Rereading The Elfstones of Shannara, Chapters 38-41

Elfstones of Shannara reread

Welcome, readers of Shady Vale, to this week’s installment in our reread of Terry Brooks’ classic epic fantasy, The Elfstones of Shannara. If you’re unfamiliar with Elfstones, Brooks, or this reread, be sure to check out the introductory post, in which we all become acquainted.

Last week, the Elven army limped into Arborlon, the King awoke, and Amberle and Wil met an old foe and a new friend.

This week, the Elfstones are stolen and regained, the siege of Arborlon begins, and Mallenroh makes a dramatic entrance.


Chapter 38

What happens?

Amberle and Wil leave Hebel’s cottage with the Rovers, headed towards the Hollows, where Safehold hides beneath Spire’s Reach. At a narrow crossroads, Cephelo halts the caravan and tells Wil that it is time to part ways. Wil asks Cephelo how he can later be found to deliver payment, but the Rover is suspiciously non-committal. Wil and Amberle bid farewell to the Rovers, but Eretria remains aloof and angry.

Hebel ruefully wonders about the fate of the young Elven brother and sister. Like Eretria, he sees some holes in their story, and eventually intuits that they may be in search of the ancient magic rumoured to lay buried under Spire’s Reach. Suddenly, a chill falls over Hebel as he senses a terrible presence watching him from the shadows. Just as quickly, whatever hunts him disappears, and Hebel recognizes that he’s never come so close to death in the 60 years he’s lived in the Wilderun.

Wil and Amberle reach the rim of the Hollows, and decide to descend before nightfall. Wil trips, bringing Amberle down with him, and she twists her ankle. They decide to wait until morning to continue their journey. Unfortunately, Wil discovers that the Elfstones are gone, stolen by Cephelo. He vows to retrieve them from the thieving Rover before morning, and leaves Amberle hidden in the bushes.


“Do you really believe the old man’s story? Do you think there are Witches living down there?”

She stared at him darkly. “Don’t you?”

He hesitated and then shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe. Yes, I guess so. There is very little I don’t believe anymore.” He sat forward slowly, arms coming up about his knees. “If there are Witches, I hope they are frightened of Elfstones, because that is just about all the protection we have left. Of course, if I have to use the Stones in order to make them afraid, we may be in a lot of trouble.”

Dramatis Personae

  • Amberle
  • Cephelo
  • Eretria
  • Hebel
  • Wil


Fun question: Do you think the Elfstones would work as a weapon against the Witches? I can’t remember if Wil brings them to bear against Morag or Mallenroh (my recollection says “no”), but I’ve always found that one of the most interesting aspects of the Elfstones, limiting their use as a weapon, is that they’re only effective against creatures of magic, and can’t be turned against non-magic life. So, are the Witches of magic, or in control of magic? Would the Elfstones work as a weapon against Druids, who are trained in the use of Magic, but not born of it? I’ve always wondered if there’s a potential to use them as a catalyst to inspire or augment change in non-magical life, in the same way Wil’s brute-force use of the magic in this novel changes his family line for generations to come. Life in the Four Lands was dramatically altered by the magic awoken after the apocalypse marking the end of modern times, and the magic in the Elfstones seems to be a pure, concentrated conduit of that magic, capable of great, and potentially terrible things.

It’s funny how, after the visit to Hebel’s place, the Wilderun is starting to feel downright cozy. Wil and Amberle’s adventure is like unpacking a stacking doll of awfulness. Each time you think you’re done, something else comes along to show you just how bad it can get:

“Hey! You’ve gotta get past the Reaper in Drey Wood,” says the narrator, a grin on his wicked face. “Now, the Matted Brakes! Now you’ve gotta get through an old, creeky fortress at the Rock Spur. Want me to give you a ride on my bird to the Wilderun? Whoops, turns out that it’s a den of thieves! Oh, hey, it’s not so bad, but now you gotta go to the Hollows, a place even the people of Grimpen Ward are afraid of. Oh, and once you’re there, you have to creep past the evil witches to find Spire’s Reach, under which lies Safehold, a labyrinth that’s older than recorded history.”

