Barking Book Reviews Takes a Holiday

The Gecko is Going to Go Eat Curry, Som Tam, Snooze on the Beach and Write Some Book Reviews … Maybe

It’s time for yours truly, after dealing with a busted up leg and working long hours to make up for the work I missed early in the year because of said bum leg, to take a well-deserved break. So I may or may not be posting book reviews and whatnot here for a week or two.

Actually I’ll have more time for pastimes like reading and writing (including book reviews, perhaps); it’s a holiday, which for me means goofing off and not much else. Furthermore, I used to live in the Land of Smiles, so I’ll feel no need to run off and visit wats and do the things that tourists normally do. In fact I don’t usually spend a lot of time at the beach, although I do love being by the ocean.

So I may actually be posting more often here, but I don’t want to make any promises. Once I get into holiday mode, I may not have any desire to crack open the laptop. But then I should finish at least two books over the next week, so some book reviews may appear.

But if you don’t see any posts for a few weeks; have no fear: the Gecko is alive and well and shall be barking said book reviews and whatnot in the near future. He’s just busy goofing off in the meantime, and stuffing himself with Thai food.

In the current meantime, here’s some random book news:

Funhome author Alison Bechdel's Are You My Mother? (book cover)Funhome Author and Artist Alison Bechdel to Release Second Memoir: Are You My Mother?

I’ve had some interesting discussions over the years with people about whether or not long-form comics, namely the graphic novel, constitute literature. Usually we can both agree that it’s art, but is it literature?

It’s a pedantic argument at best, but then pedants are as pedants do; we like to argue about this sort of thing. To those who would fall into the “no they aren’t” camp – and once upon a time I would have – I would submit to you Daniel Clowes’ Ghostworld and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home.

Of course many people have heard of Ghostworld thanks to the eponymous film, which, while more faithful to the source material than most movies, nevertheless takes too many (and often needless) changes to Clowes’ work. Fun Home has had no movie interpretation, and I’m not sure it would lend itself easily to that medium.

But this is neither here nor there. Both works were commercial and critical successes, and Fun Home, by Dykes To Watch Out For writer and artist Bechdel, was arguably a huge success. Book critics loved it; I don’t recall seeing a bad review of it. The thing about Fun Home is that its writing is as important – and as well done – as its art, and as both come from the same source, they are inextricably woven together. Each could perhaps stand alone, but would be considerably lessened.

So why I am I bringing this up? Bechdel, who notably has won a 2012 Guggenheim Fellowship, among other honors and awards, is releasing her second memoir, Are You My Mother? on May 1st. Fun Home was simply brilliant; a very moving work and dramatically different from the comic which has made her famous (not that I don’t love that too; I never would have read Fun Home if I hadn’t been a Dykes fan since I discovered the strip in college many moons ago.

Are You May Mother? may hasten my purchasing of a tablet that has a color-capable screen. Bechdel uses color minimally, and I imagine Are You My Mother? would look fine on my old-school Kindle’s e-ink display. But there are other graphic novels that I would like to be able to read. And aside from the convenience of the ebook form, living in Viet Nam I have no other choice for these titles other than ebooks.

Rest assured, there will be a book review of Are You My Mother? appearing here eventually. I’ve been waiting for this one for a long time.

Speaking of comics I’d like to read:

Dark Horse Comics' Alabaster: Wolves #1 (cover), written by Caitlin R. Kiernan. Gorgeous artwork, yes?Caitlín R. Kiernan Helms Alabaster: Wolves at Dark Horse Comics

I’m late to the table on this one but such is the lot of the hobbyist with a full-time job. On the other hand, the Gecko is his own boss with regard to barking and blogging. Dancy Flammarion has been one of the more popular characters created by Kiernan, appearing in both novels and short stories, as well as comics.

Earlier this month Dark Horse Comics launched the Alabaster: Wolves title, written by Kiernan and featuring Dancy. There are previews available at Dark Horse, and the artwork is nothing short of incredible. Kiernan has discussed this work at length on her blog. The thing that really has incited me to want to read this title, aside from enjoying Kiernan as an author, is that this isn’t just some project she’s doing to pay the bills; she is clearly invested in this as a writer.

She is a woman with a lot of irons in the fire; her latest novel, The Drowning Girl: A Memoir, appeared earlier this spring.

Can one write book reviews of comics? Should I wait for the entire series to complete? Should I do a running review/commentary? I never really stopped to think about it before. Something to ponder while snoozing on the beach at Hua Hin.

Shirley Jackson Award 2011 Nominees

The cover of Glen Duncan's The Last Werewolf.Some Thoughts on Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf Upon its Shirley Jackson Award Nomination

Hmmm. It seems a popular werewolf tome, The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan, has made the Shirley Jackson Award list. Before I pontificate, let’s talk about the awards, for those not familiar with them.

The awards bear the name of author Shirley Jackson who is perhaps best known for The Haunting of Hill House and her sort story, “The Lottery.” As it stands today horror as a genre owes a lot to Jackson; if you’ve read her works it’s easy to see her influence not just on horror writers but authors of dark fantasy and speculative fiction, not to mention television and movies.

The Shirley Jackson Award looks to honor “outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic,” according to the Jackson estate. A jury of professional writers, editors, critics, and academics decides upon the awards, with input from a board of advisers. I’d like to know who comprises this Shirley Jackson Award board of advisers, if they have the aforementioned writes, editors and critics and whatnot on the jury.

But that’s neither here nor there, as they say. As noted above, I noticed that The Last Werewolf is up for the Shirley Jackson Award for best novel. I read this book earlier this year after reading the New York Times book review of Glen Duncan’s werewolf opus. As I mentioned back then, it is not without its merits. But the plot and characters are extremely derivative; i.e. tired; if Lestat or just about any literary monster since (and including) Shelley’s Frankenstein (I emphasize here the literary Frankenstein’s Monster, not the Hammer Horror bolt-necked creation), had he/she/it been a werewolf, he/she/it would have been The Last Werewolf.

