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Posted 19 October:
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Posted 24 October:
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Send a letter to Locus
Dear Locus Online,
I was interested to note that in excerpting Russell Letson's review of Ken MacLeod's The Sky Road, you included the passage where Letson writes: "The setting for narrator Clovis colha Gree's story is
Scotland sometime between the 2093 space exodus of [The Stone Canal] and the near-utopian Solar Union of [The Cassini Division]."
The trouble is, it's not. The Sky Road is in fact a "branching path"; it takes place in a continuum where none of The Cassini Division and only part of The Stone Canal are true. The departure point is Myra's dickering with David Reid about the disposition of the orbital weapons; this negotiation goes one way in The Stone Canal, and another in the Myra Godwin sections of The Sky Road. The Jovians and the Solar Union of The Cassini Division don't exist in The Sky Road, and never will.
I admit, I had to confirm this with the author myself. But I do find it interesting that many readers and reviewers in online forums seem to have figured it out, whereas more than one print reviewer has gotten it wrong.
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
21 October 2000
I'm sure I won't be the first or the only response to Alan Gilbert's letter of 18 October, but I'll respond anyway. He may have worked in a bookstore
for ten years, but he clearly has kept his blinders on the whole time. He
states bluntly that "kids today don't read for pleasure." Leaving aside the
obvious retort (Harry Potter, anyone?) and even some second thoughts (Lemony
Snicket? Philip Pullman? Remember "Goosebumps?"), all he could honestly
claim is that he doesn't see kids buying books (even though I do think he
must be blind to miss that). He might actually mean that he doesn't see kids
buying specifically SF/F books for pleasure, but the rest of that paragraph
does not support this charitable assumption. And most of the
counter-examples that I can think of fall quite firmly into the fantasy
field, so it's not even a case that kids are reading other genres.
Mr. Gilbert is also condescending and wrong when he states that "They have
not developed the discipline necessary to concentrate enough to read." Need
I remind him of a 752-page book published this summer which was devoured by
millions of those very kids he claims are incapable of the discipline of
reading? If this is the attitude he has towards younger readers, it's no
wonder that they don't shop in his store.
The facts overwhelmingly show that kids do read, and that, like always, if
they fall in love with a series or genre they'll read everything they can
get their hands on. (That's how most of us got into SF, after all.) We can
bemoan the fact that they're coming in on the fantasy side rather than SF
(though I don't honestly see that as something to be upset about), but we
can't deny that they're reading.
I don't mean to attack Mr. Gilbert, who seems only to be sharing his
experiences, but he's so misguided on this one point that I have to try to
set the record straight. I've seen this attitude before in SF circles, and
it's a corrosive one. The very worst thing we could do right now is to
circle the wagons, keep out all the youngsters "who don't see reading as a
pastime or pleasure" and grump ourselves into oblivion. The new, young
audience is out there, and we can reach it, as long as we don't deny it even
Editor, The Science Fiction Book Club & Outdoorsman's Edge
19 Oct 2000
I read with interest Mr. Gilbert's observations on the aging reading audience. Though he speaks mainly from an American experience(?), he should be listened to.
Evidently, Gilbert is not describing a situation unique to SF readers, but to "reading culture" in general. You can blame television, the failure of the school system, the parents, etc... but the problem remains. Too many of the younger generations are not fostered to enjoy reading.
Gilbert is pessimistic about the Internet changing this. He may or may not be right... but I think it's worth a try to use the new media to bring back reading. Bear in mind, how today's scientists often recount that an SF book inspired them toward a career in science. There is more to SF reading than just "entertainment", it is -- or can be -- a touchstone for progress. Culture has a greater value than just passing time, and no culture more so than science fiction.
Sounds idealistic? I know. But I also know that apathy is not a solution, just a way of justifying your surrender. So I'll try. I publish new SF online, and damn the torpedoes.
The A.R. Yngve Homepage
19 October 2000
Please don't refer us to SF Site or Tangent for more Analog reviews, because they haven't been updated in months. As a new writer who managed to sell four Analog stories in the last year, it's been frustrating to have found only one review of my work.
I understand the critical attention of the field is aimed at novels, but we all know much of its innovation has come from short fiction, and SF is one of the few places a short story can find more than just an academic or fringe audience. I understand Mark Kelly should certainly review that material he finds himself most sympathetic to, and he does a great job writing about the magazines he does review. I appreciate the fact that Locus reviews short fiction at all, but I'd suggest the next time you add a reviewer, perhaps it should be a second short-fiction reviewer and not another book reviewer.
