In “Staying Behind,” by Ken Liu, the majority of the Earth’s population has uploaded their minds to a higher digital plane, leaving a bloody, battered body. The Uploaded, the dead, keep trying to steal the children of those who chose to stay behind. Continue reading
This collection by Maureen F. McHugh tours the world, with stops in a variety of settings that have been subjected to or are in the middle of some of cataclysmic event of a supernatural, natural, or manmade kind. Six of the nine stories are reprints, the remaining three make their first appearance in this compendium published by Small Beer Press. Continue reading
Tor’s offerings for August include three pieces, one long and two short, which lean more towards science fiction rather than fantasy. The fourth, excerpted from a collection, is purely fantastic. Continue reading
From welcoming gardens, to famous musicians, to wolf men and crow men and exotic maids, the nine stories in this issue of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet are tied together by unreliable narrators and things that are not as they seem.
In “Trois morceaux en forme de mechanika,” by Gord Sellar, the end began when the first mechanika butchered its maker. Within a few generations humanity’s accomplishments became little more than relics in museums. Continue reading
This issue of Asimov’s features a wide range of stories, from post-apocalyptic settings, to deep space, to plague-ridden colony worlds. Several of the stories cover grim material and feature disturbing characters.
July’s selection of short stories from Tor include one fantasy, and two other tales which both seem to be children’s literature. Yet seeming can be deceiving, and although probably one might read these to their children with no harm done, this is adult fare.
In “Dala Horse”, Michael Swanwick offers us a fairly short story of a far future, told from the viewpoint of a little girl in Sweden who is told by her parents to run to her grandmother’s house in a nearby town to escape some calamity. Five-year-olds might not understand all that much of what’s happening around them, or how strange and wonderful to the readers are the things they might take for granted, yet which may hold surprising secrets for them. We see some classic Swanwickian elements in this piece, such as extremely advanced technology unobtrusively embedded in seemingly everyday artifacts, in more than a slight return to the universes of Vacuum Flowers and Stations of the Tide.
The story is written with the simplicity and attention to process and detail that are required in a good children’s story. Things start at the beginning and move right along in a way a child could follow, in a linear way with little use of such techniques as foreshadowing or flashback, other than in the conversations of the adults. For adults who have read Stations of the Tide, this story might fill in the blanks on some aspects of that tale, but this piece is good as a standalone. In this future, technology is so advanced that it might seem magical to us although to the little girl it is unremarkable. Apparel and utensils, and even toys, provide information and most of them obey orders. Yet this isn’t a perfect world. As smart as are the tools and toys, there are far smarter and more powerful things, and our little girl discovers that some of them can be very dangerous, far more so than even the worst of human beings, one of which she too closely encounters. It’s a fine bedtime story for the inner child in even the most jaded adult technophiles. Best of all, it has something which quite resembles a happy ending.
Michael Bishop offers us a piece called “Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes”, written for David G Hartwell on the occasion of his seventieth birthday. Despite Bishop’s impeccable literary talent, which he brandishes throughout the piece, this is one of those works that forcefully reminds me why I’d usually rather read a collection of stories that won or were in contention for the Hugo, as opposed to those which are admired by other artists for the artistry. This is a “symmetrina”, a work made up of thematically linked shorter narratives, in a rather demanding framework of rules regarding length and person. One of the central narratives appears to be a rather lengthy set-up for a shaggy-dog story, and halfway through it, I was expecting that at any moment I’d see a punchline with some pun so atrocious that I’d have to stomp my laptop to death. Fortunately that punchline failed to materialize. Don’t be dismayed, and fail to read it, though this is far less a work for the reader and far more for the other authors, and even discusses to some degree which audience should be intended to be more impressed. This was written in honor of one of the most influential editors of our time, and might be seen more as a carefully crafted gift than as entertainment for folks who are less concerned about style and more interested in plot. If literary technical mastery interests you, this would be a good piece to study.
At the other end of the spectrum of my preferences in literary SF&F, we have “The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland – For a Little While”, by Catherynne M Valente. Set deep in Fairyland, the plot is a bit slow to appear in this rather long piece. Yet don’t be in such a hurry to get to the plot. This is the sort of piece you savor like a fine tea served piping hot in the manner of old-school teatime, when it was far less about the tea and far more about the ambience of an hour well-spent in the company of good friends in the garden at its peak on a peaceful old estate.There’s a great deal of fine scene-setting to be done in this story before it can be moved forward, and Valente takes her time to set the stage, lovingly and with great skill.
In this masterful piece, eventually the tea is served and the story is developed apace, about a reclusive young lady who wants nothing more than to study her books and learn her magic in a pleasant isolation. Yet when all of Fairyland is summoned by the King to gather for the World’s Foul and the Tithe, as with all else, she too must attend. During her journey she meets and falls in with some fascinating Folk and even demi-gods and their leonine steeds, all gathering at the world’s fair of Fairyland, the World’s Foul. It’s all the more troubling to her that nobody seems to know, or to be willing to tell her, what exactly is this Tithe. The general consensus seems to be that it will be something horrid but it turns out to be actually worse. How can all of this be resolved?
This is, in many ways, the sort of tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, though set down with far greater detail to literary merits. Valente’s wordsmithery here is exquisite as is her deep and broad knowledge of the Fairy Folk of all sorts. I found it to be slow reading, mostly because I insisted on lingering over every finely turned phrase and well-constructed allegorical element, savoring the magic down to the last drop.
