Mind Meld Archives

[Note: Continued from Part 1.]

Recent events and discussions once again bring the topic of genre fiction’s mainstream respectability to the forefront. So we thought it’d be timely to ask this week’s panelists:

Q: In your opinion, does literary science fiction and fantasy have mainstream respect? Why, if at all, does it need mainstream approval? What would such approval mean for genre fiction?

Read on to see their eye-opening responses…

Lucius Shepard
Lucius Shepard is a writer who lives in Vancouver. The Best of Lucius Shepard, a career retrospective, is now available from Subterranean Press, and next year will see the publication of a new as yet untitled novel.

I don’t believe mainstream approval would or will do much for genre fiction. It appears to do quite well in the marketplace as things stand, and lumping it together with the mainstream might, heaven forfend, see a decline in the sale of fantasy trilogies. There are authors-Tom Disch springs to mind-who have/had literary aspirations that such approval might have helped, at least as far as gaining them the respect of the literary establishment, but would it have sold more of their books? Perhaps, but who can say?

Does genre fiction have mainstream respect? Not so much, but it’s gaining respect, I think, in certain quarters thanks to folks like Junot Diaz and Michael Chabon. The previous generation of American writers didn’t like to admit they were nerds and geeks ; they were still trapped in antiquated self-images, considering themselves junior Hemmingways and Woolfs, and were threatened by anything that might erode those images; but the fact that both Diaz and Chabon seem to embrace their inner geek has prompted a number of their peers to come out of the closet and admit what an influence Steven King, say, had on their writerly lives and, in several cases, to write genre novels. Yet there are instances today where a writer has felt he had to escape the genre. Take Jonathan Lethem, for example. I feel you can’t generalize intelligently about this topic-it’s such an individual matter. For instance, not all writers are capable of being the self-promoters that Lethem was/is (and I mean this in the most positive sense.) Tom Disch, for sure, wasn’t capable of it. Though he could be charming, his personality was far too prickly for mass consumption.

My own attitude is this. I enjoy writing. I’m fortunate enough to have made a living at it for 25 years. I don’t write to be respected-I write to tell stories I find interesting, to communicate a mood, to resolve inner turmoil, and for a variety of personal reasons, not least among them being that I suck at holding down a steady job. Mainstream respect for what I write would be nice, but I simply haven’t cared about it enough to do doggie tricks. It’s no big deal one way or another.

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Recent events and discussions once again bring the topic of genre fiction’s mainstream respectability to the forefront. So we thought it’d be timely to ask this week’s panelists:

Q: In your opinion, does literary science fiction and fantasy have mainstream respect? Why, if at all, does it need mainstream approval? What would such approval mean for genre fiction?

Read on to see their level-setting responses…

Gene Wolfe
Gene Wolfe is a science fiction author noted for his complex and dense prose which is liberally influenced by his Catholic faith. He has won the Nebula Award and World Fantasy Award four times and has been nominated for the Hugo Award multiple times.

That’s a softball. No. Literary sf and fantasy are not respected by mainstream critics or the mainstream professoriate. Neither needs mainstream approval, which would diminish (and perhaps destroy) both. Just look at what they DO respect. Look at what poetry was as late as the early 20th Century, and what it is now.

Now and then I’m asked at cons why I don’t write fiction of the respected sort. You know, he is a professor and she is a professor and they are having adulterous affairs, and they are almost overcome with guilt and angst, and there is no God, and scientific progress doesn’t enter into it, and just about everybody in the world is upper middle class.

When that happens, I ask the questioner abut Martin du Gard. Have you read him? Have you heard of him? Invariably the answers are no and no. Then I explain that Martin du Gard won the Nobel Prize for Literature in the year H. P. Lovecraft died.

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We’ve already talked about literary villains, so we asked this week’s panelists about bad guys (and gals) of the big screen:

Q: Who are some of the best villains in science fiction, fantasy, and/or horror film?

