All posts by SF Bluestocking

State of the Blog and Weekend Links: August 20, 2017

So, let’s just say right up front that this wasn’t a great week for me. I’m depressed, which sucks, and last weekend saw literal fucking Nazi’s marching in the streets of America, which isn’t surprising but is nonetheless upsetting and disheartening. I’m having a hard time dealing with the fact that we’ve got more than three years of this shit to go. At least.

On the good news front, my daughter is back in school; she started 9th grade on Wednesday, which means I’ve got a good deal more theoretically productive alone time coming my way now. Tomorrow, we’re heading to Bowling Green, Kentucky to see the eclipse slightly better than we would see it here in Cincinnati, but after that it’s back to school for my daughter and back to work for me. As shitty as this past week has been, it’s managed to be kind of inexplicably restful as well, and I’ve got some stuff to work on this week that I’m excited about.

This week, my Game of Thrones post was very late (like, today late), but I hope to have it out either late tomorrow or sometime on Tuesday. After that, I’ve got a review post on recent magazine and short fiction reads in the works. I’m also hoping to get back on track this week with Let’s Read! Gormenghast. I haven’t forgotten about the project, though I have taken an extended break from it, and I’m determined to finish it. Right now, I’m not making any promises about what I’ll be publishing, but I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to get back to a two or three posts a week schedule now that I have more time to myself during the day. It’s a weird balance, this trying to be productive while also trying to be kind to myself (which in turn makes it easier to be productive than wallowing in self-loathing).

If you’re feeling fatalistic, I saw this neat piece the other day about how Earth’s final total solar eclipse is less than a billion years away.

Speaking of the apocalypse, N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season is being adapted for television.

Jemisin discussed the Broken Earth trilogy at the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

Jemisin was also interviewed for Playboy, where she disclosed that her next series will be based on her Tor.com short story, “The City Born Great,” and will take on the Lovecraftian Mythos.

Becky Chambers’ next Wayfarers book, Record of a Spaceborn Few, has a cover blurb. I am excited.

Chapter Two of Sarah Gailey’s new serial at Fireside, The Fisher of Bones, is out. Read Chapter One here.

The newest Book Smugglers novella, Temporary Duty Assignment by A.E. Ash, is out now. There’s five days left on the paperback giveaway,, and you can read about Ash’s inspirations and influences here.

The Wertzone’s Cities of Fantasy series continues with Golgotterath, from R. Scott Baker’s Second Apocalypse series.

Black Gate is signal boosting the Kickstarter for the first English translation of a Brazilian solarpunk anthology. Intriguing.

I am in love with these adorable PRONOUNS enamel pins.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia is crowdfunding a novella!

In new that should surprise no one, Joss Whedon’s ex-wife called him out today as a hypocritical faux-feminist. That does sound like him.

Game of Thrones Recap/Review: Season 7, Episode 5 “Eastwatch”

After the excitement of last week, it was too much to hope for this episode to maintain that same level of energy, and, indeed, “Eastwatch” is the first episode of the season so far that was actually boring. While there are a lot of things happening in this episode, they all tend to run together into a giant, messy series of generally ill-conceived scenes that make up a plot that’s both increasingly convoluted and wildly (and occasionally hilariously) stupid.

On a more irritatingly personal level, this ridiculous lack of structure is starting to make it difficult to figure out how to organize these recap/review posts. The last few weeks, I managed to get things loosely grouped under setting headings, but there’s enough character movement and enough crossover between storylines in “Eastwatch” that this is no longer an effective organizational method. Instead, this recap is going to follow each of the focal/POV characters of the episode. I’ll be talking about it more in depth in the individual sections, but something that’s been fascinating and frustrating to observe this season has been the way in which—in a complete reversal of last season’s “women on top” philosophy—nearly every female character in the show has now been reduced to a character in the story of the male characters. Every episode this season has worked to systematically reorient all the most important stories around men, and it’s really obvious in “Eastwatch” just how much that has been at the expense of women (you know, if it wasn’t obvious to you already, obv).

**Spoilers ahoy!**

Jaime Lannister, Bronn and Cersei

Jaime has always been part of the show’s main cast, and he ought to have one of the more compelling character arcs if the show had followed the books more closely. Unfortunately, even as he’s emerging as one of the most important characters in season seven—to the point that Cersei is now mostly relegated to being a secondary character in Jaime’s story—Jaime is increasingly a character that doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. Previous avenues of growth and character development and sources of narrative tension in his story have been abandoned, and it’s not at all clear what the show is going for with him this season, but with the amount of screen time he’s getting and the number of scenes from his point of view, it’s obvious that Jaime is important. For some reason.

“Eastwatch” opens with Jaime and Bronn having escaped from the main battle by, I guess, swimming down and across the river they fell into when Bronn rescued Jaime at the end of last week’s episode. As unlikely it might seem if you think about the weight of their clothing and armor and their lung capacity and the amount of distance they’re supposed to have traveled downriver, they’re not too out of breath to have a chat. After two seasons of the show’s writers not really knowing what to do with Bronn, he’s playing a bigger role this year as something of a, well, not a conscience, but some kind of voice of reason or something for Jaime, who is as much in need of a voice of reason as ever. This might work better if the show had done a better job of developing this pair’s friendship over time, but having been neglected for so long, this relationship feels hollow, and the character beats in this episode are without the true depth that would have come from that more thorough development. Also, it’s patently silly to have Bronn inform Jaime that “dragons are where our partnership ends” literally moments after Bronn threw himself in front of a dragon to save Jaime’s life.

Nearly as absurd as Jaime’s relationship with Bronn is his relationship with Cersei. The big reveal this week is that she’s pregnant, and this is a game-changing turn of events for the Lannisters. Unfortunately, the show doesn’t manage to really sell us on the impact of it, either personally or politically for these characters. In the books and in much of the middle seasons of the show, the story of Cersei and Jaime’s relationship has been a story of the deterioration of an unhealthy codependency, and it seemed at the end of season six, when Jaime returned just in time to watch, stone-faced, as Cersei was crowned queen after Tommen’s suicide, that this conflict was finally coming to a head. Instead of furthering that compelling storyline, this season has walked back pretty much all the Jaime-Cersei conflict in favor of treating their relationship like nothing so much as a forbidden romance, framing them as star-crossed lovers fighting against an unjust world that threatens to tear them apart instead of continuing to explore the parallels between Cersei and the Mad King, the strain that puts on her relationship with Jaime, and Jaime’s internal conflict as he has to choose between his beloved sister and his honor as a knight. The show has struggled since at least season four to properly deal with this storyline, but this year the Cersei-Jaime story has finally been entirely stripped of its major conflict, robbed of its thematic value and reduced to a tawdry incestuous-for-shock-value romance in which both Cersei and Jaime have transformed into characters that it’s basically impossible to root for.

