State of the Blog and Weekend Links: July 23, 2017

If you’ve been following this blog for very long, you probably know that this year–especially the last couple months—I have struggled to keep up with, well, pretty much everything. A series of life setbacks and a serious bout of depression have caused me to shut down in a way that I’m not proud of, and my work here has definitely suffered. I’m hoping that this past week is the nadir of this shit, though I obviously can’t be certain. I’m feeling better right now, and my daughter is out of town this week so I should have plenty of time to try and rebuild some kind of routine, which will, ideally, stick long enough to snap me out of the funk I’ve been in.

That said, expect some changes here at SF Bluestocking. Something I’ve been putting a lot of pressure on myself to do (and that has been pretty much nothing but a source of guilt and shame for some time now) has been to write a lengthy review of everything I read. Inevitably, I end up with a backlog of stuff that I don’t have that much to say about but that I nonetheless feel awful for not writing anything about. From now on, long book reviews here will appear strictly as inspiration strikes. However, I will be replacing them with weekly (at least) posts with short takes on what I’ve been reading and what I’m excited about. I also expect to start doing more news posts. Soon, I hope to have posts on each week’s notable new book releases, movie trailers, new show buzz, and so on.

Mostly, though, I’m planning to focus more on things like the Gormenghast project. That kind of literary criticism and analysis is what I enjoy doing most, and trying to do too many other things has only hurt my productivity in that area. I’ll still be writing about Game of Thrones and about whatever books and movies and so on strike my fancy, but I will be focusing more, from here on out, on revisiting more classic and influential works. I’m also planning to spend more time writing more general essays on topics related to SFF, and I’m looking to get back into writing fiction, though that likely won’t appear here on the blog. In general, you can expect a somewhat less regimented but theoretically much more productive SF Bluestocking going forward. I think these are going to be good changes for me and for the blog, and I hope to be able to roll out even more changes later in (or at least before the end of) the year.

My favorite new release this week was Cassandra Khaw’s Book Smugglers novella, Bearly a Lady. It’s a delightfully sharp and funny bit of paranormal romance, and I highly recommend just buying it outright, but if you aren’t convinced you can read about Khaw’s Big Idea at Whatever and learn more about her inspirations and influences at the Book Smugglers.

Ken Liu joined Fran Wilde and Aliette de Bodard in a new episode of Cooking the Books.

I don’t know if you know this yet, but I love Ada Palmer, so I was thrilled to see this interview with her in the Sandusky Register.

The Prey of Gods author Nicky Drayden was interviewed at Read to Write Stories.

Kay Kenyon wrote about her Favorite Bit of At the Table of Wolves.

Alison Tam wrote about the queer utopia she’d like to live in over at Queership.

The Millions asked if historical fiction can be feminist.

The Manchester Review collected 21 stories of African speculative fiction that are free to read online.

Sarah Gailey’s is the only explanation of the 13th Doctor casting that anyone should need.

You want to read Mari Ness’s “The Witch in the Tower.”

I’m pretty excited about Atomic Blonde, but I CAN NOT WAIT to watch it as a double feature someday with Proud Mary:

I don’t know how historically accurate this is going to be, but I am moderately interested in Professor Marston & the Wonder Women:

I love Guillermo de Toro, and The Shape of Water looks gorgeous:

I haven’t been paying a TON of attention yet to the stuff being shown at SDCC, but I did watch the new Star Trek: Discovery trailer. I have a lot of questions about it, and I’m pretty apprehensive about just how much it doesn’t feel like Star Trek and instead feels like it’s influenced by more “prestige” programming, and not necessarily in a good way. Still, I’m cautiously optimistic about it.

 

Game of Thrones Recap/Review: Season 7, Episode 1 “Dragonstone”

After the total shitshow that was season six (and seasons four and five) of Game of Thrones, my expectations heading into last night’s premiere were low. I ended up being pleasantly (-ish) surprised. There are some Game of Thrones storylines that are well beyond salvaging at this point, and I’ll get to those soon enough, but there’s also some decent writing in “Dragonstone.” If some of the episode’s more emotional moments only work in isolation, divorced from the context of the previous several seasons, I’m feeling magnanimous enough halfway through this garbage year to be forgiving of some of the show’s sins in the interest of being able to enjoy it with a bottle of wine each week.

