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Thursday, August 17th, 2017 08:00 pm

Posted by Mari Ness

In fact, she is like most artists; she is all style, without any sincerity. She would not sacrifice herself for others. She thinks merely of music, and everybody knows that the arts are selfish.

Poet, dramatist and wit Oscar Wilde had a decided taste for fairy tales, even in some of his most mundane work. His play The Importance of Being Earnest, for instance, ends with a scene that could be lifted straight from any of a hundred stories of children lost at birth eventually found by parents, if with more than a touch of Wilde’s mockery: “To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.” Take that, all of you abandoned and kidnapped fairy tale princes and princesses!

But his mockery could not hide his genuine love for the genre. He indulged this love in two collections of fairy tales: The Happy Prince and Other Tales (1888) and The House of Pomegranates (1891). “The Nightingale and the Rose,” a response to Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Nightingale,” is in the first. Wilde admired the way Andersen used his fairy tales to critique society—something Wilde himself would do in his own tales—but profoundly disagreed with Andersen’s depictions of sacrifice and with Anderson’s preference for the natural over the manufactured and artificial. His own tale takes a decidedly different approach.

As the story opens, a young student is bemoaning his fate. Without a red rose, he will not be able to dance with a certain young girl. Alas, his garden does not have a single red rose, so he will have to spend the following night alone and forlorn. Nearly everyone who has known or been a dramatic teenager is nodding along with this, but dude, I gotta tell you: if a girl won’t hang out with you because of your garden issues, you need to find another girl. Or, failing that, a flower seller. Granted, as a Student (the capitalization is Wilde’s, not mine) he is presumably Without Funds, something also hinted at the end of the tale, when some very unkind comments are made about his shoes.

Anyway. A nearby Nightingale, hearing all this, is considerably more impressed than I am. To be fair, this is not, I must note, a very observant Nightingale: not only does she fail to realize that the young Student’s tendency towards Overdramatics, or the Girl’s tendency to be ever so slightly superficial, but she—the Nightingale, that is—has also completely failed to realize the color of two of the three rose bushes in the garden where she has a nest and has been apparently living for some time. She also admits to barely knowing the Student, even though she lives in his garden and he seems to be the type who indulges in Overdramatics in the garden on a frequent basis, so, really, she should. I’d love to feel sorry for this bird, but I can’t help but think that her singing has addled her powers of perception just a touch.

The other birds in the garden tend to agree with me that the Student is kinda ridiculous. The bird, however, has a Romantic Soul, so she decides to see if she can acquire a red rose for the Student. You were warned, bird! The first two rosebushes in the garden point out, with some justification, that they are the wrong color; the third rosebush just notes that he’s had a very bad winter—we can all understand—and thus, he can only produce a rose if the nightingale feeds him her heart’s blood, dying for the rose as she sings.

The Nightingale, who, if you failed to notice, is not the most practical sort, decides that love is worth this kind of sacrifice, and instead of, say, flying out to find a nearby flower seller or even another garden—really, Nightingale and Student, try thinking a bit—she presses herself against one of the rose bush’s thorns, and sings.

Spoiler: this does not go well.

As with Andersen’s original tale, “The Nightingale and the Rose” can be read in many ways: as Wilde’s recognition that art requires sacrificing something, along with his observation that such sacrifices often go unappreciated; as a possible comment on how some of his own works had been received up until this point (I feel many writers and artists can sympathize); as a warning to artists of every type that their audiences might not know, let alone appreciate, what is needed to create a work; and Wilde’s rather cynical thoughts on love, and the folly of sacrificing beauty—the song of a nightingale—for that love. Not to mention an acknowledgement that for some people, money will always remain more important than art, and a suggestion that just maybe, killing yourself, or even just bleeding, for your art is not going to pay off in the end.

Above all, however, the tale reads as a rejection of the argument that art—musical or otherwise—can fundamentally change anything, and a rejection of the thought that artists should devote themselves to creating a work capable of transforming something else—perhaps especially something as fragile as a heart. In Andersen’s tale, the nightingale’s music transforms a court and chases away Death. In Wilde’s tale, the Nightingale’s song, for all its beauty and power, can create a rose—that is, art—and even force the moon to listen, but the final result, the rose, has no power at all. It’s a demonstration of Wilde’s overall philosophy of “art for art’s sake”—that is, his belief that art does not have, and does not need to have, a moral or utilitarian role. Wilde’s work certainly does not lack ethics, but he had no interest in writing the social and moral critiques composed by his contemporaries.

Musicians and artists alike responded positively to the tale: “The Nightingale and the Rose” was to inspire several ballets, operas, paintings and one short film, none of which Wilde ever saw. Wilde went on to respond to another story of Andersen’s, “The Little Mermaid,” with “The Fisherman and his Soul,” published in The House of Pomegranates (1891). A need to make money, however, drove him to focus less on fairy tales and more on his very successful plays: Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892), A Woman of No Importance (1893), An Ideal Husband (1894), and his masterpiece, The Importance of Being Earnest. (1895). A sixth and earlier play, Salome, initially banned from the stage on the grounds that it featured Biblical characters, was finally produced in 1896.

By then, Wilde’s affair with Lord Alfred Douglas, son of the Marquess of Queensbury, had led Wilde into first a libel case against Queensbury and then Wilde’s arrest for sodomy and imprisonment from 1895 to 1897. After this, Wilde went into an impoverished exile in France, where he composed poetry, but no more fairy tales, until his death in 1900.

Mari Ness lives in central Florida.

Thursday, August 17th, 2017 07:39 pm

Posted by Stubby the Rocket

Obi-Wan Kenobi standalone movie Lucasfilm Star Wars

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Obi-Wan Kenobi is the next Star Wars character to get a standalone movie. Sources say that director Stephen Daldry (The Hours, The ReaderBilly Elliot) is in talks to helm the project, which does not yet have a script. But more importantly—does it have an Ewan McGregor??

“It is not known at this stage” if McGregor would reprise his role from the prequels, THR says. That would likely depend on which story they land on: either a coming-of-age tale à la the Han Solo standalone in the works, or a movie covering the ground between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. We’re hoping for the latter, as we have so many pressing questions related to Tatooine:

  • When did he stop being Obi-Wan and start being old Ben Kenobi?
  • Did he check up on baby Luke?
  • Does he go visit Watto?
  • How did he age so crazy-fast?
  • What is the best bar in Mos Eisley?

In all seriousness, we’d love to see McGregor back in the Star Wars universe.

No comment yet from Lucasfilm or Disney.

Thursday, August 17th, 2017 07:00 pm

Posted by Jac Jemc

In this ongoing series, we ask SF/F authors to describe a specialty in their lives that has nothing (or very little) to do with writing. Join us as we discover what draws authors to their various hobbies, how they fit into their daily lives, and how and they inform the author’s literary identity!

“You like creepy stuff?” a woman whom we referred to as June Moon asked me. “Let me show you something.” June Moon opened a flat file drawer behind the counter and pulled out a promotional picture of a clown dressed in red and white, holding a bunch of balloons. I was 11 at the time and when I saw the photo, I knew what June Moon was showing me. “You know who that is, right?” It was impossible not to know. John Wayne Gacy had just been executed the month before and was all over the news. He’d lived in Chicago, ten minutes from my house. “An original promotional photo, signed,” June Moon said, proud. My mom smiled from across the antique shop, aware but unconcerned.

From infancy I’d been accompanying my mom to antique shops, probably at least one every week or two for the entirety of my childhood. My mom was a true collector and I was tasked with amusing myself while she let her eyes rummage through the glass cases. In the beginning, I contented myself hunting out the hard candy that filled a carnival glass bowl in each booth. I settled in with cheap old paperbacks anthologizing columns from Mad Magazine Al Jaffee’s Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions or Don Martin Drops Thirteen Stories. I combed through old postcards. On the days when my mom was taking her time, I’d shadow her closely trying to urge her to give up so we could return home, browsing the booths myself in the process.

I remember pointing to a dirty-looking pink teacup with the face of a woman molded into the side one day and saying, “She’s scary.” My mom agreed. The cup reminded me of Mrs. Piggle Wiggle if she hadn’t slept in several nights—a deranged, hypnotizing look in her eyes. I kept that face in my mind, and then I started seeing her in other shops. I felt like she was following me. Finally I asked my mom if we could take a closer look and she summoned the shop owner with her ring of keys. “Schafer and Vater,” the woman told us. “A porcelain maker in Germany until the early 60s.” We thanked her for taking the tiny cup out of the case for us and moved on to the next booth. I kept thinking about Creepy Piggle Wiggle, and when my birthday rolled around, I asked only for the cup. My mom was surprised, but probably also excited that I had shown an interest in something she had exposed me to. She bought me the teacup and I placed it beside my Precious Moments and Beatrix Potter piggy bank on the shelf of treasures in my room.

I started recognizing the style of Schafer and Vater: usually a vessel of some sort—bottles, teapots, match strikes and pin cushions; often a green stain gives the figures a peaked glow or a blue glaze collects in the creases giving the figures a shadowy temperament; bugged eyes and mouths stretched wide; a few words of punchline often molded into the base. The shop owners laughed at the little girl who could spot a long defunct German ceramicist a mile away.

In my grandmother’s china cabinet I pointed to a creamer in the shape of a peasant girl bent under the weight of a basket you could fill with milk. “Is that one?” I asked and we took it out to find the signature “R” stamped on the bottom. We marveled at the coincidence.

The Schafer & Vater company had been founded in Volsted Rudolstad in 1890 to make luxury items: figurines and doll’s heads and household objects a little too precious to be used for their intended purpose, but the figures showed a humor and horror uncharacteristic of most porcelain trinkets.

By 1910 these unsettling figures showed up in the pages of the Sears Roebuck catalog alongside doorknobs and women’s wigs. Schafer & Vater became an authorized manufacturer of Rose O’Neill Kewpie dolls—an apt fit, as Kewpie has always seemed a little mischievous, the way her eyes always look away, how she consorts with frogs and refuses to put clothes on.

Schafer & Vater would also mass produce “giveaways” for bars and liquor stores, dances and fairs, as promotional gifts to their patrons: mostly flasks and jugs.

For a long time I only had two or three pieces of the pottery, content with spotting them in shops and admiring them from afar. In the recent past, though, newly acquainted with the wonders of ebay and never having relented in her collector habits, my mom has started hunting out pieces of Schafer & Vater for me and giving me a piece or two for my birthday or Christmas each year. The unsettling figures are beginning to attain a critical mass on the same shelves as my books: a sort of imposed collection placed in front of a willing one, both couched firmly, for the most part, in the realm of the uncanny. My love of the familiar made strange seems has remained consistent over the course of my life thus far

Porcelain figures were expected to be pretty and sweet. The Schafer and Vater figures set themselves apart by being, instead, darkly comic, even a little scary.

My love of fairy tales was quickly replaced by a love of scary stories as a kid: something set in the real world going wrong instead of a distant fairy realm.

I think back to the photo June Moon pulled out to show me, of the joy and humor that’s expected of clowns, and the horror that hid behind John Wayne Gacy’s greasepaint grin, and am reminded of all the threats that can live behind what we believe we know and trust, of what we expect to be one way but are horrified to discover is something entirely else.

Top image from The Twilight Zone, “The Man in the Bottle” (1960)

Jac Jemc’s newest novel, The Grip of It, was released by FSG Originals on August 1st. She is also the author of a story collection, A Different Bed Every Time, and the novel My Only Wife, which was a finalist for the 2013 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction.

 

 

Thursday, August 17th, 2017 06:00 pm

Posted by Charlie Jane Anders

Randyll Tarly is not the nicest person on Game of Thrones. He named his son Dickon. He bullied his other son, Samwell, and gave him the choice between joining the Night’s Watch and death. In George R.R. Martin’s books, he’s horrible to Brienne of Tarth — when he’s not tormenting Dickon’s father-in-law or attacking his wife’s family.

But still, Randyll Tarly has had a, shall we say, rough time lately on the TV show. Even by the standards of Game of Thrones, which tortures everyone. And in the process, Randyll provided an answer to the most baffling Thrones question right now.

Spoilers for recent episodes below…

The biggest question mark, going into season seven of Game of Thrones, was, “Why does anybody recognize Cersei Lannister as a legitimate monarch?” Her claim to the Iron Throne is tenuous at best, based on her marriage to Robert Baratheon and the fact that she was mother to two other kings. The nobles of Westeros have gone to ridiculous, bloody lengths to keep a woman with a stronger claim off the throne before.

And then there’s Cersei’s history, including the fact that she was condemned and publicly humiliated by the High Septon (and then was suspiciously absent when the High Septon was blown to bits, along with hundreds of nobles and clergy.) She’s no longer bothering to hide her penchant for incest, and she’s elevated Qyburn, a failed Maester whom everybody despises, to the position of Hand of the Queen. Basically every social institution in Westeros, from the church to the Citadel, frowns on Cersei and those close to her.

And yet, she’s holding onto the throne, even if she doesn’t control any actual territory to speak of, outside of King’s Landing. Given that Game of Thrones has given us a dozen scenes discussing what makes a monarch legitimate, and exploring why the common people don’t just murder their rulers, it seems odd that we see people apparently accepting Queen Cersei, the First of Her Name.

But then there’s Randyll Tarly, the stubbornly loyal lord of the Reach, who has a ginormous stick up his butt. Randyll Tarly’s family has sworn loyalty to the Tyrell family for centuries, but then he betrays Olenna Tyrell and supports the Lannisters. And he stays so loyal to Queen Cersei, he’s willing to be burnt alive by Daenerys’ dragons (and even let Dickon choose the same fate).

I was honestly a bit confused by this whole storyline, with all the other stuff happening on Game of Thrones this season, until I went back and rewatched the second episode of the season, “Stormborn.” That’s where Randyll makes his fateful decision and throws Lady Olenna Tyrell under a bus. And he basically does it out of pure xenophobia.

Randyll’s xenophobia is mentioned right before he gets toasted alive, but you hear a lot more about it back in “Stormborn.” That’s where he listens to Cersei’s sales pitch, in which she says Daenerys is just like her father, the sadistic Mad King, and hears about the hordes of Dothraki and Unsullied that Daenerys has brought to Westeros. Cersei doesn’t seal the deal, but her brother Jaime does.

“I’m a Tarly,” he tells Jaime. “That name means something. We’re not oathbreakers. We’re not schemers. We don’t stab our rivals in the back or cut their throats at weddings. I swore an oath to House Tyrell.”

Jaime makes several arguments in response to Randyll’s puffery:

(1) Randyll also swore an oath to the crown, which is only relevant if you believe Cersei has a legitimate right to that crown.

(2) Lady Olenna has lost it—she’s “broken” and hell-bent on revenge.

(3) If Randyll joins the Lannisters, he’ll get a promotion to Mace Tyrell’s old job, Warden of the South. (Though Tarly should really ask Bronn how Jaime’s grand promises turn out.)

(4) Daenerys has brought “foreign savages and eunuchs” to Westeros — and even more importantly, if Randyll stays loyal to the Tyrells, he’ll be fighting alongside those people.

