Short Story Sunday: Here We Aren’t, So Quickly

Here We Aren’t, So Quickly” is a short story unlike anything I’ve read before. In a series of seemingly non sequitur sentences, Jonathan Safran Foer (who is probably best known for his novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), weaves an elaborate portrait of a couple’s life from the early years of their marriage into middle age.

As a reader I think this story is poetic in the way that it flows and the way that it is able to evoke the lives of the characters without using traditional narrative elements. As I writer I think this is an amazing piece and writing and a great example of what can be done when storytelling is approached in different ways. It’s certainly a story I would recommend for any aspiring authors, but it’s also a joy to simply read.

The Shows I’m Watching and You Should Too: #SyfyFriday

It’s summer TV viewing time, and I have to say that Syfy channel has actually cobbled together a pretty solid line-up of shows for its Friday night time slots. I touched on these a little bit recently, but having a glut of good sci-fi to watch just makes me happy…and now you get to read about it more.

 

Defiance

Defiance, now in its third season, has actually gotten better in my opinion. The first season was fun but not great, especially towards the end where I thought certain elements felt rushed or didn’t quite gel right. I thought the second season was an improvement, and I think the third season is continuing that trend so far.

The show has moved away from Irisa being a “chosen one” type character, which I like. This season is focusing more on Defiance as a frontier town that is trying to survive. The Earth Republic has pulled out following the events of Season 2, and now the Votanis Collective forces are moving in to take over, which would not be good for any human residents of the town. I will say one thing I do not like about the Earth Republic vacating is that (at least so far) Viceroy Mercado (played by William Atherton) and Niles Pottinger (played by James Murray) have not returned to the show. I find Pottinger’s absence particularly strange, given how in love he was with Amanda. It would have made sense for him to stay, I think. Luckily my new favorite character from Season 2, Jessica “Berlin” Rainier (played by Anna Hopkins), did decide to stay after the Earth Republic left and took over as the lawman of the town.

This season has also gone in a darker direction than previous seasons. Already, only three episodes in, several staple characters have been killed off. On top of that Defiance has gone through a depression with its mines, the main source of revenue, being destroyed at the end of Season 2. Everything about the city is much bleaker than it was before. I think this new direction is interesting and has served to keep the show fresh in its third season.

But, outside of plot elements, the real reason Defiance shines is its actors. The writers have come up with a great ensemble group of characters, and all of them have been very well cast. Linda Hamilton joining the cast was a great addition, though I’m not sure how long her character will be around. However, I will say that I think by far the two best characters on the show are Doc Yewll (played by Trenna Keating) and Stahma Tarr (played by Jaime Murray). Yewll always delivers great biting and sarcastic remarks, and Stahma is probably the most fascinating character to watch. Always planning, always manipulating, what she will do next is always of interest.

 

Killjoys

Ever since Firefly went off the air fans have wanted to bring it back. Sadly, despite the advent of show producers like Netflix and Hulu, it doesn’t look like that will happen. However, I’m here to tell you that Killjoys is the next best thing.

When I saw the trailers for this show, I didn’t think that I would like it. But after reading good reviews, I figured I’d give it a shot, and I really enjoyed it. In fact, if you’re going to pick up a new show this summer, I definitely recommend this one. It is fun, fast paced, witty, and very well written and acted.

The story follows a team of bounty hunters. In the first episode we seem them go a little bit off-book as they try to handle a personal situation, namely one of the crew wanting to save a family member who becomes the target of a kill order. The pilot also establishes a background conflict between a controlling corporation and the rebel forces that oppose them.

The primary trio of character is very likable. Hannah John-Kamen plays the team leader, a mysterious mercenary named Dutch. Aaron Ashmore (not to be confused with his twin Shawn Ashmore) plays Dutch’s sidekick John. He has a brother D’avin, played by Luke Macfarlane, a former soldier who is a sort of lost soul suffering from some form of PTSD. The actors have great chemistry and deliver their snappy dialogue very well.

It’s only been one episode, but I think this show has a ton of potential, and I am very excited to see how it develops.

