Monday, December 31, 2007

Amy's Bookshelf :: Fantasy & Science Fiction December 2007

Fantasy & Science Fiction December 2007The December 2007 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction contains a good selection of well-written stories. There are six stories - two novelettes and four short stories. Two of which are set in the future off Earth, one is set in the past, and the remaining stories are set in the present day, or something near to it.

The cover story is the novelette "Finisterra" by David Moles, with cover art by Cory and Catska Ench. In "Finisterra" an aeronautical engineer takes a job on a world featuring island-sized floating creatures called zaratán. Her employer and his alien associates are poachers. They are killing the zaratanes, a protected species, for profit.

The other novelette is "The Bone Man" by Frederic S. Durbin, in which a creepy man is sidetracked to a small town on what happens to be the day of the Hallowe’en Parade. The star of the parade is the Bone Man, a dancing skeleton.

In the short story "Osama Phone Home” by David Marusek, there is a secret American organization dedicated to bringing Osama bin Laden to justice. Their plan uses spooky, futuristic, but not impossible sounding, technologies.

"Don't Ask" by M. Rickert has mothers trying to cope with having their boys stolen to run with the wolves, and having them return home not only older but different.

In "Who Brought Tulips to the Moon?" by S.L. Gilbow a healthy old man, his impatient daughter, and her husband go to the moon to Smooth Passing, a mortuary-like company that helps you pass away.

"Stray" by Benjamin Rosenbaum and David Ackert features a worn out immortal trying to fit into an African American community in the 1930s.

The stories in this issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine were, at times, thought provoking. Each had some sort of emotional conflict or tension. My least favorite story was "The Bone Man" because of its thug of a protagonist. There weren't any stories that I would shout about from a mountaintop, but overall a good magazine to read.

(For more on these stories, and others, visit my blog Short Reviews of SF and fantasy short fiction)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Aaron's Book of the Week :: Inferno! by Vargo Statten

Inferno!The Book of the Week is Inferno! by Vargo Statten, cover art by Ron Turner.

Vargo Statten was a pseudonym of British science fiction author John Russell Fearn. Even though Fearn was perhaps the most prolific British author of Golden Age science fiction and very popular with British SF readers, most of his work was published under various bizarre pseudonyms, most commonly "Vargo Statten" and "Volsted Gridban." The fact that so much of his work was printed pseudonymously may have contributed to Fearn fading from readers' memories over the years despite his vivid and imaginative stories. (Less charitably, his pedestrian prose may also have something to do with it.)

Inferno! was published in 1950 by Scion, Ltd., one of the most successful of several British publishers printing science fiction and fantasy in a digest format in the early to mid-50's. The digest-sized novel never had a comparable heyday in the United States, although a few smaller publishers experimented with the format. Some of those American digests have since become prized collectors' items. Next week's Book of the Week will be the most sought-after of all American digest novels.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Aaron's Book of the Week :: Odyssey in Space by Vektis Brack

Odyssey in SpaceThe Book of the Week is Odyssey in Space by Vektis Brack, published in digest format by British publisher Gannet Press in 1953.

Vektis Brack was a Gannet Press "house name," i.e., a pseudonym belonging to the publisher rather than the author, and used by various authors employed by that publisher. The actual author of Odyssey in Space is believed to be Leslie Humphrys, who also wrote science fiction under his own pseudonym of Bruno G. Condray. No word on whether Arthur C. Clarke ever came across Odyssey in Space before writing the similarly titled (but immeasurably superior) 2001: A Space Odyssey. The Book of the Week is rendered more valuable to collectors by the presence of a topless woman in the cover art by Gerald Facey, even if you need a magnifying glass to spot her.

Digest books -- oversized, loosely bound paperback books that look more like digest magazines than typical mass market paperbacks -- were much more popular in England in the 1950's than they ever were in the United States. British publishers commonly used the digest format for their science fiction lines in the 1950's. They were also partial to outrageous pseudonyms for their science fiction writers; other pseudonyms used by Gannet Press included Bengo Mistral and Drax Amper. Even the most prolific British SF writer of the day wrote most of his work under various absurd pen-names, one of which we will see next week.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Aaron's Magazine of the Week :: Famous Fantastic Mysteries February 1949

Famous Fantastic Mysteries February 1949The Magazine of the Week is the February 1949 issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries, cover art by Lawrence Sterne Stevens. The cover story is a reprint of the short novel The Scarlet Plague (1912) by Jack London.

Jack London is remembered today as the author of such classics as The Call of the Wild and The Sea-Wolf, but a great deal of his output was what we now call science fiction. The Scarlet Plague, a post-apocalyptic tale set in the year 2072, is a good example. Other Jack London SF includes The Iron Heel (1908), about a future dystopia; Before Adam (1907) and The Star Rover (1915), both of which feature time travel through out-of-body experiences; "The Unparalleled Invasion" and "Goliah" (1910), which describe future warfare involving biological and energy weapons; and "The Red One" (1918), in which an island comes under extraterrestrial control.

Also included in the Magazine of the Week is "Angel Island" by Inez Haynes Gillmore, a reprint of an important early work of feminist fantasy first published in 1914. The premise is that five sailors shipwrecked on a strange island fall in love with five beautiful native women who can fly. The men manage to woo the angelic women and marry them, but soon decide that it would be best to clip off their wives' wings. The story is a rather obvious, but remarkable for 1914, parable for Gillmore's feminist views.

We'll look at some less socially conscious pulp fiction next week.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Aaron's Magazine of the Week :: Famous Fantastic Mysteries June 1953

Famous Fantastic Mysteries June 1953The Magazine of the Week is one of my recent acquisitions, the June 1953 issue (the final issue) of pulp magazine Famous Fantastic Mysteries, cover art by Lawrence Sterne Stevens. As suggested by the relative sizes of the words on the cover, the emphasis of Famous Fantastic Mysteries was on the fantastic, and the magazine was part of the science fiction and fantasy pulp genre, not the mystery genre.

Recent BOTWs have discussed the unfortunate tendency in the mainstream to be dismissive of anything published in the science fiction and fantasy genre. There is sometimes a corresponding reverse snobbery in the SF/F community toward science fiction penned by mainstream writers. More commonly, however, SF/F readers have welcomed fantastic literature by authors who are not associated with the genre.

Between 1940 and 1953, Famous Fantastic Mysteries found success reprinting older novels and stories in pulp format, and a great many of the stories were written by famous authors not typically thought of as sci-fi writers. (We will have another example next week.) Thus, the cover story of the Magazine of the Week is Anthem by Ayn Rand -- more social science fiction. Also listed on the cover is The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. The issue also contains stories by SF great Ray Bradbury and by Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan the Barbarian, yet somehow this diverse group of authors was able to appear in a single magazine without anyone getting hurt.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Aaron's Book of the Week :: The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin

The Stepford WivesThe Book of the Week is the first paperback printing of The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin. This is to honor Mr. Levin, who passed away last week at the age of 78.

Ira Levin was a successful novelist and playwright. Notable among his nine plays are the thriller Deathtrap (1978), one of the longest-running plays in the history of Broadway, and the comedy No Time for Sergeants (1956), which launched the career of Andy Griffith and inspired the television show Gomer Pyle.

Most of his seven novels involve elements of science fiction or horror, although it is often ambiguous in the story whether these elements are real or imagined. His most important novels were Rosemary's Baby (1967), in which a pregnant woman comes to believe that her child is the Antichrist (note that both the novel and the Roman Polanski film predated William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist); The Boys from Brazil (1976), about a conspiracy to clone Adolf Hitler; and The Stepford Wives (1972).

The Stepford Wives follows Joanna Eberhart, who moves with her husband and children to the sleepy suburban town of Stepford, Connecticut. She begins to suspect that there is something very wrong with the too-perfect wives of Stepford, and that this has something to do with the secretive Stepford Men's Association. Levin uses the premise to frame some very interesting social commentary (fitting right in with our recent theme of social science fiction). The Stepford Wives was made into an effectively creepy movie starring Katharine Ross in 1975, and into a bad comedy starring Nicole Kidman in 2004. For thoughts on what a wasted opportunity the recent film was, see my commentary on the book group's web page for The Stepford Wives

Friday, November 16, 2007

Aaron's Book of the Week :: Bug Jack Barron by Norman Spinrad

Bug Jack BarronThe Book of the Week is my recently acquired first edition of Bug Jack Barron by Norman Spinrad, published in 1969 by Walker & Co., cover art by Jack Gaughan. A classic example of near-future social science fiction published within the SF genre (and almost entirely unknown outside the genre), Bug Jack Barron tells of the clash of wills between an immensely popular TV talk show host and a billionaire monopolist. This will remain science fiction satire until the day Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates get really angry with each other.