And this is the argument that strikes home. Even more than Cersei’s nightmare vision of the Dothraki and the Unsullied rampaging across Westeros, Randyll Tarly just can’t stand the idea of being in the same army as them and treating them as comrades. So he’s willing to forsake centuries of loyalty and even get burnt alive, ultimately, to avoid being tainted by these foreigners.

In his final moments, Lord Randyll even decides to cast Daenerys (who was born on Dragonstone) as a foreigner. “Say what you will about [Cersei], she was born in Westeros. She’s lived here all her life,” he says. But meanwhile, Daenerys is “a foreign invader, one with no ties to this land, with an army of savages at her back.” And that’s why he takes death by dragonfire over even accepting Daenerys as legitimate enough to send him to the Night’s Watch.

The notion that Cersei is being kept on the throne by pure xenophobia is an intriguing one, and I wish Game of Thrones had been able to spend more time on it. We do see how this fact of life constrains Daenerys’ options: her best fighters are the Unsullied and Dothraki, but she can’t use them to attack King’s Landing, or she’ll prove Cersei’s fearmongering right. She’s initially forced to rely on her Dornish and Ironborn forces, which turn out not to be worth that much, until she finally uses the Dothraki to wipe out the Lannister army. And we certainly heard plenty about the Westerosi fear of Dothraki back in the first season, when Daenerys first married Khal Drogo.

But I hope at some point, the show really delves into the question of just how big a problem this hatred of foreigners is for Daenerys—especially since it’s just going to be more and more of a challenge as she gets closer to ruling.

Seasons five and six of Game of Thrones focused heavily on religious zealotry, following Martin’s book storyline. Cersei gambles on elevating the High Sparrow, an uncompromising fundamentalist, to a position of power, and this backfires. The metaphor of powerful people attempting to use religious fundamentalism as a blunt instrument against their enemies only grew more fascinating the more we got to know the High Sparrow and saw that he was gleefully aware of the contradictions in his situation.

So now Cersei’s storyline has swerved, and fear of outsiders has replaced an over-zealous love of god as her weapon against her rivals. The television version of Cersei increasingly seems to be positioned as a giant object lesson in manipulating forces you can’t control—and an allegory for real-life situations in which cynical people in positions of power attempt to exploit the beliefs and prejudices of others.

But you have to wonder if Westerosi nationalism will bite Cersei in the ass as badly as religious extremism did. After all, Westeros isn’t really much of a nation anymore, thanks to Cersei, Littlefinger, and a few others. The Seven Kingdoms are a broken mess, in which almost all social institutions have collapsed, from the church to the great houses. Laws aren’t being enforced, customs aren’t being maintained, and it’s increasingly unclear what it means to be “Westerosi” at this point.

As entertaining and fascinating as Game of Thrones has been this season, that’s the main thing I’ve missed: the exploration of Westeros as failed state. (This is something you really have to turn to George R.R. Martin’s books to get a clearer picture of.) If anything, travel across the Seven Kingdoms is growing faster and faster as the show’s pace speeds up, which inevitably leaves the impression that Westeros is in tip-top shape. And yet, we know enough to understand that Daenerys and Cersei are fighting over a shell of a country. And I’m dying to see just how Cersei’s gamble on Westerosi xenophobia plays out (especially since she’s only on the throne thanks to the support of foreign bankers). Game of Thrones has pulled the rug out from under its characters so many times, I can’t wait to see what dust this particular rug kicks up.

All the Birds in the Sky Charlie Jane AndersBefore writing fiction full-time, Charlie Jane Anders was for many years an editor of the extraordinarily popular science fiction and fantasy site io9.com. Her debut novel, the mainstream Choir Boy, won the 2006 Lambda Literary Award and was shortlisted for the Edmund White Award. Her Tor.com story “Six Months, Three Days” won the 2013 Hugo Award and was optioned for television. Her debut SFF novel All the Birds in the Sky, won the 2016 Nebula Award in the Novel category and earned praise from, among others, Michael Chabon, Lev Grossman, and Karen Joy Fowler. She has also had fiction published by McSweeney’s, Lightspeed, and ZYZZYVA. Her journalism has appeared in Salon, the Wall Street Journal, Mother Jones, and many other outlets.

Thursday, August 17th, 2017 05:58 pm

Posted by Matt Peckham

Preorder details about Microsoft’s vaunted Xbox One X, a souped-up version of its Xbox One games console due this November and designed to play games with breathtaking 4K fidelity, are coming this weekend, says Microsoft. The company says it’ll spill the beans about how to get your mitts on the device in the lead up to Europe’s annual Gamescom game show, this Sunday, at 3:00 p.m. ET.

Microsoft’s official Xbox Twitter account just tweeted the news alongside a teaser trailer for its Gamescom lineup, as well as a link to an Xbox Wire brief detailing some of its trade show plans.

Microsoft first confirmed the new Xbox One’s existence at E3 2016, codenamed “Project Scorpio,” then unveiled its official “Xbox One X” name and $499 price tag a few months ago at E3 2017. The super-games-console offers 6 teraflops of GPU compute power, 12 gigabytes of DDR5 memory and boasts games capable of running at native (as opposed to approximate) 4K resolutions. Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro, which arrived last November, offers notably slower (though still quite powerful) performance for $399, or $100 less.

“There is no power greater than X,” said Xbox boss Phil Spencer during Microsoft’s big E3 2017 press event. “It’s the most powerful console ever made.”

As I wrote then: “But if the battle in the 4K graphics space is currently about chasing enthusiast wallets, Microsoft is positioning Xbox One X as a box that justifies the extra outlay with raw specs capable of delivering much more than Sony’s product to videophiles and 4K connoisseurs. If the narrative around the Xbox One and PlayStation 4’s debut in 2013 centered on the PlayStation 4’s superior specs, today’s show was Microsoft taking the ball back … Xbox One X will also make existing Xbox One games look better and load faster, uses a liquid-cooled vapor chamber to tame its doubtless nutty thermals (a first for a console) and still somehow winds up being the smallest Xbox console the company’s made, including the Xbox One S.”

The Xbox One X will be available on November 7, worldwide.

Thursday, August 17th, 2017 05:30 pm

Posted by Brit Mandelo

In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan is a stand-alone portal fantasy in which the reader follows Elliot Schafer—a redheaded bisexual boy with a fantastically bad attitude and sharp tongue—through his adolescence, primarily spent in a magical land on the other side of a mostly-invisible border wall located in rural England. Elliot, at age thirteen, is thoroughly acquainted with the tropes of portal fantasies; this is, in large part, the reason he decides to abandon his damaging home life for the unknown.

However, it turns out that “the unknown” isn’t a world that needs a magical protagonist to save it. Instead, he finds himself in a militant and conflict-ravaged country where alliances are falling apart as councilors are funneled out of war-rooms and bad treaties spring up like mushrooms after a rain. So, naturally, our young protagonist—himself a pacifist—decides to turn his considerable abilities in study and manipulation to improving the world he finds himself in. He also, at the same time, begins forging the relationships that will save his life and the political future of his new country.

The four sections of the novel each follow a year in Elliot’s life, from when he comes to the Borderlands to when he, Serene, and Luke graduate the training camp. The reader follows conflicts both political and personal, watching Elliot grow into himself and his skills as he turns the politics of the world around him on their head one small maneuver at a time. He isn’t, of course, a savior figure; he also isn’t magically gifted. He’s just dedicated, smart, and willing to risk himself to better the world around him. It’s a delightful look at how personal and how influential politics can be: Brennan isn’t saying that one person can change the world, but she’s showing how one person can push it in the right direction if they try hard enough.

The relationships between our characters, too, are a driving point. Brennan turns several tropes inside out to examine their workings, while also offering the reader engaging dynamics and conflicts. Luke Sunborn, the boy who Elliot initially thinks of as a logical protagonist, turns out to be retiring and anxious; Serene, the beautiful elf girl, turns out to be an aggressive warrior prone to cultural sexism and thoughtless of other people’s feelings as a result. However, both of them do come to adore Elliot as much as he adores them—though he has to learn, too, how to be loved. He’s never quite known it, between his deeply neglectful father and absentee mother (whose reappearance and single conversation with Elliot is one of the most perfect and heartbreaking things I’ve read in a long time).

It’s an odd thing to note, perhaps, but one of the other bits I found most realistic and relatable about Elliot’s coming of age is that he has romantic and sexual relationships with a decent number of different people, in different ways. He has a misunderstanding about a relationship with Serene—in which she takes dating to mean friends-with-benefits, and he takes dating to mean dating—and a brief summer fling with an older boy in the human world; he has two one-night-stands for two very different reasons, as well, before he and Luke work things out together.

That’s something I don’t see, almost ever, in young adult fiction: a frank and varied approach to young queer sexuality where sex is actually a regular part of the equation. However, it bears the most resemblance to the lives of a lot of people I’ve known, including myself. Getting into and out of relationships, exploring one’s sexuality, making ill-informed but educational choices about who to be intimate with—I’m glad to see that as part of the narrative for Elliot. As he explains to Luke at the close,

“I don’t think about who I go out with in terms of persuading as many people as possible to have fun with me […] I think about it in terms of—infinite possibilities. I think it’s beautiful that the possibilities are infinite, but it also means you make a choice. Like choosing how to spend your life, where you’re going to live, what your life’s work is going to be. Except in this case, the possibilities are people, and they have to choose you back.”

In Other Lands is thoughtfully invested in relationship dynamics, social contracts, politics, and the unseen work of diplomats. It’s also a queer young adult novel with a bisexual male protagonist who is learning to deal with a lifetime of parental neglect and peer abuse, as well as the trauma of war in his new homeland. Elliot, after all, is the first to point out—loudly and often—that they’re all child soldiers, and he’s right. I appreciate Brennan’s ability to balance a lighthearted approach to her plot that is appropriate to the genre with a constant awareness of the cost of battle, the effect of violence, and the value of different kinds of bravery.

Because, when it comes to bravery, Elliot is confident to the point of brashness while also being an unabashed pacifist. He’s aggressive but in a cerebral and manipulative fashion, as is often emphasized by the ways in which he perceives himself to be taking on feminine roles (according to human gender politics) intentionally as part of his diplomatic efforts. The constant inclusion and awareness of gender as a source of struggle, particularly as Elliot learns how more or less all women must feel in the human world during his dealings with the elves, is a definite bonus. His transformation from know-it-all brat to a strong young man who does not fit the mold of typical masculinity is delightful.

To be honest, I crowed about his dialogue and his development quite often. No one is necessarily actively listening to him, but he’s getting the important work done, and he doesn’t take credit about half of the time. It doesn’t matter to him to show off: he just wants to succeed, and bring peace when he does so. He’s looking for ways around violence as a victim of violence himself. Reading that approach is a breath of fresh air in a genre so frequently obsessed with battles and conflict. Elliot himself notes that, as far as tropes go, he’s worried his friends are the protagonists and he’s some sort of Iago figure—but by the end, we all know he isn’t, and his contributions are immensely valuable to the peace of the land.

In Other Lands is a satisfying, thoughtful, and fun read. Brennan balances politics with relationships; she handles complex ethical and moral arguments with humor and aplomb. Elliot is a fantastic point of view character whose personality and approach are not often represented in the genre but are desperately needed. And, furthermore, it’s wonderful to see his approach to relationships, sex, and friendship develop over the course of the book from something utterly wrongheaded to something soft and complicated and eager to find equitable happiness. That alone would make it worthwhile.

In Other Lands is available now from Small Beer Press.
Read an excerpt here.

Brit Mandelo is a writer, critic, and editor whose primary fields of interest are speculative fiction and queer literature, especially when the two coincide. They have two books out, Beyond Binary: Genderqueer and Sexually Fluid Speculative Fiction and We Wuz Pushed: On Joanna Russ and Radical Truth-telling, and in the past have edited for publications like Strange Horizons Magazine. Other work has been featured in magazines such as Stone Telling, Clarkesworld, Apex, and Ideomancer.

Thursday, August 17th, 2017 05:00 pm

Posted by Leah Schnelbach, Emily Asher-Perrin

The adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens is picking up steam! We already have the perfect Crowley and Aziraphale (in case you didn’t know, it’s DAVID TENNANT AND MICHAEL SHEEN), but that’s just the beginning of the casting process. We have some suggestions for the rest of the adult characters—we’re not casting the kids ’cause kids are hard. They just… grow up, and change rapidly, and then your perfect ensemble cast is destroyed. Let us know what you think of our ideas, and make more suggestions in the comments!

 

Newton Pulsifier

Alfred Enoch! He played Dean Thomas in the Harry Potter films before going on to play Wes Gibbins on How to Get Away with Murder, where he had to use a combination of charm and quick wits to catch up with his far more prepared fellow students. We think he’d be delightful as accident-prone, “Walking Techbane” Junior Witchfinder Newt.

 

Anathema Device

Pearl Mackie, Doctor Who

Pearl Mackie would be flipping adorable in this part. She could give Anathema that no-nonsense vibe, while still being patently hilarious, as she’s already proven in her role as Bill Potts on Doctor Who. Also, listening to her recite Agnes’s prophecies to people not in the know would be delightful.

Jade Eshete, Dirk Gently

On Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, Jade Eshete showcases Farah Black’s strength and ingenuity, but also her sometimes crippling neuroses. She creates a perfect balance of tough and vulnerable, and we think she’d be perfect to bring Anathema’s hippie side, as well as the eternal burden of being the descendant of a prophesying witch.

 

Sgt. Shadwell

There’s only one man for this job, and that man is Billy Connolly. The part was practically written for the guy, there is no denying this. Come to dark side, it has witchfinders.

 

Madame Tracy

Miriam Margolyes, Plebs

Miriam Margolyes is one of the greatest comedians and character actors in Great Britain, period. She would be superbly over the top as Madame Tracy, wearing all her baubles with aplomb. She’s already well-known to fans of fantasy fiction for parts in Harry Potter, Merlin, and The Sarah Jane Adventures, and she can wear a cape like no one’s business. She was the perfect overbearing aunt in Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. This part fits her like a glove.

 

Famine

Mark Gatiss! Snarky, mean, looks good in black, can rock a sharp suit. He’d be a great choice for Raven Sable.

Robin Lord Taylor

Robin Lord Taylor is fantastic as the deeply icky Penguin on Gotham, and he would bring the right ratio of evil and pragmatism to Famine.

 

Pollution (AKA Chalky, AKA Mr. White)

OK, this one’s maybe a little too on the nose, but how fun would it be to have Tech Boy pop over from American Gods to play the youngest member of the Four Bikers of the Apocalypse? We think Bruce Langley is a perfect sell for this one.

 

War (AKA Carmine “Red” Zuigiber, AKA Scarlett)

Gwendoline Christie, Game of Thrones

Gwendoline Christie practically is the embodiment of war at this point, right? She’s wielded everything from blaster rifles to broadswords while barely breaking a sweat. Just dye her hair red and hand her the weapon of your choosing. She’s got this covered.

