BOOK REVIEW: The Book of Skulls by Robert Silverberg

REVIEW SUMMARY: Depending on how you squint at it, this is either sf or mainstream, but either way it’s a very good book.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Four college roommates travel across the country in search of immortality. Only two will get it, but only if the third commits suicide and the fourth is sacrificed.

PROS: Superbly written; intriguing plot; a good mood piece.
CONS: I was expecting science fiction and got mainstream.
BOTTOM LINE: A very enjoyable book that left me feeling deliciously somber.

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SF Tidbits for 3/30/06

Star Wars Kid Goes to Court

The Canadian teen who came to be known as The Star Wars Kid is headed to court. He rose to fame because of a video his peers released on the Internet which showed him acting out a light saber scene, and because of all the parodies that followed. Next month he will be appearing in court to pursue a $160,000 lawsuit against his ex-classmates who leaked the video.

[via Club Jade]

The 25 Most Important Science Fiction Films

As a companion to the article on the 50th anniversary of Forbidden Planet, the Houston Chronicle also lists The 25 Most Important Science Fiction Films (according to the article’s author, Louis B. Parks).

In true meme fashion, I’ve highlighted the ones I’ve seen.


  1. Metropolis (1927)
  2. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
  3. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
  4. Star Wars original trilogy (1977-1983)
  5. Forbidden Planet (1956)
  6. A Trip to the Moon (1902)
  7. (tie) Planet of the Apes (1968)
  8. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
  9. Aliens (1986)
  10. Star Trek film series (1979-2002)
  11. Blade Runner (1982)
  12. Them! (1954)
  13. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
  14. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
  15. The Terminator (1982)
  16. The Thing From Another World (1951)
  17. The Road Warrior (1981)
  18. Westworld (1973)
  19. The Matrix (1999)
  20. Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers serials (1939-1940)
  21. (tie) E.T. (1982)
  22. The Thing (1982)
  23. The War of the Worlds (1953)
  24. (tie) Jurassic Park (1993)
  25. Akira (1988)

SF Tidbits for 3/29/06

2 Hugo-Nominated Novels Available in Digital Format to Hugo Voters

John Scalzi’s Whatever blog is reporting that publisher Tor has allowed Scalzi and Robert Charles Wilson to make their Hugo-nominated books (Old Man’s War and Spin, respectively) available in (DRM-free) electronic format. The catch is that the books are available only to Hugo voters – that is, members of LAcon IV, this year’s Worldcon – and only for the duration of the voting period.

Scalzi has the scoop.

SF Tidbits for 3/27/06

Heat Vision And Jack

Heat Vision and Jack was a pilot for a FOX TV show done in 1999 byt Ben Stiller. It stars Jack Black as an astronaut on the run from NASA and the evil Ron Silver, played by Ron Silver (classic). Heat Vision is Jack’s motorcycle and is voiced by Owen Wilson. I guess you could say its a cross between Knight Rider and The Six Million Dollar Man, only funnier. You’ll either like it or hate it, depending on your Stiller stomach quotient. It is cheesy and it is dumb, but I think it was created to be a parody, sort of a Police Squad for SF series. Yes, this is real, you can look it up on IMDB.

REVIEW: Best Short Novels: 2005 edited by Jonathan Strahan

REVIEW SUMMARY: Some hits, some misses.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Anthology of nine novellas and 1 novelette from the year 2004.


PROS: 8 stories ranging from good to excellent

CONS: 2 stories mediocre or worse.

BOTTOM LINE: A good assortment of stories from 2004.

With several other “Best of…” anthologies on the market, it helps that each one sets its own unique goals. For Jonathan Strahan’s Best Short Novels series, available exclusively from the Science Fiction Book Club, the goal is to showcase the best novellas of the previous year in the genres of science fiction and fantasy; Best Short Novels: 2005 collects ten stories published in 2004.

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POLL RESULTS: Objectivity in Reviewing

Here are the results of the latest SF Signal poll.

Do you think it’s possible for a book reviewer to remain objective if he or she has received the book for free from the publisher?


(48 total votes)

Be sure to vote in this week’s poll: Has Battlestar Galactica jumped the shark?

Are Media Tie-In Novels Trash?

Over at Emerald City, author Karen Traviss explains why she writes Star Wars novels. In the article she voices the widespread belief that “media tie-ins are rubbish”.

