Sleeps With Monsters: The Cold Blade’s Finger

A new column over at Tor.com:

I want to rave about Elizabeth Bear’s The Stone in the Skull. Actually, it feels like I need to rave about it: a glorious, dramatic, lush and striking fantasy set in the same continuity as the Eternal Sky trilogy (Range of Ghosts, Shattered Pillars, and The Steles of the Sky), with a brilliant cast of characters and an opening that involves an ice wyrm attacking a caravan on its way up a frozen river. It’s no exaggeration to say I was hooked from the first page.

OF FIRE AND STARS by Audrey Coulthurst

I submitted this piece to one of the places for which I write reviews. They handed it back to me as unduly cruel to a debut author writing in an underrepresented subgenre. I will not name the venue. “Unduly cruel” may be a fair criticism of this review. So if you read on, be warned.

(I will write and sell at some point, I hope, a longer essay on the stakes involved with writing about underrepresented groups and the extra frustration when a cool premise in that regard turns out to have crappy execution.)

Of Fire and Stars is Audrey Coulthurst’s debut novel, out of the Balzer + Bray HarperCollins imprint. It’s a novel that I wanted very much to like.

Unfortunately, I found myself very disappointed by it. One might go so far as to say I was brutally underwhelmed by its achievements.

Of Fire and Stars promised me a princess, Dennaleia of Havemont, sent away from home to fulfill an arranged marriage. A princess who falls in love with her betrothed’s unconventional sister, Amaranthine, better known as “Mare”. With extra magic and all sorts of hijinks. That’s what it promised me.

You’d think it might be difficult for such an intriguing premise to turn out bland and somewhat boring, wouldn’t you? I mean, wouldn’t you?

As it turns out, you’d be wrong.

Let me enumerate the ways in which Of Fire and Stars disappoints:

Everyone in this book is an idiot. There are constant, confused — and confusing — infodumps about politics, and a cast of political actors who… well, let’s just say I’ve seen more sophisticated school yearbook committees, and leave it at that. In politics everyone has an agenda! Often more than one! This book does not have any clue how to depict that effectively. No one has the least suspicion that a Helpful Guy might be manipulating everyone for his own profit. Neither princess knows how to lie. I can’t see a single redeeming feature about the prince, who may be a complete incompetent — jury’s out, because no one in this book is particularly competent.

And every so often, we’re treated to a scene of the ruling body of the country sitting around a table yelling infodumps at each other — and committee meetings are just as boring to read about as they are in real life, unless you can appreciate cunning politics in play.

Of course, that means there needs to actually be cunning politics.

Of Fire and Stars is told in the first person, alternating points of view between Dennaleia and Mare. Neither of the voices are particularly well-defined. Neither of them can be easily distinguished from each other. Denna and Mare are thinly drawn protagonists, and unfortunately the members of their surrounding cast are just as thin, if not more so. In the main, character motivation is ridiculously shallow, where it isn’t confused. And the pacing — It’s all over the place.

I haven’t even mentioned the worldbuilding. “Lightly sketched” might be overstating the case: there is very little solid here, very little that feels real or plausible or even that follows the general constraints of physical geography. It also possesses an unfortunate lack of linguistic tact in its naming conventions — if they were sufficiently consistent that I might call them conventions, that is.

Sod me, I wanted to like this book. I really wanted to like it: there’s not so much mainstream fantasy with queer lady protagonists out there. I’m always looking for reasons to love every single one.

It is a perpetual canard of the “anti-PC” crowd that “social justice warriors” promote politics over quality, in art. And untrue as that is, I’m prepared to give something that tells a story I don’t often get to see — a story like this — much more benefit of the doubt than I otherwise would.

But Of Fire and Stars makes me want to get out the Immortan Joe MEDIOCRE clip.

It is mediocre at best. I spent the three hours it took me to finish it hoping against hope, hoping desperately, that it would show a glimmer of something great before the end. A hint of shine. A promise of better things.

NOPE.

It lets the queer lady awesome side down, is what it does.

Of course, part of my problem here is scarcity. And scarcity, where it comes to queer female protagonists who do not end up dead or miserable, is a major problem. I’m annoyed at Of Fire and Stars, and frustrated by it. Would I be as annoyed if I had acres of stories with queer female protagonists to choose from?

No. I wouldn’t be nearly as annoyed.