**Spoilers ahead, natch.**

Arya Stark

It seems like it’s been a while since Game of Thrones used a cold open, but they did for this season. We begin the episode with what appears to be Walder Frey addressing a room full of his nearest and dearest male relatives and quickly turns into, well, whatever a bloodbath is when it’s done with poison. Because—surprise!—that’s not Walder Frey! It’s Arya in disguise, which anyone who watched even just the last episode of season six will guess by the time Walder’s face appears on screen, so I’m not entirely certain who is supposed to be surprised by any of what happens in this scene.

David Bradley, in one last turn as the Frey patriarch, looks like he’s having the time of his life playing Arya-as-Walder, and his dialogue is clever enough, but it relies too heavily on uninspired wordplay (“Leave one wolf alive…”) and overused catchphrases (“The North remembers,” “Winter came…”). Visually, the whole thing recalls the Red Wedding, but this was already true of Arya’s original murder of Lord Walder last year. It’s a scene that feels mostly redundant, covering thematic and visual ground that the show tread in literally the last episode, but it’s nevertheless an entertaining scene to watch, with an overall feel to it that suggests something designed by committee to be crowd-pleasing for exactly the crowd of people who are still watching this terrible show.

Similarly, Arya’s second scene, later in the hour, feels calculated to achieve broad appeal, down to its Ed Sheeran cameo as a singing Lannister soldier, one of a group of men that Arya meets in order to learn a lesson about remembering the humanity of her enemies or something. On the one hand, such a lesson would be consistent with the themes of the episode’s Jon and Sansa material. On the other hand, it’s so totally at odds with the celebratory tone of the Frey massacre scene that it’s hard to imagine that any such lesson is what is intended. That said, it’s pretty par for the course on this show to frame a hate- and vengeance-fueled mass murder as a girl power moment and then undercut it within half an hour.

Bran Stark

Directly after the opening credits, we get an update on the Night King and the army of the dead that’s marching south to the Wall and the Seven Kingdoms. After lasting a good twenty seconds too long (not helped by the trouble my television had processing all the mist and snow effects), this turns out to be another vision of Bran’s. He and Meera (who is much the worse for wear) have finally made it to the Wall, where they’re met by a suspicious Dolorous Edd who questions whether they’re Wildlings—I’m not sure why this matters since the Wildlings are allies of the Night’s Watch now—and then is bizarrely easily convinced of Bran’s identity after Bran tells Edd’s fortune—even though Bran Stark has been presumed dead for all this while and there’s no reason for Edd to know that Bran now has psychic powers. It’s a strange, short scene that seems intended to be tense but lacks any legitimate source of the intended tension, so it feels more like a perfunctorily executed update scene about characters who almost certainly will have little of import to do until later in the season.

At Winterfell

Jon is settling into his new role as King in the North, and he’s full of ideas and commands and sweeping social reforms. First on his checklist is to find a way to get more dragonglass for making weapons to fight the White Walkers that he sees as the most immediate concern faced by the people of the North. He asks Tormund and the Wildlings to garrison the castles along the Wall, starting with Eastwatch-by-the-Sea. Because Jon is Super Feminist™, he also wants to ensure that all the Northfolk are being trained to fight and defend themselves, and he’s backed up by Lyanna Mormont, whose only discernable personality traits are supporting Jon Snow and sternly talking down to men old enough to be her grandfather.

Last, Jon must figure out what to do about the castles and lands left leaderless after the deaths of the lords who sided with the Boltons last season, and he apparently forgot to prepare that part of his presentation. When he hesitates over how to handle the situation, Sansa suggests that the Umber and Karstark holdings be given as rewards to some of the lords who remained true to the Starks, which elicits cheers from the room. Jon’s not Super Feminist™ enough to defer to his sister, however, and he doesn’t believe in punishing children for the sins of their fathers, so he makes actual children Alys Karstark and Ned Umber publicly declare their allegiance to House Stark. This would be fine if Jon had just decisively done this to begin with, but his uncertainty left room for suggestions, which Sansa gave.

