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Tuesday, March 28th, 2017 09:05 pm

Posted by Mahita Gajanan

Fishermen and chefs are working together to curb rampant fraud in the seafood industry by allowing people to track a fish from the moment it’s caught until it lands at a restaurant or market.

Dock to Dish, an organization that fights seafood fraud by connecting chefs with fisheries in their local communities, is building a tracking system in an effort to solve the common problem of mislabeled seafood. A global test of more than 25,000 samples of seafood found that 1 in 5 was mislabeled as the wrong type of fish, according to a 2016 report from ocean conservation advocacy group Oceana, meaning people often purchase and eat seafood that is not what they presume it to be.

“People want to know. They’re demanding to know where food is coming from,” Dock to Dish co-founder Sean Barrett said.

The organization has raised more than $69,000 of its $75,000 Kickstarter goal to build a tracking system called Dock to Dish 2.0. In addition to supplying local restaurants with the catch of the day, Dock to Dish aims to present a digitized “end to end program that can answer every single question a consumer might have,” Barrett said.

The program would enable restaurant guests to see where their dinners come from through an online dashboard that displays newly caught fish in barcoded bags, which can be tracked as they travel to eateries. Customers would also be able to chat with fishermen before heading out to eat.

Barrett, a self-described “lifelong fisherman,” launched Dock to Dish in Montauk in 2012 to show chefs that it was more sustainable to use local seafood and fish than to rely on imports. The company has since expanded to Los Angeles, Vancouver and Quepos, Costa Rica.

The organization’s Kickstarter campaign ends on Friday.

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017 07:30 pm

Posted by Stubby the Rocket

raynaandrobot

If you need a dose of adorable child behavior today, we’ve got you covered! Redditor shadeogreen shared this delightful video of his daughter Rayna—the two were out for a neighborhood stroll when Rayna encountered a water heater, decided it was a robot, and greeted it like a long-lost friend. So now we know who to send as humanity’s ambassador when the uprising comes.

Click through for the cutest video you’ll see this side of the Singularity.

[via Laughing Squid!]

 

 

 

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017 06:00 pm

Posted by Jack Heckel

beautybeast-live

“It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness.” –Leo Tolstoy

Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast hit the cinemas roughly a week ago now, and, if you are one of the very few people in the world (at least judging from the box office receipts) who hasn’t seen it, you should go now. I’ll wait!

(Hums “Tale as old as time,” etc., etc…)

Wasn’t that spectacular? It is beautifully constructed, beautifully acted, the music is everything you hoped that it would be, and, with apologies to Lumiere, Emma Watson is incandescent as Belle. While I loved Maleficent, Disney’s 2014 retelling of Sleeping Beauty, in my opinion this is a much better all-around film. And, in some ways, it might be best if we were to leave our analysis of Beauty and the Beast there.

Unfortunately, the commentary surrounding the film, both from outside and from behind the scenes, has not restricted itself to the music and the costumes and the beautiful people inhabiting the roles. Instead, and for the first time I can recall, we have had an active debate between the media and the film’s principal star, Emma Watson, about the underlying morals and values of the story, and whether the relationship between Beauty and the Beast is dysfunctional.

Indeed, some of the discussion has even centered around the concept of Stockholm syndrome, putting a name to the dysfunction many see in the relationship. Stockholm syndrome, or capture bonding, is a term originally coined by a journalist trying to explain why four victims taken hostage during a bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden later sympathized with their captors and chose not to testify against them. The most famous case of Stockholm syndrome is that of Patty Hearst, the granddaughter of famed publisher William Randolph Hearst, who was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army in 1974 and later became an active member of the group, defending their beliefs and even helping them to rob banks.

The film’s star, Emma Watson, has specifically addressed the issue of whether Belle is in psychiatric distress. In an interview in Entertainment Weekly, she responded to the critique, saying, “She has none of the characteristics of someone with Stockholm syndrome because she keeps her independence; she keeps that freedom of thought.” Watson has a point, but a very narrow one—and while it might address the very specific question of whether Belle is some Enlightenment-Era Patty Hearst, it doesn’t really address the original sin of Beauty and the Beast: namely, what the story says about gender roles and what an epic and pathological jerk the Beast really is—even more so in the popular Disney versions than in the original text.

First, let’s look at why Madame Beaumont and Madam Villeneuve before her wrote Beauty and The Beast. Who was their audience? Why was this story so resonant?

Selection from "The Unequal Marriage" by Vasili Pukirev, c.1860

Selection from “The Unequal Marriage” by Vasili Pukirev (1862)

Harvard University professor Maria Tatar, a noted expert on fairytale literature, points out that Beauty and the Beast was written at a time when arranged marriages were quite common in France, and that the story both reflects women’s anxiety about those marriages, and also attempts to reassure women that every man, no matter how outwardly ugly or potentially vicious they may appear, could turn out to be a prince. It also prescribes a normative behavior for these newly arranged brides to follow: be open, be accepting, be tolerant, and you will reveal the goodness inside your new husband.

It should be noted that at the same time Beauty and the Beast was being published, Libertinism (the “love game” of Casanova and the Marquis de Sade) became the fashion in the courts of France and England. The literature of the period was filled with tales of the degradation of women, from Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa, Or the History of a Young Lady and Choderlos de Laclos’ Les Liaisons Dangereuses (which would still have the power to titillate centuries later in a Broadway play and several different movie adaptations, including Valmont and Dangerous Liaisons), to its ultimate expression in the works of de Sade. As Reay Tannahill’s Sex in History summarizes:

All these novels were works of extreme sensuality, largely concerned with the torture, physical or mental, of innocent girls, and perfunctorily justified by the argument that virtue triumphed in the end, even if only in the last paragraph, and even if only in the heroine’s ascent to heaven clad all in white and accompanied by massed choirs of angels.

Placed in this historical context, and given the time in which Beauty and The Beast was written, the morals and values underlying Beauty’s expectations about how she is to be treated, and the rest of society’s expectations about how she would behave are understandable. But transported into the 21st century, such treatment of female characters is repellent—our modern sense that marriage is irrevocably intertwined with love and even friendship rebels at the notion that such an intimate relationship might arise from such an imbalanced and coerced introduction. Only…we do accept it in Disney’s retellings of the story.

As an aside, it is one of the strange ironies of the current debate over this new Beauty and The Beast that so much time has been spent in homophobic hand-wringing over the very chaste behavior of LeFou toward Gaston, a relationship doomed from the start and into which neither character is pressed or pressured, especially when compared with the remarkable amount of physical intimidation and emotional manipulation we are willing to put up with and overlook from the Beast in his heterosexual “wooing” of Belle.

The inescapable fact of the matter is that the Beast, perhaps never more than in this latest incarnation of the story, is terribly unsympathetic. Let us chronicle some of the character’s major traits, as we encounter them, and look at how Disney’s alterations have actually made him less lovable:

beautybeast-fairy

In both Disney versions, the Prince, before he becomes the Beast, is described as being spoiled and selfish and “having no love in his heart,” and he is cursed as punishment for these traits. His odious nature is more apparent than ever in this latest live-action version where we see him throwing a ball where only women are in attendance, the obvious suggestion being that he has made his selection according to the the most “libertine” of manners. Contrast this against Beaumont’s original prince, who was cursed by a “wicked fairy” for no apparent reason.

“A wicked fairy had condemned me to remain under that shape until a beautiful virgin should consent to marry me.”

In all of the versions of the fairytale, the “crime” that Beauty’s father commits—and for which he is sentenced to a lifetime of imprisonment—is the plucking of a flower. In Beaumont’s canonical tale, the theft occurs after the Beast basically entraps Beauty’s father by making him believe he has free run of the estate. And this is in spite of the fact that Beauty’s father repeatedly expresses his heartfelt thanks to his benefactor, to an almost sycophantic degree, before incurring the wrath of the Beast:

As he was wet quite through with the rain and snow, he drew near the fire to dry himself. “I hope,” said he, “the master of the house, or his servants will excuse the liberty I take; I suppose it will not be long before some of them appear.”

He waited a considerable time, until it struck eleven, and still nobody came. At last he was so hungry that he could stay no longer, but took a chicken, and ate it in two mouthfuls, trembling all the while.

He then returned to the great hall, where he had supped the night before, and found some chocolate ready made on a little table. “Thank you, good Madam Fairy,” said he aloud, “for being so careful, as to provide me a breakfast; I am extremely obliged to you for all your favors.”

This, then, is the “original sin” that I find it so difficult to forgive the Beast for having committed. While the Beast’s behavior toward Belle’s father is dismissed in virtually all the tellings of the tale, it’s difficult to see the Beast’s decision to punish the man so severely for such a minor transgression as anything less than sociopathic.

beautybeast-maurice

In the Disney version of the story, the Beast’s behavior toward Belle, at least in the beginning, is also reprehensible. He is embittered by his fate, and often rages and roars at her. He locks her away in a cage, and orders his servants to let her starve to death if she will refuse to dine with him. Emma Watson has addressed this issue in interviews as well.

I also think there is a very intentional switch where, in my mind, Belle decides to stay. She’s giving him hell. There is no sense of “I need to kill this guy with kindness.” Or any sense that she deserves this. In fact, she gives as good as she gets. He bangs on the door, she bangs back. There’s this defiance that “You think I’m going to come and eat dinner with you and I’m your prisoner—absolutely not.” (Watson in an interview for Entertainment Weekly)

I suppose that this would make sense if Beauty and Beast were in a meaningful relationship, or if there was any justification for the Beast to act the way he acts toward Beauty, but they aren’t and there isn’t. She has committed no crime against him. She has taken the place of her father in his imprisonment, and expects to be his prisoner for the rest of her life. One would imagine that if the Beast had learned anything from his curse it would be to treat other people with respect and love and understanding. Instead, he appears in these early scenes just as spoiled and unable to love as he was in his human form. It is up to Beauty to be the one who “bends unexpectedly” in the words of the titular Disney song. Moreover, contrast this with the behavior of Beaumont’s Beast on their first night together:

“Beauty,” said the monster, “will you give me leave to see you sup?”

“That is as you please,” answered Beauty trembling.

“No,” replied the Beast, “you alone are mistress here; you need only bid me gone, if my presence is troublesome, and I will immediately withdraw.”

Finally, the Disney version drives an extra knife’s twist of cruelty into its portrayal of the Beast’s behavior if you consider for a moment the fate of his servants. Here is a group of innocent people who have been split from their families (who have been made to forget them) and transformed into household objects—literally reduced to their functions—for no other reason than that they happened to be serving in the Prince’s castle when he was cursed. And what’s more, whether they will ever be restored to being human or not ultimately depends entirely on whether or not the Beast can get anyone to love him. Despite the enormous guilt and sense of duty a normal person might feel at this, the Beast appears to make absolutely no efforts, or feel any motivation to save these people who have been doomed by his bad behavior. There is, perhaps, nowhere else in literature where it would be morally appropriate for the Beast to do and promise almost anything to get Beauty to love him, with the lives of so many people depending on the outcome, and yet, absent Lumiere and the others, the Beast would have quite willing let Beauty rot away in a prison cell in his castle—dooming his servants to extinction as “antiques” without a second thought.

beautybeast-servants

This, then, is the Beast of the Disney story. Despite his curse. Despite the curse he has inflicted on innocents as a result of his own selfishness and offensive behavior. Despite everything that should motivate him to become a better person, it is only Belle’s feminine hand that can gentle him and bring out his humanity. The idea that falling in love with the Beast is more a test for Beauty than it is one for the Beast is made explicit in Beaumont’s story.

“Beauty,” said this lady, “come and receive the reward of your judicious choice; you have preferred virtue before either wit or beauty, and deserve to find a person in whom all these qualifications are united. You are going to be a great queen. I hope the throne will not lessen your virtue, or make you forget yourself.”

In the story, then, the Beast’s curse is merely his physical appearance, but Beauty’s curse is deeper, since she must overcome her own prejudice against the ugly and the dumb. This is problematic, because it means that at its core the story is telling its readers that it is Beauty alone that must do the changing, and that the Beast is basically blameless. It is Beauty’s test to pass or fail, to “bend unexpectedly” before anything else can change. The Beast must merely be who he is, and give her a chance to see him truly.

There are those who will argue this point, and say that there is a mutual growth and coming together between the characters. Ms. Watson made just this point in her Entertainment Weekly interview:

“The other beautiful thing about the love story is that they form a friendship first. There is this genuine sharing, and the love builds out of that, which in many ways is more meaningful than a lot of love stories, where it was love at first sight. They are having no illusions about who the other one is. They have seen the worst of one another, and they also bring out the best.”

I don’t dispute that they grow into friends and that they really do fall in love, but there is an attempt here to equate the Beast’s behavior with Belle’s that I find indefensible. What exactly is the “worst” of Beauty’s behavior that Watson is talking about? Is it that she is rude to her captor? Is it that she refuses on the first night of her unjust captivity to dine with him? If so then that is a very high standard indeed, and one that the Beast is certainly not held to. Instead, Beauty is expected to see past the Beast’s random cruelty toward both her and her father, and his later rages at her, and accept that those behaviors are the aberration, and that inside he really is a nice guy.

Beauty and the Beast

I think this asks too much, and it is ultimately why I find the commentaries that have been written recently arguing that Beauty and The Beast is essentially a feminist story, and Belle a feminist heroine, to be so troublesome. Why can’t we just admit that the values and morals of the story are retrograde? Why can’t we acknowledge that the reason so many people have problems with the story is that, for every Beast out there that is a prince in disguise, there are just as many beasts that are simply beasts, and that we shouldn’t be trying to normalize or justify bad behavior by anyone? In the end, why can’t we accept the movie for what it is—a beautiful, if flawed, story written for another time and place—but also acknowledge that we should be very careful about trying to make it fit in with modern gender roles and norms?

In the end, I plan on seeing Beauty and The Beast again, perhaps even again and again. It is that well made. I don’t see the contradiction in knowing that a story is flawed and still loving to hear it told well. As long as we understand its place and context we can read or view it knowingly, and banish the Beast to where he belongs: to the realm of fairytale. Literature scholar Jane Yolen summarizes my thoughts on this succinctly when she writes:

“What I am suggesting is not to ban or censor the stories. They are great and important parts of Western folk canon. But what I am asking is that we become better readers.”

Jack Heckel is the author of The Charming Tales, including A Fairytale Ending and The Pitchfork of Destiny, and the premier novel in The Mysterium Chronicles: The Dark Lord. All Jack’s novels are available as ebooks and in paperback editions. Currently Jack is working on the second novel of The Mysterium ChroniclesThe Darker Lord, which will be released Winter 2017. If you would like to learn more about the author, visit Jack’s website.

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017 03:16 pm

You'll occasionally hear advice around the publishing-o-sphere that you should just write what you want, don't worry about the market one whit, and just let the chips fall where they may.

This is somewhat true, but not endlessly true.

On the one hand, yes. Definitely. You should absolutely write the book you want to write and consider whether what you want for your book is more consistent with self- or traditional publication. But if your goal is to be traditionally published, especially by one of the major publishers, it doesn't pay to just ignore the market entirely.

Here's what I mean (and don't mean) by this.

Don't chase trends

What people mean when they tell you to write what you want to write is that you shouldn't try to chase a trend. Because of how long it takes to write and publish a book, if you try to jump on a currently hot trend, you're already too late.

When it comes to trends, definitely ignore the market.

Do pay attention to genre conventions and word counts

Some genres are stricter than others, but you should be very familiar with the genre conventions (especially for romance) and the general word count ranges for your genre.

Word counts aren't a be-all-end-all and you should feel some flexibility there, but the farther you stray from your genre's word count sweet spot the harder the sell your book may be.

It's hard to break the mold with a debut

Every commercial art medium has megahit unicorns that defied genre conventions and were strikingly original.

But when you think back to many of these hits, they were often written/made after the artist was already established in their field with more conventional works.

