September 25th, 2017

Posted by Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer

In Mirror Dance, Mark ruined what passed for his life and then found a better path. In Memory, Miles is freshly cryo-revived, so now it’s his turn!

The tradition in this reread blog is that we kick off the new book by examining some book covers. What does Memory have in store for us?

Note: This reread has an index, which you can consult if you feel like exploring previous books and chapters. Spoilers are welcome in the comments if they are relevant to the discussion at hand. Comments that question the value and dignity of individuals, or that deny anyone’s right to exist, are emphatically NOT welcome. Please take note.

Memory has some reminders of how little I know about Barrayaran military insignia, for starters. I know you get some tabs to pin to your shirt collar when you get promoted (“May I, Lieutenant? For my pleasure.”) Barrayar kind of loses me on things like colors and shapes, and the insignia featured in the lower left hand corner of this cover don’t look like Horus eyes to me. But I’m going to assume they are, and I’m going to assume that those somehow represent a captain’s rank, because I have decided that this silhouette is Simon Illyan’s. That’s why it’s totally cool that none of the stuff inside this head happens inside this book; No cities burn to the ground, no shuttles crash, I think it’s possible that someone gets shot but I can’t recall a specific incident (other than Miles’s seizure), and Alys Vorpatril isn’t a redhead. I am completely befuddled by Ms. Pouty Lips.

The cover for the Kindle edition is comparatively understated. Once again, we’re looking at Simon Illyan. This time, things are leaving his head. It’s very dignified. Where these Kindle covers miss the mark, I usually feel it’s because they’re a little boring.

In the interests of giving credit where it is due, the Kindle edition isn’t as boring as this German cover, which features a character I have never even heard of before—who is this blond kid?—and which would also work as a cover for any story that has an army vaguely near it.

The Estonian cover, by Toomas Nicklus, looks like it was intended for a book about an airfield in the Second World War.

The Japanese cover is a beautifully rendered image of something that absolutely does not happen in the book. I’m including it because I think that might be Elli Quinn on the lower left. Given an opportunity to draw a physically fit brunette woman with stunning facial features, a shocking number of artists have opted to draw space ships or something instead. She’s on some covers of Ethan of Athos, and some covers of Brothers in Arms, and Esad Ribic put her on the back cover of Mirror Dance, although I was dismayed by his decision to focus on her torso. (I’m sure it’s a very nice torso, but that’s not what Bujold has described as her most notable feature.) In total fairness, that’s almost all of the books she appears in. This is her last personal appearance in the books, so it’s the last time there’s an excuse to put her on a book cover. I’m struggling with that.

I’m super-critical of all of these because I have fallen in love with the Czech version.

If Martina Pilcerova’s painting of Miles holding a knife to his throat is too pretty, it is because the drama and use of color draw on the pre-Raphealite movement. Pilcerova has also created a moment that isn’t precisely in the story, but she honors its emotional heart. Her Miles is like a sexy Hamlet. That’s not in the story either, but again, I think it honors its emotional heart.

 * * *

The first four chapters of Memory feature Miles making every possible mistake. He leads a combat squad rescuing a kidnapped ImpSec courier, has a seizure in the middle of the action, and cuts off Lt. Vorberg’s legs with his plasma arc. Elli Quinn was his second-in-command on the mission, but he didn’t tell her about his seizure issues before he became an emergency. He didn’t tell anyone in the upward portion of his chain of command either, because he didn’t want to be stuck in a desk job. He puts together a mission report that leaves out all mention of seizures because he still doesn’t want a desk job. He argues with Elli Quinn about it because she is a rational adult. Quinn very rightly points out that Illyan has agents in the Dendarii Fleet, and word is likely to get back to him. Elli’s tone in the scene suggests to me that she will send word herself if Illyan’s agents don’t. I agree with her—commanders with uncontrolled seizures should have the sense to run operations from a safe distance with appropriate backup. And, you know, to get their seizures under control rather than crossing their fingers and hoping the seizure fairy is busy elsewhere today.

Miles’s attitude in re the relative virtues of combat and desks has a longer history in popular culture. Captain Kirk also subscribed to the philosophy that taking a desk job was, in essence, giving up on life. Aral and Cordelia would have had Things To Say about this if Miles had mentioned it to them. Both of them did a lot of meaningful work after leaving the line. They might have sent Miles to have a conversation with Koudelka, whose nerve disruptor injury made him unfit for combat at what turned out to be the beginning of his career. I’ve referred to Kipling several times in the course of this reread, so I feel justified in pointing out that Kipling also said things about seizures, although in a very different context—“Epileptic fits don’t matter in Political employ” (“The Post That Fitted,” 1886). It’s a decent poem, with fascinating ironic relevance to a book where a character ruins his life by trying to pretend that he’s not epileptic. You should read it, if you’re not familiar. The blog post will be here when you get back.

The poem’s discussion of romantic infidelity is also relevant to Memory’s early chapters. Miles is abruptly summoned home. Since he has lately argued with Elli, he brings Sgt. Taura as his bodyguard. He’s still sleeping with her. Miles has many excuses for this; He and Elli have never made vows or promises, his relationship with Taura predates his one with Quinn.

Yeah, nice try. If you have to hide one partner from the other partner, lest someone feel aggrieved and betrayed, you’re not being fair. And Miles isn’t being fair to Taura either. He’s Taura’s knight in shining armor, but only when they’re alone, and not anywhere near Barrayar. Miles is desperate to find any woman in the universe who he can bring home to Barrayar, as long as that woman isn’t Taura. I could live with that—Barrayar can barely accept Miles and Mark—if Miles spent a single second’s emotion on the fact that Taura probably would take on Barrayar if he asked her to, and it would be a horrible waste of her short and precious life. They do have a nice dinner. There are a lot of dinners in this book, even in the first four chapters.

On his return to Vorbarr Sultana, Miles delivers his doctored report to ImpSec Headquarters and finds Illyan away. He’s sent home on leave, but told to hold himself ready to report on short notice. This begins an idle section where Miles tries to sort out independent adulthood outside the context of his personal mercenary fleet; Miles starts doing ordinary things. He runs into Duv Galen in the elevator and exchanges greetings. Duv is seeing someone. How nice. Miles goes home to Vorkosigan House and notices that the gate guard is keeping a cat. Miles gets a little drunk. Miles goes to the corner store and buys cat food and TV dinners—Barrayaran TV dinners come with exclamation points. The shopkeeper accuses Miles of being a bachelor. Miles and Ivan find some people to invite to one of the Emperor’s parties. These are such fun slice of life moments, this little calm in the eye of Miles’s storm.

