Friday, February 25, 2011

Nebulas Noms, Antho TOC and blu-ray DVDs giveaway

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America released the final ballot as follows for the 2010 Nebula Awards:


The Native Star, M.K. Hobson (Spectra)
 Interview herein
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit UK; Orbit US)

Shades of Milk and Honey, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)
 Interview and review herein
Echo, Jack McDevitt (Ace)
 Review herein
Who Fears Death, Nnedi Okorafor (DAW)
 Interview herein and my review at Mostly Fiction
Blackout/All Clear, Connie Willis (Spectra)

Hmmmm. Better get interviewed here if you want to get nominated, eh? I'm just sayin'. ;)


"The Alchemist", Paolo Bacigalupi (Audible; Subterranean)

‘‘Iron Shoes’’, J. Kathleen Cheney (Alembical 2)

‘‘The Lifecycle of Software Objects’’, Ted Chiang (Subterranean)

‘‘The Sultan of the Clouds’’, Geoffrey A. Landis (Asimov’s 9/10)

‘‘Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance’’, Paul Park (F&SF 1-2/10)

‘‘The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen’s Window’’, Rachel Swirsky (Subterranean Summer ’10)


‘‘Map of Seventeen’’, Christopher Barzak (The Beastly Bride)

‘‘The Jaguar House, in Shadow’’, Aliette de Bodard (Asimov’s 7/10)

‘‘The Fortuitous Meeting of Gerard van Oost and Oludara’’, Christopher Kastensmidt (Realms of Fantasy 4/10)

‘‘Plus or Minus’’, James Patrick Kelly (Asimov’s 12/10)

‘‘Pishaach’’, Shweta Narayan (The Beastly Bride)

‘‘That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made’’, Eric James Stone (Analog 9/10)

‘‘Stone Wall Truth’’, Caroline M. Yoachim (Asimov’s 2/10)

Short Story

‘‘Arvies’’, Adam-Troy Castro (Lightspeed 8/10)

‘‘How Interesting: A Tiny Man’’, Harlan Ellison® (Realms of Fantasy 2/10)

‘‘Ponies’’, Kij Johnson ( 1/17/10) Interview herein

‘‘I’m Alive, I Love You, I’ll See You in Reno’’, Vylar Kaftan (Lightspeed 6/10)

‘‘The Green Book’’, Amal El-Mohtar (Apex 11/1/10)

‘‘Ghosts of New York’’, Jennifer Pelland (Dark Faith)

‘‘Conditional Love’’, Felicity Shoulders (Asimov’s 1/10)

Ray Bradbury Award

Despicable Me

Doctor Who: ‘‘Vincent and the Doctor’’
 (Loved that episode!)
How to Train Your Dragon

 (Christopher Nolan won the Writers Guild Award for original movie screenplay, btw)
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Toy Story 3

Andre Norton Award

Ship Breaker, Paolo Bacigalupi (Little, Brown)

White Cat, Holly Black (McElderry)

Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins (Scholastic Press; Scholastic UK)

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword, Barry Deutsch (Amulet)

The Boy from Ilysies, Pearl North (Tor Teen)

I Shall Wear Midnight, Terry Pratchett (Gollancz; Harper)

A Conspiracy of Kings, Megan Whalen Turner (Greenwillow)

Behemoth, Scott Westerfeld (Simon Pulse; Simon & Schuster UK)

Final ballots are due March 30, 2011 (only active SFWA members are eligible to vote). Winners will be announced at the Nebula Awards Banquet on May 21, 2011, during the Nebula Awards Weekend (May 19-22, 2011) at the Washington Hilton, Washington DC.


If you don't know that I'm in two Dark Quest Books anthos already this year, I've not been tooting my horn nearly as much as I've been trying to. ;) Beauty Has her Way, edited by Jennifer Brozek, was released last month. We have two reviews already. The latter mentions "Trapped Star" specifically. The first one doesn't, which, under the circumstances, might be a good thing. You'll see what I mean when you read it.
Rise Reviews
Innsmouth Free Press

Defending the Future: No Man's Land is scheduled for launch on May 28th with a big launch party at Balticon and at least one more here on the West coast.

