Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Komarr, Chapter 6

Chapter five ended with the announcement that an unexpected corpse had been discovered associated with the wreckage of the cargo ship/soletta array collision. Our mysterious male space corpse was in a position and on a trajectory that suggests that he was on one of those things at the time of collision. His origin and identity are unknown, and his clothes—the remains of his entirely unexceptional ship knits—have been mostly destroyed by exposure to hard vacuum.

I know I’m supposed to be intrigued by the mystery of the corpse, and I am! I am dutifully intrigued, or I was, the first time I read Komarr, when I didn’t already know who he was. For first-timers, the corpse is a frozen enigma. Is he someone we’ve heard of? Is he someone entirely new? Will he blow Miles’s case wide open? All intriguing questions! After the first time you read a mystery, you know the answers to questions like this and you get to focus your attention on the details.

[Read more]

Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Miriam Black Series Sweepstakes!

The Raptor and the Wren, the fifth book in Chuck Wendig’s Miriam Black series, is available January 23rd from Saga Press—and to celebrate, we want to send you a set of all five books in hardcover!

Miriam Black knows how you’re going to die. This makes her daily life a living hell, especially when you can’t do anything about it, or stop trying to. She’s foreseen hundreds of car crashes, heart attacks, strokes, and suicides. She merely needs to touch you—skin to skin contact—and she knows how and when your final moments will occur.

In the fifth book of the series, Miriam continues her journey to find answers on how to change her fate and begin to make right some of what she’s done wrong. Armed with new knowledge that suggests a great sacrifice must be made to change her fate, Miriam continues her quest and learns that she must undo the tragedies of her past to move forward. One such tragedy is Wren, who is now a teen caught up in a bad relationship with the forces that haunt Miriam and has become a killer, just like Miriam. Black must try to save the girl, but what’s ahead is something she thought impossible…

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 2:30 PM Eastern Time (ET) on January 22nd. Sweepstakes ends at 12:00 PM ET on January 26th. 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.

The End Is Nigh: Chuck Wendig’s The Raptor and the Wren

There’s something about Miriam Black. Maybe it’s her addictive, destructive personality. Maybe it’s her ability to see how you die or her magical power to control birds with her mind. Or maybe it’s just that she’s a total badass with an attitude as harsh as her haircut. Whatever that brutal bite of personality is, Miriam brings it in full force in The Raptor and the Wren, the fifth book in Chuck Wendig’s fiery, ferocious series.

[“And that’s when she knows how to finish it.”]

You Can’t Go Back to the Way Things Were — Star Trek Discovery’s “Vaulting Ambition”

There are three separate-but-connected things going on in this week’s Star Trek: Discovery, and the heart of each and every one of them is embodied by the line of dialogue I borrowed for the headline, a line spoken directly by both Emperor Georgiou and by Lieutenant Stamets. Everyone wants to go back to the way things were. Stamets wants Culber to be alive and the two of them to be happy. L’Rell wants Voq not to suffer (for all that she insists that Voq’s sacrifice was voluntary and necessary). Georgiou wants her foster daughter back. And everyone on the U.S.S. Discovery just wants to get home.

The one person who does get things back the way they were? Lorca. Go fig’.

[Kelpians — THEM’S GOOD EATIN’!!!!!!!!]

After the Apocalypse: Andre Norton’s Daybreak — 2250 A.D.

Not for the first time since I began rereading Andre Norton’s science fiction and fantasy, I discovered that I remembered the titles of this novel (there are two), the main character, the fact that I loved it when I first read it, and nothing else. I do understand why Star Man’s Son became Daybreak etc.: the original title makes one think one will be getting a space adventure, but that’s not what it is at all.

[Read more]

Beyond Ariel: 9 Stories You Can Tell With Mermaids

In Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” perhaps the most famous, influential Western mermaid story, a young woman trades her voice and personality for the ability to pass as “natural” in a new world. Disney’s modern version pits Ariel against other women, and focuses on her physical beauty and lovely singing voice over her actual character, somewhat missing the metaphor… (Although that also avoids the the tragic ending of the original Andersen tale.) Which is a shame because the concept of mermaids provides a rich source of stories that can be used to comment on all kinds of things, from the personal to the societal.

[Read more]

Pull List: Iceman, Mister Miracle, and Existential Crises

We’re kicking off a new year of Pull List with two series that couldn’t be more different. Both feature men who are haunted by their troubled families, and each is still trying to untangle the damage to his psyche from his unpleasant childhood. But that’s about where the similarities end. The divide between the characters is bigger than Marvel vs. DC. Where Iceman is charismatic and playful, Mister Miracle is deep and introspective. Bobby Drake is a charming do-gooder and walking dad joke factory while Scott Free is an angst-ridden warrior who may be losing his mind.

Perhaps the biggest difference is that one comic book is demonstrably better than the other.

[Read more]

Fighting Erasure: Women SF Writers of the 1970s, A Through F

You may have been annoyed by recurrent comments from a certain surprisingly flammable Waterloo-region reviewer. He complains about the erasure from SF memory of women writing SF back in the 1970s—but has that reviewer ever bother to name names? Suggest books? I think not. It is time to confront the erasure directly. Forward! Excelsior!

