Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week :: Advertising at the End of the World by Keffy R.M. Kehrli

I am back to reading short fiction, and my story recommendation for this week is Advertising at the End of the World by Keffy R.M. Kehrli, from the September 2009 issue of Apex Magazine.

"Advertising at the End of the World" begins with perhaps the best opening line I have seen this year:
Five years after her husband died, two years after she moved to a cabin in Montana, and six months after the world ended, Marie opened her curtains to discover her front garden overrun with roving, stumbling advertisements.
The "advertisements" are programmed humanoids, determined to keep pitching the products of vendors long since wiped out by plague. The initial image of walking advertisements mindlessly tromping through survivor Marie's flower garden has a whimsical feel, but Kehrli soon turns the story in a wistful direction, as the advertisements remind Marie of everything she has lost.

Keffy Kehrli only began selling fiction in early 2009, but he has already published stories in Apex, Talebones, and Sybil's Garage, with more forthcoming in Electric Velocipede and Fantasy. Apex, a print magazine turned top-notch e-zine, is notable for publishing up-and-coming authors like Ekaterina Sedia, Theodora Goss, Lavie Tidhar, Eugie Foster, Jennifer Pelland, and Aliette de Bodard. If "Advertising at the End of the World" is any indication, Keffy Kehrli belongs among such company.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Amy's bookshelf :: Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock

Mythago WoodThe featured book is Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock. This post is a tribute to Holdstock who died recently at the age of 61 after battling a severe E. coli infection.

Holdstock was a British fantasy writer. He is best known as the author of the Mythago Cycle or Ryhope Wood series, the first published book of which is Mythago Wood (1984).

Mythago Wood features an ancient Celtic wood in England where archetypal characters from myths and legends become flesh and blood. These denizens of the wood of called mythagos. Ryhope wood appears to cover only a small area, but is vast inside. Time runs slower in the wood as compared to the outside world.

Mythago Wood won the BSFA Award for Best Novel in 1984, and the World Fantasy Award for best novel in 1985.

Of Robert Holdstock's works, I've only read Mythago Wood and its indirect sequel, Lavondyss. I found both books, which are different in tone, to be memorable and impressive. Other books in Mythago Cycle, in order of publication but not necessarily in order of events, are The Bone Forest; The Hollowing; Merlin's Wood; Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn; and Avilion.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Book Review Teaser :: Watermind by M. M. Buckner

WatermindNew on Fantastic Reviews is Aaron's review of Watermind by M. M. Buckner. This book was published in hardcover in late 2008, and is now available in paperback.

From Aaron's book review of Watermind :
"...Watermind is Buckner's fourth novel, the first to appear in hardcover, and there is no longer any need to discuss her potential. She has arrived, a talented author fully in command of her skills. Watermind displays subtleties of characterization, description, and mood that are worlds beyond Buckner's first book."

"Watermind begins in the present day, as a new form of life spontaneously emerges from the polluted waters of the Mississippi River. It consists of a neural net embodied in a colloid or chemical solution of networked microprocessors, nano-devices, and organic waste. Buckner is quite persuasive in making the spontaneous creation of this new type of life feel plausible. Really, where better is there on earth today to find a "primordial soup" to generate life than the waters of the Louisiana delta?"

"Our heroine CJ Reilly ("CJ" for Carolyn Joan, but don't call her that to her face) first discovers this new life form in the aptly named Devil's Swamp near Baton Rouge, working on a cleanup crew at a toxic waste site owned by her high-tech employer Quimicron. CJ quickly butts heads with Quimicron CEO Roman Sacony, who wants to eliminate the colloid before he gets sued over it. Reilly wishes to preserve and study it, partly because she believes it may provide a means of cleaning polluted water--the colloid absorbs pollutants, leaving the water around it completely pure--but more because she feels a maternal bond with the strange entity, which she comes to believe is a self-aware "watermind...."

To read the entire review -> Watermind

Friday, November 06, 2009

Amy's bookshelf :: Unclean Spirits by M.L.N. Hanover

Unclean SpiritsThis week's featured book is Unclean Spirits by M.L.N. Hanover, book one of The Black Sun's Daughter series. The paperback's cover, showing a leather-clad woman with a tattoo on her back and a sharp weapon in her hand, proclaims that this is another urban fantasy. But what makes this book different, and what grabbed my attention (in addition to Denver being mentioned in the back cover blurb) is that Unclean Spirits was written by Daniel Abraham, author of the excellent fantasy The Long Price Quartet: A Shadow in Summer, A Betrayal in Winter, An Autumn War, and The Price of Spring. (You can see Aaron's positive review of A Shadow in Summer on Fantastic Reviews ).

I bought Unclean Spirits a couple weeks ago at MileHiCon. Daniel Abraham was one of the authors attending the SF convention this year and I asked him to autograph the book. Apparently this copy of Unclean Spirits was already signed by "M.L.N. Hanover", but Daniel Abraham kindly added his signature below that of his pseudonym.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week :: Her Eyes Like Sky, and Coal, and Moonlight by Cat Rambo

Eyes Like Sky and Coal and MoonlightMy story recommendation for this week is "Her Eyes Like Sky, and Coal, and Moonlight" by Cat Rambo, the (almost) title story of Rambo's new collection Eyes Like Sky and Coal and Moonlight, from small publisher Paper Golem, with gorgeous cover art by Carrie Ann Baade.

"Her Eyes Like Sky, and Coal, and Moonlight" is a beautifully constructed story, telling in hindsight of the battles for control of a war-torn kingdom, as glimpsed from the point of view of a young (at first) woman whose family's inn is an occasional meeting place of a group of rebels. The rebels include the enigmatic sorceress whose haunting eyes lend the story its poetic title.

The rebels' struggle defines our narrator's life, even though she sees almost none of the action take place. The danger in such a story is the reader may feel disappointed that the most interesting events are occurring offstage, but Rambo tells it in a way that suggests this is the real story, that the battles of great kings and warriors and wizards are important only for how they affect the lives of common folk.

"Her Eyes Like Sky, and Coal, and Moonlight" is quite short, like most of Cat Rambo's work -- only a few of the stories in Eyes Like Sky and Coal and Moonlight are over ten pages and none over twenty. Usually it is difficult to create a compelling tale in so few words, but Rambo is superb at providing a sense of depth, making you feel there is more to the story and characters, that you could fill in much of the rest of the story yourself from the hints she drops.

