Fantasy/SciFi

Voyage to the Otherworld: A New Eulogy for Ray Bradbury

17 August 2017

From Margaret Atwood via The Paris Review:

At the end of February 2012, I was sitting in a bar in the Chicago Hilton, discussing Ray Bradbury. I was staying at the Hilton, and in a moment of Bradburian weirdness, I had been put into the suite where President Obama saw on TV that he had just won the U.S. presidential election.

On that occasion, the immense, many-roomed suite must have been full—of family, of security folks, of political staffers—but I was in it all alone, and it was not the best place to be while dwelling on things Bradburian. It was too easy to imagine that there was someone in the next room. Worse, that someone might be my evil twin, or myself at a different age, or it might contain a mirror in which I would cast no reflection. It took some self-control not to go in there and look.

In February, however, the Chicago Hilton was not crawling with secret servicemen talking into their sleeves but with four thousand writers, would-be writers, students of writing, and teachers of writing, all of whom were attending the conference of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs where I was to give the keynote address, and every single one of whom would have known who Ray Bradbury was.

. . . .

I was greatly looking forward to meeting a writer who had been so much a part of my own early reading, especially the delicious, clandestine reading done avidly in lieu of homework, and the compulsive reading done at night with a flashlight when I ought to have been sleeping. Stories read with such enthusiasm at such a young age are not so much read as inhaled. They sink all the way in and all the way down, and they stay with you.

But then Ray Bradbury died. He was ninety-one, but still—as with everyone who has always been in your life and is then not there any more—his death seemed impossible. People don’t die as such in his work, or they don’t die in the ordinary way. Sometimes they melt—the Martian in the story of that name dissolves, like the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, one of Bradbury’s influences. Sometimes they are done to death by aliens, as in The Martian Chronicles story “The Third Expedition.” Sometimes they are hunted down by mechanical hounds for the crime of reading books, as in Fahrenheit 451. Sometimes people don’t entirely die: revenants and vampires are not unknown in Bradbury’s work. But Bradbury’s people seldom just expire.

Any writer who delves as deeply into “horror” writing as Bradbury did has a complex relationship with mortality, and it’s not surprising to learn that as a child Ray Bradbury was worried he would die at any moment, as he tells us in “Take Me Home,” a sidebar in the June 2012 New Yorker science-fiction issue. “When I look back now,” he says—in what, ironically, was going to be his last published piece—“I realize what a trial I must have been to my friends and relatives. It was one frenzy after one enthusiasm after one hysteria after another. I was always yelling and running somewhere, because I was afraid life was going to be over that very afternoon.”

But the flip side of the mortality coin is immortality, and that interested him as well. At the age of twelve—as he told us on his website—he had a definitive encounter with a stage magician called Mr. Electrico. This was in the age of traveling circuses and the like, and Mr. Electrico had a unique act: he sat in an electrified chair, thus in turn electrifying a sword he held, with which he in turn electrified the spectators, making their hair stand on end and sparks come out of their ears. He electrified young Bradbury in this manner, while shouting, “Live forever!” The child had to go to a funeral the next day, a close encounter with death that led him to seek out Mr. Electrico once more to find out how this “living forever” thing was to be done. The old carny showed him around what used to be called the freak show—complete with a tattooed man who was later to morph into the Illustrated Man—and then told him that he, Ray, contained the soul of Mr. Electrico’s best friend, who had died in World War I. You can see how all this would have made an impression. Right after his baptism by electricity at the hands of Mr. Electrico, Bradbury started writing, and he didn’t stop until his own death.

. . . .

I had to break off in order to attend a poetry event. At the party afterward, I told a writer friend that Bradbury had died. “He was the first writer I read all of,” he said. “When I was twelve or thirteen. I read every single book—I sought them out. I read them cover to cover.” I said I thought that a lot of writers—and a lot of readers—had most likely had the same experience. And that they would be writers and readers of the most diverse kinds—poets and prose writers, all ages, all levels of brow, from low to high.

What accounts for Bradbury’s reach—his scope, his influence? And—dreaded question, but one that critics and interviewers are always asking—where would you locate him on the map of literature?

My own view is that in his best work, Bradbury sinks a taproot right down into the deep, dark, gothic core of America. It’s no accident that he was descended from Mary Bradbury, convicted as a witch in 1692, during the notorious Salem witchcraft trails, for, among other things, assuming the form of a blue boar.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

So You Want to Read The ’80s: Here’s Where to Start

30 July 2017

From Unbound Worlds:

Fantasy has been around for millennia.

Yet some eras in that time have seen explosive growth when it comes to interest in the genre. The 1980s is one of those times. Before it, science fiction dominated the speculative fiction publishing world — and even then, few SF writers were being published compared to today. It was an exciting time for fantasy writers, their publishers, and of course readers.