There’s homage and then there’s cliché; The Last Werewolf falls squarely in the latter camp. Furthermore, Duncan’s writing swings wildly, from competent narration to moving, artistic beauty to livid purple prose.

Here’s but a few brief examples (there are many) of the latter:

When I’d imagined this moment I’d imagined clean relief. Now the moment had arrived there was relief, but it wasn’t clean. The sordid little flame of selfhood shimmied in protest. Not that my self’s what it used to be. These days it deserves a sad smile, as might a twinge of vestigial lust in an old man’s balls.


It was still snowing when I stepped out into the street. Vehicular traffic was poignantly stupefied and Earl’s Court Underground was closed.

Needlessly and awkwardly personifying things that don’t need to be seems to be a trademark of this novel; there are plenty more examples.

Then there is this gem; it transcends the purple of the most purple of prose:

Snow makes cities innocent again, reveals the frailty of the human gesture against the void.

I take days off my life every time I read that sentence. It was a dark and stormy night.

And yet. And yet, this author is capable of artistic turns of phrase and moments of true poignancy. Here the title character (yes, as I’ve remarked before; it seems as if authors are incapable of the third person, these days) describes the first days with his new wife:

She was a year older than me, ten deeper. She loved in casual imperious exercise of a birthright. I loved in terror of losing her. The staff at Herne House couldn’t have been more amazed if I’d married a Bornean orangutan.

But then in that same paragraph we get the groan-worthy cliché of romantic clichés:

I hadn’t known desire could dissolve selves into and out of each other. I hadn’t known love’s indifference, love’s condescension to God.

And I’m a little closer to death, with that. But just a few pages later, there’s this:

Falling in love makes the unknown known. Falling out of love reverses the process. I watched the mystery of myself thickening between us into a carapace. Once you’ve stopped loving someone breaking his or her heart’s just an unpleasant chore you have to get behind you. My God, you really don’t love me anymore, do you? No matter your decency the victim’s incredulity’s potentially hilarious. You manage not to laugh. But breaking the heart of someone you still love is a rare horror, not funny to anyone, except perhaps Satan, if such a being existed, and even his pleasure would be spoiled by not having had a hand in it, by the dumb, wasteful accident of the thing. The Devil wants meaning just like the rest of us.

Here Duncan has managed to convey in a few bright, dramatic sentences what other authors have spent entire books discussing.

So it all begs the question, what the hell? Less than a third of the way through the novel it occurred to me that The Last Werewolf reads like two different authors wrote different parts of this book – one good, perhaps even excellent, and the other not so much – and an incompetent or extremely rushed editor stitched it together piecemeal. Or else the author was extremely rushed and there was no editor.

I don’t know. Where I see tired, time-worn conventions, the New York Times book reviewer sees an admirable adherence to genre convention. He does admit that Duncan’s prose “occasionally overheats” — if this is occasionally overheating, then I’d hate to read what he thinks is over doing it.

Perhaps the reviewer hasn’t read a lot of horror; I think if I had read this book as a much younger person, before I really delved into the genre at all, its foibles might seem less apparent.

At least it was werewolves and not vampires – although these are present and full of modern vampire clichés – or zombies.

I’m clearly in the minority on this one, however; obviously lots of critics and readers liked the novel; to each their own. In any event, without further ado: The Shirley Jackson Award 2011 nominees:


The Devil All the Time, Donald Ray Pollock (Doubleday)
The Dracula Papers, Reggie Oliver (Chômu Press)
The Great Lover, Michael Cisco (Chômu Press)
Knock Knock, S. P. Miskowski (Omnium Gatherum Media)
The Last Werewolf, Glen Duncan (Canongate Books, Ltd.)
Witches on the Road Tonight, Sheri Holman (Grove Press)


“And the Dead Shall Outnumber the Living,” Deborah Biancotti (Ishtar, Gilgamesh Press)
“A Child’s Problem,” Reggie Oliver (A Book of Horrors, Jo Fletcher Books)
“Displacement,” Michael Marano (Stories from the Plague Years, Cemetery Dance Publications)
The Men Upstairs, Tim Waggoner (Delirium Books)
“Near Zennor,” Elizabeth Hand (A Book of Horrors, Jo Fletcher Books)
“Rose Street Attractors,” Lucius Shepard (Ghosts by Gaslight, Harper Voyager)


“The Ballad of Ballard and Sandrine,” Peter Straub (Conjunctions 56)
“Ditch Witch,” Lucius Shepard (Supernatural Noir, Dark Horse)
“The Last Triangle,” Jeffrey Ford (Supernatural Noir, Dark Horse)
“Omphalos,” Livia Llewellyn (Engines of Desire: Tales of Love & Other Horrors, Lethe Press)
“The Summer People,” Kelly Link (Tin House 49/Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories, Candlewick Press)


“Absolute Zero,” Nadia Bulkin (Creatures: Thirty Years of Monsters, Prime Books)
“The Corpse Painter’s Masterpiece,” M. Rickert (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Sept/Oct, 2011)
“Hair,” Joan Aiken (The Monkey’s Wedding and Other Stories, Small Beer Press/ The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, July/Aug, 2011)
“Max,” Jason Ockert (The Iowa Review 41/1)
“Sunbleached,” Nathan Ballingrud (Teeth, HarperCollins)
“Things to Know About Being Dead,” Genevieve Valentine (Teeth, HarperCollins)


After the Apocalypse: Stories, Maureen F. McHugh (Small Beer Press)
The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares, Joyce Carol Oates (Mysterious Press)
Engines of Desire: Tales of Love & Other Horrors, Livia Llewellyn (Lethe Press)
The Janus Tree, Glen Hirshberg (Subterranean Press)
Red Gloves, Christopher Fowler (PS Publishing)
What Wolves Know, Kit Reed (PS Publishing)


Blood and Other Cravings, edited by Ellen Datlow (Tor)
A Book of Horrors, edited by Stephen Jones (Jo Fletcher Books)
Ghosts by Gaslight, edited by Jack Dann and Nick Gevers (Harper Voyager)
Supernatural Noir, edited by Ellen Datlow (Dark Horse)
Teeth, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling (HarperCollins)
The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (Harper Voyager)

The 2011 Shirley Jackson Award presentations take place on Sunday, July 15th at Readercon 23 in Burlington, Massachusetts. Readercon 23 guests of honor and authors Peter Straub and Caitlin R. Kiernan, author of The Drowning Girl: A Memoir (and future Shirley Jackson Award nominee, surely?) will act as hosts.