“How long is this gonna go on?” Wil asked.

“Oh, I’ve got all day.”

Show of hands at who gasped out loud when Wil discovered that the Elfstones were missing.

*raises hand*

Almost without thinking, Wil reached into the Rover tunic and lifted out the pouch that held the Elfstones. He fingered it idly and was about to return it again when he noticed something odd about its feel. Frowning, he opened the drawstrings and dumped the contents into his open palm. He found himself staring at three ordinary pebbles.

“Wil!” Amberle exclaimed in horror.

The Valeman stared at the pebbles in stunned silence, his mind racing.

“Cephelo,” he whispered finally. “Cephalo.”

Brooks does a great job of drilling further and further into bleakness, and, as always, continues to showcase that the Demons are the least of Amberle and Wil’s problems. Because, man, what a douche Cephelo is. It all seemed a bit too convenient that Cephelo would buy Wil’s story about the reward, and even negotiate his share down, but stealing the Elfstones is low even for the Rover. Could Wil have avoided the situation if he’d been honest with Cephelo? I don’t know. I gotta give credit to the Rover for not just slitting Wil’s neck and taking the Elfstones off of his corpse. Cephelo is ruthless, but I think he believes that he’s the good guy. That kind of cutesy rogue is a surefire sign that we’re reading an epic fantasy from the ’80s.

How chilling is it to stand beside Hebel as the Reaper is stalking the shadows around the old man’s home. I can’t be the only one who’s surprised that the Demon doesn’t kill Hebel, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why the old man is allowed to live. The Reaper isn’t really in the habit of leaving living witnesses.

And, man, I was hit by a big ol’ semi-truck of feelings at the exchange between Wil and Amberle at the end of the chapter. It’s been such a joy watching their relationship mature throughout the novel, and the kiss, and Amberle’s words, are just perfect. I like that, despite the kiss, it feels like a bond built on mutual respect and care for one another, rather than a charged, in-the-moment, fit of ill-considered romance. These are two people who have found a love borne of shared experience—it transcends romance. Great stuff.


Chapter 39

What happens?

The Demons attack Arborlon at Dawn. Watching from atop the Carolan, Ander surveys the assault. To survive seems hopeless, but Eventine rides from the city, and the Elven troops and their allies rally around him. Ander offers his father the Ellcrys staff, but the King refuses, saying it belongs to Ander now. The Elven Princes recognizes a sadness in his father. Stee Jans, along with the Elven army, leads a strong defense against the Demon army, which continues to grow larger despite its heavy losses. The two armies alternate gaining and losing the lower gates of the Elfitch, which lead into Arborlon, until a monstrous Demon rises from the ranks, scaled and furious. It tears through the Elven ranks, only to be brought down single-handedly by Stee Jans, a victory that raises much furor in the Demon army, and joy in the Elven defenders. Without warning, the Demons retreat and give up the attack.

As Eventine and Ander meet with the Elven High Council, word arrives that Amantar, a Troll Maturen, has arrives with 1,500 Troll warriors, a huge boost to the Elven forces.

Allanon approaches the Ellcrys, and, to his horror, finds that the sentient tree is just days away from death.


A cry sounded from atop the Carolan,  and cheers rang out. In the predawn gloom, Elves turned hurriedly to look, disbelief and joy reflecting in their faces as a tall, gray-haired rider came into view. Down the length of the Elfitch the cry passed on from mouth to mouth. All along the front line of the Rill Song, behind the barricades and walls, it rose into the morning until it became a deafening roar.

“Eventine! Eventing rides to join us!”

Dramatis Personae

  • Allanon
  • Amantar
  • Ander
  • Dayn
  • Ehlron Tay
  • Eventine
  • Kerrin
  • Stee Jans


Eventine is remarkable, especially in an epic fantasy novel, for being a King who isn’t brought low by his ego—just the opposite, in fact, for he recognizes his inability to lead his people, and passes the torch to Ander, the unlikeliest of bearers.

[Ander] held forth the Ellcrys staff.

“This belongs to you, my Lord.”

