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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

Warren Ellis and His “Dead Pig Collector”

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Warren Ellis, creator of iconic comics and such noir-ish novels as Gun Machine, claims he’s never had to dispose of a human body. As he told Amazon.com, “Only animals. And, I suppose, very small children. But they're kind of like animals.” But after reading Dead Pig Collector, a Kindle Single from Farrar, Straus & Giroux, you might be forgiven if you thought otherwise.

Dead Pig Collector introduces readers to Mister Sun, a very proficient businessman whose trade is the murder and spotless removal of human beings. Unfortunately, his current client, in Los Angeles, has turned out to be so dangerously stupid that Mister Sun's work and life are now in jeopardy.

Ellis says he “knew a little” already, when it came to the spot-on depiction of guns and, well, body removal depicted in Dead Pig Collector, because of “too many years spent reading true-crime books and magazines,” while “an evening on the internet gave me the rest. There's a tiny little message board for pretty much everything.”

The effectiveness of the dark tale of Mister Sun’s trip to Los Angeles lies in Ellis’s precision with such details, but Ellis notes that “There are a couple of tiny elisions in there, not least because I didn't actually want to produce a completely operable manual for efficiently disposing of a body. Just a missing step or two. Pretty much everything else has been done in the real world. Not by me. Stay away from my garden.”

Although horrific, Dead Pig Collector also displays a vein of humor, in part from its very matter-of-factness. Ellis believes humor and horror “work the same way. Putting tension on an idea, anticipation, and then the reveal and release.” The humor works well with the horror, the combination helping to create a stark yet interesting picture of Los Angeles and certain aspects of modern life.

What also lends the story a kind of clinical fascination is Ellis’s depiction of Mister Sun himself. “Nobody is the villain of their own story, which is why killers written with awareness are always interesting. Mister Sun has a very specific ethical position, I think, as well as a unique approach to the operation of his life, that made him fascinating to me. Just sitting inside the head of someone who applies that level of remorseless, careful logic to a life of supreme competency.” If he had to have lunch with Mister Sun, Ellis says he would take him “Somewhere refined, like the restaurant at the Savoy. He would appreciate the skill evident in their world.

As for the all-important question of what Ellis would do if Mister Sun was after him, Ellis says he would, “Buy an around-the-world plane ticket and stay on the damn plane until I had a survival plan with multiple redundancies. The worst kind of threat is the patient one.”

2013 World Fantasy Award Finalists Include N.K. Jemisin, Graham Joyce, and Ursula K. Le Guin

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The World Fantasy Award ballot for excellence in the field in 2012 was announced yesterday. In addition to two lifetime achievement award winners, the brilliant Susan Cooper and Tanith Lee, the ballot includes finalists in categories ranging from best anthology to best short story. The nominees in the novel, anthology, and short story category are as follows (you can find the full ballot here):

Novel

Anthology

Collection

There’s something for everyone in the novel category, from epic fantasy and folktales modern and otherwise to searing metafictional dark fantasy. Jemisin, Joyce, and Kiernan are no strangers to awards lists, but Crandolin by Anna Tambour, a criminally under-appreciated Australian writer is the real surprise here, and a potent reminder of why judged awards are important in giving visibility to the invisible. Because, frankly, Crandolin has otherwise hardly registered with readers. It’s also a big boost to Chomu Press, which has been taking chances with a wide variety of literary and experimental fantasy and horror.

The anthology category rewards two of the most lauded anthologists in genre— John Joseph Adams and Crandolin-Front-Cover Jonathan Strahan—as well as selections from Small Beer, Solaris, and PS Publishing that demonstrate that small-sized commercial presses and independent publishers are still doing a robust job of showcasing short fiction. It’s fairly hard, given, again, the variety of types of fiction represented, to know which book will ultimately win out.

But the most difficult part of the ballot is definitely the short story collection category. Any of a good fifteen to twenty collections could have made this list and most readers would have been happy: it was that kind of a strong year for collections. Kij Johnson has to be considered one of the favorites, but Karin Tidbeck’s Jagannath (published by my own Cheeky Frawg Press) has performed strongly both critically and in terms of awards and should be considered a dark horse. Le Guin is, of course, an icon and Small Beer did an excellent job of curating her two-book collection. Joel Lane deserves more recognition, and here he gets some of it. Robert Shearman must be considered a force given his prior success with the World Fantasy Awards. Saying it’s just an honor to be nominated might seem like a cliché, but I would not want to be one of the judges having to make this decision.

The World Fantasy Award finalists are chosen by a jury of professionals in the field combined with the top two nominations in each category as voted on by attendees of the World Fantasy Convention. The judges then pick the winners. The World Fantasy Award winners will be announced at the World Fantasy convention in Brighton, England, in early November.

 

 

Bestseller Kim Harrison on “Into the Woods: Tales from the Hollows and Beyond”

51CJkp3m0QLAlthough bestselling urban fantasy writer Kim Harrison is known for her novels, she also has written short fiction—now collected in Into the Woods, out tomorrow in trade paperback from HarperVoyager. Some of these stories contain situations and characters from her popular Hollows series. The tales here include an original Hollows novella, “Million-Dollar Baby,” about Trent Kalamack's secret elven quest in Pale Demon; two original short stories, "Pet Shop Boys" and "Temson Woods," that explore what happens when humanity and the supernatural collide; and two longer stories, "Spider Silk" and "Grace," set in new worlds of imagination and adventure. Into the Woods also contains all of the previously published Hollows short stories.

Harrison got her start writing stories when she decided to take a break from trying to write novel-length fiction “to try and get some writing credits in the short story arena.” She says she “never did make that first sale with a short story, but a few years after that the [novel I had been working on]—much edited, rewritten, and dived into two manuscripts—found publication, and I developed one of the short stories into Dead Witch Walking, which later became my break-out book.”

For Harrison, the basics of creating compelling short stories and novels are about the same: “interesting characters, new and logical magic systems, and an idea that will keep me interested from anywhere from a month to a decade. “

But she acknowledges that the “short story does have a unique set of challenges. The idea behind it has to carry ten times the weight of a novel’s idea because there’s simply not enough page count to get the reader invested in the character. Or…you have to work ten times harder to make that character so recognizable and sympathetic that he or she can carry the idea alone. I like to think that novels are about people solving problems and short stories are about ideas working over people, but that might be my early reading of science fiction and fantasy shorts popular in the late 70s and early 80s.”

Harrison says that the vast majority of her short stories have been used to flesh out secondary characters or introduce a chunk of interesting back story to the Hollows. “Being able to develop three entirely new stories outside the Hollows let me tap back into that original vein of creativity that a long-running series can stifle. I’ve long believed that the short story is where true mastery of the craft can be seen.”

She had particular fun with the novellas in Into the Woods. “I was able to bring out a few ideas that I’d been collecting over the past ten years or so, and play with them, inventing new magic systems, develop a new literary ‘voice,’ and hopefully bring a new maturity to my work along with a new setting. ‘Spider Silk’ let me touch on three generations in one short span, and I hope it has more of a psychological horror feel. ‘Grace’ was my experiment to see if it was character or world that moved me more, and I came away confident it was character. ‘Pet Shop Boys’ was a fun romp, trying to find that quirky finish that I loved so much in the shorts I read growing up.”

As for her favorite story in Into the Woods, it “depends on my mood, actually. If I had to pick one, it would be ‘Spider Silk’. I don’t think I did it justice, but just as my favorite character is the one who’s evolving the most, my favorite story is usually the one that is going to challenge me the hardest.”

“Scatter, Adapt, and Remember”: Annalee Newitz on Her Favorite Mass Extinction, Burrowing Herbivores, and More

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An Amazon Best Book of the Month for May, Annalee Newitz’s Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction is a fascinating and entertaining look at mass extinctions. Newitz, science journalist and editor of the science website io9.com, explains that although life on Earth has come close to annihilation more than once just during the last million years, there’s cause for hope. Every time a few creatures have survived, evolving to adapt to the harshest of conditions. Scatter, Adapt, and Remember focuses on threats old and new, as well as how scientific breakthroughs today will help us avoid disasters tomorrow. From simulating tsunamis to studying central Turkey’s ancient underground cities; from cultivating cyanobacteria for “living cities” to designing space elevators to make space colonies cost-effective, Newitz takes the reader on a remarkable journey through the science of mass extinctions.

Omnivoracious interviewed Newitz recently to find out more…

Does this book help people to take the long view? Is it the kind of the book where after you read it, you’ll never worry about the time wasted waiting in line or when someone cuts you off in traffic ever again?

