Where’s my hoverboard?

Ever wanted a six-minute overview of American science fiction? Well, here is Lindsay Ellis doing just that.

The History of Science Fiction!

Stories, tales, and myths from all around the world posing speculative questions around technologies have existed long before Ray Bradbury and Frank Herbert, from the time-traveling Japanese fairy tale “Urashima Tarō” to some of the speculative elements of 1001 Arabian Nights. But there are a few eras that begin to shape what we’ve come to know as science fiction today. Hosted by Lindsay Ellis.

Vote on your favorite book here: https://to.pbs.org/2Jes2X5

It’s Lit! is part of THE GREAT AMERICAN READ, a eight-part series that explores and celebrates the power of reading. This all leads to a nationwide vote of America’s favorite novel. Learn More Here: https://to.pbs.org/2IXQuZE

Correction: At 1:49, we accidentally said that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was published in 1918, when it was published in 1818.

Also, recently I called Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein a horror novel, whereas here it is called a science fiction novel. Technically it is both a science fiction and a horror novel. Moreover, it was written as a Gothic novel, a genre which is mostly known by its sub-genre of Gothic Horror. So while you could say Frankenstein is both science fiction and horror, you’d probably lean more toward horror if you had to pick between the two whilst ignoring the Gothic genre label.

Because accurate genre labels are very important. And novels are always composed of only one genre. Apparently.

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Book Review: Burn by James Patrick Kelly

BurnBurn by James Patrick Kelly

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

On the Upside, no one will take your calls.

Prosper Gregory “Spur” Leung wakes up in a hospital. All he can remember is the fire and his skin burning. After the docbot patches him up he makes a few calls and heads home to his farm on the utopia of Walden – a planet being gradually terraformed to forest, orchards, and farms. Those few calls make the homecoming… interesting.

Every time I put this book down I made the same comment, ‘I don’t know what this book is about.’ Even now that I’ve finished I’m still at a loss as to what the point of it all was. In the background, there are some ideas. In the foreground, there is a naive protagonist you could use to explore those ideas, but I’m not sure the ground overlapped at any point.

That isn’t to say that this book isn’t well paced, exciting, and entertaining; it is. There are some interesting themes as well, like environmentalism and competing interests. I breezed through and enjoyed reading the book, but can’t help but feel that the story was missing something.

I received an advanced review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Book review: The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett

The Colour of Magic (Discworld, #1)The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wizards with synesthesia hearing octarine would be an interesting experience.

Twoflower arrives in Ankh-Morpork with his sapient luggage filled with gold. After years in inn-sewer-ants he is looking to become the first tourist on the disc. Rincewind makes his acquaintance thanks to his gift for languages, and they bumble into adventure.

Having read some of the last instalments in the Discworld novels I thought it was time to go back to read the earlier instalments. The writing in the books has changed over the course of the series. Most of the Discworld novels I’ve read so far have been directly satirising a modern-day topic or institutions, but The Colour of Magic is much more concerned with satirising fantasy novels themselves.

It is hard to give this novel a higher rating, however, as it does what all annoying fantasy series do: continue in the next book. Yes, great joke, but it does mean that until I’ve read The Light Fantastic there are no five stars from me.

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Are e-readers filled with garbage?

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Every now and then I like to look back through older posts on my blog. It’s a form of masochism built upon equal parts fascination with forgotten ideas and revulsion at missed typos and awkwardly phrased run on sentences that really don’t know when to end, that should have ended sooner, and aren’t something I do anymore. One snarky post caught my eye and I thought I should retread that ground.

The post was based upon an article in The Guardian, one of the last bastions of book snobbery that manages to not trip over its own superiority complex – sometimes. The article had decided that all of these new-fangled e-readers weren’t filled with the right kinds of books.

Kindle-owning bibliophiles are furtive beasts. Their shelves still boast classics and Booker winners. But inside that plastic case, other things lurk. Sci-fi and self-help. Even paranormal romance, where vampires seduce virgins and elves bonk trolls.

Ahh, good, they’ve figured out what people actually enjoy reading. Do go on.

The ebook world is driven by so-called genre fiction, categories such as horror or romance. It’s not future classics that push digital sales, but more downmarket fare. No cliche is left unturned, no adjective underplayed.

“So-called” genre fiction categories of horror and romance… This article was published by a so-called newspaper.

At this point, you can see why I originally wrote about this article. Like many of these worthiness arguments, the article is quick to deride any genre book, particularly e-books in this case, as not having “classic” potential. You know, classics like The Godfather (crime), Lord of the Rings (fantasy), The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (science fiction), Frankenstein (horror), or Pride and Prejudice (romance). Why would anyone ever read dreck like genre fiction?

