Monday, December 29, 2008

Amy's music :: MGMT - Oracular Spectacular

MGMTTime for me (Amy) to post some miscellanea, namely, here's a music review. For a tangential SF/F reference, I bought this CD in August during Worldcon here in Denver.

At the end of the year, we see many best of the year lists. NME (New Musical Express), a music weekly magazine from the UK, lists their Top 50 Albums of the Year. NME is arguably on the cutting edge of new, alternative music.

NME's 2008 Album of the Year was Oracular Spectacular by MGMT. It's a debut album made by a couple of guys, Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser, who started out making tunes for themselves at Wesleyan University. MGMT make catchy, hippy, pop music.

Noteworthy songs off Oracular Spectacular include “Kids”, “Time to Pretend” and the disco-ish “Electric Feel”.

“Kids”, which was in addition dubbed NME's The Track of the Year, contains for a chorus these interesting lyrics:
control yourself
take only what you need from it
a family of trees wanted
to be haunted

“Time to Pretend” begins with these lyrics:
I'm feelin rough I'm feelin raw
I'm in the prime of my life
Let's make some music make some money
find some models for wives

I'd recommend MGMT’s album Oracular Spectacular, despite it being more electronic dance than what I usually listen to. The music won me over, and I was pleased to see that it wowed the critics over at NME.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week :: Kimberley Ann Duray Is Not Afraid by Leah Bobet

Strange Horizons logoThe story recommendation of the week is "Kimberley Ann Duray Is Not Afraid" by Leah Bobet, a short story published on-line at Strange Horizons on September 29, 2008.

In the debate over what rights to afford the LGBT community, one issue that often comes up is to what extent people choose their sexual preferences. To some folks, it is easier to justify discrimination against gays if being gay was a matter of choice, and not something one was born with like skin color. (Why anyone should wish to justify discrimination against gays I am unable to explain.)

But what if skin color were a matter of choice as well? In "Kimberley Ann Duray Is Not Afraid," the technology exists to transform people physically so as to change their apparent racial identity. The eponymous protagonist works at the Bruce Clinic, which performs this controversial procedure. Until now, she has been "pro-choice," believing that making skin color alterable enables society to put racial conflict behind it. But she is beginning to doubt her own views, and as someone in an interracial marriage, the issue troubles her deeply.

Bobet portrays this internal conflict with subtlety. "Kimberley Ann Duray Is Not Afraid" does not dance around the underlying questions, however. It addresses race issues head-on, and does so in a thought-provoking way. It effectively shows that embracing diversity means something more than being color blind.

Canadian author Leah Bobet has published some three dozen short stories and nearly as many poems. She has appeared many times at Strange Horizons, and has also sold stories to such top-notch print publications as Realms of Fantasy, Interzone, and Clockwork Phoenix. Let us keep an eye out for more of her work.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Aaron's Book of the Week :: Fire and the Night by Philip Jose Farmer

Fire and the NightFor any of you concerned about such things instead of properly focusing on your holiday celebrations, the Book of the Week is Fire and the Night by Philip Jose Farmer. This was scheduled to be our Book of the Week a number of weeks ago, before BOTW's obituary function unfortunately kicked in.

Philip Jose Farmer is best known as a science fiction writer (and is one of my all-time favorites), but Fire and the Night is a mainstream novel about an interracial couple, published in 1962 when such relationships were not widely accepted socially. Fire and the Night features one of my favorite opening lines: "Danny met Mrs. Virgil at the Gates of Hell, where she led him in." Small press Regency Books made its niche in the publishing market printing such controversial books. Not that there was a large enough market for this kind of social criticism to make any money. Regency Books was funded by the publisher's successful lines of soft-core pornography, produced by ridiculously talented authors and editors, some of which I will contemplate exposing you to next week.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week :: Shoggoths in Bloom by Elizabeth Bear

Asimov's Science Fiction March 2008My story recommendation for this week is "Shoggoths in Bloom" by Elizabeth Bear, a novelette first published in the March 2008 issue of Asimov's, and now available on-line here.

