Swords and Spaceships

Swords and Spaceships Jan 27

Hello, geek-friends and nerd-pals.

Our cyborg lives are upon us! Gizmodo rounded up all of the bio-tech achievements of 2016, and wow. As someone who can under no circumstances point to North when inside a building, I look forward to the day that implant reaches an affordable cost. I would prefer, however, not to have my brain zapped under any circumstances, please and thanks.

If your brain is scrambled by January and all that comes with the start of a new year, may we interest you in some SF/F short fiction? You’ve already heard me talk about Ken Liu’s Paper Menagerie, but AJ’s round-up on Book Riot includes several other excellent options.

There is no time like the present to reread The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, not least because the trailer has arrived for Hulu’s adaptation. I was (very) skeptical despite the A-list cast but this trailer has me converted, in particular thanks to the riffs on Offred’s pre-handmaid life. The first 10 episodes drop on April 26, and I’ve got it marked on my calendar.

Speaking of adaptations and TV, a quick note to say, WOW did the third episode of NBC’s Emerald City go off the rails. I have downgraded my “definitely going to watch” to “you get one more episode to prove you actually know what you’re doing here.”

In happier news, this examination of “The Twelve Huntsman” on had me in stitches. My plan for the weekend includes digging out my copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales so I can read it for myself. Also how has this not been rewritten as a novel yet?? If I am just missing it, please do point me at it; if you’re an author, please consider this a formal request.

And now, this week’s recommendations! I’ve been delving into some backlist while I wait for pub dates to roll along for my favorites from this year, and I have three genre classics for you.

The Silent City and The Maerlande Chronicles by Elisabeth Vonarburg
These are out of print but not particularly hard to get; I got one from a used bookshop, one from, and someone in my book group bought a copy on her phone while we were still sitting in the coffee shop. Which is to say, I have already been gushing about these both in person and online and you are my next victims!

The Maerlande ChroniclesI picked up The Maerlande Chronicles (actually the sequel) at a used bookstore based entirely on the cover and the Le Guin blurb on said cover. What an absolute delight to find such a compelling, thought-provoking book by chance! Following the exploits of a young girl growing up in the far-future, it uses letters and diary entries to introduce us to a matriarchal society that is on the cusp of cultural evolution. In this book Vonarburg’s writing has some of the scholarly feel of Susannah Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (although with zero footnotes), supplemented with a transgressive and bold imagination similar to Le Guin and Atwood.

The Silent City by Elisabeth VonarburgAnd then there’s (actually first in the sequence) The Silent City, which looks at a future-albeit-not-quite-as-far-off city in which the technologically-enhanced elite have walled themselves off from the tumultuous and impoverished world and are slowly dying out. Enter the genetic experiments that produce Elisa, who might just save all of humanity. Here Vonarburg is really playing with our understanding of, and the taboos surrounding, sexuality and gender. Some of it is still subversive today, and some of it rings of the gender essentialism of its time (it was written in the 1980s). Regardless, it’s a fascinating and meticulously constructed novel, and these two books have gained a permanent spot on my bookshelves.

A note on order: I actually am not sorry I read Maerlande first, but the ending is deeply confusing if you haven’t read The Silent City or don’t have it immediately to hand. Do with that knowledge what you will!

Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu
Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu
I still haven’t managed to watch the Carmilla web-series, but I did dig up the novel that inspired it. (And by dig up I mean, borrowed it digitally from the library. Truly, my efforts were Herculean.) And I am so glad I did!

Published 25 years before Dracula, it’s a seminal work in the vampire genre. That is technically a spoiler (sorry!) as the nature of Carmilla, our pseudonymous antagonist, is the subject of the mystery the book is built around. But since it was published in 1872 I am pretty sure the spoiler statute of limitations no longer applies. It’s also an early example of the portrayal of lesbians in literature, and a stellar example of the Gothic novel.

The mental struggles the heroine Laura faces in her response to the strangely compelling Carmilla are classic fare (Repulsion! But also, attraction?! Not to mention gaslighting; it’s very confusing to be a Gothic heroine, y’all). Le Fanu managed to creep me the hell out despite the fact that I knew what was going on the whole time, which I consider an achievement. It’s a slow-burn plot-wise as almost all the action in the book takes place at the end, but it’s also a novella so it doesn’t take long to get there. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and definitely recommend it if any of the above sounds appealing.

And if not, never fear: our next installment involves space and cabaret!

This week’s newsletter is sponsored by Wires and Nerve by #1 New York Times bestselling author Marissa Meyer.

Wires and Nerve cover image

In her first graphic novel, bestselling author Marissa Meyer extends the world of the Lunar Chronicles with a brand-new,action-packed story about Iko, the android with a heart of (mechanized) gold. When rogue packs of wolf-hybrid soldiers threaten the tenuous peace alliance between Earth and Luna, Iko takes it upon herself to hunt down the soldiers’ leader. She is soon working with a handsome royal guard who forces her to question everything she knows about love, loyalty, and her own humanity. With appearances by Cinder, Cress, Scarlet, Winter, and the rest of the Rampion crew, this is a must-have for fans of the bestselling series.

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