You'll probably still be pissed about waiting in line, especially if they run out of your favorite flavor right before you get to the ice cream counter. But this book does encourage you to take the long view on the human species. You may appreciate that humanity isn't doomed just because we have a few annoying habits. My goal is to put our survival in perspective, by introducing readers to other species that have survived horrific disasters—as well as groups of humans who prevailed against plagues, famines, and worse. The apocalypse is complicated—just because we suffer losses and make mistakes doesn't mean humans won't survive. And we may come out the other side of calamity better off than we were.

Newitz headshotDo you have a favorite mass extinction? Why?

I'm most fond of the mass extinction that ended the Permian period, 250 million years ago. It was the worst mass extinction in history, caused by supervolcanoes that unleashed so much ash and carbon into the atmosphere that the planet suffered rapid climate change. Ninety-five percent of species died out in less than a million years. My favorite part is actually the early Triassic, when the planet was recovering. Many different kinds of seriously weird animals, including a bunch of giant proto-crocodiles, evolved and died out before our ecosystems were stable again. I like this period because it's our best example of how the planet recovers from what amounted to environmental collapse. It took 30 million years before you could say the ecosystems were stable, and then about 20 million years later there was another mass extinction. Those were tough times. But our ancestors, the goofy-looking tetrapods who evolved into mammals, made it through. It's thanks to them that we're here now.

 Is there such a thing as a luxurious or even mildly pleasant mass extinction event?

It all depends on your perspective. I think that one of the survivors of the End Permian extinction, the burrowing herbivore called Lystrosaurus, probably thought things were pretty sweet. All its natural predators were dying off, and the sooty air may have resembled what it was used to breathing underground. So it was suddenly like the whole planet was Lystrosaurus heaven. Nice dirty air, plenty of roots and slime to eat, no giant tooth-faces to hide from.

But generally mass extinctions are probably best described as mildly unpleasant, most of the time. They may be set off by a crazy disaster, like a volcano or an asteroid slamming into the planet. But these violent episodes only become massively fatal by causing climate changes that take hundreds of thousands of years to kill everybody off. From the perspective of an individual lifetime, this would probably seem like a gradual siphoning away of luxury—maybe a few dozen species go extinct every year, but nothing catastrophic. Until, in retrospect, you realize that it is.

Can one find a mass extinction, or what happens in the aftermath, beautiful on a kind of grand scale?

Definitely. Each mass extinction effectively creates a whole new world, with new animals, plants, and insects. If you could live for millions of years and watch one happen, it would be like witnessing the death of one set of ecosystems and the birth of another. You'd see the continents ripping apart, and the oceans changing shape. It would be incredible.

Can you share what surprised you most in your research for this book? A fact, an event?

There were a lot of surprises. I think the main one was how long these mass extinctions take. I imagined your typical apocalypse, with the world bathed in fire and then re-emerging from the ashes. But realistically, these events take as long as two million years, and are usually caused by climate change. So it's kind of like the Earth gets slowly smogged to death, and even during the worst mass extinction there are still new species evolving in the ruins.

Is someone or something behind all of these mass extinction events? Is there someone we can blame?

You can blame the entire complicated history of the planet, with its carbon cycles and plate tectonics and habit of getting in the way of flying space rocks. As geologist Peter Ward puts it, the planet is a kind of Medea figure, always killing her children. That said, it's pretty clear at this point that climate change causes mass extinction—and it seems very likely that humans are contributing to climate change right now by releasing so much carbon into the atmosphere and the oceans. What's heartening is that as soon as scientists figured out that we are doing this—which was only a few decades ago—activists and even (yes) politicians and writers starting working to curb our carbon emissions. I think we are on the right track with the quest for alternative fuels and biodiversity, but things may get a lot worse before they get better. 

Do you think you’re better prepared now to face a mass extinction event or less so, now that you are such an expert on them?

I'll never personally face one, because they take at minimum hundreds of thousands of years. But I am persuaded that we may be in the early stages of a mass extinction right now, and I'm prepared to yell as loudly as possible about all the ways we can prevent it from happening. This book is just one instance of my yelling. 

Do you worry about mass extinctions more now than before you wrote the book?

I worry more about people not pursuing the pathway of survival. I'm actually far less worried about humans dying out, and more worried that we'll have to endure a really long period of awfulness and deprivation before we get our act together and maintain Earth's environment in a state that is healthy for us and our current ecosystems. 

If you wanted to be mass-extinction-proof, what kind of animal would you be?

I'd be a human, but a lot smaller. The smaller you are, the easier it is to find enough food to survive! 

If you had one piece of advice for the ordinary human-on-the-street who wants to live through the next mass extinction, what would you tell them? (Or do they have to read the book?)

Read the book if you want my specific suggestions, which range from practical to very futuristic. But there are also the obvious things you can do, like trying to create less waste, supporting the use of fuels that don't shoot carbon into the environment, voting for policies that preserve diversity in land use and discourage factory farming. But there are also the less obvious, and perhaps less measurable things you can do, like not basing your decisions on the idea that humanity will die out tomorrow. Try to make decisions that you think will lead to a world where people could still be living in one hundred thousand years. Don't count on us going extinct. Count on us surviving. And have compassion for our progeny.

 

Translation as an Act of Love: Ursula K. Le Guin and Squaring the Circle

Acts of translation are often truly international efforts. In the case of Squaring the Circle: A Pseudotreatise of Urbogony, this is doubly true. Iconic writer Ursula K. Le Guin selected and translated 24 "Fantastic Tales" by the highly decorated Romanian writer Gheorghe Sasarma in this collection--but not in quite the usual way. Instead of translating from the original language, Le Guin translated initially from the Spanish edition of the book, La Quadratura del Círcolo.

Squaring the Circle, which consists of several short tales each set in a different fantastical city, is perhaps the author's most controversial book. First published in 1975, it fell afoul of Communist censors, who cut about one fourth of the collection. In 1983, as a result of continued censorship, Sasarman left Romania to live in Munich, Germany. Since then he has continued to write, but only published in Romania again in 1989 after the fall of the dictator Ceausescu. He is a potent reminder of the constraints placed on many writers of that era, especially in Romania, where repression was particularly acute.

Le Guin explains in her introduction that, for a while, the book "kept lying around in one place or another in my study." But gradually, the collection exerted an effect on her, as sometimes happens: "It's not rational, not easy to explain [this effect some books have]. They don't glow or vibrate...They just are in view, they're there... And even if I have no idea what it is or what it's about, I have to read it."

As she became absorbed in these tales, Le Guin realized she wanted to translate them into English. "I love translation because I translate for love. I'm an amateur. I translate a text because I love it, or think I do, and love craves close understanding. Translation, for me, is discovery."

Le Guin's "laborious" translation from Spanish into English was then checked against the Romanian original and a French translation. "Both were of use when my Spanish got stuck or I wanted to see the original wording (for Romanian is, after all, a Romance language, half-familiar even if unreadable by me)." The original Spanish translator, Mariano Martín Rodríguez was also of use, via email.

The result? A collection of quite beautiful and sometimes dark tales, sure to delight lovers of Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges—or aficionados of the work of Le Guin herself.

"We launched Squaring the Circle at the Seattle Library in mid-May," Le Guin told Omnivoracious. "The author's daughter came from Munich, his nephew from Canada, and the Spanish translator from Brussels, and we each read a story in English, Spanish, and Romanian. The audience was great. I think the high point was when the Spanish translator, reading the story 'Kriegbourg,' stabbed himself in the back, and bled to death (with my red scarf)."

As for Le Guin's favorites in the collection, she has several and found it hard to choose. "Maybe 'Arapabad' is the most beautiful single story, but I love 'Sah-Harah,' and 'Oldcastle.' And images haunt me--the greased slides in Vavylon, the doorways in Moebia..."

Squaring the Circle has been lovingly published by Aqueduct Press as an attractive small-sized paperback with copious geometric illustrations.

Bestselling Fantasy Author Raymond E. Feist on Thirty Years of Writing

Magicians EndNot many authors can claim to have had a wide readership for thirty years, but that’s exactly the milestone fantasy writer Raymond E. Feist celebrates this year. Back in 1982, Feist wrote his first novel Magician, a story about an orphan boy named Pug who is thrust by a war into captivity in an alien world, only to rise to become a Master magician. That novel introduced readers to Midkemia and the Riftwars, an epic series of battles between Good and Evil. It also began a rather remarkable run during which Feist’s success has outlasted that of many of his contemporaries.