As I’ve said before, I could easily write a post-a-week pulling apart one of these articles. They are very common and rely on the same handful of bad arguments. In my original response to the article, I wrote that literary fiction – the preferred genre of the authors of these sorts of articles – and biography markets have been kept afloat by this sort of snobbery. People like to be seen reading high-brow stuff, and people like to give worthy books to friends and family. Not one person has ever bought a political memoir to read, they are always a Father’s Day gift. And as the article states, e-book readers don’t have to let people see what they are reading, so they don’t have to pretend any longer.

The reading public in private is lazy and smuttyE-readers hide the material. Erotica sells well. My own downmarket literary fetish is male-oriented historical fiction (histfic). Swords and sails stuff. I’m happier reading it on an e-reader, and keeping shelf space for books that proclaim my cleverness.

Well, maybe people will pretend just a bit longer…

Since this was an article from 2012, the talk of e-books was as they were ascending in popularity. Growth in the e-book market has since slowed, with the market being 20% of the total sales for the major publishers, down from a high of 28% five years ago. Of course, in the fiction market e-books are more like 50% of sales for the Big 5 publishers. And those publishers are having trouble with new fiction titles, as they haven’t had any “big titles” selling well, instead relying on genre fiction backlists and the sudden interest in political books… Wait, what?

It puzzles me why the author of this article insisted that e-readers are filled with garbage, particularly since the arguments supporting the claim lack evidence. A large chunk of book sales from major publishers are e-books, so it can’t all be the dreck titles, can it? What proof do we have that e-readers only contain Twilight fan-fiction and Dan Brown* novels? The proof we are offered is that anything genre is garbage: checkmate person who reads books! So maybe these article writers at The Guardian are onto something, maybe e-readers like the Kindle are filled with garbage.

Guardian on Amazon

 

*Sorry Dan, you and James Paterson are my go-to punching bags here. If I’ve offended you or James by suggesting your books aren’t high-quality writing, then I’m quite happy to edit out those comments from my blog for a small six or seven figure fee. Just post me one of the bags of money you use as a pillow, that should cover it.

 

 

Book vs Movie: American Pyscho – What’s the Difference?

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This month’s What’s the Difference? from Cinefix tackles the disturbing book and the amazing movie, American Pyscho.

I can’t remember the exact reason, but after hearing about the novel American Pyscho I decided I should read it. To the library! Where they didn’t have it. To the bookshop! Where they didn’t stock it. To the indie bookshop! Where I was able to find one copy being sold in shrinkwrap.

There’s a point to be made here about the value of indie bookstores. And having all the sick and twisted novels available for sale probably isn’t the point I intended.

And this is a sick and twisted novel. There are some scenes in there that would make a horror fan blanche – break free little rat, break free! The “satire” of the novel doesn’t feel like satire, it feels like gratuitous sadism that is there as an extreme juxtaposition to banality in a lazily made point about yuppies.

Which is why I regard the movie as far superior. It manages to skim through and grab the major elements of the book and put them on screen without becoming horror porn for vore fans – don’t look up that word, you don’t want to know. Ellis may not be a fan of the movie – because it is hard to tell if Bateman got away with it or imagined it – but his complaints are far too typical of the precious artists I’ve commented on in this series many times.

The irony is that many people would say that the movie is still ultra-violent. In which case, don’t read the book. Don’t do it. Or keep some lye on hand.

 

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Do you like Huey Lewis and the News?

 

Book review: A Briefer History of Time by Stephen Hawking

A Briefer History of TimeA Briefer History of Time by Stephen Hawking

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well, that was brief.

In the late 1980s, Stephen Hawking became the name synonymous with smart people, science, and computerised voices when he released A Brief History of Time. In the intervening 27 years (this book was published in 2005) a lot of progress has been made in physics and our understanding of the universe, so this is an update on curved space, quantum gravity, black holes, Newtonian physics, relativity, the Big Bang (everywhere stretch), wormholes and time travel, and the search for a grand unifying theory of reality.

Obviously, this all sounds like very complicated stuff that you’ll battle to wrap your head around. I have to admit, when I read A Brief History of Time in my 20s I struggled with it. Imagining 4-dimensional space was confusing, imagining another 6 dimensions on top of that with string theory was just too much for me. So maybe I’m older, wiser, smarter, and have added centimetres to my head circumference, because I found this book clear and easy to understand. Or maybe this updated version is clearer than the original. Or maybe I’m just more familiar with physics now and can kid myself that it isn’t that hard to understand.

Either way, I found this to be a clear, concise, and easy to understand overview of spacetime physics.

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The Evolution of YA Fiction

Young Adult fiction is a term whose meaning has varied wildly over the years. It can apply to coming of age tragedies or serialized adventures of babysitters, or insert really dated twilight joke here. But where did this young adult genre come from? And why did it get so big?

The voting referred to in the video is here, but it is for North American people only. I mean, it is about the Great American Read after all. Which obviously means that the rest of the world’s opinion on that doesn’t count. Neither does South America’s.