Thursday, August 31, 2006

Aaron's Magazine of the Week :: Asimov's Science Fiction March 2005

Asimov's March 2005The Magazine of the Week is the March 2005 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction (on the cover, Raphael's "Lady with a Unicorn" from 1506), containing this year's Hugo Award-winning short story "Tk'tk'tk" by David D. Levine. This story cleverly tells of a traveling salesman in the future, sent to an alien world that has no use for his products. "Tk'tk'tk" is the phrase he repeatedly hears from customers, which is untranslatable but carries a clear tone of condescension. Even though I voted for "Tk'tk'tk" I was quite surprised it won, since David D. Levine is a relative newcomer to the field who has yet to develop a great fan following, as evidenced by the fact that Asimov's did not even list his name on the cover of the Magazine of the Week.

The Hugo Award is the most prestigious award in science fiction and fantasy. It is presented at the World Science Fiction Convention, the annual gathering of SF's true believers, and voted on by the fans attending the convention. (Incidentally, "Tk'tk'tk" won even though it did not receive the most first-place votes. The Hugos use a preferential balloting system where voters rank the nominees, and if your first choice is eliminated your vote transfers to your next choice, until someone gains a majority. This system much better reflects voters' actual preferences than ordinary voting. If we used it in the U.S., it would have altered the outcomes of two of the last four presidential elections.)

This year's Worldcon was held last weekend in Anaheim, and I was at the Hugo ceremony Saturday night. I rather doubt that I will make next year's Worldcon in Yokohama, Japan, but I will be there the following year, since I am delighted to report that the fans at this year's Worldcon voted to hold the 2008 convention here in Denver. (This was an upset -- Chicago was considered the front-runner.)

This year's Best Short Story Hugo was presented by Harlan Ellison. At the convention, Ellison was in the irascible form described in recent BOTWs. But his cantankerous shtick is by now completely familiar to and accepted by SF fans. At one panel during the convention he went on a tirade directed toward the audience and when he ended by shouting, "Fuck the lot of you!" the crowd responded with a warm round of applause. For all his bad-boy posing, Ellison showed his true colors when he (i) was very gracious in accepting a surprise special award for his career contributions to SF at the Hugo ceremony, (ii) patiently signed books for fans at a signing scheduled for one hour that ended up running over three hours, and (iii) most importantly, was very friendly to yours truly while signing past Books of the Week Rumble and Ace Double D-413, which signatures I expect will add several hundred dollars to what my children will get for my collection for when I die.

At the Hugo ceremony Ellison read the list of nominees for Best Short Story, but then declared he wasn't going to tell us the winner and started off the stage with the envelope. After he was corralled back to the podium, he shouted at the gallery of nominees, "Levine, you here?" There was a muffled, "Yeah!" and Ellison barked, "Get your ass up here!" Levine was so excited he bounced up to the stage and wrapped the cantankerous Harlan Ellison in a giant bear hug. Congratulations to David D. Levine for surviving that and for winning his first Hugo Award.

Next week's Magazine of the Week will contain the Hugo winner for Best Novelette.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Aaron's Take on the Hugo Ceremony

LAConIV Hugo AwardThis year was only the second time I have been able to attend the Hugo Award ceremony, and it was just great. Sitting in the front row behind the nominees' section, I felt like a film buff who manages to sneak into the Oscars and sit behind Jack Nicholson.

Connie Willis was a delightful toastmaster as expected. The running gag about Robert Silverberg trying to upstage her was silly, yet the two of them are so charming that everyone enjoyed it anyway. All of the presenters were entertaining and all of the recipients gracious, even Harlan Ellison . . . well, except for the groping Connie Willis bit.

I was very happy with all of the Hugo winners, particularly in the fiction categories. Two of the winners (Robert Charles Wilson and David D. Levine) were my #1 choices, and the other two (Connie Willis and Peter S. Beagle) were my #2 choices and both people who richly deserve the recognition. Yes, I know Connie had already won eight, but she richly deserves as many as we can throw at her.

