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…”]

Brian Aldiss, 1925 – 2017

We’re saddened to report that we have lost one the greats of science fiction and fantasy. Brian W. Aldiss was 92 years old.

Mr. Aldiss started out as a bookseller, and began his fiction career writing short pieces for a trade journal. Charles Monteith, an editor at Faber and Faber, liked the pieces enough to ask him to write a novel, and his first book, The Brightfount Diaries, was published in 1955. It was a literary story, told in a series of diary entries, about the daily life of a bookseller. However, he had already begun writing stories with a more speculative flavor, being published in Science Fantasy and New Worlds before winning a contest held by The Observer for a short story set in the year 2500, “Not For An Age.” When he told his literary publishers about his genre work, they surprised him by being excited about it, and he eventually edited anthologies of science fiction and fantasy for them.

By the end his books numbered into the hundreds, with over a dozen non-fiction works, including an autobiography titled, Bury My Heart at W.H. Smith’s: A Writing Life; short stories, including “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long,” which became the basis for Stanley Kubrick’s original conception of A.I. Artificial Intelligence, anda Doctor Who story called ”Umwelts for Hire;” and finally his novels, which ranged over a dizzying variety of topics. They include multi-award-winning Helliconia Trilogy, the Hugo-winning Hothouse, about life in a super-tropical rainforest on a dying future Earth, Barefoot in the Head, and experimental work about a messianic Serb whose constantly shifting puns and allusions are an homage of Finnegans Wake; The Eighty Minute Hour, a space opera where the characters actually sing; Brothers of the Head, about conjoined-twin rock stars, which was adapted into a film by Keith Fulton and Lou Pepe, and Jocasta, which re-told Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and Antigone.

In the early 1960s, he and Harry Harrison founded a journal of science fiction criticism called Strange Horizons, which was the first of its kind. While it only produced two issues, those two issues published work by James Blish and William S. Burroughs, as well as a roundtable discussion between C.S. Lewis, Kingsley Amis, and Aldiss himself. Like many of the great science fiction writers of his generation, he dedicated himself to the genre not only through writing, but also through editing and anthologizing work in an attempt to spread quality speculative fiction. He edited Introducing SF and Best Fantasy Stories for Faber and Faber, a series of anthologies for Penguin, and then some thematic anthologies including Space Opera, Space Odysseys, Galactic Empires, Evil Earths, and Perilous Planets. An artist himself, Aldiss worked on a large format collection, Science Fiction Art, intended to give the great pulp artists the recognition they deserved. He and Harry Harrison also worked on The Year’s Best Science Fiction series for nearly a decade.

Mr. Aldiss was Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1990, a “Permanent Special Guest” at the annual International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (ICFA) from 1989 through 2008. He received two Hugo Awards, one Nebula Award, and one John W. Campbell Memorial Award. He was named the 18th Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America in 2000, inducted by the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2004, and awarded the title of Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to literature in 2005.

Mr. Aldiss will be greatly missed.

Five YA Books with Fabulous First Sentences

The last book that got its hooks into me struck at Chinggis Khan airport in Ulaanbaatar. A friend and I were returning from a long stay off the grid with Kazakh nomads in Mongolia’s far west. We were saddle sore from a trip across the Altai mountains in a Russian jeep, suffering from intestinal parasites, and reeking of yak dung. But we had Kindles, and something passing (in Mongolia) for Wi-Fi. “Read this,” my friend said, and stuck this opening under my nose:

“If I could tell you one thing about my life it would be this: when I was seven years old the mailman ran over my head. As formative events go, nothing else comes close.”

Thank God for books. They can take you from anywhere, to anywhere. Not all of them do it as precipitously as Brady Udall’s The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint—there are ways to be transported that don’t involve such a dozy of a first step—but as an author myself I swoon over such writing.

[Read more]

“Who are you people?” Marvel’s The Defenders First Impressions of Episodes 1-3

From 2008-2011, Marvel Studios provided an excellent blueprint for setting up what we now refer to as the Marvel Cinematic Universe: two Iron Man films, a Hulk film, a Thor film, and Captain America: The First Avenger. All standalone movies, but with various common elements and through-lines (the Stark family tree, S.H.I.E.L.D., the Infinity Stones) to come together in Avengers, which remains the gold standard. It works as the first Avengers movie as well as the next movie for each of the above characters.

In 2015, Marvel went back to that blueprint for their more ground-level Netflix television series based in New York. Two seasons of Daredevil, and one each of Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, culminating in The Defenders, now live on Netflix.

Here’s a quick look at the first three episodes and whether or not they bode well for history repeating itself. (There will be a full review on Monday.)

[SPOILERS for The Defenders season 1, as well as Daredevil seasons 1-2, and the first seasons of Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist.]

