SF Crossing the Gulf

Whirlpool Galaxy and Companion. Credit: NASA, ESA

The last episode of my podcast series with Karen Burnham went up on SF Signal last Thursday. I was at first slightly peeved that there was another cool thing to blog about that would have to wait until I got back from Toronto, but the delay ended up being profitable. Thanks to Cheryl Morgan and Karen Burnham, we now have a cleaner, better audio for Episode 6 (The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell).

All the podcasts can be accessed via the link http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/category/columns/sf-crossing-the-gulf/ but they show up in reverse chronological order, as tagged posts are wont to do. This gives me an excuse to list them here separately with relevant comments and links.

Episode 1: A Discussion of Ted Chiang’s “Exhalation” and Others

Click here for my post on this blog introducing the podcast in general and this episode in particular. I included library links for My Bones and My Flute and The Rainmaker’s Mistake.

Episode 2: Edgar Mittelholzer’s My Bones and My Flute

My deepest regret for this podcast was the challenge to readers trying to find a 1950’s, out-of-print book. But Mittelholzer is a key West Indian author and I could not imagine starting a discussion on Caribbean SF without him. You can read about the lengths I went to in order to secure a copy.

Episode 3: Discussion of Greg Egan’s “Crystal Nights” and Others

Running out of time for Ted Chiang during Episode 1 proved an advantage as we spent Episode 3 comparing and contrasting his work with Greg Egan’s.

Episode 4: Discussion of Erna Brodber’s The Rainmaker’s Mistake

Click here for a reading and interview with Erna Brodber, and links to other interviews, reviews and resources.

I was afraid this would be too challenging, but Karen took to it like a duck to water and shared with me some important insights into this literary work from the point of view of a non-West Indian and a genre reader.

Episode 5: Discussion of Greg Egan’s “The Planck Dive” and Others

I had to urge Karen not to be modest about the fact that she has spent over three years researching Egan’s fiction. With her knowledge of Egan’s entire fictional universe(s), she stopped me from making assumptions based on the snapshot of a single short story. We acknowledge that we’ve missed out some of Egan’s best work because we chose stories available for free on the internet. We hope to make up for this in the future.

Episode 6: Discussion of Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow

Oh, you have no idea the pangs this episode gave us. We loved the book, we were in awe of the author, and we spoke with fluid eloquence (relative to previous podcasts!) about our love and awe. But Karen was moving house and the change in the usual setup resulted in some distressingly poor audio. We actually decided, very sadly, to re-record the podcast, but bad weather (I cannot podcast during heavy rain and/or thunder!) and continuing tech issues made that impossible. Karen did her best to manually improve what we had. However, I am very happy to report that Cheryl Morgan recently performed some added cleanup and with their combined efforts we now have a fresh upload of a podcast that should be much easier to listen to.

Episode 7: Discussion of Curdella Forbes’s Ghosts

I thought Karen would find this easier and more enjoyable than The Rainmaker’s Mistake and I was wrong (though thankfully not badly wrong). I think there is more in there for the reader who knows West Indian history, culture and literature and gets the little hits of nostalgia and recognition at the right moments. Nevertheless, Karen was very appreciative of the author’s talent and put it into the slipstream category with The Rainmaker’s Mistake. Overall verdict on Caribbean SF? Readable, enjoyable, layered, literary and well worth the effort.

Episode 8: Season One Wrap Up

We made it to the end, and we finally found a graphic for the podcast! You may already know that Karen Burnham’s internet moniker is Spiral Galaxy. The photo shows the Whirlpool Galaxy interacting with its companion NGC 5195. We decided this interaction was a symbol of clear boundaries vs fuzzy boundaries, the linear vs the elliptical … which is a good way of differentiating between hard SF and Caribbean SF as well as different reader/critic approaches to understanding them. I won’t be changing my moniker to Elliptical Galaxy just yet, but it pleases me to think that there might be a curve and a swerve and a cycle to how I tell and read stories as well as a certain lack of defined boundaries that might be a challenge or a delight.

Whirlpool Galaxy and Companion. Credit: NASA, ESA

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World Fantasy Convention 2012

I haven’t the time to tell you everything, so here are the highlights:

The Truly Marvellous VanderMeers

Heartiest congratulations to Ann and Jeff for winning the Best Anthology World Fantasy Award with The Weird. I cannot recommend this book too highly. It is a gift to both genre and mainstream readers. A lot of hard work and love went into this anthology, and it shows.

It was my great pleasure to meet Karin Tidbeck and attend the book release party for her excellent short story collection Jagannath. I remember watching in delight as Jeff VanderMeer tossed a stuffed toy bunny (a stand-in for giveaways that were too fragile to be airborne) into the squealing crowd rather like a bride throwing a bouquet to desperate bridesmaids. Also launching were Ann VanderMeer’s anthology Steampunk Revolution (contributors enthralled the room with one-sentence readings from their stories) and At the Edge of Waking by Holly Phillips. The cakes were gorgeous … iced with the covers of the books. I had some of the Jagannath. Delicious.

