What it all means

Saturday, January 31st, 2009 | Posted by Soyka

As a recovering English major, I sometimes just like to read for the hell of it, enjoy the story and not worry too much about literary merit or what any of the stuff might symbolize.  Moby Dick, after all, is a great yarn about high seas adventures.  But, then again, you’re missing something if you don’t also ponder what it is has to to say about God and the existence of evil (which is nothing particularly uplifting; Melville will never make the Oprah book club).

When I write reviews, I have to wear my English major hat, and frequently I realize that I missed something that I might not otherwise have considered if I were just reading for amusement and didn’t have to think about it in an attempt to say something semi-interesting that might actually be helpful to someone who may not have read the work in question, or read it the same way I did.

I actually like reading some literary criticism, but what I can’t stand are critics who suffer from “what I’m saying is more important than what the text is actually saying” syndrome.  And, sometimes, I just don’t feel like working that hard.  Case in point is this post at the blog for Vector, the critical journal of the British Science Fiction Association. I think I understand Niall Harrison’s responses more than I understand the points taken from Peter Barry’s Beginning Theory though, not having read the book (nor do I intend to) that’s probably my shortcoming, not his.




Hundra update

Saturday, January 31st, 2009 | Posted by eeknight

I have it on good authority (Laurene Landon herself) that Hundra 2 is filming in Portugal this summer, with the same director as the original.  He’s in Sintra/Cintra now.  I’m hoping it’s another good-looking widescreen production rather than a direct-to-video cheapie.

So Hundra is once again keeping the embers alive, this time of Sword and Sorcery movies . . .

How to Read More Books

Friday, January 30th, 2009 | Posted by Bill Ward

I don’t consider myself a fast reader, though I must be someone’s definition of fast. I started reading early, and was always something of a bookworm as a child, but I was never one of those kids who could sit down a read a whole novel in a few hours. In other words, I don’t have any special powers or prodigy-level talents, and what reading speed I have managed to develop has only really emerged later in life, and only with effort. Last week I linked to an interview with columnist and reviewer Sarah Weinman, who is what I labeled a hyperspeed reader — someone capable of averaging more than a book a day. Those kinds of speeds are unobtainable by us mere mortals, I strongly suspect, but I also know that many people who wish they could read more — normal readers like me — really can do so, if they put in the effort. And my technique for reading more and faster basically boils down to that: trying hard to do so.

Although there is also a useful secret to reading more that I’ve learned the hard way, which I’ll impart at the end of this post . . .

But, basically, the way to read more books per year is to read more books per year — sounds a bit like advising would-be Olympians to go compete the Olympics, doesn’t it? — but in this case the goal and the means really are the same. It’s the same as the oft repeated advice to writers that the only way to learn writing is to write. Well, the only way to learn reading is to read, but of course the problem with that is everybody already does read. Or do they?

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Calvino and Hobbyhorses

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009 | Posted by James Enge

The Grauniad is listing “1000 novels everyone must read” and lately the sf/f novels on the list have been bouncing around the genresphere. It was almost instantly memed. You were supposed to italicize the ones you’d read, strikethrough the ones that induced an existential crisis, and smear butterscotch pudding on the rest. (Finally, a use for butterscotch pudding!) Or something like that.

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Tuesday, January 27th, 2009 | Posted by eeknight

Sword and Sorcery enjoyed a brief, mostly-unhappy revival in the 1980s.  Much of it came in the wake of John Milius’s Conan The Barbarian (1982).  Some were downright awful (Ator the Invincible 2), some had their moments (the disappointing Conan the Destroyer), some I really like despite their flaws (The Sword and the Sorcerer).

While I was of an age and inclination to see pretty much anything S&S related in the early 80s, somehow I missed Hundra (1983).  Thanks to DVD I came across this cubic zirconium-in-the-rough by accident. What I said “in the wake of Conan” above goes doubly for this — Hundra isn’t so much in the wake as it is being towed by Milius’s epic.  The plot arc follow’s Conan’s sandaled footsteps, it was filmed in Spain not only using similar locations but Conan’s leftover sets and what I suspect are bits of the costumes as well.

That being said, it’s a well-done picture.  Usually low-budget movies look low-budget, but this one manages to rise above the dollars spent into something bigger-and-better looking.