Eventine seemed to hesitate momentarily, then slowly shook his head. “No, Ander. It belongs to you now. You must carry it for me.”

The ego-maniacal king who undermines the safety of his realm because he’s not able to see sense through his own quest for redemption is so overdone, it just makes it that much sweeter that Brooks had the maturity as a writer to allow Eventine to gracefully exit, to honestly self-evaluate his place within the Elven power structure, and make the rights moves, symbolized by his refusal to take the Ellcrys staff from Ander, and to ensure the ongoing safety of his people, while still recognizing himself as a symbol of power and unity for his soldiers.

It’s heartbreaking to be with Ander as he lays eyes on his once proud, once heroic father:

Here was the King who had stood against and finally triumphed over the Warlock Lord. Here was the King who had seen them through every crisis the homeland had faced. Wounded at Halys Cut, seemingly lost, he was returned again. With his return surely no evil, however monstrous, could prevail against them.


[Ander] saw in the King’s eyes a distance separating the Elven ruler from all that was happening about him. It was as if he had withdrawn into himself, not out of fear or uncertainty, for he could master those, but out of deep, abiding sadness that seemed to have broken his spirit.

Equally impressive is to see the way Ander accepts the mantle of leadership, something that he’s actively avoided for most of his adult life. Now, Eventine’s greatest gift to the Elves are the values he instilled in his last remaining son—the leadership and love that Ander bears for his people, and the bravery to stand with his fellow Elves to the end. In Ander, that great King still lives.

A few chapters ago, I was hard on Brooks’ ability to write gritty, hard-hitting large scale battle scenes, but I’ve always admired the way that he writes city sieges. From Tyrsis in The Sword of Shannara, to Arborlon here in Elfstones, many of the most memorable moments from the early Shannara novels (since large-scale warfare sort of disappears in the latter half of the series…) are the choking, frenetic moments when the great cities appear on the verge of falling to the vast armies of their foes. You can tell that Brooks is someone who takes pride in his home, and that familial and societal roots mean a lot to him, because his heroes never fight harder than they do when backed up against the walls of those they love most:

The Demons attacked Arborlon. With a frightening shriek that shattered the morning stillness and reverberated through the lowland forests, they burst from the cover of the trees, a massive wave of humped and twisted bodies that stretched the length of the Carolan. In a frenzy that cast aside reason and thought, the creatures of the dark swept out of the gloom that was still thick within the shadowed woods and threw themselves into the waters of the Rill Song. Like a huge stain spreading over the water, they filled the river, large and small, swift and slow, leaping, crawling, shambling bodies surging and heaving through the swift current.

The Demons fight to take back a home that was stolen from them, with no intent to return to their prison, and the Elves fight to protect the only home they’ve known for generations. It’s more intimate than the retreat from Worl Run and Halys Cut, there’s a sense of impending danger, and personal loss that saturates every word. You can feel Anders’ gut-wrenching fear in his every observation. Chilling.

But the Elves did not panic. Though the number, size, and ferocity of the Demons who came at them might have broken the spirit of a less determined defender, the Elves stood their ground. It was to be their final battle. It was their home city that they defended, the heart of the land that had been theirs for as long as the races existed. All else had been lost now, from the Rill Song West. But the Elves were determined that they would not lose Arborlon. Better that they fight and die here, the last man, woman, and child of them, than that they be driven entirely from their homeland, outcasts in foreign lands, hunted like animals by their pursuers.

Allanon’s vision of the Ellcrys, just days from death, puts a fast clock on things. Surviving the siege is one thing, but it is all for naught if Amberle cannot return to Arborlon before the Forbidding collapses entirely. And, as we know from the next few chapters, she’s off on a bit of an adventure that’s not helping her race against the clock.

I love the Trolls in Brooks work, so I’ll just leave you with this wonderful passage from Amantar about the renewed bonds of friendship between the stalwart Northerners and their Elven brethren, which I believe is particularly important to consider given recent events:

“Always before, Trolls and Elves have fought against one another; we have been enemies. That cannot be forgotten all at once. Yet for everyone, there is a time to begin anew. That time has come for Elf and Troll. We know of the Demons. There have been encounters with a scattering of them already. There have been injuries; there have been deaths. The Rock Trolls understand the danger the Demons pose. The Demons are as great an evil as the Warlock Lord and the creatures of the Skull mark. Such evil threatens all. Therefore it is seen that Elf and Troll must put aside their differences and stand together against this common enemy. We have come, my countrymen and I, to stand with you.”


