Thursday, 26 November 2009 Free Audio Book Download

Just a heads up, until midnight tonight (November 26th), is offering a free download. They have a couple good SF titles, so check them out.

Sorry, the link above takes you to their homepage. Here's the link for the free audio book:

Death Is Quite A Character - Reading List

I've seen several books with 'Death' as a character come in recently and decided to see how many titles there were (that I could find on our shelves). The list was large enough for a half display. I stuck to traditional western views of death, though things like Deathnote and The Anubis Murders did come under consideration. Feel free to suggest other titles in the comments. I also know that several of Neil Gaiman's Sandman comics have Death as a character, but chose to use the spring off Death comics in the list instead.

Mort, Reaper Man, Soul Music, Hogfather, Thief of Time - Terry Pratchett (I know Death shows up in his other books but these are the ones that focus on him)
A Dirty Job - Christopher Moore
Death With Interruptions - Jose Saramago
Death: A Life - Death & George Pendle
Death: Time of Your Life, Death: High Cost of Living - Neil Gaiman, Chris Bachalo & Mark Buckingham
On a Pale Horse - Piers Anthony
Good Omens - Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett
Death's Daughter - Amber Benson

Friday, 20 November 2009

The Dragon Book - Book Review

Penguin recently released a new short story collection centered around dragons. It's edited Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois. The table of contents follows along with my quick reviews for each story.

The author line-up in The Dragon Book is a bit unusual for a collection by "the masters of modern fantasy", especially considering that some of the authors in the book would likely not appreciate their works being classified as fantasy. The stories themselves are diverse and entertaining, with some completely unexpected takes on the mythos of dragons. Most of the stories are alternate histories, where dragons exist in the real world. A few at the end of the book have fantasy world settings. (My review code is as follows ^ = thumbs up, ^^ = 2 thumbs up, v = thumb down)

v "Dragon's Deep" - Cecelia Holland (I liked the beginning of the story, about a village whose taxes have been raised and what the villagers must do in order to survive, but an ... unpleasant event occurs part way through that made the ending less plausible - and palatable - for me.)
^ "Vici" - Naomi Novik (I haven't read her novels, but if this story, set in ancient Rome, is an example, then I'll definitely be picking them up.)
^ "Bob Choi's Last Job" - Jonathan Stroud (An interesting detective story where dragons can cloak themselves to look like humans.)
^ "Are You Afflicted with Dragons?" - Kage Baker (Loved the premise, that dragons are small pests, kind of like pigeons, and need to be dealt with. However, I found the ending too abrupt.)
^ "The Tsar's Dragons" - Jane Yolen & Adam Stemple (Taking place just before the Russian Revolution, both Rasputin and Leon Trotsky make appearances.)
^ "The Dragon of Direfell" - Liz Williams (This story, about a magician called in to deal with a dragon, was cleverly written and had a great ending.)
^^ "Oakland Dragon Blues" - Peter S. Beagle (Another great story, a cop's called in to move a dragon who's obstructing traffic, not that he'd later admit that's what it was. Shows how reality is shaped by belief.)
v "Humane Killer" - Diana Gabaldon & Samuel Sykes (Two stories that intersect, one half tells of a magician and her knight protector, the other half tells of a knight in training and his scarred sister companion. Neither group is what they appear and both are sent to kill the same dragon. I found the story rather long and boring with rather unsympathetic characters.)
^^ "Stop!" - Garth Nix (A man walks onto an US army a-bomb test site. Sounds odd but the story works and is one of the best in the collection.)
^ "Ungentle Fire" - Sean Williams (A coming of age story where a boy is sent to slay a dragon, but is unsure whether following his master is still the correct course of action.)
^^ "A Stark and Wormy Knight" - Tad Williams (A fantastic tale of a dragon telling her son a bed time story. It uses dialect, but the tale itself is fun, not the least for being from the dragon's POV.)
^ "None So Blind" - Harry Turtledove (Colonial soldiers examine a mountain range inhabited by savages concerning rumours of dragons.)
^ "JoBoy" - Diana Wynne Jones (A strange but interesting story of a man whose father mysteriously dies and who, himself, falls prey to an undiagnosable illness.)
^ "Puz-le" = Gregory Maguire (Ellen's so bored from being stuck in the cottage due to rain that she decides to do a puzzle. Only the picture keeps changing. The character's aren't that likable, but Maguire writes them so well you don't really care.)
^^ "After the Third Kiss" - Bruce Coville (This story has the feel of a fairytale in that it's bizarre, has an evil step-mother and a relatively happy ending. There are some great twists in the tale of a girl changed into a dragon who needs her brothers kisses in order to become human again. It was another one of my favourites.)
^ "The War That Winter Is" - Tanith Lee (An ice dragon terrorizes those living in northern climes, freezing whole villages with his breath, until a hero is born. A tale about discovering your own purpose in life rather than doing what others want you to do.)
^ "The Dragon's Tale" - Tamora Pierce (A second story told from a dragon's POV, this time a young dragon who wants to help a woman and her child.)
^^ "Dragon Storm" - Mary Rosenblum (Tahlia of the 'bad-luck eyes' has a way with dragons, but a bully from the grove where she lives threatens her life, and the role she might play in keeping the groves safe from the Kark. A highly enjoyable story, with interesting characters.)
^ "The Dragaman's Bride" - Andy Duncan (Mountain youths are disappearing and Pearl, a magician stumbles onto the reason for the mystery.)

