Thursday, January 27, 2011

H. G. Wells Classic Collection a True Classic

H. G. Wells Classic Collection
Illustrator: Les Edwards
Publisher: Gollancz, an imprint of Orion

Review by D. E. Helbling

I had just finished listening to an audio book version of H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds when this book showed up on Ann’s to-be-reviewed list. I jumped at a chance to review it. So, just days later, here it was in my hands, easily the prettiest book I'd handled recently. But what was I going to say about it? Was I qualified to review a book with content from H. G. Wells? Only if I dared to be, I decided.

So I sat down and started reading The Time Machine again, letting my mind fill in the details and taking me into the story world in a way that does not always happen with an audio book or, for that matter, a printed book. Some hours later, I was still reading and it was still as magical as when I had first read it as a boy of twelve. I decided that on the basis of this experience alone, I was quite qualified to say "Yes H. G. Wells wrote 'good stuff'". This stuff is still worth reading, stories and prose that hold up over one hundred years later.

Not changed were Wells’ notoriously long paragraphs, which took me aback for the first few pages. The book's faithful rendition of the original content would not change this. This is really the only issue I have with Well’s style. For me, the prose holds up in terms of readability, pacing, and story arc. And I love the characters. Ever the scientifically minded observer, the first person narrator of most of Wells’ works is a character who is at once accessible, personable, and sympathetic. His portrayal of the other characters, especially those overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of circumstance, is a big part of several of his tales, and is especially engaging to me. A key example: the “Man on Putney Hill”, in The War of the Worlds. I also appreciate how these stories embrace the plight of everyday people of "common station" with the same consideration, admiration, or disdain as he shows of the more elite members of his story world societies.

As for the book itself, the illustrations by Les Edwards were wonderfully retro. While one could argue that H. G. Wells’ works, along with those of Jules Verne, might constitute the Original Steampunk, it was refreshing to read a retro technology fiction work that was not splattered with illustrations of goggle-wearing stereotypes. My favorite image was one from the end of Book One of The War of the Worlds, showing a ship approaching one of the Martian tripods. The utter bleakness of the situation was wonderfully captured by the drawing.

Other features of the book include a brief biography of H. G. Wells, along with some quotes about H. G. from the likes of Brian W. Aldiss, Stephen Baxter, and, among others. On the following page is a long list of Wells’ novels and short stories.

My only real criticism of this book is the quote from Stephen Baxter on the back of the book. This is a book design issue, and really just a philosophical nit pick. Stephen says wonderful things about H. G. Wells’ work … his statements are not the issue. Stephen is himself a fine author and, as a member of the H. G. Wells Society, he is a suitably appropriate choice of person to say great things about Wells. Stephen, if you are reading this, please take no offense. It’s just that having words about H. G. Wells from any contemporary science fiction writer actually embossed into the hardcover, even the back, seems, well ... irreverent. The book and its contents do not, in my humble opinion, require validation from a modern day expert to stand up. Even if that validation was required, there are already several of these quotes printed inside. I suggest that this is a kind of marketing blurb, and as such it belongs instead on the dust jacket (assuming there may be one in a store copy of the book), or else relegated to only the interior of the book.

If one waits long enough, what was old is new again. If it is good enough, it helps us feel new again, too, when we are fortunate enough to rediscover it. This book did that for me, for a few brief hours. And will likely do so again in the weeks to come, as I have yet to get to The Island of Doctor Moreau, The First Men in the Moon, and The Invisible Man. I have never read these last two before, so am looking forward to it.

Would I buy this book? Absolutely. I will also be looking forward to other works from the publisher, including a new rendition of H. G. Wells’ The Food of the Gods, coming out later this year.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Women taking their place in speculative fiction

My story, "Trapped Star", appears in the brand new anthology by Dark Quest Books Beauty Has Her Way, edited by Jennifer Brozek. Read it to see if Debra manages to steal and use the crystal that turns your run-of-the-mill transport booths into mega transport booths that span the whole galaxy. There's so many worlds that have never heard of her. They'll never know what hit them.

