Tag Archives: Science Fiction

Saturdays @ the South: Fun with Time Travel (and also Murder)

Time after Time on ABC. Image from tvguide.com

I’m not sure how I nearly missed the memo that there was a new show starting last week that I can easily see fulfilling my need for campy fun with a somewhat-literary twist. I found out only just in time to set my DVR to a season pass for Time after Time an ABC drama that, while I don’t think it’s intention is to be funny, seems to be cracking some viewers up all the same.

The premise for the series is this: Legendary and groundbreaking sci-fi author H.G. Wells built a time machine prior to his authorial turn and while bandying about in Victorian times, manages to have said time machine stolen by Jack the Ripper. Both travel to modern-day New York City. Murder & mayhem ensue, Wells feels guilty and tries to track Jack the Ripper down and stop him. The series is also apparently very meta as it is based on a movie which was based on a 1979 novel by Karl Alexander (sadly, unavailable in NOBLE at this time).

For those of you looking for a more reality-based primer prior to watching (or completely ignoring) this show, here’s some brief info. H.G. Wells (1866-1946) was a British author most well known for writing The Time Machine and War of the Worlds but was also a sociologist, journalist and historian. His first book was, surprisingly, given his reputation for fantastical fiction in later life, a biology textbook. Jack the Ripper‘s true identity has never been officially proven , but numerous theories and obsessions abound about the pseudonymous murderer who struck in London’s Whitechapel district between August and November of 1888. It is also possible that the killer committed murders prior to and after those dates, depending upon how certain crimes of that time are viewed. Jack the Ripper has captured the imagination of many true-crime aficionados who still speculate who he was.

I’m not going to lie, I’m surprised to see these two figures in a television show together, given that the only link between them is that they were both alive in England in 1888. But I suppose that when one writes speculative fiction, it leaves those of us who read that work scads of leeway to speculate on our own.  If you’re interested in this show, or if aspects of time travel or Jack the Ripper appeal to you, you’re in luck. Here are some options for your reading and viewing pleasure:

Ripper by Isabel Allende

This is a fast-paced thriller in which true-crime aficionados around the world convene in an online role-playing game called Ripper. Most of these players are teenagers solving real-life mysteries on the game based on information fed by a game master, who gets her information from her dad, the Chief Inspector of the San Francisco police. This book is ideal for those who perhaps have some of their own theories about Jack the Ripper or who like Time after Time‘s modern caper appeal.

I, Ripper by Stephen Hunter

This is a historical thriller set in Victorian London. The main protagonist is none other than Jack the Ripper and Hunter goes to great lengths to get deep inside the mind of a killer, re-imagining how and why he might have done what he did. This is a natural pick for those intrigued by Jack the Ripper but would also appeal to those fascinated by the likes of Hannibal Lecter .

Ripper Street

This TV series, already discussed here on the blog is just fantastic. It follows the capers of the H Division detectives in London’s police force just after the Ripper murders as it delves into a re-imagined Whitechapel with several characters based on real-life investigators who were involved in (and somewhat undone by) the Ripper investigation. It is stunning, visually, in character development and in plot twists and is well worth watching.

Just One Damned Thing after Another by Jodi Taylor

This is the first book in the Chronicles of St. Mary’s series in which Madeline “Max” Maxwell is a time-traveling historian (quite possibly the coolest job description ever). There’s one major rule that all in that profession must follow: no interaction with the locals; observation only when time-traveling. Naturally, this doesn’t work out particularly well and Max realizes that being a historian who time-travels is a pretty dangerous activity.

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

Tom Barren’s 2016 is not the same as our 2016. It is the 2016 imagined by those living in the 1950s, complete with flying cars and moving sidewalks. Then, through a time-traveling mishap, he winds up in our version of 2016, complete with punk-music (which never needed to exist in his world) in what seems to him like a dystopian wasteland. His ultimate question is whether he fixes the tear in reality that occurred during the mishap and get back to his idealistic world, or learns to live and survive and possibly change for the better, the horrors of the time we live in.

Outlander

This Showtime show is a perennial favorite at the South Branch and involves a nurse in 1946 who time-travels back to 1743 Scotland. Her heart is torn between the husband she loves and left behind in her own time and the man who she is forced to marry in the past in order to save her own life.