 

Dark Matter

Dark Matter, the latest offering of the creators of the Stargate TV series, is now two episodes in. The first episode was a little slow, but the second episode picked things up a bit. To be totally honest, I think that Syfy should have given this show a “two hour premiere” the way they did Defiance and let us see the two episodes at once, as they were very connected. But ultimately I guess that’s neither here nor there.

The story is sort of like The Bourne Identity in space. Seven crew members wake up on a ship and none of them remember who they are. They eventually discover that they are mercenaries with criminal histories. But having no memories of their past lives, they have new agency in how they handle situations and decide that they can take moral stands…when it suits them.

The crew are mostly the kind of trope group you’d expect from a sci-fi action show. There’s the angry white dude who is entirely self-interested and likes his big guns; the moral white dude who opposes the angry guy by trying to do the right thing; the Asian guy who knows how to use swords and prefers those to guns; the creepy little white girl who kind of reminds you of River Tam; a Data-like android who doesn’t really understand humans; a black pilot (actually I guess that’s a bit different); and a take-charge Asian woman who is the defacto leader (that’s also a bit different).

Of the group of actors, I think that Zoie Palmer as The Android is the most fun. She does a really good job of playing “female Data” and brings a good deal of levity to the show. The other actors are good, but I think the show has to develop a bit more so we can see more of what their characters are about and they can get past their basic tropey natures.

But, despite its weakness of not really being anything new, the show is still enjoyable. It is probably the weakest of the three shows in the line-up, but it’s by no means bad. The actors have good chemistry, and the forgotten lives premise leaves a good deal of mystery that can be developed into some interesting things. If the writers know how to helm this show correctly, I think it could develop nicely.

Short Story Sunday: Love in the Time of Cthulhu

For this week’s short story offering, I’ve got a fun flash fiction piece by Gary B. Phillips called “Love in the Time of Cthulhu“. The story follows a woman named Cassandra as she tries to navigate the exciting new world of speed dating with the Elder Gods.

It’s a short read and a very entertaining one, showing that you don’t need a lot of words to tell a really great tale.

The Quest for Water Rights: A Review of The Water Knife

Paolo Bacigalupi is one of my favorite authors. His stories always focus on relevant issues. He takes problems that we are facing or seeing the beginnings of now and weaves tales of futures where they play out in interesting and horrifying ways. In The Windup Girl he wrote about a future where fuel had died out and companies fought to protect patents on genes for food. In Shipbreaker he explored issues of wealth inequality and showed a world that, for most people, was falling into poverty. And in his newest novel, The Water Knife, he writes about the West and Southwest of America after climate change and drought have left it ravaged.

The story mostly takes place in a future Phoenix that is slowly dying. California, Nevada, Arizona, and many other states are fighting each other over the few remaining water sources, each staking claims on the Colorado River in order to try to keep their states alive. Texas and Mexico have already fallen apart, sending waves of refugees to the north. The states have become even more independent, using their own National Guard units to shut down borders and keep these refugees from flowing north into areas with more water.

There are three protagonists in the story. The first is Angel, the water knife, an agent for Las Vegas who works in the shadows to make sure that water continues to flow into the city at the expense of surrounding settlements and cities. He perceives the world as a dog-eat-dog reality and wants to survive, even if it’s at the expense of others.

There is Lucy, a blogger journalist living in Phoenix and writing about the horrors she sees in the city. She sees herself as something apart from Phoenix, a kind of voyeur reporting on the downward spiral. But, after a friend she knows dies, she realizes that she’s being sucked into a plot that she can’t help but explore.

Then there is Maria, a Texan refugee living on the streets and just trying to get by and pay the rent for her hovel to the gangster that runs that part of town. She wants to get ahead in the world but doesn’t know how. All she sees around her are people who don’t understand how the world works. They talk about the past and offer solutions from the past, while she tries to figure out how to move forward and escape her circumstances.

Their stories come together around Angel’s quest to explore what has happened to other Vegas agents who have gone dark in Phoenix. Their different paths entwine and split apart before finally weaving together in a beautiful, if in many ways crushing, confluence of the characters’ motivations. And this is probably what I love most about Bacigalupi’s writing. While he explores relevant themes about modern day political and social issues, he isn’t didactic. His characters are real, and they drive all of the action and emotion of the story without becoming simple two-dimensional symbols meant to represent some ideological stance.

