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.

BEST NOVEL
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)

BEST NOVELLA
“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)

BEST NOVELETTE
“Six Months, Three Days,” Charlie Jane Anders (Tor.com 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)

BEST SHORT STORY
“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 (Tor.com 4/1/11)
“The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees,” E. Lily Yu (Clarkesworld 4/11)

BEST GRAPHIC STORY
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 (www.schlockmercenary.com)
Digger, Ursula Vernon (www.diggercomic.com)
Fables, Vol. 15: Rose Red, Bill Willingham & Mark Buckingham (Vertigo)

BEST PROFESSIONAL EDITOR LONG FORM
Lou Anders
Liz Gorinsky
Anne Lesley Groell
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Betsy Wollheim

BEST PROFESSIONAL EDITOR SHORT FORM
John Joseph Adams
Neil Clarke
Stanley Schmidt
Jonathan Strahan
Sheila Williams

BEST PROFESSIONAL ARTIST
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.

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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.

Adrienne Rich RIP, Iceman as Twain, Harry Potter Digitized, and New Vonnegut

As noted over on my personal ranting blog, The Gecko’s Bark, I’ve spent the better part of March suffering and consequently recovering from A6, or Captain Trips, if you will. In keeping with the theme of this blog, of course, this is a literary reference to Steven King and the engineered flu in the The Stand.

I’m still angry about the literal deus ex machina ending of The Stand, 25 years after having read it the first time. But tha’ts neither here nor there, although I will add that I think King’s best works are his short stories; some of his non-horror short fiction is amazing.

Anyway, I’ve also been busy back at work teaching ESL full time, now that my recovery from a torn quadriceps tendon is such that I can walk unaided again. Between working and Captain Trips, I didn’t have much bandwidth for aught else, and that includes Barking Book Reviews among my other hobbies.

But there was so much going on in the world of books, that I feel compelled to play a little bit of catch up. So here’s more Random Book News, Volume XIVMXX what have you, in no particular order:

Poet Adrienne Rich: 5/16/29 – 3/27/2012

I don’t think anyone who has studied American literature at all in modern times hasn’t at least heard of Adrienne Rich and would at least recognize her name. I first encountered Rich’s poetry in a high school honors English class in the mid 1980s – the teacher conveniently skipped over the fact that Rich was a lesbian while discussing her poetry and feminism. I came across Rich again in college several times, in various English classes as well as a women’s studies class.

An aside: to be honest, I took the women’s studies course because of the times it met, more than anything else; I was taking 18 credit hours that quarter, trying to hurry and get my electives out of the way so I could start scheduling journalism classes. But it turned out to be a very interesting and rewarding class – and it turned out I was a bigger feminist, despite being a heterosexual dude, than most of the women in the class.

Anyway, Rich has had a long and enduring career, not to mention a colorful life. Many may remember her for telling the Clinton Administration and the U.S. federal government to take a flying leap when she refused the National Medal of Arts in 1997. Her primary objective in doing so, as I recall, was to protest cuts to the National Endowment of the Arts program, as well as other issues she had with Willie Clinton’s administration.

The San Francisco Chronicle has a lengthy obituary of Adrienne Rich; you can also find out more about Rich’s life at her rather extensive entry at Wikipedia.

New NonFiction: The Boxer Rebellion and the Great Game in China

David Silbey's The Boxer Rebellion and the Great Game in China (book cover)I will definitely be adding David Silbey’s The Boxer Rebellion and the Great Game in China to my ever growing big pile o’ books to read. The subject alone is an interesting one; the time not so long ago when the imperial powers of the West, including America – which frankly should have known better, given our history and its related rhetoric – sought to open China to trade.

A further incentive is that Silbey is one of the authors of one of my favorite blogs, The Edge of the American West. It’s a blog written by several historians; as such it is about history. Silbey himself specializes in military history; his book about the Boxer Rebellion looks at the revolt that almost succeeded, and its relevance to what is taking place today in the Eastern Hemisphere.

I can’t point you to just one post he’s written at Edge of the American West, so here’s a post about writing a book about the Boxer Rebellion. I encourage you, however, if you are interested in this topic, to peruse this category at the Edge of the American West; you’ll learn much that your history teachers never told you.

Harry Potter Available in eBook Format

While they’ve been floating around torrent sites on the Internet for years – pirated copies having been physically scanned and converted to digital formats — the Harry Potter series books are now available in legitimate ebook format.

J. K. Rowling has resisted the ebook format for a long time, for whatever reason. I suppose I can understand the reluctance of authors to embrace ebooks, but how many people downloaded pirated copies of Harry Potter simply because there were no legitimate ebook versions available? People that would otherwise pay for a legitimate copy, one without the digital artifacts, layout problems and questionable editing that are common with pirate digital copies?

In any event, now they are available on Amazon and at Rowling’s Pottermore site, where the complete series is going for £38.64, or $61.40. That comes out to about $8.77 per book. That seems pretty reasonable, although some people would claim, and perhaps rightfully so, that given the fact that there are no material costs, that ebooks should be cheaper than they are.

It will be interesting to see how many digital copies of the Potter books the publishers can sell.

