State of the Blog and Weekend Links: February 19, 2017

This turned out to be a slightly more productive week than the last one was, but it still wasn’t great. I continue to struggle with staying on task and avoiding news, which also means I continue to struggle with all the feelings of anger, worry and frustration that comes along with even minimal knowledge of current events. That said, the biggest thing that impeded productivity this week was just plain old adulting stuff. Our upstairs neighbors had bed bugs, so we had to have our place treated as well (again, ugh), which is stressful and highly disruptive, requiring extra laundry and moving stuff and this time an unfortunately unavoidable trip to an Ikea store. There’s basically no way that any week containing a trip to Ikea is going to be a good one, even in the best of times.

bmp_nighthold1Still, it wasn’t all bad. I got my Six Wakes review out along with my unpopular opinions about the most recent episode of The Expanse. I read Miranda and Caliban, which was probably not the best choice for my first reading of something by Jacqueline Carey. I got an early copy of Seven Surrenders in the mail the other day, so I’ve been working through that and it’s amazing. I’ve taken a bunch of photos of my cat, Spot’s, adorable romance with the large stuffed dog my daughter keeps on her bed. I druid healed some stuff in World of Warcraft for the first time in basically ever, and it was weird but fun. Then cleared all of Nighthold except for Gul’dan, which was pretty rad. My alts are all shamefully neglected, but it turns out that after all these years I’m still a druid person.

As always, I’m not making any promises about post frequency this week, but I’m optimistic. I’m halfway done already with a couple of book reviews, I’ll always write about The Expanse, and I’ve still got a couple of other projects knocking around on my to-do list. I also just ordered the 1970s Ballantine mass market editions of the Gormenghast trilogy, which I think is going to be my classic SFF reading/blogging project for the year, though I haven’t decided how I want to do it yet. Right now I’m just excited to be feeding my 1970s paperback addiction.

Kameron Hurley wrote a great post over at Boing Boing this week: “What Will Sink Our Generation Ships? The Death of Wonder”

If you’re into long reads, The Wertzone has conveniently listed the longest SFF novels of all time.

nerds of a feather, flock together collected a Taster’s Guide to January’s Speculative Short Fiction that’s very worth a look, especially if you don’t have time to read all the publications they suggest stories from.

Lady Business published their excellent list of Hugo Nomination Rrecommendations, which I know added a couple things to my TBR list. Also, SF Bluestocking is on their for Best Fanzine, which completely made my week. (Thanks, Renay!)

Jacqueline Carey wrote both a Big Idea and My Favorite Bit pieces about her new novel, Miranda and Caliban.

A. Merc Rustad is probably my favorite new-to-me writer from 2016, and they have a new story in Lightspeed, “Later, Let’s Tear Up the Inner Sanctum.” They also just revealed the cover for their first collection, So You Want to Be a Robot and Other Stories, coming in May from Lethe Press. This is the most exciting single-author collection of the year so far, hands down.

You can preorder the book now.

Weekend Links: February 12, 2017

So, I managed to get my review of The Expanse out on time this week, but nothing else to speak of. It’s disappointing, but I’m starting to feel like this cyclical sort of pattern of productivity may be a new normal for a little while, though I do have some plans this week to try and institute some new routines that I think are going to help. Mostly, this will involve exercising–outdoors, since it’s unseasonably warm out–and unplugging from the internet for at least a couple of hours a day so I can work without distractions.

world-sucks

Everything is pretty terrible right now, and sort-of-joking about how I get to spend every day watching the fall of American democracy isn’t working as a coping mechanism. Things are getting more and more genuinely frightening and worrisome every day; everyone at my congressman’s office hates me because I call all the time; and the reality is that my personal power to change things is very limited. My sitting around being horrified and anxious and feeling helpless all the time doesn’t do anyone any good, least of all myself.

On the bright side, I read quite a lot this week. I finished Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty, The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley, and Matt Wallace’s new Sin du Jour novella, Idle Ingredients. I’m also in the middle of Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly right now, but I’m hoping to finish it tonight or early tomorrow, so I ought to have several book reviews to publish this week. I’ve also got a project to work on that I’ve teased a little before but am hoping to dig into for real this week.

