The Messy and Complicated Fairy Tale of Horse Racing

On the first Saturday in May, in the third year of the Great Plague, a fairy tale unfolded on a racetrack in Kentucky. A horse entered the Kentucky Derby literally at the last minute, after another horse was withdrawn, or scratched as they say in the business. He was sold from his breeding farm as a youngster, came in dead last in his first race, and was disposed of in a claiming race, where anyone who pays the set price can claim the horse. It’s a trope in horse novels, the driver of many a desperate plot, trying to save the horse from this sad fate either by keeping him out of the claiming race, or scraping up the funds to pay the price.

Once this horse was claimed, he ended up in a small-time stable as such things go, with a trainer who had never won a major race, and a jockey who had never ridden a horse at this level. No one expected him to do more than show up. All the attention was on the favorites, the stars with illustrious records and famous trainers.

[Then came the race.]

Crow Gods and Sun Priestesses in Rebecca Roanhorse’s Fevered Star

We return to the world of people of the Meridian as Rebecca Roanhorse treks onward with the journey of Serapio, the Crow God made flesh who survived his own sacrifice; Naranpa, the deposed Sun Priestess left for dead; and Xiala, an outcast Teek sailor whose heart and magical Song continually set her adrift.

The second installment of Roanhorse’s unique epic fantasy Between Earth and Sky series, Fevered Star, picks up directly after Black Sun. Serapio, originally a young man from Obregi, is now known as the Odo Sedoh and leader of the Odohaa cult. His mother groomed and blinded him in preparation to become the vessel for Sky Made clan Carrion Crow’s outcast god, who was to be reborn and cast vengeance upon the priesthood class (the Watchers) — a slaughter dubbed the Night of the Knives. After battling and decimating the Watchers upon their sacred ceremonial ground, Sun Rock, Serapio was supposed to die—but he didn’t. Wounded by the Watchers’ high priest, he awakens to see the sun over Tova suspended in an a forever twilight, and now in the care of Carrion Crow Captain of the Shield Okoa, who is unsure about his own position in the war he cannot see, but feels, is coming.

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Star Trek: Enterprise Rewatch: “Shockwave”

Written by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga
Directed by Allan Kroeker
Season 1, Episode 26
Production episode 026
Original air date: May 22, 2002
Date: unknown

Captain’s star log. Enterprise is en route to a Paraagan mining colony. They’re a matriarchal society, which prompts some tiresome, “wow, women in charge, that’s crazy” commentary from Archer and especially Tucker. The mines spit out tetrazine, so the landing protocols for the shuttlepod are very specific to avoid the plasma exhaust igniting the atmosphere.

[This has gotta be the first time a Vulcan has ever attempted to cheer up a human.]

Series: Star Trek: Enterprise Rewatch

Empathy for the Devil: Villains, Antiheroes, and Origin Stories

“There are two equally valid sides to every story. Every warped viewpoint must be weighed seriously for any grain of truth it might contain. If you shout loudly enough, down is actually up.”

—“From Cruella to Maleficent to the Joker: Is It Time to Retire the Villain Origin Story?” by Stephanie Zacharek, TIME Magazine, May 26, 2021

I enjoy Horror as a genre. Stephen King’s novel Carrie captivated me early on as a reader. It still does. It’s a brilliant novel about mundane evil—one of King’s best. It’s also a villain origin story. A young, abused girl with powerful psychic abilities she can’t control, Carrie White destroys everything she wanted and everyone she loved. Stephen King takes a complex, nuanced approach, skillfully treading that fine line between humanizing Carrie too much—and therefore blaming teen bullies for their own horrific murders—and making a teen girl’s indignation into a horror monster. In the final scene of his adaptation, Brian De Palma highlighted the dilemma. When Sue Snell lays flowers on Carrie’s vandalized grave, Carrie’s gore-soaked hand reaches through the earth to attack her. De Palma and King seem to say, “Be careful who you empathize with, lest you too be dragged to hell.”

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The Time Traveler’s Wife Is Steven Moffat at His Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey Best

Back when I first heard that Sherlock creator and former Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat had finally gotten the rights to adapt The Time Traveler’s Wife, I was worried that his take would veer too close to the multiple Doctor Who episodes and season arcs that had in fact been inspired by Audrey Niffenegger’s 2003 novel. How could I not, when this writer had made clear how he imprinted on her work, not unlike child Clare imprinting on her imaginary friend slash future husband Henry?

