Seven 20th Century Classic SF/F Books You May Not Have Read

December 23, 2016

Over the course of this past week I posted the following recommendations on my Facebook page. These are all books I’m a big fan of, have read and re-read growing up. They played a major role in shaping my perception of genre as well as my own writing style.

The posts generated some interesting discussion and I figured it may be worth collecting them into a blog post, for those who do not read my FB feed. (Which you totally can. My posts are generally set to public and you can subscribe/follow if you wish.)

So, here goes:

Birthright: The Book of Man by Mike Resnick

This book covers the history of the human race over the course of several thousand years. It’s episodic: each chapter is self-contained and can be read as a short story. In fact, I was surprised when Mike told me it wasn’t put together out of individually written/sold short stories first but, in fact, written in order over several months.

I love episodic fiction and this is perhaps the finest example of such when it comes to space opera. It also outlines the future history of the setting of many of Mike’s popular novels such as Santiago, the Widowmaker series, the Starship series, etc.

 

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

This is my favorite Russian-language novel and Bulgakov is my favorite Russian author. In writing this book he invented Magical Realism decades before Marquez. In his “Heart of a Dog” he scooped Keyes by writing a superior version of “Flowers for Algernon.” Both of these books also have a humorous bend and engage in then-death-defying satire of the Soviet regime.

Inexplicably, Bulgakov was favored by Stalin, which protected him for a time. He died in 1940 and this novel wasn’t published until 1966. A very small print run was produced before the book was promptly banned by the censors and circulated mostly in samizdat until the late 1980s.

Although I can argue that this is one of (if not the) most influential Russian novels of the 20th century, I recommend it because it’s a great book that easily withstands the test of time and still reads fresh today.

 

Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn

 

In honor of the release of ROGUE ONE, today I’d like to talk up Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars Admiral Thrawn trilogy.

I tend to strongly dislike media tie-in books. I’m of the opinion that they’re rarely any good, even when written by authors who are capable of producing excellent material. The combination of restraints placed by the IP holder, short turnaround times, and often crappy pay encourages writers to channel their inner hack and turn in bland, uninspired work that ranges from Meh to eyebleedingly horrible. There are, of course, exceptions, and Zahn’s Star Wars books are among the very best.

The Thrawn trilogy picks up five years after the events of RETURN OF THE JEDI and is full of intrigue, adventure, and unabashed space opera that makes Star Wars, well… Star Wars. He also introduces one of the best bad guys in the franchise, Grand Admiral Thrawn, who–in my opinion–is second only to Darth Vader himself. The alien tactician is brilliant enough to climb high in the Empire’s xenophobic hierarchy, and he makes a worthy opponent to Luke, Leia, Han and the rest of the gang.

Although older Star Wars books are no longer considered canon as per Disney’s decree, many of Zahn’s ideas took root. It was he who introduced the concept of Coruscant, the Republic’s planet-wide capital city, which was later featured in the movies. And although I haven’t watched the cartoon, I understand Grand Admiral Thrawn shows up in STAR WARS REBELS, so that makes him canon, too.

From These Ashes: The Complete Short SF of Fredric Brown

 

Much of what I know about writing short fiction in general, and especially flash fiction, I learned from reading Fredric Brown. He isn’t as well-known today as he deserves to be but I don’t think it would be much of an exaggeration to call him the father of flash fiction. He wrote beautiful, funny, clever little stories that fit onto a page or two but carried more punch than most longer works do.

Although you might not already know his name, chances are you’re familiar with some of his work. Two of his pieces are particularly well-known. The first is “Arena,” a short story that a Star Trek: the Original Series episode of the same name was based on. (The original short story is better, IMO.) The second is “Knock,” which opens with the world’s shortest SF/horror story. I shall post it here in it’s entirety:

“The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door…”

Brown goes on to elaborate on the concept in “Knock” but it’s these two lines that have spawned countless imitations and elaborations, and remain firmly embedded in our pop culture.

Although this book is a bit pricey, it’s well-worth it for the complete collection of Brown’s genre stories (he also wrote mysteries, which are collected in a separate volume.) In my opinion, anyone who is serious about writing short fiction must read this book.

The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge

A beautiful, evocative, complex science fiction novel, this and it’s equally-good sequel The Summer Queen are among my favorite books — genre or otherwise.

Vinge has written several other excellent novels (such as the Psion books) but a serious car accident in the early 2000s derailed her career. She appears to have published a couple of film novelizations since then, and little else, which is a great shame.

 

Labyrinth of Reflections by Sergei Lukyanenko

While I talked about my favorite Russian writer earlier, my favorite *living* Russian writer is Lukyanenko. He has written everything from urban fantasy to space opera to YA, but his very first published novel (I believe it is, anyway) remains my favorite. Labyrinth of Reflections is a cyberpunk novel written in the 90s and while some of the references (like AOL and saving a laughably small amount of data onto a diskette) feel outdated, the book withstands the test of time as well as Neuromancer.

