Author Archive

Hard to believe that is is the first Friday in July. And Independence Day (here in the ol’ U.S. of A.) to boot!

It hardly seems that long ago that I was sitting in this same chair, in much colder climes, writing about the stories I was nominating for this year’s Hugo Awards.

Now here we are, less than a month away from the deadline for voting, and all over the internet folks are talking about their picks for this year’s rocket.

In the midst of today’s festivities, I would encourage you to take the time to check out the four entries for this year’s Hugo Award for Best Short Story.

There are four very strong contenders that not only represent new (or newer) voices in speculative fiction, but the stories are also very much a reflection of the social and cultural issues prevalent in the science fiction community and in the world at large. There is nothing of what I would consider a long-held “standard” Hugo short story here.

While there are some similarities in theme, each story is uniquely its own and is different enough from its fellow contestants to make reading them truly pleasurable. It also makes it that much harder to decide which to vote top honors.

All four stories are available for you to read online for free and are well worth your time.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: A look at Titan Books’ upcoming collection of illustration and concept art from artist Fred Gambino.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Rich, colorful eye-candy for fans of science fiction art (with a tiny bit of fantasy as well); high-resolution images, several full-page illustrations; book features a fair amount of commentary from the artist.
CONS: Art seldom agrees with everyone’s personal tastes; book won’t be out for another month…so those impatient to see if for themselves may have to wait (or perhaps not).

BRIEF SUMMARY: The Art of Fred Gambino: Dark Shepherd features a variety of concept art covering the last several years of the artist’s career. It demonstrates the range of Gambino’s talent with large, high-resolution images with color so rich it pops off the pages. Titan Books has put together another stunning collection of art and packaged it in a volume well worth the cover price.

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Short Fiction Friday: Two Tasty Selections from Tor.com

REVIEW SUMMARY: A brief glance at two recent stories acquired for Tor.com by award-winning editor Ellen Datlow.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Tight, imaginative prose; interesting blend of science fiction and fantasy; myth and mystery skillfully knit together; meaningful artwork accompanies each story.
CONS: One story may be too enigmatic to satisfy all readers.
BOTTOM LINE: Editor Ellen Datlow has acquired a couple of winners for Tor.com, a feat she seems to pull off with some regularity. One story weaves together old myth and contemporary mystery in a way that will draw the reader in while delivering a chill that is not simply the result of its winter setting. The other is a mix of science fiction and fantasy which examines the idea of multiple realities in a highly creative fashion. This second story is quite enigmatic, and yet it won over this reader who is often a curmudgeon when it comes to that type of storytelling.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: A revenge fantasy that misses its potential to reinvent the Robin Hood mythos and examine real problems.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Interesting use of the Robin Hood mythos; novella length allows for the fleshing out of some elements of the story; great cover and interior illustrations by Charles Vess, the book itself is a beautiful edition, typical of Subterranean Press’ standards.
CONS: Appears to espouse an overly simplistic and destructive redistribution of wealth ideology; plot line of destined lovers is jarring against a background of violence; shines a light on real problems without offering any real solutions; the fairy-tale wish-fulfillment ending is hard to stomach against the plight of mundane world characters.
BOTTOM LINE: Given my familiarity with Charles de Lint’s work and his long history of tackling difficult subjects like poverty and abuse and inequality with honesty, creativity and a sense of hope amidst despair, I was wholly unprepared for a story that exposed real issues in a cliched fashion while offering nothing in the way of hope, with the exception of characters who were not worthy of the hope they receive. In the end this felt like little more than a revenge fantasy built on a very thin mythical foundation. If it is meant to be an indictment on the Robin Hood mythos, it is incredibly successful. If it has another purpose, it falls well short of its aim.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: A look at the forthcoming book, The Art of John Harris: Beyond the Horizon, to be released by Titan Books on May 27th, 2014.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Large, beautifully reproduced images; work spans wide range of Harris’ career; fitting foreword by John Scalzi; reasonable price point for book of this size/quality; equally reasonably priced slip-cased limited edition with signed print.
CONS: More prose about inspirations/thoughts on individual works would have enhanced the book.
BOTTOM LINE: John Harris and his iconic paintings have been a part of the science fiction community for nearly four decades.  He brings an impressionistic sensibility to his bold, massive space landscapes that make each piece stand out as a distinct work of art.  Generations of readers have discovered his work because of the science fiction novels graced with his creations.  Harris continues to be a prolific creator whose work resides on the covers of some of the biggest names in SF literature.  This new retrospective is a welcome body of work and should be added to your collection the moment it is released.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: An unassuming, I-will-not-spoil-it-for-you look at this just-released novella in the popular Expanse series.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SUMMARY: The spotlight turns on Earth, specifically Baltimore, as a crime syndicate comes under pressure from a private security crackdown.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Gives some solid back story to the first three Expanse novels; gritty portrayal of the criminal element alive and well in the future of Planet Earth; an (electronic) page-turner; satisfying conclusion; contains preview story material from the upcoming novel Cibola Burn.
CONS: Complaints are already out regarding the price and how much story is given at that price point; the full impact of the story is completely ruined if you read the story’s description on sites like Amazon.
BOTTOM LINE: Suckers for…or fans of…the Expanse series are going to want to read this. Each work of short fiction set in this universe has proven to be worthwhile reading, if only because they give readers a glimpse back to see how various aspects of these stories began. The story is tight, suspenseful and whets the appetite nicely for the June release of Cibola Burn.

