Thursday, December 19, 2013

Analog - March 2014, Volume CXXXIV No. 3

I am back!

My absence: 
Being truly sorry for the weeks of absence I would like to explain what happened. In a few words: I lost my job as my former company did a huge layoff. It happened on the last week of September when my boss's boss called me in his office to tell me that since "cash is king" there was no more space for me in the company. What makes it ironic is that I was working hard and overtime, I was on-time and excelled any performance review; my direct supervisor wasn't warned and was truly shocked to see me go as he badly needed me (just a couple of hours earlier he assigned me several critical tasks). Well, that's the past. I am still looking for a job - unless somehow I am able to get enough fundings to open my own bookstore, which would be my dream job. Any angel investor out there?
I had to put down my usual readings for obvious reasons; hopefully I will be able to keep up.

So let's dig in Analog for March 2014, which I read in one sitting.

Life Flight by Brad R. Torgersen. If someone told me that I would have enjoyed reading something that resembled Baricco's "Novecento" (or Tornatore's movie based on the book) but was based on an interstellar spaceship I would have probably snorted in disgust. I am not sure if the resemblance is voluntary or not (the ending in particular) but Mr. Torgersen was somehow able to pull it out and give us the best story of this frankly disappointing issue. In "Life Flight" we follow the life of a child who is selected among the space settlers that will travel on board of the Osprey from Earth to an habitable planet called Delta Pavonis, which lies at about 80 years of space travel. The settlers are supposed to hibernate (it's actually ) on a rotation schedule so that everybody gets knowledge on the Osprey and nobody gets physically old. Unfortunately something goes wrong and our child is doomed to live his all life on board of the Osprey as he is unable to be suspended in time.

Rubik's Chromosome by Megan Chaudhuri. A piece about genetically modified genes and prejudices. A Saudi couple asks Tecca, a bioengineer, to review their future child's DNA. She finds out that it has been modified so that if their child is male then he's going to be handsome and smart and if the child is born as a girl she is going to be born as beautiful only.

Not for Sissies by Jerry Oltion. A gay man finds out that he has prostate cancer and his companion can't stand it. To make thing worse, medicine in the future is so badly corrupted that it is impossible to cure therefore the easy way out would be euthanasia. Meh.

The Teacher's Gamble by Stephen L. Burns. An alien observes Earth until it decides to change the fate of humanity by crashing in Tunguska in 1908. Another meh.

The Avalon Missions by David Brin. Incredibly short but clever.

We Who Are About to Watch You Die Salute You by Maggie Clark. A piece about space colonization, written for the fictional Screed Magazine (publication date: July, 18 2046). Nice read.

Next is Asimov's - February 2014 - which I received today.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Sorry for the interruption

Sorry for the interruption, some important life event occurred. 
I will update the website as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, grab a cold beer.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Weird Tales, Issue 361, Summer 2013

