Merriam-Webster Tackles Worldbuilding

Kameron Hurley worldbuliding Empire Ascendant

As LitHub pointed out in a recent interview, Merriam-Webster’s social media game is on point. Yes, Merriam-Webster as in the dictionary—and the many clever, irreverent folks who dream up snappy tweets and thoughtful blog posts about etymology and wordplay. The site has a keen eye for which words are trending in pop culture, and their choices are impressively up-to-date: in omnia paratus after the premiere of Netflix’s Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Lifemonolith after Jon Stewart dropped it multiple times in one interview; and so forth. What’s more, the site’s Words We’re Watching feature highlights those bits of slang or evolutions in language that are on Merriam-Webster’s radar but haven’t yet gotten the official stamp of approval for inclusion. Take, for instance, when Daniel José Older tweeted:

Merriam-Webster responded within six weeks—and their Words We’re Watching entry for worldbuilding delved into the SFF community for answers.

The post quotes Charlie Jane Anders’ io9 piece “7 Deadly Sins of Worldbuilding,” as well as tweets from Kameron Hurley and Maria Dahvana Headley, to establish worldbuilding‘s current definition as firmly entrenched in the worlds of SFF and creating art. But Merriam-Webster also delved into the etymology of the word—which they are more likely to spell as world-building—with some surprising facts about its history. Such as the fact that one of its earliest recorded uses, in 1805, described geologic formations; that the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw the concept adopted by novelists and poets to describe how their imagination fed into their creative processes; or the fact that one of its first modern uses in the form we know it as now was in a 1975 PhD dissertation involving Frank Herbert’s Dune.

In each case, Merriam-Webster explains why worldbuilding didn’t make it into the dictionary of the time. And while the jury is still out on this one, the dictionary’s FAQ explains one of the main criteria to becoming a dictionary entry: number of citations, or usages. So, you know what you have to do now: tweet and blog all about worldbuilding!

Fiction Affliction: Genre-Benders for December


Hauntings, holidays, history and more infuse December’s five genre-bending fictions! From Lovecraft to lemmings, and including recipes (!) from Jeanette Winterson, this is a notably varied holiday feast.

Fiction Affliction details releases in science fiction, fantasy, and “genre-benders.” Keep track of them all here. Note: All title summaries are taken and/or summarized from copy provided by the publisher.



The Lovecraft Code—Peter Levenda (December 1, Ibis)
Drawing on decades of experience, author and historian Peter Levenda turns to the novel as the best and perhaps only way to tell a story that has to be told—that hidden within the tales of America’s most iconic writer of gothic horror, H.P. Lovecraft, runs a vein of actual terror. Gregory Angell, the present-day descendant of George Angell in Lovecraft’s “Call of Cthulhu,” is summoned by a nameless covert agency of the US government to retrieve a sacred book from the grasp of an Islamist terror network operating out of northern Iraq, in the land of the Yezidi. Practitioners of a monotheistic religion with mystical traditions, the Yezidi are all that’s left of an ancient sect that possessed the key to the origins of the human race and was in conflict with another, more ancient civilization from beyond the stars.

Five Stories High—Jonathan Oliver, editor (December 6, Solaris)
One house, five hauntings, five chilling stories. Five Stories High is a collection of five novellas each set in the same house—Irongrove Lodge. This five story Georgian mansion, once a grand detached property, has now been split into five apartments. This is a building with history, the very bricks and grounds imbued with the pasts of those who have walked these corridors, lived in these rooms. Five extraordinary writers open the doors, revealing ghosts both past and present in a collection that promises to be as intriguing as it is terrifying. Featuring novellas by Sarah Lotz, JK Parker, Nina Allan, Robert Shearman and Tade Thompson.

1635: The Wars for the Rhine (Ring of Fire #24)—Anette Pedersen (December 6, Baen Books)
In the year 1635, the Rhineland is in turmoil. The impact of the Ring of Fire, the cosmic accident which transported the small modern West Virginia town of Grantville to Europe in the early seventeenth century, has only aggravated a situation that was already chaotic. Perhaps nowhere in central Europe did the Thirty Years War produce so much upheaval as it did in the borderlands between France and Germany. Archbishop Ferdinand of Cologne shares the religious fanaticism of his older brother, Duke Maximilian of Bavaria. He is determined to restore the power of the Catholic Church over the middle Rhine, the so-called “Bishop’s Alley,” and has unleashed a plot for that purpose. But that same middle Rhine is territory which Landgrave William V of Hesse-Kassel is determined to seize for himself, under the guise of expanding the influence of the United States of Europe. Add to the witch’s brew the deaths in battle of Duke Wolfgang of Jülich-Berg and his son, which leaves his young widow Katharina Charlotte as the heir to those much-prized territories. She is now on the run, in disguise—and pregnant. Add the unexpected arrival of Austria’s most capable general, Melchior von Hatzfeldt, along with the most ruthless spy and torturer in the Rhineland, Felix Gruyard. The wars for the Rhine have erupted, and only the devil knows how they will end.

Christmas Days: Twelve Stories—Jeanette Winterson (December 6, Grove)
For years Jeanette Winterson has loved writing a new story at Christmas time and here she brings together twelve of her brilliantly imaginative, funny and bold tales. For the Twelve Days of Christmas—a time of celebration, sharing, and giving—she offers these twelve plus one: a personal story of her own Christmas memories. These tales give the reader a portal into the spirit of the season, where time slows down and magic starts to happen. From trees with mysterious powers to a tinsel baby that talks, philosophical fairies to flying dogs, a haunted house and a disappearing train, Winterson’s innovative stories encompass the childlike and spooky wonder of Christmas. Perfect for reading by the fire with loved ones, or while traveling home for the holidays. Enjoy the season of peace and goodwill, mystery, and a little bit of magic courtesy of one of our most fearless and accomplished writers.



The Angels of Our Better Beasts—Jerome Stueart (December 13, ChiZine)
The Lemmings are really researching the Arctic biologists, the werewolves sing sweet Christian praise songs, and the signing gorilla just wants someone back in the cage for a minute or two. The Gryphon can fight your war for you, and there isn’t really a problem when the man you’ve been online dating turns out to be a bear, is there? No worries. Those old lions in the canyon aren’t up to something, are they? The doctors in the red coats just want to cure you of a terrible blood disease. Trust them. In the forest, the sasquatch has fallen in love with the cryptozoologist who follows him, while the god of the Brazos River courts the young, pretty Texas college students. These fifteen illustrated stories of beasts—and the beasts we sometimes become—ask us how much influence we have over each other, to bring out our beast sides or our best sides . . . and how much control the beasts already have over us.

This Week in the Arrowverse: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes

Photo: Michael Courtney/The CW

Aliens! Team-ups! And emotional what-might-have-beens! In this week’s epic crossover, The Flash and Arrow play to their strengths, while Legends of Tomorrow serves as the cleanup crew. Which is pretty much the team’s job with history, right?

Spoilers ahead.

