February 1, 2016
A couple of weeks ago I posted my award-eligible work from 2015. I like putting my annual publications in one place because it reminds me that, hey, I really have been busy and productive! Cool!
But this is the time of year I also like to think about the cool new stuff I’ve encountered.
I don’t think I’ve done enough reading — I never do enough reading. Especially short fiction. I used to try to read every anthology my work appeared in, but that got out of hand a few years ago and I’ve never been able to keep up. So, my reading is awfully scattered.
I did read some good novels, though: Uprooted by Naomi Novik is getting a lot of buzz, and rightfully so. Really excellent stand-alone traditional fantasy, in the same vein as the books I love so much by Robin McKinley and Patricia McKillip, about a young heroine who discovers that she’s much stronger than she knows and sets about saving the world because someone has to do it.
Then there are some of my go-to favorites: James S.A. Corey and Paolo Bacigalupi both had new books out last year. Nemesis Games is the fifth Expanse novel and the one that left most of us fans going “Holy crap did they really just do that? OMG, they really just did that.” I cannot wait to see where they go from here.
Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife is near-future speculation about drought and water rights in the west — issues literally in my own backyard. Paolo really knows his stuff and this book combines thought-provoking SF with a cool thriller plot. Good stuff there.
I also encountered The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith, a rather strange and wonderful YA novel about some difficult subjects, but still with some funny bits and a weird Philip K. Dick worthy subplot holding it all together. The main character is a teen refugee from an unnamed war-torn country, who is sent to summer camp with his new foster brother. So, it’s like terrible refugee stuff combined with teen-boy summer camp comedy. And it kind of actually works. I don’t think this book is for everyone, but it’s one of the things I read last year that stood out for me.
The dramatic categories for the Hugo are going to be super-interesting this year. These short-run TV shows with only 8-10 episodes are almost mini-series covering one storyline — so do we nominate them as short-form by episode or long form for the whole thing? No idea. But some TV episodes that caught my attention are the season finale of The Flash, and Ep. 8 of Daredevil — the Fisk backstory. Agent Carter also gets my attention.
Long form — this is going to be an immensely interesting year, because we have an embarrassment of riches. Marvel movies, Hunger Games, Star Wars — but I have to say, I’d rather avoid the long-running franchise in favor of nominating Fury Road and The Martian — both really solid stand-alone stories that showcase what SF storytelling is capable of. (Marvel and Star Wars in particular have gone past basic storytelling and have become something else — communities, wherein the movies are rituals of celebration. I have an essay about that brewing.)
And now I have really got to catch up on some short fiction before I fill out my ballots…
January 25, 2016
There’s too much TV on right now. I can’t keep up with it. Monday TV night has split into two nights because we’re trying to add Legends of Tomorrow and Agent Carter to the line up. And I really want to watch The Man in the High Castle as well as Mr. Robot, to see if it’s a data point in my evolution of cyberpunk hypothesis, but just haven’t had time. This is even with all the TV I’ve stopped watching, like Castle and Doctor Who.
So, here’s what I caught up on this week. Mid-season premiers. WITH SPOILERS.
Agent Carter: *insert every emoticon of joy here* Love love love. They’re nailing that L.A. noir thing, and I love how there are women villains, but also lots of supportive women who loan Peggy gowns and garter holsters and stuff like that.
Flash: Oh come on, Barry, you’re smarter than that! Oh come on, Patty, even Lois Lane eventually notices that whenever her honey disappears, the guy in the supersuit shows up a second later. That was kind of urgh-worthy.
Arrow: OMG is Felicity going to be Oracle? Ohpleaseohpleaseohpleaseohpleaseohplease.
Legends of Tomorrow: Starring Arthur Darville as the 10th Doctor. Wait a minute, Rory never even met the 10th Doctor.
Supergirl: The show is clunky but I still love the ethos of it: that Kara loves being a superhero and wants to be good at it. Also: Martian Manhunter.
The Expanse: I know too much, because of the books. OMG THEY’RE GOING TO EROS ARRRRRGGGHHHHH!!!!!!!!
The X-Files: Haven’t actually got to this one yet. See what I mean about too much TV? However, I did go back and watch the very very first episode again — and it holds up really, really well. Just as brilliant now as it was then. Manages to lay out a ton of exposition while also being really smart. And I keep forgetting that the Smoking Man is right there in the room when Scully gets the assignment. ARGH!
