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."