Thursday, April 15, 2021

Microreview [book]: Machinehood by S. B. Divya

A fascinating look at the world in 2095, where the potential emergence of a true AI threatens to upset a society of designer drugs, moderate artificial intelligences, climate change, and complicated politics. 

Welga Ramirez needs to do one more job. Or more precisely, she is very nearly ready, as soon as the application is approved, to pull up stakes and move off Earth to one of the space stations that has declared independence. It’s a good thing too, because her job as a bodyguard is tearing her body apart. But when an attack by a hitherto unknown terrorist group strikes fear across society, especially given their strong and radical demands regarding artificial sentient life and humans' relationship with it,  Welga really does have one more job, even as her body might not be up to surviving it--to find the source of the titular Machinehood.

This is the core, but only one strand, of the complex and rich world and characters in SB Divya’s Machinehood. Divya’s Machinehood brings together a core of characters connected together across the globe (in ways and parallels that make me think of Malka Older’s Infomocracy novels) as they independently come to terms with the sudden upsetting of the applecart, globally, as well as how it boils down to their individual lives, in a rich matrix of worldbuilding, plot and action.

Let’s start with those characters. Walga Ramirez is our main protagonist, and in a deft bit, we find out only somewhat within why she has such an unusual first name. The “one more mission” trope is an old and well worn one. Walga’s reasons for wanting it to be her last one also marries to  the “doom clock” mechanic of Walga’s dependency and its side effects making her more and more debilitated as time goes on. This helps inform her character and keep her and her plot moving, as a gear that is definitely moving faster than other parts of the plot--because she has to. She also gets the action scenes, the bulk of the thriller plot, something that Divya excels at, and there is a good amount of adrenaline in her story thread.

By comparison, Nithya provides a lot of the human drama, and also a feeder of information, both to Welga in her trying to figure out why her body is going so wrong, and also in her own right in exploring the medical ethics, and extrapolations, and the personal and individual level on how the Machinehood’s threat illuminates, reflects and refracts the issues raised in the novel. If Welga brings the action and thriller elements, Nithya is the one who deep dives into bioethics on a number of levels. We get it in herself, and her relationship with her husband, Luis (Welga’s brother). We get it with her father in law, living in a desertifying Phoenix Arizona, and we get it as she investigates Welga’s issues. In a very real way, Nithya does the heavy lifting of present day worldbuilding even as her sister in law launches the reader through it. 

The third point of view in the novel is one that is not in the same time frame of the others, and that is Josephine Lee. Josephine’s story completes the triad by bringing the history and background to the story. To speak a lot about Josephine would be highly spoilery, suffice it to say, she is far more important to the novel than simply providing a lot of history and background on the political, bioethical and social underpinnings of the world of the year 2095.

And let’s talk about that world that the author brings to life here is a complicated and intriguing one that marries both extrapolation of current trends with a couple of unexpected curveballs to make the world fresh and not entirely predictable in its execution, providing a sense of discovery and revelation for a reader. There is plenty of “If this goes on...” in this worldbuilding regarding how technology, biological, chemical, computational, and engineering play out. Sub orbital ships are background furniture in this world, space stations are trying to be self sufficient and independent. Artificial intelligences are getting better and better if not achieving sentience (or HAVE they?) and are as ubiquitous as cell phones-- and one can be even more dissociated from life without your WAI (a weak AI agent) in 2095 as you would be without a cell phone or the internet today. And yes, Divya in fine fashion at one point does takes Por Que away from Welga, and we get to see how much Welga is dependent on same (and we see that across the spectrum elsewhere as well. 

But it is the unexpected bits where the novel really shines. Having new and interesting political alliances, conflicts and world backdrop in terms of technology and relations that the novel shows the full range of its inventiveness. This is a complicated and complex future, and some of the turns that the future takes between now and 2095 are for the reader to delight in uncovering. These political, technological and social shifts really help bring this novel to life on a science fiction front, and it allows for oblique commentary on the world of today, in that tradition of SF novels speaking to our present. Much like Divya’s previous work of Runtime, this world feels rich enough that I’d love more stories set within it.

One additional clever textual bit is giving the readers pieces of the Manifesto that the Machinehood propagates as part of its demands at the beginning of every chapter. Although we quickly get the gist of their desires and goals in text, together, the Manifesto pieces at the beginning of every chapter allow us an unfiltered viewpoint on their aspirations and goals.

The plotting and the ultimate mystery of what is going on is the third support where this novel shines. There is a fair tension, for characters and readers alike, as to who and what is behind Machinehood and what their ultimate aims really are. There is a level of tension and mystery as to what is going on, and a slow putting together of the clues and information, and of course, false leads, false flags, and people who want to use the Machinehood’s attacks for their own agenda, and see the world through their own worldview. There is a definite realization and working out of how false news and incomplete information can spread and lead to bad decisions on so many levels that is a reflection, like good science fiction, of our time and place. The theme of “people being treated as machines” is particularly resonant and relevant in a world where a major company docks workers for going to the bathroom “on company time”. 

The novels that come to mind as I read Machinehood are a pair of novels that I have mentioned before in relation to each other: LX Beckett’s Gamechanger and Karl Schroeder’s Stealing Worlds. How the world has shaken out is very different in Machinehood from those two novels and each other, but it is the character focused, intriguing deep dives in both novels into the technology of the future and how we and the technology evolves together that make a resonance of a trio of novels that work well together. The bio technology of Machinehood, the use of zips and other enhancements is very different than the virtual worlds of Gamechanger and Stealing Worlds, and yet all three worlds revolve around artificial intelligences (or possibly artificial intelligences) and what it means to be human, and what it means to be human in relation to those other beings. Divya’s jump to full length novels stands proudly tall with them in that regard.


The Math

Baseline Assessment: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 for excellent and inventive worldbuilding

+1 for a strong sense of building and exploring characters in terms of the themes of the novel

Penalties: -1 I was left with a couple of niggling questions about the world afterward that feel more like missed opportunities than anything.

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

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

Reference: Divya, S.B. Machinehood [Saga, 2021]


Genre Fight! Horror vs. Sci-Fi In Film: The Silent Film Era

 

The Criterion Channel bookended 2020 with two genre collections — “Seventies Sci-Fi,” and “‘70s Horror” — one in January, the other timed for Halloween. I watched a ton of those movies. Many of the 70s sci-fi titles were new to me (A Boy and His Dog, Demon Seed, Dark Star) and while some of the 70s horror titles were old favorites (Texas Chainsaw Massacre), I took the opportunity to introduce myself to more George A. Romero non-zombie films.

I found both experiences very interesting, but for different reasons, and it gave me the idea for this series — in which I will attempt to pit horror movies against sci-fi movies for every decade of the 20th century. This will be an entirely subjective undertaking, of course, but I’m going to try to look at both the quality of the films produced in each given decade, as well as the impact those films had more broadly either on the culture or on the evolution of onscreen storytelling.

I know this first installment is a little bit of a fudge, since I’ll be tackling the entire silent film era, which spanned about three decades. But a couple of things make this a more-reasonable grouping than spinning my wheels for three articles before anybody even gets to hear an actor’s voice.

First, the vast majority of films created before 1930 are lost. Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation estimates that 90 percent of all films made before 1929 are lost, including key works by big stars of the silent era such as Lon Cheney. I’m working with what I’ve got.

Second, the feature film didn’t exist at all until 1906, and didn’t become the prominent type of film program until sometime in the next decade. Short films and serials existed in the same theatrical landscape alongside increasingly ambitious feature offerings focusing on increasingly sweeping spectacles. The breadth of genre content that emerges from the stew of the film industry’s formative early years seems to me like a tasty enough helping to get started with. That was some metaphor!

So that’s the pregame out of the way. Let’s get to it!

Genre Fight! 1900-1929

Sci-Fi: The very earliest days of cinema, roughly from the year 1895 to 1898, revolved around programs that were simply a single shot, lasting only a few seconds. The first film believed to employ more than a single shot, creating actual edits, is thought to have been made in 1898 by English filmmaker Robert W. Paul, who was an acquaintance of George Méliès. In the same year, Méliès began experimenting with camera tricks such as double exposure and reverse-cranking, or running the film backward. In 1902, Méliès created arguably one of the first masterpieces of film, A Voyage to the Moon, which remains a remarkable feat of artistry using a medium that had only existed for seven years. There’s no “science” in A Voyage to the Moon, but it was inspired by a Jules Verne novel, and involves space travel, so I’m putting it in the sci-fi bucket.


Méliès also adapted Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in 1907, but things in the sci-fi arena don’t really get cooking until the 1920s. The most significant achievement of the period is Fritz Lang’s 1927 German masterpiece Metropolis. This is one of the all-time great films, and explores the ideas of the exploitation of workers, underground cities, futuristic paradises of skyscrapers and rapid transit, robots, Messianic revolutions, and more. The image of the robot Maria has become iconic, an enduring image that still informs sci-fi design.

Other notable films of the era were The Lost World from 1925, which featured stop-motion dinosaurs created by animation pioneer Willis O’Brien, who would also animate King Kong, and Russia’s Aelita, which focused on social revolution in a sci-fi setting.

Horror: Before his foray to the moon, Méliès spent the last few years of the 19th century creating a number of what are considered the first horror films, producing at least four horror shorts between 1896 and 1898 that revolved around trick photography. He adapted the story of Faust in 1907, and continued making other horror shorts through the decade.

In the United States at the beginning of the 20th century, Edison Studios was the major player in film content, from one-shot films like 1896’s The Kiss to some of the earliest narrative short films, such as 1902’s The Great Train Robbery. They got into the genre adaptation game with the first adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in 1910. Carl Laemmle — a name that would become synonymous with horror in the 1930s — tackled an early adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1917.


Just like in sci-fi, the 1920s really heralded the beginning of horror films as a going concern. In Europe, the German Expressionist design aesthetic that informed Metropolis found one of its earliest and most enduring exemplars in 1920’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. The following year, Victor Sjöström directed The Phantom Carriage in Sweden, a film that would have a profound influence on Ingmar Bergman. And 1922 saw both F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu and the documentary-ish Danish film Häxan, or Witchcraft Through the Ages. Nosferatu still holds up as a solid adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and gave us the iconic, unforgettable images of Count Orlock, which continued inspiring filmmakers like Werner Herzog in 1979’s Nosferatu the Vampyre and the speculative behind-the-scenes film Shadow of the Vampire in 2000. I recommend all of these early 1920s films. By the end of the decade, in 1928, the French adaptation of The Fall of the House of Usher, which borrowed heavily from the German style, arrived on the scene, and is another quality film that still rewards viewing. I liked it so much I turned it into a music video.