N. K. Jemisin’s New Contemporary Fantasy Trilogy Will “Mess with the Lovecraft Legacy”

In January, Orbit Books announced that it had acquired three new novels from N. K. Jemisin, including a contemporary fantasy “dealing with themes of race and power in New York City.” In a recent interview with Playboy, Jemisin—who just won the Hugo Award for Best Novel for The Obelisk Gate—shared more about how the novel will grapple with “basically Cthulhu” and the legacy of H.P. Lovecraft.

[Read more]

Nintendo’s Tour of the Louvre: Gaming, Art, and Virtual Reality

The Louvre Museum in Paris is an architectural marvel, a palace built upon, renovated, and expanded from its origins as a fortress. Even awe would be an understatement to describe the feeling exploring its vast wings, its incredible Pyramide du Louvre, not to mention the most epic collection of artwork on display in the world. The first time I visited, I got completely lost, in part, because it’s one of the world’s largest museums at over 652,000 square feet. In between trying to track down the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, and the Egyptian antiquities, my legs gave out after a half a day of hapless wandering.

The second time I visited (which was almost ten years later), I had a much better experience, knowing exactly where I wanted to go, even getting a good grasp of its layout. This wasn’t the result of having learned my way around during my first visit, but rather because I had the official Nintendo DS Louvre Guide to lead me, complete with a GPS and 3D Imaging designed specifically for the museum—on rent for just five Euros at any of the booths.

[Read more]

Valerian: The Illustrated Treasury Sweepstakes!

We want to send you a copy of Pierre Christin’s Valerian: The Illustrated Treasury, available now from Titan Books!

Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets introduced audiences to a future populated by weird and wonderful aliens and laced with incredible futuristic technology. Now discover the universe of the original Valerian and Laureline comic books!

Valerian: The Illustrated Treasury gives a comprehensive overview of the Valerian and Laureline comic-book universe, featuring information on key locations (including Central Point), transport, galactic anomalies and a timeline of the major events in the series. This richly illustrated book also introduces many of the alien races and characters—friendly and hostile—and there is a special section on the ever-popular Shingouz.

Printed in English for the first time, Valerian: The Illustrated Treasury is a wonderful addition to the Valerian franchise and features full-color artwork by Valerian and Laureline artist Jean-Claude Mézières.

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 11:30 AM Eastern Time (ET) on August 18th. Sweepstakes ends at 12:00 PM ET on August 22th. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor:, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.

All the Crazy Stuff That Goes Down During SFF Eclipses

Eclipses are pretty darn cool even in real life, so it’s fitting that in science fiction and fantasy they get their due as legitimately monumental events. Dragon’s blood shed, the sapping of powers, aliens invading under cover of darkness… a lot can happen when planetary bodies pass between the sun and Earth—or whatever world our heroes inhabit. The six eclipses in these SFF stories mean serious business, with the power to change laws, avoid executions, and break spells. Grab your eclipse glasses!

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The Right Book at the Right Time

Sometimes a book comes into your life at just the right moment. There’s something in it that speaks to your specific place in space and time, like the heavens aligning for an eclipse.

I spent my 16th year as an exchange student in France, living with a French family, attending a French school, and being completely immersed in the language—which I barely spoke a word of when I arrived. Even though I was an obsessive reader, I left my books at home. The whole point, I’d reasoned, was to forsake English for a year while I learned a different language. I rapidly realized my mistake—I was forlorn without books that I could understand.

So I wrote a letter to my Great Aunt Joan. In my reading life, my Aunt Joan was the Gandalf to my Frodo, the Merlin to my Arthur. She was responsible for most of the great literary loves of my childhood: the Moomins, Oz, the Dark is Rising series—all of them came from her. I wrote to her and I told her how forsaken I felt without any books that spoke to my heart.

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Oscar Wilde’s The Nightingale and the Rose

In fact, she is like most artists; she is all style, without any sincerity. She would not sacrifice herself for others. She thinks merely of music, and everybody knows that the arts are selfish.

Poet, dramatist and wit Oscar Wilde had a decided taste for fairy tales, even in some of his most mundane work. His play The Importance of Being Earnest, for instance, ends with a scene that could be lifted straight from any of a hundred stories of children lost at birth eventually found by parents, if with more than a touch of Wilde’s mockery: “To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.” Take that, all of you abandoned and kidnapped fairy tale princes and princesses!

But his mockery could not hide his genuine love for the genre. He indulged this love in two collections of fairy tales: The Happy Prince and Other Tales (1888) and The House of Pomegranates (1891). “The Nightingale and the Rose,” a response to Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Nightingale,” is in the first. Wilde admired the way Andersen used his fairy tales to critique society—something Wilde himself would do in his own tales—but profoundly disagreed with Andersen’s depictions of sacrifice and with Anderson’s preference for the natural over the manufactured and artificial. His own tale takes a decidedly different approach.

[Read more]