Neil Gaiman and Kazuo Ishiguro Debate on BBC Radio 4

You don’t build a convention panel around a softball question like “Are genre labels like ‘fantasy’ and ‘science fiction’ pejorative terms, or labels to be proud of?” unless your participants bring a built-in drama to the topic the way novelists Neil Gaiman and Kazuo Ishiguro did when they appeared in a 10-minute segment for BBC Radio 4 Today on May 28.

Gaiman reviewed Ishiguro’s new novel, The Buried Giant, in the New York Times in February, concluding that despite the craftsmanship it is “a novel that’s easy to admire, to respect and to enjoy, but difficult to love.”

And a few days before that, Ishiguro was quoted in an NYT interview pondering, “Will readers follow me into this? Will they understand what I’m trying to do, or will they be prejudiced against the surface elements? Are they going to say this is fantasy?” – a line which made Ursula Le Guin livid. She made the news with her reply – “Well, yes, they probably will. Why not? It appears that the author takes the word for an insult. To me that is so insulting, it reflects such thoughtless prejudice, that I had to write this piece in response.”

Ishiguro subsequently explained, “[Le Guin]’s entitled to like my book or not like my book, but as far as I am concerned, she’s got the wrong person. I am on the side of the pixies and the dragons,” and Le Guin withdrew her criticism: “I am delighted to let Mr Ishiguro make his own case, and to say I am sorry for anything that was hurtful in my evidently over-hasty response to his question ‘Will they think this is fantasy?’”

However, the volatile history between Ishiguro and two fantasy standard-bearers doubtless inspired Radio 4 to match the writers on the air, although the show’s video feed establishes that while the discussion was good, neither combatant left his corner…

Bradbury on the Menu

A Portlandia restaurant called The Rocking Frog Cafe pays tribute to Ursula Le Guin, Ray Bradbury and other writers with food items named for them.

Portlandia restaurant menu w Bradbury

One reviewer praised Ray’s entree:

My favorite coffeeshop so far has been the Rocking Frog, with their great vegan “Bradbury” sandwich.

Ray would have appreciated the honor even though his culinary preferences would have led him to order something else – or so a reliable informant tells me.

Le Guin Dramatizations
on BBC Radio 4

Ursula Le Guin. Photo by Eileen Gunn.

Ursula Le Guin. Photo by Eileen Gunn.

Two classic works by Ursula K. Le Guin adapted by BBC Radio 4 will air in April, The Left Hand of Darkness and The Wizard of Earthsea.

Accompanying these programs is a documentary about Le Guin’s influence on science fiction and fantasy presented by Naomi Alderman, with comments from authors Neil Gaiman and David Mitchell. The full 30-minute feature, and short introductory clips, are all online here.

The two episodes of The Left Hand of Darkness have already debuted and will continue to be available til mid-May.

The Left Hand of Darkness, Episode 1 (58 min.)

The Left Hand of Darkness, Episode 2 (58 min.)

The six-episode series of The Wizard of Earthsea will begin airing April 27, with each installment becoming available online after broadcast. Two short preview clips are available here.

Le Guin Presented National Book Foundation Medal

Gaiman and Le Guin at 2014 Nat Book Award

Neil Gaiman and Ursula K. Le Guin at the 2014 National Book Awards.

Ursula K. Le Guin received the 2014 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from the hands of Neil Gaiman at a ceremony in New York on November 19.

Reporters considered her 6-minute speech the highlight of an evening with no shortage of brilliant writers accepting awards.

According to National Public Radio:

Despite these wins, in many ways the 65th National Book Awards ceremony still belonged to beloved fantasy author Ursula K. Le Guin. LeGuin, the author of such classics as The Left Hand of Darkness and the Earthsea novels, got a standing ovation when she came on stage to accept an award for distinguished contributions to American letters.

Once she was onstage, she pulled no punches in a fiery speech about art and commerce. “We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience, and writers threatened by corporate fatwa,” LeGuin said. “And I see a lot of us, the producers, accepting this — letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant!”