In the United States, Lon Cheney emerged in the 1920s as the first huge Hollywood star of the horror genre, with roles in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Phantom of the Opera, and The Unknown (directed by Tod Browning, who would soon helm Bela Lugosi’s Dracula), among many other films, including the now-lost London After Midnight. The success of these Universal films paved the way for the much-beloved Universal Monsters films that were to soon follow in the 1930s.

The Winner: Horror

Metropolis is great. A Voyage to the Moon is great. But the sheer volume of standout horror movies from the 1920s that hold up to this day make this is pretty easy call. In the battle of the genres during the period of silent film, horror is the clear winner.

Posted by Vance K — cult film reviewer and co-editor of nerds of a feather, flock together since 2012; silent film nerd since the waning days of the 20th century.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The Godzilla vs Kong Roundtable: A Monsterously Good Time



G
: Okay, to start - if you were writing one of those snappy taglines for this film what would it be?

Dean: What if Pacific Rim was… Bad?

Joe: Monster Big Smash, People Dumb

Vance: Inevitable Monster Team-Up, Engage!

G: Here’s mine. Goodbye Rubber Suits, Hello CGI Overload! I admit it’s not very catchy.

Now tell me how you really felt about the movie.

Joe: This might color absolutely everything I’m about to say (and by might, I mean it will): I love disaster movies. I don’t care if it is a big budget smash (San Andreas, 2012) or a made for TV shlocky train wreck (Category 6: Day of Destruction, 10.5), or even friggin Sharknado, they’re all great even when they are not. Godzilla vs Kong is a disaster movie. It doesn’t have anything to say about anything, but it’s really pretty when the monsters are throwing down. As such, I loved it. It gave me most of what I wanted.

Dean: The disaster here is the actual movie, on SO many levels. Obviously, it's a big, dumb action movie - or, it's supposed to be, but it REALLY wants you to think it's smart. The antagonists motivation is some weird xenophobic ideal of keeping humans the dominant species? And since it has to deliver on the actual title of the movie, it forces Godzilla and Kong together in convoluted, stupid ways. Because they are convoluted and stupid, we have to spend a whole bunch of runtime with boring, vapid humans with cookie-cutter issues that set up the title fight (get it?) we are waiting for. But wait! Some people like Kong, and some like Godzilla, so we can't actually have a victor, so here is Mecha-zilla to be the heel and take the L.

Let history remember that this movie literally starts with The Truman Show: Kong.


Vance
: I couldn’t tell if the movie wanted me to think it was smart, or if it was winking at me telling me it knew this was all dumb. It was one of my biggest problems with it.

Joe: Let’s get the most important thing out of the way first: Godzilla won. They had a victor and it was clear. Kong was down, out, and dying. Kong only came back for the final MechaGodzilla fight because it got hit with some magic Hollow Earth core juice. Kong lost.

I won’t argue your boring vapid humans, because the humans in the movie were stupid (and I can’t believe I’m saying that about Kyle Chandler - Clear Eyes, Full Heart - Can’t Lose!). They were stupid and dumb and you’d think that doesn’t matter in a kaiju movie but I’ve started watching the original Godzilla movies and some of the humans are stupid there, but some of the movies are actually saying something and dealing with real tragedy of a monster destroying a city. The first Godzilla was made in the wake of the American atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and it’s clearly a response.

Godzilla vs Kong is a response to monsters throwing down is awesome (which, it is).

Dean: That is probably my biggest issue with it, is that both the originals of Kong and Godzilla had heart, had something to say, and connected to the world at large. To reference my tagline up there, Pacific Rim does not it-but it doesn't pretend to, and it works because of that self-awareness. This TRIES to, or acts like it is, and it falls completely flat for me because of that (see: like half my content on this site). Also, Kong getting back into the fight via plot armor makes me basically fly into a Hulk-style berserker rage.

Joe: Kong: Skull Island had a LOT of heart.

Dean: I had such high hopes after that movie. It was brilliant.

Vance: Some of my kids are finally old enough to keep up with the subtitles, so they recently saw the original Gojira for the first time, and we talked a lot about the resonance and commentary on the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. But we have loved some of the English-dubbed sequels for many years, especially the ones with King Ghidorah, Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster and Invasion of Astro-Monster. Those are dumb, but fun. And the humans are wildly outlandish, which I think gives the movies their particular flavor.

The Godzilla vs. Kong characters included a podcaster. It’s not the same.

Joe: I wonder if our responses to the movie are a matter of expectation. Skull Island was far better than I expected, I liked both previous Godzilla movies, but putting Kong and Godzilla together was about what I expected - dumbness and throwing down. But now that I’m watching the originals in order - yeah, that’s about right for the combo movies.

Look, I just watched Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964) and a Mothra caterpillar spat silk in the faces of Godzilla and Rodan, told them to apologize to each other, and pretty much bullied them into teaming up to fight Ghidorah. Dumb is cooked into the franchise.

Vance: One of my favorite moments in that movie, yes.


Joe
: Which isn’t to say that Godzilla vs Kong couldn’t and shouldn’t have been more. There’s no reason why the people couldn’t have been smarter. Of course Apex was a shitty company that was causing Godzilla to attack (on purpose?) - but everything around it could have been way smarter than it was.

G: Parts of it were good, I think - mostly in the second half of the film. But it’s not a good film. For me the question is whether it’s bad bad or good bad. The Toho films, outside the original Gojira (which is a true classic), mostly fall into one of those categories. I mean, a lot of them are basically 80 minutes of boring exposition in a control room followed by 10 minutes of obvious dude in rubber suit stomping on obvious cardboard models. So cranking up the action factor isn’t per se a bad thing.

Guess my problem with the film is more on the production side than anything else. When I was a kid, I watched the original Godzilla vs. King Kong like a dozen times. And each time I’d get upset that Kong triumphs in the end (this being the US version). Each time I hoped that, somehow, Godzilla would win. And now here it is - the moment I’d been waiting for all those years! And all I can think of is…

….why the fuck doesn’t that aircraft carrier tip over, and Kong drown?

Also, what happened to me? As a kid, I could deal with obvious dude in rubber suit stomping on obvious cardboard models. Now I just can’t handle CGI overdesign. It’s ridiculous, and unrealistic. And yes, I know ‘realism’ in a kaiju film is an absurd to demand - but what I really want is a Godzilla who moves like an actual kaiju would move if it was real. Think the T-Rex in Jurassic Park, only better thanks to advancements in CGI. Instead we’ve got two ridiculous looking monsters moving and acting in ridiculous ways because CGI advancements also mean “not limited by actual laws of physics, biology and/or common sense.” Rant over.

Joe: I...liked….the CGI and movement and all of that mess?

Dean: My CGI rant is that ANY effects should be in service of the story. So I can deal with rubber suits and the wires in early SciFi if the story is there. The first moment of terrible CGI came as we saw Kongs Truman Show bubble, and a stupid tree spear, and get introduced to Apex - and all of that is SO DUMB. And not "dumb fun monster fight", DUMB dumb. So the CGI, good or bad, doesn't help or serve anything. Babylon 5 had terrible CGI and is one of the best shows ever.

Also, the ship fight was just SO bad. Godzilla could have drowned him in 10 minutes flat, and then resorts to horror movie levels of logic by NOT MAKING SURE KONG IS DEAD GOD I HATE THIS MOVIE.

Vance: It wasn’t specifically the CGI that kept making me angry, it was the over-design in general. You see dumb over-design in sci-fi stuff all the time, but this was intense. The Hollow Earth vehicles with their weird energy spiral jets were one thing, but the literal hallways of Apex being V-shaped, or diamond shaped...nobody builds walls like that. I don’t care how evil you are, you don’t build walls in a way that jettisons 10,000 years of human architecture just cuz.

This is a very nitpicky gripe, but the converse is one of the things that really sells effective sci-fi. The lived-in look of the original Star Wars was part of the reason why I adored it as a kid. It felt like an actual place that existed somewhere. In Forbidden Planet, the doorways are called out specifically as an anthropological clue to the previous inhabitants of the planet. But when you’re already asking me to believe the Earth is hollow and Kong lives in the Truman Show, just...please...just give me plumb walls.

G: THANK YOU. I was just ranting off screen about how the design in O.G. Star Wars has a sort of realism to it - what you more eloquently call “lived in.” But that’s it. The era of the CGI-diven action movie - which George Lucas helped usher in - is more or less defined by the idea that nothing needs to look lived in. Everything is spectacle.


Vance
: Along the same lines, the whole Hollow Earth aspect really rubbed me wrong. On the one hand, I appreciated the nod back to the early days of sci-fi writings and the tradition of Hollow Earth stories, but between that and the wall of conspiracies around everything...it just felt too close to our actual right now (I’m looking at you, Flat Earthers), without having anything to actually say about it.


Joe: Oh - point of contention, G - Kong also wins in the Japanese version of King Kong vs Godzilla. That was just a weird rumor when the Japanese version wasn’t available in the states. Random trivia for you.

G: Well shows how much I know. Maybe I just wanted there to be a Japanese version where Godzilla wins? I was really into Godzilla as a kid, but there wasn’t much of an internet back then, and I didn’t have access to it anyway.

Joe: Apparently (and according to the internet) - that was the story for decades about Godzilla winning in the Japanese and Kong in the US. But - Godzilla is the heel and the heel loses in those fights. Or is driven away.

G: Yeah he definitely is the heel. Kong is happy on his island until people disturb him. Humans are also to blame for Godzilla, but he’s more proactive about destroying stuff. Kong is more relatable in the end, except that Godzilla also protects children sometimes. Anyway, one thing I did like about Godzilla vs. Kong is that they made Kong more sympathetic. Despite my Team Gojira leanings, I found myself unhappy to see Kong losing. Just let him go live his life, man!

