The Geomancer


Thoughts on Science Fiction Film & Television

There's a really interesting article up at Popular Mechanics right now, "Hollywood Sci-Fi's Bronze Age: Are Comics to Blame?" by Erik Sofge. Erik runs a comparison of the SF films that were released in 1982 - Blade Runner, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, The Thing and Tron, and compares it to 2007's Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, 28 Weeks Later, I Am Legend, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, The Invasion, Resident Evil: Extinction, Spider-Man 3 and Transformers. He then asks if the wealth of comic book projects isn't gobbling up the same resources that once went to smart SF.

Now, personally, I love a well-made comic book adaptation, and I think that there's always been loads of crap peppered with a few gems coming out of Hollywood and always will be. It wouldn't be hard to make a list of 100 smart SF films and another list of 100 dumb ones; and the smart ones aren't necessarily the good ones and the dumb ones not necessarily the bad ones (I love The Fifth Element!) Furthermore, the boom in effects technology, coupled with the lowered cost of same, means that the coming years are going to see more SF films than every before, smart and dumb, because the coming years are going to see more of everything than ever before. So I'm sure we've got some gems in the works right now, and some clunkers. And I'm not too worried about it.

Of course, Erik is right to be worried that "interest in science is at a low point in this country. Gadget and robot-related news might score high marks online, but there’s a difference between reading a blog and getting a doctorate." Here he links to "Educator Panel: U.S. Science Needs a Sputnik-ian Wakeup Call" by Matt Sullivan, who says " With American high school seniors performing below the international average for 21 countries in math and science...there needs to be an ambitious plan to increase awareness of scientific education." Amen.

And you know I think more SF is good for that. In fact, the top comment on Erik's article is:

james cameron made me a robotics engineer. i watched terminator 2 when i was 10,and it was the first time i went to a cinema.cameron rocks!!!!

Lately I've been considering how even the dumb stuff (and I'm not counting Terminator 2 in that category) has a role to play in inspiring people. I think that anything expansive and imaginative has benefits, even, you know, that dreadful Lucas stuff... Anything that inspires sense of wonder can inspire, right?

Of course, I have to applaud Erik when he concludes, "What’s missing from Hollywood sci-fi, and what the comic adaptations continue to smother, is a celebration of smarts. The smaller movies have them—films like Sunshine and Primer. In fiction, writers like Charles Stross are pushing the limits of the genre. Maybe next year’s Star Trek reboot will make quantum physics look cool again. And if anyone can return some credibility to science-fiction movies, it’s James Cameron, whose long-gestating Avatar (about a human remote-operating a robot on a distant, alien planet) also shows up next year."

Again, they'll be a lot more films like Primer coming down the pike, as it just gets cheaper and cheaper for a basic level of SF effects to be produced by the almost-average Joe. And they won't all be from Hollywood either. I imagine there's at least one or two mind blowing SF films being cooked up on someone's home computer right now, if not their cellphone.

And I would point to this article from Fast Company, "Rebel Alliance," by David Kushner. It's about the cabal of sf fans that are revolutionizing television with their visions (quite a few of whom - like Battlestar Galactica's Ron Moore - are very knowledgeable when it comes to literary SF.) The article is really about "transmedia" - how TV producers have to think about extending their storylines into other media such as games, comics, and online sites, but it also illustrates without calling out the fact that as movies seem to be getting sillier, television is getting better and better, richer, more "novelistic."

And David's article echoes my own optimism when it concludes, "
The Geek Elite are well aware that they're creating a future that may ultimately pass them by. 'There's someone out there who will figure out how to relate the Internet and narrative beyond my old-fashioned notions,' [Joss] Whedon says. 'But I think whoever cracks that is not going to be someone who's made it huge in television. It's going to be some guy we just don't know about yet.'"

I, for one, can't wait to meet 'em.