Bug Jack Barron was a deliberately outrageous and controversial example of the 1960's "New Wave" of science fiction. The first edition of Bug Jack Barron proudly includes a cover blurb from renowned editor Donald A. Wollheim, denouncing the book as "depraved, cynical, utterly repulsive and thoroughly degenerate." The British New Wave magazine New Worlds published a shortened version of the novel, prompting a debate in Parliament over whether to withdraw government support for the magazine.

Bug Jack Barron was nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel of 1969. Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five was also a nominee for the awards, but both novels lost out to our last Book of the Week, The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Book Review Teaser :: Fast Forward 1 edited by Lou Anders

Fast Forward 1New on Fantastic Reviews is Aaron's review of the anthology Fast Forward 1 edited by Lou Anders.

From Aaron's Review of Fast Forward 1:
"Short fiction has always been the lifeblood of the science fiction genre, so the dwindling of the print SF magazine market is a serious concern for the future of the field. One glimmer of hope is the recent resurgence of the original anthology, and so it is very encouraging to come across Fast Forward 1, edited by Lou Anders, an original anthology of 19 strong stories (and two poems) from many of the leading names in SF, the first volume of what will hopefully be a long-running series."

"There is precedent for original anthologies filling the void when print magazines suffer a period of decline. When multiple digests folded in the late 1960's and early 70's, anthologies such as Orbit, Universe, New Dimensions, and Dangerous Visions picked up the slack. (Notably, stories from original anthologies received over 40 Hugo nominations in the 1970's, after print magazines had accounted for all but one of the short fiction nominations before 1968.)"

"2007 is shaping up as perhaps the best year for original anthologies since the days of Orbit and Dangerous Visions. Most of the new original anthologies are theme anthologies, including The New Space Opera and Wizards, both edited by Gardner Dozois and Jack Dann; Farah Mendlesohn's political protest anthology Glorifying Terrorism (to which I was a contributor); John Klima's Logorrhea; and Interfictions, edited by Delia Sherman and Theodora Goss."

"Fast Forward 1, aptly subtitled Future Fiction from the Cutting Edge, may prove more important than any of these, because it is the first in a planned series of unthemed original anthologies - something that has not been done effectively since Patrick Nielsen Hayden's Starlight series from 1996 to 2001. It is nice to see Pyr, a relatively new SF publisher, using the original anthology format to showcase its brand of literary yet entertaining SF...."

To read the entire review -> Fast Forward 1

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Aaron's Book of the Week :: The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin

The Left Hand of DarknessThe Book of the Week is the first printing, paperback original of The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin (cover art by Leo and Diane Dillon).

I couldn't bear to have BOTWs about Margaret Atwood and Doris Lessing without mentioning Ursula LeGuin. One excuse often heard for excluding an author like Atwood from the science fiction genre is that her books are really about social issues. In fact, social science fiction has long been an important sub-genre of SF, and since the 1960's Ursula LeGuin has been its greatest practitioner.

First published in 1969, The Left Hand of Darkness is perhaps the best example of LeGuin's unique brand of social / feminist SF. (Next week's BOTW will be another interesting example of social SF from 1969.) The Left Hand of Darkness won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel of 1969. It is set on the planet Gethen (also called Winter, because it is perpetually cold), whose people have no gender most of the time, becoming either male or female for only a few days each month. Everyone is alternately male or female in different months and anyone can thus be a father and/or a mother. The result is a society absolutely devoid of sexism or gender barriers. The novel is told from the point of view of a visiting envoy who is a "normal" human, and begins with the immortal opening line: "I'll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination."

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Aaron's Book of the Week :: Shikasta by Doris Lessing

ShikastaThe Book of the Week is the first edition of Shikasta (officially, Re: Colonized Planet 5, Shikasta) by Doris Lessing. This is to honor Ms. Lessing, who last week was declared this year's Nobel Prize winner for Literature. Shikasta is the first in Lessing's five-volume science fiction series Canopus in Argos: Archives, published between 1979 and 1983.

It is refreshing that, unlike many mainstream authors who dabble in science fiction, Doris Lessing makes no attempt to deny she has done so. When asked in a recent interview which of her novels she would like people to read more, she answered, "My science fiction books." She has contrasted the SF genre favorably with literary fiction, much of which she says is "parochial" and "suffocating. " Lessing describes SF as now "the most original branch of literature," declaring that "in science fiction is some of the best social fiction of our time." Best of all, Doris Lessing is the first Nobel Prize winner for Literature to have been a Guest of Honor at the World Science Fiction Convention, at the 1987 Worldcon in Brighton, England -- yet another excuse for me to remind you that next year's Worldcon will be here in Denver.

Shikasta is social science fiction set in the far future, dressed up in the form of reports from envoys to another world, a format Lessing may have borrowed from next week's Book of the Week, by an author long overdue for her own Nobel Prize.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Aaron's Book of the Week :: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's TaleThe Book of the Week is my recently acquired first edition of The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, cover art by Gail Geltner. This is the true first edition, published in Canada in 1985 by McClelland & Stewart, which predates the more common 1986 first American edition by Houghton Mifflin. The Handmaid's Tale is a classic of science fiction, set in a future in which the sharply declining birth rate has prompted the government to treat fertile women as chattel and compel them to bear children to men of the state's choosing. The Handmaid's Tale was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for fiction, and was a nominee for the Nebula Award and winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award for best science fiction novel of the year (probably to the author's chagrin as explained below).

Margaret Atwood is one of an ever growing number of acclaimed mainstream authors who occasionally write science fiction. This is hardly surprising, since for an author who has something to say, SF offers a broader range of possible metaphors to make ones point. This year's Pulitzer Prize went to a science fiction novel, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, and just this week the Nobel Prize for literature was awarded to Doris Lessing, another mainstream writer who often writes SF, including next week's BOTW.

Strangely, many of these authors insist that their works are not science fiction no matter how obvious it is to the rest of us. In denying that her recent novel Oryx and Crake is science fiction, notwithstanding its premise that civilization has been wiped out by a man-made biological catastrophe and all but one of the survivors are genetically engineered post-humans, Margaret Atwood insultingly explained that science fiction is about "talking squids in outer space."

Jeanette Winterson recently took this game to new levels of absurdity, claiming that her new novel The Stone Gods, a love story between a human and a robot traveling to another planet in the far future, is not science fiction. She went so far as to have the characters in the novel insist that science fiction is beneath them, prompting the following wonderful rejoinder from Ursula K. LeGuin. I would say I wish I had written this, but it is even better coming from Ursula LeGuin, an author so outstanding she single-handedly disproves any suggestion that the quality of writing in the science fiction genre is below mainstream standards:

It's odd to find characters in a science-fiction novel repeatedly announcing that they hate science fiction. I can only suppose that Jeanette Winterson is trying to keep her credits as a "literary" writer even as she openly commits genre. Surely she's noticed that everybody is writing science fiction now? Formerly deep-dyed realists are producing novels so full of the tropes and fixtures and plotlines of science fiction that only the snarling tricephalic dogs who guard the Canon of Literature can tell the difference. I certainly can't. Why bother? I am bothered, though, by the curious ingratitude of authors who exploit a common fund of imagery while pretending to have nothing to do with the fellow-authors who created it and left it open to all who want to use it. A little return generosity would hardly come amiss.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Aaron's Book of the Week :: Legends edited by Robert Silverberg

LegendsContinuing our tribute to Jim Rigney, better known as Robert Jordan (1948-2007), the Book of the Week is the 1998 first edition of Legends, an original anthology edited by Robert Silverberg. This contains the first appearance of "New Spring," a stand-alone novella by Robert Jordan set before the events of his best-selling Wheel of Time series. "New Spring" was later expanded and published in 2004 as a separate novel, a prequel to the main sequence of The Wheel of Time. It spent five weeks in the top ten of the New York Times bestseller list, but never hit #1 due to poor timing -- it came out during The Da Vinci Code's long run at #1.

Robert Silverberg designed the two Legends anthologies to showcase some of the most popular secondary worlds in modern fantasy. It is a great way to sample The Wheel of Time before deciding whether to dive in to the series' many thousands of pages. Other very successful fantasy worlds for which Legends provides a nice introduction include Stephen King's Dark Tower series, Terry Pratchett's Discworld, and George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire.