Authors Choose Favorite Literary Monsters

I first spied this on author Hal Duncan’s blog; Duncan was one of the authors to participate in Weird Fiction Review’s poll of various writers’ favorite monsters. Duncan, in his wonderfully erudite manner, explains why he chose to kick it old school, with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein:

I have to go with a classic, Frankenstein’s monster, because Shelley’s creature doesn’t just exemplify monstrosity, it interrogates it. What makes it visually monstrous is not a matter of cheap gimmickry. Shelley doesn’t just snatch features from the animal world that naturally freak us out?—?mandibles, pincers, horns, tentacles, slime, so on?—?doesn’t just push buttons to disturb us with undercurrents of sex and power a la Stoker. I think it’s an awesome move to have the monster explicitly created from components that are all beautiful and right in and of themselves; they just don’t fit together *proportionally*. It founds monstrosity on almost a pure abstraction of Order Transgressed. Which cuts to the core of it for me.

Hard to argue with that. But there is a wide spectrum of answers from nearly 50 authors; as pompous as this sounds, some of them — both authors and monsters — I have not even heard of. Obviously my education has been neglected, as of late. Some of the answers are truly intriguing, some are obviously tongue in cheek and some are clearly phoned in as the author couldn’t be arsed (perhaps they are on deadline, which would admittedly be an excellent excuse).

Props to Karen Lord, author of the excellent Redemption in Indigo, though, for choosing a Bradbury creation:

My favourite monster (i.e. most horrifying) is the unnamed infection in Ray Bradbury’s ‘Fever Dream’. It’s an intelligent plague that not only keeps its host alive but also sufficiently ‘normal’ to become an efficient vector for transmission to other unsuspecting hosts. If that sounds like pure fiction, look up Toxoplasma gondii. Truly horrific monsters always have a real-life counterpart to make you wonder … could it really happen?

Above all, I imagine the real Charles: blind, deaf, powerless, and silently screaming for help inside his own walking, talking, stolen body for the rest of his life. That’s horror.

Steven R. Boyett also has an interesting response. He chooses from Robert Matheson’s I Am Legend. But it’s not the monster you think it is.

Val Kilmer to Portray Mark Twain

Val Kilmer as Mark Twain; photo by (and all rights to) Neil JacobsIt seems like a right of passage for actors of a certain age, playing Mark Twain on stage. It also seems like it would be tough to beat The X-Files’ Deepthroat at portraying Twain – that would be actor Jerry Hardin, who first portrayed Twain in a few episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation – and no I’m not making this up as a I go along. Hardin actually made an excellent and thoroughly convincing Twain, and he apparently so enjoyed portraying the author on TV that he went on to develop a successful and critically lauded one-man play in which he portrayed Twain.

Kilmer is apparently doing just that in preparation for a movie about Twain and one of his favorite boogeymen – er, boogeywomen – Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science. Of course Kilmer will always be Madmartigan from Willow to me. But then to many women of a certain age I’ve dated, he’ll always be Iceman from Top Gun.

Squee! Previously Unpublished Vonnegut Novella Basic Training on Amazon

Kurt Vonnegut's previously unpublished novella, Basic Training (book cover)Apparently Slaughterhouse Five and Breakfast of Champions author Kurt Vonnegut – actually, whenever I think of him, Cat’s Cradle is the first work to come to mind, as I read it at an impressionable age, and to say that my youthful self found it disturbing (in a good way) would be an understatement – left a lot of unpublished material when he died. Indy publisher and ebook pioneer RosettaBooks, apparently chosen by Vonnegut’s estate, has released Basic Training, written by the author nearly 60 years ago. It was never published, having been rejected by the Saturday Evening Post — d’oh! — in the years following WW II, long before Vonnegut became a notable literary figure.

RosettaBooks says Basic Training is a precursor to the author’s “trademark grand themes: the lunacy of kings, the improbability of existence, the yearling hero’s struggle with duty and love and the meaning of heroism.” In a sign of the times, the book is being released exclusively as an Amazon Kindle Single for $1.99.

 

Caitlín R. Kiernan’s The Drowning Girl: A Memoir. My Wait is Over.

In Which I Squee Over the Latest Caitlín R. Kiernan

Caitlin R. Kiernan's The Drowning Girl: A Memoir (book cover)It’s here! It’s here! It’s here! It’s FINALLY HERE! March 6, 2012, the day I’ve been waiting for, for at least a year or so.

Oh wait. It’s not March 6 in the Western Hemisphere yet. Dammit. Which means I’ll probably have to wait a few more hours or so before I can purchase Caitlín R. Kiernan’s latest novel, The Drowning Girl: A Memoir. Such is the life of an expat on the other side of the planet from his home hemisphere; you get used to it. I’ve waited this long. I can wait a little longer.

Kiernan, while perhaps not as prolific as compared to some in the popular fiction biz – she’s not given to writing 5-book story arcs of a 1,000 pages each – she nevertheless publishes short fiction regularly and will have nine novels to her credit with The Drowning Girl, as well as several collections of her short works. She also publishes a monthly series of vignettes, Sirenia Digest, self-described as “a monthly journal of the weirdly erotic (to which yours truly naturally subscribes).

It was within the electronic pages of Sirenia Digest (Vol. 7, No. 1) early last year that Kiernan presented us a glimpse of what was to come in The Drowning Girl: A Memoir, with the release of the first chapter. To say that I’ve been waiting with bated breath since then would be an understatement. It would also be a lie, because I naturally have had to breathe every moment of every day since then, in order to remain in this plane of existence. But it was one those things that while patently false in terms of fact, is nevertheless absolutely true in terms of truth. 