Chapter 40

What happens?

Wil races through the Wilderun in pursuit of the Rover caravan, determined to recover the stolen Elfstones. He runs into Eretria, who had a change of heart after letting him fall for Cephelo’s greedy plan, and gives him an ultimatum: let her tag along, and she will recover the Elfstones. Will agrees, and they resume their pursuit. They find the remains of the Rover caravan, dead bodies, including Cephelo, strewn about like straw men. Wil finds the Elfstones clutched in Cephelo’s hand, useless to a Rover with no Elven blood.


Stupid! That was the kindest description he could render for what he had done, letting Cephelo fool him into thinking that he could have the Rover’s aid for nothing more than a vague promise.

Dramatis Personae

  • Amberle
  • Eretria
  • Wil


Oh, poor Cephelo. Well, not really. He was a bastard—but, in a funny way, I almost admired him. Not for his methods, which were mostly deplorable (like, say, selling off his daughter?), but rather for his loyalty to his Rover family. At all turns, he was making subjective decisions to strengthen his family, to become more powerful, and to provide for those beneath him. He was thief, and succumbed to exactly the egomaniacal end that I spoke of Eventine avoiding above, but his actions were almost always based on understandable internal logic. He always believed that he was the good guy. Even to the end, he fought alongside the Rovers in his family, and went down with the ship.

It’s funny how nostalgia can colour your opinion of people like Cephelo after their death. As I’ve mentioned before, I have this daydream of a version of Elfstones in which Cephelo roots out Wil’s cause early on and joins him in his quest for the Bloodfire, and I think it could have been something special. (Or, it could have just been a rehash of the relationship between Shea Ohmsford and Panamon Creel…)

Finally. Finally! Finally, Wil comes to his sense and accepts Eretria’s aid (though grudgingly). His insistence on protecting her from danger by refusing to let her tag along was kind of annoying, and totally disrespectful. Like, I get that he has the keep his mission secret, and probably doesn’t want to tell her about the Reaper if he doesn’t have to, but in what world does adding a capable, worldly companion to your team reduce your odds of accomplishing your goals? The first time, I get it, but the second time he refused, at Hebel’s home, it was clear that Eretria had experience in the Wilderun, and could more than hold her own physically (better than either Wil or Amberle, frankly), making her a huge asset. Plus, she’s an adult who can measure the proposed risk/reward for herself. She begged for his help, because she knew that staying with Cephelo was worse than anything ahead of Wil and Amberle, and he kept saying no. That she had to back him into a corner, by allowing Cephelo to steal the Elfstones, just goes to show how scared she was of her place within the Rover family. Wil should have known better.

On another topic, how friggin’ creepy was this chapter? From Cepehlo clutching the Elfstones, to the riderless horse, to Whistle Ridge, I was on the edge of my seat the whole way through. This particular passage stood out:

A new sound rose from somewhere ahead, faint at first, lingering like an echo in the midst of the sharper, quicker sounds, then stronger and more insistent. It grew into a howl, high-pitched and eerie, as if such pain had been inflicted upon some tortured soul that the limits of endurance had been passed and all that was left before death was that final, terrible cry of anguish.


Jesus. How am I supposed to sleep tonight? Brooks’ writing can often be very prosaic, putting function over flourish, and he’s guilty of using the same descriptions over and over (if I have to hear about Amberle’s “child’s face” one more time…), but then he slaps you across the face with such a passage, and you just sort of marvel at the way he’s able to paint these vibrant, emotionally resonant images in your mind with very little effort. Where the cry of the Rovers fighting the Reaper might have been an obvious way of setting the tone for this chapter, it’s also expected and kind of bland. Whistle Ridge puts you on edge immediately, even though, at that point, you don’t know that anything is wrong. It’s so, so much more effective than the sounds of battle ringing through the forest.