The Dominators, big-alien-deal as they are, serve the usual Arrowverse dual-purpose: They bring all the teams together, and they bring a lot of conflicts to a head. If sometimes the sci-fi elements look a little cheesy, the weak spots are balanced out by the tangle of guilt and love and support that ties all these teams together. Each team works and relates differently, and has a different perspective to the others—perspectives that are much needed, particularly for Team Flash, where everything has gotten so personal.

Even with all the heaviness, The Flash has the most fun with this crossover: Barry rounding up the superfriends! (Thea saying she’s in: “It’s aliens!”) Barry suddenly having a hangar, er, a hall they’re going to have to move to if HR gets his way and opens STAR Labs up to tours! Grant Gustin delivering the single word “Aliens??!?” with the most glorious mix of wonder and disbelief! Everybody failing to defeat Supergirl! The mind-controlled superfight! But the show never loses sight of its emotional core conflict: how everyone deals with Barry’s changes to the timeline.

Photo: Dean Buscher/The CW

Photo: Dean Buscher/The CW

So many great, small moments are tucked in the middle of this episode, once Barry’s choice is revealed to the rest of the team—and once everyone learns about the message from future-Barry, who warns against trusting present-Barry. Oliver chooses to be the one to tell Diggle that he had a daughter; he does that for Digg, because it’s better coming from his best friend, and to protect Barry, because Oliver knows what it’s like to royally screw up. Felicity silently rolls her chair away from Cisco when there’s nothing to say. Oliver takes out his frustration on Supergirl: When he tells her not to hold back, I think it’s both because the rest of the team really needs the practice, and because he needs something to punch. Kara’s role as the outsider here is perfectly played, and not least when she reintroduces all three teams, matching everyone’s names and hero-names—and then turns to where Iris, Caitlin, and Felicity are notably off to the side. It’s a sharp reminder, purposeful or not, of how dude-heavy the fighting teams are.

Meanwhile, the president gets abducted, the team fights over leadership, Lyla reminds us yet again that she’s a very practical badass, and Martin Stein discovers he has a daughter. (Martin also tells Caitlin something one of her friends should’ve said by now: If she goes all Frosty again, they’ll all be there for her.) Amid all the narrative setup, one scene really stands out: Oliver and Barry in that secret room where Gideon is, where Barry calls up the article about his future disappearance. The byline has changed, but the news is the same, and Barry is dwelling on it. Oliver dismisses it—“It’s a weird-looking newspaper article”—and then proceeds to remind Barry that he knows a thing or two about mistakes and regrets.

As much of a hard-ass as Oliver can be, this is his soft side: he understand pain and powerlessness, and he’s built his new life around avoiding those things as much as he can. Barry can’t listen to anyone else who tells him this timeline isn’t his fault, but he can hear Oliver, who saw both of his own parents die. “Change happens. Tragedy happens. People make choices, and those choices affect everyone else,” Oliver says, and while I might not entirely agree that this timeline isn’t Barry’s fault, I think Barry did need to be reminded of all of these things. And so did we: The Flash has shown us a lot of one side of this argument, the side that’s hurting and different and weird because of Barry. This is our reminder that Barry was hurting, his life was different and weird, because of Reverse-Flash. It’s meta-problems all the way down.

At least, until aliens mind-control all your friends and make you focus a little bit more on the here and now. This isn’t the most elegant fight (why is Digg suddenly a terrible shot?) but it has its moments, including a reminder about Flash lightning, and a chance for Wally to do some good (and, inevitably, get hurt in the process). And then Barry Allen’s crappy day ends with aliens kidnapping half of his friends. Happy Tuesday, Barry!

Photo: Bettina Strauss/The CW

Photo: Bettina Strauss/The CW

Arrow has a tricky job this week: balancing the crossover narrative with an Oliver-centric 100th episode. If it tips a little more toward the latter than the former, I’m wiling to forgive it, not least because I love the trip down Arrow memory lane. (Such a nice touch with the arrowheads in the open.) This show has never been the same since it lost Moira Queen—and I’m even glad to see Malcolm Merlyn, that nasty scamp. The gang’s all here, though no one really knows where here is.

On The Flash this week, Oliver is super intense, telling Kara not to hold back; insisting on supporting Barry, telling the team to look at one sci-fi problem at a time. He’s the voice of pragmatism; he wants to get the job done. So it’s an immediate and effective about-face to open Arrow with him jogging across the Queen house grounds, then sharing a shower with his soon-to-be-wife, Laurel.

There are so many signs that something is wrong, from Laurel’s presence to Oliver’s total lack of tattoos, and the show wisely doesn’t pretend that this is real life for long. It shows us Oliver, Thea, Sara, Ray, and Diggle in some sort of alien pods, wearing alien pajamas, presumably sharing an alien dream. This world is built from what’s in their heads, twisted and turned into a world where Oliver never got on the Queen’s Gambit. It’s an elaborate dream of the normal life Oliver can never have, and the person he’ll never be. But does he want that anymore?

Outside this crazy dream world, the geek squad and Team Arrow newbs work to figure out where Oliver and company (nice reference, Cisco) are. These scenes are notable mostly for Curtis’s inability to hide how much he’s fanboying over Cisco, Rene’s hatred of metas, and the baffling absence of Evelyn. Just one little line about her would’ve helped! Instead I just kept wondering where she was, since her apparent treachery has yet to be exposed. But then, where were the rest of the Legends? And why did we need to waste time on the throwaway cyberwoman character? Sure, Barry and Kara’s high-five/tag-in moment makes a great gif, but it seems out of character how much joy they take in beating a stranger most of the way to death.

All of this is secondary at best to Oliver’s escape from this peculiar dreamland. Why would the Hood’s lair be in the same place as Oliver’s lair? Why would Felicity still be tech support? (Nice little difference of her hair being down, though.) The answer is simple: The whole world is built from what’s in everyone’s heads, just reshaped in a way that doesn’t have to follow real-life logic. Merlyn can eat appetizers with Thea at a rehearsal dinner and then turn into a villain outside. Deathstroke could be anyone, under that mask. Damien Darhk doesn’t have magic because he’s just a memory. The dream doesn’t matter; it’s just a symbol.

Photo: Bettina Strauss/The CW

Photo: Bettina Strauss/The CW

And poor Laurel is the biggest symbol of all: the golden-girl reminder of what Ollie—and Sara—lost. (Sara gets a moment in The Flash when she yells at Barry about how hard it is for her not to save her sister, but her grief could’ve been more present here.) As a theme for your 100th episode, “Oliver accepts the life that all of his choices have created” is pretty grand, and pretty well executed. Once, he might’ve missed all of this—this life in which he has “everything.” But it doesn’t tempt him anymore.

It almost tempts Thea, though, and for a long minute I was genuinely afraid she was going to stay, to disappear into a fantasy life in which her many losses never happened. Sometimes Arrow forgets what it’s put Thea through: thinking she lost her brother, her parents’ deaths, Roy’s departure, Alex’s death, losing her club, and now basically doing everything for her big brother the mayor. But like Oliver, she comes to accept her real life: “Like I said: I can’t lose my family again.”

