REVIEW: The Crooked Letter by Sean Williams

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The death of Seth Castillo, and his separation from his twin brother Hadrian, sets into motion a terrible cataclysm on Earth.

PROS: Non-standard fantasy setting, loads of different deity figures, interesting premise.
CONS: Middle section bogged a bit, the ending left me a bit puzzled.
BOTTOM LINE:If you’re looking for a good fantasy read that is part of the FWtE (fantasy without the elves) genre, check this one out.

Continue reading

SF Tidbits for 8/31/06

  • Tobias Buckell shows off the cool Todd Lockwood cover of Ragamuffin, sequel to his debut novel Crystal Rain.
  • MetaxuCafe examines the work of Paolo Bacigalupi.
  • David Louis Edeman represents his novel Infoquake at mySpace.
  • L. Lee Lowe is serializing his young adult sf/f novel, Mortal Ghost. NOTE: May not be suitable for the younger set due to some strong language.
  • SteveReads hates the dumb genre writing of Stoopid SciFI.
  • SciFi Wire profiles Mike Resnick and his limited-edition anthology Space Cadets which features stories by Kevin J. Anderson, David Brin, Gregory Benford, Mercedes Lackey, Nancy Kress, Catherine Asaro, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Barry Malzberg, Larry Niven and David Gerrold, among others.
  • The 44 minute recap episode of Battlestar Galactica, called ‘The Story So Far’, is now available for free on Xbox Live Marketplace. Sadly, its only standard def. Come on SciFi, get it together!
  • Ron Moore recently stated that one or more of the current cast won’t make it to next season. For Tim’s sake, let’s hope he isn’t referring to Boomer…
  • Dr. Djoymi Baker’s PhD thesis, Broadcast Space: TV Culture, Myth and Star Trek, has won a University of Melbourne Chancellor’s Prize for Excellence. She watched all of Star Trek’s incarnations, totalling over 700 episodes and 624 hours. Yikes. And to think, Star Trek: The Next Generation wasn’t even on the air yet when I first went to college, and now someone has a PhD for studying Star Trek.

Update 1: Added BG and Star Trek bits. — Ed.

Of SF, Kids And Outreach

Thanks to Harlan Ellison, the SF blogosphere is awash with reactions to the Harlan Ellison Grope. It seems that almost everyone has something to say about Ellison, with reactions to the actual WorldCon panels being quite muted. However, David Brin has an interesting post about how the Con panel deliberately (I’m not sure how he knows that) chose to eviscerate nearly all panels about SF education or outreach to new generations. In fact, Brin is the only person I’ve seen that had that reaction, no one else even mentioned this. Brin goes on to castigate the fan organizations for failing to do much, if any, actual outreach to the younger set. Now, I know this has been talked about somewhat in the recent past. In fact, I see Scalzi jumping up and down (keeping one hand on his tiara lest it fly off and lodge itself in Cthulhu’s maw, causing He Who Must Not Be Named to choke horribly and possible rend the very fabric of space and time) screaming: “Me! Me! I wrote about it in December!”. To which I say, pipe down and keep your shirt on, we’ll get to you in a minute! Brin goes on to present some anecdotal, but I believe accurate, evidence concerning the number of elderly attendees being equal to or greater than the number of kids at the con.

First, a personal note. My oldest son (just now 10), loves to play video games. He’ll sit in front of the TV and play games for hours, all day if we’d let him. Among his favorite games are Star Wars Battlefront I and II, various Starfox games and Knights Of The Old Republic II. Seeing has how he is a Star Wars game fanboy, I thought I’d try to interest him in watching the original trilogy. He was not interested! He said he’d rather play the games and take part in the story (OK, he didn’t say it like that, but that was the gist of it) than be a passive observer of a movie. Of course, he loves the animated Clone Wars DVDs. So much for the intellectual consistency of a 10 year old. Anyway, at least he’s interested in the SF games, but I suspect it just part of his overall fondness for games in general. But, being 10 years old, he is in that age category where kids are most likely, so its been said, to become hooked on reading SF, the 10 – 12 year olds.

