Steampunk: 20 Core Titles

By John Klima at Library Journal
Steampunk is everywhere, from movies like Sherlock Holmes and Howl’s Moving Castle to the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show and an art exhibition at the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford, England. A subgenre of science fiction, it typically (but not always) employs a Victorian setting where steam power and advanced technologies like computers coexist and often features themes, such as secret societies, found in mystery novels.

Steampunk. Tachyon, dist. by IPG. 2008. 400p. ed. by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer. ISBN 978-1-892391-75-9. pap.
While most of the best steampunk is novel length, this anthology is an excellent introduction to the subgenre. Incorporating work from the mid-1980s to today, this volume captures the movement from its beginnings on, collecting writers such as Michael Chabon, Neal Stephenson, Michael Moorcock, and Joe R. Lansdale, among others. It also includes three essays about steampunk’s place in literature, film, and comic books. This is not only an engaging book to read but a great resource for anyone looking for information about steampunk.

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Conceptual Fiction: Neuromancer by William Gibson

by Ted Gioia at
Let’s face it, science fiction books are not famous for their memorable opening lines. You might hear the person next to you on the subway remark: “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” But how often do you run into someone muttering: “In the week before their departure to Arrakis, an old crone came to visit the mother of the boy, Paul”? And yes we know, by now, that “Happy families are all alike, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” But how many of us have memorized: “His name was Gaal Dornick and he was just a country boy who had never seen Trantor before”?

Ah, William Gibson broke the rule with his 1984 classic Neuromancer. The particular ambiance of the book was captured in its oft-quoted opening line: “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” Of course, this was an old-school vacuum tube television, where the dead channels were much more poetic than the prosaic blankness of my current big-screen, satellite contraption. When Neuromancer was published, only around 1% of Americans owned a computer, and the World Wide Web was just a glimmer in Al Gore’s eyes. Yet Gibson not only conceived of a plausible evolution of virtual reality, but had already envisioned the kind of hacker culture that would emerge as the dark side of the web. To grasp the future of the technology would have been a stunning achievement in its own right, but Gibson also had a hold on the attitudes and slang, the very anthropology of cyberspace.

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The Idea That Jews Don’t Write Fantasy Is A Fantasy

by Charlie Jane Anders at io9
A new essay claiming that Jewish authors don’t write fantasy literature has caused a firestorm of criticism online, including an impressive list of Jewish fantasy authors. Is Christianity really embedded in the DNA of the fantasy epic? Noting that neither C.S. Lewis nor J.R.R. Tolkien was Jewish, Michael Weingrad writes in the Jewish Review Of Books that the masters of the genre weren’t alone. Jews, as a rule, don’t write fantasy, he claims, and there are no fantasies that are ineluctibly Jewish in the way that Narnia is Christian.

Within hours after this essay went up the other day, people were pointing out tons of Jewish fantasy authors that Weingrad had somehow missed. For example, there’s Isaac Bashevis Singer, who won the Nobel prize for writing, essentially fantasy. Other fantasy greats include Marge Piercy, Michael Chabon, Peter Beagle, Charles Stross, Esther Friesner and Neil Gaiman.

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Your Military Science Fiction Isn’t Really Military Science Fiction

by Andrew Liptak at io9
Futuristic militaries are a staple in science fiction. With their powered armor and laser guns, military science fiction novels are among the most exciting reads out there. Except for one problem. Most are not really about warfare.

While military SF involves military personnel and technology, the cores of the stories tend to focus on elements other than warfare. Before I’m tracked down and shot for saying that, let me qualify that statement. Military SF novels aren’t about the institution of warfare; they focus on the effects of war, on the soldiers, on the morality of an organization, and on what humanity will do to survive.

In military strategy, [only using airborne assault] isn’t really a good idea. Shifting one’s entire military capabilities over to an airborne-style military is just crazy. While it makes for good storytelling, and it’s a very dramatic style of warfare, there are a number of problems with airborne tactics. That’s why large-scale airborne drops on the scale of Operation Overlord in 1944 simply aren’t done any more. Soldiers tend to scatter; soldiers find themselves in enemy territory by themselves; and airborne units are generally unable to operate effectively against an enemy’s heavy units, such as armor. While science fictional soldiers are generally enhanced, such as in Starship Troopers, Armor, The Forever War and so forth, they’re still fundamentally individual soldiers operating without support.

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Vampire story ‘Dark Lover’ a (surprisingly) good read

by Leah Rex at
A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece asking: “What’s up with vampire lit?” In particular, I questioned the trend of vampire as romantic hero. When I read this piece now I confess to a bit of embarrassment, because for the past week I have been walking around with my nose in J.R. Ward’s “Dark Lover.”

Yes, I did say “Dark Lover” and it is everything you would suspect – a vampire romance novel filled with longing, bared fangs and sex that would make Dr. Ruth blush.

Yup, this book should be a stinker. I should be posting a snotty review on Amazon right now imploring the good reading citizens of the world to save their money and not buy this trash. Except for this one tiny little thing. It is a damn good read. I mean, utterly entirely compelling in all its over-the-top glory. Maybe it works because, unlike Anne Rice (did I mention I just hate her?), Ward is not trying to do anything but deliver a snorting good read, and man, does she deliver. Here is a heroine you can relate to, a hero (Wrath, swoon!) you want to be real because he’s so yummy, and some gruff cops chewing scenery in between the sex scenes.

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A week without books

by Bibi van der Zee at The Guardian
Going to the loo without a book! It is a profound shock. Instead of reading, I stare at the walls and notice that there are still two empty nails on which I meant – a year ago – to hang pictures. Also, I notice the dust on the floor and the cobwebs on the ceiling. I sense that I will be doing a lot more housework than usual this week.

I decided to try giving up books for a week because I have come to the point where I wonder if they are holding me back. On the whole, the world seems to think that books are always a good thing, that you can never get too much of them.

I am usually reading three, sometimes four books, with a pile of books waiting in case I run out. I never leave the house without my book, and if I’m taking a train I’ll usually have a back-up book in case I finish the first one. I’d rather read than do housework or laundry, and sometimes I’d rather read than talk to friends or husband or family. I’ve been known to boot my children off out into the garden or switch on the TV – “or anything, just sod off for 10 minutes!” – so that I can finally be alone with my book; worse still, I regularly succumb to the siren call of the current novel when I am supposed to be working.

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I read four or five books at a time, but it takes me forever to read them all because I don’t have time to read often. Which sucks. So I could go a week without books, but I wouldn’t be happy about it. When I read the article about Jewish fantasy, I took it literally: as in there is no Jewish version of Narnia. I didn’t think the author meant there was no Jewish fantasy, because I’ve read Jewish fantasy. Now Jewish fantasy isn’t as well known to people who don’t read Fantasy books as the Narnia Series or Lord of the Rings is, but those are movies now too, aren’t they? And the article about Military Sci Fi is interesting, but I have one argument for the exciting strategies versus tactics: tactics can be boring. Try and find a book about tactics (fiction or non-fiction) at your book store. Other than the Art of War and On War by Carl von Clausewitz you won’t find much. I’ve looked. Tactics don’t hook readers, most of whom want to hear about the individual. This is true with non-fiction too: if you get a book about say, the War of the Roses, you won’t be getting a book about the war. You’ll be getting a book about politics that went badly and ended in a war. The same is true with any WWII book you get; you’re either getting politics or stories of individual courage. I’d like to see more realistic Military Sci Fi, but a boom doesn’t seem likely.

Where do you read the most? Are you interested in steampunk? What about military sci fi?