The book has, in my opinion, 5 exceptional stories and 2 bad to mediocre stories. The others were fun reads and did show originality in dealing with dragons. Ultimately, this is a great collection for anyone who loves dragons or who wants to know more about them.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Runaway - Movie Review

I remember seeing this film, written and directed by Michael Crichton, as a child. I remember it as the only movie that scared the daylights out of me and gave me nightmares. So I decided to rent it as an adult and see WHY it scared me so much as I only remembered a few scenes from the film.

Tom Selleck plays police sergeant Jack Ramsay, whose job is to stop machines that have circumvented their programming and become dangerous. Runaways. In the process of investigating a few runaways, he discovers that the machines aren't runaways at all. A chip has been inserted that turns them into killing machines.

While the acting is often over the top (or, in the case of Ramsay's son, underacted), and the special effects cheesy by today's standards, the plot holds. As does the creepiness of seeing spider like robots jump on people and stab them in the throat with needles (the scenes that creeped me out as a kid).

Crichton had no problem killing characters either, which made watching this a real edge of my seat experience.

Here's the movie trailer:

Friday, 13 November 2009

Mark Teppo - Author Interview





Q: Pitch The first novel of your series.

A: LIGHTBREAKER is a Dan Brown thriller written by Aleister Crowley, wherein everyone who is after the mystical secret key of the universe actually knows how to use it. And they're willing to break things in order to get it. It's the first book in a longer series, the CODEX OF SOULS.

Q: What are your favourite three books ?

A: Gene Wolfe's BOOK OF THE NEW SUN series (it's all one book, really, and one of them by itself doesn't bake your brain like the whole quartet does), Grant Morrison's THE INVISIBLES (again, the sum is mightier than the parts), and James Elroy's WHITE JAZZ. No one packs more degradation, guilt, and despair in a single sentence fragment than that man.

Q: What made you want to be a writer?

A: Huh, I can't remember, actually. Couldn't be that school-wide writing competition I won back in sixth grade, mainly because I didn't know there was one until my English teacher submitted the piece I had written for my creative writing class. Though, it probably has something to do with Lloyd Alexander-esque story I wrote as my final paper on T. S. Eliot for my Survey of English Lit class in college. When you manage to convince the grad student running the class that such a story will, in many ways, display more effectively one's understanding of "The Wasteland" than a mind-numbing ramble—with footnotes--that's a pretty clear sign that you'd rather be making things up for a living than anything else.

