Friday, June 28, 2019

6 Books with Steve Kotler

Photo: Ryan Hefferman

Steven Kotler is a New York Times bestselling author, award-winning journalist, and Founder and Executive Director of the Flow Research Collective. His books include Stealing Fire, The Rise of Superman, West of Jesus, and A Small Furry Prayer. His work has been translated into over 40 languages and appeared in over 100 publications, including the New York Times Magazine, Wall Street Journal, TIME, Wired, Atlantic Monthly, and Forbes.

Today he shares his 6 books with us... 

1. What book are you currently reading?

I typically read three books at once. Usually a novel, nonfiction book and textbook. Right now, The Overstory by Richard Powers is the novel. The Nature of Emotion, edited by Paul Ekman is the textbook. The Developing Mind by Dan Siegel is the non-fiction book.

2. What upcoming book are you really excited about?

Agency, the next William Gibson novel.

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

The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler, Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

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

Tough question. Maybe John Sandford, especially his Virgil Flower’s novels. I started out thinking he was a thriller writer who helped make long plane flights disappear and have come to believe he’s just an awesome novelist. One of the best writers of great characters around. Then again, he’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, so I shouldn’t be surprised.

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

The Lorax, The Pushcart War, The Complete Poems and Plays of of T.S. Eliot, The Complete Poems, 1904-1962 of e.e. cummings. The Lorax impacted my environmental stance, the Pushcart War impacted my fierce devotion to the underdog, both poetry collections shaped my love of language.

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

My latest book is Last Tango in Cyberspace. It’s a novel that follows a protagonist named Lion Zorn. He’s an empathy tracker or em-tracker, a new kind of human with a much deeper ability to feel empathy than most. His talent lets him track cultural trends into the future, a form of empathetic prognostication, and a useful skill to certain kind of company. But when Arctic Pharmaceuticals hires him to em-track rumors of a new and extremely potent psychedelic—with potential medical uses—he ends up enmeshed in a world of startup religions, environmental terrorists and overlapping global conspiracies. It’s a thriller about the ramifications of accelerating technology, the evolution of empathy, and the hidden costs of consciousness-expansion. And it’s awesome because, well, it’s just a ton of mind-blowing fun.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Thursday Morning Superhero: SDCC Exclusives Edition

We are only three weeks away from the 50th San Diego Comic Con! I am fortunate enough to be returning to provide coverage for Nerds of a Feather and will  be bringing my son for the second year in a row. While details on programming are slowly starting to trickle out, the floodgates have been opened on what exclusives fans can hope to pick up at various booths throughout the convention. Here are my top five most wanted SDCC exclusives in no particular order.

Lego Marvel Super Heroes Captain Marvel and the Asis:
Holy flerken!!!  Look at that Lego Goose! Captain Marvel has been my favorite superhero movie I have seen this year and this set is a must have! Featuring minifigs of both Captain Marvel and Monica Rambeau, this set will run you $45 and has 271 pieces. This set will be available to attendees who are fortunate in the lottery which should be opening any day.

Funko Pop! The Black Cauldron: Taran and the Horned King:

There are a wealth of amazing collectibles in Funko's SDCC lineup, but this two pack was the most surprising to me.  The Black Cauldron was one of my favorite childhood movies and I have fond memories of playing the amazing Sierra computer game as I tried to stop the Horned King from raising an army of the dead. When I revisited this movie with my son I was surprised how dark it was, but happy that he liked it and to share this Disney classic that doesn't get as much love as it should.  Could a Gurgi Pop! be down the road?  This two-pack will be a shared exclusive with Amazon and available with the SDCC sticker to those who win lottery access.

Star Wars: The Black Series 6-inch Boba Fett by Hasbro:

This might be the most Comic Con toy in my selection. An exclusive Star Wars figure on a vintage card back of the famed bounty hunter Boba Fett. This is a true beauty and will only set you back $24.99.  Hasbro has some other nice looking exclusives (a razor scooter?), but none as pretty as this beauty. I am not sure if Hasbro is participating in the traditional lottery, but I may try to swing by the booth one afternoon and hope I am lucky enough to add this fella to my Star Wars collection.

Action Vinyls from The Loyal Subjects:

Featuring exclusives from Game of Thrones, Ghostbusters, My Hero Academia and more, The Loyal Subjects have grown by leaps and bounds since I started collecting their action vinyls a few years back and I am stoked for this year's lineup. This is only page one of the heat they are bringing, but I am most excited about the Hot Wheels. Vinyl Hot Wheels seemed like an odd pairing, but I saw some rolling around on Instagram and am excited for this blast of nostalgia. I grew up on Hot Wheels and have enjoyed passing that love onto both of my kids.  Super stoked to finally add some TLS Hot Wheels to my collection. Limited to 200 pieces on the SDCC floor, keep a close eye on the schedule to make sure you don't miss any drops.

Spittin' Contest Tiny Ghost by Bimtoy:

Reis O'Brien and his Bimtoy brand are partnering with Fugitive Toys and bringing a summertime twist to his spooky lineup of collectibles to SDCC. Bimtoy is a labor of love and one that has seen tremendous growth over the past few years. In addition to expanding its vinyl offerings, the Tiny Ghost variants are sure to make your shelf 100% cuter. In addition to this stunning piece, Bimtoy will have some pins, mini ghosts, and other possible surprised located at the Fugitive Toys booth. If they distribute these like last year it will be via lottery at the booth.

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

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Watching the Hugos: Professional and Fan Artist

Welcome back to our ongoing series of Watching the Hugos: 2019 Edition! Today we're doubling up Professional Artist and Fan Artist into one post because how I think about art and artists don't quite line up perfectly well with the format I've used for the read of the Reading the Hugos series. You'll note that I'm using the "Watching the Hugos" title, which isn't quite right but is the closest I could figure out in order to have consistency across the various categories. It'll do. Let's take a look at who the finalists are and then we'll get into a little bit of commentary. For each category, my evaluation is based on the submissions to the Voter's Packet.

