Back from San Francisco

It is a very pretty part of the world.


Street art in the Mission district

View from a cable car

Flowers in the Marin Headlands

San Francisco houses

The Golden Gate bridge

Curved escalators in Nordstroms

Sunset over the Pacific coast

Top-to-bottom: view of downtown from Bernal Heights; school mural in the Mission District; view from a cable car; flowers in the Marin headlands; houses, I don’t remember where; the Golden Gate, of course; curved escalators in Nordstroms; and sunset over the Pacific coast. Many more here. It was a good trip: caught up with some old friends, made some new ones, and, of course, bought some books:

Books bought

Again, top to bottom: Bitter Angels by CL Anderson, Shambling Towards Hiroshima by James Morrow, The Dazzle of Day by Molly Gloss, Couch by Benjamin Parzybok, Black & White by Lewis Shiner, Flesh and Fire by Laura Anne Gilman (a much-appreciated gift from Terry), and The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (because my paperback copy is somewhat beaten up). I now have several books on the Nebula list that I haven’t read, and a couple from the Dick list, and who knows, I may even get around to reading them soonish. First, though, as I mentioned, a post about Stephen Baxter, and something I need to write for Strange Horizons, and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. At least, that’s the plan.


Or, two bits of self-promotion. First, I have an article in the new issue of Journey Planet, the fanzine edited by the Bacon-Brialey-Garcia superteam:

The direct link to the (fairly hefty) pdf of the issue is here. It’s all themed around alternate history; my piece is about Stephen Baxter’s Voyage. I’m guessing this is probably also the only time I’ll share a table of contents with Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Paul McAuley and John Scalzi.

Second, I have a review of Justina Robson’s Chasing the Dragon, fourth in the slowly-improving Quantum Gravity series, at Strange Horizons, which is probably the only sf novel you’re likely to read in the near future to contain the phrase, “he was still surprised sometimes to look down and find that he was made of cloth.”

2009 Nebula Awards Ballot

It’s here; congratulations to all the nominees, even the ones I’m about to say I personally am not very excited about!

Now, category by category:

Best Short Story

  • Hooves and the Hovel of Abdel Jameela,” Saladin Ahmed (Clockwork Phoenix 2, Norilana Press, Jul09)
  • “I Remember the Future,” Michael A. Burstein (I Remember the Future, Apex Press, Nov08)
  • Non-Zero Probabilities,” N. K. Jemisin (Clarkesworld, Nov09)
  • Spar,” Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld, Oct09)
  • Going Deep,” James Patrick Kelly (Asimov’s Science Fiction, Jun09)
  • Bridesicle,” Will McIntosh (Asimov’s Science Fiction, Jan09; pdf link)

Oh joy, a Michael A Burstein story to read (assuming it gets made available online EDIT: doesn’t look like it will be). Other than that, strikes me as a solid list. “Bridesicle” is probably my favourite of McIntosh’s stories to date, and if “Non-Zero Probabilities” struck me as a little thin, it’s executed well enough. “Spar” is probably the best of the ones I’ve read, although I don’t love it as others do.

Best Novelette

A very crunchy selection, although has that slightly schizophrenic can’t-decide-what-year-it-is thing going on. “The Gambler” was probably my single favourite piece of Hugo-nominated fiction last year, so I’m rooting for that. Good to see Foster’s story, which is of course also on the BSFA Award ballot, and “Divining Light”, which we discussed here. I’d have quite strongly preferred to see “Eros, Philia, Agape” on the ballot in place of “A Memory of Wind”, but the latter is by no means a bad story. Haven’t read the Bishop or Bowes.

Best Novella

  • The Women of Nell Gwynne’s, Kage Baker (Subterranean Press, Jun09)
  • Arkfall,” Carolyn Ives Gilman (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Sep09)
  • Act One,” Nancy Kress (Asimov’s Science Fiction, Mar09; pdf link)
  • Shambling Towards Hiroshima, James Morrow (Tachyon, Feb09)
  • Sublimation Angels,” Jason Sanford (Interzone, Oct09)
  • The God Engines, John Scalzi ( Subterranean Press, Dec09)

Eh. I like “Sublimation Angels“, but am less than whelmed by either the Kress or Gilman stories, and am sceptical of the Morrow. I’m intrigued by The God Engines, however.

Best Novel
The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi (Nightshade, Sep09)
The Love We Share Without Knowing, Christopher Barzak (Bantam, Nov08)
Flesh and Fire, Laura Anne Gilman (Pocket, Oct09)
The City & The City, China Miéville (Del Rey, May09)
Boneshaker, Cherie Priest (Tor, Sep09)
Finch, Jeff VanderMeer (Underland Press, Oct09)

My heart says Bacigalupi, and damn the naysayers; my head thinks The City & The City is probably going to be a Hugo-and-Nebula-winner by the end of the year.

Bradbury Award for excellence in screenwriting

  • Star Trek, JJ Abrams (Paramount, May09)
  • District 9, Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell (Tri-Star, Aug09)
  • Avatar, James Cameron (Fox, Dec 09)
  • Moon, Duncan Jones and Nathan Parker (Sony, Jun09)
  • Up, Bob Peterson and Pete Docter (Disney/Pixar, May09)
  • Coraline, Henry Selick (Laika/Focus Feb09)

If Abrams wins, I will cry. Actually, if pretty much anyone other than Jones/Parker wins, I will sulk, though Up would be acceptable.

