Thursday, August 31, 2023

Review: Mammoths at the Gates by Nghi Vo

A story about the remembrance of the dead, through a lens of the complicated legacies they leave behind.

Alyssa Winans' cover art continues to stun

CW: Death, grief

The stories Nghi Vo has told in the Singing Hills novellas have all had a conceit, a neat little framing device that shapes the story into something a little more than just a story. It's one of the best things about the series, and means I go into each new one excited not just to know what happens, but how it's told. In the first, it was framed around found objects, the second a story told by different tellers, the third had unconnected tales that turned out to be connected by the people in them. In Mammoths at the Gates, the fourth in the series, it's stories of a person told by the different people who knew them at their funeral, stories from those who loved them, who think of them fondly, their fellow clerics, their companion and their granddaughters, who knew them only as the best they were... and one that isn't quite so flattering, but no less true.

I read this book one week after my grandmother died.

Normally, I'm not so keen to put quite so much of myself into my reviews as this, but the resonance between the story and what has happened so recently in my own life was impossible to ignore. 

My grandmother was... a complicated woman. Rarely a nice one, though more often to people who didn't know her well. The legacy she left us, when she passed, was no less complex. Her will makes plain that she cared very much about lifting some of those who survived her above others, showing her favour and her disdain in equal parts. No matter how much one knows about this when the person is alive, it becomes harder to bear when you realise it's the last thing they leave in the world, the message they want to be seen after they've gone, their last word. As I say, complicated. But part of dealing with that complexity is the family that gathers at the passing, who tell their own stories about her. I haven't seen my aunt - who lives abroad - in years, but we sat in the emptiness of my grandmother's house, her and my mother and me, and naturally, what grew out of that emptiness was stories. Stories the others may not have known, or that saw a complex woman from another side than the one the listener had in their mind, or that revealed hurts she caused that the rest of us simply never knew about.

My mother asked me yesterday, did I want to speak at her funeral? I declined. I don't know how I'd even begin to frame that complexity into something appropriate for speaking publically.

Nghi Vo did. 

She begins the funeral with the expected stories, the ones that praised the deceased for the things most prized by the speaker. Patience, compassion, cunning, by turns. They reveal the different sides of the person, as person in the world and later as a cleric, to the surprise of those who only knew one part of them. But the greater surprise comes in the story that is not the best but the worst of their life. The listeners all had to then reframe their knowledge of the deceased, around the discovery that they weren't, as everyone had thought, always quite so wonderful.

That sort of story is so rare, in life and in books. We do not speak ill of the dead. We certainly do not speak ill of the fondly-remembered dead, or those who were good and bad in parts*. But as Vo shows, there is incredible power in remembering the truth of a person, the good and the bad together, an emotional impact that cannot be achieved by simply speaking the kind words, the ones that everyone expects to hear. It was an impact I did not realise I would appreciate quite so much, but I felt it all the way down to my bones as I read it. It hurt, and it helped, to have a story reminding me that we can have complex feelings for our dead, in a time when I needed just that. From a personal perspective, I might even say this is the best of the stories in the series, simply because it has hit me so intimately in my own unsettled emotions.

But even if I step outside this personal impact, it's a story whose themes are bittersweet and beautifully crafted. As well as those of death and mourning and the memories of a person left behind - themes made all the more poignant in a setting full of characters whose entire purpose is their perfect recall - it is also a story of how people change, how parting and returning may bring you back to a different person than the one you left behind. And that in discovering that, you realise you too are different from the person who left. All the Singing Hills books are deeply, inexorably rooted in people and their relationships, but Mammoths at the Gates doubly so. We follow Chih, our cleric protagonist, as they return to the Singing Hills Abbey after their travels, hoping to see again their neixin companion who returned before them, as well as their familiar fellow clerics and old tutors. But they find their best friend suddenly serious and grown up, their neixin now a mother of a fledgling, and much of the abbey gone to a nearby situation that requires their attention. Their home is almost empty, and they have to reckon with the changes against the backdrop of a very present threat - the eponymous mammoths at the gate - whose title drop within a few pages of the opening of the story I particularly appreciated.

But like all the other stories, it isn't really a story about Chih, no matter that we continue to learn about (and love) them through how they approach the stories of other people. And it is no different here - we learn about Chih through how they cope with the changes they bear witness to in their erstwhile best friend, and the stories they hear and react to during the funeral. They are the conduit through which we receive the stories, and like any good medium, they bring with them their own personality to the message. For only novellas, for stories that always spotlight other people, Nghi Vo has done an amazing job of giving us such an insight to the person on the fringes of all those stories, a wry, cheerful, thoughtful, ever so slightly rebellious but ultimately dedicated cleric, one who truly yearns to hear what people tell them, and believes in their duty to keep those stories safe, because the things that happen to the people in their world, even the little things, ultimately matter.

We likewise get those tantalising little glimpses into the world, and as in all the books, we continue to dwell particularly on food. In a book about homecoming and comfort, it feels all the more important to have that there, all the more true to life. Cleric Chih has always been quick to describe what they eat - or want to eat - in all the novellas, and so getting back to the green onion buns, the rice and mustard greens, the salted plums of their home, the things that comfort them against the world, makes you yearn for those foods too, even if you've never tried them yourself. Because they're not described in the way food sometimes is, as vivid sensory experiences, full of taste and smell and almost sensual aesthetics. Instead, food reverts to its emotional self - rice as a balm for the soul, a green onion bun or milk candies as nostalgia, a salted plum as a rare treat. We understand food, as we understand much of the story, through the lens of Chih's experience. Whether or not I would like salted plums, here, they are likeable, and that positioning in the story is, for the moment, more important than my own imaginings of what a salted plum might taste like.

If I were to be fanciful, I might say that all the Singing Hills books are a thesis on the importance of bias for the narrator in a story. Because they would not be what they are - which is wonderful - if they weren't constantly coloured by the perspective from which we see them. Whether it is Chih and their experiences, or the framing devices that shift from book to book, each of these stories is as much the medium as the message, the two woven so thoroughly together that extraction would make each meaningless except as part of the whole. And Mammoths at the Gates is no different in that.

But likewise, for me, it is also now inextricable from my own experiences, and my own bias. I cannot but view it through the lens of my own mourning, I cannot but find myself in the story, and be comforted. I declined to speak at my grandmother's funeral, and ultimately, so does Chih decline to speak at their mentor's. I find a form of fellowship in that; I feel seen. And it is a testament to how well the story is told that such resonance is so easy to grasp, and so poignant.

