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A story of Ray Bradbury's that has always haunted me, and one that seems appropriate for the occasion, is "There Will Come Soft Rains" from The Martian Chronicles. Wikipedia links to a PDF version of the story.

His book on writing, Zen in the Art of Writing is also superb.
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Wiscon panel report: Class, Culture, and Values in SF&F
Tracks: Reading, Viewing, and Critiquing Science Fiction (Power, Privilege, and Oppression)

Class isn't just how much money you have or what work you do; it also involves cultural beliefs, values, and attitudes that are expressed in how you talk, what you do in your free time, and all sorts of less tangible elements. (See Barbara Jensen's book Reading Classes: On Culture and Classism in America, due out in mid-May.) The SF&F writing and fannish communities are mainly middle-class folks, which makes the class values of SF&F works mostly middle class, too. What works and creators explore classes outside the mainstream, white, European, middle-class value systems? What class markers tend to show up most, or least, often? Do these works show the non-middle classes positively? negatively? realistically?

Moderator: Debbie Notkin
Eleanor A. Arnason
Alyc Helms
Danielle Henderson
Rose Lemberg

[My notes aren't a complete transcription and may represent my own language rather than the actual words of the panelists. I welcome corrections. I did not identify all audience commenters by name. If you said something I paraphrased here and want your name to be used, please comment or send me a private message.]

[The book mentioned in the panel description, Reading Classes: On Culture and Classism in America by Barbara Jensen, is available at For a 20% discount use promo code CAU6.]
Read more... )
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I went to this because I've enjoyed the other Underworld franchise movies, especially the first and third ones (this is the fourth); it was co-written by J. Michael Straczynski (who did Babylon 5); and it had Stephen Rea in it.

Bechdel test: Strong pass
Action: 7 out of 10
Plot: 3 out of 10

minor spoilers; possible spoilers in comments )
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This looks like an interesting book:

Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories, with N.K. Jemisin, Amal El-Mohtar, Sara M. Harvey, Mike Allen, Shweta Narayan, Meredith Holmes, Georgina Bruce and Matt Kressel

Preorders of the print book available at Torquere Press' bookstore.
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Anathem Anathem by Neal Stephenson

I tend to dislike fiction where the author breaks the "fourth wall" by popping into the text to say something clever. Stephenson does this a lot in his books (the ones I've read), but I tend to make an exception for him. Nevertheless, I liked this book better than Snow Crash or The Diamond Age because it seems he does the "clever authorial injection" less in this book. Also the plot hangs together better. So my overall impression of the book was that it is more "mature" than those earlier works.

It has all the other stuff that Stephenson does well: multiple complex societies with long histories, with echoes of old Earth cultures, interacting in interesting ways; hard science, math, and philosophy explained in lay language (he did a particularly good job of explaining the science in this book; he did a less good job with the philosophy); plot twists and puzzles; multiple points of view.

Stephenson is less good at portraying romantic relationships, emotion, and complex character development than at that other stuff. The main characters do develop and most of the characters have distinct personalities and realistic, if simple relationships. It works well enough and doesn't distract from what he's good at.

I particularly enjoy a novel that makes up a society I want to live in, and Anathem does a great job of that. (I've always kind of wanted to live in a monastery, except for the celibacy and believing in religion parts.)

Another reviewer on Goodreads complained about all the made-up words in Anathem. I think this is one way in which the audio version is superior to the paper version. I knew that made-up words were being used, but a lot of them sound enough like Latin and French words that I didn't get very distracted by them.

The audiobook is narrated well, mainly by William Dufris. Stephenson himself reads some of the definitions from "The Dictionary, 4th Edition, A.R. 3000" that preface each chapter.

The audio production includes monastic-sounding vocal music that was composed for it; it includes overtone singing similar to that performed by the Gyuto monks. (You can hear more of it on the Neal Stephenson web site.)

View all my ( reviews >>
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The Dragon in the Sea The Dragon in the Sea by Frank Herbert

Everyone know Frank Herbert as the author of Dune but a lot of people don't know that he wrote a number of other excellent novels.

The Dragon in the Sea is a science-fiction submarine-battle psychological thriller. It was written in the 1950s and for the most part it stands the test of time. I wouldn't be surprised if some of the modern submarine-battle thrillers like Das Boot and The Hunt for Red October owe it a debt.

It's not just a battle story, it's also a compelling depiction of the ways men function in conditions of pressure and uncertainty.

Psychology geeks who know a little Freud and Jung will probably get more enjoyment out of this book. Some of the psych theories might seem a little silly and dated now.

The audio version is narrated by Scott Brick. I think he overacts some of the narration, and he gets the accent of one of the crewmembers wrong, but overall he does a good job.

