[Introduction: In Part 1 of her overview, Michaele Jordan reviews half of the Best Novel Hugo finalists: The Galaxy, and the Ground Within, by Becky Chambers, Light From Uncommon Stars, by Ryka Aoki, and A Master of Djinn, by P. Djèlí Clark.]
By Michaele Jordan: Like many of you, I’ve been immersed in my Hugo reading. (I don’t always manage to get to Worldcon – I am hugely excited about being able to vote!) Last week I was discussing my readings with a friend and they suggested I share my views here. They said, “You’ve been thinking so hard about the books you read. You really should write it all down, and post it!” And they’re right – do think hard about what I read. Why else would I read it?
You may be wondering why I am working so hard to justify writing a post about the Hugo nominees. Truth to tell, I’m a little afraid of how you’ll all take it.
When I was a kid, everybody in my family was an addicted reader. And since we all lived together, we couldn’t afford to get angry whenever we didn’t agree on a book, i.e., all the time. Instead we debated – explaining our views, dissecting the points of opposition, and searching for common ground got to be more entertaining than TV (except on Twilight Zone or Star Trek nights).
But fandom isn’t like that. It shocked me to my soul the first time I said at a con that I didn’t care for a book and a supposedly fellow fan snarled, “Well, that’s just stupid,” and stalked off. Sometimes flame wars even erupt just because two fans disagree, not on a book, but on their favorite character in the book.
So I hereby state, firmly and unequivocally, that I know I am just one fan, that I have no authority to tell others what to read or think, and that I am merely expressing my personal opinions. I bear no ill will to, and pass no judgement on, those who disagree with me.
That said, I’ll start with The Galaxy, and the Ground Within, by Becky Chambers (Harper Voyager / Hodder & Stoughton) because that’s the first one I read.
I found this to be a high-end mid-grade novel. I admit I tend to expect award nominees to be better than mid-grade, even high-end mid-grade. But I am not saying that this was a bad book, just more formulaic than I care for.
We’ve all seen the formula many times. A group of travelers collects at some common point – a bus stop, a hotel lobby or a police station, – where for some reason they are temporarily detained. Each detainee has their own story, which includes a personal issue in need of a resolution. In the privacy of their mutual anonymity, they reveal their secrets and face—or conclusively decline to face – their demons, and they make decisions. Then they are released to go their separate ways, with most of them changed, for better or for worse.
The Galaxy, and the Ground Within does not deviate from this outline by a hair. Three space travelling aliens are gathered at stopover facility between wormholes, which is owned and operated by a fourth alien. They become temporarily trapped by a technical difficulty in the transport system. They are all in a hurry (except the host, who has a terminally cute youngling) with plans that cannot withstand extended delay, not to mention uncomfortable political divisions.
One alien has a frail companion waiting for them on their ship, another is racing to a forbidden lover, and a third is in hiding from dangerous enemies. The host frets that they cannot make everybody happy, and the youngling is terribly injured in a foolish mishap resulting from misguided curiosity. But not to worry – it all comes right in the end.
The book’s greatest strength is its detailed visual depiction of its aliens, who may have perfectly comprehensible human-like emotions but are extremely peculiar to look at. The description of the youngling lumbering across a room with a tray is laugh-out-loud funny, and the giant caterpillar was so convincing it set off my insect phobia. The complete absence of humans (barring one off-stage) was a nice touch.
From there, I moved on to read Light From Uncommon Stars, by Ryka Aoki (Tor / St Martin’s Press). This book was more intriguing. Things happened that I had not seen coming. (Some people always want to know what’s going to happen next, may even want it so much that they’ll skip ahead and read the last chapter first. I’m not one of them.)
For starters, Light From Uncommon Stars offers an interesting blend of science fiction and fantasy. (The only time I have ever seen these two so inextricably intertwined was in Charley Jane Anders’ All the Birds in the Sky.)There are aliens from another galaxy, and there are demons negotiating for human souls. And it all circulates around a Southern California donut shop with a giant donut mounted on the roof.
On the one hand, we have Shuzuki Satomi, a brilliant and beautiful violinist who has not performed in many years. Instead she teaches. Her last six students have gone on to the highest pinnacles of international acclaim. And unhappy ends. Very unhappy ends. Hellish, in fact. Now she is searching for a seventh student. But she is hard to please, and has turned down numerous ambitious and gifted young musicians. Instead she inexplicably takes in Katrina, a troubled transgender teen with no formal training, on the run from an abusive father.
On the other hand, we have Lan Tran and her family of refugees, who run the above-mentioned donut shop. It used to be very popular, but since Lan Tran acquired it, its customers are drifting away. It’s not that the donuts aren’t good. Just the opposite, they are just as good as they used to be. Just exactly as good. Down to the last molecule. Because she copies it, molecule by molecule in her replicator. So it lacks that tiny sparkle of home-made originality.
The hand shake between these two scenes occurs by accident. Lan Tran’s family is secretly building a space portal inside the giant donut – but not so they can return home. Just the opposite. It’s so they can persuade the forces of the empire to stay away. And when the engines are being tested, they make beautiful music, which Shuzuki happens to overhear. Beautiful music is the only thing that really matters to Shuzuki. It is her only refuge from the demon she made a deal with, and from the memories of the six students she fed to that demon to keep it away.
Katrina does not need galactic empires or hungry demons to require a refuge from pain. Her ordinary human life has given her all the punishment this world has to offer. She pours her misery into her clunky old pawn-shop violin, playing tunes from video games, and finds more strength than she ever dreamed of possessing.
Light From Uncommon Stars is not a flawless book. There are a few little problems: Katrina’s gender issues are so overwhelming they tend to belittle the pain of a drunken, abusive father; her ability to master Bartok without any classical training, or even familiarity, whatsoever, is a bit too much of a stretch. But those are nits. It is a fine book. It shows us that, superhero fiction to the contrary, the victory of the human spirit is neither easy nor cheap, and certainly not inevitable. But it is possible. The weight of the world is overwhelming, but it can be endured – and that, in itself – is a great victory.
And then I turned to A Master of Djinn, by P. Djèlí Clark (Tordotcom / Orbit UK). Heavy sigh. This is the book that made me worry if I dared be honest with you. For me it was a DNF. I tried. Really, I did. After all, it was a Hugo nominee. Maybe I didn’t have to love it, but I certainly had to give it serious consideration. I don’t usually give a book more than thirty pages to capture my interest. I may even toss it down the basement steps after ten pages if the opening is stupid enough. But for the sake of my responsibility to the Hugos, I gave A Master of Djinn a hundred pages, before I gave up.
I can almost hear you protesting, “But it won the Nebula.” I know. It won the Nebula. And while I am trying desperately to remember that everybody is entitled to their opinion, I still can’t help but feel that’s a gross miscarriage of justice.
So what was so wrong with it? I promise to keep this civil. To give P. Djèlí Clark full credit where it’s due, the setting – modern Cairo in an alternate history world – is excellent. His choice of the turning point in the alternate history, and its consequences were intriguing. He describes a colorful combination of historic streets and architecture (which, I presume, is reasonably accurate since he went to so much trouble with it), and a modern (sometimes bizarrely so) infra-structure.
I am also confident that his presentation of the hierarchy of magical beings and the Egyptian pantheon is accurate; certainly he knows more of them than I, after only a little dabbling, do. I understand he has written a number of short stories set in this world, and he knows it well.
The story is a magical mystery which, I regret to say, I found pedestrian. In the opening scene, the original murder was impressive and mysterious, but he revealed the magical methodology – by far the most interesting element of the crime – very early on, leaving the reader to slog through all the usual whodunit clues. But this, in and of itself, would not have caused me to give up on the book. After all, there might be a last-minute clever twist.
An author friend of mine once told me, “If you just give one character a limp, another character an accent, and make the third use a lot of big words, everybody will say you’re a genius at characterization.” That appears to be Mr. Clark’s approach. Characters are portrayed primarily by the outfits they wear. One woman is strident and mannishly but stylishly dressed. Another is very feminine, and gushes and blushes. I cared nothing for either of them. But this did not cause me to give up either. Perhaps they would develop later.
In the end, it was Mr. Clark’s inadequate English skills that did me in. There were awkward phrasings on every page. Actual grammatical errors were almost as frequent. He mixed up ‘who’ and ‘which’. Occasionally his syntax and vocabulary were so tortured that I simply could not figure out what he meant. His attempt to describe a hexagon, without calling it a hexagon, was mind boggling. (At least I think he meant a hexagon.)
But in the end, that didn’t matter. Reading is (or should be) a pleasure, a matter of surrendering to the rhythm of the words. But if you have to stop every couple of paragraphs to reconstruct incomprehensible phraseology, reading becomes a chore, even a burden. So I gave up. My apologies if you loved it.
This post has gone on longer than I expected, so I’ll draw to a close. I’ll be back soon, if you’ll have me, with my thoughts on the rest of the nominees for Best Novel. So please keep an eye out for Part 2!
