Pixel Scroll 10/15/17 Like Pixels Through A Monitor, These Are The Scrolls Of Our Hive

(1) A FANTASY MAP THAT WORKS. Literature Map, The Tourist Map of Literature is a lot of fun. Seems accurate, too. Plug in a name and give it a whirl.

The Literature-Map is part of Gnod, the Global Network of Discovery. It is based on Gnooks, Gnod’s literature recommendation system. The more people like an author and another author, the closer together these two authors will move on the Literature-Map.

(2) NEW HELMSMAN FOR STARLINE. The Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association announced a change in editorship for its official poetry publication — “Introducing StarLine’s new editor, Vince Gotera”

With the upcoming 40.4 issue of Star*Line we welcome its new editor Vince Gotera, and thank F.J. Bergmann for her exemplary service and vision in what a journal of speculative poetry can be. We look forward to the approach Vince Gotera will take in the years ahead, especially with the arrival of the 40th anniversary of the SFPA in 2018.

Vince Gotera is an award-winning member of the international Science Fiction  and Fantasy Poetry Association, and he has been nominated for Rhysling Awards.

Vince was born and raised in San Francisco and lived in the Philippines for part of his childhood. He completed undergraduate studies at City College of San Francisco and Stanford University, where he earned a BA. He earned an MA at San Francisco University and both an MFA and a PhD at Indiana University.  He is the author of the poetry collections Dragonfly (1994) , Ghost Wars (2003) and Fighting Kite (2007) and the critical volume Radical Visions: Poetry by Vietnam Veterans (1994).  His upcoming volume of poetry is Pacific Crossings. 

He is also a former editor of North American Review and was the poetry editor of the journal Asian America.

(3) ELECTRIC SHEEP DREAMER. The argument continues: NPR’s Adam Frank asks, “Is Harrison Ford An Android In ‘Blade Runner’?”

But it has gotta be the last director’s cut.

That is where you get to see exactly why director Ridley Scott’s movie is considered so important and so influential. His vision of a future Los Angeles that is all torrential rain, steam and blue searchlights piercing through ruin is nothing short of jaw-dropping.

But it’s also in this final cut that Scott reinserts two scenes the studio removed. They hold the key to Deckard’s status. Near the end of the film, Deckard has a dream about a unicorn. Later, he is escaping with Rachael — the beautiful next-generation replicant whom he has fallen for. Just as they walk out the door of his apartment, he finds an origami figure in the shape of a unicorn that was left by his former police partner Gaff. This signals that Gaff (who has a major origami habit) knows about Deckard’s dream because it’s not really Deckard’s. It’s an implant. Every replicant’s memories and dreams are fake. They are implanted to give a “back story” needed to stabilize the replicant’s artificial personality.

So the unicorn dream is central to the “Deckard as replicant” argument….

(4) AMBISCAREDSTROUS. The Los Angeles Times interviews “Horror master Guillermo del Toro on how scaring people is different on TV and in the movies”.

“There is a big difference when the mediums are different,” Del Toro says during a recent interview on the phone from Toronto, where he lives part time and also where “At Home With Monsters,” the traveling museum exhibition of his memorabilia, artwork and ephemera, recently opened.

In explaining the distinctions between the different methods of storytelling, be it movies, television, books or graphic novels, Del Toro also points out the ways in which they interrelate.

“TV now you have to plan it, you structure it for binge watching,” he says. “Meaning, you structure the whole season like a three-act play. You have a first act, the first third of the season, second act is the middle third and you structure it like that. Whereas a movie you’re dealing with a continuous experience that’s going to last around two hours, so it’s more traditional.

“The other mediums, like video games or books, may follow different sets of rules,” he continues. “But what I find really interesting as a storyteller is that each of those mediums informs the other. You find yourself applying tricks that you learned developing a video game in telling a movie. Little tricks that you learn structurally working in TV, you apply them to a movie and so forth.”

(5) PUMPKINSTEIN. Here’s what was scaring people in 2014 — this price for a pumpkin: “Pumpkinstein Is The Only Halloween Pumpkin You’ll Ever Need”.

People never believe it’s real the first time they see it; they all want to touch it to make sure,” Tony Dighera of Cinagro Farms in Fillmore, Calif., told The New York Times.

Dighera told the Tri-Valley Dispatch that it took four years and $500,000 to develop the technique and find the perfect pumpkin for the job.

“When you try something for four years of your life, people really start to think you’re wacko,” he told the Times.

What some people may find “wacko,” however, is the price. Dighera is selling Pumpkinsteins for about $75 wholesale, with retailers marking them up to $100 and even $125.

For a pumpkin. A very cool pumpkin that looks like Frankenstein, but still a pumpkin.

(6) THE BEST. Now available, The Best of Richard Matheson, edited by Victor LaValle from Penguin.

Where Matheson shines is in his depictions of ordinary horror, the way strange goings-on affect everyday people, and his ambiguous endings leave plenty of room for further thought. As a bonus, editor LaValle offers an enlightening introduction that discusses Matheson’s influence on his own work and even offers up the story behind what he calls his “Matheson moment,” giving more heft to the stories that follow.

(7) DON’T BE KNOCKIN’. Victor LaValle pays homage to the horror master with a real-life story from his own past — “My Favorite Richard Matheson Story Is the One I Lived Through” at Electric Lit.

Anyway, I’m standing there and Tasha and Lianne are coming through the doorway and then I heard it, a sound in the kitchen. Knocking. Not all that loud, but I was close to the kitchen and getting closer. By that I mean that Tasha and Lianne were taking off their coats and I ran away. Later I told Cedric I went to “get them water,” but there’s no other way to say it: I fled.

As soon as I entered the kitchen the knocking stopped. I figured it might be their boiler kicking in. It was winter after all. I knew I’d run away though so I came up with the water idea and went scrounging for cups. This led me on a chase through the cupboards as, in the other room, Cedric called for me. And then I reached their pantry door. This style of one-family home had a separate little pantry, about the size of a small walk-in closet. I found the door there and, still hunting for glasses, I tried the handle and found it locked. Then Cedric walked into the kitchen.

“Cheese,” he said. “You making me look bad.”

(8) TAINT BY NUMBERS. Junot Diaz’ introduction to Global Dystopias, “To Map, to Warn, to Hope”, from the Boston Review.

William Gibson has famously declared, “The future is already here—it’s just not very evenly distributed.” Gibson’s words have been much on my mind of late. How could they not be? The president is a white nationalist sympathizer who casually threatens countries with genocide and who can’t wait to build a great wall across the neck of the continent to keep out all the “bad hombres.” After a hurricane nearly took out Houston, the country’s most visible scientist, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, stated that the effects of climate change may have grown so severe that he doubts the nation will be able to withstand the consequences.

For me, literature, and those formations that sustain it, have ever been a eutopic enclave against a darkening dystopian world.

Then, as if on cue, Puerto Rico, a U.S. colony almost completely bankrupt by neoliberal malfeasance, was struck by Hurricane Maria with such apocalyptic force that it more or less knocked the island into pre-modernity. Earlier today a former student informed me that more skin bleaching is consumed in India than Coca-Cola, and on the edge of my computer a new site is announcing that the Chinese government has made it nearly impossible for its 730 million Internet users to express opinions online anonymously. Plus this little cheery gem from the Federal Reserve: the top 1 percent of the U.S. population controls 38.6 percent of the nation’s wealth, an inequality chasm that makes the Middle Ages look egalitarian. Whether we’re talking about our cannibal economics or the rising tide of xenophobia or the perennial threat of nuclear annihilation, it seems that the future has already arrived.

(9) GONE VIRAL. These hitchhikers are along for the evolutionary ride: “Ancient Viruses Are Buried in Your DNA”, in the New York Times.

In July, scientists reported that a strange protein courses through the veins of pregnant women. No one is sure what it’s there for.

What makes this protein, called Hemo, so unusual is that it’s not made by the mother. Instead, it is made in her fetus and in the placenta, by a gene that originally came from a virus that infected our mammalian ancestors more than 100 million years ago.

Hemo is not the only protein with such an alien origin: Our DNA contains roughly 100,000 pieces of viral DNA. Altogether, they make up about 8 percent of the human genome. And scientists are only starting to figure out what this viral DNA is doing to us.

(10) HISTORY IS BUNK. Once again, an appealing theory is murdered by a few lousy facts: “Sinister ‘Secrets’ of Easter Island’s Doomed Civilization Begin to Unravel With Rapa Nui Genetic Discovery”.

