Friday, April 27, 2012

April 27, 2012 Links and Plugs

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Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig

Thursday, April 26, 2012

April 26, 2012 Links and Plugs

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Fountain of Age by Nancy Kress

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Blogging the Hugos 2012: Best Novella

Previous Posts:
Best Novella (473 ballots)
Countdown by Mira Grant (Orbit)
"The Ice Owl" by Carolyn Ives Gilman (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, November/December 2011)
"Kiss Me Twice" by Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov's, June 2011)
"The Man Who Bridged the Mist" by Kij Johnson (Asimov's, September/October 2011)
"The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary" by Ken Liu (Panverse 3)
Silently and Very Fast by Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld / WSFA)

The Nominees

Much like the Best Novelette category, this year's ballot is identical to the Nebula Awards finalists, save for one exception (in this case, Countdown by Mira Grant).

While I haven't read the first novella in this category, four of the stories in this ballot are exciting and well-written. They make great use of their length and cover a wide variety of subjects. It doesn't feel like the novellas are competing in the sense of which one is better per se, as each of the stories are attempting something different.

Interesting to note is how there's a strong science fiction background to all the stories on the ballot.

Countdown by Mira Grant (Orbit)

The eBook is not sold in my region. No comment.

"The Ice Owl" by Carolyn Ives Gilman (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, November/December 2011)

The weakest of the novellas in the ballot mainly because it's a mixed bag. On one hand, it suffers from clunky exposition. On the other hand, it has speckles of brilliant characterization and a compelling plot. It barely qualifies for the category (in fact, the word count according to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction is 17,025 words) but even in the novelette category, there are better stories than this. "The Ice Owl" isn't without its redeeming qualities, but it's not outstanding.

"Kiss Me Twice" by Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov's, June 2011)

"Kiss Me Twice" is reminiscent of Asimov's fiction (so it's quite fitting that it got published in Asimov's), specifically his Robot series. Where Mary Robinette Kowal improves upon it is her characterization, whether it's creating a compelling protagonist, to crafting a convincing, period persona for his AI companion. And then there's the core elements of what would appeal to Asimov's fanbase: a solid plot and a plausible mystery involving the scientific conceit of the setting.

As a novella, this is quite good and enjoyable. As part of Kowal's repertoire, this is similarly impressive, as it's different from her previous work. However, as a Hugo nominee, I feel this piece isn't ambitious enough, and is simply a reworking (albeit significant improvement) of a tried and tested formula. I like this story, but it's not challenging my sensibilities.

"The Man Who Bridged the Mist" by Kij Johnson (Asimov's, September/October 2011)

Despite the fantasy setting, "The Man Who Bridged the Mist" follows the tropes of a science fiction utopian novel, wherein the conflict of the story revolves around the completion of a project—in this case, the construction of a bridge. This felt like an epic, which was fitting considering the theme and subject matter. Kij Johnson creates a holistic, complex, and detailed culture rich in detail and emotion. The reader gets swept in the ambition of the protagonist, with every milestone a hard-fought triumph. In many ways, this novella is superior to many novels out there, as Johnson is not only talented, but is also conscious of when to compress, and when to expound.

In a different year, this could have been my Hugo pick. Unfortunately, I feel that the last two nominees on the ballot are more ambitious, daring, and innovative. This is a solid story that's worth its length in gold, and it's a testament to this year's ballot that such a wonderful piece is simply my runner-up.

"The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary" by Ken Liu (Panverse 3)

One of the best effects a story can have on the reader is creating dialog. For me, that's what "The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary" accomplishes, as it hits you on so many levels. It works on the surface level, but if you dig deeper, there's this rich subject matter that's being mined and developed. The story isn't simply presenting a single thesis, but is an argument for a lot of ideas that never feels didactic or unfair. Ken Liu's characters are fully-realized and the events in the story mirror the problematic situation of reality. There's constantly a duality to the narrative, covering multiple subjects, and while it seems to be tugging in one direction, the gravity and depth arises from the counter-reaction presented in the story.

This could easily have been my automatic Hugo vote, but Valente's entry gave me pause.

Silently and Very Fast by Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld / WSFA) 

Silently and Very Fast is not without its flaws—it feels cluttered and precious at times—but it's also very ambitious and arguably its roughness is what makes this piece shine. Catherynne M. Valente has been known to conjure compelling fairy tales and develop nested stories, which initially seems like the premise, but that's simply a facet of her ensemble as the novella incorporates those elements into this science fiction epic.

Individually, the sections of the story are beautiful, but holistically, it can get confusing at times (even dragging), but that effect mirrors the plight of the narrator. In terms of scope, if we're talking about an ambitious interstitial story, this is the narrative that I'd recommend. There's nothing quite like it, whether in presentation, style, delivery, or chronology, and it's this entire package that delivers something refreshingly alien.

Is there a more elegant way for Valented to have told her story? Perhaps. But the rawness of this piece, and its ambition, elevates this to something noteworthy. If I'd go for the conservative vote, I'd vote Liu. If it's for innovation, Valente.