Check out the Shirley Jackson Award winners for yourself at Amazon. 


Big News: Publisher Tor to Remove DRM From eBooks. There Was Much Rejoicing

Readers Against DRMBy July All Tor Plredges All eBook Titles Free of DRM

A major publisher dropping DRM really is huge news, and I’m surprised it didn’t make a bigger splash; it even took Boing Boing a whole 24 hours to catch up with it, much less yours truly.

Well, in case you haven’t heard by now, Tor, a science fiction imprint of Macmillan – one of the so-called Big 6 in publishing, at least here in the United States – announced earlier this week that by July of this year all of its ebook titles would be DRM free; Tor UK made a similar statement.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last 15 years or so, then you know that DRM is digital rights management; Wikipedia is your friend. Or you can  try Defective by Design. DRM has been a pain in the ass of digital media users for years, be it music files or video files – and of course ebook files. I understand that piracy is an issue, and personally I believe that artists should be remunerated for their work. But I also believe that if I buy something – if I give money that I have legally earned in exchange for something – it’s mine to do with if I see fit.

If I want to listen to it in my car, on my computer and on my phone, I should be able to do so. It’s the same with ebooks; I should be able to read it on my Kindle, my phone, my laptop and my Android tablet. It seems the folks at Tor have seen the light:

Our authors and readers have been asking for this for a long time, Tom Doherty, TOR president and publisher, said in a statement. They’re a technically sophisticated bunch, and DRM is a constant annoyance to them. It prevents them from using legitimately-purchased e-books in perfectly legal ways, like moving them from one kind of e-reader to another.

Yes, we have. Yes, we are and yes it is. Yes it does.

Macmillan imprint Tor and Forge logoAmen. When the producers of the works in question themselves are saying this isn’t the way to go to address issues of piracy and intellectual property, it’s time to listen.

Let’s hope this continues to be a trend with both publishers large and small. DRM is easily circumventable, and often has the opposite affect, forcing people to either a) pirate works or b) do without (including not PAYING MONEY for books) because their files are crippled by DRM.

As usual props to Locus, where I saw Tor’s DRM announcement first.

Pulitzer Poo-Poos Fiction, Self-Publishing for a Published Author: Book News

Swamplandia by Karen Russell (book cover). One of three novels noiminated for but not getting a Pulitzer Prize in 2012.Pulitzer Panel Poo-Poos This Year’s Fiction While Publishers Panties Bunch, Readers Cry Pshaw

And that, kids, is how you write a headline. The biggest news in the book world this week is obviously this: for the first time in 35 years the Pulitzer Prize board will not name a prize for fiction this year. It seems the jurors couldn’t reach a consensus, so they just said meh, to hell with it.

Needless to say, this got a lot of people in the publishing industry, not to mention readers, bent out of shape and perhaps rightly so. The Pulitzer Prize award winner invariably sells a lot of books, after all. But then winning a Pulitzer Prize for fiction is no guarantee of literary immortality.

The New York Times‘ Julie Bosman has a good rundown of the ensuing hubub following the Pulitzer Prize board’s announcement Monday.

Why Would a Published Author, Under Contract, Turn to Kickstarter and Self-Publishing?

The publishing world – and consequently the world of literature and books – is in a state of flux, at the moment, to be sure; we are living in a Chinese proverb: these are indeed interesting times. At the forefront of this is the rise of the ebook market along with and declining print book sales.

What does it all mean? And perhaps more importantly, how does an author cope? When ebooks can be bought with a click – and subsequently pirated with a click – and at the same time when self publishing and independent publishing have become viable and cheap – what’s an author to do? Furthermore, how does marketing work in this postmodern publishing world?

Author Kate Milford, who is already a published author of so-called young adult fiction and is apparently currently under a contract with a traditional publisher, has an interesting approach to these publishing issues. Milford is using Kickstarter to self-publish work that will stand alongside novels published traditionally. As she relates to uber-blog Boing Boing:

I’m raising funds to self-publish a novella companion to my second traditionally-published YA fantasy, The Broken Lands. This is the first installment in what I hope will be an ongoing project with two goals: to combine traditional and self-publishing by releasing companion content alongside my hardcover books; and to use indie bookstore-friendly resources for the self-pub end of things.

The first novella, The Kairos Mechanism, also acts as a bridge between the stories told in The Broken Lands and my first book, The Boneshaker. It will be released in three editions: paperback (via McNally Jackson’s self-pub services and Espresso Book Machine); digital (via Google Play); and a Super-Special Digital edition, free or pay-what-you-like, which will be illustrated by young reader artists. The funds raised will finance the costs of publication as well as paying the young artists.

There and Back Again: It Was the Best of Nepotism, It Was the Worst of Nepotism

Charles Dickens is one of my literary pet peeves; if there was ever an author in the annals of Western Literature that was and is over-rated, it is him, or so I like to argue. And argue I do; people seem to hold him dear – even my friends who should know better (I’m talking to you, Johnny O).

J.R.R. Tolkien, on the other hand, is one of my favorites. While in some respects his works arguably do not stand the test of time, he nevertheless single handedly gave us the genre of modern fantasy. And more importantly, I still enjoy rereading his works; for me they do stand the test of time in spite of the faults that people perceive in his works today.

In any event, aside from my personal opinions one way or the other, both are so-called literary giants; there is no disputing that fact. So one wonders what they would make of this patently obvious gimmick: a British publisher is publishing two fantasy novels penned by Tolkien grandchild Michael Tolkien, allegedly based on stories told him by his grandfather.

As if this weren’t dubious enough by itself, naturally they will be tailored for young readers, the publisher says. Apparently adults don’t buy books anymore. Damn this young adult market/marketing trend, anyway.