I suppose I have to confess to being a Kiernan fan; I have been since I read her first published novel Silk, upon the recommendation of a bookstore employee who saw me perusing Poppy Z. Brite’s shelf, looking for any works that I had missed – remember, this was the early days of The Aughts (the previous decade), before ebook readers and Kindles and whatnat, and authors’ online presences were somewhat limited.

Each subsequent novel has not disappointed. If a writer can be said to paint, then Kiernan is a master painter; she creates impressionistic works of a vivid, colorful-yet-dark reality in which her characters come alive. She is definitely among my top favorite authors living or dead, and amongst the tippy top of authors who are alive that publish fiction.

I find Kiernan’s Livejournal blog compulsive reading; recently she concluded a stint of posting everyday for a year. Her blog provides a unique insight into the working writer’s life and world of publishing popular fiction. It should be required reading for everyone aspiring to “The Writer’s Life;” be careful what you wish for. Even when she talks about the weather, she makes it an interesting read, putting it into a personal context: she longs for the springs and autumns of her native American South, but finds the culture of the Northeast much more compatible, making its bitter winters bearable.

Kiernan recently announced on her blog that the video trailer for The Drowning Girl: A Memoir was now live on her site. I’ve embedded it below. As a devotee of her previous work I can say that the video effectively captures the spirit and tone of Kiernan’s work. I can’t say that specifically about the novel, not having read it yet – God, it’s been so hard not to read some of the reviews based on advanced review copies that have cropped up already – but again, I think I’m familiar enough with her work to say this.

Besides, this isn’t some snazzy claptrap put together by her publisher’s marketing people; Kiernan herself did the hiring and was directly involved with the production – she often wrote about the experience on her blog.

Needless to say, it made me “squee!” with delight – figuratively speaking – when I saw this trailer. The fact that I’ve had to wait almost three years since her previous novel, The Red Tree, makes the fact that he next novel is almost here that much more special. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and in this context anticipation is sweet torture.

You can also find The Drowning Girl trailer on Caitlín R. Kiernan’s website, along with more information about it and her previous novel, The Red Tree. Click through to YouTube to see the video in all its HD glory; it’s worth it.

P.S. By the time I finished writing this it was already 1:35 a.m. EST in the United States – and yet I still couldn’t buy The Drowning Girl: A Memoir off Amazon; it was still offering me the preorder link with the helpful statement that it would be released March 6.

P.P.S. At 5:30 a.m. EST, I checked back and was able to purchase. Squee!

Review: Redemption in Indigo

Karen Lord’s Redemption in Indigo is Not Your Parents’ Speculative Fiction

Karen Lord's debut novel, Redemption in IndigoHaving recently caught up on George R. R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series, as well as having gone back and reread Tolkien – damn near all of it; people with torn quadriceps tendons need comfort food – Karen Lord’s Rdemption in Indigo was quite a refreshing bit of fantasy, if you can call it that. It was nominated for a 2011 World Fantasy Award, so I suppose we can. But the term speculative fiction fits Redemption in Indigo better, however, as there are elements of physics – albeit of a fantastical flavor – interwoven with Senegalese folklore and spirits called djombi – reflections of its author’s Carribean roots (she’s a native of Barbados) and the larger African diaspora, perhaps, as well as a professional life steeped in academia.

Redemption in Indigo is remarkable in a number of ways, not the least of which is that it is a splendidly well-written first novel. But it seems remarkable to me that here is a rather slim and succinct book – in comparison to today’s genre fiction with its stereotypical bejillion-page magnum opus XI of XX – that has no swords in it and really no visceral violence to speak of contained within its pages. There are no swooning damsels – in distress or feeling randy – although our main character is certainly in distress of a kind (but not the kind that can be fixed by white horses and shiny armor).

Really it’s remarkable that books like Redemption in Indigo get published at all in this day and age gritty fantasy. But it’s fortunate for us that we do. Cheers to Small Beer Press, the dead-tree counterpart to Weightless Books.

The beginning – even books about the spirit of Chance and its tool, Chaos, have a beginning – of Lord’s Redemption in Indigo finds the aforementioned Paama fleeing her ten-year marriage. Her husband, Ansige, you see, is a gourmand in the worst sense of the word – “not an epicure, but a gourmand,” as Lord’s narrator tells us. In short, he is an irredeemable glutton. Thus we find Paama, getting close to the wrong side of youth, her marriage a childless and loveless failure, having retreated to her family’s home in its ancestral village.

It may sound trite, if not down-right yawn inducing, but in Lord’s capable hands, it doesn’t read this way at all. In fact the book’s opening vignette is rather skillfully humorous. As we meet bumbling and hapless Ansige, he is undertaking a perilous journey to Paama’s village – perilous because he is limited in the amount of food he can take and prepare along the way to sustain his usual-yet-ridiculously voracious diet. And it is here, even before we meet Paama, that we meet our first djombi, and get a hint that this book might be more than it initially seems.

It is here, too, that we first meet our narrator, the story teller. If I have a bone to pick with Indigo in Blue, it would be with Lord’s use of the narrator. But we’ll get to that later. Let’s get back to Ansige and Paama.

Ultimately Ansige, a minor character, turns out to be not a humorous figure at all but a tragic one; he has only himself to blame for his circumstances. Paama, on the other hand, is fate’s plaything – or rather that of Patience. And plaything is really not the right word; let’s call her an instrument of Patience, as she uses Paama to achieve the redemption of the spirit of Chance, or at least offer him a path to rehabilitation.