I'll try to get a review of the whole book up at Fantastic Reviews before too long, but for now I'll just say that Eyes Like Sky and Coal and Moonlight is an excellent collection by a most elegant writer.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Aaron's Book of the Week :: Acacia by David Anthony Durham

AcaciaThe Book of the Week is Acacia by David Anthony Durham, which won Mr. Durham this year's John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Acacia is the first volume is an epic fantasy series, the second of which, The Other Lands, was just released. This is the 2007 first edition, with cover art by Paul A. Romano.

It is a bit odd for David Anthony Durham to receive an award as a "new writer," since he is already an accomplished author, with three very well-received historical novels to his credit, Gabriel's Story, Walk through Darkness, and Pride of Carthage. But he was eligible for the award because Acacia was his first foray into science fiction and fantasy, and presenting Durham the Campbell Award certainly accomplishes one of the award's purposes, to introduce SF/F readers to excellent writers with whom they may not yet be familiar. I believe that Durham is only the second African-American to win the Campbell Award, after Nalo Hopkinson -- coincidentally, both Durham and Hopkinson are of Caribbean descent. (The Campbell Award wasn't around when Samuel Delany broke into the field, and I don't know how Octavia Butler was overlooked.) David Anthony Durham is a very welcome addition to the SF/F field.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Aaron's Magazine of the Week :: Asimov's Science Fiction March 2008

Asimov's Science Fiction March 2008The Magazine of the Week is the March 2008 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction, containing "Shoggoths in Bloom" by Elizabeth Bear, this year's winner of the Hugo Award for Best Novelette. For the details of this story, see my recommendation of "Shoggoths in Bloom" when I came across it last year.

This is Elizabeth Bear's second Hugo; she won Best Short Story in 2008 for "Tideline." This year she swapped places with Ted Chiang, who won Best Novelette in 2008 and Best Short Story this year. I'm not going to do a separate Book of the Week for Chiang's Hugo-winning short story "Exhalation" (believe it or not I don't have a copy of the anthology it appeared in), but for more about him see my Ted Chiang 2008 Hugo post. Next week, the winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week :: Placa del Fuego by Tobias S. Buckell

Inspired by Lev Grossman's controversial article denouncing plot-free modernist fiction, the story recommendation for the week is a very entertaining planetary adventure, Placa del Fuego by Tobias S. Buckell, from the July 2009 issue of Clarkesworld.

Set on the same harsh world as Buckell's novel Sly Mongoose, "Placa del Fuego" follows young pickpocket Tiago as he confronts in quick succession a powerful android, a resourceful female crime overlord, and a vicious alien beast. Typical of Buckell's fiction, the story is fast-paced and high-octane, yet also slips in some food for thought. In particular, "Placa del Fuego" raises the question whether the idea of free will has any meaning to someone as downtrodden as Tiago.

Tobias S. Buckell's related novels Crystal Rain, Ragamuffin, and Sly Mongoose were all well received, but "Placa del Fuego" demonstrates that his style also works well at shorter lengths. You can find most of his short fiction to date in Tides from the New Worlds from Wyrm Publishing.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Aaron's Book of the Week :: The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

The Time Traveler's WifeInspired by the film version released last week, the Book of the Week is The Time Traveler's Wife (2003) by Audrey Niffenegger. This is the signed limited edition with cover art by Niffenegger, who is a visual artist as well as a writer, which I prefer to the standard cover with the empty shoes.

One of the strengths of science fiction is that it can be used to tell traditional kinds of stories in new ways. The Time Traveler's Wife effectively uses science fiction to tell a romance story. The unpredictable nature of time travel creates difficulties for the story's lovers, while also offering a metaphor for problems people encounter in more mundane relationships. Audrey Niffenegger was not the first to use time travel to frame a love story -- see for example, Bid Time Return by Richard Matheson (filmed as Somewhere in Time, starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour) -- but The Time Traveler's Wife is one of the best science fiction romances of recent years. It drew a very large readership, including an awful lot of people who enjoyed it but somehow still think they don't like science fiction. Some will even argue whether it is science fiction at all, even though the SF element is stated right in the title of the book.

Next week we will get back to honoring this year's Hugo Award winners.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week :: The Wide, Carnivorous Sky by John Langan

By Blood We LiveThe story recommendation of the week is "The Wide, Carnivorous Sky" by John Langan, an original novella from the vampire anthology By Blood We Live, edited by John Joseph Adams.

By Blood We Live is mostly a reprint anthology, with just two original pieces, but they are two good ones, "The Wide, Carnivorous Sky" and "Foxtrot at High Noon" by popular Russian author Sergei Lukyanenko. While the other tales are reprints, they come from a remarkable array of talented authors and John Joseph Adams has drawn from quite diverse sources. (I had only read one of the 33 stories before, Stephen King's "One for the Road.") Themed anthologies can sometimes become tiresome but -- as he did in his anthologies Seeds of Change, Wastelands, The Living Dead, and Federations -- Adams avoids that pitfall by his knack for combining excellent stories with varied approaches to the theme.

"The Wide, Carnivorous Sky" is a great example, putting a memorable spin on the vampire legend. A group of American veterans first encountered the creature at the heart of the story while in the midst of combat in Iraq, and have since been plagued by a strange telepathic connection with it. The thing drinks blood and has the other key traits of vampires, but oddly inverted or distorted, for example it can only emerge in daylight and the soldiers believe it sleeps in an orbital chrysalis.

The best horror fiction creates a sense of dread from everyday sights and sounds. By having his monster appear out of an open sky and return to a lair above our heads, Langan manages to make the sky itself a source of dread:
Davis had stared at the sky before--who has not?--but, helpless on his back, his spine a length of molten steel, his ears full of Manfred whimpering that he was gonna die, oh sweet Jesus, he was gonna fucking die, the lieutenant talking over him, insisting no he wasn't, he was gonna be fine, it was just a little paper cut, the washed blue bowl overhead seemed less sheltering canopy and more endless depth, a gullet over which he had the sickening sensation of dangling. As Manfred's cries diminished and the lieutenant told--ordered him to stay with him, Davis flailed his arms at the ground to either side of him in an effort to grip onto an anchor, something that would keep him from hurtling into that blue abyss.
John Langan's first novel House of Windows is forthcoming from Night Shade Books, and his collection Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters was a Stoker Award nominee this year. Look for "The Wide, Carnivorous Sky" on horror award shortlists next year.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Aaron's Magazine of the Week :: Asimov's Science Fiction October/November 2008

Asimov's Science Fiction October/November 2008The Magazine of the Week is the October/November 2008 issues of Asimov's Science Fiction, which contains this year's Hugo Award winner for Best Novella, "The Erdmann Nexus" by Nancy Kress. (The cover is retro, classic pulp art by Virgil Finlay.)

