Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Amazing African Speculative/Satirical Fiction

The Wizard of the Crow by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o is exactly the sort of thing I was looking for when I started casting my sf/f net wider into international waters. The author is Kenyan, exiled from his homeland after having spent too much time in jail. The book tells of a fictional African Ruritania, named Aburĩria, which shares the same problems seen throughout Africa: a power- and money-hungry dictator who rules through fear and cronyism. The main characters are everyday sorts of people, the sort of people who would be middle class if there were a middle class to speak of in this country. This book is both funny and sharply satiric. It opens your eyes to problems elsewhere seen from a native point of view, not from an imposed Western one. It is fantastic, i.e., there are magical elements in it, but they spring from a totally different tradition than what we're used to.

While the plot is unsummarizable, let me at least give you a flavor. The two main characters are the eponymous Wizard and his friend/companion/lover Nyawĩra. However, the Wizard isn't actually a Wizard; at least, he didn't start out that way. His name is Kamĩtĩ, and he's a college educated man. He earned a degree in India and returned to his homeland to seek work in the big city, Eldares. However, no work can be found and one employer even actively goes out of his way to mock him. As we are introduced to Kamĩtĩ, he has descended to alcoholism. Through various coincidences, he ends up running from the police with Nyawĩra, and to shake the cop off their trail, he poses as this Wizard of the Crow. The policeman completely buys the ruse, and in fact comes back the next day to ask for magical career assistance.

Thus begins Kamĩtĩ and Nyawĩra's journey. Although he's not out for money, Kamĩtĩ ends up being very good at what he does, using his knowledge of psychology and traditional herbalism to genuinely help people. He's so good, in fact, that he becomes a minor threat to the Ruler, the absolute dictator of the land. On the other hand, the Ruler also wants to try to harness the Wizard's power. Nyawĩra is a modern woman, and involved in the socialist opposition party that has made various public protests against the government. She is both savvy about harnessing people power and also at great risk of being arrested and disappeared. She sees the potential in the Wizard’s precarious position.

Through it all appears a wide and diverse cast of characters: government ministers competing for the Ruler's favor and carrying out their petty power politics, industrialists hoping to make huge amounts of money in bribes through international aid projects, religious figures, wives, police, people on their way up and people on their way down. Most of the governmental plots are driven by the proposal to build a sort of Tower of Babylon in order to honor the Ruler. The project is called Marching to Heaven, and the idea is to build a tower in Aburĩria so high that it reaches outer space. They hope to secure World Bank funding for this as an employment project. Just the hint that jobs may be in the offing cause queues of job seekers to form spontaneously throughout the country, and the fluctuating government attitudes towards the queues (They're a positive symbol of the people's love for their ruler and should be encouraged! They're a negative symbol of the unemployment problem in the country and must be banned!) exemplify the incoherence of rule by corrupt dictators.

The study of the Ruler and his policies reminds one of the corruption seen in the court of Caligula as depicted in Robert Grave's I, Claudius. The Ruler himself is of course corrupt, also venal and completely unrestrained. However his corruption, and the fact that he encourages his ministers to fight each other, means that everyone lives in constant fear, out only for themselves, with no thought to benefit the country as a whole. It's a very instructive picture of modern corruption and the problems faced by some African countries. In fact, Ngũgĩ traces the entire history of the problem for us in various snippets, never resorting to info-dumping, but rather to story-telling: from the withdrawal of the colonial powers, the first rebel strongmen, then the second generation that succeeded them (mostly by being servile survivalists until finally seizing power for themselves; this is the stage in which we are introduced to Aburĩria), the Cold War dollars that flooded into the countries from America and Russia, then the withdrawal of Cold War dollars and the new ideas about promoting "democracy." While America tends to be the 800 lb gorilla of the story—much of the plot revolves around getting American dollars and respect—this comes from an African perspective and not an American one—very refreshing. One instructive passage has the Ruler reflecting on what an American ambassador tells him:

In the days of the cold war, they used to shower him with praises for dispatching thousands of his own people to eternal silence. And now, even after he had assured them that he was ready to repeat what he had done for them, they were lecturing him about restraint and the new global order! He now stood on injured dignity. He had to show his ministers that he was not afraid of the special envoy, even if he was an emissary of the West.
Ngũgĩ takes it even farther: although Kamĩtĩ and Nyawĩra are somewhat successful—in harnessing the power of the Aburĩrian people, using their brand of 'magic' to make their lives a bit better, and surviving themselves—the ending is not pie-in-the-sky happy. Changes of power do occur, but once a country gets so mired in corruption and dictatorship, it is not possible to easily transform it into a functioning democracy, even if there are educated people who desperately want to make that happen. This gives a sobering view of the potential for American involvement in the world--not a rebuke of any specific American policies, but simply a more nuanced and realistic view of the way the non-American world works.

Now, a lot of the magical/speculative elements of the story support the satirical elements. One minister gets his ears enlarged to sycophantically show the Ruler that he will be the "Ears" that hear everything in the country, another gets his mouth enlarged so he'll be the Ruler's mouthpiece. The Ruler begins physically expanding like a balloon at one point, also losing his voice, which the Wizard is called in to deal with. There are out of body experiences and religious experiences and various magical coincidences. Sometimes the Africans are shown to be rather stupidly superstitious, especially some of the low-level government buffoons, but (again with the nuance) it is also shown how authentic African ways of thinking can be harnessed to encourage people to act, to organize, and to live better lives.

Wow, all this and I didn't even touch on how he depicts the challenge of supporting women's rights in a country where a man's power to beat his wife is considered a fundamental aspect of his masculinity.

