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? Ballroom Blitz April 1, 2015 Ballroom Blitz Veronica Schanoes Can't stop drinking, can't stop dancing, can't stop smoking, can't even die. Dog March 25, 2015 Dog Bruce McAllister "Watch the dogs when you're down there, David."
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The Disney Read-Watch: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Mari Ness
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Thu
Apr 23 2015 10:00am

The Disney Read-Watch: Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio

Pinocchio Carlo Collodi Enrico Mazzanti

Italian author Carlo Collodi had gained a minor name for himself as a satirist and translator of fairy tales when he was asked to write a serial novel for children. It was a rather odd choice: Collodi, bitter and angry over Italian politics—he fought in two different independence wars, but was unhappy with the resulting unified government, a feeling many of his fellow citizens shared—was perhaps not the first person most would have chosen to write an adorable, child-friendly book, especially since many of the fairy tales he had translated were those aimed at an adult audience. But he needed either the money, or the distraction, or both, and sat down to write a quick story about a puppet.

Somewhere along the way—that is, by page two—it turned into a the sort of story that demonstrated just why Collodi was not the sort of person anyone would hire to write an adorable, child-friendly book, but would hire to write the sort of tale where everyone hits each other a lot, suffers a lot, and dies horribly. With the occasional “Oh, right, I need a moral message for the kiddies.”

[If you hate donkeys, then guys, do I have a book for you. Also, mean things done to puppets.]

Thu
Apr 16 2015 10:00am

The Disney Read-Watch: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Disney

By the early 1930s Walt Disney faced a dilemma: his popular cartoon shorts about Mickey Mouse were starting to lose money. His competitors could afford to produce cartoons at a loss as lead-ins to their live action films; Disney, who did not have a movie studio, could not.

But he had another idea: he could produce a full-length film of his own. Only, instead of making a live action film, he could produce a full-length cartoon feature, running, say, for about 88 minutes. Good length. Sure, it might cost as much as $500,000. (Cue gasps.) He would need 300 artists. It had never been done before.

It’s safe to say that very few people thought this was a good idea. And that $500,000 turned out to be a very wrong estimate. It’s also very safe to say that this idea is why we have the entertainment megacorporation of Disney as it exists today.

[The very first Disney princess, and the most heartwarming element of the film: a little tortoise.]

Wed
Apr 15 2015 2:00pm
Poetry

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Dragon

Mari Ness

Mari Ness National Poetry Month SnowmeltIn celebration of National Poetry Month, we are pleased to present “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Dragon”  by Mari Ness.

Tor.com is celebrating National Poetry Month by featuring science fiction and fantasy poetry from a variety of SFF authors. You’ll find classic works, hidden gems, and new commissions over at the Poetry Month index.

[Read More]

Thu
Apr 9 2015 10:00am

Disney Read-Watch Part One: A Grimm Snow White

Snow White Grimm Walter Crane

Welcome to the Disney Read-Watch, in which we’ll be reading the texts that inspired classic Disney films, then watching the films. Today we’re starting with the prose story of Disney’s very first feature-length film: Snow White, by the Brothers Grimm.

You know the story, right? Girl flees evil stepmother for a life of unending housework with seven little men before falling over from an overconsumption of apples and placed in a coffin until finally a prince swings by to rescue her from all this crap.

Or do you?

[In which I proceed to destroy more childhoods. Spoilery for a story published way back in the early 19th century.]

Thu
Mar 19 2015 4:00pm

A Bleak and Desperate Future: Monica Hughes’ Invitation to the Game

Invitation fo the GameIn previous books, Monica Hughes had given quick side looks at a badly overpopulated, dreary, desperate world. In Invitation to the Game, she takes us to that world, and it’s even bleaker and more desperate than it sounded at first glance.

So desperate, that when people get even a hint of something else—say, a mysterious, high risk game taking place in another location—they will do anything to enter it. Anything.

