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Saturday, October 21st, 2017 09:00 am

Posted by (Velveteen Rabbi)


Noahs-ark-blueChodesh tov: a good and sweet new month to you!

Today we enter the month of Cheshvan, a month that is unique because it contains no Jewish holidays at all. (Except for Shabbat, of course.) After the spiritual marathon of Tisha b'Av and Elul and the Days of Awe and Sukkot and Hoshana Rabbah and Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, now we get some downtime. Some quiet time. Time to rest: in Hebrew, לנוח / lanuach. We've done all of our spiritual work, and now we get to take a break. Right?

Well, not exactly.

When we finish the Days of Awe, we might imagine that the work is over. But I want to posit that the work of teshuvah, of turning ourselves in the right direction, isn't something we ever "complete"... and that Torah's been giving us hints about that, if we know where to look.

Last week we began the Torah again, with Bereshit, the first portion in the book of Genesis. The creation of the cosmos, "and God saw that it was good," the forming of an earthling from earth. Last week's Torah portion also contains the story of Cain and Hevel, the first sibling rivalry in our story. The two bring offerings to God. Hevel brings sheep, and Cain brings fruits of the soil, and God is pleased with the sheep but not with Cain's offering. Cain's face falls, and God says to him, "Why are you distressed?"

It's an odd moment. Surely an all-knowing God understands perfectly well why Cain is upset. This is not rocket science. Two brothers make gifts for their Parent, who admires one gift and pointedly ignores the other one?! Of course Cain feels unappreciated. This is basic human nature. How can it be that God doesn't understand?

The commentator known as the Radak says: God asked this rhetorical question not because God didn't understand Cain's emotions, but because God wanted to spur Cain to self-reflection. God, says the Radak, wanted to teach Cain how to do the work of teshuvah, repentance and return. Imagine if Cain had been able to receive that lesson. Imagine if Cain had had a trusted rabbi or spiritual director with whom he could have done his inner work, seeking to find the presence of God even in his disappointment. But that's not how the story goes. He misses the opportunity for teshuvah, and commits the first murder instead.

That was last week. This week, we read that God sees that humanity is wicked, and God decides to wipe out humanity and start over. But one person finds favor with God: Noach, whose name comes from that root לנוח, "to rest."

And God tells Noah: make yourself an ark out of gopher wood, and cover it over with pitch: "וְכָֽפַרְתָּ֥ אֹתָ֛הּ מִבַּ֥יִת וּמִח֖וּץ בַּכֹּֽפֶר / v'kafarta otah mibeit u-michutz bakofer." Interesting thing about the words "cover" and "pitch:" they share a root with כפרה / kapparah, atonement. (As in Yom Kippur.) It doesn't come through in translation, but the Hebrew reveals that this instruction to build a boat seems to be also implicitly saying something about atonement.

Rashi seizes on that. Why, he asks, did God choose to save Noah by asking him to build an ark? And he answers: because over the 120 years it would take to build the ark, people would stop and say, "What are you doing and why are you doing it?" And Noah would be in a position to tell them that God intended to wipe out humanity for our wickedness. Then the people would make teshuvah, and then the Flood wouldn't have to happen. God wanted humanity to make teshuvah, and once again, we missed the message.

The invitation to make teshuvah is always open. The invitation to discernment, to inner work, to recognizing our patterns and changing them, is always open. And to underscore that message, last week's Torah portion and this week's Torah portion both remind us:  the path of teshuvah was open to Cain, and it was open for the people of Noah's day, and it's open now.

Even if we spent the High Holiday season making teshuvah with all our might, the work isn't complete. We made the teshuvah we were able to make: we pushed ourselves as far as we could to become the better selves we know we're always called to be. But that was so last week. What teshuvah do we need to make now, building on the work we did before?

The word kapparah (atonement) implies covering-over, as Noach covered-over the ark with the covering of pitch. What kapparah hasn't worked for you yet? Where are the places where you still feel as though your mis-steps are exposed? What are the tender places in your heart and soul that need to be lovingly sealed and made safe? This week's Torah portion comes to remind us that we still have a chance to do this work. Will we be wiser than the generation of Noah? Will we hear Torah's call to make teshuvah now with all that we are?

Here's the thing: as long as we live, our work isn't done. I don't know whether that sounds to you like a blessing or a curse. But I mean it as a blessing. Because it's never too late. Because we can always be growing. Because we can always choose to be better.

May this Shabbat Noach be a Shabbat of real menuchah, which is Noah's namesake, and peace, a foretaste of the world to come. And when we emerge into the new week tonight at havdalah, may we be strengthened in our readiness to always be doing the work of teshuvah, and through that work, may our hearts and souls find the kapparah that we most seek.


I'm honored and delighted this week to be at Kol HaNeshama in Sarasota, Florida, visiting my dear friend Rabbi Jennifer Singer who blogs at SRQ Jew. This is the d'var Torah I offered there for Shabbat Noach -- which I share with deep gratitude to Rabbi David Markus for sparking these insights.


Friday, October 20th, 2017 08:25 pm

Posted by

Oathbringer front cover endpapers Dan Dos Santos

Readers of Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive epic got a lush visual treat for the hardcover release of Words of Radiance: vibrant endpapers depicting more characters from Sanderson’s fantasy series! For those who are wondering if that practice will continue for Oathbringer, the forthcoming third Stormlight volume, the answer is: yes!

On Friday, October 20th, the B&N book blog Twitter gave fans a sneak peek at the endpapers for Oathbringer:

Now that they’re out there, check out the full Dan Dos Santos illustrations hiding behind the front cover of Brandon Sanderson’s Oathbringer!

Oathbringer endpaper Dan Dos Santos

Oathbringer endpaper Dan Dos Santos

Who are these striking individuals? Are they individuals?

And… who might be the two characters depicted in the endpapers behind Oathbringer‘s BACK cover?

We’ll find out come November 14, 2017!

Note: The comments on this article may contain spoilers from the chapters of Oathbringer currently available to read on Tread as thou wilt.

Friday, October 20th, 2017 07:46 pm

Posted by Stubby the Rocket

The Empire Strikes Back ending Luke Leia

“[L]et’s be honest: we never had Star Wars,” Amberlough author Lara Elena Donnelly writes on Unbound Worlds. “We had all the ephemera that unfurled from the ineffable magic of those first three films. Star Wars was—and remains—critically important in nerdy millennial circles. It’s a touchstone by which we immediately recognize our people. It’s a way of connecting with older generations, including our parents, and newbie nerds like our younger siblings, our students, and our children. But it was never ours.”

Until, that is, she saw The Force Awakens in theaters two years ago.

Despite fond memories of watching the rereleased original trilogy as a young’un, it wasn’t until she was sitting in the theater watching a Star Wars movie no one else had ever seen that she felt real ownership of the universe: “When I saw The Force Awakens, in a packed theatre at midnight, crammed into the front row with my neck craned skyward, I felt what I’m pretty sure all those nerds must have felt in 1977 when Star Wars first hit the big screen. I felt surges of joy and terror, excitement to seek out worlds beyond this one, a renewed drive to challenge evil with empathy.”

Donnelly’s essay is one of 20, part of Unbound Worlds’ A Long Time Ago series. Every weekday in October, a different author shares what Star Wars means to them, from how it affected them as a writer (at least one has gone on to write a Star Wars book!) to more personal affirmations.

Before she wrote the Murderbot Diaries, Martha Wells got to play in a galaxy far, far away with Star Wars: Razor’s Edge, a Legends tale that pits Princess Leia against Alderaanian pirates. But first, her 13-year-old self needed to realize that there were other SFF fans out there:

I was an isolated kid in a lot of ways, and didn’t know anybody else who really liked SF as much as I did. And I’d been told over and over again that liking SF/F, or liking anything involving books and media so intensely, was weird and strange and probably bad, or if not bad, something that made me a figure of ridicule. It was especially bad for a girl to like those things, but I was sure to get over it when I grew up and stopping being silly. I knew I wasn’t the only one, I knew there were other people like me out there; all these books and comics had been written by people, for people. But before Star Wars, it was hard to believe those people really existed.

Mapping the Interior author Stephen Graham Jones talks about “capturing” narratives and characters that speak to him, and thanks Star Wars for giving him “Indian role models” and “Indian heroes” while growing up:

And Leia, with her Hopi hairdo, her homeland isn’t just taken from her, it’s turned to (space)rubble. But that just makes her fight harder. Luke, he’s been adopted out of his tribe, has been forced into (space)farming, but is always looking up to the sky for home. Is there a more Indian name than Skywalker? Maybe: Han Solo, that living embodiment of an Indian who is not going to wait to get his request to cross the reservation line approved. He just hits that hyperspace button and goes. And, like all Indians, he believes in Bigfoot. He has to: Bigfoot’s his copilot. And don’t forget Luke and Leia being twins. So many of the tribes have stories about twins either messing up or saving the world—sometimes both. It’s what they do.

And Bradley P. Beaulieu, co-author of The Burning Light, reminds us how the Star Wars universe is full of contrasts:

Now that I’m older, I can appreciate more. Like inclusivity. Here we have this vast array of characters with wildly diverse backgrounds, and yet they treat each other like … people. Just simple people, divorced from their species, their races, their religions, their sexes, and so on. Yes, some biases crept into the story (it’s impossible to be completely divorced from such things), but I always felt as though the story was rooted less in inherited bias than it was on other stuff. Like personalities: Luke’s callow impatience vs. Yoda’s initial feigned curiosity, for example. Or ideology, as in the case of the Empire as it fought to root out and defeat the Rebels. Or base commerce, as in the case of Han and Greedo, or Han and Jabba, or Han and Lando, or… well, again, you get the idea.

Unbound Worlds will continue to release new essays through the end of October, with pieces from Max Gladstone, Fran Wilde, and more coming up!

Friday, October 20th, 2017 07:19 pm

Posted by

Charlie Jane Anders sci-fi YA trilogy coming of age in outer space Tor Teen

Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author and io9 co-founder Charlie Jane Anders mashed up technology and witchcraft in her debut novel All the Birds in the Sky. Now, in her latest project, she’ll be journeying into space and delving into the teenage psyche, in a new young adult science fiction trilogy recently acquired by Tor Teen.

“Now it can be told: I’m a YA author at last!” Anders tweeted. “I’ve always loved YA and I have been toiling in secret on this for ages.”

Tor Associate Publisher Patrick Nielsen Hayden described the series:

Charlie Jane Anders’ currently-untitled YA will be a trilogy of novels about a disaffected present-day teenager who discovers that everything she believes about herself is wrong—that she is not, in fact, human, or from Earth. That, in fact, she has a critical role to play in an interstellar drama involving many contending alien species and a long and complex history of politics, diplomacy and warfare among them. That she carries within herself the memories and abilities of a now-deceased warrior leader of her true species, deliberately implanted in her for safekeeping. It is a tale of the heart of adolescence: vast power and knowledge yoked to a vulnerable young consciousness that’s just now learning, in fits and starts and with repeated failures and setbacks, how to be a person.

“I’m still in awe of how much everyone at Tor embraced All the Birds in the Sky, my novel about terribly flawed misfits groping their way towards adulthood,” Anders said in the announcement. “Tor gave that book the kind of love that makes books soar, and I remain intensely grateful. So I couldn’t possibly imagine a better home for my new story about coming of age in outer space.”

The first volume is expected to be published in late 2019 or early 2020.

Six Months, Three Days, Five Others, a Tor mini hardcover collecting some of Anders’ short fiction, is available now. Tor will also publish The City in the Middle of the Night, the sequel to All the Birds in the Sky, in January 2019.

Friday, October 20th, 2017 07:00 pm

Posted by Val C Alston

During Brandon Sanderson’s book tour for Words of Radiance, super-fan Val Alston traveled from Mexico to attend a signing event at The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, Arizona in order to meet the author and present him with this amazing homemade Shardblade!

We reached out to Val to get the full scoop on the design and creation of the Shardblade, and he was nice enough to share his story. Check out Val’s process below, including some in-progress photos!



Sanderson’s books attracted my interest first, and as I saw and read interviews with him, I was amazed by his enthusiasm for teaching, charity work, and his fans. Brandon gives us all the magic and kindness of his heart for a fulfilling experience. Thus I wanted to honor him, as I admire his person more than just his amazing characters and beautiful stories.

Of course he doesn’t do it alone, and I wish to thank all who support him, too. His aura seems to attract passionate, talented, and professional individuals into his life who contribute to the whole majesty of all his literature.

I decided to bring Oathbringer to life, but as a hybrid of a few descriptions based on the distinct Shardblades—not perfectly, but as close as I can without magic. I hoped my ideas would capture the magic of the blade (like its smoky transparency when it cuts) and not just the shape.

An early sketch:

Shardblade Val Alston Brandon Sanderson Stormlight Archive

The idea to build the sword as a gift was conceived approximately at the end of September 2013. I can’t honestly remember why it popped into my head, or what I may have been reading of Sanderson’s literatureat the time, as I had already finished The Way of Kings during the summer.

I began by speaking to a friend, Karl Schneider. As a fan of Star Trek he has had various props made in the past. I told him what I wanted to achieve and the adventure began!

Shardblade Val Alston Brandon Sanderson Stormlight Archive

He gave me some ideas on materials I could use, and found smoke-colored acrylic glass to be an awesome way to represent the misty/smoky nature of a Shardblade when it passes through matter. So I looked up specialty shops that worked with acrylic type materials, and amazingly, the best one in Guadalajara, Mexico happened to be 10 minutes away from my apartment. It is called Acrymaquetas.

I researched descriptions of Shardblades and their characteristics while in use, much of the information I found at The Stormlight Archive wiki. I also looked at hundreds of pictures of real swords for reference.

I originally planned on taking more time to slowly work on the creation of my Oathbringer hybrid. Initially my idea was to merge an intricate hilt (custom-made by someone else in metal) with my own blade made of acrylic glass by placing the blade over the hilt with a center steel shaft to represent the transition between the “magical” smoky glass and the real steel.

Shardblade Val Alston Brandon Sanderson Stormlight Archive

Yet after considerable thought, I decided instead to design my own blade fully constructed from acrylic glass in order to shave some expense and time with the hope of having it ready as a surprise gift for Sanderson’s Words of Radiance tour.

Acrymaquetas, the acrylic design and laser shop, made it very clear that if I wanted anything decently realistic that I’d have to hand them a 3D STL (STereoLithography) model. Well, I did it and it was tough. I had no previous 3D modeling experience at all. Kudos to all who work in the CGI animation business!

One of my early 3D failures:

Shardblade Val Alston Brandon Sanderson Stormlight Archive

I decided to use Google SketchUp software since it is free, and I used models from the warehouse as foundation at first. But after many hours, I began to manage 3D modeling sufficiently to create more of my exact ideas from scratch.

Shardblade Val Alston Brandon Sanderson Stormlight Archive

Shardblade Val Alston Brandon Sanderson Stormlight Archive

All in all, it took about 102 hours from start to finish. It has been a grueling but satisfying journey, and I savored the process of bringing something magical to life. Sanderson has evoked my first fandom experience; I’ve never been one to be so enthusiastic about any particular artist or celebrity.

Photos from the crafting process, December 2013-March 2014:

Shardblade Val Alston Brandon Sanderson Stormlight Archive

Shardblade Val Alston Brandon Sanderson Stormlight Archive

Shardblade Val Alston Brandon Sanderson Stormlight Archive

Shardblade Val Alston Brandon Sanderson Stormlight Archive

Shardblade Val Alston Brandon Sanderson Stormlight Archive

Shardblade Val Alston Brandon Sanderson Stormlight Archive

Shardblade Val Alston Brandon Sanderson Stormlight Archive

Shardblade Val Alston Brandon Sanderson Stormlight Archive

Shardblade Val Alston Brandon Sanderson Stormlight Archive

Shardblade Val Alston Brandon Sanderson Stormlight Archive

I want to express a very special thanks to the team at Acrymaquetas, including Miriam Flores (front desk), LilianaPalacios (designer), and the Magical Acrylic Technician, Jose. They had never had a project be so challenging, although they really enjoyed the process as well.

Very special thanks to my friend Samuel Barnes, whose construction expertise gave me structural advice and much needed help in creating the wooden shipping box.

Shardblade Val Alston Brandon Sanderson Stormlight Archive

Have fun lugging it around for 5 days while you bond with it!

This post was originally published in April 2014, and appeared again in December 2014.

Friday, October 20th, 2017 05:30 pm

Posted by Ian Cameron Esslemont

Returning readers to the turbulent early history of what would become the Malazan Empire, Deadhouse Landing is the second chapter in Ian C. Esslemont’s thrilling new epic fantasy sequence—available November 14th from Tor Books.