But are they? Do they not require effort just like any other book? According to Karen, they are even more difficult to write because of constraints put on the authors by the controlling party regarding character deaths, their backgrounds, language/terminology and the like. Additionally, the story events need to be congruent with the events in books by many other authors; there’s lots of coordination involved.

Speaking for myself, I have historically tended to avoid tie-ins because of this stigma. That’s unfortunate for me. I am surely missing out on some perfectly fine sf. For example, some co-bloggers have extolled the virtues of Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy of Star Wars books.

Media tie-ins are not exclusive to the Star Wars universe of course. Star Trek is another popular source of books, as is Stargate, Battlestar Galactica, Doctor Who, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and more. There’s even a whole gaming-related set of tie-ins, which I will not even start to get into here.

What do you think? Do you read tie-in novels? Which ones? Or are media tie-in novels trash?

Judging a Book by Its Cover

Booksquare points to Publisher’s Weekly article “Judging a Book By Its Cover” which tells us that (surprise, surprise) covers matter.

I love science fiction book cover art. Liking any individual artistic style is subject a personal taste. One of my favorite cover artists is the award winning John Picacio who does a lot of cover art for Pyr.

One of the reasons I like physical bookstores over online ones is because cover art is more easily browsed that way. Locus Online does an admirable job showcasing a year’s worth of science fiction/fantasy book covers side by side, but rare is the online bookstore that does this and I still want the bigger images without having to use the slower method of the click-through.

According to poll SF Signal did last year, only half of respondents said they purchased a book solely on its cover. That surprises me in that people would base a decision on that alone. Sure covers matter, but I find a bad cover drives me away from a purchase more than a good one will ensure it.

More Genre Stuff on NPR

I stumbled across an sf-related NPR link and thought it might be time to follow up last year’s post Genre Stuff on NPR.

SF Tidbits for 3/24/06

REVIEW: River of Gods by Ian McDonald

REVIEW SUMMARY: A novel that’s thought-provoking, literary and entertaining despite a slow start.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The story of several characters during a time of political and environmental change in a futuristic 21st century India.


PROS: Cool technology; Indian culture creates excellent atmosphere; engrossing storylines; well-crafted.

CONS: Slow start; incomplete glossary.

BOTTOM LINE: A hugely enjoyable book on any number of levels.

The futuristic India in Ian McDonald’s River of Gods would be marvelous enough with its technological society, one where the sentience of artificial intelligence is limited by a law called the Hamilton Acts; where illegal software houses circumvent the law; where a government agency known as The Ministry “excommunicates” rogue AIs from this world; where virtual reality is the order of the day; where popular soap operas feature computer-generated characters played by computer-generated actors; where advanced medical procedures can turn you into a genderless “nute” or genetic engineering can give you a disease free, slow-aging Brahmin child; where power is generated underneath sidewalks that harness the energy of footsteps ; where even greater amounts of energy can be realized from the potential difference between two universes that exist at different ground states; and where an alien artifact is found in space that holds untold mysteries.

But River of Gods goes one step further, adding a whole other layer of enjoyment in the process, through the portrayal of Indian culture. It permeates everyone and everything, bringing forth interesting concepts and vivid imagery that give it a distinct mood and flavor. India’s caste system remains but now includes the Brahmin, a group of people genetically-bred to be disease free, whose long life gives them an extended period of youthful appearance. The culture’s many Gods are also prevalent in the story. For the culturally-uninitiated (like myself) there is a handy glossary included that defines many Hindi terms. However, the novel is so steeped in culture (and wonderfully so) that the glossary is woefully incomplete. Many of the words this Average Westerner looked up were not included. Eventually, I stopped using it. Needless to say, those who know Indian culture and especially Hindi will find a whole other level of enjoyment that escaped me, as evidenced by the light bulbs that went on when I asked a Hindi-speaking friend to translate words and section titles.

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SF Tidbits for 3/23/06

Two Cool Anthologies on the Horizon

Kathryn Cramer shows off the covers of some nifty-sounding anthologies that she and hubby David G. Hartwell have edited.

The first, due in April 2006, is The Science Fiction Century, Volume One (edited by Harwell alone) and looks to be a trade paperback booksplit reprint or Hartwell’s 1997 The Science Fiction Century. In true biblioholic fashion, I’ve yet to read that one even though I bought it years ago.

The second is the Tor book The Space Opera Renaissance and it’s due out in July 2006. Here’s the book description:

“Space opera”, once a derisive term for cheap pulp adventure, has come to mean something more in modern SF: compelling adventure stories told against a broad canvas, and written to the highest level of skill. Indeed, it can be argued that the “new space opera” is one of the defining streams of modern SF.