George Lucas made American Graffiti before Star Wars. Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote In the Heights before Hamilton. Herman Melville wrote the more conventional travel book Typee before he wrote Moby-Dick and, more recently, John Grisham established himself writing legal thrillers before he veered off to write about high school football coaches and football players living in Italy and baseball players just to mix it up.

Success gives you artistic license and credibility to get a little wild. It's harder to do this right off the bat.

There are always exceptions

Sure. You can think of a million exceptions to the above rules. There are always going to be books that are just so magical they make everyone ignore all those supposed "rules."

But if you are going to break the rules you should do so consciously and with care.

So while you should absolutely write the book you want to write and figure out what's most important to you, if you care about commercial success at all it pays to have the market at least somewhat in mind.

Art: The Circus by Georges Seurat
Tuesday, March 28th, 2017 05:00 pm

Posted by Ruthanna Emrys

litany-crop

The state took Aphra away from Innsmouth. They took her history, her home, her family, her god. They tried to take the sea. Now, years later, when she is just beginning to rebuild a life, an agent of that government intrudes on her life again, with an offer she wishes she could refuse. “The Litany of Earth” is a dark fantasy story inspired by the Lovecraft mythos.

If you enjoy “The Litany of Earth” you can read more of Aphra’s story in Ruthanna Emrys’ Innsmouth Legacy novel Winter Tide, available April 4th from Tor.com Publishing.

This novelette was acquired and edited for Tor.com by acquiring editor Carl Engle-Laird.

 

After a year in San Francisco, my legs grew strong again. A hill and a half lay between the bookstore where I found work and the apartment I shared with the Kotos. Every morning and evening I walked, breathing mist and rain into my desert-scarred lungs, and every morning the walk was a little easier. Even at the beginning, when my feet ached all day from the unaccustomed strain, it was a hill and a half that I hadn’t been permitted for seventeen years.

In the evenings, the radio told what I had missed: an earth-spanning war, and atrocities in Europe to match and even exceed what had been done to both our peoples. We did not ask, the Kotos and I, whether our captors too would eventually be called to justice. The Japanese American community, for the most part, was trying to put the camps behind them. And it was not the way of my folk—who had grown resigned to the camps long before the Kotos’ people were sent to join us, and who no longer had a community on land—to dwell on impossibilities.

That morning, I had received a letter from my brother. Caleb didn’t write often, and hearing from him was equal parts relief and uncomfortable reminder. His grammar was good, but his handwriting and spelling revealed the paucity of his lessons. He had written:

The town is a ruin, but not near enouff of one. Houses still stand; even a few windos are whole. It has all been looked over most carefully long ago, but I think forgotten or ignorred since.

And:

I looked through our library, and those of other houses, but there is not a book or torn page left on the shelves. I have saugt permisson to look throuh the collecton at Miskatonic, but they are putting me off. I very much fear that the most importent volumes were placed in some government warehouse to be forgotten—as we were.

So, our family collections were still lost. I remembered the feel of the old pages, my father leaning over me, long fingers tracing a difficult passage as he explained its meaning—and my mother, breaking in with some simple suggestion that cut to the heart of it. Now, the only books I had to work with were the basic texts and single children’s spellbook in the store’s backroom collection. The texts, in fact, belonged to Charlie—my boss—and I bartered my half-remembered childhood Enochian and R’lyehn for access.

Charlie looked up and frowned as the bells announced my arrival. He had done that from the first time I came in to apply, and so far as I knew gave all his customers the same glare.

“Miss Marsh.”

I closed my eyes and breathed in the paper-sweet dust. “I’m not late, Mr. Day.”

“We need to finish the inventory this morning. You can start with the westerns.”

I stuck my purse behind the counter and headed back toward the piles of spine-creased Edgar Rice Burroughs and Zane Grey. “What I like about you,” I said honestly, “is that you don’t pretend to be civil.”

“And dry off first.” But no arguments, by now, that I ought to carry an umbrella or wear a jacket. No questions about why I liked the damp and chill, second only to the company of old books. Charlie wasn’t unimaginative, but he kept his curiosity to himself.

I spent the rest of the morning shelving. Sometimes I would read a passage at random, drinking in the impossible luxury of ink organized into meaningful patterns. Very occasionally I would bring one forward and read a bit aloud to Charlie, who would harumph at me and continue with his work, or read me a paragraph of his own.

By midafternoon I was holding down the register while Charlie did something finicky and specific with the cookbooks. The bells jangled. A man poked his head in, sniffed cautiously, and made directly for me.

“Excuse me. I’m looking for books on the occult—for research.” He smiled, a salesman’s too-open expression, daring me to disapprove. I showed him to the shelf where we kept Crowley and other such nonsense, and returned to the counter frowning thoughtfully.

After a few minutes, he returned. “None of that is quite what I’m looking for. Do you keep anything more . . . esoteric?”

“I’m afraid not, sir. What you see is what we have.”

He leaned across the counter. His scent, ordinary sweat and faint cologne, insinuated itself against me, and I stepped back out of reach. “Maybe something in a storage room? I’m sure you must have more than these turn-of-the-century fakers. Some Al-Hazred, say? Prinn’s Vermis?”

I tried not to flinch. I knew the look of the old families, and he had none of it—tall and dark-haired and thin-faced, conventional attractiveness marred by nothing more than a somewhat square nose. Nor was he cautious in revealing his familiarity with the Aeonist canon, as Charlie had been. He was either stupid, or playing with me.

“I’ve never heard of either,” I said. “We don’t specialize in esoterica; I’m afraid you’d better try another store.”

“I don’t think that’s necessary.” He drew himself straighter, and I took another step back. He smiled again, in a way I thought was intended to be friendly, but seemed rather the bare-toothed threat of an ape. “Miss Aphra Marsh. I know you’re familiar with these things, and I’m sure we can help each other.”

I held my ground and gave my mother’s best glare. “You have me mistaken, sir. If you are not in the store to purchase goods that we actually have, I strongly suggest that you look elsewhere.”

He shrugged and held out his hands. “Perhaps later.”

Charlie limped back to the counter as the door rang the man’s departure. “Customer?”

“No.” My hands were trembling, and I clasped them behind my back. “He wanted to know about your private shelf. Charlie, I don’t like him. I don’t trust him.”

He frowned again and glanced toward the employees-only door. “Thief?”

That would have been best, certainly. My pulse fluttered in my throat. “Well informed, if so.”

Charlie must have seen how hard I was holding myself. He found the metal thermos and offered it silently. I shook my head, and with a surge of dizziness found myself on the floor. I wrapped my arms around my knees and continued to shake my head at whatever else might be offered.

“He might be after the books,” I forced out at last. “Or he might be after us.”

He crouched next to me, moving slowly with his bad knee and the stiffness of joints beginning to admit mortality. “For having the books?”

I shook my head again. “Yes. Or for being the sort of people who would have them.” I stared at my interlaced fingers, long and bony, as though they might be thinking about growing extra joints. There was no way to explain the idea I had, that the smiling man might come back with more men, and guns, and vans that locked in the back. And probably he was only a poorly spoken dabbler, harmless. “He knew my name.”

Charlie pulled himself up and into a chair, settling with a grunt. “I don’t suppose he could have been one of those Yith you told me about?”

I looked up, struck by the idea. I had always thought of the Great Race as solemn and wise, and meeting one was supposed to be very lucky. But they were also known to be arrogant and abrupt, when they wanted something. It was a nice thought. “I don’t think so. They have phrases, secret ways of making themselves known to people who would recognize them. I’m afraid he was just a man.”

“Well.” Charlie got to his feet. “No help for it unless he comes back. Do you need to go home early?”

That was quite an offer, coming from Charlie, and I couldn’t bear the thought that I looked like I needed it. I eased myself off the floor, the remaining edge of fear making me slow and clumsy. “Thank you. I’d rather stay here. Just warn me if you see him again.”

* * *

The first change in my new life, also heralded by a customer . . .

It is not yet a month since my return to the world. I am still weak, my skin sallow from malnourishment and dehydration. After my first look in a good mirror, I have shaved my brittle locks to the quick, and the new are growing in ragged, but thick and rich and dark like my mother’s. My hair as an adult woman, which I have never seen ‘til now.

I am shelving when a familiar phrase stings my ears. Hope and danger, tingling together as I drift forward, straining to hear more.

The blond man is trying to sell Charlie a copy of the Book of the Grey People, but it soon becomes apparent that he knows little but the title. I should be more cautious than I am next, should think more carefully about what I reveal. But I like Charlie, his gruffness and his honesty and the endless difference between him and everything I have hated or loved. I don’t like to see him taken in.

The blond man startles when I appear by his shoulder, but when I pull the tome over to flip the pages, he tries to regroup. “Now just a minute here, young lady. This book is valuable.”

I cannot imagine that I truly look less than my thirty years. “This book is a fake. Is this supposed to be Enochian?”

“Of course it’s Enochian. Let me—”

“Ab-kar-rak al-laz-kar-nef—” I sound out the paragraph in front of me. “This was written by someone who had heard Enochian once, and vaguely recalled the sound of it. It’s gibberish. And in the wrong alphabet, besides. And the binding . . .” I run my hand over it and shudder. “The binding is real skin. Which makes this a very expensive fake for someone, but the price has already been paid. Take this abomination away.”

Charlie looks at me as the blond man leaves. I draw myself up, determined to make the best of it. I can always work at the laundromat with Anna.

“You know Enochian?” he asks. I’m startled by the gentleness—and the hope. I can hardly lie about it now, but I don’t give more than the bare truth.

“I learned it as a child.”

His eyes sweep over my face; I hold myself impassive against his judgment. “I believe you keep secrets, and keep them well,” he says at last. “I don’t plan to pry. But I want to show you one of mine, if you can keep that too.”

This isn’t what I was expecting. But he might learn more about me, someday, as much as I try to hide. And when that happens, I’ll need a reason to trust him. “I promise.”

“Come on back.” He turns the door sign before leading me to the storage room that has been locked all the weeks I’ve worked here.

* * *

I stayed as late as I could, until I realized that if someone was asking after me, the Kotos might be in danger as well. I didn’t want to call, unsure if the phone lines would be safe. All the man had done was talk to me—I might never see him again. Even so, I would be twitching for weeks. You don’t forget the things that can develop from other people’s small suspicions.

The night air was brisk, chilly by most people’s standards. The moon watched over the city, soft and gibbous, outlines blurred by San Francisco’s ubiquitous mist. Sounds echoed closer than their objects. I might have been swimming, sensations carried effortlessly on ocean currents. I licked salt from my lips, and prayed. I wished I could break the habit, but I wished more, still, that just once it would work.

“Miss Marsh!” The words pierced the damp night. I breathed clean mist and kept walking. Iä, Cthulhu . . .

“Please, Miss Marsh, I just need a moment of your time.” The words were polite enough, but the voice was too confident. I walked faster, and strained my ears for his approach. Soft soles would not tap, but a hissing squelch marked every step on the wet sidewalk. I could not look back; I could not run: either would be an admission of guilt. He would chase me, or put a bullet in my skull.

“You have me mistaken,” I said loudly. The words came as a sort of croak.

I heard him speed up, and then he was in front of me, mist clinging to his tall form. Perforce, I stopped. I wanted to escape, or call for help, but I could not imagine either.

“What do you want, sir?” The stiff words came more easily this time. It occurred to me belatedly that if he did not know what I was, he might try to force himself on me, as the soldiers sometimes had with the Japanese girls in the camp. I couldn’t bring myself to fear the possibility; he moved like a different kind of predator.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m afraid we may have gotten off to a bad start, earlier. I’m Ron Spector; I’m with the FBI—”

He started to offer a badge, but the confirmation of my worst fears released me from my paralysis. I lashed out with one newly strong leg and darted to the side. I had intended to race home and warn the Kotos, but instead he caught his balance and grabbed my arm. I turned and grappled, scratching and pulling, all the time aware that my papa had died fighting this way. I expected the deadly shot at any moment, and struggled while I could. But my arms were weaker than Papa’s, and even my legs were not what they should have been.

Gradually, I realized that Spector was only trying to hold me off, not fighting for his life, nor even for mine. He kept repeating my name, and at last:

“Please, Miss Marsh! I’m not trained for this!” He pushed me back again, and grunted as my nails drew blood on his unprotected wrist. “Please! I don’t mean you any harm; I just want to talk for five minutes. Five minutes, I promise, and then you can stay or go as you please!”

My panic could not sustain itself, and I stilled at last. Even then, I was afraid that given the chance, he would clap me in irons. But we held our tableau, locked hand to wrist. His mortal pulse flickered mouse-like against my fingertips, and I was sure he could feel mine roaring like the tide.

“If I let you go, will you listen?”

I breathed in strength from the salt fog. “Five minutes, you said.”

“Yes.” He released me, and rubbed the skin below his wristwatch. “I’m sorry, I should have been more circumspect. I know what you’ve been through.”

“Do you.” I controlled my shaking with effort. I was a Marsh; I would not show weakness to an enemy. They had drunk deep of it already.

He looked around and took a careful seat on one of the stones bordering a nearby yard. It was too short for him, so that his knees bent upward when he sat. He leaned forward: a praying mantis in a black suit.

“Most religions consist largely of good people trying to get by. No matter what names they worship, or what church they go to, or what language they pray in. Will you agree with me on this much?”

I folded my arms and waited.

“And every religion has its fanatics, who are willing to do terrible things in the name of their god. No one is immune.” His lips quirked. “It’s a failing of humanity, not of any particular sect.”

“I’ll grant you that. What of it?” I counted seconds in drips of water. I could almost imagine the dew clinging to my skin as a shield.

He shrugged and smiled. I didn’t like how easy he could be, with his wrist still stinking of blood. “If you grant me that, you’re already several steps ahead of the U.S. government, just post–World War I. In the twenties, they had run-ins with a couple of nasty Aeonist groups. There was one cult down in Louisiana that had probably never seen an original bit of the canon, but they had their ideas. Sacrificial corpses hanging from trees, the whole nine yards.” He glanced at me, checking for some reaction. I did not grant it.

“Not exactly representative, but we got the idea that was normal. In ’26, the whole religion were declared enemies of the state, and we started looking out for anyone who said the wrong names on Sunday night, or had the wrong statues in their churches. You know where it goes from there.”

I did, and wondered how much he really knew. It was strange, nauseating, to hear the justifications, even as he tried to hold them at a distance.

“It won’t shock you,” he continued, “to know that Innsmouth wasn’t the only place that suffered. Eventually, it occurred to the government that they might have overgeneralized, but it took a long time for changes to go through. Now we’re starting to have people like me, who actually study Aeonist culture and try to separate out the bad guys, but it’s been a long time coming.”

I held myself very still through his practiced speech. “If this is by way of an apology, Mr. Spector, you can drown in it. What you did was beyond the power of any apology.”

“Doubtless we owe you one anyway, if we can find a decent way of making it. But I’m afraid I’ve been sent to speak with you for practical reasons.” He cleared his throat and shifted his knees. “As you may imagine, when the government went hunting Aeonists, it was much easier to find good people, minding their own business in small towns, than cultists well-practiced in conspiracy and murder. The bad guys tend to be better at hiding, after all. And at the same time, we weren’t trying to recruit people who knew anything useful about the subject—after a while, few would have been willing even if we went looking. So now, as with the Japanese American community, we find ourselves shorthanded, ignorant, and having angered the people least likely to be a danger to the country.”

My eye sockets ached. “I cannot believe that you are trying to recruit me.”

“I’m afraid that’s exactly what I’m doing. I could offer—”

“Your five minutes are up, sir.” I walked past him, biting back anything else I might say, or think. The anger worked its way into my shoulders, and my legs, and the rush of my blood.

“Miss Marsh!”

Against my better judgment, I stopped and turned back. I imagined what I must look like to him. Bulging eyes; wide mouth; long, bony legs and fingers. “The Innsmouth look,” when there was an Innsmouth. Did it signal danger to him? Something more than human, or less? Perhaps he saw just an ugly woman, someone whose reactions he could dismiss until he heard what he wanted.

