SF of 2015: The Fifth Season (2015) by N.K. Jemisin

TheFifthSeasonBased on reviewer response so far, I expected this to be like City of Stairs, by which I mean it would be very popular within its subgenre, stir the passions of many a blogger friend, but have very little effect on me. Between last year’s insipid The Goblin Emperor and this year’s heft of shortlisted fantasy, it’s time I admit the unforeseen and reluctant truth that I’m just a sci-fi/realism reader now.

But it’s hard for even a fantasy detractor like me to not recognize good, solid fantasy when I see it.
Continue reading

2016 SF Book Awards Update: The Kitschies and The Nebulas

We are well into the 11 months of SF Book Award Season. Adding to the PKD Award shortlist, which I didn’t cover because it’s always a weird list that I never know what to make of it, and the BSFA Award shortlist, which I talk about all the time, the Nebulas and the Kitschies have now arrived.

The Nebula Rundown Continue reading

My Year in Books: Looking Backward and Forward

…like a malfunctioning time machine.

2015 was the year of new and shiny shortlist reading and a bit of classic subversive fantasy reading.

For new SF, I finally found my genre comfort zone, which is situated somewhere between the British Science Fiction Association, the Clarke Award, and the Tiptree Award. All three put out fantastic shortlists in 2015, and (although I’m not especially encouraged by the majority of 2015’s output) I’m curious to see what they recognize in 2016. Let’s see what gets unearthed by those small groups of interesting readers.

In the fantasy realm, treasures like Peake and Harrison, and the magic realism of García Márquez and Rushdie, two writers I have always wanted to read, have studded my year. I wish I had picked up these books when I was nineteen and reading the 36th Shannara book with my eyes closed.

In the vintage camp, my attraction toward more incendiary authors like Joanna Russ, John Brunner, and Olaf Stapledon should be no surprise. I also wish I had known about them when I was nineteen and raging against the machine… and listening to them, too. Continue reading

Back to the Hugos: 1985!

The Hugo Awards are this weekend! But time-travel Hugos are much more fun! So, let’s go back to the Hugos: 1985!

The member vote for Best Novel:

Neuromancer1emergence1ThePeaceWar2JobAComedyofJusticeTheIntegralTrees1
The Winner: Just a little book called Neuromancer. 

 

My pretend, retro Hugo ballot for Best Novel:

Neuromancer1emergence1TheIntegralTrees1ThePeaceWar2JobAComedyofJustice

Hugo voters, we actually almost agree! Neuromancer is tops, now that I’m accustomed to the wacked out, cyber megatext, and Gibson’s shifty show-don’t-tell-wait-don’t-even-show style. And Emergence became an instant favorite of mine, thanks to the insane plot twists, and despite the Russian-commies-are-evil gag. (Eh, it’s the eighties.)

As for the bottom of the ballot, all three books were just okay. I enjoyed The Integral Trees for those sexy sex scenes– haha, just kidding, those sex scenes were awkward as hell, but the weird physics and flying whales were pretty cool. The Peace War is a story I could easily picture on FX or USA or Lifetime television networks, and you can interpret that however you like.

I would probably No Award Heinlein. If I had grown up reading him, I’d be ready to tell him to fuck off by ’85. Probably sooner. (Definitely sooner.)

*****

According to some Schmuck Fuppy commentary I’ve seen around, 1985 was the death knell of the Hugo Awards– the final year that Hugo voters recognized deserving fiction, and just before the bleeding-heart libs Affirmative Actioned the fun out of science fiction, while the snooty lit-crits meta’d themselves. ‘Twas the year that Pew-Pew-Space-Cadet died… so many sadz…

But so many wrongz.

Pew-Pew-Space-Cadet died decades before 1985, and if anything is dead in the eighties, it’s the (liberal) (wild) (metatastic) New Wave movement, which left behind a great, big stink of drab, commercial fiction, and a regular rotation of reliably conservative authors (and some equally drab, commercial, liberal authors, let’s be honest). 1985 is certainly a conservative-heavy list, but that is more likely to repeat after 1985, rather than before.

So what are the Schmucks actually mourning after 1985? Is it an arbitrary, made up date, or, perhaps, is this misdirected sadness because they just happen to miss Neuromancer‘s “particular flavor”?

WARNING: Conservative enjoyment of Neuromancer may indicate latent liberal tendencies. Side effects include being sad, manufacturing controversy, and avoiding space opera throwbacks because feminine pronouns are scary.

Way Station (1963) by Clifford D. Simak

waystation1stIf pastoral SF is a legitimate subgenre, Clifford Simak’s Hugo-winning Way Station (originally published as Here Gather the Stars) is at the top of its class, with its drowsy prose and idealistic plot. This is the science fiction book you read on your porch swing, sipping an ice cold lemonade in the dusk of a summer day, between periodic glances at Venus burning bright in the darkening sky.
Continue reading

Witch World (1963) by Andre Norton

WitchWorld1First of all, Clarke AwardAncillary Justice wins another one!

