EW Reviews SF

Issue #897 (September 15, 2006) of Entertainment Weekly offers some brief reviews of science fiction and fantasy books. Here’s a snippet…

Variable Star by Robert A. Heinlein and Spider Robinson

For Fans of: The late master’s Future History stories.

Lowdown: An enjoyable read. Star incorporates plenty of Heinlein’s liberal social theories, but not enough of his sharp moral edge.

Grade: B

Mappa Mundi by Justina Robson

For Fans of: Brave New World or Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, if they met Thomas Pynchon in a cybercafe.

Lowdown: A lyrical, attentively-written anti-utopia.

Grade: A-

Stamping Butterflies by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

For Fans of: The Matrix.

Lowdown: Grimwood’s hard-boiled prose reels you in like a velvet rope (smiles twist “lips without ever reaching your eyes”). Too bad about reality being an illusion, though.

Grade: B+

A Meeting at Corvallis by S.M. Stirling

For Fans of: Forget Tolkien – does the Society for Creative Anachronism ring a bell?

Lowdown: Diehards will find this richly realized story or swordplay and intrigue immensely satisfying.

Grade: B

Filed under: Books

SF Tidbits for 9/11/06

Filed under: Tidbits

Here are the results of the latest SF Signal poll.

Which of these is your favorite fictional robot from literature?


(68 total votes)

Marvin and R. Daneel took a significant amount of votes here. Should I not have bothered with the other choices? :)

Be sure to vote in this week’s poll on When to Stop Reading!

Filed under: Polls

H.G. Wells – Master Predictor

Historian and futurist W. Warren Wagar reviews the range of H.G. Wells’s contributions to the discipline of future thinking in this 1983 article H.G. Wells and the Genesis of Future Studies. It mentions Wells’s work, including Anticipations of the Reactions of Mechanical and Scientific Progress upon Human Life and Thought. (Yay Gutenberg!)

Here’s an excerpt of Wagar’s article on Wells’s prediction powers:

Anticipations ranged widely in its subject matter, from the future of transport to the future of world order. The first chapters are familiar fare to anyone who has read other books of the time by journalists sketching with enthusiasm the progress to be expected from science in the new century. Wells looked ahead to the first aircraft and to broad highways teeming with automobiles, busses, and trucks. Suburbia would triumph over city and countryside. In the United States. one vast unbroken sprawl of middle-class life would reach from Boston to Washington. Homes would be prefabricated, and household appliances and chemicals would put an end to the need for servants.

But in later chapters, Wells turned from his predictions of miracle dishwashing solvents and tidy electric ranges to something that for him was much more crucial. By the close of the 20th century, he foresaw the collapse of capitalism and the nation state system in great technologically advanced total wars that the tycoons and the politicians could not, ultimately, understand or control. Power would slip through their fingers. They would be swiftly replaced by the technically competent, by scientists and engineers and managers, who would learn from their errors and build a world state of peace and plenty.

Filed under: Books

7 Leftist Trends in Science Fiction

Tim @ Random Observations has a Science Fiction and Leftism post in which he details seven leftists trends in science fcition. Here’s the short version:

7 Leftist Trends in Science Fiction

  1. The Misunderstood Villain
  2. Moral “Evolution”
  3. Atheism
  4. Globalism
  5. Child-Worship
  6. Moral and Cultural Relativism
  7. Free Love

Filed under: BooksTV

Do You Know When to Stop Reading?

English novelist Nick Hornby wrote a surprisingly frank essay about how to read in which he suggests people fight the urge to stop reading something they are not enjoying. His thoughts stemmed from not wanting to continually slam unentertaining books in his reviews:

My solution was to try to choose books I knew I would like. I’m not sure this idea is as blindingly obvious as it seems. We often read books that we think we ought to read, or that we think we ought to have read, or that other people think we should read (I’m always coming across people who have a mental, sometimes even an actual, list of the books they think they should have read by the time they turn 40, 50, or die); I’m sure I’m not the only one who harrumphs his way through a highly praised novel, astonished but actually rather pleased that so many people have got it so wrong.

