A Hope for the Genre?! No way!

show_art_Killjoys_new

Genre: Space Opera/Space Western

Medium: Television

The premise: Killjoys is a sci-fi adventure story co-produced by SyFy and the Canadian genre channel, Space. It tells the story of three bounty hunters Dutch (Hannah John-Kamen), John Jaqobis (Aaron Ashmore), and D’avin Jaqobis (Luke Macfarlane) who navigate a colonizing human society known as the Quad ruled by an oligarchic council called the Nine and a domineering corporation simply referred to as the Company. Bounty hunters, known as Killjoys, work on behalf of the Company to bring in or assassinate wanted criminals. Life is neither easy nor simple for these protagonists, who most negotiate obstacles both martial and political to stay alive, all while also overcoming the dark secrets of their own pasts.

Why it’s awesome: If you’re a fan of Firefly, Farscape, or Outlaw Star, you’ll enjoy Killjoys. (Or if you remember the glory that was campy nineties television.) Although the show doesn’t lack for serious moments, danger, or suspense, it is tremendously good fun to watch and does not take itself seriously to the extent that so much television does today. Sometimes as genre fans we want to explore deep, thoughtful questions–and sometimes we want to watch a kickass heroine take down baddies and rescue her friends from certain danger. Hannah John-Kamen is wonderful to watch as Dutch and Aaron Ashmore complements her perfectly as her partner Johnny. A host of entertaining secondary characters from their fellow Killjoys to bureaucrats to the bartender at their favorite watering hole round out the cast.

Why it’s hopeful: It’s refreshing to see a woman-centered science fiction show on sci-fi. Especially since Dutch is a woman of color. She’s also a capable, complicated yet sympathetic character with real human relationships and a mysterious backstory. There’s no doubt who Killjoys is really about. Even better, Dutch’s friendship with Johnny is the emotional centerpiece to the show. Whatever romantic relationships the two pursue elsewhere, they are always reunited. It shouldn’t be revolutionary to have a compelling friendship between a man and a woman on an action show that doesn’t devolve into sexual tension…but it is. And while some critics have said that Killjoys is thematically light, it has plenty to say about class and class structures, power, and the destructive force of capitalism in society. There’s a lot to like here and I’m happy to report that the show will return for a second season in 2016.

You guys! It’s #TitansgraveTuesday! What is that, you ask?

Titansgrave is an RPG webseries by Geek and Sundry DM-ed by Wil Wheaton and featuring Hank Green, Alison Haislip, Laura Bailey, and Yuri Lowenthal. And it is awesome. Wheaton and his crew originated the world and story, basing the gameplay on the AGE system. Even if you’re not a role player yourself, it is exceptionally fun to watch. The art done for the series is absolutely gorgeous and the cast is both funny and engaging. If you dig speculative fiction of just about any ilk, I recommend it.

Introduction Video:

 

Episode One:

 

Try it–I promise, you won’t regret it!*

 

*May inspire cravings for craft beer, twenty-sided dice, and a RPG group of your own.

What’s that? A bird? A plane? A review of an anthology paying tribute to one of science fiction’s most singularly game-changing writers?

It’s probably that last one.

It should go without saying but: spoilers below. It is difficult to review anything without spoiling something. Thus, there will be no kvetching about spoilers.

Octavia’s Brood edited by adrienne maree brown and Walidah Imarisha, out April 14, is a collection of stories, essays, and–in one remarkable case–a T.V. script, which seeks to capture the visionary fiction aesthetic and social justice mentality of the great Octavia Butler. Brown and Imarisha solicited its contents from a wide range of activists, from journalist Dani McClain to actor LeVar Burton. The stories include speculative fiction of all stripes, including more recognizable spaceships-and-aliens sci-fi, fabulism, zombie apocalyptic horror, and–unsurprisingly–plenty of dystopian fiction.

In other words, there’s pretty much something for everyone between the covers of Octavia’s Brood, provided you’re interested in having your ideas and social assumptions challenged. Much like Butler’s work, this is an anthology driven by questioning and the questions asked–about race, gender, and sexuality in society–are not easy ones. Consequently, I recommend it as a slower read. Take some time to chew on what you’ve been given. Think about the stories and go back to them if you can. This is a book that requires patience and introspection; if you blow through it, you’re not going to get anything much out of it.