And that’s not fair to Of Fire and Stars. But we don’t have acres. We have a scant handful every year. (Even scanter if we look for stories whose protagonists aren’t white.) So every example carries an unfair weight of hopes and expectations: every example’s success is a wedge by which to pry open more space to tell these kinds of stories to wider audiences.

And failure therefore, particularly on economic grounds, becomes a stick that can be used to beat that wedge back.

I wish I could simply not care that Of Fire and Stars is a mediocre offering for the Young Adult marketplace. I wish I had that luxury. Just say “meh,” and let that be an end to it. Instead, I find myself uncomfortably rooting for the success of a novel that I find at best third-rate, because if it sinks without a trace, who the hell knows when I’ll see another fantasy take on a similar premise?

And this is an unhappy place to land.

So, X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST?

So, X-Men: Days of Future Past?

It’s sexist crap. I mean, sexist even by your ordinary Hollywood blockbuster standard, which is pretty sexist already. There are some female characters in the brave band of heroes at the end of the world (and why couldn’t we have the film about the band of heroes at the end of the world?)…

…and then there’s Mystique. Who is a fucking awesome, active, badass character –

– that the film treats as a combination of Macguffin/prize for the boys with their sad manpain.

C.C. Finlay says it best:

So the world is a better place because Mystique grows and changes as a person. And when we snap back to the future, we’ll get to see a glimpse of her and how she’s changed.

Hahaha! Sorry.

Just like Mystique only functions earlier in the story as a foil for Charles’ man-pain vs. Magneto’s man-pain, she’s completely absent from the denouement. Because her growth as a character is irrelevant to the rewards that the men-folks get for a job well done.


To make up for that, here’s Trudi Canavan talking about women and epic fantasy in Australia and New Zealand.

E.C. Blake, MASKS (DAW Books, 2013)

E.C. Blake, Masks. DAW, 2013. Review copy courtesy of DAW Books.

Masks is the first novel in a series. In the Autarchy of Aygrima, everyone wears a mask. The mask’s magic tells the Watchers if a person has broken a law, or if they are disloyal to the Autarch. Not wearing a mask is punishable by death.

Mara is the daughter of the master mask-maker. But at her coming-of-age at fifteen, at her masking ceremony, her mask rejects her. Sentenced to labour in the Autarch’s mines, she’s rescued by a small band of rebels – before falling into the hands of the Autarch’s enforcers once more. She discovers that the magic she has is powerful enough to kill, and one way or another, people want to make her into their tool.

The tone and style of this book seem to aim it at the Young Adult audience, but it doesn’t turn up the emotional pitch the way most good YA does. This may, in part, be due to how much time Mara spends following other people’s leads. At no point does she ever choose a direction that someone else hasn’t pointed her in: she never tries to escape anywhere on her own, nor is she intelligent about using the leverage she does have. This makes for an unevenly paced and somewhat disappointing novel. On the other hand, things blow up, it’s easy to read, and sufficiently entertaining to finish: perhaps the forthcoming sequel will have more of Mara doing things, rather than being done unto.

Warning for offscreen sexual violence, not done to our protagonists, but not treated with any particular depth.

Some more links of interest

Ann Leckie on there not being any such thing as apolitical fiction:

Most times, when someone complains that they just don’t like stories with politics, or with a message, what they mean is they don’t like stories with messages or politics that disturb or confront their own assumptions about how the world is, or could be, or ought to be. This is worth remembering the next time you’re tempted to assert that Reader A only likes Work Z because it contains a fashionable or approved political message, while you, Reader B, value a good story, thank you, without all that political crap. Guess what? Those good stories you love are crammed full of that political crap–it’s just the politics are different.

Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette) on Of Better Worlds and Worlds Gone Wrong:

My point, aside from remarking that both Tolkien and Le Guin are arguing that escape means hope, and hope is one of the great virtues of fantasy, is what Tolkien says at the end of the passage: they are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter. Because I think that’s exactly it. The denigration of “escapism” comes from an implicit belief that it is brave and necessary and heroic to face “reality,” where “reality” is grim and dark and nihilistic (“solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” as that tremendous pessimist Thomas Hobbes puts it), and that if you turn away from that “reality,” you are a deserter and therefore a coward.

There are a number of fallacies here, as Tolkien notes. One is the claim to the exclusive right to define “reality.” Second, if this is an accurate definition of “reality,” it is a fallacy to believe that it is even possible to desert from the front lines by anything short of suicide. Even if your consumption of fiction takes you away from “reality” for an hour or two, you’re always going to have to come back. Clearly, if we accept this definition of “reality,” “escapism” can only be the most tremendous blessing fiction has to offer.

