1. Some tweets about dystopian cash-in writing

    The biggest problem I have with commercial YA and similar fiction is how in love with unrealistic kinds of oppression it is.

    Of course, you can tell powerful stories about oppression through fantasy, sci-fi, and other genres…

    But generally speaking that’s not how it plays out. Note: haven’t read Divergent, for all I know it’s a mind-blowing critique of something.

    Actually, hang on, I should back up a bit. The problem isn’t that commercial YA, etc., doesn’t have a responsible agenda.

    Because even I don’t think that fiction should be written as “a very special episode.”

    But if you want to tell a story about oppression and resistance, and to do so you invent some bullshit that bears no resemblance to the actual oppression and resistance that are going on around us all the fucking time, then you’re a lazy goddamn writer.

    ::coughhungergamescough::

     
  2. 15:45 18th Jan 2012

    Notes: 4

    Tags: tvbooks

    Books that really ought to be made into tv shows, Part Three

    Next up: John Le Carre’s Singe & Single.

    Why the book is awesome:

    Single & Single's story revolves around the relationship between Tiger Single (a powerful and shady finance whatsit) and his son Oliver. At the opening of the book, Oliver is living in witness protection, having informed on his father to the authorities; but his father disappears (kidnapped by Russian criminals with whom he had been in business), and Oliver is drawn into the search for him by a customs agent who wants to use Tiger as part of his war on government corruption.

    I have a hard time pinpointing why I like this book so much…but I think a big part of it has to do with how human it is. The goals, powers, and flaws of the characters — both good and bad — seldom seem grandiose or abstract, and yet, Le Carre does a good job of showing how these very specific, personal drives and character defects both shape and are shaped by events that play out on a grand scale in the worlds of diplomacy and finance. And Le Carre does an excellent job of using those grand-scale events as the backdrop for what are often very intimate tragedies and triumphs.

    I especially like Brock, the customs agent running a network of what seem to be often irregular operatives against the “hydra” of government corruption. He fits a “bureaucratic hero” type that strongly appeals to me.

    Why a TV show would be awesome:

    Now more than maybe ever is a time when we could use a human angle on the kinds of financial and international events that play out in Single & Single. The average person today has a hard time putting the shadowy forces behind our current economic crises into any kind of a coherent, relatable context. We see the consequences for people on the ground who are suffering, and we have a vague idea of the kind of people at the top who are possibly to blame, but aside from viewing them as callous or detached greed robots, we don’t have a good basis for integrating them into this history we’re living. Tiger Single is not a good man, nor a sympathetic one, nor a charismatic antihero, but he is human, and that humanity is what makes him interesting.

    In many ways, a Single & Single series could form a bridge between the kind of storytelling we saw on 24 and the kind we saw on West Wing. The intersection of conflict at the level of idea and value with conflict at the level of direct violence and personal loyalty and betrayal. If Homeland proves to be successful, I think that will demonstrate audience interest in this kind of approach.

    The characters of Tiger and Oliver, and the Russian criminals (some sympathetic, some profoundly creepy) are all surprisingly substantial, and put together would provide enough material for a very nice ensemble cast — especially if Brock, his subordinates, and the network of corrupt officials he is hunting, were fleshed out — and there would be plenty of room to do so, and to allow the series to stretch over a semi-arbitrary number of seasons.

    Why it will never happen:

    People probably remember how tedious The Constant Gardner was.

     
  3. Books that really ought to be made into tv shows, Part Two

    Next up: Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks

    Why the book is awesome:

    War for the Oaks is one of the modern classics of fantasy, and one of the books that founded urban fantasy as a genre.

    It’s a great book. It’s very 80’s, but in a good way. It’s rich in mythology. It’s got a great, atmospheric setting (Minneapolis) that isn’t played out. And it merges music with magic in a way that is elegant and charming (without being cute).

    Why a TV show would be awesome:

    A War for the Oaks show would be just ahead of the curve for television. Why? Consider:

    • Sexy vampires in TV and movies have sort of peaked. I mean, we’re already seeing the second or third generation derivatives of the hits, and there’s a definite sense of vampire fatigue.

    • Sexy fairies are totally the new sexy vampire. They’ve already got them on True Blood, right? And I think they also figure into Lost Girl, that Canadian show that’s about to come to Syfy. And certainly sexy fairies have achieved expanded popularity over the last decade (or whatever) in popular urban fantasy fiction. Seems like their star is on the rise. There’s even a perfectly good love triangle. (Team Phouka/Team Willy Silver.)

    • People seem to like period shows.

    • War for the Oaks culminates in a mystical, magical battle of the bands. Okay, technically it’s just one band versus a wicked fairy queen, but close enough. People have an apparently insatiable desire for the conjunction of unrealistically high stakes with musical performance on television (Glee, shitty singing competitions, etc.). War for the Oaks would have all that good drama and performance anxiety and yes, honest to god musical numbers, plus sexy fairies. Come on, people!

