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The Truth… Now and Then

Frrom time to time the members of Novelocity like to take a step back from their regular posts here and invite a guest to step up to the podium instead. And in that tradition allow me to introduce Charles Gannon, Distinguished Professor of English, Fulbright scholar, and three time nominee for the Nebula Award for Best Novel. Speaking of novels, his latest, Caine’s Mutiny, came out yesterday.

Chuck agreed to come by and share a few words, an essay he’s chosen to call “The Truth… Now and Then.” He’s a smart guy and reading his ideas will change the way you think.


Just this past week, I wrapped up a government think-tank consulting gig. In the course of it, I encountered a lot of what is often called “straight-line” futurism, in which, aside from one or two political, cultural, or technological changes, all else proceeds forward along the vectors established by best-practice projections based on current capabilities, funding, and policies. So during what was billed as a “deep future” perspective (thirty or more years into the future), I was encountering scenarios which projected an essentially unchanged North Korea, unchanged Crimea crisis, unchanged assumptions about basic family and relationship dynamics.

Now, such a future is by no means impossible, but is it likely? Let’s take North Korea: for a (comparatively) small state with a leader whose physical and mental health remain objects of ceaseless scrutiny and dubiety, the greater likelihood is that, between now and, say, 2045, that nation’s political and cultural realities will be markedly different. And yet, that scenario was (by some, uncritically) put forward as legitimate, even likely.

As the real futurists in the room steered discussion toward a less narrow concept of “change,” I found myself reflecting that among us SF (and more broadly, speculative fiction) writers, this kind of “time is frozen” reflex is not unknown. Which is somewhat surprising, considering that exploring change is one of the most important and energizing elements of our genre—even if it does always put us on the horns of various world-building dilemmas.

Partly, this is because we speculative fiction authors live in a tricky grey zone between the “real” and the “unreal.” Many of the doyens of belles lettres still dismiss us as unworthy of serious consideration since we site our tales in worlds that only exist someplace beyond the boundaries of current events or physics. And yet, our field often invokes far more realistic character portrayals than what one may find in many of the more “realistic” genres—even in the realm of belles lettres.

This points to the vexing and multifaceted problem of “exploring the real” that inhabits all fiction, but puts a particularly challenging matrix of choices before those of us who toil in the mines of speculative fiction. In historical or contemporary fiction, authors grapple with choices such as: should one shape the unfolding plot to sustain a dramatic pace, or reduce the dramatic pace to conform to a more believable unfolding of events? Should one craft dialog for reader accessibility or for faithfulness to the spoken form of our language? How much should we be guided by what is plausible when, daily, fact routinely proves itself to be stranger than fiction?

But we in speculative fiction have all these choices to resolve, plus others such as: near future, far future, or otherwhen? Stay with or set aside the rules of physics—and which ones, and why? Invent and reflect changes in language and culture honestly, or mute these so that readers may remain adequately oriented within the narrative? These choices hardly scratch the surface of the many we confront when we choose a world we wish to present, and how we wish to present it.

As if that wasn’t a thorny enough set of choices, we must then contend how pulling on one of these narrative threads often exerts strong traction upon another. And, inasmuch as I was thinking about political and cultural change this past week, that is what struck me about much of speculative fiction—particularly that which sites itself in relationship (either by theme or chronology) to our contemporary moment.

Specifically, let us presume that I am writing a science fiction novel which explores the future as a projection (rather than a prediction: a perilously Quixotic undertaking). In such a narrative, the relationship between the passage of time and change—technological, political, cultural—becomes a crucial part of its believability, and even verisimilitude. One could choose to craft a future which privileges or dictates certain outcomes, but that a priori intentionality steers away from the open-ended cause-effect matrices that drive futurist explorations. Where the end-state is determined first, teleology, not projection, is the narrative’s organizing principle.

However, that teleological choice—whether made in the process of crafting a future world or a wholly alternative reality—is the very life-blood of novels that are motivated by allegory or advocacy. Their mission is ultimately to make a point, including the crafting of utopias toward which we should strive and dystopias from which we should recoil. Conversely, a futurist narrative is fundamentally one of discovery, a thought experiment that would be ruined by having a predetermined end-state. (The case of hybrid works is so inherently tangled by caveats and limiting statements that I must leave it untouched for now.)

Enough generalities: time for some specifics. I will use my own Caine Riordan series, (the next novel of which is released this week) to illustrate how these two (usually) distinct objectives inform and can ultimately complicate each other. In Caine’s future, (set one hundred years from now), I project that the racial and gender issues of this day are largely resolved. However, other social stigmatizations have arisen.

This projection is not arbitrary. In fact, to project otherwise would be to assume that the current trend toward demarginalization of these demographic signifiers ultimately loses steam or is reversed.

Is this unwarrantedly optimistic? I think not. Rather, I think it is the alterative view—that we will be facing the same, largely unaltered challenges—that is the harder projection to legitimate. In order for today’s social conditions to be essentially unchanged a century from now, we must project—and convincingly explain why—our century-long trend toward swiftly increasing social equity and liberality would profoundly stagnate or cease.

And of course, if in 100 years we have not progressed beyond our current bigotries and identity issues, that story would certainly demand to be told, since it envisions a dramatic reversal of our current trajectories of increasing social equity and conscientiousness. That would necessarily imply a correspondingly extensive failure in the pluralistic focus on individual rights that is not only our national hallmark, but the very foundation of Post-Enlightenment Western social evolution.

However, since I didn’t consider that the most likely outcome, the logical question might be: so then how did our current quandaries of identity politics—from the juridical to colloquial—transform or vanish?

My narrative answer grew out of the observation that as we move forward, new social crises overtake those that came before (albeit at different rates and to different degrees). In this case of Caine Riordan’s future, it was simply a function of time and demographic change; it became increasingly anachronistic and perverse to presume superiority based on identity, simply because there ceased to be any evidence for it in he workplace or domestic space. Reflecting this, new gender-neutral pronouns evolved organically (“sib/s” and “allgen”) and there is now an easy lack of presumption regarding any new acquaintance’s ethnic, cultural, sexual, or gender self-identification. On the other hand, when misperceptions or miscommunications occur, this does not create a supercharged emotional situation: mistakes no longer represent the projected power of “dominant culture’s” presumed and preferred identity formulations.

However, in many places, bigotry has now erupted over the use of cyborg implants—a prejudice, which, once again, has significant socio-economic correlations. The thumbnail sketch: genescreening has been the tool of choice for individual optimization in the wealthier nations of the world. The infrastructure necessary to shift to what is essentially an IVF process for every pregnancy was an expensive investment, with various stages of inequity to navigate before availability became nearly universal.

However, poorer communities, and particularly poorer nations, never had the wherewithal to mount analogous initiatives. So, in the rush to compete with genetically “optimized” individuals, they resort to often dangerous (and often extortion-funded) implants. Because these “cyborging short-cuts” also were responsible for a wave of disasters and dislocations during the EMPidemic of the 2080s (although most of the problems arose from hacking, rather than electro-magnetic pulses), they are now considered a hazardous alternative. Their users are presumed to be deceptive, irresponsible, unreliable, more likely to be associated with black market/criminal elements, and possessed of lower innate abilities, etc. If that sounds like a list of traits that have long been used to “validate” bigotry —well, as the axiom has it, the more things change, the more they stay the same. And this is indeed an illustration of how changes and constants weave together in a social tapestry: although the cause and identifiers of that future’s underclass have altered, the basic dynamics of prejudice and Othering persist.

Of course, advocacy novels can and have ported current issues directly into a future setting. This tends to be more easily and reasonably achieved in fantasies/allegories, where the author has absolute freedom to site contemporary quandaries or crises in a wholly fabricated environment, unconstrained by that scenario’s historical connection to our own world. If, on the other hand, the author wished to find a way to fuse a science fictional narrative with such a contemporary consideration, the projective challenge would be to present an (explicit or implicit) explanation for why today’s problems remain the problems in that future time (the shade of this hybridized approach inhabits Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, I think). Specifically, the logical unspoken challenge which we must anticipate is, “why has the problem in question experienced no fundamental change?” And furthermore, how do we reconcile that with the lesson of the last two centuries: that change—social as well as technological—is increasing in both its pace and profundity?

Nowhere do we see this contrast more clearly, I feel, than when a narrative world apparently returns us to the past. Specifically, I think of Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” alongside The Handmaid’s Tale. Gilman’s tale no longer depicts a plight that must be feared by all American women at this very moment, although its harrowing scenario is hardly unknown in the U.S. So while its warning is still pertinent, its particulars are increasingly historical rather than contemporary. But Atwood, by projecting and depicting a profound spasm of cultural recidivism, illustrates that the triumph of equity is always subject to reversal and defeat, can always swing back—and in so doing, may present a future more dire than the past.

Yet the narrative challenge remains this: Gilman’s story, whatever else it may be, cannot be our future, since those days to come are, in part, a reaction to and produce of our response to Gilman’s past. And so, the challenge which Atwood shoulders and meets is to avoid simply porting past or present cultural crises uncritically into the future. Rather, successful dystopias that are also rooted in contemporary issues do not merely portray what we most hope or fear, but why and how such a scenario could come to pass. The one thing we cannot do—not without violating the axiomatic presumption that time brings change—is to simply move today’s cultural goalposts into some future world.

As professor, panelist, and parent, I have often used a Korean aphorism to invoke the determinative nature of personal perspective: “we see from where we sit.” Now, looking back at these ruminations, I am struck by a corollary: that “we see from when we sit”—whether we are attempting to understand past narratives in the context of their creators’ epochs, or endeavoring to be maximally conscientious in our attempt to project the changes that might be before us.


And that, my friends, is Chuck Gannon, sharing some thoughts that will seep into your brain and cause you to wake up in the middle of the night days later with deep and profound insights (at least, that’s what happens to me when I read him).

