Friday, June 29, 2018

Microreview [book]: Adrift by Rob Boffard

Lost in Space

The Red Panda is adrift (see what I did there?). While on a tour of the Horsehead nebula, its home base and all other ships have been destroyed by an unknown vessel. But how will an aging tour boat of a spacecraft and its 10 passengers make it out alive, and who attacked their defunct space station? The answers are surprisingly straight forward.

Adrift is a bottle episode of a novel, but it’s not a bad one. The vast majority of it is confined to the Red Panda, an innocuous tour ship with an innocuous name. The passengers, however, all seem to have secrets and not everyone gets to make it home. The novel jumps around, following almost every passenger’s perspective per chapter. Sometimes we’re treated to memories or flashbacks that flesh out the characters, which is essential for this “god mode” perspective and helps build out the drama. Sometimes things happen in the real world that call back to previously revealed memories and, while it’s spelled out all too often in case you weren’t paying attention, it’s effective at showing before telling.

But at some point the broad questions get boiled down to a couple possibilities. Once a major reveal is given on the question of who attacked the space station and why, the rest of the novel outside the confines of the Red Panda kind of writes itself. The things you think are going on are going on with little deviation. We’re still left to see how the passengers will or won’t make it out alive, but the broader plot becomes a little too predictable. It’s not that I expected mind blowing reveal after mind blowing reveal, but the first one is exciting enough that I was hoping for more out of the rest.

Adrift then becomes a tale of two tales: the survival of the passengers inside the Red Panda, and the broader conflict in the world they exist, with the first being the more interesting of the two. It’s a solid survival tale that throws two handfuls of characters into a tough situation and watches to see where the bodies lay at the end. The external plot isn’t bad either, just a little too predictable.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 good use of multiple perspectives

Penalties: -1 what goes on outside of the space ship is more predictable that what happens inside the space ship

Nerd Coefficient: 7/10 (an enjoyable experience, but not without its flaws)


POSTED BY: brian, sci-fi/fantasy/video game dork and contributor since 2014

Reference: Boffard, Rob. Adrift [Orbit, 2018]

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Thursday Morning Superhero: SDCC Off Site Edition

The news out of San Diego is finally starting to pick up. SDCC is less than a month out and there are still a large number of moving pieces that organizers are sorting out. Rumors of online lotteries appear to be correct, but is not sure in what capacity.  More and more panels are hitting the schedule and the plan is to provide a 10 year old's take on what SDCC has to offer in future posts.  This week will focus on how the off site picture is developing.

This marks the fourth year that Conan will be taping his show at the Spreckles Theater in San Diego.  While that news is exciting in its own right, some eagle eyed fans noticed that one of the trolley wraps in San Diego made mention of the Conan House. Fans are hoping this means more Conan Bingo and I cannot wait to learn more about this endeavor.

Funko Fundays:
My son is going to have his mind blown when he experiences the madness and controlled chaos that is Funko Fundays. Words cannot describe this event, but you can see some great video of it over the years in Making Fun, the Funko documentary on Netflix or enjoy the video from last year's celebration. Tickets sold out within seconds and I look forward to sharing a special evening with my fellow collectors.  Now if we could just have a theme reveal.

Taco Bell's Demolition Man Pop Up:
Nacho fries are on the table in this bizarre pop up celebrating the 25th anniversary of Demolition Man.  You had me at nacho fries.

Notable Comics:
While I don't think we needed a Charlie's Angels comic, I immediately was on board for the reboot when I heard the creative team of John Layman (of Chew fame) and Joe Eisma would be working together on this series. The debut issue came out this week and is delightful.  I sound like a broken record, but you really need to read Brian K Vaughan's and Fiona Staples' Saga.  Issue #53 this week and there are no signs of this book slowing down. There have been rumors of it making its way to the small or large screen and I am very curious how that adaptation would work.

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

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Westworld Wednesday: Cages and Chains

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).

From the moment we met Ake in the eighth episode of season two, it was pretty clear he was doomed. No one is allowed happy endings in Westworld, right? Human or host, the loop is usually pretty bleak. Elsie tries to sort-of help Bernard, and is killed offhand. Hale then meets the same fate, at her half-replica's hand. William and Emily... oof. Ford and Arnold both sacrificed their lives in pursuit of their ideals. Delores watches the man she loves(-ish) kill himself in front of her.

It's not a happy show, is my point.

Life isn't always happy, either, to be sure. There are definitely those debating if the finale was good or not, and there is certainly merit to those discussions. But Ake, of all people in this damned show, deserves some happiness. Kiksuya is my favorite episode of the run, masterfully adding depth to the world; depth that The Raj and Shogun world didn't add, no matter how cool they looked. The happiness and truth which eluded Ake (and his tribe(s)) felt like it would also condemn him to the same loops as despair as pretty much everyone else in the show.

Gladly, that was not the case.

Narrative-wise, it's even better than just rewarding a B character in the host afterlife - Delores, pre-death, is having none of it. She views it as another cage - and maybe it is. It certainly achieves the human goal of, ya know, stopping the hosts from murdering them all. Cages are funny things, though. A caged bird may not be able to fly very far, but it's also safe from predators. Perhaps that is (post-death) Delores' thought, as she shifts where The Sublime is stored to somewhere humans can't find it. 

Sometimes we tend to put ourselves in cages - as not-Logan says, we're pretty simple. William is a case in point here - he became so attached an idea that a fake game meant something (and, as is the folly of our species, selfishly assumed it meant something for him) that his drive for it killed his wife and daughter (probably). We see this in very different ways with Ford and Arnold/Bernard, although those are equally - if not more - lethal. Ford is obsessed with their wooden puppets becoming real boys and girls, which Arnold was with his idea of the Maze, in the end both meeting their ends at Delores' hand. And also by their own. You know what I mean.

One of the keys to good fiction is the characters having choices, and I love how that was a major theme of this season. William's journey is about his decent from escapism to depravity and obsession, but along the way, he's given multitudinous chances to alter his trajectory, yet takes none of them. Delores, on the other hand, does - at least slightly; showing mercy to the souls arrived at their heaven.

It's still a cage, in its way, but if we get to pick our cages, may as well be a nice one.


Dean is the author of the 3024AD series of science fiction stories (which should be on YOUR summer reading list). You can read his other ramblings and musings on a variety of topics (mostly writing) on his blog. 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.

