Sunday, March 10, 2019

From Dreaming to Running: Putting the Android on Screen

Last week I got to attend a very nice panel from DePaul and One Book One Chicago: three scholars discussing aspects of adaptation, with Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Scott's Blade Runner as the focus.

Paul Booth (who runs the wonderful DePaul Pop Culture Conference, among other virtues) chaired the panel. These were really engaging, fast-moving talks, with lots of visual aids, so notes below are just sketches and highlights.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019


In case you missed it, so you don't:

There are, dear readers, tons of great events coming up over the next month or so, including lots of great stuff connected to One Book One Chicago (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) and One Book One Northwestern (The Handmaid's Tale).

Tomorrow (3/7) is Deep Dish, Chicago's premier speculative reading night, at Volumes Books in Wicker Park! This is growing into a really exciting series, highly recommended.

Talks galore!
Events & Gatherings!
Phew! Don't forget to check the extensive list of book clubs and sundry our Upcoming Events Page.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

The Handmaid's Tale: Three Literary Perspectives

This week I got to attend another excellent talk hosted by One Book One Northwestern: a panel discussion on the history and ongoing importance of Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. The panelists:
  • Linda Bubon: co-founder of Women & Children First, the fantastic feminism-forward bookshop in Andersonville
  • Juan Martinez: fiction writer, literature & writing professor at Northwestern
  • Kasey Evans: critic, English professor at Northwestern
A very nice, insightful talk. Brief notes below:

Thursday, February 28, 2019

"The City in the Middle of the Night" by Charlie Jane Anders

This was a real treat to read! I seriously could not put this down. I loved the characters, and the worldbuilding is deep, weird, and inventive. The whole novel is an adventure—something I forget that I'm always looking for, until I find such a good example. Although there's plenty of darkness—dystopia, struggles for survival, tragedy and betrayal—the work as a whole has tons of exuberance. It's a sophisticated but unpretentious take on classic science-fictional topics, and I devoured it.

The story takes place on January, a tidally-locked planet colonized by humans. In the narrow strip between perpetual day and perpetual night, humanity has adapted to the world's challenges. Our main characters meet as a revolution is brewing, travel to a rival city, make forays into the night, encounter some of January's original inhabitants, and generally have an exciting time.

No plot recaps, but possible spoilers below:

Monday, February 25, 2019

"Behind the Throne" by K.B. Wagers

I came to Behind the Throne thinking it was a space opera, and the first chapter or two seemed to confirm thatinterplanetary arms smugglers, spaceships, warp drive, all that good stuff. It quickly changes gears, however, and the vast majority of the novel would be better characterized as "action-packed palace intrigue".

Originally fleeing the constraints of the royal family while hunting for her father's killer, Hail Bristol has spent decades as a gunrunner among violent criminals. All that changes when a series of assassinations and conspiracies threaten the Indranan Empire, and Hail is brought home as the unexpected heiress apparent.

This book was a major struggle for me, but after getting through the first half or so I found myself entertained by it. More than anything else, it feels like it needs another editing pass: cliché use is a little too heavy, chapter breaks feel arbitrary, and the metaphors are a little too frequent, a little too florid—comes across as trying too hard for dramatic effect, without quite finding its tone. Set in first person, these tendencies coupled with Hail's personalities can become a bit much:

Sunday, February 24, 2019

"The Tea Master and The Detective" by Aliette de Bodard

(This was the February 2019 Think Galactic selection.)

The Tea Master and The Detective is set in the Xuya universe, a space-opera setting from a history where Chinese, Vietnamese, and Mesoamerican cultures predominate. A Sherlock Holmes homage, the novella (novellete?) follows a traumatized ship AI, The Shadow's Child, who plays a reluctant Watson to Long Chau, a "consulting detective" looking into a murder. Straightforward in its Holmes-structure, I found it most interesting for its focus on trauma, as well as all the snippets of Xuya worldbuilding we get.

The characters here are engaging, the work's main strength. That's unfortunate, since it's so short! Shadow's Child and Long Chau's interactions are great, odd imbalances of personality and power grafted onto the Doyle formula: Shadow's Child is a superhuman AI, but shy and traumatized; Long Chau has those Holmes-like powers of observation and deduction, but is secretive, shaped by the past in ways she doesn't want to acknowledge. I liked the way that Long Chau's abrasiveness feels genuine, largely unintentional, not overplayed, so Shadow's Child's opinion and interactions with her also feel more genuine.