EerieConXI: A Con Report by Jacinta Meyers

Jacinta Meyers is an Assistant Editor in the editorial department of my parent company, Prometheus Books. Last weekend, she attended EerieConX, a small convention put on by the Buffalo Fantasy League. The con was held April 18 - 20, 2008, at the Days Inn in Niagara Falls, New York. Given the convention's proximity to my dark masters, I am thinking about EerieCon myself for next year. Meanwhile, Jacinta kindly agreed to act as Pyr's goodwill ambassador this time, shouldering the burden of lugging a large stack of Pyr bookmarks, catalogs and (very popular) sampler books along with her. She has also provide us with the following con report. And so, without further adieu, here's Jacinta:

EerieConX. When we walked through the doors of the Days Inn at Niagara Falls, we weren't sure that it was even the right hotel. It was quiet, no one dressed in crazy costumes or standing around with cups of coffee chatting about advanced astrophysics, Star Trek, or Isaac Asimov. In fact, there weren't very many people around at all. Then, over by the desk, we saw the sign: ErieConX, registration downstairs. Making our way down, we were given our badges, programs, and convention booklets. Then began one of the smallest and most authentic conventions I have ever been to.

About a hundred fans of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror turned out for the weekend-long event. With such few people, there was a real quality of camaraderie that you just can't get at massive cons. Some of the panels drew such small audiences that we spoke on a first-name basis with the guests of honor. And there were several: Sephera Giron, Carl Frederick, Joe Haldeman, Nancy Kress, John-Allen Price, Rob Sawyer, Caro Soles, Edo van Belkom, and Jennifer Crow, to name just a few. Panel topics included diversity in the field of genre publishing, habitable planets in the universe, and such practical things as how to hire an agent and how to balance one's life around writing. There were the staples of fantasy and sci-fi conventions - a small dealer's room and art gallery. And then there were the activities you can't see anywhere else: a hilarious game of "Which line's mine?" where the published author-guests have to correctly identify which lines from written works are their own. There was a room showing movies, shows, and animes all weekend, and a gaming room complete with Dance Dance Revolution mats.

What surprised me the most about this hometown convention was the diversity. There were people from all over the US and Canada, of every age and orientation, from every class and education level. Accordingly, the convention programmers had set up many different kinds of interesting panels, with presenters like David DeGraff, professor of astronomy and physics at Alfred University, and space physicist David Stephenson. We had discussions on everything from what weather would be like on giant gaseous planets, to Caesar's military logistics. Authors at one panel spoke about good horror writing while others discussed how to escape over-used clich├ęs in fantasy writing. There was truly something for everyone.

The only real criticism I would have is for the convention programmers. While they did an awesome job with the panel topics and set-up, there were so many panels going on all over the hotel at the same time. We often had to try and decide between two or even three equally interesting panels to attend. Authors kept complaining that there was not enough time to get from the top floor to a panel on the bottom level, and there were no breaks in between. The hallway with the drinks and snacks bar was often crowded, with stuffed chairs and tables blocking movement from the elevators and bathrooms to the different rooms with activities. Perhaps if the planners considered a yearly overall theme, or shortened each panel to 45 minutes rather than a whole hour, to give authors fifteen minutes to answer questions, pose for pictures, or just get from one floor to another, the convention may be a little less chaotic.

Nevertheless, this editor has definitely marked her calendar for EerieConXI next year. Maybe I'll see you there!


Behold the Son of Man

John Picacio has turned in the final artwork for the forthcoming Pyr reissue of Robert Silverberg's classic Son of Man.He talks about the process of creating the preliminary sketches here, with a rare glimpse at some of his pencils, and the final work done on the finished painting here. (I'm intrigued by his Jimi Hendrix comments.)

Son of Man is one of my favorite SF book of all, so I'm thrilled to be reissuing it under the Pyr banner. And Silverberg and I both knew that John was the perfect illustrator for this job. For those who know the book already, I think you'll agree that Picacio has done an incredible job picking up on both the messianic and the sexual overtones, and has managed to get that 60s/70s psychedelic feel without feeling at all like he was going retro or pastiche. Here's the full wrap-around painting:


A World Too Near, A Book Impossible to Put Down

Pat's Fantasy Hotlist has a great interview with Kay Kenyon up today, apparently co-conducted by Patrick and SFFWorld's Rob H. Bedford. Check it all out, but I particularly like Kay's answer to the question of whether there were any "perceived conventions of the science fiction/fantasy genre" that she set out to "twist or break." Kay replies:

"Well, first off, I wanted to celebrate some of the traditions, and make the story an unabashed fantasy quest. Insofar as the story has science fiction underpinnings, I did twist the usual space opera protagonist, making Titus Quinn deeply divided in his loyalties. Through the eyes of his daughter, Sydney, we get an unsparing view of Titus. Her deeply ambivalent feelings for Titus highlight his dilemmas and explore the question of how it’s possible to do good when all actions will create suffering. I wanted to turn a Flash Gordon concept into the thinking reader’s adventure novel. ...As the story proceeded, I wanted to create fault lines in the reader’s assumptions about the Tarig overlords, who by tradition we want to despise. A pervasive goal was to give each character their value as a sentient being. This emphasis on character is also, in my view, a departure from the classic adventure tale."