This is a very long, very dense book, but it’s never boring and it's often funny. Ngũgĩ has a sharp wit and incredible depth of knowledge. There's something interesting happening in every scene. I learned more from this book that I would have from hundreds of newspaper articles, and I feel that it has an authenticity that those articles might have lacked. I hope that this book will be widely read, and I hope that it will get some play in the genre community. We're completely familiar with using Western spec-fic to comment on Western sociopolitical issues; I hope readers will take this opportunity to read African spec-fic being used to comment on African issues.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Enigmatic Novella

I've got a review of Nicholas Royle's The Enigma of Departure up at SFSignal. Unfortunately it leans a bit hard on the reader to already know about the artist Giorgio de Chirico. If you don't already know his work, it doesn't do a lot to help you along.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

It's Time to Nominate for the Hugos!

It's that time again! If you a) were a member (supporting or attending) of the WorldCon in Denver this past August; or b) are a member (supporting or attending) of the upcoming WorldCon in Montreal, it's time for you to figure out what everyone should be reading this summer! You'll have to head over to Anticipation's Online Ballot before 11:59 pm (PST) on Feb. 28th. But don't delay, especially now that there are so many recommendations out there.

As well as the titles that I'll be suggesting in a minute, you can also look at: the Locus Recommended Reading List, SF Awards Watch Recommendations section, and the Hugo Recommendation LiveJournal community, amongst others.

Now, on to my rather magazine-heavy nods. My comments in blue, title links go to the story or related website (if available).

I spent a lot of time reading magazines and older fiction in 2008, and several of the new books I did read aren't really ballott-worthy. So for me, 2008 novels are a bit slim-pickin's. However, I suspect that Ian M. Banks' Matter and Neal Stephenson's Anathem will shoot to the top of the list and keep things interesting.
  • The Love We Share Without Knowing, Chris Barzak [Love and death in Japan]
  • Incandescence, Greg Egan [My review, How could you discover relativity if you could never see the stars and lived in near-free-fall?]
  • Pandemonium, Daryl Gregory [My review, Demons can possess people and seem to be artefacts of pop culutre; more importantly, the toll that mental illness takes on families]
  • Implied Spaces, Walter Jon Williams [Adventure story; what happens in the spaces that have to be there even if they weren't designed?]
I was surprised that this category didn't have more contenders, but some years this is the strongest category and some years it isn't.
  • Truth, Oct/Nov Asimovs, Robert Reed [Review; The psychology of the war on terrorism]
  • The Overseer, March F&SF, Albert E. Cowdrey [Review; The psychology of evil in and around the American Civil War]
  • Tenbrook of Mars, Analog July/Aug, Dean McLaughlin [Review; Engineering and Project Management save the day!]
This has to be the strongest category of the year. Even though I can only nominate 5 of these, I wanted to make sure people know about all of them: some of them will appeal more to some folks and less to others; all are worthy of your attention.
  • Pump Six, Sept. F&SF, Paolo Bacigalupi [Review; Pollutants make people devolve into idiots]
  • Shoggoths in Bloom, March Asimovs, Elizabeth Bear [Review; The ecology of Lovecraft; also-race relations]
  • Vinegar Peace, or, the Wrong-Way Used-Adult Orphanage, July Asimovs, Michael Bishop [Review; A heart-wrenching look at what it's like to lose a child]
  • Crystal Nights, Interzone #215, Greg Egan [Review; Ethics of playing God]
  • The Ray Gun: A Love Story, Feb. Asimovs, James Alan Gardner [A paean to and examination of the old pulp sf conventions and growing up]
  • Pride and Prometheus, Jan F&SF, John Kessel [Frankenstein meets Pride and Predjudice. I'm not kidding, it's awesome]
  • Divining Light, Aug. Asimovs, Ted Kosmatka [Review; Quantum Mechanics fucks with people. What happened in the story? Who knows? But it was mighty impressive nonetheless]
  • How the Day Runs Down, Dec F&F, John Langan [Review; Zombies on stage. But it totally works]
  • Five Thrillers, April F&SF, Robert Reed [Review; What happens when psychopaths get power]
  • Days of Wonder, Oct/Nov F&SF, Geoff Ryman [Review; In a far-future pastoralism, one being tries to progress]
Short Story
  • Until Forgiveness Comes, Strange Horizons, K. Tempest Bradford [How should we honor the tragic dead?]
  • Lagos, Aug Asimovs, Matthew Johnson [Review; Internet workers in Nigeria]
  • Pseudo Tokyo, Interzone #214, Jennifer Linnaea [Review; Surrealism in the multiverse]
  • Indomitable, Baen’s April, Jack McDevitt [Review; THIS is why we should continue to explore space!]
  • 'Dhuluma' No More, Oct/Nov Asimovs, Gord Sellar [Review; No matter what we do about climate change, it will affect real people; we can't pretend moral innocence]
  • Shed That Guilt! Double Your ProductivityOvernight!, Sep F&SF, Michael Swanwick & Eileen Gunn [Review; Writers are crazy people]
Best Related Book
The great thing about the titles in this section: they do what they say on the tin.
  • Superheroes!: Capes and Crusaders in Comics and Films, Roz Kaveney
  • What it is We Do When We Read Science Fiction, Paul Kincaid
  • Rhetorics of Fantasy, Farah Mendlesohn
  • Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded, John Scalzi
Graphic Novel
This is an experimental category, but there's a proposal for making it permanent. Let's make sure there are enough nominations to make it a viable award!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Get Thee Behind Me, 2008!

