Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Nanoreviews: Mississippi Roll, The Last Emperox, The Ghosts of Sherwood



Martin, George R.R. (editor). Mississippi Roll [Tor]

The twenty fourth volume of the long running Wild Cards series doesn't have as high a barrier to entry as that might seem. While not as perfect an entry point as the eighteenth, Inside Straight, Mississippi Roll doesn't require as much knowledge of the full series. Sure, being familiar with the triad starting with Fort Freak would help - but that gives shading.

Mississippi Roll is a ghost story set on an old mississippi riverboat and it's very effective at the beginning of the story (where we learn the reason for the haunt) and it's effective in the last third - but the storytelling does fall flat a bit in that middle third. I'd have to check again to see which stories are the ones that didn't work as well as the others since this is a mosaic novel, but the overall story is coherent and fits together. There are moments and sections the novel hums along (there should be a riverboat metaphor here), but while the middle section doesn't quite sink the book (there it is), Mississippi Roll doesn't quite achieve the promise of the either the wonderful beginning or the ultimate payoff.
Score: 6/10



Scalzi, John. The Last Emperox [Tor]

Our own Paul Weimer introduced me to a concept he called "wrong book in the moment", which encapsulates my experience of reading The Last Emperox, which is that perhaps reading a novel dealing with the impending end of civilization as that universe knows it may not play as well during the time of a global pandemic when I am concerned about the future of employment, childcare, of the general state of life right now.

It's not that all literature is to be escapist or that John Scalzi is under any obligation to write the story that he meant to write - but I could never tell while reading The Last Emperox whether the novel didn't quite work for me or if the novel did not work for me now. There's a distinct difference.

Scalzi's writing is typically easy, breezy, and while perhaps not a cover girl it is often a refreshing and delightful reading experience. That is still the case in The Last Emperox, but somehow it doesn't all come together for me in ways that it did in The Collapsing Empire and The Consuming Fire. For a concluding novel The Last Emperox more seems like setting up yet one more book. The storylines here are wrapped up, but it all comes across as a bit of a rush. Also, and this is very much small potatoes, but the profanity in The Last Emperox seems far more excessive and forced here than in the previous two novels. The Last Emperox is better than my criticism suggests, but so many years of reading Scalzi has my expectations set higher. Or maybe I just need to read this again when there is not a perpetual level of stress and gloom overriding everything that I read.
Score: 7/10


Vaughn, Carrie. The Ghosts of Sherwood [Tor.com Publishing]

Relative to the above idea about reading a book that brings relief from the world and for which the experience of reading it is not overwhelmed by the aforementioned perpetual level of stress and gloom, I present to you The Ghosts of Sherwood, Carrie Vaughn's take on the Robin Hood mythos. Or rather, she continues on years after the standard Robin Hood mythos and answers the questions I never thought to ask - what would Robin and Marion's children be like? What adventures would they get up to?

Readers, The Ghosts of Sherwood was everything I ever wanted in a story and so much more. It's a friggin delight. I've loved Robin Hood stories for decades, whether it is Errol Flynn, Disney, or Kevin Costner (fight me) and what Carrie Vaughn does so well with The Ghosts of Sherwood is get at a raw sense of joy that is present in the best and most iconic Robin Hood stories. Even in the terrible moments of the story, there is still a pervasive sense of joy, wonder, and delight. There are so many more stories to be told with these kids and in and around Sherwood that I can't wait for the next novella (and hopefully the next and the next after that).
Score: 8/10


POSTED BY:  Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 4x Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan. He / Him.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Thank You

Well, it's official: the finalists for the 2020 Hugo Awards have been announced, and we can therefore say that nerds of a feather, flock together, is among the shortlisted fanzines. To be a finalist once is a dream come true; it is staggering and humbling to be a Hugo Award finalist not only for a fourth time, but for four consecutive years. We know that we are just one part of an extraordinary community of fans who carry our genre's conversation across blogs, zines, newsletters and social media, and we're incredibly honored to have our contribution recognized in this way.

Nerds of a Feather is what it is because of the talent and hard work of our flock of in-house writers. In 2019, our team - Brian, Chloe, Dean, Mike, Paul, Phoebe and the Spacefaring Kitten - created excellence day after day in the midst of busy and complex lives, doing so purely for the love of science fiction, fantasy, horror literature and media. We couldn't be prouder of the work we created together last year, and we're excited to once again share it with the Hugo community.