Finalists for Professional Artist

Galen Dara
Jaime Jones
Victo Ngai
John Picacio
Yuko Shimizu
Charles Vess 

Finalists for Fan Artist
Sara Felix
Grace P. Fong
Meg Frank
Ariela Housman
Likhain (Mia Sereno)
Spring Schoenhuth


Like most years, Professional Artist is a brutally difficult category to figure out. The only artist I was not familiar with by name was Jaime Jones, but a quick peek at the Voter Packet tells me that I've seen and loved his work on the covers for the Murderbot novellas, though the cover for The Phoenix Empress is spectacular. Also, and this isn't something I've considered for this category, look at his website. Just look at it. Just incredible.

One of the major publishing events of 2018 is Saga's publication of the Ursula K. Le Guin's The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition collecting all of Le Guin's Earthsea stories with more than 50 illustrations from Charles Vess. The work is beautiful and complements the text nicely.

Victo Ngai first came to my attention for her gorgeous work on the cover for Amberlough, but little did I know that would only be the tip of the iceberg. Likewise, Yuko Shimizu has a stunning selection of work in the packet. The covers to JY Yang's novellas are standouts, but only scratches the surface of the breadth of her work.
I've long been a fan of John Picacio's art, but it seems to me that he has raised his already strong game in recent years. The Loteria cards are masterpieces and his cover work for the Wild Cards stories published on are stunning.

My Ballot for Professional Artist
1. John Picacio
2. Galen Dara
3. Victo Ngai
4. Yuko Shimizu
5. Jaime Jones
6. Charles Vess

There is some controversy regarding Ariela Housman's Voter Packet submission, in that it does not include her fabulous "Lady Astronaut Nouveau" work because the Hugo Committee deemed it ineligible for reasons I don't completely understand. Housman disagreed, as do I. Technically, we shouldn't consider that work when considering Housman for the Hugo Award and in my introduction I said that I would only consider works in the Voter Packet. This is my lone exception because the Committee is flat out wrong and I love that piece.

One of the interesting things about the Fan Artist category is that the perennial inclusion of Spring Schoenhuth represents the possibility of the category and how it can represent a much wider variety of art that simple “cover art” and the style of art we most often see in both the professional and fan artist categories. Schoenhuth does metalwork and the pieces, at least from pictures, are fantastic. That they’re not really my thing does not lessen the high quality of the work.

Sara Felix is similar to Schoenhuth in that her nomination is not tied to illustration style work, but rather for her co-designing last year's Hugo Award base and for other non illustrative work. Her submission of the Robot Rocketship is absolutely charming.

I'm not sure of the medium Meg Frank is working, though I think some of the work contained in the Voter Packet are paintings (which I rather like) and she has also created jewelry, which as I mentioned is not a medium I appreciate when it comes to the Hugo Awards.

The two artists at the top of my Hugo ballot are Grace P. Fong and Likhain (Mia Sereno), both are names I've seen mentioned for several years now and who are producing the exact sort of work I am looking for, both in general and for the Hugo Awards in particular. They are spectacular.

My Ballot for Fan Artist
1. Mia Sereno (Likhain)
2. Grace P. Fong
3. Sara Felix
4. Ariela Housman
5. Meg Frank
6. Spring Schoenhuth

Our Previous Coverage
Short Story
Related Work
Graphic Story

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

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Questing in Shorts: June 2019

One day, I hope to discover a speculative fiction magazine called "Fluffy and Lovely Futures", which will be full of all the diverse ways in which people can just be fundamentally OK. When I have this magazine, (and if somebody is already out there publishing it, please point me in their direction!) I'll save up the issues to read right after particularly heartbreaking issues of other magazines.  The only issue is that Fluffy and Lovely Futures might have to come out on a weekly schedule to keep up with the many and varied ways in which the stories in other magazines keep breaking my fragile little heart. To be fair, they do it so well that I can't help but come back for more...

What do I have for you this June? Read on and find out:

Fireside Fiction Issues 66-68 (Read Online

I'm sad to see that Julia Rios will soon be leaving her editorial position at Fireside, but excited to see them test a new editorial model: each quarterly issue of Fireside will go to a different editor, and the plan is to bring in not just established names but also new editorial voices. It sounds like a great way to shake up the magazine's diverse offerings still further and to offer opportunities to a wider range of editors, and I'll be really intrigued to see what changes it brings to Fireside's overall tone. Here in the present, this quarter's offerings are another weird and wonderful, emotionally driven mix of flash fiction and short stories. "My Sister is a House" by Zoe Medieros proposes a world where kids can grow up to be almost anything - animate or otherwise - but that those things are defined in aptitude tests and there's an ongoing cultural argument over whether it is possible to change one's nature. The narrator's and her twin sister have always felt there is a gulf between them across which it is hard to communicate, and when her becomes a house, the narrator moves into it and speculates on how this changes the way she can connect with her sibling. The premise allows for musings on family bonds and human nature which defy easy categorisation but come together well in the context of the story, creating something weird and thought provoking and full of beautiful asides.

"How to Say I Love You With Wikipedia" by Beth Goder is a story about a Mars rover trying to communicate its "feels" with its human companions during a manned science mission; I'm personally a bit over anthropomorphising the tragedy of dead Mars rovers after the outpouring from Opportunity a few months ago, but it's a sweetly told story that will no doubt appeal to those being less cynical about its central premise. I mean, for all my grumpiness, one fundamentally can't go wrong with a robot pal, right? For me, the standout story from the quarter comes in April with "Aging Elements" by Ben Francisco, which takes the Icarus and Daedalus myth and turns the lesson into something very different; in this version, Icarus is not brought down by his hubris and by failing to listen to his elders, but takes his own knowledge and uses it to literally surpasses his father, leaving him heartbroken but hopeful for his son's future even as the people around him take the incomplete story he has told and turn it into an overly simple lesson which doesn't reflect their truth. It's got all the elements that makes a retelling worthwhile, providing a fresh take both at the surface and in the deeper layers of the story, and the emotional elements are deeply affecting.

Rating 7/10

Anathema Magazine Issue 7 (Read Online)

Anathema is back for a bigger, better seventh issue, including some really neat story and poetry thematic match-ups (the poetry is new and it works great!) While I don't normally review the non-fiction of magazines, the editorial essay of this issue also really spoke to me: it's about how we as readers can support and boost the range of fiction that we want to see out in the world, and definitely worth a read for anyone reflecting on that.

