5 Little Kid Fan Theories I Had About Star Trek: TNG’s “Best of Both Worlds” in the Summer of 1990

On June 18, 1990, Captain Jean-Luc Picard was assimilated into the Borg Collective and I was nine-years-old. The famous third season finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation was one of the first TV shows I was allowed to stay up late to watch, and for a variety of reasons I had a lot of feelings about it. And though I didn’t know it’s what I was doing at the time, that summer all I did was craft fan theories about the resolution of Picard’s Borg problem—more than a few those ideas involved time travel, and one idea definitely involved gambling…

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Good Fiction, Questionable Science: The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

Hello, and welcome to my new monthly(ish) column about language and linguistics in science fiction and fantasy! My name is Conni (CD) Covington, and I have MAs in both German and linguistics. I wrote my linguistics thesis on the effect of usage frequency on verbal morphology in a subset of German strong verbs (class VII), and my analysis suggests that there is a threshold frequency below which strong (“irregular”) verbs are most likely to become weak (“regular”). Catch me at a con, and I will happily talk your ear off about this! Broadly, I’m interested in how people use language: why a particular group of people uses a particular set of words and what it means to do so; whether it’s snuck or sneaked; what effects the massive increase in global communication allowed by social media is having on languages.

On the SFF end of things, I am a graduate of Viable Paradise 17 (2013), and I’ve had a few short stories published in anthologies. I tend to read or watch space opera-type stuff, like Bujold’s Vorkosigan series, CJ Cherryh’s Alliance-Union and Foreigner series, Yoon-Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire series, Babylon 5, and The Expanse. I enjoy mecha anime, mainly Gundam and Macross. I haven’t read a lot of fantasy recently, but Lord of the Rings was very formative when I read it the first time, aged 10. That sparked my interest in languages, like it did for a not-insignificant portion of my fellow linguists.

What is this column going to be about? I’ll be taking a look at the ways various authors use language in their works, and, in some cases, how linguists and linguistics are portrayed in fiction and media. I have a running list of works I want to talk about in a notebook—and I’ll take suggestions! Some of these topics will be positive, some will be neutral, and some things just make me want to hit my head against a wall.

[First order of business: Sapir-Whorf and SFF]

Five Horror Novels that Move Beyond the ‘Bury Your Gays’ Trope

It took me years to own my bisexuality. It also took me years to come to terms with my love of horror, for similar reasons. I come from a family harbouring a congenital obsession with a certain cartoon mouse and his media empire, and so my love of all things dark and gothic was not always well understood—even after The Nightmare Before Christmas gave me an outlet. Over the years, writing became my way of dealing with my difference, my stories stashed in hidden notebooks. I have become passionate about the ways dark and brutal stories can reach out to people in the depths of trauma and show them others have been there and that there are ways to cope, and maybe even a way out. I am excited by the opportunity to tell stories that would make another person feel less alone when things seem darkest.

In the past, horror authors often ‘buried their gays’, a practice that dooms queer characters or their partners to die by the end of the story. Think of homoerotic vampires such as Dracula or Carmilla, or the madness and suicide of Nell, Shirley Jackson’s queer-coded protagonist in The Haunting of Hill House. The genre’s high body count has made the death trope pervasive, but horror also has wonderful elements of the Gothic, which delights in the spaces between set categories, including gender and sexuality. As I learned all those years ago scribbling in my notebooks, horror allows us to safely explore our fears, and by doing so, put them behind us. Below, you’ll find five of my favourite horror novels which move beyond burying queer characters and into original narratives that are chilling in all the best ways.

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Series: Five Books About…

Reading The Wheel of Time: Is it Luck or Ta’veren Power in Robert Jordan’s The Dragon Reborn? (Part 17)

Hello friends and readers and readerfriends! Bit of a heads up, we’re only covering one chapter this week, so we can get back on a better rhythm that matches the thematic sections of The Dragon Reborn. Thus, this week will only cover Chapter 40, and next week will cover all of Perrin’s adventures in chapters 41-44.

Fortunately for us, Chapter 40, A Hero in the Night, is both fun and really interesting. It’s strange that we’re still getting to know Mat for the first time, despite all the history we have from The Eye of The World and The Great Hunt. I was particularly struck this week by Mat’s need to insist that he’s not as kind as he is, and the way he impulsively wants to help other people. If you had asked me before this chapter, I would certainly have said that Mat is the most selfish, or at least the most self-centered, of the Emond’s Field folks, but I hadn’t really expected him to have this view of himself, and I’m a little confused about where this impulse to insist that he doesn’t care is coming from. Self-preservation is my best guess. Or maybe Mat picked up somewhere that generosity is weakness? That doesn’t seem like a lesson he would have learned from his clever Da or any of the other folks of the Two Rivers, though. But perhaps his encounter with Aludra will shine some more light on the question.

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Series: Reading The Wheel of Time

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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