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Karin L Kross

Filling the Westeros Gap With Tudor England

There’s only so much I can really swallow of real-world politics before it all gets so bad that not even The Daily Show makes it any better. Political fiction, though—that I can’t get enough of, and frankly, the more cynical the better. I’m a huge fan of The Thick of It, and the US House of Cards was, disturbingly enough, my happy place for the last couple of months—though fans of that show will appreciate that it was really something to watch a certain very dramatic episode of House of Cards on the same day that HBO broadcast the now-infamous “The Rains of Castamere.”

And while I definitely enjoy the dragons, ice zombies, fire magic, and prophetic visions of both the Song of Ice and Fire novels and the Game of Thrones TV show, it’s the courtly intrigue that keeps me coming back for more. Cersei Lannister’s struggles to hold on to the power that the men of the court would take from her, Daenerys’s hard-knocks school of statecraft, Tywin’s ruthlessness, Tyrion’s desperate attempts to make something of himself in service of the kingdom, the charm offensive of the Tyrells—this is what really makes the books and the show for me. That the intrigue occasionally explodes into shocking and bloody violence is, perhaps, a bonus for those for whom contemporary political drama is a bit too arid.

[No, really, hear me out.]

Memoir as Fantasy: Michael Moorcock’s The Whispering Swarm

Michael Moorcock has offered bits of autobiography here and there over the years, as in the brilliant “A Child’s Christmas in the Blitz,” and certain elements of his own life have contributed to his fiction, as with the family of David Mummery in Mother London. He’s also appeared “as himself” in his own fiction many a time. The Nomad of the Time Streams novels are presented as manuscripts that form the legacy of his grandfather, also named Michael Moorcock. He introduces The Adventures of Una Persson and Catherine Cornelius in the Twentieth Century stating that the book is drawn from “the unpublished memoirs of Miss Una Persson, the temporal adventuress,” memoirs that “exist partly in the form of notes in her own hand, partly in the form of tape-recorded interviews between myself and Miss Persson”; later, in The White Wolf’s Son, there is an interlude in which the lady pays him and his wife Linda a visit at his home in Lost Pines, Texas to fill him in on the further adventures of Elric of Melniboné. He even drags collaborator Walt Simonson into the metafictional stew in the Michael Moorcock’s Multiverse comic, making both of them players in the Game of Time.

The Whispering Swarm, the first book of his new Sanctuary of the White Friars series and Moorcock’s first new novel since the Doctor Who tie-in The Coming of the Terraphiles, is a heady blend of memoir, fantasy, history, and self-referential fiction. In a move reminiscent of his late friend J.G. Ballard’s The Kindness of Women, Moorcock presents—to borrow Ballard’s description of his own novel—a story of his life “seen through the mirror of the fiction prompted by that life.”

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Skulduggery, a Dirigible, and a Stolen Train: Gail Carriger’s Waistcoats and Weaponry

So I have a confession to make. When I read Gail Carriger’s previous Finishing School books, Etiquette and Espionage and Curtsies and Conspiracies, I hadn’t actually read the Parasol Protectorate books. On one hand, this lacuna in my library helped in that it allowed me to approach the Finishing School books as a hypothetical first-time YA reader might, without too much of the previous series to color my views—not knowing, for example, that the prototype aetherographic transmitter that everyone is so spun up about in the first book is in regular use by the time of Changeless, some few decades hence in Carriger’s world.

So—in the interim between Curtsies and Conspiracies and the new Waistcoats and Weaponry, I’ve caught myself up with the Parasol Protectorate, and it’s proved to be something of a mixed blessing in returning to the Finishing School. I appreciate certain characters more, but I also know things the characters don’t—and won’t for a while—and reading around that is unexpectedly difficult.

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William Gibson on Urbanism, Science Fiction, and Why The Peripheral Weirded Him Out

William Gibson is one of those great writers who is also a great talker; his collected interviews provide a brilliant director’s commentary on his work. In advance of the release of his new novel, The Peripheral, I talked to him by phone about London, the “raging dystopia” of rural America, urbanism and gentrification, the influences behind The Peripheral, his approach to writing science fiction, and why his own novel ended up giving him the creeps.