Listening to the Hugos: Fancast

Welcome to Listening to the Hugos: 2018 Edition! This is exactly the same as Reading the Hugos, except since I'm listening to the fancasts and not reading transcripts, it feels weird to keep the same series title. Listening to the Hugos is also a much better title than "Doing Things to the Hugos". That just sounds dirty. As such, we're going to move on from that line of thought.

When writing up my thoughts on the finalists, I found myself writing the same phrases for each nominee. “The podcast is a conversation between friends”, “comfortable”, “easy”. I apologize in advance for my overusing them and any others you might find.

For those podcasts I was not already familiar with and a subscriber to, I only listened to those episodes specifically referenced in the Voter’s Packet. If that’s one episode, that’s what I did. If it’s more, then I listened to more.

Shall we lend these find podcasts an ear?

I'm sorry, I can't help it.

The Coode Street Podcast, presented by Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe
Ditch Diggers, presented by Mur Lafferty and Matt Wallace
Fangirl Happy Hour, presented by Ana Grilo and Renay Williams
Galactic Suburbia, presented by Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, and Tansy Rayner Roberts; produced by Andrew Finch
Sword and Laser, presented by Veronica Belmont and Tom Merrit
Verity!, presented by Deborah Stanish, Erika Ensign, Katrina Griffiths, L.M. Myles, Lynne M. Thomas, and Tansy Rayner Roberts

Galactic Suburbia: Galactic Suburbia is an Australian fancast. I first listened to it last year when it was a Hugo Finalist for the fourth time, and now they're on their fifth go for the Hugo. It's very much a conversation between friends and we're just listening in.

Though we're comparing podcasts to each other and not to what they were in previous years, I can say that I enjoyed the packet contributions more this year than last. It's just that they're not hitting whatever it is that makes me want to keep listening to a podcast or subscribe. Galactic Suburbia just isn't for me.

Verity!: The tag is "Six Smart Women Discuss Doctor Who" and that's exactly what we get. I'm familiar with most of the current run of Doctor Who up to the first Peter Capaldi season. My son was born in the middle of Capaldi's run and that really knocked out a lot of my television watching. That's not a statement about this podcast, but is where I come from with the Doctor.

This is a fairly in depth doctor who podcast, but happily also one that is not simply doing an episode by episode recap and commentary. They do that, too, but they also talk about issues raised by the series and around the series. They play Doctor Who related games. It's a fun podcast, though one that is ultimately not for me.

Fangirl Happy Hour: Fangirl Happy Hour feels like an institution at this point. Perhaps because of its connection to both Lady Business (last year's Best Fanzine) and The Book Smugglers (a previous Fanzine finalist and currently up for Semiprozine), Fangirl Happy Hour is simply a part of my genre consciousness. Hosted by Renay Williams (Lady Business) and Ana Grilo (Book Smugglers), the two discuss what books, movies, and overall genre they're consuming. They dip into fanfiction (and I'm very much down for Renay's goal to one day get Archive of Our Own on the Hugo ballot for Best Related Work), and touch on major issues of fandom when they strike a chord.

What I like best about Fangirl Happy Hour is the passion of both Renay and Ana. Straight up, they care. They care about what they love and they care about the genre. From their discussions I am also reminded that everyone comes into science fiction and fandom from different directions and via different media, that there is no "one way" to be a fan or to be part of fandom because fandom is not a single discrete entity, but rather a large bulbous mass of smaller fandoms that intersect and cross pollinate and stay the hell away from each other. I may dip in and out of Fangirl Happy Hour as the mood or the season strikes me, but they are a vital part of the genre conversation and we're better off because they're here doing the work.

Ditch Diggers: I shouldn’t be so engaged by Ditch Diggers. At its core, it is a podcast for writers – whether those trying to break in or those who have been putting in the work and digging the ditches and maybe could use a little boost of knowledge and pep. I’m not a writer. I’m certainly not a fiction writer. I don’t intend to be, though like everyone else I have a number of ideas kicking around my head (the ideas are the easy part). The thing is, Matt Wallace and Mur Lafferty are so compelling and up front that I can’t help but listen. I get more out of some episodes than others, but it’s a podcast I keep coming back to. Plus, I absolutely love Matt Wallace's Sin du Jour series and every year I've been disappointed one of his novellas was not on the Hugo ballot, so I love that he (with Mur) is now a two time Hugo finalist. While Ditch Diggers does not top my ballot, I would absolutely love to see Matt Wallace win a Hugo Award.

Sword and Laser: I think I’ve heard of Sword and Laser before, but I have never listened to it until this year. I listened to the one episode referenced in the Voter’s Packet. Midway through that episode I subscribed to the podcast and then listened to the most recent episode (after finishing the first one I started, of course). Sword and Laser is a ten year old book club started by Veronica Belmont and Tom Merritt and I was immediately put at easy and sucked in. Sword and Laser has a pretty strong and vibrant community built around them and that comes through on the podcast. The pod feels like an offshoot of “the old days” where message boards and commenting on each other’s blogs were driving a part of genre community. My perspective is that Sword and Laser is the blogosphere condensed into a podcast, and that’s pretty cool. I even joined the S&L goodreads group, though we’ll see if I actually participate beyond posting my introduction. Either way, this is a podcast I absolutely want more of.

Coode Street: Some time last year I came back to The Coode Street Podcast and I haven’t looked back. Hosted by editor Jonathan Strahan and critic Gary K. Wolfe, Coode Street hits science fiction fandom from a very traditional perspective from two professionals. Strahan has edited all of the anthologies, or so it seems. Wolfe has been a reviewer for Locus for more than twenty five years. They’ve been involved in and around science fiction and fantasy for decades. The conversations and occasional arguments are comfortable and easy – there are occasional interviews, but more often is just Wolfe and Strahan talking about what’s going on in the genre at the time they’re recording. My favorite episodes are often the ones around award season and year’s end, because then they’re working through their opinions on the best books of the year – and as plugged into the genre as I am, there are always some works I’ve scarcely heard of and others that I have no interest in. But then, I expect they would feel the same about my list. At its best, Coode Street feels like sitting at a bar and being just close enough to listen into a really great conversation.

