All posts by SF Bluestocking

State of the Blog and Weekend Links: November 26, 2017

So, I’ve basically given up altogether on meeting my writing goals for the month, though I haven’t been entirely unproductive. This week, with the holiday and all, I’ve been mostly taking it easy, catching up on some reading and working on a few book reviews. The final two episodes of season two of The Shannara Chronicles aired Wednesday night, but I of course didn’t get to write about them on Thursday. At that point, I figured I might as well just wait til Monday to do it, so that’s what i’ll be working on tomorrow. Later in the week, watch for the aforementioned book reviews as well as coverage of the new Netflix series, Godless, which I plan to start watching an episode of each week between now and about the first week of January. I may even make some time to check out The Orville or Alias Grace or Hulu’s new Runaways series.

Today was all about holiday stuff, pretty much. I reorganized ALL my book shelves, which took a few hours but had a well-worth-it payoff: I no longer have stacks of books on the floor! In fact, I no longer have any books on the floor, for the first time in several months. I mean, I still have to figure out what I’m going to do next time I run out of shelf space, but it’s certainly an improvement in the short term. Mostly, it had to be done in order to make room for the Christmas tree, which was my other project of the day. I’m happy to be done with all of this so I can get back to writing (in much more comfort, what with not being walled in by books anymore) and, over the next couple of weeks, planning for this year’s holiday candy-making and baking.

I love that celebrating indigenous writers and artists has become something of a Thanksgiving tradition in recent years, at least in the online circles I tend to run in, so here are my (belated) recs:

Molly Tanzer wrote about the Big Idea in her new novel, Creatures of Will and Temper, which is a riff off of The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Tanzer was also interviewed about the book in Lightspeed Magazine.

Fonda Lee shared her favorite bit of Jade City.

At Tor.com, there’s a handy list of all the known portal worlds in Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series.

Yoon Ha Lee’s Revenant Gun has a cover, and he answered some questions about it over at the Barnes & Noble Sci-fi and Fantasy Blog.

At Ana Mardoll’s Ramblings, Benjanun Sriduangkaew wrote about retelling The Snow Queen in her upcoming book, Winterglass.

There’s a new Charlie Jane Anders story at Lightspeed, “Cake Baby (A Kango and Sharon Adventure).”  It’s a companion to her story in the John Joseph Adams-edited Cosmic Powers anthology that came out earlier this year. There’s even an author spotlight to go with it.

Book Riot has a list of 50 bookish articles from Atlas Obscura if you’re in need of procrastination material that you can convince yourself is educational.

Black Gate pieces on Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword and Sorceress anthologies and on Michael Moorcock’s Elric books were good for a nice bit of nostalgia this week. The Sword and Sorceress anthologies, in particular, were a lifeline for me as a little girl hungry for more stories about girls and women.

This week, I discovered #FolkloreThursday (“Public Folklore in Action”!), which I didn’t know existed til now, though I’m sure I will be spending a lot of time reading there in the future.

Ursula Vernon at Tor.com: “The Sausage Princess, or, Reshaping the Bizarre Structure of Fairy Tales”

Finally, there are just 4 days left to back Sword and Sonnet on Kickstarter. With a table of contents including Alex Acks, C. S. E. Cooney, Malon Edwards, Spencer Ellsworth, Samantha Henderson, S. L. Huang, Cassandra Khaw, Margo Lanagan, Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali, Tony Pi, A. Merc Rustad and A. C. Wise and at just AU$14 (about $11 USD) for the digital book, it’s an easy choice to support it.

The Shannara Chronicles: “Warlock” and “Amberle” are a mixed bag of set up for the season finale

This week’s pair of episodes don’t match as well as last week’s and not as consistent in quality, but by the end of the second one it seems as if the likely outline of the season finale is taking shape. That’s not to say the show has gotten predictable, however. There were several genuine surprises in “Warlock” and “Amberle,” and if those surprises don’t necessarily make me think the show is turning over an ambitious new leaf in terms of upending tropes and breaking out of storytelling conventions, they do make me wary of making too many predictions for the final two episodes of the season (and, let’s be real, possibly the series) that will be airing next week. “Warlock” is definitely the weaker of these episodes; it’s plot-focused and shallow, at times feeling like a run-on sentence of happenings, whereas “Amberle” has a strong central theme and packs some emotional punch. Together, though, they make up another solid couple of hours of high fantasy entertainment, without some of the lows that characterized the show’s first season, even if they don’t reach any new heights.

**Spoilers ahead.** Continue reading The Shannara Chronicles: “Warlock” and “Amberle” are a mixed bag of set up for the season finale

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

Well, this week was an absolute nightmare hellscape of a time for me, mostly because of parenting stuff. Teenagers are hard, y’all.

Basically:

At least this week it, was. And the coming week doesn’t promise to be much better. I’m far behind on writing about, well, everything I want to be writing about these days, and I’ve pretty much given up on meeting any NaNoWriMo goals. Tomorrow, I’ll be wrapping up my post on this past week’s episodes of The Shannara Chronicles, and the next couple days will be–hopefully!–some book reviews and maybe a themed list or two. I don’t think I’m doing any major cooking this week, and with Star Trek: Discovery on hiatus, I’ve got some extra time on my hands, or at least some time that ought to be extra if I wasn’t so behind on things.

Wednesday, Godless comes out on Netflix, and I’m thinking of writing about that between now and January 7 when Star Trek: Discovery returns. I haven’t read much about the show, but the trailer looks promising;

Between the description of it in this Book Riot list of 6 Native American Cookbooks and this excellent interview with chef/author Sean ShermanThe Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen has jumped to the top of my list of things I need for my kitchen.

If watching the news isn’t enough for you, LitHub listed 30 Dystopian Novels By and About Women.

Martha Wells’ speech from the World Fantasy Awards is a must-read.

So is Fonda Lee on non-medieval epic fantasy.

At the Book Smugglers, 5 Things You Need to Know About Fisher of Bones by Sarah Gailey.

I’m finishing up Molly Tanzer’s Creatures of Will and Temper tonight, and it’s wonderful. You should read it, but also be sure to read her essay on mining her Victorian setting for a new, fresh story over at Terribleminds.

Jim C. Hines shared his favorite bit of his new novel, Terminal Alliance.

Every interview with Ursula K. LeGuin is a delight, and there’s a new one at the LA Review of Books.

Apex Magazine has an interview with S.B. Divya.

Tor.com has helpfully collected links to all their 2017 short fiction in one place.

