The Two Weddings of Bronwyn Hyatt May 6, 2015 The Two Weddings of Bronwyn Hyatt Alex Bledsoe A Tufa double wedding. Ambiguity Machines: An Examination April 29, 2015 Ambiguity Machines: An Examination Vandana Singh A test for Junior Navigators of Conceptual Machine-Space. The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn April 22, 2015 The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn Usman Malik He will inherit the Unseen. The Ways of Walls and Words April 15, 2015 The Ways of Walls and Words Sabrina Vourvoulias Can the spirit truly be imprisoned?
From The Blog
April 30, 2015
The Folklore Origins of The Avengers
Caitlyn Paxson
April 28, 2015
Five Books Where Music is Practically a Character
Sabaa Tahir
April 27, 2015
Message Fiction: Politics in Sci-Fi and Fantasy Literature
The G
April 24, 2015
5 Extremely Accurate Predictions For Star Trek Beyond
Ryan Britt
April 22, 2015
Daredevil, Catholicism, and the Marvel Moral Universe
Leah Schnelbach
Showing posts by: Arachne Jericho click to see Arachne Jericho's profile
Jun 24 2010 5:11pm

Review: Charles Stross’ The Fuller Memorandum

“This is the story of how I lost my atheism, and why I wish I could regain it. This is the story of the people who lost their lives in an alien desert bathed by the hideous radiance of a dead sun, and the love that was lost and the terror that wakes me up in a cold sweat about once a week, clawing at the sheets with cramping fingers and drool on my chin. It’s why Mo and I aren’t living together right now, why my right arm doesn’t work properly, and I’m toiling late into the night, trying to bury the smoking wreckage of my life beneath a heap of work.”

—Bob Howard, The Fuller Memorandum

You could sum up Charles Stross’ The Laundry Files series as “Dilbert meets Cthulhu,” but while I’ve never been much of a fan of Dilbert (though Scott Adams’ strips are funny and often too apt), I am a total fan of Bob Howard. It’s not just that I identify with him, a former young, talented hacker who would have been at home in Linux/BSD open source projects, and who’s now been co-opted into The System. It’s not just that I sympathize and sometimes cringe with his more normal day-to-day trials and tribulations, which any office worker slaving away in a cubicle would be familiar with.

It’s because his job is to kick the ass of supernatural threats to the entire world, and he does it from the worldview of a sarcastic, down-to-earth working stiff who happens to know about recursive algorithms, stack traces, and VMS. And those things—that ultra, deep-down tech nerdy knowledge—are actually useful for the exorcism of demons, the stopping of incursions of the Elder Gods, etc.

[Read more...]

Apr 1 2010 2:31pm

Thrust Upon an Unsuspecting Fandom: Sherlock Holmes Meets the Beekeeper's Apprentice

The 2009 Sherlock Holmes movie was a box office hit, grossing over $65 million on its Christmas Day opening weekend in the US alone, and currently grossing over $500 million world-wide.

As you might guess, a sequel is now in the works.

Given that Sherlock Holmes had a plot that resembled nothing that ever appeared in the canon—or in any other Sherlock Holmes adaptation—it’ll be interesting to see what Guy Ritchie comes up with next.

Especially since the character of Mary Russell will officially become part of the new canon.

[I'll let you get your pitchforks this time.]

Jan 11 2010 3:04pm

My Favorite and Mostly Improper Items of Holmesiana: A Letter

Dear Fans of the new Sherlock Holmes movie:

Let me apologize on the behalf of older Sherlock Holmes fandom for the bits of it that have been generating get-off-my-lawn reboot wank, not five days after the release of the movie. The Sherlock Holmes fandom has thrived for over a hundred years and multiple generations, and every generation has its... special snowflakes.

But fortunately, every generation has also produced creative fandom work (though they may not see it that way), from the solidly analytical to the wondrously fanciful. I may not agree with all of them, or even remotely like some of them, but they all occupy a place in my heart, because there wouldn’t be a Sherlock Holmes fandom without constant re-interpretation of the works. Yes, even the fic pastiche where Moriarty is a vampire who falls madly in love with Holmes.1

I present to you the more amusing pieces of Holmesiana I’ve gathered throughout the years. I’ve strived for a varied collection here that is at the very least sometimes accessible, even if it knocks out some of my absolute favorites. Too much of the fandom is out of print; I hope that changes one day, so that reading all the ’ship wank doesn’t cost £500.