In the interests of putting 2008 behind me, this post combines my reviews of Interzone #218 and #219. They showed up in my inbox at about the same time anyway, and unfortunately I don’t have “that” much to say about #218.

Interzone #218 focuses on author Chris Beckett. He's obviously a fine author, but he's an author that doesn't quite line up with my tastes. No aspersions on him, but it leaves me without a lot to say. On a technical level the three stories here (and others I've read from him) are fine, they just don't work for me. Thus I felt that "Poppyfields" was a fine character change portrait, but it perhaps relied to heavily on knowing the character Tammy from other stories which I hadn't read. "Greenland" is well-told, but I didn't think it added much to the already much-hashed over ethics of human replications. And "Rat Island" is almost impressionistic. The character observes without acting and while there's nothing wrong with that, it's not quite to my taste.

The other stories in this issue left me similarly unmoved. "If" by Daniel Akslrod and Lenny Royter struck me as silly. Childhood brain implant companions stick around into adulthood even when the implants are removed, driving the adults crazy. The protagonist is working on a 'cure.' It seemed to be mostly surface and not much depth. "His Master's Voice" (Hannu Rajaniemi) is a heck of a story--two enhanced animals try to save their master after he's carted off for doing various illegal AI things. Amongst the things the animals resort to include having the dog be a DJ. Now, I'm a sucker for dog stories, but I had similar problems with this story that I did with one that it may well be compared to: Neal Stephenson's Diamond Age. There's something about the tone and the world-immersiveness that left me permanently confused instead of enlightened. Can't quite put my finger on it, but there's too much density and intensity and perhaps not enough reflection. #218 ends up with "Corner of the Circle" (Tim Lees) which centers on character but spends too much time on its world-building. Basically it felt like the character elements and the world-building elements fought for attention instead of one clearly supporting the other. A young man whose parents divorce visits his aunt in New York at various points as he grows up. In this world, aliens come and go and the aunt is supposedly associated with one of them. After she dies, he goes into her apartment to try to figure out whether the stories were real or if she was just crazy. The note I jotted down about this was "All the characters remain ciphers instead of gaining illumination."

So we leave #218 behind us and move on to #219. This one starts with a hell of a bang. The very first story, "Everything That Matters" by Jeff Spock begins with a man being eaten by a ginormous shark in an alien ocean. Gosh-Wow! He survives due to his amazingly-nifty-high-tech diving suit (a feat only slightly more believable than the guy surviving a fall to Earth from Low Earth Orbit in Adam Robert's Gradisil). It turns out he had been out looking for a very valuable spaceship wreck to salvage. The story follows him as various factions try to get information out of him, he tries to heal, and he plots his revenge. The guy obsesses over sex, but I dare say that after having most of your body eaten and then reconstructed, I can see where that would represent quite a bit of your self identity. My main criticism of the story is that it runs a little long, but generally this story, while not being deep, is a heck of a ride.

Jason Sanford is back with "When Thorns Are the Tips of Trees" in which people can die simply from touching each other. Those who die this way become trees. If you touch the thorns of the trees you can interact with the memories of the people they used to be, but they're static--they'll never grow. After being infected but before becoming a tree, these unfortunates go into a sort of zombie mode, hunting down other people to infect. It felt like it could have easily fit in John Joseph Adam’s recent Living Dead anthology. The narrator and his father have to fight off some of the mobile ones, who may have an actual agenda. It's a unique set-up, and the metaphor for emotional distance is telling. Also the importance of letting go and allowing growth. Nicely done.

"The Shenu" by Alexander Marsh Freed was one that I found unimpressive. This guy dabbles in magic but isn't sure if he's just insane. His girlfriend and this other guy enable him. The scenes felt like disjointed vignettes that didn't add up to much, and I never ended up caring about the main character or the two supporting cast members.

"The Fifth Zhi" is an interesting story about a whole bunch of clones who have been bred to attack a giant alien thing that's planted itself on the pole of the Earth and has been spreading horrible dreams. It has a protective field around it, and only this one guy, Zhi 5, makes it through. His mission is to implant a deadly bio-weapon in the alien plant, but as he climbs and thinks about how things have gone for him, he decides he doesn't want to do it. There's some good stuff here about free will, government control, and destiny. I think the ending is unrealistically happy, but that's not the worst fault to have in a story. A more serious complaint is that I think it's a little over-simplistic to use Chinese characters as the mass-produced-victims-of-an-oppressive-government. Sure, China is one of the few communist countries left, but it's a lot more nuanced now. This story harkens back to the time of Cordwainer Smith's story “When the People Fell” from 1959, and I think things have actually changed a bit since then.

"The Country of the Young" by Gord Sellar makes up for things with a better international perspective. Set in a post-reunification Korea, it imagines a future where Korean citizens can get perpetual-youth treatments, but foreigners can't. The main character is Korean, but her lover was Indian. He wasn't able to get a treatment, even though he was a valuable scientist. Eventually the main character begins to rail against the system and plot revenge. This has good depth as it fleshes out its world, but plot-wise it seemed a bit weak. I felt that it flinched at the end and became a bit vague instead of dealing with its consequences head-on. Still, I've been enjoying Sellar's work quite a bit, and I look forward to seeing more of it.