Till next week, dear readers, I’m going to try to get the Cyndi Lauper song out of my head…

All hail the Nebulas!

It’s award season, dear readers, and while the Oscars may indeed be just around the proverbial corner, today, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) announced their nominees for the 2017 Nebula Awards, and I could not be more excited.

The Nebula Awards were first awarded in 1966, and have grown in prestige to be recognized as one of the most significant awards for science fiction and fantasy in publishing.  Each year, a novel, novella, novelette, and short story are chosen…and just in case you, too, were wondering what a “novelette’ is, it is defined by SFWA as “a work between 7,500 and 17,500 words”, while a “novella” is between 17,500 and 40,00 words.  Any book written in English and published in the United States is eligible for nomination, and members of SFWA cast their ballots for the favorite books.  This means that, essentially, the awards are chosen by readers and genre devotees, which means that they are not only of high quality in terms of genre and style, but that they are also a darned good read.  As you will see, screenplays are also recognized with the Ray Bradbury Award, and middle grade and young adult fiction is nominated for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy.

In a world that is proving increasingly hostile to difference, this year’s Nebula nominees represent a really impressive diversity, both in terms of their subjects and their authors.  As we’ve noted here, science fiction and fantasy are both genres that provide room to critique the world around us, and offer ways to explore change without remaining beholden to current cultural structures, times, or locales.  And these nominees showcase some of the most daring, imaginative, and courageous authors at work today.  From Nisi Shawl’s re-creation, re-assessment, and re-invention of the Belgian Congo in Everfair to Victor LaValle’s scathing, terrifying, and wonderful commentary on race, class, and power in The Ballad of Black Tom (one of my favorite reads of last year!), to Fran Wilde’s story of female friendships and adventure, these stories all, in their own way, have something to say about the world we live in, as well as the world that might be, somewhere, sometime, some day.  In addition, the presence on this list of small, independent publishers, print, and online magazines, provide a diversity of story type, audience, and format that make this list so different from a lot of other awards out these today.

If you have never picked up a science fiction or fantasy book, this list is an excellent indication of where to start your exploration of the genres.  If you are a longtime fan eager to find more reading fodder, then look no further.  And if you are one of those lucky and remarkable people who have read all the tales on this list, then let us know which you liked best, and where a new reader should begin!

And here, without further ado, are this year’s nominees for the 2017 Nebula Awards, with links, where possible, to the books in the NOBLE or MetroBoston network.  Where that isn’t possible, for example, in the case of online or specialty magazines (like Lightspeed, F&SF, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, to name a few), links have been provided for you to find an access to the stories.  Many of them are published online, making them easily accessible through the links.  Enjoy!

Novel

Novella

Novelette      

Short Story

Bradbury

  • Arrival, Directed by Denis Villeneuve, Screenplay by Eric Heisserer, 21 Laps Entertainment/FilmNation Entertainment/Lava Bear Films/Xenolinguistics
  • Doctor Strange, Directed by Scott Derrickson, Screenplay by Scott Derrickson & C. Robert Cargill, Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Studio Motion Pictures
  • Kubo and the Two Strings, Directed by Travis Knight, Screenplay by Mark Haimes & Chris Butler; Laika Entertainment
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Directed by Gareth Edwards, Written by Chris Weitz & Tony Gilroy; Lucusfilm/ Walt Disney Studio Motion Pictures
  • Westworld: ‘‘The Bicameral Mind’’, Directed by Jonathan Nolan, Written by Lisa Joy & Jonathan Nolan; HBO (Coming Soon!)
  • Zootopia, Directed by Byron Howard, Rich Moore, & Jared Bush, Screenplay by Jared Bush & Phil Johnston; Walt Disney Pictures/Walt Disney Animation Studios 

Norton

And if you’re interested to see all the nominated books, the SFWA website has the full list.  Check back here after the awards are announced on May 20th for the winners!

Brave(r) New Worlds

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Courtesy of NASA

Reality is hard.

I think that is something we can all agree on, especially these days.

