Tag Archives: books

Link Roundup

I have a cold that’s turned my brain to mush, hence the dust gathering in the corners around here, but have some links to tide you over until I remember how to have opinions again.

Link Roundup

Link Roundup

This week’s roundup has surprisingly little to do with SF/F/H fiction per se. I think that’s a sign of how scattered my brain is while I get ready to move house.

  • Angry Robot is hiring an editor—for a brand new crime fiction imprint set to launch in 2013! Quoth the press release: “The imprint will be a standalone line, with its own name and presence, but will employ the same fresh and distinctly modern approach that AR has in the SF/F world. The editor will play a key role in building the personality of the imprint, and telling the world about its brilliant books, especially online.” I can’t tell you how glad I am to see publishers committed to doing new things with mystery, which is the most resistant to change of any genre I know (possibly excepting literary fiction).
  • Are you an aspiring comic creator? The magnificent Kate Beaton will answer your questions.
  • There’s a nerd bar in Brooklyn with a TARDIS bathroom. Apparently I am the last person in New York to find out about this. Fortunately I found out about it because I’m about to live around the corner from it.
  • Recent successful genre fiction Kickstarters: Fireside Magazine issue 1 and Laura Anne Gilman’s From Whence You Came. Also noteworthy: Melissa Gira Grant’s Take This Book: The People’s Library at Occupy Wall Street, the cyberpunk RPG Always/Never/Now, and a statue of Harvey Pekar. Nerds got funds!

It Might as Well Be Spring

‘Tis the season, by which I mean springtime–at least over here. I’m editing March reviews right now, and April and May books are starting to pour in. Here are just a few of the spring SF/F titles that I can’t wait to read:

Benedict Jacka’s Fated (Ace, March), which launches what looks like a very promising new urban fantasy series.

Caitlín R. Kiernan’s The Drowning Girl (Roc, March). Kiernan is brilliant, full stop, and I love pretty much everything she writes.

Yves Meynard’s Chrysanthe (Tor, March). I know Yves from Readercon; he’s very smart and very funny in person, and I’m curious to see what his writing is like.

Joe R. Lansdale’s Act of Love (Subterranean, April), a reissue of his first novel, which looks gritty and grimy and nasty–just my sort of thing.

Sharon Shinn’s The Shape of Desire (Ace, April), which looks mysterious and thoughtful and romantic–just my sort of thing.

Anne Lyle’s The Alchemist of Souls (Angry Robot, April), a “comedy of terrors” set in Elizabethan England–just my sort of thing.

(There are things that are not my sort of thing. I’m pretty burned out on heroic quests, for example, and dreadfully picky about time travel stories. I feel that everyone other than Sir Pterry should stop trying to write comic fantasy and everyone everywhere should stop trying to write comic SF. But visceral horror, intellectual romantic fantasy, and dashing historicals? Sign me up.)

S.G. Browne’s Lucky Bastard (Gallery, April). I thought Breathers was brilliant and it put Browne firmly on my must-read list.

Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 (Orbit, May), because it’s Kim Stanley Robinson and you don’t really need another reason.

N.K. Jemisin’s The Killing Moon (Orbit, May); she’s been blogging enticingly about this new series for well over a year now and the more I hear about it, the more I’m intrigued.

Looking forward to these will generate enough excitement to keep me warm all winter! What 2012 books are on your anticipation list?

For Books Are Not Absolutely Dead Things

From John Milton’s Aeropagitica:

