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Ay-leen the Peacemaker

“They’ll Rue the Day a Metanatural Visits the Raj”: Gail Carriger’s Prudence

Lady Prudence Alessandra Maccon Akeldama—better known as “Rue” to her friends and quite deservingly so—is causing havoc all over London society. It doesn’t help matters that she’s related to the three most powerful supernaturals in the British Empire: daughter of the werewolf dewan Lord Conall Maccon and preternatural Lady Alexia Maccon, and adopted daughter of vampire potentate Lord Akeldama. On top of that, Rue possesses her own unique abilities; she is a metanatural (or “skin-stealer”), who can temporarily take the powers of any supernatural she touches.

Lady Alexia thinks its high time for Rue to put a stopper on her wild behavior, and Lord Akeldama wants to send her on a mission to acquire a new variety of tea leaf. Thus begins plans to send Rue off to India in a dirigible of her own naming—The Spotted Custard—along with a slapdash crew of the best and brightest (though some members are also the most irksome to Rue). What awaits in India, however, is a revelation that could possibly change the geopolitical balance of the entire Empire.

[For love of Queen, country, and a good cuppa. Mild spoilers.]

A Priest, a Nun and a Texas Ranger Walk into a Haunted Hotel: Cherie Priest’s Jacaranda

On an island that’s no more than a sandbar situated in the Gulf of Mexico stands a hotel with one bad rep. Over the years, the Jacaranda Hotel had been the epicenter of several gruesome deaths, starting with its original owners and eventually claiming both occupants and staff alike. The hotel’s skittish manager Sarah and long-term guest (and Irish nun) Sister Eileen are desperate for any help in stopping these grisly deaths.

The local authorities turn a blind eye. The former Republic (and now reluctant state) of Texas also ignores their repeated requests to send a Ranger to investigate. Padre Juan Miguel Quintero Rios, a former gunman turned man of God, however, receives Sister Eileen’s cry for help and makes his way to the Jacaranda.

Unsettling and creepy, Jacaranda, Cherie Priest’s latest novella in the Clockwork Century series, is a classic take upon a horror staple. This work is an outlier in her established universe of alt-hist steampunk zombie Civil War adventures, but fulfills its promise as a quick, chilling read.

[Welcome to the Jacaranda, and keep your eyes off the lobby floor.]

A Ghost Roams in Brooklyn: Daniel José Older’s Half-Resurrection Blues

Daniel José Older’s short story collection Salsa Nocturna gave us a taste of what today’s urban fantasy should be: gritty, supernatural elements intrinsically woven into the sociopolitical highs and lows of modern urban life. In Older’s magical universe, the effects of gentrification, racism, and the economic squeeze faced by the 99% matter as much as demonic possession and murderous ghosts. That collection also introduced readers to Carlos Delacruz, the half-living, half-dead Puerto Rican with a penchant for resolving ghostly disputes under the authority of the New York Council of the Dead.

In Older’s debut novel Half-Resurrection Blues, Carlos returns as the same Malagueña-smoking, cane-sword-swinging “inbetweener” on a case with world-changing consequences. He’s been working for the NYCOD for a couple of years, but can’t remember anything from his living life before he died. Plus, he’s always believed he was the only inbetweener in existence—until he runs into another halfie on New Year’s Eve.

[Yeah, BRKLYN. Mild spoilers.]

That Old Black Magic: Katherine Howe on The Penguin Book of Witches

‘Tis the season of growing cold, spooky tales, and things that go bump in the night. Before people ring in holiday cheer, they revel in the occult and mysterious as the days grow shorter and Halloween lurks around the corner. Witches have been one of the iconic symbols that remain in our cultural imagination year-round, however. From its origins in folklore and fairytales to Bewitched, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Hocus Pocus, and, of course, Harry Potter, our ideas of witches are much more varied and benign than they were earlier in history.

Katherine Howe has explored the legend of the witch in her fiction before (The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, Conversion), but in The Penguin Book of Witches, she draws from historical accounts about English and North American witchcraft trials to undo misconceptions about the women and men who fell victim to them.

