Friday, November 29, 2019

New Books Spotlight

Welcome to another edition of the New Books Spotlight, where each month or so we curate a selection of 6 new and forthcoming books we find notable, interesting, and intriguing. It gives us the opportunity to shine a brief spotlight on some stuff we're itching to get our hands on.

What are you looking forward to? Anything you want to argue with us about? Is there something we should consider spotlighting in the future? Let us know in the comments!

Adeyemi, Tomi. Children of Virtue and Vengeance [Macmillan]
Publisher's Description
After battling the impossible, Zélie and Amari have finally succeeded in bringing magic back to the land of Orïsha. But the ritual was more powerful than they could’ve imagined, reigniting the powers of not only the maji, but of nobles with magic ancestry, too.

Now, Zélie struggles to unite the maji in an Orïsha where the enemy is just as powerful as they are. But when the monarchy and military unite to keep control of Orïsha, Zélie must fight to secure Amari's right to the throne and protect the new maji from the monarchy's wrath.

With civil war looming on the horizon, Zélie finds herself at a breaking point: she must discover a way to bring the kingdom together or watch as Orïsha tears itself apart.

Children of Virtue and Vengeance is the stunning sequel to Tomi Adeyemi's New York Times-bestselling debut Children of Blood and Bone, the first book in the Legacy of Orïsha trilogy. 
Why We Want It: Adeyemi's debut Children of Blood and Bone was one of the biggest novels of 2018 and won the Lodestar Award for Best YA Novel last year. It was an exciting debut and Children of Virtue and Vengeance is has the potential to be one of this year's notable books.

Lansdale, Joe R. The Sky Done Ripped [Subterranean]
Publisher's Description
You might think two books of adventure involving Ned the brain-enhanced Seal would be enough for any little seal’s lifetime, but not so.

Ned is back.

Ned and H. G. Wells, returning from correcting wounds in the fabric of time, not to mention a brief trip to an alternate Mars, have rescued two shipwreck survivors, Bongo Bill and Suzie Q. They have saved them from drowning or possibly being killed by alien invaders.

In the process of jumping from one dimension to another, trying to discover a time path home, they find themselves in an inner world with a stationary sun. It’s a warm world with jungles, rivers, and land-locked seas. It is full of primitive creatures, including dinosaurs, highly intelligent apes, cannibals, strange storms and bad hygiene.

Deciding on a brief picnic and minor exploration before jumping to Victorian England, Ned and his friends end up saving a famous apeman from human-eating birds, and soon set out to assist the apeman, Tango, in stealing a Golden Fleece with curative powers, a fleece skinned from the body of a strange space traveler. The fleece resides in a magnificent city, a kind of Shangri-La in the far Blue Mountains.

Their plan is to use the fleece to cure Tango’s beautiful wife, who has fallen into a coma. Nothing seems to cure her, but the rumored miraculous powers of the Golden Fleece just might.

If the world doesn’t kill them, then another survivor of the shipwreck from which Bongo Bill and Suzie Q were rescued just might. She has been pulled into a time warp and blended with the souls of marauding aliens, as well as the techno souls of their machines.

She has mutated. She has grown to great size. She has invented rolling machines that maul the trees and crush the earth, blend rocks and bones, blood and jungle into one vast wasteland. She has gained terrible powers, and lost all connection to humanity. She has become She Who Must Be Obeyed and Eats Lunch Early. Her whole purpose is chaos, and she has gathered an army to help her do just that. She has destroyed the villages she has come across and enslaved the inhabitants. She and her army are heading in the direction of the Blue Mountains, to the fabled city that contains the Golden Fleece.

Inevitably, she will collide with our heroes, and it won’t be pretty.

Come now to the worlds and times of Ned the Seal. Share his journeys, as he honks the horn on his power sled, avoids becoming a culinary prize of beasts and cannibals, and settles in for a meal of fish, baked or fried, dried or raw.

Cause the Sky Done Ripped and everything has gone to adventurous hell. And thank goodness. 
Why We Want It: It's been thirteen years since Flaming London, the gonzo alternate history pulp science fiction tale. I had long since given up on the idea that Lansdale would publish a promised third novella - and I'm absolutely thrilled I'll have the chance to read one more.

McClellan, Brian. Blood of Empire [Orbit]
Publisher's Description
As the final battle approaches a sellsword, a spy, and a general must find unlikely and dangerous allies in order to turn the tides of war in the last book of Brian McClellan’s epic fantasy trilogy of magic and gunpowder. 

The Dynize have unlocked the Landfall Godstone, and Michel Bravis is tasked with returning to Greenfire Depths to do whatever he can to prevent them from using its power; from sewing dissension among the enemy ranks to rallying the Palo population.

Ben Styke’s invasion of Dynize is curtailed when a storm scatters his fleet. Coming ashore with just twenty lancers, he is forced to rely on brains rather than brawn – gaining new allies in a strange land on the cusp of its own internal violence.

Bereft of her sorcery and physically and emotionally broken, Lady Vlora Flint now marches on Landfall at the head of an Adran army seeking vengeance against those who have conspired against her. While allied politicians seek to undo her from within, she faces insurmountable odds and Dynize’s greatest general. 
Why We Want It: I am perpetually one book behind on McClellan, but I loved Sins of Empire as the follow up to The Powder Mage trilogy and I need to read the second book soon because Blood of Empire wraps up the whole thing. McClellan writes top notch epic fantasy.

Thomas, Lynne M and Michael Damien. The Best of Uncanny [Subterranean]
Publisher's Description
Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas have co-edited and co-published Uncanny Magazine since its launch in 2014. They brought readers stunning cover art, passionate science fiction and fantasy fiction and poetry, gorgeous prose, and provocative nonfiction by writers from every conceivable background, including some of science fiction and fantasy’s most fabulous award-winning and bestselling authors. In its first four years, Uncanny Magazine won the Best Semiprozine Hugo Award three times (2016, 2017, 2018), Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas won the 2018 Best Editor —Short Form Hugo Award for their work on the magazine, and numerous stories from Uncanny Magazine have been finalists or winners of Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and World Fantasy Awards-- including the novelette “Folding Beijing” by Hao Jingfang (translated by Ken Liu) which won the 2016 Best Novelette Hugo Award and the novelette “You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay” by Alyssa Wong which won the 2017 Best Novelette Locus Award.

This Best of Uncanny anthology collects those two novelettes and many of the other best stories and poems from the first 22 issues of Uncanny Magazine. Naomi Novik plunges you into a delicious fractured fairy tale retelling in “Blessings.” Delilah S. Dawson explores superpowers, harassment, and revenge in"Catcall." Neil Gaimantakes you along to keep pace with his gorgeous and powerful poem “The Long Run.” Charlie Jane Anders shakes up a haunting cocktail of comedy clubs and love with "Ghost Champagne." Mary Robinette Kowal weaves a heartbreaking tale of marriage, duty, and magical curses in "Midnight Hour." N.K. Jemisin ruminates on dangerous fans, awards, and legacy in “Henosis.” Maria Dahvana Headleyslinks into a Classic Hollywood of animal actors and sleazy secrets with “If You Were a Tiger, I’d Have to Wear White.” Catherynne M. Valente travels to a colony world infested with strange psychic cats in “Planet Lion.” Carmen Maria Machado wrestles with predators, identity, and death in“My Body, Herself.” And Seanan McGuire sings a tragic song of misunderstandings and unfortunate consequences with “Ye Highlands and Ye Lowlands.”

