REVIEW SUMMARY: The third in Ian Sales Apollo Quartet sees a more alternate historical mode to his story of astonauts and spy satellites.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In an alternate world where the Korean War dragged into an endless meatgrinder, a female-led space program ties in with a black ops spy satellite program

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Solid research into dark and strange corners of the space program, both in terms of people and technology; three-dimensional characters whose depth belie the shortness of the work.
CONS: Not all aspects of the alternate history are as plausible as others; divergent time points in the alternate history could have been bound more tightly together.
BOTTOM LINE: An impressive depth of research combined with a love of space programs is aptly married to excellent writing.

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MIND MELD: What’s on Your Mount To-Be-Read Book Pile?

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

We asked this week’s panelists about what they are reading.

Q: Mount To-be-read! Every genre reader that collects and reads genre books has a Mount To-be-read. What Fantasy, SF and Horror books on the top of yours that is just begging for you to read?

Here’s what is on the bedside tables of our respondents:

L.E. Modesitt
L. E. Modesitt, Jr., is the New York Times best-selling author of more than 65 novels – primarily science fiction and fantasy, a number of short stories, and numerous technical and economic articles. His novels have sold millions of copies in the U.S. and world-wide, and have been translated into German, Polish, Dutch, Czech, Russian, Bulgarian, French, Spanish, Italian, Hebrew, and Swedish. His first story was published in Analog in 1973, and his next book is The One-Eyed Man: A Fugue, With Winds And Accompaniment, to be released in mid-September, with a starred review from Kirkus.

My Mount To-be-read is actually very short, and that’s because I usually don’t buy books unless I know I’m going to have the time to read them – with one exception. I’m still making my way through Reine De Memoire 1. La Maison D’Oubli, by Elisabeth Vonarburg. It’s an excellent book, so far, but the difficulty is that I’m reading it in French, and I don’t read French nearly as fast as I read English. Because it’s been years since I read much in French, each time I pick it up it takes a few minutes and pages before I get into any sort of flow… and because she writes in a certain depth… well, I do need the dictionary, I confess. The other books currently on my very short mountain, perhaps better named Hill To-be-read, are Kay Kenyon’s A Thousand Perfect Things, Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312, and at the bottom… Brandon Sanderson’s The Emperor’s Soul, which I’ve had for almost a year and somehow never picked up.

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MIND MELD: Great SF/F Stories By Women

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Recently, Ian Sales posted an article on his website called Toward 100 Great SF Short Stories by Women. We thought this would be a great question for our Mind Meld panelists and so we’ve leveraged the question:

Q: What stories do you think belong on a “100 Great SF/F Stories by Women” list?

Here’s what they said:
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MIND MELD: The Successors of Orwell’s 1984

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This week, we decided to transcend Orwell by asking panelists to go beyond 1984.

Q: Recent events have caused the resurgence of George Orwell’s classic 1984. Ever since its original publication, however, genre has tackled and wrestled with the themes of dictatorship, totalitarianism, total war, and more. What works of genre since are worthy of exploring these themes?

Here’s what they said.

Nick Namatas
Nick Mamatas is an American horror, science fiction and fantasy author and editor for the Haikasoru line of translated Japanese science fiction novels for Viz Media.

Nineteen Eighty-Four‘s recent surge of popularity — Bookscan tells me that sales of the mass market paperback edition increased by 35 percent during the week ending June 9th, and a further 60 percent the week after, and other editions saw spikes as well — is a great sign. Both tyranny and collapse are as likely to sneak up on a populace as anything else, so I am pleased to see that people are wary of these horrific intrusions into their privacy by the state. The vision of waking up one morning to swastikas flying from every flagpole is a fanciful one. First we’ll be told, “Now now, Nazism is just a political view some intelligent, college-educated people have…”
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BOOK REVIEW: The Eye With Which the Universe Beholds Itself by Ian Sales

REVIEW SUMMARY: Ian Sales continues his strong Apollo Quartet with a deeply personal tale of the first astronaut on Mars going on a much longer trip.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Colonel Bradley Elliott, first man on Mars, is selected for an interstellar mission of secret importance.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Powerful and nuanced characterization; solid and flawless nuts-and-bolts Apollo program engineering.
CONS: The sting in the tail and the power of the story only hits in the coda; bleakness of Sales’ work may not suit all readers.
BOTTOM LINE: A solid second entry in Sales’ Apollo Quartet project.