Literary allusions abound these days, dear readers–we hear the US being referred to as a “brave new world”, a nod to Aldous Huxley’s novel published in 1932.  We talk about “Big Brother” watching, and a number of commentators have begun to reference the slogan “War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength” both of which are nods to George Orwell’s classic novel 1984.  I personally saw more “Cthulu for President” signs and shirts than I ever really thought possible over the past eighteen months, each of which were references to H.P. Lovecraft’s most well-known godlike beasty.

sci-fihires-a61f66a83e1071c6737125dfce801188b200be04-s300-c85But science fiction is good for much more than passing literary references that make everyone feel a little cooler than their neighbors.  And it’s good for more than just escapist reading when the world around us becomes too real.  What each of these references show is that science fiction is a really powerful tool for helping us cope with our own world–and to imagine a better one.  Huxley wasn’t just using up some extra ink when he penned Brave New World–he was giving voice to his fears that consumerism and economies based on mass-production could rob humanity of its uniqueness.  George Orwell wasn’t just using up scrap paper when he penned 1984 (or Animal Farm, for that matter); he had seen first hand the harm that megalomaniacal leaders had on their people, the kind of pernicious fear that government surveillance provoked, and the real danger of tyranny, and his novels were meant as warnings as much as they were for entertainment.
…And Lovecraft was a racist, anti-Semitic, misogynistic creep who was, quite literally, terrified of everyone who didn’t look like him.  And his novels depict that fear very well.

1953-kitchenmaid-blue-kitchen-the-television-kitchen-croppedBut the point I am trying to make here is that those works that we call “science fiction” very often speak to, and reflect, the world around us far more accurately than we give them credit for doing.  It isn’t just about the gizmos and gadgets (although those can be great), or about inventing new technologies to outdo what science has done today (although Jules Verne made a pretty penny doing just that).  It’s about slipping the bounds of reality and tossing out that idea of “progress”.  There was (and is) this notion that human endeavor happened on a straight line, and was all building towards this One Great Good (though no one seemed to agree on what that Great Good looks like, even today).  Those books can be good…but they can also come across like those 1950’s ads for the “kitchen of tomorrow” (see right).  They don’t make life better…they just create gadgets to distract you from the fact that you’re still stuck in a kitchen.  Progressive science fiction can show that idea to be utterly limiting and outdated, and dangerous in some cases.  Even better, they offer a unlimited number of alternative paths for us to imagine walking.  It’s not about crafting blueprints…it’s about dreaming in multiple dimensions, and that is just fun.

And science fiction as a genre offers a number of havens for marginalized peoples to talk about their experiences, and envision a different reality where power structures of race, gender, class, orientation, or language are either not barriers to living a full life, or are turned on their heads in order to give the outsiders some of the power.  As Octavia Bulter (perhaps one of the most important progressive science fiction authors) wrote in her essay “A World Without Racism“:

Several years ago I wrote a novel called Dawn in which extra-solar aliens arrive, look us over, and inform us that we have a pair of characteristics that together constitute a fatal flaw. We are, they admit, intelligent, and that’s fine. But we are also hierarchical, and our hierarchical tendencies are older and all too often, they drive our intelligence-that is, they drive us to use our intelligence to try to dominate one another.

More fiction? Maybe.

But whatever is the source of our intolerance, what can we do about it? What can we do to improve ourselves?

Science Fiction writer Octavia Butler poses for a photograph near some of her novels at University Book Store in Seattle, Wash., on Feb. 4, 2004. Butler, considered the first black woman to gain national prominence as a science fiction writer, died Friday, Feb. 24, 2006, after falling and striking her head on the cobbled walkway outside her Seattle home, a close friend said. She was 58. (AP Photo/ Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Joshua Trujillo)
(AP Photo/ Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Joshua Trujillo)

And that is what makes progressive science fiction so profound, and so fascinating–because it thinks not only about spaceships and technology and “progress”, but asks bigger questions about humanity and its interactions, and challenge some of the structures that we have simply come to accept as unchangeable.  But these words aren’t merely polemical, or diatribes against culture.  Instead, they are creative, thought-provoking tales that engage both the critical and the creative parts of the brain at once.