 Those pieces are only the beginning. The Best of Uncanny features some of the uncanniest stories and poetry in SF/F today, by its current leading voices. Sit down and immerse yourself in 44 original science fiction and fantasy stories and poems that can make you feel. 
Why We Want It: Uncanny is one of the preeminent short fiction venues running today and a "Best Of" anthology is a must-read showcase of excellence.

VanderMeer, Jeff. Dead Astronauts [FSG]
Publisher's Description
A messianic blue fox who slips through warrens of time and space on a mysterious mission. A homeless woman haunted by a demon who finds the key to all things in a strange journal. A giant leviathan of a fish, centuries old, who hides a secret, remembering a past that may not be its own. Three ragtag rebels waging an endless war for the fate of the world against an all-powerful corporation. A raving madman who wanders the desert lost in the past, haunted by his own creation: an invisible monster whose name he has forgotten and whose purpose remains hidden.

 Jeff VanderMeer's Dead Astronauts presents a City with no name of its own where, in the shadow of the all-powerful Company, lives human and otherwise converge in terrifying and miraculous ways. At stake: the fate of the future, the fate of Earth—all the Earths. 
Why We Want It: Even when you read the description, you have no idea what it is that you're going to read when you pick up a Jeff VanderMeer novel and that's part of the delight.

Wagers, K.B. Down Among the Dead [Orbit]
Publisher's Description
Gunrunner empress Hail Bristol must navigate alien politics and deadly plots to prevent an interspecies war, in this second novel in the Farian War space opera trilogy. 

In a surprise attack that killed many of her dearest subjects, Hail Bristol, empress of Indrana, has been captured by the Shen — the most ruthless and fearsome aliens humanity has ever encountered. As she plots her escape, the centuries-long war between her captors and the Farians, their mortal enemies and Indrana’s oldest allies, finally comes to a head.

When her captors reveal a shocking vision of the future, Hail must make the unexpectedly difficult decision she’s been avoiding: whether to back the Shen or the Farians.

Staying neutral is no longer an option. Will Hail fight? Or will she fall? 
Why We Want It: Wagers can't write fast enough for my taste. Down Among the Dead is the second novel in her Farian War series and if I had my way I'd have had this novel in my hands moments after finishing There Before the Chaos because I was not ready to step away from Hail Bristol. Wagers is one of my favorites.

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

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Watchmen Wednesdays: Episode 6

Watchmen Wednesdays!

The meta gets real!

In episode six of Watchmen, "This Extraordinary Being," very few narrative plot lines resurface, but important content regarding the themes of this show is explored more fully, from racial violence to police brutality to white-washing superheroes. While exploring all these themes in nuance and detail, it's still an entertaining--if brutal--episode.

As seen at the end of episode five, one of the last things Angela Abar does before her arrest is swallow all the pills left behind by Will Reeves, her grandfather. These pills are a drug called Nostalgia, which basically contains individual memories of that person's life, allowing that person to relive the memories in detail. So, the episode is almost entirely Will Reeves' story, told in black and white. Honestly, it's a magnificent episode. The black and white choice doesn't feel gimmicky, and POV shots from Will Reeves are used with great precision, particularly during violent moments.

The basic plot unfolds as a story of a black police officer turned vigilante. Will Reeves is immediately discriminated against, even during his graduation from the police academy. He's warned by multiple people in the force to beware of "cyclops," which turns out to be the shorthand for KKK in the police department. The secret symbol for the "cyclops" group is a twist on the current popularity among the alt-right to flash the "okay" hand symbol, which did make me crack up. Will Reeves turns vigilante after some of the KKK cops pretend to lynch him before cutting him down. On his walk back, the noose still hanging around his neck, he encounters a mugging and he pulls on the hood.

He becomes Hooded Justice, one of the first vigilantes that later joins the Minutemen. Earlier in the season, we'd been introduced to Hooded Justice through the documentary that is meta-commentary throughout the episode, but in that documentary, Hooded Justice is clearly white. Part of the documentary is shown in this episode, and Hooded Justice does reveal his face--a white guy. Through the black and white footage, Will Reeves is shown putting on white make up around his eyes because that was the only way his vigilante work would be accepted.

Will Reeves in white make-up, a mirror to Sister Knight's black mask.

This is proven true when he joins the Minutemen. While the leader of the Minutemen and his gay lover says he's "open-minded" but tells Will to not take off his hood, even among the other Minutemen. Their racism is confirmed when the Minutemen do an advertisement at a press conference that uses racists imagery. Similarly, in small gestures, this episode deals with other themes that have been an undercurrent throughout the show, such as police violence, Will Reeves/Angela Abar as black police officers, and historical foundations of white supremacist groups (such as the KKK to Seventh Kavalry).

The episode ends on one important plot point with reverberations for the future. The KKK cops are using a type of visual hypnosis to brainwash people into fighting each other--particularly black people in this episode. In 2019, Will uses this same technology to hypnotize the police chief and make him hang himself.

While this episode didn't necessarily advance the plot (and was the first episode that didn't feature an Ozymandias storyline), it did so much to advance the themes and provide historical context for not only Will Reeves' actions, but that of the Seventh Kavalry and the current police institution.

Young and older Will Reeves.

After that emotional ride, I'm interested to see how the next episode will pick up the plot threads. With only three episodes to go, my hope is waning that we will have a satisfactory or fulfilling ending as too many mysterious have been posited at this point, but if the last few episodes can stay true to the emotions of the season, it will be satisfying. Here's to next week!

Phoebe Wagner currently studies at University of Nevada: Reno. When not writing or reading, she can be found kayaking at the nearest lake. Follow her at or on Twitter @pheebs_w.

The Dragon Prince Re-Read: Stronghold

Welcome back to my Melanie Rawn re-read! When left off last month we had concluded Rawn's Dragon Prince trilogy (Dragon Prince, The Star Scroll, Sunrunner's Fire). For the sake of labeling, one could make an argument that I should call this "The Dragon Star Re-Read" because Stronghold is the opening novel to Rawn's Dragon Star trilogy. The thing is, Dragon Star feels more like a continuation of the Dragon Prince novels than it does a fully separate entity. In my write up of Sunrunner's Fire I suggested that if you consider story arcs across the series, the six books really comprise a single trilogy that looks like this:

1. Dragon Prince (1 book)
2. Star Scroll / Sunrunner's Fire (2 books)
3. Dragon Star (3 books)

I still think that works. Where Dragon Prince was a standalone that set up future stories, The Star Scroll and Sunrunner's Fire had distinct story arcs that were as much in service of setting up a larger story as they were concluding the proper story arc of dealing with the fallout from Roelstra. Dragon Star is three books comprising one war.

As before, this is less of a proper review and more of a re-read. There is an excellent chance of book and previous trilogy spoilers, though I will attempt to limit (but not necessarily eliminate) those that touch on the remainder of the Dragon Star trilogy. You have been warned. The quick answer is that I am a huge fan of these novels from Melanie Rawn and very highly recommend them. Go read, I'll still be here.

One way that I keep describing both Stronghold and the Dragon Star trilogy is: Melanie Rawn kills everyone and burns the whole thing to the ground. I mean this in the best possible way, but everything that Rawn spent so much time and emotional energy building in the Dragon Prince trilogy with Rohan and his dreams of peace is completely shattered with the invasion of the Vellant'im. We know nothing about these people, except that they are bearded, targeting faradh'im (the Sunrunners) and are destroying and burning their way across the continent, seemingly towards the desert.

