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Heinlein wrote few adult novels during the period that he was focusing on short stories, and juveniles. Some of these may be considered as experimental novels, others began as juveniles but were eventually marketed as adult books. There s some thematic continuity between two of these, Double Star and Starship Troopers, both of which take as main themes the ideas of civil duty and sacrifice of the one for the good of the many. But not so much with the others. These transitional books - books appearing between his short story writing period and his mature period a a writer almost exclusively of novels - were:

The Puppet Masters 1952
Double Star 1956
The Door into Summer 1957
Starship Troopers 1959

The Puppet Masters is, like the pre-war novels, an adult novel written for magazine publication, and may have represented an effort to break into the mainstream adult market. The magazine version, serialised in Galaxy in 1951, was heavily cut from the original, and the editor revised it again before novel publication in 1952. An uncut original was published with Virginia Heinlein’s consent in 1990. My comments are based on the uncut version.

The novel is generally considered to be Heinlein’s most extreme cautionary novel against Communism - marked by the paranoia generated by the slugs who can move in almost perfect secrecy when their hosts are careful is highly reminiscent of the fear of “communists under the bed.” Heinlein didn’t approve of McCarthy’s methods, but he did have a strong loathing for what he imagined communism to be. Anyone who attempted to curtail free though was, in his mind, a commissar, and thus an enemy of freedom. He believed that under communism no one was allowed to have their own opinions, and was as helpless as any of his ‘ridden’ characters in The Puppet Masters, unable to act as an individual.

As it is, it’s also unlike Heinlein’s other work in tone, being more horror than science fiction. As a horror novel, it is extremely uncharacteristic of his work, being lurid in many arts, and focusing on the visceral - the sense of slime, the feeling if a master when it bursts - in ways that his usual descriptions, though powerful, don’t normally display. There’s little else in this book that plays into Heinlein’s main themes of social responsibility and personal integrity, (aside from certain aspects of gender relations) just an ‘us and them’ story in which all humans should unite against the monster who could be walking next to you.

Double Star is, on the other hand, perhaps the most extreme example of Heinlein’s theme of civic duty. In this novel, Lorenzo Smythe, a young, not too successful actor is hired to take the place of a great politician and statesman who has been kidnapped in order to interfere with a diplomatic event that will seal the alliance between humans and Martians. If the kidnapped man, Joseph Bonforte, does not appear on time to complete the Martian ceremony, war between planets is likely.

Lorenzo, after some quibbling and rabbitting, agrees, and does an excellent job. And then the real Bonforte is found, his brain deeply damaged by an overdose of drugs. Smythe must carry on in the role until the damage can be repaired. Then the final blow - Bonforte dies, and Smythe must face an enormously difficult decision - return to his own life and kill the plans for reforms and expansion of franchise to all the civilisations in the solar system, or sink fully beneath Bonforth’s identity and carry out Bonforth’s plans. It’s the ultimate demand - carry out a vast amount of good by giving up your own self, or hold onto your identity and let the future good of society be destroyed.

The Door into Summer is another time travel story in which the ultimate goal is to still be a youngish man when the prepubescent redhead you fancy is grown up enough to marry you. It’s at the heart of a much longer, convoluted tale of revenge and regaining what was indisputably yours through a story of multiple doubling up of time lines due to frozen sleep and real time travel. The plot is complex and involves a lot of legal maneuvering, both in the original betrayal and again in the secondary time loop that represents the retribution and reclamation of one’s own.

And because it’s important, relax and enjoy the ride, the cat lives.

Finally, there’s Starship Troopers, which was originally much shorter, had a more poignant ending, and was intended as a juvenile in the lineage of Space Cadet. The later showed a world at peace and the moral youth growing into it. Starship Troopers addresses the question - what if we are at war through no fault of our own? What is civic duty in a universe of violence?

It’s the most didactic book Heinlein had written up to this time - vast sections of text are set in the protagonist’s high school Moral Philosophy class, or in later conversations with remarkably erudite platoon sergeants, officers, and another Moral Philosophy class in Officer Training School and consist of arguments for the kind of society that Heinlein examines in his world of war with creatures you cannot talk to or negotiate with.

His regular publisher rejected it because they felt the story was thin and the text too didactic. It was picked up by another publisher who asked for something a bit more adult, with more material. Heinlein added a few battle sequences, took the protagonist from boot camp through officer training, and gave it a more positive ending.

It’s basically the story of privileged favoured son Johnny Rico - incidentally, one of the first Asian (Filipino) protagonists in science fiction - who joins the infantry on a whim and learns through his training and his service the way to fulfill one’s civic duty in a world based on war.

Starship Trooper’s moral world is a grim one indeed, where the height of civic duty boils down to one thing only - the willingness to put your life on the line for your society.
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The Rolling Stones seems to be a natural break between the novels that set up Heinlein’s ideas about the growth of man as a moral being and humanity as explorer and coloniser, growing throughout the galaxy, and those that highlight situations where those ideas are tested.

The remaining juveniles are mostly stories of one kind or another, showing some of the consequences of space exploration and colonisation. One fairly constant element of Heinlein’s Future Earths is massive overpopulation that drives extreme means of identifying and developing colonies. The development process, meanwhile, almost always seems to involve a stage almost exactly like the early colonisation of Western North America, complete with wagon trains.

His one look into the far future, Citizen of the Galaxy, where humanity is part of a mature, multi-system galactic community, shows that a developed civilisation will always have deep moral flaws - slavery, in this case - and that the same ethical commitment to the whole of the social system is always needed.


Starman Jones, 1954

Heinlein’s post-Rolling Stones juveniles don’t really follow any king a chronological or thematic development, but are mostly about individuals placed in difficult situations they must solve. From a loose narrative of man’s journey into space, we turn to a series of individual adventures in that space. Although in this novel Earth has again declined - people no longer have the right to choose their careers, but must be fostered into guilds, do the same work as their parents, or join a general work pool without prospects.

In Starman Jones, we see Max, a naive but essentially good young man, cheated by fate and by the circumstances of his life of a future in space. His uncle was to have nominated him to the Astrogater’s Guild. Instead, the early deaths of both father and uncle and the selfish thoughtlessness of a stepmother have taken even the proceeds of his father’s farm. He has nothing but his uncle’s astrogation tables - and when he goes to see whether his uncle ever registered his nomination, the Guild takes those too.

He falls in with a paternal conman, who uses Max’s last funds - a deposit for the returned books - to forge papers that will get the both of them onto an interplanetary spaceliner as crew - then warns him that they’ll be discovered after one run, and his only real choice is to jump ship at an attractive colony and settle down on a new planet. But Max still wants the stars he was promised.

This story works with the ‘moral rightness’ that is one of Heinlein’s themes - Max is in a moral trap at the outset of the book. To become an astrogator - which should, in all fairness, be something he has the right ti try for - he must lie and cheat. Later, as his fraud actually seems to bring his goal closer, he has the option to be honest, even if he loses his chance - and discovers that he has been found out already, and only his natural abilities have persuaded his boss to give him a chance, if he does own up to the truth.

