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Posted by Stubby the Rocket

Matt Groening fantasy series Disenchantment Netflix fantasy tropes Futurama

After introducing us to the 31st century with Futurama, Matt Groening is exploring the other side of the SF/F divide for Netflix: His next project is the adult animated comedy Disenchanted, set in a fantasy land populated by princesses and elves and orcs yet also filled with the same quotidian issues as our ordinary human lives.

Netflix describes the series in a press release:

In Disenchantment, viewers will be whisked away to the crumbling medieval kingdom of Dreamland, where they will follow the misadventures of hard-drinking young princess Bean (Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson), her feisty elf companion Elfo (Nat Faxon, Star Wars: Detours, and her personal demon Luci (Eric Andre, Man Seeking Woman). Along the way, the oddball trio will encounter ogres, sprites, harpies, imps, trolls, walruses, and lots of human fools.

“Ultimately,” Groening said, “Disenchantment will be about life and death, love and sex, and how to keep laughing in a world full of suffering and idiots, despite what the elders and wizards and other jerks tell you.” Other voice talent includes Futurama favorites John DiMaggio and Billy West, among others.

Groening dabbled in fantasy tropes with the 2008 Futurama film “Bender’s Game,” which sees the characters enter a virtual-reality Dungeons & Dragons campaign.

Netflix has ordered twenty episodes of Disenchantment; the first ten will be released sometime in 2018.

via io9

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Posted by Keith DeCandido

Star Trek Beyond
Written by Simon Pegg & Doug Jung
Directed by Justin Lin
Release date: July 22, 2016
Stardate: 2263.2

When Star Trek Beyond was released a year ago, I reviewed it for this site, and even did it in the rewatch format. My take on the movie hasn’t really changed, so I present that review once again to finish off the movie portion of the Original Series Rewatch. Next week, the TOS Rewatch will conclude with an overview of the ten films.

Captain’s log. Three years into the Enterprise’s five-year mission to explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, and boldly go where no one has gone before, Kirk is suffering a bit of burnout. Things have gotten almost “episodic,” he laments in his log. (Ahem.)

He’s trying to broker a peace between two warring alien races by bringing a gift from one race to the other. But the receivers of the gift respond with suspicion—their first comment is, “What’s wrong with it?” assuming that they’d only give something away if it was flawed and they didn’t want it anymore. It’s part of an ancient weapon that is no longer in use. The gift is refused and results in Kirk being attacked by a bunch of aliens (who are, luckily, very very small and therefore not much of a threat).

Star Trek Beyond

Kirk beams back to the ship, his uniform shirt torn, McCoy telling him he looks like crap. He has Spock place the ancient weapon in the ship’s archives. Later, he joins McCoy for a drink, with Kirk not feeling good about his birthday (it’s the day his father died, so he asks McCoy to continue to keep the actual day quiet).

The Enterprise stops for R&R at Yorktown, a giant starbase that is pretty much a big city in the middle of space. Uhura and Spock break up (though Spock refuses to let her give the necklace he gave her back), Sulu gets to spend time with his husband and daughter, and Spock meets up with some Vulcans who inform him that the Spock of the mainline timeline, who has been living on New Vulcan, has died. Kirk has a conversation with Commodore Paris about a possible promotion for him to vice admiral (which is a big jump in rank, but then this is the same guy who went from cadet to captain in six-and-a-half seconds, so whatever).

Star Trek Beyond Yorktown

A ship appears out of nowhere emitting a distress call. Yorktown rescues the ship and its sole occupant, a woman named Kalara, who says her ship is lost in a nearby nebula. The Enterprise takes Kalara on board and navigates the nebula to find and rescue her ship—

—only to be ambushed by a vessel that seems at first to be a single ship, but turns out to be multiple small ones that attack like a swarm of bees, doing considerable damage to the ship, and then boarding it. Spock notes that the boarding party makes off with the ancient weapon from the archives. Kirk goes after the boarding party, and manages to get the weapon free and hide it with Ensign Syl, an alien whose cranial bones can retract and expand, allowing her to hide stuff on the back of her head.

Eventually, the bad guys—who never identify themselves—destroy the Enterprise. The crew who survive the attack get into the escape pods, but many of them are captured as well. Spock and McCoy manage to get inside one of the swarm ships and take out the crew, crash-landing it on the planet below, which is called Altamid.

Star Trek Beyond

Kirk, Chekov, and Kalara all find each other, Kalara apologizing for leading them into an ambush, but it was the only way to safeguard her crew. Kirk says that he’s hidden the weapon somewhere in the saucer section, and the three of them trudge to where it crashed in order to retrieve it. Once they reach the spot where he says it’s hidden, Kalara communicates with Krall—the leader of the bad guys—to say they have it. Except Kirk was lying, and just wanted to get Kalara to contact Krall so Chekov could trace it. Kirk and Chekov barely escape the saucer section with their lives, as Kalara has called in the cavalry…

Sulu and Uhura are both captured by Krall, along with several other members of the crew. Krall has a device that he uses to drain the life out of people to prolong his own. As he uses it on the crew, his facial features change from almost lizard-like alien ones to less formed ones, almost as if he’s turning more human. Sulu and Uhura manage to break out of the cell they’re in and do some covert surveillance, only to discover that Krall has managed to tune into Starfleet communications frequencies, giving him access to the logs of Yorktown as well as any ship that has come to that port, including the Enterprise, which is how he knew to steal the weapon.

Spock is badly injured in the crash landing, and McCoy is forced to perform field medicine to at least stabilize him. Spock informs McCoy that the other Spock has died, and also that he is thinking about leaving Starfleet to help with the establishment of New Vulcan. This turns out to be a big part of why he and Uhura split up. Spock hasn’t told Kirk about this yet. (But that’s okay—Kirk hasn’t told anyone about his desire for a promotion to a desk job, either.)

Star Trek Beyond

Scotty was cut off from the escape pods, but managed to escape inside a photon torpedo. He clambers out of the torpedo before it falls over a cliff, only to find himself ambushed. He, in turn, is saved by a young woman named Jaylah. Jaylah was on another ship that was destroyed by Krall’s hive ships, its crew used as slave labor and as “food” for Krall. Jaylah managed to escape, though her father was killed by Krall’s lieutenant Manas, and she took refuge in one of the ships that crashed on the planet—which turns out to be a Starfleet vessel, the U.S.S. Franklin, which had been lost a century earlier. Scotty is able to retune the old transporter to work on humans (it was only meant for cargo), and manages to beam Spock and McCoy to the Franklin—and just in time, as Krall’s people just found the pair of them. Kirk and Chekov also find the ship on their own (by triggering one of Jaylah’s many booby traps).

Krall threatens Sulu’s life, which gets Syl to reveal that she has the weapon. Krall then takes Uhura and Syl out of the cell to demonstrate the weapon—which, to Uhura’s disgust, he does on Syl, who is basically cut into pieces on an atomic level.

Using the Franklin‘s medical equipment, McCoy is able to heal Spock a bit more, though he’s still pretty ragged. Chekov is able to verify that the prisoners are in the same place as Krall, and so they need to mount a rescue. Jaylah is reluctant to do so, knowing how dangerous it is, but Scotty and Kirk talk her into it, mostly by assuring her that they’ll have her back.

One of the Franklin crew had a motorcycle on board, and Kirk rides that as a distraction while Jaylah, Spock, and McCoy free the crew. Spock even manages to save Uhura—kind of. In truth, she escaped on her own, and then rescued Spock from being ambushed. But whatever works.

Star Trek Beyond

To Jaylah’s relief, Kirk risks life and limb to save her life when he very easily could have left her behind.

However, Sulu and Uhura reveal that Krall is already implementing his plan: to attack Yorktown. Even as his hive ships take off, Sulu manages to get Franklin into the air and out into space. Spock and McCoy fly one of the hive ships as a Trojan horse within the hive, while Uhura hits on the notion of using VHF radio to disrupt the instant communication among the hive ships.

In addition, Uhura realizes that one of the logs of the Franklin has someone with Krall’s voice: it’s Captain Balthasar Edison, a former MACO in service of the United Earth, later made a captain of a starship when the Federation was formed. To everyone’s shock, they realize that Krall is, in fact, Edison. The Franklin crashed on Altamid, and Edison used the technology there to prolong his life at the expense of others he has forced to crash here. He blames the Federation for abandoning him, and also for putting him in charge of a ship on a peaceful mission when he was a soldier.

While the VHF disruption is successful in destroying most of the hive ships, Krall himself still is able to board Yorktown. He brings the weapon to the air supply station in order to spread it to the entire base. While Scotty and Jaylah try to shut down the station remotely—a complicated process—Kirk tries to stop Krall directly, eventually succeeding after a lengthy fistfight. Krall himself winds up being the only other casualty, besides Syl, of the weapon.

Star Trek Beyond

The crew recovers on Yorktown, even celebrating Kirk’s birthday (and also making a toast to absent friends) while a new Enterprise—the NCC-1701-A—is built, with Kirk once again taking command, having decided against going for the admiral’s position.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? While it is very difficult to shut down Yorktown’s air supply for obvious reasons, it’s remarkably easy to physically enter it. Also the nebula that Altamid is in sure looks like a dense asteroid field…

Fascinating. Spock and Uhura’s relationship seems to be over at the beginning, as Spock has withdrawn even more while he considers moving to New Vulcan. But by the end of the film—and in particular seeing a picture of the crew from the other timeline still being together into middle age—he decides to stick around and possibly rekindle his romance with Uhura. (We’ll find out next film, I guess…)

I’m a doctor not an escalator. McCoy manages to cauterize Spock’s wound with almost no actual medical equipment. Because he’s just that awesome. He also flies one of the hive ships by the seat of his pants, which enables him to rescue Kirk at the end.

Ahead warp one, aye. Sulu is able to make the Franklin—despite never having been built for takeoff in a gravity well—take off. Because he’s just that awesome.

After all the pre-movie fuss about it, the scene that shows him with his husband and daughter is all of ten seconds, and just shows that he’s visiting family when he gets to Yorktown, one of several ways the crew takes shore leave. It’s actually a touching moment, one that adds texture to the scene, and anyone who says it’s gratuitous is showing their bigotry, because if he met up with and kissed a woman, no one would even consider calling it that. It’s also called back to later by the look of horror on John Cho’s face when they realize that Krall is targeting Yorktown.

Star Trek Beyond

(Also, the argument that the characters’ sexuality shouldn’t be shoved in our faces in a Star Trek story—which I’ve seen multiple times around the internet—is nonsense. Various characters’ heterosexuality is shoved in our faces repeatedly throughout the original series. Just looking at the first few episodes: “The Cage” is about forcing Pike to mate with Vina; “The Man Trap” is about McCoy’s old girlfriend, and the salt vampire appears as various people’s sexual desires; “Mudd’s Women” gives us three women who drive men mad with sexual desire; “Charlie X” gives us Charlie’s crush on Rand; and on and on and on. If you don’t want to see characters’ sexuality, you shouldn’t be watching Star Trek.)

It is a Russian invention. In what is sadly Anton Yelchin’s last appearance as Chekov, he doesn’t get that much to do as such, but he is a steady presence, serving as Kirk’s sidekick for much of the film and doing lots of tech work to move the plot along.

He also doesn’t keep vodka in his quarters, to McCoy and Kirk’s shock, but he does insist that Scotch is a Russian invention.

Star Trek Beyond

Hailing frequencies open. Uhura is the one who figures out who Krall really is, mostly by recognizing his voice on the Franklin footage. She also implements the VHF disruption plan, with help from Scotty and Jaylah.

I cannot change the laws of physics! Scotty pretty much saves the entire day here, since he’s the one who gets the Franklin up and running, which is what enables our heroes to stand any kind of chance. His banter with Jaylah is epic, also.

Go put on a red shirt. A big chunk of the crew is killed in the initial attack on the Enterprise, with more killed on Altamid. In addition, Syl is killed to demonstrate how awful the weapon is, and to horrify Uhura—and then she is utterly forgotten, and never even mentioned again. When Spock frees the prisoners, Sulu says Uhura is with Krall, without even mentioning Syl, even though they were taken together and Sulu has no way of knowing that Syl is dead.

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Spock says they can track Uhura via the necklace he gave her, as it emits a unique radiation signature. This prompts McCoy to be appalled at the notion that he gave his girlfriend a radioactive necklace. Spock assures him that the levels are harmless, but easily detectable. Undaunted, McCoy is appalled at the notion that he gave his girlfriend a tracking device. After an uncomfortable pause, Spock says that was not his intention. McCoy remains appalled.

Star Trek Beyond

Channel open. “I’d rather die saving lives than live with ending them. That’s the world I was born into.”