He argues that people feel compelled to read things they might dislike and end up associating reading with hard work and ultimately boredom. The result could be a decline in readership.

If reading books is to survive as a leisure activity – and there are statistics that show that this is by no means assured – then we have to promote the joys of reading, rather than the (dubious) benefits.

The solution?

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Filed under: Books

SF Tidbits for 9/9/06

Filed under: Tidbits

UPDATE #2: Happy Birthday Star Trek

Today is the 40th anniversary of the first airing of Star Trek.

Does anything more than this need to be said?

UPDATE: Apparently something more does need to be said. As part of his own personal celebration, Wil Wheaton has begun reviewing Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes for TV Squad. Not that I troll Wil Wheaton’s blog or anything…

UPDATE #2: The Top 9 Ways to Celebrate Star Trek’s 40th Birthday.

Filed under: TV

SF Tidbits for 9/8/06

Filed under: Tidbits

Amazon Unbox Service

Today, Amazon has announced their video download service, called Amazon Unbox. They will have TV shows and movies available for downloading, raning in price from $1.99 to $14.99. As a special promotion, Amazon is offering an instant $1.99 rebate. Who not download an episode of your favorite science fiction show? They have some good stuff in there.

Filed under: Web Sites

REVIEW: Life On Mars (BBC TV)


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Sam Tyler is a detective in the modern day Manchester police department. Sam’s girlfriend is kidnapped by a serial killer he is hunting and, while trying to find her, Sam is struck by a car. Upon waking, he discovers he is in Manchester, 1973. Sam tries to discover whether he has actually traveled back in time, is in a coma imagining 1973, or if he has imagined 2006 and is actually crazy.

PROS: Very good characters, lots of humor, intriguing premise, being on the BBC allows for more graphic language (you know, for verisimilitude).

CONS: Episodes feel uneven in tone and content, characters don’t really change too much.

BOTTOM LINE: A very interesting cop drama with strong characters and mixing in hints of time travel. If you get BBC and you want a good, but different, cop show, check out Life On Mars.

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Filed under: TV

Talk To Us…..If You Dare!

Some of you may have noticed yesterday an Instant Message box appeared on the left sidebar. We discovered a neat little IM widget from Meebo.com that allows website visitors to chat with the website authors. We thought that was a cool idea so we installed it. What we didn’t like was the load time or the look of the thing. So, we moved it. As you can now see, there is a NEW icon next to the Chat with us link. This will open a new window with two IM widgets installed that will allow you to chat with either myself (JP) or John, assuming, of course that we are online and at our PCs and are available to chat. Which, since John is pretty much a slacker, means almost anytime during the work day….

You can edit your nickname if you want us to see who you are, or just leave it with the randomly assigned name. We thought this might be fun so give it a try and tell us what you think!

Filed under: Meta

SF Tidbits for 9/7/06

Filed under: Tidbits

REVIEW: Wizard For Hire by Jim Butcher (SFBC Omnibus Collection)


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Harry Dresden is Chicago’s only openly practicing wizard/private detective. As might be expected, Harry encounters lots of different supernatural entities, most of which try to kill him.

PROS: Non-stop action, smooth prose, interesting characters, unique setting, a page-turner.

CONS: Quite often Harry extricates himself from dire situations via the plot and not his own initiative.

BOTTOM LINE: A very entertaining and enjoyable read. This combination of fantasy/supernatural and P.I. genres works very well. A must read for fantasy fans.

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Filed under: Book Review

Reading Snobbery, Part 2

[Note: This has been sitting on my computer for a while now and I recently rediscovered it. So if you're wondering why this links back to old posts on other blogs, there you go.]

A couple of months ago, Grumpy Old Bookman gave a not-so-nice review of Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link. I’m not picking on the book here; I just call it out because the post is fertile ground for some discussions on the sf/f genre. Grumpy Old Bookman posits (and I’m summarizing) that in order to become more respectable in publishing circles, the sf community has been quietly giving unwarranted kudos to literary science fiction instead of more deserving books:

So what they have begun to do, consciously or unconsciously, is award prizes to work which could, on a dark night, be mistaken for literary stuff. They are doing this in the hope that, if they do it often enough, and shout loudly about it, they might one day be admitted to the Groucho club and get to meet Marty and Salman and all those other guys. Then they will be able to hold their heads up high in decent company.

