Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Grasping at Aliens

Alien ContactIn previous blog posts I've mentioned the significant role that book review bloggers play in today's publishing wars -- by bringing titles that aren't always reviewed by the mainstream press to the attention of book readers and buyers. Take Alien Contact for example: it's an all-reprint anthology from independent press Night Shade Books, and even though the book contains stories by such "name" authors as Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, and Ursula K. Le Guin, to name only three, it hasn't gotten a great deal of attention amongst mainstream publications, with the exception of Library Journal and The Guardian.

That's why book review blogs are so important to an anthology like Alien Contact and to a publisher like Night Shade Books. A typical reader doesn't have access to Kirkus Reviews or Publishers Weekly -- mostly because these publications are designed for libraries and bookstores and are far too expensive. But what a typical reader does have access to are the hundreds (thousands?) of free online book review blogs, such as John Ottinger's "Grasping for the Wind science fiction & fantasy news & reviews" blog.

I mention this blog specifically because John recently reviewed my Alien Contact anthology.

What I appreciate in particular about this review is that John addresses each of the twenty-six stories in the anthology. He doesn't necessarily like, or even understand, all of the stories, but he gives equal attention to each, which allows the reader to assess the overall content and quality of the book as a whole. As the book's editor, I'm gratified to see every author mentioned, not just the most popular or well-known authors.
Here are just a couple (well, maybe three) of Ottinger's individual story reviews:

Karen Joy Fowler's "Face Value" is a tragic story of a man and wife team sent to an alien planet to make contact with the moth-like intelligence found there. Taki is the xenobiologist and Hesper, his wife, a poet. Taki thrives, but Hesper becomes more and more depressed until even her poet's soul is lost. Fowler's sad story is about transcendence and the place where beauty comes from. It's about relationship too. Taki and Hesper's inability to understand one another has its echo in Taki's inability to communicate with the natives. There is a haunting beauty to Fowler's story that will leave you pondering long after you read it.

I have to admit that I don't really get "Guerrilla Mural of Siren's Song" by Ernest Hogan. The story appears to be about a street artist who encounters sirens deep in the winds of Jupiter. It's also a love paean to a dead woman. Art and experience combine in an experiential tale of whirling emotions and unreliable narration. It's likely to be the favorite story in the anthology of people with a less analytical and more artistic bent than myself, but for me it was rather confusing.

"If Nudity Offends You" by Elizabeth Moon is another story I have read before. In this one, a court secretary, living in a trailer park, finds that her neighbors have been illegally tapping into her electricity. Most of the story is about her confrontation with these odd foreigners who wear no clothes in their trailer, talk funny, and seem slightly off. The whole story builds up to a surprise ending that makes you wonder if these foreigners were not just from a distant land, but from a different planet entirely. It's a close encounter that is discovered only after the fact.

John concludes his review with the following observation:
Alien Contact is a title that might be slightly misleading. This is not an anthology of first contacts but rather a collection of encounters with the other, what we choose to call the alien, the ineffable, the different and unknowable. Halpern's anthology is an excellent collection of tales that share a theme in common, but that manage to postulate widely different scenarios

As I said, these are only three of the twenty-six individual story reviews; you'll find John Ottinger's complete review on Grasping for the Wind.

Redux: Another Alien Contact Giveaway

Just a reminder that this current giveaway [there will be yet another after the new year] ends in 4 days for a print edition (US residents) and ebook edition (non-US residents) of my Alien Contact anthology. To be eligible FTW you only need to send a very, very brief email -- no blog comment required, no Facebook "Like," no retweeting -- just an email with either your mailing address (US residents) or your country (non-US residents).

Click on over to Mad Hatter's Review blog for the details on how to enter the giveaway for a copy of Alien Contact. The deadline is midnight, December 31st.