So if you are looking for a bit of an escape from reality, come on into the Library and check out the Free For All’s display of progressive science fiction–not only will you get your fill of imagination and adventure…you might just come away better prepared to face this Brave New World of ours, too.  Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

3703972Lovecraft Country: We’ve mention Matt Ruff’s series of interconnected stories here before, but we’re doing it again, because this is one of those books that stick with you.  The basis of Ruff’s work is a fictionalized version of “The Negro Motorist Green-Book“, which was published in the US from 1936 to 1966,  and provided Black travelers with tips and warnings about the places they might be going.  In Ruff’s book, Atticus Turner and his Uncle George (the publisher of “The Safe Negro Travel Guide”) set out from their home in Chicago to find Atticus’ father, who has fallen into the hands of the strange and sinister Mr. Braithwhite–and come face to face with a man with enormous powers, whose connection to the Turners is both diabolical and intriguing.  In this word, privilege is transformed into a kind of magic protection that the Braithwhites are able to wield for good or ill.  But as Atticus and his family begin to see just what that power can do, they realize that they have the power to overcome it–and even harness it for themselves, with some startling results.  This is a genuinely unsettling, surprisingly funny, and really thoughtful book that feels uncomfortably believable, even at its most fantastic points.

3780979The Obelisk Gate: The second book in N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy is dedicated “To those who have no choice but to prepare their children for the battlefield”, a powerful introduction to a riveting novel that deals very specifically with those hierarchies that Butler mentioned.  In this world, earthquakes occur with such frequency and power that civilization relies on orogenes, people born with the ability to harness thermodynamic power and still earthquakes.  But the orogenes are feared for their powers, and live as prisoners within the land they protect.  Within this world, Jemisin has created two incredibly driven, powerful women: Essen, on a quest to find her missing daughter, and Nassun, the daughter herself, who is slowly discovering the incredible orogenic powers that she herself wields–powers that could heal or destroy the world around her.  A wholly immersive adventure into a fascinating and complex world, Jemisin’s book is also a moving story about female power and relationships, as well as a commentary on how societies deal with “others” in their midst, making this series one that isn’t easy to forget.  If you’re interested, be sure to check out the first book in this trilogy, The Fifth Season, to really get into Jemisin’s world.

1200337Dune: Frank Herbert’s Dune books are seminal works in contemporary science fiction, and while they have earned legions of fans in the fifty years since Dune was first published, they’ve also inspired a number of economic studies and discussions.  Because, at it’s heart, Dune is a study in economics of scarcity.  Though a nearly uninhabitable planet, Dune itself is a source of “Spice”, a mind-altering drug that literally makes the intergalactic empire runs.  So those who live there must learn to adapt, and to profit, even while risking their lives to endure Dune’s incredible hardships…not unlike the extreme conditions to which humans will go for oil today…and while Herbert’s books are becoming more and more prescient over time, they are also phenomenally good reads that continue to captivate readers around the world.

The Nebula Awards!

Guess what, dear readers?!

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Recall, in the past year, how we have talked about book awards, gender, and the discrepancies between the number of women authors in the world, and the lack of recognition they receive?

To recap, briefly, a number of statistics have shown that books about male characters win more awards than books about women, and books by male people tend to win more awards than those written by female people, despite the fact that women are publishing more books overall.  See this graph from The Huffington Post for further details:

o-PULITZER-570

This graph only points to one award (though the Pulitzer is certainly a significant award), and doesn’t even hint at the lack of diversity in mainstream literary awards in terms of identity, sexuality, or religion…anyways, the point is that awards, as a whole, need to be doing a much better job.

And today….they did.  Or, at least, one did.  Because yesterday, women writers swept the Nebula Awards!

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The Nebula Awards are handed out by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.  All members are allowed to suggest books for consideration, and only members can select nominees.  This means that those invested in the genre and its success are responsible for nominating books, and also that publishers, agents, or any other other outside entity cannot tilt the scales in their favor through any kind of promotional or financial influence.

download (4)For several decades, science fiction and fantasy have been in the position to examine issues of identity, prejudice, and belonging, often in a way that more reality-based fiction genres cannot.  For example, in an interview with The Paris Review, Ursula K LeGuin mentioned how her seminal novel, The Left Hand of Darkness was inspired by emerging debates on gender and identity, saying “We didn’t have the language yet to say that gender is a social construction, which is how we shorthand it now…Gender had been thrown into the arena where science fiction goes in search of interesting subjects to revisit and re-question.”  Similarly, author Octavia Butler, who has made her career out of using science fiction to question issues of gender, race, and identity, noted to Democracy Now that “I think I stayed with [science fiction] because it was so wide open, it gave me the chance to comment on every aspect of humanity. People tend to think of science fiction as, oh, Star Wars or Star Trek, and the truth is there are no closed doors, and there are no required formulas. You can go anywhere with it.”