[“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” and beyond]

Power Plays and Indian Steampunk in Eric Brown’s Jani and the Greater Game

Janisha Chatterjee is a woman tangled up in layered identities. She lives during the heyday of British imperial rule, which is powered by mysterious technology known as Annapurnite. The privileged daughter of an Indian government official, Jani is an accomplished citizen of Empire—modern, secular, and studying medicine at Cambridge. She feels increasingly at odds, however, with the world around her: not fully fitting in as a mixed-race woman on the streets of London or in the market squares of Delhi. She also has growing reservations about the Raj, despite her father’s accomplishments as Minister of Security.

When her father falls gravely ill, she takes the first dirigible back east. The Rudyard Kipling’s journey, unfortunately, is cut short by a Russian attack that kills nearly everyone on board. One of the few survivors amongst the wreckage, Jani discovers that the airship had been transporting a most unusual prisoner. This stranger bestows a dangerous gift to Jani that reveals the British Empire’s source of military might…. and a dire warning about a threat which endangers the entire world.

[An account of certain dramatic events and several amazing revelations about the nature of reality]

SciFi in the Motor City: An Interview with the Committee of Detcon1

For SF/F fans who can’t make it out to London for Worldcon this summer, there is another event to put on your roster: Detcon1, this year’s North American Science Fiction Convention (NASFiC), happening in about two weeks in Detroit, Michigan. Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of talking to several of their committee members about what to expect at the convention, and more. Special kudos to Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad, member of Detcon1’s Diversity Advisory Board, for his help in arranging this chat.


[Rev up your engines and head down to Detroit, July 17-20]

In Conversation with Long Hidden Editors Rose Fox and Daniel José Older

“We need to talk about diversity,” has been the conversation starter in SF/F as of late. But the best fiction, as the saying goes, shows, not tells. The anthology Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, edited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older, reveals representation as more than a tally-count concerning diversity, and highlights how the act of reading across difference can be an intensely immersive experience.

Reading Long Hidden very much felt like sitting in on late-night conversations in a room full of strangers, darting from one conversation to the next. I might not immediately recognize the context of one tale or another, nor did I feel pressure or ridicule for not knowing something beforehand. What was important was recognizing the generosity and trust in which these stories were being told, and letting the conversation flow.

[Anthology-building, representation, and more]

A Land without Leaders: A Country of Ghosts by Margaret Killjoy

The most fantastical aspect of A Country of Ghosts is how it’s an earnest tale about an alternative society when dystopias fill today’s bookshelves. Full disclosure here: the author has written for, and I did hold interest in reading his book once he described it to me as an “anarchist utopia.”

With that seed in mind, I couldn’t help but view A Country of Ghosts as the latest in a long tradition of utopian novels, starting with Thomas More’s as the most well-known early example (and a fantastic open source annotated edition can be read here).

[“The rules don’t really matter. It’s the spirit that matters, I think.”]

The Magical Lives of Others: Sergei Lukyanenko’s Night Watch

Sergei Lukyanenko’s Night Watch series may already be familiar to English-language sci-fi fans. In 2004, these Russian bestsellers got two high-octane film adaptations directed by Timor Bekmambetov; the movies broke box office records in their home country and garnered a cult following in the US. The Night Watch books were brought stateside, but didn’t grab as much attention as they should have (I blame the covers) and the books eventually went out of print. I’m glad the series, beginning with Night Watch, is making a comeback, however, in a slick new package that is way more attuned to the series’ vibe.

The premise of the book may sound a bit tired—individuals known as “Others” are divided into Light and Dark magicians that square off in Moscow—but the way that Lukyanenko spins the material turns oft-used tropes and makes them into instantly readable and increasingly addictive books with every installment. Lukyanenko writes an engrossing urban fantasy with a spy thriller bent for those who like their protagonists hard-boiled and their plots seasoned with ethical dilemmas and political brinkmanship. In the first book of this series, he takes the reader on a long, dark subway ride of the soul—figuratively and literally.

[But in the twilight there is no difference between the absence of darkness and the absence of light]

Describing the Craft of Writing is an Art: Jeff VanderMeer’s Wonderbook

What subject will always spark that light in a writer’s eyes? That gets writers going for hours in conversation? Gives them another reason to socialize on mailing lists and forums and then out of the house tot readings, salons, and conventions? What gets them more enthusiastic than their current project is the art of writing itself. For people aspiring to be published, “How do you do it?” is always the standby question they ask each other.

Thankfully, there is a new, craftily-assembled, and beautifully-designed resource to shelf beside your dog-eared copy of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style. That’s Jeff VanderMeer’s Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction.