The funny thing is, my son is a good reader, he just doesn’t like to do it for fun. If he does pick up a book, its usually an astronomy or science related book (which is good!), but I want him to learn that reading can be just as enjoyable as any game, and maybe even better. And while non-fiction science books are great, reading can be more than that. Now, we just moved into a bigger house and this necessitated a move into a new school district. This district, Tomball ISD, has an Advanced Reading program throughout all its schools. This AR program assigns a difficulty level and points to books, based on their subject matter, writing style, etc. The kids get to pick which books they want to read, and when finished, take a 10 question test about that book. They get a percentage of the books points based on how well they do on the test. If the book is work 10 points, and they get 80% of the questions right, they get 8 points. At the end of each nine-weeks, the points are added up and a letter grade is assigned for the AR portion. Now, on first blush, this sounds like a great way to get kids to read. But, there was a reason I went into the gory details. Not only are the kids forced to read, its a grade after all, but they have to take a test after they finish each book. This isn’t fun, its work. During the meet the teacher night, I looked at the AR books in my son’s class. There were about 15 or so bins of books, labelled as to type. There several ‘general fiction’, ‘non-fiction’ and ‘fantasy’ bins. How many ‘science fiction’? One. I didn’t get a chance to poke through it, but from what I could see, there were no SF books that I recognized. Now, to be fair, there is a giant AR list of books, and there are several Heinlein and Card books on it, but those weren’t evident in my son’s 5th grade classroom.

‘That’s interesting and all, but whats your point?’, I hear you ask. Well, remember the Scalzi post from above? In it, he makes some good points, among them being that SF needs authors who are unapologetic about writing SF for non-SF readers and how the SF community needs to reach out to the general reader populace. He then follows that post up with another post about Gateway SF Books. But look at condition #2: ‘While I love Young Adult books, focus on SF marketed to adults’. Then go back and read Brin’s comments about the aging of SF. Then re-read Scalzi’s post on outreach. whats missing? SF for kids. To me, the best way to grow SF and SF readers, is to get kids hooked on SF. While I applaud the attempt at a Gateway SF list (I’ve toyed with doing the same thing here, but Scalzi has done a much better job), I don’t think aiming for the adults is the best way to go. While you may convert a few adults, I doubt you will make rabid SF readers out of them. Not so with kids. lets face it, one of the cool aspects of SF is the sense of wonder inherent in most stories, the ability of SF to make you look at something in a new and different manner, or to encounter something you might have otherwise. In effect, to be a kid again and to experience something for the first time, and to be affected by it, to be moved by it, to be awed by it. SF is a much harder sell to adults who are set in their ways and are used to looking at the world in a certain manner. Kids don’t have that problem. They haven’t formed a worldview yet. They are experiencing something new every day. I believe there is no better time to reach someone than when they are a child. This is where the outreach programs should be focusing. I’d love to see someone, anyone, trolling the SF community, asking for book donations, then donating those books to school libraries. I’d like to see some organization make a concerted effort to actually reach the kids in schools, and not just through books. Why not a 30 minute tour of SF, showing film clips and reading excerpts from books? At the very least, its something different from regular school work and an attempt to equate SF with fun, not work. And I think that is the key. If we can make SF fun to read, the rest will take care of itself. So, I would add a codicil to Scalzi’s statement that reads: “We need SF authors who are unapologetic about writing kid accessible SF’. And by kid accessible I mean lose the sex and drug references. That stuff can come later. First and foremost, kids SF should be fun to read. This will make outreach that much easier to accomplish.

Is there anyone out there trying to do any of this, because SF, if we want to grow the genre’s base, needs this to happen.

Final 2006 WorldCon Updates…Part 4

OK, the remaining WorldCon driblets will soon fall beneath my radar from sheer overexposure.