Read on to see their responses (and the videos I included, unbeknownst to them)…

Nar Williams
Nar Williams is the host of Science of the Movies on Science Channel. In the show he interviews filmmakers and explores the technology behind making movies. He also hosts, produces, and writes the show Heads Up! with Nar Williams on CraveOnline, where he previews the best upcoming movies, video games, and comic books. Nar regularly contributes to Current TV’s Rotten Tomatoes Show as a film critic and writes about sci-fi and sci-tech on his blog, www.narwilliams.com.
  1. The Joker (The Dark Knight): The crazy bastard put a phone-triggered bomb in the stomach of one of his own henchman. ‘Nuff said.
  2. Agent Smith (Matrix Trilogy): He really hates humans – especially our smell. Every time he growls “Mr. Anderson…” I think, “How inconsiderate! His name is Neo! He wants to be called Neo!”
  3. Gollum (Lord of the Rings Trilogy): Screw Sauron, even simple Samwise Gamgee knows who the real villain is in Tolkien’s epic. Seriously, the split personality once known as Smeagol is so thoroughly made of betrayal he evens betrays himself at one point (“Go away, and never come back!”) …Hate that guy.

Honorable mentions: T-1000 (Terminator 2), HAL 9000 (2001: A Space Odyssey), and the obnoxious Scottish guy with dreadlocks (Children of Men).

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We’ve already covered first science fiction books, now it’s time to flip the coin with this week’s panelists. So we asked them:

Q: What book introduced you to fantasy?

Check below to see their responses. And tell us what book got you hooked!

Brandon Sanderson
Brandon Sanderson is the author of Elantris and the Mistborn trilogy.

Brandon was chosen to complete Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. That book, The Gathering Storm will be available in October 2009 and can be sampled on Tor.com.

The first fantasy I was ever given was Tolkien. For many, perhaps, that would be the end of the story. But I wasn’t a terribly good reader at the time, and though I read and enjoyed the The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings was like a big brick wall. I slammed right into it and couldn’t get past the barrow scene.

And so, I figured fantasy was boring stuff and went back to video games. (Atari 2600–state of the art.)

The real breakthrough came when I hit 8th grade. A teacher assigned me to do a book report, and I tried with all my conniving little heart to get her to let me do mine on one of the Three Investigators novels (which I’d enjoyed reading in second or third grade.) The result of this little power struggle was me, sullenly slinking to the back of the room where she kept her cart of books, bearing the instructions that I HAD to pick one of those to read.

And there, sitting in full Michael-Whelan-Covered-Glory, was Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly. I think angels might have sung (though it was probably the school choir class next door.) Anyway, that was beginning of the end for me. I LOVED that book; and right next to it in the card catalogue at school was a listing for Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey.

Eddings, Melanie Rawn, and Williams came next. I was thoroughly a fantasy super-geek by the time 1990 rolled around, and Eye of The World was published.

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Short fiction anthologies come in many flavors: some contain original fiction and some are comprised of reprints; they can be themed or non-themed; they may restrict themselves to a certain sub-genre of speculative fiction… But one thing they all have in common is that it’s Editors that put them together.

Continuing from Part 1 and Part 2, we asked a handful of Editors the following question:

Q: Can you describe what goes on behind the scenes – from conception to publication — when creating a short fiction anthology?

Read on to see their illuminating responses…

Rich Horton
Rich Horton is the editor of a best of the year anthology series from Prime Books: The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy; and also a collection of the best online fiction, from Wyrm Publishing, Unplugged. His reviews and essays appear in Locus, Black Gate, Fantasy Magazine, SF Site, and many other publications.

My experience to date in anthology editing is rather thinner than that of most of my colleagues, as I have edited only “Best of the Year” collections. That makes my job easier on several grounds. Compared to an original anthologist, I don’t have to commission stories, nor wade through slush, nor work with authors to improve their submissions (either by line editing or by suggesting more dramatic changes). Compared to many reprint anthologists, I don’t have to look through nearly as many stories, and the authors I reprint are likely to be pretty accessible. (I have heard some harrowing stories about difficulties with finding out who controls the estate of dead authors, and also of difficulties working with authors’ heirs with unusual ideas of the market potential for reprinting old short stories.

The story of the conception of my books is simple enough. For many years, as an offshoot of my reviewing work for Locus (and prior to that, Tangent Online), I have prepared a list of the best stories of the year, organizing them (on occasion) as “virtual” best of the year books. A few years ago I had the thought that one market segment that was underrepresented in anthologies of this sort was online fiction. I suggested to Sean Wallace at Prime Books an anthology of the best online fiction of the year. Sean was unsure of the sales potential of such a book, but shortly later he suggested that we simply do a pair of more traditional Best of the Year anthologies: one for Science Fiction, one for Fantasy. (As of this year, those two books have been combined into one – and, happily, I am finally doing a Best Online short fiction book, Unplugged, for Wyrm Publishing.)