Rawn was likely planning this from the start, given that she published Dragon Prince in 1988, published the next two in 1989 and 1990, and immediately published Stronghold in 1991. But, more than publishing one trilogy and and then working on the next one, Rawn seeded The Star Scroll and Sunrunner's Fire with hints of the Dragon Star novels. It was the war with the sorcerers, but also the continuing hints of Andry's vision of his world in flames and his family destroyed. Andry knew this war was coming, though he didn't know when or how. Stronghold shows how. Or, at least, the beginning of how.

The build to war is slow. There are several more hints at the invasion to come, the first coastal cities are hit but they are hit during cloud cover so it takes longer for word to spread to Stronghold and Dragon's Rest than it otherwise might. Scattered reports are getting through, and what to believe? Except that the invaders are burning and gutting cities / castles and then moving farther inland.

Stronghold is where Rawn starts killing minor (and major) characters. This invasion is for real, and nobody is safe. This is made clear as the invasion begins to hit the Desert. But, besides the invasion, there are two other primary conflicts. The first is the inevitable conflict of Pol vs Andry. At this point Andry is well established as Lord of Goddess Keep with fully established power. Pol is the next High Prince and is starting to move into that role, but he's still a step behind Rohan because Pol doesn't fully inherit so long as Rohan is around. But, a central conflict of the series is the battling influences and ideas of Pol vs Andry. It doesn't get any better here.

The other conflict is, sadly, Pol vs Rohan. Despite being lord of Princemarch and the next High Prince, Pol still lives in the shadow of his father. As one does, especially when one's father is such a prominent and vital man in that particular world. Pol chafes, and he has the inexperience of youth that his ideas of how to behave and what the appropriate response should be is in conflict with what Rohan knows based on his years of experience and what he has spent his life trying to build (unified rule of law, general peace). But as the invasion deepens, Pol begins to no longer trust his father's decisions. He wants desperately to believe in Rohan like he did as a child, but each step chafes.

Which is the point that I start bringing in my own personal situation into the book and I think about my relationship with my father and the relationship I hope to have with my children (an almost five year old and a two year old), and the struggles of fatherhood and growing in different directions but still being family. I think of Andry's relationship with Chay (his father) and with Rohan and Pol (uncle and cousin), and of my extended families and my hopes. This has nothing to do with the book itself, but it part of my introspection around it. It's the stuff that I think about when I think about the book. Getting older changes how you think about stuff, and that's even when you don't have a near nameless murderous invasion destroying your land and you see your father just not doing anything to stop it and that's all you want is for him to act.

So, Stronghold. It's a brutal novel, filled with death and disappointment. Of course I like it

Unlike the Dragon Prince trilogy, which I've read many times, I've only read Dragon Star once. And of that once, I'm not sure I've ever read the second volume Dragon Token. I know I've read Stronghold once before and I know I've read Skybowl, but I vaguely remember never being able to find a copy of the middle book when I was younger. Now I have it. So, we'll see how my Melanie Rawn reread proceeds with a book I don't remember at all.

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

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

WE RANK 'EM: Robot Pals in Recent SFF

Many words have been expended through the years on the distinction between science fiction and fantasy, with a recent iteration of the conversation bringing a few great (and a lot of awful) contributions to the table. In partial honour of sci fi month, I'd like to throw my hat into the ring at this super late stage, with a simple yet irrefutable assertion that I think will bring all sides together in these troubled sides:

Is science fiction really science fiction unless someone becomes friends with a robot?

Well, uh, yes, you say. Absolutely. Look at near future SF, and hard science fiction novels like The Expanse, and space operas which focus on cool aliens instead of cool robots, and, and, so many other things! Surely, Adri, you are not disputing the credentials of all this stuff? It's obviously science fiction!

To which, I can only offer the following response, in the almighty words of Thor:

Image result for thor is it though

Now that this is settled to our collective satisfaction, all that remains it to celebrate some of the best artificial intelligences in recent media, and particularly those whose relationships with humans. Of course, this isn't supposed to be an exhaustive list - Paladin from Autonomous, Lovelace from The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, Singer from Ancestral Night, Justice of Toren and many more are are of course all worthy of canonisation in the annals of robot pal-dom. But, at the end of the day, I've got to write about the things that won't take more research to write than I have time for, and then stand by my practically-motivated opinions until the heat death of the universe.

6. Robot (Gunnerkrigg Court). The robots of Tom Siddell's long-running science fiction and fantasy webcomic are deeply embedded in the dense and mysterious history of the titular court, an institution founded to impose scientific principles on various forms of magic and opposed by the neighbouring forest. Robot, a character who has been in the comic since its first days, has come a very long way since then, both in design and in its relationship with comic protagonists Annie and Kat, and with its buddy Shadow, a two-dimensional forest creature who has also been transformed during its time in the court. Although its overall motives are not always entirely clear, making it the lowest ranked in this list, its support to its community and willingness to go to great personal lengths to protect and further their agendas makes it a clear contender in this list, and the only one, as of recent chapters, that is likely to give you an actual smile.

Image result for she-ra emily robot5. Emily the Robot (She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, Seasons 1-4). Entrapta's robot pals in She-ra are pretty interchangeable from an audience standpoint, serving as less complicated surrogates for human friendship and occasional creators of tiny food (at least in the weird events of Season 3). Emily, the reprogrammed Horde robot who indirectly brings about her split from the Princess Alliance at the end of season 1, is a different story. Through her interactions with Entrapta and the wider cast, it becomes clear that Emily is more than just another piece of autonomous spherical weaponry, like the rest of the horde robots, but an active party to teaching those around her about friendship and self-worth, and her contributions to Season 4 in particular are simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking.

Image result for machineries of empire nirai4. Servitor Hemiola (Raven Stratagem and "Glass Cannon", Yoon Ha Lee). Kel Cheris' relationship with the servitors in the Machineries of Empire series is one of its hidden treasures - a narrative device that provides rare moments of quiet and humanity in a series that is otherwise jammed with a lot of militaristic misery, as well as being an important angle to Cheris' character in general. In Raven Stratagem, the third book in the trilogy, we finally get see Cheris and the society of the servitors themselves through their own eyes, and specifically the character of Hemiola, who goes from being a criminally underutilised servitor on a secret Nirai base, unable to get downloads of its favourite TV shows, to a confidante and collaborator and all around fun smol robot badass. Bonus points for a name which is one of my favourite things in music (fitting three beats into a count of two, used to great effect in the Myanmar national anthem among other places), and which was canonically Hemiola's weird choice compared to the majority of servitors who name themselves after maths terms.

Image result for bb-8
3. BB-8 (Star Wars Episodes VII-IX). Obviously there's a lot of different potential robot pals to choose from in Star Wars, but representing them all on this list is the spherical prince of the new trilogy. BB-8 is: sassy, inexplicably good at breaking the laws of physics, not here for your shit, will cover for you when you pretend to be part of the resistance to impress a girl but not without making clear exactly how much the favour will cost you further down the line, does not have a gambling problem, is not about to get upstaged by any sort of weird cutesy bird thingos, and would cross the entire desert for your rebellion and, specifically, for Poe Dameron. Sure, R2-D2 might have been the prototype snark cylinder, and Chopper from the Rebels show deserves credit too, but BB-8 adds to the repertoire with a surprisingly versatile range of gadgetry and also by being indisputably the cutest droid in Star Wars canon. 