While Paama is a central character in Redemption in Indigo and of critical importance to its plot, it is Chance that is the main character; Lord uses the folktale of Paama and Ansige to introduce what I suppose we can call the spiritual dilemma of the undying djombi. As Karen Lord explained in a recent interview with Carribean Beat arts magazine, there are no fantasy elements in the original story at all; she added these as she developed the story.

Chief among those is the character of Chance, who has become disillusioned with humanity and subsequently filled with ennui. As an immortal being imbued with the power of Chaos, this is – well, I’ll let Lord’s narrator tell it:

Remember what we mentioned to you before. This is a dangerous person. He enjoys lulling the prey into a feeling of safety before killing it. That instant of betrayal, that twist of perception when one realizes that one’s entire universe is founded on a lie – that is the moment that acts on his boredom as splendidly as champagne on a jaded palate.

This description comes near the beginning of the story, soon after Paama has been given the power of Chaos unknowingly, and Chance has come looking for it. It is when he finds her that the story at the heart of Redemption in Indigo begins. Let us skip to the end of the story: having been confronted by the most powerful being in his pantheon, Patience, Chance is, shall we say, offered another chance.

“What changed, she asked him.

He walked a few more pensive steps, and then answered. “Paama is an unusual woman.”

… “Not as unusal as you might think,” she said, replying at last to his comment about Paama. “There are many women like her, considered by some to be virtuous and lyal, considered by others as foolish and week. What about Paama changed you?”

“Nothing stopped her from trying to do what she felt to be right, not even despair. She was willing to learn, and when she felt the lesson was beyond her capacity, she was willing to simply obey.”

“Ah, so you saw her duty,” Patience said, sounding pleased.

“No, not at first. She saw her duty long before I noticed it. There are many things that I once knew but which I had forgotten, and one of them was that human duty is not very different ours.”

And, later in the conversation, when Patience has put her offer on the table:

Chance looked at her and considered long and hard. He had tried isolation, and it had been sterile and useless. He had tried to do as he pleased with humans, and instead of senseless vermin he had found Paama, remarkable in her own ordinary way, and very burdensome on his conscience. He found himself running out of choices.

So what choice does he make? You’ll have to read the novel to find out. But Chance’s potential redemption is not the only one on offer in Indigo; there is that of Paama as well. Chance takes her on a journey through space and time in an effort to show her that Chaos is not a power that is easily wielded, even with the best of intentions. As Lord describes it early in the novel:

Chaos was a far subtler force than most people realized. It would be so easy to sense if it threw off thunderbolts or sent barely sensed thrummings through the fabric of reality, but it was nothing more than the possible made probable. It did not break or bend any laws of nature or tip the balance of the universe. How would a mere human understand how to manipulate it? They would end up thinking they were merely lucky, or blessed.

What’s more, our jaded immortal tries to convince her that humanity is not even worth the trouble. But in the end, Paama may have illustrated for him otherwise.

As for Paama’s own redemption, again, you’ll just have to read the novel. And you really should.

Raucous Storyteller or Unnecessary Convention?

Now, about that bone of contention. Narrators that stick themselves into stories that are otherwise told from an omniscient third person point of view almost always bother me. If a story otherwise told in the third person needs a narrator as character, then there’s a problem with the story (or the author). I think it is a convention that rarely works, even for accomplished writers. Furthermore, I think it’s often done because of writers’ lack of faith in their own abilities; sometimes those fears are unfortunately real, at other times unfounded.

While I can’t speak to the inner workings of Karen Lord’s mind, I can certainly say there is certainly no lack of writerly talent in Redemption in Indigo, and certainly none that needs to be bolstered by a narrator as character. Initially I was a little put off by the presence of this narrator – yes, it’s a bias, I’ll admit, but one with reasonable foundations, I’d argue – but in Indigo the narrator’s presence works and works well for the most part, enriching both prose and story, rather than getting in the way.

I read Redemption in Indigo on my Kindle, and when I looked through most of the quotes I had made from the book, the majority of them in fact comprise clever asides by the narrator. To wit:

Alton’s Love Poems to Neila have been famous for years, as everyone knows, but if you want to sample them for yourself, or try a verse or two on your own beloved, I fear that you will have to buy the published works or attend one of the performances still running in theaters in many of the major cities. A minor writer such as I cannot afford the cost of reproducing the words of the poet dubbed Love’s Own Laureate.

And to be fair, Lord’s narrator mostly keeps out of the way, while still offering up those clever asides, like this early description of our aforementioned poet:

A terribly shy man, he was far too self-deprecating, an unhelpful trait in any person who aims to sell snatches of empty air shaped around vowels and consonants, or worse, bits of white paper irregularly stained with black ink.

Or this gem, again with regard to the hapless poet:

Women fell into that category of fantasies and dreams that worked well when unfulfilled but presented all kinds of problems when brought out into the real world of trial and failure.

And lastly:

Many women, by their beauty and sheer presence, have reduced intelligent men to babbling idiots or gaping mutes, but few have inspired to such heights of eloquence a man who can only be described as mediocre. There is the secret. Show a woman that she has the power to improve you a thousand times over, and she is yours for life.

That last one literally made me laugh out loud when I read it. Like all good humor that relies on hyperbole, there is a grain of truth in there.