Fittingly, after twenty-nine books (authored and coauthored), Feist marks the thirtieth anniversary of the start of it all with Magician's End, the final chapter of the Chaoswar Saga and the climax of his Riftwar Cycle. Omnivoracious caught up with Feist to ask him about his career and his books.

What do you think has contributed to your longevity in the field?

I have no idea. If I did, I'd bottle it and sell it. I started out to write a "ripping yarn," and have a good time telling a story, and that's always been the prime motivation. So I guess I can say that multiple generations have decided to have fun with me. I know I get youngsters who tell me their parents gave them the books.

What are you most proud of about your body of work?

The longevity. I've been continuously in print in the English language since 1982, and there are not a lot of writers who can claim they've never had a book go out of print. It pleases me more to have people discovering me as a "new writer" more than it does to make a bestseller list.

How did you survive the rough patches? What carried you through?

I got a lot of support. I have some really good people in my life who took care of me during the crazy times. Writers tend to live in mental caves when we work, and we do need to get out and get some fresh air and sunshine now and again, and every once in a while someone needs to drag us out of that cave.

Do you have a favorite novel among your own work?

It's like kids, really. You love them all, but each is unique. Magician is my first born, so to speak, so it really is special in that respect. Magician's End is the other bookend, really, so it's special in a different way.

What, really, do you think has changed in the book culture over the last decade?

Tough one to answer. If I was to point to one important thing it's that younger readers are more attuned to the concept of content as opposed to a book as an objective item. They don't mind reading on a Kindle, Nook, iPhone, laptop, etc.

Did you do anything special to celebrate thirty years of Feist books?

Touring the UK, US, Australia and New Zealand, so I can visit with my readers. Then I come home and maybe take a week off and hang at the beach. When you live in San Diego you don't need to go far for a vacation.

What’s next for you?

I’m already working on King of Ashes, the first volume of a new series set in a new universe. I hope the readers find it as compelling as they did the Midkemian books.

What would you say to a writer just beginning now, based on everything you’ve learned over the years?

No one can teach anyone to write. They can help someone learn, so don't confuse those two things. The thing about writing is you have to practice, so write a lot and don't stress if it's isn't perfect the first bash. If you want to play piano, you practice. If you want to play piano well, you practice a lot. And if you want to play piano in Carnegie Hall, you practice hard for years. Writing's the same.

 

Multiple-Nominee Elizabeth Bear on the Locus Awards

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The finalists for the Locus Awards, given for excellence in science fiction, fantasy, and horror, have just been announced, and one name is very prominent among the nominees: Elizabeth Bear. That’s because she’s a finalist in not one, not two, but four categories: novella, novelette, short story, and collection (for Shoggoths in Bloom).

That’s an impressive showing, and we thought we’d check in with Bear to get her reaction. We reached her just an hour after she found out, and she told Omni “I'm kind of stunned by the whole thing, really. I sort of imagine that I now understand what Seanan McGuire is feeling about her five simultaneous Hugo nominations. My head is still spinning. I'm thrilled.”

As for the nominations for other writers, Bear said “there are a lot of works and authors I love on [the list], but I'm absolutely delighted to see Caitlin R. Kiernan’s The Drowning Girl on there. I think it was last year's best SFF novel, and I was sad it didn't get a Hugo nod. I'm also excited to see Saladin Ahmed's Throne of the Crescent Moon because I'm hoping the nomination will encourage Saladin to finish the sequel so I can read the damned thing! Also, I may just wind up voting for Aliette de Bodard's ‘Immersion’ over my own nominee in the short story category. I loved that story. And Donato Giancola for Best Artist. He's doing the covers for my current series at Tor, and he's amazing. Breathtaking. Some of the best dragons in the business. But this is like picking the prettiest flower in the meadow. I can have sentimental favorites, but there is so much good stuff here.”

Elizabeth-BearBear last went to the Locus Awards in 2009, “when I lost resoundingly. It was very informal, and kind of a blast.” Her advice for attendees is to “Wear a Hawaiian shirt. Really. Really wear a Hawaiian shirt. Or dress. Or something.”

Hawaiian shirts aside, “Awards are important to me,” Bear said, explaining that it’s not why she writes—“I do it because telling stories [provides] some comfort or closure or understanding or source of strength for people”—but “awards are visible proof that it's working; that I'm doing something right, and that this thing that drives my life is reaching somebody. That I am making the world a little better for somebody, and giving ol' entropy and despair one more kick in the teeth. We all need fuel; we can't work in a vacuum.”

What would a Bear-designed award process be like? “That’s a hard one to answer. I'm on two juries this year (Philip K. Dick and Theodore Sturgeon); I think awards are valuable to the field in a lot of different ways. Juried awards involve some horse trading, and aren't necessarily any more indicative of the absolute best than popular vote awards. Popular vote awards happen because people love a thing enough to vote for it. We need the general awards for overview, and the special-interest awards are vital because sometimes really good, brilliant work is in some way marginalized—because of subject matter; because of who the author is; because it's itchy and makes somebody uncomfortable.”

“But,” she added, “I like the idea of awards that come with chocolate. And tiaras. So if I were designing an award, it would probably be the Tiptree Award.”

With any luck, Bear will be taking one or more awards home after the Locus Awards Weekend, held in Seattle June 28-30.

The nominees in the main novel categories are as follows. For a complete list of nominees, visit Locus Online.

SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL

FANTASY NOVEL

YOUNG ADULT BOOK

FIRST NOVEL

 

What They Were Reading: Sofia Samatar, Author of “A Stranger in Olondria”

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For our new “What Were They Reading” feature, we ask writers what they read while working on their latest book.

This time around, we asked Sofia Samatar, whose first novel A Stranger in Olondria was just published by Small Beer Press. Samatar is an American of Somali and Swiss German Mennonite background. Her writing has appeared in Clarkesworld, Stone Telling, and Strange Horizons. She wrote A Stranger in Olondria in Yambio, South Sudan, where she worked as an English teacher.

Her novel, which recently received a starred review from Library Journal, follows Jevick, a pepper merchant's son, who has been raised on stories of Olondria, a distant land where books are as common as they are rare in his home. When his father dies and Jevick takes his place on the yearly selling trip to Olondria, Jevick's revels in Olondria's Rabelaisian Feast of Birds, he is pulled drastically off course and becomes haunted by the ghost of an illiterate young girl. And things get more complicated from there.

Here’s what she had to say when we asked her what she read while working on the book…

“I wrote the first draft of A Stranger in Olondria in Yambio, South Sudan, where I taught high school English. I was there from 1998 to 2001, and while Yambio was fairly secure, the country was at war. There was a 6 p.m. curfew, and no internet or TV, so in the evenings you could either play cards, read, or listen to the BBC. My husband, Keith Miller, and I did a lot of reading, and both of us wrote novels.

“The only books we had were the ones we brought with us, so we read them over and over. I was used to reading The Lord of the Rings every year, but in Yambio I read other books multiple times: Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses, Carole Maso’s AVA, Elias Khoury’s Little Mountain. I got really into big books, because I was always afraid of running out of things to read before we could get to Nairobi, where we went to stay with my in-laws during school breaks. The Nairobi bookshops were full of those Penguin Classics with the peach-colored spines, and these were perfect, because they were cheap and good and LARGE. I read Tolstoy and George Eliot and Jane Austen in those Penguins. I read Dracula for the first time that way, too, and it was like, where has this been all my life? And then there was Proust: so good, so verbose! By the time we left Sudan, I’d read all of Remembrance of Things Past—twice.

“Sometimes it seems odd to me that I wrote a fantasy novel while reading so little genre fantasy. Tolkien, Lewis, Le Guin, Mervyn Peake if you count him: that was it. But of course, if you desire the fantastic, you’ll find it everywhere. The Gothic atmosphere of Jane Eyre, the chilling music of "The Lady of Shalott,” the uncanny doublings of Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North. And then there was Frankenstein. I bought a little abridged edition of it in Nairobi, and read it out loud to a new group of students every year. Everyone loved it. There’s something so satisfying and real about that story, and it came through powerfully in the pared-down version I read. My students used to cheer and pound on their desks at the good parts—once the assistant headmaster came in to find out what was going on! It was not only one of the best reading experiences of my life, but an education in the power of narrative.

“Now, when I look at A Stranger in Olondria, I see the marks of my reading everywhere. My main character, Jevick, is haunted by a ghost, but he calls her an angel: that’s from Stephen Mitchell’s introduction to his translations of Rilke’s poetry. At one point Jevick lists his impressions of a new town in a sort of dreamlike way: that’s from Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon. Also, my first draft was 200,000 words long—twice as long as the final version. That was Proust.”

