Author Archive

Editor’s note: Nebula Award nominated author Jason Sanford is now publishing a regular column in SF Signal called To the Ends of the Universe. These columns were originally printed in the Czech SF magazine XB-1. The Kindle edition of Jason’s anthology Million Writers Award: The Best Online Science Fiction and Fantasy, which received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, is now on sale for only $2.99.

In 1968 George A. Romero revolutionized horror films with his 90-minute black and white masterpiece Night of the Living Dead. While zombies existed before this film—myths and beliefs in the undead go back centuries and cross most cultures—Romero took the archetype in a totally new direction. Instead of an undead corpse shambling alongside ghosts in scary dark places, here we have countless undead lurching straight for us. They surround our houses and bang on our doors until the mass of them break inside to eat us alive.
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Editor’s note: Nebula Award nominated author Jason Sanford is now publishing a monthly column in SF Signal called To the Ends of the Universe. These columns were originally printed in the Czech SF magazine XB-1. Jason’s new anthology Million Writers Award: The Best Online Science Fiction and Fantasy recently received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly.

Thanks to the instantaneous world of online communications, it’s easier than ever for writers in the United States to have their works translated and published for overseas audiences. Forget the weeks and months it once took reprint and translation requests to reach American shores by airmail or shipborne mail—today editors of overseas magazines like the Czech Republic’s XB-1 or China’s Science Fiction World can reach an American author or agent almost instantly. This revolution in international communications is one of the reasons my stories have been translated by magazines from around the world. Because of this, I’ve found readers and SF-friends in many countries, which delights me to no end.

But it often seems like this relationship only goes one way. While translations of a few big non-English-speaking science fiction authors can be found in the U.S.—such as the seminal Czech author Karel Capek or the Polish author Stanislaw Lem—for the most part American audiences don’t have the opportunity to read translated works. If you walk into your average American bookstore, less than 3% of the SF on the shelves was originally written in a language other than English.

Contrast this to the situation in many other countries, where translations of English-language SF make up to half the genre fiction market.

I’ve often wondered why this is the case, so recently I spent several weeks talking to genre readers and writers about this situation. Here’s what I’ve discovered.

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Editor’s note: Nebula Award nominated author Jason Sanford is now publishing a monthly column in SF Signal called To the Ends of the Universe. These columns were originally printed in the Czech SF magazine XB-1. Jason’s novelette Her Scientifiction, Far Future, Medieval Fantasy, published last year in Interzone, is now available as a Kindle ebook.

It’s time for a quick thought experiment: Without delay, imagine your favorite novel. Do you remember how you felt the first time you read it? How many times have you read this story? Does the novel continue to hold a treasured place in your heart?

For me, the first novel which pops to mind is Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. I read the novel as a child, long before I saw the Stanley Kubrick film co-written by Clarke. 2001 was the first story which truly opened my mind to the far reaches of eternity and I still love—and reread—the novel to this day.
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Editor’s note: Nebula Award nominated author Jason Sanford is now publishing a monthly column in SF Signal called To the Ends of the Universe. These columns were originally printed in the Czech SF magazine XB-1. Jason’s novelette Her Scientifiction, Far Future, Medieval Fantasy, published last year in Interzone, is now available as a Kindle ebook.

One of the hottest publishing trends of recent years is paranormal romance. Likewise, today’s most dismissed publishing trend is also paranormal romance.

While those statements might seem contradictory, dismissing novels involving the word “romance,” or ignoring any type of fiction which generally appears to be written by or for women, is an age-old affair. In the 18th century, “sentimental fiction” novels were often dismissed by serious-minded people because the books aimed to provoke an emotional response in female readers. Throughout the 20th century the romance genre was generally ignore by literary critics as being worthy of only housewives. The more recent chick lit phenomenon suffered a similar fate, with critics dismissing novels like Bridget Jones’s Diary as “inconsequential” (never mind that the novel’s lighthearted and funny take on life resonated with millions of readers).

Now paranormal romances have joined the dismissal party, with lots of head shaking and tut-tutting from disapproving prudes and critics.

But despite this attitude, paranormal romances refuse to be ignored. The subgenre—which focuses on romance between humans and any number of fantastic creatures, including ghosts, ghouls, zombies, shapeshifters, demons and so on—consistently tops the best-seller lists and is, simply, the go-to writing topic for many of today’s hottest young fiction writers.
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Editor’s note: Nebula Award nominated author Jason Sanford is now publishing a monthly column in SF Signal called “To the Ends of the Universe.” These columns were originally printed in the Czech SF magazine XB-1.

