Monthly Archives: November 2008

Expansions

This past week I wrote a review of the second Best American Fantasy anthology, again edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer, for Locus Magazine. It should appear in the January issue, or possibly the February since I was a bit past the nominal deadline for reviews. In any case, it’s a book worth reading for anyone interested in unconventional sorts of fantasy. And it’s nice keeping my hand in writing reviews, even if only once a year or so for the magazine, and informally here in this blog.

I’ve also been working a couple expansions of the Locus website this weekend, which you will hear more about when they are complete and ready for prime time. These involve Paypal buttons for subscribing and other purchases, and one or more blogs for posting breaking news and commentary by various members of the Locus community, which will somehow be embedded in the Locus Online homepage.

With those tasks, and business trips, my recreational reading has fallen a bit behind this past month, but I can certainly plug Ian R. MacLeod’s Song of Time, a near-future novel about an elderly concert pianist who pulls a naked man out of the surf near her Cornwall house. The novel’s examination of the narrator’s life and family nicely dovetails with developing future history at the end of the 21st century, where the new technology of ‘crystals’ that capture dead personalities is key but not the primary focus of the book.

Jack McDevitt’s The Devil’s Eye, his latest novel about archaeologist/antiques dealer Alex Benedict and his assistant Chase Kolpath, is better than last year’s McDevitt novel, though it’s not as cohesive as his best works. It’s about a mysterious message, and bequest, from a famous horror novelist, which leads Alex and Chase to a remote planet where they discover an official conspiracy to hide a vast threat. The novel breaks into three parts, with the central section involving a classic hard SF solution to a detective mystery of the sort that is McDevitt trademark, but the first half of the book is meandering, and the last third, with its too-easy diplomatic interaction with aliens, pallid. And at the end, you have to wonder, why would that horror writer, having stumbled upon such a secret, send a message for help to… an antiques dealer?

Denver Interlude, and the Fires

I’ve been in Denver the past few days, attending a technical conference and in the downtime between events, catching up on e-mail and various website tasks. The conference, by the way, is at a hotel several miles southeast of downtown, in the Denver ‘tech center’, not in the downtown area where the Worldcon was three months ago.

This past weekend there was another round of devastating brush fires in southern California, first in the Santa Barbara area, then closer to my home in the San Fernando Valley and then, quickly, in northern Orange County. Two hundreds homes, some very expensive, burned in Santa Barbara; 500 mobile homes, among others, in the Sylmar fire.

I woke up 4 a.m. on Saturday morning to the heavy smell of smoke, and knew that a fire was burning somewhere close by — I got up and checked news on the web. That was the Sylmar fire, a good 15 miles across the San Fernando Valley from me to the northeast. I closed all the windows — it had been a mild evening with a nice breeze — but in the morning after I got up I discovered that enough ash had blown in through the screens to coat surfaces in those rooms near the windows, enough so that it crunched when walking across the hardwood floors…

I spent much of Saturday watching the continuous TV coverage of the local fires, initially in Sylmar, then abruptly in Brea and Corona and Yorba Linda down in Orange County (even briefly a fire, quickly contained, in Palos Verdes, the distinctive peninsula that distinguishes the Los Angeles area coastline).

It was riveting, and heartbreaking to watch helicopter views of often large, recently built homes ablaze, fully engulfed, in the middle of neighborhoods otherwise intact. It wasn’t a matter of one house catching fire because the house next door was burning, or the brush on the hillside below. The culprit as often was embers blown by the winds (the weather was warm, though not hot, but the humidity was very low, something like 4%) — and these embers would drift into attic vents and ignite the underside of the roofs of these homes. Surely, I thought, there must be a technological solution to this — couldn’t such vents be constructed so they can be closed when dangerous fire conditions exist? But I can only suppose others have thought about this too, and realize that changes to building codes can take years, or decades, to implement. (The current codes are already very strict, in terms of roof composition and brush clearance in fire-prone areas.)

And then leaving on Sunday to fly to Denver, the worst of the news over, and the news in any event receding. A mid-level headline on CNN, not the immersive TV coverage provided for those living through the event…

More notes on recent reading, soon.

World Fantasy Con, Calgary – Day 4, Sunday

So to wrap up, after returning home to work, and work.

There were a couple program items Sunday morning, but I was too busy doing a little last minute souvenir shopping, and then packing to check out of my room by noon, to attend them. The banquet began at 12:30, with the doors open at 11:30 for ticket-holders to begin drifting in…

This convention was a little smaller than most World Fantasy Cons, and many of the friends and acquaintances I usually hang out with were not in attendance; so, for instance, I ate alone more often than not. People I meet often wonder why I don’t hang out with the ‘other’ Locus folks, but the fact is the Locus Magazine folks are generally *working* at cons in one way or another, interviewing writers for upcoming issues and meeting with publishers to assess the current and upcoming state of the field, while I am… well, I may be blogging my personal experiences at the con, and posting the awards results, but that’s not quite the same, and does not overlap the magazine’s business. Still, as I trolled tables in the banquet room for a place to sit, it was hard not to think that the difference between print publishers and online publishers is that the former get seats at invitation-only tables up front…

While I sat at an unaffiliated table at the very back, and had the opportunity to chat with people I’d never before met, including Martin Cox, a writer who is submitting three novels to Tor, and Cath Jackel (a former On Spec editor) and her partner. We talked about favorite writers and how folks in Alberta — as in LA — describe distances in terms of time (“it’s three hours away”).