"The Erdmann Nexus" follows Henry Erdmann, an aging physicist in a nursing home, who is suffering strokelike incidents. He learns that others in the home are having similar episodes, and gradually comes to realize that they are all undergoing a remarkable transformation. Nancy Kress has been a regular fixture on the Hugo ballot, with eleven nominations since 1990, and "The Erdmann Nexus" is her second win (after the novella "Beggars in Spain," later expanded into a Hugo-nominated novel, about a new technology that allows folks wealthy enough to afford it to forgo sleep). She has also won four Nebulas and a host of other awards. She will be a guest of honor at MileHiCon here in Denver in October.

We'll get to the Hugo-winning novelette next, but first a science fiction novel that recently hit the big screen.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week :: The Wedding Gift by Jacqueline West

The Wedding GiftMy story recommendation this week is "The Wedding Gift" by Jacqueline West, from the June 2009 issue of Ideomancer.

I loves me a good ghost story, and for me the key is a light touch by the storyteller. "The Wedding Gift" is a ghost story, but Jacqueline West tells it with great subtlety. The tale builds tension quickly, even though no supernatural element ever appears but for some strangely behaving birds. Equally subtle is the characterization, delicately hinting that our protagonist Drina's relationships with her cold fiancé and her well-meaning but domineering grandmother have left her vulnerable to the visitation that occurs.

Jacqueline West has published over three dozen poems, including two Puschcart Prize nominees, but only six pieces of short fiction to date; here's hoping there is much more to come from her. Ideomancer has been around since 2002, publishing such excellent authors as Christopher Barzak, Samantha Henderson, Ted Kosmatka, Yoon Ha Lee, Sarah Monette, Ruth Nestvold, M. Rickert, Rachel Swirsky, and Greg van Eekhout. Leah Bobet is editor and has taken the reins as publisher this year, by all indications without missing a beat.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Aaron's Book of the Week :: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard BookThe Book of the Week is The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, which over the weekend won the Hugo Award for best science fiction or fantasy novel of 2008. The novel had already won this year's Newbery Medal for young adult fiction, making it the first novel ever to win both prestigious awards.

The Graveyard Book follows Nobody Owens, raised from infancy by the (mostly) friendly ghosts of the local graveyard after his parents were murdered. The Graveyard Book is a wonderful showcase of Neil Gaiman's witty and charming voice, and is certain to be enjoyed by readers young and old for a great many years to come, especially if Hollywood does a good job with the film version currently in production. This is Neil Gaiman's fourth Hugo Award, his second for best novel (the first was for American Gods) and his second for a work of young adult fiction (after "Coraline," also adapted to film earlier this year).

The Book of the Week is a stated first edition (library binding) -- note the absence of the Newbery seal which appears on later copies of the book. I believe this is the true first edition, slightly preceding the British edition and the Subterranean Press limited edition. The cover and interior illustrations are by famed comics illustrator Dave McKean, who often worked with Neil Gaiman earlier in his career, when Gaiman was primarily known for his graphic novels, particularly the popular Sandman series. While it's not worth a fortune just yet, I am expecting the BOTW to appreciate significantly in value over time, as copies are snatched up both by science fiction collectors, who like to have firsts of Hugo winners, and by YA fiction collectors, who covet firsts of Newbery books.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week :: Blighted Heart by Aliette de Bodard

Blighted HeartThis week's story recommendation is "Blighted Heart" by Aliette de Bodard, from Issue #22 (July 30, 2009) of e-zine Beneath Ceaseless Skies (cover art by David Renn).

"For years my city gave the hearts of maidens to the corn-man to awaken him," the story begins. Our narrator is Metlicue, chosen for this sacrifice by the village priests, who proceed unaware that in defiance she gave her virginity to a soldier the night before:
I felt the first cut like a violation. Pain burst in my chest, would not cease. I screamed and screamed until my voice was raw. No. No. I never asked for this! I saw a priest lift out a bloody, pulsating thing dizzyingly high above me, and a sensation of emptiness spread from the hole in my chest and swallowed me.

The priests placed my heart, still beating, in the mouth of the effigy. One of them spoke the healing spells over me. I rose, shaking, numb all over, stared at the corn-man.

His eyes opened.
Metlicue is left without a heart, her emptiness a wonderful metaphor for the alienation felt by those who have been molested or traumatized, but the story only builds from there. For Metlicue's act of defiance has in turn destroyed the innocence of the corn-man, on whom her people depend for good fortune and plentiful harvests, and Metlicue will have to face him again. "Blighted Heart" is a powerful, beautifully written story, and a great example of why de Bodard was the runner-up for this year's John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, losing out very narrowly to David Anthony Durham.

Beneath Ceaseless Skies hasn't gotten a lot of attention yet, but it has been publishing some excellent authors, such as David D. Levine, Yoon Ha Lee, Marie Brennan, Holly Phillips, Stephanie Burgis, Richard Parks, among many others. It pays professional rates, has held strictly to its publishing schedule (a two-story issue every other week) for nearly a year, and provides audio versions of many of its stories. Check it out!

Friday, August 07, 2009

Aaron's Book of the Week :: West of Eden by Harry Harrison

West of EdenThe Book of the Week is West of Eden by Harry Harrison, in honor of Mr. Harrison, who this year was named Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Harry Harrison is equally at home writing serious science fiction, such as his famous cautionary tale of overpopulation and ecological decline Make Room! Make Room! (filmed as Soylent Green), and humorous tongue-in-cheek adventures like The Stainless Steel Rat and Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers.

The Book of the Week is a signed first edition of West of Eden, my personal favorite Harrison novel, published in 1984. It is an alternate history, the subgenre of science fiction that asks what if some historical event had happened differently. Typically the branching off point is in the recent past -- What if the Nazis has won World War II? What if the North and South had reconciled at the beginning of the Civil War and joined forces to fight against England (Harrison's Stars and Stripes Forever!) -- but in West of Eden history branches off 65 million years ago, the time when an asteroid or comet is believed to have hit the Earth and wiped out the dinosaurs. West of Eden shows how the world might look today if that had not happened, with newly evolved human beings struggling against the intelligent descendents of the dinosaurs.