It’s also worth noting that he’s the Guest of Honor at AlbaCon the last weekend in March (full disclosure, I’ll be there too as “RoastMaster”). I hope you can make it.


Lawrence M. SchoenLawrence M. Schoen holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology; has been nominated for the Campbell, Hugo, Nebula, and WSFS awards; recently won the Cóyotl award for Best Novel of 2015; is a world authority on the Klingon language; operates the small press Paper Golem; and is a practicing hypnotherapist specializing in authors’ issues.

His previous science fiction includes many light and humorous adventures of a space-faring stage hypnotist and his alien animal companion. His most recent book, Barsk, takes a very different tone, exploring issues of intolerance, friendship, conspiracy, and loyalty, and redefines the continua between life and death. He lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with his wife and their dog.

You can follow him at his website at LawrenceMSchoen.com and on Twitter at @klingonguy, or you can even subscribe to his quarterly Newsletter.

Vectors: What fantasy creature would you like most as a pet?

Our question for the Novelociraptors this week? What fantasy creature would you like most as a pet?

Leslie Williams

profile-photo-lesleywilliams-96x96Our first guest, Leslie Williams, when thwarted in her original career goal of hustling at Jeopardy tournaments, decided to cash it all in for the high stakes, rollercoaster world of library science. She spends most of her time at the Evanston Public Library soothing terrified 7th graders whose laptops died the night before their final research papers were due, and vainly trying to convince them that encyclopedias existed prior to Wikipedia. Mild mannered, power shusher by day, Lesley dabbles in the dark art of musical theatre as a member of her synagogue’s Purim Players, where she has essayed major roles in such unforgettable productions as West Side Tsuris, Bally Chai, and Camelplotz. She lives in Evanston, Illinois, where she was voted Most Likely to Blow a Gasket Over Inadequate Source Citation for three consecutive years

imagesSo here are my criteria for a supernatural pet: it should be friendly, enjoy humans (but not as snacks), offer some kind of bonus feature, (magical protection or splendiferous wealth are always good choices), and fit comfortably into a 2 bedroom suburban condo.

My gut reaction was, “Dragon!” No more carrying pepper spray or lumbering around in cumbersome body armor: ain’t nobody gonna mess with a dragon owner. Then there’s that gold hoarding feature, which would definitely come in handy if the beast could be persuaded to share. Or invest.

However, upon further reflection, (and remembering how I dread simple kitchen burns), it occurred to me that a dragon, even a teensy one with limited firepower, might be an overly incendiary choice. And ours is a non-smoking building.

I considered a buffalito, (from my good friend Lawrence Schoen’s “Buffalito Destiny” series.) Buffalitos are cute, cuddly little pups, very affectionate, and non-carnivorous. The only slight problem is that they will eat you out of house and home…literally. Having previously shared space with destructive alien life forms that consume 10 times their weight, (i.e. our teenage babysitter) the last thing I need is a pet that can happily chow down on the bathroom fixtures.

The babelfish has possibilities: think of the renumerative scam possibilities of understanding every known human language! Yet the companionate animal function is sadly lacking; one can hardly snuggle with a slimy creature residing in one’s ear canal. Delete.

No, the clear choice is a phoenix. They live for 500 years, strike fear into the hearts of the impure, (take THAT creepy delivery guy in my alley), are recyclable, and even though this does involve perennial self immolation, their healing tears would counteract any resultant 3rd degree injuries. And no litter box!

Matthew Johnson

Matthew Johnson headshotOur second guest is Canadian author Matthew Johnson. Matthew lives in Ottawa, Ontario with his wife and their two sons. His work has been published in places such as Asimov’s Science FictionThe Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and Strange Horizons, and has been included in several Year’s Best anthologies and translated into Danish, Russian and Czech. A collection of his short stories, Irregular Verbs and Other Stories, was published in June by ChiZine Publications. When he’s not writing or practicing full-contact parenting he works at MediaSmarts, Canada’s centre for digital and media literacy, where he writes lesson plans, articles and educational computer games, does public appearances and media interviews, and occasionally does pirate voices in both English and French. He blogs  at www.irregularverbs.ca and is on Twitter as @irregularverbal.

Hiero'sJourneyI’m tempted to say “tribbles,” but I’m pretty sure the bylaws where I live don’t allow more than five of them per household within city limits. Like any child of the ’80s, of course, I went through a period of wishing I could adopt Lockheed the dragon from X-Men, but since Lockheed was basically a flying cat who could breathe fire I’m not sure how he would get along with the two cats I already have.

In the end I think I have to pick Klootz the mutant moose from Sterling E. Lanier’s Hiero’s Journey and its sequel The Unforsaken Hiero. As well as being bigger and smarter than a present-day moose Klotz is telepathic, which makes him an ideal mount and companion for the titular hero as he has a variety of bizarre adventures in post-apocalyptic Canada. I owe this book a lot, having encountered it at a formative age; it was the first vaguely interesting book I had ever encountered that was set in my own country, for instance, and its gleeful, unapologetic cheesiness (one Goodreads commenter described it as “like a milkshake made out of Burt Reynolds’ chest hair and the skeleton of a Brontosaurus”) helped to give me the courage to embrace genre cliches in the hopes of making them my own.

Mostly, though, I’d like Klootz for a pet because I ride my bike to work. Ottawa’s a pretty bikeable city, but there are definitely parts of it where drivers need to be reminded to share the road: two tons of psychic warmoose might just do the trick.

Lawrence M. Schoen

WingedMonkeyThis was a tough question for me, particularly as I’ve committed nearly half a million words writing about buffalo dogs (aka buffalitos), alien creatures that resemble miniaturized versions of the American bison, but with the ability to consume virtually any matter and transform it all into flatulence of pure oxygen. But that’s be taking the easy way out.

My Klingon background pushes me in the direction of tribbles, the cooing, furry ovoids from Iota Geminorum IV that are born pregnant and make kudzu seem harmless, but again, no, that would be too simple.

I think I have to go with a winged monkey. You know, the blue-furred ones from THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ. Not only would one be a great companion animal, but it could fetch things for you (hey, monkey, I just called in a pizza; it’ll be ready in 30 minutes, go get it!), is presumably house-broken, and gets to wear a cute little hat (and vest too, if you go by the 1939 film). I have a sneaking suspicion that it would probably smell really bad, but that just means I’d have to build a monkey aerie on my roof. And oh, the fun we’d have terrorizing other neighborhood pets, as my winged monkey plunges from the sky and snatches them up (all in innocent play, of course).

Beth Cato

StarliteI have two clear favorites.

I was four when I became obsessed with the cartoon Rainbow Brite. For me, the allure wasn’t Rainbow herself or rainbows or the fumbling villainy of Murky and Lurky… it was her horse, Starlite. I already had a strong interest in horses and Starlite cemented that. My Little Pony never appealing to me as much–it was too cutesy. I wanted a real horse. A talking, magical real horse in particular. I collected Breyer horses. I read every horse book I could. If total strangers knew one fact about me, it was that I loved horses.

At about age eleven, I realized that my family was poor and I would never have a horse of my own. Even so, that love has never gone away. Earlier this year, I resumed riding lessons for the first time as an adult. My desire for magical horses still works into my writing, especially my poetry (see “Seeds” at Mythic Delirium and “What We Carry” at inkscrawl).

On a completely different note, I love Dragon Quest slimes.

Dragon Quest is a huge role-playing game franchise that started on 8-bit Nintendo. It paved the way for Final Fantasy and everything that’s come since. The games are still popular in Japan, though their marketing in the rest of the world has always been inconsistent. The most iconic character from the game is the blue slime. It’s the first monster you encounter in most every game. I adore slimes. There’s something glorious about those bright, smiling faces, even as you pummel them to death.

ReadingtoBigBlue_sm (1)For a number of years, I was a major importer of DQ goods–manga, doujinshi (fan-made comics), shitajiki (pencil boards), bandanas, figurines, etc, with slimes figuring most prominently. I still own over a hundred plush slimes, ranging in size from cell phone fobs to Big Blue the bean bag chair slime, as shown. Heck, I even have a slime Zippo lighter and a slime derby board game. Amongst my friends, I became known as the Queen of Slimes.

Give me a magical talking horse and an army of slime minions, and I’ll be happy

Steve Bein

imageI’m a dog person, so I’m going with a cave troll.

The one they pick on in Fellowship of the Ring is so misunderstood. He’s a perfectly nice guy—just a big dope who fell in with the wrong crowd, really. It’s clear that he doesn’t want to fight. They have to drag him in on a chain. I don’t know where he got the big hammer, but he probably just uses it to whack stuff. Kind of like throwing snowballs at trees or whatever. It’s just what you

It’s not his fault that a bunch of little pesky people shoot him with arrows. That would piss anyone off. You don’t let your kid yank a strange dog’s tail, and you don’t let your kid shoot trolls with arrows. It’s just common sense.

Trolls don’t shed. They’re not explicitly forbidden in any lease agreements or rental contracts. They’re loyal, they’re easily housebroken, and they’re smart enough that you can teach them tricks. What dog can throw the Frisbee back to you? And what dog can throw it 500 yards?

They do require a little bit of extra living space, but it’s worth the investment, considering the fact that a cave troll is the ultimate home security system.

The only real trouble is that you need an in-home darkroom, or else you need to board up your garage so tightly that no sunlight can get in. It would be awful to come home and find your pet has turned to stone.

Ken Liu

images (1)I’m going to have to go with Cassiopeia from Michael Ende’s Momo. Cassiopeia is a tortoise who can talk by displaying words on her shell and who can see thirty minutes into the future. A theme in Momo is that the time you “save” by working harder in the relentless pursuit of efficiency is actually time you lose to the Men in Grey, and Cassiopeia, moving slowly and steadily through life, has all the time in the world. She could teach me a lot.