Some of the highlights of the ceremony:

· Forrest J. Ackerman seemed genuinely touched at receiving the Big Heart Award, particularly when he learned it is henceforth to be called the "Forrest J. Ackerman Big Heart Award."

· John Scalzi gave a very generous speech accepting the Campbell Award for best new writer, devoting nearly all his comments to praise of the other nominees and their works.

· The Best Editor award was a high point of the evening. Betty Ballantine gave a heartfelt speech about what a pain in the rear authors are to work with and how much she has loved it. Then we had a Susan Lucci moment, when she presented the award to David Hartwell, who had been nominated 31 times before without ever winning. (Ironically, just the day before the decision was made to split the Best Editor award into two categories, in no small part to ensure Hartwell would finally win one.) Finally, Betty Ballantine was openly surprised and moved at receiving a special award for her tremendous contributions to the field. Most of the crowd gave her a standing ovation -- and those who didn't heard about it later from Harlan.

· Actress Morena Baccarin accepted Serenity's award for Dramatic Presentation, Long Form and read a speech from Joss Whedon. Whedon spoke of his memories of searching out Hugo winners to read when he was young. He didn't know who "Hugo" was, but he knew he kicked that Pulitzer guy's ass when it came to picking great books. This was a great contrast to the disdain Hollywood used to show this award.

· Harlan Ellison was a laugh presenting the Best Short Story award. Barking at David D. Levine, "Get your ass up here!" was certainly a new way to announce the winner. None of us will soon forget the unwanted bear hug Levine gave Ellison.

· Connie Willis was so busy as toastmaster that she forgot to worry about her own category, and was caught by surprise and nearly reduced to tears by her Best Novella award. She then had exactly three seconds to shake it off and move us on to the Best Novel award.

Congratulations to all the winners!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Aaron's Magazine of the Week :: Terror Tales May 1940

Terror Tales 1940The Magazine of the Week is the May 1940 issue of Terror Tales, a "weird menace" or "shudder" pulp magazine.

In the late 1930s, the pulp market was saturated with a host of these weird menace magazines. Editor Harry Steeger, inspired by a visit to the macabre Grand Guignol Theater in Paris, created some of the earliest and most successful weird menace pulps, including Terror Tales, Horror Stories, and Dime Mystery. The weird menace pulps followed a common formula, in which women were placed in mortal peril by bizarre villains, to be rescued by a dashing hero. The lurid covers of these magazines routinely depicted the torture and humiliation of seminude women in disturbingly graphic ways, such as having limbs cut off or being heaved into buzzsaws or vats of boiling liquid. So as not to tax your sensibilities, the Magazine of the Week is one of the more mild weird menace covers (also, the really gruesome shudder pulps are very expensive and I have yet to cough up the cash for one). The most successful of the weird menace cover artists, John Howett, is said to have grown increasingly disgusted with himself until finally he burned all his own cover paintings. The stories had delightfully campy titles, for instance the Magazine of the Week includes the titles "Where Dwell the Living Dead" and "Prey for the Daughter of Hell." The tales typically featured apparent fantastic elements, yet the magazines cannot be considered science fiction or fantasy, because the authors were instructed to give a non-supernatural (if absurdly unlikely) explanation for everything by the end of the story. In this respect, the weird menace pulps were sort of an early, R-rated version of Scooby-Doo.

We can charitably describe these magazines as early horror fiction, although too often they seemed designed less to frighten the readers than to appeal to their worst sadistic and misogynistic fantasies. In 1940 and 1941, the weird menace pulps were driven from the market by threats of censorship, led by New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia. Several of the magazines folded, while others repositioned themselves as straight mystery magazines. The repositioned magazines included Thrilling Mystery, which we saw last week, and Dime Mystery, which we will show next, after a possible break from the pulps to acknowledge a Hugo Award winner or two.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Book Review Teaser :: Fort Pillow by Harry Turtledove

Fort PillowNew on Fantastic Reviews is Aaron's favorable review of Fort Pillow by Harry Turtledove. Many SF readers are familiar with Turtledove for his SF alternative history books.