But! There are still worthwhile reflections from sf/f author Steven Brust and literary agent Jenny Rappaport. Also, Escape Pod offers an audio sampling of people answering the question “What first inspired you to become passionate about science fiction?”

But the Best WorldCon Report Award has to go to William Lexner who gives a scathing-but-honest report. This is a must-read, folks.

Do You Read Young Adult Fiction?

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer: Teen books can be great reading for adults, too. [via The Journal of a Writer]

Quoth the article:

“Young adult” is the name of the relatively young and fast-growing genre of books that are geared to readers ages 12-18 or 14-18. But the readership of YA may have less to do with age than the name suggests.

“I personally think there’s a fine line between YA and adult fiction,” said Cindy Egan, an editorial director at Little, Brown. “I’m 37, and all my friends read YA books.”

As I’ve previously noted, especially when reading David Gerrold excellent Dingillian Family series, the young adult fiction of today contains many more mature themes than the YA fiction of yesteryear. This is also mentioned in the Inquirer piece:

[Bookstore owner Jan] Orts said the discussion about what makes a book YA is always controversial for booksellers. “It used to be content. Sex, incest, drugs, abuse, all used to be adult themes only – but that’s no longer true.”

Yep, I think young adult is something more of a marketing term these days than an accurate reflection of content. From that perspective, buyer beware.

But I also think this raises the age-old issue of “Art vs. Entertainment”. Some people dismiss YA fiction as not worth their time. Perhaps they think it’s not “literary” enough. Perhaps it’s not “challenging”. (See our discussion on literary snobs.) I say “Bah!” Dismissing books as drivel is different than choosing not to read something not suited to your tastes. Personally, I enjoy reading the occasional young adult novel. (I am currently reading Scott Westerfeld’s Midnighters #1: The Secret Hour and liking it.) The “YA” label may not guarantee literary and challenging – although that’s becoming less the case these days and, the flip side, who says all non-YA fiction is always challenging? – but it still fun. Remember that, folks? When reading used to be fun?

How ’bout you? Do you read young adult fiction or avoid it like the plague?

Final 2006 WorldCon Updates…Part 3

Hey, can I help it if interesting commentary keeps trickling in?

Check out these by Lou Anders, Mark Kelly, George R.R. Martin and John Picacio.

Also, John Joseph Adams has posted a WorldCon Flickr Gallery. Want more? How about a WorldCon 2006 Photo Gallery [via VCTB]?

SF Tidbits for 8/30/06

  • Cynical-C has the YouTube videos of The Stars Wars Holiday Special featuring Bea Arthur (Of course!), Art Carney (Naturally!) and, inevitably, Harvey Korman. Perhaps it’s better referred to as The Stars Wars Horrible Special?
  • interviews Karen Traviss, author of Star Wars: Legacy of the Force – Bloodlines. [via Club Jade]
  • SciFi Weekly reviews Merlin’s Apprentice, sequel to the 1998 miniseries Merlin, bot starring Sam Neill. Final Grade: C-.
  • SF Author and professor James Gunn was interviewed by NPR, to be aired Saturday, 26 August 2006.
  • John C. Wright continues his Heinlein tour with a review for Citizen of the Galaxy.

Variable Star Website

Variable Star, the science fiction novel conceived by Robert A. Heinlein and completed by Spider Robinson, has its own website.

The site offers excerpts – 2 chapters right now, a third added on August 31. Also available, book info, review quotes, author bios, a DVD-extra-like making-of afterword and promotional information like author tour info and a David Crosby song.

The book will be available on September 19th, 2006.

[via Core Dump]

UPDATE: Final 2006 WorldCon Updates…Part 2

UPDATE: Added link to Ellison fan reactions.

What I thought would be the last batch of WorldCon updates wasn’t. As attendees and winners have returned home, they have more musings and more comments on the now-infamous Harlan Ellison® Grope (including some from fans).

