Posted by Fred Clark

One way to understand such boundaries of identity is to look at who gets kicked out, and why. Trying to figure out who is -- or who still is -- an "evangelical" is notoriously slippery and difficult. But it's far easier to determine who is no longer accepted within the group, and why.

Posted by Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer

We’re approaching the end of Brothers in Arms here, which means it’s time for the dramatic rescue sequence! Miles rescues Mark from the Komarran Underground, the Barrayarans, the Cetagandans, and the London police, then rescues Ivan from the high tide and Elli from a closet (actually a closet, not a metaphorical closet).

On an aesthetic level, I feel like two planetary governments, one resistance movement, a police force, and a mercenary company is a lot of moving parts to involve in a single rescue mission. In defense of Bujold’s work (though it doesn’t need defending), it’s a single night’s work, but not a single rescue. We’ve got four rescuees, three of whom are partially self-rescuing or who make major contributions to the rescue of others.

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.

Before I delve deeply into the rescue mission, we need to take a minute for a unicorn update: Earth is working on catching up to Cetagandan unicorn technology with the Unicorn Park (a division of Galactech Biotechnologies, the same company that made Miles’s cat blanket) in Wooten, Surrey. I know, from the tyramine discussion, that some of you live in the British Isles. If you stay there for 5-600 years, you’ll be able to take a train to the Unicorn Park! The Unicorn Park also has lions, which you will be able to feed. My first thought was that the park was feeding unicorns to the lions. Miles’s reaction was that he might be able to feed Ivan to the lions as a martyr. In fact, the lions eat protein cubes. Miles describes the unicorns as looking like a cross between a deer and a horse. He doesn’t mention whether their horns are shiny, which I think shows that he’s capable of overlooking the really important details.

My initial plan was to compare this rescue to Cordelia’s rescue of Miles, back in Barrayar. The critical elements in THAT mission involved:

  • A target: Miles
  • A team: Cordelia, Bothari, Drou, and Kou (stunned and dragged along)
  • A side-mission: Alys Vorpatril and Ivan
  • An agent on the inside: Kareen
  • An enemy: Vordarian
  • A decapitation
  • Lots of revelations about everyone’s character
  • Setting the Imperial Palace on fire

As his mother was before him, Miles is forbidden this mission; Destang sends him into orbit. Even his friends don’t understand why he wants to rescue Mark—he can easily have another clone made, and Ivan and Elli don’t care for Mark. Miles never considers leaving Mark behind—the most desperate option he considers is rescuing Mark without Ivan and Elli’s help. His hand is forced when Ivan is kidnapped from a horticultural fair—remember kids, civic events are dangerous! You might be there for light duty guarding the ambassador’s wife, or even just to pick up some galactic cultural polish, but assassins and kidnappers LOVE those shindigs. They’re target rich environments because they’re full of people like you. STAY HOME! Or go to the Unicorn Park. ANYWAY—Ivan, kidnapped.

We learn about Ivan’s abduction from Ser Galen, who says Miles has to come to the Thames Tidal Barrier to meet him or Ivan dies at 2:07. Miles negotiates to bring a second. Galen assumes he will bring Elli. Every time Galen says the words “pretty bodyguard” I want to punch him—He’s just so slimy about it.

Miles uses a comm link he failed to return when he left the embassy to contact Galeni, who Ivan turned his half of the link over to. Ivan wasn’t an entirely willing participant in Miles’s plan to keep a covert inside line to the embassy. He pointed out that his effort to get Miles back into the embassy incognito a few chapters ago is already a black mark on his record. It’s a black mark that has some company, from the time Ivan turned his desk around in Ops so Miles could read his secured comm console screen, and the time he held onto a souvenir nerve disruptor he picked up in a seemingly random encounter with the Ba Lura.

At this point, Ivan is technically the target of the rescue, with Mark as the side-mission and Galen as the enemy. Miles likes to mix things up, and he knows Galeni has some skin in the game, so he brings Duv to the rendezvous instead of Elli. Not having his mother’s disadvantages in re. political optics, Miles also arranges back-up on the ground from the Dendarii. And then, what with one thing and another, Mark kills Ser Galen, Miles gives Mark a credit chit for half a million Barrayaran Marks, Ivan is rescued from being drowned in a pumping station at high tide, and the Cetagandans try to kill everyone. Elli gets stunned and shoved in a closet, somehow, even though she wasn’t initially on the scene (she rappelled in), and Galeni has a berserker moment and takes down Lieutenant Tabor of the Cetagandan Embassy and a Cetagandan assassin in blue and yellow face paint. The effectiveness of Cetagandan covert ops would be dramatically increased if they ditched the face paint. Not all the time—just for special occasions.

My personal feelings about the complexity of this rescue mission are validated by Miles’s efforts to explain to his Dendarii backup how to contact the London Police, what to say, and what tones of voice to use while saying it. Usually, Miles seems to trust his troops’ initiative on issues like how to play-act to the cops over the phone (and also how to raise eighteen million marks, and what crucial pieces of evidence or other items to drop in the mail to a friend). His unwillingness to let them manage the relatively simple task of alerting local authorities to a firefight in their tidal barrier suggests that the situation is particularly critical.

How is my comparison doing? Water stands in for fire—that’s really what attracted me to the idea that the rescues might be parallel; It’s very poetic. There are some other similarities; Mark has a Drou moment when he realizes he’s capable of killing, combined with a Kareen moment when he kills Ser Galen. Galeni has a Bothari moment, although he doesn’t kill anyone, when he takes on the Cetagandans. Ivan becomes a side-quest. Cordelia’s rescue of Miles was about keeping her family (and her sanity) together. The immediate outcome here has Mark pursuing a life of doing whatever he wants because Miles feels strongly about Mark’s need to make some independent choices. Miles also recognizes that Mark hates him, which is very mature of Miles, really. I think it’s interesting to keep the idea of both of Cordelia’s sons being rescued in mind, even though efforts at direct comparison quickly become tortured.

Mark doesn’t get to leave until Miles has orchestrated a little meeting with the Cetagandans with both Lt. Vorkosigan and Admiral Naismith present. I wish Miles had waited just a little longer to let the Cetas explain what they thought was going on before pushing the clone story. He’s so invested in this rare opportunity to perpetuate his cover that he doesn’t know what his enemy thinks he’s covering up. Also, I suspect the Cetagandans of doing a lot of things, and I want to know what all the things are.

Bizarrely, everyone else gets to return to their status quo. The Ambassador requests that Galeni stay at his post. Destang goes back to Sector Headquarters and devoutly hopes he’s retired before the Dendarii come his way again. Miles and the Dendarii go off on a rescue mission in aid of Barrayaran interests. Ivan is still Ivan. I wish the ending acknowledged Ivan’s newly aggravated claustrophobia here, but it does not. Poor, neglected Ivan.

Next week, we move on to Mark’s fate in Mirror Dance! I will be tacking book covers, and possibly early chapters.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

Posted by John Scalzi

It begins thusly:

The new bed:

Which you may think looks quite a lot like the old bed, and you wouldn’t be wrong, in the sense that we did not swap out the headboard or bed frame. But those of you who are sharply observant and/or are creepy creepers might note the mattress is taller than it used to be. That’s because instead of a box spring underneath we now have a frame that raises and lowers the head and foot of the mattress when desired. That’s right, no longer do we have to sit up in bed on our own! Our bed can do it for us! Surely we live in miraculous times.

It was time to get a new mattress in any event. The last time we purchased one for this bed was 11 years ago, and it had gotten to the point where the “memory foam” had lost its memory entirely and both Krissy and I were getting backaches out of it. Once at the store and finding a mattress we liked, we decided to splurge a bit and get the motorized frame. If nothing else it will make everything weird for the cats. Which is its own benefit. Also, if it turns out that elevating the head of the mattress makes it easier to type, I may finally go full Grandpa Joe and never leave the bed at all. Note to self: Check Amazon for bedpans.

(Additional note to self: Really, don’t.)

