Star Trek: Discovery’s first two episodes, “The Vulcan Hello” and “Battle at the Binary Stars,” are better understood as a two-part movie introducing the new series. Together, these episodes work well as a prologue both to Commander Michael Burnham’s (Sonequa Martin-Green) story and to the story of war with the Klingons that will consume much of the rest of the season, and without living down to any of the direst predictions and worries that fans had about the show during its long and troubled production. It’s a satisfying and encouraging start to the first new Star Trek television series in over a decade, but it’s not without some problems and one possible misstep (and it’s a doozy) that could alienate some of the viewers who ought to be the show’s core target audience.
It’s been a decent week here at SF Bluestocking, though I’m still not quite where I’d like to be, productivity-wise. This coming week will be much better, however. Today was Star Trek: Discovery Day, so I’ll have the first couple episodes of that to write about tomorrow (I have a lot of feels about Star Trek), and I’ve got reviews in the works for a couple of this week’s new releases (Provenance and An Unkindness of Magicians–both excellent). I’m also putting the finishing touches on my Summer Reading Wrap-Up and getting ready to publish my Fall Reading List, so watch for both of those posts this week.
It’s been a tough week still for some storm-wracked parts of the world, and Fireside Fiction has a store set up where all profits are going to hurricane relief and recovery if you’d like to help out and get some new reading material.
There’s still a bit over a day left on this year’s Strange Horizons Fund Drive, and they’re still short of their goal. $25 gets you a year of ebooks of Strange Horizons content, however, and it is top notch stuff.
There’s 11 days left on the Kickstarter for Volume 3 of the Long List Anthology that collects short fiction from the long list of nominations from this year’s Hugo Awards. They’re currently less than $70 away from a stretch goal that will add four novellas to the book, and just $10 gets you the ebook of the collection.
The Book Smugglers Level Up Kickstarter has 10 days left, and there are still tons of great rewards up for grabs, including signed or personalized books, chats with the editors, short story or novel critiques and more.
Jessica Williams is set to write and star in a Showtime comedy series about a science fiction writer living in Brooklyn.
Sarah Gailey’s serialized story, The Fisher of Bones, is available for preorder already.
This is the best xkcd comic in history:
It’s never a bad time to listen to a conversation with Margaret Atwood, and there’s a new one this week at LitHub.
Despite the protests of probably millions of miserable man-children, Hillary Clinton insisted on publishing her book anyway, and now What Happened is the best-selling non-fiction title in the last five years.
Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda talked about their collaboration on Monstress at the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.
At Tor.com, Malka Older shared a helpful guide to some of the major micro-democratic governments you can find in Infomocracy and Null States.
The Black Mirror episode “San Junipero” won an Emmy for Best Writing, and the Fandomentals have a good take on why that episode was so powerful and why this win was important.
Annalee Newitz wrote about the Big Idea in her debut novel Autonomous.
Fran Wilde talked about the Big Idea in the final volume of her Bone Universe series, Horizon.
Wilde was also interviewed about Horizon over at Shimmer.
With just eleven days left on the Kickstarter for the Book Smugglers’ Level Up, it feels like a good time to talk about the Book Smugglers’ newest publishing project, The Novella Initiative. Over the last couple of years, The Book Smugglers has quickly become one of the most exciting new markets for short fiction in SFF, and the Novella Initiative is (for me, especially, as a great lover of novella-length work in general) a thrilling new step in their evolution as publishers. Editors Thea James and Ana Grilo have shown a commitment to showcasing work from diverse voices and fresh points of view, and it’s great to see them expanding their work.
I reviewed their first novella, Dianna Gunn’s very nice YA fantasy romance, Keeper of the Dawn, earlier this year, and their second novella, Michele Tracy Berger’s excellent Reenu-You, merited an honorable mention in my Spring Reading Wrap-Up. This summer brought Cassandra Khaw’s delightful urban fantasy, Bearly a Lady (in July), and A.E. Ash’s smart and fast-paced Special Duty Assignment (August), and there’s still one more to go, Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Girl Reporter, planned for December.
About Keeper of the Dawn, I said that it “combines a smartly plotted adventure with a sweetly written romance in a richly imagined fantasy world,” though I did find it a little overstuffed with plot; it could easily have been a full-length novel, but it was nonetheless an enjoyable read. I didn’t write much about Reenu-You, partly because it dealt with race issues that I (as a white woman) didn’t feel equal to discussing or criticizing in any depth. However, it’s a story that still, months later, has stuck with me. Michele Tracy Berger’s take on corporate malfeasance and the importance solidarity and sisterhood is powerful and timely (and, frankly, likely to be more so in the years to come).
