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Friday, February 22nd, 2019 04:00 pm

Posted by Deana Whitney

Dragons. The word brings to mind a flood of images from movies, books, and art. Most of the adults I know love dragons. They would happily become one, or befriend one that appeared to them. Most of the kids I know want their own Toothless. (On the other hand, not many want a full grown Norwegian Ridgeback.)

This fascination with dragons might be an outgrowth of the common childhood love of dinosaurs. And of course, there’s an element of wish fulfillment in the thought of hiding out with heaps of treasure and shooting flames at people who annoy you—not to mention how amazing it would be to have a magical friend who might take you for a ride, or even fly you to wherever you’d like! For these, and many other reasons, fantasy books are filled with human-dragon interactions.

When Brandon Sanderson first started thinking about the story that eventually became his latest book, Skyward, he was inspired by works about dragons—specifically books about finding dragons and learning how to fly them. Eventually, he decided to twist the classic formula of “a boy and his dragon” into a “girl and her starfighter” story, and thus Skyward took flight. In light of the novel’s origins, it’s interesting to look back at the kinds of stories in which Sanderson has found so much inspiration, which he credits with being some of the first books he ever read as a young reader first getting into the fantasy genre.

Inside books we can find dragons who terrorize people, like Smaug; or gods in disguise as dragons, who help people in their own way. Some feature shape-shifting people that become dragons. Occasionally we’ll even meet a dragon who acts as a taxi, serving out a sentence for the crime of first-degree maiden munching.

For now, let’s focus on working dragons: specifically, the ones that become friends with humans and work with them to achieve a greater goal. On such a list, many readers would expect Anne McCaffrey’s The Dragonriders of Pern to lead the way, and I will certainly give a nod to The White Dragon, from the Pern world. Sanderson has stated that this book holds a special place in inspiring Skyward, as one of the first “boy and his dragon” stories he ever read, and I can see some of the dragon Ruth’s mannerisms when reading about the starship M-Bot. Since many readers know about the telepathic dragons and fire lizards of Pern, however, I wanted to highlight some other dragon-human friendship stories in the literary world:


Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

Princess Cimorene is not a proper princess. Nor is Kazul a typical dragon. But being a Dragon’s Princess is a respectable enough job for her family to leave Cimorene in peace. In Wrede’s world, humans and dragons can form friendships together at any age, if they are polite beings. The ability to make a good cherries jubilee turns out to be a helpful skill in building friendships as well. And when magic is involved, being rude has unexpected consequences.


How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell

A favorite saying of mine is “Never judge a book by its movie.” The How to Train Your Dragon book vs. film is an excellent example of this phenomenon. Happily, both are delightful—a rare occurrence—and share similar heart and whimsy in introducing Hiccup and Toothless. Book Hiccup is a small boy, younger than in the movie, out of sync with his dad and his age-mates. Book Toothless is a cheeky little rogue, also different than movie Toothless. Watching how the Hooligan Tribe and dragons learn to work together is an entertaining experience in every storytelling format; however, if you are an audiobook reader, I would encourage you to track down the artwork while you listen. It’s half the fun of the book!


Joust by Mercedes Lackey

Many readers know Lackey for her Valdemar series and its telepathic horse-like Companions. In Joust, Lackey sets her story in an Ancient Egypt-like world filled with flying warrior dragons. The slave boy Vetch dreams of a better life. His first step after becoming a dragon boy is to bond a newborn dragon—then his world changes in many ways. This first book in Dragon Jousters series will remind some readers of the classic story Dragon’s Blood, by Jane Yolen, another of Sanderson’s Skyward inspiration stories. Lackey’s series quickly moves beyond those surface similarities with the Yolen book, however, due to worldbuilding choices and deeper plot elements which I personally prefer.


His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik

This first novel in Novik’s series combines the Napoleonic era, alternative history, a young ship’s captain, and an extremely intelligent dragon together to create the winning chemistry that drives her story. Temeraire is a charming and demanding creature from the moment he hatches, sending his captain’s world wildly off course. As he undergoes the trials of a Royal Navy captain becoming a dragon captain in His Majesty’s Aerial Corps, William Laurence experiences a number of culture shocks in his new line of service. Along the way, he builds strong friendships that help both man and dragon survive many trials.


Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb

Dragon Keeper is the first book of The Rain Wild Chronicles, which is the fourth series in Hobb’s collective Realm of the Elderlings universe. By reading it independently of the other books set in this world, you’ll find a few mysteries about dragons discovered in earlier books are already known to these mostly new characters. Hobb is known for her character development, and this strength is on full display as she slowly builds up the complexity of personalities, motives, and the relationships of dragons and keepers. Some dragons are friendlier than the others, just like the people.


…I know, I did not include Eragon. I’m sorry to the Eragon fans—but what other human-dragon working friendships books do you recommend, or feel like I missed?

Originally published in November 2018.

Deana Whitney is a historian, baker, JordanCon Workshop Director, and Brandon Sanderson beta reader. Telepathic companions have been on her mind recently with the annual loss of her voice due to allergies. It would be so useful to mentally send out your thoughts when your voice failed.

Friday, February 22nd, 2019 03:00 pm

Posted by Keith R.A. DeCandido

One of the most problematic aspects of the general Star Trek oeuvre over the past 53 years has been General Order #1, a.k.a. the Prime Directive. First mentioned in “Return of the Archons” on the original series, it has been interpreted, reinterpreted, ignored, misrepresented, and generally been a bane to writers and viewers alike for five decades.

And it gets quite the workout in “The Sound of Thunder,” as Saru pretty much bullies the crew into stepping on several butterflies

This episode picks up from both the revelation about Saru’s people in “An Obol for Charon” (as well as the huge amount of data from the sphere Discovery collected in that episode) as well as the Short Treks episode “The Brightest Star.”

Saru returns to Kaminar for the first time since he requested asylum of Lieutenant Georgiou eighteen years previous, and now he knows that the Kelpiens’ entire culture is based on a lie. He knows the Ba’ul have culled his people, not to keep them from madness, but to keep them from exploring their full potential. He brings his fear-ganglia-free head with him to the surface, and a reunion with his sister Siranna (played again by the delightful Hannah Spear), who has replaced their father Aradar as the village priest, said father having been culled. At first Saru and Burnham try to avoid screwing around with the planet too much, but before long the Ba’ul themselves intervene, as they’re not happy to see Saru.

I was not kind to “The Brightest Star,” and while I stand by what I said in the review, I will give “The Sound of Thunder” (and “An Obol for Charon” before it) credit for taking what was established in the short episode and making it more interesting. I still prefer the idea of sentient prey animals that are actually hunted, but since we’re now stuck with this version of the Kelpiens, I give the writing staff in general and Bo Yeon Kim and Erika Lippoldt credit for making it work. (Kim and Lippoldt also wrote “The Brightest Star.”)

But what especially works is the revelation that the Kelpiens used to be the predators. Yes, they’re fearful and timid in their caterpillar form, but in their butterfly form after going through the vahar’ai they are fierce. And also very physically powerful. We get a notion of this right away as Saru is far more confident and snotty now, talking back to Pike, forgetting to get up from the command chair when the captain comes onto the bridge, and just generally being an arrogant ass. Later, he grabs robot drones and crushes them with his bare hands.

And then we get the truth, learned by Burnham, Tilly, and Airiam from the sphere’s database, and also by Saru and Siranna after they are kidnapped by the Ba’ul. The Ba’ul were almost exterminated by the Kelpiens, but then they fought back, eventually using technology and religious propaganda to reverse those positions. Now the Ba’ul kill the Kelpiens before they can go from caterpillar to butterfly, and while it’s an understandable response to nearly being exterminated, they go too far in the other direction. They have enslaved the Kelpiens.

Here’s where the Prime Directive issues get murky. I mean, they’re already murky to a degree. It’s easy to say that Starfleet should interfere in a bad situation, but what defines a bad situation is a slippery slope. The argument for General Order #1 is very nicely spelled out during the conversation on the subject in “Pen Pals” on The Next Generation—but ultimately, they can’t turn their backs on a cry for help.

One of the biggest issues I’ve had with rigid “we must not interfere at all!” Prime Directive stories—the worst offenders being TNG’s “Who Watches the Watchers?” and “Homeward” and Enterprise’s “Dear Doctor”—is that they tend to turn the main characters into uncaring bastards when they’re supposed to be heroes. Heroes should never allow people to die when they can be saved. And many of them—”Dear Doctor” being a particular offender—tend to view evolution as this rigid straight line of inevitability that the Prime Directive keeps Starfleet from interfering with. But that’s not how evolution works. It’s not a straight line, it’s a jagged, curved, random, ridiculous line being navigated by a drunk driver. Evolution is constantly shifting, and it’s affected by dozens of external factors.

In the end, of course, the Discovery crew does help the Kelpiens, in part because, even if you buy the “natural order of things” argument, the Ba’ul already squeezed that toothpaste out of the tube when they set up the cullings that kept the Kelpiens from reaching their mature state. And so, using the same frequency that the sphere used, which triggered Saru’s vahar’ai two episodes ago, Saru is able to use the Ba’ul monitors that are on every village to trigger the vahar’ai in all his people. He does so after a lengthy conversation from the Ba’ul ship to Discovery, which gives us the episode’s biggest issue, as it really makes no sense that the Ba’ul wouldn’t respond to Saru crushing the drones. Instead, they get to babble back and forth with Pike and Burnham and Tilly and enact their plan to save the Kelpiens conveniently without any interference from the Ba’ul. I mean, seriously, were they all on a coffee break, or what?

In true Star Trek tradition—at least on the original series—our heroes completely upend the social structure of a world in order to save it. We’ve seen it lots of times, starting on the very episode that introduced General Order #1, “The Return of the Archons,” not to mention “The Apple,” “A Taste of Armageddon,” “A Private Little War,” “The Gamesters of Triskelion,” etc.

The only thing that stops the Ba’ul from committing genocide to avoid having to deal with the butterfly Kelpiens again is the Red Angel, which shows up as a deus ex machina to shut down the monitors and keep them from scorching the earth. (Saru has now also seen the Red Angel, joining Burnham and Spock as having sighted the thing.) Discovery only went to Kaminar in the first place because one of the Red Angel’s signals appeared there. There are a couple of discussions between Pike and Tyler—still on board as the Section 31 liaison—on the subject of whether or not the signals and the Red Angel are benevolent or a threat. Pike points out that everywhere they’ve chased a signal has involved saving lives, whether Discovery’s rescue of the Hiawatha in “Brother,” the Red Angel’s apparent rescue of the 21st-century Earth citizens from certain death in “New Eden,” and now saving the Kelpiens from being the Ba’ul’s victims. Tyler doesn’t believe they can assume benevolence, and Burnham is the one who points out that the real issue is that they don’t know who’s right, and they need more information.

I think the conversation was a good one—and Anson Mount, as usual, sells Pike’s very Starfleet-ish optimism—but I really hope we don’t get endless reruns of that conversation throughout the rest of the season until we find out what the Red Angel actually is. We already had it between Pike and Leland last week, and I fear it growing real tiresome real fast.

The Ba’ul are magnificently alien creatures, Farscape-level quality aliens (which is the highest compliment I can give an alien being design on a screen SF story, as no show has matched what the Henson Creature Shop was able to accomplish on that Sci-Fi Channel show two decades ago). I would have preferred a bit less filtering of their voices, as half the time I needed the closed captioning to understand what they were saying, but I’m willing to forgive that for the fantastic visuals. (For the record, as the episode was airing, my wife and I both theorized that the Ba’ul would actually be the evolved Kelpiens, and we’d find out that nobody died. We were both quite happy to be wrong, as this made for a better story.)

Meanwhile, Culber is not exactly the same as he was when last we saw him. He seems to be a physically idealized version of Culber—he no longer has a scar that he kept because the incident where he got the scar inspired him to go to medical school—and he doesn’t seem entirely comfortable. Culber, Saru, and Tyler are all deeply affected by what they’ve gone through. I like that Agent Tyler is already different—a weird combination of Torch-Bearer Voq and Lieutenant Tyler—and we should be seeing the same with Saru and Culber. Hopefully Saru won’t stay an asshole, though I’m curious to see what use he’s going to put those quills he can now shoot from his head…

The episode ends with Burnham deciding to go back to Vulcan in the hopes of finding something that will lead them to Spock (as both Discovery and Section 31 have dead-ended in their search for him). Based on the previews, we should finally see Spock next week, seven episodes into a fourteen-episode season that has been advertised almost exclusively on Spock being in it. Let’s hope they don’t pull a “Unification I” and not have him show up until the very end.

Keith R.A. DeCandido‘s latest novel is A Furnace Sealed, the debut of his new Bronx-based urban fantasy series “The Adventures of Bram Gold.” Ordering information and an excerpt can be found here.

Friday, February 22nd, 2019 02:00 pm

Posted by Sam J. Miller

Blackfish City Sam J. Miller

Please enjoy this deleted scene from Sam J. Miller‘s Blackfish City, a 2018 Nebula Awards finalist for Best Novel.

A little about Blackfish City, out now from Ecco Publishing:

When a strange new visitor arrives—a woman riding an orca, with a polar bear at her side—the city is entranced. The “orcamancer,” as she’s known, very subtly brings together four people—each living on the periphery—to stage unprecedented acts of resistance. By banding together to save their city before it crumbles under the weight of its own decay, they will learn shocking truths about themselves.

