Friday, August 29, 2008

Aaron's Magazine of the Week :: Fantasy & Science Fiction September 2007

F&SF September 2007The Magazine of the Week is the September 2007 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (cover art by Bryn Barnard), in recognition of the cover story "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" by Ted Chiang, which won the Hugo Award for Best Novelette of 2007, presented earlier this month at a much better behaved Denver convention than the one going on right now.

Ted Chiang's fiction is very low in quantity and very high in quality. He began writing in 1990 and in that time has published only about a dozen pieces of short fiction, but those stories have garnered nearly universal praise and a host of major awards. "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" was Chiang's second Hugo Award winner (the first was his outstanding novelette "Hell Is the Absence of God") to go with three Nebula Awards and many others. "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" is a time travel story, but set in the Middle East of long ago with a nice Arabian Nights flavor.

Next week we will finish paying tribute to the winners of the Hugo Awards for fiction with the Best Short Story winner.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Aaron's Magazine of the Week :: Asimov's Science Fiction December 2007

Asimov's Science Fiction December 2007The Magazine of the Week is the December 2007 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction (cover art by Michael Carroll) with cover story "All Seated on the Ground" by Connie Willis.

At the World Science Fiction Convention here in Denver earlier this month, "All Seated on the Ground" received the Hugo Award for Best Novella of 2007. This was the tenth Hugo Award for fiction of Connie Willis's illustrious career, making her the Michael Phelps of science fiction and fantasy -- the next highest total of Hugos for fiction is seven, by both Poul Anderson and Harlan Ellison. It was fitting that Connie received her tenth award so close to her Greeley home.

"All Seated on the Ground" was Connie's Christmas story for 2007, in which Christmas music proves the key to establishing contact with a stern alien race. Connie Willis Christmas tales are a fixture of Asimov's December issues. Some of her previous Christmas stories were collected in Miracle and Other Christmas Stories (which I reviewed for Fantastic Reviews - see my review). Next week's Magazine of the Week will contain the Hugo winner in the Best Novelette category.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week :: #1 by Leslie What

Electric Velocipede 14My story recommendation for this week is "#1" by Leslie What, a short story published in the Spring 2008 issue of Electric Velocipede (Issue #14).

"#1" is the character study of Mindy Simmons, a vain and self-absorbed woman. She has been asked to donate a kidney to save the daughter of a half-sister she barely knows. At first blush, she seems to resist this for contemptible reasons, including that the scar might interfere with her acting career. But her real reasons have more to do with resentment toward a mother who abandoned her in favor of her half-sister, reasons that come across as uncomfortably understandable and human. "#1" is a finely crafted, intriguing story by an author who has yet to receive the kind of attention her work merits, notwithstanding her 2000 Nebula Award for "The Cost of Doing Business." I haven't yet read Leslie What's new story collection, Crazy Love, but I am confident it's worth reading.

Electric Velocipede is a small but well-received fiction magazine edited by John Klima. The magazine just missed out on a Best Fanzine Hugo nomination this year and Klima is currently up for a World Fantasy Award. Incidentally, all of the fiction and poetry in Issue #14 is by women authors, so anyone who complains about underrepresentation of women in genre magazines ought to check it out.

When reading a magazine like Electric Velocipede, one can't help wondering why some of its stories did not appear in more high-profile publications. In some cases, the answer is simply that they weren't quite good enough; the stories in Electric Velocipede are not as consistently strong as those in Asimov's or F&SF. But the best stories in Electric Velocipede compare favorably with anything in the field. I suspect sometimes those stories lack specific elements the major magazines require to maintain their brands.

In the case of "#1," there is probably not enough of a science fictional or fantastic element for the major genre magazines. "#1" is set in the near future, but the only piece of future technology we see is a snazzy pair of shoes that can be switched to "PowerWalk" and allow you to zoom off like Usain Bolt. The story overall doesn't have much of an SFnal feel, and could have been rewritten as a mainstream story quite easily.

But then, why should it have to be? When Mindy turns her PowerWalking shoes on, she sees the rest of the world in a blur, while her own body is the only thing that appears solid. This is a terrific metaphor for her self-centered outlook. Converting the story to straight mainstream would have lost this effective image. On the other hand, the story has no need for the extra gadgetry that might have made it feel more science fictional. Thanks to magazines like Electric Velocipede, a wonderful story like this can appear just as the author intended.

Aaron's Story Recommendations of the Week

One reason I've posted fewer book reviews at Fantastic Reviews in the past several months is that I've been reading a lot more short fiction instead of novels. Even with the occasional anthology or story collection review, most of the short fiction I read does not end up getting reviewed.

