After introducing us to the 31st century with Futurama, Matt Groening is exploring the other side of the SF/F divide for Netflix: His next project is the adult animated comedy Disenchanted, set in a fantasy land populated by princesses and elves and orcs yet also filled with the same quotidian issues as our ordinary human lives.
Netflix describes the series in a press release:
In Disenchantment, viewers will be whisked away to the crumbling medieval kingdom of Dreamland, where they will follow the misadventures of hard-drinking young princess Bean (Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson), her feisty elf companion Elfo (Nat Faxon, Star Wars: Detours, and her personal demon Luci (Eric Andre, Man Seeking Woman). Along the way, the oddball trio will encounter ogres, sprites, harpies, imps, trolls, walruses, and lots of human fools.
“Ultimately,” Groening said, “Disenchantment will be about life and death, love and sex, and how to keep laughing in a world full of suffering and idiots, despite what the elders and wizards and other jerks tell you.” Other voice talent includes Futurama favorites John DiMaggio and Billy West, among others.
Groening dabbled in fantasy tropes with the 2008 Futurama film “Bender’s Game,” which sees the characters enter a virtual-reality Dungeons & Dragons campaign.
Netflix has ordered twenty episodes of Disenchantment; the first ten will be released sometime in 2018.
I’ve been struggling a lot to keep writing, to keep creating, to find the inspiration and the focus I need to do my job. A lot of it is related to my Depression, but there comes a point when the difference between being a professional and a hobbyist is actually doing the work, even — especially — when it’s hard.
So this weekend, Anne and I took the kids up to Santa Barbara to celebrate our birthdays (which are all in the next two weeks), and to get a change of scenery for a couple of days. It was a gorgeous trip, emotionally and spiritually, and while it didn’t give me the magic bullet to suddenly break through the struggle I’ve been having, I made a ton of progress, because I read a book that I took with me. Here’s my review that I posted to my Goodreads thingy:
It’s a quick read that you can finish in one sitting, but the ideas and advice it contains will stay with you long after you’ve put it down. Some of Austin’s suggestions will validate what you’re already doing, some will challenge you to fundamentally change a creative practice, others will inspire you to grab a notebook and get to work immediately.
Because it’s such a small and accessible book, you’ll want to go back to it from time to time. Just like Stephen King’s On Writing, as you change and grow as an artist, it reveals new ideas and inspirations to you that you may have missed on a previous read.
This is a fantastic addition to your library, and a wonderful gift for any creative person in your life.
I’ve been profoundly inspired by Austin’s book, because he reaffirmed things I’ve already been doing as an artist, but mostly because he gave me permission to think about the entire creative process differently.
For a long time, I have felt like a travel writer who never leaves the house, and Steal Like An Artist helped me find the door so I can get back on the road.
Star Trek Beyond
Written by Simon Pegg & Doug Jung
Directed by Justin Lin
Release date: July 22, 2016
When Star Trek Beyond was released a year ago, I reviewed it for this site, and even did it in the rewatch format. My take on the movie hasn’t really changed, so I present that review once again to finish off the movie portion of the Original Series Rewatch. Next week, the TOS Rewatch will conclude with an overview of the ten films.
Captain’s log. Three years into the Enterprise’s five-year mission to explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, and boldly go where no one has gone before, Kirk is suffering a bit of burnout. Things have gotten almost “episodic,” he laments in his log. (Ahem.)
He’s trying to broker a peace between two warring alien races by bringing a gift from one race to the other. But the receivers of the gift respond with suspicion—their first comment is, “What’s wrong with it?” assuming that they’d only give something away if it was flawed and they didn’t want it anymore. It’s part of an ancient weapon that is no longer in use. The gift is refused and results in Kirk being attacked by a bunch of aliens (who are, luckily, very very small and therefore not much of a threat).
Kirk beams back to the ship, his uniform shirt torn, McCoy telling him he looks like crap. He has Spock place the ancient weapon in the ship’s archives. Later, he joins McCoy for a drink, with Kirk not feeling good about his birthday (it’s the day his father died, so he asks McCoy to continue to keep the actual day quiet).
The Enterprise stops for R&R at Yorktown, a giant starbase that is pretty much a big city in the middle of space. Uhura and Spock break up (though Spock refuses to let her give the necklace he gave her back), Sulu gets to spend time with his husband and daughter, and Spock meets up with some Vulcans who inform him that the Spock of the mainline timeline, who has been living on New Vulcan, has died. Kirk has a conversation with Commodore Paris about a possible promotion for him to vice admiral (which is a big jump in rank, but then this is the same guy who went from cadet to captain in six-and-a-half seconds, so whatever).
A ship appears out of nowhere emitting a distress call. Yorktown rescues the ship and its sole occupant, a woman named Kalara, who says her ship is lost in a nearby nebula. The Enterprise takes Kalara on board and navigates the nebula to find and rescue her ship—
—only to be ambushed by a vessel that seems at first to be a single ship, but turns out to be multiple small ones that attack like a swarm of bees, doing considerable damage to the ship, and then boarding it. Spock notes that the boarding party makes off with the ancient weapon from the archives. Kirk goes after the boarding party, and manages to get the weapon free and hide it with Ensign Syl, an alien whose cranial bones can retract and expand, allowing her to hide stuff on the back of her head.
Eventually, the bad guys—who never identify themselves—destroy the Enterprise. The crew who survive the attack get into the escape pods, but many of them are captured as well. Spock and McCoy manage to get inside one of the swarm ships and take out the crew, crash-landing it on the planet below, which is called Altamid.
