N1: Novella (17,500 to 39,999 words): Penric’s Demon-Lois McMaster Bujold

At 35K words, Penric’s Demon squeaks into the novella category, but if you haven’t read any of Lois McMaster Bujold’s longer fiction, this is an excellent introduction to her style. You may have heard the author’s name, as she is the writer of the so-called Vorkosiverse space opera-ish books based on Miles Vorkosigan, of which there’s upwards of 12 or so, and which are hugely popular. Penric’s Demon is a fantasy novella, set in the World of the Five Gods, where gods are real, magic is real (though used sparingly), and possession by demons is part of a job description. So far it includes three full length novels, and seven novellas. Lord Penric, and his resident demon Desdemona, is/are the main character(s) of the novellas and this is the first one of the seven, detailing how Penric came by Desdemona and how, by having possession thrust upon him unawares so to speak, he redefined the relationship between a person and their demon. 

The main positive about Bujold is that she is an excellent writer (clearly, having won both multiple Hugo and Nebula awards). Her characters are always well fleshed out, her dialogue is realistic, and motivations and plot development are well thought out. The universes she creates are just as compelling as the characters and she can clearly write both fairly hard SF (Vorkosiverse) and fantasy (World of the Five Gods). The world of Penric’s Demon is a late medieval/early renaissance analogue with lords and castles and magic and sapient animals and actual gods who occasionally work through humans. But the story really is about Penric, a young man who has his entire world flipped upside down after the accidental acquisition of his demon. But rather than allowing himself to be manipulated by those who feel they are more qualified to ‘fix’ the situation, Penric uses his considerable intelligence and personal charm to sort out the situation for himself.

I cannot recommend these books (this author, really) highly enough. Very quickly you become invested in the story of both Penric and Desdemona, and you’ll be quickly reaching for the next novella in the series.

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B2: Novel Featuring Vampires: Queen of the Damned-Anne Rice

You might think that picking an Anne Rice vampire novel is fairly low hanging fruit for this category, but on the original iteration of this bingo card on the r/fantasy subreddit, Hard Mode was defined as: At least one main protagonist is a vampire. Well, in The Queen of the Damned, they’re all vampires, so there! 

The Queen of the Damned is the third book in the 14 book Vampire Chronicle series by Anne Rice. It was published in 1988, 12 years after the original Interview with the Vampire and three years after it’s sequel The Vampire Lestat. I’ve read them all bar the last two (for reasons we’ll get to in a moment), and it really didn’t matter which one I picked, but I personally like Queen of the Damned better than the first two so I went with that one. However if you’re new to the series you might want to work your way through Interview and Vampire Lestat first, since they cover  backstory glossed over in The Queen of the Damned. And boy, is there a lot of backstory. 

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N4: Novel Featuring an AI Character: Fools War – Sarah Zettel

Fool’s War is one of those books that you never see mentioned on lists of ‘must reads’ or random listicles (9 SFF Books that Prominently Feature Small Dogs), even though it would tick a lot of boxes that seem important to people today: female author; positive portrayal of Islam; and it plays with the idea of sentient AIs. Though it’s over 20 years old now (published in 2007), it doesn’t get nearly the attention it deserves.

I come back to this book every so often because it hits a couple of my favourite space opera ideas. 

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Book Review Bingo

Bingo Player cartoonIn an attempt to blog more regularly, I’m starting a season of Book Review Bingo. Now, I know this sort of thing is usually done around the beginning of the year, kind of a New Year’s Resolution thing. But even though school is long behind me, September always feels more like the beginning of the year to me than January, and so it seems like an appropriate time to start a new project like this.

I’ve been devouring books pretty solidly recently and I have some that I’d like to talk about and that I think deserve some recognition. I’ve adapted the 2019 Bingo Card from the one used on the r/fantasy subreddit, though I did leave some just as they were. I will be including both new books that I’ve just read, but also a few that I’ve read before, which I will reread for bingo purposes.