If the worlds' leading science fiction and fantasy authors will all refrain from dying this week, next week's Book of the Week will begin a survey of some of the most recent additions to my collection. In honor of the American Library Association' s Banned Books Week, we will begin with a novel that (like A Wrinkle in Time, our BOTW three weeks back) ranks high on the list of most frequently challenged books.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Aaron's Book of the Week :: The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

The Eye of the WorldThe Book of the Week is the hardcover first edition (but unfortunately not first printing) of The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan, cover art by Darryl Sweet. This is to honor Robert Jordan, the pen name of James Rigney, Jr., who passed away last week at the age of 58. In the 1980's, Jim Rigney wrote historical romances under the pseudonym Reagan O'Neal, a western under the name Jackson O'Reilly, and new adventures of Conan the Barbarian as by Robert Jordan. But it was The Eye of the World, first published in 1990, that rocketed him to prominence.

The Eye of the World is the first book in the Robert Jordan Wheel of Time series, a fantasy epic in the Tolkienesque mode, but even more densely detailed and intricately plotted than The Lord of the Rings. The series has been an immense commercial success -- the last five Wheel of Time books published have all reached #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. It is a testament to Jim Rigney's skills as a storyteller that the series has only gained in popularity, even as it climbed toward 8,000 pages in total length (10,000 in the paperback editions).

The Wheel of Time series was projected to cover twelve volumes (not counting the stand-alone prequel New Spring, the first appearance of which we will see next week), but only eleven have appeared to date. Knowing that his health was deteriorating from the rare blood disease amyloidosis, Rigney prepared detailed outlines of the final book in the series and had lengthy discussions with his wife, son, and other writers regarding its completion. It seems the Wheel of Time series will be finished, a fitting testimony that fantasy fans' devotion to Robert Jordan was mutual.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Aaron's Book of the Week :: A House Like a Lotus by Madeleine L'Engle

A House Like a LotusContinuing our tribute to the late Madeleine L'Engle, the Book of the Week is a signed first edition of L'Engle's A House Like a Lotus (1984).

A House Like a Lotus was the third of four novels following L'Engle's recurring character Polly O'Keefe. Strictly speaking, these novels are set in the same universe as A Wrinkle in Time but years later -- Polly O'Keefe is the daughter of Meg Murry, the protagonist of A Wrinkle in Time -- however the books have a more realist tone with only minor fantastic elements. A House Like a Lotus is arguably the best and certainly the most personal of the O'Keefe novels. It is the only one told in first person, and it deals frankly with Polly's first sexual experiences. My copy was signed by the author with the inscription "Saranam," a recurring term in the novel describing a place of refuge, which one hopes Madeleine L'Engle has found.

Unfortunately, next week's Book of the Week will pay tribute to another major fantasy author who recently passed away.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Aaron's Book of the Week :: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

A Wrinkle in TimeThe Book of the Week is A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, to honor Ms. L'Engle, who passed away last week at the age of 88. Madeleine L'Engle authored some 60 books, many but not all for young adults, and was the 1998 recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime contribution to juvenile fiction.

She is best remembered for A Wrinkle in Time, winner of the Newberry Award for best young adult novel of 1962. A Wrinkle in Time takes Meg Murry and her brother Charles Wallace through a tesseract to other worlds, where they search for their lost father while learning much about themselves. A Wrinkle in Time has become an all-time classic, selling approximately ten million copies to date, and over the years has given a great many young readers their first introduction to science fiction.

A Wrinkle in Time has achieved this success despite being rejected by dozens of publishers (it was rescued from obscurity by John Farrar of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, who bought the book even though FSG did not publish juvenile fiction at the time), and despite often appearing on banned book lists. It ranked # 22 in the American Library Association' s list of the 100 most frequently challenged books of 1990-2000, apparently because some find it anti-Christian. This is a very peculiar charge, since L'Engle was a lifelong Episcopalian who wrote widely about her religious faith, served for over 30 years as the church librarian of the St. John the Divine Cathedral in New York, and was named an honorary Doctor of Sacred Theology by the Berkeley Divinity School in Connecticut. A Wrinkle in Time quotes from the Bible in support of the novel's theme of the importance of love and morality, and lists Jesus among the humans who have done the most to promote these causes and battle against darkness. One wonders if any of the people offended by the book actually read it.

My copy of A Wrinkle in Time is a worthless later paperback printing, but never fear. Next week we will see a Madeleine L'Engle signed first edition.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Aaron's Book of the Week :: Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge

Rainbows EndThe Book of the Week is the hardback first edition of Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge, cover art by Stephan Martiniere.

Last weekend, in a ceremony at the World Science Fiction Convention in Yokohama, Japan, Rainbows End received the Hugo Award for best science fiction or fantasy novel of 2006. This was Vernor Vinge's fifth Hugo Award and his third for Best Novel. He is only the third person to win three or more Best Novel Hugos. The others are the late Robert A. Heinlein and Lois McMaster Bujold, who will be Guest of Honor next year when Denver hosts the World Science Fiction Convention.

While Vinge's first two Best Novel winners (A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky) were space operas set very far in the future, Rainbows End takes place only 20 years in the future. The novel addresses in part a favorite concern of Vinge's: the possibility of a near-future "Singularity," in which computer science and/or biotechnology give rise to a super-human intelligence capable of advancing technology beyond the ability of ordinary humans to comprehend.

Next week we will pay tribute to the author of one of the all-time classic works of science fiction for young adults.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Aaron's Magazine of the Week :: Fantasy & Science Fiction Fall 1949

Fantasy & Science Fiction Fall 1949The Magazine of the Week is the first issue, Fall 1949, of the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, cover by Bill Stone. This initial issue bore the title "Magazine of Fantasy," but the name was expanded by the second issue and has remained "Fantasy & Science Fiction" ever since. F&SF is still going strong, having published over 650 issues to date.

Under the direction of editors Anthony Boucher and J. Francis McComas, F&SF quickly emerged as one of the leading magazines in the field in the 1950's. However, this initial issue was rather unimpressive, filled with second-tier writers, reprints, and a pseudonymous story by Boucher. The issue's saving grace was a story by Theodore Sturgeon, "The Hurkle Is a Happy Beast," with its bizarre opening line, "This is Earth, and it once was horrible with wars, and murders, and young love in the spring."

Next week we will look to honor a Hugo Award winner, perhaps even one published in the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Aaron's Magazine of the Week :: Galaxy February 1951

Galaxy February 1951The Magazine of the Week is the February 1951 issue of Galaxy magazine, with cover story "The Fireman" by Ray Bradbury, the original story which Bradbury later expanded into the classic Fahrenheit 451. The cover art -- totally unrelated to "The Fireman" even though that is the only story named on the cover -- is by Chesley Bonestell.

This was the fifth issue of Galaxy magazine, and it boasts a remarkable table of contents. In addition to the first version of Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, this issue contains part two of a serialized novel by Isaac Asimov later published under the title The Stars, Like Dust, as well as stories by major authors Clifford D. Simak, Lester del Rey, and Frank M. Robinson.

Galaxy was one of dozens of science fiction digest magazines to enter the marketplace as the pulps disappeared in the late 1940's and 1950's. Under the direction of editor Horace Gold, Galaxy quickly emerged as one of two digests that could consistently challenge market leader Astounding in quality. (Next week's magazine of the week will be the very first issue of the other.) Published from 1950 to 1980, Galaxy de-emphasized high-tech gadgetry in favor of stories like Fahrenheit 451 that addressed social issues. This change of focus was instrumental to the growth of the SF genre.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Aaron's Book of the Week :: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit_451The Book of the Week is a signed first printing, paperback original of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, cover art by Joe Mugnani. This is the most significant of all the landmark science fiction novels first published in 1953, and accordingly in 2004 it won a "Retro-Hugo," recognizing classic works of 1953 that might have won Hugo Awards if only they had been presented that year.

This original paperback edition of Fahrenheit 451 was issued a few weeks before the extremely rare first hardcover edition and the even more rare asbestos edition (no kidding). Since the publisher, Ballantine Books, did not know that Fahrenheit 451 would end up an all-time classic, and since the novel is rather short, all of the original editions contain two additional short stories to give readers their money's worth. Ray Bradbury signed my copy at last year's World Science Fiction Convention, which gives you an idea of the caliber of guest the Worldcon attracts, and hopefully will attract when the Worldcon comes to Denver in 2008.