Kirk, Chekov, and Kalara all find each other, Kalara apologizing for leading them into an ambush, but it was the only way to safeguard her crew. Kirk says that he’s hidden the weapon somewhere in the saucer section, and the three of them trudge to where it crashed in order to retrieve it. Once they reach the spot where he says it’s hidden, Kalara communicates with Krall—the leader of the bad guys—to say they have it. Except Kirk was lying, and just wanted to get Kalara to contact Krall so Chekov could trace it. Kirk and Chekov barely escape the saucer section with their lives, as Kalara has called in the cavalry…
Sulu and Uhura are both captured by Krall, along with several other members of the crew. Krall has a device that he uses to drain the life out of people to prolong his own. As he uses it on the crew, his facial features change from almost lizard-like alien ones to less formed ones, almost as if he’s turning more human. Sulu and Uhura manage to break out of the cell they’re in and do some covert surveillance, only to discover that Krall has managed to tune into Starfleet communications frequencies, giving him access to the logs of Yorktown as well as any ship that has come to that port, including the Enterprise, which is how he knew to steal the weapon.
Spock is badly injured in the crash landing, and McCoy is forced to perform field medicine to at least stabilize him. Spock informs McCoy that the other Spock has died, and also that he is thinking about leaving Starfleet to help with the establishment of New Vulcan. This turns out to be a big part of why he and Uhura split up. Spock hasn’t told Kirk about this yet. (But that’s okay—Kirk hasn’t told anyone about his desire for a promotion to a desk job, either.)
Scotty was cut off from the escape pods, but managed to escape inside a photon torpedo. He clambers out of the torpedo before it falls over a cliff, only to find himself ambushed. He, in turn, is saved by a young woman named Jaylah. Jaylah was on another ship that was destroyed by Krall’s hive ships, its crew used as slave labor and as “food” for Krall. Jaylah managed to escape, though her father was killed by Krall’s lieutenant Manas, and she took refuge in one of the ships that crashed on the planet—which turns out to be a Starfleet vessel, the U.S.S. Franklin, which had been lost a century earlier. Scotty is able to retune the old transporter to work on humans (it was only meant for cargo), and manages to beam Spock and McCoy to the Franklin—and just in time, as Krall’s people just found the pair of them. Kirk and Chekov also find the ship on their own (by triggering one of Jaylah’s many booby traps).
Krall threatens Sulu’s life, which gets Syl to reveal that she has the weapon. Krall then takes Uhura and Syl out of the cell to demonstrate the weapon—which, to Uhura’s disgust, he does on Syl, who is basically cut into pieces on an atomic level.
Using the Franklin‘s medical equipment, McCoy is able to heal Spock a bit more, though he’s still pretty ragged. Chekov is able to verify that the prisoners are in the same place as Krall, and so they need to mount a rescue. Jaylah is reluctant to do so, knowing how dangerous it is, but Scotty and Kirk talk her into it, mostly by assuring her that they’ll have her back.
One of the Franklin crew had a motorcycle on board, and Kirk rides that as a distraction while Jaylah, Spock, and McCoy free the crew. Spock even manages to save Uhura—kind of. In truth, she escaped on her own, and then rescued Spock from being ambushed. But whatever works.
To Jaylah’s relief, Kirk risks life and limb to save her life when he very easily could have left her behind.
However, Sulu and Uhura reveal that Krall is already implementing his plan: to attack Yorktown. Even as his hive ships take off, Sulu manages to get Franklin into the air and out into space. Spock and McCoy fly one of the hive ships as a Trojan horse within the hive, while Uhura hits on the notion of using VHF radio to disrupt the instant communication among the hive ships.
In addition, Uhura realizes that one of the logs of the Franklin has someone with Krall’s voice: it’s Captain Balthasar Edison, a former MACO in service of the United Earth, later made a captain of a starship when the Federation was formed. To everyone’s shock, they realize that Krall is, in fact, Edison. The Franklin crashed on Altamid, and Edison used the technology there to prolong his life at the expense of others he has forced to crash here. He blames the Federation for abandoning him, and also for putting him in charge of a ship on a peaceful mission when he was a soldier.
While the VHF disruption is successful in destroying most of the hive ships, Krall himself still is able to board Yorktown. He brings the weapon to the air supply station in order to spread it to the entire base. While Scotty and Jaylah try to shut down the station remotely—a complicated process—Kirk tries to stop Krall directly, eventually succeeding after a lengthy fistfight. Krall himself winds up being the only other casualty, besides Syl, of the weapon.
The crew recovers on Yorktown, even celebrating Kirk’s birthday (and also making a toast to absent friends) while a new Enterprise—the NCC-1701-A—is built, with Kirk once again taking command, having decided against going for the admiral’s position.
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? While it is very difficult to shut down Yorktown’s air supply for obvious reasons, it’s remarkably easy to physically enter it. Also the nebula that Altamid is in sure looks like a dense asteroid field…
Fascinating. Spock and Uhura’s relationship seems to be over at the beginning, as Spock has withdrawn even more while he considers moving to New Vulcan. But by the end of the film—and in particular seeing a picture of the crew from the other timeline still being together into middle age—he decides to stick around and possibly rekindle his romance with Uhura. (We’ll find out next film, I guess…)
I’m a doctor not an escalator. McCoy manages to cauterize Spock’s wound with almost no actual medical equipment. Because he’s just that awesome. He also flies one of the hive ships by the seat of his pants, which enables him to rescue Kirk at the end.
