Again, with the Animé?

By Michaele Jordan: Yes, I had a wonderful Thanksgiving, thank you. I hope you did, too.

But – I blush to admit – I spent a great deal of it in a happy huddle with cousins significantly less than half my age. Like pretty much everybody else, we were talking about our favorite TV shows (having done little but watch TV during the pandemic). And my fellow adults just don’t seem to appreciate my beloved animé. So, if you’ll permit me, I’d like to preach a little, please.

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.

We’ll start with The Dragon Prince, created by Aaron Ehasz and Justin Richmond, and animated by Bardel Entertainment. It’s very accessible and reasonably well known.

The Dragon Prince (or after the 4th season launched, renamed as The Mystery of Aaravos) is classic high fantasy. There are elves and (of course) dragons. There are kings and mages, good guys and bad guys, and numerous forms of magic. It’s clean, and simple enough to share with the kids – if they’re old enough to watch sequels to Lord of the Rings, then they’ll be fine with Dragon Prince. There’s even a kid major character, and a fair amount of humor.

But I promise it’s not so childish that it will bore the grown-ups. It’s an excellent show. Rather than spending millions on special effects, they’ve invested in quality animation – every frame is eye-catching. And it’s well written – the story does not break down under careful examination. And it’s right there on Netflix. Please give it a try.

Next we have Exception, (or e∞ception, as it says in the titles). It’s based on an original story by Hirotaka Adachi with character designs by Yoshitaka Amano, and directed by Yūzō Satō. It is pure SF, and pretty hard SF, at that. It’s also dark. Very dark.

The story revolves around a pre-colonization team sent to prepare a planet for terra-forming. There are only five of them, but their ship is enormous. You almost wonder how they find their way around, because they haven’t been living on it very long.

The ship made most of its very long journey on automatic. Only when it neared their destination did it print (yes, I said print!) bodies for the crew and implant their memories and personalities, which were recorded back on earth.

And that’s where the trouble starts. For reasons unknown, one of the bodies misprints. The resulting person is so malformed it does not look human. But it is alive. It almost immediately shows signs of mental derangement. The rest of the crew has no idea how to handle the situation. Should they just kill the monster and reprint their friend? But once it has recovered from its disorientation, it becomes evident that it is intelligent, if not entirely rational. So wouldn’t killing it be murder? A moot question. They can’t catch it. So they go ahead and reprint their friend, who emerges normal.

That’s just the beginning. This is an edge-of-your seat story, highlighted with creepy, angular imagery. Check it out – it’s on Netflix

So, having taken you all the way from high-hearted fantasy to SF horror, what can I possibly offer that is not simply somewhere between them? Easy! I’ll transform that line into a triangle with a tale of gleeful nonsense: The Tatami Time Machine Blues. It’s based on a novel by Tomihiko Morimi. Sources inform me that it is a sequel (of sorts) to The Tatami Galaxy, a show I’ve never heard of, from twelve years ago. (I’m looking for it. Haven’t found it yet.)

The story is ridiculously simple but endlessly convoluted. In a small, crowded apartment during a brutally hot summer, a gang of students loses the remote to the air conditioner! Then they find a time machine, and decide to go back in time to find it. Except won’t that change the past? And wouldn’t that destroy the future! Trust me, friends, this show is hilarious. It’s on Hulu.

Korean Frights

By Michaele Jordan: How can Halloween be over already? We barely had time to watch thirty horror movies –and those mostly classics, which are less than half our (horror) collection!

And yet, there we were on October 31, sitting on the sofa with a huge bowl of candy by the door, watching Bride of Frankenstein. (Bride of Frankenstein is very much a favorite of ours, with its adorable little homunculi, and the tragic ending. Even as a seven-year-old, I was heartbroken that the poor lady Frankenstein only got to live a few minutes before she was squished!) We’d also chosen Bride of Frankenstein because we knew it well enough that it could withstand frequent interruptions.

But it was raining, and hardly any children came to our door. We watched our movie, and even reran a few favorite scenes, only to find that it was a little too late to start another movie, but nowhere near late enough to stop our Halloween viewing. Surely there was something spooky in the way of a TV series available.

And there was. We turned to The Guest, (directed by Kim Hong-seon and starring Kim Dong-wook, Jung Eun-chae and Kim Jae-wook). It won’t sound like much, if you read the blurb. It fact, it sounds like a joke. A priest, a detective and a taxi driver walk into a bar…  But don’t be fooled. This is one of the coolest, scariest shows I’ve ever seen! Smart enough to keep you guessing until the end – creepy enough to keep you up half the night afterwards. A perfect binge watch for Halloween.

In Korea, or at least in the sea-side village where the story opens, the term ‘guest’ is used to refer to a possessing spirit, a ‘visitor’ in the victim’s brain and body. (You know. Keeping it polite, like when we call the Fae, ‘the Good Folk’.) Guests are not good folk. We see a local man, Park Il-Do, leave his home and walk out into the sea. He stays out there far too long for us to hope he’s holding his breath. And when he comes back, everyone knows it’s not the same man. He wreaks havoc on his town, killing his family, for starters, and moving on from there.

We soon see that this spirit can move from host to host, whenever he feels his current body is threatened, or just inadequate to his needs. For instance, when he first walks out of the sea, he jumps into the body of the first person he sees, Yoon Hwa-pyung. Hwa-pyung is just a little boy, but at least he’s still alive, which is an improvement over recently drowned.

When a local priest tries to exorcise the child, the guest (who will continue to be called Park Il-Do for the rest of the series, rather than forcing the audience to keep the changing names straight) abandons the boy and jumps into the priest. The exit does not kill the child, (although, as you can imagine, it leaves him scarred for life) and little Hwa-pyung runs down to the highway, and hails a passing car, begging for assistance.

This was a mistake. The driver is concerned and, leaving her own child in the car, goes to Hwa-pyung’s aid. And dies.

You may be wondering if I am planning to tell you the entire story, taking pains to include a spoiler in every paragraph. Not so! All of the above is just the prelude. Episode two takes place twenty years later, with Hwa-pyung a troubled drifter, given to psychic visions, and still looking for Father Choi, the priest whom Park Il-Do jumped into back at the beginning. Since Hwa-pyung is the taxi-driver, I’ll leave it to you to discover the priest and the detective for yourselves.

I’ve told you before, and I’ll tell you again: they’re making some first-class television in South Korea. Along with The Guest, you might also try Signal (directed by Kim Won-seok and starring Lee Je-hoon, Kim Hye-soo and Cho Jin-woong). I’m am not as deeply into Signal as I am into The Guest, but I’ve seen enough to alert you that it is a police procedural which focuses on a haunted walkie-talkie. Surely that intrigues you? Both these shows are available on Netflix.

My Journey to She-Hulk, Attorney at Law

By Michaele Jordan: A friend of mine –who has much more elevated tastes than I do – recently twitted me about She-Hulk, Attorney at Law, which she assumed I was watching. But the funny thing was, I wasn’t. I had been vacillating about whether or not to watch it, since I’d first heard of it.

Why such mixed feelings? On the one hand, I am a huge admirer of Tatiana Maslany. On the other hand, I truly loathe The Hulk.

I’ve never read a Hulk comic. I’ve seen a few covers. I would pass by them in the racks at the drug store, while searching for “Mark Merlin’s House of Mystery”. Inevitably I would pause, transfixed by the image, then shudder and turn away. Why in the world would I want to read about someone/thing so ugly and stupid?