I’ll always have fond memories of this episode because of what was happening in my life when I first saw it. It aired for the first time just a few weeks before I left for my junior year in the UK. Because college in the UK starts later in the fall, all my friends had basically already started school and I was sitting at my folks’ house, killing time, waiting for the biggest adventure of my life so far to start. A really weird place, you know? But there were ads for this new show that seemed right up my alley — UFO conspiracy stuff with a dose of skepticism. I watched, and it was so freaking smart, and Scully was so brilliant, and even Mulder for being kind of a loon was also so smart, and the two clicked so beautifully. It had the structure of a police procedural while being different from any other police procedural I’d ever seen. And the supernatural was both edgy and subtle. I was an instant fan.
And then I missed the entire rest of the first season because I was in the UK and this was long before the days of streaming anything. But the next year, I started viewing nights in the college dorm and sucked in dozens of fans along with me.
So, I’ll always love The X-Files. But it’s going to take me a couple of days to catch up on the new one. Thank goodness for the days of streaming and On Demand. I can watch ten shows at a time because I can actually keep up with them all, and still have a life.
December 30, 2015
Still trying to catch up, complicated by my developing some kind of low-grade respiratory ick. I’m just coughing a lot. Ugh.
I saw Suffragette, which was okay, the standard historical drama with political overtones kind of thing. Well done but not shattering in the way something like Good Night and Good Luck or Belle was. It got a bit relentless. My favorite part was probably the intro, which showed women working in an industrial/commercial laundry, while the voice over was a stuffy man reading actual commentary about why women shouldn’t vote — because they’re weak, because they’re flighty, because they’re not responsible. And I realized then that the Industrial Revolution was built on the backs of women working in factories, who never had a voice in how that revolution was managed.
TV: Four episodes into the Expanse and I’m still loving it. PRETTY SPACE SHIPS. It’s so interesting, having read the books, and sort of knowing what’s coming. Like, I never did bond with that one guy because he knew he wasn’t going to be around much longer. And we’ve finally met the Rocinante! Yay!
Books: I’m in the middle of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel — I’m late to the party on this one but it’s just as good as everyone said it was. Plus, it’s literary science fiction that doesn’t pretend like it’s just invented the wheel, which is really nice.
The Force Awakens: Finally saw it a second time (last of all my friends to do so, and how did that happen?) and it very much rewards rewatching. So many little details! The emotional arc of Rey and Finn and their friendship is so satisfying! And I think Kylo Ren knows who Rey is. (“What. Girl.” he says, strangling a guy, and I’m like WUT.)
Anyway. I should try to get some work done. Argh! Two more days in 2015!
December 7, 2015
Now it can be told: I drove to Santa Fe last week to see a special premier showing of the first two episodes of The Expanse TV series, SyFy Channel’s new spaceship drama based on the novels of James S.A. Corey.
Full disclosure: The authors behind James S.A. Corey, Daniel and Ty, are my friends. (Read here about the time Ty and I almost got superpowers when lightning struck Daniel’s house.) I was a beta reader on a few of the Expanse books. What this means is that I’m completely and utterly incapable of being objective about this show. Just to warn you. I love the books, I really want the show to be good, and I really want my friends’ work to succeed beyond their wildest dreams.
Honestly, if I didn’t like the show I probably wouldn’t talk about it at all because I wouldn’t know what to say. But here I am, talking about the show. I’ll try to do it without spoilers.
I really like it. And the more I think about it, the more I like it, which is a neat trick. We all know about my spaceship fetish, right? (“I like big ships and I cannot lie…”) So many gorgeous beautiful ships. Holy cow. But more than that is the utter conviction that all of these characters really are living and working in this environment as a matter of course. The setting doesn’t draw attention to itself, it just is, and that more than anything sells the science fiction of it. This world is so lived-in, it’s gorgeous.
Moreover, this is a segment of space opera we just don’t see very often — a good-faith extrapolation of what settling the solar system might look like in a couple hundred years. This isn’t a far-flung future where living and working in space is taken for granted, like Firefly. This isn’t Star Trek where so much of the hard work is handwaved away. The Expanse is industrial and difficult. Wrenches and sweat and hand-cranking open broken airlocks, constant worry about water and air, but on top of that looking at the second-nature instincts that develop in people who’ve lived their whole lives in this environment. The Belters have their own dialect — and the show doesn’t use subtitles. The viewer can’t really understand it, which serves to highlight even more that settling space is changing humanity. With this show, we get to watch that process. It’s really cool.
What about the story? Well. We have three main characters: Holden, Miller, Avasarala. In the first two episodes, they each pick up a thread of a mystery that they’re going to have to solve. I don’t think I’m revealing too much to say that those threads are all going to lead back to the same knot. This is a lovely way to structure a story and I have confidence it will unfold nicely. After the last few shows I’ve been watching — Jessica Jones, The Last Kingdom, the DC superhero shows — with their near-baroque plots going off in a dozen directions and pulling in subplot after subplot, the laser focus that The Expanse seems to be setting up with its plot is a bit startling. And quite a relief, I must say.