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ART BOOK REVIEW: Mark Schultz’s CARBON

REVIEW SUMMARY: Carbon is the first in a new series of books gathering together the very best graphic work of artist Mark Schultz.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Carbon boasts high production values; many full-pages illustrations; four large gatefold pieces; book features examples of the artist’s experimentation with watercolors; the majority of illustrations are in print for the first time; preliminary studies next to completed works demonstrates the creative process.
CONS: The beautiful hard cover editions are sold out (only available in paperback); buyers wishing for quantity over quality may find the size of the book disappointing.
BOTTOM LINE: I have been collecting the Flesk Publications editions of Mark Schultz’s Various Drawings books for several years and was excited to see this new project come to fruition. Mark Schultz is a contemporary illustrator who channels the spirits of past pulp masters like no one else. Each work exudes a sense of adventure, a sense of story, and this gorgeous volume of recently completed art is a perfect introduction for those unfamiliar with his work and a must-have collectible for anyone who considers themselves a fan.

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Last month I had the pleasure of participating in a question and answer session with author Alex Scarrow about his long-running traditionally published series, TimeRiders, and his newer, self-published series featuring a young female protagonist, Ellie Quinn. The newest of this series, Ellie Quin in Wonderland, was released in early February.

In the process of planning the interview we discussed having Alex Scarrow write a guest post on traditional publishing vs. self-publishing, of particular interest because he is currently active in both arenas.

With thanks for taking the time to share his thoughts, I give you Alex Scarrow!

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Kickstarter: SESSIONS by John Fleskes and Greg Preston

John Fleskes, president and publisher of Flesk Publications, teams up with renowned portrait photographer Greg Preston to produce a special book created on the showroom floor of the Spectrum Fantastic Art Live event, held May 9-11th in Kansas City, Missouri. Sessions: Spectrum Fantastic Art Portraits will feature the art, a brief bio, and a portrait created by Greg Preston of at least 50 of the creators behind today’s best contemporary fantastic art. This project is a singular opportunity that YOU can make happen, and as an added bonus you are invited to witness its creation.
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Short Fiction Friday: Clarkesworld Issue 91, April 2014

REVIEW SUMMARY: Today’s Short Fiction spotlight focuses on the four works of original fiction presented in Issue 91 of Clarkesworld.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: These four short fiction offerings look at the presence of the truly alien on Earth, the child-rearing of an A.I. spaceship, a young woman with no magic of her own who suddenly finds herself possessed of an unusual way to travel her world, and the April Fool’s Day pranks of a future genius involving the then-common way that matter is transferred.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: A refreshing presentation of aliens who are truly alien; elements of “science” woven into the science fiction; plot lines which urge the reader to delve further into the stories.
CONS: All four stories share the trait of ending with questions unanswered (a “pro” for those who enjoy that type of storytelling).
BOTTOM LINE: I often speculate what percentage of one’s enjoyment of, or disappointment with, short genre fiction is based on the frame of mind/desires/expectations going in vs. the skill and story choices of the author. I have noticed within myself a preference for short stories that share a structure with novels–a tight beginning, middle and definitive end–as opposed to those that end with more questions, or simply a new beginning. Then there are times, like with this issue of Clarkesworld, in which the stories end in thought-provoking, questioning ways as opposed to wrapping up the vignette with a nice and tidy bow, and I find myself having an equally enjoyable reading experience. That is a long-winded way to posit the belief that the skill of these writers and the interesting variety of storytelling will be a rewarding experience for most readers who take advantage of what Clarkesworld Issue 91 has to offer.

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March 31st is fast approaching, and as the month goes out like a lamb, the period for nominating for the 2014 Hugo Awards is coming to an end.

This marks my first experience at nominating works for the Hugo Awards. When I asked our fearless leader, John DeNardo, about reviewing short fiction over the course of 2013 for SF Signal, it was with the intention of focusing on short fiction for this very reason.

It was a rewarding journey, though I quickly discovered how impossible it was to keep up with the amount of original short genre fiction being produced each month in print and electronic magazines, collections and anthologies, and as single stories on various websites. I’m not complaining. As a fan of short fiction, I am thrilled to see so much of it being produced every month.