Ahead warp one, aye. Sulu is able to make the Franklin—despite never having been built for takeoff in a gravity well—take off. Because he’s just that awesome.
After all the pre-movie fuss about it, the scene that shows him with his husband and daughter is all of ten seconds, and just shows that he’s visiting family when he gets to Yorktown, one of several ways the crew takes shore leave. It’s actually a touching moment, one that adds texture to the scene, and anyone who says it’s gratuitous is showing their bigotry, because if he met up with and kissed a woman, no one would even consider calling it that. It’s also called back to later by the look of horror on John Cho’s face when they realize that Krall is targeting Yorktown.
(Also, the argument that the characters’ sexuality shouldn’t be shoved in our faces in a Star Trek story—which I’ve seen multiple times around the internet—is nonsense. Various characters’ heterosexuality is shoved in our faces repeatedly throughout the original series. Just looking at the first few episodes: “The Cage” is about forcing Pike to mate with Vina; “The Man Trap” is about McCoy’s old girlfriend, and the salt vampire appears as various people’s sexual desires; “Mudd’s Women” gives us three women who drive men mad with sexual desire; “Charlie X” gives us Charlie’s crush on Rand; and on and on and on. If you don’t want to see characters’ sexuality, you shouldn’t be watching Star Trek.)
It is a Russian invention. In what is sadly Anton Yelchin’s last appearance as Chekov, he doesn’t get that much to do as such, but he is a steady presence, serving as Kirk’s sidekick for much of the film and doing lots of tech work to move the plot along.
He also doesn’t keep vodka in his quarters, to McCoy and Kirk’s shock, but he does insist that Scotch is a Russian invention.
Hailing frequencies open. Uhura is the one who figures out who Krall really is, mostly by recognizing his voice on the Franklin footage. She also implements the VHF disruption plan, with help from Scotty and Jaylah.
I cannot change the laws of physics! Scotty pretty much saves the entire day here, since he’s the one who gets the Franklin up and running, which is what enables our heroes to stand any kind of chance. His banter with Jaylah is epic, also.
Go put on a red shirt. A big chunk of the crew is killed in the initial attack on the Enterprise, with more killed on Altamid. In addition, Syl is killed to demonstrate how awful the weapon is, and to horrify Uhura—and then she is utterly forgotten, and never even mentioned again. When Spock frees the prisoners, Sulu says Uhura is with Krall, without even mentioning Syl, even though they were taken together and Sulu has no way of knowing that Syl is dead.
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Spock says they can track Uhura via the necklace he gave her, as it emits a unique radiation signature. This prompts McCoy to be appalled at the notion that he gave his girlfriend a radioactive necklace. Spock assures him that the levels are harmless, but easily detectable. Undaunted, McCoy is appalled at the notion that he gave his girlfriend a tracking device. After an uncomfortable pause, Spock says that was not his intention. McCoy remains appalled.
Channel open. “I’d rather die saving lives than live with ending them. That’s the world I was born into.”
Kirk explaining Roddenberry to Krall.
Welcome aboard. A smaller cast in this one, which works to good effect. Greg Grunberg and Shohreh Aghdashloo play Yorktown crew—the former is Commander Finnegan, the latter is Commodore Paris. Lydia Wilson is effective as the double-crossing Kalara, doing superlative work with facial expressions under the alien makeup, while Melissa Roxburgh does a fine job as the tragically short-lived Syl.
Sofia Boutella is a pure delight as Jaylah, a snarky presence that adds a lot of niftiness to the film. (The movie ends with Jaylah’s application to Starfleet Academy being approved. It is my hope that, with Anton Yelchin’s death, the next film will have Chekov transferred to another ship—the Reliant would make the most sense—with Jaylah assigned to the ship as the new navigator after graduating.)
And then we have the great Idris Elba as Krall, who does the best he can with an unfortunately underwritten role. His best moments are at the climax when he mostly looks human again, because you can see the anguish and the anger on his face when he confronts Kirk, bitter and resentful of the Federation for forcing him into a peaceful mission and then abandoning him when the Franklin was lost.
Trivial matters: The film is dedicated to the memory of both Leonard Nimoy (“In loving memory of Leonard Nimoy”) and Anton Yelchin (“For Anton”).
Kirk’s log says that they’re in Day 966 of their five-year mission, the specific number being a reference to the date of Trek‘s premiere in September 1966.
Yorktown was the original name Gene Roddenberry had for the ship in his earliest drafts of Star Trek, later changed to Enterprise.
Jaylah was inspired by Jennifer Lawrence’s character Ree in Winter’s Bone. The character name wound up being a corruption of Lawrence’s name.
The Enterprise saucer can separate, a feature that was mentioned once on the original series (in “The Apple“) as well as in the behind-the-scenes material printed in The Making of Star Trek by Stephen Whitfield & Gene Roddenberry, but never seen on screen until TNG, where it was seen in “Encounter at Farpoint,” “The Arsenal of Freedom,” “The Best of Both Worlds Part II,” and Star Trek Generations.
Scotty refers to a “giant green hand” as one of the possible fates of the Franklin, a reference to “Who Mourns for Adonais?” He also mentions that he transported Spock and McCoy separately to avoid the risk of “splicing” them together, something that happened with Tuvok and Neelix in the Voyager episode “Tuvix.”