Kirk explaining Roddenberry to Krall.

Welcome aboard. A smaller cast in this one, which works to good effect. Greg Grunberg and Shohreh Aghdashloo play Yorktown crew—the former is Commander Finnegan, the latter is Commodore Paris. Lydia Wilson is effective as the double-crossing Kalara, doing superlative work with facial expressions under the alien makeup, while Melissa Roxburgh does a fine job as the tragically short-lived Syl.

Sofia Boutella is a pure delight as Jaylah, a snarky presence that adds a lot of niftiness to the film. (The movie ends with Jaylah’s application to Starfleet Academy being approved. It is my hope that, with Anton Yelchin’s death, the next film will have Chekov transferred to another ship—the Reliant would make the most sense—with Jaylah assigned to the ship as the new navigator after graduating.)

And then we have the great Idris Elba as Krall, who does the best he can with an unfortunately underwritten role. His best moments are at the climax when he mostly looks human again, because you can see the anguish and the anger on his face when he confronts Kirk, bitter and resentful of the Federation for forcing him into a peaceful mission and then abandoning him when the Franklin was lost.

Trivial matters: The film is dedicated to the memory of both Leonard Nimoy (“In loving memory of Leonard Nimoy”) and Anton Yelchin (“For Anton”).

Kirk’s log says that they’re in Day 966 of their five-year mission, the specific number being a reference to the date of Trek‘s premiere in September 1966.

Yorktown was the original name Gene Roddenberry had for the ship in his earliest drafts of Star Trek, later changed to Enterprise.

Jaylah was inspired by Jennifer Lawrence’s character Ree in Winter’s Bone. The character name wound up being a corruption of Lawrence’s name.

The Enterprise saucer can separate, a feature that was mentioned once on the original series (in “The Apple“) as well as in the behind-the-scenes material printed in The Making of Star Trek by Stephen Whitfield & Gene Roddenberry, but never seen on screen until TNG, where it was seen in “Encounter at Farpoint,” “The Arsenal of Freedom,” “The Best of Both Worlds Part II,” and Star Trek Generations.

Scotty refers to a “giant green hand” as one of the possible fates of the Franklin, a reference to “Who Mourns for Adonais?” He also mentions that he transported Spock and McCoy separately to avoid the risk of “splicing” them together, something that happened with Tuvok and Neelix in the Voyager episode “Tuvix.”

Star Trek Beyond

Kirk grumbles about how his uniform shirt has been torn again, something that happened with sufficient regularity on the original series that it was actually parodied in the movie Galaxy Quest.

Several references to Enterprise in this one: the Franklin is a ship of a similar style to that of the NX-01, the uniform Spock puts on after his own is ripped to shreds is similar to those worn by the cast of that show, and Krall recalls fighting against the Xindi (from the show’s third season) as well as the Romulans (actually from “Balance of Terror,” but Enterprise would have done that war had it made it to a fifth season) as a MACO (Military Assault Command Operations, established in “The Xindi”).

Kirk’s father died the day his son was born in the 2009 film.

Commodore Paris is likely meant to be an ancestor of the Paris family seen in Voyager, including main character Tom and his father Owen, an admiral in Starfleet.

Sulu’s daughter is presumably named Demora, since Generations established that Sulu had a daughter by that name.

Chekov’s explanation that Scotch was invented by a little old lady in Russia is a callback to a similar line he had in “The Trouble with Tribbles.”

A member of the Franklin crew liked twentieth-century hip-hop, as the play list includes Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” and the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage.” The latter song was also being played by Kirk as a young boy when he was stopped for speeding in the 2009 film.

The picture of the crew from the mainline timeline that Spock looks at among his counterpart’s effects is a publicity still from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.

Star Trek Beyond

In the mainline timeline, when a new Enterprise was constructed after the original was destroyed, it was also designated NCC-1701-A.

At one point, Kirk interrupts Spock and says, “Skip to the end,” a phrase used repeatedly on Simon Pegg’s TV show Spaced.

To boldly go. “Well, that’s just typical…” It’s a huge relief to, for the first time in twenty years, get a Star Trek film that works as a Trek film, as an action film, and as a film in general. It’s not great on any of those levels, but I’ve said before that Trek is not built to be a franchise made of blockbuster movies. Trek is at its best with smaller stories that one tells on television—the very types of stories that are blown off in a log entry in this movie as being “episodic.”

With that caveat in mind, though, this is the first Trek film since First Contact in 1996 that can actually be called good.

What’s best is that the script follows a logical progression, and is mercifully free of the howlers of the last two Bad Robot films. The plot commences with that old Trek standby, the Enterprise responding to a distress call, in this case Kalara’s cry for help at Yorktown, with the Enterprise going to Altamid intending to rescue her crew. That Kalara was using their compassion against them doesn’t negate the importance of that action.

The middle part of the film pulls the old trick of separating the crew, thus giving them all a chance to shine. This was my favorite part, honestly, as the pairings all worked quite well. The weakest was Uhura and Sulu, mainly because it didn’t do much with either character, just moved plot pieces around. It was also the ideal time to do the reveal about Krall instead of saving it for later in the film—more on that in a bit…

Kirk and Chekov teaming up was mostly useful for showing us how Chris Pine’s Kirk has matured. The Jim Kirk of the 2009 film was a punk and the Jim Kirk of Into Darkness still had way too many punk tendencies. But the Jim Kirk of Beyond is, for the first time, the captain. He’s the leader, the one who makes decisions, the one who jumps in with both feet, but also looks out for his people. I would never have credited Kirk with being clever enough in either of the two previous films to pull off the trick he pulled on Kalara, but it was utterly convincing here.

It’s not surprising that Scotty gets so much to do here, partly because Simon Pegg is a great actor whose portrayal of Scotty was one of the high points of Into Darkness, and partly because Pegg cowrote the script. But his banter with Jaylah is tremendous fun.

However, the best parts of the entire film are the scenes with Spock and McCoy. Zachary Quinto and Karl Urban have both done a great job filling the shoes of Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley, but Urban has been criminally underused to date. This film finally rectifies that, and gives us the Spock-McCoy banter that was one of the best parts of the original series and their followup movies. One of the things that gave me hope for this movie in the trailers was the scene where McCoy says, “At least I won’t die alone,” then Spock is beamed away, and McCoy grumbles, “Well, that’s just typical,” and I’m pleased to report that that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In particular, the horseshit conversation is the highlight of the entire film.

There are other great moments here, from Kirk and McCoy drinking (the Roddenberry hallmark of the captain sharing a drink with his doctor to discuss psychological issues, which goes all the way back to “The Cage“) some of Chekov’s purloined booze (“I thought he’d be a vodka man”), to Spock going through his counterpart’s effects, to the best depiction of the universal translator yet, to the use of hip-hop (“I like the beats and the shouting”) to help save the day, the best use of modern music in Trek since “Magic Carpet Ride” in First Contact, to “you kiddin’ me, sir?”

Having said that, the movie is far from flawless. Kirk’s and Spock’s character arcs are weak and poorly defined. The considering-a-desk-job thing and the resigning-Starfleet-because-things-are-weird thing have been done to death in Trek (The Motion Picture, “Emissary,” “The Way of the Warrior,” “Home,” etc.), and this adds nothing to it. What, exactly, Krall has been doing on Altamid for a century is left maddeningly vague. Jaylah’s conflict with Manas is also weak and poorly defined, and doesn’t even get good closure.

But worst of all is that we don’t find out who Krall really is until way too late in the movie for it to have a proper impact. The theme of the soldier who can’t handle peace is a good one in the abstract, and Idris Elba manages to sell it in his conversations with Kirk in the Yorktown air supply station, but this was a reveal we should’ve gotten when Uhura and Sulu confronted Krall in the prison, not when the movie was two-thirds done.

Still, this is the first of the Bad Robot films that feels like a Star Trek movie, which is the best possible 50th birthday present for the franchise.

 

Warp factor rating: 6

Keith R.A. DeCandido will be at Florida SuperCon in Fort Lauderdale this coming weekend, spending most of his time at the Bard’s Tower booth in the autograph area. Other guests include Star Trek actors LeVar Burton, John deLancie, Armin Shimerman, and Tony Todd; Doctor Who actors Peter Capaldi, Karen Gillan, and John Barrowman; fellow authors Peter David and Kevin J. Anderson; and tons and tons more. Keith’s full schedule is here.

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Posted by Liz Bourke

April Daniels’ debut novel, Dreadnought, opened a fresh new young adult superhero series. I don’t normally like superhero series, but I really liked this one—it grabbed you by the throat and didn’t let go.

Sovereign is Dreadnought’s sequel. It has the same verve and energy as Dreadnought, but instead of being, essentially, Danny Tozer’s origin story as the superhero Dreadnought, it shows her facing the difficulties of working as a superhero with limited support—either physical or emotional. She’s protecting her home city of New Port pretty much on her own even though she’s still a minor; her parents are transphobic assholes who kicked her out of their house; her mentor, Doc Impossible, is an android who is also an alcoholic; she’s grown apart from her friend Calamity; she has had to retain a lawyer and publicist; and New Port’s only other resident superhero, Graywytch, is a transphobic gender essentialist “radical feminist” who really hates Danny for being trans and wants Danny either dead or no longer a superhero—preferably both.

That’s where Danny’s problems begin. But pretty soon, she’s run afoul of a new billionaire supervillain calling himself Sovereign. Sovereign’s power is the ability to suppress other superheroes’ powers. And because he’s a billionaire, he’s been able to invest in research—he has succeeded in suppressing powers remotely, and is working on a system that will suppress all superpowers globally. Apart from his partisans, of course—people who believe that democracy is a weakness, that the wrong sort of people are getting superpowers, and that the world would be a better, more orderly place if Sovereign was in charge.

He’s also working on a way to remove superpowers from the superpowered, against their will, in order to transfer them to people of his choosing. And when Danny falls into his hands, she finds herself nightmarishly subject to his attempts to take the powers of Dreadnought away from her—to render her both unpowered and in a body that’s painfully at odds with her gender—and nightmarishly subject to Graywytch, who is Sovereign’s ally, at least where Danny is concerned.

Even when her friends and allies come to her rescue—Calamity, Doc Impossible, Danny’s former schoolmate Charlie (who’s a magician), and genderqueer superhero Kinetiq—Danny still has to contend with Sovereign using Graywytch and the legal system against her. Her battles range from the courtroom to low earth orbit and even into another dimension, and Danny has to decide what kind of person she’s going to be: the kind of person who uses lethal force to take revenge because it feels right and no one can stop her, or the kind of person who is guided by the rule of law?

The problem of the “Nemesis,” introduced in Dreadnought, is explained a little further and comes into play here in interesting ways. Nemesis is at once an explanation for why superhuman powers exist, a threat to their future, and a potential state change for the entire human species, raising questions that I expect Daniels will address more completely in a later volume.

Sovereign is a very good book. While its tight thriller-pacing occasionally stumbles—due to packing so much in—and while Daniels’ characterisation here is not quite as vividly drawn as in Dreadnought, it’s still an extremely compelling narrative. It is particularly compelling about the ways in which the violence of her job is scarring Danny, and how the fact that Danny’s under incredible amounts of pressure (and enjoys violence) is exacerbating the damage her abusive parents—especially her father—did to her mental health. The narrative is told from Danny’s point of view, so the reader only gradually comes to realise that even though Danny enjoys being a superhero, it’s probably not very good for her to essentially be a child solder.

Sovereign is also a novel that, like Dreadnought, doesn’t shy away from transmisogyny and transphobia. This makes it at times painful to read: Graywytch, in particular, directs vile commentary at Danny, on top of her and Sovereign’s actions.

Danny does gather good people around her. She figures out what’s going on with her relationship to Calamity—there’s an amazing moment with Calamity’s mother—and helps Doc Impossible to deal with her addiction. For all the strife and pain that Danny and her friends go through, Sovereign remains an uplifting kind of book.

We could do with more like it.

Sovereign is available from Diversion Publishing.

Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, is out now from Aqueduct Press. Find her at her blog, where she’s been known to talk about even more books thanks to her Patreon supporters. Or find her at her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council and the Abortion Rights Campaign

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Posted by Leena Likitalo

Though many years have passed since I first laid my eyes on The One Book, I still remember the gray October afternoon as if it were but yesterday. When I cradled The One Book in my trembling hands, a part of me might have sensed that my life was about to change for good. But did I anticipate what I was up for?

No, I really didn’t. Had I chosen differently if I’d known what reading that novel would do to me? Absolutely not.