Now, World Fantasy Award-winning anthologists David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer have compiled a definitive overview of this subgenre, both as it was in the days of the pulp magazines, and as it has become in 2005. Included are major works from genre progenitors like Jack Williamson and Leigh Brackett, stylish midcentury voices like Cordwainer Smith and Samuel R. Delany, popular favorites like David Drake, Lois McMaster Bujold, and Ursula K. Le Guin, and modern-day pioneers such as Iain M. Banks, Steven Baxter, Scott Westerfeld, and Charles Stross.

Mmmmm…crunchy sf goodness…[Homer gurgle]

EW’s Top 25 Worst Sequels

Entertainment Weekly has identified 25 of the Worst Movie Sequels Ever Made. There are more than a few sci-fi, fantasy and horror movies that made the list.

  1. Staying Alive (1983)
  2. CaddyShack II (1988)
  3. Leprechaun: Back 2 Tha’ Hood (2003)
  4. Blues Brothers 2000 (1998)
  5. Batman & Robin (1997)
  6. Weekend At Bernie’s II (1993)
  7. The Fly II (1989)
  8. Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
  9. Speed 2: Cruise Control (1997)
  10. Jaws: The Revenge (1987)
  11. Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (2004)
  12. Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)
  13. The Sting II (1983)
  14. Conan the Destroyer (1984)
  15. Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd (2003)
  16. Ocean’s Twelve (2004)
  17. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)
  18. Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)
  19. Revenge of the Nerds II: nerds in paradise (1987)
  20. The Godfather Part III (1990)
  21. Legally Blonde 2: red, white & blonde (2003)
  22. Teen Wolf Too (1987)
  23. Porky’s II: The Next Day (1983)
  24. The Next Karate Kid (1994)
  25. The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

SF Tidbits for 3/22/06

  • Sci Fi meets Shakespeare in Return to the Forbidden Planet.
  • Listen to Cory Doctorow’s Guest of Honor speech from Boskone.
  • Firefly‘s Nathan Fillion and Elizabeth Banks talk about their new movie Slither. Cookies required. [via Whedonesque]
  • Radiohead is contributing to the soundtrack for Richard Linklater’s upcoming Philip K. Dick adaptation, A Scanner Darkly.
  • In response to Itzkoff, The Slush God asks “What are your top ten SF novels written by women?” and “What are your top ten SF novels written by people of color?”
  • Entertainment Weekly works towards a unified theory of Lost.

TOC: Year’s Best SF 11

Mmmmm…short stories…

Here is the Table of Contents for the upcoming sf anthology Year’s Best SF 11 edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer.

  1. “Mason’s Rats” by Neal Asher
  2. “Lakes of Light” by Stephen Baxter
  3. “Ram Shift Phase 2″ by Greg Bear
  4. “On the Brane” by Gregory Benford
  5. “Toy Planes” by Tobias S Buckell
  6. “What’s Expected of Us” by Ted Chiang
  7. “I, Robot” by Cory Doctorow
  8. “When the Great Days Came” by Gardner R Dozois
  9. “Oxygen Rising” by R Garcia y Robertson
  10. “Second Person, Present Tense” by Darryl Gregory
  11. “Angel of Light” by Joe Haldeman
  12. “The Forever Kitten” by Peter F Hamilton
  13. “City of Reason” by Matthew Jarpe
  14. “Third Day Lights” by Alaya Dawn Johnson
  15. “The Edge of Nowhere” by James Patrick Kelly
  16. “I Love Liver: A Romance” by Larissa Lai
  17. “New Hope for the Dead” by David Langford
  18. “A Case of Consilience” by Ken MacLeod
  19. “Rats of the System” by Paul McAuley
  20. “A Modest Proposal” by Vonda N McIntyre
  21. “Sheila” by Lauren McLaughlin
  22. “The Albian Message” by Oliver Morton
  23. “Deus Ex Homine” by Hannu Rajaniemi
  24. “Beyond the Aquila Rift” by Alastair Reynolds
  25. “And Future King” by Adam Roberts
  26. “Dreadnought” by Justina Robson
  27. “Guadaloupe and Heironymous Bosch” by Rudy Rucker
  28. “Bright Red Star” by Bud Sparhawk
  29. “Ivory Tower” by Bruce Sterling
  30. “Girls and Boys Come out to Play” by Michael Swanwick
  31. “Ikiryoh” by Liz Williams

[via Kathryn Cramer]