Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The Dragon Prince Re-Read: Sunrunner's Fire

"Why does it happen this way?"

Rohan's whispered bitterness startled her out of her own. His face was as composed as Pol's, but his eyes were open wounds. "What do you mean, beloved?" She made her voice gentle, forbidding fear to scrape the words raw.

"This," he repeated. "Always. One man battling another."

Himself against Roelstra, Maarken against Masul, Pol against Ruval. Whole princedoms distilled down to two men. "Better one battling one than thousands battling thousands," she answered softly. It was the High Princess speaking, not the woman who had watched husband and nephew and now son go forth to their small, private wars. 

This, I think, is to the heart of what the Dragon Prince trilogy is dealing with, which is the contradiction of Rohan's desire to be civilized and to make his world a better and safer one of laws while being continually forced to deal with men who refuse to accept anything but conflict and war.

Welcome to the final entry in my re-read series of the Dragon Prince trilogy. We began with Melanie Rawn's debut novel, Dragon Prince, and continued last month with The Star Scroll. Now we tackle the concluding volume with Sunrunner's Fire. As before, this is less of a proper review and more of a re-read. There is an excellent chance of book and trilogy spoilers, though I will attempt to limit (but not necessarily eliminate) those that touch on the Dragon Star trilogy. You have been warned. The quick answer is that I am a huge fan of these novels from Melanie Rawn and very highly recommend them. Go read, I'll still be here.

After finishing Sunrunner's Fire I wondered if I've been looking at this whole trilogy thing wrong. In a technical sense, this is the concluding volume of the Dragon Prince trilogy. That's true. But, to a point, Dragon Prince is a standalone novel that also sets up the potential for subsequent stories (as opposed to being a novel without a true conclusion). The Star Scroll and Sunrunner's Fire, however, seem more like one massive novel than two individual books. To a point. Each of those two novels have different focuses with character and story, but they tell more of the overarching battle against the sorcerers than they complete a fixed trilogy.

If there is a trilogy here, it looks like this:
1. Dragon Prince (1 book)
2. Star Scroll / Sunrunner's Fire (2 books)
3. Dragon Star Trilogy (3 books)

That's my side thought for the morning.

So, Sunrunner's Fire begins only days (40 days?) after the conclusion of The Star Scroll with the ceremony of Andry assuming formal command of Goddess Keep and all of the faradh'im. Andry has had visions of the future, much as Andrade, the former Lady of Goddess Keep, has had. Andrade used those visions to shape her actions to prevent a future that she did not want and to shape it into one that she did. We never learned what most of those visions were, except that one involved her marriage to the High Prince Roelstra. We do learn Andry's visions, however, and his visions are of a future at war and of the destruction of all that he loves.

Though that is not what Sunrunner's Fire is focused on, it shapes the actions of Andry. It is a thread running through the novel. It sets up the Dragon Star trilogy, though when I read this book for the first time I had no idea there would be more, but this is the driving force behind all of Andry's actions. We know he is a young man given a whole lot of power without having sufficient time to be trained on how to use it wisely and humbly. There is a streak of arrogance to Andry that, to a point is present in his whole family and in Andrade, but Andrade still had some political skill in maneuvering people to her own ends. Andry is all blunt force without the political tact to work towards his goals, and since he firmly believes that war is coming in the future and only he can prevent it, he continues to push and alienate himself from his family.

Remember the sweet boy who loved his brothers so much it hurt in The Star Scroll? That boy is gone and at each step, he feels like he is betrayed by his family even though he pushes them away by holding so tightly to the idea that everything he does is right and he is justified in all of his actions no matter the consequence. It is difficult to read, to see how quickly he becomes "other".

In retrospect, Andry's story is the one I have spent more time thinking about in regards to Sunrunner's Fire even though it is the smaller story.

The larger story, of course, is that of Pol growing into a man and a ruler and of the sorcerers Mireva and Ruval (Ianthe's son) making their play to destroy everything that Rohan has built and to take their place as rulers of the continent. It is Pol figuring out who he wants to be and that while he is likely to be a man and Prince that honors his parents, he won't exactly be the same sort of man and ruler that his father was. There is conflict there, especially as he begins to fall in love with the sort of woman his parents disapprove of as a future High Princess.