Diana Rigg, Game of Thrones

There is no reason War has to be played by a younger woman, and Diana Rigg has all the clout and then some. Remember when she was Mrs. Peel on The Avengers, and was constantly kicking people’s butts? Remember when she continued to do so on Game of Thrones? Yeah, we thought so. She should just keep doing that. Our hearts would be happier. Put Diana Rigg on a motorbike.

Sophie Okonedo, The Hollow Crown

Sophie Okonedo is everything. She rules as Liz Ten on Doctor Who, and she rules everywhere else her perfect feet land. She was a certified badass in red in Aeon Flux running alongside Charlize Theron. She was Queen Margaret in The Hollow Crown‘s Henry VI, there in full chainmail with a sword at her side. She would be amazing.

 

DEATH

Arthur Darvill, Legends of Tomorrow

WE THINK ARTHUR DARVILL MIGHT BE PERFECT TO DELIVER DEATH’S WRY CAPSLOCK WIT.

BUT. One of us (It’s Leah. This shit is always Leah) wouldn’t shut up about Craig Ferguson doing DEATH’S VOICE, with his old skeletal sidekick, Geoffrey Peterson, supplying DEATH’S BODY. So, there’s that.

 

Dog

Archer Basher-Parrot

We’d like to nominate Emily’s dog, Archer. He’s a very good boy.

Thursday, August 17th, 2017 05:23 pm

Posted by Matt Peckham

Sony just revealed that its next big PlayStation 4 update, dubbed version 5.00, will roll out immediately to select beta subscribers. It’s packed to brimming with changes, including a major Twitch video streaming fidelity upgrade and tweaks to the way players can engage with family and friends.

In a PlayStation blog post that details the changes, the company said the update—codenamed “Nobunaga” after Oda Nobunaga, an outsized late 16th century Japanese historical figure—will add what it calls “Family on PlayStation Network.” The idea is to make it simpler for families to use the console, from children to adults, in what seems an outreach maneuver designed both to highlight and codify the system’s cross-demographic, generalist media hub appeal.

The PlayStation 4 already offers basic parental controls as well as the option to create sub-accounts, but only lets those accounts opt in to or out of general group rules. With version 5.0, owners can now configure those rules on a per child basis. And the update makes it possible for multiple adults to be part of a single family unit: a “Family Manager” can promote adults to a “Parent/Guardian” role, where they can then tweak the access levels of children’s accounts.

Sony

If you’ve longed for a way to sort large friends lists by, say, just the ones in your Overwatch or Call of Duty clan, the update swaps “Favorite Groups” for a new “Custom Lists” view under “Friends.” You can still access groups here, but the new features allow you to create ad hoc lists drawing from your general friends list instead of by “message groups.”

On the video broadcast side, the good news is that the update adds support for Twitch video streaming at 1080p and 60 frames per second. (The current version only supports up to 720p at 60 frames per second.) The bad news? You’ll need a PlayStation 4 Pro, the boutique $399 version of the PlayStation 4 Sony rolled out last November, to make it work—regular PlayStation 4 users are stuck at the lower quality rate.

Other features include tweaks to messaging, notifications and what you can see on your “Quick Menu,” the overlay summonable by holding the PlayStation button in the center of a gamepad. If you’re rocking a PlayStation VR headset, the update also adds headphones support for both 5.1 and 7.1 channel virtual surround sound when watching Blu-ray or DVDs in “Cinematic Mode.”

Sony hasn’t said when the 5.00 update will release to general owners, but notes that anyone who signed up for the beta and was chosen will receive an email explaining how to download the update and dive in.

Thursday, August 17th, 2017 04:58 pm

Posted by Lisa Eadicicco

Apple CEO Tim Cook pledged this week to donate $2 million to anti-hate groups, making the announcement in a memo to staff in which he condemned hate, racism, and bigotry following racially charged violence last weekend in Charlottesville, Va.

The company will donate $1 million to Southern Poverty Law Center and an additional $1 million to the Anti-Defamation League. Cook also said Apple will match employee donations two-for-one to these groups and other human rights organizations until Sept. 30. In the coming days, Apple will provide a way for its customers to donate to the SPLC through iTunes as well, Cook wrote.

in the memo which was

“What occurred in Charlottesville has no place in our country,” Cook wrote in the memo first published by BuzzFeed News and confirmed by MONEY. “Hate is a cancer, and left unchecked it destroys everything in its path. It scars and lasts generations.”

Cook’s move comes after Apple disabled Apple Pay support for several websites that sell Nazi merchandise and other products that promote white supremacy. Apple isn’t alone in this effort: Twitter on Wednesday suspended accounts tied to neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, and both GoDaddy and Google have ceased hosting the website.

Cook made a more public call for the country to unite against racism on Monday: “We’ve seen the terror of white supremacy & racist violence before,” he said on Twitter. “It’s a moral issue – an affront to America. We must all stand against it.”

Thursday, August 17th, 2017 04:00 pm

Posted by Alice Arneson

Warbreaker Brandon Sanderson

Welcome back to the Warbreaker reread! Last week, everyone was either rescued or died to save someone else. This week, a solution to that Lifeless army is finally identified and put into action, and Our Heroes are poised to begin the next phase of life on Nalthis.

This reread will contain spoilers for all of Warbreaker and any other Cosmere book that becomes relevant to the discussion. This is particularly likely to include Words of Radiance, due to certain crossover characters. The index for this reread can be found here. Click on through to join the discussion!

 

Chapter 58

Point of View: Vivenna, Siri, Vasher, Siri, Vivenna
Setting: A closet in, and the roof of, the God King’s Palace
Timing:
A few minutes after Chapter 57

Take a Deep Breath

Vasher, dragging a sheathed Nightblood, retrieves Vivenna from the closet where Denth stuffed her. Nightblood has devoured most of the Breath she’d given him, but chirpy-sword doesn’t remember this at all. Vasher catches her up: Denth is dead; Tonk Fah and Jewels have scarpered with the money; because of those distractions, forty thousand Lifeless are charging for Idris, and everyone who knew their Command phrases is dead. The war has started and can’t be stopped.

Siri follows Susebron down into the dungeons. Amid the corpses of scribes and fake priests, they find the bodies of Blushweaver and Lightsong. Llarmiar holds Lightsong’s head in his lap, smiling even with tears in his eyes, as they tell Siri how Lightsong gave his life to heal the God King. Now they must find a way to keep the Lifeless army from destroying Siri’s people.

Vasher fumes at his inability to stop the war, just like he couldn’t stop it “last time.” Nightblood volunteers that they used to call him Talaxin… which Vivenna recognizes, shocked, as the name of one of the Five Scholars, who lived three hundred years ago. Vasher admits that BioChroma can keep a person alive for a long time. Vivenna suggests various ways to stop the army, each of which Vasher shoots down with his greater knowledge of Lifeless; basically, they don’t have the necessary resources, even if they had access to Susebron’s vast store of Breath. Nightblood chimes in, reminding Vasher that he left an army behind last time. Vasher prevaricates, but suddenly Vivenna realizes that Nightblood means the legendary “Kalad’s Phantoms.” Vasher reluctantly admits that they are here, in the city. They could, perhaps, stop the Lifeless, but it would a terrible, powerful tool in the hands of her enemies. She insists they try, and Vasher agrees to try to find the God King; maybe it can be done.

From their vantage point on the roof of the palace, Siri and Susebron can see the dust stirred up by the Lifeless army moving toward Idris. Susebron wants to go tie them all up, but the guards dissuade him from this vain attempt. Siri suggests sending messengers telling her people to hide, though she knows it would only be a partial solution. They are interrupted by the arrival of someone with the Royal Locks requesting an audience. As they turn to look, a woman wearing tunic, trousers, and sword, bleeding from a shoulder wound, steps up onto the roof. Her hair turns yellow with joy as she sees Siri; despite her appearance, it is beyond doubt Vivenna. The sisters rush to embrace, with Vivenna apologizing for her inability to rescue Siri, and Siri saying she doesn’t need rescuing. Siri introduces Vivenna and Susebron to each other, and Vivenna is clearly shocked by the man she expected to be a monster. They turn to urgent issue of the day, and Vivenna says she has a solution, if they will trust her. Siri hesitates for a moment, but Susebron says he will do anything he can to save Idris.

Vivenna waits with Susebron as his guards search Vasher for weapons; she is surprised to find herself chatting pleasantly and even liking this God King. He tells her that he loves Siri, and Vivenna considers how much Siri has changed and how well she fits her role. Finally, Vasher approaches and identifies himself as the one responsible for getting Susebron’s tongue cut out; he closes his eyes and accesses his Divine Breath, taking on the full aspect of a Returned. Susebron knows instantly who he is and drops to one knee, leaving the sisters completely confused. Vasher tells Susebron to stand up, but reprimands him for losing control of the group of rogue Lifeless; Susebron apologizes. Vivenna says she trusts Susebron (!), and Vasher says that it’s not about trust, but he’ll do it anyway, to stop this war in much the same way he stopped the Manywar. Admonishing him to use it only to protect, never to attack, and only in an emergency, Vasher gives Susebron the Command phrase to give new orders to the D’Denir statues—stone bodies with human bones. Vivenna is stunned, thinking through the implications, and recognizes the truth of what he had said earlier about them. He directs Susebron to imprint them with a new security phrase and send them out to stop the other army, cautioning him to do better with them than he himself had done.

Breathtaking

“Lightsong gave his life to heal me,” the God King said. “He somehow knew that my tongue had been removed.”

“The Returned can heal one person,” the priest said, looking down at his god. “It’s their duty to decide who and when. They come back for this purpose, some say. To give life to one person who needs it.”

“I never knew him,” Susebron said.

“He was a very good person,” Siri said.

“I realize that. Though I never spoke to him, somehow he was noble enough to die so that I might live.”

The priest smiled down. “The amazing thing is,” he said, “Lightsong did that twice.”

He told me that I couldn’t depend on him in the end, Siri thought, smiling slightly, though sorrowful at the same time. I guess he lied about that. How very like him.

How many times have I read this? I still cry.

Local Color

In the final chapter’s annotations, Sanderson first addresses the feeling that this is a bit anticlimactic—but it’s still a necessary closure to the story. He then addresses Nightblood’s peculiarities, including why it can’t remember being drawn. Next is a question we asked last week: did Blushweaver and Lightsong fulfill their purposes in Returning? Answer: sort of; more in the discussions below. Then there’s a section on the revisions involved in making sure the D’Denir reveal was set up adequately. Finally, he looks at this last set of character revelations—Siri and Vivenna in the same place for the first time in the book, Susebron’s personality changes, and Vasher’s disclosure as a Returned. This last includes some explanation of Denth’s “all-or-nothing” lie, as well as the fact that they had both learned how to suppress and hide their Returned Breath.

***

Epilogue

Point of View: Vivenna
Setting
: The road north from T’Telir
Timing: The following day

Take a Deep Breath

Vivenna leans against the outer wall of T’Telir, watching the Phantoms charging off after the Lifeless army and thinking about the statues they’d been. To her query, Vasher affirms that they will most likely be able to stop the Lifeless, what with running on stone feet and being mostly impervious to normal weapons. His mission here accomplished, he picks up his pack and starts walking; Vivenna catches up and walks with him. He tries to convince her to go home to Idris, or return to Siri in T’Telir, but she’s determined—neither life has any appeal, and she wants to get away from the expectations that had ruled her life. He shrugs, and they walk on.

Eventually, she asks about his real identity, and learns that he is both the guy who started the war, and the guy who ended it; history just doesn’t quite get the story right. Then she asks where he got the Breath to he’s stay alive all this time, and he explains about the single Divine Breath that grants the fifth Heightening. Whereas Nightblood only needs to feed on Breath when it’s drawn, a Returned needs a Breath every week. If they realized it, they could build a stock of Breath and live on that or use it as a buffer—though that would certainly make them less dependent on their priests and worshippers. She teases him about being expensive to keep, but quickly returns to questioning. While he won’t tell her how he keeps from looking like a Returned or why he doesn’t die when he gives his Breath away, he gives her something to think about for herself: with the blood of a Returned in her lineage, she may be able to do more than merely change the color of her hair. Returned do, after all, have the ability to appear as they think they should.

They walk on, each holding half of the Breath Vasher recovered when they retrieved the clothing Denth had taken from him. Finally she asks where they’re going, and he says some tyrant has recruited his old friend Yesteel (Arsteel’s brother) to help restore Kuth and Huth. Reminded of his former life as a Scholar, she asks what his real name is, but he doesn’t know, since he doesn’t remember his pre-Return life. He finally admits that those who found him, in the tradition still maintained, gave him a name: Warbreaker the Peaceful. He doesn’t know if the name was prophetic, or if he’s just tried to live up to it. Mostly, he still doesn’t know for sure whether there’s a real reason for Returns, or if it’s just chance. She suggests that maybe they should have named him Wartlover the Ugly, and to his suggestion that such immature comments aren’t fitting for a princess, she’s delighted to think that she never has to care about that again.

Breathtaking

“So,” she asked as they walked along the jungle road, “I can’t figure it out. Which one are you? Kalad, who started the war, or Peacegiver, who ended it?”

He didn’t answer immediately. “It’s odd,” he finally said, “what history does to a man. I guess people couldn’t understand why I suddenly changed. Why I stopped fighting, and why I brought the Phantoms back to seize control of my own kingdom. So they decided I must have been two people. A man can get confused about his identity when things like that happen.”

Which… doesn’t answer the question, you know. It’s clearly implied that the answer is Yes—but his actual answer raises further questions, which he never answers.

Local Color

The last annotations clarify several things here. First, the Lifeless were indeed destroyed, while losing only a couple of the phantoms. Second, Vivenna’s ending is as it was always planned—a setup for her continued growth into a fitting heroine for a sequel, as well as the completion of the sisters’ role reversal. Finally, while Vasher’s refusal to explain his secrets could be considered a violation of Sanderson’s First Law, it’s really not: he didn’t use his Returned nature to solve any problems. So that bit of lore will have to wait for the sequel. Someday.

***

Snow White and Rose Red

Well, there we have it. The final (sequel pending) transformations of the royal sisters are established, and they really are reversed. As Sanderson says in the annotations,

Siri has become the queen; Vivenna is running away from responsibility, out into the wilds.

Put that way, it’s pretty blatant! I do like the way it’s set up in Chapter 58. Vivenna makes her entrance so changed that Siri has a hard time recognizing her—clothing, hair, wound, sword, all of it is just so un-Vivenna-like. Much more like the Siri of the first chapter, in fact, except more so. By contrast, we have Vivenna’s first look at Siri:

She’s changed so much, Vivenna thought. When did she become so regal, with that commanding bearing and ability to keep her hair black? Her little sister, no longer quite as little, seemed to wear the expensive dress well. It fit her. Odd.

Odd for Siri… and very much like the Vivenna of the first chapters.

