Sunday, June 27, 2010

2010 (Down to Earth) Locus Awards

First of all, congratulations to all of the winners and nominees for the 2010 Locus awards for Science Fiction and Fantasy.

I suppose I could have actually attended some of the festivities, given that they took place just across the lake in Seattle. I wasn't paying close enough attention. Maybe next year.

Somehow, this year I have been paying enough attention that I've actually read many of the winning and nominated stories a priori, rather than catching up to them post facto, which is my usual modus operandi. Looking back, I probably read one or two winners from 2008 and 2009 before they got awards. For quite a while before that, I was totally not paying attention and barely kept up with any.

I think my greater hip-ness this year is due to following the blog and/or Twitter feeds for several prominent authors. My desire to become an author, though perhaps not an award-winning one, has pushed me to pay better attention to what's happening in the industry. As such, and as I look at this year's Locus winners, I actually do see what might be termed a trend: the novels are all Earth-bound.

Starting with the winner for Science Fiction Novel, Boneshaker (Cherie Priest), we have a science fiction story not only not set somewhere out in space, but set on an Earth of the past that never was. There's a lot of this going around. I like it. But it's not Ringworld. One of the nominees that's already on my to-be-read list, Galileo's Dream (Kim Stanley Robinson) sounds like it involves a bit more outer space and future. But then the winner for Young-Adult Novel, Leviathan (Scott Westerfeld), is back on Earth in the steampunk mold. This time in the era of WWI, rather than the Civil War.

My perception of fantasy novels is that they are generally set in some indefinite past time and place (e.g., Middle Earth). This year's Fantasy Novel winner, The City & The City (China MiƩville) ignores that and takes place in some indefinite present time and an indefinite Earth-bound pair of cities. A very trippy read, but also close to home.

The three nominees for First Novel of which I have first hand experience or knowledge, including the winner, The Windup Girl (Paolo Bacigalupi), are also very down-to-Earth. The Windup Girl is a hard science-fiction novel where the science of the future has been pushed back to rely on technology of the past, due to oil shortages and greenhouse gasses. Lamentation (Ken Scholes) seems like it might be on Earth and hints that it's in some post-Apocalyptic future (or could it be on another planet, ala Le Guin's Dragonriders?). And Norse Code (Greg van Eekhout) is pretty obviously (based on the sample chapters I saw) set in the gritty urban streets of Earth.

So does any science fiction get the reader into outer space or into the future? I have to admit I'm not current on short stories or the other short forms, like novella and novelette. And I haven't read or gotten familiar with the other novel nominees. But judging by the titles, I'm guessing at least some of them do. And I know for sure that the winner for Anthology does. I'm several stories into The New Space Opera 2 (Gardner Dozois & Jonathan Strahan, eds.) and it's chockablock with characters and settings that are not of the the Earth or of its past.

Will the Earth-bound story continue to dominate science fiction and fantasy awards? It seems like there is an awful lot of action in the steampunk, alternate history, and urban fantasy realms of fiction. I'm sure that these up and coming authors will continue to charm us with visions of Earth past, present, and future. I'm just as sure that there are other authors who will beguile us with stories set on other planets and in other galaxies.

In the meantime, though, I hope that there will always be room for down-to-Earth adventures. So I'd better get back to work and finish my science fiction mystery story set in an alternate 1950s where we're about to get the space age for which we wished.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

"The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" [B+]

Terry Gilliam's latest fantasy is successful in its extreme audacity, in its ability to create actual dream worlds and draw the viewer willingly into them along with the characters. As I recently wrote, part of my enjoyment of a film derives from how well it delivers on its promises. The very title of this one promises the unusual, even more than other Gilliam projects like Time Bandits, Brazil, or The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. It definitely delivers the unusual.

As long as you allow yourself to be cast about on an ocean of a plot, blown by the wind and tossed by the waves, rather than pushed down a narrow river, there is plenty to enjoy here. The acting is as manic as necessary, even from the redoubtable Christopher Plummer. The shadow of Heath Ledger looms large. But typical for Gilliam, the sets and props, even those in the real world, are what scream for your attention. Surely in those cut out and pasted together bits and pieces, harking back to the Monty Python animation, must be the details that will bring clarity to everything.

But there's not. And the film continues and ends in a mushy, yet satisfying, mess. The plot is fulfilled and it is not. The characters grow and they remain the same. But the battle was glorious.

Monday, June 21, 2010

"The A-Team" [B-]

My enjoyment of a film generally turns on whether or not it delivers what it promises. The A-Team delivers. It's full of action, jokes, and camaraderie. Don't try to delve too deeply into motivations or plot (I saw one of the main twists coming a mile away). Don't think too hard about the plausibility of any of the exploits (this is about a 15 on the 10-point implausibility meter). But it is a lot of good loud fun.

The A-Team (IMDb)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

"New Moon" [C]

There's some sort of compulsion for those who live in the Pacific Northwest to watch just about anything set or filmed there. That's the only excuse I have for actually sitting through this from beginning to end. The scenic photography is often fantastic. But that's it. The story is opaque. The motivation of the central characters is incomprehensible. The pace is glacial. The acting is monotonal. It's all rather monotonous.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

"The Road" [B+]

This may not seem like much of an endorsement, but the film is just as bleak and almost as heart-rending as the book. It's an endorsement, because bleak and heart-rending are the point of Cormac McCarthy's story of a post-apocalyptic world. Yet it's also heart-warming to witness the father's love for his boy, and for life, even in the face of overwhelming odds.

From the beginning you wonder if this can have a happy ending, especially in the classic Hollywood vein. For a while you keep hoping for one, and then you realize that such an ending would demean the journey. It ends pretty much the way it must end. And that is as satisfying as it gets.

Interestingly, the film actually flinches and diverts its eyes from some of the atrocities the book includes. That's a switch from other films that always seem to want to add more violence and gore. It's probably better this way, because it makes the film a little more accessible and human (in the face of inhumanity).

It's too bad this didn't have more life at the box office. It's really good. So is the (Pulitzer Prize winning!) book.

The Road (IMDb)

Friday, June 4, 2010

About Bill

Over at WordPress, I've launched a new blog specifically About Bill ( The first Bill in the list: Bill Nye (The Science Guy).


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

not read: You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto

You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto by Jaron Lanier

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I've checked this book out of the library three times and have yet to finish it. This most recent time, I did not even crack it open, even though I had an inordinate amount of free time for one reason or another. I think the reason really boils down to this - it's not well written. On top of that, it's boring.

I think the ideas that Mr. Lanier brings up are interesting enough. The thought that current technology is affecting how people interact with each other and the world and perhaps even how they think is getting wide attention. But that is probably the book's problem. It needs to stand out in a sea of similar speculation. But all that this book has to offer is speculation. It's a series of disjointed anecdotes and observations by the author - an extended opinion essay. I made it almost half way through the book and I do not remember being offered a shred of substantive supporting science for the allegations being made.

And did I mention it was boring? It's almost as if the author expects the reader to pay attention and put up with any and all rambling simply because he is such an interesting person. Sorry. This book goes back to the library again, this time for good. I think I know where I saw an 'executive summary' of it. Maybe I'll make it through that.

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