Slogging Through the Muck — Swamp Thing and The Return of Swamp Thing

This edition of “4-Color to 35-Millimeter” is dedicated to the memory of Len Wein, the co-creator of Swamp Thing (along with dozens of other comics characters, including Wolverine), who passed away earlier this month. We miss you, buddy.

The 1970s were a boom time for mainstream comics to try out other genres with their superheroes, bringing in other pop-culture tropes into their four-color world. In particular, there was a horror renaissance in the late 1960s and early 1970s, with DC having success with characters like the Spectre, Dr. Fate, and Deadman while Marvel would give us the Son of Satan, Ghost Rider, and the seminal Tomb of Dracula comic.

In this atmosphere, Swamp Thing was created.

[“Don’t be afraid, Jude.” “You’d better say that to someone whose desk you ain’t hiding behind.”]

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

Degrees of Ownership: Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

Autonomous is a stand-alone novel set in a near-future world rearranged into economic zones, controlled at large by property law and a dystopic evolution of late-stage capitalism. The points of view alternate between two sides of a skirmish over a patent drug that has catastrophic side-effects: one of our protagonists is a pirate who funds humanitarian drug releases with “fun” drug sales and another is an indentured bot who works for the IPC to crush piracy. As their missions collide, other people are caught up in the blast radius.

While many sf readers are familiar with Newitz, either in her capacity as editor of io9 or as a writer of compelling nonfiction and short stories, this is her first foray into the world of novels and it’s a powerful debut. Wrapped up in a quick, action-oriented plot are a set of sometimes-unresolved and provocative arguments about property law, autonomy, and ownership. Issues of gender and sexuality are also a through-line, considering one of our main characters is a bot whose approach to gender is by necessity quite different than that of their human counterparts.

[A review.]

SyFy’s Children of Dune Miniseries Delivers On Emotion When Philosophy Falls Flat

Three years after the release of Sci-Fi’s Dune miniseries, its sequel premiered. While it was titled Children of Dune, it in fact encompassed the storylines of both its namesake and Dune Messiah. It remains, along with its predecessor, two of the three highest-rated programs that the channel has ever broadcast—and there are ways in which this sequel series outstrips the initial series entirely.

[Read more]

Series: Rereading Frank Herbert’s Dune

Humanizing Systems: Null States by Malka Older

Malka Older’s Infomocracy (book one of the Centenal Cycle) made its debut last summer to rapturous praise, including from The Washington Post and The New York Times Book Review. (I admired it too, although I was late to the party.) Now, in Null States, Older returns to the world of Infomocracy, with a cast of characters both old and new.

Two years have passed since the last global election, and global microdemocracy is still dealing with the fallout from the controversies and illegalities that attended the change of Supermajority. The new Supermajority is struggling to define itself and to make its case as the first new Supermajority since the beginning of the global microdemocracy system, while Information—the pervasive and supposedly objective organisation and system that underpins global microdemocracy and makes it possible—is still somewhat under pressure from the weaknesses that were revealed during the last election. Meanwhile, a shooting war in Central Asia, between two states that aren’t part of the microdemocracy system, is putting pressure on the system, with several centenals—electoral and administrative divisions—squeezed between the shooting war and the nation-state of China, which is not very happy about the situation near its borders.

[Read more]

The Merry World of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit

The Hobbit isn’t as good a book as The Lord of the Rings. It’s a children’s book, for one thing, and it talks down to the reader. It’s not quite set in Middle-earth—or if it is, then it isn’t quite set in the Third Age. It isn’t pegged down to history and geography the way The Lord of the Rings is. Most of all, it’s a first work by an immature writer; journeyman work and not the masterpiece he would later produce. But it’s still an excellent book. After all, it’s not much of a complaint to say that something isn’t as good as the best book in the world.

