Monday, September 25, 2006

John M. Ford

John M. Ford died today.

When I was a little boy, I wanted to conquer the world. Like most children's extravagant dreams, this did not come true.

When I was a hormonally charged idiot, (read: teenager) I wanted to be a Marine. This dream did come true, quite often to my dismay.

Some time during my journey through SF fandom, I realized I wanted to be John M. Ford.

I want to write some of the greatest books that genre fiction has ever seen. I want every conversation I am a part of to help people to grow and laugh and wonder. I want to go to lots of conventions and be able to write them off come tax time. I want to leave the world a better place, as sappy as that may sound.

I want to be John M. Ford.

I was able to meet Mr. Ford only twice, though I've journeyed through his stories dozens of times. We spoke for just a few minutes on the first meeting, but he remembered my name and offered a cheerful greeting on our second encounter. I was in awe of his talent and his mind. Though I was never more than an acquaintance, his books are dear friends to me, and today I mourn.

I encourage you all to go have one Last Hot Time with Mike Ford. You'll be better for it.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Only Revolutions by Mark Z. Danielewski

Some books are events.

"Then impudently a Moustached Toother jerks me around.
-Lost, Little Lemonade?
-There aren't no returns for those
with no starts.
-Sure. I got weed too. Where
you from?
-Wanna get down?
-You're all School and Summer.
-How'z that?
-No class.
-Yeah, but it's Spring baby.
And I lie down and let Him.
And when He goes I go too.
A round tear slips past, slides
from my life and on the soft paths
showers my dirt with strife."

Mark Z. Danielewski kicked the world in the nuts in 2000 with House of Leaves. He's back, six years later, with Only Revolutions, a delightfully abstract take on time travel, love, and recent human history.

Sam and Hailey are soul mates in two different times; which does nothing to keep them apart. Sam's story is behind the green-eyed cover above, while Hailey's story begins on the flip side behind an eye of gold -- but both stories take place on each and every page in the book. The trick, at least the manner in which I was encouraged to read it -- is to flip the book to the other side every 8 pages. I read it the first time in this incredibly frustrating fashion, but on my second journey with Hailey and Sam, I read their entire stories through, one after the other. Neither choice is bad, but I believe the 8 pages, then flip is the author's preferred method.

Throughout the book, there are keywords referencing historical events on the particular day being written about in a side column. I've spent hours looking up certain historical tidbits I did not quite understand, and as a consequence, have learned much of recent world history that I was ignorant of. It truly feels, at times, to be a novel-length version of Billy Joel's 'We Didn't Start The Fire.'

Here's where I'm supposed to tell you whether I liked it or not, but it's not so easy. There were pages where I felt as if I were attaining a higher plane of existence, and passages that caused me to grind my teeth in disgust/rage/frustration. I loved it and hated it, but mostly I was challenged by it, and it's all I can think about these past few days.

Only Revolutions is a lot of things; some bad, most good, but all worthwhile. You just need to read it. Please. I need to talk to people about it.


Collector's Notes:

House of Leaves became an instant collector's item in 2000, and a signed first can sell for hundreds of dollars today. Only Revolutions will have the same sort of impact, but to a lesser degree due to its higher profile and a far larger first printing. That said, it's a no-brainer for collectors.

Danielewski is in the midst of a promotional tour for this book, and if he comes to your town, be sure to go to his signing/reading. It's an experience. Check the dates and locations here under Tour.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman

"She only looked away for a moment, and the mask slipped, and you fell. All your tomorrows start here."

I'm not a Neil Gaiman fan.

Sure, I enjoyed quite a lot of American Gods. Who didn't? I respect what he did with Sandman and the effect it had on comics in general and Vertigo in particular, even though it wasn't a personal favorite. Good Omens made me smile a lot and chuckle once or twice. But he never sucked me in to the legions of Gaiman worshippers.

But then, I hadn't read his short fiction.

Fragile Things is Neil Gaiman's fourth (Angels and Visitations, Smoke and Mirrors, and Adventures in the Dream Trade.) collection of short stories and poetry. I am unable to rank it amongst those that have come before because, despite owning all three, I've never read any of them. A failing I do believe I'll be correcting rather sooner than later. See, Fragile Things is wonderful.