Meanwhile, earlier this week, Rob H. Bedford posted the SFFWorld review of the second book in Kay's The Entire and the Rose series, A World Too Near, proclaiming that, ""Kenyon does a great job of maintaining the tension of this throughout the novel. "

[Spoiler Alert] If Bright of the Skywas Titus Quinn's book, then this one is Joanna Quinn's, as Rob observes, "While Titus is indeed the main character, Kenyon also shows his wife’s life in the Entire. In fact, the novel opens with a scene of Joanna Quinn, illustrating the grandeur of the Entire while juxtaposing it against the desperation Joanna feels in an otherwise beautiful place. Joanna’s scenes proved even more emotionally charged than those featuring Titus, there is a great deal of conflict within her and at times, she seems resigned to her fate and has given up hope of a return to the life she knew. While Joanna’s scenes aren’t as frequent as Titus’s, they are as powerful."

Rob concludes that, "ultimately, I found myself unable to stop reading. As the novel draws to a close, the pressure builds for Titus and for Joanna, making for a briskly paced conclusion that you want to read through fast, but conversely, you don’t want to end. A tease at the end gives readers just enough to crave the next volume."

Which is perfect, ennit?


Daughter of the Empire

Tomas L. Martin has reviewed Theodore Judson's The Martian General's Daughterfor SFCrowsnest with the intriguing description that it is "worthy sequel in spirit to The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire."Which it is, as the book serves, as he says, as a"a strong, dynamic analysis of what happens when a nation grows too far and collapses under the pressure of its ambition." And there is a large part of the narrative that is a retelling of the history of Marcus Aurelius and his son Commodius (who will be somewhat familiar to fans of the film Gladiator,yes), only that all this history is seen through the person of Justa, the daughter of the title. To me, her voice and her personal story are more powerful than the history she witnesses, which while it has a lot to say about the fall of empire (and, I believe, our own recent efforts at empire-building), is a vehicle for a very personal look at family. My two cents.

Update: Ah, and here comes a review on Neth Space that is the third one to use that word "compelling"when referring to Justa. They echo a little of what I'm talking about when they say, "The story gains new dimensions as it moves forward – becoming as much the story of Justa as the general. We slowly learn bits and pieces of Justa’s past as she relates the story of her father. As an empire decays, we feel that Justa thrives and grows. In the end, we have three stories in one – the death of empire, the biography of a great general, and the growth a young woman."

Update 4/17/08: Jeff Vandermeer opines at Amazon's Omnivoracious blog that, "this slim but satisfying novel is often willfully didactic in the way it treats political/military issues--but it works because of the context. These are the issues the characters are dealing with, this is the way they would talk about them. It's rare that a book will make you think and make you feel in quite this particular way."


Infoquake: Science Fiction's John Grisham

There's a new review of David Louis Edelman's Infoquakeup on Grasping for the Wind, which proclaims "What John Grisham has done with the legal thriller, Edelman has done with business." They describe Infoquake as "an adventure filled narrative," and conclude, "Infoquake is well-written and well-cadenced. The climax is fulfilling and exciting, yet it is only a speech, and a marketing one at that. Edelman has so well woven the elements of his plot together that Natch’s simple speech has a much power and excitement to it as another science fiction story’s destruction of a spaceship or a fantasy’s evil overlord dying hideously at the hands of a hero. That takes skill to write, and Edelman has it in spades. I highly recommend this novel."


The Politics of SF

Interesting piece in The Guardian by Damien G. Walter called "The Politics of sci-fi" on the Hugos, the struggle for "literary respectability," Michael Chabon as "the secret weapon of a genre that has always craved mainstream acclaim. Very soon we will reveal his origins as a genetically engineered Super Writer, bred to infiltrate mainstream literature with high-quality genre fiction. The Margaret Atwood droid may have violated its core programming by denying its science fiction roots, but we have high hopes that Chabon will perform better."

