Friday, October 30, 2009

World Fantasy Con 2009, Friday 

This year's World Fantasy Convention is in San Jose, California, the heart of the 'Silicon Valley' at the south end of the bay below San Francisco to the northwest and Oakland (Locus HQ) to the northeast. It's in the same hotel, the Fairmont San Jose, that served as the main hotel for the 2002 World SF Convention, an event I remember fondly since that is where I won a Hugo Award...

I drove here from Los Angeles yesterday, a 350-mile drive typically taking 6 hours or so with a lunch stop, though I took a bit longer with a scenic detour through Ojai and along routes 33 and 166 before joining the 101 freeway for the second half of the trip. The weather was and is perfect, sunny and clear and mild, welcome I think for those who traveled from the east through the storm-clogged airports in Denver and Dallas/Ft. Worth.

The hotel is large and stately, and memorable for the huge square bar lounge on the lobby floor, which is of course where everyone mingles, and where I wandered through after checking into my room and checking in with the convention registration for my badge and usual (for WFC) big bag o' free books. The top floor, 20th, hosts the Con Suite and most of the parties. Thursday night there were two: a big Jeff VanderMeer book launch party, for Finch and Booklife and anthology Last Drink Bird Head, that included the announcement of the winners of the first annual Last Drink Bird Head awards (whose winners were... K. Tempest Bradford, Rina Weisman, Susan Straub, John Clute, and Charles Tan, with a special award to (and hereafter named for) Neil Clarke), and an Aussie party with the sizeable contingent of con members from Australia -- Jonathan Strahan, Justin Ackroyd, Garth Nix, Sean Williams, and others -- serving wine and other refreshments. At some point during the latter there was a surprise birthday cake for Locus editor-in-chief Liza Groen Trombi, which I missed, probably because I lingered in the VanderMeer party to try one of their cocktails made with absinthe, which I never tried before...

Though San Jose as an urban area doesn't have a lot to recommend it -- Silicon Valley wealth isn't obvious; it's mostly a suburban sprawl -- the area right around the convention hotel is pleasant and filled with interesting places to walk, including the nearby convention center, tech museum, and a current Star Trek exhibit. The streets behind the hotel are filled with cafes and restaurants. Thursday evening I strolled down the street with Ted Chiang and Barbara Webb for dinner at the local E&O Trading Company, which specializes in Asian-inspired small plates. Earlier this evening, Friday, there was an off-site party hosted by Orbit Books a couple blocks away at the Loft Bar and Bistro, with an open bar and hors d'oeuvres and an introduction by publishing director Tim Holman of numerous attending authors, including Gail Carriger and Brent Weeks and Jon Courtenay Grimwood and Kim Stanley Robinson -- a couple of those per just-inked new deals for future books. As that event wound down, a bunch of us, in the usual ad hoc manner of convention dinner runs, trolled the nearby streets for a spot to eat in relative haste, considering the 8pm start of the traditional Friday evening mass-author autograph party. So there were Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Ellen Datlow, Scott Edelman, Anna Tambour, Jenny Blackford, and others, ending up at a fast food Indian cafe, where we ate various varieties of curry and salads...

This morning was a meeting of the Locus Foundation, a significant meeting since it dealt with issues of the Foundation and the magazine and its financial prospects, to a level of detail never before revealed at such meetings. Membership of the foundation is expanding; a couple new members were there, and a couple more candidates were seriously discussed -- part of the requirements for a nonprofit organization being that at least half the board membership are 'noninterested' parties, i.e. those without any direct financial interest in the magazine. There were also potential expansions of the foundation's purview, which will be formally announced in due course, if and when.