I did give the TV show a try, because I liked Bill Bixby. (I was a big fan of My Favorite Martian – having fallen in love with Ray Walston in Damn Yankees.) But I couldn’t stick with it. I was still completely put off by ugly and stupid.

But apparently I was the only one. The Incredible Hulk lasted five years, from 1977 to 1982, and was followed a few years later by three television movies (still starring Bill Bixby): The Incredible Hulk Returns, 1988; The Trial of the Incredible Hulk, 1989; and The Death of the Incredible Hulk, 1990.

After that, I had thirteen years of peace, in which hideous brutes were bad guys (unless an important moral point was being made), and the heroes (usually) knew which side they were fighting for. And then the real movies began.

In these, The Hulk was even bigger and uglier. First, in 2003, we got Hulk, directed by Ang Lee. (Oh, what a come down from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon!) The movie starred Eric Bana. (Bill Bixby had died in 1993.)

When Planet Hulk appeared in 2006, I tried to tell myself that at least it was only animé. (I’m wincing to hear myself say such a thing. But this was a couple of years before I discovered animé.) It didn’t represent the same market as live action. I didn’t have to take it seriously.

I can almost see you rolling your eyes, muttering, “What has she got against The Hulk? Yeah, he’s ugly and stupid, but so what? That’s what makes it fun!” Some of you may even quip, “What? Does she close her eyes every time he comes on in an Avengers movie?” (Where he is played by Mark Ruffalo.) Well, yes. That’s exactly what I do. And for that very reason, I am not a huge fan of the Avengers. I just hate The Hulk. I can’t offer any apologies or explanations. It’s visceral. Even his name is annoying.  (He got it from a comic book character named The Heap who was a large green swamp monster.)

Obviously, I was kidding myself. The Incredible Hulk, now starring Edward Norton, hit the screens in 2008. This movie features some incredible transition sequences. At least, so I hear. I haven’t seen it, but I understand that as much money, time and production skill goes into Bruce Banner’s transformation as into the actual presentation of The Hulk, himself.

I’ve gone on at such length, railing against the Hulk, that you must be wondering if I’m EVER going to get to She-Hulk, Attorney at Law. Thanks for your patience. We’ll get to that now. I just wanted you to understand my qualms. Was turning something I hated into a woman really going to make me feel better about it?

As those of you who are already watching could have told me, I shouldn’t have worried. The show does appear to be based on a comic book. (Wha!?! I didn’t even know there was a She-Hulk comic! – which probably tells you how long it’s been since I followed comics.)

In fact there have been several, starting with The Savage She-Hulk, who – as artist Mike Vosberg remarked – “was never overly attractive” and who ran from 1980 until 1982. (My husband insisted that I needed to clarify this. That done, I’d like to skip past the reboots and variations, please.)

She-Hulk #1 (the current incarnation) came out last January, which suggests to me that they already knew the show was coming, and that the comic and the show will, therefore, stay in synch in terms of tone and general content, if not story line. Or maybe not. The panel I saw in an on-line review seemed to be leading in a different direction. And no, I’m not going to go find out. The review wasn’t hugely positive, and I’ve been out of comics for a long time.

But the show is a delight. It is NOT a superhero action show. It’s a comedy, and it’s a lawyer show, albeit one set in the Marvel universe. And, while She-Hulk is big and green (6 foot 7, not counting the stiletto heels) she is NOT ugly and stupid. She’s beautiful, and buff – but not bulgy – and very smart. 

Jennifer spends most of the first episode arguing with her cousin Bruce. She is more than a little displeased to find he has infected her with hulkism.  She does not want to be a hulk. She doesn’t know how she’s going to fit this into her career or her life, and she flatly refuses to become a superhero. Indeed, most of those action shots you’ve seen on-line are taken from scenes in which she is merely enjoying a workout or sparring with cousin Bruce.

Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately) she gains a fair amount of control over when she transforms, and does not shed her brains when she does so. Therefore, when her boss wants her to come to work as She-Hulk, she does so, while remaining fully competent to argue a case.

She really does try to duck public attention, but – of course – soon finds that the world is much more interested in She-Hulk than in Jennifer. However hard she tries to focus on a normal life, she finds herself caught up in the image. She lands a prestigious new job, only to be informed she will be in charge of the super-hero litigation department. Autograph hounds pursue her, wannabe’s are constantly trying to copy her, and media vultures try to shove themselves in front of her. There is nothing so ordinary that it is not contaminated. Where can she even find business suits in her size? And like any attractive person/celebrity (whatever their gender) she has a lot of trouble extracting a decent date from the crowd of creeps and losers trying to attach themselves romantically.

In short, She-Hulk, Attorney at Law really is a comedy/lawyer show. And the bottom line in any comedy show is the writing. Is it funny? Yes, it is. There are multiple writers in multiple functions, but I think the credit for the dialogue can go Dana Schwartz, overseen by creator Jessica Gao. Kudos. This really is a hilarious show. I’m now an addict.

Review: Extraordinary Attorney Woo

Review by Michaele Jordan: 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. You’ve probably heard me mention before that I love Korean TV. Especially when kitsune are involved. There are no kitsune in Extraordinary Attorney Woo, but there are whales which is almost as good.

Remember Boston Legal from 2004? It wasn’t SF/F, but most of us watched it, if only for William Shatner and Rene Auberjonois. (Personally, I’d have watched paint dry, if it starred Rene Auberjonois. I miss him so.) You may recall that it also featured Christian Clemenson, as an autistic lawyer. (He also co-starred in The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., but that’s another post.) More than one episode focused on the unjust stigma he faced, when his work and integrity were ignored and he was judged solely on a few mannerisms.

I mention all this because Extraordinary Attorney Woo is also about an autistic lawyer. One thing needs to be very plain: there is no known demonstrable link between autism and intellectual disability. (In fact there’s no verified cause for autism at all, although research has categorically disproved some ugly myths – including that nonsense about vaccines.) And yet the two conditions do sometimes overlap. Attorney Woo is NOT intellectually disabled—just the opposite. She’s brilliant. But some people assume she is. 

Unlike Boston Legal, Extraordinary Attorney Woo confronts this element of the issue directly, by having Attorney Woo called into a case in which the accused is both autistic and intellectually disabled. All the other characters have assumed that she will have some common feeling with this troubled client, but Attorney Woo doesn’t generally deal in feeling, common or otherwise. Instead – knowing her client’s weaknesses, and tendencies – she manages to communicate with him, something which apparently no one else has actually accomplished.

Park Eun-bin stars as Woo Young-woo (The name is the same back to front as front to back, she earnestly informs everyone she meets.) Ms. Park may be one of the best actresses I’ve EVER seen – if this were an American show, she’d be a shoo-in for an Emmy. She’s on a par with Tatiana Maslany, whose performance(s) in Orphan Black thrilled us all. (Let us hope that She-Hulk will prove worthy of her!)

Ms. Park telegraphs Young-woo’s autism with broad physical moves, whether she’s bopping down the street with her headphones on, or taking an extra moment to prepare herself before going through doorways. Her performance reminds us that Young-woo dances to a different rhythm, constantly twisting her fingers, walking with clunky, hesitant caution through unfamiliar places, steadfastly dodging handshakes and eye contact.