No promises about how much I’ll actually accomplish, though, to myself or otherwise. I figure low expectations may be the key to happiness and satisfaction at this point.

Uncanny Magazine released the second half of their Issue 14 content this week. If you haven’t seen it yet, Delilah S. Dawson’s essay “I Have Never Not Been An Object” is a must-read.

And the Tansy Rayner Roberts’ short “Some Cupids Kill With Arrows” is quick, funny, and festively-appropriate right now.

There’s a great new interview with Nisi Shawl over at Apex, and Nisi shares some exciting news at the very end.

Worlds Without End has a new list of science fiction by women writers. It’s heavy on classic work and only 98 titles long, but there’s a decent enough selection if that’s the sort of thing you’re looking for.

There’s just another couple of days to back Problem Daughters–“an anthology of science fiction & fantasy from the fringes of feminism”–and they’re very close to their full goal. To promote the project, there’s an Intersectional SFF Roundtable at Apex. [I didn’t feel able to adequately explain my weird feelings about this link and the use of the term “intersectional” but several other writers, including L.D. Lewis and Justina Ireland have explained it at length. Currently, Apex has released a half-assed apology for something about the piece and removed it from their site, and I’m just following the arguments about it all now. I apologize for any harm that may have been caused by my own uncritical sharing of the link.] Future Fire also published a roundtable discussion this week, this one on female protagonists.

Kameron Hurley and Lara Elena Donnelly were busy promoting their respective novels this week.

At Tor.com, Kameron Hurley talked about worldbuilding and challenging expectations in “Who Owns the Stars? Creating a Space Opera Universe”.

Terrible Minds hosted both authors this week, Hurley wrote about writing during times of political upheaval, and Lara Elena Donnelly listed five things she learned writing Amberlough.

At Mary Robinette Kowal’s blog, Hurley and Donnelly each wrote about their favorite bits of their stories.

And at John Scalzi’s blog as well, Hurley and Donnelly tackled the Big Ideas in their work.

The Expanse: “Static” is a solid set-up for major events coming next week

After last week’s action-packed season premiere, “Static” is a fairly quiet interlude that splits its time between character development moments—as various people deal with fallout from last week’s events—and exposition and set up for another major event (or two) next week that should wrap up the end of Leviathan Wakes material and put us into Caliban’s War in episode five. The Expanse has always laid out its episodes in this sort of cyclical pattern, alternating between action and exposition, punctuating the flow of its overall story with periods of calm and excitement, but with mixed success. The show’s quieter episodes have had a tendency to feel like wheel-spinning, and there’s some of that here, but there’s also copious evidence that the show’s writers have taken some of the common criticisms of season one to heart and found a much better balance between exposition and events. To be sure, there are a few clunky moments in “Static,” but it was never boring, and there’s plenty going on the keep viewers excited for next week’s episode.

Spoilers below for the episode and books.

“Static” starts with an event leftover from last week, the destruction of Deimos by the Earth navy, which comes even before the opening credits. The opening shot of Earth’s missiles zooming towards Deimos quickly cuts to Bobbie Draper and her squad of Martian marines watching the news, which details the tiny moon’s complete obliteration and the deaths of all seventeen of its residents. We then get a short scene of Avasarala and Errinwright discussing the possible war with Mars, which turns to a voiceover on top of scenes of the Martian marines training. It’s a smart use of a couple of minutes that further sets up the rivalry between the Avasarala and Errinwright philosophies and highlights the seriousness of the situation. This whole opening sequence also resonates thematically with the rest of the episode (and, I expect, much of this season of the show), which deals heavily with ideas about the value of human life, whose lives matter, and the ease and difficulty with which different characters treat different lives as disposable. Sadly, Chrisjen doesn’t get much to do the rest of the episode, though her “What the fuck is that?” when she finally gets a message back from Fred Johnson near the end of the hour promises that she’ll have plenty to do in the next episode or two.

