The OF Blog: December 2004

Thursday, December 30, 2004

One Admin's Choices for the 2005 Awards

Jake and I decided months ago when we were planning for the 2005 OF Awards that we would do two broad categories, one for the readers and one for the two OF mods that have run the OF Book Club during 2004. We thought it would be better to utilize the OF Blog for this, so our comments do not detract from the votes of the readers, which will be revealed on January 3rd. So without further ado, here are my Top 3 for most of the categories involved in the reader's part of the 2005 OF Awards. Jake hopefully will add his later.

Best Book Released in 2004:

This was a particular tough category for me, having read dozens of wonderful books released in the United States or aboard this year. But after spending a lot of time debating my picks and their order, this final order emerged. And as you'll notice, there is a tie in the third position, because I just couldn't decide which of the two I preferred most.

1. R. Scott Bakker, The Warrior-Prophet. Oftentimes, the middle book in a trilogy tends to have little life independent of what comes before (pun intended) and the concluding volume. However, I found during my reading of this book that it had a life of its own. Chronicling the happenings of a march into Holy War in the land of Earwa, The Warrior-Prophet came alive for me due to Bakker's skillful blending of action and introspection. One gets the sense that they are reading not just an exciting chronicle of a past event, but also a vivid account of the players involved. If Bakker's upcoming book, The Thousandfold Thought (due out in October 2005 in Canada), can maintain the energy and pathos present in this book, then he will have written one of the finest epic fantasy stories in recent years.

2. Gene Wolfe, Innocents Aboard. Gene Wolfe is one of my favorite authors, regardless of genre classification. The year 2004 saw the release of two books of his, one a collection of stories, the other the second half of a high fantasy. While loving both, I chose the collection because it highlights Wolfe's range as a writer much more than did The Wizard. Of particular note is the opening story, "The Tree is My Hat," which is a story that wears many hats of its own, including an introspective reflection on the struggles of life. It illustrates well Wolfe's sometimes frustrating talent for writing multilayered, multifaceted tales that provoke and taunt us with the hint of something lurking ever further under the surface of the story.

3. Steven Erikson, Midnight Tides. Book five of the acclaimed Malazan Book of the Fallen series very well may be the book that reveals to the casual readers Erikson's abilities as a writer. Containing both comic and tragic, serious sides in near-equal measures, Midnight Tides is in turns a flashback to events before those of the first book, Gardens of the Moon, and a look forward toward plot developments that should come to fruition starting with the next book, The Bonehunters, due to be released in the UK and Canada in July 2005.

3. (tie) Carlos Fuentes, Inquieta Compañía. This new collection of stories by famed Mexican author Carlos Fuentes have such a style of presence to them. From vampires to ghosts to angels, Fuentes's stories are populated by creatures common to Western imaginative myth. Yet it is how Fuentes orders these elements, how he can bend them to fit a flowing style that is beautiful to read as well as thought-provoking for hours after the stories are first read.

Best Books Read in 2004 but Released in Prior Years:

Again, this was a difficult category for me to order the books I've enjoyed most. In fact, I've changed my mind yet once again as I'm writing this very sentence. So for the most current Top 3, read below:

1. Angélica Gorodischer, Kalpa Imperial. Some of the best speculative fiction is not being written in English-speaking countries, but instead in places such as Argentina, where that nation's rich cultural past has often clashed with the intermittent authoritarian regimes (Peron, the military junta of the mid-1970s). These shock waves seem to have spurred some excellent fiction, from Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares to Angélica Gorodischer.

In Kalpa Imperial (translated into English by none other than Ursula Le Guin herself), Gorodischer creates a fictitious empire and history. Throughout this beautifully written tale are subtle commentaries on how governments and citizens should interact, how people should govern their own lives. It is as if she wanted to turn a mirror (to steal a memorable description from Stendahl's The Red and the Black) on Argentine society (and by association, Western society) to reveal the beauties and warts of such a society. Whatever her intentions, Kalpa Imperial is a classic in the field, one that should be read by readers of all ages and nationalities.

