The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Del Rey)
In The Daughter of Doctor Moreau, Ms. Moreno-Garcia re-examines a story that has been intriguing us for well over a century. The original novel, The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G Wells, was published in 1896. It was followed by three movies. The first, made in 1932, was titled The Island of Lost Souls, and starred Charles Laughton and Richard Arlen. In 1977 it was remade under the original title, The Island of Doctor Moreau, and starred Burt Lancaster and Michael York. It was remade again in 1996, with Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer.
The story deteriorated over the years. H.G. Wells was an ardent social activist, particularly appalled by the then common practice of vivisection. His book was intended to highlight its horrors. It was a serious novel, and was not well received at first, specifically because it was so horrifying. The 1932 movie was excellent. I saw it years ago, and the memory still gives me shivers. It’s a little hard to find these days. It’s on YouTube, but mixed in with numerous adulterated versions. You have to hunt for it. Then the 1977 movie was very bad, and the 1996 version went beyond bad to utterly dreadful. Fortunately, Ms. Moreno-Garcia’s novel restores the tale to its former stature.
The basic story remains the same. A stranger comes to the island. Usually he’s marooned, although in the new book [INB], he’s a new hire. (Because, yes, Dr. Moreau needs staff.) He finds a deserted jungle island (or INB, a nearly deserted jungle island) with only two visible residents: Dr. Moreau, and a beautiful young woman identified as his daughter. They are surrounded by a group of misshapen, inarticulate persons, either his servants or his patients. We soon learn that Moreau is engaged in what modern SF calls ‘uplift’, transforming animals into humans.
His technique varies – depending on which version you’re looking at – from vivisection to DNA injections. But he’s having trouble making his process work. The resulting creatures do not look fully human, and have trouble with human speech (many cannot talk at all.) Even apparent successes tend to revert to their original forms and behaviors. The introduction of a stranger into this mélange greatly disturbs the social balance, and the whole project erupts into violent conflagration from which the stranger and the beautiful woman narrowly escape. Just in case one of you has somehow evaded this story until now, I will not reveal the surprise ending.
So what does Ms. Moreno-Garcia have to add to this outline? As her title suggests, she makes the beautiful woman, Carlotta, the viewpoint character. Carlotta is entirely concerned with the people around her. Of course she knows where her friends came from. But they are her friends, her day-in-day-out companions, her family.
She never gives a second thought to the morality of a practice she’s grown up with. She assists her father in his work, as his nurse, administering medications and tending injuries. She accepts her father’s creations as her fellows, and takes pleasure in providing them with the special care they need.
Ms. Moreno-Garcia has also expanded the environment. Dr. Moreau is not working on an uninhabited island, just a thinly populated one. A good ways down the road, there’s a city where supplies can be purchased and travel arrangements made. There are neighbors within a day’s travel. He has a very large tract of uninhabited land, but he doesn’t own it – he rents it. His landlord is extremely interested in his work, and is providing the financing
This leads to a major shift in focus. In previous versions, the thematic emphasis was on the cruelty of the procedure. Even the later variants, where vivisection is replaced with DNA injections, the process is depicted as hideously painful, producing creatures who could not possibly have lived independently. But in this more modern work, the procedure is accomplished by subjecting the embryo to genetic changes.
Doctor Moreau may not be inflicting his creations with physical torture, but he is instead subjecting them to a subtler, crueler torture. He is breeding slaves. His landlord expects to acquire workers in exchange for the financing.
I don’t doubt you can plainly see that these changes must make a major difference in how matters play out, and I strongly encourage you to read the book and find out where the story now goes. The Daughter of Doctor Moreau is a fine book.
The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi (Tor Books) (Beware spoilers)
Do you remember when John Scalzi’s first novel, Old Man’s War came out? (Okay, it wasn’t actually the very first – it was his first traditionally published book.) It was back in 2005, and at the time there was a lot of joking about how he was channeling Robert Heinlein. But it was happy joking. Robert Heinlein, who had been with us since we were children, had been gone for seventeen years, and we missed him sorely. We were happy to have his voice back.
That was pushing twenty years ago, and Mr. Scalzi has published a lot of novels since then. And you know what? He’s still channeling Heinlein.
I thought that The Kaiju Preservation Society read just like a Heinlein juvenile. The parameters for a juvenile are not the same as those for an adult work. Characterization tends to be simplistic. So-and-So’s a prankster. Who’s-it is obsessed with dinosaurs. Goody-two-shoes has to be talked into everything, but always bring snacks. Kids are still learning their social skills, so you give them plain markers. Action – even in an ‘action’ book – tends to be a little minimal. (You don’t want to scare the kids.) And there’s lots and lots of explanations.
The Kaiju Preservation Society runs 258 pages, in 28 chapters. The first four chapters are the basic set up. We meet Jamie (the protagonist) and Rob (the bad guy). We see the circumstances that pull Jamie into the story. And at the end of chapter four (page 35) we get the exciting reveal of where he’s going and why – earth in an alternate dimension! With real kaiju! Of course, we already know those things from the liner notes, but we assume that’s just the beginning.
So in chapters five, six, and seven the staff is introduced. They explain the basics of the place – how they got there, and what they’re doing, and how it’s possible for the kaiju to exist. (That’s an issue for all the newbies.)There’s lots of odd but interesting information about the creatures. They seem to be organic nuclear reactors.
There’s a transportation system which is, naturally, unique to the environment, and constructed entirely on site with local materials). En route to the local base, there’s a close visual sighting. Yes, these critters are enormous and yes, they are insanely dangerous. The beastie snarls, and its teeth are the size of cars. It throws a tree at them. But the staff aren’t really in danger. Their pilot is a genius (like everyone else on the staff), and quickly flies them away. The biting insects prove to be the bigger nuisance. The reader learns who’s the boss and who knows how to play a ukulele.
In chapter eight, our protagonists are provided with special kaiju-jungle clothing and operations manuals. Chapter nine opens with the discovery that the coffee is terrible. “Wait a minute!” I hear you cry. “Are you going to go over this book chapter by chapter?”
What? You’re bored already? Have you murdered your inner child? I ask, because if you were ten years old, you would find all this convincing detail fascinating. I’m not being snarky, honest. Young readers – or rather young persons, whether they are reading, or not – absorb huge amounts of random data. They are still determining for themselves the parameters of their interests and what details may prove relevant. When I was thirteen, I was thrilled to discover Paul McCartney’s shoe size. A kid I knew had been to Paris over the summer. He told everyone he saw how many steps there were in the Eiffel tower.
But none of us are kids anymore. So I’ll try to speed this up. Chapter nine continues with pheromones. That’s important. It provides the staff with a means to direct kaiju behavior to a limited extent. The scientists are hoping to observe nesting and birthing procedures, so they attempt to provoke a mating interaction. In the meanwhile, we learn about their parasites. (Kaiju have lots and lots of parasites.) And when they’re dying they head to water. And when they die, they explode. (The staff learned that the hard way. Their original base was located on a lake shore.) The nuclear explosions are taken in stride by the local fauna, but strangely, they seem to thin the barrier between the worlds.
There’s an interlude in which tourists (very important tourists) visit the base. Among them is the bad guy we last saw back on earth. (He’s rich. Very, very rich.) He’s still a pig. He is surprisingly interested in the kaiju, and tries (with becoming incompetence) to steal some souvenirs. We had not previously suspected he was interested in anything but money. Jamie takes him aside and tells him he’s no longer welcome, and if he ever tries to come back, a recording of the attempted theft will reach a lot of authorities.
The pheromones worked! Bella (a female kaiju) is pregnant! The base already uses aerial cameras to keep a bird’s eye view on the local kaiju. But now the scientists are not as thrilled to settle for aerial cameras anymore. A mission is launched to set up close range cameras, so they can observe Bella’s nesting behaviors, and her eggs.
You see nothing wrong with any of this. And you are right. If you were a scientist – in any of a number of fields – you would probably kill for the opportunity to go on a mission like this, and see such things first hand. You would be fascinated by every procedure, either for capturing data, or protecting the staff. You would revel in each tiny little discovery.
But the reader is mostly watching other people make notes. For all that their surroundings are thrilling, not much actually happens. It’s like watching a movie about some guys on a roller coaster, and all the silly jokes and gossip and lifelike workplace grumbling just don’t make it more interesting. (At least not to me. I don’t doubt that Mr. Scalzi found it interesting, because he was doing the inventing.) The description of other people studying interesting stuff in an interesting place continues for one hundred fifty pages.
On page 220 (the end of chapter 24) planning of the next move is complete, and action is initiated. Things are very exciting for three chapters (32 pages) and on page 252, the heroism is completed and the six-page wrap up commences.
Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree (Tor Books)
There is not a lot to say about Legends & Lattes. It describes itself as “A Novel of High Fantasy and Low Stakes,” which is fair enough. It is a simple, gentle book about a seasoned warrior retiring from the fight to set up a coffee shop. It qualifies as high fantasy because none of the main characters are human.
They’re all mythical creatures. The protagonist, Viv, is an orc. Her former colleagues are an elf, a gnome and a dwarf. Her new friends, who assist in her endeavor, are a succubus, a hob, and a ratkin. They are joined later by Pendry, who may be human. (He’s described in one review as a bard). One character (almost certainly a fan favorite) is not even humanoid, but a dire-cat. Dire or no, this cat is a classic house kitty – except she’s the size of a Saint Bernard (or maybe even a pony). But other than the cast list, there’s not a lot of magic in the story.
Viv acquires a magic artifact at the beginning of the book. We see her claim it after a battle, as her share of the spoils. It is her possession of this artifact that inspires her to sheathe her sword and set up shop in the city.
They say any story needs some conflict. The action in this story derives from one of Viv’s former comrades deciding that she was not entitled to scoop up that artifact and take off with it. I had a little trouble with that. As I said, we see Viv claim the artifact. She did not sneak – she claimed it in plain sight. None of her companions objected at the time. And none of them supported their team-mate’s later objection.
You are probably getting annoyed with me for going on about the “artifact” without telling you what it is. But to say more would be a spoiler, as much of the book debates that very question. The rest of the story is a hymn to the pleasure of a really great cup of coffee. I was surprised to see such a light-weight book on the list of Hugo nominees. It doesn’t really deserve any awards. But I didn’t hate it. Like a P.G. Wodehouse novel, it made me chuckle often.
Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher (Tor Books)
I blush to admit that I had never read anything by T. Kingfisher before this Hugo season. Now I’ve read two. And as soon as I finish my Hugo reading, I am going to go hunt up her previous work, Ms. Kingfisher has accomplished that rare task: she writes stories that are deeply grounded in the fantasy traditions, and yet are completely original.
In Nettle & Bone we find royal palaces and the Goblin Market, villains armed with ancient swords and princesses in danger, magical godmothers and witches raising the undead. And yet none of these things are remotely like the tropes as you’ve seen them a thousand times. And yet they all conform to the basic concepts, and do (or don’t do) all the things that their position in fairy-lore calls for.
The protagonist is Marra – she’s the third daughter of the king and queen of Harbor Kingdom. It’s a small place, sandwiched in between two larger, stronger and richer kingdoms. It only exists because it has a really good harbor, and each of the neighboring kings would dearly love to march in and grab that harbor, but can’t, for fear that the other neighboring kingdom would quickly intervene. So – since the Harbor Kingdom has no sons – the Northern Kingdom decides to acquire it by marrying into it.
Right away we have a selection of glamorous royal courts, which somehow fail to sound romantic, because none of that glamor can penetrate the stench of ugly, grasping politics. Marra is sent off to a convent after the two elder sisters are married. When was the last time since Malory’s Morte D’Arthur that you saw a convent mentioned (or even presumed to exist) in a high fantasy? In Nettle & Bone, convents, despite their religious associations, are maintained by the rich and powerful who use them to dispose politely of excess women.