19 October 2000
I've worked in bookstores for 10 years, including everything from
rare bookstores to a superstore, and I can state, based on observation
only, that the SF/F audience is "graying." Kids and YA readers may read
Star Wars/Star Trek and other media related books, but the huge
majority, as high as 85%, are readers my age (30), and up. I'd say the
average is 45-50 years old.
Where SF/F readers differ, from say Mystery readers is in their wide
ranging habits. As Mystery readers age, they stick to a few particular
authors, and almost all of those authors will be of a specific sub-genre
(hard-boiled, who-dunits, etc.). SF/F readers try new writers or read
around more. This is a good thing, I think, especially in that it allows
for newer writers to attain a following more easily. It also makes it
easier to sell a new author to a reader.
About the only time you see a younger audience is at signings.
Strangely, younger readers are more apparent in some of the horror
genre's sub-categories, especially the vampire and other goth related
themed stuff. Not to verge off into another area of contention, but a
view from the trenches confirms that horror is pretty dead anyways. I
think it's the same 3 million people reading King, book after book after
book. Another little tidbit: 98% of people who read Anne Rice or V.C.
Andrews/Andrew Niederman only read Rice or Andrews, nothing else. Scary.
It's all serial killer stuff, which is really more 'thriller' genre
The future: kids today don't read for pleasure. When the 'graying'
audience dies, it will be interesting to see what shakes down. Will the
Web save us. I don't think so. Not reading for pleasue now, with books,
will not suddenly turn into reading for pleasure on the web. It's simple
really, kids do not see reading as a pastime or pleasure. They have not
developed the discipline necessary to concentrate enough to read.
Gloomy, I know...
Love the magazine and website,
18 October 2000
Richard Horton [below] refers to Tangent and SF Site's 'forthcoming short
fiction reviews' in reply to Paul Fraser -- well http://www.bestsf.net has to be the first website to get up reviews of the latest issues of Asimovs, Analog SF, and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.
With reviews of Spectrum SF and Interzone in the pipeline, alongside
some retro-reviews of 'best short SF' collections, I would suggest Paul
Fraser's initial pessimism is unfounded.
12 October 2000
[ So noted on our E-publications page.
I was saddened to hear of the death of Keith Roberts. I didn't know him
personally, but I knew his work. Even when they had problems, his books
and stories never failed to impress, and his best work -- Pavane, the
inexplicably neglected Molly Zero, "Monkey and Pru and Sal,"
"Weihnachtsabend," "The Big Fans," and "The Lordly Ones" -- stands among the
best the SF field has produced. Moreover, as an American of British
descent who has never been to the U.K., I was always moved by the deep,
near-mystical sense of place that informed Roberts' work. I can think of
no British SF writer more wholly imprinted by England, both place and
concept, than Roberts. We may hope for a revival of interest in this fine
writer's work, and we may regret that such a revival did not take place
while he was still with us.
F. Brett Cox
10 October 2000
Regarding Paul Fraser's letter [below] on Short Fiction Reviewing: he is apparently too modest to note that his new magazine, Spectrum SF, has a nice, chatty section at the back, called The Archive, which mentions books and magazines received, quite often with (very) brief reviews of some of the stories in the magazines. I quite enjoy that section, and indeed I recommend Spectrum SF anyway: the fiction has been quite good so far.
By the way, apropos of both Spectrum SF and the sad news about Keith Roberts' death, besides publishing Roberts' last novel (I assume), ''Drek Yarman'', Spectrum SF will also have a novelette by Roberts in their fourth issue (due any time now, I think). They say it will be a "Kaeti" story, and I think they say it will be called "Virtual Reality".
As to the review sites with which I am associated, Tangent and SF Site, I don't think we can count Tangent out yet. The last postings were August 16, but I know I have completed several reviews since then. When they will be posted, I don't know. (Dave Truesdale is editing two other magazines, besides holding down a day job, so he's pretty busy these days.) And at SF Site we generally have two magazine reviews per month: the main focus is on books. So we're certainly not going to keep up with the whole field, but there is an attempt to at least mention various magazines, to keep them in the public eye, as it were. And SF Site does host a wide variety of magazine web pages.
10 October 2000
I couldn't help noting the "controversy" over writers whose work is considered to be too good for the genre, or "literary" authors whose futuristic novels aren't really science fiction, at least according to the (mainstream) critics [in comments on Le Guin and Boyle on this page], without a little interest, let alone amusement. While it isn't inappropriate to think of books like T.C. Boyle's A Friend of the Earth or Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale as SF (and certainly, no discriminating SF fan could do wrong by reading either novel), there are other issues worth considering beyond simple questions of genre taxonomy.