Sidenote: I guess they’re just forgetting about that whole three children prophecy thing that Cersei’s been obsessed with and living her whole life by, huh?

Tyrion Lannister, his feelings and Daenerys

Since Tyrion’s story connected with Daenerys’s, it’s been more and more his story than hers, and this week took that shift to a new level as it showed the aftermath of last week’s battle completely from Tyrion’s point of view and then gave him a lot more screen time to process his feelings and day drink/plot with Varys about how to control Daenerys. I’m not sure there are really words adequate to convey how infuriating it is to see Tyrion’s hypocrisy and self-righteousness exalted like this over and over again in the show, and always, these days, at Daenerys’s expense. Tyrion, who unleashed wildfire on Stannis’s fleet in “Blackwater” (something we’re explicitly, albeit weirdly jokingly, reminded of by Davos later in the episode), is undone by the devastation wrought by dragon fire and the Dothraki and consumed with guilt or shame or maybe just upset by the realities of war. It’s hard to tell, frankly, because this season has an awful problem with failing to adequately convey character motivations.

Regardless of what we’re supposed to understand about Tyrion’s post-battle state of mind, the show is at some pains to portray Daenerys as a potential villain here. She burns Randyll and Dickon Tarly when they refuse to bend the knee, and one could write a whole essay just on whether or not that was their choice or an act of tyranny on her part, but the truth is that the answer to that question is outside the scope of what can effectively be explored in a world like Westeros. Tyrion and Varys, during their day drinking conversation, both seem to believe that they are the right advisers to make Daenerys into a good ruler, but it’s not clear what that would look like. Though Varys, in particular, fancies himself a sort of voice and defender of the common people, both of these men are supporting a destabilizing revolution that will, nonetheless, only affect a change in the head of the monarchy. What they are advancing isn’t the kind of sweeping and sustainable societal and governmental change that will produce the positive outcomes they claim to desire; it’s a simple (albeit fiery and bloody) regime change.

This is highlighted best in the single moment of the episode that is Dany’s alone, where she’s standing in front of Drogon and gives a nonsensical speech about how she’s come to Westeros to “break the wheel” that has been oppressing the rich and the poor and that only benefits “the Cersei Lannisters of the world.” It’s the stupidest, most tone deaf “we are the 99% and All Lives Matter” speech I’ve ever seen on television, and it’s not how anything works. Now, I increasingly suspect that Daenerys is not one of Westeros’s endgame leaders, seeing as how her story is mostly no longer her story anymore and seeing how the show seems to be priming the audience to want Jon Snow as king (though they could still surprise me and have Jon marry his aunt and rule jointly), but the way this whole conflict is playing out is ridiculous. While the use of monarchical governmental systems in fantasy can be useful for examining what the qualities of a good monarch might be, this is a perfect example of how the fantastical monarchy is a poor framework for examining complex real-world political and ethical ideas. Daenerys may frame herself as a liberator, but her use of force (and this would be true even without the dragons, which are perhaps best understood as a metaphor for nuclear or other weapons of mass destructions) eliminates any meaningful power of choice among her subjects. She gives the Lannister army survivors and the Tarlys the option of obedience or death, but that’s not an unconstrained choice of the kind that is necessary for true freedom.

Tyrion and Varys seem to recognize this, but their solution is both shortsighted and self-serving. They still intend that Daenerys will sit on the Iron Throne, but safely controlled by themselves. They do stop (just) short of calling Daenerys hysterical, but the ugly sexist and grossly paternalistic undertones of this narrative—in which two men plot to install Daenerys as a puppet queen under their control—just get more unpleasant all the time. There’s a certain pragmatism to this idea of how a fantasy monarchy might work—a flawed monarch influenced by others towards a better way of ruling—but there’s no evidence that either Tyrion or Varys is a true representative of the people of Westeros. Indeed, Tyrion’s motives are muddled with his daddy issues and still-split loyalties, both of which come up in his conversation with Jaime, though none of that conversation is as affecting as it would be if the show hadn’t inexplicably ignored the fate of Tyrion’s first wife, Tysha, and Jaime’s role in that debacle. If Tyrion’s motivation to support Daenerys is personal, as vengeance against his family and others he thinks have wronged him, then he’s no great champion of the people. If Tyrion’s motivation is more selfless than that, there’s very little evidence of it.

Meanwhile, there’s really no accounting for Varys’s seeming passion for helping the people of Westeros. He’s foreign, childless and without property in the country; though he’s addressed sometimes as Lord Varys, he doesn’t hold any traditional title or lands, and his position isn’t hereditary. He could just be a remarkably nice guy, but there’s little evidence of that, either. He seems to personally gain and lose very little with the change in leadership in Westeros, and his actions—low key fomenting (or at least contributing to fomenting) the wars that have devastated the country—are rather at odds with his claims to desire stability. And on that note, what constitutes “stability” in this situation? Can any monarch, even with the best possible advisers and policies, provide meaningful and sustainable peace and stability to a nation that still uses a feudal system? It’s some kind of nonsensical Bernie Bro bullshit to believe that’s the case, which is pretty much in line with everything we know about this show and its writers at this point, but that doesn’t make this entire situation any less laughably absurd.

Jon Snow, Drogon and Ser Friendzone

Listen, I want to pet a dragon as much as the next person who was first drawn to the genre by great dragon-riding heroes (Kitiara Uth’Matar and Lessa of Pern, in my case), so there’s something magical about a woman riding a beautifully animated dragon. There’s even something magical about that dragon having a moment with a bastard boy who’s secretly a prince, though the show plays all of these tropes completely straight in a way its source material never did. Completely out of context and uncritically, the scene where Jon gets to pet Drogon is a great moment, and it’s proof that Game of Thrones is still capable of producing those every now and then. In context, it’s still a mess. Jon and Daenerys have no chemistry, for all that the show runners insist that there’s a romance brewing between them, and their dialogue is robotic and nonsensical. Ser Jorah’s return is boring and under-emotional, and the suggestion that this could create a love triangle—at least I think that’s what we’re supposed to get from the shot of Jon’s dismayed (I think that’s what that expression is supposed to be) face while Dany greets Jorah—is stupid. Jon’s decision to go back north of the Wall and Jorah’s decision to go with him in order to catch a white walker to show to Cersei is even stupider. Worse, after several episodes of escalating action, switching back to a cold war situation between Daenerys and the Lannisters is extremely anticlimactic.

Bran’s Ravens, the Citadel’s Response, and Sam and Gilly

At Winterfell, Bran is using ravens to do some reconnaissance to remind the viewer of the vastness of the army of the dead. It would be scarier if the army of the dead wasn’t as slow as molasses. Everyone else on this show can traverse continents in the blink of an eye, but these guys have been slowly shambling south for years. Bran sends ravens to the Citadel, where the highest ranking maesters in the world decide to do nothing with the news, even though the Archmaester himself has met Samwell Tarly and believed his stories about what’s north of the Wall. Sam witnesses the maesters’ inaction firsthand and in a fit of frustration decides he’s going to leave the Citadel and return to the Wall to help his friends there. In the midst of Sam’s snit, Gilly discovers the biggest secret in Westeros, just written down in some random maester’s journal: Rhaegar had his marriage to Elia of Dorne annulled and married someone else (Lyanna Stark, obviously) the same day.