Remember in The Vor Game, when Miles found a man dead in a drain pipe? That was shortly before Miles faced a moment of decision that had serious consequences for his military career. Somewhere in the course of that book, Admiral Naismith stuffed Lieutenant Lord Miles Vorkosigan in a closet. In these first four chapters of Memory, the Lieutenant has escaped and kiled Admiral Naismith. It wasn’t staged as dramatically as Killer coming out and kicking Baron Ryoval in the larynx. The Lieutenant started plotting this murder shortly before he got over his cryo-revival amnesia and Naismith hasn’t yet discovered his own corpse.

This blog post would not be complete without mention of Elena and Baz Bothari-Jesek, who have left their lord’s service to pursue parenthood and civilian life. Elena is expecting a girl. Miles declined to be a complete idiot about it, which was clearly a struggle for him. The Koudelka daughters also get a mention, foreshadowing the significant roles they will play in this book and in A Civil Campaign.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

Posted by Sweepstakes

The Name of the Wind 10th Anniversary Edition

We want to send you a copy of the 10th anniversary edition of Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind, available October 3rd from DAW! Two lucky readers will each win a copy of the book, and a poster of the new cover art.

My name is Kvothe.

I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.

You may have heard of me.

So begins a tale unequaled in fantasy literature—the story of a hero told in his own voice. It is a tale of sorrow, a tale of survival, a tale of one man’s search for meaning in his universe, and how that search, and the indomitable will that drove it, gave birth to a legend.

This deluxe, illustrated anniversary hardcover includes more than 50 pages of extra content!

• Beautiful, iconic cover by artist Sam Weber and designer Paul Buckley
• Gorgeous, never-before-seen illustrations by artist Dan Dos Santos
• Detailed and updated world map by artist Nate Taylor
• Brand-new author’s note
• Appendix detailing calendar system and currencies
• Pronunciation guide of names and places

Comment in the post to enter!

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States and D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec). To enter, comment on this post beginning at 3:30 PM Eastern Time (ET) on September 25th. Sweepstakes ends at 12:00 PM ET on September 29th. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor:, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.

posted by [syndicated profile] tordotcom_feed at 07:00pm on 25/09/2017

Posted by Robert Kondo, Dice Tsutsumi

Life in Sunrise Valley is tranquil, but beyond its borders lies certain death. A dangerous black fog looms outside the village, but its inhabitants are kept safe by an ingenious machine known as the dam. Pig’s father built the dam and taught him how to maintain it. And then this brilliant inventor did the unthinkable: he walked into the fog and was never seen again.

Now Pig is the dam keeper. Except for his best friend, Fox, and the town bully, Hippo, few are aware of his tireless efforts. But a new threat is on the horizon—a tidal wave of black fog is descending on Sunrise Valley. Now Pig, Fox, and Hippo must face the greatest danger imaginable: the world on the other side of the dam.

Based on the Oscar-nominated animated short film of the same name, The Dam Keeper is a lush, vibrantly drawn graphic novel by Tonko House cofounders Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi—available September 26th from First Second.



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Posted by

Following the sad news of Kit Reed’s death yesterday at the age of 85, the community of science fiction and fantasy readers, fans, editors, and authors have made it clear how much she will be missed, expressed grief at the passing of a legend and celebrating an extraordinary life and career. Jen Gunnels, Reed’s editor at Tor Books, penned the following tribute to the author:

Several years ago, I met Kit Reed for the first time at the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts. It was… an intimidating moment. I mean, Kit Reed. She was the most gracious, elegant, suffer-no-fools woman I had ever met, and I adored her for it. Over the years, we became better friends, and when I stepped in as her editor after the death of David Hartwell, we started the editor/author relationship. It was all too brief.

Kit was old school in all the best ways. Meet with an editor? Then it had to be at the Algonquin, that famous hotel where the Algonquin Round Table met—the literati like Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, and others shared drinks and barbs and molded literary culture. She would fill me in on literary news in a manner that Dorothy Parker would have approved. She was much like a fairy godmother—if fairy godmothers knew EVERYONE in the book circles, swore like a Teamster, and carried herself like that bullet proof broad from a noir novel. I think that this would have pleased her to know.

While we’ve lost a writer who helped pioneer the genre for women, she has left us with an ongoing legacy in her work and with her approach to young talent—authors and editors alike. So, remember her by raising a glass and saying something insightful and biting and clever. She’s really only gone just around the corner.

Tor editor Marco Palmieri tweeted a recent noir-ish photo of Reed, writing:

Elsewhere, Reed and her work have been celebrated with an outpouring of tributes by many of her fellow authors:

Finally, calling Reed “a brilliant giant of science fiction,” Cory Doctorow penned a touching tribute on BoingBoing, which you can read in full here. As he notes, those who wish to honor her memory with a donation can do so by donating to the Alzheimers’ Walk of Greater Los Angeles in her name, to 826 National or another writing program, or to a cancer charity like Cancer Research. Clearly, Reed’s impact on the field of SFF, her kindness toward and support of other writers, and her impressive body of books and stories will continue to inspire all of us—friends, fans, and strangers alike—for years to come.

Posted by Judith Tarr

I’m glad my whim and the vagaries of my bookshelves brought me to ’Ware Hawk after The Gate of the Cat, though it was published earlier (1983 versus 1987) and falls earlier in the chronology of the Witch World books as well. It was no problem to move back in time to a period soon after Trey of Swords, years after the Witches of Estcarp moved the mountains against Karsten, and this is a much better book. I can mercifully forget the adventures of—who was that again? What adventures?

Ah. Relief.

Here we have a collection of classic Norton tropes: a mismatched pair of misfit humans, a battle between Light and Dark, interfering Old Ones, a quest through death and beyond, and of course, a geas.

Norton loves a geas. Character or characters driven by forces beyond their control? Compulsion so strong they can’t resist? Unseen and unknown Powers manipulating humans like pieces on a gaming board? That’s your standard Witch World plot. The Old Ones even recycle. Here we have Ninutra again, the neutral force of Trey of Swords (Ni-Neutral? Get it?).

This time she’s messing with the last (or so the character thinks) scion of a noble house of the Old Race in Karsten, driving her through dreams and visions to return from exile to the ruins of Hawksholme and claim a mysterious and dangerous artifact. What makes this particular version of the trope rise above the rest is the quality of the characters.

When Norton’s characters are on, they really are on. Tirtha does Strong Norton Female exceptionally well. She’s tough, trail-wise, smart, and while she’s geas-bound, she works actively to make it happen. She’s not a passive instrument. She embraces her destiny.

Part one of her plan, as far as the novel goes, is to hire a guide through the broken mountains to Hawksholme. The single candidate at the hiring fair is another exceptional character: a one-handed, falconless Falconer, whose name, we eventually learn, is Nirel. (Falconers, like the Witches they notoriously loathe, keep their names to themselves.)