The Hugo Awards will be presented this weekend, so our next BOTW will pay tribute to one of the big winners.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week :: The Curandero and the Swede by Daniel Abraham

F&SF March 2009My story recommendation for the week, and possibly for the month since I'm off my pace recently and I don't much expect to read a better story this month anyway, is Daniel Abraham's "The Curandero and the Swede: A Tale from the 1001 American Nights", a novelette from the March issue of F&SF.

"The Curandero and the Swede" begins with a young man nervously introducing his Yankee fiancée to his traditional Southern family, but proceeds from there into a series of nested yarns retold by his eccentric uncle. The stories are each enjoyable independently, but blend together to make some fascinating points about the American experience and about the importance of storytelling.

With his Long Price Quartet -- the final volume of which, The Price of Spring, is just out -- Daniel Abraham has emerged as one of the strongest voices of 21st Century SF/F. His last short piece, "The Cambist and Lord Iron: A Fairy Tale of Economics," was a Hugo nominee, and "The Curandero and the Swede" is every bit as good, if not even better.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Aaron's Book of the Week :: Arslan by M.J. Engh

ArslanThe Book of the Week is Arslan by M.J. Engh, to honor Ms. Engh, named this year's Author Emerita by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Next week we will see this year's new Grand Master.

I'm mostly not crazy about the "Author Emeritus" award, since it seems a backhanded compliment: dear author, you're pretty good but not quite good enough to be a Grand Master. I think it is appropriate for Engh, however, since her science fiction is of the highest quality but too small in quantity for her to be named Grand Master. In a career that began with a short story (under the pseudonym Jane Beauclerk) in 1964, Engh has published only three science fiction novels, Arslan, Wheel of the Winds, and Rainbow Man, and a children's fantasy, The House in the Snow. Engh also publishes historical non-fiction under her full name Mary Jane Engh, notably In the Name of Heaven: 3000 Years of Religious Persecution.

The BOTW is the first printing, paperback original of Arslan, published in 1976. Written in the middle of the Cold War, Arslan tells the story of a dynamic, brilliant leader from a third-world country who schemes his way to control of both the Soviet Union and the United States. Most of the novel takes place after he has taken power, and shows his relationship with the small-town folks in Illinois where he randomly decides to settle. Disturbing and rather graphic for 1976, Arslan is best remembered for Engh's ability to simultaneously portray the title character as profoundly evil yet oddly sympathetic.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Aaron's Book of the Week :: No Enemy But Time by Michael Bishop

No Enemy But TimeBOTW has been on hiatus, I think in part because too many great authors have passed away in recent times, and BOTW's unplanned conversion to an authors' obituary page got depressing. What I've decided is that BOTW will go back to emphasizing authors who are living (or died sufficiently long ago that it's no longer sad) and if we wish to honor a recently departed author we will do that in a supplemental tribute.

With that in mind, the Book of the Week is a recent find, the first edition of No Enemy But Time by Michael Bishop. Published in 1982, No Enemy But Time won the 1983 Nebula Award for Best Novel. First editions of major award winners tend to appreciate significantly in value, so I was delighted to find this copy at a reasonable price. The cover art is by Vincent DiFate, who is one of the all-time top SF/F illustrators, although this cover unfortunately follows an embarrassing genre tradition: the cover obscures the fact that the book's protagonist is African-American.

The Nebula Award is presented by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, who also honor two authors each years as Grand Master and Author Emeritus. Beginning next week, we will pay tribute to this year's honorees.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week :: Blue Joe by Stephanie Burgis

After a couple months dead air at Fantastic Reviews, we'll try to get back into the swing of things with a recommendation for an excellent story, "Blue Joe" by Stephanie Burgis, from Issue #10 of Shimmer magazine, which is available as a free download.
Josef Anton Miklovic, Blue Joe, was twenty-one years old and playing the sax in a nightclub in Youngstown, Ohio, when he met his father for the first time.
That first line leads us quickly into a fantastic opening scene, in which Blue Joe's father somehow freezes time to introduce himself to his son (who did not know his mother's husband was not his father) right in the middle of a concert. We immediately see that Blue Joe's father has amazing powers, yet "Blue Joe" addresses its fantasy elements with a nicely understated tone.

"Blue Joe" is not about all the incredible things the father can do, it is about how that kept him away from his son for so many years, and both men's regrets and resentments. Beyond that, it is about the regrets each of us inevitably has over the choices we make——it is no coincidence that the protagonist plays the blues.

For ten issues, Shimmer has been making a home for stories like "Blue Joe," which is the kind of quiet tale that lacks the fireworks the major magazines are looking for but ultimately makes for very rewarding reading. Stephanie Burgis has appeared in Strange Horizons, Lone Star Stories, Flytrap and other publications, and the first volume of her YA trilogy The Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson is due out in 2010.

Monday, March 23, 2009

2009 Hugo Award nominees :: Best Novel

This year's Hugo Award nominees for Best Novel

Anathem by Neal Stephenson (Morrow; Atlantic UK)
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins; Bloomsbury UK)
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (Tor Teen; HarperVoyager UK)
Saturn's Children by Charles Stross (Ace; Orbit UK)
Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi (Tor)

Friday, March 20, 2009

To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip Jose Farmer :: Aaron's Book of the Week

To Your Scattered Bodies GoContinuing our tribute to Philip Jose Farmer, the Book of the Week is the first paperback printing of Farmer's most famous novel, To Your Scattered Bodies Go.

In To Your Scattered Bodies Go, everyone who ever lived on Earth has been resurrected by an unknown power on another planet. Everyone awakes simultaneously on the banks of a huge, world-encircling river. The novel's title is taken from John Donne's 7th Holy Sonnet, concerning resurrection:
At the round earth's imagin'd corners, blow
Your trumpets, angels, and arise, arise
From death, you numberless infinities
Of souls, and to your scattered bodies go.

This fascinating premise allowed Farmer to bring together whatever historical figures he found most interesting in a single story. Farmer explored the concept through four further volumes, collectively called the Riverworld Series. To Your Scattered Bodies Go won the Hugo Award for Best Novel of 1971.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week :: Eros, Philia, Agape by Rachel Swirsky

Eros, Philia, AgapeMy story recommendation of the week is for "Eros, Philia, Agape" by Rachel Swirsky, (illustration by Sam Weber) published on-line at

In our world, it is usually futile for women to try to change the basic nature of the men in their lives. But what if they could? In "Eros, Philia, Agape," Adriana purchases a male robot whose consciousness is programmed to shift to create a personality that best meets Adriana's desires. The program works very well. Despite her emotional scars from an abusive childhood, Adriana soon falls in love with, emancipates, marries, and begins a family with her ideal man.