Ms. Kingfisher does this again and again: introduces an element to her fantasy that is startlingly practical and realistic. Marra loves the convent, because she can close her bedroom door there, and she doesn’t have to spend an hour being dressed by servants every morning. She doesn’t have to watch her tongue or keep an eye out for a backstab every minute of the day. She gets very good at embroidery, and picks up some nursing skills
Very few fantasy novels note that quests are generally composed of trudging through bad weather carrying a heavy load. When Marra and her companions cross the Blistered Land, they have to sleep on the ground in the snow, and share one egg amongst the three of them for breakfast. Here, magical godmothers are not routinely happy in their work. Royalty are almost always vicious and paranoid. Ghosts carry pointless grudges, and are often difficult to identify. Demons occasionally possess chickens. No single victory, however great, sets the world to rights. It just pushes the world in a slightly different direction.
Marra’s interior monologue is wonderful – the reader feels like they are talking to an old friend. She is so normal, so relatable, she makes everything around her feel real. She worries about everything. She constantly second-guesses her past actions, and barely notices her successes. She wonders what her friends think of her, and worries they will desert her. The only thing she doesn’t agonize about is her quest. She already knows it’s hopeless. She does it anyway.
And most of all, despite Nettle & Bone being about a magical quest to rescue a princess, it is completely original. (I wouldn’t have thought that was possible!) Even the ending is not what you expected. Read this book!
The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor Books) Beware spoilers.
The Spare Man is officially a cozy mystery, a book in which there is no explicit or grisly violence, permitting the reader to focus on solving the mystery, without having to gag on the blood and guts. (These mysteries are not usually very complex or difficult, so that the reader doesn’t get frustrated with the puzzle, and skip to the end to find out who did it.)
You could even say that The Spare Man is a ‘country house mystery’ since it takes place in a closed environment. Of course, the usual purpose of setting the mystery in a closed environment is to limit the number of suspects and associated locations. Ms. Kowal did not take advantage of that option, as The Spare Man is set on an intra-solar luxury cruise ship, as large as an entire city, only far more difficult to navigate.
Despite that, The Spare Man is definitely a cozy mystery. Really. Ms. Kowal doesn’t miss a trope. She starts out with Nick and Nora Charles (here, named Shal and Tesla), and their adorable little dog. Of course, Shal, a detective, is first on the scene after the murder. And of course, he is immediately charged with the crime. The surly and bigoted Chief of Security beats him brutally, presumably in hope of extracting a confession. Or maybe just for fun.
So Tesla has to run all over the ship, trying to solve the mystery, although she’s not a detective, and although she and Shal have agreed not to infuriate the authorities by interfering. Tesla is an insanely wealthy interplanetary celebrity, who is so plagued by fans that she has to travel under an assumed name. Her fans swarm her as if she were Beyoncé, because – wait for it – she was a brilliant roboticist seven years before.
I had a problem with this. Even on this tiny little island earth, I do not see a lot of scientist/engineers becoming major celebrities. Carl Sagan is the only scientist that I can think of who was so famous that I would recognize his picture when I saw it. And fame in the US doesn’t have to penetrate all the way to the moons of Saturn. (By the way, natives of Titan are called Titians, and they have their own music forms. For a while I thought they’d named their flute after a 16th century painter)
But Tesla has another claim on fame. She’s a tragic victim. She has steel bolts all up and down her spine, and still often needs the help of a cane to walk. She’s in pretty much constant pain, although she doesn’t let that interfere with her love life. Seven years earlier she was involved in an Accident. For over half the book the event is always referred to with an ominous capital A.
Eventually we are told that a PAMU (some kind of personal mobility unit for the handicapped) malfunctioned during testing. It was apparently in, or attached to, some kind of off-earth vehicle which had, in turn, been launched from an orbital laboratory. The attempt to disengage resulted in a ricochet, causing the vehicle to crash into the laboratory, killing six and crippling Tesla.
Aside from the steel bolts in her spine, Tesla was also assigned a service animal, with electronic implants which improve its ability to communicate with and assist its owner; hence the dog. I give Ms. Kowal full credit for having a really good idea: a cyborged service animal. Somebody should look into that.
Unfortunately, Ms. Kowal didn’t waste a lot of words on explaining the dog’s enhancements or abilities. To the reader’s eye, the dog was simply a hugely loyal companion. And terminally cute. EVERYBODY fell in love with that Westie on first sight. Strangers crossed the room to come pet Gimlet – and had to be warned off. (It really is very inappropriate to stroke a service animal.) Business associates made appointments to stop by for a play date. It was actually stated in so many words that if you don’t care for dogs, you’re a bad person. Personally, I have cats.
I don’t hate dogs. I used to work in a kennel. I’ve stopped now and then to pet a neighbor’s dog, while saying hello to the neighbor. But playdates?
As you can see, I am not being the target audience for this novel. I don’t care for mysteries and I detest romances. So, I started yawning as the familiar mystery tropes floated by, and squirming at all the love scenes. I got very, very bored with people talking baby talk to the Westie. But if you do like mysteries and/or romances you should be fine.
Friends, I sat down here intending to write up all six of the novel nominees. But, when I picked up Nona the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (Tordotcom), I discovered that it was the third volume of The Locked Tomb Series. I do not like to read series out of order. And even if was I okay with that, I saw the note in Wikipeda warning me not to attempt to read the books out of order. “You’ll never catch up,” the note read. “You’ll just get confused and give up reading it,” I was warned. So I heaved a sigh, and went to the library. It turned out that Gideon the Ninth(Volume 1) is extremely popular. There are 27 holds on it. I didn’t even look for Harrow the Ninth (Volume 2). So these are just my notes on the five that I’ve actually read. Perhaps I’ll get back to you with my thoughts about The Locked Tomb Series. Catchy title.
By Michaele Jordan: Friends, as I’ve mentioned in previous years, I always read all the Hugo nominees. Usually I do this as soon as the nominees are announced. But this year, maybe because I was so focused on the Fan Writer Hugo (You rock, Chris!), I didn’t get to it in time. So I’m reading them now.
But I didn’t cheat. I pulled a list of the nominees in plain text, without the underlining that marked the winners. I’ve always read the candidates without knowing who would win. Why should this year be different?
I’ll start with the novellas, because they were mostly available in book form at the library, and since they’re short, I can finish them quickly. So here we go.
Even Though I Knew the End by C.L. Polk (Tordotcom)
This book presents itself as a detective story. But for me, the biggest mystery in this book was the mystery of what the title was supposed to mean. There is, I admit, a scene in which the protagonist, Helen, sits down on the sofa and watches an old movie, “even though,” she remarks, “I knew the end.”
The scene itself does not appear to be important, just there for mood or characterization. We don’t learn what the movie was, or whether Helen liked it or not. She appears to be just killing time. It’s never referred to again. In fact, less attention is paid to that movie than to the numerous cups of coffee she consumes. Helen is particular about coffee.
I believe Mx. Polk focused on that coffee specifically to establish Helen as a typical noir detective – smart, world-weary and unflappable. Helen just happens to be an auspex, or a magical detective. She receives a commission from a mysterious beautiful woman, and goes to work investigating a particularly horrific serial killer.
At the crime scene, Helen is confronted by a team of magical authorities. The unflappable world-weary pose drops like a rock. She becomes a heart-broken woman, desperate to reconcile with one of the magic-cops, who hates her for some as-yet-unrevealed offense. (Mx. Polk does like to juggle tropes; their characters change like a cage full of chameleons.) What with the yearning looks, and the frigid resistance, we are led to suspect a tragic romance, torn apart by some misunderstanding which will eventually be resolved by a little honesty.
But no. That’s not it. Soon we will meet Edith, and Helen will turn into a deeply caring, romantic lover, who wants nothing in the world so much as to escape all this darkness, and run away with her true love, only. . . she can’t. She has a dreadful secret.
She has only a few days to live. Now that, we probably didn’t see coming. It turns out that our warm-hearted, honorable, caring protagonist sold her soul to the devil ten years earlier, and her contract is nearly up. I admit that I would not normally expect someone with no soul to be warm-hearted, honorable and caring, but this is a different world.
Apparently here, your soul has nothing to do with your character – it’s just a thing. Sort of a ticket stub to get you into heaven (which is real, and so sublime that anybody brought back from there to life will hold a permanent grudge.) A world so different from ours that angels can be serial killers, and the most reliable, trustworthy character in the book is a demon. There is nothing in this ‘mystery’ that a reader can hope to solve, since no human rules apply, and all the clues are magical artifacts never heard of in our mundane reality. Just gotta hope you love the miasma.
Into the Riverlands by Nghi Vo (Tordotcom)
This story is strangely reminiscent of The Canterbury Tales. In the Chaucer, a large group of pilgrims are travelling together to the shrine of Thomas Becket (who got sainted for pissing off his drinking buddy (the king) when he turned into a Jesus freak). They pass the time with a storytelling contest. Into the Riverlands follows a good natured (gender-free) cleric named Chih who picks up some travelling companions on their way to Betony Dock, and they, too, tell each other stories along the way.
The resemblance ends there. The Riverside party is much smaller. And Chaucer didn’t include bandits or martial artists, as does Ms. Vo.
This book is the third in the Singing Hills cycle – all featuring Cleric Chih of the Singing Hills Abbey – following The Empress of Salt and Fortune and When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain. The liner notes assure me that the books can be read independently, in no particular order. This is true. I skipped the liner notes, and never noticed that I had landed in a series.
Chih is a gentle, easygoing person. They are a peacemaker, with no fighting skills. Their abbey is more concerned with the preservation of history than the observance of ritual, and Chih takes that calling very seriously, travelling extensively in search of more historical tales. They are assisted in their work by their companion, Almost Brilliant, who looks like a beautiful bird, except it talks, and is a brilliant scholar with total recall. As you might guess, the book is a bit episodic, but not unpleasantly so. Just the opposite. It is charming, and I recommend it.
Mirror Mended by Alix E. Harrow (Tordotcom)
This book is a sequel to A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow, which took the best novella Hugo in 2022. I remarked then that it had a truly splendid, heartrending opening, but the very act of launching into the story resolved Sleeping Beauty’s initial peril, leaving the story with nowhere to go. The ending was ineffectual. Some magic gets thrown around, everybody’s problems are fixed, except for the protagonist, and she decides that maybe she’ll become a magical superhero rescuing timid princesses. I confess, I was extremely surprised that it took the Hugo.
But that was then. Over a year ago. Picking up A Mirror Mended, I again skipped the liner notes, and dove in. And it’s Sleeping Beauty again. Already I’m rolling my eyes. Is this the new thing? Are we going to get story after story after story about Sleeping Beauty, until she’s as tired as vampires? Very slowly it dawns on me that this is a sequel.
NOT a good idea. Ms. Harrow had already run out of things to say about Sleeping Beauty half way through the first book. You remember (from two paragraphs back) that the protagonist had decided at the end to make a career of rescuing Sleeping Beauty? When A Mirror Mended opens she tells us that she’s done just that. And now she’s bored with it. Excellent! So am I.
So she jumps over to the Snow White story, and decides to rescue the Evil Queen instead, (largely, I suspect, because this particular Snow White is doing a very good job of taking care of herself.) There’s a little shell game with the identity of the Evil Queen, and surprise! one of the Snow Whites IS the Evil Queen.
You may have noticed that my tone has grown a bit snarky. I picked that up from the protagonist. I am sorry to report that I found this to be one of the most heavily padded books I’ve ever slogged through. Virtually nothing really happens, although there is a good deal of running around and being scared. So the author fills in with the protagonist’s voice. She’s very snarky. Except when she’s being sententious. I could go through this whole book, knocking out several whole paragraphs on every page, reducing it to a short story, and nothing of the actual content would be lost.
You are probably getting annoyed with me right now. A lot of people liked this book, or it wouldn’t have made it to the ballot. But I promise I do not intend to insult them. I don’t really understand where they’re coming from but I fully acknowledge that I might well be missing something and I respect their right to their opinion. That said, I didn’t like this book, and wouldn’t have finished it if it hadn’t been a Hugo nominee.