View all my [] reviews >>
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I Am Legend I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

I didn't expect much from the book that inspired George Romero to make Night of the Living Dead (I am not a fan of zombies), but I was pleasantly surprised. Published in 1954, I Am Legend had a huge influence on the modern vampire and zombie horror genres. The story focuses exclusively on the activities and inner dialogue of a man who believes he is the last survivor of a plague that infected all other humans with a zombie-ish form of vampirism. The book is well written and doesn't pull any punches. The survivalism/vampire trope is basically an excuse to explore human emotion in all its variety.

Trivia note: Richard Matheson also wrote the Star Trek:TOS first-season episode "The Enemy Within."

View all my reviews >>
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A Case of Conscience by James Blish

I listened to the Audible Frontiers audio book, well narrated by Jay Snyder. The book was written in 1958 and won a Hugo. The audio book includes an amusingly snippy foreword by Blish in which he defends the ways he chose to imagine how Catholic doctrine would change 100 years in the future.
spoilers )
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A Different Light by Elizabeth A. Lynn

If I told you the plot of this book it would sound like a space opera, or possibly a romance, but it doesn't entirely have the feeling of either. It's sort of noir, and it's sort of...langorous. The protagonist is a visual artist, and Lynn pulls it off so I got a pretty clear picture in my mind of what he was seeing and depicting.

I really liked that the main characters were bisexual and non-monogamous and that no big deal was made out of this -- it was just how they behaved naturally. I really liked that the relationships among the main characters were emotionally complex and that the characters gave each other emotional space.

Yes, I mostly read this book for the atmosphere and relationships, and I didn't read carefully enough to comment critically on the science or the plotting.

View all my reviews.

There may be spoilers in the comments.
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Romancing the Beast
Track(s): Reading, Viewing, and Critiquing Science Fiction (Feminism and Other Social Change Movements)
Description: Paranormal romance almost always features the hero as a paranormal being and the heroine as an ordinary human. How does this resonate with gender relations and power relationships in our society? And is it emblematic of women seeing men as Other?
Moderator: Vito Excalibur
Panelists: Catherine Cheek, Stef Maruch, Heidi Waterhouse, Janine Ellen Young

I was a panelist so I didn't take very thorough notes.

When I read the panel description I immediately thought of a bunch of counterexamples, so I played the panel contrarian.

--Anita Blake books (everyone is paranormal. However, heroine starts out more human. In one sense she stays more human than her entourage, in another sense she becomes more paranormal than they are)
--Marjorie M. Liu, A Taste of Crimson (a romance in which the lovers are a male vampire and a female werewolf)
--First Underworld movie (ditto, except a female vampire and a male werewolf)
--My unpublished vampire erotica story, with a female vampire and a male human (Vito asked if my vampire character is very old. She isn't. However, she is older than the human character.)

We discussed stories in which the male beast becomes human (e.g., most versions of Beauty & The Beast) vs. not (e.g., Robin McKinley's Sunshine, although I gather this isn't a bog-standard romance)

I mentioned Cocteau's version of Beauty & The Beast, in which the beast becomes human but he resembles a man who had been pestering Beauty, and she expresses some displeasure/distrust at the change.

Things that were mentioned, but I don't remember what was said about them:
--Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of the Romance by Jayne Ann Krentz (Editor)
--The beta hero (I think this referred to a less dominant, more sensitive male hero. I didn't say this on the panel, but Liu's A Taste of Crimson had some gender-role switching between the protagonists and the vampire could have been said to be a beta hero.)
--Dark Hunter series
-- (the beast remains "beastly")
--Reaper TV show: Hispanic boy has relationship with demon woman
--Queer reading of paranormal romance

Someone suggested there should be a panel in the future about the uterine replicator.

Toward the end of the panel we began discussing "male human, female sexbot" romances. A theory was promulgated for why women prefer beast romances and men prefer sexbot romances: Women fear loss, and men fear failure. The beast is only attractive to the particular woman who sees his inner beauty, so she won't lose him. A man can't mess up with a sexbot (is this what was said? I can't remember), so he doesn't experience failure. (In her writeup [personal profile] vito_excalibur [personal profile] vito_excalibur said that this was interesting but these arguments could get too essentialist. I agree.)
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Triton is set in a future in which humanity has spread to various moons and planets in the solar system. On the moon Triton, people have a lot of freedoms that we don't have on present-day Earth, for example, vague spoilers start here; post has no major spoilers but there may be spoilers in the comments )
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This is coming up for me as a result of a combination of things, including: having started to read Star Trek the Reboot fanfic, conversations I heard at Wiscon, and posts I saw today, including this one.