What Max learns is that in an ethical bind, the truly moral man will make his own decisions regardless - but be fully prepared to face the consequences.

The Star Beast, 1954

This one is just plain fun, so I’m not going to say much about it. You’ll love Lummox, the most endearing alien you’ve ever met. And the twist of perspective is delightful. The diplomats are funny too, especially Mr. Kiku, so keep an eye out for him. Unfortunately, the human protagonists are boring, but you can’t have everything.

Tunnel in the Sky 1955

This is actually a well-written, exciting adventure story with a beginning, a middle and an end, and some good characters. In this variation on the colonisation of outer space, a system of interstellar gates connects Earth to all the colonised and open-for-colonising planets, and trained survival and colonial development experts are hired by parties of settlers to lead their groups, to improve their chances of establishing successful colonies. These professionals are trained, among other ways, by being set down in a survivable region of an open planet for, in early training, a few days. This is the story of a group of high school and college students who were lost on their first survival run for several years due to technical issues, and had to really fend for themselves without any assistance from home base. So real life and death adventure, and not everyone makes it.

Time for the Stars 1956

Time for the Stars is the first appearance of Heinlein’s most disturbing (to me) literary tic - the marriage of a a man to a (usually red-haired) young girl, often a relative, that he’s somehow groomed and watched as a child and then gone through some time dilation process that has them end up of similar, and marriageable age. In this case, Tom and Pat are identical mirror twins who are telepathic with each other. Tom takes ship on a torch ship that’s just fast enough (it can reach just shy of light speed) to make exploration for colony planets possible - given the presence of these telepath pairs who can communicate instantaneously between the ship and Earth no matter how far apart they are.

Tom goes to the stars, Pat stays on Earth and receives and transmits messages to him. It turns out, as the relativistic slippage increases, that some of the pairs can pass their telepathic connection to the next generation, and that Tom and Pat are among them. So while Tom travels in space, he is able to make connections first with Pat’s daughter Molly, then his granddaughter Kathleen, and finally his great granddaughter Vicky. Tom’s ship is called home, thanks to the invention of the irrelevant drive, when Vicky’s bio age is just a few yews less than Tom’s. Heinlein is careful to insert a phrase reminding us that the genetic convergence is minimal. She proposes, he accepts, end of story. Oh, there are adventures of sorts along the way, but that’s basically it.


Citizen of the Galaxy (1957)

Heinlein had vey strong feelings about slavery; he even wrote two books intended to show how awful it is. Citizen of the Galaxy is the one that sort of worked. Thorby is an enslaved orphan, starved, in poor condition, being sold at the local slave market on Sargon, the capital planet of the Nine Planets, but no one wants to buy him. He’s finally purchased by Baslim the beggar for what amounts to pennies.

As it turns out, Baslim is a very unusual beggar - he is also a spy for the Galactic Hegemony - which Earth is a part of - and his mission is to track down links between large Hegemonic corporations and the slave trade operation beyond the Hegemony’s reach.

Eventually Baslim is discovered and executed, but not before having made arrangements to get Thorby away from Sargon and into the Hegemony where his identity can be traced and his real family found.

It’s a well-developed story, and the adventures Thorby face in finding his real home and purpose in life are fascinating.

Have Spacesuit - Will Travel (1958)

In a sense, Have Spacesuit - Will Travel is the culmination of Heinlein’s message in these novels, that the moral development of the human race is vitally important, and must be achieved before we go too far into space. In this novel, a young girl, Peewee, and a teenage boy, Kip, become involved in the schemes of a group of violent and domineering aliens whose modus operandi is to take whatever they want from the weak. Knowing only that these are not nice people, they assist a member of yet another alien species, who they identify only as the Mother-thing, who seem to be the local branch of the galactic peacemakers.

As things turn out, there is a vast society which includes peoples from all three galaxies in the Magellanic cluster, and they survive by weeding out potentially destructive species when they meet them. Both humans and the aliens who captured the Mother-thing are tried, with Peewee and
Kip speaking for Earth. The aliens, who espouse a master race philosophy, are essentially removed from the galaxy, and the case against the humans looks grim:

“By their own testimony, these are a savage and brutal people, given to all manner of atrocities. They eat each other, they starve each other, they kill each other. They have no art and only the most primitive of science, yet such is their violent nature that even with so little knowledge they are now energetically using it to exterminate each other, tribe against tribe. Their driving will is such that they may succeed. But if by some unlucky chance they fail, they will inevitably, in time, reach other stars. It is this possibility which must be calculated: how soon they will reach us, if they live, and what their potentialities will be then.”

Kip and Peewee win the humans a reprieve - time to prove they can grow into a civilised society - by showing the there has already been growth, and by being willing, even though they personally had been promised amnesty for their actions in helping the Mother-thing, to share the consequences of being human, even to death.

It’s the biggest and most highly symbolic of all of the ways Heinlein’s juveniles have demonstrated the idea that the human race must grow and become fully ethically responsible.

These are far from being the only themes in Heinlein’s juveniles, which also focus on self-reliance, a commitment to life-long learning and the importance of a basic science background for an informed citizenry.
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Heinlein project, revisited: now that Farah Mendlesohn’s book on Heinlein and his work is out and I’ve started reading it, it’s really time to finish the project I’d set for myself, to reread all his sf and fantasy work so I could appreciate her text more readily. I’d finished up the early novels and the short stories, so now for a quick tour through the juveniles.

The juvenile is an odd thing. It usually begins with the protagonists squarely set in the category of children, because they need to be people that a young person can identify with as someone like them, or at least like them in a few years. These days we also have the young adult novel, which lets us fudge things, pick almost adult protagonists that perhaps could reasonably overthrow a government or build a ship that will take us to the moon. But for adults to read and believe that a child could do these things requires a strong ability to invoke a sense that yes, it could happen. Never mind that n our past, people we’d consider children have in fact done such things - we don’t see the possibility of children doing it n now. Thus, with Heinlein’s first juvenile, we begin within pages to accept the ideas that an adult man with access to used rocketry equipment and some radioactive fuel can build a space ship - more, would choose to do so - with three teenaged amateur rocket enthusiasts.

Reading the juveniles together in close sequence allows for an interesting reading of the exploration and colonisation of the solar system, at least among the first half dozen stories. Whether this reading was part of Heinlein’s intentions with these books, I do not know. But viewed together, it seems to be on the one hand, Heinlein’s view of how and why civilisations spread to new worlds, and on the other, how to discover and train the kind of ethical man who will carry the best of a civilisation to its new home.

Rocket Ship Galileo, 1947

Heinlein’s first post-war novel, and first juvenile novel was not sold to Campbell at Astounding. It focuses on three budding young rocket scientists and their trials to build a real space ship - something a lot of kids were engrossed in in the late 40s and 50s, when it seemed as though every neighbourhood had some kind of space exploration club. Of course, this is set a bit in the future, when rockets are already a part of life, but the moon is still a goal. So these kids and their science club have a head start over the youth Heinlein anticipated as the audience for his novel.