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Short fiction anthologies come in many flavors: some contain original fiction and some are comprised of reprints; they can be themed or non-themed; they may restrict themselves to a certain sub-genre of speculative fiction… But one thing they all have in common is that it’s Editors that put them together.

Continuing from Part 1 last week, we asked a handful of Editors the following question:

Q: Can you describe what goes on behind the scenes – from conception to publication — when creating a short fiction anthology?

Read on to see their illuminating responses (and check out Part 3 when you’re done!) …

James Patrick Kelly & John Kessel
James Patrick Kelly is the author of a slew of novels and short stories including Burn, Look Into the Sun, Strange But Not A Stranger, Think Like A Dinosaur And Other Stories, and The Wreck of the Godspeed. His numerous short works include the Hugo Award-winning “Think Like A Dinosaur” and “Ten to the Sixteenth to One”. He is also co-editor with John Kessel of three anthologies: Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology, Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology, and the upcoming The Secret History of Science Fiction. He also writes a column for Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine.
John Kessel teaches literature at North Carolina State University. He has published numerous books and short stories over the years and he is a Nebula Award winner for his story “Pride and Prometheus.” His latest book is the short story collection The Baum Plan for Financial Independence and Other Stories. John is also co-editor with James Patrick Kelly of three anthologies: Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology, Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology, and the upcoming The Secret History of Science Fiction.

We have edited three reprint anthologies; the genesis of each was different. Jacob Weisman at Tachyon Publications approached Jim to do a slipstream book and he enlisted John as his co-editor; the result was Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology. We proposed a book about post-cyberpunk and Jacob greenlighted Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology. And it was Jacob and the perspicacious Bernie Goodman who suggested the idea for The Secret History Of Science Fiction; the book is due out next month.

We’ve a long history of collaboration and we’ve shared a similar vision for these reprint anthologies. In each of them we were trying to put forward an argument about the recent history of the genre. So we first had to gather our thoughts about slipstream and post-cyberpunk and the divide between mainstream and genre sf. Creating reprint anthologies like these involves figuring out what we think about a subject, or what we can credibly say about it. Selecting the stories has involved a couple of methods: (1) we decided on who we wanted in the book and then read intensively for stories that best illustrated our thesis, and (2) we decided what kind of stories we wanted and then cast the net widely to see who might have written the sort of thing we needed to support our thesis. In each of the books we have had some disagreements that have involved negotiations between us, and the final table of contents has been affected by practical considerations that made the end result different from our initial intentions.

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Short fiction anthologies come in many flavors: some contain original fiction and some are comprised of reprints; they can be themed or non-themed; they may restrict themselves to a certain sub-genre of speculative fiction… But one thing they all have in common is that it’s Editors that put them together.

This week, we asked a handful of Editors the following question:

Q: Can you describe what goes on behind the scenes – from conception to publication — when creating a short fiction anthology?

Read on to see their illuminating responses…

(See also Part 2 and Part 3)

Jeff VanderMeer
World Fantasy Award winner Jeff VanderMeer grew up in the Fiji Islands and has had fiction published in over 20 countries. His books, including the bestselling City of Saints & Madmen, have made the year’s best lists of Publishers Weekly, LA Weekly, Amazon, the San Francisco Chronicle, and many more. He reviews books for, among others, the New York Times Book Review, the Washington Post Book World, and the Barnes & Noble Review, as well as being a regular columnist for the Omnivoracious book blog. Current projects include Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st-Century Writer, the noir fantasy novel Finch, and the forthcoming definitive Steampunk Bible from Abrams Books. He maintains a blog at http://www.jeffvandermeer.com.

This is a tough question, because almost every anthology I’ve done with Ann or by myself or with someone else has been different from the others. Even Steampunk and New Weird involved completely different methodologies–in the case of the former, we were trying to identify iconic stories and in the case of the latter we were mapping/documenting the legitimacy of a “movement” that I’d been around to witness the inception of. Our current project, Last Drink Bird Head, is a flash fiction antho for literacy charities with over 80 contributors. Fast Ships, Black Sails was a straightforward commercial pirate story anthology. The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases played around with the whole idea of what’s fiction versus nonfiction and indirectly charted the life of its titular character. The Leviathan anthologies focused on surreal and proto-New Weird or post-New Wave fiction, but each with a different theme and focus. Album Zutique was unabashed Decadent and Surrealist-inspired fiction. Being guest editors for Best American Fantasy was another kind of challenge, because we’d never done a year’s best before, and that carries with it a different set of responsibilities. Our upcoming Clarion charity anthology, The Leonardo Variations, is both an anthology of fiction and a teaching anthology that, through its stories and nonfiction in the back, should be of great use to beginning writers. That poses its own challenges. I guess the point is, behind the scenes each of these books has gone through a different process, both in terms of its creation and in terms of the process of preparation. This keeps things fresh and interesting–I’m not particularly interested in repeating myself with regard to books, whether my own fiction or the anthologies I create with Ann, and I don’t think Ann is, either.

