Tanyana is an architect, and a pretty good one, if you’d ask her. Actually, Pride is indeed her nearly mortal sin. While her control of pions, the magical particles at the base of all of the technomagic of the city of Movac-under-Kepper is indeed strong and clever, it is not perfect. An incident in the construction of a great and mighty statue leaves Tanyana cut off from being able to see and access pions. Worse, from her perspective, her abilities have been replaced with the underclass ability to see and manipulate debris, the waste product, the garbage created by pion technology. This debris can be actively dangerous to society, and those capable of manipulating it are tasked with cleaning it up and keeping it from harming the city. And so, the proud and mighty architect has become something she never expected and never wanted–a lowly garbage collector. [Read more…]
This semester, I’m teaching a course on American literature which seeks to challenge what that term actually means and how we can define “American Lit” as something which is multi-national, multi-cultural, and infinitely larger. After all, we live in the Americas; technically speaking, Canadians are Americans in this sense of the term. That’s why I’m here talking about Surfacing by Margaret Atwood and not As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner.
Though only loosely fantastic, Atwoods Surfacing is a complex, character-driven feminist tale about relationships, patriarchy, nationalism, and the human psyche. It follows an unnamed narrator who returns with her friends to her childhood home to search for her missing father, who she assumes has either died or run off into the woods. As she tries to piece together her father’s last days from the clues left in his cabin, she is confronted with her friends’ abusive marriage, her recent and distant past, and the crippling expectations of post-WW2 society (and the changes brought on by the Quiet Revolution in 1960s Quebec). Though not intended as horror, Surfacing explores its themes with a sense of impending terror, such that the final moments, which I won’t discuss in any detail here, are profoundly fantastic, with the character drama forming the root of an exploding, terror-driven tree. [Read more…]
Everyone loves the circus, even a city as already rich in culture and history as San Francisco, city by the bay. Site of famous (infamous) earthquakes. Home to Bob, the shirtless guy who teaches people to dance on the beach in Aquatic Park. There are godlings and beings running around with strange powers, and the circus itself, of course, is not all that it is appears. Its proprietor is a bit of an odd duck, and what’s with that Riverdance-esque acrobat troupe, anyway? And their latest performer, no matter how good, is a man of mystery.
Oh, and did I mention there’s a killer running around the city, a serial killer to equal the old Zodiac murder spree? In the end, everything revolves around the so called Hang Wire Killer in Hang Wire, a novel by Adam Christopher. [Read more…]
Trollhunter (2010)(Trolljegeren in Norway) is André Øvredal’s most popular film, though it is, I’d argue, sorely overlooked by American audiences. Originally released in October 2010, the film was eventually transplanted to U.S. audiences via the Sundance Film Festival in January 2011. The premise is fairly simple:
Under the guise of presenting secret footage, Trollhunter follows a trio of student journalists who arrive in the mountains in order to interview and document the actions of a mysterious man named Hans who locals suspect is illegally killing bears. In their attempts to catch the man in the act, they follow him and discover that Hans is actually a trollhunter, protecting the borders between human and troll territories with a UV light gun and other clever amenities. Invited to ride along, the trio document Hans’ journey to determine what has caused a recent series of violent troll events, only to realize that they’re in over their heads. [Read more…]
Netflix Showdown checks out the relative merits and flaws of two ostensibly comparable things seen on Netflix streaming. First up, two talking animal family films, Vampire Dog and A Talking Cat!?! [Read more…]
Drake Majistral is a minor aristocrat, traveling the area of human space that once was conquered by the alien Khosali but now is independent. He is not particularly well off, even given his rank of nobility, and so he makes his living as a professional “Allowed Burglar.” The rules are relatively simple for Allowed Burglars. Keep what you steal for 24 hours without getting caught; there’s no crime, and you can sell the item free and clear. [Read more…]
Warning: there are some graphic images in this post. NSFW.
Not too long ago, I set myself the goal of viewing every SF/F film released in 2010. It figures that the first non-American film I decided to view would be one of the most ridiculous, violent, and bizarre films I have seen in a while. After being bullied by her classmates, high school student Rin (Yumi Sugimoto) returns home to discover that her father is actually a humanoid mutant known as a HILKO (or hiruko — the subtitles use HILKO, but descriptions of the film use “hiruko,” so I’m not sure which one is correct). But before she can take in this surprising news and its implications for herself, she and her parents are attacked by an anti-HILKO military unit. What follows is an all out bloodbath as Rin tries to escape not only the military, but the blood-thirst of her home town. Later, she is picked up by other HILKO members and trained and indoctrinated into a violent counter-revolutionary force run by Kisaragi (Tak Sakaguchi), who believes his pack of teen girl HILKOs are the perfect fighting force for making Japan a human-free zone. [Read more…]
Monday’s child is fair of face,
Tuesday’s child is full of grace,
Wednesday’s child is full of woe,
Thursday’s child has far to go,
Friday’s child is loving and giving,
Saturday’s child works hard for a living,
But the child who is born on the Sabbath Day
Is bonny and blithe and good and gay.
This rhyme opens Enchanted, the first in a series of the tales of the Woodcutter sisters. When we first meet them, Sunday, the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, is out in the Wood, writing stories in a journal. She meets an enchanted frog named Grumble, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Alethea Kontis hooked me in quickly with the easy conversational tone of Sunday’s encounter with Grumble. The Princess and the Frog is a fine story, [Read more…]
Two species of aliens, a frozen world, and a no-contact policy that is more than badly bent are the ingredients of A Darkling Sea, a first novel by short story writer and roleplaying game supplement writer James Cambias.