This is going to be hard; it won't be the usual review.
Last time I reviewed Weird Tales (Issue 360) I wrote a paragraph about the new anthological format of the magazine. The editors had the idea of having a single theme for each issue. For example, Issue 360 was about the Elder Gods, Issue 361 (current) is about Fairy Tales and issue 361 is going for the “Undead” theme.
My paragraph was in strong disagreement with this choice for several reasons, all of them can be read here, including the fear of lowering the quality of the stories. Some personal background is needed.
As with many of us, my introduction to weird fiction was through H.P. Lovecraft when I was a teenager. I remember I was around thirteen years old when I bought a collection of his stories. At the time I still lived in Italy (it was around 1993) so my first HPL readings were translated in Italian; the edition was cured by Sebastiano Fusco and Gianni Pilo. I believe it was published by Newton Compton. I even remember where I got it: one of those old bookstores with a lot of interesting books. You know, the one packed with books owned by chain smokers that spend all day reading books and actually knowing what readers need and the location of a book without the use of a computer. I knew the three owners (Renato, Valeriano and Lucio) very well. They used to give me books for free to encourage me in reading. They made me discover H.P. Lovecraft, his world of fiction and his circle. I clearly remember some of the books they gave me mentioned, in the preface, the importance of Weird Tales. After all, that was the magazine that published HPL. For a long time, Weird Tales was for me an almost surreal and non-existent literary entity that lived glorious days but died with HPL. I didn’t know that Weird Tales was still around. And even if I knew it was alive it would have probably been impossible for me to get a hold of an issue.
Therefore, the sole mentioning of “Weird Tales” brings many memories, many ideas; many many things. Weird Tales reminds me of Renato, Valieriano and Lucio; Weird Tales reminds me of long gone non empirical worlds or places that never were. It reminds me of the fact that for a while I was the only one in my entire school that knew who H.P. Lovecraft was. This was until luckily one day a friend of mine asked me to read a Cthulhu mythos collection I had with me; after reading it he got as addicted as I was (I never got the book back. I hope he still has it). In other words, Weird Tales has been an important part of me, even though I started reading it recently. Reading forums and talking to people it becomes clear that Weird Tales is an important part of everyone who is interested in the genre.
The obvious consequence is that most of us consider this magazine, a sort of Totem. It’s there, it might do something or it might just sit still, yet it is extremely important. No one wants to see it disfigured. This is why I opposed the editor’s decision to encage the themes in the magazine and why I complained about it. I was dead wrong.
Weird Tales 361 is a literary gem that might end up being of unique, high quality in its genre. Every single story published in this issue is simply well above average and deserves an award or medal. I am not fond of (nor expert on) fairy tales but, oh boy, this is almost perfection. Anyone who is interested in fiction – and I mean fiction in general, not only weird/sci-fi/fantasy – should get a copy of WT #361 and read it as soon as possible. I am sorry I didn’t start reading it as soon as it arrived at my house but a few things (work, a family trip, and an awfully long reading queue) prevented me from enjoying this magazine at an earlier point in time. If only I could put my hands on an advanced copy! Well, better late than never, right?
Now, it’s important to understand that I am not expecting every issue to keep the same quality. There are going to be inevitable ups and downs but I am going to be satisfied even if the quality is half of what I have seen in WT #361.
Good job to the authors and the publishers. Even if there is much to be said for every story, I will not review them as that it would spoil the fun. It's better to read the magazine without any prior knowledge of what you will find.
The only thing I can tell you is not to expect the usual fairy tale; expect something that Brom would write. Expect to go from New York, to the La Guardia airport, to lands that don't exist.

Final Comment: this issue is the perfect explanation of why Weird Tales is so magic.

If you want to read more about it I suggest the following:

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

10,000 VISITS!!!

Eerie Worlds reached ten thousand visits!

The ten most read posts:

I would like to thank you all, humans and bots alike.
How did I celebrate? By having a tooth extracted; not bad, huh?
Well, let's get some cake and celebrate!

Updated reading queue (Sept. 2013)


My reading queue is quite packed right now. List is NOT complete.

Science Fiction:
Asimov's Science Fiction, October/November 2013 (Double Issue)
Galaxy’s End Magazine, Sep-Dec 2013
Analog Science Fiction, December 1960
Analog Science Fiction and Fact, November 2013
Analog Science Fiction and Fact, October 2013
Analog Science Fiction and Fact, September 2013
Analog Science Fiction and Fact, July/August 2013 (Double Issue)
Asimov's Science Fiction, September 2013
Asimov's Science Fiction, August 2013
Interzone July/August 2013

Mystery and Crime:
Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, November 2013
Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, October 2013

Fantasy and Weird:
Fantasy & Science Fiction, September/October 2013
Weird Tales, Summer 2013, Issue 361

A Song of Ice and Fire Book I – A Game of Thrones – By George R. R. Martin
Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
Bottom of the 33rd by Dan Barry
Sisterhood of Dune by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson
Wernher von Braun by Erik Bergaust

To Read Read  On Hold  Will Not Read/Gave up


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Interzone #247, July/August 2013

Browsing my local Barnes and Noble’s magazine section I founInterzone (July/August 2013 issue) hidden behind other magazines. I couldn’t pass on this one, so I quickly grabbed it to enjoy some British Sci-Fi once I arrived at home. Quick review.

“The Pursuit of the Whole is Called Love” by L.S. Johnson. I mean, seriously? This is going to win the award of “Worst Story I Read – 2013 Edition”. This story is just a meatloaf of concepts.  For some reason it reminded me of movies directed by Cronenberg. Sadly, this story is not as nearly as good as the movies I had in my mind. Cam and Jess are two beings that become one when they go back to their nest until the two stop understanding each other. I had to check Lois Tilton’s review to be sure I wasn’t missing a great piece of literature. Apparently, I wasn’t. Only good thing is the delicate Cabernet Sauvignon I was drinking while reading this piece.

“Automatic Diamante” by Philip Suggars is an enjoyable work about an AI with PTSD or something like that.

“Just as Good” by Jacob A. Boyd is certainly the second best story in this magazine. The Exchange is a monstrous entity that simply… exchanges stuff in people’s lives. At first it removes items from houses and replaces them with others. Then, when there's nothing more to swap it starts with people. Unfortunately, the exchange includes the main character’s mom who’s replaced with a new one. Sad.