Chapter 41

What happens?

Wil and Eretria discover that Amberle is missing. Hebel appears, and Will tells the old man that Amberle has disappeared. He warns them that she’s likely a captive of one of the Witch Sisters, Morag and Mallenroh. Wil decides that he must go after Amberle—Eretria and Hebel immediately pledge to join him. Along with Drifter, Hebel’s hound, the descend into Mallenroh’s end of the Hollows.

Amberle wakes in the darkness of the Hollows, carried by the gnarled, wood-like creatures of Mallenroh. She calms herself, and chooses not to fight against her captors, hoping for the advantage of surprise at a more opportune time. Her captors bring her to a mysterious tower.

Wil calls a halt due to the darkness of the Hollows at night. Hebel offers a plan, and fastens a rope to Drifter and to the waists of each companions. Drifter leads them through the darkness. Hebel somehow figures out that Mallenroh has taken Amberle, and reports that the Reaper is nowhere to be found. They find one of Mallenroh’s stick men, who, on being spotted, begins moving away. On Hebel’s beckoning, they follow. Eventually, the stick man leads them into to Mallenroh’s tower. Suddenly, the drawbridge raises, trapping them within, and Mallenroh appears to welcome them to her home.


“No need to rush, Elfling. That’s the Hollows we’re talking about, remember? Nothing down there but the Witch Sisters and the things that serve them. Anything else sets one foot in the Hollows gets snatched right up—I know that from what Mallenroh told me sixty years ago.” He shook his head. “By now, the girl and the thing tracking her are keeping company with one of the Sisters—that or they’re dead.”

Dramatis Personae

  • Amberle
  • Eretria
  • Hebel
  • Mallenroh
  • Wil


Oh, Wil, Wil, Wil.

Wil hesitated only a second, then began searching for the bushes in which he had hidden Amberle. He found them almost at once and pushed his way to their centre. There was no one there. For an instant, he panicked. He groped about for some sign of what might have happened to the Elven girl, but there was nothing to be found. His panic increased.

Teacher: “Class, who here thinks leaving Amberle in a bush with a busted ankle is a reasonable idea?”

Wil puts up his hand.

Teacher: “Okay, and who thinks that the moment you leave her alone in the Hollows, which is a part of the Wilderun that even the locals are afraid of, that she’ll be snatched up by the rumoured Witch Sisters, or worse?

Everyone else puts up their hand.

Teacher: “Thanks, everyone. You may go outside for recess. Wil, may I have a word with you?”

Like, come on, dude, what did you expect?

Losing the Elfstones was obviously devastating for Wil, but did he really expect anything good was going to come of abandoning Amberle? Doubly so when Eretria showed up (with an extra horse!) and he didn’t bother to go back and retrieve her, or, better yet, let Eretria get the Elfstones and took the extra horse back to where Amberle hid. I know he doesn’t trust Eretria, but there are so many better options here for Wil, especially when his main prerogative is protecting Amberle—the Elfstones are useless if Wil’s not actually with her.

The thing about this, though, is that I can totally believe it could happen this way. Wil panics, and in the anxiety that results, he weighs situation and his options poorly, and makes a huge mistake. He’s young, and, if we’ve learned anything so far, rash in his actions. It’s been drilled into him that his control of the Elfstones is the key to keeping Amberle safe, and his shortsightedness doesn’t allow him to recognize that the Elfstones are only one of his keys to protecting Amberle—he’s ignoring all the rest by leaving her in the bushes with a twisted ankle. Self-confidence is a huge theme in this novel—from Ander and Eventine, who must find and rebuild theirs, to Stee Jans, who bleeds confidence and inspires others—and this is a moment where Wil allows his anxiety to overrule his self-confidence.

It’s a neat little narrative trick that Brooks pulls to allow us to know that Amberle was taken by someone other than the Reaper. Does it reduce the tension, because we know she lives, or add a bit of spice, thanks to the rumour of the Witches? A bit of both, I’d say. I can’t imagine I’m saying this, but thank goodness she was only kidnapped by the Witches, and not discovered by the Reaper. How epic would a Mallenroh and Morag vs. the Reaper showdown be, though? I have to think the Witches would win.