I’ve been familiar with Cambias’ roleplaying work for a long time, most notably the GURPS: Mars and GURPS: Space supplements. The rigor and careful research in those supplements translates here to a novel quite well. Ilmatar is an Europa-like body, a gas giant moon with an ocean covering the surface, a layer of frozen water kilometers thick insulating the liquid interior ocean and letting the hydrothermic vents warm the ocean underneath to [Read more…]
19th Century social customs. Mad and dangerous Faerie, just a world away. Scheming sorcerers and elementals. And a few ordinary and not so ordinary people trapped in the middle, carving themselves out a life of their own. And, perhaps, making a difference.
All is Fair completes the Split Worlds Trilogy by Emma Newman. With that book now complete, a look back at the entirety of the series is in order.
Between Two Thorns starts the trilogy in fine fashion, inserting us into the lives of Catherine, Max and Sam. Catherine seeks to escape the net of the society of the fae-serving long-lived families living in Bath’s Mirror City, Aquae Sulis. Max, on behalf of the Sorcerer he works for, seeks to solve a gristly mystery that has already changed him profoundly. And Sam, unassuming, ordinary Sam taking a piss at the wrong place at the wrong time, finds that such a chance event can have lasting and unexpected consequences. Newman ably lays the ground rules of her universe, and gives us the first long glimpse into its society.
Any Other Name brings the Split Worlds series to the next level. With Catherine and the man her family she has arranged her to marry, William Iris, ready to be hitched, Max’s investigations getting ever deeper, and Sam getting tangled with both Fae and an Elemental Lord, the Split Worlds widens appreciably in this second novel. The intrigues and politics of Bath seem positively domestic and small-time compared to the world of Londinium, as the stakes for all of the characters are raised. It is in this novel that all of the major characters make life-altering decisions about their future, and start taking steps to make their goals a reality. If Between Two Thorns shows the power of a powerful debut, Any Other Name shows the follow-through. William Iris in particular rises in stature to a full viewpoint character, giving us a view of a character fully born, bred, and part of Nether society. And yet even he has secrets and dreams of his own.
All is Fair caps off the trilogy, and deepens the look into the Split Worlds even further. That tiny detail of Sam‘s iron ring first seen in Between Two Thorns finally is paid off, as are a number of other plotlines. William’s uncertain newly won position as Duke of Londinium is severely tested. Catherine’s position within society and her mission are clarified. Max’s investigations finally come to a head. And we learn more about Sorcerers, Elemental Courts, powerful Nether power-players, and more.
In the case of all of the viewpoint characters stories, however, the end is only the beginning. Their lives come to resting points but hardly to endpoints. If anything, it is clear that while they reach stages in their lives, their lives, careers, ambitions and paths have only just begun. There is real growth, change, triumph, tragedy, and pathos to be had. Catherine is hardly the young woman seeking to escape Nether society that we find at the beginning of Between Two Thorns. So, too, Max, William and Sam have gone through a lot, and been changed by their own decisions, and the decisions of others. The magical world of the Split Worlds has been changed by all of their actions, and they changed by it, but the world, and the characters, continue onward.
Larry Niven has spoken of a “Playground of the Imagination”, where one can imagine traveling through a setting or milieu after the book is closed. The best of his novels, such as the Ringworld novels, exemplify that ethos. Closing one of his books, one can invent or imagine plenty of imaginary adventures in Known Space and beyond, with the foundation and concrete detail and richness already laid down. In the Split Worlds Trilogy, Emma Newman has managed to do the same, but in terms of a social web. One can imagine, and wonder what the social web will do, after the events of All is Fair. Too, rather than wondering what planets or BDOs are out there, when I was finished with the Split Worlds, I wondered what Nether society was like in New York City. Or Melbourne. Or Cairo. Or Mumbai. Or Shanghai. The idea of networks of relationships of the Families,the Fae, the sorcerers, and the Elemental Courts all across the globe is as inspiring as any solar-system sized object.
Too, the rich RPG feel of the universe dovetails with the author’s own personal interests, as an avid gamer herself. At many points in the narrative, I mused how one might run games set in the Split Worlds universe. I once likened the Split Worlds universe as “Downton Abbey meets Changeling : The Dreaming (a RPG concerned with the Fae and those wrapped around them. Certainly, roleplaying games like Hillfolk (which are all about social drama), Nobilis (with its unearthly setting put cheek-by-jowl with the modern world) and FATE (with its flexibility and adaptability to settings) would all be interesting systems to use to explore the Split Worlds universe. Many of the current crop of fantasy writers grew up playing the likes of Dungeons and Dragons, influencing their secondary world fantasy. Emma Newman’s experience with games like White Wolf’s storyteller system (Changeling, Vampire the Masquerade, etc) has clearly influenced her urban fantasy in analogous manner.
The Split Worlds Trilogy marks the author as someone to watch for her future endeavors, be they within the Split Worlds or elsewhere. And were I to ever have a novel published, the dulcet voice of Emma would be high on my wish list of narrators to do the audiobook version. The audiobooks are as much a delight to listen to as the physical and e-books are to read. I intend to take the books with me on my next long driving vacation, so that I can return to the rich world that Newman has created, and share it with others.