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MIND MELD: The Best Genre-Related Books/Films/Shows Consumed in 2009 (Part 1)

“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 sometimes-surprising favorites…

Adam Roberts
Adam Roberts was born two-thirds of the way through the last century; he presently lives a little way west of London, England, with a beautiful wife and two small children. He is a writer with a day-job (professor at Royal Holloway, University of London). The first of these two employments has resulted in eight published sf novels, the most recent being Splinter (Solaris 2007) and Land of the Headless (Victor Gollancz 2007). The second of these has occasioned such critical studies as The Palgrave History of Science Fiction (2006).

I’m going to play by the orthodox rules of this game, and name only works that were published and appeared in this year. So here you are:

Book: the best SF novel of this year is, probably, Kim Stanley Robinson’s Galileo’s Dream, with Paul McAuley’s Gardens of the Sun running a close second. I read a lot of good SFF books this year, actually; mostly for the purposes of review (my blog Punkadiddle keeps the score). Now, after reading these titles, some settled, like sediment, into the mulch of my mind; but others stayed vital and in motion. Galileo’s Dream is the book of which I can most say: But It Still Moves. [Honourable mentions for Baxter’s nicely claustrophobic Ark, Lee Konstantinou’s bright Pop Apocalypse, Miéville’s fascinating near-miss The City and the City and Carrie Ryan’s zombifab Forest of Hands and Teeth.]

Short Fiction: a cheat, this, since I have a story in it. But disregard my contribution, and consider it on the strengths of its other stories: the estimable Geoff Ryman’s collection When It Changed is awfully good.

Music: the best SF album of the year, hmm. Well, the adolescent who lives in my cranium pulling the levers says Muse’s The Resistance. But the still small voice wants to go with Super Furry Animals’ Dark Days, Light Years. I think I should listen to the still small voice.

Film. Best Fantasy film: Up. Worst SF film of the year: the meretricious Star Trek reboot. Ugh!

Mike Resnick
Mike Resnick is the author of 50 novels, 200 short stories, a pair of screenplays, and the editor of 50 anthologies, as well as the executive editor of Jim Baen’s Universe. According to Locus, he is the leading award winner, living or dead, of short fiction. His work has been translated into 22 languages.

I haven’t watched a TV series since 1982, and we didn’t watch any science fiction or fantasy movies this year, so I’m limited to discussing the category books – most but not all from 2009 – that I enjoyed most this year. So here goes:

  • Robert Jeschonek’s Mad Scientist Meets Cannibal
  • Nick DiChario’s Valley of the Day-Glo
  • Don Hutchison’s The Great Pulp Heroes
  • Jack McDevitt’s Time Travelers Never Die
  • Kage Baker’s The Women of Nell Gwynne’s
  • C. L. Moore’s Miracle in Three Dimensions
  • Michael Swanwick, The Best of Michael Swanwick
  • Lucius Shepard, The Best of Lucius Shepard
  • Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Stories for an Enchanted Afternoon
  • George Alec Effinger, A Thousand Deaths
  • Paolo Bacigalupi, The Windup Girl
  • Ray Bradbury, Farewell, Summer
  • Ray Bradbury, Summer Morning, Summer Night
Paul DiFilippo
Paul Di Filippo has been writing professionally for over 25 years, accumulating close to 150 stories and twenty-five books in the process. His newest book, Cosmocopia, will soon appear from Payseur & Schmidt, with art by Jim Woodring. His website can be found at and he blogs at http:/
  1. You Are There, by Jean-Claude Forest and Jacques Tardi. This graphic novel by two French creators was published in their home country decades ago, but is only reaching us English-speakers now, courtesy of the great Fantagraphics operation. Its whimsical surrealism cloaks an existential tale of loneliness and isolation amidst an uncaring humanity.
  2. The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb, by R. Crumb. We all know the joke about the Bible being published as an Ace Double, with Old Testament on one side and New on the other, each bearing a lurid Don Wollheim blurb. But this joke has a germ of truth with regards to the underlying fantastical and estranging nature of the Biblical text. Crumb’s brilliant art sucks the reader into a fantasy world where strange codes of behavior rule the lives of the citizens, as surely as those in The Left Hand of Darkness or Dune.
  3. Volumes 1 And 2 Of The Collected Stories Of Roger Zelazny, by Roger Zelazny. NESFA Press has done the field an immense service by undertaking this project to get all of Zelazny’s short fiction back into print. The man was a unique artist and force for change in the field. The best of these stories stand up today just as remarkably as they did fifty years ago. I can’t wait to read the subsequent entries in this series.
  4. The Caryatids, by Bruce Sterling. Bruce doesn’t get enough credit for his humor. Besides being a crackerjack futurist and storyteller, he is our field’s sardonic Mark Twain. The imagery of an urban festival of demolition, as just one instance, is something Monty Python would have killed to conceive.
  5. Metropolis, directed by Fritz Lang. My ignorance of this movie represented an incredible hole in my cinematic knowledge. Seeing it this year in its fullest extant form, with interpolations as to the missing bits and the original musical score, provided an unforgettable experience of the power of visionary SF from any era.
Kaaron Warren
Kaaron Warren‘s novel Slights was published in 2009 by Angry Robot Books and will be released in North America early in 2010, followed by Walking the Tree and Mistification. Her short story collection The Glass Woman contains the award-winning story “A-Positive”, now a short film from Bearcage Productions. She blogs at and