Joe: The humans definitely did Kong dirty. He was incredibly sympathetic - a thinking creature who protects and can learn language.

G: Have to say, I like that they’ve revived Kong as a character. I tried to rewatch the original a few years back - and it is an important, iconic film - but as a kid I never really picked up on how hideously racist it is. Like, even bad for its time. That’s as good a reason for a remake as any - to take something that just doesn’t translate today and re-examine it through a modern lens. Possibly I’m giving the new films too much credit here. But the new Kong films are generally pretty okay - as discussed above, Skull Island is arguably the best of the new Kaiju-verse films.

Joe: I haven’t seen much of Kong. I think I hated the Peter Jackson flick and I haven’t actually seen any of the earlier ones all the way through (except for King Kong vs Godzilla) I’m on a kaiju kick, so I do plan to start with the original 1933 flick and move on from there. I’m...not terribly surprised that it doesn’t hold up, though. I’m more curious how the Jessica Lange version is, to be honest.

G: Okay, let’s talk about what comes next for Godzilla and the Kaiju-verse. We’ve seen Godzilla and Kong, and we’ve seen a lot of the others too - King Ghidora, Rodan, Mothra and Mechagodzilla. So what’s next? If you ask me, there can only be one answer:

Godzilla Junior.


Vance
: They did a good job, I felt, with the MUTOs in the 2014 Godzilla, so they could always cook up some new threat, but with Godzilla Junior just waiting there for a turn in the spotlight? How do you not?

Joe: I’ve got two movies before I get to Son of Godzilla, but you know what? Sure, why the hell not? Otherwise, bring in space based threats. I assume in the new monsterverse everything is terrestrial, even Ghidorah, so something from beyond? Bonus points if they make up a story about how that threat destroyed all life on Mars or Venus.

Also - can I just assume we’re getting Kong: Hollow Earth at some point in the future and be happy about it?

G: Ghidorah is from another planet! At least, sometimes he is. Including King of the Monsters. Ha! Got you back for bursting my “Godzilla won in the Japanese version” bubble.

Joe: Well played. Apparently I forgot the story in King of the Monsters.

Vance: The aliens in the second Ghidorah film from back in the day are very special. And the mysterious princess in the first Ghidorah movie channeling the spirit of a Martian is also...very special. It’s this kind of goofiness that endears those movies to me so much.

Joe: Final question, just to put a final stamp on the whole thing - even granting particular gripes and nit picks, did you like Godzilla vs Kong?

I mean, Dean is notoriously subtle with his feelings….

G: On the first watch, I did not - though I did like King of the Monsters better on watch #2 so I decided to give it another go. And guess what! I enjoyed it a lot more. Guess the difference between “good bad” and “bad bad” is as much about your mindset and expectations as anything else. At first, I couldn’t get over the fact that I wanted a movie they didn’t make. And that fight on the aircraft carrier was just...so, so bad.

On my second watch I was able to appreciate the dumb fun a lot more. The fight in neon Hong Kong is ridiculous in all the right ways - though they missed an opportunity to use Makeup & Vanity Set’s music here (especially since “A Glowing Light, A Promise” is featured elsewhere in the film). That would have been amazing. Mechagodzilla is more or less Ultron, which...meh. But I did like the pacing and mechanics of that fight too.

So my end verdict is...not bad? I’ll probably watch it again sometime, hopefully with my nephew, who’s been Godzilla-obsessed for years.

Vance: In the end, I didn’t. I really wanted to. I liked the 2014 movie very much, and thought King of the Monsters was enjoyable, but I just kept bouncing off of this one.

Joe: Dean - you liked it, right?

Dean: What's not to love? A lot of my rambling on here is dedicated to the fact that I find it far worse to be mediocre than bad, and this fits the bill perfectly. Too full of itself, bloated, with middling execution. I would have loved a great film, that was either 90 minutes of monster smashing, or a high-minded visionary film with a powerful message. Instead, we got a rambling mess that was incoherent without being actually interesting or exciting.

Joe: Well. To leave on a high note - *I* liked it. I’m not going to argue the bloat or the humans being dumber versions of real people, but it was exactly the big budget blockbuster monster smash that I was looking for. And if it eventually sets up Kong: Hollow Earth in five years - I’m all for it.



Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Thank You


The finalists for the 2021 Hugo Awards have been announced and for the fifth time nerds of a feather, flock together is among the shortlisted fanzines. From the moment we were first nominated for a Hugo Award we have not taken a single second of this for granted. We know that we are just one part of an extraordinary community of fans who carry our genre's conversation across blogs, zines, newsletters and social media, and we're incredibly honored to have our contribution recognized in this way.

In spite of 2020, our team continued to put out thoughtful, quality content that not only looked at new works in the SFF realm, both the buzzed-about and the more obscure, but also engaged with some of the most compelling conversations taking place in fandom — and we also expanded! We would not be who we are without the work of Aidan Moher, Andrea Johnson, Dean Richard, Michael Newhouse Bailey, Paul Weimer, Phoebe Wagner, Sean Dowie, and the Spacefaring Kitten. We couldn’t be happier to be in digital cahoots with this team of writers (as well as Arturo Serrano and Elisabeth Moore joining us in 2021), and we are grateful and heartened by this lovely recognition from the Hugo voters.

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

We would also like to congratulate both our co-editor Adri Joy for making the Hugo ballot for a second time this year for her contributions to the ConZealand Fringe in the Related Work Category AND Paul Weimer for now being a two-time Hugo Award finalist as a Fan Writer.
 
-The G, Vance, Joe & Adri

Microreview [game]: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

The other cyberpunk game


Cyberpunk 2077 launched to great fanfare and...frustration at its myriad bugs and shoddy current-gen console ports. But all is not lost for those who lack a true gaming PC - there is in fact another cyberpunk game that, judging from its sales, you probably haven't played. And it's good! 

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (2017) is the fourth major release in the venerable series, and a direct sequel to 2011's Human Revolution. The graphics are obviously better, but the gameplay is more or less the same. You play as Adam Jensen, an augmented agent for the United Nations. Your task: to uncover the person or group responsible for a major terrorist attack - and stop them before the strike again.

Mankind Divided takes place in the near future, 2 years after the events of Human Revolution. The world is socially divided into two categories: humans and the augmented, or "augs," who are cybernetically-enhanced humans. You may recall that anti-aug prejudice plays a major role in Human Revolution; now it's far worse - after all, the terrorist attack was essentially a virus that took over people's augmentations and led them to commit violence against the un-augmented. Despite the fact that this was not a conscious decision or choice on the part of the augmented, fear and mistrust has grown exponentially. The result is a form of apartheid, where augs are crowded into ghettos and subject to intense scrutiny and repression by security forces. 

The game is very clearly trying to evoke both the experience of Jews under the earlier phases of Nazism and that of black South Africans under the white Apartheid regime, as well as other recent examples of the same thing. There are no massacres - yet - but there is wholesale repression and mistreatment. The choice of Prague as setting is key here, with the augmented ghetto aptly named "Golem City." 

Within this context, Jensen has to uncover the clues as to who committed the atrocity. Early signs point to the radical Augmented Rights Coalition, or an even more radical splinter of the ARC. But this being a Deus Ex game, you know the real perpetrators are the ones pulling strings from the shadows. The conspiracy angle isn't terrible interesting or well-realized - no surprise there - so it's thankful the game does pretty much everything else well. 

Gameplay is, as I mentioned before, largely unchanged from Human Revolution (though there are a few tweaks). You can decide whether to go with a combat/lethal or a stealth/non-lethal approach. You can also combine the two, though there are specific achievements associated with either and by committing to one it allows for greater deployability. I went with stealth/non-lethal, because that's always my preference in games that have well-developed stealth mechanics. As you level up, you can choose the augmentations that best suit your purposes. I focused on hacking, cloaking and sound suppression first, then branched off into other areas as the game progressed. A combat-focused build could start with armor enhancements, inventory expansion and better targeting. 


Overall I found the stealth mechanics to be very good, though not quite as developed as, say, the Splinter Cell series. The AI is solid - the game is hard but not cheap. And while there certainly was a degree of trial-and-error, I never found the game frustrating or tedious. Nearly all problems have multiple solutions; nearly all destinations can be reached multiple ways. The hacking minigame is also surprisingly enjoyable, the kind of thing that would translate well as a mobile game. And I do really like how Eidos Montreal integrated RPG elements into this framework. It's much smoother than, say, Mass Effect: Andromeda. Augmentation progression has a good pace, and you loot just the right amount of items. Oh, and shops actually sell stuff that's worth buying! 

This is also a game where choices matter, including choices made in conversation. Certain outcomes are only possible if you make the right choices, while others are only possible if you have the social augmentation and use it correctly. I was a bit "meh" on this - in theory, it's great, but in practice the social augmentation is clunky, non-intuitive and poorly explained. So if you want to unlock everything, you probably need to consult a walkthrough. Or play the game twice. 

The best part of Mankind Divided, though, is Prague. This is not a true open world, like in Witcher 3 or Fallout, but a semi-linear/semi-open world, like in Witcher 2 or the Mass Effect series. So don't expect to get truly lost. But the Prague that Eidos Montreal has created is beautiful, easily navigated and immersive. Twice you leave and come back, only to find the context changed significantly. And Prague isn't a place normally associated with cyberpunk (like Hong Kong, Tokyo or New York), so there's a novelty element to it as well. It's interesting to see futurism juxtaposed against the old buildings. 


The story is both here and there. Thematically, it's rich and well-realized...it's just that some of the actual plot points don't make a lot of sense. And the whole "illuminati" conspiracy angle, which was so much fun with the original Deus Ex, now feels equal parts tired and, given current events, more than a touch irresponsible. Luckily Mankind Divided focuses more on the game's social themes, which as noted above are thought provoking. 

All in all this is a very good game, and criminally underrated. Especially recommended for fans of stealth - a genre that's fallen on hard times lately, it seems - and those who like their games smart. 