And I got some saucy tweets out of it! Which, you know. Is its own reward.


([syndicated profile] tordotcom_feed Jul. 24th, 2017 06:00 pm)

Posted by Michael Johnston

The essence of a great science fiction or fantasy novel is the world. There, I said it. Feel free to disagree. But I haven’t fallen in love with a novel without first falling deep into the author’s imaginary world. So naturally it was the most extreme worlds that became my favorites. And in the hands of the best authors those unique worlds produced not only memorable places and stories, but fertile ground for things like social and political commentary as well. There is something to be said for taking things to their limits. In each of these novels the author has taken ideas about our humdrum world and pushed them to the extreme (as if I hadn’t already overused that word). In doing this, in seeing these exaggerated versions of our world, we are allowed glimpses of possible futures or of alternate versions of the present or even the past.

 

The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard

To grasp the significance of J.G. Ballard’s novel it’s important to remember that it was written in 1962 because it sounds like a novel that was written in the last few years. In fact, more than one book has been written in the last few years with a similar premise. The Drowned World was the first book I read in what I’ll call the “scientific expedition into an unknown world” genre. A kind of global warming has devastated the world. The polar ice caps are melted, flooding the northern hemisphere, transforming the land into something that resembles the Triassic period (now that’s extreme). But what’s truly great about The Drowned World is the way in which this transformation shapes and affects the characters. Our protagonist literally finds himself regressing into an earlier state, feeling more primitive and impulsive, devolved like his world. It’s a perfect of example of the interplay of character and environment and a keen commentary on the fragility of our society.

 

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

Here we encounter another world wrecked by flooding and eco-disasters, a world in which biological plagues wreak havoc on the population and strange, genetic experiments run wild (a population of feral Cheshire Cats). We are in the drowned world of 23rd century Thailand, a place that is powered (literally) by springs (check the title of the book). Food sources are controlled by vast global conglomerates (this one is just a fact of the modern world) and the last remaining seed bank is a treasure our protagonist will do anything to acquire. The Windup Girl might just be the future of agriculture or our present.

 

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

There is a point in the novel where the narrator, Genly Ai, wonders whether the peculiar nature of the people of Gethen—also known as Winter, the perpetually cold and snowy planet in Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness—are a product of the extreme environment or some sort of genetic experiment long ago abandoned. We never discover the answer. Rather, Le Guin’s novel is a meditation on the nature of the Gethenites’ sexual identity. See, the people of Winter have no fixed sex. They shift from male to female in a cycle and choose partners to suit their current sex. Our narrator is an envoy, a man from another world trying to make first contact with Gethen. He is ultimately thrown out by one faction, embraced by another, betrayed, befriended, and saved. The novel concludes with one of the more memorable segments in science fiction, a month’s long journey across a glacier that leaves Genly (male) alone with Estraven (alternately male and female). The two are trapped, isolated as they move across the ice. In this private world we confront the notion of what it is to be a man or a woman and how we define our relationship between the two.

 

Dune by Frank Herbert

Arrakis, also called Dune, is a planet entirely devoid of surface water, a desert from top to bottom. And everyone who lives there—the native population, the fremen—is entirely focused on conservation and desert survival. The desert of Arrakis is merciless, but it’s also the only place in the universe where the spice, mélange, exists. Born of sandworms, the spice is a kind of catchall mystical, pseudo-scientific, quasi-religious super drug. Control of the spice equals control of the empire. And the spice is born out of this extreme environment, as are its spice-consuming, blue-within-blue-eyed population, the fremen. These folk are the true children of the desert. Their stillsuits turn every man or woman into a walking ecosystem, a self-sufficient, recycling machine in stylish brown leather. There are a hundred different reasons to praise Dune, but it was the severity of Herbert’s depiction of desert life that most struck me when I first read it.

 

Solaris by Stanislaw Lem

Okay, I saved this one for last because Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris gets the prize for most extreme world. Solaris, the eponymous planet, contains only one living organism. The planet wasn’t populated by a billion life forms that rose out of the ocean, rather the planet-sized ocean became a single life form. As the novel opens we learn that scientist have already spent decades studying the ocean. Volumes have been written about it. Generations have studied Solaris, but the ocean remains a mystery. The people of earth are unable to communicate with Solaris and it’s not for want of trying. Even the planet wants to communicate with humanity. It creates grand structures and humanoid figures, using mimicry to attempt communication. It doesn’t work. Contact is never achieved. Solaris is about the limitations of our species. It’s about trying to understand something that is completely different from you. It’s a contemplation of what is alien and thus human as well.

 

Michael Johnston has always been an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy. He studied architecture and ancient history at Lehigh University and earned a master’s degree in architecture from Columbia University. Michael worked as an architect in New York City before switching to writing full time. He is the co-author of the YA Heart of Dread trilogy with his wife, Melissa de la Cruz. His new book, Soleri, is now available from Tor. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter. You can find him online at his website and on Twitter @MJohnstonAuthor.

...is here:

http://www.podcasts.com/live-from-the...

The interview starts at about 1 minute in, and runs about 30 minutes.

This was recorded on Day 4 of ConVergence, earlier this month. (Which seems longer ago than that, already.)

Ta, L.

posted by Lois McMaster Bujold on July, 24

Posted by Stubby the Rocket

Skybound Entertainment logo Skybound Books

Simon & Schuster’s Atria division is launching a new imprint: Skybound Books, a partnership between Atria and multi-platform entertainment company Skybound Entertainment, best known for the TV adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead. Skybound Books will focus on science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories.

Skybound will publish four to six titles a year, including original fiction and nonfiction as well as projects based on existing Skybound Entertainment properties. The company, founded in 2010 by Kirkman and producer David Alpert, has developed projects in the television, comics, gaming, digital media, and virtual reality spheres.

Michael Braff, formerly at Del Rey, has joined the imprint as senior editor, reporting to Skybound Entertainment senior vice president and editor-in-chief Sean Mackiewicz. Atria’s VP and EIC Peter Borland and senior editor Jhanteigh Kupihea will serve as editorial liaisons. Judith Curr, president and publisher of Atria, described the partnership as “an opportunity to build a publishing home within Atria for writers with bold, new voices and creative visions.”

“We are on a relentless search to find different ways to tell the stories from some of the most creative minds out there,” said Kirkman, who serves as chairman of Skybound Entertainment, “and Skybound Books imprint is a very important component of that endeavor.”

Posted by Alex Brown

Ray Electromatic, the robot hitman, is back in the latest entry in Adam Christopher’s pulpy murder mystery series, Killing Is My Business. It’s been a while now since Ada, his former secretary now boss who also happens to be a room-sized super computer, reprogrammed Ray from a run-of-the-mill metallic detective to a murderer for hire. Business is booming and the cash is piling up. Ray is eerily good at what he does.

Ada sends Ray on a cryptic stakeout, which leads to an even more cryptic hit and a series of increasingly convoluted and seemingly counterproductive cons, schemes, and shenanigans. The less Ada reveals, the more Ray suspects something’s up, and the deeper he’s pulled into the tangled web of the Italian mafia, Hollywood high rollers, and conspiracy coverups.

Killing Is My Business is the second full-length novel, and fourth entry in the series (there’s a short story prequel—available to read at Tor.com—and a novella between this and Made to Kill). Now’s an especially good time to at least check out the free prequel, since some of the overarching thematic elements there are mirrored in Killing Is My Business. You don’t absolutely have to have read any of the previous stories in order read the newest, although I highly recommend it. The whole kit and kaboodle is a ton of fun to read.

The story is set in a version of 1960s Los Angeles where robots were once all over the place but when the tide of public opinion turned against them, all but Ray were destroyed. Everyday Ada gives him a new case to work and a new person to off, and every night he comes back, takes out his 24-hour tape, and gets a fresh restart so that every morning he starts brand new with nothing but his template and Ada’s guidance to keep him company. Having a short term memory has its problems, though, and those problems are starting to compound.