She does not show emotion – rather she declines to respond to emotion, conveying in the process a strong internal response to emotional situations. Her face goes still, and her eyes look inward, trying to calculate the parameters and meaning of an occurrence. And yet she is charming. (Spoiler alert: You will fall in love with her.) The actress presents her with a guileless lack of pretension which I, for one, find riveting.

The stories are simple, involving clients with limited recourse to or understanding of the law, oftentimes finding themselves at odds with large and seemingly inhuman corporate legal teams. Or at least that’s how the series starts. My spies assure me that, as the show builds, its story lines grow more complex and sophisticated. I can hardly wait!I prefer an “ordinary people” approach to story-telling—grandiose stereotypes tend to shatter my suspension of disbelief. If you prefer more realistic characters, too, then I invite you to give this show a try. It’s on Netflix.

*** Addendum

I wrote the above paragraphs ten days ago, thinking I should wait until after Chicon 8 to post them, rather than intruding on the upcoming Hugo Awards. But then, I saw an article about Extraordinary Attorney Woo on the front page of the New York Times! Granted, it was the Sunday edition; granted also, it was just a quick squib at the bottom of the page, directing the reader onward; but still – the front page of the New York Times!?! Furthermore, the squib did not just direct me to a review on the entertainment page. It sent me to a featured article in the International News section.

It seems that Extraordinary Attorney Woo has created quite a stir in South Korea. It’s very popular, but some consider it controversial. Both the government and the media in South Korea are currently trying to promote good mental health and provide assistance to those who need it, especially since the tragic suicide of musical star Jonghyun. But apparently some feel that the issues surrounding mental health are still being swept under the rug, and that the neurodivergent are still kept invisible.

With that in mind, some autistics and their advocates (I’m not saying how many – the numbers are still in dispute) were disturbed that such a feel-good program (and there’s no denying, Extraordinary Attorney Woo is a very feel-good program) presented a dishonestly rosy picture, and might encourage viewers to withhold much needed support and assistance.

And on the third hand, some say the New York Times is just indulging in clickbait, and that the Korean fan media reflects none of the above. I don’t pretend to know – I’m just gossiping.

Whatever the underlying politics, I can state as fact: Extraordinary Attorney Woo is a truly excellent show and you would be denying yourself a great pleasure if you didn’t give it a try! And maybe grab a plate of gimbap to snack on while you’re watching.

They’re Back!

By Michaele Jordan: Who’s back?” you ask. Spear and Fang, of course! But perhaps you have not heard of Genddy Tartakovsky’s Primal? (Apparently, Mr. Tartakovsky has become such a big name since making the first three Hotel Transylvania films that his name must now be included in new titles.) I never saw the Hotel Transylvania films, but I thought Symbionic Titans was fabulous, and I loved Samurai Jack so much that I bought the disks instead of just recording them from the TV – which may not sound like much to you, but it’s a big deal to me. I’m a serious cheapskate. He’s won a lot of awards. (None of them Hugos.)

Which brings us back to Primal (Cartoon Network/Adult Swim). Season One first aired (or rather started to air) on October 8, 2019, with five episodes dropping in a clump. They did not appear online. They ran for four days, and vanished. The last episode shown ended unhappily, but Primal was a dark show. A tragic ending was plausible. So, when no further episodes materialized, I thought it was over. A mini-series.

Then, a year later, five more episodes dropped. They were not widely advertised (maybe not at all.) The show ran for a month, and stopped again. I tell you this because I looked it up on Wikipedia. I knew nothing of it at the time.

Season Two did not appear until July, 2022, this time preceded by multiple commercials. I eagerly set my DVDR, only to be utterly bewildered when I watched the first episode. The two protagonists spent the entire episode searching for a third character of whom I’d never heard. It turned out that the third character had been introduced in the season finale (episode ten) of Season One. That’s how I found out that there had been five episodes aired in 2020.

It took a bit of searching, but I did eventually manage to dig them out of On Demand. (Mind you, I’m glad On Demand exists, but it’s not always user friendly.)

By now, Cartoon Network/Adult Swim seems to have learned their lesson. (Or maybe some rich producer gave them enough money to upgrade.) Primal is now available on HBO Max, with each episode dropping the day after it premieres on Cartoon Network/Adult Swim. And HBO Max – bless their little digital hearts – is also carrying Season One, in its entirety.

Now that I have rolled my eyes at how easy you have it these days, and regaled you with the difficulties I had to undergo (Hey, I’m old. That’s what old people do.) let me assure you that watching Primal is worth your while.

You should be aware that it is nothing like what you normally expect of anime. There are no perky school-girls or gung-ho boy pilots in Primal. And there is absolutely nothing sweet about it –except that it is so beautifully drawn that it’s hypnotic. There are monsters, but they are not from outer space or another dimension, they are from the late Mesozoic. You should think carefully about whether the kids should be allowed to watch it. Not because of the sexual content – there is none – but because of the graphic violence, and the bleak, grim vision of life. Like Hobbes said, “Ugly, brutish, and short is the life of man.”

This is an alternate history story, in which humans evolved in time to cohabit the earth with dinosaurs. So there’s no clever dialogue. The Neanderthal protagonist, Spear, does not talk. He grunts. He has formed an unlikely friendship (there’s a back story for that) with Fang, whom the animators label as a Tyrannosaur (although she looks more like an Albertosaurus, Daspletosaurus or Gorgosaurus).

The setting is not just an unspoiled earth, but an earth still young and raw, and only barely inhabited. Most of the flora and fauna look authentic (or at least like the pictures in the earth science textbooks). And Mr. Tartakovsy is a master of landscaping animation, as he plainly demonstrated in Samurai Jack. The imagery is intense and compelling

The stories are simple. There are so many dangers in in this gargantuan wilderness you don’t need to make much up. But, just in case, Mr. Tartakovsy throws in magic, too. Again, it’s not much like what you expect to see in anime. It’s dark and primitive – not so much evil as pre-good-and-evil.

As I’m sure you’ve already deduced, I love this show. I want to see it on next year’s Hugo list. But I have to admit, it’s very dark – maybe too much so for some. But, hey! We are fans! The brave and bold! Give it a try!

Jordan: Hugo Finalists for Best Novel, Part 2

By Michaele Jordan: You may remember that a couple of weeks ago, I posted (or rather I started to post) my personal take on the Hugo nominees for Best Novel, but I only got through the first three. So here I am, back with the remaining three candidates.

The next book in the line-up was She Who Became the Sun, by Shelley Parker-Chan (Tor / Mantle). I loved it. Just loved it. This book is glorious. Ms. Parker-Chan says that, having despaired of finding a decent translation of the Chinese historical sagas that she loved, she decided to write her own. And that is what this is.

The story is sprawling and complex, driven by characters who are all simply trying to get what they want. Sometimes what they want may seem unreasonable to us, but to them, that’s not a meaningful objection. They don’t have to justify what they want, they just want it. If they can, they will even fling armies around and slaughter thousands to get it.

Although the bulk of the characters are either women or damaged men, it is well over a hundred pages before anyone happens to notice that the inferior status and cruel treatment of women (and others) is perhaps unfair. The insight is shrugged off. In the medieval Chinese world, justice is not a meaningful concept. It’s simply non-existent. Parents are not just. Kings are not just. Life is not just. Even heaven is not just. Most women are far too busy trying to survive to concern themselves with the fairness, or lack thereof, of their situation. It is what it is.

