Swords and Spaceships

Swords and Spaceships May 19

Happy Friday, my fellow fans of skiffy and fanty! Let’s get to it.

The Locus Award finalists, like the Arthur C Clarke shortlist, include Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. This is interesting because the Locus Awards are selected via an open poll to readers, rather than by a panel of judges based on publisher submissions (although there is a “recommended” list provided by editors and reviewers). It had not occurred to me before I saw the Clarke list that anyone would consider it science fiction of the same kind as, say, Death’s End. But perhaps I am in the minority? In the meantime, the First Novel category has much beloveds Ninefox Gambit, Everfair, and Roses and Rot, and I now need to read every other debut nominated as well.

Andy Weir’s next book will be about a heist on the Moon and everyone is really freaking excited about it. Which I get — the words “heist” and “Moon” are an excellent combination.

Some food for serious thought: who gets to be a geek? The essay Dragons Are For White Kids With Money looks at the inclusion issues that continue in geekdom on the fan side, and is well worth the read.

Back to the adaptations corner:
The Left Hand of Darkness is getting an adaptation and I have many concerns, which Margaret articulates very well! How will they cast it? Le Guin has said she used “he/his/him” pronouns at the time of the novel’s publishing because that was the accepted default, but my fear is that Hollywood will take this literally. Le Guin is a consulting producer, so I will be over here crossing my fingers and toes and hoping she doesn’t let them.
– I don’t know if Scalzi’s Collapsing Empire will ever get to the big screen but I want it so badly, thanks to this fancast. (His odds are probably very good, considering this newsletter has to have an adaptations corner!)
– You already know this if you clicked the Andy Weir link above but Artemis has also already been optioned.

Not an adaptation per se: we finally have a trailer for Star Trek: Discovery! And it is gooooooooood. I have been skeptical about this show for a variety of reasons, but I’m taking off my skeptic’s hat and starting to get excited.

Last but most certainly not least, a dinosaur got named after a Ghostbusters character and that is just the best news ever.

And now, let us discuss bioengineering and music magic.

Borne by Jeff VanderMeer

Borne by Jeff VanderMeerYou’ve likely seen reviews all over the place for Borne, and for good reason. VanderMeer has been working in sci-fi for many years but broke through in a big way with the Southern Reach trilogy (which maybe we’ll talk about another time; you’ve all read them though, right? Right?!). So Borne couldn’t help but be a big deal. For me and I’m sure many others, the question was: could it measure up to Area X? The answer is a resounding yes.

The book follows Rachel, a young woman and former refugee making a life by scavenging in the ruins of a city (in my head, Los Angeles) ruled by a giant bioengineered flying bear named Mord. No, really. And the plot kicks off when she finds a creature of indeterminate origin — is it vegetable? animal? mineral?? — stuck to Mord’s fur, takes it home, and names it Borne, where it proceeds to grow into sentience. No, really! Rachel’s increasingly maternal relationship with Borne creates problems with her partner and lover Wick, while other forces in the city threaten their tenuous existence. Also featured: talking foxes, many skeletons, mutant children, the nefarious Company. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, but I don’t want to spoil the ending for you.

If you’ve read VanderMeer, none of this will particularly surprise you; his imagination is decidedly weird, and his plots don’t always bother to make sense. This is part of their power — I cannot tell you how many text, DM, and in-person exchanges I’ve had debating what actually happened in one of his books. The internal logic is always sound, the characters are compelling and often feel deeply familiar, and his ability to twist and reshape reality is frequently jaw-dropping. And in Borne, it’s his characters — specifically Rachel and Borne — that resonated the most for me. Their relationship, which is also the engine for the plot, shifts all other relationships as well as the very structure of their world, and I would have happily read another hundred pages of it.

If you’re already a fan, you want this on your shelf. If you’ve never read him this is a great entry point (although by no means an “easy” read); Borne will introduce you to the pyrotechnics VanderMeer is capable of, and I guarantee you’ll never look at a bear the same way.


Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-GarciaIf you took The Craft and set it in 1980s Mexico City, you’d have something very like Signal to Noise. Half of you are already on your way to the Buy button; let me convince the rest of you!

Mercedes “Meche” Vega, a teenager in Mexico City in 1988, lives for her vinyl collection and the occasional mixtape. She’s not pretty, she’s not popular, she doesn’t like books, school is a drag, and her parents are always fighting. She’s sullen and judgmental, and I loved her. Then there are her friends Sebastian and Daniela. Sebastian is bookish and awkward; Daniela is a good-hearted pushover who suffers from lupus. They’re brought together more for their social status rather than any shared interests, but they also get each other. And when Meche discovers that she can make strange, magical things happen with the right song, they form a coven and set about making their lives better. Fast forward to 2009, and Meche has returned home to help bury her father. She hasn’t talked to Sebastian or Daniela since 1989, and the book alternates between the book’s past and present as we find out why.

Moreno-Garcia has nailed her characters here. Meche’s thorny edges and flashes of anger, Sebastian’s impatience with his situation, Daniela’s hesitant journey towards confidence, and the ways that they both hurt and heal each other are all perfectly captured. It’s also hard to fault the internal logic of the magic; who hasn’t had a full-body-and-brain experience with the right song at the right time? While they’re very different books on the surface, Signal to Noise reminded me of another favorite, Emma Bull’s War For the Oaks, in terms of my reaction. I needed those songs in my ears, and I needed to know what happens next.

This newsletter is sponsored by The Noble Servant by Melanie Dickerson.

Noble Servant by Melanie DickersonNew York Times bestselling author Melanie Dickerson returns with The Noble Servant, a retelling of the fairytale classic, The Goose Girl. In this medieval tale, Lady Magdalen is on her way to join the Duke of Wolfberg in marriage when her maidservant betrays her, takes her identity, and sends her down to the lowliest household position—tending the geese. But while out in the field, Magdalen encounters a mysterious shepherd who reveals that not all is as it seems in the castle, and it is up to them—the lowest of the low—to regain all that is lost.