A Merry Christmas to All

Sunday, December 25th, 2011 | Posted by Theo

stupefyingstoriesIn addition to any loot that may have found its way under your arboreal home decor courtesy of a gentleman of garish sartorial tastes and an indifferent attitude towards trespassing on private property, the good people at Rampant Loon have a pair of Christmas presents for you.

The first is the announcement of the December issue of Stupefying Stories, which is available for $1.99 from Amazon and features “six all-new tales of the fantastic, frightening, and funny by Gary Cuba, Ron Lunde, Tyler Tork, David W. Landrum, and Justin Williams — and featuring “Snow Blind,” by acclaimed mystery and horror writer Trent Zelazny” as well as a Christmas mini-anthology that consists of stories by Kersley Fitzgerald, Aaron Bradford Starr, and Bill Ferris.

The second is a free ebook featuring two new stories from the Original Cyberpunk himself, Mr. Bruce Bethke, entitled Jimi Plays Dead, which is available as a free Christmas download for Kindle readers today and tomorrow.

A Review of Embassytown

Sunday, December 18th, 2011 | Posted by Theo

embassytown1Embassytown by China Mieville
Del Rey (368 pages, $26.00, May 2011)

Embassytown is an excellent and astonishingly original science fiction novel. It is also a clever subversion of C.S. Lewis’s Perelandra, defending as it does a literally Satanic theme in its rationalization of the intentional corruption of innocence. As such, it could be considered to be a philosophical novel of the sort that Umberto Eco writes; this is the sole aspect of the book that is both weak and unoriginal. But the trivial nature of the philosophical aspect does not detract from the novel in the slightest, as very few readers indeed will be aware of either the subversion or the subtext despite the relatively clear suggestions provided by Mieville.

The story concerns a human colony of the future that is established on a very distant planet inhabited by a strange and sentient alien race that speaks a unique language that involves two simultaneous voices. In order to communicate with the aliens, it is necessary for humans to speak in specially trained, genetically identical pairs because the alien’s link between Language and mind is such that the aliens cannot understand the sounds even if they are reproduced accurately by machines or unrelated human pairs. These trained pairs, called Ambassadors, are the colony’s only means of communicating with the aliens, whose biotechnology is required for them to survive given their very limited support from the human empire to which they owe a rather tenuous allegiance.

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What Makes a Classic?

Sunday, December 11th, 2011 | Posted by Theo

more-than-humanLast week, I criticized Mur Lafferty for attempting to dismiss some of the classics of the genre unread.

Reading some of the comments on that post got me to thinking about an obvious question: what makes a classic of the genre? Obviously, an ability to stand the test of time is the most important element in defining a classic, as a brief perusal of the bestsellers of 100 years ago, or even 50 years ago will demonstrate, but there must be more to it than simple longevity since there are no shortage of unread classics, both within and without the SF/F genre.

Is there some sort of magic formula that allows us to distinguish between the merely popular and the temporally transcendent? We know that sales quantities are both objective and incapable of determining literary greatness, but does this mean that greatness is entirely subjective or are there some reasonably objective elements involved?

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The SF classics and the Human Condition

Sunday, December 4th, 2011 | Posted by Theo

spagetti-monsterLet us suppose, for the sake of argument, that I am a fervent believer in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. And let us further suppose that I am utterly convinced that the tenets of the Pastafarian Church not only represent the present pinnacle of human progress, but are guaranteed to remain valid and morally definitive for so long as our species shall fail to evolve. And finally, let us also suppose that many of the classics of the science fiction and fantasy genre are deemed to infringe in a variety of ways upon the tenets of Pastafarianism. Am I then justified in claiming that these works are not classics, indeed, cannot be considered classics because they violate the Pastafarian sensibilities that every right-thinking human being knows are true? Am I perhaps even justified in claiming that no one should be permitted to read, much less enjoy, works that offend fundamental human decency as defined by the true interpretations of the various blots and sigils left to humanity by the Flying Spaghetti Monster as he passes overhead in all his noodly goodness?

Even if we cannot justify these things, surely I, as a fine, upstanding human, Pastafarian, and scholar, cannot be expected to slog my way through any literary work that is insufficiently respectful of the societal mores that, if not necessarily dominant today, are assured to one day be accepted by all of humanity in the fullness of time!

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On Polemic and Prosaic License

Sunday, November 27th, 2011 | Posted by Theo

colour-of-magicI have long felt that Terry Pratchett is badly underrated as an author.

Despite his massive success, the manner in which his book are marketed – a fabulous romp – tend to significantly underplay both the intelligence and the sensitivity of his Discworld novels. His books are simultaneously less superficially funny than they are supposed to be and more intellectually entertaining.

Whereas the humor in the earlier novels tended to revolve around slapstick gags, obvious subversions of genre tropes, and puns, it gradually gravitated towards an amusing form of social commentary wherein he addressed everything from Hollywood film-making, women in the military, and the theory of fiat currency to the precarious nature of technology investment.

While his conventional and fundamentally decent form of humanism has always been the foundation of his commentary, (usually shown from the perspective of his most fully developed character, Sam Vimes), he has seldom permitted it to override either the plot of the story or the ojbective of entertaining the reader.

