SF Tidbits for 9/25/06

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POLL RESULTS: Your Favorite Robot from Film

Here are the results of the latest SF Signal poll.

QUESTION
Which of these is your favorite fictional robot from film?

RESULTS

(69 total votes)

I would have thought that the people would be all over the metallic T-1000. It seems that there is a fondness for the classic robots of the 50’s. But they still didn’t edge out those pesky replicants!

Be sure to vote in this week’s poll about online book reviews!

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Doctorow Concludes “0wnz0red” Podcast

Cory Doctorow has completed the 4-part podcast of his Nebula-nominated short story “0wnz0red“.

Here are links to the MP3s:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

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SF Tidbits for 9/24/06

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The DNA of Literature

The Paris Review has posted a bunch of their past interviews with authors as part of The DNA of Literature. (Sadly, some are only interview excerpts, but some have the full interview in PDF format.) A few of these authors have been known to dabble in science fiction, despite what some of them may say. [Looks at Atwood and Vonnegut.] Here are the ones of note for genre fans:

[via Backwards City]

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Beyond Reality

Stefan from the Yahoo group Beyond Reality writes in to tell us about the recent happenings in the group. Beyond Reality, with 450+ members, discusses one science fiction and one fantasy book throughout the month. Recently, they have extended invitations to authors who have accepted and will appear in upcoming group discussions as noted below. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to participate in a book club, this would be a good opportunity.

Here’s their schedule:

September

  • SF: Artifact by Gregory Benford
  • Fantasy: City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff Vandermeer

October

  • SF: Earth by David Brin (who will participate)
  • Fantasy: Unbinding the Stone by Marc Vun Kannon

November

  • SF: Spin by Robert Charles Wilson (who will participate)
  • Fantasy: The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams

Filed under: Web Sites

More on (Did He Say “Moron”?) Book Reviewing

Following on the heels of the recent Book Review Backlash, it seems that the realm of the argument has breached the blogosphere and (somewhat) entered the mainstream. I’m referring to to a recent Time magazine essay by book critic Lev Grossman called My Mortal Enemy, in which Lev talks back to blogger Edward Champion who apparently has been vocal about disliking Lev’s reviews. Says Lev:

I want to be clear: I don’t think Ed Champion is an idiot. I’ve read some of the other, non–Lev Grossman-related posts on his blog (which is mostly about books), and have found them to be highly opinionated but otherwise cogent and well-informed, and sometimes even charming. Ed Champion is not insane. He’s just unswervingly committed to the position that I am a complete tool.

I know, I know, I should toughen up. Blogging is a knockabout sport, and as a writer I’m fair game. You’d think I could just ignore Ed Champion (you can find him at edrants.com yeah, go ahead, don’t all click at once) and most of the time I do. But it’s harder than you’d think. Blogs reach a big audience. People read him. People link to him. Google frickin’ loves Ed. Not long ago I set up a website of my own, and despite the fact that it’s my website, and it deals with nothing but Lev Grossman, and it’s located at levgrossman.com Ed’s website still comes up ahead of mine half the time.

It’s nice to see a magazine acknowledging the blogosphere, but for Lev, his life is “increasingly being invaded by these people”. Lev’s position on blogging:

It’s one of the singular features of our little social-technological moment that people all over the world whom we otherwise would never even be aware of can effortlessly impinge upon our minds and lives and desktops. We probably see fewer people in person these days, but our lives are populated by an entire chorus of disembodied presences, amplified and directed by the Internet, as if we had all begun to suffer from a mild form of schizophrenia. Everybody talks a little louder now. There’s a little less mental elbow room.

Getting back to book reviews, Lev said this week in a Critical Mass interview:

At the risk — nay, certainty — of sounding kind of snobbish, I wish book sections in general would leave book-reviewing to the pros. There’s a pervasive notion that anybody who can read can write a book review. Not so. Good god, there is nothing so boring, so dank and unappealing on the page, as a bad book review.

And at the risk of sounding reverse-snobbish, I’d like to see more serious review attention go to genre fiction. It is, after all, what most people read. The worst of it is very bad, and the best of it is very very good. Why not help potential book-buyers divide the one from ‘tother?

For further reading: Bud Parr at Chekov’s Mistress has a well-thought-out response to amateur reviews. (Also cross-posted at MetaxuCafĂ©.)