The Math

Baseline Assessment: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 for grappling with big ideas, mostly successfully; +1 for strong and varied gameplay mechanics; +1 for mood and design

Penalties: -1 for big gaping plot holes; -1 it feels shorter than it should be

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

***

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



 




Monday, April 12, 2021

"Pacific Rim: The Black" has an OK story, but it's hard on the eyes

This tale of loneliness and persistence goes to some familiar places and has a few interesting ideas, but the animation looks painfully unfinished

(Confession: I'm not a fan of Pacific Rim. I know most people's reaction to the announcement of the first movie was along the lines of "Hell yeah!", which I get. I know that its aesthetic knows how to push the right buttons. In my case, my reaction was a bewildered "But why?", and the reason is that Pacific Rim is made of pure, distilled nostalgia, and I'm allergic to nostalgia, so I didn't see a need for this movie to exist. I think it's fair to you that I start this review by being open about this position I have. I don't think it's a bad movie. It's just not my thing.)

Pacific Rim: The Black is an animated series that continues the plot after Uprising and pulls a bit more of the curtain of the monstrous alien invaders that have been threatening Earth since the first film. I was skeptic about the viability of any sequel to the original Pacific Rim; like Terminator 2 or Return of the Jedi, it raises the obvious question "But they already won, and the movie said it's final, so what's there to tell next?" To my surprise, Uprising did have something to add to the story, and the direction in which it chose to expand its monster lore has room for further intrigue.

To my bigger surprise, what The Black adds to this setting has good potential. But its ideas tend to stay at the "potential" phase and don't enter much into the "execution" one. I realized this when I noticed it only had seven episodes of less than thirty minutes each, and I wondered why it wasn't a full-length movie instead. The answer is that The Black doesn't tell a complete story in this season. It's designed to set up several future plot developments, which is fairly normal in any first season, but the actual story gives us so little that one can't avoid feeling shortchanged.

Not that the story even works. Much of it relies on just-so contrivances. In the first episode, Hayley, one of the protagonists, accidentally discovers an entrance to a military facility that was hidden below her community in an oasis in the middle of the desert. She didn't make any particular effort to search for places any of them hadn't walked by in the five years they'd been living there. The all-important secret door was just... there. In the second episode, when Hayley and her brother Taylor leave their giant robot to explore the streets of a city on foot, the monsters they meet are the right size for a chase scene with teenage humans.

Causal logic is not a strength of this show. The premise is that, even after the alien invasion was averted in the first movie (and averted again in the second one), interdimensional rifts are opening again, but this time they're not at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, but on land, in the Australian desert. We don't get any explanation for this change, and I suspect the only one is that they wanted to tell a road trip type of story this time. The series starts with most of the continent already abandoned and our protagonists cut off from the world after the disappearance of their parents. They don't know whether the coastal cities are safe anymore, but their discovery of a battle robot attracts the attention of a beast that rampages through their oasis, so the only option they have left is to search in the direction their parents went. Inevitably, because this is Australia, the show gets a Mad Max feeling that gets more obvious with the introduction of Shane, the human villain, who commands a private army of pirates/smugglers/survivalists. And then all causal logic is forgotten, because this villain is only capable of making choices that sabotage his own objectives.

The road trip structure serves to showcase the Australian landscape, but the artwork is a mixed bag. The animation can have really spectacular details that are done no favors by the clumsy parts. Hair shines as if it were made of plastic, while metallic surfaces appear dull as leather. The palette of grays is a favorite of the show’s artists, and it puts unnecessary strain on the viewer’s eyes. It’s hard to follow the action on screen when the color of a character’s jacket is almost the same as the wall behind him, or the color of a monster’s body is almost the same as the background night sky. When a basket of potatoes or a shirt are given gray smudges to represent dirt, they look instead like they’re half-transparent and we can see the ground through them. The effect would look cool if it weren’t so distracting and obviously unintended. In a very strange instance in the first episode, a female character’s breasts are foregrounded in profile while she’s talking to another character in the background, and the gray on her shirt gives it precisely this transparent look that completely ruins an already ill-advised shot. Other scenes use the lighting on surfaces to create the impression of depth, but with so few gradations that the screen is filled with large, ugly blotches of gray. Gray next to gray. Gray over grayer. Green or red so desaturated they may as well be gray.

This lackluster handling of color is even more jarring in combat scenes. When fighting titans hit the ground in the first episode, the rendering of the wisps of dust looks like a datamoshing glitch. Low contrast + shaky cam = a very confused and dizzy viewer. This gets especially disappointing when one notices the beautiful variety of landscapes. The second episode achieves an amazingly detailed ruined city with delicate dust effects, and the third has water splashes that move as if by real physics. But then a giant salamander rises from the water, its vaguely brownish belly nearly indistinguishable from the rocks next to it, and all the visual charm is gone. The amount of work that was put into the scenery is wasted on the featureless blandness of the creatures that have to move in it. This really hurts. When the clouds are painted with so much care that you can tell apart the cirrus fractus from the cirrus spissatus, you know these artists know how to draw well. They just don’t do it consistently. The fourth episode revisits the sandy landscape of the first, and there’s that glitchy dust again, only to be followed by a jump cut to the ruined city and its perfectly rendered dust, as if the teams in charge of animating different settings had not been in communication with one another. The big, climactic explosion in the fourth episode looks childish, while the fifth has a long scene with expertly done layers of fire and smoke that puts it to shame.

Although the plot won't earn any awards, it does have valuable things to say about generational disillusionment. Our protagonists owe their lives to their parents' sacrifice, but have had to survive on their own for years, and now that they're learning to give themselves the protection that their parents should have provided, they're starting to appreciate the difficulty of the task. In direct opposition to this strained but loving relationship, Mei is a child soldier with a long abusive history under her surrogate father, the heartless Shane, who later we learn has been manipulating her to make her stay with him. To add a strong touch of tension to this theme of painful parenthood, the last episode reveals that the aliens now understand enough about human relationships that they've sent one of their own to infiltrate Earth in the guise of a fragile child, weaponizing our protective instincts against us.

My comparison with Mad Max brings another angle to the worldbuilding: starting from Mad Max 2, political regimes and borders have vanished to the point that the movie may as well take place on another planet. In contrast, the events of Pacific Rim happen in the very near future, and it's impossible to ignore the real-world associations that come to mind as a consequence of the decision to set The Black in what the characters still call Australia. The producers should have been aware that any story that features loss of land and orphanhood and is set in Australia is going to evoke the historical context of the violent displacement and systematic child kidnapping done to Aboriginal peoples, but The Black doesn't include any explicitly identified Aboriginal characters who could have provided a fuller exploration of that inevitable theme. And don't get me started on the problems with a story about refugees in Australia that doesn't acknowledge Nauru.

So, the Pacific Rim franchise has never had the most robust worldbuilding. But it knows how to hit the emotional mark. The need for telepathic connection between two pilots was one of the most out there elements about the movies, in that a credible in-universe justification was never given, but it was a powerful symbolic statement about the value of emotional vulnerability and mutual support in the face of danger. In the setting of Pacific Rim, shutting off your feelings gets you killed, but exposing them to the wrong person leaves scars. Shane exploits this mental connection to edit Mei’s memories and keep her under his control, and it's the protagonists' willingness to be open with each other that helps them win the day. The fact that no one in Shane's private army is capable of such honesty is an effective shorthand for who these people are and why even without Shane we shouldn't root for them.

A full assessment of what The Black brings to the table will have to wait until it actually completes an arc at some point in the future. For now, the mysteries it presents are good enough. There's a weird religious cult that seems to worship the giant monsters, and we still don't know what happened to the protagonists' parents. But the makers of the show are going to have to work hard to improve the quality of the animation. I'm sure those who truly enjoy the giant fights of Pacific Rim would appreciate being able to tell what's going on in the screen.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 7/10

Bonuses: +2 for beautiful scenery, +1 for a continuous thread through the theme of parenthood issues, +1 for a creative twist on the franchise mythos.

Penalties: −2 for inconsistent visual quality, −1 for too much uncanny valley, −1 for a flat villain, −2 for ignoring the questions raised by the choice of setting.

Nerd Coefficient: 5/10

POSTED BY: Arturo Serrano, multiclass Trekkie/Whovian/Moonie, accumulating experience points for still more obsessions.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

CoNZealand Fringe Transcript: Good News On The Horizon: Upcoming Books & Media We Can’t Wait For

During CoNZealand, a group of fans put together a set of panels, which took place outside convention hours, which would be available for free via Youtube and offer a taster of the Worldcon experience to those unable to participate in CoNZealand's programming hours, or hadn't bought a membership but were interested in the kind of content provided. The result was a set of 15 panels over 6 days, archived and available for all at www.conzealandfringe.com.

As a fringe event in the tradition of Edinburgh Fringe and other international collateral events, CoNZealand Fringe was conducted entirely outside core programming hours and spaces, and panels were not official CoNZealand programming. CoNZealand Fringe is not endorsed by CoNZealand.

Nerds of a Feather, Flock Together is pleased to host the transcripts of CoNZealand Fringe panels for fans who are unable to watch the videos or prefer a written format. This is the transcript for Good News on the Horizon, which ran on Sunday 2 August 2020 at 8pm BST/3pm EDT/12pm PDT/7am NZST (next day) and is available here. Other panel transcripts are available via our transcript hub. 

Good News on the Horizon: Upcoming Books & Media We Can't Wait For

Panel Description: Now that we’ve all got our Hugo Award ballots done for another year, and caught up on the highlights of the first half of 2020, it’s time to turn our attention to all the amazing new projects slated for release beyond July. Our panelists discuss the upcoming releases sure to capture our attention into the new year and beyond.

Host/Panellist: Rachel @ kalanadi

Moderator: Natalie Devitt

Panellists: Lee/Lali @ Portal Bookshop (they/them), Thomas Wagner (he/him), Sean Dowie (he/him)

RACHEL: It looks like we are live now if people can see us and hear us. Okay, Reija says we are live now so it is time to go, welcome to the last ConZealand Fringe panel, and I will now turn it over to Natalie, our moderator.

NATALIE: Hello, I’m Natalie Devitt, associate writer for the Galactic Journey blog, this Good News on the Horizon! I’d like to take a moment to get to know each one of the panellists, I guess we can go in alphabetical order by first name, so Lee, if you’d like to start off, tell us a little about yourself.