Ogres by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Solaris)
I had a very difficult time getting into this book. Right off the bat, it’s second person, present tense. I am told that many writers feel that a second person narrative draws the reader into the story by making them feel that the author is addressing them personally. Doesn’t work for me, but maybe it does for most other people. I also don’t like present tense. Some writers think that makes the narrative more immediate. But in my experience, most people don’t talk in present tense. (Except maybe a cop calling in, “I am in the alley behind the suspect’s presumed location. Back-up requested.”)
A couple of pages further in, the narrator refers to Roben, the bandit in the woods (who sometimes wears a hood against the rain) and my shoulders hunch. Another Robin Hood mash-up? I haven’t had much luck with those.
But then, the narrator points out that a half-dozen or so half-starved outcasts living in the woods, no matter the weather, is a singularly unattractive life-style, and they’re not getting rich on the proceeds of banditry, either. At best, they earn the silence of the locals by sharing their meager take. I am charmed. Utterly and completely.
The story opens with a small, agricultural village preparing for a visit from their Landlord. The villagers are human. They are small and fragile, timid and poor. The Landlord – like all nobility – is an ogre. Large and cruel and rich off the labor of others.
This, we are assured, is the natural order of things. It’s preached in the churches. There’s even a psalm about it, ” The Master in his castle, the poor man at the gate.”
Sir Peter stands maybe nine feet tall, and is correspondingly broad. Other than that, he looks like a human. He’s brought his son Gerald along, to learn the business of managing an estate. He is greeted – so very politely – by the Headman of the village, who has also brought along his son, Torquell.
Torquell is only six feet tall, but that’s big for a human. And although he’s good natured, he thinks pretty highly of himself. The kowtowing to ogres has always grated on his nerves. Gerald soon decides this uppity villager needs to be taught his place. The situation escalates drastically leaving Gerald dead and Torquell on the run.
He’s captured by a bounty hunter, but just when Sir Peter comes to claim him – rubbing his hands together as he plots a gruesome execution – the ogress Isadora appears on the scene. She is rich and important and very curious about this peculiar human. She buys Torquell right out from under Sir Peter. She also turns out to be an astonishingly lenient master. Torquell spends years in her household, being educated and studied.
All of the above is contained in the first seven chapters. It’s told with style and wit, and keeps you turning the pages as fast as you can consume them, even though it’s mostly set-up. But then . . . It’s as if Mr. Tchaikovsky unexpectedly found himself up against a deadline. I can’t help wondering if he had originally intended to make Torquell’s saga another series, but then changed his mind.
The remaining two chapters contain twice the action of the previous seven. They read like a summary of a history book. No more wit. No more personality. Just a list of events spinning by like machine gun fire, only slowing down as the ending – which you DON’T see coming – approaches.
I liked this book, but I didn’t love it. Not Mr. Tchaikovsky’s best work, but good enough for the beach or the airport.
What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher (Nightfire)
I happened to pick up this book on the same day I watched the last episode of the TV series The Fall of the House of Usher. So it gave me a chuckle to discover that this book was also drawn from the Edgar Allen Poe story The Fall of the House of Usher.
Mind you, the two are nothing alike. The TV series is a total remix. The twins Roderick and Madeleine Usher are not heirs to an ancient (but penniless) name, living in an historic ruin on a lakeshore in the middle of nowhere. They are self-made billionaires, and the cracks in their company’s foundation are moral, not literal. Even so, they are still living on shaky ground.
Neither are they childless (Roderick has six kids – all by different mothers) or solitary. They are celebrities, with their pictures on magazine covers and their names in newspaper headlines. This actually makes their story far more tragic than the original. They have so much more to lose. Their downfall is mythic.
What Moves the Dead is much closer to the original Poe. It places the Usher twins back in their ancient family home – much of which is no longer habitable – located on the shore a lake so dank and murky, it must be called a tarn. The rest of the landscape is equally dismal. Clearly nobody would choose to live there – except Madeleine Usher.
This is where the story veers from the original Poe. We know that Madeleine insists on continuing to live there. She has a viewpoint. She has a voice. Poe’s House of Usher was NOT a character driven piece. It’s entirely about the mood invoked by the setting, about the desolate and ruined house, and all it symbolized in the way of human futility. There are only two characters.
There’s the narrator. You should know that in the early 19th century, the anonymous third person narration was not much used in fiction. It was seen as being for primarily for use in factual content – journalism and educational text, materials where it was unimportant who was speaking. Fiction was written in first person, told by someone associated closely enough with the events to relate them. So Poe’s story had a narrator: Roderick Usher’s old friend, invited to come for a visit. He has no real voice, and certainly has no opinions. He’s just there to describe what happens, and that’s all he does.
The other character is Roderick Usher, who is described in detail. Sickly and solitary, neurotically high -strung, and subject to a number of nervous complaints. It’s a wonder he has even one friend he can invite to bring some cheer into the house. Or perhaps to bear witness. If he didn’t, who would tell the tale?
You will note that I did not include Madeleine as a character. She’s rarely mentioned, beyond Roderick mentioning she’s unwell. She has no lines. We see her pass by once in a corridor. And then Roderick says she had died, and the narrator helps lay her to rest in the family tomb.
But there are characters in What Moves the Dead. Madeleine and Roderick are a long way from normal, but they are real to us. Even the narrator has a voice. Alex Easton – who was invited by Madeleine, not Roderick – is, in fact, a very interesting character. They are Gallacian, and are extremely entertaining on the subject of their homeland. They’re genderless military personnel, (read the book if you want clarification of that ) and carry arms at all times. They worry about their bad tempered horse. They’re an active participant in the story. And from the moment they arrive at the house (which is still pretty horrible even if it’s no longer be the focus of the story,) they are worried sick about both their old friends. For more than one good reason.
And there IS a story in this version of the story. I won’t risk hinting about that story. It’s deliciously complex and unexpected, Yet affectionately faithful to Poe. I recommend this book to everyone.
Where the Drowned Girls Go by Seanan McGuire (Tordotcom)
This book started with a VERY interesting premise about schools for children touched by magic. Of course, we’ve all heard about magic schools. But the schools in this book (there are two) are nothing like Hogwarts. In Hogwarts, the students are viewed as gifted, and are being trained to make the most of those gifts. They are acknowledged – and applauded – as special. None of them are less than happy to be there.
But in this book, the schools are reform schools for children who have strayed from reality. Each of these children was already unhappy before they were touched; each felt desperately out of place in their world. And each stumbled on a door, an impossible door, in a place where no door belonged. And because they were unhappy, and felt out of place, they opened that door.
In most books, that is where the story starts. This beginning is followed by a tale of magical adventure, in which wrongs are righted and lessons learned. At the end, some children return to their original homes, better equipped to face that reality. Or some children, who have no place to go back to, remain in the magical lands and build new lives.
But not this time. The children who stepped through the doors find many different magical lands: water worlds, fairy lands, candy lands. They had adventures. Maybe some children stayed on when their adventures were completed, but a lot of them – the ones this story is about – ended up stumbling through magic doors that led them back to that original home where they had already been unhappy and maladjusted. Their travels have NOT prepared them to deal with those old issues. Instead, these children are even further severed from their native reality.
It’s a fairly common occurrence in the world where this story occurs. Often enough that there are schools for these special children. There’s Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, and there’s the Whitethorn Institute. And that’s where this story begins.
I confess, I did not find this book unflawed. Ms. McGuire has an extensive cast of characters, and since each has a different story, each occasionally takes the lead as the viewpoint character. There’s nothing wrong with that – the characters are all well drawn. But the shifting of viewpoint is irregular, even erratic. I frequently had to stop, and figure out who was talking now. It could have been better handled.
Also, I believe the ending was intended to be open-ended, to leave the characters in place for their new lives. But the set-up didn’t work for me. It seemed to me that the story just drifted vaguely away from its climax to a stop, like a car that’s run out of gas.
Please note: I am NOT saying that I didn’t like this book. As I said, the characters are good. The pictures of boarding school life are scary-accurate. The magic is wonderful – subtle yet pervasive, intriguing and original. I do recommend you read it. If I say it’s not quite perfect, I only mean that very few books are genuinely perfect. This one is definitely very good.
By Michaele Jordan: Friends, you probably didn’t expect to see a dance review on File 770. What does a dance performance have to do with SF/F? Hard to explain, but you’ll understand when you see it (which you can do here. Perhaps their name will give you hint. Mayyas is a Lebanese word meaning ‘the proud walk of a lioness’.
The Mayyas are a Lebanese all-female alternative precision dance group. (Female dancers are rare in Lebanon, and all-female anything even rarer.)
The company has 36 dancers, and their routines are choreographed by their founder, Nadim Cherfan. They’ve won a lot of awards in all those ‘Got Talent’ shows: In 2019, they reached the semi-finals in Britain’s Got Talent: The Champions, and took first place in Arabs Got Talent. Then in 2022 they won America’s Got Talent, snagging the Golden Buzzer in the process.
Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati praised them, as did the Lebanese army command. President of the Republic General Michel Aoun awarded them the Lebanese Order of Merit. They also out-performed Beyoncé at the opening of the Atlantis Royal Dubai Hotel.
If you haven’t watched the attached videos yet, let me explain further why the Mayyas seem skiffy to me. They are described as a ‘precision dance group’. And they are precise – as meticulously choreographed as a Busby Berkeley routine, where every dancer’s wrist or ankle exactly matches the wrists and ankles of all the others. But while a Busby Berkeley performance is like a marching band with sequined girls doing high kicks, the Mayyas are soft and sinuous. (How’s that for an odd concept – soft, sinuous precision?)
The dancers are not arranged in a circle or a forward-facing line so that the audience can admire how they match. More often they are in single file, so that seen from the front, the silhouettes merge into each other. Only the arms remain separate, but the movements of these are perfectly synchronized. The overall effect is of a single multi-armed dancer – or a Hindu god summoning the faithful, or maybe a giant sentient snake, seducing its prey. It’s very alien and utterly entrancing. (Here’s another.)
By Michaele Jordan: Let me tell you about One Piece! ALL about it! There’s a story in that. Naturally, I always start my reviews with the production credits. Fair is fair. The production team made it. They get to put their name on it. But in the case of One Piece, the production credits are tangled in years of production history, a tale almost as convoluted as the production it describes.
And it all started with a comic book! (Excuse me – a manga) by Eiichiro Oda. Which is STILL available on Amazon!
The Japanese manga series was written and illustrated by Eiichiro Oda. It has been serialized in Shueisha’s shōnen manga magazine Weekly Shōnen Jump since July 22, 1997. (The English publisher is AUS Madman EntertainmentNA/UK Viz Media.) The manga is still running, although it is expected to come to an end in 2024 or 2025. Its individual chapters have been compiled into 106 tankōbon volumes.
Rights to the manga were taken up by Toei Animation, and the Japanese anime television series premiered on Fuji TV in October 1999. Since then, 1,087 episodes have been aired in the course of 20 seasons, and later exported to various countries around the world.
There was some kerfuffle about the crossing to the US. 4Kids Entertainment acquired the distribution license, and created an English version which premiered in September, 2004 on FoxBox before moving on to Cartoon Networks’ Toonami. 143 episodes aired.
Problem was: they hadn’t fully screened the material. Apparently something in episode 143 “was not appropriate for their intended demographic.” I’m having trouble figuring out what the problem was. I’ve read the episode’s summary, and don’t see anything wrong. I guess I’ll have to go back and watch the whole series again. (It’s not a story you can just casually jump into). Whatever it was, it caused a scandal. There was talk of re-editing it, but Mark Kirk, senior vice-president of digital media, said that producing One Piece had “ruined the company’s reputation”. So they didn’t.
It wasn’t until April 13, 2007, that Funimation (now Crunchyroll, LLC) licensed the series and started production on an English-language release of One Piece which included redubbing the episodes previously dubbed by 4Kids. It premiered on September 29, 2007. And it’s never gone away. It’s still out there, currently playing on Netflix – right next to the brand new live-action One Piece!