It was a great pleasure to offer up my opinions on the short fiction I read throughout the year. The choices I have made for Hugo nominations are based solely on my own personal experience, not on the basis of who wrote them or what publications they appeared in. I regret that I wasn’t able to read more and that my reading was limited to but a handful of the worthwhile short fiction venues championing short genre fiction. Apologies to any authors whose works should have been among my consideration, and thank you to all of you who are keeping the pleasure of short fiction alive and well.

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Spectrum Fantastic Art Live Presents: Short Film Friday


“I’m watching the future of art unfold before my eyes!”

—Michael R. Whelan (Said at the inaugural SFAL event)

As part of the promotional content for the upcoming Spectrum Fantastic Art Live event, sculptor Tim Bruckner has created a series of short videos highlighting a handful of the nearly 200 painters, sculptors, and illustrators who will be in attendance May 9-11, 2014, in Kansas City, Missouri.

Spectrum Fantastic Art Live is an event you don’t want to miss, and these minute-long teasers are sure to tempt you with their examples of the immense talent of the artists working in the field today. Biographic information on the artists is drawn largely from their respective web pages.

Altogether there is approximately 15 minutes of total viewing time here, but I promise you that they are minutes packed with eye-popping goodness. So sit back, enjoy the show, and let us know if any of the art speaks to you. Spectrum Fantastic Art Live has been described as “The Art Fair with a Sense of Wonder”. This is a mere glimpse of why that is so.

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Feeling Creative? Put Your Artistic Talents to the Test

The Illustration Academy and Spectrum Fantastic Art Live are offering aspiring artists the opportunity to put their illustration skills to the test and compete for a number of valuable prizes.

Spectrum Fantastic Art Live 3 (SFAL) will be held the weekend of May 9-11, 2014, in Kansas City Missouri. SFAL will feature some 200 artists who work in a variety of mediums creating art that falls in the realm of the fantastic. In addition to providing the opportunity for fans to interact with artists and buy great art, SFAL provides the opportunity for budding artists to have their portfolios reviewed by creative directors from some of the prominent SFF publishing houses (including Tor and Orbit) and attend educational opportunities held during the weekend.

The Illustration Academy is offering some tremendously valuable prizes for young people in high school and those continuing education artists aged 18 and above.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: This week’s Short Fiction Friday looks at the three works of original fiction in the March 2014 issue of Clarkesworld.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Space travel, war, and the variable nature of ghosts are examined in the original shorts in the latest issue of Clarkesworld.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Fans of space-faring science fiction will find much to like in two of the featured short stories; intriguing look at humanity from the point of view of an advanced alien race; one story provides the opportunity for examining folklore/mythological aspects of the Japanese culture.
CONS: One story ends slightly more abruptly than it should have; restrictions of short story format inhibits the effectiveness of one offering.
BOTTOM LINE: One of the greatest things about a foray into current offerings in the short fiction worlds of science fiction and fantasy is that you truly have no idea what you are going to get. Forrest Gump’s “box of chocolates” reference is so apt here. Whether that chocolate contains a surprisingly delightful filling…or coconut (no offense to you coconut lovers out there)…you always get a little bit of chocolate in the mix. So it is with the original works in this issue of Clarkesworld. They may or may not turn out to be to your taste, but they all have something going for them that makes them worth reading. For those who lean towards science fiction, two of the three featured stories are far into the science fictional spectrum. The other story uses fantastical elements of the Japanese culture to examine the stress and pressure of growing up. Links are provided. Give them a taste.

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Marking Time with Author Alex Scarrow

When last we spoke with author Alex Scarrow he was just about to self-publish the first in a new series featuring a young female protagonist by the name of Ellie Quin. A year and change later and the fourth episode in the series, Ellie Quinn in Wonderland, has just been released with the ninth book in Scarrow’s TimeRiders series on the way.

By way of reminder, Alex Scarrow is a British author whose road to publication took him through music, graphic art and computer game design. He then began writing screenplays, one of which became the novel A Thousand Suns , which ties a contemporary storyline with WWII Germany. Alex Scarrow is perhaps best known for his work in Young Adult science fiction and it is there where we concentrate today’s discussion.

Without further ado, let us welcome back author Alex Scarrow.

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“Fantastic art should never be boring. And no one should ever be ashamed of having a love of–or connection to–genre.” ~Arnie Fenner

For twenty years Cathy and Arnie Fenner have celebrated the love of genre with the annual release of Spectrum: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art. In 2012 the Fenners brought this multiple-award winning art book to life with the first Spectrum Fantastic Art Live event. Held in Kansas City, Missouri, the event featured over 200 artists whose creations fit within the broad definition of genre art.