Happy New Year everyone! And happy reading

The Meaning of "Going Home"

This is a different type of blog post for me: I'm going to promote a contest, but not one of my own. And the subject of this contest is contrary to something I firmly believe: that we shouldn't analyze fiction to death (as is done in typical high school English Lit classes... gag!) but rather to simply enjoy the totality of the reading experience. But with that said....

This contest is sponsored by two of my favorite authors: my friend, Bruce McAllister, whose Hugo Award-nominated story "Kin graces the pages of my Alien Contact anthology; and Barry Malzberg, who co-edited (with Edward L. Ferman) one of the best SF anthologies ever, Final Stage1.

First, the caveat: This contest is open to Facebook members only. If you are an FB user, then simply "friend" Bruce McAllister and you are good to go. If not, then just sign up for a free account and then search for -- and "friend" -- Bruce McAllister. FB is no big deal, it's not painful, and you don't have to use the app after you sign up -- other than for this contest, of course.

Bruce and Barry have co-written a story entitled "Going Home" that was published in the February 2012 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction. Now I realize we're still in 2011, but this particular issue has already been printed. In fact, the Asimov's website currently features this February issue. You may be an Asimov's subscriber, or you can find copies on the rack at Barnes & Noble, and certainly at your favorite SF specialty store, and online as well, including ebook editions. And Asimov's has donated 15 copies of the issue to Bruce McAllister for readers who wish to participate in this contest but for one reason or another are unable to obtain a copy.

Here's the issue, and the reason for the contest: Even though Bruce and Barry have co-written "Going Home," they do not agree on the story's meaning. According to Bruce's Facebook post on December 16:
The Asimov's issue with "Going Home" is out and should hit the stands soon. After a brief email exchange yesterday, however, Barry and I discovered we're not at all in agreement about what the story means. (Yeah, you'd think -- co-authors and everything -- but no....) So a contest: FREE copies of my novel Dream Baby and Barry Malzberg's John Campbell Award winner Beyond Apollo to the three readers out there who can come up with the most creative (read: insightful and/or deranged) interpretations of the story. 500 words max. Deadline -- March 15 [2012]. FB members only, yes. Winning entries (or excerpts) will be posted here with much fanfare. This should be fun.

So here's a chance for you to put those interpretive skills you honed in your English Lit class to good use, and possibly score a free copy of the award-nominated Dream Baby from Bruce and the award-winning Beyond Apollo from Barry. And, I assume, the authors will gladly sign/inscribe their respective books for the winners, too.

Courtesy of the authors, here's the opening paragraph to "Going Home":

Arrogant as this sounds, I've decided I'm going to bring the Golden Age of Science Fiction back even if I have to do it single-handedly. It's been lost for a long time, and someone's got to bring it back, given what's happening. Yes, I know, Mitchell Litton has been known for three decades for his cynical, earthbound, ankle-biting, technophobic, earthbound novels—and I wrote them because they were my truth at the time (the alcohol, two divorces, Chiara's pregnancy at 16, my mother's and sister's deaths in the same year, the bankruptcy, and the awards nastiness), but I remember what it was like to be young and read those stories; and now that I'm facing, as we all are with the slow spread of this "Armageddon virus" that's taking the world, my own mortality, I see now that those stories held older and bigger truths than the ones I delivered. In any case, I want to be part of it again. Like going home, yes.

—from "Going Home" by Bruce McAllister and
Barry Malzberg, Asimov's Science Fiction, February 2012

As Bruce states on his Facebook page: "Finally, after 40 years, got to co-write a story with old friend and mentor Barry Malzberg."


1. If you should choose to track down a copy of the Ferman and Malzberg anthology Final Stage, be sure to seek out the reprint Penguin edition only -- not the original Charterhouse hardcover edition. There was some controversy regarding the hardcover edition because a number of the stories were revised and edited by the publisher's editor without Ferman's or Malzberg's -- or any of the affected authors -- knowledge or permission. The original texts of all the stories were restored in the Penguin reprint edition. Anthology historian Bud Webster has written a lengthy essay on the original Charterhouse edition entitled "Anthology 101: The (Non)Final Stage" that you'll find quite enlightening, with input from Ferman, Malzberg, Harlan Ellison, Robert Silverberg, and others.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Observed in the Wilds of San Francisco

I was hoping for a photograph or two from an indie bookstore, since the only pics I've seen so far of Alien Contact in the wild are at B&N stores....