But assuming you are that kind of reader–and if you love Butler, you almost certainly are–definitely pick up this book. If you can, read it with some likeminded (or maybe slightly different-minded) friends. It will precipitate the types of conversations many of us want and need to have. Good fiction, like Butler’s fiction, can do that for us. It can make us grapple with the issues of our identity, the ways in which we conceive of one another, the often unnoticed harm that happens to those of us outside the margins.

That’s all well and good, Julia, you might be saying, but how were the stories? That’s what we read anthologies for, after all. Ideas can only get us so far.

I’ll admit, not everything in here was my cup of tea in terms of plot and structure, but as I said, that doesn’t seem to be the goal. There’s something sort of scattershot, sort of busy, in this approach–a cramming in of different types of stories to spur as much conversation as possible. And, because many of these people aren’t writers by trade, the quality of prose can be a little uneven at times. Some stories seemed to need more room to breathe. Others felt sluggishly paced. But there were plenty of gems, too, by my estimation.

My top five were:

“Revolution Shuffle” by Bao Phi. The anthology opener kicked it off with a socially conscious zombie twist worthy of early Romero. Hit all the right buttons for me and gave us that “on the edge of revolution” feel that persisted throughout Octavia’s Brood.

“The River” by adrienne maree brown. Hands down the most beautifully written story in the book and the prose lent itself to the eerier qualities of this ghostly story set in post-industrial Detroit.

“The Long Memory” by Morrigan Phillips. An unusual sort of tale that deals with the issue of cultural and social memory and the problems we encounter when only a handful of people are aware of that inheritance.

“The Surfacing” by Autumn Brown. Interesting in media res approach which details the ousting of a woman from her subterranean society, only for her to discover everything above wasn’t quite as she thought.

“Lalibela” by Gabriel Teodros. This story that shifts through space and time reminds us how much has changed and how little.

It should be noted, too, that the essays at the end of the anthology are pretty fantastic all on their own, especially if you like talking about Butler’s work or Star Wars.

On the whole, despite its flaws, I was glad for the opportunity to read Octavia’s Brood and dwell on its questions. I sincerely hope there will be more anthologies like it in the future.

7/10.

Yes, we’re back with some of the best the web had to offer in May and June:

From Scigentasy: “Gravity Well” A.J. Fitzwater. Gravity says: you crazy broads. Gaia’s embrace is too strong. What of your wayward suns? And how many tampons do you need between here and the moon anyway? I love the frenetic everything about this very short story.

From Tor.com: “Waters of Versailles” by Kelly Robson. Annette giggled. “Your pipes are weeping, monsieur.” Viva la novella! Seriously, this utterly charming alt-historical fantasy is the perfect argument for why this form belongs in genre publications.

From Strange Horizons: “Post-Apocalyptic Toothbrush” by Betsy Ladyzhets. Egads! A poem?! Just enjoy it, friends.

From Lightspeed: “Emergency Repair” by Kate M. Galey. Queers Destroy Science Fiction! is here! And you should indeed read and/or listen to all of the stories, but this one by newcomer Galey is just all sorts of lovely and wonderful.

From Escape Pod“Beyond the Trenches We Lie” by A. T. Greenblatt. This morning, the Globs are waiting for us, just like always. Despite what the official propaganda shows, we, this little band of ragged soldiers, don’t even bother to line up anymore. My preferred flavor of military sci-fi.

From Daily Science Fiction: “The Pixie Game”  by Anna Zumbro. Jack puts his face close to the leaves and sticks out his tongue. Gage sees a rustle and a flash of green, then a tiny figure clinging to the tip of Jack’s tongue before it retracts. Gross but somehow also very poignant? Go figure.

From Glittership: “King Tide” by Alison Wilgus. Some particular trick of the moon, the weather, and the Earth’s closeness to the sun had pulled the tide all the way to 5th Avenue, a good half-block further uphill than usual. Wilgus also writes/draws comics and is generally awesome.

From Uncanny Magazine: “Young Woman in a Garden” by Delia Sherman. When Theresa finally found La Roseraie at the end of an unpaved, narrow road, she was tired and dusty and on the verge of being annoyed. For those of you who like a little art history with your speculative fiction.

Happy reading everyone! Tell me your recommendations in the comments!

Coda from and maps and plans on Vimeo.

There’s been a lot of web buzz about this most recent season of Game of Thrones, particularly on the topic of sexual assault in the series and the A Song of Ice and Fire novels. There is much, much more rape in the books than the tv show–arguably more than be accounted for by the show’s condensed format. And just today, George R.R. Martin himself weighed in on the issue, saying: “I want to portray struggle.”