She was referring to the recent dispute between Amazon and the publisher Hachette over e-book pricing. The power of capitalism can seem inescapable, LeGuin said, but resistance and change begin in art. And writers should demand their fair share of the proceeds from their work.

“The name of our beautiful reward is not profit. Its name is freedom.”

Huffington Post found her talk highly quotable:

“My fellow writers of the imagination … watched the beautiful awards go to the so-called realists.”
Le Guin voiced her feelings about genre — as a genre writer herself, she wishes science fiction and fantasy writers would be given due credit from critics and literary awards.

“We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings.”
She also chastised our tendency towards nonchalance concerning our country’s current economic state, saying that just because a social structure seems pervasive doesn’t mean it can’t be challenged.

“I think hard times are coming. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries, the realists of a larger reality.”
Le Guin’s speculations about the future have proven to be eerily correct in some cases, such as cross-continent communication, so when she says “hard times are coming,” it might be worth heeding her words of warning.

Le Guin To Receive National Book Award

Ursula K. Le Guin in 2013. Photo by R. Durburow.

Ursula K. Le Guin in 2013. Photo by R. Durburow.

Ursula K. Le Guin will receive the National Book Foundation’s 2014 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at a ceremony on November 19 in New York. Neil Gaiman will be the presenter.

Previous winners include Toni Morrison, Norman Mailer and Elmore Leonard.

Harold Augenbraum, the foundation’s executive director, commented:

Ursula Le Guin has had an extraordinary impact on several generations of readers and, particularly, writers in the United States and around the world. She has shown how great writing will obliterate the antiquated — and never really valid — line between popular and literary art. Her influence will be felt for decades to come.

The Associated Press says Le Guin agreeing to accept the award is itself a story.

She has criticized the “commercial machinery of best-sellerdom and prizedom” and mocked the idea of being “Nobel Prize Winner Soandso” or “Jane D. Wonthepulitzer.” But in a recent email to The Associated Press, she said that she was grateful for being Ursula K. Le Guin, honorary National Book Award winner.

“I’ve spoken against the whole winners-take-all concept of literary awards, but it’s the only game going,” she wrote, “and I’d be a curmudgeon not to see this award as an honor.”

2014 Sci-Fest Begins in Hollywood

SCI-FEST, the 1st Annual Los Angeles Science Fiction One-Act Play Festival, is in progress through June 1. Funded by a successful Kickstarter appeal, the goal is “to produce a beautifully realized, visually compelling festival of terrific new work featuring many well-known actors from your favorite Sci-Fi franchises.” (Link:

Some of those actors who are participating in the inaugural festival are:

  • TIM RUSS (Star Trek: Voyager) plays “General Lackluster” in “A-LI-EN THE FAMILY”
  • DAVID BLUE (series regular on Stargate:Universe) as “David” in “Forwarding Address”
  • Tony-Winner, L. SCOTT CALDWELL (Lost) takes the role of “She” in “THE WIFE’S STORY.”
  • DEAN HAGLUND (The X-File”) is “Hollis” in “KALEIDOSCOPE”
  • DAVID H. LAWRENCE, XVII (“Heroes”) is “The Announcer” in “A-LI-EN THE FAMILY”
  • MADISON McLAUGHLIN (recurring on Supernatural) plays “The Messenger”) in “Forwarding Address”

Two of the one-act plays are by sf stalwarts. The festival offers the first-ever stage adaptation of Ursula K. Le Guin’s tale of transformation, “The Wife’s Story.” There is also a new revival of Ray Bradbury’s chilling “Kaleidoscope.”

Sci-Fest is on stage at The Acme Theater, 135 N. La Brea Ave, Hollywood. There are two slates of one-act plays, plus miscellaneous comedy events.

EVENING A: Tuesday May 6-11; Tuesday May 20-25

FORWARDING ADDRESS by John-Paul Nickel.  Four friends receive a disturbing message from an even more disturbing messenger.  Directed by Jack Kenny (Warehouse 13). Cast — Carmen: Angeline Rose Troy; David: David Blue; Tina: Julie McNiven; Mike: Greg Duke; The Messenger: Madison McLaughlin.