Finally, there’s a great new trailer for A Wrinkle in Time, as if I wasn’t already anxious for spring to arrive:

Star Trek: Discovery – “Into the Forest I Go” is a strong winter finale for a different show than what we’ve been watching

On its own merits, “Into the Forest I Go” is a solid, even excellent, episode of Star Trek: Discovery, exactly the sort of thing I want this show to be, but after the previous six episodes of wildly varying quality and success, it’s also somewhat baffling. Weeks of inconsistent characterization, confused motivations, and other strange writing decisions can’t simply be undone or redeemed with a single great episode. It just ends up feeling like a fantastic hour of another, different and overall better show, and that’s exactly what happens here. Optimistically, maybe this means the show will have solved some of its more pernicious problems going forward, but the garbled preview for the show’s return in January isn’t especially encouraging.

**Spoilers ahead.**

The episode starts with a little bit of anticlimax after last week’s sorta-cliffhanger ending. Instead of launching right into an epic space battle with the Klingons that are en route to Pahvo, Captain Lorca is ordered to return with the Discovery to a nearby Federation outpost. The Pahvo plan has failed and, logically, it doesn’t make much sense to make a stand there, especially if it means risking the incredibly valuable Discovery, which is the only ship of its type. Still hoping to strike a blow against the Klingons, however, Lorca gives the crew three hours to come up with a way to crack through the Klingons’ cloaking technology so they can prevent any more of the devastating ambushes that have been such a problem for the Federation.

They quickly hammer out a plan that would let them see the Klingon ships, but it requires that they place a pair of sensors at each end of the Ship of the Dead. Burnham and Tyler, being the only ones on the Discovery who are familiar with the inside of Klingon ships, are up to the task, but there’s one more problem: the data and calculations from the sensors will take hours to collect, and they can’t just hang around next to the Klingon ship while that’s going on. To speed things up, they decide that they’re going to use the spore drive to do dozens of short jumps around the Klingon ship, which will, somehow, enable them to collect the data they need in about five minutes instead of three hours.

It’s not a bad plot if you’re willing to suspend some disbelief about how sensor data collection works, and it’s generally well executed in terms of episode construction, acting and production values. The thing is, it’s also a plot that exists primarily as a framework on which to hang character development. The episode is packed with character moments for Burnham, Tyler, Lorca and Stamets. Unfortunately, though all of these moments work well within this episode, not many of the have been earned by the material that we’ve seen the last several weeks. The Stamets material comes closest to feeling like a real, natural progression for what we’ve seen of his character so far, but Lorca, Burnham and Tyler all suffer from inconsistent characterization or just plain lack of any characterization whatsoever.

Stamets’ secrecy about his condition since his injection of tardigrade DNA has gotten a little tiresome, especially since it’s hard to believe that he wouldn’t be being closely monitored throughout this whole time, so it’s nice to see that ended at last. While Stamets’ reasons for keeping secrets from his doctor husband are a bit specious, the way their conflict plays out over the episode is pleasantly low-drama. It’s easy to see how much these two men love each other, and their ability to separate their personal relationship from their work is commendable. I can’t say I think their relationship is altogether healthy, considering Stamets’ secret-keeping about the effects of the tardigrade DNA and the usage of the spore drive, but it is something of an extenuating circumstance, and Stamets and Culber’s style of conflict resolution is a refreshing change from the more explosive styles of romantic conflict that are usually popular on television. I can even forgive that shamelessly on the nose reference to La Bohème (Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz starred together in Rent).

What’s harder to make sense of is the interactions between Stamets and Captain Lorca. Frightened by his deteriorating condition from using the spore drive, Stamets needs some convincing to take part in Lorca’s plan to use the ship’s teleportation abilities to collect the sensor data from the Ship of the Dead, and Lorca is up to the task of persuading him. What’s difficult to understand is what we’re supposed to understand about Lorca from his arguments to the effect that Stamets needs to do this for science because once the war is over they’ll have the whole universe to explore. In any other Trek, it would make sense to take Lorca’s statements at face value and accept them as earnest. Even in the context of just this single episode, that reading holds up; Lorca even cedes his award to Stamets in the wind-down of the episode as a gesture of appreciation for Stamets’ extraordinary service, and Lorca reiterates his earlier sentiment at that time. However, we’ve been shown all season that Lorca has a strong manipulative streak and that he’s willing, at least sometimes, to do difficult things for the greater good, and Lorca’s understanding of “the greater good” is both self-serving and big-picture-thinking enough that Lorca is able to abstractify the value of other people’s lives in ways that make it possible for him to justify all kinds of unethical behavior.

So, is Lorca a fundamentally principled leader bonding with Stamets over a shared interest in science and exploration and expressing a real desire for peace? Or does Lorca just know the best ways to manipulate someone who he sees as less sophisticated than himself? Or is the truth somewhere in between these extremes? And if the most generous interpretation of Lorca’s actions in this episode is true, are we meant to understand this as character development for the Captain? Because this ambiguity in the portrayal of the man has existed all along. It’s one thing to make a character a little mysterious or morally gray and inscrutable, but at some point it’s important that the audience is able to actually form a real opinion about the character or all that ambiguity simply becomes bad, inconsistent writing. Seven episodes into Lorca’s tenure as Captain, it should at least be clear whether he’s a protagonist or villain, and while villain protagonists and anti-heroes and redemption arcs are a thing, it should also be clear by this point if Lorca was one of those character types. Nothing about Lorca is clear, and that’s deeply frustrating.

For all that Burnham is billed as the most important character on the show, this mid-season finale was decidedly light on character development for her. We do get to see her kick some ass aboard the Ship of the Dead, but her battle with Kol is somewhat anticlimactic. Visually, it borders on magnificent; though I’d like to have seen more fighting, what we do get to see is well-choreographed, and the set for the Ship of the Dead’s bridge is a gorgeous backdrop for it. Emotionally, though, it leaves something to be desired as a conclusion to Burnham’s grieving-over-Georgiou arc, mostly because there just isn’t enough groundwork laid in previous episodes to support Burnham’s desire to fight a personal duel against Kol. The audience was told, back in episode three I think, how Kol defiled Georgiou’s body, but there’s no way that Burnham could have known about it. We could understand her to have inferred it from previous knowledge of Klingon cultural norms, but it still doesn’t quite work as a motivating factor for her here. Once Kol taunts her with Georgiou’s insignia, it makes sense that it would become personal for Burnham, but that wasn’t effectively communicated as the turning point of the scene. Instead, the show seemed to rely on the audience’s meta knowledge to give the moment emotional impact, an irritating bit of lazy writing that shouldn’t occur in professionally produced media.