*On twitter, we quite frequently speak ill of the terrible dead, but twitter is its own little microcosm, and I don't want to use it as a pattern for society at large. God no.


The Math

Highlights: A continued dedication to great framing devices, emotional resonance so substantial you could make buns out of it, bittersweet friendship

Nerd Coefficient: 10/10

Reference: Nghi Vo, Mammoths at the Gates, [Tordotcom, 2023]

POSTED BY: Roseanna Pendlebury, the humble servant of a very loud cat. @chloroform_tea

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Microreview: Mooncop

Tom Gauld has more up his sleeve than just funny cartoons

Without me even realizing it, Tom Gauld had become a part of my internet. I recognized, instinctively, a very particular art style with dotted eyes, pointy noses, and oftentimes a distinct lack of mouths. I savored this comic, about how the ‘respectable’ literary establishment views our genres, and this one about the limits of ‘write what you know.’ I had never really put a name to him, however (the fate of so many artists, musicians, writers, and other creatives) as his work slid in and out of feeds until I had found his book Mooncop in a local library.

Mooncop is a slim volume; I read it in a single sitting, and I think most people could do it in a rather short amount of time. It is, in a sense, exactly what it says on the tin, being about a policeman on a lunar colony sometime in the not-too-distant future. Even the title feels like Gauld, in some way, with a bluntness that only obscures the greater depths of the work with a seeming irreverence towards standard titles.

The plot is rather simple, but laden with subtleties in a way that is frankly masterful. It concerns the titular lunar law enforcement officer as he makes his rounds through what is clearly something of a ghost town, visiting diners and doing quotidian beat tasks that are generally not the sort of thing that fictional police officers do. It’s not exciting, far from it, but it has something very compelling about it, especially as it becomes clear that this little town on the Moon is changing, and not for the better.

Gauld’s art lingers on scenic moonscapes, reminiscent of any number of painters’ depictions of the American West, but with a distinct lack of cacti. These panels, with Mooncop’s police rover in the foreground, a mere fraction of the scene, break up the dialogue often. The end result is this overwhelming feeling of quiet, of solitude, of isolation. It is a feeling that is so fitting for the cold of outer space, a place where nobody can hear you scream (but Mooncop will probably hear the report on his radio). The sheer scope of the moonscape emboldens the whole enterprise, doing with pictures what Kim Stanley Robinson loves to do with his prose, be it of Mars or of the High Sierra of California. Gauld’s art makes all this cozy, rather than threatening; I never thought a place with no breathable air could feel like a blanket in its own strange way, but he did it.

What is threatening in Mooncop is the impermanence of all things. The world that this extraterrestrial policeman has clearly come to love in a reserved, quotidian way is coming to an end, and as loath as he is to say it, he is in pain. All these silences that Gauld uses provide not just calm, but distress. You get the feeling that he’s ruminating on things, like we do when we are trying to fall asleep and our melatonin hasn’t kicked in yet.

Mooncop is what I’d imagine the experience of a retreat at a monastery feels like, in comic book form. It reminded me of the Buddhist doctrine of anatta, of non-self, of the conditioned nature and impermanence of all things and all situations. It’s about Mooncop’s attachment to his home and to his community, and how that, like everything else, is bound to end. Mooncop has to grapple with this as he is set to lose everything he loves, and he does so in a way that is painfully real to anyone who has lost anything (and I believe that is everyone, on whatever celestial body they may be on).

Mooncop is about the necessity of serenity and stillness in a world that demands so much attention and energy. It is a profoundly meditative experience, something I had never encountered in a comic book, or in any book, really. It is living proof that this internet jokester has far more in him than jokes, than mere silliness, and has something actually quite profound to say about the human experience. It’s an engrossing read.

Highlights: The ability to be so vast and yet so intimate.

Nerd Coefficient: 9/10.

POSTED BY: Alex Wallace, alternate history buff who reads more than is healthy.

Reference: Gauld, Tom. Mooncop [Drawn and Quarterly. 2016].

Review: Empires of the Steppes by Kenneth W. Harl

Kenneth W Harl’s Empires of the Steppes is a new and up to date look at the nomadic tribes ranging from the Huns and Mongols to less familiar names, who helped shape Eurasian civilization

You've heard of the Mongols, at least vaguely, I am sure. Attila the Hun is still a byword for destruction and malevolence. These are high points of the Steppe Nomads, nomadic tribes that roamed from Hungary to China, influencing all the civilizations they contacted. But they were far more than the narrow vision you probably have. And there are many more beyond these two names. Diverse and dynamic migratory cultures. Who were these nomadic tribes, the Huns, the Mongols, and others you may not have heard of before picking up this book? And what was their importance to history? 

Kenneth W. Harl’s Empires of the Steppes explores the history of these nomadic tribes and how they shaped Eurasian civilization. Further, it engages with the whole idea of labelling the nomadic tribes of the Eurasian Steppe as solely being warriors in the first place. Certainly, the Huns, Avars, and the Mongols caused much destruction in their conflicts with settled civilizations. But the whole history and relationship of these nomads with settled civilizations is far, far more complicated and diverse. Harl's book looks at a much broader picture of what the steppe nomads were and who they were.

The book is a narrative history, running in a mostly chronologically linear format (although the prologue, showing Attila on the road to Rome, is a flashforward in terms of this linear chronology). The lack of a lot of archaeological evidence means the first couple of chapters may put off a reader, since there is much we just don’t know, and piecing together things from changes in dialects of PIE (Proto Indo-European) is somewhat obscure and arcane. It is with the Scythians that we start to get true interactions between the nomadic tribes and civilizations, and the narrative can take off. The zig-zag forward of the narrative in time means that our location and our focus, in Eurasia, shifts as different nomadic tribes and their impact on civilization are seen: Scythians in the west Steppes, Alexander the Great in Central Asia, China and their first dealings with the steppe nomads, and a couple of chapters in the East before swinging back to the Parthians, the Huns and more.

