Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, Chapter 17

I write to you this week surrounded the pleasant detritus of an early summer weekend—my ukulele, a pile of books, a sleepy dog, a plate containing the remnants of some homemade ice cream sandwiches. We take summer seriously around here. The only problem is that, although my children are both out of school now, I’m not done until Wednesday.

Although I gather that some aspects of being a Betan Survey Commander and Vicereine of Sergyar are similar to some aspects of teaching at the secondary level, Cordelia has never been a high school teacher. Nonetheless, Chapter 17 finds her in a state of mind not unlike mine: With Jole’s decisions about his career and his children made, the moment she is living is warm and glorious, in many ways the polar opposite of Robert Frost’s “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening”—but all the responsibilities are hanging over it anyway. We have miles to go before we sleep.

I didn’t capitalize the M. That’s all on you. I’m not a monster.

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Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

What’s Wrong With Me? Finding the Cure in Jake Wolff’s The History of Living Forever

The search for immortality is not a thing of the past. From medieval alchemists to Big Pharma, from ancient Chinese medicine to modern nanotech, our quest has never really stopped. Sixteen-year-old Conrad Aybinder is just a part of this storied tradition. When his teacher and lover, Sammy Tampari, dies under mysterious circumstances, he leaves Conrad his legacy: twenty-two journals, a storage unit full of chemistry equipment, and a recipe for the elixir of life.

Jake Wolff’s debut novel, The History of Living Forever is an ambitious and emotionally raw thing, starting and ending with grief, with a twisting alchemical plot tying these human moments together. Its pages jump between Conrad’s youth and Sammy’s, histories of scientific discovery, and an older Conrad, reflecting on all of this and dealing with his beloved husband’s cancer diagnosis. Each point of view invariably asks the same questions: Will we find the elixir? Is it even possible? What sacrifices will we make to cure the very things that make us human?

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Swan Song: Andre Norton’s A Taste of Magic

The introduction to A Taste of Magic presents it as the last novel with which Andre Norton was directly involved. She made notes on it and attempted to write it at the end of her life, when, according to the introduction, she had finally escaped the difficulties and betrayals of her later years. But her health was failing and she despaired, until she was able to share her concept for the book with one of her dear friends and collaborators, writer and editor Jean Rabe.

It’s a poignant story, heartbreaking at times, and it makes reading and reviewing the novel difficult. How can I criticize it when she struggled so hard to bring it out into the world?

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A Scanner Darkly/Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? The Folio Society Edition Sweepstakes!

A Scanner Darkly and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? are two of Philip K. Dick’s most celebrated novels, and classics of the dystopian genre. The Foilio Society has created a beautiful new collector’s edition – and we want to send you a copy!

It is difficult to measure the impact of Philip K. Dick’s work. Not only did his stories and novels win awards and influence an entire generation of science-fiction writers, many of his works have been adapted into film and continue to inspire directors to this day.

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When Everyone’s a Monster, No One Is: The Ugly Everyday in My Favorite Thing Is Monsters

In 2017, Emil Ferris and Fantagraphics published the first volume of My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, and I have been waiting for the second volume ever since. It’s not often that you find a graphic novel quite this ambitious: not only does it cross genres and decades, it also explores the ugliness of love and grief and, well, monsters.

[My favorite thing is My Favorite Thing Is Monsters.]

Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments Books Didn’t Give Me Validation — But They Did Give Me Permission

When I was an actual adolescent, way back in the 1990s, YA was a very different place. Sure, the category existed—S.E. Hinton, Paul Zindel, Judy Blume—but it was nothing compared to the incredible proliferation of diverse storytelling that young adults enjoy today. And if any of those writers were writing about gay people, they certainly didn’t carry those books at the library in my small town. As a confused queer teen, I had no books about happy awesome gay people doing happy awesome things. When I did stumble upon queer representation, in the work of authors like Stephen King or Jack Kerouac, I was ecstatic… even if the representation itself was not so great. 

Somehow, I survived. I made it out of my tiny home town and went to college, where I found James Baldwin, Jean Genet, Audre Lorde, Reinaldo Arenas, David Wojnarowicz, Virginia Woolf. In books and in real life, I found my people, my chosen family—and I ended up okay: a happy, proud, out gay man. 

Well, as a person I was okay, but as an artist—maybe not so much. Maybe coming of age without ever seeing yourself in books or movies leaves wounds that run deeper than can be cured by a self-taught crash course in the queer classics. Because as a writer of science fiction and fantasy—and especially young adult—I couldn’t figure out how to tell those stories. 