The first Book Smugglers novella of the summer was Cassandra Khaw’s Bearly a Lady, which is without a doubt the best (or at least my personal favorite) of their releases to date. It’s certainly the most polished of the series so far, largely absent some of the copy-editing issues that plagued (albeit very minorly–I’m just nit-picky) the first couple books. The thing about Bearly a Lady, however, is that it’s simply a great deal of fun, a smart, silly, sexy romp that was exactly what I wanted to read at the time, and I am very hopeful that Khaw will write more stories about Zelda the werebear and her friends. The book is also well worth picking up for Khaw’s essay on her influences and inspirations. I loved her thoughts on chick-lit, and she’s right-on about the way light, romantic reads for women are undersold and demeaned. As she says: “…there’s a place and time for darkness and grim ruminations, and there’s a place and time for bisexual werebears with killer wardrobes and a soft spot for pastries.”
The most recent Book Smugglers novella is Temporary Duty Assignment by A.E. Ash. Temporary Duty Assignment walks an interesting middle ground between Reenu-You‘s story of people injured an evil corporation and Bearly a Lady‘s light-hearted romance. The sci-fi elements of the book are thoughtful, but it’s the characters that take center stage. Super soldier Sam and scientist Caleb are both delightful, and it’s easy to root for them, both separately and together in this second chance romance. I could have gone for a bit more romance, personally, though I liked that what romance there was, while not without problems, wasn’t especially fraught or complicated. It’s always clear and easy to understand why Sam and Caleb want to be together, and their problems have been ones of timing rather than incompatibility or mistreatment of each other. All in all, Temporary Duty Assignment is a sweet, clever sci-fi romance that’s well worth reading, but if you aren’t sure and want a small taste before diving into the novella, A.E. Ash also has a prequel story, “Nice,” available for free on the Book Smugglers website.
The final Book Smugglers novella of 2017 will be Tansy Rayner Roberts’ superhero story, Girl Reporter, in December. It’s not available for pre-order just yet (I’ll update this post when it is), but it’s always a good time to read Roberts’ essay, “One Girl in the Justice League,” or her previous Book Smuggler’s novelette, “Kid Dark Against the Machine.”
It took me a long time to read Malka Older’s Infomocracy. I couldn’t get into it right away when it came out last summer, and then the 2016 election happened and it was, perhaps understandably, just far too painful, upsetting and infuriating for me to even think about reading a book centered around election shenanigans for a good while. After a couple of false starts earlier this year, I picked up the paperback of Infomocracy and couldn’t put it down. Luckily, I had an ARC of Null States waiting for me when I finished it. The downside, of course, is that I have to wait another full year for the next installment of the series. The Centenal Cycle so far is a brilliantly clever, deeply entertaining, and extremely timely series full of great characters and smart insights into the back-end business of politics and governance.
Though it’s not hard to see how some readers may interpret the series as dystopian, perhaps my favorite thing about the Centenal Cycle is that it’s decidedly optimistic about the power of systems and public servants to achieve positive change in the world. Older recognizes the flaws in institutions and the people administering them, but in a profoundly (and refreshingly) humanist move she also recognizes the power of individuals to enact change, for good or ill. The micro-democracy depicted in the books isn’t perfect, but it’s an improvement on our current system of government, and Older does an excellent job of exploring both the possibilities and pitfalls of such a system. The global organization of Information is key to both the successes and challenges of micro-democracy, and Older’s nuanced look at the ways in which media affects elections and the ways in which information can be manipulated and controlled to achieve desired outcomes is as timely as it is erudite and insightful.
In a SFF landscape that reveres meticulously detailed worldbuilding, the world of the Centenal books stands out as an example of a setting that isn’t so much built as it is just perfectly realized. Every inch of it feels real and lived-in. They say one ought to write what one knows, and Malka Older knows a good deal about a lot of things (or at least did a lot of research to make it seem like she does), which makes for a pair of novels that work on every level. The technological advances she describes feel plausible, and the ways in which technology is used—for travel, surveillance, security, media consumption, and so on—make sense and are entirely natural-seeming extrapolations from current trends. A particularly nice touch is the names of political parties in micro-democracy. Groups like Heritage, Liberty, PhilipMorris and others are clear references to current political factions and business interests, and it’s easy to imagine how those power players would survive and thrive in the kind of political environment created by micro-democracy.