There is a lot of detail and, although I consider myself relatively well-read in history, a wealth of new information about these nomadic tribes came to light in the reading of the book. I knew a bit about the Huns, more about the Mongols, but in this book I was introduced to the Seljuks, the Scythians, the Hepthalites, and others. The complex web of relationships these people had with the more settled neighbors is a fascinating story that Harl explores. Is there a lot of back and forth raiding, attempts at conquest, submission, booty? Absolutely. But these peoples also provided mounts, transmitted ideas, and stimulated trade, commerce and technological development. Time and again, the nomadic tribes on the borders of more settled societies are shown to be agents of change. Even as they often are absorbed or disappear into the mix of the peoples they raid and conquer, their very existence, even as it is destructive and often catastrophic for peoples, cities and cultures, is also shown to have the effect of a wildfire upon a forest.

Still, contrary to the conception that the nomadic peoples just wanted to “destroy” civilization, Harl shows time and again how raiders wound up getting co-opted by their settled neighbors, either in conquering them and becoming settled themselves, or getting attracted to the goods and comforts of their neighbors. They didn’t want to kill the goose that laid the golden eggs, but they did want to gain control of it. But the nomadic tribes as a whole, and we see it over and over, never were able to cohere for long. The potency of a single ruler usually held fast for a generation, but the nomadic crests of power never lasted longer than a couple of generations. Protip: when designing your nomadic tribal warrior character, don’t skimp on Charisma. Charisma and personality, as much as tactical brilliance and skill, is what made Attila, Genghis, Kublai, and Tamerlane so powerful. That’s what got people to follow them and lead them to conquest and glory. Genghis’s story, which I already knew, is very much a rags-to-riches one in this regard, starting with nothing but his family half-starved and ending with an empire. But the endless changes and developments of the Steppe meant a succession of new and different challenges to settled civilization. The Avars nearly conquering Constantinople is far less well known to most people as opposed to the Huns, Vandals and Goths smashing Rome.

The book ends with Tamerlane, the last high point of the Steppe nomads. The ambitious Timur the Lame was the scourge of Central Asia, and as bad as Genghis Khan actually was, some of the things that people attribute to him, some of the worst atrocities, can be actually laid more correctly at Tamerlane’s feet. He was much more the “pyramids of skulls” type of conqueror than Genghis ever was. After Tamerlane, the nomads ceased to be an important force in Eurasian civilization. The rise of oceanic trade, the European contact with the Americas, the rise of technology making horse archers and cavalry less effective in the face of pikemen and firearms meant that the Steppe nomads ceased to be the once pivotal factor they were for two millennia. They ceased to matter much in the same way the Silk Road itself that they sat across mattered so much.

Karl doesn’t speculate or talk about it at all, since his focus is Eurasia, but a Jonbar point comes to me as a reader of SFF. Would Indigenous cultures in North America have reached higher technological levels if they had had nomadic nomads to deal with on a regular basis because horses survived in North America and some enterprising tribes (as they did once they were introduced in our TL) decided a nomadic, raiding way of life on horseback was a path to success? The Great Plains from Alberta to Iowa and Kansas could have been the equivalent of the Steppe in Asia, providing pools of warring tribes pushing out against the mound builders of Cahokia, or the Iroquois of the East, or the tribes of the Pacific Northwest, or the Ancestral Puebloans of the South. Would this constant pressure force technological development in a way that the Native Americans didn’t do in our timeline?

Overall, in Empires of the Steppes, Harl makes a strong case for the importance of nomadic tribes in pre-1500 Europe and Asia, and provides a lot of evidence and correlative information to back up his thesis. Were Attila, Genghis and Tamerlane figures who caused much destruction and devastation from France to China? Absolutely. But were they also instrumental in making the modern Eurasian world what it was? That is Harl’s thesis, and I think he strongly argues it.

One final point. Read the book with Google Maps or an atlas at your elbow. The book lacks maps, and could surely use them, especially to get a better sense of the scale of the Eurasian steppes. Genghis’s conquests are all the more impressive given the distances he was covering. While Harl does paint good word-pictures, I think the book sorely could have used some maps.


Nerd Coefficient: 8/10


  • Extensively footnoted and annotated thesis
  • Strong narrative historical style makes for good reading
  • Book frankly could have used maps, and in plenty

Reference: Harl, Kenneth W., Empires of the Steppes [Hannover Square Press, 2023].

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

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Microreview: Blue Beetle

Family bonds are stronger than corporations—try telling that to Warner Brothers

Writing about Blue Beetle, I can’t help but paraphrase Porfirio Díaz to describe the film: “So far from God, so close to the DCEU.” This film is currently tumbling in the box office due to a combination of the consistently sub-optimal decisions made by Warner Brothers, the ominous pallor of Zack Snyder, and the bewildering variety of misdeeds of Ezra Miller. It is such a shame, I thought as I walked out of the theater, because it’s a far better movie than its regrettable IP companions would merit.

I’ll be the first to admit that in raw storytelling it isn’t the most original; it follows the established beats of many superhero origin movies, perhaps being the most similar to Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man movie. George Lucas once said: “Don’t avoid the clichés—they’re clichés because they work!” And the result is a film that works. The CGI is good, the action is good, and overall it is an enjoyable experience.

What is the most innovative and interesting aspect of the film is its portrayal of family. All too often, family in superhero stories is an act of fridging, like Uncle Ben or Thomas and Martha Wayne; or exile, like that of Kal-El from Krypton, or abduction, like that of Peter Quill. Here, to the film's benefit, the family of Jaime Reyes, the titular superhero, is fully involved in the story from the beginning. Jaime has greatness thrust upon him in the presence of his entire family, three generations living in a single house.

That family is Mexican-American, and it feels fitting that a superhero from a culture not beholden to the stultifying individualism of white America would have a much more communal plotline. Family matters in this movie, each member is fully fleshed out, and they feel like a real family. This is bolstered by how unapologetically Mexican-American they are, with their culture taking center stage. A striking example of this is the scene where Jaime first sees himself in his suit in the reflection of the glass covering an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The idea here is that the ‘superhero,’ so often portrayed as a Christ figure, becomes Mexican in the way that Our Lady of Guadalupe represents Christianity becoming Mexican.

It is in this clear and proud revelry in its Mexican heritage that Blue Beetle shows again what Black Panther and Shang-Chi showed, that diversity in superhero films is something worth fighting for. There’s plenty of moral reasons to do it, but there’s a narrative one I want to highlight. I am neither Mexican nor Black nor Chinese; my father is a white American and my mother is Filipina, but I found the protagonists in all these films to feel more real, in some way, than many white superhero film protagonists, and that’s because these films make a big deal out of heritage. The typical white male superhero is portrayed as a (white) everyman, someone who could be anyone, and in doing so, doesn’t feel like anyone real (it’s Magneto's strong grounding in real history that makes him such a compelling character to me). Real people have heritages, cultural backgrounds. Jaime therefore feels like somebody, rather than anybody, and in that specificity he is more relatable to me.