1. (tie) Jorge Luis Borges, El Aleph. Borges not only is one of my favorite authors, he also has been very influential with other writers that I've enjoyed, such as Gene Wolfe and Jeff VanderMeer, just to name two. Although his earlier collection, Ficciónes, receives the lion's share of attention from literary critics, I decided to stick with books I read for the first time in 2004 here. As such, choosing El Aleph is not a bad second choice. In fact, in many of its stories, in particular "The Immortals," are the equal of, if not superior to, those from Ficciónes. This collection is full of thought-provoking, reflective stories whose very simplicity belies a deep and shrewd understanding of the world around.

3. Matt Stover, Blade of Tyshalle. Stover has written some of the bloodiest, most profane fantasy/SF-hybrid books I've ever read. But entwined with this is a story that is in turns simple in its clarity and execution and complex in its characterization. This second Caine/Overland novel improves upon its predecessor's shades of gray approach toward the main character, Hari/Caine. In this tale, even the good guys are bad and the bad guys are good, if such terms can even be applicable. As the story progressed, Stover had me questioning just why I was rooting for one side and not the other. That is a hallmark of a story well worth reading, again and again.

Worst Book Released in 2004:

In choosing these books, I must add a caveat here. The books chosen are not necessarily horribly-written works (although some were), but that in relation to the other books I read in 2004, these were the ones that appealed to me the least. With that in mind, here are my choices for the worst books published in 2004.

1. David Gemmell, Ironhand's Daughter. This book, which just had its US release earlier this month, just was not a book I could enjoy. Clichéd situations, cardboard characterizations, same-old tired plot developments - all this just combined to create a book that annoyed me to no end. Easy choice here.

2. China Miéville, Iron Council. Some might wonder how I, a fan of Miéville's other works, could include his latest offering here. It's not that I found this book to be the worst pile of literary shit ever written. But sometimes, when a reader expects to see continued authorial development and the overall structure of the novel seems to be Miéville's weakest of any of his Bas-Lag novels, there is no choice but to include the book here, if only for biggest disappointment. Sadly, there was so much promise in Iron Council, but the scenes just didn't connect well, which has been the downfall of many a gifted author over the years.

3. F. Brett Cox & Andy Duncan (ed.), Crossroads: Tales of the Southern Literary Fantastic. Again, this book is listed not because it was horribly written/told per se, but more because the supposed overall theme, that of a connection between the traditions and values of the South with those of the fantastic just failed to materialize in a cohesive fashion. So while many of the individual stories were great, the book as a whole just failed to deliver on its promise of uniquely Southern spins on the literary fantastic.

Worst Book Read in 2004 but Released in Prior Years:

As I stated above, I really did not read much in terms of speculative fiction that was outright bad, so many of my choices here will be based upon how my expectations were not met rather than upon the overall crappiness of the books listed below.

1. Kim Stanley Robinson, Blue Mars. Yuck. What a way to ruin a great start to a trilogy. Very off-focus, with uninteresting characters, and with developments that detract from what had transpired before rather than building upon and enhancing them. Easy choice for my worst read of 2004.

2. Guy Gavriel Kay, Sailing to Sarantium. As I said months ago when I read this book, I just found this book to be too transparent for my tastes. Too much like Justinian's reign as Eastern Roman Emperor and not enough departure from this theme. Just could not enjoy this story.

3. Kay, Lord of Emperors. Seeing that this sequel to Sailing to Sarantium did not improve upon the weak points of that earlier novel, I decided that I would just include it here in the third spot.

Best SF/F/H Movie of 2004:

I didn't watch any spec fic movies in 2004 (I tend to avoid watching movies and television as a general rule of thumb), so no nominees here.

Best New Author of 2004:

These are the authors who have published their first books within the past three years that I read for the first time in 2004.

1. R. Scott Bakker. I found Bakker's writing style to be very good and he showed improvement in his second book, The Warrior-Prophet. His intertwining of philosophical issues within a world riven to the point of a Holy War was done very well and made for a compelling read. Certainly one of my favorite authors now.