The greatest thing about these books, however, isn’t the political wonkery (though that is a quality I deeply appreciated); it’s the characters. Mishima is a consummate badass, and Ken is a perfect complement for her. They’re both easy to root for, and their intertwining stories as they work both apart and together to foil a massive conspiracy in Infomocracy are highly entertaining. The main protagonist of Null States, Roz, is something else, however. Like Mishima and Ken, she’s tough and smart and resourceful and principled, but Roz’s work in Darfur is very different than either Mishima’s or Ken’s. The stakes in Null States are, at least on the surface, less global in scale, and they’re certainly much more personal as Roz gets to know the people of the area. What’s most lovable about Roz isn’t her capability or strength but her capacity for empathy, and this quality is a driving force in her narrative. Much of Roz’s story is about the ways in which empathy, caring for others and openness to new ideas and different points of view is integral to public service, and I love that Malka Older imagined Roz to embody so many of those qualities, even if she does have to grow into them a little over the course of her book. Also, Suleyman is a babe.
The optimism of the Centenal Cycle isn’t obvious, judging by the number of people who call the books dystopia, but it’s my kind of optimism. It’s not the optimism that there’s some perfect system of government that’s the silver bullet to solve all the world’s problems or that aliens are going to show up on the eve of a technological revolution and save us all. It’s the optimism that hard work and decency never go entirely out of fashion, that they pay off and that individuals can and do make a difference. It’s the reminder that the arc of history bends towards progress and that we don’t have to have all the answers in order to do some good. And all that optimism is conveyed not with speeches or platitudes, but through the actions of Mishima, Ken, Roz and others. I cannot wait to find out what these characters do next.
Thursday was the first time in a couple of weeks that I managed to write anything substantive (and, boy, am I ever happy to be done with Game of Thrones for a while), but it still wasn’t as much as I’d have liked. That said, I read two full books and have spent some time working on outlines for my backlog of book reviews, plus I had a good idea for a future feature here that I’ll be working on with the tentative plan/hope of starting it after the first of the year. I’m still trying to stay away from making promises about my productivity or what I’ll be publishing this week, but right now, Sunday evening, I’m feeling more optimistic about the upcoming week than I have in some time.
I’ve read some great books lately, and I’ve got an exciting Fall Reading List in the works (watch for that next week), so I’m determined to turn out as many reviews as possible before I do my quarterly clearing of my schedule so I can start the new season with a clean slate instead of an enormous backlog of unfinished projects. Next weekend brings the first episode of Star Trek: Discovery, and season premieres of The Good Place, Lucifer, and The Shannara Chronicles (and Bob’s Burgers and Dancing with the Stars) coming over the next month or so as well, so there will be plenty to watch and write about in the coming weeks. I’ve even got a few movies on my to-watch list (Wonder Woman, The Girl With All the Gifts, Colossal, It Stains the Sand Red) that I may have something to say about when I watch them. Finally, I still haven’t forgotten about Gormenghast; I am coming back to you, Mervyn Peake.
Ideally, I won’t be coming down with any more nasty colds or other productivity-killing conditions for a while. My mental health has been improving steadily(-ish), and I’m so very ready to start turning that into words on a page. And now for links!
The HBO adaptation of Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death has a screenwriter according to executive producer George R.R. Martin.
There were two excellent interviews with Nnedi Okorafor this week as well. She talked about the Who Fears Death adaptation, her upcoming YA novel release (Akata Warrior, Oct. 3), and the nuances of Afrofuturism:
The first of Martha Wells’ Murderbot Diaries, All Systems Red, is one of my favorite novellas of 2017 so far, and there are three more planned in the series. The second volume, Artificial Condition, has a cover, a release date (May 8, 2018), and a cover, and Martha Wells was interviewed about the series over at The Verge.
Also coming in 2018 is a pair of novellas by Mary Robinette Kowal as a follow up to her 2013 novelette, “The Lady Astronaut of Mars.” Check out the covers and descriptions for The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky.
Malka Older’s Null States is one of the fantastic novels I’ve read in the past couple weeks while being sick, and its official release date is this Tuesday, September 19. I’m working on a full review, but I’ll say right now that you need this book.
Older herself wrote two posts at Tor.com this week talking about the book and its premise: “It’s Not a Good Idea to Forget About the Null States” and “Writing Political Science Fiction by Observing the Present.” Malka Older, her experiences and ideas are fascinating, and I increasingly find myself hanging on her every word, so I was thrilled to see her interviewed at Nerds of a Feather this week as well, where she’s every bit as erudite and entertaining as her books are.