I deny not, but that it is of greatest concernment in the Church and Commonwealth, to have a vigilant eye how Bookes demeane themselves as well as men; and thereafter to confine, imprison, and do sharpest justice on them as malefactors: For Books are not absolutely dead things, but doe contain a potencie of life in them to be as active as that soule was whose progeny they are; nay they do preserve as in a violl the purest efficacie and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. I know they are as lively, and as vigorously productive, as those fabulous Dragons teeth; and being sown up and down, may chance to spring up armed men. And yet on the other hand, unlesse warinesse be us’d, as good almost kill a Man as kill a good Book; who kills a Man kills a reasonable creature, Gods Image; but hee who destroyes a good Booke, kills reason it selfe, kills the Image of God, as it were in the eye. Many a man lives a burden to the Earth; but a good Booke is the pretious life-blood of a master spirit, imbalm’d and treasur’d up on purpose to a life beyond life. ‘Tis true, no age can restore a life, whereof perhaps there is no great losse; and revolutions of ages do not oft recover the losse of a rejected truth, for the want of which whole Nations fare the worse. We should be wary therefore what persecution we raise against the living labours of publick men, how we spill that season’d life of man preserv’d and stor’d up in Books; since we see a kinde of homicide may be thus committed, sometimes a martyrdome, and if it extend to the whole impression, a kinde of massacre, whereof the execution ends not in the slaying of an elementall life, but strikes at that ethereall and fift essence, the breath of reason it selfe, slaies an immortality rather then a life.

cc: Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly

In a desperate attempt to look at recent events in some vague sort of positive light (because for the most part I’m sitting here absolutely heartbroken and scared and angry), I’m heartened to see that the destruction of books is still a cause of outrage. Tonight the National Book Awards are being announced just a few blocks from where the NYPD is reportedly continuing to confiscate books from people in a public park, and Ron Hogan and Edward Champion are hotly tweeting about both Occupy Wall Street and the NBAs (it sounds like Ron won’t be satisfied until the audience and presenters collectively abandon the ceremony to deliver books to Zuccotti Park). McNally Jackson is offering discounts on books purchased as donations. A friend told me today that her husband wasn’t keen on OWS but was absolutely horrified by the dismantling of the library. Whatever you think of our current book culture and our current political climate, in all their turbulence and uncertainty, it’s indisputable that books still matter, all these centuries after Milton spoke so brilliantly and fervently in the defense of the unrestricted press.

Now I’m going to go turn off Twitter and eat comfort food.

Please Help Me Educate Myself

I don’t usually leave my neighborhood on the weekends if I can help it, but today I got up early and went downtown because Rae Carson had come to town all the way from the wilds of Ohio and I figured I could at least manage a 45-minute subway ride for the sake of getting to hang out with her. I’ve known Rae for years and years online, and watched with delight as she wrote her first book and sold it. Now The Girl of Fire and Thorns is getting rave reviews–deservedly, in my opinion–and Rae’s getting to do things like coming to New York and participating in great big reading events at Books of Wonder.

In fact, quite a few people I know from SF/F circles were at that event. Leanna Renee Hieber was reading from her first YA novel, Darker Still. Delia Sherman was reading from her most recent middle grade novel, The Freedom Maze, which I bought and immediately devoured (so good! and oh, what a marvelous ending!). And the last time I was at Books of Wonder, I got Maureen Johnson’s The Name of the Star, which I read about half of before reluctantly giving it to the person I’d bought it for; I may have to borrow it from the library so I can find out what happens (and also to remind myself that even though my house is literally littered with books it is perfectly okay for me to borrow other books from the library). Add those to how much I enjoyed The Girl of Fire and Thorns when I first snagged the ARC at work and Kristin Cashore’s Fire when Sarah Rees Brennan threatened me with bodily harm unless I read it gently suggested that I read it, and I start to wonder how many other great SF, fantasy, and horror novels I’m missing because they go to a different department.

So please tell me, dear readers, what else I should get on that trip to the library. I’m open to basically anything. I know the MG/YA SF/F/H world is big and getting bigger, with lots of crossover to the adult SF/F/H world; it’s important professionally for me to educate myself, and I know there are lots of awesome books out there that I would personally really enjoy. I would greatly appreciate suggestions from both the “these are the modern classics/core books of the genre” perspective and the “these are books I love/think you’d love” perspective. And many, many thanks for the help and education.

The Best Books of 2011

Here they are!

First of all, I am so entirely thrilled that Maureen McHugh’s collection After the Apocalypse made it onto the top 10 list. It’s become almost a running joke that every year, I have book #11 of the top 10. This year, I pushed hard for Maureen’s book to be considered, and to my shock and delight, the other editors read it and agreed that it deserved top billing. Well done, Maureen!

