MIND MELD: Books We Can’t Wait to Read in 2014

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It’s a new year and you know what that means…new book releases! So with that in mind, we’ve asked our panelists the following question:

Q: What upcoming book or books (to be released in 2014) are you most looking forward to reading? Why?

Here’s what they said…
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With all of the blockbuster, bestselling titles out there, and so many quality stories available, it can be easy for other titles to be overlooked, so this week, we asked our authors and panelists:

Q: What lesser-known books have you recently read that you think deserve more attention, and why?

Here’s what our panelists had to say…

Andrea Johnson
Andrea Johnson Andrea is the redhead behind Little Red Reviewer. She reads mostly scifi and fantasy, adores books that are older than she is and in her spare time enjoys experimenting in the kitchen. Someone at her day job recently told her she sounds taller on the phone.

Just reading this Mind Meld is going to make my TBR explode, isn’t it?

Everyone talks about Kage Baker’s Company series, but it’s a long series that has to be read in a certain order, making it look almost as intimidating as McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga (or moreso, since very few people will tell you what The Company series is actually about). Want just a taste to see if The Company schtick is for you, not to mention Baker’s writing style? Plant yourself in front of the short story collection In The Company of Thieves for a handful of short stories that take place in the world of The Company. There are contemporary tales, a comedy of errors, plenty of history fiction, and even a steampunk story. I can’t think of a better way to get introduced to Kage Baker if you’re not familiar with her work. I always get a little sad thinking about this series, because there will never be another book written in it.

And speaking of long intimidating series and authors who have passed away, I was insanely impressed with Iain Banks’ The Quarry. Lack of the famous middle initial means this isn’t a science fiction novel. It’s just a novel about a man’s last weekend with all his old friends, and his socially handicapped son. We get the story from the son’s point of view. When you hear the name Iain Banks, it’s so easy to jump right to “oh em gee, the Culture novels! You have to read The Culture novels!”. But what if you don’t want to read a Culture novel? What if you tried and you didn’t like them? The Quarry is all the Banks snark with none of the WTF.

On a much happier note is an anthology I just finished the other day – Sidekicks, edited by Sarah Hans. It’s from a smaller publisher, Alliteration Ink, and has very few big names to brag about in the table of contents. But that subject! Everyone loves a superhero movie (or at least that’s what IMDB tells me), but what about their sidekicks, their partners, their helpers, the guy or gal who gets the supersuit dry-cleaned and picks up coffee on the way to the Batcave? Some of the heroes know they’re in a partnership with their sidekick, other hero/sidekick relations are much more complicated. With far more depth and far less spandex than I expected, it was a very impressive collection. The sheer variety of hero/sidekick relationships and types of stories included makes this anthology worth some more mainstream attention.

Wow, I’ve been reading a TON of short fiction this year! My final book that I read recently that I think should get more attention is Clarkesworld Year Four, which includes all the original fiction published in Clarkesworld Magazine. It doesn’t matter how much screen-reading I do, I’ll always prefer a thinly sliced dead tree in my hands. Unfortunately, my propensity towards print makes it difficult to keep up with the all the short story magazines I enjoy, such as Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, and Apex. Getting a copy of Clarkesworld Year Four opened my eyes to fact that many magazines publish annual volumes of all of the original fiction that was published in their magazine and/or on their website. Can you say Best of Both Worlds? I get award winning and innovative short fiction, and a book in my hands! All the annual volumes of the short fiction magazines should be getting more attention.

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MIND MELD: The Rules of Worldbuilding

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In fiction, especially Fantasy, SF, and the like, part of the joy of reading is the sometimes vast, and complicated, worlds that authors create. However, there are certain “rules” that seem to apply to this process, and io9 recently published an article called 7 Deadly Sins of Worldbuilding, which made me wonder what authors and readers thought about the subject, what kind of “rules” they use in their writing, and also what they like to see in their reading. So I asked them:

Q: When you write, are there any particular “rules” you follow in your worldbuilding? What do you consider a “sin” in worldbuilding? For readers and authors, what do you like to see in regards to worldbuilding in your reading, and what do you consider a deal breaker? What worlds have captured your imagination more than others?

Here’s what they said…

Ingrid Jonach
Ingrid Jonach is the author of the young adult sci-fi romance novel When the World was Flat (and we were in love), published by Strange Chemistry.
Since graduating from university with a Bachelor of Arts in Professional Writing (Hons) in 2005, Ingrid has worked as a journalist and in public relations, as well as for the Australian Government. Find out more at www.ingridjonach.com.