FREEDOM OF SPEECH by Adam Esquenazi Douglas.  A political prisoner and his automated captor struggle for ultimate control.  Directed by Jon Kroll (Amanda & the Alien). Cast — The Patient: James Kyson; The Voice: Pauley Perrette.

THE RINGER by Minnesota Plates.  The survivors of an alien invasion strike a horrifying bargain to stay alive.  Directed by Jim Fall (Trick). Cast — Edward: David Dean Bottrell; Max: Jakob Wedel.

KALEIDOSCOPE. Sci-Fest presents an innovative revival of Ray Bradbury’s visionary and timeless classic.  Seven astronauts’ routine mission turns deadly when their craft is destroyed, leaving them adrift in space.  A terrifying, poignant masterpiece by one of the Grand Masters of Sci-Fi.  Directed by Pat Towne (Frank Zappa’s Joe’s Garage). Cast — Hollis: Dean Haglund; Stone: Rico E. Anderson; Stimson: Frederik Hamel; Applegate: Philip Anthony-Rodriguez; Lespere: Patricia Tallman; Barkley: Sheetal Gandhi; Woode: Alex Rapport; 1st Boy: Zachary Haven; 2nd Boy: Murphy Towne

EVENING B: May 13 -May 18; May 27- June 1

FOR THE LIVING by Chie-Hoon Lee.  A young woman awakens after a terrible accident to discover she’s not quite the person she was before.  Directed by Rob Hollocks (The Watcher). Cast — Kara: Sarah-Jane Dalby; Ethan: Tyler Vickers; Varley: Alan Polonski.

THE WIFE’S STORY by Ursula K. Le Guin.  A distrustful wife follows her mate into the woods only to discover a far darker secret than she ever imagined. Directed by Philippe Mora (The Howling II & III). Cast — She: L. Scott Caldwell.

TELL ME WHO YOU SEE by Scott T. Barsotti.  A young widow finds that her grief has opened a portal through which something resembling her dead husband is trying to return.  Directed by Jeff Liu (Yellowface). Cast — Anne: Angela Lin; Lily: Camille Mana; The Mass: West Liang.

SMOOTH LANDINGS by Soren Kisiel.  An office meeting is called to determine what direction the company should take now that the entire world has been destroyed.  Directed by Jane Morris (Behind the Candelabra). Cast — The Boss: Bruno Oliver; Smith: Matt Doherty; Evie: Lilly Holleman; Adams: Jeff Gum.

A-LI-EN THE FAMILY by Michael Bernard.  A pair of star-crossed lovers (from different planets) create havoc in a small town in this hilarious “live” radio play.  Directed by Dan Castellaneta (The Simpsons). Cast — Narrator: David H. Lawrence, XVII; Bobby / Gleep / Pettigrew: Ron Morehouse; Marilyn: Jasika Nicole; General Lackluster: Tim Russ; Spitznerggle: Erich Lane; Splaka: Armin Shimerman; Bizamzibot: Nelson Ascencio.

COMEDY EVENTS: May 9-11; May 16-18




 MAY 23 -25


 MAY 30 – 31


The  Sci-Fest Advisory Board members are: René Auberjonois, Actor, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Dean Haglund, Actor, The X-Files, Jack Kenny, Exec. Producer, Warehouse 13, Eddie McClintock, Actor, Warehouse 13, Philippe Mora, Film Director, Communion, The Howling II & III, Nichelle Nichols, Actor & Icon, Star Trek, Jaime Paglia, Series Creator, Eureka, Mitch Peleggi, Actor, The X-Files, Allison Scagliotti, Actor, Warehouse 13, Mark Stern, Independent Producer, Jason Weisberger, Publisher, Boing Boing, Wil Wheaton, Actor, Icon, Star Trek: TNG, Adrienne Wilkinson, Actor, Xena, Warrior Princess.

Le Guin’s Time Machine

Ursula K. Le Guin has contributed another entertaining and lighthearted post to Book View Café — Pard and the Time Machine:

People who think of me as a Sci Fi Writer will not be surprised to hear that there is a time machine in my study. So far it hasn’t transported me among the Eloi and the Morlocks or back among the dinosaurs. Fine with me. I’ll take the time I got, thanks. All my Time Machine does is save stuff from my computer and provide interest and occupation to my cat.

