The Culture of Iain M. Banks

Last year, I was shocked to read that Iain M. Banks announced that he had cancer and was going to die within months. I had first come across him when I picked up Consider Phlebas, and several of its sequels when my Waldenbooks shut down and liquidated its stock: his books were amongst the first that I grabbed and stuck in the backroom to hold while we waited for the store to close. I really enjoyed the novel, although I’ve yet to really pick up any of the others. I was facinated by the depth and breadth of the Culture.

Banks plays a critical role in the resurgence of space opera in England, leading a number of other well-known authors such as Alastair Reynolds, Peter Hamilton, Stephen Baxter and others around the 1990s. Space opera is a type of story that’s not been well recieved, and Banks sort of bridges the gap between authors such as Arthur C. Clarke and C.J. Cherryh and those such as James S.A. Corey.

I have a growing stack of Culture novels that I’ve picked up over the years, and I look forward to digging through them. After Banks passed away in 2013, I think it’s best to savor them.

Go read The Culture of Iain M. Banks over on Kirkus Reviews.

Print:

  • Trillion Year Spree, Brian Aldiss. Aldiss speaks about Banks briefly, as his career was just starting up.
  • SciFi Chronicles, Guy Haley. Haley’s book has a page about Banks and his works. This is a neat book, and while it’s not terribly scholarly or anything, it provides a LOT of information to work with.
  • The Space Opera Renaissance, edited by Kathryn Cramer and David G. Hartwell. Cramer/Hartwell have a fantastic introduction to Banks’ short story in this fiction anthology and a look at the evolution of Space Opera as a whole. Banks is noted as someone who brought a new resurgence to the genre in the late 80s/90s.
  • Science Fiction, Roger Luckhurst. Luckhurst speaks about Banks and his works in some critical detail.
  • The History of Science Fiction, Adam Roberts. Roberts devotes some space to Banks, placing him in context with a greater SF movement in English space opera.

Online Sources:

This was probably the first time I found a lot of online sources, commentary and interviews with one of my subjects. Here’s where I went for information:

I’d also like to throw out a huge thanks to Ken MacLeod, who agreed to speak with me about Banks and his life. I’ll put the interview up in a bit.

The Worlds of C.J. Cherryh

C.J. Cherryh is an author that I’ve come across quite a lot, but was never one that I really ever got into. Recently, I’ve become more interested in her books, particularly Downbelow Station, which prompted me to take a look at her career. It’s a facinating one that pulls in some of the legacies of her predecessors (such as Robert Heinlein and similar), and newer innovations that made her career different than that of her predecessors: she was primarily a novelist, rather than someone who started in the pulp magazines.

Go read The Worlds of C.J. Cherryh over on Kirkus Reviews.

Sources:

  • Science Fiction Writers Second Edition, Richard Bleiler. This volume has a solid biographical sketch of Cherryh.
  • Science Fiction Culture, Camille Bacon-Smith. Bacon-Smith’s book had some excellent insights into the work of women during the 1980s which I used for the Russ piece, and it once again came in handy this time.
  • The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of: How Science Fiction Conquered the World, Thomas Disch. Disch has some interesting things to say about how genre fiction changed with female authors being influenced by one another.
  • Science Fiction after 1900: From the Steam Man to the Stars, Brooks Landon. Brooks has some good points about genre placement.
  • The Faces of Science Fiction: Intimate Portraits of the men and women who shape the way we see the future, Patti Perret. Perret has a photograph and paragraph from Cherryh, which I found particularly helpful.
  • The History of Science Fiction, Adam Roberts. Roberts has a solid, critical section on Cherryh’s works.

Online sources:

 

Many thanks as well to Cherryh herself, who kindly answered some of my questions. I’ll post that up at some point.

2014 Award Eligibility Post!

 

The Science Fiction awards season is upon us, and I have something that I can actively promote: War Stories: New Military Science Fiction!

War Stories has 23 short works in it. Of those, two (Graves, by Joe Haldeman and War 3.01, by Keith Brooke) are ineligible, as they’re reprints.

The anthology as a whole can be nominated for a Locus Award for Best Anthology.

