Book reviewer, cat photographer, fanzine editor, map blogger, snake whisperer.

Category: Science Fiction & Fantasy Page 1 of 5

‘Twitter Is the Worst Reader’

Having been on the receiving end of Twitter vitriol half a dozen times, sf writer Fonda Lee has some thoughts about being in the crosshairs of the rage machine. “Twitter removes the trust between writer and reader by flattening meaning to the single most offensive understanding and proliferating that version alone. […] For the most part, we authors write for a receptive, open-minded audience, an audience that has paid money for our work and wants to trust us. Twitter is the opposite of that, a twisted looking-glass version of reality in which the readership beyond our immediate circle is poised with hostile scrutiny.”

Soup Ads and SF

I did not know until today that German publisher Heyne once had a policy of inserting two-page adverts for Maggi soup (and presumably other products) into the text of their books, and that when Terry Pratchett found out about it he dropped them as his German publisher. It also apparently happened to Iain M. Banks—and to Duane Duane, who discovered similar soup ads in the German translations of her Star Trek Romulan novels. (This seems rather more pervasive than my my German ex-girlfriend’s soup obsession, which I found kind of endearing at the time. Then again, she was an sf reader: maybe the ads burned something deep into her psyche.)

Movie Night of the Cooters

George R. R. Martin paused his journey into the sun to report that Howard Waldrop’s classic story “Night of the Cooters”—in which the Martians of H. G. Wells’s War of the Worlds invade a small town in Texas whose sheriff has a passing resemblance to Slim Pickensis being made into a short film, with Vincent d’Onofrio directing and starring. Shot on green screen, with effects to follow during a lengthy post-production; I suspect we ought not to expect great things from this. But the fact that any Waldrop story is being filmed in any fashion—that’s noteworthy.

Rabbit Island

My third review for Strange Horizons, which looks at Elvira Navarro’s short story collection Rabbit Island (Two Lines Press, 2021) is now online. “In eleven relatively short stories—the book is only 164 pages long—Rabbit Island draws on the fantastic to offer a bleak look at contemporary Spain; its arrival in English translation comes at a point where it is unexpectedly pertinent.”

Amazon (Canada, UK) | Apple Books | Bookshop

‘Art as a Mirror, Never as a Doorway’

Lincoln Michel’s response to the Isabel Fall controversy (previously) has a sharp point about the tendency toward what he calls puritan readings of art. “Art needs criticism to thrive, and there is certainly plenty of hateful, racist, sexist, and otherwise bigoted (or just badly made) art out there quite deserving of our scorn. But there is a difference between criticism and harassment. There is a difference between attacking bigotry and in demanding that art be unambiguous is its moral messaging. There is a difference between art—beautiful, strange, complex, and messy art—and Goofus and Gallant comic strips.”

Some Weekend Reading

The rekindling of Fireside magazine (Andrew Liptak, Transfer Orbit): “Now, Fireside is looking to right the ship. After the controversy broke, Brian White, the magazine’s original founder and former Editor-in-Chief, stepped in as the publication’s Interim Editorial Director to save the publication, and is now implementing some new changes to try and steer the magazine back to sustainability.”

Queer readings of The Lord of the Rings are not accidents (Molly Ostertag, Polygon): “Revisiting the book in the last year, as someone who has been out for many years and who is deeply engaged in making and consuming queer stories, I was amazed to find a same-sex love story at the heart of the narrative.” Frodo and Sam: obvious in hindsight—and, here’s the thing, it was not necessarily not deliberate on Tolkien’s part.

How Twitter can ruin a life (Emily VanDerWerff, Vox): “In January 2020, not long after her short story ‘I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter’ was published in the online science fiction magazine Clarkesworld, Fall asked her editor to take the story down, and then checked into a psychiatric ward for thoughts of self-harm and suicide.” I’m not sure Twitter is to blame here, rather than an online sf community that’s gotten comfortable with punching down for great justice. On the other hand:

Did Twitter break YA? (Nicole Brinkley, Misshelved): Young-adult writers have turned to Twitter to connect with their audience; this has not turned out well. “Relying on Twitter to shape a culture like YA publishing inevitably leads to a moment where the most vulnerable participants in that industry will break. Either they become part of the rage machine, or the rage machine turns on them.”

Why Winter Isn’t Coming (At Least Not Yet)

Last month The Ringer suggested that the proliferating projects competing for George R. R. Martin’s time might be why he’s years late in finishing The Winds of Winter. “If Martin really wants to finish Winds, why does he do so much work that doesn’t help him finish Winds—and, in fact, appears to prevent him from doing so? Let’s consider several possible explanations.” Beyond the most likely possibilities—he’s stuck, he’s lousy at saying no or at time management—is an intriguing hypothesis: he’s simply responding to economic incentives. “Martin stands to make a vast sum of money for finishing Winds, but people are already paying him handsomely not to. […] Martin’s HBO deal sure seems like a setback for Winds, but you try turning down mid-eight figures in favor of finishing something that’s already taken 10 years.”

Winnipeg’s Worldcon Bid

Yesterday a bid was launched for Winnipeg to host the 2023 Worldcon. (The website is bare bones; bid filing documents can be found in this zip file.) As a Winnipeg native I have feelings about this—particularly since I had to miss the 1994 Winnipeg Worldcon on account of moving for graduate school. If they land the bid I will, of course, be there, pandemic permitting. (It should be over by then, right?) They’re up against already-announced bids for Chengdu and Memphis, Tennessee; I suspect that Winnipeg—which I can tell you is very nice in late August—will offer an out for fans uncomfortable with travelling to either of those locations.