[Love and adaptation: that’s how legends survive.]

Jan 4 2010 11:41am

The Sherlock Holmes Fandom: Dawn of the Shipping Wars

On IMDb there’s a report that one Andrea Plunket, furious over Downey and Law’s interviews playing up possible homoerotic subtext in the Sherlock Holmes canon, is threatening to withdraw sequel permissions if Guy Ritchie keeps this up.

Plunket comments, “It would be drastic, but I would withdraw permission for more films to be made if they feel that is a theme they wish to bring out in the future. I am not hostile to homosexuals, but I am to anyone who is not true to the spirit of the books.”

Dear Ms. Plunket: allow me to introduce you to the concept of shipping wars. Because you’ve just put your foot right into one of the longest ones in unofficial existence—one that is, in fact, over a century old at the time of this writing.

[I mean, just look at the hats!]

Dec 11 2009 6:20pm

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Fiction, Part 4

“There were eighteen months... not that I suppose he’ll ever tell you about that, at least, if he does, then you’ll know he’s cured... I don’t mean he went out of his mind or anything, and he was always perfectly sweet about it, only he was so dreadfully afraid to go to sleep....”
– Lord Peter Wimsey’s mother attempting to describe his difficulties from second-hand experience

In the first part of this series, I talked about how PTSD is experienced in real life versus many of its more popular and less accurate portrayals in fiction.

In the second and third parts of this series, I went into more detail with four examples of PTSD in fiction: Sinclair in Babylon 5, Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, the apocalyptic version of PTSD postulated in World War Z, and Josh Lyman in The West Wing.

While these depictions are somewhat successful, even extremely so, they tend to be either one-off Very Special Episodes (Babylon 5, The West Wing) or bittersweet finishers (World War Z, The Lord of the Rings). Writing about a character experiencing PTSD is already a difficult affair; writing about a character living with PTSD is much, much harder. So often we think that the most exciting part of PTSD is when it explodes, an event that supposedly either leaves a shattered mind behind, or must be immediately mostly or completely dealt within the next few chapters, lest the aftershocks shake the plot and character relationships too much.

Thus, there is one more example I want to discuss that particularly sticks out in my mind, because it covers the long-term portrayal of a character with PTSD who nevertheless is functional: Lord Peter Wimsey, one of the famous sleuths in the mystery genre. His author, Dorothy Sayers, whatever else she may be, had a very good grip on chronic PTSD.

[[You know, PTSD reminds me of that sword that eats people’s souls.]]

Oct 21 2009 11:40am

Review: Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett’s Unseen Academicals (HarperCollins) is about the parallel development of football (soccer, to Americans) in the alternate and funnier reality that is the Discworld; yet as always, there’s much more swimming in the depths of his Monty Python-esque stories. Humorous but thoughtful, Unseen Academicals combines early Pratchett at his lightest (Pyramids, Moving Pictures, Guards! Guards!) with late Pratchett at his heaviest (Monstrous Regiment, Night Watch, Thud!), resulting in an easy read with a heavy afterthought. 

[Oh Terry Pratchett, when will you ever be easy to review?]

Sep 29 2009 5:39pm

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Fiction, Part 3

“It doesn’t sound like something they let you have when you work in the White House….”

“As long as I’ve got a job, you’ve got a job.”

— Josh Lyman and Leo McGarry, his boss, in The West Wing

In part 1, I talked about how Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is actually experienced in real life, and the general ways in which fiction often gets it wrong.

In part 2, I covered in detail two specific examples of PTSD portrayals in Babylon 5 and The Lord of the Rings.

Part 3 is going to cover two more portrayals in detail, both more realistic, sometimes even more positive, than induced Set Piece PTSD or the “destroyed forever” implications when PTSD is used as a bitter(sweet) closure to a story.

[And we’re starting with zombies.]

Aug 31 2009 5:21pm

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Fiction, Part 2

“How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand there is no going back. There are some things that time can not mend. Some hurts that go too deep... that have taken hold.”
The Lord of the Rings, the movie 

In part 1, I talked about the characteristics of memories involved in PTSD, as well as a summary of what fiction often gets wrong about PTSD.

For this part and the next two, I’ll discuss more in depth specific examples of fictional PTSD I’ve encountered that mostly get it right. A little wrong, but mostly right (some more “mostly” than others).

To start off, here are two examples; one from a popular SF TV show, Babylon 5, and one from a very popular fantasy novel, The Lord of the Rings.