Then I would speak clearly.

“Mr. Spector, I have no interest in being an enemy of the state. The state is larger than I. But nor will I be any part of it. And if you insist, you will listen to why. The state stole nearly two decades of my life. The state killed my father, and locked the rest of my family away from anything they thought might give us strength. Salt water. Books. Knowledge. One by one, they destroyed us. My mother began her metamorphosis. Allowed the ocean, she might have lived until the sun burned to ashes. They took her away. We know they studied us at such times, to better know the process. To better know how to hurt us. You must imagine the details, as I have. They never returned the bodies. Nothing has been given back to us.

“Now, ask me again.”

He bent his head at last. Not in shame, I thought, but listening. Then he spoke softly. “The state is not one entity. It is changing. And when it changes, it’s good for everyone. The people you could help us stop are truly hurting others. And the ones being hurt know nothing of what was done to your family. Will you hold the actions of a few against them? Should more families suffer because yours did?”

I reminded myself that, after humanity faded and died, a great insectoid civilization would live in these hills. After that, the Sareeav, with their pseudopods and strange sculptures. Therefore, I could show patience. “I will do what I can for suffering on my own.”

More quietly: “If you helped us, even on one matter, I might be able to find out what really happened to your mother.”

The guilt showed plainly on his face as soon as he said it, but I still had to turn away. “I cannot believe that even after her death, you would dare hold my mother hostage for my good behavior. You can keep her body, and your secrets.” And in R’lyehn, because we had been punished for using it in the camps, I added, “And if they hang your corpse from a tree, I will kiss the ground beneath it.” Then, fearful that he might do more, or say more, I ran.

I kicked off my shoes, desperate for speed. My feet slapped the wet ground. I could not hear whether Spector followed me. I was still too weak, as weak as I had been as a child, but I was taller, and faster, and the fog wrapped me and hid me and sped me on my flight.

Some minutes later I ducked into a side drive. Peering out, I saw no one following me. Then I let myself gasp: deep, shuddering breaths. I wanted him dead. I wanted them all dead, as I had for seventeen years. Probably some of them were: they were only ordinary humans, with creaking joints and rivulet veins. I could be patient.

I came in barefoot to the Kotos. Mama Rei was in the kitchen. She put down her chopping knife, and held me while I shook. Then Anna took my hand and drew me over to the table. The others hovered nearby, Neko looking concerned and Kevin sucking his thumb. He reminded me so very much of Caleb.

“What happened?” asked Anna, and I told them everything, trying to be calm and clear. They had to know.

Mama Rei tossed a handful of onions into the pan and started on the peppers. She didn’t look at me, but she didn’t need to. “Aphra-chan—Kappa-sama—what do you think he wants?”

I started to rub my face, then winced. Spector’s blood, still on my nails, cut through the clean smell of frying onion. “I don’t know. Perhaps only what he said, but his masters will certainly be angry when he fails to recruit me. He might seek ways to put pressure on me. It’s not safe. I’m sorry.”

“I don’t want to leave,” said Neko. “We just got here.” I closed my eyes hard against the sting.

“We won’t leave,” said Mama Rei. “We are trying to build a decent life here, and I won’t be scared away from it. Neither will you, Aphra-chan. This government man can only do so much to us, without a law to say he can lock us up.”

“There was no law countenancing the things done to my family,” I said.

“Times have changed,” she said firmly. “People are watching, now.”

“They took your whole town,” said Anna, almost gently. “They can’t take all of San Francisco, can they, Mama?”

“Of course not. We will live our lives, and you will all go to work and school tomorrow, and we will be careful. That is all.”

There was no arguing with Mama Rei, and I didn’t really want to. I loved the life I had, and if I lost it again, well . . . the sun would burn to ash soon enough, and then it would make little difference whether I had a few months of happiness here, or a few years. I fell asleep praying.

* * *

One expects the storage room of a bookstore to hold more books. And it does. Books in boxes, books on shelves, books piled on the floor and the birch table with uneven legs. And one bookshelf more solid than the others, leaves and vines carved into dark wood. The sort that one buys for too much money, to hold something that feels like it deserves the respect.

And on the shelves, my childhood mixed with dross. I hold up my hand, afraid to touch, to run it across the titles, a finger’s breadth away. I fear that they too will change to gibberish. Some of them already are. Some are titles I know to have been written by charlatans, or fakes as obvious as the blond man’s Grey People. And some are real.

“Where did you get these?”

“At auction. At estate sales. From people who come in offering to sell, or other stores that don’t know what they have. To tell the truth, I don’t entirely either, for some of them. You might have a better idea?”

I pull down a Necronomicon with shaking hands, the one of his three that looks real. The inside page is thankfully empty—no dedication, no list of family names. No chance of learning whether it ever belonged to someone I knew. I read the first page, enough to recognize the over-poetic Arabic, and put it back before my eyes can tear up. I take another, this one in true Enochian.

“Why buy them, if you can’t read them?”

“Because I might be able to, someday. Because I might be able to learn something, even with a word or two. Because I want to learn magic, if you must know, and this is the closest I can come.” His glare dares me to scoff.

I hold out the book I’ve been cradling. “You could learn from this one, you know. It’s a child’s introductory text. I learned a little from it, myself, before I . . . lost access to my library.” My glare dares him to ask. He doesn’t intrude on my privacy, no more than I laugh at what he’s revealed. “I don’t know enough to teach you properly. But if you let me share your books, I’ll help you learn as best I can.” He nods, and I turn my head aside so my tears don’t fall on the text—or where he can see.

* * *

I returned to work the next day, wearing shoes borrowed from neighbors. My feet were far too big for anything the Kotos could lend me. Anna walked me partway before turning off for the laundromat—her company more comfort than I cared to admit.

I had hovered by the sink before breakfast, considering what to do about the faint smudge of Spector’s blood. In the end, I washed it off. A government agent, familiar with the Aeonist canons, might well know how to detect the signs if I used it against him.

Despite my fears, that day was a quiet one, full of customers asking for westerns and romances and textbooks. The next day was the same, and the day after that, and three weeks passed with the tension between my shoulder blades the only indication that something was amiss.

At the end of those three weeks, he came again. His body language had changed: a little hunched, a little less certain. I stiffened, but did not run. Charlie looked up from the stack of incoming books, and gave the requisite glare.

“That’s him,” I murmured.

“Ah.” The glare deepened. “You’re not welcome here. Get out of my store, and don’t bother my employees again.”

Spector straightened, recovering a bit of his old arrogance. “I have something for Miss Marsh. Then I’ll go.”

“Whatever you have to offer, I don’t want it. You heard Mr. Day: you’re trespassing.”

He ducked his head. “I found your mother’s records. I’m not offering them in exchange for anything. You were right, that wasn’t . . . wasn’t honorable. Once you’ve seen them—if you want to see them—I’ll go.”

I held out my hand. “Very well. I’ll take them. And then you will leave.”

He held on to the thick folder. “I’m sorry, Miss Marsh. I’ve got to stay with them. They aren’t supposed to be out of the building, and I’m not supposed to have them right now. I’ll be in serious trouble if I lose them.”

I didn’t care if he got in trouble, and I didn’t want to see what was in the folder. But it was my mother’s only grave. “Mr. Day,” I said quietly. “I would like a few minutes of privacy, if you please.”

Charlie took a box and headed away, but paused. “You just shout if this fellow gives you any trouble.” He gave Spector another glare before heading into the stacks—I suspected not very far.

Spector handed me the folder. I opened it, cautiously, between the cash register and a short stack of Agatha Christie novels. For a moment I closed my eyes, fixing my mother’s living image in my mind. I remembered her singing a sacred chanty in the kitchen, arguing with shopkeepers, kneeling in the wet sand at Solstice. I remembered one of our neighbors crying in our sitting room after her husband’s boat was lost in a storm, telling her, “Your faith goes all the way to the depths. Some of us aren’t so lucky.”

“I’m sorry,” Spector said quietly. “It’s ugly.”

They had taken her deeper into the desert, to an experimental station. They had caged her. They had given her weights to lift, testing her strength. They had starved her for days, testing her endurance. They had cut her, confusing their mythologies, with iron and silver, noting healing times. They had washed her once with seawater, then fresh, then scrubbed her with dry salt. After that, they had refused her all contact with water, save a minimum to drink. Then not even that. For the whole of sixty-seven days, they carefully recorded her pulse, her skin tone, and the distance between her eyes. Perhaps in some vague way also interested in our culture, they copied, faithfully, every word she spoke.

Not one sentence was a prayer.

There were photos, both from the experiments and the autopsy afterward. I did not cry. It seemed extravagant to waste salt water so freely.

“Thank you,” I said quietly, closing the folder, bile burning the back of my throat. He bowed his head.

“My mother came to the states young.” He spoke deliberately, neither rushing to share nor stumbling over his apparent honesty. Anything else, I would have felt justified interrupting. “Her sister stayed in Poland. She was a bit older, and she had a sweetheart. I have files on her, too. She survived. She’s in a hospital in Israel, and sometimes she can feed herself.” He stopped, took a deep breath, shook his head. “I can’t think of anything that would convince me to work for the new German government—no matter how different it is from the old. I’m sorry I asked.”

He took the folder and turned away.

“Wait.” I should not have said it. He’d probably staged the whole thing. But it was a far more thoughtful manipulation than the threats I had expected—and I found myself afraid to go on ignoring my enemies. “I will not work for you. But tell me about these frightening new Aeonists.”

Whatever—if anything—I eventually chose to pass on to Spector, I realized that I very much wanted to meet them. For all the Kotos’ love and comfort, and for all Charlie’s eager learning, I still missed Innsmouth. These mortals might be the closest I could come to home.

* * *

“Why do you want to learn this?” Though I doubt Charlie knows, it’s a ritual question. There is no ritual answer.

“I don’t . . .” He glares, a habit my father would have demanded he break before pursuing the ancient scholarship. “Some things don’t go into words easily, all right? It’s . . . it feels like what should be in books, I suppose. They should all be able to change the world. At least a little.”

I nod. “That’s a good answer. Some people think that ‘power’ is a good answer, and it isn’t. The power that can be found in magic is less than what you get from a gun, or a badge, or a bomb.” I pause. “I’m trying to remember all the things I need to tell you, now, at the beginning. What magic is for is understanding. Knowledge. And it won’t work until you know how little that gets you.

Sharhlyda—Aeonism—is a bit like a religion. But this isn’t the Bible—most of the things I’m going to tell you are things we have records of: histories older than man, and sometimes the testimony of those who lived them. The gods you can take or leave, but the history is real.

“All of man’s other religions place him at the center of creation. But man is nothing—a fraction of the life that will walk the Earth. Earth is nothing—a tiny world that will die with its sun. The sun is one of trillions where life flowers, and wants to live, and dies. And between the suns is an endless vast darkness that dwarfs them, through which life can travel only by giving up that wanting, by losing itself. Even that darkness will eventually die. In such a universe, knowledge is the stub of a candle at dusk.”

“You make it all sound so cheerful.”

“It’s honest. What our religion tells us, the part that is a religion, is that the gods created life to try and make meaning. It’s ultimately hopeless, and even gods die, but the effort is real. Will always have been real, even when everything is over and no one remembers.”

Charlie looks dubious. I didn’t believe it, either, when I first started learning. And I was too young then to find it either frightening or comforting.

* * *

I thought about what Mr. Spector had told me, and about what I might do with the information. Eventually I found myself, unofficially and entirely on my own recognizance, in a better part of the city, past sunset, at the door of a home rather nicer than the Kotos’. It was no mansion by any imagining, but it was long lived-in and well kept up: two stories of brick and Spanish tile roof, with juniper guarding the façade. The door was painted a cheerful yellow, but the knocker was a fantastical wrought-iron creature that reminded me painfully of home. I lifted the cold metal and rapped sharply. Then I waited, shivering.

The man who opened the door looked older than Charlie. His gray hair frizzed around the temples and ears, otherwise slick as a seal. Faint lines creased his cheeks. He frowned at me. I hoped I had the right address.

“My name is Aphra Marsh,” I said. “Does that mean anything to you? I understand that some in this house still follow the old ways.”

He started, enough to tell me that he recognized my family’s name. He shuffled back a little, but then leaned forward. “Where did you hear such a thing?”

“My family have their ways. May I enter?”

He stepped aside to let me in, in too reluctant a fashion to be truly gallant. His pupils widened between narrowed eyelids, and he licked his lips.

“What do you want, my lady?”

Ignoring the question for the moment, I stepped inside. The foyer, and what I could see of the parlor, looked pedestrian but painfully familiar. Dark wood furniture, much of it bookshelves, contrasted with leaf-green walls. Yet it was all a bit shabby—not quite as recently dusted or mended as would have satisfied my mother’s pride. A year ago, it might have been the front room of any of the better houses in Innsmouth. Now . . . I wondered what my family home had looked like, in the years after my mother was no longer there to take pride in it. I put the thought forcibly out of my mind.

“. . . in the basement,” he was saying. “Would you like to see?”

I ran my memory back through the last seconds, and discovered that he was, in fact, offering to show me where they practiced “the old ways.” “I would. But an introduction might be in order first?”

“My apologies, my lady. I am Oswin Wilder. High priest here, although probably not a very traditional one by your standards.”

“I make no judgment.” And I smiled at him in a way that suggested I might well do so later. It was strange. In Innsmouth, non-Sharhlyd outsiders had looked on us with fear and revulsion—even the Sharhlyd who were not of our kind, mostly the nervously misanthropic academics at Miskatonic, treated us with suspicion. Respect was usually subordinated to rivalries over the proper use of ancient texts. The few mortal humans who shared both our town and our faith had deferred openly, but without this taint of resentment.

He led me down solid wooden steps. I half expected a hidden sub-basement or a dungeon—I think he must have wanted one—but he had worked with the home he already had. Beyond the bare flagstone at the foot of the stairs, he had merely added a raised level of dark tile, painted with sigils and patterns. I recognized a few, but suspected more of being his own improvisations. At the far end of the room, candles flickered on a cloth-covered table. I approached, moving carefully around the simple stone altar in the center.

On the table sat a devotional statue of Cthulhu. I hardly noticed the quality of the carving or the material, although my childhood priest would have had something to say about both. But my childhood was long discarded, and the display struck my adult doubts with forgotten force. Heedless of the man behind me, I knelt. The flickering light gave a wet sheen to tentacles and limbs, and I could almost imagine again that they were reaching to draw me in and keep me safe. Where the statue in Innsmouth’s church had depicted the god with eyes closed, to represent the mysteries of the deep, this one’s eyes were open, black and fathomless. I returned the gaze, refusing to bow my head.

Have you been waiting for us? Do you regret what happened? With all your aeons, did you even notice that Innsmouth was gone? Or did you just wonder why fewer people came to the water?

Are you listening, now? Were you ever there to listen?

More tears, I realized too late—not something I would have chosen for the priest to see. But I flicked a drop of my salt water onto the statue, and whispered the appropriate prayer. I found it oddly comforting. My mother, old-fashioned, had kept a jar of seawater on the counter for washing tear-streaked faces, and brought it to temple once a month. But I had still given my tears to the god when I didn’t want her fussing, or was trying to hide a fight with my brother.

We were near the ocean now. Perhaps the Kotos could spare a jar.

My musings were interrupted by the creak of the basement door and a tremulous alto.

“Oz? I knocked, but no one answered—are you down here?”

“Mildred, yes. Come on down; we have a guest.”

Full skirts, garnet red, descended, and as she came closer I saw a woman bearing all my mother’s remembered dignity. She had the air of magnificence that fortunate mortals gained with age; her wrinkles and gray-streaked hair only gave the impression of deliberate artistic choices. I stood and ducked my head politely. She looked me over, thin-lipped.

“Mil—Miss Marsh,” said Wilder. “Allow me to introduce Mildred Bergman. Mildred, this is Miss Aphra Marsh.” He paused dramatically, and her frown deepened.

“And what is she doing in our sanctum?”