Looking forward to making a reading/viewing list from the answers to this one…I’m just going to focus on books.

Best novel: I loved Suzy McKee Charnas‘ story “Lowland Sea” in Datlow’s Poe anthology, so I tracked down the first two novels in her Holdfast Chronicles, Walk to the End of the World and Motherlines. The first was written in 1974 and sets up a world where women are slaves and men rule with dreams and failure. The second gives us groups of women who’ve escaped the cities and are living deep in the outskirts. I was fully immersed in both. The kickarse tough women in Motherlines, flawed and very human, kept me enthralled till the end.

Best short story collection: Monstrous Affections by David Nickle. The cover is creepy, tapping into that visceral reaction we have when the ‘normal’ is slightly twisted. The stories themselves are also very creepy, drawing you into believable, domestic worlds then showing you the blue pulsing intestines of those worlds.

Best non-fiction: Poor People by William Vollman. Vollman, one of my favourite writers, is so prolific there are websites dedicated to groups of people reading all of his work. Poor People is Vollman’s series of interviews with poor people around the world. It’s pretty amazing. He comes at it not from pity at all, but out of interest in hearing the stories, in figuring out ‘why’. His descriptions are so simple and without cliche that every person he introduces became someone I felt I knew. Wonderful details such as the woman who complains that the person he’s interviewing is not poor because her mother has a TV.

John C. Wright
John C. Wright is the author of The Golden Age Trilogy, The War of the Dreaming, Chronicles of Chaos and the upcoming Null-A Continuum, the authorized sequel of A.E. van Vogt’s World of Null-A books. His short fiction has appeared in Year’s Best SF 3, The Night Lands, Best Short Novels 2004, The Year’s Best Science Fiction #21, Breach The Hull, and No Longer Dreams.

I am glad you asked the question as you did. If you asked me what was the best I have read of genre works published in 2009, I could not answer- I am not sure I’ve read anything published recently that merits being called ‘best’ even if we grade on a curve. My idle reading time has all but vanished since I became a professional writer, and my tastes have narrowed. Whether I am more discriminating than I was in youth, or more narrow-minded, I cannot say, but the sad fact is that there are books I am now too old and stiff to read, which I may well have enjoyed had I encountered them in tenderer years.

You also did not ask what I liked, but what was best. Discriminating (or narrow) as my tastes are, I confess the two are not the same. There are books that by any objective measure, merit the title ‘best’ that for reasons particular to me, do not like, or even dislike. There are things that I like that are juvenile and awkwardly executed that for reasons particular to me I like or love.

An example of the former is Peter Watts’ splendidly-written Blindsight. No one (not even Mr. Watts himself, apparently) believes me when I call it a work of genius, because no one believes me when I say a work of genius can be the work of an evil genius. But what else can we call a well-crafted book devoted entirely to a dismally false and logically absurd idea? Not to spoil the surprise, but the theme here is that unreasonable, unselfaware creatures can reason better than reasonable ones. The human race commits mass-suicide at the end, in sort of an inversion of Arthur Clarke’s Childhood’s End. I could not appreciate this work, well done as it was, basically because the concept of how human consciousness works struck me as so patently unrealistic I was unwilling to suspend my disbelief. Had I been younger, so abstract a consideration would not have choked my enthusiasm.

Likewise, the television re-make of Battlestar Galactica-it was both the best-written show on television (I say that defiantly, the best show, not merely the best SFF show!) and one I could not bring myself to watch. I thought the writers were trying so hard to stuff their ill-conceived political message down my throat that I gagged it back up. The Cylons may have had a plan, but it was pretty clear that the writers did not.