Fahrenheit 451, set in a decadent future in which books are forbidden, is among the most famous dystopias ever written, standing with such classics as 1984 and Brave New World. While Fahrenheit 451 was first published in 1953, a shorter version of the story first appeared in 1951. You will see that original edition of the tale next week.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Amy's bookshelf :: Stardust by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess

Stardust 3 of 4Continuing with the topic of Stardust, this item from my bookshelf is one of the graphic novels of Stardust, subtitled Being A Romance Within the Realms of Faerie, with story by Neil Gaiman and pictures by Charles Vess. This is book 3 of 4 in the series. It was published in 1998 by DC Comics Vertigo. It contains 48 pages, and although it's comic book sized, it has much more text than a comic book. It's basically a story accompanied by color illustrations.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Aaron's Book of the Week :: Stardust by Neil Gaiman

StardustThe Book of the Week is Stardust by Neil Gaiman. We will finish our recap of the classics of science fiction from 1953 next week, but I saw that the film version of Stardust opens this week, so I couldn't miss the chance to show off my signed hardcover first edition (preceded by the original illustrated version serialized in four comic books), cover design by Russell Gordon.

Stardust is the charming story of Tristran Thorn's quest to recover a fallen star to impress a lady, a task rendered more difficult by the star's reluctance to cooperate. (For more, see the book group's page on Stardust ) Neil Gaiman first became popular writing graphic novels (i.e., comic books), notably the landmark Sandman series. He has since proven himself an excellent prose writer as well, winning Hugo Awards for Best Novel for American Gods and Best Novella for Coraline (an animated film version of which is also in production), and reaching #1 on the New York Times bestseller list with Anansi Boys (see my review of Anansi Boys ). His short story "How to Talk to Girls at Parties" is a current Hugo finalist.

One should never expect much when Hollywood adapts written science fiction and fantasy, but the strong cast (Charlie Cox as Tristran, Claire Danes as the star, Peter O'Toole as the king, Michelle Pfeiffer as the witch, and Robert DeNiro as the pirate Captain Shakespeare) gives hope that Stardust will add to the recent trend of Hollywood treating SF/F with a bit more respect.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Aaron's Book of the Week :: The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov

The Caves of SteelThe Book of the Week is the first paperback printing of The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov, cover art by Robert Schulz, another all-time classic of science fiction first published in 1953.

Isaac Asimov was one of the most beloved authors of science fiction ever, and The Caves of Steel is one of his best works. The Caves of Steel follows a murder investigation by a detective of the future and his robot sidekick. This was Asimov's first robot novel, preceded by the short stories collected in I, Robot. The Caves of Steel was an important early example of science fictional mystery, a sub-genre that has made a recent comeback, notably in the works of Richard K. Morgan. It also featured stronger characterization than much of Asimov's work and a host of social commentary, including using robots as a metaphor to examine racism. (See my book club's web page on The Caves of Steel for more information.)

As fine a book as The Caves of Steel was, there was an even more seminal science fiction novel that first appeared in 1953, as we will see next week.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Amy's Take on the 2007 Hugo Nominees :: NOVELETTES

Novelette is my favorite short fiction category. Novelettes have more time to develop characters than short stories, but not enough time for the complexity of plots found in many novellas.

"All the Things You Are", Mike Resnick (Jim Baen's Universe October 2006)
A man saves a girl by confronting robbers and is mortally wounded. This wasn't the first he put himself in such danger. Another man repeatedly risked his life too. A spaceport security man learns that both men survived a bloody battle on the deserted planet of Nikita. How did their experiences on Nikita affect them?

This is a readable story, but hardly groundbreaking. If you know something is an illusion, even if it's a pleasant illusion, why would you fall for it?

"Dawn, and Sunset, and the Colours of the Earth", Michael F. Flynn (Asimov's Science Fiction October/November 2006)
A ferry heading from Seattle to Bremerton mysteriously vanishes with nearly a thousand people aboard. No wreckage is found. This story tells how some people are affected by this tragedy and what scientists determine happened.

A readable story told from multiple viewpoints. I found most of the tales interesting and down-to-earth, but I would have preferred to hear from more folks I that could admire.

"Yellow Card Man", Paolo Bacigalupi (Asimov's Science Fiction December 2006)
Ethnic Chinaman Tranh has lost everything and is merely surviving in the slums of Bangkok. He once ran a shipping business in Malaysia, but his family was killed and his livelihood destroyed. Now he is just another yellow-card refugee without a steady job. But he does have a fine white linen suit. Tranh encounters a rich man whom he once fired.

This story is set in the same future as Bacigalupi's "The Calorie Man", which I liked very much, but the science fictional elements aren't as integral to the plot. This is a well-written story, but it's rather grim.

"The Djinn's Wife", Ian McDonald (Asimov's Science Fiction July 2006)
In the near-future in India, young female dancer meets a handsome admirer who appears out of nowhere, like a djinn. He is a diplomat, but also an artificial intelligence or aeai. A government inspector notices that the A.I. spends time with the dancer. When the dancer marries the artificial intelligence she becomes a tabloid celebrity. But soon her husband's differences begin to annoy her.

A clever, well-written story set in an exotic future. This story shares the same background as McDonald's story "The Little Goddess". It contains some memorably atypical, romantic encounters. I nominated this novelette.

"Pol Pot's Beautiful Daughter (Fantasy)", Geoff Ryman (Fantasy & Science Fiction) October/November 2006)
According to the author "this is a completely untrue story about someone who must exist." It’s s tale about a young woman in Cambodia who is named Sith, who is Pol Pot's daughter. She lives an eccentric life trying to avoid unpleasantness. She falls in love with a salesman at a mobile phone shop. Sith is afraid to admit who she is. She is haunted by ghosts that call on her cell phones, and whose faces appear on her photocopier.

An exotic, colorful, and dare I say, haunting novelette. I enjoy tales with modern day ghosts.

Deciding between first and second was very difficult for me. Ordering the remaining stories wasn't difficult at all. It's interesting to note that my top three were all set in southern or Southeast Asia.

Amy's Ballot for Best Novelette:
1. "Pol Pot's Beautiful Daughter (Fantasy)", Geoff Ryman
2. "The Djinn's Wife", Ian McDonald
3. "Yellow Card Man", Paolo Bacigalupi
4. "Dawn, and Sunset, and the Colours of the Earth", Michael F. Flynn
5. "All the Things You Are", Mike Resnick

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Aaron's Book of the Week :: Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke

Childhood's EndThe Book of the Week is the first paperback printing of Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke, published in 1953, simultaneously with the first hardcover edition, cover art by Richard Powers. This is the third in our sequence of all-time classic science fiction novels first published in 1953, a year the fans at the World Science Fiction Convention neglected to present Hugo Awards.

Arthur C. Clarke is a living legend of science fiction. (Still living at 89, no doubt, because he has never signed any books for me - he has had to hole up in Sri Lanka to avoid me.) He will probably always be best known to non-SF insiders as the author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, but most SF fans regard Childhood's End as his greatest novel. Childhood's End tells of the arrival of an alien race, here to assist humanity in its transition to a more advanced state of being, assistance not everyone is excited about.

Incidentally, in 1945, Clarke was the first person to propose the use of satellites in geosynchronous orbits to facilitate telecommunications. To this day, geosynchronous orbits are often called "Clarke orbits" in his honor. If he had thought to patent his idea, he might well have become the richest person in the world.

We will return to Arthur C. Clarke in future BOTWs, but first we will see another classic of the field from 1953, by another of the legends of the Golden Age of Science Fiction.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Amy's Take on the 2007 Hugo Nominees :: SHORT STORIES

Frankly, last years' nominees in the short story category were disappointing. Saying that they were (as a group) weak, is an understatement. I was so annoyed that I made time to read stories and I nominated in this category this year. (One of my nominees made the final ballot.)

I'm pleased to say that this years' group of nominees are more readable.

"The House Beyond Your Sky", Benjamin Rosenbaum (Strange Horizons Sep 2006)
A powerful yet compassionate priest called Matthias has a library containing worlds such as our own. He is building a bubble universe behind his house. An ancient one wants to become ubiquitous in Matthias's new universe. Matthias hides his keys.

I found this story difficult to get into, but it was something different.

"Eight Episodes", Robert Reed (Asimov's Jun 2006)
A unheralded TV series called Invasion of a Small World debuts. It has unglamorous characters and sloppy dialog. The series is cancelled after the fifth episode. But months later, the final three episodes create a buzz by showing planetary vistas and a Paleozoic ecosystem. Who created this series?