Kirk grumbles about how his uniform shirt has been torn again, something that happened with sufficient regularity on the original series that it was actually parodied in the movie Galaxy Quest.
Several references to Enterprise in this one: the Franklin is a ship of a similar style to that of the NX-01, the uniform Spock puts on after his own is ripped to shreds is similar to those worn by the cast of that show, and Krall recalls fighting against the Xindi (from the show’s third season) as well as the Romulans (actually from “Balance of Terror,” but Enterprise would have done that war had it made it to a fifth season) as a MACO (Military Assault Command Operations, established in “The Xindi”).
Kirk’s father died the day his son was born in the 2009 film.
Commodore Paris is likely meant to be an ancestor of the Paris family seen in Voyager, including main character Tom and his father Owen, an admiral in Starfleet.
Sulu’s daughter is presumably named Demora, since Generations established that Sulu had a daughter by that name.
Chekov’s explanation that Scotch was invented by a little old lady in Russia is a callback to a similar line he had in “The Trouble with Tribbles.”
A member of the Franklin crew liked twentieth-century hip-hop, as the play list includes Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” and the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage.” The latter song was also being played by Kirk as a young boy when he was stopped for speeding in the 2009 film.
The picture of the crew from the mainline timeline that Spock looks at among his counterpart’s effects is a publicity still from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.
At one point, Kirk interrupts Spock and says, “Skip to the end,” a phrase used repeatedly on Simon Pegg’s TV show Spaced.
To boldly go. “Well, that’s just typical…” It’s a huge relief to, for the first time in twenty years, get a Star Trek film that works as a Trek film, as an action film, and as a film in general. It’s not great on any of those levels, but I’ve said before that Trek is not built to be a franchise made of blockbuster movies. Trek is at its best with smaller stories that one tells on television—the very types of stories that are blown off in a log entry in this movie as being “episodic.”
With that caveat in mind, though, this is the first Trek film since First Contact in 1996 that can actually be called good.
What’s best is that the script follows a logical progression, and is mercifully free of the howlers of the last two Bad Robot films. The plot commences with that old Trek standby, the Enterprise responding to a distress call, in this case Kalara’s cry for help at Yorktown, with the Enterprise going to Altamid intending to rescue her crew. That Kalara was using their compassion against them doesn’t negate the importance of that action.
The middle part of the film pulls the old trick of separating the crew, thus giving them all a chance to shine. This was my favorite part, honestly, as the pairings all worked quite well. The weakest was Uhura and Sulu, mainly because it didn’t do much with either character, just moved plot pieces around. It was also the ideal time to do the reveal about Krall instead of saving it for later in the film—more on that in a bit…
Kirk and Chekov teaming up was mostly useful for showing us how Chris Pine’s Kirk has matured. The Jim Kirk of the 2009 film was a punk and the Jim Kirk of Into Darkness still had way too many punk tendencies. But the Jim Kirk of Beyond is, for the first time, the captain. He’s the leader, the one who makes decisions, the one who jumps in with both feet, but also looks out for his people. I would never have credited Kirk with being clever enough in either of the two previous films to pull off the trick he pulled on Kalara, but it was utterly convincing here.
It’s not surprising that Scotty gets so much to do here, partly because Simon Pegg is a great actor whose portrayal of Scotty was one of the high points of Into Darkness, and partly because Pegg cowrote the script. But his banter with Jaylah is tremendous fun.
However, the best parts of the entire film are the scenes with Spock and McCoy. Zachary Quinto and Karl Urban have both done a great job filling the shoes of Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley, but Urban has been criminally underused to date. This film finally rectifies that, and gives us the Spock-McCoy banter that was one of the best parts of the original series and their followup movies. One of the things that gave me hope for this movie in the trailers was the scene where McCoy says, “At least I won’t die alone,” then Spock is beamed away, and McCoy grumbles, “Well, that’s just typical,” and I’m pleased to report that that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In particular, the horseshit conversation is the highlight of the entire film.
There are other great moments here, from Kirk and McCoy drinking (the Roddenberry hallmark of the captain sharing a drink with his doctor to discuss psychological issues, which goes all the way back to “The Cage“) some of Chekov’s purloined booze (“I thought he’d be a vodka man”), to Spock going through his counterpart’s effects, to the best depiction of the universal translator yet, to the use of hip-hop (“I like the beats and the shouting”) to help save the day, the best use of modern music in Trek since “Magic Carpet Ride” in First Contact, to “you kiddin’ me, sir?”
Having said that, the movie is far from flawless. Kirk’s and Spock’s character arcs are weak and poorly defined. The considering-a-desk-job thing and the resigning-Starfleet-because-things-are-
But worst of all is that we don’t find out who Krall really is until way too late in the movie for it to have a proper impact. The theme of the soldier who can’t handle peace is a good one in the abstract, and Idris Elba manages to sell it in his conversations with Kirk in the Yorktown air supply station, but this was a reveal we should’ve gotten when Uhura and Sulu confronted Krall in the prison, not when the movie was two-thirds done.
Still, this is the first of the Bad Robot films that feels like a Star Trek movie, which is the best possible 50th birthday present for the franchise.
Warp factor rating: 6
Keith R.A. DeCandido will be at Florida SuperCon in Fort Lauderdale this coming weekend, spending most of his time at the Bard’s Tower booth in the autograph area. Other guests include Star Trek actors LeVar Burton, John deLancie, Armin Shimerman, and Tony Todd; Doctor Who actors Peter Capaldi, Karen Gillan, and John Barrowman; fellow authors Peter David and Kevin J. Anderson; and tons and tons more. Keith’s full schedule is here.