Nirel is an interesting person. We only see him through Tirtha, and she sees him through a filter of assumptions about Falconers. They’re clannish, secretive, and ferociously misogynistic. She’s not even sure this Falconer will agree to work for her, and is surprised when he does.

She continues to be surprised as they travel together through the dangerous terrain of this world. Like several characters before him, he happens across a mystical weapon, a dagger that clearly is not meant for use as such, but has magical powers—and he doesn’t shy off it as Tirtha expects: Falconers hate magic, she’s been taught. He uses it early and often to protect them and to find their way. Late in the story we learn that it has a long history, and its name is Basir’s Tongue.

The dagger brings Nirel another and possibly even more precious gift: a hawk named Wind Warrior. Or maybe it’s the other way about: the hawk reveals the dagger to Nirel. We learn a great deal about Falconers and their birds. Men and hawks communicate in bird language, the birds have their own clans and leaders, and individual birds make a conscious choice to bond with a man.

What we don’t get from Nirel is any genuine hatred of Tirtha as a woman. She keeps expecting it and assuming it, but he serves her loyally and will not let her dissolve their bargain before the expiration date. When that date gets closer, and Tirtha has told him the truth about her mission, he voluntarily extends his service indefinitely.

By that point it’s quietly clear, though not to Tirtha, that Nirel doesn’t hate her at all. Quite the opposite. It’s subtle, understated, and far from explicit, but a glance here and an action there tells us that his feelings for her have developed and grown. If he ever really did hate women, he certainly learns not to hate this one.

Tirtha is much slower with her own emotional arc, but she has an awful lot on her mind. She doesn’t have time to worry about matters of romance. She’s busy being geas-bound, questing for the place of her dream, and dealing with a band of enemies who are also looking for the magic box—and one of them is a Power of the Dark, named Rane as we discover, which further ups the ante. When she finally makes it to the box and takes possession of it, she’s pretty thoroughly convinced that she’s dead and her spirit is haunting her body, which holds the box in a literal death grip. It’s not until somewhat later, when Nirel also is presumed dead, that she starts to recognize her feelings for him.

As Norton romances go, this is as good as it gets. It’s mostly hints and glances, but they add up. The conclusion actually feels like the culmination of a believable arc. I was ready for it and I cheered when it happened.

Even Nirel’s transformation from dour warrior to happy young man in love makes sense in context. We don’t get any of his internal progression from doubly maimed Falconer to willing Lord of the Hawk, but we see just enough of it to deduce the rest.

This being a sequel to Trey of Swords, we actually have a trio here (and if we happened to miss it, it’s pointed to in so many words later in the book). The third member of the fellowship is an unusual character for a Norton novel.

We first meet him as a child driven catatonic a by horrific attack on the walled farm compound he lives in. And not only catatonic—magically invisible. It’s the hawk who finds and is able to see him. The humans rescue him by feel, and Tirtha, who keeps insisting (with various degrees of frustration) that she has no major witch powers despite being of the Old Race, has enough healing power, assisted by Nirel, the hawk, and the magic dagger, to make him visible and bring him out of his catatonia.

His name is Alon, and he’s older than he looks. Sometimes he seems much older. We never learn who or what he really is, except that he’s probably at least part Old One, his powers are enormous but he doesn’t know much about them yet, and he was brought to the farm by a Wisewoman named Yachne.

Yachne is a loose end here. All through the rest of the story we keep getting hints that she disappeared before the attack on the farm, she found Alon somewhere and had plans for him, and she may be following him now. But she never shows up, and we never find out what’s going on there. Alon helps a great deal with the finding of the box and the defeat of Rane, but he drops out of the story after that, and there’s no closure except Tirtha’s observation that he has more to do in this life. If that sequel was planned, I don’t think it ever hapened, unless there’s a short piece somewhere.

He’s a lively and intriguing character while he is on stage. There’s always the danger he’ll slip into catatonia from terror again, but when he does seem to do that, it becomes evident that he’s feigning it in order to keep his enemies off balance. When he’s not a captive, he’s an interesting combination of child and ancient creature of power. Both Tirtha and Nirel feel very protective of him, but are also in awe of his capabilities.

For quite some time the story seems to be about Tirtha finding Hawksholme and the magic box, and fighting Rane and his human allies for possession of it. When she finally claims the box, the plot takes a sharp turn. Nirel is apparently killed, the hawk is maimed and transforms into one of Ninutra’s supernatural birds, and Tirtha commits suicide by ingesting poison—but remains conscious inside her moribund body.

Because the body won’t release the box, and the one bandit who tries to take it meets a fate no one will specify except that it’s horrific, she’s hauled off, box and all, out of the ruined castle and into Escore. Rane, it seems, has a plan, and that involves using the box to ramp up the power of the Dark in Escore.

But Ninutra also has a plan, which she has been orchestrating for years. Tirtha is not the only one of the Hawk’s blood to have been called by geas. Before they meet Alon, Tirtha and Nirel find the body of a man of the Old Race who wears the lord’s ring of Hawksholme, but Tirtha doesn’t recognize him. He carries a scroll in a magically secured container, which Tirtha eventually manages to open, but none of the fellowship can read it.

To keep the theme of threes going, there’s one more Hawk pulled into the quest: a half-Sulcar man whom Tirtha knew as a child. Rane and company capture and torture him, and force him to help them capture the box—attached to Tirtha, but since she’s dead, there’s nothing she can do about it.

Ninutra, however, is still in control. She guards Tirtha with the Shadow Sword, and eventually we meet the human woman who won it in Trey of Swords: the Wisewoman Crytha, along with her companions, Uruk the ancient axeman and Yonan.

I think Norton had a thing for Yonan. He shows up all over the place in the late Witch World books. Here he’s the same person, more or less, that he was in Trey of Swords, though not nearly as conflicted about being the reincarnation of an ancient adept.

The three of them help Tirtha and Alon and a badly wounded but still living and ferociously determined Nirel to wield the box, fulfill Ninutra’s plan, and defeat Rane and company. They all end up in what we can presume is the Green Valley, though the most we see of it is the magic mud that we encountered in the Tregarth series.

I knew that was coming as soon as I realized they were all headed for Escore. Tirtha turns out not to be dead at all; what she thought was a poison was a powerful paralytic drug. She did break her back and suffer other agonizing injuries, but the mud takes care of that.

It really takes care of Nirel and the hawk, who gets his own body back when Ninutra is done with him. The hawk grows a new foot, and—even more miraculous—Nirel grows a hand. And they’re all healed and healthy and happy and together, though Alon is off somewhere denying us closure.

This was a satisfying read, page by page. Loved the characters. Didn’t find the standard endless quest narrative as annoying as usual—it moved along fairly quickly, it had a point to it, and there was that twist after Hawksholme.

