Philosophers and Plough-dwarves, Each Must Know His Part in The Nature of Middle-earth

The long-awaited book The Nature of Middle-earth, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, has newly awakened into the world like Quendi by the shores of Lake Cuiviénen! Fans hungry for more Middle-earth are scooping up their copies and… making Aragorn beard-memes? Just what is this new posthumous Tolkien book exactly, how “canon” is it, and what things do we learn about J.R.R.’s legendarium that we didn’t know before? Here is everything you need to know…

Fans of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings who aren’t much into Tolkien’s other Middle-earth stories may only find a few curiosities here. Answers to burning questions like: Were there any ursine entertainers on Númenor? Could Legolas talk to horses? Who in the Fellowship actually had facial hair? Come 5 o’clock, did a shadow gather about Aragorn’s cheeks and chin? Did Gollum actually go about buck naked? Was Galadriel a natural blonde? CELEBORN TELLS ALL!

[A quantum leap forward in time and space . . .]

The Maybe-Impossible Ideal Window of Reading Opportunity

Is there a perfect time to read a given book? A moment not too early or too late, where you’re not too young or too grown—not to mention not too tired, worn out, beaten down by the world, or too excitable and distracted and enthused about other things? What about a perfect place?

The experience of reading a book at what feels like precisely the right time and in just the right place can probably be had deliberately, but as often as not is a matter of chance. I read Ursula K. Le Guin’s Lavinia on a train, on deadline for a review, before trains had wifi. In my memory it was a gloomy day, so there was nothing, not even scenery, to distract me. The rhythm of the train propelled my reading, but also connected with it, so that I always think of that book with movement and focus.

That was an unexpected blessing of place. But when I think of the ideal window of reading opportunity, I mostly think of time, which is another way of saying context: How much have you lived? What are you bringing to the book, and what is it bringing fresh to you? Where are you meeting each other, in the stages of your relative existence?

For some books and readers, this window never closes. But for others, it sure feels like it does.

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Red Shirts and Big Helmets — Star Trek: Lower Decks: “The Spy Humongous”

One of the more amusing changes that Star Trek: The Next Generation made to the Trek mythos was to mess with the color scheme. In the original series, command wore gold, operations wore red, and science wore blue. Among other things, this meant that security guards wore red, and their constantly dying on landing parties led to “redshirt” coming to be synonymous with “dead meat.”

So TNG switched it up so that the people in red were now in command, which did precisely nothing to slow down the redshirt meme.

This week on Lower Decks, they make a pretty funny joke out of it.


I Sing the Body Electric: 5 SF Works About Sex and Technology

Unsurprisingly for a species that once dispatched to the stars at great expense a nude selfie with directions to its home, addressed “To Whom It May Concern”, a large fraction of humans (although not all) has an intense, abiding interest in sex. Consequently, any technology that can assist in the quest for or enhancement of sex enjoys a tremendous advantage over technologies lacking such applications. Thus, the internet, which is for porn, spread across the planet like kudzu. Interplanetary travel, which offers absolutely no hope of hooking up with open-minded Martians unless one brings one’s own Martians, languishes.

Science fiction authors have not overlooked the obvious application of technology to humanity’s quest for sex (and in some cases, love, or control). Take these five examples.

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Rhythm of War Reread: Chapter Fifty

It’s another Reread Thursday, my chickens and peeps! This week, we’re back with Dalinar and Jasnah for some carefully planned and coldly executed shenanigans. (Is that a contradiction in terms? Can you plan shenanigans, or do they just have to happen?) In any case, Dalinar does a lot of musing this week, and gets thoroughly disrupted by Jasnah and Wit taking care of business. Come on in and join the discussion!

[You cannot tame a feral axehound with kind words. You use raw meat.]

Series: Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

You Will Fear the Fuchsia, Yet Again: From Beyond (1986)

Welcome back to Reading the Weird, in which we get girl cooties all over weird fiction, cosmic horror, and Lovecraftiana—from its historical roots through its most recent branches.

This week, we celebrate Post #350 with the 1986 From Beyond film, loosely adapted from H.P. Lovecraft’s story of the same title by Brian Yuzna & Dennis Paoli; Screenplay by Dennis Paoli; directed by Stuart Gordon. Spoilers ahead, and content warnings for implied sexual assault, deeply non-consensual on-screen groping and mind control, and a lot of people getting their heads bitten off/brains eaten.