Similarly, Bobbie and the rest of the Martian marines are subjected to a somewhat boring and, frankly, redundant subplot this week. We get to see the way that the three native-born Martians single out and pick on the Earth born Private Travis, which was already touched upon in the first episode of the season. In the end, this relatively minor personnel issue is resolved and Bobbie and company are sent on to Ganymede, which book readers will recognize as the place where we first meet Bobbie in Caliban’s War. I suspect that all this time spent with Bobbie’s team is meant to help viewers connect with her and them before the Ganymede incident, but all these characters struggle with likability—probably because they spend so much time on petty bickering. It’s an interesting adaptational dilemma, though, if you think about it. On the one hand, I’m glad that the show didn’t work too hard to paint Bobbie and her team as overly soft and lovable. Bobbie’s not, in general, a super likable character, and the show is portraying her pretty much how she appeared in the book. On the other hand, they’re going to a lot of trouble to try and make the viewer care about this team of people and it’s, one, not working very well and, two, strongly telegraphing that this group of characters is marked for tragedy. The ominous way that Sutton pronounces “Ganymede” is a dead giveaway.

Most of “Static” takes place at Tycho Station, to which the Rocinante and Fred Johnson have returned with prisoners from Thoth. While the crippled ship is being repaired, its crew is fractured. After shooting Dresden last week, Miller is out, banished from the Rocinante by a furious, self-righteous Holden and from Tycho by Fred Johnson, who is himself struggling to figure out next steps in how to deal with Eros and the conflict between Earth and Mars that is sure to spill over into the Belt and Outer Planets. Holden and Naomi have a disagreement about Miller and Dresden, which sends Naomi off the Rocinante for some girl time with Fred Johnson’s assistant, Samara, and leads Holden to focus on interrogating their most important prisoner, a scientist named Paolo Cortazar. Amos starts the episode by having a commiserating drink with Miller but turns out to be instrumental in getting Cortazar to talk. Meanwhile, Alex is eaten up with guilt over the deaths of the twenty-five Belters on the second boarding pod at Thoth, and he spends the whole episode running and rerunning simulations of the fight in order to figure out a way that he could have saved them. All of this works together to produce a strange effect that is probably not quite exactly what the writers hoped for. The idea of breaking up the crew and then putting them back together at the end of the episode is a solid one, and it ought to be enough to fuel an episode, but the truth is that not all the conflicts here really work. There aren’t always clear consequences for characters’ actions, and the interpersonal stakes feel low when compared to the major events happening in the story.

This is probably most glaring in Miller’s storyline this week. In his first appearance of the episode, Miller is assaulted and berated by Holden, who is outraged at Miller’s extrajudicial killing of the unarmed Dresden. Fred is more quietly angry at Miller, perhaps angry less at Miller’s action and more at Miller’s usurping of Fred’s authority in the situation, perhaps for some other complex reason. It’s not always easy to tell with Fred Johnson, who is still a somewhat mysterious character in the show. In any case, Fred orders Miller off Tycho ASAP and sends Miller off to, presumably, find a ship to take him off. However, this isn’t what Miller does at all. It turns out that almost no one is actually that upset with Miller. In fact, some of the Belters on Tycho seem almost to hero worship the ex-cop, and Miller loafs around the station for somewhere between a day or so and a couple of weeks. The timeline is confusing. He has a drink with Amos, then goes to the Mormon temple on Tycho and lets some poor nice Mormon waste time giving Miller the whole spiel about the generation ship, the Nauvoo, parked outside Tycho. Miller is also having visions of Julie Mao, who seems to be beckoning him back to Eros, so he decides Eros needs to be destroyed and goes back to Fred Johnson to suggest that they use the Nauvoo to do it, and Fred agrees with no real argument. It’s a weird storyline because it feels important and somewhat dramatic during the watching, but its internal logic doesn’t actually hold up to much scrutiny. It’s Fred’s easy agreement at the end that really killed my suspension of disbelief, but this plot overall relies a little too heavily on the ability of viewers to fill in blanks and imagine character motivations and rationalizations that aren’t adequately supported by what is shown on screen.

The disagreement between Holden and Naomi is an obvious one. Holden, self-righteous prig that he is, hates that Miller shot Dresden, who was unarmed and not obviously presenting any imminent threat to the people who were in the room with him on Thoth. Naomi, however, sees the wisdom of Miller’s decision, though she isn’t entirely approving of it being so unilaterally decided and carried out, and she urges Holden towards forgiveness and clemency or at least pragmatism. This argument sends the two apart for most of the remainder of the episode, with Holden working with Fred and Amos to get information out of the scientist, Cortazar, while Naomi drinks and plays and dances with her new friend Samara. Before the end of the episode, Holden and Naomi have one more conversation where they reconcile, and this puts them right with each other in time for whatever comes next for them. The thing is, this is the first test of their relationship, but it never feels truly consequential. When they aren’t in the same room, it’s as if the two characters don’t even exist to each other, and their reconciliation feels too easily accomplished at the end after such a significant philosophical disagreement.

Still, “Static” is a good episode that does a lot of necessary ground laying for next week’s major events. The Nauvoo exposition was nice and not too clunky, the use of the Eros noises as a soundtrack was mostly well-done, and while quieter than the first two episodes of the season, this one didn’t feel slower or less interesting. I’m happy to see that we’re on track to finish Leviathan Wakes by the end of episode four, though. I cannot wait to get deeper into Caliban’s War material. The back half of this season should be awesome for female characters, and that is definitely relevant to my interests.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

  • I love Errinwright’s line at the end of the opening sequence, where he turns Avasarala’s own words against her: “It’s like you always said; Earth must come first.” This is a great way of pointing out Chrisjen’s own hypocrisy in using rhetoric that can be easily interpreted in ways she doesn’t intend but probably should have been able to foresee.
  • I noticed that “Nauvoo” doesn’t set off spellcheck, so I googled it and learned an interesting bit of Mormon history that I was previously unaware of, so that was neat.
  • It’s interesting how Amos is used this week to relate to both Miller and Cortazar. One man has a rough exterior but an excess of empathy, while the other has been altered to feel none, yet Amos connects with both of them. I’m not always sure that the writers are sure what they want Amos to be.
  • I would have loved to see Alex’s story given more time this week, as well as some more interaction with other characters. He felt very alone and adrift in his pain, but it seemed as if this mini-storyline was almost an afterthought.
  • I genuinely hated the short EDM montage with the music made from the Eros recording. I’m not big on montages in general, but this one in particular was egregiously bad. It communicated nothing that hadn’t already been conveyed in the previous scenes, and it was heavy handed way of making a thematic connection between disparate storylines.

Weekend Links: February 5, 2017

Well, it’s been another week of watching the American experiment fail in increasingly less slow motion, but I’m feeling pretty good, all things considered. It’s been a fairly productive week for me, though (as always) not as productive as I’d like. Still, I feel as if I’m picking up steam as the year goes on rather than otherwise, and that’s encouraging after what a shit show 2016 was for me.

February, of course, is Black History Month in the United States, and this year I’m celebrating (and suggesting everyone celebrate) by supporting black writers and artists. On February 1, I started a Twitter thread to which I’ll be adding a recommendation (or several) every day throughout the month. I’ve storified it, and I’ll be updating this weekly if you’d rather follow along that way.

Locus Magazine released their 2016 Recommended Reading List.

Uncanny Magazine shared the results of their 2016 Favorite Fiction Reader Poll. Surprising no one, Brooke Bolander’s “Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies” came out on top.

nerds of a feather, flock together posted their Hugo Award Longlist in four parts: Fiction Categories, Visual Work Categories, Individual Categories (I’m on this one! Which basically made my week.), and Institutional Categories.

The newest Book Smugglers Quarterly Almanac is now available.

Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti: Home (I liked it) was released on Tuesday. You can read interviews with the author at Clarkesworld and Wired.

Earlier this week, I reviewed Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer. I highly recommend checking out her guest post at Tor.com about the tendency of fantasy to focus on the restoration of monarchy and her Big Idea post over at John Scalzi’s blog.