After the disappointments of Li Heng, Dancer and Kellanved wash up on a small insignificant island named Malaz. Immediately, of course, Kellanved plans to take it over. To do so they join forces with a small band of Napans who have fled a civil war on their own home island. The plan, however, soon goes awry as Kellanved develops a strange and dangerous fascination for a mysterious ancient structure found on the island.

Dancer faces a hard choice: should he give up on his partnership? Especially when the fellow’s obsession with shadows and ancient artefacts brings the both of them alarmingly close to death and destruction. After all, who in his right mind would actually wish to enter the Deadhouse?



Chapter 1

‘Those Cawn merchants were fools to have turned us down!’ Wu assured Dancer from across their table in a waterfront dive in Malaz City.

You,’ Dancer corrected. ‘They turned you down.’

Wu waved a hand airily to dismiss the point. ‘Well, that still leaves them the fools in my little scenario.’ He sipped his glass of watered wine. ‘As to chasing us out of town … an obvious overreaction.’

Dancer leaned back, one brow arched. ‘You threatened to curse them all to eternal torment.’

Wu appeared surprised. ‘Did I? I quite forget – I’ve threatened to curse so many.’ He lowered his voice conspiratorially, ‘In any case, Malaz here suits our purpose even better. It is fortunate. The Twins favour our plans.’

Dancer sighed as he poked at his plate of boiled pork and barley; he’d quite lost his appetite recently. ‘It was the first boat out we could jump.’

Wu opened his hands as if vindicated. ‘Exactly! Oponn himself may as well have invited us aboard.’

Dancer clenched the edge of the table of sun-bleached slats and released it only after forcing himself to relax. It’s all right, he assured himself. It’s only a setback. There are bound to be setbacks. ‘Plans,’ he said. ‘You mentioned plans.’

Wu shovelled up his plate of onions and beans, then spoke with lowered voice once more. ‘Easier to control a small city and confined island such as this. An excellent first step.’

‘First step to what?’

Wu opened his hands wide, his expression one of disbelief. ‘Why … everything, of course.’

Dancer’s answering scorn was interrupted by the slamming of a stoneware tankard to their table in the most curt manner possible. The servitor, a young woman whose skin showed the unique bluish hue of the Napans, stalked off without a backward glance. Dancer thought her the least gracious help he’d ever encountered.

In point of fact, she was the fourth Napan he’d seen in this rundown waterfront dive. Two were obvious hired muscle hanging about the entrance, while the third was a tall lad he’d glimpsed in the kitchens – another bouncer held in reserve. The nightly fights in this rat-hole must be ferocious.

‘… and for this we need a base of operations,’ Wu was saying. Dancer blinked, refocusing on him.

‘I’m sorry? For what?’

Wu looked hurt and affronted. ‘Why, our grand plan, of course!’

Dancer looked away, scanning the sturdy semi-subterranean common room more thoroughly. ‘Oh, that. Right. Our try anything plan.’ Stone walls; one main entrance strongly defended; slim windows; a single narrow back entrance. And he’d seen numerous windows on the second floor – good for covering fire. Quite the fortress.

Wu drummed his fingers on the tabletop, his expression sour. ‘You don’t seem to be taking this in quite the right spirit. If I may tell you my news…?’

Still eyeing his surroundings, Dancer murmured, ‘Be my guest.’ He noted that the bouncers at the door were far from the typical over-sized beer-bloated souses that usually slouched at the doors of these low-class alehouses. They were obvious veterans, scarred and hardened, their narrowed gazes scanning the room and the street outside.

This was not your typical sailors’ drinking establishment. In fact, everything about it shouted ‘front’. And everyone in Quon Tali knew Malaz Island was nothing more than a pirates’ nest; he wondered if he was looking at one of their bases.

Wu, he saw, was watching him, looking quite vexed. ‘What?’

‘Do you wish me to continue?’

‘Certainly.’ Dancer motioned to the Napan server who was now leaning against the wall next to the kitchen’s entrance, examining her nails. The woman made a disgusted face and sauntered over.

‘What is it?’ she demanded.

He motioned to his plate. ‘This food is atrocious.’

‘Atrocious. Really. A plate of boiled pork. How atrocious could that be?’

Dancer invited her to take the plate away. ‘Well, your cook managed it.’

The woman scooped up the plate and stalked to the kitchen entrance. ‘Hey, Urko! There’s a fellow out here taking issue with your cooking.’

A great basso voice thundered from the kitchens. ‘Whaaat!

The doors burst open and out shot fully the biggest and scariest-looking Napan of the lot: monstrously wide, with the shoulders of a strangler, yet wearing a dirty leather apron. Dancer readied himself for a confrontation, but instead of facing him the man turned on the server, bellowing, ‘I don’t need these complaints! I didn’t want to be the damned cook anyway. Make Choss the damned cook!’

‘He’s a better shipbuilder,’ the woman calmly returned, leaning against a wall, her arms crossed.

The big fellow raised fists the size of hams to his head. ‘Well … give the job to my brother then, dammit to Hood!’

‘He’s at sea.’

The gigantic cook sniffed his affront, grumbled, ‘Trust him to find a decent job.’

The server pointed back to the kitchens and the huge fellow – Urko, apparently – clenched his thick leather apron in his fists until it creaked. He scowled at the woman then drew a hand down his face, snorting through his nostrils like a bull. ‘Well … I got onion soup. Offer him that.’ And he stomped back through the doors.

Dancer could only shake his head at the state of the hired help here. He supposed it was difficult to find quality labour on the island. He motioned to the door. ‘Let’s try another place.’

Wu gave a strange high laugh, almost nervous, and Dancer cocked an eye at him, suspicious. ‘Change of management,’ Wu explained, gesturing to encompass the establishment. ‘Be patient.’

Whatever. Dancer tried a sip of the beer and found it far too watery. He made a sour face. ‘You said that you had news?’

‘Ah! Yes … news.’ Wu fluttered his hands on the table, the wrinkled knotted hands of an ancient as the mage was still maintaining his appearance of an old man, but his motions were quick and precise; not those of a doddering oldster. Dancer decided he’d have to coach him on that. ‘So,’ Wu continued, still brushing his hands across the tabletop, ‘yes. News. Well … while you were out reconnoitring the waterfront, I happened to fall into conversation with the owner of this fine establishment…’

Seeing that this was going nowhere fast, Dancer forced himself to take another sip of the foul beer. ‘Yes? And you killed him for gross incompetence?’

This raised a weak laugh that faded into a long drawn out coughing fit. ‘Well, actually, no. I found that he was in a feverish hurry to sell…’

Dancer set down the tankard. Oh, no. Tell me no. ‘What,’ he began, calmly, ‘have you done?’

Wu raised his hands. ‘As I was saying – we need a base of operations for our plans. This location is ideal. Close to the waterfront, great for smuggling…’

Dancer pressed his palm to his forehead. Mustn’t lose it. ‘What,’ he began again, through clenched teeth, ‘have you done?’

Wu opened his hands wide. ‘Our partnership has entered a new phase. We’ve gone into business together.’

Dancer somehow found himself on his feet, towering over Wu, his hands flat on the table. ‘You bought this rat-hole?

Wu’s dark ferret eyes darted left and right. ‘So it would seem.’

Through his rage, Dancer sensed a presence close to him and snapped his gaze aside – it was the serving woman. How did she get so close?

But her sullen attention was on Wu, ignoring him. She flicked a piece of dirt from the table. ‘You want to see your offices now?’

Wu brightened immediately. ‘Why, that would be excellent! Thank you … ah…’

‘Surly,’ the woman supplied, with a tired curl of a lip.

‘Ah, yes. Excellent. Thank you … Surly.’

She motioned to the stairs and Wu bustled off. His walking cane was now in his hand, tapping as he went. Dancer decided that the privacy of an office would be a better place for their discussion, in case he accidentally strangled the wretched fellow, and so he followed, but not before he noted the woman’s hands: hardened and calloused. The hands of a servitor? No, not the cracked and reddened skin of washing and scouring. Rather, skin toughened and scarred. Hands like his.

The office stood over the common room and here he found Wu waving a cloud of dust from his face after pushing a heap of papers off a chair. The mage gave a nervous laugh. ‘A quick whip-round and it’ll be decent in no time.’

Dancer closed the door behind him and pressed his back to it. ‘What have you done?’

Wu turned, blinking innocently. ‘What? Why, acquired a property at a fantastic price!’

‘Did you just spend all our remaining—’ He snapped up a hand. ‘Wait! I don’t want to know. What I do want to know is why.’

‘Hmmm?’ Wu was now inspecting the desk, which was heaped high with garbage and plates of dried crusted food. He poked his walking stick at the mess. ‘Why what?’

Dancer sighed, raised his suffering gaze to the ceiling. ‘Why did you purchase this place?’

Wu blinked again. ‘Ah, well, actually the price was a steal because the fellow thought the Napan employees were conspiring to kill him and take the business. Why he should think that I have no idea…’ Dancer just glared until Wu’s brows rose in understanding. ‘Ah!’ Swinging the walking stick, he brushed aside all the clutter on the desk, sending papers, glassware, tin plates and old candles crashing to the floor. Satisfied, he sat behind the expanse of wine-stained dark wood and gestured to the empty surface. ‘There we are. You see? One must sweep aside the old before building anew.’

Dancer crossed his arms. Okay. ‘Why here?’

‘The moment I set foot on this island I felt it.’ Wu raised his hands, brushing his thumbs and forefingers together. ‘Shadow. It’s close. This place has some sort of affinity.’

Dancer let his arms fall. ‘So you say,’ and he added, half muttering, ‘if only to justify this stupid purchase.’ He crossed to the one window. It overlooked a side street of ancient wood and stone buildings, all muted grey and dingy in a thin misting rain. He turned on Wu. ‘But we’re still only two. What’s the plan?’

The lad was undaunted. He raised his hands once again. ‘Why, as before. We take over the town.’

Great. As before … when we failed. Dancer drew breath to tear into the fool but silenced himself as he detected someone on the landing outside the door. A knock sounded. Wu cleared his throat and steepled his fingers across his stomach, arranging his features into a stern frown.

‘Ah! Yes? Do come in.’

The door swung inward but no one entered. Intrigued, Dancer leaned forward to peer out. It was the serving woman, Surly. The young Napan was surveying the room before entering and Dancer smiled to himself: More than a mere servitor. For certain.

She took one step in – still not clearing the door – and eyed Wu as if she’d found a particularly annoying mess. ‘Do you have staff of your own you’ll be bringing in?’

Wu’s tiny eyes darted right and left. ‘Ah … no.’

‘So, we’ll be staying on, then?’

‘For the foreseeable future.’



The young woman’s expression twisted into even more of a scowl. ‘Work’s hard to come by on this damned island.’

Wu leaned forward to set his chin on a fist, cocking his head. ‘I should think you and your, ah, piratical friends should easily find employment with any one of the crews that sail out of this island.’

The lips curled up into a humourless half-smile. ‘Don’t know much about the history between Nap and Malaz, do you?’

‘You’re rivals,’ Dancer supplied. Surly gave him a reserved nod. ‘You’ve fought for control of the southern seas for hundreds of years.’

‘That’s right. They won’t have us. And in any case,’ and she raised her chin, her gaze suddenly fierce, ‘we work for ourselves.’

Pride, Dancer read in her every stern line. Ferocious pride. How did anyone come to such monumental arrogance? And he smiled inwardly. Well … I should know.

The girl made it clear she considered the interview over by backing away – not turning round, as anyone else might, but sliding one bare foot behind the other and edging her weight backwards. And Dancer smiled again, inwardly. One should not advertise one’s training so openly.

Also studying the girl, one brow raised, Wu motioned to him. ‘My, ah, partner, Dancer.’

Surly eyed him anew. He watched her gaze move from his face to his hands, to his feet, a knowing amusement similar to his own growing in her dark eyes. ‘Partner,’ she said. ‘I see.’

‘So what brought you here, then?’ Wu went on.

The amused light disappeared behind high, hard walls. ‘Shipwreck in a storm. We are the few of … the crew who made it to shore.’

What had she been going to say just then, Dancer wondered. My crew, perhaps?

‘I see … well, thank you.’ Wu motioned her out.

The scowl returned but she withdrew, pulling the door shut as she left.

Dancer remained poised next to the window. He eyed the door, musing aloud, ‘I heard of some sort of dispute among the royal family of Nap not long ago. A civil war. This lot might’ve backed the losing side. So they can’t go back. They’re stuck here.’

No answer came from Wu and Dancer turned: the lad was leaning back in the captain’s-style chair, using his hands to cast shadow-images on the wall. Sensing Dancer’s attention he glanced over, blinking. ‘Sorry? You were saying something?’

Dancer gritted his teeth. ‘Never mind. Let’s talk about our plans.’

Wu thumped elbows to the desk and set his chin in his fists, frowning in hard thought. ‘Yes. Our plans. No sense tackling one of the corsair captains here – the crew wouldn’t follow us. I’ve never sailed. Mock rules from his Hold, but he probably doesn’t care who runs the streets. So, for now, we limit our attention to the shore. The merchants and bosses who control the markets and warehouses.’

Dancer had pursed his lips, considering. ‘What do you propose?’

Wu raised his head, smiling. ‘Why, our forte, of course. Ambush and hijacking.’

Excerpted from Deadhouse Landing, copyright © 2017 by Ian C. Esslemont.

Friday, October 20th, 2017 04:00 pm

Posted by Alex Brown

Hot take: Final Destination is a better film than just about any 21st century horror movie to date. Argue all you want, but it doesn’t change the fact that late-1990s and early-2000s era horror movies are awesome. I’ll take Disturbing Behavior over The Human Centipede any day.

The late-1990s and early-2000s were a transitional period in horror movies and for a brief, shining moment, B-horror movies reigned. During this period the villain shifts from a deranged outsider (the height of popularity in the 1970s and 1980s) to one of the cast on the poster secretly hellbent on revenge. Even thrillers got in on the action, with Dead Man’s Curve, Gossip, and The Skulls. Then as J-horror influenced ghost stories rose in popularity and with torture porn on the horizon, the teen slasher fell by the wayside. The post-9/11 horror movie world wasn’t interested in watching a bunch of pretty people get picked off by dorks leaving disgruntled valentines. There was a last gasp in the mid-aughts as studios re-upped their obsession with 3D and blended gore gimmicks with teen slashers, but they never reached the same level of popularity.

The following flicks have all the cheese of 60s B-movies and practical effects of 80s teen slashers but with the added bonus of self-awareness and sarcastic detachment. Of course nostalgia plays a big role in my undying love, but still. Horror movies today are all nihilism all the time, a game of oneupmanship to see who can produce the most grotesque, gag-inducing festival of guts and gore, but in the late-nineties and early-aughts frights were still fun. No one went into The Craft with an eye on an Oscar. Hating on Idle Hands or Cherry Falls for being terrible movies is easy, but completely misses the point that they’re supposed to be terrible. So come take a walk with me down memory lane past some of the best and worst of a subgenre lost to the sands of time.


Sarcasm for the Irony Crowd: Cherry Falls vs. Scream


Pretty much everyone has seen Scream (1996), and even if you’re one of the unlucky few who hasn’t, it’s a sure bet you’re familiar with the premise. In this Wes Craven/Kevin Williamson classic, someone in a ghostface mask is bumping off teenagers in spectacular fashion. But it’s not all just vivisecting jocks and decapitating cheerleaders. There’s a dense layer of postmodern trope subversion on underneath Drew Barrymore’s shrieks. Not only does it skewer 80s teen slashers but it more or less sets the tone for the teen slasher revival.

But while Scream is the best of the subgenre, Cherry Falls (2000) has to be one of the worst. Like Scream, Cherry Falls is a postmodernist satire, but where the former takes its source material seriously, the latter is a failed attempt at coopting someone else’s movement. At least it has a clever twist on an old premise—the killer only kills virgins so the kids put together a literally life-saving orgy—but with each swing at grand social commentary it misses in poor acting and a half-baked plot. Where Scream takes a critical look at its roots, Cherry Falls critiques Scream derivatives with the same depth and meaning as Cher’s speech on refugees in Clueless.

Best death scene: Scream—Sidney drops a TV on Stu’s face.
Best line: Cherry Falls—“She thinks fellatio is a character in Shakespeare.”


Vengeance Will Be Mine!: I Know What You Did Last Summer vs. Valentine vs. Urban Legend


I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) is the most 80s-like of the 90s crew in that the young adults are hunted by a sadistic stranger. There’s a lot of running and screaming and hiding in unlikely places. The killer is set up in the opening scenes as a fisherman the kids accidentally hit with their car and dumped in the water. But maybe homeboy wasn’t dead after all and now his hobbies include standing menacingly in the dark, writing threatening notes, and murdering teenagers with an oversized hook.