Recently, Rapa Nui has become the ultimate parable for humankind’s selfishness; a moral tale of the dangers of environmental destruction. In the “ecocide” hypothesis popularised by the geographer Jared Diamond, Rapa Nui is used as a demonstration of how society is doomed to collapse if we do not sit up and take note. But more than 60 years of archaeological research actually paints a very different picture—and now new genetic data sheds further light on the island’s fate. It is time to demystify Rapa Nui.

The ‘ecocide’ narrative doesn’t stand up

The ecocide hypothesis centres on two major claims. First, that the island’s population was reduced from several tens of thousands in its heyday, to a diminutive 1,500-3,000 when Europeans first arrived in the early 18th century.

Second, that the palm trees that once covered the island were callously cut down by the Rapa Nui population to move statues. With no trees to anchor the soil, fertile land eroded away resulting in poor crop yields, while a lack of wood meant islanders couldn’t build canoes to access fish or move statues. This led to internecine warfare and, ultimately, cannibalism….

…Perhaps, then, the takeaway from Rapa Nui should not be a story of ecocide and a Malthusian population collapse. Instead, it should be a lesson in how sparse evidence, a fixation with “mysteries,” and a collective amnesia for historic atrocities caused a sustainable and surprisingly well-adapted population to be falsely blamed for their own demise.

(11) WE HATES IT. How much does the New York Times’ Jeannette Catsoulis dislike Goodbye Christopher Robin? This much:

As predictable as mermaid frocks at the Oscars, Hollywood greets the end of the year by suddenly noticing that roughly a third of moviegoers (and three-quarters of art-house audiences) are over 50, most of them women. This annual phenomenon can lead to theaters clogged with old-lady bait, which usually means something British and upper-crusty, preferably with literary roots. A dollop of war, a death or two, and it’s off to the awards races. “Goodbye Christopher Robin” checks all the boxes. Drenched in dappled light and Carter Burwell’s honeyed score, Simon Curtis’s glowing picture dangles the story of how the author A. A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) created the Winnie-the-Pooh tales using the stuffed animals of his son, Christopher Robin (beautifully played by little Will Tilston). What we’re really watching, though, is no less than a stiffly depressing portrait of toffee-nosed child abuse….

(12) WEIN’S LAST SWAMP THING. Courtesy of Entertainment Weekly we know “New Swamp Thing Winter Special #1 to feature posthumous story from co-creator Len Wein”.

Wolverine co-creator Len Wein, who died in September at the age of 69, was one of the most influential comic book writers and editors ever, leaving his mark on the DC and Marvel Universes. At the time of his death, he was hard at work on a new story about the iconic DC Comics character he co-created with Bernie Wrightson: Swamp Thing, the avatar of the Green.

Before he died, Wein had completed the script for the first issue of a new series about the vegetation-covered monstrosity formerly known as Alec Holland, which would be illustrated by his 2016 Swamp Thing  miniseries partner Kelley Jones. While we won’t ever see this series come to fruition, EW can exclusively reveal that fans will get a chance to read the first issue of the planned series in 2018 when DC Comics releases Swamp Thing Winter Special #1 (on sale Jan. 31), which will present the story in both its original script form with art by Jones.

(13) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • October 15, 2003 — China launched its first manned space mission becoming the third country in history to send a person into orbit.

(14) SEXUAL COURSE CORRECTION. Trae Dorn, at Nerd & Tie, reports “On ‘Legends of Tomorrow’ TV’s Constantine Will Finally Be Allowed to Smoke, Be Into Dudes”.

When Matt Ryan first played the title role on NBC’s Constantine, the peacock network was a little nervous about acknowledging two things about the character: his bisexuality and his chain smoking. And while they let John Constantine occasionally hold a cigarette, his being into guys was kind of a sore spot steadfastly avoided by the show. Ryan has since reprised the part on The CW’s Arrow, which merged the continuities. With the addition of a forthcoming CW Seed animated series, many fans of the comics’ version of the character have hoped his sexuality would be finally addressed.

And we’re happy to say, it will be.

It’s been announced that Matt Ryan’s Constantine will guest star on a Legends of Tomorrow two parter this season, and when he does his bisexuality will be directly acknowledged….

(15) BRANCH OFFICES. If the government did this for employees, it would be a scandal. A private company did it, so it’s a nice feature article, “Microsoft built tree houses for its employees”. The Verge has the story.

The tree houses are a part of Microsoft’s “outdoor districts” which are connected to buildings around its Redmond campus. They feature weatherproof benches, hatches that hide electricity sockets, rustproof rocking chairs, a fireplace, wood canopies, and an outdoor Wi-Fi network. There are ramps built in for those who need them. If you get hungry, there’s also an indoor cafeteria that’s extended outside and a barbecue restaurant built into a shipping container.

Microsoft said it had been planning renovations and surveyed employees to see what they cared about the most. Employees said if they were given the opportunity, they would work outside more.

(16) SHORTCHANGED. SF Bluestocking says — “Star Trek: Discovery – A long, poetic episode title is no substitute for real depth”:

After a strong two-part premiere and a decent transitional episode last week, “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry” is a bit of a disappointment. After cramming a ton of set-up and plot into its first three episodes, what the show needs now is to establish a new normal and give the characters a reprieve from the constant barrage of Events! Happening! so the audience can get to know these people we’re supposed to care about. This is a needle that was successfully threaded in “The Vulcan Hello” and “Battle at the Binary Stars,” where we were given a nice prologue and several flashbacks to establish Burnham’s character and her friendship with Captain Georgiou, and this gave weight to the events at the end of the second episode, setting up Burnham for a redemption arc over the rest of the series. Last week’s episode contrived to get Burnham onto the Discovery and introduced a new cast of characters, so the next logical step would be to show us more of how these characters interact with each other, what makes them tick, or even just how Burnham settles in to the normal rhythm of life on the ship. Instead, this episode features another crisis, but it struggles throughout to convey why any of these events should matter to the viewer….

Warning: SPOILERS FOLLOW.

(17) IT CAN HAPPEN TO YOU IF YOU’RE YOUNG AT HEART. Now Creation Entertainment is running a cycle of Once Upon A Time conventions. The next is in Burbank, CA in November.

Every once in a blue moon a television series captures the hearts of viewers who become passionate about their love of the storyline, the look and feel of the show, and the actors that breathe life into the characters we come to cherish. ABC’s Once Upon A Time certainly fills that rare bill as fans worldwide have made this show one that is the talk of the Internet and eagerly followed by viewers, much in the tradition of other series that Creation Entertainment has been involved with in its 45-year history.

 

(18) WENDIG BOOK IN DEVELOPMENT FOR TV. Yesterday, Chuck Wendig called the internet to attention:

*ahem*

I have an announcement to make.

*opens mouth*

*ants pour out*

*ants collectively spell a message*

FBI Drama From Jerry Bruckheimer TV & ‘MacGyver’ EP David Slack Set At CBS

*ants return to mouth*

*maw snaps shut*

So, if you click that link, you’ll see a couple notable paragraphs:

CBS has put in development Unthinkable, an FBI crime drama from Jerry Bruckheimer Television and MacGyver executive producer David Slack. CBS Television Studios, where both JBTV and Slack are based, is the studio.

Written and executive produced by Slack, Unthinkable, based on Chuck Wendig’s 2016 novel Invasive, is about a brilliant futurist, trained to see danger around every corner, who’s recruited by an uncharacteristically optimistic FBI Agent to identify the threats only she can see coming – and stop them before it’s too late.

(19) NOT JUST A COMIC CON. Japanese pop culture will be celebrated at Youmacon2017 in Detroit from November 2-5.

Downtown Detroit is filled with people in costumes, and it has nothing to do with Halloween. Thousands of Japanese pop culture fans have come from all over the country to Youmacon…

Youmacon is a popular culture event similar to most “Comic Cons”, however instead of focusing on comic books, Youmacon is a celebration of Japanese popular culture and its influence on our own culture over the past few decades. Common themes throughout the event are Anime (Japanese animation), Video Games, Japanese style artwork and comics, and the rising internet culture influenced by all of the above.

Youmacon brings a unique all-ages mix of interactive events, celebrity guest panels, and live musical performances to Downtown Detroit. One of its most popular events, “Live Action Mario Party”, emulates the video game experience – often filling the room to fire code capacity. Players participate in gameshow-like mini-games to help their teams advance and win.

