Birthday Reviews: Joanna Russ’s “Nobody’s Home”

Thursday, February 22nd, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

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Cover by Ron Walotsky

Joanna Russ was born on February 22, 1937 and died on April 29, 2011. From her first publications, she became a voice for feminist science fiction in a world which was dominated, but not exclusively, by men.

As important as her science fiction, if not moreso, is her monograph How to Suppress Women’s Writing. Among her notable science fiction are the stories that make of the Alyx cycle, including Picnic on Paradise, and the novels And Chaos Died and The Female Man.

She won the Nebula Award for her short story “When It Changed” and a Hugo for the novella “Souls.” In 1996, she received two retrospective James Tiptree, Jr. Awards for “When It Changed” and for The Female Man. The Female Man was inducted into the Gaylactic Spectrum Hall of Fame. Russ received a Pilgrim Award for Lifetime Achievement for her contributions to science fiction and fantasy scholarship from the SFRA in 1988 and was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2013. In 2015, Russ received the Solstice Award from the SFWA.

“Nobody’s Home” was originally printed in New Dimensions II, edited by Robert Silverberg in 1972. It was picked up the next year by Terry Carr for The Best Science Fiction of the Year #2. Pamela Sargent included it in Women of Wonder. Silverberg has reprinted it in several of his anthologies over the years, including Alpha 9, The Best of New Dimensions, Great Tales of Science Fiction, and The Arbor House Treasury of Science Fiction. Russ included it in her collection The Zanzibar Cat in 1983. David G. Hartwell reprinted it in The World Treasury of Science Fiction and Gardner Dozois reprinted it in Modern Classics of Science Fiction and Supermen. “Nobody’s Home” was translated into Spanish in 1977 and into Dutch in 1980.

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Announcing the 2017 Nebula Award Nominations

Wednesday, February 21st, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Spoonbenders Daryl Gregory-small Six-Wakes-Mur-Lafferty-smaller Annalee-Newitz-Autonomous-smaller

If you’ve been saving your reading muscles for major awards season, I have good news. SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, released its nominees for the 2017 Nebula Awards yesterday, and you’re into for some terrific reading. Time to book a reading vacation, and make all that hoarded eye lubricant and daily wrist exercises finally pay off. Here’s the complete list of nominees.

Novel

Amberlough, by Lara Elena Donnelly (Tor)
The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, by Theodora Goss (Saga)
Spoonbenders, by Daryl Gregory (Knopf)
The Stone Sky, by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)
Six Wakes, by Mur Lafferty (Orbit)
Jade City, by Fonda Lee (Orbit)
Autonomous, by Annalee Newitz (Tor)

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Plants as Protagonists: An Interview with Semiosis author Sue Burke

Wednesday, February 21st, 2018 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

Semiosis Sue Burke-smallThe science fiction world has been abuzz with the release of the novel Semiosis by Sue Burke. Known for her short stories in publications such as Interzone and Asimov’s, this Clarion alumnus is now making waves with her debut novel, out from Tor this month. James Patrick Kelly said it’s “a first contact novel like none you’ve ever read… The kind of story for which science fiction was invented.” David Brin wrote, “In Semiosis, Sue Burke blends science with adventure and fascinating characters, as a human colony desperately seeks to join the ecosystem of an alien world.”

Those recommendations would be enough for me to buy a copy if I hadn’t already read it several years ago. Sue and I used to be in the Madrid Writer’s Critique Group here in Spain before she moved back to Chicago. The early draft I read fascinated me with its tale of human colonists settling on a planet only to find that is already inhabited by intelligent life… plant life. I caught up with Sue to talk with her about her new publication.

What was the seed of an idea that grew into a giant, sentient plant?

Seed… I see what you did there.

It started back in the mid-1990s when a couple of my houseplants attacked other houseplants. One vine wrapped around a neighbor, and another vine tried to sink roots into another plant. I began researching botany and discovered that plants are active, aggressive, and fight to the death for sunlight. They have weapons and cunning strategies, both offensive and defensive.

For example, strangler figs (several varieties of Ficus) start as seedlings germinating up on tree branches and trunks in jungles, and as they grow, their roots wrap around the host tree and eventually strangle and kill it. The fig starts halfway up to sunshine, which is an advantage. But how do the seeds get up there? Birds eat fig fruit, and the seeds have a gluey covering that sticks to a bird’s feathers when it defecates. The bird wipes off its vent on tree branches and trunks, where the seeds adhere and germinate.

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The Silver Eggheads by Fritz Leiber

Wednesday, February 21st, 2018 | Posted by Steve Carper

The Silver Eggheads, Ballantine F561, 1962, cover by Richard Powers

Fritz Leiber is one of the grand names of f&sf, winner of six Hugo Awards, three Nebula Awards, and two World Fantasy Awards. He is a member of the SF Hall of Fame, a SFWA Grandmaster, and a lifetime achievement recipient from the World Fantasy, Bram Stoker, and Forry Awards. You wouldn’t think any novel of his from the epicenter of his career could be obscure, neglected, or forgotten. And yet, there’s the case of The Silver Eggheads.