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We always remember our first. (Yes, I’m talking about reading!) We asked this week’s panelists:

Q: What book introduced you to science fiction?

Check below to see their responses. And tell us what book got you started!

Mike Resnick
Mike Resnick is the author of 50 novels, 200 short stories, a pair of screenplays, and the editor of 50 anthologies, as well as the executive editor of Jim Baen’s Universe. According to Locus, he is the leading award winner, living or dead, of short fiction. His work has been translated into 22 languages.

Back when I was 9 or 10 years old, I was reading one of the EC horror comics, and my mother chanced to look over my shoulder, and it must have been a typically gruesome EC panel that she saw, because she ripped it out of my hands and took it away from me.

I argued that this was censorship, which she had always told me she was against, and she, dancing on the head of a pin, explained that it wasn’t censorship because the pictures would give me nightmares, and that she would never think of censoring my reading, just my looking (which, she pointed out, Hollywood’s code did all the time and no adults objected, or at least not any she knew of), and I could buy any horror book I wanted, just no more horror comics.

I went right out to the bookstore with a quarter clutched in my outraged little hand. I’m sure she thought I’d pick up something like Frankenstein, which is all but unreadable to the average ten-year- old…but instead I bought the first “horror” title I came across, which was the Groff Conklin anthology, Science Fiction Terror Tales. I still remember the first three stories: Ray Bradbury’s “Punishment Without Crime”; Fred Brown’s “Arena”; and Bob Sheckley’s “The Leech”. By the time I had read them, I was hooked on science fiction — and I remain hooked to this very day.

So I am now 58 novels, 14 collections, 236 stories, 2 screenplays, 1 comic book, 163 articles and essays, and 47 edited anthologies into my science fiction career, all thanks an unread horror comic and a read-again-and-again-and-again science fiction anthology.

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Everyone loves a good bad guy, so we asked this week’s panelists the following:

Q: Who are the best bad guys in science fiction, fantasy, and/or horror literature?

Read on to see the responses…

Cecelia Dart-Thornton

Australia author Cecilia Dart-Thornton was born and raised in Melbourne, Australia, graduating from Monash University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology. She became a schoolteacher before working as an editor, bookseller, illustrator and book designer. She started and ran her own business, but became a full-time writer in 2000 after her work was ‘discovered’ on the Internet and published by Time Warner (New York). Her novels include The Bitterbynde Trilogy (The Ill-Made Mute, The Lady of the Sorrows, and The Battle of Evernight), and The Crowthistle Chronicles (The Iron Tree, The Well of Tears, Weatherwitch, Fallowblade) among others.

For me the best bad guy (aside from Tolkien’s Morgoth and Sauron) is Tanith Lee’s ‘Azhrarn the Beautiful, Prince of Demons, Master of Night, one of five Lords of Darkness.’ While reading Lee’s Flat Earth series you can’t help loving him and hating him simultaneously. He can be totally despicable, yet frequently you find yourself on his side. Such ambiguity is refreshingly intriguing!

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San Diego Comic-Con attracts between 125,000 to 140,000 attendees over a four-day weekend, whereas the World Science Fiction Convention draws anywhere from 4000 to 7000 attendees over a four-day weekend, depending on location. SDCC stays in one city and operates with a fairly stable staff structure from year to year, while Worldcon changes cities and staff lineups every year and is essentially a wholly volunteer, fan-organized effort. The two are almost impossible to compare, but we asked this week’s panelists:

Q: What are the lessons that Comic-Con and Worldcon can learn from the other? Is there in fact a generational migration of professionals and fans that are choosing to attend large, catch-all media cons like SDCC instead of Worldcon, and if so, why?

Read on to see the responses…

Diana Gill
Executive Editor Diana Gill runs Eos, the science fiction and fantasy imprint of William Morrow. She is the editor of New York Times bestselling authors Kim Harrison and Vicki Pettersson. Other authors with whom she has worked include Mario Acevedo, Jonathan Barnes, Trudi Canavan, Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, Mary Stewart, Karen Traviss, and Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman.

