Gravity: Visually Stunning, Prize Winning Film

For an entertaining 90-minute break from Earth, check out the movie Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. "Houston" down below is the voice of Ed Harris. Space is depicted as a very dangerous place -- a New York Times reviewer called this film a "Jack London tale in orbit."
Last night the film won seven (7!) Academy Awards, including best director, best cinematography, and best visual effects.
In the film, Sandra Bullock plays Ryan Stone, a star scientist and mother who has lost her young daughter. George Clooney is a seasoned astronaut. Following an accident, the two are stranded in space, facing daunting challenges such as trying to avoid a lethal storm of debris.
Alfonso Cuaron wrote the script with his son Jonás. Cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki is beyond fabulous. State-of- the- art special effects, both analog and digital, made me feel like I was, yes, floating in space.
Rating is PG 13. Currently at AADL there are 680 requests on 40 copies of the DVD and 437 requests on 30 copies of the Blu-ray. Place your order now!

ALA's 2014 Reading List Winners - Librarians' Top Picks in Genre Fiction

Congratulations to this year's winners in 8 genre fiction categories, just announced at the American Library Association's Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia. It is great to see among them some first novels. An added value of the Reading List (as opposed to the Notable Books) has always been the inclusion of the shortlists which enriches the readers exploration of the genres.

Adrenaline Winner:
Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews. This modern spy novel pits two covert operatives against each other in an intricate cat-and-mouse game. As Dominika and Nathaniel ply their tradecraft, they navigate the moral ambiguities of a post-Cold War world where no one is as they seem and betrayal is business as usual.

Short List
The Caretaker by A.X. Ahmad, a FFF (blog)
Ghostman by Roger Hobbs, a FFF (blog)
Lexicon by Max Barry
Lost by S.J. Bolton

Fantasy Winner
Vicious by V.E.Schwab. A friendly rivalry turns vicious when college friends Victor and Eli obtain super-human powers and use them for very different purposes. This dark paranormal fantasy, a riveting tale of vengeance and redemption, proves that extraordinary powers don’t necessarily make superheroes.

Short List
The Necromancer’s House by Christopher Buehlman
A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan
American Elsewhere by Robert Bennett Jackson
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker, a FFF (blog)

Run Run Shaw, movie director, has died

Run Run Shaw, creator of a mammoth movie empire in China and Hong Kong and considered the father of martial arts movies, died Tuesday in Hong Kong.

He and his brother, Run Me Shaw made their first successful film in 1924 in China. Three years later, the political strife in China forced the brothers to move to Singapore, where they continued to produce one money-making film after another.

Next stop, thanks to the invasion of the Malay Peninsula by the Japanese, was Hong Kong where they established their martial arts movie street cred, first with the 'dragon lady' genre, and then with Five Fingers of Death, 1973 (on order)

The Shaw Brothers' movie house empire expanded to the U.S. where their fortunes continued to grow until a serious miscalculation. They rejected Bruce Lee's offer of a contract for several films. Raymond Chow a former Shaw employee, jumped at the chance to work with Lee and the rest is history.

In 1977, Queen Elizabeth knighted him for his philanthropy which benefited orphanages, hospitals, and universities in England, Singapore, and China.

One of his biggest successes was the 1982 science fiction hit, Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott, and starring Harrison Ford and Sean Young.

Mr. Shaw was 106.

Doris Lessing, groundbreaking novelist, has died

Doris Lessing, whose 1962 novel, The Golden Notebook, electrified young women with its forward-thinking themes, died yesterday in London.

Ms. Lessing was born in Iran in 1919 and raised in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) by a father grievously wounded in World War I and a cranky mother who chomped at the bit to escape her domestic responsibilities. Lessing attributed her mother's resentment as a key factor in shaping her own evolving discoveries of the untapped power of women at an early age. She dropped out of school at 14 and discovered writing.

Her first book, the 1950 release of The Grass Is Singing, was instantly controversial. Set in then-Rhodesia, it is the searing account of a bored white farmer's wife and her relationship with one of the farm's black slaves. Lessing's relentless examination of the endless layers of injustice that she saw everywhere was so ferocious that she was labeled a 'prohibited alien' by the governments of South Africa and Southern Rhodesia in 1956 for her inflammatory opinions.

In 1962, Lessing became one of the unwilling literary leaders of the nascent feminist movement, a label eschewed by her because she said the early feminists' embrace of all things political made them angry name-callers. The Golden Notebook tackled head-on the full menu of women's issues that to this day drive many social issues conversations. Marriage vs. freedom, motherhood vs. career, intellect vs. coy submissiveness, black vs. white. She herself lived of what she wrote, abandoning two husbands and two out of her three children when she fled to England.