(Also—I love his grandmother. She’s great and has surprising depths, some of which I wish were given more specificity.)

The film is clearly trying to give a counterpoint to the Reyes family in the villains, as there are some family connections among them. However, it is nowhere nearly as well developed as that of Jaime’s. Sure, they didn’t need nearly as much, but it could have been fleshed out better, especially given that one of them is purported to have Brazilian ancestry like the actress who plays her, Bruna Marquezine. There could have been a stronger statement about how, to quote Tolstoy, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

I ended Blue Beetle wishing that the Reyes family were my own. It’s striking that a superhero movie would make me feel this way, given how individualist the genre can be. It’s so human, so wholesome, even when confronted with alien technology and malicious corporations. It is a film that deserved so much better than it did, and a better company behind it.

Highlights: Great family dynamic, especially the grandmother.

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10.

POSTED BY: Alex Wallace, alternate history buff who reads more than is healthy.

Nanoreviews: Councilor, Starter Villain

Councilor, by L.E. Modesitt, Jr

Because I’m a sucker for L.E. Modesitt, Jr’s fantasy novels and I am all in on how he writes a slow burn narrative that is as much focused on the day to day mundanity of life as it is on the exciting large set piece action sequences, Councilor scratches the exact itch that I have for this sort of fantasy.

Councilor is the second novel in L.E. Modesitt, Jr’s Grand Illusion sequence, following 2021’s Isolate. It is set in a somewhat more technologically advanced fantasy world with coal power and cars (but not electricity) and that is set even deeper in the middle of a fairly democratic political structure.

Most of Modesitt’s fantasy work involves political and philosophical discourse wrapped around the day to day as tension and potential large scale conflict builds from small incidents. Councilor takes that to the next level by living in the political. Now elected to the council which he once defended as a security aide, Steffan Dekkard is settling into this new role with the seriousness he undertook his previous.

Starter Villain, by John Scalzi

There has been a trend in science fiction and fantasy for a number of years now for very cozy stories, which I’m not sure is fully defined but which would reasonably include writers like Becky Chambers, Travis Baldree, TJ Klune. At a minimum, what I’m thinking about is genre fiction with a lighter touch and eschews a harsher darkness in the storytelling but also in tone. There is a separate conversation to be had regarding the definition of cozy science fiction and exactly what qualifies. This isn’t that space, but I mention it because it is something that was on my mind while reading Starter Villain.

John Scalzi has always had a light touch with his science fiction, and Starter Villain is no different. Starter Villain is a very Scalzi novel, meaning that the narrative zips along with snappy dialogue and even though there are potentially life threatening stakes they don’t feel quite as heavy as they might in other hands.

Starter Villain posits that after his estranged uncle dies, Charlie finds himself their heir to immense wealth and a super-villain’s business empire (including a secret lair inside a volcano) - with no idea of anything about this world even existing Charlie is brought in almost against his wishes and finds himself in a world of comic absurdity.

That’s where Scalzi’s light touch works through this every day guy thrust into a world of wealth and power and the thing is, Charlie does it with decency. That’s where I thought about the potential coziness of Starter Villain and how it just felt kind despite billionaires plotting to murder Charlie and take over the world. It’s the feel of the thing.

The core thing to note about Starter Villain though, is that it is just a straight up funny novel. Starter Villain was an absolute delight and a real riot. My wife and I would both snort and laugh out loud and share our favorite lines, which is more than we can say about many other novels - and that’s worth celebrating and sharing.

Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, Hugo Award Winner. Ignyte Award Finalist. Minnesotan. He / Him

Monday, August 28, 2023

Review: Babylon 5: The Road Home

Babylon 5: The Road Home is an animated slice of a story that centers the relationship of two of its main characters as being the lynchpin of all

"It was the dawn of the third age of mankind..."

Those arc words defined the 1990s series Babylon 5. A five-season epic SF show that wasn't named Star Trek, Babylon 5 told the story "of the last of the Babylon stations." A story of epic war and conflict, a story of a gathering place, a place made for the meetings of cultures, societies, and peoples, as they faced a conflict threatening to tear the galaxy apart. Rights and issues with trying to reboot or revisit the world have ended in failure or stillbirth or both.

Finally, however, a new chapter in Babylon 5 has arrived. Babylon 5: The Road Home takes an animated approach, and, fittingly for this moment, a multiverse story of John Sheridan.

The actual logline of the story is relatively simple. The Shadow War is over, and John Sheridan is about to lead to Minbar, retiring from his job of running Babylon 5 and instead being President of the Interstellar Alliance. Things start to go strange for him, slowly at first, but it is when a new power station on Minbar goes wonky that the problem emerges, and John Sheridan, becomes, like Billy Pilgrim, unstuck in time.

Or, more to the point, like himself. Relying on prior series events, the movie posits that the events of a couple of time-travelling episodes in the series have come back to haunt him, and the tachyon power station has caused him to not only become unstuck in time, but also in space. Sheridan is catapulted through a variety of timelines and points in that timeline. His efforts are directed at trying to get back home, to his wife, Delenn. Babylon 5: The Road Home tells of that journey.

Having an animated movie does and did solve one of the major problems in any contemplation of new stories set in the Babylon 5 universe. It is sad, but true: a number of the fine actors who played key roles in the series have since passed on, some of them rather young. This movie uses the original actors where it can, and adequate replacements for when it couldn't.

Sheridan's journey through a multiverse of possibilities allows him to interact, ultimately, with every major character in the series (Zathras, for those who have seen the series, is not surprisingly a key character in trying to get Sheridan back home). We also get some animated versions of some key shots in the series: the launching of Starfuries and their classic maneuverability (even the spin around and fire on a trailing ship). The animated format allows for station and planetary destruction on a budget. Animation of the characters is good, the characters are to a fan of the series immediately recognizable, although the stylings are not always the same. (This is particularly true of the Narn ambassador G'kar, who has a much leaner and taller look here).

The movie itself mostly works for nostalgia, although it is clear that the movie attempts to be introducing a rebooted and re-envisioned Babylon 5 'verse. Sheridan does get home; in the end, we see that his love for Delenn is his compass, ultimately allowing him to reunite with her. But his "last world" he visits before managing to get home is the interesting one. We get to see a Babylon 5 that has not yet had the Shadow War, a Babylon 5 still at relative peace. And when "our Sheridan" makes his reunion and leave, the action does not return to us on Minbar.