But there are times when Lord’s narrator becomes needlessly intrusive, and this is annoying at best.

… but I am hearing some rumblings from my audience. You are distressed that I have spoiled the moving and romantic tale of how Love’s Laureate courted his beautiful wife? You complain that I have turned it into a cobbled pastiche of happenstance, expediency, and the capricious tricks of the djombi? I bleed for your injured sentiments, but to dress the tale in vestments of saga and chivalry was never my intent. A sober and careful reading of history will teach you that both lesser and greater persons have been treated more roughly by fate. Be content. If it was only a djombi’s vanity and aversion to human company that caused Alton to become a merchant prince for one night, if it was fear of discovery and capture that made that djombi flee, thus settling a lordly mantle on Alton for all time, how does that come to be my fault? I am only the one who tells the story.

It is particularly annoying because her prose stands on it own and easily; it doesn’t need this sort of thing and it consequently only serves to disrupt the story. Fortunately this doesn’t happen often.

Karen Lord, author of Redemption in IndigoHaving said that, there admittedly may be a cultural nuance here that I’m missing or just otherwise don’t understand, being a native of an Ohio suburb. In the course of looking for some biographical information on the author, as well as some background on cultural beliefs with regard to djombis, I came across several reviews that praised Lord’s narrator as a reflection of traditional oral storytelling in African cultures and consequently the African Diaspora – namely the West Indies. The idea that our spirited narrator was a nod to cultural roots – either consciously or otherwise, never occurred to me, quite honestly. Furthermore, I have to admit that in that context, the feisty narrator as character makes more sense.

In any event, Redemption in Indigo is an excellent novel, at turns amusing and insightful. Let us hope that Karen Lord’s muse will inspire many more such works.

And now that I’ve read two of the six nominees for the 2011 World Fantasy Award in the novel category – Lauren Beukes’ amazing Zoo City – I’m curious to read the winner, Nnedi Okorafor, Who Fears Death. It just occurred to me, incidentally, that all of these novels have an African connection. Zoo City is set in a South Africa of the near future, while Who Fears Death is set in a far-future Saharan Africa.

P.S. For an interesting review of Redemption in Indigo that delves into how Lord weaves physics into her narrative, check out review at Small Axe Salon.

P.P.S. This novel was the winner of a Mythopoeic Award, a Crawford Award and a Frank Collymore Award, in addition to being a World Fantasy Award finalist. It was also longlisted for the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literatures and shortlisted for the Guyana Prize for Literature.

P.P.P.S. Longlisted? Er?

Get Karen Lord’s Rdemption in Indigo here.

Obituary: Joel Rosenberg

Fantasy and science fiction author Joel RosenbergScience fiction and fantasy author – and presumed card-carrying NRA member — Joel Rosenberg died June 2; he was 57.

I confess I’ve never read Rosenberg’s work, but do know of it, thanks to my Dungeons and Dragons-playing friends back in high school. I believe Rosenberg was one of the first, if not the first, to to take the setting of DnD and similar role playing games and use them as the setting for several of his fantasy novels. That would include his first and perhaps most well-known series, Guardians of the Flame.

This series had an interesting conceit – very “meta” as the kids say today; it is literally about a group of college kids playing a DnD-like RPG who get magically transported to the realm depicted by the game. Suddenly they presumably have to wield actual swords as opposed to graph paper and 20-sided dice.

Let’s think about that a moment. So we have Tolkien and Lewis, et al, creating fantasy worlds that inspired the settings for tabletop RPGs. Then that came full circle with Rosenberg and everyone that came after him; today we have any number of authors writing fantasy series based on RPG games. It’s sort of the ultimate fan fiction, or perhaps meta marketing.

As I say, I’ve never read any his Guardian books, but I heard them discussed often enough; the first one in the series, The Sleeping Dragon, came out in 1983; over the next 20 years Rosenberg published nine more books in the series. I remember more than one DnD or some similar game getting an impromptu pause to compare and contrast the game in front of us with the one from Rosenberg’s novels.

More than once the dungeon master was compared to Rosenberg and found wanting.

The cover of The Sleeping Dragon by Joel Rosenberg, first in the Guardians of the Flame seriesNow that I think about it, I’m not sure how I never got around to reading any of his work. Many friends have read his stuff over the years; he was quite prolific, writing other fantasy series, such as Mordred’s Heirs – an alternate fantasy, so to speak, in which Arthur loses to Mordred. I know all this off of the top of my head, just from having listened to other people discuss it (okay, I did have to go to Rosenber’gs Wikipedia to look up the date Sleeping Dragon was published.

Apparently Rosenberg has also published science fiction – “I do write about Jews in space with big guns” – and mysteries (thank you Wikipedia). The Jews in space I believe refers to his Metsada Mercenary Corps series.

What I also didn’t know, having read a few other obituaries on Locus and whatnot today, was that Rosenberg was apparently quite the activist when it came to his Second Amendment rights – that would the be the right to bear arms, for those of you not paying attention in history and civics classes. No mention on whether he ever joined his state militia – arming state militias being the original intent of that amendment (something that gun lobbyists seem to be inclined to forget – sorry, couldn’t resist pontificating just a little bit; I’ll stop now).