Wearing costumes, or “Cosplay” as it’s known at conventions, is very popular with attendees of Youmacon.

(20) FRIGHTFULLY TASTY. He was a terror on the screen but a sweetheart in the kitchen, and his recipes are making a comeback: “Dish up some scary-good eats with new expanded Vincent Price cookbook”.

Vincent Price might have been the Merchant of Menace in classic fright films like House on Haunted Hill, The Tingler, and House of Wax, but he was also quite the Renaissance man. Besides being a familiar face in horror films, Price was renowned for his impressive collection of fine art (even selling tasteful paintings for Sears!) and his wizardry in the kitchen as a master chef.

One of Price’s best-selling cookbooks is getting an expanded makeover by Dover’s Calla Editions and being re-released in a deluxe volume, which includes additional material, memories, and comments by his daughter, Victoria, and son, V.B.

(21) IF YOU WANT IT DONE RIGHT. Here’s s link to Archive.org’s recording of Patrick Magee reading Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman originally aired by the BBC in 1997. One reviewer said:

This is a unique work by Flann O’Brien – funny, oblique,odd, beguiling, and horrific by turns. It’s got a peculiar, pastoral, otherworldly quality, yet at the same time you can believe that it really is taking place in some deranged Irish backwater town. To give you an example something that made me howl with laughter, the central character falls foul of the law, and is sentenced to be hanged, on a trumped up charge, so they build a gallows in the police station yard, but the chippie is scarcely competent, so he prevails on the narrator to give him a hand….

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Lace, Carl Slaughter, Chip Hitchcock, Martin Morse Wooster, JJ, David K.M. Klaus, Cat Eldridge, Nigellicus, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories.. Title credit goes to  File 770 contributing editor of the day Kip W.]

2016 Novellapalooza

Editor’s note: be sure to read the comments on this post for more novellas and more Filer reviews

By JJ: I’m a huge reader of novels, but not that big on short fiction. But last year, I made a concerted effort to read a good sampling of works in the shorter fiction categories. I ended up reading 31 of the novellas published in 2015 (though a few of those were after Hugo nominations closed).

This sort of comprehensive survey of the category was an entirely new experience for me. I found some real gems – several of them utterly unexpected – and perhaps for the first time, I really felt as though I was able to do nominations for the novella category in an informed way. So I decided to do it again this year.

It is not at all uncommon for me to choose to read a book despite not feeling that the jacket copy makes the book sound as though it is something I would like – and to discover that I really like or love the work anyway. On the other hand, It is not at all uncommon for me to choose to read a book in such a case, and to discover that, indeed, the book doesn’t really do much for me.

Thus, my opinions on the following novellas vary wildly: stories I thought I would love but didn’t, stories I didn’t expect to love but did, and stories which aligned with my expectations – whether high or low. Bear in mind that while I enjoy both, I tend to prefer Science Fiction over Fantasy – and that while I enjoy suspense and thrillers, I have very little appreciation for Horror (and to be honest, I think Lovecraft is way overrated). My personal assessments are therefore not intended to be the final word on these stories, but merely a jumping-off point for Filer discussion.

I thought it would be helpful to have a thread where all the Filers’ thoughts on novellas are collected in one place, as a resource when Hugo nomination time rolls around. I’ve opined on a few of these previously on File770, so I’ve put those at the end, so as to not give them an unfair amount of bandwidth.

Which of these novellas have you read? And what did you think of them?

Please feel free to post comments about any other 2016 novellas which you’ve read, as well.

(Be sure to rot-13 any spoilers.)

(fair notice: all Amazon links are referrer URLs which benefit non-profit SFF fan website Worlds Without End)


Cold-Forged Flame, by Marie Brennan (aka Bryn Neuenschwander) (excerpt)

coldforgedflameTor.com, edited by Miriam Weinberg

cover art by Sam Weber, design by Christine Foltzer

Synopsis: A woman comes to consciousness with a bloody animal sacrifice laid out before her. She realizes that she is bound to the shaman who did the sacrifice, by a geas that will force her to follow his command: to bring back “blood from the cauldron of the Lhian”. Never mind that he doesn’t tell her who or what the Lhian is, or where the cauldron is located: she doesn’t even know who she herself is – and he won’t tell her that either, because he says it’s safer if she doesn’t remember.

What I thought: I really, really liked this. It features a strong but flawed female character, and avoids or subverts a lot of the quest tropes. This is definitely on my longlist for next year’s Hugo nominations – and I’ll be seeking out some of Brennan’s other works, as well. There’s a sequel, Lightning in the Blood, coming out in April 2017.

Filer Comments:

  • Mark-kitteh: For a character who has no idea who she is, she’s strangely compelling, and the story itself is more adventure and (self) discovery than hack-and-slash, although there’s a bit of that too. It’s about 20,000 words, so fairly short for a novella, and it feels like a fully expanded short rather than a compressed novel, but that’s no bad thing – the story is complete by the end, although I suspect sequels are possible, and some intriguing bits of worldbuilding have been revealed.
  • Arifel: probably the best novella I’ve read this year – intriguing, well paced fantasy with a great main character and world building that I can’t wait to read more of.
  • kathodus: I noticed it on my Kindle when I had just a little time to read, decided to check it out, and remembered that it was recommended as being a tightly written story with good action and characterization, because that’s what it was. I think there is another novella or something written within this world, and I’m looking forward to checking it out.

Patchwerk, by David Tallerman (excerpt)

patchwerkTor.com, edited by Lee Harris

cover art by Tommy Arnold, design by Christine Foltzer

Synopsis: The inventor of an extremely powerful device, realizing that it could be used as a horrible weapon by people with sinister intentions, is trying to smuggle it out of the country in the cargo hold of an airship. But of course, an evil person who wants the weapon is on the ship as well – and knows way more about it than they should, because of a betrayal from the inventor’s past. This is the story of their confrontation, and the battle for control of the powerful device.

What I thought: Halfway through this story, I was really excited. I really liked where it was going, and how the author was taking it there. But the ending didn’t quite live up to my expectations; I’m not sure why, perhaps it seemed a little too pat. Nevertheless, I still think it is a very good story, and it’s on my Hugo nomination longlist.


Downfall of the Gods, by K.J. Parker (aka Tom Holt) (excerpt)

downfallofthegodsSubterranean Press, editor unknown

cover art by Vincent Chong, design by Desert Isle Design

Synopsis: A spoiled, petulant goddess who refuses to forgive the man who murdered her favorite musician-poet is overridden by her all-powerful father, who orders her to forgive him anyway. So she decides that her forgiveness will be given only if the man asking for it is able to complete a heroic task: to bring back the musician from the dead.

What I thought: I have more than a passing familiarity with, and appreciation for, Greek and Roman mythology, and this story combines elements of those liberally, and with some inventiveness and snarky humor. Parker’s The Last Witness was my favorite of the thirty-one 2015 novellas I read, and this story makes it clear that his skill in that one was not a one-off or an accident. This is on my Hugo nomination longlist. (Caveat: Readers who expect faithfulness to classical mythology will be disappointed.)


The Devil You Know, by K.J. Parker (aka Tom Holt) (excerpt)

thedevilyouknowTor.com, edited by Jonathan Strahan

cover art by Jon Foster, design by Christine Foltzer

Synopsis (jacket copy): The greatest philosopher of all time is offering to sell his soul to the Devil. All he wants is twenty more years to complete his life’s work. After that, he really doesn’t care. But the assistant demon assigned to the case has his suspicions, because the person making the bargain is not only the greatest philosopher, but also the greatest liar, trickster, and cheat the world has yet known; the sort of man even the Father of Lies can’t trust. He’s almost certainly up to something… but what?

What I thought: I ended up going back a couple of days later and reading the second half of the book (which is approx 120 pg total) again, because the twists are a bit involved and intricate, and it requires a suspension of disbelief to put oneself into the world as it’s been built here. It’s a clever story, but for some reason it did not wow me in the same way as The Last Witness or Downfall of the Gods.

Filer Comments:

  • GiantPanda: great version of Faust. Goes on my Hugo longlist
  • Arifel: Readable and satisfying but not spectacular.
  • alexvdl: Thought it was a pretty good thought experiment, well in my favored “bureacracy porn” milieu. I didn’t realize before I picked it up that it was the sequel to Blue and Gold, but that was just an added bonus.