The meal was pretty good, for banquet food. The program began with toastmaster Tad Williams introducing the guests of honor, then proclaiming “Go Obama!” and launching into an extended riff on the history of fantasy fiction in an alternate-American-history, super-patriotic, McCain/Palin sort of way, full of outrageous puns on famous personages and works, that I will not attempt to reproduce…

The awards were presented efficiently, as always, by awards administrators David G. Hartwell and Rodger Turner. Beth Meacham accepted for Midori Snyder and Terri Windling; Stephen Jones accepted for Peter Crowther and Edward Miller; Robert Shearman was present to accept his surprise (for being an unknown) win for Best Collection; John Klima (who’d lost in two categories himself) accepted for Theodora Goss; Joe Haldeman accepted for Elizabeth Hand; and Guy Gavriel Kay was present for an — as usual — exceptionally gracious acceptance speech. Randy Reichart [? - guessing at that spelling] got up to speak for Life Achievement winners Leo & Diane Dillon, while Patricia McKillip was there herself to accept her award.

Once the ceremony was done, I absconded to the hotel lobby to set up my laptop and hope that my third-day internet payment ($13.95/day) was still in effect — it was! — and set up the page with the winners and posted that to the site. [There is a problem with the formatting of the bullets on this and some other recent pages, I think as a result of the recent redesign, which involved new style sheets, and I promise I will track that down and fix it real soon now.]

I managed to get that done in time to attend the judges’ panel, where the three in attendance — Dennis McKiernan, Robert Hoge, and Mark Morris — discussed their process for reading hundreds of books and ranking the winners. They read something liked 275 books (over six months); would read at least 50 pages or so of each book before giving up (‘not an award winner’); and, most interestingly, talked about how the Robert Shearman book had been discovered by one of the judges on his own, and pushed to the others, outside of the usual process where publishers are urged to send eligible titles to the judges. WFC administrator and founder David Hartwell, in the audience, seemed delighted that this kind of thing had happened — it’s exactly what the judging process was intended to encourage.

And then — convention over.

The airport shuttle, C$15, did not show up at its appointed time. After 15 minutes, I gave up and took a taxi, C$35, which was just as well, since Air Canada has you go through Customs before leaving, rather than at the destination, and by the time I got through that, and bought a (very stale) sandwich at a concession stand for my dinner, I had barely 5 minutes before boarding commenced. The flight was OK, about 2/3 full, though I must say that the meal service on Air Canada leaves much to be desired. That stale sandwich not being enough, I was willing to buy a meal on the plane — but selections were limited ‘at this time of night’ and the only option was a vegetarian wrap which — despite its description — contained nothing but chopped lettuce and shredded carrots. No hummus, no tahini sauce. Six bucks.

Oh well. Read a portion of the new Ian MacLeod novel on the flight. I will try to be more reliable about posting my reader reviews, as I did with KJ Parker, here on this blog…

World Fantasy Con, Calgary – Day 3, Saturday

More panels today: Fantasy ‘Zines Online, with Sean Wallace (Clarkesworld), John Klima (Electric Velocipede), and Jennifer Dawson (Flash Me), about their respective submissions processes and the limitations they face growing their publications. The most remarkable comment I heard was that the quality of slush is actually higher for e-zines than print zines, because writers are more likely to have seen an ezine site and read it than have bought and read a copy of a print magazine…

A follow-up panel on print ‘zines had Diane Walton (On Spec), Jetse de Vries (just retired from Interzone), Gordon Van Gelder (F&SF), and Shawna McCarthy (Realms of Fantasy), talking about their tastes, how they select stories, and what turns them off the most (elves; talking cats). Remarkable comment: that there’s so little overlap in the contents, and submissions, to these magazines.

At 2pm, a panel on Why We Write Dark Fiction, with (GoH) David Morrell, Nancy Kilpatrick, and Graham Joyce. Joyce’s reminiscence about his early reading of a poem about two ravens anticipating their feasting on a dead knight’s body (I missed the name and writer of the poem) greatly impressed Morrell, who talked about how his unusual childhood seemed completely normal, the way everyone feels their childhood is normal. Joyce talked about The Tooth Fairy as his darkest book; Morrell’s was Testament, an early novel that resulted in his neighbors at the time refusing to speak to him ever again.

