REVIEW SUMMARY: A deeper look at a new work of short fiction by Hugo, Nebula, Locus and World Fantasy award winning author Ken Liu. This story is featured in Clarkesworld Issue 88, January 2014.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A bounty hunter who has successfully nabbed her quarry inadvertently learns more about him during their journey through hyperspace as she kills time with a text-based computer game of his creation.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Clever execution of the story-within-a-story device; unconventional story structure fuels the fires of discovery; enjoyable blend of science fiction and fantasy devices.
CONS: Readers may be left with the desire for further resolution between Alex and Ryder.
BOTTOM LINE: Ken Liu has won several awards for stories that are out-of-the-ordinary and explore complex topics and emotions.  Those talents allow him to excel at telling a more straight-forward story as well, albeit one with signature Ken Liu flourishes.

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

Nanotechnology, lifelike robots, Google Glass, Invisibility Metamaterials, and 3-D Printing are just the beginning. Many technologies that recently existed only in the pages of a science fiction novel are becoming reality. We asked this week’s panelists:

Q: What science fictional technologies do you think are right on the horizon and will become part of our everyday lives in the next ten years?

Here’s what our panelists had to say…

Ken Liu
Ken Liu’s fiction has appeared in F&SF, Asimov’s, Analog, Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, and Clarkesworld, among other places. He has won a Nebula, two Hugos, a World Fantasy Award, and a Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation Award, and been nominated for the Sturgeon and the Locus Awards. He lives near Boston with his family.

Advances in artificial intelligence are not making many headlines these days, but I think within the next decade computer thinking will make inroads in many areas touching our lives. The reason advances in AI don’t seem very “science fictional” to us is that we keep on moving the goal post: computers now can beat humans at chess, answer Jeopardy questions, understand and transcribe your speech, translate in real time, and make billions on the stock market. While most people still seem “skeptical” about whether computers can think, we already live in a science fictional world.

Perhaps two areas will challenge our comfort. One is the military. Right now, military computers are still used in a way that is “supervised” by human decision makers. The drones that are in the news so much are operated by remote pilots, and targeting systems make recommendations, leaving the final decision to kill up to the human (though some have already described the human oversight as “illusory”). But the machinery of war has a relentless logic: eventually, human oversight will be seen as too slow and error-prone and undependable. We will have fully automated robots fighting our wars, where the decision to fire and kill will be made by machines alone—human oversight, if any, will be limited to the crafting of the algorithms governing these systems.
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REVIEW SUMMARY: Another diverse, multi-sided anthology from Dagan Books with an unexpected and unusual subject.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: FISH is an anthology of fiction of various stripes, swimming around the titular subject in a variety of ways.
MY REVIEW:
PROS: A few strong, memorable stories that tent-pole the collection; beautiful cover and interior art; strong diversity in approaches to subject matter.
CONS: Category may be too broad; a number of the works were underwhelming.
BOTTOM LINE: An anthology that shows off the contributors’ and editor’s talents.

A young man with a fishbowl head and fish for eyes…a deep-sea’s fish to the unknown world of the surface….a god in fish form offers a Hawaiian fisherman a perilous bargain…a seamstress’ needlepoint fish threaten to change the fate of two kingdoms…the Just So story of why catfish have a flat head…

These and many other characters and situations are to be found within the stories in FISH, an anthology from Dagan Books.

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Edited by John Joseph Adams and Douglas Cohen, Oz Reimagined: New Tales from the Emerald City and Beyond brings together leading fantasy writers such as Jane Yolen, Tad Williams and Seanan McGuire to create the ultimate anthology for Oz fans—and, really, any reader with an appetite for richly imagined worlds.

Here is the book’s description:

When L. Frank Baum introduced Dorothy and friends to the American public in 1900, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz became an instant, bestselling hit. Today the whimsical tale remains a cultural phenomenon that continues to spawn wildly popular books, movies, and musicals.

We asked a few of the authors a couple of questions…

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Edited by John Joseph Adams and Douglas Cohen, Oz Reimagined: New Tales from the Emerald City and Beyond brings together leading fantasy writers such as Jane Yolen, Tad Williams and Seanan McGuire to create the ultimate anthology for Oz fans—and, really, any reader with an appetite for richly imagined worlds.

Here is the book’s description:

When L. Frank Baum introduced Dorothy and friends to the American public in 1900, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz became an instant, bestselling hit. Today the whimsical tale remains a cultural phenomenon that continues to spawn wildly popular books, movies, and musicals.

We asked a few of the authors a couple of questions…

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(Cover image for Nebula Awards Showcase 2013 by Julie Dillon)

REVIEW SUMMARY:  The seven stories short-listed for this year’s Nebula Award for Short Story demonstrate that the medium remains a strong and effective method of telling good stories.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS:  Aging, death, child care, cultural identity, the importance of books, the price of true love and other pertinent life issues are examined against the backdrop of science fictional and fantasy settings in these seven short stories.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Each nominated story possesses its own strengths; wide variety of style and subject matter; emphasis on the human condition.
CONS: Readers who primarily enjoy fantasy may be disappointed to find that six of the seven stories have a science fictional bent; the judges did not make their task easy when narrowing it down to these seven entries.
BOTTOM LINE:  Take advantage of the fact that these stories are all available free online.  SFF readers exhibit a range of tastes and there is arguably something for most readers to enjoy from this solid group of nominees.