[Including just possibly giving up technology for a more low-tech, primitive culture. I know you’re shocked. Spoilery.]

Thu
Mar 12 2015 3:30pm

Keeping Someone Else’s Promise: The Promise

The Promise Monica HughesSandwriter was enough of a success that four years later, Monica Hughes returned with a sequel, The Promise. Antia and Jodril have now escaped the desert (yay) and are living a privileged, luxurious life in the royal palace of Malan, ruling the twin continents of Kamalant and Komilant. So that’s nice.

Alas, their marriage is not going all that well, since in the intervening eleven years, Antia has discovered that when she and Jodril wrote their names in the sand at the end of the last book, they were not, as she had fondly thought, just engaging in some romantic sand art to seal their bond, but actually promising to send their first born daughter, Rania, to the Sandwriter, as soon as the girl turns ten—to live as a hermit in the desert for the rest of her life.

And Jodril is insisting they go along with this, because, they made a promise.

Wait. WHAT?

[Do you have to keep a promise that you weren’t aware that you were making?]

Thu
Mar 5 2015 4:00pm

A Spoiled Princess in an Unspoiled Desert: Sandwriter

Monica Hughes SandwriterFor the most part, Monica Hughes’ work for young adults had focused on science fiction. In 1985, however, she tried something different: Sandwriter, a fantasy partly inspired by her early life in Egypt, partly inspired by her ongoing concerns about the environment.

As a princess and heir to two kingdoms, each of which spans a continent, Antia has grown up in luxury, ignorance, isolation and above all, boredom. She is not quite bored enough, however, to jump at the chance to spend several months on the desert island of Roshan, something she regards as a punishment since, as she immediately tells her aunt—and, more regrettably, Lady Sofi, the woman extending the invitation—that Roshan is nothing but desert and dirt and flies. And that’s the nicer part.

[In which everyone and everything except for the useful oil ends up getting exploited. Also, an annoyingly realistic princess. Spoilers.]

Mon
Mar 2 2015 12:00pm

Not NEARLY Enough Puppies: Once Upon a Time, Darkness on the Edge of Town

Once Upon a Time Darkness at the Edge of Town

Beautiful princesses! Sexy pirates! Questionable plots! Villains pulled directly from Disney cartoons! Truly awesome evil cars! (Well, one truly awesome evil car, at least.) Yes, we’re back for the return of the fourth season of ABC’s Once Upon a Time! SPOILERS AHEAD.

[Did I mention spoilers? Because, spoilers. Lots of spoilers.]

Thu
Feb 26 2015 4:00pm

Telepaths Versus Evil Computers: The Dream Catcher

Monica Hughes The Dream CatcherIn Monica Hughes’ The Dream Catcher, fourteen year old Ruth lives in what many people would consider a utopia: ArkThree, a post-apocalyptic society of telepaths and healers who live in nearly perfect harmony, sharing work and joy alike, with almost no conflict.

If this sounds a bit, well, idealistic, or even questionable: no, it’s real. These are telepaths, who find that joining their minds together in a great Web brings them happiness and security—and that they can only merge their minds if they remain largely conflict free. Thus, a discipline of pacifism and of sharing the most unpleasant tasks, with even the leaders having to take a turn at cleaning out the latrines now and again. With plenty of leisure time.

But Ruth is unhappy.

[Just wait until she finds out about the evil computer.]

Thu
Feb 19 2015 4:00pm

You Mean Computers in Spines Aren’t A Great Idea? Devil on my Back

Monican Hughes Devil on my BackMonica Hughes’ Devil on my Back opens on a terrifying scene of five boys about to be hooked up to computers. The terror of this scene isn’t the computers, or the horrible food they are served directly before this (bad scrambled eggs and nearly inedible soy toast) but the people around them: slaves with horrible scars from surgically implanted sockets. The boys are thankful that they aren’t women who only think about worthless things.