At 4pm was the inevitable Year’s Best Reading List panel (actually it was called 2008 Awards Year Recommendations), with Charles N. Brown, David Hartwell, Ellen Datlow, Jonathan Strahan, and Alan Beatts naming their favorite titles of fantasy novels and collection of the year, partly reading off the current draft of Locus’ Recommended Reading List [which I'd already seen and have some input to]. Strahan highlighted James Blaylock’s forthcoming The Knights of the Cornerstone, Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels, and something new from Joan Aiken; Datlow, collections by Laird Barron, Christopher Fowler, Reggie Oliver, and others; Beatts, World War Z, by Max Brooks; Brown, Le Guin’s Lavinia, Park’s The Hidden World, Swanwick’s The Dragons of Babel, and Patrick Ness’ The Knife of Never Letting Go; Hartwell (stipulating that he hasn’t read many novels other than those he’s personally edited, which of course he likes and recommends or he wouldn’t have bothered), Wolfe’s An Evil Guest and Robert V.S. Redick’s The Red Wolf Conspiracy. And that was just the first round…

In between all that, I had a ‘bison smokie’ [a fancy hot dog] for lunch, from the con suite; walked around downtown and through the TD Square mall; and actually did a bit of work on the website. Another quick workout in the hotel gym, starting the new Ian MacLeod novel. At 6, drinks with Eos editor Diana Gill, chatting about our recent holiday trips and books that we’ve read. After that, having neglected to make any advance dinner plans (joining any of the Locus Magazine editors or staff for dinner not being an option, as I had to explain a couple times), I hooked up for dinner in the hotel bar with a fan, Geordie Howe, whom I’d met the day before, who’s a big fan of the website and even my blog (!). We talked about Locus, Harlan Ellison, running the website, and so on…

Later, after another work break, I tracked down the Tor party, which no one had told me about but which was easy enough to find, then hung out in the bar with Patrick Swenson and Mark Rich, then in the lobby with Mark and Bruce Taylor (who has a novella in a new anthology Alembical, which I’ll list soon on Locus Online’s New Books page) and Heidi Lampietti, talking about the space program and rocket engines…

Tomorrow: the banquet, and the awards.

World Fantasy Con, Calgary – Day 2, Friday

Today I listened to the official interview (by Gay Haldeman) of GoH Barbara Hambly, who talked about her preference for mysteries, her disciplined work schedule, her take on vampires (not the soft and romantic ones currently in vogue), and her favorites of her own books — Traveling with the Dead, Bride of the Rat God, and the upcoming Civil War novel that will be published next year.

A panel on the best fantasies of the last 20 years [perhaps modeled on the similar SF panel at Denvention? though they didn't say so] included Ginjer Buchanan (Ace and Roc), Tom Doherty (Tor), Jim Minz (Baen), Beth Meacham (Tor), and moderator Liz Scheier (Del Rey), naming their favorites, round-robin fashion: Orson Scott Card’s Alvin Maker series, Jordan’s Wheel of Time, Martin’s Game of Thrones, Kay’s Summer Tree, Kim Harrison’s novels (a gateway drug for readers who don’t ordinary read fantasy, said Liz Scheier), Gaiman’s American Gods, Steven Erikson’s Malazan series, J.K. Rowling (of course), Holly Black, and on and on — oops, and don’t forget Terry Pratchett.

This evening’s big event was the traditional mass autograph party, with cash bars and free dessert munchies provided in the hallways while inside a couple hundred writers and artists and editors sat signing books.

In between and after these events I explored some nearby streets of downtown Calgary, worked out at the gym on the 18th floor (absolutely empty besides myself), had dinner across the street at Milestones, and hung out in the hotel bar until last call (an early 11:30)… then came up to the room to post the new November banner ads on the website, set up and post the IHG award winners, and write this blog.

Oh, and I also finished a book — which I hadn’t quite finished on the plane ride up here. K.J. Parker’s The Company, published by Orbit, quite brilliant in several ways — an absorbing, well-written, suspenseful story of five war veterans who buy an island to colonize and build peaceful lives on, until complications ensue and secrets from their pasts are revealed. It’s masterfully plotted, alternating present scenes with flashbacks that reveal character dispositions and some of those secrets before you realize they’re secrets, and Parker, whoever he/she is (it’s known Parker is a pseudonym, but not for who), seems amazingly well-informed about such things as how medieval armies fought with pikes, how to build a boat from trees, how to smelt gold on a beach, and so on. …The big reservation I have, given the context of reading ‘fantasy’ novels, is that it’s not fantasy in any significant way whatsoever. The setting is fictitious, the names exotic without evoking any particular historical culture, and a couple philosophical principles are referred to under imaginary names (Anathem-like); e.g., Proiapsen’s Law is this world’s name for what we know as the Pythagorean theorem. So… this is an alternate universe? Or does it matter? The *story* could just as well be set in the historic, medieval European world. I’m not sure what is gained by the thin fantasy overtones, except perhaps to attract more readers — which would not be a bad thing. Fantasy or not, it’s one of the best novels I’ve read this year.