Programming is deliberately light at World Fantasy cons, with no more than two panel discussions at any one time, and no one except the official guests of honor permitted to serve on more than a single panel over the course of the weekend. There was a panel this afternoon about the newly released Library of America two-volume American Fantastic Tales, edited by Peter Straub; Straub was there, and Gary Wolfe, S.T. Joshi, Tim Powers, and Brian Evenson, discussing the usual issues of how and why the selections for the book were made, how many other important but now obscure authors remain to be captured, and the prospects for similar LoA books (Best American Science Fiction, perhaps?). Following that panel a LoA-sponsored release party for the book was held up on the 20th floor, with wine and snacks though no LoA representatives to host; I chatted with Peter and Brian and Gary.

After dinner I strolled through the mass autograph session, worked a bit in my room, then toured the late evening 20th floor parties, including Tor's and Locus's, the latter ostensibly a 'new authors' party though it featured a brief tribute to Charles Brown at midnight.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

And Now the News... Blog 

Which is to say, the final piece of the 2009 Locus Online redesign project is complete: the application of the new site layout template to the News Blog, which was first set up back in January before the redesign of the rest of the site commenced.

I have in mind some summary lists via include files in the right pane, but I didn't want to hold up the template update for those. Such lists will be enhancements, eventually.

In other news, I'll be departing tomorrow morning for San Jose, to attend this year's World Fantasy Con. More updates from there.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Iconic Covers 

Very quick note: In posting breaking news 'blinks' about the deaths of Don Punchantz and Dean Ellis (since Locus HQ probably won't post official obits until Monday), I couldn't help but seek out images of what to me are iconic covers for certain SF classics -- which is to say, theirs were the covers on the editions of those books I first acquired myself, in the late 1960s, and however many editions may have followed, and despite my acquaintance with actual first editions of those titles, those covers have remained for me the essential images of those books. (I even scanned my copy of that Bantam edition of The Martian Chronicles, since the images I found via Google Images looked too shabby). Life is subjective.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Reading Notes: Beckett, Morrow, Tan, Zebrowski, et al 

I've been meaning for several weeks now to catch up on commenting about books I've read recently, but have not gotten around to organizing my notes and preparing proper summaries. I still haven't gotten around to that, so never mind; let me spend an hour or so posting relatively off-hand reactions to the last 10 titles that I've read -- cover images and links already updated in the column to the right.

Let me begin by dissing Bernard Beckett's Genesis (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), which has got a fair amount of attention since it was published six months ago in the US. The author is a New Zealander not well-known in the field, and the book is not bad, just overly familiar. It is apt to impress readers to the extent they are unfamiliar with SFnal ideas. The entire first third is an "as you know, Bob" infodump; the debate about whether machines are intelligent or have souls is hoary; and the surprise ending rather undercuts the seriousness with which the reader is presumed to have taken the preceding ideas. It's more suitable to a short story, Twilight Zone style, rather than a novel, even one as short as this.

Especially this time of year, I read books with a background motivation for deciding, if I were asked, would this book be appropriate for including on Locus' annual Recommended Reading List?

Beckett: No. The next four books: yes.

Shaun Tan's Tales from Outer Suburbia (Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine) is a collection of illustrated short stories, or perhaps more accurately, a collection of artworks with text accompaniments. This is the first book by Tan with significant original text, and while the artwork is the dominant portion of the book, and if the book doesn't quite achieve the brilliance of Tan's masterwork The Arrival (which has no text at all), the combination of text and art is very fine, and several of the stories could ably stand as text poignant vignettes even without the artwork.

James Morrow's Shambling Towards Hiroshima (Tachyon) is a brilliant short novel about a 1940s B-move star hired to portray a Godzilla-like monster in a US government-sponsored film intended to scare the Japanese into believing the existence of biological superweapon. Its depiction of 1940s Hollywood is redolent of classic films of that era, and its ties to SF fandom and to real period film figures (Willis O'Brien, James Whale), are canny and clever.

