Paul Kincaid’s From the Other Side, March 2014: The Arthur C. Clarke Award shortlist, Diana Wynne Jones’ The Islands of Chaldea, Ken MacLeod’s Descent, and Nick Mamatas’ The Last WeekendPosted: 28 March, 2014
From the Other Side: March 2014
By Paul Kincaid
Why is it that every time I go to a science fiction party it turns out to be in a cellar bar with a low ceiling and loud music, so I spend all of my time trying to make out what the person I’m talking to has actually said? That’s exactly what happened at the party to announce the shortlist for this year’s Arthur C. Clarke Award. So I think I heard Ian Waites of NewCon Press tell me that the collection of non-fiction by Adam Roberts, for which I have written the introduction, will be one of four titles he is launching at Loncon 3. Or it could be one of three titles he is launching at Eastercon next month. Or he could have been saying something else entirely.
At least the music was turned off for the announcements. The evening began with a series of people announcing science fiction events happening in the UK over the course of the year. The Worldcon is, of course, the big event, but we were told about an awful lot of other things happening around that. The SciFi London Film Festival is bigger than ever, with a challenge to make an sf film in two days. And the BFI (British Film Institute) is planning a major season of science fiction film later in the year.
As for the Arthur C. Clarke Award shortlist, that seems to have been far better received than either of the last couple of years. As always, no-one was able to predict the list, even if it was less eccentric than some have been. There was some surprise at the inclusion of the Philip Mann and Ramez Naam, and maybe a little muttering at the omission of Paul McAuley’s Evening’s Empires and Marcel Theroux’s Strange Bodies (both of which strike me as being eminently Clarke-worthy novels), but in general it’s a strong list. As for the eventual winner (due to be announced at the beginning of May), I have a sense it could be between the Ann Leckie and the Christopher Priest; but Clarke Award juries have a long tradition of blindsiding us all.
One final note, while we’re on the subject of awards: the deadline for Hugo Award nominations is 31st March, so if you want to see your favourites on the ballot, it’s time to act.
As for the new books of the month, the most pleasing is probably The Islands of Chaldea from HarperCollins. It was left unfinished by Diana Wynne Jones when she died in 2011, but now it has been completed by her sister, Ursula Jones, and for anyone who has read anything by Diana Wynne Jones the chance to read just one more magical novel has to be recommendation enough. It has all the hallmarks of her best work, the invention, the humour, the warmth and the wisdom, so I probably don’t need to add that it’s the story of a girl whose magical powers refuse to come, until she has to take part in a seemingly impossible expedition. But really: it’s Diana Wynne Jones, nothing else needs to be said.
The biggest book of the month has to be Descent by Ken MacLeod (Orbit). Like his previous novel, the Clarke-shortlisted Intrusion, it’s a near-future political novel about the intrusion of shadowy authority figures into ordinary life. This time it starts with what seems to be an encounter with a UFO, but it soon becomes more about issues of belief and control. It has to be said that I don’t think this is anywhere near as good as Intrusion, but as is typical of Ken MacLeod it is a gripping story that forces you to think about some very complex issues.
And something of an oddity. Unless I am very much mistaken, to date none of Nick Mamatas’s books have received British publication; certainly, I’ve only ever seen them from American imprints. But now, PS Publishing has brought out The Last Weekend, and so far as I can see there is no American edition. It’s a novel that starts with a zombie apocalypse, then throws in all sorts of conspiracies, as the blurb says: ‘sparing no cliché about tortured artists, alcoholic ‘genius’, noir action heroes, survivalist dogma, or starry-eyed California dreaming’. It’ll be interesting to see how the UK responds to this full-on assault of bleak comedy.
While I’m on the subject of books, I suppose I should mention that my own new collection of reviews, Call And Response (Beccon), will be available by Easter. There’s a chance I may mention this again next month.
British sf critic Paul Kincaid is the author of What It Is We Do When We Read Science Fiction. He has won both the Thomas D. Clareson Award and the BSFA Non-Fiction Award. A new collection of reviews, Call And Response (Beccon) will be available by Easter. [Editor's note: This happens to be the 200th blog post at bullspec.com. Happy it has Paul, Nick, and Diana Wynne Jones in it.]
