Agented!

I’m happy to say that I am now represented by Kelli Christiansen of Bibliobibuli Professional Editorial Services, who recently made the jump from the editorial side of the publishing industry to representing clients. I met her last year while she was representing a publisher, and while that didn’t pan out, she remained interested and excited about the project that proposed early on. She’ll continue to work with myself and my wife on it in the near future. She has an excellent background in the types of books that I’d like to be researching and writing, and it felt like an immediate fit.

We’ve got a couple of proposals in the fire right now, both non-fiction, which will hopefully come to something in the reasonably near future.

In the meantime, time to write!

 

Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time

One of my favorite books is easily A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle. I can’t remember when I first read it, but when I went back to it a couple of years ago, I was struck by its prose and outstanding story.

What’s more astonishing is that it was rejected dozens of times from publishers, before going on to win one of the major awards for YA literature. Moreover, it’s still highly relevant to any teenager or young reader today.

Go read Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time over on Kirkus Reviews.

Sources:

  • Madeleine L’Engle Herself: Reflections on a Writing Life, Madeleine L’Engle. This was a moderately useful book, as it contained some biographical elements.
  • Listening for Madeleine: A Portrait of Madeleine L’Engle in Many Voices, Leonard Marcus. This is an astounding book, and I wish that each one of the authors that I’ve looked at had something similar. It’s an entire book of oral histories, conducted with people who worked with or who were close with L’Engle. It’s a fantastic source.

Online Sources:

  • Madeleine L’Engle: Short biographical sketch from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
  • The Storyteller: Fact, fiction, and the books of Madeleine L’Engle. This is a fantastic article on the life of L’Engle, and Zarin does a great job parsing out the complexity of her character. It’s well worth a read.
  • Obituary. L’Engle’s obituary from the New York Times, which provides some interesting details about her life.
  • L’Engle, Madeleine. Biographical entry from the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.
  • ALA’s Banned Books Page. The American Library Association’s home page for their Banned Books week, which includes links to the lists of books that are frequently challenged and banned.

Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s Roadside Picnic

A couple of years ago, I picked up a book to review for SF Signal, looking for something different. That book was Roadside Picnic, by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, and it turned out to be one of those books that quietly never quite left my head.

Thinking about Roadside Picnic and its authors, as well as our last column on Stanislaw Lem, we get a good starting point for examining how science fiction developed outside of the United States. Given that a lot of SF has been published here in the US, we appear to be a leader in the genre, for better or worse.

At the same time, we forget, ignore or simply don’t realize that authors such as Lem and the Strugatskys were as big as the giants in the United States: on par with Bradbury, Asimov or Heinlein. Examining their publishing experiences and approaches to the genre is good to highlight the limits and potential of genre, but also where US authors and fans tend to put on blinders for the world around them.

As awareness of foreign SF grows (see Clarksworld’s Chinese SF project, funding now), it’s important to realize that a) this isn’t a new phenomenon, and b) SF isn’t limited to the United States and England.

On top of all that, go read Roadside Picnic. It’s a phenomenal book.

Go read Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s Roadside Picnic over on Kirkus Reviews.

Sources:

  • Russian Experimental Fiction: Resisting Ideology after Utopia, Edith Clowes. This is a particularly detailed volume on Russian literature, and partiularly looks at the science fiction’s complicated relationship with utopian fiction and their own country’s political history. This particular book looks at how the Strugatsky’s works fit into this.
  • Science Fiction after 1900: From the Steam Man to the Stars, Brooks Landon. Landon discusses the brothers at length, with a fairly good analysis of their works.
  • Survey of Science Fiction Literature, Frank Magill. There’s an excellent review of Roadside Picnic here.
  • Soviet Fiction Since Stalin: Science, Politics and Literature, Rosalind J. Marsh. This book has a good look at works of the brothers.
  • The Strugatsky Brothers, Stephen Potts. This is a short book, but a good overview of the brother’s works and career.
  • The History of Science Fiction, Adam Roberts. Roberts has a couple of paragraphs of the brother’s career and how it fits into a bigger picture.
  • Critical Encounters II: Writers and Themes in Science Fiction, edited by Robert Staicar. There’s an excellent essay about the brothers here.
  • Roadside Picnic, Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. This was my introduction to the brothers: the 2012 translation, which threw me at first, then drew me in completely. It’s a Weird book, while also a Hard SF one at the same time. It still sticks in my mind, years after reading it. Ursula K. Le Guin opens the book, while Boris provided an afterword.