And oh, yes, if they fail to access knowledge through their own surgically implanted sockets, their memories will be wiped and they will be turned into slaves. By page five, that happens to one of them. By page seven, another.

[This is the cheerful part!]

Thu
Feb 12 2015 6:00pm

An Increasing Hatred of Science: Space Trap

Space Trap“It’s progress,” said Frank definitively. “And you can’t stop progress.”

At a certain point in her life and career, Monica Hughes most definitely became interested in stopping progress—or at least, persuading many of us that progress was not a great idea. From exploring initial concerns of overpopulation, exploitation, and resource depletion, but maintaining hope that people could continue to find joy in such places, her novels gradually became calls to return to less technology based, smaller societies. (Often, I must add, by the happy expedient of just happening to find a nice unpopulated planet with plenty of oxygen and water and soil.) Space Trap, though focused largely on aliens, is one of her novels exploring that attitude shift.

[Also, moral questions about zoos.]

Thu
Feb 5 2015 4:00pm

Exploiting Regression: The Isis Pedlar

Monica Hughes Isis PedlarThe Isis Pedlar, the third book in Monica Hughes’ Isis trilogy, starts not on Isis as you might expect, but rather in deep space, where Irish conman Mike and his long suffering teenage daughter and partial enabler Moira are in trouble. Again. In this case fairly serious trouble: the hyperdrive on their spaceship has died, again, and Mike’s major response to this is to express faith in his daughter, which is nice, and drink. A lot. Because, of course, Irish.

Somewhat fortunately for them, Moira realizes that they are near a planet and its colony and may be able to make repairs and get supplies. Less fortunately for everyone, this planet is Isis.

[In which I scream out loud at a book while reading it. In an enraged way.]

Thu
Jan 29 2015 4:00pm

Rejecting Technology for Taboo: The Guardian of Isis

Four generations—or at least sixty years—have passed on Isis since The Keeper of the Isis Light. For the colony that mutually rejected Olwen, the Keeper, and her AI Guardian years ago, however, things have not been going all that well. The colony is still trapped in the same valley, and, probably because this is a Monica Hughes book, is starting to run short on food.

Far worse, apparently in reaction to the events in the previous book, the colonists have deliberately gone backwards. They’ve discarded technology (including rather important elements like water gauges to track just how high the lake is getting), turned Guardian and Olwen into mythological figures to be worshipped instead of approached for technological assistance, discarded literacy, and added elements like “taboo” and sexism. I knew rejecting Olwen was going to be a bad thing, but this bad? Harsh.

See what your meddling led to, Guardian of Isis?

[A sequel that doesn’t quite live up to its introduction. Spoilery.]

Mon
Jan 26 2015 1:30pm

Pirates, Poisoning and Still More Singing: Galavant Wraps Its First Season

Galavant Cast

So, it’s been a few weeks since ABC’s Galavant first marched across our screens, singing. Now that the first, short season is over, how did it do?

Well, the middle was muddled. The singing remained questionable. Many of the jokes were complete misses. But in the end, I gotta say, this show started singing its way into my heart—and not just because it finally gave me something I’ve longed to see in Downton Abbey from the very first season.

But we’ll get there.

[Pirates, monks, dungeons and tap dancing your way to a botched assassination. Mildly spoilery.]

Thu
Jan 22 2015 4:00pm

A Question of Humanity: Keeper of the Isis Light

Monica Hughes The Keeper of the Isis LightDepending upon what calendar you use, Olwen is either ten (Isis years) or sixteen (Earth years.) She thinks and remembers in Isis years, however, so let’s go with that. Despite this very young age, she actually has a fairly important, responsible job: transmitting various reports from the planet she lives on back to Earth.

She does this not because she is qualified, exactly, but because everyone else on the planet is either dead, unable to speak in words, or a not-completely trusted AI. And because, for various reasons, she can. That ability—well, strangeness, really—is what makes her The Keeper of the Isis Light.