It also makes no sense that the Northern and Vale lords would so quickly shift from supporting Sansa’s idea to unquestioningly supporting Jon’s decision, and this, combined with Jon’s dressing down of his sister afterwards, ends up feeling like a contrived public humiliation for Sansa. She spoke up—and perhaps it was the wrong timing on her part, but Jon hadn’t consulted her prior to his meeting and didn’t seem to know what he was doing during the meeting—only to be immediately shut down by Jon and then inexplicably ignored by a roomful of people who agreed with her moments before. To add insult to injury, the writers have put an additional obsequious speech in her mouth where—after just having publicly disagreed with Jon about a major policy matter, largely in an attempt to cover for Jon’s own ineptitude—Sansa praises Jon’s leadership abilities.

It’s weird, and it’s an obvious ploy to humiliate Sansa to the show’s audience as well, only topped by Jon going on to accuse Sansa of admiring Cersei about a minute later. The seeds of a real conflict between Jon and Sansa are already growing, which is about what I expected coming into the season, but I’m somewhat surprised at how decisively the audience is being led to take Jon’s side, especially when he’s so clearly in the wrong. Jon isn’t a confident leader, and he seems out of his depth already, but he’s also baldly sexist in his refusal to even consider taking advice from Sansa, scoffing at the idea straight to her face. So Super Feminist™ of him.

Fortunately, this is all the Jon we see this week, though we return to Winterfell later in the episode for brief updates with Brienne, Tormund, Podrick, Sansa and Littlefinger. Brienne is “training” Podrick, mostly, it seems, by brutally hitting him, but she’s distracted by Tormund leering at her. Sansa is watching this when Littlefinger comes over to try and conspire with her, but Sansa shuts him down relatively quickly. Still, Sansa defends Littlefinger’s presence to Brienne a moment later, citing the man’s usefulness and their indebtedness to him after his support helped win back Winterfell. Okay.

At King’s Landing

Cersei and Jaime have a boring talk while walking all over an unfinished painting of Westeros. It’s a rather on the nose bit of symbolism, and the conversation isn’t particularly illuminating. They are sort of talking strategy, but things are looking pretty bleak for the Lannisters. They have enemies on all sides (described by Cersei in colorfully misogynistic terms), and the arrival of winter doesn’t improve things for their military forces, who depend on other parts of the Seven Kingdoms for supplies, which will presumably not be forthcoming now that Cersei has destabilized the whole country by killing most of its leaders and pissing off the rest. The biggest piece of information to come out of this whole talk is that Cersei has no idea what a “dynasty” is.

What Cersei does have, however, is a new ally: Euron Greyjoy, who slouches into the throne room looking like a refugee from circa 2000 Hot Topic. He’s brought a thousand ships—which is a lot (the Spanish Armada, for example, was only 130 ships in 1588)—and a proposal for Cersei. Even though the Lannisters surely need Euron and his impossibly enormous fleet of ships far more than he needs them, Cersei refuses the proposal until Euron has proven his loyalty. He promises to leave and return to her with a gift; I’m guessing the gift will be people, likely Tyrion or the Sand Snakes if Euron can catch them.

In Oldtown

Though Sam was sent to Oldtown to train to replace Maester Aemon at Castle Black, it’s not clear what his training consists of other than a sort of humiliating and profoundly dull general-purpose drudgery. There’s a whole sequence of what is obviously some time passing with Sam spending his days cleaning chamber pots, serving food and shelving books. Some time is spent with the Archmaester, played by Jim Broadbent, who gives Sam a fatalistic speech about how they at the Citadel are the world’s memory and that the world isn’t going to end because of the White Walkers. In the end, Sam decides to steal a key to the restricted area of the library so he can study up on the White Walkers and dragonglass. He stays up late one night to go through the books he’s stolen, and he helpfully finds a very simple map that indicates a whole mountain of dragonglass underneath Dragonstone. Thank goodness. We wouldn’t want finding this information to be genuinely challenging or suspenseful or anything.