Oh yeah. The accompanying audio books will be narrated by one Gerald Dickens, a great-great grandson of Dickens.


There is more at New York Times’ Artsbeat blog. Already exhausted your 10 articles for the month at Delete your cookies or go straight to the horse’s mouth, Thames River Press.

John L. Beiswenger's 2002 novel Link (book cover). Beiswenger is suing Assassin's Creed maker Ubisoft, claiming it infringes upon his ideas in Link. Science Fiction Author Sues Assassin’s Creed Maker Ubisoft Claiming Copyright Infringement

Tech blog Ars Technica reports that a science fiction author is suing videogame producer Ubisoft, the name behind a number of huge titles, such as Halo, Far Cry and Prince of Persia, alleging copyright infringement.

Author John L. Beiswenger claims in his suit in U.S. District Court that Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed games lift ideas from his 2002 novel Link without his consent. As Ars Technica explains, Beiswenger’s novel centers around the device from which the novel takes its name, which enables users to relive memories of relatives and ancestors through DNA. This does sound almost exactly like the Animus devices of the Assassin’s Creed games — incidentally, I have played the first game in the series, albeit briefly.

The Ars Technica post also quotes a lawyer specializing in video game legal issues – what crazy times we live in – as suggesting that the suit may be without merit, regardless of whether or not the similarities are intentional or coincidental.

“The level of comparison they’re trying to make would be along the lines of both Back to the Future and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure have time machines as plot devices, so one must be infringing the other,” said Mark Methenitis, as quoted by the blog. “A copyright does not protect abstract ideas at that level.”

Even so, I doubt if that will encourage the two parties to be excellent to one another.

And I’m no lawyer, but it seems to me if Bill and Ted’s phone booth had been equipped with a flux capacitor, well, I’ll bet lawyers would have gotten involved.


Cranky Christopher Priest’s The Islanders Wins BFSA Award for Best Novel

The Islanders by Christopher Priest: BFSA Award winner for Best NovelNo Word Yet if Garnering a BFSA Award Untwists His Knickers

So author Christopher Priest’s latest novel, The Islanders, has won the 2011 British Science Fiction Association (BFSA) award for best novel; maybe that will assuage his feelings that fomented the brouhaha over the Clarke Award. The BFSA awards are similar to the Hugo Awards here in the United States – fans of the genre can vote on the awards, which are held at the annual British science fiction convention, Eastercon; the latest Eastercon just wrapped up last week.

I always thought Eastercon sounded like a religious youth group gathering. In fact the first time I heard of it, I assumed that’s what it was, and questioned some friends intently as to why they were participating in such an event, given their proclivities at cons, which are, um, anything but biblical in nature. More devilish, if you get my meaning.

But I digress, and have no time for that; life and work that pays the bills have co-opted time usually spent on my blogging hobby this week, so this is going to be relatively short in sweet. As in, here are the awards, with no further commentary. Except that is, to praise Locus, which had the BFSA award winners list posted even before the BFSA folk posted them on their site; guess they are still recovering from Eastercon. If they are anything like the aforementioned con-going friends, it may take a few days’ downtime.

Best Novel

The Islanders, Christopher Priest (Gollancz)

Cyber Circus, Kim Lakin-Smith (Newcon Press)
Embassytown, China Miéville (Macmillan)
By Light Alone, Adam Roberts (Gollancz)
Osama, Lavie Tidhar (PS Publishing)

Best Short Fiction

“The Copenhagen Interpretation”, Paul Cornell (Asimov’s July 2011)

“The Silver Wind”, Nina Allan (Interzone #233)
“Afterbirth”, Kameron Hurley (
“Covehithe”, China Miéville (The Guardian)
“Of Dawn”, Al Robertson (Interzone #235)

Best Non-Fiction

The SF Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition, John Clute, Peter Nicholls, David Langford, & Graham Sleight, eds. (SF Gateway)

Out of This World: Science Fiction But Not as We Know It, Mike Ashley (British Library)
Review of Arslan, M.J. Engh & Abigail Nussbaum (Asking the Wrong Questions blog)
SF Mistressworks, Ian Sales, ed. (SF Mistressworks)
Pornokitsch, Jared Shurin & Anne Perry, eds. (Pornokitsch)
The Unsilent Library: Essays on the Russell T. Davies Era of the New Doctor Who, Graham Sleight, Tony Keen, & Simon Bradshaw (Science Fiction Foundation)

ArtisDominic Harman BFSA award cover art for author Ian Whates' novel The Noise Revealed (book cover)Best Art

Cover of Ian Whates’s The Noise Revealed, Dominic Harman (Solaris)

Cover and illustrations of Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls, Jim Kay (Walker)
Cover of Lavie Tidhar’s Osama, Pedro Marques (PS Publishing)
Cover of Liz Williams’s A Glass of Shadow, Anne Sudworth (Newcon Press)

One Colum Paget Wins James White Short Story Award

James White was a science fiction author from the land of bards and scribes, Ireland. My mother’s family originally hails from Northern Ireland; I still have cousins over there. This may explain a few things about me.

Anyway, the James White Award is an annual short story competition open to non-professional writers with the winner chosen by a panel of judges made up of professional authors and editors. Story submissions must be original and previously unpublished, and entry is free; winners are announced at Eastercon each year.

Colum Paget’s story, “Invocation of the Lurker” garnered the award this year; look for publication of the story in Interzone in the near future. Paget also gets £200 for his efforts. You can read more about Paget and the shorlist for this year’s James White award by following that link. Doncha’ know.

Nominees Named for 2012 Hugo Awards and John W. Campbell Award

Jo Walton's Among Others (book cover): nominated for a 2012 Hugo Award for Best NovelScience Fiction Fandom Speaks with the Hugo Awards: Latest George R. R. Martin Opus, Yet Another Zombie Novel Up for Best Novel

Again with the zombies — but then given the fact that the Hugo Awards are determined by fans, perhaps not surprising.