The stories themselves are more hit and miss for me than in previous issues - specifically, the story about arranged "mating" and alphas and betas hits too many personal "nopes" - the stuff that hit the spot lives up to the challenging, heartbreaking excellence I've come to expect from the publication. "Raices (Roots)" by Joe Ponce is the standout here for me, drawing on the xenophobia and abuse of the USA's current border regime - including the separation of children from their parents - to tell the story of a man from the USA whose Mexican half-sister and her son cross without documentation to stay with him, against the backdrop of an epidemic where migrant children appear to be developing plantlike symptoms. That premise plus the title should probably clue you in to where this is going; it does so in a way which juxtaposes the body horror of peeling skin and creaking movements with the mundane awfulness of a racist, hostile immigration regime, questioning bonds of family, nationality and of human empathy in a way which is chillingly recognisable in the way countries like the USA (and UK) treat those who come across their borders. The issue's first story, "Moses" by L.D. Lewis, also explores supernatural power and trauma from a different angle, looking at the life of a woman with the power to make people around her disappear, and the impact that this has on her as she seeks ways to control herself and avoid harming those she loves, no matter how self-destructive the methods might be.

Rating 7/10

The Dark, May and June 2019 (Read Online)

Inspired by my horror reading of a couple of months ago, I've added another subscription to my expanding list in The Dark, a monthly horror magazine releasing two new and two reprinted stories every month. The new stories and the reprints are mixed in here, and they're all great in that awful, awful way where really everything is not OK at all and we're all going to die horribly. Yay!

May starts off with "Wildling", by Angela Slatter: a story about eating cats (among other things). LP is a childless woman whose home is visited by a "Wildling" who kills and eats her boyfriend's unpleasant cat. Ground down by a society which keeps assuming her worth is only proportionate to her childlessness, she develops a fantasy of "taming" the child and taking it in, sourcing more cat food to try and entice them. It's a grim story whose character motivations are pretty hard to sympathise with, but the twist is perfect and awful. The second original story is "The Wiley", a woman involved in a huge technology sales deal finds herself dealing with an unexpected consequence of the programme she helped to build, which is now affecting the world in dramatic and unexpected ways; aided by supernatural forces in her own home, she makes it her mission to figure out how to overcome the problems she has unleashed on the world in a story that satisfyingly blends magic and technology in a way which underscores the narrator's emotional journey.

June brings the terrifying, atmospheric "Therein Lies a Soul" by Osahon Iye-Iyamu, a story which, like its protagonist, comes into the world "sticky and belting out the highest notes"; it's full of spiders and cobwebs and sickness and oppressive systems and a ghost who can steal voices, and it will make you ask "what on earth just happened" in the best possible way. "We Sang You As Ours" by Nibedita Sen is more straightforward, but just as full of claustrophobia and inescapable destinies: Cadence, the oldest daughter of a monstrous race whose women use siren-like powers to lure humans out to sea and feed them to the ocean-faring males they are attached to, questions the life she's been brought into, especially after one of the "Mothers" who raised her runs away to apparently escape her biological calling. By "humanising" Cadence and her struggle at the same time as it shows her going through the motions of her terrifying calling, showing the way that she connects with her victim - a teenage boy whose fate the story doesn't sugarcoat with any "maybe he's a monster too" speculation - makes for a really effective, satisfying story. If you're up for some delicious discomfort, The Dark is definitely a magazine to check out, and I can't wait to see what it brings next.

Rating: 8/10

Uncanny Magazine Issue 28 (read online)

There's also plenty of creepy delights in this issue of Uncanny. Ellen Klages "Nice Things" has the protagonist going through her unpleasant mother's things after her death, eventually baking a cathartic cake for a personal ritual that ends up not quite going to plan; Emma Osborne's "A Salt and Sterling Sea" talks about a grieving mother rediscovering love after the transformation and death of her son; and the reprint, "Corpse Soldier" by Kameron Hurley (originally released on Patreon) is a return to her world of body-jumping mercenaries previously explored in "Elephants and Corpses" and other stories (more on those next month, probably). The creepiness reaches a peak in Elizabeth Bear's story, "Lest We Forget", which is told from the perspective of a war criminal who is now narrating the story of their own death. As the narrator recounts the circumstances that have led to their dying, a picture emerges of an individual and society going to great lengths to repair the horrors of war, with results that wind up creating new horror instead. It's almost a shame that the Hurley story in this issue isn't one from her Red Secretary universe, as the sense of inescapability in this story is reminiscent of the premise of that world (more on that next month). It's short, but you'll need to schedule in a few minutes to mutter "oh no oh no" repeatedly to yourself after reading.

Balancing out the creepiness, there's also a new exploration of love and family and disaspora identity, "Probabilitea", from John Chu. Katie's dad is "a physical manifestation of Order and Chaos", as is she; meaning she's inherited his power to understand and manipulate probabilities and the fabric of reality. This is understandably a pretty terrifying power to have if one doesn't know how to control it, and Katie is working on learning how, when a friend, Jackson - who happens to be a physical manifestation of Life and Death - asks her for help with a mission that only she can complete. The character relationships between Katie and her father, and Katie and Jackson, are all highly compelling, and it's a great exploration of maintaining human relationships and respecting the self-determination of loved ones even with those godlike superpowers in the equation.

Rating: 7/10

Stories of your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

Yes, yes, Ted Chiang has a new short story collection out this year, but I have never promised you current coverage in this column and, up until now, Chiang's highly accoladed debut collection has been a notable gap in my reading. The universe decided to remind me of this fact last year when I received the collection in not one but two different Secret Santa exchanges, and I finally paid attention and got down to it (with the exception of the titular story, which I had read and decided to skip this time around - so this review is technically just of "Stories of Others").

Having so much uncanny, slipstream-type fiction in this month's selection made it all the more interesting to sit down with Chiang's matter of fact science fictional style, and it's clear that so much of what makes this collection so well regarded is his ability to take simple yet outlandish science fictional premises and put them in a context that makes you go "oh, yes, of course". From the literal exploration of the biblical heavens - and the communities which would spring up in a centuries-long process of reaching them - in "Tower of Babylon" to the documentary narrative of a university wondering whether to make "attraction-blindness" technology compulsory in "Liking What You See: A Documentary", there's a sense of reading narratives where each piece is a controlled, explicable part of the wider whole. The common theme throughout is that of discovery: each story takes either a science fictional premise or alternate historic versions of science and the organisation of the universe, then puts characters into a position to make new discoveries within them. Different stories start this journey at different points: "Tower of Babylon" and "Understand", for example, put their protagonists at the start of a journey and follow them through it, whereas "Divide by Zero" and "The Evolution of Human Science" (a flash fiction piece originally written for Nature and by far the shortest story in the collection) focus more explicitly on the psychological repercussions of discoveries which upend one's worldview. The result is a really satisfying set of "what-ifs" from an author who, as has been consistently remarked, always seems to be at the top of his game. It's nice to read a book that lives up to the hype and, who knows? Maybe I'll get to Exhalation before the year is out.