Fran Wilde

tumblr_mtlkecW4U91sjro9ko1_500Stitch. “Is little and broken, but still good.”

Tina Connolly

6a00d8345169e469e201287611ee6d970cI was pretty thoroughly sold on Anne McCaffrey’s fire lizards growing up. Sure, the full-size dragons were mighty and magnificent and telepathic and all that jazz. But the fire lizards were darling, and Menolly had like 9 or 25 of them or something like that. All different colors, too.

So it’s probably no surprise that I wanted to write something with a tiny dragon in it. My next book, SILVERBLIND, has steamy, silver, forest-dwelling wyverns–and we meet several of their kitten-sized babies. Now unlike fire lizards, baby wyverns — woglets — don’t tend to go around imprinting on humans. So Dorie’s pretty shocked to find out she’s in charge of one. They’re cranky and hissy and they spit steam (baby steam, at first.) Worse, they yodel. They’re reportedly cousins to the legendary basilisks, and they can fascinate themselves a meal . . . but they don’t do anything useful like teleporting messages all over the countryside. Still, Dorie grows rather attached to her inconvenient woglet, and so did I.

Michael R. Underwood

Hiccup-Toothless-how-to-train-your-dragon-9626230-2000-850Do I have to stick with just one? I can’t have my own fantastic menagerie, with a Mabari hound from Dragon Age, a Gold Dragon mount from Dragonlance, and a Kaiju BFF?

If not, then I want a Night Fury as friendly and loyal as Toothless from How To Train Your Dragon. Smart, maneuverable, perfect size for a not-large human to ride, and capable of laying explosive waste to my enemies!

What’s not to like?

 

What fantasy creature would you like most as a pet?

Vectors: What’s your favorite literary food or meal?

Our question for the Novelociraptors this week? What’s your favorite literary food or meal?

Shallee McArthur

ESShallee20Edit_head_large2Our guest todayShallee McArthuroriginally wanted to be a scientist, until she discovered she liked her science best in fictional form. When she’s not writing young adult science fiction and fantasy, she’s attempting to raise her son and daughter as proper geeks. A little part of her heart is devoted to Africa after volunteering twice in Ghana. She has a degree in English from Brigham Young University and lives in Utah with her husband and two children. Her YA sci fi novel, THE UNHAPPENING OF GENESIS LEE, debuts from Sky Pony Press Nov. 4, 2014.

 

68428Food in literature fascinates me, partially because I took a mythology and culture class in college that focused a lot on the place food has in culture. One of my favorite foods in one of my favorite books are baywraps in the Mistborn books by Brandon Sanderson, because they’re so reflective of the culture. They’re a simple food made by the skaa (read: oppressed peasant/slave class). Basically, baywraps are barley and vegetables wrapped in flatbread.


Skaa are poor. They don’t have access to fancy or expensive food like meat. But barley, veggies, flatbread…these are cheap, easily accessible, and simple to put together. It’s easy to vary what goes in the baywrap based on what you have on hand. It’s something that can be eaten quickly or on the go, since skaa don’t spend an awful lot of time sitting around a table, eating and relaxing. I was so fascinated by how much of skaa culture was evident in a simple food, that it became one of my favorite examples of literary food! And, if you happened to be interested in trying one, there’s a fab recipe right here!

Fran Wilde

ancillary-justiceThis is a really hard question for me to answer because I talk to other authors about food in fiction a lot with Cooking the Books. (Including Novelocity members Mike and Kathleen, and more to come.) — and it’s hard to pick a favorite.

My favorite literary food varies by season and mood — right now, I love the teas in Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice and the savory foods from Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards series. Other times, fun fictional food is what I want: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice and Wonderland, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Lawrence M. Schoen

RoaldDahl-CatCFLike Fran, I’m always asking writers to tell me about their most memorable meals in my weekly blog Eating Authors. That, and for more than a decade I’ve been writing short and long fiction with a protagonist who’s a gourmand, as an excuse to conjure up alien banquets and interstellar food trucks. And it probably doesn’t hurt that my wife used to be a chef.

But because I’m so late to the (dinner) table, I’ll keep it short and simple. I’ll go with the three course meal gum that still needs a bit of work before going to market from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Sure, Dahl’s a bit heavy-handed with the moralism, and poor Violet Beauregarde has to be rolled offstage and be “de-juiced,” none of that dampened the science fictional allure of the gum for me. It was just a step away from the promised food pills of the future. Hmm… and that glass elevator does have some resemblance to a flying car in the end…

Tina Connolly

marypoppinsWell, Butter Pies from Diana Wynne Jones’ A Tale of Time City. But I already raved those simultaneously hot/cold ice creamy treats in another post. Turkish Delight in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (which turned out to be depressingly not that great when I had it in real life.)  Beth’s post reminds me of all the good food in the Little House books, particularly in Farmer Boy, where a good deal of Almanzo’s thoughts center on what he gets to eat (bird’s nest pudding with cream, and stacked pancakes, and fried doughnuts. . . .) There’s a bunch of delightful-sounding things in the Mary Poppins books, too, including Gingerbread Stars (not to mention Mrs. Corry breaking off some barley-sugar fingers for Jane and Michael!) Really, children’s books often have the best food. . . . 

M.K. Hutchins

7996Talking about fiction and food inevitably leads me to the Redwall series, by Brian Jacques. These books are a gateway into epic fantasy. Big, fatty volumes with lots of adventure. And also lots of feasts. Redwall books always make me salivate, whether they’re describing homey bread or deeper ‘n ever pie. There is more than one website dedicated to recreating Redwall food, but the one I know best is The Redwall Kitchen. It’s been around for fifteen years.

I didn’t know it when I picked them up, but these stories were originally written for children attending the Royal Wavertree School of the Blind. Jacques certainly crafted books rich in senses other than sight. I read and reread these books in middle school, especially. I love that someone had created books that didn’t talk down to me — that swept me up into a long, ripping yarn of a tale. Sometimes childhood favorites don’t hold up to the test of time, but I recently reread The Long Patrol and was pleasantly surprised to find Redwall the same magical, delicious-smelling place that I remembered.

Beth Cato

imagesFor me, the most memorable food isn’t from a specific book but from a genre. Starting at about age 8, I discovered Laura Ingalls Wilder and from there I read into historical fiction on the pioneer west, the Oregon Trail, and the Civil War. There are period details across those books that, when I started to write (and never finish) my own epic fantasy efforts at age 12, I consciously utilized. It was kind of a light bulb moment for me, that realization that, “Hey, these historical fiction books I read are totally different, but I this makes perfect sense to use in this medieval world of my own creation.” My characters traveled with dry meat, corn pone, and hard tack, and if they stayed put long enough they could fix some camp beans, They worried about the purity of water in a spring. Even if they were kids, they could set simple snares and cook over a campfire.

It’s funny to think of how that base knowledge has carried over to The Clockwork Dagger. My main character, Octavia, is a farm girl, but she can set snares, tuck away rolls and hard cheese, and use enchantments to make sure the water is safe. Camp beans are still on the menu–plus, now I have a nonfiction book on the Civil War medicine and camp life to provide specific direction on how it was done. The food isn’t gourmet by any means, but when people are trying to kill you and your stomach is near empty, most any meal tastes divine.

What’s your favorite literary food or meal?

Vectors: What book would you hand someone to get them hooked on SF/F?

Our question this week: What book would you hand someone to get them hooked on SF/F?

Dale Ivan Smith

Our first guest poster this week is Dale Ivan Smith. Dale got into trouble in grade school for sneaking off to the library during class, and later earned a degree in history, so naturally he became a librarian, and has worked for Multnomah County Library in Portland, Oregon since 1987. He’s had stories published at Every Day Fiction and 10Flash Quarter, a story at Amazon.com, and collaboration with K.C. Ball forthcoming in Perihelion Science Fiction. He is currently revising his weird western, The Hardscrabble. You can find him at daleivansmith.com and on Twitter @daleivan.

Photos from the World Fantasy Convention 2011 in San Diego, CA What’s a good book to introduce an adult reader new to science fiction or fantasy? It can be a challenging question, since many beloved works, and many award winners, may not be the best starting place for someone unfamiliar with the conventions and tropes of either genre, especially science fiction, and require previous reading in the genre. So I suggest novels that are accessible to a newcomer, works with a strong, distinctive voice, vivid characters and characterization, and engaging dialogue to hook the reader.

DoomsdayBook(1stEd)For Science Fiction, Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book is a fine introduction to the genre. A young historian is sent from the late 21st century to the mid-14th century, during the Black Death, rather than twenty years or so after the plague, as originally intended, while her colleagues in the future struggle to save her. Willis creates engaging characters and puts them in compelling situations. She’s also a master of dialogue, and of all her novels, this one packs the biggest emotional punch. Octavia Butler’s Kindred, another time travel novel, is also a great place to start, with its quietly powerful writing and emotion. Robert Sawyer’s Calculating God is a big idea novel, dealing with humanity’s encounter with an alien star faring species that believes in God, and what that means for human belief and culture. Sawyer’s writing is very accessible, and the book is a brisk read.

For fantasy, start with Patrick Rothfuss’s Name of the Wind. An engaging 1st person account of how Kvothe become a wizard, his trials, travails and loves. Rothfuss created a compelling character with a powerful voice that grabs the reader as soon as he begins telling his story. For readers coming from the mystery genre Jim Butcher Storm Front, the first of the Dresden Files series, is an excellent choice, featuring a wizard who is a private investigator in modern day Chicago, told in the noir style. Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey set in a Regency era world with magic, wonderfully told in the mode of Jane Austen, is a book I recommend to new readers who come from an historical or romance reading background.

 

 

Marta Murvosh

Our second guest this week, Marta Murvosh is a teen librarian, writer and reader living in the Pacific Northwest. She likes her SF/F with a hefty dose of mystery and her apocalypses to read like space operas. She grew up on cheesy monster flicks. You can follow her at Facebook and she commits occasional blog at Pulp & Pixels.

