Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Sense of Wonder and Alien Contact

Alien ContactElias F. Combarro has recently posted his Alien Contact (publisher Night Shade Books) review and interview (conmigo) on his Spanish-language blog Sense of Wonder.

First, the review.

[Note: If Spanish is not your preferred language, Elias has graciously translated his review into English as well, which is the content from which I will be quoting. However, each page, English or Spanish, links at the bottom to the other version.]

On themed anthologies, Elias writes: "...I don't want to read the same story twenty times. I want to explore many different approaches to the same topic. I want to be surprised and amazed. I want to be shown something new, something that I didn't even imagine that could be done." He goes on to state:

I've recently had the pleasure of reading Alien Contact, an anthology edited by Marty Halpern. It is the perfect illustration of how to assemble a wonderful set of stories devoted to a fascinating theme. All the stories selected by the editor are excellent examples of human contact with alien races (not necessarily a first contact) but no two of them are alike.


This amazing variety of takes on a single theme is one of the strongest points of the anthology. Throughout all the stories included in the book, we explore, from different points of view, a fascinating topic: ourselves as seen by a stranger.


The stories of the book are complemented with an invaluable source of information: before Alien Contact was published Marty Halpern blogged about each and every individual tale, providing extremely interesting details and, in some cases, even the full text of some of the stories. While reading the book, I frequently revisited Halpern's notes and that certainly added a lot to the experience.
In the interview to follow, Elias referred to Alien Contact as "one of the best anthologies" he has recently read, but he did have "two minor concerns" with the book. First, he felt the cover design and art to be "quite appalling," which surprised him because "Night Shade usually produces books with stunning covers." [Note: Personally, I'm okay with the cover art and design....] And his second concern was that, at least in the ebook version, the authors' biographical information appeared at the end of the book, after all the stories and the acknowledgments. Elias added: "...after finishing the book, I did not read these bios and I'd have much preferred to have them together with each story (a more natural location, if you ask me)."

For the record, the decision to place the authors' biographical notes at the very end of the book was mine alone, as editor. I created a thematic and tonal flow from story to story -- an overall ambiance, I had hoped -- that I felt would have been interrupted by placing mini biographical notes at the beginning (or even at the end) of each individual story. I've had one other person comment similarly on the placement of the authors' bios, so I may reconsider this for any future anthologies.

Now, on to the Alien Contact interview.

[Note: since this interview was conducted in English, Elias then had to translate his questions and my responses into Spanish for his blog readers. Again, regardless of the version, the bottom of each page links to the other version.]

I've done a couple other interviews on my Alien Contact anthology, but Elias (aka "Odo") managed to pose some questions that hadn't been previously asked. Here's one example:
You worked on Alien Contact for about three years and considered more than 150 stories. Is there any particular story that you would have liked to include in the anthology but had to leave out for some reason?
To which I responded:
I wanted to include a Philip K. Dick story, "Rautavaara's Case" (OMNI, October 1980), but permission to use the story arrived too late. However, a larger issue for me was having to choose between two (or more) stories by the same author. In a couple instances I had to read stories multiple times in order to make a decision as to which story to select, because all of them were excellent and of the same relative length. I included stories in the anthology by Pat Cadigan, Cory Doctorow, Jeffrey Ford, Nancy Kress, and Michael Swanwick, for example—but I could easily have selected a different story by each of them and still maintained the same overall quality of the book. Though I will admit that the stories I did select were often my own personal favorites....
I don't participate in many interviews so it's always a joy (and always a bit of nerves, too) when such an opportunity arises. I'd like to take this time to thank Elias -- and his Sense of Wonder readers -- for the opportunity to respond to a few questions regarding my Alien Contact project. I'd also like to thank Elias for his willingness to translate his Spanish-language review into English.


  1. I'd like to thank you again for your time, your thorough answers to my questions and, of course, for this post.

    I'd also like to mention that, in fact, I wrote the review of Alien Contact (and almost all of the reviews on my blog) first in English and then I translated it into Spanish. It may seem a bit strange, but I find it easier that way :)

  2. Thanks for your kind words, Odo. Re: the translations. Regardless, English may not be your primary language, but your work on the review was very well done indeed.

    - marty