The following stories can be nominated for Best Short Story in the Hugo and Nebula categories:

    • War Dog, Mike Barretta
    • The Radio, Susan Jane Bigelow
    • Valkyrie, Maurice Broaddus
    • Contractual Obligation, James Cambias
    • Where We Would End a War, Brett Cox
    • Non­Standard Deviation, Richard Dansky
    • Always the Stars and the Void Between, Nerine Dorman
    • One Million Lira, Thoraiya Dyer
    • The Wasp Keepers, Mark Jacobsen
    • Mission. Suit. Self, Jake Kerr
    • Ghost Girl, Rich Larson
    • Black Butterfly, T.C McCarthy
    • Warhosts, Yoon Ha Lee
    • In The Loop, Ken Liu
    • Invincible, Jay Posey
    • Enemy States, Karin Lowachee (Read it here)
    • In Loco, Carlos Orsi
    • All You Need, Mike Sizemore
    • Coming Home, Janine Spendlove

The following stories can be nominated for the Best Novelette category:

  • Light and Shadow, Linda Nagata
  • Suits, James Sutter

Galen Dara, for her cover art and interior illustrations is eligible for the following awards:

  • Hugo Award, Best Professional Artist/Fan Artist
  • Chesley Award, Best Cover Illustration, Paperback Book
  • Chesley Award, Best Interior Illustration

I do hope to see some of these stories on the awards ballot. You can read Karin’s story on Apex Magazine (and I highly recommend this story – it’s fantastic!). This book was a real treat to edit and put together, and I’m very, very proud of what is in it.

Personally, I’m not eligible for Best Editor, Short Form, because I don’t have 4 editing credits under my belt. However, I am eligible for a couple of things:

    • Best Short Story: Fragmented, Galaxy’s Edge Magazine, May/June issue.
    • Best Related Work: History of Science Fiction column. I’m guessing that this column in general can be nominated, or individual pieces. It’s really a collective work, however.

Up to this point, the following columns have come out in the 2014 calendar year:

There’s a couple of additional columns coming this year, and they can be included as well.

After all that, there’s a couple of other places to consider: Lightspeed Magazine and Galaxy’s Edge Magazine, which should be eligible for Best Semiprozine, and John Joseph Adams for Best Editor, Short Form. I’d also recommend looking into the works of Usman Malik, Ken Liu and Jaym Gates, each of whom have published this year.

When it comes to novels, Annihilation/Authority/Acceptance (Jeff Vandermeer), The Emperor’s Blades (Brian Staveley), Breach Zone (Myke Cole), The Martian (Andy Weir), Defenders (Will McIntosh), The Three (Sarah Lotz), Cibola Burn (James S.A. Corey), Rooms (Lauren Oliver) and Ancillary Sword (Ann Leckie) were all some of the best books that I picked up over 2014 (plus a couple of others that I’m currently reading.

I look forward to seeing what’s on the ballots this year!

The Radical Joanna Russ

Joanna Russ wasn’t an author I came across when I first came across science fiction: she was someone that I slowly became aware of more recently, when I started working at this on a more professional and critical level. Part of this came from friends who were interested and researching her, and over the last couple of years, I’ve gained an appreciation for the few works that I have read.

What I find most interesting is her relationship with the genre: many of the arguments she put forward back in the 1960s/70s/80s still hold true today, and if anything, they’re even more relevant. For me, Russ makes a lot of sense, and her arguments not only apply towards better representations of men and women in science fiction, but make an excellent argument for simple innovation in writing science fiction. I can see why she was frustrated, and why she was angry.

Go read The Radical Joanna Russ over on Kirkus Reviews.

Sources:

  • Science Fiction Culture, Camille Bacon-Smith. This is a book that I think I need to pick up for my own library at some point: it’s a very interesting survey of SF literature.
  • Science Fiction Writers, Second Edition, Richard Bleiler. Solid biographical sketch of Russ here.
    The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Essays on Science Fiction, Samuel R. Delany. Delany has a short essay on Russ’s Alyx stories, and it’s a good one.
  • The Dreams Our Stuff is Made Of: How Science Fiction Conquered the World, Thomas Disch. My feelings on Disch’s book is complicated: it feels a bit argumentative at points, but he has some interesting insights into Russ fit with other contemporaries during the 1970s.
  • Across The Wounded Galaxies: Interviews with Contemporary American Science Fiction Writers, Larry McCaffery. McCaffery has an excellent oral history interview with Russ, which provided me with a wealth of information, but some good ways to look at science fiction as well.
  • We Wuz Pushed: On Joanna Russ and Radical Truth-Telling, Brit Mandelo. Brit’s a friend of mine, and I’ve been wanting to read this for a while now. She’s become a good expert on Russ through this book and her column on Tor.com.
  • The History of Science Fiction, Adam Roberts. Roberts devotes a good amount of space to Russ in this book, placing her in some good context with her peers.
  • NY Times Obituary: This obit has a number of good, critical details of Russ’s life.
  • Joanna Russ Biography: This was particularly helpful figuring out where she worked, year to year.
  • Russ, Joanna: Clute has a short, insightful biographical sketch of Russ here.
  • Joanna Russ (1937-2011): Locus’s obituary, which provided some minor details.

