Monday, February 27, 2006

Aaron's Book of the Week :: Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia E. Butler

Bloodchild & Other StoriesThe Book of the Week is Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia E. Butler. We are putting our history of the pulp magazines on hold to pay tribute to Ms. Butler, who died on Friday when she stumbled and hit her head on the walkway outside her Seattle home. She was only 58.

Octavia Butler was one of the finest writers of the past generation, but received far less attention than her work merited because of prejudice--ironically, not prejudice against her as a black woman, but prejudice against her as a science fiction writer. But while mainstream critics and academics are slow to recognize literary quality when it comes from the science fiction genre, the SF community knows a good thing when it sees it. Within the SF field, Octavia Butler was honored with two Hugo Awards and two Nebula Awards, and was regarded as one of the field's elite and one of the two greatest African-American SF authors ever, rivaled only by Samuel R. Delany. She was also a recipient in 1995 of a $295,000 "genius grant" from the MacArthur Foundation, although she complained that the award was given in error, since no one tested her IQ.

Butler preferred writing at novel length--she wrote a dozen novels and only a handful of short stories--but the short fiction she did write was among her best work. Bloodchild and Other Stories collects most of her short fiction, including her novelette "Bloodchild," which won a Hugo and Nebula Award, and her short story "Speech Sounds," which won a Hugo Award. The Book of the Week is the first edition, published in 1995 by Four Walls Eight Windows. I wrote a review of this book several years ago for Fantastic Reviews, which you can find here: Bloodchild and Other Stories

Butler struggled recently with writer's block, but last year she completed Fledgling, her first new novel in seven years. Readers hoped it signaled the end of her writer's block, and that more books would soon follow. That we will now never be able to enjoy those works is a terrible loss.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Book Review Teaser :: A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin

A Feast for CrowsAdded this week to Fantastic Reviews is Aaron's review of A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin. This book was featured as a previous Book of the Week.

From Aaron's review:
"A Feast for Crows is the long anticipated fourth volume in George R.R. Martin's epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, which depicts the struggle for control of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. The Seven Kingdoms' most powerful "houses" battle each other for domination, largely ignoring the potential threats of supernatural beings from the north and dragons from across the sea. A Song of Ice and Fire is a continuous narrative, and the individual books do not stand alone, so readers new to the series should begin with the first volume, A Game of Thrones, rather than jumping right into A Feast for Crows...."

"A Song of Ice and Fire is an engrossing series sure to entertain any reader of high fantasy, but with a feel of gritty realism that appeals to many who usually don't care for long fantasy series. Thanks to this broad appeal and word-of-mouth from Martin's many devoted fans, sales of A Song of Ice and Fire have increased with every volume, culminating with A Feast for Crows recently opening at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list...."

To read the entire review (warning: there are spoilers):
A Feast for Crows

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Aaron's Magazine of the Week :: August 2, 1930 issue of Argosy

Argosy August 1930The Magazine of the Week is the August 2, 1930 issue of Argosy magazine. The cover story of this magazine (cover art by Robert A. Graef) is part one of Otis Adelbert Kline's science fiction novel The Prince of Peril, a planetary adventure set on Venus. At the time, Kline was one of the two leading authors of adventure stories on other planets, along with Edgar Rice Burroughs, author of the John Carter of Mars series. Unlike Burroughs, who was even more famous for his African adventures starring a fellow named Tarzan of the Apes, Kline was exclusively known for his science fiction.

The April 2, 1930 Argosy is thus an example of the first phase of how pulp magazines caused the market for fiction to be divided into different genres. General pulps like Argosy exposed readers to different kinds of stories and allowed authors to develop a following writing specific types of fiction. The second phase came when new pulp magazines were created to cater to readers who preferred particular types of stories. Publishers began to create a huge number of pulp titles specializing in mysteries, westerns, romance, horror, sports stories, war stories, adventure fiction, hero pulps (such as The Shadow), and so on. Some of these pulp magazines were absurdly specialized, with titles like Railroad Stories and North-West Romances (both very successful), Speakeasy Stories and Zeppelin Stories (not so much).

Next week's Magazine of the Week will be an early issue of the very first magazine to specialize in science fiction.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Aaron's Magazine of the Week :: December 17, 1932 issue of Argosy

Argosy December 1932The Magazine of the Week is the December 17, 1932 issue of Argosy magazine.

When pulp magazines first came to dominate the market for fiction, most of the major pulps were general interest magazines such as Argosy, All-Story, and Blue Book. These magazines combined stories of many different types, including mysteries, westerns, war stories, adventure fiction, and science fiction and fantasy. Note the heading of the Magazine of the Week: "Action Stories of All Kinds." The magazines' authors were not limited to a particular genre, but often jumped between different kinds of stories.

The cover story of the December 17, 1932 Argosy (cover art by Paul Stahr) is "New Worlds," a science fiction story in which New York City is struck by a massive flood (which the author attributes to a reversal in the earth's magnetic field rather than global warming). "New Worlds" was written by Erle Stanley Gardner, who is much better remembered today for his mysteries and courtroom dramas, and especially for his creation of the character Perry Mason. For some reason, during the pulp era there was particular overlap between the mystery and science fiction genres. In future Book of the Week entries, you will see science fiction from mystery writers like Raymond Chandler and John D. MacDonald and mysteries from science fiction luminaries such as Isaac Asimov and Theodore Sturgeon. (The overlap continues, to a lesser degree, to this day - for example, Walter Mosley's new book is a science fiction novel.)