(1) HYBRID READING SERIES FROM SEATTLE. Clarion West is bringing back their Summer of Science Fiction & Fantasy reading series in 2022. The readings will be held both in-person in Seattle and online. They are free and open to the public. Click on the author’s name below to learn more and to register for the event. All events will be held on Tuesday nights.
June 21 Susan Palwick 7PM Seattle Public Library Central Branch 1000 4th Avenue Supported by the Leslie Howle Instructorship Susan Palwick (CW ‘85) has published several novels and short story collections, including The Necessary Beggar, Shelter, and Mending the Moon. She is a recipient of the Crawford Award, Alex Award, and Silver Pen Award, and has been shortlisted for the World Fantasy Award, the Mythopoeic Award, and the Philip K. Dick Award.
June 28 P. Djèlí Clark 7PM Seattle Public Library Central Branch 1000 4th Avenue Phenderson Djèlí Clark is the award-winning and Hugo, Nebula, Sturgeon, and World Fantasy-nominated author of the novel A Master of Djinn and the novellas Ring Shout, The Black God’s Drums, and The Haunting of Tram Car 015, as well as numerous short stories.
July 5 Fonda Lee 7PM Seattle Public Library Central Branch 1000 4th Avenue Supported by the Sally Klages Memorial Instructorship Fonda Lee is the World Fantasy Award-winning author of the epic urban fantasy Green Bone Saga as well as the acclaimed young adult science fiction novels Zeroboxer, Exo, and Cross Fire. She is a three-time winner of the Aurora Award, and a multiple finalist for the Nebula and Locus Awards. Register now.
July 12 Tobias Buckell 7:30PM Town Hall Seattle 1119 8th Ave Supported by the Debbie J. Rose Memorial Instructorship Tobias S. Buckell is a New York Times Bestselling author and World Fantasy Award winner. His novels and almost one hundred stories have been translated into twenty different languages. His work has been nominated for awards like the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, and the Astounding Award for Best New Science Fiction Author.
July 19 Bill Campbell 7:30PM Town Hall Seattle 1119 8th Ave Bill Campbell is the author of Sunshine Patriots; My Booty Novel; Pop Culture: Politics, Puns, and “Poohbutt” from a Liberal Stay-at-Home Dad; Koontown Killing Kaper; and Baaaad Muthaz, and he has edited several groundbreaking anthologies. He is the winner of a Glyph Pioneer/Lifetime Achievement Award.
Annalee Newitz is the author of the book Four Lost Cities: A Secret History of the Urban Age, and the novels The Future of Another Timeline, and Autonomous, which won the Lambda Literary Award. They are also the co-host of the Hugo Award-winning podcast Our Opinions Are Correct.
Charlie Jane Anders is the author of Victories Greater Than Death, as well as Never Say You Can’t Survive, and Even Greater Mistakes. Her other books include The City in the Middle of the Night and All the Birds in the Sky. With Annalee Newitz, she co-hosts the podcast Our Opinions Are Correct. Register now.
The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) booted award-winning author Mercedes Lackey from a conference over her use of a “racial slur,” even though the Black author to whom she had been referring later said he did not consider the term offensive.
Lackey had allegedly referred to Samuel R. “Chip” Delany, 80, a celebrated author and literary critic (winner of multiple SFWA Nebula awards), as “colored” while praising his work in the “Romancing Sci-Fi & Fantasy” panel at the SFWA Nebula Conference on Saturday, May 21….
Fox’s article includes Lackey’s apology, and the screencap of Delany’s Facebook comments.
(3) TALKING ABOUT EVERYTHING. Abigail Nussbaum says it’s a challenge to review something really good, such as the movie Everything Everywhere All at Once. Clearly, it’s a challenge she is equal to:
…Here is a non-exhaustive list of things I could talk about when talking about Everything Everywhere All at Once. I could discuss the fact that this is the first worthwhile showcase that Hollywood has given Yeoh since she burst onto Western audiences’ consciousness twenty-five years ago in Tomorrow Never Dies, and how it shows off not only her skills as an action heroine, but as a dramatic actress and a comedienne. I could mention that matching Yeoh beat for beat is Quan, the former child star who played Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, who has spent the intervening decades behind the camera as a stunt choreographer, but who returns to the screen now in what should be a star-making turn. I could point out that the film functions as a culmination of two of the early 2020s’ favorite tropes—multiverses and generational trauma—while managing to put its own unique spin on them. I could discuss its myriad references, to everything from Pixar movies to art-house Asian cinema….
And there’s quite a bit more Nussbaum could say – and does – after that excerpt.
Chris Barkley has been an active voice in fandom for over 40 years. He’s been a volunteer at numerous Worldcons, including being the head of media relations at several and more broadly, he’s been one of those vital people in fandom who does the work to make a group of people with common interests a community….
2009 – [By Cat Eldridge.] So tonight we have an interesting short film. And no, I had no idea it existed until now. 2081 which is based off of the Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron” story premiered on this date thirteen years ago at the Seattle International Film Festival.
The story was first published the October 1961 in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and was in his Welcome to the Monkey House collection seven years later.
The cast is James Cosmo, Julie Hagerty, Patricia Clarkson, and Armie Hammer.
The story is one where a future polity is attempting by any means possible to ensure that everyone is absolutely equal. That’s a bit of a SPOLER I know.
So what did the critics think of it. Well I didn’t find a lot of them who said anything but I really like what Mike Massie at the Gone with The Twins site said about this half hour film cost that just a hundred thousand to produce: “’What are you thinking about?’ ‘I don’t know.’ The basic plot, adapted by Chandler Tuttle (who also directed and edited) from Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s short story, is sensational, serving as a warning and as pitch-black satire. The notion of equality taken to hyperbolic extremes is certainly worthy of cinematic translation, as are the various manifestations of crushing governmental control. True freedom requires disparity. Here, however, there are some inconsistencies (such as determining how exactly to make a ballerina, encumbered as she might be with weights chained around her body, perfectly equivalent to a musician). But the use of slow-motion, classical music (featuring the Czeck Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra and a cello solo), limited dialogue, and highly contrasting juxtapositions give this brief yet sharply filmed project an admirable level of artistry. The premise is terribly bleak, but Bergeron’s plight manages to be momentarily hopeful, funny, and provocative as well.”
Audience reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes really liked it giving it a seventy-three percent rating.
Born May 29, 1906 — T. H. White. Best known obviously for the wonderful The Once and Future King which I read a long, long time ago but still remember quite fondly. Back in the Thirties, he wrote Earth Stopped and its sequel Gone to Ground, sf novels. Gone to Ground contains several fantasy stories which were later reprinted in The Maharajah and Other Stories. ISFDB also lists Mistress Masham’s Repose, The Elephant and the Kangaroo and The Master as the other novels by him, plus the aforementioned story collection. I know that someone here has read them so do tell me about them please. (Died 1964.)
Born May 29, 1909 — Neil R. Jones. It is thought that “The Death’s Head Meteor”, his first story, which was published in Air Wonder Stories in 1930, could be the first use of “astronaut” in fiction. He also created the use of a future history before either Robert A. Heinlein or Cordwainer Smith did so. They’re collected in The Planet of the Double Sun, The Sunless World and a number of other overlapping collections. He’s a member of the First Fandom Hall of Fame. (Died 1988.)
Born May 29, 1939 — Alice K Turner. Editor and critic who starting in 1980 served for twenty years as fiction editor of Playboy. The Playboy Book of Science Fiction which is not available from the usual suspects but which is available at quite reasonable prices in hardcover was edited by her. Snake’s Hands: The Fiction of John Crowley is an expansion of her earlier Snake’s Hands: A Chapbook About the Fiction of John Crowley. It is available from sellers like ABE Books. (Died 2015.)
Born May 29, 1942 — Kevin Conway. His first genre role was as Roland Weary in Slaughterhouse-Five with later roles in Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace and Black Knight, neither of which I suspect many of you have seen. You will likely have seen him in The Lathe of Heaven as Dr. William Haber. He played Khalistan on “The Rightful Heir” episode of Next Generation, and had one-offs on Dark Angel, Life on Mars and Person of Interest. (Died 2020.)
Born May 29, 1947 — Julie Cobb, 75. Her first credited role as Yeoman Leslie was in an episode of Trek, “By Any Other Name”. She was the only female Redshirt to be killed in that series. She had roles in The Fantastic Journey, Fantasy Island, The Incredible Hulk, a recurring role in Salem’s Lot, Brave New World, Tucker’s Witch, Starman and The New Adventures of Superman.
Born May 29, 1952 — Louise Cooper. She wrote more than a dozen works of SFF and was best known for her quite excellent Time Master trilogy. Most of her writing was in the YA market including the Sea Horses quartet and the Mirror, Mirror trilogy. She wrote a lot of short fiction, most of it collected in Creatures at Christmas, The Spiral Garden, Short and Scary! and Short and Spooky!. (Died 2009.)