My Vote
1. Coode Street
2. Sword and Laser
3. Ditch Diggers
4. Fangirl Happy Hour
5. Verity
6. Galactic Suburbia

Our Previous Coverage
Short Story

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 2017 & 2018 Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

6 Books with Rebecca Roanhorse

Rebecca Roanhorse is a Nebula Award-winning speculative fiction writer, a Hugo/Sturgeon/Locus Award Finalist, and a 2017 Campbell Award Finalist for Best New SFF writer. Her debut novel TRAIL OF LIGHTNING Book #1 in the SIXTH WORLD SERIES (Saga Press) drops June 26th, 2018. Book #2 STORM OF LOCUSTS follows in April 2019. 

Today she shares her six books with us...

1. What book are you currently reading?

I am currently reading Witchmark by C.L. Polk. This book is likely the polar opposite of mine. It is set in an alternative world based on Edwardian England and there are bicycle chases and proper teas and a lot of painfully restrained desires. I am loving it all. The world and the characters are so richly drawn that I'm sucked in. It feels read and I keep forgetting that this is a secondary world only inspired by Edwardian England and not England itself, just with mages and witches and angel fey. There's also a murder mystery at the center of the book and a mysterious illness infecting veterans of a colonial war. I'm about halfway through and can't wait to get some time to finish it this weekend.

2. What upcoming book you are really excited about?

I am really excited for P. Djèlí Clark's The Black God's Drum. I mean, that cover alone was enough to get me to press the preorder button. But throw in an alternate New Orleans populated with Haitian pirates and airships and a girl who talks to orisha of wind and storms and I'm sold.

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

I have comfort reads that I often return to when I'm stressed or just need a break. They are the equivalent of a cozy blanket. One of those is The Black Jewels Trilogy by Anne Bishop. I've read it so many times, I probably should have it memorized by now. Warning: It's a dark book with a lot of sexual violence in a sexually violent society, so it might not be everyone's cup of tea but the story feels like a survivor's story to me in a lot of ways, and I am drawn to that.

4. How about a book you've changed your mind about over time--either positively or negatively?

There's probably a lot of books that I loved but likely didn't withstand the test of time. I was obsessed with the Dragonlance Chronicles as a teen but I'm afraid to go back and read them now. Fellow fans who loved them as kids and are now adults have warned me they didn't age well, so I shall keep them pure and perfect in my teen mind forever and won't be picking them up again. I may, however, recommend them to my 10 year old.

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

Probably all of them. My imagination is a sponge. But I would say the book that has stuck with me the most is Dune by Frank Herbert. I love everything about that book. I think I read it at just the right time in my formation for it to really help me imagine what can be done in the genre. I loved it then, and still do.

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

Trail of Lighting is my debut novel that drops June 26th. The elevator pitch was an Indigenous Mad Max: Fury Road. It's set in a post-apocalyptic future where most of the world has been lost, but the Navajo reservation, now known by its ancestral name, Dinétah, has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do the monsters, and it's up to our protagonist, Maggie Hoskie, to fight the monsters both physical and metaphorical. I guess readers will have to decide if it's awesome or not, but certainly having a badass Navajo monsterhunter as your protagonist doesn't hurt. I mean, have you seen that cover?

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 2017 & 2018 Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan.

Microreview [Book]: A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe, by Alex White

There's tons to enjoy about Big Ship, especially the synthesis of high technology with a unique magical system.

So, let's get this out of the way first: Yes, the title of this book is super reminiscent of Becky Chambers. Yes, both involve crews of misfits with vague Firefly overtones travelling the length of the galaxy to find the mysterious object in the title. Yes, I may have replaced the actual blurb of "A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe" with the words "like Wayfarers?" in my head, which made for a fair bit of mental adjustment when I actually started reading. Because aside from the Firefly-esque touches, there's not much of the Wayfarers in White's high octane everything-but-the-kitchen-sink magical space opera, whose tone feels more reminiscent of Rachel Bach's Fortune's Pawn or the gunrunner parts of the Indranan War series by K.B. Wagers while simultaneously bursting with its own flair.

In White's world, technologies for FTL space travel and advanced AIs exist alongside magical powers which almost all humans are innately born with. These powers, or glyphs, are apparently fixed at birth and can be highly specific, meaning nearly everyone is a superhero in one narrow area while having normal capabilities in every other field. The powers we see range from low-key practical stuff like cleaning magic, to the ability to talk to machines or turn yourself into a sniper unable to miss a shot, right through to hardcore supervillain stuff like teleporting people into pocket dimensions and conducting large-scale mental manipulation. Glyphs have a biological basis, meaning genetic errors are possible: some individuals are born with "deformed" glyphs which don't function as intended, and a very few are born with "arcana dystocia", unable to practise any magic at all. The condition prevents these people from interacting with advanced technologies that require magic, as well as being stigmatised and misunderstood among the general population.

Elizabeth "Boots" Elsworth is one such non-magical individual, although she's got by just fine for forty years even after leaving her former military career under traumatic circumstances. Boots develops fake salvage maps for a living, a career which is getting progressively less viable, but she may just have stumbled on a genuine find: information leading to the Harrow, a big ship at the edge of the universe (of course) with an enormous salvage fee available to anyone who finds it. Unfortunately, Boots discovers this information just as her past is about to catch up with her in the form of the Capricious, the warship she used to serve on, complete with former captain Cordell. Simultaneously, almost-champion racing driver, arcane mechanist and spoiled rich kid Nilah Brio is in the middle of her championship-deciding race when another driver is killed in front of her,  with the mysterious killer teleporting Nilah off of the track and out of the running for the title. Nilah is outraged by this turn of events (although perhaps not for the reasons that a decent person would be), and attempts to call in some of her extensive privilege to secure her safety, but events instead conspire to put her in the path of Boots and Cordell. Out of options, Nilah is taken in by the Capricious, which takes on the task of salvaging the Harrow and unravelling the mystery behind the ship, the murder, and other events coalescing around their crew.