 

424720_111701452290179_1040904994_n

As a librarian, the last thing I want is a reader to glance at a cover illustration and scream, “I said: No spaceships!” before sprinting away like a wide-eyed, wild-haired horror trope.

To match a reader to a book, I ask: Tell me about a book you’ve enjoyed recently? The responses help me determine a reader’s taste in characters, plot, setting and writing style. I also gauge a reader’s comfort level with tragic or unresolved endings because not everyone enjoys a Ned Stark.

I then suggest titles that a reader may connect with. Here’s some possibilities:

Thrilled for a thriller? William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition, Joel Shepherd’s Crossover, Mira Grant’s Feed and N.K. Jemisin’s The Killing Moon will take you to the edge of your seat.

Thieftaker300Hysterical for historical fiction? Go back in time with D.B. Jackson’s Thieftaker or Jeri Westerson’s Veil Of Lies.

Lover of literature? Read Alma Alexander’s The Secrets of Jin-shei, Haruki Murakami’s After Dark, Kij Johnson’s At the Mouth of the River of Bees or Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life and Others.

Hankering for a hardboiled mystery? Find sleuths in Lilith Saintcrow’s Hunter’s Prayer, Ben Aaronovitch’s Midnight Riot and Warren Hammond’s KOP.

Like a little love? Crush on Ilona Andrews’ On The Edge, Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey or Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s Scout’s Progress.

Only nonfiction? Just the facts with Julie Phillips’ James Tiptree, Jr., The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon or Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars.

E.C. Ambrose

Well, I have to start with the individual–finding out what kind of books they usually read. I often loan out copies of Connie Willis’s short stories (funny! and short, so usually an easy sell). I am also a long-time Ray Bradbury fan, and his work tends to be very accessible.

4e0a810ae7a043f7c00c9110.LFor the literati? Gene Wolfe short stories. They tend to be edgy, odd, off-balance in a way the literary folks respond to–he’s practically one of them–and yet. . .not. I also recommend Mary Doria Russell to a lot of book groups. Either The Sparrow (possibly still my favorite novel) or Doc, which is technically historical fiction, not SF/F, but I hope it will lead them to other of her works.

For the younger crowd, the librarians, and the reluctant readers, Brandon Sanderson’s Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians. This book is funny, easy to read, blasts a lot of genre tropes, and the whole idea of “evil librarians” tends to appeal to kids and folks who don’t read much.

My real problem comes from people who hear what I write and say, “Oh, I can’t *read* fantasy.” Fantasy has a reputation for long, complicated, unpronounceable names, often used in combination: Sir Gobbledygook of Whudideesay. Stuff like that can put off the average reader of mimetic fiction, so I reach for something with a more familiar basis, like The Child Queen by Nancy McKenzie, which is based on the Arthurian cycle. Half the job is often accomplished by simply describing some of the range of fantasy–that it’s not all elves and dragons, or obscure political struggles you have to keep track of for thousands of pages.

In such conversations, I often find myself quoting C. S. Lewis’s observation that the child who reads about enchanted forests does not despise real forests–rather, to that child, all forests become enchanted.

Ken Liu

It’s interesting to me that I find this question so hard to answer. To me, SF/F is not one thing, but many things that somehow got squeezed into one label that isn’t very descriptive or useful. (I’ve always had trouble with genre labels.)

Hartwell- Year's Best SFI got interested in SF/F from reading short fiction, not novels. I bought Hartwell’s Year’s Best anthology every year because of the variety of stories within. I didn’t like every story I read, but I liked enough of them that I knew there would be plenty of things under this “SF/F” label that I’d enjoy.

So I still think short fiction anthologies may be the best way to introduce someone to the field. With short stories, the time commitment for each world isn’t as large, and you get exposed to many more styles and ideas and approaches within the time it takes to read a novel. The various Year’s Best collections are a good bet.

Lawrence M. Schoen

Another brutal vector topic! This is worse than the “pick five books for your deserted island” notion because the one book I hand over has to contain something to appeal to a wide range of readers. It has to start with great writing, possess writing with an unquestionable command of both plot and character, and have enough variety to satisfy.

RogerZelazny-TDoHFtLoHMThe obvious answer is of course to look backward and offer up The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth, the short story collection by one of my favorite authors, Roger Zelazny.

Originally published more than forty years ago, it contains the Hugo-winning title novelette, as well as such staggeringly compelling and heart-wrenching stories as “A Rose for Ecclesiastes,” “The Keys to December,” and “The Man Who Loved the Faioli,” as well as lighter fare such as “The Great Slow Kings,” and “Museum Piece,” and much more as well.

This is vintage stuff to be sure, but it flows with a lyrical ease that contemporary authors would do well to equal. There’s a humanity to Zelazny’s short fiction that speaks to readers, and I think it’s a great way to hook someone on our genre. And speaking of hooks, that opening story is the best fish tale since Melville.

Beth Cato

What I would recommend would depend greatly on the person. I think of someone like my mom, who likes some genre works, but doesn’t want anything dark, gruesome or profane. She wouldn’t make it through a page of Chuck Wendig. I’ve let her borrow my copies of Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series and she found them enjoyable; she does love that British-style of dry wit.

HungerGamesI bought my niece Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy and they introduced her to YA books in a major way. (Fun fact: these books hooked my niece, who was 11 at the time, but I know my mom won’t read them because they are way too intense.)

My husband isn’t much of a reader. As he says, “Book are dangerous.” When he does get into a book, he binge reads the series, if it’s available. He’s read my book, but otherwise the two series I hooked him on were Harry Potter and Hunger Games. There’s something universal about books intended for that age group–that time when many of us still hoped for magic.

Tina Connolly

For someone who loves to read but tends more to the literary side of things, I would hand them Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin or Jo Walton’s Among Others. I’ve handed Tam Lin to a couple friends of mine with English Lit degrees and said here: this is really about how awesome it is to go to a small Liberal Arts college and study English Lit. (Among Others is really about how awesome it is to read SF, so a little more specialized.) Love both books to pieces.

For someone who enjoys pop culture SF but is less of a reader, I’ve handed out Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One and John Scalzi’s Redshirts (the first for the 80’s gaming/pop culture fan, and the second for the Star Trek fan, obviously.)

9780763636791And for someone who’s more into politics and social issues, I’ve handed out M. T. Anderson’s The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing (which really is an astonishingly good book – as soon as I read it I promptly bought 3 more copies to give away), and Cory Doctorow. I’ve previously recommended Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (Disneyland! Whuffie!), but For the Win and Little Brother (both of which are still in my TBR pile) look like excellent choices as well.

Steve Bein

I’m with Beth and E.C.: I think the answer to this question depends on who I’m shopping for. (This is one of the few questions in life to which shopping is the answer, and I’m a big believer in giving books as gifts.) I’m also with Ken; for lots of readers, short story anthologies are perfect entry points. They allow you to skip around without guilt. I’d tell a newcomer to the genre not to try to like everything in the anthology; try every story, and give up on any of them that cannot hold your interest. (That’s how I read SF/F magazines myself. I skip many more stories than I read, but I only read good fiction.)

But these are cop-out answers so far, since I’m just stealing them, so let me try to sink my teeth into this question.

I think the first thing I want to know is, why does this person not read SF/F already? Is it that they won’t read it or they just haven’t read it?

imageIf they poopoo genre fiction on principle, I’ll give them Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell or Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife. If they prefer nonfiction to fiction, I’ll start them off with Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy.

If they just haven’t gotten around to SF/F, then I lead with the one-two punch of Dune and The Lord of the Rings. If they’re young, it’s Tolkien again (The Hobbit this time), and also a conversation about superheroes so I know which comics to get them started on. This year I’d default to Batman: A Celebration of 75 Years, which includes a lot of the stories I grew up on.

Since I opened with a cop-out answer, I’ll close with one too: NPR and SF Signal have thoughtfully provided 100 answers for this question. I don’t agree with all their answers, and there are some books on this list I wouldn’t recommend to anyone (except perhaps as kindling), but that said, I think this flowchart is a bit of genre reading I’d recommend for any SF/F reader, not just first-timers.

Vectors: What has been your favorite book of the year so far? (Part 2)

Our question of the week is: What has been your favorite book of the year so far?

Our second guest this week:

Sofia Samatar

samatarphotoSofia Samatar is the author of the novel A Stranger in Olondria, winner of the 2014 Crawford Award, as well as several short stories, poems, and reviews. Her work has been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, Campbell, Locus, and British Science Fiction Association Awards. She is a co-editor for Interfictions: A Journal of Interstitial Arts, and teaches literature and writing at California State University Channel Islands.

SamuelRDelany-ToNMy favorite book of 2014 was published in 1979: Tales of Nevèrÿon by Samuel R. Delany. Somehow, although I’d read several SF novels by Delany, I’d never read this intricate and intoxicating fantasy. If you’re one of the people who never told me about it—I’m mad at you.

If you haven’t read it, let me tell you about it, so you don’t get mad at me! Tales of Nevèrÿon, the first book in the Return to Nevèrÿon series (followed by Neveryóna, Flight from Nevèrÿon, and Return to Nevèrÿon), consists of five linked stories and an appendix (and, in the recent edition, an introduction). Set in the distant past, in a world that echoes Africa and Asia, these tales explore the power of politics, sex, and narrative, and they do it through court intrigue, slave revolts, and the schemes of masked assassins. It’s like if someone showed up at a conference on Freud carrying an actual sword.

I love everything about this book. I love Gorgik, the huge, scarred former slave who understands his society from the ground up. I love his relationship with his lover Sarg, and the way their erotic life involves both intense tenderness and the collar of the slave. I love masked Raven, and the creation myth she tells: it’s like reading the Book of Genesis in a magic mirror. I love the humor, the sheer intellectual joy, of the metafictional introduction and appendix. I love that I have to remember the accents every time I type “Nevèrÿon.”

