New Tor Catalog

Tor, one of the most prolific publishers of science fiction in the world, has recently released a new catalog covering the period Spring/Summer 2011. You can find it online here (pdf).

If covers are anything to go by, they expect great things from the US release in May of The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi. In the UK Gollancz has just ordered a 5th reprint of the trade paperback edition, which is certainly a good indication of likely strong sales elsewhere.

Aside from that there is a strong streak of sequelitis amongst the high profile releases. Possibly the most significant announcement is that of the October release of The Children of the Sky by Vernor Vinge. This is a sequel to the Hugo-winning A Fire Upon the Deep, which Tor are re-issuing in August.

Still in Hugo territory, Robert Charles Wilson’s Vortex, the third and final part of the series begun with Spin and Axis, is due out in July.

Other notable sequels include This Shared Dream (July) by Kathleen Ann Goonan, a follow-up to In War Times; and The Tempering of Men (August) by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear, a follow-up to A Companion to Wolves.

The final announcement that caught our eye is that in August Tor will be re-issuing John Brunner’s classic tale of an overpopulated world, Stand on Zanzibar. The book won the Hugo in 1969 and has lost little of its relevance since. Now if only Tor would also re-issue The Sheep Look Up

Guardian on SF (Again)

The Guardian is continuing to dip its toes into the waters of speculative fiction, with mixed degrees of success. Discussions of SF in the mainstream media are often most interesting for the ways in which the commentators limit their view of it so as to be able to dismiss it as bad.

Margaret Atwood famously described science fiction as being about “talking squid in space”, though she has apparently now added “flying rabbits” to her definition. She does this in order to attempt to distance what she regards as the believable speculation of her novels, particularly Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, from less rigorous scientific extrapolation in what she believes science fiction to be.

In The Guardian‘s latest podcast Simon Ings responds to Damien Walter by arguing that science fiction is nothing but rigorous scientific extrapolation, devoid of all emotional content.

The apparent contradiction between these two explanations as to why science fiction is bad does not yet appear to have been noticed by anyone at The Guardian.

All Change in UK Publishing

Orbit UK has announced a couple of staff changes. Anne Clarke becomes editorial director (replacing Darren Nash who moved to Gollancz a few weeks ago). In addition James Long, author of the Speculative Horizons blog, has been taken on as an editorial assistant.

The big news, however, is that Jo Fletcher has left Gollancz after 16 years to start a brand new SF&F list at Quercus. In her time at Gollancz Fletcher has worked with authors such as Sir Terry Pratchett, Sir Arthur C. Clarke and Ursula Le Guin. The new Quercus imprint will be known as Jo Fletcher Books. We look forward to it.

Clarke and Asimov Podcast

Well yes, they are dead. But the very wonderful Science Fiction Oral History Association has a fine collection of recordings, and now they have a podcast too. The first episode of The Space Dog Podcast features a recording from 1976. It was made for Ballantine Science Fiction Hour, which may have been a radio show but may just have been put out on vinyl. Ballantine Books were obviously using it to promote their authors in much the same way as websites like Tor.com do with modern technology. The first half of the show is an interview with Sir Arthur C. Clarke. The second half is a discussion panel in which Isaac Asimov, Lester del Rey, Frederik Pohl, and Gordon R. Dickson discuss Clarke and much else besides. Highlights include Clarke expressing his admiration for Olaf Stapledon, Asimov explaining why he wants to be remembered for alien sex, and Pohl noting that he has a new book due out called Gateway that he thinks may be his best work to date.

Bookmarketology

Here’s a blog that may be of interest to many of you. It is called Bookmarketology, and it is run by Darren Turpin who is the Digital Marketing Manager for Little, Brown Book Group (UK). The purpose of the blog is to give practical advice on online promotion and marketing for published authors. Darren has been around the industry for a long time and knows his stuff.

Roberson To Write Superman

Author and publisher Chris Roberson has announced on Twitter that he will be writing for DC’s Superman comic. With Paul Cornell already in charge of Action Comics, and about to get a stint on Batman and Robin, the science fiction community is starting to get serious traction in the comics world.