If you’re like me – middle-aged and cranky – you’re done with vampires and zombies. This is the most horrible aspect of aging, even more so than entropy gradually mucking up your chromosomes and causing your body to fall apart: it’s how everything in popular culture gets recycled. Again and again. And again — ad nauseum, ad infinitum.

And the thing of it is, each time there’s a new generation of people for whom it’s all new and wonderful. I remember when I was that guy, a few decades ago. But now I’m 43, and I’ve seen the vampire thing come and go and come around again. Ditto with the zombies; done with that trope.

Unless the author has come up with something startlingly original – or at least so rarely recycled that it’s original to me – I don’t want anything to do with vampires or zombies. And obviously, I’m in the minority when it comes to popular culture, including popular literary fiction. To wit: the Stoker Award and the Hugo Awards.

Among the five novels nominated in the Hugo Awards category for Best Novel is Mira Grant’s Deadline (see what she did there?), yet another zombie apocalypse novel (this one is part of a series, naturally). Now, before you get your knickers twisted, I’m not knocking it, as I haven’t read it – I’m just saying once more, I’m not interested in zombie and vampire novels anymore – aside from some old friends that I like to reread once in a while.

It’s one thing if you bring something original to the table, but based on the blurbs I’ve read for Grant’s Newsflesh series, it sounds like the same stereotypical zombie stuff. Engineered viruses mutate and just happen to raise the dead, who want to eat the living. Nope, no one’s ever used that idea before. There is some mildly interesting sounding stuff about the evolution of the media, the Internet and politics in the wake of the zombie apocalypse – I guess it’s only a partial apocalypse – but not enough to interest me in reading it.

Again, I’m not knocking Ms. Grant; she may be the authorial bees knees and I’m missing out. So be it; call me when she gets over the zombie thing.

George R. R. Martin's A Dance with Dragons (book cover): Nominated for a 2012 Hugo Award for Best NovelNo Surprise Here: A Dance with Dragons Among Hugo Awards Best Novel Nominations

The fifth book in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, his gritty fantasy magnum opus, titled A Dance with Dragons is also among the five novels nominated for the Hugo Awards. Released in July of 2011, it came out nearly six years since the previous book, A Feast for Crows. The lengthy interval became so onerous to some fanboys and girls that they resorted to browbeating Martin on the Internet, including on his own blog.

I guess they all forgave him, given the fact that fans nominate and subsequently chose the winners of Hugos.

While I have mixed feelings about Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, as expounded upon at length here on Barking Book Reviews, generally (and shortly) speaking, I like it – enough to keep reading, at any rate. I read A Dance With Dragons shortly after it came out – naturally it was a best seller the moment it was released – but that was right before I returned to Southeast Asia, and I consequently never wrote a follow-up review. But I will say that it shares the same strengths and weaknesses with the previous books, and that I’ll read the next one when it comes out.

The most interesting sounding novel on the list is Jo Walton’s Among Others, which has already garnered recognition: it was named one of School Library Journal’s Best Adult Books for Teens for 2011, as well as one of io9’s best Science Fiction and Fantasy books of the year for 2011. Walton has previously won a Prometheus Award in 2008 for the novel Ha’penny, and a 2010 Mythopoeic Award lifelode, among other accolades.

After perusing this excerpt of Among Others at publisher Tor’s site, methinks I’ll be adding that to my own shortlist of books to read and review.

The rest of the Hugo Awards list, along with the other major categories; you can find a more complete list of 2012 Hugo Award nominees over at Locus, from which I cadged this short list. Or you can go straight to the Hugo horse’s mouth. Also, again, if you are like me, you have perused that list and thought, “what the hell is a novelette? How does it differ from a novella? And why do we need further, arbitrary distinctions? Follow that link for an answer to the first two questions; as to the latter question, we’ll save that for another time.

On other interesting thing to note about the list for Best Novel: it includes British author China   Miéville’s Embassytown, which is also nominated for an Arthur C. Clarke Award. This Clarke Award nomination, among others, got fellow British science fiction author Christopher Priest’s panties in a bunch.

Wondering about Cambell Award? Scroll down, dear gentle reader.

Leviathan Wakes, James S.A. Corey (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
Deadline, Mira Grant (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
A Dance with Dragons, George R.R. Martin (Bantam; Harper Voyager UK)
Embassytown, China Miéville (Del Rey; Macmillan)
Among Others, Jo Walton (Tor)

“The Ice Owl,” Carolyn Ives Gilman (F&SF 11-12/11)
“Countdown,” Mira Grant (Orbit Short Fiction)
“The Man Who Bridged the Mist,” Kij Johnson (Asimov’s 10-11/11)
“Kiss Me Twice”, Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov’s 6/11)
“The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary,” Ken Liu (Panverse Three)
“Silently and Very Fast,” Catherynne M. Valente (WSFA)

“Six Months, Three Days,” Charlie Jane Anders ( 6/8/11)
“The Copenhagen Interpretation,” Paul Cornell (Asimov’s 7/11)
“What We Found,” Geoff Ryman (F&SF 9-10/11)
“Fields of Gold,” Rachel Swirsky (Eclipse Four)
“Ray of Light,” Brad R. Torgersen (Analog 12/11)

“Movement,” Nancy Fulda (Asimov’s 3/11)
“The Paper Menagerie,” Ken Liu (F&SF 3-4/11)
“The Homecoming,” Mike Resnick (Asimov’s 4-5/11)
“Shadow War of the Night Dragons, Book One: The Dead City (Prologue),” John Scalzi ( 4/1/11)
“The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees,” E. Lily Yu (Clarkesworld 4/11)

The Unwritten, Vol. 2: Leviathan, Mike Carey, art by Peter Gross (Vertigo)
Locke & Key, Vol. 4: Keys To The Kingdom, Joe Hill, art by Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW Publishing)
Schlock Mercenary: Force Multiplication, Howard Tayler, colors by Travis Walton (
Digger, Ursula Vernon (
Fables, Vol. 15: Rose Red, Bill Willingham & Mark Buckingham (Vertigo)

Lou Anders
Liz Gorinsky
Anne Lesley Groell
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Betsy Wollheim

John Joseph Adams
Neil Clarke
Stanley Schmidt
Jonathan Strahan
Sheila Williams

Daniel Dos Santos
Bob Eggleton
Michael Komarck
Stephan Martiniere
John Picacio

Karen Lord's debut novel, Redemption in IndigoKaren Lord Among Authors Nominated for John W. Campbell Award

The John W. Campbell Memorial Award for the best science-fiction novel of the year honors the late editor of Astounding Science Fiction magazine, now named Analog. Many would say that he is the founding father of modern science fiction; if anyone can be said to be such a thing, it is Campbell. Writers Harry Harrison and Brian W. Aldiss established the award in Campbell’s name some decades ago..