There is drama in the political wrangling, which is always a highlight with Melanie Rawn, and the characters we've been following and love don't get off easy. Characters die, and very bad things happen to very good people. From what I recall, that is only going to get worse in the next trilogy. Sunrunner's Fire is compelling reading, and I think it's a bit more focused than The Star Scroll was.

But, back to Andry. I don't think I'd want a whole novel from his perspective because I think he works better as seen in response to other characters than he would as an obnoxious lead character that we don't quite sympathize with. He does, however, have a perspective that works towards a big picture that only he knows is coming. The trouble is, he doesn't trust enough to share it because he's afraid he won't be believe or trusted himself. It's a vicious cycle, so all he tells people is that he has seen war coming and that everyone will need him in the future and that the ways he is twisting what the faradh'im have been is so very necessary and so is his personal war against the sorcerers.

What makes that so interesting, though, is at the very end of the novel when Andry goes on his little genocide is that one of the sorcerers had a letter written and while it was unclear as to who the recipient is, the letter seems to be about how the sorcerers could return to power not through conquest, but because Pol is of their blood, and Riyan is, and that with men and women of good character in ruling positions, they could reveal themselves and be protected by those rulers and also teach those rulers their ways.

It seems reasonable, though Andry would never see it that way. It also shows that not all the sorcerers are like Mireva, striving for vengeance and murder. Of course, the old woman who had that letter was also murdered by Andry, so I think what we are seeing is a lost opportunity. Which, like most things with Andry, is sad.

And with sadness over Andry, we shall close out the Dragon Prince trilogy.

Stay tuned, because next month we'll pick up with Stronghold and begin the Dragon Star trilogy. Where I have read the three Dragon Prince books many times, I have only read Dragon Star just the once. I'll be interested to see my perspective on that and see what I latch onto on my second time through.

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 3x Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Nanoreviews [non-fiction]: Joanna Russ, New Worlds: Year Two

Image result for joanna russ gwyneth jones

Joanna Russ, by Gwyneth Jones

This academic biography, written by Gwyneth Jones, is one of the latest in the University of Illinois' Masters of Modern Science Fiction series on the works of prominent science fiction and fantasy writers - and the first of the series I've actually read. That means I don't have much to compare the particular style to, but I enjoyed the largely chronological deep dive into Russ' works, encompassing novels, short fiction and her extensive review work, much of which was unknown to me. In doing so, Jones charts - sympathetically but with an eye to contradictions and tensions within Russ' identity - her journey within science fiction, from a talented but not challenging fiction writer and a reviewer more likely to judge her female peers harshly while offering men a free pass for much worse books, to the explicitly feminist writing and stances which readers are more likely to associate with her today.

The focus here is very much on Russ' work and the highlights for me were reading the deep critiques of Russ' novels, particularly The Female Man and We Who Are About To (a work I tackled during Feminist Futures last year). Jones's reading of The Female Man, in particular, was interesting in the way it presented a radically different lens than the one I had read the novel in, taking the different aspects of the Joanna personality as a reading of identity across time rather than dimensions. It's a reading which brings Russ into conflict with her own identity as an SFF writer and Jones doesn't hold back from the implications of that reading, tracing it throughout the rest of her work and noting where the seeds come in at earlier points. If, like me, you don't often approach literature from a strongly academic lens, some of this will probably be well in the realms of "well I'd never thought of it like that", but it never comes across as particularly prescriptive or inherently dismissive to other readings, so I was able to enjoy the different ways of thinking about the texts rather than feeling put in my place by them, as is always the risk with more academic takes.

What I was missing from this - and, again, I'm not sure if this is me asking this book to be something it's not - was a greater elaboration of Russ 'relationships with others in the genre. There were some interesting gems of interaction here, notably the roundtable on "Women in Science Fiction" which took place over a period of years with other participants including Suzy Charnas, Samuel Delany, Ursula K. Le Guin, Vonda N. McIntyre, James Tiptree Jr and brought together by fanzine editor Jeffrey D. Smith, which gets a lot of attention - and which I'd love to learn more about! However, given the breadth of written correspondence which most writers were engaged in at the time, the lack of focus on how Russ was being received by her contemporaries - beyond those who were clearly afraid of what she represented, and its impact on her work - was an area I wish could have been incorporated more in the text.