For example (and this is not a spoiler, it’s chapter one) the protagonist, a little girl, is practically the only girl-child in her village. The land has been trapped in drought and famine for her entire life. Food is always short. When a family doesn’t have enough food for all the children, it is not shared. It is given to the son. The daughter just doesn’t get any. So she starves.

It is a testament to her family’s prosperity that they still have a surviving daughter. She helps the little boys dig up crickets to supplement the family diet. (She’s actually much better at it than her brother.) When she gets home, her parents take the crickets away and give them to her brother. This was horrible, of course. But it was horribly truthful. Justice is not an essential, or even a commonplace. It’s a luxury, and a very rare one, at that.

I also loved the magic. It is nothing like the magic you see in any western novel, where magic is simply a non-material technology. This Chinese magic is strange, subtle and otherworldly. Nobody blasts power around. (Thank you, Ms. Parker-Chan!) Frequently, it’s not even useful. At most, some people see ghosts, but the ghosts don’t seem to see them. (That’s a good thing.) Neither the reader, nor, I suspect, the characters, really knew how it is wielded or what the effects of it would turn out to be. This is what I’ve always known in my heart magic is like. Inscrutable and more dangerous than practical.

The only fault I found in this book is that the ending is bit abrupt and not entirely satisfactory. I got the feeling she just cut it off at the closest thing she could find to a stopping place, because she had to wrap it up. So I looked it up, and it is, indeed, Volume One of a duology. I do not doubt that she needs another 500 pages to finish it properly. I eagerly await Volume Two.

The fifth Hugo candidate was Project Hail Mary, by Andy Weir (Ballantine / Del Rey). If you read Mr. Weir’s The Martian, (or even just saw the movie) then you already have a pretty good idea of his approach to story-telling. Romance is not a story. (Actually, I agree with him on that.) Pompous speeches are not a story. Fight-scenes are not a story—not unless their outcome significantly changes what comes next. (Think about it. Barring that half-hour all-or-nothing battle at the end of the movie, where the entire cast has to band together to stop one world-destroying bad guy, how often does a fight scene really change the story line? And does that last battle really have to go on for so long? Yes, the specials are impressive, but there are fans in the audience who have to go to the bathroom.)

Mr. Weir knows what he wants in a story. He wants to see one really smart scientist come up against a serious problem, and solve it like a detective, by thinking his way out. (I’ll bet he’s very fond of mysteries.) So that’s what he writes. Writing the book you want to read is what writers do.

In The Martian the problem the scientist had to solve was simple and basic. He needed to figure out how to stay alive in utterly hostile territory. His team had inadvertently left him behind when they evacuated, leaving him alone on a planet only barely habitable, with insufficient supplies of the basic necessities of life. It would be four years before rescue arrived.

So he ‘works the problem,’ as he expresses it. He faces each life-threatening issue as it arises. He declines to panic, and thinks each one through carefully. Some of his attempted solutions don’t work as hoped. Again, he declines to panic, and rethinks them even more carefully.

This low-key, thoughtful problem-solving caught the public eye partly because it was so hugely original. When was the last time you saw a film – with no fight scenes! – in which the hero solves the problem by being smart? The acclaim was well deserved, but it presented Mr. Weir with his own next problem: how to top it.

He remained true to himself. He wrote The Martian because that was the kind of book he wanted to read. Project Hail Mary is also the kind of book he likes to read, a book where one really smart scientist comes up against a serious problem, and solves it like a detective, by thinking his way out. But this time, he made the problem much bigger than personal survival – the extinction of the human race.

Because the problem was so much bigger, his smart protagonist needed international support to build the necessary space ship. (I found the story got a little weak here. Surely international support and cooperation for the draconian means by which Project Hail Mary was assembled is unlikely. Yes, the end of the world was at stake. But it’s at stake, right here and now with climate change, and that hasn’t persuaded the world to unite under one banner.)

But that isn’t really very important. The answer to the problem is at Tau Ceti, thirteen light years away, so the brilliant scientist has to go there, all alone. (He was supposed to have companions, but they came to a sad end.) And when he gets there he finds a friend. Not a human friend, of course, but an alien whose people are suffering a similar problem to the one facing earth. Our hero is delighted. First contact! Alien life! He does not say anything about, ‘oh thank goodness (he’s a teacher, his language is squeaky clean) I’m not alone anymore!’ He doesn’t seem to suffer from loneliness, despite the loss of his travelling companions.

There’s somewhat more action in this book than there was in The Martian, because there are so many terrible accidents possible in outer space, but the book remains primarily about the problem-solving. The explanation for the peril facing Earth, is detailed and carefully thought out. The data he acquires at Tau Ceti is also detailed and carefully thought out. The solution he works toward is painstakingly reasoned. I will tell you nothing about these things, as that would be serious spoilage. They are what Mr. Weir wrote this book to say. The science geeks among us – and we have many – will be in seventh heaven. I am pleased to report that the ending (or perhaps it would be more accurate to describe it as the coda) was simultaneously unexpected yet inevitable.

As for me, I guess I’m a little too susceptible to stories with action and emotion. I liked this book – really, I did! – but there were times when reading it was like being locked in a closet with Mr. Wizard.

This year’s final offering is A Desolation Called Peace, by Arkady Martine (Tor). It took me longer to get through this than I originally expected. The truth is (and I blush to confess it) I had not realized it was a sequel, let alone the sequel to a previous Hugo winner. (How did I miss that? What was I doing in 2020 that I didn’t read the Hugo nominees like I [almost] always do?) But settling down in my comfy chair, with my cup of tea and a fat new book, I was shocked to see: eagerly awaited to sequel to hugo winner a memory called empire emblazoned across the cover.

I just don’t read sequels out of order. I can’t make myself do it. (Borderline autism, perhaps?) I set the book down, jumped up and rushed over to the computer to order A Memory Called Empire from the library. When I got back, I picked up Project Hail Mary, instead, although I had previously intended to let my husband read it first.

Perhaps I should have broken my rule, just this once. Because – and I need to get this down up front, before misunderstandings arise – I thought A Desolation Called Peace was an excellent book. That said, I have to admit I didn’t think it was as good as A Memory Called Empire, which was just too good to top. There’s a reason it took the Hugo in 2020.

For starters, naturally everything in A Memory Called Empire was new. While we’ve all seen interstellar empires before, the whole complicated Teixcalaanli society, with its overwhelming conviction of its own rightness, contrasted with frequent hints of decadence, was fabulous.

The elegance of the poetry contests and the gilded architecture, the repeated floral imagery always used to represent empire, the constant literary and historical references that every citizen seemed to know, even the golden police: all invoked the insidious beauty of empires in our own past. I frequently caught myself reflecting on the oh-so-sophisticated charms and conceits of 18th century France. We humans know all too well how beautiful empire can look, even though we also know how badly it generally ends.

Of course, all of this is still there in A Desolation Called Peace, but by then we’re into the endgame. The emphasis is more on Stationer society, and too many reminders of the beauties of Teixcalaan would just have made the poverty and cramped quarters of Lsel look worse – and it already looked bad enough, what with its processed food and its corrupt politicians.