Urban Legend (1998) and Valentine (2001) are both movies about young adults with broken hearts meting out revenge against those who wronged them. Urban Legend, a movie where college students are killed in the tradition of local urban myths by someone in a black winter coat, is a clear attempt to piggyback off Scream, but since Wes Craven didn’t have Pacey with frosted tips, points go to Urban Legends. It is also the most quintessentially 90s movie ever made. There’s a scene where the protagonist, Natalie, wears a pastel turtleneck tucked into her high-waisted jeans. The song “Zoot Suit Riot” plays at a frat party. “He likes it! Hey Mikey!” has a prominent role.

Valentine ages up its cast into their early twenties but keeps the wronged lovers in the form of an unpopular kid from middle school hunting the quintet of girls who made fun of him at a Valentine’s Day dance. The killer leaves creepy love notes for his victims then goes completely off script and kills anyone who crosses his path, and also happens to get bloody noses. It toys with feminism in the least committed way possible and offers half-hearted criticisms of what we now call rape culture, but none of that matters anyway because the guy who played Angel is in it.

Best death scene: Valentine—Denise Richards trapped in a hot tub is first stabbed with an electric drill, then electrocuted with it.
Best line: I Know What You Did Last Summer – “Oh, you got a letter? I got run over! Helen gets her hair chopped off, Julie gets a body in her trunk, and you get a letter? That’s balanced!”


‘Sup, Teach?: The Faculty vs. Disturbing Behavior


Like Joshua Jackson, James Marsden pops up in a bunch of turn-of-the-millennium teen horror/thrillers. In Disturbing Behavior Marsden plays the new kid in town. His high school is ruled by the Blue Ribbons, a gang of spit-polished do-gooders with an uncontrollable urge to beat the ever living shit outta people. He and Katie Holmes, in a bid to sexy up her Joey Potter image, take on the varsity jacket crew and their leader, Dr. Caldicott, after their buddy is turned into one of “them.”

The Faculty plays with similar themes of “high school sucks” and “murdering your way to popularity,” but where Disturbing Behavior goes down a weird low rent X-Files route, The Faculty actually makes its point. Elijah Woods is a nerdy kid who discovers aliens are taking over his school and turning everyone into pod people. The final act features a giant alien parasite chasing Woods, Clea Duvall, and Josh Hartnett through the school. Also features a star-studded cast of famous celebs and “hey, it’s that guy” character actors, including Jon Stewart, Salma Hayek, Famke Janssen, Jordana Brewster, Shawn Hatosy, Bebe Neuwirth, Robert Patrick, Josh Hartnett, Usher, Danny Masterson, Lewis Black, and Summer Phoenix. Disturbing Behavior thinks adults, like, totally suck, man, but forgets its train of thought every time Katie Holmes’ midriff shows. Likewise, The Faculty drops all pretense as deeper meaning in favor of satisfying male wish fulfillment, but at the end of the day it holds up better.

Best death scene: The Faculty—Tie between Famke Janssen getting decapitated and thrown from Josh Hartnett’s car and Jon Stewart getting stabbed in the eye.
Best line: Disturbing Behavior—“Self-mutilate this, fluid girl!”


The Supernatural: Idle Hands vs. Final Destination


(AKA the Devon Sawa Category.)

I don’t know why I own a copy of Idle Hands (1999). I don’t remember buying it, but there it is on my shelf. It has survived countless culls and half a dozen moves. It’s not that good a movie, nor have I watched it in years, and yet. The plot is simple: stoner Anton’s right hand is possessed by a demonic force and murderous hi-jinks ensue. Devon Sawa puts in one of his best performances ever, and the supporting cast is a veritable who’s who of awesome character actors. It’s the least traditional of the “teen goes on a killing spree” bunch and owes more to Evil Dead than Halloween. But that’s what makes it such a firecracker.

Final Destination (2000) is much more old school in style but this time the killer isn’t some creepy stranger with a grudge, but Death itself. It’s basically 90 minutes of watching teenagers get killed in increasingly freaky Rube Goldberg circumstances. Apparently if you turn down Death it will come for you in the most mind-numbingly convoluted way possible. Just for the hell of it. Again, Devon Sawa is great, and another 90s staple, Ali Larter, charms her way through ham-fisted dialogue. The sequel is also worth watching, but best to stop there.

Best death scene: Mrs. Lewton drinks vodka out of a cracked mug, the drops of which spill into a computer monitor causing it to explode. A shard from the screen strikes her in the throat and she stumbles into the kitchen at the same time the drops of vodka catch fire from the lit gas stove. The explosion knocks her down and when she reaches for a towel dangling on a knife rack one of the knives stabs her in the heart. Alex bursts in to rescue her but hastens her bleeding out by yanking out the blade.
Best line: Idle Hands—“Devil girl, with nothin’ to lose, she’s got wind in her hair and gum on her shoes!”


Teenage Witch: Little Witches vs. The Craft


If you, like me, were a teenage girl in the 90s, then The Craft probably fills you with with an inordinate amount of dreamy nostalgia. Nothing was cooler than this movie, and many a thirtysomething woman to this day still fantasizes about dressing like Nancy. The Craft and Little Witches both came out in 1996 (the latter about 6 months after the former) and cover more or less the same ground: teenage girls at a parochial high school get a little too into witchcraft.

In The Craft, retiring Sarah is taken in by a coven led by Nancy (the astounding Fairuza Balk). Each girl uses magic to improve their lives inch by inch, but when Nancy goes too far the other three team up to stop her from killing everyone. On the other hand, Little Witches is about a retiring girl named Faith who is taken in by a coven led by Jamie who discover a Satanic temple buried under their school and decide it would be fun to sacrifice a virgin to summon a demon. While The Craft has an actual plot and decent if melodramatic acting, Little Witches is mostly just softcore porn draped over a plot so thin it barely counts as one. There are two bright spots in Little Witches: the demon puppet thing—I miss practical effects—and the woefully underrated Clea Duvall. Yet even they can’t beat out Nancy’s “HE’S SORRY!!!” scene. I would kill for her shoes.

Best death scene: The Craft—Nancy throws Skeet Ulrich out a window.
Best line: The Craft—“We are the weirdos, mister.”


This article was originally published in October 2015.

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

Friday, October 20th, 2017 02:30 pm

Posted by Ada Palmer

Have you ever been walking along and felt the creepy, unsettling feeling that something was watching you? You may have met Betobeto-san, an invisible yōkai, or folklore creature, who follows along behind people on paths and roads, especially at night. To get rid of the creepy feeling, simply step aside and say, “Betobeto-san, please, go on ahead,” and he will politely go on his way.

What we know of Betobeto-san and hundreds of other fantastic creatures of Japan’s folklore tradition, we know largely thanks to the anthropological efforts of historian, biographer and folklorist, Shigeru Mizuki, one of the pillars of Japan’s post-WWII manga boom. A magnificent storyteller, Mizuki recorded, for the first time, hundreds of tales of ghosts and demons from Japan’s endangered rural folklore tradition, and with them one very special tale: his own experience of growing up in Japan in the 1920s through 1940s, when parades of water sprites and sparkling fox spirits gave way to parades of tanks and warships.


Shigeru Mizuki’s illustration of Betobeto-san, Graphic World of Japanese Phantoms 講談社, 1985

Trickster-fox Kitsune, dangerous water-dwelling Kappa, playful raccoon-like Tanuki, and savage horned Oni are only the most famous of Japan’s vast menagerie of folklore monsters, whose more obscure characters range from the beautiful tentacle-haired Futakuchi Onna, to Tsukumogami, household objects like umbrellas and sandals that come alive on their 100th birthdays, and tease their owners by hopping away in time of need. Such yōkai stories have their roots in Japan’s unique religious background, whose hybrid of Buddhism with Shinto animism adds a unique moral and storytelling logic to these tales, present in no other folklore tradition, whose twists and turns—unexpected within Western horror conventions—are much of why fans of the weird, creepy and horrific find such extraordinary power in the creations of Japan. Most accounts of yōkai and Japanese ghosts are regional tales passed down at festivals and storytelling events in rural parts of Japan—and, like many oral traditions, they dwindled substantially over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with the rise of cities, and of centralized and city-dominated entertainments provided by cheap printing, radio, film and television.

Shigeru Mizuki spent decades collecting these stories from all corners of Japan, and setting them down in comic book form, so they could be shared and enjoyed by children and parents across Japan and around the world, as he had enjoyed them in his childhood. While most of Japan’s 20th century manga masters had urban roots, Mizuki grew up in the small, coastal town of Sakaiminato, delighting in local legends told to him by a woman he describes in the memoir he titled after her, Nononba (the first Japanese work ever to win grand prize at the world famous Angoulême International Comics Festival.) Mizuki’s father was deeply interested in international culture, especially film, and even acquired the town’s first movie projector, hoping to connect his family and neighbors to the new arena of the silver screen. This childhood exposure to both local and global storytelling cultures combined to make him eager to present the wealth of Japan’s folklore on the world stage.

"Umibozu", 1985.

“Umibozu” illustration by Shigeru Mizuki, Graphic World of Japanese Phantoms 講談社, 1985.

Mizuki’s most beloved work Hakaba Kitaro (Graveyard Kitaro, also called GeGeGe no Kitaro) debuted in 1960, and follows the morbid but adorable zombie-like Kitaro, last survivor of a race of undead beings, who travels Japan accompanied by yōkai friends and the talking eyeball of his dead father. In different towns and villages, Kitaro meets humans who have run-ins with Japan’s spirits, ghosts and underworld creatures. Sometimes Kitaro helps the humans, but he often helps the spirits, or just sits back to watch and mock the humans’ ignorance of the netherworld with his signature creepy laugh “Ge… ge… ge…” Kitaro’s adventures also chronicle the social history of 20th century Japan, as the yōkai themselves struggle to adapt to cultural changes and economic doldrums, which lead to the closing of shrines, dwindling of offerings, and destruction of supernatural habitat. Adapted into dozens of animated series, movies and games, the popularity of Kitaro made yōkai tales a major genre, but Shigeru Mizuki’s signature remained his commitment to chronicling the rarest and most obscure stories of Japan’s remote villages, from the Oboroguruma, a living ox-cart with a monstrous face, reported in the town of Kamo near Kyoto, to the thundering Hizama spirit of the remote island of Okinoerabu. In fact, when a new animated movie of Kitaro was released in 2008, it screened in six different versions to feature the local folklore creatures of different regions of Japan. In addition to Hakaba Kitaro, Mizuki wrote books on folklore, and encyclopedias of Japanese ghosts and yōkai.


Young Shigeru Mizuki visiting a shrine, from Nononba, Drawn & Quarterly edition.

Mizuki was also one of the most vivid chroniclers—and fiery critics—of the great trauma of Japan’s 20th century, the Second World War. Drafted into the imperial army in 1942, Mizuki experienced the worst of the Pacific front. His memoir Onward Toward Our Noble Deaths (whose English translation won a 2012 Eisner award) describes his experience: unwilling soldiers, starving and disease-ridden, sent on suicide runs by officers who punished even slight reluctance with vicious beatings. In fact Mizuki’s entire squad was ordered on a suicide march with explicitly no purpose except honorable death. Mizuki alone survived, but lost his arm, gaining in return a lifelong commitment to further the cause of peace and international cooperation. In earlier works—published when criticism of war was still unwelcome and dangerous in Japan—Mizuki voiced his critique obliquely, through depictions of Japan’s economic degeneration, and through his folklore creatures, which, in his tales, are only visible in times of peace, and are driven out and starved by war and violent hearts. Later he wrote more freely, battling historical revisionism and attempts to valorize the war, through works like his biography Adolph Hitler (now in English), and the unforgettable War and Japan, published in 1991 in the educational youth magazine The Sixth Grader, which confronted its young readers the realities of atrocities perpetrated by the Japanese army in China and Korea.

"Gegege no Kitaro" vol. 1, Japanese edition.

Gegege no Kitaro vol. 1, Japanese edition.

Mizuki’s magnificent 1988-9 history Showa (recently released in English translation) is a meticulous chronicle of Japanese culture and politics in the decades leading to and through the war. It shows the baby steps of a nation’s self-betrayal, how nationalism, cultural anxiety, partisan interests, and crisis-based fear-mongering caused Japan to make a hundred tiny decisions, each reasonable-seeming in the moment, which added up over time to a poisonous militarism which saturated the culture from the highest political circles all the way down to children’s schoolyard games. Its release in English is absolutely timely. If the dystopias which have so dominated recent media are tools for discussing the bad sides of our present, doomsday ‘what if’ scenarios where our social evils are cranked up to a hundred, Showa is the birth process of a real dystopia, the meticulously-researched step-by-step of how social evils did crank up to a hundred in real life, and the how the consequences wracked the world. Phrases like “slippery slope” are easy to apply in retrospect, but Showa paints the on-the-ground experience of being in the middle of the process of a nation going mad, making it possible to look with new, informed eyes at our present crisis and the small steps our peoples and governments are taking.

Shigeru Mizuki’s contributions to art, culture and humanitarianism have been recognized around the world, by the Kodansha Manga Award and Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize, the Eisner Award and Angoulême festival, the Japanese Minister of Education award, Person of Cultural Merit award, and a special exhibit of his work for the 1995 Annual Tokyo Peace Day. His works have long been available in French, Italian and many other languages, but, despite Mizuki’s eager engagement with English-speaking fans and his eagerness to share his message with the world’s vast English-reading audiences, his works were slow to come out in English because his old-fashioned “cartoony” art style—much like that of his peer and fellow peace advocate “God of Comics” Osamu Tezuka—does not fit the tastes of American fans, accustomed to the later, flashier styles of contemporary anime. In Mizuki’s last years, thanks to the dedicated efforts of Montreal-based publisher Drawn and Quarterly, he finally oversaw the long-awaited English language release of his memoirs and histories, along with the Kitaro series (more volumes still coming out), which Drawn and Quarterly aptly describes as “the single most important manga you’ve never heard of, even if you happen to be a manga fan.”

Shigeru Mizuki, with his Eisner Award (2012)

Shigeru Mizuki, with his Eisner Award (2012)

One of Japan’s most delightful folklore traditions is Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai, a gathering of one hundred supernatural stories. A hundred candles are lit, and participants stay up all night telling tales of ghosts and spirits, extinguishing one candle at the end of each tale, so the room grows darker and darker, and the spirits—attracted by the invocation of their stories—draw near. A Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai is rarely finished, since few gatherings can supply a full hundred stories, and, as the dark draws in, most participants grow too frightened to snuff the last candle. But the millions touched by works of Shigeru Mizuki are well prepared to finish, armed with well over 100 stories, and with a powerful sense of the vigilance and hard work necessary if we want to welcome peaceful yōkai back to a more peaceful world.

This article was originally published in December 2015 in remembrance of Shigeru Mizuki.

Ada Palmer‘s is the author of Too Like the Lightning and Seven Surrenders, books 1 and 2 in the Terra Ignota series. She is a historian, working primarily on the Renaissance, Italy, and the history of philosophy, science, books and printing, heresy, and freethought, as well as manga, anime and Japanese pop culture. She writes the blog, and composes SF & Mythology-themed music for the a cappella group Sassafrass.

Friday, October 20th, 2017 01:00 pm

Posted by Lisa Eadicicco

Microsoft is out to prove that Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Assistant aren’t the only virtual concierges worth inviting into your home. After first teasing its Cortana-powered speaker last December, Harman Kardon’s Invoke will finally launch on October 22 for $199. With Microsoft’s Cortana butler built-in, the Invoke can recite the weather, control smart home devices and more, just like its Amazon and Google rivals.

Invoke’s arrival along with similar high-end devices also marks a turning point for intelligent speakers. Potential buyers no longer need choose between high quality audio and having a smart assistant they can summon by voice. Early Internet-connected speakers, such as the first generation Echo and Google Home, provided good enough sound for casual listening. But audiophiles still turned to premium dedicated speakers to get superior sound.

Harman Kardon’s Invoke and a slew of other recently announced high-tech audio devices — like the Alexa-enabled Sonos One, the Google Home Max, and Apple’s forthcoming HomePod — are evidence this is changing. The Invoke includes a sonically formidable three woofers, three tweeters and two passive radiators for boosting bass. Amazon’s new Echo likewise has a 2.5-inch woofer and a 0.6-inch tweeter, unlike the previous model. And the HomePod has a high-excursion woofer, a custom amplifier and seven beam-forming tweeters. That’s a lot of audio oomph.

Read more: The 15 Most Influential Websites of All Time

Those differences are evident immediately when listening to the Invoke alongside the Google Home. Music sounded much clearer and richer through the Invoke, while the Home sounded flatter and muffled by comparison. There was much more contrast between high-pitched notes, like soft piano jingles and lower tones when listening through the Invoke, compared to the Home. And you have a variety of ways to sample audio: the Invoke can stream music from Spotify, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn.