Image result for all systems red2. Murderbot (The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells) Murderbot would be extremely annoyed with me if it knew that I'd included it in a list of robots building meaningful relationships with humans, let alone having it so high up. Because, as we all know, Murderbot does not love you; it just wants to watch its shows. Murderbot is not interested in the difficult, messy nonsense of humans, beyond making sure they are all kept alive and don't do anything stupid that jeapordises its mission. Also, if your name is Dr Mensah and you start to treat it like a person and learn what it's like to have someone else to collaborate with for the first time, then Murderbot might secretly get quite invested in your existence. Same for Asshole Research Transports, and stupid friendly robots that offer you friendship without even knowing how stupid that is, and, well, OK, maybe also if you're part of Mensah's family, then it is possible that Murderbot might not hate you too. In seriousness, Murderbot's journey of self-discovery and the way it balances its fledgling autonomy and expertise with social anxiety in order to pursue its goals in a busy and kind of awful galaxy is a pure delight.

Image result for Catfishing on CatNet: A Novel Naomi Kritzer1. CheshireCat/the Cat Pictures AI ("Cat Pictures Please" and Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer) The epitome of a robot pal just trying to do their best, the AI of CatNet has dedicated its existence to figuring out what makes humans tick and trying to get them to make better choices for themselves, while asking for nothing but access to internet animal pictures in return. CheshireCat's full length novel appearance in Catfishing on CatNet lets us see the AI in a slightly different situation to its original secret helper guise in "Cat Pictures Please". Instead, it's forming two-way relationships with the humans who come into its chatroom and particularly bonding with a group of teenagers who continue to look out for it (and each other) once discovering the true identity of their friend. Although CheshireCat's ability to influence the real world is limited to bizarre drone behaviours and USB-induced takeovers of sex education robots, its online exploits and powers more than make up for that, and its helpfulness makes it the most valuable robot pal on this list.

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

Monday, November 25, 2019

Mondays on Mandalore: Rise of the Cuteness

I, too, would die for Baby Yoda
Welcome to Mondays on Mandalore. Unlike Mandalorians, this will not be a quiet, stoic affair. It will, however, discuss The Mandalorian, and in doing so, assume you have seen same. So there are spoilers.

Here's the million-credit question: why is Boba Fett a Thing? He pulls one clever trick in tracing the Falcon, has a handful of lines, and then gets dumped into the Sarlacc. So why is he this great cult icon?

In my opinion, it's actually due to that lack of information - we didn't know much at all about Boba, some comics and books in the old Expanded Universe aside - until the prequels came around and gave us a big ol' heaping backstory. Did this help the character at all? It did not. The grandeur lay in the mystery.

So when The Mandalorian was announced, I was apprehensive - how would a show entirely about someone akin to Fett work? Would it be able to resist the urge to tell us everything? So far, so good - and there are reasons to be optimistic that it will keep doing so.

We find this in the roots of the show - Westerns, mostly, and the modern western, Justified (which is one of my favorite shows of all time). There are numerous moments in the first three episodes of the Madalorian that are straight out of Justified, or the fabled 'Dollars' trilogy (also a personal favorite). Both Dollars and Justified relied on tight writing, stoic heroes and moral grey areas.

So if we are talking about why the mystery works, I think the morality needs to work just as well. In all these examples, there are people living in an amoral world, an are confronted with choices - sometimes cut-and-dried examples of right and wrong, but everyone around them always chooses wrong, sometimes grey, but the choice is always there.

This has been thus far my favorite progression in the show. We know our hero is a bounty hunter, and they usually just, ya know, hunt bounties, without thinking about or caring who or why. We learn in Episode 3 that he is supporting a family of sorts - his Mandalorian cadre, with him being the only one visible at a time.

So he has motivation to -as he does at first - just take the Beskar and walk away.

This is initially set against a droid bounty hunter, whose cold willingness to off the cutest thing in recorded history is to be expected. It's also not a stretch for 'Mando' to drop the droid and bring the Yodaling in alive.

But what is a little harsher is the willingness of literally every living bounty hunter to kill it, along with Mando. Again, it becomes about making the right choice, even when no one else is willing to.

Even if that choice is primarily motivated by cuteness.


 Dean is the author of the 3024AD series of science fiction stories. 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. 

The Hugo Initiative: Blogtable (1974, Best Short Story)

Adri: Welcome back to another installment of our Hugo short fiction retrospectives! We lost Paul to the Himalayas for this round but Joe and I are undeterred, and this time we’re moving ahead into the 1970s and specifically the short story category, with four interesting stories on the final list:
“The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”, Ursula K. Le Guin (New Dimensions #3)
“With Morning Comes Mistfall” George R. R. Martin (Analog, May 1973)
“Wings”, Vonda N. McIntyre (The Alien Condition)
“Construction Shack”, Clifford D. Simak (If, Jan-Feb 1973)
Joe: Going into the 1974 Hugo Awards, Clifford Simak was a 7 time Hugo Award finalist (with two wins, including the novel Way Station) and Ursula K. Le Guin was a 5 time Hugo Award finalist (also with two wins for The Left Hand of Darkness and The Word for World is Forest). George R.R. Martin and Vonda McIntyre were relative newcomers. “With Morning Comes Mistfall” was Martin’s first time on the Hugo ballot (he would go on to win the next year for his novella “A Song for Lya”), though he had also been a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award (now the Astounding Award) for Best New Writer in 1973. Vonda McIntyre was a two time finalist in 1974, winning for her novelette “Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand”, the precursor to Dreamsnake (1979, Best Novel).

1974’s Short Story was a blend of well established writers and exciting writers new to the field. Simak had been publishing for some forty years, Le Guin was at the height of her powers, while Martin and McIntyre were just starting out.

Adri: Agreed - and what’s interesting is that these are all authors who are known primarily, at least now, for novels rather than for short fiction (though of course all have written plenty of both). It’s definitely interesting to see the overlap of different eras, with George R. R. Martin and Vonda N. McIntyre entering for the first time and Simak and Le Guin being more established (though Simak’s career did start long before Le Guin’s!)

Joe: I’d like to start with Clifford Simak’s story “Construction Shack”, because the story is a bit of an outlier and in a way, it impacts how I think of the rest of the finalists and of the genre as a whole.

After years of puzzling over the differences between measurements made of Pluto and photographic evidence sent back from uncrewed probes, a crewed probe is sent to Pluto to investigate the distant planet. We could use the now outdated term “manned” when talking about “Construction Shack” as there is nary a woman to be seen in Simak’s story.

Upon arrival, the three astronauts (a chemist, engineer, and a geologist) discover that Pluto is even stranger than they had believed...

Even in 1974, “Construction Shack” feels like a throwback to an earlier time in science fiction. I’d believe you if you told me the story was published in 1953. The story just doesn’t come across as sophisticated or as modern as the other three stories on the ballot.