Back then I was young(er), (not as) wild, and (at times caffeine-)free. I worked at a stone castle at the very center of Helsinki, the capital of Finland. I’d recently ventured into the computer games industry, and my day job involved, amongst other things, ensuring that virtual unicorn poo smelled of rainbows. It was a good life, and I was happy, though at the time I didn’t write.

I’d made my first struggling attempts to piece together a novel when I was nine, but these efforts were thwarted when the writing machine refused to cooperate. At twelve, I completed something resembling a plot in a blue-checkered notebook. Rinse and repeat a few times within the next decade or so. Insert a break induced by university and the job that involved unicorn poo.

You know those days when the wind bears in its wake the faintest whiff of change, a promise of something better? You know those moments when it feels like everything is possible? Perhaps that day my husband sensed it too, for he asked me to meet him after work. I could tell from his voice that he was very excited, almost boyishly so.

I knew it without him telling me. While I’d been inspecting unicorn droppings, he’d visited The Book Store without me and found a novel he couldn’t wait to read.

Ah, The Book Store! It was something akin to a sacred place to us. You see, not that many shops in Finland contain that big of a selection of English literature. But The Book Shop was different. The four-story, turn of the century building boasted a wide variety of science fiction and fantasy, and hence it was a place that we diligently visited every single time we set foot on the city. Our countless pilgrimages through the aisles had resulted in discovering many new favorite authors.

That day as I followed my husband past the shelves excitement tingled my fingertips and toes. His eyes gleamed with delight, and he smiled like a cheshire cat. What had he discovered amidst the countless titles?

I spotted The One Book from miles away. It ticked all the right boxes:

  • Intriguing cover with a suitably mysterious looking man cloaked in black
  • Ridiculously interesting blurb that promised a tale of wild adventure; encompassing pretty much everything that’s cool in this world: art, science, and tragic love;
  • Enough pages to keep a heavy-duty reader like me occupied for a full week.

I believe proper introductions are due here. Dear reader, meet The One Book: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.

I wanted to read The Name of the Wind instantly. So did my darling husband. Storm clouds gathered in the sky, and I could sense an incoming argument. I reminded him that he’d pretty much committed treason in visiting The Book Store without me. The honor to read the book first justly belonged to me.

Some books steal your breath away, borrow it for as many hours as it takes to turn the pages. Some exceptionally rare books hold your breath captive for a moment more after finishing. But this novel…  the characters came to life as if they were breathing the same air as I did. I think that as a result I blacked out and was transferred into a different place.

What Patrick Rothfuss did with his words, his wonderful sentences and intricately crafted storylines, he took me on tour of a world where beauty and sorrow flowed in my veins, where the adventure was mine to embark upon, where every character encountered on the way felt as real as if I’d known them for years.

I’d never felt anything quite like it before. I lingered in the sound of the words. I wondered down the paths formed by the sentences. I got lost. I was found. And more.

But eventually, as is the habit of all good things, the novel ended. When my husband snatched it for himself, I was left staring blankly ahead of me. I hadn’t known it was possible to write a novel so evocative, one with such great emotional depth and complexity. I simply hadn’t known.

I immediately wanted to know how this wonderful novel came to be. I learned that it had been in the making for almost a decade, that Mister Rothfuss had worked hard to take his writing to the level where it could support the story he wanted to tell, that he’d persevered through countless rejections, that he’d kept on going because he believed in his story.

A realization dawned on me. If I did want to tell stories of my own, if I really wanted to find the gold at the end of the rainbow, I had to do more than just toy with the idea of writing a novel on one fine day and sniff and wonder at the pretty colors!

That day, I started writing again, and I haven’t been able to stop since.

Thank you, Patrick Rothfuss, for writing The Name of the Wind!

Leena Likitalo hails from Finland, the land of endless summer days and long, dark winter nights. She breaks computer games for a living and lives with her husband on an island at the outskirts of Helsinki, the capital. But regardless of her remote location, stories find their way to her and demand to be told. She is the author of The Five Daughters of the Moon, available now from Tor.com Publishing.

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Posted by Stubby the Rocket

Dungeons and Doggos webcomic Tumblr VLeeiLLustrations

Forget the Stranger Things kids—the real Dungeons & Dragons campaign we wish we could sit on is these puppers.

Dungeons and Doggos is what it says on the tin, but the capacity for jokes is endless. Watch Pickles, Tonka, and the rest of their canine party don very convincing disguises, challenge Spectral Wraiths to games of Fetch, and employ their greatest defense of all: inviting the baddies to pet them.

Yay!!! Petting!!!

Dungeons and Doggos webcomic

Follow the rest of the campaign on Tumblr!

Midnight, Texas Is Magical Trash

Jul. 25th, 2017 04:00 pm
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Posted by Alex Brown

Midnight, Texas, is a small town in the middle of nowhere. It’s a safe haven for people (or “people”) who can’t live anywhere else or don’t want to. It also may be sitting on top of a hellmouth, if that ominous glowing red light coming up through Manfred Bernardo’s (François Arnaud) floorboards is any indication. Speaking of the possibly-fake-but-probably-real psychic, Manfred flees Dallas for Midnight at the behest of his dead grandmother Xylda (Joanne Camp) to escape her determined creditors. He couldn’t have come at a worse time.

Within a few hours of Manfred’s arrival he encounters the corpse of Bobo Winthrop’s (Dylan Bruce) missing fiance, hits on Creek (Sarah Ramos) the daughter of a very overprotective father, has his life force sucked out by vampire Lemuel (Peter Mensah), steals holy water from a creepy reverend (Yul Vazquez), witnesses Fiji (Parisa Fitz-Henley) go all The Craft on a couple of cops, is beaten up by Olivia the hitwoman (Arielle Kebbel), and summons a host of very pissed off ghosts and maybe a demon. At least he doesn’t see Joe (Jason Lewis) sprout wings or hear Fiji’s cat Mr. Snuggly (Joe Smith) talk. Gotta save something for the second episode…

The main season arc looks like it’s going to be sorting out who killed Aubrey (Shannon Lorance) and dealing with the Sons of Lucifer white supremacist biker gang. Not to mention all the magic and supernatural happenings. Now, I’m a fan of Charlaine Harris’ work. I wouldn’t call myself a superfan or anything, but I’ve read all her stuff and enjoyed it all, no matter how stupid. The Harper Connelly series will always have my heart and frankly if I had to pick a Harris series to adapt to television that would be my first stop. Her Midnight, Texas series is typical of her work, in that it’s more or less literary cotton candy.

The premiere seems to be sticking fairly close to the first book, Midnight Crossroad. When Aubrey’s body is found in a creek and the cops – with Manfred’s psychic help – turn up a gun registered to Bobo, he gets accosted first by a pair of neo-nazis and later by two grouchy sheriffs. Turns out Aubrey was still married to a white supremacist gang leader when she fell in love with Bobo. But this ain’t Bobo’s story, even though his plot drives the action. Manfred is our protagonist, albeit one who mostly just stumbles from scene to scene. As in the books, Fiji is the most interesting character on screen. By the end of the trilogy, it’s clear the series really belongs to her. Whether that will translate to television we’ll have to wait and see.

I honestly can’t remember if this is canon or headcanon, but I always pictured Manfred as brown. He’s definitely supposed to be short, scrawny, and looking like a pierced punk, and Arnaud’s too much of a tall drink of bland for my taste. Otherwise, I’m pretty happy with the diversity. Most of the main cast are people of color, which is a huge plus for network television. My only reservation is with Fiji. Don’t get me wrong, I dig Fitz-Henley, but in the book she’s plus sized. I knew it would be too much to hope for television to cast a fat actor as the romantic lead, but still. We really need more body shape diversity on camera, and casting Fiji as skinny is a lost opportunity.

Midnight, Texas’s biggest mark against it is that it’s on NBC. This is a show that needs room to be bloody and sexy. Network television’s constraints are really going to hamper the story in the long run (especially if they are headed in the direction of the final showdown from Night Shift). Without the backing of a cable channel or streaming service, it lacks the budget to fully convey the craziness of a rural fantasy. More importantly, without a strong showrunner with a unique voice at the helm, it’s just another television show. With True Blood, Alan Ball added visual verve and social commentary to the metanarrative. Writer and executive producer Monica Owusu-Breen is a veteran television producer, but a lot of the shows she’s worked on suffer a lot of the same mediocrity maladies as Midnight, Texas.

To be fair, Owusu-Breen is actually sticking true to the canon; Harris wouldn’t know subtlety if it hit her on the head, and her idea of social commentary is having her only gay couple own a salon and behave like Birdcage LARPers. But I want more out of a show built on the idea of a bunch of outcasts forging a family out of disaster. If Midnight, Texas wants to succeed, not only does it need to be socially relevant but it must find a way to be more creative than its source material. Everything in the premiere is something you’ve seen before. It’s time to up the game and craft their own fantasyland, one that goes beyond Harris’ relatively limited vision.

Midnight, Texas is almost a good time. It suffers from the worst side effects of being on network television: mediocrity, half-assed graphics, and insisting on drama over camp. This is a show with vampires, angels, witches, ghosts, and sundry other supernatural beasties I won’t spoil for the newbies. Something like this ought to lean full into its bonkers premise. Say what you will about True Blood, but it totally understood its base material. Sure, it jumped the shark by the end (so did the book series, for that matter), but even when it was eye-rollingly stupid it still generally stayed true to its nature as a sex and blood-soaked paranormal romance. Midnight, Texas the television show is about as inventive and out there as Supernatural, a show that went off the rails about 8 seasons ago.

In my review of the final book in the Midnight Texas series, I summarized every Charlaine Harris property thusly: “Charlaine Harris is very good at what she does even if what she does isn’t very good. No one goes into one of her books expecting high art or powerful literature. When she gets into a narrative rut, she falls back on intensely detailed descriptions of events or locations that have absolutely no relevance to the plot or characters. When the plot gets too twisty to untangle, a random character from the periphery turns up to tell the main characters everything they need to know and what they need to do in order to resolve the problem. Bad things have few consequences and emotional turmoil lasts about as long as a plate of biscuits in front of a hungry teenage weretiger.” If you read that and your first thought was “Weretigers? Cool! Are they shirtless?” then welcome to the Charlaine Harris fanclub. If that description made you want to run for the hills, then Midnight, Texas is probably not the show for you.

Final Thoughts

  • In case it wasn’t clear, I’m definitely going to keep watching Midnight, Texas. I really need a new dumb fun supernatural show to watch.
  • Plus I gotta support Owusu-Breen. Put a Black woman in charge and diversify the cast and I’m there, quality be damned.
  • From what I can tell, the show doesn’t exist in the same ‘verse as True Blood. Which makes sense, I guess. In the books, Manfred and Sookie don’t interact but live in the same world.
  • STOP USING THE SLUR “GYPSY.” Seriously. Please put that offensiveness in the trash bin where it belongs.

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.

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Posted by Liz Bourke

Today, I want to talk about two short narratives that are steeped in Americana.

Ursula Vernon’s writing is filled with compassion, weird shit, and sharply observed humour: in some ways, much of her short fiction and most of her novels as T.K. Kingfisher is reminiscent of Terry Pratchett at his best. (One could call her an American, feminist Terry Pratchett — but that would do her a disservice: Vernon is very much her own unique self as a writer and an artist.)

Lately I read “The Tomato Thief,” her Hugo-nominated novelette. Published in Apex Magazine, it’s a sequel of sorts to the short story “Jackalope Wives,” which won (among others) a Nebula Award for 2014. If “Jackalope Wives” is good, “The Tomato Thief” is even better.

A couple of weeks ago, I observed that it was rare to find older women as the protagonists of their own stories in SFF. Vernon’s Grandma Harken is an older woman in the mould of Granny Weatherwax (one reason why the Terry Pratchett comparison comes to mind) who alleges that she doesn’t particularly want to fix other people’s problems but seems to do it a lot anyway.

In “The Tomato Thief,” Grandma is really looking forward to the first harvest of her tomatoes. She lives on the edge of a desert, where it’s really hard to grow tomatoes, and she grows the best tomatoes around. When she discovers that her tomatoes are going missing — being stolen — she sits up on her porch waiting for the thief. It takes a while, but who and what she finds — a shapechanger bound by a ring in their tongue — leads her to put on her walking boots and go fix another problem.

There are train gods and their oracles. A desert landscape that feels real and a character in its own right. A talking coyote. And Grandma Harken standing up for her desert, kicking selfish interlopers in the arse and taking names.

You did not steal an old lady’s tomatoes. It was rude, and also, she would destroy you.

It’s an excellent novelette, and I seriously recommend it to your attention.

While I’m talking about things to recommend to your attention, let me add Margaret Killjoy’s The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion, out from Tor.com Publishing this August.