The pilot doesn’t make the best first impression, starting out overwrought thanks to dual voiceover, a cringey home-video frame story (with unfortunate aging makeup), and the dare-we-say-twee note of recreating the book cover in its opening credits. But eventually we get to 28-year-old time traveler Henry and 20-year-old artist Clare’s first date, during which she almost immediately blurts out that she’s his future wife… and the tone shifts just enough from heavy drama about soulmates and waiting to the absolute farce of these two kids confronting the fact of their entire future together. The snappy banter is reminiscent of Coupling, with the Möbius strip of their argument less about the mechanics of time travel and more the romance premise of you mean to say I fall in love with you? It’s exactly what I wanted from this adaptation.

…OK, there is one timey wimey mystery-box element, because Moffat.

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5 Books That Get Demon Summoning Right

When it comes to night dwellers of the supernatural variety, there’s something singularly unnerving about demons. They’ve always been the creature that scared me the most; Paranormal Activity had me sleeping with the lights on for weeks, and my genuine fear of demons is so well-documented (and mocked) in our family that my brother specifically advised me to never watch Hereditary, in case it utterly broke my psyche.

Maybe it’s because demons are invisible, yet make themselves so eerily known; an insistent scratching or rapping or knocking designed to drive you mad. Maybe it’s that they’re multifarious by nature, capable of taking on gorgeous, familiar, or grotesque forms at will. Or maybe it’s the notion that sometimes, summoning a demon is much easier and more tempting than arcane lore would have you believe. No pentagrams, candles, or rituals necessary; very little active participation required, in fact, besides the willingness to let one in.

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Series: Five Books About…

How I Learned to Give in to Anime

Once upon a time, when I was a child, I had dinner at a friend’s house. I don’t remember the friend. All I remember is that their parents served up something they called goulash, but was in reality a distressing mixture of greasy noodles, watery sloppy joe mix and, perhaps, a can of stewed tomatoes. It was disgusting. I hated it. It wasn’t like I was a picky eater or a pint-sized gourmand! We ate very cheap and unfancy foods in my family. This particular meal was especially terrible.

Although I didn’t know it at the time—this is important—it bore no resemblance whatsoever to actual goulash. There was no paprika anywhere near that meal. Not even the wispiest ghost of old Hungary had ever haunted its presence.

But for many years, I heard the word goulash, remembered that meal, and knew, without a doubt, that all goulash was terrible. I was well into adulthood before I saw a recipe for proper goulash and thought, “Huh. Maybe those people were just appallingly shitty cooks.

The point is: I have a history of this sort of behavior, and it explains why I didn’t start watching anime until I was in my forties.

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Five Fantasies With Prophesied Chosen Ones

The prophecy of the chosen one is considered to be a tired trope by many fantasy readers. Indeed, many books use prophecy as a crutch to make it easier on the characters and push the plot along. But when done well, prophecy makes it harder on the characters, not easier, and enhances the mythic quality of the novel.

I love prophecy and the tale of the chosen one. I love when I realize a new book will detail another hero’s journey, and I break out in goosebumps when the prophecy sends our hero forth. The Lord of the Rings teems with prophecy—most of the main characters have legends attached to them. Harry Potter’s entire dilemma would not exist if a prophet hadn’t spewed her ambiguous foretelling, setting Voldemort against him. When in the hands of a master, a prophecy can be devastating. It can wring the chosen one dry, even crushing her spirit and leaving her quest shrouded in doom. A prophecy can add a lyricism to the novel, which makes the writing sing. It cloaks a novel with a hint of ancient folklore. Before you give up on prophecy, read one of these five masterfully prophetic books.

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Five Series Made Up of Standalone Novels

While reading Molly Templeton’s recent essay, Is Series Fatigue Real?, I noted an interesting phrase: “the loose series where the books are standalones but they also fit together.” I realized that I tend to divide series fiction into two sets:

A) series in which the books are clearly linked by setting and characters but which can provide readers with the complete plot experience in each volume;

B) series in which each volume is but a fragment of a greater whole.

[I strongly prefer the first sort.]

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