Obviously, the next book in the series is now on my list. My list is long. If it takes me a while to get around to it, Neveryóna may be my favorite book of 2015.

Tex Thompson

semvThis is definitely outside my usual wheelhouse, but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy. Maybe it’s because I don’t read a lot of contemporary YA and therefore don’t notice its tropes, but I suspect it’s just because she’s a hellaciously good writer. (Certainly I envy her skill in juggling dual-PoV from both “past” and “present” points in the story.)

Regardless, while I know this isn’t the only “kids with cancer” YA out there, Alice is easily the frankest, angriest, least-apologetic heroine I’ve read in a long time – and I suspect I’ll be able to relish that long after we’ve all been inundated by angelic Gap models with nose tubes. I am eagerly awaiting Chub, regardless!

Lawrence M. Schoen

threepartsdeadIn other years, this question would have been tough, but based on the preceding six months it’s a no-brainer. Allow me to sell you on Three Parts Dead, the first volume in Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence. It has everything: a city’s dead god, necromantic practitioners who have been hired to revive him, a chain-smoking priest who’s having a crisis of faith, living gargoyles with a grudge, a sea-going vampire picky about who he feeds on, and seemingly random citizens who can be called upon to become the faceless collective of the city’s justice. If you like plots and subplots and subsubplots, this book is for you. If you like brilliant characters who experience their world and grow and change, this book is for you. And if you like worldbuilding with style and detail that yields up something fresh and compelling and breathtaking, well, see my earlier statement.

Best of all, this is just the first book in the series. Book two was published last year, book three is coming out soon, and Max has already publicly implied that there’s more after that. Forget your trilogies, this is a sequence, and it’s awesome.

Fran Wilde

21stC-SF-thumb-250x382-431My favorite books so far this year have been the 21st Century Science Fiction Anthology edited by David Hartwell and Patrick Neilsen Hayden. I love short fiction, and this collection has such a great range. I’m looking forward to re-reading. The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison (which Mike discussed), Elizabeth Bear’s Steles of the Sky – the wrap-up of her Eternal Sky trilogy, and Jo Walton’s All My Real Children are also among the favorites.

Steve Bein

untitledI’ve been enjoying The Time Traveller’s Almanac, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer. It is billed as “the ultimate treasury of time travel fiction,” and I have to say it really does earn that title.

(Full disclosure: I have a short story in there. That’s not why I’m recommending the book. Skip my story if you want; this anthology is still required reading for any sci-fi fan.)

You might be tempted to think that since it’s 1,000 pages on one topic, it would get monotonous. Not so. It’s not just the range of stories that’s diverse; the range of approaches to time travel itself is far broader than I imagined it could be. There are the obvious poles: “it just works, don’t think about it” (represented best in this volume by Douglas Adams) and “here’s a model that is not physically impossible” (represented scientifically by Stan Love and fictionally by Geoffrey Landis). But those are only poles; there are many other possible approaches, and this book explores all of them.

For me personally, time travel stories are some of the most philosophically profound in all of speculative fiction. There are the metaphysical problems (all your standard cause and effect stuff), but what interests me most are the ethical problems (ought implies can, so if time travel changes what you can do, it changes what you ought to do too). Maybe most interesting to you will be the love stories, which are surprisingly common: people trying to find each other in time, people going back in time to fix failed relationships, etc. (Many of these are ethically provocative to me; the question I keep coming back to is, is fixing a failed relationship coercive?)

The only thing better than a copy of this book would be a copy autographed by each of the authors — which, since many of them are dead, would require a time machine.

What has been your favorite book so far this year?

Vectors: What has been your favorite book of the year so far? (Part 1)

Our question of the week is: What has been your favorite book of the year so far?

Our first quest this week:

Helene Wecker

wecker-mono-low-res-240x300Helene Wecker grew up in suburban Chicago, and received her Bachelor’s in English from Carleton College in Minnesota. In 2007 she received her Master’s in Fiction from Columbia University. Her first novel, The Golem and the Jinni, was published by HarperCollins in 2013. Her fiction also has appeared in Catamaran and the online magazine Joyland. After a dozen years spent bouncing around between both coasts and the Midwest, she’s finally putting down roots in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she lives with her husband and daughter.

NicolaGriffith-HMy favorite read so far this year has to be Nicola Griffith’s Hild, the story of the seventh-century British woman who would become St. Hilda of Whitby. I’m still trying to figure out how Griffith wrote this book. Time machine? Past life regression? Necromancy? And that’s just the historical aspects. They’d be nothing but a set of interesting facts without Griffith’s mastery of language, without sentences like “She lay at the edge of the hazel coppice, one cheek pressed to the moss that smelt of worm cast and the last of the sun, listening: to the wind in the elms, rushing away from the day, to the jackdaws changing their calls from ‘Outward! Outward!’ to ‘Home now! Home!’” Plus enough politicking and plot threads to satisfy any George R.R. Martin devotee — and, oh yeah, a seriously strong female protagonist. This one’s getting a re-read for sure.

M.K. Hutchins

12974372I was enchanted by A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan. It’s written as the memoir of Lady Trent, a dragon naturalist in an alternate, Victorian-esque world. Dragon science is, admittedly, fun (I mean, just look at the cover — cool!). What I loved best about this book was the voice, though. Lady Trent, an older woman, is writing about her younger adventures. There’s this nice difference between the young woman and the older woman — an older woman who is wiser, but also more confident with herself. With confidence comes delightful sarcasm and a general disregard for being perfectly proper. It was lovely.

Beth Cato

Promise of BloodThis is a hard choice, but I have to say Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan. I’m pretty burnt out on epic fantasies at this point, plus they are a major investment in time when my to-read piles are about the size of the trash heap from Fraggle Rock (though they aren’t sentient yet). Despite all my reservations, the premise of this book piqued my interest. It’s called a “flintlock fantasy”: an epic fantasy, set in a secondary world, with gunpowder technology. The magic even involves gunpowder–and wow does it grant some amazing abilities, though with an incredibly high cost. I could sing the praises of everything in this book: the nuanced characters, the depth of the history, the grand surprises. It’s a long book but a fabulous ride. I had the sequel preordered and I hope to get a chance to read it ASAP

Tina Connolly

twistedfairytales500I mentioned this in an earlier post, but I really loved Alyx Dellamonica’s new fantasy Child of a Hidden Sea, where a young woman named Sophie Hansa is suddenly dropped into the island world of Stormwrack. It comes out from Tor this month. Another one I thoroughly enjoyed was Twisted Fairy Tales, an illustrated collection of retold dark fairy tales by my friend Maura McHugh, that came out last year through Barron’s. I also caught up on some recent Dave Duncan novels that I’d missed and I most enjoyed Wildcatter out of those — a short hard SF novel
about propsectors trying to strike it rich on new planets. Available from Edge.

Michael R. Underwood

Here’s mine: The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison

The Goblin EmperorThis book was a welcome change from the recent string of grimdark epic fantasies. With the ascendance of Game of Thrones and other darker fantasies, The Goblin Emperor is a breath of fresh air, with elegant writing and a compelling lead. Maia, the titular emperor, is totally unprepared for ruling, and his struggles with the political situation he’s inherited are well-drawn. Most delightful, for me, is how much of a hero Maia is and tries to be, ruling with compassion and consensus.

See Part 2 on Thursday

Vectors: Favorite Non-English Language Story or Book (part 2)

We continue to answer the question, What’s your favorite non-English language book or story in the SF/F genre?

Lawrence SchoenLawrence M. Schoen
This is an easy pick. I’m going with the Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest, written story we have. We’re talking early Mesopotamian here. Gilgamesh was King of Uruk back around 2500 BC. Uruk, for those of you playing along at home is believed to be one of the first cities of the world, so that makes it an even cooler place to have been a king, right?ghIlghameS

The story was probably originally written in Sumerian, but survives into present day because it was used as a teaching exercise for young scribes learning to write Akkadian. As a result, there are numerous, intact sets of cuneiform tablets with the story, which have allowed historians ready access to the work, as well as creating a pretty standardized version of the story.

Gilgamesh is described as “two thirds god,” and has some wonderful adventures. He battles a wild man of the forest (Enkidu) and eventually the two become closer than brothers. When Enkidu dies (whoops, sorry, spoiler!), Gilgamesh goes to the underworld demanding the return of his friend. There’s also a section, written in a very different voice, that describes the sorts of things a person should do to lead a good life. Nice advice from the dawn of civilization.

Of course, what makes this even more special to me, is that it’s precisely the kind of Human action tale that Klingons would enjoy. Which goes a long way to explaining why, in 2003, I published ghIlghameS, a Klingon translation of the Earth’s oldest epic.

I think I’ve got the timeline spanned pretty well there, don’t you?

AnatolyBelilovskyGuest Anatoly Belilovsky
If I had to pick one book, it would have to be 20000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA by Jules Verne – it hit me early and it hit me hard; I remember reading it in my grandparents’ apartment in Lvov, in Russian, in first grade in school, and rereading it more times than I can count. The grandeur of going places, of the alien world under the sea; the lone, isolated captain Nemo; incredible freedom in strict confinement – the parallel between living in the Nautilus and living inside one’s head – it put the wonder in wandering.20000Leagues

As for others – also very early on –

MONDAY BEGINS ON SATURDAY (link to pdf)

NIICHAVO, the Institute of Research into Sorcery and Magic, is best thought of as a very small Hogwarts with Hagrid in charge – and if there are to be any charges of plagiarism, MONDAY BEGINS ON SATURDAY is vintage 1966.