Here’s the thing, though. Do the writers of this show even know what an annulment is? As far as I know, there’s no mention of annulment in any of the show’s source material, at least not by that name, and it doesn’t make sense here for Rhaegar’s marriage to Elia to have been annulled at all. For one thing, there are no grounds for an annulment; by the time in question, Rhaegar and Elia had been married for several years, and she’d given birth to two children, one of them a son, so the marriage was neither unconsummated or infertile and not even without a male heir. For another thing, setting aside Elia would almost certainly have been an unwise political move if the Targaryens were relying on Dorne to support them during Robert’s Rebellion. Finally, the Targaryens are canonically polygamous as it suits them, so there would be no legal or religious conflict in Rhaegar simply taking Lyanna as a second wife if that was what he wanted to do. Also, maesters aren’t religious figures in Westeros; they’re teachers and doctors and advisers to secular leaders, so why would a maester perform either a marriage or an annulment?

None of this even matters, though, since Sam was too busy talking over and ignoring Gilly to hear her. Because of course he was. Naturally, this is played for laughs instead of pointed out in the text as Sam being an asshole.

Davos and Gendry

The big news before this episode aired was that Gendry was coming back, and he did. When Davos has to “smuggle” Tyrion into King’s Landing (In broad daylight! On a deserted beach! Within sight of the walls of the city!) for a meeting with Jaime, Davos takes a side trip to the Street of Steel, where he finds Gendry working at a forge, again in broad daylight, completely openly as if there never were gold cloaks hunting down and murdering all of Robert Baratheon’s bastards. Not only is Gendry right there and easily found, he’s also already packed and ready to go with Davos more than a little too enthusiastically. Gendry’s apparently turned into some kind of Robert Baratheon superfan while he was gone, even crafting himself a beautiful Baratheon-themed war hammer, because it makes total sense for an orphaned boy to idolize his deadbeat dad who practically bankrupted seven kingdoms. Davos wisely counsels Gendry to keep his parentage on the down-low, but literally the first thing Gendry says to Jon when they meet is basically, “I’m Robert Baratheon’s bastard. Let’s be best friends since our dads were.”

This might be the single worst-written development in the show to date, and it’s a shame because there is potential in this situation to elicit a genuine emotional investment and reaction from the audience if they had developed this friendship over time and worked in symbols like Gendry’s Baratheon hammer in a subtler manner with a more impactful reveal of Gendry’s parentage and the connection between the two young men. Instead, every bit of symbology is forcefully spoonfed to the audience in scenes that almost literally tell us how we’re supposed to feel about what we’re seeing. It’s stupid, and it’s insulting, and it’s a shamefully missed opportunity. A better show with better writers and less desire to rush to the end of things would have let Jon and Gendry connect first over their shared experiences as bastards, allowed their friendship to grow over some time, and then revealed Gendry’s hammer and parentage in a key moment, perhaps having him rescue Jon or perform some heroic deed in Jon’s service.

Instead we get Jon and Gendry as insta-bros, and they’re all going north together to find a white walker for Cersei because what could possibly go wrong?

Arya at Winterfell

This week’s Winterfell storyline is mostly about Arya. Sansa is busily working, still, to maintain the coalition between the Northern Lords and the Lords of the Vale, all of whom are starting to get pretty pissed off that the man they proclaimed King in the North has gone south for specious reasons instead of staying in the North and ruling them like they wanted. To keep the peace, Sansa is doing the politic thing and listening to the various Lords’ concerns and trying to smooth ruffled feathers while still being explicitly—in very clear words—supportive of Jon and clear that she is only acting in her brother’s place. This isn’t good enough for Arya, however, who accuses Sansa straight to her face of being materialistic (for using their parents’ old rooms, which Sansa was encouraged by Jon to do) and of trying to usurp Jon’s position. Sansa patiently explains that this isn’t the case, pointing out that it’s her job to listen to these crusty old dude’s complaints, but Arya suggests that maybe they should be murdering dissidents, or at least Sansa would be if she really loved Jon and supported him as King in the North. Poor Sansa looks pretty put upon, since she’s stuck dealing with unhappy Lords all day and her siblings all went on journeys and came back as total assholes, but the way this scene is framed, one gets the distinct feeling that we’re supposed to think that, even if Arya isn’t totally right, she does have kind of a point. Even though Arya’s accusations are just, factually, one hundred percent without merit. There’s literally no evidence that Sansa has any designs on Jon’s throne at all, and there’s every evidence that Sansa is doing exactly what she’s supposed to be doing: holding down the fort until her brother gets back. Even Arya’s accusation that Sansa is thinking about what would happen if Jon didn’t come back doesn’t make much sense. Of course Sansa must be thinking about that, at least a little bit. That’s a wise thing to be thinking about and a distinct possibility that it’s worth having a plan in place to deal with, just in case. That Arya (and the show) are trying so hard to paint this as a sign of disloyalty in Sansa is ridiculous.

Later in the episode, we find Arya snooping around Winterfell, mostly following Littlefinger, who, it quickly becomes obvious, is almost certainly manipulating Arya in order to, I guess, sow discord between the newly reunited Stark siblings. We find out that Arya has picked up some spying skills from somewhere—What can’t Arya do?—as she follows Littlefinger around the castle, eventually going into his room and finding a piece of information that he left there for her to find. We know he left it for her on purpose because he is watching her the whole time and because this show has, apparently, zero interest in building any suspense or tension about anything at all anymore. The thing that Arya finds is Sansa’s letter from season two, the one that Cersei dictated to her when she was a prisoner of the Lannisters and in which Sansa implores her brother to come to King’s Landing and pledge fealty to Joffrey. It’s not clear what Littlefinger means to accomplish by leaking this information to Arya, and we don’t find out this week. Is Arya supposed to be angry that Sansa was coerced as a child into writing this letter? Is she going to be upset because she thinks Sansa was hiding it, even though that letter had pretty much no effect on anything and even Robb and Catelyn knew when they received it that it was Cersei’s words? Will Arya use this information against Sansa to try and paint her as a Lannister loyalist and end up fracturing the increasingly fragile accord between the Northern and Vale Lords? All these ideas are terrible, which probably makes them all about equally likely. Goodness knows, Arya isn’t going to talk to Sansa like a reasonable adult or anything, because that’s not how this show rolls.