Online Sources:

  • SF Encyclopedia. As always, the SF Encyclopedia has a good, comprehensive entry on the subject, particularly when it comes to their placement in the genre.

Two obituaries for Boris, one in the Independent and one in the New York Times helped provide some details of their lives, as well as some critical look at their careers:

I hate to do it, but I had to rely a bit on Wikipedia’s entry for the brothers, which provided some minor details, although I tried to rely on entries that were backed up with sources.

Stanislaw Lem and His Push For Deeper Thinking

Almost ten years ago now, I picked up a copy of Stanislaw Lem’s novel Solaris and was struck at how different it was compared to a number of the other books I was reading at the time. It was an interesting and probing novel, one that I don’t think I fully understood at the time. (I still don’t).

Lem is an author who is truly uninhibited by genre convention. Last column, I looked a Ursula K. Le Guin, and have been thinking quite a bit about how science fiction authors began to put themselves into a box midway through the century when it came to ‘hard’ science fiction. Limiting a story in some regards requires one to limit one’s own imagination: after all, we’re talking about fiction, where authors can make up whatever they choose. Lem was one of the authors who could make up a considerable story and then deliver it.

Go read Stanislaw Lem and His Push For Deeper Thinking over on Kirkus Reviews.

Sources:

  • Trillion Year Spree, Brian W. Aldiss. Aldiss has a delightfully snarky section devoted to Lem and his works here: both recognizing his brilliance, but also deplicating his attitude towards his fellow authors as well.
  • Transformations: The Story of the Science Fiction Magazines from 1950 to 1970, Mike Ashley. This work has a couple of sections on Lem, which were very helpful in figuring out where he first was translated into English.
  • Gateways to Forever: The Story of the Science-Fiction Magazines from 1970 to 1980, Mike Ashley. This installment of Ashley’s series contains quite a bit more information on Lem’s interactions with the SF community in the 1970s.
  • Science Fiction Writers, Second Edition. Richard Bleiler. This book of thumbnail biographies contains one on Lem by Peter Swirski, which is an excellent survey of Lem’s life and works.
  • Science Fiction After 1900: From the Steam Man to the Stars, Brooks Landon. This book provided some excellent information on Lem’s legacy.
  • Survey of Science Fiction Literature vol 5, William Magill. Magill’s text contains an excellent analysis of Lem’s Solaris, which helped me understand the book a bit better.
  • Across the Wounded Galaxies: Interviews With Contemporary American Science Fiction Writers, edited by Larry McCaffrey. This is an excellent book of interviews, and while Lem isn’t interviewed, he is brought up a couple of times.

The Left and Right Hands of Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin is one of science fiction’s greats: her stories Left Hand of Darkness, A Wizard of Earthsea and The Dispossessed rank among the genre’s best works, and she moves easily between science fiction and fantasy, writing things that science fiction authors had barely touched before she came onto the scene. To say she was influential is to undersell one’s words.

I have to say, of all of Le Guin’s works that I’ve read, the ones that I’ve enjoyed the most was A Wizard of Earthsea, which I read years ago. Of all the fantasy novels I’ve picked up, it’s probably one of the ones that’s stuck with me the most.

I’ll say this once: there’s some columns that have come together quickly. Others are far harder to put together: case in point, trying to summarize the influence of one of the genre’s greatest living figures, Ursula K. Le Guin. Never mind that her fiction still challenges me and makes me feel incredibly tiny, or that her words are something that I can hardly imagine coming close to in style or grace. This was a hard one to write, but rewarding, all the same.

Go read The Left and Right Hands of Ursula K. Le Guin over on Kirkus Reviews.

Sources:

  • Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction, Brian Aldiss. Aldiss devotes a number of pages to Le Guin and her influence on the genre, holding her critically at arm’s length, which is interesting to see: few authors have really had this treatment in this particular book. He acknowledges her stance in the genre, but chastise her for being preachy.
  • In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination, Margaret Atwood. Atwood actually dedicated this collection of essays (which is very reminiscent of Language of the Night), and devotes one essay to her, where she discusses her fiction in a very useful way.
  • Ursula K. Le Guin: A Critical Companion, by Susan Bernadro and Graham J. Murphy. This is a dedicated volume on Le Guin, and I found it to be exceptionally helpful with some publication details and commentary on her works, especially the stories I haven’t read (yet).
  • Understanding Ursula K. Le Guin, by Elizabeth Cummings. Another critical survey, this one likewise had some helpful commentary and details.
  • The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Essays on Science Fiction, by Samuel R. Delany. Delany’s complicated survey of the genre is a dense, detailed one, and contains a good section on The Disposessed.
  • The Dreams Our Stuff is Made Of: How Science Fiction Conquered the World, by Thomas Disch. Disch’s history is a decent one that I’ve used before, but I was a little surprised to see him absolutely castigate Le Guin and other feminist authors here.
  • The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction, by Ursula K. Le Guin. Le Guin’s book of essays on science fiction and introductions to her book is possibly one of the best non-fiction books that I’ve read on the subject. It’s an excellent demonstration that Le Guin is an utterly powerful, brilliant and intimidating figure in the genre.

