Links

I’m still in Cologne at the moment, but have some links to keep you amused. One: Paul Witcover’s Locus review of The Secret History of Science Fiction:

Kelly and Kessel have selected stories from inside and outside the genre to demonstrate that, in fact, despite the continued reliance of publishers on such marketing labels as science fiction and fantasy, “the divide between mainstream and science fiction is more apparent than real,” and that “outside of the public eye,” writers on both sides of the supposed divide have been producing work that, on the one hand, has the ambition and sophistication of literary fiction, and, on the other, makes use of the tropes of speculative fiction, though not necessarily labeled as such by writers, critics, or readers. This is the secret history to which the title refers.

It’s a bold assertion, and I have a lot of sympathy for it. In fact, before I read this anthology, I was inclined to agree with it. But as I read these stories, I began to doubt it more and more, and finally I became convinced that Kelly and Kessel are wrong in an centrally important way, and that there really are substantial differences between genre speculative fiction of literary ambition and what is written outside the genre, even if it contains speculative elements. And I think these stories prove it: that is the secret history of The Secret History.

Note that John Kessel turns up to discuss in the comments.

Two: Mark Newton and Dan Abnett discuss tie-in fiction:

I’ve never known tie-in novels receive so much fanfare and review coverage as [Sebastian Faulks’ Bond and Eoin Colfer’s Hitch-Hiker’s]: because that’s the other bizarre thing – franchise fiction tends to be ignored by reviewers, especially in major genre magazines. They treat it as a lesser product, and hate to give it air time. I’ve heard some talk that, because it’s assumed tie-in fiction always involves a one-off payment and no royalties, the author gets little benefit. That’s certainly not the case for several franchises, and Some tie-in books make careers.

Sometimes I find that genre magazines are ignoring the very “brands” that sell hundreds of thousands of copies – brands, therefore, that readers want to know about.

I merely note that I was out at dinner the other night, and my colleagues were discussing Harry Potter and some other franchise I temporarily forget, and expected me to know all about them; when in fact neither interests me in the least. [EDIT: still can’t remember what the other franchise/series discussed was, but I did remember the other thing I wanted to say: Faulks’ and Colfers’ books may have attracted a lot of attention, but not much of it was positive.]

Terry Bisson interviews Kim Stanley Robinson:

There are a lot of problems in writing utopias, but they can be opportunities. The usual objection—that they must be boring—are often political attacks, or ignorant repeating of a line, or another way of saying “No expository lumps please, it has to be about me.” The political attacks are interesting to parse. “Utopia would be boring because there would be no conflicts, history would stop, there would be no great art, no drama, no magnificence.” This is always said by white people with a full belly. My feeling is that if they were hungry and sick and living in a cardboard shack they would be more willing to give utopia a try.

And if we did achieve a just and sustainable world civilization, I’m confident there would still be enough drama, as I tried to show in Pacific Edge. There would still be love lost, there would still be death. That would be enough. The horribleness of unnecessary tragedy may be lessened and the people who like that kind of thing would have to deal with a reduction in their supply of drama.

I really must re-read Pacific Edge soon.

And for good measure, another KSR interview, this one by Alison Flood:

But this rapid change, in turn, leads to another sort of crisis. “Depending what we do in next 20 years, it’s very hard to be plausible, to say this is what’s going to happen. At that point you can’t write science fiction, [so] the genre is in a little bit of a crisis, and all the young people are reading fantasy.” Robinson himself, however, presses on undaunted. He’s considering future novels set around Saturn or Mercury; he’s looking into a book about Herman Melville, who “after his career as a novelist crashed had another career as a customs inspector”; he’s keen to put what he learnt from Galileo – the work ethic, “the tenacity of the man”, into practice.

But he worries about “the crisis for this tiny genre”, recently launching an impassioned defence of science fiction in the New Scientist, where he accused the Man Booker judges of neglecting what he called “the best British literature of our time”. “It’s a different situation than it was when I began, the relation between world and genre. Back then you could read science fiction and get a sense of what the world was going to be – now, I don’t think you can be prophets in the same way,” he says. “If the world is a science fiction novel then what do you read? What can the literature do for you?”

Oh, and Dollhouse has been cancelled, though all 13 ordered episodes will air. Not in the least surprising, and in some ways deserved, though I will still miss it; there are plenty of failures on tv, but very little ambition.