How did this happen? Things began to change in the mid ’70s. With the success of authors like Anne McCaffrey, Ursula K. Le Guin, Stephen R. Donaldson, and a few others, publishers began to take note of fantasy despite the long shadow of J.R.R. Tolkien. Then editor Lester del Rey took a bet and won it by publishing The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks in 1977, a book that went on to spend 16 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. It was the final wake-up call for editors at that time. For better or worse, fantasy became commercialized and accepted in a way that it hadn’t before.

Brooks would of course enter the ’80s with a full head of steam, beginning a career that would span decades. He was not the only one. An abundance of fantasy writers found they had a much larger voice with publishers than before — and as readers we gained several dozen masterpiece works. I know this because it is the decade I grew up in. I started with The Sword of ShannaraThe Elfstones of Shannara, and The Wishsong of Shannara in 1988. And I haven’t stopped reading it since then.

Link to the rest at Unbound Worlds

A Wrinkle in Time

17 July 2017

Octavia Butler: Writing Herself Into The Story

15 July 2017

From National Public Radio:

Octavia Butler used to say she remembers exactly when she decided to become a science fiction writer. She was 9 years old and saw a 1954 B-movie called Devil Girl from Mars, and two things struck her. First: “Geez, I can write a better story than that!” And second: “Somebody got paid for writing that story!” If they could, she decided, then she could, too.

Eventually she did exactly that. Octavia Estelle Butler became one of the world’s premier science fiction writers, the first black female science fiction writer to reach national prominence, and the only writer in her genre to receive a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship. (“You have a Genius Grant,” Charlie Rose said in a 2000 interview. “They don’t call it that,” she corrected him firmly; “somebody probably made that up.”) When she died in 2006, she was lauded as a pioneer, an icon and one of America’s best writers.

. . . .

“Octavia Butler: Telling My Stories” is an exhibit currently at the Huntington Library, in the Pasadena suburb of San Marino, Calif. Curator Natalie Russell went through some “8,000 manuscripts, letters and photographs, and an additional 80 boxes of ephemera” to create an exhibition that shows, in chronological order, how Butler’s career was born and evolved, and what influenced her.

Large glass cases hold early notebooks and drawings, report cards from her days at Pasadena City College and notes to herself about character development. Early copies of her first editions are here. So is the one-page letter from the MacArthur Foundation notifying Butler she’d been chosen as a fellow in 1995.

The walls are hung with blowups of Butler’s childhood drawings and the affirmations she repeated to herself: “I am a best-selling writer, I write best-selling books,” one says. “Every day in every way I am researching and writing my award-winning books and short stories.”

That encouragement was probably essential: Butler faced a lot of challenges. She grew up black and poor in Pasadena, Calif., when legal segregation was dead, but de facto segregation was very much alive. She was also shy, unusually tall for her age, and not particularly social. “I’m an only child,” Butler told Sci Fi Buzz. “I had no idea how to get along with other children. And also, I was a strange kid who learned to stay by herself and make things up.”

She often made them up while sitting on the porch at her grandmother’s chicken farm, in the High Desert town of Victorville, Calif., where she dreamed about animals. The drawings of horses that illustrated one of her early stories are on the walls at the Huntington. After Devil Girl, though, Butler switched to science fiction, determined to make that her career.

. . . .

She went to Pasadena public schools, then got an associate’s degree from Pasadena City College. And she kept writing. She had short stories published here and there while she held what she called “lots of horrible little jobs” —warehouse worker, dishwasher, potato chip inspector. (“The one good thing about all those jobs was they left her mind free to think about her characters,” Russell says.) Butler’s first book, Patternmaster, was published in 1976 and caught people’s attention. It became part of The Patternist series; the stories revolved around a group of elite beings with telepathic superpowers.

Link to the rest at NPR  Here’s a link to Octavia Butler’s books.

PG would note that residents of both San Marino and Pasadena would probably dispute that, while the two communities are adjacent to one another that San Marino is a suburb of Pasadena.

Our 16 Favorite ‘Harry Potter’ Moments

27 June 2017

From The Ringer:

Twenty years ago, Bloomsbury published J.K. Rowling’s debut novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first installment in a saga that would span seven Potter books, eight Potter movies, and numerous spinoffs and extensions, in the process becoming one of the defining stories of a generation. Since Dumbledore isn’t here to help us pull any celebratory crackers, we’re marking the occasion by toasting Rowling’s magical creation — and the two decades of euphoria that it’s brought us.

. . . .

“The Prince’s Tale”

Zach Kram: “The Prince’s Tale,” Deathly Hallows’s 33rd chapter, is a writing masterpiece independent of its connection to the rest of the series. Young versions of Snape, Lily, and Petunia form with defined personality and motivation in mere sentences; relationships blossom and wither over the course of a concisely illustrated arc; the memory vignettes build atop one another with a clear exposition, climax, and emotional denouement.