Book Review: Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination, by John Joseph Adams

A while ago, I wrote for Geek Magazine’s online portal, Geek Exchange. It was a fun gig, and a decent outlet to write a bunch of articles and reviews. Sadly, it didn’t last: my editor was abruptly fired, and the internal restructuring left me with a bad taste in my mouth, and I ended up leaving. Checking back the other day, it seems that it was the beginning of the end: the site is no longer there, replaced with something else. All my reviews and articles vanished. Fortunately, I was able to recover the reviews via the Wayback Machine, and I’m going to be posting them up here.

The image of the Mad Scientist is deeply ingrained in our popular culture. It’s a scientist with a plan that none other dare to attempt, due to the sheer insanity and peripheral casualties that usually occur. We can’t get enough of them, from Victor Frankenstein to Lex Luthor to Dr. Horrible. Anthologist John Joseph Adams has brought together 22 stories in The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination, an impressive book that purports to be guide for the singular, misunderstood genius, and it covers the range and depth of their insanity.

There’s no doubt that the Mad Scientist is a reaction to the great leaps and bounds that science has brought society. Mary Shelley’s titular Victor Frankenstein came at a point with incredible leaps and bounds in the scientific community, especially when it came to biology. Over the course of the twentieth century, we’ve seen advances in modern healthcare with the introduction of penicillin and the creation of the atomic bomb. We’ve gone to the Moon, all the while developing missiles that could destroy a city across the world. It’s interesting that we have such reverence for the character while their real life counterparts are rarely as venerated. The villains of the comic books are funny, bumbling folk, easy pickings for the heroes of the story. They’re funny, ironic, in a way.

As a result, it’s the humorous stories that really stand out in this book:  The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination is an unexpectedly hilarious read. Stories such as Professor Incognito Apologizes: an Itemized List by Austin Grossman, Father of the Groom by Harry Turtledove, Ancient Equations by L. A. Banks, Rural Singularity by Alan Dean Foster andThe Angel of Death Has a Business Plan by Heather Lindsley had me in stitches throughout. They’re pointed deconstructions of the elaborate plans that are frequent in the Mad Scientist world, undercut by a dose of reality, some unexamined element, or the workings of those who they depend upon.

Indeed, it’s the stories where the Mad Scientist is taken overly seriously where the volume doesn’t quite work: The Executor by Daniel H. Wilson is a ponderous story to get through, joining a small number of stories that didn’t work well.

Then, there are the outliers: the ones that don’t quite fit between the two extremes. Harry and Marlowe Meet the Founder of the Aetherian Revolution by Carrie Vaughn, (joining two other stories, Harry and Marlowe Escape the Mechanical Siege of Paris and Harry and Marlowe and the Talisman of the Cult of Egil, published through Lightspeed Magazine) is a fun steampunk adventure story that is equal parts pulp and science fiction. The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss is a brilliant examination of the consequences of the scientist’s actions through the eyes of the daughters of some of the well known monsters in literature.

Throughout The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination is an appreciation for motivation. Behind every Mad Scientist is someone who doesn’t quite tick in the normal way, and for every plan that they’ve come up with is an elaborate motivation behind it. Sometimes, it’s someone who just hasn’t gotten their due in society. Some are trying to get away from everything, others are trying to remake the world to be a better place (casualties be damned), while some are just mentally ill. Regardless of the reason, it’s the stuff of a fantastic story.