And then she gets to be part of the most satisfying fight sequence moment of this entire crossover: beating Merlyn, then shooting one of his arrows over to Sara, who uses it to stab Darhk. This! Again! All the time! The gang’s exit from dreamland feels a little rushed and too easy, even with all the fighting, but it was never the point of the exercise: that was to center Oliver, to remind him that the life he has is the one he’s fighting for. And, though it’s a brief scene, to give Sara a moment of acceptance when she hugs Laurel and admits there are some things you just can’t fix.

Whatever the aliens want, the end of Arrow makes it clear it’s about metahumans; it looked like they kidnapped Oliver’s whole gang, but really, they kidnapped a bunch of people who don’t have powers. And turnabout, in these teams, is definitely fair play, so the Legends will go back in time to kidnap a Dominator and see what they can learn.

But not with Kara’s help. I don’t really buy Oliver’s please-stay-out-of-this speech (“I don’t get unnerved,” oh, please, Ollie). But the forthrightness with which Kara says that it sure feels personal is great: she’s not worried about being too emotional, and he doesn’t dismiss them. They’re not seeing eye to eye, but they still treat each other with a degree of respect.

Photo: Diyah Pera/The CW

Photo: Diyah Pera/The CW

Legends is the show most used to dividing its team into multiple plotlines, so here we have Martin, Caitlin, and Martin’s surprise daughter Lily working in the lab; Nate, Mick, Amaya, Cisco and Felicity zipping into the past; and Barry, Sara, Ray, and Oliver teamed up in the field. I find it hard to believe that Joe, Iris, and Wally just … went home, but at this point there are a lot of people to keep track of, and they got their awkward no-fighting-for-Wally plot during Flash. Not every character gets a fair shake on screen time (where are you, Jax?), which is inevitable with all three teams in play, but poor Caitlin gets little to do besides provide an opportunity for Martin to explain his conflicted feelings about his daughter. She knows science! Let her help!

After Arrow’s emotional hour, this is plot by the buckets, with Glasses the Government Goon giving up bits of intel in the past and the future. Everything comes down to metahumans—and to Barry. The Dominators showed up years ago to determine whether humanity was a threat, and when it wasn’t—yet—made a truce. A truce Barry broke when he used his powers to change the timeline. Dude just can’t catch a break: Oliver may have forgiven him, and Cisco may be on the way, but now even the alien invasion is his fault.

Except that it’s not, entirely. In the past, Cisco sees a chance to show the Dominators that humanity isn’t a threat by setting the captive alien free and sending it back to its people. In the present, Glasses explains that the deal is that Barry, truce-breaker, has to turn himself in, and then the aliens will leave them in peace. Naturally, Barry wants to sacrifice himself, because of all of his guilt; naturally, we know he’s not going to, because this scene is actually about Cisco coming to understand that sometimes even doing the right thing has terrible consequences. Freeing the Dominator left it alive to come back and kill metas.

While some of the guilt and melodrama is a little heavy handed, I’ve got to hand it to Legends for avoiding the idea that any of these choices, any of these abilities or possibilities, are inherently right or wrong. Even changing history isn’t always wrong: Martin changed time so that he has a daughter, and he has to overcome his initial guilt in order to see her as a real person. Cisco changed time by doing something intended to be kind—which turned out to have terrible results. Each moment is its own case; there is no single right answer. You have to make choices, and some of them will be mistakes. “Maybe we do more harm than good,” Nate says, “but this is our chance to find out.”

Which they do, in part, with a device that causes terrible agony for the Dominators. Our heroes may save the day, but this is clearly a setup for the Dominators, having learned that humanity is a nasty threat with or without metas, to come back, bigger and meaner and deadlier than before. Introducing an alien race already made the Earth-1 universe bigger; pissing off that alien race makes the universe all the more dangerous.

But for now, the path is cleared for forgiveness, group hugs, Mick and Sara ogling the president, and Oliver finally accepting Kara, who reminds him that difficult times make us stronger. And we get an answer to the question, “If the world wasn’t being threatened, what would we do?”

Shots, apparently. Or at least a couple of beers for Ollie and Barry, who get the last moment even though this isn’t their show. We haven’t entirely resolved the question of future-Barry’s message (unless it’s been changed by the team’s actions in the past), but we’ve brought everyone together again, and on a perfect note:

“To things not being normal.”

“To life being full.”

Molly Templeton will at least get some Evelyn closure in next week’s mid-season finale. But will it be as satisfying as this crossover?

The Lost Child of Lychford Signed Copy Sweepstakes!

The Lost Child of Lychford by Paul Cornell

We want to send you an autographed copy of Paul Cornell’s The Last Child of Lychford, available now from Publishing! Read an excerpt here.

It’s December in the English village of Lychford – the first Christmas since an evil conglomerate tried to force open the borders between our world and… another.

Which means it’s Lizzie’s first Christmas as Reverend of St. Martin’s. Which means more stress, more expectation, more scrutiny by the congregation. Which means… well, business as usual, really.

Until the apparition of a small boy finds its way to Lizzie in the church. Is he a ghost? A vision? Something else? Whatever the truth, our trio of witches (they don’t approve of “coven”) are about to face their toughest battle, yet!

The Lost Child of Lychford is the sequel to Paul Cornell’s Witches of Lychford.

Comment in the post to enter!

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States and D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec). To enter, comment on this post beginning at 3:30 PM Eastern Time (ET) on December 2nd. Sweepstakes ends at 12:00 PM ET on December 6th. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor:, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.

Holy Rewatch Batman! “Ring Around the Riddler”


“Ring Around the Riddler”
Written by Charles Hoffman
Directed by Sam Strangis
Season 3, Episode 2
Production code 1707
Original air dates: September 21, 1967

The Bat-signal: The Riddler is hiding out in a little-used gymnasium (conveniently labelled “LITTLE USED GYMNASIUM”) and trying to get Kid Gulliver to throw a fight. He won’t do it, so Riddler tosses him in the steam room to convince him. His plan is to take over Gotham’s boxing industry.

Kid Gulliver takes a dive in the third round. Bruce, Dick, and Alfred are watching, and Bruce solemnly calls an emergency meeting of the Gotham Boxing Commission (of which he is the chair), as he’s SHOCKED! to learn that there are undesirable elements getting involved in boxing.

Riddler leaves a box covered in blinky lights at the Gotham Square Garden box office. Barbara shortly thereafter comes to the box office to buy tickets, and discovers the box. She changes to Batgirl and calls Gordon, who calls Batman. The blinky box is brought to Gordon’s office, where Batman manages to get it open, and there’s a note in amongst some metal filings. It, of course, has a riddle: “Who rules the ring? No king, prince, or rajah, look for a clue on the walls of Kafajah.”


Kid Gulliver has disappeared, kidnapped by the Riddler, having pumped him full of “riddle juice,” which keeps him amnesiac and dopey.