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MIND MELD: The Books We Didn’t Love

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This week we asked about books you don’t love.

What books do people expect you to love or read, but you don’t?  Why?

This is what they had to say…

Jamie Todd Rubin
Jamie Todd Rubin is a science fiction writer, blogger, and Evernote Ambassador for paperless living. His stories and articles have appeared in Analog, Daily Science Fiction, Intergalactic Medicine Show, Apex Magazine, and 40K Books. Jamie lives in Falls Church, Virginia with his wife and two children. Find him on Twitter at @jamietr.

Robert Heinlein’s Stranger In a Strange Land was not the first Heinlein book I read. I started with what is still, in my mind, one of his best, Double Star. Nor was Stranger the second Heinlein book I read. Or the third. Or the fourth.

Indeed, back in the days when my interests in science fiction were broadening and I would occasionally talk to people about them, Heinlein would inevitably come up. “You should read Stranger In A Strange Land.” I must have been told this a dozen times by a dozen different people. I even tried reading the book, but on two occasions, spaced years apart, I simply couldn’t get very far into it. I felt terribly guilty about this. Something must be wrong me. It seemed everyone who ever read a book had read and loved Stranger. But not me. I couldn’t even get through it.

It wasn’t Heinlein. Couldn’t be, right? I went on to read and enjoy Heinlein’s future history in The Past Through Tomorrow. I read and loved Podkayne of Mars. I read Puppet Masters and Starship Troopers and found those entertaining. (Although both movies were appallingly bad.) I adored Friday and The Door Into Summer.

It finally took jury duty for me to get through Stranger. In the fall of 2000, in a cavernous room within a Hollywood courthouse, I battled my way through Heinlein’s tour de force. And before my jury service was up, I’d managed to finally finish the book.

And hated it. Just plain didn’t like it. To this day, when asked if I’ve read Stranger, I reply with a world-weary, “Of course. I read it while suffering through jury duty in the fall of 2000.”

“And what did you think of it?”

And without skipping a beat, reply, “I couldn’t be picked for a jury soon enough. My how I suffered through that book!”

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Here’s the cover art and synopsis of Ian Sales’ upcoming sequel to Adrift On The Sea Of Rains: The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself, which will be published in January 2013.
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SYNOPSIS: From an alternate history with both a moonbase and a global thermonuclear war, a band of stranded astronauts seek a new parallel earth to escape to.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW
PROS: Excellent use of space science; doesn’t overstay its welcome; solid prose.
CONS: An ending that feels a bit forced even given its symbolic power.
VERDICT: Interesting premise with solid, if not quite perfect, execution.

The USSR and America have ruined the world in a thermonuclear conflagration. The fate of astronauts stranded on a moonbase, their return capability extremely limited, seems to be to slowly die even as the Earth did. But fortunately, they have a Nazi wonder weapon: a device to move an area into a parallel timeline. And so the search is on for a timeline which has not died in nuclear fire, and has a space program far enough along to help them get off of the Moon.  But even when such a timeline is found, the technical challenges in getting back to Earth are not the least bit trivial, to say nothing of the psychological strains of their ordeal…

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Ian Sales has announced the formation of Whippleshield Books, an imprint focusing on literary stories with high scientific and technological content — and with it, the publication of his book Adrift on the Sea of Rains, the first in a themed quartet of stories.

From the press release:
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Every reader holds out for a hero, but be it movies or novels, its the antagonists, the villains, that often bring the heat, spice and power to a piece of work and make it sing.

So we asked this week’s panelists…

Q:Who are the most memorable villains and antagonists you’ve encountered in fantasy and science fiction? What make them stand out?

Here’s what they said…

Scott Lynch
Born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1978, Scott Lynch is the author of the Gentleman Bastard sequence of fantasy crime novels, which began with The Lies of Locke Lamora and continues with Red Seas Under Red Skies and the forthcoming The Republic of Thieves. His work has been published in more than fifteen languages and twenty countries, and he was a World Fantasy Award finalist in the Best Novel category in 2007. Scott currently lives in Wisconsin and has been a volunteer firefighter since 2005.