Siri, the one who rejoiced in her unimportance, flouted all the rules, dressed any-old-way, and couldn’t be bothered with controlling her emotions, much less her hair, has become the poised, self-controlled, well-dressed, regal Queen of Hallandren, and is ready to take up the challenges for the sake of her people and her husband. Vivenna, the one with the perfect education, the self-control, the always-appropriate dress, the drive to sacrifice herself to the hated Hallandren for the sake of her people? She’s the one dressed in Vasher’s old clothes, carrying a sword, disheveled hair changing color at the sight of her sister—and she’s the one who turns her back on everything everyone ever expected of her and walks away, grateful to not even think of herself as a princess any longer, wanting nothing more than to be unknown as she learns who she can become.

One wonders where she’ll go and what she’ll do in that sequel…

As I Live and Breathe

Last week there was some discussion of the believability of Susebron’s instant ability to Awaken things, once he gained the ability to speak. One of the things we see this week is a limitation. (Oh, those Sanderson Laws of Magic!) He may have mastered the fabrics with extreme ease, but … while the Ars Arcanum indicates that he would be able override the Lifeless Commands (8th Heightening), Awaken stone or steel, and Awaken objects he is not physically touching (9th Heightening), he doesn’t yet know how, or even realize that he is able to do so. When he considers ways to stop the Lifeless, he thinks of tying them up with his assorted tapestries and banners, not Awakening more durable objects to interfere with their passage. A couple people suggested last week that, having had ample opportunity to see and hear his priests do things like raise and lower him using Awakened ropes, it was a natural transition to being able to awaken all the fabrics he could find in the palace to do his bidding—and I think this makes a lot of sense. I’m also amused at the way the palace décor played into this—since all the color schemes were created with draperies and hangings and such, there was plenty of fabric at hand when he needed it.

About that epilogue, though… Vasher has enough Breath (if he doesn’t use it to kill Yesteel) to live for about four years. In this proposed sequel, how is he going to get enough more Breath to last him until he decides to move to Roshar? I’m still disturbed at the number of Drabs created in order for him to: Awaken Nightblood (1000), create the D’Denir (unknown, but if each took 50 Breaths to create and there are 1000, that’s 50K), give the first God King the Treasure (also 50K), live for 300 years (15K), kill both Arsteel and Denth by dumping enough Breath on them to incapacitate them (minimum 100), and have enough left over for himself and Vivenna to walk away at the second Heightening (total of 400). You also have to assume that over the years, some of it got frittered away by Awakening things that he couldn’t recover, right? That’s like… 117,000 Breaths, probably more, and most of them used within a few years of the Manywar. Where did they all come from??

Clashing Colors

There’s one small clarification thrown into all this grand revelation that I wanted to mention. In Siri’s first POV of the chapter, there are a few of Susebron’s priests who survived and whom they recognize as the real thing; any “priests” they didn’t recognize are temporarily imprisoned until there’s time to sort them out. One of these verified priests explains that they had heard rumors of an attack on the palace, and that’s why they were trying to lock Siri and Susebron away – to protect them from the attack if it turned out to be real. (Where did that rumor come from? The Pahn Kahl were pretty thoroughly prepared and extremely secretive.) Anyway, while I can respect their intention to protect Susebron and Siri, I still want to smack them for giving their own acclaimed “God King” the mushroom treatment. If they hadn’t treated him like a child and Siri like a virtual slave, but had instead kept him informed like a real king, a whole lot of deaths would have been prevented—their own included.

Then again, that wouldn’t have made as exciting a story, would it?

In Living Color

Welp. The Returned have a lot of issues to address this week! So…

First note: While Vasher is willing to explain that Nightblood devoured most of his Breath, he doesn’t say anything about what happened to the last of it, the 50 or so he dumped on Denth. Is he deliberately keeping his secret, or does he just not feel like talking about it?

Next note: Lightsong’s choice to heal Susebron directly resulted in Susebron’s ability to defend himself and rescue Siri. I love the way this works itself out. Susebron was being forced down so the Pahn Kahl fake-priests could kill him, and Lightsong couldn’t stop them directly. What he did instead was to heal Susebron’s tongue… and that somehow brought with it the complete usability of that tongue. All the usual necessity of learning to form specific sounds was bypassed, and Susebron was instantly able to speak clearly and Awaken whatever was at hand to stop the priests. Part of me wants to say, “Well, gee, isn’t that convenient!” But the more I think of it, the more I find it highly probable that Endowment would put more into that supercharged Divine Breath than mere physical healing. I’m betting it involves Connection, with both Cognitive and Spiritual aspects accompanying the Physical. Which is… pretty cool. And because Lightsong gave him all that, Susebron was able to save himself and then go save Siri.

Third note: In the epilogue, Vasher confirms what Siri figured out in Chapter 55—that the priests have semi-deliberately kept their gods from realizing that they could stockpile Breath and survive for as many weeks as they had Breaths in reserve. Not that most of the current crop of gods have enough drive to want to do anything that takes them out of the Court anyway, but what would happen if they did? I can see abuses, of course, but I can also imagine gods who would go out and about in the country, finding and (hopefully) correcting some of the difficulties their people face. I wonder if that will happen in the sequel, since it was mentioned twice in the last few chapters.

Beyond all that… Wow. I’m pretty sure that the first time I read this, I didn’t manage to sort out all the implications of the things Vasher says and does in this chapter & epilogue. By now we’re used to it, but it really is quite the twist to have scruffy-face Vasher turn out to be a Returned who’s lived for 300+ years, was (partially) responsible for both the beginning and ending of their War to End All Wars, and is considered to be the god above all the gods of the Iridescent Tones. I wonder if he remembers anything of his decision to Return. And I wonder if it had anything to do with Roshar…

Speaking of reasons to Return… going back to more of last week’s discussion, we do indeed get some better answers about Blushweaver and her purpose in Returning, as well as Lightsong’s purpose. While there’s nothing on what percentage of the gods actually do fulfill their purpose, Sanderson clarifies that they do indeed see the future and come back for a specific purpose, but there’s no guarantee that by Returning they will necessarily be able to change anything. That said, though, we now have three examples of those who did exactly what they came back for—or at least came close. We already knew about Calmseer, who came back to prevent her daughter from dying of the same disease that killed her. In the annotations, we learn that Blushweaver was assassinated for exposing the criminal practices of some merchants, and she Returned because she saw invaders taking over T’Telir after Bluefingers’s revolt. While I have to think that gathering the armies into only two contingents instead of four played into the hands of the Pahn Kahl, allowing them to send the whole mass off to cause destruction and making the Lifeless unavailable for defense of the city, she did succeed in stirring things up to the point that the right people were involved and ended up in the right place to stop war from breaking out. So, okay. Plus, Sanderson says she’d be pleased with the result of her efforts.

Don’t Hold Your Breath (Give it to me!)

In this chapter, chirpy-voice Nightblood is back; if you read the annotations, you hopefully understand a little better why it doesn’t quite believe the harm it does to Vasher when they “destroy evil!” It’s sentient, but the limitations to the magic are, quite literally, killer. Don’t ask me to explain it, though.

It’s worth pointing out that Vasher makes no mention of Clod when he says that Tonk Fah and Jewels are gone. We know from the Chapter 57 annotations, though, that Jewels took Clod with her and was going to seek out Yesteel to see if he could help her find a way to restore more of Arsteel’s personality. Given that Vasher and Vivenna are headed in the same direction, it’s fairly obvious that they’ll meet again in the sequel.

Exhale

One of my favorite passages comes near the end of Chapter 58:

“You have a group of rogue Lifeless,” Vasher said. “You’ve lost control of them.”

“I’m sorry, my lord,” the God King said.

Vasher regarded him. Then he glanced at Vivenna. She nodded her head. “I trust him.”

“It’s not about trust,” Vasher said, turning back to Susebron. “Either way, I am going to give you something.”

“What?”

“My army,” Vasher said.

If it’s not about trust, what is it about? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. My best guess is that it ties to the very last line of the chapter:

“They are your responsibility now,” Vasher said, turning away. “Do better with them than I did.”

Vasher doesn’t feel like he’s done a very good job with the knowledge he gained, the things he developed, and the way those things were used. He’s spent the last 300 years kicking himself for the Manywar (even though several of the other Scholars contributed pretty heavily, by all accounts), knowing that a lot of people died because the five of them were having so much fun discovering Commands and creating new technology. They sort of introduced tanks to cavalry warfare, you know? And he’s felt guilty about it ever since. That’s my theory, anyway.

And with that, we finish Warbreaker. I hope you’ve enjoyed it, maybe learned a new thing or two, and are a little more familiar with Vasher and Nightblood going into the Oathbringer release.

***

As I mentioned in the comments last week, the next short reread project—also aimed at preparing for Oathbringer—is the novella Edgedancer. This is currently only available as part of the Arcanum Unbounded collection (a collection well worth owning, by the way, because it’s got all the short Cosmere works plus a ton of extra information). I’m told it will be available as a separate e-book in early October… which doesn’t do much for participating in the reread if you can’t get hold of Arcanum Unbounded. Still, I highly recommend you read or reread it very soon.

I’d intended to give you a quick outline of the Edgedancer format, but… I still don’t know what it will look like. Hopefully, it will involve some sort of team effort with Lyndsey Luther, Ross Newberry, and/or Paige Vest. Also hopefully, we’ll get started next week; at two chapters per week, we’ll finish very shortly before Oathbringer is released. Watch these spaces!

Alice Arneson is a SAHM, blogger, beta reader, and literature fan. She is currently very much looking forward to the beginning of the Oathbringer preview chapters next week, so she can have fun discussing it with y’all a few chapters at a time. Along with that Edgedancer project, she’s working on a few other refresher articles, which you should see soon.

Thursday, August 17th, 2017 03:30 pm

Posted by Niall Alexander

Sometimes you only see how special something is when you look back at it later. Sometimes that something needs a hot second to properly settle into your subconscious. And that’s fine, I figure. I’d go so far as to say that, for me at least, be it because the job requires me to read rather a lot or not, it’s surprising to be struck by something straightaway. But even I didn’t need the benefit of retrospect to bring home how brilliant the Hugo Award-winning beginning of The Broken Earth was. I realised I was reading something remarkable—something “rich, relevant and resonant,” as I wrote in my review of The Fifth Season—before I’d seen the back of the first act, and when the full measure of the power of its perspectives was made plain, it became a comprehensive confirmation of N. K. Jemisin as one of our very finest fantasists.

I stand by that, looking back—as I stand by my criticisms of its “surprisingly circumspect” successor. I said then that The Obelisk Gate sacrificed some The Fifth Season’s substance and sense of momentum to tell a slighter and slower story, and I’ll say that again today, never mind the passage of time or the news that it, too, just took home a Hugo. With The Stone Sky now behind me, however, and The Broken Sky closed, I do recognise that The Obelisk Gate played a pivotal role in the whole. It was the calm before the storm.

The Yumenes Rifting is the latest and the last of the apocalyptic events that have plagued the Stillness: a landscape ravaged by Seasons of madness, acid, fire and fungus, among others. People have passed away in their millions because of previous Seasons, but the Yumenes Rifting is different. If it continues, all life in the Stillness will be lost. Only a powerful orogene—someone with the ability to manipulate thermal and kinetic energy—could possibly stop it. Only someone like Essun, say.

But Essun, when last we left her, was at death’s door, having interfaced with “an arcane mechanism older than […] written history” named the obelisk gate in order to save the community of Castrima—albeit “at the cost of Castrima itself” and another, more personal price. When Essun awakens to find what’s left of her comm carrying her towards Yumenes and the rusting Rifting, she realises she’s slowly but surely turning to stone, like her late lover Alabaster before her. All she’s lost thus far is an arm, but every time she wields “enough of that strange silvery not-orogeny, which Alabaster called magic,” she’ll lose more, and come what may, it’s going to take a lot of that slippery stuff to save the day:

You’ve got a job to do, courtesy of Alabaster and the nebulous faction of stone eaters who’ve been quietly trying to end the ancient war between life and Father Earth. The job you have to do is the easier of the two, you think. Just catch the Moon. Seal the Yumenes Rifting. Reduce the current Season’s predicted impact from thousands or millions of years back down to something manageable—something the human race has a chance of surviving. End the Fifth Seasons for all time.

The job you want to do, though? Find Nassun, your daughter. Take her back from the man who murdered your son and dragged her halfway across the world in the middle of the apocalypse.

Little does Essun know that Nassun—like mother, like daughter—has taken matters into her own hands by calling upon the obelisks and stabbing her fundamentalist father with a shard of the sapphire. She didn’t want to do it, to be sure, but to survive, she had to. That just leaves her and Schaffa, the same so-called Guardian who was so cruel to Essun in her youth. Schaffa is trying to turn over a new leaf now, the better to make up for the many mistakes he’s made, and in Nassun, who has no one else, he sees redemption, yes, but more than that: he sees a chance to do something truly good for a girl who’s been broken by the same idiot bigotry he practiced in the past. To wit, he promises to protect her “till the world burns.”

As well it might if Nassun has her way, because she’s plum done. Done living in a world that treats people who are different like dirt; done living in a world that has taken away her mother and her baby brother and pushed her into patricide; done living in a world in which the only person who’s been there for her of late lives in perpetual pain; and done living in a world that punishes every living thing for no good reason that she sees.

But there is a reason the world—Evil Earth, as it’s known—is so hell-bent on hurting the few humans who have managed to survive the Seasons so far. These effects have a cause, of course, and it’s a cause rooted in the ancient history of the Stillness; a cause closely connected to the origins of orogeny. Several interludes set in Syl Anagist, the Stillness before it was stilled, introduce us to Houwha, a tuner created and controlled by a cadre of conductors. He and the others like him have been genetically engineered to bring a power source called the Plutonic Engine online. “This was what made them not the same kind of human as everyone else. Eventually: not as human as everyone else. Finally: not human at all.” And as above, so below.

Starting The Stone Sky, I made every effort to keep my expectations in check. I expected Jemisin to bring The Broken Earth’s core story to a close, but I wasn’t counting on the completeness of the closure this novel offers. I expected Nassun and Essun to cross paths at long last, but I couldn’t have imagined that their meeting would bring about “a battle for the fate of the world” that pairs the last parts of their catastrophic character arcs with some of the most incredible action seen in said series. It’s “such a terrible and magnificent thing to witness” that I sat stunned for some time after the fact, knowing full well what had happened but unable in the moment to comprehend just how—and how unexpectedly—it had.

I also expected the setting to be explored some more—and it is, physically, as Essun accompanies her adopted comm across the Merz Desert and into a false forest whilst Nassun and Schaffa pick their way through a breathtaking buried city towards Corepoint, where the crushing climax occurs—but I didn’t for a minute think that the author would devote such a substantial section of The Stone Sky to explaining how the Stillness itself came to be in delirious detail couched in characterful, if tragic context. Last but not least, learning anything at all about the beginnings of this trilogy’s terrific magic system caught me completely off-guard. That said, the answers aren’t unwelcome, and they go straight to the heart of the themes of the series.