I just finished Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty this weekend, so I’ll be reviewing it early this week. In the meantime, be sure to read Mur’s Big Idea.

Mari Ness’s fairy tale series continues with a great post on Little Red Riding Hood.

I love these literary constellations by artist Nick Rougeux.

It’s been a while since an SMBC comic made me feel so sad.

 

Literary Hub shared some weird/cool Victorian illustrations for Shakespeare’s plays. There are more at Fine Books & Collections, or you can just view the whole archive online.

 

 

Powerless: NBC’s new un-super-powered comedy is clever, fun, and a nice surprise in general

I didn’t have high hopes for Powerless, to be honest. I don’t watch many half-hour sitcoms anymore at all, and this one had a couple of big changes in development that made the finished product something other than what I initially got moderately excited about when I first heard about it. Predictably, much of the pilot episode–bad-puntastically titled “Wayne or Lose”–was already spoiled by the trailers leading up to it, but I was pleasantly surprised to find the show overall well-constructed, slickly produced and consistently funny, with a well-chosen cast that has good chemistry right out of the gate. It’s what I imagine might happen if circa 2008 Zooey Deschanel had a baby with an obscure DC comics title, but in a good way.

Spoilers ahoy!

Vanessa Hudgens plays likable ingenue Emily Locke, who arrives in Charm City bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready for her first day as the head of R&D at Wayne Security. Hudgens does a great job of selling Emily’s wide-eyed excitement about the city and her new position, but her sunny optimism is tempered by real ambition and a deep-down belief in herself and her ability to make a positive impact on the world. Emily’s determination to be better (a motto she writes in permanent marker on a whiteboard) is something I genuinely appreciate as a personal and professional goal in my own life, and the show it’s a motto that feels real and achievable. Sure, Emily may have gotten it from the enormous Bruce Wayne-authored business bible she carries around with her for half the episode, but I rather think it’s one of the few motivational tools she has that really is all hers. I certainly hope so, since it’s written in permanent marker.

Emily’s sunny disposition is obviously not shared by the rest of the Wayne Security team. Boss Van Wayne (Alan Tudyk in excellent form) just wants to be transferred to the Gotham City offices and jumps at the opportunity to “fail up.” We learn that Van’s assistant, Jackie (Christina Kirk), started off very like Emily but has been worn down by the work environment. Danny Pudi, Ron Funches, and Atlin Mitchell round out the R&D department as Teddy, Ron and Wendy, respectively, and they too have spent enough time having their ideas dismissed and dreams crushed that they aren’t exactly welcoming to Emily, who (it turns out) is their fifth new boss in the last year. This obviously isn’t an altogether original setup for a workplace/fish-out-of-water comedy, but it’s a formula that works and the DC universe setting is enough of a twist to keep me interested.

Speaking of the setting, it’s really smartly done, and there are a ton of great comic book and genre references for longtime comics fans to catch and for less fannish folks to google after the episode. The use of obscure-ish heroes and villains like Starro, Jack O’Lantern, and Crimson Fox works well to firmly place Charm City (invented for the show) in the DC universe of the comics, but also firmly separate from everything else currently in production for film or television in the DC universe. Other details–like Adam West’s voiceover in a Wayne Security commercial for Joker anti-venom or Emily’s father being played by the 1978 Superman‘s Jimmy Olsen, Marc McClure–will be even less obvious for casual viewers but more delightful for serious fans of the genre and obsessive googlers like myself.

In the, end, though, there’s not much (yet, at least) about Powerless that is particularly unique or groundbreaking. It’s got a diverse cast, but that’s pretty bare minimum these days. It’s got a quietly progressive message, but it remains to be seen if that is nurtured into something more than a milquetoast slogan on a whiteboard. There’s a good deal of feminist potential here, but female friendships and mentoring relationships must also be nurtured and grown to really count for much.

Still, this is a promising first episode, smart and funny without being cynical, sunny and sweet without being cloying. Two weeks into what might be the apocalypse (and is a depressing time to live through regardless), Powerless has turned out to be exactly the sort of lighthearted thing I want to watch, especially now that the first season of The Good Place is over.