Online Sources:

The Magician’s Land, by Lev Grossman

Lev Grossman’s Magicians and The Magician King have both had a particular impact on me as a reader. I picked up The Magicians right around the time I was getting out of graduate school and existing in this strange period where I had little direction and less ambition to do much of anything. I picked up and loved The Magician King even more when it was released. And now, with The Magician’s Land, the trilogy comes to a triumphant close. It’s a bittersweet realization, because these three novels feel as though they spoke to me throughout my twenties. Now, with the close of the trilogy, it’s all about moving on. 

(Some spoilers)

The Magician’s Land picks up shortly after Quentin is unceremoniously dumped out of Fillory and returned to Earth. He’s lost the place in which he most cared about after saving the world, and he finds himself welcomed back to Brakebills as a new instructor before he’s recruited for a mysterious task. All the while, Fillory is coming to an end, where Eliot, Janet, Josh and Poppy race to figure out how to save their world from destruction. It’s hard to say more, lest too much of the book is spoiled, but to say the least, Grossman goes all out with this particular story.

The Magician’s Land threw me a bit when I first started reading it: there’s a lot of play here in the structure of the book. Grossman loops back and forth with various storylines, starting in one place, going back and setting events into motion across several worlds. It’s complicated, most likely warrants another couple of readings, and I’m completely happy with that. Each of the books have played with undermining some of the more traditional fantasy tropes, but with each, Grossman has experimented with style, and The Magician’s Land tops the lot nicely. The duel running storylines of The Magician King really made the book for me, and the four or so threads that we play with here work out nicely.

As The Magician’s Land feels like Grossman’s most complicated work, it’s also the most grown up. Where The Magicians looked at learning and growing one’s identity along with one’s surroundings, The Magician King is all about finding a purpose with one’s life. This book, on the other hand, is a sort of coming of age novel, one where Quentin sets about literally building a new world and direction for his life.

This is where the trilogy as a whole speaks to me. I first picked up The Magicians at a point where I could relate to Quentin, and later, The Magician King in my late twenties, when I was starting to settle into a career and family life. The Magician’s Land comes at a point when I’m leaving my twenties. I own a house, am part of a family, have various professional and personal responsibilities. I’ve changed somewhat from the person I was in 2009. Quentin has as well, gone from a fairly insufferable magician to someone far more mature.

Grossman’s worlds have grown as well. The Magicians simply featured Fillory and our own world, plus some tantalizing hints of others. King introduced us to the greater magical world here on Earth, but Land is a grand tour of this fantastic world. The strangeness of Fillory explodes into view, complex and artificial at the same time. The magical world within Earth gets some greater context, and the idea of a place is a central concept of this book: where does one go, and what lengths does one go to to make their own home? There’s a sense of moving on throughout here: Quentin is kicked out of Fillory (all the while Fillory is vanishing), from Brakebills and he loses his father. In many ways, it’s not too similar from what we normally experience: we leave home, all that’s familiar to us, and to survive, we must build our own, whether it’s a house and family, a fantasy world, or a new life. Grossman covers all the bases here, and with it, brings the Magicians trilogy to a close. It’s a fitting and heartwrenching at points, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Magical Worlds of Christopher Plover

It’s always cool to find previously unknown authors while doing research. Recently, I came across a relatively unknown fantasy author who had some close ties to some of the giants in fantasy: Christopher Plover. Famous for his Fillory and Further series, he’s relatively unknown today. Recently, his works seem to have inspired one recent series of books, The Magicians trilogy, by Lev Grossman, who’s latest book, The Magician’s Land, came out earlier this week.

Go read The Magical Worlds of Christopher Plover over on io9.