I used to have all my guitars and basses on stands — it only takes two or three and suddenly a whole side of your room is taken up by them. Then I remembered these hangers that guitar stores use. They take guitars down and put them back up over and over again, and the hangers they use have mechanism inside.
The way they work is they have a saddle, a U-shaped design, and when you put the guitar in the saddle and then lower it, the weight of the guitar causes a mechanism to grab onto the guitar and swing its arms around it and hug it and then now it’s securely in place in the wall. Then when you want to take it back off again you simply lift it up and then that mechanism releases it. It’s a really neat simple machine that grabs and releases your guitar. It uses three screws and it drills right into the wall.
-- David McRaney
[This review was excerpted from our podcast with David McRaney. ]
Hercules Stands Wallmount Guitar Hanger ($21)
Available from Amazon
April Daniels’ debut novel, Dreadnought, opened a fresh new young adult superhero series. I don’t normally like superhero series, but I really liked this one—it grabbed you by the throat and didn’t let go.
Sovereign is Dreadnought’s sequel. It has the same verve and energy as Dreadnought, but instead of being, essentially, Danny Tozer’s origin story as the superhero Dreadnought, it shows her facing the difficulties of working as a superhero with limited support—either physical or emotional. She’s protecting her home city of New Port pretty much on her own even though she’s still a minor; her parents are transphobic assholes who kicked her out of their house; her mentor, Doc Impossible, is an android who is also an alcoholic; she’s grown apart from her friend Calamity; she has had to retain a lawyer and publicist; and New Port’s only other resident superhero, Graywytch, is a transphobic gender essentialist “radical feminist” who really hates Danny for being trans and wants Danny either dead or no longer a superhero—preferably both.
That’s where Danny’s problems begin. But pretty soon, she’s run afoul of a new billionaire supervillain calling himself Sovereign. Sovereign’s power is the ability to suppress other superheroes’ powers. And because he’s a billionaire, he’s been able to invest in research—he has succeeded in suppressing powers remotely, and is working on a system that will suppress all superpowers globally. Apart from his partisans, of course—people who believe that democracy is a weakness, that the wrong sort of people are getting superpowers, and that the world would be a better, more orderly place if Sovereign was in charge.
He’s also working on a way to remove superpowers from the superpowered, against their will, in order to transfer them to people of his choosing. And when Danny falls into his hands, she finds herself nightmarishly subject to his attempts to take the powers of Dreadnought away from her—to render her both unpowered and in a body that’s painfully at odds with her gender—and nightmarishly subject to Graywytch, who is Sovereign’s ally, at least where Danny is concerned.
Even when her friends and allies come to her rescue—Calamity, Doc Impossible, Danny’s former schoolmate Charlie (who’s a magician), and genderqueer superhero Kinetiq—Danny still has to contend with Sovereign using Graywytch and the legal system against her. Her battles range from the courtroom to low earth orbit and even into another dimension, and Danny has to decide what kind of person she’s going to be: the kind of person who uses lethal force to take revenge because it feels right and no one can stop her, or the kind of person who is guided by the rule of law?
The problem of the “Nemesis,” introduced in Dreadnought, is explained a little further and comes into play here in interesting ways. Nemesis is at once an explanation for why superhuman powers exist, a threat to their future, and a potential state change for the entire human species, raising questions that I expect Daniels will address more completely in a later volume.
Sovereign is a very good book. While its tight thriller-pacing occasionally stumbles—due to packing so much in—and while Daniels’ characterisation here is not quite as vividly drawn as in Dreadnought, it’s still an extremely compelling narrative. It is particularly compelling about the ways in which the violence of her job is scarring Danny, and how the fact that Danny’s under incredible amounts of pressure (and enjoys violence) is exacerbating the damage her abusive parents—especially her father—did to her mental health. The narrative is told from Danny’s point of view, so the reader only gradually comes to realise that even though Danny enjoys being a superhero, it’s probably not very good for her to essentially be a child solder.
Sovereign is also a novel that, like Dreadnought, doesn’t shy away from transmisogyny and transphobia. This makes it at times painful to read: Graywytch, in particular, directs vile commentary at Danny, on top of her and Sovereign’s actions.
Danny does gather good people around her. She figures out what’s going on with her relationship to Calamity—there’s an amazing moment with Calamity’s mother—and helps Doc Impossible to deal with her addiction. For all the strife and pain that Danny and her friends go through, Sovereign remains an uplifting kind of book.
We could do with more like it.
Sovereign is available from Diversion Publishing.
Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, is out now from Aqueduct Press. Find her at her blog, where she’s been known to talk about even more books thanks to her Patreon supporters. Or find her at her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council and the Abortion Rights Campaign
Though many years have passed since I first laid my eyes on The One Book, I still remember the gray October afternoon as if it were but yesterday. When I cradled The One Book in my trembling hands, a part of me might have sensed that my life was about to change for good. But did I anticipate what I was up for?
No, I really didn’t. Had I chosen differently if I’d known what reading that novel would do to me? Absolutely not.
Back then I was young(er), (not as) wild, and (at times caffeine-)free. I worked at a stone castle at the very center of Helsinki, the capital of Finland. I’d recently ventured into the computer games industry, and my day job involved, amongst other things, ensuring that virtual unicorn poo smelled of rainbows. It was a good life, and I was happy, though at the time I didn’t write.