The most recent anthology from Laksa Media is The Sum of Us: Tales of the Bonded and Bound, which collects SFF stories about caregiving and caregivers. Editors Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law talked about their Favorite Bits and Big Ideas this week.
The Book Smugglers Level Up Kickstarter is almost halfway funded. Thea James and Ana Grilo popped in at Terrible Minds to share five things they’ve learned starting a short fiction program from scratch.
At Pornokitsch: Sweet Savage Love, Romance and Realism.
Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia E. Butler, from Twelfth Planet Press, is a collection of essays and ephemera about Butler and her work.
At Book Riot, Laura Sackton shares what SFF taught her about queer family-making.
If you’re on Twitter, you might have seen it already, but #drawingwhileblack is so full of wonderful art and amazing talent, and I’ve been getting so much joy from checking up on the hashtag repeatedly this weekend.
There’s a new reviewer of short SFF stories in town. Be sure to check out and subscribe to SFF Reviews.
The first half of content for Uncanny Magazine’s Issue 18 is up, and it doesn’t include any of my especial favorites, but there are still a few standout pieces for you to read online for free right now:
- Brandon O’Brien’s beautiful poem “Birth, Place”
- Malinda Lo’s cleverly wrought ghost story, “Ghost Town”
- Fran Wilde’s delightfully creepy and atmospheric “Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand”
Honestly, though, you owe it to yourself to just go ahead and buy the issue so you can read Catherynne M. Valente’s Cthulu Mythos and Clockwork Orange mash-up, “Down and Out in R’lyeh” and Vina Jie-Min Prasad’s “Fandom for Robots” right away.
Chapter Four of Sarah Gailey’s serial The Fisher of Bones is up at Fireside Fiction.
I think all creative people can relate, to one degree or another, to Kameron Hurley’s most recent blog post on creativity and the fear of losing “the magic.” This was a surprisingly heartening take on the topic.
Finally, Fangirl Happy Hour is asking for media recs!
[Better late than never.]
My biggest prediction about “The Dragon and the Wolf” was that it would be boring, and that turned out to be largely correct. Sure, some things happened, and a couple of those things were somewhat unexpected, but the show’s generally awful writing and failure to effectively build consistent characters with understandable motivations makes it difficult to care deeply about any of what happens on screen. It’s an action-light episode, which doesn’t help, and even the moments that should provide the greatest catharsis after years of build-up don’t. It’s an altogether disappointing end to a season that has turned out to be one long slog of nonsensical plot points, poorly conceived battles and silly character beats.
So, the good news is that I think I’ve turned a bit of a corner with this depression thing this week. The bad news is that I spent most of the week prostrated by an absolutely horrible cold, and I’m still not 100% better. That said, I’ve been heavily doped up on cold medicine for several days, and it’s helping. Today, I’d say I was running at about 60% normal energy, lingering sinus headache and all, which is still a good bit better than I have been in general the last couple of months. My hope is that this upswing in energy holds out as I continue to recover from this cold; ideally it will be a sustainable trend going forward that will allow me to get caught up on things and accomplish more of my future goals here at SF Bluestocking.
Also a cool thing: I finally got ghost cat form in WoW, which I didn’t know would leave a trail of sparkles when I run around. I am delighted with it.
It’s the beginning of the month, which means Tor.com has their lists up of the new books coming out from major publishers in September:
If you only have time for one long read this week, make it Ta-Nehisi Coates’ new piece at The Atlantic: “The First White President.”
Apparently, this summer’s box office slump isn’t the fault of movie studios that keep inundating us with endless sequels, reboots and super hero pablum. Some film executives blame Rotten Tomatoes. LOL.
Also at Lady Business, Renay interviewed Kate Elliot.
Malka Older’s Null States comes out on September 19. It’s amazing, and you should definitely pre-order it, but if you aren’t sold yet, you can listen to her interview at Skiffy and Fanty.
Nisi Shawl’s Expanded Course in the History of Black Science Fiction continued at Tor.com with Walter Mosley’s Futureland.
One of my most-anticipated reads this year is the US paperback edition of Iraq+100, which hits shelves on Tuesday. At the Tor/Forge blog, two of the collection’s contributors talked about science fiction in Arabic literature.
The Wertzone’s Cities of Fantasy series continued with a post on Midgar from Final Fantasy.
At Nerds of a Feather, Charles Payseur kicked off a new series on mapping the world of SFF short fiction.
This month, Fantasy Faction profiled Arachne Press.
There’s an interesting piece at Pornokitsch about what happens when creators make big changes in their fictional worlds.