Much the same is true of the imago, the central concept of the first book. Here, Ms. Martine set out and explored a genuinely new, original and exciting SF concept, and we shared her fascination. I was particularly struck by her portrayal of how difficult it was for the imperial society to grasp the concept, while it was second nature to the Stationer society, forcing the reader to pick it up from the cross clues. The technique worked beautifully. But in the second book, we already knew about the imagoes, and their main story function was to put the protagonist in danger.

The story line of A Desolation Called Peace revolves around the appearance of an alien species of monsters. Ms. Martine does a superb job with the monsters – they are creepy, gooey, scary (very, very scary) and utterly mysterious. It really does take an entire book to resolve what they are, how they function, and how to communicate with them. That done, I admit, I found the ending a little pat. “And a little child shall lead them.” But I’m guessing that others will find it wonderfully touching.

Also – there’s always an also, isn’t there? – I was troubled by the fact that the ending did not include the resolution of the protagonist’s two very pressing personal problems. (But there was time for adolescent romantic gushing?) So, I’m guessing that there will be a third book. The empire may have to collapse completely in that one.

Jordan: Comments on the 2022 Best Novel Hugo Finalists: Part 1

[Introduction: In Part 1 of her overview, Michaele Jordan reviews half of the Best Novel Hugo finalists: The Galaxy, and the Ground Within, by Becky Chambers, Light From Uncommon Stars, by Ryka Aoki, and A Master of Djinn, by P. Djèlí Clark.]

By Michaele Jordan: Like many of you, I’ve been immersed in my Hugo reading. (I don’t always manage to get to Worldcon – I am hugely excited about being able to vote!) Last week I was discussing my readings with a friend and they suggested I share my views here. They said, “You’ve been thinking so hard about the books you read. You really should write it all down, and post it!” And they’re right – do think hard about what I read. Why else would I read it?

You may be wondering why I am working so hard to justify writing a post about the Hugo nominees. Truth to tell, I’m a little afraid of how you’ll all take it.  

When I was a kid, everybody in my family was an addicted reader. And since we all lived together, we couldn’t afford to get angry whenever we didn’t agree on a book, i.e., all the time. Instead we debated – explaining our views, dissecting the points of opposition, and searching for common ground got to be more entertaining than TV (except on Twilight Zone or Star Trek nights).

But fandom isn’t like that. It shocked me to my soul the first time I said at a con that I didn’t care for a book and a supposedly fellow fan snarled, “Well, that’s just stupid,” and stalked off. Sometimes flame wars even erupt just because two fans disagree, not on a book, but on their favorite character in the book.

So I hereby state, firmly and unequivocally, that I know I am just one fan, that I have no authority to tell others what to read or think, and that I am merely expressing my personal opinions. I bear no ill will to, and pass no judgement on, those who disagree with me.

That said, I’ll start with The Galaxy, and the Ground Within, by Becky Chambers (Harper Voyager / Hodder & Stoughton) because that’s the first one I read.

I found this to be a high-end mid-grade novel. I admit I tend to expect award nominees to be better than mid-grade, even high-end mid-grade. But I am not saying that this was a bad book, just more formulaic than I care for.

We’ve all seen the formula many times. A group of travelers collects at some common point – a bus stop, a hotel lobby or a police station, – where for some reason they are temporarily detained. Each detainee has their own story, which includes a personal issue in need of a resolution. In the privacy of their mutual anonymity, they reveal their secrets and face—or conclusively decline to face – their demons, and they make decisions. Then they are released to go their separate ways, with most of them changed, for better or for worse.

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within does not deviate from this outline by a hair. Three space travelling aliens are gathered at stopover facility between wormholes, which is owned and operated by a fourth alien. They become temporarily trapped by a technical difficulty in the transport system. They are all in a hurry (except the host, who has a terminally cute youngling) with plans that cannot withstand extended delay, not to mention uncomfortable political divisions.

One alien has a frail companion waiting for them on their ship, another is racing to a forbidden lover, and a third is in hiding from dangerous enemies. The host frets that they cannot make everybody happy, and the youngling is terribly injured in a foolish mishap resulting from misguided curiosity. But not to worry – it all comes right in the end.

The book’s greatest strength is its detailed visual depiction of its aliens, who may have perfectly comprehensible human-like emotions but are extremely peculiar to look at. The description of the youngling lumbering across a room with a tray is laugh-out-loud funny, and the giant caterpillar was so convincing it set off my insect phobia. The complete absence of humans (barring one off-stage) was a nice touch.

From there, I moved on to read Light From Uncommon Stars, by Ryka Aoki (Tor / St Martin’s Press). This book was more intriguing. Things happened that I had not seen coming. (Some people always want to know what’s going to happen next, may even want it so much that they’ll skip ahead and read the last chapter first. I’m not one of them.)

For starters, Light From Uncommon Stars offers an interesting blend of science fiction and fantasy. (The only time I have ever seen these two so inextricably intertwined was in Charley Jane Anders’ All the Birds in the Sky.)There are aliens from another galaxy, and there are demons negotiating for human souls. And it all circulates around a Southern California donut shop with a giant donut mounted on the roof.

On the one hand, we have Shuzuki Satomi, a brilliant and beautiful violinist who has not performed in many years. Instead she teaches. Her last six students have gone on to the highest pinnacles of international acclaim. And unhappy ends. Very unhappy ends. Hellish, in fact. Now she is searching for a seventh student. But she is hard to please, and has turned down numerous ambitious and gifted young musicians. Instead she inexplicably takes in Katrina, a troubled transgender teen with no formal training, on the run from an abusive father.

On the other hand, we have Lan Tran and her family of refugees, who run the above-mentioned donut shop. It used to be very popular, but since Lan Tran acquired it, its customers are drifting away. It’s not that the donuts aren’t good. Just the opposite, they are just as good as they used to be. Just exactly as good. Down to the last molecule. Because she copies it, molecule by molecule in her replicator.  So it lacks that tiny sparkle of home-made originality.

The hand shake between these two scenes occurs by accident. Lan Tran’s family is secretly building a space portal inside the giant donut – but not so they can return home. Just the opposite. It’s so they can persuade the forces of the empire to stay away. And when the engines are being tested, they make beautiful music, which Shuzuki happens to overhear. Beautiful music is the only thing that really matters to Shuzuki. It is her only refuge from the demon she made a deal with, and from the memories of the six students she fed to that demon to keep it away.

Katrina does not need galactic empires or hungry demons to require a refuge from pain. Her ordinary human life has given her all the punishment this world has to offer. She pours her misery into her clunky old pawn-shop violin, playing tunes from video games, and finds more strength than she ever dreamed of possessing.

Light From Uncommon Stars is not a flawless book. There are a few little problems: Katrina’s gender issues are so overwhelming they tend to belittle the pain of a drunken, abusive father; her ability to master Bartok without any classical training, or even familiarity, whatsoever, is a bit too much of a stretch. But those are nits. It is a fine book. It shows us that, superhero fiction to the contrary, the victory of the human spirit is neither easy nor cheap, and certainly not inevitable. But it is possible. The weight of the world is overwhelming, but it can be endured – and that, in itself – is a great victory.

And then I turned to A Master of Djinn, by P. Djèlí Clark (Tordotcom / Orbit UK). Heavy sigh. This is the book that made me worry if I dared be honest with you. For me it was a DNF. I tried. Really, I did. After all, it was a Hugo nominee. Maybe I didn’t have to love it, but I certainly had to give it serious consideration. I don’t usually give a book more than thirty pages to capture my interest. I may even toss it down the basement steps after ten pages if the opening is stupid enough. But for the sake of my responsibility to the Hugos, I gave A Master of Djinn a hundred pages, before I gave up.