And, finally:

AMPHIBIAN MAN

Another outcast, another quest for freedom in a dimension perpendicular to everyone else’s plane of existence. I see a pattern emerging. Hmm…

Anatoly Belilovsky was born in a city that went through six or seven owners in the last century, all of whom used it to do a lot more than drive to church on Sundays; he is old enough to remember tanks rolling through it on their way to Czechoslovakia in 1968. After being traded to the US for a shipload of grain and a defector to be named later (see wikipedia, Jackson-Vanik amendment), he learned English from Star Trek reruns and went on to become a pediatrician in an area of New York where English is only the fourth most commonly used language. He has neither cats nor dogs, but was admitted into SFWA in spite of this deficiency, having published stories in NATURE, Ideomancer, Immersion Book of Steampunk, Daily SF, Kasma, UFO, Stupefying Stories, Cast of Wonders, and other markets. He blogs about writing at loldoc.net, pediatrics at belilovsky.com, and his medical practice web site is babydr.us.

Michael R. UnderwoodMichael R. Underwood
I’m going to cheat and bring in media sources so I can talk about Ghost in the Shell. I was an anime/manga fan as a teen, because of and informing the fact that I studied Japanese in high school. Many of my friends were also studying Japanese, so we’d hang out and watch anime with subtitles over the weekends, practicing our aural comprehension.GitS

We started with Ranma 1/2, Vampire Hunter D, Tenchi Muyo, Akira, and Neon Genesis Evangelion, but it was really Ghost in the Shell that most blew me away. It was far deeper than most of the other anime (but more coherent than Neon Genesis Evangelion), and packed an incredible amount of plot, worldbuilding, character, and theme into one story, all lead by an impressive female lead who had a complicated and nuanced relationship to her body and to physicality in general. Other films and shows got me into anime, but Ghost in the Shell showed me what it could really do when it was stretching to be thought-provoking without being obtuse.

Fran2014Fran Wilde
Ahhh I was hoping someone would bring Ghost in the Shell. Go Mike!

My favorite non-English language stories are a tie, but one author influenced the other greatly. So:

Jorge Luis Borges (Argentina). All of it. The Book of Sand. Ficciones, “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” “The Library of Babel.” I love watching his stories unfold. I love the way he explores ideas of place and memory.

Milorad Pavić (Serbia), specifically The Dictionary of the Khazars. This is a dictionary written in three parts, divided by religion. Definitions for the same word change depending on which part of the dictionary you are reading. You can read it linearly, or by jumping back and forth between words. And there’s a mysterious swordsman that weaves his way throughout the book. There are male and female versions of the dictionary, with only one word different. And the original dictionary (for this is a found object) was written in poison ink. Published in 1984, The Dictionary of the Khazars is a bound work of hypertext. It’s also lovely.

tina_connolly-300x450Tina Connolly
I have two answers to this question, and both are books I fell in love with as a kid. The first is Michael Ende’s The Never-Ending Story. Do you have memories of the moment of *discovery* of your favorite books? I definitely do. In this case . . . Well, I had a bad habit as a kid of going over to friend’s houses to play . . . and then sitting down and reading their books. On my friend Theresa’s bedstand was a library book that looked exactly as The Never-Ending Story should look: a hardback with an embossed picture of Auryn. I started reading . . . I got to the point where I found Bastien reading this very book . . . I could not stop. I think I read half of that book that night (and yes, as we all know, this is a very long book.) I couldn’t borrow it from her – it was a library book! I couldn’t borrow it from the library – she had it! Ah, the agony. I finally got to read all of it. I remember being confused and disappointed by the movie. But it didn’t change my love for the book.Paris20

And the second is another book that I still wildly love, and have re-read even more. Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth. I’ve seen the old Disney version a number of times, and though it, too, doesn’t match up with my own idea of the story, I rather like it all the same. When I took French in college, I worked my way through copies of this and of Around the World in 80 Days to practice the language. And of course, if you haven’t read the (comparatively) recently-discovered Paris in the 20th Century, the story is not my favorite, but it’s worth it just to see what Verne came up with!

Vectors: Favorite Non-English Language Story or Book (part 1)

This week we look to works that originate in other languages by answering…
What’s your favorite non-English language book or story in the SF/F genre?

ken_liuGuest Ken Liu
If I had unlimited space, I could talk about this topic all day: Russian, Polish, and Japanese works of scifi have all been memorable to me, and many of the short stories I’ve read (and sometimes translated) from Chinese by authors such as Ma Boyong, Cheng Jingbo, Xia Jia, Hao Jingfang, Tang Fei, Bao Shu, etc., are among my favorites. But today, I’m limiting myself to three books only.

I’d have to begin with Cosmicomics, by Italo Calvino (original in Italian, translated by William Weaver). A fabulist take on “hard” scifi, this collection of short stories remains unparalleled, in my opinion, to this day. It was the first work of scifi I read that showed me the possibilities of melding fantasy and science fiction tropes, of using the language of science to speak in a logic of metaphors, of telling human stories using whimsical mathematical equations and mischievous physical constants.ThreeBodyProblem1

Next, I’d like to highlight the THREE BODY trilogy by Liu Cixin (“Liu” is his surname) from China. Enormously popular in China, these three are among my all-time favorite hard scifi books. An epic tale of humanity’s journey to the stars that begins with the threat of an alien invasion, the series is breathtakingly imaginative and compelling, with a non-Western perspective that is at once refreshing and thoughtful. The science is handled with great care and precision to convey the beauty and power of this most wondrous of our endeavors, while the human drama complements and reinforces the grand scale of the scientific speculation. I’m really glad that Tor Books is bringing the trilogy to Anglophone readers (starting with the first book, THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM in fall of 2014). Volumes 1 and 3 will be translated by me while volume 2 will be done by Joel Martinsen.

Finally, I want to talk about my friend Chen Qiufan’s debut novel, THE WASTE TIDE, which is now my favorite contemporary near-future Chinese scifi. (Again, “Chen” is his surname.) A dystopian tale rooted in the cyberpunk tradition, it’s also a clever, nuanced, and layered critique of globalization, neocolonialism, and the hypocrisy of democratic and authoritarian societies alike in the face of imbalances of power and wealth. And he manages to do all of this with moving, wonderful characters and a brilliant prose style that delights the ear
as well as the mind. I’ve translated a sample of his book and the reactions from readers so far are enthusiastic. I’m hoping to share this work with Anglophone readers soon.

Ken Liu is an author and translator of speculative fiction, as well as a lawyer and programmer. His fiction has appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Asimov’s, Analog, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, and Strange Horizons, among other places. He is a winner of the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy awards. He lives with his family near Boston, Massachusetts.

Ken’s debut novel, The Grace of Kings, the first in a fantasy series, will be published by Saga Press, Simon & Schuster’s new genre fiction imprint, in 2015. Saga will also publish a collection of his short stories.

J. Kathleen CheneyJ. Kathleen Cheney
This is a very difficult question to answer, mostly because I haven’t read a ton of foreign-language authors. Usually if I read something in French or Spanish, it’s an author I already know, and I’m just reading the book for practice. (With novels, it’s easier to read one you’ve previously read in English so that you know the context when you tackle the foreign language.)

If I were to pick something I’ve -only- read in French, it would be Ansen Dibell’s, Le Soleil du grand retour.soleil

I talked about my love for this series in an earlier post, where I explain the general premises of the series. And as I say that I’m a big fan of Dibell’s work, why haven’t I read this in English? Because books four and five in the series, The High King of Kantmorie, were never printed in English, only French and Dutch. Le Soleil du grand retour is book five in the series, and I’ve even toyed with translating it into English, only to discover that I simply don’t have the time (although I know that someone is working on that.)

The current going price for this book, BTW, is about 95 euros (about 132 dollars). So getting copies of books 4 and 5 isn’t cheap. But if you’re a fan, it’s worth every cent…

MK HutchinsM. K. Hutchins
The Carpet Makers by Andreas Eschbach. This is a haunting book — somehow depressing and beautiful at the same time. The novel is a series of short stories, starting on the humble planet where carpet makers spend an entire lifetime crafting a single carpet from the hair of their wives to send to their unseen God Emperor.CarpetMakers

From that rural beginning, the stories travel to urban, then to intergalactic. The scope is immense. I haven’t read many short-stories-as-novels, but it works so well here. I don’t think that it would be possible to have the same kind of emotional experience if Eschbach didn’t show us so many parts of this carefully-built universe.

Steve BeinSteve Bein
I just adore The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear, by Walter Moers. Ordinarily I’m not a big reader of kid’s fiction, but those Europeans seem to have much more refined child readers than we have on this side of the Atlantic. There are a lot of American parents who wouldn’t allow their kids to read Bluebear. It’s almost irreverent but not quite, almost bawdy but not quite, almost sophisticated surrealist adult fiction but not quite. I’ll sum it up this way: Captain Bluebear and Baron Münchhausen would make good drinking buddies.Bluebear

Here are the opening lines of Bluebear, from the eponymous author:

A bluebear has twenty-seven lives. I shall recount thirteen-and-a-half of them in this book but keep quiet about the rest. A bear must have his secrets, after all; they make him seem attractive and mysterious.

Attractions and mysteries abound in this book. Captain Bluebear encounters minipirates, yetis, rickshaw demons, time-snails, the headless Bollogg and the Bollogless head. He sails around all of the sunken continents we’ve forgotten about, and takes us to places like the Valley of Discarded Ideas. He encounters such natural wonders as the Eternal Tornado and Cogitating Quicksand.

This is one of those books you’ve never heard of, and when you finish it you wonder why everyonehasn’t heard of this book. It belongs on the shelf right next to The Hobbit, The Last Unicorn, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe—namely, the shelf of kid’s fantasy fiction that remains perennially captivating adult reading.

(Oh, and his has been translated from the original German. The English is fluid and fun.)