While Superheroes and their nemesi are generally found in the comic book store, there’s been a couple of similarly themed anthologies lately: Masked, edited by Lou Anders, andSuperheroes, edited by Rich Horton. While we always tend to root for the good guys, it’s the bad guys that make for a better story, who tend to have more variety than their lawful counterparts, who generally tend to fall into the Batman/Superman extremes (Vigilante vs. Unambiguously good). Mad Scientists have no such qualms, and run the gambit from bad (but with noble intentions) to really bad (trying to destroy cities). They seem to make for more interesting stories across the broad.

The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination is the book for anyone who appreciates the stuff of comic books, and it’s a tribute to Adams’ style that the outlandish characters that are usually better suited for a more visual field. While not all of the 22 stories here worked for me, collectively, it’s one super read.  Muwahaha!

* Disclaimer: John’s my boss over at Lightspeed Magazine, but I had no part in the conceptualization, publication or editing of this anthology.

Ebola: The Natural And Human History of A Deadly Virus

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I picked up this book the other day: reading up on the ongoing West African Ebola Outbreak has become a focus of research and interest of mine lately. My interests in Ebola go back to the granddaddy of all Ebola books: The Hot Zone, by Richard Preston, published back in the mid-90s, and read while I was in Middle or High School. It’s been one of those things that’s sort of been at the back of my mind in the intervening years, with an assumption that at some point (not an IF), it’ll break out into a wider population and cause some real harm. That’s what’s happened for almost a year now over in West Africa.

David Quammen’s book is an interesting review of the history of Ebola, and an excellent alternative to Preston’s book. It’s short – this is actually an excerpt from his 2012 book, Spillover: Animal Infections And the Next Human Pandemic, where his publishers asked him to take the various chapters on Ebola and update them a bit in light of the ongoing outbreak. The result is a primer of how Ebola interacted with people since it first erupted in Central Africa in 1976. It’s a little opportunistic on the publisher’s part, but it provides some good context for what’s going on in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Quammen takes a less sensational track than Preston did, outlining his own experiences in Africa as they searched for Ebola, as well as a number of earlier outbreaks that occurred in the region. The end result is a good, if very short, overview of the virus.

I’m not entirely sure if separating out the chapters really work for the greater argument, and it’s clear that the greater work here is from his other book, Spillover. The central premise of that book looks at how diseases spill out from an animal reservoir, which is a good question to be asking: not just for this particular outbreak, but for the ones that will come as Africa (and other places around the world) become less isolated and more connected to the global community.

Bram’s Snowfall

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Bram, at 17 months, after seeing the first snowfall of the year.

It snowed last night.

I think this is the first time he’s realized that everything can change around him: he ran from window to window this morning exclaiming and pointing out the window at the snow-covered yard and trees. The house was cool, and he protested when we changed him into warmer clothes. Megan and I hauled out his yellow, heavier jacket, and warm fleece pants, tied up his shoes and brought him outside to play in the yard while I let the dog out.

Bram continually astounds me with every single day. I’ve described to friends and family how his mind seems to be unpacking and growing since birth, and it’s continued at a pace that astonishes me. He picks up on instructions, words, moods, quickly, imitating things that I do or say. His vocabulary grows every day, and he’s starting to have opinions on how he goes about doing things: he can be stubborn and temperamental. Most of all, he’s funny. He’s a genuinely cheerful and happy child – he laughs readily when he finds something funny – antlers placed on the dog’s head, or a funny hat, and does things that he knows are funny to him, and us.

Sometimes, that funny thing is born out of a sheer fascination and curiosity with his surroundings: taking in the sheer joy of something utterly new and wonderful. Watching that uninhibited joy in every day moments is something wonderful in a time of every day routine.

To a 17 months old, a first snowfall is magical.

Interview with Joe Haldeman

A while ago, I wrote about Joe Haldeman and his debut novel The Forever War, and promised to post up our conversation. Here it is:
Andrew Liptak: What can you tell me about how you first came across science fiction? What do you first remember reading, and what made you stick with the genre?

Joe Haldeman: The first sf book I read was the Winston Juvenile ROCKET JOCKEY, by Philip St. John (pen name of Lester del Rey).  My teacher caught me reading in class and took the book away – but then returned it with the admonition not to read in class, and loaned me a bunch of other YA science fiction, from her daughter’s collection.

Why did I stick with the genre?  There was nothing else like it.  It totally captivated me, and in fact I resisted the teachers and librarians who tried to interest me in other books.