In the Riverlands

In the best-written segment of the episode (and it’s genuinely excellent), Sandor Clegane and the Brotherhood Without Banners are traveling north through the Riverlands when they stop at the night at the home of the man and child Clegane robbed a couple seasons ago. Sandor tries to urge them on, to go past the house, which is obviously now abandoned—no livestock, no smoke from the chimney—but it’s getting dark and the other men want shelter. While I don’t think we’ll be seeing a true redemption arc for Sandor Clegane, we are seeing him having real, compelling and sustainable character growth. His attempts to externalize his guilt and shame by insulting and arguing with Beric and Thoros are unsuccessful, and instead Clegane ends up having a bona fide religious experience when he finally agrees to look into the flames in the hearth and sees a vision of the army of the dead heading towards Eastwatch. This makes me doubly certain that we won’t be seeing any Cleganebowl this season, and it certainly raises the odds of this group dying tragically in the upcoming war against ice zombies.

Sandor burying the man and child whose deaths he’s somewhat responsible for was nicely done. While I’m still by no means a great fan of the Hound, I like that he did this small act of kindness. It also feels notable that the moment wasn’t ruined by the writers’ cynical streak. Sandor’s eulogy for the man and girl—“I’m sorry you’re dead; you deserved better”—is simple and heartfelt, and Thoros’s helping Sandor finish isn’t played for laughs or marred by any argument between the two men. It’s a sad, quiet moment that’s allowed to just exist in the show as a short bit of earnest and powerful thematic commentary in a show that is otherwise devoid of any sincere meaning.

Daenerys

Daenerys and company have arrived at Dragonstone, where we get a lengthy sequence of Daenerys discovering and exploring her birthplace in silence as her entourage hangs back respectfully. It’s almost too much, to be honest, and the whole thing goes on just shy of too long before Daenerys arrives in the map room, lovingly caresses the length of the table best known as the place where Stannis banged Melisandre that one time, and then turns to her advisors to say, “Shall we begin?” as if they haven’t started their invasion already. I liked this sequence in spite of myself. It’s almost silly in its self-importance, but Dragonstone is stunning and we get to see Daenerys’s dragons wheeling overhead looking as beautiful and impressive as they ever have. As ridiculous a line as “Shall we begin?” is, it’s also full of promise, and I enjoyed this episode enough that I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next. After a somewhat slow start to the season, hopefully the pace will pick up next week.

Miscellany:

  • Why is Arbor Gold a red wine?
  • Why is Alys Karstark a redhead? I’m sure it’s because they’re supposed to be Stark cousins, but Sansa got her hair from her Southron mother; it’s not just a trait that all Stark relations have.
  • Arya is going to try and kill Cersei, exactly as I predicted.
  • Jorah is in a cell at the Citadel, and his greyscale has progressed. He’s still obsessed with Daenerys, though.
  • How is Dragonstone so completely empty, though? Stannis didn’t literally take every man, woman and child with him when he went, right? The big, empty space makes for a neat image, sure, but there’s no way everyone would be gone like this.
  • I am actually slightly alarmed by how many of my predictions for the season are already coming true.

State of the Blog and Weekend Links: July 16, 2017

I don’t know what I will ever do if I ever have a week that goes unequivocally well for me, with nothing bad happening in the world and no personal or financial crises in my own life. Obviously, of course, this week was not that week.

Things started off well, with a good writing day and a 2k word Gormenghast post on Monday, but by Tuesday my car was acting up again. I dropped it off at the auto shop Wednesday afternoon, and it is still there as of this writing. It’s either something probably moderately expensive to have fixed or it needs a whole new engine; hopefully I’ll get the final word on it tomorrow. Either way, I’m torn between being glad to be on the verge of finally getting to the bottom of months of car trouble and being furious that whatever this problem is wasn’t diagnosed at the beginning of this whole saga before we’d spent thousands of dollars on other car repairs.

As you might imagine, this made for a stressful week. My partner was working from home, which is a distraction. Fortunately, we live within walking distance of most necessities, but having to walk everywhere means simple things like grocery shopping take extra time. Being without a car also derailed later-in-the-week plans. I’d hoped to see a couple of movies this week (The Big SickValerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, maybe Wonder Woman) and I wanted to see a free outdoor performance of The Merry Wives of Windsor this weekend, but none of that was possible.  It’s been just a big, boring, financially stressful mess of a week, and that’s never a good way for me to stay on task and productive.