The highest grossing film of all-time is James Cameron’s science fiction epic Avatar. My wife, who is not by any consideration a fan of science fiction, loved the movie. As we left the theater after first seeing Avatar she raved on and on about the characters and special effects and emotional storyline. “Yes,” I replied. “It was a very good science fiction film.”

That stopped my wife in her tracks. “Science fiction?” she asked. “Avatar wasn’t science fiction.”

My mind was literally blown. I pointed out that the film involved aliens on an alien world, along with spaceships, futuristic technology, and so on. But my wife was adamant. The film had appealed to her because of the romance between the main characters and the political and environmental undertones of the human/native conflict. “Avatar might technically be science fiction,” she finally admitted, “but the film worked despite this fact.”
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[SF Signal welcomes the return of guest author Jason Sanford!]

In American science fiction circles, one of the easiest ways to start an argument is to mention military SF. On the one hand, military SF is a popular subgenre, represented by many classic and best-selling works and well loved by loyal fans. Opposing that, however, are many other fans who see military SF as glorifying war and violence. Mix in these group’s differing political views and name-calling and fistfights aren’t far behind.

So what is it about military science fiction which creates such political controversy?

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[SF Signal welcomes the return of guest reviewer Jason Sanford!]

REVIEW SUMMARY: As with the first novel in this series, The Power of Six is derivative and not very original. However, the novel is fast-paced and exciting and is a good gateway novel for readers new to science fiction.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Nine young aliens hide on Earth after the destruction of their world by the evil Mogadorians. Now, though, the aliens are beginning to fight back, both to save themselves and their adopted world.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: A quick, exciting read which should appeal to the same readers who enjoyed I Am Number Four.

CONS: Extremely derivative, with no explanation of the science behind this “science fiction” novel.

BOTTOM LINE: If you’re a long-time reader of science fiction, you will find nothing new here but may still enjoy the ride. But if you need a novel to interest a young person into reading more science fiction, The Power of Six would be a good choice.

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[SF Signal welcomes the return of guest author Jason Sanford!]

Sometimes the perfect story sings itself into an author’s head, lacking only a title to make the story whole. Other times the title appears first, haunting and evocative and forcing the author to create a story which does justice to the title. Arthur C. Clarke’s science fiction novel The Songs of Distant Earth definitely ranks among the later, with the title first appearing in Clarke’s mind at the start of the space age and taking decades for the story to reach its definitive version.

Of all the novels Clarke wrote during his Grand Master career, The Songs of Distant Earth was his self-professed favorite (Oldfield 1994). The story is also remarkable for having appeared in multiple forms over the last half century—first as a novella in a 1950’s pulp magazine, followed by a 1970’s movie treatise, a best-selling 1986 novel, and finally a musical tribute to both Clarke and his writings by New Age composer Mike Oldfield. Along the way, the story and characters of The Songs of Distant Earth continually changed. What remains constant was the simultaneously mind-catching and mysterious title, which hints so perfectly at one of the biggest themes in Clarke’s writing: how humans face a universe so vast in time and distance that our minds can barely comprehend it.

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[SF Signal welcomes the return of guest reviewer Jason Sanford!]

REVIEW SUMMARY: One of the best reprint anthologies of recent years, which does a marvelous job of bringing short dystopian fiction to the attention of the public.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: This anthology collects classic dystopian stories from authors such as Shirley Jackson, Ursula K. Le Guin, Ray Bradbury, and Harlan Ellison along with newer stories from Tobias S. Buckell, Carrie Vaughn, Paolo Bacigalupi, Jeremiah Tolbert and many more.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Adams has selected a strong lineup for this anthology, mixing classic stories with newer tales. This anthology is destined to be read for many years to come.

CONS: The overall introduction to this subject should have been more in-depth, but the anthology makes up for this with insightful introductions to the individual stories.

BOTTOM LINE: If you like dystopian stories, this anthology is a must have.

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[GUEST REVIEW] Jason Sanford on ‘Who Fears Death’ by Nnedi Okorafor

[SF Signal welcomes the return of guest reviewer Jason Sanford!]

REVIEW SUMMARY: An emotionally gripping fantasy featuring one of the most complex literary characters of recent years. Well worth reading. The novel will definitely make the final ballot of the year’s genre awards.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In post-apocalyptic Africa, Onyesonwu—a gifted child conceived by a violent rape—struggles to both understand her own life and to save her people from genocide.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Wonderfully written, full of emotion, with complex characters readers will relate to. The story is also fast paced with one of the best endings I’ve read this year.