April 24, 2012 Links and Plugs

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All the Little Gods We Are by John Grant

Monday, April 23, 2012

April 23, 2012 Links and Plugs

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Pilots of the Purple Twilight by Kit Reed

Friday, April 20, 2012

Thursday, April 19, 2012

April 19, 2012 Links and Plugs

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The Apex Book of World SF 2 edited by Lavie Tidhar

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

April 18, 2012 Links and Plugs

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The Chaos by Nalo Hopkinson

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Filipino Honorable Mention List for Best Horror of the Year volume 4

Congrats to the various Filipino writers who made it to Ellen Datlow's Best Horror of the Year #4 Honorable Mentions (1|2|3|4|5):
  • Mei, Xin “Less Talk, Less Mistake,” The Digest of Philippine Genre Stories: Crime.  
  • Moll, Maryanne“God is the Space Between,”The Digest of Philippine Genre Stories: Crime.
  • Muslim, Kristine Ong “The Invisible,” (poem) Unspoken Water #1
  • Muslim, Kristine Ong “The Seventh Stranger,” (poem) Paper Crow, fall.
  • Rosario, Tina del “Scars,” Heights Senior Folio
  • Villanueva, Marianne “The Departure,” Philippine Genre Stories online May.
  • Yu, Kenneth “The Kiddie Pool,” Philippine Speculative fiction 6.

April 17, 2012 Links and Plugs

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Fireside Issue One

Monday, April 16, 2012

Blogging the Hugos 2012: Best Novelette

Previous Posts:
Best Novelette (499 ballots)
"The Copenhagen Interpretation" by Paul Cornell (Asimov's, July 2011)
"Fields of Gold" by Rachel Swirsky (Eclipse Four)
"Ray of Light" by Brad R. Torgersen (Analog, December 2011)
"Six Months, Three Days" by Charlie Jane Anders (Tor.com)
"What We Found" by Geoff Ryman (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, September/October 2011)
The Nominees

Except for Paul Cornell's story, this year's nominees are also Nebula Awards finalists. It's safe to say that all these stories are, at the very least, good, but the question is whether they're outstanding enough to warrant the nomination (or actually win). Majority of the stories have strong science fiction elements, although I was never keen on genre boundaries (especially when you take into consideration what qualifies as science fiction and what qualifies as fantasy—more so with this year's ballot). Also interesting is how a common theme revolves around relationships.

"The Copenhagen Interpretation" by Paul Cornell (Asimov's, July 2011)

It would be unfair to label Paul Cornell's story as a dark horse entry. It's actually pretty good, and perhaps the most entertaining of all the nominees. It's a mishmash of various sub-genres: soap opera, alternate history, thriller, and of course, science fiction. Cornell also creates a compelling and sympathetic protagonist, and while he's no James Bond, it's evident that there are lines which he won't hesitate to cross. What's interesting in this piece is how Cornell melds the various genres without sacrificing the strength of each.

Is this a good story? Definitely. A Hugo-worthy story? Maybe not for my personal preference, but I wouldn't be disappointed if it won.

"Fields of Gold" by Rachel Swirsky (Eclipse Four)

When we talk about the ability of speculative fiction to take the extreme of a certain situation to highlight the truth of a particular human condition, "Fields of Gold" is an excellent example. Rachel Swirsky successfully portrays holistic, three-dimensional characters, and does so with wonderful technique and style. The arc of this story hinges on empathizing with the protagonist and the various people he encounters—even when they are clearly flawed or eccentric—and what can I say, this is an effective character-driven piece.

There's nothing innovative when it comes to the plot or the style, but this is terrific writing. My runner-up vote.

"Ray of Light" by Brad R. Torgersen (Analog, December 2011)

Nick Mamatas has an essay on writing called "All Pistons Firing" and that best describes "Ray of Light." Make no mistake, this is a competent story, devoid of flaws, but there's also a sense of blandness in being too clean. There are no mistakes in terms of characterization, setting, and technique, but you're looking for something to make it stand out and memorable, and "Ray of Light" lacks that element. Perhaps the conflict was too easily resolved. Perhaps Brad R. Torgersen could have made this piece stand out through style. But as it is, this feels "good enough" and safe rather than a story that's outstanding.

"Six Months, Three Days" by Charlie Jane Anders (Tor.com)

In what seems a high-concept premise (two clairvoyants start dating), Charlie Jane Anders knows how to focus on what matters: the characters. The speculative fiction element exists to enhance the all-too real problems a couple might encounter, and Anders does so with precision, believability, and personality. As far as the craft is concerned, "Six Months, Three Days" is littered with telling details that contribute to the verisimilitude.

(And as an aside, every Filipino who reads this story mentions one of Anders's telling details, Jollibee, even if it's irrelevant to the larger plot; just goes to show how important representation in fiction is. Thank you Charlie Jane Anders.)

While I do read Anders's nonfiction, this is the first time I've read her fiction and it blew me away. Yes, Hugo win please.

"What We Found" by Geoff Ryman (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, September/October 2011) 

I'm on the fence with "What We Found." On one hand, it is terrific in terms of craft, especially how Geoff Ryman juxtaposes his protagonist's history with his scientific discovery. This then leads you to question why is the narrator telling us his story, and what he hopes to accomplish in light of discovery. The characters are complex and nuanced without having convenient resolutions.

So why the reservation? There's a similarity (and perhaps sharing some of the perils)—although they are not identical and in many ways, this is an improvement due to the way the ending was resolved—to the style employed in Ryman's other nominated story, "Pol Pot's Beautiful Daughter (Fantasy)," although both are admittedly powerful stories. This entry probably requires more on deliberation on my part, but craft-wise, it's effective and gripping.