Born May 29, 1987 — Pearl Mackie, 35. Companion to the Twelfth Doctor, the actress was the first openly LGBTQ performer prior to the Fourteenth Doctor and the first LGBTQ companion cast in a regular role in Doctor Who. Mackie, says Moffat, was so chosen as being non-white was not enough. Her other notable genre role was playing Mika Chantry in the audiowork of The Conception of Terror: Tales Inspired by M. R. James.
Born May 29, 1996 — R. F. Kuang, 26. She’s an award-winning Chinese-American fantasy writer. The Poppy War series, so- called grimdark fantasy, consists of The Poppy War which won the Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel, and The Dragon Republic and The Burning God. She’s won the 2020 Astounding Award for Best New Writer.
I keep getting these emails from a guy I’ve never met, who says he got stuck while traveling abroad for work. At first, he seemed to be having a nice time, but lately he’s been describing increasingly weird and disturbing circumstances that make me feel like I should help him out. For once, though, I can rest easy that it’s not a spammer trying to scam me out of some money—it’s Jonathan Harker, protagonist of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Dracula Daily is a Substack that emails snippets of the classic horror novel, which takes place over a six-month period, in real time, in the form of the book’s journal entries and letters. The venture is the brainchild of Matt Kirkland, whose previous projects include etching inane tweets into cuneiform tablets and exposing the robotic skeletons lurking beneath your stuffed animals. I spoke to Kirkland about our pal Jonathan, how weird it is that Dracula crawls down walls like a lizard, and the part of the book he’s most excited for readers to experience in email form….
Do you have a sense of what is causing it to take off on Tumblr in particular?
No, I don’t. So much of the posts are about how people are just finding it so funny. We have this dramatic irony of like, “Oh, Jonathan Harker doesn’t know that he’s in Dracula, so he’s not scared enough by going to Dracula’s castle.”
…Odom Media Management founder and literary agent Monica Odom was already working from home, expecting a baby, when the pandemic began. “I sold the most books of any year in 2020—and I’m still waiting for them all to publish,” she said. Despite her productivity, she fought “to stay grounded amid the immense collective trauma we were all having, recognizing we were all humans doing this work.” As an aside, she commented, “I did miss the editor lunches.”
That sounds like a throwaway line, yet social distancing highlighted publishing’s reliance on workplace culture. Bogaards suggested the pandemic put “a cap on industry fun,” lowering morale among people who thrive on hard work and literary perks. “The social fabric seems to be fraying at the edges,” Bogaards lamented.
“We’re not having as much fun together, and that does take a toll,” agreed Julia Sommerfeld, publisher of Amazon Publishing and founder of Amazon Original Stories. As remote work developed, she noticed the rise of “a strong online chat culture. The team is always pinging each other and trying to capture that casual conversation. We’re missing the kind of osmosis that happens when we’re all together.”…
… Picard has now wrapped its second season, with a third currently in production, and the folks behind Star Trek Wines have expanded their collection from two varieties to six. So a second informal wine tasting was clearly in order. And who better to help us in this noble endeavor than Q himself—aka actor John de Lancie—and The Orville writer Andre Bormanis, who launched his career as a science advisor on TNG? They joined a fresh group of tasters (eight people in all) on a cool late spring evening in Los Angeles, where the nibbles were plentiful and the conversation flowed freely. (Wine assessments were anonymous, in keeping with the gathering’s super-casual vibe. And the wine was purchased out of pocket, not gifted for promotional purposes.)
… Alas, the four new varieties in the Star Trek wine collection fall far, far short of their predecessors. We’ll start with the merely bland and inoffensive: an Andorian Blue Premium Chardonnay and the United Federation of Planets Special Reserve Sauvignon Blanc.
The Andorian Blue is, indeed, blue in hue, no doubt thanks to the addition of a food dye. (“What is this, a substrate for a COVID test?” one taster quipped.) It’s a gimmick that imparts a very slight aftertaste that is all the more noticeable because the wine otherwise barely has any flavor. That’s unusual for a chardonnay. I’m not especially fond of white wines, but good chardonnays are generally light to medium body, crisp, and a bit citrus-y. The Andorian Blue is indeed light, but it’s missing any distinctive flavor notes—other than that unfortunate hint of blue dye….
… A usual definition of the steampunk genre states that it presents inventions, technologies, or historical events that happened differently in the real world or didn’t exist in the first place. For every well-known steampunk movie, there are many underrated ones that flew under the radar and that every fan of the genre should watch….
Their list begins:
5. Invention For Destruction (1958)
Though many steampunk movies are in the English language, some best, most underrated pieces come from non-English-speaking countries. This Czechoslovakian 1958 movie was directed by Karel Zeman and based on Jules Verne’s work. It is a classic, but is mostly unknown among the general audiences and has barely over 2,000 ratings on IMDb.
The movie shows that when somebody creates an invention that has the power to destroy the world, it’s more than likely that someone evil will try to use it for their own nefarious purposes. The film is visually beautiful — shot on a camera from 1928, it offers the charm of even older movies. What’s more, it will keep the viewers guessing throughout, especially if they’re not familiar with the original source material.
(13) ON THE MARCH. Northwestern University declares this tiny robotic crab is smallest-ever remote-controlled walking robot.
Northwestern University engineers have developed the smallest-ever remote-controlled walking robot — and it comes in the form of a tiny, adorable peekytoe crab. Just a half-millimeter wide, the tiny crabs can bend, twist, crawl, walk, turn and even jump. The researchers also developed millimeter-sized robots resembling inchworms, crickets and beetles. Although the research is exploratory at this point, the researchers believe their technology might bring the field closer to realizing micro-sized robots that can perform practical tasks inside tightly confined spaces.
(14) SCARY VIDEO. [Item by Martin Morse Wooster.] In “Ghost Dogs” on Vimeo, Joe Capps asks, “If dogs were ghosts, what sort of ghosts would they be?” And “Why would ghost dogs be terrified of Roombas?”
[Thanks to Chris Barkley, Andrew Porter, Michael Toman, Cat Eldridge, Mike Kennedy, Martin Morse Wooster, JJ, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]
…The letter was drafted by two-time Newbery Honor-winning author Christina Soontornvat, who was informed by a Texas school that they could not invite her to speak to students because they feared that conservative parents in their district would object to her living in a liberal city (Soontornvat resides in Austin). Alarmed by this decision and by the hateful rhetoric that has accompanied the growing list of banned books, Soontornvat decided to organize with other authors and develop a call for action….
In it, the authors condemned “the current wave of book suppression that specifically targets titles by creators who are LGBTQIA+ and Black, Indigenous, and people of color.”
The signers include Dhonielle Clayton, Rick Riordan, Jacqueline Woodson, John Green, Raina Telgemeier, Malinda Lo, Alex Segura, Greg van Eekhout, Cecil Castellucci, Fran Wilde, Mark Oshiro, Stephanie Burgis, and Leigh Bardugo. The letter reads in part —
…This current wave of book suppression follows hard-won gains made by authors whose voices have long been underrepresented in publishing. Just ten years ago, less than seven percent of children’s books featured characters who were Black, Indigenous, or people of color (source: Cooperative Children’s Book Center). Representation is finally increasing thanks to the work of groups like We Need Diverse Books. The current banning efforts are part of a strong and purposeful backlash against books written by BIPOC authors. Books with characters who are LGBTQIA+ have been vehemently targeted and frequently misrepresented.
When books are removed or flagged as inappropriate, it sends the message that the people in them are somehow inappropriate. It is a dehumanizing form of erasure. Every reader deserves to see themselves and their families positively represented in the books in their schools. These books are important for all children. Reading stories that reflect the diversity of our world builds empathy and respect for everyone’s humanity. At a time when our country is experiencing an alarming rise in hate crimes, we should be searching for ways to increase empathy and compassion at every turn.
A particularly insidious feature of the current attacks is the flood of accusations that anyone who seeks to give readers access to diverse books is a “groomer,” “radical,” or “pedophile.” These charges are abhorrent and without merit, and they have been leveled against not only authors, but against teachers and librarians. We strongly condemn this slander against our colleagues and our nation’s educators.
A book may not be for every student, but—as we know from the many letters we receive from young readers—a single book can matter deeply to an individual student. Nearly all campuses have an existing system to handle a parent’s concern with their own child’s reading material. Pro-censorship groups seek to overwhelm these systems by pressuring schools to pull entire lists of books from shelves “for review.” Some extremists have intimidated authors, educators, and school board members online and even threatened them with violence. This has created an atmosphere of fear that has led to “soft censorship” in many districts. Books are quietly removed or never purchased at all. Authors are never invited to speak, for fear of drawing the wrath of these groups.
Libraries are bastions of the First Amendment. They provide equal access to a wealth of knowledge and ideas for all public school students. When individuals and organizations seek to advance their own political agendas or personal beliefs by censoring books, they infringe upon students’ constitutional rights.
