(1) THE YOUTH ARE BACK. James Davis Nicoll kicks off Phase II of Young People Review Old SFF with a 1909 tale.
In the hope of selecting more accessible works, I crowd-sourced my selections and now provide my readers with more (well, any) background information on the pieces.
The first Phase II story comes from an author not generally thought of as an SFF author. E. M. Forster is perhaps best known for mainstream works like Howard’s End, A Passage to India and A Room with a View. Forster did write fantastic fiction, however. 1909’s “The Machine Stops” is the one Sfnal work of his many who rarely venture outside SF have read, thanks to all the genre anthologies that featured it. Set in a wired world not too dissimilar to our own, it hides its age well. Or so it seems to me.
(2) MUSICAL INTERLUDE. The band Clppng, whose album Splendor & Misery is a Best Dramatic: Short Form Hugo nominee, will perform in Helsinki at Worldcon 75.
(3) INSIDE LOOK. Dominic Parisien tells Black Gate readers “The Strategy Behind Disabled Stories: The What, Why, and How (but Mostly How) of Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction”.
When I started writing this article my face was spotted with burst blood cells. Earlier in the day I’d had one of my violent convulsive episodes. I was exhausted and aching but I meant to write, because it felt appropriate, topical. I’m here, after all, to write about Uncanny Magazine’s Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction issue.
But I couldn’t muster the energy for more than a few lines. I lacked the spoons.
The project description goes like this: Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction is a continuation of the Destroy series in which we, disabled members of the science fiction community, will put ourselves where we belong: at the center of the story. Often, disabled people are an afterthought, a punchline, or simply forgotten in the face of new horizons, scientific discovery, or magical invention. We intend to destroy ableism and bring forth voices, narratives, and truths most important to disabled writers, editors, and creators with this special issue.
My colleagues will have guest posts and blog posts going up across a number of venues, and many of them will focus on the importance of representation, of disabled people placing ourselves at the centre of the narrative, of telling our own stories. For my part, I want to discuss the creative process for our project.
(4) ONGOING ACCESS PROBLEMS. Nicola Griffith has issued “An open letter to all writing programmes, workshops, and retreats”.
Everything you do—classes, retreats, workshops—should be accessible. Many of you are not.
I’ve heard all your excuses: But we love the quaint/rustic/boho vibe, and that will be ruined if we have to change! But we can’t have our woods/private chef/coziness if we move to an accessible space! But it’s important we give the students an inexpensive experience, and access costs money!
I have no sympathy for your excuses. To disabled writers like me it does not matter how beautiful/cosy/inexpensive your traditional/sorority/in-the-woods space is because we can’t access it. If we can’t visit, to teach or write, then it’s not beautiful or welcoming or inexpensive, it is a fenced enclosure with a huge red sign on the gate saying CRIPPLES KEEP OUT.
(5) BOMBS AWAY. Ann Hornaday’s story in the Washington Post, “Are movie reviews just more ‘fake news’? Some studios want you to think so.”, covers about Sony’s effort to suppress reviews for The Emoji Movie, which only got a score of 8 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and is sinking at the box office. She notes that efforts by studios to produce “critic-proof” films have led to John Carter, The Mummy, Battleship, and other “high-profile bombs.”
“What other wide release with a [Tomatometer] score under 8 percent has opened north of $20 million? I don’t think there is one,” said Josh Greenstein, president of worldwide marketing and distribution at Sony, when McClintock interviewed him. He sounded as proud as a farmer who had just sold a poke full of pigs to an unsuspecting butcher.
Greenstein may not have taken into full account the hair-tearing desperation of parents eager to distract kids whose last PG-rated animated movie was “Despicable Me 3” in late June. And he might find that his enthusiasm has dropped just as vertiginously as “The Emoji Movie’s” box office numbers, which by Monday had already plunged by more than 50 percent, indicating cataclysmic word of mouth. No matter: Sony’s following a similar playbook this week with another late-screener, “The Dark Tower,” hoping to beat discouraging reviews to the punch with the brand names of Stephen King, Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. (As of this writing, with 20 critics reporting, the sci-fi fantasy had earned a 20 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, along with a prominent green splat.)
(6) DOES ALL MEAN ‘ALL’? Variety’s Gene Maddaus, in “Judge Allows Lawsuit Claiming James Bond Box Set Was Incomplete”, says a judge in the state of Washington has ruled that Mary L. Johnson’s lawsuit against MGM can proceed to a jury trial. Johnson said MGM violated the state of Washington’s Consumer Protection Act because she ordered a “Complete James Bond” boxed set from Amazon for $106 and didn’t get the 1967 Casino Royale or Never Say Never Again.
In his opinion, Martinez declined to dismiss the claim at this stage, and said a jury would have to decide whether the term was misleading.