Never one to pass up a chance to be a blowhard, I've decided to divert some of that short fiction reading into this blog, in the form of story recommendation posts. While I will happily point out strong stories I run across from Asimov's or F&SF, hopefully many of the stories I recommend will be from publications some of you might not otherwise have thought to check out.

My initial goal is to try to point out one strong story per week. How long I can hold to that pace will depend on whether I continue reading so much short fiction and how much of it strikes me as particularly good. I am not going to bother posting about stories I dislike, because what is the point of directing your attention to stories you might have missed that aren't so good?

If you would like to suggest any particular stories or magazines to me, feel free to comment on this post or to e-mail me at

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Aaron's Book of the Week :: The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon

The Yiddish Policemen's UnionThe Book of the Week is The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon, winner of the Hugo Award for best science fiction novel of 2007, presented at the Hugo ceremony in Denver last Saturday night.

The Yiddish Policemen's Union is a murder mystery set in present-day Alaska, but not Alaska as it really exists today. Rather, the novel assumes that the creation of Israel failed after World War II and many of the Jewish people instead settled in Alaska, dramatically altering the landscape. This is an example of alternate history, long considered a subgenre of science fiction -- for instance, Philip K. Dick won the Hugo Award for best SF novel of 1962 for an alternate history, The Man in the High Castle, in which the Allies lost World War II.

Michael Chabon is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author well respected by the literary mainstream. Mainstream authors commonly resist classification of any of their works as science fiction, for fear of catching sci-fi cooties. Michael Chabon has endeared himself to SF fans by refusing to follow this pattern and instead embracing genre fiction. He has been an advocate of genre fiction, often including science fiction and fantasy stories and authors in anthologies he edited. Chabon was not able to attend the Hugo ceremony Saturday, but he sent an acceptance speech read on his behalf, which contained the crowd-pleasing declaration, "I am a science fiction writer. I say that with great pride."

Next week's Magazine of the Week will be the Hugo winner for Best Novella, won by a Colorado author who has won more Hugo Awards for fiction than any other writer in the history of the genre.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Aaron's Book of the Week :: The House That Fear Built by Cassandra Knye

The House That Fear BuiltCompleting our tribute to the late Thomas Disch, the Book of Last Week is the gothic romance The House That Fear Built by Thomas Disch and fellow SF author John Sladek, collaborating under the pseudonym Cassandra Knye. This is a paperback original, printed in 1966, and very difficult to find today because fans of Disch and Sladek have snatched up all the surviving copies.

Cassandra Knye is my favorite of Thomas Disch's several pseudonyms. Disch and Sladek used the name early in their careers to enable them to sneak into the gothic genre for a paycheck. Gothic romance was a popular genre at the time but has largely disappeared since, although today's paranormal romance subgenre bears some similarities.

Crossing genre boundaries is also the theme of next week's Book of the Week, honoring the winner of this year's Hugo Award for Best Novel.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

2008 Hugo Award Winners

The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon

"All Seated on the Ground" by Connie Willis

"The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" by Ted Chiang

"Tideline" by Elizabeth Bear

Here are the fiction categories Hugo winners, the top awards, not a complete list of Hugos awarded. The Hugo Awards were presented last night, August 9th, at Denvention 3 in Denver, Colorado. We were there!

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Aaron's Book of the Week :: 334 by Thomas M. Disch

334Continuing our tribute to the late Thomas M. Disch, the Book of the Week is 334, probably Disch's most influential science fiction novel. This is the 1974 first paperback printing and first American edition of 334 (previously published in hardcover in England in 1972).

334 is set in a future New York City, where the welfare state has successfully (sort of) addressed most material needs, but has utterly failed to provide its citizens a fulfilling lifestyle. The story is told through several interrelated novellas. The title refers to the address of the housing project where the primary characters live, as well as to structural aspects of the book. In addition, the title hearkens back to the year 334, which one character visits in a drug-enhanced role-playing game (even though 334 appeared two years before Dungeons & Dragons, which popularized role-playing games), suggesting a parallel between modern America and ancient Rome's period of decline. 334 was a Nebula nominee for best novel, losing to Ursula LeGuin's classic The Dispossessed.

As an aside, beware the 1999 reprint edition of 334 released by Vintage Books. Some dunderhead editors at Vintage ruined many of Disch's ironic uses of language; for instance, in Disch's future America Marines wear black masks and are called "gorillas," which Vintage changed to "guerillas," eliminating the intended pun.

Next week, we will complete our Disch tribute with a hard-to-find gothic novel published under a pseudonym but written in collaboration between Disch and another of my favorite authors.