2. Susanna Clarke. Sometimes, despite the hype, a book and its author can produce an enjoyable work. This was certainly the case with Susanna Clarke's first novel, the well-publicized Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Combining elements from Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Anthony Trollope with modern sensibilities, this huge novel made for a very pleasant read.

3. Karin Lowachee. This young Canadian author has written in her first two novels, Warchild and Burndive, stories that will remind readers favorably of Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game for its subject material, although Lowachee adds much in the way of child psychological issues.

Most Underrated Book of 2004:

These are the books that I felt should have received more attention than what they did. High quality stuff from the smaller presses.

1. Sean Stewart, Perfect Circle. This offering by Small Beer Press deals with a man who sees dead people. He talks with them, yet is perfectly normal, or at least as normal as the situation can permit. It is a tale of a father wanting to spend time with his daughter after his divorce. It is a search for meaning and purpose in a life and town seemingly devoid of both. It is one of the best crossgenre books I've read in quite some time. A real shame that this book hasn't received the press that it so richly deserves.

2. Zoran Zivkovic, The Fourth Circle. This is the first English-language edition of Serbian author Zivkovic's works. It is also the finer of the two that I've read. In turns surrealistic, imaginative, and evocative of both Borges and Calvino, this "mystery" story is certainly worth greater readership. Available from Ministry of Whimsy Press, an imprint of Night Shade Books.

3. Jeff VanderMeer, Secret Life. VanderMeer's first collection of stories, some set in the Ambergris world of City of Saints and Madmen, others set in the Veniss Underground world, plumbs the depths of VanderMeer's imagination. This collection will serve as an excellent introduction to his style and to the imaginative worlds he's created. Secret Life is published by Golden Gryphon.

Most Fan Friendly Author:

Before partisans of other authors protest, this is based on what I've seen these authors do. I realize that there are a great many authors that interact daily with their fans and provide all sorts of useful bits of information gratis, but in the end, here are the three that I chose.

1. R. Scott Bakker. He's one of two authors that I met this year and his willingness to work with OF in providing me a review copy of The Warrior-Prophet, conducting an interview and later Q&A session, not to mention his personalized book contest held at OF, these all just underscored his desire to go the extra mile to get to know the people here.

2. Robert Salvatore. Amazing how a simple misunderstanding can turn a negative into a positive. Back in June, there was a comment in passing on another site about the Author Quickpoll Series that we had held, which I felt was unfair. This led to an open post and a response from Salvatore. From there, I gained a greater respect for the author as a person. His interview (conducted by Mike) was one of the lengthiest and most honest responses an author has given us. It is for these reasons and his overall interaction with his fans that Salvatore is included here.

3. Steven Erikson. He's done the Q&A/Interview bit with us in the past, he updates his fans regularly on the Malazan board, and he continues to write interesting books at a rapid clip. What else can one want from an author?

(tie) Neil Gaiman. Just reading his Blog is enough to put him on this list. Very devoted fanbase and his overall geniality helps matters greatly. Just seems like a guy one would want to have a drink with, whenever.

Best SFF Website (non-wotmania):

Not going to provide explanations for these choices, other than to say that I've enjoyed my time as a poster at these sites. Highly recommend others visit these sites and judge for yourselves.

1. Gaiman Board/World's End
2. Three Seas
3. SFF World
(tie) Dead Cities

Best New Series (established author):

I didn't read too many new series this year, but here are my two favorites:

1. Gene Wolfe, The Wizard-Knight. This duology, just completed, contains some of the most beautiful prose of any fantasy work released in the past two decades. Plus it contains some of Wolfe's characteristic authorial sleights-of-hand. A highly recommended book for lovers of high fantasy.

2. Dan Simmons, Ilium/Olympos. Ilium is the first of a projected duology that will end with Olympos in the summer of 2005. A tale based on interpretations of Homer's Iliad, Shakespeare's The Tempest, and Proust's writings, this duology has the potential to be even better than Simmons's Hyperion Cantos.

Best New Series (new author):

Because the series listed below are by the same authors included in Best New Author category, I'm just going to list them here, noting however that I switched the order of two based on the number of works presently available.