It’s difficult to explain the enduring fascination for this show, except perhaps to say that is so endlessly convoluted that you can never get tired of it. There is never a time or a place where you can guess what’s coming next, or figure out how the merry band of the Straw Hat Pirates can possibly get out of this one.
To those who are just embarking on this psychedelic adventure, the official synopsis reads: the story follows the adventures of Monkey D. Luffy, a boy whose body gained the properties of rubber after unintentionally eating a Devil Fruit. With his crew, named the Straw Hat Pirates, Luffy explores the Grand Line in search of the world’s ultimate treasure known as the “One Piece” in order to become the next Pirate King.
No, there’s no explanation (in the original) of what the Grand Line is (just painted on the ocean, perhaps?) the new live action gives it a wave, suggesting it’s some kind of world encircling equatorial current. Nor do we know what the One Piece is, or why it would make anyone king of anything. Most of all, we don’t understand why Luffy wants to be a pirate – he has no conception what they are; he seems to think they’re some sort of seafaring angels of mercy, seeking adventure.
So don’t waste your time trying to solve its issues logically — can’t be done! Will the new live action version live up to its glorious forbears? I can hardly wait to see!
It starts out with some excellent casting choices, starting with Iñaki Godoy as Monkey D. Luffy. (Rhymes with goofy.) As the synopsis warned, Luffy has been transformed by devil fruit. (The story is littered with adventurers who have eaten this fruit, and each has been rewarded with peculiar powers. Unique peculiar powers – you never see the same power twice.) Luffy turned into Elastic Boy (rubber, in the vernacular of the show). Every episode will show him reaching for something up on the roof, or punching a bad guy from the opposite side of the room.
Iñaki Godoy moves as if he really were made of rubber. He leans around things instead of walking past them, he rolls where most people would run. And he smiles with his entire face.
Many of the characters have been slightly changed. This did not disturb Eiichiro Oda, who argued: “A live-action adaptation of a manga doesn’t simply re-enact the source material on a one-to-one basis: It involves really thinking about what fans love about the characters, the dynamics among them — and being faithful to those elements.”
After all, no merely human actress would be as busty as Nami, the beautiful navigator. Emily Rudd introduces a dark note to the part. Although the character was always smart, the live action version is more pensive, more suspicious, even a touch haunted. She doesn’t smile much. She also wears more clothes. But she still has orange hair. One character even calls her, “the girl with orange hair.”
I was extremely curious how they would handle the live action version of swordsman Roronoa Zorro, who in the anime is famed for his inimitable three-sword technique. (And was sometimes shown holding the third sword in his teeth). The actor, Mackenyu, does not carry the sword in his teeth, but he always has his swords with him, even when he’s climbing out of a well. The live action gives us a touching back story about his acquisition of that third sword and what it means to him. Although his sword play is excellent, what we notice most about him is his grim determination. He never smiles. The anime smiles a lot — a dangerous smile.
Usopp (played by Jacob Romero Gibson ) is the most changed of the characters. In the anime, he’s a major jerk (you can tell right away because he’s ugly) and famed as a notorious liar. But in the live action version, he is positively charming. Yes, he lies. When he was a child, he ran through the streets, crying, “The pirates are coming!” No pirates came – he was just frightened, and reliving a nightmare from the past. But the townsfolk called it lying. Now he tells glorious tales of his adventures to his beloved bedridden friend, and the evil butler says he’s lying. He’s also bad news with a sling shot.
I’ve only seen the first few episodes, so I haven’t yet spotted my favorite character, Sanji, (Taz Skylar). But I can see from the pictures that he’s lost that ever-present, dangling cigarette. And I’ve read that he trained hard to master Sanji’s style of fighting – standing on his head, and spinning his feet, like a pinwheel. I’m looking forward to that!
Friends, this is a wonderful show! Watch it! Tell Netflix you’re watching it! Tell all your fan friends to watch it! This show is all things skiffy! Heroes and villains! Nearly naked goddesses! Weird super powers! Glorious fight scenes! Strange alien worlds! (Actually, they’re all supposed to be islands on the same planet, but once you get to the Grand Line, you go places that are nothing like the real world.) It doesn’t matter if you’re a gamer, or a comics fan, a devotee of costumes, magical amulets, lords and ladies, pirates or wizards, or just a seeker of adventure, this show has something for everybody.
By Michaele Jordan: I watched a wonderful movie last night, and just had to share my delight! We’ll start, of course, with the credits.
The Great Magician is a 2011 Hong Kong action fantasy comedy film, based on a 2009 novel by Zhang Haifan. It was directed by Derek Yee, who also wrote it, along with Chun Tin-nam and Lau Ho-leung. It stars Tony Leung as Chang Hsien, Sean Lau as Lei Bully (Lei Da-niu) and Zhou Xun as Liu Yin
The film is set in Beijing in the 1920s during the Warlord Era, after the fall of the Qing dynasty. The political situation is chaotic, to say the least. The city is packed with royalists, Japanese agents, politicians, warlords, military recruiters, refugees, and a wide variety of money-grubbers. Yet life in the city goes on, in something surprisingly like normal, with noncombatants taking care to remain inconspicuous, and schemers trying to look innocent.
Take Lei Bully. He’s a warlord and doing pretty well for himself. Got six gorgeous wives – and one spare. Spare? Liu Yin is his beautiful prisoner. She’s widely referred to as his seventh wife, but she insists they’re not married. Bully believes she’s being faithful to her missing fiancé and is apparently so infatuated with her that he has hesitated to use force. And she has not attempted to escape him. Because she is afraid for her father who is in prison – she says.
When not agonizing over his love life, Bully stages recruitment drives, in which his butler performs magic tricks to scare convicts into signing up. (Either the local prisons have been emptied in the confusion, or the translators are using the word ‘convict’ as a synonym for riffraff.)
The magic shows attract Chang Hsien. But not as a recruit. Chang is a much better magician than Bully’s butler. Soon he has taken over the local theater to stage his own magic shows.
His magic shows are astounding. (Trust me on this — even if you don’t want to watch the whole movie, try to catch a clip of one of Chang Hsien’s’ magic shows. You will remember it forever!) Of course, he isn’t in it just for the magic, either. He too has a political agenda. And the first time he and Liu Yin meet, we see sparks that have nothing to do with politics. Or magic.
After so much talk of magic and politics and magic, let me to reassure you there’s plenty of action, too. But not like the action you see in an action film, where big guys start throwing punches at every opportunity, with no apparent expectation of resolving anything, just because they’re so manly.
This movie is about clever people, and they don’t invite trouble casually. They always have a reason. Another clever person is Liu Yin’s father who is imprisoned of his own free will – prison being the safest place he can find. He’s discovered a wonderful, dangerous treasure. It’s a manuscript, explaining the techniques for the real magic which has been lurking under the stage magic all along.
I’ll stop here, but not for fear of spoilers. This film is so kaleidoscopic that spoilers are not really possible. You have to see the whole mandala. And it’s on Netflix.
Review by Michaele Jordan: We’ll start with the credits, as all movies do (although the credits in this movie were so tiny, I could barely read them on a good-sized TV set). 3,000 Years of Longing was directed by George Miller, who also wrote the screenplay, together with Augusta Gore. They based it on “The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye” by A. S. Byatt. It premiered at the 75th Cannes Film Festival on May 20, 2022, where it received a six-minute standing ovation. What? You’ve never heard of a movie getting a standing ovation? Neither had I.
It starts with Alithea (Tilda Swinton) on her way to a conference in Istanbul, saying she’s happy. Even when she is accosted – twice – by persons who might be more supernatural emissaries than strictly human, she’s happy. After all, she’s independent – both emotionally and financially – and engaged in work she loves, the study of stories. Although she is usually quick to pick up on such details, she does not notice that she is, herself, launching into a classic fairy tale.
Visiting a curio shop she finds a bottle. It’s a pretty thing with blue stripes curling up around the sides. It looks like a bud vase, except for the stopper. We know it’s important, because the film zeroes in on it so intently, but it looks nothing at like the traditional brass lamp from the fairy tales. Perhaps it’s a red herring?
But, no, it’s THE bottle, as Alithea learns when she tries to wash it. Enormous plumes of black and red smoke snake around the bathroom. We know it’s the djinn, of course, but he’s so large that only small parts of him are visible in any given frame. It’s some while before we are able to confirm that the part is, as advertised, played by Idris Elba. (He gets smaller later on. As he says, “I try to fit in.”) [Beware spoilers from here on.]
He makes her the usual offer – three wishes – followed by the usual conditons – don’t wish for more wishes, etc. – but with one extra condition: the wish must be your heart’s desire. And there’s the rub. She doesn’t have a heart’s desire. She’s already happy. This dismays him hugely; he begs her to reconsider. Surely everybody wants something. But she can’t think of a thing, and she doesn’t understand whey he’s so upset. Why doesn’t he just go back to Djinn land and let her get on with her storytelling studies?
But he can’t. He needs her to want something. He can’t be free until she makes her wishes. He’s been imprisoned for 3,000 years, and is still waiting to grant somebody three wishes.
He started out a free djinn, visiting his half-djinn cousin the queen of Sheba, when Solomon came calling. Solomon did not like having a third wheel around. He stuck him in a brass lamp and told a bird to fling the lamp into the Red Sea.
He stayed in the sea a long time. He has, in fact, spent a lot more time in his lamp than out in the world. Eventually the lamp washed ashore, and was found by a palace concubine. She hid the magic lamp under a flagstone for safe keeping, and wished for love, which turned out be a bad idea. Her second wish was an even worse idea. When the palace politics got bloody, the djinn begged her to use her third wish to save herself. But she was too busy screaming. So then she was dead and in the absence of a third wish the djinn was back in the lamp.
He wanders (invisibly) around the palace for a century, trying to nudge several generations into looking under that flagstone. He is almost discovered by a little boy who grows up to become Sultan Murad IV. (In case you are a little weak on the details of 17th century Middle Eastern politics, Murad was a genuine historic personage, and not – so far as we remember today – unlike his portrayal here.) Little Murad was easily distracted by booze and bloodshed.
His kid brother Ibrahim also grew up to become sultan, and a remarkably bad one, at that. His main interest in life was the acquisition of fat concubines, and a variety of sexual stimulants necessary for maintaining the lifestyle. Ibrahim did not find the lamp under the flagstone, but Sugar Lump, one of his favorites, did. Unfortunately, she was so terrified by the giant and the smoke and all that she wished him back in his bottle at the bottom of the sea.
Two hundred years crawl by before the Djinn comes into the possession of Zefir, the bored, lonely third wife of a merchant. Her first wish – and it is truly her heart’s desire – is for knowledge. Her second wish is for more knowledge.The Djinn is charmed, and falls in love. He showers her with books, and helps her build scientic apparatus. He encourages her to put off that third wish, so he can linger. He shows her things that normally only djinn can see.
But the more she learns, the more trapped she feels in her tiny world. She starts to resent him, even to blame him – as if, because he showed her the problem, he caused it. In a desperate attempt to reassure her, he creates a lovely little bottle (we’ve been wondering how he got from the lamp to the bottle) and retreats into it to prove he is not controlling her, to show her that she is in control of him. It works too well. She wishes she could forget she ever met him.
You must be wondering if I’m going to tell you the whole plot, committing spoiler after spoiler along the way. But I haven’t actually told you anything. Just what you already knew from the beginning: that there’s a djinn in the bottle, that djinns grant wishes, and that wishes are invariably dangerous. I promise these stories will still be fresh for you when you see them.
The movie is not about these intervening stories. They are just there because that’s how fairy tales always go. The movie is about how Alithea and the Djinn come together over these stories, about how stories bind humans (or even non-humans) together, and about how we must build on the stories we already know tbefore we can reach for anything new. The movie is about how we wish and what we wish for, and why so often that doesn’t work.