So it isn’t terribly surprising that the SFWA would be so open to nominating and supporting women, and the challenging, imaginative, and daring books that they write.  But recently, there has been an enormous backlash against women and people of color in the science fiction genre (as represented over the horrible debacle that was the Hugo Awards, but more about that later), so the fact that the SFWA is clearly reaffirming its support of diversity of both authors and books is enormously gratifying, and offers readers a whole new opportunity to discover some fantastic stories!

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So, without further ado, here are the nominees and winners of this year’s Nebula Awards!  Check out the Library this week to discover these phenomenal books for yourself (links are provided below for stories available online)!

(Bold indicates category winner)

Novel

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy

Novella

Novelette

  • ‘‘Our Lady of the Open Road’’, Sarah Pinsker (Asimov’s 6/15)
  • ‘‘Rattlesnakes and Men’’, Michael Bishop (Asimov’s 2/15)
  • ‘‘And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead’’, Brooke Bolander (Lightspeed 2/15)
  • ‘‘Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds’’, Rose Lemberg (Beneath Ceaseless Skies 6/11/15)
  • ‘‘The Ladies’ Aquatic Gardening Society’’, Henry Lien (Asimov’s 6/15)
  • ‘‘The Deepwater Bride’’, Tamsyn Muir (F&SF 7-8/15)

Short Story

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation*

  • Mad Max: Fury Road, Written by George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nick Lathouris
  • Ex Machina, Written by Alex Garland
  • Inside Out, Screenplay by Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley; Original Story by Pete Docter, Ronnie del Carmen
  • Jessica Jones: AKA Smile, Teleplay by Scott Reynolds & Melissa Rosenberg; Story by Jamie King & Scott Reynolds
  • The Martian, Screenplay by Drew Goddard
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Written by Lawrence Kasdan & J.J. Abrams and Michael Arndt

Additioanlly, Sir Terry Pratchett was posthumously awarded the Kate Wilhelm Solstice Award, and C.J. Cherryh was named a Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master, both awards of lifetime achievement voted on by the SFWA.

Congratulations to the winning authors, and to the SFWA for recognizing such a sensational selection!

*The Ray Bradbury Award is not considered a Nebula award, but is handed out at the same ceremony

Single Serving Readings, Both Near and Far

large-book

When it comes to books, size does matter….

281For those of you out there who love big, meaty books, with immersive details, deep, complex characters, and long journeys that allow those characters to develop within that scenic world…I have some good news.  A recent study (by a group called Vervesearch on behalf of an interactive publisher called Flipsnack) analyzed the page counts of recent best-sellers and discovered that print books are getting bigger.  In a fairly significant way, at that, with the average best-seller growing from 320 pages in 1999 to 400 in 2014.  This implications of this are not clear at all; few studies of the present are.  But, as we approach the “beach reading” season, those of you who want a good, sturdy book to take with you, I celebrate this news on your behalf.

There are those of us (and I definitely count myself in this group more often than not) who can’t always handle the commitment of a big book.  As a self-professed adulterous reader, I often have three or four books going at once…for a number of reasons, which we can discuss later….but anyway, the point is that sometimes, for some of us, big books can be a real turn-off.

But there is good news!  E-books have forced the publishing market to diversify their products in ways that haven’t been seen since the evolution of the paperback in  1935.  And that means that new genres, new characters, and new types of books continue to emerge with startling speed.  Just one of these options is the novella.

a mini book on hand over faded background

Novellas, by definition, are works of fiction that are longer than a short story, but shorter than a novel.  The word itself derives from the Italian work “novella”, which means “new”.  In reality, novellas are delightful, delicious, single-serving works of fiction that can be read in a single sitting…a train ride…a workout….whatever time or space you have to unwind for a bit is the perfect place for a novella.  And, thanks to the revolution  within the publishing market, novellas are becoming increasingly diverse, wider in scope, and increasingly more refined as an art form in and of themselves.   Even better, they are becoming increasingly easier to find in print form, as well as electronic form.