You may already be familiar with Lukyanenko’s work from the NIGHT WATCH and DAY WATCH films (the books are WAY better than the movies.) He’s deservedly the most popular fantasist in Russia (as well-known there as Stephen King is in the US) and is well-worth reading. I can’t vouch for the quality of the translation below since I read this book in the original, but a cursory examination suggests it’s pretty good.

Way Station by Clifford D. Simak

 

Simak is, in my opinion, one of the best SF writers of the 20th century. His work was well-recognized with award nominations and wins but it has been out of print for entirely too long and younger readers are sadly unfamiliar with his books. Fortunately, Open Road Media brought his work back into print recently. Although many of Simak’s books are excellent, I consider WAY STATION and CITY absolute must-reads for every SF fan (and writer!) out there.

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So what are some of your favorite genre books written in the 20th century? (With a special focus on titles that may not be as well-recognized as Dune or The Left Hand of Darkness or Ringworld)

 

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Mailing List Activated

July 20, 2016

Writers who are smarter than me (aka writers) keep telling me that I must have a mailing list. Well, fine then. I went ahead and made one.

My plan is to update once or twice a month, but also to provide anyone kind enough to sign up for these updates with some exclusive content: I will send out a free short story or flash fiction every month (from my many previously published pieces for now, but if the list grows popular enough I’ll consider posting something original!) I will also do raffles and share some unique specials through the list. I might even share a few tidbits from my novel-in-progress in the coming months. Which is to say, sign up. Please? With sugar on top?

Click here to sign up.

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Notable SF/F TV series, early 2016 edition

February 26, 2016

I spend way too much time watching television. Time that could be better spent writing, editing, or venturing to what most people call “outside.” However, I’m aware of my vices and I might as well share the outcome of all the research I thus conducted with you. Late last year I participated on the Mind Meld about best genre TV shows of 2015 and I had a fun time writing my portion of that post, so I decided to update it here with the shows that have launched in early 2016:

You, Me, and the Apocalypse

Like FOX’s Last Man on Earth from last year, this show starts off with an apocalyptic premise. The show is part comedy, part horror, and part soap opera. It’s full of crazy twists, but it manages to make the combination work.

You, Me, and the Apocalypse uses the device popularazed by Breaking Bad: they open each episode with a scene that takes place moments before an asteroid is about to destroy humanity. We see the narrator in a bunker with a group of very unlikely characters (including a monkey and someone trapped in a wooden box) while the opening credits roll, then each episode tells the story of how all of them managed to end up there (some from half a world away.)

This is a limited run series. The show, co-produced by NBC and Sky 1, already completed its run in the UK, so I cheated and got my hands on a complete set. It was very satisfying, even if the show lost some of its comedic elements and grew progressively darker in the later episodes. The show’s plot is rather susceptible to spoilers, so don’t spend too much time or effort looking into the details about it online or you might ruin some of the fun for yourself.

It’s unclear whether another series will be produced (there are plenty of intentionally unresolved and tantalizing bits in the finale) but even if the ten-episode run is all there ever is to the series, it is definitely worth watching.

 

The Shannara Chronicles

This one is a mixed bag. It really doesn’t live up to the Game of Thrones, the success of which it is so clearly trying to emulate. It seems clearly designed to appeal to the MTV demographic, which is definitely not me. Having said that, there’s precious little epic fantasy on TV.  If you enjoyed The Sword of Truth or Xena: Warrior Princess, you will probably like this one as well, but don’t expect complex plots, complex characters, or complex anything. Just a bit of well-produced, mindless fun.

 

The Magicians

As I wrote at SF Signal last year, I really enjoyed the pilot. I only managed to catch a couple more episodes so far, but I’m really digging the show. It’s sort-of a gritty Harry Potter for the ’90s generation, with the action taking place in New York City and a school of wizardry university that teaches magic in upstate New York. I like both the vibe and the characters, and look forward to watching more.

Overall I’m pretty happy with what SyFy’s been doing over the course of the last year.

 

 

lucifer

Lucifer

Based on the comic book character created by Neil Gaiman and others, and eventually a star of his own Vertigo comic book, Lucifer becomes bored with reigning in hell and decides to spend some time hanging out in Los Angeles.

I liked the first episode and really enjoyed Tom Ellis’s portrayal of the main character, but since then the show has fallen into a predictable procedural pattern which is less interesting. To be fair, there has only been a few episodes. Person of Interest spent much of the first season in procedural format before it became really excellent, so there’s hope for Lucifer yet. I’m willing to give it a few more episodes but if you aren’t on board already, I’m not sure I can recommend this one.

The only other new SF/F series I can think of that I tried was Second Chance. Another procedural, and pretty well made at that, but it’s almost certainly getting cancelled due to poor ratings, so likely not worth becoming invested in.

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TL:DR version:

You, Me, and the Apocalypse – Must watch!

The Magicians – Very solid so far.

The Shannara Chronicles – Meh.

Lucifer – Meh.

Second Chance – Dead show walking.