If you are fortunate enough to share a house with a bright six year old, or a seven or eight year old who still likes bedtime stories, I strongly recommend reading them a chapter of The Hobbit aloud every night before bed. It reads aloud brilliantly, and when you do this it’s quite clear that Tolkien intended it that way. I’ve read not only The Hobbit but The Lord of the Rings aloud twice, and had it read to me once. The sentences form the rhythms of speech, the pauses are in the right place, they fall well on the ear. This isn’t the case with a lot of books, even books I like. Many books were made to be read silently and fast. The other advantage of reading it aloud is that it allows you to read it even after you have it memorised and normal reading is difficult. It will also have the advantage that the child will encounter this early, so they won’t get the pap first and think that’s normal.

[Read more]

How Do Robots Talk to Each Other? A Sci-Fi Examination

Technology-based lifeforms have to communicate, just like any other living beings. And just like living beings, science fiction has come up with a variety of ways for them to do so. Keeping tabs on the way robots, computers, and A.I. convey information in genre fiction offers an fascinating glimpse into what humans think the future might look like—and how we would prefer to interact with technology ourselves.

When looking to science fiction for sentient life created by artificial means, there are plenty of possibilities to choose from. A.I. and robotics are some of the oldest hallmarks of the genre, and there are countless ways to render characters that fit the bill. But with those characters come a number of questions about how they move through the world (/galaxy/universe) and who they interact with. Were they created for a specific purpose, or to exist as they will? Do they have a community of their own kind, or are they restricted to humans and aliens and other organic matter? And if they do have their own communities… doesn’t it stand to reason that they would have their own traditions, their own philosophies, and even their own forms of communication? And what do those forms look like?

[A lot of it, unsurprisingly, comes down to functionality.]

Sleeps With Monsters: Why Can’t More Books Pander To Me?

The speed of my reading lately frustrates me. I need to read faster, so I can talk about some of the amazing-looking novels in my to-be-read pile, like Elizabeth Bear’s The Stone in the Skull, K. Arsenault Rivera’s The Tiger’s Daughter, Jodi Meadows’ Before She Ignites, Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti: The Night Masquerade, and, oh, let’s call it several more. (“Several” is such a flexible word.) Because they all look good, and some of them—like R.E. Stearns’ Barbary Station, who doesn’t love pirates and mad AIs?—look like me-catnip.

There are so many books in the world, and so little time.

[Read more]

Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Know Your Parties! A List of Micro-Democratic Governments in Infomocracy and Null States

The micro-democratic system in Infomocracy and its sequel, Null States, features thousands of districts, all with their own laws. Electing an over-arching world government—in this instance a “supermajority”—would be impossible if many of these districts didn’t merge their interests and form larger political parties.

Infomocracy introduces these major parties, but they change a lot over the course of the book (as well as in the ensuing novel Null States, but let’s not spoil that here!). Here’s a refresher on who the major players are, and where they’re at by the end of Infomocracy!

[Read more]

Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson: Chapters 10-12

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

Emma Newman’s Industrial Magic Prize Pack Sweepstakes!

Emma Newman’s second Industrial Magic novella, Weaver’s Lament, is available October 17th from Publishing—and to celebrate, we want to send you a galley copy of it, along with a copy of the first book, Brother’s Ruin!

The year is 1850 and Great Britain is flourishing, thanks to the Royal Society of the Esoteric Arts. When a new mage is discovered, Royal Society elites descend like buzzards to snatch up a new apprentice. Talented mages are bought from their families at a tremendous price, while weak mages are snapped up for a pittance. For a lower middle class family like the Gunns, the loss of a son can be disastrous, so when seemingly magical incidents begin cropping up at home, they fear for their Ben’s life and their own livelihoods.

But Benjamin Gunn isn’t a talented mage. His sister Charlotte is, and to prevent her brother from being imprisoned for false reporting she combines her powers with his to make him seem a better prospect.

When she discovers a nefarious plot by the sinister Doctor Ledbetter, Charlotte must use all her cunning and guile to protect her family, her secret and her city.

In Weaver’s Lament, Charlotte is learning to control her emerging magical powers under the secret tutelage of Magus Hopkins. Her first covert mission takes her to a textile mill where the disgruntled workers are apparently destroying expensive equipment. And if she can’t identify the culprits before it’s too late, her brother will be exiled, and her family dishonoured…

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 3:30 PM Eastern Time (ET) on September 18th. Sweepstakes ends at 12:00 PM ET on September 22nd. 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.

