Showing posts from October, 2011

The Weekend's Films

Isn't it just the way: you go weeks without seeing the inside of a movie theater and then two movies you want to see come out on the same weekend.  That timing proved to be fortuitous, though, as the two films have in common a preoccupation with our world and our present moment, though one of them filters that concern through science fiction while the other makes a virtue out of being mimetic.  Only one of these approaches works, and it wasn't the one I was expecting. Contagion  - Steven Soderbergh's latest is a smart, effective, utterly engrossing movie that gets a lot of things right, but nevertheless I have trouble calling it a good film.  To get to the good stuff first, at its most basic level the film is gratifying simply for the things that it isn't.  There's very little hysteria here as a new strain of flu spreads quickly and lethally all over the planet, and very little emphasis on emotional dramas as a window on the epidemic--though the film features star

Strange Horizons Reviews, October 24-28

The first of this week's reviews is Richard Larson's take on Jesse Bullington's The Enterprise of Death .  Richard is impressed with Enterprise , both as a fantasy and as a piece of historical fiction.  Liz Bourke is similarly impressed with Erin Hoffman's debut fantasy Sword of Fire and Sea , though she notes some problems with the book's characters and plot.  Sofia Samatar is intrigued by Nina Allan's collection of linked stories, The Silver Wind , though she wonders if the cumulative effect of the book, in which the same characters appear in different situations and with different backgrounds, as if they were alternate versions of each other, isn't ultimately more alienating than engaging.  See also Niall Harrison's thoughts on The Silver Wind at the Strange Horizons blog. As part of the project to redesign the Strange Horizons website, we're holding a design competition for a new logo.  Details about the competition, its rules and prizes

Thoughts on the New TV Season, 2011 Edition, Part 3

As fall draws into winter, the new TV pilots grow less frequent and more prestigious.  By which I mean more expensive and featuring more high concepts, but not, as the following write-ups demonstrate, necessarily better. In fact, it's been a lackluster fall.  2 Broke Girls and Pan Am have disappointed me.  Ringer and Revenge haven't, but my expectations from them were never very high.  There's only one new show this fall that is genuinely good (see below), and though that's hardly a tragedy--my TV dance card is too full already--it's depressing that this is the best the medium can come up with. Homeland - For various reasons, I ended up banking the first three episodes of Homeland until my holiday last week, and then real-life events caught up with me in a way that made watching the show without preconceptions and emotional baggage utterly impossible.  Homeland is based on an Israeli series, Chatufim ( Prisoners of War ), which addressed the national traum

Strange Horizons Reviews, October 17-21

In the first of this week's reviews, Indrapramit Das dives into Neal Stephenson's latest doorstop, Reamde , and finds novel with definite airport thriller qualities that nevertheless is not only entertaining, but suggests that the present setting of these sorts of novels has become SFnal.  Katherine Farmar reviews the putative next big thing in the YA fantasy circle, Rae Carson's Fire and Thorns ( The Girl of Fire and Thorns in the US) and likes what she finds, though she wishes for a more complex handling of the story's religious aspects.  Finally, Chris Kammerud reviews the latest literary zombie novel, Colson Whitehead's Zone One , which takes a slightly different approach to the topic by setting its story some time after the struggle for survival has ended and with its characters desultorily cleaning up a ravaged world in anticipation of civilization's return, and wondering if that's a good thing. Shoutout to Erin Hodges. 

Strange Horizons Reviews, October 10-14

The first of this week's reviews is of the Booker-longlisted The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers, a literary dystopia of reproductive collapse that, per Niall Harrison's take , is a lot more interesting and worthwhile than that (to me, at least) unappetizing description indicates.  Lila Garrott is similarly impressed with Livia Llewellyn's Engines of Desire , a collection of erotic horror stories whose use of sex and the human body, Lila concludes, is intended to elicit more horror than eroticism.  Finally, Martin Lewis is equally impressed and nonplussed by Margaret Atwood's essay collection In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination , finding within it both a perplexing attitude towards her subject and a brilliantly idiosyncratic point of view. The Strange Horizons fund drive concluded on Sunday, having reached and exceeded its goal.  A huge thanks to anyone who contributed or helped to publicize the drive.