An example of the latter is Jack ‘King’ Kirby’s issues of Jimmy Olsen Superman’s Pal, which I recently obtained in two handsome bound volumes. No offense, but these tales are peee-yuuu stinkers, with clanking dialogue and dreamlike absurdity of plot, and no apologies, but I love them with an irrational love: when the Jimmy Olsen with the Newsboys Legion in their flying Whizz-Wagon enter the Forbidden Zone to find the Zoomway where the gigantic Mountain of Judgment roars, secretly controlled by the high-tech post-human pacifists called the ‘Hairies’ and the D.N.Aliens who are being hunted by the minions of the Evil Factory … I am at a loss to explain why I enjoyed a juvenile story starring Don Rickles and Darkseid.

Putting aside my personal taste as unreliable, let me define ‘best’ as meaning the books has (1) beautiful or clear prose, or both (2) skillfully wrought plot, setting, theme, character (3) a theme that addresses profound ideas (4) that rewards multiple re-readings.

With that definition in mind, by far the best book I read this year, or this decade, was not an SFF book but a book about an SFF book: Peter Kreeft’s The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord Of The Rings. Here is my favorite living philosopher talking about my favorite topic, philosophy, as it relates to my favorite book, Lord of the Rings, and reaching conclusions I found well-reasoned, surprising, delightful, insightful, even inspiring. Imagine talking about your favorite writer to your favorite thinker, and you will have an impression of this book. Mr. Kreeft explains not only why the Lord of the Rings enjoys enduring popularity among the common man, he explains why our (self-anointed) superiors among the elite and intelligentsia have always despised it. He examines ethics, politics, aesthetics, the philosophy of language implied in the world view of Middle Earth, as well as such more abstract topics as epistemology, theology and metaphysics.

If we can be generous in our definition of ‘genre-related’ I would like to list as the best I’ve read in 2009 a mainstream book written by a genre author, our same beloved Professor Tolkien. I had the great pleasure to read a collection of his translations of Sir Gawain and The Green Knight, Pearl, Sir Orfeo written by a poet whose name has been lost to history. I cannot emphasize enough the exquisite grace of the translation, the depth of the theme, the complexity and grandeur of composition. The Collection includes, by way of a farewell, “Gawain’s Leave-Taking”.

If you are, as I am, a student of the classics, or merely one whose heart is pulled toward ancient things, even the opening line of Tolkien’s translation will haunt in your ear like the unseen horns of elfland dimly blowing:

When the siege and the assault had ceased at Troy, and the fortress fell in flame to firebrands and ashes, the traitor who the contrivance of treason there fashioned was tried for his treachery, the most true upon the earth it was – Aeneas the noble and his renowned kindred who then laid under them lands, and lords became of well-nigh all the wealth in the Western Isles.

To my surprise, it was the least well known of the poems, “The Pearl”, which struck my heart most deeply. This poem concerns a man who sees the shade of his departed daughter in a dream, now crowned in glory as a denizen of paradise and a bride of Christ: the poem touches on great themes of loss and death, theodicy and hope, and culminates in a fantastic vision of the New Jerusalem, adorned like a bride, where the child now reposes in bliss.

As above, these poems would reward careful readings and multiple readings.

As I mentioned above, I rarely pick up a book these days unless it is both highly recommended, and comes from the pen of a writer I trust. Unfortunately, the writers I trust are the ones I grew up on, and most of them passed away a decade ago One still-living writer I trust with an exuberant trust is Gene Wolfe. In 2009, I read or reread An Evil Guest (which concerns a magician who unlocks the supernal inner beauty of an actress in order to entrap an alchemist, all set in a futuristic-pulp-noir background) The Wizard Knight (American boy raised by elves transformed prematurely into an adult vows unwisely to become a knight, and ends up by becoming a god) and have made headway into a collection of his short stories entitled The Best of Gene Wolfe: A Definitive Retrospective Of His Finest Short Fiction. This is published by Tor books, a publishing house that has good reason to know how to select his finest, as they have published most of his best work over the years. Gene Wolfe not merely rewards re-readings, many readers find him too rich a fare, since he demands re-readings even to discover what really happened.

At the risk of self-promotion, let me also confess that the best anthology I read this year was Songs Of The Dying Earth edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. The table of contents (with one glaring exception) sounds like the who’s who of the best of the best of living fantasy authors, including such worthies as Robert Silverberg , Walter Jon Williams , Phyllis Eisenstein , Elizabeth Moon , Tad Williams, Glen Cook, Tanith Lee, Dan Simmons , Howard , George R.R. Martin and Neil Gaiman.

The glaring exception is that an obscure midlist author named John C. Wright also in the book, but honest people will believe me if I say I would recommend this volume even if I were not in it. Dishonest people, of course, judge every man by their own shortcomings, so if they do not believe my recommendation to be sincere, I will not argue the point: the red sun wobbles on the edge of extinction too narrowly to allow for a complete examination of the question, and once it is quenched in eternal darkness the issue must appear moot, not to say nuncupatory.

