Sunday, November 23, 2014

Podcast No. 10: Astronomy & Astrology in "How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky"

My 10th New Books podcast is live. It's with Lydia Netzer, who kept my laughing as we discussed her second novel, How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky. Here's my write-up for the podcast:

Astronomy and astrology once went hand in hand: people studied the location and motion of celestial bodies in order to make astrological predictions.

In the 17th century, the paths of these two disciplines forked so that today astronomy is a well-established science while astrology is allowed as close to the word “science” as the suffix “pseudo-” allows.

Lydia Netzer, in How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky, tries to turn back the clock, inventing a world where astronomy and astrology harmonize once again. The novel centers on two best friends (both astrologers), who conspire to raise their children (both astronomers) so that when they encounter each other as adults, they fall hopelessly in love.

All this takes place in the shadow of the Toledo Institute of Astronomy, a “world renowned Mecca of learning and culture” that’s as fanciful as Netzer's fictional Toledo, a city where “astronomers and mathematicians walk arm in arm down the street and discuss philosophy and cosmology,” she explains in New Books in Science Fiction and Fantasy.

For Netzer, writing is an opportunity to explore every cranny of her imagination. “Every time you write a book, you go into your kitchen and get everything you made, every dish in the oven, everything in the refrigerator, bring it all out, put it on the table because you might not get the chance to write another one, and you just want to say everything you can possibly say,” she says. “Holding back for me is a big mistake.”  

Among the many topics Netzer addresses in the interview are lucid dreaming, which figures prominently in the novel. While her protagonists gain mastery over their dreams, Netzer, in her own life, has met with less success. "One time ... I was able to move a crate of lettuce closer to me in a dream grocery store, which was incredibly disappointing as an outcome. 'Oh, you've managed to control your subconscious, and all you're going to do is make it easier to buy produce.'"

She also discusses the various iterations of How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky, including a first draft without dialogue. "It was terrible, and I don't have that draft anymore. Thankfully a very kind friend helped me to not share it with anyone else."

Other topics she tackles include the mysteries of memory, the differences between first and second novels, homeschooling, and much more.

Related Links

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Introducing a New Logo for the New Books in Sci Fi Podcast

Today we launched a new logo for New Books in Science Fiction & Fantasy. It was designed by my friend Michael Thibodeau, a brilliant graphic designer and artist of the internet experience. Although you shouldn't judge a podcast by its logo (or a book by its cover, of course), I think this logo does a great job of visually conveying what the podcast offers--namely, fresh ideas, exciting conversation, and fun.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A Shrewdness of Apes? What a Trip!

Just now I Googled the word to describe a group of goats and was delighted to see that at the top of several lists of collective nouns is the word "shrewdness" for a group of apes. Who knew?

If I try to use that word, few but an expert in collective nouns (like the folks from the Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center who've compiled this list or the clever people at a site called Hints and Things who've put together this one) would know what I mean. Oh, and maybe the owners of a modern art gallery and an "acoustic/electric trio from Richmond, Virginia" would understand too. But that's it!

Still, I love that the word is so complimentary to apes.

By the way, goats gather in a flock, herd, tribe or trip. Trip? Another wonderfully weird word.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Podcast No. 9: Fiction that Shapes Science

For my ninth podcast as host of New Books in Science Fiction and Fantasy, I chatted with Kathryn Cramer, co-editor of the anthology Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future.

Cramer and collaborators Ed Finn and Neal Stephenson invited writers to contribute science fiction to the collection that "actually addresses problems and tries to solve them," Cramer says.

In other words, the anthology aspires to maximize one of science fiction’s abiding strengths: its ability to test concepts, both technological and social, without spending vast sums on research and development.

In tooling around the internet, I found a bunch of examples of old fiction that appeared to foresee future technology. For instance, Jules Verne’s novel From the Earth to the Moon appears to foresee Apollo 11 and Mark Twain’s short story From the 'London Times' of 1904 describes something akin to television or maybe even the internet.

The editors and writers behind Hieroglyph: Stories & Visions for a Better Future think many science fiction writers in recent years have lost their way. As evidence, they point to the proliferation of what Cramer calls "tired dystopias." Rather than provide "cautionary tales that show us what to avoid," she explains in the New Books interview, these novels use "dystopias as furniture"—backdrops for a plot centered on a central character’s adventures.

Cramer used the term "neo-Gernsbackian" and thereby introduced me to a historical figure I feel I should have known: Hugo Gernsback, who published the first science fiction magazine.

For more about the ideas behind Hieroglyph, check out the Project Hieroglyph website and listen to Cramer and collaborators in this Google Talk.