Finally, we would like to give a special thanks to our readers and supporters within the community. Without you, we never make it here - not once, and certainly not for an unbelievable fourth time. Thank you. Thank you for nominating nerds of a feather, flock together. It means more than we can possibly express.

We would also like to take this time to congratulate Paul Weimer for being a first time finalist for Best Fan Writer. It is well deserved and we are so happy for him.

-The G, Vance, Joe & Adri

Microreview [Book]: The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin

Cosmic horror, invisible parasites, sentient city avatars and a whole lot of New York attitude collide in this accomplished new trilogy opener

Jacket Art by Arcangel, Design by Lauren Panepinto
The City We Became is the first in N.K. Jemisin's new urban fantasy trilogy, and the first where the "proof of concept" short story (a technique Jemisin says she has used for her previous universes as well) picked up a lot of hype before the novels came around. "The City Born Great", originally published on Tor.com, was a Hugo finalist in its eligible year and here it forms the prologue of an expanded, more complicated version of the "birth" of New York as a living city, coming together Captain-Planet style from the representatives of its five boroughs to protect the version of the city which they hold collectively dear.

I hope the idea of living cities, born once their locations reach a certain critical mass of people and culture and identity, makes sense to you, because there's not much more explaining within The City We Became. While in its genesis story, New York's birth involves an epic one-off battle between its avatar, a homeless Black kid living simultaneously in the heart of the city and on the margins of its respectable society, The City We Became complicates that birth significantly, giving the avatar a partial victory but leaving him still weak while the cosmic horrors trying to destroy it are still on the move. Enter the Planete- sorry, the Boroughs: Manny, a grad student who forgets his previous identity while on the train in and is immediately thrust into a new supernatural role; Brooklyn, rapper turned politician; Bronca, a queer indigenous woman and art gallery owner; Padmini, representing Queens, a mathematical genius and recent immigrant from India stuck in a corporate finance job in order to fulfil her family's ambitions for her, and Aislyn, a sheltered white woman whose cop father has instilled in her some intense prejudices and a fear of the unknown. We follow the gang as they start to understand their new role and (mostly) come together over their shared enemy: a force represented by a changing Woman in White, who appears to be infecting the people of New York with cordyceps-like spores which compel them to lay the groundwork for a far more narrow-minded and unpleasant vision of the city.

The City We Became
took a while to warm up for me, perhaps because of the lack of connection or attachment I have to New York itself. The main characters, representing the different boroughs of the city, are all introduced through the mythology and culture of these respective neighbourhoods, and while its all explained well enough to grasp on an intellectual level, I found it hard to care about their personalities as defined through those neighbourhoods, especially as almost all of them represent millions of people (sorry, Staten Island) and distilling each one into a single human personality is a hard sell indeed. Although there are plenty of universally recognisable human factors at play, some of the questions about New York City's specific identity and boundaries become central to the plot in ways its hard to really feel the impact of. Luckily, the fact that these moments are backed up with human characters whose existing relationships and personalities are very much worth paying attention to even when their city-personifications don't mean much to an outsider, means that there's always something to root for. Bronca is the standout character here, whose relationships with her colleagues - particularly young Jersey City resident Veneza - and their artistic community is full of entertainingly sharp edges and fun scenes, and I would have loved to spend a little more time with Padmini and her neighbourhood, as she feels like the character who gets least to do this time around.

It's in the characterisation of the enemy forces that The City We Became's blend of the supernatural and the mundane really shines. The Woman in White, a mouthpiece that seems able to possess any woman in the city at any time in order to speak to our Heroes, is played both with an unknowable alien-ness and a very recognisable sense of white woman conviction in all of her beliefs (and her reception is quite different in dealing with Aislyn, the only white borough-avatar, compared to the others). And alongside highway-crushing tentacles and creepy invisible mushroom growths, the Woman's forces also include people whose agendas would be deeply unpleasant even without alien interference making them into the worst versions of themselves. The take-down of alt-right talking heads, represented by an artistic group attempting to get their hate-art displayed in Bronca's gallery and calling out "discrimination" when they refuse, is both hilariously on point and unpleasantly sinister in its portrayal of how much support these groups can get, and how far they can go. The corporate interests which threaten Brooklyn in particular provide a faceless counterpoint that's all-too-human, despite also being proof of how long the alien invasion has been planned. Although it veers into outright cosmic horror in its finale, there's something even more unsettling about the portrayals of human nature here, and Jemisin brings together a compelling microcosm of the social and cultural factors of New York in late-stage-capitalist-America, creating something unflinching in its look at power dynamics, race, class, queerness and (to a lesser extent) disability.