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy

  • Hotel Under the Sand, Kage Baker (Tachyon, Jul09)
  • Ice, Sarah Beth Durst (Simon and Schuster, Oct09)
  • Ash, Malinda Lo (Little, Brown and Company, Sep09)
  • Eyes Like Stars, Lisa Mantchev (Feiwel and Friends, Jul09)
  • Zoe’s Tale, John Scalzi (Tor Aug08)
  • When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead (Wendy Lamb Books, 2009)
  • The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making, Catherynne M. Valente (Catherynne M. Valente, Jun09)
  • Leviathan, Scott Westerfeld (Simon, Oct09)

    Eight is pushing it for a shortlist, isn’t it? Stil, several books here I’d like to get around to reading, so I’m not complaining too much. I will say, though, that I feel a rash of tweets like this just before nominations closed, which may have been poorly worded but which as they stand look like they were just trying to drum up votes irrespective of whether the voter had read the book or not, devalue Baker’s nomination a bit. And that’s a shame.

    The Dream of Perpetual Links

    EDIT: Actually, finally finally: don’t forget the deadline for applications to this year’s SF Foundation Masterclass in SF criticism is creeping up. (I suddenly realised last night, and sent in my application so that I don’t have to worry about it while I’m away.)

    Posted in SF Links. Tags: , . 3 Comments »

    Sweets from a Stranger

    Sweets from a Stranger coverOverall: a good collection, I’d say, although perhaps not really representative of Fisk’s strengths and weaknesses at novel length — perhaps less representative than I expected, at any rate, given that his novels tend to be on the short side anyway. The stories are more about childhood situations, or situations that can be read as representative of childhood situations, and less about children themselves; and they tend more towards outright horror or comedy. In googling around for references to the stories in this volume I discovered that Fisk has actually published another collection, Living Fire and Other Stories, and that one of his stories was nominated for a Nebula in 1976. So I don’t think I’m quite done with Fisk’s short fiction yet.

    In the meantime, however, here are links to all the story posts. There’s some discussion on the “Sweets for a Stranger” post, if anyone hasn’t seen it.

    “Teddies Rule, OK?”

    Sweets from a Stranger coverThe final story in the collection, and the only one that seems particularly directed towards a grown-up reader. The narrator is a writer, one that we can take as a proxy for Fisk, and he relates a story about the family of his landlord, technocrat Lucius Kern.

    Kern’s daughter, Mandy (age 6), has a teddy bear, Tugsy, that she adores more than anything in the world — certainly more than her father, it seems. Tugsy is her Hobbes. In an attempt to win her affection, Kern has his engineers develop an AI that can be implanted in Tugsy, thinking (perhaps) that if he can bring the bear to life for real, Mandy will recognise his generosity and return his love. He sneaks into Mandy’s room one night to insert the computer into Tugsy.

    It is easy to imagine what happened in the morning.

    Mandy woke. She said, “Come on Tugsy, get up. Don’t be lazy.”

    And the bear spoke! “Good morning,” it said.

    She said, “What?” and the bear repeated “Good morning.”

    Perhaps Mandy’s eyes and mouth opened wide in amazement. If they did, they were very soon brought under control. As she always did, she washed and dressed herself, without help, and went down to breakfast. (149)

    It’s very noticeable that we’re never allowed into Mandy’s point of view in this story; everything the narrator is not present for is speculation, and not all of it is accurate. When things inevitably don’t unfold as Kern hoped, it’s a rebuke, or perhaps a note-to-self on Fisk’s part: your science fiction, the story says, can’t match up to a child’s imagination.

    “Cutie Pie”

    Sweets from a Stranger coverAnother one, it seems, that has been used for teaching: you can find the text here, some sample questions and answers here, and even a trailer for a student film, here. Cutie-Pie is an alien, captured and returned to Earth by prospecting astronauts, and named by the masses. Interestingly, in the context of “Swap-Shop” and “Nightmare’s Dream”, which now seem to represent a sort of progress towards the alien, almost the entire story is told from Cutie-Pie’s point of view. His real name is Ch-tsal, and he’s suffering terribly. Uncomprehending humans are keeping him in an enclosure whose environmental conditions match those of the place where he was found; unfortunately, that place was not Ch-tsal’s native habitat. Eventually he escapes and fines a human baby with whom, at night time, he can commune:

    [The baby] It did not talk of what it knew now (which was next to nothing) but of what it had always known; its race memories. Ch-tsal learned what it was like for a human to plunge through a great wave, green and icy; to hunt down animals in dark forests; to let fly an arrow and somehow know for certain, as it left the bow, that it would hit its mark. He learned of the glories of battle. the terrors of defeat, the chill wickedness of snakes, the smell of wood smoke.

    In his turn, Ch-tsal told the baby of the building of crystal cities, of creatures in caves, of the pioneer ships that opened up the galaxy, of the Venus invaders and how they were repulsed, of the five ways of knowing God, and of the taste of a certain food that grew only when his planet’s three moons were full.

    Much as I admire the story for refusing a human perspective almost entirely, I can’t help feeling it’s one of the lesser stories in Sweets for a Stranger; Ch-tsal just isn’t very satisfyingly alien. Perhaps the story’s teachability is that there’s an obvious comparison to be made with another work that first appeared in 1982. (The collection appeared in 1982, at least; the frustratingly incomplete copyright information indicates that some stories were also published in 1978, 1979, and 1980, but gives not indication as to which those might be.)