.I’ve always had a great admiration for the Lady, from Glen Cook’s Black Company series, with an honorable mention for all of the Ten Who Were Taken that serve her. She’s ruthless but multifaceted, a romantic and tragic figure as well as a provisioner of all the dark arts and fell deeds a reader could desire. As for the Ten, they’re just so fun and iconic, sort of more extroverted Nazgul.

If you’ll allow historical fiction as a cousin to fantasy, I’d also vote for Livia, from Robert Graves’ I, Claudius. Subtle, pitiless, and patient, the deadliest woman (hell, the deadliest person) in a deadly milieu.

Last but not least I’d bring up O’Brien, from George Orwell’s 1984, the chillingly contented ordinary man who patiently explains to Winston what it’s all about… that all the chanting and ideology is a fog, that the politics of Oceania are meaningless, the nature of its wars completely unimportant. The whole point of the crushing pyramid of human misery is to keep a tiny elite with their boots on the throats of the rest of humanity, forever and ever, amen. To conceive that sort of thing, to accept it, to rise and sleep as a happy part of such a brutal mechanism… now that’s villainy.

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Very rarely does a short fiction anthology score a home run with every single story it contains. Tastes differ from reader to reader. We asked this week’s participants to play the role of Editor:

Q: If you could publish a short fiction anthology containing up to 25 previously-published sf/f/h stories, which stories would it include and why?

Here’s what they said:

Nancy Kress
Nancy Kress is the author of 26 books of SF, fantasy, and writing advice. Her most recent novel is Steal Across the Sky (Tor, 2009), an SF novel about a crime committed by aliens against humanity 10,000 years ago – for which they would now like to atone. Her fiction has won multiple Nebula and Hugo awards, a Sturgeon, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award.

I teach SF often and have never been able to find the exact anthology I want to teach! This would be it. I know there are many wonderful stories I left out either because I had no room (you limited me to 25) or haven’t read them. There are also great writers whose novels I prefer to their short fiction. But this anthology would be a joy to teach.

  1. “Sandkings” by George R.R. Martin
  2. “Nine Lives” by Ursula K. LeGuin
  3. “Houston, Houston, Do You Read” by James Tiptree, Jr.
  4. “Morning Child” by Gardner Dozois
  5. “Johnny Mnemonic” by William Gibson
  6. “A Braver Thing” by Charles Sheffield
  7. “We See Things Differently” by Bruce Sterling
  8. “Firewatch” by Connie Willis
  9. “The Faithful Companion at Forty” by Karen Joy Fowler
  10. “Baby Makes Three” by Theodore Sturgeon
  11. “Continued on the Next Rock” by R.A. Lafferty
  12. “When It Changed” by Joanna Russ
  13. “For I Have Touched the Sky” by Mike Resnick
  14. “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang
  15. “Dead Worlds” by Jack Skillingstead
  16. “Divining Light” by Ted Kosmatka
  17. “Blood Music” by Greg Bear
  18. “The Undiscovered” by William Sanders
  19. “The Stars My Destination” by Alfred Bester
  20. “The Star” by Arthur Clarke
  21. “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” by Neil Gaiman
  22. “Daddy’s World” by Walter Jon Williams
  23. “The People of Sand and Slag” by Paolo Bacigalupi
  24. “Lincoln Train” by Maureen McHugh
  25. “Aye, and Gomorrah” by Samuel L. Delaney

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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 picks (and also check out Part 1)…

Jack McDevitt
Jack McDevitt is the author of fifteen novels including The Devil’s Eye and Time Travelers Never Die, both from Ace. McDevitt has been a frequent Nebula finalist. He won for his 2006 novel, Seeker.

Books I most enjoyed:

  • WWW:Wake, Robert Sawyer
  • Mars Life, Ben Bova
  • Plague Zone, Jeff Carlson
  • Overthrowing Heaven, Mark Van Name
  • Rift in the Sky, Julie Czerneda

I’ve just started Galileo’s Dream, by Kim Stanley Robinson. Am hooked already.

We haven’t seen any SF films I can recall. A TV series that stands out: FlashForward.

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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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