Spoilers for The Peripheral follow, at some length. Just so you know.

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William Gibson’s The Peripheral Spoiler Thread and Review

This is not so much a standalone review as it is a supplement to my non-spoiler review of William Gibson’s The Peripheral, addressing a few points that can’t be thoroughly discussed without giving a lot of things away (not least of which is the conclusion). If you haven’t read the book yet and want to avoid all spoilers, turn back now. Head to your bookstore or library or your ebook vendor of choice, read it, and come back here later. After this intro, expect heavy, heavy spoilers.

All right? Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Spoilers immediately ahead.


The Future is Here: William Gibson’s The Peripheral

Let’s just get this out of the way: lots of people are going to say that The Peripheral is William Gibson’s return to science fiction. But what do they mean when they say that? Is it that he’s gone back to writing about some future time decades ahead of our own, extrapolating current technology into a future world where cheap consumer goods are made to order on 3D printers and paparazzi operate through tiny drone cameras?

Sure; by that definition, yes, Gibson is writing science fiction again. But he never really stopped. Although what’s variously known as the Blue Ant trilogy or the Bigend trilogy is set in the first decade of the twenty-first century (9/11, the Iraq war, the financial crisis), it’s rendered in queasily paranoid tones that make “our” world nearly as unfamiliar and otherworldly as cyberspace might have seemed in 1984 or portable VR goggles in 1993. Gibson is of the school of thought that science fiction is necessarily about the present in which it’s written, and The Peripheral, future setting notwithstanding, is in keeping with that philosophy. There are damaged young war veterans, a pervasive surveillance state, drones of all kinds, drastic economic inequality, and a powerful sense of impending manifold catastrophe.

[Spoiler-free review follows]

The Strange and the Familiar: David Cronenberg’s Consumed

David Cronenberg’s films always feel like science fiction; his cool, clinical approach gives a chilly sci-fi atmosphere even to such ostensibly “realistic” films as A History of Violence and Eastern Promises.

With his first novel, Consumed, Cronenberg turns this sensibility to fiction, and the result is—unsurprisingly, given Naked Lunch and Crash—more than a little flavored with William S. Burroughs and J.G. Ballard, and it also includes a fair amount of the classic Cronenbergian body horror of Dead Ringers. Like his films, it’s creepy and unsettling, packed with imagery that will lurk around your subconscious for days.

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San Diego Comic-Con: The Diversity Conversation

You could have spent your entire San Diego Comic-Con going to panels about diversity and feminism. Thursday had three panels in a row about women and genre: Female Heroes, Then and Now; Beyond Clichés: Creating Awesome Female Characters for Film, TV, Comics, Video Games, and Novels; and The Most Dangerous Women at Comic-Con: Positive Portrayals of Women in Pop Culture. Later that evening was the Transgender Trends panel, the first panel on that subject ever held at San Diego Comic-Con.

There were enough panels along these lines that it was actually physically impossible to attend them all, no matter how much you wanted to—The Black Panel was up against Gender in Comics on Friday morning, and Diversity in Genre Lit overlapped with Fantastic Females: Heroines in Paranormal Fantasy on Saturday. This is actually an excellent problem to have, even if it did mean a lot of scampering from one end of the convention center to the other (which, along with a misreading of my own schedule, led me to miss Beyond Clichés, which had reached capacity by the time I got there). It’s certainly an improvement on the days when there was just The Black Panel and maybe one or two Women in Comics panels across the entire weekend.

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San Diego Comic-Con is Bigger On the Inside

San Diego Comic-Con is the parable of the blind men and the elephant. It’s the Mirror of Erised. It’s the cave on Dagobah—what is in there is what you take with you. It is huge, it is sprawling, it contains multitudes, its name is Legion.

It’s been a few days and I’ve put a few more nights of actual sleep between me and the convention. I still have one more thing I want to write up—the best panel that I went to there, and why you should be reading Saga if you aren’t already—but I wanted to go ahead and get some thoughts on the whole business out there before the con hangover completely fades away and while the memories are still reasonably fresh.