Linky has a headache lately

Marie Brennan on G.R.R. Martin’s A Dance With Dragons:

Let me say this up front: I do not think this is as bad as Crossroads of Twilight, the absolute nadir of the Wheel of Time. Unfortunately, I do think it’s worse than, say, The Path of Daggers — which I consider to be the second-worst book of that series.

Just to give you a sense of scale.

Also up front: Martin faced a very large problem here. As I understand it, he had originally planned to jump ahead five years, to give Dany’s dragons and some of the human characters time to grow up. The more he thought about it, though, the less feasible that seemed, so he decided to write a bridging book, which then turned into two, Feast and Dance. Makes sense, in a way . . . but it creates its own problem.

Strange Horizons rounds up discussion on the Arthur C. Clarke Award. Particularly interesting: Pornokitsch with The 2013 Arthur C. Clarke Shortlist: An Imaginary Judgement.

Juliet E. McKenna at The Fantasy Book Café, “Inequality of Visibility for Women Writers”:

Lack of visibility by way of reviews matters because that’s the information which so often guides the non-fan book-seller making disproportionately influential choices. Just last month I went into a local branch of Waterstones to be confronted by a display promoting epic fantasy tied into the new series of A Game of Thrones on TV. Below the George RR Martin titles were a selection of very good books, many of which I have read – and every single one was by a male writer.

When a bookseller saw me standing looking thoughtfully at this fixture, she asked if there was anything she could help me with. I said she could promote some of the many books by women who write epic fantasy on those shelves. ‘Do they?’ she asked, sceptical. ‘Like who?’ When I gave her a list of names (yes, including my own), her answer was to shrug and say dismissively. ‘Well, I don’t read science fiction’. No, so where did she find those authors to showcase? From the review pages or perhaps in one of the recent articles recommending other writers to A Song of Ice and Fire fans, so often and so infuriatingly only listing men.

That bookseller may not read the genre but her choices can skew SF&F purchases in favour of male writers, so when someone higher up the chain is looking at sales figures to pick those safe bets for front-of-store promotion, they will apparently see proof of the insidious myth that SF&F by women doesn’t sell. If it won’t sell, there’s no profit in promoting it. So those books aren’t among those offered for people to buy at those insidiously attractive discounts and thus the self-fulfilling prophecy is reinforced.

Books in brief: Hartman, Smith, Lidell, Malan

Rachel Hartman, Seraphina. Corgi, 2013.

So Foz Meadows praised this and Aliette de Bodard criticised it. It sounded interesting. It turns out that me, I think it’s pretty bland, a fluffy faux-medieval arabesque that soft-pedals its more difficult questions and ultimately favours the conventional over the provocative. (In the thought-provoking or any other sense.) Enjoyable YA, but it doesn’t live up to its praise, and the specialness of its protagonist is rather irritatingly predictable. (Magical half-breeds, sigh.)

Sherri L. Smith, Orleans. Putnam, 2013.

This, on the other hand, is a book I really enjoyed. YA, playing with a similar sense of mood and character to The Hunger Games, although the secondary protagonist is a little too much cipher, a little too little person (a consequence, I feel, of privileging aesthetic over consistency, which all YA does at times). Its worldbuilding feels vivid, if not always entirely solid, and the emotional tones and driving desires of our protagonist Fen are very well-sketched. Good pacing, and good writing: Smith deploys dialect in narrative with a sure-handed deftness.

The conclusion leaves something to be desired as a conclusion, but since I’ve no idea whether or not there’s to be a sequel, I’ll place my money on a continuance. This is the kind of book that makes me eager to see a) what else the author’s written, and b) what she may write next.

Alex Lidell, The Cadet of Tildor. Penguin Dial, 2013.

Another YA, and one which I fear I may be too generous towards, for it reminds me of much that is good in both Sherwood Smith and Tamora Pierce. (Such things I am inclined to enjoy.) Lidell is a debut author, possessed of one of those gender-neutral names. The author bio claimed for her a female pronoun, up to which point I had been rather uncertain – but Cadet Renee de Winter is too much an adolescent girl to have been written by someone who wasn’t intimately familiar with having been one.

A bunch of the worldbuilding and details annoyed my suspension of disbelief. On the whole I’m inclined to give benefit of the doubt, and call it worthwhile and entertaining, though.