What’s interesting about the protagonists, young Art Mueller, Morry Abrams and Ross Jenkins is that they’s all highly intelligent and motivated, they attend a science-and tech oriented high school, and they have adult mentors who let them actually get away with building a space ship. They are also a varied group - Morry is Jewish, and Art is German, his father a defector.

Most of the book is straight procedural with a shot of mystery/espionage - what has to be done to build and crew a space ship, and how to handle mysterious break-ins and other disquieting events while doing so. In places, it reads like a rocketry manual rather than a novel. It gets busier, of course, when they find both a secret Nazi base and ruins from an ancient civilization awaiting them, and end up saving the world by the skin of their teeth. Pretty impressive for a bunch of scholkids.

From a teenager’s perspective, it’s a great adventure story, but read from the viewpoint an adult, it sure looks like criminally negligent exploitation of three naive young men by a single-minded scientist who can't persuade anyone to give him the backing to carry out his experiments in a safe and ethical manner. Instead, he uses the unpaid labour of the boys and never discloses the full scope of the risks – particularly the indications that someone who is not averse to violence is trying to keep him from getting to the moon. Also, what is up with the parents of these boys? Two boys simply tell their parents about the scheme, and they say “if that’s really what you want, dear.” The third set of parents initially say no, but when creepy exploitative scientist talks to them about using their kids as unpaid labour and risking their lives in space, we discover that all the parents are really worried about is their kid not going to a good school in the fall – and when creepy scientist promises to tutor the boy, this makes it OK.

As a story, there are a number of things not particularly well thought-out, but Heinlein was at the beginning of his career writing juveniles, and he hadn’t quite hit on the formula for making a protagonist young enough, but not too young, which is a tricky thing to do.


Space Cadet, 1948

Space Cadet is the classic boy’s boarding school juvenile dressed up as a training camp for an elite force of Peacekeepers. It’s also a picture of how to train the ideal individual, if that person also has to be a spaceman and a peacekeeper.

The first half of the novel covers the basic training of the protagonist Matt Dodson and his friends, with special attention paid to those psychological moments that set out the change from civilian mindset to that of the committed patrolman, and more importantly, the spaceman. This is something common to Heinlein’s writing about living in space - the idea that there is a kind of psychological distinction between the spacing outlook on life and the ‘groundhog’ outlook.

Once Matt and his friends are truly cadets, the action begins. On their first cadet mission, their ship locates a lost vessel, carrying information indicative of an ancient civilisation. They then encounter a nasty confrontation brewing between humans and indigenous Venusians that only the Patrol can resolve, proving that after everything they’ve been through, they are true members of the Patrol. T

Red Planet 1949

Heinlein’s third juvenile is set on Mars, and among other things continues to drop hints about Martians, which will come to fullness in Stranger in a Strange Land. Here we meet young colonist Jim Marlowe, his friend Frank Sutton, and his Martian ‘pet’ Willis. No one in the colony has any idea that Willis is actually an infant of the dominant species, but Jim forms a close rapport with him, and senses that he is more than just an animal. When Jim and Frank go away to boarding school, at one of the communities on the path from the northern settlement, where the colony spends the summers, to the southern settlement, where it spends the winters, Wills goes with him.

But major changes that will affect all the colonists are in the air, and they begin with the Headmaster banning pets and confiscating Willis to sell to a zoo on earth. Jim and Frank discover this, and the company’s plans to end the habitual migrations, and escape the school in an attempt to get home and warn their families.

They run into some serious difficulties, but thanks to Willis, Jim and Frank are accepted as water brothers to Willis’ family, and are able to bring proof of The Company’s perfidy to the Martian settlers. Here as in other places, Heinlein’s inclinations are capitalist but anti-corporatist, as the human settlers defeat the Company and force a reevaluation of the new policies, while the Martians ensure that those who wanted to put Willis in a cage are never seen again.

Farmer in the Sky, 1950

In Farmer in the Sky, we begin to see the somewhat dystopic future for earth that is hinted at in Red Planet and some of the historical sequence stories - population pressure driving immigration, scarcity of resources, rationing.

Farmer in the Sky is a book about the perils of homesteading, a topic Heinlein was clearly attracted to, and would revisit in other novels, particularly Time Enough for Love - and if a particular theme is of importance to him, then it will be found somewhere in Time Enough for Love.

Bill Lermer and his father George are unhappy on Earth. George is a widower who wants a new beginning; Bill wants a different kind of life. Naturally, the new arrivals on Ganymede discover that conditions are far from what was claimed, the Colonial commission has set things up to work in the worst possible way, the current settlers resent them, and life on Ganymede is going to be ten times harder than they’d thought it could be....

But it’s possible, with some good will, and what follows is a manual on what you need to think about to colonise a new planet, and what not to do. Again, there is a strong suggestion that there are people who are ‘right’ for the rigours of a life away from earth, and it’s made quite clear that those who aren’t ‘the right stuff’ aren’t really pleasant people to be around, at least in Heinlein’s eyes. The kind of person needed for the job of space man or planetary colonist is the sort of person Heinlein sets his readers up to identify with. And the events of Farmer in the Sky are exactly what one would expect to find in an examination booklet on finding out if one has what’s needed to be the best colonial settlers.

Between Planets, 1951

In previous juveniles, Heinlein has implied some tensions between Earth and various colonial governments, and the colonies, developing independence, filling up with (at least for the first few generations) people who have, and are, the ‘right stuff.’ In Between Planets, one of the few real interplanetary citizens - Donald Harvey, a young man born in freefall, his mother a Venusian, his father from Earth, both scientists now living on Mars - gets caught in the middle of an interplanetary war when Venus declares its independance while he is at school on Earth. His unusual birth circumstances mean that no one trusts him, and no one is willing to do the obvious thing of sending the neutral citizen to a neutral planet. And as it turns out, he’s not exactly neutral - his parents represent an unknown but active factor in all the negotiations and allegiances, and they’ve committed Don to something he doesn’t know about, without his consent or understanding. This will leave Don with two serious ethical issues - first, which of all the people who want the secret he knows, are the people his parents would have trusted, and second, does he agree with his parents?

Between Planets is straight action all the way to the end, with very little of the blatant ‘how to be the right kind of person’ training in the earlier books. What we see instead is Don navigating the path to an ethical decision.

Rolling Stones, 1953

Rolling Stones is a comic, picaresque novel about an eccentric family of Lunar colonists, and in some ways resets the cycle we’ve seen in the earlier juveniles. Now it’s Luna that’s beginning to be too quiet and commonplace for the born explorer. As Hazel Stone, a character one will see as a child revolutionary in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, says to her complacent son, ‘Your mind may not be made up; mine is. Luna is getting to be like any other ant hill. I'm going out somewhere to find elbow room, about a quarter of a billion miles of it.’