Lavie Tidhar is an award-winning genre writer of Israeli origin. I asked him about his short fiction, one of his most recent novel-length works, Osama, the World Fantasy Award-nominated World SF blog, and his role with the World SF Travel Fund.
An Interview with Kevin J. Anderson on his trip to the UAE, sci-fi in the Middle East by Arafaat Ali Khan, and finding time to write
You visited the UAE recently, what did you think of sci-fi fans from this region as compared other parts of the world that you frequent?
The difficult availability of Arabic translations of major science fiction and fantasy novels has always made it problematic for Arabic speakers to read the most important works in the genre. I have written many books in the Dune universe with the son of the original author Frank Herbert; Dune is the single best-selling science fiction novel of all time, and has been made into two films… and yet I don’t believe it has been translated into Arabic. When I visited the UAE, I was surprised to find that many of the science fiction fans I spoke with were not familiar with it.
However, many English books are available for import, and those are widely read. I was very surprised and thrilled to have long and involved conversations with other fans who are so completely dedicated to the genre. We were glad to introduce some of my works to new readers, and most importantly to exchange ideas with people from a different culture, which sparked a lot of story possibilities!
The Dune series of books takes a lot of elements from what seems like the Arabic language and culture – the most famous I imagine would be (Paul) Muad’Dib. Do you research Middle Eastern/Arabic references when creating new names, places etc.?
Frank Herbert originally created Dune, and I know he studied Arabic language, culture, and religions extensively (although I don’t believe he traveled in the Middle East). He was very astute in extrapolating the culture and influence into the far future. For the further Dune books I’ve written with Brian Herbert, I’ve tried to do my research to pick up on the details and way of life; in addition to the UAE, I’ve been to Qatar, Morocco, Turkey, and Egypt. Now, remember, these stories take place tens of thousands of years in the future, across many planets, so the details can’t be exactly the same are they are in everyday modern life, but the flavor should be correct.
If you could give just one piece of advice to budding fiction writers in the region what would it be?
You have more opportunities now than ever before in the history of the genre. Thanks to the wide dissemination of fiction as ebooks, as serialized stories on websites, a writer’s location is no longer any sort of hindrance. Get involved with other writers worldwide on social networking sites, on discussion groups, and submit stories to publications, whether they are based in the US, the UK, or anywhere else. I think fantasy and SF readers are very interested in stories with Muslim/Arabic/Middle-Eastern influences.
What got you started and at what point did you think you could make a career from writing sci-fi and fantasy?
I knew I wanted to be a writer from the time I was a child. I started writing stories when I was eight years old, and just kept writing them. Many people were practical and discouraged me, pointing out that it was extremely unlikely I could ever make a living as a writer. Our cliche is of unemployed, nearly starving writers struggling to get their novel published. But I never gave up. I took a full-time job as a writer of brochures, papers, posters, and articles for a research laboratory, which paid the bills, and I wrote stories and novels in my spare time. Eventually, I did get them published, and they began to earn me money, and within years I became a Real Writer.
What’s the most challenging part of the creative process?
This might sound strange, but the hardest part is finding the blocks of time. I write very large, epic novels with many storylines and countless details of alien or fantasy worlds. But when I’m trying to write, I have so many other obligations, interviews, appearances, phone calls, and the like that it’s nearly impossible to carve out the time and find hours just to concentrate on my big stories. Sometimes, that gets frustrating!
With fantasy in particular it must be difficult to create original characters and story lines-how do you do it and is it important to be ‘original’-i.e. who cares so long as it’s a good story!?
Millions of stories and novels have been published since the beginning of the science fiction genre. I don’t think you can find anything that hasn’t been done in some fashion before. But when I write a story or a novel, I do it in my own personal way, adding my touch to it. I think the most important thing is to tell a compelling story, with plot twists, engaging characters, interesting settings, and maybe something meaningful thematically. If the readers enjoy it, then I have succeeded.
Sci-fi and fantasy continues to grow as a percentage of book sales-what do you think the appeal is to fans?
I think we all like good stories with imaginative settings. When I was a kid, very few mainstream people ever admitted to reading sci-fi and fantasy, but then came the popularity of Lord of the Rings, and Dune, and Star Wars, and suddenly everybody enjoyed it. We love to be entertained by something different than our daily lives-and SF delivers the right stuff.
With the launch of Game of Thrones on HBO and a number of other fantasy series rumoured to be in production, do you expect a boost in new authors/titles?
I certainly hope so. Game of Thrones is about the best I can imagine for a long-standing fantasy series, and it opens many doors, proving that we can create an epic-length story with sustained quality, something much more than a single movie and not designed to be episodic ‘adventure of the week.’ (I only hope someone gets interested in my Saga of Seven Suns!)
So, we know the inspiration for these awards has been covered elsewhere, for example on New Zealand author Helen Lowe’s blog, but I am curious how the board and the first year’s jurors came together. Also, it sounds from the FAQ on the website like you are going to have different jurors every year?
It was a process of recommendation, I guess. Gary Wolfe and I were on board from the start, and Gary recommended the folks at UC Riverside as he knew they had an interest in translations. I recommended Kevin Standlee as someone who could help us navigate the processes of setting up a non-profit organization, filing taxes and so on. And then the various Board members recommended people who they thought would make good jurors. Continue reading