CONS: An extremely violent and disturbing story, with scenes of sexual assault and cruelty which can leave one in tears.

BOTTOM LINE: Flat out one of the best fantasy novels of the year.

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[SF Signal welcomes the return of guest reviewer Jason Sanford!]

REVIEW SUMMARY: While long-time readers of science fiction will find nothing new here, the novel is a fast-paced and exciting read which should appeal to genre newcomers.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Nine young aliens hide on Earth after the destruction of their world by the evil Mogadorians. However, the fourth of these aliens is tired of hiding and wants to fight back, even if that means revealing himself to his deadly hunters.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: A fun, fast-paced science fiction novel which will appeal to the young adults readers who currently devour fantasy stories.

CONS: It would be a cliché to say this novel steals from every available science fiction cliché, but it does. And the characterization rarely rises above often-seen SF stereotypes.

BOTTOM LINE: Long-time readers of science fiction will find nothing new in this novel, although many will still find it a fun, quick read. More importantly, the book should appeal to young readers who haven’t been exposed to a true science fiction novel.

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GUEST REVIEW: Dark Faith edited by Maurice Broaddus and Jerry Gordon

[SF Signal welcomes the return of guest reviewer Jason Sanford!]

REVIEW SUMMARY: A fascinating and enjoyable anthology containing a number of great stories. Easily among the best original collections of the year.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: As the introduction to this anthology states, “We each have a worldview that helps us navigate the world.” Whether we believe in ourselves, science, or the spiritual, “we all believe in something.” For this anthology, Broaddus and Gordon asked horror, science fiction and fantasy writers to explore that something. The result is an amazing collection of insightful stories.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: An extremely strong collection of stories, including several among the year’s best.

CONS: A few stories failed to work, but even they impressed with what they attempted to accomplish.

BOTTOM LINE: Fans of the horror and dark fantasy genres will enjoy this collection. Equally as important, this is also an anthology for people who don’t love horror or dark fantasy. If you’ve ever wondered what’s missing from much of the dark fantasy and horror you’ve read—and in a word, it is faith—check out this anthology.

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[SF Signal welcomes the return of guest commentator Jason Sanford!]

For decades we’ve heard this so-called truth—that the genre and literary fiction worlds are out for each other’s blood.

The long-time complaint from genre lovers is that the literary fiction community hogs the glory—the major awards, the academic prestige, the ever-frak’in canon, and most importantly the ability to define themselves as “literary” and exclude fiction they dislike. While the literary community is more quiet about their complaints, it’s no secret they despise how the SF/Fantasy/Horror/Crime/Mystery/Romance world claims the majority of readers—you know, the masses of people who actually enjoy reading fiction, as opposed to worshiping the latest Thomas Pynchon metafictional tree-killer without actually cracking open said novel.

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GUEST REVIEW: And Another Thing… by Eoin Colfer

[SF Signal welcomes the return of guest reviewer Jason Sanford!]

REVIEW SUMMARY: A very good continuation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, although not equal to the first four books by Douglas Adams. But hey, that would have been asking the impossible (unless you’ve already done six impossible things this morning).

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Despite previously dying as every earth across the multiverse was destroyed, Arthur Dent and the Hitchhiker crew return for more hilarious fun, this time involving the Asgardian god Thor and an insulted Zaphod Beeblebrox, who’s determined to kill an immortal jerk who can’t be killed.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Way better than the last book in the series. Too many laugh out loud moments and brilliant turns of language to count, including the new catch phrase “Appease the Cheese.”

CONS: Lags a bit at the beginning and the end, although this seems to result from cleaning up the mess of a storyline left over from Mostly Harmless.

BOTTOM LINE: Fans of the Hitchhiker’s series will enjoy this book.

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GUEST REVIEW: Tokyo Godfathers Directed by Satoshi Kon

[SF Signal welcomes the return of guest reviewer Jason Sanford!]

REVIEW SUMMARY: The most uplifting Christmas movie of the last decade—either animated or live action.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In modern-day Tokyo, three homeless people find an abandoned baby at Christmas and set out to locate the little girl’s parents.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: The film mixes comedy, melodrama, action, and the higher callings of humanity in ways Frank Capra could only dream of doing.

CONS: Satoshi Kon’s deliberate play off stereotypes, along with the harsh reality of being homeless, may make some viewers uncomfortable.

BOTTOM LINE: I watch this film ever year. My Christmas wouldn’t be complete without it, and neither should yours.

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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Larry Eisenberg

[SF Signal welcomes the return of Jason Sanford with this exclusive interview!]