“Miss Marsh,” he repeated.

“Anyone can claim a name. Even such an illustrious one.” I winced, then lifted my chin. There was no reason for me to feel hurt: her doubt should be no worse a barrier than Wilder’s nervous pride.

Taking a candle from the altar for light—and with a whisper of thanks to Cthulhu for the loan—I stepped toward her. She stood her ground. “Look at me.”

She looked me up and down, making a show of it. Her eyes stayed narrow, and if I had studied long enough to hear thoughts, and done the appropriate rites, I was sure I would have heard it. Anyone can be ugly.

Wilder moved to intervene. “This is silly. We have no reason to doubt her. And she found us on her own. She must have some knowledge of the old arts: we don’t exactly put our address in the classifieds. Let it go and give her a chance to prove herself.”

Bergman sniffed and shrugged. Moving faster than I would have expected, she plucked the candle from my hand and replaced it on the table. “As high priest, it is of course at your discretion what newcomers must do to join the elect. The others will be here soon; we’ll see what they think of your guest.”

I blinked at her. “I’ll wait, then.” I turned my back and knelt again at the god’s table. I would not let her see my rage at her dismissal, or the fear that the gesture of defiance cost me.

* * *

The first and most basic exercise in magic is looking at oneself. Truly looking, truly seeing—and I am afraid. I cannot quite persuade myself that the years in the camp haven’t stolen something vital. After doing this simple thing, I will know.

I sit opposite Charlie on the plain wood floor of the storage room. He has dragged over a rag rug and the cushion from a chair for his knees, but I welcome the cool solidity. Around us I have drawn a first-level seal in red chalk, and between us placed two bowls of salt water and two knives. I have walked him through this in the book, told him what to expect, as well as I am able. I remember my father, steady and patient as he explained the rite. I may be more like my mother—impatient with beginners’ mistakes, even my own.

I lead him through a grounding: tell him to imagine the sea in his veins, his body as a torrent of blood and breath. I simplify the imagery I learned as a child. He has no metamorphosis to imagine, no ancestors to tell him how those things feel under the weight of the depths. But he closes his eyes and breathes, and I imagine it as wind on a hot day. He is a man of the air, after all. I must tell him the Litany so he will know what that means, and perhaps he will make a new grounding that fits.

Bodies and minds settled, we begin the chant. His pronunciation is poor, but this is a child’s exercise and designed for a leader and a stumbling apprentice. The words rise, bearing the rhythm of wind and wave and the slow movement of the earth. Still chanting, I lift the knife, and watch Charlie follow my lead. I wash the blade in salt water and prick my finger. The sting is familiar, welcome. I let a drop of my blood fall into the bowl, swirling and spreading and fading into clarity. I have just enough time to see that Charlie has done the same before the room too fades, and my inward perceptions turn clear.

I am inside myself, seeing with my blood rather than my eyes. I am exquisitely aware of my body, and its power. My blood is a torrent. It is a river emptying into the ocean; it thunders through me, a cacophony of rapids and white water. I travel with it, checking paths I have not trod for eighteen years. I find them surprisingly in order. I should have known, watching mortals age while my hard-used joints still moved easily—but that river still carries its healing force, still sweeps illnesses and aches from the banks where they try to cling. Still reshapes what it touches, patiently and steadily. Still carries all the markers of a healthy child who will someday, still, go into the water. I remember my mother telling me, smiling, that my blood knew already the form I would someday wear.

I am basking in the feel of myself, loving my body for the first time in years, when everything changes. Just for a moment, I am aware of my skin, and a touch on my arm.

“Miss Marsh, are you okay?”

And now I remember that one learns to stay inside longer with practice, and that I entirely neglected to warn Charlie against touching me. And then I am cast out of my river, and into another.

I’ve never tried this with anyone outside my own people. Charlie’s river is terribly weak—more like a stream, in truth. It has little power, and detritus has made it narrow and shallow. Where my body is yearning toward the ocean, his has already begun to dry out. His blood, too, knows the form he will someday wear.

He must now be seeing me as intimately.

I force the connection closed, saying the words that end the rite as quickly as I dare. I come to, a little dizzy, swaying.

Charlie looks far more shaken. “That . . . that was real. That was magic.”

And I can only feel relief. Of course, the strangeness of his first spell must overwhelm any suspicion over the differences in our blood. At least for now.

* * *

Wilder’s congregation trickled in over the next hour. They were male and female, robed richly or simply, but all with an air of confidence that suggested old families used to mortal power. They murmured when Wilder introduced them to me; some whispered more with Bergman afterward.

It only seemed like an endless aeon until they at last gathered in a circle. Wilder stood before the table, facing the low altar, and raised his arms. The circle quieted, till only their breath and the rustling of skirts and robes moved the air.

“Iä, iä, Cthulhu thtagn . . .” His accent was beyond abominable, but the prayer was familiar. After the fourth smoothly spoken mispronunciation, I realized that he must have learned the language entirely from books. While I had been denied wisdom writ solid in ink, he had been denied a guiding voice. Knowing he would not appreciate it now, I kept my peace. Even the mangled words were sweet.

The congregants gave their responses at the appropriate points, though many of them stumbled, and a few muttered nonsense rather than the proper words. They had learned from Wilder, some more newly than others. Many leaned forward, pupils dilated and mouths gaping with pleasure. Bergman’s shoulders held the tension of real fervor, but her lids were narrowed as she avidly watched the reactions she would not show herself. Her eyes met mine and her mouth twitched.

I remembered my mother, her self-contained faith a complement to my father’s easy affections. Bergman had the start of such faith, though she still seemed too conscious of her self-control.

After several minutes of call and response, Wilder knelt and took a golden necklet from where it had been hidden under the folds of the tablecloth. It was none of the work of my people—only a simple set of linked squares, with some abstract tentacular pattern carved in each one. It was as like the ornate bas-relief and wirework necklace-crowns of the deep as the ritual was like my childhood church. Wilder lifted it so that all could see, and Bergman stood before him. He switched abruptly to English: no translation that I recognized, presumably his own invention.

“Lady, wilt thou accept the love of Shub-Nigaroth? Wilt thou shine forth the wonders of life eternal for our mortal eyes?”

Bergman lifted her chin. “I shall. I am her sworn daughter, and the beloved of the Gods: let all welcome and return their terrible and glorious love.”

Wilder placed the chain around her neck. She turned to face the congregation, and he continued, now hidden behind her: “Behold the glory of the All-Mother!”

“Iä Cthulhu! Iä Shub-Nigaroth!”

“Behold the dance in darkness! Behold the life that knows not death!”

“Iä! Iä!”

“Behold the secret ever hidden from the sun! See it—breathe it—take it within you!”

At this the congregation fell silent, and I stumbled over a swallowed shout of joy. The words were half nonsense, but half closer to the spirit of my remembered services than anything Wilder had pulled from his books. Bergman took from the table a knife, and a chalice full of some dark liquid. As she turned to place it on the altar, the scent of plain red wine wafted to my nostrils. She pricked her finger and squeezed a drop of blood into the cup.

As we passed the chalice from hand to hand, the congregants each sipped reverently. They closed their eyes and sighed at private visions, or stared into the wine wondering before relinquishing it to the next. Yet when it came around to me, I tasted only wine. With time and space for my own art, I might have learned from it any secrets hidden in Bergman’s blood—but there was no magic here, only its trappings.

They were awkward, and ignorant, yearning and desperate. Wilder sought power, and Bergman feared to lose it, and the others likely ran the same range of pleasant and obnoxious company that I remembered from my lost childhood congregation. But whatever else they might be, Spector had been wrong. The government had no more to fear from them than it had from Innsmouth eighteen years ago.

* * *

As Charlie shuts the door to the back room, I can see his hands trembling. Outside this room he wears a cynical elder’s mask, but in truth he is in his late thirties—close enough to my age to make little difference, were we both common mortals. And life has been kind to him. What I now offer has been his greatest frustration, and his eagerness is palpable.

As he moves to clear the floor, I hold up my hand. “Later, we’ll try the Inner Sea again”—his unaccustomed smile blossoms—“but first I need to read you something. It may help you to better understand what you’re seeing, when you look into your own blood.”

What I seek can be found in at least three books on his shelf, but I take down the children’s text, flipping carefully until I come to the well-remembered illustration: Earth and her moon, with thirteen forms arrayed around them. I trace the circle with one too-long finger.

“I told you that you can take or leave the gods, but the history is real. This is that history. We have evidence, and eyewitnesses, even for the parts that haven’t happened yet. The Great Race of Yith travel through space and through time, and they are brutally honest with those who recognize them. The Litany of Earth was distilled over thousands of years of encounters: conversations that together have told us all the civilizations that came before the human one, and all the civilizations that will come after we’re gone.”

I wait, watching his face. He doesn’t believe, but he’s willing to listen. He lowers himself slowly into a chair, and rubs his knee absently.

I skip over the poetry of the original Enochian, but its prompting is sufficient to give me the English translation from memory.

“This is the litany of the peoples of Earth. Before the first, there was blackness, and there was fire. The Earth cooled and life arose, struggling against the unremembering emptiness.

“First were the five-winged eldermost of Earth, faces of the Yith. In the time of the elders, the archives came from the stars. The Yith raised up the Shoggoth to serve them in the archives, and the work of that aeon was to restore and order the archives on Earth.

“Second were the Shoggoth, who rebelled against their makers. The Yith fled forward, and the Earth belonged to the Shoggoth for an aeon.”

The words come easily, the familiar verses echoing back through my own short life. In times of hardship or joy, when a child sickened or a fisherman drowned too young for metamorphosis, at the new year and every solstice, the Litany gave us comfort and humility. The people of the air, our priest said, phrased its message more briefly: This too shall pass.

“Sixth are humans, the wildest of races, who share the world in three parts. The people of the rock, the K’n-yan, build first and most beautifully, but grow cruel and frightened and become the Mad Ones Under the Earth. The people of the air spread far and breed freely, and build the foundation for those who will supplant them. The people of the water are born in shadow on the land, but what they make beneath the waves will live in glory till the dying sun burns away their last shelter.

“Seventh will be the Ck’chk’ck, born from the least infestation of the houses of man, faces of the Yith.” Here, at last, I see Charlie inhale sharply. “The work of that aeon will be to read the Earth’s memories, to analyze and annotate, and to make poetry of the Yith’s own understanding.”

On I count, through races of artists and warriors and lovers and barbarians. Each gets a few sentences for all their thousands or millions of years. Each paragraph must obscure uncountable lives like mine, like Charlie’s . . . like my mother’s.

“Thirteenth will be the Evening People. The Yith will walk openly among them, raising them from their race’s infancy with the best knowledge of all peoples. The work of that aeon will be copying the archives, stone to stone, and building the ships that will carry the archives, and the Evening, to distant stars. After they leave, the Earth will burn and the sun fade to ashes.

“After the last race leaves, there will be fire and unremembering emptiness. Where the stories of Earth will survive, none have told us.”

We sit for a minute in silence.

“You ever meet one of these Yith?” Charlie asks at last. He speaks urgently, braced against the answer. Everything else I’ve told him, he’s wanted to believe.

“I never have,” I say. “But my mother did, when she was a girl. She was out playing in the swamp, and he was catching mosquitoes. Normally you find them in libraries, or talking to scholars, but she isn’t the only person to encounter one taking samples of one sort or another. She asked him if mosquitoes would ever be people, and he told her a story about some Ck’chk’ck general, she thought the equivalent of Alexander the Great. She said that everyone asked her so many questions when she got home that she couldn’t remember the details properly afterward.” I shrug. “This goes with the magic, Mr. Day. Take them both, or turn your back.”

* * *

The basement door creaked, and skirts whispered against the frame.

“Oz,” came Bergman’s voice. “I wanted to talk to you about . . . Ah. It’s you.” She completed her regal descent. “Oz, what is she doing here?”

I rose, matching her hard stare. If I was to learn—or perhaps even teach—anything here, I needed to put a stop to this. And I still had to play a role.

“What exactly is it that you hold against me? I’ve come here many times, now. The others can see easily enough—none of them doubt what I am.”

She looked down at me. “You could be an imposter, I suppose. It would be easy enough. But it’s hardly the only possible threat we should be concerned about. If you are truly of the Deep Ones’ blood, why are you not with your noble kin? Why celebrate the rites here, among ordinary humans who want your secrets for themselves?”

Why are you not with your kin? I swallowed bitter answers. “My loneliness is no concern of yours.”

“I think it is.” She turned to Wilder, who had kept his place before the altar. “If she’s not a charlatan . . . either she’s a spy, sent to keep us from learning her people’s powers, or she’s in exile for crimes we cannot begin to imagine.”

I hissed, and unthinkingly thrust myself into her space, breathing the stink of her sharply exhaled breath. “They. Are. Dead.”

Bergman stepped back, pupils wide, breath coming too quickly. She drew herself up, straightened her skirts, and snorted. “Perhaps you are a charlatan after all. Everyone knows the Deep Ones cannot die.”

Again without thinking, I lunged for her. She stumbled backward and I caught her collar, twisted, and pulled. She fell forward, and I held her weight easily as she scrabbled to push me away. I blinked (eyes too big, too tight in their sockets), anger almost washed away by surprise. It was the first time the strength had come upon me.

And I had used it on an old mortal woman whose only crimes were pride and suspicion. I released her and turned my back. The joints of my fingers ached where I had clenched them. “Never say that again. Or if you must, say it to the soldiers who shot my father. We do not age, no—not like you do.” I could not resist the barb. “But there are many ways to die.”

Oz finally spoke, and I turned to see him helping Bergman to her feet. “Peace, Mildred. She’s no spy, and I think no criminal. She will not take your immortality from you.”

I paused, anger not entirely overwhelmed, and searched her features carefully. She was slender, small-eyed, fine-fingered—and unquestionably aged. For all her dignity, it was impossible that she might share even a drop of blood with my family.

She caught my look and smiled. “Yes, we have that secret from the Deep Ones. Does it surprise you?”

“Exceedingly. I was not aware that there was a secret. Not one that could be shared, at least.”

A broader, angrier smile. “Yes—you have tried to keep it from us. To keep us small and weak and dying. But we have it—and at the harvest moon, I will go into the water. I am beloved of the Elder Gods, and I will dwell in glory with Them under the waves forever.”

“I see.” I turned to Wilder. “Have you done this before?”

He nodded. “Mildred will be the third.”

“Such a wonderful promise. Why don’t you walk into the ocean yourself?”

“Oh, I shall—when I have trained a successor who can carry on in my place.” And he looked at me with such confidence that I realized whom he must have chosen for that role.

Mildred Bergman—convinced that life could be hoarded like a fortune—would never believe me if I simply told her the truth. I held up my hand to forestall anything else the priest might have to say. “Wilder, get out of here. I’ll speak with you later.”

He went. If he had convinced himself I would be his priestess, I suppose he had to treat me as one.

I sat down, cross-legged, trying to clear the hissing tension that had grown between us. After a moment she also sat, cautiously and with wincing stiffness.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “It doesn’t work like that. We go into the water, and live long there, because we have the blood of the deep in us. The love of the gods is not so powerful. I wish I had more to offer you. There are magics that can heal, that can ease the pains of age, that can even extend life for a few decades. I will gladly teach them to you.” And I would, too. She had been vile to me, but I could invite her to Charlie’s back room to study with us, and learn the arts that would give her both time and acceptance. All but one spell, that I would not teach, and did not plan to ever learn.

“You’re lying.” Her voice was calm and even.

“I’m not. You’re going to drown yourself—” I swallowed. “I’m trying to save your life. You haven’t done a speck of real magic in this room, you don’t know what it’s like, how it’s different.”

She started to say something, and I raised a hand. “No. I know you won’t listen to what I have to say. Please, let me show you.”

“Show me.” Not a demand—only an echo, full of doubt.

“Magic.” I looked at her, with my bulging eyes and thick bones, willing her, if she couldn’t yet believe, at least to look at me.