Roberson is no stranger to comics. He is already scripting Cinderella (a Fables spin-off) for Vertigo and Dust to Dust, a prequel to Do Androids Dream Electric Sheep, for Boom! Studios.

Update: Yes, we forgot iZombie (also from Vertigo), which is a really wonderful comic.

Atwood on the BBC

Today the BBC’s Woman’s Hour programme included a lengthy interview with Margaret Atwood about her novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, which was published 25 years ago. Presenter Jenni Murray and guest critic Alex Clark discuss the novel with Atwood, and examine its relevance in a world increasingly plagued by religious fundamentalism.

Of interest to our readers will be the fact that Clark very clearly describes the book as “science fiction”. Rather than dispute this, Atwood acknowledges that she was working in a tradition whose founding texts included Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s 1984, which by inference are presumably also science fiction.

The programme is available here via the BBC iPlayer. The interview with Atwood takes up the first 20 minutes or so of the show.

New Journal to Study Comics & Graphic Novels

Via Joe Gordon at FPI we learn about the Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics. Published by Routledge, with a planned two issues a year, the Journal intends:

to become a central platform for the academic debates around comics, comic strips, graphic novels and all forms of sequential art in terms of history and theory and to welcome and encourage new and groundbreaking approaches to the field.

The first issue is available free online here. The published papers include one by Paul Gravett titled “From Iky Mo to Lord Horror: representations of Jews in British comics.” Other papers cover the sexual identity of superheroes, comics as cultural resistance, the absence of black supervillains and nationalism.

The next issue will be on the subject of “Gender and Superheroes”. We are pleased to see that the call for papers lists Superheroes!: Capes and Crusaders in Comics and Films by Roz Kaveney as potential research material. We suspect that Jonathan Clements may have written relevant material as well.

Editorial Chair-Swapping

It appears to be all go with editors these days. Not long ago we reported a change at the helm of Fantasy Magazine. Now two more publications have announced changes in editor.

Damien Broderick has stepped down as fiction editor of Cosmos, an Australian popular science magazine, and has been replaced by Cat Sparks.

And at Strange Horizons Susan Marie Groppi celebrated her World Fantasy Award win by retiring. Niall Harrison takes over as Editor-in-Chief, while Abigail Nussbaum moves into Niall’s seat as Senior Reviews Editor.

The Portal Opens

The Portal is an online review magazine specializing in short fiction from all around the world. The first issue has just gone live, and as well as a collection of interesting reviews it has articles about the science fiction and fantasy scenes in Bolivia, France and Denmark. You can read it here.

The Aether Age Is Coming

Hadley Rille, a US-based small press, is celebrating its fifth birthday by launching a new concept anthology, The Aether Age: Helios. The book imagines the industrialization of the ancient world (circa 600-100 BCE). It is edited by Christopher Fletcher and Brandon H. Bell and is now available for pre-order. Further information is available from the book’s website.

All Change At Fantasy Magazine

Fantasy Magazine will be re-launching in March 2011 with a new editorial team. Sean Wallace, whose life has been blessed by the arrival of twin daughters, is retiring from day-to-day editing, though he remains as publisher. Cat Rambo is retiring to concentrate on her fiction. Front line editorial duties will be assumed by John Joseph Adams, who already edits Fantasy’s sister publication, Lightspeed. For further details, see JJA’s blog.

Thoughts on Fantasy

The blogosphere tends to uninteresting and repetitive discussions of the “difference between science fiction and fantasy”. Recently, however, we have seen a couple of people put a bit more thought into the issue. One such commentator is our own Karen Burnham, who has developed a rule of thumb for distinguishing between the two. The other is Hal Duncan who, as you might expect, has gone on rather longer on the topic, and mines the darker corners of the dictionary along the way. Both are worth checking out.

Ridley Scott to Produce Man in the High Castle TV Series

The Guardian reports that legendary movie director, Ridley Scott, is to produce a TV mini-series based on Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle for the BBC. Scott is reported as saying that he is a lifelong fan of Dick’s work: “He is the master of creating worlds which not only spark the imagination but offer deeper commentary on the human condition.”