I’ve had the pleasure of publishing Durham author Jen McConnel‘s poem “Enchantment” way back in Issue #4 (hat tip as always to poetry editor Dan Campbell) and in watching her career grow and bloom in the years since and let me tell you, she’s currently on quite the upswing. Her September 2012 “New Adult” novel The Burning of Isobel Key was republished as The Secret of Isobel Key in December by Bloomsbury Spark (and produced in audio by Audible for Bloomsbury), and today she starts a new series with Daughter of Chaos (Red Magic, #1) from Raleigh-based Month9Books [IndieBound | Kobo | Kindle]. Once again McConnel sets her sights on the young adult / new adult reader, this time with a contemporary Durham-set story of witches and choices:
“There comes a time in every witch’s life when she must choose her path. Darlena’s friends have already chosen, so why is it so hard for her to make up her mind? Now, Darlena is out of time. Under pressure from Hecate, the queen of all witches, Darlena makes a rash decision to choose Red magic, a path no witch in her right mind would dare take. As a Red witch, she will be responsible for chaos and mayhem, drawing her deep into darkness. Will the power of Red magic prove too much for Darlena, or will she learn to control it before it’s too late?”
One thing I like about the opening of this book is that there’s no time spent explaining, “hey, my name is Darlena, and I’m a witch, and we have alchemy classes” — we just see her grade on her recent alchemy test and since we can fill in so much by simple inference, McConnel lets us do that work without spelling it out for us. That’s something I appreciate in a book, particularly one written for teens.
So! Congratulations to McConnel on the publication of her latest book. You can join in on some of the fun via her virtual launch Facebook event and catch her at The Regulator Bookshop on Wednesday, April 30th. (Note: this had been scheduled for April 9th.)
Beautiful Curse, McConnel’s contemporary retelling of the myth of Psyche and Cupid, is due out in December from Swoon Romance.
Monday Musings: N.K. Jemisin in Statesville this weekend, and Lev Grossman and Junot Diaz kick of the NC Literary Festival next week!Posted: 24 March, 2014
Monday, March 24, 2014: Via regular contributors The Exploding Spaceship comes news that Statesville, NC’s Mitchell Community College will host award-winning author N.K. Jemisin this weekend (Friday March 28 and Saturday March 29) as part of the 2014 Doris Betts Spring Writers Festival. There are author readings, (free!) writing workshops, and more. If you’re in the Piedmont area, check it out!
Meanwhile, here in the Triangle we’re getting very ready and very excited about next week’s North Carolina Literary Festival, kicking off with featured readings by Lev Grossman (Thursday, April 3, 7:30 pm) and Junot Diaz (Friday, April 4, 7 pm) ahead of a weekend packed with panelists such as Peter Straub, Karen Joy Fowler, John Kessel, R.L. Stine, and many, many more, all free — though some events, like the Junot Diaz reading, require free pre-registration.
More? Here’s the latest handout flyer [handout-2014-03-20.pdf] of upcoming events, including the just-announced Flyleaf Books event with Ann VanderMeer, set for April 21. As always, check the latest newsletter for the most comprehensive listings of events and book releases!
Fantastic news, everyone! On Monday, April 21, Chapel Hill’s Flyleaf Books hosts award-winning editor Ann VanderMeer for a discussion of her just-released anthology The Time Traveler’s Almanac. Published last year in the UK, this new definitive anthology of time travel stories gets a fantastic US release from Tor; read the preface at The Onion’s AV Club and Jason Sheehan’s review for NPR. And check out this cover:
“The Time Traveler’s Almanac is the largest and most definitive collection of time travel stories ever assembled. Gathered into one volume by intrepid chrononauts and world-renowned anthologists Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, this book compiles more than a century’s worth of literary travels into the past and the future that will serve to reacquaint readers with beloved classics of the time travel genre and introduce them to thrilling contemporary innovations. This marvelous volume includes nearly seventy journeys through time from authors such as Douglas Adams, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, William Gibson, Ursula K. Le Guin, George R. R. Martin, Michael Moorcock, H. G. Wells, and Connie Willis, as well as helpful non-fiction articles original to this volume (such as Charles Yu’s “Top Ten Tips For Time Travelers”). In fact, this book is like a time machine of its very own, covering millions of years of Earth’s history from the age of the dinosaurs through to strange and fascinating futures, spanning the ages from the beginning of time to its very end. The Time Traveler’s Almanac is the ultimate anthology for the time traveler in your life.”
VanderMeer has been such a supportive (and frequent!) visitor to the Triangle area — this is her 3rd event here in the past several years, from reading “The Bear Gun” (from The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities) at Fullsteam Brewery a few years ago to last summer’s appearance at Quail Ridge Books for an event supporting The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories. Spread the word!