 

Brian Francis Slattery on Winning the 2012 Philip K. Dick Award

As announced at Norwescon in Seattle recently, Brian Francis Slattery has won the 2012 Philip K. Dick Award for his post-collapse novel Lost Everything. The award is presented annually to a distinguished work of science fiction published in paperback original.

"Winning, as it turns out, is pretty humbling," Slattery told Omnivoracious, "especially given the quality of the other nominees' work. At the ceremony, the presenters had said that the judges felt they had a strong batch this year and were really enthusiastic about them. In the cases of all the other nominees, I can see why. As for what it means, I have no idea -- it'll be fun to figure out."

As for how Lost Everything fits into Slattery’s oeuvre, the author said although he was "recently accused ...of maturing, I wouldn’t go that far. However, in this third book, I did try to finish whatever it was I'd started in the first two. For a bunch of reasons, the result ended up being that Lost Everything is a lot darker than Spaceman Blues or Liberation; you could say I traded sarcasm and zaniness for creepiness, a swap I am, to this day, on the fence about, because I don't consider myself to be a particularly serious person."

Slattery acknowledges that not everyone will like Lost Everything, "because it's a sad book --'a sad book about climate change,’ as I've finally managed to start describing it. But the gamble was that getting serious would allow me to reach some place that staying light would not allow, and I'm delighted and grateful for the many readers who've told me how they connected with the book, and seen the hope written into the sadness, too."

Did he mean for his book to be predictive, in the traditional sense of science fiction as a "speculative" literature? "There's that great hoary old Ray Bradbury quote, [where he says that] 'people ask me to predict the future, when all I want to do is prevent it.’ Nobody's really asked me to predict the future, but definitely Lost Everything was written with what Bradbury's describing here as a starting point."

About science fiction generally, Slattery noted that "There's been this long, interesting, and also vaguely painful conversation going on about how the borders between the genres have shifted in the past sixty years or so ... but at least from where I'm standing, it seems to me that right now science fiction is really vigorous and challenging and relevant and fun."

Slattery said that the kinds of SF novels he tends to read the most tend to be on the "zanier end of literary fiction -- [but that] I now seem to find labeled as science fiction. And in the past few years, it seems like more and more people are noticing something similar, which I think bodes well for everyone."

As for Philip K. Dicko, when we asked Slattery if he thought the iconic writer would have liked Lost Everything, he replied, "You know, when I think about PKD now, I always end up wondering something more like the opposite: If he were still around -- he'd be 85 now -- what would he be writing about? I wish I could read that. I feel like we need him now even more than we did then."

2013 Hugo Award Finalists Announced: Do You Have a Favorite?

 The nominees have been announced for the 2013 Hugo Award for excellence in science fiction, as voted on by the members of the World Science Fiction Convention. The full ballot can be found here, and the finalists for best novel are:

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Over 1,100 nominating ballots were cast in the novel category. The winners will be revealed at the World SF Convention, Lonestar Con, in early September.

Omni would love to know: Which of these five novels is your favorite? Is there a novel not listed that you would have liked to see on the ballot?

2012 Philip K. Dick Award Finalists Weigh in on PKD and the Competition

The nominees for the 2012 Philip K. Dick Award were announced recently. The award is presented annually to a distinguished work of science fiction published in paperback original format.

  • Blueprints of the Afterlife by Ryan Boudinot (Black Cat)
  • Harmony by Keith Brooke (Solaris)
  • Helix Wars by Eric Brown (Solaris)
  • The Not Yet by Moira Crone (UNO)
  • Fountain of Age by Nancy Kress (Small Beer)
  • LoveStar by Andri Snær Magnason (Seven Stories; translated by Victoria Cribb)
  • Lost Everything by Brian Francis Slattery (Tor)

    The winner will be revealed tonight -- Friday, March 29 -- at Norwescon in Seattle. But before that happens, while the finalists are all in that space between, we thought we’d check in with them and get their thoughts on the award's namesake as well as their knowledge of the other nominees...


    Amazon.com: Do you like Philip K. Dick's work, and can you share what's personal about being nominated for this particular award?

    Ryan Boudinot: I have enjoyed Philip K Dick's work, yes. I read a bunch of his short stories in college, then in recent years discovered his excellent novel VALIS. I admire his imagination a great deal and have found the work of his I've read to be incredibly daring.

    Keith Brooke: Yes, I'm a big admirer of his work. I have particularly fond memories of reading his novels in my teens. Books like a A Scanner, Darkly and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch made a huge impression: relentlessly readable but also a lot going on behind the scenes—I liked that I was reading something that stretched my mind as well as entertaining it. My YA novel Erased (published under the pen-name Nick Gifford) was a deliberate attempt to do a very Dickian thing: establish the reader's trust in a
    world and then peel that away a layer at a time with repeated
    rug-pull moments where the reader must reassess everything they thought they knew.

    Eric Brown: I love Dick's work. (I wrote the Penguin Classic edition's Introduction to his fantastic The Man in the High Castle). I like the way he writes about real people; how his heroes aren't super-heroes but people like you and me, with problems, weaknesses, hopes and desires. He's an amazing writer even if you consider merely his characterization. 

    On top of that there is what his novels are about: perceptions of reality and what it is to be human—and the fact that he was writing, particularly early in his career, when sci-fi wasn't about these things. He's a hero. The PKD award is nice in that it celebrates where he came from—the paperback original, the grunge end of the market. I like that.

    Moira Crone: I do like Philip K Dick's work. I think he is one of the writers who will be read the most in the future, because explores the shifting understanding we have about reality now, in the Quantum era. He is before his time, he got it. The observer influences what he observes. We are catching up now with the questions he was asking. I would say the same about Ursula K. Le Guin, whose Left Hand of Darkness predicted the entire challenge of the fluidity of gender roles, fifty years before it was in the mainstream consciousness.

    What is personal about this for me is that I have never written in this genre before and I had a lot of questions in the beginning about being accepted -- and many potential publishers were wary of this switch for me because they did not know how to market a sci-fi book. But I have found that sci-fi readers have embraced the book, and are incredibly enthusiastic and excited to talk to me about what I created and the worlds that other writers have engendered. 

    I am a total "newbie" in this world, and yet I got this far. Another thing that is personal is that I am being read by an entirely new generation than before, and I really love the energy of my new readers; they make me want to write in the genre more, to go for the sequel. Writing this sort of book in this age is very enjoyable, because you can have so much interchange with your readers.

    Nancy Kress: I first read Dick's The Man in the High Castle when it came out in 1962. I was fourteen, had just discovered sci-fi, and was baffled. This was such a strange book! I lacked sufficient knowledge of history to fully understand the changes that he was creating, but I was intrigued. And that is still the effect his work has on me: intrigue, occasional bafflement, and an enduring sense of the strange.

    Andri Magnason: I would say that his early influence on me was mainly through films and ideas floating around and discussed by friends. My early influence was by reading too much folklore, poetry and mythology while reading science and trying med school. Other writers include Karel Capek, Bulgakov, Calvino, Borges, Vonnegut and Orwell, and Icelandic writers and poets. Brautigan had quite an influence on LoveStar. I was kind of imagining a world before [his novel] In Watermelon Sugar when I started writing, but that changed so much that I would not call it a prequel.

    The nomination is very important, almost like an Olympic gold to me. I was a bit worried, looking over the endless pile of sci-fi, wondering what the real geeks would say about my book. I was not quite following the formula and genre rules that seemed to be dominating the scene. I wondered if my book lacked vampires or zombies or six volumes. I was also wondering if someone had already written my book without my knowledge. 

    Most importantly is that now I know that you can write some kind of sci-fi in a 1,000-year-old Viking language only spoken by 300,000 people and still be taken seriously and manage to connect to an audience in the large world (with the help of Vicky, my great translator of course).

    Amazon.com: If you don't win, who do you hope does win?

    Ryan Boudinot: I feel it's important to make the distinction that "I" have not been nominated for the award. My novel, Blueprints of the Afterlife has. I'll be genuinely happy for the author of whatever book is granted this award.

    Keith Brooke: Oh, Eric Brown, without a doubt. We've been friends for years, and we've written a bunch of stories together (a new edition of our collaborative collection, Parallax View, is just out in paperback and e-book formats). Beyond the friendship, though, he's a superb writer and really deserves the attention.