The series will be scripted by playwright Howard Brenton who is also a scriptwriter for Spooks. The series is projected to have four parts, but it is unclear how long it will run.

What Do We Mean By YA?

In any hierarchy each oppressed group is always looking for someone else to look down upon. Science fiction and fantasy occupy a pretty lowly place on the greasy totem pole of literary respectability. It is therefore perhaps not surprising that, when last year’s Hugo Award for Best Novel shortlisted three books marketed as “Young Adult”, a few eyebrows were raised around the blogosphere. After all, “serious” literary critics often take the view that SF&F is actually for children, something that you should grow out of reading when you become an adult. Many people will be keen to prove that idea wrong.

Yet SF&F have a long and honorable tradition in providing fiction for teenagers. The “Heinlein juvenile” is often held up as an example of some of the best the genre has to offer. Hugo Gernsback firmly believed in providing science education for young people. And many writers today are enthusiastically jumping into the YA arena. There is clearly a connection here.

White Cat - Holly BlackWhat, you might ask, has prompted this fit of introspection? Well, I recently had the pleasure of reading Holly Black’s latest novel, White Cat [Purchase]. It is a fine book, but I couldn’t help noticing the sticker on the cover proudly proclaiming “A novel for grown-ups from the author of Spiderwick”. Now, the central characters of White Cat are teenagers. Much of the action takes place in a school. The book opens with the lead character up on the school roof, which sounds like an affectionate nod to Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass [Purchase]. If this isn’t a YA book, I thought to myself while reading it, I don’t know what is. And yet, here was Gollancz eager to claim that it wasn’t. Perhaps the concept of YA is more complicated than I had thought.

It is possible, of course, that YA is simply that which we call YA when we point to it. As I understand it, however, Damon Knight’s famous dictum was not an attempt to establish himself, and his fateful finger, as the ultimate arbiter of SFness, but rather it was an early exercise in what we now call crowdsourcing. Knight was saying that if enough people thought a book was science fiction then it probably was. The same can be applied to YA, but that still leaves us asking what leads someone to classify a book as YA in the first place.

Tongues of Serpents - Naomi NovikThose who wish to distance SF from YA tend to assume that writing for kids is somehow simplistic, less complex and less challenging than writing for adults. There are ways in which that is probably true. It is unlikely, for example, that anyone would publish a typical Gene Wolfe novel as YA. You don’t normally ask teenager readers to work that hard. But the corollary doesn’t hold. By no means every book published for adults is as complex and demanding as a Gene Wolfe novel. One of my guilty pleasures is Naomi Novik’s Temeraire books. I recently read the latest one, Tongues of Serpents [Purchase], and very much enjoyed it despite the lack of complexity (I raced through it in a day). I am sure that Novik’s books are read and enjoyed by many teenagers. And yet they are not published as YA.

Another possible indicator of YA-ness is the absence of certain themes. Parents are forever getting themselves in a tizzy over what their kids are reading. Sex, drugs, violence: these are all things that kids apparently need protecting from. So do publishers avoid these themes in choosing which books to market as YA? Not a bit of it. Remember all of the moral panic we had over Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels [Purchase], which features child abuse and gang rape? There can’t be many topics more potentially nightmare-inducing for teenagers than that, and yet it was happily published as YA.

Eon - Alison GoodmanAt Worldcon this year I had the pleasure of sharing a panel with Alison Goodman, author of Eon [Purchase], and Hazel Edwards, co-author (with Ryan Kennedy) of f2m: the boy within [Purchase]. Both of these books contain positive portrayals of trans characters. Hazel’s book (which is not SF) actually features a central character who is a young person going through transition from female to male. It is rare to see adult books tackling such themes. If trans characters appear in books for adults it is almost certainly for sensational impact, or as the butt of cruel jokes. YA novels, I have found, are rather more likely to treat social issues like this seriously and sensitively.

Another potential definition of YA, and one that worked for me when I read White Cat, is that YA books have central characters who are teenagers. This seems to make sense on a fairly basic level. People like to read books containing characters with whom they identify. If you are a teenager, it makes sense that you would want to read books about teenagers. This would also explain why Novik’s books are not sold as YA.