We call upon Congress, statehouses, and school boards to reject the political manipulation of our schools, to uphold the values of freedom and equality promised in the Constitution, and to protect the rights of all young people to access the books they need and deserve.
…From a Hugo perspective, there is an obvious comparison to be made with the 2021 Best Novel winner Network Effect, the novel-length Murderbot story. Although quite different genres, both novels are sequels to a successful set of novellas that have received consistent Hugo attention. Both novels are longer stories with established characters that deliver on the qualities that people admired in the earlier works….
…. For me any piece of critique, large or small, can raise two questions about a work. First, how does it bring this work into better alignment with what it was intended to be doing? Second, if it challenges or reshapes those intentions, does it do so in a good way? The former question sounds grandiose when applied to small tasks like removing vague or repetitive language, but specificity helps convey your vision. Whether they change punctuation or add entirely new characters and subplots, revisions should have some method for bringing the work closer to its originating vision.
I think the latter question is often neglected because there is a common idea that only the creator can conceive of an artistic vision, which should remain pure and untrammeled. And this is true up to a point. But it is also true that sometimes it is not the execution but the concept itself that can benefit from critique. Those cases are the exception to the rule that revision should bring works closer to their original intention—rather, the entire vision for the work can be improved….
(4) IT’S BAD. Vogon Poetry Slam 2022 will be livestreamed May 25 beginning at 11:00 a.m. Pacific. Register for the free event at Eventbrite.
For the second year running, the Vogon Slam has hacked into Deep Thought and is back to take over your computer for a night of vintage Vogon poetry!
WORST POET WINS! The Vogon Poetry Slam is part tribute to Douglas Adams, part geek-out, and part release valve for the occasional stinker that all creatives occasionally make. Come, hoopy froods, for a night of nerding, gnashing of teeth, and tortuously bad poetry.
We also have:
– A communal reading of Paul Neil Milne’s “Dead Swans” poem (the worst poem in the universe!)
– Our special guest, the Ambassador of the Azgoths of Kria
– A feature set from reigning Vogon Poetry Slam Champion (and actual real-life good poet) Tim Kiely!
The Simpsons has been running so long (the season 33 finale airs this Sunday) that some elements of its basic premise no longer track in the modern economic context. Modern viewers might very well wonder how an oaf like Homer (Dan Castellanata) can afford a house and car on a single income. Well, don’t worry: Hugh Jackman shows up in the upcoming season finale to explain the history of the American middle class — in song, of course!
… In the episode, Jackman voices a janitor at the nuclear power plant where Homer works. Bart (Nancy Cartwright) has accompanied his father to the job site, where the janitor explains how the post-World War II era brought prosperity to the American middle class that allowed people like Homer to succeed despite their failings. But then “gradually, it all went to hell,” as Jackman sings.
…io9 is filled with writers and readers who are wild about Star Wars, but do any of us know someone who could throw down $120,000 on a Star Wars watch?
A company called Kross Studio hopes there are at least 10 of those people out there. It’s created a super high-end, super limited-edition watch inspired by Boba Fett and the recently renamed Boba Fett’s Starship. Composed of 220 parts, one of which is a one-of-a-kind, handmade mini-replica of Boba Fett’s Starship that takes 90 hours to make (each!), the watch has to be seen to be believed. So here are some images….
One of the most enigmatic characters in the Star Wars galaxy has inspired Kross Studio’s latest creation, in collaboration with Lucasfilm. The Swiss design studio is proud to reveal a new and limited edition of ten Boba Fett™-inspired collector sets, each complete with a numbered, manual wound Boba Fett™-inspired central Tourbillon timepiece and a watch display by EFX, inspired by Boba Fett™’s famed starship.
(7) MEMORY LANE.
1997 – [By Cat Eldridge.] Twenty-five years ago this evening, The Burning Zone series ended its brief run. It lasted but nineteen episodes on UPN (the United Paramount Network) and has had never been released on DVD or Blu-ray, nor licensed to an online streaming service. I’m trying to remember if it showed up on the dumping ground of genre series, Syfy, but I’m not certain it did.
It was created by Coleluck who had previously done the same with Otherworld, which I’ve never heard of, and M.A,N.T.I.S. that I’ve seen. He also did The Equalizer. (He’d write six episodes here.) He executive produced the series along with James Duff McAdams, Carleton Eastlake and Rob Gilmer. McAdams was involved on The Equalizer and M.A,N.T.I.S., Eastlake on SeaQuest DSV and Earth: Final Conflict and Gilmeron Relic Hunter and Knight Rider.
The series was the only drama ordered by UPN for the season that it was on. Everything else was a comedy including the Homeboys in Outer Space series which, yes, was genre.
Think Andromeda Strain crossed with X-Files. And not well done at that. Really I’m not kidding. So how was the reception? Some liked it, some didn’t.
Bret Watson at Entertainment Weekly said of the two genre series at UPN that “The subsequent Homeboys in Outer Space and the sci-fi schlock-fest The Burning Zone, however, have all but crashed and burned”
Caryn James of the New York Times thought it was fine for what it was: “The idea is ‘Outbreak’ meets ‘The X-Files,’ and everyone involved in ‘The Burning Zone’ keeps a straight face. But the show’s greatest appeal is to more specialized, cultish taste; intentionally or not, it offers the loopy delights of a cut-rate, over-the-top horror movie.”
It has no rating at Rotten Tomatoes which is not surprising given it has largely if not completely been absent for viewing over the last quarter of a century.
(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.
[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]
Born May 20, 1911 — Gardner F Fox. Writer for DC comics and other companies as well. He was prolific enough that historians of the field estimate he wrote more than four thousand comics stories, including fifteen hundred for just DC Comics. For DC, he created The Flash, Adam Strange and The Atom, plus the Justice Society of America. His first SF novel was Escape Across the Cosmos though he wrote a tie-in novel, Jules Verne’s Five Weeks in a Balloon, previously. (Died 1986.)
Born May 20, 1928 — Shirley Rousseau Murphy, 94. Author of the Joe Grey series of mysteries. Its narrator is a feline who speaks and who solves mysteries which is definitely genre. Excellent series which gets better in characterization as it goes along. And the audiobooks as narrated by Susan Boyce are a great deal of fun listening. She also did some more traditional genre fiction, none of which I’ve read in the Children of Ynell series and the Dragonbard trilogy.
Born May 20, 1936 — Anthony Zerbe, 86. Zerbe played the major role of Matthias, the news anchor turned mutant albino cult leader determined to kill Charlton Heston’s Richard Neville in The Omega Man, the loosely-adapated 1971 film version of Richard Matheson’s novel, I Am Legend. He was the villain Milton Krest in the Licence to Kill bond film; Roger Stuart in Steven King’s The Dead Zone; Admiral Dougherty in Star Trek: Insurrection; and Councillor Hamann in The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. Series wise, he showed up on the Wild, Wild West and five episodes of Mission: Impossible as five different characters, he was Dr. Charles Napier on the Asteroid series on NBC in 1997 that I never heard of.
Born May 20, 1940 — Joan Staley. She showed up twice as Okie Annie on Batman in “It’s How You Play the Game” and “Come Back, Shame“. She played Ginny in Mission Impossible’s two-parter, “The Council”, and she was in Prehistoric Valley (Dinosaurs! Caveman! Playboy mates in bikinis!) She also played Fiona in Brigadoon which has to be genre, isn’t it? (Died 2019.)
Born May 20, 1946 — Cher, 76. Yes she was Alexandra Medford in The Witches of Eastwick, a film that I absolutely love and adore, (and no I’ve not read the novel) which is really her only genre credit. She did appear as Romana on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. in “The Hot Number Affair” and she’s voicing herself in The New Scooby-Doo Movies which despite the name was actually a series, but that’s it.
Born May 20, 1951 — Steve Jackson, 71. The UK game designer (not to be confused with the owner of Steve Jackson Games). With Ian Livingstone, he founded Games Workshop and also the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, the two most dominant aspects of the UK games industry before it came to be essentially wiped by the advent of videogames. I’m fairly sure the only one of his works that I’ve played is Starship Traveller which I’d have been playing around the same time as Traveller.
Born May 20, 1961 — Owen Teale, 61. Best known role is as Alliser Thorne on the just-concluded Game of Thrones. He also was Will Scarlet in the superb Robin Hood where the lead role was performed by Patrick Bergin, he played the theologian Pelagius in 2004 King Arthur, was Vatrenus in yet another riff on Arthurian myth called The Last Legion, was Maldak in the “Vengeance on Varos” episode in the Era of the Sixth Doctor, and was Evan Sherman in the “Countrycide” episode of Torchwood. He’s currently playing Peter Knox in A Discovery of Witches based on the All Souls trilogy by Deborah Harkness, named after the first book in the trilogy. I read most if not all of that series and it’s quite excellent. Keeping with my firm belief of never watching a series based on fiction that I really, really liked, I have not seen the series.