“What’s involved in this . . . demonstration?” she finally asked, and I released a held breath.

“Not much. Chalk, a pair of bowls, and a drop of blood.”

Between my purse and the altar, we managed to procure what was needed—fortunate, as I would have hated to go up and ask Wilder to borrow them. Having practiced this with Charlie, I still had the most basic of seals settled in my mind, at least clearly enough for this simple spell. I moved us away from the carefully laid tile to the raw flagstone behind the stairs. There was no reason to vandalize Wilder’s stage.

Bergman did not know the Litany, nor the cosmic humility that was the core of Sharhlyda practice. And yet, in some ways, she was easier to work with than Charlie. I could tell her to feel her blood as a river, without worrying what she might guess of my nature.

As I guided her through the opening meditation, Bergman’s expression relaxed into something calmer, more introspective. She had some potential for the art, I thought. More than Wilder, certainly, who was so focused on the theater of the thing, and on the idea of power. Bergman’s shoulders loosened, and her breath evened, but she kept her eyes open, waiting.

I pricked my finger and let the blood fall into the bowl, holding myself back from the spell long enough to wipe the blade and pass it to Bergman. Then I let the current pull me down . . .

Submerging only briefly before forcing myself upward, out of the cool ocean and into the harsh dry air. I took a painful breath, and laid my hand on Bergman’s arm.

A thin stream moved through a great ravine, slow and emaciated. Rivulets trickled past great sandy patches. And yet, where they ran, they ran sweet and cool. The lines they etched, the bars and branches, made a fine and delicate pattern. In it I saw not only the inevitable decay that she strove against, but the stronger shape that was once hers—and the subtler strength in the shape she wore now.

“You are one of them.”

I returned, gasping, all my instincts clamoring for moisture. I wanted to race upstairs and throw the windows open to the evening fog. Instead I leaned forward.

“Then you must also see—”

She sniffed, half a laugh. “I see that at least some of the books Wilder found can be trusted. And none of them have claimed that the Deep Ones are a more honest race than we. They do claim that you know more of the ancient lore than most humans have access to. So no, I don’t believe that your immortality is a mere accident of birth. It can be ours as well—if we don’t let you frighten us away from it.”

We argued long and late, and still I could not move her. That night I argued with myself, sleepless, over whether it was my place to do more.

* * *

Of course Charlie asks, inevitably.

I have been teaching him the first, simplest healing spells. Even a mortal, familiar with his own blood, can heal small wounds, speed the passage of trivial illnesses and slow the terrible ones.

“How long can I live, if I practice this?” He looks at me thoughtfully.

“Longer. Perhaps an extra decade or three. Our natures catch up with us all, in the end.” I cringe inwardly, imagining his resentment if he knew. And I am beginning to see that he must know, eventually, if I continue with these lessons.

“Except for the Yith?”

“Yes.” I hesitate. Even were I ready to share my nature, this would be an unpleasant conversation, full of temptation and old shame. “What the Yith do . . . there are spells for that, or something similar. No one else has ever found the trick of moving through time, but to take a young body for your own . . . You would not find it in any of these books, but it wouldn’t be hard to track down. I haven’t, and I won’t. It’s not difficult, from what I’ve heard, just wrong.”

Charlie swallows and looks away. I let him think about it a moment.

“We forgive the Yith for what they do, though they leave whole races abandoned around fading stars. Because their presence means that Earth is remembered, and our memory and our stories will last for as long as they can find younger stars and younger bodies to carry them to. They’re as selfish as an old scholar wanting eighty more years to study and love and breathe the air. But we honor the Yith for sacrificing billions, and track down and destroy those who steal one life to preserve themselves.”

He narrows his eyes. “That’s very . . . practical of you.”

I nod, but look away. “Yes. We say that they do more to hold back darkness and chaos than any other race, and it is worth the cost. And of course, we know that we aren’t the ones to pay it.”

“I wonder if the . . . what were they called, the Leng . . . had a Nuremberg.”

I start to say that it’s not the same—the Yith hate nobody, torture nothing. But I cannot find it in me to claim it makes a difference. Oblivion, after all, is oblivion, however it is forced on you.

* * *

The day after my fourth meeting with Spector, I did not go to work. I walked, in the rain and the chill, in the open air, until my feet hurt, and then I kept walking, because I could. And eventually, because I could, I went home.

Mama Rei was mending, Kevin on the floor playing with fabric scraps. The Chronicle lay open on the table to page seven, where a single column reported the previous night’s police raid on a few wealthy homes. No reason was given for the arrests, but I knew that if I read down far enough, there would be some tittering implication of debauchery. Mama Rei smiled at me sadly, and flicked her needle through a stocking. The seam would not look new, but would last a little longer with her careful stitching.

“You told him,” she said. “And he listened.”

“He promised me there would be no camps.” Aloud, now, it sounded like a slender promise by which to decide a woman’s fate.

Flick. “Does he seem like an honorable man?”

“I don’t know. I think so. He says that the ones they can’t just let go, they’ll send to a sanitarium.” Someplace clean, where their needs would be attended to, and where they would be well fed. “He says Wilder really does belong there. He believed what he was telling the others. What he was telling Bergman.”

And she believed what he told her—but that faith would not have been enough to save her.

No one’s faith ever was.

Flick. Flick. The needle did a little dance down and around, tying off one of her perfect tiny knots. Little copper scissors, a gift purchased with my earnings and Anna’s, cut the dangling thread. “You should check on her.”

“I don’t think she’ll want to see me.”

Mama Rei looked at me. “Aphra-chan.”

I ducked my head. “You’re right. I’ll make sure they’re treating her well.”

But they would, I knew. She would be confined in the best rooms and gardens that her money could pay for, all her physical needs attended to. Kind men would try to talk her back from the precipice where I had found her. And they would keep her from drowning herself until her blood, like that of all mortals, ran dry.

I wondered if, as she neared the end, she would still pray.

If she did, I would pray with her. If it was good for nothing else, at least the effort would be real.

 

If you enjoy “The Litany of Earth” you can read more of Aphra’s story in Ruthanna Emrys’ upcoming novel Winter Tide, available April 4, 2017.
“The Litany of Earth” copyright © 2014 by Ruthanna Emrys
Art copyright © 2014 by Allen Williams

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017 04:30 pm

Posted by Katharine Duckett

emrys-wintertide

You may know Ruthanna Emrys from The Lovecraft Reread here on Tor.com, or from her acclaimed short story “The Litany of Earth,” which introduced Aphra Marsh, one of the last children of Innsmouth and survivor of the internment camps into which the U.S. government forced Cthulhu’s followers in the late 1920s. Next Tuesday, Aphra returns in Ruthanna’s debut novel, Winter Tide, the launch of her new Lovecraftian fantasy series! If you’re in D.C. or Baltimore, you’ll have the chance to celebrate Winter Tide with Ruthanna when the book comes out (and you can keep track of Ruthanna’s other upcoming events and convention appearances on her website)!

See full details below.

Winter Tide Launch Party!
April 5th at 6:30 PM
East City Book Shop
Washington, D.C.

Winter Tide Reading
April 8th at 2:00 PM
Power Plant Barnes & Noble
Baltimore, MD

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017 04:06 pm

Posted by Matt Peckham

The second Nintendo Switch system update is out, though it’s so small and quick that if you blink you’ve already missed it.

According to Nintendo’s support site, Version 2.1.0 adds “General system stability improvements to enhance the user’s experience.” The update should download in the background, though if you’re impatient (like me), you’ll have to go into System Settings, System, then select System Update to grab it manually.

It takes literal seconds to download, and just a few seconds more for the Switch to apply and hand the controls back to you.

Stability is good. Specificity is better, unless the list of fixes is too broad, or the particulars tediously technical. There has been speculation, as yet unconfirmed, that the Switch’s wireless networking checks can cause slowdown in certain games. I just dropped into The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and teleported to Kakariko Village, and the minor frame hiccups I experience (in particular by the eastern entrance) are still there. (“Minor” is if anything overstating how much I notice or think anyone else should care about these things.)

Otherwise that’s it. No obvious new features or menu items to ponder, and certainly nothing like a Virtual Console (which you can all but rest assured won’t arrive until Nintendo’s done some sort of preview tout). Minor bug fixes are business as usual for any other platform, and that appears to be all this is for now.

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017 04:00 pm

Posted by Emily Asher-Perrin

dune-cover

This week we might get murdered by an old family friend… or that old family friend might play us a pretty song! It really could go either way, though. You know how it is.

Index to the reread can be located here! And don’t forget this is a reread, which means that any and all of these posts will contain spoilers for all of Frank Herbert’s Dune series. If you’re not caught up, keep that in mind.

* * *

When law and duty are one, united by religion, you never become fully conscious, fully aware of yourself. You are always a little less than an individual.

—from Muad’Dib: “The Ninety-nine Wonders of the Universe” by the Princess Irulan

Summary

Gurney thinks he has found spice mass, and has his harvester and crew head out to check. They confirm that sighting and set about beginning their harvest, though Gurney knows they are far out in Fremen territory and risking a great deal. He has been bothered by how the Fremen fight of late, even more skilled than before. As they begin their harvest, rockets are fired and a fight begins. One of their men is eyeing Gurney, a trained fighter. But he tells him to sheathe his knife and calls him by name. When he pulls back his hood, Gurney briefly thinks it is the ghost of the Duke, but then knows it must be Paul though he barely believes it. Paul tells him to call his men off.

Gurney can see that Paul has changed much, that he doesn’t look like any Atreides before him. He realizes that this is the reason why the Fremen’s tactics have been even more improved, and that Paul has no plans to apologize for letting him think that he was dead all this time. He tells Paul that he wishes he had told him he was alive, but understands that people would have wondered where he’d got off to. Paul asks where his men stand, and Gurney tells him that they’re smugglers interested in profits while flashing an old hand signal to Paul to make it clear that they could not all be trusted. He meets Stilgar, who says that he hears Paul is Gurney’s Duke, prompting him to note how this changes things. He tells his men not to struggle at being disarmed, as Paul is the rightful Duke of Arrakis. He points out that Duke Leto would have been more concerned over the men he hadn’t saved, but Paul insists this could not be helped as they were worried for things that these men should not see.

One of these things in the Fremen mounting a sandworm, which Gurney sees presently. Paul reminds him of what his father said about desert power, and that they are that power. Gurney notes that Paul talks of himself as one of the Fremen. He asks after Rabban, and Gurney tells him that they say that they’re defending themselves in the villages, but that means they’re immobilized while the Fremen go where they will. Paul points out that he learned that tactic from Gurney, and ask if he will enlist with him again. Gurney tells him that he never left his service, only did what he had to when thinking Paul dead, which leads to an embarrassed silence. He introduces Gurney to Chani when the wind kicks up and the Fremen are a flurry of activity. They open the rocks to their hiding places, and Gurney learns that these places are common. Paul asks about the men he doesn’t trust, and Gurney admits that they are off-worlders who he suspects might be well-disguised Sardaukar.

Gurney hears one of the Fremen call Paul by name and realizes that he is the Muad’Dib people have been speaking of. He has heard stories of Maud’Dib and all the death surrounding him and wonders what has become of Paul. Gurney and another Fremen approach, warning them to get underground for a storm, and they have a bundle containing Gurney’s baliset; Stilgar thought he would want it back. Gurney notes tension and figures that Stilgar is displeased and coming into contact with someone who knew Paul before he joined them. Paul says he would have them be friends and the two men exchange polite greeting and shake hands. They head down below, but before they have time to talk a fight breaks out between the Fremen and some of Gurney’s men—men who fight like Sardaukar. Paul stops the fighting before all of them can be killed and asks who would dare to come after the ruling Duke of Arrakis. The Sardaukar are upset and unsure, but Paul knows it was there idea to venture this deep into he desert for spice on orders from the Emperor to find out what was happening. He tells them to submit, and one of them tries to pull his knife, but the Captain kills him. Paul takes the Captain and his comrade as prisoners for the time being.

Korba, the Fremen who did not think to search them for hidden weapons, is distraught at having failed Paul. Paul insists that the failure was his own and warns him of other things to check for on potential Sardaukar. Paul then says that he wants the prisoners released. Gurney thinks that is madness, but Paul knows that the Emperor has no sway over him; they control the spice because the spice is everything and they have the ability to destroy it. He then turns to Stilgar and hands him a Sardaukar knife. He asks him why he left the battle to hide Chani away, and Stilgar admits that he did it for Paul’s sake. Paul asks if he could truly fight with him, try to kill him, if he would deprive Paul his right arm, deprive the tribe of his wisdom. When Stilgar insists that it is the way, Paul points out that he has changed the way already, when he didn’t kill Paul and his mother that night they met.

Paul tells Chani that he was wrong and they cannot go to the south; he has to stay where the fight is. He tells Chani to collect his mother and tell her that she must convince the young men of the tribe to accept him as leader without calling out Stilgar. She is to stay in the southern sietch where she can be safe, though the thought does not make her happy. Gurney does not hear anything beyond the mention of Jessica, who he had not thought alive. He plans to kill her first chance he gets.

Commentary

This is section is a sort of humorous fake-out that always made me chuckle; we realize quite quickly that the men that Paul is planning to descend upon who are going after spice are led by Gurney… but Paul doesn’t know that! Oh no! Tragedy is upon us! And the narration milks it too—we get two sets of paragraphs that address Gurney’s unease over the Fremen’s cunning and abilities in battle, which essentially say the same thing two times in a row. Just building that tension, making us freak out that Paul might accidentally kill Gurney, especially as he’d been afraid long ago that he might do something to cause his death. But then, nevermind! Paul saw it was Gurney well ahead of time, everything is fine, we’re cool.

As the opening section dictates, these passages are very might bound up in where Paul, Usul, and Muad’Dib intersect and the ways in which they are different men. We already know that Stilgar has the measure of it, but knowing that Gurney sees a difference so immediately is meant to clue us in as well. Paul Atreides must be a duke, but Muad’Dib must be a legend. And what just Paul (or even Usul, an adopted Fremen) might want is barely even up for consideration.

I think Herbert is asking very specific questions of his reader at this point; we’re meant to entertain the difficulty in separating oneself out from the freight train of history. We’re meant to ask how we might view our single existence in a place of extreme power and influence. Paul’s prescience is really just another version of the oracles that were once present mythology and ancient religion, the holy figures who have had visions from God —the question remains as to whether various leaders believed their own stories or took the opinions of religious oracles into consideration, but the general population certainly did. What Paul is going through is no different from anything that history has shown us, it merely casts it under a clever fictional gauze. What Herbert is asking us to do is to consider the cost, and understand how people are elevated into more than people. That Paul is aware of the lie of it, the performance of it, is a reminder of what really turns these wheels.

Also savvy to the true big picture are men like Stilgar. He looks out for Chani because he worries for Paul, he wants to observe the laws of his people and allow Paul to call him out, but he worries what they will do without him. He is the one who reminds Gurney that Paul is his duke because he knows that is the final aim, that Paul has no interest or need to become a naib. Stilgar clearly is bothered by the duality —he told Paul previously that he understands Usul well, but not the Lisan al-Gaib—but he plans to follow Paul’s lead regardless because he’s basically the only game in town at this point.

We get a few key reveals here, particularly that however the spice is made, the Fremen have the ability to destroy it. I have to applaud the incredibly through plotting of this book because it is tighter than practically everything out there and it’s doled in lovely bits and pieces. It does make me wonder how quickly readers pull it together on their own, and that probably has a little to do with age and experience. I was pretty young when I first read Dune, each reveal was a gasp and the final act was astounding. It’s probably why the book has stuck with me so hard.

Then there is Paul’s words to Stilgar, which are meant to instill purpose and loyalty between them, but are actually quite moving. He seems to have surpassed Leto in his ability to gain the fealty of others, and it’s hard argue the point when his way of making that clear is to say “losing you would be akin to maiming myself pointlessly. You are a part of my whole being that I cannot do without.” Yeah. It’s smart and its affecting. Of course Stilgar agrees.

