Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Scott Fisher has been a professional artist for about twenty years, working on both children's book covers and illustrations as well as adult and young adult covers. He's also done some work for games like Magic the Gathering and Dungeons and Dragons. His client list is impressive, and so are his colorful covers. I love his eye catching, unique styles. I also love the fact that he doesn't have just one specific recognizable style, like several other artists. While all of the covers below have similarities, they don't all scream their artists identity. There's subtle style variations between his covers which I appreciate. You can see more of his work on his website.


Monday, January 30, 2012

Our fearless leader at the Ranting Dragon finally got his internet back, so I've got another review up for the reading. Take a look at Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan.

Monday, January 23, 2012

If you read any speculative fiction at all, chances are you've read a book with a cover by Michael Whelan. He's been at it for over thirty years at this point, and his author list reads like a who's who of science fiction and fantasy, including the original covers for Anne McCaffrey's Pern Chronicles. He's won every major award for artists in his field that I've ever heard of, including this past year's Chesley Award from the Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists (ASFA) for his cover of Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings, fifteen Hugos, and three World Fantasy Awards. And the list goes on from there. There literally may not be a more influential artist in his field...living or dead. Check out his website, and/or his art books and galleries for some more incredible eye candy.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

New review! Check out Snow in Summer by Jane Yolen, over at The Ranting Dragon. I've had a fondness for Yolen's work since I was a tiny child reading Owl Moon, and I must not be alone because Yolen has published over 300 hundred books for children, young adults, and adults. And they're all good! Really, I'm in awe. You can also check out my review of Yolen's Except the Queen, written with Midori Snyder here.

Monday, January 16, 2012

If you're a big DAW fan, as I am, you'll certainly recognize Jody Lee's work. She primarily does covers for DAW's epic fantasy, and they are strikingly original. Perhaps more than any other artist doing SFF cover work, I can recognize her work from a mile away. She's been doing covers for nearly thirty years now, and is still working in acrylics and oils on canvas and/or illustration board. Lee hasn't done a lot of covers lately, but I'm sure you'll recognize some of the following.

You can see more of Lee's beautiful artwork here.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Over the next however long, I'm going to be posting some observations I've made about the current state of SFF young adult literature. A few months ago, I joined The Ranting Dragon as a reviewer, and asked why there weren't a lot of YA reviews on the site, since they were popping up in the monthly Anticipation lists. The answer was simply that while many of the staff agreed that the YA end of things were important, no one was taking the time to read any of it. Well, I thought that was a shame, and with one thing and another, I stepped up to the plate. It helps that I work at a library, and so can borrow these books without the need to buy a book I'm only likely to read once.

I first started reading YA literature back in the mid-1990s. Ancient history as far as the genre goes, I know. The very idea that teenagers a) read books voluntarily and b) aren't likely to read children's books anymore was a new one. I'm not sure why that was new, but it was. While books had been published for this age group for some time, it had just become something that got shelved on its own in libraries and book stores. These sections were small, and filled with a lot of Cynthia Voight, Caroline B. Cooney, and Lurlene McDaniel. Not that there is or was anything wrong with these authors, but there was a general lack of SFF. About the only authors who were consistently publishing SFF for young adults were Tamora Pierce, Tanith Lee and Patricia C. Wrede. I devoured everything I could get my hands on, and then ran out by the time I got to high school. And so I moved on to the adult SFF section, and made only occasional return trips to the YA section.

And then, in 1999, Harry Potter happened. Just after the fifth HP book released, Eragon was re-published by a major house. YA SF has never been the same, and not just in terms of page length. Were I making the journey from Children's to YA literature now, I would never run out of SFF to read. My journey from YA to Adult would not have been so soon, and would not have been made because of lack of age appropriate reading material. (Let's face it, reading Bradley's Mists of Avalon when you turn 14 will warp you a bit.)

Sadly, I think it would have been made out of boredom. Don't get me wrong, there are a number of wonderful YA authors out there (some of whom I've never stopped reading since my own teenage years). There's also a lot of trash mixed in. While I don't expect to like every book that's published, or even every book I pick up, I am depressed at the sheer amount of boilerplate going around.