    Why it will never happen:

    • A non-ironic take on the 80’s might be a hard sell. People have pretty firm preconceptions about how we’re supposed to feel about that decade.

    • The gods of TV mostly hate me.

    Honestly, I can’t think of any other objections. How is this not the greatest idea ever?

     
  4. 16:48 9th Jan 2012

    Notes: 2

    Tags: tvbooks

    Books that really ought to be made into tv shows, Part One

    So, I’ve decided to write up some expanded versions of arguments I’ve presented on twitter regarding what things would be awesome if someone adapted them for TV. First up:

    Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan novels

    Why the books are awesome:

    Note: If you haven’t read the books, go read them. (The Warriors Apprentice is where you should start.) Everyone I’ve gotten to read them has loved them, even people who don’t normally read anywhere near the genre. There are a lot of specific details, especially of characterization, that I don’t want to spoil, so you’ll have to either read the books or just take my word for it: they’re epic.

    Imagine if the most delicious, fluffy, buttery popcorn were also highly nutritious. That’s what these books are.

    It’s rather hard to explain the appeal of the series to those who haven’t read it. A rather simplistic approach might be to say that it’s a bit like Star Trek meets Game of Thrones meets West Wing. Meets John Le Carre, with a nice side of comedy of manners.

    They’re space opera, but Bujold’s approach to space opera is unusual. They have plenty of awesome space travel and military SF stuff — which is great — but they also have an unusual degree of social awareness.

    They explore collisions not just of military powers but also of the values, ethics, and mores of competing human civilizations. And while this is also true of, say, Star Trek, Bujold marries those values, ethics, and mores to multifaceted characters and explores their evolution over time in a way that Star Trek has seldom attempted and almost never achieved. (The closest I can think of are the best of the DS9 storylines that deal with Kira, Garak, and Odo.)

    And her characters — god, they’re fantastic. And often very, very different from what we’ve come to expect in popular science fiction heroes. They’re truly heroes (not anti-heroes, not even the tortured ones), but they come in all shapes, sizes, and genders (and transgenders!), and their heroism has different roots and takes different paths than one often expects.

    Why a TV show would be awesome:

    We are badly in need of a good space show. Previous space shows have mostly fallen into the category of Star Trek or Star Trek-alike, or military sci-fi. I’ve enjoyed a lot of those shows, and I’d love to see more of them — but even more, I’d love to see something that stretches outside the domains established by Star Trek, Babylon 5, and Battlestar Galactica. And I think a show that pushed beyond the “ship errant” or “space border” concepts could find an audience.

    There seems to be a fairly strong interest now in violent, sexy, intrigue-filled costume dramas. Mostly these are “historical” in nature, or, in the case of Game of Thrones, high fantasy. But I think that interest could be transferred to a space setting.

    Bujold’s characters would also help expand our idea of what heroes look like. (Which is something we badly need, especially in the US.)

    In particular, I think audiences are ready for a protagonist like Miles Vorkosigan — the small, crippled genius who lies and schemes his way to saving people, planets, and civilizations, and who is utterly obsessed with honor and with loyalty to a society that would be happy to murder him for his birth defects. Science fiction TV has had enough tough, square-jawed protagonists. (Sorry, Nathan Fillion.)

    Why it will never happen

    It might be expensive. It would combine the costlier aspects of a series like Battlestar Galactica (lots of ships, lots of varied high-tech environments) with the cosltier aspects of a series like Game of Thrones (different regions with significantly different costumes and locations, etc.)

    And while I think that audiences are ready for Bujold’s heroes, I suspect a network might see it differently. I mean, we can all agree that Tyrion is the best character on Game of Thrones (RIGHT?), but that show would probably never have made it to production if he were the central character. And Tyrion is the closest thing to Miles that TV audiences will have seen to date.

    On top of which, space shows seem to have trouble getting traction lately. Look at Defying Gravity or Stargate Universe. Both were interesting shows, each in its own way, and neither was able to either stay on the air very long, or to keep a story coherent and on point accross the series’s duration.

     
  5. Borderland/Bordertown Series

    I wanted to point some folks on twitter to this series, but it takes a bit more room than a tweet, so, here we go.

    What I’m talking about:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Borderland_Series

    http://bordertownseries.com/blog/

    It’s a series of anthologies and a couple of standalone novels. Genre-wise, we’re talking YA urban fantasy, but starting in the 80’s, a bit before YA came to mean “cash cow” and before urban fantasy meant “sexy (insert mythological creature) and/or (insert hunter of mythological creature)”.

    Here is a list of folks who are involved — it’s a pretty impressive roster.

    The premise of the series is that:

    • The realm of Faerie has returned from wherever it went, and a border now exists between this world and that

    • "Bordertown" is a slightly post-apocalyptic city situated on this border, where humans, elves, part-elves, and misc. others coexist, ride motorcycles, and are badass

    • On the border, magic and technology both work, sort of, some of the time

    • The culture of Bordertown is dominated by various kinds of runaway, outcast, underground everything, and the sort of people who make a living by catering to that kind of community, and the sort of people who prey on that kind of community.