I can almost hear you protesting, “But it won the Nebula.” I know. It won the Nebula. And while I am trying desperately to remember that everybody is entitled to their opinion, I still can’t help but feel that’s a gross miscarriage of justice.

So what was so wrong with it? I promise to keep this civil. To give P. Djèlí Clark full credit where it’s due, the setting – modern Cairo in an alternate history world – is excellent. His choice of the turning point in the alternate history, and its consequences were intriguing. He describes a colorful combination of historic streets and architecture (which, I presume, is reasonably accurate since he went to so much trouble with it), and a modern (sometimes bizarrely so) infra-structure.

I am also confident that his presentation of the hierarchy of magical beings and the Egyptian pantheon is accurate; certainly he knows more of them than I, after only a little dabbling, do. I understand he has written a number of short stories set in this world, and he knows it well.

The story is a magical mystery which, I regret to say, I found pedestrian. In the opening scene, the original murder was impressive and mysterious, but he revealed the magical methodology – by far the most interesting element of the crime – very early on, leaving the reader to slog through all the usual whodunit clues. But this, in and of itself, would not have caused me to give up on the book. After all, there might be a last-minute clever twist.

An author friend of mine once told me, “If you just give one character a limp, another character an accent, and make the third use a lot of big words, everybody will say you’re a genius at characterization.” That appears to be Mr. Clark’s approach. Characters are portrayed primarily by the outfits they wear. One woman is strident and mannishly but stylishly dressed. Another is very feminine, and gushes and blushes. I cared nothing for either of them. But this did not cause me to give up either. Perhaps they would develop later.

In the end, it was Mr. Clark’s inadequate English skills that did me in. There were awkward phrasings on every page. Actual grammatical errors were almost as frequent. He mixed up ‘who’ and ‘which’. Occasionally his syntax and vocabulary were so tortured that I simply could not figure out what he meant. His attempt to describe a hexagon, without calling it a hexagon, was mind boggling. (At least I think he meant a hexagon.)

But in the end, that didn’t matter. Reading is (or should be) a pleasure, a matter of surrendering to the rhythm of the words. But if you have to stop every couple of paragraphs to reconstruct incomprehensible phraseology, reading becomes a chore, even a burden. So I gave up. My apologies if you loved it.

This post has gone on longer than I expected, so I’ll draw to a close. I’ll be back soon, if you’ll have me, with my thoughts on the rest of the nominees for Best Novel. So please keep an eye out for Part 2!

Hugo Nominees and Other Anime

Star Trek: Lower Decks. ©2021 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved

By Michaele Jordan: About a month ago, when I posted my first file here on File 770, I was delighted to discover that I was not alone in my fondness for Korean SF/F. (Thank you all!) I immediately started collecting material for a post about fox spirits. (I adore kitsune.) But I had barely started jotting down titles and checking the spelling of Korean actors’ names, when the Hugo ballots were announced.

Of course, everything in the world stopped, while I rushed to order books from the library and line up titles on Netflix, et alia. I particularly noted the anime titles. Several were familiar to me, but I have to admit I the Star Trek titles caught me off guard. I had never even heard of them. So, naturally, my sweetie and I curled up with some snacks, and tuned our electronic hearth to Paramount.

We started with Star Trek: Lower Decks. My first impression—and I mean immediately, like within about 3 frames—was that it looked an awful lot like Final Space. Final Space, alas, did not make it onto the Hugo ballot, although the third season aired on TBS between March and July in 2021. (I like to think it might have been a close race.) It was created by Olan Rogers who then developed it with David Sacks. Officially ShadowMachine in Los Angeles was responsible for the animation but they outsourced it to a Canadian studio, Jam-Filled, who used Toon Boon Harmony software and NASA space images.

If that sounds like more about the animation process than you really wanted to hear, my apologies. I spent an embarrassing amount of time on the research. Because, as I said above, Star Trek: Lower Decks really, really looked like it had been drawn by the same people. Except it wasn’t. The Star Trek show was animated by Titmouse. Creator Mike McMahan (who I hold in high esteem for his work on Rick and Morty and Solar Opposites) specifically wanted a look reminiscent of shows from the turn of the millennium.

Star Trek: Lower Decks main characters.

You could even say the two shows had much in common. Both featured everyman heroes, goofy guys who, despite belonging to a glamorous interstellar military, didn’t have a lot going for them, except their good intentions. Yet they always managed to rise to their occasions, because—if nothing else—they believed in the dream. Unfortunately, Final Space did it a lot better than Star Trek: Lower Decks.

It’s not that I don’t love Star Trek. I’ve been watching it since 1966. (I missed the pilot—or rather, “Mantrap,” which was the first episode aired. I started with “Charlie X.”) My very first convention, back in 1973, was not an SF con, but the International Philadelphia Star Trek Convention. (My boyfriend took me. He had a press pass from the Doylestown Courier—his first job.) But Star Trek is almost as old as I am. It now has rules, and protocols, and boundaries. It is entrenched within its own mythology. You can sit down at any new Star Trek creation, confident that you know exactly what’s going to happen. That’s not what I came to SF/F looking for. Every frame in Final Space was unexpected. But Star Trek: Lower Decks was very predictable, not to mention snarky and sophomoric,

Mind you, I’ll still watch all the new shows, episodes and movies. For instance, we went straight on from Star Trek: Lower Decks to watch Star Trek: Prodigy. My hopes were high. For starters, instead of boring you with production details, I’ll just say it was computer animated. And it is beautiful. Be it aliens or alien worlds, star ships or kitchen tools, every image is gorgeous. If you are wondering why anime fans are, well, anime fans, go look at Star Trek: Prodigy. Anime fans want their field of vision to be filled with wonder. Star Trek: Prodigy does that.

The story starts out a bit darker than I expect of Star Trek. The protagonists are not just a rag-tag band of outcasts, but desperate orphans. They escape from a hellish world/culture by stealing a star ship from their gangster boss. They don’t even know that it’s a Federation ship—they barely know what the Federation is. The only flaw in their escape is that the gangster boss’s little daughter has snuck on board, hoping to stop them.

Pictured: Art for Star Trek: Prodigy . Photo Cr: Nickelodeon/Paramount+ ©2021, All Rights Reserved.

From there on, the story is a bit more traditional. It turns out that, since this is a Federation vessel—and a prototype, at that—it is equipped, not just with a holodeck, but a whole cast of Star Fleet holograms. Foremost among these is Captain Janeway, who appears immediately and designates them as cadets. So our damaged naïfs have someone to train them, protect them from themselves, and, most of all, to care about them. Let the adventures begin!

While I was roaming around, looking for Hugo nominated anime, I stumbled upon (or rather bumped into the widely advertised) Samurai Rabbit. This is not on the Hugo ballot, for the simple reason that it is brand new. But I have high hopes of seeing it on next year’s list of nominees. It is based on the much-admired Dark Horse comic, Usagi Yojimbo, which relates the adventures of Miyamoto Usagi. (Usagi is Japanese for rabbit.) The character is a light-hearted reimagining of the great Japanese ‘sword saint’, Miyamoto Musashi, (1584-1645).