A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe is fast paced almost to a fault, with fight scenes, chase sequences, character development moments and plot advancements all occurring in lightning quick succession. On several occasions I had to go back and reread passages after it became clear I'd missed key information the first time around: the book's fast paced action sequences almost demand to be read quickly, and it can be hard to switch gears afterwards to pick up details of the complex and somewhat convoluted plot. Character motivations were also tricky to keep straight. Nilah is not particularly interested in military history and is basically on the Capricious by coincidence, but has become invested in finding her colleague's murderer and ideally avoiding death herself. Boots and Cordell are initially interested in the Harrow for the salvage fee, but things get personal when they discover the ship is linked to traumatic events that drove them apart in the first place. There are also a lot of plot elements that start as coincidence and then get retroactively justified, which is somewhat unsatisfying. It's not enough to spoil the book, especially as the characters and their relationships are compelling enough on their own (particularly Cordell and Boots, as well as Nilah's developing romantic interest with fellow mechanist Orna), but wondering why the characters are invested in what they're doing comes perilously close to wondering why I'm invested in what the characters are doing...

Despite making me unusually defensive about my reading comprehension skills, however, there's tons to enjoy about Big Ship, especially the synthesis of high technology with a unique magical system and the hints of history which lift the plot from generic heist to something richer. The crew of the Capricious are also fascinating, and there are plenty of characters beyond Cordell, Boots and Nilah who I'd like to get to know better. By the end, Big Ship had presented a satisfying conclusion to its central mystery while also leaving plenty of elements open for a sequel: which, I am pleased to learn, is scheduled to arrive before the end of this year.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 seamless integration of the arcane into a science fictional setting

Penalties: -1 everything goes by faster than a Lang Autosports racecar

Nerd Coefficient: 7/10 "A mostly enjoyable experience". See more about our scoring system here.


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.

Reference: White, Alex. A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe [Orbit, 2018].

Monday, June 25, 2018


So I’m cheating a little with this sidequest is still pretty nerdy and sci-fi, but I miss doing it so I wanted to write about it.

What Are We Talking About?

When I say Spray Art, most folks don’t recognize the form, but as soon as I describe the bright planets made with spray paint, most folks nod. Periodically, videos go viral showing a street artist flourishing spray paint cans and producing a fluorescent spacescape.

The Basics

Spray Art is a specific form referring to paintings, often made as part of street shows, with poster board, spray paint, lids (like a Cool Whip lid), and glossy magazine pages. Other tools come into play (paint scrapers, palette knives, lighters), but many designs can be made with those four pieces of equipment and some extra poster board squares.

A lot of Spray Art features spacescapes or planets, though beach scenes, mountains, and various stencils create unique variations. No painting ever comes out the same due to layering of the paints—one of my favorite things about spray art. While some paintings can take up to half an hour or longer, most are made before the paint has time to dry—less than five minutes.

By Skech

While artists certainly make these paintings in their garages or studios, I’d argue that part of the art is the performance. Yes, the finished piece can be amazing and beautiful, but there’s an energy that comes when a crowd gasps when the artist lifts a lid to reveal a planet, or smears a stretch of mountains into existence against a night sky, or scratches suddenly become a city. The act of creation becomes as much a part of the art as the finished product.

The Rabbit Hole 

Once upon a time, I saw someone who looked like a pre-Iron Man 3 Robert Downey Jr. take a piece of poster board and turn it into a galaxy with a few cans of spray paint. Half the time, the dude didn’t even look at what he was doing. He could flip the cans, watch the crowd, and turn a tiny piece of white space into a universe.

I’d seen some videos about Spray Art—a quick YouTube search turns up some masterful artists like Eden and Skech. I watched a few YouTube tutorials and fell in love with the medium. While the end pieces look super hard, my favorite part of making planets is the surprising ease. In fact, I’d encourage folks to try it if they like the style. Pretty soon, I’d collected a dozen colors and an A. C. Moore membership. I started by giving them away as gifts and making them for my own enjoyment, but because I love the performance aspect of spray art, often done in front of a live audience as a street art, I wanted to try it in public.

One of my larger spacescapes at 12x24

I signed up for a booth at my local summer street fair. I wasn’t sure what would happen, if I would like doing it in public, or if I would even make my money back. I’d only been painting for a few months off and on, and my arsenal was small: pyramids, trees, and, of course, planets.

Well, I was hooked immediately. I made a profit, and my tip jar was way fuller than I imagined. But what I loved about making the street art was making free paintings for kids. Growing up, neither myself nor my parents would have had the money to buy a piece of spray art, even if the prices were low, so I wanted to make sure that any kid could take home a piece of the magic. Sometimes the parents were more excited than the kids, but I carry with me many cherished moments, such as a group of kids watching for thirty minutes and declaring it magic. I’ve been called a magician multiple times, which still makes me smile.

Probably my best waterfall to date. Never got mountains down.

When selling my pieces, sometimes I’d be surprised at a piece I wasn’t happy with would be loved by several people, nearly bought, until the right person took it home. Sometimes, folks would flip through my portfolio book, passing over some of my proudest paintings, until they would beam at a year-old painting or a spacescape I found dull. The paintings spoke to certain people, sometimes a total surprise, such as a middle class dad, complete with polo tucked into khakis, coming every month and buying my biggest paintings. Families with kids in strollers would tell me how they had them framed in their house.

I don’t say all this to make it sound like I super talented, I wasn’t. Spray Art has an innate magic that makes people smile. To take a section of flimsy poster board, three cans of cheap spray paint, and a few crumpled pages of an old People magazine and make a window into space in under five minutes—that’s magic.

Posted by Phoebe Wagner — She can be found lurking @pheebs_w on Twitter or someday on the website domain she's already paid for at

Friday, June 22, 2018

A Robot Learns to Love Itself: Reflecting on the Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells

The Murderbot Diaries is an AI self-actualisation story which takes us far beyond the basic "can a robot feel?" question that is still the standard starting point for these kinds of tales.

There's a moment near the start of Rogue Protocol, the third in Martha Wells' Murderbot Diaries series (forthcoming August 7, 2018 from Publishing), that quietly broke my heart. The self-proclaimed Murderbot, a rogue SecUnit (a human-robot hybrid "construct") which hacked its own governor module after an unfortunate murder-based incident that was subsequently wiped from its memory, is trying to distract itself from the endless, stupid problems of humans by watching a new show. Unfortunately, the plot isn't working out, and Murderbot is eager to get within range of a station so it can download something different. If only, it tells us, this terraforming horror series had a rogue SecUnit character who could stop the squishy humans from all getting horribly killed...