    Eric Brown: I hope Keith Brooke wins, period. His novel alt.human [as it's titled in the U.K.] -- Harmony in the States -- is better than my Helix Wars, and Keith deserves the award. He's a good friend and I was privileged to be among the first readers of the manuscript. If neither of us wins, then I hope Nancy Kress does. I haven't actually read her book, but I've read quite a bit of her work and admire it tremendously.

    Moira Crone: Of course I would want to win. I won't say who I like the best—I have only read about half the other nominees. I think that LoveStar and Lost Everything have very fine writing in them and I have found them wonderful. But I have not read Blueprints, yet, and some of the others. The range is exciting and all of them seem completely accessible to someone like me, who has read in sci fi but certainly not the whole genre. 

    Nancy Kress: I won't say who I think should win the award because I haven't read all the nominees, so it wouldn't be fair.

    Andri Magnason: I have been reading Blueprints of the Afterlife the recent weeks and it is a very inspiring great book, kind of the type of books I tend to seek and find very rarely. It seems like the jury is open to experimental things and I appreciate that. So, I am quite honored to be nominated along with that book. I am currently catching up on the other books, as I have just finished a deadline for my next book.

    Amazon.com: Can you give us a favorite teaser of a sentence from your nominated novel?

    Ryan Boudinot: "The world was full of precious garbage."

    Keith Brooke: "I opened my mouth to speak, to ask him what was going on, for I was suddenly sure that he understood far more than me, but then Pennysway began to unhappen."

    Eric Brown: "After the row with Maria, which left him feeling sick and wishing he could retroactively edit his words, Ellis strapped himself into the shuttle’s couch and prepared to take off from Carrelliville spaceport."

    Moira Crone: "Now dear boy, so far, you have been very brave."

    Nancy Kress: My nominated work is a collection of stories. This opening paragraph is from the eponymous story: "I had her in a ring. In those days you carried around pieces of a person. Not like today."

    Andri Magnason: From the manifesto of LoveStar, the CEO of the LoveStar corporation..."To be content with having had an idea is like being content with having once had an orgasm, being content with having once eaten or drunk."

  • The Mysteries Behind Gwenda Bond's Blackwood

    As reported recently, Gwenda Bond's first novel, Blackwood, has been acquired by MTV in a production deal with Lion's Gate and Kelsey Grammer's Grammnet Prods. And why not? The novel has a fascinating premise, based on the mystery surrounding the Roanoke Colony.

    Around 1590, 114 colonists disappeared, the only clue, the word "Croatoan" carved into a post. In the present-day of the novel, the Roanoke mystery is just something to lure in tourists ... until 114 people disappear and two 17-year-olds find themselves caught up discovering what happened. Miranda's a misfit and Philip an "exiled teen criminal who hears the voices of the dead." Together, they have to deal with FBI agents and alchemists while trying to uncover the secrets of the Lost Colony.

    The plot of Blackwood has a satisfying number of twists and turns, and advance praise has come from the likes of NYT bestselling author Karen Joy Fowler. With Bond fresh off of the exciting MTV news, Omnivoracious decided to get the inside scoop on the Roanoke situation from this rising star of YA fiction.

    In addition to clarifying that the Roanoke in question is "Roanoke Island, North Carolina, not Roanoke, Virginia," Bond told us that "a major player in my novel," the show The Lost Colony at Waterside Theater on the island, is a real thing. "It's the longest-running symphonic outdoor drama in the country and just celebrated its seventh anniversary season. The original play was written by Pulitzer-Prize-winner Paul Green and debuted in 1937, though changes have been made over the years, of course. Several million people have seen it since then."

    As for the mystery of the lost colony, Bond dredged up all kinds of information while writing the novel. She found out that "noted alchemist John Dee, involved in so many things during the period, was involved in the colonization effort, too." Along with other experts in various subjects, Dee assisted Raleigh "with the planning for the voyages that ultimately led to the ill-fated Lost Colony. There's even been a theory floated that Dee headed an earlier excursion, and the Newport Tower in Rhode Island was the result. But that seems far-fetched…"

    Bond admitted that historians "don't really know that much" about the more than 100 men, women, and children from England who signed on to the 1587 voyage to establish a permanent settlement in the New World. "While we know all about Sir Walter Raleigh, the main idea man behind the early colonization effort, and Governor John White, an artist by training who became the leader of the colony, for the most part what we know about the colonists are their names and general ages. But there is little solid evidence about why they signed on to such a venture… leaving plenty of room for speculation."

    What fate did the colonists meet? As you might imagine, theories range "from the likely (that some colonists were absorbed into the region's Native American tribes) to the unlikely (alien abduction, cannibalism)." As recently as earlier this year "researchers announced some intriguing findings uncovered in one of John White's maps that may yield a new hypothesis.

    "The theory in Blackwood, however, hasn't been put forth before that I've been able to find," Bond said. "But add together an enduring mysterious mass disappearance, the lack of information about who the colonists were, and John Dee, and what do you get? Some strange alchemy and -- I hope -- a good story."

    2012 Tiptree Award Winners Announced

    41t7NnIaCAL._BO2,204,203,20035,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_

    The recently announced James Tiptree Jr. Award winners for SF or fantasy “that expands or explores our understanding of gender” should be very familiar to Omnivoracious readers, as both have been featured here:

    As we said of the Salaam last year, “Magic and sexuality permeate these stories that seek the emotional core of their characters. Interesting settings and Salaam’s exuberant but controlled prose help to anchor narratives that are continually questing, pushing for something beyond the usual.” Meanwhile, Kiernan’s novel was her most personal to date, and featured a complex and nuanced unreliable main character. Our verdict? “It’s rare that a writer can create one memorable character, let alone two such voices, perfectly balanced and devoted to telling a unique and beautifully written story.” Both books have received a lot of critical acclaim, and the Tiptree has nicely balanced a first collection with a novel by a veteran writer. 51w9RfQndyL._BO2,204,203,20035,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_

    Tiptree, of course, was the pen name of Alice Sheldon, one of the most influential of the feminist science fiction writers to enter the field in the 1970s.

    The Tiptree Honors List (basically finalists) also features some great books, many of which Omni readers will recognize.

    Although the Tiptree does honor some books that have already been recognized elsewhere—like 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson—in general they do a fine job of bringing new visibility to material that may have been overlooked by readers first time around.

    There’s also t516yh9MMq5L._BO2,204,203,20035,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_he significance of even just being on the honors list for many writers who value the Tiptree’s unique emphasis. As honoree Karin Tidbeck told Omni, “I'm a fan of Alice Sheldon's work, but even more important to me as a young writer was reading about her career and the waves she made, the impact her literature has had. She opened my eyes both to the situation of female writers in the genre, and to the importance of—and huge possibility of—challenging stereotypes of gender and sexuality through literature. Being awarded a spot on the honor list for the Tiptree Award is a really big deal. To me, it acknowledges that in some small way I'm a part of Alice Sheldon's legacy; it means I'm going in the right direction.”

    Mad Scientist Cage Match: Which Talented Weirdo Will You Champion?

    The-Mad-Scientists-Guide-to-World-DominationBilled as “original short fiction for the modern evil genius,” the new fiction anthology The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination features delightfully villainous and entertaining tales from the likes of Diana Gabaldon, Austin Grossman, Naomi Novik, and Seanan McGuire. Edited by one of the science fiction, fantasy, and horror field’s best editors, John Joseph Adams, the book has been lovingly crafted. It features with a wonderful cover from Ben Templesmith and a very fun interior design that includes a whimsical preamble for each story. Exclusively for Omnivoracious, Adams has cajoled eight contributors into each championing their own particular mad scientist.

    Which would you vote for—and why? Who else might trump them all? The best response will get a free copy of the anthology.

    Dr. Frankenstein

    Championed by Carrie Vaughn

    Dr. Victor Frankenstein. Everyone knows his name. He is the godfather of mad scientists. The first, the template, the model by which all others are crafted and judged. The goal, the primary mission of his endeavors: to play God. To manipulate the very mystery of life itself. His hubris is explicit and without boundaries. And when his experiments go horribly awry (as we know they must)—ah yes, this is where the “scientist” gives way to “mad.” We last see him sledding into the arctic in a futile quest to make right what he first made wrong. But can we trust his judgment about what's right and what's wrong? Do we dare?

