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