The British Science Fiction Association has published its shortlist of nominees. Paulo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl made the best novel list.

The Philip K. Dick Award shortlist is as follows:
Yarn, Jon Armstrong (Night Shade Books)
Chill, Elizabeth Bear (Ballantine Books/Spectra)
The Reapers Are the Angels, Alden Bell (Henry Holt & Co.)
Song of Scarabaeus, Sara Creasy (Eos)
The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack, Mark Hodder (Pyr)
Harmony, Project Itoh, translated by Alexander O. Smith (Haikasoru)
State of Decay, James Knapp (Roc)

Winners of both will be announced April 23rd at Norwescon in Seattle, WA and Eastercon in Birmingham, UK respectively.

Norwescon features mostly women guests of honor this year with Writer GOH Patricia McKillip, Artist GOH Kinuko Craft and PSIence GOH Marie D. Jones. Nevermind "ladie's night", it's our year! Seattle is also home to a new convention for women in the genre. Say hello to GeekGirlCon.

GeekGirlCon Releases Date and Location of Their Long-Anticipated Event
Seattle, WA -- GeekGirlCon, a female-focused, geek centric convention that celebrates the feminine involvement and contribution in Geek Culture will be making its debut Saturday and Sunday, October 8th and 9th, 2011 at the Seattle Center’s Northwest Rooms.

Erica McGillivray, GeekGirlCon’s President and Marketing Director says, “GeekGirlCon is a one-of-a-kind convention celebrating geeky women and the wide variety of geeky things they are interested and involved in.” The first of its kind, GeekGirlCon strives to be an event that celebrates women in the fields of math, the sciences, fiction, games, comics and more.
“Planning this convention has shown me that I am not alone,” Michelle Pearson, GeekGirlCon’s Treasurer and Account manager says. “Meeting other geeky women and realizing that there are men in the community who appreciate and support us has been the best part of this journey so far. I’m excited to be a part of this and can’t wait to see our plans and ideas become reality.”

And the staff members aren’t the only ones excited about this event. GeekGirlCon already boasts a very talented special guest list; authors Bonnie Burton, Trina Robbins, Greg Rucka and Jen Van Meter have already signed on to appear at the convention and support its cause.

Passes to GeekGirlCon can be purchased through convention’s website: both two-day passes for the entire weekend ($35) and single day passes ($20).
GeekGirlCon is a non-profit organization of 30 staff members and roughly 80 other volunteers equally passionate about promoting women’s contributions to geek culture. The group will be continuing to hold fundraising events leading up to the convention date. To find out more about GeekGirlCon visit

Contact: Kiri Callaghan
GeekGirlCon Public Relations Manager

*End press release*

All my literary friends are probably sick of me extolling the virtues of reading and writing flash fiction (that's fiction generally under 500, 750 or 1,000 words depending on the venue). Well, just hold your ears. I'm back on the flash wagon. Debi Orton, founder of Flashquake, passed the flash baton (in the form of Flashquake ownership) to Cindy Bell. Read more below.

Flashquake under new ownership
Cindy Bell of Eagle River, Alaska, took over leadership of Flashquake as
editor and publisher in January 2011, making changes to the design and
bringing new talent to the literary publication.

Flashquake, an independent, quarterly, web-based and print-on-demand
magazine, focuses on works of flash fiction, flash nonfiction (memoirs,
essays, creative nonfiction, humor), short poetry and artwork. Flashquake
aspires to no less than the publication of literary works of flash and
fine art.

To celebrate its new inauguration, there is a call for submissions of any
topic, and a special contest with four talented winners. The contest theme
is “new beginnings,” and the entry fee is a low $5. The winning work comes
with a grand prize of 35 percent of the pot (the pot being the total from
all entry fees). There will also be 3 runners up with first runner-up
winning 20 percent of the pot, second winning 15 percent, and third
winning 10 percent. Grand prize and runners up will also be awarded
publication in Flashquake’s electronic and print publications.