Instead we linger in this alternate Babylon 5 'verse, and we see all of the characters, one more time, in tiny little vignettes with each other. Sheridan and Delenn. Lyta and Lennier. Commander Ivanova on the bridge, as usual. And of course, Londo and G'kar.  These last moments are almost an invitation: look, this is how the show could be rebooted. Here. Here is the template. Take THIS alternate world, and run with it.

It's a tempting thought. Could it, will it ever happen, in animated or in live action form? I don't know. Maybe Babylon 5 has had its place, its time, and rebooting it isn't going to happen. Frankly, with everything else being rebooted, one would think risk-averse Hollywood would jump at the chance to tell the Babylon 5 story again. Will it, though? Time will tell.

I am going to leave further, detailed observations that really are of interest only to a Babylon 5 fan in a footnote below (1). In the end, I think the movie itself really works only best as a nostalgia piece, although I would love the thoughts of someone who has never seen the series and get their reactions and opinions on it.


  • Classic characters come alive again in animation
  • A multiverse story with heart and love at the center
  • Lord, it felt good to be in the B5 universe again

Babylon 5, The Road Home, Warner Brothers 2023

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

(1) So here we are. This may confuse people who are not steeped in Babylon 5, but if you know your Swedish Meatballs from your Narn Breen, this is for you. Okay, so we get to see nearly every major character in the series.  A few noteworthy absences:

Vir. We get a background shot of Vir and that's it. As a big fan of Vir, this was more than a little disappointing.

Talia: Fans of the show will remember that the *first* telepath on the station was Talia Winters (Andrea Thompson). There is no sign of her at all, and that final alternate universe seems to retcon her out of the timeline entirely in favor of Lyta being there for the entire time. (Mind, she was in the Pilot, left, and then came back again. So... is the retcon that she never left?)

Zack Allan, who became Head of Security and also provided a good view of the temptations of fascism (and ultimately rejecting it) is nowhere to be seen.

The Minbari Draal who ultimately came to run The Great Machine as an essential piece of it on Epsilon 3 (and which is essential to the plot of Sheridan getting home) appears to have been retconned out.

This is not a major character in the series, but this is definitely a retcon. Given how this movie so focuses on John and Delenn as a OTP (to the point of Love Saving the Multiverse), I suppose it is understandable, but very odd and weird. Early in his Billy Pilgrim's Progress through time, space and the multiverse, Sheridan arrives on Z'ha'dum when the Icarus arrived and ultimately woke up the Shadows. And he knows where he is, and tries to warn them. The thing is, the movie seems to have forgotten that one of the archeologists on that ship was Anna Sheridan, John's first wife. Is it a retcon that he doesn't even *think* of her, or try and introduce himself as her husband? I found it very weird. I was *waiting* to see and hear Melissa Gilbert.

A rebooted Babylon 5 along the lines and timeline of the "final world" would be very interesting, given how little they do know by the time Our Sheridan leaves and what people like Delenn *clearly* know and knew from the series. If Star Trek can do it...why can't Babylon 5?

Microreview: A Market of Dreams and Destiny, by Trip Galey

A rich, allusive love letter to the magic of fairy bargains

In 1859, Christina Rosetti wrote an astonishingly thirsty poem called Goblin Market. It’s worth reading, but in brief, it goes like this: Two sisters walking at dusk hear goblins calling for people to come buy their fruit. Beautiful, luscious, succulent fruit, tempting and sensual, otherworldly, uncanny and tempting. Come buy our orchard fruits, cry the goblins, come buy, come buy! One sister holds firm, virtuously resisting temptation; the other falls, and with a lock of her golden hair buys the fruit, sucks the juice from it, enjoys wild delights of ecstasy1. But after that night of indulgence, she can get no rest or relief from worldly pursuits, and craves only the fairy fruit, withering away, health and beauty gone. Her sister, at great personal cost,2 fetches her more fruit from the market, and although it no longer gives her pleasure, nevertheless after a night of suffering it relieves her cravings. Both sisters go on to live a virtuous, happy lives as wives and mothers, warning her own children to beware the goblins and their temptations.

There’s a lot I’ve left out of this summary (really, read the poem, it’s banging), but its key contribution is the marvelously evocative description of the goblins and the market and their wares. If you ignore how it’s all a morality tale on why women should guard their virtue, if you forget the descriptions of the goblins as instantiations of the dangers of male sexual promiscuity,3 what you’re left with is a terrific setting for a story.

It is that setting that Trip Galey has made his own in A Market of Dreams and Destiny. The Untermarket —the gobin market— sits beneath the City of London, and everything is for sale there: not just fruit, but the luster of hair, three minutes of life, the strength of ten men, prosthetics of living silver, a golden voice, the vigor of youth and childhood—anything can be bought, bargained, negotiated, intangible abstractions exchanged for abstract intangibles. Fairy bargains, binding contracts, full of loopholes and exceptions and exacting, uncanny accountancy take center stage in this book that is the only story that has ever managed to satisfy my incessant craving for Fairy Bargains™.4

Deri, an indentured human servant to a powerful merchant in the Untermarket, is ambitious and energetic, and has amassed a tiny hoard of favors and trinkets, baubles he has bargained for in the spare minutes he can shave off the errands he runs for his mystrer. In the course of one of those errands, he helps an inexperienced youth navigate the market in return for three nights out on the town, and then in another bargain manages to lay his hands on the bottled destiny of the heir to the empire. The former bargain he intends to redeem merely as a frivolous entertainment; the latter he hopes to use to negotiate his way out of his indentures early and set himself up as a merchant of the Untermarket in his own right. But, in the way that inciting incidents do, both bargains twine together and grow and expand, and Deri will need all his experience and knowledge of the Untermarket and its relations with human London to come out on top.

Deri himself is the perfect example of a genre-savvy protagonist. He knows the dangers of the Untermarket, the deepest mechanics of Fairy Bargains, and he is a master at riding them and using them to his advantage. The very best parts of this book follow Deri’s perambulations through the market, his observations of the bargains and negotiations being struck, the descriptions of the sellers and buyers, the loopholes and tactics that he so skillfully sees through, making notes so he can employ them to his own ends later on. Even geography itself requries skill to navigate: the Untermarket twists and turns dynamically to tempt people ever deeper, appealing to their deepest temptations, and so, to find your way to a desired destination, you can’t simply walk there. You must curate your temptations, choose which ones to give in to, which ones to ignore, so that the Market eventually brings you to your ultimate goal. Simply going for a walk requires strategy, and Deri does it as naturally as breathing.