1. R. Scott Bakker, The Prince of Nothing
2. Karin Lowachee (series of novels starting with Warchild)
3. Susanna Clarke, (trilogy begun with Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell)

Most Improved Author:

These are the authors that I wasn't impressed with as much at the beginning, yet by the second book of theirs that I read, I enjoyed them much more. Not limited to books read in 2004.

1. Steven Erikson
2. Neal Stephenson
3. Stephen Donaldson

Best Genre Magazine:

These are the magazines that I enjoyed reading the most.

1. Postscripts (UK)
2. Locus
3. The Third Alternative (UK)

Best Genre Publisher:

These are the publishers that I believe put out the highest percentage of high-quality speculative fiction today:

1. Small Beer Press
2. Night Shade
3. Prime

Most Anticipated Release of 2005:

These are the books I want to buy the most. Once they are available on an Amazon service, to the Pre-order page they go!

1. Bakker, The Thousandfold Thought
2. Erikson, The Bonehunters
3. Umberto Eco, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana

Favorite Character:

Although I probably could devote a page or more each toward explaining why each of these three are in my Top 3 list, for brevity's sake, I'm just going to limit myself to just listing them in preferential order.

1. Cnaiür
2. Itkovian
(tie) Aldarion

I guess I should note here that I thought it would be best that I didn't try to chose among the community-oriented aspects of this awards group. Too many deserving people to choose a top three, much less a top person. Thanks again to all who've participated in this year's awards nominations and voting. Hopefully, the results, when posted at OF on January 3rd, will be interesting and maybe even pleasantly surprising to all.

Have a Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Zoran Živković Interview

Thanks again to her for doing this for me. Zoran Zivkovic is a Serbian author of books such as The Fourth Circle and the Book/the Writer that have recently been translated into English. I consider him to be one of the better writers out there today and hopefully this interview Lotesse conducted will help convince others here to read his works.

Q. Who would you say are some of the writers that influenced you the most? After reading the Book/the Writer, I couldn't help but think of Jorge Luis Borges and his Library, so I'm just curious.

A. I would say that Luis Borges' influence is more evident in another book of mine—The Library. Many authors contributed, one way or another, in forming me as a writer. Sometimes it's rather hard, even for myself, to identify various influences, although there are many intertextual references in my fiction. I believe my entire reading experience is contained in it. Everything I have ever read, although may seem partly forgotten on the conscious level, is always very vivid and active in my subconscious—and that's where all my fiction comes from. So, I am not going to pick out specific authors and say that they influenced me the most. All of them were equally important and I am equally grateful to all of them.

Q. I read where you used to be an academic that focused on science fiction. What would you say are some of the differences between being one who reviews what others have written and writing fiction yourself, in terms of focus and preparation?

A. Although reviewing is also a responsible and creative job (or it should be, ideally), it's less demanding and ambitious than the actual literary creation. It is one thing to interpret a world and another to create it...

Q. Why speculative fiction? What made you choose to focus on that rather than some other literary field?

A. Why do you think I am a speculative fiction writer? Besides, what is "speculative fiction," after all? No, I consider myself a writer without any prefixes, because they can be either limiting or misleading. I like to define myself as "a humble practitioner of the ancient and noble art of prose writing." Nothing more, nothing less.

Q. Your books have begun recently appearing in English translation. What are some of the differences you've noticed between American publishers and editors compared to ones in Serbia?

A. There are practically no differences. Since you have read my novel The Book, you had a chance to see how difficult their lives could be...

Q. Any chance of you revisiting the characters that appear in The Fourth Circle?

A. You mean to write a sequel? Something like The Daughter of the Fourth Circle? Or, maybe, The Fifth Circle? That isn't going to happen, most definitely. The covers of my novel are firmly closed, not to be opened again. Besides, what else could I say? That story is fully told.

Q. You've done some work with Fantastic Metropolis, among others. How important do you believe online magazines such as FM and other fansites will become on the speculative fiction publishing industry?