In the past five years, Elizabeth Bear has published fourteen novels and closing on fifty short stories. That would be impressive if she were writing crap, but to be able to write her award-caliber fiction at that pace is simply absurd. I only started reading her stuff last year, and I despair of ever catching up.

As Cthulhu fans will know from the title, "Shoggoths in Bloom" is an homage to H.P. Lovecraft. An earnest professor in the late 1930's studies great, amoeba-like shoggoths found off the coast of Maine and finds more than he bargained for. I know it's sacrilegious, but to my reckoning there is far more of this sort of thing around than we really need. Yes, Lovecraft was ahead of his time, and still worth reading today despite his obvious flaws as a writer. But if you are interested in his work, you can find it pretty easily; there is little need for today's authors to continue adding to the Cthulhu Mythos.

I will forgive Elizabeth Bear in this case, however, for two reasons. First, "Shoggoths in Bloom" is such a beautifully crafted story that it would make for excellent reading even if you never heard of H.P. Lovecraft. Second, Bear tells the story convincingly through the eyes of an educated African-American in the 1930's, who must silently endure being called "boy" by the ignorant locals, even as he reads with horror of the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Germany. Bear manages to relate the Cthulhu background to this context, a most fitting reworking of the Cthulhu Mythos, since Lovecraft himself was an intolerable racist and anti-Semite. (Don't bother arguing the point -- the man had a cat named "Nigger-Man," for heaven's sake.) Bear handles her social message very adeptly without ever lecturing her reader.

I'll have another story involving race relations to recommend next week.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Aaron's Book of the Week :: Boris Karloff: The Frankenscience Monster by Forrest J. Ackerman

Boris Karloff: The Frankenscience MonsterThe Book of the Week is Boris Karloff: The Frankenscience Monster by Forrest J. Ackerman. This book was done as a tribute to Boris Karloff, but now it is our Book of the Week to honor Forrest Ackerman, who passed away earlier this month at the age of 92.

Forrest Ackerman was the greatest sci-fi fan of all, "Mr. Science Fiction" from the early days of the genre. Indeed, Forry was the one who coined the term "sci-fi," for which writers and other fans still love him, even if they don't always love the word. (For years, the term "sci-fi" was verboten among serious readers because of its association with monster movies and other Hollywood crapola. In recent years the word has become acceptable again, perhaps because Hollywood has lately managed to produce some decent SF/F like the Lord of the Rings films and Battlestar Galactica.)

Forry Ackerman edited and translated many books and magazines, notably the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland. He appeared, usually briefly, in many movies. (Perhaps his most notorious film work was for the horror movie Incubus. For some bewildering reason that film was made in Esperanto, and when star William Shatner declined to learn the language, Forry did the voice-over. So if you get the DVD of Incubus -- just the kind of dreadful film Ackerman loved -- and watch it in Esperanto, you will see William Shatner speaking with Forry Ackerman's voice.) Forry also served as agent to many writers and filmmakers, both great (Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov) and not-so-great (Ed Wood).

Most importantly, Forrest Ackerman accumulated the world's greatest collection of science fiction books, magazines, and memorabilia. His home, the fabled "Ackermansion," was legendary among fans, containing some 300,000 collected pieces. This includes one of the best collections anywhere of SF books and magazines, for example a first edition of Dracula signed not only by the author Bram Stoker but also by the greatest actors to ever play the role including Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee, and certainly the greatest collection of sci-fi movie props in the world. What happened to the famous robot from the classic silent film Metropolis? It's in the Ackermansion. The monster masks from The Creature from the Black Lagoon and This Island Earth? They're in the Ackermansion. The rings worn by Bela Lugosi in Dracula and Boris Karloff in The Mummy? In the Ackermansion. The gold idol Indiana Jones finds at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark? You get the idea.

The award given annually at the World Science Fiction Convention to honor an influential sci-fi fan is officially called the "Forrest J. Ackerman Big Heart Award." Forry will be dearly missed.