The list for SF/F/H:

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes — I have been waiting to list this for something like a year and a half, since it was originally slated to come out in the U.S. in October 2010. It has continued to astonish and delight me since then.

Triptych by J.M. Frey — This book has aliens, time travel, queer polyamorous romance that feels absolutely real, loss and grief and soldiering on, languages, family… in short, it was written for me. I haven’t felt this loved and acknowledged by a book in a very long time.

Unpossible by Daryl Gregory — Discussed here. In very brief, this collection blew my head off and then dumped cold water down the bleeding stump of my neck. Fortunately that’s how I like it.

Two Worlds and In Between: The Best of Caitlín R. Kiernan, Vol. 1 by Caitlín R. Kiernan — Yes, that makes three collections out of these six books, but there was no way I was going to pass this one up. Kiernan is one of the most consistently powerful, surprising authors writing today, and this collection is a must for anyone who likes exploring the dark interstices between genres with only a half-dead flashlight and some matches to light the way.

Erekos by A.M. Tuomala — Plenty of people have tried to combine zombies and romance, but Tuomala combines zombies with sororal love and love of country in a meditation on just how far we’re willing to go to preserve the things we care about, even if it means we’re really not preserving them at all.

Those paying attention will note that six out of six of these titles were put out by ambitious, daring small outfits. I hope a lot of people are paying attention. Congratulations and heartfelt thanks to Small Beer, Angry Robot, Dragon Moon, Fairwood, Subterranean, and Candlemark & Gleam for taking chances on these extraordinary books.

Honorable mentions: The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie, Broken by Susan Jane Bigelow, The Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham, Dead Iron by Devon Monk.

Onward to 2012!

Downloading Books for Dummies

The big news today is that Wiley is suing 27 unnamed Bit Torrent users for seeding copies of For Dummies books. According to the Wiley spokesperson quoted in the PW article, “Our objective is to approach them and to settle if they will agree to stop the infringement, sign a release to that effect, and agree to pay modest compensation… Our goal is to educate and settle.” I think this is an interesting approach and certainly preferable to the Metallica approach of picking one person to make a very expensive example of, though I do wonder how much “education” the defendants want or need.

Coincidentally, longtime Genreville reader Celine Kiernan just sent me the link to an essay by Susan Connolly discussing the ethics of book piracy, as well as the full text of the interview Connolly conducted with Kiernan on the topic. With regard to educating pirates, Connolly writes:

The arguments around ownership and rights to work are well established…. However, I think that rather than simply bang a drum about the inherent validity of intellectual property rights, we must seek to understand why it is that certain individuals find these arguments to be unpersuasive, or outweighed by other moral and practical considerations.

Without this understanding, I do not feel that we can come to accurate conclusions about the ethical status of book piracy and any policy considerations that result from this status.

And Kiernan, like many others before her, notes that piracy is inextricably linked to how easy it is for a reader to legitimately obtain a book. (This tweet about “Piracy is demand not met by the publishers” was among the most retweeted comments from the Books in Browsers conference last week; at a glance, I didn’t see anyone arguing with it.) “I can only bring this western European perspective to the subject, but I am aware that piracy has different resonances in different parts of the world,” she says. “There are many other portions of the world who do not have access to well distributed fairly priced books nor a working library system.” And she adds:

In so far as I feel in any way qualified to comment on this problem of global distribution (again, I would much prefer to hear from those who are directly affected by it please – can we get those voices included in this conversation?)  it seems to me that the longer piracy is used as a Band-Aid for distribution/pricing problems, the longer it will remain the only available solution. Radical change is needed and that can only come about with a large vocal public objection to the problem and then a concerted effort by political and business interests to change the current situation. If the ‘solution’ continues to be the use of pirate copies coupled with business/political apathy then nothing will ever change.

I highly recommend reading both Connolly’s essay and her interview with Kiernan for an idea of where the “education” of book pirates–and of publishers–might begin.