It is no surprise that things don't turn out quite as Adriana intends, yet the flow of the story is subtle. Swirsky is not using her science fictional set-up to hammer home any particular message; rather, she is giving us a new framework to consider universal issues about identity and love and marriage and family and parenting.

This is a story Isaac Asimov might have written, if only he had been an amazing prose stylist. "Eros, Philia, Agape" is beautifully written throughout (once you're past the slightly pretentious title anyway) and I strongly recommend it.

I first encountered Rachel Swirsky with her powerful story "The Debt of the Innocent" in Glorifying Terrorism. She has only been publishing fiction for some three years, but in that time has appeared in Weird Tales, Interzone, Subterranean and Fantasy among other publications, and has already built up a solid body of work. Check her out!

Friday, March 06, 2009

Aaron's Magazine of the Week :: Startling Stories August 1952

Startling Stories August 1952We begin our tribute to the late Philip Jose Farmer with his first published story. The Magazine of the Week is the August 1952 issue of pulp magazine Startling Stories, containing Philip Jose Farmer's "The Lovers" (cover art by Earle Bergey). This copy was signed by Farmer on the story's 50th anniversary, the party for which a book club buddy was able to attend.

"The Lovers" caused an instant sensation, and garnered Farmer a Hugo Award for Most Promising New Talent (a short-lived Hugo category, since replaced by the John W. Campbell Award for best new writer). "The Lovers" was influential because it was one of the earliest works of science fiction to address issues of sexuality in an open and frank matter. This story was thus an important step in the development of the SF genre into a mature branch of literature (even if not everybody yet recognizes it as such).

After the success of "The Lovers," Philip Jose Farmer went on to publish over 75 books. BOTW has featured him twice before, for Fire and the Night and Venus on the Half-Shell. Next week, we will continue our tribute to Farmer with his single most famous book.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Aaron's Books of the Week :: The Centaur and The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike

The CentaurThe Books of the Week are the first paperback printings of The Centaur and The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike (1932-2009). A couple weeks back, before being sidetracked by flu, strep, and other distractions, BOTW raised the question whether recently deceased award-winning author John Updike had ever dabbled in science fiction and fantasy. Regular readers of this column knew better than to doubt it.

Updike wrote science fiction on at least two occasions, The Poorhouse Fair (1959) and Toward the End of Time (1997). More important to his career were Updike's fantasies. Several of Updike's books included elements of fabulation and mythology, notably National Book Award winner The Centaur.The Witches of Eastwick While one may debate whether to call a book like The Centaur "fantasy," there is no doubt that the label applies to The Witches of Eastwick, in which three modern-day women develop magical powers with the help of a diabolical figure (delightfully played by Jack Nicholson in the film).

Beginning next week, we will pay tribute to one of my all-time favorite authors, Philip Jose Farmer, who passed away February 25, starting with his first published story.

Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week :: The Harpooner at the Bottom of the World by Catherynne M. Valente

Sometimes when I'm reading, a passage is so elegantly written that I feel the need to stop and reread it out loud. Tolkien makes me do this occasionally. Ursula LeGuin often does. I just came across a story by Catherynne M. Valente, "The Harpooner at the Bottom of the World", which I felt compelled to read out loud the entire way through.

That makes for an automatic and immediate story recommendation of the week, even if I've already done one this week. (I need to make up for a couple weeks I missed with flu and strep anyway.) Catherynne Valente thus becomes the second author to garner two different story recommendations, joining Paolo Bacigalupi.

"The Harpooner at the Bottom of the World" originally appeared in Spectra Pulse, a promotional magazine issued by Bantam, which it supposedly gives away at conventions, although I've never seen a copy. Thankfully, "The Harpooner at the Bottom of the World" is now available through Valente's web site.

"The Harpooner at the Bottom of the World" illustrates the strengths of Valente's writing, particularly her amazing use of language and her wonderful knack for the story-within-story framework, which she successfully employs here in only a couple thousand words. The framing story tells of a remote archipelago where women inscribe a story on their bellies during pregnancy. The story-within-a-story is that ritual tale, about a woman harpooner "who had known both of the sorrows which are deepest" -- which Valente never identifies -- who travels to the upside-down archipelago at the bottom of the world, where "the dead and the unborn dance together in the blue and black shadows, hand in hand."

Read "The Harpooner at the Bottom of the World," fall in love with it, and then go buy Valente's new novel Palimpsest.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week :: Jaiden's Weaver by Mary Robinette Kowal

This week's story recommendation is "Jaiden's Weaver" by Mary Robinette Kowal, the reigning John W. Campbell Award winner for best new writer.

"Jaiden's Weaver" appears in Diamonds in the Sky, an on-line anthology of science fiction stories illustrating concepts of astronomy, which Mike Brotherton assembled on a grant from the National Science Foundation. A few of the stories are reprints but most are original, and the original tales come from an impressive list of contributors including Kowal, David Levine, Wil McCarthy, Jerry Oltion, Alma Alexander, Jeffrey Carver, and Daniel Hoyt. Because the stories are meant to be instructive to students, several of them have a young adult feel.

"Jaiden's Weaver" falls in that category, and it is as good an example of YA science fiction as has seen print since Robert Heinlein was still with us. Set on a habitable ringed planet, "Jaiden's Weaver" illustrates the concept of planetary rings. The rings come into play, but the story is mainly about a young woman, Jaiden, desperate to acquire her own teddy bear spider. Her earnestness will put veteran SF readers in mind of Kip from Have Space Suit--Will Travel, yet the tale feels fresh, particularly when Jaiden starts giving parental advice, and should appeal to contemporary young readers.

I enjoyed "Jaiden's Weaver" from start to finish, and now I can't wait to read it to my daughter.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Mini-Review :: Empire by Orson Scott Card

EmpireTor hardcover - 340 pages
Copyright 2006
Rating: 4/10
(Not Bad, But Not Recommended)
Mini-review by Aaron Hughes

I didn't get around to doing a full review of Orson Scott Card's Empire when it came out late in 2006, but in my recent review of Ender in Exile, Card's latest novel, I mentioned in passing that I thought Empire was marred by Card force-feeding the reader his political views. As someone who is generally a great admirer of Card's work, I wanted to explain this negative comment more fully.

