Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Andrew Barger Interview About Mesaerion: The Best Science Fiction Stories 1800-1849

Interview with Andrew Barger on the makings of his latest anthology: Mesaerion: The Best Science Fiction Stories 1800-1849.

Q: Last question first. What is your favorite science fiction story in the anthology?
A: I love them all or I would not have included them. But I would have to say that "The Iron Shroud" by William Mudford is right up there.

Q: The only headshot of William Mudford is from a painting until now. How did you get the image used in the anthology.
A: I always try to include the face of the author so readers know what they looked like. Many anthologies would increase their quality if they would only do this, but so few do. What I did was I commissioned an artist to take the pixelated painting of Mudford and do a new illustration. That is what is in the anthology.

Q: What were some of the prevailing themes you found in these early science fiction stories?
A: Hot air balloon trips. They were all the rage in Europe and America. People dreamed of crossing the Atlantic with this new technology that would only take them a few days instead of the weeks required to cross the Atlantic by ship.

Q: Was there much science in the fiction stories from 1800-1849?
A: I was surprised to find that terms like electricity, aeronauts, mesmerism, androids, perpetual motion, velocipedes, diving bells and parachutes were commonly used in the first half of the 19th century. Robots were called automatons  Today we think of those people as simpletons, but that was not the case. The science fiction stories reflect that.

Q: Why are there no Mary Shelley stories included in the collection? Isn't she the godmother of science fiction?
A: Surprisingly, the author of Frankenstein did not write any short sci-fi stories. One would think she would have dominated this space. She wrote a very good novella called The Last Man, but her short stories did not contain science in them despite some mystical elements. If you reread Frankenstein you will see that there is not much science in the novel, either. Mary Shelley was not an engineer or scientist and it shows in Frankenstein

Q: Who was the first female to write a science fiction story in the English language?
A: Assuming none of the anonymous stories found were penned by a woman, then Lydia Maria Child--the abolitionist author--wrote the first science fiction story by a woman.

Q: Were there any key years for short science fiction stories in this fifty year period?
A: In looking over the publication dates, there were two very important years out of which a number of the best stories came. The first was during 1835 when people on both sides of the Atlantic had dreams of crossing the ocean in hot air balloons. Writers latched onto this public enthusiasm to create sci-fi tales where the balloons went ever higher, with some reaching as far as the moon. The stories were: "Leaves from an Aeronaut" by Willis Gaylord Clark; "Great Astronomical Discoveries Lately Made by Sir John Herschel, L.L.D. F.R.S. &C. at the Cape of Good Hope" by Richard Adams Locke; "Glimpses of Other Worlds" by Thomas Charles Morgan; and "The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall" by Edgar Allan Poe. Nine years later, in 1844, there was another remarkable surge in science fiction short stories: "Recollections of Six Days' Journey in the Moon," which was published anonymously; "Rappaccini's Daughter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne (first biological science fiction story); "The Aërial Burglar" by Percival Leigh (perhaps the first steampunk short story); and "[The Balloon Hoax]," "Mesmeric Revelation," "The Premature Burial," and "A Tale of the Ragged Mountains" all by Edgar Allan Poe (later being perhaps the first physical time travel story). So 1835 and 1844 were banner years for short sci-fi stories in the English language.

Q: What other surprises did your research uncover?
A: I may have uncovered the first steampunk short story: "The Aerial Burglar." I found it in the iconic London magazine called Punch. It was the Mad Magazine of its day. I was also surprised to find that Lydia Child wrote the first cryogenics story: "Hilda Silfverling, A Fantasy." No one speaks of Lydia Child today when talking about science fiction stories, but she was a true pioneer.

Q: How did Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne change the genre?
A: Both figure prominently in the early science fiction stories. I like to say, as with the horror genre, that Poe did not invent it but he came pretty close to perfecting it for this 50 year period. I call it the Poe Complacency. He wrote so many stories at such a high level, it is easy to grow complacent with them . . . that is until you put them shoulder to shoulder with the best stories being written by his peers. Then it's jaw-dropping. Poe wrote about one-third of the best horror and science fiction stories for this period. That is amazing. Both of these American authors have multiple stories in the collection. Hawthorne wrote the biological sci-fi short story.

Q: You have edited a number of anthologies that include the best short stories from 1800-1849 such as the best werewolf, horror, ghost and vampire stories. And you have found a number of stories that are quite good but have not been republished in nearly 200 years. Did you expect this?
A: Actually, no. I expected the anthologists to have found stories like "The Lighthouse" or "The Black Vampyre" or "The Deaf and Dumb Girl" or "The Rival Mechanicians" the later story being included in Mesaerion: The Best Science Fiction Stories 1800-1849. But I have been unable to find them in any other anthologies. I am excited to be able to uncover these great stories and shine a light on them so that they can be rediscovered again.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Review of Sineater by Elizabeth Massie

I was drawn to this book because of the title and since I read a horror book every October, I thought I would give this a spin for 2013. And it's not a very good sign that I finished it around Christmastime.

What I liked about Sineater were the "keep you guessing until the last chapter" ending and the realistic voice used by the young characters when writing letters to each others, complete with misspellings. The novel is a Bram Stoker award winner after all. Unfortunately, the novel dragged for me. I never felt emotionally attached to the young protagonist. It's as if there is an unwritten law that no humor can be used in a serious horror novel. Who started that, Lovecraft? At times some of the horror was over the top and some of it felt cliched like the use of rats in one chapter (Every modern horror book just has to have them!). There were also a number of typos that were annoying (yes, they make me lose my train of thought) and surprising for a hardback edition.

For these reasons I give Sineater middle of the road marks and wish it had been more in several areas.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Spin's 2013 Best Music Books Leaves One Dizzy with Dismay


This week Spin Magazine published its list of the "best music books of 2013." After browsing the list, it is readily apparent that the title is misplaced. The list would be better called "The Best Music Biographies of 2013" or more aptly, "The Finest Non-Fiction Coffee Table Rock Books of 2013 with a Few Graphic Pictures Books Thrown in for Good Measure."

Coming up with the list must have been heart wrenching. One can hear the drama in the editorial room now.

Spin Associate Reader Dude: "I liked reading Michael Connelly's Trunk Music and have you ever heard of The Divine Dantes: Squirt Guns in Hades? It's about this two person band that has broken up and the guy goes off to Europe searching for her to get the band back together. Its the first book in a trilogy--"
Spin Grand Pooh-bah Editor: "Are there are lots of glossy pictures in the books?"
"Uh, no. They are novel.s"
"Then they deserve no place on the list!"
Spin Associate Reader Chick enters the editorial room. "I just loved The Rock Star's Daughter by Caitlyn Duffy. The cover could use some work, but I liked it. One Night with a Rock Star by Chana Keefer rocked, too. They are nice romance novels that involve rockers."
"Are there loads of cartoon drawings in the books?" asks the Spin Grand Pooh-bah Editor
"Uh, no. They are novels."
"Then they deserve no place on the list!"
"Oh, no. We forgot to put Gabba Gabba Hey: The Graphic Story of the Ramones on the list. Can we republish it?"
"Not a chance. Maybe next year the Ramones will publish a sequel. Yo Gabba Gabba: I Wanna Be Committed to the Ramones but Only in Graphical Way."

No one expects literary comments from those who review the lyrics of Mariah Carey and Brittany Spears and the Backstreet Boys for a living. But Spin readers deserve to at least be turned on to a few rock novels for their literary pleasure. There's always hope with the new year upon us.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Papier Mâché Poe?

My daughter recently brought home from school a scary Papier Mâché Edgar Allan Poe she made in art class. The sculpture is complete with a beating heart on the floor and a gold bug crawling up Poe's leg! Maybe I've been talking a little too much about Poe while writing Coffee with Poe and editing Edgar Allan Poe's Complete Annotated Works. But then again, a kid cannot go wrong with Poe.

Friday, December 13, 2013

What was the First Vampire Story Set in Venice?

It is common for the setting of modern vampire stories and movies to be placed in the haunting city of Venice, Italy. With its Gothic palaces and watery landscape, Venice is perfect for those who wake at night and seek their prey. In 1836, however, only a handful of vampire stories had ever been written. That's when the popular French author Theophile Gautier wrote "Clarimonde" and published it in the French magazine La Morte Amoureuse. The tale is undeniable as one of the first vampire short stories and it was included in BlooDeath: The Best Vampire Stories 1800-1849.