Christopher channels more than just Raymond Chandler’s name. The Ray Electromatic Mysteries are alternate history mashed with mid-century B-movie science fiction and pulp fiction sensibilities, all tied together with a line of dark humor. With his fedora, overcoat, and shiny PI badge, Ray is a electronic Philip Marlowe. Christopher has a knack for atmospheric description and scintillating dialogue, and he’s rarely more fun than when he puts those skills to pulpy use. If Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett decided to take a crack at robot science fiction, they’d end up with something close to the Ray Electromatic Mysteries. Killing Is My Business is probably the least noir-ish of the robot noir series—it’s light on the hardboiled detective and heavy on conspiracies, secrets, and lies—but it’s no less entertaining.

Despite being a walking, talking computer, Ray is easy to get attached to. There’s just enough curiosity from his detective programming and remnants of his creator in him (his personality is based off a template copied from the dearly departed professor) to give him some spark. Raymondo may be a bunch of ones and zeroes, but he still has feelings and wants, albeit artificial ones. He’s a tin man with a heart. Ada is a lot more complex, but it’s hard to fault her when she’s simply doing what she was created to do—make money, that is—even when her prerogative gets people killed. If the series is headed where I think it’s headed, the confrontation between headstrong Ray and ruthless Ada will be striking.

As for the humans, they’re all pretty par for the course for a pulp detective novel. Mobsters, femme fatales, and hapless nobodies abound, but they all get just enough shading to be interesting on their own. The only thing this series lacks is diversity. Other than Ada, there’s only one woman, and the racial/ethnic diversity is equally as limited.

It’s hard to talk plot without getting into spoilers, but here’s the short and sweet. Ada takes a new case, one where Ray is hired to bump off an old Sicilian gangster but not before he’s befriended him and done some snooping around. Ray keeps getting new jobs to take out Hollywood elites, and they keep turning up dead before he can pull the trigger. The farther down the rabbit hole he goes, the more he uncovers, and the more men end up six feet under. No one is who they say they are, not even Ray. It’s a story full of twists and turns and backtracks and reveals, but it’s not really all that complicated, not when you get into it.

Alright, so there’s one more little thing I have to mention. In the 1946 film version of Chandler’s The Big Sleep, there’s this major plot hole where a chauffeur is killed and his car is dumped in the water, but we never learn who the killer is. When director Howard Hawkes asked Chandler about it, Chandler apparently replied “Damned if I know.” There’s a moment like that in Killing Is My Business where a character dies under suspicious circumstances but no one ever figures out whodunit. Intentional or not, I choose to believe it’s an homage to Chandler. Either way, it adds a little wrinkle to a larger mystery.

You need some weird, wonky fun on your bookshelf, and the Ray Electromatic Mysteries are just the thing. How can you say no to a Raymond Chandler-esque murder mystery books with a robot hitman protagonist? Just trust me on this.

Killing Is My Business is available from Tor Books.

Alex Brown is a teen librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.

Posted by Annalee Newitz

On a lazy evening in Regina, Saskatechwan, you can go to a bar called The Fat Badger, grab a beer, and put a little money into the jukebox if you want to hear an old country song about the prairies. Except the jukebox is my cousin, a soft-spoken guy named Marshall Burns, strumming guitar with his band The Alley Dawgs and singing as many classics as they know (and there are a lot). It’s the kind of thing you might have seen here 80 years ago. Or that you might see 180 years from now.

Two summers ago, when I was finishing the first draft of my novel Autonomous, I watched Marshall play and thought about the future. Back then he was at Leopold’s Tavern, and I’d come to the crowded bar with a bunch of family after a long dinner full of conversations about politics and art. This is the sort of thing we might do more often if there were an apocalypse, I mused. We’d gather in some communal shelter, after a day of hunting and gathering in the trashed wastes. Then somebody from our family would start to sing. We’d raise our voices too, to take our minds off the famine and plague and wildfires.

But it’s also the exact kind of thing we’d do in a Utopian future. Imagine us surrounded by carbon-neutral farms whose plants are monitored by sensors and satellites. Our brains would be crackling with ideas, thanks to government-funded science education. After a productive day in the fields and the labs, we’d gather at the co-op watering hole and sing our brains out in agrarian socialist solidarity. We’d all sound great too, because we’d have optimized our vocal chords with open source biotissue mods.

Maybe it sounds a little strange to say that Marshall’s old-fashioned songs gave me these vivid, contradictory images of the future. But I see the future clearly in these anachronistic moments. If we can still hear traditional prairie music in a modern city bar, then it’s a kind of guarantee that people of the future will still be listening to us. As Marshall sang, I could imagine distorted bits of my own culture still alive in a world utterly transformed by time’s passage.

That’s why, about a year later, I asked Marshall if he’d write a country song inspired by my novel for a book trailer. When he’s not being a human jukebox, Marshall is a professional musician and tours with indie rock band Rah Rah, so he took my request pretty seriously (also, he’s just kind of a serious guy). He thought the idea of writing a country song about a robot was pretty weird, which was exactly why I liked it. It represented that blend of past and future I’d seen in the Regina music scene, but also in lots of places on the Canadian prairies.

This is a province that has world-class universities and high-tech farming right alongside small towns with one-room schoolhouses. Go to a bar in Saskatoon, and you’ll find scientists and poets drinking alongside farmers and workers from the oil fields. I’m not saying the blend of tradition and modernity here is perfect—Saskatchewan’s indigenous people still suffer from the historical injustices of colonial conquest. Canada’s past haunts its future, reminding us of ongoing conflicts and unhealed wounds.

I wanted to capture all of that in Autonomous, which is about how the future comes to the prairies, still soaked in the blood of historical crimes. So when I commissioned Marshall to write the Autonomous song, I said something like, “Make it kind of sad.” What he created with this song about the robot Paladin—who is chasing our protagonist Jack Chen across the prairies where she was born—is both funny and sad. In its exaggerated twang you can hear the self-satire of prairie humor, always laced with genuine humbleness. And in its lyrics you can hear a protest against injustice that arcs through time, from the great 19th century Metis rebel leader Louis Riel, to the enslaved robots of Saskatchewan’s future.

Through Marshall, I met Regina filmmaker Sunny Adams, who created the amazing visuals for this video. Sunny animated a kaleidoscopic blend of images from Autonomous: there are scenes from the Saskatchewan prairies and the boreal forest to the north, as well as the science and robotics that are our protagonists’ lifeblood. There are a ton of Easter eggs, too; for people who’ve already read Autonomous, Sunny’s donut machine animation will be shiver-inducing.

What Marshall and Sunny created in this music video can’t rightfully be called a book trailer. Yes, it was inspired by my novel. But it’s also very much the product of their imaginations. It’s an example of what I like to call Canadian prairie futurism. It doesn’t pretend we can have a future without honoring and coming to terms with the past.

Though I have a lot of family whom I love dearly in Saskatchewan, I grew up in California. I’ve spent a lot of time on the prairies, but that’s not the same thing as being from there, living through dozens of those cold, dry winters. I’m very aware that my perspective is colored by my outsider status. Luckily the people of Saskatchewan are usually kind to outsiders. After all, you can’t just leave a person outside to freeze.

Plus, Canadian prairie futurism isn’t just about the prairies—it’s about how the future is taking place everywhere. Tomorrow doesn’t come just to the Tokyos of the world. It happens in Lucky Lake, Saskatchewan. It happens in a suburb outside Vancouver called Richmond. It happens in Tallinn and Samarkand, but it also happens on farms, and in countries that don’t make the G20 cut. Nobody is left behind by the future. But not all futures are exactly the same.

When you watch this video or read Autonomous, I hope it inspires you to think about how the future is a humble place. It’s a patchwork quilt made with what we’ve salvaged from the past. Some swatches are assembled from self-cleaning nanofibers; others will always be stained with the blood of a not-so-distant colonial past.

The pirate Jack and the robot Paladin are living in a future that is full of biotech wonders, but whose people still live in slavery. They don’t dream of spaceships like Luke Skywalker did. They dream of freedom from bondage. It is a humble dream. But maybe it’s the most audacious one.