Driftwood

Book cover: Driftwood

My review of Marie Brennan’s Driftwood (Tachyon, Aug. 2020) is now online at Strange Horizons. “In around two hundred pages of fairly large type it has a great deal to say about memory, loss, and survivorship, and it does so on a stage that is as vast as any in epic fantasy.” Amazon (Canada, UK)

Meanwhile, Strange Horizons starts each year by asking its reviewers to look back at what they’ve read in the previous year; part one of “2020 in Review” has a couple of paragraphs from yours truly.

Instances of Head-Switching

Book cover: Instances of Head-SwitchingMy review of Teresa Milbrodt’s new short-story collection, Instances of Head-Switching (Shade Mountain Press, 2020) is now online at Strange Horizons. This is my first review for Strange Horizons, which incidentally is running its annual fund drive this month. They acknowledge that trying to raise funds at a time like this is a hell of an ask, but it’s donations that keep their lights on and pay their contributors (like me), so if you’re able and inclined, please check out their Kickstarter.

Amazon (Canada, UK) | Apple Books | Bookshop

John Scalzi’s Interdependency Novels in One Chart

Graph: Number of Times the Word ‘Fuck‘ (or a Variant Thereof) Was Used in John Scalzi’s Interdependency Novels

Those of you who’ve read this series—The Last Emperox came out this week, in case you missed it—know exactly what I’m referring to here. I mean, we could break it down by character, but really, what would be the point in that?

Canon Is Ruining How We Enjoy Movies and Television

io9’s James Whitbrook argues that our obsession with canon—whether a story is an “official” part of a fictional universe—is ruining our ability to enjoy stories, because it values factoids and trivia over storytelling. “It predicates the gatekeeping act of being a fan that is built on how much you know about a thing over whether you actually enjoy that thing or not. It’s an attitude that in turn feeds the equally unruly and constantly growing spoiler culture because a fandom that values pure details above all else puts weight in the knowledge of those details.” True that. (I also think people obsess about canon because, deep down, some part of them believes their fictional universe is real: it’s why they freak out when a show breaks established canon.)

Christopher Tolkien’s Cartographic Legacy

New from me at Tor.com this morning: “Celebrating Christopher Tolkien’s Cartographic Legacy.” It looks at the collaborative process between J. R. R. Tolkien and his son Christopher as father and son tried to make the narrative agree with the map, and vice versa; takes a deep dive into Christopher’s mapmaking technique; and tries to assess the impact of his maps on fantasy mapmaking.

This piece came from a general sense that Christopher Tolkien’s mapmaking was being overlooked in the obituaries and remembrances posted in the wake of his death last week at the age of 95. I posted briefly about it on The Map Room last Thursday, and then found myself having more to say about it. By the end of day Friday I had nearly 2,000 words’ worth of more to say. Revised it over the weekend, sent it off, and now you can read it.

Featured image: Christopher Tolkien’s map of Middle-earth from The Fellowship of the Ring (Unwin, 1954). The British Library.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture at 40

Today is, I’m told, the 40th anniversary of the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture—the first Star Trek movie, and one that suffered from a rushed production that left several things unfinished (the prints were apparently still wet when they were shipped to theatres) and from a critical response that could charitably be described as lukewarm.

(I saw it in the theatre myself, but as I was all of seven years old at the time, I hadn’t developed much of a critical sense yet.)

Forty years later, though, there seems to be some groundswell of affection for the thing, warts and all. (See Ed Power’s piece in The Independent, for example.) A few years ago I wrote a piece for my fanzine, Ecdysis, called “In Defence of Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” and I thought I was being all heterodox about it. Turns out I wasn’t alone: others have either been reassessing their initial takes on the movie or finding that their impressions weren’t in sync with conventional wisdom.

It probably doesn’t hurt that there have been a dozen Star Trek movies since then to compare it with, and against some of them The Motion Picture compares … rather favourably. It was in that context that I wrote my little essay. Which practically no one read when it first came out, so here it is again:

Can-Con 2019 Schedule

Earlier today we got back from Scintillation, which went well. My co-panelists loved the book I chose (Angélica Gorodischer’s Trafalgar)1 and my presentation was very well received: one attendee called it the highlight of the convention, my friends asked questions so on-point that I’ll get an article out of them, and I made Greer Gilman happy. So there’s that.

Next up this weekend is Can-Con, Ottawa’s science fiction convention; this year they’re the hosting convention for Canvention, the Canadian national sf convention, and (as a result) the (English-language) Aurora Awards. I’ll be appearing on program again, twice—which is just the right amount for me. Read on for the details:

Friday, 18 October

6:00 PM Worldbuilding: Government and Politics (Salon E). Anatoly Belilovsky (moderator), Jonathan Crowe, Millie Ho, Stephen Graham King, Nisa Malli, Leo Valiquette. “There’s a whole category of science fiction and fantasy that centers on politics (like Game of Thrones) or incorporates political maneuvering heavily (like Battlestar Galactica or Babylon 5). How do you create a believable government that isn’t too heavy on worldbuilding? How can government’s idiosyncrasies and redundancies fit in without it always being a caricature? What is there to learn from contemporary political thrillers, and how well do they match the real world?”

Saturday, 19 October

7:00 PM Criticizing Criticism (Salon D). Jonathan Crowe (moderator), Shirley Meier, Michael Skeet, Una Verdandi. “In a world of Amazon and Goodreads reviews, is there a still a need and a place for the professional critic? Have critics been failing to keep pace with new technology and changes in how writing about writing is consumed, or has the craft become lost between the academic and the popular? How can critics and book reviewers reclaim the trust and attention of readers? In a world of algorithms and ‘5 stars!’, what is it that critical writers bring to the table that can’t be crowdsourced?”

Can-Con is sold out, so if you haven’t registered yet, too bad: you can’t. Better luck next year.

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