The Family Stone consists of Hazel Stone, engineer and veteran of the revolution, her son Roger, also an engineer by trade, formerly mayor of Luna and currently a comic strip writer looking for a change of pace, his wife Edith, a doctor and sculptor, and their children, Meade, the irrepressible twins Castor and Pollux, and the youngest of the family of supergeniuses, Buster, aka Lowell, potential telepath and certified pain in the neck. Before very long, his restless family has convinced Roger to buy a family spaceship.

Before you can say “second star to the right..” the Stones are off on a Grand Tour of the solar system, with virtually al the action resulting from Cas and POl’s generally unsuccessful attempts to not quite con the locals into a business scheme. At the end of the book, they have floundered through Mars, an Asteroid mining city, and Ceres, and are preparing to ramble on toward Titan. The ideal colonist now lives in space.
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I spent some time a while back reading Robert Heinlein’s published collections of short stories - but I overlooked one, Assignment in Eternity, which was unfortunate because these four stories are among the most memorable of Heinlein’s stories in my opinion - as long as one doesn’t look at them too closely. Unfortunately, what makes them memorable is also what makes them not particularly good stories.

“Gulf” is primarily a spy thriller structured much the same way as a Bond film cold open - it’s only real purpose is to set up the proposition that forms the central part of the story, and the story then ends in a suicide mission in which both protagonists are killed. As a story, it’s rather weak on structure. As an argument, it’s just more of Heinlein’s notions of the manifestation of a superman, but this time, the superman will benevolently rule the others. What it really shows is how easy it is fo that kind of mind candy to corrupt. The punch that holds the nastiness in place is the heroic deaths of the protagonists - and that moment stayed with me for a long time.

“Elsewhen” does much the same thing with its stories of people who have learned how to walk through time. It’s so tempting, to use the power to end up when you are most suited to be. In “Elsewhen,” a man who has learned the secret of changing timelines teaches five of his students how to do the same. One lives a life at a thousand times the speed of their own time line and ends up as a saint in a land where heaven exists much as she expected it. Two end up in a world where there is war, and it’s going badly for humanity - they take military and engineering science there to save their new home. Two find themselves happily in an agrarian, quiet world with just enough technology to be comfortable. When their teacher is charged with murder after their disappearance, he closes the circles by taking some of the agrarian world’s tech to the world at war, and then settling in to spend his last years on the agrarian world, occasionally visiting his former students in the now significantly improved war world. There’s now no way for anyone on the central earth to find him. It’s the ultimate portal fantasy, that can happen for anyone who stumbles upon the trick of freeing himself from living in time. But when it’s finished, all you have left is five people enjoying that perfect fantasy, and all of the conflict is unimportant

Lost Legacy is a novella that again, tells a story that, for all its interesting ideas and wish fulfillment ideas, is not actually much of a story at all. The concept is that once everyone have superpowers. Then a bunch of elitists tried to limit whose powers would be allowed to develop, and the non-elitists, rather that fight, surrendered the field, leaving little secret notes so someday an emerging society could restore the open use of powers. One day, some energetic American discover their powers, connect with other who have been gathering, and starts the war the older nonelitists walked away from. We are given to understand that they will prevail because they are Americans, and are using Scouting to hide their training program. (But only boys, not girls in scouting, because girls don’t matter.)

The final story, “Jerry Was a Man” may have ben so cringeworthy because in it, Heinlein winds himself up to Say Something about black-white relations in America, and he always went way off line when he tried that. It’s the decadent future and wealthy people are big on genetically engineered pets. The useless boy-toy husband of a very wealthy woman wants a pegasus, so she tries to buy him one. He throws a tantrum when he discovers that a pegasus would be incapable of flight unless it were built like a condor - but while he’s negotiating for something that might please him, Mrs. Moneybags notices a sad humanoid worker named Jerry in a cage and discovers that the company euthanises all older engineered workers.

She’s appalled, and because she does own a large section of the company, tries and fails to have the policy changed. The manager and the boy-toy try to manipulate her, first by giving her the right to a permanent leasehold over Jerry, then later by trying to take Jerry back when she decides to go to court for his personhood. This results in a delightful scene where boy-toy discovers that being handsome does not trump betraying your wife and is kicked out. Mrs. Moneybags gets the best legal assistance she can afford, and Jerry sues to have himself and his people declared human enough that they can be held in guardianship but not killed. The sickening part in an otherwise rather funny court scene is when Jerry’s humanity is cinched by his dressing up in faded dungarees and singing Swanee River. Now, admittedly, artists who are powerful and unquestionably the best humanity has to offer, such as, say, the great Paul Robeson, have sung that song so that they uplifted it, rather than being pulled down by its lyrics and images, but the whole image of a genetically enhanced primate gaining a portion (maybe 3/5 ths) of humanity by mimicking a black man disturbs me greatly. Yes, the story’s intent is good. But this is a tonedeaf use of images on Heinlein’s part and it turns much of the good stuff to ashes when you read it.

This particular collection of Heinlein stories is very much one that I wish the rewrite fairy could get her hands on and turn them into the solid stories that lurk inside them.
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Jill Lepore’s The Secret Life of Wonder Woman isn’t about Wonder Woman, so much as it is about the way that she became not just the perfect realisation of the lives and passions of the incredible group of people who were involved in the lives of her creators, but the crystalisation of the early suffragist, feminist, and to some degree socialist views of a generation of women and men who fought for women’s rights. Where Wonder Woman is Amazonian royalty, her creators were influenced by some of the fiercest voices for women,’s equality, suffrage, reproductive rights, and sexual freedom that existed during the early years of the 1900s. Where Wonder Woman fought for truth, one of her creators spent much of his professional life studying how to determine truth from deception in criminal cases, and determine the reliability of testimony in court.

Four people may be said to have taken a hand in creating the crucible in which Wonder Woman, the symbol of female power - who wears bracelets of iron to remind her and all Amazons that giving oneself into the power of a man means giving oneself into slavery - was shaped.

These four people, three women and one man, lived their own secret lives, and it was from their common experiences, beliefs, and philosophies that the idea of Wonder Woman took form. The feminist hero was a collaborative effort between William Moulton Marston and his three partners, Elizabeth Holloway, Olive Byrne, and Marjorie Huntley, all feminists, suffragists and free love radicals like himself - a polyamorous family collective.

Marsdon was a professor of philosophy and psychology, the two fields not being seen as particularly different at the time, who focused on the psychology and physiology of emotion, observation, and deception in his research. He was, with much input from his long-time partner and colleague, the inventor of the lie detector machine.

Something else he shared with his partner Elizabeth Holloway was a lifelong commitment to feminism, whom he met when they were both in grade school. Neither seems to have ever thought seriously about a future without the other, though both were often to be found in circles that approved of female emancipation and free love. Holloway, like Marsden, spent much of her early adult life in study, beginning her university education at Mount Holyoke, a hotbed of feminism and suffragette agitation, and earning both an MA from Radcyffe and a law degree.

Olive Byrne, who lived with the family in the role of nanny to the Marsdon children - hers and Holloway’s - was the one with the strongest ties to radical feminism. Her mother, Ethyl Byrne, sister of Margaret Sanger, was a suffragist, birth control advocate and socialist, who nearly died in prison in a well publicised hunger strike. Even when Sanger compromised with eugenicists and conservatives to get her arguments for birth control mainstreamed, Byrne remained a free love radical socialist, and Olive had much of her uncompromising spirit. Olive met Marsdon, several years her senior, when she took a course in experimental psychology with him at Tutfs, where she was majoring in English. She later became his research assistant and at some point his lover.

Marjorie Huntley was perhaps the most open-minded of the household, and more of an intermittent member of the household, the eccentric aunt who wanders off but keeps her home base with the rest of the family. Through Huntley’s radical and mystical ideas and connections, Marsdon, Holoway and Byrne became involved in a new age mix of feminism, bondage, free love and theosophy, a cult of female superiority through submission, that is frankly not particularly coherent in its principles and may have been a way for the four people involved to give themselves justification for the kind of relationships and family they wanted despite its extreme variance from not just convention, but some of the more established radical ways of organising sexual relationships currently being explored.

Marston wanted his wife and his lovers - all of them strong, intelligent women not easily manipulated - without having to work hard at it, and he wanted relationships where he could explore his interest in domination and submission. Holloway wanted Marston, but she also wanted to be both professional woman and mother in a world where one woman doing both was hard to imagine. Byrne wanted Marston, and after a childhood of insecurity, with mothers and aunts protesting and organising, being in prison, politically active, and dropping Olive off wherever someone could take care of her, wanted a committed family, and Huntley wanted lovers she could live out her unusual beliefs and bondage fantasies with. Some evidence from the letters and personal remembrances of surviving family members suggests that most if not all of them were at least open to the idea of bisexuality. With Marsdon as the nexus, they created an intentional family.

Despite his credentials, intelligence and charisma, Marsdon was the sort of person who was constantly getting involved in situations that seemed at best not well thought-out or unreasonably self-promoting and at worst vaguely unethical. Instead of rising in the ranks of academia, he slowly dropped, and soon was unable to keep a professional appointment. He tried and failed in a number of business ventures. Ultimately, he proved utterly incapable of supporting his family in any normal occupation. The household of three, sometimes four adults, and four children, was primarily supported by Holloway, with occasional lecturing fees from Marston and some money from Byrne’s writing as a regular contributor to Family Circle. The family made up its own amusements, many of which involved writing and drawing of comics - then in their infancy - by the children.

As Lepore describes the household at this point, “The kids read the comics. Holloway earned the money. Huntley burned incense in the attic. Olive took care of everyone, stealing time to write for Family Circle. And William Moulton Marston, the last of the Moultons of Moulton Castle, the lie detector who declared feminine rule a fact, was petted and indulged. He’d fume and he’d storm and he’d holler, and the women would whisper to the children, ‘It’s best to ignore him.’ “

In 1938, Olive Byrne’s brother, Jack Burns, who had been working in pulp publishing (and tried but failed to get Marsden an ‘in’ to pulp fiction writing), started a comics line that featured strong women like Sheena, Queen of the Jungle and Amazonia of the North in his new product, Fiction House’s Jumbo Comics. Superman and Batman had become icons for Maxwell Charles Gaines’ comic lines, but no one else was writing female heroes. As comics became more popular, the also received criticism for their violence and sexuality and its effect on children. After Olive Byrne wrote one of her ‘ask the psychiatrist’ articles for Family Circle in which Marsden was strongly approving of comics as long as they never showed successful murder or torture - trust bondage enthusiast Marsden to approve of stories of women tied up but rescued before anything bad can happen - Gaines hired him as a consultant. And Marsden convinced Gaines to introduce a new superhero - and thus, after development work in the Marsden household and the DC comics offices, Wonder Woman was born. Marsden wrote the story, and handed it over with the warning that none of the feminism was to be altered. It wasn’t, though there was opposition from many corners during the comic’s early years. Wonder Woman was a popular success, but its enemies were powerful, and there were many people, including some of those who later worked for Gaines at DC Comics after Marston contracted polio and became less able to be involved in the production of the comic, who rejected not just the comics in general, with their violence and crime, but Wonder Woman’s obvious feminism and rejection of traditional female roles.

And what about the bondage? At one level, they were using a visual language of woman in chains familiar to anyone who had lived through the era of women’s suffrage and extending it to include all women’s struggles. They were also putting into images their own family mythologies about the need for women to submit in order to gain full superiority. And they were playing out their family dynamics in public.

The Marsden family was a unique environment from which a genre-changing comic emerged, but there’s no hiding the strange dynamics and ethical choices here - and I’m not talking about either polyamory or bondage. First, there’s the obsession with lie detection, which strikes me as a consequence of the hidden lives and connections among these four people. Then, there’s the overwhelming focus on self promotion, and promotion of Marsden’s projects. And the utter lack of professional ethics. Holloway advances Marsden’s chances to write for the Encyclopedia Britannica without disclosing their relationship; Olive praises his psychiatric gifts and his projects without disclosure either, and even - before it’s known that he created Wonder Woman - solicits his advice to concerned parents about comic for their kids. Their authorial interrelationships are intricate, covert, and unethical.

And, yet, for all their flaws, these four people encapsulated a generation’s need for change, for freedom, for women’s independence and created a feminist icon that still resonates today, despite all attempts to diminish it.
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I should have realised that having the Dora Milaje work with Spiderman was an obvious choice - “you are the one Anansi blessed.” Anyway, Nnedi Okorafor, reaslised it, which is how we got the three-volume run of Wakanda Forever, featuring Good ole Spidey, The Avengers and the X-Men with our glorious heroes, the Dora Milaje of the secret country of Wakanda.

Nakia, a Dora Milaje who has lost her loyalty, is living in the US as the villain Malice, but now she has stumbled onto something important - a talking drum stolen from Wakanda - and she is capable of dong real harm with it, so the other Dora Milaje have sent a team out to retrieve them both - from Spidey’s home territiory. No way he’s not getting involved. To say nothing of Ororme, Storm Goddess, and a few more of the Avengers.

It’s an exciting, self-contained story that makes good use of the Dora Milaje mystery, and the powers of Spidey, Ororme, Captain America, Rogue and a few other familiar faces, including that of the Black Panther himself.
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Most of these stories are listed on the Locus recommended reading List or on other hugo recommendation lists.


“You Pretend Like You Never Met Me and I’ll Pretend Like I Never Met You,” Maria Dahvava Headley; Lightspeed Magazine, September 2018.
http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/you-pretend-like-you-never-met-me-and-ill-pretend-like-i-never-met-you/
Very good. Sometimes there’s just enough magic to do one thing right. Short story.


