Sunday, September 12, 2010

A sneak peek at issue #4's editorial...

Hey all; while I haven't even put together issue #3's yet, I have something already burning its way out of my mind and into draft for issue #4: the important SF/F books of 2010.

There's still a few months left, but here is a sneak peek at what and why:
  1. The SHINE anthology edited by Jetse de Vries (Solaris). Optimistic SF is hard and important; if we as speculative fiction writers cannot see our way convincingly to something optimistic from where we are, perhaps that is as good an argument as any that we're in a lot of collective trouble here on this shimmering blue rock. SHINE delivered this, but not in a token, "oh, they found some optimistic stories" way. Rather, it was with great stories. So that's important, and hopefully sets the tone for what makes a book important to me.
  2. THE DERVISH HOUSE by Ian McDonald (Pyr). I'm not going to talk to much about this, as I'll let the review in issue #3 from Richard Dansky do that; but while the book has its critics for being labelable as (paraphrasing Saladin Ahmed in late 2009, off-handedly responding to the jacket copy) "yet another terrorism in the near future arabic world book" it does almost the inverse of what the SHINE anthology does. In a way similar (to me) to how THE WINDUP GIRL did so in 2009, THE DERVISH HOUSE shows us, clearly and believable, where we are currently going. It shows a possible positive future in negative space. Of course, that is likely my reading through my incredibly narrow lens into the book, which attempts to fit as many nearly square pegs into a rigidly square hole as possible, but: there it is.
  3. THE ALCHEMIST & THE EXECUTIONESS by Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias Buckell. This book, a pair of novellas (yes, yes, I heart novellas) by two of this generation's most imaginative authors, would not make this list on its beautiful, dark fantasy alone; or on its deep, convincing worldbuilding; or its touching and very human characters. That is because this list is not about "the best" books -- those qualities I mentioned might indeed put this book onto such a list, but I will not be doing such a list, so that leaves me with my own list. It is something else about this book, combined with its quality, which brings it here. That is: this is not actually a "book". It is produced first and exclusively (so far) as an audiobook from Audible. Let me say this again: two of this generation's most imaginative storytellers took an amazing pair of novellas and it is published directly and only as a digital audiobook. Something about that tips the scales from a "best" list to my "important" list.
And there's still those months left to go. And there are a couple of other books (and "books") already on my radar for consideration:
  1. SACRED SPACE by Douglas E. Cowan (Baylor University Press). This is a non-fiction book which tackles the idea that much of our science fiction is a quest for meaning. Baylor University Press sent it my way some time ago, but I haven't had a chance to dig into to see how it does at its task. It is asking an important question, which gets my attention.
  2. The AETHER AGE anthology edited by Christopher Fletcher and Brandon Bell (Hadley Rille). This book has had my attention since its inception as a "Shared World" anthology -- to be published as a Creative Commons share-alike world. These things have happened before, but this one is really in a position to be interesting and important, as it asks a couple of questions. What might have happened if the printing press and literacy had been widespread as early as 3000 BCE? Can a CC-SA licensed book really be, well, good?
  3. The GATEWAYS anthology edited by Elizabeth Hull (Tor). (Did I mention this was the year of the anthology? It was. So many good ones.) Based on some reviews, this one has me quite curious. Pohl wrote (and writes!) on some important themes (consumerism, overpopulation) and an anthology of work inspired by his is indeed something I hope to find time to check out before the year runs out.
  4. The MONGOLIAD. I don't know at all what to make of this yet. But another attempt at a serialized novel (the last one I followed was King's THE PLANT) along with illustrations, maps, all kinds of odd weird historical fiction goodness. From Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, Mark Teppo, and more.
Honorable mention is METATROPOLIS, which came out from Tor this year; but it was first published (in audio!) in late 2008, and first in print last year from Subterranean. So it might not fit into a 2010 list, despite my aforementioned ability desire to squeeze merely square-like pegs into the square hole that is my idea for what makes a 2010 book important. And I might change my mind and put this on the list proper, anyway. Hey, it's my list, right? I make the rules. And a selection of "outsider anarchist fiction" and "the idea of mutual aid economics and horizontal structuring" certainly, certainly fits the bill.


  1. Important change from the original post: I had completely misfired in all manner of horror across my broken hull of a neural mess I sometimes feel generous enough to call a "brain". It was Saladin Ahmed, not Lavie Tidhar, who was "Hell NO[T]" looking forward to THE DERVISH HOUSE; I very stupidly wrote a blog post with a paraphrased quote off of *memory* instead of double checking who had said what. My only defense is that I have Lavie heavily on the brain (art for his story is my issue #3 cover) and that in the same comment stream, Lavie's World SF anthology is held up as a shining example of NOT falling into global stereotypes. So I had it so very, very wrong. I will let the Internets decide what my self-abasement penance should be.

  2. FWIW, I should point out that my reaction (an offhanded io9 comment, not a considered editorial opinion) was NOT to McDonald's book, which I haven't read, but to the jacket copy and the larger fact that the modern (or near-future) Middle East almost never appears in Western fiction outside of the vastly over-emphasized context of terrorism. But my beef was specifically not with McDonald as a writer, nor with Dervish House as a book.

    While I'm personally bored to death with the 'terrorist threat' novel, speculative or otherwise, it's worth nothing that, from what I've heard, and based on his other writings, McDonald seems to have a more nuanced and thought-out take on this subject matter than most writers.

    Just don't want my off-hand comments to be misconstrued here.

    Saladin Ahmed

  3. Eh - that's 'worth noting', not 'worth nothing'. Bit of a difference, there :)

  4. Thanks for the Aether Age mention. If you would like an ARC, let me know... nithska at gmail.com.

    Take care,


  5. Saladin -- I've managed to completely screw up presenting that quote in a number of ways. I've tried to clarify it a bit further by changing "paraphrasing Saladin Ahmed in late 2009" to "paraphrasing Saladin Ahmed in late 2009, responding to the jacket copy". VERY sorry if my inability to communicate clearly (hidden assumption that writing in late 2009 would necessraily mean you hadn't read the book yet!) caused any confusion or grief.

    Brandon: I haven't found a reviewer whose hands to put it in; when I do, I'll be very happy to request a copy. (For me I'm planning to listen to the audiobook!)