This story may present a more realistic view of life in the wide universe, but I found its outlook a bit discouraging.

"Kin", Bruce McAllister (Asimov's Feb 2006)
In an overpopulated California of the future, a twelve-year old boy wants a man killed because he is going to kill his sister. A dangerous alien, called an Antalou, answers the boy's note. The boy understands the alien better than either imagined.

This story has a way to make a bureaucrat think, plus a nice outcome for the boy.

"How to Talk to Girls at Parties", Neil Gaiman (Fragile Things)
Two English teenage boys head off to a party, but forget to bring the directions. They find a party, but it's a different party entirely, and the beautiful girls at the party are quite different indeed.

A charming, well-told story. I read this story only this month.

"Impossible Dreams", Tim Pratt (Asimov's Jul 2006)
Pete discovers a video store from a parallel universe which rents DVDs of movies that were lost in our world or were never actually filmed. Paying for and trying to play a DVD from another universe complicates things. Pete befriends the store clerk who shares his love of movies.

An enjoyable story that I wish could be true. This is the story I nominated. It was a close call for me between "Impossible Dreams" and "How to Talk to Girls at Parties".

Amy's Ballot for Best Short Story:
1. "Impossible Dreams", Tim Pratt
2. "How to Talk to Girls at Parties", Neil Gaiman
3. "Kin", Bruce McAllister
4. "Eight Episodes", Robert Reed
5. "The House Beyond Your Sky", Benjamin Rosenbaum

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Aaron's Book of the Week :: Berserker by Fred Saberhagen

BerserkerThe Book of the Week is Berserker by Fred Saberhagen, in honor of Mr. Saberhagen, who passed away last week at the age of 77. This is a signed and inscribed copy of the first printing, paperback original, published in 1967. (Yes, this is the second recent Book of the Week that I had signed by an author not long before he died, but I assure you the great majority of people who have signed books for me are still alive and kicking.)

Fred Saberhagen was the author of over 60 books. He was successful writing fantasy (including the Empire of the East and Book of Swords series) and horror (notably The Dracula Tape and sequels, in which Count Dracula is the hero), but will likely always be best remembered for his science fiction series about the berserkers, beginning with the Book of the Week. In the universe of Berserker, the combatants in an ages-past interstellar war created huge, mechanized weapons that proved much too powerful. These "berserker" weapons annihilated both sides and now wander the universe looking for more life to destroy. (This concept was adapted successfully to the Star Trek universe in the original series episode "The Doomsday Machine," script by Norman Spinrad.) Ironically, the advanced, peaceful races of the galaxy must turn to humans to combat these ultimate WMD's, because we still have the necessary violent and warlike tendencies.

Next week, back to the great classics of science fiction from 1953.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Book Review Teaser :: Summer of the Apocalypse by James Van Pelt

Summer of the ApocalypseNew on Fantastic Reviews is Aaron's positive review of Summer of the Apocalypse by James Van Pelt (along with a lukewarm review of The Road by Cormac McCarthy, see previous post). The Road is more widely known, but Aaron found Summer of the Apocalypse to be the more compelling book.

From Aaron's review of Summer of the Apocalypse:
"...Today, the best writers in the science fiction and fantasy genre are equal or superior to their mainstream colleagues at the craft of writing. To illustrate the point, compare The Road with Summer of the Apocalypse by James Van Pelt. These two novels share a strikingly similar premise: an older man and young companion(s) travel on foot over a derelict highway through a ruined America. Consistent with Cormac McCarthy's sterling literary reputation, The Road won the Pulitzer Prize and has spent much of the past year on all the national best-seller lists. In contrast, as befits James Van Pelt's lowly status as a mid-list writer in the science fiction genre, Summer of the Apocalypse was entirely ignored by the mainstream press."

"Yet Summer of the Apocalypse is the far better novel. The writing of Summer of the Apocalypse is subtle where The Road is only brash. Summer of the Apocalypse develops believable, three-dimensional characters; the characters in The Road are nameless (literally) figureheads. In The Road, Cormac McCarthy attempts to compensate for awkward writing, lack of characterization, and an aimless plot by dazzling readers with the utter bleakness of his vision of the future. Summer of the Apocalypse is also very bleak at times, but in the framework of a compelling story...."

"...James Van Pelt's Summer of the Apocalypse alternates between two different cross-country trips. In the earliest, set in the very near future, 15-year-old Eric travels across the western slope of Colorado in search of his father, shortly after nearly all of mankind has been wiped out in a pandemic. The second journey takes place sixty years later, as 75-year-old Eric retraces his earlier trip while leading his 10- and 12-year-old grandson and friend to a greatly altered Boulder."

To read the entire review -> Summer of the Apocalypse

Friday, July 06, 2007

Book Review Teaser :: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The RoadNew on Fantastic Reviews is Aaron's review of The Road by Cormac McCarthy (along with a review of Summer of the Apocalyse by James Van Pelt, which is featured in this post). The Road recently won the Pulitzer Prize and was selected for Oprah's book club, but is it a good science fiction book?

From Aaron's review of The Road:
"...The Road is the dismal story of a father and son, walking together through a world that has been almost entirely obliterated. McCarthy never tells us what caused the devastation, although he hints at a nuclear war. Nearly everything has burned and the sky has turned permanently gray, presumably by nuclear winter, although the characters in the book are strangely unconcerned about radiation poisoning."

"Nothing will grow, and so most of the few remaining survivors have stayed alive only by cannibalism. The man and his son have not resorted to this, so they face a constant struggle to find shelter and food enough to keep themselves alive while avoiding their dangerous fellow survivors...."

"...In The Road, McCarthy very convincingly demonstrates that it would really suck if the world were destroyed...but perhaps you already knew that."

To read the entire review -> The Road

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Amy's bookshelf :: Mission of Gravity by Hal Clement

Mission of GravityA more recent copy of Mission of Gravity by Hal Clement - Aaron's Book of the Week (see previous post) – resides on my bookshelf. It's a 1978 paperback from Ballantine Books with a cover price $1.75 and cover art by H.R. Van Dogen.

Mission of Gravity is an acknowledged science fiction classic. It's set on the high gravity planet of Mesklin, which is home to intelligent, caterpillar-like aliens. The cover art on my edition apparently depicts some of these aliens.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Aaron's Book of the Week :: Mission of Gravity by Hal Clement

Mission of GravityThe Book of the Week is Mission of Gravity by Hal Clement, one of several classics of science fiction first published in 1953. This is a signed copy of the first paperback printing, Galaxy Science Fiction Novel No. 33, cover art by Wallace A. Wood. (Incidentally, we'll return to the "Galaxy" line of SF novels in future BOTWs. Galaxy novels had an interesting history, switching over time from digest books to standard paperbacks to science fictional pornography. )

"Hal Clement" was the pen name of Harry C. Stubbs, a pioneer of "hard" science fiction, in which rigorously applied scientific principles are central to the story. Mission of Gravity is Hal Clement's most famous novel, set on a supermassive, rapidly rotating planet inhabited by intelligent, centipede-like creatures adapted to the world's high surface gravity.

Clement was named Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 1998. Always charming and friendly, Clement was a favorite at science fiction conventions. In 2003, shortly after the publication of his last novel, he attended Mile Hi Con, Denver's local convention, where he signed the Book of the Week for me under both the name Hal Clement and Harry Stubbs. At 81, he seemed in the best of health and spirits as he entertained the crowd. He passed away the next week from complications of diabetes. Next week we'll have another of the all-time classics of SF from 1953, this one from an author still going strong at age 89.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Aaron's Magazine of the Week :: Fantastic Adventures February 1950

Fantastic Adventures February 1950The Magazine of the Week is the February 1950 issue of pulp magazine Fantastic Adventures, with cover story The Dreaming Jewels by Theodore Sturgeon, cover art by Robert Gibson Jones. This is a condensed version of last week's Book of the Week, The Synthetic Man.

The Dreaming Jewels, aka The Synthetic Man, was one of the major science fiction novels of 1950, but it was Sturgeon's novel More Than Human (1953), our BOTW of two weeks ago, that became an acknowledged classic of the field. Neither novel had an opportunity to win a Hugo Award, however, because the SF field's leading award was not invented until 1952, and then took two years to catch on and became an annual event. So Hugos were awarded for works published in 1952 and 1954, but not for 1953. As fate would have it, 1953 saw the original publication of more all-time classics in the field of science fiction than any year before or (arguably) since. We've already seen More Than Human. In our next several BOTWs, we will see some of the other all-time classics of SF from 1953.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Aaron's Book of the Week :: The Synthetic Man by Theodore Sturgeon

The Synthetic ManThe Book of the Week is the first paperback printing of The Synthetic Man by Theodore Sturgeon, cover art by Art Sussman.