So a special "thank you" to Jude Feldman at the best genre bookstore on the West Coast (and possibly even points farther):

Borderlands Books, 866 Valencia Street, San Francisco 94110

Note: When I asked Jude (via email) about the brown something in the top right corner of the photograph, she responded: "...the brown/black thing you're seeing in the background is a portion of a steampunk art piece that's mounted on the wall. It's called The Triparator and it was made by Dr. Alan Rorie."

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Another Alien Contact Giveaway

If you read my guest blog post yesterday on determining story order, posted on The Mad Hatter's Bookshelf & Book Review blog, then you hopefully read at the end of the post that there would be a giveaway announced the next day for Alien Contact.

Well, today is that next day, and the giveaway has gone live. Please check out Mad Hatter's Review blog for a chance to win a copy of Alien Contact. The giveaway is open to both US and non-US residents, and the deadline is midnight, December 31st.

Happy New Year everyone! And happy reading!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Story Order (Or, Developing the TOC)

Are you the type of reader who picks a story at random to read in an anthology, or do you always begin at the beginning, and read the stories in the order that they have been presented? If the latter, have you ever thought about the actual order of the stories: Why did the editor begin the anthology with this particular story? Why is the longest story in the middle (or near the beginning, or toward the end)? Why are these other stories back to back, and why does the book end with this other story?

The Mad Hatter's Bookshelf and Book Review blog invited me to write a guest blog post, which I gladly accepted. And for my guest post I wrote about the process I went through to determine the story order -- the table of contents -- for my Alien Contact anthology. I had 26 stories to work with, and I had to place them in an order that would both intrigue and motivate the reader to continue reading, to finish the book, and hopefully result in a positive reading experience.

Here are a couple excerpts from my guest post:

...the readers who begin at the beginning--the introduction--and then read the stories in the order they are presented, these are the readers I must be concerned with. For them, the story order--the overall experience of reading the book in its entirety--is what makes, or breaks, the anthology.


As a group, these criteria affect the flow of the anthology. Place a lot of dark, depressing, overly long stories together and quite possibly I'll lose a lot of my readers. Each story needs to encourage the reader to want to move on to the next story, and the next, and so on, until the reader reaches the end of the book.

I specify the five criteria I use to assist me in determining story order, and I also provide some thoughts on a few specific stories.

Story order is something I take great pride in....

And check back at Mad Hatter's Review for yet another Alien Contact giveaway.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Observed in the Wilds of Akron

Barnes & Noble, 4015 Medina Road, Akron, Ohio 44333.

This B&N staffer hamming it up in the pic just happens
to be my cousin, David Halpern.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Alien Contact Gets the Silver Treatment

Alien ContactWhen I posted the first review of my Alien Contact anthology, I noted the importance of online book reviewers/book bloggers and book review sites such as Goodreads: all critical resources to those who read and purchase books. There will be no shortage of reviews of Stephen King's 11/22/63 this holiday season. I even found copies of King's book at Costco. But what I want to learn more about are the lesser known indie/small press titles, and authors, and so I am especially grateful to those who review and support these types of books.

One such book reviewer is Steven Silver, who publishes his reviews under Silver Reviews, hosted online by SFSite. In Steven's most recent review, for Alien Contact, he writes:

...In 1898, H. G. Wells described that first contact as a Martian invasion of England's Horsell Common resulting in death and mayhem until the aliens are brought low. Murray Leinster wrote about a less dire alien contact in 1945, in which humans and aliens worked to ensure they wouldn't destroy each other. Editor Marty Halpern has now brought together twenty-six stories of alien contact in a book called, appropriately enough, Alien Contact.