Friday, December 12, 2008

SF/F Reviewers

John Ottinger at Grasping for the Wind has assembled a list of SF/F book reviewers on the web, which is a pretty handy reference. Here is the list so far, inserting (per John's invitation) our sites, Fantastic Reviews (book reviews and author interviews) and the Fantastic Reviews Blog (short story recommendations, mini-reviews, books of the week, and miscellanea):

The Accidental Bard
A Dribble Of Ink
Adventures in Reading
The Agony Column
The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.
Barbara Martin
Bibliophile Stalker
Blood of the Muse
The Book Swede
Breeni Books
Cheryl's Musings
Critical Mass
Dark Wolf Fantasy Reviews
Darque Reviews
Dave Brendon's Fantasy and Sci-Fi Weblog
The Deckled Edge
Dragons, Heroes and Wizards
Dusk Before the Dawn
Enter the Octopus
Eve's Alexandria
Fantastic Reviews
Fantastic Reviews Blog
Fantasy Book Critic
Fantasy Cafe
Fantasy Debut
Fantasy Book Reviews and News
Fantasy and Sci-fi Lovin' Blog
The Fix
The Foghorn Review
From a Sci-Fi Standpoint
The Galaxy Express
Graeme's Fantasy Book Review
Grasping for the Wind
The Green Man Review
Highlander's Book Reviews
Jumpdrives and Cantrips
Literary Escapism
Michele Lee's Book Love
Monster Librarian
Mostly Harmless Books
My Favourite Books
Neth Space
OF Blog of the Fallen
The Old Bat's Belfry
Outside of a Dog
Pat's Fantasy Hotlist
Piaw's Blog
Post-Weird Thoughts
Publisher's Weekly
Reading the Leaves
Realms of Speculative Fiction
Rob's Blog o' Stuff
SF Diplomat
Sci-Fi Songs [Musical Reviews]
Severian's Fantastic Worlds
SF Gospel
SF Revu
SF Signal
SF Site
SFF World's Book Reviews
Silver Reviews
Speculative Fiction Junkie
Speculative Horizons
Sporadic Book Reviews
The Sword Review
Tangent Online
Temple Library Reviews [also a publisher]
The Road Not Taken
Urban Fantasy Land
Vast and Cool and Unsympathetic
Variety SF
Walker of Worlds
Wands and Worlds
The Wertzone
WJ Fantasy Reviews
The World in a Satin Bag

Foreign Language (other than English)
Cititor SF [Romanian, but with English Translation] [French]

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week :: Willpower by Jason Stoddard

After a week off for Thanksgiving, we have a very fun story recommendation for the week: "Willpower" by Jason Stoddard, from Paul Raven's Futurismic web site.

Along with a lot of interesting columns and blog posts, Futurismic publishes one piece of original fiction per month. Under the direction of fiction editor Christopher East, Futurismic's stories this year have included some nice, quirky work by the likes of Douglas Lain and Eliot Fintushel.

Jason Stoddard is Californian, but is perhaps most familiar to British SF fans, as much of his best work first appeared in Interzone -- although he has also had stories in places like SciFiction, Strange Horizons, and The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Stoddard has recently been an advocate for "positive" or "optimistic" science fiction, the kind to be featured in the anthology Shine now being assembled by Jetse de Vries.

"Willpower" is a great example of positive science fiction, set in a "post-scarcity" future. One thing that is scarce is a full-time job, since so little actually needs doing. Our protagonist Michael is one of the great many unemployed who rely on the government's "willfare" system to find short-term work. He stumbles on a willfare listing placed by an astronaut who wants someone to take his place on an upcoming trip to Mars. This is appealing to Michael, who has long been hooked on a role-playing game set in a Mars reminiscent of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom.

The light-hearted story of "Willpower" centers on how Michael tries to beat the system to wrangle his way onto a mission to Mars for which he is completely unqualified. This makes for fun reading, but Stoddard also weaves in a little message. At its core, "Willpower" is about how someone can become so enthralled by a fantastic story that he will do whatever it takes to make the story come true. That is a moral that should resonate with any SF/F reader.