Le Guin on Atwood

I would like to believe that the gambit Ursula Le Guin deploys in her review of The Year of the Flood works:

In her recent, brilliant essay collection, Moving Targets, she says that everything that happens in her novels is possible and may even have already happened, so they can’t be science fiction, which is “fiction in which things happen that are not possible today”. This arbitrarily restrictive definition seems designed to protect her novels from being relegated to a genre still shunned by hidebound readers, reviewers and prize-awarders. She doesn’t want the literary bigots to shove her into the literary ghetto.

Who can blame her? I feel obliged to respect her wish, although it forces me, too, into a false position. I could talk about her new book more freely, more truly, if I could talk about it as what it is, using the lively vocabulary of modern science-fiction criticism, giving it the praise it deserves as a work of unusual cautionary imagination and satirical invention. As it is, I must restrict myself to the vocabulary and expectations suitable to a realistic novel, even if forced by those limitations into a less favourable stance.

Since she ends up calling the book “extraordinary”, however, it seems that it doesn’t count for that much in the end. On the other hand, she calls the book “extraordinary”, which bodes well for me as a reader.

Year of the Floods

Interesting review-feature by Robin McKie in yesterday’s Observer:

Today, in these more strained ecological times, this kind of storytelling has taken on a harder edge and eco-thrillers have become a more robust genre – both on the page and on the screen. Upcoming films such as 2012 and The Book of Eli portray ecological and technological catastrophes like those depicted in The Day After Tomorrow (2004) and I Am Legend (2007). At the same time, plays such as Resilience and On the Beach have explored environmental issues with considerable success, while forthcoming novels from William Boyd, Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan will also pursue ecological themes.

In short, environmental fiction is moving away from its roots in science fiction and is becoming part of mainstream literature – as is revealed by some of the most recent novels to tackle themes of climate change and the like.

I have both Cold Earth and The Rapture on my (unwieldy) TBR pile at the moment, and while McKie’s argument isn’t as rigorously argued as perhaps it might be, I do think he’s on to something. I’ve thought for a while that if I had a spare year or two, a project I would like to tackle is an analysis of the development of treatments of climate change — as distinct from disaster stories — in science fiction, both because I think it’s an interesting marker of how genre sf has engaged (or failed to engage) with the future in which we are actually living, and because I think it’s an interesting marker of the relationship between genre sf and mainstream-published sf, as McKie suggests. It seems to me there is are interestingly intertwined stories to be told there, and that the body of work that would need to be covered is not entirely unmanageable. [EDIT: I completely forgot that we’d discussed some of these issues before.]

Also, from the end of the article:

Solar by Ian McEwan. The idea for Solar (working title, due out in 2010) came to McEwan while stuck on a boat in the Arctic. His subject is climate change, considered through a central character who “steadily gets fatter through the novel” and the innate inability of human nature to counter it

Hmmm.

The 2009 Arthur C Clarke Award Shortlist

Forty-six from seventeen publishers have become six from four. There are two previous winners among the nominated authors, and two first-timers (one with their first novel); one woman, and two Americans. One novel also appears on the BSFA Best Novel shortlist. There are, this year, quite a lot of spaceships.

Yes, the Arthur C. Clarke Award shortlist is upon us! This year’s judges — for the British Science Fiction Association, Chris Hill and Ruth O’Reilly; for the Science Fiction Foundation, Robert Hanks and Rhiannon Lassiter; and for SF Crowsnest.com, Pauline Morgan — have deliberated, and decided.

Paul Billinger, Chair of the judges, reports:

“It was a long and intense meeting to decide this year’s shortlist, with passionate debate from all of the judges. Although at times it seemed almost impossible, they eventually concluded that these six books were the ones that demonstrated to them what was best about the science fiction novels published in 2008.”

And Award Administrator Tom Hunter says:

“Speculation and active debate have always surrounded the announcement of the award shortlist, and earlier this year we took the unprecedented step of releasing the full long list of eligible submitted works from which this final shortlist was decided. Our aim was to highlight the strength and diversity of current science fiction publishing and to show the awesome task that faces our judging panel every year. I think they’ve risen to this challenge admirably and I’m greatly looking forward to the full range of reactions and conversations to come and, of course, to finding out the eventual winner at the end of April.”

That winner will be announced on Wednesday 29th April, at a ceremony held on the opening night of the Sci-Fi London film festival. They will receive £2009, and a commemorative engraved bookend.