Finally, I have to answer for media outside of books. The best genre-related television show I saw this year was a fantasy epic I saw in China that puts the English-speaking television to shame. The title has several translations, but you can find it under the name Chinese Paladins 3. I cannot begin to describe the farces and fantasies of this costume drama where gods, immortals, Taoist martial-arts sages, battle creatures from the demon realm and the monster realm, where the Five-Poison Beast is the only proof against venom-created zombies controlled by a magical zither, where reincarnated lovers fail to recognize each other, where heroes routinely ride a giant, celestial flying sword like some sharpened surfboard through the streaming clouds of the above-world, or wondrous fairy-creatures, when their powers are exhausted, turn into a potato. Beneath all its extravagant trappings, the story is really about filial piety.

Jesse Willis
Jesse Willis is a blogger and podcaster for a site about Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror audio. He holds a B.A. in philosophy and is a teacher in British Columbia, Canada.

I expect to hear a few more audiobooks and audio dramas before the year is out, but at 11 months in I can already say 2009 has been a very good year for audio fans. Here are six genre audiobooks and audio dramas that I gave the SFFaudio Essential designation.

Audio dramas:

  • The Adventures Of Sexton Blake – A rival of Sherlock Holmes, Sexton Blake is an unbelievably clever audio drama series. It is also very, very funny!
  • Blake’s 7 – The Early Years (Volumes 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, and 1.4) – this superior prequel series mines the back-stories of the titular characters. B7 The Early Years is intelligent social Science Fiction.
  • The Red Panda Adventures, Season 4 – A free podcast audio drama series about 1930s Toronto superheroes. It features top notch acting, fresh scripts and more heart than all the X-Men put together.


  • Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper – A planetary romance about little aliens with a culture and language that borders on sapience. This Audio Realms edition features an able narration by Brian Holsopple.
  • Starship: Rebel by Mike Resnick – The penultimate chapter in Resnick’s galaxy spanning space opera. Narrator Jonathan Davis makes this audiobook version the ultimate way to enjoy this great series.
  • Way Station by Clifford D. Simak – A bucolic rumination on immortality, conflict, and human nature. Eric Michael Summerer’s clear narration makes Simak’s anachronistic grammar come alive.
Alastair Reynolds
Alastair Reynolds is a science fiction writer and former scientist. He lives in Wales. His latest novel is the far-future House of Suns.

It’s not been a good year for me in terms of my genre-consumption, unfortunately. I read very little SF in 2009, and of the books that I did, nothing really blew me away as it had done in previous years. That said, I stalled on a few things that I really ought to give another chance. No fault of the books, just travel and so on interrupting my reading. Best non-genre book I read all year was Ed Viestur’s No Shortcuts to the Top: Climbing the Worlds 14 Highest Peaks (2006). When my fiction reading is patchy, I tend to fall back on climbing books as I find then compulsive.

In movies, genre film of the year for me was undoubtedly Moon, which, for all its flaws, was the most intelligent SF film in years. The premise was handled brilliantly, great use was made of limited sets and props, and the model-based effects were a joy for anyone brought up on Gerry Anderson. That it was so obviously a conscious homage to the likes of Silent Running, Dark Star and 2001 – the last wave of truly great SF films, as far as I’m concerned – made it even better in my eyes. On the level of pure spectacle, the new Star Trek film was great fun, and I loved the way the new actors inhabited the old characters. But while I enjoyed it, it didn’t give me a huge amount to think about afterwards, beyond the vexing question of why a starship would be built with great big girders. I was still thinking about Moon days after seeing it. Best non-genre film for me was Gran Torino, which floored me both times I saw it.

I don’t watch much TV SF, and in a year without a full Doctor Who series, I’ve watched even less than usual. But my wife and I – beings fans of Robert Carlisle – decided to give Stargate: Universe a shot, and – so far – we like it a lot. Neither of us had seen any of the other Stargate TV shows so we came to it largely cold, aside from some hazy recollections of the Kurt Russell film. And it’s pretty good, actually – proper, spaceship-based SF of the kind it looked like they weren’t ever going to make again. The various tribulations faced by the characters are handled thoughtfully, and there’s at least a gloss of plausible science – or plausible-sounding science – underpinning it. Some of the dialogue lines even sound like they’ve come from an actual hard SF novel – stuff about goldilocks zones, slingshot orbits, and so on. John Scalzi is presumably responsible for some of this, and it’s good to see it up there on the screen. It’s been likened to the new Battlestar Galactica, but I couldn’t get on with that series and I like SG:U a lot. I hope they don’t pull the plug on it but I fear they will.