Other Recommendations:

It's actually difficult for me to identify which stories are novelettes, but here's two from 2011 that were memorable:

"The Summer People" by Kelly Link (Tin House: The Ecstatic): This story ignites both your sense of wonder and creepiness, and Kelly Link successfully portrays the complex relationships of her characters.

"The Projected Girl" by Lavie Tidhar (Naked City): While perhaps not a revolutionary story, Lavie Tidhar hits all the right emotional beats and writes a nostalgic, moving piece.

April 16, 2012 Links and Plugs

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The Drowning Girl  By Caitlin R. Kiernan

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Blogging the Hugos 2012: Best Short Story


I've been remiss in my reading for the past two years, but the short story (and its ilk, the novelette and novella) is where I feel a lot of interesting material is being written. So here it is, Best Short Story:
Best Short Story (593 ballots)
"The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees" by E. Lily Yu (Clarkesworld, April 2011)
"The Homecoming" by Mike Resnick (Asimov's, April/May 2011)
"Movement" by Nancy Fulda (Asimov's, March 2011)
"The Paper Menagerie" by Ken Liu (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, March/April 2011)
"Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue" by John Scalzi (Tor.com)
The Category

After Best Novel, the category that garnered the most votes was Best Short Story (beating Best Dramatic Presentation by a single vote). Who ever claimed that the short story is dead?

The Nominees

In terms of quality, I'm actually impressed with the quality of the nominees.

There's lots to discuss actually with this year's nominees. Three out of the five are from print magazines (as opposed to online fiction or anthologies). As for the a trend, "The Homecoming," "Movement," and "The Paper Menagerie" tend to be go for emotional  manipulation. There's an even split between science fiction and fantasy, if we are to talk about genre boundaries (with "The Cartographer of Wasps and the Anarchist Bees" best left to reader interpretation). And then there is the inevitable comparison to The Nebula Awards, with half of the nominees having an overlap. Personally, it's these overlapping stories that I'd vote for.

Warning: Spoilers Ahead.

"The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees" by E. Lily Yu (Clarkesworld, April 2011)

During my initial reading, the story didn't grab me: the third-person perspective and clinical tone left me distant from the narrative. But upon closer inspection, there's a lot to unpack. Perhaps what's striking is that E. Lily Yu delves into a possible, mundane phenomenon, and imbues it with drama. There's also a level of implicitness that reveals restraint and gives space for reader interpretation. That, after all, is the appeal of the ending. This isn't a story that hits all the writing buttons such as character or tone, but it doesn't have to be. It excels in plot and the science and the drama, and the way the story is presented is uncommon in the field.

This is a good story. I'm just more attached to other stories on the ballot.

"The Homecoming" by Mike Resnick (Asimov's, April/May 2011)

"The Homecoming" works on a simple premise: a son who leaves the planet and undergoes a "transformation" comes back but his father resents him for it. It's a conflict that's ripe for mining and that's exactly what Mike Resnick takes advantage of. A lot of the story revolves around dialogue and Resnick successfully conveys each one's side and their inability to understand the other person's plight. Where the story falters—or rather, fails to take it to the next level—is how this conflict is resolved. First, the ailing mother asking for a parable is transparent. Second, the father's change of heart seemed so sudden and needed more goading. Resnick was already seeding steps in that direction but as it is, it wasn't convincing.

At first, I was skeptical of Resnick but reading the story, he won me over and I really wanted to like this story, specially when you consider this could be a metaphor for a lot of scenarios: transgenders, the expatriates, or even someone who undergoes extensive surgery. But if we apply a critical lens to how Resnick resolves the story, it's lacking complexity and depth, and is only one step away from a magical handwave—considering the resistance he's established in the story's beginning.


"Movement" by Nancy Fulda (Asimov's, March 2011)

Subdued is how I'd describe "Movement." What's fascinating is how Nancy Fulda uses metaphor to convey what her characters are feeling. There are also details which re-state what's previously established, without seeming heavy-handed, such as the propensity of the father to carry a laser to swat flies, while the mother eschews such technology.

If you don't read between the lines, you could miss the nuances of the story. But because Fulda employs restraint, this is a much richer story for it. This is terrific, and has that emotional weight to it. It's a close second to "The Paper Menagerie."

"The Paper Menagerie" by Ken Liu (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, March/April 2011)

Every time I read this story, I cry. Ken Liu breaks the rule of "show, don't tell," but that's because he knows how to employ it: because the story is narrated through the lens of the prodigal son, emotion, insight, and exposition become part of characterization. The gem though is how Liu conveys the immigrant story—something we might have heard before—into something compelling, believable, and personal.

I think most readers will find two powerful scenes in this story. The first is the protagonist playing with his paper menagerie and evokes the same sense of wonder as the scene in The Once and Future King where Arthur transforms into many different animals. The second, which gives the first scene much weight, is the mother's letter. There are points where the letter could have faltered, but Liu goes all the way, and this is what leaves you in tears.

While not as restrained as "Movement," this is the story that's most powerful in terms of emotion. And my definite pick.

"Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue" by John Scalzi (Tor.com)

At first glance, I thought this was an actual novel; I'd have bought it. I was going to make a post at how some short stories get expanded into novels, and how chapters in novels could make great short stories, but that this was neither—when I realized my error. Oh, this is that kind of story.

"Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue" isn't quite the "Internet Puppy" vote, and there's a lot of deliberation put into this. Even horrible sentences like "others said it was very similar to the unforgettable Pounding of Skalandarharia, in which hailstones the size of melons destroyed the city’s melon harvest" work, due to the intentional parody. Perhaps a clincher for me would have been the ending, or the lack of a satisfying resolution, but that too ties into the metafictional nature of this piece.

So, should an April Fools win a Hugo? As much as I appreciate the humor, I was looking for something that had depth as well—as Terry Pratchett's later works prove to be possible. Good, fun, but give me something more and I'll take the plunge.

Other Recommendations:

While not up-to-date on my short fiction reading as I should be, here's some possible contenders:


"Mulberry Boys" by Margo Lanagan (Blood and Other Cravings): Margo Lanagan usurps the tropes of vampire fiction and creates this fascinating dystopia that's both rich and complicated—all in the span of a few thousand words.

"Story Kit" by Kij Johnson (Eclipse Four): Kij Johnson successfully juggles the metafictional elements of her narrative while still delivering a character-centric, heartfelt story.

"Say Zucchini, and Mean It" by Peter M. Ball (Daily Science Fiction, May 2011): A story that hits the heart, there are nuances in characterization if you dig deep into this piece, and tackles a common-enough condition.

"Younger Women" by Karen Joy Fowler (Subterranean, Summer 2011): Aside from a possible commentary on the creepiness of the Twilight franchise, the mother's characterization is convincing and the details in this story are to be treasured.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Interview: Sword & Laser with Veronica Belmont and Tom Merritt

For today, I got to interview the hosts of the recently-released Sword & Laser show.

From their press release, here's their bio:
Veronica Belmont is a technology and gaming-centric video host who works on a variety of projects including Tekzilla (a weekly tech-help and how-to show on Revision3.com) and Game On! On the TwiT Network.

Tom Merritt anchors the daily tech news show Tech News Today on the TwiT network as well as hosting special live news coverage and other events.  In the past he has hosted the daily Buzz Out Loud podcast and a weekly how-to show called The Real Deal.

The executive producers for Sword & Laser are Felicia Day (The Guild, Dr. Horrible, Eureka), Kim Evey (The Guild, Dragon Age: Redemption) and Sheri Bryant (Rock Jocks).

Without further ado:

Hi Tom and Veronica! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. Since you're avid fans of science fiction and fantasy, to start things off, what culture (books, games, TV) are you currently consuming, aside from your current Book Pick?

Tom: I'm a devoted fan of Game of Thrones on HBO, as well as Fringe, Being Human and Mad Men. I just finished reading Empire State by Adam Christopher and was lucky enough to get an advanced copy of Year Zero by Rob Reid. Currently I'm making my way through Red Seas under Red Skies by Scott Lynch.  When it comes to gaming, I haven’t had too much time, but I do pop into Warcraft at least once a week. 

Veronica:
Right now I'm really digging into some PC games that I've put off for a while, including Age of Empires Online and Civilization 5. They've both been out for a while, but I've had a craving lately for some strategy games. In the TV realm, Game of Thrones is huge for me, but I'm also really into Archer, Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock.  When it comes to reading I’m in the process of finishing our latest pick for my other book club (Vaginal Fantasy) called The Iron Duke.


The elephant in the room is, of course, how did Sword & Laser become part of Geek & Sundry? Were there any initial reservations about moving to a video format?

 
Veronica:
Felicia asked me last summer if this was something we'd like to work on and I jumped at the chance! I think we always had it in the backs of our minds that we'd bring S&L to video eventually, since both Tom and I spend our day jobs in front of the camera we really needed the right opportunity to make it work. Sword & Laser needed the right kind of home and Geek & Sundry is a perfect fit for us. Personally, I'm so excited just too even watch the other shows on the network! They're all great and unique. 


Tom:
Since both Veronica and I do lots of video, it wasn't much of a concern at all.  The big challenges have been running the production ourselves rather than for a big network.  Geek & Sundry have been incredibly helpful in that regard. I was very comfortable with joining Geek & Sundry because they are enthusiastic about the content as much as we are.

Sword & Laser is approaching its 100th episode and you've pretty much got the podcast format hammered down. One pet peeve of mine with some video productions is that they don't require the video aspect, and could easily have remained an audio production. What changes are you incorporating into the show to maximize the medium?

 
Tom:
We have a dragon and a bar!  Sure you could *hear* the dragon on an audio podcast, but when you see our dragon you'll understand why that just isn't enough. We're also including video messages from people so video actually allows us to show it to our audience.  Also, book trailers are another cool trend we can take better advantage of in video.

Veronica:
Definitely the ability to play video messages and actually show what we're talking about... whether that's an amazing book cover, casting choices for the next season of Game of Thrones, or concept art for the next big science fiction blockbuster. Plus, yeah.... dragon.


What are some of the challenges in running a video production? How far off is your lead time?

 
Tom:
We shoot on Tuesday and post the episode on Friday, compared to most news properties I've worked for that's luxury. Also, we don't have a huge staff, so booking, writing, wrangling rights issues, gathering things to show and coming up with the rundown falls on us. It's a lot of work, but writing the first episode was one of the most fun things I've done in a long time.

Veronica:
It's all a challenge! It's by far the biggest production I've done without walking into a pre-existing set and studio situation. The set was built from the ground up, and we're still figuring out a lot about how the show will work and look. That's part of the fun, but it can also be a little stressful! 

