State of the Blog and Weekend Links: December 31, 2017

Well, this is the end of 2017, and thank fuck for that. I’m very busy with working on various Best of 2017 lists and looking forward to 2018 stuff that will be published over the next week or so, and 2017 seems intent on ending by giving me an absolutely splitting headache. I’ll be spending the rest of the night popping aspirin and probably going to bed well before midnight, but in the meantime, here are the last links of the year.

Twelfth Planet Press is going to start publishing novellas!

Foz Meadows has a breakdown of a writing contest scam that decided to target writers on Christmas Day.

There’s a good interview at Lightspeed with Louise Erdrich about her new book, Future Home of the Living God.

At Tor.com, Michael Livingston explains why A Knight’s Tale is his favorite medieval movie.

Also at Tor.com, a pretty comprehensive list of sci-fi and fantasy movies and television to look forward to in 2018.

Electric Literature lists 46 Books by Women of Color to Read in 2018.

Smugglivus continues (and will keep going until January 7):

There’s a new Doctor:

RIP 2017.

State of the Blog and Weekend Links: December 24, 2017

There’s so much I hate about this time of year: the financial stress, the societal pressure to conspicuously consume, the fraughtness of family gatherings, the cold and (paradoxically) the fact that we never get decent snow in Cincinnati in December. However, I’ve come to kind of love Christmas Eve. I’ve finished all my holiday baking and candy-making, so I’ve got an apartment full of delicious sweets. the shopping is all finished, and it’s almost time for my favorite part of Christmas: wrapping presents (this year’s theme: brown paper packages). Christmas wrapping means I’m FINISHED. With everything! The whole messy business! Also, I am very good at wrapping things really beautifully, and I love doing it.

So, Christmas is a bit of a mixed bag for me, but I’m glad it’s almost done with for the year. The rest of this week will be taken up with getting together my end-of-year wrap-up stuff, Best of 2017 lists and a bunch of New Year’s resolutions that, let’s be real, I’m probably mostly going to forget about sticking to halfway through February. I’m also doing some last minute short fiction reading, and I would love recommendations, so tell me what short stories and novelettes you read and loved in 2017 in the comments or shoot me an email at sfbluestocking (at) gmail (dot) com!

Speaking of short fiction, A.C. Wise has a fantastic list of her favorites of 2017, with links to a lot it that’s free-to-read.

Civil Eats lists their Favorite Food and Farming Books of 2017, just in case you wanted to make some 11th hour additions to your TBR like I did.

You can hit Literary Hub to check out the Best Reviewed Sci-Fi and Fantasy of 2017.

Space.com lists the Must-Read Space Books of 2017.

The next issue of Uncanny Magazine is out on January 3, but you can already see it’s lovely cover and read its table of contents.

Book Riot already has a list of 24 Amazing Feminist Books Coming Out in 2018.

If you’re excited about next year’s sequel titles, B&N’s Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog lists 30 of them.

There’s a new Naomi Novik book coming out in 2018: Spinning Silver, which I’m hoping is based on her story of the same title that appeared in last year’s The Starlit Wood. I can’t wait to have a copy of it to look beautiful on my shelf next to Uprooted.

Also coming up in 2018, and quickly (January 3!), is Season 11 of The X-Files, which I am kind of unreasonably excited for, even after the decidedly mixed quality of Season 10. This coming week I’ll be preparing, possibly with the aid of these lists of Gillian Anderson’s favorite episodes and/or this Mulder and Scully Ship Guide over at Syfy.

It’s just one more sleep til the Doctor Who Christmas Special and the introduction of Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Doctor. In the meantime, I’ve been enjoying this Doctor Who yule log video:

It’s been a good week for takes on The Last Jedi, now that the initial hype has died down:

All instances of “icicle” will now be replaced in my vocabulary by:

#FolkloreThursday shared an erotic folktale for the holidays: The Yule Buck and the Girl.

I learned that women in the mid-1800s used to catch on fire and die horribly with pretty alarming frequency. Not a “fun” fact, but interesting.

The Book Smugglers’ Smugglivus celebration continued:

State of the Blog and Weekend Links: December 17, 2017

This week was mostly eaten up by holiday baking and finishing up my last bits of Christmas shopping. I’m relieved to be finished (although I’m still waiting on one ordered item and a replacement for a book that arrived from Amazon with a creased cover). Still, I’m done! I’m DONE. I might, if I feel like it this week, hit the pet store to get some cat treats or something for the cat, but honestly I’ve even worked hard to plan meals for the week and do grocery shopping so I should barely need to leave the house at all unless I want to between now and Christmas. Which is good, because this week is going to be filled with candy-making and even more baking.

