Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, Chapters 8 and 9

This week, Ivan and Tej appreciate each other aesthetically in the Admiral’s suite on Desplaines’s courier. That’s not the point though—Tej has been focused on what she is escaping from, and now she’s confronting what she is escaping to. Chapter 8 is sprinkled with little reminders of who Tej is and where she comes from; She has the Cetagandan ear, and the the genetically engineered facility with languages. She’s been carefully trained to be charming—those Betan instructors her parents imported to teach their children? They were instructors in the erotic arts. Ivan is a wilder specimen and came by his social strategies by way of experiment. His first lover was an older teenager who worked in Lord Piotr’s stables. Tej and Ivan seem to be pleased with each other as lovers. I’m happy for them, but their pleasure is a lower priority than Tej and Rish’s escape.

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Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Back on Track with Andre Norton’s Key Out of Time

I was apprehensive about Key Out of Time after the big huge NOPE of The Defiant Agents, but I’m happy to report that not only did Norton get back on track with this 1963 sequel, I really enjoyed it.

Ross Murdock and his mentor, Gordon Ashe, are back, along with a familiar set of villains. The debacle that led to the stranding of a group of Apaches on an alien world—we know what happened, but no one on Terra does—has led to some changes in the way the Time Agents operate, but they’re still sending ships out to worlds once colonized by the alien Baldies, still trying to stay ahead of the evil Reds, and still trying to populate them with members of “primitive” cultures.

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Watch the Ridiculous First Trailer for Detective Pikachu

The real mystery of the first trailer for Detective Pikachu is whether hearing Deadpool’s voice come out of the adorable Pokémon is hilarious or nightmarish. The movie, based on the video game of the same name, looks pretty insane, giving us major Who Killed Roger Rabbit? vibes—except instead of Toons, it’s collectible creatures who can only say variations on their own names. Except, that is, for the lightning-bolt-tailed gumshoe voiced by Ryan Reynolds.

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Five SFF Books Drawn From Neglected Histories

Recently, I put my mind to the question of whose histories are used to animate storytelling in science fiction and fantasy. What else might exist as a source of inspiration in this genre, beyond Nordic sagas or Christian mythology? What vistas are opened up when writers of color, or writers from marginalized communities, whose histories are so often neglected, imagine new worlds based on cultures, histories or belief systems they know with vivid immediacy?

Do writers from these communities turn to science fiction and fantasy partly because there are very few spaces where they see their stories told in ways that seem authentic and familiar? These five books are by writers who aren’t just writing their resistance: they’re writing their worlds into being.

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Series: Five Books About…

World States and Mega Empires in SF

Many SF novels feature a World State encompassing the entire Earth. Such imagined states can have various origins. This is not surprising, since advocacy for World States (from persons on the Left, Right, and entirely outside that framework) goes back centuries and more.

Sometimes, as in Star Trek, it is “a dream that became a reality and spread throughout the stars.” Sometimes it is formed out of desperation: in Poul Anderson’s Tau Zero, humanity united under Sweden on the grounds that Sweden was

big and modern enough to make peace-keeping a major industry; but not big enough to conquer anyone else or force its will on anyone without the support of a majority of nations; and reasonably well thought of by everyone.

…And because the first general nuclear war left the impression that the next nuclear war could be the last one ever. Handing a single authority the keys to all the nukes seemed the best solution.

And sometimes, as in Vernor Vinge’s The Peace War, it’s a naked power grab: a small group of people setting themselves up as the world’s supreme power.

[But how stable would a World State be, in practice?]

Forky the Toy Has an Existential Crisis in the First Toy Story 4 Teaser

…Are you OK, Toy Story 4? The first teaser for the fourth installment starring Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and the rest of Andy’s toys seems to, um, be working some stuff out. The Joni Mitchell music choice is certainly unusual… but then you have a fork voiced by Buster from Arrested Development screaming “I’M NOT A TOY” and from there it just devolves into WTFery.

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19 Nerdy Things That Brought Us Joy in 2018

Here at the start of the holiday season, it’s easy to feel harried and also beset by stuff. Also, there’s the encroachment of eternal darkness that we all feel inside. Which is only compounded by the fact that it’s dark all the time, for those of us settling in to welcome winter in the northern hemisphere.