The Synthetic Man is not as well known as last week's BOTW, More Than Human, but it's always been my personal favorite Ted Sturgeon novel. I first read it as a teenager, and was grabbed from the opening line: "They caught the kid doing something disgusting out under the bleachers at the high-school stadium, and he was sent home from the grammar school across the street." The disgusting thing Horty was doing was eating ants. Young Horty does not fit in, and eventually ends up running away and joining a carnival. The carnival setting is only one of a number of congruities between Sturgeon's work and Ray Bradbury's. Sturgeon and Bradbury were at the forefront of a generation of Golden Age authors whose approach to science fiction was less technical and more artistic and humanistic than earlier writers. (Hollywood is just beginning to catch up.)

The Synthetic Man was first published in the pulp magazines under another title. That title was much preferable, since the title The Synthetic Man has a spoiler right in it. The original pulp publication will be next week's Magazine of the Week.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Aaron's Book of the Week :: More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon

More Than HumanCompleting our tribute to the late Kurt Vonnegut, the Book of the Week is More Than Human by science fiction great Theodore Sturgeon. Kurt Vonnegut publicly stated that Theodore Sturgeon was the inspiration for his fictional sci-fi author Kilgore Trout -- although really, aside from having the name of a fish, Kilgore Trout bears far less resemblance to Sturgeon than to Vonnegut himself.

This is the first paperback printing of More Than Human, published in 1953, simultaneously with the extremely rare hardcover first edition. The cover is by famed SF artist Richard Powers. Theodore Sturgeon was one of the leading SF authors from the 1940's through the 70's, although for whatever reason he never caught the attention of the general public as Kurt Vonnegut did. In addition to his fiction, Sturgeon is widely remembered in the genre for announcing the principle that came to be known as Sturgeon's Law: "90% of all science fiction is crap. But then, 90% of everything is crap."

More Than Human, about a small group of misfits who prove to represent the next step in human evolution, is widely regarded as Sturgeon's best novel. Next week's Book of the Week will be my personal favorite Sturgeon novel.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Aaron's Book of the Week :: Venus on the Half-Shell by Kilgore Trout

Venus on the Half-ShellFollowing up on our tribute to Kurt Vonnegut, the Book of the Week is Venus on the Half-Shell by Kilgore Trout, published in 1975, with cover art by Victor Gadino.

Kilgore Trout was an invention of Kurt Vonnegut, a make-believe science fiction writer who appeared in many of Vonnegut's novels. According to Vonnegut, Trout was underappreciated as an author, largely because he was mistaken for a sleaze writer after some of his early works were published by pornographers. Trout was supposedly the author of over 100 novels, but Venus on the Half-Shell is the only one ever to see print in the real world, thanks to another science fiction author, Philip Jose Farmer.

Philip Jose Farmer is one of my personal favorite authors (you will see more of him in future BOTWs). Even though he has enjoyed significant success in the science fiction field, many of us believe he remains underappreciated, perhaps in part because he was mistaken for a sleaze writer after several of his early works were printed by pornographic publisher Essex House. Farmer delighted in borrowing other authors' fictional creations, and wrote Venus on the Half-Shell as a tribute to Vonnegut.

In Venus on the Half-Shell, Farmer deliberately imitated the style of Vonnegut, successfully enough that when the book came out several reviewers insisted that it really was by Vonnegut, even though he denied it. The Washington Post review declared, "Trout's prose is at least as good as Vonnegut's," then ended the review with the words, "Thanks, Kurt." The confusion annoyed Vonnegut enough that he later had some snappish things to say about Farmer free-loading off his reputation. This was rather unfair, since Vonnegut gave Farmer permission in advance to create Venus on the Half-Shell and declined Farmer's offer to share the royalties.

While Kilgore Trout evolved into a semiautobiographical figure in Vonnegut's writings, he was originally inspired by yet another science fiction writer, the subject of next week's BOTW.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Aaron's Book of the Week :: Utopia 14 by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Utopia 14 aka Player PianoContinuing our tribute to the late Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., the Book of the Week is the first paperback printing of Utopia 14, Kurt Vonnegut's first published novel, set in a mechanized future society. All you Vonnegut fans out there racking your brains trying to remember a book called Utopia 14 can relax -- the book is far better known under the title Player Piano.

Subsequent editions have always used the Player Piano title, no doubt because mainstream readers would be scared off by the sci-fi sound of Utopia 14. (I'm not quite sure why Vonnegut's second book, The Sirens of Titan, never received the same kind of name change. Perhaps publishers were counting on mainstream readers being unaware that Titan is the largest moon of Saturn.) Of course, the fact that the mainstream eventually did acknowledge Vonnegut as an outstanding writer, and then tried to redefine his work as not science fiction at all, is only further evidence of the absurdity of the prevalent prejudice against SF.

A final link between Vonnegut and the SF field is his recurring character Kilgore Trout. Kilgore Trout was inspired by one of Vonnegut's fellow SF writers. Before we get around to revealing who that was, next week's Book of the Week will be the only book ever published as by Kilgore Trout. The book was not written by Kurt Vonnegut as widely suspected, but by another prominent SF author.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Aaron's Book of the Week :: Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Cat's CradleThe Book of the Week is the first paperback printing of Cat's Cradle (1963) by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. This is to honor Vonnegut, who passed away in April at the age of 84. Kurt Vonnegut was celebrated for his distinctive writing style, which blended science fiction tropes with satire and black humor. His work undoubtedly influenced later science fiction satirists such as John Sladek and James Morrow.

Vonnegut resisted classification as a science fiction writer, not because he denied that his work was science fiction -- most of his books are SF by any conceivable definition -- but because he wished to avoid the mainstream's demeaning attitudes toward SF. In 1965 he wrote, "I have been a sore-headed occupant of a file-drawer labeled 'science fiction' ever since [Player Piano], and I would like out, particularly since so many serious critics regularly mistake the drawer for a tall white fixture in a comfort station. The way a person gets into this drawer, apparently, is to notice technology. The feeling persists that no one can simultaneously be a respectable writer and understand how a refrigerator works."

While Vonnegut sold some of his earliest stories to Collier's magazine, much of his early work first appeared in genre SF publications such as Galaxy and If magazines and Again, Dangerous Visions. His famous story "Harrison Bergeron" was first published by Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine. Next week's Book of the Week, the first paperback edition of Vonnegut's first book, leaves no doubt that Vonnegut was marketed as a science fiction writer early in his career, before being "discovered" by the mainstream.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Virginia Tech Blame Game

Virginia TechWhile most people respond to a tragedy like Virginia Tech with shock and sadness, a contemptible few immediately react by claiming the event as strained support for their pet political theories. Two particularly shameful examples from the past week are pertinent to the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genre community. They come from opposite sides of the political spectrum, but should be offensive to all rational readers regardless of their politics.

The first is a long letter to Locus Online posted there on April 21. It is a bizarre, paranoid rant by Marleen Barr, who once taught at Virginia Tech and fancies herself a pre-eminent feminist science fiction critic. In Barr’s view, Cho Seung-Hui’s killing spree was a misguided but understandable reaction to the intolerable lack of diversity at Virginia Tech and the infuriating existence of George W. Bush.

Barr explains that Cho selected his first victim to make a statement about sexism at Virginia Tech: “I think that Cho Seung-Hui picked a female to be his first victim in order to make a statement about how Tech responds to that which is Other in relation to white male patriarchy. He knew that one shot dead female would be treated as, well, ‘just’ one shot dead female. No need to shut down the campus.” (Never mind that the other dorm victim, Ryan Clark, was male.) Cho then purposefully targeted only minority faculty for his shooting spree, as a peculiar form of backlash against the lack of diversity on campus. (To make this theory fly, Barr ignores Kevin Granata and assigns Jamie Bishop to an unorthodox minority: German teachers with long hair.) All the white students Cho shot simply “were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

How the President is responsible for all this is unclear, but Barr feels the need to mention Bush and members of his administration by name a dozen times in her letter – all the while using the annoying rhetorical tactic of denying she is saying what she is saying even as she says it: “I will presently refrain from comparing the Cho Seung-Hui gun-in-hands hyper-masculine action hero image to that of the theatrical spectacle of Bush on the aircraft carrier.” (In the words of Inigo Montoya, that word “refrain,” I do not think it means what you think it means.) Barr’s best moment is where she points out that Bush once served turkey to soldiers in Iraq and a Hokie, the Virginia Tech mascot, is a castrated turkey. Her point is entirely obscure, but hell, it sounds anti-Bush, so that’s all good.