It's become almost a cliche to decry so-called "mainstream" authors for borrowing shopworn SF tropes and parading them as if they'd been invented yesterday (and "mainstream" really is a misnomer here, since the East Coast/white-male institution that graying SF pros still rail against is as dead as the dodo), but that's really beyond the point. SF writers, at least the Hugo and Nebula-winning variety, are a pretty self-conscious bunch. When they write a novel like Hyperion or The Book of the New Sun, they're aware that they're working in a tradition; in a sense, they're paying their dues. Mainstream writers have entirely different motivations for utilizing (or appropriating, if you prefer) genre themes -- pastiche, parody, a phantasmagoric urge. (At any rate, the last time I checked, the future wasn't the sole intellectual property of the SFWA. And while we're on the subject, magical realism isn't fantasy set in South America, sans dragons and hobbits.) The results aren't always necessarily breathtaking (take Paul Theroux's O-Zone, for example, or better yet, don't), but there have also been remarkable specimens like Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle, Kingsley Amis' The Alteration, or Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker. Or more recently, the short fiction of George Saunders, who may well be Philip K. Dick's true heir apparent.
The real issue as far as I can see isn't so much that mainstream writers and critics are unbearable snobs, but that many SF fans and professionals choose to see them as such. For the most part, people don't choose to write or read "litrachure" because they're too good for popular fiction, but because they have different tastes in books. And to be honest, Jonathan Lethem was right: there are plenty of superb SF and fantasy authors working in the field today, but all too often, intelligent authors like Lucius Sheperd and James Morrow are shunted aside by booksellers and publishers alike in favor of the latest Tolkien rip-off/libertarian wet dream power fantasy/Star Wars spin-off. (And those are juvenile crap, make no mistake; they not only fulfill the worst expectations of highfalutin' mainstream lit'r'y critics, they exceed them.) SF publishing has never displayed much interest in the more idiosyncratic and unclassifiable writers. With a few exceptions, virtually everything by R.A. Lafferty, Edgar Pangborn, and Avram Davidson is out of print; until very recently, even Theodore Sturgeon was in publishing limbo (and probably still would be if he hadn't written a couple of Star Trek episodes toward the end of his career). Who knows? Maybe if they were repackaged and sold as "mainstream" literature, they might find an audience; they sure as hell haven't found one in today's SF reading public.
9 October 2000
[ I grant the situation is more complex than making fun of literary snobs. They're making a distinction that, in a slightly different sense, a lot of us genre-insiders acknowledge and take for granted: that there's a difference between a Le Guin or a Wolfe on the one hand, and Star Trek/Star Wars, pop culture's default example of sci-fi, on the other. The slight difference is that books like those by Boyle or Atwood aren't really SF in the sense we (including Le Guin and Wolfe) understand SF, for the reasons you describe, and I doubt the mainstream critics understand this; I suspect they still regard SF as mostly unsophisticated claptrap. Anyway, it's still amusing how their protestations (James Cameron has made similar noises about Dark Angel!) echo those of decades ago; the more things change...
Re: the youngest writer -- according to this site, eminent scientist Stanley G. Thompson wrote the story "Sport for Ladies" for Weird Tales (April 1924) at the age of 12. http://www.bonestamp.com/sgt/scifi.htm.
9 October 2000
A further addition to the canon of teenage F/SF novelists -- in this case not the youngest of all, but perhaps the most consistently published as a youth -- would be Paul R. Fisher, author of four children's or YA fantasy novels published in hardcover by Atheneum from 1979-1981.
The first three of these (The Ash Staff, The Hawks of Fellheath, and The Princess and the Thorn) formed a trilogy; the fourth, Mont Cant Gold, stood apart. All were traditional Celtic fantasy, broadly in the pattern of Lloyd Alexander, though Fisher's work might also be said to foreshadow the fantasies of Sherwood Smith and T.A. Barron. He would have been eighteen or nineteen when the novels first appeared (my library catalog gives his year of birth as 1960), but if memory serves, he had begun writing substantially earlier. As I recall, the books were generally well received, and at least one was picked up for paperback reprint by the ill-starred "MagicQuest" imprint (putting him in good company with the likes of Diana Wynne Jones, Patricia Wrede, and so forth).
After Mont Cant Gold, Fisher disappears from the literary landscape; it
would be interesting to know whether this was by choice (i.e. pursuit of a
more remunerative adult career) or less fortunate circumstance.
John C. Bunnell
8 October 2000
I've been following the short-fiction reviews topic in the web letters
column with some interest. I think that part of the problem is that Locus
is one of the few places that actually seems to take short fiction seriously.