Samurai Rabbit: The Usagi Chronicles,

I confess that I have never followed the comic. But I am, due to a complicated series of odd chances, in possession of the first issue. I am told it is valuable, and have never dared take it out of its plastic wrapper. So I cannot say how closely the anime follows the comic—I am told there are some significant changes. I can say that, aside from a more three-dimensional imagery, the anime looks very much like the comic.

And it is utterly delightful! The imagery—the sentient animals, the period costumes, the temples, the flying boats, the magic!—is awesome! (Although my husband complains with every episode that the fox should not have her tail growing out of the back of her head.) There is lots of action, and lots of silliness. Please, friends, give it a watch (it’s easy to find—it’s on Netflix) and consider nominating it for next year.

Michaele Jordan was born in LA, educated in New York, and lives in Cincinnati. She’s worked at a kennel, a Hebrew School and AT&T. Now she writes, supervised by a long-suffering husband and two domineering cats. She has numerous stories scattered around the web, and her novel Mirror Maze is available on Amazon. Her website,, is undergoing reconstruction, but just grab a hard hat, and come on in.

Squid Game and Beyond

By Michaele Jordan: 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.

I suppose it’s the subtitles. My hearing is poor, and I often have trouble following dubbed dialogue, with its lack of proper lip synch. So I’m grateful for subtitles (even when the English grammar gets rocky). But most people hate them. Most Korean movies are not dubbed, and almost none of the TV shows are.

But now that you’ve all seen how very exciting Korean SF can be, I’m hoping that some of you will come around. Please allow me to throw a couple of titles at you.

I’m starting with nice, easy ones – current TV shows that are still available on Netflix. The easiest of all is probably The King: Eternal Monarch, (2020) directed by Baek Sang-hoon and Jung Ji-hyun. Like many Korean offerings, it’s a mix of many flavors. First off, it’s a romance. (It’s always a romance—the Koreans love romance. Fortunately they do it well, except for the saccharine music that is obligatory in every love scene.)

But it’s also a costume drama. Despite being set in roughly modern day, the king and his court are often attired in period costume. Royal tradition, you know. Plus he’s often seen on his horse, decked out in a uniform with a lot of gold braid. It’s billed as a fantasy, but I would argue it’s more SF, being a tale of parallel worlds. Except the parallel worlds were separated by a demon and can be reunited via a magic flute. So —SFF? For those who care nothing for horses or magic, it’s also a political thriller and a crime drama.

In one world, the king of Corea is murdered by his evil half-brother, Lee Lim, (Lee Jung-Jin.) How’s that for Shakespearean drama—a bastard prince! Then, in a truly heart-rending scene, he nearly murders his little nephew, young Gon, who tearfully, hopelessly challenges him with the family sword, which he can’t even hold upright. Fortunately they are interrupted.

Lee Lim escapes through a portal to South Korea, which, in the absence of monarchy, suffers its own internecine conflict with North Korea. He digs in, and slowly and painstakingly plots his return to a throne in another world. The child is left behind, to bewail his father’s death in formal mourning dress on national TV.

Twenty-five years or so later in Corea, Lee Gon, (played by Lee Min-ho) is proving himself a good king, maybe because he learned young how horrific political corruption can get. And—of course—he stumbles onto the portal. When he arrives in Korea, his horse snarls traffic, and he gets busted by detective Jeong Tae-eul, played by Kim Go-eun. Don’t let her good looks fool you. She is not soft, and she didn’t fall in love with him at first sight. But she did feel sorry for him, and almost stuck the poor lunatic in an asylum. Plus her father really liked his horse.

I’d best stop here before I end up trying to tell you the whole convoluted story, but rest assured, all its twists and turns remain faithful to its basic premise, with no cheating anywhere. The characters are presented with surprising subtlety, and brought to life with many convincing details. And—hallelujah!—the romance is not heavy-handed! Even if he does end up charging to her rescue on horseback in the grand finale.

Now, let’s look at Hotel del Luna (also known as Guest House of the Moon), 2019, directed by Oh Choong-hwan. It was written by two sisters, Hong Jung-eun and Hong Mi-ran, and I have to warn you: it’s very girly. And yet . . . girly, or no, it’s not a romance. Or not exactly a romance. Or not a current romance. All the gentle love scenes take place a thousand years in the past. And if the modern-day heroine, Jang Man-wol (Lee Ji-eun) is still mooning after her lost love, she conceals it marvelously. She is sharp-tongued and greedy, and rules her hotel with an iron hand.

The hotel is more than just a business — in a very real sense, it is her identity, the role she has been bound to for a thousand years. It is also a supernatural focal point, a place perfectly poised between the worlds of life and death. It is a hotel for ghosts, where they can pause after death to resolve whatever personal issues prevent them from passing on to rebirth. Although the building is real and solid (it has to be since those whom it serves have not yet passed out of the mortal world) the resident ghosts, be they guests or staff, are not made of matter and are generally invisible to the living.

Man-wol is the only staff member who can interact with living humans. It’s not a job she likes much, so she bestows the ability to see ghosts on Gu Chan-sung (Yeo Jin-goo) and appoints him General Manager of the hotel. It’s not a kindness—he hates it. But his father owes her a favor, and she needs at least one human on her staff to take care of all the stupid paperwork the mortal world entails. She is, after all, much too busy drinking really good champagne and trying on new shoes to deal with such nonsense.

This is where it really gets girly: Man-wol’s clothes. Every time the modern-day woman walks on camera—that’s an average of every seven minutes per episode—she is wearing a different glamorous outfit. There are sixteen episodes, and over a hundred outfits, each one rumored to have cost at least $4,000. (Not a cheap show to put on! Good thing it was wildly popular.) In the past, Apparently, Man-wol had only the clothes on her back in the past, so she needs to make up for lost time. Chan-sung routinely scolds her about her expenses. She either laughs or snarls. (Spoiler alert: Man-wol and Chan-sung do not fall in love. Forgive me—I felt you had to know.)

Although the tone is light, there is considerable drama. This ‘story’ is a collection of smaller stories. Do we not all, every one of us, have our own story? The ghosts all used to be living, so they, too, each have their story. Mind you, not all of the ghosts are benevolent—some have only lingered in the hope of bloody revenge, and once revenge has become bloody, it intrudes on the mortal world. Such as these cannot be tolerated, in this world or the next. (Buddhism has a hell, too.)

However, most of the ghosts are simply troubled or deluded, and face difficult resolutions. The hotel staff is there for them, waiting on them, listening to them, arranging special events for them and running strange errands. They even arrange phone calls with the living (although the living think the calls are only dreams.) It is their job to bring peace, so that the unhappy stories can draw to a close. We are frequently reminded that death is, in its own way, a blessing.

The staff are ghosts, too, of course, and some of them are very old. The sweet old bartender—who devises special drinks for special occasions—and his old friend, the charming housekeeper, both died in the fifteenth century. He is still haunted by the slanders heaped on his name when he was a scholar, and she by the loss of a long-dead child.

Saddest of all is Man-wol’s history, an epic of blood and war, love and betrayal. We see no trace of it in her now. But it is there, lingering and dark, guiding seemingly random actions, and erupting suddenly into inexplicable hatred against reincarnated souls that no longer remember her. She may not be a ghost, per se—she’s something other—but she’s a real bitch, sometimes. She, too, needs some unreachable resolution. Nonetheless, I promise you will care about her. And I also promise you will not guess the ending. Watch it and see!