Eastwatch

For being the title of the episode and everything, Eastwatch plays a tiny part in the hour’s proceedings, and we don’t actually make it there until the very end when Jon, Davos, Jorah and Gendry show up. Tormund is surprised and skeptical of the capture a white walker plan, but he has news as well. Thoros, Beric and the Hound made it to Eastwatch and are convinced it’s their destiny to go beyond the Wall. After some obligatory and very perfunctory posturing—Gendry is still mad at Beric and Thoros, no one trusts each other, and the Hound wants to just get going—Davos decides to stay behind at Eastwatch while the rest of the men go forth to catch a zombie. Ostensibly, this is because Davos is too old and not a fighter, but I’m pretty sure it’s so that the group—Jon, Tormund, Jorah, Gendry, Beric, Thoros, Sandor—can be compared to the Magnificent Seven. Next episode, we find out how this awful plan pans out. Whee!

State of the Blog and Weekend Links: August 13, 2017

So, the big news of the week was the Hugo Awards. I didn’t make it to WorldCon this year; it turns out Helsinki is far away from Cincinnati and expensive to travel to when one is poor. However, I’ve been vicariously enjoying the Con for days, and I did tune in to find out if SF Bluestocking won the award for Best Fanzine. It did not, but Lady Business did, and I honestly don’t think I would be happier if I had won. The ladies at Lady Business are wonderful, and you should be reading their stuff. Hearty congratulations and well-wishes all around.

You can see the full list of winners and nominees at the Hugo Awards website.

If you’d like to geek out a little over the nominating and voting data, be sure to check out the Hugo Administrator’s Reports. I did. Math is fun.

Remember No Man’s Sky? It got a big update this week, with the long-promised multiplayer functionality. I know I’ll be giving the game another look.

Ava DuVernay is adapting Octavia E. Butler’s Dawn for television.

Meanwhile, you can read about Octavia E. Butler’s unfinished plans for her Earthseed series at Electric Literature.

I couldn’t properly articulate all of what I didn’t like about last week’s Game of Thrones, but fortunately Adrienne Keene at Native Appropriations could. She explains what was off about that Western-inspired loot train battle.

Princess General Leia was also a doctor.

Book Riot is giving away 10 copies of N.K. Jemisin’s The Stone Sky until August 17.

At Fantasy Literature, Theodora Goss has 4 Misconceptions About Victorian Women and a giveaway for her novel, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter.

At Queership, Ada Palmer wrapped up her series on gender in Terra Ignota. (Part 1 | Part 2)

When I read Fran Wilde’s The Jewel and Her Lapidary, my major complaint about it was that it needed to be a longer series or a proper novel. Wish granted: she’s got two novellas coming out next year from Tor.com.

The newest Cooking the Books at The Book Smugglers features Yoon Ha Lee.

A.E. Ash’s novella, Temporary Duty Assignment, is out Tuesday from The Book Smugglers, but you can read a prequel story right now.

Transcendent 2: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction, edited by Bogi Takács, is available for pre-order.

At Electric Literature, Anna Sheffer breaks down the epilogue of The Handmaid’s Tale.

At Tor.com, Anise K. Strong makes the case for divorce in fantasy.

“Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience” by Rebecca Roanhorse will break your heart. The whole current issue of Apex MagazineA Celebration of Indigenous American Fantasists, is worth your time.

Game of Thrones Recap/Review: Season 7, Episode 4 “The Spoils of War”

This week, we’re back to inoffensively bad with “The Spoils of War.” It’s by far the most entertaining episode of the season so far, if only because we finally get to see some of the dragon fire action that we’ve been waiting seven years for, but the rest of the episode is still a mix of silly dialogue, baffling emotional beats, and just generally poor writing. The visual effects, specifically for Drogon, balance some of this out, but “The Spoils of War” is still by no means a triumph of craft.

Spoilers ahead, natch.

In the Reach, Part 1

“The Spoils of War” is bookended with scenes taking place in the Reach (basically the lands near Highgarden and between there and King’s Landing), and in the first one Bronn is back, and he has lines again (!) as he helps Jaime oversee the looting of Highgarden. Jaime gives Bronn a huge bag of gold—nice job, show, on at least trying to convey just how heavy gold is—but Bronn wants to know where his castle is. You know, the one he was promised back in like season three. He points out that Highgarden is currently free, but Jaime responds with, basically, “Mo’ money, mo’ problems,” to which Bronn replies, essentially, “I’ll take my chances, rich boy.” Then, Bronn gets a little critical of Cersei, which makes Jaime uncomfortable, or maybe pissed off or something. It’s hard to tell, because what even is Jaime’s relationship with his sister, right? It might even just be that he’s offended at Bronn getting above his station since Jaime quickly seizes the first opportunity to reassert his power over Bronn. Randyll Tarly wants to flog some of the stragglers at the end of the wagon train or whatever, because it’s important that we know what a bad guy he is, so Jaime commands Bronn, kind of rudely, to go make sure Lord Tarly at least gives people a warning before flogging them.

In King’s Landing

Our only King’s Landing scene this week involves Cersei day drinking and being flattered by Mark Gatiss, the name of whose character I cannot for the life of me remember. Not that it matters, because Mark Gatiss is just playing Mycroft Holmes. His flattery of Cersei reads as incredibly insincere, and it’s delivered with Gatiss’s omnipresent smirk, but at the same time the tone of the scene still seems to suggest that we, the audience, are intended to see Cersei as competent—a strong ruler with a string of wins, a new powerful ally and strong prospects—as opposed to evil and foolish. Honestly, at this point, either way could work, but it would be nice if the show’s writers would just pick one conception of Cersei and be consistent with it.

Bran at Winterfell

We first see Bran this week being wooed by Petyr Baelish, who still has the Valyrian steel dagger that, in a way, started this whole mess. Littlefinger gifts the dagger to Bran, who asks if Littlefinger knows who the dagger belonged to (nope, at least ostensibly) and then freaks Littlefinger out by repeating part of the “chaos is a ladder” speech from season three. Littlefinger’s perpetual creeping on every Stark child he can get his hands on is getting tiresome, but it seems likely that the primary function of this short scene is to reintroduce this dagger into the narrative. In the books, the dagger is supposed to have been given to the assassin by Joffrey, but it had originally belonged to Littlefinger himself, for all that he claims no knowledge of it here. Considering the amount of attention paid to the dagger in this episode, however, it seems like this is being set up to be a significant mystery of the season. It just seems like too little, too late. Joffrey is long dead, and it seems silly for Bran to toy with Littlefinger if he knows the dagger was his, especially since Bran has come back from the wall devoid of any human feelings or passion. If that’s truly the case, then it’s genuinely out of character for Bran to be manipulating in that fashion.