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, by Kij Johnson (excerpt)

thedreamquestofvellittboeTor.com, edited by Jonathan Strahan

cover art by Victo Ngai, design by Christine Foltzer

map by Serena Malyon

Synopsis: An older instructor at a women’s college in the Dreamlands must go on a journey to retrieve a young student who has run away with her lover to the waking world; failure would likely mean the vast destruction of the college, the country in which it is located, and all the people there. The protagonist, on their journey through strange lands populated by unfathomable monsters, is joined by a mysterious and possibly magical SJW credential: Following her into [the ship’s cabin], the cat assumed immediate possession of a yak-wool scarf she tossed for a moment upon the bunk. “I need that, cat,” she warned, but it only curled tighter and gazed up with bright eyes. In the end, the scarf remained there for the rest of the voyage.

What I thought: The plot in this story is rather incidental; it’s there to provide a vehicle for the evocative, beautifully-descriptive prose. The inspiration for this story was The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, and it’s my understanding that big Lovecraft fans will especially enjoy it. I’m not one, and I found it enjoyable but not earth-shaking. A strong main character and the aforementioned prose make it well worth the read.

Filer Comments:

  • lurkertype: Great characters, good world-building, and some passages I had to reread for their beauty. Does not need familiarity with Lovecraft to work, but that would probably add another dimension (heh). Lives up to HPL by having somewhat archaic words I had to look up – you can gather the idea in context, but there were some pretty cool nouns I didn’t know in there. Needless to say, not with the HPL racism and sexism.
  • Mark-kitteh: I have to say it’s a setting idea that just grabbed me from the start… It’s very much a travelogue, and has some of the issues that come along with that – is this just a list of places she goes at authorial fiat? – but I think the character and the charm of the setting really pulls you along, and the stakes get built up nicely. I’m not sure how much you’d need to know Lovecraft’s dreamlands to appreciate it – I certainly found the mythos elements enriched it – and I think the ending wasn’t quite as strong as it might have been, but overall I enjoyed it. (Content note: two mentions of rape, in the sense of mentioning it has or could happen, not in the sense of featuring it in any way)
  • Rob Thornton: as a big fan of the original Lovecraft story, overall I found Kij Johnson’s take on the meh side. The story is good and the prose is good, but when the tale is placed in Lovecraft’s Dreamlands, Johnson is up against a standard that is hard to beat. I have really enjoyed Kij’s other works, though, so I look forward to whatever she does next.
  • Arifel: while all the Lovecraft went completely over my head I enjoyed the world and the plot (older woman explores world, roles for older women in sexist societies) and there were no obvious triggers
  • kathodus: The second trek through Lovecraftia written from the point of view of someone who would have been invisible or reviled in Lovecraft’s writing. This one didn’t have a Lovecraftian atmosphere – it was working within his world, but not working with his vibe. I like what the author did with the gods. And there’s a cat. Or two. But I think just one.

Lustlocked, by Matt Wallace [Sin du Jour #2] (excerpt)

lustlockedTor.com, edited by Lee Harris

cover photo by Getty Images, design by Peter Lutgen

This volume also contains the prequel novelette “Small Wars”, which was published on Tor.com in January 2016.

Synopsis: The gang at Sin du Jour catering has been contracted for a really, really big job: the wedding of the Goblin King’s son and his fiancée. And the challenge is immense: prepare pairs of numerous courses, in identical-looking forms, to suit both goblin and human gastronomics. But of course, no catering plan survives contact with the diners… the big question is whether the Sin du Jour crew will survive the ensuing catastrophe – and if they do, how will they escape the Goblin King’s wrath?

What I thought: I found the first entry in this series, last year’s Envy of Angels, to be an unexpected, clever, slyly witty delight. This is a worthy follow-up – and the author manages to weave his supernatural worldbuilding in with the real world so deftly that the reader can almost believe it’s all really true.

Filer Comments:

  • Mark-kitteh: I thought Lustlocked didn’t play out quite as well as Envy of Angels, although it does feature an excellent take on goblins with a very interesting choice of goblin king…

Pride’s Spell, by Matt Wallace [Sin du Jour #3] (excerpt)

pridesspellTor.com, edited by Lee Harris

cover photo by Getty Images, design by Peter Lutgen

Synopsis: The Sin du Jour Catering Company finds itself unexpectedly double-booked for events on both the East and West Coasts. So the experienced members of the team stay in NYC to put on a gala dinner for a convention, and the boss takes the newest crew members and the pastry chef extraordinaire out to Hollywood for a movie premiere party. But there’s just one thing that none of them have been told: this time around, they’re all intended to be surprise additions to the menu…

What I thought: This is another fun romp, with some new villains, as well as the reappearance of some old villains – and an unexpected hero. I have to say that I love the author’s imaginative cuisine, with dishes concocted from some pretty unusual ingredients. If you liked the previous entries in this series, you’ll enjoy this one, too.


The Jewel and Her Lapidary, by Fran Wilde (excerpt)

thejewelandherlapidaryTor.com, edited by Patrick Nielsen Hayden

cover art by Tommy Arnold, design by Christine Foltzer

Synopsis (jacket copy): The kingdom has long sheltered under the protection of its Jewels and Lapidaries, the people bound to singing gemstones with the power to reshape hills, move rivers, and warp minds. That power has kept the peace and tranquility, and the kingdom has flourished… but now the Jeweled Court has been betrayed. As screaming raiders sweep down from the mountains, the last princess and the last lapidary of the Valley will have to summon up strength that they’ve never known.

What I thought: There’s a whole lot of ‘splaining about how the jewel magic and lapidaries are supposed to work mixed in with the story, and I think that the plot and action suffer extensively due to that. There is the strong germ of a good story idea here; it’s just too bad that the execution gets so bogged down in the infodumping. I’d like to see the author rework this into a really enjoyable novel. (And I have to say that the cover is one of my favorites from 2016.)

Filer Comments:

  • Arifel: This is short – a long novelette rather than a novella, even – but very well put together and definitely worth a read. Only disappointment was that Sima is not actually an aged-up Toph Beifong as the cover seemed to indicate.
  • Mark-kitteh: Not quite as good as recent highlights like Forest of Memory or Every Heart a Doorway, but still a worthwhile entry… It’s a fascinating setting and magic idea, and I suppose that Wilde could either have stopped for a 10,000 word exposition on how it all works or start the story with a crisis in media res and hope that the idea comes through. Obviously she goes for the latter, and although it’s not 100% successful it’s definitely the right choice for a novella. I kept wanting a bit more clarity on how the jewels worked, but as I didn’t want her to stop the story for some As You Know Bob I can’t really complain too much.

The Emperor’s Railroad, by Guy Haley [The Dreaming Cities #1] (excerpt)

theemperorsrailroadTor.com, edited by Lee Harris

cover art by Chris McGrath, design by Christine Foltzer

Synopsis: A young boy and his mother struggle to reach a relative in a faraway town after everyone else in their own village in a post-apocalypic U.S. is destroyed by zombies. They are lucky enough to meet up with a Knight who protects them on their journey (for a sizable fee, of course), against zombies and “angels of God” (from what appears to be a dubious religion).

 

 

 


The Ghoul King, by Guy Haley [The Dreaming Cities #2]  (excerpt)

theghoulkingTor.com, edited by Lee Harris

cover art by Chris McGrath, design by Christine Foltzer

Synopsis: A healer is interrogated by the authorities about his role in an illegal attempt to retrieve lost and forgotten technology from a dead city – an attempt which, of course, also includes the aforesaid Knight. This time, in addition to zombies, angels, and a whole passel of religious talk, there are “ghouls” – a higher form of zombie which has retained some thinking faculties and is thus a far more threatening adversary.

What I thought: I swear, all zombie stories should be required to include a plausible origin story in order to be published (at least Seanan McGuire, bless her, managed a capital job of that). All of the other zombie stories I’ve read seem to have been written by South Park’s gnomes:

Step 1: Normal world

Step 2: ?????

Step 3: ZOMBIES!!!

While the post-apocalyptic worldbuilding is somewhat interesting, I have to admit that I never found these stories particularly gripping or compelling, and I found the religious aspect simply tiresome. And since they’re told from the point-of-view of someone other than the Knight, I felt as though I never really got to see enough of him to feel invested in him. There are hints that the angels are not really angels, but something more interesting – but at this point, I’m not interested enough to read the third story to find out. Rating: 2 Mehs. YMMV.