And, to heap goodness on top of all this goodness, any resident of Massachusetts has access to the Boston Public Library databases….and the Boston Public Library has a phenomenal and growing collection of novellas (as well as a completely insane collection of other works and resources).   Patrons can get a BPL library card online as well to have instant access to databases (including Overdrive!).  To find these great resources, head to the “e-Library” option on our home page:

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Then, click on “Articles/Databases”.  It’s the sixth option on the list.  Clicking that will take you to this screen:

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The highlighted option in the screen capture above (the fourth option on the page) is the link to the Boston Public Library database, where you can get your BPL card and begin going hog-wild:

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You can use the BPL’s catalog–and ours, as well–to find whatever reading material makes your heart skip a beat.  You can pick these books up where they live, at the BPL’s numerous branches and central library, or use ComCat to have it delivered to your home library–give us a call for more information!  For the sake of this particular post, let’s have a look at some of the novellas on offer–both through us, and via the BPL!

indexThe Ballad of Black Tom: It’s no secret that I have a thing for weird fiction, so as soon as I heard about Victor La Valle’s novel of Lovecraftian horror set in Jazz Age New York, there was nothing that was going to get between me and this 151 page thrill ride.  La Valle is a superb author, who works very complex and difficult real-world issues in to his intensely imagined, unsettling, and completely compelling fiction, and this book is a perfect sample of his talents.  Charles Thomas Tester may not be the best musician in Brooklyn, but he knows enough to put food on the table for him and his father, and knows the magic tricks to surviving in a deeply racist world.  But when he is hired by a reclusive, fiendishly powerful man from Queens, Tommy’s entire life changes.  Faced with unspeakable bigotry on one side and unimaginably dark powers on the other, only one thing is sure…Tommy will never be the same.  And neither will you after reading this haunting little book.

index (1)Chase MeTessa Bailey is a superb contemporary romance novelist all around, and I’ve never met a book of hers I didn’t love.  Though most of her works were published in e-book format only, her Broke and Beautiful series was released both electronically and in print, so you can savor these delightful stories in any way you wish.  Roxy Cumberland dropped out of college in order to follow her dreams of becoming an actress…but reality quickly stepped in, and now Roxy finds herself performing singing telegrams to make ends meet.  To add insult to injury, her very first client is a drop-dead handsome trust-fund Manhattanite in a giant pink bunny costume.  Louis McNally II has no plans to humor the absurd spectacle at his door, but the voice–and the face–of his singing visitor intrigues him, even if Roxy appears to want nothing to do with him, or his entitled lifestyle.  This opposites-attracting story is steamy, touching, and genuinely good fun from start to finish, and the perfect antidote for a gloomy day.

index (2)The Awakening: Melville House is a phenomenal publishing company (who also maintains a delightful website!), and their Art of the Novella series has really helped established the novella as a crucial genre in and of itself.  Among those works is Kate Chopin’s classic feminist novel about a woman trapped by marriage and her social situation.  At the time of its publication in 1899, the book was considered an irredeemable scandal that ended Chopin’s career.  Since then, thankfully, Chopin’s powerful prose and enduring message has become a classic, and readily available, thanks to Melville House and the BPL.  Check out all of the Art of the Novella books on offer, as well, in order to get a real sense of all the potential these books have to offer!

Moving Past Lovecraft

For more delightful drawings, visit: http://johnkenn.blogspot.com/
For more delightful drawings, visit: http://johnkenn.blogspot.com/

As we discussed last time, H.P. Lovecraft was a pretty reprehensible human being, but his writing forms the roots of modern weird fiction, a genre that is near and dear to many hearts, including my own.

Thankfully, we read in an  enlightened age, and there are a number of authors at work today whose work builds off, rescues, and redeems Lovecraft’s ideas, giving us tales of imagination, speculation, unsettling truths and wild fictions that are mercifully divorced from the unsavory shadow of their creator.  These authors–and many, many others–have explored the worlds that Lovecraft only hinted at in his books, stared into the eyes of the beasts he described, and did it in a way that allowed all of us the chance to feel a part of these stories.  So come in soon and check out these super, weird, and wonderful authors today!