For me, worldbuilding has to add to the narrative. For example, there is no point in telling me the ins-and-outs of a new plant species unless it is eaten or used for medicinal purposes in the story. Likewise, there is no need to spend ten pages explaining a piece of technology if it is never mentioned again.

My young adult novel When the World was Flat (and we were in love) is set in our world, but – at the risk of sharing spoilers – it also includes an alternate world with a re-imagined history. This alternate world is the catalyst for the relationship between the two main characters and all of the worldbuilding is connected to the events in the story.

My work-in-progress (WIP) goes one step further than When the World was Flat (and we were in love), as it is set in a world with a re-imagined history. This means breaking the rules of our current world (e.g. everyone eats ice-cream three times a day instead of just for dessert), but with good reason (e.g. the world is run by kids). I promise that is not the premise of my WIP!

I loved the worldbuilding in the Forest of Hands and Teeth trilogy by Carrie Ryan, because it showed the separation of societies in a post apocalyptic world by distance and therefore culture. They even have different names for the zombies in each region, e.g. the Unconsecrated, Mudo and Plague Rats.
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MIND MELD: Do You Like To Re-Read?

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Q: What are your thoughts on re-reading favorite books and what are some books and/or series you re-read or plan on re-reading?

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.

This seems like an awfully long way to go to find a controversy. There is no moral aspect to re-reading over reading something new; both are perfectly valid uses of one’s leisure time.

For writers, of course, keeping up with an at least cursory overview of what’s new in one’s field is a professional obligation, and its good to have a founding in the classics. And research often requires reading an awful lot of nonfiction–but reading for pleasure or comfort? I’d say read whatever makes you happy. You’ll get different things out of a book each time you read it–and rereading is certainly a primal human drive. Otherwise, kids wouldn’t want The Little Engine That Could twice a night every night until it becomes engraved on their DNA.

We learn and internalize via repetition, after all–and narrative are the mechanism our minds use to organize information in a crowded, chaotic, and unknowable universe.

Also, sometimes we just don’t want to be surprised. Although the best books are unavoidably surprising; they surprise us every time.
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BOOK REVIEW: Archangel Protocol by Lyda Morehouse

REVIEW SUMMARY: A first novel from Morehouse that still holds up years later.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In a theologically oriented 21st Century, an excommunicated NYC cop learns that Angels are more, and less real, than commonly believed

MY REVIEW:
PROS: A fascinating 21st century world. The scene-stealing and book-stealing characters of Mouse. The original book’s gorgeous cover art wonderfully re-used.
CONS: Some of the book feels a bit dated. Deidre is not quite as interesting as the cast of characters around her.
BOTTOM LINE: A first novel from Morehouse that still holds up, and has a chance to be read by a wider audience.

Back in 2001, on the far side of 9/11, I became aware of, thanks to a “Maiden Voyage award” from Barnes and Noble and mention in a quarterly publication of theirs highlighting upcoming books, a debut novelist named Lyda Morehouse. On the boundaries of SF and Fantasy, with a big helping of theology, I decided to give this book set in a 21st century New York a try, and ended up reading it and its sequels in short order.

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You hear new stories every day: humans are ruining the planet. If we don’t do something now, we’ll certainly destroy the world for our children. Dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction is wildly popular, and for good reason! These scenarios, while bleak, are also exciting and offer the opportunities for lots of what-ifs. However, in the spirit of optimism, I wanted to explore some future scenarios that offer hope and a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel.

We asked this week’s panelists…

Q: It’s not unusual to hear negative things about what the future might bring for the Earth and humankind, and dystopian narrative certainly makes for entertaining futuristic sci-fi scenarios (environmental disaster, overuse of technology, etc). In the spirit of optimism and hope, what are a few of your far future scenarios that speak to the possible positive aspects of our evolving relationship with our world?

Here’s what they said…

Brenda Cooper
Brenda Cooper is a technology professional, a science fiction writer and a futurist. She is the author of The Silver Ship and the Sea, Reading the Wind, Wings of Creation, Mayan December, and her newest novel, The Creative Fire, was just released by Pyr.

We are backing into Eden. I’ll actually be delivering a talk about this at the next World Future Society meeting in Chicago in the summer of 2013.

I have always been an optimist. It IS a little tough to pull that off right now, but there is still reason for hope. I know that climate change is a common topic, and you’ll get more than this post on it. But I do think we can get better at taking care of our world than we are now. The just-past election is one example. President Barak Obama mentioned climate change in his acceptance speech (after it had been off the radar all election). Here in Washington State, we just elected a rabidly pro-environment Governor, Jay Inslee. In fast, the US elected five people who are expected to drive change in this area. In addition to Jay, there are two new senators and two new congressional representatives who get it. Our city just passed a levy that funds, among other things, a program called Green Kirkland that is about support for our beautiful local environment. Katrina was a knock on the door. Sandy was a louder wake-up call.