Empire is a near-future thriller about the outbreak of civil war in the United States, a war fought not between geographic areas but rather along ideological lines. Special Ops Major Reuben "Rube" Malek and Captain Barholomew Coleman struggle to hold the country together through a crisis, including the assassination of the president and the invasion of Manhattan, precipitated by hatred between American conservatives and liberals. (The novel ties into a video game, but the only indication of this in the text are a few graphics-friendly elements such as the two-legged mechanized tanks that occupy New York; the story appears to be Card's creation.)

Empire is capably written and features engaging characters in an exciting story, punctuated by plot twists you will not see coming. Yet the book is a failure, because it is impossible to enjoy if you do not share Card's political views, and difficult to enjoy even if you do. The book is far too burdened with Card's contempt for modern liberals, especially the media and academics:
The media has forbidden us to remember the falling towers. They don't allow us to see the footage. It's like their slogan is, "Forget the Alamo." I'm tired of being obedient to their decision to keep us blind.
Either directly through the narration or indirectly through his mouthpiece Rube, Card continually expresses disdain for the Left:
Princeton University was just as Reuben expected it to be -- hostile to everything he valued, smug and superior and utterly closed-minded. In fact, exactly what they thought the military was.
Even though I agree with many of Card's political points, taken together they undercut the purported message of Empire, that liberals and conservatives should stop viewing each other as the enemy and find common ground.

At times Card attempts to be even-handed, but he can't get his heart into it. So he shows an ultra-right general spouting pig-headed, homophobic rhetoric, but we soon learn he was only feigning bigotry. Card emphasizes that Rube's wife is a Democrat, but she never actually says anything that reflects a liberal viewpoint. (The closest she comes is to chastise Rube for denouncing left-wingers too harshly.)

It is all too obvious which characters' politics mirror Card's. The most telling giveaway is the novel's plot. At every turn, conservatives try to hold the country together while liberals gleefully help to break it apart. Two days after the assassination of the President by terrorists, a military force seizes Manhattan and slaughters the NYPD. Incredibly, Card shows American liberals supporting these invaders, merely because they call themselves "progressives" and denounce the 2000 election. How could anyone who experienced 9/11 believe that would be the prevailing reaction?

Through the story of Empire, Card is doing exactly what he claims to be counseling against: demonizing his political opposition. Card wrongly views the American Left as the enemy, nor does he understand his enemy very well.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Amy's music :: Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend

Vampire WeekendCounting up, as opposed to a countdown, NME's #4 album of 2008 is Vampire Weekend by Vampire Weeekend. Rolling Stone magazine rated this as the 10th best album of 2008. It was released little over a year ago.

Vampire Weekend are from New York. They met at Columbia University and produced this, their debut album, after graduation. The band members are Ezra Koenig (lead vocals, guitar), Rostam Batmanglij (keyboard, guitar, vocal harmonies), Chris Tomson (drums) and Chris Baio (bass guitar).

The New York Times in a review called Vampire Weekend "Preppie Afro-pop". The band label their own style as "Upper West Side Soweto". To me music seems a mix of genres including Afrobeat, ska-punk, and calypso.

In their music there are repeated sequences of notes on guitar, pulsing keyboards, and racing drums. Various songs feature harpsichord, violin, cello, mellotron, and hand drums.

Notable songs off the album are "A-Punk", "Oxford Comma", "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" and "Mansard Roof".

"A-Punk" is a catchy tune, clocking in at a mere 2:17. Musically it's like ai!-ai!-ai! punk, but lyrically it's from a different world. Here are the first two verses:
Johanna drove slowly into the city
The Hudson River all filled with snow
She spied the ring on his honor's finger
A thousand years in one piece of silver
She took it from his lilywhite hand
Showed no fear - she'd seen the thing
In the young men's wing at Sloan-Kettering

"Oxford Comma" begins with these lyrics:
Who gives a fuck about an oxford comma?
I've seen those English dramas too
They're cruel
So if there's any other way
To spell the word
It's fine with me, with me

Other song lyrics mention such things as Pueblo huts, Louis Vuitton, the Khyber Pass, Darjeeling tea and Peter Gabriel. There is nothing about vampires.

It's difficult to dislike Vampire Weekend. Their music is upbeat and listenable. Yet I wasn't truly hooked by their mixed-genre music or their quirky college-boy lyrics. Nonetheless, I'll admit it's a likable album.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Book Review Teaser :: Ender in Exile by Orson Scott Card

Ender in ExileNew on Fantastic Reviews is Aaron's review of Ender in Exile by Orson Scott Card.

From Aaron's Review of Ender in Exile :
"Ender in Exile is a good but not great book by a great, not just good, author. It is the latest entry in the saga of Ender Wiggin, a series that began in the mid-1980's with Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead. Those two novels managed the unprecedented and still unduplicated feat of sweeping the Hugo and Nebula Awards in consecutive years, and together they form one of the major landmarks in the history of science fiction."

"Twenty years ago, on the strength of Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead as well as the Alvin Maker series and outstanding short fiction such as "Unaccompanied Sonata" and "Lost Boys", Orson Scott Card was very widely regarded as one of the leading authors in the SF/F genre. Today his books still sell well but he does not garner the same sort of acclaim and awards, and a surprising number of critics and fellow authors are dismissive not only of his recent efforts, which even a devoted fan must admit are not as consistently powerful as his earlier work, but of his entire body of fiction."

"Sadly, I suspect much of this disdain is politically motivated....."

To read the entire review -> Ender in Exile

In addition, to sort out where Ender in Exile fits in the Ender series, we've set up this Ender Chronology diagram.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week :: Act One by Nancy Kress

Asimov's Science Fiction March 2009The story recommendation for this week goes to "Act One" by Nancy Kress, a novella from the March 2009 issue of Asimov's.

Late in "Act One," the narrator asks, "Is it wrong to genetically modify human beings?" This is an important question, one about which our society is currently in collective denial, apparently believing we can keep that genie in the bottle. "Act One" is set in the near future, as the technology is becoming available to genetically modify people, either by gene therapy in utero or by delivery of a gene-altering retrovirus. This technology will be developed not far in the future and it will be used, despite any laws we pass against it. "Act One" delves into some of the implications of tinkering with the blueprint for a human.