Violette Malan, Path of the Sun. DAW, 2010. Copy courtesy of DAW.

I really, really like Malan’s Dhulyn and Parno novels. They’re just fun, in a sword-and-sorcery, epic-ish fantasy sort of way: implausibly competent, decent heroes Thwart Bad People and Have Excellent Fights. (If this is not a genre, it ought to be one.)

Linky runs in perpetuity on not sleeping

Border House Blog on the gender wage gap in gaming:

I’m reading through the latest digital edition of Game Developer Magazine which contains their annual survey. The salary numbers overall weren’t concerning to me, until I scrolled down and saw the differences between the male and female survey respondents. The next time someone tells me that men and women get paid equally for their talents in the game industry, I wanted something to link to them. This is just plain disgusting.

Fantasy Café, Women in SFF Month: Jacqueline Carey:

As of this writing, Martin, Jordan, and the granddaddy of them all, J.R.R. Tolkien, top the list of Amazon.com’s fantasy author rankings. A glance at the first fifty listings on the Popular Epic Fantasy bookshelf on GoodReads.com reveals forty-seven titles by thirteen male authors, ranging from long-established Big Names to more recent arrivals like Brent Weeks and Patrick Rothfuss. Exactly three books by female authors made the list: The first two titles in Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy and my own Kushiel’s Dart.

Jo Walton at Tor.com, “Fantasy, Reading and Escapism”:

Reading is a culturally approved practice, it improves my mind and widens my cultural capital. But if I admit what I read — more fiction than non fiction, more genre books than classics, fantasy, science fiction, romance, military fiction, historical fiction, mysteries and YA — then I lose that approval and have to start justifying my choices. I also read a lot of Victorian fiction and biographies and random interesting non-fiction and some things published as literature… and I don’t hold any of them as better than any of the others.

Sleeps With Monsters: Marie Brennan Answers Six Questions

Over at Tor.com, I interview Marie Brennan, author of A Natural History of Dragons:

Marie Brennan: I honestly think anthropology is one of the most useful fields a fantasy writer can study, more so even than history. It introduces you to other ways of living, other ways of thinking, and really cracks apart the idea that things which are familiar to you are somehow the natural product of existence, rather than social constructs that, from an outside perspective, may seem very odd indeed. This can be anything from the big ideas (some cultures are horrified by burial of the dead; others are horrified by cremation) to the small details of daily life (which meal of the day is the big one?) to things that are completely random and recent (pink used to be a boy’s color!). Putting those kinds of things on your radar can make your settings far richer and more interesting, whether you’re writing about the past, the present day in a country foreign to you, an invented land based on some part of the real world, or some place as unlike reality as you can manage.

Linky comes bearing gifts and huddling away from the cold

Natalie at Radish Reviews on Kathleen Tierney’s Blood Oranges:

Basically, Quinn gets turned into a vampire-werewolf (a werepire? a vampwolf?) as an apparently indirect consequence of getting in the middle of a job gone bad and the entire plot flows from there. Quinn makes things up, revises her accounts of previous events in the book, and declares that since she finds action sequences in books boring that she’s not going to have any. It’s fantastic.

The Georgian Bawdyhouse on Beware the “Squeaking Woman”! (1728):

The people here, it seems, are extreme cautious of being out too late at Night because of the squeaking Woman, call’d Long Margery, who is a great Haunter of this Parish. This Apparition (as the Tradition saith) appears in various Shapes and Forms, and has been seen and heard by many of the Women in this Part of the Town. The particular Office of this Ghost being to visit the Doors of Women in Child-bed only, and if they are not for this Life, to give them fair Warning by three loud Shrieks; and if a Midwife or a Nurse do but report they have heard anything like this, though the Woman shall be in the most happy Way of Recovery, the Husband would be thought worse than an Infidel, if Preparations are not immediately made for his Wife’s Funeral.

Ursula Vernon on Worldbuilding and the Okapi’s Butt:

The important thing is that the reader get a sense of vast, uncanny history and weird things happening just out of sight. You don’t want to drag the world in and put it on the dissecting table—that way lies Silmarillion-esque prologues—you just want them to catch a glimpse of it, like an okapi’s butt in the rainforest, and go “Whoa. There’s a really big animal over there, isn’t there?” while it glides away into the shadows.

It’s a form of writer’s sleight-of-hand. It’s making it look like of course you know all about this, and the reason you’re not going into it is because it’s not really relevant and you don’t want to bore people, not that the whole of the Malarial Queendom is (possibly) no more than three lines of text in a book two inches thick.