Even the standard weird dream-sequences worked for me, and traveling for a third of the book with a character who thought she was dead was actually interesting. We could only know what Tirtha knew, with her very limited vision and her frequent lapses into comae. It could have been frustrating but it was rather intriguing—a bit of a tour de force in unreliable narration.

I enjoyed it. It actually made up for the slog of The Gate of the Cat.

Next will be the last of the Witch World novels on my list: Horn Crown. Then we’ll move on to another Norton universe.

Judith Tarr forayed into the Witch World with a novella, “Falcon Law,” in Four from the Witch World. Her first novel, The Isle of Glass, appeared in 1985. Her new short novel, Dragons in the Earth, a contemporary fantasy set in Arizona, was published last fall by Book View Cafe. In between, she’s written historicals and historical fantasies and epic fantasies and space operas, some of which have been published as ebooks from Book View Café. She has won the Crawford Award, and been a finalist for the World Fantasy Award and the Locus Award. She lives in Arizona with an assortment of cats, a blue-eyed dog, and a herd of Lipizzan horses.

Posted by Liz Bourke

It is difficult for me to write this review without simply gushing READ THIS NOW. (But seriously: read this now.)

It’s true that I have been a fan of Ann Leckie’s work since first reading Ancillary Justice, and that Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy only deepened my appreciation for Leckie’s ability to tell a story. The Imperial Radch trilogy impressed a lot of people, as witnessed by the array of awards and award nominations it took home. But after such a successful debut—after such a lauded debut trilogy—there is always going to be a question when the author moves on to something new. Can the next book live up to the quality of what has gone before while breaking new ground? Or will they spend their career telling different versions of the same story?

The answer, in Leckie’s case, is Provenance, which is every bit as good as her previous work and very different in theme, tone, and approach. Provenance takes place in the same universe as the Ancillary books, but outside the Radchaai sphere of influence. Hwae is a small planet-nation of limited importance to anyone except its inhabitants and near neighbours. Unlike the Radchaai, the people of Hwae have three genders (and consequently three sets of pronouns, she, he, and e) which young people choose between as one of the signs they have become adult. Hwaeans ascribe immense social and cultural importance to relics, which play a significant (and legitimating) role in their culture and politics. Those politics revolve around important families (and/or the very wealthy) who periodically must run for election. People in these families frequently adopt or foster children from less-well-off crèches, but it seems that only one child can inherit their parent’s name and position. This is certainly the case when it comes to Ingray Aughskold’s mother, Netano Aughskold. In order to impress her mother and show up her elder brother, Ingray has come up with a brilliant plan. A plan so brilliant it doesn’t go off the rails until oh, just before Provenance begins.

Ingray paid to get a criminal out of prison, on Tyr Siilas station, in order that she can convince said criminal to tell her where e put the Hwaean relics that e was convicted of stealing. (Her plan did not include any inducement for e to tell her other than “asking nicely.”) Unfortunately, the criminal arrives in a suspension box—essentially in stasis—which she did not expect. She further did not expect Captain Uisine, the ship-captain she hired to get her and her cargo home, to refuse to take a person who isn’t awake anywhere without them being woken up and asked if they were quite all right with being shipped off to strange places. And she certainly didn’t expect the person who wakes up from suspension to completely deny being Pahlad Budrakim, the criminal who’s central to Ingray’s plan.


This is where the complications begin. Murder, fraud, and an obsessive ambassador from the alien Geck (one of the few Geck ever to leave the Geck home system) who believes that Captain Uisine’s ship was stolen from the Geck and refuses to be persuaded otherwise all come into play. So does a political dispute among Hwae’s neighbours, which is about to spill over—is in fact in the process of spilling over—onto Hwae itself.

Ingray is a delightful main character. (And a very different one from Breq.) Ingray is really quite a young adult, with the grasp of second- and third- order consequences commonly found among first-year undergraduates. Ingray makes many of her plans, at least at first, based on the assumption that people will act in the way that she imagines they will act. When they don’t—when they react to Ingray in a completely different fashion—Ingray is frequently left scrambling to catch up, bereft of a backup plan, until she stumbles across something that works (more or less), or is backed up by her ability to make friends—or at least find people who feel sympathetically inclined towards her—in unusual places.

The Geck are interestingly strange, and have a very different social organisation than any of the human societies Leckie has written about to date in the Imperial Radch universe. (The only Radchaai in the book is the ambassador to the Geck. An ambassador in a posting she never wanted, that no one cares about, to a people who mostly ignore her. She’s kind of hilariously rude and give-no-fucks: she wants to go home and drink tea, but that’s not going to happen for her.)

As Ingray convinces the person she thought was Pahlad to work with her to at least embarrass her brother, she learns that Pahlad can’t lead her to the relics. E can only tell her a truth about them which, if it got out and was proven, would have a destabilising effect on Hwaean society.

Of course, then the people with guns happen.

Part coming-of-age story, part murder mystery, part political thriller, and part exploration of questions of memory, meaning, and cultural identity as represented by physical relics of the past, Provenance is an extraordinarily good book. Tightly paced and brilliantly characterised—as one might expect from Leckie—with engaging prose and a deeply interesting set of complicated intersecting cultures, it is a book that I loved, and one that I expect to read again.

It’s remarkably fun, really good, and has a strikingly satisfying conclusion. Very well recommended.

Provenance is available September 26th from Orbit Books.

Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, is out now from Aqueduct Press. Find her at her blog, where she’s been known to talk about even more books thanks to her Patreon supporters. Or find her at her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council and the Abortion Rights Campaign.

Posted by Alter S. Reiss

“Getting the archaeology right” doesn’t actually matter that much when it comes to fantasy. The fact is, when it comes to secondary worlds, a lot of the absolutely basic assumptions don’t make any sense. Why are there people in this world, whose history—whose natural history—is so different from ours? If dragons and elder gods and all that were around for hundreds of thousands of years, why are the horses and carrots and stews and pie in that world exactly the same as ours?

Once you’re willing to swallow that horses are the same despite gryphon-related predation pressures, why strain at faceted diamonds a few centuries too early?

Even if something is set in an actual time and place, the sort of mistakes that archaeologists notice don’t matter that much. Writing about anything—mainly horses and guns, but really, anything—will upset people who know the subject well, but there are very few works that fail artistically because they annoyed experts.

Nobody can do all the research about everything, and specificity works better than generalities, even if the specificity is wrong, because most readers aren’t going to notice things that are wrong. Provided it’s not wrong in well-known ways—for one reason or another, readers are able to accept “hello” in a pseudo-medieval setting but will reject “okay,” even if those words were both later coinages. Potatoes in medieval Europe will be rejected, while orange carrots are accepted, although those were introduced at about the same time.