2760524Octavia Butler: When Daniel José Older submitted his petition to have Lovecraft’s visage removed from the World Fantasy Awards, he requested that Octavia Butler‘s face be used instead, saying her “novels, essays and short stories changed the entire genre of speculative fiction by complicating our notions of power, race and gender.”  While we still have yet to see what the WFA chooses for their new award, there is no denying the incredible impact and importance of Butler’s work.  Though she stated in a speech that one of her first rules for writing was that “I couldn’t write about anything that couldn’t actually happen”, she still used science fiction and speculative fiction to talk about the very real issues of racism, intolerance, and the horror of human’s behavior towards other humans.  While all of Bulter’s works stretched and re-defined the genres of science and speculative fiction–not only for their wildly imaginative premises, but because they featured women as heroines–there are some that are more immediately accessible than others.   For those looking for a good place to begin, I’d suggest Kindred, which features a heroine who journeys through time from her home in 1976 to the pre-Civil War South.  For those looking for a somewhat wilder voyage, go for Dawn, the first book in her Xenogenesis series, which tells the story of Lilith, one of the few survivors of a nuclear holocaust, kidnapped by truly frightful aliens.  For all its strangeness, this book is beautifully human, and simply unforgettable.

2934990China Miéville: Anytime a patron comes in and asks for Miéville book, I break into a little happy dance on my way to the shelves.  His work is so weird, and yet so beautiful that I kind of want to live in the worlds he creates (as long as an escape hatch is provided…just in case).  My first introduction to Miéville’s work was Kraken, which places Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos in the present-day, as scientist Billy Harlow realizes that he holds the key to finding–and awakening–a giant squid who holds the power to destroy not only this world, but all worlds that may ever be.  The story begins with a school trip to an aquarium, and, faster than you can blink, launches into something wonderfully outlandish, and genuinely unsettling, particularly as the humans involve realize just how powerless they are to control the events they have set in motion.  Miéville has always been open about how much Lovecraft inspired his own work, but has also never shied away from the real horrors of his personal outlook–and this is a man who knows of what his speaks.  This essay, examining the roots and the power of “The Weird” in literature is a sensational view into the mind of truly conscious and conscientious writer (my personal favorite part is his discussion of Victor Hugo and the Octopus)–and be sure to read his Introduction to Lovecraft’s At The Mountains of Madness.  It offers a fascinating (and chilling) insight into how Lovecraft reflected his own world view into his fiction.  Mieville’s love of the genre shines through in each of his works, playing with various branches of science, and various elements of the psychology of fear, to make stories that are as exciting as they are unsettling.

2709181 Jonathan L. Howard: It wasn’t long after Johannes Cabal, the infamous necromancer and notorious curmudgeon, first strolled through the gates of Hell that he strolled straight into my heart.  We’ve sung the praises of Howard’s work here before, but for the Lovecraft fan, there are delights aplenty to be had here.  Johannes Cabal himself exists in a world where belief in Lovecraft’s elder gods is real–though generally only amongst inmates at the local asylum.  Nevertheless, the Cthulu song that appears in the first book, Johannes Cabal the Necromancer, is one of my favorite behind-the-circulation-desk songs to hum…which probably says volumes about me.  Additionally, Howard is also the author of Carter and Lovecraft, the first book to feature P.I. Dan Carter, who inherits an old bookstore run by one Emily Lovecraft, the niece of H.P. himself.  Emily is a sensational character in her own right, her strength and her wisdom offering hope for the Lovecraft name.  Meanwhile, Dan’s investigation of a seemingly impossible murder case captures all the element of HP’s work that is worth remembering–that sense of skin-crawling dread in the face of the inexplicable, and the sense that you are nothing more than a dust-speck in some infinitely larger, and more nefarious plan–while still confronting the nasty bits with frank, appreciable honesty.  I have a pretty strong constitution for such things, and I’ll admit, I couldn’t finish this book at night.

Happy Birthday, Jules Verne!

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In his introduction to the reprint of ‘Salem’s Lot, Stephen King explains that he was, and remains a “writer of the moment”, which means that his characters, and the themes in his books, often reflects the ages in which they were written, even though their themes may be timeless.  In a recent report from UNESCO, Stephen King was the 9th most-translated author worldwide.  The man who occupies the #2 spot on that list is a writer much like King…his writing reflects his world, yet imagines a world altogether new.  That man is today’s celebrant: Jules Gabriel Verne, born this day in 1828.