Blackfish City is a remarkably urgent—and ultimately very hopeful—novel about political corruption, organized crime, technology run amok, the consequences of climate change, gender identity, and the unifying power of human connection.


Blackfish City

Most peopled places turn the sea sour, foul, toxic. You can smell them from a day’s swim away, the filth they put in the water. The stink of their suffering.

This place is not so bad. They have huge machines for processing their waste. The cold keeps them out of the sea. A giant metal cone warms the deep water. We’ve been to seventy-three peopled places, and I think I like this one best. Which isn’t to say I actually like it.

She thinks this will be the last. I hope she is right. I hope we can do what we came here to do and then go back to someplace unpeopled. In peopled places she has to keep the bear chained up, keep him out of the water. This makes him angry, uncontrollable. He is my only friend, but I am afraid for her when they are up on the surface where I cannot help her if something goes wrong.

Their eyes find me, no matter how deep I dive. Tiny machines that see in the dark. Connected to people up above. They summon other machines, who watch me too. Follow me everywhere I go. These machines do not try to hurt me, at least. That hasn’t been true everywhere we’ve gone. People watch her, too, up above. I feel their eyes on her.

When we returned home, all those years ago, and found our people slaughtered, she wept for a full day. I wailed with her, for my own murdered kin and for hers. Each of us amplified the other’s pain, echoed it back and forth, until I thought it would split us in two. Only hunger saved us. Hunger stirred my savagery, which roused her own, which stopped our wailing.

She brought me armfuls of bloody snow, hacked-off pieces, shreds of clothing. I could tell them apart, our people and the people who hurt them. I smelled their bodies, their sweat, their hair, their waste, their stories. From their smells I could see their shape, their weight, whether they were young or old or weak or strong.

Forty people, total. I could see their outlines, so so could she. And so we moved on. Looking for our lost, the ones whose bodies we did not find, who we know escaped—and looking for those forty outlines.

We found many of them. In the cities of the land and the cities of the sea. Sooner or later, if they were there to be found, I would catch their scent. She broke them apart or she pushed them into the sea for me to tear to slow tiny pieces. Some we learned things from. The names and locations of their comrades. Others had nothing to offer, but their fate was the same.

I yearn for the open sea, the unpeopled places. And so, so does she.

There are none of my kind, swimming in the sea surrounding this peopled place. Not here, not anywhere close. They have abandoned these waters. They were hunted, here, cleared out for food, our babies taken, and the warnings still hang in the water like oil. I’m not sad about it, anymore, when we arrive in some new place and I am still alone. She feels the same thing. Lonely is not like sad. When we mirror each other’s loneliness it grows smaller, not larger.


Friday, February 22nd, 2019 01:46 am

Posted by Casey Quackenbush

SpaceX launched the first private lunar landing mission on Thursday evening, sending an Israeli spacecraft cratering toward the moon and taking a leap for commercial space missions.

A Falcon9 rocket took off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida carrying a privately funded Israeli spacecraft that seeks to measure the magnetic field of the moon, according to The New York Times.

The robotic lunar lander, called Beresheet, Hebrew for “in the beginning,” was created by the nonprofit SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), Israel’s largest aerospace and defense company. It would be the first privately built spacecraft to reach the moon, and make Israel the fourth country to successfully stage a lunar landing.

The U.S., Russia and China have had spacecraft touch down on the lunar surface before, but none have made a soft landing and taken photos, as this mission plans to do, TechCrunch reports.

It will take eight weeks to get to the moon. Once the spacecraft lands, which is expected happen sometime in April, the mission will only last a few days as the electronics are not designed to handle the rising surface temperatures from the sun, according to the Times.

If the mission succeeds, it could unlock information about the moon’s iron core.

The mission was originally intended for Google’s Lunar Xprize, a competition designed to encourage privately funded groups to send robotic landers to the moon. But it ended without a winner of the $20 million prize, pushing groups like SpaceIL to pursue missions independently, the Times reports.

SpaceIL is not the chief payload of the SpaceX rocket. The main client is an Indonesian satellite operator called Pasifik Satelit Nusantara which plans to launch a telecommunications satellite called Nusantara Satu. The U.S. Air Force will also deploy a satellite.

The first stage of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket has successfully launched and landed in July 2018 and October 2018, the Times reports.

Watch the mission unfold here.


Thursday, February 21st, 2019 09:40 pm

Posted by Stubby the Rocket

Tomi Adeyemi Children of Blood and Bone

Fox 2000 will adapt Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyemi’s West African-inspired YA fantasy debut, for the big screen, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Temple Hill, the production company behind Love, Simon and the Maze Runner movie adaptations, will produce a script adapted by David Magee (Life of PiMary Poppins Returns) and directed by Rick Famuyiwa (DopeThe Mandalorian). Published in 2018 by Henry Holt & Co, Children of Blood and Bone follows young maji Zélie as she struggles to restore magic to the kingdom of Orïsha following its eradication.

Adeyemi tweeted her excitement over the news:

More about the novel, the first volume of the Legacy of Orïsha series:

They killed my mother.
They took our magic.
They tried to bury us.
Now we rise.

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers—and her growing feelings for an enemy.

Children of Virtue and Vengeance, the second installment, will be published June 4 by Henry Holt & Co. In the meantime, join our reread of Children of Blood and Bone in anticipation of the sequel.

Thursday, February 21st, 2019 09:42 pm

Posted by Krista Gmelich / Bloomberg

Nintendo of America President and Chief Operating Officer Reggie Fils-Aime will retire after almost 13 years at the helm.

Doug Bowser will succeed Fils-Aime as president on April 15, the video-game maker said Thursday in a statement. Bowser currently oversees sales and marketing at Nintendo, which includes efforts to promote the Switch console. The Switch has been met with weak demand as the Kyoto-based company struggles to expand the system beyond a core user base.

“Inside and outside our company, Reggie is known as an exceptional leader,” Nintendo Co. President Shuntaro Furukawa said in the statement. “We are also pleased to have such an able successor ready to step into that role.”

Bowser joined Nintendo in 2015 after working at Electronic Arts Inc. and Procter & Gamble Co. And he has another, perhaps more unique qualification, to lead the company: Bowser happens to be the name of the spiked yellow antagonist in Nintendo’s hit “Mario” gaming franchise.

New York-traded shares of Nintendo Co. climbed as much as 6.2 percent in New York.

Thursday, February 21st, 2019 09:19 pm

Posted by Patrick Lucas Austin

President Donald Trump on Thursday said he wants U.S. companies to more quickly implement what’s called 5G wireless technology, the latest and greatest tech when it comes to mobile broadband.

“I want 5G, and even 6G, technology in the United States as soon as possible,” tweeted Trump, who went on to imply the U.S. was falling behind due to policies preventing the adoption of wireless technology from companies abroad. While 6G doesn’t yet exist, 5G is just starting to be deployed around the U.S. and elsewhere.

Here’s what to know about 5G technology and its status in the U.S.

What’s 5G, and What Does Trump Mean By 6G?

5G is simply the name given to the next generation in wireless cellular technology. Like the jump from 3G to 4G, 5G will bring with it considerably faster speeds, lower latency, and increased support for more devices. Compared to 4G LTE, the wireless cell technology used in smartphones today, 5G promises speeds up to 100 times faster and a response time up to 20 times faster.

5G promises to unleash a wave of new technologies that could benefit from its blazing-fast speeds and low latency. Smartphone owners will be able to stream games lag-free and watch 4K content with zero buffering. Autonomous vehicles could use 5G’s lower latency to respond quickly to changes in traffic and communicate with other connected equipment. And since 5G will be capable of helping low-power devices communicate with one another as coverage grows over the next decade, it could enable all sorts of new smart home tech, too.

As for this 6G technology Trump is talking about? While that will most likely be the name given to the next logical step in the advancement of cellular technology, no such standard has been defined, and any talk of G6 is purely theoretical at this point — we’re only just starting to deploy 5G, after all. That isn’t to say it’s not being thought of; research on the merits and potential uses for 6G (also known as “6Genesis”) is being conducted at Finland’s University of Oulu, for instance. Still, with an estimated debut in 2030, don’t hold your breath.

Unfortunately, you probably can’t take advantage of any 5G speeds yet because there are so few 5G networks and devices available for consumers. Right now, Verizon has a version of 5G providing homes with high-speed wireless connectivity, though it’s only available in a handful of cities. The company announced shortly after Trump’s tweets that it’s planning to expand mobile 5G coverage to over 30 cities this year. AT&T has mobile 5G service in a variety of cities as well, though users can only take advantage of it with a 5G hotspot at the moment. T-Mobile and Sprint will roll out 5G service sometime this year, they say. Some other services are advertised as a form of 5G, but that’s pretty much just marketing hype.

What’s Taking 5G So Long?

For a wireless provider to build a 5G network, it needs access to a wide array of wireless spectrum, the use of which is largely government-regulated. Since 5G relies on both very high and very low wireless frequencies, carriers are gearing up to cover the gamut. They’re spending billions on purchasing the rights to these frequencies either through buying companies that already holding the rights, or by bidding on spectrum bands auctioned off by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in an effort to speed up 5G deployement. “By making more spectrum available, promoting the deployment of wireless infrastructure, and modernizing our regulations—the three components of the FCC’s 5G FAST plan—we’ll ensure that American consumers reap the substantial benefits that will come from the next generation of wireless connectivity,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a Jan. 24 statement after concluding the first spectrum auction for 5G wireless service. Still, spectrum is a limited resource, and it’s taking time and money for wireless companies to get the spectrum they need for 5G.

There’s also the problem of equipment. Trump’s suggestion the U.S. is “blocking out currently more advanced technology” isn’t exactly wrong. Two Chinese companies, Huawei and ZTE, manufacture 5G wireless equipment that American companies like Verizon or AT&T could use to build out their 5G networks. But security official and other experts have warned that the companies’ equipment could provide the Chinese government with a way to spy on American citizens and companies. In fact, through the recent signing of the National Defense Authorization Act, Trump himself has explicitly banned government use of telecommunications equipment from companies like Huawei and ZTE. The U.S. government is even pressuring allies to block Chinese-made 5G equipment, though some, like Germany, aren’t listening. In addition, a recently introduced bipartisan bill is seeking to prevent Huawei and ZTE from supplying U.S. wireless carriers with equipment.

“Chinese telecommunications firms like Huawei represent a growing threat to American national security,” said Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) who introduced the Telecommunications Denial Order Enforcement Act. “As state-directed enterprises, they ultimately report to the Chinese Communist Party and will be employed where and whenever possible to undermine American interests and those of our allies.”

All this is to say most Americans could be waiting longer for true 5G service to arrive in their neck of the woods.

Thursday, February 21st, 2019 08:00 pm

Posted by Liz Bourke

Every so often, a book comes along that I fall in love with entirely. A book that hooks its fingers into my heart and soul and nests there. Last year the novel that did that to the most precise, complete point was Aliette de Bodard’s In the Vanishers’ Palace. Although they’re very different books, this year it looks like E.K. Johnston’s The Afterward is a strong contender.

Johnston is perhaps best known at this point in her career for her Star Wars work (Star Wars: Ahsoka, with Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow forthcoming), but her original fiction has included both the critically-acclaimed contemporary novel Exit, Pursued by a Bear, and the striking science fictional That Inevitable Victorian Thing (which, certain elements of its worldbuilding aside, presents a deeply compelling story of self-discovery and the intersection of romance with responsibility). With The Afterward, she ventures into the territory of sword-and-sorcery, and casts a nod towards the epic fantasy of the late 1980s. The Afterward is set in the aftermath of a successful quest to vanquish an ancient evil, when the fellowship has disbanded and returned to the lives that the quest interrupted, and the responsibilities that come with those lives.

Johnston divides her narrative into alternating sections of Before and After, using a first-person voice for her two narrators in the Before sections, and a close third person perspective for each of those narrators in the After ones. Occasionally there is an interlude from the perspective of an omniscient narrator, to set the scene or to provide the reader with context not necessarily available to the main characters. This division of voices might seem jarring, but in Johnston’s hands it works seamlessly, compellingly—and gives us the hint that their participation in the quest changed both of the main characters in ways that aren’t necessarily initially obvious.

Those main characters are Kalanthe Ironheart, an apprentice knight, and Olsa Rhetsdaughter, a thief. As the youngest members of the questing party, they fell into each other’s company a lot—and eventually became lovers. (In this novel, Johnston’s written the most intimate and affecting sex scene I’ve ever read without using a single word or phrase that couldn’t be read out over a school intercom system without a murmur.) But once the quest ends, Olsa has no place with the other quest companions: She returns to thievery, because she has her pride and she refuses to take charity. Unfortunately, she keeps being arrested, since she keeps being set up by her former bosses. Even her status as a hero of the realm can’t keep her neck from the noose forever, especially since at some point Kalanthe won’t be able to keep interceding for her.

Kalanthe, meanwhile, will have to marry money as soon as she’s old enough to be officially knighted. In order to finance her knightly training, she took on a great deal of personal debt—warhorses being expensive things—and she has no choice about paying it back. To make matters worse, marriages for people in her situation are usually contracted for the getting of heirs, and not only is she in love with Olsa, but unlike Olsa, she has no desire for men at all.

Will matters come out happily for them both in the end? What did happen on the godsgem quest? And what’s the matter with the godsgem now? These are the questions that The Afterward poses, and sets out to answer—with Johnston’s usual deft touch for prose and narrative tension, and with her gift for writing believable, complicated characters who face complex problems.