Vectors: Disliked Required Reading from School

We love books., in general. There will, however, be exceptions. That’s especially true of assigned reading from school. We delve into our pasts to remember the books that made us growl, fuss, and contemplate violent acts against Ernest Hemingway.

What required reading in school did you absolutely despise?

 

J. Kathleen CheneyJ. Kathleen Cheney
To be honest, practically everything. I spent most of my high school career trying to get out of reading authors like Conrad and Hemingway and Faulkner. I suppose that my second runner up was Moby Dick, which will, no doubt, meet with gasps from some people. It simply didn’t make sense to me. This was followed by Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, which I found annoying because I found the narration manipulative. (I especially disliked that we didn’t learn the guy’s name.) My crown for Worst Torture of High School Students, however, goes to Steinbeck’s “The Red Pony”, which is eighty pages of a horse dying slowly and a kid feeling miserable about it. RedPony

Essentially, I discovered early that I didn’t like what most English Majors consider ‘deep’ or ‘important’ works of fiction. They tended to be depressing, which is simply Not My Thing.

And thank heavens for my college English prof who taught Literature: Fiction who taught Tolkien and L’Amour and let me do my reports on The Mabinogion. and Gillian Bradshaw.

Fran2014Fran Wilde
My math book.

People in my family are notoriously good at math and engineering. Unlike them, I knew myself to be terrible at it. I focused on art and English. Took the algebra class with the goofy word problems, not calculus. A high school teacher (a kind soul, Mr. Maas) went so far as to pull me aside to talk DaVinci and show me how an artist could also be a mathematician. He was convinced — possibly because he’d taught my sister (now a world-class naval architect and marine engineer [whoops, sorry, proud sister moment]) by then — that all he needed to do was overcome my resistance and I would happily devour numbers like a good member of my clan.

Amusingly, the minute I learned I could automate an animation in Flash using algorithms, or build something really cool in php, I was All Over the Math. And I was good at it, too, most of the time. It took programming and lots of it to help me overcome my fear. Now I love it quite a lot.

Dear Mr. Maas, thank you for trying. Sorry I was late to class.

Steve BeinSteve Bein
I went to the same high school as Ernest Hemingway, and so naturally our teachers beat us half to death with Hemingway. I bore a grudge against that man for years.

Today, The Old Man and the Sea is one of my favorite books. When I teach a class on writing some day, it will be required reading. I could talk for ten minutes about the first sentence alone. He accomplishes so much with it. old man and the sea

But in high school, I wanted to replace the bronze bust we’d pass as we walked through the front door. Instead of a bust of ruggedly handsome middle-aged Hemingway, I wanted end-of-life Hemingway, which is to say Hemingway with his mouth open, the back of his head hollowed out, and a bunch of melted bronze splattered on the wall behind it.

Sorry, a little too much? That’s how much I hated Hemingway.

hemingway bust

Lawrence SchoenLawrence M. Schoen
Once again, Steve Bein seems to be reading my mind. My first thought was to talk write bout Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, one of many novels forced upon the 12-year old me in Mrs. Byers 7th Grade Honors English class. To this day, all I can recall from the book is the eponymous protagonist’s fondness for Joe DeMaggio and his incessant whining about how he “wished the boy was here.”

AnimalFarmBut the more I thought about it, the more another book from that same class intruded on my awareness, blocking out all rational thought. I refer of course to George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Now, what makes this particularly ironic is that the book I have sitting on my editor’s desk at Tor right now originally had the elevator pitch of “Dune meets Animal Farm as it’s a far future adventure set in a galaxy full of anthropomorphic animals. But irony aside, I just didn’t get what Orwell was selling. I followed the power struggle. I loved that bit about “all animals are equal, and some are more equal than others,” and it probably contributed in some small way to pushing me down the road toward a fascination with language and linguistics. But — and I cannot stress this strongly enough — every fricking bit of allegory went completely over my head. Communism? Seriously?

I should add that it’s not just the book itself that put it to the #1 spot on this list, but the book report that followed in Mrs. Byers’s class. And not my book report, that was fine (so far as it went). It was the horror and confusion that followed when another kid got up to do his report on the same book, and the elaborate explanations of pigs as communists that flowed form his lips, using vocabulary that he’d never demonstrated before and wouldn’t again for years. Yeah, and I don’t doubt that his parents helped him build that working volcano for science class later in the year.

CharlesEGannonCharles E. Gannon
The required reading that I found most aversive were all “theory” tracts, and so, while they were often picayune in their objects and habits of analysis, they were also written from that fever-pitch of earnestness that typifies many of the “must read” critical works that populate masters and doctoral program lists. Specific titles and authors elude me now—for which I am thankful.

Many of these treatises were hypertrophied (not to say bloated and fatuous) explications of “critical apparatuses” so extraordinary lofty and finely nuanced that the authors had to invent whole new vocabularies to express them. And by inventing that vocabulary, the author conveniently created a special kind of unassailable authority. I’ll call out two disciplines to illustrate: social psychology and literary theory.

For every practical and empirical in social psychology, there seems to be another whose imagination and sense of utility are both moribund. So they hide their paucity of worthy content in a deep and trackless thicket of terms, taxonomies, and distinctions so fine and so unnecessary that it makes the classic debate about how many angels may dance on the head of a pin sound like white-coated lab science.

In the domain of literary criticism, something similar started increasing as the theoretical vigor of post-modernism and deconstruction began sliding down into decrepitude. Nervous doctoral candidates and untenured assistant professors began mining the far reaches (not to say howlingly obscure corners) of their fields in search of something optimally recondite/byzantine. Lacanian and Foucauldian theory in fusional critical apparatuses, for instance. The agonizingly esoteric arguments resembled those between computer code jockeys over the respective merits of different programming languages and architectures, resulting in debates that were of interest to–maybe–63 people on the face of the planet.

No wonder I forgot the names and titles of the specific assignments—or maybe I suppressed them to get past the resentment of having to act as if all these emperors of theory were, in fact, wearing new clothes.

Dr. Charles E. Gannon’s current Nebula-nominated novel, Fire with Fire, was a best-seller and is also a finalist for the Compton Crook Award for best first novel. It is the first volume of an interstellar epic that continues in the forthcoming sequel, Trial by Fire (August 2014). Gannon is coauthor with Steve White of Extremis, the latest entry in the Starfire series created by David Weber, and 1635: The Papal Stakes, a Wall Street Journal Best-Seller in Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire universe. He has numerous shorter publications in shared world series, anthologies, and Analog. As part of his ongoing work with various defense and intelligence organizations (Pentagon, Air Force, NATO, others), Gannon was invited to present sections of Fire with Fireat the NRO, as well as highlights from his non-fiction book Rumors of War and Infernal Machines(winner of the 2006 ALA Choice award, Best Book of 2006). A multiple Fulbright scholar, Gannon is also Distinguished Professor of American Literature at St. Bonaventure University.

JamesLCambiasJames L. Cambias
I had the advantage of going to one of New Orleans’s better schools, Isidore Newman School, and now that I can see what my own kids are reading in school I realize how good the reading list at Newman was. But there was one exception.

In my freshman year of high school, back in 1981, the theme of the English class was “coming of age.” We read Lord of the Flies and Romeo and Juliet and Henry IV, Part II. All excellent stories of young people finding their place and role in the world. I learned a lot in that class; that was my first real exposure to Shakespeare’s works.

But for some reason, among all those classics, we were also handed a little paperback collection of short stories about “youth in rebellion” or something like that. I forget the title, but it had groovy early-Seventies cover art and featured stories like “The Bike” by Alan Sillitoe and John Updike’s “A&P,” and I’m pretty sure there were some excerpts from S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders in it as well.Outsiders

I’m not entirely sure why someone thought that stories of young people struggling with authority figures would resonate with a bunch of affluent, brainy kids in a private prep school in New Orleans. My classmates were authority figures in training — one of them became a city councilwoman, a couple of others now run some of the city’s big businesses. A lot of them became lawyers. Not a hotbed of angry youth. Our brushes with rebellion mostly consisted of trying to sneak into the college bars around Tulane despite being underage.

Now, the stories in that little paperback were fine. Whoever put the collection together obviously picked excellent selections. It was the purpose of the anthology, and the reason for assigning it which I despised. Apparently some editor decided that “today’s youth” circa 1978 couldn’t relate to fiction which wasn’t about contemporary teenagers. And my teachers, though they put Shakespeare and Golding on the lesson plan, apparently bought into that notion.

It irritated me, and it irritates me still, because I couldn’t avoid the impression that my teachers were trying to apply their Baby Boomer-era template of “youth rebellion” to my own Generation X cohort. We weren’t rebels; when my friends watched The Graduate our universal reaction was “take the plastics job, you idiot!” In their painstaking effort to reach out to “today’s youth” the teachers only demonstrated how little they understood our actual concerns.

The result was a paradox. If my teachers were trying to encourage myself and my fellow students to be rebels, as they liked to imagine themselves to have been, then we defied them by refusing to do so.

James L. Cambias writes SF and designs games. Originally from New Orleans, he lives in western Massachusetts. His stories have appeared in F&SF, Shimmer, Nature, and several original anthologies. A Darkling Sea, his first novel, came out in January 2014. Mr. Cambias has written for GURPS, Hero Games, and other roleplaying systems, and is a partner in Zygote Games. He is a member of the notorious Cambridge SF Workshop. Read his blog at www.jamescambias.com.

BethCato-steampunk-headshotBeth Cato
High school freshmen reading material is very depressing. My class read through Romeo and Juliet, Antigone, and the William Golding book Lord of the Flies. In case you haven’t read that novel of doom and gloom, it’s about English school boys on a desert isle who lose all their civilized senses and descend into their primitive, baser selves. Rather like going to high school, just without the profanity and innuendo. One of the boys–the most sane of the lot–is dubbed Piggy. He’s fat, and has glasses, and is treated like dirt… and I related to him strongly. I felt like the female equivalent of Piggy at my school.lordoftheflies

I won’t say what happens to Piggy.