Durham author Mur Lafferty already had a handful and a half novels out in the world when, last year, she both had her “debut” novel published by Orbit, The Shambling Guide to New York City, and she won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer at the Hugo Awards at the World Science Fiction Convention. Not a bad year, eh? Still, after all the books and the stories, she had to go back to the drawing board — again and again — to get a particular plot point right for book 2 in her Shambling Guides series, Ghost Train to New Orleans, out earlier this month.
By Mur Lafferty:
In Book 1 of The Shambling Guides, the love interest, monster hunter and plumber Arthur, gets bitten by a zombie. They find someone who can give him magic herbs to hold off the curse, so long as he takes the herb for the rest of his life. But heck, diabetics have to do something similar, only insulin isn’t magic, so it’s not a big deal, right? Read the rest of this entry »
SF that didn’t peg the engineer’s baloney meter!
Just a quick note of explanation, both of these novels use alternate reality as a way to get around some glaring scientific issues with their universes (one deals with FTL and the other with the Large Hadron Collider). I like my hard science fiction, but these days you can’t really write some types of stories using hard science unless you make up some new science. The trick is to add new science into the story in a way which doesn’t trip the baloney meter of us real science and engineering types. As a bonus both of my favorite SF reads in recent months were by new female SF authors, this is such a rare occurence that I had to feature them in a column here!
Ascension: A Tangled Axon Novel by Jacqueline Koyanagi (Masque, December 2013)
First of all, Your Humble Reviewers rarely buy books from authors and publishers we don’t know. This trade paperback had made its way to our local Barnes & Noble’s new SF section, it had a hot babe in a cool spacesuit on the cover and the blurb indicated that said hot babe was a techie. Okay, so it looked interesting but we had come to the store to buy something else, so we left without it. A couple of days later, having polished off the urban fantasies we had bought that day, I was wishing for that new space opera. Rarely do I find a new author who can do that genre correctly and not make me want to throw it across the room from the magitech used, but the cover and blurb of this one made me think this might be one of the good ones. Besides, as much as I dislike the way B&N decides what to stock, sometimes their system does work and a new gem will surface in the new section, which I would not have found on my own. I did something I haven’t done in years, I drove back to the store (its 25 miles away) just to get that book. Read the rest of this entry »
The Exploding Spaceship Reviews Some Recent Good Urban Fantasy Reads: The Cormorant, Black Arts and Ghost Train to New OrleansPosted: 15 March, 2014
The Cormorant by Chuck Wendig (Angry Robot, January 2014)
This urban fantasy/hard-boiled thriller stars Miriam Black, a woman with the paranormal talent of precisely predicting the date, time, and circumstances of anyone’s death. She does some illegal things to survive, usually conning or stealing from the unfortunate who wants to know about his or her demise.
Miriam and the people she encounters all get gleefully skewered, folded, spindled, stapled, and mutilated by Wendig; there is kidnapping, torture, and a paranormally-sensitive cormorant (yes, the bird.) in this story, as well as an appearance by Miriam’s mother, who is supposedly one of the reasons that Miriam left home. Miriam has one ally who genuinely likes her and helps her out, and since he manages to survive the story we may see him and his run-down Florida hotel again.
Miriam Black is a bad-girl heroine who has some serious issues because of all the morbid and gruesome imagery she has seen in her head. Her primary goal is survival, so she tends to follow the money, which always seems quite elusive. And when the con is on the other foot, Miriam does not react well at all, because people she likes are getting hurt, not just her.
Wendig has set his tale in a world of thrift-store shopping, seedy motels, fast food, public or stolen transportation, petty theft, and repeatedly experiencing messy and painful death; this is a far cry from the usual middle-class apartment, nice car, nice wardrobe and steady paychecks usually seen in urban fantasy. It’s action-packed, has a heroine who is best described as bat-shit crazy, and an engaging, twisty plot, but it isn’t for the faint of heart: Wendig pulls no punches, and some of the vile imagery he describes may have you reaching for the brain bleach more than once.
The Cormorant is Wendig’s third Miriam Black novel, and Your Humble Reviewers are sure that he will be gleefully torturing his protagonist in another volume. Wendig’s urban fantasy is much like his blog posts: well-written, profane, irreverent and hilarious, and never fails to keep you coming back for more.