The table of contents has been released as follows. One story is pending.

David Weber - Introduction

Brenda Cooper - Cracking the Sky

Nancy Jane Moore - Gambit

Maria V. Snyder - Godzilla Warfare

Danielle Ackley-McPhail - Ghosts on the Battlefield

Kimberly Long-Ewing - Come Like A Tailor

Ann Wilkes - Immunity Project

Laurie Gailunas - In The Middle of Nowhere

S.A. Bolich - Fallling to Eternity

Lee C. Hillman - Under Pressure

Deborah Teramis Christian - Live Fire

(story pending)

Judi Fleming - Endings

Jennifer Brozek - M.O.V.E.

Phoebe Wray - Trashing

A&E Home Video’s Sci-Fi and Culture Classics Blu-ray prize pack giveaway
Now, for the winner of the blu-ray DVDs.

Les Baptiste answered the Space 1999 trivia question and (eventually) the Prisoner photo question correctly and had the luck of the draw. Congrats, Les! He wins the A&E Home Video’s Sci-Fi and Culture Classics Blu-ray prize pack which includes The Prisoner: The Complete Series [Blu-ray] (1968) and Space: 1999: The Complete Season One [Blu-ray] (1975).

The trivia question was: In Space 1999, Catherine Schell played a character in the first season, before being cast as Maya in the second season (or series as the Brits calculate). Name the episode and describe the character she portrayed.

The answer was: The robotic servant of the guardian.

And what was wrong with the picture of the penny farthing bicycle? The back supports for the canopy were missing.

In addition, DE Helbling asked for favorite episode anecdotes for a chance to win one of three copies of The Official Prisoner Companion. Nobody played that game, but Doug wants to reward effort, so Ed and John will receive the used, good condition copy of The Official Prisoner Companion”for having correct answers. And Tom will receive the third copy for participating. Congratulations one and all. We'll contact you for your snail mail addies.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Science Fiction for $500: Who is Watson?

Image from Wikipedia article 'Watson Artificial Intelligence' cited below.Political revolution is in the air and on the ground in many countries these last few weeks. But as future history looks backward, it may well remember this time less as a revolutionary crossroads and more as the start of a new era of intelligent computing.

Who’s behind this? Watson, that’s who.

Watson is IBM’s latest entry in the ongoing effort to demonstrate a broad range of computer-based abilities. Watson’s test? Compete in a game of Jeopardy. The contest was a modern day version of other human David vs. computer Goliath competitions, such as 1997’s chess game pitting IBM’s Big Blue against chess master Gary Kasparov. One significant difference in this game: Watson had to listen to the questions.

The science fiction parallels are numerous. Well-known computer personalities from SF literature such as HAL 9000 from Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Oddyssey, Dora from Robert A. Heinlein’s Time Enough for Love, and The Oversoul from Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game and the companion series spring to mind. More recent works such as Robert J. Sawyer's WWW Trilogy Wake, Watch, and the upcoming finale, Wonder, further explore this theme. Be sure to catch Ann Wilkes' interview with Robert here on SFOO the first week of April, when Wonder will be released.

There is a whole cadre of science fiction film computer entities as well, including Master Control Program from Tron (1982), Collossus from Collossus: The Forbin Project (1970) and Joshua from War Games (1983). And of course there is Skynet from The Terminator fame. For a fairly thorough roster of computer beings in written and film science fiction, check out Wikipedia’s excellent "List of Fictional Computers".

What makes Watson noteworthy? The voice recognition feature is one big difference. But that is really just the beginning. The real smarts seem to be in Watson’s ability to make sense of the convoluted communications protocol that is the English language. Watson must listen to the stated facts just as the human players must do, and then tap into its database of known wisdom and issue a response in the form of a question. Of course, there is strategy involved, too, such as whether to guess or to simply not answer if the answer is not known. Watson apparently does not guess, at least not at this time. He also struggles with completing fill-in-the-blank questions. But that did not stop him from beating his human opponents.