And even though people might notice a subset of blatant anachronisms, even those aren’t necessarily going to actually cause them to fall out of the work. There are lots of people who are annoyed by the potatoes in the Lord of the Rings, but that’s seldom sufficient to cause them to reject the work as a whole.

There are a couple of things that archaeology can do, though. One of the pleasures of reading fantasy is seeing people in situations that are greatly different from our own, and seeing how people did things in pre-modern times is a short-cut to differences of that sort.

In one of my early manuscripts, which is deservedly never going to see the light of day, I had a bunch of convict laborers being taken out to a work site. And I had them brought there by ox-cart. The reason why I did that was because I had the default assumption that when people are going long distances, they go in vehicles. It was set in olden times, so they had an old-timey vehicle, but I didn’t look hard enough at the default assumption. Prisoners wouldn’t have gone in a cart—they’d have walked. Getting the precise details of a 12th century ox-cart right doesn’t matter nearly as much as noticing whether or not there’d be an ox-cart there in the first place.

Similarly, there’s a tendency when writing in pre-modern settings to have people cooking in iron pots or skillets. Iron is old-timey, it’s not too different from what we use now, good enough. But the fact is, right up until the industrial revolution, for every iron cook-pot that’s been excavated, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of clay cooking vessels. And glazed cooking vessels come in relatively late, and are relatively uncommon.

There are a lot of reasons not to make cooking vessels out of clay. Ceramics are excellent insulators, heavy, likely to shatter if dropped, and will occasionally explode when heated. In addition, unglazed pottery is porous. Those pores retain flavors and fats from everything that gets cooked in them; when that fat goes rancid, the pot will taint everything cooked in it. But the reason why pottery was preferred over the conductive, resilient, and much less explosive iron was because people could throw pots in their spare time. Not that every single person living in pre-industrial society could manage that, but it was a sort of common adult skill—a bit like being able to set up a wireless network, or change the oil on a car.

That isn’t to say that there need to be more scenes where the stalwart heroes have their pots explode because of thermal shock (though I’ll admit, I’d like that.) But before machines did more of the heavy work of mining and refining and fashioning tools, people had a different relationship to their tools, and a glimpse of that in a story can go a long way.

Close attention to ancient material culture can cause dozens of similar insights into different ways people used to interact with their world. Light, let’s say. Oil lamps are a pretty common find, as are amphora used to transport and store olive oil. And using one of those lamps tells you that those lamps don’t give that much light.

Modern lighting is amazingly clean and bright, which causes the default assumption that if the light is on, you can see things. Oil lamps, or tallow candles, or even medieval fireplaces, simply didn’t give that much light. And when lamp oil was coming from overseas, and was also one of the best sources of calories available, people didn’t burn any more than they needed, not unless they were extremely wealthy. So there’d be a little bit of light; just enough to do let them see what they wanted to see, and no more than that.

There are similar things that could be mentioned about food storage, about the shapes of storage vessels, about the differences between dirt floors and stone floors, between ancient sheep and modern sheep, and so on, and so on.

Which is what archaeology does have to offer. Getting things wrong doesn’t necessarily matter. But getting things right, even just one or two small things right, can convey an authenticity that will carry the weight of any number of wrong assumptions.

History gives some of the same benefits for fantasy, as well as things that archaeology can’t offer. But history is what people who lived in those times thought was worth writing down. They had their blind spots, the same way we do; if all that survived of the culture of the 21st century were some histories, and a few novels and screenplays, it would be hard to figure out how we interacted with our wifi networks. Fiction that was based on those histories and novels might get some things right—it might get a lot right. But looking at the material culture could help people understand things about our lives that our history books don’t discuss.

This article was originally published in September 2015.

Alter S. Reiss is the author of Sunset Mantle as well as an archaeologist and writer who lives in Jerusalem with his wife Naomi and their son Uriel. He likes good books, bad movies, and old time radio shows.

Posted by Jane

Oracle’s Moon by Thea Harrison $ 1.99 From the Jacket Copy: As a second daughter, Grace Andreas never had to worry about the intrigues of the Elder Races. But when her sister, Petra, and her husband are both killed, Grace inherits the Power and responsibilities of the Oracle of Louisville, ... more >
posted by [syndicated profile] wwdn_feed at 05:05pm on 25/09/2017

Posted by Wil

I spoke with John Moe about my mental illness for his podcast, The Hilarious World of Depression:

Wil Wheaton was a child star in Stand By Me, a regular on Star Trek: The Next Generation as a teenager, and has been trying to figure out his role in show business for a long time since then. He was dealing with the pressures of fame and the fickle tastes of Hollywood, all while dealing with a chemical imbalance in his brain that made him prone to anxiety and depression. Wil’s better now thanks to medication, but despite his long IMDb page and regular work on The Big Bang Theory, his hit YouTube show, and a thriving and varied career, he sees himself primarily as a failed actor.

It’s a good show, as they say. Go give it a listen.

posted by [syndicated profile] dailykitten_feed at 04:44pm on 25/09/2017

Posted by Tom "The Kittenmaster" Cooper

Please join me in remembrance for our Star Kit for today, Cleo. She was 16 years old from California.


Miss Cleo died a few weeks ago. She was 16 and lived a long, full, loving life. She was the sweetest and most protective cat I’ve ever had. Such a sweetie pie. Very independent and yet very loving. One for the cuddles if she trusted you (and if she was tired :)). I remember when I was a kid that my brother and I would go on walks and she’d follow us to make sure we were OK and safe. Cleo was an indoor cat for a little while because we (my mom, my brother, and I) were afraid she’d get hit by a car. She managed to push out window screens in order to get out to the free world. She was a character. <3. She loved us all so much, especially my mom. She knew who took care of her. We all did, but my mom was special because she was a mama to the kitty mama of the house. Cleo always came running when she heard the sound of our car pulling up to the house. She had a little bell on her collar so we could always hear her coming. I loved and still love her.

Posted by Emily Asher-Perrin

As a human being, it is odd to try and calculate where you “exist.” There are philosophers who argue about this very issue constantly. But if you’re an artificial intelligence, there is a verifiable place where you are. And that place, be it a positronic brain or a handful of code or a weird red box, is likely capable of being transferred to another location. Which means that your “body”—your physical casing—is not necessarily a limitation. But what does it mean to be able to exchange, renew, or even completely alter your body?

The real question becomes whether or not you have a say in that change… and why.

When it comes to science fiction, robots and artificial intelligence are often fixed entities. They are bound to a specific place (like a computer) or they have a body that belongs to them (or belongs to the organic being that owns them… which is a conversation for another time). But being bound in such a way is not a guaranteed permanent state of being for many A.I.s, and when that is the case, it often becomes a question of will and autonomy.

