The language of the originators defines reality, every word warping the world to fit its meaning. Its study transforms the mind and body, and is closely guarded by stodgy, paranoid academics. These hidebound men don’t trust many students with their secrets, especially not women, and more especially not “madwomen.” Polymede and her lover Erishti believe they’ve made a discovery that could blow open the field’s unexamined assumptions, and they’re ready to face expulsion to make their mark. Of course, if they’re wrong, the language will make its mark on them instead.
We began the year with a post about the White Horse Between the Worlds: the ancient belief that a white horse (or a grey, as most white horses technically are) possesses mystical powers; that he (or she) can walk from world to world, and stands watch on the border between the living and the dead. Now, as the year ends and the Solstice is upon us, we’re back in that liminal space. In that space is one of my favorite films of all time.
One week before Winterfair, and Ivan is desperately trying to get his wife’s attention.
Tej is BUSY. Family are making a lot of demands on her time, which is just so typical of this holiday season. There’s a lot of pressure to pitch in and make things work and put family first. There are some domineering parents and grandparents. Most of us are not using experimental chemicals to excavate bunkers located underneath government buildings while wearing fuzzy slippers for stealth, but otherwise, all of this sounds very familiar.
Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga
If you’ve been following the reviews of Syfy’s Nightflyers, based on the novella by George R. R. Martin, then you already know how this one is going to end: in a bloody mess. But like the show itself, I’m going to start with the ugly conclusion and rewind. Or, if you prefer a gorier analogy, we’re going to conduct an autopsy on this corpse to see which organs failed.
Why bother? Because if you’re interested in good storytelling, Nightflyers offers a useful illustration of some basic pitfalls to avoid.
Here we are. The final battle. It all comes down to this. Welcome, my friends, to the end of the world. It’s been my absolute pleasure to be your guide, the Virgil to your Dante, for the last few weeks as we traveled the winding roads of Good Omens that have led us up to this point. This is where it all goes down. It’s finally time to see which side wins. Are you ready? Here we go…
Series: Good Omens Reread
It’s called Star Wars. Not Star Trek, not Star Peace, not Star Friends, not even Star Tales. This gargantuan fictional universe is labeled with a title that guarantees the ability to travel space… and near-constant warfare.
We can debate the relative okay-ness of this focus from a moral standpoint, sure. But in reality, I think that Star Wars is accidentally teaching us the greatest lesson of all: It’s depicting what a universe looks like when you dedicate all of your research and technological advancements to war and destruction, and unwittingly showing us what an incredibly dark place that universe is. Because the Star Wars universe is a fun fictional playground for sure, a great place to build weird and wonderful stories… but it’s not a good place. Not by a longshot.
Hard science fiction: is it actually a coherent subgenre or is it just an arbitrary body of work defined nebulously enough to facilitate gate keeping? On the one hand, I claim to be a fan of the stuff so it sure would be handy if it actually existed. On the other, a lot of works marketed as hard SF have features like psionics, faster than light travel, and an Earth spinning in the wrong direction that seem pretty hard to reconcile with actual science.
Still, I think there’s a gap between hard SF defined so narrowly only Hal Clement could be said to have written it (if we ignore his FTL drives) and hard SF defined so broadly anything qualifies provided the author belongs to the right social circles … that this gap is large enough that examples do exist. Here are five examples of SF works that are, to borrow Marissa Lingen’s definition:
playing with science.
and doing so with a verisimilitude that’s not just plot-enabling handwaving.
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During the early 2000s, the fantasy genre underwent something of a revolution. After decades of heroic epic fantasy, headlined by the likes of Robert Jordan, Terry Brooks, Anne McCaffrey, and David Eddings, a new subgenre erupted in popularity. The era of grimdark arrived, spearheaded by George R. R. Martin’s opus, A Song of Ice and Fire.