This incredible interactive event returns to Kansas City for its 3rd outing on May 9-11, 2014 and it promises to be something special.

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Short Fiction Friday: The Anderson Project

REVIEW SUMMARY: The Anderson Project is a Tor.com original ebook presenting three science fiction novelettes inspired by a preexisting work of art.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SUMMARY: Three science fictional stories written by authors Ken Liu, Kathleen Ann Goonan and Judith Moffett, inspired by a painting by Richard Anderson. The painting is featured as the cover illustration.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Meaningful use of the elements of Anderson’s painting; nice variety between all three stories; solid narrative voice; significant word count allows room for the stories to develop.
CONS: Two of the stories have weak endings when compared to the overall story arc.
BOTTOM LINE: Editor David G. Hartwell points out in his introduction that there is a long tradition in the SF field of stories being written to accompany existing art work, a tradition that has fallen by the wayside in recent years. Hartwell teamed with Tor.com to reinvigorate the idea with The Palencar Project, based on an image by artist John Jude Palencar. Hartwell and Tor.com return to the idea with The Anderson Project. This is a fantastic science fiction image that compels you to wonder what is happening with these people apparently tethered to some sort of space craft. Each of these authors does an admirable job in interpreting the painting through story and this experiment has produced three solid stories that are well worth reading.

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Short Fiction Friday: EMBER by James K. Decker

REVIEW SUMMARY:Ember” is a novella prequel to James K. Decker’s novel, The Burn Zone, and the recently released sequel, Fallout.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SUMMARY: Dragan Shao had been an exemplary soldier, defending his nation’s resources by guarding the borders and dealing with the hunger-driven people who see the alien haan not as our saviors, but as parasites that need to be destroyed. Shao has his reasons for turning in his resignation and returning to civilian life, and he will find himself examining those reasons as his former skill set brings him into confrontation with the reality of what humans will do in order to survive.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Tightly wound prose; novella does everything it should to hook readers into the world fleshed out in Decker’s novels; inventive look at how an advanced alien race might interact with humanity; just the right level of gripping action with nods given to character development.
CONS: For some, the quantity of story present may not justify the $2.99 ebook price; revelations regarding the alien presence are few in number.
BOTTOM LINE: This series by author James K. Decker promises much with its imaginative future technology, look at the coexistence of an alien race with humanity, and acknowledgment of the economic and environmental issues our world is sure to face in the decades/centuries to come, coupled with a solid, action-packed story.  Decker gets things right straight out of the gate with this novella which introduces readers to a few pivotal characters and lays a bit of groundwork for the world-building, all while providing an exciting story.  If the goal of “Ember” is to get you to want more, it succeeds brilliantly.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: Holy Unicorns, Batman! This novella, set in Charles Stross’ Laundry universe, will leave you sleeping with one eye open anytime a young girl mentions a penchant for the mythical horned beast.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SUMMARY: What agent Bob Howard hopes to be a bogus assignment fueled by surviving death-bed letters written by H.P. Lovecraft, turns out to be a true eldritch nightmare. The mythical one-horned horse and its magical connotations are pushed through a Lovecraftian meat grinder with results both comical and frightening.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Stross channels Lovecraft masterfully; story is short enough to be read in one long sitting while not skimping on plot; works well as an introduction to the Laundry universe; balances wry humor with suspenseful elements.
CONS: Those familiar with Bob Howard and his adventures may find themselves skimming past introductory material, despite its brevity; in-jokes abound that will not have the same impact for new readers.
BOTTOM LINE: This is not my first experience with the writing of Charles Stross, but was my first foray into the world of his Laundry novels. I was encouraged to read the novella after seeing mentions of it on Hugo nominations lists and wanted to read it for consideration as I compile my own list. Given Stross’ ability to channel Lovecraft so well, it is a strong contender for a nomination. This is fun, funny and chock-full of the rich horror atmosphere that has helped the stories of H.P. Lovecraft remain popular to this day.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: A deeper look at a new work of short fiction by Hugo, Nebula, Locus and World Fantasy award winning author Ken Liu. This story is featured in Clarkesworld Issue 88, January 2014.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A bounty hunter who has successfully nabbed her quarry inadvertently learns more about him during their journey through hyperspace as she kills time with a text-based computer game of his creation.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Clever execution of the story-within-a-story device; unconventional story structure fuels the fires of discovery; enjoyable blend of science fiction and fantasy devices.
CONS: Readers may be left with the desire for further resolution between Alex and Ryder.
BOTTOM LINE: Ken Liu has won several awards for stories that are out-of-the-ordinary and explore complex topics and emotions.  Those talents allow him to excel at telling a more straight-forward story as well, albeit one with signature Ken Liu flourishes.

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