SF Tidbits for 5/31/06

REVIEW: Castleview by Gene Wolfe

REVIEW SUMMARY: Classic Wolfe – a story set in modern times that manages to brings in tons of fantasy elements and still pulls off an amazing read. It’s part thriller, part fantasy, and all Wolfe.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The town of Castleview, Illinois is in for a wild night as a vision of a phantom castle pushes Will Shields, the new owner of the local car dealership, into an adventure involving werewolves (sort of), vampires (maybe), and faries (definitively.) Oh, and there’s some Arthurian legend to boot (I’m almost 100% positive.) Oh and the book mentions Sasquatch, but he’s not in it really (at least, I don’t think so.)


PROS: An intricate and engaging story – Wolfe always makes you pay attention throughout. If you’re tired or watching TV you best not try to read it. But the rewards for reading carefully are involvement in a rich narrative that just seems better than most works today.

CONS: You have to have your thinking cap on – Wolfe is a demanding author. If you’re looking for a quick read at bedtime this isn’t it.

BOTTOM LINE: Fun, interesting, and somewhat enigmatic, the story makes you want to read it and figure out what is going on. Fans of Wolfe should make sure and pick this one up.

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Definitive Bladerunner DVD to release from Warner Home Video

I know you SFSignal readers love you some Bladerunner. (Sarcasm) So you all should be pleased to know that Warner Home Video is is planning to release a 25th anniversary version of the movie which they claim is the “final cut” of the film. This new DVD will have all previous edits of the film on it to cater to your personal favorite version of the film. I think the big draw here is that the “directors cut” that seems to be the crowning favorite was never released in an optimal aspect ratio and format that is common to most collectors edition DVD’s today. This “breaking news” (chuckle) comes courtesy of The Register: Definitive Bladerunner heads for DVD.

NOMINEES: 2006 Aurora Awards

Finalists for the 2006 Aurora Award, given to Canadian works in both French and English, were announced. Here are some of the nominees:


  • Migration (Species Imperative #2) by Julie E. Czerneda
  • Cagebird by Karin Lowachee
  • Mindscan by Robert J. Sawyer
  • Silences of Home by Caitlin Sweet
  • Lone Wolf by Edo van Belkom
  • Spin by Robert Charles Wilson [SF Signal review]


The awards will be presented at TT20, July 7 – 9.

SF Tidbits for 5/30/06

REVIEW: Flaming London by Joe R. Lansdale



BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Ned survives the ending of Zepplins West, and meets up with Mark Twain and Jules Verne to deal with pirates, martians, and time travel.


PROS: Ned’s narration is fantastic; Excellent mixing of some classics of Science Fiction; Some truely funny moments.

CONS: The ending feels a bit rushed.

BOTTOM LINE: An excellent follow up to Zepplins West with alot more humor. A fine homage to pulp novels of the past.

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REVIEW: Evolution by Stephen Baxter

REVIEW SUMMARY: Non-traditional story that is still interesting and worth reading.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The narrative surveys the most important steps of primate evolution from the earliest primates at the time of the dinosaur extinction through the current day (and then beyond.) There is a short story along with each one that helps describe the type of life they may have lead. The book finally ends with the destruction of Earth due to the demise of the sun.


PROS: Very interesting and realistic look at primate evolution.

CONS: Not a true story with a single set of characters and plot – more a series of vignettes. The ending seems over the top.

BOTTOM LINE: I enjoyed it overall and appreciated the science and fiction present in the story. The speculation on evolution in a post-holocaust Earth at the end of the book just seems too fantastic, but Baxter is unapologetic about it, stating upfront that he’s being a bit crazy.

A Book on a Stick

File under: Useless Devices.

Numley, a “Web 2.0 copyright and DRM (digital rights management) corporation”, has created a BookFob, a USB stick that contains eBooks and the software to read them. The idea is that you could carry around a digital library and plug it into any windows-based PC to read your books. And, in accordance with their DRM roots, the eBooks are protected from copying, printing and distribution.

Is this a good idea? Methinks someone was asleep at the money-making machine. I think MobileRead says it best:

That’s exactly what we’ve craved for ages: crippled e-books that can expire, are not printable and have the copy and paste feature disabled – provided that you are using Microsoft Windows, because otherwise the reader won’t work at all. And if this isn’t enough to make fresh milk sour, check out their BookFob Library, where you can buy excellent public domain books such as Around the World in 80 Days, assuming that the “buy it now” link would actually work.