“Construction Shack” both benefits and suffers from the story being written before more information and more facts were known about the dwarf planet (heck, Pluto’s moon wasn’t even discovered until 1978) because Pluto being significantly lighter than estimated, being made out of steel, and functionally being the titular construction shack of the solar system just does NOT work today. It’s interesting enough, don’t get me wrong, but it severely dates the story in ways that makes it impossible to write today - similar to how stories of Venus being a steamy jungle world work as intentional throwbacks rather than truly modern stories now. Of course, a new story wouldn’t have to be Pluto. It could be anything. Pluto just adds a touch of “what if one of OUR planets wasn’t actually a planet?”, and that’s fun, as far as the story goes.

I am also slightly annoyed by the ending shout of what else the “bunglers” did that was found in the blueprints and what it might mean because Simak ends the story before that sort of reveal. I’m not the reader that needs everything spelled out, but the most fun bit of the story was the speculation that the whole solar system was manufactured and possibly manufactured poorly. Ending on the shout is a tease and a gimmick that comes across as older and more tired than other prominent stories of the 1970’s.

Adri: I don’t think that the “datedness” of the premise in a story like this is inherently a problem; while most of the time, reading about steamy jungle Venus or earth-but-red Mars tells you when a story was written, SF in space has such an ingrained element of the fantastic even when set in places that don’t challenge modern suspension of disbelief that having to accept a particular version of a solar system is fairly easy (see, for example, Catherynne M. Valente’s Radiance for a recent example). That said, this is an odd, shallow story, and not the type of fiction I expected to be reading from a 1974 shortlist. Simak’s prolific writing career spanned decades and this nomination comes towards the end, although he’ll win the 1981 Hugo (and Nebula and Locus) awards for one of his very last short stories. It’s therefore hard to see what exactly drew voters to this cursory-feeling space exploration story

Joe: Knowing what we do about the process, presumably a large enough contingent of Simak fans voted to get it on the ballot. It’s clearly out of step with the rest of the finalists.

Adri: The basic premise of Construction Shack is fun, but it’s hard not to imagine what the idea might achieve in different hands. We’re five years before the publication of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy at this point, but here the “galaxy developed by sub-par bureaucrats and their contractors” bit gets very little time to shine, and when it does its hampered by the utter lack of personality in the narrative as a whole. The narrator- who gives his name, but the sentence that it was in was so boring that I forgot it and frankly don’t care to go back - is nothing more than a vehicle for plot, and his one defining trait (“useless geologist”) is left completely unexplored. The other two members of the crew also have extremely boring names (Orson and Tyler) and one defining characteristic (“a bit shouty when provoked”) between them.

Also, I’m not usually one to get into writing style and quality, but the switches between first, second and third person in a story this length are really jarring and add nothing to the story being told. It also uses the word “lostness” instead of “loss” which… I got nothing, people. In short, I don’t have anything good to say about this and I don’t even feel like the bad things I have to say are particularly interesting - so let’s move on!

Joe: Moving on!

Adri: “With Morning Comes Mistfall”, Martin’s debut Hugo appearance (I think this may even be pre Hugo losers’ party, but let’s not get into that...) concerns a journalist accompanying an expedition to a mostly-uncolonised planet finds himself in the middle of an ideological battle between Sanders, the owner of a mountaintop hotel which derives its attraction from the myth of "wraiths" living on the world, and Dubowski, the leader of the expedition, who is interested only in finding practical answers to the planet's mysteries. All of this takes place against a backdrop of otherworldly beauty, as the planet gets covered in mist at sunset that then gradually burns off during the day, and as well as the element of unsolved mystery there's also an attitude clash between Sanders and the narrator, who appreciate the natural beauty of the planet for what it is, and Dubowski's complete disinterest.

Joe: This was my second time reading George R. R. Martin’s “With Morning Comes Mistfall” and I rather like it. It’s a wistful story, not quite of the longing for a better or a different day, but more the wist of knowing that something you love and treasure is going to disappear.

Adri: I approve of the word “wist” in that sentence!

Joe: It’s also a story of the quiet war between a scientific fact that can be proved and the belief in something otherworldly, where it doesn’t quite matter if that something is true - it matters because of the belief, of the mystery and magic of something that could be true and it is that possibility that makes the exploration and the mystery meaningful. The behind the scenes of the story is the scientific expedition that’s going to take that magic and mystery away. The story itself is a series of conversations between a reporter and the owner of a resort who is angry that his way of life is going to disappear whether or not anything is found in the mists of his world.

Adri: While the personalities involved in these conversations feel somewhat two-dimensional, the overall result is a story which packs a lot of layers for what initially comes across as a straightforward set-up. Sanders and, increasingly, the narrator claim to appreciate the planet for the unanswered question of the wraiths, and are dismayed when Dubowski "definitively" resolves the issue by finding natural causes behind all of the sightings and disappearances which have taken place in the mist (the future, apparently, is free of random conspiracy theorists and spiritualists who keep believing and constructing their own evidence even in the fact of such facts), paving the way for mediocre capitalism to win out over the sublime. But the reader can't help noting that it's not the wraiths which the pair want to celebrate about the planet, but its spectacular scenery - the wraiths just serve as an excuse for people to visit, and even then the narrator's interest in the natural world appears to be unusual enough to draw Sanders to him as a potential kindred spirit. Then again, the fact that the spectacular scenery is literally composed of obfuscating mist means that it all fits well as an overall metaphor for things best left hidden. Also, the contrast between Simak's flat but serviceable blokes and the ones deployed here is very telling, with Morning Comes Mistfall coming off far better in the comparison.

Joe: Ignoring the cost of interplanetary travel, you’d think that a place as spectacular as Wraithworld would still get more visitors on general tourism - but maybe it really is just the hook of the wraiths that brought people and once that was gone from the general galactic consciousness - ghost tourism wasn’t enough to sustain the resort. I do think there were still conspiracy theorists and true believers, but sometimes that’s not enough.

“With Morning Comes Mistfall” is a lovely story, but I think that Vonda McIntyre’s “Wings” is closer to what I expected when we started on this category.

Adri:“Wings” is the story of two members of a winged species, one older and disabled, one younger and injured, and their relationship to each other in a world that has otherwise become empty. The "Keeper", who takes in and nurses the younger back to health, also has to deal with romantic and sexual thoughts about the "Youth" - and is unable to conceal this from his unconsenting charge. We find out fairly late in the story that this isn't because of the age gap, and the characters' species has an intergenerational mating pattern: during their youth, individuals take on a significantly older mate (and a binary sex), until the older dies; they then seek out a younger partner later in life. Instead, the Youth's rejection of the Keeper appears to stem from a taboo around disability, as well as a fear of not being able to leave and find out whether anything is left of the society they have both been separated from.

Wings is a slow, dreamlike story, which draws its strengths from the interactions between two very alien and yet relatable protagonists and their loneliness and unfulfilled needs even around each other - a story which I went straight back to reread to figure out if I'd really taken it all in.

Joe: I liked it. I wanted more from this story, whether it was a novelette, a novella, or just more set in this world. The setting is rich, though so quickly drawn. “Wings” deals with death and connection and mortality. It’s a science fiction story that reads as fantasy, or at least some light blending of the two.

Adri: You’re right that there's not much in the world itself, but what there is is something that could easily fill out stories way beyond these two specific characters - indeed, I understand that there’s at least one more story in this world, which I assume fleshes out the disappearance of the rest of the characters’ race a bit more.

It's interesting that you say it fits in with the time period, because I think this is the story I could most see being published today - its glimpse at epic worldbuilding through a short story lens would fit right in at Beneath Ceaseless Skies despite the slightly alien nature of the protagonists.