For the first time this year, I went to the San Diego Comic-con instead of Worldcon. I’d never been to Comic-con before, and while I’d been warned, the scale is truly beyond belief and has to be seen to be believed, from the hordes waiting to enter, the lines for anything and everything, and the mass of people and exhibits to the sheer spectacle.

Unlike Worldcon, attendees are younger–primarily teens up to 40s-somethings, including numerous families–and of all races.

And the joy and energy and excitement of the attendees reminded me of the first con I ever went to-a tiny Star Trek con outside of Philly, simply because it was there-where everything was new and so exciting and cool. I’m not ashamed to say that I had an absolute blast-being a geek is truly celebrated and welcomed there, and every turn had something fabulous to look at or explore. In the first couple of hours I saw Adama from Battlestar Galactica, amazing (and horrifying costumes), and ran into several people and authors I didn’t expect to-tons of fun!

What can Worldcon learn from Comic-con? Ignoring budgets, which simply cannot be compared, having a fixed location, timeframe, and many of the same staff and volunteers each year means Comic-con can focus on attracting stars (of all sorts), building their presence in re publicity/exposure/attendance, and constantly improving the overall experience (for example, selling all of the attendance badges beforehand, thus shortening the entrance lines), rather than having to start from scratch every time. Further, Comiccon’s constant location and timeframe makes it much easier for attendees to plan (and budget) for, versus the constantly shifting Worldcon (which this year was in Montreal and next year is in Australia).

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Much of the general populace believes that SciFi films are nothing more than dumb fun, but genre fans know better. Science fiction offers filmmakers a unique opportunity to be thought-provoking and meaningful, or at least something more cerebral than, say, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.

We asked this week’s panelists the following:

Q: Which films do you think are good examples of Intelligent SciFi?

Read on to see the responses…

Joseph Mallozzi
Joseph Mallozzi, along with his partner Paul Mullie, is the executive produce/showrunner for Stargate: Atlantis. He also runs a Book Of The Month discussion at his website.

Some fairly obvious choices come to mind – 2001, Blade Runner, Contact, Gattaca, Children of Men – and while I wholeheartedly agree that they should make the list, I’d like to offer up five not so obvious candidates:

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First it seemed like everyone was writing a blog. Then it seemed like everyone was getting a MySpace page. Now it seems like everyone is hopping on the FaceBook and Twitter trains. We asked this week’s panel about it:

Q: How has blogging and the emergence of social networking changed the face of publishing? How has it affected you personally?

Read on to see their responses…

Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Kristine Kathryn Rusch is on Facebook and Twitter (@Kristinerusch). Right now, she’s writing a free survival guide for freelancers and posting it on her website which is www.kristinekathrynrusch.com. She has the same story in this year’s Best American Mystery Stories and the Best Science Fiction of the Year (which has never been done before by anyone!) and her next novel is Diving into the Wreck from Pyr in November.

How has social networking changed publishing? Hmmm. That’s tough. I recently dealt with it in my monthly Internet Review of Science Fiction column. But I think I’m just seeing the iceberg in the distance-I haven’t even reached the tip of the iceberg yet.

I do know that social networking is making things change quickly. Bad well-hyped movies now die within the first day of release instead of the second weekend of release, thanks to tweeting. (People come out of the early shows and tweet, changing other people’s plans.) I assume that good things will also have quick buzz, all of it excellent. I think the social networking will make it easier for mid-list writers to connect with their readers. But I think it’ll be harder to be Number One for very long, simply because the new, the different, the interesting will take over quicker.

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Every book tells more than one story: there’s the one between the covers and there’s the one that the owner associates with it. It could be how the book was acquired, or a special personal memory attached to the book…

We asked this week’s panelists the following:

Q: What book or books hold special memories for you? What are they?

Read on to see the books people adore…

Kij Johnson
Since her first sale in 1987, Kij Johnson has sold dozens of short stories to markets including Amazing Stories, Analog, Asimov’s, Duelist Magazine, Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Realms of Fantasy. She won the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for the best short story of 1994 for her novelette in Asimov’s, “Fox Magic.” In 2001, she won the International Association for the Fantastic in the Art’s Crawford Award for best new fantasy novelist of the year. Her short story “The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park After the Change” was placed on the final ballots for the Nebula and World Fantasy awards, and it was also nominee for the Sturgeon and Hugo awards. Her story “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” was also a Hugo finalist. Her novels include two volumes of the Heian trilogy Love/War/Death: The Fox Woman and Fudoki. She’s also co-written with Greg Cox a Star Trek: The Next Generation novel, Dragon’s Honor.