George Zebrowski's Empties (Golden Gryphon) is a short horror novel that explicitly, in its afterword, alludes to the work of Fritz Leiber. It's about a police detective who encounters cases of random deaths that are tied to a particular woman who, it develops, (* bit a spoiler here *) has the power to displace a person's brain to the outside of their body... While there are two or three gross-out scenes worthy of this premise, the tone of the book is decidedly low-key, in keeping with the 1940s Leiber model, and which will no doubt keep this book from achieving widespread popularity in this era of much grosser-outer packages. It is, in fact, much more interested in the psychological attitudes of its characters, and while this sort of horror may not be in current style, the book is well-written and well-conceived, and worthy of a careful reader's attention.

Thomas M. Disch's The Proteus Sails Again (Subterranean Press) is a novella-length sequel to the novella-length The Voyage of the Proteus, which imagined a character named Tom Disch appearing in Homeric Greece aboard a ship populated by Socrates and others. If that premise seemed self-indulgent, and this new book (which apparently was the second of a planned trilogy of novellas, unfinished) might seem equally so, in fact this book is more fascinating for its autobiographical components, especially those involving actress Elizabeth Ashley, whose accidental fire in the apartment below Disch's was instrumental in the degradation and ruinment of Disch's life...

Next we have Kage Baker's The Hotel Under the Sand (Tachyon), a pleasant YA children's [see comments below] fantasy about a girl marooned on a desert island occupied by a sand-buried hotel and its occupants. I may have been oversold by Adrienne Martini's review in the August issue of Locus Magazine; what I read didn't quite live up to my expectations from that review, an effect I try to be aware of when writing my own reviews. It's a nice book, and what impressed me most was the way Baker finesses explanations for situations that in realistic terms would require more details that her text actually provides.

At this point I should acknowledge -- in accordance with some federal law just passed, apparently -- that the Morrow, Zebrowski, and Baker titles discussed above were all sent to Locus Online as review copies, which I gratefully acknowledge. (Others discussed were purchased by Locus Online via Amazon.com.)

One more title for tonight, also a deeply-appreciated review copy: The Collected Captain Future, Volume One, from Haffner Press. Edmond Hamilton was the quintessential space opera writer of the 1930s and '40s, but he was an author I had never read: with this book in hand, I read the 150-page long title story, "Captain Future and the Space Emperor", first published in 1940. It is a hoot; it is a casebook of prose the like of which is described in writing courses under the heading *do not write like this* -- a compendium of "said-bookisms" such as "he muttered sickly to himself", "the President asserted confidently", "the thing gasped hoarsely", and so on and on. But more than that, it's a tale of simple presumptions about space flight and planetary natives and easy villains with unironic tags like "space emperor"... So unironic that it's hard to believe anyone could have read this stuff without choking. Isn't there a lesson here, though, about context and presumptions and relative sophistication? Might we reflect on what has or has not changed since then? As an example, here back in 1940 two of Edmond Hamilton's characters debate about who or which is most human... a debate carried on in subsequent decades by Isaac Asimov and STTNG's Data and all the way to Bernard Beckett's Genesis. Some things never change; some debates seem never to be resolved.

Next time: Suzanne Collins, Robert J. Sawyer, Patrick Ness. And -- currently deep into tiny print reading of -- Robert Charles Wilson's Julian Comstock.

king under the dome

doctorow makers

banks transition

kress steal sky

atwood year flood

roberts yellow blue tibia

wilson julian comstock

 ness ask and answer

collins catching fire

collins hunger games

sawyer flashforward

baker hotel

disch proteus

tan tales

mazzucchelli asterios

zebrowski empties

morrow shambling

hamilton cpt future

beckett genesis

meller evo rx


kurzweil transcend

sawyer wake

ness knife never letting go

barzak love we share

mcewan cement garden

holland sci-fi art

gladwell outliers

bittman food matters

baggini what's it all about

Still in progress:

ross rest is noise

aldiss billion year spree

pollan omnivore's dilemma

Mark R. Kelly

The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of Mark R. Kelly, and do not reflect the editorial position of Locus Magazine.
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