Barr’s theories are not just nutty, they are vicarious terrorism. She seizes on an atrocity that someone else has committed and assigns blame to whatever it is about society that she dislikes. It is every bit as wrong-headed and offensive as when Jerry Falwell blamed 9/11 on feminists and gays.

The second comes from Mary Grabar, a conservative columnist at, who teaches English at someplace called Clayton State University. In an April 24 column titled “The making of a mass murderer--In english class,” Grabar attributes Cho’s murderous rampage to the fact that he took a class in horror literature and film at Virginia Tech. She wonders whether this directly caused the massacre, implying that Cho learned how to commit murder by watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in class (if only he had – he would have killed fewer people using a chainsaw). Even if not, she asserts that this class reflects an educational system that wastes time on unworthy topics and weakens students by undermining their moral resolve and religious beliefs, with the natural end result of an “egotistical, narcissistic, soulless, anti-Christian, anti-authority, anti-hero” like Cho Seung-Hui.

Poking around on the Internet, I managed to find the course description for this class in Contemporary Horror (scroll down to English 3984). Alongside The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Stephen King, the course covers Horace Walpole, Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, and Joyce Carol Oates, all of whom Grabar dismisses as “titillating ephemera” beneath the dignity of a legitimate English course. The course description does not explicitly indicate that Professor Stevens would take course time to “scoff at the notion of original sin,” but Grabar is quite confident he did.

How sad it is that someone who teaches college-level English cannot imagine how the tools of literary analysis might apply to anything more recent than Shakespeare and Chaucer – although the Virginia Tech course guide also lists classes on Shakespeare and Chaucer. (I’ll “refrain” from mentioning the hypocrisy that Grabar teaches Poe in her own American literature class or that she wrote her PhD dissertation about some hokey modern sci-fi writer named Pynchon.)

Ironically, Grabar describes great literature as that which “engages us in moral questions.” But there is no contemporary branch of literature as closely concerned with raising moral questions and confronting evil than horror fiction. One could not get far into many of the books covered in the Virginia Tech course, such as The Female of the Species by Joyce Carol Oates or the graphic novel From Hell by Alan Moore, without considering serious and important moral issues. It is a shame that Cho did not learn from the moral issues in these authors’ works, but then neither has Mary Grabar, so if you see her coming toward you, best dive for cover.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Aaron's Book of the Week :: Gunning for the Buddha by Michael Jasper

Gunning for the Buddha - cover art by Jamie BishopIn honor of Jamie Bishop, one of the victims of last week's massacre at Virginia Tech, the Book of the Week is Gunning for the Buddha (2005), a collection of short stories by Michael Jasper. While Michael Jasper is a promising author who writes in a variety of styles and genres -- he even recently published a paranormal romance under the pseudonym Julia C. Porter -- the reason Gunning for the Buddha is our Book of the Week is the book's striking cover art by Jamie Bishop.

Jamie Bishop, son of SF writer Michael Bishop, was an artist and illustrator when he wasn't busy with his German classes at Virginia Tech. The cover of Gunning for the Buddha is an example of Bishop's preferred medium of digital art. His web site described the process of creating this image in collaboration with Michael Jasper, showing the various ideas they considered and discarded before arriving at this cover: -> 10 images for Gunning for the Buddha cover art

Media reports always emphasize the number of casualties from a tragedy such as the Virginia Tech massacre, but like each of the victims, Jamie Bishop was not a number, he was a human being with friends, relatives, talents, hopes, and aspirations. His needless death is a terrible loss for all of us.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Aaron's Book of the Week :: Brittle Innings by Michael Bishop

Brittle InningsThe Book of the Week is Brittle Innings by Michael Bishop, in tragic observance of the massacre at Virginia Tech yesterday.

Michael Bishop is a two-time Nebula Award winner and nine-time Hugo Award nominee. Brittle Innings, a coming-of-age novel about a teenaged baseball player in the minor leagues during World War II, which sneaks in a memorable science fiction element halfway through, is my personal favorite of Bishop's works. It was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novel of 1994. Michael Bishop is widely known as one of the most soft-spoken, gracious, and humble personalities in the science fiction community. By all accounts, his son Jamie possessed the same qualities.

Michael Bishop's son, Christopher "Jamie" Bishop, was a talented digital artist who had done the cover art for several recent books. A portfolio of his artwork is available at his website -> Memory39. I do not own any books with Jamie Bishop cover art, but I will try to obtain one for next week's Book of the Week.

In addition to his artwork, Jamie Bishop taught German at Virginia Tech. He was teaching yesterday morning when a gunman entered his classroom in Norris Hall, shot and killed Bishop, and reportedly then shot all but four of Bishop's students. These students were among approximately 32 killed and 15 wounded in yesterday's attack.

Jamie Bishop was 35 years old. He is survived by his wife Stephanie Hofer, who also teaches German at Virginia Tech but was not in Norris Hall when the attack occurred. The Los Angeles Times has a profile of Jamie Bishop at its website (free registration required): -> L.A. Times Jamie Bishop profile.

Please remember the Bishop family, and all of the victims of the senseless killings at Virginia Tech, in your thoughts and prayers.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Aaron's Book of the Week :: Jackie Robinson: My Own Story

Jackie RobinsonThis Sunday, Major League Baseball will mark the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball's color barrier. In honor of the occasion, the Book of the Week is Jackie Robinson: My Own Story by Jackie Robinson & Wendell Smith, foreword by Branch Rickey. This rare book was published by Avon in 1949, two years after Jackie Robinson began his major league career. This book has no discernible connection to science fiction, but I had to acquire it as a loyal UCLA alumnus.

Years before Robinson broke into major league baseball, he was BMOC at UCLA. Oddly enough, baseball was his weakest sport at UCLA. He was far better known for his exploits in football (he led the nation with absurd averages of 12 yards per carry and 20 yards per punt return) and basketball (he was twice the leading scorer in the Pacific Coast Conference). He was also a star in track & field, a sport he learned to love watching his brother Mack, who won a silver medal in the 200-yard dash at the 1936 Olympics (finishing behind only the legendary Jesse Owens). Robinson was the first UCLA student to earn letters in four different sports.

After leaving UCLA in 1941, Jackie Robinson briefly played semiprofessional sports, which were integrated on the West Coast at the time, until he was inducted into the Army. He was one of the first African-Americans to become an Army officer through Officer's Candidate School (an opportunity he purportedly received through the intervention of heavyweight champion Joe Louis), but he never fought overseas because he was court-martialed for refusing an order to go to the back of an Army bus. He was ultimately acquitted and later honorably discharged, after the Army determined that the order was contrary to Army policy and Lt. Robinson was justified in defying it. From the Army, Robinson went back to sports, competing in semipro football and Negro League baseball, where he was spotted by a scout for the Brooklyn Dodgers. In 1945, visionary Dodgers owner Branch Rickey signed Robinson to a professional contract, after first obtaining Robinson's solemn oath to forbear for three years from retaliating against any of the racial bigotry he would inevitably face, a promise Robinson kept for exactly three years.

One of the UCLA Athletic Department's greatest sources of pride (along with its 99 NCAA championships, most of any school) is its role in the racial integration of society. UCLA operated a color-blind athletic department from the time the school was founded in 1919. Few people realize that Ralph Bunche, the first black winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, went to UCLA on an athletics scholarship before distinguishing himself even more for his academics, graduating valedictorian of his class in 1927.

While Jackie Robinson is rightly celebrated for breaking baseball's color barrier, not so many remember that his former teammate at UCLA, Kenny Washington, broke the NFL's color barrier. Indeed, because Robinson had to spend a year in the minor leagues before playing for the Dodgers, Kenny Washington actually donned a big-league uniform first, in 1946. The second black player in the modern era of the NFL was another Bruin, Woody Strode, who went on to have a successful acting career. Washington and Strode got the opportunity to play in the NFL when the Cleveland Rams moved to Los Angeles, because the commissioners of the Los Angeles Coliseum insisted that the team be integrated. The Coliseum was apparently embarrassed to host an all-white team, since L.A. was well accustomed to integrated football teams, largely thanks to the successes of Washington, Strode, and Jackie Robinson, both with UCLA and with the local semipro teams, the Los Angeles Bulldogs and the Hollywood Bears.

