Tag Archives: Farah Mendlesohn

MIND MELD: Books We’ve Worn Out Re-Reading

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

There are books we read once. There are books we re-read. And then there are the books that we wear out because we devour it again and again. These are the books for which we have to buy ourselves another copy immediately upon lending out because we’re sure we will never see it again — or just want to make sure we have it on hand.

Q: What are some of these genre books for you? Why do you go back to them again and again?

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MIND MELD: Science Fiction Biographies We Would Like to See Published

[Today’s Mind Meld was suggested by an SF Signal reader, Gary Farber, who is here among our guests. Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

In the past couple of years, we have seen the appearance of at the least two important biographies of Science Fiction writers, the first volume of Robert Patterson’s work on Robert A. Heinlein (Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century: Volume 1 (1907-1948): Learning Curve) and Listen to the Echoes: The Ray Bradbury Interviews, a sort of complement to Weller’s biography, published in 2006. But there are so many writers out there, living and dead, whose lives we would have loved to know a bit more so we maybe could feel the same feeling of closeness we use to feel when we are reading their stories.

So, we asked this week’s panelists…

Q: Which figure in the history of the creation of science fiction, living or dead, would you most like to see the next thorough biography of?

Here’s what they said…

John Joseph Adams
John Joseph Adams is the bestselling editor of many anthologies, such as Other Worlds Than These, Armored, Under the Moons of Mars: New Adventures on Barsoom, Brave New Worlds, Wastelands, The Living Dead, The Living Dead 2, By Blood We Live, Federations, The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and The Way of the Wizard. John is a four-time finalist for the Hugo Award and the World Fantasy Award, and he has been called “the reigning king of the anthology world” by Barnes & Noble. John is also the editor of Lightspeed Magazine and the new horror magazine, Nightmare, which launches October 1. In addition to his editorial projects, John is the co-host of Wired.com’s The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. His next anthology, Epic: Legends of Fantasy, comes out in November. Forthcoming in December is a revised and expanded second edition of his critically-acclaimed anthology, Brave New Worlds, and then, in February, Tor will publish his anthology The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination. For more information, visit his website at johnjosephadams.com, and you can find him on Twitter @johnjosephadams.

I’d love to see a biography of Alfred Bester. I don’t know if his life was interesting enough to warrant one, but I do know that he left his literary estate to his bartender when he died, and anyone who does something like that had to have had SOME good real-life stories. (Apparently the bartender didn’t know what to do with the estate, and as a result Bester’s work was out of print for several years, until Byron Preiss rescued it and brought it back to light in the 90s.) Bester also wrote Green Lantern for a while, and created the oft-quoted Green Lantern oath, when he was writing the comic, though I don’t know if there would be any interesting stories surrounding that or his time writing comics. A few years ago, I went on a big Bester kick — I’d gone back to read though his ouvre more completely, and re-read The Stars My Destination (my favorite novel). Then, sometime later, I read the brilliant Tiptree biography by Julie Phillips, and that’s when I first conceived of this desire to read a Bester biography. Given there wasn’t one, I went on a bit of a scavenger hunt, tracking down all the information about Bester I could find, not just online, but in old magazines and the like–looking for interviews or anything that talked about the man himself, as opposed to just his fiction. I never did find much indication that there’d be enough good material to make a biography, but still I wish there was one (or perhaps that Bester had been as interesting in life as his fiction was).

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MIND MELD: How to Write Science Fiction on a Post-Colonial World?

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

In recent years, the ascension of several former Third World countries to a better economical and geopolitical standing (the best example of which are the like the BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) has been slowly but steadily bringing a change of paradigms in the way science fiction sees the world. Could it be that novels like Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Wind-Up Girl, Ian McDonald’s Brasyl and The Dervish House, to name just a few, are some of the harbingers of this change? Or, as their authors are Western in origin and haven’t lived in the countries they portrayed, would they still be focusing on the so-called exotic aspect of foreign countries and therefore failing to see the core of these cultures?

We asked this week’s panelists:

Q: How do you Write Science Fiction on a Post-Colonial World? Do you think belonging to a Non-Western culture is essential to write a really good, convincing story about it? Is being an outsider to the culture you want to write about, an enriching or impoverishing experience (or doesn’t it matter in the end)?

Here’s what they said…

Joyce Chng
Born in Singapore but a global citizen, Joyce Chng writes mainly science fiction (SFF) and YA fiction. She likes steampunk and tales of transformation/transfiguration. Her fiction has appeared in Crossed Genres, Semaphore Magazine, Bards and Sages Quarterly and Everyday Fiction. Her urban fantasy novels Wolf At The Door and Obsidian Moon, Obsidian Eye (written as J. Damask) are published by Lyrical Press. Her short story “The Sound Of Breaking Glass” is side by side with luminaries in The Apex Book of World SFF vol II. Her blog is found at A Wolf’s Tale. She wrangles kids and promises she is still normal.

I have to disagree, though a writer from a non-Western culture might understand the nuances of being a post-colonial writer better.

A Western writer who wants to write a convincing story has so many opportunities at his or her fingertips. Thanks to globalization, we have access to the Internet, the chance to talk to people living in non-western countries via a plethora of tools and gosh, libraries. Accessing information now is so easy, so simple – many do not even have to step out of their rooms. At the same time, you can ask a friend who is from the said culture(s) you are writing about to vet it. Do not be afraid to ask questions. Research. Let it be an enriching experience. Worldbuilding does not emerge out of the ether nor do you pluck it out of thin air.

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MIND MELD: The Best Opening Scenes in Science Fiction & Fantasy

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

As the calendar rolls over to the beginning of another year, it brings with it the promise of new things and new beginnings. With that in mind, we asked this week’s panelists this question:

Q: What are your favorite beginning scenes from SF/F?

Here’s what they said:

Allen Steele
Allen M. Steele is the author of eighteen novels and five collections of short fiction; his work has received numerous awards, including three Hugos. His most recent novel is Hex; a young-adult SF novel, Apollo’s Outcasts, will be published by Pyr later this year.

I’m sure that most of my favorite opening scenes are from the same classics that many readers would recognize — the gom jabbar test in Dune; Louis Wu’s globe-hopping birthday trip in Ringworld; the introduction of Valentine Michael Smith in Stranger in a Strange Land — so I won’t reiterate them. And while I have a number of favorite opening lines as well — a personal favorite is from Michael Swanwick’s Stations of the Tide: “The bureaucrat fell from the sky” — they’re not quite the same thing as a good first scene, which — if done right — will pull the reader into the book.

A perfect example of both is the beginning of The Dreaming Jewels by Theodore Sturgeon. Here’s the first paragraph:

They caught the kid doing something disgusting out under the bleachers at the high school stadium, and he was sent home from the grammar school across the street. He was eight years old then. He’d been doing it for years.

Exactly what the kid — whose name is Horty — was doing is not immediately explained. If you’re like most readers, though, you’ve probably got a good idea … particularly when you’re told that his guardians (who are not his parents; they’re introduced later) were just as horrified as the school principal, the teachers, and the other kids. But it’s not until you’re a couple of pages into the book that you discover Horty was…

Eating ants.

So what did you think he was doing? And now that you’ve learned that it’s probably not what you were expecting, aren’t you interested in finding out why an eight-year-old boy was eating ants?

Sturgeon was a master storyteller, and he set up this scene beautifully. It is a textbook example of a perfect narrative hook.

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MIND MELD: Books We Love That Everyone Else Hates (and Vice Versa)

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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MIND MELD: Who Should Be The Next Grand Master?

[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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SF Tidbits for 9/28/09

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