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Magazine Theft and Terrible Cats: Michael Cho at SDCC

Artist and illustrator Michael Cho has done covers for Marvel and DC, but this year he came to SDCC to talk about his new graphic novel Shoplifter, to be released by Pantheon in September. Shoplifter is the quiet, delicately-told story of Corinna Park, a writer in her mid-twenties who went from an English degree and dreams of writing novels to five years of writing copy at an advertising agency, a lonely apartment, and a terrible cat named Anais—with the occasional bit of (very) petty theft. Between panels, Cho took a moment to talk about the origins of Shoplifter, his comics process, and the difficulty of drawing bad-tempered cats.

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Chuck Palahniuk Talks Fight Club 2

The news that Chuck Palahniuk was authoring a sequel to Fight Club—in comic book form, no less—was one of the big pieces of news that blew up right before San Diego Comic-Con this year. Palahniuk’s signing events at the con were hugely popular, and his Saturday night panel was jammed. I was able to attend the panel, where Rick Kieffel moderated a kind of oral history of the film, and the comic book sequel with Palahniuk, his longtime editor Gerald Howard, director David Fincher, Dark Horse Comics editor-in-chief Scott Allie, and artists Cameron Stewart and David Mack. And the next day, I sat down with Palahniuk to talk about Fight Club 2, with a brief aside to his new novel, Beautiful You.

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Martin, Rothfuss, Gabaldon, Abercrombie, and Grossman. Rulers of the Realm Talk Epic Fantasy

Sometimes panel titles aren’t really all that helpful. My eyes skipped right over the title “Rulers of the Realm” when I was putting together my San Diego Comic-Con schedule, and only later was it pointed out to me that it was a panel on epic fantasy fiction, featuring Joe Abercrombie (First Law trilogy), Lev Grossman (The Magicians), Diana Gabaldon (Outlander), Patrick Rothfuss (Kingkiller Chronicles), and George R. R. Martin (do I need to tell you?).

Well, that certainly changed up my Saturday schedule a bit. Following on the heels of a packed Skybound Entertainment panel (attended, as far as I could tell, mostly by fans of Norman Reedus), the Rulers of the Realm panel was a lively discussion of fantasy worldbuilding and writing process, moderated by Ali T. Kokmen.

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Breaking Barriers at SDCC: Transgender Trends in Popular Culture

The first panel at San Diego Comic-Con about transgender creators and characters began with comics historian Michelle Nolan talking about the Superboy story, “Claire Kent, Alias Super Sister.” In this story, Superboy offends “a space girl in a flying saucer” and is turned into a girl. In the course of the story, she has to learn to help other women—and having atoned, becomes a boy again, with the twist that Superboy was only hypnotized into thinking he was a girl. It was, Nolan said, one of the only examples she was able to find of any kind of gender fluidity in classic comics.

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No One Accuses Bruce Wayne of Being “Vulnerable”—SDCC and Strong Female Characters

“The Most Dangerous Women at Comic-Con” focused primarily on—and spent a lot of time dissecting—the idea of the “strong female character.” Moderated by Katrina Hill, the panel included stuntwoman Lesley Aletter, Legion of Leia founder Jenna Busch, model Adrienne Curry, and writers Jane Espenson, Jennifer Stuller, Allen Kistler, and Brian Q. Miller.

Hill kicked off the discussion with a question for the panel: which female character would you partner with for the zombie apocalypse? The answers—Katniss Everdeen, Ripley, Zoe from Firefly, Buffy Summers, Starbuck, Peggy Carter, and Starfire—were largely what you would expect people to cite when talking about “strong female characters.” Hill went on to ask what else makes a female character strong other than the ability to kick ass.

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“Longer lines at the ladies room.” SDCC and the Increased Presence of Women in Comics

The SDCC schedule this year is notable for its abundance of panels about female characters and women in comics and games—Monday alone featured “Female Heroes, Then and Now,” “Beyond Clichés: Creating Awesome Female Characters for Film, TV, Comics, Video Games, and Novels,” and “The Most Dangerous Women at Comic-Con.” All of these panels were well-attended—in fact, I couldn’t even get into “Beyond Clichés.” As the weekend progresses, themes are bound to emerge, and it will be interesting to see where it goes.