AL: I’ve read that you traveled quite a bit as a child – how did that impact how you viewed the world? Did this impact your writing?

JH:  I suppose it must have affected my writing, because “home” was rather a plastic designation; I lived five places in my first seven years.  The huge wild beauty of Alaska might have made the unearthly more accessible to me than it would have been to a child who grew up in a more prosaic place.

AL: You attended University of Maryland, where you studied physics and astronomy. Was it your interest in the subject that brought you to science fiction, or the other way around?

JH:  My interest in sf and astronomy grew simultaneously, at least through my mid-teens; I didn’t think of them separately until I was older.

AL: Following your graduation from college, you were drafted into the Army. What were your feelings on the Vietnam War at that point?

JH:  I was against it – certainly against my being in it!  I was a pacifist by natural inclination, but knew that pacifism didn’t make sense to other people.  (Of course the status of a draft-age pacifist is necessarily ambiguous.  He may just not want to die or lose precious parts.)

AL: What was Basic like after graduating from college?

JH:  I was the only college graduate in my company, and also the oldest man.  I got some grudging respect from the others for both things.

None of them read science fiction, of course; most of them either couldn’t read or found reading difficult.  Only two other guys read for pleasure.

I must say more than that, though.  These illiterate men had a very high regard for the books they couldn’t read.  That’s not meant to be ironic.

And I learned invaluable things from them.  Not being able to read is a handicap, but it doesn’t make you subhuman.  I was astonished (in my naiveté) at how much we had in common.

AL: Do any of them appear in your books?

JH: I took the protagonist’s name Farmer in WAR YEAR from a friend who was in my platoon in Vietnam.  The character in the story looks like the real person and has a similar background.

AL: What can you tell me about being shipped out to Vietnam? Your biography on your website states that you were assigned to the 4th Division. What was your job here?

JH:  I was made a combat engineer (pioneer), but that doesn’t have much to do with engineering as a professional or academic discipline.  What we repeated to each other, wryly, was that engineers were too dumb for the infantry, so they gave us a shovel rather than a gun. (Of course we did have guns, in every variety, but I used the pick and shovel more often.)

AL: How did you experience the war?

JH:  I sort of passed through it like a very realistic nightmare.  Badly injured, I stayed in Vietnam, rather than returning stateside, because of a clerical error (though I was mostly out of combat those five months – only three enemy attacks).

AL: What can you tell me about your injuries?

JH: One big bullet wound in the upper thigh, a .51 caliber machine-gun round that was part of a booby trap.  At the same time I absorbed about twenty large shrapnel wounds and perhaps a hundred smaller ones.  Five of those impacted my testicles, and gave me as much trouble as the bullet.

AL: Your first story was ‘Out of Phase’, published by Galaxy Magazine in 1968. What prompted you to start writing science fiction?

JH: I was writing science fiction (in the form of long comic strips) in the fourth grade.  Never stopped.

AL: Your first novel was titled War Year, about your experiences. Why write a fictional account of your experiences, rather than a memoir or history?

JH:  I saw myself as a fiction writer.  WAR YEAR is a slightly fictionalized memoir.  It seemed like the natural approach.  I wrote up an outline and a couple of sample chapters (with Ben Bova’s encouragement) and sold it to the first publisher who saw it.  Most of the action and descriptions are copied from the daily letters I wrote home to my wife while I was in Vietnam, combat and then hospitals.

AL: The novel you’re best known for is your debut SF title, The Forever War, written at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, where you got your MFA. Where did this story first appear from?

JH:  It came out of a series of novelettes and novellas that were published in Analog magazine.  (Actually, it was written as a coherent novel, and dissected into episodes for the magazine.  Makes it an “episodic” novel, but so what?)

AL: Sorry, I think that I phrased that poorly: where did you come up with the idea for William Mandela and the plot of The Forever War?

JH: He was almost purely autobiographical.  The  plot of THE FOREVER WAR grew out of the novelette “Hero,” which was just a science-fictional translation of my experiences in Vietnam, plus some cool aliens.

AL: How much of your experiences in Vietnam inspired The Forever War?

JH: Almost all of it.  I wouldn’t have even thought of writing the book if I hadn’t been a soldier.

AL: A lot’s been made of its connections to Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and how you felt it was a work that glorified war. Do you write The Forever War as an anti-war novel?

JH:  Of course it was an anti-war novel, but it wasn’t an “answer” to STARSHIP TROOPERS, as some people claimed.  Novels aren’t conversations.  I liked STARSHIP TROOPERS for what it was, a quickly written didactic novel with some great action scenes.

AL: What did Heinlein think of The Forever War?

JH:  He liked it very much.  When we met, he told me he had read it three times.

AL: The Forever War was written as a sort of thesis for your MFA program? I take it you passed? ;)

JH:  Easily.  I don’t think anyone who actually finished a book did not get his or her degree, while I was at Iowa.  (Not unusual for MFA’s, anywhere.)

AL: What did your instructors think about the book? Was there any question about genre or encouragement to steer clear of SF?

JH: My advisor, Vance Bourjaily, liked it very much, and really, his opinion was the only one that mattered.  The professor in charge of the department, Jack Leggett, and one senior professor, Stanley Elkin, detested any science fiction – or genre fiction of any description, for that matter.  But Vance liked it very much (partly as a fellow combat veteran), and we became friends.

Stephen Becker, another senior professor, really liked my work, and I loved his.  A few years later, I went out to Tortola to collaborate on a novel with him.  We had a good time, but couldn’t make the novel cohere.

AL: Once the book was written, what was the sales process like?

JH:  (for WAR YEAR) Almost invisible.  Holt didn’t know what to do with it, so it didn’t do anything.  One ad, about an inch square in Publishers Weekly.

It got a full-page review in The New York Times, but Holt never followed up on that.  The advertising budget was less than a thousand dollars.

Maybe this was the low point of my career:  Right after WAR YEAR came out, I went to the annual publishers’ convention in Washington, D.C.  I had borrowed an editor’s name tag, and so was anonymous when I went to the Holt, Rinehart and Winston table.  They had a copy of WAR YEAR there, and I asked the salesman about it.  He said he’d read it and thought it was a good book, but they weren’t pushing it.  “It’s about Viet Nam,” he said, “so nobody’s gonna read it.”  So I slunk out radiating despair.

(For THE FOREVER WAR —  It got a small positive review in the New York Times – as a mainstream book, not science fiction.  I think that helped quite a bit.  In those days the NYTBR did have a science fiction column, but it was definitely treated as a poor relation, compared to things that were published in the main part of the book.)

AL: I heard that you first sold The Forever War to Terry Carr at Ace Books. What happened with that?

JH: Terry got fired and was told to take his books with him.

AL: The Forever War was also serialized in Analog (I have a copy with ‘Hero’ in it!): what was the reception like in the fan community as that was being released?

JH: What I remember is that everybody loved it.  That’s probably not true, but it’s what I remember.

AL: What was your reaction to the number of awards that it began to win in the mid-70s?

JH:  I was surprised.  Now I’m less surprised.

I knew I was a good writer then, but I was surrounded by good writers who weren’t making a living.  Now I know that if a person is a good writer, success may come from a combination of luck and talent — or it may not.  I had enough of both, and good timing along with the luck.

Seventeen publishers turned down THE FOREVER WAR, usually with the explanation given above – good book but nobody will touch it.  The eighteenth, Tom Dunne at St. Martin’s Press, decided to take a chance.  That made all the difference.

AL: Nobody would publish the novel because it was about Vietnam?

JH: Right.  Vietnam novels were un-sellable.

AL: The book has consistently been named as one of the best SF novels out there since it’s publication: do you think that it’s become more relevant since the US has been engaged in the Middle East?

JH: Maybe so, but that doesn’t have anything to do with my intentions – except that one war is much like another, from the ground-pounder’s point of view.

AL: What has the reaction been like from the veteran / soldier community?

JH: Soldiers and veterans have been very positive about the book, though I suspect that a large part of that is people not saying anything if they didn’t like it.  Criticizing a disabled veteran, after all.

War Stories: 40% Off

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Public service announcement: Apex Publications has discounted War Stories: New Military Science Fiction in light of Veteran’s Day today. You can pick up the book for 40% off the cover price (print and eBook) directly from their website. The sale will run today through midnight tomorrow. If you’ve been looking to pick up a copy, now’s a good opportunity to do so!

In other news, the book has been picking up some very good reviews, which I’m happy about.