Battlestar Galatica, Cavil

One of the more complex iterations of this idea can be found in the reboot of Battlestar Galactica and its prequel series, Caprica. The Cylons developed on Caprica were initially used to do work for humans, even fight their wars. But the sentient Cylons were tired of doing humanity’s work and had developed a taste for war, and also wanted organic forms of their own, so they decided to go to war with their creators. As the war raged, the Cylons managed to develop a Cylon/human hybrid, but they couldn’t manage to create a completely organic Cylon. That’s when the Final Five Cylons (created on the ancient Kobol and colonists of the Thirteenth Colony, Earth) found their Centurion kin and offered to help them create organic bodies in exchange for an Armistice with humanity. The Cylons agreed.

That peace did not turn out to be lasting, but it highlights many questions of bodily autonomy where artificial life is concerned. The robotic Cylons wanted organic bodies as a way of usurping their creators; they wanted the ability to decide what form they could take and how they would interact with the outside world. The Final Five offered them that ability and more; Cylons had the ability to “download” into another body if the one they were occupying was destroyed. But that’s not the only thing that makes the Cylon system fascinating. The truth is that most of the Cylons—including the Final Five—are manipulated by the first Centurion given an organic form, called John or Cavil. He erased the Final Five’s memories of their origins, and planted them among humans in hopes of convincing them that the species deserved to be wiped out. Then he planted many of his own brother and sister Cylons among humans as sleeper agents.

So here we have an example of an A.I. abusing the system by which he and others like him are kept alive for the purpose of fulfilling his own agenda. He does not permit other Cylons the will to control their own bodies, instead deciding for himself how he would prefer them to run. This includes the ability to “box” and “unbox” Cylons who are giving him trouble, like switching off a crock pot and sticking it in a cupboard.

Autonomous by Annalee Newitz also considers the role of bodily autonomy as it applies to robotic life. The title of the book itself is the term for a robot that has been freed of their indentured servitude contract by the company that paid for their creation. But until they achieve that autonomous stature, a robot’s body is not their own. Paladin, who has a form reminiscent of a bird, has a conversation with a friend named Fang, and finds out that Fang has had several bodies; one like a flying bug, one like a tank, one like a snake, and finally a mantis. When Paladin asks what happened to those bodies, Fang explains that it is easier for the Federation that they both work for to port an existing robot into a different body for special uses.

In this instance, it is humanity that gets to decide what body a robot should have. We also decide when we get to change that body. It makes sense to pose this question in a science fiction narrative as it pertains to A.I., as it is a question that we often have a hard time parsing out on a human level as well; parents frequently assert control over the bodily autonomy of their children by deciding what they can do with their hair and clothes; plenty of jobs have rules about tattoos and piercings and footwear and hemlines; people can lose rights over what they are allowed to do to their bodies with one simple vote. In the world of Autonomous, humans have extended that control to robots, and that control is so absolute that we can dump a consciousness in a different body without a second thought.

Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy has another way of dealing with the personification of artificial intelligence, as Radch military ships have a sort of hive intelligence with individual ancillaries that carry out their orders. Breq, the central character of Ancillary Justice, is just a piece of the hive mind of the starship Justice of Toren, originally known as ancillary One Esk Nineteen. When the ship itself is destroyed, Breq finds herself on her own and looking for vengeance. But she also has a deeper question to ask—who is she, exactly? Her memories are part of a whole that no longer exists, and she was accustomed to being piece of a greater consciousness. While a body has uses, Breq is now cut off from her larger sense of self, and must now exist in her current body alone. She doesn’t get a say in that change either, similar to what the A.I. in Autonomous are subject to.

But what about the ones who do get a say? A wonderfully layered example of that can be found in an unlikely place—Jeph Jacques’s Questionable Content webcomic series. From the start, the QC world always contained a variety of A.I. lifeforms in just as many shapes and sizes. But later on it was revealed that these robot pals have the ability to change their physical forms completely through a set of updated “chassis”—provided they have the funds to do so. Martin’s buddy Pintsize never bothers to change his form, simple as it is, because he prefers it. But there are several A.I.s who have updated their bodies, or asked for upgrades. The first to make a change was Marigold’s companion Momo, who starts off in a body that resembled a cute child’s doll. She later makes it known that she would prefer a nicer body, and gets upgraded to a model that is surprisingly lifelike because Marigold wants to do something nice for her friend. Momo has a hard time accepting such an exorbitant gift, but works to pay for her own needs and help out.

Questionable Content, Momo

Art by Jeph Jacques

But the price is too dear for some—Dale first meets an A.I. named May because she’s working as a holographic interface for an early-release program from prison. It is later revealed that she was imprisoned for embezzling money so that she could download herself into a fighter jet. Later on, May receives a body that is provided by the government on her release, but it’s shoddy and continues to fall apart on her. Hannelore is responsible for her robot pal Winslow, and upgrades him to fancy new chassis as well, coming from a rich family that can do so easily. In this way, the QC universe makes economic status a barrier to robots having what they want and need, the same way it’s a barrier for humans.

In Star Trek, some of the artificial lifeforms also get their say, such as when Data makes the choice to integrate his emotion chip; after he is given autonomous rights in “The Measure of a Man,” the android’s ongoing journey is one of self-discovery. It culminates in the choice to install an emotion chip that was left to him by his creator Noonian Soong, after many years of keeping it tucked away. The experience is briefly overwhelming for Data, but he finally learns to manage his emotions (via the ability to turn the chip off and on at will, in fact) and is able to complete that step toward human experience that had long been his goal.

Star Trek: TNG
The concept of bodily autonomy for robots is an interesting and expansive topic that ends up covering a lot of philosophical ground about identity, servitude, perception, and equality. It is a deeply relevant topic these days too, as we move farther into a future where we rely on technology and must ask questions about autonomy and personal freedom. Robots and artificial intelligence are an excellent prism for the myriad of questions piling up on our collective doorstep.

Emily Asher-Perrin would also like to be able to upgrade her chassis. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

posted by [syndicated profile] ao3_news_feed at 11:43am on 25/09/2017

OTW 10th anniversary history

You just might, especially if you have good search-fu!

This is how it will work:

  1. Answer the five questions we have listed below. Only one entry per person
  2. Submit those answers to our Communications Committee. (Put "OTW Trivia" in the Subject line)
  3. Let us know what name or pseudonym you'd prefer we use when we announce the winners.
  4. We can't guarantee you'll receive a particular prize, but you can include your top 3 choices in order of preference.

Please do NOT post your answers in a comment.

In 72 hours we will be reviewing all the submissions and randomly selecting 10 winners from all the correct responses we receive. If we do not receive enough correct responses to qualify for the prizes we will include entries with 4 correct answers, or 3 correct answers, etc. until we have 21 winners.