And then we have a little cliffhanger here in the form of Gurney realizing that Jessica is alive and must be done away with. So we have serious momentum driving us onward.

* * *

How often it is that the angry man rages denial of what his inner self is telling him.

—“The Collected Sayings of Muad’Dib” by the Princess Irulan

Summary

Jessica is now with Paul and enjoyed her journey from the southern sietch, though she is irritated that Paul won’t let them use the captured ornithopters yet. Jessica knows that Gurney is there and wonders why Paul doesn’t tell her the surprise yet. She finds him surrounded by devotees and worries for him, as a man of either station or as a prophet. She hands him his message detailing the fact that Rabban has been left without resources on Arrakis. The young men expect Paul then call out Stilgar, and Paul asks if they thinks him stupid. He tells them that ways change, but the crowd insists that they will decide what can change. Paul says they will have their say, but first he must have his. He asks who truly rules this tribe, as it does not seem that anyone can claim they do alone. He asks if they would smash their knives before a battle, and points out that no one could best him in combat. He asks if they truly want to rid their world of Harkonnens and change their planet.

Paul tells them of the message he has about Rabban, then takes out his father’s ring, the one he swore he would never wear until he was ready to rule the world of his fief. He tells the that he has no desire to leave every tribe without a leader just to prove his point. Instead, he takes Stilgar’s knife and recites the right binding Stilgar to him as his Duke. Then he tells the fighters that Stilgar commands in his name. The crowd seems to take this the way he intended, all ready to fight for him and follow Stilgar. Paul leaves and Jessica knows he means to bring Gurney to see her. She stares at the coffee service he inherited from Jamis and wonders what place Chani can have in all of this. Jessica knows that Paul must be wed to another Great House to solidify his power, perhaps even the Imperial Family.

Gurney comes in and instantly has her under the knife. Jessica realizes that he means to kill her, and that he will be a hard man to stop, well-trained as he is. Paul enters and takes in the situation. Gurney insists that Jessica not speak, and explains that she is the one who betrayed Leto, but Paul cuts him off. He tells Gurney that they knows for certain is was Yueh, that he knows his father trusted his mother, and that if Gurney harms her he will kill him, even though loves him. He points out the error in his father’s judgement, that he knew about love, but misunderstood hate; he thought that anyone who hated the Harkonnens could never betray them, and he was wrong. He tells Gurney that he has heard his mother cry at night for Leto, and that he learned from this how deep the love his parents shared was. Jessica realizes how much it is costing Paul to say this all outloud. She asks that Gurney release her, and when she does, she apologizes for having used Paul in the past due to her training. She tells him to defy convention and marry Chani if it is what he wants.

Gurney is horrified and demands that Paul kill him for his mistake. When he won’t, Gurney demands that Jessica do it. She asks him why he thinks that Atreides must kill those they love, and tells him that in trying to do this thing for Leto, he honors him all the same. She reminds him that she loved listening to him play the baliset, and he offers to play on his new one. Paul must leave them to it; he knows that he must go drown a little maker to produce the water of life—and find out once and for all if he’s the kwisatz haderach.

Commentary

Sorry, it’s just that there’s a bit at the start of this section where Paul is explaining that they can’t use the ornithopters yet until they have everything ready to move, and the phrase he employs is “saved for the day of maximum effort,” so now I keep thinking that Deadpool read Dune and that’s totally why he says “maximum effort” and it tickles me. New headcanon.

Here Paul reiterates what he said to Stilgar in the previous section to a larger group, and the speech is clever, measured and precise to have maximum impact. Of course, it’s not enough to be the final say, but Paul is laying the groundwork for the kind of power structure he wants to see in the future. He brings up the ring of his father and assumes the mantle of dukedom rather than naib, knowing that being the Lisan al-Gaib protects him in this decision. Can you say divine right of kings? Paul is literally framing his heritage as an Atreides here as the thing that makes him fit to rule. And he’s already built up his own mythology well enough that it goes largely unchallenged. Then he exits and tells his mother to meet him in his rooms.

What follows is another one of my favorite sections in the whole book.

Just when you feel like Dune is getting too “big picture” and leaving out important character work, we get a section like this. There has been so little commentary on Leto’s death that it’s easy to forget his impact, even when we’re constantly reminded of him—Gurney noting how Paul looks like him, Paul’s son being named after him, the collection of his bones hidden away. But emotionally, this moment in time makes perfect sense; of course the only way that Paul is capable of talking about this is when the belief that his mother was the traitor all along is finally brought the fore. And with people like these, who do nothing but carry their grudges and seek revenge, it was inevitable that this would come back.

And while I know part of Jessica’s true strength comes from her ability to view situations outside of herself, part of me kind of wishes that she had scared Gurney just a little for putting her through that. Jessica has been doubted at every turn, by practically everyone, and the idea of being endlessly suspected of betraying the person you loved more than anyone in this universe is not a burden she should constantly have to bear. I just kind of want her to get some petty revenge in. Because being a Bene Gesserit is literally the only reason any of these men had to suspect her of anything, and the rest of them could have been counted as plenty suspicious if it weren’t for this overarching paranoia about that one group of scary powerful ladies.

Thankfully, Paul is there to finally give his mother the credit she deserves for the work she has been doing since their escape, and to make it clear that someone has been witness to her pain. While Jessica is thinking only of what it costs Paul to admit that, I’m more pleased that he finally gives Jessica something that she has needed for a few years now—acknowledgment that her grief is real and it matters. They’ve both been so bound up in creating this legend around themselves that they clearly haven’t had much time for human connection and one-on-one consideration. They haven’t had time to be family to one another, and this incident provides it.

Which is precisely why Jessica lets go of her concern over Paul’s position in the future and finally gives her blessing for him to marry Chani. In that moment where they both allow themselves to be human, to be family, she recognizes that Paul is close to being as unhappy as she was, and she wants better for him. She wants him to be with the one he loves.

We end on Paul ready to pass the final test, to prove the he is the kwisatz haderach. So get ready for next week!

* * *

And here is your audio clip for the week!

Emily Asher-Perrin does have a love of deeply precocious child characters. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017 03:23 pm

Posted by Brad Tuttle

House Republicans are expected to vote on Tuesday to repeal an Obama-era rule that required Internet providers to get customers’ permission before sharing their personal information and browsing history.

The U.S. Senate voted along party lines 50-48 last week to approve a Republican-backed bill repealing regulations passed in October 2016 to protect Internet users’ privacy. A House vote on Tuesday is expected to also favor a repeal of the rule, which is entitled “Protecting the Privacy of Customers of Broadband and Other Telecommunications Services.”

Among other things, the rule requires Internet providers like Comcast and Verizon to get the permission of customers before their confidential information is shared or used in any way. If a repeal is successful and President Trump signs the bill as expected, the consequences for Internet users are fairly simple. As The Verge summed up:

Comcast, AT&T, and Charter will be free to sell your personal information to the highest bidder without your permission — and no one will be able to protect you.

Supporters of a repeal—which, unsurprisingly including big players in the broadband business—argue that it’s unfair to place such tough restrictions on Internet providers. After all, they point out, sites like Google and Facebook are basically free to use customer data however they see fit.

But advocates for privacy and consumer rights note that there is no fee to use Google and Facebook, and that customers can turn to other search engines or social media if they don’t like how their data is being used. Internet providers, on the other hand, charge for their services, and enjoy virtual monopolies in many parts of the country, leaving many customers with no other choice except to pay up or not have Internet access at all.

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017 03:00 pm

Posted by Liz Bourke

swm-logan01

Logan is a strange sort of superhero film. It made me laugh for all the wrong reasons, so determined as it was to embrace its postapocalyptic Western mood that it wandered into some fairly ridiculous territory—despite its at-times touching interest in, and commentary on, filial bonds and caregiving.

There are two things about Logan that I want to comment on. One is really interesting, and maybe unprecedented in superhero films; the other falls into an existing pattern that has a track record of annoying me. It’s fascinating to see them juxtaposed.

In Logan, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is cast in the role of caretaker to an elder father-figure, nonagenarian Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). Charles is suffering from some form of degenerative brain disorder. He alternates periods of lucidity between peevish confusion: a formerly very knowledgeable and extremely competent man rendered vulnerable and occasionally childish by age. Wolverine, meanwhile, is also suffering the effects of aging, and can no longer rely on his body and healing powers the way he used to.

Wolverine’s usually the symbolic epitome of one kind of masculinity: strong, violent, not very good at talking about his feelings. Where Wolverine’s emblematic of a violence-focused masculinity, Charles Xavier is emblematic of professorial, intellectual masculinity, a character whose physical disability is never seen as impinging upon his competence. But in Logan, Charles’ intellect is no longer reliable, much as Wolverine can no longer count on his strength as he used to. Wolverine has to take care of Charles, both physically and emotionally. (He’s not very good at being a reassuring caretaker.)

The role of caretaker for an elder is usually one that falls to women, both in fictional narratives and real life. But in Logan, the quintessentially masculine (though now somewhat decaying) Wolverine occupies this role. He does not necessarily perform its requirements well, but it’s really interesting that the narrative puts him in this role at all. It’s a break in the pattern of superhero films, which are usually not at all concerned with aging and the care of elders except, possibly, as obstacles to be overcome.

Wolverine’s care of and for Charles Xavier is paired with his reluctance to care for the child Laura (Dafne Keen), also known as X-23, the half-feral girl who shares Wolverine’s mutations: the claws and the healing powers. She doesn’t need anyone to save her, or to care for her in a physical sense, and Wolverine’s use to her is mostly in smoothing her interactions with other humans. (He does not do this very well.)

Laura’s superhuman powers and her facility with violence—and her seeming lack of regret for killing—make her an unusual figure. Women are not usually shown as super-soldiers in visual media, and on the rare occasions where they are, their facility with violence is almost always secondary to their sexual appeal. Prepubescent Laura is not, of course, shown in a sexual light, and the narrative embraces her destructive skills—juxtaposing them against Wolverine’s decaying competence and his role as a caretaker. (Would a Wolverine still at the height of his powers have been shown as a caregiver to this extent? It’s an interesting possibility to ponder.)

Both examples of the unsexualised female supersoldier that I can think of—Laura in Logan and Saoirse Ronan’s Hanna in the 2011 film of the same name—are prepubescent: children, endowed with a kind of moral innocence. This is the pattern that annoys me. The viewer may sympathise with a mature, self-destructive Wolverine, haunted by his many and various traumas, but we are never allowed to see a woman supersoldier in that same light.

It seems as though sexual maturity in women renders them automatically other: we are only allowed to see female supersoldiers when they, by virtue of their age and inexperience, are part of a class we-the-audience will always see as requiring protection. Despite Logan’s unusual willingness to play around with masculinity and caregiving, in this respect it’s conservative in its approach to traditional gender roles. An adult healthy competent Laura/X-23 cast opposite a decaying Wolverine, Charles Xavier’s caregiver, would have disrupted the paradigm entirely, and—however much I enjoyed Logan as a film—I’m left regretting that this isn’t something it was interested in giving us.

Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Find her at her blog. Or her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council and the Abortion Rights Campaign.

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017 02:00 pm

Posted by Elise Ringo

lotr-sauron

“Other evils there are that may come; for Sauron is himself but a servant or emissary. Yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.” –Gandalf, The Return of the King

Recently, a friend of mine tried to convince me that The Lord of the Rings is a story of good versus evil, a simplistic fable of light triumphing over dark, and that Tolkien liked to write in black and white morality. This is a deep misunderstanding of morality and the nature of conflict in Tolkien’s storytelling: in fact, the pull toward loss and catastrophe is far stronger than the certainty of victory, and the world of Middle-earth is always on the edge of a fall into darkness.

The promise of destruction hovers constantly over The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. The Silmarillion in particular is, in many ways, a story of what Tolkien once called “the long defeat” (Letters, no. 195)—the entire world is devastated not once but twice in battles that shatter continents. Of the six major battles against Morgoth, the rebellious god and Satan-like figure of Tolkien’s mythology (Sauron, in comparison, was only a henchman), three are devastating losses, one is a temporary victory that ends in the death of one of the greatest Elves to ever live (if also one of the most divisive), and one causes the aforementioned destruction of half a continent.

Oh, sure, the latter ends in Morgoth’s imprisonment. But lest we forget, eventually he will break free again and throw the world into darkness.

Splintered Light by Verlyn Flieger is one of the first full-length studies of Tolkien’s writing and one of the few on The Silmarillion (a sort of mythological history of Middle-earth—to give you some perspective, the entirety of The Lord of the Rings is encompassed in two paragraphs in the last chapter of The Silmarillion). In it, Flieger argues that the back and forth pull between two emotional poles of despair and hope is a constant of Tolkien’s writing.

Following Flieger’s lead, it’s necessary to look closely at The Silmarillion, and specifically at Tolkien’s creation myth, to understand the complex nature of good and evil in his world. The first section in the published Silmarillion, the “Ainulindalë”, describes the universe as created by Eru (roughly speaking, God) and sung into being by the Valar (roughly speaking, angels). However, all is not well in the choir: the rebellious Melkor seeks to make his own music outside of that composed by Eru, thus introducing discord and conflict into the melody.

It’s this rather poor decision that precipitates Melkor’s eventual fall (more on that later), but its significance for Tolkien’s cosmology is far greater than that: Eru weaves the rebellious theme into the overarching music, making it part of the grand design, but the problem with incorporating angelic rebellion into your creation is that—well, you’ve incorporated angelic rebellion into creation.

As Tolkien put it in a letter to a friend in 1951, explaining his conception of the Middle-earth mythology:

In this Myth the rebellion of created free-will precedes creation of the World (Eä); and Eä has in it, subcreatively introduced, evil, rebellions, discordant elements of its own nature already when the Let it Be was spoken. The fall or corruption, therefore, of all things in it and all inhabitants of it, was a possibility if not inevitable.” (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 131)

He contrasts this with the version of creation given by “what may be perhaps called Christian mythology,” where “the Fall of Man is subsequent to and a consequence (though not a necessary consequence) of the ‘Fall of the Angels’” but not an inherent part of the world’s nature. In notes, Tolkien described the entirety of the Middle-earth universe as “Morgoth’s ring”—the essence of his evil is baked in, as it were, from the start.

Perhaps this inherent corruption is why the idea of the Fall endlessly haunts Middle-earth. The Silmarillion is dotted with falls, figurative and literal, great and small. The mighty Elf Fëanor falls to his pride and jealousy, just as Melkor did. The house of Hurin collapses into ruins amid tragedy that can only be described as sordid. The great sanctuaries—Nargothrond, Gondolin, Doriath, and the island of Númenor—are all sacked and destroyed.

Númenor itself makes a perfect test case for the ways in which goodness in Tolkien is not a given, even in his heroes. Founded as an island nation for the descendants of the savior-hero Eärendil, Númenor is created as a kind of in-between land, a liminal space between the paradise of Valinor and the mundane world. Númenor and its people are favored above other humans—but even before Sauron manages to slip in as an advisor to the king, the island has already begun to fall apart. Driven by a fear of death, the Númenoreans turn away from their special relationship with the Valar, dabbling in the twin evils of necromancy and imperialism.

This gradual moral decay eventually culminates in a disastrous attempt to invade Valinor by force, and the island of Númenor is utterly destroyed by Eru himself, in his first direct intervention in events, ever. A remnant survives (the ancestors of Aragorn and the Rangers), but the glory of Númenor is gone forever, and as an additional consequence, Eru reshapes the world, sundering Valinor from the earthly realms.

The reshaping of the world after Númenor’s destruction is a loss that resonates with another major theme of Tolkien’s: the world is moving ever away from the divine. In the beginning the Valar walk among the Elves, but they gradually retreat from the world, eventually leaving altogether. This is a process begun at Númenor’s fall, and the resultant removal of Valinor. Tolkien wrote that

The Downfall of Númenor…brings on the catastrophic end, not only of the Second Age, but of the Old World, the primeval world of legend (envisaged as flat and bounded). After which the Third Age began, a Twilight Age, a Medium Aevium, the first of a broken and changed world. (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 131)

The course of Middle-earth’s history is the gradual motion away from a beautiful past that is always growing further beyond reach. Tolkien’s nostalgia for a bygone age is a simultaneous yearning for and awareness of things lost beyond recovery; not only are the Valar retreating from the material world, but even the Elves begin to leave the world of Men.