LEE: Hi, I’m Lee, or Lali, or Portal Bookshop human incarnate, I run a queer and sci-fi fantasy specialist bookshop in York, and I’ve been in fandom for longer than I probably should have been already. So I’m super excited about lots of upcoming super queer books.

NATALIE: Next up, Sean, if you want to tell us a little bit about yourself?

SEAN: I am Sean, I am a contributor for the Hugo-nominated fanzine Nerds of a Feather, as well as a book reviewer for Fiyah Literary Magazine, I’m obsessed with books, I have a list too long to get through for this panel, and I am looking forward to learning more about books from the other panellists.

NATALIE: Great, thank you Sean. Now, what about you Thomas?

THOMAS: Well I think actually, R comes before T, so. Rachel, you want to say hi?

RACHEL: Go ahead Thomas.

NATALIE: I assumed people were already familiar with her, but. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to skip over you.

THOMAS: It’s all good. Hi, I’m Thomas Wagner, my channel and website are SFF180, I started reviewing online, way back in like 2001, my original website was sffreviews.net and it was just a hobby thing, and it always just stayed on the sideline of my life as something to keep me anchored. Now I’m able to devote myself to it more or less full-time, and so yes. That is my background in all this, and I’m happy to be here.

NATALIE: Great, thank you Thomas. And I’m sorry for skipping over you Rachel, would you want to share a few words with us?

RACHEL: Yes, my name is Rachel, we’re here on my YouTube channel, Kalanadi, I’ve been booktubing since 2014, I read an ungodly number of books per year, and never seem to get through my reading list (laughs). Also, I got longlisted for Fancast again this year in the Hugo Awards, which is really cool.

SEAN: Congratulations!

NATALIE: Yeah, congrats!

LEE: Well done!

THOMAS: (Claps)

NATALIE: So as a reminder: Fringe is not affiliated with the Big Con. I also want to remind everyone, if you are interested in asking questions please feel free to drop them in the chat, I’d like to have an opportunity to answer your questions. So, I guess we’ll go ahead and start our discussion. I’m kind of curious: based off of what everyone’s seen so far in 2020, are there any subgenres that you think might be very popular, kind of dominate things over the next half of the year?

SEAN: Yeah, I see things going in two different polarities. I see very fluffy fantasy, magical realism, that focuses on the comfort of the world – fictional comforts of the world, because you can’t find many non-fictional comforts these days, that make you feel less alone and distract you from reality – and I also see it in going into really dark horror, that really delves into the depths of where we are right now. Because although horror can be a very harrowing genre to read, it always have nuggets of information that you can plough through and find, if you get through all the harrowing bits, and that could also be a big subgenre. So yeah, dark horror and fluffy fantasy.

NATALIE: The two extremes. Any other thoughts on this, Thomas, Lee?



LEE: I’m all here for more time-travelling lesbians, because that’s been fun so far, but you can never have too many.

NATALIE: And Rachel, if you have any thoughts too?

RACHEL: I would completely echo what Sean has said, I’ve noticed that there’s been a lot more darker fiction, more horror, on my own reading list, what people are coming out with this year. Just – really getting into some of the gritty questions that have popped up in the last couple of years.

THOMAS: Yeah, again echoing what Sean has said, I see fantasy largely moving in a comfort direction, comfort redirection, where... Books coming out for example – but even those are putting a little bit of a darker spin on them, because on the one hand people want what is familiar and comforting, but on the other hand you don’t want to entirely ignore the realities of our world and what we’re dealing with. And if, fiction, if what it does is it holds up a mirror to our reality, especially fantasy fiction, and if it is a way for us to process and understand some of the things that we’re going through, kind of as a lens, to look at reality through, a lot of fantasy is splitting the difference right now. So we have for example, a book like Deadly Education by Naomi Novik, again, it’s the old magic school trope, but darker. So I think that I see a lot of that happening in fantasy. And as far as horror goes, there’s a stunning number of pandemic novels happening at the moment, as well as –

RACHEL: Unintentional, perhaps?

THOMAS: For example, something like Chuck Wendig’s Wanderers, and probably Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay were just a matter of timing, but I think that we’re probably going to start seeing upcoming horror say in 2021 and beyond, the idea that it’s not going to be informed by 2020, and it’s not going to be a commentary, that these aren’t going to be books in conversation with what we’re living in now, is – that’s obviously where it’s going to go.

LEE: I’m anticipating a lot of working together and community themed things, based on that. You can kind of see things coming through already in short fiction, there’s a lot of grouping together and supporting each other going on, and there’s a post-apocalyptic anthology coming up called Glitter and Ashes, which is about queer communities in various different post-apocalyptic scenarios, and how people will support each other and pull together and work through things. It’s not all complete polar opposites, there’s going to be a full spread as well, in the middle of dark but also hopeful? The hopepunk stuff is going to have a big surge I think.

THOMAS: I do think we’re going to maybe see a lot of that in short fiction, because in short fiction there’s so much more room to have that kind of creativity, because you don’t have to have the pressure of writing a novel and then the novel has to be marketed in a certain way. I think writers who are doing short fiction, and also writing for anthologies and magazines, are probably going to have a lot more freedom to explore those ideas, than maybe in novels. Do you think?

LEE: They can react a lot faster as well.

RACHEL: Yeah, that’s what I was going to say. It’s a shorter time to getting a short story published in reaction to what’s happening right now. Novels will, the publication cycle – a year or two from now, perhaps.

SEAN: I agree.

NATALIE: So are there any forthcoming releases that you’re eagerly anticipating?

RACHEL: Should we start with things coming out in a couple of weeks, or can we jump to 2021?

NATALIE: Whatever you’re looking forward to the most I think is probably going to be the most interesting.

RACHEL: There’s so many, I can’t count them all. But I’m a huge fan of Arkady Martine, and A Desolation Called Peace is going to come I think out in February or March 2021, and I’m just so thrilled, I can’t wait.

SEAN: I echo Arkady Martine. I’m also looking forward to, if we’re talking about just this month, there’s a short story collection, if we’re alright to go back to that topic, called Children of the Fang and Other Genealogies by an author named John Langan –

THOMAS: Yes!

SEAN: I think he’s great, he really digs into the depths of humanity, and it’s a very uncomfortable reading experience most of the time, but for some reason I always have to go back to it, I always get something valuable out of it. Maybe I like being discomfited, but I think there’s an emotional authenticity to it that I think a lot of books lack. And then one more that’s coming out soon is The Loop by Jeremy Robert Johnson, and he’s an author who’s been killing it in the bizarro fiction area for a long long time, and this seems like the book that is going to be a crossover, because it’s being called a mix of World War Z and Stranger Things. So it’s like Stranger Things-esque adventure with a lot of zombies and experiments, and it seems like it’s very promising.

THOMAS: Well you know, horror works very well, especially when it’s all about empathy. The best horror is centred on empathy. That’s why I think it reaches in as deeply as it does. Gosh, yes, if we want to talk about imminent releases, it’s a very exciting August coming up, we have the final Masquerade novel by Seth Dickinson, the Tyrant Baru Cormorant, I’m looking forward to, there’s the collaboration with Gardner Dozois and Michael Swanwick, The City Under the Stars, Gardner Dozois died a couple of years ago now I guess, so this will be his last hurrah as it were. And then Karen Osborne is a debut author, she had a story, a piece of short fiction that was a Hugo finalist this year, and now she has her debut space opera happening this month from Tor Books here in the States, called Architects of Memory, and I’m very intrigued by that. And then Derek Künsken is a space opera author whose work I’ve been following, I’ve been very curious about him, and he has a new story from Solaris this month called House of Styx, and it’s already been serialised in Analog, but I always like to wait for the book to come out.

SEAN:
Yeah I’m especially excited for the Karen Osborne book too, I loved the short story ‘The Dead in Their Uncontrollable Power’, that totally knocked my socks off, so I’m excited to see what she does with a longer work.

THOMAS: And this one’s a duology, I think, and the second book is coming out in fairly short order

SEAN: Yeah it comes out in February, but don’t quote me on that.

RACHEL: I kind of want to pivot from that and talk about middle grade and really fluffy stuff.

NATALIE: Go for it!

RACHEL: Nnedi Okorafor has her first middle grade novel coming out at the end of August, I think, it is called Ikenga, and I’m ashamed to say I can’t remember that much about it because I usually go into her books completely blind, but I’m super excited, anything that she does with mythology and Nigerian culture and all of that, I’m completely here for. And then The Tea Dragon Tapestry by Katie O’Neill is coming out in September, for everybody who loves those kind of picture books for young readers, they just warm the soul, they’re so welcoming and diverse, such good messages, I just love them so much.

LEE: I’m running on hype for this month, because in two days’ time we have Harrow The Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, and I mean – the tagline for that that I have seen is ‘the lesbian necromancers are back and they’re gayer than ever’, and I’m sold instantly. Plus later this month we’ve got Drowned Country by Emily Tesh, which is the sequel to Silver in the Wood, which was soft and adorable and bittersweet, and also really vicious and gruesome. I have read an ARC for the Drowned Country, and it’s fantastic and ripped my heart out slightly –

THOMAS:
[Holds up copies of both Emily Tesh books]

SEAN: Oh, nice!

LEE: Yes! It’s so pretty, and it’s so much fun, and the characters are just so intensely extra, it’s great. [Crosstalk]

RACHEL: So much snark and sass, yes.

NATALIE: Okay, I do have another question, does anyone think that there’s an upside to publishing or releasing content during the pandemic? I mean I know that people have presumably more time, but do you think that there’s a silver lining to this?