This being Jemisin, of course, the cosmic horror angle to The City We Became also has enormous stakes with no easy answers. While its difficult to talk about without spoilers, and there is still a lot that remains to be explained in future books, the birth of New York, and the presence of living cities in general turns out to have repercussions that go well beyond maintenance of the water table and development of appropriate transport networks. The revelations about the city's place within a wider multiverse of beings, and what their actions mean in unknowable dimensions, provides the characters with an interesting but necessarily brief moment of introspection before they go back to the work of securing their own survival. It's a little surprising how far off the hook the characters seem to be by the end of this volume, given some of the precedents explained to them by older cities (São Paulo puts in further appearances after his role in "The City Born Great", and Hong Kong also shows up), but I have no doubt the reality of their new status is going to cause plenty more adventure, heartache and introspection for the gang as the series goes on.

The City We Became is a book by a master of her craft, and while its focus and story didn't grab me by the throat in the same way as the Broken Earth trilogy, this is still a fantastic opening to a new series with a lot of new elements to explore. I'm definitely ready to find out more about the wider forces at work here, and although New York is never likely to be more than a very occasional foreign holiday destination to me, the characters it becomes in this volume are people I would very much like to spend more fictional time with.

The Math
Baseline Assessment: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 Fascinating blend of social factors and cosmic horror, especially on the antagonists' end

Penalties: -1 the borough-first personification takes a while to work its magic if you don't know your NYC

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10

POSTED BY: Adri, Nerds of a Feather co-editor, 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.

Reference: Jemisin, N.K. The City We Became [Orbit, 2020]

Monday, April 6, 2020

Microreview [book]: The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday, by Saad B Hossain

The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday brings a fresh buddy pairing of a Gurkha and a Djinn to a future Kathmandu



Melek Ahmar, Djinn King, Lord of Tuesday, has a problem. He has been sleeping for a long time, millenia in fact. When he wakes up, the world has vastly changed, and he is not prepared for a Earth where the air and water are contaminated and people huddle in a few cities. And you thought that you overslept last Saturday when you woke up an hour late!

Gurung, a Gurkha soldier with a past who has been living in exile on the mountain where Melek has been sleeping, has secrets and problems of his own, especially revolving around why he is on the mountain rather than in one of the much safer cities. They form an unusual bond and go off on an adventure together in a “Wunza” format that is, as far as I can tell, is a unique pairing. While the author has written about Djinn before, and Djinn as characters is nothing new, having a buddy pairing like this is fresh and new.

Their story, and their adventures in future Kathmandu are heart of Saad B Hossain’s The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday.

Readers of my review might know that I visited Nepal in October 2019, so I was delighted by the prospect of a SF novella set in future Nepal, with Kathmandu as an oasis of safety in a world where a nanite infused wind blowing the wrong direction can kill you in an hour. Kathmandu is wonderfully depicted as a future place thast still has ties to the past. The Garden of Dreams, a delightful garden I visited in Kathmandu is a major location for events in the novel, and I happily remembered and envisioned my time there with the sequences set there. Small cultural details of the city, like the deliciousness of momos, also helped ground me back on my trip.

The fish out of water Melek is a delight from the start, spouting references and connections to things that are thousands of years long since gone, completely out of touch with the way things are now. The fact that the longs to be a King and a ruler again in a world where that is quite out of fashion delights, especially when he gets to Kathmandu and finds out how it is run --by an AI, and using social capital as the basis of society. Lots of the future speculation of the novel revolves around the AI Karma, how its social system works, and how the AI tries to run one of the few oases of safety left in a devastated world.