I’d made my first struggling attempts to piece together a novel when I was nine, but these efforts were thwarted when the writing machine refused to cooperate. At twelve, I completed something resembling a plot in a blue-checkered notebook. Rinse and repeat a few times within the next decade or so. Insert a break induced by university and the job that involved unicorn poo.
You know those days when the wind bears in its wake the faintest whiff of change, a promise of something better? You know those moments when it feels like everything is possible? Perhaps that day my husband sensed it too, for he asked me to meet him after work. I could tell from his voice that he was very excited, almost boyishly so.
I knew it without him telling me. While I’d been inspecting unicorn droppings, he’d visited The Book Store without me and found a novel he couldn’t wait to read.
Ah, The Book Store! It was something akin to a sacred place to us. You see, not that many shops in Finland contain that big of a selection of English literature. But The Book Shop was different. The four-story, turn of the century building boasted a wide variety of science fiction and fantasy, and hence it was a place that we diligently visited every single time we set foot on the city. Our countless pilgrimages through the aisles had resulted in discovering many new favorite authors.
That day as I followed my husband past the shelves excitement tingled my fingertips and toes. His eyes gleamed with delight, and he smiled like a cheshire cat. What had he discovered amidst the countless titles?
I spotted The One Book from miles away. It ticked all the right boxes:
- Intriguing cover with a suitably mysterious looking man cloaked in black
- Ridiculously interesting blurb that promised a tale of wild adventure; encompassing pretty much everything that’s cool in this world: art, science, and tragic love;
- Enough pages to keep a heavy-duty reader like me occupied for a full week.
I believe proper introductions are due here. Dear reader, meet The One Book: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.
I wanted to read The Name of the Wind instantly. So did my darling husband. Storm clouds gathered in the sky, and I could sense an incoming argument. I reminded him that he’d pretty much committed treason in visiting The Book Store without me. The honor to read the book first justly belonged to me.
Some books steal your breath away, borrow it for as many hours as it takes to turn the pages. Some exceptionally rare books hold your breath captive for a moment more after finishing. But this novel… the characters came to life as if they were breathing the same air as I did. I think that as a result I blacked out and was transferred into a different place.
What Patrick Rothfuss did with his words, his wonderful sentences and intricately crafted storylines, he took me on tour of a world where beauty and sorrow flowed in my veins, where the adventure was mine to embark upon, where every character encountered on the way felt as real as if I’d known them for years.
I’d never felt anything quite like it before. I lingered in the sound of the words. I wondered down the paths formed by the sentences. I got lost. I was found. And more.
But eventually, as is the habit of all good things, the novel ended. When my husband snatched it for himself, I was left staring blankly ahead of me. I hadn’t known it was possible to write a novel so evocative, one with such great emotional depth and complexity. I simply hadn’t known.
I immediately wanted to know how this wonderful novel came to be. I learned that it had been in the making for almost a decade, that Mister Rothfuss had worked hard to take his writing to the level where it could support the story he wanted to tell, that he’d persevered through countless rejections, that he’d kept on going because he believed in his story.
A realization dawned on me. If I did want to tell stories of my own, if I really wanted to find the gold at the end of the rainbow, I had to do more than just toy with the idea of writing a novel on one fine day and sniff and wonder at the pretty colors!
That day, I started writing again, and I haven’t been able to stop since.
Thank you, Patrick Rothfuss, for writing The Name of the Wind!
Leena Likitalo hails from Finland, the land of endless summer days and long, dark winter nights. She breaks computer games for a living and lives with her husband on an island at the outskirts of Helsinki, the capital. But regardless of her remote location, stories find their way to her and demand to be told. She is the author of The Five Daughters of the Moon, available now from Tor.com Publishing.
Here’s Fran Lebowitz talking about race in the US in a 1997 Vanity Fair interview:
The way to approach it, I think, is not to ask, “What would it be like to be black?” but to seriously consider what it is like to be white. That’s something white people almost never think about. And what it is like to be white is not to say, “We have to level the playing field,” but to acknowledge that not only do white people own the playing field but they have so designated this plot of land as a playing field to begin with. White people are the playing field. The advantage of being white is so extreme, so overwhelming, so immense, that to use the word “advantage” at all is misleading since it implies a kind of parity that simply does not exist.
It is now common — and I use the word “common” in its every sense — to see interviews with up-and-coming young movie stars whose parents or even grandparents were themselves movie stars. And when the interviewer asks, “Did you find it an advantage to be the child of a major motion-picture star?” the answer is invariably “Well, it gets you in the door, but after that you’ve got to perform, you’re on your own.” This is ludicrous. Getting in the door is pretty much the entire game, especially in movie acting, which is, after all, hardly a profession notable for its rigor. That’s how advantageous it is to be white. It’s as though all white people were the children of movie stars. Everyone gets in the door and then all you have to do is perform at this relatively minimal level.
Additionally, children of movie stars, like white people, have at — or actually in — their fingertips an advantage that is genetic. Because they are literally the progeny of movie stars they look specifically like the movie stars who have preceded them, their parents; they don’t have to convince us that they can be movie stars. We take them instantly at face value. Full face value. They look like their parents, whom we already know to be movie stars. White people look like their parents, whom we already know to be in charge. This is what white people look like — other white people. The owners. The people in charge. That’s the advantage of being white. And that’s the game. So by the time the white person sees the black person standing next to him at what he thinks is the starting line, the black person should be exhausted from his long and arduous trek to the beginning.