    Dr. Jekyll

    Championed by Grady Hendrix

    They both wear white lab coats, they both do it because everyone laughed at them—they laughed!—back in high school, and they both have the word “science” in their names, so what exactly is the difference between a “scientist” and a “mad scientist?” As far as Dr. Jekyll is concerned, it means having the worst experimental methodology of all time. Rather than writing a protocol that involved tests on animal subjects before moving on to humans, the second Dr. Henry Jekyll whipped up a concoction that sparkled with pretty colors and he chugged it. Then, rather than staying in a controlled environment to observe and record the effects, he was out the door and trampling servant girls five seconds later. Rather than submitting his results for peer-review, he cowered in his lab, occasionally venturing outside to murder someone, or engage in light trampling. Needless to say, his results were irreproducible, and it turned out that the transformations occurred in the first place because of contaminated chemicals. It’s no surprise that he winds up killing himself. Being a mad scientist means even your worst mistakes are just alternate outcomes, but even the maddest of mad scientists would be ashamed to run a lab this sloppy.

    J. Robert Oppenheimer

    Championed by David Farland

    The world is full of pretenders—senators who cannot govern, movie producers who can’t even do porn right, and scientists who tout their miniscule discoveries as if they were major accomplishments. But when Oppenheimer saw his first nuclear bomb explode, never has any scientist felt a greater thrill. Some scientists suspected that if we heated the atmosphere to 10,000 degrees, the heavens themselves would ignite and strip the world of its atmosphere. But Oppenheimer assured them that certain lightning bolts must have heated the air to that temperature, if only briefly, and that his bomb was safe. Yet when that mushroom cloud stretched over him, even he shrank in terror beneath it. He spoke the words from the Bhagavad Gita: “Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” Surely he who can destroy a thing, ultimately, controls it. This world became his. Cower before him you sniveling pretenders—Frankenstein, Moreau, Jekyll. You cannot withstand the atomic bomb, and Oppenheimer, its master!

    Lex Luthor

    Championed by Austin Grossman

    Let's get his bona fides out of the way. Dirigible? Yes. Secret floating city? Yes. Secret floating city hanging from a dirigible? Yes, and that's just in his first appearance. Luthor re-created the dinosaurs way back in 1940, and he was just getting started. Aerospace, powered armor, cloning (why do you think we even have Bizarro?), dimensional travel—you name it, he's done it. But Luthor is a mad scientist for the ages, not just because of brains, but the scope of his ambition and the depth of his character. Would Luthor let himself be chased around Europe by a stitched-together corpse? No, he picks the grandest of all opponents, the greatest bully super-heroism ever spawned: Kal-El the Kryptonian (“Superman,” if you must). You'd have to go back to Paradise Lost to find a tougher matchup, and one more meaningful for all of us. Luthor pits brains and un-augmented human flesh against unnatural brawn again and again, staking his life on the idea that being smart is worth something and makes a difference, even if the game is rigged, even if the entire rest of the world is rooting against you. That, sir and madam, is character. Greatest mad scientist ever.

    Dr. Moreau

    Championed by Seanan McGuire

    Dr. Moreau: so awesome he doesn't need a first name. Played on film by no less than Burt Lancaster and Marlon Brando. Why all the fuss? Because you're talking about a man who, without proper sterile conditions or treatments to prevent organ rejection, was able to make men out of beasts. Who built his own private kingdom, with its own laws and customs (NO SPILL BLOOD). And who had the good grace to die at the hands of his tortured creations, as all the best mad scientists are taught to do. Dr. Moreau: too awesome for your small-minded human ethics.

    Nikola Tesla

    Championed by Daniel H. Wilson

    Nikola Tesla is hands down the world's greatest real mad scientist. His scientific inventions are still in widespread use by millions of people over seventy years after his death, and include the arc-light, alternating current motor, and systems for transmitting electricity. Some argue he should be credited for inventing the radio, too. In classic mad scientist fashion, Tesla requested exorbitant sums of money from government officials, negotiating unsuccessfully with the Prime Minister of Great Britain for 30 million dollars (about a half billion dollars in today’s market) in exchange for a “defense ray machine.” Later, he declared that he was receiving messages from inhabitants of either Mars or Venus over his radio-receiving equipment. Finally, his nerd cred was impeccable. At the age of 17, he exposed himself to cholera to avoid required military service. In college, he organized the first intercollegiate activity in which a team from one university would challenge a team from another university: chess.

    Doc Brown

    Championed by Jeremiah Tolbert

    Doctor Emmet Brown is more of an inventor than a scientist, and whether he is truly mad might seem up for some debate. Absent-minded, sure, with a penchant for hanging out with teenagers… yes, that's a little weird. Where's the “mad” come in? Emmet “Doc” Brown lacked an important element in his construction of the famous flux capacitor (a device which came to him in a vision brought on by severe head injury). He required a high energy fuel source, and in 1985, only plutonium would do. But how did he go about acquiring this? He tricked Libyan terrorists by offering to build them a nuclear bomb, but instead filled it with pinball machine parts and used the plutonium in his pet project. This single action marks Doc as a force to be reckoned with. Beneath that goofy, wild-haired and wild-eyed exterior lies the heart of a coldly calculating master deceiver. While this plan seems to initially result in him being murdered by the terrorists…why is Marty there? Why is Marty ever there, for that matter? Clearly, Doc has long considered Marty to be an easily manipulated experimental test subject and back-up plan. He wears a pleasing demeanor around the teenager, but alone, we see the real Emmet Brown--a man obsessed with his creation, and willing to sacrifice anyone or anything for science, including his beloved pet dog, Einstein. What could be madder than that?! The events of the docudrama Back to the Future are all part of Emmet Brown's backup plan, should the terrorists find him.

    Thomas Edison

    Championed by Mary Robinette Kowal

    Thomas Edison. There's a reason they called him the Wizard of Menlo Park. The man is brilliant and created his own compound of brilliant young minds to support him. They have “a stock of almost every conceivable material” according to Edison, that includes, “eight thousand kinds of chemicals, every kind of screw made, every size of needle, every kind of cord or wire, hair of humans, horses, hogs, cows, rabbits, goats, minx, camels…silk in every texture, cocoons, various kinds of hoofs, shark's teeth, deer horns, tortoise shell…cork, resin, varnish and oil, ostrich feathers, a peacock's tail, jet, amber, rubber, all ores…” If there's not already a solution to a problem, he'll just invent one. And if you get in his way, he's not above electrocuting an elephant to prove his point.


    Bestselling Author Julianna Baggott Returns with “Fuse”

    FuseJulianna Baggott’s mega-deal for book and film rights to her post-apocalyptic YA Pure series paid off when the first novel Pure went on to become a bestseller. The movie version is also going forward, with writer-director James Ponsoldt, the director of Smashed and The Spectacular Now, on board. The books postulate a world that “went from amusement parks, movie theaters, birthday parties, fathers and mothers…to ash and dust, scars, permanent burns, and fused, damaged bodies.” Survivors are gang-pressed into militia or killed, except for the Pures who escaped the apocalypse and live in domes.

    Now that she’s back with Fuse, the second book in the series. Omnivoracious caught up with her to ask about this fascinating if sometimes grim vision of the future—and whether any of the reactions to Pure surprised her.

    “When setting out to write Pure,” Baggott told Omni, she knew she “was blurring genre boundaries in ways I didn't understand.” The novel was a “huge departure” for her: “a sixteen-year-old girl with a doll head fused to her fist trapped in this ashen landscape.” She had to “hole up and tear myself loose from my own expectations as well as the expectations of others and try to build this world. It was also my first really intricate thriller-esque plot and my most psychologically twisted novel to date.”

    “Still, I was surprised when Publisher's Weekly called it horror (in an appreciative way, thankfully). I had no idea what I'd made really, and since I'd turned my back on critical voices, I was stunned when the New York Times Book Review reviewed it at all, much less generously, much less picking it as one of their 100 Notable Books of the Year. It was such a lonesome process in some ways that it was strange just to lift my head up and find others had read it at all.”

    The challenges of returning to the same place for Fuse included wanting to “widen the landscape so I had to find a way to expand the world outside of the Dome while getting more psychologically intimate inside the Dome. In Pure, the world itself was a character that took a lot of time to establish on the page. In Fuse, I was freer to let the established characters really fly.”