Runtime, by S. B. Divya (aka Divya Srinivasan Breed) (excerpt)

runtimeTor.com, edited by Carl Engle-Laird

cover art by Juan Pablo Roldan, design by Christine Foltzer

Synopsis: A young person who has taught themselves computer engineering since they were a child enters a speed-and-endurance race against well-equipped, well-funded professionals, supported only by home-built-and-programmed cybernetic augments. The prize money for placing in the top 5 would mean being able to earn full personhood, for themselves and for their siblings, and a future livelihood. But on the brink of victory, they are faced with a terrible ethical choice.

What I thought: I loved this short, fast-paced novella. Even in the short length, the author does a good job of creating a complex, nuanced main character. I’m going to be avidly watching for more stories by this author.

Filer Comments:

  • Arifel: I had a couple of worldbuilding nitpicks (mostly the idea that young people are undergoing gender neutralising surgery as a fashion trend…) but overall I found this well worth my time.
  • Arifel: [story] does have some gender dysphoria and dysfunctional parent child relationships

Dreams and Slumbers, by Seanan McGuire [October Daye]

dreamsandslumbers(included with the novel Once Broken Faith)

DAW Books, edited by Sheila Gilbert

cover art by Chris McGrath, design by G-Force

map by Priscilla Spencer

Synopsis: After the conclave is over, Queen Arden Windermere in the Mists has a choice to make, and no one to help her make it. This is the story of Arden’s attempts to awaken her elf-shot brother, Nolan, from his 100-year sleep. At first, Arden believes that all she has to do is give him the cure, but it’s not that simple, because in addition to being elf-shot, Nolan was poisoned – and once he’s given the cure for elf-shot, he will die of the poison. Can Arden find an antidote to the poison? And does she really want to wake him up, when she will have to face him with the fact that she has not yet really established herself, or accomplished anything, as Queen?

What I thought: I thought that this was a great coda to Once Broken Faith, and a great addition to the October Daye universe. It gives the reader insight into, and further character development of, peripheral characters in the series. But like Once Broken Faith, it’s really only going to have a good meaning and impact for those who’ve read the novels in the October Daye universe.

Having said that, the October Daye universe is on my 2016 Hugo Best Series shortlist.


Down and Out in Purgatory, by Tim Powers (Kindle sample)

downandoutinpurgatorySubterranean Press, editor unknown

cover art by Dave McKean, design by Desert Isle Design

Synopsis: Years ago, one of the guys in the college gang married the girl in the gang – then later on, murdered her. Another one of the gang, who was in love with her, has sworn revenge and spent the last 6 years looking for the killer. A PI finally finds him – in the morgue, having died happy at his Malibu estate with a drink in his hand and his latest girlfriend in his bed. The protagonist thinks the killer got off way too easy, and decides to get the assistance of a practitioner of the occult in achieving revenge in the afterlife.

What I thought: I read Salvage and Demolition a couple of months ago and absolutely loved it, so I had high hopes for this. I thought it was good, but it didn’t quite get to “great” for me. I would have liked to have gotten to see a little more of what was behind the protagonist’s life history and motivations. Worth reading.


The Drowning Eyes, by Emily Foster (excerpt)

thedrowningeyesTor.com, edited by Carl Engle-Laird

cover art by Cynthia Sheppard, design by Christine Foltzer

Synopsis: Tazir captains a ship in a world where Windspeakers shape the weather to help ships along their routes – for a price. But now the world is threatened by reavers on Dragon Ships who leave only destruction in their wake. Tazir and her crew take on a wealthy young female passenger and leave port in time to escape the Dragon Ships – but who is the mysterious young woman, and why is she having terrible nightmares?

What I thought:  I enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would based on the synopsis. It does some nice character development and worldbuilding without having to resort to infodumping (it’s what I wish The Jewel and Her Lapidary would have been), and the plot does not follow a predictable path. This is on my Hugo Novella longlist.

Filer Comments:

  • Arifel: This might have been a bit too subtle for me as there were a lot of dynamics between the different crew members and between Tazir and Shina that didn’t really come through for me until right at the end, but I still enjoyed.
  • Mark-kitteh: I thought it was going to get rather cliched but the middle section had some good characters and an interesting ambiguity about how the Windspeakers get created (although it was a theme that The Fifth Season looked at much better). Unfortunately I didn’t think it stuck the ending at all.

The Ballad of Black Tom, by Victor LaValle (excerpt)

theballadofblacktomTor.com, edited by Ellen Datlow

cover art by Robert Hunt

Synopsis: The protagonist of the story is a young black man living in Harlem, who survives in New York City and supports his ailing father by engaging in petty scams and cons – enduring constant harassment and abuse from police and other white people. Despite his utter lack of singing and guitar-playing ability, he is hired by a mysterious old man to provide background music at a very unusual house party.

What I thought: This novella is a response, written by a black man, to H.P. Lovecraft’s most notoriously racist story, The Horror at Red Hook. I think that fans of Lovecraft will enjoy the way it deconstructs and re-writes HPL’s racism into a uniquely black perspective. Even though Lovecraft, Horror, and Weird really aren’t my thing, I found it interesting and worth reading.

Filer Comments:

  • emgrasso: checks a lot of boxes for Lovecraftiana, but I don’t think it really works as a whole. The sections where the story had atmosphere that worked instead of feeling like it was just going through the motions weren’t the Lovecraftian ones. And even outside the supposedly spooky stuff, there was an important plot point regarding a “shocking” straight razor that fell flat for me – what else would a poor black man in the 1920s have shaved with?
  • Bonnie McDaniel: The story suffers, in my view, from an unnecessary POV shift about halfway through. It would have made for a tighter focus and characterization if the author had stuck to the original POV character throughout, although as the story unfolded, that would have resulted in going to some pretty dark places. This one would also have been better at a greater length, I think. As it is, it’s okay, but nowhere near the fantastic Lovecraft Country.

Everything Belongs to the Future, by Laurie Penny (excerpt)

everythingbelongstothefutureTor.com, edited by Patrick Nielsen Hayden

cover photo by Oleksiy Maksymenko, design by FORT

Synopsis: In the near future, the wealthy and talented benefit from vastly-extended lifespans due to a revolutionary drug. A group of futuristic underground Robin Hoods are doing their best to see that the “ordinary” people have the chance to enjoy some of those benefits. But there’s a Judas in their midst: one who has neither their goals, nor their best interests, in mind…

What I thought: Oh, wow. This is a powerful story of “haves” versus “have nots”, of deceit versus informed consent, of cowardice and heroism, of betrayal and retribution and remorse and repentance. I do not recommend reading this when spoon levels are low – but I definitely recommend reading it. This is my first choice for Hugo Best Novella.


Brushwork, by Aliya Whiteley (read online)

brushworkGigaNotoSaurus, edited by Rashida J. Smith

Synopsis: In a climate-devastated future world, crops are grown in biodomes by workers privileged enough to be allowed to escape the horrible conditions outside, and the fresh fruits and vegetables are sold to those who are wealthy enough to afford them. But the “have-not”s outside the domes have a plan for changing the status quo.

What I thought: This is an incredibly uncomfortable story to read right now, because the main theme is echoed repeatedly throughout the narrative: just how willing will people be, to make the moral and ethical compromises which throw their co-humans “under the bus” – as long as they think that they themselves will benefit? Just how large does the possibility of personal reward have to be, before human beings will choose to be complicit in sacrificing others — and then to look the other way when the inevitable happens? This is a moving and powerful story, and it is on my Hugo Novella longlist.

Filer Comments:

  • Dawn Incognito: Post-apocalyptic UK hitting on the gulf between generations and haves vs. have-nots.
  • Cassy B.: thanks for the pointer to it. Powerful story.

The Arrival of Missives, by Aliya Whiteley (excerpt)

thearrivalofmissivesUnsung Stories, edited by George Sandison

cover art by Jana Heidersdorf, design by Martin Cox

Synopsis: A young woman, on the cusp of adulthood after World War I, learns that she has a much larger destiny than even her own high aspirations – but if she follows that destiny, it will mean giving up her own hopes and plans. On May Day, on the village green, she will have to make a choice that will affect her life forever… and change worlds.

What I thought: Well, Brushwork is indeed a powerful story – but I was absolutely blown away by this one. I’m still thinking about it, days later. This is a story about free will, and the choices we make, and the fact that no matter what choice we make, there will often be a cost – to ourselves, or to someone else. This book will speak to anyone who has ever had to sacrifice something life-changingly important to themselves in order place priority on what’s best for someone else (I would describe its theme as “The Lady Astronaut from Mars on speed”). Right now the e-book is still rather expensive, but I encourage everyone to try to get access to it, if it’s not affordable, through the library, a loan from a friend (the kindle version is loanable), or a purchase. I think you will be very glad you did. This is definitely going on my Hugo Novella ballot.