Other than that, not much else to report. I caught up on some older Doctor Who adventures, and towards the end of the year I was delighted to see the re-release on DVD of two classic Pertwee adventures: Frontier in Space and Planet of the Daleks. That’ll keep me busy for a while. And music CD of the year for me, in a year of many brilliant releases, was unquestionably the new Manic Street Preachers album. But I would say that, being Welsh.

Linnea Sinclair
Linnea Sinclair has been a newspaper reporter, television news anchor, advertising copywriter, and private detective. She now writes fast-paced science fiction romance novels for Bantam Dell, with Rebels And Lovers due out March 2010. Someday she’ll figure out what she wants to be when she grows up. Until then she’ll play intergalactic barfly at

TV: The Big Bang Theory. I know there were some snufflings from scientist-types that the show’s stereotypical geeks were too stereotypically geeky. But I think the show is a total hoot, and Jim Parson’s Dr. Sheldon Cooper is best of the best. Did you know there’s a website where you can buy the T-shirts that Sheldon wears on the show? How cool is that!

The writing is outstanding, with one-liners zinging by so quickly I’m grateful for Tivo. “Obviously you’re not well-suited for three-dimensional chess. Perhaps three-dimensional Candyland would be your speed.”

Big Bang has-in spite of the snufflings-made being smart a cool thing. “What part of an inverse tangent function approaching an asymptote don’t you understand?” Even my golf-loving jock husband won’t miss an episode of the show.

BOOKS: I bought C.J. Cherryh’s Conspirator in hardback. She’s an auto-buy for me and I gladly shell out the $25.95 to spend a little more time with Bren, Jago, Illisidi, and the gang. Conspirator did not disappoint and Cajeiri is becoming quite the favorite character-and I generally don’t like children in my SF. Can’t wait for Deceiver.

Jeff Patterson
Jeff Patterson was born on September 1, 1962, the day the White House announced that the world population had exceeded three billion people. So he figures that was him.

I had a few near-perfect “science fiction days” in 2009. One was at Readercon, where every discussion was interesting and every find in the bookshop was something I was looking for. The Friday of Worldcon was similar, especially the walking tour of Old Montreal with assorted authors and editors. The hands-down winner, though, was my first day at the Singularity Summit in NYC, where extreme futurism ran rampant. On my lunch break, I took a cab to the Spectrum Exhibit at the Society of Illustrators, which exceeded my high expectations. To spend a day steeped that deeply in “sense of wonder” is rare indeed, and tent-poled a pretty satisfying year of SF consumption.

Comics: Marvel let Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning continue playing in the company’s well-established cosmic sandbox with the epic War of Kings. Continuing the saga that has so far yielded Annihilation and Annihilation: Conquest, this story featured interstellar war with a lot of well-written characters, some big crazy action sequences, and great art. If that’s not enough, there’s also a buddy team consisting of a telepathic Russian space dog and a gun-toting raccoon, cool shapeshifting battlearmor, and a secret headquarters inside the decapitated head of a Celestial. Also in the running for best SF comics were Warren Ellis’ Anna Mercury and his spectacular love-letter to pulp space adventure Ignition City, John Byrne’s Star Trek series Romulans: Schism, and the relatively new Farscape book, which continues the departed TV series. (For the record, other current genre comics include Dr. Who, Aliens, Predator, Buck Rogers, Conan, Solomon Kane, long-form adaptations of The Stand and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and a lot of original non tie-in titles, so you really have no legitimate reason not to be frequenting your nearest comic book shop regularly.)

TV: I got my disaster porn fix from History Channel’s Life After People. I now know what would happen to the frozen heads at Alcor without proper upkeep. Not pretty. While Galactica failed miserably at making God an SF character, the cancelled-out-of-the-gate series Kings managed to retell the story of King David by positing an alternate Earth where the Divine interacts directly with his creations through Old Testament favoritism, smiting, fitting punishments, and all that. It worked beautifully as a story, and died an obscure death. The two Dr. Who specials of the year were good, better than this year’s Sarah Jane episodes so far or the pointlessly cruel Torchwood. Not the height of the series, but better than most anything else on TV.

Audio: I commute upwards of two hours a day, so I listen to a lot of SF in audio form. Both Escape Pod and Starship Sofa podcasts continued to improve over the year, with Sofa’s series of Hugo nominated stories being a high point. BBC Radio’s adaptation of Rendezvous with Rama was exceptional, distilling Clarke’s classic into a tense and exciting two-part ensemble drama. Toby Longworth’s reading of Iain Banks’ Matter audiobook featured distinctive voices for each character, and a droll sense of comic timing reminiscent of the late Peter Jones’ narration from the Hitchhikers Guide miniseries.