By exposing a large number of readers to different kinds of fiction, Argosy and the other general interest pulps allowed readers to discover which genres appealed to them, and gave authors the chance to develop a reputation writing particular types of stories. Erle Stanley Gardner ultimately won his fame as a mystery writer; next week's Magazine of the Week will feature an early pulp writer who developed a following writing science fiction.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Aaron's Book of the Week :: Universe by Robert A. Heinlein

UniverseThe Book of the Week is Universe by Robert A. Heinlein, one of the most important authors of the "Golden Age" of science fiction. Universe tells of a group of people inhabiting a strange enclosed environment -- they do not realize they are living in a spaceship sent off on a generations-long journey to another star system. Heinlein later expanded the story into the novel Orphans of the Sky. The cover art for Universe is by Robert Stanley, best known for his covers of mystery and western novels, few of which gave him a chance to draw characters with two heads.

Universe was #36 in Dell's series of dime novels published in 1951. It was the last Dell Dimer to be published and was the only science fiction title in the series. Similarly, few if any of the original Nineteenth Century dime novels could fairly be called science fiction, although many involved hot-air balloons, steam engines, and other high-tech (for the time) devices. In contrast, science fiction played an important role in the pulp magazines, which is why pulps are generally of more interest to SF collectors like me than dime novels. Next week we will begin to take a look at early science fiction in the pulps.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Amy's Silent Movie of the Month :: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921)

Four Horsemen of the ApocalypseLast Sunday night, I watched an old movie on cable, on TCM (Turner Classic Movies), and I thought it was a quite good.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), running time 134 minutes, was one of the top grossing silent films and is a drama concerning World War I. Despite the ominous title, which refers to Biblical prophecy, the settings are rarely on battlefields, yet it conveys the horrors of the War. The movie, which was directed by Rex Ingram, was based on a novel of the same title by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez.

This movie provided the breakthough role for Rudolph Valentino, who would go on to become one of the biggest stars of silent films. After seeing The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, I think I can understand why women swooned over Valentino. From his first scene, as a tango dancer and ladies' man, Valentino was impressive.

The movie starts with Madariaga, "The Centaur", a rich cattle baron in Argentina, who has two daughters. One daughter married a Frenchman named Desnoyers, the other a German named von Hartrott. Madariaga merely tolerates his German son-in-law and German grandsons. He openly favors his French grandson, Julio (Rudolph Valentino). After Madariaga's death, the German takes his family back to Germany and the Frenchman returns with his family to France. The time is shortly before the outbreak of World War I.

Julio Desnoyers lives decadently in Paris. His father (Josef Swickard) collects antiques for his castle. Julio has a relationship with the beautiful Marguerite Laurier (Alice Terry), who is unhappily married to an older man. By the end all are affected by World War I.

In 1995, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse was added to the National Film Registry in the Library of Congress, recognizing the cultural, historical and aesthetic significance of the work, as well as the risk of the original movie reel no longer being preserved.

As a side note, Valentino's tango sequence from this movie was parodied by Gene Wilder during the opening credits of The World's Greatest Lover (1977).

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Potential Hugo Award nominees for the Best Novel

The Locus Recommended Reading List (see previous post for our commments) is a good springboard for thinking about Hugo nominations. We recently put together our list of the Top 20 contenders to be nominated for the Best Novel Hugo Award:

**Lois McMaster Bujold, The Hallowed Hunt
Octavia Butler, Fledgling
Jeffrey Ford, The Girl in the Glass
**Neil Gaiman, Anansi Boys
Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go
Ian R. MacLeod, The House of Storms
Ken MacLeod, Learning the World
**George R.R. Martin, A Feast for Crows
David Marusek, Counting Heads
Richard Morgan, Woken Furies
Alastair Reynolds, Century Rain
Kim Stanley Robinson, Fifty Degrees Below
Justina Robson, Natural History
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Karl Schroeder, Lady of Mazes
**Dan Simmons, Olympos
Charles Stross, Accelerando
Charles Stross, The Hidden Family
Steph Swainston, The Year of Our War
**Robert Charles Wilson, Spin

Bear in mind, these are not our twenty favorite books, but rather the twenty we think have the best chance of being nominated. The asterisks mark our best guesses of which five books will actually be nominated. Note that Terry Pratchett's Thud! would be a contender as well, except that Pratchett will likely decline the nomination if he receives it, as he did last year.

Three of these books (Century Rain, Natural History, and The Year of Our War) were on last year's Locus Recommended List, but remain Hugo-eligible because they were first published in the U.S. in 2005. All of the others are on this year's Locus list with two exceptions, Woken Furies and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The Locus staff apparently dislikes Richard Morgan -- his first book Altered Carbon was listed as a recommended first novel, but none of his subsequent three novels has been on the Locus list -- and this year, the staff seemed to want to show disdain for popular opinion by omitting J.K. Rowling and Christopher Paolini. We have no problem with excluding Paolini's Eldest, but how do you leave Harry Potter off the list?

Comments on Locus Recommended Reading List for 2005

Locus has posted its Recommended Reading List for 2005.
We have reviewed a number of the recommended books at Fantastic Reviews.
In the Science Fiction section, we've done reviews of Shadow of the Giant by Orson Scott Card, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, and Lady of Mazes by Karl Schroeder.
In the Fantasy section, we reviewed Lord Byron's Novel: The Evening Land by John Crowley (although we didn't consider it fantasy, so it appears in the Related Interest category at FR) and Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman, with a review for A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin forthcoming.
We also reviewed Constellations, edited by Peter Crowther, one of the Locus recommended anthologies, and the source of five of its recommended novelettes (including three of the four stories we liked best).
In addition, we reviewed Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham, one section of which Locus recommended as a novella.
Fantastic Reviews gave all of these books at least a mild recommendation, with the strongest recommendation going to Anansi Boys.