The Afterward is tense but measured, with brilliantly compelling characters who represent a diverse array of women: Johnston effortlessly makes clear that this is a world where trans women are properly acknowledged as women, asexuality is respected, and a wide spectrum of queer desire exists. It’s also clear that her main characters are definitely not white. The Afterward reminds me in tone of Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor or Becky Chambers’ The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet. At root, it’s a novel about kindness, power, and responsibility. Reading it feels a lot like getting a hug. (And did I mention the love scene?)

This is a tremendously accomplished novel. I admire it for its craft as well as loving it for what it made me feel. I recommend it wholeheartedly. Go and read it. Now.

The Afterward is available from Dutton Books for Young Readers.

Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, was published in 2017 by Aqueduct Press. It was a finalist for the 2018 Locus Awards and was nominated for a 2018 Hugo Award in Best Related Work. Find her at her blog, where she’s been known to talk about even more books thanks to her Patreon supporters. Or find her at her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council, the Transgender Equality Network Ireland, and the Abortion Rights Campaign.

Thursday, February 21st, 2019 07:00 pm

Posted by S.L. Huang

In the fading light of a dying star, a soldier for hire searches for a missing refugee ship and uncovers a universe-shattering secret…

Orphan, refugee, and soldier-for-hire Asala Sikou doesn’t think too much about the end of civilization. Her system’s star is dying, and the only person she can afford to look out for is herself. When a ship called The Vela vanishes during what was supposed to be a flashy rescue mission, a reluctant Asala is hired to team up with Niko, the child of a wealthy inner planet’s president, to find it and the outer system refugees on board. But this is no ordinary rescue mission; The Vela holds a secret that places the fate of the universe in the balance, and forces Asala to decide—in a dying world where good and evil are far from black and white, who deserves to survive?

We’re excited to share an excerpt from the first season of The Vela, a new Serial Box series co-written by Yoon Ha Lee, Becky Chambers, Rivers Solomon, and SL Huang after a concept created by Lydia Shamah. Episode 1—SL Huang’s “A Leisurely Extinction”—will be released on March 6th.




Episode 1: A Leisurely Extinction

Niko had never imagined getting anywhere near General Cynwrig during her stay on Khayyam. Other than maybe as part of a protest, if such a thing wouldn’t have spun Father right out of his orbit. Or, well, the occasional fantasy about hacking Cynwrig’s computers into answering every command with dancing pink ponies and statistics about refugees.

How anyone could ignore the situation on the Outer Ring was beyond Niko. And how the general could be so heartless—there was plenty of room on Gan-De! Not like Niko’s own home planet couldn’t do loads better too, but few refugees could make it this far in-system on their own. The distance conveniently allowed educated Khayyami to wash their hands of all those deaths, and all with disgusting gentility. But Gan-De was worse: so many countless Hypatian refugees at their door, stuck in orbit or in transit, in camps, and yet “Gan-De for Gandesians” was still somehow going strong.

It made Niko furious.

Yet here they were, trotting willingly toward the guest quarters of none other than General Cynwrig herself. Because that was where Asala was. Asala, whom Niko had managed to offend the very first time they’d opened their mouth.

You should have known better. She’s diaspora; it’s probably painful! You should have been more sensitive!

The Gandesian and Khayyami guards at the door to the general’s suite took a bloodscan before questioning Niko closely about their purpose and whether Asala was expecting them. Then one guard went inside, presumably to check with Asala, but Niko wasn’t worried. People rarely refused the president’s youngest child a meeting, even if they wanted to.

And Asala’s face when Niko was ushered in showed she’d really, really wanted to.

Oh dear. How to turn this around?

At least General Cynwrig herself wasn’t present—she must be in the inner rooms to the suite, with Asala alone in the anteroom as her bodyguard. Thank heavens.

“I told your father no,” Asala said flatly as soon as the guards had gone back into the hall and the door had shut behind them. “There’s nothing to discuss.”

“I think there is, though,” Niko pressed. “I know you probably feel like someone else can just go instead, but you didn’t hear Father when he was briefing me—he says there’s no one as good as you. You could be the difference between those poor people dying or—”

“That’s not my problem.” Asala turned away.

“If it’s not you, I don’t go either!” Niko accidentally said it too loud, and pressed their lips together, a gate shut too late. It was true, though—even the privilege of being one of Ekrem’s children wouldn’t get Niko an assignment like this. If Asala refused, and Father went through official channels, he’d be forced to dispatch a squad of senior intelligence commandos. And that squad would certainly not include Niko, a green rookie whose only training so far had been data work.

But Father wanted Asala, and he wanted this kept quiet, and he also wanted a hedge against any Hypatian loyalties she might have left, just in case anything went wrong out there, and that meant a rare Niko-shaped chance. For Niko’s part, they’d been privately hoping Asala had Hypatian loyalties left in spades, though that was looking less and less likely.

Asala had turned back, her gaze narrow and calculating. Niko decided to try for some partial honesty. “I care about the Outer Planet refugees, okay? A lot. I think we should be doing so much more. Part of my apprenticeship has been working on the nets, making connections with people out there, but here I am sheltered on Khayyam and I can’t do anything. This is a chance for me to get on the ground and help people in a real way—”

“And what, you want to prove to Daddy that you can pull off a mission?”

That hit a little too uncomfortably close to another truth. Niko winced internally and tried not to show it. “I can. I’ve pretty much finished my training, and I’ve got a lot of contacts on the Outer Ring now. And I have specialties in network accessibility and computer security.”

“You mean you’re a hacker?”

Niko half-smiled. “We don’t call it that when it’s for the government.”

Asala’s expression didn’t change, and Niko was second-guessing whether the joke had been a good idea when a knock came at the door and a pair of Gandesian guards entered, a short dark man and a tall woman with close-cropped hair.

“We’re changing duty shifts,” said the man. “They told us you have a visitor. Just confirming the situation.”

“Confirmed,” Asala acknowledged. “You can leave us.”

The female guard turned as if she were about to exit back into the hallway. But instead she palmed something across the door’s inner lock, spun with a dreadful fluidity—

And stabbed her partner in the neck.

No! Not now!

That was all Niko’s stunned brain had time for before Asala shoved them out of the way. The floor somersaulted into Niko’s cheek—ow—and Asala grunted—was she hurt? The traitor guard had some sort of hand weapon out, brandishing—

Asala launched herself at the guard out of nowhere. The weapon in the guard’s hand pulsed once, and Asala half-folded over, but somehow that didn’t stop her, and she plowed into the woman and took them both into the wall so hard something cracked.

The guard’s pistol skittered across the anteroom floor. Only a few meters from Niko.

Niko’s mind had blanked out, half-coherent thoughts popping like oil on hot metal—She can’t kill Asala! and Would she have killed me too and Blood, there’s so much blood, how is there this much blood. And finally, after far too long: I can be the one to stop her, I can, I can do it, GO.

Asala and the guard were grappling on the other side of the room. The wet, meaty thumps of flesh on flesh, the crack of someone being hurt badly and a yell of pain—no, don’t listen, just get to the pistol, ignore the blood, how is it everywhere? Niko tried to take ahold of the guard’s weapon with tacky, shaking fingers, not at all sure they were holding it right, and raised it toward the other side of the room.


Asala did something with one leg then, something vicious that landed a knee in her opponent’s face. The guard toppled off her.

“I said stop!” Niko cried. The pistol wavered in the general direction of the bleeding guard. “Stop or I’ll shoot!”

The assassin’s eyes went intense and dark at Niko then, and Niko had a sudden flash of certainty that this was it, they were going to die here. They tried to find the weapon’s trigger but their fingers didn’t seem to be able to move—

The moment of distraction, however, was all Asala needed.

In a sequence Niko wouldn’t be able to reconstruct till afterward, Asala spun up to one knee, clearing her own air pistol that she hadn’t had a moment’s time to draw during the fight. It popped once, a final, deep sound that seemed to suck all the air out of the room, and the guard crumpled to the anteroom floor right at Niko’s feet.

“Hey. Hey, kid.”

Asala was right next to Niko somehow. How long had she been talking?

“Hey, kid, you okay? Give me the pulse pistol, all right?”

Asala’s hands closed over Niko’s bloody ones. Niko tried to unclench from the gun. “It’s over?”

“Yeah, it’s over. Are you hurt?”

“I don’t—” Niko patted their hands over themself as if that would answer the question. “I don’t…”

“Take a minute.” Asala went over to the door—she was limping, and hunched over, and she was hurt, hurt saving Niko—and touched the interface panel next to it. Niko became aware of banging outside it, more guards, the ones the assassin had locked out.

“This is Asala,” Asala announced into the interface. “The situation is under control. Tell the president I have Niko in here with me and neither they nor the General Cynwrig were injured in this attack. We have one casualty, a Gandesian guard. The assassin is also dead. But I’m not opening this door until we get some additional vetting on everyone outside it.”

She limped to a sofa at the side of the room and sat heavily, one gun in each hand.

A skittering noise came from the inner door to the anteroom, and Niko half climbed the wall before realizing it was just the Gandesian AI spiders. The AIs. You know about their AIs. They’re just like you studied. But seeing them in person was different.

And of course, right behind the horde of spiders came… the general.

Niko felt like vomiting. General Cynwrig. A military dictator who ran Gan-De with the efficiency of a factory, all while blithely killing Hypatians by the shipload, leaving them to die a slow death in space, all because she’d decided Gan-De should only be for certain humans—how Niko’s own father could talk to this woman like it was all okay and make trade deals importing their water in exchange for tech—

Niko couldn’t understand it. Didn’t want to understand it.

“Well,” General Cynwrig said. “It seems I have you to thank once again, Agent Asala.”

Asala grunted. “I suggest you go back into your rooms until we have all this sorted out, General.”

Cynwrig’s eyes crawled over Niko. “Who’s this?”

“President Ekrem sent a messenger to speak to me about something unrelated. Bad timing. They’re not involved.”

“I see.” The general took another moment, studying the two dead bodies on the floor. Then she said, “I’ll be in the back rooms. Don’t mind my spiders. Given the circumstances, I feel I must send them a little further afield. You understand.”

She turned on her heel with military precision, and the door slid shut behind her. The robots remained, however. A good portion of them skittered over to squeeze out under the door, while the rest tap-tapped around the room, taking in Niko and Asala and the guards. Watching.

That’s what Gandesians do with their spiders. You know that. The reminder didn’t stop Niko from being unnerved.

“Creepy, aren’t they,” muttered Asala. She leaned down to get her face right up close to one of the bugs. “I said you’re creepy. What are you going to do with that?”

“They’re intelligence-gathering robots,” Niko said. The words came out dry and stuttery. “I guess she wants more, um. Intelligence. Because of the—because of all this.” They bit their lip. You’re talking too much. You always do. Just shut up, shut up.

“Hell, I’d like some more intelligence, too,” Asala said.

Niko’s mind was starting to unblank, but it was filling with thoughts they didn’t want to have, like how the guard had moved to kill them both without the slightest hesitation and how Niko had completely frozen and Asala had shoved them out of the way…

My fault she’s hurt. All my fault.

“Do you need a med team?” Niko asked. “We can call one in…”

One of Asala’s shoulders lifted and then lowered. “Eventually. I’ve had worse.”

And you were trying to convince her you were ready to go out in the field. At the first sign of pressure you fell apart, while she sits there shot acting like it’s a stubbed toe.

The adrenaline and panic were receding, leaving shame behind.

Was there any chance of salvaging Asala’s impression of them? Some way to show Niko wasn’t just a data rookie who froze up at the first sign of trouble?

Intelligence, Asala had said. Something useful…

The traitorous guard was still lying where she had fallen. Niko tried to figure out how to step over to her without tracking through all the blood, but it was impossible. They gingerly crouched down to start lifting the flaps on her pockets.

There has to be something here. Something worth showing Asala …

“Shouldn’t you wait for the forensic team for that?” Asala said it from over on the couch, not moving.

“You want to wait and take whatever sanitized report they choose to give you?” Niko said, with more bravado than they felt.

The edge of a smile quirked Asala’s tired expression. “You’ve got more guts than I gave you credit for, kid.”

The compliment should have delighted Niko, but instead their heart was banging out of their chest. Was it cheating, to do things this way? It had to be. It felt like it.

And—worst case—what if Niko couldn’t find any evidence at all, even missed something really obvious, and then Father would ream them out for disrupting the scene and Asala would think they were a green know-nothing and—

Oh. There. At the bottom of a back pocket. Niko drew out the thick packet. Across the room, Asala’s eyes widened and she sat up slightly—she knew what it was, too.

“That’s concentrated Glow,” she said. “Way more than for personal use. That much is an automatic intent-to-deal charge.”

“Which means it’s also enough for a payment,” Niko said. “What’s the going rate for assassinating a head of state?”

And whoever happened to be in the way. Niko felt another wave of nausea and tried not to think about it.

Asala frowned. “There aren’t many people who would use Glow as currency. Too hard to unload, unless…”

“Unless you’re in the trade. She’s got to be out of Khwarizmi.” That wasn’t too big a leap, was it? Niko didn’t think so. Khwarizmi, the only other Inner Ring world, was warmer even than Khayyam and a haven for pleasure resorts and smuggling cartels alike. Just the shady sorts who might believably have assassination as one of their goals. Asala would agree, wouldn’t she?