This is a peculiar little novella, but an appealing one. In a future (but not very far future) America, anarchist and vagabond Danielle Cain arrives in the anarchist/squatter community of Freedom, Iowa, looking for an answer to what spurred her best friend Clay to commit suicide. Freedom was the last place he spent any amount of time, and although she’s aware her quest is quixotic, she’s committed to it nonetheless.

In Freedom, she finds both a community that appeals to her, and magic. Magic that’s killing people. It turns out that Clay was part of a ritual that summoned a guardian spirit (a three-horned deer) that killed people who preyed on others. Now that the guardian has turned on its summoners, the community is torn between trying to unsummon its guardian, and keeping it. Danielle finds herself, along with tattoo artist Brynn and a houseful of anarchists, at the centre of efforts to prevent more bloodshed.

This is a really interesting novella, thoughtful, well-characterised, well-constructed, and tightly paced. Killjoy blends horror and social commentary in a sharp first-person narrative that builds to an explosive conclusion.

I recommend it.

Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, is out now from Aqueduct Press. Find her at her blog, where she’s been known to talk about even more books thanks to her Patreon supporters. Or find her at her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council and the Abortion Rights Campaign

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Posted by Emily Asher-Perrin

Valerian and the City of the Thousand Planets

It has been 20 years since the debut of Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element. That windup rainbow world of artifice and hodgepodge captured many viewers and left the world wondering why Besson refused to make more space opera movies when he clearly had am incredible knack for the genre. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets was to be an answer to that silence, and a pointed one too; the decades-running comics series that the movie sprang from is one that Besson drew heavily from in creating Fifth Element.

Safe to say, when Besson said in interviews that he rewrote the entire script after seeing Avatar, we should have known what we were in for. (Avatar, for all its visual innovation didn’t exactly deliver on expert dialogue or intricate story subtleties.) As a result, despite the gorgeous settings and architectural hodgepodge that Besson excels at, Valerian fails utterly where it needs most to fly. How the story fails still manages to be an interesting exercise, particularly looking back at Fifth Element, which Valerian is so inextricably tied to.

[Spoilers for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets]

You have to begin with the strangest puzzle piece in the film’s assembly: the casting. It’s impossible to tell how old Valerian (Dan DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are supposed to be, but the actors look like teenagers, and don’t act much older, unless we’re meant to believe that DeHaan’s faux-deepened “action hero” tenor is convincing by any measure. The narrative tells us that Valerian and Laureline are excellent and experienced operatives for the government roughly five centuries in the future, but there is nothing present in the story to truly convince us of this point; the duo routinely screw up and can’t seem to manage a mission without flirting both awkwardly and irritatingly, which is clearly supposed to be a plus somehow in their rapport.

Which brings us to Valerian’s greatest problem and central conceit—the plot revolves around the idea that Valerian is a galactic sex machine (he has an encyclopedia of women he as rolled around with, which he and Laureline call his ‘playlist’ for some godawful reason) who doesn’t believe in longterm relationships, but find himself in love with his partner. She insists that he only wants what he can’t have, but he asks her to marry him, and the question of whether or not she’ll say yes is what the audience is meant to follow with rapt interest throughout a story that has much bigger fish to fry. There is one gaping problem with this: Valerian is an unlikable crapsack. I cannot think of a nicer way of putting it, and what’s more, he’s not merely unlikeable… he also only has about half of a personality to begin with. The only things we hear him talk about are being good at his job and how much he wants Laureline to admit she’s in love with him, which are not enough traits to form a human being. They are enough traits to form a two-dimensional asshat who no one in their right mind would ever be charmed by, however.

Valerian and the City of the Thousand Planets

Laureline is equally sub-rendered as a person. The viewer is clearly supposed to gather that she is the brains of the operation as she tackles technical issues and ass-kicking with aplomb, but all she ever talks about is how she refuses to give into Valerian’s flirtations because he doesn’t trust her enough to let her take point on things. That is the only thing stopping her from jumping into his arms, apparently. Well, that and his playlist. This supposed superduo go on about how great they are for the government at every available moment, but they’re only ever accused of being unprofessional and difficult to manage by their superiors, so it is really hard to understand what we’re supposed to be impressed by.

(If anyone wants to start that tired old argument of ‘it’s because the film is based on a 50-year-old comic that contains ideas about love and sex that would be outdated now’…. don’t. There is no excuse for dialogue like this—unless it’s meant to be read as a pure parody. Your main female character does not need to start the film angry that her work partner forgot her birthday, and he doesn’t need to respond by “playfully” pinning her to a beach chaise and suggesting that they bone. Adaptations are meant to do what it says on the tin: adapt the source material. Part of adaption is getting rid of material and attitudes that no longer serve the narrative you are trying to build, not doubling down on romantic tropes that seem at home in your average John Wayne movie.)

Outside of this deeply flawed romantic plot, there is a far more interesting story at play. We learn that there is a threat to Alpha, the space station known as the “City of a Thousand Planets,” which our dream team is meant to neutralize. But as the layers are peeled back, this threat is proven nil. Instead, it turns out that the real nastiness comes in the form of a general from their own government (you can pretty much guess he’s the bad guy once you know that he’s played by Clive Owen), one who destroyed an entire planet and its indigenous civilization in a battle thirty years previous. A small number of these aliens survived and found their way to Alpha, and they have been working to rebuild their society piece by piece. Valerian and Laureline, recognizing that their government must make amends, need to switch sides and fight for people who have been wronged.

But first Valerian has to encounter Rihanna the Shapeshifting Alien Sex Worker and Ethan Hawke the Cowboy Space Pimp.

The strangest part about the above sentence is that this should obviously be the point where the movie utterly derails, and instead the opposite is true; this encounter is the only thing that injects life into this movie. Following his partnership with Bubble (that’s Rihanna), Valerian suddenly seems more human, which is in no small part due to Bubble’s refusal to spare his feelings on how ridiculous she finds him. The two of them rescue Laureline (she’s being held by a group of aliens who want to feed her to their king and you know what, it’s just not worth explaining this part don’t ask), but Bubble gets hit on their way out and ends up dying after telling a tearful Valerian to take care of the woman he loves.

Valerian and the City of the Thousand Planets

And if this is the part where you go “Huh, Luc Besson has a weird thing about blue alien women teaching male protagonists something about love and responsibility before dying their arms,” then you are top of the class! It’s also the point at which the effectiveness of The Fifth Element is most clearly juxtaposed to the clumsiness of Valerian; somehow in these completely parallel scenarios, Fifth Element manages to display both more naiveté and more maturity than Valerian does. Korben Dallas’s catharsis when hearing the Diva sing is what opens him up to the prospect of falling in love again, and that love is wrapped up in the later choice to be vulnerable before Leeloo—a tall order for a man still reeling from his recent divorce. It is the mature decision of a person who has already experienced emotional pain opening himself up to the possibility of more pain in hopes of gaining something better. But Valerian’s artistic revelation—and it is pointedly framed as art in the same way that the Diva’s performance is art; Valerian calls Bubble “an artist” more than once after seeing her morphing sex fantasy dance routine, and that is what resonates in him, the artistry of her performance—is bound up in the journey of a woman who has lived a much darker life than anything he has known.

Bubble is an illegal alien on Alpha, with no rights and no one to turn to. Valerian promises to use his government clout to fix that problem for her, but her assistance in his quest to save Laureline is ultimately what gets Bubble killed. Valerian has to reckon with the fact that his choice to enlist her help leads to her death, and come face to face with the idea that his life is a comparatively easy thing that he still finds room to whine about. It could be a scathing commentary about privilege, but it lands awkwardly because Valerian doesn’t have enough room for emotional vulnerability that would make this horrific turn in the narrative worthwhile.

Instead, he finds some small measure of this vulnerability after Laureline insists on going against their government directives, when she demands that they give the matter converter (that’s the MacGuffin) to the wronged alien group without permission from their bosses. Her insistence that Valerian trust her and hand over control of their mission results in the smallest of breakthroughs, and he finally gains a measure of humility. But it still falls short of all the turmoil that The Fifth Element manages to work through… which is baffling considering that fact that the older film doesn’t go out of its way to address those themes.

Valerian and the City of the Thousand Planets

There are so many plotholes in Valerian that it’s a mistake to try and count them all. In addition, the split focus between Valerian and Laureline’s blossoming how-can-this-pass-for-a-love-story and all the intrigue around Clive Owen’s evil doings results in a destructive amount of exposition in the final half hour of the film. There are also a lot of very unfunny jokes (including a bunch about having a ‘girl inside you’ when they learn that Valerian has been carrying a shade of an alien princess’s spirit). Despite Besson’s insistence on creating “optimistic” visions of the future, there is very little optimism to be found in Valerian, in large part due to the cavalier attitudes the two central characters seem to have toward everything except each other for the majority of the film.

It’s all a damned shame because there are some beautiful themes at work here. Cooperation, learning to trust, the acknowledgement that when you do wrong by someone (or a whole group of someones) you don’t continue doing wrong by them to save your own skin. And there is true technical innovation at play in the film, some of the greatest seen in the past decade. The upcoming Ready Player One film is going to have difficulty matching up to the work Valerian has done with the concept of virtual reality and inter-dimensional interaction, as the opening operation that Valerian and Laureline execute is one of the most intricate, impressive sequences that cinema has seen in ages. The soundtrack is dazzling and the imagery (provided mostly in advance due to the groundwork laid by the comic) is stunning enough to warrant the film’s existence regardless.

But the most promising thing about the movie is shoved into the first three minutes: a montage detailing how Alpha came to be. At the start, we see humanity coming together to build out their space station, many peoples gathering, embracing, shaking hands as the years go by and more nations join the endeavor. Then… aliens. They arrive and humans shake hands with each species they welcome. Some of them have metal hands, and some of them have tentacles, and some of them are covered in slime, but they are greeted as equals. And then Alpha grows too large and must be released from Earth’s orbit so that it can continue to makes its way across the cosmos as a beacon of unity and camaraderie. Three minutes in, and I was in tears. Then the rest of the movie arrived and it was like an abrupt deflation of the world’s biggest balloon.

Valerian and the City of the Thousand Planets

Valerian and the City of the Thousand Planets should have been an ode to that future, and somehow it got bogged down in the love story between two children who have barely accessed their emotional control panels. Had the film chosen to center on a non-romantic love, perhaps, a building of trust between two partners, we would have seen something special. But it’s hard to be optimistic about a future where your trusted coworker has a “playlist” of women on his computer and Clive Owen commits genocide against a peaceful race of tall, gender non-conforming, pearl-gathering, iridescent faeries.

It’s just too bad, because those three minutes were truly extraordinary.

Emily Asher-Perrin would like to watch the film’s opening on repeat. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

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Posted by Alex Brown

Oh Image, how I’ve missed you! It’s been ages since the biggest name in indie publishing has released something new that really excited me. Sure, a lot of their ongoings are permanent staples on my shelves, but I was more ready for something brand spanking new than I realized. That drought is at long last over. This summer, Image Comics has delivered two fantastic new ongoing series, Crosswind and Moonstruck.

Within moments of hearing about these two series, I had an order into my local independent comic book shop. Now that I have them in my grabby little hands, I can assure you my untameable eagerness was well worth it. Both take new tacks on old tropes, both are gorgeous to look at and wickedly fun to read, and both will leave you begging for the next issue.

 

Crosswind

With just enough preamble to ground the plot, Crosswind takes no time in getting straight to the action. Cason Bennett is a Chicago hitman with killer good looks and a swagger as sharp as a knife. Something shady is going on with his boss, and a conspiracy seems to be brewing in the background. Across the country in Seattle, Juniper Blue is a put upon housewife. Her husband is cheating on her, her stepson is an angry brat, and her skeezy teen boy neighbors get their rocks off by constantly sexually harassing her. Out of nowhere, a sinister someone says a curse and Case and June swap bodies. Issue #1 ends without any explanation or fallout—talk about a cliffhanger!

The two protags make for a fascinating contrast and intriguing comparison. June is as attractive as Case, but where he’s overly confident in himself and his abilities, she’s so been so beaten down by the men in her life that she hunches over to make herself as small and unobtrusive as possible. Cason is a man of action falling deeper into a hole he may not be able to dig himself out of. The actions he’s forced to take before his swap test his loyalty to his organization. He isn’t so much acting as being pushed around like a pawn. June isn’t an assassin, but she’s just as much of a pawn to more powerful men. Heartless men come at her from all sides, but where Case has his gun and his effortless cool to back him up, June has nothing.

I, for one, can’t wait to watch June work through her emotional distress with Case’s gun as he punishes vile men for mistreating June. Cason-as-Juniper can finally stand up for herself and take on all those assholes trying to break her. Juniper-as-Cason has the chance to become stronger, emotionally and physically, and fight back against inequity. Telling a macho man to shut up and get back in the kitchen and giving a beleaguered woman a gun and a reason to shoot it will make for very interesting blowback.