Fiction: The only novels that stood out for me this year were Peter Hamilton’s Temporal Void, Null A Continuum by John C. Wright, and China Mieville’s The City and The City, which, I just realized upon reading back that last sentence, are about as different from each other as three genre books can get. My favorite stories were “Utriusque Cosmi” by Robert Charles Wilson, “The Far End of History” by John C. Wright (both from The New Space Opera 2), “Act One” by Nancy Kress, “The Spires of Denon” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (both from Asimov’s), “Three Princesses” by Robert Reed (from We Think, Therefore We Are), “The Rest is Speculation” by Eric Brown (from The Mammoth Book of Mindblowing SF), and, easily my favorite tale of the year, Catherynne M. Valente’s excellent “Golubash, Or Wine-War-Blood-Elegy” (from Federations). Just about everything in Ian McDonald’s Cyberabad Days was also memorable. Most of the year’s anthologies really excelled, although I still patiently await the rumored Godlike Machines book from SF Book Club. Also have to sing high praise for the collection Futures from Nature, and Eternity: Our Next Billion Years by Michael Hanlon. Both of these were pleasant surprises which found there way to me just when I needed them.

Honorable Mentions: The documentaries about Harlan Ellison and Alan Moore. Speculation that particles from the future were sabotaging the Large Hadron Collider. The multiverse episode of Family Guy. The U.S. General who demanded the creation of a robot army. Talking to the aforementioned John C. Wright at Worldcon. The Sophos antivius software being released in a Klingon edition. The attention the Apollo 11 anniversary received. The Extraterrestrials: What If? exhibit at Musee de la Civilisation in Quebec City. Earth getting a flag. The art shows at this year’s Boskone and Lunacon. Watching Saturn’s rings slowly tilt into invisibility over the summer. The 3D Imax movie Dinos Alive. Penthouse‘s article on SF Conventions.

Danie Ware
Danie Ware is frontline PR for Forbidden Planet London as well as being a mum, a geek, a gamer, a fitness freak, an art toy collector and striving to master time travel in order to finish a manuscript.Ten years in Dark-Age and Mediaevel re-enactment means she knows a thing or two about sword-fighting and drinking horns and still has a cupboard full of steel plate – though these days you’ll find her boosting her adrenaline by cycling like a loony through London city traffic. She passed 40 not that long back – though acting her age continues to prove impossible.

Last week, my twitterstream was buzzing with talk of how a Brand monopoly would affect the sales of speculative fiction – and, rolling back, its marketing, its publication and its writing.

My oar-sticking cussed the Twilight phenomenon – and the massive, hysterical fan-culture now sired by Robert Whatisface. Much as I turn up my forty-something nose, though, my professional self understands that hysterical fan culture is an instant WIN for the accounts department… and suddenly everything is snaggletoothed teenyboppers who (frankly) shouldn’t be out without parental supervision.

And that’s just the vampires.

Our genre is all about speculation. It’s about not following the herd, it’s about pushing boundaries, knowing where the rules are just so you can change them – and never quailing from doing something new, something huge, something not dared before. While fangbanging may guarantee income, to me blind-following belies the very core rule of what we represent.

Twisted Metal, Tony Ballantyne

Savage, highly political, psychologically insightful to a barbed point and alive with the smooth slide of metal over metal… this is a book that hooked my imagination with steel claws and didn’t let it go.

A world completely without organics, without flesh – a world where robots live and work. They’re like us enough to invoke empathy, and yet so fantastically, coldly alien – a dichotomy illustrated by Ballantyne with two different warring states.

The book’s opening scene is of robot lovemaking – a husband and wife twisting spun metal into the mind of a new child. The scene is invaded, becomes one of rape – establishing the paradoxical, biting blade-edge of not/human maintained throughout the storyline.

The babe, Karel, is born to the liberal state of Turing – tolerant and artistic. By harsh contrast, the invading Artemisins believe that all metal is the property of the state, that the individual has no rights, even over their own body and twisted-metal mind.

Karel’s own child is killed, his wife stolen to forcibly procreate new Artemesian soldiers – and he himself becomes the mind of a nuclear train, carrying the invaders north.

The utter, soulless brutality of the Artemesians is staggering – but, because they’re metal, we can take an objective step back. This isn’t about sensationalism – Twisted Metal showcases a fearful totalitarian state and discusses the nature of (human) psychology, self-ownership and free will.

Has to be my book-of-the-year.

And Another Thing…, Eoin Colfer

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a wondrous tumble of a mythology that’s become all things to all fans. Whether you first discovered the radio plays, the books or the television series, the late, great Douglas Adams wrought a thing of great humour, wonder and originality. Many have been his followers, but they have never mastered his voice.