Anyone who read science fiction short stories in the 1960s and ’70s should remember Larry Eisenberg. His wonderful story “What Happened to Auguste Clarot?” was selected by Harlan Ellison for the visionary anthology Dangerous Visions, while more than 50 other Eisenberg stories were published during that time period in top genre magazines such as F&SF, Galaxy, If, and Asimov’s. Among the anthologies which have reprinted his stories are Great Science Fiction of the 20th Century, Great Science Fiction By the World’s Great Scientists, and The 10th Annual of the Year’s Best SF.

Many of Eisenberg’s stories feature Professor Emmett Duckworth, a researcher, humanist, and twice winner of the Nobel Prize. Among Duckworth’s many memorable inventions is an addictive aphrodisiac clocking in at 150,000 calories per ounce—along with a propensity to turn those taking it into walking bombs. The Duckworth stories use humor and wit to examine both scientific research and those seeking to profit from such research. As Eisenberg admits, his Duckworth stories were inspired by his work at the prestigious Rockefeller University, where Eisenberg worked as a biomedical engineer and helped create the first pacemaker using radio frequencies to stimulate the heart.

Eisenberg’s last published science fiction story, “Live It Up, Inc.,” appeared in F&SF in 1988. Set to turn 90 in December and still living in his hometown of New York City, Eisenberg continues to write. However, these days he has returned to his early love of limericks (having published two books of limericks back in the 1960s). About a year ago readers of the online edition of the New York Times began noticing incredibly witty limericks posted by a “Larry Eisenberg” in the comment section of many news articles. These limericks poke fun at the high and mighty and quickly gained a cult following on the newspaper’s website.

For example, the following limerick appeared in a NY Times article about Sarah Palin’s new memoir:

The Palin memoir will reveal

How despondent poor Sarah did feel,

When Couric persisted

And grimly insisted

On answers, a prospect Unreal!

We can now confirm that these NY Times limericks are written by the same Larry Eisenberg whose SF stories we’ve known and loved.

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GUEST REVIEW: Booklife by Jeff VanderMeer

[SF Signal welcomes the return of guest reviewer Jason Sanford!]

REVIEW SUMMARY: An excellent book for writers of all levels, from beginner to seasoned veteran.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Best-selling author and social media maven Jeff VanderMeer shows how writers can both survive and thrive in today’s 24/7 interconnected world. From creating goals to managing social media platforms, VanderMeer uses his own experiences to demonstrate what works and what doesn’t, all while highlighting methods to keep your balance in both life and writing.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Concise, insightful, full of great advice which is based on real-world experience. Booklife has something to teach any writer.

CONS: A minor issue, but the book’s non-linear style would have benefited greatly from an index.

BOTTOM LINE: Even if it’s been years since you bothered reading a “how to” book related to writing, check out Booklife.

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[SF Signal welcomes the return of guest reviewer Jason Sanford!]

REVIEW SUMMARY: A short but good story which the book’s target audience will love.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The lame son of a Viking woodcrafter quests for an end to an endless winter. To his surprise, he discovers a trio of talking animals, who claim to be Odin, Thor, and Loki of the Norse legends. The only problem, they’ve been thrown out of Asgard, and if they don’t return the world dies in cold and snow.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: A fun, quick read. Kids will love the story, while adult readers of Gaiman’s earlier works will enjoy the return of some familiar mythological characters.

CONS: The story is only novelette length, but the hardback book costs an outrageous $14.99. Way too much money for what is a good but not great story.

BOTTOM LINE: Anyone who likes Gaiman’s stories will like this story. But consider waiting for the paperback edition, or buy the cheaper Kindle edition.

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GUEST REVIEW: The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

[SF Signal welcomes guest reviewer Jason Sanford!]

REVIEW SUMMARY: A classic dystopian novel likely to be short listed for the Nebula and Hugo Awards.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In a future Thailand struggling against gened plagues and rising seas, the most important elements of life are the calories needed to stay alive. But as iron-fisted food corporations, flawed rulers, and an impure army of environmental defenders fight to impose their views on this world, an unlikely girl—who could be the next step in human evolution—fights for the right to simply live as she wants.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: An all too possible future expertly crafted with beautiful writing, sympathetic characters, and a fast-paced plot.

CONS: Not a true con, but instead a warning. The novel features a few horrific scenes of violence, including sexual assault. While not gratuitous, this may disturb some readers.

BOTTOM LINE: One of the best first science fiction novels of recent years; a completely realistic and terrifying future populated with characters you’ll love even as they do things you’ll hate.

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