With more stories in the news this year about the water shortages in California, this novel is incredibly timely. And, to be honest, the future Bacigalupi portrays feels all too real. The instances of poverty sound like scenes you might find today in Mexico or even many parts of America like Baltimore or Detroit. Even tiny details like the Phoenix Rising campaign (which reminded me a lot of the Baltimore Believe campaign), add to the atmosphere and reality of the setting. To me this is a stark and very likely view of where the world is heading. I think in many places, the things described are already a reality.

If you’re going to read one book this year…you should re-examine your priorities and read more. But if you’re going to read any sci-fi book this year, it should be this one. Both relevant and compelling, The Water Knife is one of the best novels I’ve read recently, and I highly recommend it.

Death as a House: A Review of The Dead

I picked up a copy of The Dead on Kickstarter awhile ago because I went to school with the artist, Jen Hickman (who is a lovely human, in case you were wondering). Penned by James Maddox, the comic tells a strange tale about the afterlife. The world after death is a house where each occupant gets his own room that can be shaped however he wants. Of course in a world where people can create what they want, forms of wealth other than money or material things develop.

When the book starts the most popular form of currency are bottles. People create different bottles full of different beverages in their rooms, and Devi, whose room is a kind of bar, hires out runners to collect these bottles for her, trading whatever information she has about the house for the bottles. But being a bottle runner isn’t easy. Some of the rooms can be dangerous, and there are dangerous creatures that roam throughout the house. There are the monstrous Wretched, the ghostly Frail that can drive people insane, and the Wave, a collection of ghosts that people join if they die again in the afterlife.

The story mostly follows Sam, a newcomer to death who begins his afterlife as a bottle runner. He then gets caught up as a hunter, trying to capture Wretched and other creatures for Devi’s new zoo, as well as hunting the illusive scientist Arthur.

I think the concept for this story is really interesting. The plot is good too, and it unfolds around some interesting and likable characters. However, I’m also hoping that this is a first volume (and it does feel like it is), as there are several things that are either never touched on or remain unanswered. For example, none of the characters talk about their lives when they were living, which I found odd. The story also ends on something of a cliffhanger. Basically I’m excited to see how things develop.

Art wise, I really like Hickman’s style, and I think comics as a medium suit this story. The weirdness of the setting lends itself to being illustrated, since that can more efficiently and effectively convey what is going on in a way that writing it out really couldn’t.

If you’re looking for a new and interesting comic to check out, I definitely recommend that you check out The Dead. It’s a fun read and definitely different from most of the things that are out there.

Short Story Sunday: Morrigan in the Sunglare

Earlier this week Baen Books released the first installment of a new anthology entitled The Year’s Best Military SF and Space Opera. My friend Seth Dickinson had a story that he originally wrote for Clarkesworld re-published in it.

Morrigan in the Sunglare” is a story about a future peaceful Earth society that is forced into war to defend itself. Many of the combatants fighting for the Earth cause crack too early. Having been brought up in a culture that values empathy and peace, they cannot rationalize killing people. But the story follows two pilots, Noemi Laporte (call sign Morrigan) and her squadron commander Lorna Simms, who are aces in the fleet. Each has a different way of handling the violence, and the story shows how they face warfare and deal with the ramifications of their actions.

If you’re looking for a good military SF tale, then I definitely recommend this story. Also, keep your eyes out for Dickinson’s debut novel The Traitor Baru Cormorant, which will be coming out in September. It’s already generating a lot of buzz and looks to be one of the big fantasy releases of the year.

Actions vs Motivations: A Review of Vicious

V.E. Schwab’s Vicious is a really great take on the superhero genre of stories. Avoiding the standard tropes of people gaining powers and becoming heroes (or villains), it plays with the idea of what having powers does to people and what it even means to be a hero. For those of you who haven’t read the story, I’m warning you now that I’ve put some spoilers into the following review, so while I don’t think I ruin anything major, I definitely to give some things away. So read on at your own risk.