“Glow dealers wouldn’t have any beef with Gan-De,” Asala said, as if feeling it out. “But the Khwarizmian syndicates also deal in ice smuggling. Throw Gan-De into chaos, especially now, and the black market for water would go through the roof.”

“What percentage of Khayyam’s water comes from ice mining on Gan-De or Hypatia, instead of pulling it from the sun? It’s a lot, right?” Niko agreed. “And with all the—the environmental crisis—on Hypatia, Gan-De’s where it’s at.”

Asala didn’t look entirely convinced. “Maybe…”

Come on! Niko barely bit back from voicing their frustration. This is solid information. You know it is!

Something beeped.

It wasn’t the wall interface. Asala dug out a personal handheld, miraculously undamaged even after the fight.

“Your father’s coming down here,” she said. “He has the interrogation reports from the suspects who survived this morning’s incident. It seems you’re right—they were out of Khwarizmi.”

Niko took a breath and tried to look the part of a confident intelligence expert who’d expected nothing less.

They weren’t at all sure they managed.

Excerpted from The Vela Episode 1: A Leisurely Extinction, copyright © 2019 by SL Huang.

The Vela launches March 6th with Serial Box

Thursday, February 21st, 2019 06:13 pm

Posted by Stubby the Rocket

Are you ready to question the nature of reality? Because we have a trailer for Jordan Peele’s reimagining of The Twilight Zone, and it is every bit as unsettling as we hoped, and when that theme music kicks in, we might have screamed a little bit?

Adam Scott! Sanaa Lathan!! Kumail Nanjiani!!!

John. Cho.


Screenshot: CBS All Access

Seriously, if Jordan Peele just wants to give us all the socially-conscious horror forever, we will be very happy.

The Twilight Zone hits CBS All Access in a two-episode event on April 1st, and the rest of the show will air Thursdays beginning on April 11th.

[via Hollywood Reporter!]

Thursday, February 21st, 2019 06:00 pm

Posted by Katherine Addison

The Goblin Emperor was first published in 2014, but I wrote it mostly much earlier than that. In my head, it’s a ten-year-old book, not a five-year-old book; it sometimes feels very far away. Working on another novel set in the same world is a good excuse to revisit The Goblin Emperor and to make a list of my five favorite things.


The Pneumatic Tube System

I love pneumatic tubes for no particular reason, except that they seem very steampunkish, and after a friend who worked in a hospital for a while told me about that hospital’s still working pneumatic tube system, I was consumed with the desire to create a massive building with a massive pneumatic tube system of its own.

And one of the things I love about world-building is that things have ramifications. If there’s a pneumatic tube system that’s a little like a subway system for messages, then there have to be stations, and if there are stations, there have to be the pneumatic equivalent of switchboard operators, which turns out to be in this world, as in ours, a profession that women can go into without anybody raising an eyebrow. It would be fun—if exhausting—to write a story from one of the pneumatic operators’ point-of-view.



I enjoyed writing Csethiro because she was a chance to play with prejudices and stereotyping on both sides. Maia’s intimidated by who he thinks she is, and she’s written Maia off as deadweight based on faulty intelligence. This leads to one of the very few occasions in the book where Maia loses his temper:

“Serenity, Min Vechin is using you.”

“Of course she is,” Maia agreed.

Dach’osmin Ceredin’s eyebrows shot upward, and Maia was unable to keep his bitterness pent decently behind his teeth. “How stupid you must believe us to be, to think we are unable to discern that for ourself. We thank you.”

She looked as if she’d just been bitten by a cushion.

But what I like about Csethiro—and this is where I really started to like her—is that she’s capable of admitting that she’s wrong.

“Serenity, we did not mean—” She stopped herself, and he watched as her colorless skin flushed a hard, painful red. “We beg your pardon. You are correct, and we ought not to have spoken so.”

He isn’t who she thought, but then it turns out she isn’t who he thought, either. After he survives an attempt to depose him, she writes him a letter (which was tremendous fun to write, especially because it contrasted so well with the cold, dutiful letter she writes him earlier in the book), in which, among other things, she implicitly offers to fight a duel on his behalf:

The art of dueling was no longer much practiced among the elves—the Varedeise emperors had disapproved of it wholeheartedly as something fit only for goblins—and it had never been taught to women at all. Maia wondered whom Dach’osmin Ceredin had found to teach her and if her father had the least idea. It occurred to him that there was nothing even remotely dutiful about fighting a duel, and he found himself smiling.

Csethiro, like most of the female characters in the book, turns out to have hidden depths and secrets, and it was fun to discover a few of them.


The Emperors’ Names

I am a name-driven writer. I can’t write about a character if I don’t know their name (I’ve proved it several times), and the entire language system of the book grew, like a trumpet vine from a single sprout, from Maia’s name. But my favorite names to invent were the emperors’ long, formal, elaborate names: Edrevenivar, Edrethelema, Varevesena, Varenechibel, Edretanthiar, and of course Edrehasivar.


Maia’s Aunts

One of the things that turned out to be delightful about having such a small on-stage world (consisting of a hunting lodge, an airship, a horsemarket, and several parts of a vast palace) was the freedom to invent things off-stage. Maia’s aunts were a way to point to those things, to show how much bigger the world was than what Maia could see.

  • One of Maia’s aunts, the legitimate one, is a noblewoman with mental health problems.
  • One of Maia’s aunts is a nun.
  • One of Maia’s aunts is an army wife and minor courtier.
  • One of Maia’s aunts is a sea captain’s wife.
  • One of Maia’s aunts is a sea captain.

One of the problems with writing a strongly patriarchal society—which Maia’s society has to be in order for him to come to the throne, so if it’s not, there’s no story—is of course that the women’s roles are so restricted. All of my female characters suffer from this; most of them are trying to subvert the paradigm in some fashion, and the Great Avar’s other daughters have clearly made choices based on the rules of the game. But Shalean has kicked the table over. She was a chance to just get rid of all the gender expectations for one character’s worth of the novel. She owns her own ship, the Glorious Dragon. She has a wife in a different country. She has clearly broken the bounds of good Barizheise womanhood and is writing a completely new story.


The Model of the Bridge

This is my single favorite piece of description in the entire book (with the Great Avar’s traveling coach being a close runner-up):

Beneath the drape was a model of a section of a river—of the Istandaartha. There were tiny houses on one side and pasture on the other, with little black and white dairy cows grazing on green velvet. The road on each side was paved with tiny quartz pebbles, smooth and gleaming like cobbles after rain. The river banks were rocky, with twisted verashme trees showing defiant golden-red blossoms. The river itself was brown and roiling, rendered, he thought, with silk and clusters of fish scales. At one point, a tree trunk surged angrily out of the water; he was amazed at the impression of movement and ferocity, at how deftly the model-maker had conveyed the power of the Istandaartha.

And in the center of this marvel, the focus and anchor, was the bridge. To Maia’s eye, instantly adapted to the delicacy of the world the model showed, it was a massive thing, a brass and iron monster, four great square towers, two on each bank, throwing out arm after arm toward each other until they met and clasped claws in the middle. He saw, with a jolt that was not surprise, that the spars of the bridge had been engraved to suggest the claws he had fancied. He leaned closer and saw the ugly, benevolent faces of four tangrishi at the top of each tower.

[…] As he looked closer, he could see that there were tiny people among the houses: a woman hanging laundry, a man weeding his vegetable garden, two children playing hider and seeker. There was even a tiny tabby cat sunning itself in a window. On the road toward the bridge, a wagon pulled by two dappled horses had stopped while the driver rummaged for smoething beneath his seat. Looking at the other side of the river, Maia suddenly spotted the cowherd among the cows, and he barely restrained a crow of delight. The cowherd, goblin-dark, was sitting cross-legged beneath the only tree in the pasture and playing a flute so carefully rendered that each fingerhole was distinctly visible.

I love this description because it was something that I could make as detailed as I wanted to and trust that the clockmakers, building this panorama to present to the emperor, would have gone that extra mile to put in the tabby cat and the cowherd while at the same time making a fully operational model of this insane clockwork bridge. I knew that someone would have labored over making the river seem properly powerful and dangerous. I knew that someone would have thought of having traffic on the road. I knew that someone would have figured out how to make tiny verashme trees.

(This model also saved my bacon. Because it demonstrates the bridge, I never had to come up with any sort of an explanation of how the dang thing works.)

It was also fun to have this tiny world-within-a-world, to suggest some of the ordinary life of his subjects that of course the emperor never sees. And it was fun to give this present to my poor protagonist, to give him one thing that he could be awe-struck by, one tiny crack to let his sense of wonder shine through.

Katherine Addison’s short fiction has been selected by The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror and The Year’s Best Science Fiction. She lives near Madison, Wisconsin.

Thursday, February 21st, 2019 05:00 pm

Posted by

A Hero Born Jin Yong

One of the most celebrated and beloved literary epics in China, Jin Yong’s Legend of the Condor Heroes has been the country’s premier wuxia—a blending of history, martial arts action, and fantasy—for more than half a century. Now, St. Martin’s Press is proud to publish the first English-language translation of the classic saga for U.S. readers, starting with A Hero Born.

Created by Louis Cha Leung-yung—Jin Yong’s true name—the Legends stories were serialized in Hong Kong newspapers during the 1950s alongside Cha’s editorials; statements which were openly critical of Mao Zedong’s communist regime. Set in eleventh century, Song Dynasty China, the narrative of warriors defending their land and people from invading armies and oppressive governments reflected contemporary politics, igniting the country’s nostalgia for China’s glorious ancestry.

Adapted to television, film, comic books, and video games, Jin Yong’s Legend of the Condor Heroes is a Chinese pop culture genre phenomenon equivalent to Star Wars, Harry Potter, and The Lord of the Rings that is finally receiving its long overdue proper introduction to American readers.

The first novel, A Hero Born, arrives in the U.S. on September 17, 2019, from St. Martin’s Press.

A fantastical generational saga and kung fu epic, A Hero Born is the classic novel of its time, stretching from the Song Empire (China 1200 AD) to the appearance of a warlord whose name will endure for eternity: Genghis Khan.

And then a hero is born

After his father, a Song patriot, was murdered, Guo Jing and his mother fled to the plains and joined Genghis Khan and his people. Loyal, humble and driven, he learned all he could from the warlord and his army in hopes of one day joining them in their cause. But what Guo Jing doesn’t know is that he’s destined to battle an opponent that will challenge him in every way imaginable and with a connection to his past that no one envisioned.

With the help and guidance of his shifus, The Seven Heroes of the South, Guo Jing returns to China to face his foe and carry out his destiny. But in a land divided by treachery and war, betrayal and ambition, he’ll have to put his courage and knowledge to the test to survive.

A Hero Born Jin Yong

 Jacket design by Ervin Serrano. Jacket photographs: man © Mike’s Spirits/; body © ArtOfPhotos/; hair © iStock/visualspace; hands © faestock/; sword © Chanawat Phadwichit/; ink © iStock/stellalevi; splatter © iStock/RomanOkopny; background © iStock/rusm

Thursday, February 21st, 2019 04:00 pm

Posted by Megan N. Fontenot

In this new biweekly series, we’ll be exploring the evolution of both major and minor figures in Tolkien’s legendarium, tracing the transformations of these characters through drafts and early manuscripts through to the finished work. In this first installment, we’ll focus on Nerdanel, the Noldorin sculptor, wife of Fëanor, and mother of seven strapping sons.

In the published Silmarillion, Nerdanel exists as little more than a background figure. We’re told that she is “the daughter of a great smith named Mahtan,” and that she, like her husband Fëanor, is “firm of will.” For a while, Fëanor is content to seek her counsel, though he isolates himself in all other respects (58), but as she is “more patient than Fëanor, desiring to understand minds rather than to control them,” they soon become estranged. Fëanor’s “later deeds grieved her.” Though she gives him seven sons, and some of them apparently have her temperament, she is left out of any further mention of the family thereafter, except in one instance, when Fëanor is referred to as “the husband of Nerdanel” because the text is specifically interested in that moment with the relationship between Mahtan and Fëanor (61). Nerdanel herself is given no voice.

But who is this Nerdanel? What were her motivations and passions, and why (and how!) does she not fall under the spell of Fëanor’s compelling voice and charismatic spirit? Tolkien does not mention her in his letters, but he does give her quite a bit more attention than we’d originally suspect, if we relied only on the published Silmarillion.

Nerdanel appears in three of the History of Middle-earth volumes: The Shaping of Middle-earth (IV), Morgoth’s Ring (X), and The Peoples of Middle-earth (XII). I’ll start here with IV and XII, leaving the best for last.

In The Shaping of Middle-earth, the only additional information we find is that some of the kinsfolk of Nerdanel are gingers: they have “rare red-brown hair” (260). Of the seven sons of Fëanor and Nerdanel, only Maedhros and the twins inherit this unusual trait, but it’s unique enough to deserve a mention, not least because this becomes one of Maedhros’s defining features. We aren’t told here whether Nerdanel herself inherited the red hair, but according to a previously unpublished bit of marginalia revealed in the journal Vinyar Tengwar (No. 41), her hair was brown and her complexion “ruddy.”