The trick is that we are past the first tipping point – the climate is going to keep on warming even if we shut off all of the carbon spigots tomorrow. Success now looks like slowing and eventually stopping or even (maybe!) reversing the trends that are putting us in mortal danger right now. We caused a lot of this problem, and as ill-equipped as we are, we will have to help mitigate it. In addition to gaining at least some of the policymakers that we need, there is significant progress being made on important fronts: Electric cars, higher emission standards, more efficient buildings, green energy, better batteries. We are also gaining deeper understanding the world through big data modeling. We have the Internet. We have increasingly specific and high quality mapping and sensor nets. We can intervene on some levels, and we’re going to have to.

We have the communication tools to support what we’re going to need to do. If we could turn these tools to unseat bad governments all over the world last spring, and to occupy our own ill-behaved banking system, we can use the power of the Internet to spread ideas and action on climate. All we need is focus. Hurricane Sandy was a focus point. The heat waves were focusers. There will be more on the way. It will take some pain, some death, and a lot of action, but we can transform our relationship with the planet. That may leave us as the tenders of the garden in more ways than we want, but it is a path to success.

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In episode 154 of the SF Signal Podcast, Patrick Hester gathers a group of SFSignal folks to discuss: History That Never Happened, Our Favorite Alternate History Stories.

Alternate histories play a big part in SF&F – what are some of your favorites?

Why? What made them stand out to you?

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MIND MELD: Ticklish Subjects in SF

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Is there any subject science fiction hasn’t turned its eyes (or feelers, or antennae) to? Maybe not, but with the passage of time, habits change, mores change, worldviews change, new writers come to the fore bringing new questions, or new ways of asking old questions. There is always a flavor of the month, a subgenre favored by media or by writer’s movements now and then (cyberpunks and steampunks promptly come to mind, but we can also think of the New Weird and New Space Opera, to name just very, very few). On the other end of the spectrum, however, there are always delicate subjects, things that don’t give themselves easily to scrutiny, for a variety of reasons.

Bearing this in mind, we asked this week’s panelists…

Q: What are, in your opinion, the themes and subjects which science fiction never have delved into properly but should have? (sex, politics, religion, sports may be part of this list – or not) Is there an author or story in particular which you feel has treated said subject in the right way and could be an example to be followed among new writers?

Here’s what they said…

Nick Mamatas
Nick Mamatas is the author of several novels, including Sensation, and Bullettime. His short fiction has appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Tor.com, New Haven Review, and many other venues. As an editor and anthologist, he has been nominated for the Hugo, World Fantasy, and the Bram Stoker awards. His most recent anthology, The Future is Japanese, co-edited with Masumi Washington, is available now.

In a field as wide as SF, surely any mention of a taboo topic will only lead to someone appearing with a copy of a ragged pulp magazine from 1937 to declare, “Aha! You forgot this story! It’s been covered! We need never discuss this again!” But a few things come to mind.

SF in the US has long been a propaganda wing for, inexplicably, both the libertarian movement and US space program. A contradiction, to say the least, but it’s a contradiction that can be papered over by contending that both small-government classical liberalism and enormous government expenditure with military and propaganda purposes are part of the broader narrative of “Americanism.” It is quintessentially American to be a rugged individual, and to have a giant technocratic apparatus to project and extend this individualism. And there is plenty of SF in which America fragments, or collapses, or it superseded, but this is only rarely if ever depicted as a positive good for the world—despite very many people outside of the US who would be pleased if the country, or at least its political power on the world scene, went poof tomorrow. So the happy circumstance of an American implosion is one taboo that comes to mind, though the lack of SF with this theme might just be a case of writers and publishers knowing where their bread is buttered.

In Japanese SF, where the bread is buttered on the other side, the US occasionally shuffles off the scene to allow for a realistic near-future in which Japan predominates, but a lot of Japanese SF also features Japanese characters collaborating with friendly American rivals/partners. One book that approaches the happy end-of-America theme is Genocidal Organ by Project Itoh, which we just released over at Haikasoru.

Another issue not much talked about is the philosophy of science. In SF, it seems to stop with Kuhn. There’s not much discussion of Feyerabend or others of his ilk. Perhaps everything after Kuhn was nonsense, but at least we could expect to see some brickbats leveled at them then. Instead, SF seems happy to shoot spitballs at scientific non-entities like “young Earth” creationists. Kiddie stuff. SF writers and fans often prize their own rationality, but many of them are just mere rationalists.