Batman and Robin bat-climb Barbara’s building to consult her (at Gordon’s suggestion) about Kafajah. She points out that the temple there was home to fisticuffs before boxing. They realize Riddler’s riddle was referring to a boxing ring. Gordon stops by to see his daughter and also tell Batman and Robin that Kid Gulliver was found outside Gotham Square Garden with no memory of the fight.

The Dynamic Duo hie to the Garden while the Gordons watch a sports talk show hosted by Riddler’s moll, Betsy Boldface, who interviews Riddler disguised as “Mushy Nebuchadnezzar,” southwest Asia’s finest boxer, dressed in a turban and the Riddler’s purple mask. (Don’t ask.)


At the Garden, O’Hara has been given the same riddle juice that Gulliver got, and Batman and Robin—after being tormented by the Riddler—get him off to the hospital.


Meanwhile, Barbara talks to her bird Charlie—since she has neither a partner nor a butler with whom to have expository dialogue. She doesn’t think Mushy is a real southwestern Asian based on his chin (the only thing she could see under the turban), so she goes to investigate the exotic food that Mushy claimed to be eating. Batgirl tracks Betsy (buying the food) to Riddler’s lair, where he has three boxing champs kidnapped. Riddler asks Siren (who showed up early for next week’s shoot) to stop her, but her powers only affect men. They put Batgirl in the steam room, and then bring the boxers—who are successfully put under Siren’s spell—and have them thrown into the steam room as well. However, Batgirl has successfully escaped the steam room. Because she’s just that awesome.

Gordon summons Batman and Robin, as well as Barbara. Riddler wants Batman to face Mushy in the ring, and he taunts Batman, calling him a coward (and broadcasting that taunt on the radio), until he agrees. This actually works.


Batman and Riddler face each other in the ring, and Batman does very well until Riddler hits Batman with a bunch of metal filings, and then suddenly he can’t move. Barbara excuses herself and changes to Batgirl and finds Betsy wielding a giant magnet under the boxing ring, which is keeping Batman in place. Batgirl takes care of both Betsy and magnet, and Batman can now move. Batman starts to win the fight again, so Riddler legs it to his hideout, where Batgirl and Betsy are waiting. Batman, Robin, and Alfred show up and fisticuffs ensue. Our heroes are quickly triumphant, though Riddler threatens to return.

Gordon gets buzzed by Bonnie, who says that Lorelei Circe is here to see him—but it’s actually Siren, and she ensorcells him with her singing…


Fetch the Bat-shark-repellant! The only bat-device used is the bat-stethoscope Batman uses on Riddler’s blinky box.

Holy #@!%$, Batman! When told that Kafajah was an early source of boxing, Robin cries, “Holy hieroglyphics!” After Riddler disappears from sight, Robin yells, “Holy blackout!” When Harriet shows up at the boxing match, Robin grumbles, “Holy missing relatives!” When Riddler hits Batman with magnetized bits, Robin screams, “Holy sudden incapacitation!”

Gotham City’s finest. Riddler gives O’Hara a dose of his riddle juice for no apparent plot reason whatsoever.

Special Guest Villain. After a one-year absence, and after the failed substitutes of Maurice Evans as the Puzzler and John Astin as the Riddler, Frank Gorshin at last returns to the role of the Riddler for the first time since the feature film. It’s his only appearance this season, and therefore his last appearance on the show, though he will reprise the role of the Riddler in one of the godawful Legends of the Superheroes specials from 1979 alongside Adam West and Burt Ward.


Na-na na-na na-na na-na na.

“Gentlemen, if we had our choice of laps to sit on, which would we choose?”

“Laps to sit on?”

“Kid Gulliver’s temporary lapse of memory.”

–Riddler and his henchman indulging in my favorite of Riddler’s pun-filled riddles in the episode. Hey, I laughed!

Trivial matters: This episode was discussed on The Batcave Podcast episode 50 by host John S. Drew with special guest chum, Dan Greenfield of the 13th Dimension.

Madge Blake makes one of only two appearances this season as Harriet, as Blake was ill and had basically retired from acting. She’ll be back in “The Bloody Tower.”

James Brolin makes his third appearance, and first in a non-Catwoman episode, this time as Kid Gulliver. He was also in “The Catwoman Goeth” and “The Cat and the Fiddle.”


In addition to appearing the tag to tease her appearance in the following episode, Joan Collins also appears as the Siren in the episode’s middle helping Riddler out, an additional tease.

Pow! Biff! Zowie! “When is a prize fight like a beautiful lady?” On the one hand, yay, Frank Gorshin’s back as the Riddler! Of all the problems the uneven second season had, the biggest was the lack of Gorshin’s Riddler. His manic energy, his superlative line deliveries, his laugh—all were very sorely missed last season.

And his riddles are actually a lot of fun this time. Some puns, some wordplay, some goofiness—a good, if not great, cross-section of his various riddling styles.

Unfortunately, it’s wrapped around a plot that is nonsensical even by the low standards of Batman ’66. Riddler taking over Gotham’s boxing matches sorta kinda makes sense in the abstract as a plot, as there’s money in them thar fights, but the way he goes about it is bizarre, to say the least, and why put himself in the ring to fight Batman?

It’s very rare that a TV show does a boxing episode and that episode winds up being good. There are occasional exceptions, but mostly it’s just painfully bad, and this is one of the most egregious examples ever. I mean, seriously, why did anyone think it was a good idea to do an episode featuring Batman boxing against the villain when the villain in question is the 5’8″ Gorshin? (Batman even remarked on it, commenting that Riddler is shorter than Robin, which he is by half an inch.)

I do like the fact that they use Barbara’s mad librarian skillz to consult on the case, and I love that Alfred is involved in the climactic fisticuffs (take that, Sean Pertwee!), and I like that the moll isn’t a traditional pretty young thang, but an older woman with a butch haircut who hosts a sports talk show.

And Frank Gorshin is back! Worth it just for that.


Bat-rating: 4

Keith R.A. DeCandido‘s latest fiction: three Super City Cops novellas about police in a city filled with costumed heroes and villains that will be published in December, January, and February by Bastei Entertainment. Full information, including covers, promo copy, and preorder links, can be found on Keith’s blog.

Your First Look at Elisabeth Moss as Offred in Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid"s Tale Hulu first look photos Elisabeth Moss Offred

“We never wanted the show to be this relevant,” Elisabeth Moss recently told Entertainment Weekly on the set of The Handmaid’s Tale, which gives you a sense of the mindset within which Hulu is adapting Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel. Moss is both a producer on the project as well as its star, playing Offred: the eponymous handmaid in the totalitarian Republic of Gilead, stripped of her previous identity, family, and autonomy and prized for her fertility. Hulu has released a handful of first-look photos revealing Offred’s iconic outfit, plus a glimpse of other handmaids and The Commander (Joseph Fiennes).