The most memorable storyline of the episode belongs to Tyler, who goes with Burnham to the Ship of the Dead, only to have an attack of PTSD when they stumble upon the dead body room, where they find Admiral Cornwell (still alive, yay!) and L’Rell, whose appearance trigger’s Tyler’s PTSD episode. Setting aside what a bad idea it is to send someone who was tortured by Klingons on an important, time-sensitive mission to infiltrate a Klingon ship, and also setting aside how strange it is that L’Rell isn’t locked up in a secure place but was just chucked into the random room full of dead bodies and left there without guards or even a decent lock on the door, the exploration of Tyler’s PTSD is interesting, if not necessarily well done. The big issue here is that the portrayal of Tyler and his PTSD struggles with the same problem of ambiguity that Captain Lorca does. I don’t know if the show’s writers think this ambiguous treatment of characters is clever or insightful, but it’s mostly just too confusing to be either of those things.

There has been speculation for weeks that Tyler is the Klingon Voq in disguise, and there’s some compelling evidence to support that theory in this episode. At the same time, there’s very little of that evidence that can’t also be interpreted as Tyler being exactly what he appears to be: an unlucky human man traumatized by months of torture and rape at the hands of a Klingon woman who has become obsessed with him. Even L’Rell’s promise to protect Tyler at the end of the episode isn’t conclusive proof that he’s Voq; it could just as easily be more evidence of her obsession. What we do know is that either Ash Tyler is who he believes himself to be or he’s Voq, but so changed by whatever procedure made him human that he has no recollection of his former self, whether because he’s a sleeper agent or because the transformation procedure has damaged him, which could account for his PTSD as well and would explain why some of his flashbacks look like they could be of surgery rather than torture. But this all still leaves Ash Tyler’s identity as something of a question mark for now, and this is incredibly frustrating after weeks of speculation and build-up and with a long wait before we get more episodes of the show.

Miscellany:

  • I’d love to learn more about the unnamed members of the bridge crew. Alright. I guess they do have names on IMDb, but I don’t think they’ve been said aloud on the show yet. I want to know more about them, either way.
  • No Saru material at all in this episode. I can’t recall if he even got a line. He’s such an interesting foil to Burnham and their shared history is emotionally compelling, but it’s been either played for melodrama or ignored for most of the season so far. Disappointing.
  • The props they made for the sensors that Burnham has to plant on the Klingon ship will never not be hilarious to me. They’re like a foot and a half tall with bright glowing lights. They beep. And they have Starfleet logos right on the tops of them. Because no Klingon will ever notice the large, bright, noisy sensors labeled “Property of Starfleet.” Very stealthy.
  • What is certain from Tyler’s flashbacks is that L’Rell is a rapist. Whether Tyler is human or whether he is Voq robbed of his identity has no bearing on this fact, and yet it seems as if the show doesn’t actually recognize it as a fact at all. Tyler’s flashbacks to his rape at L’Rell’s hands are eroticized in a way that suggests that it’s not being taken very seriously, either because he’s a man raped by a woman or because someone thought this was another area where they could create ambiguity as to Tyler’s identity. It is not. And just because you can show a Klingon boob because you’re on a streaming service instead of broadcast TV doesn’t mean you have to.

Recent Reads: Tor.com’s October 2017 Novellas

The Murders of Molly Southbourne
by Tade Thompson

Pub Date: 10/3

I don’t usually care for horror, and Tade Thompson’s The Murders of Molly Southbourne seemed like a fairly straightforward horror concept when I read the cover copy. However, I read pretty much all of Tor.com’s novellas, and I appreciate that doing so tends to get me to read outside my comfort zone and try new things. Still, I didn’t expect that I was going to start this book sometime after my midnight bedtime and find myself unable to put it down until I finished it an hour and a half or so later. It’s a compulsively readable, at times deeply disturbing fable with a compelling heroine at war, literally, with herself.

Molly Southbourne is brilliant, brave, and cruel in turns, an often unlikable woman who is nevertheless deeply sympathetic as she tries to find some way to live a normal life while dealing with a condition where anytime she bleeds, it grows a new molly who quickly becomes intent on killing her. Even Molly’s earliest memory is of murder, and she’s lived her entire life by a set of strict rules intended to keep her safe from her other selves, but it’s exhausting, physically and mentally. The mix of body horror and psychological is well-conceived and cleverly executed, and every word and image in the book feels methodically intentional. It’s a parable with several possible interpretations, all of them interesting, and Thompson makes smart use of classic fantasy and science fictional elements to touch on ideas about identity, cloning, family, and the effects living a life full of violence has on a person.

A Long Day in Lychford
by Paul Cornell

Pub Date: 10/10

I’ve loved Paul Cornell’s Lychford novellas since the beginning, but A Long Day in Lychford is very different from its predecessors and I’m still not sure if I think it’s a step forward or back for the series. Whereas the two previous books had something of a timeless feel to them—though they also dealt with the modern-day issues changing the landscapes of small towns—this one digs into the UK’s Brexit debate with mixed success. It’s a timely story, but it’s also a painful story to read.

After focusing more on Judith and Lizzie in the first couple of Lychford books, this one shows us a bit more about Autumn, who we learn is pretty much the only person of color in Lychford. After the Brexit vote, things get uncomfortable for her, and it causes a rift between Autumn and Judith that leads, albeit somewhat indirectly, to a magical mishap that needs to be fixed. It’s a definite change of pace from the first books in the series, and it feels more deeply personal and immediately relevant than the previous two novellas that dealt a little more broadly and abstractly with small town issues, but it’s also perhaps a little overambitious for its short page count. Things wrap up a little too neatly in the end, and Cornell’s main thesis is somewhat garbled by using a sort of metaphor about the border between Fairy and Lychford and tossing in some upsetting news about Judith that has some unfortunate implications re: her vote on Brexit. It’s possible to have too much nuance for a short novella.

Weaver’s Lament
by Emma Newman

Pub Date: 10/17

Emma Newman’s gaslamp fantasy series continues with a new mystery for secret mage-in-training Charlotte to puzzle through. Her brother Ben has settled into his role as an apprentice Mage, and he seems to be thriving at his new position at a mill in Manchester. The problem is that the mill seems to be haunted—either by ghosts or by rebellious workers—and Ben calls in Charlotte to go undercover and investigate. It’s a decent premise, and it’s never a bad time for a new book about workers’ rights, but everything about Weaver’s Lament feels a little rushed and its treatment of serious issues is perfunctory. Charlotte is a likable heroine, and she’s sensitive to the injustice and abuse she uncovers in Manchester, but secondary characters are given short shrift while Charlotte easily returns to her status quo at the end of the book.