[via Niall at Big Blog of Cheese]

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SF Tidbits for 9/22/06

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Forgotten Trek

The Forgotten Trek website is “a tribute to those forgotten heroes who created Star Trek – from the Enterprise herself to the uniforms worn by its crew. This is a shrine to the men and woman who made Star Trek possible and took good care of it for decades…”

There’s lots of good information here for fans, both diehard and casual: concept art, behind-the-scenes info, costumes, lost voyages (unused material) and interviews with the production crew.

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SF Tidbits for 9/21/06

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Don Swaim Interviews Authors

Don Swaim, host of the long-running CBS Radio show, Book Beat, has interviewed a butt-load of authors. Many of these uncut interviews are available online. Check out these interviews of genre authors:

I’m in the middle of listening to the Asimov interview as I type this. He’s talking about the history the sf field and his career and books. (He was scared of writing another Foundation novel years after having written the “last” one.) It’s really fascinating stuff. Check it out!

Filed under: BooksWeb Sites

SF Stories Ripped from Vinyl

Following a recent tidbit about J.R.R. Tolkien reading and singing his Lord Of The Rings, the good folks at SFF Audio have found some other sf goodies that were born on vinyl.

First, Arthur C. Clarke reads his short stories “Transit Of Earth”, “The Star” and “The Nine Billion Names of God”.

Next, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is performed by Aldous Huxley and a full cast in two parts.

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SF Tidbits for 9/20/06

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I’m a Boob

Curse you, late night blogging!

Sorry folks, I inadvertently posted an erroneous news item about the passing of James Earl Jones, when it was Robert Earl Jones (James’s father) who passed away. Although the post has been deleted, some of you will undoubtedly see it in our newsfeeds. I sincerely apologize. You now have confirmation that I am indeed a big boob with a blog. Rest assured I will be the subject of ridicule for weeks, if not years, to come. And with good reason. (See aforementioned note on boobishness.)

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SF Tidbits for 9/19/06

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MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: An anthology of 32 stories attempting to provide historical perspective of space opera.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: 24 stories good or better, 10 of them outstanding; historical editorials.

CONS: 8 stories mediocre or worse; editorials have academic tone.

BOTTOM LINE: You are unlikely to find a more comprehensive survey of space opera.

It takes a certain ambition to try to get your editorial arms around space opera because it seems that everyone has their own definition of it. It’s as if the definition of it is as subjective a thing as success or beauty. It therefore may not be surprising that a space opera anthology, which attempts to put space opera in historical perspective by including samples from all its variations, is just freakin’ huge. At 32 stories (12 novellas, 12 novelettes, 7 short stories and 1 vignette) and 940+ pages, The Space Opera Renaissance is one giant, arm-numbing tome. When you open the cover and see that the book is printed with smaller than normal text, it may seem downright daunting. But if space opera is your thing, like it is mine, you’ll dive into it with laser blaster drawn.

So how does a reader get his arms around this? The book’s table of contents shows its organization. Stories are grouped into sections roughly by era, yet inexplicably the publication dates of the stories within each section do not always fall within those dates. This must be an editorial oversight. It would have been better to leave off the year labels on the section headings to avoid the confusion.

Hartwell’s and Cramer’s introduction – an expansion of an earlier essay titled How Shit Became Shinola: Definition and Redefinition of Space Opera – serves to put space opera in historical perspective by considering the myriad of definitions it has held over the years. It’s not all laser blasters and spaceships. Along with story intros that are longer than those in most anthologies, the main introduction has a somewhat academic tone that makes it seem like a stiffly-delivered dissertation. Space opera is supposed to fun. Writing about it should yield something fun as well. Otherwise, the essay does great job cataloguing the history of space opera, from its critical abusive roots to its morphing into something acceptable by the literati.

Since the definition of space opera is so broad, it’s no wonder that some of the stories seem to be all over the sf genre map. Several stories seem more happily pigeonholed to other sub-genres (like military sf, for example) than they do in the space opera camp, but only diehard space opera purists would be bothered by this. The result of the genre-mingling is a diverse mix of stories that either hint at or have feet firmly entrenched in whatever your own personal definition of space opera might be. As to the quality of the stories, well, that varies. It seems that some stories were chosen to make the volume more comprehensive. That’s the point of this volume, I suppose. But how many anthologies can boast having only top-notch stories anyway? The book succeeds in its goal of providing a comprehensive survey of space opera.