The costume is a little subtler than I was expecting, definitely leaning more toward traditional Pilgrim garb than Offred’s look from the 1990 movie:

The Handmaid"s Tale movie Natasha Richardson Faye Dunaway

This was the most chilling photo of the bunch, as it shows Commander Fred, Offred, and his wife Serena Joy (Dexter and Chuck‘s Yvonne Strahovski) preparing for—or perhaps finished with—the monthly fertility ritual:

The Handmaid"s Tale Hulu first look photos Joseph Fiennes Commander Fred

Offred lying awake, probably haunted by memories of her lost husband and daughter:

The Handmaid"s Tale Hulu first look photos

I’m assuming that this photo is part of a sequence showing the handmaids going through their daily lives—here I’m guessing it’s prayer:

The Handmaid"s Tale Hulu first look photos

Probably related to this teaser, though the music choice makes me wonder if it’s the more ominous gathering of the handmaids that we see later in the book.

But just as in the novel, bleakness is joined by hope: Hulu is promoting the series on various social media platforms including Instagram, the latter highlighting a new female cast or crew member under the hashtag #MyHandmaidsTale. Right now it’s director Reed Morano; new #MyHandmaidsTale entries are posted every two weeks.

All the Birds in the Sky and Ghost Talkers Among the Best SFF Audiobooks of 2016

AudioFile Magazine best SFF audiobooks 2016

AudioFile Magazine, which reviews thousands of audiobooks a year (nearly 400 every 60 days, according to the website), has released its list of the best audiobooks of 2016. The recommendations, based on best listening and most interesting performances, number 126 audiobooks across nine genres. Fifteen of those titles make up the sci-fi and fantasy list, including Charlie Jane Anders’ All the Birds in the Sky, N.K. Jemisin’s The Obelisk Gate, Joe Hill’s The Fireman, and Mary Robinette Kowal’s Ghost Talkers.

Here’s the complete list of SFF audiobooks. AudioFile has posted excerpts from three of the titles, which you can click through for a listen.

  • Age of Myth by Michael J. Sullivan; Read by Tim Gerard Reynolds (Recorded Books)
  • Alien: Out of the Shadows by Tim Lebbon, Dirk Maggs; Read by Rutger Hauer, Corey Johnson, Matthew Lewis, and a Full Cast (Audible, Inc.)
  • All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders; Read by Alyssa Bresnahan (Recorded Books)
  • Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard; Read by Josh Clark, Charlie Davis, Scott Menville, Jim Meskimen, Stefan Rudnicki, and a Full Cast (Galaxy Audio)
  • Captain to Captain by Greg Cox; Read by Robert Petkoff (Simon & Schuster Audio) (Excerpt)
  • The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin; Read by Scott Brick (Random House Audio/Books on Tape)
  • The City on the Edge of Forever by Harlan Ellison; Read by Harlan Ellison, Scott Brick, LeVar Burton, and a Full Cast (Skyboat Media/Blackstone Audio)
  • The Fireman by Joe Hill; Read by Kate Mulgrew (Harper Audio) (Excerpt)
  • Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal; Read by Mary Robinette Kowal (Audible, Inc.)
  • Jerusalem by Alan Moore; Read by Simon Vance (Recorded Books)
  • Marvel: Daredevil by Kevin Smith, Joe Quesada, Richard Rohan [Adapt.]; Read by a Full Cast (GraphicAudio) (Excerpt)
  • The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin; Read by Robin Miles (Hachette Audio)
  • Serengeti by J.B. Rockwell; Read by Elizabeth Wiley (Tantor Media)
  • The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North; Read by Gillian Burke (Hachette Audio/Blackstone Audio)
  • Version Control by Dexter Palmer; Read by January LaVoy (Random House Audio/Books on Tape)

AudioFile Magazine Best Audiobooks of 2016 free multimedia ezine

The entire list of AudioFile’s Best Audiobooks of 2016 is available as a free multimedia ezine.

The Horrors of Healthcare: William Woolfolk’s The Sendai


Congratulations! You survived seven more days on this planet! You deserve a freaky Friday, where I dig into the vault and pull out some weird and forgotten horror book that smells like cat hair.

It’s open enrollment period on the health insurance marketplace so what better time to read The Sendai? If you’re looking for new health insurance, and especially if you’re thinking of having yourself a litter of babies, it can be scary trying to pick the right doctor. Fortunately, The Sendai is here with some tips! First, stay away from any clinic or doctor with a name out of a Cronenberg movie. Second, do not give birth in a delivery room that includes a conveyor belt leading to The Off-Limits Building. Also, maybe don’t have a baby in a clinic that has something referred to as The Off-Limits Building.

Basically, do not have your baby at The Karyll Clinic in The Sendai, unless you want to have your newborn child replaced with a lifeless rubber dummy you’ll weep over while your actual suckling babe is conveyed off to its horrible new life as a genetic mutant.

Featuring all the hallmarks of the childbirth medical thriller—plenty of technical descriptions of medical procedures, people sneaking into off-limits areas, a doctor giving a lecture about playing God, a whistle blower whose murder is covered up as a suicide—those tropes are merely fuel in the engines of The Sendai as it blasts off into outer space. You read a book like Embryo, or Premature, or Crib and you learn about the miracles of modern medicine while getting slightly traumatized about all the things that can go wrong in the delivery room. Things going wrong in the delivery room are merely the truffle oil on The Sendai’s steak fries buried beneath the parmesan cheese of full throttle freakery.

Tom Pollard has some doubts about this strange new science known as in vitro fertilization. “It’s almost as though she’d be having a baby by another man,” he moans. “It’s unnatural.” No, no, the doctor explains, it’s like planting a garden full of peas, maybe. Written in 1980, The Sendai can be forgiven for its fears over unnatural test tube babies, and for its doctor’s limp metaphors, since up until that point only two kids had actually been conceived by IVF, whereas today it seems like pretty much everyone in the world gets IVF, often while waiting for the bus. Keeping that history in mind, it’s no surprise that Baby Pollard looks like a tiny monkey (“In nine months they had a little monster with coarse brown hair that covered its entire body and a hump between its shoulder blades.”) but surely it’s a nice monkey baby? After all, as Jane Pollard says, “You and your science have done all you can.”

No. Within three weeks it’s wearing denim overalls and breaking out of its crib. Finally, after one particularly harrowing night, they find it locked in a death embrace with the neighbor’s dog. Sure, the monkey baby is dead, but so is the dog. This kid is barely three weeks old and it’s already killing on a second grade level.

Enter Dr. Rudy Gerson, a man whose father is from a “crowded Brooklyn ghetto” and whose uncle died from “drugs jammed down his throat by a street gang.” It’s almost like he’s from Brooklyn in 2016. He even has a mustache! Dr. Gerson disappointed his dad when he became an OB/GYN instead of a more macho kind of doctor but now he spends his days so committed to his patients that he ditches a date to offer himself up as a hostage to an IVF daddy who’s flipped out and taken some nurses hostage. It seems that there are more and more monkey babies being born every day, so Dr. Gerson drives upstate to the Karyll Clinic where he meets another boy doctor living in daddy’s shadow: Dr. Peter Bradford who is definitely not from a crowded Brooklyn ghetto. He even comes with a slinky Euro-Doctor sidekick named Dr. Latolier who purrs that this last mother’s vaginal area was rather small and the monkey baby was a “typical deformity” called gargoylism.