Born May 20, 1968 — Timothy Olyphant, 54. He’s been cast in the second season of The Mandalorian where he might be Sheriff Cobb Vanth which in turn would mean he’d be wearing Bobo Fett’s salvaged armor. And he was Sheriff Seth Bullock in the Deadwood franchise which must be at least genre adjacent given the great love of it by Emma Bull and Will Shetterly. Or not.
I so appreciate that, right off the bat, the series deals with Spock’s exploration of his inner turmoil and conflict — trying to find his true self, as opposed to who he thinks others want him to be. You’re really pulling double duty at times in that battle.
Absolutely. I’ve been really fortunate with the level of nuance they’ve given to me in the writing. It’s also been very scary. This is such a precious character, not just to the fans, but to me. And like I said, one of the gifts of the episodic format is that every episode’s a new adventure, not knowing what Spock is going to be doing. So I feel like I’m constantly kind of searching for the character and understanding the inner details, which again is a gift.
Spock wants to be accepted by Vulcan, by his people whom he’s grown up with, but he has never been accepted because he’s half human. This is a struggle that exists on our planet, and I may not be the best representative of that, but we have amazing writers who do experience that today. I know that they contribute quite heavily to Spock’s life in that way. His human side is undeniable. He must explore it. And I think eventually his understanding of his humanness is what makes him who he will become later in the Original Series. His emotional side draws in valuable information that he can use in his problem-solving. He’s a beautiful person to be portraying and to be discovered.
Broadway has been a haven for me since I was a little girl. The opportunity to leave my troubles backstage and be whisked away to a completely different world was everything to me, especially growing up as a young Black person in predominantly white institutions. Of course, as I grew up, I learned that the things I was trying to escape are inescapable, but live theater still was a means of escape to me.
When you were auditioning for the role of Uhura, what attracted you to the character?
Fun fact, actually: I didn’t know that I was auditioning for the role of Uhura until after I booked it. Casting went about it in a very interesting way, and I think they actually gave me a bit of grace because I auditioned under a pseudonym. But her character description really got to me: She was described as a bright, young prodigy who is deciding whether or not the place that she’s in is where she wants to be right now. And as someone who is very young in this industry and is still figuring out what my explicit goal and dream is in this life, I found that a lot of her story and a lot of her mentality mirrored mine — in a different industry.
I’m glad that you talked about diving into the character. He’s so mythic in Star Trek lore. Were you given a backstory to help you develop the character, or did you develop your backstory, or was it all canon?
April was Gene Roddenberry’s original pitch back in 1964 to CBS for the captain role, but he was changed to Capt. Pike later when NBC accepted it. That was cool to discover. And then, in the 1974 animated series, he was really introduced in “The Counter-Clock Incident.” So, it’s cool how it all came together. I’m learning a lot. I grew up a big sci-fi fan.
A friend of mine is friends with LeVar Burton, and LeVar was so kind. He sent me a video welcoming me to the franchise, and I was just so moved by his generosity. He basically said, “Welcome. We are family, and we’re just proud to have you.” He said that when Gene set out to make Star Trek, he knew that as human beings, we could get our shit together. And if we were to become a space-faring civilization, we had to solve the problems that lie in here now. That is the core of Star Trek‘s ethos. It’s about us all working together to build a better future.
The uniforms appear to be different from those on Discovery. They look more comfortable even. How were they changed for Strange New Worlds?
The uniforms are a world of difference from the Discovery uniforms. (Laughs.) They’re a lot more forgiving, they fall more naturally, and there are fewer zippers involved. They are more of a throwback.
The sets are just incredible. Working on those had to make you feel like a kid in a candy store, fair to say?
Jonathan Lee did a phenomenal job as our production designer. I feel like he really accomplished a lot of different goals, balancing a lot of different elements. You want something that pays attention to canon and is a homage to the past and yet accomplishes the scale of television today. And he then retains a very specific mid-century modern look from the 1960s. There are some pieces that you might find in a super upscale version of Macy’s in 1967. It retains that cool ’60s vibe, but in an updated way, which I really dig.
Nearly two and a half years after its first launch didn’t go to plan, Boeing’s new passenger spacecraft, the CST-100 Starliner, successfully launched to space this afternoon, reaching the right orbit it needed to achieve to rendezvous with the International Space Station tomorrow evening. The successful launch marks the beginning of a crucial test flight for Starliner that will play out over the next week in space, one that will help demonstrate if the capsule is capable of carrying humans to space one day.
Starliner is a private spacecraft that Boeing developed in partnership with NASA, primarily to help transport the agency’s astronauts to and from the International Space Station in low Earth orbit. The capsule is one of two vehicles, along with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, that NASA helped to fund in order to transition space transportation from the government to commercial companies. But before NASA’s astronauts can ride Starliner, the space agency wants Boeing to demonstrate the capsule can perform all of the tasks of a normal spaceflight mission without a crew on board.
(13) A MARTIAN ODYSSEY. The For All Mankind Official Season 3 trailer.
In season three, the Red Planet becomes the new frontier in the Space Race not only for the U.S. and the Soviet Union, but also an unexpected new entrant with a lot to prove and even more at stake. Our characters find themselves going head-to-head as their ambitions for Mars come into conflict and their loyalties are tested, creating a pressure cooker that builds to a climactic conclusion.
(14) VIDEO OF THE DAY. [Item by Martin Morse Wooster.] In “Honest Game Trailers: Chrono Cross,” Fandom Games says this is a classic “only because people have been arguing about it for 20 years.” You fight with a “battle toothpick” that’s a cross between , “a pole, a Q-tip, and that thing they fought with in American Gladiators.” But how many games have a talking mushroom named “Funguy?”
[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Chris Barkley, Andrew Porter, Michael Toman, Cat Eldridge, Mike Kennedy, Martin Morse Wooster, and JJ for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Jon Meltzer.]
The Baltimore Science Fiction Society (BSFS) has announced that the 2022 Compton Crook Award winner is A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark. The award is given for best first novel in the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres. Clark is the fortieth winner of the award. He will receive $1,000 and an invitation to be the Compton Crook Guest of Honor at the club’s annual convention, Balticon, for the next two years.
Judging for the Compton Crook Award has two parts. First, members of BSFS pick six finalists by reading and rating the year’s debut novels. Then, in the finalist round, club members pick a winner. The other finalists this time were:
Assassin’s Orbit by John Appel
Nucleation by Kimberly Unger
The Councillor by E. J. Beaton
The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec
We Have Always Been Here by Lena Nguyen
Balticon will be held in Baltimore over Memorial Day weekend, May 27-30 in 2022. Because the convention was held online for the previous two years, this year’s con also will feature past Compton Crook winners Micaiah Johnson (2021), Arkady Martine (2020), and R.F. Kuang (2019).
The Baltimore Science Fiction Society (BSFS) has administered the Compton Crook Award for best first novel since 1983. Last year’s winner was Micaiah Johnson for The Space Between Worlds.
The award was named in memory of Towson State College Professor of Natural Sciences Compton Crook, who wrote under the name Stephen Tall and died in 1981. Professor Crook was active for many years in the Baltimore Science Fiction Society and was a staunch champion of new works in the fields eligible for the award.
BSFS is a 501(c)(3), non-profit, charitable, literary and educational organization, dedicated to the promotion of, and an appreciation for, science fiction in all of its many forms. The Baltimore Science Fiction Society was launched on January 5, 1963 and has been holding Balticon since 1967.
The Baltimore Science Fiction Society (BSFS) released the names of the six finalists for its 2022 Compton Crook Award for best first novel in the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres. The finalists are:
A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark
Assassin’s Orbit by John Appel
Nucleation by Kimberly Unger
The Councillor by E. J. Beaton
The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec
We Have Always Been Here by Lena Nguyen
The award includes a framed award document and, for the novel’s author, a check for $1,000 and an invitation to be the Compton Crook Guest of Honor at Balticon (the BSFS annual convention) for two years. Balticon is held in Baltimore over Memorial Day Weekend, May 27-30th. Because Balticon was held online for the previous two years, this year’s Balticon will also include past winners Micaiah Johnson (2021), Arkady Martine (2020), and R.F. Kuang (2019).
Members of BSFS selected the finalists by reading and rating debut novels published between Nov 1, 2020 and October 31, 2021. The finalist round of reading and rating will close April 8 and the winner will be notified on Sunday, April 10 and announced to the public on Monday, April 11.
The Baltimore Science Fiction Society (BSFS) has been giving out the Compton Crook Award for best first novel since 1983. Past winners have included Donald Kingsbury, Elizabeth Moon, Michael Flynn, Wen Spencer, Maria Snyder, Naomi Novik, Paolo Bacigalupi, Myke Cole, Charles Gannon, Fran Wilde, Ada Palmer, R.F. Kuang, and Arkady Martine. Last year’s winner was Micaiah Johnson for The Space Between Worlds. This year will be the 40th winner.