Gurung, the Gurkha, is the other half of the buddy comedy that this novella often runs on, and he is a complicated sort. He is long since self exiled from Kathmandu for some very good reasons, but he has a long list of people he would like to pay back, and teaming up with Melek is his ticket to do so. The manipulative way that Gurung tries to leverage and direct the relationship with the powerful but less clued-in Melek is a fascinating study in manipulation of the levels of power. Gurung is just one man, one soldier, but in guiding Melek to the actions he wants, he has an outsized role in events. Enough, perhaps to bring a city to its knees.

And there is more, since for all of the richness of the technology in future Kathmandu, this is a novel that runs and works on relationships and personalities. Take Sheriff Hamilcar Pande, who works for the AI Karma, but in the main, he has a make-work job that does nothing much, given how the AI keeps things humming. He doesn’t ask or require much, either. He in fact considers himself a boring man, but when Melek and Gurung come to Kathmandu and start causing trouble, he, with the help of his lover Colonei Shakia rise to the occasion, but it is the relationship he has with Karma that really drives his actions and reactions as much as events.


My favorite secondary character, though, in this delightful stew of personalities,is ReGi. ReGi is a teenager aspected Djinn who lives in the aforementioned Garden, and while Melek can overawe her with his power, her snark and skepticism of her elder and their interactions overall are delightful. The fact that Melek wants to overturn the apple cart of her existence and the city in general is something that ReGi definitely has vocal opinions about. I do think that ReGi and characters like Coloneil Shakia could have used a little more page count, though. I wanted more with them. 

In general, as you can see the manipulation and the uses of power and those who leverage it is the running theme of this novel in various forms. Entities and systems with greater power are leveraged and manipulated by people to advantage, and often to the detriment of people without it. (people without any social standing in Kathmandu are called “zeroes”, reinforcing the point that the author is going for here). The actual running plot of what Hamilcar discovers about Gurung’s previous life in Kathmandu and why he has such a grudge in the end ties right into those imbalances of power and how they are manipulated and accentuated. For all of the fun of the novel in setting and character, this theme is really where the power, if you will forgive me, of the writing of the author lies.

The novella ends with a good closure for Kathmandu but leaving plenty of room for Gurung and Melek to have adventures in this fallen Earth. I am reminded more than a little of Michael Moorcock’s own stories in this vein, of Darger and Surplus, and if Hossain wants to write more stories in this vein on his fallen Earth, I for one would be most interested in reading them.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 7/10.

Bonuses: +1 for a wonderful pair of main characters with a great relationship
+1 for a vivid future Kathmandu

Penalties: -1 Needs a little more Secondary character action

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

Reference: Hossain, Saad B. The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday [Tor.com Publishing, 2019]

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

Friday, April 3, 2020

6 Books with A.J. Fitzwater


A.J. Fitzwater is 1000 unicorns in a snappy blazer. The Clarion Writer's Workshop of 2014 presented them somewhat formed, and their two Sir Julius Vogel Awards work well as interchangeable unicorn horns. Their work has appeared in magazines such as Fireside Fiction, Clarkesworld, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, GlitterShip, and Giganotosaurus, and various anthologies of repute. Their WW2 New Zealand land girls shape-shifter novella "No Man's Land" is to be published by Paper Road Press May 2020.

Today, they share their Six Books with Us.

1. What book are you currently reading? 

Te Awa Atua: Menstruation in the Pre-Colonial Maori World by Ngāhuia Murphy

I've recently been doing research on historic representations of gender and sexuality in Aotearoa New Zealand for a project I've been noodling, and I fell down this rabbit hole. This is a masters thesis written by Murphy, and I've been taking it slow, soaking up the language and wisdom, letting each chapter settle. Murphy's approach is decolonizing in material, spirit, body, research, and construction, turning the language of European christian pollution into one of Māori wahine connection and power across the "river of time".

2. What upcoming book are you really excited about?

Network Effect by Martha Wells

Murderbot! I adore the droll MB. They're a non-binary icon! Wary and weary, misunderstood, living in the margins, squishy (hearted) on the inside, hard shell, and dealing (not dealing) with PTSD by bingeing the space equivalent of Netflix - dude, so queer.

 MB's weary care of their charges goes well beyond their original program, makes them more human than some humans! That they're not good at dealing with humans (and most other constructs), and they don't understand why humans connect with them anyway is incredibly endearing (and relateable).