EDIT: Literary agent Ted Weinstein points me to his rebuttals of the “demand unmet by publishers” concept.

Best Books 2011 Preview

As promised, here’s my post on Daryl Gregory’s Unpossible, which I unhesitatingly label one of the best books of 2011. You have ten agonizing days to speculate before the rest of the list is announced. It would be cruel and unkind of me to drop hints, of course, so I’ll just say that it was particularly difficult to make my selections this year–as those of you who follow me on Twitter may have noticed–and I’m really looking forward to posting the shortlists and longlists on November 7.

In Praise of the Wacky and Weird

Evan Gregory writes a great post that could be hashtagged #YesWeirdBooks, since it recaps many of the topics covered in #YesGayYA from a slightly different angle:

I don’t believe that there’s any special talent editors or agents possess that make them any better in their role as taste-makers than your average reader.  The decisions they make about which books to keep and which books to toss, are similar to the type of decisions shoppers make at bookstores every day.  No one likes to be bored, and editors and agents are no exception.  The one thing that differentiates them from other readers is the surrounding cultural influences of the industry itself, and the narratives constructed around the successes or failures of the books they publish.  While publishers like to think they’re giving their customers what they want, in truth it is a publishing professional’s preconceived notions about what a commercial book should look like that most influences what readers end up with.

(emphasis mine)

U.K. critic Graham Sleight was in New York this week, and I had the pleasure of hanging out with him and discussing the state of SF publishing on both sides of the Atlantic. At one point he noted wistfully that most publishers seem very averse to risk-taking right now, to the detriment of both authors and readers. As Gregory notes, readers are likewise not straying far from their comfortable niches. I could name quite a few authors who are consistently beloved by reviewers and ignored by all but a core group of readers, in both cases because they dare to diverge from formula.

I definitely support Gregory’s plea for both publishers and readers to “get their sense of adventure back” and tackle at least one or two weird, boundary-busting, genre-defying, expectation-upending books a year. Now is a great time to start, with All Hallow’s Read coming up; take both challenges at once with a book that’s both unusual and scary! Or expand your comfort zone with a book that provides some variation on a familiar theme: romantic suspense if you’re a thriller fan, perhaps, or historical fiction if you enjoy narrative nonfiction. Conveniently, PW‘s editors are about to start the lead-up to the Best Books of the Year, with daily posts on our PWxyz blog recommending some of this year’s top 100 books. (I believe my post is going up on Thursday.) Take a look at those posts and see whether something catches your eye that you might otherwise have passed up or never heard of at all.

My SF/F/H shortlist this year is definitely heavy on the weird and unexpected, because those are the books that made me sit up and say “WOW”. It’s so easy to read the same thing over and over, especially in genre fiction–and it is so rewarding to get out of that rut and find something genuinely exciting and new. I encourage you to try it.

Gay and Innocent and Heartless

Maria Tatar, the chair of Harvard’s folklore and mythology program, has written a terrible NYT sequel to Meghan Cox Gurdon’s terrible WSJ op-ed. Learning from Gurdon’s mistakes, Tatar does not offer a blanket condemnation of children’s/middle grade/YA literature with grim themes. Instead, she complains that kids these days authors these days won’t get off her lawn write unrelentingly grim children’s literature, unlike the Good Old Days when there might have been a bit of occasional grimness but it was leavened by humor and joy.

Specifically, she writes:

Children today get an unprecedented dose of adult reality in their books, sometimes without the redemptive beauty, cathartic humor and healing magic of an earlier time.

By way of example, Tatar compares The Hunger Games with Peter and Wendy (better known as Peter Pan because I guess at some point it became unfashionable for a girl to get star billing).

Let me just make a few small points here.

1) The Hunger Games is very clearly aimed at older readers. Peter and Wendy was published long before the current children’s/middle grade/YA categorization system came into existence, but it’s pretty clearly aimed at younger readers. You might as well compare Unwind with Uncle Wiggly.