The Award was named in memory of Towson State College Professor of Natural Sciences Compton Crook, who wrote under the name Stephen Tall, and who died in 1981. Professor Crook was active for many years in the Baltimore Science Fiction Society and was a staunch champion of new works in the fields eligible for the award. For more details visit here. For more information contact email@example.com.
BSFS is a 501(c)(3), non-profit, charitable, literary and educational organization, dedicated to the promotion of, and an appreciation for, science fiction in all of its many forms. The Baltimore Science Fiction Society was launched on January 5, 1963 and has been holding Balticon since 1967.
(1) TRIPLE TIP. What he tells you three times is true: “Hand Holding” by Mark Lawrence.
This is a blog-post about hand holding. The previous sentence was hand-holding, since the title and the image below make it obvious what the blog-post is about.
Fantasy stories can be complicated beasts. They’re potentially confusing even if we forget all the technicalities and twistiness of battles, wars, duels, mysteries, espionage, lies etc that might well bedevil other genres….
…And the question through all of this is how much hand-holding the author does. Does the writer put the pieces of the puzzle in front of the reader and assume they’ll put them together? Does the writer put the pieces together for them then repeat the answer for the reader three times in three different ways?
Before I was published I used to share short stories on the now vanished Yahoo Groups. During that time I developed through observation and experience, what I called The Rule of Three.
The Rule of Three: If you want 90% of your readership to take onboard an important fact then you need to repeat it three times in the text….
A two-term Division Head of the IAFA, Pawe? Frelik is Associate Professor and the Leader of Speculative Texts and Media Research Group at the American Studies Center, University of Warsaw, Poland. His teaching and research interests include science fiction, speculative visualities, and video games. He has published widely in these fields, serves on the boards of Science Fiction Studies (USA), Extrapolation (USA/UK), and Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds (UK), and is the co- editor of the New Dimensions in Science Fiction book series at the University of Wales Press. In 2013-2014, he was President of the Science Fiction Research Association, the first in the organization’s history from outside North America. In 2017, he was the first non-Anglophone recipient of the Thomas D. Clareson Award. Within IAFA, he has served as Science Fiction Division Head since 2017. Dr. Frelik will assume the presidency at the end of the 43rd ICFA in March.
(3) DISCUSS RING SHOUT. The Gunn Center for Science Fiction Virtual Book Club will meet February 25 and Director Giselle Anatol invites you to the meeting.
Novel lengths in science fiction and fantasy are essentially dictated by methods of publication *and* distribution.
For example, during the “golden age” of science fiction, the main publishing action of SF/F was in the short fiction arena, with novels (many of which were “fix-ups” of previously published shorter work) largely printed as cheap paperbacks which were fitted into racks at drug stores, groceries and other such places. Because distributors (and publishers!) wanted to fit a larger number of books into each rack, novel lengths were commensurately shorter — 40,000 to 60,000 words on average….
Nearly 10 years after it signed off, Futuramahas been revived for a 20-episode run on Hulu, the third platform for the animated comedy from creators Matt Groening and David X. Cohen.
The series that aired its first five seasons on Fox before being revived for three more at Comedy Central will return to production this month for a 2023 premiere. Following an extended deal-making period, original stars Billy West (Fry) and Katey Sagal (Leela) along with ensemble players who voiced multiple characters Tress MacNeille, Maurice LaMarche, Lauren Tom, Phil LaMarr and David Herman will all return. John DiMaggio, who provided the voice behind the wise-cracking robot with the “shiny metal ass” Bender, is finalizing a deal to return as well though a deal has not yet closed.
(6) SCIENCE PLUS. The National Book Foundation Science + Literature Program “identifies three books annually, steered by a committee of scientific and literary experts, to deepen readers’ understanding of science and technology with a focus on work that highlights the diversity of voices in scientific writing. The selected titles will act as a catalyst to create discourse, understanding, and engagement with science for communities across the country.” Authors will receive a $10,000 prize. The inaugural winners are:
(7) IMAGINARY PAPERS 9. The latest issue of Imaginary Papers, ASU’s quarterly newsletter on science fiction worldbuilding, futures thinking, and imagination, features an essay by science fiction and global futures scholar Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay on the oft-forgotten science fiction docudramas of the filmmaker George Haggerty, and CSI staffer Bob Beard on Richard Linklater’s 2006 PKD adaptation A Scanner Darkly and the dramas of self-presentation. There’s also a writeup of the “Speculating the Future” essay series from the Olaf Stapledon Centre for Speculative Futures. “Imaginary Papers, Issue 9”.
The Films of George Haggerty, Parts 1 and 2 (1975-1994)
What exactly counts as a “forgotten future”? One can google George Haggerty, the director, whose six docufiction films are presented in two anthology DVDs, released in 2017 by Screen Edge and MVDvisual. All six films—Hamburger Hamlet (1975), Mall Time (1988), Robotopia (1990), Home on Wheels (1992), LA Requiem (1993), and Cyberville (1994)—were produced by Mike Wallington, but searching that reveals little about the director or the films. It was the sleeve descriptions, which make Haggerty appear a maverick outsider figure, that first drew my attention to these anthologies. The films are unreservedly about the future, even as they operate at the interstices of the vanishing past and present. As a documentary producer and SF researcher, there is something disconcerting about finding a set of films that one is unable to locate easily in the developing history of the medium. (Drew Barrymore even appears in one of the films, but the title is absent from her IMDb profile.)…
(8) PEEK EXPERIENCE. Leonard Maltin says this was “Douglas Trumbull’s greatest visual effect” in “Remembering Douglas Trumbull” at Leonard Maltin’s Movie Crazy.
Sometime in the late 1980s my wife and I were invited to a warehouse-type building in Marina del Rey for a demonstration of Douglas Trumbull’s Showscan. A new film format from the man who was largely responsible for the incredible look of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and the modern era of visual effects? The same guy who directed Silent Running? Who could turn down an invitation like that? …
Archie recruits him for the clandestine Lazarus Project: an organisation composed of people with the same vanishingly rare ability with which George finds himself stuck. They harness the time-bending power to prevent global catastrophes and apocalyptic scenarios (as a famous philosopher once said: “With great power, comes great…”) But when Sarah, the love of George’s life, is involved in a car accident, the ethics of such an extraordinary gift take centre stage — and what is George willing to sacrifice?
(10) TOM DUPREE (1949-2022). Writer, critic, and editor Tom Dupree died February 7. He was employed as the line editor for Star Wars novels with Bantam Spectra from 1992-1997. He was charged with handling the X-Wing series of novels. The character names “Dupas Thomree” (in Assault at Selonia and Showdown at Centerpoint by Roger MacBride Allen) and “Ree Duptom” (in Hard Merchandise by K.W. Jeter) are playful nods to him.
He co-wrote John Maxwell’s critically acclaimed one-man show based on the life of William Faulkner (filmed in 2006).
(11) MEDIA BIRTHDAY.
1966 — [Item by Cat Eldridge] Fifty-six years ago this evening, the thrilling sight of Lost In Space’s “War Of The Robots” first happened. In one corner of this fight, we have Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet. And in the other corner of the ring (metaphorically speaking), we have B-9 from Lost in Space.
Aired as the twentieth episode of the first season, the story is that while returning from a fishing trip, Will and B-9 find a deactivated Robotoid. Against the wishes of B-9, Will proceeds to repair and restore the Robotoid which apparently becomes a humble servant of the Robinson family. Sure.
The best part of this episode is the slow motion rock ‘em, sock ‘em battle between the robots. And yes it’s a very, very silly battle indeed as you can see from the image below.
Lost in Space is available to stream on Hulu and Netflix.
(12) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.
[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]
Born February 9, 1928 — Frank Frazetta. Artist whose illustrations showed up damn near everywhere from LP covers to book covers and posters. Among the covers he painted were Tarzan and the Lost Empire, Conan the Adventurer (L. Sprague de Camp stories in that setting) and Tarzan at the Earth’s Core. He did overly muscular barbarians very well! Oh, and he also helped Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder on three stories of the bawdy parody strip Little Annie Fanny in Playboy. Just saying. In the early 1980s, Frazetta worked with Bakshi on the feature Fire and Ice. He provided the poster for it as he did for Mad Monster Party? and The Fearless Vampire Killers, or Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are in My Neck, two other genre films. He was inducted into both Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame and the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame. (Died 2010.)
Born February 9, 1935 — R. L. Fanthorpe, 87. He was a pulp writer for UK publisher Badger Books during the 1950s and 1960s during which he wrote under some sixty pen names. I think he wrote several hundred genre novels during that time but no two sources agree on just how many he wrote. Interestingly nothing is available by him digitally currently though his hard copy offerings would fill a wing of small rural library. He’d be perfect for the usual suspects I’d say.