As a personal helper, Cortana is just about as useful as Alexa and the Google Assistant. When asking simple questions such as “How tall is the Empire State Building?’ or “Who is Millie Bobby Brown?” the Google Assistant, Cortana and Alexa all turned out the same results. That was also true when asking for information like the weather or driving directions.

But in my experience, Google was the best at understanding natural language, while Cortana placed second and Amazon came in third. When asking “What’s the best way to cook a steak?” for example, Cortana said she couldn’t help the first time I asked. She answered correctly the second time, and was able to answer on the first try when I asked for steak recipes instead. Whether I requested steak recipes or asked for the best way to cook a steak, Google understood and answered on the first try. Alexa was able to pull up recipes, but couldn’t recite cooking tips from websites, whereas Google and Cortana could.

Try asking these virtual assistants something like “What’s the best way to get red wine stains out of a carpet?” and the results will be similar. Alexa couldn’t help at all, while Cortana only understood when I started the question with “How do I…” rather than “What’s the best way…” Google by contrast understood when I asked the questions either way. It’s another sign that although computers have come a long way in understanding the way we speak, there’s much work to be done — it still feels like you have to speak a special language to get the desired answer.

The Invoke does have a neat little trick that I enjoyed playing with (and I suspect you will, too). The top of the device functions as a sort of mystery button: Tapping it will prompt Cortana to recite a random nugget of information. It’s a small perk, but one that’s amusing and well-executed.

For those who want to use the Invoke as a communication device, there’s also Skype support. That means you can place a call to anyone in your Skype or phone contacts list just by asking. This worked flawlessly in my testing: Cortana understood my request immediately, and both the recipient and I were able to hear each other clearly.

Read more: Google Wants to Give Your Computer a Personality

Devices like the Amazon Echo have become popular as smart home hubs, and the Harman Kardon Invoke is no different. Cortana is compatible with smart home gadgets like lights, switches, outlets and thermostats from companies including Samsung SmartThings, Philips Hue, Nest, Wink and Insteon. Integrations with gadgets from other appliance makers, like Honeywell, Ecobee, TP-Link, Johnson Controls, IFTT, iDevices, Geeni and Iris by Lowe’s are also in the works. That selection is currently smaller than those offered by the Google Home and Amazon Echo, which both already work with items from most of those brands and more.

Microsoft also has some catching up to do when it comes to voice app support. Amazon’s Echo now has more than 20,000 of its so-called “skills” (a way of interfacing with third-party apps), while the Harman Kardon Invoke will launch with just 100. Of course, the quality of those skills matters more than just the quantity. Right now, Cortana supports useful additions like Expedia, Fitbit, the Food Network and OpenTable, but there are also a handful of lesser-known games and seemingly useless apps like Cricket Sounds and Ghost Detector. And crucially, there currently aren’t any Uber or Lyft skills yet for Cortana, which may be a deal breaker for those who want the convenience of calling a cab without reaching for their phone. For Cortana to be successful, Microsoft will have to do a better job at courting developers than it did with mobile phones.

The Harman Kardon Invoke is a strong choice for anyone who wants a smart speaker with better sound than the standard Google Home or Echo offer. At $199, it’s much cheaper than other upcoming high-end speakers, like the $399 Google Home Max or $350 Apple HomePod. It’s much more in line with the $199 Sonos One, which includes Amazon’s Alexa and custom drivers for premium audio. But it also comes down to whether or not you’re excited by Microsoft versus Amazon’s ecosystems, and that’s going to depend on your priorities, as well as your prior experience with either, or current device commitments.

The Invoke represents Microsoft’s first major step into the smart home space, and like most first steps, it has upsides and shortcomings. Cortana fares well when it comes to speech recognition and intelligent responses, but still feels rudimentary in a race toward natural language savvy that’s just getting started. Given Microsoft’s presence in the enterprise, I was hoping to see more tools aimed at productivity. I’m looking forward to the day when the vision Microsoft showed onstage at its Build conference this year comes to fruition: Being able to post updates to your office’s chat room in the car and requesting time off at work just by asking Cortana from the convenience of your couch. The Invoke with Cortana isn’t that device, and it wasn’t meant to be. But its appearance in an increasingly crowded space only reinforces the fact that the race is on to create one.

3.5 out of 5

Friday, October 20th, 2017 01:00 pm

Posted by Miriam Weinberg

Welcome to an inside look at the collector’s edition of V. E. Schwab’s runaway success, A Darker Shade of Magic—the first book in the bestselling Shades of Magic series.

While brainstorming ideas about what to feature in the A Darker Shade of Magic Collector’s Edition, we thought about all those readers, dreaming of this world, and these characters, and how they made it their own, too. We kept coming back to one desire: shining a light on the readers who have loved the series as much as we have, and who have passed the magic along as the books grew.

We scoured the internet, looking at fan art of the beloved characters from the first book—Kell, Lila, Rhy, Holland, the Dane Twins—and dynamic renderings of the tiniest details from each of the books. The amount of talent within the Shades of Magic fandom is immense, and gloriously overwhelming in its scope and variety. So many options. So much passion.

Alas, there are only so many pages in a book, and we had to whittle down our options to just  a handful of drawings. But we are beyond delighted to open another window into the Shades of Magic fandom!
(Have I mentioned how talented Schwab fans are? Yes? Honestly, I never tire of saying it, or seeing it.  And we hope that this edition will be cherished, bringing more magic into your lives and homes.)



Check out illustrator Mona May’s striking take on Lila Bard and the vicious Dane twins below, then head over to the Tor/Forge blog for even more fan art from A Darker Shade of Magic Collector’s Edition.

Illustration by Mona May

Illustration by Mona May

Illustration by Mona May


Thursday, October 19th, 2017 07:00 pm

Posted by Mari Ness

Since it’s October, the month of Hallowe’en, frights, ghouls and horror, I thought it might be fitting to take a look at one of the most horrific of fairy tales, “Girl Without Hands,” which features such fun stuff as dismemberment, the Devil, betrayal, legal separations, and mutilated deer. No pumpkins, admittedly—at least in the best known versions—but even a fairy tale drenched in horror can’t have everything.

I mention the pumpkins not just because of Hallowe’en, but also because “Girl Without Hands” is often associated with “Donkey Skin,” a tale written by Charles Perrault (and others), which in turn is often connected to Cinderella and her pumpkins, yet another tale written by Charles Perrault (and others), which in turn is often connected back to “Girl Without Hands,” thanks to the supernatural assistance found in both. But while some versions of Cinderella, particularly the one told by the ever cheerfully gory Giambattista Basile and the one recorded by the Grimm brothers in Household Tales (1812) have a bit of gore, none quite come close to the gore and brutality of “Girl Without Hands.”

The story that does is, perhaps not surprisingly, Basile’s own version of “Girl Without Hands,” titled “Penta with Maimed Hands,” which includes such fun bits as a princess arranging to have her own hands cut off and sent to her brother stylishly wrapped in silk, as a rather firm way of saying “hell no” to his marriage proposal, a proposal made a little less out of love and a little more out of not wanting to pay her dowry and not wanting to bring a strange woman into the house, continuing with, in classic Basile style, also including people thrown into trunks and then overboard, women accused of giving birth to dogs, betrayal, lots of food and drink, more betrayal and various mutilations. Also a touch of racism, and people responding to the dog birthing slander with, yeah, I can see it. Let’s not be too harsh to the lady, shall we?

Naturally, it all ends with what rather sounds like an incestuous threesome complete with a voyeuristic wizard because, why not? Well, I can think of a number of reasons why not, Penta, starting with the fact that everyone in the group apart from the wizard has been relatively to very awful to you, not to mention the fact that this story started with you arranging to have your own hands cut off in order to escape your brother, so maybe—I’m just spitballing here—caressing him at the end of the story is not your wisest move here. On the other hand, that move does show that you have emotionally healed, or, in this particular case, compared your brother’s initial desire to marry you to the horrific actions of everyone else in this story and decided that, comparatively speaking, the guy wasn’t too bad, so perhaps—perhaps—I shouldn’t judge.

Nah, I’m judging.

The version recorded by the Grimms centuries later is one of the longest, most intricate tales in their collection, in part because, as their notes admit, their tale combines two separate tales, both told in Hesse. The first tale, like “Donkey-Skin” and the Penta tale, starts with the story of a father who wants to sleep with his daughter; when she refuses, he cuts off her hands and breasts and drives her out into the world. This is not the tale that ended up in the main text of Household Tales. Instead, it was buried in the footnotes, with the Grimms instead choosing another beginning.

That beginning, too, can be seen as rather hostile towards fathers, but for a different reason. It echoes a different story, this one stretching back to ancient times, that of a man who promises a supernatural entity the first living thing to greet him upon his return—later deeply regretting that choice. One early version appears in the Bible, in Judges, chapter 11. It tells the story of Jephthah, a general who vowed to sacrifice the first living thing that came to greet him upon his return—which turned out to be his one and only daughter. A similar story, involving a son instead of a daughter, was told about Idomeneus, a character from the Iliad.

In both tales, the fathers honor their promises, and kill their children.

I’ll skip over the theological implications of all of this, and instead just note that both tales seem to have a similar warning: be careful what you promise to strangers or gods. Especially gods.

That inclusion in the Bible and the somewhat less known story from Greek mythology ensured that the story, and variations of it, circulated throughout Europe, with the tale of Jephthah in particular inspiring paintings, plays and oratorios. How familiar Marie Hassenpflug, credited by the Grimms for the original telling of “Girl Without Hands,” was with all of these versions is unclear. The Grimms, however, certainly were, presumably choosing this version in part because of those Biblical echoes—and in part because rather than relating the story of a father wanting to marry his daughter, not exactly the sort of pro-German values the Grimms wanted to promote, this tale, in all its forms, emphasizes piety and obedience—the exact sort of pro-German values the Grimms wanted very much to promote.

The miller who starts off this story is not thinking very much about any of this; indeed, it seems fairly clear that either he has never heard any of these stories, or if he has, he missed their very clear warnings. Struggling with poverty, he heads into the forest to collect some wood. Here, he meets an old man who promises wealth in return for what is standing behind the house. The miller assumes that the old man means his apple tree, and agrees to the bargain.

Standing behind the house is his daughter.

In a twist on the earlier Biblical story, the old man turns out to be the Devil. Which is the sort of the reveal that you would think would make the miller rethink his entire bargain, but not so much. Instead, he enjoys the wealth given by the Devil for three years, essentially telling his daughter, tough luck. The pious girl draws a circle around herself, to protect herself from the Devil, and keeps her hands clean through water and her own tears. The infuriated Devil demands that the miller cut off her hands, or die.

The miller does so.

At this point, the two stories start to merge, with the now-handless girls heading out into the world—one driven out, the second choosing to leave, aware that she cannot stay with a father who chose his life (and quite a bit of money) over her hands. Both arrive in the garden of a king. Starving, they have to try to eat the apples (in one version) or pears (in the published version) without their hands. They find themselves helped by an angel, both to enter the garden, and to eat.

The king finds all of this pretty hot, so, in defiance of the typical political protocols of the time, which would suggest marrying a princess, not a poor girl reduced to stealing fruit, he marries her. (In the earliest published version, the marriage only after helping out by watching the chickens, something else the king apparently finds hot, but let’s move on.) And then he takes off for war, because, war. At this point, one girl—the one lacking hands and breasts—finds herself in the usual fairy tale trouble with her mother-in-law. The other finds that the Devil is still out for revenge, sending forged letters ordering the girl’s death to her mother-in-law, who, horrified, tries to save the girl’s life—MUTILATING A PERFECTLY INNOCENT DEER WHO DID NOT ASK FOR THIS, THANKS, to do so.

(As a sidenote—I realize that eyeglasses were not universally available (though available) in the early 19th century, and therefore many people suffered from eyesight issues, and I also realize that one set of decomposed eyeballs on top of a decomposed heart probably looks pretty much exactly like the next set of decomposed eyeballs sitting on top of a decomposed heart, making it kinda hard to tell whether the eyeballs in question are from humans or deer without a DNA test, also not exactly universally available in the early 19th century, but I am still rather appalled by the number of people in fairy tales who assume that the dead body parts they are staring at or eating must be human.)

In both cases, after almost finding safety, they both flee to the woods, saved by angels again, living in exile for years—seven, in the published version, in classic fairy tale form—until the king, after rather belatedly returning home, and then spending some time wandering around, finds them, realizes their hands are now healed and regrown, and takes them to the palace, this time permanently.

Perhaps because of their disability, the girls are oddly passive, even for heroines of Grimm tales—since the Grimms also published stories of girls who travelled, did housework, or spun to save themselves. The girls in “Girl Without Hands,” in contrast, are almost always responding, rather than doing, and often saved by the actions of others.


Because as the published version makes clear (and the notes confirm) they are saved by their piety—which allows them to fend off devils, summon angels for assistance, and—eventually—have their hands healed. And like the other girls in fairy tales, they leave. They may not be quite as active as Penta, who arranged to have her own hands cut off, before giving them as a gift to her brother, rather than submitting to his whims, and who later becomes an expert at creating expert hair styles with her feet. But unlike Penta, who keeps getting thrown into chests and into the sea, they leave on their own, choosing their own path. And they do not have to return to the homes of the men who abused them—or even see these men again.

Reading these tales again, I was struck by just how many people don’t get their hands returned, and are never healed. Who are not saved by piety and faith, or helped by angels. Who do not have the good fortune to come across orchards laden with fruit, or find those owners willing to marry them. Who do not encounter an empty house in the wood, tended by angels, or trees able to heal them. And that too often, it is easier to blame acts of evil on the Devil than on the choices made by humans, to say that the miller was guilty of nothing more than foolishness in trusting a stranger, not the responsibility of removing his daughter’s hands. That is it easy to sanitize a tale of incest, of defiance, by replacing that section with a tale reiterating the need to submit to authority, that allows a father to survive at the cost of his daughter’s pain.

And I am struck by the combined choice to both sanitize the tale (something that only increased in later editions) while also using it as an example of positive German values, to excuse domestic violence as the work of demons, while upholding submission to that violence as an example of virtue to be followed by young readers.

But at the same time, I must credit this tale with acknowledging some hard truths: that sometimes, piety and obedience is not enough. Indeed, in one version of this tale also recorded by the Grimms in their notes, continuous prayer nearly gets a girl killed. (Though her father’s reaction to that prayer also helps explain why she felt the need to pray so much.) In the version they chose to highlight, the girl’s goodness and prayers save her from the Devil—but do not save her hands.

Credit is also due for acknowledging that trauma is not always healed by love, or a new marriage, and that marriage is not always the end of the tale. And that the scars caused by early family violence may need more that magic and acceptance to heal, or even the sacrifice of a deer, or a helpful mother-in-law. And for offering hope that yes, these wounds can heal, that victims can have a happy ending. Even if this takes time.

Mari Ness lives in central Florida.

Thursday, October 19th, 2017 06:00 pm

Posted by S. A. Chakraborty

Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of eighteenth-century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trades she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, and a mysterious gift for healing—are all tricks, both the means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles and a reliable way to survive.

But when Nahri accidentally summons Dara, an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior, to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to reconsider her beliefs. For Dara tells Nahri an extraordinary tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire and rivers where the mythical marid sleep, past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises and mountains where the circling birds of prey are more than what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass—a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.

In Daevabad, within gilded brass walls laced with enchantments and behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments run deep. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, her arrival threatens to ignite a war that has been simmering for centuries.

The City of Brass, the debut novel from S. A. Chakraborty, is available November 14th from Harper Voyager. Read an excerpt below, and continue with a free download of chapters 1-3 here.




“You’re going easy on me.”

Ali glanced across the training-room floor. “What?”

Jamshid e-Pramukh gave him a wry smile. “I’ve seen you spar with a zulfiqar before—you’re going easy on me.”

Ali’s gaze ran down the other man’s attire. Jamshid was dressed in the same sparring uniform as Ali, bleached white to highlight every strike of the fiery sword, but while Ali’s clothes were untouched, the Daeva guard’s uniform was scorched and covered in charcoal smudges. His lip was bleeding and his right cheek swollen from one of the times Ali had sent him crashing to the floor.

Ali raised an eyebrow. “You have an interesting idea of easy.”

“Nah,” Jamshid said in Divasti. Like his father, he retained a slight accent when speaking Djinnistani, a hint of the years they’d spent in outer Daevastana. “I should be in far worse shape. Little burning pieces of Jamshid e-Pramukh all over the floor.”

Ali sighed. “I don’t like fighting a foreigner with a zulfiqar,” he confessed. “Even if we’re just using training blades. It doesn’t feel fair. And Muntadhir won’t be happy if he returns to Daevabad to find his closest friend in little burning pieces.”

Jamshid shrugged. “He’ll know to blame me. I’ve been asking him for years to find a zulfiqari willing to train me.”