2) Tatar declares that modern books, such as The Graveyard Book and the His Dark Materials trilogy, “frequently offer expansive meditations on mortality, with heroes on crusades against death… It’s hard to imagine Carroll or Barrie coming up with something like that.” But Peter and Wendy is very much a meditation on mortality; it is a model for science fiction stories about the horrors of living forever, a parable about the unbearable weight of adulthood and its inevitable progress toward death. All children, except one, grow up… and eventually age and die. Peter doesn’t need to go on a crusade against death. It’s clear that he has already faced down death and won–and, in the process, doomed himself to eternal miserable loneliness in a decaying world built out of other people’s abandoned dreams. (I maintain that Peter is Hades and Wendy is a very peculiar Persephone, but that’s a separate post.)

2a) While Tatar is complaining that The Graveyard Book opens with the description of a murder, she would do well to remember that Peter ruthlessly does away with any Lost Boys who dare to show signs of growing up, and Michael, barely out of infancy, is thrilled when he gets to kill his first pirate.

2b) The Graveyard Book is an homage to, and in some ways an adaptation of, The Jungle Book, a contemporary of Peter and Wendy and easily as grim and bloody and existentially dire as anything being written today. Mowgli is the antithesis of Peter Pan; he grows inexorably older, gets evicted from his wild, magical home, and then explicitly rejects his surrogate mother. Not much leavening in there either, unless you count “The White Seal”, which, uh, at least has a happy ending except for all the seals who are brutally slain in front of their families.

3) According to Andrew Birkin, who adapted Barrie’s play Peter Pan for the French stage, Barrie’s working title for the play was Peter Pan, or, The Boy Who Hated Mothers. Again according to Birkin, Barrie suggested that the actress who plays Mrs. Darling should also play Captain Hook–which makes sense, as Mrs. Darling is the real-world antagonist. (At one point in the narration, Barrie snipes, “I had meant to say extraordinarily nice things about [Mrs. Darling]; but I despise her, and not one of them will I say now.”) Here’s just a handful of ways motherhood is treated very oddly in Peter and Wendy: mothers rummage through their children’s dreams, the best mother is a dog, a young girl is recruited to be a surrogate mother to a host of young boys (including her own brothers), and when that young girl grows up and has daughters of her own they are recruited in turn, interchangeably, with their duties summarized as “spring cleaning”. It may not be what we currently think of as an issue book, but it sure is a book with issues.

4) Peter and Wendy is bluntly racist as well as misogynist, and no amount of “redemptive beauty, cathartic humor and healing magic” can make up for that or balance it out.

Tatar, a scholar of no small accomplishment, must know all these things. (Well, maybe she didn’t know about The Graveyard Book‘s connection to The Jungle Book.) So why would the editor of The Annotated Peter Pan be so willing to overlook the book’s obvious faults, flaws, and grimness in order to hold it up as a model of…

…oh, I see. Perhaps I have answered my own question there.

(It’s possible that Tatar’s agenda does not include selling copies of her book, I suppose, but I think it does not look particularly good for either her or the Times that she has written, and they have published, the op-ed equivalent of “Well, in my novel…” the same week that said book hits the shelves.)

The rest of the essay falls apart under its own weight. Most tellingly, only two sentences after complaining about those overdoses of “adult reality”, Tatar quotes Suzanne Collins as having based the Hunger Games books in part on “[Collins's] anxieties as a child about the possibility that her father might die while fighting in Vietnam” (emphasis mine). She goes on to say that no one since Carroll and Barrie has “fully entered the imaginative worlds of children–where danger is balanced by enchantment”. If Tatar thinks that all children’s imaginations–and all children’s lives–have sufficient enchantment to balance the danger, I’d say that she is the one living in Wonderland.

Genreville’s Borders Expand Again

In a perfect illustration of the ways that the fantastic has become mainstream, Fox has purchased the TV rights to Lev Grossman’s The Magicians (and, I assume, will do similarly with The Magician King if the first project goes well). According to Deadline.com, the series “will be written by X-Men: First Class and Thor co-writers Ashley Miller & Zack Stentz and produced by Michael London (Milk), Shawn Levy and Michael Adelstein.” I note that it is being referred to as a “drama series”.