What's more, these implications are addressed in the context of an absorbing story, involving engaging and complex characters. Particularly compelling is the main protagonist, Barry Tenler, perhaps the best-drawn dwarf character I have seen in science fiction (depending on whether you think Miles Vorkosigan qualifies). He is resentful of his stature and the pain he endures daily but he soldiers on admirably; yet at the same time he is definitely a flawed human being who has made some regrettable decisions in his life -- far more interesting than the traditional plucky little person, a Hollywood stereoptype Barry himself mocks in the story.

As "Act One" begins, Barry is the manager of a beautiful actress whose career is in a tailspin. To prepare her for a role in a film about children who have been genetically altered for increased empathy, they visit a covert group bent on modifyinging mankind for greater compassion, a group prepared to act as ruthlessly as necessary to achieve this end. Is this justifiable? Nancy Kress gives no pat answers, but she asks the question in a fascinating way.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Aaron's Book of the Week :: All My Lovers by Alan Marshall (Donald Westlake)

All My LoversCompleting our tribute to Donald Westlake, the Book of the Week is All My Lovers (1959), from notorious sleaze publisher Midwood Books. This book is believed to have been written by Donald Westlake under his pseudonym Alan Marshall, which he used for dozens of soft-core pornographic novels.

There is a significant collectors' market for sleaze paperbacks published in the 1950's and 1960's. These books were created purely for titillation and are devoid of literary merit, yet part of their charm today is how innocent most of them are by current standards -- the sex is less explicit (sometimes thanks to hilariously creative euphemisms for body parts) than in many of today's romance novels. Few modern readers would be offended by the sex in these novels, although they would be disturbed by the misogynistic attitudes in many of them.

One of the reasons these sleaze novels have become collectors' items is that so many of them were writen for a quick paycheck by very talented authors who went on to successful careers, including Donald Westlake. Westlake admitted to writing 28 of these smut books under the Alan Marshall name, although some believe his count was over 40. It is all but impossible to determine for certain which Alan Marshall books were really written by Westlake, since he often lent the pseudonym to friends in need of a writing gig; however, multiple sources have listed All My Lovers as one of the Alan Marshall books Westlake wrote himself. Sometimes Alan Marshall wrote in collaboration with the pseudonym of another famous mystery writer, as we will see in a couple weeks -- but first we must determine if John Updike could ever be accused of writing science fiction or fantasy.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Amy's music :: Glasvegas - Glasvegas

GlasvegasContinuing my count-up, as opposed to a countdown, of NME's top albums of 2008, at #3 is Glasvegas.

I bought this album soon after its September release because NME was calling Glasvegas the best new band in Britain.

Glasvegas are a Scottish alternative rock band from Glasgow. The band consists of James Allan (vocals and songwriter), Rab Allan (guitar), Paul Donoghue (bass) and Caroline McKay (drums). All the photos I've seen of Glasvegas show them wearing black. Even their album cover is black.

Glasvegas is their eponymous debut album. They released several songs earlier as limited edition singles. In 2007 Glasvegas received critical acclaim from NME for their single "Daddy's Gone".

Glasvegas play guitar based music. There are shimmering and reverberating guitars, bass, pulsing drums and tambourine. Backing vocals feature oohs and aahs. Their music is melodic and atmospheric.

The vocals are distinctive. James Allen sings in a Scottish accent which at times is difficult to decipher. Yet he uses his voice as an instrument to add poignancy and emotion to the songs. The lyrics often tell stories from working-class lives.

Notable tracks off the album are "Geraldine", "Daddy's Gone", "Go Square Go" and "Flowers & Football Tops".

"Geraldine", the first single off the album and NME's #2 track of the year, starts with these lyrics:
When your sparkle evades your soul
I'll be at your side to console
When you're standing on the window ledge
I'll talk you back, back from the edge

There are explicit lyrics, something I usually frown at. In "Go Square Go" the line "Here we fucking go!" is rousingly repeated.

This is an excellent album, in my opinion and NME’s, definitely one of the best of 2008.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Aaron's Book of the Week :: Anarchaos by Curt Clark (Donald Westlake)

AnarchaosContinuing our tribute to Donald Westlake, the Book of the Week is the paperback original edition of Anarchaos (cover art by "Lynch"), a science fiction novel published in 1967 as by Curt Clark, a pseudonym used by Westlake on much of his science fiction.

Like many mystery writers, Westlake dabbled in science fiction, usually SF with some mystery elements. Probably his best SF is contained in the collection Tomorrow's Crimes, published under Westlake's real name, but Anarchaos is a more fun collector's item, because of the obscure Curt Clark pseudonym, which did not appear on any other Westlake book. And if you're wondering whether Westlake ever regretted his forays into pulp science fiction, wait until you see the pseudonym he used for a far more embarrassing genre next week.

Incidentally, that will be our third different Donald Westlake pseudonym, but there are at least eight other known Westlake pen-names that I don't have in my collection. But don't worry, I am holding in reserve for some future BOTW's a marathon of other books in my collection under different pseudonyms all written by a single, now very famous, author.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week :: Night of the Living POTUS by Adam-Troy Castro

The story recommendation for the week is "Night of the Living POTUS" by Adam-Troy Castro, a short story first published on-line in the Winter 2008 issue of Helix.

"Night of the Living POTUS" is the perfect story for this week of Inauguration Day. It is a very funny yet thought-provoking account of a newly-elected president's first night in the White House. He is confronted by apparitions of his predecessors, who take rather a more hostile attitude toward the new occupant than one might expect.

Unfortunately, for now you will have to take my word for it that "Night of the Living POTUS" is a terrific story. Helix has ceased operations and wiped its archives, which is a shame, since it was one of the most reliable places to find good fiction on-line, notwithstanding its senior editor occasionally making an ass of himself. The mostly-defunct Helix site still has links to some of the stories published there, and others are available at Transcriptase, but for now you won't find "Night of the Living POTUS" either place. Let us hope that the author elects to post the story at his own site.

Adam-Troy Castro has been writing successful short fiction for years, garnering two Hugo nominations and five Nebula nominations. Last year saw the appearance of Emissaries from the Dead, his first full-length original novel (he has previously written media tie-in books). It is a murder mystery set far in the future in a somewhat horrific artificial ecosystem. The sequel, The Third Claw of God, is due out next month, and both novels look well worth checking out.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week :: Labyrinth by Joyce Carol Oates

The story recommendation of the week is for "Labyrinth" by Joyce Carol Oates, a neat little piece of flash fiction you can find on the rear endpapers of McSweeney's 29. The story is printed in a blocky spiral, circling in toward the center of the page. I am usually not one for flash fiction, especially when it proceeds from such a gimmick, but Oates uses the odd format very effectively.