Flashquake was founded by Debi Orton in 2001, and to Bell’s knowledge, the
term “flash” was coined by Debi's team at that time. For more information
or to submit a piece of work, visit

*End press release*

Now that I've started this whole "women in spec fic rock" theme, I can't leave you without sharing the new Broad Universe website. Very snazzy.

On a personal note, I have started out the new year by getting all of my reprints back in circulation. I put a couple stories that haven't found the right homes yet back into play last week, too. Mike Resnick has inspired me in this endeavor with his 19 foreign and reprint sales in one week!

I'm looking forward to meeting some of my SFOO staff at conventions later this year. My next science fiction convention is FogCon in San Francisco, where I'll hopefully be on some panels and hosting a Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading. Then there's BayCon in May, Westercon 64 in July and Renovation (WorldCon 69) in August. The best part? I don't have to buy a single plane ticket. I even have a cousin who'll put me up for Renovation.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

PBS's "Pioneers of Television: Science Fiction"

Check out this PBS show, featuring several of our perennial favorite science fiction television creators and stars. The show, an episode of season two of Pioneers of Television series about television history, aired earlier this week. It will be showing again tonight (Thursday, January 20th), at least on my local channel and probably on yours, and will likely show at other times in the near future. Check your local listings or favorite on-line television schedule for details.

The focus of the show is on breakout programs of the 60's, including The Twilight Zone, Lost in Space, and of course Star Trek. Interviews with several of the stars of those shows are included, as are posthumous interview clips of Rod Serling. I especially enjoyed the comments from Bill Mumy (of "Lost in Space", "The Twilight Zone", and my personal favorite, "Babylon 5").

At the end of the show, there is an interesting "extra feature", a timeline of key science fiction television milestones of interest, from the fifties through the seventies.

While not All Inclusive, this show is interesting, fun, and respectful, not only of the shows and their creators, but of the challenges of the times. Die hard science fiction historians will probably not make any bold discoveries watching this program, but the show is still well worth watching. Kelsey Grammer's narration is masterfully soft-spoken, unobtrusive and sincere.

You can try playing the TV Guide clip or the original PBS preview play of the show on your browser if you need more convincing to check this out.

- D. E. Helbling

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

REDOUBTABLE leaves little doubt

Kris Longknife: Redoubtable
by Mike Shepherd
Penguin USA (ACE) - Oct. 2010

Review by Clare Deming

In a spirited and fun science fiction romp, Mike Shepherd takes us along with Princess Kris Longknife and her troop of marines in a hunt for space pirates. Don't worry - despite the noble title, Kris is no coddled damsel. Recently promoted to Lieutenant Commander, she is there to get a job done - one that usually involves explosives, bullets, subterfuge, and political wrangling.

Kris Longknife: Redoubtable is the eighth volume in the series of this plucky princess' adventures. After dispatching an amateur pirate raid on her ship, Kris leads her marines onto the planet of Kaskatos, where an over-the-top sadistic leader has enslaved the locals with her band of ruthless henchmen. If the novel merely covered the conflict with this ridiculous overlord, I may have been disappointed. However, the situation on Kaskatos is rapidly controlled, while the enemy meets an appropriately inglorious end.

Just as Kris begins to organize the reestablishment of vital services on Kaskatos, Kris' nemesis Lieutenant Victoria Peterwald, heiress of a rival empire , summons her to a meeting. With Kaskatos located on the periphery of the Peterwald's empire, Kris has already grown concerned that her humanitarian efforts would be construed as a takeover of the planet. However, the meeting reveals that there are larger problems looming within the Peterwald empire. Never quite sure who to trust, Kris delves deeper into the pirate problem, trying to track down their ultimate base, while continuing to negotiate with Victoria. When the pirates kidnap the twelve-year-old daughter of one of the crew, the stakes become more personal and desperate for Kris.

As a newcomer to this series, I initially had trouble following the chain-of-command, with marines, navy, and "civilians" all present on one ship. However, it turns out that this assortment of personnel confuses Kris also. While Kris has her own ideas about their purpose, I suspect that they may become important in future volumes.