“The Cloud Cartographer” by V.H.Leslie is my favorite piece in this issue. Ahren is on the payroll of a powerful company that sent him to map the cloudsphere. He believes he is the only human there, until he finds a fresh body. Nice adventure in a strange land.

“Futile the Winds” by Rebecca Schwarz. Curiously, V.H. Leslie’s story contains a reference to my favorite poem by Emily Dickinson… and so does the title of this story! A lone couple is sent to Mars, with the hope of colonizing it. So far, every other mission failed and everyone else that attempted to survive on the Red Planet simply died. Enjoyable enough.

“The Frog King’s Daughter” by Russ Colson. Arnie is the CEO of a very powerful company. Unfortunately, he is also a frog. Even more, he and his daughter have many enemies. Awful.

Final Comment: the fiction is absolutely not worth the cover price.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Voyager I reached interstellar space!!

The historical moment has arrived.

“NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft officially is the first human-made object to venture into interstellar space.” (NASA, News release 2013-277).

We waited for a long time. Millions of years, if we want to be as precise as possible. Since the dawn of life on this planet only one thing was taken as granted. The Sun.
Our beautiful star shined before the dinosaurs even existed. It shined before the first humans looked at the skies. Consider this. Everything we did, everything we saw and every moment we lived was done under the Sun. Even when we did things in the darkness of the night.

For the first time something we created is not affected directly by the Sun. It’s out there!!!
The ultimate border has been breached by the same spacecraft that shot the famous “Family Picture” in which our Earth appears as a Pale Blue Dot, putting everything in perspective as explained by Carl Sagan. Voyager I, as its twin Voyager II, is bringing humanity into deep space; their Golden Record contains a summary of our species, our voices and pictures of us. Voyager is far away from home, a good seventeen light hours. It will communicate for a few years more, telling us how’s living  outside of our System.
Keep moving forward, don’t stop. Ever.
No doubt, this is humanity’s biggest accomplishment and I celebrate it.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Review: Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine - November 2013 - Volume CXLII, No. 5

As I mentioned in my previous review, I started reading some crime fiction. After Alfred Hitchock Mystery Magazine it's time for Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, the more "mature" of the two.

"Small Kingdoms” by Charlain Harris. Travis High School’s principal Anne DeWitt seems a person affected by OCD. She has a very tight schedule, she loves punctuality and she likes efficiency. One morning, someone breaks into her house. She ends up killing him with some scissors. We can all agree that would freak anyone out. Well, Anne DeWitt is more concerned about her disrupted daily routine than of having killed a man. After all, disposing of a body requires some time. Nice story; I believe that Anne DeWitt is characterized very well although the ending is somewhat weak.

“The Covering Storm” by David H. Ingram. I cannot be happier to see a story based in Texas! In 1900 a rich man, Wendell Asquith, is very jealous of his beautiful wife, Amelia. Things are made worse by another member of high-society that basically goes around proclaiming his love for Amelia. Wendell cannot take it anymore and decides to teach the guy a lesson, weather permitting! Nice short story, great ending. I strongly recommend it.

"A Study in Mint" by Lou Manfredo is a complex story with a nice pace. As the previous story by Ingram, this piece is based in pre-WWII period. Constable Gus Oliver is called to investigate a suicide. Everything seems to suggest that it's actually just that, a suicide. Very nice and a worth the read.

“Sob sisters” by Kris Nelscott is another good piece of short literature. Val Wilson is a volunteer for a hotline for rape victims. Detective Kaplan calls her to unofficially investigate the murder of the most important woman in town, a very rich philanthropist. As one would imagine when rich people are murdered in crime stories, a lot of  dark secrets will come afloat. The only thing I really did not like (small spoiler) is the whole idea of a “secret room in the house.” It looked more like a quick plot device to add some unnecessary mystery than something that the story actually needed. Good read.

"Princess Anne" is a short story about a murderer and a happy family. Not really great, but it's a nice bedtime story (if you're twisted as I am).

"Interview" by Neil Schofield is an interesting story about a woman (a divorcee) that while driving picks up a random guy. Is he dangerous or does she have a plan?

"Darkness in the City of Lights" by Hilary Davidson is a love triangle story in Paris. I didn't really enjoy it as it seemed more fit for young adults, for my tastes.

"Statement No. 060.719-67" by Raphael Montes is this month's "Passport to Crime" story. Very Poeseque (The Tell-Tale Heart, anybody?) with a very good ending.