Probably there’s a skill involved—knowing what makes an alluring okapi-butt—but that all happens down at the not-really-conscious level for me, so I can’t talk much about it, except that I just assume if I find it interesting, the rest of you weirdos do too. And the truth, of course, is that for me (and I’d guess for many of us) there’s no okapi there at all, it’s basically a big striped butt on a stick that the writer is waving through the undergrowth. Possibly while making “Woooooooo!” noises because none of us actually know what an okapi sounds like.

Chaucer Doth Tweet translates “American Pie” into Middle English: Bye, Bye Englisshe Jakke of Dover. (Via Rushthatspeaks.)

Cora Buhlert on It’s Still Very Grimdark Out There:

And talking about the gender gap among rape victims in gritty speculative fiction, this is something that bothered me quite a bit about Simon R. Green’s Deathstalker series, which I otherwise enjoyed a whole lot. Interestingly, Green’s name never shows up during discussions of of gritty speculative fiction either. Quite the contrary, several of the review snippets on the backcover of my edition call the Deathstalker series “light and humorous space opera”. Because whole planets being slaughtered in graphic detail and the bodies of the victims being ground up and turned into a highly addictive drug is just so bloody funny. But I guess the fact that there is true love (lots of true love even for the least likely of characters) and hope in the Deathstalker series means that it cannot be dark and gritty.

Linky needs to catch up with logging her reading (and write faster)

Marie Brennan on How to write a long fantasy series:

It took three years and two months rather than the two years I initially planned, but I have, at very long last, finished the Wheel of Time re-read and analysis. And as I promised quite some time ago, we’ll end with what I’ve learned.

This post, unlike the others, is not WoT-specific. I’ll be referencing the series, because it’s the primary source of my thoughts on this topic, but the point here is to talk about the specific challenges of writing a long epic fantasy series — here defining “long” as “more than a trilogy, and telling one ongoing story.” (So something like Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books wouldn’t count, since they’re a conglomeration of multiple trilogies.) My points probably also apply to non-fantasy series, but other genres are much less likely to attempt multi-volume epics on this scale, so I’m mostly speaking to my fellow fantasists.

I do not pretend this is in any way, shape, or form a recipe for commercial success with an epic fantasy series. After all, most of this is a checklist of errors I feel Jordan made, and you could paper the walls of Tor’s offices in fifty-dollar bills with the cash he made for them. Nor am I claiming artistic failure awaits if you fail to heed this advice; you might squeak through on luck, or just really good storytelling instinct. But I do feel that bearing these points in mind can help the would-be writer of an epic series avoid falling off some of the more common and perilous cliffs.

Michelle Sagara with Where Is My Outrage? Here It Is:

The title refers to this post, by author Nora Jemisin. It is worth reading. It is not going to make your night any happier.

But then again, I’m not going to make your night any happier. I don’t know if people will find this post triggery–but it will descend, in all probability, into rant and a genuine, visceral anger. So this might be the time to scroll past.

Leah Bobet on Freedom To Read:

And we need to learn that: so people of all ages can see some of the world and decide who they want to be. So we can not just think critically, but realize that you can disagree with certain things.

I learned that what you want and what you’re talented at aren’t necessarily the same thing, and why that’s okay, long before I washed out of my first professional choir and had to face that I would never be a career musician. I learned that gay people are just people, with loves and ideas and problems, before the first friend ever came out to me. I understood something of how wonderful my city could be years before I started to explore it.

I read those things in books. That was a good thing in my life.

I am glad nobody took those books away.

Joe Abercrombie on The Value of Grit:

Grit is an inclusion. Not grit is an absence. Nothing to prevent gritty books including the ennobling, the clean, the beautiful. Indeed, I’d argue that the extremes of darkness only allow the glimpses of light to twinkle all the more brightly, if that’s the effect you’re after. Clean books deny themselves a chunk of the physical and emotional spectrum.

(As an aside: finding Abercrombie talking about grit as an inclusion makes me think about archaeology’s pottery analysis and what inclusions of different sorts of materials in ceramic fabrics tells you about their origins. Yes, I am that kind of geek. Although not as much as some people I know…)

Aidan Moher at A Dribble of Ink has some Hugo nominations and is gracious enough to consider me in the Fan Writer category. Really, me, I don’t think work done for money ought to count, but apparently it does – so thanks, man. I think you should be nominating Martin Lewis or Maureen Kincaid Speller instead, but it’s nice to be noticed.