On the surface, this doesn't seem like a big deal. Murderbot watches rather a lot of shows  indeed, extensive media consumption is its most prominent character quirk  and it also does a lot of complaining, so the combination of the two is not exactly unusual. However, this is the first time it has articulated a desire to see itself represented positively in media. In the previous book, Artificial Condition, Murderbot had explained to its new "friend" ART the Asshole Research Transport (long story) why their favourite TV show is Sanctuary Moon, a show in a setting with no SecUnits or security issues at all. ART's favourite shows, in contrast, all tend to involve spaceships protecting their humans. Rogue SecUnits in media are all portrayed terrible monsters, because, it thinks, that's a rational way of looking at rogue SecUnits in general. To even fantasise about the existence of a heroic rogue SecUnit one book later is a serious step forward for Murderbot, even if it doesn't acknowledge the change of heart itself.

It's this constant grappling with the character's identity and self-worth that really lifts the Murderbot Diaries (a series which began with last year's Nebula winning, Hugo nominated All Systems Red, and is due to wrap up later this year with Exit Strategy) from being a merely hilarious story about a cynical construct to being something rather special. Like Moon, the central character in The Books of the Raksura (Martha Wells' other Hugo finalist this year), Murderbot is a convincingly non-human person who blends recognisable emotional responses with occasionally very alien reactions and behaviours; both are outsiders who find themselves offered friendship and community but have to learn how to accept it. In telling story it does, the Murderbot Diaries also turns the traditional robot narrative on its head: Murderbot isn't a robot learning to feel, it's a robot who is already all but overwhelmed by its emotions and has to learn how to manage and express them in a galaxy where many people still treat it as an unthinking tool.

And while Murderbot has it worse than most, it's apparent that a lot of people in this universe  be they humans, bots or something in between  are similarly struggling to establish their right to live and flourish beyond their usefulness to all-powerful corporations, who are not above mass murder to get what they want. When we first meet Murderbot in All Systems Red, it's been hired out to an uninhabited planet with a group of naive but (it grudgingly admits) likeable humans who are conducting a survey, when they find themselves in the middle of a highly subtle corporate assassination attempt. Murderbot, who has already gone rogue by this point but is pretending to be compliant, ends up accidentally "outing" itself as a fully realised sentient when it has to evacuate an injured party member, and spends the rest of the mission attempting to rebuff attempts  particularly from the mission leader, Dr. Mensah  to talk to it about its feelings and treat it like a person.

Murderbot is quick to tell us that this is because it doesn't want to make the humans uncomfortable, and the reader just as quickly realises that this is a planet-sized act of projection on our hero's part. Faced with a group of people with no preconceived notions of what a SecUnit should be, who discover that it's not a heavily armoured machine but a being with a human face, the ability to conduct caring small talk, and a massive addiction to trashy soap operas, means Murderbot suddenly has to cope with being treated like a person, forced to earn trust and friendship from its coworkers and treated accordingly when it does. To someone who has thus far dealt with being emotionally sensitive by insisting that nobody cares and hiding itself behind an opaque visor, this change is nearly impossible to process.

Because behind the sarcastic asides and wry commentary, Murderbot's narration is a veritable bingo sheet of unhelpful thinking styles; its propensity to internal self-sabotage is both relateable and excruciating to watch. Everything Murderbot does right is disqualified from positive consideration because it's just what SecUnits do, while everything that goes wrong is a total disaster that's all its fault. All of Murderbot's strengths are flukes or basic programming, while its weaknesses are all-consuming. Because Murderbot is very anxious around people, people must be objectively difficult things (except in media, where they are fascinating and enjoyable). All Rogue SecUnits are terrifying, terrible individuals who are very rightly the villains whenever they appear in media, and would be awful to meet in real life. Oh, and of course it's labelled itself Murderbot (and the first bot who sits down to watch TV with it "Asshole Research Transport"). While our hero does indeed recognise and label its own thinking as "anxiety", and can demonstrably think things through or talk itself down when required, the narration doesn't give us much second-order thought or self-reflection, leaving the mechanics of growth behind the scenes and leaving us with only subtle signs of growth behind Murderbot's aggressively curated self-image.

Later instalments have Murderbot truly going rogue and, in the process, straying even further outside of its comfort zone, passing as human while it pieces together evidence against the company which attacked its humans and discovers more about its own past (including the event which led it to call itself "Murderbot" in the first place). Intentionally or otherwise, it finds itself spending more time with humans similar to Dr Mensah's group: people it ostensibly finds insufferable, naive and incapable of staying out of danger but who treat it like a person, even when the "augmented human" identity slips.

We also get interactions between Murderbot and other bots and constructs, most notably ART in Artificial Condition, and the irrepressibly friendly (and, apparently, extremely annoying) Miki the helper bot in Rogue Protocol. Murderbot is rather rude about both of these characters, especially Miki, who it dismisses as a "human's pet": a dismissal which likely reflects its feelings about being offered a similar choice earlier in the series, rather than being directly Miki's fault. However, even while it's calling its fellow bots assholes and pets, Murderbot is also completely willing to accept them as people and in many ways treats them the same as humans: trustworthy in some ways but likely to betray you when their "programming" requires it. Even bots with demonstrably low capability get treated with respect by Murderbot, although it always puts its own self-preservation first. We are led to suspect the only thing that isn't a person to Murderbot is Murderbot itself: an ironic conclusion for the character to arrive at, given its narration leaves the reader in no doubt that Murderbot is quite definitely "one of us".

The Murderbot Diaries is an AI self-actualisation story which takes us far beyond the basic "can a robot feel?" question that is still the standard starting point for these kinds of tales in SFF. The series presents us with a robot character who we immediately accept as a funny, cynical, highly competent and resourceful person, and who I suspect many of us would love to hang out with, even knowing it would probably complain internally and make up rude nicknames for us if we did. In doing so, The Murderbot Diaries gives itself room to ask more complex questions about the relationship between how we see our own personhood and self-worth compared to how others see us; and how to find healing, growth and self-expression even when all one wants to do is self-isolate. For Murderbot, it's a slow, frustrating journey, and one which is largely obscured by bluster and sarcasm. But when the moments of growth shine through  when the Murderbot accepts that it might just be hero material  it's are all the more poignant and exciting for being so hard-won.

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.