 

Can you give us a hint of what's in store in the future?
 
Tom:
We have dragons, thrones and Aliens with copyright issues.

Veronica:
We're having some great interviews coming up, including with the author of our current book pick, Lev Grossman. We've also got plans for contests and live shows in the near future!

You have a very active Goodreads forum. How does it factor when it comes to interacting with your subscribers and deciding on the content for the show?

 
Tom:
It's essential.  We don't put everything to a vote, but we do put some of our book choices to a vote.  More importantly it helps us be a part of the hive mind. I have a much better sense of likes and dislikes thanks to Goodreads, plus the people in there are so damned clever! They are, as a collective, smarter than either of the hosts of this little show could ever be.

Veronica:
We have a feedback section that is pulled right from the forums, and we also take viewer and listener questions for the interviews. If they want to hear from a certain author, we want to know! 


Who's a guest that you haven't featured yet that you'd like to interview on the show?

 
Tom:
George R. R. Martin has to be at the top of our list with Neil Gaiman coming in a close second.

Veronica:
What Tom said!


Any other projects you want to plug?

 
Tom:
Well swordandlaser.com of course.  Also, I’ve started an audio show with Scott Johnson called Autopilot which reviews pilot episodes of classic TV shows (www.autopilotshow.com

Veronica:
I also host Tekzilla on Revision3.com!

Thanks!

Press Release: Philippine Speculative Fiction Series Joins Flipside's Spec Fic eBook Lineup


QUEZON CITY,‭ ‬Metro Manila‭ (‬April‭ ‬13,‭ ‬2012‭) ‬– The first volume of the anthology‭ ‬Philippine Speculative Fiction,‭ ‬which was first released in‭ ‬2005‭ ‬and paved the way for a unique literary movement in the Philippines,‭ ‬is now available as an eBook on Amazon and Flipreads.‭ ‬Series editor Dean Francis Alfar has partnered with Flipside Publishing to make the first four anthologies in the series available.‭ ‬The two books complement the speculative fiction eBooks in Flipside Publishing's lineup.

“Speculative Fiction opens the trapdoor of the imagination beneath our feet,”‭ ‬says Dean Francis Alfar,‭ ‬on why the genre is important.‭  “‬As we fall to new worlds,‭ ‬familiar or far-flung,‭ ‬we open our eyes and minds to new ways of seeing and thinking.‭ ‬Throughout human history,‭ ‬the ability to imagine has driven us forward.”

Stories from the‭ ‬Philippine Speculative Fiction series have been included in the Honorable Mentions list from‭ ‬The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror edited by Ellen Datlow and Kelly Link‭ & ‬Gavin J.‭ ‬Grant,‭ ‬while the individual anthologies have been praised by World Fantasy Award-winning author Jeffrey Ford and SF writer Nancy Jane Moore.

Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol.‭ ‬1‭ ‬is now available on Amazon for‭ ‬$0.99‭ ‬and‭ Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol.‭ ‬2‭ ‬for‭ ‬$3.99.‭ ‬The next two volumes will eventually be released in May.‭ ‬The eBooks are also available at‭ ‬http://www.flipreads.com for P80 and P195 respectively.

Other speculative fiction titles that Flipside Publishing has published include‭ ‬Lower Myths by Eliza Victoria,‭ ‬Alternative Alamat edited by Paolo Chikiamco,‭ ‬Geek Tragedies by Carljoe Javier,‭ ‬News of the Shaman by Karl De Mesa,‭ ‬and‭ ‬Ghosts of Infinity edited by Lara Saguisag‭ & ‬April Yap.‭

About Flipside Publishing Services Inc.

Flipside Publishing Services Inc.,‭ ‬sister company of Flipside Digital Content,‭ ‬is involved in leading-edge conversion,‭ ‬production,‭ ‬and publishing of eBooks.‭ ‬Over‭ ‬100‭ ‬eBooks are available for the Amazon Kindle,‭ ‬Apple iTunes,‭ ‬and B&N Nook.

###

April 13, 2012 Links and Plugs

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 An A–Z of the Fantastic City by Hal Duncan

Thursday, April 12, 2012

April 12, 2012 Links and Plugs

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Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol. 1 edited by Dean Francis Alfar

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Essay: The Massive The Hunger Games Post

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

For the past few weeks, I've been deliberating on The Hunger Games trilogy, and even thought of writing a review, but an innocuous "good morning" on Twitter the other week spiraled into a lengthy discussion on the subject.

Novel vs Trilogy

When talking about The Hunger Games, we need to assess whether we are talking about the novel, or the series. For example, I felt that the first book was a competent endeavor—perhaps even contrived, which I'll explain later—but the series, as a whole, is an interesting narrative that tackles several subjects and themes.

An aside is how we are able to judge a series, which seems to be the staple of genre. In most awards, for example, the judges or the voting population should theoretically judge a novel on its own merits, as opposed to the entire trilogy or series. (Which is why Abigail Nussbaum wrote An Appeal to the Hugo Nominators when it came to Blackout/All Clear.) While novel criticism already has a system in place, I think we need more tools and dialog when it comes to discussing—and rewarding—the merits of an entire series.