None of the three men who broke the color barrier in the NBA in 1950 was from UCLA, but Bruin Don Barksdale was the first African-American basketball player to play for the U.S. Olympic team and the first to play in the NBA All-Star Game, in 1948 and 1953, respectively. In 1968, UCLA tennis great Arthur Ashe won the U.S. Open to become the first African-American man to win a Grand Slam tennis tournament. Ashe remains the only black man to win the U.S. Open, Wimbledon (defeating fellow Bruin Jimmy Connors in the finals), and the Australian Open. (Yannick Noah is the only black man to win the French Open, for which we try to forgive his son his annoying tantrums on the basketball court.)

Jackie Robinson: My Own Story is a digest-format book, a bit larger than an ordinary paperback and held together merely with staples rather than glue. Several publishers experimented with this format in the 1940's and 50's, before thankfully abandoning it. We will return to science fiction next week with the most rare digest book in my collection.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Aaron's Book of the Week :: The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle by Michael Moorcock

The Great Rock 'n' Roll SwindleThe Book of the Week is The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, a bizarre punk rock novel published by Virgin Records and written by science fiction and fantasy author Michael Moorcock.

This original 1980 printing of The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle was issued in an unusual 11" x 14" format, like a tabloid newspaper. It was printed in connection with the film of the same title about the punk rock group the Sex Pistols, and contains multiple photos of Sid Vicious, Johnny Rotten, and the other Pistols.

Michael Moorcock was one of the leading voices of the "New Wave" of science fiction in the 1960's and remains an important figure in the SF/F field to this day. But Moorcock was a musician even before finding success as an author, and he remained involved with the music industry for many years. He wrote several songs for Blue Oyster Cult and collaborated extensively with the band Hawkwind.

The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle is supposedly a novelization of the film, which gave Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren's skewed view of the punk rock phenomenon. Moorcock, however, was contemptuous of McLaren and took significant liberties with the book version, weaving the story into the ongoing chronicles of his own multifaceted recurring character Jerry Cornelius. After this tabloid edition, the book had a small print run in paperback, but remains probably the most obscure entry in Moorcock's Jerry Cornelius series.

From music, next week we will make a quick foray into sports, this time with no SF connection at all.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

2007 Hugo Awards nominees for best novel

Blindsight, Peter Watts (Tor)
Eifelheim, Michael Flynn (Tor)
Glasshouse, Charles Stross (Ace)
His Majesty's Dragon, Naomi Novik (Ballantine Del Rey; Voyager as Temeraire)
Rainbows End, Vernor Vinge (Tor)

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Aaron's Magazine of the Week :: Analog March 1965

Analog March 1965The Magazine of the Week is the March 1965 issue of Analog magazine. This issue contains Part III of The Prophet of Dune (really the sixth out of eight installments of the novel Dune). The stunning cover, depicting one of the giant sandworms of Arrakis, is by far the best out of the many cover images John Schoenherr did for Dune, and I am at a loss to explain why it was not used for any of the book editions.

Schoenherr was able to do a large, detailed cover image for Analog because between March 1963 and March 1965, Analog switched from digest to a glossy, oversized (8" x 11") "bedsheet" format. Bedsheet is the most common format for magazines, but is generally not used for science fiction and other literary magazines. This is because bedsheets are expensive to produce, and thus only make sense for magazines that have a large potential audience -- much larger than the small number of us geeks and weirdoes who read science fiction.

With only a few exceptions, bedsheet magazines are the largest-sized items in my collection. Next week's Book of the Week will be one of those exceptions, a book published in a format like a tabloid newspaper. This rare book is sought by collectors of both science fiction and, would you believe, punk rock paraphernalia.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Aaron's Book of the Year :: Glorifying Terrorism edited by Farah Mendlesohn

Glorifying TerrorismThe Book of the Year is Glorifying Terrorism, an anthology edited by Farah Mendlesohn (with outrageous cover art by Haylee Fields and Mike Harwood).

The Book of the Year contains the first ever professional work of fiction by yours truly: "Winning Friends" by Van Aaron Hughes begins at page 205.

Glorifying Terrorism is an anthology of science fiction stories, published very recently in England as a political protest. Last year, the British Parliament included in the Terrorism Act of 2006 a provision making it a criminal offense, punishable by up to seven years' imprisonment, to publish any statements glorifying terrorism. This new offense was broadly defined to encompass any publication "indirectly encouraging the commission or preparation of acts of terrorism," including "every statement which glorifies the commission or preparation (whether in the past, in the future or generally) of such acts." The Act expressly states that it is irrelevant whether anyone is in fact encouraged by the statements to commit or prepare a terrorist act. The term "terrorism" is not defined in the Act (one is apparently expected to refer to the extremely broad definition of "terrorism" in the Terrorism Act of 2000), nor is any exception included for fiction or satire.

One need not be a left-wing radical to regard this as an affront to free speech. To protest this new law, respected science fiction editor Farah Mendlesohn (winner of a Hugo Award in 2005 for co-editing The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction) announced that she would edit an anthology deliberately intended to violate the law. While most of the contributors are British, Mendlesohn accepted a few submissions from writers (and at least one person posing as a writer) on this side of the Pond.

Compounding the thrill for me of actually getting something published is the fact that for at least the past decade, a great deal of the best new science fiction and fantasy has been coming from the UK. Appearing in Glorifying Terrorism are some of the very top names in the modern SF/F field, such as Hal Duncan, Gwyneth Jones, Ken MacLeod, Adam Roberts (one of my all-time favorite authors), Charles Stross, Jo Walton, and Ian Watson. The back cover of the book also features blurbs from three more great British Boom writers, China Miéville, Karen Traviss, and Ian McDonald. The McDonald quote is the greatest cover blurb ever:

"This is a bad book. The people who have written it are bad folk. The editor is a bad person. If you buy it, you are bad too. There is only good and bad in the world."

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Aaron's Book of the Week :: Dune by Frank Herbert (paperback)

Dune 1965 paperbackThe Book of the Week is the first paperback printing of Frank Herbert's classic novel Dune (1965).

This original paperback edition from Ace Books is a bit uncommon -- Berkley later acquired the paperback rights and sold millions of copies, so the Berkley edition (with an orange cover) is much more frequently seen. Ace was one of the leading science fiction publishers when it printed Dune, and knew enough to stick Frank Herbert's huge glossary of terms in the appendices at the end of the book, so the paperback edition begins where it should, with the immortal line, "In the week before their departure to Arrakis, when all the final scurrying about had reached a nearly unbearable frenzy, an old crone came to visit the mother of the boy, Paul." (But Ace marred the line with a typo: "Arrauis" instead of "Arrakis").

Oddly, however, Ace used this rather uninspired cover by John Schoenherr, instead of his superior cover for the first hardcover edition. Even more strangely, no book edition of Dune has ever used the single best cover image Schoenherr did for Dune, which you will see next week.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Aaron's Book of the Week :: Dune by Frank Herbert (hardcover)

Dune hardcoverThe Book of the Week is Dune by Frank Herbert. This is the first hardcover edition, but unfortunately not the first printing. When collectors describe a book as a "first edition," what they really mean is "first edition, first printing." The Book of the Week was not part of the very first print run of Dune in 1965, but instead a later print run (the seventh) in 1966. The cover looks exactly the same as the first printing, and the book is distinguishable from the first printing only in that (i) the price on the inside flap is $7.95 instead of $5.95, (ii) it is bound in red cloth instead of blue, and (iii) the copyright page does not have the words "First Edition" and contains a row of numbers beginning with the number "6," indicating that it was printed in 1966. What's the difference? About $5,000 on the collectors' market.

Because Dune was rejected by every major science fiction book publisher, this first edition of Dune was printed by Chilton, a small publisher best known for its auto repair manuals. As a novice SF publisher, Chilton made the foolish mistake of beginning the book with an 18-page glossary of terms used in the novel. Despite this daunting opening, Dune quickly became a huge commercial success (hence the multiple printings) and won Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel.

The cover of the Book of the Week is by John Schoenherr. This same cover art had already appeared on the cover of the January 1965 issue of Analog magazine, which contained Part I of The Prophet of Dune, the second half of the novel. This was much better than Schoenherr's original Dune artwork, but for some reason Schoenherr was asked to do a new cover for the first paperback edition, next week's Book of the Week.