Seeking What is Human in Us: Television’s Almost Human

Join us for a series of essays about science fiction TV series that, while popular with viewers, were cancelled early on by the networks. Some of the programs to be covered include Threshold (2005), Moonlight (2007-8), and the U.S. version of Life on Mars (2008-9).

“Let me explain something to you,” police detective John Kennex says to his commanding officer and another detective in the episode “You Are Here” (written by J. H. Wyman and Naren Shankar; directed by Sam Hill). “I’m a police officer. You’re a police officer. And, as much as it pains me to say it, Richard is a police officer. Now, you can dress these machines to look like cops; you can program them to drive a car and shoot a gun like a cop, but they’re not cops. They’re bullet catchers. And if you force me to work with a faulty machine, then I will dispose of it with the same degree of compassion that I would a toaster that burns my toast.”

In the Fox Network television series Almost Human, Detective Kennex’s rant about robot cops is not the norm. In fact, Kennex (played by Karl Urban) resists the technology that is an integral part of his world in the year 2048. In that world, every human police officer is paired with a combat-ready android known by the designation MX43. That is the norm that everyone else accepts. Kennex is forced to abide by that rule—but he doesn’t play well with the standard MX. Not at all.

[Read more]

Dead in the Desert: Thunderbird by Chuck Wendig

You don’t know it yet, but you’re about to fall in love with a woman named Miriam Black. It won’t be an easy relationship, no siree. She’s going to enchant you with her psychic abilities, splinter you with her vicious tongue, lure you in with her firecracker attitude, and frighten you with cruel circumstances. Sometimes you’ll need a break from her all-consuming intensity and sometimes you’ll be so obsessed you won’t be able to let her go. The longer you stick with her, the more her icy heart will melt until she drowns you. And you’ll love every. fucking. moment.

Thunderbird is the fourth in Chuck Wendig’s Miriam Black series, and it’s the point at which there is a fundamental shift in everything Miriam thinks she knows about her role in the universe and how her powers work. No one is safe and nothing is sacred. The people she loves can’t give her what she needs, her enemies’ motives are murkier than a muddy river, and even the extent of her powers outpaces her capacity for comprehension.

[“I don’t want any of this.”]

Metropolitan Monsters: Revealing The Furthest Station by Ben Aaronovitch

The Rivers of London series, in which a squad of sardonic detectives investigate supernatural offences in and around England’s capital city, has been a regular pleasure for many readers in recent years. Not necessarily because of its premise, which at this point is practically proverbial, but because Ben Aaronovitch’s execution of said has been exceptional: sensitive, smart, and supported by a sharp sense of humour that runs through the books like the Thames itself.

Hasn’t hurt that, up until recently, a new novel featuring PC Peter Grant and his fellows in The Folly has been released every year. But the break between book five, Foxglove Summer, and last year’s The Hanging Tree changed that pattern. Happily, however, there was still some Rivers of London fun to be had by way of the canonical comic book Body Work and its several successors, namely Night Witch and the ongoing Black Mould.

Alas, it looks like we might be in for a similarly painful wait between the recent release of The Hanging Tree and the seventh volume in Aaronovitch’s bestselling series, which has the working title Lies Sleeping. But unto every cloud a silver lining, right? Well, quite, as Gollancz has just announced The Furthest Station, a brand-new novella it plans to publish this very September.

[Read more]

Series: British Fiction Focus

Not Predicting the Future, Just Observing the Present

A lot of reviews and readers have used some variation of the phrase “frighteningly prescient” to describe Infomocracy. But it’s not.

At least not in the way they mean. (I can still hope it will be in other ways: engineers of the world, a Lumper in the near future would be great, thx!) Most people are talking about the way the book shows the power of information use in election, and how that mirrors their experiences of the 2016 US presidential race (or, sometimes the Brexit referendum).