"Doloroso" by Stephen T. Vessels is about drug lords and ghosts. Interesting enough, but the story did not really flow for me. In addition, I am not really fond of drug related stories unless they are very well written.

Final Comment: Very good issue, well worth the price. Good job to all the writers.


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Review: Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, October 2013, Volume LVIII, No. 10

I decided to step out of my comfort zone and take a look at a completely different genre: crime fiction. I believe that crime fiction and science fiction can get along quite well so I had no choice but to get the two most important magazines in the area, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine (AHMM) and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (EQMM).
Not that I have ever read them nor ever opened a crime fiction book before, but I plan to make them a consistent part of my monthly reading queue.
AHMM is known as the "lesser EQMM", in that its quality is commonly understood as inferior to the other magazine. However, thanks to many new authors AHMM seems to have a very important component: freshness.

Let’s dive into the October 2013 issue.

“Faraway Nearby” by David Edgerly Gates is a crime story that hints of modern noir. Two burned bodies are found inside a car. Since they are located inside an Indian reservation, the FBI is called to intervene. Special Agent Bevilacquia and local police force Pete will investigate and even shoot some bullets. Good start.

In the introduction to this review I wrote that sci-fi and crime fiction can be joyfully mixed together. I am very glad to find an example of this in Tony Richards’ “The Hunting Party”. In a futuristic Africa which is now ruled under a fair federalist government, a Nobel Prize Winner is plotting against his own government. This story is noteworthy because the sci-fi element exists but is not substantial enough to make it hard-core sci-fi. Good read.

“Under Cap. Ste. Clare” by Jas. R. Petrin starts as a "Murder, she wrote" meets "Father Brown" episode but quickly becomes action and conspiracy packed. The beginning is somewhat slow, but the story quickly recovers. It’s a disappearance/murder mystery.

"Two Men, One Gun" by Robert Lopresti is a short hostage story. A technical writer, Britell, is held hostage at gunpoint by a guy that wants to be called Richard. He wants to tell Britell a story. Nice read.

“Dress Blues” by Chris Muessig is the only story in this issue that couldn’t keep me interested enough. It’s actually well written, but I didn’t like the pace of the unfolding of the events. It’s a crime story based in the Vietnam Era where an African-American is justly/unjustly charged of a crime.

At last we have some good white collar crimes in “The Gypsy Ring” by James L. Ross. It’s a clever story about Wall Street, illegal trade, millions of dollars and technology. Not bad at all.

Final comment: I’d like to underline that I truly enjoyed reading this issue of AHMM.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Review - Analog, November 2013, Volume CXXXIII, No. 11

This is sleepy issue. Only positive exception is Lerner's novella.

“Bugs” by Ron Collins is this month’s cover story. It starts well but it ends quite abruptly and in a cheesy fashion. In other words, it’s a wasted opportunity. The story: John McDonald suffers from heart disease and his condition is worsening day by day. He’s soon going to be dead. Thankfully, he’s approved for a new revolutionary procedure that involves nanotechnology. I am not sure if it’s a story about his love for his wife Carol or about technology. Love and technology are two subjects that could be blended well together but unfortunately it doesn’t happen in this story.

"Make Hub, Not War” by Christopher L. Bennett features a hub in space, different alien races, humans, humanoids and space invasions. It also explores the possibility of wiping an entire race without firing a single shot. Enjoyable enough.

“Deceleration” by Bud Sparhawk is a very nice read. For thousands of years something mysterious cyclically appeared in the sky, Humans always dismissed it as not important and never considered it an immediate threat. If only they prepared themselves…

“Distant” by Michael Monson is quite… useless. A lone astronaut is sent in space and he’s terribly afraid to die. He wants to tell something to his daughter, but he doesn’t. That’s it, that’s the whole story.  WTF.

"The Eagle Project" by Jack McDevitt is a short depressing story. Scientists send a few nanorobotic probes in a different constellation system in the hope of finding some proof of alien life.

"Copper Charley" by Joseph Weber is an interesting short story about mining with the use of "smart" cyber plants. And also a story of lawyers. Likable.

"Redskins of the Badlands" by Paul di Filippo is one of this two month's novelettes. In a future in which Earth has been badly ruined by environmental change, some if not all humans live with an artificial enhanced skin that basically is a life size condom.