That would be enough for most doctors to nod sagely and let it drop. Even if he’s in love with the sister of the IVF monkey baby’s mother. Even if he finds the conveyor belt in the delivery room and hears about The Off-Limits Building. The Code of the Doctors is so strong that it takes an attack on the very foundations of democracy itself to rouse the wrath of Dr. Gerson. The husky-voiced Dr. Latolier is one thing, but when he discovers that The Off-Limits Building is guarded by Konrad, a disgraced Bavarian zookeeper with a limp, he realizes what’s really going on here: socialized medicine, European style.

Sure, it sounds great to have free health care for everyone, but have we really taken a close look at the European model and seen what’s lurking between the lines and behind the lies? We learn the truth about socialized medicine in The Sendai when Dr. Gerson sneaks into The Off-Limits Building with Mary, his all-American lady love, and they discover that it’s hiding the fruits of failed nanny state medicine: wolves with pony hooves, a talking gorilla that wants to die, a hyper-intelligent bird boy, and an Olympic-sized swimming pool full of seahorse-fetus jellyfish with whom Konrad has a romantic relationship. See what is waiting for your children, America?

The EU attempt to protect their lies with a watchdogcat, which is a dog’s head on a cat’s body that has, like most Europeans, an insatiable appetite for attacking Americans but Dr. Gerson eludes it and finally confronts Dr. Bradford, who admits to breeding the Sendai as a slave species that are supernormally strong but subnormally intelligent. “They can perform menial repetitive tasks without becoming restless or bored.” Get those Sendai to the nearest Amazon warehouse, stat! Having Sendai monkey baby slaves will allow mankind to stop doing menial work and instead invent better math and write symphonies, Dr. Bradford crows, although the South had slaves and all they gave us was “Dixie”. Fortunately, Dr. Gerson has seen Gone with the Wind so he throws some brain-eating bacteria in Dr. Latolier’s eyes and without his European birth buddy, Dr. Bradford winds up standing trial for being arrogant and un-American, Mary rescues Dr. Gerson, and the hyper-intelligent bird boy sells his memoirs for millions of dollars.

Is this something we should be concerned about? Will Obamacare deliver unto us killer catdogs, Sendai monkey babies, and wolf ponies? Yes! We should be concerned! Because that’s where it’s probably all leading.

As author William Woolfolk writes in his afterword:

“What you have just read is not fiction.

It is fiction immersed in fact…In England, human infants have regrown severed fingertips…A mouse with the head of a chicken has been produced in a laboratory…TIME magazine reports that scientists’ control of basic life processes have reached the point where we can have ‘baby hatcheries’ that will produce everything from superbrainy ‘Alphas’ to dronelike ‘Epsilons’…I hope the implications of the questions raised here will concern you long after the book is forgotten.”

Well, the book has definitely long been forgotten, and I am paralyzed with terror at the thought of encountering a mouse with the head of a chicken in my apartment, so well done, William Woolfolk. Mission accomplished.

Malazan Reread of the Fallen: Assail, Chapter Ten, Part One


Welcome back to the Malazan Reread of the Fallen! Every post will start off with a summary of events, followed by reaction and commentary by your hosts Bill and Amanda, and finally comments from readers. Today we’re continuing Ian Cameron Esslemont’s Assail, covering chapter ten, part one.

A fair warning before we get started: We’ll be discussing both novel and whole-series themes, narrative arcs that run across the entire series, and foreshadowing, but the summary of events will be free of major spoilers and we’re going to try keeping the reader comments the same. A spoiler thread has been set up for outright Malazan spoiler discussion.


Assail, Chapter Ten (Part One)

Orman sees Old Bear being pursued and runs to help him. Which he does, despite being hampered by his new injury (though it’s a bit unclear if Old Bear needed the help). Orman tells him they’re working with the Losts now (and pretending it was Orman’s plan and not Cal’s) to try and herd the Bains together, that Jass is still being held hostage, and Lotji’s whereabouts are unknown. When Orman says he will challenge Lotji, Old Bear says not to, reminding him that Svalthbrul “once loosed, never misses its mark.” Orman, though, thinks he has not choice—it’s do it or “abandon everything he believed about himself.”

After taking care of Old Bear’s wounds, they walk on, but then come across a battle between a number of Lowlanders and the Reddin Brothers/Vala (Jass’ mother). Orman is surprised by Vala’s strength, and then again when she apparently calls down fog and frost and cold. The lowlanders flee, cursing “Iceblood magics.” Orman, though, when struck by the cold, doesn’t feel pain or fear, but instead feels “refreshed, even invigorated.” Vala tells him this was just a scouting party; the main camp (which they plan to attack tomorrow) is to the south. Kasson adds that the Losts have hired mercenaries. Orman apologizes to Vala for Jass’s capture, but she tells him it was not his fault he didn’t understand that Lotji was “old-fashioned… The old blood feud and vendetta remain everything.” He gets then that Lotji is fighting to kill the Sayers, not for the Lowlanders or invaders, but he is shocked when Vala points out Lotji wants to kill him too, that “We are the same you and I. Your people and mine. We share the same ancestors.” They rest up.

The next morning they move toward the enemy in the thickened fog and then engage them in eerie fighting. Orman runs into Jaochim, who is disturbed to hear Buri’s words that “he was readying himself for the true enemy.” He tells Orman if true, they are wasting their time fighting the Lowlanders/foreigners. He tells Orman to speed up and, after telling him that Lotji is there, disappears into the fog. Orman hurries onward, not bothering to fully engage in more fights—just slashing and moving on. In the camp, he yells out for Lotji, but instead gets noticed by a band of invaders. Luckily, Gerrun Shortshanks is amongst them. The two fight together, with Gerrun saving Orman’s life before being killed by Lotji. Orman and Lotji are about to fight, but then Old Bear arrives out of the fog, knocking Lotji away then going off in chase. Orman follows the sounds and signs of their fight and then finds Old Bear dying (though still himself enough to complain that the damn fog meant nobody could see his great fight). Old Bear dies, and Orman calls out to Lotji for them to finish it. Lotji steps out as the fog clears somewhat, and to Orman’s surprise, Lotji doesn’t come to fight him but just hurls Svalthbrul at him. Even more to his shock, the spear doesn’t strike him, landing instead right next to him. As he looks at it, he realizes the spear had not been “taken” from him by Lotji in a duel, but instead he’d given it up himself, meaning it “was still his.” He picks it up, and Lotji, seeing him do so, comes to the same realization. He salutes Orman, then walks off into the mist, knowing what will come. Orman launches Svalthbrul and then follows it. He comes across three soldiers fighting for the Lost (Jup Alat, Laurel, Leena), who tell him the fight is over. He continues on, finding Lotji impaled by the spear. He asks about Jass, but Lotji just says to try the Greathall. Vala arrives and, hearing the news, takes off in despair, telling him the Greathall is more than a day south. Orman goes after her, joined by the Reddin brothers.

