The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn April 22, 2015 The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn Usman Malik He will inherit the Unseen. The Ways of Walls and Words April 15, 2015 The Ways of Walls and Words Sabrina Vourvoulias Can the spirit truly be imprisoned? Ballroom Blitz April 1, 2015 Ballroom Blitz Veronica Schanoes Can't stop drinking, can't stop dancing, can't stop smoking, can't even die. Dog March 25, 2015 Dog Bruce McAllister "Watch the dogs when you're down there, David."
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April 22, 2015
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April 22, 2015
The Old Guy Action Comeback: I’m Getting Too Old for This Sh*t
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April 20, 2015
The Net is the Meat: Bruce Holsinger’s Middle Ages
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April 16, 2015
The Disney Read-Watch: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
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Showing posts by: Ron Hogan click to see Ron Hogan's profile
Jun 6 2012 11:00am

Genre in the Mainstream at BookExpo America

Back in May, Walter Mosley wrote a post for making “the case for genre,” so it’s only natural that the first question from Ryan Britt during Tuesday afternoon’s Author Stage event at BookExpo America should be based on that essay: Does science fiction prepare us for real life?

Mosley covered some of the same territory he’d written about, discussing science fiction as “the kind of writing that prepares us for the necessary mutations brought about in society from an ever changing technological world,” and emphasizing that although it may be looked at by some critics as an excluded gerne now, it’s important to remember that in years past, authors from Jules Verne to George Orwell used science fictional forms to talk about what it meant to be a human in the society of the time, and as that society was undergoing massive upheavals. In some ways, he observed, it’s literary fiction that has excluded itself from that conversation.

[“OMG, Jeff VanderMeer, do you need a hug?”]

Apr 18 2012 11:00am

The 10 Best Comedic Fantasy Films According to Me

The 10 Best Comedic Fantasy Films According to Ron Hogan

My first reaction to Ryan’s post on the ten funniest science fiction films was: “What about Time Bandits?” But then I figured, okay, you could make a decent argument that Time Bandits should be classified under fantasy rather than science fiction, so we’ll give him that omission. Then I shared the list with my wife, and after we agreed that Young Frankenstein needed to be much higher on the list than it is, she said, “Where’s Bedazzled?”

And that’s when I knew we needed a parallel list for fantasy films.

Of course, you’ve probably already figured out what the top two films on my list are likely to be — that still leaves eight surprises... or eight opportunities to fight over the movies I’ve left out. This is a purely subjective list, after all, and I can’t even count how many times I’ve been told my sense of humor is warped. But let’s have at it...

[So that’s what an invisible wall looks like...]

Apr 3 2012 1:00pm

Genre in the Mainstream: Hemlock Grove and the Post-Lynchian Melodrama

I had just started reading Brian McGreevy’s Hemlock Grove when I spotted a news item about how Netflix had picked up a 13-episode series based on the novel, about a series of grisly murders in a Pennsylvania town and the unlikely team-up between Roman Godfrey, the teenage heir to what used to be the local steel fortune, and his classmate Peter Rumancek, a young Gypsy who could also be a werewolf. I wasn’t that deep into the novel, but I’d gotten far enough to think: Sure, I could see how this would work as television.

[Read more]

Jan 18 2012 11:00am

Meet John Perry: John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War

Old Man’s War by John ScalziOne thing that’s been said about John Scalzi’s fiction, starting with the publication of Old Man’s War, is that he doesn’t let the writing get in the way of the story—which people often interpret as “this book may not get caught up in fancy language, but it sure goes spin a good yarn.” I submit to you, however, that this description severely underestimates both the power of Scalzi’s prose, and the extent to which he has calibrated it for precise effect.

If we consider it from a distance, to take in a structural perspective, Old Man’s War might strike some readers as unpromising. From the first chapter, where John Perry checks in to formally enlist in the Colonial Defense Forces, the novel is loaded with scenes in which Perry has something explained to him, alternating with scenes in which Perry has a conversation where he and his friends or comrades try to figure something out, including more than one philosophical discussion. When I put it to you that baldly, it sounds like your worst nightmare of a Golden Age SF novel, right?

Well, stop looking at Old Man’s War from a distance and come on inside.

[And now I’ll tell you why!]

Jan 10 2012 6:00pm

Albums That Could Be Films: Bowie’s Diamond Dogs

So, y’all know that Diamond Dogs was originally going to be a stage musical of Nineteen Eighty-Four, right? Except that George Orwell’s widow wouldn’t authorize it, so David Bowie wound up incorporating some of the ideas he’d already developed into a broader dystopian vision—sort of Orwell by way of William Burroughs, with a massive dose of glam thrown in for good measure.

[Read more]

Nov 16 2011 11:00am

Vampire Dystopia: Guillermo del Toro’s The Night Eternal

The Strain, the first book in Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s vampire trilogy, set off my skepticism triggers early. Specifically, it was the 777 jet that landed at JFK and then sat silent on the runway, with nearly all the crew and passengers dead, stymying investigators from the Center for Disease Control. “Come on,” I thought, “you’re telling me nobody in this world has read Bram Stoker?” Then there was the multi-billionaire villain named Eldritch Palmer, who’s willing to sell out humanity to the ancient vampire known as “the Master” for his own shot at eternal life. Whenever he showed up, his name was distracting, because it only makes sense as a heavy-handed Philip K. Dick reference; who names their kid Eldritch?

But I stayed with it, because del Toro and Hogan kept things moving briskly enough to overwhelm all my logical objections, and I wanted to see what was going to happen to characters like Ephraim Goodweather, the CDC scientist trying to alert the world to the crisis and save his young son from his ex-wife (one of the first humans turned), or Abraham Setrakian, the elderly vampire hunter who first confronted the Master scavenging the Nazi concentration camps. Their initial attempt to eradicate New York’s strigoi problem, at the climax of The Strain, ended badly, and things got progressively worse in The Fall, the next book in the series, which ends with total vampire victory. So where can del Toro and Hogan go from there?

[It’s a daaaaaark night...]

Nov 8 2011 1:00pm

Genre in the Mainstream: Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84

Genre in the Mainstream: Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84There’s a scene relatively early in Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 where Aomame, one of the novel’s two central characters, walks into the sunroom of her wealthy patron, who she finds “seated in her reading chair and listening to John Dowland’s instrumental piece ‘Lachrimae,’” which “was one of her favorite pieces of music,” we’re told: “Aomame had heard it many times and knew the melody.”

As I suggested to the mainstream readership at Shelf Awareness when I reviewed 1Q84 there last week, I’m just about convinced that this is an Easter egg for Philip K. Dick fans, obliquely referencing Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said—and I’m not just talking about the fact that “Flow My Tears” is a version of “Lachrimae” with lyrics. The thematic overlap between the two novels is so significant that to me it’s not a question of whether Murakami has read Dick, but when. And, as we’ll see, Flow isn’t the only point of resonance.

Before we start, though, I should warn you that (a) I may be telling you more about 1Q84 than you want to hear if you’re planning to read it later or haven’t made it all the way through yet, and (b) I’ve spent most of the last month reading the new abridged edition of The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick at home and 1Q84 on the subway, so my head has been in a really, really interesting place lately.

[The theory changes the reality it describes...]

Oct 5 2011 11:00am

Steampunk Appreciations: Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age - Steampunk’s 22nd-Century Sourcebook

Steampunk Appreciations: Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond AgeNeal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer isn’t steampunk, not as that term is generally understood. Instead of a late nineteenth century which has somehow managed to enjoy an accelerated rate of technological progress, Neal Stephenson sets the story in a near-future where one of the dominant socioeconomic groups, or phyles, deliberately embraces Victorian values and reinforces that choice by immersing themselves, to the fullest extent possible, in a Victorian aesthetic.

They’ve done so because they see the rejection of Victorianism as a colossal mistake, blaming the discord and chaos associated with the late 20th century on its more permissive social values. As Lord Finkle-McGraw, one of the neo-Victorian Equity Lords of New Atlantis, frames the issue, “Some cultures were simply better than others. This was not a subjective value judgment, merely an observation that some cultures thrived and expanded while others failed.” For all its imperfections, to this way of thinking, Victorian culture “worked,” except, as Lord Finkle-McGraw realizes, for one problem: How does a conformist society spur innovation?

[The Education of Princess Nell...]

Sep 7 2011 11:14am

Firsts In Fantasy: Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself

Firsts in Fantasy: The Blade Itself by Joe AbercrombieIt’s standard practice to end the first volume of a trilogy with a cliffhanger — but how about starting the series with one? That’s what Joe Abercrombie does in the prologue for The Blade Itself, as Northern warrior Logen Ninefingers dangles over the edge of a precipice, an equally vicious raider clutching at his ankles. I’m not giving anything away by saying he survives the fall... or that it quickly becomes the least of the crises he’ll have to face, none of them with any great enthusiasm.

[Not just an ultraviolent Game of Thrones....]

Sep 6 2011 10:01am

Firsts In Fantasy: Joe Abercrombie’s Best Served Cold

If you’ve read Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law trilogy, there are some characters in his next novel, Best Served Cold, you’ll recognize, and the names of some of the countries and cities they visit will be familiar to you. If you aren’t familiar with his work, though, this is still an excellent jumping-on point, a sprawling tour of one of the most anti-heroic worlds in modern fantasy.

While The First Law was propelled by an assortment of interlocking power schemes, Best Served Cold is at heart a straightforward revenge story.

Abercrombie makes no secret about drawing the basic inspiration for the novel’s plot structure from the classic Lee Marvin film Point Blank, although you could also look to Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill as a template. Here’s the basics: Monza Murcatto, an eminently successful mercenary commander, is summoned to the palace of her patron, the Grand Duke Orso, where, after witnessing the death of her second-in-command (who also happens to be her brother) she’s garroted, stabbed, and then thrown off the balcony to fall down the side of a mountain. Somehow, she survives all that, and dedicates herself to killing the seven men who took part in the attempted double murder.

[There will be blood...]

Aug 16 2011 3:37pm

Chinatown: Noir Meets the Family Melodrama

Chinatown on Noir Week at

Chinatown wasn’t the first Hollywood film to explicitly break the incest taboo, but it’s the one that tends to stick out most prominently in film lovers’ minds. The climactic reveal — “She’s my sister and my daughter!” — gains its explosive power from the care that Roman Polanski and Robert Towne, the director and screenwriter, took in setting up the story’s slow burn, allowing us to think the mystery would be about something else before springing the terrible surprise on us.

[Freud would’ve had a field day]

Jul 20 2011 2:04pm

Every Man and Woman Is a Star: Grant Morrison & Deepak Chopra on Superhero Consciousness

Deepak Chopra and Grant MorrisonFive years ago, at the San Diego Comic-Con, Grant Morrison and Deepak Chopra packed an exhibit hall talking about superhero comics as blueprints for the next stage in human consciousness. So when I discovered they were each publishing a book on the subject this summer, I was curious to see how they’d extend that initial conversation about archetypes and evolutionary allegories as filtered through Pop Art. Neither book is exactly what I was hoping for, but one of them did turn out to be genuinely inspired... and a bit inspiring as well.

[Watchmen make lousy role models...]

Jun 8 2011 5:14pm

Diagnosis: Pac-Man Fever—Gene Luen Yang & Thien Pham’s Level Up

Five years ago, Gene Luen Yang became the first graphic novelist nominated for a National Book Award, when American Born Chinese was a finalist in the Young People’s Literature category. His next major project, Prime Baby, was serialized in The New York Times Magazine. Both are fantasies with young protagonists, but the staccato format of Prime Baby seemed to push the story in an increasingly absurd direction; it’s basically a fun goof for young readers with some jokes and messages their older siblings or parents will enjoy. Level Up, which Yang wrote in collaboration with artist Thien Pham (and published, as with his earlier work, by First Second), returns to a longform, flowing narrative format where the fantasy elements support the premise rather than becoming the premise.

Dennis Ouyang’s first encounter with video games was a sighting of a Pac-Man machine in a Chinese restaurant when he was six years old. It was just a sighting, though: his parents refuse to let him play, then or ever, which only serves to intensify Dennis’s desire. When his father dies shortly before high school graduation, Dennis buys his own home system and becomes a binge player, to the point that his college grades go into freefall.

[“Dennis Ouyang! We bring you your DESTINY!”]

May 3 2011 11:50am

Genre in the Mainstream: Richard Powers

Richard PowersLast week, I talked about how the Arthur C. Clarke Award nomination for Generosity confirmed Richard Powers as a science fiction writer. Now, as promised, I want to discuss some ways in which that was obvious all along, if you were looking at his novels from the right angle.

Of course, there’s Galatea 2.2, the 1995 novel about a writer named Richard Powers who spends his year as a “humanist-in-residence” at an Illinois university’s advanced research center “teaching” a computer-based neural network the classics of literature in order to create an artificial intelligence that can “demonstrate acceptable reading comprehension” by writing literary criticism indistinguishable from the human-generated kind. But that seems a little too easy, don’t you think?

Instead, let’s start with the winner of the 2006 National Book Award for Fiction: The Echo Maker.

[Read more]

Apr 28 2011 4:34pm

Generosity: Richard Powers Is Now Canonical SF

Generosity by Richard PowersWhen the shortlist for this year’s Arthur C. Clarke Award for the best science fiction novel published in Great Britain was announced a few weeks back, I was pleasantly surprised to see Richard PowersGenerosity as one of the six nominees. Powers, who won the National Book Award in 2006 for The Echo Maker, has a sufficiently “literary” reputation that he isn’t usually categorized as science fiction, although his novels have often had a science fictional component—a subject I’ll be exploring in more detail in a “Genre in the Mainstream” post next week. For now, let’s just say that seeing Richard Powers and Tim Powers on the same metaphorical bookshelf was a very exciting feeling.

So: How much of a science fiction novel is it?

[Happy happy, joy joy...]

Apr 5 2011 1:04pm

Nebula Romances: Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey

Shades of Milk & Honey by Mary Robinette KowalI have a confession to make: Although I’ve seen several of the film adaptations, I’ve never actually read a Jane Austen novel. So I’m taking it on faith that Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey, one of the six books on this year’s Nebula “Best Novel” shortlist, is (to quote the flap copy) “precisely the sort of tale we would expect from Jane Austen . . . if she lived in a world where magic worked.” On the other hand, I have read a ton of Patrick O’Brian, so I can tell you that the voice of Kowal’s narration, and her character’s dialogue, does feel like an authentic simulation of an early 19th-century prose style with just enough goosing for modern readers.

It’s also a fine example of a romance novel where the romance progresses largely by deflection. And I’m not talking about the magic.

[Wait, you’re not?!? Color us intrigued!]

Mar 30 2011 11:26am

Nebula Romances: N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. JemisinI started looking at this year’s nominees for the Best Novel Nebula through a romance reader’s perspective with M.K. Hobson’s The Native Star, which turned out to be a classic “opposites attract” story in an fantasy alternate history setting. The next book on my list, N. K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, isn’t strictly speaking a romance, although it is about a heroine who achieves a personal awakening that allows her to come into her full identity, and that awakening is provoked by an emotionally and physically intimate relationship. Additionally, there are aspects of the story that come close to erotic suspense—though for relatively tame values of “erotic”—with a high fantasy twist. Yeine, the novel’s narrator, addresses those themes early on:

Consider: An immensely powerful being is yours to command. He must obey your every whim. Wouldn’t the temptation to diminish him, to humble him and make yourself feel powerful by doing so, be almost irresistible?
“I think it would be.”
“Yes, it definitely would be.”

[Read more]

Mar 22 2011 11:03am

Nebula Romances: M.K. Hobson’s The Native Star

The first thing I noticed about the “Best Novel” finalists for this year’s Nebula Awards was that five of the six nominees were women writers—and I wasn’t seeing any hint of backlash from the science fiction and fantasy community, like I had among literary fiction insiders in response to the 2004 National Book Award shortlist. The next thing I noticed was that several of the titles appeared to be paranormal romance—in the broadest sense of the term, that is: a romance novel with a significant fantasy element. What’s up with that, I wondered, and set about reading some of those nominated novels, beginning with M.K. Hobson’s The Native Star.

[Read more]

Nov 11 2010 4:17pm

A Guided Tour of Supernatural Minnesota: The Sub

The Sub by Thomas M. DischThomas M. Disch was born in Iowa, but both sides of his family were originally from Minnesota, and he moved back there when he was an adolescent. Although he only lived in the Twin Cities area for a few years, the state left an impression on him, and between 1984 and 1999 he veered away from the science fiction for which he had become best known to write four dark fantasy novels which have become collectively known as the “Supernatural Minnesota” sequence. The University of Minnesota Press recently republished the entire quartet, and’s Ron Hogan has set out to revisit each novel in turn, starting with The Businessman, The M.D., and The Priest.

Just as The Businessman and The Priest both begin with a woman in a cemetery, the opening chapter of The Sub: A Study in Witchcraft (1999) echoes The M.D. Both scenes take place in a classroom in the Twin Cities suburb of Willowville as a teacher shatters the illusions of her students. This time, instead of a nun breaking the truth to kindergartners about Santa Claus, a substitute teacher named Diana Turney is using “Old McDonald Had a Farm” to explain the stark reality behind where hamburgers come from.

[Read more]

Nov 10 2010 3:01pm

A Guided Tour of Supernatural Minnesota: The Priest

The Priest by Thomas M. DischThomas M. Disch was born in Iowa, but both sides of his family were originally from Minnesota, and he moved back there when he was an adolescent. Although he only lived in the Twin Cities area for a few years, the state left an impression on him, and between 1984 and 1999 he veered away from the science fiction for which he had become best known to write four dark fantasy novels which have become collectively known as the “Supernatural Minnesota” sequence. The University of Minnesota Press recently republished the entire quartet, and’s Ron Hogan has set out to revisit each novel in turn, starting with The Businessman, The M.D., and continuing onwards.

The Priest: A Gothic Romance (1994) opens, like The Businessman, with a confused woman in a cemetery—quite possibly the exact same cemetery, since you’ll find the graves of the massacred Sheehy family here (although the date of their death has been erroneously pushed back to the late 1970s). Margaret Bryce isn’t a ghost, however. Her anxiety is entirely natural, brought on by a case of Alzheimer’s so severe that she fails to recognize her son, Father Pat Bryce, when he comes looking for her. She does remember one major detail, though, even if Father Pat doesn’t believe it: Her late husband was not his father.

[Read more]