“The Matthews Conundrum” by Edward M. Lerner is an ingenious novella. Saying that this is the best story of this issue (by far) would’ve been a much better compliment if the other works weren’t so low-to-average quality. This novella is a part of a long going series of which I am not familiar with. This means that I probably missed a few references and back stories. It’s not really a problem since the work is very enjoyable. Joshua Matthews is the historian for the ICU (Interstellar Commerce Union). He suddenly disappears and then he comes back after about a month. Apparently at his return he is so drunk he can’t even stand still; to make things worse he can’t remember what happened.  This causes him to get fired from ICU. Unfortunately for him, he becomes a sort of planetary meme. He’s the talk of the week, everyone treats him as someone who belongs to AA. Unfortunately, no one understands how his theory, the “Matthews Conundrum”, is revolutionary. He noticed that something in interplanetary history doesn’t really make sense. Earth is right in the middle of an eleven-planet system, each one evolved on its own. However all the planets gained more or less the same technological level. Other than that, it appears that nothing else in the galaxy bears signs of intelligent life. The various planets and their species even share folkloristic tales, such as Frankenstein. How could planets separated by several light years be so synchronized? Very nice indeed. Thank you, Mr. Lerner for making the issue a worthwhile reading.

2013 Hugo Awards

Source of the following post:

2013 Hugo Awards

Presented at:LoneStarCon 3, San Antonio, Texas, August 29-September 2, 2013
Toastmaster: Paul Cornell
Base design: Vincent Villafranca
Awards Administration: Todd Dashoff, Vince Docherty, Saul Jaffe, Steven Staton, Ben Yalow
Best Novel
  • Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas, John Scalzi (Tor)
  • Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen)
  • 2312, Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit)
  • Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed (DAW)
  • Blackout, Mira Grant (Orbit)
Best Novella
  • The Emperor’s Soul, Brandon Sanderson (Tachyon Publications)
  • After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall, Nancy Kress (Tachyon Publications)
  • “The Stars Do Not Lie”, Jay Lake (Asimov’s, Oct-Nov 2012)
  • On a Red Station, Drifting, Aliette de Bodard (Immersion Press)
  • San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats, Mira Grant (Orbit)
Best Novelette
  • “The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi”, Pat Cadigan (Edge of Infinity, Solaris)
  • “In Sea-Salt Tears”, Seanan McGuire (Self-published)
  • “Fade To White”, Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld, August 2012)
  • “Rat-Catcher”, Seanan McGuire (A Fantasy Medley 2, Subterranean)
  • “The Boy Who Cast No Shadow”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Postscripts: Unfit For Eden, PS Publications)
Best Short Story
  • “Mono no Aware”, Ken Liu (The Future is Japanese, VIZ Media LLC)
  • “Immersion”, Aliette de Bodard (Clarkesworld, June 2012)
  • “Mantis Wives”, Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld, August 2012)
Note: Category had only 3 nominees due to the minimum 5% requirement of Section 3.8.5 of the WSFS constitution.
Best Related Work
  • Writing Excuses Season Seven, Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler and Jordan Sanderson
  • Chicks Dig Comics: A Celebration of Comic Books by the Women Who Love Them, Edited by Lynne M. Thomas & Sigrid Ellis (Mad Norwegian Press)
  • Chicks Unravel Time: Women Journey Through Every Season of Doctor Who, Edited by Deborah Stanish & L.M. Myles (Mad Norwegian Press)
  • The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature, Edited by Edward James & Farah Mendlesohn (Cambridge University Press)
  • I Have an Idea for a Book … The Bibliography of Martin H. Greenberg, Compiled by Martin H. Greenberg, edited by John Helfers (The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box)
Best Graphic Story
  • Saga, Volume One, written by Brian K. Vaughn, illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics)
  • Locke & Key Volume 5: Clockworks, written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)
  • Schlock Mercenary: Random Access Memorabilia, written and illustrated by Howard Tayler, colors by Travis Walton (Hypernode Media)
  • Grandville Bête Noire, written and illustrated by Bryan Talbot (Dark Horse Comics, Jonathan Cape)
  • Saucer Country, Volume 1: Run, written by Paul Cornell, illustrated by Ryan Kelly, Jimmy Broxton and Goran Sudžuka (Vertigo)
Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
  • The Avengers, Screenplay & Directed by Joss Whedon (Marvel Studios, Disney, Paramount)
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro, Directed by Peter Jackson (WingNut Films, New Line Cinema, MGM, Warner Bros)
  • The Hunger Games, Screenplay by Gary Ross & Suzanne Collins, Directed by Gary Ross (Lionsgate, Color Force)
  • Looper, Screenplay and Directed by Rian Johnson (FilmDistrict, EndGame Entertainment)
  • The Cabin in the Woods, Screenplay by Drew Goddard & Joss Whedon; Directed by Drew Goddard (Mutant Enemy, Lionsgate)
Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
  • Game of Thrones, “Blackwater”, Written by George R.R. Martin, Directed by Neil Marshall. Created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (HBO)
  • Doctor Who, “The Angels Take Manhattan”, Written by Steven Moffat, Directed by Nick Hurran (BBC Wales)
  • Fringe, “Letters of Transit”, Written by J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Akiva Goldsman, J.H.Wyman, Jeff Pinkner. Directed by Joe Chappelle (Fox)
  • Doctor Who, “Asylum of the Daleks”, Written by Steven Moffat; Directed by Nick Hurran (BBC Wales)
  • Doctor Who, “The Snowmen”, written by Steven Moffat; directed by Saul Metzstein (BBC Wales)
Best Editor, Short Form
  • Stanley Schmidt
  • Sheila Williams
  • John Joseph Adams
  • Neil Clarke
  • Jonathan Strahan
Best Editor, Long Form
  • Patrick Nielsen Hayden
  • Toni Weisskopf
  • Sheila Gilbert
  • Lou Anders
  • Liz Gorinsky
Best Professional Artist
  • John Picacio
  • Dan dos Santos
  • Julie Dillon
  • Chris McGrath
  • Vincent Chong
Best Semiprozine
  • Clarkesworld, edited by Neil Clarke, Jason Heller, Sean Wallace and Kate Baker
  • Lightspeed, edited by John Joseph Adams and Stefan Rudnicki
  • Strange Horizons, edited by Niall Harrison, Jed Hartman, Brit Mandelo, An Owomoyela, Julia Rios, Abigail Nussbaum, Sonya Taaffe, Dave Nagdeman and Rebecca Cross
  • Apex Magazine, edited by Lynne M. Thomas, Jason Sizemore and Michael Damian Thomas
  • Beneath Ceaseless Skies, edited by Scott H. Andrews
Best Fanzine
  • SF Signal, edited by John DeNardo, JP Frantz, and Patrick Hester**
  • The Drink Tank, edited by Chris Garcia and James Bacon
  • Journey Planet, edited by James Bacon, Chris Garcia, Emma J. King, Helen J. Montgomery and Pete Young
  • Banana Wings, edited by Claire Brialey and Mark Plummer
  • Elitist Book Reviews, edited by Steven Diamond
Best Fancast
  • SF Squeecast, Elizabeth Bear, Paul Cornell, Seanan McGuire, Lynne M. Thomas, Catherynne M. Valente (Presenters) and David McHone-Chase (Technical Producer)**
  • SF Signal Podcast, Patrick Hester, John DeNardo, and JP Frantz
  • StarShipSofa, Tony C. Smith
  • The Coode Street Podcast, Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe
  • Galactic Suburbia Podcast, Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Presenters) and Andrew Finch (Producer)
Best Fan Writer
  • Tansy Rayner Roberts
  • Steven H Silver
  • Christopher J. Garcia
  • Mark Oshiro
  • James Bacon
Best Fan Artist
  • Galen Dara
  • Brad W. Foster
  • Spring Schoenhuth
  • Maurine Starkey
  • Steve Stiles
**These winners have recused themselves from future eligibility for these works in these categories.
The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (476 nominating ballots cast)
Award for the best new professional science fiction or fantasy writer of 2011 or 2012, sponsored by Dell Magazines. (Not a Hugo Award, but administered along with the Hugo Awards.)
  • Mur Lafferty*
  • Stina Leicht*
  • Chuck Wendig*
  • Max Gladstone
  • Zen Cho*
*Finalists in their 2nd year of eligibility.
1343 valid nominating ballots (1329 electronic and 14 paper) were received and counted from the members of Chicon 7, LoneStarCon 3 and Loncon 3, the 2012-2014 World Science Fiction Conventions.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Review: "The Haunting of Hill House" by Shirley Jackson

"The Haunting of Hill House" by Shirley Jackson, the well-known author of  the amazing "The Lottery", is such a masterpiece that I find myself forced to go against one of my self-imposed rules. I shall warn you.

 In this review I will not only spoil the plot, but I will quote directly from the book, ending paragraph included.  Continue reading at your own risk.

Shirley Jackson

When "The Haunting of Hill House" (thereafter "THoHH") was published in 1959, Jackson was already known ("The Lottery" was published in 1948). 
At first, it might be surprising that such a provocative author decided to write about one of the most classical topics in modern literature, the ghost story and, even worse, a ghost in a haunted house. After all, Le Fanus's stories were publishing almost a century earlier.
As puzzling as it might be, Jackson is able to manage an outstanding novel using several characterization techniques that are now over-used, including in many movies.