RACHEL: I think people are consuming content at an incredible rate during this time, I think it’s interesting, I’ve seen publishers putting off books, which I consider to be just a result of the warehousing problem, the problem of getting printing done, and the constraints within the logistics of it all, but I’ve also seen people who self-publish, like Gail Carriger, who have been pulling their stuff to push it out sooner, and get it out to their audiences, because they know people want to read it, and have something – well in Carriger’s position – something fun and fluffy and wonderful to read during hard times. [Inaudible]

THOMAS: I think people were very unsure when the lockdown began, we had no precedent for this, so I do recall back in April and March, a lot of authors who had books coming out being in panic mode, it’s like oh great, my book is now coming out when all the bookshops are closing and everything is shutting down, and when you’re used to that system being in play – a lot of people of course shop online, but to have the presence of the big brick and mortar stores, and displays and what have you, has just always been part of the environment. And then it’s taken away, and it leads to this unpredictable future where, now what’s it going to look like? I don’t know which authors have ended up really benefiting from lockdown, I imagine it will be the authors who are already popular and have a big following, their followings are still as strong as they are. I can imagine though if you’re a debut author this spring and early summer, it could be very nerve-wracking. Because, you have the whole issue of, first off I’m new, I don’t know if I’m going to get the promotional push that the money-makers do, the best-selling authors do. You just really have no way of knowing, once certain rugs are pulled out from under your feet, how this is all going to land. I would not envy a creator who had a book coming out in the spring, I’m sure it was just – potentially very traumatising.

LEE: There were also a lot of supply issues early on, so that caused problems early on.

SEAN: To try to go into an author’s head, the average author who’s an introvert, I guess the one other silver lining I can think of, those with social anxiety can now market their book behind a screen, and they don’t have an excuse to avoid any book tours or anything like that. But I totally agree with Thomas that for a debut author you have to go out there and market your book whether you want to or not if you want it to sell, and this is definitely debilitating that. It’s probably a lot easier for established authors because they already have an established Twitter following that is not affected by the pandemic, but for going out and getting your name out it’s for sure hard.

THOMAS: In times like these – [crosstalk] I’m sorry, go on.

LEE: I know a lot of people have been feeling guilty about promoting their work as well, because there’s a pandemic on and people are dying. And they’re here going, “I wrote a book?” But this is why I’ve been shouting about books a lot more during all of this. Because I’m like, if you need distracting, these people have put in the work, go support them.

NATALIE: I kind of feel like a lot of entertainment has helped me make sense out of things, for me at least it’s been kind of energising during a time that’s so draining. I was wondering do you think it will affect readers? Like maybe they might be willing to branch out and check out things that are outside of the mainstream? Or do you think people are probably going to look for more of the same?

RACHEL: I think people will definitely look for more book suggestions and recommendations, not so sure about reaching out to other things though.

THOMAS: Yeah, you always want to be optimistic about that, like hey people be open minded to expand your horizons and what have you. But I can recall, for example, when a television show comes out and it’s based on a series and people are checking out the show and they love the show so they want to read the books. And I would see this happening because I haunt my local bookshops regularly, and you would see the employee leading the customer to the fantasy section to show her where the Sookie Stackhouse books were, and she would grab exactly that, and immediately walk off. There’s not this thought of, oh I wonder what else is here that I might also like in addition to this. No, they just go and they get the thing, and then they go away. You really have to, handselling, you have to keep the conversation going, and reaching those people – “if you like this, try this, try this and try this,” you know. Sometimes it’s not as easy as you hope it would be.

RACHEL: I wonder how much just browsing the bookshelves at the library or the bookstore has been replaced by browsing Hoopla, browsing Overdrive. There’s been a huge push from libraries to get things online and engage their patrons in their ebook and audiobook resources as well. It’s not quite the same thing than physically looking at a bookshelf though.

NATALIE: There’s a lot of things you find on the bookshelf that you would never think to search for at home on your computer.

SEAN: Yeah, computers, especially certain websites are designed to point you in the direction that already suits your taste. And with a bookshelf, there is not that trajectory, you’re allowed to go wherever you want, and you might stumble upon books that might not align with what you think you really like, which could make you branch out, whether you like the cover or a synopsis that really caught your eye – you just can’t have that as much anymore.

NATALIE: So outside of books, are there other types of media that everyone’s looking forward to, over the next half year, or into 2021?

RACHEL: I was already talking to Thomas about the one thing I’m looking forward to, which is the Dune adaptation in December, if we get to have that in-theatre experience.

SEAN: Yeah, I was going to say Dune. For some reason, even though I wasn’t a huge fan of the sequels, I’m excited for The Matrix 4, because that franchise is always something that tries to do something new, it doesn’t always accomplish what it sets out to do, but as far as blockbusters that are trying to not follow the formula, that’s one of the ones that continue to do that.

LEE: And given what the Wachowski sisters did with Sense8, I’m hopeful that The Matrix will do something fun.

SEAN: Yeah, they’re on a roll right now, so I hope it continues, for sure.

LEE: Yeah.

[silence for a few moments]

THOMAS: Sorry!

NATALIE: Okay, I’ll take a moment to look in the chat, see if anyone’s posted any questions, if you haven’t done so already I encourage you to drop some questions in the chat that I’d be more than happy to ask our panelists.

RACHEL: I think somebody was discussing finding book recommendations and such through places like Instagram or social media, and some questions of curation or gatekeeping perhaps. I think I missed part of the comment, but that was interesting, I think the point was that finding random things is still less when you have that gatekeeper, whether it’s in a bookstore or a library or such, somebody else had to choose to put that thing on the shelf. It’s different with something like Instagram, obviously there’s still an algorithm there trying to show you things, but. I think that’s an interesting point, I haven’t actually used Instagram for book recommendations but it’s a very different experience than using something like Goodreads or the Amazon platform.

THOMAS: I suppose if we also want to talk about other media and how specifically it is responding to the current situation, there is a one-hour lone horror movie that has just been released, it’s streaming online, and it’s called The Host, and it is a supernatural horror movie that is set in a Zoom meeting like this, the entire thing is like what you’re seeing right now, and it’s about this group of friends – it’s like Unfriended but even more basic, it’s designed for streaming, it’s something like 58 minutes long, and it’s getting a pretty good response. And it was just made directly as something to do, essentially, a creative project, while we’re all in lockdown. It’s getting reviewed well and actually taken rather seriously, as here’s a way in which entertainment is being produced now. The creators are adapting to circumstances. We’re going to see more of that kind of thing, but there’s always YouTube anyway, so you can just watch us if there are no movies to watch.

SEAN:
It’s definitely changing the landscape of how media is produced. I’m a filmmaker too and I’m making a film on Zoom like pretty much every filmmaker these days, and one thing that I will say that has really helped is that all of my friends who come from different towns, who aren’t able to come to my film sets usually, have been able to be a part of the film this time without paying expenses for travel, so it’s definitely mitigated the financial expenses for sure, and it’s changed the way you look at movies. It’s definitely imposed all these limitations, but it’s also has expanded how you can connect with your cast members, so it’s expansion and confinement.

THOMAS: Technology has gotten to the point where it has democratised filmmaking so much more already, for several years now it’s been the case, the better smartphones out there have 4k cameras that can rival just about anything professionals might use, and so if you want to be a new emerging filmmaker getting into the field, you can get started at a much higher level of technical game than you ever could, already. And now with, as you said, making films through Zoom, this is all about creativity adapting to circumstances, and it’s democratising the process even further. Probably the same way that something like Kindle Unlimited has democraticised publishing. Not always in good ways, you can go and on about the Kindle Unlimited scams, but self-pubbed writers being able to go right through Amazon or what have you and have a platform for your work, it’s democratising the process.

SEAN: Yeah, and I also feel like it’s levelled the playing field between very small filmmakers who don’t have a huge budget, and the huge filmmakers, because there’s only so much you can do in Zoom – you can’t make like the next Avengers movie in Zoom, at least not yet. We all have the same limitations now, and now it’s just the matter of who can make the best art, it’s not as much about who has the most money.

NATALIE: Yeah, and I know that a lot of the big studios have shut down production, so maybe it will make it to, with everyone having access to tools of digital creation there, we might see a wider variety of people making films and getting their stuff out there.

THOMAS: Yeah, again, wider voices in filmmaking, more diversity.

[Pop up from zelizardqueen: panelists- who do you follow on Twitter/IG for your book recs?]

LEE:
There was a question came past in the comments there about who people follow on Twitter and Instagram for recs, so I want to use that moment to give a shout out to @KA_Doore on Twitter, because she posts the most fantastic lists, and has a whole bunch of like – everything coming out this year that is in adult sci fi/fantasy and contains queerness, here are all the bi main characters, and here are all the pan things, and here is everything that has asexual rep. And Claudie Arseneault as well, has the – that’s the one, yeah – has the asexual and aromantic database, which is a fantastic place to find recs, especially for self-published stuff which we were just mentioning, because I end up stocking quite a lot of self-published stuff in the shop, because that’s where the representation is sometimes, especially for the more marginalised identities. K.A. Doore, that was.

SEAN: I am biased but I follow all of the Nerds of a Feather editors and fellow contributors because I feel like they have great taste, and it’s not just because I’m part of the team, but I genuinely do think that their reviews are so well-written and so thoughtful that you can’t find anything better. There might be stuff that’s as good, but there’s nothing better.

RACHEL: I don’t really follow people on Twitter or Instagram for book recommendations, but I do follow a lot of SFF booktubers, which is where I hear about most things these days. I will give Thomas a shout-out because of course he has his weekly mailbag Monday with all the new releases, which is a fantastic way to discover a lot, a lot of new stuff on a regular basis –

THOMAS: And hopefully we’ll be able to go back to weekly at some point, that’s a thing that the Covid has affected.

RACHEL: But also I follow a lot of other channels of varying sizes, I find that a lot of the smaller, newer booktubers actually have some of the best, most quirky things to talk about that you would never have heard of otherwise, and that’s a really, really good way to find out about stuff.

SEAN: Yeah, I’ve just taken the plunge into the whole booktube world, like not making videos – maybe one day – there’s a lot of interesting smaller channels for sure that have very unique tastes, about books that I wouldn’t have heard of otherwise. I’m very thankful that the booktube community is a thing, and it’s thriving as well as it is, and it’s as diverse as much as it is.

NATALIE: I see someone asked if there were any gamers on the panel. Are there any gamers on the panel that have any releases that you’re looking forward to?

THOMAS: I mean do, I wouldn’t call myself a gamer, it’s not my YouTube thing, I don’t identify with it, it’s not my outlet, it’s just my relaxation. But gosh, yes. I perhaps haven’t been paying attention to too much. I’m on the fence about the next Assassin’s Creed game, I’m not quite sure what they’re going to do with – if the entire Viking setting is going to be wonderful or absurd. But then again, there were a whole lot of absurd things about Odyssey, which was the Ancient Greece game, thoroughly ahistorical, but at the same time it was just a wonderful immersive experience. I’m in love with Cassandra, my character, we’ve been together now for – gosh, I looked the other day and I’ve been playing that game for a year and three months.