We’re given a little more information in The Peoples of Middle-earth. There we learn that there is already some tension between Fëanor and Nerdanel when the twins Amras and Amrod, the last of their children, are born. Elves are generally given two names, a “father-name,” which is usually some variation on the name of the father, and a “mother-name.” The mother-names were considered prophetic, as it was believed, and indeed rightly so, that in naming their children mothers were expressing some aspect of the child’s future. So Nerdanel cryptically gives the twins the exact same name, Ambarussa, “for they were much alike and remained so while they lived.” When Fëanor objects, “Nerdanel looked strange,” but concedes that one should be called “Umbarto,” which means “fated.” But she doesn’t say which, claiming that “time will decide” which one earns that name. Fëanor, characteristically, assumes that she meant to say “Ambarto,” or “exalted, lofty,” but rather than attempting to change his mind, Nerdanel shrugs him off with a remarkably sassy rejoinder. “Umbarto I spoke; yet do as you wish. It will make no difference” (XII 354). Shortly thereafter they become estranged, as “Fëanor became more and more fell and violent, and rebelled against the Valar.”

Tolkien included an interesting note at the heading of the manuscript dealing with the names of the Sons of Fëanor, however, that gives us some insight into just how complex family relations became in the house of Fëanor: “All the sons save Curufin preferred their mother-names and were ever afterwards remembered by them” (XII 355). The ultimate renunciation of their father-names tells us a lot about the Sons of Fëanor, but it also says something important about the relationships between Nerdanel and her sons.

The rejection of Fëanor and his deeds that is implicit in the rejection of his name marks the brothers as more aligned with their mother than anyone might have guessed from their actions and their haste to swear the blasphemous Oath. The retention of the mother-name reinforces rather a legacy of wisdom and patience—a strong will also, it is true, but a steady thoughtfulness that is entirely absent from Fëanor’s characterization. And in the list of father-names in that same manuscript lies our answer to the apparent contradiction. Curufin, or “Kurufinwë[:] Fëanor’s own name; given to this, his favourite son, because he alone showed in some degree the same temper and talents. He also resembled Fëanor very much in face” (352, second emphasis mine). So we find that the one son who leaves behind his mother-name (which, ironically, was Atarinkë, or “little father”) bears the same name as his father and alone of all his brothers is like Fëanor in temperament. So it seems that Nerdanel gave her sons more than we might have suspected.

The Peoples of Middle-earth gives us one more scene in which Nerdanel is an actor, and it is a significant one.

[Nerdanel] retired to her father’s house; but when it became clear that Fëanor and his sons would leave Valinor for ever, she came to him before the host started on its northward march, and begged that Fëanor should leave her the two youngest, the twins, or at least one of them. He replied: “Were you a true wife, as you had been till cozened by Aulë, you would keep all of them, for you would come with us. If you desert me, you desert all of our children. For they are determined to go with their father.” Then Nerdanel was angry, and she answered: “You will not keep all of them. One at least will never set foot on Middle-earth.” “Take your evil omens to the Valar who will delight in them,” said Fëanor. “I defy them.” So they parted. (354)

This heartbreaking passage juxtaposes Nerdanel’s desperation and her foresight with Fëanor’s selfishness and rash passion. His accusation, that she is not “a true wife,” is meant to punish her, to cow her into submission, but we know from what has already passed that Nerdanel is to be trusted and respected far above Fëanor. Indeed, his attempt to manipulate her into following him by claiming she would get to keep all her sons reveals that he neither understands his wife nor comprehends a nature that doesn’t desire dominance. Behind his biting words rings a mockery of his arrogance, greed, and foolishness.

It’s even significant that he claims she was deceived by Aulë. In The Silmarillion, Aulë serves as a counterpoint to Melkor/Morgoth. Like Melkor, he desires to create on his own, and even does so; but where Melkor desires dominion over creation, Aulë offers to destroy the work of his hands rather than even appear to undermine Ilúvatar’s authority. In the texts, we’re given clues that Fëanor has the option of following the example either of Aulë (the teacher of his teacher Mahtan) or of Melkor (more on this when I write about Fëanor). He consistently chooses to follow the path of Melkor. Thus, when Fëanor attributes Nerdanel’s supposed false wife-hood to Aulë’s influence, the text is implicitly insisting that she is in the right, primarily because she does not act from an attitude of possessiveness: she desires “to understand minds rather than to control them.”

“Nerdanel, Mahtan’s Daughter” by Filat

Notice, then, that her prophecy hits Fëanor precisely where it hurts: his fanatical possessiveness. He turned the conversation into a competition over their sons, but Nerdanel does not take the bait. Instead, she warns him that his attitude will lead to disaster, just as it did with the Silmarils. He doesn’t listen, of course. Nerdanel’s plea and her dark prediction hang in the air, and later we learn that this “evil omen” is one and the same with her naming of Umbarto (“fated”): the younger of the twins is, in some drafts, inadvertently burned alive by Fëanor as he slept in one of the ships at Losgar.

Where does Nerdanel get her remarkable strength and discernment? In Morgoth’s Ring we are given an introductory passage that is packed with fascinating detail from beginning to end. We learn here that Fëanor doesn’t marry her for her beauty (apparently she isn’t much to look at, at least as Elves go), but for her intelligence and talent. Nerdanel was “strong, and free of mind, and filled with the desire of knowledge.” She often journeyed alone through the hills or by the Sea, and eventually “she and Fëanor were companions in many journeys.”

Even more significant, Nerdanel was herself an accomplished sculptor and artist. In fact, she made images so lifelike that many, “if they knew not her art, would speak to them”! She was also something of an inventor: “many things she wrought also of her own thought in shapes strong and strange but beautiful.” This is especially significant because for a while, as I’ve mentioned, Fëanor is willing to learn from his wife and to seek her counsel. But gradually, we see that Nerdanel’s talent, her desire to create and her skill in the craft, is uniquely set against that of Fëanor. Where Fëanor’s great creations, the Silmarils, imprison light and beauty and in a manner that allows their glory to be locked away and hoarded, Nerdanel’s sculptures, even those of the Valar, appear to be scattered about Valinor for the free enjoyment of all. She does not hide them away. They reflect and thus increase the beauty of their surroundings rather than encasing it, denying it to others, and cutting it off from the common good—convincing us once again that she does indeed take after Aulë rather than Melkor.

After the description above, we encounter a paragraph that elaborates on the passage in the published Silmarillion. Here we learn what it means when Tolkien writes that she desired “to understand minds rather than to master them.” He explains, “When in company with others she would often sit still listening to their words, and watching their gestures and the movements of their faces. […] With her wisdom at first she restrained Fëanor when the fire of his heart burned too hot; but his later deeds grieved her” (X 272-3). Nerdanel is thus different because she is thoughtful, a listener. While Fëanor is known for his powerful voice and his ability to ensnare others with his words, Nerdanel is silent and seeks understanding. This divides them. When Nerdanel the Wise realizes that Fëanor the foolhardy will go his own way despite her counsel, she does not try to control him or force him into submission, as he does to her (remember the “were you a true wife” conversation?). Instead, she attempts to save her sons. When even this fails, because they are already spellbound by their father’s words, she returns in mourning to Valinor and lives with Indis, who also has lost her husband to Fëanor’s folly.

I wish we knew what ultimately became of Nerdanel. We’re given a picture of a woman who knows that strength is not found in tyranny and domination, but in a quiet confidence in her own intelligence, foresight, and generosity. She is a woman who refuses to own or try to control the people and things that she loves. She isn’t a dazzling heroine like Lúthien, perhaps, and she doesn’t face the Dark Lord himself; and yet she confronts the very attitudes that corrupted Melkor in the faces of those she loves best in the world. Maybe she should have fought for them, and for her sons especially. But the fact that, through all their torments, six of her sons remembered her and her legacy and chose to identify with their mother’s example, rather than the anger and passion of their father, says a lot. Maybe she saved them after all.

This is the last we hear of Nerdanel, though, except for a heartbreaking suggestion that the youngest son, the one burned alive in the ships, was intending to sail back to his mother upon witnessing his father’s violence. I’d like to think that when the world was broken and remade, she was reunited with her sons and learned that they—all but one—chose to carry her names with them to their deaths and beyond…

“Forgiveness.” A speculative piece by Jenny Dolfen, depicting the reunion between Maedhros and Nerdanel after the former returns from the Halls of Mandos.

But we don’t know. All we have are these brief sketches, and one final, intriguing detail to consider: Tolkien originally named Nerdanel Istarnië, a name which shares a root with Istari—“Wise Men,” or, as we know them, wizards.

Megan N. Fontenot is a hopelessly infatuated Tolkien fan and scholar, but she also studies Catholicism, eco-paganism, and ethno-nationalism in the long nineteenth century. And did she mention Tolkien?

Thursday, February 21st, 2019 01:30 pm

Posted by George Steer

A hacker took over the Twitter account for the mayor of Tampa, Fla., sending out a fake bomb threat to Tampa International Airport along with a claim that there was a ballistic missile headed to the Tampa area.

Police said they are searching for whoever was behind the hacking of Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s Twitter account early Thursday. The hacked tweets, along with all of Buckhorn’s previous, genuine tweets, were deleted around 9 a.m. – more than five hours after the hacker took control.

One message, sent to Tampa International Airport, read: “I have hidden a bomb in a package somewhere…Looking forward to seeing some minorities die.”

The Tampa Police Department said the threats are not credible.

Once the hack had come to light, the Communications Director for the Mayor and the City of Tampa released the following statement to local media:

“Earlier this morning we noticed someone hacked Mayor Buckhorn’s twitter account, this was clearly not Mayor Buckhorn. Upon noticing the hack we immediately began investigating these reprehensible tweets. We will work with our Tampa Police Department as well as all investigators to figure out how this breach was made. We urge residents to change their passwords and continue to alert officials when they see an unlikely change in account activity. We are working with law enforcement to investigate all threats made by this hack.”

Twitter said it has been in touch with the mayor’s office and shared tools to enhance the security of the account.

The City of Tampa, meanwhile, said it was investigating the “reprehensible tweets”.

Hackers also used Buckhorn’s Twitter account to tweet racist, sexist and pornographic content.

In one tweet, users were encouraged to follow PewDiePie – a social media star whose fans have hacked the Wall Street Journal, as well as tens of thousands of printers around the world, in recent months.

The Indian music label and movie studio T-Series is close to overtaking PewDiePie as the world’s most popular YouTube channel, which has led some PewDiePie fans to mount stunts to attract new subscribers. Both accounts have more than 86 million subscribers.

Thursday, February 21st, 2019 03:00 pm

Posted by James Davis Nicoll

SF writers frequently send their protagonists back in time. Quite often, they send their characters to a time when said characters might be stalked by a dinosaur. If sent to an even earlier time, characters might be menaced by a Gorgonopsid (though I am unaware of any such excursions; perhaps someone needs to write one). The earliest fauna that might endanger protagonists would have to be Cambrian. Perhaps a swarm of ferocious thirty-centimeter Peytoia nathorsti?

Ah, the Cambrian. 541 million years ago. Brings back memories. Not that I was there, mind you. Memories, rather, of the olden days when we believed that the Cambrian Explosion was the very fons et origo of complex life. Now we know that while the Cambrian Explosion was definitely a significant event, it doesn’t seem to have been the only time the planet dabbled with complex life vaguely analogous to modern forms.

The Ediacaran (635 million to 541 million years ago) also featured a diverse array of… squishy things… whose relationship to modern life forms is unclear. Who knows? If careless time travellers had stepped on different animals 541 million years ago, the Earth’s surface might be dominated by…larger but still squishy things, rather than our marvellous selves.

Still, the Earth is 4.5 billion years old. At the beginning of the Ediacaran, the Earth was 86% as old as it is now, while at the beginning of the Cambrian it was 88% as old as it is now. Both experiments in complex life are recent. So perhaps Earth wasn’t ready for complex life?

Perhaps it was. There’s a third might-be-complex life form known as the Francevillian biota. It dates back an astounding 2.1 billion years, when the Earth was roughly half its current age. While it’s true that none of the organisms preserved in the Gabon fossil bed are likely to get their own blockbuster film, being roughly the size and shape of a urinal puck, still: 2.1 billion years! It is also not clear if these were complex life forms or something more like a microbial mat.

Except… as pointed out in email by William Baird, of The Dragon’s Tales:

Organism motility in an oxygenated shallow-marine environment 2.1 billion years ago reports an astounding find:

…string-shaped structures are up to 6 mm across and extend up to 170 mm through the strata. Morphological and 3D tomographic reconstructions suggest that the producer may have been a multicellular or syncytial organism able to migrate laterally and vertically to reach food resources.

So, something may have been stomping (or oozing) around on Earth back when it was only about half as old as it was today. What the relationship between it and us might have been, who knows? But it was huge—at least if you take into account that humans are giants as terrestrial lifeforms go.

Happily for us, that little experiment seems to have gone nowhere, which means that no eerily-alien-but-fully-terrestrial civilization arose to transform the planet and reshape the solar system long before we decided to tackle the job ourselves. Well, as far as we know….

I’m pretty sure if a civilization had popped up in the Silurian there would be clear indications in the geological record. Two billion-plus years is long enough for whole continents to rise and fall; for continental plates to be subducted into ocean trenches and be recycled as magma.

If there were complex life forms oozing here and there, where might they have gone? And why? Hard to say. The O2 fraction of the atmosphere seems to have dropped off, which cannot have been great for anything trying to fuel a high-grade metabolism. But Baird suggests in private communication that maybe it’s not a complete coincidence that the Vredefort crater,the largest verified impact crater on Earth, and Sudbury, the third largest impact crater on Earth, date to 2.02 and 1.85 billion years ago, respectively.