And speaking of The Good Place, do yourself a favor and go watch it immediately if you haven’t already.

 

The Expanse: “Safe” and “Doors & Corners” are a thrillingly ambitious start to Season Two

Season two of The Expanse isn’t wasting time with handholding or revisiting last season’s material, so I hope everyone has been paying attention. “Safe” is a whirlwind of fresh exposition and new character introductions that moves through the aftermath of the Eros massacre at a blistering pace to set the stage for the Battle of Thoth Station that takes place in “Doors & Corners.” It’s a good thing these two episodes were aired together because they would each have been frustrating to write about separately, one being a huge helping of infodumping mixed with survivor’s guilt and the other being dominated by the lengthy battle sequence that overshadows its first half. As a pair, these episodes work well as an introduction to the themes and conflicts of the show’s second season. Apart, not so much.

Spoilers ahead for the episodes and the first two books of the series!

Having read Leviathan Wakes last year and Caliban’s War in preparation for this season, I wasn’t expecting to see Bobbie Draper (newcomer Frankie Adams) so soon, but “Safe” opens with her introduction. It’s a smart transition into the new season, immediately adding an additional layer of complexity to the story by starting with a new character, kicking off a dialogue-heavy episode with some action, and showing the audience Mars for the first time. Chronologically, this scene takes place before the start of Caliban’s War, and by the end of “Doors & Corners” we’re still pretty firmly in Leviathan Wakes territory, which makes me curious about how far into the second book we can reasonably expect the show to get this year. My guess is not nearly as far as I’d like, especially in Bobbie’s story, but I like this opening scene so much and Bobbie’s viewpoint is utilized so well in “Safe” that I can’t be upset about it.

It’s great to see Mars at last, and they do a good job here of communicating to the audience what the dream of Mars is—a terraformed paradise as we see in Bobbie’s snapshot of the future Mariner Valley—and what that means to young people like Bobbie. She and the rest of the Martian military get a good amount of screen time in these episodes as they work, possibly in vain, to avoid war with Earth. If the show is planning on following the course of the books, the groundwork being laid here is essential to getting viewers invested in these characters, their conflicts and their fates. So far, they’re nailing it, following up the initial action scene with some more domestic scenes of military camaraderie and using Bobbie’s interactions with Lieutenant Sutton (Hugh Dillon) to give us a ton of exposition about Mars and their goals in the solar system while also deftly painting Bobbie as a tough, passionately opinionated woman who often seems to only be barely held in check by her military training and discipline. When Bobbie ends “Safe” with the observation that war with Earth may be necessary and inevitable, she looks like she might be willing (and certainly seems capable) of waging that war all by herself.

On the Rocinante, “Safe” picks up with them having just left doomed Eros. Kicking off this first Roci segment with Holden’s nightmare that they may all be infected by protomolecule was a touch melodramatic—it’s very obviously a dream, and the ongoing fears Holden and the rest of the crew have after the trauma of their experiences on Eros are better communicated elsewhere—but in the broader context of two solid episodes that work in such excellent harmony, it’s practically forgettable and definitely forgivable. I suppose it serves as a reminder of what the protomolecule looks like so that we recognize it when Amos opens up a canister of it a couple minutes later, but I’m not sure it’s truly necessary, especially when the canister is confirmed by others to be the same stuff that they saw on Eros and they also have recorded scientific notes on the substance that explain more about it. Still, the fact that everything in “Safe” happens so quickly and in so many short scenes that it’s easy to lose this tiny dream sequence in the crush of information being thrown at the viewer almost makes it worse and more silly to have included it in the first place. In any case, the protomolecule canister is soon safely (hopefully) hidden near an asteroid, and the Rocinante is on its way back to Tycho and Fred Johnson with the other evidence found on Eros.