[First, let's take on....]

Aug 28 2009 1:06pm

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Fiction, Part 1

Moonlight and dew-drenched blossom, and the scent
Of summer gardens; these can bring you all
Those dreams that in the starlit silence fall:
Sweet songs are full of odours.
– Siegfried Sassoon, “The Dream”

I have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Which is difficult to admit, because fiction—the medium through which people most often learn about the experiences of others—tends to imply that those who suffer from PTSD are non-existent at best, broken as par of course, and dangerous lunatics at worst. And sometimes the only depiction available in a story or series is the “worst” scenario.

It’s a little upsetting, not least because people fall back on the stereotypes presented in fiction when they know you have PTSD.

But, like anything else, occasionally fiction gets it right.

In this post I’ll discuss the caricature of PTSD in fiction; in a second post, I’ll talk more in depth about some specific examples that mostly get it right (and, in one case, pretty much all of it right).

[But first...]

Aug 6 2009 6:38pm

Comfort Fiction: Because Sometimes You Need a Frakking Hug

Sometimes life goes beyond mere suckage. People you care about die; you lose your career job in this economy at the age of 50; a long-time marriage or partnership broke into jagged pieces exactly one year ago and someone is playing “your song” over the radio. Whatever the reason, the bottom has dropped out of your world. You are lost at sea, and dry land is nowhere to be seen.

And sometimes you feel so lost that you forget that there is a temporary passage through this storm (or, you know, this category-five hurricane, if your life is pretty much storm to storm).

So! Comfort fiction.1

[The fuzzy blankets of media enjoyment.]

Aug 5 2009 5:22pm

Oh No, The Mammoth Books of X, No

When I was a college student and a very casual reader, at best, of fantasy, one of my favorite chunky anthologies were The Mammoth Book of X series. Such as: The Mammoth Book of Fantasy, The Mammoth Book of Comic Fantasy, The Mammoth Book of Vampire Stories, The Mammoth Book of King Arthur, The Mammoth Book of Awesome Comic Fantasy, etc. Even The Mammoth Book of Future Cops, back when I thought SF was “fantasy, but in the future.”

So when I heard about the upcoming The Mammoth Book of Mindblowing Science Fiction (Running Press) I was filled with a mix of nostalgia and anticipation, because now I know more about SF (although a lot of times I still class it as “fantasy, but in the future, and sometimes with science that my college physics professor would probably shoot the author in the head over”).

And then the table of contents for TMBOMSF were made available at SFSignal.

[And now the fun, or something, begins.]

Aug 2 2009 4:07pm

Review: Ghost Ocean by S.M. Peters

 “Good, now listen.... The Warden couldn’t have the myth-creatures from the old world wandering around and breaking all of his rules, so he made prisons for them. Cities and caves and deserts and stretches of ocean—most of them inhospitable chunks of the planet no one in their right mind would go to.... The point is, St. Ives is one of those places.”
    – Babu Cherion, former Bostonian and paranormal investigator who really, really regrets relocating

Ghost Ocean: a title that understates what all is going on in S. M. Peters’ newest novel. In a way, Ghost Ocean (Roc) is a new take on the urban paranormal; but in other ways, you could consider it a rebirth of an older style of city fantasy.

The small town of St. Ives reminds me of a darker Charles de Lint setting: there are gods and creatures of imagination around every street corner, sometimes literally, often taking on the guise of your kindly next-door neighbor. But in Peters’ St. Ives, the supernaturals’ motivations are twisted by the fact that not only are they out of place in a modern world that doesn’t understand them, but that where they live, even what they are now, is a result of being bound to St. Ives. Not all prisons are cages.

[Read more...]

Jul 31 2009 10:49am

The Perennial Hugos Ballyhoo

Every year, pretty much on schedule, there are, shall we say, heated disagreements about the Hugo shortlists. The novels tend to be at the forefront of such debates, but it’s not limited to them; art awards, stories of various lengths, and visual presentations aren’t free from controversy either.

Probably the saddest thing about such discussions/flame wars/dog-piling is that there’s a false dichotomy being promoted on both “sides.” I’m talking about the good old “you have poor taste and it’s your fault the Hugos suck, you schmuck” versus “you’re too elitist to simply enjoy books unless it’s something convoluted like Ulysses1, you academic” so-called debates.