Speaking of Bran being devoid of human feelings, the very next scene finds Meera Reed popping in to say goodbye to Bran before she leaves to go back to her family, presumably because this character has been tortured enough and the show is trying to pare down its cast. Generously, we could interpret this scene as further confirmation of how Bran was changed by his time beyond the Wall and his new role as the Three-Eyed Raven. The truth is that he’s not Bran Stark now—“not really, not anymore.” Poor Meera is heartbroken, having lost her brother, Hodor and Bran’s dire wolf Summer along the way, but Bran himself has nothing to say to her aside from a simple, not-very-heartfelt “thank you.” In keeping with the show’s long tradition of abusing this poor woman and denying her any kind of joy, hope or satisfaction in her fictionalized life, Meera leaves unhappy, and Bran doesn’t give a shit.

Neither of these Bran scenes are particularly interesting, and there’s no new information conveyed in either of them, so it’s not clear what their function is supposed to be. Again, generously, I suppose the Littlefinger scene could be interpreted as establishing or escalating some narrative tension; Littlefinger is so predatory towards the Stark children, and he has been trying and failing to cultivate each of them as… something, I guess? At this point, I don’t even know what his big picture plan is, and I’m not sure he knows, either, anymore. The Meera scene was just a sad, perfunctory tying up of a loose end, and I feel like we should probably just be happy she didn’t get the Osha or Ros treatment. Meera never got to be a dynamic character in her own right, and most of her time was spent selflessly sacrificing and suffering to protect and aid Bran, only to go completely unappreciated for it in the end. If anything, I’m glad for the actress to be done with this mess so she can hopefully move on to bigger and better things than this garbage show.

Arya at Winterfell

Confusingly, our first shot of Arya this week comes right after Meera left Bran, so it’s not obvious at first what we’re seeing. Initially, I thought the lone rider looking over Winterfell from a distance was Meera taking her leave of the place, and I only realized my mistake after it cut to the next scene where Arya has inexplicably ditched her horse and come the rest of the way to Winterfell on foot. It’s not a huge deal, and I may even be in a minority of people who had this problem with this scene transition, but Arya’s grey horse looks very different from behind than it does from the side, so I didn’t find it instantly recognizable, and two dark-haired girls from kind of far away, on horseback, from the rear, wearing vaguely similar-looking clothing (darkish, ratty and mismatched) are easy to mistake. As a consequence, Arya’s homecoming didn’t have the emotional impact it might have had if this transition had been clearer.

This lack of initial emotional impact is compounded by having the first people Arya encounters at Winterfell be a pair of rather bumbling asshole guards who don’t want to let her in at all—weird, since it seemed last week that the castle was being prepared to accept refugees from all over the North—and then waste some time arguing over which of them is going to tell Lady Sansa, during which time Arya slips away from them. At first it seems as if Arya may have changed her mind about Winterfell after all, which would have been an interesting and unexpected choice in keeping with the theme introduced in this scene that Winterfell has changed and is no longer a place that Arya recognizes or that recognizes or welcomes her. Considering that just last week she was planning to go to King’s Landing and kill Cersei, this wouldn’t be entirely out of character, and it would have been an interesting subversion of viewer expectations. In a show that used to be much touted (though unfairly, in my opinion) for these sort of twists, it would have been a nice change of pace after seasons of adhering to hackneyed genre tropes and pedestrian storytelling conventions.

However, as soon as Sansa hears that Arya is back, she knows exactly where Arya has gone—the crypts, where Sansa easily finds her, standing in front of their father’s statue. Sansa’s realization and joy when learning that Arya had come home was a surprisingly emotional moment, but their actual physical reunion in the crypt didn’t quite stick the emotional landing. To the degree that this reunion did capture something of the awkwardness of the Stark sisters, who never were very close or had much in common, coming back together, it’s a testament to the skill of the actors, who are close friends in real life. Their conversation is somewhat short, complicated by time and distance and the gulf of experience that now separates them as much as they ever were before, and it would have been nice to see them have either a little more intimacy and vulnerability or to see them fully commit to playing up the strangeness of their new roles and their discomfort with each other after so many years apart.

Things get even weirder and more awkward when Sansa takes Arya to see Bran in the godswood. Bran is still positively robotic, and he passes on the Valyrian steel dagger to Arya, which highlights the significance of the item for the second time in this episode. Arya seems somewhat discomfited by Bran’s oddness, but we quickly move along after this so that we can see the Stark children (or, rather, young adults) being observed as they go back inside. Brienne and Podrick are happy to see the children reunited, but Littlefinger is inscrutably creepy. The audience, as well, is invited to observe the Starks together, but there’s such an emotional flatness and deadness to the scene that one has to wonder what the point is. Are we supposed to feel happy that they’re back together, in their home? Are we supposed to be apprehensive about what the future holds for them? Should we be focusing on the mysteries of their pasts? Should we be reading the seeds of conflict in the tenuousness and tentativeness of their connections with each other? Who knows?

At Dragonstone, Part 1

Missandei and Daenerys are having some girl talk about Grey Worm, one snippet of which per season is (I guess) what passes for a depiction of female friendship on this show, when they’re interrupted by Jon Snow, who has something very important to show Daenerys. He’s found the dragonglass under Dragonstone, and he wants her to see it before he destroys it, which is kind of sweet, but it’s so dark in the cave that it’s hard to see how pretty it’s supposed to be. Having watched the scene twice now on different screens, I still have to mostly use my imagination to guess what a mountain full of obsidian looks like under all the gloom that makes of about 75% of the Game of Thrones aesthetic.

The main event, however, and (fortunately) better lit, is a deeper part of the cave where Jon has found a bunch of cave art/paintings left there by the Children of the Forest and depicting how the Children and the First Men fought together against the Night King and the army of the dead. Hilariously, there are several different anachronistic art styles on the walls of the cave, from simple pictographs and mystical-looking abstract designs to the relatively realistic sketches of the Night King, complete with inlaid blue gems for his eyes. It’s profoundly silly and jarring, especially with the “reveal” of the final image of the Night King done so dramatically. The silliness doesn’t stop there. Daenerys, it turns out, is willing to come help Jon deal with the North’s zombie problem, but only if he, personally, will bend the knee to her, and he, absurdly, continues to refuse out of whatever misguided principle is supposed to be guiding him. He’s not even swayed by Daenerys’s dead-eyed attempt to sexily walk towards him and intimidate him with her hotness, though Benioff and Weiss insist in the Inside the Episode featurette that this is Jon and Daenerys starting to be attracted to each other.