Anyway, Rosenberg was a staunch advocate of gun rights and ownership; apparently he was involved in a legal brouhaha stemming from an incident in November of last year in which he walked into Minneapolis city hall wearing a handgun. How staunch was he? Very – I submit to you yon Youtube video in which Rosenberg demonstrates all the different ways one can wear a holstered handgun.

His wife posted the details of Rosenberg’s death on her blog:

On Wednesday afternoon, June 1, 2011, Joel had a respiratory depression that caused a heart attack, anoxic brain damage and major organ failure. Despite the very best efforts of the paramedics and the team at Hennepin County Medical Center, Joel was pronounced brain dead at around 5:37pm Thursday June 2nd, In accordance with his wishes, he shared the gift of life through organ and tissue donation.

He is survived by his daughters, Judith Eleanor and Rachel Hannah, and his wife, Felicia Herman. Today, June 3rd would have been his 32nd wedding anniversary.

Felicia

It really is a shame to lose someone like that at only 57; surely there were more books to be written. Regardless of how one feels about the gun lobby, he sounds like an interesting character, and I know my young friends always spoke highly of his works.

Postscript: I cadged the photo of Rosenberg from his author entry at the Fantastic Fiction site; no credit is given on the photo. Should anyone happen upon this who does know who took the photo, please let me know.



Random News on Books: Vol. I

Links a’ Poppin’

All sorts of interesting stuff out there today, kids. So rather than make a bunch of wee lil’ posts – which would probably better from an SEO standpoint, but from a my usual lazy standpoint, not so much. Thus without further ado, I present to you: the inaugural volume of this semi regular feature produced by Barking Book Reviews (from lot 17 of Gecko’s Park Studios): Random News on Books from Teh Interwebz.

From the Books Section of the New York Times:
Two Potential Airplane Books

The New York Times books section is always a good place for the literary minded; I’ve rarely been steered wrong by a reviewer here. These two books below I doubt I would ever get around to reading, however, they are definitely, at least to my mind, worthy airplane books.

What are airplane books, you ask? These are books that, as stated above, I ordinarily wouldn’t bother to read – not because they are bad or uninteresting, per se, but are nevertheless found lacking when compared to the always-growing list of books I actually do want to read. But I would read these books if I were half hour away from getting on a long transatlantic flight and suddenly realized I forgot to pack a book in my carry-on. I’ve been faced with this dilemma, and the ensuing panic made me realize for the first time that my reading habit perhaps approaches obsessive-compulsive levels.

I was more than mildly freaked out about it, this not having a book to read. So much so that I ran back through the terminal in search of a book store, and ended up purchasing Curtis Sittenfeld’s American Wife, a fictional yet thinly-veiled account of the life of Laura Bush (!)

I know, right? But it was the only book in the airport bookstore that either  a) I hadn’t read; b) was pop-culture dreck; or c) otherwise didn’t insult my intelligence. And as it turned out, it’s actually an entertaining read – I actually researched the life of the actual Laura Bush after I finished it; it was that interesting. I wouldn’t have bothered with American Wife otherwise, to be honest – again, not because there is anything wrong with it, just not something it would have occurred to me to read under ordinary circumstances.

So, that’s an airplane book. And so are these, at least with regard to me. You, of course, may think otherwise.

Rusty Chapman Leads the Serial Murder Leagues in Left Handed Decapitations on Cloudy Days in Months Beginning with ‘R’

The New York Times reviews Popular Crime, a nonfiction piece that looks at famous crimes over the course of American history through the lens of baseball-like statistics. As spectator sports go, I confess baseball ranks up there with watching paint dry. In other words, almost as boring as watching golf.

As others have observed before me: baseball is 15 minutes of action squeezed into three or four hours. As such, I’ve never understood the true fan’s fascination with the statistical minutia of the sport.

The author of Popular Crime, one Bill James, is apparently some sort of legend among the baseball statistician cognoscenti; he has written books on the subject according to reviewer Nathaniel Rich, who cops to being one of those statistically analytical fans of both baseball and James. Despite this admission he seems to be fairly objective of James’ foray into the statistical analysis of crime. And in spite of finding baseball statistics as exciting as driveway root removal, Popular Crime sounds somewhat interesting – thus its status as a potential a airplane book.

Lost Horizon for American Ovaries

Is Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder a Heart of Darkness for the reading-popular-fiction-on-the-beach set? Er, maybe not, says the New York Times’ Janet Maslin. Nevertheless, State of Wonder sounds just interesting enough that it could likely serve as an adequate airplane book.

Fertility drug research; cranky, old-but-still-brilliant researcher in the heart of the Amazon jungle; unexplained deaths – as I say, potential for a tolerable diversion on a long flight, at the least. I would have made several Heart of Darkness jokes here, but Maslin already took care of that in her review.

A Pseudopodic History of Science Fiction

A rather interesting graphic history of Science Fiction by artist Ward Shelley.Over at Worlds Without End there is a new review up on Feed, a novel by Mira Grant – the review is by one Allie McCarn, who actually has her own book review site, Tethyan Books. Bias admittal: normally, I would not have anything to do with any book that has zombies in it, at this point.

Not that I don’t like zombies as much as the next person, but they are kind of like the Stairway to Heaven of horror and science fiction. I like Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven – or rather, the first 10 million times I heard it. Now, I’m done with it. I don’t ever need to hear it again. The rest of the Zepplin catalog? Sure. But not that. I feel that way about zombies, too.