The Warren, by Brian Evenson (excerpt)

thewarrenTor.com, edited by Ann VanderMeer

cover art by Victor Mosquera, design by Christine Foltzer

Synopsis (jacket copy): X doesn’t have a name. He thought he had one – or many – but that might be the result of the failing memories of the personalities imprinted within him. Or maybe he really is called X. He’s also not as human as he believes himself to be. But when he discovers the existence of another – above ground, outside the protection of the Warren – X must learn what it means to be human, or face the destruction of their two species.

What I thought: I was really looking forward to reading this, based on the jacket copy. I’ve read at least 32 of the Tor.com novellas now, and although I liked some of them a lot, and some of them not so much, this is the first one where I’ve actually wondered why it got published. I think that there are a few seeds of a good story here – but that it’s seriously undercooked and full of been-done-before. It’s like a mashup of Wool, Flowers for Algernon, and Impostor. Not recommended, at least by me.

Filer Comments:

  • Mark-kitteh: I think this novella gives you fair warning when it begins with a dedication to Gene Wolfe. Someone called X has awoken in a place they know is called the warren. They seem to think they have been created, and that they have the memories of their predecessors, who were also created. They know the hostile conditions will kill them soon, and they’d like to create themselves a successor, but they can’t, and the computer they can talk to is failing and unhelpful. Events occur which start to explain what might be going on, and then I turned the page to see “About the Author” staring at me, and I didn’t really know what it had all been about. If someone else reads this and says it was a wonderful multi-layered narrative then I’ll totally believe them, but I was tired and I just went huh?

A Window Into Time, by Peter F. Hamilton (excerpt) (e-book only)

awindowintotimeawindowintotimeusDel Rey / Pan Books, edited by Bella Pagan

cover art by Kathleen Lynch, using images from CHAINFOTO24/Shutterstock (buildings) and ovi 801/Shutterstock (clock)

Synopsis: A 13-year-old boy with an eidetic memory (and probably a strong streak of Asperger’s) remembers everything he’s ever seen, heard, or experienced. And suddenly, he’s remembering flashes of someone else’s memories. How? And why? And will he be able to figure it out in time to save another person’s life?

What I thought: I liked this better than I thought I would, given the YA protagonist. I would say that it probably provides some good insights into the thought processes of someone who is in the Asperger’s spectrum. The author nails the ending, I think, but it didn’t quite wow me enough for me to consider it for Hugo nomination.

 

 

 

 

 

 


This Census-Taker, by China Miéville (excerpt)

thiscensustakerDel Rey, edited by Mark Tavani

cover photo by Wusheng Wang, design by David G. Stevenson

Synopsis: A little boy living in a cottage high above the nearby town witnesses his father killing his mother – or does he? At any rate, she’s gone – and his father is becoming progressively more angry, irrational, and abusive. But then a stranger comes to town – a stranger who sees that something is wrong, and who may be in a position to help.

What I thought: Readers who are looking for any sort of explanation – any sort at all! – will likely be very frustrated with this story. It offers lots of provocative descriptions, and tantalizing hints and clues, but nothing whatsoever of any real explanation or resolution. It’s an interesting read, but in the end, in order for me to love it, I needed a little more than the story was willing to provide. Readers who are okay with unsolved mysteries may find a lot here about which to think and speculate.

Filer Comments:

  • Dawn Incognito: Challenging. Mysterious, haunting, and occasionally brutal. If you’re familiar with Miéville this should not be surprising. There are many questions, and I’m sure many clues, but no easy answers. I may reread shortly to see what I can pick up that made no sense the first time through. The narrative shifts, mostly first-person with the odd second- and third-. Possibly a distancing mechanism from the traumatic events the narrator is going through. Possibly something else. I’m not sure I “got” it. I’m not sure I will. But it will stay with me for some time. Worth the challenge, I think.
  • Bartimaeus: Weird, creepy tale of a small town with sinister secrets lurking under the surface. This story has many intriguing enigmas and a very unreliable narrator. For starters, did his mother kill his father, or his father kill his mother? Miéville’s prose is just hypnotic here, and I love the atmosphere he builds. Though the ending doesn’t reveal all the answers, it is very tantalizing. (I suspect this aspect won’t work for everyone). I really loved this and will probably re-read it sometime.
  • More rot-13 discussion in this thread
  • Vasha: A good essay on This Census-Taker by Daniel Maidman (to be read only after the book).

The Last Days of New Paris, by China Miéville (excerpt)

thelastdaysofnewparisthelastdaysofnewparissubeditionDel Rey / Subterranean Press, edited by Mark Tavani

Del Rey cover photo by Claudia Carlsen, design by David G. Stevenson

Subterranean Press cover art by Vincent Chong, design by Desert Isle Design

Synopsis: In 1941, an “S-blast” is set off in Nazi-occupied Paris. Nine years later, a Surrealism expert who is a member of the Resistance movement lives a hellish existence in a city overrun with living Surrealist entities, and demons conjured by the Nazis in an attempt to fight back.

What I thought: This story definitely falls into the category of The New Weird. As with Bellitt Voe, the plot here (such as it is) is merely a vehicle for the vivid imagery and nonsensical occurrences. Readers who are fans of Lovecraft, or Surrealism, or VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, may very well enjoy this. I have a college minor in French language, history, and culture, I love Paris, and I have a bit of amateur art education, so hoped that I would enjoy New Paris more than I did. I found the Area X books interesting in a “but a little bit of this goes a loooooong way” sense – and after those, apparently little of my appetite for such things was left over for this story.

There is a “Notes” section, keyed by page number, describing the origin of each of the Surrealist manifestations. Readers may wish to flip back to this each time one appears in the story, as I think it will enhance the appreciation of the imagery. Simultaneous access to Google to look up the referenced images would probably enhance appreciation, as well.

I would say that this is definitely a “Marmite” story – readers will likely either love it or hate it. My reaction was “meh – I’ve got another book sitting here that I’d really rather read”.

Filer Comments:

  • Rob Thornton: It’s a magic realist book about Surrealism and WWII, but the first 50 pages or so felt like a drag. Mieville is usally a crackerjack prose writer but something is missing here. Maybe it’s because I dearly love Lisa Goldstein’s The Dream Years (which is similar in some ways). But I’ll try it again.

Forest of Memory, by Mary Robinette Kowal (excerpt)

forestofmemoryTor.com, edited by Lee Harris

cover art by Victo Ngai, design by Christine Foltzer

Synopsis: This story is a recounting of an experience in a near-future time when everyone is wired into the net all the time, by someone who hunts down antiquities and documentation of rare experiences and sells them to collectors for a living. The protagonist gets kidnapped, and cut off from the net, and forced to deal with her kidnappers.

What I thought: Trigger Warning for ALL THE TYPOS. This is an integral part of the premise for the story, but it annoyed the hell out of me and kept kicking me out of it. I really liked the premise of the story, and I thought that it showed a lot of promise, but it just didn’t go far enough to satisfy me. I’m hoping that she’ll develop it into a novel (if she does, I’ll just have to figure out how to deal with the typo angst).

Filer Comments:

  • Arifel: The worldbuilding in this is subtle and believable and its very readable but ultimately didn’t feel like a finished story to me.
  • Mark-kitteh: this is a really interesting and elegant story… There’s perhaps not that much to the story, but MRK really digs into her theme and fills the whole story with it. One thing though – there’s a gimmick in which the story is being typed on an antique typewriter, and so there are typos and so on. Sent me mad.
  • Cat Eldridge: Forest of Memory was originally part of the METAtroplis series, so it feels like a part of something bigger because it was. I found that that since there was a shared universe framework, some of the stories really didn’t work if you hadn’t read the stories preceding a given story.

Penric and the Shaman, by Lois McMaster Bujold [World of the Five Gods, Penric #2] (Kindle sample)

penricandtheshaman

penricandtheshamansubeditionSpectrum Literary Agency (2016) / Subterranean Press (February 2017), editor unknown

Spectrum cover art “Grindelwald” by Jakob Samuel Weibel (1771-1846)

Subterranean Press cover art by Lauren St. Onge

Synopsis: This sequel picks up 4 years after Penric’s Demon left off: with Penric gradually adjusting to the 12-personality demon which inhabits his psyche (and with the demon adjusting to him). There’s the mystery of a murder and a missing man – and Penric is tasked to solve both.