To them both I say: oh grow up. The Hugo nominations aren’t the result of dumb versus smart, elitist versus down-to-earth. The fans of SF/F are yea numerous these days, and there are many sub-cultures that value sometimes vastly different things—why else do you think that an award like the Hugos settles on what may be thought of as a common denominator among many of these factions? These are books we commonly know and that are, no matter how many people like to curve their grading, actually a good cut above much of rest of the field.

[Read more...]

Jul 2 2009 1:22pm

A New Arabian Nights: The Orphan’s Tales

A mysterious girl in the royal extended family, some say a demon because of disturbing markings around her eyes, is banished from the palace. A very young prince discovers her living in the gardens on the kindness of servants.

Like all princes, even ones that don’t reach the waist of their eldest sister, he wants to save her. But the only way to remove the demon’s markings from her eyes is for her to tell, bit by bit, the stories written upon them.

Thus begins The Orphan’s Tales, a well-woven tapestry of fairytales-within-fairytales in the world of Ajanabh, both like and unlike its inspiration, The Arabian Nights.

The stunning Orphan’s Tales, by Catherynne M. Valente, is a two book work (in the way that Lord of the Rings is a three volume book), comprised of In the Night Garden and In the Cities of Coin and Spice (both Spectra Books). Her writing is a study in classicism—the rich retooling of stories either centering around or inspired by a wide variety of classics, from Asian folklore like Japan’s The Grass-Cutting Sword to fairy tales from England to Germany, from Norway to Russia, from the Middle East to Africa. The versatility of Valente’s knowledge shines bright as stars.

[And needing to know what happens next will drive you mad... in a good way.]

Jun 29 2009 1:35pm

Bringing the House Down: Norse Code

It’s the end of the world like you’ve never known it: snarky and sassy with strangely touching moments weaved into a quick-moving story, Greg van Eekhout’s Norse Code (Spectra) manages to turn a fresh edge on old myths. And it’s probably the only re-weaving of Ragnarok where the poor blind guy, the one who started the countdown to Doomsday, is actually a sympathetic and participatory character rather than a footnote in lore.

What an odd piece of work Norse Code is.

In many ways, the book fits neatly into the slot of Paranormal Mystery. There are certain tropes that show up: the sarcastic, disillusioned Slacker Guy protagonist, trying to get an even break of less adventure than fate bestows upon him; or the driven, conflicted Strong Girl protagonist, fighting her way out of an oppressive system with roots tapping deep into ancient mythos. Bring to the party ancient supernatural entities who surprisingly prefer tea and honey in plastic bears over fights for spiritual domination and riddles... of course, a twisted maze of Big Bad Villains What Are Gods and Beings You Don’t Wanna Mess With... mix in plenty of beatings of the main character, extreme high stakes, much eventual and glorious ass-kicking by the main character.

[What Norse Code does right....]

Jun 9 2009 2:36pm

Review: Tides from the New Worlds

Science fiction and fantasy in the West is mostly European in nature. Like it or not, the sensibilities and assumptions of these cultures thread through and underlie most of the SF/F in America and Europe. Go to East Asia and there’s quite a contrast with the West, but we don’t often see that difference here.

We as readers encounter Euro-, and First World-centric literature so often in the genres that it’s easy to forget the existence of a distinctly different point of view. Possible, in fact, to never even taste it.

We forget how much another culture can add to the flavor and texture of stories because we’re most familiar with the ones we grew up with and chanced to read. Tapping into our surrounding cultures for the first time happened when we were younger. Many of us have forgotten that wonder, which is a damned shame, in our field more than in any other, because our genres are the genres of exploration and speculation, reaching beyond the world around us.

In Tides from the New Worlds, Tobias Buckell does what the best SF/F writers do: tells stories that touch our minds with wonder and endow our hearts with perception. Reading this collection, for those of us culture-bound West or East, brings science fiction and fantasy to a fresh awakening. And for those of us who miss seeing ourselves in the fiction we so often read, it’s quite moving.

[And what gorgeous cover art....]

May 27 2009 1:27pm

Review: Federations

To boldly go where none have gone before.

To explore new worlds and encounter new civilizations.

To war, love, hate, seek justice and make peace in the depths of space and on the fringes of time.

Also, there is a hamster.

These are the stories of Federations, edited by John Joseph Adams and written by 23 writers.

I guess you could say that I typically hate anthologies. Which is why it’s so weird that I like, even love, this one.

