Episode 232: On canon formation (again)

This week we return, without guests, to a topic with which we have annoyed listeners in podcasts for years—the idea of SF canon formation: who gets dropped from the canon, who gets added, and whether such things as Hugo nominations make any difference at all.

The decade between 1985 and 1995 (20-30 years ago now), saw the deaths of many of the writers who helped establish much of the “classic” SF canon — Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Theodore Sturgeon, Frank Herbert, Alfred Bester, Fritz Leiber, John Brunner, Roger Zelazny, James Tiptree Jr, Cliffard Simak, Lester del Rey, Philip K. Dick, C.L. Moore, and more.

Who among them are still being discovered by new readers, and which writers and books in the last 20 years are likely candidates for a future canon? Does it take 50 years or more to determine what is canonical? Are Hugos any sort of reliable guide? And what difference do canons make anyway, beyond collective lists of personal favorites?

We also have decided, as announced in the podcast, to officially support the Helsinki in 2017 and Dublin in 2019 WorldCon bids. Coode St endorses these conventions, will be buying memberships to them, and will attend should they be successful. Both Gary and Jonathan are eager to be part of major international WorldCon events like 2014’s Loncon. We hope you’ll join us in supporting these great bids.

We hope you enjoy this week’s episode. Next week: Paolo Bacigalupi and The Water Knife!

Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor

The Goblin Emperor is a fine secondary world fantasy by Sarah Monette writing as Katherine Addison. It tells the compelling story of a young boy Maia, cast-off half-breed son of a pureblooded elf emperor, who finds himself suddenly and unexpectedly forced onto the throne when his father and three brothers are all killed in an airship accident. The_Goblin_Emperor_cover

Maia’s life to this point had been a simple and rather miserable one. His father, the emperor, had no love for him or his mother, a goblin he wed for diplomatic reasons. When she died just before his eighth birthday, the emperor banished Maia to a remote manor to be raised by a man who hated him and treated him poorly.

With little education and no knowledge of a large politically complex court, Maia is faced with an almost insurmountably difficult task, which he attempts with a grace and kindness far beyond seems reasonable to expect from him. And this may, ultimately, be the one small flaw in this immensely likeable book. Maia is far from welcomed at court, and his little reason to like or love the people he finds there. He is a nineteen year old boy, used and abused by circumstance, and yet he is consistently resourceful, intelligent and kind to the people he encounters. He shrugs off casual racism, attacks entrenched sexism, and even when his  life is threatened, he is forgiving and almost regretful of having to allow the law to run its course in dealing with such crimes. It’s a little hard not to question whether there might have been more anger, more lashing out from a young man.

The core question of the book, though, seems to be whether a genuinely good person can wield power without being corrupted or damaged by it. Is it possible for Maia to hold imperial power and not be forced to make difficult questions that have no good outcomes, just different ones? Maia doesn’t really have to face this in The Goblin Emperor. On several occasions he is faced with situations that have genuinely upsetting outcomes – he takes no pleasure in the honour suicide of a personal guard who betrayed him or in the execution of several traitors to the throne – but he is not really tested by the moral grey areas of a complex world.

That said, The Goblin Emperor is, as I said, immensely likeable. Maia is an engaging protagonist, the Elflands and the elf court that Addison creates are complex and interesting, the secondary characters are deftly drawn, and the story is one of those that seems to run before you until you’re faced with the sad realisation that those last few pages are appendices and not more story (one of the saddest realisations in all fantasy, surely!).

The Goblin Emperor is nominated for the Nebula and Hugo Awards, and is a worthy nominee for both. It will likely get my vote for the latter, though it is hard to decide between it and Cixin Liu’s The Three Body Problem.  I also expect to see it on the World Fantasy and other ballots later this year. A strongly recommended book that has left me looking forward to Addison/Monette’s next novel with great  anticipation.

Episode 231: Ian Mond, James Bradley and the 2015 Hugo Novel Shortlist

This week James Bradley and Ian Mond join Jonathan to discuss the five novels that have made the final Hugo Awards ballot. The shortlisted novels are:

  • Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK) 
  • The Dark Between the Stars by Kevin J. Anderson (Tor Books) 
  • The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette) (Tor Books) 
  • The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu (Tor) 
  • Skin Game by Jim Butcher (Roc Books)
We almost completely avoid issues surrounding the ballot, and instead focus on discussing the novels and what might make them interesting to read.  Our thanks to James and Ian for making time to record the podcast. As always, we hope you enjoy the episode!

Episode 230: K J Parker and the history of a writer

This week’s very special episode is a conversation with the superb and formerly mysterious K.J. Parker, whose newest work The Two of Swords begins serialization this week from Orbit, and whose Savages is due later this summer from Subterranean Press.

We discuss the influence of writers as diverse as E.F. Benson, P.G. Wodehouse, Mercedes Lackey, and C.J. Cherryh, the reason there isn’t much overt magic in Parker’s worlds, the freedom offered by fantasy over straight historical fiction, the relative advantages of novellas vs. novels, where all that wonderful dialogue comes from, and—of course—who K.J. Parker really is…
As always, we hope you enjoy the podcast!

Coming up on Coode Street

Savages_by_K_J_Parker.jpgBusy times at Coode Street! Later today there’ll be a special episode featuring mysterious British writer K.J. Parker. We discuss writing under a pseudonym, who Parker really is, writing fantasy without magic, literary influences, new projects and much more. 

But that’s not all. We already have a discussion with Paolo Bacigalupi in the can and ready to come out in May, and are about to sit down and have a chat with Kim Stanley Robinson about his new novel, Aurora.  There’ll also be the next instalment in our Forthcoming Books discussions with Liza Trombi from Locus and we’re working on some other interesting plans that we’re excited about.
We haven’t forgotten, though, what makes Coode Street what it is. We’ll be sitting down for some old school rambles, hoping to get in a few before convention season gets Gary traveling and awards season distracts us all.  That’s all a lead up to World Fantasy in Saratoga where we hope to do something special.
All in all, we think this is making for one of the best years in the history of the podcast. As always, we hope you’re enjoying the episodes and that you’ll stick with us for the rest of the year!

…science fiction and other stuff from jonathan strahan…