Finally, finishing off 2008 for my magazine reading project, we have "Butterfly Falling at Dawn" by Aliette De Bodarad. This is set in the same alternate future as her previous story, “The Lost Xuyan Bride” in Interzone #213, where the Chinese and the Aztecs uneasily share the western North American continent. The main character of these stories is Magistrate Hue Ma, who is Aztec by ethnicity but has risen through the Chinese bureaucratic ranks. The story tells a straight-forward murder mystery, leavened by the politics of its world and flashbacks to the Aztec civil war that left many scars on many psyches. There's some straight-up infodumping, but it's necessary, and there are some noir touches as the Magistrate muses on her troubled past. I enjoy these stories, but for my Chinese/Aztec dominated futures, I still prefer Chris Robeson.

My Hugo Recommendations to Follow Shortly!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

My First Ever Interview (as InterviewER)

Over at SFSignal today they're running an interview that I conducted with James Morrow. It's sort of a companion to the review of Shambling Towards Hiroshima that I posted last week. While I can see how awkward my questions are, Jim has some very interesting things to say about nuclear weapons, monster movies, and fictional apocalypses. I was privileged to work with such a thoughtful author for my first interview.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Walk on the Quirky Side

December’s F&SF shows off the magazine’s quirky side. First up: “A Foreign Country” by Wayne Wightman. In it, a third-string reporter gets assigned to cover one of the nut-job third party candidates in a Presidential race. The candidate, Faber, wanders around the countryside, talkin’ to folks, eating lots of food, and promising “happy times” ahead. To the shock of everyone not reading the story, he actually gets elected. And he makes the reporter/narrator his chief of staff. Faber doesn’t appear to actually do anything except eat; the reporter has to make up all sorts of stuff to tell Congress. But then things get really weird: people, usually unpleasant people, start disappearing. And then folks start to forget all about the unpleasant people, so they’re not even disturbed by the sudden absences. The reporter is going nuts over all this, but only finds one other person, also a reporter, that is similarly upset. Faber won’t answer any questions directly. The ending feels a little old-fashioned once you finally glean what’s probably been going on, but over all I enjoyed this little Twilight Zone episode.

Completely different in both tone and subject matter is “Fallen Angel” by Eugene Mirabelli. Set in 1967, an angel comes crashing through this guy’s roof. She’s messed up and has a hell of an attitude. He becomes devoted to her. The story centers entirely on their relationship, as screwed up as they both are. Its got sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll, and it’s very intense, especially since it’s set entirely in a studio apartment. The sense of claustrophobia is pervasive. It doesn’t end easily, either. There’s an extent to which the speculative element is almost unnecessary—this story could have been written almost as well about any two fucked-up young folks; but the intensity of this story stays with you. Another one to remember come awards time.

“Leave” by Robert Reed examines attitudes towards war. The story centers on the son of the narrator and his wife’s best friends. All the adults were peace activists back in the day. The other couple has a son who turns out to be quite a golden boy; as such he risks being recruited for a secret alien war. The background of all this is fascinating: people who had disappeared years ago start returning, telling stories of an alien conflict out in space, sometimes even with artefacts. It’s also a good character portrait on several levels. Golden boy himself is almost incidental—the center around which everyone else revolves—but his parents, his sister, and the relationship between the two older couples are well-drawn. In the end we get a brief glimpse of the boy and his motivations on his way out the door, and then the narrator has to decide what to tell the parents. As endings go its not terribly challenging, but this does strike a well-thought-out note on its theme of how different people feel about wars and how that can affect relationships.

This year being F&SF’s 60th anniversary, they’ve been running some classic reprints; not the stories that get anthologized over and over, but the quirky stuff that perhaps younger readers haven’t seen before. “The Alarming Letters From Scottsdale” by Warner Law definitely delivers the quirkiness (the intro refers to it as ‘demented charm’). Told in epistolary form, it involves letters between a publisher and a popular mystery author. The writer has recently picked up a dog, and becomes increasingly obsessed with the animal. The dog may be a reincarnation of another writer, perhaps it’s a muse. The letters get weirder and weirder. The publishers try to get help to the author, but it doesn’t end well, either for the author or the dog. Yet the way Law writes, it’s funny even while you’re feeling bad for the dog. I have to say: nice choice on the part of the editors.

Albert E. Cowdrey, who is on my list of authors to watch, contributes “A Skeptical Spirit.” Set, as usual for Cowdrey, in the South, this story deals with a spirit researcher who takes up residence in a haunted house. He gets to know all the spirits with the help of his house-keeper, who runs seances. However, one of the former inhabitants of the house causes serious problems, not least of which revolves around the fact that the spirit, having been a skeptic and an atheist in life, cannot now believe that it is dead. Not central to the story, but pervading its every scene, is a depiction of race relations and how they’ve changed over the last century. There are still obvious race and class boundaries in the modern day, but compared to what the old spirit was living with, it’s an amazing difference. This story isn’t award-worthy in the way that “The Overseer” was earlier this year, but it will make a fine addition to the eventual collection of Cowdrey’s short fiction that I hope to see someday.

Finishing off the quirky for the issue we have “How the Day Runs Down” by John Langan. This is his contribution to John Joseph Adams’ zombie anthology of 2008, The Living Dead. This story has the oddest structure: it’s written as if describing a play, with the stage manager on stage, narrating different vignettes to the audience, with stage, lighting, and sound-effect cues thrown in. It’s incredibly effective, and although I’m not a huge zombie fan I really appreciated this story. It’s especially impressive as the fourth wall between the action and the audience gets progressively thinner. Langan has a masterful command of atmosphere and tone in this story. This is one that sticks with you, possibly award-worthy. In fact, it makes me want to read some other stories in Living Dead to see if there are other gems like this that I might have missed.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

2008 Locus Meme

Wow, the Locus Recommended Reading List is long. I got it from Andrew Wheeler, a surprisingly regular meme vector.