Finally, the biggest taboo has nothing to do with content, but rather than form. The very notion that there is such a thing as good writing and bad writing, rather than just stuff some people like and others don’t, is looked at with a lot of skepticism in SF circles. It’s a taboo to valorize quality writing, or to claim that there is such a thing as a good reader, and a poor reader.

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This week’s short and sweet question:

Q: What book(s) in your ‘to read’ pile are you most interested in reading? Why?

Here’s what our panelists said…

Patrick Hester
Patrick Hester is an author, blogger and Hugo-nominated Podcast producer/host who lives in Colorado, writes science fiction and fantasy, and can usually be found hanging out on his Twitter feed. His Functional Nerds and SF Signal weekly podcasts have both been nominated for Parsec awards, and the SF Signal podcast is nominated for a 2012 Hugo Award. He writes for atfmb.com, SF Signal, KirkusReviews and Functional Nerds.


This one is easy. Doctor Who: Shada: The Lost Adventure by Douglas Adams (novelized by Gareth Roberts). There is an old saying; you never forget your first Doctor. For me, that Doctor was Tom Baker, good ol’ Number Four. Once described by Number Two (or Three, I forget) as ‘curly hair and teeth’, the Fourth Doctor was the first for me. I watched episodes of Doctor Who on the local PBS station. Despite bad special effects that turned most of my friends off immediately, I quickly became hooked on this TimeLord from the planet Galifrey who traveled in a blue box with a robot dog who called him ‘Master’ and sported a multi-colored collar matching the Doctor’s own ridiculously long scarf. (I still want one of those scarves…)

It wasn’t until I moved deeper into fandom, attending conventions where people were selling Japanese Anime (I’d never seen the likes of before!), VHS copies of shows from over seas (like Doctor Who, UFO, The Avengers), and bootleg copies of STUFF (I SWEAR I DIDN’T INHALE!), that I became aware of certain things regarding the good Doctor. (this was before the Interwebz.) Things like: many episodes were lost to time when the BBC ‘cleaned house’ destroying video tapes and film libraries. And, there was a ‘lost episode’ from the Tom Baker years. Written by Douglas The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Adams himself, no less.

The story went that they began filming Shada, meant to be the final serial of the 1979-80 season, when a strike hit the BBC. That strike killed production and they never finished filming. There was an attempt to revisit the script and complete the filming, but it never came to fruition. Why? No idea. The producer, John Nathan-Turner, did manage to release a version of it on VHS a decade later, but never as part of the televised series.

Side Note: for the anniversary special The Five Doctors, Tom Baker declined to participate, so footage of the Fourth Doctor and Romana II from the Shada episode, were used (you might remember the Doctor and Romana boarding a gondola and becoming ‘stuck’ out of time).

Side Note 2: In the Key to Time DVD’s (I think), there’s a bonus feature – an episode of Blue Peter (BBC children’s show) shot on the sets of Doctor Who. They were forced to shoot the show there due to yet another strike affecting the BBC. Given the set they were using, they had a very Doctor Who-centric episode.

A few years back, another version of the story was done, this time an animated Flash serial with Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor in the lead (yes, the guy from the Fox version/movie). I watched the 1st episode. Meh.

But now, Ace has released a novelization putting Shada squarely back into the Fourth’s Doctor’s Continuity. 400 pages of Classic Who goodness…
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Due to a brain freeze on my part technical issues, I managed to leave a few respondents off of this week’s Mind Meld. As a refresher, here is this week’s question:

What are your favorite SF/F books/movies/TV shows/comics/etc. that you consumed in 2011?
Paul Weimer
Paul Weimer has been reading SF and Fantasy for over 30 years and exploring the world of roleplaying games for over 25 years. Almost as long as he has been reading and watching movies, he has enjoyed telling people what he has thought of

them. In addition to his reading and gaming interests, he can be found at his own blog, Blog Jvstin Style, the Functional Nerds, Twitter, Livejournal and many other places on the Internet. And one day he will write his own “trunk novel”.

Although I don’t seem to have consumed any more than usual, I consumed more first-run genre goodness year this time around than in many years past.

In terms of movies, this was of course the movie year of superheroes, and a lot of other genre movies in general. I watched many of them, found many wanting, but also found some movies I would add to my movie collection. I particularly liked Duncan Jones’ Source Code in the spring, and in the superhero category, it’s a close run race between X-Men: First Class and Captain America. Thor wasn’t bad, either. And I shouldn’t forget to mention Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which was far better than it had any right to be.

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