Let the debate begin! I’ll be updating this post with links to additional reviews as they appear, but for now, here are the nominees:

Song of Time by Ian R MacLeod (PS Publishing)

Reviewed by Adam Roberts for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Edward James for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Nic Clarke at Eve’s Alexandria
Reviewed by Eric Brown for The Guardian
An appreciation by Helena Bowles
Reviewed by Tanya Brown
Reviewed by David Hebblethwaite at Follow the Thread
Reviewed by Niall here

The Quiet War by Paul McAuley (Gollancz)

Reviewed by Abigail Nussbaum for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Edward James for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Paul Kincaid for SF Site
Reviewed by Nic Clarke at Eve’s Alexandria
Reviewed by Duncan Lawie for The Zone
Reviewed by Eric Brown for The Guardian
Reviewed by Annalee Newitz at io9
Reviewed by Lisa Tuttle for The Times
Reviewed by Adam Roberts at Punkadiddle
Reviewed by Niall here

House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds (Gollancz)

Reviewed by Dan Hartland for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Edward James for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Rich Horton for SF Site
Reviewed by Paul Kincaid for SF Site
Reviewed by Adam Roberts at Punkadiddle
Reviewed by Charlie Jane Anders at io9
Reviewed by Lisa Tuttle for The Times
Reviewed by Eric Brown for The Guardian
Reviewed by Jonathan Wright for SFX
Reviewed by David Hebblethwaite at Follow the Thread
Reviewed by Niall here

Anathem by Neal Stephenson (Atlantic)

Reviewed by Martin Lewis for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Edward James for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Gary K Wolfe for Locus
Reviewed by Nic Clarke at Eve’s Alexandria
Reviewed by Adam Roberts at Punkadiddle
Reviewed by Abigail Nussbaum at Asking the Wrong Questions
Reviewed by Michael Dirda for the Washington Post
Reviewed by Laura Miller for the LA Times
Reviewed by Tom Shippey for the TLS
Reviewed by Andrew McKie for The Telegraph
Reviewed by Jakob Schmidt for SF Site
Reviewed at The Complete Review
Reviewed by Niall here
Reviewed by Liz here

The Margarets by Sheri S Tepper (Gollancz)

Reviewed by Nic Clarke and Sherryl Vint for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Edward James for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Andrew McKie for The Telegraph
Reviewed by Adam Roberts at Punkadiddle
Reviewed by Annalee Newitz at io9
Reviewed by David Langford for SFX
Reviewed by Cynthia Ward for Sci-Fi Weekly
Reviewed by Adrienne Martini for Bookslut

Martin Martin’s on the Other Side by Mark Wernham (Jonathan Cape)

Reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Edward James for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Nic Clarke at Eve’s Alexandria
Reviewed by Jonathan Gibbs for The Independent
Reviewed by Cathi Unsworth for The Guardian
Reviewed by Saxon Bullock for SFX
Reviewed by Adam Roberts at Punkadiddle
Reviewed by David Hebblethwaite at Follow the Thread
Reviewed by Andrew McKie for The Telegraph

Roundups and miscellany
Edward James
Adam Roberts
Nic Clarke
Niall’s roundup
A poll
The winner

Previous shortlist roundups
2008
2007

Maps and Legends

Maps and Legends coverMy review of Michael Chabon’s non-fiction collection Maps and Legends is up at Fruitless Recursion:

The title of Michael Chabon’s first collection of non-fiction is taken from one of the shortest pieces in the book, a brief essay about growing up in the planned community of Columbia, Maryland in the late sixties and early seventies. There is a literal map described, a partial streetmap that Chabon acquired from the city Exhibit Center, and was fascinated by, for its relation to an incomplete reality. Many of the street names alluded to the work of American writers and poets, but to Chabon they were most notable for referring to places that hadn’t been built yet. “They were like magic spells,” he writes, “each one calibrated to call into being one particular stretch of blacktop, sidewalk, and lawn, and no other” (31). Chabon then describes growing up, and feeling disillusioned about some of the lessons he had taken from life in Columbia, such as the extent to which America is racially integrated. Still and all, he says, he remembers the Exhibit Centre map with fondness, “however provisional” it and Columbia proved to be, and he attributes this fondness in part to the way the map steered him into the literary world. I’m not sure the word “legend” appears anywhere in the essay other than the title, but in that context it seems clear to me that it refers both to the literary legends — the stories — implicit in the map, and the legend of his own youth that Chabon is creating, not least because Maps and Legends, as a book, is divided between those two subjects.

Also in this issue: Paul Kincaid on Mike Ashley’s Gateways to Forever, Alvaro Zinos-Amaro on Gabriel McKee’s The Gospel According to Science Fiction, and Jonathan McCalmont on Studies in Modern Horror, edited by NGChristakos.