Some of the better commentaries include those of Gwenda Bond, David Brin, Edward Champion, Alan DeNiro, David Louis Edelman, Greg van Eekhout (more on the Ellison groping), Jane Espenson, Patrick Nielson Hayden, John Scalzi (more on the tiara) and Jeff VanderMeer.

SF Tidbits for 8/29/06

James Cameron Poll Was Broken – Please Re-Vote

Silly me. This week’s poll code on James Cameron’s Best Movie was broken – all votes went to one movie.

The poll has now been fixed from being “fixed”. If you have already voted, please re-vote.

Does an Award Win Influence Your Reading Choices?

An interesting post over at Velcro City Tourist Board ponders the value of science fiction awards in light of the recent Hugo Award ceremonies. The gist of the post is that they matter more to writers than readers. Here’s my comment from to that post…

My own reading experiences with award-winning sf books are hit-and-miss. In no way are they in perfect alignment with my tastes. Since I tend to read a larger number of sf books than the average consumer, if I only read award-winners – and for the sake of argument, let’s only consider Hugos and Nebulas – I would soon run out of stuff to read. So, for me, award wins are nice, but have little effect on reading choices.

I would think Joe Consumer is a bit different, though. He’s the guy looking for guidance on what to read. He reads maybe 6 – 10 books a year and doesn’t want to waste time on the dregs. He will use the “Award-Winner” marketing blurb as a beacon to “the good stuff” and then (probably) judge the rest of the field on it: “This is the best they have to offer?”

Then there are those who make it their goal to read all the award-winners. That’s not a bad reading project. It’s more appealing to me (who has not read all the award-winners) way more than watching all the Academy Award-winning movies – which makes no comparative sense, I know. Maybe that’s the sf fanboy in me coming to the fore.

So, award wins do matter to the reader, methinks, depending on who that reader is.

Now I ask you, SF Signal reader: Does an award win influence your reading choices?

UPDATED: More 2006 WorldCon Coverage

UPDATE: More interesting refelctions trickling in. Since I labeled this one the “last” one, I’ll just update this post.

Here’s the last batch of WorldCon musings from around the blogosphere.

Hugo Award Reflections:

Also: The location of WorlCon 2007 2008 has been voted upon. It will be held in Denver, Colorado.

SF Tidbits for 8/28/06

POLL RESULTS: Rating Stargate SG-1

Here are the results of the latest SF Signal poll.

How would you rate Stargate SG-1?


(76 total votes)

Be sure to vote in this week’s poll on James Cameron’s Best Movie!

SF Tidbits for 8/27/06

WINNERS: 2006 Hugo Awards

The 2006 Hugo Award winners have been announced:

  • NOVEL: Spin by Robert Charles Wilson [SF Signal review]
  • NOVELLA: “Inside Job” by Connie Willis [SF Signal Review]
  • NOVELETTE: “Two Hearts” by Peter S. Beagle [SF Signal Review]
  • SHORT STORY: “Tk’tk’tk” by David D. Levine [SF Signal Review]
  • RELATED BOOK: Storyteller: Writing Lessons and More from 27 Years of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop by Kate Wilhelm
  • DRAMATIC PRESENTATION – LONG FORM: Serenity [SF Signal review]
  • DRAMATIC PRESENTATION – SHORT FORM: Doctor Who – “The Empty Child” & “The Doctor Dances”
  • PROFESSIONAL EDITOR: David G. Hartwell
  • PROFESSIONAL ARTIST: Donato Giancola
  • FANZINE: Plokta
  • FAN WRITER: Dave Langford
  • FAN ARTIST: Frank Wu

Also presented, the winner of the John W. Campbell award for Best New Writer (Not a Hugo) is John Scalzi.

See Locus Online for a list of nominees and here for stats.