[“Humans are such easy prey.”]

Series: Reading the Weird

The Incredible Shrinking Man Saw Beyond the Material Façade of Post-War Prosperity

And so, through massive sacrifice and tremendous acts of courage (plus a buttload of military might and the nightmarish transition of theoretical physics into devastating reality), the Great Evil of the Axis had been vanquished. The United States, the scrappy little experiment in self-governance not two centuries old, now stood astride the globe as a legitimate world power. But down on the ground, the citizens who had given up so much, and the soldiers who had given up even more, were tired of worldwide adventuring: They wanted comfort, they wanted safety, they wanted security.

[An understandable aspiration, but not without its perils. Read on.]

Becoming a Saint in Shadow and Bone

Note: This article contains spoilers for both the book series and the Netflix adaptation of the novels.

There is a fascinating tension between Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone series and Eric Heisserer’s Netflix adaptation of the books. Besides the combination of storylines that helped the show keep an addictive pace, showrunner Eric Heisserer has also made considerable alterations to the original trilogy: changing Alina’s racial heritage, adding some truly fantastic lines of dialogue for Mal’s character, and most notably, removing the quandary of whether or not Alina is willing to slaughter a boatload of bystanders in her conflict with the Darkling. Whether or not a protagonist can commit murder for the greater good is a worthwhile discussion on its own, but whether or not a Saint can be a murderer is especially interesting. Particularly because in Bardugo’s trilogy, the author seems to point out how ineffective it is to judge morality between characters in a world with no central moral standard or code.

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The Majestic Gwendoline Christie Joins the Cast of Netflix’s Wednesday

Just when we thought they were done making intriguing casting announcements, Netflix’s Wednesday stepped it up a notch. The whole Addams fam is now cast—but more importantly, Game of Thrones‘ Brienne of Tarth (as she’s pictured above) has joined the show. Gwendoline Christie will play Larissa Weems, the principal of Nevermore Academy, Wednesday’s school—and apparently she “still has an axe to grind with her former classmate Morticia Addams.”

One would certainly like to hope that this show can do better than pitting women against women, but one is really not sure yet.

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What If… “Killmonger Rescued Tony Stark?” Gives Us a Violent Alternate Reality

Yes, MORE violent.

This episode was difficult. There are some extraordinary moments, but the overall story is so relentlessly bleak that it was probably the toughest for me to watch so far. I’m also not sure I’m okay with how they handled Killmonger, who was, after all, right about a lot of things? (Although so was Nakia, obviously, and I prefer her methods.)

Let’s dive in!

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N.K. Jemisin Is One of TIME’s Most Influential People

’Tis the season for awards and honors, and this one is incredibly well-deserved: TIME has named N.K. Jemisin one of the 100 Most Influential People of 2021. This comes on the heels of Jemisin being named a 2020 MacArthur Fellow; widespread acclaim for her novel The City We Became; and the news that adaptations of both her Inheritance Trilogy and Broken Earth trilogy are in the works—with Jemisin writing the screenplay for the latter.

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As the Computer Commands: The General, Book 1: The Forge by David Drake and S. M. Stirling

In this bi-weekly series reviewing classic science fiction and fantasy books, Alan Brown looks at the front lines and frontiers of the field; books about soldiers and spacers, scientists and engineers, explorers and adventurers. Stories full of what Shakespeare used to refer to as “alarums and excursions”: battles, chases, clashes, and the stuff of excitement.

One thing I look for in summer reading is a story that keeps me turning pages, and there is nothing like the sense of jeopardy you find in military science fiction to keep the reader engaged. One of the better examples of this genre appearing in the 1990s was the General series, co-written by David Drake and S. M. Stirling. The books, loosely inspired by the adventures of the Roman general Belisarius, featured Raj Whitehall, an officer who develops a telepathic link with an ancient battle computer, and fights to restore space-faring civilization to a far-away world whose society has collapsed. The books were filled with action and adventure, and featured evocative descriptions, interesting characters and a compelling setting.

[Read more]

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