The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman

In my recent post about Northanger Abbey , I cited several discussions of art by and about women as examples of the way that femininity can be a double-edged sword for female artists and women in general.  One of them was this article from The Millions by Gabriel Brownstein, wondering why Jonathan Franzen's Freedom , a novel about America in the present moment, was getting so much attention and hype, while Allegra Goodman's The Cookbook Collector , a novel about America in the recent past, had received so little.  Was it because of Goodman's gender, of the novel's girly title, and its central focus on two sisters, Brownstein wondered?  I haven't read Freedom so I can't say whether, like Brownstein, I think it and The Cookbook Collector are in the same league in terms of quality and relevance (though as Goodman is one of my favorite authors of literary fiction, and I found Franzen's The Corrections utterly forgettable, I'm perfectly willing to belie

Science Fiction Encyclopedia is Up and Running

This has already been widely reported, but for those of you who haven't seen it, the third edition of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (to which I have contributed entries on television) went live yesterday.  There are still teething problems, and the text, as some subjects of the encyclopedia's entries have been discovering to their own annoyance , is not yet complete, but it's still an enormous, fascinating resource well worth losing several hours to. The Encyclopedia's launch comes in conjunction with Gollancz's SF Gateway , an ebook imprint that has begun to publish selections from Gollancz's massive catalogue of classic SF and fantasy.  There's a large selection already available, with more authors to come.

The Balm of Sisterly Consolation: Thoughts on Northanger Abbey and The Mysteries of Udolpho

In the chapter dedicated to Northanger Abbey in Karen Joy Fowler's The Jane Austen Book Club , the titular club's discussion of the book kicks off with Grigg, the club's sole male member, making some comments on The Mysteries of Udolpho , the Gothic novel whose reading so confounds young Catherine Morland that she begins to see dark and murderous plots wherever she goes.  He's stunned to discover that none of the other members of the club have read Udolpho --"Black veils and Laurentina's skeleton? ... Didn't you think it sounded good?"  They, on the other hand, are equally stunned that anyone would have sought it out; "We'd thought it sounded overheated, overdone, old-fashionedly lurid.  We'd thought it sounded ridiculous.  Actually it hadn't occurred to any of us to read it."  In my one and only reading of Northanger Abbey my reaction to Udolpho was very much of the latter kind.  Once Fowler, through Grigg, raised the issue, h

Strange Horizons Reviews, October 3-7

Victoria Hoyle kicks off this week's reviews with a review of recent World Fantasy Award nominee  Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord.  Though charmed by novel, Victoria is also a little hesitant about it, wondering if it isn't a little too charming, and its resolution a little too neat.  Paul Kincaid follows with a similarly ambivalent review of Chris Adrian's The Great Night , a retelling of A Midsummer Night's Dream set in present-day San Francisco which, Paul concludes, might be stronger in its mimetic portions than its fantastic ones.  T.S. Miller rounds out the week with a review of the second volume of Subterranean Press's The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick .  Though he admires the stories, he also finds much to question about Subterranean's editorial decisions. We're going into the last few days of the Strange Horizons fund drive (I mistakenly thought this was two weeks ago).  This week, like last, the pace of donations has been strong,

Strange Horizons Reviews, September 26-30

The reviews department rounds out the month with three reviews of odd, slipstream-y books.  First out the gate is Niall Alexander who reviews Christopher Priest's The Islanders , his first novel in nearly a decade and, an almost indescribable work that is, at its most basic level, a travel guide to an archipelago that doesn't exist.  Sofia Samatar follows up with a review of Yellowcake , Margo Lanagan's fourth short story collection, which maintains Lanagan's reputation of not being afraid of dark, gruesome material, and of doing new and unexpected things with it.  Rounding out the month is Andy Sawyer with his review of Helen Oyeyemi's Mr Fox , a story about a love triangle between a writer, his wife, and the writer's imaginary muse that also recalls the folktales about the title character, a seducer and murderer of women. The Strange Horizons fund drive is still going on and this week has had a major bump with calls for contributions from several major