Martin’s as-yet-unfinished series was praised for its “realism” and low-level perspective. Instead of prophesied heroes and farmboys fighting Dark Lords, A Song of Ice and Fire focused on family drama, political meddling, and the gritty, depressing realities of war. It was a hit, to say the least, and reached stratospheric levels with the development of HBO’s Game of Thrones adaptation.
But Martin’s work (and subsequent authors like Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, and—especially—Steven Erikson) did not form the foundation of grimdark. No, it is the relatively unheralded Glen Cook who can properly be ascribed the title of “Godfather of Grimdark.”
I do not want to spoil Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (unless saying it’s really really good is a spoiler) so I will simply say this here, above the cut: while the requisite Stan Lee Cameo can feel a bit gratuitous or creaky at times, Lee’s appearance in Spider-Verse is absolutely, completely, no reservations perfect.
I’ll talk about why (WITH FULL SPOILERS) below.
The worst thing about Mortal Engines is that you can see, in fits and starts and flashes, the movie it could’ve been.
That movie is a lot better than the one we actually got.
The world is full of superheroes. And while many of them, in turn, mean something to someone, Spider-Man has always been special—Spider-Man is truly ours. As the comics world expands, there are more Spider-heroes to prove just why that continues to be true. But because of the continued assumption that only the earliest of origin stories will be valid to fans, there haven’t been many opportunities to celebrate the full breadth of the Spider-Verse in front of a big movie-going audience.
Now, that has changed. And the result is easily the best Spider-Man film ever made.
[Minor spoilers for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse]
One of the best, and most influential, stories in the entire history of X-Men comics was the two-part “Days of Future Past” storyline in Uncanny X-Men #141-142 in 1981 by Chris Claremont and John Byrne. It was the pair’s swan song as collaborators, as Byrne left the title one issue later, ending one of the most impressive runs on any superhero comic.
The story—which had the X-Men from a dystopian future sending one of their own into the past to try to change history—would prove hugely influential. The characters of Cable, Bishop, Rachel Summers, Nimrod, Fitzroy, and Stryfe, among others, came from that alternate future, and the comics did many sequels.
If I had a pet reindeer, or any kind of creature that resembled a fawn or Bambi-style animal, I’d name it Dickens. Come on. How adorable would it be to have a little pet deer named Dickens? Here Dickens! Come have a sugar cube! That’s a good little Dickens. What’s your favorite story? What’s that you say, “A Christmas Carol?” Well, I don’t feel like reading to you, because you’re a little deer, so let’s watch a movie or a TV special instead. Whatyda say? And then, as a gift to Dickens, I would have to compile a list of movie and TV adaptations of Charles Dickens’s awesome book—A Christmas Carol—and I’d want those adaptations to be somehow a little bit different from their source material, because deer like stuff that’s new.
What are the best non-traditional versions of A Christmas Carol? These.
Even if you want to debate the quality of Jurassic World and its sequel Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, there’s no denying the franchise is a huge hit at the box office. I imagine that other studios are thinking about getting in on the dinosaur game, too.
Execs could dust off some old projects. A few years ago there was a lot of hullaballoo about Barry Sonnenfeld and Grant Morrison teaming up on the graphic novel/movie project Dinosaurs vs. Aliens. Not to be outdone, Warner Bros. announced they were considering a movie about dinosaurs attacking LA. Not to mention that there are numerous other dinosaur stories in comics and literature, from Greg Bear’s nostalgic Dinosaur Summer to the ludicrously gory Dinosaurs Attack! and the gonzo Dinosaurs For Hire. There’s really no shortage of prehistoric tales. But there’s one I want to see more than any other.
2018 was a pretty remarkable year for diverse young adult fiction, particularly for YA by authors of color. Now, that’s not to say the publishing industry has finally balanced out on race—far from it, in fact—but what did manage to squeak through was by and large fan-frakking-tastic. This was such a quality year that it deciding on “best” was way more difficult than usual. But here it is, the full list of the best and brightest YA SFF of 2018.
What books made your list?