References: Wells, Martha. All Systems Red [ Publishing, 2017].
                    Wells, Martha. Artificial Condition [ Publishing 2018].
                    Wells, Martha. Rogue Protocol [ Publishing 2018]

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Reading the Hugos: Novelette

It's time for another entry of Reading the Hugos: 2018 Edition! Today we're going to take a look at the six stories up for Best Novelette.

Novelette is inherently a weird category. There's not really a substantial difference between a short story and a novelette, except that a novelette is just a little bit longer (but not as long as a novella, which really is a different form).

One thing that I find interesting about the Novelette category this year is that it contains two stories that are spun off recent novels. "Children of Thorns, Children of Water" is part of Aliette de Bodard's Dominion of the Fallen series and "Extracurricular Activities" is from Yoon Ha Lee's Machineries of Empire. Fortunately, for both stories, no previous knowledge of the books is required.

Shall we take a look at how the stories stack up against each other?

Children of Thorns, Children of Water,” by Aliette de Bodard (Uncanny, July-August 2017)
Extracurricular Activities,” by Yoon Ha Lee (, February 15, 2017)
The Secret Life of Bots,” by Suzanne Palmer (Clarkesworld, September 2017)
A Series of Steaks,” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Clarkesworld, January 2017)
Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time,” by K.M. Szpara (Uncanny, May/June 2017)
Wind Will Rove,” by Sarah Pinsker (Asimov’s, September/October 2017)

Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time: We've all read vampire stories and they're a dime a dozen. Whether they can walk in the daylight, are public about their identity, live in fear of being found out, or any variation that you can think of, you've probably read the story. Or, so I thought. On the surface, this can be any other vampire story, except for one thing. Finley, the victim about to transition to becoming a vampire is a transman.

"Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time" excels in exploring the intersection of Finley's transition to male with his transition to vampire. This is what science fiction and fantasy is all about - the exploration of different ideas and identities. What does the transition to vampire do to a body who has undergone gender transition? "Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time" is a sexy story of identity, belonging, heartbreak, and complication. It happens to be a vampire story. Szpara's story pushes boundaries and is an exceptional piece of fiction.

Children of Thorns, Children of Water:  I'm not sure if I can or if I even should attempt to separate my appreciation for "Children of Thorns, Children of Water" from my appreciation of de Bodard's excellent Dominion of the Fallen series of novels. If you've read the second of those novels, The House of Binding Thorns, you know that Thuon is a primary character and you can read this story as prequel. If not, or if you just don't remember, "Children of Thorns, Children of Water" is "just" a very good story of clashing cultures and an attempt to infiltrate another organization that runs not unlike a mob family.

It's good, people. You should expect this if you've read Aliette de Bodard before. She never disappoints. "Children of Thorns, Children of Water" tells the story of Thuon, a minor dragon prince (this is a literal statement) attempting to infiltrate House Hawthorn, one of several "houses" comprised of fallen angels (again, literal) ruling over Paris. It's complicated, risky, and there are problems in the house.

Because I have a poor memory, I spent half of the story thinking "this Thuon seems very familiar" - but that did nothing to lessen my appreciation for de Bodard's skill in telling a very good story.

The Secret Life of Bots: Suzanne Palmer is telling two stories here, though they are very much intertwined. The secondary story is that of the last gasp fight of humanity against an alien that has been winning the war and eradicating every human ship and outpost it can find and has launched a desperate attack in a derelict ship to hold the enemy back. The primary story is that of the titular "bots", which are used to do any number of menial task. The ship's AI is using bots to keep it operational, but sends one of the oldest bots, a now defunct model, after a rodent of sorts that has been damaging the ship.

The little robots are programmed to follow commands, but they have just enough AI to be able to interpret and figure out the best way to accomplish a task. It's that AI that gives the little robots fantastic personality. Palmer's story is charming, though coupled with the impending extinction of humanity perhaps charming shouldn't be the right word. It's tense, but the robots are the real heroes of this fight. I use this description a fair amount when talking about stories, but I wanted a whole lot more of this story while recognizing Palmer told it at the right length. "The Secret Life of Bots" isn't missing a thing and I was delighted the entire time I spent reading it.

A Series of Steaks: Since I've already written about the Short Story category, this is Vina Jie-Min Prasad's second story on the Hugo ballot and it is a real standout. Besides everything, what I really enjoy about "A Series of Steaks" is the framing of forgery and what makes a good forger. Ultimately, that's what "A Series of Steaks" is about. Helena semi-legally fabricates meat for restaurants that is otherwise undetectable for not being the real thing (ultimately, a forgery). She is offered a contract that she can't refuse because it comes with a threat to expose her.

The rest of the story is a tense game of Helena (and her new assistant) trying to fulfill the order and somehow protect herself. Prasad's writing is clear and pulled me right in. It's a damn fine story and I'm going to be looking for much more from Vina Jie-Min Prasad.

Extracurricular Activities: This is the second story on the ballot that is related to a novel. This one is set well before Yoon Ha Lee's novel Ninefox Gambit. "Extracurricular Activities" is a story of one of Shuos Jedeo's early missions well before he became a legend and a mass murderer, though already he had a reputation.

"Extracurricular Activities" will work perfectly well if you're not familiar with Shuos Jedeo from Ninefox Gambit or Raven Strategem. In one sense, this is a fairly straight forward story. It's an undercover mission to rescue another undercover crew that might be capture or otherwise in trouble. On the other hand, even if you're unfamiliar with Jedeo, there is a strong sense that Yoon Ha Lee is building a legend while showing what he was like as a man and an officer. Effective. Passionate. Creative and unconventional. Yoon Ha Lee's writing is on point and top notch. This is either a bite sized slice of a much larger story or it's a perfectly compact and excellent story that stands on its own. It's both, and it's exceptional.

Wind Will Rove: Though I don’t read nearly as much short fiction as I used to, it is becoming quickly apparent that Sarah Pinsker is one of my favorite short fiction writers and that her name on a story tells me that not only do I want to read it, that it is also likely to be exceptionally good. “Wind Will Rove” is one of two stories from Pinsker on this year’s Hugo ballot and, like “And Then There Were (N-One)”, it is fantastic. I want to use the phrase “top notch”, but I’m afraid I’m beginning to overuse it to the point that “top notch” has lost some of its meaning.