The arrive to find the Greathall under attack and burning. Orman attacks in a berserker-like rage, finally reaching the door to see a dead Iceblood elder on the ground and Vala, badly wounded, standing there in shock and agony and total despair. She shrugs away from him and runs into the flames. Orman would have followed but is held back, though not before he sees Jass’ body hanging from the ceiling crossbeam, having clearly been killed by Svalthbrul, a weapon he now knows is cursed. He screams and then is struck unconscious.

Orman tells Keth they need to return to Sayer Hall and tell them what happened. He takes his cursed weapon and they head north, Orman feeling like “His heart had been thrust through as irrevocably as Jass’s. He was done, finished; as burnt and ashen within as the hulk of this Greathall.”

Jute’s group enters the harbor of Mantle Town, and something about the Keep’s small size bothers Jute, considering its reputation. Giana Jalaz (the ex-Malazan officer), tosses him her “one good shirt” before putting on her armor, causing Jute to feel more than a little awkward, especially as Ieleen seems to be playing along. Jalaz is surprised to see the Blue Shields’ ship—the Resolute—leaping ahead to charge the brigade, and just as surprised Cartheron is letting them do it. She wants to see them fight and asks Jute if they can follow, which he agrees to. As they move nearer, he asks what she thinks will happen and she points out that since the besiegers “want our blood anyway” they should perhaps become mercenaries. The Blue Shields capture three ships of the “blockade” easily, clearing the way. Jute’s ship docks, followed by Ragstopper. As Jute heads off, the “khall-head” from Wrongway (the Malazan Cartheron had warned him to be wary of) tells him to give his regards to King Jonal. Jute is met by Engulf the Broad, and then Cartheron and Tyvar join them, Cartheron not thrilled at the length or steepness of the stairs leading up to the Keep. As they climb, Jute reappraises his earlier dismissal, noting the Keep is tall and strong, though he wonders how it was built as the stone were huge for any group of men to lift.

They’re escorted by local soldiers to the interior and King Jonal, where Tyvar offers their services. King Jonal (“The Bastard” he corrects them) refuses their service, but then one of the others in the room (Malle of Gris) thinks he should reconsider. Jonal introduces her as an emissary of the Malazan Empire, whose emperor offers support so as “not to see a fellow monarch driven from his lands” (ahh yes, just like Mallick Rel cough cough). He agrees to they can guard the waterfront, with conditions on their numbers, then dismisses them. The three go to the walls to check out the besiegers, which number about three thousand. Jute estimates about 500 soldiers in the keep, and is impressed they’ve held off the siege so long. Malle joins them, and she and Cartheron are clearly old acquaintances. She says she’s happy he made it, thanks him for his assistance, but adds that he isn’t done yet when he asks if he can go, saying he’d been promised he’d be “cut loose after this.” She says he will be. Malle informs them that the besiegers are led by Teal of Lether, and that she has two ex-cadre mages with her. They let her know they have a mage as well, but she wants to stay anonymous. She leaves and when Cartheron starts to warn Jute about not messing with her, Jute replies he’s already figured that out. Tyvar says he thinks if the defenders hold for a while, the attackers will just leave, unless someone gives them “some sort of spine.” Cartheron is more dubious, saying riches make for good motivation. Jute asks what riches, and Cartheron answers it doesn’t matter if they actually exist; it only matters what the mob down there is being told. He asks Tyvar if this is his fight, and the Blue Shield says he isn’t sure: “Here is a battle. Yet, we’ve been forbidden from participating. I feel that his is not it. However, best remain hopeful, eh?” They all head down.


Bill’s Response

It’s a nice detail (and a sign that our author isn’t lazy or careless) that when Orman charges down to help Old Bear he has a hard time running thanks to his loss of an eye, and then again in the actual fight scene. One of my pet peeves is when injuries seem to have no impact on a character and the last we hear of them is the vivid “Isn’t this suspenseful?!” imagery when they occur. Ankles miraculously no longer buckle, cut muscles respond just as quickly, broken ribs don’t impair arm swings or breathing, etc.

Another nice detail, a more evocative one, is that image of the Lowlander/invader bodies lying in the stream being washed by flecks of gold. I just wish we had been left with the image. The ensuing conversation about the irony of it between Orman and Keth was too “loud” for me—I prefer those sorts of moments not be highlighted so overtly.

Well, if the lines about Orman and ice haven’t made it clear, Vala does the heavy expository lifting and explains how Orman has Iceblood (Jaghut) blood in him, though watered down over the generations. I imagine this comes as little surprise to most readers at this point.

It’s rarely a good thing in fantasy books to, on the night before a big battle, have someone point out that another character is “the last” of their kind. Just sayin’

Esslemont does a nice job of varying this fight scene from others by setting it in the fog. I wouldn’t actually have minded spending more time in this scene because of its atmosphere/setting/suspense. It’s also a great scene to slow down and visualize beyond the words on the page, trying to really imagine it in front of you (or better yet, you in it).

I also liked the scene with Shortshanks turning his double agent bit in to help Orman (especially with how Orman had thought of him earlier in the novel) and even save his life. I was a little thrown by his death logistically. When he dropped, I thought he’d been already badly wounded but had managed to fight off the inevitable an extra moment to save Orman, though his tone/language didn’t seem to match that (the first of my confusion). Then Orman lowers him assuming he’ll look up to see Lotji—which he does. But I didn’t quite get how Lotji killed him (which I’m at this point assuming he did), since it seems he’d have to have been close enough for Orman to both see/hear him when he killed Shortshanks, so I’m wondering if he threw the “can’t miss” Svalthbrul,” but then I’m wondering how he got it back (since it isn’t like Mjolnir). And then I’m just thinking it’s a kind of screwy logistical thing and time to move on.

It also didn’t quite feel right to me that Orman would argue with Lotji that they should work together to fight the invaders. Once upon a time, yes, but not here, not now.

Did I mention it’s never a good thing to be pointed out as the last of your kind before a big battle? A moment of silence for Old Bear, an excellent character whom we didn’t spend enough time with. Poor guy couldn’t even have an audience for the fight of his great life. Even telegraphed as it was (I would have preferred that little bit of info about him came earlier in the book so it wasn’t so clear what would happen), this was both moving and funny. Small nitpick—I’m not sure we needed the interruption with the three soldiers, who only served to offer up some to me unnecessarily cryptic bit of dialogue about how they hadn’t seen anyone go by.

No silence, however, for Lotji, who also dies in the expected manner (although I admit much more slowly and graphically than I’d expected). And you have to hate him all the more for the news about Jass (“Try the Greathall), which at this point you have to assume doesn’t mean, “I gave him my Netflix password, left him with a full fridge, and a whole box of hot chocolate packs.”

And so Svalthbrul joins the ranks of the “cursed hated weapon” of which there are too many to list. My own head goes first to Turin’s sword, which itself came out of the old Finnish mythology, quite fitting for this novel. Anyone have favorites of their own?

