A Promising Queer Space Opera: The First Sister by Linden A. Lewis

We are in the middle of a delightful floruit of queer science fiction and fantasy. Finally—finally — no single book has to be all things to all (queer) readers. No longer does the sheer relief of finding a novel with a queer protagonist (or several) predispose me in that novel’s favour. No longer do I feel compelled to highlight a novel’s good points and pass lightly over its flaws because at least it exists. I can finally be picky, and enter wholeheartedly into a criticism uncomplicated by the worry of contributing to a silencing of queer voices.

This is perhaps bad news for my reaction to The First Sister, Linden A. Lewis’s debut space opera novel from Gallery/Skybound. Billed as the first volume in the First Sister trilogy, it sets itself in a future version of the solar system occupied by two competing factions (one based on Earth and Mars, one on Mercury and Venus), with wildcard posthuman smugglers and water miners in the asteroid belt (the so-called “Asters”, viewed as subhuman by the two competing factions) and mysterious machine intelligences hanging out somewhere in the Oort Cloud. But where once the novelty of multiple queer protagonists in a reasonably well-drawn, well-written SFnal future might alone have spurred my enthusiasm, these days I have the luxury of expecting more.

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Inside the Cult of Fear: Finding Humanity in Horror Fiction

I am, in many ways, a tremendous scaredy-cat.

I don’t make it through many horror movies without hiding behind my hands. They give me nightmares, and the jump scares get me every single time. To be honest, I don’t even need a movie to fall victim to a jump scare; loud noises and barking dogs and somebody sneezing when I don’t expect it will do the trick. You’ll never get me into a haunted corn maze because I am completely certain the corn will eat me. At a middle school sleepover, I flinched so dramatically when the hand came out of the TV in Poltergeist that I gave myself a charley horse. And you can ask my younger sister how much fun she has tormenting me with my fear of moths. (Yes, I know they are harmless and even rather cute. I just can’t stand the way they sit perfectly still for hours and hours and hours and you never know when they are going to flutter.) I’ve always been this way.

I also love horror fiction. Love it. Love to read it, love to write it, love to talk about it. Stories full of fucked-up shit are my jam. This doesn’t feel like a contradiction to me. I don’t think it’s a contradiction for many lovers of horror fiction. We like to poke and prod at all the things in the world that frighten us—rather like worrying at a sore tooth, except it’s never just one tooth. There are always more teeth. It’s teeth all the way down.

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The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, Part I: Le Guin’s Early Stories and Germinative Tales

A biweekly series, The Ursula K. Le Guin Reread explores anew the transformative writing, exciting worlds, and radical stories that changed countless lives. This week we’ll be covering the first half of the short story collection The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, from “Semley’s Necklace” to “The Good Trip,” pp. 1-128 in the 1975 Harper & Row hardcover edition.

As a rule, I don’t particularly like short fiction. Before the gasps of heresy overtake me, let me explain: I like big stories, I like to get lost in a world, to become part of the milieu of characters the author is bringing to life. Short stories can offer this and many novels don’t. And some short stories are downright annoy-all-your-friends-with-your-reading-suggestions amazing. Some by Octavia Butler, James Baldwin, Nisi Shawl, and (odd as this pairing is) Arthur C. Clarke come to my mind. But as a preservation strategy—we live in a world where dozens of worthwhile SFF novels come out every year—I keep to novels and only delve into the world of short fiction when those friends won’t let me do otherwise.

[As a rule, however, I love Ursula Le Guin’s writing.]

Series: The Ursula K. Le Guin Reread

Five Science-Fictional Approaches to Healthcare

Recently I encountered an SF novel in which medical care—more exactly, healthcare funding—featured as a significant element. Curiously, the work drew on the same rather implausible healthcare system used to such effect in, say, Breaking Bad. No doubt the author was simply unaware of other approaches. Other science fiction authors have been more imaginative when it comes to healthcare systems, as these five examples show.

Note that authors favour plot-friendly factors over other real-world criteria for health systems. A reliable rule of thumb is that the more user-friendly a medical system is, the more likely that it will be relegated to the background—James White’s Sector General series being a notable exception. If medicine is as cheap and convenient as brushing teeth, odds are good that medical issues will consume as much plot time as brushing one’s teeth…

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Announcing the 2020 Dragon Awards Finalists

DragonCon has been a mainstay convention in Atlanta, Georgia for decades, a massive gathering to celebrate all things nerd, from tabletop gaming to films and television to cosplay to SFF novels.

Since 2016, the convention organizers have been holding their own set of awards, the Dragon Awards. This year’s finalists for the award have been revealed, and public voting is now open.

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Exile’s End

Exile’s End is a complex, sometimes uncomfortable examination of artifact repatriation and cultural appropriation. An artifact of indescribable and irreplaceable beauty created by an “extinct” culture has been the basis of another culture’s origin stories. The race who created the artifact has survived on a distant world and has sent a representative to reclaim it, throwing everything into question.

Inspired by the SF camp in Danzhai, China, which is co-hosted by the Future Administration Authority (FAA) and Wanda Group.

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Sleeps With Monsters: Revisiting Lois McMaster Bujold’s Sharing Knife

Lois McMaster Bujold’s Sharing Knife tetralogy never, I think, equalled the popularity and recognition of her Miles Vorkosigan novels or her World of the Five Gods work (Curse of Chalion, Paladin of Souls, The Hallowed Hunt, and the Penric and Desdemon novellas…) but it remains, for me, a revelation about the kinds of stories that it is possible to tell in fantasy, and the struggles it is possible to reflect.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

A King Arthur Tale for the Brexit Era: Lavie Tidhar’s By Force Alone

The Matter of Britain, the cycle of stories relating to King Arthur and his knights, is as capacious a set of legends as the world possesses, and so the tales have received a staggering range of interpretations. From Tennyson’s pious odes to Victorian Britain, through Mark Twain’s declaration of Yankee independence, from Wagner’s promotion of the German volk and Edwar Burne-Jones’s self-consciously old-fashioned paintings to T.H. White’s tragicomic elegies, King Arthur has accommodated every vision or concern that artists have attached to him. Perhaps each era gets the Arthur it requires.

Lavie Tidhar’s By Force Alone gives us an Arthur for the Brexit era: A tyrant in lieu of a king, brute violence in lieu of gallant feats, undisguised venality in lieu of chivalric ideals. This is the Matter of Britain become the Matter with Britain.

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Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby: Patriarchy Without Feminism Is Hell

Ira Levin’s bestselling horror novel Rosemary’s Baby is a paranoid fever dream about patriarchy. The main character, Rosemary Woodhouse, is the target of a literally Satanic plot of rape, forced birth, and domesticity. She is, in other words, the victim of the same conspiracy of sexism, misogyny and male entitlement which targets all women in a sexist society. “There are plots against people, aren’t there?” she asks, with a plaintive insight.

But while Levin’s book is devastatingly precise in its analysis of patriarchy’s disempowerment and control of women, it isn’t exactly a feminist novel. In his 1971 book The Stepford Wives, Levin mentions Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and talks directly about the growing women’s movement. But in Rosemary’s Baby, feminist consciousness is notably absence, which is part of why the novel is so bleak and terrifying. The narrative recognizes that Rosemary’s fate is diabolically unjust. But it offers no way out, narratively or theoretically. The devil’s victory is total not because he defeats feminism, but because he rules over a world in which feminist possibilities don’t exist.

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