“Wind Will Rove” is a story of history, music, and a generation ship. I’m a sucker for a generation ship story. I almost always want more and more from the story, and that includes this one. With so much lost to a virus that destroyed databases worth of knowledge and culture, the residents of this particular ship have clung to what they can recall and what they were able to recreate – even knowing that so much of it is only partial truth mixed with imperfect memory. Depending on who you ask, of what generation, the culture of the ship has either stagnated or it is focused on remembering where they’ve come from. Sarah Pinsker asks important questions about what cultural identities are important to bring along untouched into the future and what culture should shape and reform around who the people are at that moment and in that place. What relevance does a song of an “Oklahoma Rooster” have for people several generations away from ever having even seen a rooster or a barn or the feeling of natural air on a planet? What meaning does learning the history of a long departed planet have for children who will live and die on a ship speeding between the stars?

Pinsker examines history and culture through the lens of “oldtime” fiddle music and through the passage of time on a generation ship. She doesn’t offer an easy answer but does suggest a way through. Perhaps she’s looking at a unique situation of a particular generation ship, but there are still things to consider in how we respond to changing culture today. Sarah Pinsker’s easy storytelling pulls you in, takes hold of your hand, and guides you on a journey. I don’t play music, and I know Pinsker is a musician, but the traditions and the art of music really comes through here. It’s a wonderful story.

My Vote
1. Wind Will Rove
2. Extracurricular Activities
3. A Series of Steaks
4. The Secret Life of Bots
5. Children of Thorns, Children of Water
6. Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time

Our Previous Coverage
Short Story

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 2017 & 2018 Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan.

Thursday Morning Superhero

We are officially less than a month out from San Diego Comic Con! The normal Thursday Morning Superhero will deviate from its standard format to provide some coverage of SDCC and what I hope to accomplish. My son is joining me this year and I am very excited to write about attending in what will be a different experience for me this year.

Sneak Peek: Exclusives
There are two exclusives that have been announced that I want to briefly highlight. My son recently started watching, and is hooked, on Rugrats. It is easily one of his favorite shows and this limited XXRAY Reptar vinyl from FYE blew his mind. The detail is stunning, but it is a bit out of his budget.

As one of the resident Funko collectors here at Nerds, I need to quickly note my first must have item that will be mine if I am fortunate enough to make it to the booth.  I am a huge Wes Anderson fan and cannot wait to attempt to scoop up this adorable two-pack.

Notable Comics:
While my weekly recap of my pull list will be enjoying a short vacation, I want to make sure to highlight some books that you should probably check out. The four books that I am reading this week include a pair of books from Jeff Lemire (Hit Girl #5 and Gideon Falls #4).  Gideon Falls is one of the best surprises in 2018 and it was nice to see Hit Girl, which I haven't been wild about, given the Lemire treatment.  This week also included a stunning Ether: Copper Golems #2 from Matt Kindt and Daredevil #604 by Charles Soule.  Returning to the world of Ether has been extremely entertaining and Soule's run on Daredevil is absolutely divine.  

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

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Westworld Wednesday: Some People's Children

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).

Happier times! ...ish

No family is perfect. Hopefully makes you feel better about your family, because these people take the normal, everyday idiosyncrasies that make Thanksgiving slightly awkward and dials it up to 11.

There has been a theory making the rounds since William didn't murder Lawrence and his family (this time) that this is a sign of good in him. While he is definitely a complex character, Vanishing Point put any thoughts of that to rest, along with his wife and daughter. It's that wife, the un-subtly named Juliet, and their daughter Emily, that I want to talk about.

Juliet, though never seen in the flesh in Season One, appears in a photo that drives much of the plot. We see the bookend to Vanishing Point, the beginnings of William's detachment from the real world, and from Juliet, before he even marries her. The start of the darkness within him, reflected in the change in his headwear in Season One. In Season Two, we do see glimpses of good, but that's really all they are - a small amount of light shining through the cracks.

But if Westworld is all about living out fantasy without consequence, if the Hosts are really just unfeeling robots, are his actions that bad? That's the question at the heart of the character; he visits violence and evil on things put there for that express purpose, so are they really evil?

But let's step back here, because Vanishing Point does something that a lot of fiction does, that is a sort of played-out evil. The dead wife/mother/child of our straight, white, male protagonist (SWMP), her death serving as his motivation and reason he is generally surly, with lots of demons in his tortured soul. Granted, there's a reason this gets used a lot- seeing/having your family murdered/dead of cancer/whatever would definitely mess me up, and I am already grouchy most of the time. But seriously, fiction is full of dead families in the service of backstory.

Juilet is dead, more or less from the get-go (although time is pretty subjective in the show), and the reveal of her death comes before we actually know it was her, just that he had the run-of-the-mill Dead Wife Backstory (DWB). Eventually, we find that it is the very same woman from the photo, the one William fell in love with, then subsequently out of love with in favor of Delores, yet married after his transformation in order to get deeper into the Delos Corporation. Still a DWB, but at least it has some depth to it.

I wonder if it was by design, or if they retconned it in Season Two (Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan never invite me to their parties), but it's given added depth by the exploration of what lead to her suicide, alongside the reappearance (for William) of his daughter. This is the part of the DWB where some new damsel in distress needs the SWMP to emerge from his gloom and save her, after which they live happily ever after, or something.

Only Emily is no damsel in distress, but rather, her quest is to get her father to face some manner of justice for what he truly is. There is no redemption arc here, no breaking William from his shell. Just him answering the question of if what he did in fantasy mattered in reality, as he grasp on reality is either severed or ignored.

So if you are going to off a family in the service of story, make it really matter to the story.

It would be really nice if I could end it there, and say Westworld nails it and breaks the mold of so many pieces of entertainment that slaughter women and kids for backstory, but we spent a really big part of Season One with Arnold/Bernard's family having been killed offscreen. Maeve both experiences her daughter dying, dying alongside her (at the hands of William), AND has her daughter being actually alive. Lawrence ultimately awakens and tries to kill William because William killed his family (at least once).

Maybe in the ever-increasing body count of Westworld it doesn't matter; it's not even ineffective. At least it all serves to pain the picture of the Man in Black as evil and twisted, rather than a brooding anti-hero.

So next time you're annoyed with your family, just be glad they weren't killed off in the service of your backstory.



Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Born to the Blade: Episodes 5 & 6

Today we return to my look at Michael R. Underwood's consistently excellent serial Born to the Blade. Following my brief thoughts on Episodes 3 & 4 (see here), we continue on with episodes 5 and 6, written by Malka Older and and Marie Brennan, respectively.

Episode 5: Trade Deal

Secrets are revealed that perhaps shouldn't be revealed. Now that Kris Denn was victorious in the Gauntlet and earned Rumika a seat on the Warder's Council, he immediately fulfills his promise to Ojo of Quloo and confirms the titular trade deal of aerstone (a relatively rare and expensive ore that allows all of these island nations to float in the sky + build airships) and help out the otherwise sinking island nation. Being relatively inexperienced and trying to make friends and influence people, he lets slip during a night of drinking that Rumika perfected a method to manufacture aerstone rather than just strip mining their island like everyone else does. Whoops.

Whoops, indeed.

Malka Older balances the intensely action packed fourth episode with a quieter episode, if equally explosive in term of revelations. I really like how Older gets across the inexperience and naivete of Kris more here than in any of the previous four episodes. He's great with a blade (though still has more to learn in that arena, too), but his diplomatic experience is sorely lacking and it shows. That's the heart of what "Trade Deal" gets across. Kris may be a primary character of this narrative, but he made a really stupid mistake and this may be one of a pivotal event in the Born to the Blade narrative.

Episode 6: Spiraling

It's not that I want to say the episode titles are a bit on the nose, but if I'm being honest, they're a bit on the nose. After the successful trade deal between Rumika and Quloo in the last episode (and Kris's lack of circumspection), the fleet delivering aerstone to Quloo is destroyed. Distrust and rumors begin to infect and infest the warders of Twaa-fei. Events are not out of control yet, but they're getting there. Things seem to be spiraling out of control. Like I said, on the nose.

Thing is, that spiraling is exactly what is happening here. Marie Brennan is very effective at communicating the growing distrust between the nations represented by the warders at Twaa-fei. Things are tense and growing increasingly moreso. That tension is palpable. We're at the midpoint of Born to the Blade, so it's quite clear that things have to get much worse before they get better, assuming they do get better. That's not guaranteed and even before I see how this season shakes out I know that I don't want this to end. I want a second and maybe even a third season. It's good not-television.

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 2017 & 2018 Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan. 

Microreview [book]: A Study in Honor by Claire O'Dell

A Study in Honor is a white-hot reimagining of the Holmes and Watson story in a dark
twenty minutes into the future United States of America.

Dr. Watson is a disabled veteran from the war. With a substandard artificial arm, Dr. Watson wants
to try and return to medicine in Washington D.C, but that would require getting an artificial arm that
works. In the meantime, Watson is living a hand to mouth existence, trying to find a job,
find a place to live, and find a new path after the traumas of war. But Dr. Watson has some challenges in that regard. For you see, Dr. Watson is an
queer African American woman, Dr. Janet Watson. Dr. Watson’s discharge with a clunky
artificial arm is from a second American civil war, the heartland of the nation in the
hands of secessionists. For Janet, the war may be over, but it is far from over for the country.
And finally, a mutual acquaintance leads Janet to meet her new future roommate...the
African American Dr. Sara Holmes. And so a friendship is begun, just in time for
them to tackle a mystery regarding veterans of the civil war. And so we are introduced to the central character and the near-future world of Claire O’Dell’s
A Study in Honor. Sherlock Holmes stories not written by Doyle himself are nothing new. In fact, such works
have been around for over a century. J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan, wrote a Sherlock Holmes
pastiche “The Late Sherlock Holmes”, in 1893, a scant two years after Doyle’s first stories came
to print. The number of authors who have tried their hands at Sherlock Holmes stories is in the
hundreds. SFF writers are no stranger to writing Holmes stories, either, ranging from Neil
Gaiman to Michael Chabon to, recently, Aliette de Bodard. What does Claire O’Dell bring to a Holmes and Watson story, then? By putting it in a near
future US, a US which is riven by Civil War and social tensions, and by making both Holmes
and Watson African American women, the author brings a new and fresh perspective to the
mystery solving duo’s relationship, existence, and milieu to work in. Rather than being in a
rarefied pinnacle of social class and status as is common in most Holmes stories, this
Dr. Janet Watson is far more working class in her social mobility, outlook, and in her
day to day problems. Living on the edge as she does, the mystery of Holmes’s own wealth
and relative status gives Watson and Holmes a fractally complex relationship as Watson tries
to come to terms with her roommate’s nature. The Watson-Holmes relationship in any
Sherlock Holmes adaptation is rife with potential because of just how out of the box Holmes is.
Making her a African American woman like Watson diminishes the distance between them,
but her success, wealth, social status, and the mystery of her background distances her further.
Their relationship, in addition to the tight first person deep dive on Watson herself, is the strongest
part of the novel, and the real reason, I think, to read the novel. It would not be a Sherlock Holmes story without a mystery, and without Holmes and Watson
going off and trying to solve the mystery. Even in an age of computers and instant information
and databases, Holmes’ powers of deduction, and Watson’s determination, are still necessary
to unravel the central problem. Computers provide O’Dell’s Holmes with more information, but
it still takes Holmes’ powers to put the information together in the classic Holmesian manner and
come up with her deductions. The mystery at hand does tie into the ongoing Civil War, and into Watson’s own experiences
at the end of the Civil War itself. The mystery, while a fair one, though, is a pale shadow of the
other charms of the novel. I was enchanted and entranced by Janet’s story, and her
relationship with Holmes, and how all that unfolds, much more than the mystery the two
of them stumble into. This is a novel I read for character, much more than plot or even setting,
although the near future the author posits, from technology to social change and historical
change, is very well done. Based on the strength of her two characters and this world, I hope that there will be a sequel,
because I surely would enjoy reading much more about this Watson and this Holmes in this darkly
imagined near future world.

The Math

Baseline Assessment 7/10

Bonuses : +1 for an amazingly strong central character, whose plight and story come across vividly
on the page. +1 for Watson and Holmes’ relationship, which blazes across the page

Penalties : -1 the central plot and mystery may in itself be a bit short and is overshadowed
by the characterization and the strong character beats.

Nerd Coefficient : 8/10 "Well worth your time and attention”


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