SEAN: Wow.

THOMAS: And it’s just a way to slip into another world. So those are the kinds of games that I like, the ones that can immerse me that fully. And I hope to have that kind of experience again. So we’ll see. I am on the fence again – I preordered it, but I’m on the fence about Cyberpunk 2077, the big thing coming out I believe in September. There was a recent controversy about how they’re handling character creation, and specifically in terms of how they’re addressing gender identity. There’s a bit of concern about whether or not they’re going to completely screw the pooch on that one. But we’ll see again, I’m hot and cold on it, but I’ve preordered it, so I guess I’m going to check it out.

SEAN: If we really want to go to the horizon into like, next year, for Playstation 5 I’m really looking forward to Horizon Forbidden West, which is a sequel to a flawed masterpiece for the Playstation 4 called Horizon Zero Dawn. It’s fantasy, there’s robots, robotic dinosaur creatures, and it’s open-world, and it’s really something. One thing that I will say about it is that out of all the games I’ve played, it has the strongest sense of awe, whether it’s the skill or the beauty of it, it’s worth a play, and I’m sure the sequel for Playstation 5, whenever that comes out, will also be worthy.

NATALIE: I also see a request for recommendations for any graphic novels or comics, does anyone have anything they’d like to say about that?

RACHEL: I sort of have one, but I don’t actually know that much about it. It’s a graphic novel, I think it’s for middle grade or YA readers, called The Magic Fish, by Trung Le Nguyen, who is a Vietnamese-American illustrator and writer, and it sounds like it’s going to be a coming of age story interwoven with Vietnamese mythology or fairy tales, and I’m mostly drawn to it because the artwork looks amazing. But, yeah I just want to put that one out there.

NATALIE: Anyone else?

LEE: I just looked one up earlier that’s called Cute Mutants, and it is kind of exactly as it sounds, heavily inspired by X-Men and adorable. It’s teenagers who gain superpowers from a party, and then have to try and save the world, but they can barely hold the team together.

SEAN: I’m woefully behind on my graphic novel knowledge, I need to re-find that.

RACHEL: Oh and any more of Invisible Kingdom by G. Willow Wilson and Christian Ward, that would be amazing. I think volume 2 just came out, but it’s beautiful and it’s really well-written.

LEE: The Old Guard, maybe? Considering the film?

SEAN: Yeah, it’s timely for sure.

NATALIE: Okay, I’m going to look into the chat to see if we have any additional questions, has anyone seen any that –

RACHEL: There’s one from Adri actually, that I think would be really fun to answer, I’ll put that on the screen.

[pop-up from Adrienne Joy: What sequel or new thing by a favourite creator that HASN’T been announced would you most wish for in the next 18 months?]

RACHEL: I have three answers for this. The first is a bit of a cheat because we do know it’s going to come out. But Perhaps the Stars, Ada Palmer’s fourth Terra Incognita book, and I’m quite certain it’s going to come out in 2021, but I don’t trust the release date of June, it’s been moved so much. It’s going to be one of the biggest releases of 2021 for me in particular. Also, the second Numair book by Tamora Pierce, the sequel to Tempest and Slaughter, and in fact if anybody knows anything about the release of that book, please let me know. Amazon is like, oh it’s coming out in September of 2020, and I’m like, oh no. That’s a lie. But I know it’s in the works, so I can’t wait. I waited half of my life for the first Numair book to come out, and the idea that we’ll get the second one in less than maybe three years or whatever, that would be awesome. And then my third one is Menewood – or, I’m actually not sure how to pronounce that, it looks like “mean-wood” – by Nicola Griffith, which is the second in her Hild series – no, Light of the World, that’s the name of the series, the first book is called Hild. It’s been in the works for many years as well, and I just love everything by Nicola Griffith. It’s ancient Britain, slightly fantastical retelling of Saint Hild’s life. The first book was incredibly lush and beautiful.

SEAN: Yeah, I have a couple. One is a sequel to a book that isn’t out yet but I’ve read already, and that is Ring Shout, by P. Djèlí Clark, which I reviewed for Fiyah, please check out my review, thank you! It is, and probably will remain by favourite read of the year. It’s about the film Birth of a Nation by D.W. Griffith, which was a seminal work in early 20th century film, that was very racist about the KKK. It’s a historical alternate reality, where that film is used to energise KKK members and turn them into Lovecraftian monsters. It’s a pulpy, brilliant adventure. It ends perfectly, but I’d like more of it. And then for a movie, I really think that the 2017 movie starring Anne Hathaway called Colossal is an underrated gem. it’s about aliens – it’s kind of like Godzilla, but it also has stuff about alcoholism and domestic abuse. And, yeah that’s a movie I think about constantly, and I’d love to see a sequel to that.

THOMAS: Yeah, it’s all about toxic masculinity.

SEAN: Yeah, that too. [Crosstalk]

THOMAS: And the danger of “nice guys”.

SEAN: Yeah, exactly. It’s more toxic masculinity than domestic abuse, for sure.

THOMAS: It was actually a terrific performance from Anne Hathaway, who is someone I usually bounce off of.

SEAN: I usually bounce off her too, but something about her really sold me on that movie.

THOMAS: We’ve got us a question in a – yes, and Rachel you already answered that one so I’m not going to worry about it. In 2018 at Worldcon there was a sequel announced to Katharine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor, no title was given, only that she is working on one.

RACHEL: It’s called Witness for the Dead, it does have a title now.

THOMAS: Alrighty then, that would be the one yet to have a date announced thing that I think is very exciting to look forward to. In terms of – it depends on how you define “hasn’t been announced yet”. There are a lot of things that have been announced and then they’ve been pulled back, or maybe we just know that a writer is working on something but there’s no date, or what have you. I’m looking forward to William Gibson’s Jackpot, which is the third book, it’s the final book in the trilogy that was The Peripheral and Agency, and Jackpot will be the third in that one. Apart from that, most things I know about them because they are announced in some capacity. If they’re announced and then get cancelled or pulled back, then that’s a thing that usually happens, but otherwise.

LEE: There aren’t too many books that I would hope for, because I’ve got – my TBR pile is a wall of bookcases, so I’m good on books, I’m happy with what’s coming out! But I would dearly like to see a She-ra follow-up film announced.

NATALIE: Okay, let’s see if we have any additional questions in the chat. I do see one that I thought was kind of interesting, someone asked if there were any collaborations that you wish you would see, maybe between some of your favourites?

[Pop-up from WordsinInk: Are there any collaborations you’ll love to see or are looking forward to?]

THOMAS: I am looking forward to a book that is tentatively slated from Tor.Com next August, it’s a space opera novella called Light Chaser, and it’s Peter Hamilton and Gareth L. Powell. Like two space opera stars, who approach their books in very different ways. Gareth Powell does not write space opera quite the way that Pete Hamilton does, but to see them blend that together is something that has me very curious. So that’s the one I know of that I’m looking forward to seeing.

SEAN: To go to my YA love, I’d love to see Patrick Ness and Neal Shusterman who are like two titans of the YA genre, and have a kind of similar style – they both explore pretty creative themes in emotionally honest ways, and I think their collaboration would be really something.

NATALIE: Anyone else?

LEE: Collaboration-wise, Robin Hobb and N.K. Jemisin, can we make that happen?

SEAN: Yeah, I agree with that.

THOMAS
: That would be interesting, two writers with very different approaches,

RACHEL: Yeah, that could be really good.

THOMAS: Or imagine getting the real powerhouse of N.K. Jemisin and P. Djèlí Clark, that’s a book that would set the world on fire I think.

SEAN: For sure.

THOMAS: Yeah, definitely. Claire says Ann Leckie and Becky Chambers, yeah, I can see the sensibilities there.

NATALIE: Looking at the chat, I was kind of curious about one of the questions, did you see the one about the favourite authors, if they wrote in another genre, what you’d want it to be?

THOMAS: I’ve many times thought to myself, I would love to see some epic fantasy writers try space opera. And as it happens that’s now a thing that’s happening, Chris Paolini’s new book, To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, which I just got. And again, a bit wary because Eragon was… you know, Eragon, but he’s older now, and he says he spent two years researching the physics and all of that, so he’s really taking his first foray into novel-length science fiction very seriously apparently. So, yeah, I’m going to give that a shot. And my good friend Stina Leicht, who has told me in the past, “I can’t write science fiction, it’s just not me, just not me,” started with really violent, politically charged urban fantasy, and then went to flintlock fantasy, and now her next book is a space opera western, coming out in January, Persephone Station. I do love to see people who formerly would tell me, “no, that’s not my thing, I can’t do it,” and then they do it, and then they’re good. I’m like, see! I love to see that.

RACHEL: I would love to see Jo Walton finally come out with a real sci-fi book. She’s so well-read in like the entire history of hard science-fiction, space opera, all that sort of stuff, I would love her to have a book about that. Actually I think she did have a science fiction novel slated, but it was pulled from publication a couple of years ago. Almost had it, almost!

SEAN: I’d love Paul Tremblay, who’s the horror author, to write a nice, warm, romance, because I think he can do anything. I know it’s not in his wheelhouse, but I really think he could pull it off, and I’d read it day one just to see how it turns out.

THOMAS: Well, you know, you read Survivor Song, right?

SEAN: I did, yeah.

THOMAS: The friendship at the core of that book is so tender, right? I agree with you, I think he could really surprise us there.

SEAN: Yeah, for sure.

LEE: I would like Sarah Gailey to write some epic fantasy please. Full-on sword and sorcery, dragons.

THOMAS: Because, you know, all of these authors would just not do it like anyone else is doing it. They would just take it in their own direction. That’s what we want to see.

SEAN: Yeah, I find the authors who have the most distinctive style in a specific genre should jump from as many genres as they possibly can, because they can offer a distinctive style to just about any genre.

NATALIE: Okay, there was another comment in the chat, and it says:

[Pop-up from zelizardqueen: not forward-looking but topical… any favourites who didn’t get award love this year who you want to call out/recommend?]