Also, while I’m a fan of slow-burning will-they-or-won’t-they romances, it’s difficult to be invested in Charlotte and Magus Hopkins when they spend so little time together in stories that are so small in scope. Brother’s Ruin and Weaver’s Lament have both dealt heavily with uncovering largescale injustices that deeply affect the characters’ lives, and these things also form the primary barrier to the central romantic relationship of the series. However, there’s been very little forward movement on any front. The romance is limited to lingering glances and subtle chemistry, and the systemic injustice and probable evil of the Royal Society of the Esoteric Arts isn’t confronted head-on and doesn’t seem likely to be any time soon.

Though it’s not without problems, Weaver’s Lament is still an entertaining read. It just feels like it could have used about a hundred pages more of breathing room, mostly so that it could do a bit better justice to the new friends Charlotte makes at Manchester. It’s not always a good thing when a story leaves you hungry for more.

Switchback
by Melissa F. Olson

Pub Date: 10/24

Switchback is a decided improvement over its merely workmanlike predecessor, Nightshades, which introduced Melissa F. Olson’s near future noir world in which humans are reacting—sometimes poorly—to learning that vampires exist. Whereas Nightshades was full of clunky exposition and worldbuilding, everything about Switchback is more relaxed and self-assured. It’s a better-plotted mystery with a more satisfying overall arc, and Olson makes the wise choice to focus more on Lindy, the vampire consultant who is more interesting that the rest of the main cast put together. While there are still some mysteries surrounding Lindy’s past, by the end of Switchback she feels like a fully realized character. “What if the world suddenly knew vampires are real?” is a question that has been answered many times in fiction, and I’m not sure there’s much new ground to cover on the issue, but Switchback retreads well-worn paths confidently while shifting focus to a fresher perspective than Nightshades had. I wasn’t sure about continuing with this series after my lukewarm feeling towards that book, but after this one I’m rather looking forward to seeing what Olson does with it next.

State of the Blog and Weekend Links: November 12, 2017

Well, this has been a week. I’ve been cutting back on caffeine, which has left me tired for a lot of the time, and it’s been further exhausting to see the ongoing, steady stream of sexual harassment, abuse and rape accusations coming out of, seemingly, everywhere. It’s important and valuable and I truly hope that some real. lasting, sustainable change comes from all this public sharing of stories, but it’s still depressing. Too much of the public outrage is hypocritical and feels performative, and it’s not enough to oust a handful of badly behaved men; institutional reform is necessary, and proposals for that are thin on the ground.

We’ll see. I haven’t lost hope yet. I’m just running low on energy.

I didn’t write nearly as much as I’d hoped this week, though I’m not unhappy with what I did accomplish. It took longer than expected to write about last week’s Star Trek: Discovery, and the double episode of The Shannara Chronicles ended up taking an extra day as well. I’m currently most of the way through a post reviewing October’s Tor.com novellas, though, so expect that tomorrow or Tuesday.

Speaking of Star Trek, Popular Mechanics asked 8 sci-fi writers what Trek show they would write if they had the chance.

Dark Matter Zine is building a list of SFF books with disability representation.

It looks like we’re getting another Star Wars trilogy and a live-action television show. I kind of hate how excited I am about this, but also I am still not going to pay for Disney’s streaming service.

The Wertzone has the scoop on all the SFF projects currently in development for film and television.

Tor.com has collected some of their best non-fiction posts of the year.

In other Tor.com news, we’re getting two novellas by P. Djeli Clark!

I talk so much about The Shannara Chronicles that KJ at Lady Business watched it.

There’s a fantastic profile of Ken Liu in the South China Morning Post.

There’s a new Ashok K. Banker story over at Lightspeed: “A Vortal in Midtown.” And an Author Spotlight.

Fonda Lee wrote about the Big Idea in her new novel Jade City.

Lee also wrote about worldbuilding at the B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

If you’re in the mood to be mad, check out how the Amazons’ costumes have changed between Wonder Woman and Justice League.

If you want to be happy, just keep scrolling down for the first look at the 13th Doctor in costume. I’m not sure about those pants, but I do like the homages to previous Doctors in this style.

 

The Shannara Chronicles: “Paranor” and “Crimson” are a new high point for the series

The thing I love most about The Shannara Chronicles is how unabashedly it is what it is. It doesn’t put on airs or pretend at depth that it doesn’t have, and it’s pretty consistently fun and entertaining. Season 1 of the show was a little erratic in terms of quality, but Season 2 has been stronger and more reliably good every week. This week’s back-to-back episodes, “Paranor” and “Crimson,” work so well together that it finally feels as if the show is really hitting its stride, both narratively—with genuinely good, if not terribly innovative, storytelling—and creatively—being full of fantastic costumes and set dressings and with multiple excellently choreographed fight scenes. While the show still has its fair share of silly subplots and iffy character beats, the world of Shannara is finally starting to feel as big and lived in as it needs to be in order to support the enormous amount of story being told. (And it really is a wild amount of story in these two episodes.)

Let’s dig in.

**Spoilers ahead.**

Mareth, Wil, & Allanon at Paranor

It’s probably best to understand these episodes as a single two-part story, and this is nowhere clearer than in the parts that take place at the old druid stronghold, where Wil, Mareth and Allanon have traveled to rescue Wil’s uncle Flick from Bandon. This story takes up the majority of screen time across both episodes, and it’s the most complete of the two major storylines this week. (The other ends on something of a cliffhanger.) It’s also the riskier of the two storylines, with a time travel plot that I was highly skeptical of when I heard about it, but I have to admit now that it worked much better than I expected.

So, Wil, Mareth and Allanon arrive at Paranor, but before they head in, Allanon decides that Mareth can’t in because he doesn’t fully trust her. Wil isn’t thrilled about this, but he accepts it because he’s anxious to save Flick and they don’t have much time left. Time and trust are the main themes of this storyline this week, and those things become even more important when Wil and Allanon meet with Bandon inside Paranor. Bandon doesn’t trust them to give him the Warlock Lord’s skull, so he cuts Flick’s face with his evil magic sword, infecting the older man with a disease that only Bandon can cure in order to ensure that Wil and Allanon deliver on their promise. They aren’t happy about this turn of events, but Allanon does some magic that reveals the skull in a small chamber. Once Bandon is in the chamber as well, however, the skull disappears and a door closes, trapping both men in a magical prison. It turns out the skull was only one of Mareth’s illusions and that she and Allanon planned this from the beginning, with leaves Wil feeling angry and betrayed; Bandon is still the only one who can cure Flick’s disease, and he’s firm on being unwilling to do it until the skull is in his hands.