“Red Rain,” Adam-Troy Castro; Nightmare Magazine, June, 2018.
http://www.nightmare-magazine.com/fiction/red-rain/
Good, perhaps very good, but extremely unsettling. A meditation on the lemming effect. CN: Explicit descriptions of violent death, suicidal ideation. Short story.


“What Gentle Women Dare,” Kelly Robson; Uncanny Magazine, May-June 2018.
https://uncannymagazine.com/article/what-gentle-women-dare/
Very good. Takes the old question ‘what do women want?’ Perfectly seriously. Short story.


“Harry and Marlowe and the Secret of Ahomania,” Carrie Vaughan; Lightspeed magazine, September 2018.
http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/harry-and-marlowe-and-the-secret-of-ahomana/
Very good. A steampunk lost world adventure, with extra added imperialist critique. Novelette.


“The Date,” R. K. Kakaw; Uncanny Magazine, January/February 2018.
https://uncannymagazine.com/article/the-date/
Good. Too much of the sex=danger, love=death vibe for me. Short story.


“A Priest of Vast and Distant Spaces,” Cassandra Khaw; Apex Magazine, March 13 2018.
https://www.apex-magazine.com/a-priest-of-vast-and-distant-places/
Very good. Bittersweet story about a priest caught between duty and family. Short story.


“Wild Ones,” Vanessa Fogg; Bracken Magazine, January 2018.
https://www.brackenmagazine.com/issue-v/fogg-wild-ones/
Excellent. Could you give up everything to take that second chance at the dream that never quite vanished? Short story.


“The Good Mothers’ Home for Wayward Girls,’ Izzy Wasserstein; Pseudopod, March 30 2018.
http://pseudopod.org/2018/03/30/pseudopod-588-artemis-rising-4-the-good-mothers-home-for-wayward-girls/
Very good. Creepy as hell, and the mysteries are never explained. Short story.


“What to do When It’s Nothing but Static,” Cassandra Khaw; Apex Magazine, April 24 2018.
https://www.apex-magazine.com/what-to-do-when-it/
Very good. Coming back after grief and loss. Short story.


“The Pine Arch Collection,” Michael Wehunt; The Dark Magazine, May 2018
http://thedarkmagazine.com/pine-arch-collection/
Excellent. An epistolatory horror story. Short story.


“Cuisine des Mèmoires,” N. K. Jemisen; How Long Til Black Future Month?, 2018.
Excellent. Would you rather have the memory of an old love, or a chance to make a new one? Short story.


“The Storyteller’s Replacement”, N.K. Jemisin; How Long Til Black Future Month?, 2018.
Very good. A cautionary tale about power, greed and assumptions. Short story.
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The Belles, by Dhonielle Clayton, is a very strange, yet strangely compelling, book. Perhaps because it is a young adult novel, I don’t find myself demanding that the worldbuilding make all that much sense, which s a good thing, because this doesn’t. The motivations are quite realistic, however, and that’s part of the strangeness.

Camilla Beauregard is one of the Belles. This term is ambiguous, in that It seems to be the term used both for anyone with the gift of psychically producing physical changes that make women beautiful, and to those particular women who have been through a highly commercialised training and preparation to be a Belle at one of the establishments set up for Belles to do their work - often called teahouses - or as official Belle to the Royal family the ‘favourite.’

On the one hand, we have something resembling the extensive beauty pageant culture we are familiar with, except the Belles actually can create real beauty, in themselves and others, and on the other, we have a tradition that seems to want to evoke Western images of geisha and teahouse culture, but making the services of the geisha be not just the creation of comfort and a pleasant social evening, but also very reason for seeking them out.

There are some odd things that the protagonist Camilla, who becomes Belle of the Imperial Teahouse, notices but doesn’t think about at first. New Belles are selected for the important teahouse positions every three years - but where are al the other Belles? Some go into the machine, becoming carers and instructors of future Belles, but the others? Where are they, and what is behind the odd occasional comments made by some of the older women about there being more than one Belle in the teahouses? What has happened? Why does she hear screams in the night? Then comes the strangest thing - Amber, the Belle chosen as favourite, has been demoted, she, Camilla, is to be favourite, and no one will talk about it.

First in a series.
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Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation may be labeled as young adult fiction, but this is no light and easy read. IT’s just after the Civil War in America, and the dead have begun to rise. The shamblers are variously blamed on Emancipation, the wrath of God, or a strange new infectious agent. In America, black and indigenous people have been designated as shock troops, and from the age of 12, young girls and boys of colour are taught how to fight zombies and keep the white folks of America safe.

Dread Nation is the story of one such girl, mixed race Jane McKeene, daughter of a white southern woman of means to an unspecified black man, certainly not her absent husband. She’s being taught to be an Attendant - a lady’s bodyguard - at one of the best schools for Negro girls, but Jane is not exactly a devoted scholar or dutiful pupil, though she does excel at marksmanship and hand to hand combat.

In the course of her somewhat unapproved extracurricular activities, Jane, her ‘bad boy’ friend Jackson, and her fellow student, Katherine, a black girl light enough to easily pass, discover some nefarious plots, of course, and are sent off to languish in the coils of one of them - Summerland, a western colony patrolled day and night by black and indigenous folk kidnapped into service to keep the community safe for white settlers.

But even Summerland hides dangers and secrets still unknown to Jane and Katherine. As the situation grows ever worse Jane needs al her intelligence, ingenuity, and battle skills to survive.

First in a series.
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C. L. Polk’s marvellous fantasy novel Witchmark is many things all at once, and does them all well. It is a mystery, a delicate, hesitant love story, a story about recovery from battlefield trauma, a political thriller set in a world approximating post-WWI England, and a few other important things besides.

It is brilliant, and bittersweet, and horrifying, and every kind of emotional roller-coaster there is, and it is one of the best damn books I’ve ever read in a long time.

And the write-up on Goodreads says it’s volume one of the Kingston Cycle, so there are more stories coming in this world!
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Kate Heartfied’s Alice Payne Arrives is that wonderful thing, and original time travel story. Alice is the daughter of a distressed British country lord, finished his service in the disastrous American rebellion, and desperately in need if money.

With the help of an automaton created by her brilliant lover, Jane Hodgson, who lives with her in the family manor as her lady’s maid, Alice has become a highwayman, stealing money from men she knows to be rapists and more to stave off her family’s collapse. Someone else is interested in Jane, however. Prudence Zuniga, a time agent of the Farmers, one faction of future humanity engaged in a millennia-long war to mould history in their own image, wants all the tinkering to just stop, and allow humanity to build its own history. To achieve her goal, she needs a clever, scientifically minded, ‘naif’ - someone who will never be missed, and who is likely to agree to take on a strange task in her own time in return for monetary or ideological reward. Zuniga has settled on the unwed, childless servant Jane as that person.

