I was recently invited by Shepherd, a website that asks authors to pick their five favorite books around various themes and topics, to pick a topic and pick the “Five best books.” I chose as my topic Jewish-themed science fiction, and picked out five books — two anthologies and three novels — that I especially liked. If you’d like to see which books I’ve picked, and why, you can find them here:
I do want to emphasize that, while the title of the page says “The best books,” I would have (given my druthers) called it instead “Some of the best books.” There are a lot of great books out there, many of which I would like liked to have added — and in fact, one of the reasons I chose two anthologies was to acknowledge all the various authors whose work I admired, and whose novels I couldn’t fit in the required list.
I’ve just finished reading The Queen’s Gambit, the novel by Walter Tevis that is the basis for the marvelous Netflix series of the same name starring Anya Taylor-Joy.
First, if you haven’t seen the series, and if you subscribe to Netflix, watch it. It may be the best thing you watch this year.
That being said, I was completely astounded by the novel. Not so much by how well it’s written — I knew Tevis was a fine writer, and The Queen’s Gambit is every bit as good as I expected, if not more so. It was published in 1983, a year before Tevis died, when his skills were obviously still at their peak. But what really surprised me was how faithful the series is to the novel. Scene by scene, character by character, even line by spoken line, I found myself recognizing each scene from the series as I read through the novel.
There are, of course, a few differences, but they are so small as to be negligible. One of the male characters is slightly elevated in importance. The circumstances of how Beth was orphaned (this isn’t a spoiler; we find out she’s an orphan in the opening scenes) is very slightly tweaked. There are a few other small changes. But not many.
I have seen many other interpretations of novels by movies or TV makers, and many of them are wonderful. David Lean’s film of Great Expectations may leave out large swaths of Dickens’ novel, but it is a classic film in its own right. There have been several remakings of Little Women, three of which I really like — the 1933 version (because, well, Katherine Hepburn is Jo), the 1994 version (which was skillful and faithful), and the 2019 version (which I thought was a really original and wonderful re-interpretation). And there are, of course, many other novels, some much more recent, that have been suitably transferred to the screen.
But on the whole, The Queen’s Gambit has got to be the most faithful transference of a novel to a filmed drama that I can recall experiencing.
Part of the reason it works is due, of course, to the way Tevis structured his novel. It is written from the point of view of its protagonist, chess genius Beth Harmon, and the novel offers us, in clear, straightforward prose, her thoughts, her fascination with the game, and her impressions of everything that happens to her. Because she is intensely honest about herself — including her need to win and her reaction to her failures along the way — we can trust what we are told.
Scott Frank, who directed the Netflix production and co-wrote it with Allan Scott, also obviously trusted his material, and it shows. The writing and the acting is tight and masterful. Taylor-Joy is wonderful as Beth, as is the young actress Isla Johnston, who plays Beth as a girl. The hardest thing for the director and cinematographer to try to reimagine, I would guess, would have been visually conveying Beth’s fascination with chess and her ability to think out the possible moves that she and her opponents might make. But it works — while they illustrate it in various ways, the most striking has Beth lying in bed watching as giant chess pieces goes through various plays across the ceiling.
In short, I loved both the series and the novel. I saw the first before I read the second. I would be interested to know if the series holds up as well for those who are already familiar with the novel. I would suspect it does.
I’d feel selfish if I didn’t recommend some of the great books and stories I’ve read over the past year. I do want to apologize in advance to anyone who is not mentioned here; I have not kept the list of what I read that I promised myself I would (and I’ve done a lot of backreading of novels I’ve meant to get to last year and hadn’t), and as a result, there are probably lots of works that are missing. And because I haven’t had time to do all the reading I wanted to, there are also probably lots of stories and novels that I shoulda/coulda read that I haven’t. With any luck, I’ll do better next year.
I’ve put in the categorizations for the Nebulas, but these are general recommendations. In no particular order:
I was privileged to moderate an excellent panel during this year’s Readercon that dealt with the life cycle of speculative fiction. Several books were mentioned, both in the description and during the panel, and I thought I might list them here, beginning with books by the folks on the panel. (If you were there and I’ve left any out, please let me know and I’ll add them.)
Author of The Watch, which Publisher’s Weekly described as “A philosophical inquiry with a basic moral point.”
Author of Ink, of which Latinidad wrote, “If Margaret Atwood were Latina, this eerily believable depiction of where U.S. immigration policy is heading is the novel she would have written instead of The Handmaid’s Tale.”
I was very pleased just now to get an email informing me that an anthology of stories from the website Triptych Tales has just been released — an anthology that includes my (hopefully creepy) story “The Waterbug.”
Triptych Tales specializes in “stories that take place in our world, our world with a twist, or our world as it could be in the very near future.” (The way U.S. politics are going these days, I’m beginning to feel like I’m living in “our world with a twist,” but that’s a blog entry for another time.) Besides my story, there are stories by a variety of excellent authors such as Liz Kershaw, David Steffen, Kenneth Schneyer, and others.
Triptych Tales is one of the online publications that I’ve been lucky enough to have sold more than one piece to. It’s worth checking out: It publishes science fiction, fantasy and non-genre short stories which, in the words of the editors, “take place in our world, our world with a twist, or our world as it could be in the very near future.”
And, of course, to fit its name, there are always three stories on the home page.
So why am I talking about it now? Because Triptych Tales is coming out with a print/ebook anthology of stories published in past issues called Triptych Tales: The Anthology 2016. It will include my story “The Waterbug” along with some excellent fiction by James Aquilone, Sarina Dorie, Melissa Mead, Rati Mehrotra, Ken Schneyer, David Steffen, Anna Yeatts and others.
More details as I know them. Meanwhile, here’s a link to The Waterbug if you’d like to read it online.
I’m very pleased to announce that my story “Sabbath Wine” has been sold for the upcoming anthology Clockwork Phoenix 5, edited by Mike Allen (@mythicdelirium, for the Twitterites).
This is the third Clockwork Phoenix that I’ve had work appear in; “The History of Soul 2065” appeared in Clockwork Phoenix 4 and “Rosemary, That’s For Remembrance” was in Clockwork Phoenix 2. But there’s no way I take my submissions to one of these for granted — when I sent in “Sabbath Wine,” I was incredibly nervous (even though I am rather proud of that story) and incredibly delighted when I’d heard that it had been accepted.
The full table of contents and publishing date hasn’t been revealed yet –that should come soon. Meanwhile, congrats to all my new anthology-mates — I’m looking forward to reading all your stories!
Sometimes, it’s fun — and occasionally necessary — to see where we came from so that we can have some perspective on today’s battles. Just by chance, browsing through a table of free used books, I picked up a science fiction novel called Sign of the Labrys by Margaret St. Clair, copyright 1963. I don’t remember ever reading one of her works (although I read so much science fiction/fantasy when I was a teenager that I may simply not remember the book). But besides the interest of reading something new that was published back then, I knew I immediately had to take the book when I turned it over and looked at the blurb on the back cover.
And had to show it off. This was considered a positive way to market a skiffy book by somebody who was female and actually admitted to it by not changing her name or using initials. Women are writing science fiction! Really! And because they are closer to the primitive than men, they possess a buried memory of humankind’s past! So this has gotta be a great book!
(Actually, this is apparently one of the earliest uses of Wiccan themes in a speculative fiction novel, so the marketing is understandable. But still…)
I was lucky enough to have a story in that anthology — The Red Dybbuk, about how the spirit of a revolutionary woman affects her granddaughter and great-granddaughter. I was especially lucky because there were so many other wonderful stories in that book, by authors such as Daniel Jose Older, Kay Holt, Cat Rambo and many others.
The book will be going out of print as of December 1st, so this is your last chance to get a copy. And I recommend it — not only because my story is in it (although I can’t say that doesn’t have some responsibility for this blog entry <g>), but because it’s simply a good anthology. As my grandmother would have said: Give a look.
For someone who writes only short stories (when I’m not obsessing on the latest Chromebook), I’m embarrassed on how many good short story collections I tend to miss. I count among them Eugie Foster’s Mortal Clay, Stone Heart and Other Stories in Shades of Black and White. The collection of eight short stories, which was published in 2011, is the first I’ve read of her work, and it won’t be the last.
Interestingly, while authors tend to reserve their stronger work for the back of the book — and there isn’t a weak one in the bunch — in this case, my favorites were up front. The first, “The Life and Times of Penguin,” immediately caught me; a bittersweet tale from the point of view of a balloon animal (yes, really!). The second story, “Running on Two Legs” was equally well written; it concerns a woman who can understand the speech of animals, but only when she’s in medical trouble.
Not all the stories have to do with animals, either toy or real. But all are emotionally compelling, dealing with our relationship to each other and to our own pasts and futures.
Surprisingly, the only story that didn’t work for me was the title tale, possibly because I’ve never been all that fond of romances, which the short story “Mortal Clay, Stone Heart” essentially is.
But otherwise, this is an excellent collection — I heartily recommend it.