Extra Credit, Feb. 7, 2012

Extra Credit, Feb. 7, 2012

In lieu of a book review, it feels like time for a link post. I’ve read plenty of interesting stuff here and there lately, but haven’t really had a forum to share most of it. Since I’m replacing a ~1200 word post with a bunch of links, I will try to engage in each of them a bit and offer commentary beyond, “hey check this thing out.”

The Monsters of MM9 Haikasoru has been on a roll lately, publishing some of the craziest, deepest, funnest stuff from Japan. Their newest release is by recent Seiun winner Yamamoto Hiroshi, the author of The Stories of Ibis. MM9 is a monster story, or rather a story about the Meterological division that measures and classifies the giant monsters that periodically attack Japan. I have yet to get my grubby paws on it, but Haikasoru has posted an essay by the author giving some background to the story. Hopefully I can get a copy soon and post a review.

Military SF on Tor.com The weekly Tor.com offerings are always a mixed bag, but when they come through, they really come through. The end of January was Mil SF week for Tor, with reviews and commentary about a whole host of topics. Some of the books are good, some are crap, some articles made me tear out my hair, some were brilliant. I’ll leave it to out readers to decide which is which. Recommended, however, are any articles by or about David Drake. Frequent readers will already know my opinions about Drake, but they bear repeating. Drake is a rare author who is as interesting as the books he writes. The more I hear him talk about his life, the more crazy his books seem. Definitely check those ones out. Also good is the summary of anime SF and the look at Star Blazers (Space Battleship Yamato to the Japan-aware).

The World SF Blog Without highlighting a particular article, this page is a treasure trove of the obscure and off the wall. Where else can you find a report on the Hungarian Science Fiction Convention or an article about Israeli pulp novels on display at Arizona State?

My Favourite Reads of 2011 at Walker of Worlds. This is a page I came across recently, forgot how, but I was happy to see this list. I wasn’t really paying attention to new releases last year, so someone else’s summary is welcome. I’ve already put one selection on hold at the library, even if I disagree with some of his choices. (Honor Harrington? Egad.)

Fantasy Armor and Lady Bits Just in case people weren’t clear on the idiocy of chain mail bikinis and molded breast plates, a real live armorer explains it all.

Good Show Sir I’m always hesitant to pass along funny things, because I fear that I’m the last to know about them and everyone else will just say, “That’s dumb, I knew about that in 2009.” (Case in point: until about four days ago, I thought that NyanCat was a Japanese smart phone game.) With that risk acknowledged, I can’t pass up this collection of terrible SFF book covers. I suspect there are a few hidden in my own library somewhere; maybe I should send submissions.

The Difference Between Science Fiction and Fantasy at Contrary Brin. I’ve read David Brin’s ideas on this before, but it never ceases to interest me. A lot of people seem to take issue with this definition, which probably says more about our contradictory beliefs and self-images than about Brin’s penchant for stirring the pot. Still, I wonder if this isn’t the root of my preference for SF.

The Nearest Exoplanets at Karl Schroeder’s blog. This is a late addition. He looks at some recent data and makes startling predictions for the number of planets actually out there. Heartening for those of us that think life is out there somewhere, even if it isn’t whizzing around Nevada in flying saucers.

Two Dudes Twitter Finally, we are at long last Twittering. Join in the fun!