REVIEW: The Destiny Mask by Martin Sketchley

REVIEW SUMMARY: Flawed but fun.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The two heirs of the Seriatt Royal Household race to claim their rightful position of power.


PROS: Brimming with action; relentlessly fast paced.

CONS: Some moments broke suspension of disbelief; Delgado character less likable than in previous book.

BOTTOM LINE: Read this with a reinforced suspension of disbelief.

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SF Tidbits for 5/29/06

You want links to interviews? We got your links to interviews right here!

POLL RESULTS: Your Favorite Marvel Superhero

Here are the results of the latest SF Signal poll.

Which of the following is your favorite Marvel superhero?


(50 total votes)

Looks like a dead heat between Spiderman and one of the X-Men. Wolverine, maybe? And what about the “Other” voter? Please, please tell me it’s not Sub-Mariner!

Be sure to vote in this week’s poll on the SciFi Channel’s decision to air Po Wrestling!

Stephen King Likes Robert Charles Wilson

For those who don’t know, Stephen King has been writing a column for Entertainment Weekly, the magazine in which (I think) JP likes to wrap dead fish before he steps on them and lights them on fire.

The latest issue’s column offers King’s Summer Book Awards. Along with the The Book of the Summer (The Ruins by Scott Smith, author of A Simple Plan which was later made into a movie by Sam Raimi) and Best Outright Horror Novelist (Bentley Little, author of The Store and Dispatch), he also sites Robert Charles Wilson as the Best Science Fiction Writer.

Quoth the King:

I’m not a big science-fiction fan, but I’ll read anything with a story and a low geek factor. Wilson is a hell of a storyteller, and the geek factor in his books is zero. Like Battletsar Galactica on TV, this is SF that doesn’t know it’s SF. His current novel, Spin, is good. Two earlier books, Darwinia and Blind Lake, are even better. There’s plenty of imagination here, as well as character and heart.

REVIEW: The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

REVIEW SUMMARY: An extremely compelling love story that happens to involve a librarian and his artist wife. I can see why it was a bestseller and why it was critically acclaimed. The sci-fi is overall lighter than most sci-fi books, but the implications of uncontrolled time travel are relevant and dealt with well. Niffenegger demonstrates that you can have a great story involving real, deep characters that also has a pretty massive sci-fi element to it at the same time.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Henry is a dashing, punk-rock loving librarian who also happens to be one of the chrono-displaced. Clair is a debutante artist that falls in love with him throughout their 30+ year relationship. Their life together extends from Clair’s childhood – as Henry travels back and meets here – through Henry’s whole life. The love story is powerful yet subtle as the characters deal with adversity and death along with the joys of life. Henry can’t control his journeys through time – he’s pushed out by stress, and travels to destinations without knowing where he is (and the fact that he always arrives stark naked often have disastrous consequences.)


PROS: Great story, fantastic characters, and a strong sci-fi element that matters. It also contains a message about the importance of living in and enjoying the present.

CONS: The adversity might be a bit contrived, and the sci-fi explanations are a bit on the soft side. Some time travel paradoxes don’t seem to be adequately explained, for example. None of the characters really recover from the loss of love and it wears thin a bit.

BOTTOM LINE: While I can certainly see some members of the ‘he-man woman-haters club’ dismiss this book as a pure romance novel, it really deserves a read if you can appreciate the complete scope of the work. And don’t be confused, there is real sci-fi here in the personal paradox issues of time travel and an explanation for what turns out to be a growing number of chrono-displaced people. The love story is very strong and palpable – you can feel what Henry feels for his wife, his mother, and ultimately his child despite his travels through time to different parts of their lives. I recommend reading this one.

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SF Signal Site Update

SF Signal. Tweaking ad-infinitum for your viewing pleasure!™

We tweaked the website a bit today. We moved the newsfeeds to a more visible location inside its very own widget. We also moved the SF Signal Frappr Map image to the Meta-Signal widget, thus allowing us to do away with the Miscellanea widget.

On to even less important stuff, waxy.org pointed to a website that will display your own website as a graph. Here’s what SF Signal looks like. It’s much cooler to watch it draw in real-time, though.