It’s also about how we take in more with our eyes than we can tell in any story. The visuals in this movie are amazing. (I meant to dazzle you with photos, but there are surprising few publicity stills out there available for common use.) It’s not gorgeous because of special effects, although there are those, but because of the focus on how much beauty is already out there, and how little it changes our minds. There’s a lot of action within the intervening tales, but the action doesn’t change anything either. But there is a new twist to the ending – not a change, just a different reflection on the unchanging bedrock of fairy tales. I found this movie to be very close to perfect.
Review by Michaele Jordan: I don’t usually write about the big-name stuff. There’s always plenty of people out there discussing the blockbusters. You don’t need yet another opinion (even if it’s mine). But there’s been surprisingly little buzz about the 2022 version of The Batman, starring Robert Pattinson, for all that it did well in the official reviews and in the theatres (85/87 on Rotten Tomatoes). Even here on File 770 its only mention is that two of its actors were nominated for Saturn awards in 2022.
So let me tell you about it. Believe me, it’s a strange bird. (Well, a strange winged creature). First and foremost it’s Matt Reeves’ baby – his adopted baby. Originally it was intended to be a Ben Affleck film. Not only was Mr. Affleck going to star in the movie, he was going to direct it, write it—together with Peter Craig, and produce it—together with Dylan Clark. But in 2017, he stepped down from the writing and directing, although he assured us he would still star in the film. Mr. Reeves was hired to replace him in production. And then, in 2019 (fairly last minute by film production standards), Mr. Affleck also quit as star, to be replaced by Robert Pattinson.
It’s difficult to resist speculating on those two years in between. We are told that as soon as he started directing, Mr. Reeves started rewriting. That actually makes sense. The words are there to communicate the vision. Change the vision, and the words will have to follow.
But those rewrites were extensive. Did they perhaps represent a change of vision completely odds with Mr. Affleck’s vision? Nobody likes being rewritten.
Or not – I am probably reveling in my own overactive and drama-hungry imagination. Mr. Affleck has repeatedly stated that he resigned due to the stresses of the disintegration of his marriage to Jennifer Garner and the nightmarish production issues Justice League was suffering. He has never complained that this was not the film he would have made.
Entertaining as the gossip may be, none of that is actually relevant here. A review deals with the finished product, and its impact on the viewer, regardless of what issues may or may not have steered its creation. So let’s talk about the finished film. For me, the biggest problem was that it didn’t feel like a Batman movie.
As a legend grows, it absorbs a great deal of material that was not merely invisible, but genuinely absent from the original. This does not actually mean that the original has been forgotten, just that it has been sublimated. The Batman legend started with a comic book.
I’ve read something of Mr. Reeves’ intent. He felt it was important to explore the psychological trauma that underlies Batman’s existence. Having taken such a realistic approach to the character, he was committed to a realistic presentation of both the re-examined character, and the world that character lives in.
He’s not wrong. Every Batman fan has wondered about those issues and argued about them with their friends. Everything that Mr. Reeves has put on the screen makes sense to us, and echoes many of our own questions. But what the fans argue about is one thing and what they expect to see on the screen is another. I believe that, whatever the clever nuances, they still expect to see some reflection of the canon.
This movie starts – very cleverly, I thought – on a rainy Halloween night, with busy streets thronged with so many costumed revelers that Batman could walk right through them entirely unnoticed. When the costumed Batman confronts his first evil-doer, the guy says, “Who are you supposed to be?”
It’s funny. It’s also a warning of things to come. Batman’s costume is practically the only survival of the original cast, since so much of that cast was defined by the exotic imagery in which it was presented. It’s not that the original characters have been deleted, but they have been rendered so realistic that they are almost unrecognizable.
There is a slinky woman lurking and snooping around the edges of the underworld, but if you didn’t happen to remember the name Selina, you probably wouldn’t identify her as the Catwoman. (Kudos to Zoë Kravitz, for her sensitive presentation of a damaged soul.) Colin Farrell plays a fat and unscrupulous saloon owner named Oz. We accept him as exactly that – until we hear that he really hates it when people call him Penguin.
We don’t really get a chance to decide if we would have recognized Bruce Wayne, since we first see him when the Batman unmasks. So instead of being uncertain, I, for one, was disappointed. I was madly in love with Bruce Wayne as a child – he was rich and beautiful and heroic. But Robert Pattinson is not beautiful. He’s rich, but the money hasn’t made him whole. He’s sallow and sunken-cheeked. He looks like he got beaten up a lot as a kid. He looks like a loser. And, of course, he is. Because he’s never recovered from the crippling emotional damage caused by his father’s violent death. If he weren’t the Batman, he wouldn’t be anything at all.
The only character that retains any semblance of the original conception is the Riddler (played wonderfully by Paul Dano). He doesn’t wear an emerald green leotard, but he does decorate his handiwork with large, bloody question marks, and send the Batman cryptic clues, fully expecting them to be solved. In fact, he’s utterly delighted (laughs and laughs!) when one clue actually goes over the Batman’s head. And because he’s a realistic Riddler, he takes being a psychopathic killer seriously, and becomes so much more evil than any mere cartoon.
I can almost hear some of you muttering to yourselves, “So what’s wrong with that? He brings in a little realism? Treats our beloved characters seriously? Doesn’t sound so awful to me. And it isn’t awful. Just the opposite, The Batman is a fine film. The performances are superb and the plotting is precise – as it has to be, to navigate this convoluted tale of a troubled vigilante pursuing a serial killer through a stew of political corruption. If Mr. Reeves had simply changed all the names, and altered the protagonist’s costume, it might well have been hailed as a neo-noir classic.
It just doesn’t happen to feel like a Batman movie
By Michaele Jordan: Friends, I’m not unaware that some of you don’t share my enthusiasm for anime. So I try – really, I do! – not to burble on at you about any cute show that I happen to stumble upon. Even though there are so many cute shows out there! But now I’ve found something genuinely special. And I think that you – my fellow fans, you seekers of something beyond the ordinary and prosaic – need to know that this is out there.
It’s called Inu-Oh. Here are the obligatory credits:
Director: Masaaki Yuasa Producer: Eunyoung Choi, Fumie Takeuchi Writers: Masaaki Yuasa, Yutaka Matsushige, Mirai Moriyama, Yoshihide Otomo, Akiko Nogi, Tasuku Emoto Cast:Inu-Oh voiced by Avu-chan Tomona voiced by Mirai Moriyama Inu-Oh’s Father voiced by Kenjiro Tsuda Tomona’s Father voiced by Yutaka Matsushige Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu voiced by Tasuku Emoto
The short form: it’s an animated musical about a crazed rock band led by a magical monster and a blind priest. They take 14th century Japan by storm with tales of a long-dead drowned child-emperor and his army. Naturally, they get in trouble with the government.
So, does it sound weird enough for you yet? Because there’s more. Beware spoilers.
This film is a story of transformation. Even the story itself transforms as it progresses. It’s an animated film adaptation of a novel entitled The Tale of the Heike: The Inu-Oh Chapters, which is a (loose) adaptation of an historical classic, The Tale of the Heike. Officially it retells the transformation of an ancient form of theater, Sarugaku (monkey music), into the classical Noh theatre which is still practiced today. An abiding legend claims this change was launched by a court performer named Inu-Oh, or King of Dogs. (A stage name, I’m guessing, if he really existed at all.)
We start with traffic on a rainy night, obviously modern day. Except the first character we see is a musician in traditional dress playing a biwa – that’s an ancient stringed instrument – telling the audience that this all happened long ago. Long, long ago. Long, long, long ago.
So then it starts. Late 14th century. The Emperor of the Northern Court (never mind how he came to be Emperor of just the Northern Court. The government has become divided. Think Avignon Papacy, and keep moving) is involved in negotiations to reunite the separate courts. He is bewailing his misfortune, in that he does not have the Sacred Regalia which symbolized the ancient emperors. If only he had those, he’d obviously be the true (and only) emperor. Were they really lost forever at the battle of Dan-no-ura? Couldn’t somebody go find them for him?
Oops! No! So maybe it started before that. Late 12th century. We see a broad river, which narrows to flow around a curve. Approaching the curve from one side is a fleet of ships with red sails – quite tiny ships, since the viewpoint has had to draw back some distance to show them all. They are such pretty little things, like graceful water birds. This does not look like war, for all that we see a similar fleet of ships coming toward them. (Not quite as pretty. Their sails are white – in Japan, the color of death.)
The viewpoint closes in to show a woman on the deck of a ship with red sails, holding a child, and telling him they are going to visit the palace of the Dragon King. Grasping a small trunk, she leaps over the side. We watch her, and the child, and the trunk sink down, down, down. This is an image that has been burned into the heart of every Japanese school child. They may not pay much attention in history class, but they know the battle of Dan-no-ura. That little boy was the last of the Heiki emperors, and the woman was his grandmother. And this dramatic death was the most important turning point in Japanese history. We, too, will see this image more than once.
So let’s go back to when we thought it started before. Late fourteenth century. Or at least we think that’s when this scene is. We see a box with writing on it, tied with a single string. Given the context, we think it may be the box that went down with the little emperor. Or maybe not. The box is opened to reveal a glowing purple mask and a man puts it on. It is not one of the Sacred Regalia.
Here we go again. So it starts. Definitely late fourteenth century. We meet a different little boy, also deep underwater. But Tomona is a few years older than the late prince, and in no danger of drowning. He runs home, and finds his father accepting a contract to search the underwater ruins for the Sacred Regalia. They don’t really expect to find anything. The waters have been searched many times. But they do! They find a case, and extract a sword. Tomona’s father draws the sword from its sheath (maybe to see if it’s the sword they’re looking for?) No matter the reason, drawing that sword is a hideous mistake. It’s too sacred to be handled by just anybody. A gigantic blade of light sweeps across the scene. Tomona is instantly blinded, and while he is still groping around, asking his father what has happened, we see that the magical blade has sliced Tomona’s father in two.
One last time: and so it starts (And this time I mean it. I won’t make you start over again, no matter what happens.) Still late fourteenth century. We see a dreadful creature. It has two feet, but no legs. It has a left hand which – like the feet—seems to be attached directly to the vaguely spherical lump of its body. But the right hand has an arm. And, oh, what an arm! It’s over six feet long. We don’t see a face, but there is a hairy lump emerging from what is probably the chest. There’s a very large gourd hanging over the front of the lump. Assuming that it is a mask, then the two holes punched into the gourd are not where you would expect eyeholes to be.
This unhappy creature crawls around aimlessly, ducking pedestrians, who are always abusive, until it comes to a building where a dance troupe is practicing. The troupe’s leader is extremely dissatisfied with the performance he is supervising, ordering the dancers to do their steps over and over again. But the creature is enchanted, and hops around, trying to dance along with them. Indeed, he gets so excited, he grows legs. He still receives a lot of abuse from strangers, but at least now he can away at high speed.
So that’s your first two transformations. A happy boy is transformed into a blind orphan, and a crawling blob is transformed into a tall, dancing monster. In this place and time, the blind do not have a lot of options. But many of them end up learning to play the biwa, and joining a monastic guild, which offers a way of earning a living and gaining a family of sorts. However, the guild requires him to take a guild name, Tomoichi. This alienates him from his father’s ghost, but Tomoichi (né Tomona) sees it as a reasonable price to pay for a place to sleep nights .
The creature has fallen into the habit of lifting his mask when harassed, and watching all his abusers run away screaming. But surprise! When he tries this trick on Tomoichi, it doesn’t work! Plus this boy who doesn’t scream, even asks politely what his name is (although he doesn’t have one yet) plays wonderful music! The two form an eternal bond on the spot, and are launched together into their next transformation: Rock stars!
There are other transformations in store!
I will tell you no more. Some may accuse me of having committed spoilers already. And yet I have only told you the beginning. Or rather, the beginnings, of which, as you have already seen, there are many. The story is complex, with deep historical roots – which is why I have told you so many beginnings. The average Japanese would have no trouble with these roots, any more than you would have trouble with the historical roots of a Robin Hood movie (which are also convoluted, if you care to study up.).