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, by H. P. Lovecraft.

I was in Chicago the summer I was eleven, a week-long vacation with my family. We mostly visited museums because we were that sort of family, but we also spent an afternoon at a vast and wonderful bookstore called Kroch’s & Brentano’s, because we were also =that= sort of family. In the years since I have spent much time in Blackwell and Powell’s and the Strand, but at eleven, I’d never visited even a library as large. My parents gave my brother and me fifteen dollars each and cut us loose for two hours. Fifteen dollars went a long way.

The Lovecraft books were on the second shelf of a case in science fiction, just at chest-height, all turned face-out. These were mostly the John Holmes covers, a series of ghastly skulls draped with rats or tentacles or slime, and I was repulsed and fascinated. The rat-boy on the cover of At The Mountains Of Madness gave me nightmares for weeks afterward. I couldn’t bring myself to buy any of them, but there was one Lovecraft paperback with a cover that didn’t make my skin crawl, from a different artist.

This was The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. The stories were amazing to me, about a dream world filled with monsters and ghouls and gaunts. It was a dark and terrible place, but Randolph Carter and Kuranes had mastered this dreamland, could walk alive through it and even shape it to their will. I wanted that sort of mastery and power. For an eleven-year-old girl, life is perilous in all the wrong ways, and mastery of anything at all — wearing the right clothes, not being hated by the others — seems unreachable. To master the dreamlands would be something indeed.

I read the stories in the car on the drive home, and then reread them many times, and imagined myself as strong. Unconsciously, I also soaked up words and images; a notion of how they could be used either sloppily or surgically to convey atmosphere; and a sense of the importance of setting.

I still have that copy of that book, and I still reread it. Sometimes I cringe, but mostly I am eleven again, looking into a world that terrified me but promised that mastery was possible, and that there was a shining city at the end of it all.

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As is usual around awards-time, there is much discussion about the usefulness of awards, the books that made the list of finalists, and what the Best Novel shortlist says about the field. With the Hugo awards coming up, we thought it timely to ask this week’s panelists a series of Hugo-related questions:

  1. How would you rate the track record of the Hugo Awards at directing readers to the best that the genre has to offer?
  2. How well do you think the Hugo shortlist, year over year, represents to the outside world what speculative fiction has to offer?
  3. Which of this year’s finalists do you predict will receive the Hugo award for Best Novel?
  4. Which of this year’s finalists do you think should receive the Hugo award for Best Novel?
  5. Which books do you think were missing from this year’s list of Best Novel finalists?

Read on to see their answers…

Cheryl Morgan
Cheryl has been active in the science fiction community for many years with her Emerald City magazine. She can currently be found writing at Cheryl’s Mewsings and at SF Awards Watch.

1. How would you rate the track record of the Hugo Awards at directing readers to the best that the genre has to offer?

I wouldn’t. The Hugos are a popular vote award. The books that win are generally good books, but it would be silly to suggest that they are representative of some ideal of literary quality (always assuming you agree that such a thing exists in the first place). Furthermore, Hugo winners are always books of their time, voted on very quickly after they are published. It is entirely possible that deserving works get missed because they are not as widely available as books offered by the major US publishers. Also books do sometimes fail the test of time. What I will say is that the Hugos have a good track record of rewarding books that are good examples of the sort of science fiction that was popular in the year they were voted upon. It is probably better to look at the full nomination slate than just the winner, but I think very few Hugo winners have been bad books (except in the eyes of those who feel that any book that doesn’t meet their exacting standards is, de facto, BAD!!!).

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This week’s question is a simple one, but yielded lots of responses. We asked this week’s panelists:

Q: What are some of your favorite short stories in sf/f/h and what makes them so memorable?

Read on to see some great reading suggestions, then check out Part 1. And be sure to tell us your own favorites!

Paul Melko
Paul Melko‘s first novel, Singularity’s Ring, won the Compton Crook/Stephan Tall Award as well as the Locus Award for Best First Novel. His second novel is The Walls of the Universe.

When I took a creative writing class in college, way back in 1991, we used one of the Norton anthologies. The professor asked us to pick a couple of stories to read and write about, so I of course scoured the table of contents for any science fiction stories at all. I found just a couple among the Cheevers and the Updikes and the Carvers: Arthur C. Clarke’s “The Star” and Ursula K. LeGuin’s “Those Who Walk Away from Omelas”. The former I had read before and found heavy-handed. (The teacher thought it was grand!) The latter story by LeGuin has stuck with me since. I suppose one could argue that it too is a heavy-handed polemic, but I had never seen science fiction deal so strongly with moral questions. It was quite moving to that 23-year-old fellow…

I think I’ll go re-read it now!

