notes on science, fiction, and points in between|
26 Oct 1997
The Giggle Factor
Time magazine this week essays on one of President Clinton's line-item vetoes last week: $30 million for the Clementine II spacecraft, a probe that was to have been launched toward an asteroid named Toutatis. Learning about the asteroid's composition would aid in long-range plans to protect the earth from potentially destructive asteroids and comets, such as those that have devastated the planet numerous times in its history. Among the reasons for the veto, say some scientists, is the "giggle factor," the tendency of those in the government to scoff at such aethereal dangers.
(20 Oct 1997)
Two bestselling writers died this week, Harold Robbins and James Michener. Michener had a slender connection to SF with his 1982 novel Space, which depicted the US space program into the near future. Michener had a reputation for exhaustive research, but Clute and Nicholls' Encyclopedia of Science Fiction notes that in this book "among several errors of fact are consistent references to Stanley G. Weinbaum as Stanley G. Weinberg."
(18 Oct 1997)
Nominations were announced this week for the National Book Award, a juried literary prize currently awarded in four categories: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and young people's literature. Fiction finalists include Don DeLillo's just-published Underworld, possibly the most hailed American novel of recent years; Cold Mountain, a first novel by Charles Frazier; Diane Johnson's Le Divorce; Ward Just's Echo House; and Cynthia Ozick's The Puttermesser Papers (which was reviewed by Faren Miller in Locus Magazine, Sep. '97).
Conspicuously absent were highly-regarded novels by Thomas Pynchon, Mason & Dixon, and Philip Roth, American Pastoral.
The nonfiction category, which more often occasionally includes works of science than the fiction category includes science fiction, included no science titles this year.
The NBA eligibility period for these nominations runs from Dec. 1, 1996, to Nov. 30, 1997. The awards' timeliness is in sharp contrast to the months and years that can elapse between publication and consideration of books for SF awards.
(17 Oct 1997)
England's Booker Prize, the most prestigious literary prize in Britain, was awarded to Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things, a first novel by an Indian writer. (The US edition, right, was published by Random House.) The Booker Prize is often beset with controversy over what is or is not nominated, but for once this was not true; the book was lauded on both sides of the Atlantic. The Booker Prize, worth more than $32,000, is awarded annually to a novel published in Britain or one of the Commonwealth countries.
(16 Oct 1997)
Reason Not To Say "Sci-Fi" #216:
From Vincent di Fate's new book, Infinite Worlds: The Fantastic Visions of Science Fiction Art, in a footnote on page 10:
SF, pronounced esseff, is a short form for science fiction and will be used intermittently throughout this book. The popular expression, "sci-fi," coined by the famed editor and SF fan Forrest J. Ackerman, is somewhat controversial among writers of the genre. Derived from the term "hi-fi," which means high fidelity and refers to the integrity of sound reproduction, sci-fi would not be an accurate abbreviation of science fiction.
(12 Oct 1997)
No Ducks Were Harmed Dept:
The Nobel prize for literature was awarded to Dario Fo, an Italian playwright (and actor) noted for comedy and controversy. The selection was typical in that it was unexpected, not the least by fellow-Italian poet Mario Luzi, a perennial Nobel contender, whom the L.A. Times reports fumed "I've had it up to here!"
Likely candidates, according to AP, had included two magical realists, the Portuguese Jose Samarago, and Ismail Kadare, "whose novels mix fantasy and brutal fact like mist moving through the harsh mountains of his native Albania", as well as Britain's Doris Lessing. Others included Belgium's Hugo Claus, J.M. Coetzee from South Africa, Trinidad-born V.S. Naipaul, and Chinese poet Bei Dao.
(10 Oct 1997)
The L.A. Times reports today that a survey by circulation guru E. Daniel Capell shows sales of magazines from newsstands has slipped dramatically -- 40% compared to the same period last year. The industry's current average sell-through, 43% of the copies distributed to the newsstand, is down from 53% a decade ago. Capell warns that leading wholesalers may impose new charges to process returns of unsold copies -- making it even more uneconomic for many magazines to continue newsstand distribution.
(9 Oct 1997)
No Ducks Were Harmed Dept:
Houghton Mifflin, long-time publishers of a pair of annual anthologies of best short stories and best essays, has added a third volume this year for (American) mystery stories. The Best American Mystery Stories 1997, edited by Robert B. Parker, appeared this week in floor displays with its companion volumes edited by E. Annie Proulx and Ian Frazier. Parker's selections include Allen Steele's "Doblin's Lecture", which was also included by David G. Hartwell in his Year's Best SF 2.
The short story volume includes Analog and Asimov's among its list of American and Canadian magazines publishing short stories (but not F&SF, etc.), while the rival 1997 O. Henry Awards anthology includes neither on its list of magazines "consulted".
(7 Oct 1997)
The New York Times today reports on a controversial book making waves among French academic circles. Intellectual Impostures, by physicists Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont, attacks the postmodern trend in modern philosophy, particularly the notion that modern scientific theories can be deconstructed like novels and debunked for their presumed sexist fallacies. They charge that such French luminaries as Jacques Lacan (who postulates an equivalence between the male sex organ and the square root of -1) and Luce Irigaray (who sees a sexist conspiracy in the favoring of solid mechanics over fluid mechanics, because men don't menstruate) simply don't know what they're talking about when they discuss scientific and mathematical concepts. In response, one reviewer of the book suggested that scientific correctness is as impoverished as political correctness.
(4 Oct 1997)