But of course, “The Prince’s Tale” is not disconnected from the rest of the series. It solves perhaps the books’ greatest mystery and gives a richly complex character the firm definition around which he’d skirted for the previous six and a half books. The one-line callbacks to previous events — “Keep an eye on Quirrell, won’t you?”, Fleur and Roger post–Yule Ball — ground the memories Harry observes in familiar territory, while the new revelations pack a fierce emotive punch. In the most compelling scene, Dumbledore displays shades of cruelty while Snape counters with a gentle, sympathetic approach — a twist that still tracks from a narrative perspective. Rowling plays every note perfectly, and any reader can’t help but cry.
.

. . . .

Shopping in Diagon Alley

Kate Knibbs: As a middle schooler discovering Harry Potter, I cherished the scenes in Diagon Alley where Harry, flush with magical orphan gold, has his pick of the finest broomsticks, robes, and assorted wizard paraphernalia. Going on a school-supply shopping spree with unlimited funds in an enchanted British alley sounded like heaven, and the gulf between my reality (rifling through college-ruled notebooks) and the “barrels of bat spleens and eels’ eyes, tottering piles of spell books, quills, and rolls of parchment, potion bottles, globes of the moon” that Harry encounters sums up the wish-fulfilling appeal of the franchise, which offers a more exciting, dangerous parallel school life tucked just beyond Muggle sight.

Link to the rest at The Ringer

Is It Possible to Misread Octavia Butler?

22 June 2017

From Book Riot:

“Bloodchild” is one of Octavia Butler’s most haunting, disturbing, and memorable stories, and is also one of the greatest things she ever wrote. And I know that I am not alone in having completely misread the story and entirely missed what Butler had accomplished.

The titular tale in Butler’s one and only short story collection, “Bloodchild” describes a future where humanity has developed a complicated relationship with a race of insect-like creatures known as the Tlic. The Tlic chooses one child from every family to be impregnated and “host” Tlic eggs inside their body. In exchange for this service, the Tlic “allow” the humans to live inside a special compound and ingest sterile Tlic eggs, which work as a kind of opiate, keeping the humans calm and happy. Oh, and the humans are banned from possessing any weapons, for fear of an uprising.

In this world, a boy named Gan has been chosen to host the eggs of T’Gatoi, the Tlic in charge of relations with humans in the compound. T’Gatoi lives with Gan’s family, sedating them with her sterile eggs and repeating how lucky they all are to have her living with them. When an injured and impregnated man is found outside their house, Gan watches in horror as T’Gatoi surgically removes the Tlic eggs from the man’s body to prevent them from eating him alive from the inside out. Gan realizes the danger he will be in if he lets T’Gatoi lay her eggs inside of him, but she declares that if he won’t be her host, then she’ll just use his sister instead. Gan chooses to be a host on the condition that T’Gatoi doesn’t report the illegal firearm Gan has been hiding.

The first time I read this story, I assumed Butler has written “Bloodchild” as an allegory for slavery in North America. It seemed so obvious: the Tlic are the white enslavers and their controlling humans’ bodies for their own benefit, all while insisting the humans are fortunate to be subjugated.

But Butler had heard this interpretation many, many times before, and wrote in her afterward to “Bloodchild” that she was “amazed” people kept viewing her story through this lens. And although the story does includes a group of humans that are, in a literal sense, enslaved, this reading is a vast oversimplification of what Butler was doing with the characters and their motivations.

Link to the rest at Book Riot 

PG has lead a sheltered life and was unfamiliar with Octavia Butler prior to reading several essays about her on Book Riot.

 

 

How George Orwell’s 1984 Almost Didn’t Happen

8 June 2017

From Signature:

June 8, 2017, marks the sixty-eighth anniversary of the publication of 1984, a book that George Orwell almost didn’t manage to write. And when he did, it practically killed him.

As Bernard Crick wrote in the first complete biography of Orwell, at the time Orwell started to write about Winston Smith, Big Brother, and Ingsoc, Animal Farm was becoming an international sensation, and Orwell was having to learn to be more judicious with his time. A career journalist devoted to liberal causes, a new level of fame brought requests from publications that paid better than his regular work at the Observer. Orwell had just adopted his son, Richard, and his wife Eileen had died unexpectedly, so keeping the bank balance up made sense. And even if that hadn’t been the case, Orwell’s liberal-minded passion compelled him to broadcast his work to a bigger audience.

Still, he wanted to write a novel, one about a possible future inspired in part by the Tehran Conference of 1944. There, Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill met to agree to a commitment to fight Nazi Germany. But Orwell saw something more sinister, believing that the world leaders actually met to agree on how to divide the world up among the superpowers, providing a blueprint for global totalitarianism.