It is worth noting that Watson is powered by Linux. The technology behind Watson’s abilities is both hardware and software, and is beyond the scope of this article. There are certainly dozens, if not hundreds of articles out there covering some of these details. Two of my favorites:
• Mark P. Mills’ article on Forbes online magazine: "IBM’s Watson Jeopardy Stunt Unleashes a Third Great Cycle in Computing"
• Wikipedia’s “Watson Artificial Intelligence” article

Whether you believe that this marks the beginning of the end for humanity or the dawn of a new era depends in part on your overall sense of optimism for the future and for technology’s role in that future. As a seasoned technology professional, I have my own opinion. But even that opinion is based not on my understanding of electronics or my comprehension of artificial intelligence algorithms. For me this is a more fundamental and mercenary issue: job security. If Watson’s progeny replace me in the office, I’ll know we’ve birthed Skynet.

But then maybe I really should be looking at this as opportunity.

Perhaps the future Watson Babies will need someone to blog for them and write new science fiction novels with more benign and sympathetic computer characters. This could even mark the beginning of a new genre … are we ready for A.I. Romance?

- D. E. Helbling

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Cryoburn keeps readers guessing

Cryoburn (2010)
by Lois McMaster Bujold
Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Narrated by Grover Gardner

Reviewed by Clare Deming

I don't know how she does it. Lois McMaster Bujold weaves engaging characters, twisted plot lines, and fascinating social ideas together like few other authors can. By the end of one of her novels, you realize that every seemingly trivial piece of information was essential. While at the same time, you can never quite guess the ending. Her newest Vorkosigan adventure, Cryoburn, is no exception.

Miles Vorkosigan - former mercenary commander, former Imperial Security agent and physically handicapped son of Count Errol Vorkosigan - becomes entangled in another investigation as Imperial Auditor for the Barrayaran Empire. On the planet of Kibou-daini, citizens are obsessed with forestalling death and consign themselves to cryostorage. Their bodies are preserved until a cure is found for illness, injury, or just old age. Assigned to attend a scientific conference on cryonics, Miles is on the lookout for suspicious business dealings that may impact Barrayar. Those who have read previous Vorkosigan novels will remember that Miles is intimately familiar with cryostorage techniques, having undergone the life-preserving procedure himself after taking a needle grenade to the chest.

In the course of his meandering investigation, Miles befriends a runaway boy, Jin Sato, and his menagerie of creatures. After Miles is not-quite kidnapped by a faction of domestic terrorists, Jin inadvertently leads him to an underground cryostorage facility that exists to benefit those who cannot afford the services of the large corporations. The situation is complicated by politics - for each preserved cryo-corpse still retains voting interests on Kibou and these shares are bought and sold by various groups. Once Miles spots an anomaly he cannot let it go. When he discovers that Jin's activist mother may have been illegally frozen to get her out of the way of a cryo-corp's ambitions - he feels obligated to help, even though it may have no direct bearing on Barrayaran interests. The plot spirals into more convoluted scheming from there, with Miles always at the heart of it.

The story is told through the point-of-view of Miles, Jin, and also Armsman Roic, who has featured in previous Vorkosigan stories. The book is narrated by Grover Gardner, and I have enjoyed his performances of the other Vorkosigan audiobooks put out by Blackstone Audio. To me, he is the voice of Miles, and I appreciate it when a publisher is consistent with their narrator for an ongoing cast of characters. There were a few sections of dialogue where I had minor difficulty in following each character's speech, but this did not distract me much.

While this may not be the strongest Vorkosigan novel that I've read, nor my favorite, it is pulled together by an ending that is part punch-in-the-gut, part tear-jerker. Suddenly the subject matter of the relatively light-hearted investigation becomes critically relevant to Miles' future. The clues were all there, but Bujold never hits you over the head with them. If you've never read any of the Vorkosigan books by Lois McMaster Bujold, then Cryoburn is not the one to start with. But if you have read them, it's a must read and sets the stage for a new chapter in Miles' life.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Retro sci-fi on Blu-ray - win The Prisoner and Space 1999 here!