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This week’s question is a simple one, but yielded lots of responses. We asked this week’s panelists:

Q: What are some of your favorite short stories in sf/f/h and what makes them so memorable?

Read on to see some great reading suggestions, then check out Part 2. And be sure to tell us your own favorites!

Michael Boatman
Michael Boatman is best known as an actor. He co-starred in the ABC comedy, Spin City, as well as the HBO original series ARLI$$. He’s appeared in movies like Hamburger Hill, The Glass Shield, and The Peacemaker, and in television shows like The Game, Criminal Minds, Law and Order and China Beach. He is also an author. His horror-comedy, The Revenant Road, was published by Drollerie Press in 2009 (available at Amazon.com) and his short story collection, God Laughs When You Die, was published by Dybbuk Press in 2007. His fiction has appeared in Weird Tales, Red Scream, Horror Garage, and in anthologies like Dark Dreams 2 and 3 and the upcoming Dark Delicacies 3: Haunted.

One of my favorite horror stories would have to be David J. Schow’s “Jerry’s Kids Meet Wormboy”. It’s the quintessential zombie tale that originally appeared in Skipp and Spector’s classic Book of the Dead anthology. In a collection of great stories by Stephen King, Joe Lansdale and others, this one stands out for humor that is as black as pitch, gore that is both horrifying and hilarious and an unbelievably weird protagonist in the five-hundred pound zombie apocalypse survivor Wormboy. I guarantee anyone who loves stories set in a Romero-esque zombified universe, J.K.M.W cannot be beat. Not with a baseball bat, an axe-handle or out of control spinning helicopter blades.

My favorite recent science fiction story is Understand, a great thriller by Ted Chiang. It’s about a coma victim who is injected with an experimental drug after suffering extreme brain damage in a near drowning. The drug not only repairs him; it also makes him smarter. The rest of the story involves the supercritical protagonist trying to find more of the drug to increase his intellect while preparing to meet the one person on Earth who may actually be smarter than he is. It’s a great story. The supercritical Leon’s struggle to live in a world in which he is rapidly becoming smarter and smarter, is fascinating. I actually felt smarter after I’d finished reading it.

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We love doing Mind Meld posts, but it gets downright difficult to consistently think of topics that are topical and of interest to a variety of readers.

This is where you come in:

  1. Tell us what you’d like to see in future Mind Melds! Just leave us your proposed question as a comment.
  2. Just about anything related to speculative fiction will do…books, films, tv, the genre itself, sub-genres, awards, the sf community…even science and technology questions will be considered…you name it.
  3. Tell us if you have specific people who you have in mind to answer the question.

Sound off! We can’t guarantee that we’ll use every suggestion, but if enough people show interest in a particular topic, well, that’s a no-brainer. And no brains is something we can deal with. We often do.

MIND MELD: Guide to International SF/F Part IV

There’s a great big world out there! And we’ve been happy to bring you their views for the past month. (See Part I, Part II and Part III.) This week brings our International Mind Melds to a close (for now!) with contributors from the Netherlands, India, Japan, Finland and France. We’re giving the closing word to those who did so much to start the conversation, Jim and Kathy Morrow.

Thanks again to all our contributors, translators, editors, wranglers and recommenders! This has been a really amazing experience and an honor to put together.

Q: What is going on right now in the international sf/f scene that anglophone readers might be missing out on?
Anil Menon
Anil Menon worked for about nine years in software R&D worrying about things like secure distributed databases and evolutionary computation. Then he shifted to a different kind of fiction. His stories can be found in magazines such as Albedo One, Chiaroscuro, InterZone, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, New Genre, Strange Horizons and anthologies such as TEL: Stories, Shockwave & Other Cyber Stories, and From The Trenches. His YA novel The Beast With Nine Billion Feet (Young Zubaan) is scheduled to appear in Fall 2009.