Ali frowned. “But why? You’re excellent with a broadsword, even better with a bow. Why learn to use a weapon you can never properly wield?”

“A blade is a blade. I might not be able to summon its poisoned flames like a Geziri man, but if I fight alongside your tribesmen, it stands to reason I should have some familiarity with their weapons.” Jamshid shrugged. “At least enough not to jump away every time they burst into flames.”

“I’m not sure that’s an instinct you should suppress.”

Jamshid laughed. “Fair enough.” He raised his blade. “Shall we continue?”

Ali shrugged. “If you insist.” He swept his zulfiqar through the air. Flames burst between his fingers and licked up the copper blade as he willed them, scorching the forked tip and activating the deadly poisons that coated its sharp edge. Or would have, if the weapon were real. The blade he held had been stripped of its poisons for training purposes, and Ali could smell the difference in the air. Most men couldn’t, but then again most men hadn’t obsessively practiced with the weapon since they were seven.

Jamshid charged forward, and Ali easily ducked, landing a blow on the Daeva’s collar before spinning off his own momentum.

Jamshid whirled to face Ali, trying to block his next parry. “It doesn’t help that you move like a damn hummingbird,” he complained good-naturedly. “Are you sure you aren’t half peri?”

Ali couldn’t help but smile. Strangely enough, he’d been enjoying his time with Jamshid. There was something easy about his demeanor; he behaved as though they were equals—showing neither the subservience most djinn did around a Qahtani prince nor the Daeva tribe’s typical snobbery. It was refreshing—no wonder Muntadhir kept him so close. It was hard to even believe he was Kaveh’s son. He was nothing like the prickly grand wazir.

“Keep your weapon higher,” Ali advised. “The zulfiqar isn’t like most swords; it’s less a thrusting and jabbing motion, more quick slashes and side strikes. Remember the blade is typically poisoned; you only need to inflict a minor injury.” He swung his zulfiqar around his head, the flames soared, and Jamshid veered back as expected. Ali took advantage of the distraction to duck, aiming another blow at his hips.

Jamshid leaped back with a frustrated snort, and Ali easily cornered him against the opposing wall. “How many times would you have killed me by now?” Jamshid asked. “Twenty? Thirty?”

More. A real zulfiqar was one of the deadliest weapons in the world. “Not more than a dozen,” Ali lied.

They continued sparring. Jamshid wasn’t improving much, but Ali was impressed by his grit. The visibly exhausted Daeva man was covered in ash and blood but refused a break.

Ali had his blade at Jamshid’s throat for the third time and was about to insist they stop when the sound of voices drew his attention. He glanced up as Kaveh e-Pramukh, clearly in friendly conversation with someone behind him, stepped into the training room.

The grand wazir froze. His eyes locked on the zulfiqar at his son’s throat, and Ali heard him make a small, strangled noise. “Jamshid?”

Ali immediately lowered his weapon, and Jamshid spun around. “Baba?” He sounded surprised. “What are you doing here?”

“Nothing,” Kaveh said quickly. He stepped back, oddly enough looking more anxious than before as he tried to pull the door shut. “Forgive me. I didn’t—”

The door pushed past his hand, and Darayavahoush e-Afshin strolled into the room.

He entered like it was his own tent, his hands clasped behind his back, and stopped when he noticed them. “Sahzadeh Alizayd,” he greeted Ali calmly in Divasti.

Ali was not calm, he was speechless. He blinked, half expecting to see another man in the Afshin’s place. What in God’s name was Darayavahoush doing here? He was supposed to be in Babili with Muntadhir, far away on the other side of Daevastana!

The Afshin studied the room like a general surveying a battlefield; his green eyes scanned the wall of weapons and swept over the various dummies, targets, and other miscellany cluttering the floor. He glanced back at Ali. “Naeda pouru mejnoas.”

What? “ I… I don’t speak Divasti,” Ali stammered out.

Darayavahoush tilted his head, his eyes brightening with surprise. “You don’t speak the language of the city you rule?” he asked in heavily accented Djinnistani. He turned to Kaveh and jerked a thumb in Ali’s direction, looking amused. “Spa snasatiy nu hyat vaken gezr?”

Jamshid went pale, and Kaveh hurried between Ali and Darayavahoush, open fear on his face. “Forgive our intrusion, Prince Alizayd. I didn’t realize you were the one training Jamshid.” He placed his hand on Darayavahoush’s wrist. “Come, Afshin, we should be leaving.”

Darayavahoush shook free. “Nonsense. That would be rude.” The Afshin wore a sleeveless tunic that revealed the black tattoo swirling around his arm. That he didn’t cover it said a great deal, but perhaps Ali shouldn’t be surprised—the Afshin had been an accomplished murderer long before he had been enslaved by the ifrit.

Ali watched as he ran a hand along the cracked marble lattice lining the windows and gazed at the multicolored paint chips clinging to the ancient stone walls. “Your people have not maintained our palace very well,” he remarked.

Our palace? Ali’s mouth dropped open, and he gave Kaveh an incredulous glance, but the grand wazir just lifted his shoulders, looking helpless.

“What are you doing here, Afshin?” Ali snapped. “Your expedition was not due back for weeks.”

“I left.” Darayavahoush said simply. “I was eager to return to my lady’s service, and your brother seemed perfectly capable of managing without me.”

“And Emir Muntadhir agreed?”

“I did not ask.” Darayavahoush grinned at Kaveh. “And now here I am, getting a rather informative tour of my old home.”

“The Afshin wished to see the Banu Nahida,” Kaveh said, carefully meeting Ali’s gaze. “I told him that unfortunately her time is occupied with training. And indeed, on that note, Afshin, I fear we must leave. I am due to meet—”

“You should go,” Darayavahoush interrupted. “I can find my way out. I defended the palace for years—I know it like the back of my hand.” He let the words lie for a moment and then turned his attention to Jamshid. His gaze lingered on the young Daeva’s wounds. “You were the one who stopped the riot, yes?”

Jamshid looked positively awed that the Afshin was speaking to him. “I… uh… yes. But I was just—”

“You are an excellent shot.” The Afshin looked the younger man over and clapped him on the back. “You should train with me. I can make you even better.”

“Really?” Jamshid burst out. “That would be wonderful!”

Darayavahoush smiled and then deftly snatched the zulfiqar away from Kaveh’s son. “Certainly. Leave this to the Geziri.” He raised the blade and twisted it, watching as it sparkled in the sunlight. “So this is the famous zulfiqar.” He tested the weight, looking it over with a practiced eye and then glanced at Ali. “Do you mind? I would not wish for the hands of a—what is it you call us? Fire worshipper?—to contaminate something so sacred to your people.”

“Afshin—” Kaveh started, his voice thick with warning.

“You may go, Kaveh,” Darayavahoush said, dismissing him. “Jamshid, why don’t you join him? Let me take your place and spar a bit with Prince Alizayd. I have heard such great talk of his skills.”

Jamshid glanced at Ali, looking apologetic and lost for words. Ali didn’t blame him; if Zaydi al Qahtani came back to life and complimented his skill with a zulfiqar, Ali would also be speechless. Besides, the arrogant gleam in Darayavahoush’s green eyes was fraying his last nerve. If the man wanted to challenge him with a weapon he’d never so much as held, so be it.

“It’s fine, Jamshid. Go with your father.”

“Prince Alizayd, that’s not a—”

“Good day, Grand Wazir,” Ali said sharply. He didn’t take his eyes off Darayavahoush. He heard Kaveh sigh, but there was no disobeying a direct order from one of the Qahtanis. Jamshid reluctantly followed his father out.

The Afshin shot him a much cooler look once the Pramukhs were gone. “You did quite a bit of damage to the grand wazir’s son.”

Ali flushed. “Have you never injured a man while training?”

“Not with a weapon I knew my opponent could never properly use.” Darayavahoush raised the zulfiqar to examine it as he circled Ali. “This is much lighter than I imagined. By the Creator, you would not believe the rumors about these things during the war. My people were terrified of them, said Zaydi stole them from the very angels guarding Paradise.”

“That’s the way of things, isn’t it?” Ali asked. “The legend outweighing the flesh-and-blood figure?”

His meaning was clearly not lost on the Afshin, who looked amused. “You are probably right.”

He charged then at Ali with a hard right strike that, if it had been a broadsword, would have knocked his head off from the force alone. But the zulfiqar was not that, and Ali easily ducked, taking advantage of Darayavahoush’s stumble to sweep the broad side of his blade on his back.

“I’ve wanted to meet you for some time, Prince Alizayd,” Darayavahoush continued, sidestepping Ali’s next thrust. “Your brother’s men were always talking about you; I’ve heard you’re the best zulfiqari in your generation, as talented and as fast as Zaydi himself. Even Muntadhir agreed; he says you move like a dancer and strike like a viper.” He laughed. “He’s so proud. It’s sweet. You rarely hear a man speak of his rival with such affection.”

“I’m not his rival,” Ali snapped.

“No? Then who becomes king after your father if something should happen to Muntadhir?”

Ali drew up. “What? Why?” A briefly irrational fear seized his heart. “Did you—”

“Yes,” Darayavahoush said, his voice thick with sarcasm. “I murdered the emir and then decided to return to Daevabad and crow about it because I always wondered what it would be like to have my head on a spike.”

Ali felt his face grow warm. “Aye, don’t fret, little prince,” the Afshin continued. “I enjoyed your brother’s company. Muntadhir has a taste for life’s pleasures and talks too much when he’s in his cups… what’s not to like about that?”

The comment threw him—as it was presumably meant to— and Ali was unprepared when the Afshin raised his zulfiqar and rushed him again. The Afshin feinted left and then spun—faster than Ali had ever seen a man move—before bringing the blade down hard. Ali blocked him but just barely, his own zulfiqar ringing with the force of the hit. He tried to push back, but the Afshin didn’t budge. He held the zulfiqar with only one hand, not showing a hint of weariness.

Ali held tight, but his hands trembled on the hilt as the Afshin’s blade neared his face. Darayavahoush leaned close, putting his weight into the sword.

Brighten. Ali’s zulfiqar burst into flames, and Darayavahoush instinctively jerked back. But the Afshin recovered quickly, swinging his zulfiqar toward Ali’s neck. Ali ducked, feeling the whiz of the blade as it passed just over his head. He stayed low to aim a fiery blow at the backs of the Afshin’s knees. Darayavahoush stumbled, and Ali darted up and away.

He could kill me, Ali realized. One misstep was all it would take; Darayavahoush could claim it was an accident, and who would be able to dispute it? The Pramukhs were the only witnesses, and Kaveh would probably be overjoyed to cover up Ali’s murder.

You’re being paranoid. But when Darayavahoush struck out again, Ali met his advance with a bit more gusto, finally forcing him back across the room.

The Afshin lowered his zulfiqar with a wide grin. “Not bad, Zaydi. You fight very well for a boy your age.”

Ali was getting sick of that smug smile. “My name isn’t Zaydi.”

“Muntadhir calls you that.”

He narrowed his eyes. “You’re not my brother.”

“No,” Darayavahoush agreed. “I am certainly not. But you do remind me of your namesake.”

Considering that the original Zaydi and Darayavahoush had been mortal enemies in a century-long war that wiped out whole swaths of their race, Ali knew that wasn’t a compliment, but took it as such anyway. “Thank you.”

The Afshin studied the zulfiqar again, holding it so that the copper blade gleamed in the sunlight streaming through the windows. “Don’t thank me. The Zaydi al Qahtani I knew was a blood- thirsty rebel fanatic, not the saint your people have turned him into.”

Ali bristled at the insult. “He was bloodthirsty? Your Nahid Council was burning shafit alive in the midan when he rebelled.”

Darayavahoush lifted one of his dark eyebrows. “Do you know so much about the way things were a millennium before your birth?”

“Our records tell us—”

“Your records?” The Afshin laughed, a mirthless sound. “Oh, how I would love to know what those say. Can the Geziri even write? I thought all you did out there in your sandpits was feud and beg for human table scraps.”

Ali’s temper flashed. He opened his mouth to argue and then stopped, realizing just how carefully Darayavahoush was watching him. How intentionally he’d chosen his insults. The Afshin was trying to provoke him, and Ali would be damned if he was going to go along with it. He took a deep breath. “I can go sit in a Daeva tavern if I want to hear my tribe insulted,” he said dismissively. “I thought you wanted to spar.”

Something twinkled in the Afshin’s bright eyes. “Right you are, boy.” He raised his blade.

Ali met his next thrust with a clash of their blades, but the Afshin was good, improving at a frighteningly fast rate, as if he could literally absorb each of Ali’s actions. He moved quicker and struck harder than anyone Ali had ever fought, had ever even imagined possible. The room grew hot. Ali’s brow felt oddly damp—but of course that wasn’t possible. Pureblooded djinn didn’t sweat.

The power behind the Afshin’s blows made it feel like sparring with a statue. Ali’s wrists ached; it was getting difficult to maintain his grip.

Darayavahoush was backing him into a tight corner when he abruptly broke away and lowered his zulfiqar. He sighed as he admired the blade. “Ah, I have missed this… Peacetime may have its virtues, but there’s nothing like the rush and clash of your weapon against the enemy’s.”

Ali took the moment to catch his breath. “I’m not your enemy,” he said through gritted teeth, though he very much disagreed with the sentiment right now. “The war is over.”

“So people keep telling me.” The Afshin turned away, strolling slowly across the room and deliberately leaving his back unprotected. Ali’s fingers twitched on his zulfiqar. He forced himself to push away the strong temptation to attack the other man. Darayavahoush wouldn’t have put himself in such a position if he were not entirely confident he could defend it.

“Was it your father’s idea to keep us separated?” the Afshin asked. “I was surprised by how eager he was to see me gone from Daevabad, even offering up his firstborn as collateral. And yet I’m still blocked from seeing my Banu Nahida. I was told there’s a waiting list for appointments the length of my arm.”

Ali hesitated, thrown by the abrupt change in subject. “Your arrival was unexpected, and she’s busy. Perhaps—”

“That order did not come from Nahri,” Darayavahoush snapped, and in an instant Ali felt the room grow hotter. The torch opposite him flared, but the Afshin didn’t seem to notice, his gaze fixed on the wall. It was where most of the weapons were stored, a hundred varieties of death hanging from hooks and chains.

Ali couldn’t help himself. “Looking for a scourge?”

Darayavahoush turned back around. His green eyes were bright with anger. Too bright. Ali had never seen anything like it, and the Afshin was not the first freed slave he’d met. He glanced again at the blazing torches, watching as they flickered wildly, almost as though they were reaching for the former slave.

The light faded from the Afshin’s eyes, leaving a calculating expression on his face. “I hear your father intends to marry Banu Nahri to your brother.”

Ali’s mouth fell open. Where had Darayavahoush learned that? He pressed his lips together, trying to hide the surprise in his face. Kaveh, it had to have been. Considering the way those fire worshippers were whispering together when they entered the training room, Kaveh was probably spilling every secret he knew. “Did the grand wazir tell you that?”

“No. You just did.” Darayavahoush paused long enough to enjoy the shock on Ali’s face. “Your father strikes me as a pragmatic man, and marrying them would be a most astute political move. Besides, you are rumored to be some sort of religious fanatic, but according to Kaveh, you’re spending a great deal of time with her. That would hardly be appropriate unless she was meant to join your family.” His eyes lingered on Ali’s body. “And Ghassan clearly doesn’t mind crossing tribal lines himself.”

Ali was speechless, his face warm with embarrassment. His father was going to murder him when he found out that Ali had let slip such information.

He thought fast, trying to come up with a way to undo the damage. “Banu Nahri is a guest in my father’s home, Afshin,” he started. “I’m simply trying to be kind. She wished to learn to read—I would scarcely say there’s anything inappropriate about that.”

The Afshin drew closer, but he wasn’t smiling now. “And what are you teaching her to read? Those same Geziri records that demonize her ancestors?”

“No,” Ali shot back. “She wanted to learn about economics. Though I’m sure you filled her ears with plenty of lies about us.”

“I told the truth. She had a right to know how your people stole her birthright and nearly destroyed our world.”

“And what of your part in such things?” Ali challenged. “Did you tell her that, Darayavahoush? Does she know why you’re called the Scourge?”

There was silence. And then—for the first time since the Afshin entered the room with his smug smile and laughing eyes— Ali saw a trace of uncertainty in his face.

She doesn’t know. Ali had suspected as much, though Nahri was always careful not to speak of the Afshin in his presence. Oddly enough, he was relieved. They’d been meeting for a few weeks now, and Ali was enjoying her company. He didn’t like thinking that his future sister-in-law would be loyal to such a monster had she known the truth.

Darayavahoush shrugged, but there was a flash of warning in his bright eyes. “I was just following orders.”

“That is not true.”

The Afshin lifted one of his dark eyebrows. “No? Then tell me what your sand-fly histories say of me.”