Pretty, isn’t it? Here’s the decoder ring for what the colored nodes represent:

  • blue: for links (the A tag)
  • red: for tables (TABLE, TR and TD tags)
  • green: for the DIV tag
  • violet: for images (the IMG tag)
  • yellow: for forms (FORM, INPUT, TEXTAREA, SELECT and OPTION tags)
  • orange: for linebreaks and blockquotes (BR, P, and BLOCKQUOTE tags)
  • black: the HTML tag, the root node
  • gray: all other tags

Check out the source site – aharef – for other cool-looking website maps or build your own.

SF Tidbits for 5/27/06

REVIEW: Macrolife by George Zebrowski

REVIEW SUMMARY: Zebrowski has great ideas and you can instantly tell they are well thought-out and advanced. Unfortunately there is no real story and as a result it reads like a non-fiction book.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Because resources on planets are inherently finite, life must expand beyond its sunspace and move throughout the galaxies and ultimately the universe. To do so is to become Macrolife – taking it up a level beyond merely a single world. Zebrowski’s example of this are hollowed asteroids turned into starships that are really worldlets.


PROS: Collection of well-conceived and well-constructed ideas on the future.

CONS: Little that engages the reader beyond pure theory; lack of any relevant story.

BOTTOM LINE: Given that Zebrowski’s ideas permeate the rest of the science fiction world you have to give him the nod for creating an extremely compelling set of theories. Unfortunately it feels more like a non-fiction book and is thus somewhat hard to read – be aware before picking this one up and hoping for a piece of pulp-fiction for the summer.

Superman Returns Thoughts

So I was flipping through channels last night and happened to settle on INHD’s In Theaters trailer program. They happened to be showing a trailer (trailer #1 at the link) for Superman Returns. That’s when I realized they were using the John Williams music from the original movie and how much @$$ that music kicks. I’d say the original Superman score is in the top 3 Williams scores, right with Star Wars and Raiders. It looks like they will be using a mix of Williams’ music and new music by John Ottman (he did the music for the X-Men movies). Could be good or bad, depending on how much Williams they use.

I am impressed by their web presence. They have a lot of interesting stuff for webmasters use. I think all movie website should follow this lead.

As for the movie itself, I’m not sure. Brandon Routh looks like a girly-man, too smooth and ‘perfect’. I’m just not fired up for this movie. But the music (Williams), makes me want to see the orignal again. Hello Netflix!

SF Tidbits for 5/25/06

Are You a Literary Snob?

An Asimov’s forum post pointed me to an interesting essay by Peter Watts called Margaret Atwood and the Hierarchy of Contempt in which he talks about Atwood’s aversion to the science fiction label.

The very first paragraph grabs your attention:

Start with a metaphor for literary respectability: a spectrum, ranging from sullen infrared up to high-strung ultraviolet. Literature with a capital L (all characters, no plot sits enthroned at the top. Genre fiction, including science fiction (all plot, no characters) is relegated to the basement. Certain types of fantasy hover in between, depending on subspecies: the Magic Realists get loads of respect, for example. Tolkein gets respect. (His myriad imitators, thank God, do not. Down in the red-light district, science fiction’s own subspectrum runs from “soft” to “hard”, and it’s generally acknowledged that the soft stuff at least leaves the door open for something approaching art – Lessing, Le Guin, the New Wave stylists of the late sixties – while the hardcore types are too caught up in chrome and circuitry to bother with character development or actual literary technique.

Leaving the Atwood issue described in the rest of the essay aside, this description of the literature landscape resonates with me because it adequately portrays the attitudes some people have for science fiction; “contempt” as Watts points out. (“Here is a woman so terrified of sf-cooties that she’ll happily redefine the entire genre for no other reason than to exclude herself from it.” I love that line.) It’s the reason science fiction is still considered by many to be a lower-class citizen.

Call me impartial if you will. Although I like literature all over the spectrum, I tend to spend most of my reading time at the “lower” end. Yep, I can enjoy sf adventure that minimizes character development. I call it “fun”. I can also enjoy a good literary novel. That’s fun, too. It depends on my mood. It also depends on what I’m looking for in a book. I mainly read fiction for entertainment, wherever it resides in the spectrum. I’m not usually reading fiction specifically because it’s a Highly-Regarded Work of Literature.

I jokingly refer to those folks who look down on “un-Literary” books as Literary Snobs. There’s nothing wrong with preferring books written in literary style. It’s the contempt of anything else that seems unfortunate.

SF Tidbits for 5/24/06