Unlike the Hugos, it is a more traditional sort of award; you can read more about it at the University of Kansas’ Center for the Study of Science Fiction. This year’s nominees are:

Mur Lafferty
Stina Leicht
*Karen Lord
*Brad R. Torgersen
E. Lily Yu

*authors in their second year of eligibility.

Check out the Barking Book Review of Karen Lord’s excellent Redemption in Indigo here.


Morden’s Samuil Petrovitch Series Garners Philip K. Dick Award

Simon Morden's Equations of Life (book cover), the first in the Samuil Petrovitch series -- the 2012 Philip K. Dick Award winner.A Gritty Near Future Thriller Series from UK Author Simon Morden Gets A … Er … Dick. Award

One Simon Morden has won this year’s Philip K. Dick Award, which is – and I quote – “presented annually with the support of the Philip K. Dick Trust for distinguished science fiction published in paperback original form in the United States.”

I’m not familiar with Morden or the Samuil Petrovitch trilogy, Equations of Life, Theories of Flight and Degrees of Freedom, published respectively in April, May and June of last year. But between the blurbs on Morden’s site, and his bio – a house-husband author and father with degrees in geology and planetary geophysics – color me intrigued.

It seems the title character is a Russian refuge who escaped the nuclear destruction of St. Petersburg to the London Metrozone, the last remaining city in the U.K. An apparently amoral man seeking a simple life, Petrovitch’s life gets complicated in what sounds like a Ridley Scott version of future London via Philip K. Dick – I refer, of course, to Blade Runner, which was inspired by Dick’s Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep.

From the blurb of the first book in the series:

He’s lived this long because he’s a man of rules and logic. For example:

getting involved = a bad idea.

But when he stumbles into a kidnapping in progress, he acts without even thinking. Before he can stop himself, he’s saved the daughter of the most dangerous man in London. And clearly:

saving the girl = getting involved.

Now, the equation of Petrovitch’s life is looking increasingly complex:

Russian Mobsters + Yakuza + something called The New Machine Jihad = one dead Petrovitch.

Intriguing, the gratuitous abuse of CAPS (which I’ve fixed here) notwithstanding. I’m not too keen on so-called thrillers, per se; all too often the cornerstones of good literature are lacking and the resulting structure is subsequently buttressed with ACTION and SEX and other standard genre cliches. Now this is fine, if the author is good enough to pull it off, but that’s a rare thing; typically we end up with a rickety shell that lacks solid foundations.

And I’m quite pleased with this building metaphor, if I do say so myself – and I do, I do. But I digress.

With the Dick Award behind it, I might have to give Morden’s trilogy a read, or at least the first book. Incidentally, the Publisher’s Weekly review says that the first book stands alone, even though it serves as the first of a trilogy. I perused the first chapter Equations of Life, which is available on Morden’s site, and while it may have won the Dick award, my first impression is that it owes more to William Gibson – and every thriller ever written, unfortunately – than anything else. To those familiar with Gibson’s first three novels, Petrovitch’s character certainly would not feel out of place in the Sprawl or Chiba City.

So I figure anything that that wins the Philip K. Dick Award and wears its Gibson influence on its sleeve must be tolerable, at the very least.

Incidentally, as Morden posts on his blog, he was off at something called Eastercon during the presentation of the award last week. His wife watched the live broadcast stream to ascertain he’d won and then called at 4 a.m. to let him know, playing the stream of his acceptance speech, as read by his stand-in.

Somehow, that all seems apropos in a Gibsonesque, post-modern way. …

 Buy Simon Morden’s Equations of Life at Amazon

Horror Writers Zombify This Year’s Stoker Award Winner for Best Novel

Richard Matheson's I Am Legend (book cover), winner of the Stoker Award's Vampire Novel of the CenturyRichard Matheson Wins Vampire Novel of the Century Award for I Am Legend

Okay, it’s late here in Southeast Asia so this will be short and sweet and cribbed from the 2011 Stoker Award winners list from the inestimable Locus.

To wit:

Superior Achievement in a Novel

Flesh Eaters, Joe McKinney (Pinnacle)

The rest of the shortlist:

A Matrix of Angels, Christopher Conlon (Creative Guy)
Cosmic Forces, Greg Lamberson (Medallion)
Floating Staircase, Ronald Malfi (Medallion/Thunderstorm)
Not Fade Away, Gene O’Neill (Bad Moon)
The German, Thomas Lee (Lethe)

Superior Achievement in a First Novel

Isis Unbound, Allyson Bird (Dark Regions)

The rest of the shortlist:

Southern Gods, John Horner Jacobs (Night Shade)
The Lamplighters, Frazer Lee (Samhain Horror)
The Panama Laugh, Thomas Roche (Night Shade)
The Which Should Not Be, Brett J. Talley (JournalStone)

Superior Achievement Long Fiction

“The Ballad of Ballard and Sandrine,” Peter Straub (Conjunctions 56)

The rest of the shortlist:

“7 Brains”, Michael Louis Calvillo (Burning Effigy Press)
“Roots and All”, Brian Hodge (A Book of Horrors)
“The Colliers’ Venus (1893)”, Caitlín R. Kiernan (Naked City: New Tales of Urban Fantasy)
“Ursa Major”, John R. Little (Bad Moon)
“Rusting Chickens”, Gene O’Neill (Dark Regions)