Rating: 8/10

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

Nanoreviews: The Flowers of Vashnoi, That Ain't Witchcraft, Atmosphaera Incognita

Bujold, Lois McMaster. The Flowers of Vashnoi [Subterranean]

With no expectation of another full length Vorkosigan novel anywhere on the horizon, the publication of The Flowers of Vashnoi was a welcome addition to the canon. It's a somewhat unexpected story as the novella focuses on Ekaterin instead of Miles, Cordelia, or even Ivan. Through Ekaterin, Bujold tells the story of the Vashnoi region which is still irradiated from the long ago nuclear bombardment of the district. That's not what the novella is about, of course. This is the story of some of the people who still live in that district, scratching out an existence away from "civilization". It's about survivors, autonomy, doing right, and the responsibilities of power.

It is, as might be expected from Lois McMaster Bujold, a story told with grace and skill and a unmatched smoothness. I've seen an inclination of others to describe The Flowers of Vashnoi as "minor Bujold", but that fails to acknowledge that a "minor" work from Bujold would be a major work from nearly any other writer. Compared to the absolute best of Bujold, perhaps this is "minor Bujold, but it is simply an excellent story told well.
Score: 8/10

McGuire, Seanan. That Ain't Witchcraft [DAW]

With the eighth novel in the Hugo Award finalist Incryptid series, Seanan McGuire brings the three novel story arc of Antimony Price to a close. Still dealing with the fallout from Verity announcing to the world (and mostly to the Covenant) that the Prices are alive and standing in opposition to the Covenant’s goals, Antimony is likewise dealing with the ramifications of having to make a deal at the Crossroads to save her life and those of her friends – the ramification being that one day the Crossroads will come to collect. This is that novel.

McGuire pulls off the impressive task of having a huge world changing event late in the novel that is also somehow not the most significant thing that happened in That Ain’t Witchcraft in terms of impact to the Price family, and even that world changing event might be presumed of a smaller scale than it really is. This isn’t the space to go into the spoilers of what and why, but what McGuire pulled off is far more impressive than it might seem on the surface. Also impressive is that eight novels into a series I am in a continual state of delight at how fresh McGuire has been able to keep the series. The shifting viewpoint characters may have something to do with that. As such, I will be sad to say goodbye (for now) to Antimony Price and excited to see what Seanan McGuire has in store for us with Sarah Zellaby as the new viewpoint character in next year’s Imaginary Numbers.
Score: 7/10

Stephenson, Neal. Atmosphaera Incognita [Subterranean]

I am not a Neal Stephenson aficianado by any stretch of the imagination, only having read Seveneves previously and that is it, so I cannot speak to how Atmosphaera Incognita compares to his other work except that it is shorter. At its core, Atmosphaera Incognita is about building a space tower. That sentence doesn't sound nearly impressive enough to describe the scope of that project. This isn't a science text, but much of the story is built around the engineering of the tower - the challenge of the whole thing and the soaring success of accomplishment. It works.
Score: 7/10

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

Monday, June 24, 2019

Microreview [game]: Whispers of a Machine

In the future, there is no more IKEA...

Whispers of a Machine is a retro point-and-click adventure game in the Sierra/LucasGames mold. It features gorgeous VGA pixel graphics, a strong protagonist, engaging story and some neat gameplay innovations. But it also suffers from the genre's endemic weakness: namely, a reliance on unintuitive "fetch this for that" puzzles.

Whispers of a Machine bills itself as a science fictional take on Nordic noir, and the shoe fits. It is part of a growing movement of works across multiple media that asks what could happen when if the digital tools we increasingly rely on were to progress on their current trajectory, and then fail en masse. We are not told what happened, exactly, only that artificial intelligences have been banned as a result.

It is also a moody and atmospheric crime story. Vera Englund is an Operative - a kind of super agent with cybernetic enhancements - who has been sent to the small town of Nordsund to investigate a pair of gruesome murders. We are introduced to the town and its inhabitants, including a well-liked police chief, an enigmatic member of the Town Council, an eccentric robot mechanic and, of course, the murder victims. Slowly but surely we come to understand that the murders are linked to the worldwide ban on AI.

Gameplay is mostly what you'd expect - talk to various inhabitants of the town, search drawers for items of note, then use said items on said inhabitants or on other items. Go from A to B and then back to A. There are some innovations, though. Vera has a gun, which you can use occasionally; and she has cybernetic enhancements, which are quite cool. One is a forensic scanner, which you can use to uncover physical evidence and clues. Another is a biometric scanner, which allows you to detect when a witness is lying.

Then there are powers you develop over time - six in total, though you would have to play through multiple times to try them all out. The ones you get are determined by the dialogue choices you make - each conversation gives you analytical, empathetic and assertive options; pick one and you get different powers, which then determines how you solve various puzzles. I really like this idea, and it helps distinguish Whispers of a Machine from other retro-adventure games. It also adds replay value, as there are three paths to choose (as well as two choices at the end of each path). This is also a plus given that Whispers of a Machine is, like the genre classics it's modeled after, quite short.

All of this makes Whispers of a Machine an worthwhile experience. As an adventure game devotee, I'm very happy I picked this one up. That said, the game replicates some of the old school's major flaws. A lot of the puzzles are basically "fetch this for that" - a fact made worse when the connection between this and that is wholly unintuitive. That means you either solve the puzzle through trial and error (which is tedious) or through a cheat guide (which defeats the purpose of playing a puzzle game).

Old school adventure games used these kinds of puzzles because they were typically coded by one or two people and severely limited by storage size, neither of which applies in 2019. So if there is a sequel, I'd love it if the developers could lengthen the game and deploy more sophisticated puzzles.