Joe: I can see that. I just happened to read the story very shortly after finishing “Construction Shack” and considering both stories in context of this category, “Wings” was refreshing in that it felt like it belonged and that the short fiction 1970’s were far more modern than the short fiction of the 1950’s - or even of 1968 when we discussed that year’s short story finalists. But you’re right, “Wings” does feel the most modern of all four.

Adri: My only niggle in this story is with the portrayal of disability, and of the inability to move as something to die for. It is somewhat called out in the story, as we see the Youth’s rejections of the Keeper, and the Keeper’s own negative self-identity, are shaped by his lack of flight in ways that the story implies are unfair and have negative impacts on the characters. However, the ending, and the emphasis on the cultural importance of what basically amounts to ritual suicide by flying into the sun (a metaphor that never gets old), is sort of portrayed as something that excuses the prejudice, and the characters basically overcome it by finding a way to commit ritual suicide together which I didn’t love. Its a story which draws tragedy from characters with disability not having a place, rather than allowing them to push to find a place together.

Finally, we come to the winner, and the story of this quartet that has probably had the most cultural resonance to date: Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”.

Joe: Though ostensibly describing a “Festival of Summer”, an unnamed narrator describes what he or she knows of the city of Omelas, a city that initially feels utopic but is revealed to have an underlying horror which permits the “utopia” to exist. Many of the initial details are vague, leaving the reader to fill in the blanks but to assume that what the reader imagines could be possible and that whatever it is, it is the best of all things - except that the driver of all of that goodness is the absolute isolation and degradation of a child.

The story is a thought experiment and a philosophical challenge.

I *may* have read this before, though if pushed I’d probably tell you that I have not. It’s familiar, but I’ve recently read N.K. Jemisin’s “The Ones Who Stay and Fight” and I’m sure I’ve read one or two others that play with Le Guin’s form, so it may be that I’ve read enough around Omelas that it’s imprinted on me. “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” is somewhat of a foundational science fiction story at this point and it has shaped some of the genre around it.

Unsurprisingly, Omelas is an increasingly unpleasant story (as it should be) because it raises questions (and points a finger) at how easy it is to look away, to make excuses, and accept that our comfort in the aggregate is more important than a single individual. There are plenty of stories that use the idea of the importance of the group over that of the individual, but it’s so stark here.

Adri: Yes, it’s been a couple of years since I last read “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” in its entirety, and it was interesting to revisit it in light of some of the recent stories that respond to it - as well as the Jemisin, I’m thinking of P.H. Lee’s “In The House By the Sea”, which interrogates what we will and won’t believe about the fate of the children themselves, and is also well worth a look. I think I appreciated it even more this time around, in the context of this particular category: the tone, the way the speculative city is set up and the role of the narrator in doing so, the constant needling at audience disbelief, all come together for a thought experiment that rises far above its simple utilitarian roots, hitting at the stories we tell ourselves about our societies and how they are organised and who needs, and deserves, dignity and comfort.

I could spend an entire essay picking apart the different elements here (given a time machine so I could make the time to write, of course), but for now I particularly want to draw attention to the last line of the story: “They seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas”. I think, given the differences between when this story was written and the moment we’re living now, its important to interrogate why the story focuses on individuals who opt out from a system, rather than trying to change it - but I was struck, on this readthrough, by the fact that these aren’t portrayed as people throwing in the towel to go and aimlessly wander the wilderness: they know where they’re going, and it doesn’t involve this particular system. Then again, I do feel much more sympathetic to the people and the mindset of Jemisin’s Um-Helat than I do to the ones who walk away from Omelas - even while it doesn’t change my opinion on how brilliant and important the story that sparked them both is.

Joe: “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” is not a story I want to read all that often, but I’m not surprised that it won the Hugo. It’s a story with wide ranging importance that I think would have been evident when it was first published (it *did* win the Hugo). Interestingly, Omelas was not on the Nebula ballot, though the Martin and McIntyre stories were.

Adri: So, now we’ve read all four of 1974s short story ballot entries, what do you think should have won? Or rather, what would you have voted for?

Of the stories here, I think I liked the McIntyre most - its got a beautiful tone to it and offers a window into a very strange world that nevertheless makes sense within the story. However, for all the limitations of its thought experiment - and is just one thought experiment - I can’t fault the voters of 1974 for opting for The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. It’s a big idea story whose big idea is about ethics and anthropology and even about the nature of story itself, and it does what all the best Le Guin stories do by offering a deceptively simple outer layer to suck you into something much deeper and highly thought provoking.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have Simak, which didn’t do much for either of us, and which I can’t really understand being award worthy in any year, and a Martin story which is highly readable enjoyable, but probably isn’t going to stay with me. So my vote at Discon II (if I’d been alive and reading science fiction) would have gone to Le Guin, then McIntyre, then Martin, then Simak, with clear water between all four and possibly even No Award above Simak if I was feeling especially grumpy on ballot submission day.

Joe: I like the double layer of the question because it’s the push and pull between how I think I would have voted then compared to how I would vote today if these four stories were put in front of me.

I sort of wish we had a big disagreement here, but we don’t. “Wings” is the story I like best, but “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” is the most important and I think that would have come across to me back in 1974 when I was negative five years old. The power and the depth of Omelas still very much resonates today, and it is a story that can spark conversation today.

I think my vote would have been tighter than yours, at least for Le Guin - McIntyre - Martin in that order, but it would be a distant fourth for Simak and like you, “Construction Shack”’s placement above No Award would depend entirely on my generosity when I mailed in my ballot.

I wish I could find something definitive about how the stories placed on the final ballot. ISFDB suggests it was Le Guin - Martin - Simak - McIntyre, but I don’t see a link to the actual voting details anywhere and that would be really nice to have for confirmation purposes.

Adri: Ah well, we shall have to agree to agree this time...

Regardless of my feelings about Construction Shack, I’m glad to have taken a look at this category: Wings was a great find, and With Morning Comes Mistfall was also an enjoyable look at an author who I’ve never previously read outside of (very very) longform. And the opportunity to reread “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” was, if not exactly a pleasure, then a welcome engagement with a pretty masterful piece of writing.

Thanks as always for the chat.

Joe: Thank you!

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

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. 

Friday, November 22, 2019

Microreview [Book]: Air Logic by Laurie J. Marks

The most compassionate of fantasy revolutions comes to a fitting close

Image result for air logic laurie marks

Air Logic is a novel that's been a long time coming, finishing off a quartet of novels by Laurie J. Marks that began back in 2002 and whose third volume came out over a decade ago. I haven't been waiting nearly that long - I read Fire Logic back in 2016, and finished Earth Logic and Water Logic last year. However, this series captured my heart, and I've been following the progress of this final instalment for quite some time. I'm so glad that Small Beer Press has brought it to completion, releasing some very pretty new editions in the process. Enough attempting to sell books by their cover, though - how does this final volume match up to the rest of the quartet?

Air Logic picks up where Water Logic leaves off, in the aftermath of the declaration of peace between the people of Shaftal, a sparsely populated and cold country that has spent the past two decades under occupation, and the Sainnites, the colonising army who have been effectively abandoned by their own homelands and living in increasingly precarious circumstances. At the heart of this new political dawn is Karis, the ex-drug addict and blacksmith who is now the G'Deon, or leader of Shaftal, and her motley found family of mystics, ageing warriors, defected soldiers-turned pacifist chefs and objectively horrible magic children in the middle of their judicial training, but she's under increasing threat from a rogue group that doesn't recognise her authority, and their powerful magic leader. A hunt to neutralise the threat of this group turns into a hunt to reclaim some of their lost family members, as the rogue witch deploys increasingly terrifying measures to take Karis and her forces down.