Really, I don’t even need to talk about how great the writing is. I mean, it’s Gail Simone. Of course the story is stellar. Simon Bowland’s lettering is spot on. The bolding of certain words as a rhythm to the dialogue so you can almost hear the characters speak. And the staccato speech bubbles and text boxes ramp up the tension and keep the story moving at a rapid fire pace. The real star here is Cat Staggs. Her work is as cutting and compelling with a vivid, cinematic quality to it. Simply put, her art is phenomenal. Truly, I wouldn’t change a thing about this issue. To me, it’s abso-bloody-lutely perfect.

Writer: Gail Simone; illustrator: Cat Staggs; letterer: Simon Bowland; production: Carey Hall. Image published the first issue of this new ongoing series in June 2017, and the second is scheduled for July 26.

 

Moonstruck

In a world where magic and fantasy are the norm, Moonstruck tells the story of a lesbian Latina werewolf named Julie who has heart-eyes for the yet to be seen Selena. Julie’s best friend is Chet, a queer centaur barista, and she pals around with a medusa, vampire bat boy, and an oracle. The cast is diverse as all get out, everything from skin color to gender identity to body shape. While there are hints about darker things to come, the story is largely about the blooming relationship between Julie and Selena and Julie’s insecurities about her wolfy nature. So far the story is light on action and heavy on introducing the characters, but it’s an angle that works in Moonstruck’s favor. A story like this, I don’t want it bogged down in big set pieces. I want to take my time with Julie and Selena and their weird world.

Grace Ellis got her professional start on Lumberjanes, and the heart that makes that series so wonderful is here on Moonstruck. Her dialogue is refreshingly candid without being crass or cruel. By the end of the first issue, I felt like I’d been BFFs with Julie and Chet for years. I’m a sucker for complicated relationship plots (whether romantic or platonic), and just the little taste we’ve had so far of Ellis’ story suggests it’ll be a good one. Clayton Cowles’ lettering is top notch as always. Really digging the font choice.

But it’s Shae Beagle whose praises I really want to sing. For a newbie who was still attending Columbus College of Art and Design when they got this gig, Beagle has the feel of a seasoned comics artist. They have a distinct, adorable style that perfectly fits with Ellis’ script. Their art is expressive and playful. Anyone who can have such a strong handle on coloring this new to the game is worth respecting. I’m going to enjoy watching their career grow.

Honestly, I’m a bit surprised a comic like Moonstruck landed at Image rather than BOOM! Box. This delightful all-ages queer fantasy series is right up BOOM!’s alley. Well, regardless of who publishes it, I’m just glad it exists. Like with Goldie Vance, Misfits, and Kim & Kim, I smiled through the entire reading (and re-reading, and re-re-reading…). Consider me hooked.

Writer: Grace Ellis; artist: Shae Beagle; letterer: Clayton Cowles; editor/designer: Laurenn McCubbin; guest artist/SDCC variant cover: Kate Leth. Image published the first issue of this new ongoing series in July 2017, and the second is scheduled for August 23.

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.

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Posted by Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer

We’re approaching the end of Brothers in Arms here, which means it’s time for the dramatic rescue sequence! Miles rescues Mark from the Komarran Underground, the Barrayarans, the Cetagandans, and the London police, then rescues Ivan from the high tide and Elli from a closet (actually a closet, not a metaphorical closet).

On an aesthetic level, I feel like two planetary governments, one resistance movement, a police force, and a mercenary company is a lot of moving parts to involve in a single rescue mission. In defense of Bujold’s work (though it doesn’t need defending), it’s a single night’s work, but not a single rescue. We’ve got four rescuees, three of whom are partially self-rescuing or who make major contributions to the rescue of others.

This reread has an index, which you can consult if you feel like exploring previous books and chapters. Spoilers are welcome in the comments if they are relevant to the discussion at hand. Comments that question the value and dignity of individuals, or that deny anyone’s right to exist, are emphatically NOT welcome. Please take note.

Before I delve deeply into the rescue mission, we need to take a minute for a unicorn update: Earth is working on catching up to Cetagandan unicorn technology with the Unicorn Park (a division of Galactech Biotechnologies, the same company that made Miles’s cat blanket) in Wooten, Surrey. I know, from the tyramine discussion, that some of you live in the British Isles. If you stay there for 5-600 years, you’ll be able to take a train to the Unicorn Park! The Unicorn Park also has lions, which you will be able to feed. My first thought was that the park was feeding unicorns to the lions. Miles’s reaction was that he might be able to feed Ivan to the lions as a martyr. In fact, the lions eat protein cubes. Miles describes the unicorns as looking like a cross between a deer and a horse. He doesn’t mention whether their horns are shiny, which I think shows that he’s capable of overlooking the really important details.

My initial plan was to compare this rescue to Cordelia’s rescue of Miles, back in Barrayar. The critical elements in THAT mission involved:

  • A target: Miles
  • A team: Cordelia, Bothari, Drou, and Kou (stunned and dragged along)
  • A side-mission: Alys Vorpatril and Ivan
  • An agent on the inside: Kareen
  • An enemy: Vordarian
  • A decapitation
  • Lots of revelations about everyone’s character
  • Setting the Imperial Palace on fire

As his mother was before him, Miles is forbidden this mission; Destang sends him into orbit. Even his friends don’t understand why he wants to rescue Mark—he can easily have another clone made, and Ivan and Elli don’t care for Mark. Miles never considers leaving Mark behind—the most desperate option he considers is rescuing Mark without Ivan and Elli’s help. His hand is forced when Ivan is kidnapped from a horticultural fair—remember kids, civic events are dangerous! You might be there for light duty guarding the ambassador’s wife, or even just to pick up some galactic cultural polish, but assassins and kidnappers LOVE those shindigs. They’re target rich environments because they’re full of people like you. STAY HOME! Or go to the Unicorn Park. ANYWAY—Ivan, kidnapped.

We learn about Ivan’s abduction from Ser Galen, who says Miles has to come to the Thames Tidal Barrier to meet him or Ivan dies at 2:07. Miles negotiates to bring a second. Galen assumes he will bring Elli. Every time Galen says the words “pretty bodyguard” I want to punch him—He’s just so slimy about it.

Miles uses a comm link he failed to return when he left the embassy to contact Galeni, who Ivan turned his half of the link over to. Ivan wasn’t an entirely willing participant in Miles’s plan to keep a covert inside line to the embassy. He pointed out that his effort to get Miles back into the embassy incognito a few chapters ago is already a black mark on his record. It’s a black mark that has some company, from the time Ivan turned his desk around in Ops so Miles could read his secured comm console screen, and the time he held onto a souvenir nerve disruptor he picked up in a seemingly random encounter with the Ba Lura.

At this point, Ivan is technically the target of the rescue, with Mark as the side-mission and Galen as the enemy. Miles likes to mix things up, and he knows Galeni has some skin in the game, so he brings Duv to the rendezvous instead of Elli. Not having his mother’s disadvantages in re. political optics, Miles also arranges back-up on the ground from the Dendarii. And then, what with one thing and another, Mark kills Ser Galen, Miles gives Mark a credit chit for half a million Barrayaran Marks, Ivan is rescued from being drowned in a pumping station at high tide, and the Cetagandans try to kill everyone. Elli gets stunned and shoved in a closet, somehow, even though she wasn’t initially on the scene (she rappelled in), and Galeni has a berserker moment and takes down Lieutenant Tabor of the Cetagandan Embassy and a Cetagandan assassin in blue and yellow face paint. The effectiveness of Cetagandan covert ops would be dramatically increased if they ditched the face paint. Not all the time—just for special occasions.

My personal feelings about the complexity of this rescue mission are validated by Miles’s efforts to explain to his Dendarii backup how to contact the London Police, what to say, and what tones of voice to use while saying it. Usually, Miles seems to trust his troops’ initiative on issues like how to play-act to the cops over the phone (and also how to raise eighteen million marks, and what crucial pieces of evidence or other items to drop in the mail to a friend). His unwillingness to let them manage the relatively simple task of alerting local authorities to a firefight in their tidal barrier suggests that the situation is particularly critical.

How is my comparison doing? Water stands in for fire—that’s really what attracted me to the idea that the rescues might be parallel; It’s very poetic. There are some other similarities; Mark has a Drou moment when he realizes he’s capable of killing, combined with a Kareen moment when he kills Ser Galen. Galeni has a Bothari moment, although he doesn’t kill anyone, when he takes on the Cetagandans. Ivan becomes a side-quest. Cordelia’s rescue of Miles was about keeping her family (and her sanity) together. The immediate outcome here has Mark pursuing a life of doing whatever he wants because Miles feels strongly about Mark’s need to make some independent choices. Miles also recognizes that Mark hates him, which is very mature of Miles, really. I think it’s interesting to keep the idea of both of Cordelia’s sons being rescued in mind, even though efforts at direct comparison quickly become tortured.

Mark doesn’t get to leave until Miles has orchestrated a little meeting with the Cetagandans with both Lt. Vorkosigan and Admiral Naismith present. I wish Miles had waited just a little longer to let the Cetas explain what they thought was going on before pushing the clone story. He’s so invested in this rare opportunity to perpetuate his cover that he doesn’t know what his enemy thinks he’s covering up. Also, I suspect the Cetagandans of doing a lot of things, and I want to know what all the things are.

Bizarrely, everyone else gets to return to their status quo. The Ambassador requests that Galeni stay at his post. Destang goes back to Sector Headquarters and devoutly hopes he’s retired before the Dendarii come his way again. Miles and the Dendarii go off on a rescue mission in aid of Barrayaran interests. Ivan is still Ivan. I wish the ending acknowledged Ivan’s newly aggravated claustrophobia here, but it does not. Poor, neglected Ivan.

Next week, we move on to Mark’s fate in Mirror Dance! I will be tacking book covers, and possibly early chapters.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

Five Books About Extreme Worlds

Jul. 24th, 2017 06:00 pm
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Posted by Michael Johnston

The essence of a great science fiction or fantasy novel is the world. There, I said it. Feel free to disagree. But I haven’t fallen in love with a novel without first falling deep into the author’s imaginary world. So naturally it was the most extreme worlds that became my favorites. And in the hands of the best authors those unique worlds produced not only memorable places and stories, but fertile ground for things like social and political commentary as well. There is something to be said for taking things to their limits. In each of these novels the author has taken ideas about our humdrum world and pushed them to the extreme (as if I hadn’t already overused that word). In doing this, in seeing these exaggerated versions of our world, we are allowed glimpses of possible futures or of alternate versions of the present or even the past.

 

The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard

To grasp the significance of J.G. Ballard’s novel it’s important to remember that it was written in 1962 because it sounds like a novel that was written in the last few years. In fact, more than one book has been written in the last few years with a similar premise. The Drowned World was the first book I read in what I’ll call the “scientific expedition into an unknown world” genre. A kind of global warming has devastated the world. The polar ice caps are melted, flooding the northern hemisphere, transforming the land into something that resembles the Triassic period (now that’s extreme). But what’s truly great about The Drowned World is the way in which this transformation shapes and affects the characters. Our protagonist literally finds himself regressing into an earlier state, feeling more primitive and impulsive, devolved like his world. It’s a perfect of example of the interplay of character and environment and a keen commentary on the fragility of our society.

 

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

Here we encounter another world wrecked by flooding and eco-disasters, a world in which biological plagues wreak havoc on the population and strange, genetic experiments run wild (a population of feral Cheshire Cats). We are in the drowned world of 23rd century Thailand, a place that is powered (literally) by springs (check the title of the book). Food sources are controlled by vast global conglomerates (this one is just a fact of the modern world) and the last remaining seed bank is a treasure our protagonist will do anything to acquire. The Windup Girl might just be the future of agriculture or our present.

 

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

There is a point in the novel where the narrator, Genly Ai, wonders whether the peculiar nature of the people of Gethen—also known as Winter, the perpetually cold and snowy planet in Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness—are a product of the extreme environment or some sort of genetic experiment long ago abandoned. We never discover the answer. Rather, Le Guin’s novel is a meditation on the nature of the Gethenites’ sexual identity. See, the people of Winter have no fixed sex. They shift from male to female in a cycle and choose partners to suit their current sex. Our narrator is an envoy, a man from another world trying to make first contact with Gethen. He is ultimately thrown out by one faction, embraced by another, betrayed, befriended, and saved. The novel concludes with one of the more memorable segments in science fiction, a month’s long journey across a glacier that leaves Genly (male) alone with Estraven (alternately male and female). The two are trapped, isolated as they move across the ice. In this private world we confront the notion of what it is to be a man or a woman and how we define our relationship between the two.