Fortunately, we’re all rescued from this nonsense by Tyrion and Varys arriving with some bad news about how things went at Casterly Rock. Daenerys rages a little and threatens to take her dragons right now and burn down the Red Keep in King’s Landing, which is honestly not the worst idea anyone’s had this season, but Tyrion and Jon talk her down from this idea. Also, even though Tyrion’s plans have literally all failed, spectacularly, this season, it still feels like we’re intended to think Daenerys is an unreasonably monster for being angry at him. Sure, the suggestion that he might be working to undermine her because he’s secretly still promoting his family’s interests seems cruel, but it’s the kind of theory Tyrion or Varys might think up themselves, and Tyrion couldn’t be much more successful at fucking things up for Dany if he was trying. Her anger and her desire to use the dragons is framed as irrational in contrast to Tyrion’s contriteness and Jon’s calmness, and no one on the beach in this discussion is on Dany’s side. Her anger and frustration are fully justified and her suspicions aren’t entirely illogical in light of the evidence she has, which is that Tyrion’s plans have gotten her allies killed, her ships burned, and the Unsullied hopelessly separated from her with only a strategically unimportant (though symbolically valuable to Tyrion—hmmmm…) castle to show for it.

Brienne at Winterfell

Back at Winterfell, Brienne is still “training” Podrick by beating up on him and giving him curt, unhelpful and contradictory criticism. He hasn’t improved much since the last time we saw this going on. That’s okay, though, because Arya pops up, in a brand new snazzy costume, because she wants to train with Brienne. This could have been an interesting bonding moment for these two women, and in the ensuing sparring scene we get glimmers of what might have been that intent, but we quickly cut away to Sansa and Littlefinger, who are observing the proceedings. I have no idea what feeling Sansa is supposed to be having here, but she makes a weird unhappy face and walks away as if maybe she’s jealous of Arya bonding with Brienne. But she also might be alarmed at how Arya has changed. Or she could be worried and paranoid about something. Or she could be sad and reflecting on her own lack of martial skill. Or she could have painful gas and need to rush inside to a chamber pot just in case. There’s truly no way to know, just based on what is put on screen here.

The worst thing about this scene, though, incoherent character motivations aside, is that when Brienne asks Arya who taught her to fight, Arya replies “No One.” Has she forgotten Syrio Forel?! I think I’m going to choose to believe that Sansa is angry at Arya’s failure to give credit where its due.

At Dragonstone, Part 2

Back at Dragonstone, Jon and Davos are having a boys’ talk that mirrors Missandei and Dany’s discussion earlier. Jon is definitely not interested in Daenerys (but obviously really is, or would be if he had any discernible emotions), but Davos definitely ships it. The two men run into Missandei, around whom Davos is still very weird, and we all get to learn together what a bastard is and how in Naath, there’s no such thing as a bastard because they have no marriage there. Nice. Right as Missandei has shifted into telling Davos and Jon the gospel of Daenerys—though “the queen we chose” rings a little false when that queen bought many of her subjects, subdued some through war and impressed the rest with the threat of dragonfire—Theon makes it back to Dragonstone.

Things are weird between Theon and Jon, who tells Theon, “What you did for [Sansa] is the only reason I’m not killing you.” This actually seems like a totally good reason not to murder someone, especially someone like Theon, who’s already faced so much cosmic justice for his crimes, so I don’t get why Jon is so aggressive about it. It just smacks of faux, exaggerated drama when there’s so many other things Jon could be worrying about. In any case, Theon has come back to Dragonstone hoping that Daenerys will help him rescue Yara, but Daenerys is already gone. Dramatic pause.

In the Reach, Part 2

Somewhere between Highgarden and King’s Landing, Jaime and Bronn are still supervising the wagon train carrying gold and food to King’s Landing. Somehow, the fighting at Highgarden was Dickon’s first battle ever, even though he’s, what, like thirty-five? Whatever. My favorite* thing about this scene is when Jaime pulls his “calling Dickon by the wrong name” power move and then Bronn giggles like a schoolboy about Dickon’s name having “dick” in it. Hurray for toxic masculinity, which is also extremely stupid. Jaime and Bronn aren’t completely awful to Dickon when they get into talking about battle, and they do seem to care (in an appropriately masculine way, of course) about Dickon’s psychological health after the trauma of battle, but they don’t spend much actual time on this because they can hear the rumble of distant hoofbeats and the screams of Daenerys’s Dothraki riders. Oh, shit!

I have so many questions about this turn of events—How many boats does Dany still have? How did she move an army with no one noticing? How did they know where they needed to go to engage the Lannisters’ main force? Since they’re just teleporting around, why didn’t they try to get there before the gold was all inside the gates of King’s Landing? Why is Tyrion watching from the top of a hill, and why isn’t he on horseback in case he needs to make a quick getaway? Why does Dany have Drogon destroy so much food if she’s so concerned about the plight of the common people? Why does Dany think she’s going to single-handedly yank a huge barbed ballista bolt out of Drogon’s shoulder?—but I know none of these questions will ever be answered by the show. In fact, I’m certain that I have, just in this paragraph, put far more thought into it than the show’s writers did.

All in all, this lengthy battle sequence is entertaining to watch, however, so long as you don’t think about any of it at all. It’s nice, after all these years, to finally get the payoff of seeing a jet-sized dragon burninating some stuff, and the effects department went all out with the pyrotechnics. The way they’re filming Dany on Drogon’s back now looks a lot better than it did back when she flew him out of the pit in Meereen, so I didn’t feel like I was flashing back to The Neverending Story and Bastian’s ride on Falcor this time around. There were three horses running loose after the fighting starts, who I’m pretty sure are the best actors in the episode. Bronn’s horse gets its leg chopped off, which some viewers have said is gratuitous, but I disagree, though I thought it was slightly gratuitous when there was a longish shot of a guy later on with his face burning off. Bronn survives, which was good because I’ve gotten surprisingly invested in this dude’s future; if he doesn’t get his castle in the end, I’m gonna riot. Jaime heroically tries to ride down and spear a small, distracted woman, which is probably about the max level of fighting skill and chivalry we should expect from him at this point, I guess. Bronn rescues Jaime from his Leeroy Jenkins moment, they fall in the river, and roll credits.

I mean, it’s all fine. It’s the sort of big, expensive, absurdly-silly-if-you-think-about-it-for-half-a-second spectacle that has become characteristic of these later seasons of the show. If I have one major complaint about this battle, it’s that it doesn’t have any truly unifying aesthetic. Parts of the battle feel about on par with stuff out of Excalibur, other parts are a little more Braveheart, while still others seem more influenced by Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It’s a battle that doesn’t know if it wants to be gritty and realistic, dark and dramatic, or heightened and fantastical, and the overall effect ends up being sort of sheepish, as if the sequence itself is apologizing for how silly it is. It’s a pretty obvious case of a director who had many influences (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing) but didn’t have the skill or vision to distill those influences into a cohesive whole. Also obvious is that HBO is willing to spend a shitload of money on this stuff without asking too many questions, and the lack of financial oversight or restrictions may also contribute to the bloated, confused mess they’re putting on screen. Sure, it’s got plenty of entertainment value, but that only goes so far. It’s fun, but it’s not good.

*Least favorite.