Describe science fiction fandom.
Describe media fandom.
What fandoms do you consider yourself to belong to or feel some affinity with?
What terms do you use to describe them?
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This is coming up for me as a result of a combination of things, including: having started to read Star Trek the Reboot fanfic, conversations I heard at Wiscon, and posts I saw today, including this one.

Describe science fiction fandom.
Describe media fandom.
What fandoms do you consider yourself to belong to or feel some affinity with?
What terms do you use to describe them?
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SF writers are supposed to be good at building compelling and believable worlds. So why is it so hard to build a world featuring working class characters in working class settings, especially given that a lot of SF writers come from that kind of background? What has worked, for you? What hasn't? Who clearly hasn't tried? Who has tried, but failed spectacularly? SF fans have done a good job of demanding better–written women and minorities in SF; what about their working class counterparts?

Panelists: Eleanor A. Arnason, Chris Hill, Michael J. Lowrey, Diana Sherman
Moderator: Fred Schepartz

[personal profile] badgerbag has detailed notes on most of this panel here. I'm including my notes from the beginning of the panel. My notes aren't verbatim so don't blame the panelists for any words I am putting in their mouths.

Panelists introduce themselves:
Eleanor: Writes science fiction and fantasy
Diana: Writes for a video game company
Fred: Novelist, cab driver, union organizer, shows communist party card
Chris: British working class origins
Michael: Union organizer, NWU

Fred: We aren't going to have a debate on class because that panel has been done before and it hasn't worked well. But let's define "working class"

Eleanor: Can get fired by boss, doesn't own means of production
Diana: Personal schedule is defined by job, can be fired
Chris: Opportunities are limited by upbringing and attitudes
Michael: Economic well-being is at the mercy of someone else

Fred: What's the status quo with regard to working class characters in SF?

Eleanor: Blue collar workers are not represented -- there are no plumbers in the future, e.g. Shadow economy is represented. Blue collar work is repetitious and doesn't include creative problem solving (e.g. in construction -- because you don't want creative problem solving in construction work). So it's not inherently exciting. SF came out of pulps, and has a bias toward stories of individual action.

Diana: Working class people exist in SF&F but are usually a secret prince or an apprentice who saves the planet. They are "hidden" and then they "leave." Working class job is seen as a trap. SF is escapist adventure.

Chris: It's a generic truth about literature that working class people don't generate story unless they are escaping. Dickens gets a cooking for writing about the working class, but actually all his working class characters were either tragic or comic.

Michael: Soldiers are working class people who show up in SF. Roots of SF are in American pulp literature, which has a bias against collectivism. Leader stories are about leaders, not the movement. Exception: Some Harry Turtledove, and Eric Flint's 1832 series. (Eric Flint was a union organizer.) There is potential for greatness in working class people, so unleash it in your writing.

Fred: Labor struggle is difficult to talk about in America because it's difficult for us to talk about class. Some writers are working class but write escapist SF because they want it or think audience wants it. Also to portray a labor struggle requires an ensemble cast which is harder to write (more characters).

Fred: Will there be a working class in the future?

Michael: Who built the Death Star?

Audience: Robots!

Eleanor: If robots built the Death Star they would also do the fighting. In Charlie Stross book Saturn's Children, only robots are left. People are versatile/cheap. (So there will continue to be a working class.

Diana: Humans are more flexible than robots.

Chris Hill: People are cheap. In utopias, who is doing the work? These societies are often untenable because the author is not interested or isn't thinking about those issues.

Michael: Writers of magic utopias should be required to work at jobs where they have to maintain something. "There's no such thing as 'away.'"

([personal profile] badgerbag's blogging begins here)

During this section of the panel I was thinking about Jeanne Duprau's book City of Ember (which is also a movie), because it's all about work. spoilers ) A number of jobs are described including courier, maintainer of electrical systems, maintainer of water pipes.

In a later section of the panel, one of the panelists was describing a story by Kornbluth about a Puerto Rican dishwasher who is a math genius. The panelists were lamenting that this kind of story is no longer being written. But it reminded me of a story in Walter Mosley's Futureland in which a technical genius is born into a poor family. So maybe some of them are being written again.
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I listened to an audio production of Calculating God, narrated by Jonathan Davis. There's an interesting intro by Robert J. Sawyer that explains what he was trying to accomplish by writing the book.

The novel intertwines three stories: massive spoilers, also a lot of nitpicking )

When I read a few stories in a row that are highly regarded and that leave me annoyed at what I perceive are pretty serious flaws both in the storytelling and in the ideas being explored, never mind the sexual politics, I start to wonder whether I really ought to be reading science fiction at all. Maybe I am too nitpicky to enjoy it. Maybe I should just not read any fiction at all.