    Continue reading "Bestselling Author Julianna Baggott Returns with “Fuse”" »

    2013 Nebula Awards Announced

    Throne of the Crescent Moon

    The 2013 Nebula Award finalists have been announced by the Science FictionIronskin and Fantasy Writers of America. The nominees in the novel category are:

    Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed (DAW; Gollancz '13)
    Ironskin, Tina Connolly (Tor)
    The Killing Moon, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
    The Drowning Girl, Caitlín R. Kiernan (Roc)
    Glamour in Glass, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)
    2312, Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit US; Orbit UK)

    All of the novel nominees are by U.S. authors. N.K. Jemisin returns to the Nebula list with a strong novel in The Killing Moon, while Mary Robinette Kowal's Austen-ish Glamour in Glass built on the The Killing Moonentertainments of its predecessor, Shades of Milk and HoneyIronskin by Tina Connolly, which alas I haven't yet had a chance to read, is about an alternate-history, magical England.


    First-time novelist Saladin Ahmed was profiled here on Omnivoracious last year. In that interview, he said Throne of the Crescent Moon "took about three and a half years to write, mostly part-time, with some entire months off at a couple of points. The world, characters, etc., stayedDrowning Girl pretty consistent, but the shape of the thing changed greatly" during the drafting process. He has been a Nebula nominee before, for his short fiction.

    We also featured Caitlin R. Kiernan's The Drowning Girl last year, about which she told us, "In this novel I knew that I wanted to examine the nature of hauntings. Not ghosts rattling chains in an attic. Not what most readers expect when they hear a novel involves the paranormal. But what it actually means to Glamour in Glassbe haunted ... As Imp says in the novel, how hauntings are memes, pernicious thought contagions. And, as has often been the case in my work, I wanted to offer up a narrator who's honest about being unreliable."

    2312
    Followed closely by The Drowning Girl, Kim Stanley Robinson's 2312 was my favorite novel from last year. When I reviewed it for the LA Times, I wrote, "2312 is a treasured gift to fans of passionate storytelling" that contains several jaw-dropping moments and one of the greatest central relationships in science fiction's history. My opinion hasn't changed with a re-read. The novel is remarkable in many ways."

    The winners will be announced at the Forty-Eighth Nebula Awards Weekend, May 16-19, 2013, in San Jose, California, at the San Jose Hilton. Visit the SFWA site for more about the awards, including past winners.



    NYT Bestseller Lev Grossman with the Scoop on “The Magician’s Land”—Including Teasers

    91f2c338193d0a7f023548.L._V154728275_SX200_Fans of Lev Grossman’s bestselling novels The Magicians and The Magician King, which follow the adventures of Quentin Coldwater in the fantasy land of Fillory, have been waiting for more details on The Magician’s Land, the upcoming third book in the series. Omnivoracious decided to interview Grossman about the new book, and the series in general. His answers give readers some teasing glimpses of the novel—and two short excerpts!

    Amazon.com: How long now have you been living with the characters from this series, and does it get easier to write about this world over time?

    Lev Grossman: I started writing The Magicians in mid-2004. So these characters have been around for (pause while writer tries to do math) nine years. Except for the Beast. He arrived in a dream in 1996.

    Writing about them gets both easier and harder. Easier because I know the characters and the world very well. I don't have to think about how they would behave: I just know. But it's harder, too, because the best stuff always comes when the characters and the world surprise me. Julia for example—I truly never knew what she would do next, or where she would turn up, but whatever and wherever it was, it was always exciting. And occasionally appalling. But never dull. Can these characters keep on surprising me forever, now that I know them this well? I don’t know. But just to be safe I’m going to quit before they stop.

    Amazon.com: Did you have an inkling of a third book in mind when you wrote The Magicians

    Grossman: I didn’t even have an inkling of a second book when I wrote The Magicians. I had no idea if anybody would want to publish it. So I didn’t want to jinx things by even thinking about a sequel, let alone a third book. But once I started writing The Magician King, the core idea for The Magician's Land arrived pretty quickly after that. I wasted a lot of time doubting myself and trying out alternatives, but in the end it wouldn’t be denied.

    Amazon.com: Although of course book two continued the story of The Magicians, it also seemed like a departure—not the same thing served up again. Can you give us some idea of how different this third book will be? And what excites you about writing it?

    Grossman: My attention span is too short to tell the same kind of story twice. I just can’t do it. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m like everyone else: if I find a bunch of characters I want to hang out with, and a world I want to hang out in, I don’t want the author to throw them out and start over with the next book. But you’re right, The Magician King was a different kind of story from The Magicians, and The Magician’s Land will be different from either of them.

    You could think of the first book as a sort of coming-of-age novel, along the lines of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and The Magician King as an epic patterned after The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I don’t know how to label the third book, but it’s neither of those. I keep coming back to the phrase “rich and strange,” but that’s not really a genre, is it? I can tell you what the Narnian antecedents are: The Magician’s Nephew and The Last Battle. (Which are, of course, the story of the creation of Narnia and the story of its destruction.) Whatever those are, that’s what The Magician’s Land is going to be.

    Amazon: Could you give us an inkling of how book three starts?

    Grossman: I can tell you exactly how it starts. It starts back at Brakebills—I really missed writing about a magic school, so I took the action back there. We’re reading about a new character, a senior named Plum, who’s planning some harmless mischief. But Plum is hiding a dark secret. Obviously nothing could possibly go wrong here.

    Amazon.com: Is there a phrase or sentence you could provide—perhaps even an excerpt from your draft—that would be suitably mysterious and teasing and yet, to you, to speak to something important about the novel?

    Grossman: Having massively overthought this question, I wound up with two different excerpts that I can’t seem to choose between. I'm not sure either of them tells you anything important, but here they are.

    One is about a Brakebills student named Wharton and his remarkable pencils:

    "Wharton’s personal pencils really were remarkable pencils: olive green, and made from some oily, aromatic wood that released a waxy aroma reminiscent of distant exotic rainforest trees. Instead of the usual fleshy pink the erasers were a light-devouring black, and they were bound in rings of a dull-grey brushed steel that looked too industrial and high-carbon for the task of merely containing erasers. He kept them in a flat silver case like a cigarette case, which also contained (in its own crushed-velvet nest) a sharp little knife that he used to keep them sharpened to wicked points."

    The other passage is about Quentin discovering that he has undergone a subtle, mysterious transformation:

    "Quentin snuffed the candle out and lit it again. The light that played around his hands as he worked the spell was a little more intense than it would have been a week ago. In the darkness of his room he could see that the colors were shifted a bit toward the violent, violet end of the spectrum. The power came more easily, and it buzzed a little harder and louder in his fingers."

    Amazon.com: Those are certainly evocative! Can you imagine writing further books in this series, or is there a sense of finality now?

    Grossman: It really is my full and total intention to end the series here. But I’m sure Ursula K. Le Guin thought that when she finished the Earthsea trilogy. If I had another good idea for this world, I wouldn’t let it go to waste. But Quentin’s story will be over.

    Eleven Dark Tales: Yoko Ogawa’s “Revenge”

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    Looking for something creepy yet sophisticated this month? Critically acclaimed Japanese writer Yoko Ogawa’s story cycle Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales might just be the answer. The author of such great reads as Hotel Iris and The Housekeeper and the Professor, Ogawa’s short fiction has appeared in The New Yorker and Harper’s, among others. Ably translated by Stephen Snyder, these tales excel at unnerving and entertaining readers.

    “Welcome to the Museum of Torture” opens with a paragraph on the “lots of people” who “died today.” In another tale, a clock reveals a macabre scene: “a little parade of animated figures pirouetted out—a few soldiers, chicken, and skeleton.” Others intrigue through close examination of character, for example “The Man Who Sold Braces” and this great first sentence: “Everything my uncle touched seemed to fall apart in the end.”

    The events in these connected stories often have a kind of classic, timeless feel to them, too. An aspiring writer moves into a new apartment and discovers that her landlady has murdered her husband. An accomplished surgeon is approached by a cabaret singer, whose beautiful appearance belies the grotesque condition of her heart. Desire meets with impulse and erupts, attracting the attention of the surgeon’s neighbor---who is drawn to a creepy decaying residence. Murderers and mourners, mothers and children, lovers and innocent bystanders—their fates converge in an ominous and darkly beautiful web. Throughout, a dark, and somewhat dry, sense of humor permeates Ogawa’s prose, adding further depth.

    Praise has been lavish, with New York Magazine saying of the collection, “Every act of malice glows creepily against the plain background. Ogawa is an expert in doing more with less.” Shelf Awareness calls the book “a delicious mosaic that concerns much more than its titular subject, as the messy human emotional spectrum gets exposed in eleven compulsively readable tales that become increasingly multilayered and interlocked.”

    You can read a story from the collection, “The Last Hour of the Bengal Tiger” over at Weirdfictionreview.com and Picador has just released a wonderful book trailer for Revenge. The collection is definitely one of my favorites of the year thus far.