I can speak to the situation in south-Asian SF in English (Desi SF). While Desi SF has roots that go back to the late nineteenth century, it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that the themes and movements of 20th century SF failed to excite the imaginations of desi writers. But I sense a change in the air. For the first time, there’s a critical mass of desi writers with an interest in, and talent for, speculative fiction. Interestingly, a disproportionate number of these writers are female. The feminist publishing house, Zubaan, has published a number of female authors in science fiction and fantasy, including Priya Sarukkai Chhabria, Payal Dhar, Manjula Padmanabhan and Vandana Singh. The tradition-creating novels have yet to be written, but in my estimate, the next ten years will see the emergence of a series of works that will redefine the genre. The unclassifiable stories of Kuzhali Manickavel, the feverish mythic fantasies of Samit Basu, pathbreaking desi SF movies like Sudhir Jha’s Matrubhoomi or S. P. Jananthan’s E, the inauguration of a desi SF workshop series at IIT-Kanpur (India’s premier technological institute), the strong support of editors like V. K. Karthika (Harper), Vatsala Kaul (Hachette), Kaveri Lalchand (Blaft), Anita Roy (Zubaan) and Jaya Bhattacharji (Routledge), and the unexpected creation of an indigenous graphic novel industry all point to a new-found confidence that the future has as much a chance of happening here as anywhere else.

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There’s a great big world out there! So big that it will take four weeks to get all their responses in. (See Part I and Part II.) So while we’ve got entries from the Philippines, Ireland, Denmark, Greece, the Ukraine, Poland and Portugal this week, there’s one more week of worldly insight to come!

Q: What is going on right now in the international sf/f scene that anglophone readers might be missing out on?
Charles Tan
Charles A. Tan is the co-editor of the Philippine Speculative Fiction Sampler and his fiction has appeared in publications such as The Digest of Philippine Genre Stories and Philippine Speculative Fiction. He has conducted interviews for The Nebula Awards and The Shirley Jackson Awards, as well as for online magazines such as SF Crowsnest and SFScope. He is a regular contributor to sites like SFF Audio and Game Cryer. He used to contribute reviews at Comics Village. You can visit his blog, Bibliophile Stalker, where he posts book reviews, interviews, and essays.

I think a lot’s going on in the global speculative scene right now–but it’s natural that we haven’t heard of them either because of the language barrier or the cultural barrier.

The field that I’m most familiar with is my own–the Philippines. When it comes to speculative fiction written in English, we have several talented writers. A book I’d like to highlight is Philippine Speculative Fiction IV (disclosure: I’m one of the contributors) because it features a lot of stunning fiction.

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There’s a great big world out there! So we decided to ask folks from all over about the sf/f scene in their own countries/languages. This week we’ve got responses from the Netherlands, China, Poland, France, Italy, Finland, Russia and India. And the answers kept pouring in, so we’ll be finishing up next week, for a total of three weeks!

Q: What is going on right now in the international sf/f scene that anglophone readers might be missing out on?
Jetse de Vries
Jetse de Vries is a technical specialist for a propulsion company by day, and an SF editor, writer and reader at night. He was part of the Interzone editorial team from March 2004 until September 2008. His non-fiction articles, reviews, essays and interviews have appeared in Interzone, The Fix, New York Review of Science Fiction, Focus, and others. He writes SF since 1999, and had his first story published in November 2003. His stories have appeared in about two dozen publications on both sides of the Atlantic, and include Amityville House of Pancakes, vol. 1, JPPN 2, Nemonymous 4, Northwest Passages: A Cascadian Anthology, DeathGrip: Exit Laughing, HUB Magazine #2, Clarkesworld Magazine, SF Waxes Philosophical, Postscripts 14 and Flurb, amongst others. Recent reprints include stories in the A Mosque Among the Stars anthology (which portrays Islam and/or Muslims in a positive light), The Fleas They Carried (a relief anthology for animail aid) and The Apex Book of World SF (which celebrates SF from around the globe: upcoming September 2009). Right now, Jetse is in the middle of editing an anthology of near future, optimistic SF called Shine for Solaris Books, slated for an early 2010 release.

There is a huge lot going on in the international SF/F scene, more than any one person can keep up with (which is also true for English-language SF/F), with the added complication of language barriers.

I have traveled extensively for the day job (although now I have settled down a bit), and have always been fascinated by other places, other people and other cultures. There is a wealth of stories in every corner of this (admittedly round) globe. Obviously, since it is written predominantly by anglophone writers, English-language SF is mostly set in western countries with predominantly western characters (many exceptions notwithstanding).

Personally, I like seeing more settings and viewpoints from non-western countries. To encourage this, I have started a series of “Optimism in literature around the World, and SF in Particular” on the Shine blog. So far the following countries have been featured:

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