As the conclusion to a trilogy that started strong and then stopped, The Stone Sky gave me everything that I wanted, and then it gave me more. It’s devastating. Poignant and personal and almost impossibly powerful. If my faith in N. K. Jemisin as one of our generation’s most able creators was in any way shaken by The Obelisk Gate—and I confess that it was, somewhat—then The Stone Sky has decimated those doubts. The Broken Earth is in totality one of the great trilogies of our time, and if all is well with the world, its thoroughly thrilling third volume should surely secure N. K. Jemisin a third Hugo Award.

The Stone Sky is available now from Orbit.

Niall Alexander is an extra-curricular English teacher who reads and writes about all things weird and wonderful for The Speculative ScotsmanStrange Horizons, and Tor.com. He lives with about a bazillion books, his better half and a certain sleekit wee beastie in the central belt of bonnie Scotland.

Thursday, August 17th, 2017 03:00 pm

Posted by Tobias Carroll

Some writers straddle genres, but Jeff VanderMeer’s fiction seems bound and determined to encompass as many styles and genres as it possibly can. Looking for metafictional body horror? Perhaps a detective novel set against the wars of an empire? Or maybe a paranoid thriller situated in the midst of a disintegrating landscape is more your speed. VanderMeer’s fiction brings together unlikely elements, smashes them together, and revives them with a frenetic urgency.

Delving into his fiction only showcases part of VanderMeer’s literary contributions. In recent years, he’s contributed introductions to new editions of books by the likes of Thomas Ligotti and Kirsten Bakis. Working in tandem with his wife, acclaimed editor Ann VanderMeer, he’s also involved in the publishing side of things: Cheeky Frawg Books has, most recently, released a massive collection of work by the surreal and dynamic Finnish writer Leena Krohn.

Keeping in mind, then, that this overview is not meant to be exhaustive, here’s a look at some of the shared settings, overlapping themes, and unsettling locales you’ll find in Jeff VanderMeer’s books.

 

Bizarre Cities

VanderMeer’s most recent novel, Borne, is set in a strange and unnamed city where genetic engineering has run wild, humans share the streets with sentient animals, and a giant flying bear named Mord strikes fear into the hearts of many an inhabitant. At the core of Borne is the story of Rachel, a young woman doing her best to survive amidst the chaos around her, and the bond that she forms with the title character, a strange shape-shifting creature of unknown origin who possesses abundant power and unsettling appetites.

His novella The Strange Bird reveals more about the particulars of this setting: the title character is, in fact, a strange bird–but one haunted by memories of a different life. The novella serves as a further exploration of the location of Borne, and offers a more expansive look at one of the novel’s most intriguing supporting characters. But at its core, for all of its strange and sometimes visceral imagery, this is also a story that explores questions of memory and self.

VanderMeer addressed some of these same questions in his first novel, Veniss Underground, albeit in a setting that abounds with the grotesque and visceral. That includes sinister sentient meerkats, a city built inside of a massive fish, and unsustainable body modification. On one hand, it’s a quest narrative about a search for a missing person–but it’s structured in a way that demonstrates an incisive sense of experimentation. The way the novel’s three parts are nestled–including a narratively inventive use of the second person–showcases a sharp blending of form and content.

 

Ambergris

VanderMeer’s books set in the mysterious city of Ambergris are a bizarre, haunting, and thoroughly compelling piece of work–an astonishing bit of worldbuilding that allows him to tell stories that encompass everything from the rise and decline of an empire to the clash between two sentient species to a few sequences that approach body horror. (Fungal imagery abounds in these books, sometimes to a thoroughly transformative degree.)

This trilogy also introduces a motif that he would continue in the Southern Reach books: namely, that each book reads quite differently than the others, even as the arc of a larger storyline advances through all of them. Through a series of shorter works, City of Saints and Madmen advances the history of the city of Ambergris, and the political and military intrigue that surrounds it. It also advances the heady, surreal tone, in which reality can feel subjective and sanity is at a premium.

Shriek (An Afterword) takes on a very different tone: the book is structured as a sort of metafictional narrative, with corrections and annotations presented as part of a found manuscript that illuminates both the city’s history and of two siblings whose lives encompass much of Ambergris society. (Nabokov’s Pale Fire comes to mind as a structural antecedent.) And Finch is a detective novel–albeit one set after the government of the city has undergone a radical shift. Each book stands on its own quite well, but the cumulative effect of all three is particularly potent.

 

Area X

Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy–three novels, all released within the span of a year–could accurately be described as his breakout work. (Alex Garland’s forthcoming film adaptation of Annihilation doesn’t hurt, either.) It retains much of the surreal imagery, shifting bodies, and questioning of the self that informed his earlier work, but is also set in a world recognizable as our own. Before the trilogy opens, something has altered a section of land known as Area X, turning it and the creatures that resided there into something much more alien.

Each of the novels chronicles a different method of attempting to understand what took place at Area X. Stylistically, they take different approaches: Annihilation blends together a psychedelic strain of science fiction with traces of cosmic horror; Authority has echoes of a 1970s-style paranoid thriller; and Acceptance takes elements from both and turns them on their head. Taken in total, these novels also point to a question not unlike the ages-old one about the ship of Theseus: in a world where bodies can be modified, remade, and turned into something fundamentally altered, what makes us human? What separates the natural from the artificial–and should it matter? At the core of the bizarre imagery in these novels is an ages-old theme central to speculative fiction.

 

Short Fiction

The Third Bear, VanderMeer’s 2010 short story collection, offers a fine survey of the many sides of his fiction. In some cases, that means a side of his work that his novels haven’t yet explored: “Finding Sonoria,” about a detective hired to locate a possibly imaginary country, and “Errata,” a foray into experimental narratives, obsession, and conspiracies, recall the metafictional and metaphysical pulp fiction of Brian Evenson.

Readers of VanderMeer’s longer work will find strange echoes of some of his novels here, as well. “The Situation,” about dangerous office politics in a company dedicated to bizarre genetic experiments, reads like a precursor to some of the themes and settings that VanderMeer would develop in Borne. (Impossibly huge, existentially menacing bears show up in a couple of places in the collection, in fact.) And there’s also “The Quickening,” in which arguably the least threatening animal imaginable–a pet rabbit–accumulates a dense air of mystery and menace.

 

Non-Fiction and Anthologies

Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction is, as its subtitle indicates, a graphically rich look at the process of conceiving, writing, plotting, and editing fiction. It features contributions from a host of other writers and editors, and an abundance of irreverent-yet-profound illustrations that put some of the theories discussed in it into practice. If VanderMeer’s writings demonstrate the different ways that one can tell stories set in the same location, WonderBook makes a complementary point: that there’s no one right way to tell a story.

Jeff and Ann VanderMeer have edited a number of anthologies focusing on the history of a particular genre or subgenre. To cite two notable examples, The Weird found common ground for a host of seemingly disparate authors, encompassing work from Daphne Du Maurier, China Miéville, Laird Barron, Karen Joy Fowler, and Julio Cortazar. And 2016’s The Big Book of Science Fiction featured writers you might expect to find in such a book (Samuel R. Delany, Arthur C. Clarke, Cixin Liu), and others whose bodies of work might be less familiar (Kojo Laing, Silvina Ocampo, Valentina Zhuravlyova). The VanderMeers take on a wholly international scope in these books, and one of the joys of reading them is seeing how a wildly disparate group of writers handles similar concepts and themes.

reel-thumbnailTobias Carroll is the managing editor of Vol.1 Brooklyn. He is the author of the short story collection Transitory (Civil Coping Mechanisms) and the novel Reel (Rare Bird Books).

Thursday, August 17th, 2017 02:00 pm

Posted by Tim Maughan

One of the most surprising, and gratifying, things that has happened since I started my blog, Tim Maughan Books, is the positive feedback I’ve had for the anime reviews—especially from people I know are far from being massive fanboys like myself. It’s gratifying because its part of the reason I started writing them—to try and introduce the medium to people who had never really indulged in it all, at least not past perhaps watching Spirited Away with their kids. The problem is, once you’ve had your first taste, where do you go next? Type ‘anime’ into Google and the results are bewildering, and without a little bit of guidance and a quality filter finding something to watch can be a daunting task. So, here is my list of 10 ‘mature’ anime films you really should see. They are in no particular order, the term ‘mature’ is kind of loose, seeing as at least two are really kids’ films, and this is purely personal opinion. If you disagree, see you in the comments section.

 

Akira (1988)

For many of us in the west, this is the one that started it all. Up until we first saw Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira, our only exposure to Japanese animation had been kiddies’ Saturday morning shows like Speed Racer and Battle of the Planets, but I can still remember vividly sitting in a run-down arthouse cinema at the age of 17 with my jaw resting on the sticky floor as the opening scenes flashed in front of me. Two hours later I was a complete convert. Otomo heavily edited and re-wrote his own epic manga about rival motorbike gangs and genetically enhanced children to create this futuristic thriller, and it blew away critics and audiences in the west while breaking box office records back home in Japan. It also opened the floodgates for anime into the US and Europe, but unfortunately with a lot of what was opportunistically exported (distributors looking for visually similar/violent material instead of quality) simply not being up to the same standard many potential new fans were turned off as quickly as they’d been turned on. Essential viewing.

 

Ghost in the Shell (1995)

One of the most influential anime films of all time, Mamoru Oshii‘s Ghost in the Shell changed not only the look and feel of animated sci-fi but also had an impact on Hollywood; most notably in the distinct visual style of the Matrix movies. While some hardcore fans of Masamune Shirow‘s original action-packed and often light hearted manga still complain about the adaption; Oshii’s decision to turn it into a dark, brooding, beautifully paced drama ensured its place as a science fiction classic. It is without doubt the definitive visual depiction of the cyberpunk movement, and the closest there is to date of a filmic version of William Gibson’s classic Sprawl Trilogy novels. Not just a huge worldwide hit, it also spawned a huge franchise including a sequel, a Hollywood adaptation, two 26 part TV series, various novels, toys and video games, as well as the controversial Ghost in the Shell 2.0 special edition.

 

My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

I’ve talked at length elsewhere about how personally important My Neighbor Totoro is to me, so here I’ll try not to gush too much. There’s so many reasons as to why Hayao Miyazaki‘s masterpiece is such an enduring and perfect film; the way he captures the energy and personalities of its two child protagonists, and his never ending attention to detail combined with a beautifully simple score and Kazuo Oga‘s immaculate and breath-taking background paintings make it a joy to watch over and over again. A fact I’ve been re-assured of by friends with young children that insist on watching it on a near daily basis. And that’s probably Totoro’s strongest point—the fact that it is family film that appeals to both children and adults alike without pandering to either with slapstick or ‘knowing’ humor. If you haven’t seen it yet then you must—it is quite possibly the greatest animated film ever made.

 

Porco Rosso (1992)

I’ve already got one Miyazaki movie in this list, and it’s hard to limit it to just two. Picking a second one is even harder. My opinion changes on a near daily basis, or depending on the last one I happened to watch. But I’ll always have a soft spot for Porco Rosso; the tale of a WWI fighter ace turned bounty-hunter, cursed with the head of a pig and on the run for going AWOL from the Italian air force. In many ways it must have been one of Miyazaki’s most enjoyable projects to create, another fantastic family film that somehow manages to combine his obsession with aeronautic design and his personal politics. The elaborate, lived in aircraft designs remain one of my favourite cinematic images of all time, while we learn that the reason Rosso is fleeing the Italian authorities is his disdain for the fascism that’s steadily taking grip of Europe. Oh, and he also manages to take a gentle swipe at US bravado along the way. A perfect film.

 

Voices of a Distant Star (2002)

Perhaps Voices of a Distant Star doesn’t really belong here. For a start its only 25 minutes long, and was first released on DVD, technically making it an OVA. Well, rules are made to be broken, plus it earns its place on this list for truly being a film you must see before you die. Astonishing enough that it was single-handedly written, directed and animated by the now legendary Makoto Shinkai on his Mac at home, it is also one of the most touching, beautiful and exhilarating examples of animation produced in recent history. The story of a long distant, text message relationship between a teenage mecha-pilot and her boyfriend back on earth, it combines gentle, slow-paced scenes with snatches of frantic sci-fi action, and has become the thematic and stylistic basis for Shinkai’s subsequent large-budget productions. It’s probably available for stupidly cheap on DVD now, so you really have no excuse for not picking this mini-masterpiece up.

 

Royal Space Force: The Wings Of Honneamise (1987)

The feature film debut of the then still young—but now legendary—studio Gainax, Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise is an unusual, compelling and skillfully crafted film. Both a coming of age story and detailed analysis of the role of the space race in the Cold War, RSF tells the story of an alternate reality Earth, where two rival superpowers are locked in a constant propaganda and military stalemate, while a small team of underfunded scientists, engineers and pilots attempt to launch the first man into space. While the film is beautifully animated with some fantastically detailed background art, it is also has substantial depth in terms of its philosophical themes and characterisation. As such it’s not one for the whole family, but an unmissable and enthralling watch for anyone with an interest in what animation can truly achieve.

 

Patlabor 2: The Movie (1993)

The history of the Patlabor franchise is a long and complex one, but put simply under the guidance of Mamoru Oshii it developed (in a way similar to how he remolded Ghost in The Shell) from a light hearted but realistic police-mecha drama to a bleak, deeply political and philosophical thriller by the time he directed Patlabor 2: The Movie. While the first movie is just as enthralling, thoughtful and arguably more accessible, the sequel just steals the crown due to its uncompromising approach to its political themes and its breathless, stark cinematic beauty. It deals with Oshii’s recurring theme of the hypocrisy of peace in the developed world, and in particular is a devastating attack on the foreign policy of a pacifist Japan that profits from the fates of distant waring nations. Although over 15 years old now, its portrayal of terrorism consists of some disturbingly prophetic imagery. Possibly the closest anime has come to producing something to rival the large canvas, cinematic styles of the likes of Stanley Kubrick or Ridley Scott, it is an unmissable, if challenging, work.

 

Perfect Blue (1997)

The directorial debut of anime auteur Satoshi Kon, Perfect Blue’s story about a J-Pop idol turned actress being stalked by a obsessive fan was originally meant to be a live action drama, only scrapped due to the 1995 Kobe earthquake. At first its contemporary setting and often mundane situations are certainly reminiscent of a well-shot J-Horror movie, but in Kon’s skilled hands the script slowly changes into something that could only be depicted by animation. As a starting point for his re-occurring themes of disconnected realities and psychological fantasy it is subtler than his later works including Paranoia Agent and Paprika, and as a result somehow creepier. Certainly its most famous scene—where we apparently see the central character being raped, only discovering she is just acting when the off camera director shouts ‘cut’—is one that permanently sticks in the mind, as does the film’s shocking, final revelation.

 

Memories (1995)

Produced by Katsuhiro Otomo, and based on some of his short manga stories, Memories is an anthology of three films. Although all science fiction they cover a wide range of styles, from the romantic, twisted reality of the Satoshi Kon scripted Magnetic Rose and the ludicrous bio-warfare black comedy Stink Bomb to the Orwellian, Brazil like dystopia of Cannon Fodder—the only one of the three directed by Otomo himself. It is arguably the most compelling of the three, with its Oshii-esque story of a war obsessed and controlled society and its unique, steampunkesque visuals. Despite the diverging themes and differing visual styles of the three chapters, there is an undeniably high standard of production throughout. It’s another film that can be easily and cheaply picked up on DVD at the moment, I can’t hesitate in recommending that you buy it on sight.