From Aaron's review of Fort Pillow:
"In April 1864, Confederate troops attacked Fort Pillow, Tennessee, defended by a Union garrison of both white and black soldiers. The Rebel commander General Nathan Bedford Forrest gave the Federals one chance to surrender, which they declined. When the Rebels later overran the fort, they slaughtered many Union troops who were wounded or had yielded, particularly the black soldiers, few of whom survived. The battle carried little strategic significance, yet played an important role in the Civil War, because outrage at the Fort Pillow Massacre helped harden the North's resolve to see the costly War through to victory."

"Fort Pillow by Harry Turtledove tells the story of the Fort Pillow Massacre from the point of view of the combatants on both sides, including several actual historical figures.  Harry Turtledove has often written alternate histories of the Civil War, but Fort Pillow is his first Civil War novel to adhere strictly to the historical record (although he has published historical fiction set in ancient times under the pseudonym H.N. Turteltaub."

"It is not science fiction by any definition, but we are reviewing Fort Pillow at Fantastic Reviews because it is a book that deserves an audience. Turtledove fans should not shy away because it is not SF, and readers interested in the Civil War should not be put off by the fact that Turtledove is a science fiction writer. Fort Pillow is an entertaining and thought-provoking story that will appeal to both groups of readers....."

To read the entire review: Fort Pillow

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Amy's Take on the Short Fiction Hugo Nominees :: SHORT STORIES

I was underwhelmed by the Hugo Award short story nominees. I find it difficult to believe that these short stories were the best 2005 had to offer.

“Tk'tk'tk” by David D. Levine was the only story I thought was good. It had interesting aliens, a distinct feeling of “we're not in Kansas anymore”, and a decent ending. I felt for the out of place salesman.

“Down Memory Lane” by Mike Resnick was readable, but it lacked punch. The examples of Alzheimer ’s seemed too much like generalizations. I wouldn’t like to see Resnick to win another award on this, so I'm pushing this way down.

“Singing my Sister Down” by Margo Lanagan was downright weird. Why write a story about this odd form of execution? The plot goes nowhere. But it was decently written.

“The Clockwork Atom Bomb” by Dominic Green had a different setting and interesting parts, but I didn't like the storytelling or writing style. I lost track several times and had to reread parts. This story was a chore for me to read.

“Seventy-Five Years” by Michael A. Burstein perhaps touches on an issue of future discrimination for clones, but I'm not a fan of how Burstein chooses to tell his stories. The Senator’s ex-wife is the only person who questions the Senator’s Census bill, so Burstein can have the Senator lovingly squeeze his ex-wife’s hand in the end. Bah!

Amy's Ballot:
1. David D. Levine – Tk’tk’tk
2. Margo Lanagan – Singing My Sister Down
3. Dominic Green – The Clockwork Atom Bomb
4. Michael A. Burstein – Seventy-Five Years
5. Mike Resnick – Down Memory Lane

Friday, August 18, 2006

Amy's Take on the Short Fiction Hugo Nominees :: NOVELETTES

Back in the end of July, I voted on the Hugo Award nominees for novelette. I totally agreed with Aaron's ordering of the nominees, which was rather surprising.

"The Calorie Man" by Paolo Bacigalupi presented an interestingly different yet pessimistic future. It was well written, and consistent in tone and character. I liked the cheshires, and the pedal computer. I was angered by the idea of “big food” conglomerates and cheered for the old generipper's plan. The kinetic springs were great, but I have a quibble that other renewable energy sources such as solar and wind were not mentioned.

"Two Hearts" by Peter S. Beagle made me cry. It’s very well done. I liked the girl Sooz. But it’s fantasy, and it introduced little that was new. Wish I remembered The Last Unicorn better. I thought Schemendrick’s verses were cloying.