“A jury must determine whether a reasonable person would expect ‘Casino Royale’ and ‘Never Say Never Again’ to be included in a complete set of James Bond films,” Martinez wrote. “From the Defendants’ perspective, this claim will have to ‘Die Another Day.’”
(7) THE BIG BUCKS. Forbes has updated their annual guesstimates about what the top authors earned for the 12 months ending May 31, 2017. With new books, a play and more movies, J.K. Rowling returns to the top of their list –
- JK Rowling $95 million
- James Patterson $87 million
- Jeff Kinney $21 million
- Dan Brown $20 million
- Stephen King $15 million
- John Grisham $14 million
- Nora Roberts $14 million
- Paula Hawkins $13 million
- EL James $11.5 million
- Danielle Steel $11 million
- Rick Riordan $11million
(8) GOODREADS. It’s the heart of the awards season, so no wonder the Goodreads Blog has decided to celebrate this as “Science Fiction & Fantasy Week”.
- Readers’ Top 50 Sci-Fi Novels From Ender to the hapless Arthur Dent, to returning to beloved worlds created by Ursula K. Le Guin, Isaac Asimov, Octavia Butler, and many more.
The bar needed to be high. Every book on our list has at least a 4.0 average rating from Goodreads members. Unfortunately, this means that dinosaur king himself Michael Crichton failed to make the cut, along with other big names in the genre like Kim Stanley Robinson, William Gibson, and H.G. Wells. But while some classics may be missing, recent favorites from Emily St. John Mandel, Nnedi Okorafor, and Pierce Brown round out the list.
- Readers’ Top 50 Fantasy Novels Go there and back again with novels full of legends, heroes, myths, and magic. From J. R. R. Tolkien to George R.R. Martin, these epic fantasies await readers.
These titles were chosen based on reader reviews, so every single book had to meet at least a 4.0 average rating from the Goodreads community. Then, for good measure, we looked at how many ratings each book has received. We also decided to select the first book in a series (although it’s worth noting that the entirety of J.R.R. Tolkien‘s The Lord of the Rings as well as George R.R. Martin‘s A Song of Ice and Fire have the rare distinction of being above a 4.0 rating).
Our hunt for the best YA sci-fi books on Goodreads reflects this partiality to the post-apocalypse. We set the bar high, only including books with at least a 4.0 average rating. The result? A sometimes grim, always thrilling peek into the future—where young women and men have the power to change their fates.
As we searched for the best YA fantasy on Goodreads, we stuck to books with at least a 4.0 average rating. This meant that popular titles with big film adaptations like Twilight, Eragon, and The Golden Compass missed the cut. While The Boy Who Lived made it in, surprising no one, the list is dominated by powerful girls with no time for evil royals or rampaging monsters.
(9) TODAY IN HISTORY
- August 4, 1932 — Victor Halperin’s White Zombie is released theatrically.
(10) THE COMIC SECTION. Chip Hitchcock calls it “today’s cultural acknowledgment” – Pooch Cafe.
(11) EATING THE FANTASTIC. Scott Edelman invites you to “Share shawarma with Brooke Bolander in Episode 44 of Eating the Fantastic”.
Brooke Bolander was on Nebula ballot that weekend in the short story category for “Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies,” and is also on the current Hugo Awards ballot for that same story, one of the most talked-about tales of 2016. Her fiction, which has appeared in Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Nightmare, Uncanny, and other venues, has been honored by nominations for the Locus and the Theodore Sturgeon awards as well. The Only Harmless Great Thing will be published by Tor in 2018.
We discussed how she ended up as a writer rather than a paleontologist, why the videogame Ecco the Dolphin terrified her but taught her to love science fiction, her early days writing fan fiction, how anger over the electrocution of Topsy the elephant and the deaths of the “radium girls” inspired her newest novella, why she avoids rereading her own writing, what broke the writers block that had gripped her for several years, and more.
(12) V’GER. “As the Voyager mission is winding down, so, too, are the careers of the aging explorers who expanded our sense of home in the galaxy.” The New York Times has the story: “The Loyal Engineers Steering NASA’s Voyager Probes Across the Universe”. (May be behind a payroll, though I didn’t have any trouble gaining access, by feeding the URL through a Google search.)
A fleet of JPL trucks made the trip under armored guard to the same destination. Their cargo was unwrapped inside the hangar high bay, a gleaming silo stocked with tool racks and ladder trucks. Engineers began to assemble the various pieces. Gradually, two identical spacecraft took shape. They were dubbed Voyager I and II, and their mission was to make the first color photographs and close-up measurements of Jupiter, Saturn and their moons. Then, if all went well, they might press onward — into uncharted territory.
It took six months, working in shifts around the clock, for the NASA crew to reassemble and test the spacecraft. As the first launch date, Aug. 20, drew near, they folded the camera and instrument boom down against the spacecraft’s spindly body like a bird’s wing; gingerly they pushed it, satellite dish first, up inside a metal capsule hanging from the high bay ceiling. Once ‘‘mated,’’ the capsule and its cargo — a probe no bigger than a Volkswagen Beetle that, along with its twin, had nevertheless taken 1,500 engineers five years and more than $200 million to build — were towed to the launchpad.