So, in conclusion: If you’re a fan of the books, the show does them justice. If you’re a fan of spaceship science fiction, this is absolutely the show you’ve been jonesing for since Battlestar Galactica jumped the shark (I still can’t hear “All Along the Watchtower” without feeling a tiny burning ember of rage.). I’m so, so pleased, not just on behalf of my friends, but because I finally have a new spaceship show to watch that won’t drive me nuts.
And I cannot wait to meet the Rocinante. Just. Can’t. Wait. Oh, she’s gonna be so pretty, I just know it. . .
The first two episodes air next week. The first is already online for your consideration. Go on, you know you want to…
November 30, 2015
Here’s the roast chicken I did for family Thanksgiving:
It’s got a thyme-garlic-lemon rub on it and it was just as spectacularly yummy as it looks. Crisp on the outside, juicy on the inside.
Craft-wise right now I’m making a new brocade doublet and knitting a bunch of gifts. I had a realization this week: I really like being able to make things. Roast a whole bird for the table, make cool clothes and things — it’s so tactile and functional.
It’s like I might actually survive after an apocalypse or something.
The finale of The Last Kingdom: holy cow, people. Just fantastic. That battle needs to be required viewing for all SCA people everywhere. I want more.
And I finished Jessica Jones: There was some real boneheaded idiot plotting between about episode 7 and 11. But it managed to pull it back together for the finale. Can’t say this is a favorite — it went really dark, even for me. But I’m glad this show exists.
November 23, 2015
So we’ve got three comic-book inspired TV shows centered on women characters now. All in the same year. It’s like we’ve turned a corner or something. (Now if someone can just manage to put out a movie… Wasp, we need you!)
But what I really, dearly love is that the three shows are completely, utterly different in just about every way you can name.
Agent Carter: Stylized period piece, un-powered main character dealing with old-school comic book style villains, lots of competency, capability, with a believable amount of angst that ties into the larger franchise.
Supergirl: So, so happy. Girly, even, and I mean that in a good way, with Kara’s insecurities and joy. (I’m reminded of that scene in Tangled, where Rapunzel alternates between happiness and feeling like she’s a horrible person. Supergirl also captures that very real emotional state.) It’s also a bit over the top and cheesy, but intentionally so. So much fun.
Jessica Jones: Dark, in the “gritty” mode of comic book storytelling, focused on the pathology of superheroism. This is not a fun world. These are not happy people. The story is agonizingly difficult. The “anti-Supergirl,” if you will. (I’m not finished with this yet — couple more episodes to go. No spoilers!)
Whatever anyone thinks about these shows, and I’m sure everyone will have a different favorite (I think I’m going to have to come down on the side of Agent Carter, ultimately), I just want to recognize this moment: We have three really different, really awesome shows about women heroes.
That’s what we’ve needed all along. Not one show about a woman hero. Not a “token” show. Acknowledgement that “woman superhero” never meant just one thing. We needed to have a number of shows, with enough variety, that we can finally not even mention that these are “women superheroes.” These are just more comic book shows, and they happen to star women.
So freaking great.
November 18, 2015
I saw a thing pondering, or suggesting, or rumoring, or something, a Doctor Who and Game of Thrones crossover. I’d only be okay with that if it included the Ninth Doctor standing on the ramparts at King’s Landing shouting, “Everybody lives! Just this once, everybody lives!”
I still haven’t been watching Doctor Who. I think I’m about three years behind at this point, and I don’t actually mind all that much.
I have, however, been watching The Last Kingdom, aka crack for early period SCA people. All my Saxon persona friends should watch it. I’m trying to figure out why I like this when I bounced off Vikings, which covers almost the exact same period, and I think it’s the level of soap opera. Vikings seemed overly dependent on angst and drama, while The Last Kingdom is really digging into the politics and religion of the time (almost the same thing then, really), through the experiences of this one character. It’s much more engaging, I think.
And now the state of the desk: This has been a very strange year, work wise. I’ve been bouncing around between lots of different projects — I just did it again last week, and picked up a novel draft I’d set aside for six months and added 10,000 words. Stuff is getting done, but it feels scattered and without solid deadlines nothing has felt very finished or final.
Getting El Hidalgo de la Noche out was a victory. The short story collection, Amaryllis and Other Stories, is moving ahead prodigiously (and is available for preorder at a special low price!). And I will have new stuff coming out for the new year! I’m just not entirely sure what it will be right at the moment.
A strange time. More on that when I’ve collected my thoughts enough to talk about.