Winners will be notified by email and have 72 hours to provide us with a mailing address for us to send their prize to. We will ship internationally, so everyone can participate. But if we do not hear back from you within that 3 day time frame we will be randomly choosing another winner in your place. (Please check your spam folders!)

What are the prizes?

For our 10th anniversary we will have 10 prizes. Four of these prizes were generously donated to us for this event by author Tamora Pierce! These are autographed hardback copies of her Song of the Lioness series. You will be able to choose from Alanna: The First Adventure, In the Hand of the Goddess, The Woman Who Rides Like a Man, or Lioness Rampant.

In addition we have:

  1. A Season 3 DVD set of Supernatural autographed by Ghostfacers, Travis Wester and A.J. Buckley (NTSC format)
  2. An OTW logo pen
  3. A copy of the book The First 28 Years of Monty Python
  4. A copy of the book Buffy the Vampire Slayer Watcher's Guide Volume 1
  5. 2 OTW stickers and a temporary tattoo for each of our projects
  6. A large totebag advertising the services of wizard detective, Harry Dresden (in black, 51 by 40 centimeters/20 inches by 16 inches)

But there's more! Since we made our anniversary announcement the folks at First Second Books got in touch with us and offered an additional 11 prizes. These are graphic novels and they will ship them directly to the winners. The titles are:

  1. Castle in the Stars, by Alex Alice
  2. Spill Zone, by Scott Westerfeld and Alex Puvilland
  3. Cast No Shadow, by Nick Tapalansky and Anissa Espinosa
  4. Compass South, by Hope Larson and Rebecca Mock
  5. Pashmina, by Nidhi Chanani
  6. Foiled, by Jane Yolen and Mike Cavallaro
  7. Shattered Warrior, by Sharon Shinn and Molly Ostertag
  8. Tetris, by Box Brown
  9. Spinning, by Tillie Walden
  10. Exquisite Corpse, by Penelope Bagieu
  11. The Prince and the Dressmaker, by Jen Wang

Ready to play? Here are your questions:

  1. In 2014 Naomi Novik testified for the OTW before who (specifically) about why fair use was important to fans?
  2. So far, among the archives Open Doors has imported into the AO3 have been two specifically for non-English fanworks. What are they called?
  3. What challenge did Fanlore issue to visitors and users in March 2011?
  4. On what day in 2009 was the first AO3 News post made that shared stats with graphs about the site's growth?
  5. In what issue of Transformative Works and Cultures did an article appear about the history of the anime music video in Western fandom, and who was the author?

This post will be updated when the contest is closed, and we'll announce the winners. Good luck!

The Organization for Transformative Works is the non-profit parent organization of multiple projects including Archive of Our Own, Fanlore, Open Doors, Transformative Works and Cultures, and OTW Legal Advocacy. We are a fan run, entirely donor-supported organization staffed by volunteers. Find out more about us on our website.

Posted by Keith DeCandido

Let us discuss a new Star Trek that people have to pay for instead of watching for free. One in which the Klingons have been completely redesigned, one in which the technology looks completely different from what we would expect, as do the uniforms—all without a word of explanation. One in which one of the main characters has to reconcile human and Vulcan values. And one in which the production was fraught with behind-the-scenes difficulties.

I am, of course, talking about Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979.

Nothing changes, and it’s amusing that there’s been so much fulminating on the Internet about things that Trek has done before. Both Enterprise and the Bad Robot movies have given us time periods before the original series that, nonetheless, have technology more advanced than what we saw on TOS. (Hell, take out the warp drive and transporter and the original Enterprise was less technologically sophisticated than a modern Manhattan office building.) The Klingons have been redesigned more times than I can count, starting with the complete revamping of them in The Motion Picture, and the discrepancy wasn’t even acknowledged for another 17 years (in DS9’s “Trials and Tribble-ations” in 1996), and not actually explained for another nine (in Enterprise’s “Affliction”/”Divergence” in 2005).

But this is not the first time Star Trek has switched to a pay model rather than a free one, since everyone had to shell out their $2.50 for a movie ticket to see The Motion Picture 38 years ago. This is not the first time they’ve gone backwards rather than forwards in the timeline. This is not the first time they’ve gone with a hip, new way of watching television, as nobody was doing first-run syndicated dramas in 1987, but The Next Generation paved the way for a renaissance in the 1980s and 1990s of such shows, which only petered out due to the growth of the FOX network, the rise of the WB and UPN (later merged into the CW), and tons of cable stations starting to produce their own original programming rather than just reruns of other people’s. For all those complaining about CBS All Access, that service was going to happen no matter what, and it’s a sign of CBS’s confidence in Star Trek that they are using it to try to get people to subscribe to it.

(I’ve also been amused listening to people complain about continuity violations that aren’t. Complaints, for example, about other ships having the delta as their symbol, even though other ships had different symbols in TOS—except in the first season, all Starfleet personnel had the delta, cf. “Court Martial” and “The Menagerie.” The notion of other ships with different insignia wasn’t seen until “The Doomsday Machine,” and it’s something that was abandoned by the time the movies came around. Also Klingons don’t have cloaking technology—except, of course, the Klingon Empire doesn’t have it here, either, only the one ship does, and it’s unique. How could Sarek have a human ward and us not know about it, never mind that Spock wasn’t actually on speaking terms with his father when this takes place and it’s not like Spock ever talked about his family ever unless forced into it, cf. “Amok Time” and “Journey to Babel.” And of course the use of holography, which hasn’t been seen in prior Trek productions purely for budget reasons—they had a bit of it in first-season TNG, but had to drop it because the effects were too expensive. It was Gene Roddenberry himself who provided a good explanation for this back when the Klingons suddenly became bumpy-headed in 1979: they always looked like that, we just lacked the budget to show them looking that way. Ditto the technology…)

Enough of that, though, as all of this is ultimately irrelevant in comparison to the much more important matter: Is Discovery any good?

Yes. Yes, it is. It’s not perfect and has a lot of head-scratchers, but they’re obviously telling a single season-long story here involving the Klingons, and I’m definitely along for the ride.

Having said that, let’s get a few problems out of the way. First of all, I love that they’re using Marc Okrand’s Klingon language. The movies and early TNG used the Klingonese Okrand created for The Search for Spock pretty religiously, but with each spinoff, they moved further and further away, mostly just pulling harsh-sounding words out of their asses.

But just because you’re having Klingons speak their own language among each other doesn’t free you from the obligation of making it sound conversational. Chris Obi does the best he can as T’Kuvma, the person trying to unite the Klingon Empire in a war against the Federation, but his delivery is so labored, his speeches so long, that it grinds the episode to a halt every time he talks. Obi (who is excellent as Anubis on the other current series with Bryan Fuller’s name on it, American Gods) really would have been served better by speaking a language he’s actually comfortable in, especially since the Klingon makeup remains death on facial expressions, and the power of his voice is muted by forcing him to wrap his tongue around a made-up language.