The Conceit of The Hunger Games

For the past few months, this has been a pet peeve of mine: when people simply dismiss The Hunger Games as a lesser Battle Royale. The claim is as ridiculous as a non-writer approaching writers, and giving them this pitch:
"I have a story idea for you. I'll sell it to you, you write the novel, and we'll split the profits."
The fact is, there's more to writing than just the concept (although concept is important). When it comes to vampires, for example, no one chastises Bram Stoker for ripping off Lord Byron or John Polidori. And (usually) each generation's incarnation of the vampire story, from Anne Rice to Stephenie Meyer, adds something to the mythos. Taking a more modern concept, there are significant differences between Superman, Marvelman, Captain Marvel, Apollo, The Sentry, and the Plutonian, despite their similarities to each other.

Or, if we're just going to talk about possible influences, why not state the ensemble of authors who predate Collins: Shirley Jackson, William Golding, George Orwell, William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson, etc.

And then there are the differences between the two books: first-person vs. third-person, survival vs. innocence, trilogy vs. novel, etc.

An essay that best explains this phenomenon is from the US publisher of Battle Royale, Haikasoru: Battle Royale vs. The Hunger Games.

The Film

The movie, for me, is an interesting adaptation.

It's definitely different, and there are significant changes that changes the entire tone of the narrative. There's the shifting perspectives, for example, a stark contrast from the novel where everything is filtered through Katniss's perception. Her romance with Peeta gives a completely opposite impression, even if the actions she performs are identical to the book.

Aesthetically, because Suzanne Collins is sparse on description, there's much room for interpretation when it comes to the visuals and the casting. For example, there's a certain flamboyance to the fashion that wasn't readily apparent in my reading, and that's a valid interpretation of the books.

One detail I'd like to focus on that I haven't seen anywhere else (everyone by now should have read the racist tweets commentary) is the portrayal of violence. Without elaborating on the hypocrisy of US media's approach to sex and violence, I'll note that in the film, there's a lot of avoidance of showing gruesome scenes. This is accomplished through shaky cameras, off-screen death (some of which does occur in the books), and blood-less murder.

As far as the film is concerned, there's a level of streamlining the narrative, making it a shorter and probably much more engrossing movie, but it also loses a lot of the nuances and implications of the book. I enjoy it for what it is, and it's a good supplement to the novel, but if you really want to get to the meat of the story—and it's not exactly a very thick book—read The Hunger Games.

Details, Details, Details

What immediately strikes me about the books is the style. It's a first-person narrative that focuses on the action and essential plot points, but skimps when it comes to the details. This is best seen in Catching Fire, when Katniss tours the districts. Collins only describes Katniss's experience with District 11. The rest is quickly glossed over. Not that those details are required, but if this was an epic fantasy for example, one of the tropes would have been to explore all twelve districts as part of the character's journey, to flesh out the world-building.

This is a consistent style in all three novels, and extends to character details. Do you know why some readers mistook Rue for a white girl? It's not that she wasn't described as such, as there is textual evidence, but it's not a point that's emphasized. Most characters in the book get a line or two of description at most, so there's this space for ambiguity.

I don't profess to know the intent of the author. There are several valid reasons for using this technique. Maybe because Collins wants the readers to project themselves into the character. Maybe it's to maintain the momentum of the narrative and descriptions will simply bog it down. Maybe it's part of the character conceit, that Katniss doesn't value physical appearance as much. Maybe Collins simply doesn't enjoy delving into the details. Or some combination of what I previously mentioned. Whatever the case may be, that's how the books are written. Objectively, it's not necessarily a weakness, but readers will have their preference (some will be content with the sparseness, while others will feel dissatisfied).

I was listening to Geek's Guide to the Galaxy chatting with Tobias Buckell and one of the latter's agendas is to introduce people of color into science fiction, so his protagonists are often POC. These details are interwoven and hammered in the narrative, so that when it comes to the covers, it's hard to whitewash them—or at least that's the experience of Buckell when it comes to his Xenowealth series (that wasn't the case for Justine Larbalestier's Liar until much fan outcry). That's one way of handling the subject, but in this case, Collins veers in the opposite direction. Hiromi Goto covers some of the problems with Collins's approach, although I'd argue there is still some sense of culture in the books (each district for example specializes in a specific industry), just not a lot of race.

And again, that's not to eliminate the possibility of writing a post-racial story. For some of us—myself included—it just wasn't convincing, or rather, maybe Collins should have taken a different approach with regards to the matter.

Conflict

The main reason why I felt The Hunger Games was underwhelming was that the conflict felt contrived. For a survival scenario where the point is to kill your fellow competitors—and preservation of innocence isn't the point—Katniss didn't have to make any "difficult" choices. Arguably part of this is to win over reader sympathy, but the book is transparently manipulative in establishing Katniss as some form of innocent killer. The deaths she is responsible for is arguably indirect (death by tracker jays), out of justified rage (the murder of Rue), and in the end, a mercy kill. Her enemies are also portrayed as lacking any redeeming qualities. What would have been more compelling for me, for example, is a scenario where Katniss had to kill Thresh.

That's not to say the argument against it doesn't have merits. One fact pointed out to me is that Katniss had to make a difficult choice by pretending to love Peeta. As for the two-dimensional portrayal of the District 1 and 2 tributes, that could have been to illustrate the point of how the colonized are used against one another (they were only all too obliging in oppressing their fellow oppressors, as long as it suited them).