Perhaps because it’s been championed by that slightly depressive, grumpy man in a dressing gown – you know, the one we’ve all loved like an Uncle.

The thought of anyone picking up that particular item of clothing was bound to fill the reading-world with fear – following in those slipper-steps is an order almost as tall as Adams himself. It could so easily have been a parody, a terrible let-down.

Yet Colfer held true to the slightly sardonic tone of Adams’ wit, the cadence of his prose; held to them and added his own, very personal, layer of creativity. This is a man who obviously loved the original – there’s a little less Arthur Dent and a little more web-savvy technology, but that’s just an update in keeping with the thirty-year gap.

I love this book; bless Eoin Colfer for daring to take something powerfully established…and visualise it anew.

Red Cliff, John Woo

Sometimes, you watch something that just leaves you breathless; something where the sheer scope is so f*cking big that your mind is blown wide open and you re-evaluate everything with which you surround yourself.

I’ve ranted about this film on my blog. I won’t repeat it here – only to say that the full five-hour uncut version is worth every seat-edge-gripping moment, every gasp and jaw-drop. Historical re-visualisation or no, if speculative fiction is about pushing boundaries, then this film qualifies in every hard-cut scene.

Which (rather neatly) brings me back to the point.

In a year where belts have tightened and expressions become more grim – a year where a ‘safe bet’ has been more likely than a gamble – it’s good to know that not everyone is inhibited by a bared set of financial fangs.

Whichever branch/es of the greater genre we choose to watch, read, write, publish or sell; whichever concepts we work within, without or around; surely speculative fiction is about doing something different, about learning and discovery?

So, enough with the vampires. Let’s speculate.

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

10 Comments on MIND MELD: The Best Genre-Related Books/Films/Shows Consumed in 2009 (Part 1)

  1. It sounds like John C. Wright and I should be friends…

    1. The Philosophy of Tolkien should be an audiobook!

    2. Songs Of The Dying Earth just became an audiobook!

    3. Sir Gawain And The Green Knight and The Pearl And Sir Orfeo (as done by Tolkien) have been narrated as audiobooks by Terry Jones (he’s a medieval scholar and a Monty Python alumnus).


    Oh and I also agree with Alastair Reynolds and Adam Roberts:

    MOON was well worth seeing. It is real SF!

    UP is also well worth watching. It’s old fashioned storytelling, funny and it has AIRSHIPS!

  2. I just noticed that the phrase “frequenting your nearest comic book shop regularly” is an ungainly construction straight from the Department of Redundancy Department. My copy-editor girlfriend will no doubt audibly sigh upon reading it…

  3. John Wright // December 2, 2009 at 10:59 am //

    I notice that I spent at least a paragraph trashing Peter Watts’ BLINDSIGHT but I forgot to tell everyone why it was so good a book: simply, the writer with a few strokes of the pen can create a fully realistic and realized future history, or with a casual word create that lightning-betwee-the-eyes sensation that can only be called the “Of Course! Why Didn’t I Think of That!” phenomenon.

    There is one scene where handsome, gene-modified superkids are subjecting to a schoolyard beating a normal, ugly kid whose parents did not gene-upgraid him for religious reasons. Of course it would be that way. Given widespread genengineering, there were be religious objections to it, and emnity between the upgrades and the basics. Why didn’t I think of that?

    There is another scene where a too-controlling live-in girlfriend wants to tweak and adjust the personality traits of the antihero. Of course there would be girlfriend like this in a world that had sophisticated neuro- technology. Of course. Why didn’t I think of that?

    There is another scene were a neurotech-created multiple personality being decries the cruelty of ancestors who treated split personality like a disorder, as if what if normal to the current generation will seem mere bigotry and cruelty to the future. Of course!

    I could multiply examples endlessly. As a work of art, BLINDSIGHT was brilliant.

    As a work of philosophy, it was that same tired materialism that was shopworn in HG Wells’ day, merely taken to a logical extreme. If human conciousness is just a meat mechanism, and conciousness is an illusion, would we not all be superior, have quicker reflexes, do our work more efficiently, if we had no consciousness? If self-awareness is an illusion, wouldn’t the truth of no-self-aware thinking be better?

    If you have never come across these notions before, they will be thrilling and daring to you. They will challenge your assumptions. Unfortunately, I have come across these notions before, many a time, and I dismiss them as not only logically incoherent, but sinister: People do not go around spreading the notion that human life in inherently mindless and meaningless unless they have something in mind, usually something that means trouble.