 

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006)

Loosely based on a popular Japanese novel, Mamoru Hosoda’s The Girl Who Leapt Through Time tells the story of schoolgirl Makoto Konno, who discovers she has the ability to—literally—time leap; that is to jump back in time to change situations and remake important decisions. What starts as an enjoyable, funny and charming teenage drama slowly reveals itself to have a classic, well crafted science fiction story at its heart, offering another, stylish but gentle, take on the conundrums and paradoxes thrown up by the idea of time-travel. It’s partly in this list to represent the talent of more recent directors and studios, but mainly because it’s a warm, accessible, exciting and lovingly made film that will be held in high esteem for many, many years to come.

 

So what have I missed out? Where have I gone wrong? Well for a start I notice straight away that although there’s two Studio Ghibli films, there’s nothing by Isao Takahata—No Grave of the Fireflies or Only Yesterday—which can’t be right, surely? I guess it’s a good sign for anime’s heritage that compiling such a list and limiting it to just ten means so many great works are missing, but I’m sure some of you will be upset that I’ve left out your favourite personal masterpiece. If so, hit the comments below and let it all out.

This article was originally published in May 2011.

Tim Maughan lives in Bristol in the UK and has been writing about anime and manga for nearly four years, and consuming both for close to twenty. He also writes science fiction, and his debut book Paintwork is out this June. He also tweets way too much.

Thursday, August 17th, 2017 01:00 pm

Posted by Alan Brown

In this bi-weekly series reviewing classic science fiction and fantasy books, Alan Brown looks at the front lines and frontiers of the field; books about soldiers and spacers, scientists and engineers, explorers and adventurers. Stories full of what Shakespeare used to refer to as “alarums and excursions”: battles, chases, clashes, and the stuff of excitement.

Edgar Rice Burroughs’ most popular creation was Tarzan the jungle lord, who had many fantastic adventures with strange creatures and lost cities. Tarzan’s strangest adventure, however, came when he crossed over into another Burroughs series, and visited a mysterious world in the center of the Earth: the land of Pellucidar. There he found dinosaurs and saber-tooth tigers, lizard men and pirates, cavemen and pterodactyls. 

 

Hidden Treasures

There is one encounter I had with the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs that I will never forget. One of the big annual events in my hometown was our church auction. As each summer progressed, basements and barns of church members filled with donations. We sold books in box lots, and one year, when I was 11 or 12, I had the job of making up the boxes—and discovered some hidden treasures. Someone had donated a collection of Stratemeyer Syndicate and Edgar Rice Burroughs adventure books from the 1920s and 1930s (you can find a review of a typical Stratemeyer book here). I separated the ones that we didn’t already have in our basement and put them in the bottom of a box with some uninteresting books on top; a few cookbooks and something about a car called a Chilton Manual. This box was the one I would bid on in the auction.

But when the bidding began, I found I had a competitor. I had six dollars in my pocket, a hefty sum at that time, and all the money I had in the world. But I had bid five and was beginning to sweat before the man finally dropped out. For some reason, my plan had not worked out the way I had intended. As I was carrying off my box, he approached me, said he thought we were bidding for the box for different reasons, and offered me two dollars for the Chilton Manual. I happily agreed, and learned several lessons from the experience; that strangers can be kind, that a good negotiator can help both parties end up ahead, that not everyone puts the same value on the same thing, and that when you practice to deceive, you can be your own worst enemy. And in addition to those lessons, I had some great books to read during the rest of the summer.

My older brother was the big Tarzan fan in the family, but one particular Tarzan book caught my attention because of its fantastic setting—the book in which Tarzan traveled inside the Earth itself and had adventures that boggled my mind (adventures involving dinosaurs, a passion of mine in my younger years).

 

About the Author

Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950) was born in Chicago, and before he became a writer, he dabbled in many professions, never with any success. He attended several schools, spent a short time as a trooper in the Seventh Cavalry, and in occupations as diverse as salesman, prospector, shopkeeper, cowboy and railroad cop. But he had a flair for storytelling, and enjoyed reading the pulps. Thinking he could do better than some of the other authors in those books, in 1911 he submitted the first John Carter story, “Under the Moons of Mars,” to All-Story Magazine. When the story sold, he knew he was on to something. The next year he created another character, Tarzan of the Apes, and he was on the road to fame and fortune. In addition to the jungles of Africa, his characters roamed the Earth, Mars, Venus, the Moon, and even the Earth’s interior. He was a pioneer in writing what became known as “planetary romances,” inspiring a sub-genre that filled many magazines with stories, and many young heads with dreams of adventuring on strange worlds. He was a pioneer in licensing his characters for appearance in other media, and Tarzan appeared in comic strips, in movies, and on the radio. While his fiction liberally uses the tools and tropes of pulp fiction, Burroughs was a master storyteller, with an unusually fertile imagination who wrote stories with tremendous energy. It is no wonder that he quickly rose head and shoulder above his peers.

Modern readers must be cautioned that Burroughs’ stories are influenced by the pervasive racism and sexism common in the era. Tarzan can be seen as an example of what has come to be called the “white savior” trope. Burroughs’ characters often jump to conclusions based on the race, sex, and appearance of other characters, persons of color are used for comic relief, and vicious conflict between races and tribes is portrayed. That being said, characters are also often shown rising above this prejudice, and while the women in his stories are generally there to provide his male protagonists with a love interest, they arguably exhibit more agency than women in many other stories of the era.

  

Tarzan

The most popular of all the characters Burroughs created, Tarzan was the very embodiment of what Burroughs considered the highest virtues of both civilization and nature. His adoption by apes followed in the tradition of many figures of legend, such as Romulus and Remus, founders of Rome, who were suckled by a wolf after being abandoned in a forest. Tarzan learned the ways of the jungle from his adopted tribe, and was intelligent enough to learn to read from the children’s primers and other books his shipwrecked parents left behind. He was at the peak of human conditioning and abilities, his strength honed by his jungle life. He was faithful to his wife, and constant in his desire to protect the weak and the helpless. He was chivalrous, and a fierce enemy when provoked. Those whose view of Tarzan was shaped primarily by the movies and Johnny Weissmuller’s incarnation of the character, with a limited vocabulary and simple worldview, are often surprised to meet the erudite and thoughtful Tarzan of the books.

 

Hollow Earth

Mankind has long been fascinated by the concept of another world beneath our feet. The idea of the land of the dead, or Hell, being underground is just one of many such legends. Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth described adventurers finding massive caves full of strange plants and creatures deep below the surface. Starting in the late 17th Century, there was speculation that the Earth might be a shell, only a few hundred miles thick, with another world contained within. In the early 19th Century, an American named John Symmes put forward a theory that gained many followers, suggesting that not only was the Earth hollow, but that entrances to its interior could be found at the poles. Even into the 20th Century, as polar explorations found nothing of the sort and all scientific evidence pointed strongly against it, some people clung to the hollow earth idea.

Polar explorers of the time had their own odd theories. One persistent theory, which led many to their death, was that there existed an Arctic continent and a warm water ocean above a rim of ice. There were even those who called this continent Ultima Thule, after ancient writings that probably were, in actuality, describing Scandinavian lands. Some occult-obsessed Nazis even argued that this land was the source of their so-called “master race.”

In 1914, Burroughs saw the idea of a hollow earth as a fertile landscape for adventure. He wrote of a pair of explorers, David Innes and Abner Perry, who used a drilling machine to bore through the earth’s crust to find this mysterious land, which Burroughs called Pellucidar. They found a world with no horizons, because the surface curved upwards, and permanent daylight, with a small sun floating in its center. A small body near the sun created one small area of darkness. The continents and seas were a mirror image of what was found on the surface of Earth. And, capitalizing on the then-current interest in fossils and prehistoric creatures, Burroughs populated this world with dinosaurs and other holdovers from bygone eras on the surface. There were also pirates who had wandered in from the surface world, as well as all sorts of sentient creatures evolved from different animals. While a veneer of scientific explanation is given for the various wonders Innes and Perry find in Pellucidar, the science is of the “pseudo” variety, and these tales fall squarely into the realm of fantasy.

 

Tarzan at the Earth’s Core

The book opens with Tarzan investigating a party that has intruded on his jungle home, led by a young American inventor named Jason Gridley, who has recently received mysterious messages on a new type of radio. Gridley tells him of a mysterious world within the Earth, and how another American explorer, David Innes, has been captured and is in need of rescue. Gridley proposes that Tarzan co-sponsor an expedition that will use a dirigible to travel via the polar entrance to this world. Gridley is concerned that normal dirigibles need lots of ground support, but Tarzan has a better idea: a friend of his has discovered an incredibly light and strong material that could be used to build pressure vessels that could be pumped down to a vacuum, and provide even more lift than lighter-than-air gasses. (I suspect that this approach would require new physical laws rather than just a new material, but we are reading a book where the Earth is a giant hollow sphere, so let’s just accept that and move ahead.) Together, they go to Germany and commission the construction of this craft, which they dub the O-220. They hire a crew that consists of German airmen, an African-American cook, and Filipino stewards. Tarzan enlists ten Waziri warriors from his African homeland to defend the expedition. Oddly, the only person from this crew who displays any personality at all is Robert Jones, the cook, whose bemusement about the strange environment and perpetual noon is presented as a running joke. The others simply serve the plot as required.

The O-220 lands on a prairie, and Tarzan heads out to explore. Eventually, distracted by the strangeness of the land, he finds himself captured and hanging from a tree limb by a primitive snare. A saber-toothed tiger stalks him as he hangs there. Back at the O-220, Gridley decides to search for Tarzan, taking the Waziri as well as one of the German crew, Wilhelm von Horst. They follow game trails, and see all sorts of strange beasts. Soon they realize that the animals are being herded by a group of saber-toothed tigers. The tigers attack, and the group is scattered. Meanwhile, Tarzan is rescued from his own menacing tiger by a group of Neanderthal-like gorilla men. He is surprised to find that they speak the same language as the ape tribes of Africa. One of them, Tar-gash, is friendly to Tarzan, and when they take him to their village, Tarzan returns the favor by warning him against an attack by a rival. Both flee the village, and Tar-gash suggests that they go find Tarzan’s people. Bewildered by the odd terrain and the perpetual noonday sun, however, Tarzan soon realizes that, for the first time in his life, he is lost.

Gridley has been hiding in a tree since the tigers scattered his party, and eventually makes his way back to the O-220. He takes their single scout plane, but is attacked and brought down by a pterodactyl. Tarzan and his companion are heading toward a land where Tar-gash knows that people like Tarzan live, and they see the scout plane pass overhead. They are attacked by a giant flightless bird, and kill it with the assistance of a human warrior. Tar-gash wants to kill the man, whose name is Thoar, but Tarzan suggests that he can trust a man who just saved them, and they team up.

Meanwhile, a beautiful young woman, Jana, is being pursued by members of a tribe whose practice is to capture mates from outside the tribe. Jason Gridley, regaining consciousness after parachuting from his wrecked aircraft, sees her pursued by not only the four tribesmen, but also a pack of hyaenodons. Gridley draws his trusty Colt revolver and fights off both the creatures and the tribesmen. Together they find the remains of Gridley’s aircraft and he recovers a rifle and other gear; the plane, however, will never fly again. A short while later, Tarzan and his party find the aircraft, and Thoar recognizes the footprints of his sister, Jana. At the same time, Von Horst and the Waziri are lost in the wilds, and the O-220 sends out yet another search party—which, though unsuccessful, at least finds its way back to the airship.

Gridley and Jana learn each other’s language, and head back toward her people. They develop affection for each other, but when she confronts him about his feelings, he finds he can’t admit love of a savage, no matter how desirable. Jilted, she turns away from him, but he continues to follow, his mind in turmoil, his civilized notions of a proper mate warring with his natural inclinations. Tarzan is carried off by a pterodactyl to its nest, and Tar-gash and Thoar, thinking Tarzan is doomed, go their separate ways. Tarzan, being who he is, escapes from the nest. There is a cloudburst, and Jana thinks Gridley has been killed in the flooding that follows it. Tarzan sees a lost boy being attacked by a massive cave bear, and jumps in to the rescue. Meanwhile, Gridley, who has survived the flood, spots a warrior being attacked by a stegosaurus, and also leaps in to the rescue. This creature is the weirdest of all, defying the fossil record and the laws of aerodynamics by pivoting the bony plates on its spine, and using them to glide in to attack.

Somewhere amid these somewhat random adventures, Burroughs seems to realize that he has a plot to advance, a captured David Innes to rescue, and a lovers’ quarrel to resolve. And eventually, with liberal use of coincidence and serendipity, he brings all his characters together for a fast-paced conclusion.

 

Final Thoughts

There is much in this book that you can poke fun at: the tortured science, the clichéd background characters, the numerous coincidences that help resolve the plot, and the contrived and episodic adventures that face the protagonists. But the main characters are sympathetic, the cliffhanger switches in viewpoint keep you guessing at what happens next, the procession of prehistoric creatures keeps your interest, and the book succeeds in keeping you engaged throughout. Burroughs might have had his flaws, and freely used the many conventions of pulp fiction of the era, but he was also a master storyteller, and Tarzan is a walking example of wish fulfillment, someone many readers might aspire to be. This book, with its fantastic setting, stands as one of his most unique adventures.

And now, as always, I open things up for comments. If you’ve read Tarzan at the Earth’s Core, I’d be interested in what you thought of the book, and comments on any other works by Burroughs would also be welcome.

Alan Brown has been a science fiction fan for over five decades, especially fiction that deals with science, military matters, exploration and adventure.

Thursday, August 17th, 2017 11:00 am

Posted by Lisa Eadicicco

When the total solar eclipse occurs on Aug. 21, it will mark the first time the rare spectacle will be visible in the contiguous U.S. since 1979. In a shift from 38 years ago, many of the sky watchers this month will want to photograph the solar eclipse on their phone.

It’s not impossible to take a picture of the solar eclipse with a cellphone camera, but you’ll need extra equipment, both to keep your eyes safe and to get the best possible shot. “It’s one of the most challenging things to photograph, even with a good DSLR camera,” says Andrew Symes, an Ottawa, Canada-based astronomy photographer whose work has been published in outlets including The Weather Channel, io9, and All About Space magazine. “It’s challenging because the brightness of the sun is changing as the moon crosses in front of it.”

