Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Aaron's Magazine of the Week :: Fantasy & Science Fiction July 1977 issue

F&SF July 1977The Magazine of the Week is the July 1977 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction. This was a special issue devoted to author Harlan Ellison, and so is a fitting way to begin our tribute to Harlan Ellison, recently named Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. The delightful cover illustration of Ellison being accosted by the denizens of his own imagination is by outstanding SF illustrator Kelly Freas.

The Grand Master honor is presented annually to recognize the career of one of the greats of science fiction and fantasy. Past Grand Masters have included such luminaries as Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, and Ursula K. LeGuin. Harlan Ellison belongs in this group on the strength of his heavily-charged short fiction. Ellison was never much inclined to write at novel length, but has won seven Hugo Awards and a great host of other awards for his short fiction, which includes such all-time classics of the field as "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream", "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman", "The Deathbird", and "A Boy and His Dog" (basis for the film starring Don Johnson, pre-Miami Vice). Ellison has also been an influential editor, assembling the landmark anthologies Dangerous Visions and Again, Dangerous Visions. Early in his career he was an important screenwriter -- he wrote the scripts for what are widely regarded as the finest episodes ever made of both Star Trek ("The City on the Edge of Forever" with guest star Joan Collins) and The Outer Limits ("Demon with a Glass Hand" starring Robert Culp) and was credited with the concept for the film The Terminator (after suing James Cameron for plagiarism) -- but he gradually phased out this aspect of his career, because he could not get along with anyone in Hollywood.

Which brings us to Harlan Ellison's notoriously irascible personality. The Magazine of the Week has some examples of Ellison's excellent writing, including the first appearance of his short story "Jeffty Is Five", which went on to win the Hugo Award for Best Short Story of 1977. But is also features a typical Harlan Ellison essay in which he berates all his own fans. "How boring it would be if all of you were as predictable and dull as so many of you seem to be," he tells his readers. More on Ellison's acidic nature next week.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Aaron's Book of the Week :: Logan's Run by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson

Logan's RunThe Book of the Week is the first paperback printing of Logan's Run (1967), by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson. This is in honor of Mr. Nolan, who was recently named Author Emeritus by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA).

Logan's Run was the basis for the 1976 film, which was weak overall but had some redeeming moments and remains a guilty pleasure for many of us, as well as a 1977-78 TV series, which was unremittingly awful. Logan's Run describes a future world in which young people have seized control and do not suffer anyone to live past the age of 21 (30 in the movie). A remake of Logan's Run is said to be in the works.

While Logan's Run and its sequels (which Nolan wrote alone) remain Nolan's best remembered works, in recent years he has had greater impact in the genre of horror than science fiction and has been named a "Living Legend" by the International Horror Guild. In addition to science fiction and horror, he has published mysteries, thrillers, westerns, mainstream fiction and non-fiction, and has also written many scripts for Hollywood.

William F. Nolan is the tenth author to be named Author Emeritus by the SFWA. The award is a bit of a backhanded compliment, essentially indicating that the author is very good but not quite good enough ever to be named Grand Master, SFWA's highest career honor. Many have denounced the Author Emeritus concept for this reason, including this year's Grand Master, Harlan Ellison. Starting next week, Book of the Week will pay tribute to the distinguished career of Harlan Ellison.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Aaron's Book of the Week :: Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

Doomsday BookThe Book of the Week is Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. This is a signed and inscribed copy of the trade paperback first printing (cover art by Tim Jacobus), issued simultaneously with the extremely rare hardcover edition.

First published in 1992, Doomsday Book won both the Hugo Award and Nebula Award for Best Novel (sharing the Hugo with Vernor Vinge's excellent A Fire Upon the Deep) and has quickly become a classic of the science fiction field. Doomsday Book tells of a young historian who travels in time to England's plague years. It is perhaps the best example of Connie Willis's remarkable ability to write stories that are both very funny and terribly sad.