Collecting all the links!

Or at least a few of them.

I’ve been holding on to Gemma Files’ write-up of “The Bletchley Circle” until I could watch my own DVDs. But I’ve been forced to concede that won’t happen for quite a while yet – and this is too good a write-up (and, it sounds like, too good a series) to sit on.

[T]he thing that sets The Bletchley Circle apart is its investment in the spectacle of unapologetic female intelligence. Susan has doubt about a lot of things, but not in her own capacities as a patternist; her confidence is intoxicating, especially to the other women, waking them from a sort of mutual torpor. There’s a lot of examination of the way “women’s work” is undervalued generally, even with the context of war–their sacrifices laughed off, their urge to service and impulse to put themselves in danger in order to save others pain seen as not as valuable as the same impulse when displayed on the front-lines. All of the Circle, one assumes, have taken a certain amount of crap for not being helpmeet-compliant, for not being content to simply play wife, mother, girlfriend, support-system, etc. None of them want to be Angel of the House, and all of them feel at least a bit bad for it–unnatural, asexual, “left out.” When they’re together again things become organic, and there’s a sense of beauty, of fulfillment, almost vocational/spiritual: The Fibonacci spiral laid overtop the murder-map, at one point literally.

N.K. Jemisin talks about The Unbearable Baggage of Orcing:

Orcs are human beings who can be slaughtered without conscience or apology.

Think about that. Creatures that look like people, but aren’t really. Kinda-sorta-people, who aren’t worthy of even the most basic moral considerations, like the right to exist. Only way to deal with them is to control them utterly a la slavery, or wipe them all out.

Huh. Sounds familiar.

I have my own thoughts about the problem of orcs and the problem of evil in general in fantasy. The problem of evil in epic fantasy – the traditional kind – is that, usually, it is reified evil. Evil made concrete, taken out of the grey context and compromises of human existence. Good and evil are obviously, easily defined, visible. Marked. The orc – aside from it being Fear of the Other made flesh – is just another example of this demarcation of boundaries and refusal of ethical arguments. Why does evil exist? Because it does. Why is it evil? Because it is. (Because it’s not like us.)

The reaction to traditional epic fantasy in the grimdark forms of deconstruction – well, that tends also to refuse ethical arguments. Evil exists, human beings are shit, let’s roll around in blood and nastiness. I think a lot of the problems I find with “grimdark” as a deconstruction of the epic fantasy have to do with the fact that these deconstructions imbibe (narrowly) a philosophical view of human potential that owes entirely to much to Nietzche: the will-to-power, the dialectic of the master-slave morality (but one that valorises “master” morality), and a marriage of perspectivism to nihilism. Power is, if not the only virtue and only truth, the greatest one. (And individual power, at that: there are no functional communities within the grimdark subgenre, or where they are, they’re deluded, or corrupt, or doomed to betrayal and destruction.)

…But I ramble. I was collecting links.

Nerds of a Feather has an interesting review of Leviathan Wakes:

So what’s the libertarianism doing in Leviathan Wakes and why is it problematic? To answer the first question, I’d guess it’s a product of the attempt to write “old school solar Space Opera,” and the fact that the classics of the genre are positively swimming in the stuff. And–to be fair–since Leviathan Wakes is the first installment in a multi-volume series, this could be a setup for subversion or deconstruction later on. That’s pretty much what Scalzi did to Heinlein in the Old Man’s War books, so I won’t discount the possibility here.

Nevertheless, its deployment in Leviathan Wakes leaves much to be desired. Earth and Mars are highly centralized and bureaucratized states where large corporations dependent on public funds shape policy to their sociopathic will. The Belt, by contrast, is a loose conglomeration of scrappy, independent-minded pioneers sick of being overtaxed and overregulated. Though there are some early attempts at moral grayscaling (the Outer Planets Alliance (OPA), for example, first appears to us as an ideologically-blinded radical group), these are abandoned midway for a more Bova/Niven-esque dynamic where Belters appear as archetypal “rugged individualist of the American West” to be contrasted with the nefarious “East Coast Warshington insiders” of the inner planets. These ideal types are deeply problematic in their real world historical-cultural context, but in Leviathan Wakes there’s never much doubt as to who we should root for, especially when every single sympathetic Earther or Martian is just a freedom-lovin’ Belter at heart.


Any more interesting news lately?