Saturday 6 February 2021

New Books In Science Fiction

The podcast New Books In Science Fiction, hosted by Rob Wolf, is possibly ineligible for a Hugo Award
Podcaster Rob Wolf interviews
authors about their new books.
(Image supplied)

for best fancast. And that’s a shame because it is one of the podcasts that consistently guide listeners to find deeper understanding and appreciation of genre works.

Every two or three weeks, Wolf sits down with an author who has a new novel (either upcoming or released in the past six months) and has an in-depth one-on-one chat with them about the book and their influences, about their career, and about the intellectual effort that went into the book.

Often, the result is revelatory.

An expert interviewer, Wolf approaches each author with an earnest enthusiasm that is frankly endearing. He asks thoughtful, succinct questions that drive at the heart of the matter, and gives his guests the time to respond fully and completely.

In the seven years he’s been hosting the podcast, Wolf has interviewed an all-star roster of science fiction authors such as Andy Weir, Tochi Onyebuchi, Rebecca Roanhorse, Kameron Hurley, Ken Liu, Megan O'Keefe, Malka Older, and many, many more. Many of his earlier episodes from 2014–2015 may seem a little choppier, but what amazes us is how much enduring value older episodes in the series have. And, to be fair, most podcasts were choppier five years ago.

By any measure, 2020 was an extraordinary year for New Books in Science Fiction. With Stealing Worlds author Karl Schroeder, Wolf interrogates the book’s politics. In an episode about Ring Shout, P. Djèlí Clark provides insights about historicity and the creation of authentic, believable historical fantasy. At the beginning of the pandemic, Beneath The Rising author Premee Mohamed’s episode examined the difficulty of launching a book during lockdown. There was not a bad episode this year.

All of the novels listed above were ones that we enjoyed. But Wolf’s strength is that his podcast is worth listening to even when you either haven’t read — or didn’t enjoy — the book he’s featuring. He brings intellectual grist and empathy to everything he works on.

For us, the real highlight of 2020 was an interview with Kim Stanley Robinson, who was speaking about his recent novel The Ministry For The Future. Wolf’s interview provided insight and context that helped members of our book club to appreciate the artfulness of a book that they had previously found pedantic and boring. A librarian in the book club says this makes him an honorary readers’ advisory librarian.

Although Wolf himself produces the podcast entirely on a volunteer basis, it is part of a larger “New Books Network” that has exactly one full-time professional employee who deals with a few technical matters such as hosting. This does raise questions about the Hugo eligibility of this podcast, despite the fact that everything that makes New Books In Science Fiction great is fannish, and fan-run.

Whether or not New Books In Science Fiction is Hugo-eligible, Rob Wolf’s work deserves to be celebrated. It’s a fancast that will be on our Hugo nominating ballots, just in case it makes a difference.

1 comment:

  1. Sadly, I think they get DQed on the second criteria for "professional", since New Books Network definitely positions itself as the "publisher" of those podcasts.