 

Have you seen anything good that I missed? Please post a comment. If there’s interest, I will post an update later in the year with my takes on Colony, Preacher, and any other new genre shows that I get a chance to watch.

 

 

 


100 Year Starship

October 30, 2015

I just arrived in Santa Clara, CA. Tomorrow night is the Canopus award ceremony at the 100 Year Starship symposium, for which my short story “The Race for Arcadia” is a finalist. There are a ton of great stories nominated in my category (including works by Ken Liu and Cat Valente) so I’m not expecting to win, but I sure plan on having fun at the ceremony!

And while we await the results, you can enjoy my story published in this week’s Nature magazine, “Staff Meeting, As Seen By the Spam Filter.” You should also check out the blog post which goes with it: I think it came out at least as well as the story itself.

In other news, I sold “Golf to the Death” to Galaxy’s Edge magazine. Mike Resnick is very kind to my work and has published a lot of it; with this story he sent me a rewrite request and his suggestions were SO spot on that I’m confident it improved the story by a ton. Not sure when it will be published, but likely in the next 6 months or sooner.


Announcing the Humanity 2.0 Anthology

September 29, 2015

Humanity20_webversion

I’m happy to announce that I will be editing Humanity 2.0, to be published by Arc Manor/Phoenix Pick in 2016.

This anthology will collect stories that examine how achieving interstellar flight changes humanity itself. Will we choose to upload our minds into a singularity? Enhance ourselves with alien DNA? Will our bodies remain the same, but our culture and societal norms change considerably to accommodate for effects of time dilation, or become subsumed by the more advanced alien societies? What will it mean to be human in such a future? I’d like to feature stories with engaging plot and characters, but where mankind itself is, in a way, a character.

The anthology will feature a 50/50 split between reprints solicited from some very exciting headliners, and original fiction from invited authors.

The cover design is by the very talented Holly Heisey. We’ll add in headliner names once the table of contents is finalized.

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He Who Watches – Fireside Magazine #26

August 3, 2015

The latest issue for Fireside is live as of today and it includes my post-apocalyptic flash fiction story He Who Watches. Click on the link to read but be warned: it’s not the usual light and fluffy fare you’ve come to expect from me!

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John H. Costello Documents

July 13, 2015

readercon

The following scans are from the books and letters that were a part of the personal collection of John Costello, translator and science fiction fan who passed away earlier this year.  John had worked closely with Kir Bulychev, one of Russia’s best-known and beloved science fiction authors, and was actively involved in promoting Russian science fiction in the US.

I felt the following documents might especially be of interest to Russian fandom, and am sharing them with permission from ReaderCon. Click on any of the images to see the full version, and feel free to download/share/post them as you see fit.

Bulychev sig Poselok

There is a number of books in the collection autographed by Kir Bulychev and signed to John Costello. Most of them are merely signed with a brief note of well wishes, as the one above, but there are several with interesting notes that I am posting below. If there’s interest in the other “basic” signatures/dedications, I can scan those upon request.

Bulychev sketch

A self-portrait sketch by Kir Bulychev. He writes “from Igor and the Mouse” though that definitely looks like a cat to me. May have been some inside joke between Kir and John. This is from the flap of “Коралловый Замок” (The Coral Castle).

 

Bulychev sig Comic Book

The only dedication in English. From the flap of “Андрей Брюс, Агент Космофлота” (Andrei Bruce, Spacefleet Agent) hardcover comic book, circa 1993. Comic books were not a well-known media form in Russia; this must have been one of the earlier such publications, and it was based on Bulychev’s writing.

Bulychev sig Who Needs This

A “best of” collection “Кому Ето Надо?” (Who Needs This?). Bulychev writes: This is what’s called “The Best Of…” over there. I think it turned out to be a very pretty book.”

Lukin signature

A signature by Lubov and Evgeny Lukin on the cover page of their “Когда Отступяют Ангелы” (When Angels Retreat). It reads: “With hope that you like it. –Co-authors of this book and friends of Boris Zavgorodniy.”

Dushenko letter

The letter from Konstantin Dushenko to John Costello, granting permission to reprint the translation of Dushenko’s interview with Stanislaw Lem and requesting a copy of the publication. Dushenko goes on to ask how Costello found out about the interview, published int he Review of Books, and goes on to comment on Lem’s assent to the Russian-language publication of the novel “Memoirs Found in a Bathtub” without the foreword he was originally forced to write so the book would be able to get past the censors. Dushenko notes that all previous editions of “Memoirs” in the original Polish and in translation were published with this foreword.

Note: The scan intentionally cuts off the final line of the letter, which includes Dushenko’s address (in case he or his family still reside there.)

 

Kovshun letter 1Kovshun letter 2Front and back of the letter from Igor Nikolaevich Kovshun, a noted UFOlogist and head of “Proteus,” the SF fan club in Odessa, Ukraine.

Kovshun sig

A copy of “The Stars detached from the Sky and Fell to Earth…” autographed by Kovshun.

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