The War of the Worlds as Alternate History: The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter

The chances of anything coming from Mars were a million to one, but still, in The War of the Worlds, they came: they came, in aluminium cylinders the size of ships; they conquered, with their towering tripods and hellish heat rays; and then, believe it or not, they were beaten—by bacteria!

So the story goes. But the story’s not over—not now that the estate of H. G. Wells has authorised a superb sequel by science fiction stalwart Stephen Baxter which, while overlong, turns the terrific tale Wells told in his time into the foundation of something greater.

The Massacre of Mankind takes place a decade and change since the aliens’ initial invasion, and though the Martians may have been beaten, it would be foolishness in the first to conclude that they’re completely defeated. As Baxter has it, all we did was knock out the scouts. And it seems that those scouts served their purpose perfectly, because when the bad guys come back, they come back bigger, and better. Add to that the fact that they’ve adapted; I dare say no mere microbe is going to be their undoing on this day.

[Read more]

On The Eternal Applicability of Fire & Lentils

In this ongoing series, we ask SF/F authors to describe a specialty in their lives that has nothing (or very little) to do with writing. Join us as we discover what draws authors to their various hobbies, how they fit into their daily lives, and how and they inform the author’s literary identity!

When I was thirteen, I got shipped off to one of those wilderness camps for troubled youth that are all around the American Southwest. And… I didn’t hate it! I liked knowing how to build a fire without matches, to carve my own spoons, bowls, and very ineffective boomerangs, bows and arrows. Later in life I returned to work there many times, in the off-terms between college semesters.

As a storyteller, there’s a lot you can learn from making fire, using the resources on the land… and from lentils.


I’ll explain.

[Read more]

Rereading Frank Herbert’s Dune: Children of Dune, Part Six

This week we’re going to get stuck in a spice trance and agree to a very messy betrothal that could potentially result in a murder. That’s the plan, at least.

Index to the reread can be located here! And don’t forget this is a reread, which means that any and all of these posts will contain spoilers for all of Frank Herbert’s Dune series. If you’re not caught up, keep that in mind.

[Read more]

Series: Rereading Frank Herbert’s Dune

Weird Space Opera’s Promising First Act: Starfire: A Red Peace by Spencer Ellsworth

Is Starfire: A Red Peace a weird space opera? Hell, yes. Is it good?

I couldn’t put it down, which is one answer to that question.

Starfire: A Red Peace starts in about as much medias res as anything I’ve ever read. A Resistance against a corrupt Empire has just succeeded. Its leader was John Starfire, and he led an army of human-Jorian “crosses”—part human, able to use the advanced technology of the long-gone pure Jorians by virtue of their DNA, and used as slaves and cannon-fodder by the Empire—to victory. Now, though, Resistance has turned into “consolidation,” and all full humans are marked for death.

[Read more]

Giving History a Better Ending: Marvel, Terrorism, and the Aftermath of 9/11

I’m going to state that the idea of being crushed beneath a building is fundamentally different for New Yorkers than for most USians. People’s minds go to different places based on what they fear. In Florida, I feared tornadoes and hurricanes in the way that Californians fear earthquakes and Hawaiians fear tsunamis. Now I live in New York (and work in a historic building no less) and I fear building collapses in that same way—a dull throb behind all of my conscious thought, occasionally bubbling up into a nightmare.

It’s this aspect of New York that has marked the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and set it apart from the DCU. Marvel is New York. As was said over and over again at the Defenders SDCC 2017 panel, New York is another character in the MCU. As was made clear by Spider-Man: Homecoming, changes to the city itself reverberate through the lives of its characters. In a way that the DCU, with its fictional cities, can never match, New York’s (real and fictional) buildings are the skeleton of the MCU. And that skeleton has been permanently marked by 9/11/01, and the ongoing fight against terrorism in the world. I would argue that it’s this aspect that gives the MCU films a dimension of emotional resonance that transcends their status as popcorn movies.

This post contains spoilers for the entire MCU, the Netflix/Marvel productions, the Spider-Man Trilogy, the Amazing Spider-Man Duology, and The first two X-Men films.

[Read more]

Sleeps With Monsters: Metal War Spiders and Creative Destruction

I may have forgotten how to talk about books. I hope not, but let’s find out!

Kate Elliot’s Buried Heart, the final entry in her Court of Fives trilogy, marks an astounding culmination to an excellent trilogy. Building on the events of Court of Fives and Poisoned Blade, Buried Heart puts half-Efean half-Saroese athlete Jessamy in the middle of a war between her father’s people—the Saroese “Patrons” who rule Efea, and who have relegated the native Efeans to a state akin to slavery, the Saroese who’re invading as part of machinations among royalty—and the Efeans who want to take back their country, their history, and their gods.

Jessamy’s position is complicated. She’s in love with Kalliarkos, a Saroese prince who doesn’t want to be king—but Jess thinks that if he’s king, then he can change things in Efea. At least, that’s what she thinks until he actually becomes king.