Fortunately, there’s still a way for them to get the skull, but it requires the blood of a druid and a Shannara to open the way, and it has to be done without Allanon, who is very against this plan. Allanon still doesn’t believe Mareth is his daughter, but she’s able, with Wil, to activate the device that will take them to the Warlock Lord’s skull. What they don’t expect is for the device to take them back in time to the village of Shady Vale before Wil’s birth, where they meet Wil’s parents, Shea and Heady, who are the key to finding where the skull is hidden. By the time Wil and Mareth return to Paranor with the skull, Flick is in bad shape and Allanon has started to age and weaken while trapped in the magic prison with Bandon. When Bandon is set free, he still refuses to heal Flick before getting the skull, which leaves him and Wil at an impasse that’s broken when the dying Flick impales himself on Bandon’s sword. Wil and Bandon fight, Mareth tries to use her illusions to hide the skull, the Sword of Shannara shatters, Allanon is injured and Bandon manages to escape with the skull, leaving the rest of them to mourn for Flick.

It’s a busy couple of episodes, especially for Wil and Mareth. I expect the time travel plot won’t be popular with devoted fans of the books, if there are any of those still watching the show at this point, but I rather liked it. There’s nothing groundbreaking being done here, and there are times when Wil and Mareth seem confused about whether they are in a hurry or not (they spend a lot of time saying they have to hurry), but it’s nonetheless an overall likable interlude. Wil initially wants to change the past and prevent the suffering he knows is in store for Shea, but Mareth nips that idea in the bud and they mostly focus on finding the Warlock Lord’s skull. The interactions between Wil and his parents (his mother, Heady, appears in these episodes as well) are a little cheesy at times and hit basically all the expected emotional beats, though the tone is kept light enough that it never becomes maudlin. The parallels between Wil and Shea as the reluctant heroes of their respective generations are nicely portrayed, and this whole adventure provides a great opportunity for us to see just how much Wil has changed and matured since we first met him in season one.

If I have one quibble about the time travel storyline—aside from the inconsistency over whether or not Wil and Mareth are supposed to be rushing to find the skull—it’s the introduction of Mareth’s crush on Wil. On the one hand, it’s cute to have it pointed out by Shea, and I’m not opposed to the idea of Wil and Mareth together. I ship it, truly. On the other hand, the show has not done nearly enough groundwork for that romance. Also, book readers know that Wil and Eretria end up together, and the show has always felt a bit as if that pairing was going to be endgame, so I’m concerned about what a Wil/Mareth pairing could mean in that context. It’s fine if the show wants to go in a different direction than the books, but it would be infuriating to have to watch Mareth have unrequited feelings or, worse, to see her fridged or otherwise conveniently disposed of to make room for the endgame ship later on. If they’re serious about Wil and Mareth, however, the relationship needs more room to develop. The pair have been constantly on the move and dealing with crises since they met, and the addition of even a couple of quiet, romantic moments, especially if they showed us more about Mareth, would go a long way toward making this relationship work.

While Wil and Mareth are time traveling, Allanon has to deal with Bandon and Flick, two men who both bear grudges against him that are at least partially justified. Bandon has ceded his moral high ground by trying to resurrect ancient evil, but Flick’s grievance against Allanon is real and definitely calls into question Allanon’s tactics and his history with the Shannara family. It’s always been clear that Allanon sees himself as a hero, protecting the world from evil and preserving the secrets and magic of the druids in order to do good, but this season has really been all about picking apart at that self-image and forcing Allanon to reckon with his past and be accountable for his recent and current actions. Here, he’s confronted, again, by Bandon, but it’s Flick’s indictment that carries real emotional weight this week. Allanon’s sad assertion that “some are born for sacrifice” isn’t very comforting to Flick as he lays dying, and the juxtaposition of Flick’s final act of selflessness with a younger Allanon arriving in Shady Vale and meeting a very young Flick right as Wil and Mareth are leaving is a thoughtful and powerful way of bringing this emotional arc full circle.

Eretria, Garet Jax, Lyria & the Crimson

The episode opens with Eretria and Garet Jax running from Queen Tamlin’s guards. Jax has something important to do elsewhere, so he peels off and leaves Eretria to fight off several guards on her own. It’s a reasonably impressive fight that ends when Cogline shows up to help. It’s a bit of plot convenience theater, but Eretria is happy to see her friend, hoping that he’ll go to Paranor with her to help Wil. Cogline has other ideas, however. He needs to see Queen Tamlin, though it turns out to be mostly for expository purposes. We learn that Cogline is an ex-druid who uses both science and magic, and, more pertinently, we learn more about Tamlin’s deal with the Warlock Lord: she promised him access to “Heaven’s Well,” a place that is the source of a major river but also a source of magic, and there’s basically no chance that the Warlock Lord isn’t going to expect Tamlin to deliver.

After warning Tamlin about the Warlock Lord, Cogline takes Eretria to an abandoned bunker for more exposition, this time about Eretria and her past. We learn that Eretria’s mysterious tattoo signifies that she’s one of “Armageddon’s Children,” a demon hybrid, and this makes her both potentially powerful and vulnerable to corruption by the Warlock Lord. Cogline has brought her to the bunker, where he’s imprisoned one of the less powerful mord wraiths, so Eretria can train herself to command demons and to resist the influence of the Warlock Lord. I don’t recall any of this stuff from any of the Shannara books I read fifteen to twenty years ago, so I’m pretty sure this is wholly new mythology invented for the show. It’s fine, I guess. It essentially sidelines Eretria for an episode and a half, disconnecting her from all the other characters, but it also provides her with a history that ties her intimately to the war between good and evil in the Four Lands and creates an internal conflict for her to wrestle with going forward. There’s nothing particularly special about any of her scenes in these two episodes, but this is a set-up that ought to pay off well later in the season.

After splitting up with Eretria, Garet Jax goes to visit the family of one of his dead Border Patrol men. While it’s been some time since he’s been there, it’s apparently his habit to support the family as much as he can, and he’s brought some money for them. While he’s inside talking to the widow, however, her son is playing outside only to be captured and murdered by General Riga’s lieutenant, Valcca, who has tracked Jax to the little house by the seaside. The death of the little boy is a senseless bit of grimdark for the sake of grimdarkness, but it does motivate Jax to capture Valcca and take him back to Leah, where Jax bonds with Slanter and the now-engaged Lyria and Ander over torturing Valcca for information.