Q: In the books you’ve written, who is you favourite character and why?

A: I really like my version of Rudolph in the Christmas stories, which, alas, no one other than the people on my Christmas card list (three years running) have seen. Of course, should someone like to publish them…

I do like Markham, the protagonist of the CODEX books, quite a bit. He's been in my head long enough that he's become somewhat emo from all that time of waiting for something to happen, but I think I'm breaking him of that habit fairly quickly. LIGHTBREAKER and HEARTLAND have been "works-in-progress" for so long that there's a certain amount of psychic baggage attached to them, and it's been nice to finally be done with them. I'm actually excited about ANGEL TONGUE (book 3) and the ones that follow, as they're books which have no previous drafts floating around. It'll be new ground for me, and I think that'll reflect pretty clearly in Markham's attitude.

Q: If you could, would you change places with any of your characters?

A: Oh, dear, no. I try very hard to break them--psychologically and physically. It wouldn't be much fun to be on the receiving end of a capricious deity's whims. Though, they do surprise me, which is part of the fascination with being a writer. You have these creatures whom you think operate on very specific rulesets--ones that you've given them--and they always break free and find their own path. It's when the characters start pushing back on the outline that I feel like I've got a real book on my hands.

Q: If you could live in your fantasy/sf world, would you? Would you live in somebody else’s?

A: I'm trying to ground the CODEX enough in reality (especially in books 3 and 4) that it's only fantasy by a stretch of my imagination, and some days, I wish it were more true that it is. It would certainly explain a lot of things. Given the opportunity, though, I think it'd be fascinating to live in some of the worlds of the French graphic artists: Moebius, Druillet, or Schuiten.

Q: What was the first novel (published or unpublished) that you wrote and how long did it take to write it?

A: It was called SOULS OF THE LIVING and I wrote it in a sixty-day spurt at the beginning of 1995. All that remains of it are the framework of a few scenes and a handful of characters, but it was the first draft of what became LIGHTBREAKER.

Q: What was the hardest scene for you to write?

A: The first one on an otherwise blank page. It may not be the first scene of the book, but it's the first scene I write of a new book. I hate getting started.

Q: Share an interesting fan story.

A: Someone, who I've known for a very long time, recently finished LIGHTBREAKER and gave me a strange look the day after. "Are you," she asked, "You know, one of them?" I played dumb. "One of who?" "One of those guys. A…Traveler?"

For a second or two, I thought about saying yes, but I could tell it took a lot for her to even ask the question, and to mess with her would have been mean. Though, it may be like the old maxim about the Rosicrucians. If you say you are a Rosicrucian, you aren't. If you deny it, you probably are.

Q: What was the most fun book signing, convention, etc. you’ve attended and why?

A: I still get a kick out of being able to publicly point to the book and say (in a loud voice), "Why, yes, I wrote that. Why do you ask?" LIGHTBREAKER has only been physically on the shelves for about six months and so people are still discovering it. So any opportunity I have to do some sort of promotion or event has been a hoot. It's not work yet. It's not the grind of "Oh, drat; a sixteen city tour this month." It's: "Oh, look! A stack of books I've not signed. Who has a pen?"

Q: If you still have one, what’s your day job?

A: I still have the day job, where I do a variety of technical things for a biotech company in Seattle. Most of the time the job involves taking data from one system, massaging it, and giving it to another system, but doing it all through the magic of "middleware."

Q: What is your university degree in and does it help with your writing?

A: I had enough science for a B.S. in the Arts and Letters, but I couldn't say it with a straight face. It was a generalized liberal arts degree, but we were expected to declare a focus and write a thesis. I did mine on Creative Mythology, and wrote about the use of mythological tropes and sacred elements within both popular fiction and literature. Clive Cussler's TREASURE was actually a cornerstone to my thesis. I think my advisor was appalled on some level; more so because I made it work. Has it helped? Yes, I'm still milking the research I did back then. Every time I mention Mircea Eliade or use the phrase 'in illo tempore' in the books, I'm just validating my college degree.