THOMAS: Well, perhaps not specifically, but just addressing a trend, but I notice that more and more every year, the short fiction categories, of novelette and short story, tend now to be dominated almost entirely by the online magazines, every once in a while there’s an exception, but – I think what’s happening is, well, clearly it’s a result of the fact that it’s just super easy to open a browser and go on a website and read something for free. As opposed to subscribing to a print magazine. And it’s a shame because there is still quite a lot of really, really good work happening in the three major print magazines – Fantasy & Science Fiction, Analog, and Asimov's. Of the three of those I tend to focus on Asimov's and F&SF mostly. They’re still putting out really lovely stories that I think deserve attention, but now they’re just getting overlooked, because they don’t have that same online presence that Uncanny and Clarkesworld and BCS and all the rest of them have. So I’d just like to encourage people, you know, don’t forget – because every year I look at the ballots and I’m like, well these are all good stories, but what about this one and this one and this one that I read several months back in the magazine. It’s just a pity that some stuff now just isn’t getting the exposure, so I’d like people to be a bit more open-minded in that regard.

RACHEL: I would throw in anthologies on top of that. I feel like in the past a lot of short fiction nominated for things like the Hugos came from anthologies, back of course before the short fiction market fractured into so many places and stuff. But there are so many fantastic anthologies, and things that have been kickstarted by Twelfth Planet Press and such, and I would love to see more of those stories getting recognition as well. I say this being horribly under-read on anthologies from the last year, but. Feeding off of you there. For the Hugos, two of the books that I really wanted to see on the shortlist for Best Novel for the Hugos this year, they were longlisted but they didn’t make the shortlist. One was Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear, I’ve honestly been surprised it hasn’t been getting more love, it does some really really cool things in that book. And then Children of Ruin by Adrian Tchaikovsky, which I thought was incredible.

NATALIE: Any other ones, or?

THOMAS: I was going to say that I agree with Adrienne in the comments, yes, FIYAH needs more readers and more love. Excuse me, Fee-yah. Everybody should be reading FIYAH.

SEAN: I agree, I think FIYAH consistently has the best short fiction out there. Like, Strange Horizons is also great, Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, they’re all good, but I think FIYAH always has – I don’t know, there’s something about their stories that other short fiction magazines, and I don’t read the print magazines so I’m probably part of the problem here – but at least as far as the free online magazines, there’s something that FIYAH has that the other magazines just don’t have.

NATALIE: Okay, there’s another question I was curious about and it says, do you think that authors who don’t write their works in English and need to wait for translations of their works are put at a disadvantage?

THOMAS: Well, I mean…

RACHEL: Yes [laughter]

LEE: Yes! [laughter]

THOMAS: [Crosstalk] On the publishing deals, and which western publishers, or English-language publishers choose to bring in a translated work, and – at that point popularity has to play a role, right. The most popular translated writer right now is undeniably Andrzej Sapkowski, who has a new fantasy novel coming out in a couple of months, because of The Witcher. And I think The Dyachenkos from Russia have had a couple of very well-received novels recently from Harper Voyager. So, there at least is an effort now to bring in more non-English language science fiction to the west, and Asian SF and F sort of things. So, yeah there’s a disadvantage, but at least the stuff is starting to trickle over here now, which it largely really never used to do at all. So I’m happy to see it.

[Pop up from Hans: Do you all think that authors who don’t write their works in English and need to wait for translations of their works are put at a disadvantage?]

SEAN: Yeah, I also think there’s a disadvantage by not having it out right away, because marketing pushes are everything, and a global marketing push is probably more powerful than a localised marketing push. I do think that we’re going in the right direction, I give kudos to the World Fantasy Award for nominating the Memory Police, I just started reading it and I think it’s so deserving. So I think awards are starting to recognise it more, and I think the general public are starting to recognise it more, but there’s still a ways to go.

THOMAS: Thanks for that correction, Ray. [Ringing noise} Sorry!

NATALIE
: Any last minute questions for our guests, I know we are getting towards the end of the panel, if anyone has any last questions that you want to ask, please feel free to type them in.

THOMAS: [Ringing noise] Sorry, guys.

LEE: If there aren’t any extra questions, can we just start throwing out recs?

RACHEL: Yes!

NATALIE: Oh please do, go for it!

THOMAS: I want to hear from all of you, guys!

LEE: Because I have a list, I’ve been waiting. Upcoming in start of September, Killing Frost, the next October Daye book by Seanan McGuire. I’m hyper-excited for this because the Toby Daye series is amazing, and it’s book fourteen, something like that? And it just gets better and better as it goes. Aliette de Bodard has Seven of Infinities coming out in October, which is coming from Subterranean Press, and it’s a tower and a spaceship working together, so. If that doesn’t float your boat I don’t know what will! Adri has a question.

[Pop-up from Adrienne Joy: what books do you have next to you right now]

SEAN: What books do I have next to me right now? I actually have Mexican Gothic as an ebook right next to me because I have to get my review in in the next eleven hours. So, yeah, that’s what I am focusing on.

RACHEL: [Holds up copy of The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal]

THOMAS: I have a stack of Tor.com novellas, just because it’s convenient to put them there. [Laughs] [Crosstalk] Upcoming – I can throw out a few.

LEE: [Holds up: Finna by Nino Cipri, Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee, Seven Devils by Elizabeth May and Laura Lam]

RACHEL: Phoenix Extravagant! Have we mentioned Phoenix Extravagant yet?

LEE: Nobody has mentioned Phoenix Extravagant yet!

THOMAS: Okay, looking forward to Phoenix Extravagant as well as Piranesi, the new book by Susanna Clarke, and Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse. Those are the two coming up that I’m very excited about.

RACHEL: One that I just came across yesterday is, I think it’s a novella from Tor.com called An Unnatural Life, by Erin K. Wagner. It is about a cybernetic person who is on trial for murder, and I think their lawyer is human. I don’t think I discovered it in the sentient ships panel at Worldcon but right afterwards, and I was like, oh this is exactly what everybody was talking in there about – Spock and Data and the trials that they went through, and the humanity question and everything. So yeah, An Unnatural Life by Erin K. Wagner. Also Return of the Thief by Megan Whalen Turner is finally coming out in October I think, the long-awaited last novel in the Queen’s Thief series, so.

NATALIE: There was a question, what are three books that you would absolutely recommend that someone pick up, does anyone want to chime in on that?

[Pop-up from WordsinInk: 3 books you would absolutely recommend pickup up?]

LEE: I mean, I started a bookshop so I wouldn’t have to narrow it down to three!

THOMAS: Questions like that are always the hardest, you think it’s, oh well – no, there’s so many, because it comes to, what do you like, what are you looking for, after this kind of story, here’s one, after this kind of story, here’s one.

SEAN: I recommend a little-known short story collection by an author named Robert Shearman, called Remember Why You Fear Me, which will knock your socks off. Ring Shout I already talked about, it’s not out, but I recommend getting it when it comes out in October, and third book would probably be We Are The Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson. Which is what got me back into reading, so yeah. It’s a young adult novel, it’s good stuff.

LEE: Four Profound Weaves by R.B. Lemberg is coming out soon, a novella, it’s in their Birdverse series, and their writing style is just incredible, it is lush and gorgeous and precise and weird and a delight, and I highly, highly recommend. Let me think of two more that I can narrow it down to.

RACHEL: My brain immediately freezes when somebody asks a question like that, like overload! [Laughs]

LEE: All of them, get all of them!

THOMAS: [Crosstalk] Recent stuff, if you have the stomach for it I would say The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones, is a very powerful novel, but yeah you have to have the stomach for it, so.

SEAN: I just finished Mongrels, so I’m getting ready for that, I already purchased that book, so yeah. When I finish Mexican Gothic I will get to it.

THOMAS: Yeah, get ready.

SEAN: Yeah, my body is ready.

RACHEL: I feel like I should recommend some collections, some short fiction, like Ambiguity Machines by Vandana Singh, it’s her latest collection, I think it came out two years ago? Stunning, it’s just one solid story after another.

NATALIE: Lee, I see that someone has a question about your bookstore, wants to know where it is and whether they can order stuff online? So if you want to –

LEE: Plug! It’s in York in the UK, and I’m online, it’s portalbookshop.com or @portalbookshop on Twitter. Come hound me, it’s fine, I love giving recs and things!

NATALIE: Does anyone else have anything else that they maybe need to plug, or?

SEAN: Not for me, I think I’m good.

THOMAS: Yeah, yeah.

NATALIE: Okay, do we go to exactly one o’clock, are there any other questions?

LEE: I can shout some more book titles if we want! I’m professionally enthusiastic, this is what I do.

NATALIE: Oh I see a question, where can we find the rest of you online? Does anyone have a website, or?

SEAN: Yeah you can find me on Twitter @DowieSean, also I write reviews as a contributor for Nerds of a Feather and that’s nerds-feather.com, and I also write reviews for FIYAH Literary Magazine, and that’s fiyahlitmag.com.

THOMAS: As I said my channel is SFF180, my Twitter handle is @SFF180, my website is SFF180.com, you begin to see a pattern emerging. So I’m not hard to find. All I can say is this panel, which has been a delight to be on, has now gotten me kind of revved up because I’m in the mindset for new books, and I have a new mailbag to record immediately after this, so tomorrow I’ll have probably something like a dozen new and upcoming books to show everyone.

RACHEL: I’m looking forward to it!

NATALIE: What about you Rachel?

RACHEL: I’m Kalanadi everywhere, if you search for Kalanadi you will either find me or a river or a language in India, and that is not me.

NATALIE: Great, so thank you very much to our panellists, I hope everyone got plenty of recommendations.

THOMAS: What about you Natalie? Where can we find you?

NATALIE: I can be found on galacticjourney.org. So thank you very much to each one of our panelists, thank you very much everyone for all of your great questions.

SEAN: Thank you everybody!

RACHEL: Thank you everyone!

THOMAS: Thanks everyone!

LEE: Thank you!

NATALIE: I hope everyone has a beautiful, wonderful day, a nice end to the con!

Special thanks to Charlotte Geater for drafting this transcript and to C for proofreading! Responsibility for final text lies with Adri Joy - for any corrections or comments, please get in touch via Twitter.