"Labyrinth" is a low-key horror story about a young man obsessed with the fear of being buried alive. And of course, since the days of Poe, such an absurd phobia can come to only one end. Because the tale is printed in an inward-falling spiral, the story forces the reader to turn the book over ever more quickly, cleverly reinforcing a sense of dread and claustrophobia.

While many mainstream authors dabble in science fiction, Joyce Carol Oates is one of the few writers with mainstream cachet who likes to slum in the horror field. (Similarly, McSweeney's is less biased against SF/F/H than most mainstream mags, as we know from their genre-oriented anthologies edited by Michael Chabon, McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales and McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories.) Horror readers who haven't read Oates should check out "Labyrinth," and if you like that then try some of Oates' other works with horror elements, such as Zombie and many of the stories in The Collector of Hearts. Conversely, you Joyce Carol Oates fans out there who don't mind when she moves into spooky territory really ought to try some of today's other literary horror authors like Dan Simmons and Tom Piccirilli and Glen Hirshberg.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Aaron's Book of the Week :: The Damsel by Richard Stark (Donald Westlake)

The DamselContinuing our tribute to Donald Westlake, the Book of the Week is the first paperback printing of The Damsel, a hard-boiled noir thriller first published in 1967 as by Richard Stark.

Richard Stark was by far the most successful of Donald Westlake's many pseudonyms. The Richard Stark novels were a hit with readers and fellow writers, at times overshadowing Westlake's work under his own name. Many of the film adaptations of Westlake's work are based on Richard Stark books, including Point Blank/ Payback. Colorado author Dan Simmons dedicated the first of his own hard-boiled mysteries, Hardcase, to "Richard Stark, who sometimes writes under the wussy pseudonym of Donald Westlake."

The protagonist of most Richard Stark novels is the shadowy antihero Parker. Parker sometimes operates with an associate named Alan Grofield, an actor who moonlights as a criminal to fund his theatrical projects. The Damsel was the first of four Stark books to feature Grofield on his own.

The Richard Stark novels were central to the success of Donald Westlake's career, but some of his other pseudonyms were not so enduring. One of Westlake's less successful pseudonyms was the pen-name he used for his science fiction, which you will see next week.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Amy's music :: TV on the Radio - Dear Science

TV on the RadioCounting up, as opposed to a countdown, NME's #2 album of 2008 is Dear Science by TV on the Radio.

I'd heard mention of TV on the Radio, but hadn't actually heard them until recently. Given the critical acclaim they are getting from not only NME but from Rolling Stone, Spin, and Entertainment Weekly, I decided to give them a try.

This album falls in the alternative genre, but I'd call it experimental rock funk.

TV on the Radio are a band from Brooklyn, New York composed of Tunde Adebimpe, David Andrew Sitek, Kyp Malone, Jaleel Bunton and Gerard Smith. Dear Science is their fourth release. TV on the Radio released an EP in 2003, followed by albums in 2004 and 2006.

Notable tracks on Dear Science include "Golden Age" and "Dancing Choose" (not Dancing Shoes).

The optimistic chorus of "Golden Age" was memorable from first listen:
The age of miracles
The age of sound
Well there's a Golden Age
Comin' round, comin' round, comin' round

The chorus of "Dancing Choose" includes these interesting lyrics:
I've seen my palette blown
to monochrome
Hollow heart
clicks hollowtone

This album has synths, rhythms, bass, funky vocals and often horns and strings. There are diverse sounds and lots of production. Songs have pop bits, experimental bits, and extensive lyrics I couldn't always catch. Vocals on songs such as "Golden Age" reminded me in a good way of Prince.

Do I like the album Dear Science? Maybe. I will say that it's challenging stuff, worthy of a listen.

As a side note, according to NME, the album title Dear Science is "a name taken from a note left in the studio saying "Dear Science, please start solving problems and helping people or shut the fuck up"." Not sure I care for that attitude.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Aaron's Book of the Week :: The Hook by Donald E. Westlake

The HookReturning to BOTW's obituary function, the Book of the Week is The Hook by Donald E. Westlake, in honor of Mr. Westlake, who passed away last week at the age of 75. This is a signed first edition (with a cool recursive cover that for some reason was not used on the paperback), yet easier to find than some of the beat-up Westlake paperbacks you will see starting next week.

Beginning in 1960, Donald Westlake published over a hundred novels. He wrote in many genres, but was best known for his mysteries. Three times he won the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America, which named him Grand Master in 1993. At least 16 of his novels were produced as films, notably Point Blank (1967, starring Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson), remade as Payback (1999, starring Mel Gibson). Westlake also wrote original screenplays and adaptations of other authors' books, and was nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay of the 1990 film The Grifters.

Westlake was a favorite of fellow writers for his crisp prose and his blend of humor and suspense. And he was a favorite of collectors for his use of multiple pseudonyms. Westlake liked to match his pseudonyms to different styles. The novels under his own name were usually comic mysteries, although some, including The Hook, were psychological thrillers. But most of Westlake's mysteries under pen-names were in a much grittier noir style. Next week, we will start our survey of Westlake's alter egos with by far his most successful pseudonym.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week :: Crystal Nights by Greg Egan

Interzone April 2008My story recommendation of the week is "Crystal Nights" by Greg Egan, a novelette from the April 2008 issue of Interzone.

From what I have read recently, I am not sure that Interzone is quite as strong overall as it was a few years back. Still, the occasional presence of Greg Egan, the leading hard science fiction author of this age, is more than enough reason to keep an eye on the magazine.

"Crystal Nights" is a modern updating of Theodore Sturgeon's "Microcosmic God." A very wealthy man corners the market on an advanced form of crystallized processor, which allows computations at such tremendous speeds that he believes he can use it to evolve artificial intelligence through an electronic version of natural selection. Hopefully it is not too much of a spoiler to say that after some false starts the system succeeds, but the resulting digital beings are not as deferential to their creator as he might wish.

"Crystal Nights" examines moral issues surrounding the creation of artificial intelligence -- for example, is it all right to alter or erase a computer program that is showing signs of becoming self-aware? -- issues that may not be so far in the future as you think. By drawing his title from the terrible persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany, Egan lets us know that he does not regard these as trivial concerns.