Superior Achievement in Short Fiction

“Herman Wouk Is Still Alive” Stephen King (The Atlantic 5/11)

The rest of the shortlist:

“Her Husband’s Hands”, Adam-Troy Castro (Lightspeed 10/11)
“Graffiti Sonata”, Gene O’Neill (Dark Discoveries #18)
“X if for Xyx”, John Palisano (M Is for Monster)
“Home”, George Saunders (The New Yorker 6/13/11)
“All You Can Do Is Breathe”, Kaaron Warren (Blood and Other Cravings)

Superior Achievement in Non-Fiction

Stephen King: A Literary Companion, Rocky Wood (McFarland & Company)

Halloween Nation: Behind the Scenes of America’s Fright Night, Lesley Pratt Bannatyne (Pelican)
Reflections in a Glass Darkly: Essays on J. Sheridan Le Fanu, Gary William Crawford, Jim Rockhill, & Brian J. Showers, eds. (Hippocampus)
Starve Better, Nick Mamatas (Apex)
Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Zombies, Matt Mogk (Gallery)
The Gothic Imagination, John C. Tibbetts (Palgrave)

There were more, but as I say, I’m keeping it short and sweet. I’ll just mention, per the subhead above, that the Horror Writers Association (HSA), which presents the Stoker Awards, celebrated its 25th anniversary. As part of that celebration, it awarded, in conjunction with the Bram Stoker Family Estate and the Rosenbach Museum & Library, a special, one-time only Vampire Novel of the Century Award to Richard Matheson for I Am Legend. 

See the shortlist here at the 2012 Stoker Awards for the Vampire Novel of the Century. 

One editorial comment I will make: a zombie novel captured the best novel award? Really? I haven’t read McKinney’s Flesh Eaters, so I’m in no position to judge, but … zombies … yawn. How can you write anything original and engaging about zombies? I’ve read the blurbs and it sounds like cliché -riddled, run-of-the-mill stuff. End of civilization, they eat brains, etc.

But, as I say, I haven’t read it. And I don’t wanna pull a Christopher Priest. If you have and liked it, please, do tell.

Christopher Priest Whips Out Epeen, Engenders Clarke Award Controversy

Literature awards inevitably engender some controversy – really any award that involves subjective judgment is going to get somebody’s knickers in a twist. But it’s strange when something as esoteric as the Arthur C. Clarke Award causes enough ruckus to garner coverage in the mainstream media.

The Clarke Award – most assuredly not The Clarkie – is of course named after the grand master of science fiction himself; as he was British the award seeks to recognize British science fiction authors and their works. The shortlist for the 2012 award came out a week or so ago (I first saw the announcement on Locus’ news feed), and seemingly within nanoseconds a ruckus ensued at warp speed, a ruckus that got British news outlet The Guardian’s attention, as well as that of Irish Times blogger Christopher *ahem* Clarke. The latter seems particularly upset about Priest’s slagging of  China Miéville.

Wut? Such is life in the Internet age.

Sheesh, You’ve Already Won A Clarke Award …

Giant space bees from Futurama. They are in author Christopher Priest's bonnet.British author Christopher Priest apparently has a bee in his bonnet over this year’s shortlist, and we’re not talking an ordinary bee, or even an Africanized honey bee, apparently. We’re talking about an insect of gargantuan proportions, on the order of the dread space bee, a la Futurama.

Priest, incidentally, won a Clarke Award last year, and … wait for it … has a novel eligible – make that had – a novel eligible for this year’s award. So it seems kind of disingenuous, not to mention greedy, for him to get all bent out of shape when he thinks the shortlist is lacking. Well of course you are; you missed out on the list and the potential extra book sales that would have garnered, so you decided to generate that publicity and ensuing extra book sales another way.

On the other hand, one can’t really argue that he’s not qualified to offer an opinion; he is a published author with eleven novels under his belt, as well as having garnered a previous Clarke Award among others.

But the thing is, Priest has gone off the deep end, whipping out his epeen and going on a full-on nerd rage on his blog. It’s one thing to say you disagree with the shortlist and offer a defensible argument. It’s another to dish out the cyberspace vitriol. Furthermore, he hasn’t reserved his vitriol for the judges panel, which, again, might seem disingenuous and self serving but still understandable, perhaps. He’s also decided to attack the shortlist authors themselves.

Again, he may be qualified to do so, but it still seems like a base and classless thing to do, particularly when he has a vested professional and financial interest in all this; one would expect better of a writer of Priest’s caliber – whatever happened to the British stiff upper lip? Even sadder still, he makes elegant arguments for the novels he felt should be on the shortlist, and manages not to mention his own potential candidate, The Islanders.

With the director of the Clarke Award pooh-poohing the idea of firing the panel and suspending the awards this year, one wonders what Priest will do next. Threaten to take his toys and go home, never to write again?

It’s all rather silly, but then it’s hardly the first time; the Internet is littered with the carcasses of righteously indignant blog posts; I’ve made a few myself over the years. But if you’re interested and haven’t been following the ruckus already, check here for a good Clarke Award hullabaloo rundown at Strange Horizon’s blog, including links to a lot of other author responses – authors who seem to have exercised some decorum and restraint as befitting people of letters.

My, that last bit sounded a bit pompous. I better quit before I whip my own epeen out.

The Arthur C. Clarke Award for the best of British Science Fiction P.S. Almost forgot: here’s the 2012 shortlist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award:

  • Greg Bear, Hull Zero Three (Gollancz)
  • Drew Magary, The End Specialist (Harper Voyager)
  • China Miéville, Embassytown (Macmillan)
  • Jane Rogers, The Testament of Jessie Lamb (Sandstone Press)
  • Charles Stross, Rule 34 (Orbit)
  • Sheri S.Tepper, The Waters Rising (Gollancz)

Andrea Hairston’s Redwood and Wildfire Wins 2011 James Tiptree Award

Redwood and Wildfire by Andrea Hairston (book cover) - the 2011 James Tiptree, Jr. Award winnerHairston’s Novel of a Turn-of-the-Century Hoodoo Woman Wows James Tiptree Award Jurists

Still playing catchup, this time with all of the awards news that took place this month, not the least of which was the announcement of the 2011 James Tiptree, Jr. Award, which went to Redwood and Wildfire by Andrea Hairston. James Tiptree, Jr. – in case you didn’t know, let me enlighten you – was the nom de plume of science fiction author Alice B. Sheldon, an extraordinary woman who led an extraordinary life. The award, per the James Tiptree, Jr. Literary Award Council, is “an annual literary prize for science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender.”