Q: Do you think it is easier to write fantasy or science fiction?

A: I used to think fantasy was, because you could make everything up and no one would be able to call you on the places where you got things wrong (unlike science fiction), but I've come to realize that making things up--on such a global level--is probably more work. None of it is easy, I think, the trick is to make it fun, and both have their pluses and minuses.

I just finished a 21st century corporate espionage piece for Electric Velocipede (in issue #19; that was the first real "science fiction" that I've written, and I think I managed to not embarrass myself on the tech side of things. But it was an entirely different set of mental peregrinations than the sort of thing I do for the fantasy. In fact, now that I think about it, I made everything up for that story, whereas a lot of the fantastic elements in the CODEX books are researched fairly intently. Apparently, I'm doing it backward.

Q: When and where do you write?

A: I write on the train or at the coffee shop, mostly. I finally admitted to myself recently that I don't really write at home. Partly it is because the way my day is structured, the commute is set aside as my writing time, and I guard it religiously. As I became more accustomed to being a mobile writer, working at the coffee shop became the obvious extension of that.

Q: What’s the best/worst thing about writing?

A: I used to think it was the editing, but now I really enjoy the process of fixing a story. First drafts tend to be fragmentary (not surprising, based on how I write them), and so there's a real sense of satisfaction in putting this awkward, jagged thing together. The worst part is how isolating the work can be. By the time someone reads a book you've written, it may be several years--and several projects--later for you, and it can be hard to share in a reader's excitement about the work. At the same time, all the things you find fascinating RIGHT NOW are meaningless to anyone else because they're not as involved in them as you are.

Q: What is something you didn’t know about the publishing industry before you had your first book published?

A: Nothing happens overnight, even when it looks like it does. A writer has to be stubbornly determined in order to get a book done; they also have to be Zen masters of patience while they wait for something to happen.

Q: Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

A: Write every single day. Doesn't matter where or how or how much. Do it. Do it long enough, it gets easier. Do it more, and it becomes part of who you are.

Q: Any tips against writers block?

A: Writer's block is mainly an issue of you over-thinking what needs to go on the page. Usually, I do something else as I've found that whatever I manage to eke out during these periods is usually so bad that it all gets cut anyway. There's always reading to be done, so that's what I go do. Eventually, the knot dissolves itself and the flow starts again. Or if you stack up enough projects, when one stalls out, you switch to something else. I don't get writer's block much anymore, really, as my writing time is broken up enough that any trouble I'm having with a scene is usually worked out in my subconscious between sessions.

Q: How do you discipline yourself to write?

A: I have two forty minute blocks in a day. I need to do 30,000 words a month. I typically write 1000 words an hour. My schedule only has six days a week of writing time on it, so…(doing the math)…yeah, I'm always behind in the word count. That does wonders for disciple.

Q: How many rejection letters did you get for your first novel or story?

A: SOULS OF THE LIVING was shopped for two years before we shelved it. I got about a dozen rejections during that iteration. When we tried again with it a half-dozen years later (after a page one rewrite to make it LIGHTBREAKER), we had one rejection before two houses went to the mat for it.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Zardo - Photographer and Artist

For those of you who like fantasy art, here's a photographer who makes his work look more like goth paintings. Check him out:

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Previously Posted Author Interviews

As promised, here's a list of all the interviews I've posted since I began in December of 2007. They're in order, first to latest. In brackets is either their first book or their most recent.