3. Is there a book you’re currently itching to re-read? 

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

I remember sitting in the airport on my way back from Worldcon in 2017, having just finished "The Stone Sky" and staring into space, trying to grok how life- and culture-changing the Broken Earth trilogy is. To motor through a book is a rare thing for me, as I tend to read carefully for craft as well as entertainment. Not this one - I fully immersed myself in the story and still have "emotional sense" of its colour and shape. The Fifth Season is a luxury of world building - every small detail, the language, the science added gravitas and edge. I want to re-read for craft deconstruction, to really get a handle on how she built the second person narrative and the converging story lines.

I was honoured to spend a week with Jemisin while at Clarion as she was in the midst of creating these books, so to receive even the smallest glimpse into their creation makes them very special to me.

4. How about a book you’ve changed your mind about – either positively or negatively?

Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg

This was one of the first books I got ten years ago when I started reading as much as I could on gender and queer theory and history. I don't think I was ready for it. It's a hard read about abuse and trauma, and I had to put it down half way through. It sat on my shelf for years, making me feel guilt for not engaging properly with my elders' stories.

I picked it up again last year and charged right through it. Perhaps it's the political climate and the heavy lifting reading I've been doing the last few years, combined with the lessons I've taken from the queer community, my growth, and better understanding of queer history. I understand now why it's essential reading, for it's queer, working class, and collective action themes.

5. What’s one book, which you read as a child or a young adult, that has had a lasting influence on your writing?

Under The Mountain by Maurice Gee

I'd usually answer this question with Anne McCaffrey's "Dragonflight", the book that opened up science fiction and fantasy as a playground, literature, and a calling. But here I'm taking it another step and a few more years back.

"Under The Mountain" was one of the books I read repeatedly around ages 8-10 off the back of the early-80s TV series. It tapped into anxieties about the Cold War nuclear threat, environmental destruction, rural to urban drift, and framed the villainous alien Wilberforce family as Greatest Generation warmongers. In hindsight, this is a some heavy lifting for a YA book, but New Zealand based YA has a tradition of thoughtful SFF that our adult literature shies away from. All of that meant little to young me - the aliens were scary, the kids were determined, complicated characters, I recognized the locations, and the Auckland volcanoes were set off by MAGIC. It taught me New Zealand is a rich environment for science fictional storytelling.

6. And speaking of that, what’s your latest book, and why is it awesome?

"The Voyages of Cinrak The Dapper" 

Introducing Cinrak the Dapper, lesbian capybara pirate captain (dappybara!) and her found family: soprano marmot diva Loquolchi, rat queen Orvillia, rat mentor Mereg the Sharp, chinchilla cabin boy Benj, Agnes the kraken, Xolotli the glass whale, and Colombia the mer. This collection of seven stories goes from searching mountain peaks for a rare beard to investigating the ocean floor for whale fall to bringing the stars home from the sky. It's a little bit of joy amongst the chaos. I want plushies of all my characters!




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

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Thursday Morning Superhero

Before we hop into how COVID-19 is impacting the comic book industry I thought I should share the good news that Locke and Key has been renewed for a second season! Given the current situation we are all facing any good news is welcome.  While the coronavirus is hitting a lot of industries extremely hard, Diamond just announced that it is not able to pay its vendors.  While Marvel and DC should be safe given their bankrolls, smaller publishers are likely to be impacted in a negative way.  The cancellation of conventions has also taken a toll on many creators so I thought I would share some ways to support the industry if you are financially able to.


Support your favorite creators:
A lot of comic book creators have Patreons or some sort of store front.  If you have been thinking about commissioning a sketch from your favorite artist or picking up a t-shirt from one of your favorite comic books now is the time to do so. I recommend checking out Cullen Bunn's Patreon myself.  You can also purchase their books on Amazon or if you can't financially afford to support creators reviews on Amazon go a long way. You can also purchase merchandise directly from the publisher as long as they are still able to ship.



Support your LCS:
If your town has a shelter in place order like mine your LCS is likely temporarily closed.  If this is the case you might be able to purchase a gift certificate online or ask if you can pay for any comics on your pull list that you haven't been able to pick up lately. If your town hasn't implemented shelter in place orders, it is crucial to still practice good social distancing, but your store might have curb side delivery. The last thing to look into is if there is any sort of relief fund for hourly workers you can contribute to.  We supported one for a few businesses here and these individuals greatly appreciate any support they can get.