The Atlantic Council (via their Art of Future War project) called War Stories “a superb anthology with the kind of diverse insights and compelling narratives that make it a very practical book for national security professionals as much as it is a highly enjoyable read for die-hard military sci-fi fans. ” You can read the rest of the review here, as well as a short interview with Jaym and myself!

SF Book Reviews noted “War Stories is a collection of excellent works and undoubtedly an impressive tome for the bookshelf,” and you can read the rest of the review here.

So, feel free to pick it up!

The Slow Unveiling of James Tiptree Jr.

Science Fiction publishing is full of strange characters, but there’s one story that seems to really capture people’s attention consistently: James Tiptree Jr., a brilliant figure who seemed to appear out of nowhere, earn a number of awards, and maintained a fairly elusive personality in science fiction circles. It wasn’t until a decade of writing that it was revealed that Tiptree wasn’t actually a guy: it was a woman named Alice Sheldon, with an utterly fascinating background: she had traveled the world, participated in the Second World War, worked for the CIA and had a PhD.

Sheldon proves to be an interesting figure, challenging a number of preconceptions for gender in science fiction (not just with her alter ego). What’s interesting about Sheldon is that she endured and wrote about a number of the same issues that we seem to face in science fiction right now: how are women represented in fiction and how are female authors treated differently than their male counterparts? Sheldon’s story is illuminating when it comes to this.

This post comes at a sort of weird time, as blogger Requires Hate was revealed as Benjanun Sriduangkaew: The revelation comes as one personality is drastically different from that of the other, and there’s been a lot of discussion around that topic. The Tiptree/Sheldon situation is vastly different, but it is interesting to see just how people use pen names. There’s a number of women who have resorted to the practice: C.L. Moore, Andre Norton and others, with each rationalizing their use differently. Moore, for example, was worried about her employer finding out and firing her (he wasn’t a fan of the pulp magazines). Sheldon wanted to compartmentalize her professional academic and writing lives. Others wanted to make sure that they were actually considered for publication – for good reason.

Go read The Slow Unveiling of James Tiptree Jr. over on Kirkus Reviews.

Sources:

  • Transformations: The Story of Science Fiction Magazines from 1950 to 1970, Mike Ashley: Ashley has a couple of insights into Tiptree’s early stories.
  • Gateways to Forever: The Story of Science-Fiction Magazines from 1970-1980. Ashley devotes more space to Tiptree in this volume.
  • Decoding Gender in Science Fiction, Brian Attebery. Tiptree pops up quite a bit in here, with some good analysis on his stories.
  • Science Fiction Writers, Second Edition, Richard Bleiler. There’s a pretty comprehensive biographical sketch of Tiptree in this book.
  • Partners in Wonder: Women and the Birth of Science Fiction 1926-1965, by Eric Leif Davin: This book is a detailed study of women in science fiction, but largely before Tiptree’s entry into the genre. However, Tiptree pops up quite a bit.
  • Reload: Rethinking Women + Cyberculture, edited by Mary Flanagan + Austin Booth.  This mixed fiction and critical theory anthology has one of Tiptree’s stories in it: The Girl Who Was Plugged In, which is a fantastic read.
  • Sci-Fi Chronicles: A Visual History of the Galaxy’s Greatest Science Fiction, Guy Haley. Alice Sheldon has a great entry in this neat book.
  • The Battle Of The Sexes in Science Fiction, Justine Larbalestier: Larbalestier looks at a number of Tiptree’s prominent stories.
  • Daughters of Earth: Feminist Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century, Justine Larbalestier. Larbalestier edits this volume, and it has one of Tiptree’s stories (And I Awoke and Found Me Here On The Cold Hillside), along with some analysis by Wendy Pearson.
  • Across the Wounded Galaxies: Interviews with Contemporary American Science Fiction Writers, Larry McCaffery. Tiptree/Sheldon doesn’t have an interview in here, but there is a good interview with Joanna Russ, who provides some good contextual information.
  • James Tiptree Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon, Julie Philips: This is the definitive biography of Sheldon and her personal. My post is a pale reflection of what’s in this book, and I highly recommend this detailed, interesting and outstanding biography.
  • The History of Science Fiction, Adam Roberts: Roberts devotes some good details about Tiptree’s place in the SF genre.