In an attempt to keep this list to a manageable length, I will focus on women authors who first published in the 1970s. That means skipping some significant authors who were already active at the time. I also reserve the right to cheat a bit by including a few works published after the 1970s. I am also going to break this list into several installments, beginning with A through F. Which should tell you just how many women have been erased. Whole binders full of women.

[Read more]

Sapient Elephants, Musical Dogs, and Mercenary Cats: 15 Stories Featuring Anthropomorphic Animals

Warrior mice, revolutionary pigs, scientifically-minded chimpanzees, and radioactive elephants—some of the most memorable (and ironically, the most human) stories feature anthropomorphic animals at their core. Political history, racial allegories, class tensions, and environmental warnings spring to life when ordinary animals are re-cast as, say, Leon Trotsky, or a heartsick sniper fighting an endless war…

Below, we’ve corralled some of the best animal characters genre fiction has to offer. Let us know your favorites in the comments!

[Read more]

Learning Narrative Structure from Video Games

My first brief hit of gaming was Super Mario Brothers in 1993, at my Granny Griffin’s neighbor’s home in the lush green world of Tipperary. I was five and in my hand was a small gray box with a cable, like an umbilical cord that connected me to a television. I made the small red and blue dots on the screen move. I was bad at it. I was vaguely aware that there was another world in there and that I traveled through it somehow with the red and black buttons under my tiny thumbs. I wanted more.

Adam down the road had a Super Nintendo. Steph, my best friend, she got one for her Holy Communion. I was devout, kneeling before televisions in my friends’ houses, leading digital men over holes in the ground. Collecting mushrooms, collecting stars—just think about that for a second. Collecting actual stars. Reading had already taken me wild by the heart but this—this was something different.

[Read more]

Five Books Featuring Weird Spies

It’s a grave cold night in a city that knows how to keep its secrets. Alleys fill with mist. A flashlight casts a ghostly glow in a back office of a supposedly-deserted government building. Figures with obscured faces meet in the shadows of a parking garage. This file doesn’t exist, and I’m certainly not handing it to you now. In fact, this building won’t be here tomorrow. Besides—who’s to say you haven’t dreamed this entire conversation?

Two great truth-seekers arose from twentieth-century fiction: the noir detective and the spy. They live in similar worlds: murky and high-contrast, full of suspicion and distrust, peeling back the skin of consensus reality to reveal the worms beneath. The spy and detective have their differences, though. Most of the time, you can trust the detective. She’s here to right wrongs, to find murderers and bring them to justice, or at least try. The spy’s motives are murkier. It’s unclear whether she’s out to save anyone except herself.

[Read more]

Trapped in a World They Never Made — Howard the Duck and Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The 1960s was the decade of the secret agent: James Bond, Our Man Flint, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Danger Man, The Avengers (the British TV show, not the American super-team), and so on. Marvel decided to cash in on this trend by taking the star of their World War II comic Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos (which debuted in 1963), aging him 20 years and making him a colonel, and putting him in charge of the Supreme Headquarters of International Espionage, Law-enforcement Division, or S.H.I.E.L.D. for short. (It was later changed to Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate.)

The 1970s was the decade of wackiness: mainstream comics took their superheroes into different places, from martial arts to horror to blaxploitation to just plain crazy. One of the particularly crazy ones came from Steve Gerber and Val Mayerik, who gave us the world’s most obnoxious funny-animal character in Howard the Duck, introduced in a Man-Thing story in a 1973 issue of Adventure into Fear.

Both characters developed cult followings, the former due in particular to the iconic, stylish artwork of Jim Steranko, the latter due to just being totally batshit. Both were made into live-action films that did not live up to their cult status even a little bit.

[“Any questions?” “Yeah, where are my pants?”]

Series: 4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch

The Gods and Spirits (and Totoros) of Miyazaki’s Fantasy Worlds

There’s a moment in Hayao Miyazaki’s film My Neighbor Totoro that’s stuck with me since I first watched it a decade ago. Satsuki Kusakabe is searching for her missing sister, Mei. Looking for help, she sprints towards the huge camphor tree where the magical creature Totoro lives. She pauses for a moment at the entrance to a Shinto shrine that houses Totoro’s tree, as if considering praying there for Totoro’s help. But then she runs back to her house and finds her way to Totoro’s abode through the tunnel of bushes where Mei first encountered him. Totoro summons the Catbus, which whisks Satsuki away to where Mei is sitting, beside a lonely country road lined with small statues of Jizo, the patron bodhisattva of children.

It’s Satsuki’s hesitation in front of the shrine’s entrance that sticks with me, and what it says about the nature of spirits and religion in the film. We don’t really think of the movies of Hayao Miyazaki as religious or even spiritual, despite their abundant magic, but some of his most famous works are full of Shinto and Buddhist iconography—like those Jizo statues, or the sacred Shimenawa ropes shown tied around Totoro’s tree and marking off the river god’s bath in Spirited Away. Miyazaki is no evangelist: the gods and spirits in his movies don’t follow or abide by the rituals of religion. But the relationship between humans and gods remains paramount.

[Read more]

Neil Gaiman Reads “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe

In December 2016, Neil Gaiman did his part for Worldbuilders charity with an atmospheric reading of Edgar Allan Poe’s classic poem, “The Raven.”

In honor of Poe’s 209th birthday, we’re pleased to share it again! Join Gaiman below—surrounded by candles, a flickering fire, and wearing the coat of a murdered prince of Stormhold—to celebrate this quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore…

[Read more]