Even in jest, it’s not often one of the greats refers to him- or herself as a “Sci Fi Writer.” I think my beanie propeller did a 360 when I read that.

Today in History

March 31, 1969: Slaughterhouse Five published.

People are expected to respond as if it’s the height of irony when they’re told Vonnegut’s novel, ranked by the Modern Library as #18 on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century, lost both the 1970 Hugo and Nebula awards to Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. I like both books, and see no reason 1970’s award voters need to blush.

Copyright 2014 by File 770

Le Guin Receives Ken Kesey Award

Ursula K. Le Guin is the winner of the 2014 Ken Kesey Award for Fiction from Portland-based Literary Arts, which annually celebrates notable Oregon writers in their Oregon Book Awards & Oregon Literary Fellowships program. Le Guin was honored for The Unreal and The Real: Collected Stories Vol. 1 and 2.

This is her second Oregon Book Award, the other given in 1992 for her novel Searoad.

“I am delighted that The Unreal and the Real was given the Oregon Book Award for fiction,” said Le Guin. “I presented the fiction award at the first OBA ceremony, in 1987 — it was the H.L. Davis Award then, and as I remarked last night, to me it still is…. The audience was, as always, large, friendly, and unruly. Portland really is a great town for book people, and Oregon Literary Arts is a great part of it.”

[From a Book View Cafe press release.]

Tarpinian: 2013 Eaton Conference in Progress

Professor Philip Nichols giving his lecture on the script writing styles of Ray Bradbury and Harlan Ellison

Professor Philip Nichols giving his lecture on the script writing styles of Ray Bradbury and Harlan Ellison

By John King Tarpinian: Every two years UC Riverside hosts the Eaton Science Fiction Conference. I’ve had attended in past years when they gave their Lifetime Achievement Awards to Ray Bradbury (2008) and Frederik Pohl (2009).

Conferences over the four days would start at 8:30 a.m. and continue until 8:30 p.m., running in six rooms at once. If one can get Sci-Fi overload this would have been the place to be. A list of topics: “Gods, Monsters in Science Fiction Television,” “Queering the Genre,” “Octavia E. Butler,” “Superhero Controversies in Comics and Television,” and so on and so forth. Larry Niven and David Brin are among the writers in attendance. For a more detailed list of the event meander over to:

This year’s Lifetime Achievement Awards are going to Ursula K. Le Guin (2012), Ray Harryhausen (2013) and Stan Lee (2013). They will be honored at the Saturday evening banquet.

On Friday I took a day trip to hear a lecture by a friend of mine, Phil Nichols, a UK Professor from the University of Wolverhampton. Phil lectured, along with Julian Hoxter & Michael Joseph Klein who gave papers on scripts in Science Fiction. Phil specifically talked about the diverse script writing styles of Ray Bradbury & Harlan Ellison. Ray’s scriptwriting was honed by writing Moby Dick for John Huston but his first official script was for It Came from Outer Space. Harlan’s style was developed in the early 60s with is TV writing from the Alfred Hitchcock Hour through Star Trek and a script for Masters of Science Fiction.

As in books, Ray used metaphors for camera direction (sample scripts were shown on the screen), what today is called a spec-script. Ray’s scripts would allow for more input for the director. Harlan, on the other hand, would number each scene and have very specific directions as to shooting the scene. Harlan would go as far as to specify if a scene was an interior or exterior show.

I was not consulted when they selected the dates for the conference so after having lunch with my friend that was it for the day. She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed was off on a photo safari in Death Valley and guess who had to get home to walk the dogs? Maybe the best end to a good day was getting a souvenir LASFS bookmark.

2013 Eaton Conference poster.

2013 Eaton Conference poster.

Eaton conference panel schedule.

Display at  2013 Eaton Conference.

Display at 2013 Eaton Conference.

Display at  2013 Eaton Conference.

Display at 2013 Eaton Conference.

Display at  2013 Eaton Conference.

Display at 2013 Eaton Conference.