State of the Blog and Weekend Links: August 6, 2017

I’m slowly getting back to normal after a pretty nasty bout of depression, which is good. Last night, my WoW raid group finally dropped Kil’jaeden, and I’m getting close to finally collecting 250 mounts, which makes me a little sad that I still care so much about it, but, honestly, WoW is one of the few things I still consistently enjoy in a relatively uncomplicated fashion. Plus, I’m still kind of riding the high of finally getting that gorgeous fox mount last week that I’ve been wanting since before this expansion began. I’m pretty stoked about it.

This week I’ve  been slowly working my way through The Cooking Gene by Michael W. Twitty, which is an excellent but difficult read. There’s a weird lull in my TBR list this month, though, so if I’m going to read something challenging this is a good time to do it. Today, however, was less reading and WoW playing and more moving a bunch of things in my living room around so I could vacuum  and dust more properly than I normally feel up to. This was followed by cooking two meals worth of food–delicious chicken tacos and a chicken tortilla soup–so I don’t have to cook the next couple of days, with a bottle of Riesling and Game of Thrones as my “reward.”

I have high-ish hopes for this coming week in terms of productivity. After taking a longer-than-intended break from Titus Groan, I’m hoping to get back into that in the further hopes of finishing the trilogy by the end of the year so I’ll be reading to start The Book of the New Sun right off in January, but I’m not making any promises just yet. This is my daughter’s last full week of summer break, so I’ll be getting her ready for high school over the next few days, which will almost certainly take more time and impact my productivity more than I hope it will. One has to be realistic.

It’s the beginning of a new month, so Tor.com has got you covered for this months new releases:

If you’re as unenthused as I am about the new iteration of The Great British Bake-Off on Channel 4, you might be heartened to learn that Mary Berry is getting a cooking show of her own at BBC One.

Just in case you were feeling sad about how inferior the US is to the rest of the world, some dingbats in Norway hilariously mistook empty bus seats for women in burqas.

This piece on the politics of pockets is neat.

Jon Oliver is still being sued by that Bob Murray guy, and the amicus brief just filed in the case is a thing of beauty.

So is this look at our new reality of living in the land of large adult sons.

Beloved and influential editor Judith Jones has passed away.

I won’t be making it to Worldcon in Helsinki this year, but I will be watching the live coverage of the Hugo Awards Ceremony. You know, just in case.

The winners of the 2017 Mythopoeic Awards have been announced.

The shortlist for this year’s Dragon Awards was released, and it is definitely a list of things. Cora Buhlert takes a closer look at it.

Book Riot listed 100 Inclusive YA SFF Books. I haven’t been reading much YA in the last year or so, but there’s some great stuff on here if that’s your jam.

Yoon Ha Lee wrote about gender and sexuality in the Hexarchate setting (in which his novels Ninefox Gambit and Raven Stratagem take place) for Omnivoracious.

At Queership, Ada Palmer wrote about the way she uses gender in her brilliant, ambitious Terra Ignota series: Part 1 | Part 2. Part three should be forthcoming next week.

Book covers are important, and I liked this essay by Anna Solomon about the covers of women’s books in particular.

Skiffy and Fanty reviewed Moonshot Vol. 2, which reminded me that I need to hurry up and make time to read this. I loved the first volume, so it’s pretty unconscionable that it’s taken me so long to get around to reading the second.

Likewise, this Smart Bitches, Trashy Books review of that French Beauty and the Beast movie from a couple years ago reminded me that I love Vincent Cassel and European cinema and am garbage for not watching this yet.

Ta Nehisi Coates broke down some of what’s so fucked up about HBO’s Confederate series that’s currently in development.

Elsa Sjunneson-Henry wrote about building her own goddamn castle.

Jim C. Hines explains, more patiently than I ever could, why we can’t/shouldn’t all just write about whatever we want.

Mari Ness continued her series on fairy tales with a piece about “The Nightingale.”

Nisi Shawl’s Expanded Course in the History of Black History returned with a look at The Spook Who Sat By the Door by Sam Greenlee.

I have been telling pretty much everyone I know about J.Y. Yang’s Tensorate novellas, coming out September 26 from Tor.com, and now you can read excerpts from both of them online:

There’s a new story by Ashok K. Banker at Lightspeed: “Tongue.” With an author spotlight here.

Fireside Fiction published the first part of a new serialized story by Sarah Gailey this week.

Fireside also has released their new #BlackSpecFic Report, which I haven’t gotten all the way through yet, but is every bit as important and informative as last year’s.

Podcastle has new fiction from A. Merc Rustad: “What the Fires Burn.”

The second half of content from Issue Seventeen of Uncanny hit the web. My faves:

 

Recent Reads: Comics and Graphic Novels

Victor LaValle’s Destroyer
Issues 2 and 3
by Victor LaValle and
Dietrich Smith

The first issue of Destroyer was all promise, with it’s compelling and timely premise and gorgeous artwork. Issues 2 and 3 deliver on a lot of that promise. There’s a lot more action in these issues as well as a lot more depth of feeling as we delve into the real meat of the story. The literary allusions are a little on the nose, especially in a work that’s a little too serious to fall under the category of pastiche, but as the story gets darker I find these humorous nods to the book’s inspirations to be a welcome bit of lightheartedness. Also, and probably because I’m not a great reader of comic books, my favorite thing about this series so far is Victor LaValle’s essay at the end of Issue 3 where he writes about how the two different endings of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein led him to write this comic.

Kim & Kim Vol. 1
by Magdalene Visaggio, Eva Cabrera, Claudia Aguirre, Zakk Saam, and Katy Rex

Full disclosure: Kim & Kim was an impulse buy because I happened to see someone mention it on Twitter right when I was looking for something to put me over the $25 threshold for free shipping. It sounded cute, but it turned out to be even more fun than expected, a nice balance of sci-fi bounty hunting adventures and character-driven drama with a bright, punk rock aesthetic. The only downside of the book is that Issue 4 ends on a little bit of a sad note, and it’s not clear if/when there’s going to be an Issue 5. In the meantime, however, Kim & Kim creator Magdalene Visaggio is currently offering free pdf copies of Volume 1 to anyone who donates at least $20 to The Trevor Project or Trans Lifeline through Friday, August 4, 2017:

Monstress Volume 2: The Blood
by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

The second trade paper installment of Monstress is, like the first, a true thing of beauty. Every page is filled with Sana Takeda’s sumptuous artwork, which is in turn full of gorgeous details, erudite flourishes that reference numerous artistic inspirations, and subtly lovely colors that marvelously convey setting and mood. With a title like “The Blood” I was rather expecting more of the same unflinching brutality as in the first book, but that’s not so much the case. Instead, this volume combines Maika’s continued search for answers about her identity, the increasing danger posed by the Monstrum that lives inside her, and a seafaring journey with a fascinating and visually distinctive new cast of minor characters.

