Monthly Archives: January 2007

Notes on Letters from Iwo Jima, et al

I wish I’d had a chance to post something here last Monday, before the Oscar nominations were announced, so that I could sign in with my opinion that Letters from Iwo Jima is by far the best film of 2006, without sounding like a “yeah me too” response to those nominees. Without exactly planning it, I managed to see three films last weekend: Letters from Iwo Jima, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Dreamgirls. Pan’s Labyrinth is indeed a remarkable film, more a film about Spanish fascism and a young girl’s experience than a fantasy film per se, but then our reactions to films are frequently reactions to what we’ve heard others say… There’s a whole essay here. Dreamgirls is a slick entertaining spectacle, and though my reaction to Jennifer Hudson’s singing quickly became please stop!, I do think this deserved to be a Best Picture nominee above Little Miss Sunshine, which managed somehow to prevail due to marketing and little-engine-that-could campaigning for what is really just a cute and charming but little more than made-for-tv type of film… But every year, it seems, something gets nominated for Best Film that five years later you think, what were they thinking..?

There’s a draft book editors directory page posted, with content from the couple of respondents to my previous post here. You can find the link; it’s not that hard. I’ll send out invitations to a fair range of publishers and editors shortly, and announce and promote the page when I’ve compiled a representative set of data.

Best Editors

Locus Online is pleased to announce that it will compile lists of books categorized by editor, as a service to the SF community in support of the new Hugo Awards category for Long Form Editor — i.e., an editor who selects and edits novels or other books, as opposed to the Short Form Editor of magazines or anthologies, whose candidates have traditionally dominated the Hugo Awards Best Editor category.

The idea of compiling such a list was floated a year or more ago, since the editor category split was first announced, but has taken awhile to arrange. (You may ask me in person for details, if you see me at some convention.)

I will be sending out e-mails to various publishers and editors in the next week or so, but until then, for any book editors reading this, you are hereby invited to send to me ( a list of your 2006 book titles annotated with the editor of record — the editor who should be credited for the book, for purposes of this new Hugo Awards category. I will compile the data and annotate the existing 2006 Books Directory listing, and will generate a new page, analogous to the Cover Art Gallery, which will list all 2006 book titles by book editor.

Please note that for the 2006 page (for candidates for the 2007 Hugo Awards), I will compile editors of original books published in 2006 — not paperback reprints of books published earlier, etc. Just as the Hugo Award for Best Artist is intended to honor the artist’s work for the eligibility year, so I think the award for Best Editor (in either range) is intended to honor an editor’s output in that eligibility year. Locus Online will maintain separate lists for each year’s original books, arranged by editor, as long as this Hugo Award category goes on.

Note per comment below (that was fast!) that John Klima has already set up a Science Fiction and Fantasy Editor Wiki that may serve much the same purpose.

January is the Busiest Month

Which is why I haven’t posted here for almost two weeks. Locus Magazine’s January is busy with compiling the February issue, full of Recommended Reading lists and overview essays by the various reviewers about their favorite books of the past year. I’m no longer closely involved with that, since I don’t write reviews for the magazine any longer, but I do continue my tradition of tallying up counts of original stories published in the year’s magazines, anthologies, and online venues, and writing a summary of story counts and changing trends from previous years. That exercise took 5 or 6 hours from last weekend through Tuesday evening.

For the website, January is busy with tracking down all the 2006 results of the various SF/F/H awards, for the annual update to the Locus Index to SF Awards — I’m currently about 80% done with that. I hope to finish updating the online site by the end of the month.

More personal responsibilities currently include my reading of candidates for the annual Lambda Literary Awards, in the SF/F/H category, for which I’ve received about two dozen books to read (entailing adjustable interpretations of the verb ‘to read’) by mid-February. Nothing like what the World Fantasy Award judges face each year, I’m sure, but a time-consuming task nonetheless.

And I’m enough of a movie buff, especially with the opportunities available for anyone living in the Los Angeles area, to try to keep up with the high-profile end-of-year releases that are talked about by the cognoscenti as prime candidates for the various film awards… There have been past years when I’ve spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s driving around LA to see two or three movies every day; alas, that’s no longer practical, and as of this writing I’ve yet to see Pan’s Labyrinth or Letters from Iwo Jima or Notes from a Scandal; still, I’ve seen many of the most talked about and acclaimed films, and I appreciated being able to recognize many of the Golden Globe Award winners that were announced this past week.

I have one more remark which I think I will post separately.

Notes on Curse of the Golden Flower

This is a new film by the director of Hero (my favorite) and House of Flying Daggers, and it has the two biggest movie stars in China, Gong Li and Chow Yun-Fat, in a 10th century tale of a ruling family beset by infidelity, secrets, plots, mis-understandings, and death worthy of a Shakespearean tragedy. It also has, rather unnecessarily and to some excess, the fantasy acrobatic violence characteristic of these films and of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, in this film mostly in the last 20 minutes or so, capped by an oddly inappropriately syrupy lounge song over the final credits. Those peculiar misgivings aside, it’s a spectacular film and worth seeing.

On an entirely different matter, I can’t help quoting this line from Dave Itzkoff’s review of Michael Crichton’s Next, referring to Crichton’s visit to the White House to discuss global warming.