"I, Robot" by Cory Doctorow had fun parts, but it was too episodic for me. I liked the software “phone book”, the allusions to 1984, and the infrared clothes. Maybe I’m being too harsh on a comedy, but I didn’t believe in the characters. I doubted using Asimov’s three laws would lead to a totalitarian state. I didn’t like the reuse of the title without a focus on a robot.

"The King of Where-I-Go" by Howard Waldrop is good story and feels true. It’s a nostalgic slice of life, but only has minor SF elements. I found it interesting how things changed perhaps not for the best. There was little new, but it was pleasant.

"TelePresence" by. Michael A. Burstein tried overly hard to be pro-technology and politically correct. It didn’t matter that students died, the only issue was the review of the virual school technology. The author couldn’t imagine anyone with brains opposing this technology. I didn’t believe in the characters or their motivations.

Amy's Ballot:
1. Paolo Bacigalupi – The Calorie Man
2. Peter S. Beagle – Two Hearts
3. Cory Doctorow – I, Robot
4. Howard Waldrop – The King of Where-I-Go
5. Michael A. Burstein – TelePresence

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Aaron's Magazine of the Week :: Two Detective Mystery Novels Winter 1950

Two Detective Mystery Novels 1950The Magazine of the Week is another mystery pulp, the Winter 1950 issue of Two Detective Mystery Novels, with novel-length cover story The Bloody Moonlight by Fredric Brown.

As a collector of old science fiction, what first got me interested in other genres of pulp magazines was that so many of my favorite SF writers from the pulp era also wrote for non-SF pulps. There was a particular overlap between mystery and science fiction. Yet while a great many writers contributed to both mystery and SF pulps, they were nearly always better known for one or the other. The most notable exception was Fredric Brown. Fredric Brown was equally popular among readers of both SF and mystery. He was a bit more prolific in the mystery genre, but then his mysteries often included an element of science fiction or fantasy, for instance the murders in The Bloody Moonlight are seemingly committed by a werewolf. Brown was a writers' writer in both genres -- Mickey Spillane called Fredric Brown his favorite writer of all time, and Brown was one of three people to whom Robert A. Heinlein dedicated his classic novel Stranger in a Strange Land. Fredric Brown has been unfortunately neglected in modern times, but old copies of his books and magazines remain prized collectors' items, particularly because they are sought by both SF and mystery collectors.

Fredric Brown has always been a favorite of mine and we will cover more of his work in future BOTWs, but first we will continue our history of the pulp magazines, with the Magazine of the Week providing an interesting segue. Two Detective Mystery Novels was a straight mystery pulp, but under its previous title of Thrilling Mystery the magazine was part of perhaps the strangest pulp genre, the "weird menace" pulps. Next week's Magazine of the Week will be an example of the "weird menace" genre.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Quote of the Week :: The Snarl of the Beast

"For an ordinary man to get a bullet through his hat as he walked home at night would be something to talk about for years. Now, with me; just the price of a new hat--nothing more. The only surprise would be for the lad who fired the gun. He and his relatives would come in for a slow ride, with a shovel-ful of dirt at the end of it."

- Carroll John Daly,
The Snarl of the Beast (1927)

(Note - According to, The Snarl of the Beast has been acknowledged as the first private eye novel ever published)

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Aaron's Magazine of the Week :: Black Mask March 1928 issue

Black Mask March 1928The Magazine of the Week is the March 1928 issue of Black Mask magazine. The cover story is "The Egyptian Lure," a Race Williams story by Carroll John Daly.