In the coming week, my number one goal is to find some better ways to not allow depression and anxiety to cause me to shut down quite so completely. Game of Thrones is back tonight, and I’ll be writing about that tomorrow. I’ve already read my next section of Titus Groan (Chapters 32-35), so that should be in the works for late tomorrow or sometime Tuesday. I’ve got outlines for a couple of essays I’d like to work on this week, and I’m thinking of trying a different, shorter sort of round-up style for book reviews for when I don’t have at least 500 or so words to write about things. I’ve been reading a lot lately, and I’d like to share more about what I’m reading and enjoying without the pressure of trying to write a full, lengthy, spoiler-free review.

Just when I needed it this week, Chuck Wendig shared this essay: “So, You’re Having a Bad Writing Day.” It helped.

I finished reading Issue 17 of Uncanny this week, and the first have of the issue’s content is already available online. My recommendations:

I love this Meghan Ball essay at Fireside: “The Importance of Being Monstrous”

Coming soon at Fireside: new serialized fiction by Sarah Gailey.

A series based on Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death is in early stages of production at HBO with George R.R. Martin executive producing:

There’s another new story at the Book Smugglers this week. Their Gods & Monsters series continues with Tonya Liburd’s “A Question of Faith.” You can also read about Liburd’s inspirations and influences.

There’s a new Darcie Little Badger story at Strange Horizons: “Owl VS. the Neighborhood Watch”

JY Yang’s Tensorate series is high on my to-read list for later this summer, and their new story, “Waiting on a Bright Moon,” only helped to whet my appetite.

Be sure to check out Michelle Ann King’s “15 Things You Should Know Before You Say Yes” at Daily Science Fiction.

I read all of Margaret Killjoy’s Tor.com novella, The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion, this week, and I am telling you right now that you want to pre-order this title. If you aren’t convinced, you can read the first chapter (and part of the second) right now.

Andrew Neil Gray and J.S. Herbison wrote about their favorite part of their novella, The Ghost Line.

Sarah Kuhn wrote about the Big Idea in her new novel, Heroine Worship.

Emma Newman has another novel coming out in 2018 that takes place in the same universe as Planetfall. Watch for Before Mars in April of next year.

The first trailer for Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time came out, and it’s wonderful. I wasn’t in love with the stills shared in the last week or two, but everything looks great in the trailer, and I’m glad to see that this production is embracing some of the weirdness of the book:

Christopher Brown wrote about “The Persistance of American Folklore in Fantastic Literature” at Tor.com.

Yoon Ha Lee talked about 6 Books at Nerds of a Feather.

This behind the scenes footage from the production of Star Wars Episode 8 has enough Carrie Fisher in it to break my heart. I am still not okay about her death.

George Romero passed away. And so did Martin Landau.

Finally, it doesn’t completely redeem this garbage week, but the BBC revealed the Thirteenth Doctor today, and it’s Jodie Whitaker.  Reader, I wept.

State of the Blog and Weekend Links: July 9, 2017

This week, the holiday took a lot more out of me than I expected it to, so I didn’t get as much writing done as I’d hoped to. However, I did read a great novel (An Oath of Dogs by Wendy N. Wagner), and after a few days of relative restfulness I’m feeling recharged and ready to make some real progress on some things in the coming week.

I finally got another Gormenghast post out the other night, covering Titus Groan Chapters 22-26, which was less than I’d hoped to get to this week. I’ve already finished reading for the next post in the series, though, which should be out tomorrow, and I’ve begun reading past that with the goal of getting back on track with two or three Gormenghast posts a week. I’ve got two more Gormenghast novels and a biography of Mervyn Peake to get through before I can move on to what is likely to be my next Let’s Read project: Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun. Realistically, I expect Gormenghast to take most of the rest of 2017 to finish, but I’m already slightly excited about what’s next.

ICYMI, I’m giving away a copy of The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis.

Next up on my reading list is Issue 17 of Uncanny Magazine. The first half of the issue content is free online already, but it’s never a bad time to just subscribe to the publication.

After that, I’ll be reading the new issue of FIYAH, built around the theme of “Sundown Towns.” Look at that gorgeous cover by the wonderful Geneva Benton, listen to the awesome Issue Three playlist, and don’t forget to buy the issue (and maybe a poster or mug or beach towel).