But Feed is a Nebula Award winner, so it must not be completely without merit. After reading McCarn’s review, it even sounds like I might be able to stomach the zombie conceit in the novel given the right circumstances – it sounds like it would be a pretty good airplane book.

Incidentally, Feed was the Io9 bookclub book for May.

Also noted on Worlds Without End: the effing sweet history of science fiction diagram, which you see pictured here – originally from artist Ward Shelley – is now available as a print. I rarely spend money on such things, but I’m trying to talk myself into this one. It’s more justifiable than much of what I piss my money away on, to be quite frank.

Also, if you click on the graphic to look at it full size, it’s pretty big. If you’re on a pokey connection, it’s gonna take awhile.

Q: What Does it Take to Transcend Twighlight’s Onerous and Creepy Ending?
A: Getting Head from a Dragon

Cover of Touched by Venom by Janine CrossSpeaking of Io9, there’s a couple of interesting posts over there on science fiction and fantasy literary genres. First off, contributor Jess Nevins – described by Io9 as a librarian, pulp fiction historian, and comic book annotator (would that I could ever attain that level of cool – cool being a relative term, I know, but I’m a nerd) – discusses the portrayal of the mad scientist in fiction throughout the ages. And that’s just part one.

There is also a very amusing post for the Io9 Daily 10 today: Fantasy Sagas That Are Wronger Than Twilight. I have mixed feelings about the fact that of the 10 books or series of books listed in the top 10, I’ve only partaken of two of the respective authors (not to mention this abuse of innocent grammar in that headline from media professionals that should know better) One is Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series (I read the first one, many moons ago, but never got around to continuing); the other is Laurell K. Hamilton’s Narcissus in Chains. I read several of the Anita Blake novels back in the day, until the characterizations and plotting just got to too stupid to bear; I bailed out long before this one.

Anyway, the rest of the 10 sound interesting, as in “interesting.” There are a couple that even sound worthy of airport book status though, and one I might even add to my Possibly Maybe pile. The Cat’s Fancy by Julie Kenner is one I wouldn’t hesitate to read on an airplane (again predicated on the idea that I forgot to include a book in my carry-on). Although to be honest, that’s only if there is a Kindle edition; as self secure as I am, I’m not sure I’m confident enough to be seen reading such a book in public.

Of course if I have my Kindle, I can download whatever I want. But you get the idea.

Then there is Grunts by Mary Gentle. This is parody of Tolkien; I love Tolkien, so all I have to hear is the words parody and Tolkien, and I’m all but sold (National Lampoon’s Bored of the Rings is absolutely brilliant). To quote Io9:

This parody of Lord of the Rings and its many imitators is generally very well-regarded and has a loyal following — but even this brutal novel’s biggest fans say it’s not for everyone. For one thing, this is the book that gave us the phrase, “Pass another elf. This one has split.” And then there are the S&M Hobbits, who roam around in BDSM gear killing people, while their mother is doing other naughty things with all comers.

This. Yes.

But as far as this list goes, I don’t see how Janine Cross’ Touched by Venom isn’t in the top 5 at least. Dragon-on-woman oral sex:

[the dragon’s] mouth a thumbnails length from my sex, [and] his firm gums brushing my buttocks …

And we’ll end this post with that vision in our heads.

Postscript. Hi John.

¡Ay Caramba! Bring the Sci Fi and Fantasy

Back to Back Heavy Duty Nonfiction Calls for Dose of Not-Reality

Super Information Hijinks: Reality Check! An English (!) language sci fi mangaSo, I just finished In the Garden of Beasts after finishing Area 51: An Uncensored History. One is a book about World War II, specifically the rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany as seen through the eyes of an American ambassador in Berlin and his daughter. The other is about the rise of black ops, covert surveillance programs, nuclear testing in the Nevada desert that began in the years following WW II.

Oof. That’s a heavy dose of  historical reality. Historical reality check? More like Reality body slam. Bring on the science fiction and fantasy. I’m ready for a break. Next up: Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis, the duology that won this the 2010 Nebula Award for science fiction novel. Then Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord; Redemption in Indigo is up for a Mythopoeic Society award.

No more reality for awhile, thank you.

 

2010 Nebula Award Winners

And Don’t Forget the Hugo Awards

Connie Willis' BlackoutI almost forgot, so busy posting other book news — in fact between this and my other sites I’ve barely found time to get any reading done today, and here it is almost dawn/bedtime. Anyway, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) announced this past weekend this year’s Nebula Awards …  er, rather, this year’s Nebula awards for books that came out last year … wait, what?

I think I need a time machine to sort that out. Speaking of which — see what I did here?Connie Willis won the novel category for her two-part time travel opus, Blackout/All Clear. I’ve not read her before, although I shall endeavor to soon; the Nebula Awards rarely let me down.

Unlike some professional organizations, you pretty much have to be a published author to be a full-fledged member of the  SFWA, so the Nebula awards are decided by writers’ peers. One would hope and assume that these people’s opinions should be reasonably well informed.  You can see the list of this year’s winners — last year’s I mean — just follow that link above.

Want to have a say but aren’t a published author? Then the Hugo Awards are for you; these are the fan-voted awards.

But  you have to get your butt to Renovation, the 69th World Science Fiction Convention — or at least sign up as a supporting member. This year Worldcon will be held in Reno, Nevada, Aug. 17 to Aug. 21. Worldcon members — specifically supporting, attending, and young adult members — get a say in the voting.