(via @amirtalai)Tags: Fran Lebowitz interviews racism
Forget the Stranger Things kids—the real Dungeons & Dragons campaign we wish we could sit on is these puppers.
Dungeons and Doggos is what it says on the tin, but the capacity for jokes is endless. Watch Pickles, Tonka, and the rest of their canine party don very convincing disguises, challenge Spectral Wraiths to games of Fetch, and employ their greatest defense of all: inviting the baddies to pet them.
Midnight, Texas, is a small town in the middle of nowhere. It’s a safe haven for people (or “people”) who can’t live anywhere else or don’t want to. It also may be sitting on top of a hellmouth, if that ominous glowing red light coming up through Manfred Bernardo’s (François Arnaud) floorboards is any indication. Speaking of the possibly-fake-but-probably-real psychic, Manfred flees Dallas for Midnight at the behest of his dead grandmother Xylda (Joanne Camp) to escape her determined creditors. He couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Within a few hours of Manfred’s arrival he encounters the corpse of Bobo Winthrop’s (Dylan Bruce) missing fiance, hits on Creek (Sarah Ramos) the daughter of a very overprotective father, has his life force sucked out by vampire Lemuel (Peter Mensah), steals holy water from a creepy reverend (Yul Vazquez), witnesses Fiji (Parisa Fitz-Henley) go all The Craft on a couple of cops, is beaten up by Olivia the hitwoman (Arielle Kebbel), and summons a host of very pissed off ghosts and maybe a demon. At least he doesn’t see Joe (Jason Lewis) sprout wings or hear Fiji’s cat Mr. Snuggly (Joe Smith) talk. Gotta save something for the second episode…
The main season arc looks like it’s going to be sorting out who killed Aubrey (Shannon Lorance) and dealing with the Sons of Lucifer white supremacist biker gang. Not to mention all the magic and supernatural happenings. Now, I’m a fan of Charlaine Harris’ work. I wouldn’t call myself a superfan or anything, but I’ve read all her stuff and enjoyed it all, no matter how stupid. The Harper Connelly series will always have my heart and frankly if I had to pick a Harris series to adapt to television that would be my first stop. Her Midnight, Texas series is typical of her work, in that it’s more or less literary cotton candy.
The premiere seems to be sticking fairly close to the first book, Midnight Crossroad. When Aubrey’s body is found in a creek and the cops – with Manfred’s psychic help – turn up a gun registered to Bobo, he gets accosted first by a pair of neo-nazis and later by two grouchy sheriffs. Turns out Aubrey was still married to a white supremacist gang leader when she fell in love with Bobo. But this ain’t Bobo’s story, even though his plot drives the action. Manfred is our protagonist, albeit one who mostly just stumbles from scene to scene. As in the books, Fiji is the most interesting character on screen. By the end of the trilogy, it’s clear the series really belongs to her. Whether that will translate to television we’ll have to wait and see.
I honestly can’t remember if this is canon or headcanon, but I always pictured Manfred as brown. He’s definitely supposed to be short, scrawny, and looking like a pierced punk, and Arnaud’s too much of a tall drink of bland for my taste. Otherwise, I’m pretty happy with the diversity. Most of the main cast are people of color, which is a huge plus for network television. My only reservation is with Fiji. Don’t get me wrong, I dig Fitz-Henley, but in the book she’s plus sized. I knew it would be too much to hope for television to cast a fat actor as the romantic lead, but still. We really need more body shape diversity on camera, and casting Fiji as skinny is a lost opportunity.
Midnight, Texas’s biggest mark against it is that it’s on NBC. This is a show that needs room to be bloody and sexy. Network television’s constraints are really going to hamper the story in the long run (especially if they are headed in the direction of the final showdown from Night Shift). Without the backing of a cable channel or streaming service, it lacks the budget to fully convey the craziness of a rural fantasy. More importantly, without a strong showrunner with a unique voice at the helm, it’s just another television show. With True Blood, Alan Ball added visual verve and social commentary to the metanarrative. Writer and executive producer Monica Owusu-Breen is a veteran television producer, but a lot of the shows she’s worked on suffer a lot of the same mediocrity maladies as Midnight, Texas.
To be fair, Owusu-Breen is actually sticking true to the canon; Harris wouldn’t know subtlety if it hit her on the head, and her idea of social commentary is having her only gay couple own a salon and behave like Birdcage LARPers. But I want more out of a show built on the idea of a bunch of outcasts forging a family out of disaster. If Midnight, Texas wants to succeed, not only does it need to be socially relevant but it must find a way to be more creative than its source material. Everything in the premiere is something you’ve seen before. It’s time to up the game and craft their own fantasyland, one that goes beyond Harris’ relatively limited vision.
Midnight, Texas is almost a good time. It suffers from the worst side effects of being on network television: mediocrity, half-assed graphics, and insisting on drama over camp. This is a show with vampires, angels, witches, ghosts, and sundry other supernatural beasties I won’t spoil for the newbies. Something like this ought to lean full into its bonkers premise. Say what you will about True Blood, but it totally understood its base material. Sure, it jumped the shark by the end (so did the book series, for that matter), but even when it was eye-rollingly stupid it still generally stayed true to its nature as a sex and blood-soaked paranormal romance. Midnight, Texas the television show is about as inventive and out there as Supernatural, a show that went off the rails about 8 seasons ago.