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The Dead Don’t Die Is the Perfect Zombie Movie for Our Times

There is a certain comfort to be found in horror. The kids are going to head out into the country and find the weird heart of rural America. There will be a diner with great coffee. Signs will accrue. The moon will be full; animals will act up. If you’re in a haunted house, each night will get be worse than the last, while the daylight hours will remain safe… for a while. If you’re in a rural horror, the locals will be friendly… at first. If you’re in a zombie movie, there will be at least one shot of an undead swarm. People will split up like idiots no matter how much you yell at them not to from the safety of your couch or movie theater. People will open up about their deepest fears or childhood memories while huddled together for safety. People will argue about which room/building is safest, with someone opting for basement and someone else opting for closet, and the really smart ones will head for the hardware store. There will probably be at least one reactionary asshole who thinks the whole thing is a hoax perpetrated by the government. (Watching that guy get eaten/murdered/haunted to death will carry a certain amount of satisfaction.) There will be at least one person who snaps and throws themselves to the Big Bad.

The Dead Don’t Die nods to each of these moments, subverting some, embracing others, but does it all with a sense of flat detachment that marks this as a wholly different beast that your Shauns of the Dead or your Tuckers and Dales Versus Evil, or even your Zombielands. The film also riffs on classics including but not limited to: Plan 9 From Outer Space, Night of the Living Dead, Evil Dead, Carrie, Nosferatu, and Scream.

[But honestly, I don’t know if the movie works.]

From the Jedi Order to the Torturers’ Guild: Science Fiction’s Preoccupation with Monks in Space

Why are there so many monks in space?

The Jedi are the obvious root example. Robed and reclusive, prone to politics when by all rights they should steer clear, any given Jedi Knight is a tonsure and a penguin outfit away from the Order of St Benedict. Dune’s Bene Gesserit have a distinctly monastic (or convent-ional) quality, in their withdraw from the world and their focus on the Long Now via their messiah breeding scheme. Hyperion has its Templars, robed dudes who hang out in spaceship trees—along with its xenoarchaeological Jesuits (priests, sure, but relevant to this conversation) and Jewish academics. A Canticle for Leibowitz follows monks through the postapocalypse, and Stephenson’s Anathem culminates in a double handful of monks being launched into space for a hundred-fifty page EVA. (Surely the spoiler limit on this one has passed by now?) Sevarian’s Torturers’ Guild is a monastic order of St Catharine, and the berobed, contemplative Utopians in Ada Palmer’s Terra Ignota series have more than a whiff of the monastic about them.

[So: why monks? And why space?]

Our Favorite LGBTQ+ Reads of the Past Year

It’s hard to play favorites, you know? So when we decided to put together a QUILTBAG recommendation list for Pride Month, we knew we thought we’d narrow the field for ourselves a bit and only select books we’ve read in the past year. The books in question weren’t necessarily published within the last year, we just got our hands on them recently. See what we’ve been reading!

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Celebrating 10 Great Parents from Young Adult SFF

Every so often someone laments the lack of good parents in young adult fantasy and science fiction. This is usually followed up with the claim that good parents make for poor YA fiction because good parents don’t let their kids go off on dangerous adventures to save the world. To which I usually reply that they clearly don’t read enough YA SFF. Parents—yes, even the good ones—have a long history of involvement in young adult science fiction and fantasy, a trend that has actually been increasing in recent years.

In that vein, here are ten YA SFF novels where the parents are very much alive, are good people, and in some cases who even join the teen protagonist on their quest. There are, of course, a zillion more, so please add your recs in the comments!

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“This ain’t that kind of movie” — Kingsman: The Secret Service

In 2012, Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons released The Secret Service, a creator-owned comic book miniseries published by Marvel that was more or less a 2010s version of a 1960s British spy thriller.

It proved hugely popular, and it was optioned by Matthew Vaughn, who had already successfully adapted another Millar-written comic, Kick-Ass, into a couple of films.

[Martini. Gin, not vodka, obviously. Stirred for 10 seconds while glancing at an unopened bottle of vermouth. Thank you.]

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

Men in Black: International Is Uninspired, But Still Cute and Fun

The original Men In Black was a divinely weird piece of cinema, a film that takes inspiration from the world’s most outrageous tabloids (the bat boy ones, not the celebrity rags)—but can you sustain that particular brand of magic over 20 years? With each sequel, the attempts to franchise-ify the series never quite passed muster.

But adding Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth to the mix sure doesn’t hurt.

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Liu Cixin’s The Wandering Earth Is Now a Striking SF Film on Netflix

When Chinese science fiction film The Wandering Earth appeared in U.S. theaters earlier this year, very few people saw it, but just about all of them liked it. Critics lamented that this movie, which grossed nearly as much as Avengers: Endgame worldwide, received only a few days’ booking in the more discerning arthouses and the most diverse big-city multiplexes. Now that The Wandering Earth has made its way to Netflix, it has a new chance to find a wider audience. Many lesser films have thrived on the streaming service—let’s hope Netflix helps this movie find the American viewership it deserves.

The Wandering Earth is adapted from a novella—though some say it’s more a long short story—by Liu Cixin, author of The Three-Body Problem. Since this particular work isn’t yet available in English translation, I can’t vouch for the faithfulness of the adaptation. I can merely express my admiration at Liu’s audacity in fitting such a large story into such a small space.

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