Joshua Palmatier (Skewed Throne)
Joel Shepherd (Crossover)
Carol Berg (Transformation)
Paul Chafe (Genesis)
Gail Martin (Summoner)
Edward Willett (Terra Insegura)
Jim Hines (Goblin Quest)
John Varley (Rolling Thunder)
Maria Snyder (Poison Study)
Rob Thurman (Nightlife)
R. Scott Bakker (The Darkness That Comes Before)
Kevin J. Anderson (The Edge of the World)
Chris Evans (A Darkness Forged In Fire)
Mark L. Van Name (One Jump Ahead)
Violette Malan (Mirror Prince)
C. L. Wilson (Lord of the Fading Lands)
Lynda Williams (Courtesan Prince)
Chad Corrie (Seer's Quest)
Brent Weeks (Way of Shadows)
Bernardine Evaristo (Blonde Roots)
Peter Brett (Warded Man/Painted Man)
Matthew Sturges (Midwinter)
Robert J. Sawyer (WWW:Wake)
A. J. Hartley (Act of Will)
Brandon Sanderson (Elantris)
Faith Hunter (Bloodring)
Tony Ballantyne (Recursion)
Joe Abercrombie (The Blade Itself)
Freda Warrington (Elfland)
John Ringo (Eye of the Storm)
Gail Carriger (Soulless)

In the works are interviews with Mark Teppo (Lightbreaker), Jeff Carlson (Plague Year) and Kelly Gay (The Better Part of Darkness).

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Previously Posted Reading Lists

Given that I've got a lot more readers than I used to and knowing how rarely people read older posts, I'm listing the reading lists I posted in the past. I'm not adding the links (too time consuming) but you can use the blog search box to find the posts.

These are listed from oldest to newest. The older the list the older the books on them, but knowing what authors are writing what genres can help you find something new to read.

Time Travel
Space Opera (not my best list, I'll admit)
Alternate History
Urban Fantasy P.I.'s
Not Quite Human (ie, cyborgs, etc.)
It All Started On A Farm (SFF novels that start on a farm)
Writer's Resources (books on the writing craft)
Pulp SF and Fantasy
Christmas SF & F
Not Your Children's Fairy Tales
Epic Fantasy to Watch Out For
Literary Vampire novels
Fantasy On the High Seas

Tomorrow I'll list all the author's I've interviewed.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Carrie - Stephen King

R. A. Salvatore mentioned something during his talk at the World's Biggest Bookstore that Guy Gavriel Kay said to him. Mr. Kay, in discussing the Lord of the Rings movies said something along the lines of, "Do you realize that no one from now on will approach the Lord of the Rings the way we did, by reading the book?"

At the time I thought that was improbable. Tolkien's books are classics, and while the movies were good, there's something to be said about reading the books. But that doesn't necessarily mean the books will be read first. Which would be a shame.

Take Carrie, by Stephen King. The book came out in 1974, several years before I was born. It's considered a classic of horror. And yet, I saw the movie long before reading the book (which I finally did this week). I imagine most people know the story. Or think they do.

Carrie is about a 16 year old girl who is brought up by a fundamentally religious woman, and whose unfortunately public onset of puberty set forth a chain of events that resulted in death and destruction. It's the kind of story where you imagine the suspense is in the ending, and is therefore ruined by knowing what's coming.

But it's not. The novel itself is told from many viewpoints and many time points. You get third person narrative following the various characters as the events slowly unfold interspersed with sections by future scholars analyzing the events, as well as memoirs and testimonies by survivors at the White Commission, designed to discover if such a disaster could reoccur. In other words, from early on in the novel you've got a pretty good idea of what's going to happen. You may not know all the details, but you already know telekinesis is involved and that... Well, I don't want to spoil the book for those who haven't read it. Suffice it to say, the suspense doesn't come so much from the ending as it does from two other things:

1) The explanation of how events proceed to bring such a conclusion, and
2) The personal motivations of the characters for their actions, all of which combine to form the final conclusion.

In other words, it's the journey not the destination that makes reading so much fun. And most of the interesting nuances from the book are necessarily lost when making a film. You can see some motivations but not all. It's one of those instances where telling actually works better than showing (something that's hard to do with movies).

Carrie White herself is an intriguing character. It would be easy to hate her, especially given her description at the start of the novel. And yet, as the book progresses you sympathize with her more and more, wanting things to go well for her. You honestly want the prom to be a chance for her to start anew, even while you know (because King tells you) that that's not going to happen.

Carrie's a great book. And there's more to it than the movie would have you believe.

I'm left wondering however, how the book would have affected me if I hadn't known the ending in advance. I found myself constantly trying to fit what was happening into my fuzzy recollections of what I remembered about the film. So maybe it is true that future generations will be less likely to read the book if a movie's out based on it.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Abandoned Books - Dracula: The Un-dead by Dacre Stoker & Ian Holt

I've never considered doing a review of a book I decided not to finish but then I saw this post by Andrew Wheeler and realized it can work.

One of my co-workers who's read a lot of vampire books read Dracula: The Un-dead and recommended it to me with the proviso that the ending was a little weak but the book itself was interesting. So I started it.

I loved the first quarter of the novel. The book takes place 25 years after the events of Dracula, and a new enemy vampire, Countess Bathory. The first section focuses on two characters, Dr. Jack Seward who still hunts vampires though that has cost him his family, his money and his practice and Quincey Harker, son of Jonathan and Mina, who wants to be an actor against his father's wishes. The book mixes these new storylines with flashbacks to the Dracula hunt and how the heroes met (which isn't in the original and so rather intriguing).

So far, so good. There's even an inspector who thinks current happenings will lead him to Jack the Ripper so his failed career can be saved. But all those great things seem to fall apart for me around the halfway mark.

From here on there be spoilers, so if you'll be avoiding the rest of this post I will say one last thing. If you want to read the book, and enjoy it, I suggest NOT reading Dracula first. Around the halfway mark the book starts drawing more heavily on Dracula, and the inconsistencies here were what have prevented me from reading on.

*** Spoiler Alert ***

I haven't seen Francis Ford Coppola's movie adaptation of Dracula since university, but I strongly suspect the authors pulled more from that then they did the original novel. In Dracula the Un-dead Mina calls Dracula her 'dark prince' and purportedly still loves him. Now, unless I missed something in the novel (and I went back to check) there's no such emotion in the book. Jonathan, in this continuation, feels overshadowed by Dracula as Mina's lover, feeling that he can never satisfy her.

Here's a rather badly taped clip from the move from the Dracula/Mina love scene.

It's a very sensual scene where Mina asks to join him in his life and consents to become a vampire.

Now, here's that same scene from the book. We've previously been told that Mina's had trouble sleeping the past few nights and that she's seen mist entering her room, but that she remembers nothing after that.

This scene is in the form of Dr. Seward's diary and is the only account we are given. He and Van Helsing have been warned that Mina's already been visited by Dracula in the past and her blood drained. They rush to the room she is sharing with her husband and see the following. Jonathan is on the bed, flushed and breathing heavily as though in a stupor.

"Kneeling on the near edge of the bed facing outwards was the white-clad figure of his wife. By her side stood a tall, thin man, clad in black. His face was turned from us, but the instant we saw it we all recognized the Count - in every way, even to the scar on his forehead. With his left hand he held both Mrs. Harker's hands, keeping them away with her arms at full tension; his right hand ripped her by the back of the neck, forcing her face down on his bosom. Her white nightdress was smeared with blood ... The attitude of the two had a terrible resemblance to a child forcing a kitten's nose into a sauce of milk to compel it to drink."

When he sees the intruders he throws Mina on the bed and goes to attack but is stopped by a Host wafer, held by Van Helsing.

The description of Mina after this is as follows:

"Her eyes were mad with terror. Then she put before her face her poor crushed hands, which bore on their whiteness the red mark of the Count's terrible grip, and from behind them came a low desolate wail which made the terrible scream seem only the quick expression of an endless grief." *

Not really the reaction of a woman in love. Dracula is a horror novel. There is no romance attributed to the vampire. Mina mentions later that Dracula made her drink his blood as a form of revenge, knowing he'd then be able to compel her to act for him. She's convinced she's damned because of it and contemplates suicide at one point. That Dracula: the Un-dead, as a continuation of Dracula, doesn't seem to understand this is rather bizarre. The point where I stopped reading is when Mina decides she truly loved Dracula more than Jonathan (there's a rewritten ending to Dracula where Mina picks up a gun and has to decide between her two loves and chooses Jonathan, something she now regrets - this scene, and consequently this choice, is not in Dracula. Nor, given the religious underpinings of the novel where Dracula is equated with the devil, would it be.).

At the conclusion of Dracula, Van Helsing, 7 years after the events of the book exclaims during a meeting with the Harker family, "This boy (Quincey Harker) will some day know what a brave and gallant woman his mother is."

Well, the Quincey Harker of Dracula: the Un-dead certainly has a different take. He learns of their past (which was hidden from him) and determines that his mothers infidelity with Dracula is what ruined his father and caused all the grief in his family. A sorry end for a character who was portrayed as a strong woman in the original. This sort of reminds me of how people blame rape victims for being attacked. In the original novel Mina did not ask to have her blood drained and she certainly had no love for Dracula. There was no ambiguity in her mind as to whether or not the vampire ought to be killed.

Anyway, back to the review. If you've never read Dracula than none of this is important. The writing of Dracula: the Undead is good and the story was interesting. I'd be interested in hearing thoughts from those who finished the book.

* I'm quoting from the Wordsworth Classics Unabridged 1993 edition of Dracula.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

What Speculative Fiction Works Would You Put On A Highschool Curriculum?

The most recent Mind Meld on SF Signal deals with what speculative fiction novels first published in the last 10 years should be included in high school literature courses.

I had to read the Chrisalids and 1984 in class, but most of my speculative fiction reading was done after school. I read mostly fantasy but felt after a while that I should read some of the SF classics as well, and started with Asimov's Foundation series. I didn't get much past that, so in university I took an SFF English lit course. We read some interesting works, and some I'd never want to read again. I'd expected the list to include SFF classics. The prof however, chose to revise the traditional list so while we'd read the masters we wouldn't read their most famous works. Here's the list:

The Two Towers - J. R. R. Tolkien
The Postman - David Brin
Grass - Sheri Tepper
Time's Arrow - Martin Amis
The Hollow Man - Dan Simmons
Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus - Orson Scott Card
Woman on the Edge of Time - Marge Piercy
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep - Philip K. Dick
Parable of the Sower - Octavia Butler
Dune - Frank Herbert
The Shining - Stephen King
Neuromancer - William Gibson
(I'm missing one or two, but you get the picture)

If you're looking at this list and thinking, 'what a lot of dystopian fiction' you'd be thinking what I was (after I'd read them all). If I were building a curriculum, I'd try to vary my speculative fiction to portray the spectrum of what's been done and what's being done now.

The problem with SF Signal's guidelines is it removes all the classics from the list. I'd love to see more people reading The Postman, which, in my opinion, was a better post apocalyptic novel than The Road by Cormac McCarthy (though I liked that novel). And it just seems odd to leave authors like Clarke, Asimov, Card, Herbert, Tolkien, Butler, Dick, etc. off a list of books intended to teach SFF literature (not that all of them need to be included, but to avoid all of them? That's just wrong.).

Of course, thinking of a list of great books to read and coming up with a curriculum of 'books with themes and meanings' is different. While I didn't like all the books I had to read for my class I can honestly say there was a lot of discussion involved with each of them.

I'd probably include The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercrombie. The book has a lot to offer in terms of rewriting the classics of the fantasy genre (which means discussion of what is considered classic fantasy, especially for those with no prior background). The problem for a high school course would be the high level of profanity included.

I'd also include Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold. Fantasy has always appealed to me because of it's propensity for using philosophical topics. The book deals with religion, belief and being a good person (though mostly indirectly).

Terry Pratchett would need to be on the list somewhere. Hogfather would be my choice. It works as a stand alone, but it also brings up questions of belief and reality, making the reader question things they take for granted. It helps that it's a hilarious story.