As a novelet, “The Silver Eggheads” graced the cover of the January 1959 F&SF, normally as prestigious a slot available at the time. Yet the story has never been anthologized nor ever included in one of his three dozen collections. Possibly that’s because Leiber expanded it to novel length, published as an original paperback by Ballantine in 1962. (Yes, that is a Richard Powers cover, one of the few representational ones he did.) Ballantine reprinted it twice, but no other American publisher has touched it. This novel has been out of print in English for almost 40 years. A few foreign editions slipped in, for multilinguists and obsessive collectors.

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Birthday Reviews: Richard A. Lupoff’s “Black Mist”

Wednesday, February 21st, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Nicholas Jainschigg

Cover by Nicholas Jainschigg

Richard Lupoff was born on February 21, 1935. He edited the fanzine Xero, which included articles from Avram Davidson, L. Sprague de Camp, and Roger Ebert. In 1963, Lupoff and his wife, Pat, received a Hugo Award for Best Amateur Magazine for their work. In 2005, a hardcover The Best of Xero would be nominated for a Hugo for Best Related Work.

He published his first novel One Million Centuries, in 1967 and is perhaps best known for Circumpolar! and Circumsolar! Lupoff is not averse to using pseudonyms such as Ova Hamlet or Addison E. Steele. He collaborated on the graphic novel The Adventures of Professor Thintwhistle and His Incredible Aether Flyer with Steve Stiles. Lupoff edited three volumes of short stories he felt should have won the Hugo Award (What If? Volumes 1-3).

“Black Mist” was originally published in the April 1995 issue of Omni Online. Orson Scott Card reprinted it in Black Mist and Other Japanese Futures and Lupoff included it in his collection Claremont Tales. The story was also reprinted in Robert Reginald’s To the Stars—And Beyond: The Second Borgo Press Book of Science Fiction Stories.

Many stories set in the far future of space exploration select a human culture and have them expand into space, as L. Sprague de Camp did with his Viagens Interplanetary series. Often these space-faring cultures have little to do with the original terrestrial country beyond nomenclature. In “Black Mist” Lupoff has postulated a future in which Japan has taken over planetary exploration after the United States and Russia’s programs have collapsed.

The Japanese are attempting to terraform Mars and part of that effort takes place from a small outpost on Phobos. Not only do Japanese ideas of honor and caste play a big role in the story, but other aspects of Japanese society are interwoven and provide an integral part of the plot. “Black Mist” opens with a lowly kitchen worker, Jiricho Toshikawa, discovering the murdered body of a scientists on Phobos. When the body disappears, the head of operations on Mars sends his friend Hajimi Ino to investigate the disappearance.

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Vintage Treasures: The Dragon Waiting by John M. Ford

Tuesday, February 20th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Dragon Waiting John M Ford-back-small The Dragon Waiting John M Ford-spine-small The Dragon Waiting John M Ford-small

For the last few years the major streaming players — Netflix, HBO, Amazon, Hulu, and others — have spent untold millions searching for the next Game of Thrones. A tale of dark magics, black-hearted evil, kings and princes, palace intrigue, war, treachery, and sex. I could have saved them a lot of time if they’d just asked me. I would have recommended they film John M. Ford’s The Dragon Waiting.

The Dragon Waiting: A Masque of History was published in 1983. It’s a sprawling alternate history that combines Richard III, Edward IV, the Princes in the Tower, the Medicis, and vampires. Edward IV sits on the throne of England, but his kingdom is threatened by an expansionist Byzantine Empire. The Vampire Duke Sforza is massing a dark army against Florence, and Byzantium is on the march. High in the Alps four people come together: the exiled heir to the Byzantine throne, a beautiful physician forced to flee Florence, a Welsh wizard, and a German vampire. Together they wage an secret campaign against the entire Byzantine Empire, to secure the English throne for Richard, Duke of Gloucester, the future Richard III.

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Taking the Prize for Strange Worldbuilding: Jon Sprunk’s Book of the Black Earth

Tuesday, February 20th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Blood-and-Iron-Jon-Sprunk-smaller Storm-and-Steel-smaller Blade and Bone-small

Blade and Bone, the long-awaited third book in Jon Sprunk’s Book of the Black Earth series, finally arrives next week. Here’s Sarah Avery from her enthusiastic review of the first one, Blood and Iron:

Of all the wild re-envisionings of the Crusades I’ve seen lately, Jon Sprunk’s Blood and Iron may be the wildest. His alternate-universe Europeans are recognizably European, but the opposing culture they face is that of a Babylonian Empire that never fell. And why has this Babylon-by-another-name persisted for thousands of years, so powerful that only its own internal strife can shake it? Because its royals actually have the supernatural powers and demi-god ancestry that the ruling class of our world’s Fertile Crescent claimed…

Jon Sprunk’s book takes the prize for strange worldbuilding. The Akeshian Empire is approximately what the Akkadian Empire might have looked like, had each of its major cities lasted as long and urbanized as complexly as Rome did… Blood and Iron is overall a strong book, full of powerful imagery and a vivid sense of place, with intriguing historical what-ifs and a sense of moral urgency to match its sense of moral complexity.