I also have to say that Whispers of a Machine didn't pack quite the emotional punch of recent classics like Primordia or Gemini Rue, which explore the same narrative territory. The story is good, mind you - and certainly has its emotional touchpoints. But it felt like there are a more impactful message to send about our relationship to and reliance on technology.

Overall, I'd say Whispers of a Machine is a strong entry in the revitalized point-and-click genre. Adventure gamers should definitely pick this one up, but in the end it's one step short of greatness.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 7/10.

Bonuses: +1 for gorgeous pixel graphics; +1 for gameplay innovations.

Penalties: -1 for unintuitive fetch-this-for-that puzzles; -1 for just missing the mark on story.

Nerd Coefficient: 7/10. "A mostly enjoyable experience."


POSTED BY: The G--purveyor of nerdliness, genre fanatic and Nerds of a
Feather founder/administrator, since 2012. 

Friday, June 21, 2019

Microreview [book]: Children of Ruin, by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Ruin continues the Children of Time universe in a mostly standalone braid of stories of terraforming, Uplift and first contact.

“Mate, spiders are the least of it now.”

So the author himself said to me on twitter just before I cracked open Children of Ruin, the latest novel from SFF author Adrian Tchaikovsky. In SF circles, the author is known for using insects, particularly spiders, both in SF and fantasy contexts. I read the novels, waiting for the insects and spiders.

And so we come to his newest work, Children of Ruin. The novel follows two strands in the web of plot. In the “past” timeline, a human exploration ship before their fall into a dark age (and subsequent revival) has come into a likely solar system looking for a planet to terraform. What they find are two candidate planets, a marginal glaciated one, Damascus,  that might be melted into terraformability, and a second inner one, Nod, that, much to their disappointment is already full of indigenous life. That strange  alien life is worth study, but it means the planet is not really suited for future colonization. But within that life on Nod is a surprise. On Damascus, in the meantime, a crew member’s idea to use octpodes to help in the colonization will have unexpected consequences.

In the present day, a Human/Portiids (Spider) exploration ship with a clone of the AI from Children of Time, has arrived in that same solar system thousands of years later, to find, to their shock and surprise, what has happened in the interim to the two planets. The humans are gone, but on both planets, their legacy and inheritors are most definitely in evidence, and much more than the explorers anticipated. The octopodes, now fully intelligent and spacefaring,  now control local space, especially around the outer planet. And they seem to have a real aversion to humans. And what is happening on the inner planet is even stranger and more dangerous still.

The novel braids these timeframes, slowly revealing for the reader  (although the main characters in the present do eventually get dialed in) as to how the Terraforming project earlier in history did go so badly wrong, and the subsequent rise of the octopodes as a civilization, as well as the nature of the threat on the inner planet, Nod. Thus, the backstory strand is very much a story of terraforming and attempted settlement gone horribly wrong. In this way, it reminded me of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora in the sense of “meddling with and building ecosystems has unintended consequences”  (something  the prior novel is all about)  but without the frisson of “We never should have left Earth in the first place”.

A lot of the meat of the present day timeframe of the  novel comes around just what is on Nod,  why it is what it is, and how it is to be dealt with, along with trying to deal with the octopodes, who have their own mythology, for lack of a better word, about Nod. This enhances  what could have been a straightforward first contact portion of the novel into giving a existential threat, a ticking time bomb and a device that keeps the action flowing in the present. While the past does sometimes wanders a bit in its flow, the present is always under a relentless pacing that really does keep the pages turning with space battles, high tension and lots of action.

And then there is the emergent theme, one that is present once the human-Portiid contact happens in Children of Time, but it is even more extended here: How do intelligences alien to each other actual in the end manage to have meaningful communication? How can it be done, if at all, and what does it take to make it happen? Even among the Human-Portiid expedition, they are experimenting and trying to improve their alliance by improving how they communicate with each other. Add in Kern  herself, the Octopodes, and Nod, and there is plenty of fodder to explore the hazards, challenges, and possibilities of interspecies relations.

As fantastic as Children of Time was, readers who are new to Tchaikovsky,and are wondering if they might start here instead, I can confidently say that for the most part they can. The only individual character who bridges the gap in any sense is the aforementioned AI,  Kern, but the text does embed the essentials of who and what she is, and what she was in Children of Time. that readers can pick things up pretty easily. They might be surprised, though by some of the tech--like the fact that Kern’s hardware is partially composed of an ant colony.

I do appreciate that the author decided to go for a new approach here as opposed to the first novel. It would have been very easy for him to recapitulate the fast march evolution of the first novel and apply it instead to the Octopodes. We do find out how and why they make a technological civilization but it is braided with the main plot rather than being the thrust of the Baxterian march of time in the previous novel.

I think overall Children of Time is by a hair the better book. And I do think the nonhuman characters of Children of Ruin are inherently more interesting than the humans either in the past and the present. I think this is a consequence of the love, craft and care that the author puts on his non human creations. Not only the Portiids (that I’d have expected) but the other non human characters as well come across really well as alien but understandable characters. Still, given the hazards of sequels and second novels set in a universe, the novel archives a very high standard, and is certainly already a contender on my mental nomination ballots.

With Children of Ruin, Adrian Tchaikovsky proves and continues to prove that he is one of the most exciting, inventive, thoughtful and talented SF writers in the field today.

The Math

Baseline Assessment 8//10

Bonuses : +1 for inventive worldbuilding and world design
+1 for showing the problems and possibilities of interspecies contact in a realistic way

Penalties : -1 The human characters do not come alive quite as much as the non-human ones

Nerd Coefficient: 9/10. very high quality/standout in its category

Reference:  Tchaikovsky, Adrian: Children of Ruin [Orbit, 2019]

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

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Thursday Morning Superhero

Before we hop into this week's comics I wanted to share a Kickstarter that I am a proud backer of with the hopes that some of you will consider supporting this important project. Comicker LLC relaunched their Shots Fired campaign to raise money for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and the Community Justice Reform Coalition. A group of tremendously talented creators and lending their time to this anthology and I really hope that it funds quickly.