It's the usual rule: bold for things one has read, italics for things one has in a pile but hasn't read yet. I'm cheating on italics, including books on my to-read list that may not be on my physical to-read stack (i.e. that I haven't bought yet).

This year I'll be heavier on short fiction than novels due to my magazine reading project.

SF novels
  • Matter, Iain M. Banks (Orbit UK)
  • Flood, Stephen Baxter (Gollancz, Roc '09)
  • Weaver, Stephen Baxter (Gollancz, Ace)
  • City at the End of Time, Greg Bear (Gollancz, Del Rey)
  • Incandescence, Greg Egan (Gollancz, Night Shade)
  • January Dancer, Michael Flynn (Tor)
  • Marsbound, Joe Haldeman (Ace) [I really didn't think this one stood up, but YMMV]
  • Spirit, Gwyneth Jones (Gollancz)
  • Escapement, Jay Lake (Tor)
  • Song of Time, Ian R. MacLeod (PS Publishing)
  • The Night Sessions, Ken MacLeod (Orbit)
  • The Quiet War, Paul McAuley (Gollancz)
  • The Company, K. J. Parker (Orbit)
  • House of Suns, Alastair Reynolds (Gollancz, Ace '09)
  • Pirate Sun, Karl Schroeder (Tor)
  • Anathem, Neal Stephenson (Atlantic UK, Morrow)
  • Saturn's Children, Charles Stross (Orbit, Ace)
  • Rolling Thunder, John Varley (Ace)
  • Half a Crown, Jo Walton (Tor)
  • Implied Spaces, Walter Jon Williams (Night Shade Books)
Fantasy novels
  • An Autumn War, Daniel Abraham (Tor)
  • The Love We Share Without Knowing, Christopher Barzak (Bantam)
  • The Knights of the Cornerstone, James P. Blaylock (Ace)
  • The Ghost in Love, Jonathan Carroll (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
  • The Island of Eternal Love, Daina Chaviano (Riverhead)
  • The Shadow Year, Jeffrey Ford (Morrow)
  • Shadowbridge/ Lord Tophet, Gregory Frost (Ballantine Del Rey)
  • The Memoirs of a Master Forger, William Heaney (Gollancz) ; as How to Make Friends with Demons, Graham Joyce (Night Shade Books '09)
  • Varanger, Cecelia Holland (Tor/Forge)
  • Lavinia, Ursula K. Le Guin (Harcourt)
  • The Bell at Sealey Head, Patricia A. McKillip (Ace)
  • The Hidden World, Paul Park (Tor)
  • The Engine's Child, Holly Phillips (Ballantine Del Rey) [I abandoned this after a few chapters, I'll assume it got much better later on]
  • The Enchantress of Florence, Salman Rushdie (Jonathan Cape)
  • The Alchemy of Stone, Ekaterina Sedia (Prime Books)
  • The Dragons of Babel, Michael Swanwick (Tor)
  • An Evil Guest, Gene Wolfe (Tor)
First novels
  • The Ninth Circle, Alex Bell (Gollancz)
  • The Painted Man, Peter V. Brett (HarperVoyager); as The Warded Man (Ballantine Del Rey)
  • A Curse as Dark as Gold, Elizabeth C. Bunce (Scholastic)
  • Graceling, Kristin Cashore (Harcourt)
  • Alive in Necropolis, Doug Dorst (Riverhead)
  • Thunderer, Felix Gilman (Bantam Spectra)
  • Black Ships, Jo Graham (Orbit US)
  • Pandemonium, Daryl Gregory (Ballantine Del Rey)
  • The Gone-Away World, Nick Harkaway (William Heinemann, Knopf)
  • Last Dragon, J.T. McDermott (Wizards of the Coast/Discoveries)
  • Singularity's Ring, Paul Melko (Tor)
  • The Long Look, Richard Parks (Five Star)
  • The Red Wolf Conspiracy, Robert V. S. Redick (Gollancz, Del Rey '09)
  • The Cabinet of Wonders, Marie Rutkoski (Farrar, Straus, Giroux)
Young Adult Books
  • City of Ashes, Cassandra Clare (Simon & Schuster/McElderry)
  • The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins (Scholastic Press)
  • Monster Blood Tattoo, Book Two: Lamplighter, D. M. Cornish (Putnam; Omnibus Books Australia)
  • Little Brother, Cory Doctorow (Tor)
  • The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins, Bloomsbury)
  • Eon: Dragoneye Reborn, Alison Goodman (Viking); as The Two Pearls of Wisdom (HarperCollins Australia)
  • Tender Morsels, Margo Lanagan (Knopf)
  • How to Ditch Your Fairy, Justine Larbalestier (Bloomsbury USA)
  • Ink Exchange, Melissa Marr (HarperTeen)
  • Chalice, Robin McKinley (Putnam)
  • The Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness (Candlewick Press)
  • The Adoration of Jenna Fox, Mary E. Pearson (Henry Holt)
  • Nation, Terry Pratchett (Doubleday UK, HarperCollins)
  • Zoe's Tale, John Scalzi (Tor)
  • Flora's Dare, Ysabeau S. Wilce (Harcourt) [I've been looking for it, more or less, but I don't have a copy.]
  • The Serial Garden: The Complete Armitage Family Stories, Joan Aiken (Small Beer Press/Big Mouth House)
  • Pump Six and Other Stories, Paolo Bacigalupi (Night Shade Books)
  • The Adventures of Langdon St. Ives, James P. Blaylock (Subterranean Press)
  • Works of Art, James Blish (NESFA Press)
  • The Wall of America, Thomas M. Disch (Tachyon Publications)
  • Dark Integers and Other Stories, Greg Egan (Subterranean Press)