But whereas I found The Hunger Games lacking, I was much impressed with Catching Fire and Mockingjay, as it went where the first book didn't. If in the first novel I felt that Katniss didn't have to make difficult choices, it's mined in the next two books, and culminates in her execution of Coin. There's also various facets the books explores, such as PTSD, the complexities of politics, morality, etc. The trilogy is greater than the sum of its parts, and The Hunger Games for me was the weakest of the three.

Nor do I buy the opinion that Catching Fire was a rehash of the first book, as it took the next step in the narrative, whether on a plot level or on an emotional level. Katniss, for example, is in a very different place in the second novel compared to the first. Nor did I feel that the conceit was strained, and follows the progression of reality TV like the transition from Survivor to Survivor All-Stars, and highlights the tyranny of the Capitol.

World-Building

There's some criticism with regards to Collins's world-building. On one hand, this ties into her sparse description (for example, only select districts are fleshed out, and the rest are this vague haze of oppressed societies). For others, it's the initial premise: that an intelligent dictator with access to state-of-the-art technology would use a violent show involving children as a means to subjugate most of the population, and has been going on for the past 74 years. It's not wholly implausible and was used in history (gladiatorial combat), but at a certain level, you have to ask: isn't there a better way of controlling your society?

Personally though, establishing that is not the point of the book. We take certain assumptions as a given (in this case, the existence of The Hunger Games and its rationale) and roll with it. What comes after is where Collins excels in, and explores the implications of this dystopia.

Two-Act/Three-Act Structure

The structure of the books is interesting to me.

If you analyze them as individual novels, they follow a two-act structure: pre-Hunger Games, and The Hunger Games proper (or in the case of Mockingjay, the actual excursion). If this were a caper movie, it would be divided into the preparations for the heist, and the heist itself. The first part establishes the characters, makes you sympathize with them, and acts as a vehicle for exposition. The second part, on the other hand, where much of the action takes place, and where we feel the character's lives are at risk.

If you assess them as an entire series, however, they follow a three-act structure. The Hunger Games establishes the premise, Catching Fire addresses that conflict (and where the rebellion tips its hand, at least to the reader), while Mockingjay provides us with the resolution.

Parting Words

There's a lot to discuss when it comes to The Hunger Games series, and some of the points I mentioned are entry points to discussion, not the final commentary on them. It's not a perfect series (what are the books that are?) but that doesn't mean it should be quickly dismissed as a Battle Royale clone, a fad, or poor writing.

April 11, 2012 Links and Plugs

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Chicks Dig Comics edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Sigrid Ellis

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Blogging the Hugos 2012: Best Fancast

I'm not as well-read in 2011 as I was in 2009, but I'm hoping to give my views on this year's nominees when it comes to the 2012 Hugo Awards. I'll start with a category I'm most familiar with: Best Fancast.

Best Fancast (326 ballots)

The Coode Street Podcast, Jonathan Strahan & Gary K. Wolfe
Galactic Suburbia Podcast, Alisa Krasnostein, Alex Pierce, and Tansy Rayner Roberts (presenters) and Andrew Finch (producer)
SF Signal Podcast, John DeNardo and JP Frantz, produced by Patrick Hester
SF Squeecast, Lynne M. Thomas, Seanan McGuire, Paul Cornell, Elizabeth Bear, and Catherynne M. Valente
StarShipSofa, Tony C. Smith

Disclosure: I'm a contributor to SF Signal and participated in one of their episodes.

The Category

As a background, Best Fancast is a "single, extra, one-time Hugo Award" exercised by Chicon 7 and defined as "Any non-professional audio- or video-casting with at least four (4) episodes that had at least one (1) episode released in 2011."

The last podcast to have won previously was StarShipSofa under Best Fanzine, causing some controversy back in 2010, although it's not the only podcast to have been nominated in the history of the awards (Writing Excuses, for example, was a nominee under Best Related Work).

As far as the ballots are concerned, Best Fancast has slightly more ballots than the Best Fanzine category, but fewer than Best Related Work (where Writing Excuses again competes, mostly due to its professional nature).

In an ideal world, any award-giving body rewarding podcasts should theoretically have several categories, in much the same way we have separate categories for the novel, novella, novelette, and short story. But this isn't an ideal world—nor, perhaps, would there be enough voters to create such a detailed categorization—and I'm personally thankful we have this category at all.

The Nominees

This year's nominees is an interesting list for two reasons.

The first is due to the format of the nominees: they're different and distinct from each other, some in major ways, others in the details. For example, only StarShipSofa is a podcast that features fiction. Another common trend in a lot of podcasts is the interview format, but that's the exception here rather than the norm. SF Signal Podcast is the only one to conduct interviews on a regular (in this case, weekly) basis, while The Coode Street Podcast occasionally dabbles in it (SF Squeecast has a brief segment at the end where they quiz their guest). The rest brings me to my second point.

There seems to be a gap when it comes to genre commentary, at least as far as the awards are concerned. It's as niche that seems to be occupied by the magazines, when they have columns, opinions, or fan mail; or occasionally, perhaps the Best Related Work category. A dominant theme (four of the five nominees) among the podcasts is that they provide commentary on a particular subject, not as individuals (which tends to be the case in print), but as a group, like an actual panel discussion, which, in turns, makes great use of the format.

Personally, I regularly listen to four of the five nominated podcasts, and it's a difficult choice. If I voted for the Hugos, these nominees would easily have made it to my shortlist.

Interesting fact: three of the podcasts started in 2010.