There’s change afoot at Fireside Magazine, where Brian J. White is stepping down. It’s still going to be awesome though, and for just $2/month, you can get a convenient monthly ebook of Fireside content.

The 2017 Chesley Award winners were announced.

Tor.com’s fall lineup is going to be amazing.

Also at Tor.com, all the book releases you should be looking for in July:

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy blog has their own list of the best new releases coming out this month.

Also, also at Tor.com, a nostalgia rewatch of The Craft.

Junot Diaz interviewed Margaret Atwood about The Handmaid’s Tale.

Ava DuVernay is bringing the story of the Central Park Five to Netflix.

I laughed far too hard at “Indiana Jones and the Lobby of Hobby,” but we all, frankly, need every laugh we can get these days.

Wendy N. Wagner wrote about her Favorite Bit of An Oath of Dogs.

And Sarah Kuhn talked about her Favorite Bit of her second book, Heroine Worship.

At the Book Smugglers, Kuhn wrote some more about writing a sequel (with a giveaway).

The Book Smugglers also revealed the cover for the next installment in their Gods & Monsters line of short fiction: “A Question of Faith” by Tonya Liburd.

Sarah Gailey wrote about bread and circuses for B&N.

Fantasy Faction interviewed Auntie Fox (aka Adele Wearing) from Fox Spirit Books.

Of all the weird places to find compelling sci-fi, check out “17776” by Jon Bois at SBNation.

Let’s Read Gormenghast! Titus Groan, Chapters 22-26

These chapters begin with yet another flashback in the story, this time to focus on Fuchsia Groan’s reaction to her brother’s birth before setting her on a trajectory that has her meet Steerpike, who talks her into introducing him to Doctor Prunesquallor, who eventually takes Steerpike into his service. To the degree that Titus Groan has any plot at all, this constitutes a significant development, and these chapters seem to mark the end of the introductory saga of Titus Groan’s birth and christening, the immediate reactions to those events, and Steerpike’s rebirth as something other than a kitchen boy. The overall impression of the first two hundred pages of Titus Groan is of a season of change within Gormenghast, but within these few chapters, the story is focused on the contrasts between Fuchsia, the scion of a strange and ancient nobility, and Steerpike, the ambitious interloper who might as well have sprung fully formed from the bowels of Gormenghast itself for all we know of his history.

Chapter 22, “The Body by the Window,” finds Fuchsia absolutely distraught over her brother’s birth, and this offers us some insight into her psychology. Fuchsia is passionate in her hatred, which extends to everything: “I hate things! I hate all things! I hate and hate every single tiniest thing. I hate the world!” In her next breath, Fuchsia expresses a desire to live alone: “Always alone. In a house or in a tree.” And she fantasizes about a man who will come and rescue her from her exile. She sees herself as separate and different from the rest of those around her, and she hopes for “someone from another kind of world—a new world” who will fall in love with her because she lives alone, because of her differentness and, she says, because of her pride. Further requirements for this imaginary lover include great height—“taller than Mr. Flay”—strength and yellow hair “like a lion” and big feet—to make Fuchsia’s own big feet seem smaller. Fuchsia’s fantasy man is also clever, and he must wear dark clothes to enhance the brightness of her own.

On the one hand, Fuchsia’s outburst and her fantasies may be typical of a spoiled and sheltered fifteen-year-old. On the other hand, they are the beginning of a great deal of work in these chapters to show us who Fuchsia is and explain her place in Gormenghast and its narrative. Fuchsia’s place in the story of Gormenghast—both in her understanding and the reader’s—is deeply tied to her sense of self, which is in turn deeply tied to her connection to the place of Gormenghast. For all that Fuchsia verbally expresses feelings of alienation and a desire to be left alone, she doesn’t fantasize about leaving Gormenghast. Indeed, just a page after she dreams of a lover who will come fall in love with her where she lives alone, she writes herself onto the very walls of the castle: “I am Fuchsia. I must always be.” We’ve already had an inkling of Fuchsia’s feelings about her hidden attic rooms, and in Chapter 23, “Ullage of Sunflower,” there is even more evidence of the way that Fuchsia’s identity and sense of self are intimately connected with the places she considers her own. Her feelings of violation when she finds Steerpike in her rooms are palpable and vividly conveyed; Fuchsia has a visceral reaction to Steerpike and his transgression on her space, which is only a couple uses of the word “penetrate” away from being an obvious rape metaphor.