Autonomous is available September 19th from Tor Books.

Annalee Newitz is an American journalist, editor, and author of both fiction and nonfiction. She is the recipient of a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship from MIT, and has written for Popular Science, Wired, and the San Francisco Bay Guardian. She also founded the science fiction website io9 and served as Editor-in-Chief from 2008–2015, and subsequently edited Gizmodo. As of 2016, she is Tech Culture Editor at the technology site Ars Technica. Autonomous is Annalee’s first novel.

Posted by Theresa DeLucci

So, taking the Iron Throne isn’t going to be as easy as striding into King’s Landing and demanding it, now is it?

This week saw some hard lessons for the ladies of Game of Thrones, just when it seemed they were going to be on top. (Exempt from this turnabout: Missandei.) Littlefinger’s gonna leer, Spider’s gonna keep swimming, and Theon’s gonna… Reek.

Spoilers for the currently published George R. R. Martin novels are discussed in the review and fair game in the comments. We highly suggest not discussing early preview chapters, but if you must, white it out. Have courtesy for the patient among us who are waiting and waiting (and waiting) for The Winds of Winter. Play nice. Thanks.

I suppose my brain is still too in the books, because I thought for sure the great “prize” Euron was planning on giving Cersei was a certain dragon-controlling horn. But, it’s probably more immediately pleasing for Euron to give his intended bride the Dornish snake-mom in open rebellion against the crown, who was also responsible for poisoning Cersei’s daughter.

So, even though I knew Euron’s haute couture fleet was out there somewhere, I was not thinking that he’d cross paths with Theon and Yara so soon. Even though parts of this episode felt a million years long. Time passes so strangely in Westeros.

But, while I still think it’s a bit unfair that Euron was able to pull off such a devastating ambush—watching four seasons of Black Sails has made me an armchair pirate—the sneak attack itself was terrifying and tense. Greyjoys gonna reave and rape. That last bit will be particularly concerning to Euron’s new captives, which most definitely include Yara and Ellaria, but also possibly Tyene? Please don’t make us watch.

I’m so conflicted; I hate Euron, but he killed 66% of the Sand Snakes, who I also hated. I used to be so pro-Greyjoy, but I am just not here for this swaggering kraken version of Euron. Euron is no Ramsay, who was no Joffrey. Euron’s not even a Viserys. At least Viserys provided a dramatic foil for Dany, so he served an important character function. It’s clear Euron’s going to be the new Big Bad of the season, fucking everything up for everyone with magical plot devices that I already hate. And the way they telegraph this fact is that Euron easily kills characters who, by rights, should be way more skilled in combat than him. Come on, I loathed the Sand Snakes, but it’s just insulting that they were taken out by such a Greyjoy.

A one-liner spewing Greyjoy, no less.

“Give your uncle a kiss.” I’d say this was the worst line in Game of Thrones history, but it came 10 minutes after Ellaria made a terrible innuendo about “foreign invasions” of Yara. Seven Hells.

Also rubbish? Cersei’s new anti-dragon defence crossbow. Okay, so I guess Dany’s dragons are Smaug now? What are the chances you can get that close to a direct hit on a dragon as it’s breathing fire down your neck? Cersei is so hilariously doomed.

Cersei doesn’t know it, but she can breathe a little easier on her throne for a few more episodes because Arya decided to go North once her bud Hot Pie (!) told her Jon is King of the North. It’s wild how there are people who exist in Thrones who know nothing about Jon Snow! I forget that. Arya’s whole demeanor changed.

Dany really doesn’t know Jon Snow and doesn’t seem open to the idea of a King of the North. But I’m sure after an initial meet-not-so-cute, she’ll fall under the spell of Kit Harrington’s curly hair and insane abs, like so many a woman, and all will be forgiven. I still think Dany is the Prince that Was Promised; Missandei correcting the translation of Melisandre’s prophecy was perfect. Dany may not wield a literal sword of light, but, what if she can control the arm who does? Everything else about Azor Ahai seems to fit the Mother of Dragons.

Meanwhile, Jon is not the best at inspiring confidence, which is why I have a hard time picturing him ultimately taking the Iron Throne at series’ end. King of the North, sure, but it’s clear his expertise is strictly in the North. He’s a war-time King, but not like Robert. While Dany may be naive to think she can so easily bring peace to the Seven Kingdoms, she’s more prepared for it and while I see some of that Targ madness creeping around the edges of her, she’s in battle-mode now herself. She needs to be the Dragon now, not a more nurturing mother. So, I agree with Olenna to an extent, but don’t want Dany to completely disregard clever men like Varys and Tyrion, either. As morally gray as both of these men are, I do believe they care more about the bigger picture of the small folk they want to govern.

Final Thoughts:

  • “That’s not you.” Nymeria! I loved that reunion scene. I loved how it echoed Ned Stark’s words to Arya way back when she was given a dancing instructor. You can’t domesticate a direwolf. Will Arya, like the Hound, ever be able to live a simple, domestic life after everything that’s happened to her? Will her encounter with her direwolf make her rethink her decision to go home to Winterfell? I sure hope not.
  • Last week, Game of Thrones ruined lentil soup; this week it’s chowder. Damn, the last two episodes’ editing was brilliant. But also I liked lentil soup and chowder.
  • Maybe there’s hope Jorah will live out his days in Dany’s Friendzone, after all, instead of a Valyrian leper colony!
  • Let’s put Littlefinger in a leper colony. Just, no. I’m glad Jon wasn’t going to take Littlefinger with him to meet Dany, but nothing good will come of him skulking around Winterfell with Sansa.
  • Oh, Theon. I was completely surprised but also not surprised that he chickened out on saving his sister, but it was definitely foreshadowed with Ellaria’s lame joke earlier in the hour. He will never be completely recovered from his trauma and I think that speaks to a certain mature delicacy of handling PTSD.
  • While Theon couldn’t find his courage, two other victims of years of systemic abuse as slaves took a great leap forward to confront their fears. I legit got a lump in my throat when Grey Worm talked about being afraid of Missandei and the vulnerability his love for her gave him, the bravest of the Unsullied. While this was the scene I felt went on a few beats too long—and the mature folks at my viewing party were annoyed that we never got a peek at what exactly was going on with Grey Worm’s worm because apparently it matters to some people—I’m going to give it a pass this time because I’m happy that these two finally got some sexy payoff. Isn’t it funny how Grey Worm did a Tyrion move without even knowing it? Now they really have something in common to discuss for a real conversation.
  • I got two takeaways from the Game of Thrones panel I managed to sneak into at San Diego Comic-Con: fans really love Gwendoline Christie and Varys looks SUPER WEIRD with hair. Watch the new trailer below:

Game of Thrones airs Sunday nights at 9PM E/PT on HBO.

Theresa DeLucci is a regular contributor to Tor.com covering TV, book reviews and sometimes games. She’s also gotten enthusiastic about television for Boing Boing, Wired.com’s Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast and Den of Geek. Reach her via raven or on Twitter.

Posted by John Scalzi

First: Which Beatles song was I thinking of? If you want to hear me sing it, here it is:

If you’d rather hear the Beatles sing it (which, to be fair, is probably the better choice) it’s here:

And for those of you who don’t wish to hear either version (or can’t, for whatever reason): It’s “I’ve Just Seen a Face.”

There were three of you who correctly picked the tune I was thinking of, and of the three, my random number generator (“Alexa, pick a number between one and three”) picked “one” and so the winner is Maudie, who was the first to suggest it. Congratulations, Maudie!

Remember that the signed limited hardcover of Don’t Live For Your Obituary is now available for pre-order from Subterranean Press. There will also be an eBook edition, but it’s not available for pre-order yet.

Thank you to everyone who entered! This was a fun one.


([syndicated profile] languagelog_feed Jul. 24th, 2017 02:51 pm)

Posted by Mark Liberman

Today's SMBC:

For a more complex but pointed analogy, see "The Pirahã and us", 10/6/2007.