The dialogue in these first two episodes is awkward in spots. Georgiou and Burnham’s landing party conversations at the opening have been blessed a little too aggressively with the exposition fairy, and Connor’s flight-attendant riff right before Burnham goes to check out the beacon isn’t nearly as funny as the script wants it to be. In general, the scripts are a bit of a mess tonally, no doubt a result of all the different hands on it, all of whom have “executive producer” as their title.

Also, must everything be underlit? I thought we got over this with Battlestar Galactica. The bridge of the Shenzhou is way way too dark…

Having said that, there’s some excellent stuff here. The relationship between Georgiou and Burnham is a strong one. It’s rare enough to see two women of color in this kind of mentor-mentee relationship, and I’m grumpy that we won’t get to see more of it except maybe in flashbacks. As it is, seeing a TV show not only pass the Bechdel Test, but also take the extra-credit portions of it, is a welcome thing, and exactly the sort of barrier Trek should be breaking. And also why I’m disappointed that, based on the previews, Burnham is going to wind up teamed up with a white guy, with all due respect to Jason Isaacs.

Still, the Georgiou-Burnham relationship is a good one, an interesting variation on the human/Vulcan dynamic that was such a pivotal part of the original series, as well as Voyager and Enterprise. Sonequa Martin-Green’s portrayal is delightfully nuanced, showing the Vulcan training, but still giving us the human emotionalism. She tries to use logic to convince Georgiou to fire on the Klingons, but Georgiou (rightfully) stands her ground. Now it’s possible—likely, even—that the massacre we get in “Battle at the Binary Stars” would have happened regardless. But the Federation is a nation of peace who will only attack when attacked first. Yes, the Klingons will respect a show of force. However, it’s obvious that T’Kuvma was going to attack no matter what.

(By the way, if you want to see more of the Georgiou-Burnham dynamic, pick up David Mack’s Discovery novel Desperate Hours, which goes on sale tomorrow, the 26th of September, and takes place during Burnham’s early days serving on the Shenzhou.)

As someone who has written a lot about Klingon history (and made some of it up, too), I’m fascinated by the political dynamics of the empire here. The reference to not seeing a Klingon in person for a hundred years indicates that the Klingons have mostly stayed out of galactic affairs since the last season of Enterprise (when the Augment virus led to some Klingons becoming smooth-headed, thus explaining the ones we saw on TOS), with occasional exceptions like the Battle of Donatu V (first referenced in “The Trouble with Tribbles,” and also mentioned here) and the attack that killed Burnham’s family. Internecine fighting among Klingon noble Houses is a story as old as the hills, but it’s one that fits with the Klingon history we have seen unfold on screen both chronologically before and after this storyline.

What I especially love is that we see the clash of cultures. Humans unwilling to fire first, but willing to fight back if attacked. Klingons who view “we come in peace” as an insult and a lie, for whom battle is all important, and to sue for peace the way of cowards and fools. Vulcans who let logic and science dictate their actions, and who view emotionalism as something to be overcome. That clash is what leads to a state of war at the end of “Battle at the Binary Stars,” as Georgiou’s human peace offering, Burnham’s Vulcan approach of firing first based on past evidence, and T’Kuvma’s personal mission of redemption-through-war all crash into each other and explode.

It’s obvious from the previews that finding their way back to peace, finding a way to reconcile these disastrously divergent POVs, will be the macrocosmic arc of the season, with Burnham’s redemption being the microcosmic one. I gotta say, it’s nice to see a Starfleet officer commit an act of mutiny and actually suffer for it. I also was highly amused by Burnham whipping out that old Trek standby of out-logic-ing a computer, in this case escaping the damaged brig before the force field died, only unlike when Kirk did it, Burnham’s logic actually made sense

These two episodes set things up nicely. The acting is uniformly strong. I’ve been a fan of Martin-Green since she appeared as an obnoxious boarding school student on a 2008 Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode, and she was also in the tragically short-lived NYC 22, and it’s good to see her take the lead here. I particularly like the flashbacks to her arrival on the Shenzhou, where she’s so very Vulcan (it reminds one favorably of Michael Dorn playing Worf as so very Klingon). Nobody ever went wrong casting Michelle Yeoh in anything—and hey, she even got a hand-to-hand combat scene!—as she imbues Georgiou with compassion and wit and effortless grace and wisdom. (Isaacs, who hasn’t been seen yet, has a lot to live up to following in her footsteps.) James Frain is excellent casting as Sarek (helluva lot better than Ben Cross, that’s for sure). And Doug Jones’s Lieutenant Saru is a delight, his earnestly snide commentary providing a nice dose of salt on the proceedings.

Doing this as a prequel may have been a mistake. Besides the technological issues, there’s also the fact that we know this war can’t go on too long because the Klingons had a cease-fire in place with the Federation in the early days of the original series—we know this because it was broken in “Errand of Mercy,” and another war would have started, but for the Organians shaking their fists and telling those kids to get off their lawn. Knowing the outcome is frustrating, and there’s really nothing in this story that requires that it take place in the 23rd century—the same basic story could have been told by doing what The Next Generation did so successfully three decades ago and jump the timeline by 80 years after the end of the Dominion War, Data’s death, and Voyager’s return home. The only thing we’d lose is Sarek as Burnham’s mentor, but so far there’s nothing about that character that requires it to be Sarek except for the nerdy continuity hit, and we’ve got plenty of those already.

Still, a prequel is what we got, and there’s a lot of story meat here: the war-vs.-peace dynamic, the redemption of Michael Burnham, the Klingon politics, and more. Can’t wait to see what happens next. Keep an eye on this space each week for reviews of each episode as CBS All Access releases them.

Keith R.A. DeCandido has written a metric buttload of Star Trek fiction, including 16 novels, 13 novellas, six comic books, seven short stories, and a coffee-table book, the latter being The Klingon Art of War. He’s also written about Star Trek for Entertainment Weekly, Star Trek: The Official Magazine, Outside in Makes It So, New Worlds and New Civilizations, and this very web site, including detailed rewatches of the original series, The Next Generation, and Deep Space Nine. His latest work includes the Orphan Black reference tome Classified Clone Report, the omnibus Marvel’s Thor: Tales of Asgard, collecting all three books in his trilogy starring Thor, Sif, and the Warriors Three, and short stories in the anthologies Nights of the Living Dead (co-edited by the late George Romero), Aliens: Bug Hunt, The Best of Bad-Ass Faeries, TV Gods: Summer Programming, Stargate SG-1/Atlantis: Homeworlds, and Baker Street Irregulars.