Last week the nominations were announced for this year’s Nebula Awards.  The Forty-Eighth Nebula Awards Weekend will be held May 16-19th, 2013.  Details concerning the awards weekend can be found here.  I have been hosting Short Fiction Friday for a month now, featuring a different current issue of a short fiction magazine each week.  With the announcement of these nominations I thought it would be fun to read the Short Story nominees and offer up a brief description of each one.  I was initially hesitant to provide a rating for these stories because each is a strong contender.   Here as always I made an effort to rate the stories according to a combination of my own personal experience in reading them as well as stepping back to make a more general view of how I accessed each story’s effectiveness judged solely against itself.   With this year’s nominees I firmly believe you could get seven different people in a room and each one could passionately argue for a different story to be crowned the winner.  I do not envy the judges their task.

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BOOK REVIEW: In Situ Edited by Carrie Cuinn

REVIEW SUMMARY: With this collection’s 15 stories, editor Carrie Cuinn argues that sometimes it’s best to keep hidden mysteries hidden.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: “An anthology of alien archeology, hidden mysteries, and things that are better off left buried,” with stories by such writers as Ken Liu, Alex Shvartsman, Mae Empson, David J. West, and K.V. Taylor.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Well-written, quick-paced stories; no clunkers.
CONS: A few stories with similar plots, characters, settings.
BOTTOM LINE: An interesting batch of stories about “things that are better off left buried.”
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In episode 130 of the SF Signal Podcast, Patrick Hester sits down to chat with Ken Liu, Hugo Nominated Author of The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary and The Paper Menagerie.

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Dear SF Signal Readers,

Hi! My name’s Zack Jernigan. I conducted this roundtable interview over the last year. Just so you know, I wrote a long, painfully self-conscious introduction about my upbringing as a white, heterosexual male born into a middle-middle-class family and how that contributed to my desire to start a discussion on the subject of Writing About Race in Sff Literature, but I scrapped it. When you’ve received such amazing responses from your interviewees, it’s best to get to them with the minimum of words.

So: Suffice it to say, this is an important topic for discussion. I hope that you enjoy reading part 2, below (Part 1 is here), and that you’ll feel free to comment. I also encourage you to visit the authors’ websites and buy their amazing work.

And enjoy!


Writing About Race in Science Fiction and Fantasy

A Roundtable Interview with David Anthony Durham, Aliette de Bodard, Adrian Tchaikovsky, and Ken Liu
(Continued from Part 1)

Q: There is a greater deal of “non-western” science fiction and fantasy being published-successfully-right now. As a result, a sense of excitement about reading and writing works that celebrate a wider range of skin tones and cultural influences appears to permeate the current discourse. Do you think we’re seeing a permanent shift in the sff literary culture, or do you think the possibility exists for it to once again restrict itself to certain perspectives?
David Anthony Durham

Permanent shift. In some ways it feels like a rapid shift, but there’s no going back. A few years ago, when I first began going to cons, there were a handful of writers of color that been around for a while-Octavia Butler, Samuel R. Delany, Steven Barnes, Tananarive Due, Nalo Hopkinson, and a few others. It was a short list, and it didn’t take long to rattle through it.
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Dear SF Signal Readers,

Hi! My name’s Zack Jernigan. I conducted this roundtable interview over the last year. Just so you know, I wrote a long, painfully self-conscious introduction about my upbringing as a white, heterosexual male born into a middle-middle-class family and how that contributed to my desire to start a discussion on the subject of Writing About Race in Sff Literature, but I scrapped it. When you’ve received such amazing responses from your interviewees, it’s best to get to them with the minimum of words.

So: Suffice it to say, this is an important topic for discussion. I hope that you enjoy reading this first part, that you’ll return for the second, and that you’ll feel free to comment. I also encourage you to visit the authors’ websites and buy their amazing work.

And enjoy!


Writing About Race in Science Fiction and Fantasy

A Roundtable Interview with David Anthony Durham, Aliette de Bodard, Adrian Tchaikovsky, and Ken Liu

Q: Is there an advantage to approaching the subject of race in science fiction and fantasy literature, as opposed to approaching the subject in mimetic (“mainstream” or “mundane”) fiction?
David Anthony Durham

I hope so.

Personal point of reference on a limitation of mimetic fiction… My first two novels were mainstream works about African-American history. Readers that picked up those books did so because they wanted to read about race and slavery. They went in knowing the material would be difficult, and most of them probably believed that ruminating about our racial history is relevant for modern day. That’s great, but it means a limited readership. What about reaching more folks-including folks that don’t think they’d be interested in reading about race?
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