What I thought: It’s a testament to Bujold’s supreme skill that this story, like its predecessor, is just so quietly awesome. The conflicts are, for the most part, subdued – but no less impactful for that. Penric is a flawed but wonderful character who is easy to care about – and his quiet, thoughtful approach, tempered with a wry humor, makes a really nice contrast to the all-too-common over-the-top superhero protagonist.

Filer Comments:

  • lurkertype: I read Penric and the Shaman when it came out in June and quite liked it. I like the earlier part of that world (The Hallowed Hunt, Penric’s Demon) more than the later part. I like the Five Gods.
  • Lee Whiteside: A worthy follow up to the first novella.
  • Mark-kitteh: +1 on Penric and the Shaman – she took it in an interesting direction, I thought.
  • ULTRAGOTHA: Penric and the Shaman is very, very good, too.
  • Greg Hullender: I just read and reviewed Penric and the Shaman and gave it five stars… I think this novella is very readable even for someone who didn’t read Penric’s Demon.
  • Cheryl S.: I also just read Penric and the Shaman. It was good and I liked it, but it was too creamy smooth for me to really like it. I think she’s such a good writer, but not in the least showy and sometimes I find that less than interesting, even if all the parts work well. I wonder if the reason her longer stuff works better is because then the accumulation of her talent and skill is more noticeable?

Penric’s Mission, by Lois McMaster Bujold [World of the Five Gods, Penric #3] (Kindle sample)

penricsmissionSpectrum Literary Agency, editor unknown

cover art “View of Ragusa” by Emil Jakob Schindler (1842 – 1892)

Synopsis: Penric has been sent on an undercover mission to another country, to recruit a highly-skilled general who has offered to aid in their own military endeavors. But immediately upon disembarking from his ship, Penric is taken captive by the King’s forces and thrown into a black hole in the prison. What’s more, the general himself has been imprisoned. Penric must somehow find a way to retrieve the situation – balancing duty with personal obligation – with the help of the general’s highly-intelligent sister.

What I thought: Penric has come into his own at this point. He has assimilated well with his demon and its dozen different personalities, and has learned how to use their knowledge and powers to enhance his own intelligence and capabilities. As with the previous stories, Penric’s mission here is to try to reconcile doing his official job with doing what he personally feels is right – and like the previous stories, this one makes the reader feel quietly satisfied and uplifted by the ending. Caveat: this one ends in a bit of a “what happens now?” place, and readers who find that frustrating may wish to wait until the fourth story is released.

Filer Comments:

  • ULTRAGOTHA: unlike the other two novellas, this one ends in a place that cries for another story *right now*. Bujold is writing these novellas fairly quickly (at lightning speed, for her) so I’m hopeful maybe next year?
  • Greg Hullender: While it doesn’t have the plot sophistication of Penric’s Demon or Penric and the Shaman, the writing is excellent, and the story is pure fun.
  • Nickp: Based on the title, I was half-expecting (and half hoping for) Penric’s expedition to convert the Roknari to Quintarianism. But not that kind of mission. Pseudo-Byzantine Empire was fun, anyway.
  • robinareid: it’s pure joy and love and happiness on all levels.

Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire [Wayward Children] (excerpt)

everyheartadoorwayTor.com, edited by Lee Harris

cover photos by Colin Anderson (forest), Martin Barraud (doorway), design by FORT

Synopsis: This is a dark, bittersweet story about the children who fall into fantasy worlds where they become heroes, and then find themselves lost and unable to cope when they are returned to the “real” world. An adult who was one of those children brings as many troubled children as she can find and save to her boarding house, an environment where they can be among others who understand and empathize with their pain.

What I thought: Damn that Seanan McGuire, damn her! Every time I read the backcover synopsis for one of her stories, I think, “Well, that doesn’t sound as though I’d much enjoy it” – and then I read it and enjoy it immensely. On my novella list for next year’s Hugos right now. TW for graphic mutilation scenes. A prequel, Down Among the Sticks and Bones, will be published in June 2017.

Filer Comments:

  • emgrasso: short but intense, with a main viewpoint character I really appreciated and a wonderful ending. I’m very glad there will be more stories in that universe.
  • Snodberry Fields: it was good. If you have enjoyed other works by Seanan McGuire you should read this too. The world building and characterization was first class! I just loved reading about these people. I cannot imagine that his will not be on my ballot next year.
  • Ryan H: I’m going to second Every Heart a Doorway. Anyone who is interested in identity and representation in books needs to give this a read. Oh, and is also a fantastic story!
  • Kyra: Pros: The characters and concepts are great, absolutely on the level of what I consider her best books. It gets recommended by me here on the strength of these. Cons: The plot; it was (in large part) a murder mystery where the perpetrator was completely obvious to me right away. I know she can write a mystery where that isn’t the case, Indexing certainly didn’t have an obvious villain, so I’m not sure why it happened here.
  • robinareid: thought Every Heart a Doorway AMAZING, especially the ending which was a lovely twist on conventional ending of that genre.
  • Vasha: Every Heart a Doorway is simply beautiful… the overriding mood of the story is wistfulness, and it’s perfectly captured… The main characters are tremendously appealing (yes, even the amoral mad scientist); they are a group of clever misfits who support each other fiercely, although recognizing that they can’t provide a true home for each other… It’s a short novella, and it’s just the perfect length. I don’t think anything needed to be added to flesh out its themes and characters; it says what it had to say and ends on the right note.
  • Mark-kitteh: I found it interesting that there was some overlap in concept with Not by Wardrobe, Tornado, or Looking Glass, although the execution was from different angles. Each story must have been written without being aware of the other. What I liked about the earlier story was that the concept seemed so clever and natural that I was surprised I’d never seen it treated quite that way before, and then another version comes along!
  • Doctor Science: A great premise, beautifully creepy prose, and not the expected ending. My only problem: it’s a murder mystery, and it fails what I call The John Donne Test (“Any man’s death diminishes me”). The Test is: Is there a second murder? If there is, you fail, boom. If it’s a mystery story without *any* murder, you get an A.
  • Arifel: a good read but not the mind blowing tale I was hoping for from the premise.
  • Chris S.: this is really really good. I was surprised by the depth and complexity which got folded into such a short book. (click on hyperlink for rot-13 comment) She could have spun this out to trilogy length, but I think it’d have lost the impact at that length.
  • Greg Hullender: Although there are a lot of characters, they’re so well drawn that I never mixed them up, and I cared about all the key ones. The plot is multithreaded and works itself out perfectly. And the ending is moving.
  • Lowell Gilbert: I actually thought the ending was a bit predictable to be effecting. McGuire had written herself into a bit of a corner where there were a limited number of ways out. Still a great book, though.
  • Stephen Granade: I’ll be the nth person gushing over Every Heart a Doorway. Eerie, effecting, and in turns frightening and uplifting.
  • Bruce Baugh: has a remarkably good portrayal of a trans boy as one of the main characters. I live with a high degree of dysphoria myself and found much to recognize in his portrayal, and several trans friends have been recommending it independently of each other.
  • Kendall: it was very good – I recommend it! The audiobook narrator was quite good. I enjoyed the world building and characters, especially, and also the plot; it was a well-rounded story. It made a great stand-alone

These novellas are also on my list to read, but have not yet arrived at my library:

A Taste of Honey, by Kai Ashante Wilson [Sorcerer of the Wildeeps #2] (related short fiction with character background)

atasteofhoneyTor.com, edited by Carl Engle-Laird

cover art by Tommy Arnold, design by Christine Foltzer

Synopsis (jacket copy): Long after the Towers left the world but before the dragons came to Daluça, the emperor brought his delegation of gods and diplomats to Olorum. As the royalty negotiates over trade routes and public services, the divinity seeks arcane assistance among the local gods.

Aqib bgm Sadiqi, fourth-cousin to the royal family and son of the Master of Beasts, has more mortal and pressing concerns. His heart has been captured for the first time by a handsome Daluçan soldier named Lucrio. In defiance of Saintly Canon, gossiping servants, and the furious disapproval of his father and brother, Aqib finds himself swept up in a whirlwind gay romance. But neither Aqib nor Lucrio know whether their love can survive all the hardships the world has to throw at them.

Set in the same world as, but not really a sequel to, The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps.