. . . .

So even though he was already sick with the illness that would eventually become the tuberculosis that killed him, Orwell left London to live on the Scottish island of Jura (off and on) for the next few years, where he could try to focus on writing fiction instead of journalism. A steady stream of visitors and continued requests for journalistic work slowed the process, as did an extended stay in the hospital. Of course, when he finally did publish 1984, he reached his widest audience yet.

Link to the rest at Signature

Science fiction’s new golden age in China, what it says about social evolution and the future, and the stories writers want world to see

25 May 2017

From the South China Morning Post:

The science-fiction genre in China was little known before Liu Cixin was honoured with the Hugo Award for best novel in 2015 for The Three-Body Problem. The first book in Liu’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy, it tells of an alien invasion during the Cultural Revolution and has sold more than a million copies in China alone. The English translation was recommended by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to members of his book club, and praised by former US president Barack Obama as “wildly imaginative, really interesting”.

Last year, Liu’s compatriot Hao Jingfang earned a Hugo Award for Folding Beijing, in which the city is divided into zones, each with a different number of hours in the day.

Liu has been nominated for another Hugo Award this year, for the final episode in his trilogy, Death’s End.

. . . .

The two winning books are now being adapted for the big screen in China, marking a turning point for Chinese sci-fi and potentially expanding the genre’s exposure globally.

Some 104 original sci-fi titles were published in China in 2016, compared to 75 the previous year, and 461 novelettes were released last year.

Author Regina Wang Kanyu, 27, a long-time sci-fi fan, has witnessed its growth in recent years. “It’s the golden age of Chinese science fiction,” she says.

. . . .

Last month, writers Regina Wang, Wang Yao and Hao Jingfang attended Melon Hong Kong, the city’s first science-fiction conference to bring together Chinese and Western writers.

“It’s a market miracle,” says Wang Yao, who goes by the pen name Xia Jia. “Ten years ago [when I started writing], we could never have imagined that these opportunities would be available,” she says, referring to the translation of Chinese sci-fi books and film adaptions.

It’s not the first golden age of sci-fi in China, though. Wang Yao says that was between 1978 and 1983 during reforms initiated by late Deng Xiaoping. “It was thought that science fiction could cultivate a scientific spirit, and the authorities assigned authors to write books in the genre,” says Wang.

. . . .

 Although investors are eyeing sci-fi’s entertainment industry potential, the literature itself is not so highly valued. “The payment writers receive for fiction writing is very small. I also write for fashion magazines, which pay a lot more,” says Regina Wang. Since it is impossible to make ends meet writing sci-fi, most authors do it simply as a hobby.

Link to the rest at South China Morning Post

Star Trek: Discovery Proves That TV Is the Best Final Frontier of All

22 May 2017

From Wired:

BETWEEN 1967 AND 2005, 684 hour-long episodes of live-action Star Trek and 22 half-hour episodes of the animated series aired on TV. Allowing for commercial breaks, that gives us 521 hours of Star Trek, give or take. Add in the 13 movies, from 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture to Star Trek Beyond in 2016, and you wind up with more than 48 full days of Star Trek—not counting books and comics, which, if you want to argue about canonicity and amount of content, my DMs are open. (Not really.)

. . . .

And now the first real look at the long-delayed new show Star Trek: Discovery has finally frontiered. I’m gonna watch that show, too. All 15 hours of it, set to air on the subscription streaming service CBS All Access in the autumn. (When I showed my editor the new trailer, he said, “Sure, but who’s gonna get CBS All Access?” “Me,” I meeped. “For that.”) As a lifelong, devout Trekkie, I hear your concerns about the new show—why did they keep pushing the release? Why did showrunner Bryan Fuller bail for American Gods? What is up with that awful typeface on the intertitle cards?—but like Star Trek itself, I remain hopeful.

In fact, I am fuller of hope now than I have been about any of the movies since the whale one (which I liked). Because Trek’s serialized self, its television self? That’s Trek’s best self.

. . . .

The trailer’s visuals combine the shiny, lens-flaring, camera-tilting modes of the JJ Abrams and Justin Lin reboot movies. But that slickness is a sop to non-fans. Give me bulkheads that wobble and actors pretending to fall over when the camera shakes to simulate the loss of inertial dampers after a phaser takes the forward shields down to 30 percent. I mean, I get it: The structural rigidity of epic-sci-fi movies turns pretty much every Trek film (except the good ones) into a quest adventure with a third-act reveal and a finale of VFX and explosions. But audiences get enough of that these days from Star Wars and Marvel movies. A television show, with more time for story and presumably way less money in the budget, let Star Trek get back to its authentic guts.

Link to the rest at Wired

 
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Bladerunner 2049

9 May 2017

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