I enjoyed my social studies class–I had a great teacher, Mr. McCaw–and loved reading. But wow, did I hate that book. Lord of the Flies mirrored what I saw around me, and it was neither pretty or hopeful. It’s the first book I remember reading where I thought, “Wow. I hate all of these characters. Rocks need to fall and kill all of them… except Piggy.” Then I kept reading.

Sigh.

Tex ThompsonTex Thompson
I had my share of less-than-favorite authors in school. Any unit on the Romantic poets was always especially tough to stomach, though eventually I learned to get through it with mental MST3K. (“Dad, I had a feeling today!” “Well, don’t, son.”)fear-and-trembling

But it wasn’t until I was in college that I met a Liberal Art that I absolutely could not master. I’m not ashamed to say that Aristotle punched me in the breadbasket, Descartes kicked out the back of my knees, and Nietzsche smashed a chair over my back. I was used to sobbing in frustration over differential equations and stoichiometry, but it was AMAZING to me how completely my powers of “reading words on a page and having an MLA-format Deep Thought about them” failed me in philosophy. Kierkegaard, you are my Kryptonite.

I would like to end with some Eye of the Tiger stuff here, but the short story is that I buckled like a belt, took Mexican Politics instead, and can converse at length about the damaging effects of “toallagate” on the Fox administration. Let’s call that a win.

Vectors: Comfort Reads

Tina Connolly
I love re-reading so very much that at some point I realized I was going to have to make a concerted effort not to indulge . . . quite so often. I’ve been keeping a book log for the last ten years (because I am the kind of obsessive data geek who thinks this is totally fun). I like to see how many years a certain book can go before it’s time to dip back into it.Legends_II-BeyondBetween

I had a baby last October, and being 9 months pregnant is definitely a time when you’re allowed to have all the comfort reading you want. I read through the whole Pern series (last time I did this, my spreadsheet says, was 2007.) Although, this time I read EVERYTHING–I went to Wikipedia and tracked down everything Pern I’d never read–all the short stories, all the books written or co-written with Todd–everything. Never gonna be a better time. (As a result of this, I uncovered an odd short story called “Beyond Between” that actually posits a sort of dragon afterlife–who knew?)

Post-baby, I read all my Noel Streatfeild books–I try to ration these, so the last time I read a few of them was 2009, and before that I see a different few in 04 and 05 and 06. This time I read all of them.
MagicCasementI’m looking forward to re-reading Dave Duncan’s Magic Casement series
again – the last time I read this was 07 (what was I doing in 07? Oh
yeah, face painting at a festival with lots of slow days) – anyway, I
think it needs a few more years of steeping. And then Sharon Shinn’s
Archangel series – that was 09, so a ways to go yet.

I’m guessing it’s about an 8 or 10 year cycle. Just means you need to
have a lot of comfort reads, to have something ready when you want it.
I think this probably explains my 2000 books.


Guest Caroline M. Yoachim
I love comfort books. I know there are people who don’t like to re-read books because there are so many good books out there, but when I’m stressed or sick or even just feeling a little nostalgic, there’s nothing I like better than to immerse myself in a world I already know, full of characters who are already friends. There are two qualities I seek out in my comfort reading: (1) a world I can lose myself in, and (2) lots and lots of words. Preferably several books worth of words. I burn through comfort books relatively quickly, and so a single book generally doesn’t cut it.
RiddleMaster
MajestysDragonFor a long time, my comfort books were mostly books I first encountered when I was relatively young — L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time quintet, Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber, the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. More recently, I find myself turning to Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, and Patricia McKillip’s Riddle-Master books.

Caroline M. Yoachim is the author of over two dozen short stories, including her Nebula-nominated novelette “Stone Wall Truth.” She is a graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop, and her fiction has appeared in Lightspeed, Asimov’s, Interzone, and Daily Science Fiction, among other places. For more about Caroline, check out her website.

Beth Cato
As a kid and teenager, I re-read my favorites to the point of memorization. In particular, I adored Laura Ingalls Wilder; I’m pretty sure my favorite of the series, The Long Winter, was the first symptom of my love for post-apocalyptic fiction. It also hooked me on historical fiction and led to an addiction with books by Patricia Beatty and Rosemary Sutcliff. One of the things I love about writing steampunk is that I can bring in those historical details that I absorbed as a kid.KingoftheWind

I was also completely horse-obsessed from age four onward. I read everything in my hometown library and bought hundreds of books on top of that, especially library discards. Out of all of those, the genuine cozy reads for me were C. W. Anderson’s books–I adored his illustrations–and Marguerite Henry. King of the Wind still evokes happy, happy thoughts. Godolphin Arabian FTW.The_Sweetness_at_the_Bottom_of_the_Pie

These days, though, I don’t have time to re-read books unless I’m skimming something for the sake of research. I have hundreds of physical books in my to-read pile and I don’t even know how many ebooks. I do have a total comfort read series I’m in love with right now–the Flavia de Luce Mystery series by Alan Bradley. They are quaint, cozy, and perfect, taking place in 1951 rural Britain with the heroine as an 11-year-old girl genius with an obsession for chemistry, poison, and murder. I’ve gotten my mom hooked on the books as well. The series is still ongoing, which drives me bonkers since I have to wait another year for my next fix.


Steve Bein
I used to be an armchair Tolkien scholar. Every January, the first book I’d pick up for the year was The Lord of the Rings. I’d follow that with something else by Tolkien, or else a book about Tolkien. I just read him and re-read him until I felt I understood what he’d accomplished. I mean, the guy redefined an entire genre. He’s worth the work.LOTR

Since then, I can’t say I have a book I come back to time and time again. The only exception is when I read a new series, I start from the beginning. So I’ve read A Game of Thrones five times, and A Dance with Dragons once — and man, am I looking forward to the sixth book in that series!

Lawrence M. Schoen
I don’t tend to reread much — not with so many new books to get to — so the idea of going back to a book again and again is something that got left behind after college. But, if you’ll pardon me, I’ll spin the question a bit and instead talk about a book that gave me great comfort.

JohnScalzi-TADA few years back I was under intense stress at the DayJob, had just gotten over a nasty flu bug, and apparently had an all around weak immune system. This set the stage for a bout of Bell’s palsy. This particular malady isn’t life-threatening, in fact in my case it was mostly just an pain in the ass. Every day I would discover a new inconvenience, some routine activity that was suddenly difficult if not impossible (e.g., gargling). Recovery rates for Bell’s are pretty good, but there was no way of knowing how long half of my face was going to remain in a lax paralysis, and I was more than a bit depressed about the whole thing.

And then I read John Scalzi’s The Android’s Dream. This book was jus so much fun, so utterly preposterous, that it caused all negativity to simply evaporate. It was exactly what I needed at the time, and I will always look back on it as a great comfort. I was even prompted to write Scalzi a fan letter and to thank him for helping me through a dark patch.

M.K. Hutchins
FrogPrincessWhen I was four, my aunt sent me The Frog Princess and Other Tales for Christmas. The titular story isn’t the one most Americans know. It’s a Russian fairy tale where Ivan Tsarevich messes up the life of Vassilissa the Wise and has to face down Koshtchev the Immortal to fix it. One of the highlights of my past year was sharing this story with my own four-year-old and watching his wonder and delight. Ivan marrying a frog is still funny.

When I was younger and had whole Sundays to myself, I not infrequently picked up a favorite series and read it beginning to end in a single day: The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Prydain Chronicles, and The Enchanted Forest Chronicles. Lots of chronicles. There was something delightfully decadent about reading them in a single go. Redwall is also a well-worn favorite, but I can’t claim I’ve read all of those in a single day. I wish I’d found Shannon Hale’s Book of a Thousand Days earlier in life; I think I would have re-read that over and over, too.

Fran Wilde
I’m an inveterate bathtub reader, so you can tell my comfort reads by what has a spine and pages that looks like its been dunked a few times in hot water. Dune is probably the soggiest. Ditto with year’s best anthologies. But the number-one most worn book in my collection (and I keep multiple copies of it, for gifting) is The Phantom Tollbooth.

Comfort reading has changed a lot with technology. The where and the how of it especially. Audiobooks and podcasts – like Kate Baker’s readings of short stories at Clarkesworld, and Welcome to Nightvale– are new favorites. And they don’t get soggy.

stephanie-burgis-2-small-colorGuest Stephanie Burgis
As someone who’s had to spend much too much of my adult life laid up in bed, comfort books are incredibly important to me. My favorite comfort books span different age ranges and genres, but they all make me feel like I’ve drunk a big cup of dark hot chocolate with cinnamon – sweet, satisfying and with a lovely, smart edge.

Lois McMaster Bujold’s Paladin of Souls is a high fantasy novel about a forty-year-old woman, considered to be long past her prime, who sets off on an adventure of her own (and even, unexpectedly, finds romance along the way). Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes puts three orphaned girls to work on the stage, helping all of them to find their own dreams – and is one of my very favorite novels about family, with a surprisingly bittersweet (but perfect) ending. Loretta Chase’s Regency romance novel Miss Wonderful sets a practical-minded, land-managing heroine in her thirties at loggerheads against a younger dandy of a hero – and the results are just so witty and charming, I can never resist re-reading the book whenever I spot it on my shelf.Lois-McMaster-Bujold-Paladin-cover

One of my biggest fantasies as a writer is to see my own books on some reader’s list of comfort novels one day. I can’t imagine any happier result.

Stephanie Burgis’s trilogy of Regency fantasy novels for kids began with Kat, Incorrigible (a.k.a. A Most Improper Magick, in the U.K.), which won the Waverton Good Read Children’s Award in 2011 for Best Début Children’s Novel by a British writer. It was followed by Renegade Magic and Stolen Magic. To find out more, please check out her website.