All in all this is an interesting experience, if sometimes a little routine - collections of short stories are looked at together, followed by review periods, followed by the novels, in a chronological march that doesn't leave a lot of room for novelty. But despite the limitations of coverage and perhaps of the form, this is one to look out for, especially fans of Russ' work who want to read a more academic perspective on her writings, and I hope this is a contender for next year's Best Related Work Hugo.

Rating: 8/10

Image result for new worlds year two

New Worlds, Year Two: More Essays on the Art of Worldbuilding by Marie Brennan

This collection was released at the two year mark of Marie Brennan's Patreon of the same name, which publishes an essay per week on topics of interest to speculative worldbuilding, challenging creators to think about aspects of their fantasy or science fiction worlds which might not have crossed their minds. While I'm not in a fiction writing stage of life myself, I enjoyed the first year of essays which incorporated everything from plate tectonics to cannibalism, and this second volume delivers  the same experience on a similarly broad range of topics.

The essays are grouped into thematic areas, slightly separately from the Patreon itself, reflecting the experience of reading in a book rather than as week by week essays. It works well, and there's an impressive minimum of overlap even in those essays with similar subjects - its generally clear when a series has actually been written and posted in sequence, but there's no obvious drawbacks or unintentional skipping around even when it hasn't. Essays are bite-sized, running a couple of thousand words, and unpick both the technological and societal elements of each area being covered. That means that, for example, the series on weapons and armour which makes up the first few essays first looks at both the possible weapons one could use to do some duels, and the societal concepts of masculinity and honour that go into the culture of duelling, before looking at the historical contexts of duels themselves. Its all done in a way which draws mostly on Brennan's own areas of relative expertise (she did most of the work for a PhD in Anthropology before becoming a full-time writer): Japan and Europe come up a lot, as do the Pacific Islands, but there's an acknowledgement that this is far from the full range of real-world examples. Immediately after reading, I was torn on the question of whether guest entries from experts with different geographical or subject areas of expertise would improve the reading experience (either on Patreon or in book form), but regardless of the answer I don't think it detracts from what New Worlds is, which is effectively a series of writing prompts that challenge worldbuilders to go away and do their own research, rather than offering a full range of examples.

As well as weapons and duelling, the Year Two collection covers beauty and body modifications, clothing, weddings and courtship, writing and literacy, the societal concept of time (briefly discussed in book 1 but the subject of multiple essays here), religions, and superstitions and the supernatural. As in the previous collection, it closes with four more "meta" essays on the concept of worldbuilding itself which cover a little more of the "how" of what speculative worldbuilders might do with the prompts covered here. There's plenty to talk about under each of these concepts and a nice mix of "foundational" (clothes) and more "niche" (honeymoons, incense, "the social economy of clothing") topics - there's no sense that Brennan is at all running low on ideas or struggling to find topics of general relevance to write about. Perhaps because of their genesis on Patreon, the style is chatty and often quite informal, and there's no pretence to academic rigour on the historical examples; there's no citations here, and a few points where the text outright states something like "I know I've read an example of thing X, but I don't remember what it was". It doesn't affect the book's ability to do what it says in the tin, however, and as thought provoking elements the veracity of the examples given here (none of which stray into territory that I would consider particularly controversial or open to misinterpretation) isn't really the point.

The elephant in the room when reading these in ebook is whether this format adds to the reading experience - and, honestly, I don't think that ebook or Patreon lets these essays shine to their fullest extent. Patreon's system, while it has a lot of strengths and is linked to a monetary system that allows authors like Brennan to do this kind of work in the first place, isn't inherently great for archiving posts and allowing users to search for old content, and ebooks are similarly much harder than physical books to flip through and search for things rather than reading cover to cover. Luckily, Book View Cafe also has you covered if you want New Worlds in physical format - and I suspect that for people who really want this for its intended purpose, that's the version that is most going to allow its content and usefulness to shine.

Rating: 7/10

POSTED BY: Adri is a semi-aquatic migratory mammal most often found in the UK. She has many opinions about SFF books, and is also partial to gaming, baking, interacting with dogs, and Asian-style karaoke. Find her on Twitter at @adrijjy.