The Inter-Galactic Playground - Farah MendlesohnEven here, however, there are complications. For her Hugo-nominated book, The Inter-Galactic Playground [Purchase], Farah Mendlesohn read every YA science fiction book that she could lay her hands on. One of the trends that she noticed in doing so is that YA science fiction has become less and less a matter of science fiction books aimed at teenagers, and more a matter of books aimed at teenagers that happen to have a science fiction setting.

The key issue here is that many YA novels don’t just feature teenage characters, they address issues that are of concern to teenagers: school, parents, first love, and so on. In much the same way as a romance novel can be dressed up in a huge variety of different settings, so a YA novel can be set in different countries, different time periods, and in outer space.

I should note here that Mendlesohn was not advancing “being about teenage concerns” as a definition of YA, she was simply remarking on a trend that she had observed. She felt it was unfortunate that a subgenre which, in the past, had done so much to inspire young people with a love of science, was now reduced to being wallpaper for tales of teenage angst.

Publishing, however, abhors a vacuum. It may go for a very long time sticking to a maxim of “X won’t sell”. For years, maybe decades, it will be impossible to sell a book that is seen to fit the description of X. And then one day an adventurous young editor spots an amazing book that she’d buy in a second if it wasn’t very obviously the very epitome of X. She takes it to her boss, who decides to indulge her whim, and suddenly, because this is such a great book, X is the new in thing and every editor is phoning agents asking them if they have any X-like novels on their lists.

For The Win - Cory DoctorowWell, that’s the fairytale version anyway. I don’t think that we are quite on the cusp of a YA science fiction resurgence yet. But we are seeing a number of books that give me cause for hope. Cory Doctorow, for example, is starting to make a career out of publishing political science fiction for teenagers. His Hugo-nominated Little Brother [Purchase] was an extended rant against the evils of security theater. It encouraged young people to stand up against the creeping imposition of a “your papers, please” culture on Western society. His new book, For The Win [Purchase], is ostensibly about video games. But Doctorow says in the introduction that one of his objectives in writing the book was to teach young people about economics, so that they might know when they were being exploited. The novel is based around young people who work as “gold farmers” making money for others though their skill in video games. This is by no means a common teenage concern.

With The Windup Girl [Purchase] having swept almost all before it in this year’s awards, everyone will be looking for the next new book from Paolo Bacigalupi. It is already out, it is called Ship Breaker [Purchase], and if you haven’t heard of it that’s because it was published as YA. Once again this is a book that is by no means only about young love and awful parents. The book is set in a near-future America where young kids on the Gulf Coast are set to work on the difficult and dangerous job of salvaging valuable materials from the hulks of old ships. Like so much of Bacigalupi’s output, this is a book with environmental concerns very much to the fore. Like Doctorow’s work, it is very political.

A hot tip for next year’s Hugo is The Dervish House [Purchase] by Ian McDonald. His three near-future novels set in developing nations (the other two are River of Gods [Purchase] and Brasyl [Purchase]) have proved very popular, but industry gossip suggests that McDonald is moving on to something different. His next novel will apparently be a YA book. And indeed one of the most memorable characters in The Dervish House is a young boy.

Mockingjay - Suzanne CollinsThe increased interest in YA science fiction isn’t only coming from established SF authors deciding to write for teenagers. Dystopian fiction is apparently all the rage in YA at the moment. I’m currently reading one of the hottest properties around, the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games [Purchase], Catching Fire [Purchase] & Mockingjay [Purchase]), and it is very good. It is a fast-paced adventure story with some deft plotting and interesting characters, but it is also much more than that.

To start with there are classical references of the sort you might expect to see in a literary novel. In Collins’ near-future America a rich elite, based in what is probably Denver, has subdued the rest of the country and lives in luxury while the rest of the country labors to support them, and starves. The people of the “Capitol” fairly obviously owe a lot to ancient Rome, even down to vomiting up food so that they can eat more at parties. The central conceit, the idea that each subject territory must send a young boy and girl every year to participate in gladiatorial games, is straight out of the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur.

