 

Amazon.com: What’s your favorite part of writing heroic fantasy?

 

Heroicruckley_3 Joe Abercrombie: Writing heroic fantasy that’s as un-heroic as possible. Trying to apply my black-hearted view of the world to the classic fantasy scenarios. Trying to use the cliches to blindside readers with the unexpected. That and the big-ass fight scenes, of course. You can’t knock a good swording.

 

Karen Miller: The research, because I pillage human history in order to create the social backgrounds of the places I'm writing about. There's something unbelievably endearing about reading a letter written on clay tablets four thousand years ago, in which a father chastises his son for going through his allowance so fast...And in which a son complains to his father, "How come you send my brother shoes and you don't send me any? You always liked him better than me!" Humans just don't change.

 

Brian Ruckley: Probably the fact that it allows you to paint on a big canvas, and tie lots of different elements into a single story. You get to do conspiracies and politics, huge battles and one-on-one sword fights, quiet scenes where characters learn about themselves and their world and dramatic scenes where magical powers are unveiled.

 

Heroicsanderson_3 Brandon Sanderson: There is so much of this genre that hasn't been explored yet, and it's thrilling to be part of the new wave of fantasy writers. My favorite part of the actual writing would have to be world-building, specifically designing the magic that goes into my books.

 

Come back Friday for the conclusion to this roundtable discussion! --Jeff

Ben Templesmith and the Spike TV Scream Awards

30daysofnitecover So I'm watching the Spike TV Scream Awards for SF/Fantasy/Horror, at first because nothing else was on, and then because they actually have to put their hands into a glass box of scorpions to pull out the envelope with the winner's name on it, and I nearly fell out of my seat when the Best Comic category comes up and 30 Days of Night by Ben Templesmith and Steve Niles flashes across the screen...and then proceeds to win.

If you've been living in a cave, you may not know that 30 Days of Night is now out as a major motion picture--and that Ben Templesmith is an amazing artist.

Of course, if you liked 30 Days of Night, you should check out Wormwood, Gentleman Corpse, Templesmith's latest project. Involving tentacular terrors, fungus, and, er, a gentleman corpse, this graphic novel is by turns funny, horrifying, and always brilliantly illustrated. The art has the color range of a strobing squid, in a good way, and there's a definite grand guignol feel to it all.

As for th30wormwoodcovere Spike TV Scream Awards, I recommend them highly, having finally seen them. There's something to be said for an awards show that includes appearances by Harrison Ford and Ozzy Osbourne and Quentin Tarantino (inexplicably shouting "Do we share the same fungus?" over and over again) and Kevin Smith and Bruce Campbell (entering with the immortal line "Has Dame Judy Dench ever sat in a pile of intestines for seven hours?"). It's got a healthy sense of camp--kind of the anti-Academy Awards. Not to mention, plenty of scorpions. Expect more from Ben Templesmith about upcoming projects in the near future. In the meantime, check out this fascinating interrogatory with the man, from the cult site Skull Ring.

-Jeff

Shaun Tan's The Arrival--My Favorite Book of the Year

Arrival_2 Welcome to the new blog! I'm Jeff VanderMeer, and I'm a novelist and a nonfiction writer who has been writing for the Amazon blog for the last few months. (Check out my reviews in The Washington Post, Bookslut, and elsewhere.) My own work tends toward the fantastical, magic realist, surrealist part of the spectrum, and so I cover Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror for this blog.


I also receive a lot of fantastical graphic novels for review--and my favorite book of the year for 2007 is actually a graphic novel, Shaun Tan's wordless The Arrival about an immigrant in a strange city. I discussed it on this blog a couple of weeks ago. "Timeless classic" wouldn't be a bad description of this beautiful book. But it's always better to let the creator describe their own work, so I talked to Tan about certain aspects of The Arrival, including his creative process.


Amazon: The book has several elements that could be considered grace notes, not least of which are the many, many faces portrayed on the endpapers/inside boards of the book. As you were developing the idea for the book, was this always part of the plan? And where did these faces come from?

Shaun Tan: Yes, I always wanted to have a collection of anonymous "passport portraits", right from the very beginning. I find the endpapers a fascinating part of the book, a kind of footnote to the main story, the first and last thing a reader will see. I had the idea that you could select any one of these portraits and create an entirely new story, as if each nameless individual has a tale to tell. My own narrative about a man leaving a disintegrating city is simply one of a million possible stories, real or imaginary. The faces themselves are all hand-drawn, borrowing from a number of sources--some are family and friends, some are immigrants from about a century ago, traveling to the US and Australia, and some are imaginary.


Amazon.com: Why did you decide to use a fantastical element in this evocative portrayal of the immigrant experience?

Shaun Tan: I thought this would be the best way of conveying an impression of an immigrants' experience, by creating a new country--possibly and eighth continent--which will be foreign to all readers (including myself). That's one reason, putting the reader in a migrant's shoes. Secondly, I think that the fantastical elements operate as metaphors, allowing a myriad of different ideas to be contained within something singular and universal. For instance, the black serpents that crowd the sky in the first part of the book suggest something dark and oppressive, but do not specify a particular meaning. They may represent poverty, hunger, political problems, disease, or something else--their "unreality" allows for multiple interpretations and especially personal interpretations from different readers (who may themselves be immigrants). As an artist, I'm always looking for images that can work this way.


Amazon.com: How do stories like this generally come to you? Could you talk about your creative process?

Shaun Tan: It’s really a little of all of those things. I suppose most stories begin with a few images; vague, dreamlike impressions (often I'm not sure where these come from) as well as a set of more conscious questions. In this case, "What would it be like to travel to a country that you know nothing about?" and "How can a book best convey this experience?" Other ideas emerged from fairly methodical research--looking at archival images relating to theme of immigration, and gathering a collection of written accounts of immigrant experiences, as well as interviewing friends who are from other countries about problems of language, food, work, education and so on. I also keep sketchbooks all the time that are filled with random doodles and written notes, inspired by things I see or hear everyday; a conversation, a news story, a glimpse of landscape, any daydreamed bits of nonsense. These become part of a random, indispensable library of ideas I can draw upon and refine, and hopefully will trigger narrative ideas.


Drawing is the essential thing that brings various threads together, and also suggests new ideas. I sketch very quickly using a simple ball-point pen, pictures in small squares, dozens at a time, like a form of writing without words. Often the act of scribbling creates unexpected impressions, a little like finding shapes in clouds--and this brain-storming opens a pathway to a more subconscious world, and can trigger distant, subtle memories. Things often "feel right" without the benefit of a clear explanation: I just trust my instincts. I try not to control or worry about what I am sketching--that comes later when I go through and "edit" my ideas more critically, deciding which parts are relevant or meaningful, and which are not.


Once I have a rough plan of the entire story, like a storyboard for a film, I concentrate on developing finished images, again making reference to research, new sketches and so on. In the case of The Arrival, I took many reference photos as the basis for drawings of people, objects and landscapes. Often friends or family members would "act out" scenes in my garage, which became a kind of temporary theatre set. They would interact with each other, and basic cardboard props (things I would draw in more detail later) and I would video this, transfer this to my computer and select which image frames best captured the gesture or composition I was looking for. I would then re-draw everything a couple of times, adding new details, and eventually produce a final drawing using graphite pencils on paper. It is really quite a slow and methodical process, one page of twelve images taking about a week to complete.... the main reason the book took over four years to finish!


--Jeff