Are these the smoking guns?

Alas, poor Francevillian biota. We knew ye not.

In the words of Wikipedia editor TexasAndroid, prolific book reviewer and perennial Darwin Award nominee James Davis Nicoll is of “questionable notability.” His work has appeared in Publishers Weekly and Romantic Times as well as on his own websites, James Nicoll Reviews and Young People Read Old SFF (where he is assisted by editor Karen Lofstrom and web person Adrienne L. Travis). He is surprisingly flammable.

Thursday, February 21st, 2019 02:30 pm

Posted by Carl Engle-Laird

I’m very pleased to announce that Publishing has acquired Finna, a new science fiction novella from Nino Cipri. When an elderly customer at a big box furniture store slips through a portal to another dimension, it’s up to two minimum-wage employees to track her across the multiverse and protect their company’s bottom line. Multi-dimensional swashbuckling would be hard enough, but our two unfortunate souls broke up a week ago.

Can friendship blossom from the ashes of a relationship? In infinite dimensions, all things are possible.

I’m terribly excited to be working with Nino Cipri on Finna. I first encountered Nino when I read their beautiful time-travel story, “The Shape of My Name.” That story moved me deeply, and I can’t wait to show you that Nino writes as touchingly about travel through space as they do when traversing time.

Finna was acquired in a deal with DongWon Song, of the Howard Morhaim Literary Agency and is expected to publish in early 2020.

From author Nino Cipri:

“I’ve long been fascinated by labyrinths in unexpected places, and often wondered where they might lead to. I get lost easily, and find big box stores more disorienting than most places. One day, I posed the question to a group of friends: what would a wormhole in IKEA lead to? The obvious answer was that it would lead to more IKEAs, and one could wander forever through successive showrooms of Swedish modernist home furnishings that became stranger and stranger. I can’t help but ground silly premises with serious questions, and I started writing this story at the end of one relationship and the beginning of another. The two main characters became exes who had to navigate alien territories as well as the rocky aftermath of their breakup. This story mixes together a lot of things that are close to my heart: queer relationships and queer feelings, the everyday awfulness of low-wage work, wormholes, and carnivorous furniture. It’s a story about what we can and can’t escape from: capitalism and accountability, labor and love.”

Nino Cipri is a queer and trans/nonbinary writer of fiction, essays, and screenplays. They are a graduate of the Clarion Writing Workshop, and a MFA candidate at the University of Kansas. Their debut fiction collection Homesick will be out from Dzanc Books in 2019, and their novella Finna will be published by in the spring of 2020. Nino has also written plays, poetry, and radio features; performed as a dancer, actor, and puppeteer; and worked as a stagehand, bookseller, bike mechanic, and labor organizer. You can talk to Nino on Facebook or Twitter @ninocipri, or on their website.

Thursday, February 21st, 2019 02:00 pm

Posted by Alice Arneson, Lyndsey Luther, Aubree Pham

Well, I hope you’re all prepared for Dalinar being an absolute twit, because in this chapter he’s putting his hat in the ring for the award of All Time Worst Husband Ever. He also gets highly equivocal ratings on the Dad front; at least there are some upvotes in that category to balance the downers.

Reminder: We’ll potentially be discussing spoilers for the entire novel in each reread. There’s no Cosmere discussion in the post this week, though as always, we make no promises about the comment discussion. But if you haven’t read ALL of Oathbringer, best to wait to join us until you’re done.

Chapter Recap

WHO: Dalinar
WHERE: A highland keep on the border between Alethkar and Jah Keved (L: As usual when we don’t have an exact city, this is my best guess. Since they mention the Vedens I figure this place has to be on the mountain range nearest to that city, and since the Horneater Peaks are actually part of Jah Keved, the mountain range I’ve indicated seems to be the most likely location that this chapter takes place.)
WHEN: 1166 – Eleven years ago

Dalinar is schooling Adolin on the ways of war when Evi arrives. After his son leaves, Dalinar and Evi get into an argument about whether or not they’ll ever be returning to Kholinar. Dalinar wants to stay on the warpath for the rest of his life, and when Evi breaks down, he grudgingly “admits defeat” and agrees to head back to Kholinar for a year after the battle for the Rift.

Truth, Love, and Defiance

Title: Strategist

“What kind of strategist would I be if I couldn’t foresee the next battle?”

AA: The irony is that he can see the next battle in the effort to unify Alethkar, and how to win it, but he can’t stop seeing his relationship with his wife as a series of battles—and he doesn’t know how to win those.

L: She’s an unknown enemy. He can understand other soldiers trying to kill him, but someone who genuinely cares about him and their sons? This is a mystery to him. It reminds me of a quote from Sun Tzu’s Art of War:

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

Dalinar knows himself, but he can never hope to understand her. Not that he has much time left to try…

AP: The real problem here is that as an Alethi he sees everything as a battle. Your spouse should not be your adversary. You should be a team fighting external battles together. The baseline of their relationship is conflict, and Evi isn’t equipped to handle that. We know that Dalinar matures later and his relationship with Navani is much more healthy. But it’s sad that he didn’t figure it out sooner.


The sole Herald is Chach, patron of the Dustbringers, associated with the role of Guard and the divine attributes of Brave and Obedient.

AA: Throughout Words of Radiance, Chach was frequently the Herald for chapters where Adolin was heavily involved; though he is part of this chapter, I don’t think his presence is enough to account for the choice of Herald. My best guess is that she’s actually here for Evi, who is doing her best to be brave and obedient in accordance with Alethi social expectations.

AP: The Dustbringers are also associated with destruction, and for me, this marks the beginning of the end of Dalinar and Evi’s relationship. Dalinar is obedient to Gavilar’s orders, and Evi is attempting to be brave in the face of her continued isolation in Alethi society.


Reverse Kholin Glyphpair for a Dalinar flashback

Stories & Songs

“I’ve thought … maybe the only answer, to make you proud, is to go to the Nightwatcher and ask for the blessing of intelligence. The Old Magic can change a person. Make something great of them—”

“Evi,” Dalinar cut in. “Please, don’t speak of that place or that creature. It’s blasphemous.”

AA: I can’t help wondering what she’d have gotten for boon and curse if she’d done it. Ironic, isn’t it, that her death—and his part in it—eventually drives him to commit the “blasphemy” he decries here.

AP: This conversation also likely put the idea in his head.

Relationships & Romances

Though the last few fights had been disappointing, having his son with him had been an absolute delight. Adolin hadn’t gone into battle, of course, but he’d joined them at tactics meetings. Dalinar had at first assumed the generals would be annoyed at the presence of a child, but it was hard to find little Adolin annoying. He was so earnest, so interested.

Now he had to explain his choices, vocalize them for the ears of an eager young boy who had questions for everything—and expected Dalinar to know the answers.
Storms, it was a challenge. But it felt good. Incredibly good.

AA: The best part of this chapter was Dalinar enjoying his son’s company. That was so much fun.

L: I do really love seeing them connect like this. Adolin quite clearly looks up to his father so much.

AA: Yes, he does, and I find that appropriate and endearing. Granted that Dalinar isn’t exactly the ideal man in our modern terms, he’s pretty close to the Alethi ideal man, so it’s very right for Adolin to admire him. The funny thing is that when we see Dalinar interact with Evi, we see all his faults, and yet she’s the one person most directly responsible for making sure his sons see him as a great man.

AP: Adolin is about 12 here, so he’s the right age to start getting this type of training. He’s also the right age to still idolize his dad, who wasn’t around for most of his childhood.

AA: By way of contrast to Dalinar’s enjoyment of Adolin, though, there’s… this:

“Well, we could travel someplace warm. Up to the Steamwater. Just you and I. Time together. We could even bring Adolin.”

“And Renarin?” Evi asked. “Dalinar, you have two sons, in case you have forgotten. Do you even care about the child’s condition? Or is he nothing to you now that he can’t become a soldier?”

AA: Ouch. Just as you started to think maybe he was a good dad…

Seriously, though, I feel sorry for the man at the same time I want to smack him. I completely understand Evi’s anger at the way he’s ignoring his “defective” son—the son who, through no one’s fault, will never be any of the things that “make a man” in Alethi culture. Dude, he’s still your son! Still your responsibility, still in need of your love and respect. And Dalinar, the quintessential Alethi, simply has no clue how to respond to either the child or the situation. I don’t think the Alethi do parenting classes, more’s the pity.

L: Then there’s this:

The other son was unfit for battle, and spent most of his time in Kholinar.

L: “The other son.” Ouch. It’s like he can barely even be bothered to remember poor Renarin’s name.

AA: I know, right? I want to beat him severely about the head and shoulders, every time I read that line. He’s a human being and your son, you oaf!

AP: This whole sequence is heartbreaking. Evi is completely right to be angry. It does make me appreciate that, in the present timeline, Dalinar is attempting to repair this relationship. I think his surge of Connection is helping him to gain empathy. This chapter coming immediately after he handles an intangible “battle” with the Azish deftly contrasts how far he has come.

“Run along, son,” Dalinar said. “You have geography lessons today.”

“Can I stay? I don’t want to leave you.”

L: This is simultaneously sweet and painful. It’s great to see Adolin adoring his father so much, forging a real connection with him—but knowing what’s coming, it’s just… ugh. Soon Dalinar’s going to sink down into alcoholism and start ignoring both his sons.

AP: Yeah, it definitely gets worse before it gets better. So much worse.

“No, Evi,” he said as he made another notation, “I doubt we will ever settle back in Kholinar again.”

Satisfied, he looked up. And found Evi crying.

L: This poor woman. I can’t even imagine how difficult her life was, being carted around from battle to battle, never knowing if her husband, who she was trying so hard to love, would come back alive… and to watch him as he started molding one of her sons into (what she surely must have seen as) a carbon copy of himself while completely ignoring the other. That must have been the hardest part, I think—trying desperately to help her son be a better man than his father, while also not speaking ill of him (as she clearly must not have, since Adolin adores him so). Evi was a storming saint.

AA: Pretty much, yeah. We’ll talk about it again in a much later flashback, but it’s clear that she virtually never criticized Dalinar in the boys’ hearing. She praised him as the “only honest officer in the army, the honorable soldier. Noble, like the Heralds themselves. Our father. The greatest man in Alethkar.” Come to think of it, she rarely criticized him at all, though she did sometimes let him know how frustrated she was with certain of his behaviors.

AP: Evi is definitely too good for him. I like how we get all these hints about what a good and loving parent she was. Evi has finally created a home for herself and her family in Kholinar, in preparation for her husband coming home, and now Dalinar is pulling the rug out from under her. I can’t imagine the pain and frustration of having to deal with a spouse who is not supportive or invested in the relationship, and who openly plays favorites with his kids, while at the same time trying to raise them to love and respect their father. It’s exhausting just to write it out!

She rubbed her eyes, and he wondered if she’d see through his attempt to change the subject. Talking about her people often smoothed over their arguments.

L: I’d like to point out how f***ing manipulative this is. He’s not trying to change the subject to make her feel better—all he cares about is his own comfort. He doesn’t like her crying in front of him and brings up a subject he doesn’t actually give a damn about just to make himself more comfortable. UGH. How dare this woman cry in front of him. HOW DARE SHE HAVE FEELINGS.

AA: I suspect she knew exactly what he was doing, at some level, but she went along with it because she didn’t enjoy the argument, and she did enjoy talking about her people, even if she knew she’d never see them again.

AP: Evi hates conflict, so I think she’s perfectly willing to embrace the deflection. As much as I like Evi, she does not stand up for herself, and doesn’t know how to advocate for herself.

“We’ll go back to Kholinar after I deal with the rebellion at the Rift. I’ll promise you at least a year there.”

“Really?” Evi said, standing up.

“Yes. You’ve won this fight.”

“I… don’t feel like I’ve won…”

L: Because she didn’t. What she really wanted was for him to understand and want to return, to want to spend time with his sons and with her. Instead he’s just doing it to shut her up. That’s not winning, not by a long shot. Not for her.

AP: Oh, not at all. Dalinar feels like he’s giving her some great gift, but he really doesn’t get it. The lack of empathy is stunning.

AA: Honestly, I feel awful for both of them. They’re so storming different in virtually every way. I firmly believe that each loved the other to some extent, each in their own way, but… a set of Shardplate isn’t much foundation for a marriage. In this chapter, though, it sure looks like Evi was the one doing the vast majority of the work of adjusting to the other’s needs. Dalinar even realizes that, to some extent:

She’d never be a great scribe—she didn’t have the youthful training in art and letters of a Vorin woman. Besides, she didn’t like books, and preferred her meditations. But she’d tried hard these last years, and he was impressed.

AA: I wonder if he ever told her he appreciated her efforts. He recognizes that it was hard work, but he just sort of assumes that having learned so much, of course she would enjoy the Vorin way of life. Of course.

AP: I doubt that he ever did. She is acting out of self preservation, trying her best to fit into her adopted culture. The relationship is so one sided here. The best evidence of her success is how much everyone believed that they had a loving marriage and it was completely believable that Dalinar would be in such deep mourning for her that he refused to speak her name for years.

Storms, I don’t deserve that woman, do I?

L: No. No, you don’t.

AA: Not even a little bit, dude.

The really sad thing is that there have been flashes where it almost looked like he could, and perhaps even like he really wanted to. But then battle and conquest would demand his attention, and he’d willingly turn to that duty, and he never quite got around to actually understanding his wife.

AP: Definitely not. I’m glad he is doing better on his second try with Navani.