The book's opening paragraph describes the milieu and its story so powerfully that it's a piece of art by itself. This is how Shirley Jackson introduces us to Hill House:

"No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of  absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had  stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone."
Now, isn't that paragraph incredible? To me, the shocking part is the description of Hill House as "not sane." How can a house be sane or insane? I think that those two words make the house so vividly alive that it's almost disturbing to think about it. Not content, THoHH's opening paragraph punches the reader once more: "whatever walked there, walked alone." This way, the house is linked together and forever to whatever is supposed to be in there.
Please notice that at this point, the reader is unaware of the reliability of the narrator.

Disneyland's "Haunted Mansion". Grim Grinning Ghosts come out to socialize!
THoHH's plot follows a sort of expedition at Hill House organized by a professor, Doctor John Montague, interested in supernatural events. He invites three people that claim to have had previous supernatural events to Hill House. 
Eleanor Vance, is a weak individual that basically spent her life trying to help her ill mother and never enjoyed complete freedom. She can be considered the main character of the story, although in reality the main character is Hill House. Her being weak makes her also very sensitive to possible ghostly events.
Theodora ("Theo") is a strong willed woman and quite possibly a lesbian. She can be considered a sort of cultural rebel. 
Luke Sanderson "was a liar. He was also a thief. His aunt, who was the owner of Hill House, was fond of pointing out that her nephew had the best education, the best clothes, the best taste, and the worst companions of anyone she had ever known; she would have leaped at any chance to put him safely away for a few weeks."

After the characters are briefly introduced, the back story of Eleanor is narrated and culminates on her arrival to Hill House:

"She turned her car onto the last stretch of straight drive leading her directly, face to face, to Hill House and, moving without thought, pressed her foot on the  brake to stall the car and sat, staring. 

The house was vile. She shivered and thought, the words coming freely into her mind, Hill House is vile, it is diseased; get away from here at once."

Haunted House in Waxahachie, TX is now the "Catfish Plantation" restaurant.
Featured on Discovery Channel as a haunted place. The food is quite good; it's always nice to be in a Victorian house.

Reading the various chapters two things are easy to notice. First and foremost, not a single character is to be liked. I can't be positive that Jackson did it on purpose, but it's almost impossible to relate or prefer anyone.
Secondly, this story is terrifying but not in a modern Stephen King-ish sense. The true horror in my opinion is not really what happens in the house (if anything happened), but how easily social interactions quickly degrade. Theo and Eleanor start as best friends (lovers?) and they end up being as enemies.

Eleanor is portrayed as the most sensitive, therefore she is at the core of the story. The impression is that the house is focused on her, but during the entire time she is in the house we are not aware if she is simply going crazy by herself and nothing is really happening. After all, she lived as a sort of recluse and passive individual.

The book is just a few pages, a short novel, but is packed of dialogue and of Eleanor's inner thoughts which might make it a little slow for modern audiences. However, from a psychological and supernatural point of view the book remains a gem. Observing how Eleanor degenerates is quite an experience, up to her end in this world. Suicide is possibly her only truly free action and that's what she commits when the other characters decide that she is going too far. In her foolishness she makes her last decision in front of them:

"With what she perceived as quick cleverness she pressed her foot down hard on the accelerator; they can‟t run fast enough to catch me this time, she thought, but by now they must be beginning to realize; I wonder who notices first? Luke, almost certainly. I can hear them calling now, she thought, and the little footsteps running through Hill House and the soft sound of the hills pressing closer. I am really doing it, she thought, turning the wheel to send the car directly at the great tree at the curve of the driveway, I am really doing it, I am doing this all by myself, now, at last; this is me, I am really really really doing it by myself.
In the unending, crashing second before the car hurled into the tree she thought clearly, Why am I doing this? Why am I doing this? Why don‟t they stop me?"

This is how Eleanor dies. Looking for freedom, but finding herself doubting about her own choice, the only real choice she ever did. Is she ultimately free or not? We'll never know.

As I mentioned earlier, one other thing we'll never know is if the house was really haunted or if the happenings were a fruit of self-suggestion. Shirley Jackson gives us a clue in the beautiful ending paragraph, which mirror the firsts, and is aimed to keep the house... alive.

"Dr. Montague finally retired from active scholarly pursuits after the cool, almost contemptuous reception of his preliminary article analyzing the psychic phenomena of Hill House. Hill House itself, not sane, stood against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, its walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone."