From there, however, Collins’ political astuteness takes over. Rather than have the young tributes be eaten by a monster, she has them pitted against each other in a televised fight for survival in a dangerous wilderness environment. The winner will not just be a survivor, she will be a ruthless killer. I am sure that there will be academic papers written about Collins’ use of reality TV as a tool of political oppression. There may also be papers about how, while writing about how the Gamekeepers cruelly maneuver the young players to provide better entertainment for the TV viewers, Collins must surely be aware that she is deftly maneuvering her characters into yet more desperate situations in order to provide entertainment for her readers.

The gender subtexts of the book are interesting too. The central character, Katniss Everdeen, is a tough, resourceful young lady who is an expert hunter, lethal with a bow, and who became the breadwinner for her family when her father died. She is paired with Peeta Mellark, a charming but soft-hearted boy whose principal skill is decorating cakes. The UK publishers, perhaps not knowing what to do with science fiction for girls, put Peeta’s picture on the cover of book #1 (though that may just be a variant, I’ve seen pictures of a Katniss cover), and avoided people entirely for the other two. Despite this, and despite Collins having eschewed the usual tactic of resorting to initials so as to appeal better to boys, the books are selling like hot cakes.

And so they should. These are good books with subtle touches that any adult reader will appreciate. I noted with amusement, for example, that the selfish bully who becomes Katniss’s most dangerous opponent in The Hunger Games is called Cato. I’m sure that’s not an accident.

As for White Cat, I am still bemused. It is possible that the publishers had concerns about the nature of the plot. Holly Black speculates that in a world where magic is rare and illegal those with magical skills will very quickly fall into the clutches of criminal syndicates. Many of the characters are crooks of some sort, and while the hero, Cassel, is less immoral than the rest of his family, he is still an expert con artist. Maybe having a hero who is a criminal is the step too far that publishers won’t take.

Another possibility is that the comment is actually aimed at teenagers. The Spiderwick series is for younger children and Putting “adult” on the cover might be a subtle way of telling teenagers that this book for them, not for their younger siblings.

My favored explanation, however, is that this was just a marketing gimmick aimed at getting more adult readers for Holly. After all, she’s an excellent writer, and many of those people who complained about last year’s Hugos are doubtless reluctant to try her work, or that of anyone well known for writing for the YA market. They shouldn’t be. And neither should you. There are many fine books out there waiting to be read. If they are, on average, written in simpler language than some other books you are used to, well that just means you can read them more quickly, and thereby read more of them. Why not give them a try?

By one of those surreptitious coincidences that happen on the Internet, Gary K. Wolfe and Jonathan Strahan spent a lot of their most recent podcast talking about the nature of YA fiction. You can listen to them here.

New Online Fiction From Germany

Via the indispensable World SF blog, we discover that Inter Nova, a magazine based in Germany, has gone fully online. It publishes in English, but aims to publish primarily authors from outside of the English-speaking world. Translation services may be available in the future, but for now submissions must be in English. Interested authors should note that the magazine is strictly science fiction, no fantasy or horror. Presumably the decision of the editors is final in deciding what that means. The site currently has contributions from Brazil, Argentina, Italy, Croatia, South Africa, Israel and England in addition to Germany.

Two Interviews

Two very interesting interviews turned up in our blog feeds today. The first is at Techland where Lev Grossman interviews Paolo Bacigalupi about his sudden rise to fame, and the pair exchange some snark about literary fiction. And if you think that Paolo really has been an overnight success, go read the interview and find out how long you have to labor in obscurity before you get that sort of success.

The other interview is at World SF where Charles A. Tan talks to Indian SF writer, Samit Basu. There are some fascinating comments about the rapidly changing nature of the book market in India, and about the status of SF and fantasy in India. Also Samit is kind enough to quote Cheryl Morgan.

Apex Book of World SF, Vol. 2

The Apex Book Company has announced the table of contents for volume 2 in Lavie Tidhar’s Apex Book of World SF anthology series. This really is an international affair, with contributors from far and wide around the globe, including Malawi, Peru, Cuba, India and Finland, to name but a few. The featured authors include Fábio Fernandes, who was a guest on The Salon last issue, and Lauren Beukes, whom we interviewed. The full list of stories can be found here.

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