  • The Drowned Life, Jeffrey Ford (HarperPerennial)
  • The Wreck of the Godspeed and Other Stories, James Patrick Kelly (Golden Gryphon Press)
  • The Baum Plan for Financial Independence and Other Stories, John Kessel (Small Beer Press)
  • Nano Comes to Clifford Falls and Other Stories, Nancy Kress (Golden Gryphon Press)
  • Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters, John Langan (Prime Books)
  • Pretty Monsters, Kelly Link (Viking)
  • H.P. Lovecraft: The Fiction, H. P. Lovecraft (Barnes & Noble)
  • Binding Energy, Daniel Marcus (Elastic Press)
  • Ten Sigmas and Other Unlikelihoods, Paul Melko (Fairwood Press)
  • The Collected Short Fiction: Where Angels Fear / The Gods Perspire, Ken Rand (Fairwood Press)
  • The Ant King and Other Stories, Benjamin Rosenbaum (Small Beer Press)
  • Long Walks, Last Flights, and Other Strange Journeys, Ken Scholes (Fairwood Press)
  • Filter House, Nisi Shawl (Aqueduct Press)
  • The Autopsy and Other Tales, Michael Shea (Centipede Press)
  • The Best of Lucius Shepard, Lucius Shepard (Subterranean Press)
  • The Best of Michael Swanwick, Michael Swanwick (Subterranean Press)
  • Other Worlds, Better Lives, Howard Waldrop (Old Earth Books)
  • Crazy Love, Leslie What (Wordcraft of Oregon)
  • Gateway to Paradise: The Collected Stories of Jack Williamson, Volume Six, Jack Williamson (Haffner Press)
Anthologies - Original
  • Clockwork Phoenix, Mike Allen, ed. (Norilana Books)
  • Fast Forward 2, Lou Anders, ed. (Pyr)
  • Sideways in Crime, Lou Anders, ed. (Solaris)
  • Dreaming Again, Jack Dann, ed. (HarperCollins Australia; Eos)
  • The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Ellen Datlow, ed. (Ballantine Del Rey)
  • Galactic Empires, Gardner Dozois, ed. (SFBC)
  • Extraordinary Engines: The Definitive Steampunk Anthology, Nick Gevers, ed. (Solaris)
  • A Book of Wizards, Marvin Kaye, ed. (SFBC)
  • The Solaris Book Of New Science Fiction Volume Two, George Mann, ed. (Solaris)
  • Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy, William Schafer, ed. (Subterranean Press)
  • Eclipse Two, Jonathan Strahan, ed. (Night Shade Books)
  • The Starry Rift, Jonathan Strahan, ed. (Viking)
  • Fast Ships, Black Sails, Ann VanderMeer & Jeff VanderMeer, eds. (Night Shade Books)
  • Celebration: 50 Years of the British Science Fiction Association, Ian Whates, ed. (NewCon Press)
Anthologies - Reprint
  • Wastelands, John Joseph Adams, ed. (Night Shade Books)
  • A Science Fiction Omnibus, Brian W. Aldiss, ed. (Penguin Modern Classics)
  • The Black Mirror and Other Stories: An Anthology of Science Fiction from Germany and Austria, Franz Rottensteiner, ed. (Wesleyan University Press)
  • Poe's Children: The New Horror, Peter Straub, ed. (Doubleday)
  • The New Weird, Ann VanderMeer & Jeff VanderMeer, eds. (Tachyon Publications)
  • Steampunk, Ann Vandermeer & Jeff VanderMeer, eds. (Tachyon Publications)
Anthologies - Best of the Year
  • The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 2008: Twenty-first Annual Collection, Ellen Datlow, Kelly Link & Gavin Grant, eds. (St. Martin's Griffin)
  • The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Fifth Annual Collection, Gardner Dozois, ed. (St. Martin's)
  • Year's Best Fantasy 8, David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer, eds. (Tachyon Publications)
  • Year's Best SF 13, David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer, eds. (Eos)
  • Fantasy: The Best of the Year: 2008 Edition, Rich Horton, ed. (Prime Books)
  • Science Fiction: The Best of the Year: 2008 Edition, Rich Horton, ed. (Prime Books)
  • The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror: Volume Nineteen, Stephen Jones, ed. (Robinson; Running Press)
  • The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume Two, Jonathan Strahan, ed. (Night Shade Books)
  • Lexicon Urthus: A Dictionary for the Urth Cycle, Second Edition, Michael Andre-Driussi (Sirius Fiction) [I did read, and still have, the first edition, though -- actually, what I have is an ultra-rare comb-bound advance proof of the first edition.]
  • Miracles of Life, J. G. Ballard (HarperCollins/Fourth Estate UK)
  • An Unofficial Companion to the Novels of Terry Pratchett, Andrew M. Butler (Greenwood)
  • The Vorkosigan Companion: The Universe of Lois McMaster Bujold, Lillian Stewart Carl & Martin H. Greenberg (Baen)
  • H. Beam Piper: A Biography, John F. Carr (McFarland)
  • The Worlds of Jack Williamson: A Centennial Tribute 1908-2008, Stephen Haffner, ed. (Haffner Press)
  • Basil Copper: A Life in Books, Stephen Jones (PS Publishing)