Monday, October 21, 2019

The Hugo Initiative: This Immortal (1966, Best Novel)

Dossier: Zelazny, Roger. This Immortal [The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Oct - Nov 1965]

Filetype: Novel

Executive Summary: Set in some distant nuclear fallout of planet Earth with only some four million survivors and much of the planet is still radioactive populated by mutated humans. This Immortal follows Conrad Nomikos, the Art Commissioner for the planet, as he is reluctantly assigned to protect Myshtigo, an alien surveying Earth to either write a travel guide or as advance work for a major real estate deal. The alien Vegans (from Vega) own much of our world. It's a little confusing how it all fits together and everything isn't as it first appears. 

The novel is a bit of a travelogue of a ruined planet, but one where the core is Conrad wearily cracking wise as he takes Myshtigo from place to place to place while attempts are being made on both of their lives, possibly from the rest of their travel party.

Conrad may be some sort of mutant himself, partially disfigured with a half ruined face and one leg shorter than the other - Conrad may also be immortal or at least extremely long lived and he doesn't seem to know why. Of course, Conrad seems to also lie all the time as well, so it's a bit of a question mark. 

Legacy: This Immortal won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1966, tying for the award with Dune. There have only been three ties for Best Novel in the history of the Hugo Award and it would be almost thirty years until the next tie in 1993 (A Fire Upon the Deep and The Doomsday Book). This Immortal does not have quite the same reputation in the field as Dune, but few novels could live up to that legacy.

Over the course of his career, Roger Zelazny was a fourteen time Hugo Award finalists and a six time winner. Zelazny would win Best Novel again for Lord of Light in 1968. His four other wins were for Novella and Novelette (two each). 

This Immortal was Roger Zelazny's first novel. It was originally serialized in The Magazine of Science Fiction as "...And Call Me Conrad", but the magazine publication required the novel to be abridged from his original vision for the story. Much of the original text was restored for book publication.

The legacy of This Immortal is likely more that it was a part of Zelazny's influence on a generation of writers than of the novel itself having a lasting impact. There are direct lines of influence to writers like Neil Gaiman, Elizabeth Bear, and Steven Brust. The character of Vlad Taltos in Brust's Jhereg novels has strong echoes of Conrad in the particular flavor of wise cracking hero Brust employs. The idea isn't original to Zelazny, but the flavor and the influence is specific and particular in regards to Brust.

In Retrospect: "I always meant to read Zelazny" was my common refrain for years, to the point that I bought the Amber omnibus edition and a copy of Lord of Light and both have languished on my shelf for well over a decade. Picture my surprise when This Immmortal ended up as the first Zelazny novel I read. 

I can only imagine that a novel which tied for the Hugo Award with friggin Dune was more than well regarded by readers of its time. Zelazny was in the middle of a five year run where he would be a finalist for the Hugo Award eight times. But, how This Immortal was received in 1966 has little bearing on how the novel reads more than fifty years later in 2019.

It took a moment to remind myself that some of the casual racism and contemptuous comments from Conrad "but he was a Turk, so who cares?" was a function of the historical enmity between Greece and Turkey, even in a post apocalyptic future. It grated, perhaps all the more because it was in reference to real peoples and cultures rather than a fictional race. 

"I'm in charge here, thank you," said I. "I'm giving the orders and I've decided I'll do the vampire-fighting"
What works exceptionally well today is the easy wit of conversation. I referenced Zelazny's influence on writers like Steven Brust, and it is how Zelazny uses dialogue which comes across as far more modern than many novels of its time. 

In the end, This Immortal is perhaps more notable for being an important novel from Roger Zelazny than it is for being a novel that stands up among the all time greats. It doesn't hold up as being a true classic of the genre, but there is value here in reading early Zelazny and getting a glimpse of what the shape of 1965 was like, especially in comparison not only to Dune but to other works on the Hugo ballot. Zelazny shared a ballot with Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (interestingly enough and for reasons I really need to research, that novel would go on to win the Hugo Award the following year in 1967 despite being on the ballot in 1966), with a John Brunner novel (The Squares of the City), and with the final novel in E.E. Smith's Skylark series. 