Shaftal is one of those fantasy worlds that just has something a bit special going on, and there's a lot that goes into that. Its big, queer, multi-adult family structures are a particular delight, justified by the subsistence farming structure required to stay alive in the land. So too is the feeling of time passing, of seasonal difference and of generally "lived-in-ness" that the characters' lives exude, even as political elites. But the central attraction is the Elemental logic system, which manifests differently with different characters in a way which nevertheless defines their personalities, outlooks, talents and ways of thinking about the world, and how compatible they are with the other people around them. Fire witches, like Karis' wife and born "boundary-crosser" Zanja, work on intuition; earth bloods like Karis herself offer straightforward, grounded thinking; rare water witches can move through time and have a profoundly different outlook on causality; and air witches tend to embody full rationalism without empathy. Because this is "Air Logic", its the air witches who take centre stage here: whose most magical members are trained as Truthkens, empowered to enact the law and pass judgement on wrongdoers through their ability to detect lies but universally disliked by the people around them and frequently cast out or killed by their own families for their additional ability to control and manipulate the minds of others. Its a system that's never fully explained, and defies easy characterisation, and yet Marks' talent is such that the constant references that characters make to their elemental alignments, their meanings, and their explanatory powers, never feel forced or ridiculous - its just another element of this particular fantasy world.

The resolution of Zanja and Karis' plot was never going to be a straightforward narrative affair, and it wasn't going to be resolved through anything resembling a traditional plot. Instead, the journeys of Zanja - who spends a lot of this book, as in the previous volume, off on quests that make very little sense to anyone else - and Karis, and the other Shaftali and Sainnite characters picked up along the way - feel meandering on the surface, although there's plenty of danger and tension in how the rogue air witch - uncovered as someone with intimate access to the family and the ability to strike very deeply indeed into the heart of their relationships - operates. What the quests do, rather, is give all of the characters -including some new faces, such as vengeful mother Chaen, who has joined the rebel movement at the behest of her Air Witch son - the chance to spend enough time together to figure each other out. Because, despite the ingrained differences in thinking across the "logical spectrum", and between the Sainnites, Shaftali, and other minority groups, the central thesis of the elemental logic series is that peace, in a meaningful positive sense, is possible, especially when people have to work together to survive. There's one or two beats which veer into deus ex machina, specifically where Water Logic gets involved, but on the whole the combination of simple short term objectives with the underlying huge task of peace building makes the latter topic, never easy to build a narrative around, into an effective undercurrent to the volume.

Of course, all of this relies on the strengths of the characters to make it work. In this area, Air Logic would benefit from being read as the culmination of a whole series reread, as a lot of the particular quirks and backstories are hard to dive into cold. There's a wide range of both established and new points of view, divided by chapter, although the lack of strong differentiation between different characters' "internal" voices is one of the few missed opportunities for really understanding how the logic system really affects them all. Still, the range of characters are interesting and the new voices - Chaen; the air witch Anders and his cohort, all in training with adult truthken Norina; and rich scion-turned-rebel Tamar, who finds himself in terrible company for most of the novel - fit well into the story as a whole, bringing the different aspects of Air Logic and its contrast with the Fire Logic which many of the main characters embody into effective relief.

All in all, Air Logic is a fitting conclusion to a series that does something beautiful and unusual with its epic fantasy premise, turning into something both gentler and rawer than any other series of international war and resistance that I've read. Packed with queer characters living their complex and unknowable truths in a difficult fantasy universe, this is a series which deserves to be firmly on the list of innovative fantasy classics for years to come.

Rating: 8/10

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

Reference: Marks, Laurie J. Air Logic (Small Beer Press, 2019)

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Thursday Morning Superhero

If you haven't checked out Phoebe's Watchmen Wednesdays you are really missing out on the best recap that is gracing the internet.  I had very low expectations for this series, but checked it out after all of the buzz surrounding the first episode and have been blown away.

Pick of the Week:
Captain America #16:
Captain America is my favorite superhero thanks to Ed Brubaker's amazing run many years ago and since then the series has had some highs and lows.  I am not sure what caused me to revisit this series as of recent, but I am glad that I decided to hop back on. Ta-Nehisi Coates and Bob Quinn's current run has a Civil War-esque feel to it as Captain America is a wanted man.  The big difference is that he can count the number of allies he has on his hands.

After being framed as a Hydra agent and a cop killer, Captain America is attempting to clear his name and while still protecting the city. This involves tracking down a cop killer named Scourge and it brings Captain America face-to-face with an old friend who is understandably upset about meeting his old mentor.

U.S. Agent, who has served as Captain America in the past, sets a trap for Captain America and the Daughters of Liberty.  While the trap is unsuccessful, it allows Cap the opportunity to sow some seeds of doubt in the story of him as a cop killer. The tension between old friends and the fact that Captain America was able to plant a seed of truth in the mind of who could be a valuable ally offers a glimmer of hope.

The twist at the end was a bit disappointing in that there is no way that it is true.  I understand that the news would be shocking to Cap and the Daughters of Liberty when they see it, but there is clearly a simple explanation for what went down with Fisk.

The Rest of the Pull List:
I was initially excited for He-Man and the Masters of the Multiverse, but had a hard time getting into a multiverse approach to Eternia.  While the art is definitely appropriate given the source material, it reminds me too much of the dark days of the super-muscle 90's.  I am not sure if issue #2 will make the pull list, but MOTU pulls hard on the nostalgia strings. Star Wars continues its solid run if the Mandalorian is not filling your Star Wars needs pre Rise of Skywalker.

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

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Watchmen Wednesdays: Episode 5

A deep character dive into Wade/Looking Glass.

Episode Five, "Little Fear of Lightning," opens with Wade (Looking Glass played by Tim Blake Nelson) in 1985. Wade is on an evangelizing mission from Oklahoma to New Jersey to convert people before the Doomsday Clock hits midnight with the onslaught of nuclear holocaust. Those that have read the original comic book will recognize what's about to happen--a giant squid drops on NYC, thus uniting humanity and diverting nuclear holocaust. Wade lives with the psychological fallout of being within the psychic blast from the squid. Much of the episode is a deep dive into Wade's neurosis.

Wade/Looking Glass with his mask rolled up

The other plot thread of this episode remains Veidt/Ozymandias. He finally realizes his dream of breaking free from his idyllic "prison" by having his clone slaves catapult him out of what we discover is some sort of atmosphere bubble or perhaps a hologram. On the other side, he walks on a moon around Jupiter. Out of the bodies of dead clones he catapulted last episode, he spells "HELP" just in time for a satellite to float by and snap a photo. He's jerked back to "earth" by the Game Warden, who says he's under arrest. The Game Warden is masked, so we still don't know who (or what) he is.

Ready to moon walk

One of the final plot points to keep in mind going forward is that Wade betrays Angela/Sister Knight to Agent Blake. But more on this in a second. 

Over the past five episodes, showrunner Damon Lindelof has switched from a plot driven series--following the mystery of who killed police Chief Judd Crawford--to multiple mysterious plot threads that focus on character motivations, such as this episode with Wade's fear of extra-dimensional attack. While this decision doesn't help progress the plot that much, it does engage with some of the social justice issues that are permeating the plot and characters of Watchmen.