Angel Catbird, Vol. 3:
The Catbird Roars
by Margaret Atwood, Johnnie Christmas, and Tamra Bonvillain

Angel Catbird has never been more than a light, fun likely-vanity project of Margaret Atwood’s, and it didn’t suddenly transform to something more profound in its final volume. The Catbird Roars has the same deliciously silly verbal puns and visual gags that characterized the first two volumes, the same occasional side-barred cat facts encouraging readers to keep their pets indoors, and the same fast-paced absurdist plot that has our heroes dealing with the evil rat army once and for all. The biggest thing that sets this volume apart from the rest is the excellent foreword by Kelly Sue DeConnick, which tells us more of the inspirations and thought process behind Angel Catbird and to put it into a historical context that explains some of its quirks. As someone who is only lately getting into reading comics and doesn’t have a wide knowledge of the longer and broader history of the form, this information really helped me to understand and enjoy the book more fully.

Recent Reads: Some Tor.com Novellas You Should Be Reading and/or Pre-ordering

While I’m still working out how I want to do book reviews at SF Bluestocking going forward, I’ve managed to accumulate a pretty sizable backlog of stuff that I’ve been reading while too depressed to do much else. The good news, of course, is that I’ve read some great stuff, and I’ll be talking about it over the next week or two as a work to get back to the level of productivity I’d like to be maintaining here.

I’ve been reading almost all the novellas released by Tor.com Publishing since they first started doing novellas, and they continue to deliver consistently compelling and entertaining books two-to-five times a month. While I’m by no means caught up on everything coming out over the next couple of months, I’m caught up on recent releases and I’ve made some inroads on some of the upcoming releases I’m most excited about.

35664957The Ghost Line
by Andrew Neil Gray and
J.S. Herbison

Tor.com has had a whole series of excellent space opera stories coming out this summer, which came at a perfect time for me, as I’ve been in the mood for science fiction more than fantasy these last few months. The Ghost Line finds a small group of salvagers exploring a vast abandoned luxury cruise ship and discovering more than any of them bargained for. The book’s best quality is its lovely, thoughtful descriptions of the abandoned ship and the way in which it allows the reader to become immersed in the exploration of the haunted ship. It’s not the strongest of Tor.com’s 2017 lineup, and it feels slight and a little uninspired (while at the same time owing perhaps a little too much of what inspiration it has to The Expanse) in comparison to gems like All Systems Red or even Killing Gravity, but The Ghost Line is nevertheless a solidly entertaining read worthy of a lazy afternoon.

The Ghost Line is available now.

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion
by Margaret Killjoy

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion is the first book in the queer anarchist punk demon hunter series you didn’t know you needed. Danielle Cain is a smart, resourceful heroine, and I am looking forward to the further adventures of her and the friends she makes in this book. However, the real star of The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion is its unique setting–a utopian squatters’ community in the imaginary Freedom, Iowa–and the magic with which Margaret Killjoy has infused it. The three-antlered deer spirit summoned by some of the town’s residents to assert order in a crisis has begun to turn on its summoners, and the debate over what to do about it has created deep divides in the community. Killjoy’s cast of characters must wrestle with ideas at the core of their beliefs and deal with a situation that threatens the very foundations of the home and families they’ve built for themselves, and the setting of Freedom is a cleverly crafted heightened reality in which to do so.

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion will be available August 15.

The Five Daughters of the Moon and
The Sisters of the Crescent Empress
by Leena Likitalo

Jacqueline Carey’s cover blurb for The Five Daughters of the Moon calls the book “a lyrical elegy to the fall of an empire,” and the book description is clear that this duology is inspired by the 1917 Russian revolution and the final days of the Romanov sisters, so you must know going in that this story doesn’t have a happy ending. In alternating chapters told in first person from the perspective of each of the titular five daughters–ranging in age from six to twenty-two–Leena Likitalo brings each girl to vivid life and lets them tell their own stories. Fifteen-year-old Sibilia (whose chapters are excerpts from her diary) and sixteen-year-old Elise have the strongest voices of the five, and Sibilia’s journey and coming of age is perhaps the most profound and deeply-felt story of any of the girls. However, Likitalo also does a lovely job of portraying the little girls, Alina and Merile, though the author’s vocabulary is far better than any six- or eleven-year-old’s would be. Eldest sister Celestia is a more difficult character to get to know and love; she’s often distant from her sisters, focused on her own trauma and still trying to bear up under the weight of her responsibilities in a situation that is far different and more dangerous than anything she was ever prepared for.

The best part of this duology, however, is the way that Likitalo manages to capture the ambivalence of revolution. There’s tragedy here, for sure, and there’s a definite villain, but there’s also a recognition of the hope the revolution offered to many people and some meditation on the idea that there’s always a human cost in any system; the question is just who has to pay it and who benefits from it. The Waning Moon duology is a gorgeously written and deeply humane meditation on this question and its answers.

The Five Daughters of the Moon is available now, and The Sisters of the Crescent Empress will be out November 7.

Acadie
by Dave Hutchinson

Acadie describes a future in which a colony of genetically modified and enhanced humans has been on the lam for several hundred years after fleeing restrictive regulations on Earth. It’s a smart, snappy and often very funny space opera with some neat ideas, an entertaining POV character, a load of crowd-pleasing pop culture references and a genuinely unexpected ending. I’m a huge fan of shorter, rather than longer, novellas, and Acadie clocks in at under a hundred pages, which combines with Hutchinson’s engaging, conversational prose style to make for a fast read, but it’s also a book that will keep you thinking well after you close it. I still don’t know if I’ll ever get around to reading Hutchinson’s longer Fractured Europe Sequence, but I can say with certainty that I’ll be snatching up any more shorter work he puts out as soon as I see it.

Acadie will be out September 5.

The Black Tides of Heaven and The Red Threads of Fortune
by J.Y. Yang

Listen. There’s basically a 100% chance that anything Kate Elliott calls “effortlessly fascinating” is going to be wonderful, so it’s no surprise that this pair of novellas by J.Y. Yang are pretty close to perfect. Yang has crafted a meticulously beautiful fantasy world that cleverly melds science and magic together with a central sibling relationship that sustains the heart of both books. Much will surely be made of Yang’s treatment of gender and sexuality, and any accolades on that score are well-deserved; in Yang’s Protectorate, sexuality is fluid and gender is self-chosen, confirmed or not as the individual decides, and gender-neutral pronouns are commonplace. That said, Yang’s worldbuilding in general is marvelously executed, and they do a great job of managing the expansion of the world readers are exposed to between The Black Tides of Heaven, which really ought to be read first even if the books are being sold as standalone companions, and The Red Threads of Fortune, which takes place several years later and has an emotional arc that provides a resolution to a major subplot in Tides, albeit from a different perspective. That said, there’s really no wrong way to enjoy such a marvelously balanced mix of magic, romance, revolution and dinosaurs.

The Black Tides of Heaven and The Red Threads of Fortune will both be out September 26.