Ali could hear his father’s warning in his mind, but he didn’t hold back. “They speak of Qui-zi for one.” The Afshin’s face twitched. “And you were taking no orders once Daevabad fell and the Nahid Council was overthrown. You led the uprising in Daevastana. If you can call such indiscriminate butchery an uprising.”

“Indiscriminate butchery?” Darayavahoush drew himself up, his expression scornful. “Your ancestors slaughtered my family, sacked my city, and tried to exterminate my tribe—you have great nerve to judge my actions.”

“You exaggerate,” Ali said dismissively. “No one tried to exterminate your tribe. The Daevas survived just fine without you around to destroy mixed villages and bury innocent djinn alive.”

The Afshin snorted. “Yes, we survived to become second-class citizens in our own city, forced to bow and scrape to the rest of you.”

“An opinion formed after spending, what, two days in Daevabad?” Ali rolled his eyes. “Your tribe is wealthy and well-connected, and their quarter is the cleanest and most finely run in the city. You know who are second-class citizens? The shafit who—”

Darayavahoush rolled his eyes. “Ah, there it is. It’s not a discussion with a djinn until they start bemoaning the poor, sad shafit they can’t stop creating. Suleiman’s eye, find a goat if you can’t control yourselves. They’re comparable enough to humans.”

Ali’s hands tightened on the zulfiqar. He wanted to hurt this man. “Do you know what else the histories say about you?”

“Enlighten me, djinn.”

“That you could have done it.” Darayavahoush frowned, and Ali continued. “Most scholars believe you could have defended an independent Daevastana for a long time. Long enough to free a few of the surviving Nahids. Perhaps even long enough to retake Daevabad.”

The Afshin went still, and Ali could tell he had struck a nerve. He stared at the prince, and when he spoke his voice was soft, his words intent. “It sounds like your family was very lucky the ifrit killed me when they did, then.”

Ali didn’t break away from the other man’s cold gaze. “God provides.” It was cruel, but he didn’t care. Darayavahoush was a monster.

Darayavahoush lifted his chin and then smiled, a sharp smile that reminded Ali more of a snarling dog than a man. “And here we are discussing ancient history again when I promised you a challenge.” He raised the zulfiqar.

It burst into flames, and Ali’s eyes went wide.

No non-Geziri man should have ever been able to do that.

The Afshin looked more intrigued than surprised. He gazed at the flames, the fire reflected in his bright eyes. “Ah… now isn’t that fascinating?”

It was the only warning Ali got.

Darayavahoush charged him, and Ali whirled away, flames licking down his own zulfiqar. Their weapons met with a crash, and Darayavahoush shoved his blade up and along Ali’s until the hilt caught his hands. Then he kicked him hard in the stomach.

Ali fell back, rolling quickly away when Darayavahoush slashed down in a motion that would have sliced his chest open if he hadn’t moved fast enough. Well, I suppose Abba was right, he thought, jumping up as the Afshin swept his zulfiqar at his feet. Darayavahoush and I probably wouldn’t have made very good travel companions.

The Afshin’s calm was gone and with it, much of the reserve Ali now realized the other man had been showing. He was actually an even better fighter than he’d let on.

But the zulfiqar was a Geziri weapon, and Ali would be damned if some Daeva butcher was going to beat him with it. He let the Afshin pursue him across the training room, their fiery blades clashing and sizzling. Though he was taller than Darayavahoush, the other man was probably twice his bulk, and he was hoping his youth and agility would eventually turn the duel in his favor.

And yet that didn’t appear to be happening. Ali dodged blow after blow, becoming increasingly exhausted—and a little afraid. As he blocked another charge, he caught sight of a khanjar glinting on a sunny window shelf across the room. The dagger peeked out among a pile of random supplies—the training room was notoriously messy, overseen by a kindly yet absentminded old Geziri warrior no one had the heart to replace.

An idea sparked in Ali’s head. As they fought, he started letting his fatigue show—along with his fear. He wasn’t acting, and he could see a glimmer of triumph in the Afshin’s eyes. He was clearly enjoying the opportunity to put the stupid young son of a hated enemy in his place.

Darayavahoush’s forceful blows shook his entire body, but Ali kept his zulfiqar up as the Afshin followed his lead toward the windows. Their fiery blades hissed against each other as Ali was pushed hard against the glass. The Afshin smiled. Behind his head, the torches flared and danced against the wall like they’d been doused in oil.

Ali abruptly let go of his zulfiqar.

He snatched the khanjar and dropped to the ground as Darayavahoush stumbled. Ali rolled to his feet and was on the Afshin before the other man recovered. He pressed the dagger to his throat, breathing hard, but went no further. “Are we done?”

The Afshin spat. “Go to hell, sand fly.”

And then every weapon in the room flew at him.

Ali threw himself to the floor as the weapons wall purged itself. A spinning mace whooshed over his head, and a Tukharistani pole arm speared his sleeve to the ground. It was over in a matter of seconds, but before Ali could process what had happened, the Afshin stomped hard on his right wrist.

It took every bit of self-control not to scream as Darayavahoush ground the heel of his boot into the bones of Ali’s wrist. He heard something crack and a searing pain rushed through him. His fingers went numb, and Darayavahoush kicked the khanjar away.

The zulfiqar was at his throat. “Get up,” the Afshin hissed.

Ali did so, cradling his injured wrist through the ripped sleeve. Weapons littered the floor, the chains and hooks that had held them dangling broken on the opposite wall. A chill went down Ali’s back. It was the rare djinn who could summon a single object—and that was with far more focus over a shorter distance. But this? And so soon after drawing flames from the zulfiqar?

He shouldn’t be able to do any of this.

Darayavahoush didn’t seem bothered. Instead, he gave Ali a coolly appraising look. “I wouldn’t have thought such a trick your style.”

Ali gritted his teeth, trying to ignore the pain in his wrist. “I suppose I’m full of surprises.”

Darayavahoush looked at him for a long moment. “No,” he finally said. “You’re not. You’re exactly what I would expect.” He picked up Ali’s zulfiqar and tossed it over; surprised, Ali caught it with his good hand. “Thank you for the lesson, but sadly, the weapon did not live up to its fearsome reputation.”

Ali sheathed his zulfiqar, offended on its behalf. “Sorry to disappoint you,” he said sarcastically.

“I didn’t say I was disappointed.” Darayavahoush ran his hand over a war ax protruding from one of the stone columns. “Your charming and cultured brother, your pragmatic father… I was starting to wonder what happened to the Qahtanis I knew… starting to fear my memories of the zulfiqar-wielding fanatics who destroyed my world were wrong.” He eyed Ali. “Thank you for this reminder.”

“I…” Ali was lost for words, suddenly fearing he’d done far worse than reveal his father’s plans regarding Nahri. “You misunderstand me.”

“Not at all.” The Afshin gave him another sharp smile. “I was also once a young warrior from the ruling tribe. It’s a privileged position. Such utter confidence in the rightness of your people, such unwavering belief in your faith.” His smile faded; he sounded wistful. Regretful. “Enjoy it.”

“I am nothing like you,” Ali shot back. “I would never do the things you did.”

The Afshin pulled open the door. “Pray you’re never asked to, Zaydi.”

Excerpted from The City of Brass, copyright © 2017 by S. A. Chakraborty.

Thursday, October 19th, 2017 05:00 pm

Posted by Leigh Butler

Happy pre-Halloween,! In celebration of the encroaching Pumpkin Spice Day, please accept this humble offering of one of the Butler Sisters’ all-time favorite holiday movies: 1993’s Hocus Pocus! Whoo!

Previous entries can be found here. Please note that as with all films covered on the Nostalgia Rewatch, this post will be rife with spoilers for the film.

And now, the post!


Okay, so, let’s go ahead and cut to the chase.

This is not only the best part of Hocus Pocus, it is one of the best non-horror Halloween scenes ever:

A bold claim, Leigh, you cry! But wait, I have supporting evidence! To wit:

  1. This scene has Bette Midler singing while dressed as a witch in it.


I’m actually not kidding. The Divine Miss M may no longer have quite the fame or presence in the pop culture zeitgeist she did in her heyday, but her heyday was glorious. No one who grew up in the 80s and 90s could possibly have hoped to have missed the awesomeness of Bette Midler; even the heinous overplayed ubiquitousness of “Wind Beneath My Wings” does not dampen my love of the memory of (just for example) watching her wheelchair mermaid zoom around the stage in magnificent, beautiful ludicrosity.

A genuinely brilliant musician who is also a genuinely brilliant comedian is a rare beast indeed, and Bette Midler is one of the few who can claim the distinction. How many times can you say you’ve watched a musical number that cracked you up while also giving you chills? Not many, if you ask me. And as silly as it was, that last run of notes Bette sings in the above scene gives me goosebumps every time I watch it.

The clip I used is interesting for another reason, which is that whoever posted it edited and manipulated the video and audio to focus on the number itself, and ignore the plotty kid-related bits as much as possible. Which is oddly apropos, since my sisters and I agreed that even when we first saw it in 1993, we identified with and enjoyed the adult actors in the movie far more than the soi-disant child actor protagonists who are nominally the focus of the film.

Basically, watching Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker bounce around and have a fabulous time being comically evil witches is the best thing ever. (And it seems that Bette, at least, agreed: she’s said that of all the films she’s been in, Hocus Pocus was her favorite.) Everything else was just a support system for making that happen, as far as I am concerned.

Fun fact: This is SJP’s second appearance on the MRGN (the first time was in Flight of the Navigator). More importantly, her portrayal of a Salem witch turned out to be startlingly historically accurate, as it transpires that one of her ancestors narrowly escaped being burned at the stake as a witch during the Salem witch trials. Whoa.

As an aside, SJP tends to get rather pooh-poohed in terms of being a comedian, probably because she’s pretty and people have a weird prejudice against admitting that pretty people can also be funny, but I don’t care how much you might hate Sex in the City, this movie proves that she is hilarious. Fight me.

And Kathy Najimy, of course, is a comedic treasure and always has been.

Najimy will forever have a special place in my heart for her supporting roles in three movies: this one, of course, Sister Act, and Soapdish. (Interestingly, Bette Midler was supposed to play the lead in Sister Act, but ultimately turned down the role and it went to Whoopi Goldberg instead. I am glad it worked out that way because Whoopi was fabulous, but I can’t help wishing I could also have the alternate universe version in which Bette played the character too.)

There are no good video clips out there of it that I have been able to find, sadly, but Hocus Pocus’s cameo scene featuring real-life siblings Garry Marshall and Penny Marshall, both formidable actor/producer/directors in their own right, is also pure comedy gold, and the movie is worth watching for this scene alone, if you ask me. My sisters and I have seen this movie any number of times, and every time this scene comes up we giggle madly all through it. RIP, Garry, you were the bomb.

Props must also be given to actor-and-contortionist-and-expert-prosthetic-makeup-wearer Doug Jones, who is probably best known these days for his roles in various Guillermo del Toro films (Pan’s Labyrinth EEEEEEK), but is also memorable here as Winifred Sanderson’s unwilling zombie ex Billy Butcherson.

Jones claims that the moths that flew out of his mouth when he cut the stitches holding it closed were real and not a special effect, but I remain sort of skeptical of that. If true, though: ew.

Relatedly, the costumes and special effects in general for this movie were surprisingly good, if not necessarily spectacular. We agreed that we loved how the Sanderson sisters’ outfits in particular skillfully rode the line between being comedic and cool, and how well they conveyed the concept of “witch” without hewing to any of the more dreary stereotypes of what that look should entail.

Hocus Pocus, I was a little surprised to discover, was something of a critical and box office disappointment when it was originally released in 1993, but over the years it has built up a devoted following, to the point where annual Halloween viewings of the film are considered essential seasonal fare for both kids and adults. Naturally, then, we had Nephew Remy sit in for this MRGN showing of it, and asked his opinion.

REMY: I liked it a lot. I liked the cat and the witches and when the zombie fell asleep.

LIZ: Did you think it was scary?

REMY: No, it was funny.

LIZ: Which part was the funniest?

REMY: When they burned up in the flames!


Kids, man.

In conclusion: I can’t imagine that you haven’t already seen this movie, but if for some bizarre reason you have thus far managed to avoid it, my advice to you is to quit being stubborn and just watch it already, because it is awesome. Just wait patiently through the mostly unimportant (if vaguely endearing) kid/plot bits, and join the rest of us in delighted squee at the hilariously-evil-and-ultimately-properly-punished antics of the Sanderson sisters, some of the most adorable Disney villains to ever be.

And with that, have a Happy Halloween, my peeps! The MRGN will almost definitely be back with the next fun thing in two weeks! Cheers!

Thursday, October 19th, 2017 04:00 pm

Posted by Alice Arneson

Well, hello there, Edgedancers! It’s time for another run at the reread, so we can polish it off before Oathbringer destroys all other books.

Things are getting heady up in here, what with internet Indicium info searches, crazy assassins, flying minions, and friendly swords. But no pancakes this week. Also, no Lyn, because she is up to her eyeballs in sewing up gorgeous costumery for an Event this weekend. We’ll miss her, but we’ll soldier on anyway.

The Awesomeness

Chapter 15: Lift finds the where Darkness’s minion had her hired info-seekers working, complete with all three minions. Wyndle takes his courage by the vines and sneaks in to watch, listen, and not get caught. Lift waits tensely while musing on deep philosophies, then ducks into the shadows as the minions depart. The assassin stops, looks at Lift, consults his sword, and turns away. Wyndle reports that while he didn’t understand what they were talking about, they know who their suspect is. The chase begins!

Chapter 16: Lift follows with difficulty through the Grand Indicium, and eventually the minions come to an exit. Lift and Wyndle slip to the side, climb out a window, and hide in the bushes to see where they go. Two of them inhale Stormlight and fly off through the city in search of their quarry. The assassin scares Lift half to death when he starts talking to her, but despite all his crazy-talk, he gives her the information she needs: they seek an old philosopher who seems to change appearance or vanish in blind alleys, and hangs out near the Tashi’s Light orphanage.

Kadasixes and Stars

“Storms!” Lift said, flopping backward on the carpet. “Storming Mother of the World and Father of Storms above! He about made me die of fright.”

“I know!” Wyndle said. “Did you hear me not-whimpering?”


“I was too frightened to even make a sound!”

I just had to include this one, for two reasons. One is Wyndle’s not-whimpering, and the other is Lift’s curse, which we borrowed for the “Shards, curses, and Old Magic” unit. No, I don’t really have anything profound to say about it. I just like it.

Pet Voidbringer

“I’ll do it,” Wyndle whispered.

This whole section is pure gold. Wyndle is terrified almost out of his mind; he doesn’t think the journeyman Skybreakers’ spren can see him, but he’s not sure, and if they do, he can quite possibly be destroyed. The visuals of Wyndle are so good: “huddled down on the ground, vines tightening around him;” “vines twisted about one another, tightening into knots;” “vines scrunched as they tightened against one another;” “settled down, coiled about himself.” Combined with his whispers and whimpers, I just ache for the little guy! But he chooses to go anyway:

“Right. Listen and scream. I can listen and scream. I’m good at these things.”

Oh, Wyndle. You’re so beautiful.

Journey before Pancakes

Shockingly enough, there isn’t any food in these chapters. Not any at all. How terribly sad.

Friends and Strangers


The assassin, clothing tattered, head bowed, with that large sword— it had to be some kind of Shardblade— resting on his shoulder.

“I do not know, sword-nimi,” he said softly, “I don’t trust my own mind any longer.” He paused, stopping as if listening to something. “That is not comforting, sword-nimi. No, it is not.…”

Still crazy after all these years…

For whatever reason, he still seems to be wearing the tattered white clothing given him by the Parshendi, or replicas thereof given him by Taravangian to make sure everyone knew it was the same guy. Also, from that same passage, it seems that when he’s moving, the afterimage is less pronounced. Is that because his soul attaches itself to a location if he sits still too long?

“I ain’t nobody,” Lift said.

“He kills nobodies.”

“And you don’t?”

“I kill kings.”

“Which is totally better.”

He narrowed his eyes at her, then squatted down, sheathed sword held across his shoulders, with hands draped forward. “No. It is not. I hear their screams, their demands, whenever I see shadow. They haunt me, scramble for my mind, wishing to claim my sanity. I fear they’ve already won, that the man to whom you speak can no longer distinguish what is the voice of a mad raving and what is not.”

Yikes. I think I developed more sympathy for him in this one chapter than I did in all of the first two books. But I do wonder what the others think of him conversing with his sword all the time.

The Philosopher

“The report described a man who has been spotted vanishing by several people in the city. He will turn down an alleyway, then it will be empty when someone else follows. People have claimed to see his face twisting to become the face of another. My companions believe he is what is called a Lightweaver, and so must be stopped.”