Purchase comics digitally:
One of the easiest way to support this industry is to purchase digital comics.  I have utilized ComiXology for years as it has been harder for me to make it to my LCS every week. This is a great way to help fund the smaller publishers who are really going to suffer if Diamond isn't able to pay its vendors.


Recommended reading lists:
I wanted to end this month's post with some suggested reading while we are all spending more time at home.  I know this doesn't translate for more down time for everyone, but I have found great value in escaping into the pages of a good comic. I am currently reading volume 10 of Death Note as it has been too long since I revisited this title.  Beyond Death Note here are some of my favorite books that should take a decent amount of time to finish.

Captain America - The Ed Brubaker run:
My love of Captain America started with Brubaker's work. It features the Winter Soldier, the Death of Captain America, and beyond.  Brubaker has a bit of a darker note for Steve Rogers and it is welcome as the cast of villains he features fit well with his style.

Y: The Last Man by Bryan K. Vaughan:
While not everyone on this blog will agree, Y: The Last Man is one of my favorite takes on the apocalypse.  I realize that not everyone is ready for this type of series, but Vaughan's approach is a lot of fun and posits what happens if all of the men on earth die except for one.

Essex County by Jeff Lemire:
This comic came extremely close to making it as required reading for the sport and society course I used to teach.  Lemire's ability to relate the importance of hockey to Canadian culture is extremely powerful and you can't help but to get drawn into the characters in this small town and immediately care for their well being.  This title is a bit heavier than the others, but it remains one of my favorite books and I can't say enough good things about it.


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

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Westworld Wednesday: What is Missing

Welcome back to Westworld Wednesday, a series of essays/ramblings about the themes & philosophies of Westworld. NOTE: while we deal more with themes here, rather than plot, the emphasis is not on what happened this week; HOWEVER, if you are reading this and wish to avoid spoilers, you should be current on the show (Seriously, there are spoilers in this).

If you don't like what you see in the mirror, don't blame the mirror
What is free will, anyway? Is it an illusion and our whole lives are spelled out from the word go? Or are we really free to make our own choices? But even if we are, it is folly to suppose we have actual, complete agency over those choices. Everyone has obligations, duties, and even should they be abandoned, doesn't that just introduce another in its stead?

Absence of Field may be my favorite episode yet, at least since season one. It basically takes those categories and puts them in amazing character. Caleb discovers that his whole life is tracked and mapped out, that he is a slave to fate due to powers far beyond his control. Delores is finally in control of her own destiny, wretched control of her life from murdered gods, and now finds herself in conflict with the other would-be citizens of a twisted Olympus. But even gods have obligations, and she finds herself to return the good that Caleb showed her.

Charlotte embodies the third option. All her obligations come pouring down upon her, obligations she, being not-Charlotte, didn't even know she had. A massive, essentially evil corporation with a major PR disaster on its hands seems like a bit, but turns out she also has a son, an ex, AND she's supposed to be spying ON said evil corporation. I mean:



On top of all that, she is embodying the other major theme of Westworld: Identity. All of her obligations require her to be someone else entirely, but those are all facades in the first place. Look at the world right now - our world, the real one (or maybe it's not, who the hell knows, our simulation is off the rails) - and how much can change, and how fast. People wear masks all the time because of their obligations - hell, if you're in isolation right now, there is a good chance you have not only renounced any metaphorical masks, but also literal pants.

Pants notwithstanding, those masks change - most people shift to fit in, be that at work, with friends, with other friends, with hobbies, on and on and on. We are social creatures; we try to belong. All of that goes to form our identity - or does our identity inform it? What makes us, really, truly, who we are?

Not-Charlotte comes in as a host, with orders from Delores to impersonate Charlotte, and the internal drive to do so. But we see her become Charlotte as she begins to assume who she is, what she is, and what she actually embodies.

Is this an example of free will, her making the choice to become that? Or is she forced there by being in so deep that she literally has no other choice? Why, to take from the poem, does she keep moving?

Why, then do any of us?

-DESR

Dean is the author of the 3024AD series of science fiction stories. When not holed up in his office tweeting obnoxiously writing, he can be found watching or playing sports, or in his natural habitat of a bookstore.