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Friday, June 25, 2010

Science Fiction – The Hugo Awards

Each year since 1955, attendees at the World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) have honored the best in science fiction and fantasy with the Hugo Awards. Unlike most literary awards, which are chosen by select committees, the Hugo winners are determined by the vote of attendees to each year’s Worldcon. Here are the Hugo selections in the best novel category for the past five years. The 2010 award will be announced in September at Aussicon Four in Melbourne, Australia.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon

Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge

Spin by Robert Charles Wilson

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Friday, June 18, 2010

Science Fiction – Part II

Depending on the source, science fiction aficionados and academics divide the genre into a multitude of sub-categories. Dr. Agatha Tamorina, professor emerita of English at Northern Virginia Community College lists six: cyberpunk, hard science fiction, soft science fiction, space opera and young adult science fiction. Here’s an example of each:

River of Gods by Ian McDonald

Hard Science Fiction
Dune by Frank Herbert

Science Fantasy
The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

Soft Science Fiction
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin

Space Opera
Startide Rising by David Brin

Young Adult Science Fiction
Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert Heinlein

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Art of Racing in the Rain – Enzo’s Soul: Human or Canine?

Enzo expresses his world view through a series of observations:

-“The visible becomes inevitable."

-"Understanding the truth is simple. Allowing oneself to experience it, is often terrifically difficult."

-"No race has ever been won in the first corner; many races have been lost there."

-“Hands are the windows to a man’s soul.”

His reflections seem almost human and that is what endears the reader to him. But a dog’s abstract musings may be more than wishful thinking. A 2008 National Geographic article ("Minds of Their Own," March 2008) reports on experiments that demonstrate the minds of animals may be more sophisticated than we thought.

“Certain skills are considered key signs of higher mental abilities: good memory, a grasp of grammar and symbols, self-awareness, understanding others' motives, imitating others, and being creative,” writes author Virginia Morell. “Bit by bit, in ingenious experiments, researchers have documented these talents in other species, gradually chipping away at what we thought made human beings distinctive while offering a glimpse of where our own abilities came from.”

For example, in 2001 a dog named Rico appeared on a German TV show. He knew the names of about 200 toys and could acquire the names of new ones easily.

That’s certainly not quite comparable to Enzo’s thoughts and emotions, but who knows? Maybe the canine hero of The Art of Racing in the Rain isn’t such a rare creature, after all.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Science Fiction

More than 50 years ago, Isaac Asimov defined science fiction as "that branch of literature which is concerned with the impact of scientific advance upon human beings." For many that definition has evolved into a literature of consequences – of “what if.”

This art of “what if” characterizes sci-fi classics such as Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card; Dune by Frank Herbert; Foundation by Isaac Asimov; Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams; and 1984 by George Orwell. Those five books seem to top many “best science fiction of all time” lists.

For a good guide to more recent sci-fi, try the SF Site. It offers everything from reviews and author lists to "Best Read of the Year" and “10 Odd Sci-Fi Classics.”

Sci-fi has a habit of predicting reality, whether it is Jules Verne’s “rocket” in his 1865 novel, From the Earth to the Moon, or the totalitarian regime in 1984. For this reason it endures.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Art of Racing in the Rain

The Good News: The library owns 127 copies of The Art of Racing in the Rain (not including electronic formats, large print editions, etc.)

The Bad News: There are 207 customers on the wait list for it!

Of course, that’s also good news because it means a lot of people are reading the All Fairfax Reads book selection and learning about Enzo and his family.

Library Director Sam Clay interviewed author Garth Stein recently as part of BookCast, and the interview has been posted on the Library’s Web site.


Mary Mulrenan
Fairfax County Public Library

Friday, June 04, 2010

Literary Fiction – Part II

After my posting last week on literary fiction, a colleague asked me who decides if a piece of fiction should be classified as “literary.” While I mentioned that such designations can be subjective, her question did get me thinking. Who does decide what is literary fiction? The answer – if there is one – is probably as slippery as trying to define the genre.

Certainly publishers decide which of the books they produce will be marketed as commercial fiction or literary fiction. For example, Algonquin Books is a well-known publisher of just literary fiction. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, a book group favorite, is one of its better-known releases. Algonquin also published Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons, Ferris Beach by Jill McCorkle and How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez. These were all popular among literary fiction fans. On the Random House Web site you can select a “literary fiction” category to browse the publisher’s titles, including books by E.L. Doctorow and Anne Tyler.

Literary agents, who market fiction to publishers, also decide what books they consider to be literary. One, Nathan Bransford, even described his requirements for literary fiction on his blog several years back. Another source for literary fiction titles is book stores, particularly independent book stores. IndieBound lists the weekly bestsellers reported by independent booksellers across the country. While the top 15 for this week include some genre fiction by Scott Turow, Elizabeth George and John Saul, the majority are in the literary category, including The Help by Kathryn Stockett, Imperfect Birds by Annie Lamott and Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes.

Finally, writers themselves determine literary fiction. Each year, the PEN -Faulkner Foundation, affiliated with the international writers’ organization PEN (Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists and Novelists) bestows its Pen-Faulkner Award in Fiction. It is the only literary award given to writers by other writers. Among well-known authors who have won it are Philip Roth (Everyman and The Human Stain), John Updike (The Early Stories, 1953-1975), Ann Patchett (Bel Canto), Michael Cunningham (The Hours) and David Guterson (Snow Falling on Cedars).

So – there is no one authority that bestows a “literary fiction” crown on a novel or other work of fiction. Those of us who enjoy the genre tend to stick to the defense: “we know it when we see it.”

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

George Clooney’s Eyes

Writers call it point-of-view. While The Art of Racing in the Rain is not the first novel to be written from an animal’s perspective, Enzo is no ordinary canine narrator.

It is evident in the opening sentence: “Gestures are all that I have; sometimes they must be grand in nature.” He laments his long, loose tongue that denies him words. He envies monkeys their thumbs. But he is happy he has “George Clooney’s eyes.” In short, he regrets the human traits he lacks and is pleased with
those he shares with the human race.

It is this ability to straddle two species that makes Enzo’s point-of-view unique. If Mongolian myth can be believed, no one doubts Enzo will make a fine homo sapiens.