Let's pick an easy place to start: Twilight. I know, I've made some of you shudder in fear, and others are about to tear my head off. In my opinion, Stephanie Meyer did one thing right with that series, and that was know her audience and know what literary devices, tropes, and archetypes work for that audience. People tend to forget that vampires had been a big deal long before Twilight. There was Buffy and Angel on the WB (which later became the CW), Anita Blake had been flirting with Jean Claude since 1993, and Sookie Stackhouse fell for Bill Compton in 2001. Major films include the Blade and Underworld series. I could go on. Meyer didn't invent the sexy vampire love interest, she just got rid of the majority of their ick factor and made them even prettier. Teenagers are filled with hormones and just discovering love and lust, so writing a romance ups your marketability factor. There's a long long standing trope of the good girl who falls for the bad boy, and bad boy makes good. Everyone loves the rebel. So when I read Twilight, I wasn't surprised that it was so popular, I was just utterly shocked and insulted at the incredible number of grammatical mistakes (really, who was so supposed to copy edit that book? 'Cause they didn't). In the further series, there is again a long-standing trope of having the female protagonist choose between two possible lovers. It's everywhere in Regency and Victorian era literature, and now it's everywhere in modern YA literature (don't worry, I have a whole post for that particular rant).

What I can't get over is how many read-a-likes have been published since Twilight. Yes, you have a working model, but eventually you have to face the fact that you can't have twenty people all write the same book and have any one of them do especially well. You can only read the same book so many times, just as you can only eat the same meal so many times before you have to have something, anything else. Love story between girl and super-boy, with a few male distractions thrown in for her (but not him! although that would be interesting), is not so complicated or fascinating or important that it needs to be inundating teen girls' literature. Over and over and over again, I'm seeing references to companies like Alloy Entertainment, which package books. As in, someone comes up with a concept they think will sell, they hire a writer to do it, and sell the result (sometimes before it is finished) to a publisher. They then can also sell the film rights to the work. Alloy's credits include Gossip Girl, Vampire Diaries, Pretty Little Liars, and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. This is fundamentally different in many ways from a writer coming up with an idea, working out the kinks, and then selling it. For one, they get paid more if they do finally publish the traditional way, but it also starts out as something they love. A book-packager is also not as likely to do something completely new, they want to do the same thing but just a little different. Because if it sold well once, they bet they can get it to sell well again.

Now, I'm not advocating a return to only 'literature worth reading.' For one, I'm not entirely sure what that means, other than I am likely to be bored. What major literary critic thinks SFF is worth reading? But I would love to see less pre-packaged fluff, and a return to some creative home-cooked books with some soul to them.

What are your thoughts?

Friday, January 6, 2012

Review: Crescendo

Another review of mine is up at RD: Crescendo by Becca Fitzpatrick. It's the second volume in Fitzpatrick's Hush Hush series, a Twilight read-a-like. You'll be seeing more YA reviews from me in the near future, as I started in on a whole set of them for RD. It's been an adventure, and over the past two months I've read more YA in such a short span of time than I have in at least ten years. I'll be posting a round-up rant at some point about recent YA SFF literature, once some more of these reviews have been posted.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Review: Blameless

My review of Gail Carriger's Blameless is now available at the Ranting Dragon. It's the third volume of the Parasol Protectorate. My review of Heartless will be up shortly, which will complete the published volumes in the series until Timeless is released in March.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

How many times have you picked up a book because you liked the cover art? Yes, we're told to 'never judge a book by it's cover' and yet we do it all the time, both consciously and subconsciously. Good cover art can make or break a book, and publishers and authors know this. It's a sad thing that so few of us know anything about the artists who package our favorite books so beautifully. So, I'm going to do an ongoing series of cover artists to give them some well deserved recognition. Feel free to contact me with any suggestions!

To start of, I'm going to feature a well known artist: Chris McGrath. Even if you've never heard his name, chances are if you read any SFF, you've seen his work. He started doing professional illustration in 2001, and he is especially known for urban fantasy covers. 2011 was a huge year for McGrath, with covers for Brandon Sanderson, Jim Butcher, Seanan McGuire, Rob Thurman, and Kat Richardson, among others.