Deri’s young man, Owain, is indentured like Deri, but in a human factory, rather than to a goblin merchant. Structurally, then, he anchors the other half of a set of pairwise contrasts with fuzzy boundaries. People and settings and contracts are affiliated either with humans and the mundane (like Owain and the factory), or with goblins and the fae (like Deri and his mystrer’s market stall). But the boundaries are not perfectly straightfoward: humans like Deri have to fight for status in the Untermarket, while the Untermarket does not have the best reputation in the human world. The boundaries are semi-permeable, and the magic and mundane bleed through, each spreading its fingers into the other.

As skillful as this structure is, Owain’s half of the story is just not as much fun as Deri’s. Part of that is the setting: for all of the magic bleeding through into the mundane London above, it’s pretty hard for any setting to compete with the wild chaos of the goblin market. But part of it is Owain: he has less knowledge and agency than Deri, and feels younger somehow, less able to bend events to his will. This has the inevitable result of making his chapters less engaging, but it also means that scenes where he’s redeeming his bargain with Deri by showing him London nightlife feel at odds with his vulnerability and ignorance about everything else. It’s hard to believe that someone as downtrodden as Owain could have had the opportunity to amass this wealth of insider knowledge. But in the other scenes, when Owain is being downtrodden, he’s not much fun either. In truth, I found myself wondering whatever it was that Deri saw in him.

But hey, if Deri’s happy, I’m happy. And I’m very happy. I really can’t emphasize enough how much I enjoyed this book’s inventive whimsy. Although the most obvious influence is Goblin Market —the refrain of ‘Come buy, come buy’ is unmistakable— there are cameos and references to other Victorian works of literature that do a lovely job enriching the setting. David Copperfield and Miss Havisham and Fagin make appearances of varying degrees of subtlety, each coming to the Untermarket for their own reasons. The nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons is woven throughout beautifully: Bells speak to Deri, helping him and warning him of dangers and opportunities, and their conversations are always in rhyme.

In sum, then, this book is a wonderful ride, full of true love and friendship and nascent labor unions, betrayals and intrigue and villainous skullduggery, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

1 Do I need to spell out the allegory here, or are we all on the same page?
2 If you look past the repeated use of ‘sister’ there’s an extremely persuasive queer reading to this poem too.
3 There’s quite a good bit where Rosetti remarks on how, when women do virtuously say no to men asking for sex goblins selling fruit, the men goblins get pretty salty about it.
4 Although I would be remiss in neglecting to name C. L. Polk’s delightful, charming The Midnight Bargain here, which also comes pretty close.


Nerd coefficient: 8/10, well worth your time and attention

  • Faerie bargains up the wazoo

  • Canny, strategic protagonist


  • Sentient, friendly, rhyming bells

CLARA COHEN lives in Scotland in a creaky old building with pipes for gas lighting still lurking under her floorboards. She is an experimental linguist by profession, and calligrapher and Islamic geometric artist by vocation. During figure skating season she does blather on a bit about figure skating. She is on Mastodon at


Galey, Trip. A Market of Dreams and Destiny [Titan Books, 2023].

Polk, C. L. The Midnight Bargain [Erewhon Books, 2020].

Rosetti, Christina. "Goblin Market." Goblin Market and Other Poems:  [Macmillan 1859]. Online at

Friday, August 25, 2023

Recap: Ahsoka Episodes 1 & 2

The first two episodes of Ahsoka give long-time Clone Wars & Rebels fans *truly* something to get excited about in a way that’s more than just lazy fan service. Casual Star Wars fans will also enjoy a story told from a force-wielder’s POV that’s not a Skywalker.

This episode kicks off rarin’ to go out of the gates with the first Star Wars TV show to have a text scroll! And it’s blood red. We learn of the fragile state and uneasy peace of the New Republic, and that Grand Admiral Thrawn is in exile and is rumored to return. 

Ahsoka’s former prisoner, Morgan Elspeth, has a McGuffin/map that knows where he’s located. Things are going to get interesting…

The Best Opening 5 Minutes of a Star Wars TV Show Ever?

The show opens on a New Republic Star Cruiser, though with the Captain in the center of the bridge giving orders, it’s not unlike a Star Trek ship, lol. The cruiser is hailed by a menacing shuttle claiming to carry two “Jedi.” 

As the two cloaked characters meet the ship’s captain in the hangar, I was struck for a minute by something — I actually have missed Jedi! The Mandalorian, Andor, and the Book of Boba Fett have revolved primarily around secular characters (with a few distinct appearances, of course).

But when these obviously-bad-guy Jedi characters aggressively raise their red lightsabers and absolutely decimate the entire ship’s crew, I found myself cheering. The fight choreography was dark, aggressive, and 100% awesome, a combination of lightsabermanship and force pushes and pulls. It's a much more badass form of swordplay — I was never a fan of the wheedley-wheedley twisty motions in the prequels.

These two Jedi — I mean, dark force users obviously (like in the way that Ahsoka is a light force user and not a Jedi per se) — are there, of course, to rescue Thrawn ally Morgan Elsbeth. The man is Baylan Skoll, and his frightful apprentice, Shin Hati, who’s reminiscent of Pris in Blade Runner.

Ahsoka Is Here

I don’t know how to explain it, but somehow Rosario Dawson actually is Ahsoka Tano. Not only is the physical resemblance uncanny, but she also manages to capture her essence. For folks that may not be familiar with Ahsoka, you should know that she was also Anakin Skywalker’s Padawan apprentice.

In this first episode, we first meet her on a dusty planet amidst stone ruins. It's giving Raiders of the Lost Ark, complete with mystical lights and shadows lining up against the wall. We spend about 8 minutes with her as she deciphers a puzzle that’s a literal combination of the games from Fallen Order and also the last scene of Fifth Element. 

Ah yes, the map McGuffin! She secures it with the help of Huyang, her droid friend/assistant/wise advisor (Clone Wars fans will smile at this familiar face). Whenever these two talk, I’m all ears. Voiced by David Tennant, Huyang is an incredible droid that’s thousands of years old — he used to help Jedi younglings assemble their lightsabers. Their conversations reveal a lot of plot in a short amount of time. Of all the droids in Star Wars — and I love them all — Huyang seems the most human. Maybe because he's spent the most time around them.