     

    “Listening for Madeleine”: An Interview with Leonard S. Marcus about L’Engle

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    Madeleine L'Engle is perhaps best recognized as the author of A Wrinkle in Time, the enduring milestone work of fantasy fiction that won the 1963 John Newbery Medal for excellence in children's literature and has enthralled millions of readers for the past fifty years. But to those who knew her well, L'Engle was much more besides: a larger-than-life persona, an inspiring mentor, a strong-willed matriarch, a spiritual guide, and a rare friend. In Listening for Madeleine, the renowned biographer Leonard S. Marcus reveals Madeleine L'Engle in all her complexity, through a series of incisive interviews with the people who knew her most intimately. Vivid reminiscences of family members, colleagues, and friends create a kaleidoscope of keen insights and snapshot moments that help readers to understand the many sides of this singularly fascinating woman.

    Omnivoracious recently interviewed Marcus about L’Engle and the book. We think fans of this iconic writer will be fascinated by his answers…

    Amazon.com: What were some of the surprises in compiling this book?

    Leonard S. Marcus: Going in, I knew about the Madeleine L’Engle who was a gallant public presence: the eloquent, funny, fluid conference speaker; the Buddha-like wise woman to whom young people in particular turned for spiritual guidance; the fearless champion of First Amendment rights. But before her friends and family spoke about it with me, I had not guessed the extent to which she was also a shy in some ways deeply needy person. It was only then that I realized what a pivotal experience L’Engle’s time as an actress must have been for her. Acting gave her the emotional equipment with which to reach beyond her misunderstood, neglected Meg-like childhood self, and to re-imagine herself as someone bigger, stronger, and less afraid. Acting—and her talent for storytelling—were the tools with which she reinvented herself as a loved and loving person capable of writing her books and connecting with everyone.

    For most of her life, L’Engle did seem to know everybody. She met Betty Freidan, for instance, as a schoolmate at Smith College. Both went on to play major roles in redefining women’s roles in the workplace and home—but in distinctly different ways. (L’Engle abhorred movements and labels and refused to call herself a feminist.) Years later, when the director of the Authors Guild, bogged down in a Capitol Hill lobbying effort, needed to speak with the White House ophthalmologist in a hurry, L’Engle knew him, too.

    Amazon.com: Did your own perception of L’Engle change as a result?

    Leonard S. Marcus: I was touched to realize the extreme effort required of her to be the Madeleine L’Engle everyone knew.

    Amazon.com: You decided to organize the book to present views of L’Engle as a writer, friend, icon, etc. How did you come to that decision, and were there other approaches you discarded?

    Leonard S. Marcus: At first, I thought of editing the book like a documentary film, with a lot of crosscutting to juxtapose one person’s view of a particular topic with that of others. This could have worked but would have been much more challenging—and possibly frustrating—for the reader, too much like the chore of keeping track of who’s who in a Russian novel. So, I opted for simplicity. The “categories” in which I grouped the interviews presented themselves almost immediately as markers for the areas of her life that clearly mattered the most to her. I would have liked to have had a separate section devoted to the theater people in her life but sadly not enough of them were still alive or well enough to speak from memory.

    Amazon.com: In compiling the interviews for publication, how did you decide on whether similarities created mere repetition as opposed to resonance?

    Leonard S. Marcus: You are right to ask that question. It was a constant concern. By way of illustrating my approach: everyone who knew him at all wanted to talk about L’Engle’s close friend and spiritual adviser Canon Edward West, the man in charge of ritual observance at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, where L’Engle was the librarian and had the office next to his. In reality, her position at the Cathedral was closer to that of “writer in residence”—there’s no evidence that the Dewey Decimal System interested her! Canon West was a colorful, larger-than-life character who dressed in nineteenth-century cassock and swirling capes and spoke with a vaguely British stage accent. He was an easy person to caricature. Yet he clearly had a huge impact on L’Engle and it felt essential to find out why. With this in mind, I kept the stories told by the people who knew him well, and discarded all but a few of the others (the caricature was a part of the story, too, after all). My main goal was to give a fully rounded portrait of him and to suggest why he meant so much to L’Engle. After a while, I realized that Canon West’s wild embrace of idiosyncrasy must have appealed deeply to her; also the shrewdness with which he navigated Cathedral politics and his quest for an intimate, fad-free spiritual life. L’Engle had fun writing him into four of her novels as Canon Tallis, even imagining a cloak-and-dagger role for him as a secret agent for Interpol. The great thing was that Canon West’s personal assistant was able to explain the private joke behind this last reference. The Canon, who was the world’s reigning authority on Anglican liturgical matters, also had a fine ear for gossip. As Don Lundquist told me: “People would sometimes wonder out loud just where he had gotten this or that tidbit of information. Canon West never divulged his sources! He would only say, ‘My spies report to me. . .’”

    Amazon.com: How heavily did you edit the interviews for the book?

    Leonard S. Marcus: Some interviews called for more editing than others. Because people don’t always speak in consecutive thoughts, I see it is as fair game at times to re-order material with the goal of having a story told or a thought expressed in the clearest possible way. This kind of editing has to be done with an absolute commitment to fidelity both to the spirit and letter of what was said. For me, doing it well is the art-part of editing an interview.

    As I worked on the book, I remembered Edwin Arlington Robinson’s classic poetry collection, Spoon River Anthology, in which, one by one, the late inhabitants of a certain town testify from the grave about their lives. The fifty-one people I interviewed for Listening for Madeleine were in a sense all testifying about Madeleine L’Engle, telling me what she was like, what she had meant to them, how she had changed their lives. So I began looking for chances to edit myself out of the interviews altogether, and create a continuous monologue. I didn’t edit all the interviews that way, but I did do this in several instances, and I find the effect to be quite powerful.

    Amazon.com: What do you think was the most compelling part of L’Engle’s imagination for readers?

    Leonard S. Marcus: What I find most compelling is her ability, as in A Wrinkle in Time, to tell an intimate coming-of-age story that also has an epic dimension. L’Engle makes her young readers feel understood, and therefore less alone in the universe. And she says, in effect: Don’t just hide in a corner somewhere. Go out and experience the bigness of life. It’s an exhilarating message. This same theme carries over into her memoirs—those four books, starting with A Circle of Quiet—that have meant so much to adult readers, and really into all her books.

    Amazon.com: Do you have a favorite observation about L’Engle by one of the contributors?

    Leonard S. Marcus: I found Madeleine L’Engle’s oldest living relative in Jacksonville, Florida, where, going back to the late nineteenth century, her mother’s father’s family, the Barnetts, owned the largest bank. Mary L’Engle Avent, known to all as “Sister,” was 92 when I spoke with her.  Sister told me: “There is a saying in the L’Engle family that refers to the fact that we’re all stubborn and that we have all got our own ways. You might say to one of your relatives: ‘You have certainly inherited a lot of the Engle-arities!’ Madeleine had all of the L’Engle-arities. The Barnetts were pretty strong themselves, so you can imagine what that added up to.”

    The Best Fantasy and Science Fiction Collections of 2012

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    Among the many hats I wear besides novelist and faithful Omni correspondent is as founder of Cheeky Frawg, an indie press devoted to international fiction. This fall we’ve released Swedish writer Karin Tidbeck’s Jagannath: Stories. This unique fantasy collection’s been very well received, including a rave review by NPR’s “All Things Considered”; the author even attended the World Fantasy Convention in Toronto recently.

    As the book’s publisher, one task I always undertake is checking out the competition. And therefore I’m intensely aware that this is a really great year for fantasy and SF story collections. It would be easy to name as many as 15 or 20 collections in compiling a year’s best list. However, I’m instead going to make it hard and restrict myself to 12 that I find the most interesting and unique, besides Jagannath, and then count on you, the readers, to tell me if I’m wrong and what I missed.

    So, here goes, in alphabetical order by author…

    Shoggoths in Bloom by Elizabeth Bear (Prime Books) – This new collection from Bear includes the Hugo-winning title novelette and the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award-winning “Tideline.” A World Fantasy, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick nominee, Bear is one of speculative fiction's most acclaimed, respected, and prolific authors.

    Beneath the Liquid Skin by Berit Ellingsen (firthFORTH Books) – Short, sharp shocks of the surreal and the strange, anchored by Ellingsen’s clear eye for detail and for the most psychologically interesting aspects of narrative. This Danish-Korean author is just starting what promises to be a major career, but already giving readers a unique and fascinating perspective.

    Continue reading "The Best Fantasy and Science Fiction Collections of 2012" »

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