I gave up on Game of Thrones pretty much after season 2–in part because I stopped getting HBO, but honestly I haven’t missed it. I’ve read the books up to the most recently released fifth installment. I’m on the fence about whether I want to keep reading. To be very blunt, I haven’t particularly enjoyed the books since A Storm of Swords (no. 3). I’d say intellectually I get the appeal, but it’s honestly something I wonder about. Why do so many people love Game of Thrones? And by extension, why do we love high fantasy?

To just about everyone who knows me, I’ve been “the girl who loves zombies” for many years now (more than a decade) because my love of horror is one of my defining features. But not many people know that before my devotion to the grim, grotesque, and macabre, I read a lot of fantasy. Big, fat epic, high fantasy novels. From ages 11-14, that was pretty much all I read. (That and Animorphs. I adore Animorphs.) Then I discovered Stephen King and Mary Shelley and George A. Romero’s Dead movies and there wasn’t much looking back. (I regret nothing.)

So there’s probably a part of me that feels a little nostalgic about fantasy or even maybe unfairly associates the genre with early adolescence. But given its prevalence in popular culture today, I think fantasy has rounded a corner from the late nineties when you were still a huge nerd for having a dragon on your t-shirt. Martin is obviously a major, major part of this, as were The Lord of the Rings movies in the early 2000s. We could debate the dynamics of how that happened. However, I’m more interested in the cultural function of those texts.

Specifically, I’m curious about Martin’s desire to recreate a particular time period accurately (with a touch of magic added)–and our subsequent attraction to the brutality of that era. Put another way: why did we want to read/watch a story with such extraordinary violence in the first place? As many have pointed out, rape is hardly a new plot point to Game of Thrones–why did we want to see it?

I’ve had a couple of conversations lately trying to distill the speculative genres down to their most essential elements. Science fiction at its most basic looks to the future.Horror is, you could easily claim, the genre of the present moment–a genre driven most by emotion, particularly dread. Arguably, most fantasy (especially high fantasy) looks to the past.

The question becomes, then, what do we get out of these glances backwards? Martin insists that it would be dishonest to create a utopia where there was none, but what is the benefit to returning to an “accurate” reimagining of a specific subsection of history? Is it simple relief that we’ve progressed beyond such brutality? A recognition of the ways in which we haven’t? Is it merely escapism–a chance to disappear into a complex world, to experience the battle and intrigue and extraordinary loss between the pages?

To put it another way: if the frequency of sexual assault is somehow necessary to the efficacy of A Song of Ice and Fire as a creative work, what is the end result of that work?  What is its aim? What do we get in exchange? Why is it worth it?

I don’t think it’s accidental that many, many high fantasy novels are war novels. The Lord of the Rings is one of the great fantastic war stories. A Song of Ice and Fire is certainly a series about war, as Martin has made clear. As a society, we find war mesmerizing–so much so that we read about fictional wars in worlds that never existed. But one of the great–I believe–successes of The Lord of Rings that it doesn’t deal in violence gratuitously. It tracks the marks war leaves on people in subtler, quieter ways. That may make it less “gritty” and “realistic” than Game of Thrones but…well, what of it?

Because at the end of the day, when we talk about fantasy–whatever history or pseudo-history on which the world is based–we’re talking about pure invention. We’re talking about completely fabricated universes. Fantasy worlds can be absolutely anything. They are no more bound by “historical accuracy” than they are the laws of physics. And every aspect of a fantastic world is therefore a choice made by the author. To say anything else is to deal in some serious bullshit. As much as it is to say that people of color are absent or oppressed in fantastic works because of similar historical restrictions. No, the author chose to leave them out, whether consciously or unconsciously. They may have done it out of a love for medieval Anglo-Saxon society, but if they’re not actively writing a historical novel, there’s nothing stopping them but their own limitations.

The reality is we choose to delve into the brutality of Westeros and Essos. On some level, we find it entertaining–we should be honest about that. And rape as a plot point is nothing more than an easy (one might say lazy) expression of that brutality. It is no more demanded by the setting than any other aspect of the story. The reality is that we demand it–we expect it. It has become part of our cultural language for women. It’s a shorthand for “female character development.”

But we’re not required to use it. As with all storytelling, it’s a choice.

The OceanMaker from Mighty Coconut on Vimeo.