Imagine: the modern era’s leading purveyor of alarmist fiction, seated side by side with Michael Crichton.

Four In One Day

Whereas usually I average two per week. 2006 is done; 2007 will see a format shift or two.

On another matter, I’m a tad surprised that *more* comments aren’t coming in to the posted review and essay pages. Almost all those that have come in I’ve approved and posted. Not all that many, considering the 10K or so visits to the website that are logged each day.

Just received Claude Lalumière’s best-of-year essay in the email today. I got Jeff VanderMeer’s a week or so ago; I suppose I’ll post both together, probably this weekend. Then, shortly, Cory Doctorow’s January issue essay. And mid-January, the first sample review from Locus Magazine, which will be from Gary Wolfe’s January column, reviews of Stephen Baxter and Alastair Reynolds. And more after that.

Notes on Children of Men and The Road

This past week I saw the film Children of Men and read Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road (which was named by Entertainment Weekly the #1 Fiction Book of the Year).

I mention these together because my reactions to them are similar. Both are exceptionally well-crafted works of art, but both presume science-fictional premises entirely without examination, without in any way exploring the bases for those premises.

Children of Men, is set some 20 years from now when humanity has gone sterile, for some unknown reason, with no children born since 2009 or so, causing social unrest that apparently has brought chaos to virtually all the world except for Britain, which reacts with extreme measures against immigrants, forcing their exportation via coastal refugee (‘fugee’) camps. Equally unexplained, one woman has become pregnant after all, and to avoid exploitation by the UK government, must be ferreted offshore to a mysterious international organization aboard a ship called ‘Tomorrow’ with the help of the Clive Owen character.

Gary Westfahl’s review posted here makes the crucial point that the film is better at depicting social chaos and political turmoil than in imagining what a world *without children* would be like. Still, it does the former quite well, I thought, and I think the reason mainstream critics are reacting positively to the film is partly due to its depiction of a Britain under siege, with a great many incidental and background details, — with many obvious parallels to the ‘homeland security’ paranoia current in the US — and partly due to numerous examples of bravura filmmaking. The latter include at least two extended scenes filmed as single takes. The one most written about in reviews is the battle scene near the end, with Clive Owen dodging execution squads and military tanks in a Full Metal Jacket-like sequence lasting some 7 minutes (in a single, uninterrupted take, which required weeks of planning and rehearsing, reportedly), but also an earlier scene in which Clive and the pregnant mother and two other ‘terrorists’ are fleeing police in a small car, and the camera amazingly swivels and pans back and forth *from inside the car* to capture what happens to them as they flee down the road and are stopped by police. Yes, these might be filmmaking stunts (to some extent distracting to viewers who can’t help but wonder *how did they do that?*), irrelevent to the content and conceptual premise of the film, but they’re also effective stunts, truly enhancing the intensity of those events. And that intensity is in part what mainstream critics are appreciating.

Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is a post-apocalypse novel in which a man and his 10-year-old-or-so son, born just after the barely-alluded to event that destroyed civilization, are scrambling across a ruined American landscape scrambling for food, trying to survive, and having nothing to live for but the arbitrary goal of reaching the coast. The writing is extremely spare: the characters are unnamed, dialogue is presented without quotation marks, and in fact McCarthy barely uses any punctuation aside from periods (full stops), breaking even subordinate phrases into separately stopped sentences. It’s emotionally effective and devastating, as the father remembers how the boy’s mother took her own life just after the apocalyptic event, how he wonders if it might even be better to take his son’s life rather than force him to endure endless hunger and trial, much less be captured by the various survivalist clans roaming the countryside. But McCarthy is concerned about that relationship between the characters, about what they think and feel from moment to moment, and in the context of their story, the cause of the apocalypse is irrelevant.

So are these works a victory of some sort? Have SF themes become such a part of popular culture they don’t need justification? Is this progress?

Happy New Year 2007

Happy New Year, 2007. I had this past week off from work (my day job), as usual, though somehow between holiday and social obligations I didn’t actually catch up on things during this time as I’d hoped I might; as of today I’m overdue on no less that four book/magazine listings for the website, the annual update to the Awards Index is only 1/2 finished, and so on. The major accomplishment of this holiday break was to set up the Blogger-based blog for Locus Online features, to ease somewhat the posting of reviews and essays to the site and more importantly to enable the receipt of reader comments, without my having to process and format and upload comments from e-mails onto separate webpages. (And I did read a book or two; continued on next post.)

Still, the comment function is filtered in two ways: the ‘word verification’ function is turned on, to deflect comment spammers; and comment moderation is turned on, which means that when you submit a comment to one of those posts, it’s sent to me as an e-mail, for me to accept or reject (click or click), and only if I accept it will it appear on the webpage. This means if I’m not in a position to check e-mail, it might be a few hours from your comment submission until its appearance on the site; so it goes. (It also means I can’t *edit* your comments for spelling or grammar or length; oh well.)

It also means that anonymous commenters who have nothing more to say than “this guy is an idiot, his review is worthless” will not be accepted. At the very least, you need to sign your name for me to consider posting your comment.