You don’t need the details, just a rough familiarity with the basic background. Relieved of confusion about why a magic sword would kill anybody that draws it, or why there are two emperors or who or what the Shogun was (the national warlord, who had a lot more power than either emperor, currently Ashikaga) or why do they keep calling that half naked singer a priest? Tomoichi (or Tomari, as he becomes) sure doesn’t look like a priest! (Oh, and don’t let the name changes throw you. Japanese history is full of people changing their names. It’s a thing with them. So just roll with it)
Just delight in the amazing imagery. There’s lots of magic – which is entirely outdone by the clever low-tech substitutions for the modern high-tech glitz required in rock band visuals. There’s beautiful scenery, evocative portraits of poverty, and amazing transformations. I had to watch this movie twice just to keep up with the animation.
And there’s music: classical biwa and raucous rock (also played on a biwa.) There’s dancing. Even aside from Inu-Oh’s wild cavortings, there is the slow, delicate stepping of kimono clad court dancers. So you can see for yourself what Inu-Oh and Tomari are rebelling against. And since it is a rebellion, whether or not the protagonists are self-aware enough to know it, there are plots and cops, and the hard, imperial hand. The emperor may not be the equal of the shogun, but he’s got enough clout to get what he wants.
I absolutely loved this movie. I hope you will, too. It’s available on Hulu, both dubbed and subtitled.
Michaele Jordan is still watching Korean TV. Here’s a show she thinks you should try.
Are you missing MISSING?
Review by Michaele Jordan: It would be easy to do. Just now, when I went on-line to collect production credits which are included in any responsible review, I hit a wall of Missing entries, which all proved to be about the new movie, starring Nia Long and Storm Reid.
Extracting myself from the morass, I corrected my search to “Missing tv show”. I still got a lot of answers. There’s a Canadian series from 2003, a British crime drama series from 2006, an American thriller series form 2012, and another British series (this one an anthology) from 2014. And that’s just the shows that remain popular enough to be on the top of the hit list. I scrolled through several pages, and thought I’d found it when I reached: WATCH THE MISSING: NETFLIX. Nope. (I’m beginning to wonder how I ever found this show in the first place.)
The full title (often not included anywhere in the copy) is: Missing: The Other Side. It’s from Studio Dragon, Written by Ban Gi-ri and Jeong So-young, and directed by Min Yeon-hong. Yes, it is on Netflix, even if it was not the subject of the above-mentioned ad. (I should know by now, the Korean stuff is not generally at the top of anyone’s list but mine.) And it is a superb K-drama. As has become popular in Korea, Missing is what we in fandom would call cross-genre, a mix of mystery, drama, police procedural and fantasy.
Strangely, it does not include romance, as the beautiful girl Choi Yeo-na (played by Seo Eun-soo) is murdered early in the first episode. This does not mean that the part is a walk-on. Just the opposite. We see as much – if not more – of her than we do of her grieving fiancé, the handsome detective Shin Joon-ho (played by Ha Jun).
Her abduction, if not the actual murder, is witnessed by our primary protagonist, Kim Wook (played by Go Soo). There’s no denying he’s a scam artist – he had a troubled childhood – but he’s not a bad guy. Certainly not bad enough to ignore thugs carrying off a screaming, struggling girl, and shoving her into a car. He’s quick witted enough to rip out his phone and capture the event, including both faces and the license number. But the bad guys spot him. There’s a fight, and a long chase into the middle of nowhere, which culminates in his tumbling off a cliff and being left for dead. Pretty action-packed for a first episode.
He’s the protagonist, so he’s not dead, of course – or is he? He is found, rescued, and nursed back to health by the residents of a nearby village. It’s a tiny, primitive place. There’s no TV, and nobody has a cell phone. Nobody but Thomas, the innkeeper, (played by Song Geon-hee), seems to have a job, although they all help out around the town. There are no families; they all just wandered in and never left.
They can’t leave, they explain. Because they are dead. He is dead, too, they assure him. The proof is that he can see them, and the living can’t see the dead. (Spoiler alert: before episode two, we discover that’s not quite true. Most living can’t see the dead. But Wook can.)
But these people are not just any dead. They are dead whose bodies were never located. They never received funeral rites. Their families never found closure. They are forever missing. Every now and then, either by random chance or after years of a survivor’s desperate searching, a resident’s remains are recovered. And that resident stops suddenly, looks up and smiles, and dissolves into a shimmer of colored light. Most of them want this. Just because they are dead doesn’t stop them from worrying about everyone and everything they left behind.
A friend of mine rolled his eyes when I told him about the separate pre-afterlife village for the unburied. “Oh, please,” he groaned. “Dead is dead. Whatever does or doesn’t happen to you next, you’re past caring what happened to your body.” Here in the west, a lot of people would agree with that. But not everybody.
Back in the Middle Ages people believed that the last rites were essential to the well-being of the soul, cleansing it of its mortal contaminations. They even thought the unburied would rise up and turn into monsters. Not just vampires. They had a wide selection of nasty undead, all of whom arose from the failure to lay the living properly to rest. These days we are less rigid about the need for any specific ritual but many still feel a strong need for the dead to be remembered, acknowledged. There is a very special, piercing kind of pain that comes from not knowing what happened to a vanished loved one.
This is the central theme of the show: the sadness of the missing. We see it from every angle, parents still searching year after year for children so long gone that, if they live, they must surely be grown, and children waiting and waiting for parents that never return. Detective Shin Joon-ho grows frenzied in his search for Choi Yeo-na. He’d quarreled with her, and is desperate to find her in time to set that right before their wedding. And she flatly refuses to believe that she can’t get back to him, devising strategy after strategy to communicate.
I say that’s the theme, but please don’t worry that the theme is substituted for a story. What would be the point of having a detective in the cast, if there were no mystery? In fact, there are two main mysteries, and several sub plots. The village gatekeeper, Jang Pan-seok (played by Huh Joon-ho) is another living that can see the dead, and he’s made it his life’s work to find the residents’ missing remains so that they and their families can find rest. What motivates him to take on such an impossible quest? Most of the residents don’t even know who killed them. Well, that’s another mystery.
People writing about the issues they care about is what keeps this community going. It’s a gift and privilege for me to be continually allowed to publish so many entertaining posts rich in creativity, humor, and shared adventures. Thanks to all of you who contributed to File 770 in 2022!
…Thinking about Jules Verne, with the new TV version of Around the World in Eighty Days about to start, I just bought the Wesleyan edition of Five Weeks in a Balloon, translated by Frederick Paul Walter – after researching what the good modern translations of Verne are. Verne has been abysmally translated into English over the years, but there’s been a push to correct that….
… It was on FaceBook where I first saw friends’ posting about Opening Ceremonies. According to what was posted, some of the musical selections performed by students from the Duke Ellington School spotlighted the religious aspects of the Christmas holiday.
My immediate reaction was that this was not an appropriate part of Opening Ceremonies, especially since, as far as I know, the religious aspect of the performance was not contained in the descriptions in any convention publication. The online description of Opening Ceremonies says, in its entirety: “Welcome to the convention. We will present the First Fandom and Big Heart awards, as well as remarks from the Chair.” The December 9, 2021, news release about the choir’s participation did not mention that there would be a religious component to the performance….
Whew! We made it. We made it to Issue 100 of the Grantville Gazette. This is an incredible feat by a large group of stakeholders. Thank you, everyone.
I don’t think Eric Flint had any idea what he’d created when he sent Jim Baen the manuscript for 1632. In the intervening two-plus decades, the book he intended to be a one-shot novel has grown like the marshmallow man in Ghostbusters to encompass books from two publishing houses, a magazine (this one, that you are holding in your metaphorical hands) and allowed over 165 new authors to see their first published story in print. The Ring of Fire Universe, or the 1632 Universe, has more than twelve million words published….
This message was written by a fan in Moscow 48 hours ago. It is unsigned but was relayed by a trustworthy source who confirms the writer is happy for it to be published by File 770. It’s a fan’s perspective, a voice we may not hear much….
Right now, when I’m sitting at my desktop and writing this text, a cannonade nearby doesn’t stop. The previous night was scary in Kyiv. Evidently, Russians are going to start demolishing Ukrainian capital like they are doing with Kharkiv, Sumy, Chernihiv, Mariupol.
The Ukrainian SFF Community joined the efforts to isolate Russia, the nazi-country of the 21st century, to force them to stop the war. The boycott by American authors we asked for is also doing the job. Many leading writers and artists of the great United States already joined the campaign.
We appealed to SFWA to also join the campaign, and here is what they replied…
Fortunately, comic-carrying newspapers are, of course, all (also or only) online these days, but even then, some require subscriptions (fair enough), and to get all the ones you want. For example, online, the Washington Post, has about 90, while the Boston Globe is just shy of a paltry one-score-and-ten. And (at least in Firefox), they don’t seem to be visible in all-on-one-page mode, much less customize-a-page-of.
So, for several years now, I’ve been going to the source — two “syndicates” that sell/redistribute many popular strips to newspapers….
There’s been a lot of excitement about Squid Game. Everybody’s talking about how clever, original, and utterly skiffy it is. I watched it, too, eagerly and faithfully. But I wasn’t as surprised by it as some. I expected it to be good. I’ve been watching Korean video for ten years, and have only grown more addicted every year. And yet I just can’t convince many people to watch it with me….
Let me tell you about my favorite building in Washington, D.C. It’s the staid old Arts and Industries Building, the second-oldest of all the Smithsonian Institution buildings, which dates back to the very early 1880s and owes its existence to the Smithsonian’s then urgent need for a place where parts of its collection could go on public display….
When we last left the Heinleins (“What the Heinleins Told the 1940 Census”), a woman answering the door at 8777 Lookout Mountain – Leslyn Heinlein, presumably — had just finished telling the 1940 census taker a breathtaking raft of misinformation. Including that her name was Sigred, her husband’s was Richard, that the couple had been born in Germany, and they had a young son named Rolf.
Ten years have passed since then, and the archives of the 1950 U.S. Census were opened to the public on April 1. There’s a new Mrs. Heinlein – Virginia. The 8777 Lookout Mountain house in L.A. has been sold. They’re living in Colorado Springs. What did the Heinleins tell the census taker this time?…
“In the future, there was a nuclear war. And because of all the radiation, cats developed the ability to shoot lasers out of their mouths.”
On this dubious premise, Laser Cats was founded. By its seventh and final episode, the great action stars and directors of the day had contributed their considerable talents to this highly entertaining, yet frankly ridiculous enterprise. From James Cameron to Lindsey Lohan, Josh Brolin to Steve Martin, Laser Cats attracted the best in the business.
Being part of Saturday Night Live undoubtedly helped….
The Emeka Walter Dinjos Memorial Award For Disability In Speculative Fiction aims to award disability in speculative fiction in two ways. One, by awarding a writer of speculative fiction for their representation or portrayal of disability in a world of speculative fiction, whatever their health status; and two, by awarding a disabled writer for a work of speculative fiction in general, whatever the focus of the work may be….
Robert Osband, Florida fan, really loves space. All his life he has been learning about spaceflight. And reading stories about spaceflight, in science fiction.
So after NASA’s Apollo program was over, the company that made Apollo space suits held a garage sale, and Ozzie showed up. He bought a “training liner” from ILC Dover, a coverall-like portion of a pressure suit, with rings at the wrists and neck to attach gloves and helmet.
And another time, in 1976, when one of his favorite authors, Robert A. Heinlein, was going to be Guest of Honor at a World Science Fiction Convention, Mr. Osband journeyed to Kansas City.
In his suitcase was his copy of Heinlein’s Have Space Suit, Will Travel—a novel about a teenager who wins a secondhand space suit in a contest—and his ILC Dover suit.