([syndicated profile] charlie_stross_diary_feed Jul. 24th, 2017 03:07 pm)

History: is it about kings, dates, and battles, or the movement of masses and the invisible hand of macroeconomics?

There's something to be said for both theories, but I have a new, countervailing theory about the 21st century (so far); instead othe traditional man on a white horse who leads the revolutionary masses to victory, we've wandered into a continuum dominated by Bond villains.

Consider three four five, taken at random:

Mr X: leader of a chaotic former superpower with far too many nuclear weapons, Mr X got his start in life as an agent of SMERSH the KGB. Part of its economic espionage directorate, tasked with modernizing a creaking command economy in the 1980s, Mr X weathered the collapse of the previous regime and after a turbulent decade of asset stripping rose to lead a faction of billionaire oligarchs, robber barons, and former secret policemen. Mr X trades on his ruthless reputation—he is said to have ordered a defector murdered by means of a radioisotope so rare that the assassination consumed several months' global production—and despite having an official salary on the order of £250,000 he has a private jet with solid gold toilet seats and more palaces than you can shake a stick at. Also nuclear missiles. (Don't forget the nuclear missiles.) Said to be dating the ex-wife of Mr Y. Exit strategy: change the constitution to make himself President-for-Life. Attends military parades on Red Square, natch. Bond Villain Credibility: 10/10

Mr Y: Australian multi-billionaire news magnate. (Currently married to a former supermodel and ex-wife of Mick Jagger.) Owns 80% of the news media in Australia and numerous holdings in the UK and USA, including satellite TV channels, radio stations, and newspapers. Reputedly had Arthur C. Clarke on speed-dial for advice about the future of communications technology. Was the actual no-shit model upon whom Elliot Carver, the villain in "Tomorrow Never Dies", the 18th Bond movie, was based. Exit strategy: he's 86, leave it all to the kids. Bond Villain Credibility: 10/10

Mr Z: South African dot-com era whiz kid who made a fortune before he hit 30. Instead of putting his money into a VC fund he set his sights higher. By 2007 he had a tropical island base complete with boiler-suited minions from which he launched satellites and around which he drove an electric car: has been photographed wearing a tuxedo and stroking a white cat in his launch control center. Currently manufacturing electric cars in bulk, launching absolutely gigantic rockets, and building a hyperloop from Boston to Washington DC. Exit strategy: retire on Mars. Bond Villain Credibility: 9/10 (docked one point for trying too hard—the white cat was a plush toy.)

Mr T: Unspeakably rich New York property speculator and reality TV star, who, possibly with help from Mr X, managed to get himself into the White House. Tweets incessantly at 3AM about the unfairness of it all and how he's being persecuted by the false news media and harassed by crooked politicians while extorting fractional-billion-dollar bribes from middle eastern regimes. Has at least as many nukes as Mr X. Rather than a solid gold toilet seat, he has an entire solid gold penthouse. In fact, he probably has heavy metal poisoning from all that gold. (It would explain a lot.) Bond Villain Credibility: 10/10

Mrs M: After taking a head-shot, M was reconstituted as a cyborg using a dodgy prototype brain implant designed by Sir Clive Sinclair and parachuted into the Home Office to pursue a law-and-order agenda. Following an entirely self-inflicted constitutional crisis and a party leadership challenge in which all the rival candidates stabbed each other in the back, M strode robotically into 10 Downing Street, declared herself to be the Strong and Stable leader the nation needs, and unleashed the world's most chilling facial tic. Exit strategy: (a) Brexit, (b) ... something to do with underpants ... (c) profit? Bond Villain Credibility: 6/10 (down from 8/10 before the 2017 election fiasco.)

I think there's a pattern here: don't you? And, more to the point, I draw one very useful inference from it: if I need to write any more near-future fiction, instead of striving for realism in my fictional political leaders I should just borrow the cheesiest Bond villain not already a member of the G20 or Davos.

Posted by Judith Tarr

This part of the thought experiment is going to be tough, because if it was hard to set aside human assumptions about sex and violence, the ones about religion can be downright intractable. Just as it’s a given that sex must be an obsession and mass violence must be inevitable in a sentient species, it may be argued from the (Western, patriarchal) human model that every sentient species must worship some sort of god.

But is it a given?

When it comes to sex and war, we can observe equine behavior and extrapolate from it, but there’s no such evidence for belief in divine power. There’s no way to ask, and it’s not something we can deduce from behavior. Unlike dogs, who seem (to human eyes) to tend toward adoration of their human companions, horses maintain a certain distance. They may bond with a human, sometimes deeply, but it’s a partnership, a sense that each side meets the other halfway. Horses tolerate human behavior rather than try to emulate it; the human may join the herd, but the horse isn’t making an effort to join the human pack.

Herd order is a hierarchy, that much we do know, but it’s fluid and no one individual remains supreme. Age, illness, accident or predation will bring down the lead mare, and the lead stallion will eventually lose a battle and therefore his herd. He may die, or he may withdraw to a solitary existence, possibly with one or two mares who follow him when he goes. Or not.

(In one of those bits of synchronicity that often happens when a writer is at work, I just this moment received an alert about a study that concludes that there is in fact no totally dominant mare, and the stallion does not lead, rather he follows and guards the herd, rounds up stragglers, and generally acts to keep the group together. The overall order is remarkably egalitarian, and herd ranking is even more fluid than science had been led to believe. My own observation is that there are individuals with more confidence, who take the lead more often, and others who are more likely to give way, but again—it’s flexible. So: interesting, and hey, science!)

Would sentience bring with it the need to invent a god? There’s no way to answer that, but from what I know of horse behavior, I think probably not. But there might be other reasons for a religion-like structure to develop.

The purpose of religion in the cultures I’m aware of seems primarily to be behavioral control. Mandating some behaviors, forbidding others. Backing up the secular authority with the authority of a superior being or beings. Humans keep gravitating toward this, for reasons no one truly understands. Maybe it’s genetic, as that TIME magazine article supposes.

Belief in a god or gods might not happen in an equinoid society, but what we can postulate from terrestrial equine behavior is that ritual could definitely be a thing. Ritual might mark important events: raising and deposing stallions, embarking on or returning from enterprises, celebrating the birth of a foal, mourning the death of a herd member. It might also serve a more practical purpose.

Horses are creatures of habit. It’s a common saying among horsepeople, “If he does it twice, he’s always done it.” They like their routine and can become seriously disconcerted if it’s broken: a different route for the day’s ride, a pile of dirt that wasn’t in that corner before, a change in the feeding schedule, even something as seemingly minor as a different brush or a new halter. Change, a horse will tell you, is dangerous, and can be death.

That’s the prey animal in action. If something is different about the environment, there may be a predator involved. Since the horse’s best defense is flight, her first impulse will be to get the hell out of there. If it turns out not to be a Horseasaurus Maximus on the prowl for lunch, she can always circle back to what she was doing before.

Now, add to this that in confinement or under other forms of stress, horses can develop chronic behavioral problems such as pawing, weaving, pacing, or wind-sucking. Horses can manifest OCD, in short. They can get very, very focused and very, very ritualistic in their actions.

I could see ritual as a way of dealing constructively with these aspects of equine psychology. A “Fear is the Mind-Killer” ritual for panic attacks in new situations or when there are big changes in the environment. Desensitization rituals to prepare individuals or groups for travel or exploration. Even “de-rituals” for horses with OCD, to break them out of repetitive patterns and get them thinking in useful directions.

I think a lot of these rituals would be based on movement. Dance, if you will. Marches and quadrilles, whole herds moving in synchrony. Greeting and farewell dances. Mating rituals: stallions courting, mares accepting or rejecting.

Marriage, no, not in a polygamous species. But when a stallion wins a herd through ritual combat, he receives a formal welcome from the mares.

Do they invoke the Great Herd Goddess? Maybe not. But there is a clear connection among members of a herd. Horses are extremely sensitive to small shifts in movement, to changes in the air, to smell and sound but also to each other’s proximity. They’re energy beings to a high degree.