Filoni Really Made a Live-Action Rebels, Huh?

Ahsoka jets off to meet her NR contact, none other than General Hera Syndulla, rebellion hero and old friend of Ahsoka’s. I could spend this entire review pointing out/fangirling over the Rebels and Clone Wars homages/connections/easter eggs, but I won’t  it would take too long and possibly alienate casual SW fans. But suffice it to say, that this show is the closest to a live action Rebels that we’ll ever get. And it’s pretty awesome. 

Ahsoka and Hera go over details about this McGuffin, and learn that it leads not only to Thrawn but also to Ezra Bridger, their old friend. Ezra has been missing since the finale of the Rebels show, when he summoned a hyperspace whale (yes, really) to latch on to Thrawn’s ship that he snuck onto. Together, the two got shot into deep unknown space.

Of course, nothing can be easy with a McGuffin, so Ahsoka must visit yet another old friend — Sabine Wren on the planet Lothal. She’s a Mandalorian and a rebellious graffiti enthusiast and explosives expert. Sabine also, we soon learn, became Ahsoka’s Jedi apprentice sometime over the last ten years, and it didn’t go well. This makes their reunion tense, to say the least. 

And the McGuffin Goes Missing Again

As we learn more about Ahsoka and Sabine’s failed apprenticeship, the latter absconds with the McGuffin/map because she's desperate to find Ezra. While deciphering it at her house, the dark Jedi apprentice that looks like Grimes finds her and they battle. Fun fact: This is the first lightsaber duel between two female characters in Star Wars history! The episode ends on a cliffhanger, though, as Sabine gets impaled.

I’ve seen a lot of jokes on the internet this week about two characters in recent SW lore surviving similar impalements (Reva from Kenobi and now Sabine) — meanwhile Qui-Gonn looks down as a force ghost like, “Am I a joke to you?”


Episode Two

Whew, Sabine didn’t die. But now our two heroes have a McGuffin for their McGuffin — they have to go retrieve it. Fortunately, Sabine is a whiz at electronics, so she manages to find out the planet the droids who attacked them are from. Meanwhile, Elsbeth uses the McGuffin to pinpoint Thrawn’s whereabouts. They’re also building a weapon? device? transport? called the Eye of Sion to help facilitate this return. I’m sure we’ll learn more about it soon.

Pure Star Wars Moments

This episode is a little less plot heavy, but filled with moments that fans can absolutely just revel in. This show really excels at atmosphere and emotion — it’s maybe the best at it so far. Ahsoka is so meditative, so deep, so full of silent contemplation that I could watch her walk around and ponder a scene for hours. And when she gets to pet a Loth-cat? I’m dead. It’s too amazing. This show is so cinematic, and it makes me feel like a kid again watching Star Wars with wide-eyed wonder.

Hop In Your Toyota Corellia, We’ve Got a Lead

The droids are from Morgan Elsbeth’s former shipyard in Corellia (aka Han Solo and Wedge Antilles’ home planet). They head to the system to investigate and uncover an Imperial-loyalist plot to steal an old Super Star Destroyer’s hyperdrive. It’s fascinating to me that 5 years after the fall of the Empire, there are still folks who are loyal to it. It didn’t exactly seem like the type of organization to engender such fierce loyalty. 

Before they can make sense of the situation, a huge tug ship swoops down to come take the hyperdrive. Well, shit. It makes its way to some type of super weapon possibly — or maybe it’s a transport device? It kind of looks like the ring that Obi-Wan’s ship flies into that enables hyperspace travel. Fortunately, our old pal Chopper (the sassiest astromech droid in the galaxy) manages to plant a tracker on the tug before it jumps to hyperspace. This was after, of course, he suggested a slight war crime (shooting down the tug/hyperdrive and letting it fall into the populated city below). 

While Hera was pursuing the tug, Ahsoka was battling what looks like a former inquisitor. They have a visually stunning and intense battle but reach a stalemate, and he escapes with the dark Jedi. 

A Transformative Haircut and a New Start

Sabine finally decides that she’s ready to resume her Jedi training with Ahsoka, thanks to yet another deep, meaningful, and wise conversation with Huyang — love that guy. Both Sabine and Ahsoka are ridiculously stubborn, and they both miss each other, it's clear. And Ahsoka definitely will need her help. Sabine takes up her old Mandalorian armor and cuts her hair (just like Kanan did). She's ready. Also, if this scene looks like the final scene in the Rebels epilogue — it's because it is.

My final question: Who is going to feed her Loth-cat while she’s out adventuring? Looks like next episode, we’re headed to Seatos.


The Math

Baseline score: 8.5/10

Bonuses: +5  These two episodes have it all: Jedi, Loth-cats, Dathomirian Nightsisters, an apprentice that looks like Grimes, Chopper, you name it. 

Penalties: -1 Some scenes drag a little long, but if you’re into it, they’re fun. 

Nerd coefficient: +5 It’s going to be impossible to count all of the easter eggs in these episodes from Rebels and Clone Wars. But I recommend you try!

Gonk droid count: 1!

POSTED BY: Haley Zapal, NoaF contributor and lawyer-turned-copywriter living in Atlanta, Georgia. A co-host of Hugo-nominated podcast Hugo, Girl!, she posts on Instagram as @cestlahaley. She loves nautical fiction, vidalia onions, and growing corn and giving them pun names like Anacorn Skywalker. 

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Microreview: Children of Memory and the Children of Time series by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Ending the long saga started with Children of Time, Children of Memory changes the framing of the series, and its thrust, in a somewhat unexpected direction.

It’s been a long time, in book years (a decade) and in the chronology of the book since Avrana Kern’s terraforming project resulted in uplifted spiders who would the center of a web of allies exploring the stars. With intelligent octopi, Humans and a very strange fungus among them, through two volumes of the Children of Time series, this group of unlikely allies is now forming a multi-system, interstellar civilization. This civilization has, as one of its goals, to find any remnants of the terraforming wave that Avrana Kern, when she was a human and not an AI, was part of.

The planet Imir, a marginal planet even with what terraforming has been done, is their next target. But the visit by the Skipper to the planet Rourke first provides possible new additions to the interstellar polity, ones whose entry sets the theme for the book, and possibly the entire series.

This is the story of Children of Memory, the third of the Children of Time books by Adrian Tchaiskovsky.