 

Dune by Frank Herbert

Arrakis, also called Dune, is a planet entirely devoid of surface water, a desert from top to bottom. And everyone who lives there—the native population, the fremen—is entirely focused on conservation and desert survival. The desert of Arrakis is merciless, but it’s also the only place in the universe where the spice, mélange, exists. Born of sandworms, the spice is a kind of catchall mystical, pseudo-scientific, quasi-religious super drug. Control of the spice equals control of the empire. And the spice is born out of this extreme environment, as are its spice-consuming, blue-within-blue-eyed population, the fremen. These folk are the true children of the desert. Their stillsuits turn every man or woman into a walking ecosystem, a self-sufficient, recycling machine in stylish brown leather. There are a hundred different reasons to praise Dune, but it was the severity of Herbert’s depiction of desert life that most struck me when I first read it.

 

Solaris by Stanislaw Lem

Okay, I saved this one for last because Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris gets the prize for most extreme world. Solaris, the eponymous planet, contains only one living organism. The planet wasn’t populated by a billion life forms that rose out of the ocean, rather the planet-sized ocean became a single life form. As the novel opens we learn that scientist have already spent decades studying the ocean. Volumes have been written about it. Generations have studied Solaris, but the ocean remains a mystery. The people of earth are unable to communicate with Solaris and it’s not for want of trying. Even the planet wants to communicate with humanity. It creates grand structures and humanoid figures, using mimicry to attempt communication. It doesn’t work. Contact is never achieved. Solaris is about the limitations of our species. It’s about trying to understand something that is completely different from you. It’s a contemplation of what is alien and thus human as well.

 

Michael Johnston has always been an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy. He studied architecture and ancient history at Lehigh University and earned a master’s degree in architecture from Columbia University. Michael worked as an architect in New York City before switching to writing full time. He is the co-author of the YA Heart of Dread trilogy with his wife, Melissa de la Cruz. His new book, Soleri, is now available from Tor. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter. You can find him online at his website and on Twitter @MJohnstonAuthor.

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Posted by Stubby the Rocket

Skybound Entertainment logo Skybound Books

Simon & Schuster’s Atria division is launching a new imprint: Skybound Books, a partnership between Atria and multi-platform entertainment company Skybound Entertainment, best known for the TV adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead. Skybound Books will focus on science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories.

Skybound will publish four to six titles a year, including original fiction and nonfiction as well as projects based on existing Skybound Entertainment properties. The company, founded in 2010 by Kirkman and producer David Alpert, has developed projects in the television, comics, gaming, digital media, and virtual reality spheres.

Michael Braff, formerly at Del Rey, has joined the imprint as senior editor, reporting to Skybound Entertainment senior vice president and editor-in-chief Sean Mackiewicz. Atria’s VP and EIC Peter Borland and senior editor Jhanteigh Kupihea will serve as editorial liaisons. Judith Curr, president and publisher of Atria, described the partnership as “an opportunity to build a publishing home within Atria for writers with bold, new voices and creative visions.”

“We are on a relentless search to find different ways to tell the stories from some of the most creative minds out there,” said Kirkman, who serves as chairman of Skybound Entertainment, “and Skybound Books imprint is a very important component of that endeavor.”

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Posted by Alex Brown

Ray Electromatic, the robot hitman, is back in the latest entry in Adam Christopher’s pulpy murder mystery series, Killing Is My Business. It’s been a while now since Ada, his former secretary now boss who also happens to be a room-sized super computer, reprogrammed Ray from a run-of-the-mill metallic detective to a murderer for hire. Business is booming and the cash is piling up. Ray is eerily good at what he does.

Ada sends Ray on a cryptic stakeout, which leads to an even more cryptic hit and a series of increasingly convoluted and seemingly counterproductive cons, schemes, and shenanigans. The less Ada reveals, the more Ray suspects something’s up, and the deeper he’s pulled into the tangled web of the Italian mafia, Hollywood high rollers, and conspiracy coverups.

Killing Is My Business is the second full-length novel, and fourth entry in the series (there’s a short story prequel—available to read at Tor.com—and a novella between this and Made to Kill). Now’s an especially good time to at least check out the free prequel, since some of the overarching thematic elements there are mirrored in Killing Is My Business. You don’t absolutely have to have read any of the previous stories in order read the newest, although I highly recommend it. The whole kit and kaboodle is a ton of fun to read.

The story is set in a version of 1960s Los Angeles where robots were once all over the place but when the tide of public opinion turned against them, all but Ray were destroyed. Everyday Ada gives him a new case to work and a new person to off, and every night he comes back, takes out his 24-hour tape, and gets a fresh restart so that every morning he starts brand new with nothing but his template and Ada’s guidance to keep him company. Having a short term memory has its problems, though, and those problems are starting to compound.

Christopher channels more than just Raymond Chandler’s name. The Ray Electromatic Mysteries are alternate history mashed with mid-century B-movie science fiction and pulp fiction sensibilities, all tied together with a line of dark humor. With his fedora, overcoat, and shiny PI badge, Ray is a electronic Philip Marlowe. Christopher has a knack for atmospheric description and scintillating dialogue, and he’s rarely more fun than when he puts those skills to pulpy use. If Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett decided to take a crack at robot science fiction, they’d end up with something close to the Ray Electromatic Mysteries. Killing Is My Business is probably the least noir-ish of the robot noir series—it’s light on the hardboiled detective and heavy on conspiracies, secrets, and lies—but it’s no less entertaining.

Despite being a walking, talking computer, Ray is easy to get attached to. There’s just enough curiosity from his detective programming and remnants of his creator in him (his personality is based off a template copied from the dearly departed professor) to give him some spark. Raymondo may be a bunch of ones and zeroes, but he still has feelings and wants, albeit artificial ones. He’s a tin man with a heart. Ada is a lot more complex, but it’s hard to fault her when she’s simply doing what she was created to do—make money, that is—even when her prerogative gets people killed. If the series is headed where I think it’s headed, the confrontation between headstrong Ray and ruthless Ada will be striking.

As for the humans, they’re all pretty par for the course for a pulp detective novel. Mobsters, femme fatales, and hapless nobodies abound, but they all get just enough shading to be interesting on their own. The only thing this series lacks is diversity. Other than Ada, there’s only one woman, and the racial/ethnic diversity is equally as limited.

It’s hard to talk plot without getting into spoilers, but here’s the short and sweet. Ada takes a new case, one where Ray is hired to bump off an old Sicilian gangster but not before he’s befriended him and done some snooping around. Ray keeps getting new jobs to take out Hollywood elites, and they keep turning up dead before he can pull the trigger. The farther down the rabbit hole he goes, the more he uncovers, and the more men end up six feet under. No one is who they say they are, not even Ray. It’s a story full of twists and turns and backtracks and reveals, but it’s not really all that complicated, not when you get into it.

Alright, so there’s one more little thing I have to mention. In the 1946 film version of Chandler’s The Big Sleep, there’s this major plot hole where a chauffeur is killed and his car is dumped in the water, but we never learn who the killer is. When director Howard Hawkes asked Chandler about it, Chandler apparently replied “Damned if I know.” There’s a moment like that in Killing Is My Business where a character dies under suspicious circumstances but no one ever figures out whodunit. Intentional or not, I choose to believe it’s an homage to Chandler. Either way, it adds a little wrinkle to a larger mystery.

You need some weird, wonky fun on your bookshelf, and the Ray Electromatic Mysteries are just the thing. How can you say no to a Raymond Chandler-esque murder mystery books with a robot hitman protagonist? Just trust me on this.

Killing Is My Business is available from Tor Books.

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.

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Posted by Annalee Newitz

On a lazy evening in Regina, Saskatechwan, you can go to a bar called The Fat Badger, grab a beer, and put a little money into the jukebox if you want to hear an old country song about the prairies. Except the jukebox is my cousin, a soft-spoken guy named Marshall Burns, strumming guitar with his band The Alley Dawgs and singing as many classics as they know (and there are a lot). It’s the kind of thing you might have seen here 80 years ago. Or that you might see 180 years from now.

Two summers ago, when I was finishing the first draft of my novel Autonomous, I watched Marshall play and thought about the future. Back then he was at Leopold’s Tavern, and I’d come to the crowded bar with a bunch of family after a long dinner full of conversations about politics and art. This is the sort of thing we might do more often if there were an apocalypse, I mused. We’d gather in some communal shelter, after a day of hunting and gathering in the trashed wastes. Then somebody from our family would start to sing. We’d raise our voices too, to take our minds off the famine and plague and wildfires.

But it’s also the exact kind of thing we’d do in a Utopian future. Imagine us surrounded by carbon-neutral farms whose plants are monitored by sensors and satellites. Our brains would be crackling with ideas, thanks to government-funded science education. After a productive day in the fields and the labs, we’d gather at the co-op watering hole and sing our brains out in agrarian socialist solidarity. We’d all sound great too, because we’d have optimized our vocal chords with open source biotissue mods.

Maybe it sounds a little strange to say that Marshall’s old-fashioned songs gave me these vivid, contradictory images of the future. But I see the future clearly in these anachronistic moments. If we can still hear traditional prairie music in a modern city bar, then it’s a kind of guarantee that people of the future will still be listening to us. As Marshall sang, I could imagine distorted bits of my own culture still alive in a world utterly transformed by time’s passage.

That’s why, about a year later, I asked Marshall if he’d write a country song inspired by my novel for a book trailer. When he’s not being a human jukebox, Marshall is a professional musician and tours with indie rock band Rah Rah, so he took my request pretty seriously (also, he’s just kind of a serious guy). He thought the idea of writing a country song about a robot was pretty weird, which was exactly why I liked it. It represented that blend of past and future I’d seen in the Regina music scene, but also in lots of places on the Canadian prairies.

This is a province that has world-class universities and high-tech farming right alongside small towns with one-room schoolhouses. Go to a bar in Saskatoon, and you’ll find scientists and poets drinking alongside farmers and workers from the oil fields. I’m not saying the blend of tradition and modernity here is perfect—Saskatchewan’s indigenous people still suffer from the historical injustices of colonial conquest. Canada’s past haunts its future, reminding us of ongoing conflicts and unhealed wounds.

I wanted to capture all of that in Autonomous, which is about how the future comes to the prairies, still soaked in the blood of historical crimes. So when I commissioned Marshall to write the Autonomous song, I said something like, “Make it kind of sad.” What he created with this song about the robot Paladin—who is chasing our protagonist Jack Chen across the prairies where she was born—is both funny and sad. In its exaggerated twang you can hear the self-satire of prairie humor, always laced with genuine humbleness. And in its lyrics you can hear a protest against injustice that arcs through time, from the great 19th century Metis rebel leader Louis Riel, to the enslaved robots of Saskatchewan’s future.

Through Marshall, I met Regina filmmaker Sunny Adams, who created the amazing visuals for this video. Sunny animated a kaleidoscopic blend of images from Autonomous: there are scenes from the Saskatchewan prairies and the boreal forest to the north, as well as the science and robotics that are our protagonists’ lifeblood. There are a ton of Easter eggs, too; for people who’ve already read Autonomous, Sunny’s donut machine animation will be shiver-inducing.

What Marshall and Sunny created in this music video can’t rightfully be called a book trailer. Yes, it was inspired by my novel. But it’s also very much the product of their imaginations. It’s an example of what I like to call Canadian prairie futurism. It doesn’t pretend we can have a future without honoring and coming to terms with the past.

Though I have a lot of family whom I love dearly in Saskatchewan, I grew up in California. I’ve spent a lot of time on the prairies, but that’s not the same thing as being from there, living through dozens of those cold, dry winters. I’m very aware that my perspective is colored by my outsider status. Luckily the people of Saskatchewan are usually kind to outsiders. After all, you can’t just leave a person outside to freeze.

Plus, Canadian prairie futurism isn’t just about the prairies—it’s about how the future is taking place everywhere. Tomorrow doesn’t come just to the Tokyos of the world. It happens in Lucky Lake, Saskatchewan. It happens in a suburb outside Vancouver called Richmond. It happens in Tallinn and Samarkand, but it also happens on farms, and in countries that don’t make the G20 cut. Nobody is left behind by the future. But not all futures are exactly the same.

When you watch this video or read Autonomous, I hope it inspires you to think about how the future is a humble place. It’s a patchwork quilt made with what we’ve salvaged from the past. Some swatches are assembled from self-cleaning nanofibers; others will always be stained with the blood of a not-so-distant colonial past.