The Lost Child of Lychford, by Paul Cornell [Witches of Lychford #2] (excerpt)

thelostchildoflychfordTor.com, edited by Lee Harris

cover photo by Getty Images, design by FORT

Synopsis (jacket copy): It’s December in the English village of Lychford – the first Christmas since an evil conglomerate tried to force open the borders between our world and… another. Which means it’s Lizzie’s first Christmas as Reverend of St. Martin’s. Which means more stress, more expectation, more scrutiny by the congregation. Which means… well, business as usual, really.

Until the apparition of a small boy finds its way to Lizzie in the church. Is he a ghost? A vision? Something else? Whatever the truth, our trio of witches (they don’t approve of “coven”) are about to face their toughest battle, yet!


Hammers on Bone, by Cassandra Khaw [Persons Non Grata #1] (excerpt)

hammersonboneTor.com, edited by Carl Engle-Laird

cover art by Jeffrey Alan Love, design by Christine Foltzer

Synopsis (jacket copy): John Persons is a private investigator with a distasteful job from an unlikely client. He’s been hired by a ten-year-old to kill the kid’s stepdad, McKinsey. The man in question is abusive, abrasive, and abominable.

He’s also a monster, which makes Persons the perfect thing to hunt him. Over the course of his ancient, arcane existence, he’s hunted gods and demons, and broken them in his teeth.

As Persons investigates the horrible McKinsey, he realizes that he carries something far darker. He’s infected with an alien presence, and he’s spreading that monstrosity far and wide. Luckily Persons is no stranger to the occult, being an ancient and magical intelligence himself. The question is whether the private dick can take down the abusive stepdad without releasing the holds on his own horrifying potential.

A sequel, A Song for Quiet, is due out in August 2017.


Project Clio, by Stephen Baxter (Kindle sample)

projectclioP.S. Publishing, editor unknown

cover art by Ilan Sheady

Synopsis (jacket copy): For the last decade we really have been waging a secret war against super-villains. It’s just as well the general public are too common-sense to believe any of it…

It’s 1969. Astronauts have just landed on the moon. In Britain, Harold Wilson is Prime Minister. And the Avengers are on TV. Detective Sergeant Clare Seeley, juggling work and family commitments, is aware of peculiar goings-on at the heart of the concrete-jungle new town that is her patch…

Agnes Doyle, brilliant computer scientist and unwilling precognitive, is about to be plunged into a lethally perilous situation…

The Sergeant and Lucy Pennyweather, gaudy swinging-London adventurers, are drawn to a peculiar conspiracy surrounding a pirate radio ship…

Henry Messen, veteran of the First World War and a special forces operative in the Second under the cover of a bumbling Home Guard officer, is on the track of a fugitive Nazi engineer with a very strange secret…

And Thelma Bennet, head of Project Clio the Cross-Agency League of Intelligence Operatives – is closing in on a global threat.

It’s 1969. Not as you know it. The way you always thought it was.


The Days of Tao, by Wesley Chu [Tao #4] (Kindle sample)

thedaysoftaothedaysoftaosubeditionAngry Robot / Subterranean Press, editor unknown

Angry Robot cover art by Argh! Nottingham

Subterranean Press cover art by Galen Dara, designer unknown

Synopsis (jacket copy): Cameron Tan wouldn’t have even been in Greece if he hadn’t gotten a ‘D’ in Art History. Instead of spending the summer after college completing his training as a Prophus operative, he’s doing a study abroad program in Greece, enjoying a normal life – spending time with friends and getting teased about his crush on a classmate.

Then the emergency notification comes in: a Prophus agent with vital information needs immediate extraction, and Cameron is the only agent on the ground, responsible for getting the other agent and data out of the country. The Prophus are relying on him to uncomplicate things.

Easy.

Easy, except the rival Genjix have declared all-out war against the Prophus, which means Greece is about to be a very dangerous place. And the agent isn’t the only person relying on Cameron to get them safely out of the country – his friends from the study abroad program are, too. Cameron knows a good agent would leave them to fend for themselves. He also knows a good person wouldn’t. Suddenly, things aren’t easy at all.


The Burning Light, by Bradley P. Beaulieu and Rob Ziegler (excerpt)

theburninglightTor.com, edited by Justin Landon

cover art by Richard Anderson, design by Christine Foltzer

Synopsis (jacket copy): Disgraced government operative Colonel Chu is exiled to the flooded relic of New York City. Something called the Light has hit the streets like an epidemic, leavings its users strung out and disconnected from the mind-network humanity relies on. Chu has lost everything she cares about to the Light. She’ll end the threat or die trying.

A former corporate pilot who controlled a thousand ships with her mind, Zola looks like just another Light-junkie living hand to mouth on the edge of society. She’s special though. As much as she needs the Light, the Light needs her too. But, Chu is getting close and Zola can’t hide forever.

Pixel Scroll 1/15/16 By Grabthar’s Hammer, You Shall Be Scrolled!

Schedule note: There will not be a Scroll on January 16 – I will be away at a meeting and won’t have time to prepare one. I’ll still moderate comments, since I can do that by using my Kindle to check in periodically.

(1) DOWN THESE MEAN FOOTPATHS. Peter McLean, author of Drake, explains some of his work in a post at Black Gate, “On Writing Modern Noir Fantasy”.

A Noir world.

So what’s that? Noir needs to be dark, by definition, but I don’t think it has to be tied to any particular time period. The classic Hollywood Noir is set in LA or New York in the 1940s but it can work equally well in the backstreets of ancient Rome or the mean cantinas of Mos Eisley, or even in modern South London for that matter.

Noir implies bitter, cynical black-and-white men in hats and beautiful, dangerous women with secrets to hide, but it doesn’t have to be that either. You could have a hard-bitten battle-scarred female veteran of an alien war as your main character and still be writing Noir.

It’s about the feel and the vibe rather than the place or even the people who occupy that place. Noir is about dark thoughts and dark motives, deep introspection followed by double-crosses in back alleys and brief moments of sudden, brutal violence.

But there is a certain aesthetic as well, and I think that’s important. To understand the visual motif you only have to look at how the old movies play with light and shadow, the half-seen faces and the way sunbeams stream through the slats of a blind into the air of a smoky room.

(2) LISTEN IN. Leah Schnelbach of Tor.com was there for – “Race, Publishing, and H.P. Lovecraft: A Conversation With Daniel José Older and Victor LaValle”.

Earlier this week, a large and enthusiastic crowd packed Greenlight Bookstore in defiance of freezing temperature and threats of snow. Greenlight hosted a launch party for Midnight Taxi Tango, Daniel José Older’s second novel in the Bone Street Rumba series. But rather than the usual reading-and-wine-soaked-light-conversation that is the centerpiece of most literary events, this party soon became a lively and wide-ranging conversation about race, publishing, and the true legacy of H.P. Lovecraft. Older’s reading was fantastic, but it was his discussion with Victor LaValle, author of The Devil in Silver and the forthcoming The Ballad of Black Tom, that turned the event into one of the best literary nights I’ve ever attended.

(3) FREAKY FRIDAY. Washington Post writer Peter Marks reports the Disney Theatrical Group and Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia are producing a musical version of Freaky Friday, which will receive its premiere this fall. The musical will be composed by Tom Kitt with lyrics by Brian Yorkey.

In a deal that rockets Signature Theatre into a whole new producing orbit, the Arlington company will team up this fall with the Walt Disney Co. to present a world-premiere musical version of “Freaky Friday,” with a score by the Pulitzer Prize-winning team behind “Next to Normal.”

(4) BEAR NECESSITIES. Adam Rowe’s “The Taxonomy of Crazy Fantasy Art: A Visual History of 1970s Polar Bear-Drawn Sleighs” at the B&N Sci-FI & Fantasy Blog, a glorious post idea in its own right, includes this insightful quote —

As one blogger at the Ragged Claws Network puts it, “Chaykin’s attempt to supply Urlik Skarsol’s polar bear team with a semi-plausible harness […] actually diminishes rather than enhances Frazetta’s gloriously silly original concept by drawing undue attention to the mundane question of how, exactly, the fantasy hero’s cool mode of transportation could be made to work in the real world and whether Chaykin’s design is, in fact, a viable solution.”

(5) NOT HAPPY DAYS. Geek Art Gallery shows what forces would have been awakened if these new heroes and villains had met while attending Star Wars High School.

(6) YODA YOU CAN TALK LIKE. Infogram by Grammarly.

Star-Wars-Grammar-By-Yoda

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, and Martin Morse Wooster for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Alan Baumler.]