My Bingo Card is here:

As befits Bingo, I won’t be doing them in order. And I realise some of the descriptions are a bit vague – they will be fleshed out at the time of the review. I’m planning one to two weeks between reviews. Stay tuned.

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Elementary – Their Final Bow

This week was the series finale of Elementary and it is with a very heavy heart that I say goodbye. Despite my extremely dubious attitude at the beginning, being certain that no modern telling of Holmes, especially one set in New York, could live up to the original setting, the quality of this show never flagged. Jonny Lee Miller is right up there as my favourite Holmes. Jeremy Brett, in my opinion, will never be surpassed, but of the modern Holmes retellings Miller is now the high bar.

The writers knowledge of the canon was expert level and call outs to the books never felt like they were just wedged in for the sake of it. The character development was great and the last episode could not have been better. A huge thank you to everyone involved with the show. I will miss it.

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A Tale of Two Fandoms

I am an old school Trekkie. Before the future descended upon us, I was used to meeting (IRL, you remember that, right?) once or twice a year, with like-minded geeks and discussing TV in loving, nerdy detail. Then came BBSs & Usenet which allowed us to gather virtually and discuss the currently hot show de jour on an episode by episode basis, in almost real time.

Cut to 2019. Discussion panels at conventions are mostly a thing of the past as cons have gone from being fan-run events to ComicCon style commercial behemoths.  And while online discussion forums haven’t disappeared, they sure have changed.

I am currently watching both Designated Survivor and Lost in Space on Netflix (and enjoying both). Since Netflix has given us the gift of non-appointment viewing which means I can hop on a show whenever, Designated Survivor has two full seasons already and Lost in Space has one.  This means that while I can’t contribute to an up to the minute, topical discussion of the episode, but I can go online after the fact and see what others thought, and see how it jives with my own opinion. Since Reddit is the place to go for online discussion forums on any topic, I thought I would have a look at the relevant subreddits for each show to see what the hot points of discussion were on each episode.

The episode threads for both of these shows are snarky, vitriolic, dumpster fires.

Now, I am used to a certain amount of snark from my many years in fandom, but we snark because we love, and unless the show was particularly awful, the criticisms were always tempered with copious amounts of fannish squee. But holy cow these two subs. The shows are pretty decent, but rarely do I find them saying anything good about an episode. It’s just a constant piling on the the plot lines, acting, special effects and writing (I mean, who cares if the special effects for Designated Survivor were substandard in that one scene – its not an FX based show).

Now, I am familiar with the concept of a hatewatch (link), but every single person posting cannot be hatewatching these shows. It’s not statistically possible. And even with a hatewatch, you generally continue to watch because you had hope for the premise of the show and hope that it will get better (this is how I justify my season and a half of Blindspot). But eventually even a hatewatch has diminishing returns and must have better things to do with your time.

What is my point? That it’s currently cool to hate? That snarky art criticism has moved from oils and interpretive dance to TV? That the current  sociopolitical polarisation is affecting everything? I’m not sure except that I’m a little sad that 2019 culture has poisoned something as banal as virtual water cooler talk about last night’s TV.

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I remember my first Monty Python sketch. It was The Spanish Inquisition (you know, the one no one expects?). I was about 11 and it was shown late at night which was the only time we could get the grainy, over-the-air, low powered public television station from Buffalo. My dad and I loved British TV which, then as now, was the staple of PBS, but we had never seen anything like this before. For about two weeks we shouted “No one expects the Spanish Inquisition” at every opportunity until my mom told us to cut it out.
Until I was telling this story the other day, I never realised how much Monty Python influenced my life. To this day my favourite kind of humour is absurdist. I find juxtapositions in style and situation hilarious and it has influenced my art and writing. The movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail probably was one of the major reasons I became interested in medieval studies and ended up studying it at university. (Ironically I’ve always said I had such a difficult time learning Latin because I didn’t go to university until my late twenties and the portion of my brain that was allotted at birth for learning Latin had long since been filled with Monty Python scripts). When I was in high school all the nerds could rattle off long speeches from various Python sketches. It was a nerd rite of passage.
Thank you Pythons, for everything.

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