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On DVD: Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008)

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

Theatrical PosterJourney to the Center of the Earth (2008)
Directed by Eric Brevig. Starring Brendan Fraser, Josh Hutcherson, Anita Briem

Arguing whether Jules Verne is the Father of Science Fiction seems useless now. Regardless of who may deserve the title more—Cyrano de Bergerac, Mary Shelley, Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, Hugo Gernsback, John W. Campbell, etc.—Verne’s effect on literature of the imagination is so enormous and continually influential that he’s clearly the Father of Something Really Big. However, in the U.S. he still suffers from poor, outdated translations (often with cuts that remove almost a fourth of the originals) and the perception that he’s only an author for children. Better translations are now available, but the awful ones still remain in print, perching on bookshelves like croaking ravens to scare new readers away. New translations of his non-scientific-themed novels have started to broaden the author’s reputation (see my reviews of Michael Strogoff and The Lighthouse at the End of the World to get a sense of the other sort of novels that the distinguished Frenchman wrote), but Verne still remains “that guy we read in fifth grade” for many adults.

I’m a Verne fanatic, unabashedly, and I love him even more now than I did when I was an eager “young adult” reader. Discovering new books and new versions of books I thought I knew—the recent translations and restorations of Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea are nothing short of revelatory—makes each Verne read a thrilling exploration. My favorite of his novels is Voyage au centre de la Terre, published in 1864 as the author’s career was starting to ascend. It was translated into English as Journey to the Center of the Earth, and sometimes Journey to the Interior of the Earth. On a deep personal level, I respond to the romance of a subterranean sojourn and discovering the mysteries hiding in the great caverns beneath a volcano in Iceland. Verne’s sense of wonder here is simply breathtaking.

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A Rather Cranky Post on Verisimilitude in Fantasy

Monday, January 26th, 2009 | Posted by Judith Berman

I am one of the few who saw Conan the Barbarian on its first release. The theater was the now-demolished but then-infamous theater in downtown Philadelphia that one commentator referred to as the Budco Take-Your-Life-In-Your-Hands Goldman theater. Our Conan experience at the Goldman was not life-threatening, if you don’t count my feelings as I watched Schwarzenegger, too ‘roided-up to hold a sword with both hands–although my now-spouse did find a large knife under his seat, which he handed over to the management. We were the lone viewers except for one other man who, whenever Sandahl Bergman brandished her sword, began to exclaim, “She’s hot, oh, man, oh, baby, she’s hot!”

This space has seen several posts over the last few weeks on the topic of fantasy and realism. Today I’d like to gnaw on another bone, and that is fantasy and verisimilitude. Swordsmanship is a good enough place to start. Now, a confession. I am no master of the sword and know basically nothing about European styles, and I have not touched a bokken since arriving in Dubai. I do, however, have a basic understanding of Japanese sword work, and have done tens of thousands of sword cuts in my life, a few even with a genuine medieval samurai sword. I have learned from experience why the Japanese invented shiatsu. So, all that swinging and whirling swordsmen do before they actually have at it? Imagine your life is threatened and what you have to defend yourself with is a cast-iron frying pan. Are you going to play like a majorette with a baton? Or conserve your strength, block if you need to, and watch for a chance to hit your attacker with it very hard? Swordswomen are another topic that makes me cranky. I’ve been a martial artist for nigh on 30 years, and I have no doubt of the the capacity of women to be effective fighters, but most women will never have the upper body strength that men can develop, and unlike men can’t substitute power for good technique. See: frying pan analogy.

What is the obligation of a fantasy writer to supply verisimilitude? None, really; a writer’s job is to tell a story. Is it bad for adventure fantasy to be thinly disguised wish fulfillment? I mean, we all need some in our lives. Read More »

Fantasy sports

Sunday, January 25th, 2009 | Posted by Theo

One of the things I’ve noticed in a lifetime of reading fantasy literature and playing sports is that the twain seldom meet.  For some reason, the inhabitants of fantasy worlds are apparently not much drawn to games of leisure; I don’t claim to know why that is, but I do have a theory.

If you have ever attended a convention or a book-signing, one of the things that will strike you first about the literary community is that it is not comprised of particularly athletic individuals.  If one were to choose a word to describe the average fantasy author, “sedentary” would probably be among the first to spring to mind.  Now, there are no shortage of overweight couch-potatoes who follow sports on a regular basis, but in general, the more interested in sports an individual happens to be, the less sedentary he is.  I therefore conclude, on the basis of mere superficialities such as BMI, that the average fantasy author is less interested in sports than the average individual.