Things take a wrong turn when Valcca manages to escape before Lyria and Ander’s wedding, but Tamlin sends Jax out to hunt Valcca. Jax catches up to Valcca quickly, but Valcca has already reconnected with Riga. The two Crimson men easily defeat Jax, and Riga tells Valcca to “take care of” Jax for good. Before Valcca can kill the bounty hunter, though, Jax wakes up and kills him instead. Then Jax leaves to, we quickly learn, find Eretria, who has been left alone with the mord wraith in the bunker. Jax shows up just in time to see Eretria kill the creature, and he whisks her away so they can try to warn Tamlin about Riga.

“Crimson” ends with the royal wedding in Leah, and it’s so dramatic. Right as Ander and Lyria are about to say their vows, the priest whips his hood off and it’s General Riga, which kicks off a major battle with everyone in their wedding clothes. Ander and Riga square off, but the elf king is mortally wounded almost right off. Lyria picks up a sword and tries to fight Riga, but she’s a small woman in a ballgown and no match for a seasoned fighter half again her size. Garet Jax and Eretria show up right at the last minute and just in time to see Lyria almost get killed by Riga, but Ander manages to use his final burst of strength to save her. The episode ends with Ander dying while a chaotic battle still rages on.

Miscellany:

  • Wil’s “condolences” to Mareth on it being proved that Allanon is her father was a perfect moment.
  • I really appreciate that the group of guards that Eretria fights in the beginning of the episode are a mix of men and women. It’s such a simple thing that there’s really no excuse for shows like this not to do.
  • It was nice that Catania got to have a memorial, though it’s a bit too little too late to make her murder feel really emotionally consequential, especially as the show moves right past it to Lyria and Ander committing to a political marriage.
  • Why does Lyria’s actual wedding dress look so wildly different than the one Tamlin was having made before the wedding? Like, it’s a gorgeous dress, either way, but it was significantly different.
  • Meanwhile, Slanter has no nice clothes at all, I guess.
  • Everyone is having visions these days: Shea has visions of the future, Wil has visions when he returns to Paranor, and Eretria has a short vision when she kills the mord wraith in the bunker.
  • How great can the Sword of Shannara be if it just shatters like that?
  • I’m gonna be pissed if Allanon dies.

Star Trek: Discovery – “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum” is a bunch of nonsense

“Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum” is the episode of Star Trek: Discovery that has forced me to finally admit that I am hopelessly confused about some important aspects of this show. Namely, what is going on with this war between the Klingons and the Federation. There’s an awful lot that doesn’t make a ton of sense, and this episode (the title translates to “If you want peace, prepare for war”) builds up to a cliffhanger that leaves us set up for next week’s fall finale, after which we’ll have to wait until mid-January for the final six episodes of the season. I’m not optimistic that one more episode will be enough to untangle this mess, but that would be less of a problem if the garbled plot and inconsistent characterization of the show’s main players didn’t combine to make it difficult to become emotionally invested in the story on screen.

**Spoilers below.**

This may be the most “classic” Trek episode of Star Trek: Discovery so far; it’s the first episode since the premiere to take our heroes to the surface of a planet, and it’s the first episode in which that planetside adventure is the primary plot. “Si Vis Pacem” starts with the Discovery failing to save hundreds of lives that are lost when a couple of Federation ships are ambushed by Klingons using stealth technology. As much as the Discovery’s spore drive gives the Federation an edge by making the ship incredibly swift and nimble, the Federation is still struggling with the dangers posed by the Klingons’ invisibility shields (“cloaking” technology comes years later, from the Romulans). To help allay the problem, Burnham, Saru and Tyler travel to the planet Pahvo, which houses an enormous (-ly phallic) crystal resonator that they hope to use to boost a sonar signal that would, theoretically, allow them to detect invisible Klingon ships within range. It’s a scientifically dodgy-sounding proposition, but okay. At this point I was just thrilled to get to see them go to a planet. It’s a nice change after eight episodes taking place almost entirely on ships.

When Burnham, Saru and Tyler arrive on Pahvo, they quickly realize that the planet is not, as previously thought, uninhabited. The planet is well known for its peculiar “singing,” which is channeled through the crystal antenna I guess? But it’s somehow never been thoroughly investigated enough for anyone to learn that there are creatures that live there and that appear to be the people responsible for the sounds that have been heard from the planet all this time. I suppose this oversight can be forgiven, since the Pahvans are incorporeal beings made of a sort of glittery blue mist, but it still kind of begs the question of how anyone in Starfleet could come up with an important plan that utilizes a feature of a planet like this without knowing a little more about the place. In any case, though hooking up the sonar thingy to the crystal thingy is important, the mission immediately switches to first contact protocols once they realize the Pahvans exist.

Though Burnham is the first one to insist that they follow first contact procedures and ensure that the Pahvans consent to the use of their crystal antenna, it’s Saru who does most of the communicating with the Pahvans, through a kind of telepathic connection. It’s awkward to watch, and things take a weird turn when Saru is seemingly mind-controlled by the Pahvans, who are purely peaceful beings dedicated to harmony. When Saru destroys Burnham and Tyler’s communicators and expresses his desire to stay on the planet, where he insists they can live in harmony, they’re forced to think fast and come up with a plan to escape so they can get back to the war with the Klingons. While Tyler distracts Saru, Burnham heads to the crystal antenna to contact the Discovery for help. Unfortunately, Tyler’s distraction of Saru doesn’t last long enough and the first officer chases after Burnham, attacking her and trying to destroy her communication device when he finds her at the antenna.

Before either Burnham or Saru is seriously injured, but not before Burnham has to use a phaser on Saru to defend herself, the Pahvans show up. Saru reiterates his desire to remain on Pahvo, but the Pahvans are, as apparently as possible for clouds of blue glitter to be, receptive to Burnham’s plea for permission to use the crystal antenna in order to bring an end to the war with the Klingons. This is about the time that the Discovery gets in contact with its away team and transports them back to the ship, where they quickly realize that the Pahvans aren’t transmitting a sonar signal; they’re sending out a message that is drawing the Klingons to Pahvo, presumably in the interest of forging a peace between the warring factions. We’ll find out next week how that works out for them.

There are a number of weird things about the whole ordeal on the service of Pahvo, and the vague silliness of the science of it is just the beginning. A major problem is what exactly is going on with Saru’s motivations throughout the episode. When they first arrive on Pahvo, Saru is in physical pain from the constant noise, which overstimulates his keen prey-species senses and makes him anxious to quickly finish their mission and get back to the ship. His change to being at peace with the noise and attuned to the Pahvans happens off screen, which makes his sudden desire to stay on the planet forever feel jarring and out of character in a way that suggests mind-control. However, while Burnham and Saru recuperate in sick bay, we find out that Saru wasn’t mind-controlled at all; he was just really into the Pahvans’ message of harmony. Saru’s anger at Burnham as they fight at the foot of the antenna feels real enough, and his fury over her continued “taking” things from him fits with what we’ve already seen of their relationship (although I thought they buried that hatchet several episodes ago), but it’s not an effective bridge between the earlier scenes on Pahvo, where Saru seems mind-controlled and the scene in sick bay where we learn that he’s not.