The pirate Jack and the robot Paladin are living in a future that is full of biotech wonders, but whose people still live in slavery. They don’t dream of spaceships like Luke Skywalker did. They dream of freedom from bondage. It is a humble dream. But maybe it’s the most audacious one.

Autonomous is available September 19th from Tor Books.

Annalee Newitz is an American journalist, editor, and author of both fiction and nonfiction. She is the recipient of a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship from MIT, and has written for Popular Science, Wired, and the San Francisco Bay Guardian. She also founded the science fiction website io9 and served as Editor-in-Chief from 2008–2015, and subsequently edited Gizmodo. As of 2016, she is Tech Culture Editor at the technology site Ars Technica. Autonomous is Annalee’s first novel.

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Posted by Theresa DeLucci

So, taking the Iron Throne isn’t going to be as easy as striding into King’s Landing and demanding it, now is it?

This week saw some hard lessons for the ladies of Game of Thrones, just when it seemed they were going to be on top. (Exempt from this turnabout: Missandei.) Littlefinger’s gonna leer, Spider’s gonna keep swimming, and Theon’s gonna… Reek.

Spoilers for the currently published George R. R. Martin novels are discussed in the review and fair game in the comments. We highly suggest not discussing early preview chapters, but if you must, white it out. Have courtesy for the patient among us who are waiting and waiting (and waiting) for The Winds of Winter. Play nice. Thanks.

I suppose my brain is still too in the books, because I thought for sure the great “prize” Euron was planning on giving Cersei was a certain dragon-controlling horn. But, it’s probably more immediately pleasing for Euron to give his intended bride the Dornish snake-mom in open rebellion against the crown, who was also responsible for poisoning Cersei’s daughter.

So, even though I knew Euron’s haute couture fleet was out there somewhere, I was not thinking that he’d cross paths with Theon and Yara so soon. Even though parts of this episode felt a million years long. Time passes so strangely in Westeros.

But, while I still think it’s a bit unfair that Euron was able to pull off such a devastating ambush—watching four seasons of Black Sails has made me an armchair pirate—the sneak attack itself was terrifying and tense. Greyjoys gonna reave and rape. That last bit will be particularly concerning to Euron’s new captives, which most definitely include Yara and Ellaria, but also possibly Tyene? Please don’t make us watch.

I’m so conflicted; I hate Euron, but he killed 66% of the Sand Snakes, who I also hated. I used to be so pro-Greyjoy, but I am just not here for this swaggering kraken version of Euron. Euron is no Ramsay, who was no Joffrey. Euron’s not even a Viserys. At least Viserys provided a dramatic foil for Dany, so he served an important character function. It’s clear Euron’s going to be the new Big Bad of the season, fucking everything up for everyone with magical plot devices that I already hate. And the way they telegraph this fact is that Euron easily kills characters who, by rights, should be way more skilled in combat than him. Come on, I loathed the Sand Snakes, but it’s just insulting that they were taken out by such a Greyjoy.

A one-liner spewing Greyjoy, no less.

“Give your uncle a kiss.” I’d say this was the worst line in Game of Thrones history, but it came 10 minutes after Ellaria made a terrible innuendo about “foreign invasions” of Yara. Seven Hells.

Also rubbish? Cersei’s new anti-dragon defence crossbow. Okay, so I guess Dany’s dragons are Smaug now? What are the chances you can get that close to a direct hit on a dragon as it’s breathing fire down your neck? Cersei is so hilariously doomed.

Cersei doesn’t know it, but she can breathe a little easier on her throne for a few more episodes because Arya decided to go North once her bud Hot Pie (!) told her Jon is King of the North. It’s wild how there are people who exist in Thrones who know nothing about Jon Snow! I forget that. Arya’s whole demeanor changed.

Dany really doesn’t know Jon Snow and doesn’t seem open to the idea of a King of the North. But I’m sure after an initial meet-not-so-cute, she’ll fall under the spell of Kit Harrington’s curly hair and insane abs, like so many a woman, and all will be forgiven. I still think Dany is the Prince that Was Promised; Missandei correcting the translation of Melisandre’s prophecy was perfect. Dany may not wield a literal sword of light, but, what if she can control the arm who does? Everything else about Azor Ahai seems to fit the Mother of Dragons.

Meanwhile, Jon is not the best at inspiring confidence, which is why I have a hard time picturing him ultimately taking the Iron Throne at series’ end. King of the North, sure, but it’s clear his expertise is strictly in the North. He’s a war-time King, but not like Robert. While Dany may be naive to think she can so easily bring peace to the Seven Kingdoms, she’s more prepared for it and while I see some of that Targ madness creeping around the edges of her, she’s in battle-mode now herself. She needs to be the Dragon now, not a more nurturing mother. So, I agree with Olenna to an extent, but don’t want Dany to completely disregard clever men like Varys and Tyrion, either. As morally gray as both of these men are, I do believe they care more about the bigger picture of the small folk they want to govern.

Final Thoughts:

  • “That’s not you.” Nymeria! I loved that reunion scene. I loved how it echoed Ned Stark’s words to Arya way back when she was given a dancing instructor. You can’t domesticate a direwolf. Will Arya, like the Hound, ever be able to live a simple, domestic life after everything that’s happened to her? Will her encounter with her direwolf make her rethink her decision to go home to Winterfell? I sure hope not.
  • Last week, Game of Thrones ruined lentil soup; this week it’s chowder. Damn, the last two episodes’ editing was brilliant. But also I liked lentil soup and chowder.
  • Maybe there’s hope Jorah will live out his days in Dany’s Friendzone, after all, instead of a Valyrian leper colony!
  • Let’s put Littlefinger in a leper colony. Just, no. I’m glad Jon wasn’t going to take Littlefinger with him to meet Dany, but nothing good will come of him skulking around Winterfell with Sansa.
  • Oh, Theon. I was completely surprised but also not surprised that he chickened out on saving his sister, but it was definitely foreshadowed with Ellaria’s lame joke earlier in the hour. He will never be completely recovered from his trauma and I think that speaks to a certain mature delicacy of handling PTSD.
  • While Theon couldn’t find his courage, two other victims of years of systemic abuse as slaves took a great leap forward to confront their fears. I legit got a lump in my throat when Grey Worm talked about being afraid of Missandei and the vulnerability his love for her gave him, the bravest of the Unsullied. While this was the scene I felt went on a few beats too long—and the mature folks at my viewing party were annoyed that we never got a peek at what exactly was going on with Grey Worm’s worm because apparently it matters to some people—I’m going to give it a pass this time because I’m happy that these two finally got some sexy payoff. Isn’t it funny how Grey Worm did a Tyrion move without even knowing it? Now they really have something in common to discuss for a real conversation.
  • I got two takeaways from the Game of Thrones panel I managed to sneak into at San Diego Comic-Con: fans really love Gwendoline Christie and Varys looks SUPER WEIRD with hair. Watch the new trailer below:

Game of Thrones airs Sunday nights at 9PM E/PT on HBO.

Theresa DeLucci is a regular contributor to Tor.com covering TV, book reviews and sometimes games. She’s also gotten enthusiastic about television for Boing Boing, Wired.com’s Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast and Den of Geek. Reach her via raven or on Twitter.

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Posted by Judith Tarr

This part of the thought experiment is going to be tough, because if it was hard to set aside human assumptions about sex and violence, the ones about religion can be downright intractable. Just as it’s a given that sex must be an obsession and mass violence must be inevitable in a sentient species, it may be argued from the (Western, patriarchal) human model that every sentient species must worship some sort of god.

But is it a given?

When it comes to sex and war, we can observe equine behavior and extrapolate from it, but there’s no such evidence for belief in divine power. There’s no way to ask, and it’s not something we can deduce from behavior. Unlike dogs, who seem (to human eyes) to tend toward adoration of their human companions, horses maintain a certain distance. They may bond with a human, sometimes deeply, but it’s a partnership, a sense that each side meets the other halfway. Horses tolerate human behavior rather than try to emulate it; the human may join the herd, but the horse isn’t making an effort to join the human pack.

Herd order is a hierarchy, that much we do know, but it’s fluid and no one individual remains supreme. Age, illness, accident or predation will bring down the lead mare, and the lead stallion will eventually lose a battle and therefore his herd. He may die, or he may withdraw to a solitary existence, possibly with one or two mares who follow him when he goes. Or not.

(In one of those bits of synchronicity that often happens when a writer is at work, I just this moment received an alert about a study that concludes that there is in fact no totally dominant mare, and the stallion does not lead, rather he follows and guards the herd, rounds up stragglers, and generally acts to keep the group together. The overall order is remarkably egalitarian, and herd ranking is even more fluid than science had been led to believe. My own observation is that there are individuals with more confidence, who take the lead more often, and others who are more likely to give way, but again—it’s flexible. So: interesting, and hey, science!)

Would sentience bring with it the need to invent a god? There’s no way to answer that, but from what I know of horse behavior, I think probably not. But there might be other reasons for a religion-like structure to develop.

The purpose of religion in the cultures I’m aware of seems primarily to be behavioral control. Mandating some behaviors, forbidding others. Backing up the secular authority with the authority of a superior being or beings. Humans keep gravitating toward this, for reasons no one truly understands. Maybe it’s genetic, as that TIME magazine article supposes.

Belief in a god or gods might not happen in an equinoid society, but what we can postulate from terrestrial equine behavior is that ritual could definitely be a thing. Ritual might mark important events: raising and deposing stallions, embarking on or returning from enterprises, celebrating the birth of a foal, mourning the death of a herd member. It might also serve a more practical purpose.

Horses are creatures of habit. It’s a common saying among horsepeople, “If he does it twice, he’s always done it.” They like their routine and can become seriously disconcerted if it’s broken: a different route for the day’s ride, a pile of dirt that wasn’t in that corner before, a change in the feeding schedule, even something as seemingly minor as a different brush or a new halter. Change, a horse will tell you, is dangerous, and can be death.

That’s the prey animal in action. If something is different about the environment, there may be a predator involved. Since the horse’s best defense is flight, her first impulse will be to get the hell out of there. If it turns out not to be a Horseasaurus Maximus on the prowl for lunch, she can always circle back to what she was doing before.

Now, add to this that in confinement or under other forms of stress, horses can develop chronic behavioral problems such as pawing, weaving, pacing, or wind-sucking. Horses can manifest OCD, in short. They can get very, very focused and very, very ritualistic in their actions.

I could see ritual as a way of dealing constructively with these aspects of equine psychology. A “Fear is the Mind-Killer” ritual for panic attacks in new situations or when there are big changes in the environment. Desensitization rituals to prepare individuals or groups for travel or exploration. Even “de-rituals” for horses with OCD, to break them out of repetitive patterns and get them thinking in useful directions.

I think a lot of these rituals would be based on movement. Dance, if you will. Marches and quadrilles, whole herds moving in synchrony. Greeting and farewell dances. Mating rituals: stallions courting, mares accepting or rejecting.

Marriage, no, not in a polygamous species. But when a stallion wins a herd through ritual combat, he receives a formal welcome from the mares.

Do they invoke the Great Herd Goddess? Maybe not. But there is a clear connection among members of a herd. Horses are extremely sensitive to small shifts in movement, to changes in the air, to smell and sound but also to each other’s proximity. They’re energy beings to a high degree.

Acupuncture works on them, beautifully. So does Reiki, which a serious test of one’s modern Western skepticism. To watch a horse’s face just about slide off while a Reiki practitioner stands there with a hand half an inch from his neck is a very interesting experience. You can’t placebo a horse. Something is happening, and he’s showing it in clear and unambiguous ways.

So maybe, in a spacefaring equinoid, there’s a sense of the Great Overmind, the herd-connection that holds all the species together. Every individual is connected with every other. They’re singular selves, but also collective beings. The individual who separates permanently from the herd is regarded as a terrible deviant, and true solitude, the life of the hermit, is just about unthinkable.

Western-style religion in the sense of a moral framework might be comprehensible to an equinoid (though not the god part or the dogma part), but there are other practices that would make more sense. Consider that a horse only sleeps for about three hours a day. Her knees lock; she can sleep on her feet. She will lie down for short periods, up to forty-five minutes on the average, and she will go flat and even seem to be dead. She will dream.

The rest of the time she’s grazing, socializing, or dozing—or meditating. Meditation is a very horse-like thing to do. Being still or moving slowly, in rhythmic motions; existing in the moment, going deep inside or extending awareness all around one’s stillness. These are things horses do every day.

They make a meditation of dance, too. Air for them is like the ocean for a dolphin; their spatial awareness is acute, as it needs to be for an animal designed to function in a herd. A horse in motion for the sake of motion has an almost dreamlike expression, a deep focus on what his body is doing. Those big bodies are tremendously strong and balanced and athletic, and the minds inside them are very well aware of this. They take joy in it.

