We’re thrilled to tell you that SF Signal contributor Karen Burnham has written a book on science fiction writer Greg Egan. The book, simply titled Greg Egan, is part of the Modern Masters of Science Fiction series published by University of Illinois Press and is the first study of the hard sci-fi pioneer. The book also includes a rare interview with Egan himself. It will be published in April 2014.

Here’s the synopsis:
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In this episode of SF Crossing the Gulf, we tackle Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe, the first volume of the Book of the New Sun quartet, published in 1980.

This is the first-person narrative of Severian, a lowly apprentice torturer blessed and cursed with a photographic memory, whose travels lead him through the marvels of far-future Urth, and who–as revealed near the beginning–eventually becomes his land’s sole ruler or Autarch. On the surface it’s a colorful story with all the classic ingredients: growing up, adventure, sex, betrayal, murder, exile, battle, monsters, and mysteries to be solved. … For lovers of literary allusions, they are plenty here: a Dickensian cemetery scene, a torture-engine from Kafka, a wonderful library out of Borges, and familiar fables changed by eons of retelling… The Book of the New Sun is almost heartbreakingly good, full of riches and subtleties that improve with each rereading. It is Gene Wolfe’s masterpiece. –David Langford

Despite reading this book in isolation from its series — which means that we are looking at all the set-up and none of the payoff — we find a lot to discuss and a lot to love in this classic novel.
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In this episode we discuss Ghosts, a family drama set in the near future by Jamaican author Curdella Forbes. We talk about unreliable narrators, culture, symbolism, and snails.
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This week the two Karens squee mightily about 1998’s The Sparrow–and then get down to the nitty gritty of characterization, structure, theology, colonialism and intricate detail. The Sparrow is a novel rich in detail, as evidenced by this being our longest podcast yet. But like the novel, it is packed with speculation and revelation.
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This is THE Greg Egan podcast. In this episode we cover Egan’s stories “The Planck Dive,” “Glory,” “Singleton,” “Oracle,” and “Oceanic.” We talk about Egan’s approach to science and art, quantum mechanics, history, biography, religion, sexuality, and much else, putting these works into the context of all his other fiction and what little is known about his life experiences. In the process, Karen Burnham realizes that she will need to considerably re-write the introduction to the book on Egan’s work that she is currently finalizing.

Next episode we’ll be talking about the 1998 Clarke Award-winning novel The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell.

Welcome to the debut episode of SF Crossing the Gulf with Karen Burnham and Karen Lord.

We’ll be discussing contemporary hard sf and Caribbean speculative fiction over the course of our new, twice-monthly podcast. We spend most of this first episode discussing “Exhalation” and the collection Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang.

Other books we’ll be discussing in the future:

  • My Bones and My Flute by Edgar Mittelholzer
  • A selection of short stories by Greg Egan
  • and The Rainmaker’s Mistake by Erna Broadber
  • More titles to be announced when we’re sure we can actually lay our hands on them ourselves.

We look at these stories from our perspectives as readers, writers, critics, scientists, sociologists, women, etc.
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Over at Kirkus Reviews, my interview with Karen Burnham has gone live.

Karen is a vital part of the science speculative fiction community. In addition to running Spiral Galaxy Reviewing Laboratory, she’s is also the editor of the Locus Roundtable Blog portion of Locus Online. Her latest project is writing a book about the work of science fiction author Greg Egan, coming soon from University of Illinois Press.

I grill Karen about The Academic Side of Speculative Fiction, a subject near and dear to her heart. She has some great things to say, so pop on over and feast your brain.

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

A lot of recent science fiction appears to take place on Earth, and only a minority of space-based science fiction taking place outside the solar system. Novels and stories involving travel to the stars and interstellar travel seems to be out-of-date or out-of-fashion, and even Hard SF treatments of interstellar travel seem as realistic as Star Wars.

We asked this week’s panelists:

Q: Is interstellar travel (and space empires, etc.) now considered Science Fantasy? What does that say for the state of the genre?

Here’s what they said…

Elizabeth Bear
Elizabeth Bear was born on the same day as Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, but in a different year. This, coupled with a childhood tendency to read the dictionary for fun, led her inevitably to penury, intransigence, the mispronunciation of common English words, and the writing of speculative fiction.

I think that like everything else, fads in science fiction run in cycles, and lately there’s been a big ol’ dystopian wave going on. But it’s not as if deep space science fiction, or SF featuring far-flung space civilizations isn’t still being written. Charlie Stross, Iain Banks, Dan Simmons, Greg Bear, Chris Moriarty, C.J. Cherryh–heck, I’ve written a couple of books dealing with far-flung space travel myself.

If you were to nudge the focus of the question over to whether near-future and near-earth SF has been getting more *awards* attention lately, I think you’d be more accurate.

But there are fads in criticism the same as everything else.

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MIND MELD: Our Favorite SF/F Movie and TV Soundtracks

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

We’ve covered a lot of topics in our Mind Meld series, from books, to cover art and lots of stuff in between. But we haven’t touched on the topic of music. We attempt to fix that oversight with this week’s question. We asked our panelists:

Q: What are some of your favorite SF/F movie and TV soundtracks/scores?

Here’s what they said…

Andrew Liptak
Andrew Liptak is a freelance writer and science fiction fan, and writes regularly at Words in a Grain of Sand on speculative fiction and history, and has written for sites such as SF Signal, io9 and Tor.com. He currently holds a degree in History and a master’s degree in Military History from Norwich University, and resides in the green mountains of Vermont with a growing library of books.

There’s a couple of science fiction soundtracks that I listen to constantly, and they’ve held up well over the years:

Battlestar Galactica: Seasons 1-4 (Original Television Soundtrack), Bear McCreary: When the show first came out, I loved the unconventional nature of how everything was set up, from the ship all the way to the music used. The soundtrack is a stunning one, and very different from what’s typical in science fiction.

Contagion: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, Cliff Martinez: This borders on the line between science fiction and thriller, but I’ll include it. I love Cliff’s music, and this entire soundtrack has an excellent opening theme, with a great sound throughout the rest of the album.
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[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

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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In the fifth episode of the SF Signal podcast, Patrick Hester is joined by John Anealio, Jay Garmon, Karen Burnham, JP Frantz and Matt Sanborn Smith to discuss the science fiction equivalent of Sword & Sorcery.

Later, Patrick Hester sits down with Karen Burnham who talks about blogging at SF Signal and writing reviews. She also reveals her upcoming, previously-unannounced, super-secret project.

“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, Part 2 and Part 3)…

Elizabeth Bear
Elizabeth Bear was born on the same day as Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, but in a different year. This, coupled with a childhood tendency to read the dictionary for fun, led her inevitably to penury, intransigence, the mispronunciation of common English words, and the writing of speculative fiction.

I was totally blown away by Robert Charles Wilson’s book Julian Comstock, which is about a post-peak-oil future in which Canada and the USA are ruled by a totalitarian family of religious fanatics, and the black sheep scion of a discredited branch of the family wants to–

Well, make movies, actually.

Other than that, my genre reading has been kind of sparse this year. I very much enjoyed Nisi Shawl’s Filter House and Christopher Barzak’s The Love We Share Without Knowing. I also like Margaret Ronald’s Spiral Hunt, which is light but satisfying

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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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