Still, there are ways to work around those difficulties, says Symes, who has been photographing the sun, moon and planets with his iPhone since 2011. Here are three of his suggestions for how to photograph the solar eclipse with your phone:

Use solar eclipse glasses to protect yourself

When viewing the solar eclipse at any stage other than totality, when the moon fully blocks the sun, it’s important to wear protective solar eclipse glasses to avoid damage to the eye. The eyewear, which blocks nearly all of the sun’s rays, can also be useful for getting a clear photo of the eclipse. Just hold a pair of eclipse glasses over the phone’s camera and then point it at the sun to snap a photo, says Symes, who has used this technique in the past. Without the glasses, the sun will be too bright for the phone’s camera to handle, resulting in an overexposed image. Symes suggests holding the glasses over the lens instead of taping them to the phone so that it’s possible to capture the area surrounding the sun as well. There’s no need to wear a separate pair of solar eclipse glasses while doing this as long as photographers look at the sun only through their phone’s screen while the glasses are being held over the camera. “[The glasses] dim the sun enough so that it doesn’t just look like a small circle,” he says. “You should be able to see the moon take a bite out of the sun.” That being said, the sun will still appear small in the resulting image, as shown in Symes’ photo below, which shows an un-eclipsed sun shot with his iPhone 7.

Andrew Symes

Use a telescope to take a better picture

Those planning to view the solar eclipse through a telescope can also use it as a tool for capturing more vivid photos of the eclipse. After attaching the phone to the telescope using a universal smartphone adapter, it’s possible to record the celestial occurrence by pointing the mobile device’s camera through the telescope’s eyepiece. This type of adapter should work with any telescope size and model. Simply holding the phone up to the telescope’s eyepiece will also get the job done, but it will be much more difficult to get a great shot without having that extra hand to adjust the exposure. The adapter will also be more efficient at holding the camera steady. With this technique, photographers won’t need to use eclipse glasses, but a proper filter must be attached to the telescope to prevent damage to the user’s eyes. This will result in larger, more detailed photos, as shown in Symes’ image of the sun below, which was taken on an iPhone 6 through a Cornonado PST telescope.

Andrew Symes

 

Don’t zoom in on the eclipse

Zooming in on the eclipse will only make the image look grainy and pixelated. Instead, try cropping the image afterwards to make the eclipse look bigger. Symes also suggests using an app like NightCap Camera to brighten photos and capture more detail around the sun.

But Symes’ biggest piece of advice for those photographing the solar eclipse, especially for those who are in the total eclipse’s path, is to stop snapping photos for a moment and admire the scene. “You want to take those three or four rare minutes,” he says. “You want to make sure you haven’t missed the moment because you were fiddling with a camera.”

Thursday, August 17th, 2017 12:51 am

Posted by Stubby the Rocket

The Fifth Season N.K. Jemisin

TNT is bringing N.K. Jemisin’s Hugo Award-winning fantasy novel The Fifth Season to television, Deadline announced today. Leigh Dana Jackson (Sleepy HollowHelix) will adapt Jemisin’s novel, the first in the Broken Earth Trilogy, set on a supercontinent that every few centuries is wracked by a “fifth season” of climate change in the form of devastating earthquakes.

Jemisin excitedly shared the news on Twitter:

Jackson acquired the rights to The Fifth Season even before its Hugo nomination last year. Deadline describes the plot of the novel and its three protagonists:

The Fifth Season is described as an epic drama set in a world where civilization-destroying earthquakes occur with deadly regularity. A small minority of inhabitants has the ability to quiet these earthquakes, but they also can cause them. The series follows three women, each of whom possesses these special, Earth-controlling abilities: Damaya, a young girl training to serve the Empire; Syenite, an ambitious young woman ordered to breed with her bitter and frighteningly powerful mentor; and Essun, a mother searching for the husband who murdered her young son and kidnapped her daughter mere hours after a Season tore a fiery rift across the land.

Jemisin won the 2016 and 2017 Best Novel Hugo Awards for The Fifth Season and its follow-up, The Obelisk Gate. The final installment in the trilogy, The Stone Sky, was published August 15.

Wednesday, August 16th, 2017 09:12 pm

Posted by David Ingram / Reuters

Twitter Inc on Wednesday suspended accounts linked to the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer, keeping up pressure from Silicon Valley on white supremacists after weekend violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Twitter said it would not discuss individual accounts, but at least three accounts affiliated with the Daily Stormer led to pages saying “account suspended.”

The San Francisco-based social network prohibits violent threats, harassment and hateful conduct and “will take action on accounts violating those policies,” the company said in a statement.

Larger rival Facebook Inc, which unlike Twitter explicitly prohibits hate speech, has taken down several pages from Facebook and Instagram in recent days that it said were associated with hate speech or hate organizations.

Daily Stormer founder Andrew Anglin could not immediately be reached for comment.

The white supremacist website helped organize the weekend rally in Charlottesville where a 32-year-old woman was killed and 19 people were injured when a man plowed a car into a crowd protesting the white nationalist gathering.

Hundreds of people packed a historic theater in Charlottesville on Wednesday to remember the woman, Heather Heyer. Colleagues remembered Heyer, a paralegal, as being devoted to social justice.

The Daily Stormer has been accessible only intermittently the past few days after domain providers GoDaddy Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google Domains said they would not serve the website.

By Wednesday, Daily Stormer had moved to a Russia-based internet domain, with an address ending in .ru. Later in the day, though, the site was no longer accessible at that address.

Facebook confirmed on Monday that it took down the event page that was used to promote and organize the “Unite the Right” rally, saying it was “actively removing any posts that glorify the horrendous act committed in Charlottesville.”

On Wednesday, Facebook said it had removed accounts belonging to Chris Cantwell, a web commentator who has described himself as a white nationalist and said on his site that he had attended the Charlottesville rally. Cantwell’s YouTube account also appeared to have been terminated.

Cantwell could not immediately be reached for comment.

Wednesday, August 16th, 2017 07:00 pm

Posted by Anne M. Pillsworth, Ruthanna Emrys

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

Today we’re looking at H.P. Lovecraft and Duane Rimel’s “The Disinterment,” first published in January 1937 issue of Weird Tales. Spoilers ahead.

“Intuitively I knew my own tombstone; for the grass had scarcely begun to grow between the pieces of sod. With feverish haste I began clawing at the mound, and scraping the wet earth from the hole left by the removal of the grass and roots.”

Summary

Our unnamed narrator is a very good sibling, for he traveled to the far Philippines to nurse a brother dying of leprosy. Too bad he’s not also a good judge of friends.

After narrator returns home, his long-time companion and physician Marshall Andrews discovers he’s contracted the dread scourge. Narrator is currently symptom-free, but if authorities find out about his condition, he could be deported to die in lonely squalor. Luckily Andrews keeps his secret and allows narrator to remain in their ancient abode, a veritable medieval fortress perched on a crag over crumbling Hampden. Andrews is a surgeon of high local reputation, but the wider medical world might look askance at his experiments in glandular transplantation, rejuvenation and reanimation, and brain transference.

Leaving narrator in the care of venerable servant Simes, Andrews travels to the West Indies. In Haiti he learns of a curious drug. It induces so profound a sleep that the taker’s bodily functions mimic death closely enough to fool the cleverest examiner. How does this concern narrator? Well, Andrews has a plan. Faking death might not cure narrator, but at least he could be dead to the world and achieve the partial freedom of a new identity.

Narrator agrees to the macabre scheme. He takes the Haitian poison and “dies,” after which he’s interred in his family’s burial ground. Andrews and Simes dig him up shortly afterwards. Back in the crag-top “fortress,” narrator slowly recovers consciousness, only to find himself paralyzed below the neck. Andrews assures him the paralysis will pass with time. Certainly the doctor lavishes attention on his friend, constantly examining him and inquiring about his sensations. Despite—or because—of this, narrator begins to fear that Andrews now views him more as an experimental animal than a comrade. He doesn’t like the “glint of victorious exultation” that sometimes gleams in the doctor’s eyes.

More troubling still is the “terrible sense of alienation” narrator feels from his slowly-recovering (and still unseen) body. His limbs barely respond to his mind’s commands. His hands feel woefully awkward. He dreams of “ghoulish graveyards at night, stalking corpses, and lost souls amid a chaos of blinding light and shadow.” Meanwhile Andrews grows colder, and the cries of his lab animals grate on narrator’s overwrought nerves.

New life begins to vibrate in narrator’s body, a fact he conceals from Andrews, as he’s now determined to escape his “refuge.” One night he creeps from bed and dons a robe that is oddly too long, shoes that are oddly too big. A heavy candelabrum in hand, he makes his dizzy way to Andrews’s laboratory, finds him asleep over notes, brains him. As he looks at the “hideous half-visible specimens of [Andrews’s] surgical wizardry scattered about the room,” he feels no contrition for the murder.

Simes isn’t as easily dispatched, but narrator chokes the life out of him, ignoring his gibbering pleas for mercy. Then, in a “frenzy of something more than fear,” he staggers from the “fortress” and heads to his nearby ancestral home, and the cemetery where he briefly rested. Bare-handed, he unearths his own coffin. The stench of rot overwhelms him—what fool could have buried another body in his place?

He scrambles from the charnel pit but must return to wrest open the coffin. What he sees there drives him screaming into unconsciousness.

Waking, he finds himself at the ancestral door. He enters the study he deserted years before. He will write out his story until the sun rises. Then he’ll throw his deformed self into a nearby well. You see, Andrews meant all along that narrator should be his “masterpiece of unclean witchery…perverted artistry for him alone to see.” The other body, which narrator has been slowly learning to control, must have come with Andrews from Haiti along with the poison. “At least,” narrator writes in closing, “these long hairy arms and horrible short legs are alien to me…that I shall be tortured with that other during the rest of my brief existence is another hell.”

And what did narrator see in his own grave? Only “[his] own shrunken, decayed, and headless body.”

What’s Cyclopean: This week’s selection reminds us that “hideous” was in fact Howard’s most-used word. There is also bonus gibbering.

The Degenerate Dutch: Scary medicines causing death-like paralysis come from Haiti. Naturally. So do alien creatures suitable for experimental body transplants.

Mythos Making: Creepy activities with dead bodies also occur in “Charles Dexter Ward,” “Herbert West,” and “Cool Air,” among many others. Creepy identity-warping body horror shows up in too many stories to count.

Libronomicon: Andrews’s library includes “any number of fanciful subjects hardly related to modern medical knowledge.” Most focus on “monstrous” surgical experiments, “bizarre” transplants, and attempts to develop new drugs.

Madness Takes Its Toll: Whatever the effect of Andrews’s experiments on his subjects, they don’t seem to do wonders for his own mental health.

 

Anne’s Commentary

I’m not sure that the underlying message is tinged with homophobia, but it never works out for two Lovecraft guys to live together. Remember the cohabiting pair of “The Hound?” The arrangement gets even more dire when one of the roomies is a surgeon with dubious ambitions, like everyone’s favorite reanimator Herbert West.

So narrator of “The Disinterment” was doubly doomed, wasn’t he? Long-time cohabitants, check. One of the pair a brilliant mad scientist, check.

And is there a specific phobia assigned to those who dread the amalgamation of human and nonhuman bodily parts, or sometimes gene pools? Because Lovecraft capitalizes on that one a lot, too. Humans and white apes mating: “Arthur Jermyn.” Snake-human hybrids: “The Curse of Yig.” Fish/frog-human hybrids: “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.” Ancient man-animal mummies: “Under the Pyramids.” Changeling ghouls: “Pickman’s Model.” The offspring of woman and Yog-Sothoth, for the love of the Outer Gods: “The Dunwich Horror.”

Can’t we just keep humans HUMANS and animals ANIMALS? Shades of Dr. Moreau, fiction’s greatest (?) vivisectionist! But H. G. Wells’ point, ultimately, is that animals made to look and behave like humans, not that big a deal, since humans routinely behave like animals, since after all humans are animals.

For Lovecraft, as race should mate with like race, species should mate with like species. And nobody should mate with Outer Gods, period. Except—maybe humans and Deep Ones aren’t so bad a match-up. What with us all coming from the sea originally, right? Even boozy old Zadok Allen knows that.

But, come on, Anne. Let’s get back to “The Disinterment.” There’s no way the non-consensual attachment of human head to ape body can be a good thing. For either the human or the ape, no matter how big a kick it gives the mad scientist. Unnamed narrator got seriously screwed. Though one must wonder. One must wonder several things.

First, how could narrator live with Andrews for years without knowing his dark tendencies?

Second, kinda confusing how fake-dying and then coming back to assume a new identity could help narrator. [RE: Step 3—profit!] I guess the authorities would no longer be looking for him in particular, but he’s still got leprosy, could still be deported if he leaves off hiding and parades his eventual sores in public. So taking an FDA-unapproved death-mimicking drug in return for identity change doesn’t seem all that tempting to me. A better fictional ploy, for both Andrews and Lovecraft-Rimel, would have been for Andrews to claim the death-mimic drug would actually cure narrator of leprosy. Now that would make the risk far better worth taking. And so what if the cure was a lie. Once narrator woke up with an ape’s body grafted to his head, he wasn’t going to be happy even if leprosy-free.

I’m thinking the only one who could really profit from narrator’s supposed death, all along, was Andrews. I presume someone knows narrator lives with him; by making the world think narrator’s six feet under (um, in toto), Andrews doesn’t have to account for his permanent disappearance from public view. But narrator never realizes this, nor does Andrews muhaha about his cleverness. Not that he muhahas about anything, to narrator, except via his clinical chill and gleaming eye.

Third (and this is how my mind works, detail-wise), what kind of ape comes from Haiti? There are no native species. Of course, the Haitian ape could be an import to the island, possibly a pet or zoo animal. Or the ape need not have come from Haiti at all—narrator just shiveringly speculates that it did, in tandem with the death-mimic drug.

And (my mind continuing to “work”) what kind of ape body could at all reasonably bear a human head? Narrator’s noggin would be ridiculously over-sized on a gibbon and kinda biggish on a chimpanzee. It would probably look too small on a gorilla or orangutan, but at least it wouldn’t be weighing their bodies down. I don’t know. I guess I’ll go with a large chimp or a little gorilla. Like a female gorilla. Uh oh, though. Now narrator would also have to contend with a sex change!

In the end (literally), this very short story aims for a quick reader frisson at the shock of narrator’s postsurgical situation. Okay, that’s a legitimate aim for a piece of this length—it’s not likely to wow with character development or world-building. The idea’s creepy, but narrator’s too gullible for me, and too unobservant. It really takes him a look in his grave to realize he’s got an ape body? He couldn’t make that out in all the time he’s lying around convalescing? Wouldn’t ever take a peek under the blanket Andrews prescribes for his warmth? Wouldn’t notice the difference while he’s murdering his “caregivers”?

And, last quibble, he wrote this last narrative down with his awkward ape hands? Because it does read like a last narrative. I guess we would have needed a frame story with whoever finds the document remarking on how singularly scrawly-clumsy the script is in order to get this across. You know, like the fly-writing of “Winged Death.” [RE: A human hand is a lot more like an ape hand than a Yithian grasping appendage. As far as Lovecraft’s concerned, handwriting is the product of the mind alone.]

At least, thank gods, we don’t have narrator realizing he’s part-ape because he suddenly craves foliage or termites or bananas.

 

Ruthanna’s Commentary

Leprosy is a disease known nowadays more for its stigma than for any great familiarity—a stigma intense enough that modern sufferers prefer to use the more recent technical name of “Hansen’s Disease.” They’re also fortunate enough to have effective treatment available—antibiotics are your friend, and the growth of antibiotic resistance an insufficiently-mined source of modern horror. So the primary effect of “The Disinterment” was to make me very, very grateful for modern medicine.