A. Independent fansites are tremendously important in reintroducing democracy in a world dominated by the publishing industry. They are here to show that there are other values in fantasy writing beside being just another way of making profit.

Q. How do you approach writing a story? Do you have a particular ending in mind, or do you begin with an idea and just write from there? Or is it a combination?

A. I suggest you read my afterword to the limited US edition of The Fourth Circle (Night Shade Books, 2004). I have extensively explained there how I write.

Q. The Fourth Circle and the Book/the Writer are already available in the United States. When can we expect more English translations of your stories?

A. My first book to appear in English translation was Time Gifts (2000). In 2005 two more books of mine will appear in English: Hidden Camera (Dalkey Archive Press) and Impossible Stories—a "mega" collection comprising my five story-suits: Time Gifts, Impossible Encounters, Seven Touches of Music, The Library and Steps through the Mist: a total of 29 stories. The new UK magazine "Postscripts" just brought out, in issue #2, my recent novelette Compartments, while my latest book, Four Stories till the End, will be serialized also in "Postscripts" (#4–#7). So, by the end of 2005 all my fiction will be available in English.

Q. What trends have you noticed developing in speculative fiction recently, both in Europe and the Americas?

A. There are currently many excellent young and relatively young authors who are forming the prevailing trend in the world speculative fiction (however you define it). Let me name just a few of them: Jeff VanderMeer, Jeffrey Ford, K.J. Bishop, Paul di Filippo, China Miéville. They are the future classics of the art of fantasy writing.

Q. What do you feel is the most powerful scene you have written? Why?

A. I have no right to answer that question. As an author, I have to be totally impartial.

Q. How would you entice people who haven't read you to do so?

A. I never entice people to read my fiction. That wouldn't be fair. I rather let them discover my humble self by chance.

Q. Did the work of translating fantasy/SF authors to Serbian language influence your writing?

A. Yes. My many years invested into translating eventually paid off as a time of learning from masters how to write.

Q. Are you somehow related to Dobroslav Bob Zivkovic?

A. No.

Q. Over the years, you were editing the SF section of 'Politikin Zabavnik'. Combined with the illustrations of Bob Zivkovic, those stories were responsible in developing my love towards fantasy. What did that work mean to you?

A. If the small seeds I planted through "Politikin Zabavnik" eventually bore some fruits, then I am the happiest man in the world.

Q. When can we expect your next book?

A. I just completed Four Stories till the End. I most definitely need some break. Remember, I am already 56...

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Time for the 2005 OF Awards process to begin

It's been too long since I last updated this, so apologies in advance to those who've been wondering if I had fallen off the face of the earth. Working 50-60+ hours a week at my job combined with an impending return to college on a part-time basis has left me with little free time to read speculative fiction, much less review and discuss it.

But now that the holiday season is here, it is time again to begin the process of selecting finalists for the 2005 OF Awards. Started in 2002 as a means of allowing the regulars and visitors to Other Fantasy to weigh in with the books, authors, movies, and characters that they have enjoyed most, the OF Awards expanded even more in 2003, this time including the Admins' Choices for the Best of 2002-2003. In January 2004, we decided to narrow the focus somewhat, as well as to move the Awards forward to the beginning of the year, so we could reflect as much on the year that was as much as anything else. We also added a Community section for the first time, because it's the activities and connections that members of our website (and this is undoubtedly true for other sites as well, at least for the ones where I've visited/posted at over the past two years) that have played the most important role in the dissemination of some really good speculative fiction over the past few years.

It is with that spirit of fellowship that we once again begin the process for selecting the Best of 2004. Now "best" in this situation refers to not just the books that the OF community enjoyed the most, but also to the moments of the past year that have been special. It is an unfortunate thing that the major awards today really don't have awards for those "little things" that authors have done for their fans, at least on a year-to-year basis (Lifetime Achievement being barely adequate to cover what these authors mean to their fans). Hopefully this site's nomination process at least will provide food for thought for those readers outside the immediate OF community to consider just what merits commendation (and the occasional condemnation) for what has transpired this past year in speculative fiction.
Add to Technorati Favorites