  4. Many of these dramas are short, this one I love is ongoing and continues to release new episodes weekly. Check it out:

    It’s a fully sound-designed radio drama that continues to produce new episodes. Sounds really professional andgoes to a level that normal books on tape don’t go-

  5. <b>

    If human conciousness is just a meat mechanism, and conciousness is an illusion, would we not all be superior, have quicker reflexes, do our work more efficiently, if we had no consciousness? If self-awareness is an illusion, wouldn’t the truth of no-self-aware thinking be better?


    I can appreciate that you disagree on philosophical grounds with Watts but at least represent the book he wrote accurately in your criticism.  The book does not present consciousness as an illusion but, rather, as eating up a massive amount of our brain’s processing power and, therefore, cutting our potential intelligence to a fraction of what it could be without it.

    As to whether the thesis that intelligence doesn’t require consciousness is true, I think its far from obvious that its wrong.  It may be.  But its surely an idea worth exploring.

  6. I agree, by the way, that the book is a work of genius.  I just hope the follow-up novel STATE OF GRACE, set in the same universe, actually gets written. 

    Publishers out there take note.  We WANT THAT BOOK.  Offer this guy a deal to write it.

  7. Further to what david e wrote in response to John Wright ….

    Blindsight is not arguing that consciousness/self-awareness and intelligence as we define, understand, and appreciate them in human (and scientific) terms is an illusion. Rather, it is arguing that consciousness and intelligence are potentially evolutionary dead ends. More precisely, in Siri’s words, humanity represents the “flukes and fossils” while the scramblers represent the true norm.

    Whether or not this argument/philosophical position has been made before, the persistence with which Watts sticks to it is enthralling and … disturbing. The book is in effect challenging our fundamental scientific and evolutionary paradigms (i.e., humanity as self-aware and intelligent may not, in the long run, be the “fittest” to survive beyond Earth) through contact with the quite utterly alien, the wholly Other.

    What really shifts the novel into greatness for me is that through everything Siri (re)discovers his subjectivity, his humanity, his unreliability as a narrator/observer/stenographer — in the face of the realization that such subjectivity and humanity are also possibly our race’s greatest weakness, greatest misplaced belief.

    But, yes, agreed, Watts is an evil genius. Deliciously so.


  8. What really shifts the novel into greatness for me is that through everything Siri (re)discovers his subjectivity, his humanity, his unreliability as a narrator/observer/stenographer — in the face of the realization that such subjectivity and humanity are also possibly our race’s greatest weakness, greatest misplaced belief.


    I agree wholeheartedly with everything in your comment….except those last three words.  It’s our consciousness, our subjectivity, that makes life worth living.  Without consciousness life is, necessarily, utterly purposeless.  Watts is exploring the idea that what makes our existence as human beings worthwhile is precisely the thing that puts us at an enormous competitive disadvantage with the rest of the cosmos.

    Its a scary idea….but just another variation on something that’s rather obvious:  the universe isn’t made for our benefit.


  9. <WARNING: Potential Spoilers!>

    david e wrote: “Watts is exploring the idea that what makes our existence as human beings worthwhile is precisely the thing that puts us at an enormous competitive disadvantage with the rest of the cosmos.”

    Yes, definitely, definitely. That’s what makes Siri’s realization and acceptance so substantial: a recovery of subjectivity, an awakening to consciousness and involvement; the reaching toward love for his father.

    And he achieves all of this while speeding through space alone for years upon years … carrying knowledge of the scramblers and what they represent for humanity’s sense of its own evolutionary superiority, knowing that humans on Earth are being systematically wiped out by the vampires, believing he could be the last conscious/self-aware human being left.

    When I wrote “misplaced belief,” I was after the notion of ideology. Blindsight challenges the ideology that humanity stands at the apex of evolutionary progress on Earth, an ideology established and reinforced by modern scientific discourse and thinking, which itself relies upon certain fundamental assumptions and paradigms (about how the universe works, how evolution works; about what constitutes progress, intelligence, consciousness, etc.).

    Siri certainly comes to value his humanity on these terms, cherish it even. Yet he does so with the knowledge that such humanity is, in effect, an anomaly, where before it was presented as and assumed to be the norm (of evolutionary progress). In a way, this is quintessentially human: i.e., holding onto what makes us Human (compassion, self-awareness, and the like) in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds … only, Watts leaves us little hope for our species at the end, as Siri and his revelations will seemingly just spin endlessly through space.

    Scary, indeed.


  10. It wasn’t really my impression that the vampires don’t have consciousness.  More that they were at something like a midpoint between humans and scramblers on the consciousness scale.  That is, lacking empathy and a general dulling down of emotion and richness of conscious experience and, therefore, having less of the brain’s processing capacity taken up than do baseline humans.

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