(13) KING/KELLEY. Reason.com’s Glenn Garvin, in “Mr. Mercedes and Comrade Detective Breathe Life into Cop Genre Shows”, reviews Mr. Mercedes, an adaptation of a Stephen King novel available on DirecTV. He says seeing Kelley “work with the characters devised by King is a religious experience, even if the church is Out Lady of Psychos and Degenerates.”
Even the bit players in Mr. Mercedes cannot be left unwatched for a moment; you never know when something querulous quirky or malificently malign is about to erupt.
But Kelley and his director Jack Bender (who worked on Lost as well as another King television adaptation, Under the Dome) are equally adept at the action sequences. The staging of the parking lot mayhem is a marvel of underlit suggestion and squishy sound effects that leverages a Grand Guignol impression from gore that’s actually rather petit. That’s the only thing small about Mr. Mercedes; this is big-time entertainment.
(14) ADAPTIVE LIFEFORM. PJ Media picked “The 5 Best Stephen King Book Adaptations”. Dann Todd notes, “As always, these things are pretty subjective. This author leaves out The Green Mile. Relative to the rest of the list I think it could supplant It as a film adaptation.”
(15) ARMENIA’S BESTSELLERS. What are the best-selling books in Yerevan, Armenia? Once a week Armenpress publishes the top 10. Would you believe that Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is #7, and Dandelion Wine is #10?
(16) THE LAMPREY STRATEGY. Brian Niemeier celebrates his Dragon Award nomination the way every true culture warrior does – by spending half his wordage insulting John Scalzi — “2017 Dragon Award FInalist The Secret Kings”. Because when your award-nominated novel has been out for eight months and has accumulated only 12 Goodreads ratings, trying to pick a fight with somebody people have heard of makes a certain nutty kind of sense.
(17) THE RIGHT WAY TO HACK. In “Why can’t films and TV accurately portray hackers?”, Mr. Robot’s Kor Adana explains how the show does it, and why others get it wrong.
Why does Hollywood get hacking so wrong?
There’s an easy explanation for this trend. Most writers, directors, and producers believe that it’s impossible to portray real hacking on screen and still have it be entertaining. (That’s why you see the cheesy game-like graphics, skulls, and expository messages on screen.) I couldn’t disagree more with this mindset.
If a scene needs flashy or inaccurate graphics on a computer in order to increase the drama or explain a plot point, there’s an issue with the writing. On Mr Robot, we work hard to ensure that the stakes of the scene and the character motivations are clear even if you have no idea how the technology works. If you do understand the technology, you have the added bonus of recognising real vulnerabilities, real desktop environments, and authentic dialogue that fits the context of the hack.
Back in the Eighties, the TV detective show Riptide used to make me laugh, as their hacker character regularly broke into IRS systems to get information that, in real life, they didn’t maintain.
(18) GENRE BENDING. Martha Wells wrote an article on eight works that blend science and magic minus typical fantasy tropes for the Barnes and Noble SF/F blog — “8 Books That Blend Science and Magic, Minus the Fantasy Tropes”. Her list includes novels (or novellas) from N.K. Jemisin, Sharon Shinn, J.Y. Yang, Kate Elliott, J. Kathleen Cheney, Emily Foster, Aliette de Bodard, and Kai Ashante Wilson.
Fantasy tropes can be great—that’s why they become tropes. But sometimes you want to read something you feel like you’ve never read before. I love secondary world fantasy books in which standard and well-known tropes are either in short supply, or have been transformed into something new and special by wildly original worldbuilding. I’ve always loved books that combine SF-nal technology and magic (I’ve done it in my own Books of the Raksura, in which technology is usually both biological and magical, and in the Ile Rien series, in which the magic often has mechanical components), and the one thing the eight books below have in common is that each uses different forms of technology combined with magic to build a fresh, fabulous fantasy world.
The Broken Earth trilogy, by N.K. Jemisin These are probably the first recent books that come to mind when someone mentions magical manipulation of science—it’s a key part of this brilliantly original setting. The Orogenes have a hereditary ability to manipulate energy in a world that has been destroyed over and over again. The main character deals with devastating losses as she explores the extent of her abilities and tries to uncover the deliberately erased history that may explain why all this is happening.
(19) NOT ENOUGH SPOONS. Milky Shot by Roy Kafri on Vimeo is a strange film about what happens when a giant alien spoon comes to Earth and tries to steal the world’s spoons!
[Thanks to Rob Thornton, Cat Eldridge, Martin Morse Wooster, John King Tarpinian, Scott Edelman, James Davis Nicoll, Andrew Porter, Darrah Chavey, and JJ for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day GSLamb.]