This is an intriguing notion partly because it affirms my belief that awards do not necessarily point one towards books they’d enjoy. Certainly my recent experiences reading the Nebula and Hugo short fiction nominees also support this idea. My own track record of reading award-winning sf is spotty at best. I couldn’t finish The Left Hand of Darkness, for example.

Which is not to say award winners stink, of course. Many, if not most, are quite enjoyable so they can point someone looking for a good read in the right direction. There’s also a distinction that exists between “good” and enjoyable, I think. A book can be well-written, tackle tough issues, have complex plots and characters – and still be a mediocre read.

This reminds me of the Literary Snob post and where I sit in the literary spectrum. While I like a literary book once in a while, I find I like reading things on the other side of spectrum more because it best provides what I’m looking for in a book: entertainment. Grumpy Old Bookman feels the same…

If I have to choose between skiffy with literary pretensions and skiffy with bug-eyed monsters, I will gladly choose the latter, any day of the week.

As does David Goodman

I read a lot of science fiction, some of it mind-bogglingly complex and filled with ideas that make my head hurt (in a good way). The last thing it needs is impenetrable, plotless storylines, author-clone characters and rambling stream-of-consciousness dirges (I generalise, sorry).

Goodman also goes on to say what he likes so much about sf and why the idea that sf genre is a literary ghetto is hogwash.

People might think science fiction and its sister genres are literary ghettoes, but in my opinion they’re the last reserves of the key elements of quality fiction – a damn good story that makes you think and the wherewithal to tell it well. For example, how many people still read Booker prize winners from the fifties, apart from obscure academics? Now, compare that to how many people read Heinlein, Pohl, Asimov and the rest. Printed fiction is our version of the Norse sagas, tribal stories around a campfire. And just like the sagas, the boring, uninspired or pointless tales die a death after their first telling, whereas the adventures that keep us riveted keep coming back.

I think the bottom line here is that different people like different things. Who’s to say that your literary novel is better than my sf pulp? Can’t we just all get along?

Filed under: Books

Battlestar Galactica: “Resistance”

The SciFi Channel is posting a 10-part Battlestar Galactica episode that bridges the gap between season 2 and season 3. New webisodes are posted every Tuesday and Thursday, starting today.

Reminder: Season 3 starts on October 6th.

[via Asking the Wrong Questions, who links to the torrent of part 1]

Filed under: TV

Top 10 Literary Villains

According to a Bloomsbury poll of 16,000 British schoolchildren.

  1. Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter series by JK Rowling.
  2. Sauron from The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by JRR Tolkien.
  3. Mrs. Coulter from His Dark Materials Sequence by Philip Pullman.
  4. Lex Luthor from Superman Graphic novels by DC Comics.
  5. The Joker from Batman Graphic novels by DC Comics.
  6. Count Olaf from A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket.
  7. The Other Mother from Coraline by Neil Gaiman.
  8. The White Witch from The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis.
  9. Dracula from Dracula by Bram Stoker.
  10. Artemis Fowl from Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer.

Filed under: Books

REVIEW SUMMARY: Another fun book from Scott Westerfeld.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A group of kids who possess supernatural abilities during the midnight hour fight off the sinister darklings.


PROS: Fast-paced and interesting; cool depiction of the dark hour.

CONS: I would have liked to see more interplay between the characters when the Midnighters used their powers. The explanation of frozen time doesn’t quite hold up under any reasonable amount of scrutiny.

BOTTOM LINE: A fun read for kids and adults.

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Filed under: Book Review

Free Ted Chiang

MetaFilter points to four online stories by Ted Chiang:

The first three are collected in Stories of Your Life and Others, the last one is available in Year’s Best SF 11 edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer.

[via Velcro CIty Tourist Board]

Filed under: Free Fiction

SF Tidbits for 9/5/06

Filed under: Tidbits

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