It is with truly heavy heart that I must report that a good friend of mine, Michael Burgess, who used the pseudonym Robert Reginald in most of his writing, has died. He was truly a gentleman and a scholar (literally; he was a retired academic librarian and professor), as well as a fine writer of fiction and non-fiction alike as well as an editor and publisher. He was a true friend and champion of authors and was almost single-handedly responsible for publicizing the work of excellent but little-known authors throughout his career. He founded the Borgo Press in 1975 with his wife and ran that until 1998, publishing about 300 volumes. In 2003, Borgo Press was restarted as an imprint of Wildside Press and Rob ran that for Wildside, publishing something close to an additional 1500 volumes. He was also an extremely prolific writer, and I’ve reviewed a number of his pieces here. Rob’s website has a complete obituary and bibliographies of his writing and editorial work. Locus also has a brief tribute and the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction has a very long entry on all of Rob’s contributions to the genre.
Rob, as I mostly knew him, had had heart problems going back at least a decade, and even though he was hospitalized earlier in the year, I thought we’d have him for years to come. We began corresponding in 2010 as a result of a review I posted to this very blog of some of Rob’s work. Over the years we traded a lot of emails and even spoke on the phone. I had hoped to make it to the L.A. area next summer and thought we might finally have a chance to meet in person. Alas, that was not to be. Rob was an extraordinarily kind and generous man, and I viewed him as a mentor as well as a friend. His encouragement and wisdom meant a lot. I am very saddened by his death, and I know that his family and friends must all be devastated by his loss. In Rob’s honor, take a look at some of his work if you have a chance, and read something by a mostly unknown author — if you like it, then post about it! Celebrate good authors whenever you find them.
I’ve been writing way too many of these obituaries over the last few months. Have you ever read anything by Jack Vance? He’s one of my eternal favorites, and certainly one of the greatest wordsmiths I’ve ever encountered. I’ve always been surprised that he’s not better known; he’s a vastly underappreciated SFF grandmaster. I just learned that he passed away over the weekend. Locus has posted an obituary here, and you can leave a tribute message here. By all accounts Vance lived a full life; he was nearly 97, and my understanding is that he had been blind for many years. Still, the world is diminished for his loss.
I’ve been collecting his work for roughly the last fifteen years. I have his entire opus: all six volumes of The Complete Jack Vance plus his autobiography, and many individual works, four of which he signed. I’ll never forget the first Vance story I read: “Mazirian the Magician,” one of his Dying Earth tales collected in the anthology WIZARDS, edited by Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg, and Charles G. Waugh. I encountered this truly amazing collection of fantasy stories when I was about 10-12 (take a look at the table of contents for that collection here).
In light of Vance’s passing, I will have to go back and read or reread more of his work. I’ve thus far reviewed eight of his novels on this blog. They can be found here:
The Book of Dreams
The Killing Machine
The Magnificent Showboats of the Lower Vissel River, Lune XXIII South, Big Planet
The Palace of Love
Rhialto the Marvellous
The Star King
Requiescat in pace, Mr. Vance.
It is with very heavy heart that I must pass along the news that one of my favorite authors, Iain Banks, has announced he has terminal cancer. Banks has described his situation in very frank, open terms here, and there have been several major news articles about Banks and his announcement (here and here). I don’t agree with his politics, but I’ve always loved his work. I wish him the very best in the days to come.
I’ve been reading Banks’ work since the late 1990s, and he’s an unusual fellow: he writes both mainstream fiction (as Iain Banks) and SF (as Iain M. Banks). I’ve never been disappointed in anything of his in either category and recommend you check out his work. I haven’t blogged much about Banks over the years — and never reviewed any of his stuff — but I did mention when I acquired a book signed by Banks (a treasured possession), a relatively recent interview with him, and I mentioned him in my very first blog post where I listed my favorite authors. If you have not yet read of Banks’ work, I highly recommend him. His prose can be dense at times, but reading Banks is always a rewarding experience.
To make this a more useful post, what follows is a bibliography of Banks’ fiction. I especially recommend his Culture series, which first showed me what a post-Singularity, post-scarcity transhumanist society might look like. For the Culture books, I suggest starting with CONSIDER PHLEBAS. I reread that again last year and enjoyed it as much as I had the previous times I’d read it. For his more “mainstream” fiction, I’d suggest starting with his very first book, THE WASP FACTORY.
Mainstream Fiction by Iain Banks
The Wasp Factory (1984)
Walking on Glass (1985)
The Bridge (1986)
Espedair Street (1987)
Canal Dreams (1989)
The Crow Road (1992)
A Song of Stone (1997)
The Business (1999)
Dead Air (2002)
The Steep Approach to Garbadale (2007)
The Quarry (to be Banks’ last book; forthcoming 2013)
The Culture series by Iain M. Banks
Consider Phlebas (1987)
The Player of Games (1988)
Use of Weapons (1990)
Look to Windward (2000)
Surface Detail (2010)
The Hydrogen Sonata (2012)
Other (non-Culture) SF by Iain M. Banks
Against a Dark Background (1993)
Feersum Endjinn (1994)
The Algebraist (2004)
Short Fiction Collections
The State of the Art (1991) [includes three Culture stories]
The Spheres (2010)
Some book-related news I’ve come across since the last update:
Gérard de Villiers, French spy novelist: I have been hearing about de Villiers’ work for years. He’s an extraordinarily popular and prolific author of spy novels and political thrillers. He’s also a fascinating guy in his own right, with many purported connections with the French security services and others around the globe. The New York Times recently published a lengthy interview with de Villiers. By all accounts, if you like these kinds of spy thrillers (latter-day men’s adventure novels), then de Villiers is your man. Just one problem: as far as I can tell, none of his novels are available in English. Well, let me correct that and say that a few of them were translated into English in the late 1960s through the mid-1970s, but these are all long out of print. maybe I’ll come across them some day. (And don’t you want that hat? Sure, at first it seems absurd, but the more you think about it the better it looks — am I right?)