I had intended to read a lot more this week, while waiting for oven timers to go off and stuff, but after racing through Tansy Rayner Roberts’ excellent new novella, Girl Reporter (out 12/19 from The Book Smugglers: pre-order here), I’ve been moving a little more slowly through Ada Palmer’s newest Terra Ignota novel, The Will to Battle (also out 12/19, from Tor). Girl Reporter is a delight, cover-to-cover, and the perfect way for the Book Smugglers to end their first year of novella-publishing. I’ve loved Ada Palmer’s series since the beginning, but I have to admit it’s a very dense, heavy read for this time of year, so I’m only about a quarter of the way through. I’m hoping to finish it and have a review out by Tuesday, but we’ll see.

Also, I got to see The Last Jedi yesterday. It was everything I wanted it to be. I didn’t cry nearly as much as I expected, but I am nevertheless full of feelings about it. I’ve got enough to do this week already that I’m not going to commit to writing about this movie, but if I do, expect ALL the feels and ALL the spoilers. Also, porgs are great. Don’t @ me.

I really enjoyed Jeannette Ng’s Under the Pendulum Sun when I read it a few weeks ago. This week she was on The Skiffy and Fanty Show to talk about the book.

The Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog has the cover reveal for European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman, the sequel to Theodora Goss’s excellent 2017 novel, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter.

There’s a new story by A. Merc Rustad at Lightspeed: “The House at the End of the Lane is Dreaming”–plus an Author Spotlight.

I highly recommend “Maiden, Mother, Crone” by Ann Leckie and Rachel Swirsky on this week’s Podcastle.

And “Haunted” by Sarah Gailey at Pseudopod. I read this story last year in Up and Coming, and found it really memorable. You can read the text of “Haunted” over at Fireside Fiction.

Uncanny Magazine has posted the guidelines for submissions to their special dinosaur-themed issue.

At Lady Business, forestofglory takes a look at The State of “The State of Short SFF.”

Electric Literature has a list of 9 Essayists of Color You Should Know About. There were a couple of new-to-me names on here.

There’s going to be a new She-Ra: Princess of Power on Netflix!

The Book Smugglers’ Smugglivus celebration continues apace:

And, finally, there’s a full-length trailer (at last!) for the adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation:

State of the Blog and Weekend Links: December 10, 2017

I’m very close to changing the title of these posts to “Depression Blogging and Things I’ve Read On the Internet Lately,” since that’s what they mostly consist of, week after week. Mental health-wise, things always feel like they’re getting better, which beats the alternative, I suppose, but at this point there’s no telling when that feeling of better is going to manifest as actually being better, in terms of productivity. This time of year, it’s not helped much by the fact that I have actual things to do. This week was a bit of the calm before the storm, and I still felt busy. The week to come is going to be filled with holiday baking and candy-making and the last of my Christmas shopping and planning Christmas dinner and seeing the new Star Wars movie and crying about Carrie Fisher.

I’d like to say I’m still hopeful that I’ll be able to get some writing work during the next couple of weeks, but at this point, I think I’ll mostly be wrapping up some end-of-the-year last-minute reading before I move along to reading 2018 work. I will have some end of the year “Best of” lists, and I’d like to publish some book reviews, but I’m trying to end 2017 by being kind to myself. It’s been a rough year, and I’ve been beating myself up for months over falling so far behind on so many things I wanted to accomplish. I think I’m ready to quit that now and start making plans for how to do better and be happier about it next year, so that’s what I’ll be doing. Also, waiting for Black Mirror Season 4 to show up on Netflix (December 29!):

This week, I took a break from longer books to read a pair of novellas. Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s crowdfunded Prime Meridian was not at all what I expected at first, but it’s a story that grows in the telling and I was well and truly in love with it by the end. It’s only available to Indiegogo backers so far, but it will be getting a broader release on July 10, 2018, and it’s not too early to pre-order it. I also read Winterglass by Benjanun Sriduangkaew, a dark fairy tale that borrows some motifs from Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen to tell a story of three women engaged in a war with each other. It’s utterly gorgeous and full of Sriduangkaew’s characteristically lovely prose and sharp wit. There’s also a great interview with Sriduangkaew over at The Future Fire this week.

There’s a new collection of essays out from Ursula K. Le Guin, No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters. You can read excerpts from it in several places:

Today, I cracked open the next book in Ada Palmer’s Terra Ignota series, The Will to Battle, which hits shelves December 19. This week, at the Tor/Forge blog, Palmer wrote about “Other Story Ingredients Beyond World, Characters and Plot.”

Fonda Lee’s Jade City is (still) one of my favorite books of 2017, and it’s ALSO still on sale for $2.99. This week, Lee talked about 6 Books at Nerds of a Feather.