While the eighth volume can certainly stand alone, this is an open-ended series. Someone - or something - is lurking on the edge of known space, and they don't seem friendly. Unknown to Victoria Peterwald, Kris has secretly communicated with the alien Iteeche and is itching to investigate some jump points that have consumed recent Iteeche scout ships. This larger overarching plot began prior to this book, and while it is not advanced much here, I think this volume is a bridge that puts everyone in place to explore this mystery in a future installment.

Despite the fighting, kidnapping, and sinister mysteries, I found this book to be fun and light, with quite a few lines and scenes that made me chuckle. Though lacking in speculative ideas and innovative fictional technologies that fill some science fiction worlds, I cared about the characters and the pacing never foundered. Overall, this was an exciting and enjoyable book.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Novellas worth reading in Panverse Two

Panverse Two, edited by Dario Ciriello

Panverse Two is an oversized paperback with a gorgeous cover, containing five original novellas. As a writer I approve of a publisher who chooses to feature novellas, which are a difficult length to sell. As a reader, based on this sampling, I have to wish that novellas were easier to find.

I enjoyed every story in this book, even the military alternate history, "A Clash of Eagles" by Alan Smale, which I initially skipped over when I picked up, the book because I’m not generally a fan of that sub-genre. Without introducing magic or technology out of line with the world shown in the story, "A Clash of Eagles" provided surprises for me as well as for the protagonists.

My favorite story was "Snow Comes to Hawk’s Folly" by J. Kathleen Cheney, a tale of Irish puca halfbreeds trying to make a life in the new world. This is the story of what happens when some of the more powerful fae folk of Europe follow the puca halfbreeds to America. The couple’s baby, who has a very active magical gift of unbinding, is kidnapped, and the clues don’t (initially) add up. This story is magical, and it kept my attention riveted from the first page to the last.

In "To Love the Difficult", Amy Sterling Casil presents a story of the greatest blogger in the world, who awakens to find his house in shambles. He stumbles to his favorite grocery store to find its nearly empty shelves are the hunting ground of a wild and aggressive raccoon. Part of the fun of the story is learning what happened, so I won’t spoil that here. This is a coming of age story, where a grown man is faced with a bleak new world and has to find—or create—his place in it.

"The Curious Adventure of the Jersey Devil" by Michael D. Winkle left me wondering whether Charles Fort ever mentioned Flatland. It asks if a turn-of-the-century unemployed reporter can turn a sighting of a strange creature into a job that will let him pull himself and his wife out of the soup kitchen line. Can he and his wife even survive without relying on the gun his eccentric employer pushed into his hands?

The final novella in the collection is listed as "Dangerous Creatures", by J. Michael Snell. It consists of two books, "Glamorous Creatures" and "Damnable Creatures", which are thematically related, but do not seem to share characters, and might not even share the same universe. In both stories, we see the follies that love, or at least something that passes for love, can lead to.

In "Glamourous Creatures", we see the lighthearted adventures of tiny fairies, sprites, and pixies whose constant preoccupation is sex—or at least, dreams of sex. For, you see, they lack males, and so they turn to using glamour on humans to enter their dreams and bask in the resulting energy. Of course, things aren’t as simple as that, and the dangers for a human who gets involved with these glamourous creatures go beyond the obvious.

"Damnable Creatures" shows us some very different supernatural creatures, drawing on vampire mythology instead of faerie. Once again, there’s a twist or two. Love is the curse that every vampire dreads, for the vampire’s solitary and possessive nature both binds the love—the loved person and the feeling itself—with a stranglehold. New-made vampires are told, “do not fall in love, or in the centuries that follow, you will inevitably be bound to a person you can no longer stand to be with—or without”. But even when a person is, strictly speaking, no longer human, the human heart refuses to be ruled by logic. This story sucked me in and wouldn’t let me go until I’d finished every word.

Overall, these stories show five very different worlds, and five different outlooks on the world as well. I definitely recommend this book to any reader of speculative fiction. I think you’ll find at least one story here to love.