Despite a somewhat elliptical approach at the different time frames of the book and when things occur, the plot of Children of Memory seems straightforward, almost too straightforward, at first. A marginal colony on a not great world, the once mighty terraformers have been reduced,by the loss of technology and the ravages of having to live on a planet, to a much more hardscrabble existence. The parallels and allusions in science fiction are many, the people who dared the stars on long and dangerous interstellar journeys now more concerned about the health of a nearby forest and breeding better pigs. Their ability to reach orbit to the remains of the ramshackle spacecraft that brought them to Imir is gone. Into this community, young Liff Holt, granddaughter of Hoerst Holt, captain of the Enkidu, is trying to make her way in a world slowly crumbling. Things appear bleak, until she meets some strangers in town. They say they came from one of the outfarms that have failed. Where they have come from, and why they have such skills, is actually much stranger...

So what Tchaikovsky sets up, or appears to set up, is something out of a classic Star Trek episode, with fallen descendants of spacefaring humanity being visited by the Federation, but in secret, without their knowledge. That is a solid and well worn story structure and if that is what the author was going for and nothing more, Children of Memory would be a solid book by the author, and in line with much of his work and its themes. This simplicity is not in keeping with the author’s penchant for extremely complicated worldbuilding and worlds, nor his penchant for strong themes.

Children of Memory’s real plot and real setup is something I am manifestly not going to tell you. Here. It is something for reader to seek and discover for themselves. There are clues and dropped breadcrumbs, early, that things may not be as simple as you think, but it is not for me to point at those guideposts and to instead let you the reader figure out what he is really up to, in terms of plot. What I do want to discuss, and look at detail, is an emergent theme of the book, and apparently, looking back to Children of Time and Children of Ruin, of the entire series, and that is the nature of mind and consciousness itself.

Not exactly a small theme, no?

The theme has been there since Children of Time, ever since Avrana Kern became much more than just a human terraformer, she became an artificial intelligence running on some very unusual hardware (an ant colony), and eventually becoming a backbone of the entire interstellar civilization. Who is Avrana Kern and is there really a “who” there. She remembers being the terraformer who came to the world eventually named for her but how much of that is her, now. And is she really a person? These are questions that slid into the second book, Children of Ruin, through the fungal creature on Nod, which can take on the memories and aspects of those it has absorbed. And now to the third book, Children of Memory, we come to the culmination of that theme in the Corvids.

The Corvids, from Rourke, are another of the Terraforming projects of old humanity. Another marginal world, and a colony that couldn’t quite hack it on that world. The small number of humans eventually died out, but not before accidentally uplifting the crows, one of the species they brought to the world that actually was flourishing. But it is the nature of these crows and the nature of this uplift that brings the theme of this book, and thus the emergent theme of this book, to full flower and light.

For, you see, the Corvids do not believe themselves sentient at all. Intelligent, yes. Clever, yes. Capable, yes. But the Corvids really are only effective and whole in specific pairs, with each of the members of the pair vastly and differently portions of a complete intelligence. And even together as a single intelligence, are they are a consciousness? Gothli and Gethli, two Corvids who wind up accompanying the Skipper on the Imir mission, themselves have conversations between themselves, and especially with Avrana Kern about the nature of sentience and intelligence and consciousness. They contend that they are not a sentience at all, that only together, their powers split between the two, the two of them add up to a functional intelligence. But it is a Chat GPT type of intelligence that uses prior knowledge and connections, but really does not have an inner life.

Where the novel goes a little further, and takes us into Peter Watts’ Blindsight, is that the birds then put to Avrana that she herself, being an artificial intelligence that is far removed from the original version of herself, may not be conscious, either. And, even, the question of if anything in the universe currently found can be considered to be conscious and sentient, or just really good at fooling themselves that they are. Gothli and Gethli present an argument that nobody and nothing really is.

And then there is Miranda. Miranda is a human intelligence being emulated by the Nodan fungus. The Nodan fungus (from Children of Ruin) can emulate a number of intelligences that it has incorporated and dealt with over the years. Is the Nodan fungus intelligent? Sentient? Aware? Miranda herself, upon contact with Gothli and Gethli, questions sentience, intelligence and being, but within herself, not in direct dialogue with the Corvids. For Miranda, the questions of sentience, consciousness and being are an internal struggle, and no mistake, it is a struggle. She is aware that her fellow crewmembers, especially Paul the Octopus, are a little wary of her given how amok the fungus used to be before it started to understand there was sentient life beyond itself that had rights and thoughts. She is not quite trusted as much as respected. But who is the parasite anyway? The people and beings it’s absorbed? All of them? None of them? Is there a there there.

And does it all matter? Can one tell if a being is sentient as well as intelligent? And what makes a being, anyhow? And in the end, what does it mean? Tchaikovsky doesn’t try to give us definitive answers, but the conversations the characters have are fascinating. Even more interesting is “in the doing”, how the characters behave, act, and deal with who and what they are.

It is somewhat of a spoiler to admit hat the resolution and what is behind the veil of what is really the story of Imir does tie into this basic question, hooking the theme of the book (and thus, I think the series) into the main plotline of the book. And having it ground eventually in the story does prevent this from being college-level speculations on consciousness and being without any heft to them. We are made by the author to care about the characters and this situation

I don’t think, looking back, now at the series as a whole, since this is a good place to do it, that Children of Memory, or Children of Ruin are as quite incandescently perfect and shining as Children of Time was. Neither quite hits the absolute and utter perfection of that book, one of the great Science fiction novels of our time. What I do appreciate is that the subsequent novels, and especially Children of Memory here, do different things, try different things and expand the playground of Tchaikovsky’s imagination, and the imagination of the reader as well. Instead of incandescent, the Children of Time series is “just” an exceptionally good Space Opera series. Tchaikovsky is firmly and strongly one of my autobuy authors.

One final note: The Children of Time series is up for a Hugo this year for Best Series, and I think it is a very worthy finalist, and currently as of my reading (August 2024), is my #1 choice. Also, I have been told that Tchaikovsky may be writing more books in this verse, which indeed is good news.


Nerd coefficient: 8/10


• Lots of interesting philosophy about sentience and consciousness

• A diverse and wide cast of characters across species, genders and more

• Clever and strong plotting and rich worldbuilding.

Reference: Tchaikovsky, Adrian, Children of Memory [2022, UK, 2023, US, Orbit]

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