Pick of the Week:
Usagi Yojimbo #1 - Stan Saki and Tom Luth have teamed up with IDW Publishing to bring a new era of Usagi Yojimbo books to life. If you aren't familiar with Usagi Yojimbo, it is a relatively light hearted comic that is rich with Japanese history and folklore. This book introduces the reader to the art of Bunraku, a form of puppet theater and the rigorous training that these artists go on in their puppeteering journey. Toss in some good old fashioned demon hunting and you are left with a highly entertaining book that teaches you something new with each issue. This is a series I plan on introducing my kids to and I am hopeful that a new generation of comic book fans will get to enjoy Saki's stories.

The Rest:
Daredevil #7 - This was a slower issue that introduced some interesting plot points that will impact the story moving forward, but one that had me wanting more. The big twist was that Kingpin is retiring from his life of organized crime, but is still going to pull some strings from his position as Mayor.  Matt Murdock, on the other hand, is still grappling with his past and is inching towards becoming Daredevil again. He has some inner demons he needs to confront before he will be capable of returning properly. I am curious to see how things shake up without Kingpin overseeing the various leaders across the city.  I have a feeling that once they vie for control that it will force Daredevil out of retirement.

Gideon Falls #14 - Father Bishop, an individual that is referenced as disappearing years ago early on in the series, has returned to Gideon Falls after 50 years without aging. We learn that in one of the alternative dimensions in which he was pursuing Sinclair, time moves much slower.  He learns that he is destined to gather a group of five leaders to fight the darkness that Sinclair is bringing to power. Jeff Lemire is clearly building towards an epic showdown between the two groups and I hope that we see more of Sinclair assembling power for his means in the next issue.

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

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Reading the Hugos: Graphic Story

Welcome back for another edition of Reading the Hugos, our ongoing and long running feature looking at the Hugo Awards. Today we're going to look at the six finalists for Graphic Story.

This year, not a single comic I nominated made the final ballot. The one I most feel the loss of is Ed Piskor's X-Men: Grand Design, which I thought was a novel reimagining and retelling of of the earliest X-Men stories (see SFK's review). As a general rule, mainline Marvel comics don't make the Hugo Awards ballot (meaning, Avengers / X-Men stuff that doesn't have strong genre ties or are written by well known / regarded writers like Nnedi Okorafor or Saladin Ahmed) and it would have been nice to see Piskor breaking through here.

Regardless. On to the finalists.

Abbott, written by Saladin Ahmed, art by Sami Kivelä, colours by Jason Wordie, letters by Jim Campbell (BOOM! Studios)
Black Panther: Long Live the King, written by Nnedi Okorafor and Aaron Covington, art by André Lima Araújo, Mario Del Pennino and Tana Ford (Marvel)
Monstress, Volume 3: Haven, written by Marjorie Liu, art by Sana Takeda (Image Comics)
On a Sunbeam, by Tillie Walden (First Second)
Paper Girls, Volume 4, written by Brian K. Vaughan, art by Cliff Chiang, colours by Matt Wilson, letters by Jared K. Fletcher (Image Comics)
Saga, Volume 9, written by Brian K. Vaughan, art by Fiona Staples (Image Comics)

Monstress: I find myself increasingly in the minority regarding Monstress. There's no questioning the raw excellence of Sana Takeda's art, but I'm not sure I'm really following the story anymore and I'm not interested in going back and re-reading each preceding volume before jumping into the new one, just in the hopes that I'll be able to piece it all together. There's some cool (and badass) stuff in this book - perhaps more here than in "The Blood", but I'm reading Monstress more out of some sense of genre obligation and a vague hope that this will all come together for me in the next book. We'll see.

Paper Girls: Similar to Monstress, I'm not really sure what the overarching story is over Paper Girls or what Vaughan is building to. Unlike Monstress, I'm all in for this ride. I dig the time travel and being of a certain age, dropping the girls into the year 2000 and the fear of Y2K hits a particular emotional nostalgia that I remember so well - but what makes Paper Girls work so well for me is the interactions between the four girls, how they interact with the points in time they're dropped, and the gradual reveals of a war to change or preserve time itself. Maybe even moreso than Saga, I hope this is an ending that Vaughan is going to be able to stick and that he has a plan to bring it all together. But, for now, Vaughan is firing on all cylinders.

Black Panther: Okorafor brings Black Panther back from global threats and wide scale battle, and even from major events threatening Wakanda to tighter stories focused more on the "people on the ground", the citizens of Wakanda through the eyes of T'Challa. I appreciate that these aren't big stories, but rather are trying to reach the heart of what Wakanda is and can be and if it really is or can be as utopian as possible for all of its citizens.

On a Sunbeam: On a Sunbeam is a love story, a friendship story, a space adventure, a story of rebellion at a boarding school, and a bit of an action movie all rolled into one. It’s a beautiful piece of quiet storytelling. With absolutely wild visuals of architecture and space travel that probably would make no sense in a more conventional science fiction story, On a Sunbeam is grounded into the relationships between Mia and Grace and with Mia and the crewmembers of a spaceship shaped like a fish who become a family to her. The two narrative paths of the story are set five years apart, and one part of the “present” storyline is wondering how Mia got from the school to the ship and just what happened? I’ve never read anything quite like this, though it feels familiar at the same time.

The other finalists for Graphic Story are what I think of as more “traditional” comic books, collections of 4 to 5 issues published individually then gathered together for a trade paperback collection often around 120 pages. They are usually a story arc that may or may not hang together as a singular volume. On a Sunbeam was originally a webcomic and when published in book form clocks in over 500 pages. In some ways, On a Sunbeam feels like the sort of work the Graphic Story was created to honor, though looking at the history of the category shows a reasonable cross section between works that make the ballot for 3-5 years in a row and others that are much more of a one off tale or just represent good storytelling that year. However you consider On a Sunbeam, it is wonderful.

Saga: Saga has been a difficult book to talk about because the events of any given volume are just so batshit insane, even nine volumes into to the series - but the core of the story has been the star crossed love story between Marko and Alana and their perpetual attempts to keep their daughter safe even though it seems everything in the galaxy want them dead. The core is there, as are the hints of heartbreak permeating the series through their daughter Hazel's narration.

Volume 9 is the midpoint for the series and it marks the point Vaughan and Staples are taking a year long hiatus. They're leaving us with shock, awe, and pain. Every time it seems the series has hit a new high point, they reach back and let loose another fastball thrown harder than the last one. I'm not sure a baseball analogy works here, but there are some seriously shocking and series altering events in this book that I'm not sure how else to talk about them in vague terms. Listen, Volume 9 collects issues 49 through 54 and this isn't the place to begin if you're new to Saga - go back. It's one story and it's a great one.