    That can be a lot to swallow if you don’t happen to be the sort of person who’s into elves riding motorcycles. But while the setting is central to the kind of stories that people tell in the series, the writing is not gimmicky or pandering. There are stories in this series that are as good as anything else written in the fantasy genre during my lifetime. So, if you have any interest in fantasy whatsoever, and you think maybe you can deal with the motorcycles, you should really give it a spin.

    Selling points:

    • There’s a real diversity in the kinds of writing people have contributed to the series. Some of it is hilarious, some of it is just really good, solid, entertaining fantasy, and some of it is beautiful, understated tragedy. All of it is enjoyable and accessible; none of it is dumb or undercooked.

    • Unlike a lot of fantasy, even “urban” fantasy, it deals with diverse kinds of people (esp. in terms of having heroes of different age, race, gender, and class backgrounds, and heroes who are mixed, or outsiders, or “other”), who feel real and relatable. Struggling things like with poverty, gang violence, relationships, art and music, etc. defines the majority of the stories — not slaying archetypes of evil. (Although there are some excellent, interesting villains, too.)

    • In terms of dealing with things like magic and mythology, it strikes an unusually good balance. Not much in terms of power fantasy or magic as deus ex machina, but it also doesn’t feel demythologizing, or like an indictment of our sense of the mysterious and magical. These stories have a moral weight and a sense of realism in the way they approach human behavior, but not at the expense of the sense of wonder.

    So, if you have any tolerance for fantasy at all, I recommend giving these books a shot. I say start with Bordertown,, although it’s not as available as one might like. (Man, this deserves a reprint ASAP.) You’ll have an easier time finding The Essential Bordertown (which is also very good), or Welcome to Bordertown (which I assume is good, even though I haven’t read it yet; I have a copy, but I kind of want to save it for later).

    Update

    Here’s my advice for getting into the series, in two versions:

    Version one: buy everything. Some of this stuff is not even remotely in print, but track that shit down and buy it anyway. Totally worthwhile.

    Version two: buy what’s in print. Here’s the order I would do that in: Essential Bordertown, Elsewhere, NeverNever, Welcome to Bordertown. The middle two are Will Shetterly’s novels, and in publication order, they come before Essential Bordertown. They’re awesome, but because the shared world-ness defines Bordertown, I think it’s better to start with an anthology.

     
  6. The Fortunate Fall

    I tweeted about this already, but I felt saying a bit more about the subject:

    This popped up recently on the tor.com RSS feed, and it reminded me of a book which I love but which I seldom have opportunity to talk about, because so few people have read the damn thing:

    http://www.tor.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=blog&id=58595

    It’s called The Fortunate Fall, and it’s written under the name Raphael Carter.

    It is possibly the only novel that I would consider classifying as cyberpunk which I would also identify as being one of the really great achievements in science fiction writing. I’m not sure that I can think of a better science fiction novel, at all. Some of Delany’s and Sturgeon’s short stories surpass it, but not by much.

    The book is, in its setting, a peri-singularity (I may have just made up that word) cyberpunk novel with strong political/dystopian elements. It would be easy to draw comparisons to some of Ken MacLeod’s or Charles Stross’s stuff, but it’s much better than that.

    In its structure, it’s hard-boiled noir. Spies, bad guys, dames, betrayal, etc, etc. It’s good noir, too, although it doesn’t feel like a Tracer Bullet comic. In the spy context it’s more John Le Carre than Ian Fleming: human relationships and emotional betrayal are more important than global schemes and personal survival.

    It’s also a book about gender, sexuality, and identity, and a rather extraordinary one. And extraordinary in part because of the way it applies the peri-singularity technology to those issues — usually science fiction assumes that technology alters the world around us, and our physical bodies, but leaves the soul more or less alone — except that it may be altered (for better or worse) by its experience of these changes. The Fortunate Fall reverses that. I’d like to say more, but I don’t want to get too spoilery.

    The book also — almost incidentally — excels at things like humor, pacing, suspense, dialogue, and the seemingly effortless proliferation of richly imagined ideas.

    Seriously, people. Please read this damn book.

     
  7. You know i read this book around the time i read Enders Game and it was a toss up to me which one was better….{still can’t decide}.
    — 

    For each of Audible’s “BEST SCI-FI AND FANTASY OF 2009”, there is one review chosen to tell us why we should want to listen to this book. For the very first book on the list, that’s the review they chose.

    You tell me which is more worrisome, that this person just read Ender’s Game, that they don’t capitalize “i,” or that they “{still can’t decide}”, even after a four-dot ellipsis?

     
  8. This review is not nearly as effusive as mine would be. There is no book I have enjoyed more than Doorways in the sand.

     
  9. I mean, hell, if you’re going to advertise yourself as The Mammoth Book of Mindblowing Science Fiction and not include, i.e., Samuel R. Delany, who is the definition of mindblowing science fiction, there is something wrong with you.