You can check out more of McGrath's work on his website.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

We're coming up on that fabulous and exciting time of year: awards season. Soon our televisions will be exploding with a host of Hollywood style spectacle showcases punctuated by speeches. In the book world, things are less flashy, but no less all encompassing. I thought I'd take a look at some of the different awards that are specific to SFF, and give you a brief who's who and what's what of the major awards. Who knows? Now you may know what all that stuff on an Author Bio really means! I'm also planning on trying to track these awards all the way through the year, so stay tuned for nomination announcements and the awards themselves. Also realize that book awards take up more of the year than movies or music. While some of these awards are in finale judging as I post this, others have not yet entered voting phases. Therefore, awards in the book world stretch from February through October. I'll be making an attempt to follow the results of the following awards:
  1. Presented annually since 1955 by the World Science Fiction Society at each year's World Science Fiction Convention (WorldCon), the Hugo is one of the most prestigious awards in the SFF genre. The award is named for Hugo Gernsback, who founded America's first science fiction magazine in 1926. Nominations can be made by any member of WorldCon, and are accepted January through March. A shortlist of finalists is posted in April, and voting is open to all members until sometime in July. Awards are announced at a special awards ceremony at the convention. This year, WorldCon is at Chicon in Chicago, Ill. during the first weekend in September. Awards include Best Novel, Novella, Short Story, and many more.
  2. Awarded annually at WisCon in May for the previous year, this award recognizes SFF works that expand our understanding of gender. Founded in 1991, the award is named for Alice B. Sheldon, who wrote under the pseudonym James Tiptree Jr. for many years. The discovery of her real gender prompted a great deal of discussion as to the role of gender in writing. Recommendations to the award council are encouraged from the public through December, with the award, honor, and short lists all being released in May.
  3. The Campbell Award honors authors who's debut work in SFF was professionally published in the previous two years (authors are therefore eligible for the award for two years). The award is named for John Campbell, longtime editor of Astounding Science Fiction (now Analog Science Fiction and Fact). While this award follows Hugo nomination and voting procedures and is presented at WorldCon, it is not a Hugo, and has only been around since 1973. Amusingly enough, as well as a niffty plaque, the winner is also presented with a tiara!
  4. Presented by Locus Magazine, these awards are voted on by the readers of Locus and are presented at the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in Seattle. A recommended reading list is published in the February issue, with a finalist list of the top five finishers in each category published before the final announcement. This is also an older award, dating the to 1970s, and features several categories.
  5. These awards are presented and voted on by the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA), a professional organization of writers in the SFF genre, and have been given out annually since 1965. Nominations are due by mid February, with finalists selected by a jury. The Nebula's are awarded in May at the Nebula Awards Weekend. Award categories are similar to the Hugo Awards, with the Ray Bradbury award specific to film, and the Andre Norton award specific to young adult.
  6. This award is presented by the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society in association with the Philip K. Dick Trust with additional sponsorship by the Northwest Science Fiction Society. It rewards innovation in science fiction in the paperback market. Unlike many other awards, this award is strictly for new releases in the United States in paperback form. Works that had previously been released in hardback are ineligible. You may wonder why; Phillip K. Dick's novels were typically published first in paperback format, and only later were released in more expensive versions. Publishers provide copies of eligible books to a panel of judges, with nominees announced in January. The award itself is announced in April at NorwesCon. Like the Nebula, awards are presented for the previous calender year, and has been given since 1983.
  7. Also known as the E. E. Smith Memorial Award, the Skylark is given out by the New England Science Fiction Association to a person the NESFA believes has contributed significantly to science fiction, both in their body of work and in their personal qualities. The Skylark is jointly named for E. E. Smith, "the father of space opera", and his Skylark series (first volume is The Skylark of Space, published in 1928). The award is decided by a membership vote, and is awarded at the NESFA's annual convention, Boskone, in February. This is also an old award, having been presented every year (with one exception) since 1966.
  8. Created in 1975 as a counterpart to the Hugo and Nebula, this award is targeted only towards fantasy works, and is given out at the World Fantasy Convention in October. Like WorldCon, the World Fantasy Convention travels around, and will be in Toronto this year. Winners are selected by judges, with some help from con attendees, and features similar categories to its science fiction counterparts. Unlike the Hugo or the Nebula, it always features a Lifetime Achievement award.