Born February 9, 1936 — Clive Walter Swift. His first genre appearance was as Snug in that version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1968). Several years thereafter he was Dr. Black in “A Warning to the Curious” (based on a ghost story by British writer M. R. James).Then he’s Ecto, whoever that character is, in Excalibur. He shows up next in the Sixth Doctor story, “The Revelation of a The Daleks” as Professor Jobel. (Died 2019.)
Born February 9, 1940 — David Webb Peoples, 82. Screenwriter of Blade Runner, Ladyhawke, Leviathan, and Twelve Monkeys which is not a full listing. He’s also been writing for the Twelve Monkeys series .
Born February 9, 1942 — Marianna Hill, 80. Doctor Helen Noel in the excellent “Dagger of The Mind” episode of the original Trek. (This episode introduces the Vulcan mind meld.) She also had roles on Outer Limits (in the Eando Binder’s “I Robot“ story which predates Asimov’s story of that name), Batman (twice as Cleo Patrick), I-Spy, The Wild Wild West, Mission: Impossible and Kung Fu (ok, the last one has to be least genre adjacent, isn’t it?).
Born February 9, 1951 — Justin Gustainis, 71. Author of two series so far, one being the Occult Crimes Unit Investigations series which he’s written three superb novels in so far, and the other being the Quincey Morris Supernatural Investigations series which has seven novels and which I’ve not read yet. Who’s read the latter series?
Born February 9, 1956 — Timothy Truman, 66. Writer and artist best remembered in my opinion for his work on Grimjack (with John Ostrander), Scout, and the reinvention of Jonah Hex with Joe R. Lansdale. His work with Ostrander is simply stellar and is collected in Grimjack Omnibus, volumes one and two. For the Hex work, I’d say Jonah Hex: Shadows West which collects their work together. He did do a lot of other work and I’m sure you’ll point out what I’ve now overlooked…
Born February 9, 1981 — Tom Hiddleston, 41. Loki in the Marvel film universe. And a more charming bastard of a god has never been conceptualised by screenwriters. Outside of the MCU, I see he shows up in Kong: Skull Island as Captain James Conrad and The Pirate Fairy as the voice of James Hook as well in a vampire film called Only Lovers Left Alive as Adam.
On January 10, 2022, the McMinn County Board of Education in Tennessee voted unanimously to remove Art Spiegelman’s Maus from its eighth-grade language arts curriculum, citing its use of profanity and depictions of nudity. This public document represents the unedited minutes of that Board’s meeting, presented as a service to all impacted parties.
…Which is what makes Pokémon Legends: Arceus so refreshing: it’s genuinely surprising. It does this by shifting the timeline back to long before the modern games in the series, during a period when pokémon were still barely understood. Instead of a world where humans and pokémon live in harmony, and anyone can buy an electronic device full of information on hundreds of species, players are thrust into a wild, untamed region where people are just doing their best to survive while surrounded by largely unknown and seemingly dangerous creatures….
(17) NEGATORY, GOOD BUDDY. If you’re sensitive to robotic (and other violence), do not watch the trailer for the game Atomic Heart. No, no, no.
Research has shown that the Earth trails an asteroid barely a kilometre across in its orbit about the Sun – only the second such body to have ever been spotted. It goes round the Sun on average two months ahead of the Earth, dancing around in front like an excited herald of our coming.
(21) VIDEO OF THE DAY. [Item by Martin Morse Wooster.] In “Honest Trailers: Arcane:League of Legends,” the Screen Junkies find an animated series based on a video game that “taught your 13-year-old cousin all his favorite slurs” is actually pretty good. The series features “cyberpunk, steampunk. skatepunk, and Punky Brewster” and is in a world where “magic is like science, and science is like Crossfit.”
[Thanks to Andrew Porter, Michael Toman, Cat Eldridge, Jennifer Hawthorne, Chris Barkley, Rob Thornton, Joey Eschrich, Mike Kennedy, Martin Morse Wooster, JJ, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Rob Thornton.]
Clarion West is able to provide full and partial scholarships to a significant number of applicants, thanks to a generous community of donors and sponsors.
Applications will be accepted until 11:59 p.m. on February 10. Information about how to apply is here. The application fee is $35 from December 1 to January 31; it will increase to $60 on February 1.
Founded in 1971, Clarion West holds a six-week workshop each summer geared toward helping writers of speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, and horror) at the beginnings of their professional careers. Each workshop is limited to 18 students, and each week features a different instructor, a highly regarded author or editor offering a unique perspective on the field. Applicants and students come from everywhere in the world, and graduates frequently go on to professional success. In addition to changing to an ADA accessible facility in 2022, Clarion West has been working with a team of alumni and instructors to evolve our workshop culture and create protocols towards equity, empowerment, and innovation.
(1) BIAS IN REVIEW SPACES. In a series of Twitter threads, Silvia Moreno-Garcia has tackled issues of bias in review spaces against marginalized authors, such as through the misuse of trigger warnings.
Some of your work has been described as Lovecraftian horror. What draws you to the genre? How do you create such an atmosphere in your stories?
Cosmic horror is already entrenched so much in genre, it’s hard to not be drawn to it. When I use it in my own stories, I’m often attempting to convey a sense of the strange, the otherworldly, and at times inconceivable. That might be done by translating a bit of folklore through a cosmic horror lens, drawing on a favorite trope but finding a new way to present it, or by adding some well-placed tentacles. You can never go wrong with tentacles.
…Nearly 50 years ago. And I was 16 or 17. I was a science fiction fan and a film fan. And I lived just a few miles from the 20th Century-Fox lot.
I no longer remember what prompted me to try this but, for some reason, one evening I decided to drive to the studio. I parked in the studio lot and walked through the gate. It was long before 9/11. Long before security theater took over. You could walk onto any studio lot in town, right past the security guards, as long as you looked like you were meant to be there. And so I did.
What was shooting on the lot that evening were scenes from Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. These were outdoor scenes, not on a sound stage. Not having to sneak into a sound stage, it was especially easy to approach and watch….
… Of the nine stories in this anthology, four are written by women. If we count Jane Rice and her collaborator Ruth Allison separately, we have five male and five female authors. Of course, women make up fifty-one percent of the Earth’s population, so an anthology with fifty percent male and fifty percent female contributors shouldn’t be anything unusual. However, in practice there are still way too many magazine issues and anthologies that don’t have a single female contributor, so an anthology where half the authors are women is truly remarkable.
…German science fiction, pulp magazines, morbid beauty, vampire flower women, Jirel of Joiry, the Dark Eye, foreshadowing, Gary Gygax’s exclusion of Clark Ashton Smith from the Appendix N, Alphonse Mucha, doomed protagonists, the 2022 World Science Fiction Convention, and much more!
(7) MEDIA BIRTHDAY.
June 1973 — On this month in 1973, Robert Heinlein’s Time Enough for Love was first published by Putnam. Clarke’s Rendezvous With Rama would beat it out for the Hugo for Best Novel at Discon II. It was later given a Prometheus Hall of Fame Award. It’s the life of Lazarus Long told in exhaustive detail. Really exhaustive detail. Critics including Theodore Sturgeon loved it, and John Leonard writing for the NYT called it “great entertainment”. It’s currently priced at just six dollars and ninety-nine cents at the usual suspects.
(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.
[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]
Born June 14, 1908 — Stephen Tall. His first published work was “The Lights on Precipice Peak“ in Galaxy, October 1955. Not a prolific writer, he’d do about twenty stories over the next quarter of a century and two novels as well, The Ramsgate Paradox and The People Beyond the Wall. “The Bear with the Knot on His Tail” was nominated for a Hugo. He has not yet made into the digital realm other than “The Lights on Precipice Peak“ being available at the usual suspects. (Died 1981.)
Born June 14, 1914 — Ruthven Todd. He’s here for his delightful children’s illustrated trio of Space Cat books — Space Cat Visits Venus, Space Cat Meets Mars and Space Cat and the Kittens. I’m please to say they’re available at all the usual digital suspects. He also wrote Over the Mountain and The Lost Traveller which are respectively a lost world novel and a dystopian novel. (Died 1978.)
Born June 14, 1919 — Gene Barry. His first genre role was in The War of the Worlds as Dr. Clayton Forrester. He’d have a number of later genre appearances including several appearances on Science Fiction Theatre, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Devil and Miss Sarah, The Girl, the Gold Watch & Dynamite, multiple appearances on Fantasy Island and The Twilight Zone. He’d appear in the ‘05 War of The Worlds credited simply as “Grandfather”. (Died 2009.)
Born June 14, 1921 — William Hamling. Author and editor who was active as an sf fan in the late 1930s and early 1940s. His first story “War with Jupiter”, written with Mark Reinsberg, appeared in Amazing Stories in May 1939. He’d write only short stories, some nineteen of them, over the next twenty years. Genre adjacent, his Shadow of the Sphinx is a horror novel about an ancient Egyptian sorceress. He would be the Editor of two genre zines, Imagination for most of the Fifties, and Imaginative Tales during the Fifties as well. He published four issues of the Stardust fanzine in 1940, and contributed to the 1940 Worldcon program. (Died 2017.)