Acupuncture works on them, beautifully. So does Reiki, which a serious test of one’s modern Western skepticism. To watch a horse’s face just about slide off while a Reiki practitioner stands there with a hand half an inch from his neck is a very interesting experience. You can’t placebo a horse. Something is happening, and he’s showing it in clear and unambiguous ways.

So maybe, in a spacefaring equinoid, there’s a sense of the Great Overmind, the herd-connection that holds all the species together. Every individual is connected with every other. They’re singular selves, but also collective beings. The individual who separates permanently from the herd is regarded as a terrible deviant, and true solitude, the life of the hermit, is just about unthinkable.

Western-style religion in the sense of a moral framework might be comprehensible to an equinoid (though not the god part or the dogma part), but there are other practices that would make more sense. Consider that a horse only sleeps for about three hours a day. Her knees lock; she can sleep on her feet. She will lie down for short periods, up to forty-five minutes on the average, and she will go flat and even seem to be dead. She will dream.

The rest of the time she’s grazing, socializing, or dozing—or meditating. Meditation is a very horse-like thing to do. Being still or moving slowly, in rhythmic motions; existing in the moment, going deep inside or extending awareness all around one’s stillness. These are things horses do every day.

They make a meditation of dance, too. Air for them is like the ocean for a dolphin; their spatial awareness is acute, as it needs to be for an animal designed to function in a herd. A horse in motion for the sake of motion has an almost dreamlike expression, a deep focus on what his body is doing. Those big bodies are tremendously strong and balanced and athletic, and the minds inside them are very well aware of this. They take joy in it.

A human analogue would be yoga and similar practices. They’re not about gods or dogma, but about mind and body and their connection to the universe. A horse would get that. In fact I’m only half ironically convinced that my horses, especially the eldest one (she is very wise), are Bodhisattvas. They have that deep calm and that air of being at one with the world.

Imagine that in space. Would they proselytize? I doubt it. Horses tend to be self-contained; they don’t try to be anything but what they are, and I don’t see them trying to convince anyone else to be like them. But they would teach by example. Other species would want to join them, the way humans have managed to partner with horses through the millennia. (Sure, they’ve been indispensable as transport and as war machines, but the myth of the Centaur tells us a great deal about the subtext: that horse and human are one being.)

It’s an article of faith within the herd, that individuals have to get along. The group suffers otherwise, and loses its ability to fend off predators. I could see this extending to planet-wide herd relations, and proving useful in space. In a meeting of spacefaring cultures, the equinoids well might be the diplomats, the ones who make the connections, who smooth the way and resolve conflicts. And the dance performances would be amazing.

Judith Tarr is a lifelong horse person. She supports her habit by writing works of fantasy and science fiction as well as historical novels, many of which have been published as ebooks by Book View Cafe. Her most recent short novel, Dragons in the Earth, features a herd of magical horses, and her space opera, Forgotten Suns, features both terrestrial horses and an alien horselike species (and space whales!). She lives near Tucson, Arizona with a herd of Lipizzans, a clowder of cats, and a blue-eyed spirit dog.

Posted by Stubby the Rocket

Children of Time Adrian Tchaikovsky Arthur C. Clarke Award

Summit Entertaiment and Lionsgate Pictures will bring Adrian Tchaikovsky’s science fiction novel Children of Time, with its Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning imagination and its shudder-inducing sentient-spiders premise, to the big screen. A recent press release from Pan Macmillan announces that the film rights have been optioned.

“I couldn’t be happier about this,” said Bella Pagan, Editorial Director at Pan Macmillan. “Adrian’s fabulous book has been optioned by a fabulous production company with an incredible reputation.”

The official synopsis for Children of Time, which took home the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2016:

The last remnants of the human race left a dying Earth, desperate to find a new home among the stars. Following in the footsteps of their ancestors, they discover the greatest treasure of the past age—a world terraformed and prepared for human life.

But all is not right in this new Eden. In the long years since the planet was abandoned, the work of its architects has borne disastrous fruit. The planet is not waiting for them, pristine and unoccupied. New masters have turned it from a refuge into mankind’s worst nightmare.

Now two civilizations are on a collision course, both testing the boundaries of what they will do to survive. As the fate of humanity hangs in the balance, who are the true heirs of this new Earth?

Adrian’s more recent works include the fantasy trilogy Echoes of the Fall: The Tiger and the WolfThe Bear and the Serpent, and the forthcoming trilogy finale The Hyena and the Hawk, publishing in spring 2018.

Posted by Kelly Quinn

Something is happening in the anime fandom, and anime fans aren’t pleased.

If you’re someone who likes to watch anime, you may have been hearing the backlash against Amazon’s new channel, Anime Strike. The service has angered fans by snapping up exclusive licenses to many of the most anticipated shows and putting them behind a steep paywall. Meanwhile, this season sees Netflix continue its practice of exclusively licensing shows, then locking them away until they can release a season at time—long after the show has already finished airing in Japan.

Why does this matter? Both strategies effectively remove a show from popular conversation, and thus from the notice of a large portion of viewers. It’s a frustrating reversal of the increasing accessibility and reach that anime has enjoyed in the last few years under services like Crunchyroll, Funimation, and Daisuki. Rather than opening up the market, Amazon and Netflix appear to be shutting the door on old fans and new viewers alike. This is a trend I very much don’t love, especially since my most anticipated show of the season—Welcome to the Ballroom—is a victim of this new distribution regime.

With my Anime Strike tirade out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff. As always, I have watched as many of the summer season’s new offerings as I can stand, and picked just five of the best new shows worth your time. Yes, unfortunately many of them are on Anime Strike. But don’t let that stop you from enjoying what this season has to offer—a big helping of of fantasy adventure, a sweet romance, and, of course, ballroom dancing.

 

Welcome to the Ballroom

Tatara Fujita’s plan to get through school consists of keeping his head down and not giving bullies any reason to hit him. When he’s saved from a back-alley beating by a motorcycle-riding ballroom dance champion, Tatara is reluctantly roped into a trial class at the nearby studio. What starts as polite interest becomes a fascination—for the first time, Tatara finds something he wants to be good at, and he’ll do whatever it takes to get to the top.

Continuing the trend of anime about unusual sports (ice skating, anyone?), this sports show—yes, ballroom is a sport in this context—is this season’s must-watch title. Adapting a popular manga by Tomo Takeuchi, Ballroom has everything one might want in a sports show: a plucky underdog, an aloof rival, grueling training, and an incredibly infectious enthusiasm for its subject. The greatest challenge with this adaptation was always going to be the dancing, and so far the animation team at Production I.G. has done a stellar job with it. I really, really love this manga, and I encourage anyone who can stomach giving money to Amazon to check it out.

For fans of: Yuri!!! On Ice, Haikyuu!!, Yowamushi Pedal

Watch it now on Anime Strike

 

Tsuredure Children

Love is hard, especially when you’re a teenager. Tsuredure Children tells the loosely intertwined stories of young love, from the unrequited crush of a girl on her upperclassman to an unlikely connection between a school delinquent and the straight-laced student council president.

This warm, funny little romance show has been easily the most pleasant surprise of the season for me. An adaptation of Toshiya Wakabayashi’s 4-koma manga (that’s a four-panel comic, sort of like the manga version of a comic strip), Tsuredure Children is a half-length show, but twelve minutes is kind of the perfect dose of these quirky interactions. Not much more needs to be said here—the charms of the show speak for itself. Check it out when you want to feel warm and fuzzy.

For fans of: Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, Horimiya, Tanaka-kun Is Always Listless, Daily Lives of High School Boys

Watch it now on Crunchyroll (thank goodness)

 

Made in Abyss

Riko is training to be a Cave Raider, a group of elite explorers that probe the depths of the mysterious and dangerous Abyss. No one knows how the Abyss came to be, but expeditions have revealed rare magical artifacts and creatures unlike anything on the surface. After Riko’s life is saved by a strange mechanical boy in the upper levels of the Abyss, she is more determined than ever to descend deeper into the chasm. There, she hopes to find not just treasure, but also clues about her mother, a legendary explorer who went missing over a decade ago.