There’s no natural character progression or arc here for Saru, and the overall effect is to make him seem unbalanced and fragile. What he says, explicitly, is that he’s constantly stressed out by being a prey creature trying to do things that go against his essential nature. Saru’s outburst of extreme rage and violence, coupled with the anxiety and resentment he expresses, is indicative that he may only be barely holding things together most of the time, and this is at odds with what we’ve learned about Saru so far. Previous episodes of the show have touched upon Saru’s species traits and what they mean for him as a character, but the overall tone of that earlier material seemed to be that we should view his peculiarities as just that: peculiarities which, like all such individual traits, have pros and cons. There’s even an implicit message of diversity and acceptance (including self-acceptance) in Saru’s narrative in previous episodes. Sure, he may have traits that seem odd to humans, but he was also portrayed as studious, loyal and capable; his instincts were shown more as an extra sense that could even be useful, but here Saru’s instincts override everything else about his character.

It’s not even that this racial essentialism is uncommon in Star Trek; just look at this show’s Klingons (or DS9’s Ferengi or basically all Vulcans ever) for further examples. What I find frustrating about Saru’s actions in this episode is that I get the feeling the show’s writers don’t grasp the way they’ve undermined their own point. I suppose this shouldn’t be surprising after the way the bungled Harry Mudd as a Lovable Rogue, but it’s irritating to watch. If Saru is supposed to be a sort of ambassador for diversity aboard the Discovery, with most of his portrayal dedicated to the idea that his species traits don’t dictate his fitness to serve in Starfleet or present a barrier to his ambitions there, showing him as unpredictably violent due to those same traits really works at cross purposes with that message. In the end, it’s just nonsensical.

The other big storyline this week belongs to L’Rell, who is trying to ingratiate herself to Kol. Or something? It’s actually not at all clear exactly what L’Rell is trying to accomplish here. I suppose there’s intended to be layers and layers of scheming going on, but what comes across is a confusing sequence of failed plans that end with L’Rell being imprisoned by Kol. First, L’rell offers Kol her services as an interrogator, and she’s given the task of extracting information from the captive Admiral Cornwell. However, as soon as the guards leave the two women alone, L’Rell tells Cornwell that she wants to defect to the Federation. L’Rell claims to have an escape plan, and she escorts Cornwell through the halls of the Klingon vessel, ostensibly on the way to L’Rell’s ship, but they’re caught by Kol, at which point L’Rell stages a fight with Cornwell and kills her, telling Kol that the Admiral had overpowered her. When L’Rell drags Cornwell to, I guess, the ship’s dead body room (I mean, I don’t even know?), she finds her own crew slaughtered and piled up on the floor and vows to avenge them. She returns to Kol and swears fealty to him, but he sees through her, calls her a liar and has her escorted out.

This is all a lot, and it doesn’t make much sense at all. L’Rell’s stated desire to defect to the Federation could make sense as either a ruse, to trick Cornwell into giving her sensitive information, or as a sincere desire if L’Rell really is angry at Kol and wants nothing but vengeance on him for deposing T’kuvma’s chosen successor, Voq. However, L’Rell doesn’t get any information from Cornwell, at least not on screen, and her apparent murder of the Admiral and quick abandonment of the plan is evidence against L’Rell’s desire to defect being for real. It’s also notable that L’Rell seems surprised to find her dead men, and this is the first time we see her vow vengeance, which undermines vengeance as a possible motive for her earlier actions. But, if L’Rell was only trying to insinuate herself with Admiral Cornwell by pretending to be an ally in hopes of getting information, why would she be so quick to murder the other woman? And when Kol calls L’Rell a liar, what lies is he referring to? What evidence is he basing this judgment on? Why isn’t he more upset about L’Rell casually murdering a valuable prisoner? If this is all some kind of extremely layered ruse, what is L’Rell’s endgame here? How does being locked up in Klingon jail get her closer to success? And where is Voq, anyway?

Something tells me that these questions aren’t all going to be satisfactorily answered next week.

Miscellany:

  • Burnham and Tyler finally get that kiss.
  • When Tyler is trying to delay Saru, there’s a moment where Saru calls him out on his deception, and Tyler looked really uncertain and frightened, almost as if he thought Saru might have sensed some deeper deception.
  • Unpopular Opinion: The Tilly/Stamets stuff was the most compelling material in the episode. We know that the spore drive doesn’t survive into later Treks, but it’s a fantastic piece of technology so I’m interested to see what catastrophic drawbacks cause it to be abandoned.
  • Also, why does this show have such a high body count for women characters? If Cornwell really is dead, it was upsettingly abrupt and senseless. Even if it wasn’t especially brutal or bloody, it’s still part of a sad pattern on this show where any woman in a position of power or influence has a shockingly early expiration date.

State of the Blog and Weekend Links: November 5, 2017

This was actually a pretty great week until yesterday, when I had to spend half the afternoon dealing with Spectrum, as I finally decided to switch my grandfathered-in Time Warner internet plan to one of the newer ones, which meant new hardware that had to be hooked up and activated. It’s all supposed to be automated and as simple as calling a number and saying “activate,” but that turned out not to be the case. The tech support guy I dealt with was very nice and did finally get things sorted, but over an hour on the phone with anyone is usually enough to fry my nerves for the rest of the day. An hour on the phone with a tech support guy stumbling through settings to find out why things aren’t working the way they’re supposed to is basically torture. Honestly, I’m still feeling frazzled and resentful about the whole experience a day later.

Halloween was on Tuesday, and we kept it low key here. It was the first Halloween my daughter chose not to go trick-or-treating, which was kind of sad. She went to her grandparents’ house to help hand out candy instead, so we were left to our own devices. We don’t get trick-or-treaters at the apartment, so I ended up just staying up far past my normal bedtime to finish a post about Star Trek: Discovery. Let’s just say there was a lot to unpack in the most recent episode.

Wednesday marked the start of NaNoWriMo, which I’m kinda doing this year. I’m not writing a novel, but I am treating the whole month as a sort of productivity exercise in the hopes that it will help me get back on track to where I’d like to be in terms of writing content for the blog, which will in turn (ideally, anyway) put me in a better position, come the first of the year, to work on a couple of ambitious project ideas I’ve been sitting on for a while. Right now, I’m all about instituting more structure in my day-to-day life and building a routine that will allow me to accomplish big goals in the future. So far, it’s gone okay, even if yesterday turned out to be a total loss, what with dealing with the cable company and all. This coming week should be even better.