Not wonderful in the sense that you got a promotion in work; truly it's in the rare and more honest definition: It's full of wonder. I was terrified by the eerie possibilities in 'Closing Time.' I simply could not shake that story, and so, am suffering from a lack of sleep today. 'Bitter Grounds' would not have been amiss amongst the best of Tales From The Crypt, but it wasn't quite as scary. 'A Study In Emerald' is a Lovecraftian tale of Sherlock Holmes; as strange and beautiful as any short I've read since Kelly Link's last collection. It won the Hugo for short story in 2004.

Most of the stories in Fragile Things have appeared in anthologies or magazines or other assorted Gaiman ephemera; but the collection is strong despite this, and reads well as assembled. This is the strongest book from Gaiman that I've yet read, barely touched by his propensity to ramble in his longer works. That said, a few of the stories are weaker than the rest, and his poetry is so out of place, it literally begs to be skipped over more than the songs in a Tolkien novel. "Oh Elbereth Gilthoniel!" Let's get on with the stories, aye?

I'm still not a Neil Gaiman fan. Maybe it's the leather jacket. Regardless, Fragile Things is a very good collection. Check it out.


Collector's Notes:

There were 150,000 of the US hardcovers produced. Could it be a collector's item with that many in print? A short story collection? I doubt it.

The book itself is quite neat, with a tissue paper dust jacket over a glossy binding. It certainly belongs on the shelves of Gaiman collector's and short fiction fanatics, but I would honestly recommend waiting for the paperback.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

Over the past few years it seems that the U.K. has become the tip of the spear; the cutting edge in speculative fiction. Mieville's Perdido Street Station, Morgan's Altered Carbon, Novik's Temeraire, and McDonald's River of Gods were all released first in the United Kingdom. Steven Erikson published a slew of books in his mega-popular Malazan: Book of the Fallen series before a U.S. publisher decided to give it a shot. Now Gollancz brings us a shockingly good new epic fantasy from first time author Joe Abercrombie.

And the U.S. has yet to announce a publisher for this work. Are you listening PYR?

The Blade Itself fails to break new ground in fantasy. There is nothing terribly new about this work, and there are even a few tired old tropes that I wish had not been used. However, it's well plotted, the characters live and breath, and the world comes alive. The action is intense, and it offers epic fantasy fans what is too often missing in recent times -- a great adventure.

*I ought to point out that this is the first book in a new series. The Blade Itself ends quite nicely, but keep in mind that the wait for the next volume could be tedious. Fans of Martin, Jordan, and Erikson know exactly what I mean.

Logen is a barbarian from the North. He's seen more than enough of war, but violence seems to follow him wherever he goes. Jezal is a cocky son of nobility; a Captain of the King's army, and something of a pompous ass. Then he meets a girl who sets his little world on it's head. Glokta was the greatest swordsman of his generation, and a much-honored officer in the army. That is, until he was captured by the enemy and tortured for many years. Now he has returned from this imprisonment, still a young man, and faces life with a withered and twisted husk of a body. Unable to continue in the army, his career path leads him to join the King's Inquisitors. The tortured becomes the torturer.

This is a fine first novel. It certainly ranks among the higher echelon epic fantasies being written today, and I look forward to reading the rest of the series.


Collector's Notes:

Jump all over the U.K. hardcover edition (It says paperback, but it is indeed the hardcover.) of this work. The Blade Itself will take off when it reaches the U.S. -- it's just the type of book that will do well in this country.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Worldcon Guest of Honor Speeches by Resnick and Siclari (ed.)

Worldcon Guest of Honor Speeches is, quite obviously, a compilation of some of the past Guest of Honor speeches at previous Worldcons. I say some, because there are literally 40+ speeches not accounted for in this volume. It is stated in the introduction by the editors, Mike Resnick and Joe Siclarii, that this is due to not being able to acquire copies of the missing speeches in time for publication, but they also hint at a sequel.

If that sequel were to appear, it would be well worth the cover price. The missing speeches include the words of Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein, Poul Anderson, Roger Zelazny, and Jack Vance. (At least they didn't leave out any of the big names.)