Born June 14, 1939 — Penelope Farmer, 82. English writer best known for children’s fantasy novels. Her best-known novel is Charlotte Sometimes, a boarding-school story that features a multiple time slip. There’s two more novels in this, the Emma / Charlotte series, The Summer Birds and Emma in Winter. Another children’s fantasy by her, A Castle of Bone, concerns a portal in a magic shop.
Born June 14, 1949 — Harry Turtledove, 72. I wouldn’t know where to begin with him considering how many series he’s done. I’m fairly sure I first read novels in his Agent of Byzantium series and I know his Crosstime Traffic series was definitely fun reading. He’s won two Sidewise Awards for How Few Remain and Ruled Britannia, and a Prometheus for The Gladiator.
Born June 14, 1958 — James Gurney, 63. Artist and author best known for his illustrated Dinotopia book series. He won a Hugo for Best Original Artwork at L.A. Con III for Dinotopia: The World Beneath, and was twice nominated for a Hugo for Best Professional Artist. The dinosaur Torvosaurus gurneyi was named in honor of him.
Born June 14, 1972 — Adrian Tchaikovsky, 49. He is best known for his Shadows of the Apt series, and for Children of Time which won an Arthur C. Clarke Award. (He’s also won a BFA for The Tiger and the Wolf, and a BSFA for Children of Ruin.) The After War series is multi author. He wrote the first, Redemption’s Blade, and Justina Robson wrote the second, Salvation’s Fire.
It’s a formula that has been repeated over and over for about as long as there has been science fiction on television—starting with the likes of Star Trek and Blake’s 7, through the boom in “planet of the week” style TV in the 90s and 00s with Farscape and Firefly, to more recent stories like Dark Matter, The Expanse, Killjoys, and the Guardians of the Galaxy films. Most recently Sky’s Intergalactic, and the Korean movie Space Sweepers have been carrying the standard, while last month saw people diving back into the world of Mass Effect with Mass Effect Legendary Edition. While Commander Sheppard is ostensibly the protagonist of the video game trilogy, few would argue that it’s anything other than the ensemble of the Normandy crew that keeps people coming back.
As science fiction author Charlie Jane Anders points out, it’s not hard to see the appeal of a family of likeable characters, kept in close quarters by the confines of their ship, and sent into stories of adventure.
“I love how fun this particular strand of space opera is, and how much warmth and humour the characters tend to have,” Anders says. “These stories have in common a kind of swashbuckling adventure spirit and a love of problem-solving and resourcefulness. And I think the ‘found family’ element is a big part of it, since these characters are always cooped up on a tiny ship together and having to rely on each other.”…
(10) HYPERTEXT PETS. “HTTP Status Dogs” is a collection of photos about “Hypertext Transfer Protocol Response status codes. And dogs.”
Bryson Kliemann loves his Pokémon card collection, but when he found out his beloved puppy Bruce was sick and might not survive, the 8-year-old did what he could to save his best friend. He set up a stand on the side of the road in Lebanon, Virginia, with a sign: “4 Sale Pokémon.”
…”I’m a realist with my kids,” Woodruff said. “I told him Bruce was sick and said ‘When you get home today from school, he may be at the vet’s office or in heaven.”
When Bryson got off the school bus that day, he showed his mother and stepfather a business plan he created to sell his Pokémon cards and snacks to help raise money to get Bruce the best possible care.
“I told him no, we’ve got this,” Woodruff said. “And then he later asked my husband and we decided to say yes, because this was also an opportunity to teach him responsibility.”
Bryson set up his stand on the side of the road, complete with a colorful umbrella and handmade signed, and started serving customers.
The first day he made $65. Within two afternoons, Woodruff said her son had made $400 and even received some Pokémon cards from kind strangers who wanted to help….
(12) ETCH-A-SKETCH. Wow! Princess Etch (Jane Labowitch) made an Etch-A-Sketch of the ship that blocked the Suez Canal.
The new update is called “Black Panther: War for Wakanda”. You’ll face off against classic Marvel villain Ulysses Klaue in what seems to be a fight over vibranium. That’s the rare metal in the world of Marvel that can only be found in Wakanda.
This will be the first time that the Black Panther has appeared in the Marvel’s Avengers game, so it’s great to see him finally team up with the Avengers.
[Thanks to Michael Toman, John King Tarpinian, Cat Eldridge, Daniel Dern, Ben Bird Person, Mike Kennedy, Andrew Porter, Martin Morse Wooster, and JJ for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]
The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. (SFWA) announced the 56th Annual Nebula Awards® winners in an online ceremony on June 5 hosted by Toastmaster Aydrea Walden.
These awards are given to the writers of the best speculative fiction works released in 2020, as voted on by Full, Associate, and Senior SFWA members.
Network Effect, Martha Wells (Tordotcom)
Ring Shout, P. Djèlí Clark (Tordotcom)
“Two Truths and a Lie”, Sarah Pinsker (Tor.com)
BEST SHORT STORY
“Open House on Haunted Hill”, John Wiswell (Diabolical Plots)
THE ANDRE NORTON NEBULA AWARD FOR MIDDLE GRADE AND YOUNG ADULT FICTION
A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking, T. Kingfisher (Argyll)
BEST GAME WRITING
Hades, Greg Kasavin (Supergiant)
THE RAY BRADBURY NEBULA AWARD FOR OUTSTANDING DRAMATIC PRESENTATION
The Good Place: “Whenever You’re Ready”, Michael Schur, NBC (Fremulon/3 Arts Entertainment/Universal)
Additional awards and honors presented:
THE SFWA DAMON KNIGHT MEMORIAL GRAND MASTER AWARD
THE KATE WILHELM SOLSTICE AWARD
Ben Bova (posthumous)
Rachel Caine (posthumous)
THE KEVIN J. O’DONNELL, JR. SERVICE TO SFWA AWARD
Presenters joined virtually from around the country, including SFWA President Mary Robinette Kowal, SFWA Vice President Tobias S. Buckell, incoming SFWA President Jeffe Kennedy, and writers and creatives Nisi Shawl, Carrie Patel, Mallory O’Meara, Mark Oshiro, Troy L. Wiggins, and Adam Savage.
[Editor’s note: be sure to read the comments on this post for more novellas and more Filer reviews.]
TL;DR: Here’s what I thought of the 2020 Novellas. What did you think?
I’m a huge reader of novels, but not that big on short fiction. But the last few years, I’ve done a personal project to read and review as many Novellas as I could (presuming that the story Synopsis had some appeal for me). I ended up reading:
31 of the novellas published in 2015,
35 of the novellas published in 2016,
50 of the novellas published in 2017,
38 of the novellas published in 2018,
57 of the 2019 novellas,
and this year I was waiting for access to a few novellas from my library, so I was reading others, and thus my final total crept up to 59!
I really felt as though this enabled me to do Hugo nominations for the Novella category in an informed way, and a lot of Filers got involved with their own comments. So I’m doing it again this year.
It is not at all uncommon for me to choose to read a book despite not feeling that the jacket copy makes the book sound as though it is something I would like – and to discover that I really like or love the work anyway. On the other hand, It is not at all uncommon for me to choose to read a book which sounds as though it will be up my alley and to discover that, actually, the book doesn’t really do much for me.
Thus, my opinions on the following novellas vary wildly: stories I thought I would love but didn’t, stories I didn’t expect to love but did, and stories which aligned with my expectations – whether high or low.
Bear in mind that while I enjoy both, I tend to prefer Science Fiction over Fantasy – and that while I enjoy suspense and thrillers, I have very little appreciation for Horror (and to be honest, I think Lovecraft is way overrated). What’s more, I apparently had a defective childhood, and I do not share a lot of peoples’ appreciation for fairytale retellings and portal fantasies. My personal assessments are therefore not intended to be the final word on these stories, but merely a jumping-off point for Filer discussion.
Novellas are listed in two sections below. The first section, those with cover art, are the ones I have read, and they include mini-reviews by me. These are in approximate order from most-favorite to least-favorite (but bear in mind that after around the first dozen listed, there was not a large degree of difference in preference among most of the remainder, with the exception of a handful at the bottom). The second section is those novellas I haven’t read, in alphabetical order by title.
I’ve included plot summaries, and where I could find them, links to either excerpts or the full stories which can be read online for free. Some short novels which fall between 40,000 and 48,000 words (within the Hugo Novella category tolerance) have been included, and in a couple of cases, novelettes which were long enough to be in the Hugo Novella tolerance were also included.
Please feel free to post comments about 2020 novellas which you’ve read, as well. And if I’ve missed your File 770 comment about a novella, or an excerpt for a novella, please point me to it!
If you see something that looks like gibberish, it is text that has been ROT-13’ed to avoid spoilers. (Please be sure to rot-13 any spoilers.)