  • What It Is We Do When We Read Science Fiction, Paul Kincaid (Beccon)
  • Anthony Boucher: A Biobibliography, Jeffrey Marks (McFarland)
  • Rhetorics of Fantasy, Farah Mendlesohn (Wesleyan University Press)
  • The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia, Laura Miller (Little, Brown)
  • Prince of Stories: The Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman, Hank Wagner, Christopher Golden & Stephen R. Bissette (St. Martin's Press)
Art Books
  • Spectrum 15: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art, Cathy Fenner & Arnie Fenner, eds. (Underwood Books)
  • Paint or Pixel: The Digital Divide in Illustration Art, Jane Frank, ed. (NonStop Press)
  • P. Craig Russell, Coraline, Neil Gaiman, adapted and illustrated by P. Craig Russell (HarperCollins)
  • J. Allen St. John, The Paintings of J. Allen St. John: Grand Master of Fantasy, Stephen D. Korshak & J. David Spurlock (Vanguard)
  • Shaun Tan, Tales from Outer Suburbia (Allen & Unwin; Scholastic '09)
  • A Lovecraft Retrospective: Artists Inspired by H.P.L., Jerad Walters, ed. (Centipede Press)
  • Or Else My Lady Keeps the Key, Kage Baker (Subterranean Press)
  • "The Overseer", Albert E. Cowdrey (F&SF 3/08)
  • The Word of God: Or, Holy Writ Rewritten, Thomas M. Disch (Tachyon Publications)
  • “The Political Prisoner", Charles Coleman Finlay (F&SF 8/08)
  • "Arkfall", Carolyn Ives Gilman (F&SF 9/08)
  • The Luminous Depths, David Herter (PS Publishing)
  • "Mystery Hill", Alex Irvine (F&SF 1/08)
  • "The Erdmann Nexus", Nancy Kress (Asimov’s 10-11/08)
  • "Pretty Monsters", Kelly Link (Pretty Monsters)
  • "The Surfer, Kelly Link (The Starry Rift) "
  • "The Hob Carpet", Ian R. MacLeod (Asimov’s 6/08)
  • "The Tear", Ian McDonald (Galactic Empires)
  • "Tenbrook of Mars", Dean McLaughlin (Analog 7-8/08)
  • Once Upon a Time in the North, Philip Pullman (Knopf)
  • "The Man with the Golden Balloon", Robert Reed (Galactic Empires)
  • "Truth", Robert Reed (Asimov’s 10-11/08)
  • "True Names", Benjamin Rosenbaum & Cory Doctorow (Fast Forward 2)
  • "Wonjjang and the Madman of Pyongyang", Gord Sellar (Tesseracts Twelve)
  • "The Philosopher’s Stone", Brian Stableford (Asimov’s 7/08)
  • "The Gambler", Paolo Bacigalupi (Fast Forward 2)
  • "Pump Six", Paolo Bacigalupi (Pump Six and Other Stories)
  • "Tangible Light", J. Timothy Bagwell (Analog 1-2/08)
  • "Radio Station St. Jack", Neal Barrett, Jr. (Asimov’s 8/08)
  • "The Ice War", Stephen Baxter (Asimov’s 9/08)
  • "Turing’s Apples", Stephen Baxter (Eclipse Two)
  • "The Rabbi’s Hobby", Peter S. Beagle (Eclipse Two)
  • "The Tale of Junko and Sayuri", Peter Beagle (InterGalactic Medicine Show 7/08)
  • "Uncle Chaim and Aunt Rifke and the Angel", Peter S. Beagle (Strange Roads)
  • "Shoggoths in Bloom", Elizabeth Bear (Asimov’s 3/08)
  • "The Golden Octopus", Beth Bernobich (Postscripts Summer ’08)
  • "If Angels Fight", Richard Bowes (F&SF 2/08)
  • "From the Clay of His Heart", John Brown (InterGalactic Medicine Show 4/08)
  • "Jimmy", Pat Cadigan (The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy)
  • "Catherine Drewe", Paul Cornell (Fast Forward 2)
  • Conversation Hearts, John Crowley (Subterranean Press)
  • "The Things that Make Me Weak and Strange Get Engineered Away", Cory Doctorow ( 8/08)
  • "Crystal Nights", Greg Egan (Interzone 4/08)
  • "Lost Continent", Greg Egan (The Starry Rift)
  • "The Ray-Gun: A Love Story", James Alan Gardner (Asimov’s 2/08)
  • "Memory Dog", Kathleen Ann Goonan (Asimov’s 4-5/08)
  • "Shining Armor", Dominic Green (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Volume Two)
  • "The Illustrated Biography of Lord Grimm", Daryl Gregory (Eclipse Two)
  • "Pride and Prometheus", John Kessel (F&SF 1/08)
  • "The Art of Alchemy", Ted Kosmatka (F&SF 6/08)
  • "Divining Light", Ted Kosmatka (Asimov’s 8/08)
  • "Childrun", Marc Laidlaw (F&SF 8/08)
  • "Machine Maid", Margo Lanagan (Extraordinary Engines)
  • "The Woman", Tanith Lee (Clockwork Phoenix)
  • "The Magician’s House", Meghan McCarron (Strange Horizons 7/08)
  • "An Eligible Boy", Ian McDonald (Fast Forward 2)
  • "The Dust Assassin", Ian McDonald (The Starry Rift)
  • "Special Economics", Maureen F. McHugh (The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy)
  • "Beyond the Sea Gate of the Scholar-Pirates of Sarsköe", Garth Nix (Fast Ships, Black Sails)
  • "Infestation", Garth Nix (The Starry Rift)
  • "Immortal Snake", Rachel Pollack (F&SF 5/08)
  • "The Hour of Babel", Tim Powers (Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy)
  • "Five Thrillers", Robert Reed (F&SF 4/08)