Because if you wanted to get your copy of Have Space Suit, Will Travel autographed, and you happened to own a secondhand space suit, it would be a shame NOT to wear it, right?…
… I’m sure that our first face-to-face meeting was in 1979, when my job in industry took me from Chattanooga all the way out to Los Angeles for some much-needed training in electrochemistry. I didn’t really know anybody in L.A. fandom back then but I did know the address of the LASFS clubhouse, so on my next-to-last evening in town I dropped in on a meeting. And it was there that I found Bruce mostly surrounded by other fans while they all expounded on fandom as it existed back then and what it might be like a few years down the road. It was like a jazz jam session, but all words and no music. I settled back into the periphery, enjoying all the back-and-forth, and when there eventually came a lull in the conversations I took the opportunity to introduce myself. And then Bruce said something to me that I found very surprising: “Dick Lynch! I’ve heard of you!”…
It was back in 2014 that a student filmmaker at Stephen F. Austin State University, Ricky Kennedy, created an extraordinary short movie titled The History of Time Travel. Exploration of “what ifs” is central to good storytelling in the science fiction genre and this little production is one of the better examples of how to do it the right way.
… It is through Joy and Cassimer’s eyes we experience S.A. Tholin’s Iron Truth, a finalist of the Self-Published Science Fiction Competition. If there was ever a case of the cream rising to the top this book is one….
In T. A. Bruno’s In the Orbit of Sirens, a Self-Published Science Fiction Competition finalist, the remnants of the human race have fled the solar system ahead of an alien culture that is assimilating everyone in reach. Loaded aboard a vast colony ship they’re headed for a distant refuge, prepared to pioneer a new world, but unprepared to meet new threats there to human survival that are as great as the ones they left behind.
On the morning of Carmen Grey’s sixth birthday an armed team arrives to take her from her parents and remove her to the underground facility where Clairvoyants — like her — are held captive and trained for years to access their abilities. So begins Monster of the Dark by K. T. Belt, a finalist in the Self-Published Science Fiction Competition….
G.M. Nair begins Duckett and Dyer: Dicks for Hire by making a surprising choice. His introductory scene explicitly reveals to readers the true nature of the mysterious events that the protagonists themselves uncover only very slowly throughout the first half of the book. The introduction might even be the penultimate scene in the book — which would make sense in a story that is partly about time travel loops. Good idea or bad idea?…
… What sounds like Firefly also describes the SPSFC finalist novel Captain Wu: Starship Nameless #1, a space opera by authors Patrice Fitzgerald and Jack Lyster. I love Firefly so it wasn’t a big leap to climb aboard this vessel….
…. It would be exceptionally embarrassing for a Worldcon to have to explain why a finalist would have won the Hugo except for — oops! — this bit of outdated fine print. The best course of action is to eliminate that fine print before such a circumstance arises….
The social media of the 30th century doesn’t seem so different: teenagers anonymously perform acts of civil disobedience and vandalism to score points and raise their ranking in an internet app. That’s where Aster Vale leads a secret life as the Wildflower, a street artist and tagger, in A Star Named Vega by Benjamin J. Roberts, a Self-Published Science Fiction competition finalist…..
R F Kuang’s Babel is an audacious and unrelenting look at colonialism, seen through the lens of an alternate 19th century Britain where translation is the key to magic. Kuang’s novel is as sharp and perceptive as it is well written, deep, and bears reflection upon, after reading, for today’s world….
Paul Weimer went to donate some books at Don Blyly’s new location for Uncle Hugo’s and Uncle Edgar’s bookstores. While he was inside Paul shot these photographs of the bookshelves being stocked and other work in progress.
… Another contributor to the Afrofuturist tradition is Nicole Mitchell, a noted avant-jazz composer and flutist. She chose to take on Octavia Butler’s most challenging works, the Xenogenesis Trilogy, and create the Xenogenesis Suite, a collection of dark and disturbing compositions that reflect the trilogy’s turbulent and complicated spirit….
Anna carefully arranged the necessary objects around her desktop computer into a pentagon: sharpened pencils, a legal pad, a half-empty coffee cup, and a copy of Science Without Sorcery, with the chair at the fifth point. This done, she intoned the spell that would open the channel to her muse for long enough to write the final pages of her work-in-progress. Then she could get ready for the convention….
… In the last five years, the [Hugo Awards Study Committee] [HASC] has changed precisely two words of the Constitution. (Since you asked: adding the words “or Comic” to the title of the “Best Graphic Story” category.) The HASC’s defenders will complain that we had two years of pandemic, and that the committee switched to Discord rather than email only this year, and that there are lots of proposals this year. But the fact remains that so far the practical impact has been slower than I imagined when I first proposed the Committee…..
In Michaele Jordan’s overview, she comments on the novellas by Aliette de Bodard, Becky Chambers, Alix E. Harrow, Seanan McGuire, Adrian Tchaikovsky, and Catherynne M. Valente that are up for the 2022 Hugo.
… Once we had a lot of science fiction, little fantasy; lately we’ve had a lot of fantasy; so Powers’ writing fantasy does not seem particularly defiant.
His fantasy has generally been — to use a word which may provoke defiance — rigorous. Supernatural phenomena occur, may be predicted, aroused, avoided, as meticulously — a word whose root means fear — as we in our world start an automobile engine or put up an umbrella. Some say this has made his writing distinctive….
The day of reckoning is here for E Pluribus Hugo. The change in the way Hugo Awards nominations are counted was passed in 2015 and ratified in 2016 to counter how Sad and Rabid Puppies’ slates dictated most of finalists on the Hugo ballots in those years. It came with a 2022 sunset clause attached, and E Pluribus Hugo must be re-ratified this year in order to remain part of the WSFS Constitution….
… His name is Joel Nydahl, and back about the time of that Chicon he was a 14-year-old neofan who lived with his parents on a farm near Marquette, Michigan. He was an avid science fiction reader and at some point in 1952 decided to publish a fanzine. It was a good one….
… Abigail Kamara, younger cousin of police constable and apprentice wizard Peter Grant, has been left largely unsupervised while he’s off in the sticks on a case. This leaves Abigail making her own decisions when she notices that kids roughly her age are disappearing–but not staying missing long enough for the police to care….
Friends, let me tell you about one of my favorite TV shows. But I must admit to you up front that it’s not SF/F. Extraordinary Attorney Woo is, as I assume you’ve deduced from the title, a lawyer show. But it’s a KOREAN lawyer show, which should indicate that is NOT run of the mill….
… The Phantom Empire, a twelve-chapter Mascot serial, was originally released in February, 1935. A strange concoction for a serial, it is at once science fiction film, a Western, and strangely enough, a musical. It was the first real science fiction sound serial and its popularity soon inspired other serials about fantastic worlds….
… I find myself explaining the changes to membership in the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS) and the conditions for attending the World Science Fiction Convention that were ratified this year in Chicago (and thus are now in effect, because this was the second vote on the changes)…
Chicon 8’s Chicago Worldcon Community Fund (CWCF) program offered both memberships and financial stipends. It was established with the goal of helping defray the expenses of attending Chicon 8 for the following groups of people:
Non-white fans or program participants • LGBTQIA+ fans or program participants • Local Chicago area fans of limited means…
As environmental problems caused by industrialisation and post-industrialisation continue to increase, the public is looking for ecological solutions. As pandemics, economic crises, and wars plague our society in different ways, thoughts turn to the good old times. But were they really all that good? People are escaping increasingly into fantastical stories in order to find a quantum of solace. But at what point was there a utopia in our society. If so, at what or whose cost did it exist? Whether or not we ever experience living in a utopia, the idea of finally finding one drives us to continue seeking ideal living conditions….
… Capclave appeared to be equally star-crossed in its next iteration. It was held over the weekend of October 18-20, 2002, and once again the attendees were brought closer together by an event taking place in the outside world. The word had spread quickly through all the Saturday night room parties: “There’s been another shooting.” Another victim of the D.C. Sniper….
… In Fairy Tale, his newest novel, Stephen King delivers a, cough, grimm contemporary story, explicitly incorporating horror in the, cough, spirit of Lovecraft (King also explicitly namedrops, in the text, August Derleth, and Henry Kuttner), in which high-schooler Charlie Reade becomes involved in things — and challenges — that, as the book and plot progress, stray beyond the mundane….
The idea of an anthology of science fiction and fantasy stories about the Beatles seems like a natural. I’ve been told the two editors, each unbeknownst to the other, both presented the idea to the publisher around the same time…
The Science Museum (that’s the world famous one in Kensington, London) has just launched a new exhibit on what Carl Sagan once mused (though not mentioned in the exhibit itself) science fiction and science’s ‘dance’. SF2 Concatenation reprographic supremo Tony Bailey and I were invited by the Museum to have a look on the exhibition’s first day. (The exhibition runs to Star Wars day 2023, May the Fourth.) Having braved Dalek extermination at the Museum’s entrance, we made our way to the exhibition’s foyer – decorated with adverts to travel to Gallifrey – to board our shuttle….
I was at the 2022 F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival in Rockville, MD today. If you’re wondering why the festival is there, that’s where Fitzgerald and his wife are buried. Now, I’d never read any of Fitzgerald`s writing, so I spent the evening before reading the first three chapters of The Great Gatsby (copyright having expired last year, it’s online). So far, I’ve yet to find anyone in it that I want to spend any time with, including the narrator.
However, the reason I attended was to see Kim Stanley Robinson, who was the special guest at the Festival. The end of the morning’s big event was a conversation between Stan and Richard Powers. Then there was lunch, and a keynote speaker, then Stan introducing Powers to receive an award from the society that throws the annual Festival….
…As a child, I kept a notebook filled with my favorite quotes. (How did I not know I was going to be an author?) The first quote? “Not all who wander are lost.” There was everything from 90s rom com lines to Wordsworth poems in that notebook, but Tolkien filled the most pages….
There is a fundamental implausibility to easy manned interstellar (or even interplanetary) space travel that nonetheless remains a seductive idea even in our wiser and more cynical and weary 21st century. …
Alif is a young man, a “gray hat” hacker, selling his skills to provide cybersecurity to anyone who needs that protection from the government. He lives in an unnamed city-state in the Middle East, referred to throughout simply as the City. He’s nonideological; he’ll sell his services to Islamists, communists, anyone….
Journalist, author, genre historian (and fan, certainly, from the 1940s and on!) Bertil Falk is acclaimed for performing the “impossible” task of translating Finnegans Wake to Swedish, the modernist classic by James Joyce, under the title Finnegans likvaka….
The protagonist of the first short novel in this omnibus — which is in fact Eye of Cat — is William Blackhorse Singer, a Navajo born in the 20th century, and still alive, and fit and healthy, almost two centuries later….
One fine Monday morning, Peter Grant is summoned to Baker Street Station on the London Underground, to assess whether there was anything “odd,” i.e., involving magic, about the death of a young man on the tracks….
…If you’re not a fan, then there’s a real chance you have no idea how much range animé encompasses. And I’m not even talking about the entire range of kid shows, sit-coms and drama. (I’m aware there may be limits to your tolerance. I’m talking about the range within SF/F. Let’s consider just three examples….
While I subscribe to the practice that, as a rule, reviews and review-like write-ups, if not intended as a piece of critical/criticism, should stick to books the reviewer feels are worth the readers reading, sometimes (I) want to, like Jerry Pournelle’s “We makes these mistakes and do this stuff so you dont have to” techno-wrangling Chaos Manor columns, give a maybe-not-your-cup-of-paint-remover head’s-up. This is one of those….
It’s been 30 years since the passing of my friend Roger Weddall. I doubt very many of you reading this had ever met him and I wouldn’t be surprised, actually, if most of you haven’t even heard of him. Thirty years is a long time and the demographics of fandom has changed a lot. So let me tell you a little bit about him….
I expect a lot of File 770’s readers watched, as we did, as the Orion capsule returned to Terra. I’m older than some of you, and it’s been decades since I watched a capsule re-entry and landing in the ocean. What had me in tears is that finally, after fifty years, we’re planning to go back… and stay….