Michaele Jordan was born in LA, educated in New York, and lives in Cincinnati. She’s worked at a kennel, a Hebrew School and AT&T. She’s a little odd. Now she writes, supervised by a long-suffering husband and two domineering cats.  Her first novel, Blade Light, was serialized in Jim Baen’s Universe, followed by her occult thriller, Mirror Maze. Her work has appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Abyss & Apex, and Buzzy Mag. Horror fans will enjoy her “Blossom” series, which appeared in The Crimson Pact, Volumes 4 and 5.  Her website is undergoing reconstruction, but just grab a hard hat and come on in.

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #50

Juneteenth 2020

By Chris M. Barkley:

“Won’t it be wonderful when Black history and Native American history and Jewish history and all of U.S. history is taught from one book. Just U.S. history.” — Maya Angelou

On this, the 155th anniversary of the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in Galveston Texas, the one word that is uppermost in my mind is…endurance.

Endurance can be the only word that can be applied to my African ancestors, brought here involuntarily, the Native Americans of this continent, and all those others who have migrated or immigrated here from other lands.

For we have endured despite the numerous and myriad attempts by, let’s just say, other, richer, less melanin enhanced Americans, who have done their damnedest to dominate, assimilate, and commit waves of genocidal acts and otherwise erase us from history.

And, for long stretches of our mutual history, they succeeded. But the funny thing about history is that it can never completely be erased or forgotten, especially by those who are the ones being oppressed.

Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, Liberation Day and Jubilee Day, started out as a regional celebration in Texas state holiday. Though it was somewhat eclipsed by the Civil Rights movement in the 1950’s and 60’s, the celebration began anew in the 70’s, particularly in the American South.

I first became acquainted with Juneteenth in the 1990’s when National Public Radio’s All Things Considered did a lengthy feature story about it. Having grown up in a Catholic grade and high school, I was never taught about the contributions of people of color to American History, with one single exception, the death of Crispus Attucks, an African-American stevedore who was killed by British troops at the Boston Massacre of 1770. He is widely regarded as the very first casualty of the American Revolution.

As I progressed through high school and into college, I discovered even more tidbits of hidden Black History, explorers like Matt Henson, journalist Ida B. Wells, scientists and engineers such as George Washington Carver, Granville Woods, and Willie Hobbs Moore. This was during a time when the hidden figures of Black History were being rediscovered and elevated by revisionist historians at universities all over America.

This was also the era when I discovered sf fandom.

I had been reading sf authors like Bradbury and Asimov since the eighth grade and had discovered the first two volumes of The Hugo Winners (the book club edition) when it was first published  during my sophomore year in high school. 

As I recounted in File 770 over twenty years ago, I was puzzled by the mention of conventions where the Hugo were given out but there were practically no information on how to attend them. Little did I know that I was living in one of the hotbeds of sf fandom at the time, Cincinnati, Ohio.

When I came across a notice of Cincinnati’s annual convention, Midwestcon, in an issue of Analog in the summer of 1976, I persuaded my best friend and neighbor, Michaele Jordan, to come with me to a small hotel less than five miles from our homes.

It just so happened that Midwestcon 27 had a rather high number of professional writers and fans attending that weekend. I not only found myself surrounded by writers whose books I had read, I also were with people, for the very first time in my life, who did not judge me by the color of my skin but by the content of my character.

In the forty-four years since that joyous weekend, I have been to nearly two hundred conventions (YES, I saved ALL of my badges) including twenty-nine Worldcons.

I did notice that unlike today, there were not a lot of African Americans attending conventions in those days. As I made my way around the east coast conventions I did encounter three African-Americans I looked up to and admired from afar.

Samuel R. Delany.
Photo from SFWA website.

Samuel R. “Chip” Delany still walks among us. We met in 1986 when I chaired and organized a one-shot sf convention, Cinclave, which was done in conjunction with the University of Cincinnati. Despite my best efforts, the convention was a financial disaster for me but Chip Delany was a delight to converse with and he graciously signed all of my books. I recently made it a priority to spend some of my COVID-19 stimulus cash on acquiring all of his most essential works. You know them; Babel-17, The Einstein Intersection, Dhalgren, Triton, Nova, Distant Stars. A tremendous writer, he was named a Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 2014. 

Elliot K. Shorter at HexaCon, in 1980, a convention in Lancaster, Penna. Photo by © Andrew I. Porter.

Elliot K. Shorter (April 2, 1939 — October 1, 2013) was an impressive looking man; an ex-marine MP, he stood at 6’4” he was easy to spot. He won a TAFF race against Charles N. Brown and Bill Rotsler and was the Fan Guest of Honor at Heicon in West Germany, the first Worldcon held on mainland Europe. He was a regular conrunner at many east coast conventions and very active in the Society for Creative Anachronism. When I found out who he was and how accomplished he was, I wanted to be just like him.

D Potter (who died October 25, 2017) was a very tall, funny and effusive soul, who ALWAYS seemed to be having a good time wherever she was. She was an avid and prolific fanzine writer and apazine editor. I never got to know her very well and that was my loss. But I remember her vividly as a welcoming and good soul. 

D Potter at “New York is Book Country,” mid-1980s. Photos by and copyright © Andrew Porter

My time in fandom, has, for the most part, been a very good journey. It has not been without a few controversial moments and bruised toes but overall, there are very few things that I regret doing or experiencing.

My first volunteer effort was a brief stint in the Iguanacon Art Show in 1978. I started appearing regularly on Worldcon panels starting at Noreascon 2 in 1980. I have mostly been either staffing or running Worldcon Press Offices starting with ConStellation in 1983 to MidAmericon 2 in 2016.

In addition, there was the twenty-year odyssey at the Worldcon Business Meetings, wherein I labored to persuade members to change, modify or create new Hugo Award categories. Although I have been the subject of derision and abject scrutiny because of my efforts, I am quite proud of the work I and the like-minded fans who either supported these efforts and gave up their precious time at various Worldcons to come and vote on measures, motions and amendments.  

So, where does fandom stand today?

Goodness knows we can safely say, we are in VERY INTERESTING TIMES. Most cons have been either canceled or postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and there is no end in sight. 

Add on the uncertain and unsteady leadership in our government, the economic crisis that came as a result of the disease and the incredible social upheaval in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police, every branch of fandom has reason to worry about their future endeavors.

Which brings me back to that word.


Fandom has been here before. In 1968. In 1972. In 1980. In 2001. In 2016.

Oh yes, we have been here before and we will endure, as we have always have.

Fandom has never been more diverse, more aware and as WOKE as ever.

On this Juneteenth, I may be wary of what may lie over the horizon but I do know that we, as fans, writers, editors, artists and conrunners are ready to weather almost anything that may be coming.

Right now, our institutions, fan groups and individuals are rallying around the victims of COVID-19, economic distress, police murders and riot damaged businesses. And we didn’t need to be told that Black Lives Matter, we ALWAYS knew that.

More than ever, like the generations of black and other minorities we call our allies and brethren, we cannot be silenced. We will not obey. We will not comply. We will always ask the next question. We will always question authority.

We will endure. No matter what comes next.

“If you know whence you came, there is really no limit to where you can go.” — James Baldwin