  • "Fury", Alastair Reynolds (Eclipse Two)
  • "The Star Surgeon’s Apprentice", Alastair Reynolds (The Starry Rift) "
  • "The Egg Man", Mary Rosenblum (Asimov’s 2/08)
  • "Sacrifice", Mary Rosenblum (Sideways in Crime)
  • "Days of Wonder", Geoff Ryman (F&SF 10-11/08)
  • "Lester Young and the Jupiter’s Moons’ Blues", Gord Sellar (Asimov’s 7/08)
  • "Gift from a Spring", Delia Sherman (Realms of Fantasy 4/08)
  • "An Alien Heresy", S.P. Somtow (Asimov’s 4-5/08)
  • "Following the Pharmers", Brian Stableford (Asimov’s 3/08)
  • "The First Editions", James Stoddard (F&SF 4/08)
Short Stories
  • "Don’t Go Fishing on Witches Day", Joan Aiken (The Serial Garden)
  • "Goblin Music", Joan Aiken (The Serial Garden)
  • "The Occultation", Laird Barron (Clockwork Phoenix)
  • "King Pelles the Sure", Peter S. Beagle (Strange Roads)
  • Boojum", Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette (Fast Ships, Black Sails)
  • "Private Eye", Terry Bisson (F&SF 10-11/08)
  • "Offworld Friends Are Best", Neal Blaikie (Greatest Uncommon Denominator Spring ’08)
  • "The Man Who Built Heaven", Keith Brooke (Postscripts Summer ’08)
  • "Balancing Accounts", James L. Cambias (F&SF 2/08)
  • "Exhalation", Ted Chiang (Eclipse Two)
  • "The Fooly", Terry Dowling (Dreaming Again)
  • "Truth Window: A Tale of the Bedlam Rose", Terry Dowling (Eclipse Two)
  • "Awskonomuk", Gregory Feeley (Otherworldly Maine)
  • "Daltharee", Jeffrey Ford (The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy)
  • "The Dismantled Invention of Fate", Jeffrey Ford (The Starry Rift) "
  • "The Dream of Reason", Jeffrey Ford (Extraordinary Engines)
  • "The Seventh Expression of the Robot General", Jeffrey Ford (Eclipse Two)
  • "Reader’s Guide", Lisa Goldstein (F&SF 7/08)
  • “Glass”, Daryl Gregory (Technology Review 11-12/08)
  • "26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss", Kij Johnson (Asimov’s 7/08)
  • "The Voyage Out", Gwyneth Jones (Periphery)
  • "Evil Robot Monkey", Mary Robinette Kowal (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Volume Two)
  • "The Kindness of Strangers", Nancy Kress (Fast Forward 2)
  • "The Sky that Wraps the World Round, Past the Blue into the Black", Jay Lake (Clarkesworld 3/08)
  • "The Fifth Star in the Southern Cross", Margo Lanagan (Dreaming Again)
  • "The Goosle", Margo Lanagan (The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy)
  • "The Thought War", Paul McAuley (Postscripts Summer ’08)
  • "[a ghost samba]", Ian McDonald (Postscripts Summer ’08)
  • "Midnight Blue", Will McIntosh (Asimov’s 9/08)
  • "Fallen Angel", Eugene Mirabelli (F&SF 12/08)
  • "Mars: A Traveler’s Guide", Ruth Nestvold (F&SF 1/08)
  • "The Blood of Peter Francisco", Paul Park (Sideways in Crime)
  • "The Small Door", Holly Phillips (Fantasy 5/08)
  • "His Master’s Voice", Hannu Rajaniemi (Interzone 10/08)
  • "The House Left Empty", Robert Reed (Asimov’s 4-5/08)
  • "Fifty Dinosaurs", Robert Reed (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Volume Two)
  • "Traitor", M. Rickert (F&SF 5/08)
  • "Snatch Me Another", Mercurio D. Rivera (Abyss & Apex 1Q/08)
  • "The Film-makers of Mars", Geoff Ryman ( 12/08)
  • "Talk is Cheap", Geoff Ryman (Interzone 6/08)
  • "After the Coup", John Scalzi ( 7/08)
  • "Invisible Empire of Ascending Light", Ken Scholes (Eclipse Two)
  • "Ardent Clouds", Lucy Sussex (The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy)
  • "From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled", Michael Swanwick (Asimov’s 2/08)
  • "The Scarecrow’s Boy", Michael Swanwick (F&SF 10-11/08)
  • "Marrying the Sun", Rachel Swirsky (Fantasy 6/08)
  • "A Buyer’s Guide to Maps of Antarctica", Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld 5/08)
  • "Fixing Hanover", Jeff VanderMeer (Extraordinary Engines)
  • "The Eyes of God", Peter Watts (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Volume Two)
  • "Ass-Hat Magic Spider", Scott Westerfeld (The Starry Rift) "
Now, I can't endorse everything in Bold; some of them weren't terribly memorable. But there's some really amazing stuff in that list, and I'm hoping to have a very thorough Hugo recommendation list up in a bit less than two weeks. Final magazine reviews to come next week--only two left, and they're both drafted!

James Morrow + Monster Movies = Fascinating

This is just a note to point you towards my new book review up at SFSignal. (My first in over 2 months, ouch!) The review covers James Morrow's new novella, Shambling Towards Hiroshima. It's a comedy and a tragedy and a commentary all wrapped up in one very short package. Absolutely worth your attention.