A human analogue would be yoga and similar practices. They’re not about gods or dogma, but about mind and body and their connection to the universe. A horse would get that. In fact I’m only half ironically convinced that my horses, especially the eldest one (she is very wise), are Bodhisattvas. They have that deep calm and that air of being at one with the world.

Imagine that in space. Would they proselytize? I doubt it. Horses tend to be self-contained; they don’t try to be anything but what they are, and I don’t see them trying to convince anyone else to be like them. But they would teach by example. Other species would want to join them, the way humans have managed to partner with horses through the millennia. (Sure, they’ve been indispensable as transport and as war machines, but the myth of the Centaur tells us a great deal about the subtext: that horse and human are one being.)

It’s an article of faith within the herd, that individuals have to get along. The group suffers otherwise, and loses its ability to fend off predators. I could see this extending to planet-wide herd relations, and proving useful in space. In a meeting of spacefaring cultures, the equinoids well might be the diplomats, the ones who make the connections, who smooth the way and resolve conflicts. And the dance performances would be amazing.

Judith Tarr is a lifelong horse person. She supports her habit by writing works of fantasy and science fiction as well as historical novels, many of which have been published as ebooks by Book View Cafe. Her most recent short novel, Dragons in the Earth, features a herd of magical horses, and her space opera, Forgotten Suns, features both terrestrial horses and an alien horselike species (and space whales!). She lives near Tucson, Arizona with a herd of Lipizzans, a clowder of cats, and a blue-eyed spirit dog.

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Posted by Stubby the Rocket

Children of Time Adrian Tchaikovsky Arthur C. Clarke Award

Summit Entertaiment and Lionsgate Pictures will bring Adrian Tchaikovsky’s science fiction novel Children of Time, with its Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning imagination and its shudder-inducing sentient-spiders premise, to the big screen. A recent press release from Pan Macmillan announces that the film rights have been optioned.

“I couldn’t be happier about this,” said Bella Pagan, Editorial Director at Pan Macmillan. “Adrian’s fabulous book has been optioned by a fabulous production company with an incredible reputation.”

The official synopsis for Children of Time, which took home the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2016:

The last remnants of the human race left a dying Earth, desperate to find a new home among the stars. Following in the footsteps of their ancestors, they discover the greatest treasure of the past age—a world terraformed and prepared for human life.

But all is not right in this new Eden. In the long years since the planet was abandoned, the work of its architects has borne disastrous fruit. The planet is not waiting for them, pristine and unoccupied. New masters have turned it from a refuge into mankind’s worst nightmare.

Now two civilizations are on a collision course, both testing the boundaries of what they will do to survive. As the fate of humanity hangs in the balance, who are the true heirs of this new Earth?

Adrian’s more recent works include the fantasy trilogy Echoes of the Fall: The Tiger and the WolfThe Bear and the Serpent, and the forthcoming trilogy finale The Hyena and the Hawk, publishing in spring 2018.

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Posted by Kelly Quinn

Something is happening in the anime fandom, and anime fans aren’t pleased.

If you’re someone who likes to watch anime, you may have been hearing the backlash against Amazon’s new channel, Anime Strike. The service has angered fans by snapping up exclusive licenses to many of the most anticipated shows and putting them behind a steep paywall. Meanwhile, this season sees Netflix continue its practice of exclusively licensing shows, then locking them away until they can release a season at time—long after the show has already finished airing in Japan.

Why does this matter? Both strategies effectively remove a show from popular conversation, and thus from the notice of a large portion of viewers. It’s a frustrating reversal of the increasing accessibility and reach that anime has enjoyed in the last few years under services like Crunchyroll, Funimation, and Daisuki. Rather than opening up the market, Amazon and Netflix appear to be shutting the door on old fans and new viewers alike. This is a trend I very much don’t love, especially since my most anticipated show of the season—Welcome to the Ballroom—is a victim of this new distribution regime.

With my Anime Strike tirade out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff. As always, I have watched as many of the summer season’s new offerings as I can stand, and picked just five of the best new shows worth your time. Yes, unfortunately many of them are on Anime Strike. But don’t let that stop you from enjoying what this season has to offer—a big helping of of fantasy adventure, a sweet romance, and, of course, ballroom dancing.

 

Welcome to the Ballroom

Tatara Fujita’s plan to get through school consists of keeping his head down and not giving bullies any reason to hit him. When he’s saved from a back-alley beating by a motorcycle-riding ballroom dance champion, Tatara is reluctantly roped into a trial class at the nearby studio. What starts as polite interest becomes a fascination—for the first time, Tatara finds something he wants to be good at, and he’ll do whatever it takes to get to the top.

Continuing the trend of anime about unusual sports (ice skating, anyone?), this sports show—yes, ballroom is a sport in this context—is this season’s must-watch title. Adapting a popular manga by Tomo Takeuchi, Ballroom has everything one might want in a sports show: a plucky underdog, an aloof rival, grueling training, and an incredibly infectious enthusiasm for its subject. The greatest challenge with this adaptation was always going to be the dancing, and so far the animation team at Production I.G. has done a stellar job with it. I really, really love this manga, and I encourage anyone who can stomach giving money to Amazon to check it out.

For fans of: Yuri!!! On Ice, Haikyuu!!, Yowamushi Pedal

Watch it now on Anime Strike

 

Tsuredure Children

Love is hard, especially when you’re a teenager. Tsuredure Children tells the loosely intertwined stories of young love, from the unrequited crush of a girl on her upperclassman to an unlikely connection between a school delinquent and the straight-laced student council president.

This warm, funny little romance show has been easily the most pleasant surprise of the season for me. An adaptation of Toshiya Wakabayashi’s 4-koma manga (that’s a four-panel comic, sort of like the manga version of a comic strip), Tsuredure Children is a half-length show, but twelve minutes is kind of the perfect dose of these quirky interactions. Not much more needs to be said here—the charms of the show speak for itself. Check it out when you want to feel warm and fuzzy.

For fans of: Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, Horimiya, Tanaka-kun Is Always Listless, Daily Lives of High School Boys

Watch it now on Crunchyroll (thank goodness)

 

Made in Abyss

Riko is training to be a Cave Raider, a group of elite explorers that probe the depths of the mysterious and dangerous Abyss. No one knows how the Abyss came to be, but expeditions have revealed rare magical artifacts and creatures unlike anything on the surface. After Riko’s life is saved by a strange mechanical boy in the upper levels of the Abyss, she is more determined than ever to descend deeper into the chasm. There, she hopes to find not just treasure, but also clues about her mother, a legendary explorer who went missing over a decade ago.

This fantasy adventure (based on a web manga by Akihito Tsukushi) has an old-school quality about it, feeling more akin to Nausicaa, Dennou Coil, or Hunter x Hunter than recent isekai offerings that ape JRPG-style fantasy worlds. It is already obvious that the strength of Made in Abyss lies in its worldbuilding—right off the bat, we are offered a magical, immersive, and lethal world begging to be explored. The first two episodes also reveal this to be a polished production, with an almost cinematic atmosphere and great attention put into small details and large, scary monsters alike. Abyss has definitely caught my interest, but proceed with caution—manga readers warn that the childlike character designs belie much darker content later in the series.

For fans of: Hunter x Hunter, From the New World/Shin Sekai Yori, Suisei no Gargantia, Patema Inverted

Watch it now on Anime Strike

 

Altair: A Record of Battles

Mahmut is a military and political prodigy, one of the youngest pasha in Turkiye’s storied history. When the powerful Balt-Rhein Empire accuses Turkiye of assassinating one of their foreign ministers, war between the two powerful nations seems inevitable. Mahmut is willing to do anything to prevent the conflict. But even if he can discover the truth behind the assassination, can he get the council of generals to believe him?

This historical fantasy, based on a gorgeous manga by Kotono Kato, mushes up 16th century Mediterranean history to create a rich world predicated on savvy political maneuvering and the constant threat of multinational war. As a fan of the manga, I am hopeful but not entirely sold on this adaptation so far. The first episode gets bogged down in flashbacks and passes over opportunities to streamline initial story arcs. The second episode, however, is much stronger, and I’m hoping that the show will hit its stride as the plot picks up. I am keeping an eye on Altair, and you should too—it’s not often that we get such an intricate fantasy set in this region of the world.

For fans of: The Heroic Legend of Arslan, Yona of the Dawn, Kingdom, Magi

Watch it now on (you guessed it) Anime Strike

 

Little Witch Academia

Ever since Akko saw a magical performance from celebrity witch Shiny Chariot as a child, she has dreamed of doing magic. When she’s admitted into Luna Nova Magical Academy, an all-girls school for young witches, Akko thinks she’s one step closer to her idol. But magic school isn’t as easy as it looks. Besides being the only student from a non-magical family, which makes her stick out like a sore thumb, Akko just can’t quite seem to get any of her spells right—or manage to stay out of trouble—no matter how hard she tries.

FINALLY, right? Netflix has at last released Little Witch Academia (well, at least the first half) from its holding pen and made it bingeable to the wider world. I’ve described this show previously as Harry Potter meets Saturday morning cartoons, and I still think that’s a pretty apt description. The colorful, witchy cast plus Studio Trigger’s madcap visual humor and taste for splashy action makes this a fun watch for all ages. This TV version gives us more plot and characters than did either of two shorts (Little Witch Academia and Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade), so buckle up for a bit more substance and lot more goofy magical adventures.

For fans of: The other two Little Witch Academia anime, I guess.

Watch it now on Netflix

 

Watch are you watching this season? Tell us in the comments!

Kelly Quinn is a children’s librarian and professional anime watcher. You can find her talking about excellent fiction and manga on Twitter.

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Posted by Natalie Zutter

The Winds of Winter George R.R. Martin

George R.R. Martin’s most recent blog post, concerning release dates for his various “fake histories” of Westeros, also included an update for The Winds of Winter, the highly anticipated sixth volume in A Song of Ice and Fire. Although he had said in January of this year that he thought the book could be out in 2017, now it looks as if late 2018 will be the earliest that readers might be able to obtain Winds—perhaps even later than that.

First, Martin discussed The Book of SwordsGardner Dozois’ anthology featuring Martin’s new ASOIAF short story, “The Sons of the Dragon,” about Targaryen princes Aenys I and Maegor the Cruel. That led into an announcement about the first volume of Fire and Blood, a collected history of Westeros through the rule of House Targaryen:

Speaking of fake history… regulars here may recall our plan to assemble an entire book of my fake histories of the Targaryen kings, a volume we called (in jest) the GRRMarillion or (more seriously) FIRE AND BLOOD. We have so much material that it’s been decided to publish the book in two volumes. The first of those will cover the history of Westeros from Aegon’s Conquest up to and through the regency of the boy king Aegon III (the Dragonbane). That one is largely written, and will include (for the first time) a complete detailed history of the Targaryen civil war, the Dance of the Dragons. My stories in DANGEROUS WOMEN (“The Princess and the Queen“) and ROGUES (“The Rogue Prince”) were abridged versions of the same histories.

Here’s where the dates in question come into play. Martin said that the first volume of Fire and Blood is likely to be released “in late 2018 or early 2019.” (The second volume is a few years in the making, as its contents, spanning Aegon III to Robert’s Rebellion, are mostly unwritten.) Then he shared an update that he was still writing Winds—with good days and bad—but that it might have a similar timeframe for release:

And, yes, I know you all want to know about THE WINDS OF WINTER too. I’ve seen some truly weird reports about WOW on the internet of late, by ‘journalists’ who make their stories up out of whole cloth. I don’t know which story is more absurd, the one that says the book is finished and I’ve been sitting on it for some nefarious reason, or the one that says I have no pages. Both ‘reports’ are equally false and equally moronic. I am still working on it, I am still months away (how many? good question), I still have good days and bad days, and that’s all I care to say. Whether WINDS or the first volume of FIRE AND BLOOD will be the first to hit the bookstores is hard to say at this juncture, but I do think you will have a Westeros book from me in 2018… and who knows, maybe two. A boy can dream…

And that’s all we know.

via io9

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Posted by Emily Asher-Perrin

Doctor Who Christmas Special, Twice Upon A Time

The trailer for the upcoming Doctor Who Christmas Special has arrived, and with a lovely title, too: “Twice Upon A Time.”

And look who it is! Mark Gatiss! (Maybe the Brigadier’s ancestor? Definitely possible….)

So happy that Bill will be back to see the Doctor off properly. And to see more of David Bradley as the First Doctor! And… is that Polly? Bringing back Ben and Polly (companions to the first Doctor) would be a fascinating move. Set your calendars for Christmas, everyone….

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