Not thrilled with Reno? Full attendees get to vote on where the next one is where it is held two years from now  (gimme a break, it’s been a while for me). Reno’s actually kind of cool though; it’s where Las Vegas service industry folk go when they want to do what the rest of us do in Vegas. Ergo, it’s more laid back than Vegas, and the tourists tend to be a bit more hip than the run-of-the-mill Vegas tourist. I thought about going this year, but unfortunately it’s not an option for me for both chronological and fiduciary reasons.

I hope to get out to Worldcon 2010 though, slated for Chicago, which is not quite in my back yard, but close enough. August in Chicago though — gonna be sticky.

By the way: Connie Willis has won both a Nebula and a Hugo previously, so bring the Blackout.

 

Obituary: Jeffrey Catherine Jones

Yellow Man by Jeffrey Catherine JonesArtist Jeffrey Catherine Jones died last week on May 19, age 67. I just learned about it a little while ago after checking in with the blog of one of my favorite contemporary authors, Caitlín R. Kiernan (actually  I was looking up how to spell her name; I usually peruse her blog in what passes for morning for me/afternoon for everyone else).

Like many popular cover artists or comics illustrators, Jones is an artist that you and many others may not know by name but nevertheless would recognize her work, even though you may not know it as such when you see it. But if you read fantasy or science fiction you have most likely seen it, at least on bookstore or library shelves. She was quite prolific in the 70s and 80s — she did the art for some 150 book covers through 1976, according to Wikipedia — although she worked right on up until she died, apparently.

Silver Robe by Jeffrey Catherine JonesI first noticed her work on the cover of an Andre Norton novel — which one it was escapes me now — but it was the first time I was so captivated by book cover art that I actually sought to learn more about the artist and see more of their work. This was long before the Internet, which meant consulting card catalogs, making requests for books through librarians, and waiting  — a foreign concept in these days of instant digital gratification.

But I can remember how cool it was when The Studio art book finally arrived at my library, having been reserved for me; this was a collection of Jeffrey Jones’ work, along with artists Bernie Wrightson, Michael William Kaluta and Barry Windsor-Smith originally published in 1979. Jones shared studio space with them in the 1970s, and I subsequently got turned onto other artists — but Jones’ work captivated me the most.

It was that book that lead me to discover the adult illustrated fantasy magazine Heavy Metal, which featured a comic that Jones drew; it (and the magazine in general) made quite an impression on my pre-teen self (probably explains a few things). And comic doesn’t seem like quite the right term — graphic serial, perhaps.

Voyage by Jeffrey Catherine JonesI’ve always hated obituaries — as a reporter I’ve had to write a few, back in the day.  How can you sum up a life in a few words? You simply can’t — certainly not as a stranger.  You could write thousands of pages and still not cover the meaning of a person’s entire life, not really — certainly not those that knew them.

Nevertheless, for what it’s worth …

Jones received a fan artist Hugo Award in 1967 and captured the professional artist Hugo Award in 1970, ’71, and ’72. She received a nomination for a World Fantasy Award for best artist in 1975 and won it eleven years later in 1986. In 1999 she received a nomination for a Chesley Award for artistic achievement; in 2006 she received the accolade of Spectrum Grandmaster.

Born in 1944 in Atlanta, Georgia, Jones went on to lead an interesting life by anyone’s measure before a combination of emphysema and congestive heart failure took her life 67 years later. You can read more about it here in Jeffrey Catherine Jones own words; much of her artwork can also be found at her website. If you’re wondering about the “Jeffrey Catherine,” as she relates in her biography, she had always identified as being a girl, despite having been born a boy.

Some of my early memories come from about the age of 4 or 5. By then I knew I wanted to be a girl. Maybe I was born with a kind of gender inversion —  some call it a birth defect. I know nothing of these things. I do know that my identification has always been with females– in books, movies, art and life. My best friends have always been female and I have always been exclusively physically attracted to females.

So, along comes puberty. Whoa! We were all confused, I know, but within that maelstrom was my desire for, and the desire to be, a girl. Until the age of 12 I knew nothing regarding sexual matters. I saw boys with girls. That’s what I saw. In the south, in the ’50s there were no gays and no lesbians, and certainly no one like me. So I became secretive. In my own mind I became ashamed, guilty and worthless — this was the road I started down so long ago.

Of course I didn’t know back when I first discovered her work that she was transgendered; back then as a kid growing up in Cincinnati in the early 1980s, I would have had no idea what that word even meant. And it goes without saying that it doesn’t matter to me as someone who admires her art, but it seems to me it bears mentioning in her obituary.

Despite identifying as female all her life, she didn’t begin transitioning to a woman until 1998. How difficult that must have been I can’t begin to fathom. Certainly puts one’s own traditional troubles with the opposite sex (or the same sex, if one is so inclined) into perspective — at least I never had to question who was looking back at me in the mirror.

One can’t help but wonder how this psychological trauma influenced her art; she doesn’t really delve into this in her autobiography on her website that I can see (I confess that I’ve only skimmed it at the moment — I didn’t even know she had a website until just now. But she does have some interesting observations on women as artists). If she had never had gender identity issues, what would her art of have been like? The same? Different? If the latter, than how? Then there is the larger question — are we the products of our genetics or our environment? Or some combination?

Jeffrey Catherine Jones, 11/10/1944-5/19/2011

Amazon 0, by Jeffrey Catherine Jones

Biographical sources: