Posted by Emily Asher-Perrin

Valerian and the City of the Thousand Planets

It has been 20 years since the debut of Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element. That windup rainbow world of artifice and hodgepodge captured many viewers and left the world wondering why Besson refused to make more space opera movies when he clearly had am incredible knack for the genre. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets was to be an answer to that silence, and a pointed one too; the decades-running comics series that the movie sprang from is one that Besson drew heavily from in creating Fifth Element.

Safe to say, when Besson said in interviews that he rewrote the entire script after seeing Avatar, we should have known what we were in for. (Avatar, for all its visual innovation didn’t exactly deliver on expert dialogue or intricate story subtleties.) As a result, despite the gorgeous settings and architectural hodgepodge that Besson excels at, Valerian fails utterly where it needs most to fly. How the story fails still manages to be an interesting exercise, particularly looking back at Fifth Element, which Valerian is so inextricably tied to.

[Spoilers for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets]

You have to begin with the strangest puzzle piece in the film’s assembly: the casting. It’s impossible to tell how old Valerian (Dan DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are supposed to be, but the actors look like teenagers, and don’t act much older, unless we’re meant to believe that DeHaan’s faux-deepened “action hero” tenor is convincing by any measure. The narrative tells us that Valerian and Laureline and excellent and experienced operatives for the government roughly five centuries in the future, but there is nothing present in the story to truly convince us of this point; the duo routinely screw up and can’t seem to manage a mission without flirting both awkwardly and irritatingly, which is clearly supposed to be a plus somehow in their rapport.

Which brings us to Valerian’s greatest problem and central conceit—the plot revolves around the idea that Valerian is a galactic sex machine (he has an encyclopedia of women he as rolled around with, which he and Laureline call his ‘playlist’ for some godawful reason) who doesn’t believe in longterm relationships, but find himself in love with his partner. She insists that he only wants what he can’t have, but he asks her to marry him, and the question of whether or not she’ll say yes is what the audience is meant to follow with rapt interest throughout a story that has much bigger fish to fry. There is one gaping problem with this: Valerian is an unlikable crapsack. I cannot think of a nicer way of putting it, and what’s more, he’s not merely unlikeable… he also only has about half of a personality to begin with. The only things we hear him talk about are being good at his job and how much he wants Laureline to admit she’s in love with him, which are not enough traits to form a human being. They are enough traits to form a two-dimensional asshat who no one in their right mind would ever be charmed by, however.

Valerian and the City of the Thousand Planets

Laureline is equally sub-rendered as a person. The viewer is clearly supposed to gather that she is the brains of the operation as she tackles technical issues and ass-kicking with aplomb, but all she ever talks about is how she refuses to give into Valerian’s flirtations because he doesn’t trust her enough to let her take point on things. That is the only thing stopping her from jumping into his arms, apparently. Well, that and his playlist. This supposed superduo go on about how great they are for the government at every available moment, but they’re only ever accused of being unprofessional and difficult to manage by their superiors, so it is really hard to understand what we’re supposed to be impressed by.

(If anyone wants to start that tired old argument of ‘it’s because the film is based on a 50-year-old comic that contains ideas about love and sex that would be outdated now’…. don’t. There is no excuse for dialogue like this—unless it’s meant to be read as a pure parody. Your main female character does not need to start the film angry that her work partner forgot her birthday, and he doesn’t need to respond by “playfully” pinning her to a beach chaise and suggesting that they bone. Adaptations are meant to do what it says on the tin: adapt the source material. Part of adaption is getting rid of material and attitudes that no longer serve the narrative you are trying to build, not doubling down on romantic tropes that seem at home in your average John Wayne movie.)

Outside of this deeply flawed romantic plot, there is a far more interesting story at play. We learn that there is a threat to Alpha, the space station known as the “City of a Thousand Planets,” which our dream team is meant to neutralize. But as the layers are peeled back, this threat is proven nil. Instead, it turns out that the real nastiness comes in the form of a general from their own government (you can pretty much guess he’s the bad guy once you know that he’s played by Clive Owen), one who destroyed an entire planet and its indigenous civilization in a battle thirty years previous. A small number of these aliens survived and found their way to Alpha, and they have been working to rebuild their society piece by piece. Valerian and Laureline, recognizing that their government must make amends, need to switch sides and fight for people who have been wronged.

But first Valerian has to encounter Rihanna the Shapeshifting Alien Sex Worker and Ethan Hawke the Cowboy Space Pimp.

The strangest part about the above sentence is that this should obviously be the point where the movie utterly derails, and instead the opposite is true; this encounter is the only thing that injects life into this movie. Following his partnership with Bubble (that’s Rihanna), Valerian suddenly seems more human, which is in no small part due to Bubble’s refusal to spare his feelings on how ridiculous she finds him. The two of them rescue Laureline (she’s being held by a group of aliens who want to feed her to their king and you know what, it’s just not worth explaining this part don’t ask), but Bubble gets hit on their way out and ends up dying after telling a tearful Valerian to take care of the woman he loves.

Valerian and the City of the Thousand Planets

And if this is the part where you go “Huh, Luc Besson has a weird thing about blue alien women teaching male protagonists something about love and responsibility before dying their arms,” then you are top of the class! It’s also the point at which the effectiveness of The Fifth Element is most clearly juxtaposed to the clumsiness of Valerian; somehow in these completely parallel scenarios, Fifth Element manages to display both more naiveté and more maturity than Valerian does. Korben Dallas’s catharsis when hearing the Diva sing is what opens him up to the prospect of falling in love again, and that love is wrapped up in the later choice to be vulnerable before Leeloo—a tall order for a man still reeling from his recent divorce. It is the mature decision of a person who has already experienced emotional pain opening himself up to the possibility of more pain in hopes of gaining something better. But Valerian’s artistic revelation—and it is pointedly framed as art in the same way that the Diva’s performance is art; Valerian calls Bubble “an artist” more than once after seeing her morphing sex fantasy dance routine, and that is what resonates in him, the artistry of her performance—is bound up in the journey of a woman who has lived a much darker life than anything he has known.

Bubble is an illegal alien on Alpha, with no rights and no one to turn to. Valerian promises to use his government clout to fix that problem for her, but her assistance in his quest to save Laureline is ultimately what gets Bubble killed. Valerian has to reckon with the fact that his choice to enlist her help leads to her death, and come face to face with the idea that his life is a comparatively easy thing that he still finds room to whine about. It could be a scathing commentary about privilege, but it lands awkwardly because Valerian doesn’t have enough room for emotional vulnerability that would make this horrific turn in the narrative worthwhile.

Instead, he finds some small measure of this vulnerability after Laureline insists on going against their government directives, when she demands that they give the matter converter (that’s the MacGuffin) to the wronged alien group without permission from their bosses. Her insistence that Valerian trust her and hand over control of their mission results in the smallest of breakthroughs, and he finally gains a measure of humility. But it still falls short of all the turmoil that The Fifth Element manages to work through… which is baffling considering that fact that the older film doesn’t go out of its way to address those themes.

Valerian and the City of the Thousand Planets

There are so many plotholes in Valerian that it’s a mistake to try and count them all. In addition, the split focus between Valerian and Laureline’s blossoming how-can-this-pass-for-a-love-story and all the intrigue around Clive Owen’s evil doings results in a destructive amount of exposition in the final half hour of the film. There are also a lot of very unfunny jokes (including a bunch about having a ‘girl inside you’ when they learn that Valerian has been carrying a shade of an alien princess’s spirit). Despite Besson’s insistence on creating “optimistic” visions of the future, there is very little optimism to be found in Valerian, in large part due to the cavalier attitudes the two central characters seem to have toward everything except each other for the majority of the film.

It’s all a damned shame because there are some beautiful themes at work here. Cooperation, learning to trust, the acknowledgement that when you do wrong by someone (or a whole group of someones) you don’t continue doing wrong by them to save your own skin. And there is true technical innovation at play in the film, some of the greatest seen in the past decade. The upcoming Ready Player One film is going to have difficulty matching up to the work Valerian has done with the concept of virtual reality and inter-dimensional interaction, as the opening operation that Valerian and Laureline execute is one of the most intricate, impressive sequences that cinema has seen in ages. The soundtrack is dazzling and the imagery (provided mostly in advance due to the groundwork laid by the comic) is stunning enough to warrant the film’s existence regardless.

But the most promising thing about the movie is shoved into the first three minutes: a montage detailing how Alpha came to be. At the start, we see humanity coming together to build out their space station, many peoples gathering, embracing, shaking hands as the years go by and more nations join the endeavor. Then… aliens. They arrive and humans shake hands with each species they welcome. Some of them have metal hands, and some of them have tentacles, and some of them are covered in slime, but they are greeted as equals. And then Alpha grows too large and must be released from Earth’s orbit so that it can continue to makes its way across the cosmos as a beacon of unity and camaraderie. Three minutes in, and I was in tears. Then the rest of the movie arrived and it was like an abrupt deflation of the world’s biggest balloon.

Valerian and the City of the Thousand Planets

Valerian and the City of the Thousand Planets should have been an ode to that future, and somehow it got bogged down in the love story between two children who have barely accessed their emotional control panels. Had the film chosen to center on a non-romantic love, perhaps, a building of trust between two partners, we would have seen something special. But it’s hard to be optimistic about a future where your trusted coworker has a “playlist” of women on his computer and Clive Owen commits genocide against a peaceful race of tall, gender non-conforming, pearl-gathering, iridescent faeries.

It’s just too bad, because those three minutes were truly extraordinary.

Emily Asher-Perrin would like to watch the film’s opening on repeat. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

Posted by Alex Brown

Oh Image, how I’ve missed you! It’s been ages since the biggest name in indie publishing has released something new that really excited me. Sure, a lot of their ongoings are permanent staples on my shelves, but I was more ready for something brand spanking new than I realized. That drought is at long last over. This summer, Image Comics has delivered two fantastic new ongoing series, Crosswind and Moonstruck.

Within moments of hearing about these two series, I had an order into my local independent comic book shop. Now that I have them in my grabby little hands, I can assure you my untameable eagerness was well worth it. Both take new tacks on old tropes, both are gorgeous to look at and wickedly fun to read, and both will leave you begging for the next issue.

 

Crosswind

With just enough preamble to ground the plot, Crosswind takes no time in getting straight to the action. Cason Bennett is a Chicago hitman with killer good looks and a swagger as sharp as a knife. Something shady is going on with his boss, and a conspiracy seems to be brewing in the background. Across the country in Seattle, Juniper Blue is a put upon housewife. Her husband is cheating on her, her stepson is an angry brat, and her skeezy teen boy neighbors get their rocks off by constantly sexually harassing her. Out of nowhere, a sinister someone says a curse and Case and June swap bodies. Issue #1 ends without any explanation or fallout—talk about a cliffhanger!

The two protags make for a fascinating contrast and intriguing comparison. June is as attractive as Case, but where he’s overly confident in himself and his abilities, she’s so been so beaten down by the men in her life that she hunches over to make herself as small and unobtrusive as possible. Cason is a man of action falling deeper into a hole he may not be able to dig himself out of. The actions he’s forced to take before his swap test his loyalty to his organization. He isn’t so much acting as being pushed around like a pawn. June isn’t an assassin, but she’s just as much of a pawn to more powerful men. Heartless men come at her from all sides, but where Case has his gun and his effortless cool to back him up, June has nothing.

I, for one, can’t wait to watch June work through her emotional distress with Case’s gun as he punishes vile men for mistreating June. Cason-as-Juniper can finally stand up for herself and take on all those assholes trying to break her. Juniper-as-Cason has the chance to become stronger, emotionally and physically, and fight back against inequity. Telling a macho man to shut up and get back in the kitchen and giving a beleaguered woman a gun and a reason to shoot it will make for very interesting blowback.

Really, I don’t even need to talk about how great the writing is. I mean, it’s Gail Simone. Of course the story is stellar. Simon Bowland’s lettering is spot on. The bolding of certain words as a rhythm to the dialogue so you can almost hear the characters speak. And the staccato speech bubbles and text boxes ramp up the tension and keep the story moving at a rapid fire pace. The real star here is Cat Staggs. Her work is as cutting and compelling with a vivid, cinematic quality to it. Simply put, her art is phenomenal. Truly, I wouldn’t change a thing about this issue. To me, it’s abso-bloody-lutely perfect.

Writer: Gail Simone; illustrator: Cat Staggs; letterer: Simon Bowland; production: Carey Hall. Image published the first issue of this new ongoing series in June 2017, and the second is scheduled for July 26.

 

Moonstruck

In a world where magic and fantasy are the norm, Moonstruck tells the story of a lesbian Latina werewolf named Julie who has heart-eyes for the yet to be seen Selena. Julie’s best friend is Chet, a queer centaur barista, and she pals around with a medusa, vampire bat boy, and an oracle. The cast is diverse as all get out, everything from skin color to gender identity to body shape. While there are hints about darker things to come, the story is largely about the blooming relationship between Julie and Selena and Julie’s insecurities about her wolfy nature. So far the story is light on action and heavy on introducing the characters, but it’s an angle that works in Moonstruck’s favor. A story like this, I don’t want it bogged down in big set pieces. I want to take my time with Julie and Selena and their weird world.

Grace Ellis got her professional start on Lumberjanes, and the heart that makes that series so wonderful is here on Moonstruck. Her dialogue is refreshingly candid without being crass or cruel. By the end of the first issue, I felt like I’d been BFFs with Julie and Chet for years. I’m a sucker for complicated relationship plots (whether romantic or platonic), and just the little taste we’ve had so far of Ellis’ story suggests it’ll be a good one. Clayton Cowles’ lettering is top notch as always. Really digging the font choice.

But it’s Shae Beagle whose praises I really want to sing. For a newbie who was still attending Columbus College of Art and Design when they got this gig, Beagle has the feel of a seasoned comics artist. They have a distinct, adorable style that perfectly fits with Ellis’ script. Their art is expressive and playful. Anyone who can have such a strong handle on coloring this new to the game is worth respecting. I’m going to enjoy watching their career grow.

Honestly, I’m a bit surprised a comic like Moonstruck landed at Image rather than BOOM! Box. This delightful all-ages queer fantasy series is right up BOOM!’s alley. Well, regardless of who publishes it, I’m just glad it exists. Like with Goldie Vance, Misfits, and Kim & Kim, I smiled through the entire reading (and re-reading, and re-re-reading…). Consider me hooked.

Writer: Grace Ellis; artist: Shae Beagle; letterer: Clayton Cowles; editor/designer: Laurenn McCubbin; guest artist/SDCC variant cover: Kate Leth. Image published the first issue of this new ongoing series in July 2017, and the second is scheduled for August 23.

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.

([syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed Jul. 25th, 2017 11:56 am)

Posted by John Scalzi

Teleportation: A great idea, but with some practical… problems. It’s a physics thing. In this Big Idea for The Punch Escrow, author Tal M. Klein wonders, what if you could solve those problems, not with physics, but with another branch of human intellectual endeavor entirely?

TAL M. KLEIN:

F#*%ing transporters, how do they work?

It was the Ides of March of 2012. I had just started a new job and was chatting with a co-worker about lens flare. Specifically, I was ranting about J.J. Abrams’ penchant for gratuitous lens flare, using the Star Trek reboot as an example, when all of a sudden the conversation was interrupted by our CEO.

“It’s bullshit!” he shouted.

(He wasn’t talking about the lens flare.)

Our CEO wielded a PhD in Computer Science and was using it to fight with Star Trek, or more specifically its transporters. He went on to monologue about Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, explaining that the position and the velocity of an object couldn’t both be measured exactly, at the same time, even in theory, and in the highly improbable likelihood that somehow someone did manage to circumvent the uncertainty principle, they’d still have to contend with the no-cloning theorem, which stated that it was impossible to create an identical copy of any unknown quantum state.

Here is what I heard: “Teleportation is impossible because physics.”

Now let’s be clear, I’m not a scientist. What I am is a product man. I build and market technology products for a living. Having bet my career on startups, my brain senses opportunity where others see impossibility. In fact, whenever anyone tells me I can’t do something, my mind automatically appends a “yet” to the end of their statement.

My favorite author growing up was Larry Niven. This fact is germane here because the first thing that came to mind during the CEO’s aforementioned monologue was a Niven essay entitled Exercise in Speculation: The Theory and Practice of Teleportation, part of a collection called All The Myriad Ways. Niven’s spiel on teleportation explored the pros and cons of the myriad ways (see what I did there) we might achieve commercialized human teleportation. The science was interesting, but what I remembered latching on to as a kid was his take on the anthropological impact of teleportation.

Niven’s itch was akin to what angered my CEO: If we discount for Star Trek’s technobabble and defer to actual physics, then every time Scotty teleported Captain Kirk he was actually killing him in one place and “printing him out” somewhere else.

This destructive teleportation variant of the twin maker trope has been explored almost ad nauseum. Though there are several good stories and movies that address the existential problems teleportation could introduce should it ever become a viable transportation mechanism, none have adequately presented a marketable solution to that problem — at least none that might pass muster with an anthropologist.

How come nobody ever discussed how society might come to adopt teleportation in the first place, I wondered. Science fiction seemed to lack a scientifically plausible teleportation mechanism that could be deemed safe enough to commercialize in the near future.

So, I decided to solve the teleportation problem — with marketing!

In my day job as a chief marketing officer, when I’m asked to play out this kind of go-to-market strategy problem, I use a game theory methodology known as Wardley mapping; an augmentation of value chain mapping. The “product” came in the form of the Punch Escrow. It’s the MacGuffin that makes teleportation safe and thus both scientifically and anthropologically plausible. The value of mapping in predicting the future is based in pragmatism. If we can assess what components of tech will become commoditized in society, we can envision innovations that build on those commodities in alignment with basic needs, making their commercialization more plausible.

Consulting with a real life quantum physicist, I used the Wardley mapping approach to understand the teleportation problem and then solve for it: When someone teleports, the Punch Escrow is a chamber in which the they are held — in escrow — until they safely arrive at their final destination. That way if anything goes wrong during teleportation, the “conductor” could just cancel the trip and the traveler would safely walk out at the point of origin as if nothing happened.

But how does one market this scenario given the very obvious twin maker issue?

A capitalist society will always want to get from point A to point B faster and on-demand. I don’t think anyone would argue that safe teleportation is a highly desirable mode of transport. The Punch Escrow makes it possible, and International Transport (the company behind commercial teleportation in the 22nd century) effectively brands it as “safe.” To wit, critics of early steam locomotives avowed that the human body was not meant to move faster than fifty miles an hour. Intelligent people with impeccable credentials worried that female passengers’ uteruses might be ejected from their bodies as trains accelerated! Others suspected that a human body might simply melt at such speeds. You know what? It didn’t matter. People wanted to get from point A to point B faster, train tycoons marketed to that desire with implied underpinnings of safety, and trains took off.

Just as locomotives didn’t transform our world into a dystopia, it stands to reason teleportation won’t either. Yes, people die in train accidents (not because their organs fly out of their orifices, I should add), but the benefit is anthropologically perceived as greater than the risk. Same goes with commercial flight. Of course you’ve heard the axiom, “If God had meant man to fly…” — that didn’t seem to stop droves of us from squeezing into small flying metal tubes in the sky. Today, we face similar fears with autonomous vehicles, but I’m certain that the marketers will calm our nerves. I believe within a generation the notion of manual driving will seem as esoteric a means of getting around as a horse and carriage. Maybe the same will be said of teleportation a century from now?

—-

The Punch Escrow: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.


thawrecka: Kirk and Spock hand holding (this simple feeling)
([personal profile] thawrecka Jul. 25th, 2017 07:06 pm)
All the newer TOS novels seem to be written by men and they all seem to kind of suck, and not in the fun trashy way. They seem to be mostly lifeless, joyless continuity porn. Are men just not as good at writing as women are? There's only one thing I read these books for, and that's feelings, and if you don't give me characters I already like having feelings... why am I supposed to read them again?

Posted by Thea

It Came Back

It Came Back by Samantha Lienhard
Published 7/25/2017

“Luna Anderson…” He stared at me with an intensity that made me fidget. “The lost sheep has returned at last.”

After five years of avoiding her past, Luna finally returns to her childhood home. Her imposing grandfather may be long gone, but his specter hangs over the estate like a curse–Luna is eager to sell everything and leave the Anderson House behind her for good.

But when she stumbles across a sheath of letters, Luna discovers her grandfather’s past is darker and more twisted than she ever could have imagined. A secret is uncovered, and a monster awakens…

Curses don’t stay buried forever.

Divider

Nothing had changed since I left town five years earlier.

Heads turned as I drove past the old library and the older church, the stores, the homes, and the schoolhouse. An old woman leaned against her broom and squinted at me. A young man with glasses and silver hair looked up from his newspaper. Two pigtailed girls whispered to one another. All around, neighbors appeared at their windows.

I gritted my teeth. Before long, rumors would fly about the Anderson daughter who returned after so many years. People loved to gossip about my family, after all. I reached out to switch off my car’s cassette deck. Driving home while Genesis sang about someone trapped in a haunted house felt like a bad omen.

At the edge of town, a long road wound its way between trees, up the steep hill to the house. My car objected to the ascent. I sympathized. If it were up to me, I’d turn around and drive away. This was not home. My home was the city free of small-town gossip, superstition, and the domineering specter of my late grandfather.

But in my parents’ wills, they followed the first of three commands handed down from my grandfather: pass the house on to the eldest child of the bloodline.

As their only child, that meant me.

I’d rather live my quiet life and worry only about my job at the historical society and whether or not my dog, Lady, would eat my socks, but I had to sell my family’s ancestral house first. I owed my parents that much.

Tears filled my eyes and I wiped them away. Mother and Father never bugged me about returning to see them. They were content to visit me, because they knew how I felt about the house, the town. I thought I’d never have to see this place again.

In an instant, all of that changed.

I pulled into the driveway and got out, taking a deep breath to focus. Stones crunched beneath my feet on my way to the trunk. Before I contacted a realtor, I’d have to take care of certain things. Some of the furniture Mother wouldn’t want sold, and Father kept mementos in his room. Antiques and old papers dating back to my grandfather’s time filled the attic. It would take time. At least nothing in town would draw me away from my work.

I retrieved my suitcase, closed the trunk, and braced myself.

The old house hadn’t changed.

Two dark pines brushed the arched peaks of the roof, their lowest branches bowed over the driveway in greeting. Behind them loomed three stories of blackened stone. Curtains obscured the windows, and ivy crawled up the sides in creeping bunches. Not quite a mansion, but much larger than the typical suburban home, The Anderson House filled more myths and rumors around town than I could count.

With a sigh, I walked up the steps to the doors. They swung open before I could knock.

The caretaker stood there, bent by age, a cane gripped in one gnarled hand. His few strands of white hair were wild, and pale eyes blinked at me from his gaunt face. He cracked his mouth open in a smile.

My heart sank. “Still working here, Max?” As far as I knew, no one paid him aside from room and board.

It was the second of my grandfather’s commands: allow Max to live and work on the estate.

And of all the superstitious people in town, he had to be the worst. Good luck charms, vague warnings of dark forces lurking in the shadows, shouted admonitions whenever I became curious about the supernatural—Max might have been enough to drive my teenage self away even without the rest of the town.

“Luna Anderson…” He stared at me with an intensity that made me fidget. “The lost sheep has returned at last.”

I never knew how to react to his creepy comments, but as soon as I got rid of the house, he’d be someone else’s problem.

With a polite smile, I stepped past him.

My grandfather’s image greeted me the moment I crossed the threshold. The massive portrait of Wilton Anderson hung above the door at the far end of the foyer. Gray hair cut a severe outline around the thin bones of his face, his paleness prominent against his black suit. Dark eyes glared at me from across the room. God, I hated that painting. Even so many years after his death, the sight of him made me stiffen. He was younger in the portrait than when I knew him, but it brought back memories of his shouts whenever someone disobeyed his commands.

Old photos I’d seen in family albums suggested I resembled a young Wilton. With any luck, I’d never mirror him in personality.

Max closed the doors. “Shame about what happened.”

I didn’t meet his gaze. “Yeah.”

He shuffled into the dining room. I followed behind him and peered through the entryway.

To Max’s credit, everything was in pristine condition. The dining table was polished, the lamps all shone, and the cabinets were clean of dust.

“You’ve kept it in good shape,” I said.

He bowed his head. “It’s all ready for you and your descendants.”

I frowned. “I don’t intend to stay.”

“But you must! Wilton’s instructions—”

“To hell with his instructions!” The outburst exploded from me before I could catch myself. If he expected me to return to this gossip-filled town where I had no friends, to live with him and his superstitions and raise my own children to fear my grandfather’s shadow, he could think again.

His gaze darkened. “You’ll bring doom upon us.”

This conversation would go nowhere. I stepped past the grumbling caretaker and climbed the spiral staircase to my childhood bedroom.

It looked just as I had left it. The bed rested against one corner, a small desk sat near the window, and an empty closet took up the far wall. No posters or photographs adorned the walls, no stuffed animals or awards or books sat on my empty, dust-free shelves. Not a single one of my belongings remained; I had left nothing behind when I moved away.

This was not my home.

It never would be.

I set my suitcase at the foot of the bed and rolled my shoulders to focus. Time to get to work. I pulled out a notebook and pen from my handbag to list everything I would keep, give away, or decide about later.

I glanced over at the window and the awful crushed velvet curtain that covered it. My first order of business would be to throw open all of the godforsaken curtains in the house. The black velvet was beautiful, but heavy and oppressive. Since Max continued to prowl the first floor and I couldn’t bring myself to face my parents’ room on the second, I climbed up to the third floor to begin my work.

It was devoted to my family’s strange collections, born of the same eccentricities that sent them up in a hot air balloon during a thunderstorm. I gritted my teeth and forced back thoughts of the accident. Notebook in hand, I explored the third floor.

A room filled with abstract art brought back memories of Father beaming as he showed it off to bewildered neighbors. Shelves covered in hats reminded me of Mother’s smile when she found a unique piece of headwear. The pile of vacuum cleaners they insisted would be worth something someday made me laugh out loud.

Each collection was dust-free and in perfect condition. Maybe Max didn’t deserve the way I treated him.

With my inventory of the collections complete, I headed for the stairs, but paused. My gaze drifted toward the trapdoor on the ceiling. If I was to do this right, I needed to check the whole house—and finally break the restriction put upon me as a child.

Time to see what was up in the attic.

 

Clouds of dust rose when I reached the top of the ladder—but giddy excitement filled me. Undisturbed, always forbidden to me before, the attic felt like a sacred place. And judging by the amount of dust, even Max didn’t go up there often.

I coughed and checked beneath each of the tarps that covered old furniture and boxes. Most of my discoveries went right on the “give away” list. Old clothes, forgotten toys, long-abandoned pieces of furniture. Junk filled the attic, in no particular arrangement, as if everyone shoved whatever they wanted to forget about into the nearest available space.

In the farthest corner, a decrepit writing desk sagged beneath three tarps. I caught my breath and pushed aside layers of cobwebs to open the desk’s drawer. A bundle of papers lay inside, held together by thin, golden clasps.

My heart hammered against my chest.

Father always warned me and Mother not to touch any old papers we found. If we did, we “couldn’t claim ignorance of their contents”—an odd warning passed through the generations. I must’ve heard that warning thousands of times growing up. I didn’t even realize how weird it was until I mentioned it to a coworker years later.

It was the final command from my grandfather: never touch the papers in the attic.

His enraged shout rang through my memory. He died when I was still in elementary school, but my few memories of him involved nothing happy. I never saw him smile or show affection. Even Max, whom he adamantly allowed to live with us, seemed more a nuisance to him than a friend.

Part of me wanted to run, as if my grandfather could punish me from beyond the grave for reading these papers, but I steeled myself. They contained something our family wanted to forget about. Better I deal with them than leave them to be found by the new owners of the house and become the next piece of town gossip.

I unfastened the clasps and gently flattened the sheets against the desk. The paper was old and worn, covered with tidy script. It appeared to be a series of letters addressed to my grandfather from thirty years back.

August 29, 1953

To Mr. Wilton Anderson,

My name is Alexander Gruenewald. I am a scientist working with an archaeological team in Germany, and our recent discoveries brought your name to my attention.

I understand you are a scholar of arcane myths and legends, and have studied subjects rarely covered by the great historians and learned men of our time. I am writing to you because of an article you published, “Incubi, Succubi, and Dream Demons: A Study of Nightmare Phenomena.” Though I understand your work is controversial, I believe it to be accurate.

In the article, you admitted your inability to find a scientific explanation for one particular “dream demon,” as you called it—a creature that not only appeared to victims in their nightmares, but seemingly killed them.

Our team is investigating ancient ruins, and the records we’ve found suggest the lord who ruled here, Manfred von Hagt, was haunted by strange dreams before he died. It piqued my curiosity, and my attempts to learn more about what could have killed him led me to your article. The similarities between his account and those you described are astounding.

I would love to send you further details to see if his account matches your research, and seek out your professional opinion. I would also be interested in any further information you can provide.

Sincerely,

Alexander Gruenewald

The world spun as I stared at the page. Impossible. A scholar of the arcane? I could still hear my grandfather screaming at me the day I watched a movie about witches, and again when I asked if ghosts were real. He despised anything related to the occult or supernatural.

No wonder he wanted these letters forgotten. My parents would have been shocked to learn he once studied—and published papers on—arcane myths.

The rest of the attic could wait. I clutched the packet of letters to my chest and hurried back down the ladder and into my room.

Sunlight streamed in through the open curtains, and I sat down at my desk with the letters. I flipped to the next entry, hardly able to contain my curiosity. I knew my family must have secrets, but I never expected something like this. It was a shame I didn’t have my grandfather’s replies, only the next message sent by Alexander Gruenewald.

September 21, 1953

To Mr. Wilton Anderson,

Thank you kindly for your response, and I apologize for any confusion I caused. I will explain the records as best I can, although the rules around this expedition prevent me from sending translations to an outsider.

Manfred von Hagt, whose remains we discovered in the course of our excavation, presided over the von Hagt manor in the mid-nineteenth century. He took painstaking notes of his observations—he must have kept a journal with him constantly. Although some pages are unusually blotched with ink, the majority is readable. Toward the end of his life, von Hagt began recording strange nightmares.

He described a vast plane of darkness, in which he saw nothing but a monster. This monster approached him in each dream, but failed to reach him—yet he made a great deal out of the fear he felt when it looked at him. He was convinced this “demon” would find him in the waking world.

The final entries of his journal spiral into paranoia. Shortly thereafter, he died—just as the man in your legend died. Like you, I find it difficult to accept that a “demon” killed these people. I am interested in any light you can shed on these unexplained cases.

Sincerely,

Alexander Gruenewald

My skin prickled. Although warm sunlight shone through the window, the empty bedroom seemed cold. Hostile. There was no rational reason for me to feel uneasy. They were just letters. I’d read many old documents at work. Yet this was the first time I had a direct connection to them. I could almost picture my grandfather at his own desk, reading the letter just like I did.

Instead of making me feel closer to him, the thought of retreading his path gave me the creeps. The lingering touch of the paper on my skin reminded me that I’d trespassed where he forbade us from going. I looked down at my hands. Ink from the letters stained my fingers, and I quickly wiped them against my pants. It wasn’t like my grandfather could still get angry with me for reading the letters, but the longer I stayed in this house, the more I felt I didn’t belong there.

And I didn’t intend to stay.

I rose from my desk and left the room. The sooner I got my work done, the sooner I could go home. If I worked hard, I could finish in a few days.

There were ten rooms on the first floor, not counting the caretaker’s. I’d cross that bridge another time. When I was a child, he got upset if I went anywhere near his room. For the sake of his privacy, I’d give him the option of clearing out his things himself.

I started with the dining room, my checklist in hand, and set aside items that could be donated, sold, or thrown out. I wouldn’t take any of it with me. Gradually, I made my way to the living room. When I reached the foyer, I looked up at the painting of my grandfather.

He glared back at me. In the few, early years of my life that I knew him, I never saw any kindness from my grandfather. He was all anger and rigidity. I never really even thought of him as a person. To me, he was the source of my family’s strict rules, a force that kept us in line.

What was Wilton Anderson the man like?

I put the portrait on my “undecided” list and moved on to the parlor, but I couldn’t concentrate. My grandfather, his correspondent in Germany, the letters…

I took a moment to call my neighbor back home from the rotary phone in the parlor and make sure my dog, Lady, was all right, and then I returned to my room.

The letters lay right where I left them, on my desk.

October 10, 1953

Mr. Wilton Anderson,

Your notes arrived today. Thank you. They were most enlightening. I had no idea there were so many legends about this monster. I now believe it is safe to say it was no coincidence—something real and deadly was at work.

You mentioned a theory that the monster could be bound, thereby preventing it from harming its victim. Initially, I thought this detail from the diary was unimportant, but von Hagt began work on an artifact to seal the demon away. I believe I have located the site described in his entries. An archaeologist friend and I will attempt to gently guide the dig in that direction.

Sincerely,

Alexander Gruenewald

My breath caught. This was fascinating. Something good might come of this trip after all.

Larger, untidy handwriting filled the next page. This letter wasn’t written by Alexander, but by another person.

November 15, 1953

Mr. Wilton Anderson,

I hope this finds you well. My name is Maximilian Meyer, an archaeologist and a close associate of Dr. Alexander Gruenewald, with whom you’ve already been in contact. Alexander apprised me of your knowledge in this unusual field and gave me your notes. In studying them, I discovered something most intriguing. When the stories are placed in chronological order, a pattern emerges.

Each is somehow linked to the next. One victim dies in a forest; the next victim walks through the forest before the nightmares begin. That victim dies in a castle; the next travels to the same castle and has the first nightmare. All eight cases you studied fit the pattern, though the final two (the ones who died together at sea) appear to be a joint case. If von Hagt is the ninth, something must link him to them!

Of course, he could be the tenth or eleventh victim. There is no guarantee we have uncovered all the accounts, after all.

In your research, have you uncovered anything beyond proximity to account for the spread of this phenomenon? Your thoughts on this matter are highly anticipated.

Sincerely,

Maximilian Meyer

Excitement filled me with each word. Although it was impossible that a demon actually killed people in their nightmares, the story of the three men in their quest to piece together the mystery thrilled me. This sense of discovery was the reason I enjoyed my work at the historical society, and these letters implied a side of my grandfather I never dreamed existed.

The next page returned to Alexander’s handwriting, although dark spots of ink obscured parts and forced me to squint to make out the words.

It’s incredible! We looked into von Hagt’s history. Just days before his nightmares began, he took a short journey by ship. This ship—but of course you must have guessed already—was the Santa Maria. Yes, the very same vessel that, years earlier, witnessed the deaths of its crazed captain and first mate, after their nightmares of being pursued by a demon. This proves Meyer’s theory of transference: Von Hagt was the ninth victim!

Jagged letters began the next message, with irregular spaces between them, as though the writer’s hand shook as he wrote.

Help. Whatever you know, you must tell us. Even though it was I who discovered the pattern, I did not realize the danger until it was too late. This von Hagt was the most recent victim, and we’ve done our best to uncover his history.

Our team found his artifact today. When I saw it, I felt… ill. Wrong. It is difficult to describe. I included a sketch of the artifact with this letter.

What did von Hagt intend to do with this thing? How does it work? What IS it? If you can answer these questions, please do so at once. If there is anything I can do to help you find answers, you merely have to ask. My resources are at your disposal, Mr. Anderson.

I saw the demon in my nightmares for the first time last night.

Your terrified correspondent,

Maximilian Meyer

My heart skipped a beat. I couldn’t breathe. It had to be a coincidence, yet part of me demanded I hurry through the rest of the letters, to make sure the archaeologist survived. I shoved the frightened letter aside.

A drawing covered the next page—the promised sketch of von Hagt’s artifact. The lines looped and curved around one another multiple times, twisted together in Escheresque formations with a crescent moon at its center. Something about the shape seemed wrong. Unnatural.

I rubbed my eyes. It was just a drawing. Even if the artist made use of optical illusions the way Escher did, it was illogical to think there was anything “wrong” with the shape. The sense of fear in the last letter must have gotten the better of me.

I choked down the irrational tang of fear in my mouth and forced myself to look at the drawing again. It is just a drawing. Nothing to be afraid of. I focused on the page and tried to make sense of the lines. For a second, I saw it—three-dimensional, otherworldly, beautiful, terrible, wrong—and then darkness swept me into unconsciousness.

 

I stood in a black void. There was nothing below me, nothing above me, just darkness. My legs wobbled, my heart pounded, and I took a deep breath. Even if I couldn’t see the ground, it had to be there, I told myself. This had to be a nightmare. I’d never experienced lucid dreaming before, but I’d read about the experiences before: dreams so vivid that the dreamer was fully knowledgeable in the dream-state. And lucid dreaming often involved sleep paralysis and paranoia, leading to the historical accounts of succubi and incubi attacks my grandfather must have researched.

Nevertheless, my breath came in shallow bursts. Even though I knew I was asleep, something in the back of my mind pleaded with me to run. All my senses were alert, even though there was nothing to detect.

Then he appeared.

The man seemed a part of the darkness itself, and he followed his own path as if unaware of me. I opened my mouth to call out for help, but the words stuck in my throat.

Inexplicable terror consumed me. I cowered, repulsed by him even though he was little more than a silhouette. I couldn’t take my gaze off him, but I didn’t want him to see me. I couldn’t let him see me.

Every step brought him closer.

No hiding places existed in the darkness. I hunched my shoulders to make myself smaller. Running would attract his attention. Maybe if I kept still, he wouldn’t notice me.

Closer and closer, until he stood right in front of me, his features indistinct in the darkness despite being so close to me that my whole body tingled with dread. I held my breath, willing him not to look at me. He slowed—but then continued past.

I allowed myself to breathe again.

The man turned and looked at me with eyes that glowed solid white.

 

When I opened my eyes, the sketch of the impossible artifact glared up at me from the desk and shook me out of my momentary disorientation. My fingers trembled as I flipped it over.

It was only a nightmare, I was safe—but those eyes, those terrible glowing eyes…

Moonlight, bright and cold shone through the window—I must have been out for hours. I wrapped my arms around my body and took a shuddering breath to steady myself. Black velvet curtains, secret letters about nightmare demons, a superstitious caretaker—this house would make anyone believe in horror stories.

I jumped up and grabbed my unopened suitcase. There was no need to spend the night. If I stayed here any longer, I was liable to start believing in ghosts and demons myself. I had my list, and everything else could be handled over the phone. As for the letters, whatever. Let people gossip about my grandfather. I’d be home, away from it all.

As I fled my room and clattered down the stairs, I realized Max would wonder what happened to me. If I saw him, I’d say goodbye. If not, I’d call on the phone and say something urgent came up.

I burst through the main doors, ran down the steps toward my car—and froze. Just beyond the trees, a pair of eyes glowed. My legs went numb. I blinked and looked again. Nothing.

My imagination. Nothing more. It had to be.

I fumbled for the door handle and backed into the foyer. The house which had seemed so hostile earlier, now felt warm and safe in comparison to the cold outdoors. Maybe I should stay after all.

A heavy footstep sounded from behind me, and I whirled around. It was just Max, but his eyes blazed with anger. He advanced toward me, and I edged out of his way. He clutched a suitcase in a white-knuckled grip.

“Now you’ve done it.” He stomped past me toward the doors. “He’s found you.” He knocked the doors open with his cane and stepped out into the night. “He hasn’t remembered me yet, he won’t remember me…”

I walked to the doorway and stared after him. I started to call out, but his name froze on my lips.

Max.

Maximilian Meyer.

“Wait!” I shouted. “Max! Those letters you wrote to my grandfather…”

If anything, he increased his pace as he hurried down the hill. Beneath the trees, two pinpricks of light glimmered.

I slammed the doors. The house felt cold and empty without Max, but I couldn’t go out there with those eyes. It was silly, of course it was. I’d go home and laugh about it.

In the daylight.

 

Once again, I shuddered in darkness as the man walked past me. Once again, he turned to spear me with his terrible gaze.

I woke up with a scream. Sweat soaked my pajamas and sheets. I wiped my slick forehead. Sunlight streamed through the window, but it didn’t help. At home, Lady’s happy barks would greet me while I lay safe and warm in my own bed. Instead, I was alone in this terrible house, with only nightmares for company.

Today, I would leave.

Except he might be outside. I wrapped my arms around myself and tried to work my way through this logically. Nightmares couldn’t walk around town. The eyes were a coincidence or a trick of the light. Nothing more. I rejected superstition and beliefs in the paranormal. My old self would laugh at the way I was behaving. As soon as I calmed down, everything would be fine.

 

A week had passed since Max left.

I rolled out of bed and rubbed my forehead. No matter how much I pretended I lingered because of unfinished work, deep inside I knew I’d gone through the items in the house so many times, I couldn’t have missed a thing. No, fear trapped me in the house and made me bury my grandfather’s letters in my suitcase.

Fear of a nightmare—or a demon.

I slammed my fists against my legs. I was an adult. I needed to act my age. It was just a nightmare. I was safe.

“It’s just a nightmare, and I am safe.” The words became my mantra as I got dressed. They carried me through the front doors to stand outside, where I lingered at the steps just as I had every day for the past week.

Yesterday, I almost made it to my car before I convinced myself I couldn’t leave yet. If I went home and the nightmares continued anyway, I’d be out of ideas. I needed to solve my problem at its source.

Today, however, I didn’t let that thought drive me back inside. I couldn’t give up. I’d dig through all possible information about dreams until I knew the answer. Between a scholar, a scientist, and an archaeologist, surely they thought to look for a psychological origin, but I had to try. Maybe modern books would help—and maybe my experience from the historical society would let me find explanations they missed.

When in doubt, I knew one universal truth: the library always had the answers.

I ran to my car and descended the hill into town. Once again, everyone stared as I drove by. The caretaker’s departure probably stirred up even more rumors. At least the library parking lot was empty.

I parked and hurried inside with only a brief nod to the librarian.

Two large wings made up the library, with hallways between them and the lobby. I headed straight towards the psychology section, near the stacks to the back of the building.

Books on dreams lined several shelves. I grabbed as many as I could carry.

Tables sat between sections of bookcases, each with four seats and a lamp in the center. I chose one in the perfect position—no one, demonic or otherwise, would be able to enter the room unseen.

Some of the books seemed geared toward psychology experts, so I started with one of the more accessible volumes. It contained no references to nightmares about men with glowing eyes. Little surprise there. My grandfather would have found the answer if it was that easy. I moved on to the next one.

As I read, my fear faded. The books contained so many studies on nightmares and data on their causes, my case had to be there somewhere. When I finished the pile, I went back for more. On my third trip, I grabbed books on signs and symbols, as well as tomes of legends and myths, which I put off to the side. There might be many similar myths throughout history.

Perhaps the similarity between von Hagt’s nightmares and the ones my grandfather studied was only a coincidence after all. The horror overwhelmed him and his friends until they found connections where none existed.

I read until my eyes hurt from the strain, but none of the books helped me. If the clock on the wall was accurate, it was already five in the afternoon. I closed my eyes. Great. If I didn’t solve this soon, I’d have to leave in the dark.

Footsteps made my heart leap into my throat.

It was just the librarian. “The library closes soon.”

My chest tightened. If I went outside, the man with the glowing eyes would be there. And if I made it up the hill, it might be another week before I convinced myself to leave again. Only one thin book remained. It was my last chance.

“I’ll be done soon,” I said. “I promise.”

She pursed her lips. “Very well… If it gets too late, I’ll be back.”

As soon as she turned away, I picked up the final volume. My breath caught in my throat. I’d scooped this one up with all the other books, and I hadn’t seen what it was.

Fatal Nightmares: Unraveling the Mystery, by Wilton Anderson.

I swallowed hard and opened it. The front page listed Maximilian Meyer as co-author, and the chapters were arranged according to his pattern. Each myth led to the next. The first was titled “Incubi, Succubi, and Dream Demons: A Study of Nightmare Phenomena.” A footnote mentioned it was originally published as a standalone article—the article that led Alexander to contact my grandfather.

The book listed a publication year of 1955. I quickly did the math. Wilton would have been in his 50s, and he wrote it two years after the first letters. The full meaning of the date suddenly struck me. He already had a family when he began corresponding with Alexander and Maximilian. My father would have been a child. Did Wilton worry the demon might target his wife and son, too? Maybe his harsh opposition to the occult came from a desire to protect us.

But I didn’t have time to wonder about my grandfather’s motivations, so I turned my attention to the book. The stories within were all too familiar.

When I finished the ninth, “The Madness of Manfred von Hagt,” my hands shook. Maximilian was supposed to be the tenth victim. I turned the page.

“Triumph: Sealing Away a Demon.”

I drew in a sharp breath. They succeeded, then. It took me until the last book, but I’d done it. My answers—and peace of mind—were pages away.

The floor creaked behind me.

I dropped the book and leaped out of my chair. Even as I spun around, I remembered the librarian’s promise to return. Prepared to plead for just a few more seconds to finish the book, I instead saw a young man dressed in all black who was most definitely not the librarian. I shrieked.

The man jumped and stared at me through his glasses.

“Sorry.” My muscles remained tensed, in case I needed to run. “I didn’t think anyone else was here, that’s all.”

“I saw the library was still open.” He ran a hand through his hair.

I followed the action with my eyes. His hair was a strange silvery color. It almost matched his soft gray eyes. I’d seen him in town when I arrived.

“I didn’t mean to startle you,” he said.

“It’s not your fault.”

“Is something wrong?”

I hesitated. His soft voice was gentle, with a slight accent and an edge of worry. It made me want to trust him. Maybe I could tell him the truth.

Probably a bad idea. He’d think I was nuts.

Instead, I said, “I was reading a scary story.”

“Oh?” He stepped closer, and I jumped away. His lips curved in a smile. “I only wanted to see the story.”

I blushed and nodded toward the book still open on the table. My hands shook too much to hand it to him. I took a deep breath. Everything was fine. I needed to calm down. Still, my body refused to listen to reason and screamed at me to run away from this man.

He tilted his head to look at the story and the lamplight glinted off his glasses. I froze.

It couldn’t be.

Then it happened again.

The light struck his glasses and reflected back in such a way to make his eyes appear as orbs of white light. I backed up. It had to be my imagination, except…

Why hadn’t I heard his footsteps until he was right behind me?

He looked up. White light shone from his eyes. My breath hitched, and I scrambled backwards, knocking down my chair as I raced out of the room. I ran as fast as I could, through the halls toward the front of the building.

When I reached the glass doors to the lobby and saw my reflection—deathly pale, mismatched blouse and skirt askew, dark circles under my eyes—I stopped.

I hazarded a quick glance over my shoulder. Maybe I was crazy. The young man had trailed after me, brow furrowed, mouth twisted with concern. He reached out a hand, and I stopped. I couldn’t go on like this—too scared to go outside, paranoid of strangers, trapped in a hell of my own creation.

Maybe he would help me. I took a hesitant step toward him. At the very least, maybe he would console me.

I took another step—and the world spun around me.

His feet weren’t touching the ground.

My legs locked, even though I needed to run, escape. My breath came shallow and quick. He glided ever closer, light glinting from his glasses.

The sight jerked me out of my paralysis. I staggered backward on wobbly legs, turned, and ran.

In the lobby, I risked another look back. He loomed closer, a shadow at the end of the hallway. The librarian? Could she help me?

I raced past her. There was nothing she or anyone else could do.

Outside, I faltered. It was full dark, now. Night. Danger. He’d win. Giggles welled up inside of me. The night wasn’t a threat. Lightheaded, almost giddy, I assured myself there was nothing to be afraid of. The man from my nightmares couldn’t be out there.

Warm breath washed against my neck with his soft murmur. “Because I’m right here.”

His long fingers brushed my shoulders in a warped parody of tenderness, and I ripped away from his grip. My car bobbed up and down in my vision as I ran for it. I couldn’t hear footsteps behind me, but he didn’t need footsteps, he could be anywhere, about to grab me.

Momentum carried me straight into the side of my car. I winced in pain and gasped for breath. I fumbled in my pocket for the keys with numb fingers.

It slipped twice before I forced it in. It didn’t turn, it wouldn’t turn, the skin on my neck tingled in anticipation of the demon’s arrival.

The key turned. With a strangled sob, I yanked opened the car door.

Pale hands caught it.

I screamed and dove into the driver’s seat. I wrenched the door free and slammed it shut. He peered through the window. I shifted into reverse and slammed down on the gas. Out in the street, I sped away from the library.

White eyes glowed in the rearview mirror.

I pressed the pedal to the floor. They could arrest me, throw me in jail, whatever they wanted, as long as they got me away from him.

No. I couldn’t think that way. If I had an accident, he’d pull me from the wreckage.

I slowed, struggle for control of the vehicle. The eyes remained constant in the mirror. I couldn’t breathe.

At the top of the hill, I parked and jumped out of the car. The demon stood in front of me, arms outstretched, eyes shining in the moonlight. I ducked to evade his grip and sprinted for the house. The doors were so far away. I pumped my legs until the muscles burned, found the right key as I ran.

When I reached the doors, I was ready. I shoved the key into the lock and twisted it.

A cold hand closed around my arm. “There is no escape.” His breath caressed my cheek, and his other arm closed around my waist. “Give up, Luna Anderson, you who look so much like your ancestor. Surrender, and you will suffer less.”

Tears blurred my vision. If only Max was there to let me in, if only he hadn’t left—

With a scream, I fought my way free of the demon’s grip. His nails left long scratches on my arm. I wrenched one door open and darted inside.

I backed away, my gaze fixed on the doors. How could wood stop him? He’d get through, he’d smile and kill me right there in my childhood home.

Nothing happened.

I put my head in my hands and sank to the ground. Safe. I was safe.

Laughter rang out on the other side of the door. “Come out, and I will get you on your doorstep. Stay… and I will come for you in your nightmares.”

 

Upstairs in my room, I walked to the window.

He faded from sight as soon as I looked. I shuddered and yanked the curtains closed. I wrapped my arms around myself and rubbed the marks he’d left on my skin. The memory of his touch clung to me, but his words were worse. I couldn’t stay awake forever. I needed to learn how Max escaped his fate.

The letters were my only hope.

I dug them out from where I’d hidden them in my suitcase and carried them to my desk. The first page was upside-down—the sketch. My stomach churned. I left the disturbing image hidden and moved it to the side so I could read the next letter.

Wilton,

Fear may kill me before the demon does.

This is real, and we need to stop it. Von Hagt had a plan, and it involved that artifact. We’ll continue searching for clues. Please, try to find something that can help us. Even if you don’t think your research will do any good, try anyway! I beg you!

Maximilian

The letter after that returned to Alexander’s hand.

When Maximilian showed me your last letter, guilt crushed my heart. Although I began dreaming of the demon, I’d still hoped its gaze would not fall upon you, as distant as you are. It seems our investigation has called the demon’s attention to us all.

The other archaeologists swear they’ve had no strange nightmares. That is one small blessing. It seems to be confined to the three of us… although how it reached you continues to baffle me.

I should never have sent you that first letter. I am truly sorry for having involved you in this. Can you ever forgive me?

Fury at Alexander flared up in me. If he never had contacted my grandfather, I wouldn’t be in danger. I wanted to scream, to tear the letters to shreds, to rip through time and curse Alexander for damning my family, for damning me. Then I slumped. It wasn’t his fault. We weren’t so different. I’d been about to share the truth with the man in the library, before I knew what he was.

Shudders wracked me, and I glanced at the window. The demon’s gaze penetrated the curtain and threaded my mind with promised pain.

My stomach heaved. I forced down my nausea and turned back to the letters. “Please.” I wasn’t sure who I meant my whispered plea for. “Please help me. Don’t let him get me. Tell me what I need to do.”

Only the letters could help me now.

Maximilian and I believe we’ve made a major discovery while searching von Hagt’s diary for clues.

Previously, we believed the demon to be entirely invisible, with no physical evidence left behind. However, that may not be entirely true. As I said before, von Hagt recorded events with incredible detail. When he described the voyage that preceded his nightmares, he mentioned a strange incident where he entered a “forbidden” cabin—a cabin kept off-limits for years, ever since the first mate died there.

In this forbidden cabin, von Hagt noticed an unusual black stain on the wall. He took a closer look, but could not identify it.

It is our belief that the demon cannot entirely hide its passage. Instead, it creates a sort of unearthly residue. Do you recall that I mentioned unusual inkblots in von Hagt’s diary? I believe the demon—or part of its power—took up residence there. It may have used a similar method to reach you, through our letters.

Your thoughts on this admittedly unusual theory would be greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,

Alexander Gruenewald

Unusual inkblots? Several letters did have unusual spots on them, but the idea that it transferred the demon’s power across the ocean to my grandfather was absurd.

New horror filled me as I remembered the way the old ink stained my fingers when I first started reading the letters. Alexander’s theory wasn’t so absurd after all.

I returned to my search. They didn’t die, so they must have found an answer.

Wilton,

At last, progress!

While you and Alexander devoted your attention to the demon’s actual powers, I returned to von Hagt’s accounts of the artifact. After all, he had to be just as shocked as we were when the nightmares began, yet somehow he learned how to create an artifact to seal it away.

According to his journal entries, von Hagt began studying ancient societies that believed in—and fought—demons. I’ve used what influence I have to gain access to certain sites he was interested in. If at all possible, I’d like you to see if you can learn anything about ancient encounters with this demon.

There’s no reason to believe the few incidents we’ve studied are the only times this has happened. It must go back earlier, and someone must have the answers von Hagt found.

With your help, I know we can find a solution.

Yours truly,

Maximilian

Once again, I caught myself wishing Max hadn’t left. It was a strange feeling. When I was a child, Max was just the creepy old German man who yelled at me for watching horror movies or trying to sneak upstairs to the attic. As a teenager, things only got worse. My parents were torn between my wishes and my grandfather’s commands, and Max tried his hardest to enforce Wilton’s wishes after his death.

I remembered my mother asking Max why he felt such loyalty to someone who never showed him any kindness, and Max insisted Wilton was the only person who understood him. At the time, I found it pathetic. I vowed to never end up like Max, dependent on someone who treated him like dirt. I would have never guessed that the day would come when I wanted to ask him for help and advice.

But he was gone, and I didn’t know how to find him. I could only hope the letters would be enough.

According to the subsequent messages, my grandfather searched for clues about how the demon could be sealed away or defeated, while Alexander and Maximilian looked into von Hagt’s history. Their shared work and impending destruction turned them into close friends.

Close friends who didn’t discuss the details of their damned plan in their correspondence.

Dear Wilton Anderson,

Your last message left me greatly disturbed. Even if ancient peoples believed the method you detailed could be used to fight demons, and even if they described a shape similar to that of von Hagt’s artifact, I hope you weren’t implying we should try such a thing. I don’t know when this message will get to you, but I sincerely hope you abandon this train of thought. Therein lies madness.

Sincerely,

Alexander

I ground my teeth in frustration. If only I could read the letters sent by my grandfather, too. What method did he find? What “thing” didn’t Alexander want to describe?

Only two pages remained. If I reached the end and still had no answers—what then? I swallowed hard and kept reading.

I believe you’re right. Von Hagt researched that same society extensively, and I think he found the same answers you did.

Yet Alexander disagrees. He refuses to attempt your plan.

I don’t know what we’re going to do. We’re running out of time!

But… even if there’s no point to it, I would be pleased if you came here anyway. At least the three of us would be together when the end comes.

Your friend,

Maximilian

I rubbed my head. Somehow, they came up with a plan. So close to the end, they kept their sanity long enough to escape. They were stronger than me, then.

I took a deep breath and turned to the final letter.

It was almost illegible. The words changed sizes from one line to the next, and they were crammed together and slanted. I squinted and deciphered the jerky writing.

I don’t like it. It will save us, but I don’t like it. How can we do this? How can we even consider it?

But it’s the only way, isn’t it? I believe you.

I have von Hagt’s artifact and his notes. The information you uncovered fills in the gaps.

Come quickly. We’ll do it.

I stared at the page and turned it over. Blank space mocked me. Nothing. They couldn’t help me. I buried my head in my arms. As I sobbed, a strange numbness ran through me. This was the end. I was going to die at the hands of the demon.

Whatever they did wasn’t foolproof—and I was the fool who disobeyed my grandfather’s orders.

Max knew. He fled that night.

Why hadn’t my grandfather destroyed the letters?

I wiped my eyes and crept downstairs. I couldn’t give up. Not yet. If Wilton didn’t have the answers, maybe Maximilian did.

The demon’s presence felt stronger on the ground floor. I resisted the urge to look out the window and headed straight for the one place in the house I never entered—the caretaker’s room. Childhood memories of Max shouting when I went near his room flashed through my mind, but I opened the door.

And froze.

The room was empty except for a small bed with thin coverlets and a dusty dresser. The walls were another story.

He’d drawn von Hagt’s artifact in every inch of space. It repeated itself at least a hundred times throughout the room. The distorted moon drew my gaze and tore at my mind. I averted my gaze, but it waited for me everywhere.

On the wall beside the bed, Max had written something. I hurried inside and leaned close to get a better look.

Verzeih mir verzeih mir verzeih mir verzeih mir verzeih mir verzeih mir

German. I ground my teeth and walked to the dresser. Maybe he left something behind from when they sealed the demon.

Inside the first drawer sat an envelope addressed to Wilton Anderson. My heart leaped. I tore it open, but frowned. Unlike the letters from the attic, the paper was crisp and new.

Dear Wilton,

I don’t know what I was thinking when I wrote that last letter, but I’ve changed my mind. I mean, you can hardly expect me to have agreed to something like that—I didn’t agree to it, you see; that is, I’m not agreeing to it, and we really shouldn’t do it, Wilton.

Maximilian

Bizarre. I let it fall back into the drawer. He must have written it recently, maybe the night he left. What was he trying to do?

I didn’t have time to wonder. I continued my search.

A small, leather-bound journal rested inside the second drawer. He might have written a personal account of what they did. I opened it to the middle.

Kann nicht schlafen. Die albträume. Die geschrei. Mein Gott… die geschrei…

I threw the diary back where I found it. I needed to find something I could understand. Only one chance left. My heart hammered as I opened the last drawer.

Something shifted inside.

I held my breath. A small, metal object gleamed in the light, clean even though it rested upon a layer of dust. I reached in and picked it up. A chill shot through my hand and into my arm. I stared at the object.

Von Hagt’s artifact.

Maximilian’s pictures were accurate. It curved upon itself in impossible ways. The world rocked and heaved around me as I tried to follow the twists and bends. Such a thing didn’t belong in this world.

Darkness blurred the edges of my vision and swooped up to claim me, but I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the artifact. It was alien. Twisted.

Evil.

 

Alone in the void of my nightmares, I hunched in upon myself. The demon would come for me. Somehow, I had to escape. I looked around, but there was nothing to see, tried to move, but there was nowhere to go.

A shriek pierced the silence. It struck my nerves like a tuning fork. I cowered and clapped my hands over my ears.

The sound faded. I was alone. Hesitant, I rose.

“What are you doing here?”

I gasped. I knew that angry voice. My grandfather, infuriated with me again. I tried to answer, but my voice made no sound. Then a whimper echoed around me.

“Please…”

If the first voice was Wilton’s, the second had to be Alexander or Maximilian. But I was alone.

“You shouldn’t have come! Don’t you think I have enough problems without you around?”

“I’m afraid… Do you think… he followed… ?”

Maximilian. Max. I imagined the caretaker on his knees, tears in his eyes. When a sharp crack rang out, I pictured my grandfather, as stern as in his portrait, striking the terrified man.

“Don’t you dare talk about it! If someone were to hear you… And to answer, your question, he cannot have followed you unless you brought—good God, you did bring the artifact here? Why?”

“I tried to destroy it, but I can’t.”

“Then hide it! Now get out of here!”

“Wilton, please… I can’t stay alone. I can’t stand it. I keep hearing the screams. Why does the screaming never stop?

“Stop it! We’re alive. That’s what matters.”

Silence filled the darkness for a long time. At last, Maximilian broke it with a ragged breath. When he spoke, his voice was all but a wail.

“I went to Alexander’s house to find his letters. I hid them with mine… Please, wouldn’t it be better to burn them?

“No! Don’t you understand? We didn’t end the cycle, we twisted it. For God’s sake, you discovered the demon’s method of travel. You know what’s at stake. Destroy those letters, and his power will return to von Hagt’s diary. Hide them away, and it ends here.”

“It will never end, Wilton! He will find us.”

“Hide the artifact, and our seal will remain intact. Hide the letters, and his power will be bound to them. We are safe, Maximilian. We won.”

“He’s out there. It’s not over, I tell you! He’ll find us!”

Max’s cry faded, and no reply came. I sank to my knees. I didn’t know how they won, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to. Their victory came with a price. Max lived in fear for the rest of his life and my grandfather bound his family by strict rules. And Alexander… hadn’t survived.

Cold, white eyes appeared in the darkness ahead of me.

Whatever had happened to Alexander, however the demon claimed one of the three lives, I would learn first-hand. I tried to move, but my legs wouldn’t obey. I stood paralyzed as the demon approached.

“Found you.”

 

My eyes snapped open. I lay on the floor in Max’s room, my fingers still clasped around the artifact. I blinked away the remains of the nightmare and sat up—to stare straight into a pair of shining glasses.

I scrambled to my feet and backed away from him until I hit the wall. My heart thumped in my chest, my throat, my ears. I thrust out the artifact in a vain attempt to ward him away.

His eyes widened and he lifted his hands. For a moment, he seemed as human as he did in the library. “No!”

“Stay back.” I kept the artifact outstretched in front of me. “Don’t come any closer.”

He looked around and narrowed his eyes. “You’re as great a fool as Maximilian, thinking that phony letter could deceive me. What are you going to do?”

“S-seal you away.”

“How?”

“The same way my grandfather did!”

Something unreadable flared in his eyes. He lunged at me. “You don’t know.” His hands closed around my shoulders and dug into my skin. “You don’t know what they did.”

I flinched and tried to break free. “P-please leave me alone.” God, he looked so human up close, not like the monster my grandfather’s book described. “I’ll do anything you ask.”

He grabbed my chin and forced me to look into his eyes. “You don’t know how Wilton Anderson escaped me.”

“No, I don’t,” I said. Any way to stall for time increased my chances—however miniscule they were—of escaping. “You stopped me before I could finish his book.”

One icy hand slid down my neck, the other glided across my back, until he hovered behind me with a firm grip on my shoulders. Blood roared in my ears, so loud I almost didn’t hear his whisper.

“You will finish the book tonight.”

He shoved me toward the door and marched me out of the house. Outside, he loosened his grip. As we descended the hill and approached the empty streets of town, he released me entirely and walked beside me instead. My feet itched to run, but he’d catch me if I tried. Besides, no one could help me.

The night sky was beautiful above us, in contrast to the hopelessness I felt. He wouldn’t take me to the library if the book could save me. Once I learned whatever he wanted me to know, he’d kill me.

His gaze burned into me, and I stared into his too-human eyes. “Please, don’t do this.”

Cold light reflected from his glasses. He looked away.

When we reached the library doors, he stroked the lock much in the way he touched me before. Shivers crawled across my skin. The door swung open.

He stepped aside for me to enter, and I obeyed. No one waited behind the lobby desk this time. The library was as still as a grave. My grave.

Tears pricked my eyes. The demon’s presence beside me made sure I didn’t delay, and we walked together through the dark halls to the shelf where I’d found my grandfather’s book. Once there, I hesitated.

A growl escaped him. “Now.”

I swallowed hard and took the book to one of the tables. I turned on the lamp and flipped to the ending, where Wilton explained his decision to go to Germany and seal the demon away.

Mouth dry, I turned the page.

We faced a terrible choice. Von Hagt chose to die rather than use the artifact he crafted. It could trap the demon within a vessel—but neither stone nor metal nor flesh could contain the demon’s power.

It had to be a human soul.

The ritual would trap the demon in a corporeal form, bound to the artifact, and seal the memories of both the demon and the man. The artifact would hold the truth, but as long as it remained unseen, neither demon nor man would remember what they once were.

Maximilian and I sealed away the demon to save our lives and stop its reign of terror. We planned carefully. The demon’s attacks would die with us.

My heart hammered. A human soul? They sacrificed someone’s life to stop the demon? No wonder they went mad, no wonder Alexander disagreed…

The book fell from my hands. It only listed two authors. No. It couldn’t be true. It couldn’t.

Hatred and pain radiated from the demon’s eyes, and I knew it was.

“Please…” I fell to my knees, and tears filled my eyes. “I didn’t know!”

The demon’s spectral hand brushed my chin and I didn’t move, too horrified by what my grandfather did so many years ago.

“I’m so sorry, Alexander.”

Divider

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The post It Came Back by Samantha Lienhard appeared first on The Book Smugglers.

case: (Default)
([personal profile] case posting in [community profile] fandomsecrets Jul. 24th, 2017 07:17 pm)

⌈ Secret Post #3855 ⌋

Warning: Some secrets are NOT worksafe and may contain SPOILERS.

01.


More! )


Notes:

Secrets Left to Post: 02 pages, 27 secrets from Secret Submission Post #551.
Secrets Not Posted: [ 0 - broken links ], [ 0 - not!secrets ], [ 0 - not!fandom ], [ 0 - too big ], [ 0 - repeat ].
Current Secret Submissions Post: here.
Suggestions, comments, and concerns should go here.
withinadream: (Default)
([personal profile] withinadream posting in [community profile] femslashex Jul. 24th, 2017 06:15 pm)
Welcome to our fifth annual femslash exchange!

Nothing major has changed since last year, but please look over the rules again, even if you've signed up before.

Dates

All times are 6pm EDT

26 July-10 August: Nomination Period
13-23 August:: Signups open
26 August: Assignments will be sent out by this date
7 October: Fanworks due
13 October: Archive goes live (or as soon as everyone has a gift)
21 October: Creators revealed

Associated sites: LiveJournal Feed & Tumblr & AO3 Collection & Tag Set.


Fest FAQs:
Nominations
  • Before signups, we will have a nomination period for people to pick fandoms and relationships that they would like included in the fest. Each person can nominate up to five fandoms, with up to five pairings within each. Please only nominate fandoms that you plan to offer or request.

  • All fandoms in all media are welcome. Canon or non-canon pairings are welcome. Original works are welcome.

  • For the purpose of this fest, femslash is defined as fic or art containing a relationship between two or more characters who identify in canon as either female or genderqueer. (We do not mean to imply that genderqueer = female, but would like to include as many pairings as we can, and leave gender definitions to the participants' discretion). That means you may not request gender-altered/Rule-63/spectrum-shifting works for canon male-identified characters. To be clear:
    • You may request works about cis female-identified characters.

    • You may request works about transgender women, such as Ms Hudson from Elementary.

    • You may also request works about canonically genderqueer and gender-questioning characters regardless of their assigned gender, such as Franky from Skins UK, Alister/Athena from Huge, and Xavin from Runaways.

    • You may request a canonically always female alternate universe version of a character who is male in the main universe, such as Natasha Stark from Marvel 3490

    • You may not request works about characters who are male-identified in canon.

    • You may not request works about male-identified characters who are temporarily transformed or body swapped into an assigned-female body, such as Guy Gardner in Guy Gardner: Warriorette (if you don't know, don't ask).

  • Poly: We do allow poly groupings, so long as all the characters involved are eligible (f/f/f = fine; f/f/m = not in this fest, though you may list it as an option in your optional details.)

  • Crossovers: Please nominate crossovers as under the fandom: Crossovers - Fandom, and list the characters with their fandom after the character name (Example: Pepper Potts (MCU)/Seven of Nine (Star Trek: Voyager)

  • RPF: RPF characters must be 18 or over at the time of nomination, and must be public figures in their own right (no girlfriends/kids/parents of public figures permitted).

  • You must have an Archive of Our Own (AO3) account to participate in nominations and sign ups. If you do not have one already, you can leave a comment here or e-mail the mods for an invite code. (For more on AO3 and how to sign up, go here).


Sign Ups
You can edit/delete your signup until signups close.
This is an exchange fest, which means you must produce a fanwork for someone else. If you withdraw, it is harder for everyone involved. So please, think carefully if you have the time before signing up. If you discover after signing up that you can't finish in time, contact the moderators as soon as possible.

Requests
  • You will have an option to select whether you would like to receive art, fic or both. Obviously, "both" increases ease of matching, but you don't have to request a format you do not want.

  • Signups must include 4-6 fandoms from our list of nominated fandoms, and each fandom must have 1-6 pairings from the list of nominated pairings. We encourage people to request more than the minimum, as the more pairings you ask for, the easier matching will be.

  • You will be matched on fandom, pairing and format (fic or art).

  • While the description section is optional, we strongly suggest you include Do Not Wants. Any DNWs/triggers included in the description will be enforced by the mods. Other things to consider are the inclusion of general likes, rating restrictions, prompt ideas, or anything else you’d like the writer or artist to know. However, please remember that these are optional for the person assigned to you. If you've requested art, please remember that not all fic prompts translate well into art (more on that here). If you have a lot to say, consider linking to a letter in your own blog with the extra details.

  • In your signup, do not imply rank for pairings or otherwise specify a favourite pairing. There is no need to make the person you are assigned feel bad if you want something they are not comfortable writing or drawing.


Offers
  • You may offer to make art, write fic, or both.

  • You may offer between 4-10 fandoms, with 1-10 pairings per fandom. Obviously, the more pairings you offer, the easier matching will be. You can also choose to offer "any" pairing in a given fandom, but please check the tag set to ensure that you're comfortable writing or drawing any pairing listed.

  • You will be matched on fandom, pairing and format (fic or art).


Pinch Hitting
  • In the event we have issues matching someone, they will go out as a pinch hit right away. You can find the pinch hits here.

  • You do not have to have an AO3 account to pinch hit, as you may submit via the mod account. The mods will edit in credit and links to your own platform after the end of the anon period.

  • If you do pinch hit, you'll have the option of adding your requests to a special prompts post, so that those who'd like to can reward you with the gift of femslash!


Your Assignment
  • Your fanwork must focus on a requested pairing, and must include a romantic and/or sexual relationship of some kind. This is not a friendship ficathon. That means there should be some kind of f/f romance, longing, kissing, love, and/or sex. You're welcome to offer or request work featuring asexual characters as long as it's in the spirit of this rule.

  • You are not obligated to produce something for ALL pairings on which you are matched. Pick whatever you are comfortable with. However, if you want to write or draw more than one thing for your recipient, feel free.

  • You don’t have to write or draw the fandom/pairing you were matched on if something else your recipient requested interests you.

  • Creators are required to avoid featuring their recipient’s DNWs in their gifts. While it is not required, if possible, please consider using one of your recipient's prompts.

  • Betas are not required, but are strongly encouraged. Fic submissions with excessive spelling, punctuation and grammar errors and art submissions that look like drafts will be rejected. If your submission is rejected for this reason you can resubmit it after you've polished your work. We will have a beta sign up post.

  • Due to the nature of this fest, it is hard for extensions to be given. If you know you won't be able to submit by the due date, please default as soon as possible. If you default prior to the due date, you may participate next year with no problems. If you default two years in a row, simply fail to submit your work by the due date, submit an unfinished work, or delete your already-completed assignment, you will not be able to participate in the next fest.

  • If you withdraw and the person assigned to create something for you withdraws, you will not be assigned a pinch hitter.

  • If you have a problem with, any questions about, or cannot complete your assignment, please contact us immediately at femslashexmod@gmail.com.


Extras
  • Please finish your assignment before you start on treats.

  • You do not need an AO3 account to post treats; you may do so via the mod account. The mods will edit in credit and links to your own platform after the end of the anon period.

  • Treats of polished art and fic over 1000 words may be posted at any time. Please wait until the mod gives the word before posting shorter fic and sketches.

  • This fest has mandatory anon period for fic. Author names will be revealed one week after the archive goes live. Please do not promote your fic before that time.

  • The anon period for art is optional. Because of concerns about crossposting without attribution, artists may sign their work and may link to it, but they are requested not to crosspost the full art until all the end of the anon period. (For more on this, read here.)


Be respectful. Please realize that everyone has different likes/interests/squicks.


Fest Rules:
  1. All fic have to be a minimum of 1,000 words, and be of a quality that you'd be happy to receive as a gift.. There is no maximum word count.

  2. Art must be polished, and be of a quality that you'd be happy to receive as a gift. There is no maximum size for art or page limit for comics. Art must be hand or digitally drawn. We are not accepting manips at this time.

  3. Submissions may be any rating.

  4. Submissions must be femslash, and must focus on a requested pairing.

  5. Please don't talk about the specifics of your assignment in public until the creators are revealed. We'd like it to be a surprise for everyone.

  6. Gfts can't be part of a previously posted series.



Please do not hesitate to leave a comment here or contact us at femslashexmod@gmail.com, if you have any questions/comments/concerns.

Rules compiled from [livejournal.com profile] rarepairfest and [community profile] femslash12.
isis: (gryffindor sheppard)
([personal profile] isis Jul. 24th, 2017 04:09 pm)
Dear writer or artist! Thank you for offering to create a fanwork crossing over two of these sources. As long as you generally stick with things I like and avoid things I dislike, I will love your story or artwork even if it doesn't take on any of my prompts, which are only suggestions. I am [archiveofourown.org profile] Isis on AO3.

Some general stuff about my tastes: For written works, explicit sex (slash, het, or femslash) is okay, non-explicit sex is okay, no sex is okay, but any sex should be in believable language for the source, and there should be more to the story than just PWP. If you choose to write a sex scene, I prefer those that focus on emotions and perceptions rather than on the mechanics of what goes where, and I am rather vanilla in my preferences where kink is concerned: mouths, hands, genitals, toys, all are fine, but I'm not into BSDM or bloodplay or watersports or anything that might get a special tag. Gen is a-okay with me too. For art, I prefer R-rated art to NC17-rated art, and I'm totally happy with lower-rated art.

I have made some prompts and suggestions, but feel free to take things in whatever direction you like and/or include characters I haven't mentioned. I like: historical/worldbuildy detail, scenery porn, non-explicitly-detailed sex, ghost stories, supernatural elements, what-if AUs, original characters. My favorite tropes are time travel, bodyswap, and afterlife stories, though I'm perfectly happy with an entirely canonical scenario. In general I'm not a fan of AU that completely changes the setting, but if you have a brilliant idea, go for it; I would prefer "interesting" to "mundane" AUs, e.g., in SPAAAACE yes, coffeeshop no. (Coffeeshop in SPAAAACE, okay!). Except as noted, I would like happy endings and no major character death (unless it's canonical and results in ghost-fic).

For fic, I generally prefer plot (as in, things happening; doesn't have to be elaborate or long – as contrasted with character studies), past tense (either first person or third person – I don't like second person), and lots of dialogue. But these are preferences, not hard DNWs, and if you have a brilliant idea that requires second person or present tense, go ahead. My only hard preferences are for conventional pronouns, capitalization, and punctuation.

For art, I am happier with AU than in fic. I am totally fine with simple portraits, though if you want to show characters interacting, I have a soft spot for art in which one character is doing something typical-but-alarming, and the other is rolling his or her eyes, or reacting with horror, or getting ready to douse them with a bucket of water, or whatever. I like line drawings as well as full color. Stylistically, I love interesting and experimental compositions, unusual perspectives, emphasis on textures such as hair and clothing, and scenery porn (Mountains! Trees! Cliffs with water crashing on them! Brooding ruins of an ancient castle!)

This is a placeholder and will be edited to add specific fandom likes and prompts. )

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 Al Rosenberg

My day job is at a millennial tech start-up. We talk a lot about “how to get people to engage with each other” and there are so many ways and reasons and I have found a great one: Mangaka. Over two years ago, I interviewed Mangaka lead designer Jason Thompson and producer Jumana Al Hashal about the [...]

The post Mangaka: Play with Your Comics appeared first on Women Write About Comics.

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.

I cried my way through Gifted on Saturday, and I can only hope CEvans decides to do a sideline in loving dad roles going forward because it's a good look for him. Needed more Octavia Spencer, though.

And yesterday, I watched Orphan Black: Gag and Throttle
spoilers )

In SDCC news:

+ the Black Panther stuff all looks AMAZING
+ Thor: Ragnarok looks delightfully charming
+ Infinity War looks like a hot mess but features beardy Steve in a black stealth suit and Bucky with a new arm, so I'll get over Natasha's blonde hair, I guess. The ability of any movie to service so many characters, otoh...
+ Justice League looks like two separate movies being smooshed into one - I am into Wonder Woman and Aquaman, as well as Alfred and Jim Gordon, but skeptical of everything else. is this a spoiler? )
+ The Star Wars books in the lead up to The Last Jedi look like fun (CHEWIE AND THE PORGS! Legends of Luke Skywalker! A 16yo Princess Leia book! A Canterbury Tales-like anthology! With authors like Ken Liu and Elizabeth Wein and Saladin Ahmed in addition to Claudia Gray and Chuck Wendig!) I am excite!
+ I like that Captain Marvel is going to be set in the 90s - it explains why they cast someone so young as Carol, though I wonder if that means they'll recast for present-day Carol or what. And Nick Fury will be there! And maybe we could get a Peggy Carter cameo!

I'm sure there's more I'm forgetting atm, but work keeps interrupting. Sigh.

***

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 Ginnis Tonik

Kelly Thompson, Sophie Campbell, and M. Victoria Robado’s refreshing, yet still totally outrageous, comic reboot of the 1980s Jem & the Holograms television series ended with issue #26 on June 14 of this year. The Jem comic has been a huge hit with the 80’s babies, such as myself, that generated a spinoff, Jem: The [...]

The post Keeping Jem Outrageous: A Listicle appeared first on Women Write About Comics.

Posted by Wendy Browne

The Toronto International Film Festival’s focus on worldwide creativity and digital innovation continues with the TIFFxInstagram Shorts Festival on August 9 to 20, 2017. Now in its second year, the festival is now accepting submissions until July 30th for 60-second-or-less films on Instagram using the hashtag #TIFFxInstagram. Applicants must also complete a submission form at tiff.net/shortsfestival. The 2016 [...]

The post Mini Movies: The Return of the TIFFxInstagram Shorts Festival appeared first on Women Write About Comics.

jimhines: (Snoopy Writing)
([personal profile] jimhines Jul. 24th, 2017 12:56 pm)

I checked Amazon today and was surprised to see that three of my books are on sale in electronic format. Barnes and Noble doesn’t appear to have price-matched the sale yet (they have now!), and I don’t know if this is limited to North America, but here’s what I do know:

Libriomancer is on sale for $1.99.

Goblin Quest is on sale for $2.99.

The Stepsister Scheme is on sale for $2.99.

That’s book one of all three of my fantasy series. If you’ve been waiting to check out my stuff, this is the perfect time.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

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 Corissa Haury

It’s nearly the end of July, dear readers, and that means San Diego Comic Con just ended. With a bucketload of trailers and some announcements from Comic Con, the windfall of comic news hit the world like She-Hulk slamming Titania with the green fist of grace. So let’s dive right in, as so many heroes [...]

The post Previously on Comics: San Diego Comic Con and More appeared first on Women Write About Comics.

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.


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.

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