[How much can you be changed, and still stay human? Mildly spoilery.]

Thu
Jan 15 2015 4:00pm

It’s Not Always Easy on the Moon: Earthdark

Monica Hughes EarthdarkEarthdark starts up immediately after the events of Crisis on Conshelf Ten, featuring the same first person narrator, Kepler Masterman, now edging very close to age 16. Kepler has now returned to his home on the Moon, ready to readjust back into his life and his relationship with his fiancée, Ann.

Things, however, are not that simple. The lack of gravity feels right, but everything else is frustrating and wrong. Kepler finds himself unhappy with the food, the blandness, the regulations—nearly everything, actually, constantly comparing his surroundings to better things on Earth, even after Ann sharply reminds him that in his six month stay on Earth, his intolerance of gravity meant that he didn’t see much of it.

This doesn’t help.

And even apart from culture shock, Kepler has a number of other issues to deal with: namely, spies, saboteurs, and the realization that he may not be able to trust his father.

[Also excitements with solar storms, which in the Moon environment can be deadly.]

Thu
Jan 8 2015 4:00pm

From One Problem Colony to Another: Crisis on Conshelf Ten

Crisis on Conshelf TenEnglish-Canadian author Monica Hughes is yet another author that I somehow managed to miss while growing up, despite my endless quest for more robot books. Possibly because I was reading too much Enid Blyton. It’s a pity; although Hughes could be repetitive and uneven, and wrote at least one novel that left me sputtering (not the one in this post), she also wrote some deeply thoughtful, provocative works of speculative fiction for children and young adults, works that include one of her earliest novels, Crisis on Conshelf Ten.

As with her later books, Crisis on Conshelf Ten pulls deeply from Hughes’ experience of living in multiple countries and cultures, as well as her ongoing concern with—later near obsession with—overpopulation, resource exploitation, and the environment. Fortunately, in this book, plot and character still remains paramount.

Mostly.

[Shifting between a life on the Moon and a life deep in the sea.]

Mon
Jan 5 2015 3:30pm

Silly Singing and 80s Style Medieval Training Montages: Galavant

Galavant

So, last night the ABC network tried to fill the gap left by Once Upon a Time’s winter hiatus with Galavant, a musical comedy more or less attempting to channel the best of Robin Hood: Men in Tights, The Princess Bride, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail, except on a lower budget and with generally worse singers.

How’d it go?

Let’s say, mixed.

[If you can endure until the joust scene. Mildly spoilery review below for the first two episodes.]

Thu
Jan 1 2015 3:00pm

Extending the Political Satire of Gulliver’s Travels: Mistress Masham’s Repose

Some scholars have suggested that Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels is—ahem!—nothing but a bitter satire on Human Politicks and the Despicable Ways of Human Nature. Others, such as the Learned Scholar T. H. White, perhaps best known for bringing us the True History of King Arthur and His Issues With Metal Objects Most Unaccountably Left in Stones, know better, and have Continued Researching some of the Remarkable People and Their Animals Encountered by Gulliver.

In Mistress Masham’s Repose, the Most Learned Mr. T. H. White takes the time to share his most Recent Researches with us, letting us know the eventual fate of that Most Remarkable Race, the Lilliputians.

[Look, the entire freaking book is like that.]

Wed
Dec 24 2014 11:00am

All I Want For Christmas is an Evil Snowman: Christmas Tales of Terror

Christmas Tales of Terror Christ PriestleyBy now, it’s safe to say that some of you might be harboring certain, shall we say, thoughts about the holiday season, and especially Christmas. Irritated thoughts. Cynical thoughts. Angry thoughts. Even—dare I say it—horrified thoughts.

If so, you might be in the mood for Chris Priestley’s Christmas Tales of Terror, where all kinds of terrible, nasty, awful things happen to adorable and not so adorable children on Christmas.

Also, ghosts.

[And, naturally, an evil snowman powered by BLOOD because why not? Spoilers.]