Verne was always an adventurer, and ever the dreamer.  Family legend has it that when he was eleven, Jules got himself hired as a cabin boy on a ship bound for the West Indies, so that he could procure a coral necklace for his cousin, Caroline.  His father made it to the docks in time to catch his son, and made him promise that, thereafter, he would travel “only in his imagination”.

alexandre_dumas___jules_verne_by_baleineau-d5qxqfbVerne always loved storytelling, but, as the oldest son of the family, it was expected that we would take a position in the family law firm, rather than try to make a living through his writing.  And Jules was truly dedicated to his work, writing furiously only after finishing his studies.  But in 1849, he met with Alexander Dumas, and together, the two young men wrote and produced a play called Les Pailles rompues (The Broken Straws), which debuted at the Théâtre Historique in Paris, on June 12, 1850.  As his literary successes continued on the stage and in popular magazines, Jules quickly realized that he would only make an indifferent lawyer, at best. Though he would later get a job in a brokerage in order to win favor with his fiancee’s family, Verne’s lifelong passion would be for writing.

BNFOne of Jules’ favorite places to work was the Bibliothèque nationale de France (yay libraries!), where he kept up-to-date on the latest scientific and geographical discoveries that were being produced by French cartographers and explorers.   This research got him thinking of writing a new kind of novel–a Roman de la Science (novel of science)–that would allow him to incorporate the wealth of facts he was collecting, while still allowing to put his prodigious imagination to good use.

Those novels came to life following Verne’s meeting with Pierre-Jules Hetzel, who was intending to publish a family magazine that would combine scientific information with fun adventure stories.  Verne’s “novels of science” were a perfect addition, and Hetzel presented Verne with a contract stating that he would pay a yearly flat fee, and, in return, Verne would produce three novels a year for his magazine.  Verne was delighted to find a steady outlet for his writings, and his first novel of science, now known as Five Weeks in a Balloon was published in January, 1863.

Though his work was enormously popular during his life, Verne’s work has always been the focus of a debate that still rages today…can science fiction be considered “literature”, or must it always be relegated to “genre fiction”?  For years, Verne’s work was discounted, but a number of scholarly works published in France around the 1960’s and 1970’s brought his work back into the forefront of French literature.

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A still from the 1902 A Trip To The Moon, one of the first films ever, inspired by Verne’s writing

In English, though, Verne hasn’t made the same kind of triumphant return.  This is largely due to the fact that traditional translations of his work have been, generally speaking, pretty lousy.  During Verne’s lifetime, British and American publisher decided to market his work to young audiences, and thus scaled down a lot of his ideas,  and edited out a good deal of the words, as well.  As Michael Crichton pointed out in an introduction to Verne’s work, in the publication of Journey to the Center of the Earth, “Griffith & Farran…blithely altered the text, giving Verne’s characters new names, and adding whole pages of their own invention, thus effectively obliterating the meaning and tone of Verne’s original.”

So perhaps today is as good a day as any to rediscover Jules Verne is all his true, wise, and insightful glory.  Recently, several publishing houses have begun to reassess Jules Verne and his work, giving Anglophones a new taste of his work.  Here are a few that have been widely hailed as rather good translations that will allow you to access all the weird and wild wonder of his work:

2709277Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the SeaOxford World’s Classics are an excellent way to get to know some of the planet’s greatest works of literature, and these new translations by William Butcher actually go back to the original manuscript in order to get at the heart of Verne’s work, rather than relying on previous tradition.  Here, Captain Nero and his submarine the Nautilus appear as wild and colorful as they first did in 1870.

41ZIirNpKML._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_From the Earth to the Moon: Walter James Miller translated and annotated this 1865 novel set in Maryland just after the American Civil War, when the Baltimore Gun Club decides to build a massive gun, pointing to the sky, in order to shoot the club’s president and a French poet to the moon.  This work was an enormous influence on H.G. Wells, and now, you can discover it, as well, with excellent annotations, to boot!  Miller also translated and annotated 20,000 Leagues Under the Seaas well.

51+PhBMru7L._SX313_BO1,204,203,200_Paris in the Twentieth Century: This novel was discovered by Verne’s great-grandson in 1989.  It had originally been turned down by Hetzel as being too pessimistic, as well and, comparatively, unimaginative.  Today, however, it is recognized by Verne scholars as a massively important work, and by science fiction aficionados as a marvel–none of Verne’s other works went so far as to prophesy the future of an entire civilization so comprehensively, or to include so many ideas about how science would change human society.

Oh, and just in case you were wondering, here’s a fun piece from National Geographic discussing eight inventions that Jules Verne accurately predicted in his writings.  Enjoy!