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Mirror Dance, Chapters 18-33

Last week’s blog post was a fast pass through a large number of Mirror Dance’s middle chapters, and between that and having now actually reread the entire book, I’m finding it much less terrifying; the torture scenes are still lurking out there, but they are no longer lurking stealthily. It turns out they’re pretty close to the end. But now that I’ve found my peace with it, the truth about Mirror Dance is still that I would like to read something else.

[Read more]

Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

A Definitive Collection that Defies Definition: Le Guin’s Hainish Novels & Stories

A year after their release of Ursula K. Le Guin’s complete Orsinia works, the Library of America has released a stunning two-volume set collecting the author’s most famous sci-fi works. The Hainish novels and stories do not unravel like a traditional series—the author even chafes at their common designation as a “cycle”—but they are, at least, connected by a shared universe, pieces and fragments of a shared history, and an ethos of exploration and compassion that is arguably the touchstone of Le Guin’s entire oeuvre. The Hainish worlds (including our own Earth, or Terra) were propagated millennia ago by the people of the planet Hain, and are now gradually reuniting under the interplanetary alliance of the Ekumen. From anarchist revolution to myth-inspired hero tales, the stories of the Hainish planets are as wide and variable as their inhabitants. And yet it was only a matter of time that they be collected in one place.

The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, both included in Volume I of the collection, are two of Le Guin’s most widely read, studied, and praised works of fiction. Placed alongside some of her earliest novels and lesser-known stories, the novels are cast in new and stunning light. They become pieces of a story bigger than themselves. Doubt is thrown on their truths and authoritative readings. Where other compendiums and collections might serve to build a more solid and definitive world-building project, Le Guin’s stories become weirder and more complex when placed side-by-side. This strangeness—in a collection whose theme is often uniting under strangeness—is as fitting and thrilling as it is messy.

[More thoughts on authority, plus the Table of Contents]

Brandon Sanderson Remembers Robert Jordan with a Vital Writing Lesson

On September 16, Brandon Sanderson commemorated the tenth anniversary of Robert Jordan’s passing with a heartfelt blog post on his website. Sanderson expressed the difficulty of marking a day of loss, especially that of “a mentor I’d never met.”

Describing the Wheel of Time author as “an almost mythical figure,” Sanderson nonetheless was able to distill Jordan’s legacy into a simple but deep anecdote: “Robert Jordan taught me how to describe a cup of water.”

[Read more]


Earth, 2144. Jack is an anti-patent scientist turned drug pirate, traversing the world in a submarine as a pharmaceutical Robin Hood, fabricating cheap scrips for poor people who can’t otherwise afford them. But her latest drug hack has left a trail of lethal overdoses as people become addicted to their work, doing repetitive tasks until they become unsafe or insane.

Hot on her trail, an unlikely pair: Eliasz, a brooding military agent, and his robotic partner, Paladin. As they race to stop information about the sinister origins of Jack’s drug from getting out, they begin to form an uncommonly close bond that neither of them fully understand.

And underlying it all is one fundamental question: Is freedom possible in a culture where everything, even people, can be owned?

Annalee Newitz’s science fiction debut Autonomous is available September 19th from Tor Books. Read chapter 3 below, and check out additional excerpts at the Tor/Forge blog and on Boing Boing.

[Read an Excerpt]

Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper Series and the Magic of Social Justice

Every librarian has those select few books they recommend to just about everyone. Books that hit a lot of marks and can appeal to a variety of people even as they tell very specific stories. Books that are well written with evocative layers, truthful and realistic depictions, and characters from diverse backgrounds. I am constantly handing people copies of G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel, Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures, Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, and Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti novella series. And inevitably they come back begging for more.

Of course, also high up on that pile of librarian-approved recommendations is Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper series. If ever there was a Must Read about Brooklynite Latinx teenagers using magical graffiti to battle evil, this is it.

[“People always tell you who they are. At some point, you gotta listen.”]