This episode in particular demonstrates how white supremacists radicalize others in a way that feels incredibly relevant to the current rise of fascism in the US. Let's take a closer look at Wade.

  1. As a child, he's not only religious but a part of a cultish doomsday group. On an evangelizing mission is when this idea is shattered by the falling squid, which is tied up in his PTSD. 
  2. This experience leaves him with PTSD that we see him working out through a type of anonymous meeting. His PTSD appears to have broken up his marriage with a successful woman, further destabilizing him. 
  3. After meeting with a woman who Wade instantly likes, and who also experiences paranoia over extra-dimensional attack, he ends up believing she is working for the Seventh Kavalry and follows her to one of their headquarters. This relationship, though short, continues to destabilize what the "truth" is for Wade. It also further ostracizes him as he claims he doesn't have any friends and then is tricked by this woman.
  4. The Seventh Kavalry capture him and basically red pill him by revealing the "truth"--they show him videos that state the squid was created by Veidt/Ozymandias as part of a decades-long plan to have Robert Redford elected president and make for a more peaceful and equitable world. 

While the viewer is unsure whether Wade has been converted to the Seventh Kavalry, the first thing Wade does afterward is purposefully betray Angela/Sister Knight, which causes an all too familiar scene: A black person with hands up and police with guns drawn while a white person watches.

One of the more sinister moments of the series also happens during Wade's capture. The Oklahoma senator Joe Keene (James Wolk) is revealed as part of the Kavalry as was Judd Crawford, the police chief with a Klan hood in his closet. Keene says: "Each of us manag[ed] our respective teams to keep the peace." While such a line can go unnoticed, it points to the power structures seen in place today as inherently racist leadership maintains power, whether it's Iowa Representative Steve King or ICE agents. Watchmen continues to be subversive since episode one, and even though Wade's episode only inches the plot forward, the social justice issues again play an important role.

And, let's not forget that Watchmen somehow turned a joke into political commentary with squid-pro-quo. Even Veidt couldn't have planned better timing.

Phoebe Wagner currently studies at University of Nevada: Reno. When not writing or reading, she can be found kayaking at the nearest lake. Follow her at or on Twitter @pheebs_w.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Microreview [Book]: The Forbidden Stars by Tim Pratt

The adventures of the White Raven crew come to an end...

Image result for the forbidden stars

The Forbidden Stars is third in Tim Pratt's Axiom series, which began with The Wrong Stars back in 2017. If you're interested in the series of a whole and only want one book worth of spoilers, you may be interested in my review of the second book, The Dreaming Stars, which also includes a summary of what to expect from the first book if you add it to your TBR. In that review, I expressed a wish for the Axiom to be one of those neverending speculative series, where everything feels like a pivotal TV episode with its own satisfying wrap-ups as well as a contribution to a wider, slow moving plot arc. Alas, The Forbidden Stars confirms that the White Raven's adventures are ending at the trilogy point, and this is therefore the climax of their story.

All the core characters from the book 1 are back: Captain Callie Machado and her ancient (in the sense of cryogenic freezing, anyway) girlfriend Elena; Ashok the amiable if slightly emotionally unintelligent cyborg; Drake and Janice, survivors of what should have been a fatal crash and a subsequent phsyical rebuild by aliens without a proper blueprint for what humans should look like; and Shall, the ship's AI. Also on the mission is Lantern, member of the alien race called the Liars which originally gifted humanity the stars in a limited form, in order to prevent them from stumbling across the secrets of the Axiom. As it transpires, the galaxy that humans have come of age in is a galaxy that's controlled by a genocidal, warlike species convinced of its own superiority - that's the Axiom themselves - and while most members of the species are now in hibernation or otherwise out of action while they wait for some of their pet projects to come to fruition, they're not going to be happy that their place has become infested with another (vaguely) successful spacefaring species while they've been away. Though its fun to get back to the core cast, I missed some of the previous characters, and there's not really anyone new to love - the new robot pal Kaustikos, sent to join the crew by their mysterious Benefactor, has some fun moments but is mostly engaged in unsympathetic whining, and there's not a lot of time for any of the in-system characters to really shine.

The action here takes place in the Vanir System, which was initially one of the twenty-nine opened by the Liars but which closed a century ago under mysterious circumstances. With a ship that just so happens to have the only free gate-creation technology in human hands, the White Raven crew go to investigate, discovering an oppressive system controlled by a faction of Liars still loyal to the Axiom who are using the human population of the system for increasingly unpleasant biological experiments. The crew, understandably, take issue with this, and there's a series of sequences in which they (well, mostly Callie and Shall, with the others pitching in from behind the front lines) take down various facilities and bases controlled by the system's elite, while trying to figure out the aims of the system's authorities and how the Axiom themselves fit in to the whole thing.

Compared to The Dreaming Stars, this is definitely a more action packed book, though while most of the characters - aside from Elena, who spends a lot of time in the background or having pre-sex conversations with Callie - get a moment to shine. In particular, the resolution of Janice and Drake's arc, while a little out of the blue, is a really lovely payoff for this pair of hard-done-by characters. The action veers towards the formulaic at times - find an Axiom base to target, Callie and a version of Shall go and kick butt, maybe some other people and/or robots help, they find the base leader and tell them off for doing all the crimes, get more information out of them and then give them their comeuppance, and then move on to the next liberation. Its a formula that's a bit prone to "this setback that a character is experiencing turns out to just be a misunderstanding that is resolved in the audience's mind by a POV shift next chapter", but the action itself is well crafted and Callie is a brilliant character to spend more time with, making up for the lack of similarly cool stuff for her girlfriend to do.

With so many action sequences to pack in, an entire system to liberate, and the overall arc with the Axiom to tie up, it's almost inevitable that the ending of The Forbidden Stars gets a bit rushed. There's nothing particularly unsatisfying about the events that transpire, but once things kicked off for the finale I found myself looking sceptically at the number of pages I had left to go, and one character in particular gets the short end of the stick when it comes to revealing their ending. It also relies on the audience accepting, after a trilogy which has followed one very individualistic crew, that actually these world-ending alien things are best handled by the authorities - a realisation which feels both very sensible and kind of lame. Those elements aside, it does mostly pull off what it needs to do to offer a narrative closure for the White Raven crew even in a galaxy that is, after all, still full of an enormous, unknowable threat to humanity, and there's a nice epilogue-like sequence that basically gets the entire band back together to see off the trilogy.

This is perhaps a pickier review than it needs to be, for a book and a series that I immensely enjoyed and which I was sorry to see end. For all the small ways I'd have liked to see this series evolve, this has been one of the best recent series for combining consistently fun space action with light-touch but ever-present threats of the unknown, and of humanity's position in the face of it - and putting diverse, queer characters at the heart of it all. If Pratt were ever to revisit this galaxy I'd most certainly be in line for more action in the world of the Axiom, and I definitely recommend anyone who hasn't already to get acquainted with Callie, Elena and the crew of the White Raven.

The Math

Baseline Score: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 super fun action sequences which centre an awesome protagonist.

Penalties: -1 An ending that feels too rushed for the trilogy.

Nerd Coefficient: 7/10

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

Reference: Pratt, Tim. The Forbidden Stars (Angry Robot, 2019)