Let’s get beyond the complaints that It’s Popular, Now It Sucks. If The Magicians is a drama and Terry Pratchett is a satirist, this isn’t about genre media getting a bigger audience. This is about the audience no longer caring, positively or negatively, that genre media are genre. We shouldn’t be surprised by this, either. It’s been happening in the film world for decades, and in the video game world for even longer. My first “aha” moment on this topic was in 2006, when I realized The Lake House was being billed as a romantic drama without a word of warning about its fantastical elements. A friend told me the other day that the best science fiction story he’d encountered recently was the video game Portal 2. How many people loved Portal 2 without ever thinking of it as SF?

Our obscure little dialect has, somewhat mysteriously, become the lingua franca. That means genre fans are going to have to sit down and seriously contemplate what it means for our identities as fans to have our genre become so thoroughly embedded in, or subsumed by, the mainstream. The sets of “people who actively enjoy speculative literature” and “people who participate in discussions and gatherings devoted to speculative literature” used to overlap extensively. Now the first is vastly larger than the second. If you define “fan” as “someone who actively enjoys speculative literature”, fandom isn’t shrinking and greying; it’s expanding and diversifying to a really thrilling degree. If you define “fan” as “someone who participates in discussions and gatherings devoted to speculative literature”, fandom is rapidly dispersing among the general population and losing its precious uniqueness in the process, like a drop of dye in a bucket of water.

My unofficial tagline for Genreville has always been “Welcome to Genreville, population: more than you think”. Genreville has no immigration policy and no protectionist regulations. I would much rather expand the definition of “fan” than restrict it. I want good conversations about books, and that means inviting in as many viewpoints as possible. Coincidentally, there are more people reading and thinking about the literature of the fantastic than there have been since the Great Genre Schism between fantastical and mimetic fiction–and actually, given the increase in world population since then, there are probably more people reading and thinking about the literature of the fantastic than there have ever been. That’s amazing. And let’s not forget that their money funds the industry, and their opinions (in the form of their book-buying habits) shape it. We longtime fans truly can’t afford to dismiss the newcomers as unworthy of our attention.

Instead, I think it’s incumbent upon us to reach out to them and learn from them. They may not have read the classics of the genre; what were they reading, watching, and playing instead, and how did those other media experiences influence their experiences of fantastical literature? Maybe they could turn us on to things we might have missed out on. I haven’t played a story-based video game in years, but my friend’s description of Portal 2 made me want to give it a try–and made me wonder what else I would love that I haven’t even heard about.

I don’t think conventions and zines and other fanac (including terms like “fanac“) will disappear altogether. I think the ones that are primarily about interaction will be replaced–are being replaced–by online socializing. I think the ones that are primarily about books will stay around as long as they can make themselves attractive and relevant to mainstream readers who are just starting to realize they like that fantasy stuff. Will this mean more 101-level conversations, fandom’s eternal September? Probably. Is it worth it for old-timers to stay around and contribute to those conversations? Absolutely. Those mainstream n00bs need us, and we need them.

Official Statements

In my post about “Hamlet’s Father”, I said I didn’t expect Marvin Kaye or Tor Books to disavow or apologize for publishing it in The Ghost Quartet. I was half wrong! Kaye posted this comment:

For the record, when I put together “The Ghost Quartet” for Tor Books, Scott Card was not my choice to be one of the four contributors. Not because I do not respect his work; in the past I have bought an original dragon novella from him, and reprinted his horror classic, “Eumenides in the Fourth Floor Lavatory.” However, Tor insisted that Scott be one of the contributors to “The Ghost Quartet.” When approached, he tried to beg off because he was under such deadline pressure that he warned it would take him a very long time to write something new for the book.

However, Tor Books insisted that he MUST be one of the quartet. Tor made it clear they would not publish “The Ghost Quartet” unless Scott was part of the mix. As a result, he was over a year late delivering his manuscript, by which time one of the other authors was very angry at me.