Every year for Halloween, the Book Smugglers publish a short horror story. This year’s is “Nini” by Yukimi Ogawa.

This video of Wayne Brady doing a 1930s-style cover of “Thriller” is the last Halloween-ish thing I’m sharing this year:

If you’re looking for something to read this month and my Fall Reading List isn’t good enough for you, be sure to check out Tor.com’s lists of November releases:

The cover and table of contents for Issue 19 of Uncanny has been revealed, and it looks fabulous.

The new issue of Strange Horizons celebrates SFF from the Arab League community.

Congrats to the winners of this year’s World Fantasy Awards!

If you, too, are participating in NaNoWriMo, Tor.com has a nice collection of advice and pep talks from popular SFF writers.

It looks like there might be a new Red Sonja movie, and I am here for it.

The AV Club covered Victor Lavalle’s Destroyer in Friday’s Big Issues column.

Charles Payseur is still mapping short SFF at Nerds of a Feather. This week: Fun Short SFF.

At Queership, Elizabeth Bear (The Stone in the Skull) wrote about identifying with the monsters in stories.

Benjanun Sriduangkaew, whose novella Winterglass is out in December from Apex Publishing, wrote about writing queer stories without queer tragedy.

R.E. Stearns shared her Favorite Bit of her debut novel, Barbary Station.

Singapore’s The Straits Times profiled Ken Liu, JY Yang, Aliette de Bodard, and Marjorie Liu.

At the Powell’s Book Blog, editors Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe asked several of the contributors to their fantastic anthology, The Starlit Wood, to share their thoughts and perspective on retelling fairy tales.

At Terrible Minds, author Fonda Lee offers her new novel, Jade City (out November 7), as an anti-NaNoWriMo case study.

Lee was also interviewed about Jade City over at The Illustrated Page.

Also, I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of Jade City and just finished it last night. I’ll be writing a longer review, but it’s incredible and you should order it right now.

It’s been a week full of people having all kinds of terrible, poorly informed opinions about the Civil War. If you are one of the people who has those opinions, or if you aren’t sure you’re not, Ta-Nehisi Coates has a handy list of 5 Books to Make You Less Stupid About the Civil War over at The Atlantic.

The Oral History of 1997’s Cinderella is one of the best things you could read this week.

You also owe it to yourself to read the NYT profile of classicist Emily Wilson, the first woman to translate The Odyssey into English.

Finally, I’m still processing all the news that came out of Blizzcon this weekend, but look at this cinematic trailer for the next World of Warcraft expansion, Battle for Azeroth. Sylvanas looks a-MAZING:

 

Recent Reads: Space Opera, Cosmic Horror, Hippo Mayhem and More from Tor.com

Starfire: A Red Peace
by Spencer Ellsworth

Pub Date: 8/22/17

The first in a trilogy of short novels, A Red Peace begins with the ending of and intergalactic war fought between natural humans and the genetically engineered hybrids who have spent years being used as fodder for humanity’s wars and slaves for their industry and agriculture. It seems as if justice has won the day until John Starfire, the leader of the Jorian-cross rebellion, reveals his final solution to end the oppression that he’s dedicated his life to fighting. The book follows the points of view of Araskar, a high-ranking vat-grown soldier in Starfire’s army and Jaqi, a Jorian-cross who just wants a tomato but who gets roped into helping some strangers instead. Jaqi is whip smart and wryly funny, a perfectly reluctant and wonderfully competent heroine who’s a joy to read about. Araskar takes a bit more time to grown on you, but it’s easy to become invested in him uncovering the truth about his heroic leader and coming to terms with what that means for his own future. A Red Peace is a clever, fast-paced space opera with a classic sci-fi sensibility, memorable characters, big ideas and an even bigger heart. I can’t wait for book two, Shadow Sun Seven, coming out November 28.

A Song for Quiet
by Cassandra Khaw

Pub Date: 8/29/17

I want to say I loved this little book, the second in Cassandraw Khaw’s Persons Non Grata series, but the truth is that I am just Lovecraft-homaged-out these days, which made it a tough read for me. That said, A Song for Quiet is a definite improvement upon Khaw’s previous Lovecraftian novella, Hammers on Bone. It’s better paced, with a more interesting main character in Deacon James, and it does a much better job of capturing the sense of truly cosmic horror that Lovecraft was known for. There’s less of Persons in this one, with Deacon as the main point of view character and the one whose actions are of the most consequence in the narrative. Khaw’s prose is lovely as always, and the book tries to answer a worthy question: What fate does an unjust world deserve? I’m just ready for this new-Lovecraftian trend to have a rest for a few years. In the meantime, Khaw also has a delightful urban fantasy romance out from the Book Smugglers earlier this year. Bearly a Lady is nearly perfect.

The Twilight Pariah
by Jeffrey Ford

Pub Date: 9/12/17

The Twilight Pariah is either a somewhat tired paint-by-numbers ghost story or a solidly-written horror story with a nicely cinematic quality, depending on how many horror flicks you’ve watched in your time and how much you like the genre. Its collection of shallow characters go through the motions of a fairly standard issue plot without any in depth examination of their motives. The only characters who die are ones that don’t matter, and the “mystery” is fairly tidily explained at the end of the book. It would have worked as a movie, where the stock characters would have been played by unrealistically attractive young people and even low-end CGI could have been combined with some creepy music to make the monster feel menacing. As a book, not so much.

Taste of Marrow
by Sarah Gailey

Pub Date: 9/12/17

Sarah Gailey’s first Tor.com novella, River of Teeth, got a ton of acclaim, but I didn’t love it, overall. It wasn’t terrible, but it definitely felt unfinished to me. What I did love about it was the concept, however, and there were a couple of characters who I found myself getting attached to in spite of myself. Taste of Marrow both finishes the story that began in River of Teeth and focuses mostly on my favorite characters: Adelia, Hero, and Archie. Where River was a fairly straightforward heist-gone-bad story, Taste is a nuanced, character-focused follow up that’s all about consequences. There’s fewer hippos and less mayhem, but there’s far more depth of emotion and meaning in this story where everyone’s chickens come home to roost. Gailey writes her characters with a wonderful mix of tenderness and sharpness that works far better in this less frenetic book than it did in its predecessor. Still, Taste of Marrow is only one half of a wonderful whole. Obviously, you want to read this pair of books as soon as possible, but if you want to read them together you can also wait until the omnibus, American Hippo, comes out in May 2018.