4 thoughts on “Extra Credit, Feb. 7, 2012

  1. Brin’s column reminds me somewhat of [whose?] distinction between tragedy and comedy, which goes along the lines of “Comedy is when you fall in an open manhole and die, tragedy is when I get a splinter in my finger.” Was that Don Rickles, Phil Silvers, Uncle Miltie, Jonathan Winters, Groucho? Can’t remember . . . . tragedy!
    I remember way, way back in the day reading column by a lady whose nom de plume was Scorpia; she did RPG reviews and walkthrus when Computer Gaming World was a decent magazine. [Boy, that WAS a long time ago!] In any event, her basic definition of a computer RPG was “you kill Foozle, the evil wizard.” That seems to be the order of the day in much fantasy–the protagonist(s) have to kill Foozle, or his Grand Vizier, or somebody on his staff of evildoers, and thus save the world as we know it. Patricia McKillip doesn’t do this; Gene Wolfe (whom I revere as perhaps the greatest fantasy master of the 20th century, next to Tolkien–check out his tetrology “The Book of the New Sun” if you don’t believe me!) doesn’t do this; Michael Moorcock doesn’t always do this; maybe that’s why I like those three so much. (And I like vampire fiction set in the White Wolf World, where you actually get to root for good vampires against bad vampires.) But too much fantasy seems to be derivative from LOTR. I admit Tolkien sets a high standard, but does every fantasy author have to imitate him so much? I remember way, way back in the day when I read the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, by Stephen Donaldson. The first volume seemed nothing more than a retelling of much of LOTR, except the protagonist was a jerk, albeit a jerk who had leprosy. (And once Donaldson found his voice, the character of Thomas Covenant was so unattractive and his predicament so depressing, that I couldn’t finish the series.)
    Good sci fi authors, on the other hand, can escape this basic plot line rather easily. Star Wars has it, but a lot of good sci fi doesn’t, and doesn’t need it. I remember being overwhelmed by the goodness of the plot line, character development, and originality of “Heart of the Comet,” by the aforementioned David Brin and Greg Benford. Arthur C. Clarke doesn’t need it, neither does Orson Scott Card–and I think “Speaker for the Dead” is still one of the most moving novels of any kind I’ve ever read. Some of the best sci fi I’ve ever read involves rather ordinary folks confronting the rather ordinary problems of human existence in a radically different universe. The interest factor is how this alien universe will affect what a human does to get his/her life back on even kilter. Not all of us get to slay evil wizards, but most everyone has a problem child, or difficulties in a relationship, or a toxic work environment in which a co-worker is trying to stab one in the back. The essential problems we face in life seem to be about the same; that’s why the Greek tragedies and Shakespeare still resonate so strongly.
    Brin may not be completely right, but at least he’s given some food for thought. Comments, anyone?

    • I believe it was Mel Brooks.
      It’s hard to use Brin’s criteria to define all speculative fiction, but I think it is often useful. I remember reading an article of his long ago that compared Star Wars and Star Trek – the former to him is fantasy because it hearkens back to the Old Republic and concentrates power in the hands of an untouchable elite. (We think the Jedi are good, of course, but they really are a scary oligarchy.) I think it is generally difficult to find fantasy that doesn’t resist change; this is possibly why New Sun always felt more like SF to me.
      Anyway, look for more comments about this in a coming review. It may even turn into a full-blown post if whatever comes out on paper threatens to overwhelm the topic nominally at hand.

      • You’re right, Pep, it was Mel Brooks. And the old master wasn’t joshing either. It’s all in the eye of the beholder.
        I’m still hoping to generate my compare and contrast review of The Book of the New Sun, and Mervin Peake’s Gormenghast Trilogy. In some ways, they’re very similar. I just have to get them all re-read so I can remember enough to not make a total fool of myself (and that’s hard even under the best of circumstances!).
        What would you call Gormenghast? The world Peake dreams up is as alien as is Urth in The Book of the New Sun. Yet there’s this very medieval streak in both of them–that may be part of their alien-ness, as well as their appeal. Both sets of books are a breath of fresh air in what otherwise can be rather formula-prone genre.
        Apropos of nothing, I still remember the very first sci-fi book I read, “Star Conquerors,” by the redoubtable Ben Bova. I was probably in 4th or 5th grade. The evildoers in that one were a race of lizard-like beings called the Sauron. (Hmm, where have I found THAT name?). The first fantasy I read was LOTR, in 9th grade. My English teacher saw me with the first volume and told me not to waste my time, I wouldn’t like it because it wasn’t any good. THAT was all the goading I needed. However, that same teacher, Mr. Nelson, recommended Dune to me, and for once, the old goat was right. Too bad that Herbert fell in love with his own dreamed-up religion, as the remaining Dune books went downhill.
        And come to think of it, there’s a strong medieval element in both LOTR and Dune. Why does that seem to be part and parcel of the genre? Inquiring minds, as they say, want to know!

      • There is some discussion of this in the comments of Brin’s essay. I don’t remember all the details, but they talk about the feudalism in Dune, what seems to be a natural human yearning towards feudal systems, etc. I suppose that under these criteria, Gormenghast would be SF, because Peake is obviously pushing the characters forward, through change, and into a new world. Arguments among fans as to whether or not the hero should return to his home or leave it behind reflect this split, I think. Likewise Severian in New Sun – they are moving forward, abolishing the old order with the author’s blessing. Tolkien on the other hand, is clearly not enthused that his Third Age is coming to a close.

        In other news, how did we find out about good books and music before the internet?? I’d still be reading the Black Cauldron if teacher recs were all I had to go on.

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