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Review - Analog, October 2013, Volume CXXXIII, No. 10

I received October's issue of Analog and it was so good I read it in just a few days. I am happy to say that this issue is a much better than average issue, with two stories sharing the first place as my favorites and one that is a close second. It has been long since I have have felt this satisfied by one of the magazines I read.
Let's get down to the fiction.

"Lune Blue" by Janet Catherine Johnston is this month's novella. This is one of my two faves. Two researches are sent to the Moon while doing some research for NSETI, which is a derivative of SETI. Unfortunately, Earth is politically on chaos with nuclear war looming over the entire globe. Nice story, nice characterization and a very good ending. It's pure sci-fi. As a plus, Daleks are mentioned, which is always a good thing.

"Sixteen Million Leagues From Versailles" by Allen M. Steele is the second favorite. A long time ago, when Louis XIV, aka the Sun King, was ruling over France a vase with a tribute to Mars, the god of War, used to lay over a fireplace at Versailles. A few centuries later the precious vase is lost on Mars (the planet!). A small team will have to find it and will quickly find out that there is more important than life itself.

"Following Jules" by Ron Collins gets the second place not because it is not well written but because I really can't stand stories about virtual reality anymore. Surprisingly, this story ended up being very interesting so I don't have much to complain. The ending is a bit cheesy but it fits the general mood of the novelette.

"Putting Down Roots" by Stephen W. Wilk is a short story which is more a meditation on culture than actual science fiction. I liked it mainly because I never turn down a good red wine or a pint of beer.

"Things We Have in This House For No Reason" by Marissa Lingen is flash fiction. Weak story.

"At The Peephole Palace" by William Eakin is more flash fiction. Not as nice as the other stories.

"Fear of Heights in the Tower of Babel" by Carl Frederick. While reading this I couldn't understand if it was satire or not, and still don't. A set of elevators with a very elevated AI kidnap some VIPs and ask for a ransom. I think it's funny. However, the problem is that the person in charge of solving the kidnapping is afraid of heights and will have to go on top of Europe's tallest building, which makes my cruel mind have even more fun. I enjoyed it, although the ending was quite obvious from the start of the story.

"Conscientious Objectors" by Jay Werkheiser. A story based at a VA hospital with a lot of cross-cultural issues tackled. Nice, but I guess it ends up preaching too much.

Last (but not least) mention to the cover art. I am quite happy about it, no weird monsters, no fantasy-like stuff. Just three naked bodies floating in a good 'ol lab.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Review - Asimov's - September 2013, Volume 37 No. 9

Average issue. Let’s dive into the stories.

“The Discovered Country” by Ian MacLeod is another story of reality vs. virtual reality and life vs. death. Ingenious in the concept, I found it dragging quite a bit. I don’t know why it’s the cover story.

“The Unparallel’d Death-Defying Feats of Astoundio, Escape Artist Extraordinarie” by Ian Creasy. Nooooh! Noooooh! Such a good idea was thrown into the sewers! Astoundio is an escape artist of the future and in his last feat is that he wants to escape from nothing less than a black hole! He’s quite cool, he has a plan, the idea is great and the milieu is interesting. The first part is pure science fiction; we have the spaceship, we have the usual “virtual copies” of people and of course we have the love story. In other words, the reader is gladly willing to leave real world's physics behind so that he can read that Astoundio can actually escape from the black hole. Then, the story is completely ruined when a fantasy-like elements gets thrown in. Death itself is pissed off? A Doppleganger can travel between universes (already a weak plot device) with the spaceship? Come on, please. They require a big leap of faith. However, the ending, with the philosophical and paradoxical questions, is all right.

“A Hole in the Ether” by Benjamin Crowell. It’s the best of this issue. By far. Dedicated to Ray Bradbury, it’s full of “bradburian” references; Venus is mentioned and my guess is that it is a hidden homage to “All summer in a day”. I am not a Bradbury affecionado, but all the elements are there, inspired clearly by Fahrenheit 451. The story is very dystopian and I recommend its reading.

“What we Ourselves are not” by Leah Cypess. A story about differences and cultural values. Interesting concept.

“As yet untitled” by James Sallis is flash fiction. Nice read.

 “The Universe we Both Dreamed Of” by Jay O’Connell is a nice read about a guy interviewed by a girl. Or is she an alien? He doesn’t know.

“What Changes You, What Takes You Away” by Dominica Phetteplace is the story of a girl with Down Syndrome that gets in contact with an alien. The extraterrestrial’s appearance is like that of a human. A short story about being beautiful and somehow appreciated.