Up, Up and Away: Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft

Self-published several years ago to next to no notice, Senlin Ascends has a second chance to enrapture readers by way of its wide release this week—and enrapture them it surely shall. If you liked The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, consider this your ticket to some equally fine times.

Incredibly creative in its conception and no less confident in its crafting, Josiah Bancroft’s dazzling debut concerns a couple on a honeymoon that goes to hell in a handcart when their destination of choice disappoints. This pair, though, haven’t popped off to romantic Paris or plotted some vibrant adventure in Venice: rather, they’ve travelled to the Tower of Babel, a monolithic column in the middle of Ur said to be a “great refuge of learning, the very seat of civilisation” and the source of any number of wonders.

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Resistance is Futile: Peter Watts’s “The Things”

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

Today we’re looking at Peter Watts’s “The Things,” first published in the January 2010 issue of Clarkesworld. Spoilers ahead.

[“Mutinous biomass sloughed off despite my most desperate attempts to hold myself together: panic-stricken little clots of meat, instinctively growing whatever limbs they could remember and fleeing across the burning ice.”]

Series: The Lovecraft Reread

Star Wars: The Rebellion Won Because They Treated Their Droids Like People

It’s no great secret that R2-D2 is the real hero of Star Wars. In fact, that might be the fandom’s favorite joke of the past four decades—everyone would be dead, multiple times over, without that rolling trash can’s help. Same goes for C-3PO, if we take into account how Artoo relies on him to redirect the bad guys with his babbling and multitude of diplomatic excuses.

But the truth of the matter is a bit uglier than that. Because the only reason that R2-D2 is capable of helping in the first place is because he’s treated like a person… instead of an expensive piece of hardware.

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Valinor Darkens (and Ungoliant Sucks)

In Which the Valar Throw a Party, Melkor Takes a Friend, Then Tells the Residents of Valinor Where They Can Stick It (Hint: It’s Where the Light Don’t Shine)

In “Of the Darkening of Valinor,” things are about to get real gloomy in the Blessed Realm. But since its residents don’t know it yet, why not throw a big party? There’s been too much tension in the air; this could be an opportunity to come together in peace and solidarity. Meanwhile, there’s an APB out for Melkor. He knows he can’t stick around, but before he skedaddles for good, he’s got one last trick for his old buddies. To pull it off, he recruits a particularly unsavory and many-legged ally. Remember old Shelob? In The Two Towers, we were told that she was “the last child of Ungoliant to trouble the unhappy world.” But who, exactly, is that?

Well, it’s time to meet dear Mommy Dearest…

[Click here to read more. Yea, with both hands.]

Series: The Silmarillion Primer

Coming Home: Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti Series

One evening, Binti Ekeopara Zuzu Dambu Kaipka of Namib runs away from home. She is a teenager and Himba, a people from southwestern Africa. They believe in staying close to their native land and that women should cover their bodies and hair in otjize, a mixture primarily comprised of “sweet smelling red clay.” Otjize in hand, Binti climbs aboard a living spaceship called the Third Fish as it heads off to Oozma University. Most of the passengers are Khoush, the dominant people in Binti’s country, and they look down on the Himba. But Binti is the first of her kind to be accepted into the prestigious uni and won’t let anything stand in her way. That is, until the Meduse, a jellyfish-like alien species engaged in a centuries-old war with the Khoush, attack the ship. Binti’s people didn’t start this war, but she may be the one to end it.

[“I was on the threshold now, between home and my future.”]

How Hello, Rain Builds on the Magic of Nnedi Okorafor’s “Hello, Moto”

When you think of the scientist-witches who draw power from magically enhanced wigs in Nnedi Okorafor’s “Hello, Moto,” maybe you think of the arresting illustration by Jillian Tamaki that accompanies the Binti author’s short story: a Nigerian woman with a wig sparking off green magic at the ends, the hair crackling with power. But from the first images from director C.J. Obasi’s adaptation Hello, Rain, those colors are even more vibrant, the visuals even more striking; protagonist Rain and her fellow scientist-witches are literally bathed in the magic that raises them up but then tempts them to steal energy from others until they don’t even resemble humans. It’s markedly different from Okorafor’s text yet still taps into the same ideas.

In a recent interview with Shadow and Act, Obasi discusses his adaptation of Okorafor’s brief but evocative story, describing the creative liberties he took while staying true to the core of the story: “There’s a heart and a charm to Nnedi’s stories, and I don’t wanna lose that.” He also delves into what the short film has in common with Black Panther, both telling alternative African stories that he hopes will become more mainstream.

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Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Komarr, Chapters 3-5

In chapters three through five of Komarr, Bujold presents an ever-growing list of reasons why Tien Vorsoisson is a terrible person. Ekaterin’s day out with her Uncle Vorthys showcases the Vorthys family’s concern for Ekaterin’s health and happiness. It strikes them as odd that Ekaterin and Tien have had only Nikki—Barrarayan families tend to reproduce in sets of four to six. The Professora wonders why they didn’t send Nikki to a Komarran school, for the cultural experience, and worries that Ekaterin is unhappy. Auditor Vorthys probably could secure medical treatment for Nikki and safe harbor for him and his mother in short order. He doesn’t know what she needs, and Ekaterin doesn’t tell him. Why not?

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Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Moving Forward with The Last Jedi

There’s a saying, attributed to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, that says “you cannot step in the same river twice.” It’s a quote I’ve been thinking about a lot about since watching (and re-watching, and re-watching) The Last Jedi.

A lot has been said about the latest Star Wars film and its relationship to the past. Some people are firmly of the mindset that The Last Jedi ruined what’s come before, in terms of key elements like our understanding of the Force to the treatment of Luke Skywalker. Others say that the film marks an important pivot for the franchise as it respectfully moves away from its long, detailed history and charts a new future. Still others contend that nostalgia is a dangerous thing, and the purpose of The Last Jedi was to gleefully destroy everything that’s come before it.

[The Last Jedi is engaged in an interesting conversation with the past…]

Small Stories, Big Worlds: Why I Love Epic Stories That Stay Personal

You know when you’re reading Lord of the Rings, and you really wish the book would just let us spend some time with Rosie Cotton while she’s busy slinging ale at the Green Dragon?

Or is that just me?

Fans of science fiction and fantasy love good worldbuilding. But setting the stage by creating a magnificent new realm usually means the plot focuses on major historical arcs in said world. Once you’ve set up so much, developed all the minute detail, it makes sense to do the broad strokes and really create a mythology. How to Save the World; How to Win the War; How to Shape Reality With a Few Simple Building Blocks. They make great blockbuster film trilogies. They demand the creations of fan wikis and doorstopper guidebooks. They are the stories we take comfort in whenever the world seems a bit too claustrophobic.

[But there’s something special about the stories that start small…]