Don D'Ammassa in Science Fiction Chronicle covers them but, with his other review commitments, he barely seems to have time to do anything more than capsule reviews. The only other place that I can recall seeing any near-comprehensive review coverage is in Absolute Magnitude. Tangent seems to be moribund and the SF Site seems to be struggling to keep up. The Third Alternative's sidekick Xene (although I'm judging from one issue) is patchy and seems to be more orientated to would-be writers.
There seems to me to be a larger problem here and that is basically about
how much the SF field actually values short fiction and/or magazines/anthologies. The answer to me seems to be 'not much'. What strikes me as particularly
schizophrenic is the attitude of the prozines (Analog, Asimov's, F&SF, Realms of Fantasy, Interzone, etc., etc.) towards short fiction. Here we have institutions that have as there audience people who are interested in short fiction (one presumes) and yet their review coverage is biased almost entirely
towards novel-length work. Go figure....
20 September 2000
[ Now there's an idea: Asimov's runs reviews of Analog, which reviews Absolute Destiny, and so on. Currently, Interzone does do occasional magazine reviews, but only of smaller 'zines.
Thanks for posting the link to the Hugo voting, as well as the story behind the delay. I was glad to confirm a pet theory of mine, that The Matrix would get the most first-place votes in the "Dramatic Presentation" category but that it wouldn't get enough second-place votes to take the Hugo, and that Galaxy Quest would come up from behind. (Something similar happened 10 years ago, when the last
"Indiana Jones" movie overtook Field of Dreams, and I thought it might be
repeated this time. Like the ones this year, the 1990 Dramatic Hugo
nominees were a highly varied and individual lot, including as they did
The Abyss, Batman, and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.)
It's interesting to note that so many potential nominees fell one, two, or three votes short of making the final ballot, and sobering to realize that at least one winner
tied for fifth in number of nominations (making for six nominees in that
category); if it'd received one nomination fewer, it wouldn't have been on
the ballot at all! It just goes to show how nearly arbitrary
awards-determining processes can be. On the other hand, I plan to have fun
catching up with the "also-rans"; the long list of near-nominees should add
spice to the annual arguments on what SHOULD have won the Hugo...
18 September 2000
In the latest issue of his newsletter (http://www.hipiers.com/newsletter.html), Piers Anthony talked about fantasy writer Stephen Donaldson and his campaign to stop prison rapes. He mentions meeting Stephen Donaldson in 1986, when they were both at Del Rey. He then mentions that Stephen Donaldson died of AIDS in 1996.
Except that the fantasy author is Stephen R. Donaldson -- and he's still
alive. (A good thing, because lots of fans are waiting for his next book!)
The anti-prison rape advocate Piers Anthony was talking about during part
of his newsletter was Stephen Donaldson, president of Stop Prison Rape,
So if you have been getting a lot of letters from people asking if Stephen
R. Donaldson is still alive... Now you know why.
Anne M. Marble
18 September 2000
[ The current installment of Anthony's newsletter has a lengthy correction and explanation for the confusion.
Your photo of 'Gene Wolfe moving through the dealers room' is awesome. A Locus cover please!
24 September 2000
I think a lot of people are missing the point with Harry Potter. This isn't like
the other fairy tales we've been hearing for generations. This is a
blockbuster heading for the 50 million sales mark. There has been a build-up
since Christianity started changing attitude towards other cultures at the
end of the European colonies in '45. HP is nonsense pasted together from
druidic hogwash left over from the secret societes of the end of the 19th
century. In the beginning of this fad which is going to submerge us in the
next few months all kinds of upstarts are going to put forth their
misinterpretations of what magic is.
7 October 2000
Re: the correspondance [sic] on young writers. I have in my
possession a wonderful fantasy titled Horse of Air by Lindsay Campbell. It
is an absorbing, fantastical [sic] book which I re-read regularly. It was
published by Routledge & Kegan Paul (UK) in 1957 and states in the blurb
that the author was fifteen when she wrote the book. I understand the work
was accepted on its own merits and was reprinted a number of times although
I have no certain knowledge of that but am replying on a memory of things
read many years ago. The book was published as a children's book but is very
readable by adults. I would recommend it to anyone who finds a copy and who
enjoys fantasy, and if it hasn't been reprinted recently, maybe someone
should consider doing so. The author would now be in her late fifties and if
anyone knows of her I would be most interested to find out if she ever
continued with her writing career.
25 September 2000
[ Note: the '[sic]'s are the letter-writer's. --ed. ]