Karen Joy Fowler is responsible for writing one of the strangest first contact stories ever published, the novel Sarah Canary, so the inclusion of her story "Face Value" is quite fitting, and quite different from her famous novel. In this story, as with so many other first contact stories, part of the puzzle that needs to be solved revolves around finding a means of communication between two different species, a theme which dates back to Leinster's "First Contact."


The stories Halpern has selected not only demonstrate the different slants authors can take on...alien contact, but also explore what it means to be alien in different ways and also depict numerous writing styles, with humor, drama, military, and nostalgia all playing a role. As these stories demonstrate, the science fiction genre provides a playground in which authors cane use the tropes and styles of a wide variety of other genres in crafting entertaining, as well as insightful, stories.

In his review, Steven mentions a number of other stories in the anthology, in addition to the story by Karen Joy Fowler. Please head on over to Silver Reviews for the full review of Alien Contact, which has been published by Night Shade Books.

Monday, December 5, 2011

November Links & Things

I've been rather quiet here of late, as I just completed work on a project for Penguin/Ace Books that I had been anticipating for a couple months. I'll provide a bit of a teaser here by saying that I've just finished "the laundry" -- neatly pressed. So, now that this project is behind me (and I hope to do a blog post about it soon), I plan on being a bit more visible here. Or, at least I hope to be a bit more visible here. One can never tell, especially these days. Regardless, please don't give up on me.

Onward: This is my monthly wrap-up of November's Links & Things. You can receive these links in real time by following me on Twitter: @martyhalpern. Note, however, that not all of my tweeted links make it into these month-end posts. Previous month-end posts are accessible via the "Links and Things" tag in the right column. 
  • Ernest Hogan (@NestoHogan), a contributing author to the Alien Contact anthology ["Guerrilla Mural of a Siren's Song"], has recently written a blog post on La Bloga, entitled "Chicanonautica: The Lone Sci-Fi Chicano?" in which he wonders if he may just be the only Chicano science fiction writer. If you are a Chicano SF/Fantasy author, or know of an author, please let Ernesto know by posting a comment to his blog post.
  • Author Andrew Fox has informed me that his novel, The Good Humor Man, or Calorie 3501 (which I edited for Tachyon Publications) has been released in a variety of ebook formats. The link here is to the Kindle edition, but you'll find the ebook at Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and other online sellers. The novel was described by Kage Baker as "a Fahrenheit 451 for the post-millennium, told with Fox's magnificent evocation of place and twisted humor..." For more details, here's a link to my blog post from 19 February 2009 on the novel, and Tachyon Publications.
  • If you are a book reader and/or a book collector, then you undoubtedly are familiar with ABEBooks.com (@AbeBooks), which recently posted a concise history of Amazing Stories magazine. You can find lengthier, more detailed histories elsewhere online, but what makes this article special are the more than 25 full-color covers, including the first Amazing Stories Annual from 1927. The article falls short, however, by not mentioning that the "Amazing Stories" name has recently been acquired by Steve Davidson, who has formed an editorial board and commissioned cover art. Check out my September and October Links & Things posts for details.
  • Looking for fellow gamers for your game group? NeedGamers.com wants to help by being a registry for all flavors of gamer. (via @ProfBeard)
  • On November 7 I purchased the new Stephen King novel, 11/22/63. How could I not purchase a book in which time travel is used to try to prevent the Kennedy assassination? The week before the book was released, Wired Magazine featured an interview with King in which he set forth his "Rules for Time Travel." King and Wired discuss the "butterfly effect," alternate timelines, and more. At the end of the interview, when asked if he'll write about time travel again, King responds: "No, this is it. Absolutely not. No, that's done. It's like Apollo Creed says, 'Ain't gonna be no rematch.'" (via @io9)