Instead, the interactions between Fuchsia and Steerpike in Chapters 23 and 24 (“Soap for Greasepaint”) could perhaps generously be interpreted as a seduction of sorts, as the cold, calculating Steerpike tries to charm Fuchsia into helping him rise above his present station. At the same time, there’s something decidedly unsexual—certainly unsexy—about all of this. While Fuchsia is a girl who has entertained romantic ideals, there’s no evidence that Steerpike ever has, and it’s quickly revealed that Steerpike’s grasp on the workings of Fuchsia’s mind is shaky at best. They are set up as opposites—Fuchsia’s imagination and passion versus Steerpike’s base cunning—but not in the way of opposites that attract. Fuchsia in fact finds Steerpike repellant; though she’s charmed by his clowning, she never trusts him and has an almost instinctual suspicion of the boy, who she pegged immediately as cleverer than herself. Steerpike’s instincts serve him well enough, however, as he does manage to achieve his objective of an introduction to someone who might give him different employment. In a different novel, I might suggest that Steerpike’s failure to fully understand Fuchsia—and his subsequent failure to even suspect that he might have failed—might be the seeds of his undoing. In this novel, peculiarly non-linear and plotless as it is, it’s hard to say.

What seems most important about these chapters is the illustration of contrasts between Steerpike and Fuchsia and the way these contrasts serve as an illustration of the class and station dynamics within Gormenghast. In the absence of a strong plot, it’s easier and more rewarding to interpret Titus Groan as a book about Gormenghast the place rather than as a story about Gormenghast’s people. Rather, the characters are all simply ancillaries to the setting, which actually has very few characters when you think about it. The Groans and their servants inhabit vast empty spaces within the walls of Gormenghast, even going years without seeing each other at times. The Mud Dwellings outside the castle are inhabited by unnamed crowds, and Swelter’s kitchen, while a veritable hive of activity, is a hellish place and once again mostly filled with nameless masses.

It’s an emptiness that is both literal—there just aren’t very many people in Gormenghast—and metaphorical—the lives of the family of Groan and their closest retainers are variously empty of employment or meaning, filled with nonsense and absurdity and hollow traditions. It’s this world that alienates Fuchsia, who escapes into a fantasy world in which she imagines being rescued through marriage, perhaps the only ambition a sheltered and neglected girl of her station can imagine or, perhaps, the only ambition the author could imagine for her. It’s also this world that the outsider, Steerpike, wants to infiltrate, but one can’t help but feel that he is going to be sorely disappointed by what he finds. In the end of this section, it’s this empty, lonely world of Gormenghast that leads the Doctor and Irma Prunesquallor to employ Steerpike at all; they’re educated, relatively lively people who are hungry for intelligent and stimulating society of a kind that doesn’t exist within Gormenghast, and they hope that Steerpike will fill that void in their lives.

Miscellany:

  • There are some lovely turns of phrase in these chapters. Personal favorites include Steerpike’s “clever imitation of a smile” and the description of the Doctor’s gift to Fuchsia as “a ruby like a lump of anger.”
  • I would be fine, just fine, if I never had to read another description, ever, of the awakening of an adult man’s sexual interest in a barely-pubescent girl. Just saying.
  • These chapters were almost entirely devoid of most of the descriptive and thematic motifs I’d identified so far, but the bird motif comes back at the end of Chapter 26 when Irma Prunesquallor is describing her plans to dress Steerpike in grey: “the hue of doves.” With Steerpike having been both specifically described as predatory and then shown to have a rapacious ambition, the connotations of this description are clear. Within the broader bird motif, if Steerpike is a predator, then to dress him in “the hue of doves” paints him as the avian equivalent of a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Review + Giveaway: The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis

The Guns Above is a whip-smart, fast-paced, and surprisingly funny military fantasy. I didn’t think that I was interested in reading stories about a woman having to overcome systematic sexism anymore, and I was double not interested in reading anything like a redemption arc for that woman’s sexist antagonist, but Bennis manages to breathe some new life into both of those stories. I’m very glad that I was interested enough in airships to read this book despite my misgivings, as it turned out to be a wonderfully readable, remarkably fun and ultimately optimistic (but not cloyingly so) take on its subject matter.