While not one of the genre's great novels and not reaching the reputation and recognition of Dune, This Immortal holds up as a solid if unspectacular novel.

For its time: 5/5
Read today: 3/5.
Gernsback Quotient: 8/10 

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 3x Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan.

Friday, October 18, 2019

We're Growing

We are very happy to announce that Adri has joined the Nerds of a Feather editorial team. Adri is an incredible writer and has been an asset from the moment she agreed to come on board more than a year ago and we're quite thrilled that she has agreed to take on some extra responsibility.

We've got some pretty awesome stuff in the works here at Nerds of a Feather. Adri will be coordinating a lot of our non-review content (interviews, blogtables, the return of We Rank 'Em, etc) as well as continuing to publish her excellent reviews and essays. We may also have a couple other ideas kicking around that we think you'll all find interesting and worth checking out (including next year's major reading project!).

We are excited for what the future has in store for Nerds of a Feather and we're glad that Adri will be a major part of it. 

-Joe, Vance, The G

Microreview [book]: Romanitas, by Sophia McDougall

Sophia McDougall’s Romanitas, now available widely in the US for the first time, introduces readers to an alternate historical modern Roman Empire with just a touch of SFF.

Marcus Novius Faustus has a problem. He’s the nephew of Gaius Novius Faustus Augustus, the Emperor of the Roman Empire in 2757 AUC (2004 AD in our terms). Uneasy lies the crown and uneasy lies the head of the young man who might well be the heir to the Emperor. Such a man is a target for the ambitious who might eventually seek to become Emperor themselves. Already, his father Leo, the former Heir, and his mother, Clodia, have recently died in a car crash. An accident, or something more?  And so after a unmistakable assassination attempt kills someone else by mistake, Marcus is on the run from whoever is hunting him and his branch of the family.. However, with air travel, magnetic trains, and more modern technology, is the Empire large enough to run away in?

Sulien and Una have a problem, too. Siblings in Britannia, they have been separated for years, as they have long since been sold into slavery. As bad as slavery is, Sulien has an additional issue. He has been caught with a free woman, accused of rape, and so has been sentenced to die by crucifixion. Even as his sister works to free him, that break for freedom is going to have serious consequences. And of course the Romans of all people understand the threat of slave revolts, even small ones. And so both Sulien and Una and thus put on the run...only to run into a certain member of the Imperial Family doing the same thing. But Marcus has a destination, a goal, a possible secret sanctuary for slaves on the run in the mountains of the Pyrenees.

Romanitas was the debut novel of Sophia McDougall, finally now in wide release in the United States.

The novel rises and is strong on the strength of the central characters. For all that this is a story of escapd slaves and an attempted assassination gone wrong, given a global Roman Empire and all that implies, this is a small scale novel with characters not going tremendous distances, and the novel itself feels tight and cloistered. That tightness of location and characters mean that we do get a deep dive into Marcus, Una and Sulien as people, as characters. There is a power dynamic in showing Marcus as vulnerable as escaped slaves Una and Sulien while being on the run. Arguably the second most important person of the Empire is laid as low as a pair of  escaped slaves, and McDougall masterfully contrasts and sets off the three characters. Although there is very good view of the interior of the Imperial Palace as the family, and others try to figure out what has happened to Marcus, and find him. But it is the bottom-of-the-pyramid more than the rarefied echelons of the Imperial Family that the novel truly sings and excels at. We get a really good sense of what desperate people trying to escape the eye of the Vigiles or the army trying to find them, and a society in general whose reaction to slaves on the run is extremely negative. I strongly enjoyed the sibling dynamic between Una and Sulien, as well as their relationship with Marcus. Other characters are strongly delineated as well, like the merchant  Delir and Makaria, Marcus’ cousin.  In the end, however, it is the trio of main characters where we spend most of the viewpoint in the book, and most of the strength of the character development.

There are very mild hints and aspects of the book that move it away from a strictly alternate historical text and more fully into the realm of SFF¹.  Both Sulien and Una have what can either be classified as psionics in an SF mode, or magical powers in a fantasy mode. Una has mental telepathic and mental influence powers in an Emma Frost mode. Sulien, on the other hand, has a preternatural ability to heal himself, and others. These powers are not overwhelming to the plot, but their us does drive character and it does drive decisions that influence the plot. This world does not seem to have these powers as common, or perhaps Una and Sulien are unique in their abilities.

