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I don't know about you, but there's something about the beginning of summer that signals the start of the reading season for me. It probably springs from the beginning of summer vacation all those decades ago. Stretched out on the back lawn with a tattered paperback, or in the old camping trailer which was permanently parked at the top of our driveway -- that's how I started the summer, and that's usually how I ended it. Even today I can't pick up my old copy of Dune or The Foundation Trilogy without finding a grass stain or two with some personal significance.

And out there right now, on lawns and backyards across the world, young folk are stretching out with crisp new copies of today's books. Some of those books will become classics. Some of them are going to get eaten by the dog. And most of them are going to fall somewhere in the vast region between. But right now every story is golden, and every flashy cover in the SF section of the local bookstore conceals a potential masterpiece. It's a time and a place where every book is a classic, at least until the air starts to get cold again and it's time to move the reading indoors.

Welcome to the first installment of SF Insite, the SF Site's regular review of news, market buzz, and publishing info. This column is compiled with the assistance of the helpful folk at most of the major science fiction and fantasy publishing houses, various trade journals, and the roving staff of the SF Site itself. As always, if you have news or questions, please don't hesitate to shoot us a note.

Keep in touch,

John O'Neill
Managing Editor

What's up with TSR?

For the last ten years TSR has enjoyed one of the most successful lines of mass market paperbacks in the industry, with annual sales of approximately 3 million copies. Sales of their Endless Quest books alone topped 12 million, and in recent years they've broken on to national bestseller lists in hardcover with their Dark Elf saga. However, they've recently experienced serious financial difficulties and, as many of you know, TSR ceased publishing altogether early this year. As of June 3rd, they were officially acquired by Wizards of the Coast, publishers of the Magic: The Gathering collectible card game and enfant terrible of the gaming world, in a move that signals hope for many industry insiders. WOTC has the kind of resources and vision it will take to get TSR on track; all that remains now is to see if that have the management skills to make it happen.

I won't get into the details of the acquisition here, or even speculate much on its impact in the gaming and publishing communities -- there's plenty of that going on in the various gaming newsgroups, if you're interested. Wizards has announced plans to move the entire TSR operation to the west coast, integrating it with their Seattle operations, though. But the main thing many of us want to know is: when will TSR start publishing again, and what will become of their tattered Spring and Summer schedule, which includes such still-unpublished titles as Elminster in Myth Drannor by Ed Greenwood and Birthright: The Shadow Stone by Richard Baker?

"We have been having severe production problems and have been unable to print anything since December," admits Sean Reynolds, TSR's online coordinator. "Once the buyout with Wizards of the Coast goes through, there will be an updated (and correct) shipping schedule posted on our web site, with a lot of bells and whistles to let everyone know what is going on." For the latest info Sean suggests keeping an eye on the TSR info page. We'll keep you informed as we learn more.


The Hugo Awards
Hugo Award One of those fat volumes I devoured all those summers ago was The Hugo Winners, Volume 1 and II, edited by Isaac Asimov. Ever since then I've followed the short fiction categories on the Hugo ballot with tremendous interest. Nowadays the Web makes that just a little bit easier, as you can read several of the nominees for this year's awards online in their entirety. Tor books has published the following three stories on their website:

"Bicycle Repairman" by Bruce Sterling
nominated for Best Novelette
"The Cost To Be Wise" by Maureen F. McHugh
nominated for Best Novella
"The Dead" by Michael Swanwick
nominated for Best Short Story

You can, of course, also peruse the complete list of nominees for 1997 awards.


Books You Need

A lot of review copies cross my desk these days, but it's been a long time since one landed with the impact of The Encyclopedia of Fantasy by John Clute and John Grant (St. Martin's Press, May 1997, $75). This is a massive book, some 1049 pages of fine print, and the companion volume to 1993's monumental Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (edited by Clute and Peter Nicholls). I haven't had a chance to do it justice with a proper review, but in the hours I've stolen to sift through it I've discovered fascinating bits of trivia, insightful analyses of some of my favorite books and authors, and in-depth discussions of trends and themes in Fantasy that will be invaluable to anyone researching the subject. But most importantly, this book avoids the greatest potential pitfall for any work this comprehensive: it is not strictly an academic reference destined for the dust-lined shelves of your local library. This book is full of lively discussion and history, with lengthy subject headings on role-playing games, comics, Christmas, cartoons and movies, to name just a few. I even found a fond reference to my favorite bookstore, the late-lamented House of Speculative Fiction in Ottawa, Canada, and a near-complete list of the young authors and fans who flourished in its circle, including Charles de Lint and John Bell. It is a gold mine for the casual reader, pointing out lost or neglected gems in almost every genre. I walked away from this book informed about dozens of books, authors and films which I have since investigated. It's not perfect -- the editors ignore one of the most popular venues on the 80's and 90's, fantasy-based computer, video, and online games such as the immensely popular Final Fantasy and Ultima series, for example. And I dearly miss the spot art and photographs that graced the first edition Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. But this is precisely the kind of book you can get lost in for days. Highly Recommended.


Another fat book you may have overlooked recently has had the kind of praise heaped on it that most SF writers would kill for. "A work of genius," claimed the Seattle Times. "The next step in fiction... Think Beckett, think Pynchon, think Gaddis," said the Atlantic Monthly. And Time magazine listed the hardcover edition as the best book of 1996. It's now out in trade paperback, at a very reasonable $14.95 for 1079 densely-packed pages, but due to the vagaries of mainstream publishing you won't find it in the SF section of your local bookstore. But find it you should.

The book is Infinite Jest (Little, Brown), by David Foster Wallace, author of Girl With Curious Hair. Set approximately a hundred years in the future in an addict's halfway house, it is the tale of a great many things, not the least of which is the search for a fabled movie rumored to be so funny it can kill. But just summarizing the plot would do this book a disservice. Like Stand on Zanzibar, Infinite Jest stretches the definition of the novel by playing with structure and placing nearly as much importance on setting as on the plot, and all the time questioning the nature of America's greatest addiction: entertainment. On top of all that, it is genuinely funny. Seek it out.

New and Noteworthy

Probably the book that's generated the most excitement in the SF Site offices this month is Neverwhere (Avon Books, July, 337 pages, $24), the first solo novel from Neil Gaiman. Gaiman is the author of the Sandman series from DC Comics, one of the most highly regarded adult comics of the last ten years. This novel of dark fantasy follows Richard Mayhew as he stumbles across a girl bleeding on the sidewalk. When he stops to help her, he takes his first unknowing steps into a shadowy realm under London, a city of saints and monsters that exists completely as a subterranean labyrinth of sewer tunnels and abandoned subway lines. Richard is drawn into a battle to preserve this underground kingdom, and the odds are stacked against him. We'll have a full review shortly from contributing editor Alice Dechene, who beat out the other contenders in a violent final round of Home Jeopardy to claim our sole review copy.


My two favorite novels this month are also urban fantasies, both reprints. The first is Lunatics (Bantam Spectra, 336 pages, June, $12.95) by Bradley Denton. It was listed by Terri Windling as one of the 11 best fantasy novels of last year. Jack has begun to worry his friends. He's been widowed for some time, but he's not reaching out to other women. Unless you count the moon goddess of desire named Lily he claims to meet semi-regularly. In fact, he says that she can only find him if he waits outside, naked under a full moon. And he's not about to let a simple arrest for public indecency get in the way of his last chance for true love...


The second of my two favorites is Fair Peril (AvoNova, July, $5.99) by Nancy Springer. It, too, was listed by Windling following its hardcover appearance last year. A modern riff on the classic fairy tale, The Frog Prince, Fair Peril is the story of forty-something Buffy Murphy and her teenage daughter Emily. When Buffy meets an unusually articulate frog in a Pennsylvania pond, she passes up his request for a spell-breaking kiss but does takes him home. Before long, and against her mother's explicit instructions, Emily bestows a tentative kiss and releases the tall, blond, handsome, and very naked Prince from a thousand-year curse. Emily sweeps him away to the only place of extraordinary magic she knows: the mall.


The Church of Dead Girls (Henry Holt & Company, 320 pages, June 1, $23) is the latest from the talented author of The Two Deaths of Senora Puccini and Cemetary Night, Stephen Dobyns. Aurelius is an upstate New York town rocked by the vicious, seemingly random killing of a woman. Shortly thereafter, a young girl vanishes, and the townspeople quickly begin to mistrust outsiders. When a second girl disappears, even neighbors begin to eye each other with suspicion. But it's not until a third child goes missing that the sleepy little town awakens to a full-blown nightmare. Stephen King noted, "If ever there was a tale for a moonless night, a high wind, and a creaking floor, this is it... I don't expect to read a more frightening novel this year."


And lastly we have Dogland (Tor Books, 448 pages, June 1, $25.95) by Will Shetterly, author of Elsewhere and Nevernever. Set in Florida in the late 1950s, the novel follows the adventures of four-year-old Chris Nix and his parents as they attempt to set up a tourist attraction: Dogland, a zoo which displays dozens of dog breeds. Along the way they manage to outrage the locals, stir things up with their viewpoints on racial integration, and encounter just a little magic.


On the Web

     


Do you enjoy online games? Have you ever yearned to try out a really well thought-out virtual environment? Origin Games, a division of Electronic Arts, has unveiled their Ultima Online website, home of what promises to be one of the most popular online games of the year. There are some great screen shots and an introduction to the game mechanics. The Ultima series has long been one of the most well designed and respected computer gaming franchises, and from what we've heard about the latest incarnation, this could be the version that really blows the doors off on-line gaming. Have a look and decide for yourself.



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