Editor's note: It's currently $4 off on the publisher's site.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Some mid-week science fiction treats

2011 is the year that I turn out more stories than ever before. Watch my smoke! Doug had a great post last week about NY resolutions and writing. It mad a lot of sense. My friend, Brenda Cooper posted a link to this most excellent post on writing discipline that applies to everything really. It's a blog entry by Johanna Harness about time vs. energy and how doing the things you love gives you energy and putting those things on your hate-to-do list by adding unreasonable restrictions and schedules and musts turns them into energy suckers and makes them less likely to get done. I thought it was great and think you'll benefit too.

I'm working on a science fiction/horror piece that should be finished by end of week. There be monsters! Oh, wait, they're intelligent.

This will also be the year of flash fiction. It's all about instant gratification, my friend. I love ticking things off a list and finishing things. Flash is easier to finish without getting bogged down.

For those who live here in Wine Country, I'll be discussing writing style at the Sebastopol library as part of a Redwood Writers panel on Feb. 7th from 6-8pm.

I'm looking into adding another staff member to Science Fiction and Other ODDysseys to cover movies from press screenings in LA. They're almost never in San Francisco, or I'd be doing a lot more of them. Expect great things!

I can't wait for the new season of Being Human - the original one. Why does the SyFy channel have to redo it with the same exact characters and script? They even dress the same! Here's an about video by the U.S. cast.

i09 has an article interviewing the cast comparing the US and UK versions.

I also found this disturbing bit of Dicktopia there. A robotic head of Philip K Dick speaks. The original went AWOL in 2006. This one was built by Hanson Robotics.

I watched the first episode of the new Primeval series (that's season on this side of the pond). I'm really not sure I'm all that thrilled. It's really more of the same: Prehistoric creatures landing in modern day England, military high-handedness, an unbelievable romance and a mysterious individual watching and conspiring. And a mole. The only truly exciting characters are the dinosaurs. I think I need to more developed characters, tension and drama. Otherwise the plot just gets stale.

And even in Dr. Who, Londoners eventually get that we're not alone. So how can they be so daft when it comes to all these dinosaurs popping up all over the place? Only the ARC (Anomaly Research Centre) changes, not society. And there are never any cops. Of course, I could say the same for Sanctuary. At least where police are concerned.

Here's another new webseries, Overturn.
You can read the synopsis at

I was recently reminded of this hilarious video. Someone I know (I'm not naming names) bought a new toilet for his wife for Christmas. Really.

Friday, January 7, 2011

And So It Begins ... Writing Through the New Year

Image courtesy of
Yeah, it is a New Year. And the first week of the New Year has come to an end. This is, according to some self-declared and publicly acknowledged experts, when as many as sixty one percent of us have already capitulated on some of our New Year's resolutions. But I am bucking the odds. Where's the science fiction in this thread? As yet another aspiring science fiction writer, I took myself to task to try to not be in that majority this year.

Last year's annual ritual of writing resolution self-disappointment looked something like this:
  • A - Will write at least N pages a Day
  • B - If failing with A, write at least N pages a Week
  • C - Will submit at least one completed work a month
  • D - If failing with C, will submit at least one completed work a quarter
  • E - Will attend at least one writing, publishing, industry-related event (seminar, lecture, public presentation) a quarter
  • F - Will complete rewrites of both of those completed and unpublished novels
  • G - Will complete rewrites of at least five stories from that mothballed pile of twenty-plus unpublished short stories

As I looked back on the previous year, I realized that I had only completed two of the above list of seven fabulous writing goals. But it was not lack of effort. Yes, I got one story published. And yes, I did rewrite six stories, submit another seven or more, and I finally did complete the rewrite of one of my two novels. So where did I come up short? And how would I use this to chart the course for a more productive, more successful 2011?

To put it simply, I changed the rules as I went along. Was that failure? As I looked back, I was not sure. I decided that this year instead of measuring my failures, I would change the metrics. Rather than counting how many of this I wrote, how many of that I rewrote, how many submissions, seminars, edits, etc., etc., I decided to simply test for "activity". A car analogy: I decided to stop looking at the odometer and started looking at the speedometer.