Abbott: Saladin Ahmed comes hard with Abbott and he doesn't relent for a moment. This is a bad ass comic book and it is everything I didn't know that I wanted until I read it. Elena Abbott is a reporter covering some nasty, nasty crimes ignored by the police. She's better than good at her job, but then she'd have to be as a black woman in 1972 Detroit. Racism. Sexism. Some evil magical shit. Ahmed has packed Abbott with top notch storytelling and a tight narrative that you don't want to look away from, but maybe not late at night.

Abbott is a revelation. There are secrets and lies and this is a stunning, great piece of writing matched to near perfect art. Don't miss this.

My Vote
1. Abbott
2. Saga
3. On a Sunbeam
4. Black Panther
5. Paper Girls
6. Monstress

Our Previous Coverage
Short Story
Related Work

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

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Microreview [Book]: The Gameshouse by Claire North

The pieces mostly fall into place for this combined novella trilogy

Cover design by Lisa Marie Pompilio

The Gameshouse was originally published as a novella trilogy: The Serpent, The Thief and The Master, available as e-books only. Now, for the first time, the trilogy is being released together, and despite the very different protagonists and tones to each volume in this series, it's an experience that benefits from being taken altogether, allowing the overarching plot to be experienced immediately and without breaks. Plus, with its action thriller tones, its hard to pull away from this novel-sized experience once you're in its grip.

The stories all revolve around the titular Gameshouse - a place which appears to exist outside time and space, where things mundane, intangible and world-defining can be won and lost over a wide variety of games. From personal questions to political positions to chronic illnesses to "appreciation for the taste of strawberries", everything is up for wager over games ranging from snap to Mortal Kombat, and it is expected that every game must have a stake of some kind. Players dabble in the lower league until, rarely, they are invited to win a place amongst the higher-ups, where the stakes are higher and players can apparently continue for centuries. The backdrop of the Gameshouse seems to present a set of unifying rules against which the world is run, but we soon find that it isn't quite as objective as it seems; that control of the Gameshouse is itself a game which is about to come to an interesting conclusion.

In The Serpent, we are first introduced to the Gameshouse in medieval Venice, where Thene, a Jewish woman who has been married off to an abusive debtor husband, finds an escape there when she's invited by a silver-haired stranger to play. She is soon able to surpass her husband and catch the notice of higher level players, and accepts a place in a game of "Kings", where she and three others must compete to get their candidate elected as the new Tribune of Venice. The victor will be inducted into the higher level players at the Gameshouse, while the losers are barred from the institution overall. As she starts playing the hand she's been dealt - each "card" corresponding to humans who have, one way or another, come into the debt of the Gameshouse and are now serving to pay it off - Thene starts to explore the metagame beyond the rules of her particular engagement, realising that the candidate selection, her hand and the relative skills of the other players all add up to a game whose scales have been tipped in favour of others. As a Jewish woman in 1600's Venice playing against three men, and controlling the fate of a fourth, we already expect Thene to be an underdog who faces prejudice even in the relative escape of the game, but watching her uncover how the board has likely been weighted and try to understand why is just as satisfying as her actual plays. Thene is just naive enough to be likeable in a cutthroat world (not realising the stakes for some of her "pieces", for example) without ever being irritating. While it wraps up the game, Thene's story also gives us flashes of a wider story behind the Gameshouse, particularly through a distinct third-person narrator who clearly knows more than they are letting on.

Centuries after Thene, several of the same players return for The Thief, which takes us to 1900s Bangkok and to, of all things, a game of hide and seek between two of the Gameshouse's elite. The protagonist, Remy Burke (a six foot European whose inability to blend in in the Thai countryside is a bit of a hindrance) wakes up after a heavy night of drinking, only to be told that one of the many things he doesn't remember about his previous night was agreeing to a game from an up-and-coming player called Abhik Lee. Moreover, Remy has bet his own memory, which is bad news both for him as a person and for the balance of the Gameshouse, where other players will struggle to deal with a player who has not only his own experience but the stolen gifts of an even older rival. Down on his luck and unprepared for any engagement, Remy nevertheless manages to get out and begin a desperate escape across rural Thailand, all the while trying to work out how the game has been allowed to go ahead in the first place. Like Thene's story, the metagame is as important as the game, and even without specific resources to deploy, Remy basically ends up thinking of all the individuals he meets as "pieces" to be used, even when he ends up making at times quite personal connections with some of them. Once again, the resolution of this hide and seek game leaves a lot unresolved in terms of how it came about, but it's quite a neat ending that remains true to Remy's desperation and the sense of weighted odds while being quite clever.

The unanswered questions of Thene and Remy's stories inevitably come back in the final novella, The Master, which raises the stakes as high as they can go. As we've been expecting since The Serpent, the series narrator takes centre stage here - in the process revealing themself and the common role they've played in each story, although this isn't particularly hard to guess - and recounts the story of a challenge to the Gamesmaster herself. The ensuing match spans years and continents, bringing down governments and criminal forces alike in a match whose ultimate goal is to find and capture, or kill, the other player. It's intriguing to watch the narration shift from an intrusive but distant third person to a first person perspective at the same time that the rotating cast of characters gets even less invested in and more quickly used and discarded. Despite bringing the trilogy to an interesting close, however, The Master worked least well of the three novellas in terms of my interest in its main story and emotional beats, because the protagonist is so institutionalised into the Gameshouse that their motivations for bringing it down, despite being revealed as deeply emotional, just aren't on a level that really resonates with the reader, especially given the scale of carnage.

And I think that's where the big "your Mileage may vary" element comes in to this trilogy: the way The Gameshouse treats its characterisation divides the world into players and pieces, even if the players in one game might be pieces in another, and caring about the use and fate of pieces beyond their utility is considered to be optional at best. There's a big assumption about how power accumulates and what it can be made to do which pervades the novels, and while there's technically an alternative - the ideology of chance, represented by another ancient character - this doesn't get much exploration and the eventual question of "is chance kinder than process" isn't truly unpacked. From the death of Thene's initial piece, which serves as a wake-up call for her even if it doesn't change her eventual trajectory the stakes escalate to tens, if not hundreds, of people being killed at once as collateral in a skirmish between two hidden people with little remark. We're locked into reading about a deeply unfair, weighted system which toys with people's lives as if the harm and the glamour are inseparable (an effect which gets even stronger when reading about colonial players in Thailand, or the global networks in The Master - a subject which could be an entire essay on its own) and these stories just don't have much alternative to offer beyond a shrug despite the amount of narrative energy spent showing up the flaws in how things are currently done.