H.L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan created the pulp magazine Black Mask in 1920 (not because they cared about the magazine, but simply as a means of milking revenues from lowbrow readers to fund their intellectual magazine Smart Set). Black Mask started out as a general fiction magazine -- note that the top of the Magazine of Week's cover boasts of "Western, Detective & Adventure Stories" -- but before long editor Joseph "Cap" Shaw decided to focus on the mystery genre. By the mid-1920's there were already a number of mystery titles in the pulp market, but Black Mask managed to differentiate itself with a distinctive style: a brash, hard-edged narrative voice which came to be called "hard-boiled" detective fiction. In large part, the new hard-boiled form was an American response to the urbane British style of mysteries exemplified by Sherlock Holmes. While British detectives were always smarter than the criminals, American hard-boiled detectives prevailed by being tougher. Hollywood quickly picked up on and further popularized the hard-boiled style, first with film noir and later with bad-assed detectives like Dirty Harry.

Carroll John Daly was the first successful hard-boiled author and Race Williams, his ham-fisted hero (look at the mitts on this guy on the cover), was the first popular hard-boiled detective. Daly told the Race Williams adventures through a first-person narrative dripping with tough-guy attitude. Race Williams was a huge hit for Black Mask, which quickly enlisted a number of other authors to write in the new hard-boiled style. Among the authors whose careers Black Mask launched were Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Erle Stanley Gardner (creator of Perry Mason, who was heavily influenced by Daly, but evolved away from the hard-boiled form over the years). Under "Cap" Shaw's direction, Black Mask's circulation surged to 130,000 per month. But the Depression eventually cut into circulation, and after Shaw was fired in 1935 (reportedly for refusing to cut his writers' pay), the magazine went into a slow tailspin, finally ceasing publication in 1951.

Black Mask, Carroll John Daly, and Race Williams have now been almost forgotten, but the works of Hammett and Chandler and Gardner are still very widely read to this day, and the hard-boiled voice Daly pioneered in Black Mask remains commonly used in American fiction and cinema.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Aaron's Magazine of the Week :: Fantastic November-December 1952 issue

Fantastic Nov-Dec 1952In honor of Mickey Spillane, who passed away recently at the age of 88 (sadly not from a gunshot to the chest), the Magazine of the Week is the November-December 1952 issue of Fantastic magazine, containing Spillane's "The Veiled Woman" (with appropriately sexy cover art by Barye W. Phillips).

Mickey Spillane was world famous for his best-selling hard-boiled mysteries, starring tough-as-nails private eye Mike Hammer. Leave it to me to honor him with his one and only (so far as I am aware) foray into the science fiction genre. Not to worry, though, "The Veiled Woman" may contain Martians and an interplanetary plot, but it has just as much sex and violence as all of Spillane's work, and is loaded with lines like, "She had a body that would melt a glacier from across the street." Like Spillane's first novel, I, The Jury, "The Veiled Woman" ends with the hero shooting a naked woman in the gut in cold blood.

The hard-boiled narrative voice is a uniquely American contribution to literature -- as well as to cinema, in the form of film noir. The hard-boiled subgenre was invented in a particular pulp magazine, and first popularized in the detective stories of a particular author. This author is almost forgotten today, but he inspired an entire generation of hard-boiled detective writers, including Dashiell Hammett (creator of Sam Spade), Raymond Chandler (creator of Philip Marlowe), and later Mickey Spillane (who deliberately patterned Mike Hammer after this author's best known detective). Returning at last to our history of the pulp magazines, next week's Magazine of the Week will be a rare pulp magazine starring the first successful hard-boiled detective, the precursor to Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, and Mike Hammer.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road

Cheryl Morgan has announced that she is ceasing publication of Emerald City, which to my thinking has been the best review site on the web for years.

While she has had many interesting guest reviewers and commentators, the heart of Emerald City was always Cheryl's reviews of the latest science fiction and fantasy. I often disagree with Cheryl's evaluations, but still enjoy reading them because she consistently has something interesting to say about the books she reads -- and she reads a whole heck of a lot.

We at Fantastic Reviews will miss Emerald City, and wish Cheryl the very best of luck in all her future endeavors.

Posted by Aaron