I usually eventually read a book I like and get over that attitude.
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I found a theater that offered it with rear window captioning so the OH could see it with me. Now I don't have to go to Wiscon prepared to clap my hands over my ears every five minutes to avoid spoilers.

Watching the movie made me happy. I was entertained.

spoilery goodness )
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Hyperion (Hyperion, Book 1) Hyperion by Dan Simmons

rating: 4 of 5 stars
I listened to the Audio Frontiers audiobook narrated by Marc Vietor, Allyson Johnson, Kevin Pariseau, Jay Snyder, and Victor Bevine. All the narration was competent-to-good, except for Allyson Johnson, whose narration annoyed me.

I have one major beef with this book, which is that the ending doesn't really wrap up the story. (Apparently the sequel, Fall of Hyperion, provides a proper ending.)

Hyperion is a set of six tales wrapped in a larger plotline about seven pilgrims making a journey. Toward the end of the book all the stories start to converge into one complex story. That's what's best about the book, in my opinion.

In this book and the other one I've read (Children of the Night), Dan Simmons does a really good job of creating "cranky, cynical old men" characters. This book has six major such characters and a few secondary ones, and they are all very distinctive. Simmons does less well at creating female characters. This book has one female character who has her own narrative, but her personality and motives don't feel as distinctive to me as those of the male characters, and neither do the personalities of the secondary female characters.

Simmons is well-read in literature and mythology and he does a good job of integrating this knowledge into the book.

Simmons's writing makes use of horror tropes designed to evoke strong emotional reactions. Those tropes don't work particularly well for me for some reason.

I also think Simmons sometimes doesn't do a very good job writing about romantic relationships. (He does better writing about primarily sexual relationships.) Sometimes the characters' motives for getting involved or staying involved aren't clear; in this book, I especially felt that way about the tale with a female protagonist.

View all my reviews.
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I want to read some SF by Delany. I own Triton and Dhalgren. They will keep me busy for a while. Which other ones should I read, and in what order?
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George Alec Effinger Live! From Planet Earth George Alec Effinger Live! From Planet Earth by George Alec Effinger

rating: 3 of 5 stars
I have been a huge fan of When Gravity Fails since it came out, and I recently read and enjoyed the other Marîd Audran books. So I wanted to find out if Effinger's short fiction was as good as those novels.

My overall impression was "mostly not." But even though I disliked a number of the stories for one reason or another, I found it interesting to read a set of stories that had been written over such a long period of time (between 1971 and 1997).

This book was published after Effinger's unfortunately early death and each story (or set of stories) is introduced by a different writer. Do skip the introductions until afterward if you aren't familiar with the stories, because some of them contain spoilers.

One thing I found interesting was that although all the stories are skillfully written, stories written later (generally but not universally) brought up more complex emotions for me than stories written earlier.

Of particular interest are the seven stories and one poem that Effinger wrote under a pseudonym, O. Niemand. Each of the pieces was written in the style of a different American writer (O. Henry, Ernest Hemingway, etc.), and they all more or less take place in the same sfnal world. The gimmick itself is pretty clever, and he pulls off effectively, but I thought most of the stories also worked well as science fiction in their own right. (I read them without knowing the gimmick, and the only one I recognized the style of was the poem.)

View all my reviews.


29 Aug 2008 12:31 pm
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Whipping Star by Frank Herbert rating: 4 of 5 stars
Superbly narrated by Scott Brick.

What I like best about Whipping Star are the conversations between McKie and the Caleban, and I like them for the same reasons that I like reading philosophy - they explore the difficulty of communicating about abstract concepts and the grounds of existence and experience.

These conversations are set in a storyline that bears a certain resemblance to a police procedural. It takes place in a universe where a variety of different "sentients" interact.

Herbert does a good job of creating actually alien aliens and exploring how they interact and manage to work together.

The sexual politics aren't so great. There is a powerful female character in the book, but she is a vain, sadistic villain. The only other character in the book who is identifed as female is the Caleban, but Brick gives her a male voice. Given how the Calebans communicate, this makes a certain amount of sense and it works for me, but it does leave only one female character, at least for the audio version.

View all my ( reviews.

Other stuff I've listened recently:

"Where Angels Fear to Tread," a Hugo-winning time-travel novella by Allen Steele. I enjoyed it. He expanded it into a novel called Chronospace, which I have heard is not very good.

"3:10 to Yuma," a short story by Elmore Leonard. I found it forgettable. I enjoyed the recent movie based on it. The movie expands the story considerably.


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firecat (attention machine in need of calibration)

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