It isn’t only on a grand scale that Tolkien illustrates the tendency of the world toward destruction, however—the falls of individuals are every bit as dramatic. The history of Middle-earth is dotted with other characters who succumb to pride or arrogance: Fëanor in the First Age, Isildur in the Second Age, and others. No one is so pure that they are not at risk: not without reason do Gandalf and Elrond both refuse to take charge of the Ring, and while hobbits are able to resist longer, Frodo ultimately fails to let the Ring go, claiming it as his own (it’s only Gollum’s intervention that prevents disaster). The Ring may be a force of its own, but it speaks to the inner darkness in everyone.

Tolkien’s pessimism shows clearly in an unfinished “sequel” to The Lord of the Rings that he began writing but never finished, which takes place in Gondor during the reign of Aragorn’s son. In the story, a sort of “Satanic” cult has arisen and young boys play at being Orcs. Human beings, Tolkien wrote in his letters about the tale, grow quickly dissatisfied with peace (Letters, no. 256 and 338); the title “The New Shadow” alludes to the growth of new evil even after the destruction of Sauron. Tolkien deemed the story too dark and never finished it.

On the other hand, there is a version of Tolkien’s cosmology that holds out hope for a final victory: the Second Prophecy of Mandos promises that while Morgoth will escape and cover the world in darkness, in the end he will be killed and a new world created, free of the flaws of the old. This messianic, Revelation-like story lingers in a few places in The Silmarillion. In the story of the creation of the Dwarves, Tolkien mentions the role they will play in “the remaking of Arda after the Last Battle” (The Silmarillion, “Aule and Yavanna”). However, the prophecy itself was not included in the finished version, and it seems Tolkien did not intend it to be. Not only does Tolkien’s history not reach this promised conclusion beyond prophetic mention, but by its exclusion it is eternally deferred—always just beyond reach, positioned in a nebulous future-conditional.

Thus far, I’ve mostly focused on the darkness that dwells in the heart of Middle-earth, but that is primarily because it is the facet most often overlooked by readers. Equally important is the other side of the coin—glimmers of hope, the turn toward the light: what Tolkien called “eucatastrophe” in his essay “On Fairy Stories”.

According to Tolkien’s definition, eucatastrophe is “the sudden joyous ‘turn’” at the end of a story that averts disaster. It gives “a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world” that does not deny the existence of sorrow and failure but nevertheless offers hope for something other than universal and final defeat. The story of Beren and Luthien is one such glimpse, as is the ultimate destruction of the One Ring even after Frodo’s failure. Each victory may be small, or temporary, but that does not make them meaningless.

In the 1950s, Tolkien wrote a philosophical dialogue between an Elf and a human woman called “Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth,” (subtitled “Of Death and the Children of Eru, and the Marring of Men”). In this piece, Tolkien offers two different Elvish words for hope. One, amdir, describes the expectation of good “with some foundation in what is known”—a realistic kind of hope based on past experience. The other is estel, which the Elf Finrod describes thusly:

“But there is another [thing called hope] which is founded deeper. Estel we call it, that is “trust.” It is not defeated by the ways of the world, for it does not come from experience, but from our nature and first being.” (“Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth”, Morgoth’s Ring)

Estel describes a hope that flies in the face of expectation but is nonetheless sustained, remaining despite loss and despite defeat. It represents what might be called faith, not only in the religious sense but in the manner of a deeply held belief that does not require “evidence.” Tolkien’s hope seems closer to estel than amdir, not to be defeated by the ways of the world. Estel, it is worth noting, is one of Aragorn’s many names.

The story of Lord of the Rings, and of the history of Middle-earth more generally, is not that of one battle of good versus evil, but of instances of a battle that is ongoing, where the final victory (or defeat) is always deferred, just at one remove.

Tolkien’s ethos is not that good will always triumph over evil. Rather, it is that good is locked in a constant struggle against evil, and that victory is far from inevitable and always temporary. Nonetheless, the fight is still necessary and worthwhile. Even in the face of futility, even if it is all a part of “the long defeat,” as Galadriel describes her ages-long fight against the dark (The Fellowship of the Ring, “The Mirror of Galadriel”), it is valuable to remember the infinitely wise words of Samwise Gamgee’s song in The Two Towers:

Though here at journey’s end I lie
in darkness buried deep,
beyond all towers strong and high,
beyond all mountains steep,
above all shadows rides the Sun
and Stars forever dwell:
I will not say the Day is done,
nor bid the Stars farewell.

Elise Ringo is an enthusiastic nerd putting her English degree to good use by writing about anything other than the literary canon and thinking far too much about pop-culture. She runs a blog at Becoming the Villainess and tweets as @veliseraptor.

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017 01:52 pm

Posted by Stubby the Rocket

Spiderman: Homecoming

New Spiderman: Homecoming trailer! And this one not only gives us more Aunt May and Vulture, and not only updates the “Spidey saves a train-load of people” scene, but implies a really interesting, character-defining plot twist that—and we can’t believe we’re saying this—has nothing to do with an origin story.

Do you hear us? NOT AN ORIGIN STORY.

Click through for the full friendly neighborhood trailer!

Spiderman: Homecoming swings into theaters July 7th!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017 01:30 pm

Posted by Lee Harris

Una McCormack book announcement high plains drifter in space

Threatened with annexation by the interstellar Commonwealth, the settlers of the strategically important planet Sienna were able to prolong their independence only by submitting to a never-ending ordeal of intimidation and extortion. Now, with nowhere else to turn, the settlers hire a strange jenjer—a genetically engineered working class—woman to drive off their oppressors…

But a revolution is surging up through the ranks of the jenjers themselves, and what follows is nothing at all like what the settlers bargained for.

We couldn’t be happier to welcome Una McCormack to the Tor.com family with The Undefeated!

Her editor, Marco Palmieri said:

“I’ve been waiting literally years to be reunited professionally with Una. She’s an amazing storyteller, incredibly talented, and now I can’t wait for everyone to read her first novella for Tor.com, a frontier space opera is set in the same world as her BSFA-nominated short story, ‘Taking Flight.'”

Photo Credit: Matthew Adams

Photo Credit: Matthew Adams

And Una added:

“I am so glad to be working again with Marco, who commissioned my first novel many years ago. He is a phenomenal editor with terrific instincts for a great story, and I’m extremely excited about this chance to work with him and Tor.com.”

Una McCormack is a New York Times bestselling author and a university lecturer in creative writing. She has written novels, short stories, and audio dramas for franchises such as Star Trek, Doctor Who, and Blake’s 7. She lives in Cambridge, England, with her partner and their daughter. They have no cats and one Dalek.

The Undefeated will be published in trade paperback and ebook formats from Tor.com Publishing in 2018.

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017 01:00 pm

Posted by John Scalzi

Art by Sparth

So, I have I new space opera series on the way, which starts with The Collapsing Empire, a book which—as the title cleverly suggests—features an empire of planets and habitats, potentially on the verge of collapse.

Now, when I say that the series is “new,” I mean that it’s a story that hasn’t been told before, with characters you’ve never met. But as with so many creative works, The Collapsing Empire has some clear antecedents in literature, in books that inspired me while I was writing my book, and in authors I gleefully borrowed from in order to build out my own new universe.

Which books and authors? Here are five of them.

 

Dune, by Frank Herbert

Dune TV film adaptation Legendary EntertainmentOh, sure, you try writing a science fiction novel about a culture centered on a mercantile nobility headed up by dynastic emperor and not bring Dune into it. See how far you get! Rather than trying to run away from it, I decided to embrace Dune as a creative inspiration for The Collapsing Empire—indeed, when I first started writing the book I tried writing with a sort of Herbert-esque tone. That… turned out not to be a great idea, although I certainly did learn some things about myself as a writer. The final version of Empire sounds like me, which is a good thing. But it was useful to see how Herbert handled many of the same themes I would attempt, both to see what I would do similarly, and what I would do differently.

 

Grass, by Sheri S. Tepper

grass-tepperI consider Tepper’s Grass to be a world (and universe) building feat equal to Dune and one of the great underrated science fiction novels of all time, and it’s got a great heroine in the figure of Marjorie Westriding Yraier, who goes up against an entrenched hierarchical society (more than one, in fact!) to both get to the bottom of a mystery plague, and to save her own family. It’s accurate to say that Marjorie is the spiritual godmother to one of the protagonists of The Collapsing Empire, as someone who is going to keep on pushing, not regardless of, but in spite of, the cost.

 

The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine AddisonOne of the main characters of The Collapsing Empire is an emperox (that’s a non-gender-specific word for the royal head of an empire) who comes to the office essentially by accident—much like the emperor of Katherine Addison’s wonderful, charming and deceptively gentle (in that it’s not really gentle at all) novel. Addison pulls off the task of having her emperor learn as he goes, despite so many who’d be happy to keep him tractable and in the dark (or “out of the way” if they can’t manage that). Basically, I cribbed a whole lot from Addison, and unashamedly, and I think if her Maia and my Cardenia ever met, they’d have a lot to talk about.

 

The Hydrogen Sonata, by Iain M. Banks

hydrogen-sonataI note this book, because it’s the most recent Banks book I read, but honestly any of his Culture series would do here—his universe is so vast, capacious and smart that I can’t even be envious of his skill, I just sit back and enjoy it. The Interdependency of The Collapsing Empire could be something that is tucked into a backwater of the Culture (which I’m sure would see it as hopelessly quaint); nevertheless I took many many notes for my own system of planets and habitable structures from his books, and snuck in a small salute to Banks in the names of my ships.

 

Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi

Old Man's War CoverWhat, that hack? Yes, yes, I know, but hear me out: When you’re a writer who already has a well-established space opera series, starting a new one is fraught with, if not actual danger, at least the worry that you’re going to repeat yourself in some obvious way that sucks the enjoyment out of the new universe for your readers. So one of the things I did before writing The Collapsing Empire was to read the Old Man’s War series again, to have it close enough in my brain that I could avoid replicating major themes and technology (well, to a point… I mean, I still have spaceships). As a result, I think Empire has a good balance of what readers like about me as a science fiction author, and the cool new stuff that will make them want to explore this new universe I’ve created for them. Am I right? We’ll see!

 

The Collapsing Empire is available from Tor Books.
Read the opening chapters of the novel, beginning here with the Prologue.

The Collapsing Empire by John ScalziJohn Scalzi is the author of several SF novels including the bestselling Old Man’s War sequence, comprising Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony, Zoe’s Tale, The Human Division, and The End of All Things. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Fuzzy Nation and Redshirts; the latter novel won science fiction’s Hugo Award in 2013. He also won a Hugo Award for Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded, a collection of essays from his popular blog The Whatever. He lives in Ohio with his wife and daughter.

 

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017 12:00 pm

Posted by Lisa Eadicicco

Move over, Snapchat.

Facebook is launching a new camera interface for its iPhone and Android app that allows users add effects like masks, frames, and filters without having to leave the app, the company said on Tuesday. The announcement comes after Facebook debuted the feature in its Messenger app in December, and it begins rolling out today.

The new Facebook camera will include different types of effects, including some that users will be able to interact with, like falling snow, and others that add Picasso-like filters to photos and videos. The company will also offer branded masks that are themed to specific movies such as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Power Rangers, and Alien: Covenant.

The masks are similar to Snapchat’s Lenses, which overlay graphical effects that range from adding adorable animal ears to a person’s head to bizarrely warping their facial features. In addition to adding new masks over time, Facebook will also allow users to create their own effects that can be used only on photos and videos taken with the app’s camera.

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Stories, another Snapchat-esque feature that Facebook launched for Instagram last August, is also coming to the company’s main app. As is the case with Instagram Stories, Facebook Stories will live at the top of the main feed and disappear after 24 hours. Facebook is also launching the option to send temporary videos and photos to other friends directly as well through a feature called Direct, which lets recipients view the content once, replay it, and send a reply. After the chat thread related to the photo or video ends, the content is erased.

The launch is the latest attempt by Facebook to emphasize the camera as the primary input took for creating social media posts, a concept Snapchat made popular that has driven Snap Inc.’s $24 billion valuation.

 

 

Monday, March 27th, 2017 08:00 pm

Posted by Stubby the Rocket

Charlaine Harris

What if FDR had been assassinated before the end of the Great Depression?

That concept fuels the world of a new trilogy series from Charlaine Harris, bestselling author of the Sookie Stackhouse series, which deals with a modern-day U.S. that has been split into 6 different nations.

Developed from the short story “The Gunnie” from the anthology Unfettered II, Harris returns with an alternate history of a broken America weakened by the Great Depression and the assassination of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which tears the country into five new territories:

  • New Britannia: The re-annexation of the original colonies (sans Georgia).
  • Dixie: The southeastern area of what is currently known as the Dixie region of the U.S.
  • The Holy Russian Empire: A California and Oregon colonized by Russia.
  • New America: A Canadian-controlled portion of the northwestern U.S.
  • Texoma: A secessioned portion of the southwestern U.S.
  • The U.S. presumably contracts to become dominated by the Midwest.

The first novel, Texoma, is out in 2018 from SAGA Press and centers on Lizbeth Rose, a fiercely independent mercenary who is hired on a manhunt by Russian sorcerers in a Mexican border town.

“It’s an absolute joy to work with a master like Charlaine Harris,” said Joe Monti, Editorial Director of Saga Press. “She has created an alternate world filled with denigrated magic, inverted expectations, and characters easy to fall in love with. The Texoma trilogy is classic Harris, playing with the elements she has loved for years, delivered with her signature style and profound revelations that have delighted her millions of readers.”

“All writers love ‘what if’,” said Charlaine Harris. “I became fascinated by the idea of writing about an alternate America, seen through the eyes of a professional gun-for-hire who happens to be a woman.”

Monday, March 27th, 2017 07:00 pm

Posted by Peter Tieryas

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Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium is an ambitious JRPG that is the perfect end to the series, taking the best elements of each of the previous games and weaving together a “phantastic” journey. It easily goes toe to toe with its more famous Square contemporaries like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI. Coming after the radical departure from the series Phantasy Star III was with its medieval setting and art style, PSIV (1993 JP, 1995 US) was a welcome return by Director Rieko Kodama and her Sega team to its science fiction roots. It also exemplifies how to do a sequel, as PSIV doesn’t shy away from its ties to the previous games the way III did, but instead, embraces them.

 

Returning Evil

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1,000 years have passed since the events of Phantasy Star II. Mota has reverted to its pre-Mother Brain state following the “Great Collapse” so that it is again a desert planet complete with enormous sand worms. Unfortunately, Dark Force is back for another haunting as well and the perennial battle against evil as the Hegelian representation of “contradiction” is pushed to the extreme; Dark Force seeks nothing less than the negation of all life in the Algol Star System.

Fortunately, good is back too, embodied by another Alys (whose name is almost identical to the heroine of Phantasy Star I, Alis), as well as the latest reincarnation of the series favorite, Lutz. The main protagonist is a young bounty hunter named Chaz who’s been taken under the wing of the more experienced Alys (Chaz shares a similar breastplate to Rudo from PSII in a visual connection that binds them). The two begin investigating the burgeoning presence of monsters throughout the world in a nod to the plot of Phantasy Star II. But unlike the last time, when the problems initially seem the result of a computer error, evil has a face.

The black magician, Zio, is a charlatan who has faced much adversity throughout his life. In desperation, he turned to Dark Force who granted him great magical strength as well as the gift of immortality. Emboldened by his new powers, Zio establishes a church worshipping the embodiment of all things evil. His followers are a group of religious zealots who believe in cleansing the world of the impure and are strongly anti-academic. There’s one moment where a disciple mentions the name of Zio and faints because he’s so in awe. Another citizen has a seizure caused by his own religious fervor for the evil wizard.