This fantasy adventure (based on a web manga by Akihito Tsukushi) has an old-school quality about it, feeling more akin to Nausicaa, Dennou Coil, or Hunter x Hunter than recent isekai offerings that ape JRPG-style fantasy worlds. It is already obvious that the strength of Made in Abyss lies in its worldbuilding—right off the bat, we are offered a magical, immersive, and lethal world begging to be explored. The first two episodes also reveal this to be a polished production, with an almost cinematic atmosphere and great attention put into small details and large, scary monsters alike. Abyss has definitely caught my interest, but proceed with caution—manga readers warn that the childlike character designs belie much darker content later in the series.

For fans of: Hunter x Hunter, From the New World/Shin Sekai Yori, Suisei no Gargantia, Patema Inverted

Watch it now on Anime Strike

 

Altair: A Record of Battles

Mahmut is a military and political prodigy, one of the youngest pasha in Turkiye’s storied history. When the powerful Balt-Rhein Empire accuses Turkiye of assassinating one of their foreign ministers, war between the two powerful nations seems inevitable. Mahmut is willing to do anything to prevent the conflict. But even if he can discover the truth behind the assassination, can he get the council of generals to believe him?

This historical fantasy, based on a gorgeous manga by Kotono Kato, mushes up 16th century Mediterranean history to create a rich world predicated on savvy political maneuvering and the constant threat of multinational war. As a fan of the manga, I am hopeful but not entirely sold on this adaptation so far. The first episode gets bogged down in flashbacks and passes over opportunities to streamline initial story arcs. The second episode, however, is much stronger, and I’m hoping that the show will hit its stride as the plot picks up. I am keeping an eye on Altair, and you should too—it’s not often that we get such an intricate fantasy set in this region of the world.

For fans of: The Heroic Legend of Arslan, Yona of the Dawn, Kingdom, Magi

Watch it now on (you guessed it) Anime Strike

 

Little Witch Academia

Ever since Akko saw a magical performance from celebrity witch Shiny Chariot as a child, she has dreamed of doing magic. When she’s admitted into Luna Nova Magical Academy, an all-girls school for young witches, Akko thinks she’s one step closer to her idol. But magic school isn’t as easy as it looks. Besides being the only student from a non-magical family, which makes her stick out like a sore thumb, Akko just can’t quite seem to get any of her spells right—or manage to stay out of trouble—no matter how hard she tries.

FINALLY, right? Netflix has at last released Little Witch Academia (well, at least the first half) from its holding pen and made it bingeable to the wider world. I’ve described this show previously as Harry Potter meets Saturday morning cartoons, and I still think that’s a pretty apt description. The colorful, witchy cast plus Studio Trigger’s madcap visual humor and taste for splashy action makes this a fun watch for all ages. This TV version gives us more plot and characters than did either of two shorts (Little Witch Academia and Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade), so buckle up for a bit more substance and lot more goofy magical adventures.

For fans of: The other two Little Witch Academia anime, I guess.

Watch it now on Netflix

 

Watch are you watching this season? Tell us in the comments!

Kelly Quinn is a children’s librarian and professional anime watcher. You can find her talking about excellent fiction and manga on Twitter.

Posted by Bruce Schneier

The US Army Research Agency is funding research into autonomous bot swarms. From the announcement:

The objective of this CRA is to perform enabling basic and applied research to extend the reach, situational awareness, and operational effectiveness of large heterogeneous teams of intelligent systems and Soldiers against dynamic threats in complex and contested environments and provide technical and operational superiority through fast, intelligent, resilient and collaborative behaviors. To achieve this, ARL is requesting proposals that address three key Research Areas (RAs):

RA1: Distributed Intelligence: Establish the theoretical foundations of multi-faceted distributed networked intelligent systems combining autonomous agents, sensors, tactical super-computing, knowledge bases in the tactical cloud, and human experts to acquire and apply knowledge to affect and inform decisions of the collective team.

RA2: Heterogeneous Group Control: Develop theory and algorithms for control of large autonomous teams with varying levels of heterogeneity and modularity across sensing, computing, platforms, and degree of autonomy.

RA3: Adaptive and Resilient Behaviors: Develop theory and experimental methods for heterogeneous teams to carry out tasks under the dynamic and varying conditions in the physical world.

Slashdot thread.

And while we're on the subject, this is an excellent report on AI and national security.

Posted by Victor Mair

President Xi Jinping is fond of calling on the Chinese people to "roll up our sleeves and work hard" ( qǐ xiùzǐ jiāyóu gàn 撸起袖子加油干 / 擼起袖子加油幹).  No sooner had Xi uttered this stirring pronouncement in a nationwide address at the turn of the year (2016-17) than it became a viral meme (here and here) that has inspired countless signs, songs, and dances; enactment; and also this one, presumably in a poorly-heated environment

Xi didn't just encourage people to roll up their shirt sleeves.  He himself famously rolled up his pantlegs:

"Why This Seemingly Innocuous Photo of Xi Jinping Is So Important:  A simple act of rolling his pants up — and holding his own umbrella — shows a president eager to show a common touch."

Matt Schiavenza, The Atlantic (Jul 23, 2013)

The picture, which shows Xi standing in the rain holding his own umbrella and with his pantlegs rolled up and looking very derpy, was taken by the official Xinhua News Agency during the president's trip to Wuhan, in Hubei province, in July 2013.  It might not seem like a particularly noteworthy photograph –- neither dazzling technically nor artistically framed.  But even when it was first released, foreign observers were surprised by the photograph, and it went swiftly viral on Chinese microblogging sites.  This image was particularly notable for the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement that arose during the Hong Kong protests of 2014 (see here and here).

Although, as is his wont with umbrella, pantlegs, steamed buns, favorite jacket, and so forth, Xi wanted it to come across as folksy, his choice of vocabulary and manner of expression put him on precarious ground.

In the first place, the normal, most common and straightforward way to say "roll up sleeves" in Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) is juǎn qǐ xiùzi 卷起袖子 / 捲起袖子.  Xi, however, used a Northeastern Mandarinism which has nuances that are just asking for trouble:

 

 

Liāo 撩 and lū 撸 are two of those mysterious "physical action" verbs with initial liquid and first tone in Mandarin — untraceable to Middle Chinese.  Someone must hav written about that. The topic has come up on LL: see this comment by Bill Baxter.

The word for "sleeve" (xiùzǐ 袖子), in this context, might also be thought by some to have unwelcome overtones, since "cut sleeve" (duàn xiù 断袖) is an old euphemism for male homosexuality.  It doesn't help that a synonym for xiùzǐ 袖子 ("sleeve") is xiùguǎn 袖管 (lit., "sleeve-tube / pipe / duct"), which invites one to think of lūguǎn 撸管 ("rub the pipe", slang for male masturbation).

Next comes jiāyóu 加油, which literally means "add oil / gas"), but which is a common cheer at sporting events and in other situations where people exhort others "to make an all-out / extra effort" (see here and here).

And then there is the monumentally problematic gàn 干 / 幹 ("do; fuck" — frequently confused with gān 干 / 乾 ["dry"]), with which long-term Language Log readers will be intimately familiar.

"The Etiology and Elaboration of a Flagrant Mistranslation" (12//09/07)

"The further elaboration of a flagrant mistranslation" (8/31/13)

(and many other posts)

Taking the last two elements together, jiāyóu gàn 加油干 ("add oil and do it") in this context makes one think of personal lubricants (rùnhuá yóu / jì / yè 润滑油 / 剂 / 液).  (Since we're at it — milestones in the history of lube branding include things like júhuā yóu / yè 菊花油 / 液, or in [faux?] Japanese kiku no eki [??] 菊の液, playing on the Chinese [and apparently also Japanese] chrysanthemum~anus metaphor.)

Xi's phrase in its original context (8:44):  notice the extremely heavy stress on the gàn 干 / 幹 ("do; fuck").