Much of the time spent with the Roci crew in “Safe” as well as parts of the first half of “Doors & Corners” is dedicated to the characters’ various reactions to trauma and survivor’s guilt. Alex (Cas Anvar) in particular struggles with his feelings of guilt and shame over not having rescued more of the Belter population of Eros, and it’s nice to see him getting more to do and the beginnings of a more distinct character arc this season. Meanwhile, Miller and Holden are still recovering from the massive dose of radiation they were subjected to on Eros. Miller is still angry at Amos for killing Miller’s friend Sematimba, while Holden is still unsure if he has what it takes to lead the crew. The resolution of the conflict between Miller and Amos works for the characters even if it is somewhat expected. It’s Alex, incidentally, whose basic decency sets the stage at the end of “Safe” for Miller and Amos to finally let bygones be bygones, and the cheese story is definitely in the running for my favorite scene from either of these episodes. It’s a great scene of domestic bliss on the Rocinante before they return to Tycho and get back into the shit.

Even more expected than the conflict and resolution between Miller and Amos, and somewhat spoiled by the season previews, is the start of the romance between Holden and Naomi, which I was surprised to not hate nearly as much here as I did when I read Leviathan Wakes. I mean, there’s still no way that Holden could ever possibly deserve Naomi Nagata, who is an actual perfect angel, and I still feel like things are very one-sided, with Naomi as the primary provider of emotional support. With Naomi also being responsible for Amos and whatever his deal is, it doesn’t seem quite fair. Still, Steven Strait and Dominique Tipper are both hot, and they have a nice chemistry that makes it fun to watch them squish their bodies together. It also helps that there’s nothing overwrought about the relationship and it doesn’t take up much screen time so it hasn’t completely outstayed its welcome yet.

The Rocinante material is dialogue heavy for all of “Safe” and this continues through the first half of “Doors & Corners” after they arrive at Tycho to report in with OPA leader Fred Johnson (Chad L. Coleman). There’s a lot of sly exposition in these first few minutes that helps to give us a much better understanding of the OPA, its factions, and how the events at Eros have changed things in the Belt. Fred Johnson gets nearly as much screen time in this one episode as he did all last season, and we see a new depth to his character now that he’s playing a larger role in the story. Coleman brings a decent gravitas to the role, and this week we get to see a lot of Fred Johnson’s complexity as he finds himself pushed back into a martial role that is far different than the politicking that he wants to be doing.

On Earth, we’re already starting to dig into some of Chrisjen Avasarala’s Caliban’s War content, and it’s interesting to see how this material is being adapted to try and keep it from getting too far ahead of the Rocinante plot, which still has probably two more episodes worth of Leviathan’s Wake material to cover. Avasarala’s story this season starts with an assassination attempt right after she’s given a public statement blaming Fred Johnson and the OPA for the Eros incident and the attack on the Donnager. She contacts an old friend of her son’s, Cotyar, to join her security team and work as a spy, though it’s still not clear by the end of “Doors & Corners” exactly what Cotyar is for. Avasarala herself splits her time between working to prevent all-out war between Earth, Mars and the Belt and trying to puzzle out Errinwright’s plot against her so she can keep working to prevent the war without getting herself murdered in the process. Shohreh Aghdashloo is always a commanding presence as Avasarala, and I generally find her to be the most fascinating character on the show. Unfortunately, much of her story in these first couple of episodes feels repetitive, as if it’s just spinning its wheels until the other plots catch up.

That said, even while spinning its wheels, the Avasarala plot manages to be compelling enough to mostly hold its own, especially in “Safe” though Avasarala also gets a great scene with Admiral Souther in “Doors & Corners.” There are several scenes of actual UN meetings which are entertaining if you appreciate that sort of peeking into the workings of government, and it appears that several other characters are going to play larger roles here as the season continues. Having read the first two books of the source material, I’m glad to see so much of it showing up here, and I’m hopeful that this means we’ll get significantly far into Caliban’s War later this season. My only concern is that by starting to dig into the conspiracy against Avasarala this early, it could be redundant to do it all over again later if the show decides to hew too closely to the source material. So far, however, the show has mostly made smart adaptational choices, seeming both cautious about huge changes and appropriately reverent of the books. I don’t think there’s much to really worry about on that score.