So that is something like a disavowal, sort of. Meanwhile, Tor sent me this statement:

Orson Scott Card is a very successful author for Tor. We do not attempt to censor the political or religious beliefs of any of our authors, and make our acquisition decisions based on commercial potential.

Finally, Card himself has posted on his website calling the PW review “dishonest” and responding to other “false statements”:

[T]here is no link whatsoever between homosexuality and pedophilia in this book. Hamlet’s father, in the book, is a pedophile, period. I don’t show him being even slightly attracted to adults of either sex. It is the reviewer, not me, who has asserted this link, which I would not and did not make. [...]

[S]ince I have become a target of vilification by the hate groups of the Left, I am increasingly reluctant to have any gay characters in my fiction, because I know that no matter how I depict them, I will be accused of homophobia. The result is that my work is distorted by not having gay characters where I would normally have had them — for which I will also, no doubt, be accused of homophobia. [...]

I’m as proud of the story as ever, and I hope readers will experience the story as it was intended to be read.

I conclude with a link to the response from Subterranean Press again, just to have all the official statements in one place.

James Nicoll quotes “a source” with access to Bookscan numbers as saying that The Ghost Quartet sold around 100 copies. I guess that commercial potential wasn’t as thoroughly fulfilled as anyone involved with the project might have liked.

What Are Your Favorite Books of 2011?

PW lives three months ahead of everyone else, so we’re starting to think about our Best Books of the Year lists. I’m finding it surprisingly tricky going this year. For example, there hasn’t been much epic fantasy that really wowed me; I liked The Dragon’s Path a lot, but it didn’t bowl me over like Abraham’s Seasons of War books did (though admittedly that is a really high bar), and A Dance with Dragons and The Wise Man’s Fear were pretty decent but don’t make sense outside of the series context. A lot of the people who had breakout books in 2009 and 2010 are likewise writing strong series books that don’t stand alone, possibly with the exception of Cherie Priest’s Ganymede.

The big mindblowing debut I’ve seen this year has been J.M. Frey’s Triptych, and it’s from such a small press that I doubt it will get the attention it deserves. (Leviathan’s Wake is only half a debut, so I don’t count it, though it is pretty mindblowing.) Likewise, Maureen McHugh’s collection After the Apocalypse is stunning and I will be stunned if anyone outside the skifferati even knows that it’s coming out, and I’m hearing good things about Andrea Hairston’s Redwood & Wildfire but I have no idea how many readers it’s going to reach. Lauren Beukes’s Zoo City and Jo Walton’s Among Others are the only 2011 books that are getting anything like the buzz that Feed and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and Who Fears Death got in 2010, and both of them came out very early this year. Since then… there hasn’t been much, at least that I can recall.

So please, help jog my memory. What have your favorite SF/F/H books of 2011 been so far, and what are you looking forward to in the next few months?

SFNovelists Members Release Sampler Anthology

I’m personally not a fan of teaser chapters–once I start reading a book, I want to be able to choose whether I keep reading it–but they can be very useful for those who want to try before they buy. Now you can try 25 of them at once:

OPENING ACTS [is] a sampler of 25 first chapters from 25 of  SFNovelists’ members.  And best of all (from your perspective):  it’s free!  And available in a multitude of formats!  And you can read it, pass it on, share it with your friends!

The author list includes a lot of well-known names: Laura Anne Gilman, T.A. Pratt, Martha Wells, Marie Brennan, Jim C. Hines, C.E. Murphy, Janni Lee Simner, Louise Marley. Even the most hardened e-book skeptic might be tempted.

Since publishers are shoving the burden of publicity onto authors, it makes sense for those authors to pool their resources, reduce their individual burdens, and ride one another’s coat-tails–that’s a sufficiently disparate group of authors that every download means some of them will get to reach a fan they might not have reached otherwise–while individually spending less time on promotion, which means having more time for things like writing. I hope SFNovelists posts a follow-up telling us how many people have downloaded the book. If it’s popular, other groups could follow this example. For instance, I’d love to see a SFWA free online library where readers can download anthologies of sample chapters and short works by SFWA authors. No need for editing, unless some up-and-coming anthologist wants to work for free to show off their own skills; make ‘em grab bags, selected at random from among the available works. Sure, there will be some duds, but it’s free. And you never know what gems you’ll find.