For an example of alternate history I would use Bernardine Evaristo's Blonde Roots, because it opens the avenue of discussion about the history of and reasoning for slavery and prejudice.

Along the same lines, though more futuristic is Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon, which shows how those with different abilities are still worthwhile members of society.

Ultimately there are a lot of great books out there, and students should be exposed to more of it, both in class and outside of it.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Science Fiction and Fantasy Books Coming in December 2009


Hastur Lord – Marion Zimmer Bradley & Deborah Ross
Hidden Empire – Orson Scott Card
Muse & Reverie – Charles de Lint
Divine Misdemeanors – Laurell Hamilton
Star Wars: Darth Bane: Dynasty of Evil – Drew Karpyshyn
Wildcards: Suicide Kings – George R. R. Martin, Ed.
Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword of Avalon – Diana Paxson
Starship: Flagship – Mike Resnick
Galileo's Dream – Kim Stanley Robinson
Starfist: Double Jeopardy – David Sherman & Dan Cragg
One Good Soldier – Travis Taylor
Liberating Atlantis – Harry Turtledove
Cobra Alliance: Cobra War – Timothy Zahn

Trade Paperback:

Young Flandry – Poul Anderson
Best American Fantasy 3 – Kevin Brockmeier, Ed.
The Light of Other Days – Arthur Clarke & Stephen Baxter
Forgotten Realms: The Return of the Archwizards – Troy Denning
1635: The Tangled Webs – Eric Flint & Virginia DeMarce
Fallen Dragon – Peter Hamilton
Dragon Rule – E. E. Knight
Death of a Starship – Jay Lake
Tuck – Stephen Lawhead
The Scroll Thief – R. F. Long
The Apocalypse Door – James MacDonald
Blood Vice – Keith Melton
Orcs: Army of Shadows – Stan Nicholls

Mass Market Paperback:

The Trouble With Humans – Christopher Anvil
The Judging Eye – R. Scott Bakker
Hell & Earth – Elizabeth Bear
Prison Ship – Michael Bowers
Cosmopath – Eric Brown
Ender in Exile – Orson Scott Card
Sunborn – Jeffrey Carver
The Gods Return – David Drake
Ill Met in the Arena – Dave Duncan
Afterblight Chronicles: Death got no Mercy – Al Ewing
Time Spike – Eric Flint & Marilyn Kosmatka
Black Ships – Jo Graham
Darkscape: Redemption – R. Garland Gray
Just Another Judgement Day – Simon Green
Dead Town – Nancy Holzner
Turned – Julie Kenner
Beyond the Wall of Time – Russell Kirkpatrick
Dragon Lance: The Gargoyle King – Richard Knaak
Changing the World – Mercedes Lackey, Ed.
Star Trek: Mirror Universe: The Sorrows of Empire – David Mack
Bound by Sin – Jenna Maclaine
Dark Lady's Chosen – Gail Z. Martin
Wildscards: Busted Flush – George R. R. Martin, Ed.
Tyrant's Blood – Fiona McIntosh
The Knight of the Red Beard – Andre Norton & Sasha Miller
Forgotten Realms: The Wilds – Mel Odom
Beneath the Skin – Adrian Phoenix
Spells of the City – Jean Rabe & Martin Greenberg, Ed.
War Hammer 40K: Dark Creed – Anthony Reynolds
War Hammer 40K: Sons of Dorn – Chris Roberson
Hallowed Circle – Linda Robertson
Flesh Circus – Lilith Saintcrow
Illegal Alien – Robert Sawyer
The Terminal Experiment – Robert Sawyer (reprint)
Starfist: Wings of Hell – David Sherman & Dan Cragg
Spellbent – Lucy Snyder
The Digital Plague – Jeff Somers
War Hammer: Shadow King – Gav Thorpe
The United States of Atlantis – Harry Turtledove
Bones of the Dragon – Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman
Saint Antony's Fire – Steve White
Confessions of a Demon – S. L. Wright
The Sapphire Sirens – John Zakour