Of course, nothing goes as planned for anyone. And that’s just the beginning of the story.
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Ursula Le Guin: Conversations on Writing is the last published book to which Le Guin was an active participant - her death came, says collaborator David Naimon - as the final corrections to the manuscript were being discussed and approved or changed. In a way, how like Le Guin, who retired from writing major pieces of fiction a few years back, to still be involved in communicating her thoughts literally up to the day of her death.

The book arose from a series of interviews Naimon conducted with Le Guin on her writing - fiction, non-fiction, and poetry - but they cover in fact a wide range of topics associated with writing, literature, and ideas. Conversation between Le Guin and Naimon is interleaved with illustrative selections from both her work and the work of others.

Here you will hear the names of writers and philosophers that influenced Le Guin’s thought and craft, and the authors she recommends as teachers of a particular approach to writing, or piece of craft. And her own ideas of how to write, her craft and her art. Nd you will wish she could have tarried with us forever.
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Most of these stories are from the Locus recommended reading list or other online recommendations lists.

“The Court Magician,” Sarah Pinsker; Lightspeed Magazine, January 2018
http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/the-court-magician/
Excellent. Concerning actions desires and their costs. Short story.

“The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections,” Tina Connolly; Tor.com, July 11 2018.
https://www.tor.com/2018/07/11/the-last-banquet-of-temporal-confections-tina-connolly/
Excellent. Novelette.

“And Yet,” A.T. Greenblatt; Uncanny Magazine, March-April 2018.
https://uncannymagazine.com/article/and-yet/
Very good. A scientist must choose between her research and her brother’s life. Short story.

“She Still Loves the Dragon,” Elizabeth Bear; Uncanny Magazine, January-February 2018.
https://uncannymagazine.com/article/still-loves-dragon/
Very good. Short story.

“A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies,” Alex E. Harrow; Apex Magazine, February 6 2018.
https://www.apex-magazine.com/a-witchs-guide-to-escape-a-practical-compendium-of-portal-fantasies/
Excellent. Heart-breaking, but with a breath of hope. Short story.

“Snake Season,” Erin Roberts; The Dark Magazine, April 2018.
http://thedarkmagazine.com/snake-season/
Very good. A horrifying tale of love and madness. Short story. CN: infanticide, murder.

“Flow,” Marissa Lingen; Fireside Magazine, March 2018.
https://firesidefiction.com/flow
Very good. About disability, nature, knowing and healing. Short story.

“Pistol Grip,” Vina Jie-Min Prasad; Uncanny Magazine, March-April 2018
https://uncannymagazine.com/article/pistol-grip/
Good. Evocative, provocative. Short story. CN: Explicit violence, sex.

“Cast Off Tight,” Hal Y. Zhang; Fireside Magazine, June 2018.
https://firesidefiction.com/cast-off-tight
Very good. Memory, grief, and knitting. Short story.

“Blessings,” Naomi Novik; Uncanny Magazine, May-June 2018.
https://uncannymagazine.com/article/blessings/
Excellent. Be careful when asking fairies for blessings on your children. Shot story.

“A Study in Oils,” Kelly Robson; Clarksworld Magazine, September 2018.
http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/robson_09_18/
Excellent. A study in remorse. Novelette.
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Like the lives of most people without wealth, status or high-tech credentials in Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s novella Prime Meridian, Amelia’s life is shit. After dropping out of university to cate for a dying mother, she lost her scholarship, and with that, her chance at a life she’s dreamed of forever, a life on Mars. Instead, she lives in her dead mother’s house with her sister and her nieces, and the best job she’s been able to find in months is working as a pretend companion for Friendrr.

In Moreno-Garcia’s future world, there really are colonies on Mars, but a girl like her is never going to get there. Still, the idea of Mars - fresh starts, getting away, escape - pervades her world. One if her clients is a retired actress who constantly reminisces about her one successful film, Conquerer Women of Mars. Another of her clients, a former boyfriend who ghosted her in college, had planned to emigrate with her before his rich father knocked some sense into him. The text is intercut with scenes from a movie that perhaps exists only in Amelia’s mind, a movie about a stalwart adventurer on Mars.

This is the future of today, if we are honest. All the toys of the futures that have been written about, but only for the favoured few. The rest of us will only see the future in small things, in the kinds of apps our cheap smartwatches can offer, while we struggle to find work and security in an Uber-style world. Our dreams will always be that, just dreams, until we lose them altogether. Or unless we are one of the very, very fortunate few who get a second chance, and setting everything else aside, take it.

This story will break your heart for all but the last few pages, and then it will make it soar. May we all find our way to Mars after all.
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Black Panther: Long Live the King, written by Nnedi Okorafor and drawn by various artists, is a self-contained story featuring T’Challa, King of Wakanda battling threats to his kingdom. Though his primary problem is a strange force, manifesting as a huge monster, which causes earthquakes and drains vibranium of its power, he must first face a reborn White Gorilla cult, led by a resurrected M’Baku, and a bitter friend from his youth who has designed a trap for him.

Okorafor completes her run with an alternate universe story about Ngozi, the young Nigerian woman who protects Wakanda as both Venom and Black Panther. Fun adventures to accompany Ta-Nehisi Coates’ powerful look at governance, power and responsibility in The Black Panther.
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“Articulated Restraint,” Mary Robinette Kowal. Tor.com, February 6, 2019.
https://www.tor.com/2019/02/06/articulated-restraint-mary-robinette-kowal/
Good. Set in Lady Astronaut universe. Short story.

“The Rule of Three,” Lawrence Shoen, Future Science Fiction Digest, December 18 2018
http://future-sf.com/fiction/the-rule-of-three/
Excellent. A very different first contact experience. Novelette.

“How to Swallow the Moon,” Isabel Yap; Uncanny, November-December 18 2018
https://uncannymagazine.com/article/how-to-swallow-the-moon/
Very good. Forbidden lovers overcome great obstacles. Novelette.

“The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington,” Phenderson Djèlí Clark; Fireside Fiction, February, 2018
https://firesidefiction.com/the-secret-lives-of-the-nine-negro-teeth-of-george-washington
Excellent. Short story.

“Leviathan Sings to Me in the Deep,” Nibedita Sen; Nightmare Magazine, June 18 2018.
http://www.nightmare-magazine.com/fiction/leviathan-sings-to-me-in-the-deep/
Excellent. Short story. CN: whale hunting, explicit descriptions.

“Shod in Memories,” M. K. Hutchins; Daily Science Fiction, October 25 2018
https://dailysciencefiction.com/fantasy/fairy-tales/m-k-hutchins/shod-in-memories
Good but slight. Cinderella retold. Short story.

“One Day, My Dear, I’ll Shower You with Rubies,” Langley Hyde; Podcastle, May 1 2018.
http://podcastle.org/2018/05/01/podcastle-520-one-day-my-dear-ill-shower-you-with-rubies/
Very good. Consequences of growing up with a murderer fr a parent. Short story.