It May Be July, but Winter Is Here

Random House was kind enough to send PW a review copy of A Dance with Dragons (as you know, since our review ran in late May), and of course I stole it from our reviewer and read it as soon as I could, so I have been waiting two months to talk with someone about all the wacky stuff that happens in this book. At long last, the wait is over! The book is officially launched and out in the world, and you have all had the past weekend to turn off your phones, lock your doors, strap on your back braces, and power through those thousand dense pages.

There are no spoilers in this post, but there will be in comments. If you have not read A Dance with Dragons and you want to approach it with a virgin mind (or if you couldn’t care less about the series), scroll on by. If you want to join me in squeeing and gasping and WTFing, please do. I hope the conversation will continue throughout the week as more people get a chance to finish reading this truly massive tome.

Monday Links

  • My mother and Ellen Stern have a lovely piece about novels with great second lines up on New York City Woman.
  • Got too many books? Turn them into bedside lamps and speakers.
  • FILM CRIT HULK diverges from films to discuss George R. R. Martin’s A Feast for Crows, explain why the Game of Thrones miniseries is better than the books, and otherwise very thoroughly spoil the entire series through book four. (No spoilers for book five yet, unless you count “Vader is Jon Snow’s father”, “Petyr Baelish is Keyser Söze”, and other contributions to the #dancewithdragonsspoiler hashtag game on Twitter the other night.) I personally found that A Feast for Crows improved greatly upon rereading, but it really isn’t a complete book without A Dance with Dragons.
  • The Readercon schedule is finished! I am very proud. I hope to see many of you at the convention. If you spot me, say hello!

    Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Goes Digital, Searchable, and Free

    From the press release:

    The third edition of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, the definitive reference work in the field, will be released online later this year by the newly-formed ESF, Ltd, in association with Victor Gollancz, the SF & Fantasy imprint of the Orion Publishing Group, whose support will enable the text to be available free to all users. This initial “beta” version, containing about three-quarters of the total projected content, will be unveiled in conjunction with Gollancz’s celebrations of its 50th anniversary as a science fiction publisher.

    The first edition of the Encylopedia, whose founder and general editor was Peter Nicholls, appeared in 1979, and contained over 700,000 words. A second edition, edited by John Clute and Peter Nicholls, appeared in 1993 and contained over 1.3 million words. Both editions won the Hugo Award from the World Science Fiction Convention, in addition to numerous other honours.

    The beta version of the third edition will contain some 3 million words, including about 12,000 entries and well over 100,000 internal links. The entries cover every area of science fiction, including authors, illustrators, movies, music, games, and fanzines. The text will be completed, through monthly updates, by the end of 2012.

    The decision to go digital and free is generating considerable buzz. Given how much previous editions have sold for, it’s clear that the SFE has plenty of revenue potential. The question is how, or whether, that potential will be realized when the content is available and searchable online for free (in the style of other reference websites like Merriam-Webster’s dictionary site). Managing editor Graham Sleight dropped me a note to say that he’s seeking views on whether people would want to buy the SFE in print, e-book, or app format, and he invites Genreville readers to respond either in comments here or with tweets to @sfencyclopedia. I hope you’ll comment here; I’m very interested to know what you think.

    On a Lighter Note

    Some quick fun links to balance out the heavy stuff I’ve been blogging about this week:

    Two Months to Go

    Longtime fans of George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series are counting down to July 12th, the promised release date of A Dance with Dragons. Are you among them? I asked Twitter last night and got one “OMG CANNOT WAIT” response to a dozen “meh” or “who?” responses, which wasn’t the proportion I expected, so I figured I’d make it a little more formal. Take the poll and let us know whether you’re desperate, disgruntled, or completely uninterested.