Supporting this idea is the most famous fantasy sport to appear in a fantasy novel, the inimitable game of Quidditch concocted by JK Rowlings.  Quidditch is indeed fascinating, as it is an almost perfect example of a faux sport designed by an individual who has never played a sport nor spent more than thirty seconds thinking about what the purpose of a sporting event might be.  This may sound extreme, but consider, for example, if the game of basketball was structured according to the rules of Quidditch.

Basketball-Quidditch would look very similar to basketball, albeit with one exception.  In addition to the usual game being played out on the court, an additional player would be added to each side, both of whom would stand behind the out-of-bounds line armed with a bucket of tennis balls.  These additional players would launch tennis balls at the far basket during the course of play; when one finally went in the game would come to an immediate end and 100 points would be added to his team’s score.  Needless to say, since basketball teams seldom score 100 points more than the other team, this additional factor completely removes the value of the rest of the team’s actions; indeed, there is no point to even having the rest of the team take the court in the first place.  One can only conclude that Quidditch is an appallingly stupid sport, rivaled only by cricket for sheer implausibility and lack of entertainment value.

It is a pity that sports are so ill-represented in fantasy, especially when the usual medieval environment is perfect for ancient sports such as the insane Sienese pallo, which is little more than Roller Derby on horseback, or the world’s most famous game involving dead goats, buzkashi.  If writers devoted one-tenth the time they normally spend creating new orc and elf languages to thinking about what orcs and elves do at play, they might find that the fantasy worlds they create are more believable.

Happy Birthday, Mac

Saturday, January 24th, 2009 | Posted by Soyka

Today is the 25th anniversary of the first Apple Mac computer, distinguished by its design-sense and mouse-driven GUI (graphical user interface), with a monitor and CPU housed in one unit. Maybe you’ve heard of it?

I bought my first computer a few years before that, a Kaypro II, a clunky chunk of metal that was one of the first portable (at least if you were a weight lifter) computers, though nothing you would ever put on your lap. With a nine inch monochrome screen, dual 5 1/4″ floppy drives, and 64K memory, I was on the cutting edge. And with a 300 baud external modem, I could submit my weekly newspaper columnfrom home  without having to print it out! Things got even more amazing when I started to teach college composition using the Internet in the days before anyone heard of Amazon.com or the World Wide Web. This was when you had to know a smattering of UNIX commands to get on-line and write messages, and an email address was a badge of the technical elite.

The television ad that launched the Apple Mac was directed by Ridley Scott, and I believe it was only shown once. Playing off the ominous year that had arrived, the commercial depicted a grey-shaded Orwellian state of lemmings enslaved to their IBM computers (you may recall that IBM was said to have invented the “personal computer” and this was in the days before PC and Microsoft became synonymously ubiquitous). If I’m recalling correctly, the shackles were broken, and the commercial transitioned to color, thanks to the tiny, but mighty, Mac.
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How to Read 462 Books a Year

Friday, January 23rd, 2009 | Posted by Bill Ward

Surprised by the dust on all those books you ‘just bought’ but haven’t gotten to yet? To-be-read pile threatening to topple and crush you under its weight? Tired of being left out of conversations about authors you haven’t read yet? Me too. All of this is common enough for any bibliophile, to varying degrees or another, and its nice that we can commiserate. That is, most of us can, but not all of us, for there is a strange breed that lives among us with the book-lover’s equivalent of superpowers — the hyperspeed reader.

Case in point, Sarah Weinman, columnist and reviewer for the LA Times online, read 462 books last year. That’s Four Hundred Sixty-Two. By any stretch of the definition, that’s a lot of books, and over qualifies Weinman for my rule-of-thumb classification of a hyperspeed reader: someone that averages more than a book a day. You can read an interview with Weinman about her remarkable feat over at the LA Times ‘Jacket Copy’ blog column.

Not being one of these hyperspeed readers, I am of course insanely jealous. I mean , I dedicate an enormous amount of time to reading, but my best run doesn’t even come half-way to matching Weinman’s year. However, resigned as I am that I can never match it — I just don’t think those sort of savant-level abilities can be trained in mid-life, if at all — the temptation is to, of course, analyze what she’s doing and conclude that she isn’t really enjoying those books fully, isn’t immersing herself in the joy of language and richness of an author’s style when she moves so quickly through each book. But I can’t really believe that, not based on what she’s said in her interview, and not based on anything other than my own naked envy. So, just what is it Weinman and the other hyperspeed readers are doing?

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