Overall, these two episodes are a pitch perfect start to the new season. There’s a certain amount of risk-taking going on with introducing some completely new characters and expanding the roles of some others requiring more skillful juggling to do everyone justice, and the show so far is pulling it off. Thematically, these episodes are solidly ambitious, but in a way that grows organically out of the previous season. The exploration of various forms of survivor’s guilt in “Safe” and the journey of the Roci crew towards something like healing (but that, ultimately, turns out to be political awakening) was particularly well done. Bobbie’s point of view offers an important new perspective on Mars that rounds out the viewer’s understanding of the major factions in the solar system, and by the end of “Doors & Corners” we have a much better idea of what the protomolecule is and some inklings of what that might mean to the warring factions. Visually, the show is a marvel, with gorgeous costumes and props, excellent sets and practical effects, and slick, polished CGI to enhance great photography.

The Expanse continues to be the most exciting thing on television, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

  • I know that “I don’t use sex as a weapon, little ones; I use weapons as weapons” is sort of the Bobbie Draper pull quote of the night, but I actually don’t love it. I am still feeling pumped from Bobbie’s speech at Phoebe, though.
  • A line I do love: Naomi saying “I’m not scared. I’m angry.”
  • I liked the scene with Mao and Errinwright plotting together, but it felt somewhat derivative. The roses made Mao feel a little bit President Snow-ish, and the location they used looks very similar to one I’ve seen in a couple of other SyFy productions. I might be wrong about the specifics, but either way it all seemed a little too paint-by-numbers for me. I’d have liked to see something more visually distinctive and memorable.
  • I’ve never been wholly on board, in the books or on the show, with Miller’s creepy obsession with Julie Mao, but it seems like that has been wound down now. Here’s hoping.
  • On the one hand, Holden and Naomi banging in the airlock is hot as hell. On the other hand, if that airlock was open to space for them to come in, wouldn’t that hard ass wall be cold as shit?
  • The FedEx branding on the boarding pods was a nice touch.
  • Loved the ending of “Doors & Corners.” I love that scene in the book, and it was deployed here for maximum “Oh, shit!” effect. Good job, show.

Weekend Links: January 29, 2017

Let’s be real. It’s been a rough week. As things in the U.S. go from bad to worse faster than I even thought they would, it continues to be tough to stay productive or even motivated to write about books and television. Instead, I’ve spent a ton of time on the phone with my dumpster fire of a representative’s office. I’ve signed petitions. I’ve read and spread important news, and I’ve spent a ton of time just sitting in paralyzed silence thinking about how fucked we all are. Finally, yesterday, I just got good and drunk, which helped a little, but I can’t stay drunk forever.

I’m not doing well.

On the bright side, this coming week brings the return of The Expanse, which I’m looking forward to writing about, on Wednesday and Netflix’s Santa Clarita Diet on Friday. I’m not sure if I’ll write about that one or not, but it looks moderately promising. I’m not excited about it, but I’m not excited about much these days. I figure at least it’ll be something to do other than watch the ongoing destruction of America in mute, helpless rage. It turns out watching that video of Richard Spencer getting punched in the face over and over can really only provide so much comfort in these trying times.

I didn’t read that much SFF stuff on the internet this week, mostly because I was glued to real world news instead, but it also seems as if there’s just not the usual volume of long-ish, thoughtful posts that I prefer to read. I suspect that I’m not the only one struggling with productivity and feelings of inadequacy. There were a few good things, though.

Book Riot has a great list of Japanese SF in translation.

Electric Literature posted this cool infographic on how sci-fi influences transportation.

John DeNardo put out Part 3 of his Epic List of SF Books to Look For in 2017 over at Kirkus.

s.e. smith has some good thoughts on gender essentialism and magic.

Mythcreants looked at 6 Unsolved Cases of Missing Women in Spec Fic, and it made me chuckle.

And I’m kind of digging this new Missy Elliot video that surprise dropped the other day:

Sci-fi and Fantasy books, tv, films, and feminism