Mention of Brasyland Ian McDonald (along with Charles Stross) as "among the hardest of hard science fiction authors." And a nice acknowledgments of Michael Moorcock's upcoming Grand Master award, with a nod to his overall importance to the field.


The Latest from David Louis Edelman

David Louis Edelman's latest newsletter, too funny & informative not to repurpose as a Pyr blog entry:


There's a convergence of astral forces in the air... a locus of spiritual energies... a crossroads in the galaxy where Ebb and Flow meet. The buzzer has sounded, it's a tie game, and the universe has gone into quantum harmonic electro-mega overtime.

What's causing all this? Why, it's the imminent release of MultiReal and the re-release of Infoquake, of course! We're a scant few months away from what I am now officially labeling the Summer of Jump 225. Doesn't quite have the same ring to it as the Summer of Love, but these things take time to build.

Very, very soon I'll have new websites, new reviews, new appearances, and the like to report. But in the meantime, here's all the David Louis Edelman writing news that's fit to, uh, type.

  • John W. Campbell Nomination for Best New Writer.
    Yes, it happened! Thanks to all your efforts, I'm now a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in science fiction and fantasy. The other nominees: Scott Lynch, Joe Abercrombie, Mary Robinette Kowal, Jon Armstrong, and David Anthony Durham. The winner is voted by Worldcon members and will be announced (along with the rest of the Hugo awards) this August at the Denver Worldcon. (You'll be pleased to know that my editor, Lou Anders, is up for a Hugo this year as well.)
  • MultiReal Chapters 1-5 Available Online in the Pyr Sampler.
    My publisher, Pyr, has released a 326-page sampler of its upcoming titles. Included in the sampler are the first five chapters of MultiReal, available for the first time anywhere. Download the whole sampler from Pyr (Adobe Acrobat 3.5 MB file) and then head over to my blog to tell me what you think of it.
  • My Story "Mathralon" Now Available.
    My first, and so far only, completed science fiction short story has been published and is now available in The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Volume 2. It's called "Mathralon," and it's a story about economically oppressed space miners told without plot, characters, or dialogue from a Greek chorus point of view. The UK Guardian singled "Mathralon" out as one of the standouts in the collection, calling it "a deliberately dry, unconventionally narrated account of the mining of a rare mineral, a story on a galactic scale which only serves to show what very small worlds we inhabit." Intrigued, you say? Go thou forth and order the anthology on Amazon. Solaris was kind enough to allow me to publish "Mathralon" for free on my website as well. You can read the entire story here and read an introduction on my blog as well.
  • Robert Sawyer Praises MultiReal.
    Rob Sawyer, author of too many acclaimed novels to list here (including this year's Hugo nominee for Best Novel, Rollback), has given an advance blurb for MultiReal. Here's what Rob has to say: "Just when we thought cyberpunk was dead, David Louis Edelman bursts on the scene with defibrillator paddles and shouts, 'Clear!' If there's any web more tangled than the World Wide one, it's the Byzantine networks of high finance; Edelman intermeshes them in a complex, compelling series. This DOES compute!"
  • My Introduction to Titus Alone Now Available.
    Overlook Press has just reissued Mervyn Peake's 1959 novel Titus Alone, the third in the classic Gormenghast Trilogy. Gracing the opening pages is a new introduction by Yours Truly. The gist of it? Despite what you may have heard, Mervyn Peake's last novel is not the product of a deteriorating mind, but a vibrant counterpoint to the first two books in the series. Go order Titus Alone on Amazon. Overlook Press has also graciously allowed me to post the introduction in full on my blog.
  • I'm on Wikipedia.
    The gods of communal knowledge have seen fit to provide me with my own Wikipedia page, which makes me happy out of all proportion to the actual achievement itself. I actually had Wikipedia pages before, twice, both of which were almost instantly taken down by the Powers That Wiki. So you might want to see the page before someone decides I'm not important enough to merit it.
  • MultiReal and Infoquake Available for Pre-Order.
    Just in case you weren't already aware, you can pre-order MultiReal and Infoquake on Amazon, among other places.

Coming very, very soon: brand spankin' new redesigned websites for me as well as for Infoquake and MultiReal.

Towards Perfection,
David Louis Edelman