Arthur Conan Doyle’s Estate Issues: I had no idea that the literary rights to the Conan Doyle estate were so convoluted. While the original (canonical) stories are in the public domain, the character of Sherlock Holmes himself is still under copyright in the United States. (I assume because of all the derivative works based on the character that are NOT in the public domain.) In any case, I had no idea that a woman named Andrea Plunkett had been masquerading as the rightful owner of the character. Apparently Wildside Press, publisher of the Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, was even scammed by Plunkett before getting it all worked out with the real estate.
And speaking of Wildside, here are some new coupon codes for their books:
For our ebook store — www.wildsidepress.com — use coupon: ebookme (save 20%)
For our print book store — www.wildsidebooks.com — use coupon: bookme (save $5 on $20 or more)
For our print book store — www.wildsidebooks.com — use coupon: bookme2 (save $12 on $50 or more)
For our print book store — www.wildsidebooks.com — use coupon: bookme3 (save $30 on $100 or more)
Some book-related news I’ve come across since last week’s update:
B&N — THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING BOOKSTORE: We all know about the tragic demise of Borders in 2011. Readers just aren’t buying as many books from brick-and-mortar stores as they used to, Borders failed to capitalize on the growing eBook trend until it was far too late, and by all accounts, it was mismanaged. Borders’ failure obviously took a little pressure off its competitors like Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million (BAM!). But fast-forward eighteen months, and it’s clear that at least Barnes & Noble isn’t doing so hot either. According to this recent news article, in 2008 B&N had 726 stores. It now has 689. In ten years, it plans to have only 450-500 stores. That’s a huge shrinkage, and frankly, I’ll be surprised if there are still 450 B&N stores around the country. (Just as an aside, BAM! has about 250 stores currently; no idea if they plan a similar downsizing.)
STEPHEN KING INTERVIEW ON HIS NEW BOOK: By now, you’ve probably already heard that King plans to release a sequel to one of his best-known and most beloved books, THE SHINING. I never thought this would happen, and am just the teensiest bit skeptical of the project — THE SHINING is one of my favorite horror novels and one of the very few books I’ve ever read that genuinely scared me — but I’m looking forward to the sequel, DOCTOR SLEEP. Here is a nice long interview that focuses on the question of why King has decided to write this sequel now, 36 years after the original.
Some book-related news I’ve come across since last week’s update:
BARNES & NOBLE ISN’T DOING SO HOT: Probably not exactly the news of the century, and frankly, it’s not a huge surprise. We all know that Borders’ collapse gave its competitors Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million some breathing room, but that’s probably not enough in the long-term. Stores that sell consumable media — like Best Buy and B&N — as well as brick-and-mortar stores that sell stuff that’s available cheaper online aren’t doing so hot these days. Apparently B&N’s Christmas sales weren’t great and its Nook business is slowly being overtaken by a combination of Kindles and iPads. Dedicated eReaders, I’ve read, are slowly but surely being squeezed out by various kinds of tablets. I only have a Kindle 3 myself, enjoy it very much, and have no plans to purchase a tablet PC any time soon, but I’m apparently in the minority. We’ll see where this goes, but expect a round of B&N store closures by next spring at the latest if this year’s sales continue their decline. Of course, all this begs the question: where exactly do people go to browse for books and discover new ones if they can’t examine store shelves full of them? This is a problem that Amazon has not yet figured out how to solve.
INTERVIEWS WITH IAIN M. BANKS: If you enjoy space opera and/or transhumanist SF, then you really should give Iain M. Banks’ Culture series a try. It’s been a long-time favorite of mine, though it does require some careful thought, as these aren’t what I typically think of as ‘easy” reads. Imagine a kind of post-scarcity interplanetary utopian society run by a coalition of extremely powerful artificial intelligences and you’ll picture something close to the eponymous Culture (that quick description glosses over all the most fun elements of the setting, but it’s a start. Last year, Banks came out with a new Culture novel, THE HYDROGEN SONATA, and has been interviewed about that novel, his views on utopia, technology, and many other issues. Here is one very recent interview with Banks, and here’s a second from last November that I just happened upon.
20 HEROIC (FICTIONAL) LIBRARIANS: It’s probably no surprise that I love libraries almost as much as I love books. I’ve spent a good chunk of my life in various libraries, after all, and I regularly consult with librarians for my academic research. But as much as I like real-life librarians, I love the fictional heroic, super-heroic, and magical kind of librarian even more. Here’s a great list with illustrations and descriptions of twenty fictional badass librarians.
This may be a terrible example of self-indulgence, so I hope you’ll forgive me, but I would like to post a link to an interview I recently did with editor and author Elaine Ash in which I was interviewed on what it’s like to be a book reviewer. (Diligent readers may note that I interviewed Ms. Ash recently as well.) Shockingly, the interview reveals that life as a book reviewer is not all about the groupies, financial remuneration, invitations to award ceremonies (and more importantly, the after-parties), or any of the other glamorous and decadent activities that you undoubtedly imagine I enjoy. I mean, sure, all those perqs are great, but it’s also about the opportunity to read great books, meet terrific authors and fellow readers, and help promote the books I love. I am of course always willing to answer whatever questions readers may have about the books I review or the review process itself. Or at least, one of my assistants will respond, assuming they are not otherwise engaged in peeling me some grapes.
Your Humble Bookworm