There were ten standout stories this volume. They were “The Star-Stealers” by Edmond Hamilton, “The Swordsmen of Varnis” by Clive Jackson, “Empire Star” by Samuel R. Delany, “A Gift from the Culture” by Iain M. Banks, “Escape Route” by Peter F. Hamilton, “Aurora in Four Voices” by Catherine Asaro, “The Death of Captain Future” by Allen Steele, “Fools Errand” by Sarah Zettel, “Spirey and the Queen” by Alastair Reynolds and “Guest Law” by John C. Wright. Six of the stories are available online, as noted by the hyperlinked story names below.

[Note: It’s rare for any anthology, but certainly possible in one of this size, to include a story that qualifies as a novel by the SFWA standards, but Donald Kingsbury’s Kzin story “The Survivor” clocks in at 60,000 words according to the author’s website. When published as part of The Man-Kzin Wars IV, it was 245 pages. For that reason, I will not include it in my short story reading project but since it does contribute to the overall quality of The Space Opera Renaissance, I have weighted “The Survivor” rating as twice that of a novella.]

Reviewlettes follow.

Read the rest of this entry

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POLL RESULTS: Stop Reading!

Here are the results of the latest SF Signal poll.

QUESTION
Have you ever, by your own choice, finished reading a book you were not enjoying?

RESULTS

(61 total votes)

Be sure to vote in this week’s poll on your favorite film robot!

Filed under: Polls

Book Reviewer Backlash

There are a couple of discussions going on in the sf blogosphere regarding book reviews. Here are my thoughts on the matter…

REVIEWS & CRITIQUES

In a rather lengthy post that mixes review with anti-review rant, Gabe Chouinard says he’s disappointed with the quality of online reviews. He says he wants substance in the reviews he reads.

There are some interesting comments and observations in that post and a healthy dose of angry comments, too. Much of the discussion revolves around the difference between a review and a critique. One commenter took issue with Gabe’s rant, enough to post a scathing counterpoint on his own Live Journal to which Gabe responded. Also good reading, that. Despite the occasional angry comments, it’s good that people are talking about this.

I’m reminded of people who gripe yet continue to punish themselves by continuing the behavior which seems to make them so unhappy. (I’ll ignore the ironic amusement provided by Gabe’s admission that he is part of the problem.) If a reviewer is not to your liking for whatever reason – lack of insight, differing tastes, poor writing – then don’t read their reviews. If you have a list of reviewers who you like, great! Stick with them.

As one of the offending reviewers, I’m tempted, as was apparently intended, to respond defensively. I could pick on the fact that the more “insightful” of my comments of my review was ignored and a quote was chosen (one with a typo no less) to suit the rant. I could also mention how Eragon was a book I purchased and not a review copy from the publisher, thus there was no aim to please anyone. I could say that the review was written relatively soon after I began reviewing and that my later (and hopefully more experienced) reviews were ignored. I could cite how my reviews are not always glowing, how I don’t like everything I see and that sometimes ticks people off. (Don’t get me started by mentioning Klausner.)

But the fact is that people review and critique for all sorts of reasons. Some do it as a profession. Some, like me, do it for recording their impressions. Some, as the other post suspects, might even do it for the free books. Without matching each and every individual review with a reviewer’s reasons and criteria, whining about them seems pointless. The most you can (respectfully) say is that your tastes differ from a reviewer and/or a review does meet your own expectations, which may be entirely different than the goals of the reviewer.

That said, there are review sites that I personally feel do not meet my own expectations. But you can’t please everyone. I’m sure those same reviews are useful to someone somewhere. To each his own.

SHORT STORY REVIEWS

Over on the Nightshade forum, there’s a discussion about short story reviews. The discussion revolves around whether a review of a collection or anthology should say something about every single story in the book.

Are reviewers obligated to do so? Some of that post’s commenters seem to think so. They feel cheated if stories are not mentioned. But, as mentioned there, some venues are limited for space (especially print magazines) and there are only so many words that can be used. Editorial constraints apply.

Speaking for myself, which is the only thing I can do, I like to review all of the stories. Again, this suits my reason for reviewing: to serve as a record and reminder of what I’ve read. Admittedly, I’m probably more anal-retentive about it than most, as will be evidenced by my upcoming review of The Space Opera Renaissance. But that’s just what I choose to do. Your mileage may vary between reviewers, venues and subject matter.

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SF Tidbits for 9/17/06

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SF Tidbits for 9/16/06

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