Well, so be it. The argument was her fault, as were the repercussions.

L: My reaction to this.

Bruised & Broken

“No, son, the most important thing we’ve won is legitimacy. In signing this new treaty, the Veden king has recognized Gavilar as the rightful king of Alethkar.

It was gratifying to see how much one could accomplish in both politics and trade by liberally murdering the other fellow’s soldiers. These last years full of skirmishes had reminded Dalinar of why he lived.

AA: He still thinks of himself as someone who lives for battle and killing. As the general and strategist he’s grown into (per Gavilar’s letter), he sees the value of having Gavilar’s government recognized by another country. Deeper down, though, he doesn’t really fight for Gavilar, for Kholin power, or for Alethkar: He fights because he loves to fight… because he’s addicted to the Thrill.

AP: The way he spins this also feeds into how Adolin views his father. We see Dalinar’s real motivation. Adolin just gets a valuable life lesson on politics and strategy.

Places & Peoples

“Conversation is a contest to them,” Evi said, throwing her hands up. “Everything has to be a contest to you Alethi, always trying to show up everyone else. For the women it’s this awful, unspoken game to prove how witty they are.”

L: Interesting parallel to Shallan, here. I wonder if the Alethi and Jah Keved are close enough in societal norms that Shallan’s constant attempts to be witty are reflections of this.

AA: Heh. I’m not sure Shallan had enough exposure to society to be all that versed in “societal norms”—though of course, she would have had some social life before her mother went ‘round the twist. Back to the moment, though, this is one of the many, many ways where I feel terrible for Evi. She’s a gentle soul, and one who simply likes to get along with people. She was raised in a culture that valued peace, and she probably fit in beautifully there. (At least until whatever-it-was caused her and her brother to grab the Shardplate and run…) For the sin of disliking personal conflict, the Alethi assume she’s just kind of dumb. Because obviously, if you don’t do well at word-fights, it can’t be because you don’t care about that kind of contest; it has to be because you’re mentally deficient. ::eyeroll::

AP: Yeah, the Alethi culture just doesn’t value Evi’s strengths. Her kindness and loyalty doesn’t get her very far here. I’d like to see more about Rira, and what it might have looked like if she had stayed.

AA: (Well, we know it was warmer than Alethkar, if nothing else!)

AP: She mentions that they were outcasts because of Toh stealing shardplate. But is she typically Riran? Or is she especially meek even for them? Or is she considered quite bold because she left with Toh?!

AA: Well, from what little we saw of him, Toh was every bit as disturbed by conflict as Evi—maybe more so. Now that he got Evi and the Shardplate taken care of, he’s been up in Herdaz for the last ten years being protected by Alethi guards. (I don’t think very highly of him, frankly!) Whatever their reason was for hiking off with the Plate—whether they really stole it, or were just refusing to give it up to someone who tried to take it from them, or whatever—the one bit of credit I can give Toh is that he did try to find someone capable of protecting the two of them and making use of the Shardplate.

Also, Adolin will get it when he turns 16, so that’s a good thing. Deserving kid, our Adolin.

Tight Butts and Coconuts

“If you pay attention in your lesson, I’ll take you riding tomorrow.”

AA: This made me snicker a bit. I wonder if Dalinar ever knew how Adolin felt about horses when he was younger; I can’t help but remember his comment back in Chapter 10:

He’d spent many of those days, before he was fully a man, on campaign with his father during border skirmishes with Jah Keved. Adolin had been afraid of horses back then, though he’d never have admitted it.

AA: Dalinar thought he was promising the kid a real treat, and it was more of a terror. Heh.

L: Sounds about par for the course for past!Dalinar.

AA: It does, doesn’t it? He’s not a horrible father—to Adolin, anyway—but he’s not exactly the most sensitive to what makes other people happy. Except maybe Navani.

AP: It’s another sign of his self-centeredness. Riding a horse would have been a great treat for him as a boy. So of course it would be a great treat for Adolin! And I’d argue that he is definitely a terrible father. Showing blatant favoritism to one child is incredibly damaging. It’s a great testament to Evi that her sons have a good relationship despite this.

Weighty Words

I would like to speak in person at length about all of this—indeed, I have important revelations of my own I would like to share. It would be best if we could meet in person.

AA: I wonder if Gavilar was getting the Unite Them Visions treatment from the Stormfather at this point, and was preparing to share that information with Dalinar. As far as we know, he never did so—but then, the man Dalinar became after the Rift was not someone you’d entrust with any sort of secret. He became an even more fearsome threat to be held over the heads of anyone who might consider rebelling against Kholin rule, but he also became an unpredicatble, drunken brute that… well, I sure wouldn’t trust him with anything sensitive!

Murky Motivations

Be warned, we are certain now that one of the other highprinces—we don’t know who—is supporting Tanalan and his rebellion.

L: Was… was it ever revealed who this was? I keep thinking Sadeas, but that’s wrong, isn’t it?

AA: I don’t think it was ever revealed, though if it was, I guess we’ll find out when we get there! I’m pretty sure the Sadeas connection was a fake; at the time, he had nothing to gain from undermining the Kholins, and everything to gain from continuing to be at the right hand of power.

Quality Quotations

“Unfortunately, our meeting will have to wait a few storms longer.”

AA: I just like that phrasing, so I thought I’d quote it.


In case you didn’t get enough of it, we’ll have another marriage to consider next week! We won’t spend much time on it, though; there’s a lot going on when we return to Kholinar. Strategy sessions, disguises, and a familiar voice await us! For now, join us in the comments, and we’ll see you there.

Alice is still half-buried in snow, but at least the power came back on. Also, the Starsight beta is finished, which was a crazy ride.

Lyndsey is really not a fan of young!Dalinar, in case that didn’t come through. If you’re an aspiring author, a cosplayer, or just like geeky content, follow her work on Facebook or her website.

Aubree is going to hug her kid in a very un-Alethi fashion.

Wednesday, February 20th, 2019 10:21 pm

Posted by Patrick Lucas Austin

During its annual Unpacked event on Wednesday, Samsung unleashed a bounty of new smartphones and other gadgets, including a pricey foldable phone called the Galaxy Fold, the Galaxy Buds (a rival to Apple’s wireless AirPod earbuds), and the Galaxy Fit, a fitness band.

Here are the four biggest announcements from Samsung’s 2019 Unpacked event.

The Samsung Galaxy Fold

Samsung Galaxy Fold

Samsung opened the Unpacked event by introducing a new smartphone design — though one it had been teasing since last year.

Called the Samsung Galaxy Fold, the device is a folding smartphone that opens and closes like a book. On the outside “cover” is a 4.6-inch display, while inside, when opened, you can use the 7.3-inch Infinity Flex display as a singular massive screen to multitask, watch video, or do whatever else you normally would on your smartphone. Apps can switch between the smaller and larger display without interruption, and the six (yes, six) cameras on the Galaxy Fold will ensure you’re always able to snap a photo.

Samsung says the Galaxy Fold will be available in the second quarter of 2019 on T-Mobile and AT&T, starting at $1,980.

A Quartet of Galaxy S10 Smartphones

Samsung Galaxy S10
Justin Sullivan—Getty ImagesThe new Samsung Galaxy S10e, Galaxy S10+ and the Galaxy S10 smartphones are displayed during the Samsung Unpacked event on February 20, 2019 in San Francisco, California.

One of the worst-kept secrets when it comes to smartphone launches, Samsung finally announced its Galaxy S10 line of devices. In case you weren’t already confused by Samsung’s growing catalog of smartphones, the S10 line includes four different models: The Galaxy S10e, Galaxy S10, Galaxy S10+, and Galaxy S10 5G.

The $749.99 Galaxy S10e is the cheapest of the four, and the most compact of the bunch. The S10e features a 5.8-inch screen, two rear cameras, and a front-facing camera that looks like the S10e had a run-in with a hole punch machine. The camera, embedded in the corner of the display, helps maximize screen size and eliminate the dreaded notch.

The $899.99 Galaxy S10 packs more features into a slightly larger device. The 6.1-inch screen features the same front-facing camera on the S10e, while its triple-camera setup on the rear allows for wide-angle, ultra wide-angle, and 2x optical zoom images.

The $999.99 Galaxy S10+ features a 6.4-inch display, larger than the previous Galaxy S9+. It also has the same triple-camera setup on the rear as the Galaxy S10, but on the front is a pair of cameras allowing for depth-sensing selfies and facial recognition for unlocking your device. It also supports up to 1.5TB of storage, even more than some laptops.

Samsung, in its push to promote faster 5G wireless broadband technology, also announced the Galaxy S10 5G, the only S10 device to support 5G speeds. In keeping with its status as a mobile powerhouse, the S10 5G features not three but four rear cameras, with the extra one functioning as a depth sensor for adjustable portrait mode images and improved augmented reality experiences. It also has a gigantic 6.7-inch display, and 256GB of internal storage (though it’s lacking a microSD slot, present in every other S10 variant).

Hidden below the screen in the Samsung Galaxy S10, S10+, and S10 5G is an ultrasonic fingerprint sensor. Able to create a 3D scan of your finger, the sensor is more secure than earlier capacitive sensors, Samsung says. And since it’s underneath the screen, you won’t notice it when you’re not using it. According to Samsung, certain screen protectors may alter the effectiveness of the ultrasonic fingerprint sensor; the company is working with manufacturers to create screen protectors designed for the S10 line.

You’ll be able to purchase three of the four S10 devices beginning March 8, with the S10 5G debuting exclusively on Verizon “for a limited time in the first half of 2019,” and on other carriers this summer. The Galaxy S10, Galaxy S10+, and Galaxy S10e will be available in four different colors, with two additional colors available when purchasing the 512GB or 1TB Galaxy S10+ variants.

Galaxy Buds Will Take On Apple’s AirPods

Samsung Galaxy Buds
Justin Sullivan—Getty ImagesThe new Samsung Galaxy Buds are displayed during the Samsung Unpacked event on February 20, 2019 in San Francisco, California.

Samsung’s third attempt at truly wireless earbuds, the $129.99 Galaxy Buds are the company’s best-looking iteration yet. The Galaxy Buds, made in collaboration with Samsung subsidiary AKG, feature ambient sound support, meaning you can stay aware and attentive to your surroundings even with your earbuds in. With built-in Bixby support, you can use the Galaxy Buds to issue commands to Samsung’s voice assistant.

Samsung says the Galaxy Buds will last up to six hours when streaming music, with its case adding another seven hours of battery life to the mix. That case also supports wireless charging, and can draw power from your S10 device using Samsung’s most intriguing addition to the S10 line. If you play your cards right, you might never have to plug in your Galaxy Buds. More on that below…

Samsung PowerShare Will Rescue Your Dying Devices


Samsung’s wireless PowerShare is perhaps the most intriguing feature found in the Galaxy S10 lineup, letting you charge Qi-compatible devices wirelessly using the back of your S10 device. Every S10 supports Wireless PowerShare, but the bigger the device, the more power you’ll have at your disposal. With phones like the S10+ and S10 5G boasting hefty batteries, you’ll be able to use your device to give your friend’s Qi-compatible smartphone a little juice to get through the day, or recharge your Galaxy Buds while you’re eating lunch. It’ll even charge iPhones supporting wireless charging, like the iPhone 8 or XS Max.

Wednesday, February 20th, 2019 08:07 pm

Posted by Patrick Lucas Austin

Samsung opened its annual Unpacked event on Wednesday with a novel surprise: the Samsung Galaxy Fold, the company’s first foldable smartphone.

The Samsung Galaxy Fold opens and shuts like a book, and features two displays: a 4.6-inch display on the front cover of the Galaxy Fold you can use when it’s closed, and a much larger 7.3-inch “Infinity Flex” display you can use when you open the device. Inside is an octa-core processor, 12GB of memory, and 512GB of built-in storage. There’s a battery inside each half of the device, and support for wireless PowerShare for wirelessly charging Qi-compatible devices, including other smartphones.

That internal 1536×2152 Infinity Flex display is seamless, and will let you run up to three apps at a time. There are six cameras on the Samsung Galaxy Fold: one on the front, two on the inside, and three on its rear. An internal folding mechanism hidden in the Galaxy Fold’s spine ensures a smooth and consistent opening and closing for “hundreds of thousands” of folds, according to Samsung. On the Galaxy Fold’s side is a fingerprint sensor placed where you’d naturally rest your finger while holding the device.

Like its new S10 devices, the Galaxy Fold runs Android 9.0 Pie. Thanks to what Samsung is calling App Continuity, users can easily transition from the smaller display to the larger one while using compatible apps without losing their work or progress. According to Samsung, apps like WhatsApp, Google Maps, and Microsoft Office all support App Continuity, with more on the way.

With four different colors to choose from — black, silver, green, and blue — Samsung’s Galaxy Fold will be available on April 26, in both 4G LTE and 5G versions. Pricing starts at $1,980.

Wednesday, February 20th, 2019 08:00 pm

Posted by Ruthanna Emrys, Anne M. Pillsworth

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.

This week, we’re reading Jennifer Brozek’s “Dreams of a Thousand Young,” first published in 2014 in Innsmouth Free Press’s Jazz Age Cthulhu collection. Spoilers ahead.

Helen wanted to look away, but the gleaming altar called to her.


Lady Helen, heiress to the Keeling silk empire, has accompanied her father to the Indian state of Assam. She finds society there “stuffy,” no match for her beloved London. Her friend Lizzy agrees and promises to show her something amazing.