My major criticism of the book is more of a preference and stylistic one more than anything else. This 21st century Roman Empire, even with the occasional neologistic word and reference thrown in, doesn’t feel as quite Roman as I imagined. There are flashes and hints here and there of a Roman world, but the Eternal Empire that McDougall creates here does feel, at turns, a little generic in its description and action. I wanted some more surviving  Roman-ness in her 21st Century Roman Empire.

Although the characters themselves don’t know it, I did appreciate that the author does explain the divergence at the end of the book in the appendices. While some alternate history novels do like to have characters wonder openly about the divergence point and muse what would have happened if things had gone another way (ie. to a world similar to our own), McDougall’s characters do not have the time to wonder what would have happened to make the Roman Empire go a different way, and eventually fall. I found the divergence point to be in a similar spot to Alan Smale’s Clash of Eagles. Those novels are set in what we would call the early 13th Century AD, and the conquering of North America is still in progress, whereas Romanitas is set in what we’d call the 21st Century, with a far more modern technology and viewpoint, and North America is long since settled (and split with Nionia, the Japanese).

The novel has two sequels, Rome Burning and Savage City, due for re-release in North America. This first novel does feel like the opening act to far more global events, bringing the more epic and world spanning events into play. So while the scale of this story is relatively small, I look forward to, now that the characters are established, how McDougall expands her narrative, scope and world in subsequent volumes.

¹This formulation is based on the premise that Alternate History without any other speculative elements is not fantasy or SF, but a subgenre of its own. Thus, Guns of the South, which has time travelers, is clearly SF, and Michael Livingston’s Shards of Heaven with magical artifacts, is fantasy, but Through Darkest Europe by Harry Turtledove, which has no other speculative elements other than the change in history, is less SFFnal.

The Math
Baseline Assessment: 7/10.

Bonuses: +1 for a strongly delineated set of characters whose actions, character development and plot marry very well together. +1 Because Rome

Penalties: -1 for a bit of a pale and generic feel to that modern Roman Empire. It’s not quite as Roman as it *could* be.

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10 well worth your time and attention

Reference: McDougall, Sophia  Romanitas [Gollancz, 2005,2011, Orion Books, 2019]

POSTED BY: Paul Weimer. Ubiquitous in Shadow, but I’m just this guy, you know? @princejvstin.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Thursday Morning Superhero

This week's big comic book news is that Netflix has picked up Jeff Smith's Bone for an animated series! With the rise of Disney + and other streaming platforms, Netflix is going to have to rely heavily on its original programming and the addition of one of my family's favorite series has me quite excited.

Pick of the Week:
Gideon Falls #17 - I am beyond thrilled that this story from Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino has being developed into a television series.  The new arc reaffirms how gripping this universe is and how intriguing the allure of the Black Barn is. This book won the Eisner for best new series in 2019 and Sorrentino should have a strong chance of winning an Eisner for Best Writer/Artist as the visuals are some of the most effective I have seen in print. This arc opens with Norton's father trying to regain his own consciousness after being taken over by a being in the Black Barn. Watching his internal struggle completely draws you in as a reader and puts you in his mental space. In addition to the gripping element of Norton meeting his sister and father despite having no memory of them, Father Fred and Dr. Xu are tasked with something big from a group of priests. This arc is setting up to be quite intense and I look forward to seeing what direction it goes.

The Rest:
Trees: Three Fates #2 - Sasha's investigation into the murder that took place last night is uncovering few answers and more questions. The autopsy confirms that the body was dumped at the site and that an altercation, leaving one person injured, accounts for the blood at the scene. That is the gist of the ordinary parts of this tale, but the supernatural elements bring in some fortune telling, time travel, and sabotage from a mysterious visitor that will likely cross paths with Sasha.  Having never read the original series in its entirety, there are elements that are confusing, but Warren Ellis does a nice job of developing a mystery that draws the reader in.  I am really enjoying the first two issues of this series and it reminds me a bit of Dept. H from Matt Kindt.  That is a compliment.