The book was finished in 2015, and it’s called Infomocracy because that’s what it’s about: rule by information. Whoever controls what people think they know wins, and if they do it right people still think they’re making up their own minds, and even when they do it wrong its hugely disruptive. The future posited in Infomocracy has a UN-like body dealing with global information management that aggressively annotates everything from advertisements to stock photos to political promises, but data manipulation continues. The global election that is the crux of the book is disrupted through hacking and vote stealing and shady campaign practices. A government gives different groups different information about basic facts, triggering armed conflict. Sound familiar?

Here’s the thing: I wasn’t even trying to be predictive there. I was describing the political situation I saw in the present, refracted through an imagined future political system to emphasize some elements.

[Read more]

Ursula K. Le Guin, Junot Diaz Among Inductees to the American Academy of Arts and Letters

The Associated Press has reported that Ursula K. Le Guin and Junot Diaz are among 14 new members being welcomed into the American Academy of Arts and Letters this year. Le Guin was surprised by the accolade, as she said, “My reputation was made as a writer of fantasy and science fiction, a literature that has mostly gone without such honors.”

Michael Chabon led the charge, writing “As a deviser of worlds, as a literary stylist, as a social critic and as a storyteller, Le Guin has no peer. From the time of her first published work in the mid-1960s, she began to push against the confines of science fiction, bringing to bear an anthropologist’s acute eye for large social textures and mythic structures, a fierce egalitarianism and a remarkable gift of language, without ever renouncing the sense of wonder and the spirit of play inherent in her genre of origin.”

The arts academy was founded in 1898 and has honored artists from iconic writer Henry James to modern songwriter Stephen Sondheim. Le Guin may be the most “genre” writer they’ve ever welcomed, so it’s fitting that she’s joining in a year that also includes Junot Diaz, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is an exploration of nerd culture. The new inductees will be celebrated at the academy in May, where Joyce Carol Oates will deliver the centennial Blashfield Foundation keynote address.

[via SF Gate]

Want to Meet Star-Lord’s Dad? Check Out the New Trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2!

The Guardians of the Galaxy aren’t just friends, they’re… [meaningful pause]

… family.

They’ve also apparently been dipping into the Fast and the Furious franchise. Bask in their grudging love for each other, plus some great Rocket snark, an absolutely adorable interaction between Gamora and Baby Groot, and, oh yeah: STAR-LORD’S DAD.

Check out the trailer below!

[Read more]

Family Is Complicated: Supergirl, “Homecoming”

Jeremiah Danvers returns! …But there’s something off about him. Maybe it’s his hand, impacted by nerve damage, that he doesn’t seem so sad about, or his insistence that he can pick up everything—his job, his marriage, his relationship to his kids—as if 15 years haven’t passed. Perhaps it’s his sudden talk of a nuclear fusion bomb (which, like Colonel Mustard’s, turns out to be a red herring), or his push to restore his top-secret DEO access as soon as possible. At any rate, his homecoming creates a fault line right down the middle of the Danvers family, with Alex and Kara opposed on how to welcome back dear old dad.

[Read more]

The Best Locked-Room Mystery in Space You’ll Read All Year

Mur Lafferty’s Six Wakes opens with the single best locked-room mystery you’ll read this year. Maria Arena is a crewmember aboard the Dormire, an interstellar colony vessel. The Dormire is crewed by six people who will remain awake throughout the years-long journey. The idea is simple: As each crewmember ages and finally dies, they will be downloaded into a freshly grown clone body, with all the skills and memories they’ve acquired over their previous life downloaded from the mind map of each person kept by the ship’s computer. The system’s worked for decades—cloning has revolutionized culture on Earth and it’s a perfect way to maintain a crew’s presence on the Dormire’s voyage humanely (and without going all horrifically stalker-y like Passengers did).

Or at least, that’s the theory.

[Read more]

Maurice Broaddus Prize Pack Sweepstakes!

Maurice Broaddus’s The Voices of Martyrs is available now from Rosarium Publishing, and his Tor.com Publishing novella Buffalo Soldier is coming in April—and we want to send you copies of both books!