The Coode Street Podcast, Jonathan Strahan & Gary K. Wolfe

This can be easily summarized as two friends informally chatting and talking about the genre, along with the occasional interview here and there. What sets it apart aside from "just two guys" is the fact that Strahan and Wolfe are articulate when it comes to the discussion, especially when you consider their background (as critics) and profession (one is a short fiction editor, the other has expertise when it comes the academe). They "ramble" but it's intelligent rambling (even if they make mistakes at times). Their schedule is also weekly, so material is timely and relevant.

One important episode from 2011, in my opinion, was their discussion with Farah Mendlesohn, and Tansy Rayner Roberts on Diana Wynne Jones (which arose from some shortcomings in a previous episode on the same subject—remember that I said they're informal and that they ramble?).

If I were to vote, it's honestly a toss-up between this and Galactic Suburbia (see below).

Galactic Suburbia Podcast, Alisa Krasnostein, Alex Pierce, and Tansy Rayner Roberts (presenters) and Andrew Finch (producer)

When you have a group discussion, honestly, four's a crowd. Galactic Suburbia gets it right with three opinionated participants. While they have a common agenda, namely the speculative fiction field, Australia, and Feminism, they also each have distinct aesthetics and paradigms, and bring something different to the table (Krasnostein is a publisher, Pierce is a reviewer/fan, Roberts is an author). As for the format, they discuss relevant genre news and discuss the "culture that they've consumed". Personally, a two-hour podcast is a stretch, but Galactic Suburbia is worth it (they're also bi-monthly so the length isn't as overwhelming if it were a weekly podcast).

Since it's mostly timely commentary, the various episodes are a blur (you can read a summary here), but one memorable episode for me is their discussion on the works of Joanna Russ.

SF Signal Podcast, John DeNardo and JP Frantz, produced by Patrick Hester

Aside from any conflict-of-interest (see my initial disclaimer), credit here goes to Patrick Hester, who brings his previous podcast experience to the table. Honestly, when the show began in 2010 (outside of the scope of this year's awards), it began with a rough start. In the beginning of 2011, the podcast found its format, separating its roundtable discussions from the interviews, with each show appearing once a week. If you're just looking for sheer content, this is one of the podcasts to subscribe to.

What the podcast brings to the table is whereas the other shows in this category are professional (in its approach, in its participants, etc.), this is the opposite: it's a podcast by fans, for fans. That doesn't necessarily make for the most astute of interviews or moderated discussions, but this informality and "ruggedness" is what makes it stand out from the other nominees.

One important episode for me is their discussion with Cat Valente, Chris Roberson, Allison Baker & Alan Beatts on What the Borders Bankruptcy Means for Brick and Mortar Bookstores. They also recently started a mega-panel series, the first one being their Sword and Sorcery panel 1|2|3 that barely made it in 2011.

SF Squeecast, Lynne M. Thomas, Seanan McGuire, Paul Cornell, Elizabeth Bear, and Catherynne M. Valente

One of the most unique podcasts out there, not just because of the all-star cast, but because of the format: each one talks about a favorite text (book, movie, comic, TV show, etc.). Since each one gets their own screen time, the large ensemble doesn't overwhelm the listener. Frequently, there's also a special guest (like George R. R. Martin!), which adds variety to the dynamic.

If you're looking for media recommendations, this is the podcast to listen to. For me though, while cognitively I understand how difficult it can be to recommend a text more than once a month, I wish there were more episodes of the SF Squeecast. An hour's dose every month isn't enough!

In many ways, this, for me, is the "safe" vote, as it's not a podcast that's meant to offend (the agenda is to squee about your favorites!). As far as episodes are concerned, because they follow a prescribed format, nothing stands out too much (they're also new so it's slim pickings for 2011), although I find that their Winter Holiday Extravaganza-themed episode to be appropriate.

StarShipSofa, Tony C. Smith

I'll make this brief: I don't regularly listen to StarShipSofa (sorry Tony!), although I did listen to the previous incarnation of its sibling show, The Sofanauts. And that's due to my personal bias, not because of the podcast's quality: I'm not in the habit of listening to audio fiction.

And that's what makes StarShipSofa remarkable. It deserves its Hugo Best Fanzine win because when you think of the typical content in a fanzine, that's exactly what this podcast provides, except it's delivered aurally. You have a mix of nonfiction (including the occasional interview) and fiction. And Smith delivers this week after week, with talented audio narrators.

Personally not my cup of tea, but this is easily the successor of the fanzine format for audiophiles. And as far as the podcast category is concerned, this is the only nominee that publishes audio fiction.

Other Recommendations:

While I'm betting on The Coode Street Podcast and Galactic Suburbia Podcast, here's some podcasts that could have been nominees:

SFFaudio: If we're just talking about genre podcasts, SFFaudio is the website to visit (disclosure: I used to be a contributor for the site). They also have a podcast, which provides much-needed commentary on podcast fiction.

The Writer and the Critic: If you're looking for critical, no-holds-barred discussion on books, you need to listen to this show. The chemistry (or sometimes, lack of it) between the hosts and their guest is priceless.

Locus Roundtable Podcast: Intelligent discussions and impressive guests makes this a podcast that you need to subscribe to. It's focused and articulate, and since it tends to be limited to a pair of guests, everyone has ample chance to elaborate.

The Agony Column: It's not frequently visited by most genre fans, but Rick Kleffel does some of the best interviews... as far back as 2003. He also records the SF in SF panels and readings.