Heh. Lightweaver, indeed! No, ladies and gentlemen, this is something you are totally not prepared to deal with. Not even a little bit.


Well, there’s our favorite Awakened sword again. It’s worth noting that when Szeth drew it out a little, Lift felt “a sudden, terrible nausea,” so she’s in the category of “good people” as far as Nightblood is concerned. Then we get this bit:

“But you didn’t attack me.”

“No. The sword likes you.”

That’s… encouraging… I’d really, really like to know what the sword said to Szeth in some of these scenes!

Storming Mother of the World and Father of Storms Above

If the world was full of people like Lift, wouldn’t they just leave halfway through planting to go catch lurgs? Nobody would protect the streets, or sit around in meetings. Nobody would learn to write things down, or make kingdoms run. Everyone would scurry about eating each other’s food, until it was all gone and the whole heap of them fell over and died.

You knew that, a part of her said, standing up inside, hands on hips with a defiant attitude. You knew the truth of the world even when you went and asked not to get older.

Being young was an excuse. A plausible justification.

So once again, we have Lift touching very lightly on her request to the Nightwatcher, but this time there’s something more. As quoted above, she knows that she’s spent years being irresponsible, and she implies that she asked to not get older so that she’d always have the excuse of being too young. But then you combine it with this one, and there are some deeper, heartbreaking implications:

When you were always busy, you didn’t have to think about stuff. Like how most people didn’t run off and leave when the whim struck them. Like how your mother had been so warm, and kindly, so ready to take care of everyone. It was incredible that anyone on Roshar should be as good to people as she’d been.

She shouldn’t have had to die. Least, she should have had someone half as wonderful as she was to take care of her as she wasted away.

Someone other than Lift, who was selfish, stupid.

And lonely.

We can’t say for certain, but I think this implies that Lift blames herself, deep down, for her mother’s death – whether that’s valid or not. It sounds like she maybe took off one day while her mother was ill, and when she came back, her mother was dead. Whether Lift could have done anything about that we don’t yet know — and probably won’t for another ten or fifteen years — but she still seems to blame herself, and apparently went to the Nightwatcher looking for a rationale to justify having been untrustworthy.

New theory: Lift asked to not grow up so as to have an excuse for being immature. Instead, the Nightwatcher gave her extra level-ups on being an Edgedancer, so that she could take care of those who are forgotten or ignored: a way to keep it from happening to others, rather than a way to not be blamed for them. Prevention, rather than rationalization.

Darkness & Co.

The journeyman Skybreakers can fly. They can suck in Stormlight and fly. So… does this mean they’re bonded to spren? For all that they seem so much lower than Nale, it appears that they actually are Radiants. I guess maybe that makes sense, being as he’s a Herald? Speaking of which…

“He really is wrong, isn’t he?” Lift said. “That one you say is a Herald. He says the Voidbringers aren’t back, but they are.”

“The new storm reveals it,” the assassin said. “But … who am I to say? I am mad. Then again, I think that the Herald is too. It makes me agree that the minds of men cannot be trusted….”

Everything Else

“Voidbringer,” Lift said, “can you find whatever number she just said?” (232)


“Good. ’Cuz I don’t got that many toes.”

Nothing in particular. It’s just so Lift.

Poor parshmen. There weren’t many in the city, not as many as in Azimir, but by the prince’s orders they were being gathered and turned out. Left for the storm, which Lift considered hugely unfair.

And as it turns out, from the WoB turned up by you good folks last week, that’s the absolute worst thing they could have done to themselves. If they’d been kept in bunkers – or in the Indicium – they’d have been protected from the effect of the Everstorm, at least this time around. Wyndle’s belief that it probably wouldn’t hurt them, and also that they might be turning into Voidbringers, highlight just how limited the knowledge of Voidbringers is, even among the spren.

Listen, a part of her whispered.

There it is again, this time in context of Lift sitting there worrying about Wyndle and thinking about her excuses and her mother. Listen.

“Will you fight them, little Radiant?” the assassin asked. “You, alone, against two journeyman Skybreakers? A Herald waiting in the wings?”

She glanced at Wyndle. “I don’t know. But I have to go anyway, don’t I?”

If my theory is correct, she has stepped up to the task of being there.

Finally, one last thing… it’s far from perfect, but I finished it:

Raindrops on Shardblades and whiskers on axehounds,
bright glowing spheres and fresh pancakes in mounds,
grasses that retract and skyeels with wings,
these are a few of my favorite things…

Spren-bonded horses and chicken in curry,
cremlings with purpose and scribes in a hurry,
Storms full of power, a Wit who can sing,
these are a few of my favorite things…

When the bridge falls,
When the ship burns,
When the whitespine stabs,
I simply remember my favorite things
and then I don’t feel so bad.

Lighteyes in havahs with safehands close-covered
Shalebark and highstorms and Oathgates discovered
Autumns that randomly turn into springs,
These are a few of my favorite things!

When the job stinks,
When my head whirls,
When real life is sad,
I simply escape to my fantasy worlds,
and then I don’t feel so bad.

Well, you did ask…

Join us in the comments! Don’t forget to mark any Oathbringer spoilers! There are only two more installments in the Edgedancer reread! AAVAALAAAAANNNNCHE!

Alice finds herself very grateful for this reread these days, as the Oathbringer early releases have gotten to the point that she dares not participate in the discussion much. It is a difficult thing! Rumor has it that Lyndsey will be back next week with a second Stormlight Cosplay article, this time with Shardblades! Sometime soon, there will be a refresher on the nations and cultures of Roshar, and that Stormwarden article should be coming along too. Gotta keep busy for the remaining three and a half weeks before the big release!

Thursday, October 19th, 2017 04:07 pm

Posted by Lisa Eadicicco

As part of a Halloween promotion, Niantic and the Pokémon Company are adding a slew of new Ghost-type Pokémon to Pokémon Go. These will include critters such as Banette and Sableye that are found in the Hoenn region from the popular Pokémon role playing games for Nintendo’s handheld consoles. The rest of the Pokémon that debuted in the Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire games will start rolling out in early December, according to the companies.

In addition to adding new Pokémon like these, those playing Pokémon Go will have an increased likelihood of encountering creatures like Ghastly, Cubone, Misdreavus, and Houndour among others during the Halloween event, which begins on October 20 at noon PT and will run through November 2 at 1 p.m. PT. During that time, a special costumed version of Pikachu will also be available.

Niantic and the Pokémon Company will be doubling candy rewards for hatching, transferring, and catching Pokémon as well, and players will be able to find candy twice as fast. The Halloween event brings a couple of other small bonuses too, such as special items available in the game’s shop like Raid Passes and Super Incubators, and a new hat for a player’s avatar that resembles the Pokémon Mimikyu.

Although the event was just announced on Thursday, sharp-eyed fans noticed some of these new Pokémon in artwork for the game several days ago.

Thursday, October 19th, 2017 03:00 pm

Posted by Emily Asher-Perrin

Star Trek Discovery, Harry Mudd

Harry Mudd is one of Trek’s most infamous villains. And I say villain because, while he may be amusing in the extreme, he is a truly odious person. His two appearances appearances on Star Trek: The Original Series (and a third on the animated series) prove him to be a narcissist of the highest order, who cares only for his personal survival and comfort. He is liar, a coward, and a rampant misogynist. And in his premiere appearance on Star Trek: Discovery, he does nothing to dispel any reservations one might have about his character—but he does tell a very interesting story to Captain Lorca….

What viewers knew of Mudd for the last fifty years is largely due to two guest appearances on TOS. After introducing himself to the Enterprise crew by getting caught trafficking women (while supplying them with drugs intended to make them more appealing to the husbands he was planning to sell them to), he was incarcerated for illegal activities. After leaving prison—via escape or serving out his sentence, it is never made clear—he ended up in even more trouble, attempting to sell patents he didn’t hold the rights to on a planet where the penalty for fraud was death. He managed to avoid punishment for that particular crime, leading to Captain Kirk and crew running into Harry again, this time on a planet full of controlling androids.

Star Trek, Harry Mudd

One of the most important aspects to Mudd’s character is how he frames stories about himself. Kirk learns this quickly, and understands that all of Harry’s tales require some manner of “interpretation.” This is how he reacts to the man’s explanation for how he ended up on the android planet, following the patent fraud fiasco:

MUDD: Well, of course, I left.

KIRK: He broke jail.

MUDD: I borrowed transportation.

KIRK: He stole a spaceship.

MUDD: The patrol reacted in a hostile manner.

KIRK: They fired at him!

MUDD: They’ve no respect for private property. They damaged the bloody spaceship!

Kirk knows that he can’t trust a thing that Harry says—and it’s not just because he’s a liar. Harry Mudd likes to rewrite stories about himself to cast his journey in a more heroic light. His moral bankruptcies are moral disagreements, his criminal actions the result of a difference in opinion about what constitutes criminality. Harcourt Fenton Mudd is a fascinating study in the psychological effects of personal narrative. We know that how we tell stories about our own lives is a part of what makes us human, and indeed makes us who we are on an individual basis. And Harry Mudd is spectacular at this particular skill.

One of the interesting (and infuriating) sidenotes to Harry’s time on the android planet is that he asks the androids create a replica of his dear wife, Stella. According to Harry, Stella is one of the reasons for his life of crime out among the stars—because she urged him out there due to her “continual, eternal, confounded nagging.” As Harry tells Kirk and company: “I think of her constantly, and every time I do, I go further out into space.” The android version of Stella does nothing but nag and insult Mudd in a continuous stream of verbal abuse that Harry can silence merely by barking “shut up!” Getting the last word with her is a true pleasure for him… one that Kirk ruins when they abandon Mudd on the planet after apparently populating it with 500 new android versions of Stella that do not power down the instant Harry tell them to. He tells Kirk that this punishment is inhuman to no avail.

Star Trek, Harry Mudd, Stella

These jokes are a product of their time, to be certain. The nagging wife, the cad who can’t seem to pass a day without doing something illegal, the eternity lambasted by the specter of a woman left behind. But the question that no one seemed to ask was simple enough—was Harry telling the truth about Stella at all?

Mudd’s appearance on Star Trek: Discovery chips away at this narrative, or at least offers viewers a different version of his story. When Captain Lorca is imprisoned on a Klingon ship, he is thrown in prison with Mudd and asks the man how he ended up in such dire straits. Harry tells him that he fell in love with a woman beyond his means:

“Sweet Stella. Her family didn’t approve of me, so I had no choice except to try and buy her father’s respect. Scary, scary man. So I borrowed a large sum from some non-traditional lenders, and gifted her with a moon. It worked like a charm… until I fell behind on my payments. The creditors came after me, chased me into enemy territory, right into the Klingon’s arms, who deposited me here where I await my fate.”

There are many possibilities from what we learn here. Perhaps Harry Mudd simply wanted to marry a rich woman, and in doing so, wound up way over his head. His insistence on love could be a ploy to gain sympathy from a friendly ear, to add a layer of tragedy to his ridiculous story. Then again… perhaps Harry did love Stella. Perhaps the beginning of this relationship was indeed a tender one. In which case, what happened for us to arrive at the shrieking android incarnation that we see a decade later? Did it take Harry too long to return to his beloved wife? When he made it back to her, was she (understandably) furious due to his lies and his absence, and took it out on him with insults and jibes? There are countless iterations of this tale that could result in a falling out and subsequent miserable union.

Star Trek Discovery, Harry Mudd

And then there’s another possibility. That Harcourt Fenton Mudd never made it back to Stella after running from those moon creditors. That his travels and his confidence games and the mess of his life dragged him further and further away from someone he genuinely cared about, and that he knows the fault lies with him. What if that android version of Stella is complete lie? What if Harry Mudd has imagined this version of Stella into being so he can avoid his own guilty conscience? It is a lot easier to think yourself the injured party if you’re trying to avoid responsibility for your actions. Which is pretty much Mudd’s M.O. dialed to nine-thousand percent.

This contradiction in Harry’s biography comes in an episode that is all about personal narrative and how we frame our own actions. “Choose Your Pain” sees several characters give accounts that are questionable, or engage in arguments that come down to point of view. When Michael Burnham confronts Lieutenant Stamets about her fears that the spore drive is harming their tardigrade pilot, Stamets points out that it was Burnham who discovered how the tardigrade could be implemented in the drive’s use—it’s her fault that the situation existed in the first place. When Burnham says she’s fighting the impulse to “set the record straight” on that account, Stamets has little time for the argument: “That won’t get us anywhere. Do you want to be right, or do you want to fix this?” He rejects the importance of personal narrative in this case, as it delays actions being taken toward solving the problem.

Star Trek Discovery, Stamets

First Officer Saru spends the episode concerned over how his personal narrative entwines with others; worried that he does not have the making of a commanding officer, Saru asks the ship’s computer to compare his actions to those of Starfleet’s most revered captains. He believes that his validity as an asset to the Federation must be checked by an outside source, but eventually learns to trust his own instincts. He later deletes the protocol designed to compare his performance and chooses to accept his responses on their own merit.

Personal narrative is also at the center of Captain Lorca’s time in the Klingon ship’s prison cell. He learns not to trust Harry Mudd (as everyone eventually does), but he comes to trust an imprisoned Starfleet Lieutenant named Ash Tyler, eventually bringing him aboard his ship and instating him as a crew member. Lorca also has some painful details about his previous command revealed by Harry, and feels the need to set the record straight—he tells them that with his ship, the USS Buran, boarded by the Klingons, he made the decision to self-destruct the ship with his crew on board. He tells Mudd and Tyler that he did it to spare his people the long, torturous deaths that he knew were awaiting him on the Klingon homeworld. That Tyler stands by Lorca despite this tale is a testament to the swift bond they forge by the end of their time in that prison cell.

Star Trek Discovery, Lorca

But, as with Harry Mudd, you have to ask the question—is that the true story? Or all of the story? It seems unlikely that Starfleet would award a captain who had done something so horrific with one of the most important assignments in their war against the Klingons. What else could Lorca be hiding? And what might those secrets mean for everyone aboard the Discovery? In this sense, every element of “Choose Your Pain” has been honed by the concept of personal narrative. Its power as a psychological factor in all people is driving the story forward.

It is hardly surprising that an episode featuring Harry Mudd would incite such a careful look into these particular concepts and questions. As for what that means for the future of Discovery, or Harry Mudd himself? We will surely have to wait and find out….

Emily Asher-Perrin will always welcome the intrigue that Harcourt Fenton Mudd adds to any story. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

Thursday, October 19th, 2017 02:56 pm

Posted by Stubby the Rocket

The Punisher final trailer premiere date Netflix Marvel Frank Castle

“You have nothing but a war inside you.” The latest trailer for Marvel and Netflix’s The Punisher is full of people saying gems like this to Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal), including “Now the only person you’re punishing is yourself.” It may also be the final trailer, as Netflix has finally announced when the series will premiere—in just under a month from now.

The official synopsis, from Marvel and Netflix:

After exacting revenge on those responsible for the death of his wife and children, Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) uncovers a conspiracy that runs far deeper than New York’s criminal underworld. Now known throughout the city as The Punisher, he must discover the truth about injustices that affect more than his family alone.

Watch Frank Castle become a victim of the government, then go on a vigilante spree to set things right before they take him out first. With guest appearances by Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) and Billy Russo (Ben Barnes), all the angst scored to some pretty choice music:

The Punisher premieres November 17.

Thursday, October 19th, 2017 02:00 pm

Posted by Michael Moreci

John Carpenter is one of the greatest American filmmakers. Ever. Period. The end.

There—I’ll just come out swinging. See, I toyed with several different ways of saying what I mean to say. Initially, I started this piece by talking about the names commonly associated with American filmmaking auteurs: Scorsese, Kubrick, and Paul Thomas Anderson to name a few. The point I was trying to make was how, when the idea of great American filmmakers is discussed, John Carpenter is generally left out of the conversation—and it’s a total injustice.

So, let’s take a spin down retrospective lane and look at the movies that make Carpenter one of the greats. Because I’ll tell you what: From 1976 until 1986, Carpenter crafted a streak of films that are arguably as good as any other ten-year period from even the most celebrated and acclaimed directors.

Let’s start in 1976, the year Carpenter released his first true film, Assault on Precinct 13 (and I say “true” because his previous release, Dark Star, was more of a student production). Now, I won’t contend that Assault on Precinct 13 is a great film. It’s close, but it’s far too long and it stumbles in some key moments. While the movie was met with harsh reviews when it was first released, it was eventually rediscovered and is now considered one of the great thrillers of the 1970s. What’s most interesting about Assault on Precinct 13 is the way Carpenter attempts to utilize the conventions of a genre (though an action thriller is a far shallower dive into the idea of genre, especially when considering Carpenter’s later films) to tell a story that is much deeper and more thoughtful than anyone would anticipate.