Poul Anderson began writing his own “future history” in the 1950s, with its starting point being that there would be a limited nuclear war at some point in the 1950s. From that point would develop a secret effort to build a new social structure that could permanently prevent war….
…As with Avatar, Avatar: The Way of Water is a visual feast. Unlike the first film, there aren’t long sweeping pans lingering over beautiful, otherworldly vistas. The “beautiful” and the “otherworldly” are still there, but we’re seeing them incorporated into the action and storytelling….
… When I was growing up, children like myself were taught, no, more like indoctrinated, to think the United States was the BEST place to grow up, that our country was ALWAYS in the right and that our institutions were, for the most part, unassailable and impervious to criticism from anyone, especially foreigners.
I grew up in Ohio in the 1960’s and despite what I was being taught in a parochial Catholic grade school (at great expense, I might add, by my hard-working parents), certain things I was experiencing did not add up. News of the violence and casualties during the Vietnam War was inescapable. I remember watching the evening network news broadcasts and being horrified by the number of people (on all sides of the conflict) being wounded or killed on a daily basis.
As the years went on, it became harder to reconcile all of the violence, terrorism, public assassinations and the racism I was experiencing with the education I was receiving. The Pentagon Papers and the Watergate break-ins coincided with my high school years and the beginnings of my political awakening.
When I look back on those formative days of my life, I see myself as a small child, set out upon a sea of prejudice and whiteness, in a boat of hetero-normaltity, destination unknown….
… After I introduced myself to Mr. Weir and Mr. Bell, I said, “You and I have something in common.”
“Oh really? What’s that?”
“You and I are the only 2022 Hugo Award nominees within a hundred-mile radius of this bookstore.” (I stated that because I know that our fellow nominee, Jason Sanford, lives in Columbus, Ohio, hence the reference to the mileage.)…
Despite some very harsh comments from Dmitry Rogozin, the director general of Roscosmos, threatening that “If you block cooperation with us, who will save the ISS from an uncontrolled deorbit and fall into the United States or Europe?” spacefarers seem to have a different perspective and understanding of the importance of international cooperation, respect and solidarity. This appears to have been demonstrated today when three cosmonauts arrived at the International Space Station….
Forty-five years ago or thereabouts, on February 26, 1977, the first ‘prog’ of 2000AD was released by IPC magazines. The second issue dated March 5 a week later saw the debut of Judge Dredd. Since then, Rogue Trooper, Nemesis the Warlock, Halo Jones, Sláine, Judge Anderson, Strontium Dog, Roxy and Skizz, The ABC Warriors, Bad Company and Proteus Vex are just some of the characters and stories that have emanated from the comic that was started by Pat Mills and John Wagner. Some have gone on to be in computer games, especially as the comic was purchased by Rebellion developments in 2000, and Judge Dredd has been brought to the silver screen twice.
Addictive and enjoyable stories of the fantastic, written and drawn by some of the greatest comic creators of the latter part of the 20th century, they often related to the current, utilizing Science Fiction to obscure issues about violence or subversiveness, but reflecting metaphorically about the now of the time….
Traditionally, the start of a new year is a time when film critics begin assembling their lists of the best films, actors, writers, composers, and directors of the past year. What follows, then, while honoring that long-held tradition, is a comprehensive compilation and deeply personal look at the finest film scores of the past nearly one hundred years….
The frenzy of joyous controversy swirling over director Adam McKay’s new film Don’t Look Up has stirred a healthy, if frenetic debate over the meaning and symbology of this bonkers dramedy. On its surface a cautionary satire about the impending destruction of the planet, Don’t Look Up is a deceptively simplistic tale of moronic leadership refusing to accept a grim, unpleasant reality smacking it in its face.
What follows is truly one of the most personally heartfelt, poignant, and heartbreaking remembrances that I’ve ever felt compelled to write.
Veronica Carlson was a dear, close, cherished friend for over thirty years. I learned just now that this dear sweet soul passed away today. I am shocked and saddened beyond words. May God rest her beautiful soul.
After interviewing William Shatner for the British magazine L’Incroyable Cinema during the torrid Summer of 1969 at “The Playhouse In The Park,” just outside of Philadelphia, while Star Trek was still in the final days of its original network run on NBC, my old friend Allan Asherman, who joined my brother Erwin and I for this once-in-a-lifetime meeting with Captain James Tiberius Kirk, astutely commented that I had now met and befriended all three of our legendary boyhood “Captains,” which included Jim Kirk (William Shatner), Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers (Larry “Buster” Crabbe), and Buzz Corry (Edward Kemmer), Commander of the Space Patrol….
… The first of the most important music modernists, however, in the post war era and “Silver Age” of film composers was Elmer Bernstein who would, had he lived, be turning one hundred years old on April 4th, 2022. Although he would subsequently prove himself as able as classic “Golden Age” composers of writing traditional big screen symphonic scores, with his gloriously triumphant music for Cecil B De Mille’s 1956 extravaganza, The Ten Commandments….
… She was just four days into her maiden voyage from Southhampton to New York City when this “Unsinkable” vessel met disaster and finality, sailing into history, unspeakable tragedy, and maritime immortality. May God Rest Her Eternal Soul … the souls of the men, women, and children who sailed and perished during those nightmarish hours, and to all those who go courageously “Down to The Sea in Ships.” This horrifying remembrance remains among the most profoundly significant of my own seventy-six years….
… It is true that Seth MacFarlane, the veteran satirist who both created and stars in the science fiction series, originally envisioned [The Orville] as a semi-comedic tribute to Gene Roddenberry’s venerable Star Trek. However, the show grew more dramatic in its second season on Fox, while it became obvious that MacFarlane wished to grow outside the satirical box and expand his dimensional horizons and ambitions….
… I was born in the closing weeks of 1945, and grasped at my tentative surroundings with uncertain hands. It wasn’t until 1950 when I was four years old that my father purchased a strange magical box that would transform and define my life. The box sat in our living room and waited to come alive. Three letters seemed to identify its persona and bring definition to its existence. Its name appeared to be RCA, and its identity was known as television….
He was a kindly, gentle soul who lived among us for a seeming eternity. But even eternity is finite. He was justifiably numbered among the most influential writers of the twentieth century. Among the limitless vistas of science fiction and fantasy he was, perhaps, second only in literary significance to H.G. Wells who briefly shared the last century with him. Ray Bradbury was, above all else, the poet laureate of speculative fiction….
On June 11, 1982, America and the world received the joyous gift of one of the screen’s most beloved fantasy film classics and, during that memorable Summer, a young aspiring television film critic reviewed a new film from director Steven Spielberg called E.T….
…Before I realized it, tables and chairs were being moved and I felt the hands of paramedics lifting me to the floor of the restaurant. Les was attempting to perform CPR on me, and I was drifting off into unconciousness. I awoke to find myself in an ambulance with assorted paramedics pounding my chest, while attempting to verbally communicate with me. I was aware of their presence, but found myself unable to speak….
After nearly dying a little more than a decade ago during and just after major open heart surgery, I fulfilled one of the major dreams of my life…meeting the man who would become my last living life long hero. I’d adored him as far back as 1959 when first hearing the dramatic strains of the theme from Checkmate on CBS Television. That feeling solidified a year later in 1960 with the rich, sweet strains of ABC Television’s Alcoa Premiere, hosted by Fred Astaire, followed by Wide Country on NBC….
…When Jack Warner was casting the film version of the smash hit, he considered performers such as Cary Grant, James Cagney, or Frank Sinatra for the lead. Meredith Willson, the show’s composer, however, demanded that Robert Preston star in the movie version of his play, or he’d withdraw the contracts and licensing. The film version of The Music Man, produced for Warner Brothers, and starring Robert Preston and Shirley Jones, opened to rave reviews on movie screens across the country in 1962. Robert Preston, like Rex Harrison in Lerner and Lowe’s My Fair Lady, had proven that older, seasoned film stars could propel both Broadway and big screen musicals to enormous artistic success….
On the evening of May 14, 1998, following the airing over NBC Television of the series finale of Seinfeld, the world and I received the terrible news of the passing of the most beloved entertainer of the twentieth century. It has been twenty-four years since he left this mortal realm, but the joy, the music, and the memories are as fresh and as vital today as when they were born….
Very exciting news. The long awaited CD soundtrack release of 12 O’Clock High is now available for purchase through La-La Land Records and is a major restoration of precious original tracks from Quinn Martin’s beloved television series….
That terrible day in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963 remains one of the most significantly traumatic days of my life. I was just seventeen years old. I was nearing the end of my high school classes at Northeast High School in Philadelphia when word started spreading through the hallways and corridors that JFK had been shot. I listened in disbelief, praying that it wasn’t true … but it was….
I recently watched a somber new three part documentary by film maker Ken Burns that is among the most sobering, heartbreaking, and horrifying indictments of humanity that I have ever encountered. It was extremely difficult to watch but, as an American Jew, I remain struck by the similarities between the rise in Fascism in the early nineteen thirties, leading to the beginnings of Nazism in Germany, and the attempted decimation of the Jewish people in Europe and throughout the world, with the repellant echoes of both racial and religious intolerance, and the mounting hatred and suspicion of the Jewish communities and population residing presently in my own country of birth, these United States….
I’ve read with interest some of the recent discussions concerning the measure of Hugo Friedhofer’s importance as a composer, and it set my memory sailing back to another time in a musical galaxy long ago and far away. I have always considered Maestro Friedhofer among the most important, if underrated, composers of Hollywood’s golden era….
…Steven Spielberg’s reverent semi-autobiographical story of youthful dreams and aspirations is, for me, the finest, most emotionally enriching film of the year, filled with photographic memories, and indelible recollections shared both by myself and by the film maker….
My friend Adam Spector tells me that when Ernest Lehman was asked to write the script for North by Northwest, he tried to turn out the most “Hotchcocky” script he could, with all of Hitchcock’s obsessions in one great motion picture.
Moonfall is the most “Emmerichian” film Roland Emmerich is made. Like his earlier films, it has flatulent melodrama interlaced with completely daft science. But everything here is much more intense than his earlier work. But the only sense of wonder you’ll get from this film is wondering why the script got greenlit….
… Having a long career in Hollywood is a lot harder than in other forms of publishing; you’ve got to have the relentless drive to pursue your vision and keep making sales. To an outsider, what is astonishing about J. Michael Straczynski’s career is that it has had a third act and may well be in the middle of a fourth. His career could have faded after Babylon 5. The roars that greeted him at the 1996 Los Angeles Worldcon (where, it seemed, every conversation had to include the words, “Where’s JMS?”) would have faded and he could have scratched out a living signing autographs at media conventions….
When I read in the Financial Times about how Britain’s National Theatre was adapting Sir Philip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage, the first volume of his Book of Dust trilogy, I told myself, “That’s a play for me! I’ll just fly over to London and see it! OGH is made of money, and he’ll happily pay my expenses!”
Fortunately, I didn’t have to go to London, because the theatre came to me, with a screening of the National Theatre Live production playing at the American Film Institute. So, I spent a pleasant Saturday afternoon seeing it….
… Stories matter more in the theatre than in film because far more of a play is in our imagination than in a film. Stripped of CGI and rewrites by multiple people, what plays offer at their best is one person’s offering us something where, if it works, we tell ourselves, “Yes, that was a good evening in the theatre,” and if it doesn’t, we gnash our teeth and feel miserable until we get home…
As Anton Ego told us in Ratatouille, the goal of a critic today is to be the first person to offer praise to a rising artist. It’s not the tenth novel that deserves our attention but the first or second. In the theatre, the people who need the most attention are the ones who are being established, not the ones that build on earlier successes.
So I’m happy to report that Matthew Aldwin McGee, author, star, and chief puppeteer of Under the Sea with Dredgie McGee is a talented guy who has a great deal of potential. You should be watching him….
I once read an article about a guy who was determined to live life in 1912. He lived in a shack in the woods, bought a lot of old clothes, a Victrola, and a slew of old books and magazines. I don’t remember how he made a living, but the article made clear that he was happy….