Esslemont has shown a deft hand I think balancing the book’s action moments and more tragic scenes with a bit of humor, and here he offers us some sharp relief from a series of deaths (the Guard, Shortshanks, Old Bear, Jass and Vala) with a few good moments:

  • The scene with Jalaz. Admittedly, while I like the way she torments Jute, and then even better how Ieleen plays along and tortures her poor husband even more, I could have done without the detailed staring at the naked breasts. Just having him get her in her armor knowing she was naked underneath would have sufficed. But, oh, how I like Ieleen.
  • The absurd ease with which the Blue Shields “battle” the blockade ships. One assumes they could have taken them all had they enough to crew them.
  • Enguf the Broad
  • Cartheron and the “fucking stairs.”
  • The way Ronal insists on being called not just “King Ronal” but “King Ronal the Bastard.”
  • Rel’s alleged concern for a fellow monarch
  • Tyvar being cut off by Ronal as he launches into a stirring bit of “We will defend the harbor to the death… “ (reminded me a bit in this moment of Lancelot in Holy Grail)
  • Cartheron’s comment, “For this I quit drinking?”
  • The “old friends” reunion of Malle and Cartheron out of the blue, so matter of factly done
  • Jute picking up not to mess with Malle before Cartheron warns him

All a much needed turn to the lighter.

On a more serious note, a few things I liked about this scene occurred more under the surface a bit:

  • The mystery about who built this keep and how (though perhaps not too mysterious given what we now know about Assail)
  • The machinations of the Malazan Empire and its far reach, the mystery of Malle, the contract Cartheron is to fulfill, who has power over him, the intimidating power of Malle (one of so, so, so many strong women in this universe rather than a token one or two, even the side characters)
  • The fact that Teal leads the siege (and don’t forget who else is there with him—Shieldmaiden) and the tension between characters this might lead to
  • Jute’s somewhat surprising knowledge about siege tactics and how this shows him to be more than just an old softie sea captain in love with his blind wife
  • And yet, his basic goodness in that it never crossed his mind to lie to one’s own to motivate them to do what you want
  • The mystery of the Blue Shields and what they are doing here, what battle they seek
  • The emphasis on the khall-head former Malazan. I think Cartheron’s warnings point us in a general direction at least if not a specific identifying one


Amanda’s Response

I agree with Bill, that it is good to see Orman adjusting to life with just one eye rather than there being no effect. My dad essentially became blind in one eye a few years back and one of the things he suffers now is something that Esslemont makes clear here—things coming out of nowhere on the blind side, no peripheral vision to speak of. In a fight that must be truly terrifying, especially when you have to try to anticipate your opponent’s moves.

Old Bear provides levity in his scenes, which I appreciate. I like Orman’s dry response to him as well, when he says: “Yes—how will they ever tell us apart?”

The way of doing battle in the Holdings is relatively ridiculous, with all of this running around and trying to start fights. It’s almost a form of gang warfare. You have to wonder how they keep track of who is loyal to who, who is holding who hostage etc.

Knowing how many people have come seeking the gold of Assail, we’re really starting to see the many gruesome and anonymous deaths that this has caused—this one is particularly poetic, with the stream flecked with gold flowing over them.

We have both Orman and Kyle now feeling reinvigorated after encountering frost. These Icebloods still have rather a strong influence, however diluted it has become over the years.

Poor Old Bear, we barely knew you—I refer to the stiff game, of course. “He is the last of his kind…” whispered by one of his allies before a battle. A battle that is certain to see his death. A game best played while watching old WWII films. It’s a little obvious by Esslemont.

Because we’d sort of worked out the Iceblood connection with Orman already, it doesn’t feel like as much of a revelation as it could have been. This is one thing I wonder about the Malazan series—are we noticing these things quicker and easier because we are now sixteen books into the series? If a revelation like this had been in one of the first books, would we have struggled to see it until it was revealed? Are we more critical readers?

Are we positive that fog and ice are the best weather conditions to summon up for a battle? I mean, we’re talking slippery surfaces and obscured vision here…

A flurry of events happen here, what with the Old Bear’s death, Lotji’s attempt to kill Orman with the spear that he had given freely and so still remained his, and then his hefting of the spear to kill Lotji at a remarkable distance. This is a good illustration of the whole ‘once it’s released, it kills’ aspect of the weapon, considering Lotji couldn’t even be seen and then Orman had to track him a while before finding him. And then the revelation that Jass was in the Greathall that is a day to the south—I presume the heartbreak from Vala is because the invaders have already passed the Greathall and so Jass’ death is pretty clear.

But it is a terrible death. A death caused by the weapon carried by his own half-brother, a death that Orman might have been able to avoid if not for his naivety. It’s a pretty painful one.

Oh God, why the close examination of breasts again? Why do we need to know what they look like? If this scene was reversed, we would certainly not be given a loving description of Jute’s nipples, would we? I hate this, readers, I really hate it, and I think Esslemont’s writing is all the poorer for taking moments like these.

I love the ease with which the Blue Shields take all these vessels and begin dragging them along with them.

I’m not sure I understand why Jute is so confused about Mantle and its appearance? I wouldn’t have thought by now that anything would surprise on Assail, anyway.

I confess some of the exchanges here don’t make the most sense to me: the way Tyvar reacts to Enguf’s name, why is it known to the Southern Confederacy, why is it acceptable to drop crew along the shore—are they also the remains of the Mantle navy?

I love the: “fucking stairs” moment.

Was Mantle built by the Forkrul Assail? It seems very oddly constructed.

Okay, I really don’t understand this scene. I sort of understand the fact that Cartheron Crust is being commanded by someone in the Malazan Empire—if not Malle, then someone Malle is working for. But I don’t understand why they are particularly joining this weird scene. And what happened that Malle and the Malazans are now on the opposing side to the Letherii that they were originally allied with? And what role have the Blue Shields in all of this? It seems rather random and I’m not managing to put together the pieces.

After training and working as an accountant for over a decade, Amanda Rutter became an editor with Angry Robot, helping to sign books and authors for the Strange Chemistry imprint. Since leaving Angry Robot, she has been a freelance editor—through her own company AR Editorial Solutions, BubbleCow and Wise Ink—and a literary agent for Red Sofa Literary Agency. In her free time, she is a yarn fiend, knitting and crocheting a storm.

Bill Capossere writes short stories, essays and plays; does reviews for the LA Review of Books and Fantasy Literature, as well as for; and works as an adjunct English instructor. In his non-writing and reading time, he plays ultimate Frisbee (though less often and more slowly than he used to) and disc golf.

New Brandon Sanderson Interview on Google Discover Drops Stormlight 3 Hint

Arcanum Unbounded Brandon Sanderson Google Discover

Brandon Sanderson is currently touring his new book Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection (he hits the NYC and Chicago areas this weekend!) and recently stopped by Google Discover for a “post-Arcanum” interview.

Naturally, Sanderson’s next big project–Stormlight Archive Book 3–came up, and this interesting tidbit appeared:

However, as a teaser, I did “sneak” a few flashbacks in from another character as well, someone whose past you might not expect to play a role in this book.

Is it Szeth? But readers would perhaps be expecting a Szeth flashback, wouldn’t they? So maybe it’s someone else… The full interview is available on Google Discover.