The Prisoner is released! A Blu-ray disk set of the complete original series The Prisoner has been released, anyway. This may not be news to some of you. Indeed, why would anyone not know that the most brilliant television science fiction series, perhaps the most brilliant TV show ever made, is now on Blu-ray?

The short answer is that some of us Luddites (me among them) are just now finding our way to Blu-ray. (Yes, I do still have functioning, connected VHS audio cassette players connected to my media center.) The good news for you readers of Science Fiction and Other ODDysseys is that we are giving away a copy of this Blu-ray DVD set, AND a Blu-ray DVD set of the complete first season of Space 1999 as part of A&E Home Video’s Sci-Fi and Culture Classics Blu-ray prize pack giveaway.

This release has apparently carried over much the same “extra materials” content from MPI Home Video that was in the earlier DVD releases. It also includes a nifty map of The Village and a nicely produced 60 page episode guide. Another feature: the episodes of the series appear in the order that many agree is the originally intended order. This has been a subject of considerable debate among diehard Prisoner fans since the original UK and US airings of the show, both of which had their own unique ordering.

If you are among those who have never seen The Prisoner, who have never seen the remake series, or even heard about them, it would seem reasonable to offer you a description of what this show is about. But it is not as easy as it sounds. In short, a spy tries to resign his position, and ends up a “guest” among many others in a sort of resort for those who know too much.

But that is only the beginning. This is no shoe phone and microfilm spy show. Lots of action and intrigue, yes, but here we get layers, illusions, and lots to think about.

Patrick McGoohan liked to use the word allegory to describe the story lines and the essence of the show. Many of the episodes are still being interpreted in new ways today, years after their original airing. Some of the content was deemed too controversial for airing when it was originally released.

McGoohan’s portrayal of Number Six, the central figure of the show, is as captivating as his direction and writing. While some controversy lingers over who originated the idea for the series, no one can argue that the show and most of the scripts are the product of McGoohan’s vision, dedication, and genius.

Some retro shows are fun to watch again now, in the light of “modern” standards of production and current political reality simply because they are campy fun. While there is a certain small element of that here, The Prisoner still stands up strong. Even the music choices for many of the episodes feel timeless.

Serious fans should check out the official Prisoner Appreciation Society Six of One. There are several other active clubs still out there on the net as well.

There are also some great interviews of Patrick McGoohan available for free viewing out in YouTube country and elsewhere. Here is one of my favorites, in two parts (but don’t watch it until after you have seen the series at least once):

I could go on and on, but instead I suggest that those of you who are interested in learning more about The Prisoner should go to the experts: pick up one of the many excellent books on the show that have come out over the years. One of my favorites is “The Official Prisoner Companion”, by Matthew White and Jaffer Ali. (Yes, even this book is retro.)

Now … about the contest!

Here are the simple rules. The grand prize is a new copy of the Blu-ray The Prisoner disk set and Space 1999: The Complete Season 1 delivered to your door. To win, examine the picture below, showing the penny farthing bicycle that is a regular feature of the series, and identify what is “off” about this picture by commenting on it here on the Science Fiction and Other ODDysseys blog.

Too hard? You can also qualify by answering this Space 1999 trivia question.
In Space 1999, Catherine Schell played a character in the first season, before being cast as Maya in the second season (or series as the Brits calculate). Name the episode and describe the character she portrayed.

Among those who comment with the correct observation or answer (or both, if you want to show off) before February 25th, one randomly selected person will win the prize, which will be shipped directly to you courtesy A&E Home Videos.

And because you are not numbers, you are human beings, I will send a used but readable copy of “The Official Prisoner Companion” to the three persons who post the best “my favorite episode” anecdotes here in the comments where “best” is determined by me. (Again the deadline is February 25).