Here are some simplified indicators I figured to be more useful than a detailed, guilt-inducing, blockage-creating checklist:

  • Have I spent some hours writing this week?
  • Have I spent some time this week networking with other writers, publishers, or readers?
  • Have I spent some hours this month researching the market, background information for a story or novel, or exploring business-of-writing issues?
  • Have I spent some hours this month on establishing and developing long term writing success foundations?
A YES to the above questions means I am Moving. A NO means I am Not Moving. But, and this is the important part, what it really means is that I am Not Moving This week. It doesn't mean I have quit or that I have failed. It probably means I did something else I was supposed to do, be it other career obligations, family time, legal business, health matters, or simply living.

This approach may be oversimplified, maybe even too simple to actually work. But I think not. So far, in this first week of the new year, I have managed to do a few things that say I Am Moving in 2011: critiqued 150+ pages of work from fellow writers in working critique groups; rewrote one 6K word story from the "fix me someday" old short story collection; applied for admission to a local university MFA in Creative Writing program; submitted one short story to an SFWA approved markets; wrote this article. None of these are by themselves any particularly great accomplishment. But they indicate forward movement. And that is the fundamental "trick" to remember: forward movement is progress. It is lack of surrender. It is the opposite of failure. And for this year of 2011, I am calling lack of surrender by another term: success. If a week goes by and I determine I am Not Moving This Week, I can change that the following week, by simply doing something I know propels me forward.

My modest goal categorization techniques and tricks may not work for you, in your writing or your living. That's OK, too. Regardless of your goals for the New Year and the rest of your life, I challenge you to face them head on, to own them, to drag, shove, push, kick and cajole them into reality with all the subtly, outrage, charm, and willful determination you can muster. But don't use them to measure your success or lack thereof. Just use them to take your own pulse, because if you are trying, you are alive.

- D. E. Helbling

Orson Scott Card Recovering from Mild New Years Day Stroke

An article on Locus, referring to yet another article on Orson Scott Card's official website, says Orson suffered a mild stroke on New Year's Day. While he is apparently expecting a full recovery, it has impacted his travel plans. He will be focusing on writing at home for the few months, where he will be "retraining his brain so that the fingers of his left hand strike the keys he's aiming for."

Our best wishes to Orson for a speedy recovery.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Steampunk Pinkertons, Falling Skies and GANTZ

I may have mentioned this before, but I'm distantly related to the Younger Brothers. They were notorious bank and train robbers who rode with Jesse James. That explains a lot, huh? It was actually the Younger gang before the James brothers joined in. The history of those days is fascinating. Now it's fantastical. Canadian author David Luchuk has re-written it in full steampunk glory. Not the Younger Brothers, but the detective agency that dogged the James and Youngers for years - The Pinkertons.

HarperCollins Canada released this digital audio series, The Pinkerton Files, with three initial episodes, and more to follow in the spring, along with more platforms. It's available now at on iTunes, Audible, Kobo, and other digital retailers. There is also a tie-in e-book. I gave the episodes a listen and was very impressed. The father and sons each relays his own story. As does a female detective, Kate, who is loads of fun with her steampunk skills and audacity. The principal Allan Pinkerton is friends with President Lincoln and is thrown into the birth pangs of the civil war whether he likes it or not. They uncover plots against the President and political plots disguised as robberies.

Battlestar Galactica's Michael Hogan (Colonel Tigh) plays Allan Pinkerton. He said, “Playing Allan Pinkerton was the most fun I’ve had in a while,” said Hogan. “The world that Luchuk has created is a truly amazing place to be.”

Each episode is only 60-90 minutes. It's like listening to an old-fashioned radio show. The series is not just read, it's performed by Hogan and his all-star family.

I mentioned a new Steven Spielberg TNT series, Falling Skies airing in June 2011. Here's the newly released trailer.

falling skies, steven spielberg, tnt, noah wylie, aliens, tvfalling skies, steven spielberg, tnt, noah wylie, aliens, tv

Into Japanese science fiction also or instead? GANTZ premieres nationally January 20th for one night along with a live, post-show interview with the actors who play Kei Kurono and Masaru Kato.