So we wanted to talk about all the nerdy things that made us happy this year. A little note to ourselves and everyone else, to fill us with warm fuzzies. Like hot cocoa for your brain.

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How Jane Yolen’s Dragon’s Blood Burned Its Way Into Brandon Sanderson’s Memory

At signings, people sometimes ask me which authors it is that I turn into a fanboy over. Questions like this are one of the things I love about the fantasy and science fiction community—the understanding that reader and writer are cast from the same mold. At that signing, I was the one behind the table—but at another event, I’d be the one waiting in line with my tattered book in hand, waiting to meet my favorite writers.

One of the most important people on that list for me is Jane Yolen, SFWA Grand Master and all-around awesome person. I wrote about her short story collection, The Emerald Circus, last year. (It’s awesome.) And with her releasing a new book this year, Finding Baba Yaga, reached out to me with a question: Would I be interested in writing a post about her books?

The answer was an obvious yes, but I wanted to find a way to approach it that wasn’t simply me gushing about her work. (I’m not doing so well on that point so far, I realize.) What could I write other than, “Jane Yolen’s books are awesome, and you should read them all”?

Well, recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the first Yolen book I read: Dragon’s Blood. I encountered it during a very important point in my life, and it burned its way into my memory. It was one of the most imaginative, wonderful, and exciting things I’d ever read—but I read it years before I truly “found” my way into science fiction and fantasy fandom. (There was a personal dark age in the interim where I didn’t do a lot of reading.)

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SFWA Expands Voter Eligibility and Adds New Game Writing Category for Nebula Awards

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) Board of Directors and Nebula Awards Committee have announced two major updates to the Nebula Awards rules. The first expands voting privileges to Associate Members; formerly, only Active Members of SFWA could vote on the Nebula Awards. The second change was to add Game Writing as an award category; eligible works are defined as “an interactive or playable story-driven work which conveys narrative, character, or story background.” Both are effective November 15, 2018.

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Giants, Saints, Chickens, Hobos, and Hobbits: Andy Duncan’s An Agent of Utopia

Andy Duncan may not be the fastest or the most best-known writer in science fiction and fantasy, but he’s one of the best. His books might not fill an entire shelf—he’s published just two prior collections and a handful of chapbooks—but the awards he’s won, including a Sturgeon Award, a Nebula, and three World Fantasies, could easily fill a bookcase. His first two collections, The Pottawatomie Giant and Beluthahatchie, are currently out of print, so Small Beer Press’s publication of An Agent of Utopia: New & Selected Stories, is an occasion to celebrate, and cause to hope that this fine writer finds a broader audience.

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What Are the Best Books in Skyrim? (There Are Only 5, Maybe?)

If you’ve played Skyrim, you know that the world is full of books. You can find books, flip through books, hoard books. If you wanted to, you could probably spend the entire game just reading, and doing nothing else. Or collecting them. (Some people have done this.)

But if there are hundreds of books in this video game world… which ones are really worth your time? What if you just want the highlights, or the greatest hits?

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A Banal Meditation on Evil: City of Ash and Red by Hye-Young Pyun

The extent to which award-winning Korean novelist Hye-Young Pyun’s City of Ash and Red (originally published in 2010, now translated into English by Sora Kim-Russell) is science fictional is entirely debatable. You can read it as science fiction, perhaps. But it’s a very literary sort of science fiction. Although the majority of the novel takes place in a city referred to as City K, in a country known only as Country C, there’s else nothing to suggest a futuristic or fantastic setting. Given that the novel’s main figure is nameless, called only “the man” throughout, and that one of the main themes winding its way through the narrative is anonymity, atomisation, anomie, the choice to refer to places by letters (and to districts by numbers) feels more like the past literary convention by which certain Victorian or Georgian books referred to such figures as “Lord M–, the Baron of C–” and “Mrs. S–“—the creation of plausible deniability, slight distance from the real person mentioned, rather than the creation or evocation of a specific new place.

Though the author previously won the Shirley Jackson Award for her The Hole, City of Ash and Red belongs in the literature genre, I feel, rather than in the SFF one. It’s involved in an entirely different project than the usual run of speculative fiction novels: its concerns and its tools are literary ones. It’s a well-constructed, elegant novel whose translator has done an excellent job: the prose is deft and eloquent, the sentences compelling, the voice distinctive.

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