“Something” must’ve been amazing indeed: Helen wakes afterwards aching and naked, with a dead man lying beside her. From his clothing, he’s an Assamese nobleman. He’s handsome too, except for the mess of stab wounds to his belly. Helen can’t remember who he is, how he got there, or what she could have done to end up in such a predicament.

Fortunately, her father’s away on business. Her servants, models of discretion, deal with the body and the authorities. Helen can’t avoid an interview with Special Assistant John Sorin. Her maid Pria tells both of them that Helen left home two evenings before. Pria didn’t worry when her mistress remained absent—Helen often stayed out for days. Ahem, but Sorin doesn’t judge. He’ll follow whatever investigative avenues he must to discover what happened.

Privately Pria tells Helen that she was going to a party “filled with the unknown… Magicians, experts in the occult.” Beyond that, Helen said she was sworn to secrecy. Hoping her friend Lizzy may know more, Helen meets her at the Purple Room restaurant. Lizzy says Hemaraj Kumari invited them both to a party displaying treasures from his recent trip to Egypt. Only Helen went without picking up Lizzy.

Helen has a flash of memory: A handsome Assamese man taking her hand, his gold bracelet with a blood-red gem making her shiver. She returns to the present gasping as something stirs in her lower abdomen. People at other tables stare with inexplicable boldness, as if they know her. She excuses herself and summons her palanquin.

A nun stops her. Sister Grace declares that Helen’s life and immortal soul are in danger! She’s seen toughs replace Helen’s palanquin carrier—wherever they want to take her, it can’t be good. Grace leads Helen into an alley, pursued by the would-be abductors. She pulls a dagger from her robes and engages the abductors like a “whirling terror.” Sorin shows up to help, and they make it to the safety of a church.

Sorin knows the nun, for she’s reported to the Commissioner’s Office a “growing occult evil.” Seeing Grace’s tension, Helen takes away her bloody dagger. She’s disturbed by how natural the weapon feels in her hand.

Grace reveals that Helen went with Hemaraj to the Black Ram Club, not to see Egyptian loot but to take part in a ritual. Grace produces a black iron coin with a strange five-pointed star on one side. Apparently Sorin’s ability to handle it means he’s on the side of the light, so Grace admits to a “divine” vision that Helen’s the “key to stopping the Blackest of Rams from rising.”

When Helen picks up the coin, shocking pain radiates from low in her abdomen. Memory-dream floods her, of following Hemaraj to another world, a cave-realm with ruins and a black stone altar. Hemaraj drags her forward, backed by a crowd of elegant strangers. It’s time for her to fulfill her destiny!

Returning to consciousness, she finds her palm branded with a painless white scar of the five-pointed star. God has blessed her with the Elder Sign, Grace says, a ward against demonic beings seeking to invade our world. She identifies the cave-realm as K’n-yan, a place of horror. Frightened as she is, Helen must try to remember the rest.

Sorin and Helen go to the Black Ram Club to learn more. Its manager falls in a fit when he touches Helen’s star-scar. Avalanching memories hit Helen: a green stone idol in her hand, leering with “promises of dark desires and pain”; herself bound to the black altar; something hovering overhead, reaching.

Sorin hurries her home. Grace is there and promises to protect Helen while Sorin continues his investigation. Helen takes laudanum, but it doesn’t ease her low-belly cramps. Pressing the spot with her branded hand does. She dreams of the cave-realm and feeling at home there, of returning to her bedroom with Hemaraj. She allows his advances, but feels the insult of a mortal wanting to possess her. In retribution, Helen slips Hemaraj’s dagger from his belt and stabs him.

Waking, she hears a commotion. She finds Pria strangling Grace. Pria laughs, a maddened sound. She’ll bring Helen to her true master now.

When Helen slams her scarred palm to Pria’s forehead, Pria falls unconscious. Helen rummages star-coin and dagger from Grace’s robes. Sorin bursts in. He too was attacked. They’ve got to end this tonight, by taking Helen to Pria’s “master.”

The two sneak into the Black Ram. While Sorin deals with attackers, Helen encounters the Egyptian who commanded her abductors. She recalls meeting him at Hemaraj’s party and his name, Ardeth Fehr. Her scar doesn’t faze him. No, Ardeth’s her ally now. He gives her a green stone idol, and his murmur of “Ia! Shub-Niggurath” resonates in her, easing her racked belly. She remembers Ardeth conducting the ritual, remembers a sky full of tentacles and a dozen yellow eyes plumbing her soul. A tentacle touched her, the universes opened. She’s the portal. She’ll birth warriors of a new age, to turn the tide of an immemorial war… It’s good to know her place at last.

Ardeth touches her belly. Helen stabs him for the insubordination. Sorin arrives. Helen smiles at his concerned look, endearing yet pathetic. She kisses, then stabs him: a gift of death before war comes to this world.

Helen turns to a hidden door. On the stairs beyond waits a dark young, cloven-hoofed, mouths slavering, tentacles questing. Helen reassures the kid, then descends the stairs “into the rest of her life.”

What’s Cyclopean: The sky above the altar uncurls huge, glistening black tentacles.

The Degenerate Dutch: Depictions of racism are impressively minimal for a story taking place in a British colony in India—though things like Helen’s father treating servants as decoration make clear that it exists. Given that backdrop, it’s maybe not that surprising that most of the cultists are Indian.

Mythos Making: February is Derlethian Heresy Month—in this week’s selection, the reliable power of the elder sign, and the inability of Shub-Niggurath’s cultists to enter churches. Bonus visit to K’n-yan, a place where sacrificial rituals would normally be the least of your problems.

Libronomicon: Helen could really use a copy of What To Expect When You’re Expecting a Litter of Eldritch Warriors. Instead she gets Egyptian artifacts that hint vaguely at the ritual she’s forgotten.

Madness Takes Its Toll: Pria’s laughter is the sound of madness. There’s also madness in the high priest’s smile.


Ruthanna’s Commentary

*Scratchy black-and-white footage shows clean-cut young couples walking down the street, chatting and laughing. The title of the old PSA film shudders over them: DATING THE DARKNESS*

Are you a hotblooded young man? Is there a woman you admire, but don’t feel ready for a long-term relationship with? Are you trying to find the perfect date to express your feelings? Then perhaps you’ve considered bringing her to A RITUAL TO SUMMON DARK POWERS FROM BEYOND REALITY AS WE KNOW IT.

Of course you hear about these things in locker room talk. It probably feels like every boy has taken a beautiful girl through a PORTAL TO OTHER REALMS, there to revel in unspeakable passions before sacrificing his companion to the higher cause of RETURNING THE ELDER GODS TO THEIR FORMER GLORY.

But while these parties may sound like innocent fun, consider the potential costs to your reputation and safety. Even the slightest dalliance with ancient evil may taint your soul irrevocably—but this is a mild risk compared to the dangers of a woman who’s dallied even more closely with those same evils.

Once upon a time, the careful gentleman could bind a well-chosen woman to an altar for unspeakable rites, and suffer only a few qualms in the light of day. Even a woman who survived such rites would be appropriately accepting in the face of her inevitable fate. Sure, occasionally a stalwart hero, unaware of the lady’s reputation, might rescue her at the last minute and leave the poor revelers to deal with a hungry abomination. (Or an abomination suffering from other unsatisfied urges—whatever precautions you’ve taken, be aware that abominations are notoriously indiscriminate among human genders.)

But times change, and these days a woman touched by unholy deities may be all too willing to make active use of that power—and may be as uninterested as the elders themselves in why you exposed her to those powers in the first place. Someone bound to an altar may appear helpless, but once the power of REALMS BEYOND HUMAN IMAGINING courses through her, that altar becomes the most powerful spot in the ritual. Even skilled priests can make this kind of mistake. You’re in the midst of confidently overturning the foundations of reality, when suddenly—the only thing overturned is you.

While every young man would of course prefer his sacrifices heteronormatively risqué, you might well ask whether it’s easier just to put your friends and mentors on that altar. But even though the set-up may not be as romantic, the results can be every bit as devastating.

So be smart—when your friends suggest that TRAVELS BENEATH THE BOWELS OF THE EARTH are the absolute latest thing for an exciting night out, JUST SAY NO.

And young women—of course, you’re not supposed to hear any of this. You’re supposed to be in the next room over, getting the film about how INVOLVEMENT WITH DARK CULTS will attract exactly the wrong sort of boy, ruin your innocence, and leave your reputation in tatters. The small chance of becoming an AVATAR OF THE DARK MOTHER just isn’t worth it. Better take up knitting instead.


Anne’s Commentary

Who in the cosmos is Shub-Niggurath? Is It an it, or a he, or a she, or all three (plus other sexes unknown on Earth)? A Black Goat or a Black Ram? A Great Old One or an Outer God? Friend or fiend to humanity? Please, can we at least agree this entity has a Thousand Young? Fine, but what if a “Thousand” is a euphemism for “countless”? What if that’s a Thousand a day, or a millisecond? What if the Thousand Young each has a Thousand Young, and each of those Million GrandYoung has a Thousand Great-GrandYoung? Let’s stop and maintain a few sanity points for later.

Lovecraft first mentions Shub in the famous Necronomicon passage from “The Dunwich Horror”: “Ia! Shub-Niggurath! As a foulness shall ye know Them.” That’s it, the rest is all about Yog-Sothoth. Shub’s next call-out is in “The Whisperer in Darkness,” where It gets the titles “Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young” and “Lord of the Wood.” Male, then, at least in this forest-dwelling avatar?

Shub gets deeper development in the revisions, notably in Lovecraft and Heald’s “Out of the Aeons.” There It is a She, the “Mother-Goddess” with at least two named Young, sons Nug and Yeb. All three of the -Nigguraths in this story are people-friendly, ready to take humanity’s part against the eye-blasting Ghatanothoa. Writing to Willis Conover, Lovecraft throws in more family history: “Yog-Sothoth’s wife is the hellish cloud-like entity Shub-Niggurath, in whose honor nameless cults hold the rite of the Goat with a Thousand Young. By her he has two monstrous offspring—the evil twins Nug and Yeb.” Okay, another vote for She and the Goat. Different take on Nug and Yeb. Monstrous, evil, really? They must have gotten that from Dad, except here Shub Herself is hellish!

I figure Howard is pulling Conover’s leg. He calls Shub Yog’s “wife,” when he knows very well the Outer Gods eschew marriage for random hook-ups amongst Themselves and other open-minded and/or ritually manacled beings.

Brozek’s Lady Helen is both—open-minded and ritually manacled, that is. She’ll be the first to admit, when chosen as star of a ritual, that she’s no innocent. How could she be when she routinely disappears for several nights to, erm, stay with her “companions?” I suspect she only disappears when Daddy’s absent, as Helen implies that her sojourn in Assam was a necessary retreat from the London society she’s made too hot for herself and her family’s reputation. What Daddy doesn’t know, and all that jazz.

Assam society isn’t as stuffy as Helen thinks, at least not amongst the Black Ram’s members. Thus Brozek’s Shub is the Ram, nominally masculine. Around sacrificial ewes, anyway. No ordinary ewe, Helen. She’s the Warrior-Mom of ewes! Woe betide any mortal male who offends once Shub unleashes her Inner High Priestess. So the Forces of Light boast a ninja nun? Wait until you see Helen’s dagger work. So the Elder Ones have a warding Sign? It burns Helen at first, but her scarred flesh then claims it as another weapon in her arsenal.

Speaking of Elder Signs, in this story we re-enter the parallel Mythos of the Derlethian Heresy, last seen in Derleth’s own “Seal of R’lyeh.” Brozek spares us details of the Forever War between Good and Evil by allowing Sister Grace to be knowledgeable but not all-knowing. It’s enough for Grace to convince Helen and Sorin that opening a portal for the Bad Guys would be a Very Bad Thing. As for the Sign itself, that’s the Heresy’s coolest prop, right? Failproof. Except when it’s not.

Grace says she’s used the talisman to banish demons. Helen uses it to overcome human cultists, but it only works on lesser minions like Pria—Ardeth Fehr doesn’t mind the Elder Sign. Nor does Helen, even after she fully transitions to Bride of Shub-Niggurath. I can see her bearing both the Brand of Light and gestating demonic offspring while she wavered between Good and Evil. But when she’s decided, does her star-scar vanish? Does she toss the iron coin she took off Grace’s corpse? Not that I noticed. Maybe her Darkness is so strong she can carry the Elder Sign in mockery of its Makers?

That’s the trouble with magical props. They tend to make things too easy for their users, so to muster suspense, the props must poop out at critical moments. Like my all-time favorite, Hermione’s change purse, in which she can store house-sized tents, but she can’t toss in some freeze-dried camping rations, so the Terrific Trio needn’t starve on grass and dubious mushrooms?

If I continue on to the “Wizards can ex-nihilo create purple sleeping bags that work but can’t conjure edible food,” my brain will snap. Enough said. Beware magical props and too-convenient magical theory! It’s Heresy, I tell you!


Next week, our heroes Frank and Howard have an adventure in Frank Belknap Long’s only slightly self-referential “The Space-Eaters.”

Ruthanna Emrys is the author of the Innsmouth Legacy series, including Winter Tide and Deep Roots. She has several stories, neo-Lovecraftian and otherwise, available on, most recently “The Word of Flesh and Soul.” Ruthanna can frequently be found online on Twitter and Patreon, 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 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.