With all of these suggestive hints prompting him, it was inevitable that a snarky wit would do something salacious with Xi's dorky call to action.  Few, however, would have expected that the person who rose to the challenge was a ranking member of the CCP, Zhang Haishun, top official of the Bureau of Quality and Technical Supervision of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.  And he did it not once, but twice, after which he was promptly dismissed from office.

Here's how Zhang ridiculed Xi:  liāo qǐ qúnzi shǐjìn gàn 撩起裙子使劲干 / 撩起裙子使勁幹 ("life up [your] skirt and do it for all [you're] worth").  The story is reported (in Chinese) here and here, and here.

A picture and fuller account is provided by Radio France Internationale.

Notice how the news items focus on the impropriety or indecency of Zhang's words, and on how it violates Party discipline, perhaps by mocking Xi's motto and exerting a "bad influence".  I see no mention of how disturbing a call to "lift up skirts" during a meeting he chaired can be to any female (or skirt-wearing) subordinates. Even if he wears a skirt to work himself, his position of power makes participation in the skirts-up implementation he advocates sound non-consensual. That Bureau might not be the ideal workplace for such a campaign.

The fuller context of Xi's slogan is as follows:

`Zǒng shūjì hàozhào “ qǐ xiù zǐ jiāyóu gān”, wǒ jú yào rènzhēn luòshí! Yào “liāo qǐ qúnzi shǐjìn gàn”!'

「总书记号召『擼起袖子加油干』,我局要认真落实!要『撩起裙子使劲干』!」

"The General Secretary called for 'rolling up sleeves to work harder', which our Bureau [of Quality and Technical Supervision] must conscientiously implement. Time to 'lift up skirts for a hard shag!'"

Who is this Zhāng Hǎishùn 张海顺, so full of chutzpah?  I haven't been able to find any English language description of the man, but there's a brief Wikipedia article on him in Chinese.  From all that I can glean, he is 59 years old, a Han from Shanxi.  He went to Inner Mongolia as a rusticated youth and studied in Qiqihar. Zhang majored in Chinese, and it shows: he has now achieved international fame as a poet-official.

The "rolling up" doesn't have to stop at sleeves. Now that "sumer is icumen in", everyone's rolling up their shirts. Western commentators never tire of commenting on that (the "Beijing Bikini") (witness the Gray Lady), which Chinese metacommentators then metacomment on.

A Beijing Bikini makes you a half bǎng yé 膀爷 ("shirtless dude"), which of late has been eliciting some Puritanical backlash.

Courtesy of Jichang Lulu, here are half a dozen Tibetan translations of Xi's " xiù gàn 撸袖干" ("roll up the sleeves and do it") slogan, from various official-ish sources:

ཕུ་ཐུང་བརྫེས་ནས་ངར་ཤུགས་སྒྲིམས།
phu thung brdzes nas ngar shugs sgrims

ཕུ་ཐུང་བརྫེས་ནས་ནུས་ཤུགས་འདོན།
phu thung brdzes nas nus shugs 'don

ཕུ་ཐུང་བརྫེས་ནས་ཧུར་ཐག་བྱེད།
phu thung brzes nas hur thag byed

ཕུ་ཐུང་བརྫེས་ནས་འབད་བརྩོན་བྱད།
phu thung brdzes nas 'bad brtson byed

ཕུ་ཐུང་བརྫེས་ནས་འབད་བརྩོན་བྱས་ཏེ།
phu thung brdzes nas 'bad brtson byas (te)

ཕུ་དུང་བརྫེས་ནས་ལས་ལ་འབུངས།
phu dung brdzes nas las la 'bungs

All the translations agree on the qǐ xiùzǐ 撸其袖子 ("roll up sleeves") part (phu [th|d)ung rdze), although they use two different spellings for "sleeve". For the second part (jiāyóu gàn 加油干), there are many different interpretations: 'bring forth power/energy', 'exert oneself'….

In Mongolian (from PRC sources, both in traditional script for domestic consumption and in Cyrillic for ("Outer") Mongolia):

ᠬᠠᠨᠴᠤᠢ ᠰᠢᠮᠠᠯᠠᠨ (ᠴᠢᠷᠮᠠᠢᠢᠨ) ᠠᠢᠯᠯᠠᠶ᠎ᠠ
Qancui simalan (cirmayin) ajillay-a

Ханцуй шамлан хичээн зүтгэ[е]
Ханцуй шамлан гавшгайлан ажилла[я]

where again there's universal agreement on the rolled-up sleeves, but the second half can be "exert ourselves", "work" in some gung-ho way, or just "work".

[Thanks to Jichang Lulu, Melvin Lee, Meiheng Dietrich, and Yixue Yang]

([syndicated profile] slacktivist_feed Jul. 23rd, 2017 09:11 pm)

Posted by Fred Clark

"We're doing history, not theology," the professor said. That suggests that theology, as opposed to history, is an abstract, objective field in which ideas and arguments and doctrines somehow arise wholly independent of "what else is going on." It doesn't work like that. It never has and it never can.

Posted by Natalie Zutter

The Winds of Winter George R.R. Martin

George R.R. Martin’s most recent blog post, concerning release dates for his various “fake histories” of Westeros, also included an update for The Winds of Winter, the highly anticipated sixth volume in A Song of Ice and Fire. Although he had said in January of this year that he thought the book could be out in 2017, now it looks as if late 2018 will be the earliest that readers might be able to obtain Winds—perhaps even later than that.

First, Martin discussed The Book of SwordsGardner Dozois’ anthology featuring Martin’s new ASOIAF short story, “The Sons of the Dragon,” about Targaryen princes Aenys I and Maegor the Cruel. That led into an announcement about the first volume of Fire and Blood, a collected history of Westeros through the rule of House Targaryen:

Speaking of fake history… regulars here may recall our plan to assemble an entire book of my fake histories of the Targaryen kings, a volume we called (in jest) the GRRMarillion or (more seriously) FIRE AND BLOOD. We have so much material that it’s been decided to publish the book in two volumes. The first of those will cover the history of Westeros from Aegon’s Conquest up to and through the regency of the boy king Aegon III (the Dragonbane). That one is largely written, and will include (for the first time) a complete detailed history of the Targaryen civil war, the Dance of the Dragons. My stories in DANGEROUS WOMEN (“The Princess and the Queen“) and ROGUES (“The Rogue Prince”) were abridged versions of the same histories.

Here’s where the dates in question come into play. Martin said that the first volume of Fire and Blood is likely to be released “in late 2018 or early 2019.” (The second volume is a few years in the making, as its contents, spanning Aegon III to Robert’s Rebellion, are mostly unwritten.) Then he shared an update that he was still writing Winds—with good days and bad—but that it might have a similar timeframe for release:

And, yes, I know you all want to know about THE WINDS OF WINTER too. I’ve seen some truly weird reports about WOW on the internet of late, by ‘journalists’ who make their stories up out of whole cloth. I don’t know which story is more absurd, the one that says the book is finished and I’ve been sitting on it for some nefarious reason, or the one that says I have no pages. Both ‘reports’ are equally false and equally moronic. I am still working on it, I am still months away (how many? good question), I still have good days and bad days, and that’s all I care to say. Whether WINDS or the first volume of FIRE AND BLOOD will be the first to hit the bookstores is hard to say at this juncture, but I do think you will have a Westeros book from me in 2018… and who knows, maybe two. A boy can dream…

And that’s all we know.

via io9

Posted by Emily Asher-Perrin

Doctor Who Christmas Special, Twice Upon A Time

The trailer for the upcoming Doctor Who Christmas Special has arrived, and with a lovely title, too: “Twice Upon A Time.”

And look who it is! Mark Gatiss! (Maybe the Brigadier’s ancestor? Definitely possible….)

So happy that Bill will be back to see the Doctor off properly. And to see more of David Bradley as the First Doctor! And… is that Polly? Bringing back Ben and Polly (companions to the first Doctor) would be a fascinating move. Set your calendars for Christmas, everyone….

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