Captain America #15 - As Captain America still seeks to clear his name, he learns that this will be a difficult task as long as Fisk is Mayor.  He is coming to grips that the Daughters of Liberty, who are protecting him, have a different approach for finding answers and are likely tracking his every move. He isn't sure how much he can trust them, but they have given him little reason not to.  The investigation in to who framed him takes an interesting twist as some surveillance footage that was not easy to obtain reveals that the Scourge of the Underworld may be behind it.

Star Wars Adventures: Return to Vader's Castle #3 - This week's spooky issue gives heavy reference to Little Shop of Horrors, but instead of Aubrey II, we have a pet sarlaac which is causing more mayhem than a State Farm Insurance commercial.  The story sheds some light on Asajj Ventress prior to her joining the Sith.  Like the other issues in this series, it is an entertaining read a good break from the heavier titles I enjoyed this week in Gideon Falls and Trees. Definitely not my favorite book by a long stretch, but one that is entertaining and appropriate for some light October reading.

POSTED BY MIKE N. aka Victor Domashev -- comic guy, proudly raising nerdy kids, and Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2012.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Microreview [book]: The Deep, by Rivers Solomon

The Deep is a novella filled with pain and despair and rage and a glimmer of hope. It is built off of real history and pulled in unimaginable directions. The Deep is a must read novella in a year full of must read books.

"Remember," she said.
This was their story. This was where they began. Drowning.
"Submit," Yetu whispered, talking to herself as much as to them.
The Deep is a story borne out of the legacy of slavery, of the horrifying reality of slavers crossing the Atlantic Ocean and dumping the bodies of pregnant women over board. It is a story borne out of wondering about what life might grow out of that death. The Deep is a story of origins and new beginnings, of the horror of institutional memory and what it costs the individual.

Rivers Solomon takes the song "The Deep" from Clipping and gives it further live and character, gives it a different perspective and richness that the song hinted at but that Solomon had the room to explore across 176 pages that wasn't possible in the same way Clipping could do in five and a half minutes. Clipping's song "The Deep" was a finalist for the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation Short Form in 2018.
"We grow anxious and restless without you, my child. One can only go for so long without asking, who am I? Where do I come from? What does this all mean? What is being? What came before me, and what might come after? Without answers, there is only a hole, a hole where a history should be that takes the shape of an endless longing. We are cavities."
As the sole historian for the wajinru, it is Yetu's role and responsibility to remember the history of their race. Except for the historian, the wajinru functonally do not have long term memory or a sense of identity. With that lack of memory for the individual, the annual Remembrance gives live to the group because without it they would continue to forget who they are and where they came from. That sounds superficial, but Rivers Solomon and Clipping are not concerned with the surface. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the novella's title (and the song's) is more than just the depth where the wajinru exist.

The wajinru's gradual forgetting of their cultural past causes great pain and desperation and it's tied to a loss of individual identity as well. It is the "endless longing" quoted above. It's more than symbolic. Born from the bodies of the pregnant women thrown into the ocean by slavers, the wajinru are something new and the creation of the wajinru is so awful, so painful, that over the course of generations they adapt so that only one must bear the weight of history. The rest are blessed and cursed to forget. Both are with heavy cost.

I have never read anything like The Deep.

Solomon's writing is incredible. With only a few sentences I felt the water, the pressure of the deep, the movement of current and body. The water almost became a character and, not to mix metaphors too much, grounded the story into a particular location that the reader can sense.

The Deep is a novella filled with pain and despair and rage and a glimmer of hope. It is built off of real history and pulled in unimaginable directions, except that it was imagined and we're all better off because Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, Jonathan Snipes, and Rivers Solomon saw the possibilities of building something beautiful out of raw horror.
"What is belonging?" we ask
She says," Where loneliness ends"
The Deep is is a must read novella in a year stuffed full of must read books. This is essential reading.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 9/10

Bonuses: +1 Despite the horror of history, The Deep recognizes the beauty and magnificence still present in the world.

Penalties: -1 Much of the story is Yetu's reluctance to subject herself to the performative memory, but if anything, The Deep may be a touch slow in moving Yetu to the Remembrance.

Nerd Coefficient: 9/10, "very high quality/standout in its category" See more about our scoring system here.

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 3x Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan.