It’s time another Book Cover Smackdown! This time around, covers featuring illustrations and designs from books forthcoming in January 2015.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it: Pass artistic judgment!

Tell us:

  • Which of these covers do you like the most?
  • What works and what doesn’t work with these covers?
  • Do any of them make you want to learn more about and/or read the book?

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MIND MELD: SF/F Stories For English Lit Class

[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

Last week I attended my son’s high school’s open house. In the English Literature class we were informed that the kids had started reading the Arthur Miller play The Crucible which the kids would enjoy because, in the teacher’s words, “It’s got witches and adultery.” Many SF/F stories have those elements (if not in the same form) but, of course, there is nary a SF/F book on the agenda for the year. And in any case, stories can be interesting to teenagers without either or both.

Q: If you were creating the syllabus for a high school (junior or senior) English Literature course, what SF/F stories do you think should be included?

Here’s what they said…

Kristine Smith
Kristine Smith was born in Buffalo, NY. She grew up in Florida, and graduated from the University of South Florida with a BS in Chemistry. She has spent almost her entire working career in manufacturing/R&D of one kind or another, and has worked for the same northern Illinois pharmaceutical company for 25 years. She is the winner of the 2001 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and is the author of the Jani Kilian SF series as well as a number of short stories. She is currently working on several projects, and wishes she possessed a time-turner.

My list is by no means extensive or complete, but I thought of stories that contained elements of North American–Mexican, Appalachian–folklore, or that discussed current events and issues–struggles with religion in everyday life, culture clashes and war, discrimination–in ways that weren’t preachy.

Elizabeth Moon: “Knight of Other Days” — one of my favorite stories by Moon. When I first read it, I got the sense of a subtle Twilight Zone/Outer Limits-type tale, grounded in the setting of a Texas border town. The blend of history, mystery, influence of Mexican culture, and legend of the Knights Templar combine to form a multi-layered tale.

Terry Pratchett: Small Gods, Jingo, Feet of Clay — religion, culture clash/war, discrimination, set in a world different enough from ours to qualify as fantasy yet similar enough to equate to everyday life, news headlines. One of Pratchett’s many writing gifts.

Manly Wade Wellman: John the Balladeer tales, esp “Vandy, Vandy” — the Southern/Appalachian folklore, and the sense of how events in history can take on a fantasy spin when some details are scrambled and others are associated with magical intervention. And in “Vandy, Vandy,” there’s a witch! Well, a warlock. And a King, of sorts.
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This week’s Mind Meld topic was suggested by John Klima. We asked this week’s panelists (including John):

Q: Which SF/F/H book do you love that everyone else hates? Which SF/F/H book do you hate that everyone else loves?

Here’s what they said…

Farah Mendlesohn
Farah Mendlesohn used to edit Foundation, the International Review of Science Fiction, is the President of the International Association of the Fantastic of the Arts, and is about to send McFarland a Manuscript about Children’s and Teen science fiction. She has read around 400 of these books so you don’t have to.

Gene Wolfe’s Wizard-Knight. As far as I am concerned this was like reading C.S.Lewis writing Conan the Barbarian. I was mostly repulsed by the ethics, and while I quite understand that this was meant to be a juvenile wet dream of muscular morality, that doesn’t mean I need to read it. The frightening thing was that when I presented this analysis to several well known critics, they agreed with me, and then went on to explain why it was a work of genius.

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[This week's topic comes from Lawrence Person]

Once a year, the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) names a recipient of the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award which is then presented at the annual Nebula Awards banquet. The next recipient (for 2009) is Joe Haldeman who joins an already-impressive list of authors.

We asked this week’s panelists:

Q: Who should be the next recipient of the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award? Why?

Read on to see their replies…

Adam Roberts
Adam Roberts was born two-thirds of the way through the last century; he presently lives a little way west of London, England, with a beautiful wife and two small children. He is a writer with a day-job (professor at Royal Holloway, University of London). The first of these two employments has resulted in eight published sf novels, the most recent being Splinter (Solaris 2007) and Land of the Headless (Victor Gollancz 2007). The second of these has occasioned such critical studies as The Palgrave History of Science Fiction (2006).

I’m staggered that Joanna Russ has never received this particular recognition — she’s a giant of the genre, the author of some of the most important SF of the 20th-century. She hasn’t published much recently (illness has prevented her, I understand), but nevertheless. Russ for 2010, I say: and for 2011 Christopher Priest.

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“Best of the Year” lists start appearing as early as November, so we are perhaps a little late in asking folks around the community:

Q: What were the best genre-related books, movies and/or shows you consumed in 2009?

[Also added was this note: They don't have to have been released in 2009. Feel free to choose any combination of genres (science fiction/fantasy/horror) and media (books/movies/shows) you wish to include.]

Read on to see their sometimes-surprising favorites…

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[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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SF Tidbits for 9/15/09

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SF Tidbits for 8/7/09

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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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SF Tidbits for 7/30/09

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SF Tidbits for 7/23/09

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SF Tidbits for 7/22/09

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SF Tidbits for 7/9/09

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