My issue with anthologies is not so much to do with stories in particular, but in their combination and selection. Especially themed anthologies, where keeping tight to the subject matter often means sub-par choices or shoe-horned entries. Clunky stories are difficult to sit through, and the problem is exacerbated in an anthology, where context-switching can, for better or worse, affect how well a story is received. And when anthologies feature a varied mix of voices and story lengths, well, get ready for a choppy ride.

I wonder if the mid-to-lower-tier anthology assemblers just think of their books as a bags for stories to be tossed into until there’s enough page count, resulting in a read that’s like listening to a disco DJ on crystal meth. It would explain an awful lot.

In Federations, thankfully, John Joseph Adams takes a different and more successful approach.

[And that approach makes all the difference....]

May 8 2009 2:48pm

Review: Iain M. Banks’ Matter

On the nesting Matryoshka dolls of space-faring civilizations, philosophy a la Nietzsche, and how Banks ruined SF and epic fantasy at the same time for me.

Matter is one of Banks’ loosely set Culture novels. As a rule they’re Big Idea tales that ruthlessly use mechanisms unique to science fiction to explore said ideas. Written years after the last Culture novel, Matter not only retains the virility of the acclaimed Use of Weapons, but intensifies it. His world-building is more glorious and mind-bending than before, his ideas more encompassing and disturbing.

But in Matter, the main idea is colder and more distant than ever before.  As a consequence, character and plot, always more vehicles than not in Banks’ books, are consumed entirely by this Idea, which asks the question:

“Life: what’s the point?”

Normally the question is interpreted as a personal reflection and self-discovery. But in Matter, the question is asked not just on the level of the individual, but also on the level of entire civilizations.

[Is Matter’s answer one of redemption or condemnation?]

Apr 7 2009 3:55pm

Review: The Ghost in Love

Ben Gould has a life-changing experience: that is to say, he dies after cracking his head on the sidewalk. Or at least he was meant to die.

But he isn’t dead.

That’s causing all sorts of complications for the world—both for the inhabitants of the here-and-now, and for those in charge of the afterlife.

One part love story, one part surreal discover-yourself-quest fantasy, and one part a celebration of lives of people in their pasts and in their present, Jonathan Carroll’s The Ghost in Love is like walking through a dream: the good bits, the weird bits, and the nightmares.

In a way, the title is deceptive: Ben himself isn’t a ghost, but happens to have a ghost named Ling hanging around him—his guiding ghost to the afterlife he isn’t following properly, an Asian supernatural construct, who’s fallen madly in love with the woman Ben lost through apathy after his strange experiences.

And yet, as one explores Ben’s life—literally and figuratively—the title turns out not to be deceptive at all.

Because The Ghost in Love is a dream.

In particular, it’s a dream centered on Ben. This isn’t one of those “and then he woke up” stories, but a story about our internal worlds of dreams, wishes, beliefs; and also, incidentally, about the supernatural creeping into real life. Ben’s experience of not-dying is part of a breakdown of the natural order of things, and that affects the real people in his life as well. Reality meets individual meta-realities, the one that each of us normally only experiences in the vagueness of dreams.

[From surreality to reality....]

Mar 2 2009 10:44am

Review: The Eye of Night

A disillusioned priest wanders from town to town in a land cursed by destruction and sorrow. He discovers a beautiful lady with an infantile mind, her dwarf servant and caretaker, and the Eye of Night, a powerful artifact destined to save—or destroy—the world.

Pauline J. Alama’s The Eye of Night is a different kind of high fantasy tale, a panacea for every stereotype you run into repeatedly in what I term the traveling-party-on-a-mission-from-God sub-genre. A less kind person might call them Tolkien rip-offs.

Fortunately, at its best, The Eye of Night is no Tolkien rip-off.

For one thing, there are no elves, Tolkien dwarves (just human dwarfs), or orcs. The best people are not hallowed and noble elves, but humans; the worst people are not homogenously bad orcs, but humans. Nor is there, for that matter, a 99.9999%1 noble people in any hold or city. No rulers are fair, either; the sanest group of people, in fact, are in beleaguered isolation and still looking for the lost scion of a king whom they no longer, in fact, need.

In that sense, the world of The Eye of Night is certainly more anchored in reality than most entries in the Lord of the Rings of the Month Club. But there are ghosts, magic, and gods—indeed, the religion is a well-developed player in the quest, if only under subversive means.

[And then there is, uniquely, the Eye of Night.]