Connie Willis is a charming person, a delightful public speaker, and absurdly generous with her time. She has twice traveled out from Greeley to meet with our book group - Denver SF & Fantasy Book Club - and last month came out to talk with a group of 4th and 5th graders at my son's school after the students read Doomsday Book. Ms. Willis is always in great demand as a toastmaster at science fiction and fantasy conventions. Last month she hosted the Nebula Awards banquet, presenting the awards voted upon by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. And with that segue, next week's Book of the Week will be in honor of the writer named Author Emeritus at that banquet.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Return of Dave Itzkoff

Dave Itzkoff of The New York Times Book Review, the SF reviewer who thinks SF sucks, is back with his second column, a review of this year's Nebula Awards Showcase. Itzkoff continues to go out of his way to annoy, for instance putting the spoiler warnings after his spoilers rather than before, just to be clever. His suggestion that few in the SF genre today can hold a candle to Anne McCaffrey gives further evidence of how little contemporary science fiction he has actually read.

Still, this column is a great improvement over Itzkoff's previous effort. At least he raises a topic worth discussing: the fascination with nostalgia in SF, a supposedly forward-looking genre. He also finds one story in the Nebula Awards anthology to praise strongly, "Embracing-the-New" by Benjamin Rosenbaum. One hopes that if Itzkoff starts to catch up on his reading, he will realize how many talented authors there are in the SF genre today and eventually develop into an adequate reviewer.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Book Review Teaser :: Genetopia by Keith Brooke

GenetopiaAaron recently favorably reviewed for Fantastic Reviews the science fiction book Genetopia by British author Keith Brooke.

From Aaron's review of Genetopia:
"In the next century, advances in biotechnology will dramatically reshape the nature of mankind, statutes against cloning and genetic engineering notwithstanding. In Genetopia, Keith Brooke takes a fascinating look at the consequences when the nature of humanity begins to change at a genetic level....."

"...The plot of Genetopia is deceptively simple: a young man coming of age on a lonely quest. Flintreco Eltarn - meaning Flint of Clan Treco, child of Tarn - searches for his younger sister Amber (Amberlinetreco Eltarn), who he hopes has run away but fears has been abducted."

"If this sounds like something you've read before, it isn't. The strangeness of this disturbing future world is clear from the book's opening scene, when Flint and Amber wander to their village's Leaving Hill, stepping over the bones of infants and youths left to die because they did not look and act enough like True humans...."

To read the entire review: Genetopia

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Aaron's Book of the Week :: Fire Watch by Connie Willis

Fire WatchThe Book of the Week is the hardcover first edition of Fire Watch, signed and inscribed by Greeley, Colorado author Connie Willis (cover art by Tom Kidd). As nice as it was to find a 100-year-old first edition of The Jungle, this was my most exciting acquisition at the book sale mentioned last week. Connie Willis is an amazing author and one of the most decorated writers in the history of science fiction and fantasy -- she has won Hugo Awards in fiction categories eight times and Nebula Awards six times, both more than any other author ever (and she is a contender for a ninth Hugo Award this year for her excellent novella "Inside Job").

Fire Watch is a collection of short fiction, published in 1984. It was Willis's first solo book (she had previously coauthored Water Witch, a collaboration with Cynthia Felice). Two of the stories in Fire Watch had won the first of her many awards to come -- the title story, about a time traveler caught in the London Blitz of World War II, won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novelette of 1982 and the poignant "A Letter from the Clearys" won the Nebula Award for Best Short Story of 1982 -- yet Willis was still relatively unknown when the book was published. Because of this, and because collections of short fiction generally do not sell as well as novels, the initial print run for Fire Watch was quite small, which is why copies of the first edition (especially signed copies) are highly prized by collectors.

Connie Willis signed my copy of Fire Watch two weeks ago, when she was so amazingly kind as to come to Denver to meet with my son and a group of his 4th and 5th grade classmates, who had just finished reading her outstanding novel Doomsday Book, next week's Book of the Week.