- D. E. Helbling

Friday, February 4, 2011

ISFDB – A Cool Sci-Fi Resource

I was looking around the net the other day, hoping to find a reference on an old science fiction story I remembered reading years ago, when I came across an interesting resource, the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (

I won’t do yet another Doug list here, I promise, but there is a lot to explore on the site. One of my favorite features, and the one that triggered my Google hunt hit in the first place, was the Author Directory ( Accessible via a straightforward graphical alpha index, the directory contains hundreds of names, with links to detailed entries for some of my favorites, and skeletal ones for others.

Additional features include publisher lists, links to recent and upcoming books, and magazine lists. By looking over their author birthday listing, I even discovered that Alice Cooper, one of my favorite rockers, is also a speculative fiction author. Who knew?

What pushed me over the edge to near worship was the ISFDB’s own page of lists (, with topics like these:

• Annual Page Views
• Most Reviewed Books
• Author Communities
• Awards

What’s more, on their page of lists is a link to a list of Top 100 Lists ( Yes, it is a list of lists of lists! With this much list candy, I could well become a Listopheliac.

All this content is wonderful, but the site is still a Wiki. I say “but” and "still" only to emphasize that as a Wiki, it is fed, clothed, and supported by speculative fiction lovers like you. Wikis have their gaps, their inaccuracies, and their broken links, and the ISFDB is no exception. But Wikis are wondrous information organisms. I find this site especially wondrous, devoted as it is to the genres, with so many people working together to preserve their history and promote their future.

Go check it out. And if you have a useful tidbit of information to add or see a data gap you can fill, you might even consider lending a hand. No marathon PBS-style bid for pledges here, just a bit of gentle encouragement for you to contribute content or support at some point in the future. The science fiction history you help to preserve may be your own.

D. E. Helbling

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Faeries, FOGcon and panel discussions on writing

A trip down memory lane - faerie style.

And you can still read my fractured faerie tale, "Troll Games" at Flashquake.

FOGcon here I come. I just got my panel assignments for March 12, 2011 at FOGcon in San Francisco. The theme for this year's Friends of Genre reader convention is The City in SF/F.

My City Goes to 1011 (Saturday, 1:30-2:45 P.M.)

Can an online community be considered a city? Why or why not? If so, how
does one define the community boundaries? If not, what are the

Let's Build a City (Saturday 8:00-9:15 P.M.)

Right before your very eyes (and with your vigorous suggestions from the
audience!) our panelists will create a city out of nothing but the room's
imagination. Will it sit in the crater of an active volcano? Will it have
different districts for people to live in based on their culinary
preferences? Come and find out...

I'll also be moderating the Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading (RFR) with BU members Mary Holland, Pheobe Wray, Valerie Frankel, Julie Andrews, Corie Ralston and Danielle LeFevre from 10:30 - 11:45 Saturday morning.

This evening, I'll be on a library panel on Style of Writing in Sebastopol sponsored by the Redwood Writers. If you're local, come out and hear what my fellow panelists and I have to say about the various kinds of writing one might pursue and why. What makes one form harder than another? Is it just a matter of preference?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Groundhog Day and military sci-fi written by women

Happy Groundhog Day!

It's also a Christian Feast Day: The Presentation of the Lord in the Temple.
And lesser well known is my son, Daniel's Birthday.

Yesterday, I sold "Immunity Project" to Dark Quest Books' Defending the Future IV: No Man's Land. This volume answers the question, "Can women write good military sci-fi?" with a big 10-4! And I share this table of contents with some good friends in the genre, including Jennifer Brozek, Sue Bolich and Brenda Cooper. Also, fellow Broad Universe members Nancy Jane Moore and Phoebe Wray.

Got some examples of good military science fiction written by women? My friend, Patricia MacEwan likes Elizabeth Moon. Whose military sci-fi do you like? As it happens, I'm reading one now, though it's not by a woman. It's been slow going only because it's in the middle of a very large series. Too many characters to meet at once.

That's my second story sale to a Dark Quest Books anthology. "Trapped Star" is available now in Beauty Has Her Way. Dark Quest Books rock!

Happy hump day everyone. And to my Orthodox friends - Spraznicum!