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The sight of humans fighting so passionately to bring about their own destruction is one that seems absurdly ridiculous on the surface, but oddly reminiscent of the news I’ve been watching of late. What should have come across as an overly evil set of tropes in this replay didn’t seem so alien or foreign, and the capacity of Zio’s followers to delude themselves was uncannily familiar. By coincidence, I’d been reading a William Shirer book about the Third Reich where this particular quote resonated: “Over the years as I listened to scores of Hitler’s major speeches I would pause in my own mind to exclaim, ‘What utter rubbish! What brazen lies!’ Then I would look around at the audience. His listeners were lapping up every word as the utter truth.”

Zio and his army are wreaking havoc everywhere they go. One of the cities that falls under their tyrannical rule is Molcum, which they lay completely to waste. The irony of the religious movement is lost on many of its members, ignorant of the fact that the planet once was a utopia, destroyed by the actions of humans. A thousand years ago, life was pretty awesome, due in large part to the advanced technology and egalitarian social structure. This religious cult intends to destroy any trace of that, and it’s into this situation that you’re thrown into the fray.

 

Utopia No More

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While I feel the worldbuilding in Phantasy Star II was my favorite in the series, PSIV has the most compelling characters. Each has motivations I cared about, whether it’s Hahn, the curious scientist who has to give away his wedding fund to finance the investigations into Birth Valley, or an aggrieved Gryz who seeks vengeance against Zio for his parent’s death in Molcum. The cutscenes are gorgeously drawn in comic book style panels, splashing on top of each other to create a dynamic vibrancy. The closeup facial expression make each team member feel distinct and alive.

I still remember when one of your companions Rei (who is a genetically engineered Numan), emerges from the bio-plant where she’s been her whole life and sees the sun for the first time. She is in awe, gawking openly at the azure skies. The simple joy of that moment, tied together with the memory of her PSII predecessor, Nei, has always moved me.

It’s also hilarious the way Alys tempers her desire to do good with greed, demanding to get paid for every new mission, though doing it with charm. Chaz and Rune jibe each other constantly and provide much of the comic relief. They seem generally hostile, but in a moment of tragedy, Rune actually provides a deeper understanding to the situation that brings comfort to the young bounty hunter. As for Chaz himself, we learn he’s a foreigner with a dark past and it was only through Alys’s help that he was able to find himself.

It’s the overall interactions of the characters that make this game so compelling. There’s a “talk” option where characters can communicate with each other on the field. Often, it’ll act as a hint guide, telling you where you should be heading. But banter abounds as the characters will express personal convictions or rib each other over previous events. Even if aspects of the narrative follows JRPG tropes, that’s not a bad thing when it’s executed in such an entertaining way. The pacing is superb and there’s an immediacy to the sense of action heightened by comic book cutscenes and the musical cues that help the speed, such as the abrupt transition of the battle victory theme.

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Your party is always on the move. In Zema, you find all the townspeople have been turned into stone by Zio. You have to make a long trek to Tonoe to find the cure, Alshline. On the path there, you visit multiple towns, defeat swarms of monsters, recruit and lose team members, and after retrieving the cure, are finally rewarded with a cutscene in which you save all the people. The allegorical nature of the petrification takes on more meaning when you realize they were excavating Birth Valley to uncover the scientific secrets behind the spurt in monsters, but were impeded by Zio. It’s technology versus magic, though the ancient technology has failed due to the corruption of Dark Force. What’s interesting is that Zio knows the truth, and doesn’t care. He will do whatever it takes to maintain power, even if it means denying them the advances that could help humanity achieve the utopia they seek.

 

Five Characters Please

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I hate that so many JRPGs give you a huge cast of characters, then only let you take three of them into battle. Thankfully, Phantasy Star IV lets you bring five members into fights. The battle animations are fantastic and I love the SF/Fantasy combination of weapons that includes laconian swords, titanium slashers (essentially boomerangs that hurt all your foes), and plasma launchers.

While JRPGs as a whole have come a long way towards making gameplay more friendly for gamers, it’s the subtle things that can make or break a battle system, vital considering you spend a good chunk of most JRPGs in them. Phantasy Star IV took great strides in making battles a lot more user-friendly for players.

This is the first time in the series you can see your characters fight the enemies and the background environments at the same time (PSII left out environments in favor of Tron like grids, while PSIII had environments, but no character animations). Also, there isn’t a single weak member among your characters (well, maybe Hahn). Everyone has their advantages, which helps you connect with the party members. Seriously, why do some JRPGs give you characters that are lame and worthless?

On the control side, there’s a macro system that lets you program automated battles. This means you don’t need to repeat the same combos over and over. Also, the battle system memorizes whatever technique, skill, or item you selected last to minimize any unnecessary scrolling. To add to the strategic element of macros, there are powerful combination attacks your team members can trigger when they use a list of techniques or skills. Utilizing the macro system is the best way to ensure their activation.

There is a bit of grinding, but nowhere near the level of the other games in the series. The difficulty is well balanced and though the random encounter rate is high, on par with many of its JRPGs contemporaries, it never gets overwhelming. Unlike most games, combat in vehicles is a different beast from regular fights. You actually use the weapons you have aboard the craft you’re in. It’s a nice touch that adds to the sense of immersion. While these new vehicles aren’t as nifty as Wren transforming into an aerojet or aquaswimmer from PSIII, they’re still a great addition in helping you feel like you’re part of the world.

The most important thing is that you feel the care the team at Sega took to make the experience as seamless as possible. Rieko Kodama is one of the most brilliant directors in gaming (her gameography includes Phantasy Star II, Skies of Arcadia, and Deep Fear) and it shows in that PSIV has one of the smoothest battle systems of the 16-bit era.

 

Phantasy Threads

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I love the way Phantasy Star IV ties up many of the loose ends from the series and rewards players who have followed the series. There’s a connection with Phantasy Star III that is a treat for fans, especially as it’s part of a completely optional mission. You discover it in the ruins of a wrecked spaceship that reveals the fate of the Parmanians who escaped the destruction and the computer logs describe their distant travels aboard the massive colony starships. While my feelings toward the dark sheep in the series is mixed, my favorite part of the game, the cyborgs, are back. Wren is as badass and stoic as before (even though it’s actually a different model) and is still a cyborg of mass destruction.

There’s also multiple references to the first Phantasy Star throughout the game. In the town of Termi, you actually find statues of the original heroine, Alis, along with her feline companion, Myau. A more significant connection is the return of the final boss in the original game, Lashiec. You re-enter the old Air Castle to defeat Lashiec once again and discover two thousand years have only made him angrier. It’s a sad ending to a once wise and benevolent ruler, corrupted by Dark Force.

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Even the fate of the space pirate, Tyler, who rescued you from the satellite of Gaira (aka Gaila) in Phantasy Star II, is revealed as he eventually landed on Dezolis with the other Palmanian refugees and founded a town on the cold surface. It felt good to learn that they’d not only survived, but were able to start a new life. You use his old spaceship, the Landale, to navigate the stars after your own ship is sabotaged.

At one pivotal point late in the game, Chaz discovers the sacred sword, Elsydeon. That’s when he’s stricken by a vision of all the heroes from the past Phantasy Star games. I choked up seeing Nei as well as the heroes of II whose fate post-game we were never actually told. What moved me though was that it wasn’t just a nod back to the PS games, rather, a nostalgic reminiscence on all the hours I’d spent exploring the rich worlds within JRPGs. I thought of the way they’d shaped many of the important narratives of my childhood and Chaz’s flashback felt like a re-tread through my gaming past.

This is why I play sequels, not just to discover new worlds, but to revisit old ones and find out how things have changed. IV strikes that perfect balance of old and new.

 

Star Systems

Phantasy Star IV was one of the most expensive games of the time, and I unfortunately couldn’t afford it when I was a kid. So I rented it at Blockbuster and spent every day during that summer break week to beat it. The game is huge and I loved every moment of it. It was as though they crammed the best parts of I, II, and III in to make the perfect mix. I remember thinking multiple times that I’d beaten the game, only to find out there was another villain, and another. I was so happy to finally get my own copy thanks to the wonders of eBay, and I’m glad to report that in this new playthrough, the game not only lived up to expectations, but actually went beyond them. There are no caveats in recommending the game the way I had for Phantasy Star II (thanks in large part to all the grinding you needed to do for II) and it really stands the test of time. The millennium, and the original saga, ended in truly epic fashion.

Peter Tieryas is the author of United States of Japan and has worked for game companies like LucasArts and EA. He likes tweeting about games at @TieryasXu.

Monday, March 27th, 2017 06:00 pm

Posted by Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer

Cover art by Alan Gutierrez

Here’s the thing about Ethan of Athos; I LOVE IT. It had been a long time since I read it, and I didn’t really remember anything about it in any particular way, so I picked it up last week after I finished writing about Cetaganda, and not too long after that I put it down again because I was done. My only regret about the time in between was that there wasn’t more of it. I do not, at this moment, feel equipped to authoritatively state that this is the most lovable book in the Vorkosigan Saga, but it is definitely a very strong contender.

And I know what you’re thinking right now, blog readers—you’re thinking I like it because Elli Quinn shoots stuff. You’re not wrong. She does shoot stuff. She shoots stuff with stunners, and puts trackers on people, and gets people drunk and she’s fearless and I love her. But I do not love this book for her alone, because Ethan is no slouch either, in the fearlessness department. He’s not what I would call traditionally fearless—he has some fear. But he powers through in the service of things that are more important, even when it gets him smacked around. They’re a good pair. And Terrence doesn’t drag them down—he’s brave and self-sufficient despite being all alone in the universe. Plus also good-looking.

Sadly, Terrence is too good looking for any of the book covers.

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I like most of the covers for the Kindle editions of the Vorkosigan series. This is an exception. I don’t think the faces are well-rendered. The background shade of yellow is one that goes in and out of fashion—I know why it goes out; I’ve never understood why it comes in. But to its credit, the Kindle edition DOES feature a baby. Most covers for Ethan seem to be working overtime to cover up the book’s focus on reproduction.

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Ethan in a manly pose. NO LADY BITS HERE.

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Elli in a manly pose. GUARANTEED FREE OF GIRL COOTIES.

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ACTION STATIONS!!! MANLY FISTICUFFS!!!

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DANGEROUS CETAGANDAN!!!!

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DEFINITELY NOT A UTERINE REPLICATOR.

And yet, Ethan of Athos IS the story of one man’s quest for some viable ovaries.

Athos is a planet at the end of nowhere, occupied entirely by men. It’s a two month trip out from Kline Station, and the census ship makes that trip once a year. The men of Athos are Protestants—I can tell from the hymn titles. As we embark upon this, the seventh book in the Vorkosigan Saga, I am noticing that I interpret a lot of future cultures in Bujold’s universe as Space Scandinavia; I’m convinced that Betans are really into flat pack furniture, and that Komarr is Space-Amsterdam. Athos is like Space-Denmark, because of its embodiment of the principles of hygge—the Danish lifestyle trend focused around the enjoyment of life’s simple pleasures. Athos is all about simple pleasures. Ethan’s boss has adorable photo cubes showing his children and a spotted pony. Happy children and a spotted pony is a decent summary of my personal life goals. Unfortunately, Athos and hygge share a darker side which is all about self-imposed xenophobic isolation from anything that might be overwhelming or uncomfortable.

All alone on their planet far away from the nearest galactic nexus, Athos has achieved some admirable things. For example, they’ve done away with the stigma surrounding activities that are often denigrated for traditionally being “women’s work.” Athos just has work, and someone has to get it done. These men are adorably eager to be parents and invest their time in their sons. At least, a lot of them are. There’s nothing in Athosian culture that would be considered a feminine experience or impulse, not because the things we tend to categorize that way don’t exist, but because those are acknowledged as human experiences and impulses. And that’s great! But Athosians are only able to carry off these apparently enlightened cultural attitudes because they’ve completely segregated themselves from the objects of their hatred.

Ethan’s questions about women lay out the misogynist prejudices underlying Athosian culture—“He was not sure if they were supposed to be inciters to sin, or sin was inherent in them, like juice in an orange, or sin was caught from them, like a virus.” Somehow, Athos’s founding settlers managed obtain a collection of donor ovarian cultures to prevent their self-imposed isolation from becoming terminal. Given Athosian attitudes towards women, I imagine a number of women might have been willing to sacrifice an ovary to ensure that the planet’s early leaders went VERY VERY far away. Even among Bujold’s characters—a group that tends to leave home and struggle through an exotic and hostile universe—Ethan may be going the farthest out of his comfort zone.

Dr. Ethan Urquhardt is a hard-working reproductive specialist, saving up the social duty credits he needs to earn his own sons while maintaining the replicators and cell cultures on which Athosian reproduction relies. His boyfriend, Janos, is horrible. Ethan is the most loving and sympathetic partner a horrible boyfriend could ever ask for; Ethan puts a positive spin on everything Janos does. When Janos leaves his motorbike lying in the garden path, Ethan interprets his carelessness as evidence of an idealistic rejection of materialism. Janos is convenient for Ethan, and Ethan is a handy resource—a mature yet uncritical adult—for Janos to exploit. Janos and Ethan are also foster brothers, which would be weird on any other planet, but they aren’t genetically related and somehow it’s slightly less weird here. It helps that we’re not going to spend a lot of time on Athos, or with Janos. Ethan has fallen for the lure of the bad boy, and it’s why this aspiring family man doesn’t have any sons to leave behind.

Next week, we dig into Athos’s problems, Ethan’s problems, and the quest on which the future of Athos relies! Two, maybe three, of these things involve ovaries.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

Monday, March 27th, 2017 05:00 pm

Posted by Faith Erin Hicks

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Kaidu and Rat have only just recovered from the assassination attempt on the General of All Blades when more chaos breaks loose in the Nameless City: deep conflicts within the Dao nation are making it impossible to find a political solution for the disputed territory of the City itself.

To complicate things further, Kaidu is fairly certain he’s stumbled on a formula for the lost weapon of the mysterious founders of the City. . . . But sharing it with the Dao military would be a complete betrayal of his friendship with Rat. Can Kai find the right solution before the Dao find themselves at war?

The sequel to The Nameless City, Faith Erin Hicks’ graphic novel The Stone Heart is available April 4th from First Second—read an excerpt below!

 

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Monday, March 27th, 2017 05:18 pm

Posted by Matt Peckham

PlayStation 4 Pro owners should have one more feature to crow about shortly: 4K video playback is coming to Sony’s souped-up games console (read TIME’s review here) via a system update on March 27. With the update, users will be able to play 4K videos stored in MP4 format, whether from a USB stick or streamed from a home server.

For videophiles, the move may seem a half-measure, considering the system doesn’t support physical 4K Blu-ray media. But Sony has decided, I think wisely and ineluctably, that most users are abandoning physical media — or at least that the ostensible fringe uptake for 4K Blu-ray discs is irrelevant to sales of the console.

Microsoft’s less powerful Xbox One S does, curiously, support 4K Blu-ray playback, so there’s a market option for gaming videophiles. But the Xbox One S splits the difference against 4K gaming, which won’t be feasible until Xbox Scorpio arrives sometime this fall. Whether Microsoft’s formidable (on paper) counter to the PS4 Pro will itself support 4K Blu-ray playback is not yet clear.

If you’re rocking a PlayStation VR headset alongside your PS4 Pro, another upshot of the 4K playback update is that Media Player will now support 4K virtual reality content. PS VR is still restricted to 1920-by-1080 pixels, but Sony says “4K VR videos will be displayed in a higher image quality compared to HD VR videos.” (There’s a note here about now being able to capturing 4K footage, then being able to watch it through the PlayStation VR headset, which does indeed sound cool.)

The PS4 Pro can already stream 4K content from providers that support the format, meaning Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and so forth. But adding support for local content in MP4 format is a smart move that checks a vital box for 4K adopters, especially homebrew media wonks.