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San Diego Comic-Con Day Zero: Image Expo and Preview Night

Time was, you’d arrive in San Diego on Wednesday morning before Comic-Con and have plenty of time to recover from your flight, maybe head over to the zoo for a bit—you know, relax. And my first experience of Preview Night in the mid-2000s exists in my memory as a relatively leisurely affair where you could actually get close to the goodies on display.

Not so much anymore. Everyone says it every year, but San Diego Comic-Con is so big and sprawling as to be unwieldy, and regardless of the annual “has Hollywood abandoned SDCC?” thinkpieces making the rounds now, the pace shows relatively little sign of slackening.

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Industrial Revolution on the Disc: Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett

“A tree can not find out, as it were, how to blossom, until comes blossom-time. A social growth cannot find out the use of steam engines, until comes steam-engine-time.”

So wrote Charles Fort in Lo!, coining a phrase that historians and SF&F writers love. Well, steam-engine time has come for the Discworld, whether the History Monks like it or not. In Raising Steam, Terry Pratchett takes his turtle-borne world full tilt into its own industrial revolution.

[A review]

The Elric Reread: Farewell to the White Wolf

As I write this, I’m listening to the Hawkwind album The Chronicle of the Black Sword, their 1985 concept album based on the Elric saga. To be honest, it’s not at all the sort of thing I usually listen to—proggy, guitar-heavy space-rock with some vaguely Jean-Michel Jarré-sounding synthesizers to liven things up. But this album—one of the more obvious examples of the many, many works that owe their existence to Elric—seemed like a suitable accompaniment to an attempt to round up my thoughts on the Elric reread.

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Series: The Elric Reread on

The Elric Reread: Son of the Wolf, AKA The White Wolf’s Son

Welcome to the final post of the Elric Reread, in which I’ve been revisiting one of my all-time favorite fantasy series: Michael Moorcock’s Elric saga. You can find all the posts in the series here. Today’s post talks about the last book in the series, The White Wolf’s Son, republished last year in the UK as Son of the Wolf. Because the Gollancz editions are meant to be definitive, we’ll use that title.

With Son of the Wolf, Michael Moorcock concludes the Elric saga and what may be one of the most audacious examples of canon welding in existence. Here is the von Bek family, reluctant English time-traveler Oswald Bastable, the Chevalier St Odhran and Renyard the Fox of The City in the Autumn Stars, an alternate version of Dorian Hawkmoon and the Dark Empire of Granbretan from the Runestaff books, Prince Lobkowitz and Una Persson from the Cornelius books (amongst others), Lt. Fromental from the Pyat quartet, Erekosë, the sole Champion who remembers all his other incarnations, and of course Elric himself. Even Michael Moorcock and his wife Linda put in an appearance, chatting with Una Persson on the porch of their Texas Hill Country home.

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Series: The Elric Reread on

Channeling T.E. Lawrence: A Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias

When it comes to stories about contact between alien races, you have Star Trek‘s Prime Directive of non-interference on one hand, and willingness of the Culture of Iain M. Banks to apply a little force to help a civilization on the road to what it considers the right path. Somewhere in between lies the dilemma facing the three species colliding in James L. Cambias’s A Darkling Sea.

Ilmatar is a moon covered in a kilometer-thick layer of ice that conceals, as some scientists have proposed for Europa, a deep ocean. Deep beneath the ice, Hitode Station hosts a team of humans who are examining the native flora and fauna while under strict orders not to interfere with the native sentients. The Ilmatarans are hard-shelled creatures that rely on sound and taste to perceive their lightless submarine world, and their civilization is both highly sophisticated and occasionally savage; scientists and intellectuals are treated with respect, but young Ilmatarans are scarcely considered sentient until they are taught to communicate—at one point, a teacher casually dispatches one that he deems too ill-formed to succeed.

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