[Read more]

Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Good Idols: Terry Pratchett & the Appropriate Hug

I can tell you the exact moment I discovered Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. I was about fifteen and fortunate enough to be on a trip to England with my father and stepmother. Though I considered myself to be lucky, I was also in dire straits—my Walkman was dead, I’d read all my books, and I was stuck in a car with two adults who were constantly fighting and all of my coping mechanisms had been used up. I was desperate for a book. I think any lifelong reader will understand the panic of being stuck somewhere stressful without a good book. (Or really any book, for that matter.)

We had stopped to see some famous rock circle—I can’t remember which one, only that it wasn’t Stonehenge. However, I do remember that they had a little gift shop, and in that little gift shop amongst the knickknacks and postcards was a single spinner rack of paperback fantasy titles written by a man named Terry Pratchett. I’d never heard of Terry Pratchett, and I didn’t care. I grabbed the first two and proceeded to beg my stepmother for them. Another lucky stroke in my life—both my mother and my stepmother were readers and they almost always supported my book habit. I’m forever grateful for this.

[Read more]

Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson: Prologue

Start reading Oathbringer, the new volume of Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive epic, right now. For free! is serializing the much-awaited third volume in the Stormlight Archive series every Tuesday until the novel’s November 14, 2017 release date.

Every installment is collected here in the Oathbringer index.

Need a refresher on the Stormlight Archive before beginning Oathbringer? Here’s a summary of what happened in Book 1: The Way of Kings and Book 2: Words of Radiance.

[Read more]

Series: Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson

Approaches to the Fantastic: The New Voices of Fantasy edited by Peter S. Beagle and Jacob Weisman

Jacob Weisman notes in his introduction to The New Voices of Fantasy that it is, in some sense, a successor to Peter S. Beagle’s previous anthology The Secret History of Fantasy (2010)—a follow up on the idea of an exploding field of literary fantastic stories appearing over a wide range of publications. This collection focuses specifically on writers who are in the early stages of their careers, with all stories included “published after 2010.” Considering the seven-year range that encompasses, it’s a bit broader than a new-writers collection focusing on folks in their first few years of publication.

However, this also gives Weisman and Beagle a wealth of stories to choose from to represent the tone and caliber of the movement they’re pointing to in fantastic fiction. These are charming stories, often focused on the personal experience of a character, and all are fantastical in scope rather than scientific, though their approaches do have some variation. The New Voices of Fantasy includes stories in modes from the mythic to the horrific, with some traditional approaches mixed in as well.

[Read more]

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Mirror Dance, Chapter 5

This is the moment, people! Grab a box of tissues and keep your companion animals close at hand—we’ve reached the chapter with the raid. Nothing good is going to happen here.

This reread has an index, which you can consult if you feel like exploring previous books and chapters. Spoilers are welcome in the comments if they are relevant to the discussion at hand. Comments that question the value and dignity of individuals, or that deny anyone’s right to exist, are emphatically NOT welcome. Please take note.

[Read more]

Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Big Heroes, Big Characters, Big Villains, Small Plot: Marvel’s The Defenders Season 1

By the time we get to the end of Marvel’s The Defenders, that word (“defenders”) has never been used. It’s kind of fitting, really, since the original comic book version of the Defenders were a so-called “non-team” featuring a rotating and inconsistent cast, and the team was never really formalized or set.

In that same vein, Daredevil, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage never really become a formal team. Hell, the “team,” such as it is, isn’t really just those four, as Claire Temple, Misty Knight, and especially Colleen Wing are important components of the fight, too.

And that is what makes The Defenders particularly strong, as the characterizations of all its players, big and small, is superb.

If only the plot was stronger…

[SPOILERS for The Defenders season 1…]

Human and Equine: Meeting Halfway

This is a segue of sorts from the Space Equinoids thought experiment, back toward terrestrial horses and the humans who live and work with them. I often call my horses Space Aliens in horse suits, and refer to them as aliens in the pasture. They’re very much their own creatures; even humans for whom they’re nothing but sports equipment or transport will have to understand the basics of equine psychology. Horses are just too big, too strong, and too self-willed to take for granted.

No matter how dominant the human, the horse still outweighs him, and horse instincts and psychology will rule unless the human finds ways to work with them. As the adage says, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”

[You can, however, ask him to do so.]

Game of Thrones Season 7, Episode 6: “Beyond the Wall”

Well, this is not good.

Am I talking about the events of the episode or the episode itself?

Spoilers for the currently published George R. R. Martin novels are discussed in the review and fair game in the comments. We highly suggest not discussing early preview chapters, but if you must, white it out. Have courtesy for the patient among us who are waiting and waiting (and waiting) for The Winds of Winter. Play nice. Thanks.

[“The Good, The Bad and The Really Ugly…”]