The Voices of Martyrs is a collection of Broaddus’s short stories. We are a collection of voices, the assembled history of the many voices that have spoken into our lives and shaped us. Voices of the past, voices of the present, and voices of the future. There is an African proverb, “Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi,” which translates as “It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.” This is why we continue to remember the tales of struggle and tales of perseverance, even as we look to tales of hope. What a people choose to remember about its past, the stories they pass down, informs who they are and sets the boundaries of their identity. We remember the pain of our past to mourn, to heal, and to learn. Only in that way can we ensure the same mistakes are not repeated. The voices make up our stories. The stories make up who we are. A collected voice.

In the steampunk adventure Buffalo Soldier, former espionage agent Demond Coke stumbles onto a plot within his homeland of Jamaica. He finds himself caught between warring religious and political factions, all vying for control of a mysterious boy named Lij Tafari. Wanting the boy to have a chance to live a free life, Desmond assumes responsibility for him and they flee. But a dogged enemy agent remains ever on their heels, desperate to obtain the secrets held within Lij for her employer alone. Assassins, intrigue, and steammen stand between Desmond and Lij as they search for a place to call home in a North America that could have been.

Comment in the post to enter!

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States and D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec). To enter, comment on this post beginning at 1:30 PM Eastern Time (ET) on February 28th. Sweepstakes ends at 12:00 PM ET on March 4th. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Tor.com, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.

Open Thread: Books That Punched Us in Our Tear Ducts

Has there ever been a piece of technology as perfect as a book? Self-contained, they can act as teachers, best friends, occasionally nemeses, time machines, and portals to fantasy worlds. But maybe best of all, they can create empathy. You can enter so completely into the life of a fictional character that you find yourself loving them, laughing at their jokes, and sometimes even crying for them. Maybe you cry because Molly Grue finally meets a unicorn decades too late, or maybe because Frodo can never truly go home again. Perhaps, in a totally hypothetical instance, you’re reading George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo on a beach and you find yourself weeping uncontrollably in front of a large number of people. Or maybe your beloved horse just succumbed to the Swamps of Sadness, and you want to sink right down with him.

So how about you, tender-hearted readers? Which books give you the catharsis that only tears can bring?

The Right Stories to Topple Dangerous Regimes: Announcing The Last Queens of Nuryevet by Alexandra Rowland

Things began in a courtroom in the capital of Nuryevet, where I was being put on trial for something stupid:

What’s all this about, I said, not for the first time.

Charges of witchcraft, they said; at least, that’s what it boiled down to.

Utterly ridiculous, I said.

We got some witnesses, they said.

Your witnesses can go fuck themselves, says I, although not in so many words.

So begins The Last Queens of Nuryevet, Alexandra Rowland’s debut novel about a wandering storyteller falsely accused of witchcraft, who upends an entire nation from inside his jail cell by telling tales to the ruling queens. Or that’s how Chant, our wrongfully accused raconteur, would spin his situation, in Saga Press’ forthcoming novel about the power of words reaching from jail cells to throne rooms.

[Read more]

On the Cosmic Scale: Agents of Dreamland by Caitlín R. Kiernan

There are pieces on the board: the Signalman, an agent for a blackbudget American service; a cult ranch-house at the Salton Sea that houses horrors from another world; a lost film about an alien princess; a timeless and frightening agent from another service with her own motivations; the New Horizons probe skating past the orbit of Pluto and encountering something alien. These singular events and people all feed into the start—or end—of something immense and devastating for the human species.

I have been continually impressed with the Tor.com novella imprint, as it offers a unique and necessary venue for quality long-form fiction that doesn’t exist elsewhere—and Agents of Dreamland is no exception to that rule. The novella form allows Kiernan to construct a discomfiting narrative that skips like a stone across water, sketching out a brief but provocative landscape of fright and inevitability for our planet up against Lovecraftian cosmic horrors. It’s long enough to develop intense investment but short enough to leave unanswered and unanswerable questions about the future it implies.

[A review, with spoilers.]