Enough about what this book lacks, what it contains is also worth the price of admission.

Featuring the speeches of "Doc" Smith, Heinlein, A.E. van Vogt, Hugo Gernsback, Robert Silverberg, and John W. Campbell Jr., Worldcon Guest of Honor Speeches is a fascinating read. This book not only tracks the progression of Science Fiction and Fantasy history, it also touches upon our nations history, and offers a unique view into our past.
Robert A. Heinlein's speech in 1941 looks to the war on the horizon, and the uncertainty of the times becomes transparent. A.E. van Vogt's speech of 1946 looks back upon the war at the first post-nuclear science fiction worldcon. In 1963, given sufficient breathing room from the second World War, Murray Leinster sheds light on the effects science fiction and science fiction authors had on the war, including a brief touch on the Naval Research Unit who boasted Heinlein, Asimov, and L. Sprague deCamp as members.

In 1970, Robert Silverberg speaks to the Vietnam War in his guest of honor speech. He speaks of revolution in art, in sex, and in science fiction in particular. He seemingly denounces the New Wave while embracing it; showing a wisdom beyond his years in being able to see both sides of the story.

In 1990, Joe Haldeman's speech touched upon Vietnam also, in a much more personal manner. He spoke of being saved from his own demons by science fiction and science fiction fandom, a release that far too many never found. Though many speeches in this volume were heartfelt and sincere, this is the one that made me cry.

Frank R. Paul's speech from 1939's first worldcon was a motivational speech to SF fandom. Harlan Ellison's from 1978 was a call for equal rights, specifically with regard to Arizona, where the convention took place. George R.R. Martin's speech from 2003 was autobiographical and easy to relate to. Theodore Sturgeon's was engrossing and hilarious.

This book offers a wealth of SF history in a single package, and is incredibly entertaining as well as important historically.


Collector's Notes:

This collection is not a collector's item per se, but it's a book that belongs on every serious SF collector's shelf. I especially recommend it to newer fans, such as myself, who only have a few conventions under their belts. It's a treat.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Infoquake by David Louis Edelman

A future Earth controlled by multinational mega-corporations has been a common backdrop in science fiction since 1952, when Fred Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth released the eerily prophetic classic, The Space Merchants. This fearful foreshadowing continued with the startling portrayal of a capitalist future in William Gibson's award-winning Neuromancer, and was satirized mercilessly in Richard Morgan's Market Forces (soon to be a motion picture).

Infoquake describes a free-enterprise future that may be the most alarming yet, due to its sheer believability.

Set in a future Earth that has survived an Asimovian uprising of artificial intelligence, all technology exists, at least in part, inside the human body. Bio/Logic microcomputers have extended human longevity and improved on every imaginable bodily function. Humans are always online, as their bodies themselves are internet terminals.

Natch, our protagonist, is an Ender Wiggin with significantly less scruples. His company, a fiefcorp where he is master to two highly talented apprentices, is on it's way up the corporate rankings. Then the opportunity of a lifetime comes along.

David Louis Edelman keeps the action coming at a breakneck pace, and despite the lack of SFnal tropes such as interstellar travel and space battles, Infoquake never lacks in excitement. The politics are fascinating, and the day-to-day juggling performed by corporate officers have never been so interesting.

I enjoyed Infoquake very much, and my only reservation would be that this particular future takes a bit of reading to understand. It's not instantly engaging, but the time required to immerse oneself is time well spent. The historical background mapped out by Edelman in the multiple appendices, along with the timelines provided show a world as rich with history as our own, and only rivaled in speculative fiction by J.R.R. Tolkien and perhaps George R.R. Martin.

As a softcover first edition, Infoquake seems an obvious frontrunner in the race to win this years Philip K. Dick Award.


Collector's Notes:

This is the first novel (in a trilogy) from an author who indisputably has loads of talent and more importantly, original ideas. That his first book is a trade paperback release ought not discourage collectors from picking it up. After all, Neuromancer was a softcover release originally, and the prices on those firsts are through the roof.

Infoquake does not appear to have a UK publisher, as yet.

An excerpt is available here.