Here’s the description for the third volume, Blade and Bone.

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A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

Tuesday, February 20th, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

WZRDFRTHST1968As I wrote last time, this excursion through the bookshelves of my younger days was inspired by the recent death of Ursula K. Le Guin. I haven’t read much Le Guin outside the Earthsea books; most of her work hasn’t appealed to me. But the Earthsea books, especially the initial trilogy — A Wizard of Earthsea (1968), The Tombs of Atuan (1970), and The Farthest Shore (1972) — did and, I was glad to find out, still do.

In my article, “Why I’m Here: Part Two,” I described the Elric books as being like samizdat passed around between my friends and me. With so few books actually out there, we fellow fantasy fans read anything we could find, and in turn got it all into everyone else’s hands and read everything they passed along to us. After The Lord of the Rings, I’m sure there were no books as read, and read as often, as Le Guin’s three slender volumes.

There are several whys. The easiest is they are way cool, at least the first and the third. The second is more of a Gothic, and lacks the dragon-battling and dark magic of the others, like this:

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Birthday Reviews: Richard Matheson’s “Third from the Sun”

Tuesday, February 20th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by David Stone

Cover by David Stone

Richard Matheson was born on February 20, 1926 and died on 2016. His first published story was “Born of Man and Woman,” which was nominated for a Retro-Hugo.

He received the World Fantasy Award for his novel Bid Time Return, which was turned into the film Somewhere in Time, starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour. He also won the World Fantasy Award for his collection Richard Matheson: Collected Stories, which also received the Bram Stoker Award. Matheson has received lifetime achievement awards from both World Fantasy and Bram Stoker and was declared a living legend by the International Horror Guild.

The World Horror Society named him a Grand Master in 1993 and he was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2010. His novel I Am Legend has been filmed numerous times under different names as has The Incredible Shrinking Man. In addition to his career as a novelist and short story writer, Matheson has written screenplays for a variety of television episodes.

“Third from the Sun” was purchased by H.L. Gold and published in the October 1950 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction. Gold reprinted it in Galaxy Reader of Science Fiction and Matheson has included it in multiple collections of his work. It was reprinted in the children’s anthology Beyond Belief and in The Twilight Zone: The Original Stories. It was adapted by Rod Serling for the first season of The Twilight Zone, starring Fritz Weaver and Denise Alexander. The story has been translated into French (twice), German, and Italian.

Matheson followed his stunning debut story, “Born of Man and Woman” with a more pedestrian outing in “Third from the Sun,” a story with a twist that is ruined by its title. Matheson tells the story of a man and woman who are clearly planning on stealing a spaceship and fleeing the earth with their children and neighbors ahead of a cataclysm. Their ability to do so it made possible by the man’s position within the space program.

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Gods, Mortals, Sons, and Daughters: Storm Seed by Janet and Chris Morris

Monday, February 19th, 2018 | Posted by Joe Bonadonna

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While Storm Seed is the final volume in the iconic Sacred Band series to appear in a brand-new, Author’s Cut edition, it isn’t the last book in the series. The story takes place after the Sacred Band has been disbanded, after the events in Beyond Wizardwall and The City at the Edge of Time. Storm Seed follows on the heels of Tempus Unbound, and precedes the epic story of The Sacred Band.

Once again Team Morris delivers another outstanding novel in their classic “Chronicles of the Sacred Band,” as I always refer to them. Crisp prose, engaging characters, and a well-crafted plot carry this one right to the very end. This is Heroic Fantasy on a grand and epic scale, inspired by ancient mythology merged with a “lost” history of the world. All the tropes of the genre are here: wizards, witches, magic, ghosts, gods, dragons, and so much more. But these ingredients are used with a weight of reality to them, and in a manner I can only describe as “uniquely Morris.” Storm Seed is a story about love and loyalty, family and comradeship. And for all the elements of the fantastic, this novel is grounded in the veracity of its characters, and in the human drama and dynamics of their relationships. Almost everyone has a quest of their own to undertake, and the story unfolds at a brisk pace as the various events take one twist and turn after another until all the characters and plot-lines come together.

It seems like a reunion as so many characters from previous novels return to share the stage. Team Morris does a splendid job of giving the members of their cast equal time; almost everyone has a storyline of their own. Tempus the Black and Niko, his right-side companion, are here. Also present and accounted for: the goddess Jihan, the powerful Froth Daughter; Randal the allergy-prone wizard; Roxane the witch you really don’t want to get involved with; Cime the wizard slayer who is a real force to be reckoned with; Kama, Tempus’ daughter and warrior. The Sacred Banders Strat, Crit, and Gayle are also here, as well as Enlil the Storm God, Abarsis the Slaughter Priest, and even Strat’s Ghost Horse.

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