The story opens primarily from the view of Victor Vale and cuts back and forth between his time at college, ten years prior, and the days following his recent escape from prison. On a side note, one of my favorite parts about this book is the non-linear narrative that Schwab uses and the way that it builds the suspense of the story. The view of more characters is also added as the story progresses, and eventually we get a whole view of the action and the background leading up to it from all parties involved.

When the story starts, we find out that Victor went to a prestigious university where he roomed with a man named Eli Cardale. While Eli seems to be quite the golden boy, Victor likes him because he thinks he sees something monstrous, maybe even evil, beneath Eli’s perfectly smiling facade that makes him more interesting. At their college the two of them need to pick a senior thesis, and Eli chooses to study EOs (or ExtraOrdinary people), a subject that Victor becomes fascinated with. Eventually the two of them discover a way to create EOs, and so of course they try the process on themselves.

During his awakening process Victor accidentally kills Eli’s girlfriend, and the girl that he has a crush on, which is what lands him in prison. Eli is the one who helps to put Victor away. In this moment Victor becomes set on a path of revenge while Eli becomes convinced that EOs are both dangerous and inhuman and need to be stopped.

I think one of the most interesting things about Vicious is its take on what it means to be a hero. And I will say, and touch on this later, that I think there is more than one way to interpret the book, which in my opinion is one of the marks of a good story. When I first began reading it, I thought that Victor was the villain of the piece and that this would be a superhero story told from the villain’s point of view. Victor isn’t a particularly nice person, and he is incredibly selfish. He is driven to become an EO after he sees Eli accomplish it because he can’t stand to be a lesser being in the presence of his friend. Then when Eli turns on him, his whole life becomes driven by the need to get revenge on Eli, and of course revenge is an entirely selfish motivation.

On the other side we have Eli. He is a man of faith who comes to see the EOs as something unnatural. He felt that Victor died when he transformed, and he felt a change in himself as well. He thinks that EOs have lost their souls, and that their powers are both against God and a danger to humanity. For this reason he begins hunting down and eliminating them.

Given these motivations for our characters, I find it interesting how the story plays out. Despite motivations that could be considered selfless, it becomes clear that Eli is not a good person either. Ultimately he is a killer who justifies his actions in the context of his greater mission. Victor on the other hand, while self-serving and certainly no less vicious (haha), is in my mind much more sympathetic.

I think you can argue that there really aren’t any heroes in this book. Both Eli and Victor do bad things, though in different ways and for different reasons. I suppose you could also argue that in certain ways Eli could be considered a hero. I disagree with this, but I’d be willing to listen to an argument. However, I think Victor is really the hero of the story.

While his motivations are selfish, Victor actually has many of the trademarks typically associated with a hero. He leaves a very low body count, only harming people when he has to (and killing the woman in the beginning by accident). He also has friends who he helps and protects. While he keeps these friends around due to their usefulness, or at least that’s what he tells himself, he does go out of his way to save them on more than one occasion. Eli, by comparison, doesn’t have any friends at all, and his only companion is someone who he doesn’t like or trust but cannot kill because her EO power allows her to persuade him not to.

Personally I believe that people are defined far more by their actions than by what they say, think, or espouse belief in. And so when I read this story I see Victor as a hero. His actions, by and large, end up being more on the heroic side of the spectrum than Eli’s, despite his motivations. For instance, while Victor’s motivation to stop Eli is purely revenge and Eli’s motivation to kill EOs is to save people, at the end of the day Eli is killing innocent people, and Victor is the person who is in a position to stop him.

So, with my bias of ideology noted, I think it’s interesting that Vicious turns the paradigm of the “selfless hero” on its head, instead creating a selfless character who is villainous and a selfish character who is far more heroic.

I really enjoyed this book as a story, and, as I’ve alluded to, I think it gives some things to think about as well. I definitely recommend it, and I’m looking forward to reading V.E. Schwab’s other adult novel, A Darker Shade of Magic, which was released earlier this year. Judging from this book, I think she’s quite a talent.