Second of all, a book about an alternate world called Witch World? How puntastic!

…but he could not accept the atmosphere of this place as anything but alien. And not only alien, for that which is strange need not necessarily be a menace, but in some manner this place was utterly opposed to him and his kind. No, not alien… but unhuman, whereas the witches of Estcarp were human, no matter whatever else they might also be (p. 182).

How could two so widely differing levels of civilization exist side by side? …Alien, alien—once more he was on the very verge of understanding—of guessing— (p. 171).

He never figures it out. At least, not in the first book of this expansive series.

And it’s odd to the see the term “alien” pop up so repetitively in a magic fantasy novel about witches, but it was a term to which I clung out of the hope that something really cool or meaningful would happen. That’s not to say I expected little green men to tromp around this world of witches (okay, maybe a little), but I hoped to extrapolate some deeper significance when considering the immigrant status of our good protagonist Simon Tregarth. It never happened. Continue reading

Virtual Light (1993) by William Gibson

Virtual_light_uk_coverWhen I opened Virtual Light and, within the first five pages, read references to no less than five types of guns and two non-fatal weapons, I groaned. Will this be another Neuromancer? Heavy on weaponry and jargon, light on character development, circuitous on plot, but brimming with a striking narrative style that leaves me conflicted and incapable of rendering an articulate opinion?

Fortunately, Gibson improved in the decade after his seminal piece.

In Virtual Light, Gibson keeps his flair for flowy prose, but adds depth to his characters, reigns in the plot, and tones down the jargony pretense I remember from Neuromancer. Virtual Light is an apt name, as there is little of anything “virtual” or “cyber” going on here. It’s a straightforward tale of two underdogs whose paths cross in near-future California during a crime investigation. The near-future is near enough to be recognizable, so Gibson’s trademarked style of withholding information until it’s absolutely necessary does not hinder the reader’s ability to imagine the setting. Continue reading

The Dervish House (2010) by Ian McDonald

Check out my Dervish House bloggersation with blogbuddy Matt from Books, Brains, and Beer.

TheDervishHouseWe choose our friends, not our family… but what of our neighbors? Those non-blood non-friends with whom we share geography and often nothing more, who force awkward small talk at the mailbox, whose kids’ bike tires streak the driveway, who happen to be there when the ambulance arrives. We hold them in an arms-length intimacy– ‘I hate cleaning after your messy pine tree, but I might need you if I sprain my ankle on my jog.’ (But how many ugly pickups do you really need?)

The Dervish House is a story about neighbors: a small, diverse Istanbul community, which populates an aging, neglected plaza that once housed an order of dervishes. Its inhabitants are as varied and complex as the city itself, where a cataclysm of worlds, cultures, and ideas collide and spill over the Bosphorus strait. At Adem Dede, the dervish house, rival tea houses stare each other down, old Greek immigrants gossip and argue, an art dealer prowls for religious artifacts, a pothead hides from his family, and a precocious nine-year-old with a heart condition explores the world through his bitbots (the coolest toy ever!). Continue reading

WWW: Wake (2009) by Robert J. Sawyer

“The sky above… was the color of a television tuned to a dead channel.” Wake

When Robert Sawyer winks at this opening line from William Gibson’s Neuromancer, it’s a reminder of how drastically technology has changed over the past 30 years. When Gibson wrote that line in 1984, it was intended to evoke the gray fuzziness of a disconnected screen. Two and a half decades later, Sawyer uses the same line to describe a bright blue sky. For me, five years and an awesome Sony app box later, a dead channel is as black as the night of a new moon (with an HDMI input notification in the top corner).

But that line also illustrates how drastically the cyber SF sub-genre has also changed over the past 30 years. Neuromancer is the seminal piece: dark, edgy, and weird, while Wake is safe, comfortable, and sweet. Neuromancer‘s main character is a suicidal adult male with a drug addiction. Wake‘s main character is an optimistic teen girl with good grades and high self-esteem. Both explore similar themes of emerging technology, primarily human interaction with artificial intelligence, but they go about it in completely different ways. If Neuromancer is cyberpunk, then Wake is cyberpop. Continue reading

Time is the Simplest Thing (The Fisherman) (1961) by Clifford D. Simak

timeissimplestthingClifford Simak has an important message for all wannabe McFly’s and TimeLords: Don’t bother. Life moves with time. It doesn’t hang around to be observed by time travelers. The past is deserted of life, and the future is a void.

More importantly, Mr. Simak also has a message for NASA: Stop what you’re doing. Humans are too frail for space. If we want to explore space, we must do so with our minds (cue wobbly theremin music).

That’s the basic premise for Simak’s 1962 Hugo-nominated novel Time is the Simplest Thing (a.k.a. The Fisherman). Continue reading