On the surface, Assault on Precinct 13  is meant to be a taut thriller about a cop who must hold down his precinct building against an onslaught of gang members, and his only ally is a dangerous criminal (talk about killer hooks, by the way). But while Carpenter utilizes the conventions of thrillers and even westerns, he also weaves into his tapestry a story about racism and urban decay. Neither thread dominates the film, but Carpenter’s eye to mining the anxieties and horrors of the world around him and using them to elevate his art is one of the most defining characteristics of his career.

And that characteristic was never displayed any better than it was in Assault on Precinct 13’s follow-up, the crown jewel of Carpenter’s career:


(As an aside, let me say that it’s not without much consideration that I call Halloween Carpenter’s masterpiece. Because he also made The Thing. And Escape from New York. And Starman.)

First, forget about every Halloween film that was made after the original, and forget about its countless knockoffs. Nothing compares to Carpenter’s original, a masterpiece not only of the horror genre, but a masterpiece of cinema. All of cinema.

There’s so much working in this movie that it’s difficult to know where to even begin. The technical achievements alone are awe-inspiring. It’s shot beautifully—the Midwestern town of Haddonfield, awash in brown and amber autumnal hues, is a portrait of both idyllic beauty but also dread. After all, autumn is the season of death—leaves fall from trees, grass withers with the winter chill. And Carpenter’s eye captures all of that. And as a bonus, he infuses this imagery with a score—arguably the most memorable of all time—that’s absolutely spine-tingling. Carpenter directs Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasence to tremendous heights; he paces every beat with a precision that’s unnerving. But, more than that, Carpenter made the most influential movie about evil of its time, one that continues to be as powerful today as it was almost 40 years ago.

The United States in the late 1970s and early 1980s was a time of personal, intimate horror. This is a bit of a tangential discussion, but for many reasons, fear felt very close. If you’ve seen IT—or have read the book—you know that this idea of intimate horror exists in King’s opus as well. Halloween is the progenitor of this trend of evil coming for you, specifically you, and it couldn’t be stopped. That was the genius of Michael Myers; he didn’t have a dead, emotionally abusive mother driving his psychosis like Norman Bates, nor did he exist in some already-frightening, unfamiliar backwoods like Leatherface. He existed in your small town, and he was evil just because that’s what he was. Michael Myers didn’t have any reason to be a killing machine, he had no motivation. He was the boogeyman, plain and simple. In early drafts of the script, he didn’t even have a name, instead being referred to simply as The Shape. Michael Myers is the evil—without reason or logic—that lurks in all of our lives and, like death itself, he will one day claim every single person he’s after.

Carpenter’s follow-up to Halloween was 1980’s The Fog, a fun, vintage horror yarn. Then he unleashed Escape from New York, a dystopian sci-fi movie that is, like Halloween, perfectly shot and scored, and it brought Carpenter back to his penchant for depicting urban decay. And while Escape is an absolute classic that introduces one of the most iconic film characters of all-time in Snake Plisken, it’s overshadowed by Carpenter’s subsequent release, which would prove to be his second masterpiece in just four years: The Thing.

The Thing is a perfect movie. From its beautifully shot widescreen opening moments to its pulse-pounding, ambiguous ending, it doesn’t waste a single second. A feast of Cold War paranoia where there’s no telling who to trust, the movie is expertly paced, wonderfully shot, and the atmosphere—a hallmark of Carpenter’s, creating pitch-perfect atmosphere—is so rich you can almost feel the bitter cold through the screen. And like other Carpenter gems, The Thing uses the conventions of horror to tremendous effect while transcending the genre at the same time. There are scares and chills—and some awesomely gory special effects—but at its heart The Thing is an examination of human nature laid bare, of what happens when the you-know-what hits the fan and all the rules of civilized society are thrown out the window. The Thing is a scary, smart, tremendous achievement that, like Halloween, should be regarded as one of the best movies ever made.

Carpenter followed The Thing with a string of films that range from good to great—Christine remains one of the best Stephen King adaptations to this day; Starman is a stunning achievement; Big Trouble in Little China needs no introduction; Prince of Darkness is weird but interesting; and They Live is so over the top and crazy that it actually works (and, of course, it has THAT fight scene). Granted, Carpenter’s career hit a decline once the 80s ended (though I’d argue Vampires is a ton of fun), but his run of greatness—where he displayed artistic talents of the highest order while plumbing the depths of the horror and sci-fi genres like few others have—makes him one of the absolute best, and most unique, filmmakers to grace us with his work. To this day, Carpenter remains an artist, an auteur, and an inspiration to countless storytellers, myself included.

Michael Moreci is a comics writer and novelist best known for his sci-fi trilogy Roche Limit. His debut novel, Black Star Renegades, is set to be released in January 2018. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelMoreci.

Thursday, October 19th, 2017 01:00 pm

Posted by Jo Walton

When the 1956 Hugo nominees were rediscovered, I realised I’d never read Leigh Brackett’s The Long Tomorrow. I’d read other Brackett and not been very impressed, and never picked this one up. But since it was a Hugo nominee, and since I trust the Hugo nominators to pick the best five books of the year, most of the time, and since it was the first fiction nominee by a woman, and easily and inexpensively available as an e-book, I grabbed it. And as soon as I started reading, it grabbed me. It’s great. I read it in one sitting this afternoon. I couldn’t put it down and it has given me plenty to think about. For a fifty-two-year-old book, what more can you ask? I still think the voters were right to give the award to Double Star, but I might have voted this ahead of The End of Eternity.

I don’t remember what Brackett I had read before—it was in my teenage ‘read everything’ phase. I remember it being pulpy planetary adventure, and I think it may have been a middle book in an ongoing series where I was supposed to be invested in the adventures of a character and wasn’t. The Long Tomorrow couldn’t be more different. It starts with a teenage kid being tempted to go to a forbidden prayer meeting by his slightly older cousin, and Len’s guilt and excitement and desire to know about the world is what propels this book. It’s not pulp adventure in any way. It may in fact be the first example of the American pastoral apocalypse.

I’ve always thought of the American pastoral apocalypse as typified by Edgar Pangborn’s Davy (1964). The distinguishing features of the subgenre are that there’s been a nuclear war, it’s a few generations later, and the U.S. has reverted to a very Mark Twain-tinged nineteenth century. The hero—no inherent reason there couldn’t be a female protagonist, but I can’t think of any—is a teenager, and he grows up learning about his world, and the contrast between it and the lost civilization that is our world. There are fundamentalists who hate, loathe, and fear our lost civilization and all its works. And I think The Long Tomorrow is one of the very first examples of it, a founding cornerstone of the genre. John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids, is also 1955, so there’s no question of influence in either direction. A Canticle for Leibowitz, which doesn’t have a teenage hero but which is still somewhat in this space, is 1960. The Wild Shore is 1984, the most recent example I can think of.

In The Long Tomorrow, Mennonites and Amish have helped save the fleeing survivors of the cities, and got them back to a simpler way of life. Everyone is back on the farm. In a surreal piece of worldbuilding, despite all the cities having either been nuked or abandoned because they can’t survive without tech, the U.S.A. is still functioning to the extent that they have passed a “Thirtieth Amendment” to the constitution, and have federal law, though we only ever see it being enforced by angry mobs. The Thirtieth Amendment is that no town can have more than a thousand inhabitants or more than two hundred buildings in a square mile. This is to prevent cities arising ever again. But there are rumours that somewhere the evil Bartorstown still keeps the secrets that led to the destruction of the old world, the world Len’s grandmother remembers as a child, where she wore a red dress and ate chocolate rabbits. (Her son condemning the world that deserved to be destroyed for allowing the frivolity of a chocolate rabbit is a wonderful moment.)

The book is charmingly and compellingly written. It’s written in a very tight third person completely focused on Len and the way he grows up but won’t give in. This is a future than never was, but which must have seemed relatively plausible in 1955, when everyone was just starting to understand the nuclear threat—though in fact, from the evidence here they didn’t know the half of it. But I can see exactly why it must have appealed to the Hugo voters.

I’d never have guessed from internal evidence it was written by a woman. There are female characters. There’s the grandmother, who’s quite well done for somebody with so little page time. There’s the bad girl, Amity, and the good girl, Joan, neither of them more than a few quick pencilled clichés. All the male characters are better done—Amity’s father the judge has three dimensionality, as does his opponent. The girls barely exist to be plot tokens. This is a book about a boy becoming a man. It’s a very manly book. It was 1955. That was normal. In the same year we have Asimov with his clever villainess pretending to be dumb, and Heinlein with the devoted secretary Penny—but actually, both of them feel like more developed female characters than Brackett offers. It’s interesting to wonder why she made this choice—was it what she liked? Was it what she thought the audience liked?

It’s interesting to consider the tech here—when Brackett was writing, she was making the world revert about a hundred years, from 1955 to 1855. Reading it now, I realise how much easier that would have been than it would be to go from 2017 to 1917. The things the grandmother misses—TV, radio, bright dyes, chocolate rabbits, city lights—seem themselves relatively primitive to me. It was both easier for them to revert and would be easier for them to recover than it would be now. When the kids get hold of a radio, they can figure out how to operate it. Even apart from the issue of battery life, I don’t think the same would be true if people used to what they’re used to had something from today.

Now I want to talk about what happens, with spoilers, and especially for the end, so if you don’t want spoilers, stop reading now.

Unlike The Chrysalids—where the wonderful Sealand that is New Zealand retains technology and weapons, but we do not see up close whether it is actually such a great place when they get there after the end of the bookLen and his cousin Esau make it to the fabled Bartorstown. And there they find that everyone is living on the surface much as they do elsewhere, but underground they have both nuclear power and a giant computer. The giant computer is… I’m not sure if it’s sad or funny. It takes years to do calculations. Probably the ereader I was reading the book on has more processing power. But it was futuristic for 1955. It fills a whole room. And what they’re doing with these things that Len has been taught to believe are the devil’s tools, likely to provoke God to send another apocalypse, is not what I’d been imagining through the whole book. They’re not trying to restart civilization, they’re not trying to help the rest of America at all, despite having agents with radios everywhere. They’re trying to carry on the project they were put there for long ago, of creating a shield to guard against atomic bombs. They’ve no guarantee they’ll ever find one, even with the immense computer. They’re not aware that anyone has atomic bombs, or even atomic power except them.

When Bartorstown turns out not to be great, and especially when Len escapes from Bartorstown, I was delighted. I thought he was going to try to reintroduce civilization slowly. That, in my experience, is what people do in this kind of book. But no, the climax reconnects with that first prayer meeting, and hinges on whether Len will betray the man who saved him. Of course he doesn’t and he has to go back to the futility that he once imagined was salvation. That’s a very odd end! I found it deeply unsatisfactory. Were we supposed to think the quest would succeed—and if so, that it would be useful? The fear/faith he repudiates, great. And he says there are two attitudes of mind, the one that says here you must stop learning, and the one that says learn, and he’s for the latter. So far so good. But he’s doing nothing to further it by going back into what he has already recognised as futile. They’re all as bad as each other. I’d have preferred a little more hope in the ending.

But anyway, great read, an enduring good book, in print, and an excellent addition to the Hugo Nominees for 1956. I’m glad I read it, and I’ll be reading it again. And if anyone wants to recommend any other Brackett that’s this good or better, I’m eager to read them too.

Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published a collection of pieces, three poetry collections and thirteen novels, including the Hugo and Nebula winning Among Others. Her most recent book is Thessaly. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here irregularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.

Wednesday, October 18th, 2017 08:40 pm

Posted by Katy Steinmetz

When Amazon announced in September that the Seattle-based company was inviting cities to bid for its second headquarters, there was immediate pressure for metros to apply — and to figure out how to set themselves apart from everyone else keen to attract an estimated 50,000 jobs and $5 billion in investment.

Economic developers around the country have raced to put together proposals ahead of the Oct. 19 deadline, and they’ve touted different traits in the process, whether their locale has no state income tax or is home to thriving research universities. Meanwhile, other local leaders have taken wackier tacks with the hopes of piquing Amazon’s attention and pushing their proposal toward the top of the pile.

Here are six examples.

Tucson, Ariz. tries to plant an idea

Sun Corridor Inc., the economic development organization spearheading the Southwestern city’s bid, sent Amazon a 21-ft. Saguaro cactus, which the company politely declined, saying via Twitter that “we can’t accept gifts (even really cool ones).” The plant, Sun Corridor said, was meant to symbolize that Amazon had room to grow in the area.

Among Amazon’s long wish list of qualities that the winning city will have is a metro area with more than 1 million people. Tucson is one of the smallest of the roughly 50 places that pass that threshold in the U.S. While Sun Corridor Inc. expressed excitement that Amazon acknowledged the cactus — even if the firm did regift it — they’re staying mum about their more serious bid. “We won’t be releasing any details due to the competitive nature of the project,” chief marketing officer Laura Shaw tells TIME.

Stonecrest, Ga. asks what’s in a name

With hopes of highlighting the Atlanta area, the suburb of Stonecrest proposed de-annexing up to 345 acres of land and naming the new town Amazon, Ga. “There are several major U.S. cities that want Amazon, but none have the branding opportunity we are now offering this visionary company,” Mayor Jason Lary said, according to local reports. Topeka, Kansas once (unsuccessfully) used a similar gambit in an attempt to lure a high-speed internet project to town, changing its name to “Google, Kansas” for a month.

Some locals in Atlanta say the fever surrounding the pitch to be Amazon’s second home reminds them of bidding for the Olympics, which the city successfully did in 1996. “Atlanta’s always been a great city for promoting itself,” says Charlie Battle, an attorney who worked on that bid. His take was that it was the Georgian people who tipped the scales that time. “There’s something real to Southern hospitality,” he says. “It’s just in the DNA, making people feel welcome.”

Charlotte, N.C. declares a new holiday

The mayor of Charlotte declared Oct. 18, the day before the bids are due, to be an official Amazon-themed day in the metro area: #CLTisPrime Day. City leaders promoted that hashtag not just in proclamations but on buses and billboards, too. In a show of solidarity, local owners of those advertising spots donated the space with hopes of helping the message spread.

Many pundits believe that the biggest draw for Amazon will be human capital, pools of highly skilled workers and executives. And Charlotte is home to big banking operations, including Bank of America’s HQ. At one brainstorming session, locals even floated the idea of offering Amazon executives “on loan” from such companies, as a way to help build up the workforce for “HQ2.” Tariq Bokhari, a candidate for city council who helped organize that session, also worked on building an app that taught Alexa to sing the city’s praises.

Kansas City, Mo. goes shopping

Amazon positioned the public process of soliciting bids as a way to make sure every metro had a chance to woo the $485 billion company. Intentional or not, it also led to a ton of free advertising, including cases where hopeful politicians actually engaged advertising companies to help them figure out how to impress the e-commerce giant.

That’s what happened in Kansas City, Mo., where the mayor’s office worked with a local ad agency in executing a “five star” scheme. With their help, Mayor Sly James ordered 1,000 items from Amazon, representing 117 products, and wrote five-star reviews for each that doubled as promotions for the Midwestern city. (BBQ was mentioned several times.) Local charities suggested — and received — the items, which ranged from hot-dog Halloween costumes to wind chimes.

Birmingham, Ala., touts the whole package

In recent weeks, locals in Birmingham could find Amazon boxes the size of bread of trucks sitting around town in three separate locations. As in other areas, leaders there also promoted a hashtag, asking residents to snap selfies with the giant boxes and post pictures on social media with the hashtag “#bringAtoB.” The city also installed giant buttons that resemble Amazon Dash’s instant-ordering units. When people press them, promotional tweets are sent out onto the web.

Though cities of all sizes expressed interest in being part of a bid, places like Birmingham are a long shot. Among Amazon’s stated preferences for the new site include a world-class airport with daily flights to places like San Francisco and Seattle, a strong university system and robust mass transit, as well as land for a building bigger than the Mall of America. As the Birmingham Business Journal noted, the city leaves several of those boxes unchecked, even if it does have verve.

New York City turns on the lights

The City That Never Sleeps announced that on Oct. 18 several iconic landmarks around the city would be lit up in “Amazon Orange” to highlight the city’s bid, including the Empire State Building. “The case for bringing Amazon’s new headquarters to New York City is simple,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. “We are the global capital of commerce, culture and innovation.”

Though New York meets the bulk of the criteria in Amazon’s request for proposals, the city’s hometown paper was skeptical in their own handicapping of which metro area has the best chance of winning HQ2. While the New York Times notes that the city has plenty of tech talent, it also has a rents that are too damn high. The paper’s pick — among favorites ranging from Boston to Dallas — was Denver, a place with a growing tech sector, high quality of life and relatively low cost of living.

The world will found out if they’re right in the next 12 months or so. Amazon has said the company will make its decision in 2018, earlier or later in the year depending on factors like just how many proposals show up at their doors this week.