Why Is the Rum Gone?

It went to a better place. Two better places in fact. I brought with me two bottles of Mount Gay Extra Old. One went to the gentlemen of the Coode Street Podcast, Gary K. Wolfe and Jonathan Strahan. The other was handed over to the Cooke Agency, specifically my brilliant and hardworking agents Sally Harding and Ron Eckel. I have reason to believe that the rum was thoroughly enjoyed by those who were invited to partake. They shared generously; I saw a lot of bright eyes and dreamy smiles as people approached me later to thank me for rumrunning!

The Toastmaster’s Hashtag

Gary K. Wolfe delivered a top-quality speech at the awards, full of humour and edge and insight into the genre. When discussing the issue of spoilers in reviews, he demonstrated the skill of the ‘three syllable synopsis’. The Whale Wins. The Ring Melts. George Shoots Jay. Such sweet brevity should easily find a place on twitter under #3syllablesynopsis. Make it trend!

The Cool Kids

I know I’m inviting trouble by naming some names and not others, but I have to say that I was especially revved up and inspired by the conversations I had with E. Lily Yu, Ellen Klages, Daryl Gregory and Ted Chiang. Ted thinks I’m a little insane because I remarked that the WFC bookbag was so heavy I could drown someone with it. Ellen and Daryl know I’m insane and pretty much encourage me to ever greater heights of functional literary insanity. Lily is, I think, relieved to learn just how insane I am because together we can plot to take over the world. (I’m Pinky, she’s The Brain. Narf to you too.)

Talking to Derryl Murphy made me rush out and buy Napier’s Bones and bring it back the next day for signing. Hearing Amal El-Mohtar read from The Honey Month had the same effect, but when I ambushed Amal in the hotel corridor in hopes of getting a copy and a signature I learned that I was too late; they were all gone. Never mind. It goes to the top of my acquisitions list. Nene Ormes (compatriot and friend of Karin Tidbeck) was another person I wanted to read after only a few minutes of conversation, but I will have to wait on a translation or learn Swedish for that.

In conclusion, let me say congratulations again to all the nominees and winners. My sympathies to those who were unable to get to Toronto because of storm-related difficulties. Thank you to all who told me how much they enjoyed Redemption in Indigo or mentioned listening to SF Crossing the Gulf.

This post could be three pages long, but I can’t permit it. There are other things afoot, as those who follow my twitter will know. Stay tuned (by the end of this week perhaps, but definitely before the end of the next) for a post about me and the Adelaide Writers’ Week 2013, and a wrap-up and commentary on the first complete series of SF Crossing the Gulf.

Episode Three: SF Crossing the Gulf

Here it is.  We could have spent a lot more time talking about Greg Egan’s short stories and how they compare to Ted Chiang’s work, but we stayed strong and more or less kept to time. However, we will continue talking about Egan and Chiang … not in the next episode, but the one after that.

Next episode (in two weeks) we’re looking at Caribbean SF again: Erna Brodber’s The Rainmaker’s Mistake. I invite you all to listen to the marvellous reading and interview by Erna Brodber at The Spaces Between the Words and check out the other links to interviews and reviews. It will be good preparation. Again, if you haven’t read the book, don’t worry. This is the kind of book that we could summarise and spoil to the max and you’d still find it new and surprising when you read it.

Podcast! But wait, this is a special one.

When Karen Burnham (NASA engineer by day, SF reviewer and podcaster by night) approached me to ask if I would be interested in doing a podcast with her, the ‘yes’ couldn’t fly out of my mouth fast enough. We have a lot in common, including a first name, a degree (BSc Physics) and a hobby (martial arts/fencing). I was eager to tackle my to-read list and take some recommendations and, more importantly, do so in a meaningful way that would expand my appreciation of the craft of writing and the literary and scientific merits of speculative fiction. And so the podcast SF Crossing the Gulf came to be.

You can find it here, kindly hosted by SF Signal, and it will also be available via RSS feed and iTunes. Our first episode gives a little intro on what we plan to do, and then we get into the meat of the matter, the short fiction of the truly estimable Ted Chiang. The post also gives a link to a free pdf of the main story we’re discussing, a photo and sales link for the short story collection Stories of Your Life and Others, and a list of the works we plan to discuss in upcoming episodes.

Getting hold of the science fiction should be easy; laying hands on the Caribbean speculative fiction may be a little more challenging. My Bones and My Flute by Edgar Mittelholzer is out of print at the moment but is available at libraries. The Rainmaker’s Mistake by Erna Brodber is available at the usual online bookstores but, if they run out of stock, libraries (especially academic libraries) are probably your best bet. Our future choices should be easier to find.

Karen’s a podcasting pro, but I’m still a bit new to this. Bear with me and keep listening; I’ll improve with time and practice!