[More than “what you know”]

What Happens When We Speak: On Con Harassment and Fandom

“So I heard that you won Tumblr,” a coworker joked with me the other day.

He was referring to the maelstrom of activity that was triggered when I posted about my con harassment experience at New York Comic Con by the film crew of the YouTube web series Man Banter, hosted by Mike Babchik. I won’t reiterate everything that happened, but kept pretty good documentation. Other industry professionals and geek news sources had done the same, too. There is a petition out, created by the activist group 18 Million Rising in order to hold Babchik’s employer, Sirius XM Radio, accountable for his actions since Babchik had gotten into the convention using his job credentials. Since the incident happened, New York Comic Con had assured that they will tighten their safety policies, and I even had a nice wrap-up interview about making convention spaces safer with NYCC show manager Lance Fensterman.

Okay, that ugly event got all wrapped up with a nice li’l bow of resolution; we can leave this in the fandom corner until the next big misogynistic thing that happens to women at conventions hits the fan (but oh wait, it just did as I typed this). At this moment, I feel like I can voice something that I’ve been holding in this whole time: I am lucky. And it shouldn’t have to be that way.

[On speaking out and staying silent]

A Steampunk’s Guide to New York Comic Con

New York Comic Con is upon us! Let’s see what the largest geek event in NYC has to offer for the brassy ‘n’ sassy set.

Flip through the suggested list below for panels to scope out at the Javits Center. Included are various “of steampunk interest” events too, (which explains Legend of Korra and Doctor Who among these items. But c’mon, who wouldn’t want to see John Barrowman?)

Comment below with any suggestions of other panels you’re excited about, vendors to pursue, and afterparties to crash!

[Fasten your goggles folks!]

A Divided Nation in Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers & Saints

A well-placed ampersand can imply many things: a fighting duo, a complimentary pair, or polarizing opposites. In the case of Boxers & Saints, the members of the Boxer Rebellion and their opponents, Westerners and Chinese Christians, retain all three elements in their interactions.

What is engrossing about this graphic novel diptych—the newest work from Gene Luen Yang of American-Born Chinese fame—is how intertwined the stories are, literally and thematically. This dynamic is presented in its bold and eye-catching box design. On one side, the aggressively commanding ghost of Ch’in Shin-Huang, the first emperor of China. On the other, the grim glowing figure of martyr Joan of Arc. Split between them are two young, wide-eyed faces of Little Bao and Vibiana. They stare out at the reader, serious and uncertain. Their expressions symbolize the heart of Boxers & Saints: a story that unpacks the anxieties of an unstable nation, and unflinchingly portrays the people who become swept up by the winds of history.

[They fought for China. Mild spoilers.]

“Going Native” in Steampunk: James H. Carrott and Brian David Johnson’s Vintage Tomorrows

Recently, everyone and their grandmother are trying to place steampunk in the grander scope of things. Most of pop culture has poked at it at this point. Many in the SF/F community gives the subculture a passing nod (or are slowly edging away, since, being early adapters by nature, quite a few in sci-fi are tired of it already).

Still, questions about steampunk have set people in pursuit of the deeper meanings behind the aesthetic movement. Two years ago, Intel’s futurist Brian David Johnson wanted to answer the biggest one about steampunk’s rise: “Why now?” He was joined by a cultural historian James Carrott and they filmed a documentary, and also wrote a book by the same name: Vintage Tomorrows (or two books, actually. Steampunking Our Future: An Embedded Historian’s Notebook is the free e-book companion you can get online).

[Read more]

The More Magical Side of Steampunk in Liesel Schwarz’s A Conspiracy of Alchemists

Liesel Schwarz’s A Conspiracy of Alchemists lines up the usual suspects in steampunk fiction nowadays. Cue the headstrong female lead, throw in some airships, technological gizmos, and envious descriptions of fashion, coat everything in a veneer of brass and cogs. Yet this novel also attempts to move away from well-trodden territory, and you can tell straight away with the cheeky cover design. The Eiffel Tower establishes a setting away from good ol’ Britannia. Glowing glyphs and splashy neon font signal a flash of magic and a pinch of punk too. The end result: Schwarz’s debut novel is a fluffy steampunk adventure that toes the line of gaslamp fantasy. There are fairies, the occult, mad science, and secret conspiracies. What more can a reader ask for?

[Mild spoilers ahead]