After an act of combat heroism, Josette Dupris gets a promotion that makes her the first woman to captain an airship in a military with strict limits on women’s service. This would be a tough enough challenge on its own, but Josette is also saddled with a spy, Bernat, a spoiled nobleman with no military or airship experience to speak of, but whose job is nonetheless to report back to his powerful uncle on any of Josette’s failings, real or imagined. It’s definitely the sort of thing that one needs to be in the mood to read, especially since there aren’t easy answers to Josette’s problems, but it’s also definitely worth reading. This isn’t a book about one woman smashing the patriarchy single-handedly, and in fact Josette is largely unconcerned with doing so; she just wants to do her job like she knows she’s capable of. The Guns Above is about the way in which an ambitious woman can exist and find ways to thrive in a sexist society, and it’s about the incremental changes and personal fights that slowly push the needle of progress forward. It’s also about gritty, action packed airship battles and snarky humor, which makes it a perfect light-ish summer read.

You need this book for the beach or next to the pool or out on the porch or inside an air-conditioned building or wherever else you’re reading this summer.

Luckily, courtesy of the publisher, I have a hardcover copy of The Guns Above that I’m giving away.

CLICK HERE ENTER THE GIVEAWAY – Ends July 16

State of the Blog and Weekend Links: July 2, 2017

The farther we get into 2017, the more I long for a–just one–completely uneventful week. I continue to struggle with productivity, although this week was better than most weeks in the last couple of months. I wrapped up my Spring Reading and posted my Summer Reading List, which will get us through the end of September, and that means a fresh start for me, writing-wise, as I do myself a kindness and set aside anything I had left unfinished from the spring so I can enjoy a brief respite from feelings of inadequacy before I get behind on summer stuff as well.

One thing I’m not behind on, at least not technically, is Let’s Read! Gormenghast, though I did take a break from it this week in order to finish some other things. I’m not making any promises about this coming week, as the holiday will take up at least some of the time I’d, frankly, much rather spend reading and writing about Titus Groan, but here’s what I’m (tentatively) planning the next few posts to cover:

  • Titus Groan Chapters 22-26
  • Titus Groan Chapters 27-31
  • Titus Groan Chapters 32-36
  • Titus Groan Chapters 37-39

I’ve already skimmed Chapters 22-26, and I’m fairly certain that will work as a section for a post, but I’ve continued to find it necessary to adjust my plans as I go because I find that the book comes with its own pretty obvious stopping points. Just based on previous experience, I fully expect to adjust one or more of these sections, give or take a chapter, as I get to them.

io9 lists all the must-read sci-fi and fantasy books coming out in July.

I finished reading Yoon Ha Lee’s Raven Stratagem and Theodora Goss’s The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter this week. Both were excellent, and I’m hoping to write some reviews in the next couple of days. In the meantime, Lee was interviewed at Lightspeed and Goss was interviewed for the B&N Sci-fi and Fantasy Blog.

Invisible 3, edited by Jim C. Hines and Mary Anne Mohanraj, is now available.

Kelly Robson beautifully makes the case for writing futures that include disability.

Joe Sherry is still reading his way through this year’s Hugo finalists. This week: novels.

Check out the cover and table of contents for Uncanny Magazine Issue 17.

In this month’s Clarkesworld, Fran Wilde writes about Invisible and Visible Engineering in Science Fiction.

At NPR, K. Tempest Bradford reminds us that, no really, cultural appropriation is, in fact, indefensible.

Kotaku has an interesting piece up on the women who helped create Dungeons & Dragons.

Nimona is going to be an animated movie.

At Fireside Fiction, Malka Older writes about The Narrative Spectrum.

The next installment of the Book Smugglers Gods & Monsters series of short fiction is out. Check out “The Waters and Wild of Winter Street” by Jessi Cole Jackson. Then be sure to read about the author’s inspirations and influences.

I have a feeling that Chuck Wendig’s advice on “ways to stay motivated in this shit-shellacked era of epic stupid” is going to be evergreen.

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