I also wanted to be grateful for enlightened modern attitudes towards disease, but then I had to google “leprosy deportation” to figure out when and where the story takes place. And except for the lack of antibiotics, “sometime in the last decade” would have been a possible (though unlikely) answer. Actually, I had trouble tracking down any point at which a white guy (which we can presume narrator at least started as) could get deported for leprosy. Such policies are deeply entangled with two centuries of screwed up beliefs about race and cleanliness and exactly the sorts of imagined “impurity” that wigged Lovecraft out. At one point the British Empire at least considered treating caucasians with leprosy as no longer being legally white, so, um, there’s that?

In less fraught echoes of the story’s medical details, it turns out that an obsession with head transplants will still get you looked at funny by your colleagues.

So, anyway, the story. “The Disinterment” is very different from “Dreams of Yith,” a sonnet cycle notable for the mysterious “lidded blubs” and a distinct lack of Yithians. I liked it, Anne hated it, and it’s definitely not what you’d call a full-fledged linear narrative. This week’s story isn’t among the more impressive in the Lovecraftian canon, but it has some seriously disturbing moments. It also has a narrator who actually responds to his lover/totally-platonic-friend-for-whom-he-deserted-his-family’s ill treatment by deciding… that he doesn’t like him any more. I’m willing to forgive him some of the gullibility Anne mentions, on that basis alone. It’s a refreshing bit of sense after all Howard’s narrators who refuse to desert their beloved friends because, um, because then we wouldn’t get to see their ghastly ends, I guess? Here, narrator takes said ghastly end into his own hands.

Or somebody’s hands. Or something’s hands. That’s a twist that genuinely managed to surprise me. I guessed early on that Narrator was the victim of a non-consensual head transplant. I expected an Outsider-like moment of revelation in a mirror—the titular disinterment (nicely masked by the story opening post-disinterment) was an effectively ghoulish alternative. And then the body turns out not to be human. Eek! Is it really an ape, paralleling the scary primate relations of “Lurking Fear” and “Arthur Jermyn?” I personally have trouble describing an orangutan as “alien to all natural and sane laws of mankind,” but Duane and Howard might disagree. Maybe some passing extraterrestrial got swept up in Andrews’s experiments, poor thing.

Speaking of Andrews, I’m usually sympathetic to people with a tendency to shout “I’ll show them all” in the middle of thunderstorms. But Andrews earns no sympathy, first, because of his terrible informed consent practices. Seriously, you’ve got your dying friend right there, who’s desperate enough to agree to your weird useless faking-your-own-death plan. Why not just ask him if he’d like a new, leprosy-free body? Oh, yeah, because you’re not satisfied with running the first successful brain transplant—you’ve got to make it interspecies, too.

And my second complaint about Andrews is that he doesn’t want to show them all. He doesn’t want to show anyone. If you’re going to break all the laws of god and man, then for pity’s sake, publish.

 

Anne and Ruthanna will both be in Providence for Necronomicon this weekend! When we get back next week, we’ll share some highlights from the con, and the plethora of theatrical productions taking place alongside. Will we make it to Weird Tales Live? A performance of traditional Sea Shanties? A live showing of a certain story about a ruler dressed in golden robes? Only time, and our next blog post, will tell.

Ruthanna Emrys’s neo-Lovecraftian stories “The Litany of Earth” and “Those Who Watch” are available on Tor.com, along with the distinctly non-Lovecraftian “Seven Commentaries on an Imperfect Land” and “The Deepest Rift.” Winter Tide, a novel continuing Aphra Marsh’s story from “Litany,” is now available from Macmillan’s Tor.com imprint. Ruthanna can frequently be found online on Twitter and Dreamwidth, and offline in a mysterious manor house with her large, chaotic household—mostly mammalian—outside Washington DC.

Anne M. Pillsworth’s short story.The Madonna of the Abattoir” appears on Tor.com. Her young adult Mythos novel, Summoned, is available from Tor Teen along with sequel Fathomless. She lives in Edgewood, a Victorian trolley car suburb of Providence, Rhode Island, uncomfortably near Joseph Curwen’s underground laboratory.

Wednesday, August 16th, 2017 06:00 pm

Posted by Victor Milán

Science fiction and fantasy have been around for centuries. Millennia, depending on which criteria you prefer. Only in the twentieth century did they coalesce into the genre-spectrum they are today, and begin to win large-scale popular and commercial success.

But humans forget. Here are five books by a mere sampling of the writers from the recent past whom we must not forget.

 

Jirel of Joiry by C. L. Moore

Catherine Lucille Moore (1911-1987) had to use her gender-neutral initials to get published in the 1930s. That didn’t stop her creating the fledgling genre of sword and sorcery’s first female protagonist in Jirel of Joiry. As brave, capable, and arrogant as any man, yet far from invulnerable, Jirel was more than just a red-haired, female Conan. While her adventures were clearly influenced by Robert E. Howard, as well as by Moore’s and Howard’s literary acquaintance H. P. Lovecraft, they focus less on her sword-swinging than her spirit and furious determination. A curious blend of compassion and cruelty, she’s a pious Catholic who’ll risk damnation to gain the means to overcome her foe—then brave the very Hell she sent him to, to free his soul from eternal suffering.

And you’ll never catch Jirel in a mail bikini. She wears the same practical armor as any other warrior of her unspecified Medieval period would.

Moore’s writing is brisk, strongly sensory, and evocative of settings Earthly and alien, though flavored with a few too many adjectives for the modern palate. She had a long and successful career with Jirel and the space opera adventures of Northwest Smith, then writing in collaboration with her husband, Henry Kuttner. Jirel of Joiry is a collection of most of the Jirel tales.

 

The Planetary Adventures of Eric John Stark by Leigh Brackett

While you may not have heard of Leigh Brackett (1915-1978), you’ve heard of her screenwriting work. Maybe not The Big Sleep or Rio Lobo, but how about The Empire Strikes Back? While the final script is credited to Lawrence Kasdan, her influence on what’s widely considered the best of the Star Wars films is marked – here’s a great vindication of her contribution to it by Charlie Jane Anders.

A vigorous, proficient writer who, like Moore, brought depth to her swashbuckling characters, Brackett wrote space opera at a time when it was widely disdained, even among fellow SF writers, as “mere pulp,” simply because she wanted to. “I suppose most of my stuff would be called escape fiction,” she said. “This is the type of stuff I love to read.” Which goes for me as well.

Indeed, the reason George Lucas called Brackett in to work on Empire—aside from the fact he thought she was a man—was not her prior film success, but because of her “pulp science fiction” stories. These were strongly influenced by Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “planetary romances” like the Barsoom series, and often starred this collection’s protagonist, Eric John Stark.

 

The Dragon Masters by Jack Vance

Jack Vance (1916-2013) is my favorite writer. Vance was a master stylist, whose remarkably rich descriptions, often picaresque characters, wry perspective, and unmatched ability to portray bizarre yet believable cultures, human and alien (his years spent traveling the world as an able seaman in the Merchant Marine may have something to do with that), gave him a powerful, distinctive voice.

The Dragon Masters is a novella, sometimes sold bound as a book, which won the 1963 Hugo for Best Short Story. It’s classic space opera adventure, with Vance’s unique twist. Like much of his fiction it’s a rumination on human nature, with its quirks, virtues, extravagant vices, and malleability, shown directly and mirrored by aliens and humans’ interactions with them. “Dragon Masters” takes “malleability” literally, pitting human defenders against reptilian alien invaders on a far-off world, both sides fielding armies of specially-bred, monstrous versions of … each other. Its protagonist Joaz Banbeck, like many of Vance’s, is far from a spotless paladin. But despite his grey areas, he fights the good fight with wit and courage as well as compassion.

The Dragon Masters was also a key inspiration for and influence on my own Dinosaur Lords fantasy novels…

 

Berserker (Berserker Series Book 1) by Fred Saberhagen

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red Saberhagen (1930-2007) was a quiet, gracious man. He was also a friend, who with his wife, author Joan Spicci Saberhagen, entertained much of the New Mexican SF/F creators’ community at parties celebrating Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday. A master storyteller, he wrote a large number of novels and stories which spanned horror (The Dracula Tapes) and fantasy (The Books of Swords.) But he’s best known for his science fiction stories of the Berserkers—autonomous, intelligent killing machines hell-bent on ridding the galaxy of life.

A champion of courage and compassion, with a strong moral center and a dry sense of humor, Saberhagen wrote gripping tales of the Berserker-human war in which he not only encompassed human foibles, but used them as strengths to combating the implacably hostile machines. The stories have been massively influential on science fiction, echoed by Star Trek’s Doomsday Machine (although episode writer Norman Spinrad based it on his own unpublished work, related works like The Star Trek Concordance call the Machine a “Berserker”) Battlestar Galactica’s Cylons, Mass Effect’s Reapers, and Skynet from the Terminator movies.

Berserker stories also helped hook me on SF as a child.

Happily these stories of murder-robots who turned on their creators have no relevance today, since it’s not as if DARPA is actively trying to develop autonomous killing machines. Oh, wait…

 

Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny

To me, Roger Zelazny (1937-1995) is SF/F’s greatest author, and Lord of Light is my favorite novel. Like Fred Saberhagen, Roger was a friend, a fellow New Mexican, and an all-around good guy. He was also a contributor to George R.R. Martin’s Wild Cards shared-world anthologies, as am I.

Deliberately blending fantasy and science fiction, Lord of Light is a beautiful, sprawling in scope yet tightly constructed grand adventure, with compelling and surprising characters, and technomagical settings so fantastic that, when a movie based on the novel was proposed in 1979, the filmmakers brought in comic book artist-god Jack Kirby to design the sets. (Asgard, in the MCU Thor movies? That’s Kirby’s vision, brought brilliantly to the screen.) The novel explores the nature of power, faith, and enlightenment – and the uses and misuses of both – with the heart and irreverent wit that marked Zelazny’s multifarious and multi-Hugo and Nebula-winning body of work.

Sadly, the Seventies movie never came about. But a fake production of it, renamed “Argo,” was used as cover for the “Canadian Caper” rescue of six US diplomats during the Iranian hostage crisis. And, yes, that’s the basis for 2012’s Best Picture Oscar winner, Argo.

Roger’s risk of being forgotten may drop precipitously if the proposed TV adaptation of Lord of Light comes to pass. But please, read this and other works by him, Moore, Brackett, Saberhagen, Vance, and other past writers—and keep our genre’s history alive.

In previous worlds Victor Milán has been a cowboy and Albuquerque’s most popular all-night prog-rock DJ. The Dinosaur Princess, book 3 in The Dinosaur Lords series, is available now from Tor Books. He’s never outgrown his childhood love of dinosaurs, and hopes you didn’t either.

Wednesday, August 16th, 2017 05:30 pm

Posted by Alex Brown

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret Killjoy

GAAAAAAHHHHHH!! Margaret Killjoy’s The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion, y’all. I mean. I can’t even. Like. It’s so good. It’s sooooooooo good. It’s very existence is a tonic for my troubled soul. And now having read it (twice!) it’s my everything. Open a new tab and buy this novella RIGHT. NOW. I’ll wait. ……… Done? Good. Now let’s talk about how awesome it is.

When Danielle Cain finally makes her way to the squatters’ settlement of Freedom, Iowa, it seems like a queer punk traveler’s home sweet home. It’s anarchy with structure, a free-for-all community run by shared responsibility. Or so they say. There’s a reason Danielle’s best friend Clay killed himself after abandoning Freedom. Just as there’s a reason suspicion, doubt, and mistrust saturate the town.

On her way into Freedom, Danielle encounters a three-antlered deer the color of freshly spilled blood, whom she later learns is a protector spirit called Uliksi. It was summoned by several Freedomers in a desperate bid to protect the town from further violence, but things quickly spiraled out of control. As the creature starts killing off its summoners, fear and unrest trigger a schism in the community. Civil war, police brutality, zombie animals, and a bloodthirsty ancient being converge on the commune and Danielle may be their last hope.

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion is a novella that feels like a novel. It’s deep and expansive, and while much of the details are few and far between, you hit the end knowing everything you need to. The plot breezes by but isn’t rushed. It’s a whole world in 130 pages. While the novella is categorized as dark contemporary fantasy, it also crosses into horror:

The sun sat fat and low on the western horizon, at the top of the street, and the last light of the day lent everything vivid faded colors White lambs, dappled with red and purple wounds, paced a circle around both lanes of the street, not twenty yards from where we stood. Geese dodged in and out between them, and a regal goat oversaw the parade Each had only a gaping wound where its rib cage had been, yet they lived. They opened their mouths to bellow and squaw and bleat, but their organ-less bodies let out only strange rasps…

A fluttering, above me, caught my eye. On the power lines, hundreds of birds without rib cages – sparrows and finches, jays and pigeons – cried dry and unholy, an angry jury to the trial below. I was transfixed. I can’t say if it was magic or shock. I can’t say the two are wholly distinct.

In case it isn’t obvious by now, Margaret Killjoy is a revelation. Her writing is crisp, taut, and stunningly evocative. She effortlessly bobs and weaves through supernatural thriller, horror, and romance, not sitting too long in one attitude but not coming off as jarring or disjointed either.

Danielle isn’t a girl you typically see in supernatural thrillers. She’s tough and hard, but isn’t a seasoned warrior or a Strong Female Character. She has to figure out how to take down Uliksi and the rebels like everyone else, all while dealing with her personal turmoil. Her co-conspirators—Vulture, a couple calling themselves Doomsday and Thursday, and Brynn, Danielle’s potential love interest—are a masterclass in how to reveal a character’s layers through action and dialogue rather than biographical infodumping.

Killjoy has crafted a world filled to the brim with queer people of all races, body types, and gender/sexual identities with fascinating and complex personalities. This isn’t an author playing with diversity. Killjoy is a trans punk anarchist, so there’s an undercurrent of the truth of experience in her story.

There’s a bit about halfway in where Danielle suffers a panic attack that hit a little too close to home for me. “It hit like a fever or drugs or something. A panic attack just drops you through the ice into freezing water. Even when you drag yourself out of the water, you’re left with the memory that forever-and-always, you’re walking on ice. It’s worse than anything. It’s worse than watching a demon eat a stranger’s heart.” Having gone through my own share of anxiety attacks over the years, the way Killjoy describes it was visceral. Just recalling my last anxiety attack last week and my heart is already racing and my fingers trembling. It’s rare to have anxiety/panic attacks described so realistically.

Tor.com is killing it right now with their novellas. And no, I’m not just saying that because I’m on the payroll. They’re publishing the kinds of stories no other mainstream house dares. I fell in love hard and fast with The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion. It was everything I never knew I wanted, and more. The ending wraps up most of the loose threads but leaves enough dangling to setup the forthcoming sequel, and you can bet your ass I’ll be there cash in hand the day it releases.

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion is available from Tor.com Publishing.
Read an excerpt here.

Alex Brown is a teen librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.