The extent to which this aspect frustrates, however, will depend very much on what you're coming to The Gameshouse for, and if you're coming for thriller plots and action in the context of an engaging conspiratorial conceit, you're going to find those elements executed extremely well. Each of the novella-thirds is plotted extremely tightly, mysteries of the world aside, and at least in The Serpent and The Thief, the protagonists come across as likeable and competent even as they're being outplayed or struggling to make their hands work most of the time, with reversals that come suddenly but satisfyingly to pull things off. And, indeed, the fact that The Gameshouse doesn't have answers to its own questions seems on many levels to be a deliberate one, particularly given the way the overarching narrative ends. Is it valid to critique a work for a point it was never trying to make, or where the loose ends are the point? Maybe - or maybe that's just what the players want me to think? While I try to untangle myself from the webs of unknown influence guiding this review, you consider going to check out the Gameshouse next time you're after twisty - if slightly detached - speculative political thriller.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 The Serpent! Thene is amazing, the setting is great and it's the most human of the novellas.

Penalties: -1 The Master broadens the scope and the stakes but at the expense of a genuinely backable central character; -1 wait so what was that about forces of order against forces of chaos and the complex and unknown space for human kindness? Is that coming up ag - oh no, fair enough.

Nerd Coefficient: 7/10

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

Reference:  North, Claire. The Gameshouse [Orbit, 2019].

Monday, June 17, 2019

Feminist Futures: Watchtower

Dossier: Lynn, Elizabeth A. Watchtower [Berkley, 1979]

Filetype: Book

Executive Summary: Watchtower opens with Tornor Keep overrun by raiders, the lord of the keep slain and the heir taken captive. Ryke, one of Tornor's watch commanders, agrees to join the southern invaders in order to protect the life of Errel, the prince and should-be lord of Tornor Keep.

After an eventual escape, Ryke and Errel journey to find allies with the goal of taking back Tornor, but on that journey they find a community offering another way of life, one built on equal contribution and a distinct lack of sexism and classism (unlike the stereotypically feudal Tornor). 

Reclaiming Tornor remains the goal, but much of the story is the evolving discovery of what is possible in this surprisingly small feeling world.

Feminist Future: Despite knowing Watchtower was a feminist fantasy novel, the opening of the novel puts to rest much of the hope for women in this world. Tornor keep, whether ruled by the invaders or the previous lords, is not a welcome place. Women are to be used. Women are not to control their own lives and their own destinies. 

Tornor is not the entire world, though it is representative of the other keeps in the north. It is unclear whether southerners as whole have more open and accepting values or if it that the community collecting themselves are all outsiders looking for a place to belong, and there (and perhaps only there) they can find acceptance and lack of judgment. There are same sex couples and it is no more remarkable than a heterosexual couple. There is opportunity for an individual to contribute to the level of ability, rather than of strictly determined roles of a patriarchal society.

Of course, this isn't precisely a "future" as Watchtower takes place in a world not our own. This isn't a desolate future recovering from some cataclysm and it isn't an alternate timeline.

Hope for the Future: While not offering visions of possible futures for our world and whatever the timeline we happen to be on, Watchtower does offer a glimmer of hope for the future of its own world and for the keep of Tornor. 

This will lead to discussion of the ending of the novel, but Watchtower is a forty year old novel and I think we can be forgiven a bit of the spoilers. 

Watchtower offers an idyllic and somewhat utopian community focused on a level of equality seen nowhere else in the known world, but that's not what the true hope for the future is. The true hope comes at the very end of the novel when Tornor Keep is retaken and Errel is restored to his rightful rule, except that he refuses in favor of his sister Sorren and also offers the regency of a neighboring keep to Ryke. 

This matters because we had previously known Sorren as one of the pair of messengers helping Ryke and Errel to safety. Sorren had fled Tornor years ago because she didn't want the life offered to her as a woman and as a woman who loved another woman. As the new ruler of Tornor and one who lived in that idyllic community for a time, she is likely to offer a cultural shift for both the men and women of Tornor.

Legacy: Watchtower was the winner of the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 1980. Also on the ballot that same year, Lynn's follow up novel to Watchtower, The Dancers of Arun. Lynn also won a second World Fantasy Award that same year for her short story "The Woman Who Loved the Moon", first published in Amazons! (reviewed here by Adri Joy).  

Elizabeth A. Lynn is not a very prolific author, with most of her work published between 1978 and 1983 (five novels, a novella, and a story collection). Lynn's work is notable when published, often gaining recognition on the annual Locus Magazine list. 

Watchtower was recognized in 1996 with being listed on the Tiptree Award's Retrospective short list, but it is not an often discussed novel these days. What was daring when Lynn first published is much more commonplace these days, and ultimately that is something worth celebrating. 

In Retrospect:
Though there were hints and themes of gay and lesbian relationships in "golden age" science fiction and fantasy, it wasn't until the second wave feminist novels published in the 1960's where homosexuality became overt in speculative literature. This is a gross simplification, of course, but serves well enough as a high level description to lead into how remarkable it felt to read a fantasy novel published in 1979 with a same sex relationship presented in such a way that was utterly casual and besides the point to the story being told.

All decisions a writer makes regarding the narrative is political and there is no question that Elizabeth Lynn's making the relationship between Norres and Sorren a non-point except that it only comes up through the friendship and hoped for romance between Ryke and Sorren (as in, Ryke is interested in more than a friendship and Sorren is in a committed relationship with Norres). Even better, it is a relationship that Ryke respects and leaves alone despite his feelings. That's rare.

For a forty year old fantasy novel revolutionary in part by the handling of a same sex relationship, Watchtower holds up as a novel worth reading today. It is perhaps not the groundbreaking fantasy novel it was when first published, and any number of novels today are doing the work Watchtower did in 1979, but this is a solid (if sometimes frustrating) work.


For its time: 4/5
Read today: 3/5.
Wollstonecraft Meter: 7/10

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