“Sidekicks Wanted,” Laura Johnson; Cast of Wonders June 15 2018, original publication in anthology Heroes, editor unknown, October 2015.
http://www.castofwonders.org/2018/06/cast-of-wonders-307-sidekicks-wanted/
Neutral. Predictable. Short story.

“Ana’s Asteroid,” M. K. Hutchins; Cast of Wonders, April 30 2018.
http://www.castofwonders.org/2018/04/cast-of-wonders-301-anas-asteroid/
Good. Heroic child saves the day. Short story.

“The Things That We Will Never Say,” Vanessa Fogg; Daily Science Fiction, May 25 2018
https://dailysciencefiction.com/science-fiction/science-fiction/vanessa-fogg/the-things-that-we-will-never-say
Very good. Uses sf tropes to talk about family dynamics. Short story.

“Strange Waters,” Samantha Mills; Strange Horizons, April 2 2018.
http://strangehorizons.com/fiction/strange-waters/
Excellent. A woman lost in time searches for a way home. Short story.

“The Paper Dragon,” Stephen S. Power; Daily Science Fiction, April 20 2018
https://dailysciencefiction.com/hither-and-yon/sf-fantasy/stephen-s-power/the-paper-dragon
Good. Examination of war and forgiveness. Short story.
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I have been very ill, and the prognosis for recovery is not good. If I must choose in my limited time whether to read more, or write reviews if what I read, I choose to read more. While I’m still going to write about most books, for short fiction, I’m just going to give you my opinions as simple ratings unless there us something I really need to say. Short fiction will be rated excellent, very good, good, no comment or not my cup of tea. Interpret these as you will.

“No Flight without the Shatter,” Brooke Bolander; Tor.com, August 15 2019.
https://www.tor.com/2018/08/15/no-flight-without-the-shatter-brooke-bolander/
Excellent. A bittersweet requiem. Novelette.

“Firelight,” Ursula Le Guin; Paris Review, Summer 2018. Paywall; subscription required.
https://www.theparisreview.org/fiction/7176/firelight-ursula-k-le-guin
Excellent. Le Guin bids a final farewell to Ged, and to us. Short story.

“The Starship and the Temple Cat,” Yoon Ha Lee; Beneath Ceaseless Skies, February 1 2018.
http://www.beneath-ceaseless-skies.com/stories/the-starship-and-the-temple-cat/
Very good. Short story.

“The Starfish Girl,” Maureen McHugh; Slate, July 23, 2018.
https://slate.com/technology/2018/07/the-starfish-girl-a-new-sci-fi-short-story-about-gymnastics.html
Very good. Short story.

“A Brief and Fearful Star,” Carmen Maria Machado; Slate, June 27, 2018.
https://slate.com/technology/2018/06/a-brief-and-fearful-star-a-new-short-story-from-carmen-maria-machado-author-of-her-body-and-other-parties.html
Good. Short story.

“Asphalt, River, Mother, Child,” Isabel Yap; Strange Horizons, October 8 2018.
http://strangehorizons.com/fiction/asphalt-river-mother-child/
Excellent. Powerful use of traditional Philippine religious figures to tell a modern, and all too widespread, story. Short story.

“Music for the Underworld,” E. Lily Yu; Motherboard, March 29, 2018.
https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/8xkxqx/music-for-the-underworld
Excellent. Powerful and disturbing. Short story.

“Ruby, Singing,” Fran Wilde; Beneath Ceaseless Skies, September 27 2018.
http://www.beneath-ceaseless-skies.com/stories/ruby-singing/
Very good. Eerie, like a folktale. Short story.
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In Aliette de Bodard’s novel, In the Vanishers’ Palace, a young girl is forced by the elders if her village to offer herself to a feared dragon, in return for the dragon’s gift of healing to the daughter of the village leader. Fearful of the worst, Yên finds that the dragon, Vu Côn, wants her as a tutor to her two adopted children, Dan Thông and Dan Liên.

Vu Côn lives in a vast palace, built by a long-gone race called the Vanishers. In Yên and Vu Côn’s world, the Vanishers once ruled the world, humans and spirits such as dragons alike, with a science so advanced that it seemed the highest of magic. But the Vanishers went elsewhere in great ships, and behind them they left chaos - destructive diseases, dangerous artefacts, a world broken and need of healing. Vu Côn, in her own way, is committed to understanding the lost science of the Vanishers, focusing primarily on the horrific genetic diseases they created and unleashed, and trying to undo at least some of the damage they caused.

In a tale that owes something of its origins the the old tale of Beauty and the Beast, there is a strong but unacknowledged attraction between Yên and Vu Côn, but the latter is all too aware of the imbalance of power and shies away from Yên, indeed from all unnecessary contact with her, while Yên is conflicted by her awe and fear of the dragon, and her desire. Yên, meanwhile, learns to work with the children, and navigate the treacherous Vanishers’ palace. But great changes are waiting for all of them.
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My health has ben failing for a number of years; it’s now reached a point where I need to make painful choices. My time is very limited by the constraints if my physical condition, and when faced with the question : what do I do with this precious hour? - I choose to read rather than write a detailed post about what I have read. My apologies to those who came here for the book commentary. From now on, I’ll be recording what I read, and making far less comment about what I think about what
I read.

Thanks for dropping by and reading what I have been writing. I’ve enjoyed it, but it’s too much work now, and takes up too nuch time.
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Aliette de Bodard’s novella The Tea Master and the Detective is set in her secondary Xuya universe, and is both an intriguing mystery tale (with a crusty and damaged consulting detective who carries more than a hint of the original of that profession in her character) and a powerful story about finding truth and facing fear.

Long Chau calls herself a consulting detective. She has a murky past, and a mind that naturally turns toward deduction. She investigates that which interests her, whether she has a client or not. And at the moment, she is interested in what happens to the body of a person left in deep space - the unreal dimension through which shipminds - formerly human intelligences integrated into the bodies of transport ships - can carry people quickly from one place in the galaxy to another without passing through real space. But Long Chau, like most humans, does not function well while in deep space. To counteract its effects, most people turn to a tea master - a person trained to create a blend of substances to be consumed as a tea that stabilises their minds in deep space.

The tea master that Long Chau seeks out is a shipmind, known as The Shadow’s Child. Once a military vessel, she was lost in an accident in deep space, her crew dead, and her psyche deeply affected, as even that of a shipmind will be after too much time in deep space. Dismissed from the military, unable to enter the deeper parts of deep space because of her trauma, The Shadow’s Child has become a tea master, her specialised blends enabling embodied humans to function in a space she can no longer trust herself in.

The slow development of a partnership, even, eventually, a friendship, between these two very damaged people as they combine their talents to solve a mystery concerning the body they find in the edges of deep space is a marvellously crafted, and emotionally delicate negotiation.

And as an added bonus for Sherlock Holmes fans, you can always count the ways in which Long Chau and The Shadow’s Child are like Holmes and Watson.

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April 2019

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