Ms. Lessing also wrote two very popular series. The Children of Violence, which begins with Martha Quest (1952) and concludes seventeen years later with entry number five, The Four-Gated City (1969). During the span of this series, a teenage Martha Quest leaves her life on an African farm and flees to England, endures the horrors of World War II, and forges a new, more independent, if fraught life, in post-war London.

The second series is a five-entry science fiction work, Canopus in Argos: Archives (1979-1983).

Ms. Lessing was recipient of many awards. One of her most notable distinctions was to be named the oldest Nobel laureate for literature, receiving that honor in 2007 when she was 88 years old. She claimed it ruined her life because the demands on her time that accompanied such an honor, made it impossible for her to write.

Her last book, Alfred and Emily (2008) was a study of her parents' life, filled with speculation about what their lives would have been like if World War I had not happened.

Ms. Lessing was 94.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #422 - Spotlight on Ann Arbor Authors (with news flash!)

Words failed me in describing Matt Bell's In the House Upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods *. It disturbs my dreams and shows up at unguarded moments. I now see why Keith Taylor recommended it as a "must-read" this summer. (Listen to the podcast and check out the feature in Publishers Weekly).

By turn called "charmingly bizarre and disturbing ", "spare, devastating", "dark, intriguingly odd fable", it tells how a newly-wed couple relocates to a remote and desolate homestead along a lake - to live simply off the land and water, to build a house and raise a family. With each failed pregnancy, they grow more distant - the child-obsessed husband begins to rage at this new world and resent the wife whose beautiful voice could sing physical objects into existence and altering nature's course. As grief divides them, they must also separately grapple with the bear who rules their woods and the squid who dwells in their lake. A story that is "as beautiful as it is ruinous,... A tragedy of fantastic proportions".

"Bell finds whimsy in despair and reality in the absurd in this absorbingly virtuosic near fairy tale about marital struggle and personal reclamation. The result is a novel of catastrophic beauty and staggering originality. "

Formerly of Ann Arbor (a senior editor at Dzanc Books), currently an assistant professor in the English department at Northern Michigan University, Bell will be one of the speakers at this year's Kerrytown BookFest on Sunday, September 8th.

Signing at the BookFest will be local author Shirley G. Coleman, for her debut novel Mersoon Rising which the Michigan Chronicle review called a "sociopolitical space opera", that chronicles the lives and loves of the Jymirr race during an epic battle for the fate of a planet and an entire solar system.

Check out the feature story in the September 4th issue of the Ann Arbor Journal on Ms. Coleman, and Mersoon being the first title published by Plenary's Wild Seed Press imprint, which honors the late Octavia Butler, and is dedicated to publishing black American authors.

Click here for the BookFest event schedule.

* = starred review

Frederik Pohl, one of the grand masters of science fiction, has died

Frederik Pohl, winner of the trifecta of science fiction awards (Hugo, Nebula, and John W. Campbell awards), has died.

Pohl, born in New York City in 1919, was one of the most prolific writers of science fiction ever. In the 1930s, he belonged to a science fiction writers club, whose members called themselves the Futurians. Some of those in the group were C.M. Kornbluth, Isaac Asimov, and James Blish.

While he was writing in the 1940s and 1950s, he started a literary agency to put support his growing family. Some of the writers he represented were John Wyndham, Robert Sheckley, and Fritz Leiber. His first published effort, The Space Merchants, 1953), was the first of many collaborations with science fiction giant, C.M. Kornbluth (see above).

Pohl won multiple Nebulas, Hugos, and John W. Campbell awards, the three biggies in the science fiction world. His 1979 novel, Gateway, won all three.

His short story, Fermi and Frosty (1985), which appears in the anthology, Platinum Pohl: The Collected Stories (2005), won the 1986 Short Story Hugo.

Pohl's interests were not restricted to the science fiction world. He was passionate about politics and the environment. He and Asimov collaborated on Our Angry Earth in 1991. Nine years later, he published Chasing Science: Science as Spectator Sport.

Mr. Pohl, who was 93, died yesterday,

TV Spotlight: Fringe

Fringe gets recommended to fans of science fiction, police procedural dramas, and The X-Files. At first I ignored the recommendations due to the fact that the main actors were also main actors in Dawson’s Creek (Pacey), Lord of the Rings (Denethor), and The Wire (Daniels) and my brain couldn't handle it. Or the comparisons to The X-Files, which I love. Once I got past all that I was deep into the series and couldn’t stop!