[via Nicholas Whyte and Andrew Bertke]

More WorldCon Updates

More WorldCon updates from around the blogosphere…

WINNERS: Chesley/Sidewise/Prometheus Awards

More than just the Hugo Awards at presented at WorldCon…

Winners of this year’s Chesley Awards are:

  • HARDBACK COVER ILLUSTRATION: Stephan Martiniere (for Elantris by Brandon Sanderson)
  • PAPERBACK COVER: Tom Kidd (for The Enchanter Completed edited by Harry Turtledove)
  • MAGAZINE COVER: Donato Giancola
  • 3-D ART: James Christensen
  • GAMING-RELATED ILLUSTRATION: Gabor Szikszai & Zoltan Boros
  • ART DIRECTOR: Irene Gallo
  • CONTRIBUTION TO ASFA: Julie Faith Rigby

The winners of the Sidewise Awards for Alternate History are:

  • SHORT FORM: Lois Tilton for “Pericles the Tyrant”
  • LONG FORM: Ian R. MacLeod for The Summer Isles

The winners of this year’s Prometheus Awards for Libertarian science fiction are:

  • BEST NOVEL: Learning the World by Ken MacLeod [see SF Signal review]
  • BEST CLASSIC FICTION: V for Vendetta by Alan Moore & David Lloyd
  • SPECIAL AWARD:Joss Whedon’s film Serenity [see SF Signal review]

Space Opera at WorldCon

Mark Kelly, editor of Locus Online, has posted a WorldCon Day 2 Report in which he said, among other things, the following about Space Opera:

The next panel was a debate about the ‘Space Opera Renaissance’, subject of a recent anthology by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer, with panelists Hartwell, Charles Brown, Wil McCarthy, Mike Shepherd [Mike Moscoe], Gardner Dozois, Al Reynolds, and Toni Weiskopf. There was less dissension among panelists than I expected, though the result was like the joke about blind men describing an elephant; each panelist talking about the same ostensible subject, but each saying something completely different from what the others said. Brown established that ‘space opera’ has to have spaceships and be in space (as opposed to ‘planetary romance’), and described its history as rooted in the manifest destiny theme of US history; Dozois discussed its origin in the ‘super science’ stories of the 1930s and ’40s, with pendulum swings since then on the acceptability among young writers of writing in the form, and the quality of flamboyance that’s essential to make something space opera; McCarthy claimed the ‘renaissance’ has involved traditional space opera’s incorporation of first relativity, then chaos theory, biotech, and all the rest; Reynolds noted that this ‘renaissance’ actually began 10 years ago, and cited Cordwainer Smith as the earliest of the new space opera writers; Weiskopf talked about sincerity and Honor Harrington; Shepherd talked about space opera’s renaissance as the corrective to all those downer ’70s stories, and stressed that space opera should by fun, fast-paced adventures with happy endings, as his own (prominently displayed) books are; and Hartwell explored the distinctions between space opera and hard SF and the evident overlap of the two from writers like McCarthy, Reynolds, and Stephen Baxter. Other writers mentioned were Scott Westerfeld, John C. Wright, Iain M. Banks, Walter Jon Williams, Vernor Vinge, John Clute, and M. John Harrison. If there was a consensus among the panelists, it might have been that the coolness of space opera has waxed and waned over the decades, but the form hasn’t gone away, nor will it in the future.

This peaked my interest quite a bit because I am currently in the middle of reading the HUGE anthology The Space Opera Renaissance edited by Hartwell and Cramer. It occurs to me that space opera is a subgenre of science fiction that is about as hard to define as sf itself. TSOR includes much discussion on the history of space opera (including a super-size version of their space opera essay from 2003) that comes across as pedantic but doesn’t quite nail down the definition. Perhaps that’s the point; that space opera is a fusion of many other subgenres. (Indeed, there is a David Drake military sf story contained within it that is only marginally associated with traditional space opera characteristics, and then only at the very end of the story.) I guess like Mark observed through the varied definitions at WorldCon this week, Space Opera has many facets.