There’s an interview with The Odyssey translater Emily Wilson over at Book Riot.

Literary Hub has a two-part interview with Samuel R. Delany:
Part One | Part Two

Prism Stalker is officially the first new comic of 2018 that I’m super excited for.

Marvel’s Jessica Jones has a Season Two release date (March 8, 2018) and a trailer:

This year’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award was announced, but it’s sadly ho-hum compared to some previous years.

The Fandomentals’ Carol Awards for Game of Thrones Season 7, however, is a wild ride.

Tor.com has you covered for this month’s new releases:

I keep thinking of checking out The Orville, but every time I start getting close, I see something like this list of 6 Misogynist Messages From The Orville, and it reminds me of why I don’t like much of anything that Seth McFarlane does.

This list of 50 Free Printable Bookmarks makes me wish I used bookmarks more often instead of index cards and receipts.

Pantone’s 2018 Color of the Year is Ultra Violet:

This was the first full week of Smugglivus, and it was full of great guest posts over at the Book Smugglers:

I loved this piece at Tor.com about The Witches of Winter.

Apex Magazine is now available in print!

The second half of Uncanny Magazine #19 is available online. My favorites from this issue:

I’ve been wild about Vina Jie-Min Prasad since I read “Fandom for Robots,” but this week I learned about a couple more stories she’s published in 2017:

Rachael K. Jones’ “The Greatest One-Star Restaurant in the Whole Quadrant” is my favorite short read of the week. As the author says, “we don’t have enough deranged cannibal she-cyborgs running the food trucks in our fiction.”

State of the Blog and Weekend Links: December 3, 2017

I think I’m going to give up on optimism about productivity for the foreseeable future, as I believe the reality is that the combination of ongoing struggles with depression, holidays, and US political garbage is just not very conducive to doing anything but baking, eating too much, and trying to chill the heck out (with mixed-to-poor success, frankly).

It hasn’t been an all-bad week, though. I’ve read a lot. Finished A War in Crimson Embers by Alex Marshall on Monday, then knocked out Spencer Ellsworth’s second Starfire book, Shadow Sun Seven, over the next couple of days. And this morning, I finished the most recent issues of both Uncanny and FIYAH, so I’m caught up on the magazines I read regularly. I even took the time earlier this week to watch that awful new Christmas movie on Netflix, though I still haven’t gotten around to watching Godless.

This coming week, I’m reading some novellas–Benjanun Sriduagkaew’s Winterglass, Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Prime Meridian, and Girl Reporter by Tansy Rayner Roberts (coming soon from Book Smugglers Publishing)–and probably getting around to Godless while also getting super excited about getting to see a new Star Wars soon. Also getting hyped about: Black Mirror season four, which Netflix needs to at least give us a release date for before I burst from anticipation.

I am kind of into strange holiday traditions. Last year I learned about Yule Cats (see image at top of post) and Caganers. This year, I found out about the Mari Lwyd, and you should, too, because it involves a festively decorated horse skull, singing, and bothering one’s neighbors.

Jade City author Fonda Lee did a reddit AMA, and it was great. Buy her book.

Shadow Sun Seven author Spencer Ellsworth was interviewed by Paul Semel.

Ellsworth also popped over to Terribleminds to share 5 things he learned while writing Shadow Sun Seven.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia started a Twitter thread that amassed over 200 recommendations for SFF books by writers of color.

The Wertzone’s Cities of Fantasy series went to Asshai.

The Book Smugglers just published a collection of Octavia Cade’s essays on Food and Horror. There’s even a giveaway that’s going on for 5 more days.

Catherynne M. Valente’s next book–Space Opera–has a cover!

When asked to “name a badder bitch than Taylor Swift,” Twitter delivered.

There are some gorgeous character posters for Hello, Rain, the short film adaptation of Nnedi Okorafor’s short story, “Hello, Moto.” Here’s one, but be sure to visit the link for more:

I may have cackled–a lot–at “20 Authors I Don’t Have to Read Because I’ve Dated Men for 16 Years.”

You can now read Ursula Vernon’s 2017 Hugo acceptance speech online. You can also download it for free and have a permanent copy of this beautiful whale fall illustration on your reading device in addition to the lovely speech.

Speaking of somewhat strange and macabre trivia, since that seems to be my theme of the week, Mental Floss has a pretty comprehensive history of rat kings up this week. You’re welcome.

I loved Vina Jin-Mae Prasad’s recent story in Uncanny, “Fandom for Robots,” but her new story at Fireside, “Portrait of Skull With Man,” just shot her to the top of my list of new writers to nominate for next year’s Campbell Award.

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.

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