Sources:

  • The Magicians, Lev Grossman. Grossman’s trilogy contains some good details about the Fillory novels and their elusive author. There’s a number of details about the nature of the story’s creation, and a bit about Plover.
  • The Magician King, Lev Grossman. More about Plover is revealed in this novel, as well as some details about the Chatwins.
  • The Magician’s Land, Lev Grossman. Rupert Chatwin’s autobiography and relationship to Plover is revealed here.
  • Christopher Plover Official Website: This particular site is a good starting point for Plover scholars. There’s some good descriptions of each of the novels, as well as some good biographical elements on the site.
  • The Magicians Wiki: fans of Plover have put together an article on the Fillory and Further novels.
  • The World in the Walls, Chapter 1. Those of you interested in reading a bit of the Fillory and Further series can pick up the first chapter here.

 

 

 

* Yes, this is a bit of a parody. The Magician’s Land, however, isn’t, and it’s an extraordinary end to the series.

30 Years of William Gibson’s Neuromancer

 

I’ll have to confess that I read Neuromancer only a couple of years ago, and at the time, didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. It was a book about computers, written before computers were really a thing. The strange thing about William Gibson’s fantastic novel is it’s staying power and how it’s positively brimming with fresh ideas in a genre gone stale by the early 1980s. Going back to re-read Gibson’s works (especially in Burning Chrome), I’m shocked at how vibrant and raw his writing is.

Neuromancer is one of the more important books to enter the genre, and as it celebrates its third decade in print, it’s an interesting one to go back and look upon and to understand just how revolutionary the title was at the time.

Go read 30 Years of William Gibson’s Neuromancer over on Kirkus Reviews.

Sources:

  • Across the Wounded Galaxies: Interviews with Contemporary American Science Fiction Authors, Larry McCaffrey. There’s a fantastic interview with Gibson in this book, which provided some keen insights into the development of Neuromancer. It’s also online here.
  • The History of Science Fiction, Adam Roberts. Roberts devotes several pages to Neuromancer and Gibson’s influence, providing some key insights into how Neuromancer came together.
  • Modern Masters of Science Fiction: William Gibson, Gary Westfahl. This short book came out last year and is part of the fantastic Modern Masters series from the University of Illinois Press. This particular volume is excellent: it’s a detailed look at Gibson’s works, and a bit about his life

Fittingly, a number of sources came from the internet, through interviews or blog posts from Gibson:

War Stories: The Book!

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So, UPS stopped by with five boxes loaded down with copies of War Stories. It’s a real book! I can flip the pages, my name is on the cover, and holy crap, guys, it’s a real book! Now begins the process of shipping them out to Kickstarter backers – I see many envelopes in my future.

Here’s the final cover and description:

War is everywhere. Not only among the firefights, in the sweat dripping from heavy armor and the clenching grip on your weapon, but also wedging itself deep into families, infiltrating our love letters, hovering in the air above our heads. It’s in our dreams and our text messages. At times it roars with adrenaline, while at others it slips in silently so it can sit beside you until you forget it’s there.

Join Joe Haldeman, Linda Nagata, Karin Lowachee, Ken Liu, Jay Posey, and more as they take you on a tour of the battlefields, from those hurtling through space in spaceships and winding along trails deep in the jungle with bullets whizzing overhead, to the ones hiding behind calm smiles, waiting patiently to reveal itself in those quiet moments when we feel safest. War Storiesbrings us 23 stories of the impacts of war, showcasing the systems, combat, armor, and aftermath without condemnation or glorification.

Instead, War Stories reveals the truth.

War is what we are.

 

I’m biased, but there are some fantastic stories in here. Early indications from readers are really good, and I’m looking forward to seeing this out and about the reading public.

If you missed out on the Kickstarter and want a copy, you can now preorder the anthology and get the ebook for free! Our expected publication date is October.

You also have a day and a bit left (ends August 1st) to register to win one of two copies from GoodReads.

Defining SF

It must be remembered that we live in an entirely new world. Two hundred years ago, stories of this kind were not possible. Science, through its various branches of mechanics, electricity, astronomy, etc., enters so intimately into all our lives today, and we are so much immersed in this science, that we have become rather prone to take new inventions and discoveries for granted. Our entire mode of living has changed with the present progress, and it is little wonder, therefore, that many fantastic situations – impossible 100 years ago- are brought about today. It is in these situations that the new romancers find their greatest inspiration.

- Hugo Gernsback, Amazing Stories Magazine No. 1, April 1926. (Read the entire issue here.)

 

That’s… a very astute definition of science fiction, I think. Gernsback was a bit over the top at points, but I think that hits the nail on the head for the type of stories that defined the genre. Must file this away for later.