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Soporific Plasmaphages and the Guide to Genre

Sunday, October 16th, 2011 | Posted by Theo

deaduntildarkAfter reading the entire Southern Vampire series and watching an episode of The Vampire Diaries, I have reached the conclusion that John O’Neill is entirely correct to cast a deeply skeptical eye upon the entire genre of the vampire story. As strange as it may seem to assert this, it appears that vampires simply aren’t very interesting in and of themselves. They appear to exist primarily as a means of expanding the appeal of the traditional romance novel to audiences that would find themselves embarrassed to be reading a traditional bodice-ripper or watching a soap opera.

For example, if one considers the structure of the Charlaine Harris novels and compares them to other urban fantasies, it becomes readily apparent that this genre is little more than a hybrid of the traditional romance novel with the mystery novel, colored by a dash of fantasy that is exotic only to young readers and older readers coming from the romance and mystery markets. This also explains why the novels hold relatively little appeal to traditional SF/F readers and their irritation at the otherwise reasonable classification of urban fantasy in the fantasy genre.

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Find Yourself Stupefied

Sunday, October 9th, 2011 | Posted by Theo

stupefyingThe Original Cyberpunk, also known as the Philip K. Dick Award-winning writer Bruce Bethke, this weekend announced the release of the inaugural title in his new ebook-only original anthology series, Stupefying Stories. The October issue consists of 459KB featuring all-new tales of the frightening, fantastic, and funny by Vox Day, Anatoly Belilovsky, Caileigh Marshall, Daniel Eness, Ryan M. Jones, Chris Baily Pearce, Allan Davis Jr., and others. Despite being one of the contributors myself, I thought the strongest piece was the one that inspired the cover image, “The Window” by David Yener Goodman. “The Window” is succinct as well as being heartbreakingly heroic in the most dreadful manner. My own contribution, “The Deported”, is a tribute to the late, great master of the short form, Guy de Maupassant, but although my story more closely followed the form and style of Maupassant’s short fiction, Goodman’s comes closer to achieving Maupassant’s inimitable effect.

Fair warning to Black Gate readers, however. While the overall content is strong, the story I liked least served to fully confirm the Black Gate ban on vampires. Fortunately, this weak link is overshadowed by the despairing “Return to Earth” by Ryan M. Jones and the mordantly cynical “Revival” by Daniel Eness. And faint, but distinguishable echoes of Edgar Allen Poe can be detected in Allen Davis Jr.’s “Quill”.

Stupefying Stories 1.1 is available from Amazon for Kindle and Barnes & Noble for Nook for $1.99.

Review: The Desert of Souls by Howard Andrew Jones

Sunday, October 2nd, 2011 | Posted by Theo

the-desert-of-soulsOne of the legitimate complaints about SF/F literature these days is that in the authors’ fervent, self-conscious attempts to Make A Point, Preach To The Choir, or Demonstrate Literary Talent, basic story-telling elements such as plot, characters, and sheer enjoyment tend to be swept out the window. Long gone are the days of the little novel of 65k words, which didn’t attempt to Lecture, Educate, Browbeat, or even Impress us, but was content to merely provide the reader with a pleasurable few hours visiting faraway places and magical lands.

The magic of Howard A. Jones’s The Desert of Souls is its admirable lack of literary ambition and its unfashionable focus on simply telling an entertaining tale of two remarkable and very different heroes who refuse to shirk their duty in the face of either evil or danger.

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Review: Kobo eReader Touch

Sunday, September 25th, 2011 | Posted by Theo

koboThis may be going a bit far afield, but since most Black Gate readers are, well, readers, I suspect it will be of interest to many here.

While I am a big advocate of eReaders and digital books, I have avoided eReading devices in the past because they haven’t offered any significant upgrade over reading on my smartphone, at least not without imposing significant costs.

I started with reading .pdb books on various Palm Treos, then enjoyed a significant graphical upgrade to reading .epub books on an Android phone. This works quite well and I still do the vast majority of my reading that way since whether I am out and about or at home, my phone is always handy.

And, since it emits light, it permits reading in the dark, which is an advantage for anyone who customarily goes to sleep later than the bed’s other occupant.

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An Alternative Market

Sunday, September 18th, 2011 | Posted by Theo

stupefyingSince the estimable editors at Black Gate have managed to attract such a crowd of high-quality submissions that the soonest a newly submitted story can reasonably expect to be published is sometime around Issue 47 in the year 2026, I thought it might be of interest to the various writers who follow this blog to know about an alternative that pays less and is presently less prestigious, but has a more pressing need for publishable material. I should mention that I have no connection with the publication except for the appearance of one of my short stories in the second issue. Here is the publisher’s statement:

The original vision for Stupefying Stories was that we were going to put together a series of quarterly, print-oriented, “theme” anthologies, and then, in about a year’s time, when we felt we had all the bugs worked out of our processes, we were hoping to be in position to cut over to doing a monthly e-book only magazine. We’ve since had cause to reevaluate our plans, and have concluded there’s nothing to be gained by waiting.

Therefore, effective immediately, Stupefying Stories is going to a monthly release schedule, switching to a direct-to-ebook only format, dropping the concept of “theme” anthologies, and dropping all plans to do a print version. Also effective immediately (and retroactively, for our original contributors—thank you!), we are raising our base word rate to 1-cent/word. I would much rather put the money into the people who write the words than the dead trees upon which those words are printed.

Obviously, this change in plans also means we’re going to be publishing lots more original content, and we’re going to need to be seeing new submissions sooner rather than later. So again, effective immediately, we are open to reading new submissions

If you’re interested, you can find the submission details for Stupefying Stories at the Original Cyberpunk’s place.

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