In my review of the final book in the Midnight Texas series, I summarized every Charlaine Harris property thusly: “Charlaine Harris is very good at what she does even if what she does isn’t very good. No one goes into one of her books expecting high art or powerful literature. When she gets into a narrative rut, she falls back on intensely detailed descriptions of events or locations that have absolutely no relevance to the plot or characters. When the plot gets too twisty to untangle, a random character from the periphery turns up to tell the main characters everything they need to know and what they need to do in order to resolve the problem. Bad things have few consequences and emotional turmoil lasts about as long as a plate of biscuits in front of a hungry teenage weretiger.” If you read that and your first thought was “Weretigers? Cool! Are they shirtless?” then welcome to the Charlaine Harris fanclub. If that description made you want to run for the hills, then Midnight, Texas is probably not the show for you.
- In case it wasn’t clear, I’m definitely going to keep watching Midnight, Texas. I really need a new dumb fun supernatural show to watch.
- Plus I gotta support Owusu-Breen. Put a Black woman in charge and diversify the cast and I’m there, quality be damned.
- From what I can tell, the show doesn’t exist in the same ‘verse as True Blood. Which makes sense, I guess. In the books, Manfred and Sookie don’t interact but live in the same world.
- STOP USING THE SLUR “GYPSY.” Seriously. Please put that offensiveness in the trash bin where it belongs.
Alex Brown is a teen librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.
Today, I want to talk about two short narratives that are steeped in Americana.
Ursula Vernon’s writing is filled with compassion, weird shit, and sharply observed humour: in some ways, much of her short fiction and most of her novels as T.K. Kingfisher is reminiscent of Terry Pratchett at his best. (One could call her an American, feminist Terry Pratchett — but that would do her a disservice: Vernon is very much her own unique self as a writer and an artist.)
Lately I read “The Tomato Thief,” her Hugo-nominated novelette. Published in Apex Magazine, it’s a sequel of sorts to the short story “Jackalope Wives,” which won (among others) a Nebula Award for 2014. If “Jackalope Wives” is good, “The Tomato Thief” is even better.
A couple of weeks ago, I observed that it was rare to find older women as the protagonists of their own stories in SFF. Vernon’s Grandma Harken is an older woman in the mould of Granny Weatherwax (one reason why the Terry Pratchett comparison comes to mind) who alleges that she doesn’t particularly want to fix other people’s problems but seems to do it a lot anyway.
In “The Tomato Thief,” Grandma is really looking forward to the first harvest of her tomatoes. She lives on the edge of a desert, where it’s really hard to grow tomatoes, and she grows the best tomatoes around. When she discovers that her tomatoes are going missing — being stolen — she sits up on her porch waiting for the thief. It takes a while, but who and what she finds — a shapechanger bound by a ring in their tongue — leads her to put on her walking boots and go fix another problem.
There are train gods and their oracles. A desert landscape that feels real and a character in its own right. A talking coyote. And Grandma Harken standing up for her desert, kicking selfish interlopers in the arse and taking names.
You did not steal an old lady’s tomatoes. It was rude, and also, she would destroy you.
It’s an excellent novelette, and I seriously recommend it to your attention.
While I’m talking about things to recommend to your attention, let me add Margaret Killjoy’s The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion, out from Tor.com Publishing this August.
This is a peculiar little novella, but an appealing one. In a future (but not very far future) America, anarchist and vagabond Danielle Cain arrives in the anarchist/squatter community of Freedom, Iowa, looking for an answer to what spurred her best friend Clay to commit suicide. Freedom was the last place he spent any amount of time, and although she’s aware her quest is quixotic, she’s committed to it nonetheless.
In Freedom, she finds both a community that appeals to her, and magic. Magic that’s killing people. It turns out that Clay was part of a ritual that summoned a guardian spirit (a three-horned deer) that killed people who preyed on others. Now that the guardian has turned on its summoners, the community is torn between trying to unsummon its guardian, and keeping it. Danielle finds herself, along with tattoo artist Brynn and a houseful of anarchists, at the centre of efforts to prevent more bloodshed.
This is a really interesting novella, thoughtful, well-characterised, well-constructed, and tightly paced. Killjoy blends horror and social commentary in a sharp first-person narrative that builds to an explosive conclusion.
I recommend it.
Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, is out now from Aqueduct Press. Find her at her blog, where she’s been known to talk about even more books thanks to her Patreon supporters. Or find her at her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council and the Abortion Rights Campaign
I know people have been anticipating what I will answer for reader question 1,000. Thanks for the emailed suggestions and the hype, it’s awesome that people are excited! Milestones are cool!
It’s also way too much pressure and I’ve started answering people privately the past week or so because it’s like “Well, this is a great question, but is it QUESTION NUMBER ONE THOUSAND?” “Shouldn’t QUESTION ONE THOUSAND sort of sum up everything I think about conflict and awkwardness?” (Answer: No, that’s a book. A book that I am trying to figure out the shape of. A book that will happen.)
So, here is question #1000. It’s a placeholder. I choked. I’m sorry. What I’ve got is that writer’s block trick of “okay if you don’t know how to write the next thing, try writing a next thing and figure out where it all fits later.”
I’ve got some It Came From The Search Terms to knock out this week and then we’ll be back sometime with #1001, which will be a normal question with normal significance and normal amount of (pretty damn interesting!) interestingness.