Sheldon, you see, felt she couldn’t be taken seriously as a woman author at the time she was writing, so she invented a male persona which she maintained for much of her life. Among Tiptree’s peers, her identity – and gender – were a topic of considerable debate. Ironically, there were those who were positive that Tiptree was a man, because of the way she wrote.

To learn more about Alice Sheldon and her literary alter ego, James Tiptree, check out this biography.

According to the council’s website, apparently there was Redwood and Wildfire, and then there was everybody else. To wit:

Redwood and Wildfire was a favorite of the jurors from the moment they read it. They reported: “This vivid and emotionally satisfying novel encompasses the life of Redwood, a hoodoo woman, as she migrates from rural Georgia to Chicago at the turn of the 20th century. While Redwood’s romance with Aidan Wildfire is central to the novel, female friendship is also a major theme, without deferring to the romance. Hairston incorporates romantic love into a constellation, rather than portraying it as a solo shining star. Her characters invoke a sky where it can shine; they live and love without losing themselves in cultural expectations, prejudices and stereotypes, all within a lovingly sketched historical frame.

“Intersections of race, class, and gender encompass these characters’ entire lives. They struggle with external and internal forces around questions of gender roles, love, identity, and sexuality. This challenge drives how they move through the world and how it sees them. The characters in Redwood and Wildfire deftly negotiate freedom and integrity in a society where it’s difficult to hold true to these things.”

Sounds interesting, to say the least. But to say “then there was everybody else” isn’t quite fair; to make the annual Tiptree Award honor list is no small feat; the other works in the running can hardly be described as also rans. Here’s the breakdown of the 2011 honor list, as cribbed from the Tiptree Award site:

  • Libba Bray, Beauty Queens (Scholastic Press 2011) — In this atypically comedic Tiptree candidate, a cast of iconic characters trapped on a hostile island (populated by the capitalist analog of Doctor No) illuminates the limited palette of roles for women and offers the hope of more rewarding and rounded lives.
  • L. Timmel Duchamp, “The Nones of Quintilus” (in her collection Never at Home, Aqueduct Press 2011) — This standout story addresses the relationships between mothers and daughters and how the world looks different when you become (or intend to become) pregnant.
  • Kameron Hurley, God’s War (Night Shade Books 2011) — Set on a marginally habitable world divided by a common religion with diverse interpretations, this engaging work explores a militaristic matriarchal society.
  • Gwyneth Jones, The Universe of Things (Aqueduct Press 2011) — Running through these gorgeous stories is a fierce awareness of how gender roles and other social power imbalances are always factors in how we think, how we approach one another, how we see the world. The author questions the status quo, and then questions the questioning, so what emerges is a mature, honest, thoughtful complexity.
  • Alice Sola Kim, “The Other Graces” (Asimov’s Science Fiction, July 2010) — This elegantly written short story revisits the role of mirroring in self-actualization and casts that path in a new and skiffy light as its heroine, Grace, is mentored by her older alternate selves. It also depicts racial/cultural intersections with gender roles.
  • Sandra McDonald, “Seven Sexy Cowboy Robots” (Strange Horizons, 2010.10.04) — A surreal and subversive take on human-AI relations. An older female character exploring her sexuality is a rare thing in science fiction, and it is refreshing to see it handled here with such a deft hand.
  • Maureen F. McHugh, “After the Apocalypse” (in her collection After the Apocalypse, Small Beer Press 2011) — This title story of an impressive collection brings to the foreground gender expectations concerning the practice of motherhood in extreme situations and then completely and matter-of-factly upends them.
  • Delia Sherman, The Freedom Maze (Big Mouth House 2011) — A clear-hearted, magically immersive time travel story that explores powerful ideas. Thrown back through time to an antebellum plantation, a thirteen-year-old comes to understand how women’s experience is shaped by cultural expectations as they interweave with social, economic, and racial truths.
  • Kim Westwood, The Courier’s New Bicycle (Harper Voyager Australia 2011) — This compelling novel depicts a variety of sexually transgressive characters and looks at themes of fertility and alternate family structures through a dystopic lens.

Kameron Hurley's God's War (book cover) - named to the 2011 James Tiptree Award honor's listAll of those sound interesting and worth reading as well, although there are two that stick out among them, in my humble opinion. The first of these is Hurley’s God’s War; religion almost always makes for an interesting topic in the right author’s hands, and a matriarchal yet militaristic culture sounds intriguing.  Religious war is also obviously a very topical theme, in this day and age.

As for McDonald’s “Seven Sexy Cowboy Robots,” I’m inclined to read any short story that has the words sexy and robots in it – which probably reveals more about my psyche than you might be comfortable with – throw in cowboys and it’s a done deal.

Fortunately for me and everyone else who likes science fiction, speculative fiction and related genres, Strange Horizons – in it’s total awesomeness – keeps its previously published fiction archived online (props to the authors that allow them to do this, as well). Which means you can check out McDonald’s “Seven Sexy Cowboy Robots” at Strange Horizons right this instant.

Said it before, say it again: living in the future is a mixed bag, but generally, by and large, pretty cool.

P.S. I feel compelled to add this note, in these Internet times of shoot-from-the-hip emotional reactions and cries of reverse racism and sexism at every turn. For the cynical or misinformed among you, I’ll point out that there have been have been plenty of dudes that have won the Tiptree Award in the past.

Indeed, previous award jurists have been quite open minded; in 2009 the award was split between a novel and a manga title.

Get 2011 James Tiptree, Jr. Award winner Redwood and Wildfire by Andrea Hairston here.