Set in Boston, the show follows members of the FBI’s “Fringe Division” who, under the supervision of Homeland Security, investigate unexplained events using “fringe” science and experimentation that usually leads back to the fact that there are parallel universes and many dire consequences to the science behind their possible destruction. The show focuses on agent Olivia Dunham, former psychiatric hospital resident/scientist Dr. Walter Bishop, and Walter’s genius son Peter Bishop.

The early seasons of Fringe were mystery-of-the-week style, while later seasons focused more on the overall mythology that continues through the final 5th season. It’s fun to watch the relationships among the main characters as they evolve—Everything from the father/son relationship between Walter and Peter to Walter’s obsession with licorice and all things sweet. The show is intense and addicting, and you will see things in a different light while watching, because after all there are two of everything.

The X-Files turns 20!

This year marks the 20th anniversary of a cult favorite, The X-Files. Can you believe it?! In the fall of 1993 TV viewers were introduced to FBI special agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully and Sci-Fi television was forever changed.

Scully is assigned to work with Mulder on the X-Files, which works on unsolvable cases involving unexplained phenomena. Scully is sent to partner up with Mulder and use her medical and scientific background to keep “Spooky” Mulder’s conspiracy theories in check. His sister was abducted when they were children, and his belief in extraterrestrial life and her abduction haunts Mulder as he obsessively works to find answers to what happened to her, while also trying to solve day-to-day unexplained events. Scully gets more than she bargained for once she too has trouble explaining what she and Mulder uncover while working X-Files cases.

Hideous beasts? Check. Aliens? Check. Shape shifters? Check. Government conspiracy? Check. One of the biggest will-they-won’t-they questions in TV history? Check.

The X-Files featured the typical “monster of the week” episodes, as well as an overall mythology of a larger conspiracy that spanned the entire run of the show and was woven into many episodes. The show aired for nine seasons for 202 episodes, and eventually two X-Files films as well.

Last weekend some of the cast, writers, producers, and the creator reunited at the San Diego Comic-Con, and discussed favorite episodes, monsters, and the future of Mulder and Scully at a 20th anniversary panel. Their discussion begs the question: Will there be a 3rd film?!

He is Legend

The world-renowned author and screenwriter, Richard Matheson died last week. He is remembered for having written numerous episodes for the legendary TV series, the Twilight Zone, but also for his science fiction novels , many of which were made into movies, such as I am Legend (made into 3 different movies: the Last Man on Earth; the Omega Man; and, most recently, I am Legend with Will Smith); the Shrinking Man (made into the 1957 classic movie, the Incredible Shrinking Man); Bid Time Return (made into the movie filmed at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Somewhere in Time); and Steel (most recently made into the movie, Real Steel). He has a long list of screenwriting credits to his name including the classic Edgar Allan Poe movie adaptations directed by Roger Corman like the Pit and the Pendulum. For me the most memorable piece he ever wrote was an episode of the Twilight Zone called Nightmare at 20,000 Feet with William Shatner as the airplane passenger who sees a monster tearing apart the plane’s wings as they are in flight. This was also remade in Twilight Zone: the Movie. He was creative all his life, having been first published at eight years old and writing through his 80’s. He was 87 when he died.

Locus Magazine announces the winners of the 2013 LOCUS Awards

Locus Magazine, the monthly magazine for the latest news and reviews in the world of science fiction, fantasy, and horror literature, has announced its 2013 winners.

John Scalzi received the Locus for Science Fiction Novel for Redshirts. At first, Ensign Andrew Dahl is enjoying serving aboard the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid until he realizes a horrifying pattern. All journeys involve deadly confrontations with aliens and its the lower ranking crew members who are at risk. Listen to Wil Wheaton read the audiobook version.

The Fantasy Novel award went to Charles Stross, for The Apocalypse Codex. The Laundry, Britain's highly secretive intelligence agency charged to protect the Queen and the realm from occult intrusions, employs the beautiful, volatile Persephone Hazard to investigate U.S. televangelist/healer, Ray Schiller. Gideon Emery narrates the audiobook.

The Young Adult award went to China Mieville for Railsea, a hugely imaginative mix of steampunk, cyberpunk, and a fantastical spin on Herman Melville's Moby Dick. Sham is an apprentice to the doctor serving the railsea train Medes. Sham is excited to be on his first hunt for moldywarpes, gigantic moles who live beneath the earth, erupting to the surface in life-and-death battles with all who track them down.

The Non-fiction award was given to William Gibson for his collection of essays in Distrust that Particular Flavor, 30 years of thoughtful pieces about the past, present, and future as influenced by technology.

The Art Book award was bestowed on Spectrum 19: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art. According to the publisher, "With exceptional images by extraordinary creators, this elegant full-color collection showcases an international cadre of creators working in every style and medium, both traditional and digital"

For a complete list of the winners, check out this link.

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