Speaking of narration, I found it profoundly irritating early in this chapter that we were suddenly privy to Eretria’s thoughts, and without any warning:

Pride, stubbornness, and the strange attraction she felt for the Valeman flared within her. She could not permit him to do this to her again. Without hesitating, she went after him.

[Wil] heard the sound of another horse following and realized that Eretria had come after him.

Brooks has a tendency to jump around from character to character, but often gives readers a solid indicator that we’re shifting point-of-view—an extra break after a paragraph, or even a whole new chapter—so it feels doubly odd that he’s suddenly introducing a new POV mid-chapter, without any sort of warning or context, then immediately dumping it. Add to that that we haven’t ever (from what I can recall, correct me if I’m wrong) had a glimpse of the story from Amberle’s perspective, and Eretria joining Wil, Allanon, Ander, Eventine, the Dagda Mor, Hebel, and the rest of the small cast of POV characters feels unusual.

Hebel reappearing is fun. He was a curmudgeon, and obviously didn’t like Cephelo, but he’s also a brave sunovabitch, and shows a lot of character by chasing after Wil and Amberle in the dead of night, when he knows something deadly is on the prowl. The guy’s at least in his seventies, and he was tracking the Reaper! Badass old dude. He doesn’t deserve what’s coming to him.

How can you not squee when someone says this?

“You said yourself that no one should go into the Hollows,” Wil pointed out. “I don’t even know why you’re even here.”

Hebel shrugged. “Because it doesn’t matter where I am anymore, Elfling, and hasn’t for a long time. I’m an old man; I’ve done in this life the things I’ve wanted to do, been where I wanted to go, seen what I’ve wanted to see. Nothing left for me now—nothing except for maybe this one last thing. I want to see what’s down there in those Hollows.”

On the surface, it seems kind of sad, like he’s given up. But, it’s more like he’s decided to live again, to gamble in a way that’s only available to those who have lived a full, rich life, yet continue to seek new adventures. Hebel’s sort of wonderful, now that I think about it. “I’m tired of being sane,” he tells Wil, “tired of just thinking about going down there instead of doing it.”

I had to laugh when Amberle thought “briefly of Wil, trying to imagine what he might do in her place. … Who could tell what crazy stunt [he] might try in such a situation.” Even after all of their shared affection, and the obvious emotional bond they’ve developed, she still ruefully makes fun of his harebrained approach to life. It’s cute.

Also cute: Mallenroh’s parading tree-men.

It was a man made of sticks—two arms, two legs and a body all of sticks, gnarled roots curling out from the ends of the arms and legs to form fingers and toes. It had no head.

I don’t know why—they’re obviously formidable guards—but I’ve always found them to be kind of like an adorable version of Tolkien’s Ents. Or, I suppose, the enchanted end-result of a master Dwarf wood-carver taking up an Ent for his or her craft. The whole section involving Amberle’s arrival at Mallenroh’s fortress reads like a fairy tale to me.

It’s funny how, after all, their foray into the Witches domain, likely saved them from the Reaper, who fears Morag and Mallenroh enough to avoid their domain. Odds are that if they’d stayed their path, if Amberle hadn’t been kidnapped, the Reaper would have found and killed her. Funny thing, fate.


Next Time on the Reread

The siege of Arborlon continues, Mallenroh measures her prisoners, and Wil is reunited with Amberle.

Hugo Award winner Aidan Moher is the founder of A Dribble of Ink and author of Tide of Shadows and Other Stories. He regularly contributes to, the Barnes & Noble SF&F Blog, and several other websites. He lives on Vancouver Island with his wife and daughter.

Fiction Affliction: Genre-Benders for December


Santa’s saving his genre-benders until January, as only eight books span space and genre this month. Look for three new anthologies: the annual Nebula Awards Showcase edited by Greg Bear; A Paula Guran-edited anthology devoted to Warrior Women; and a collection of author “Detours” edited by Brian James Freeman.

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


Clockwork Samurai (The Gunpowder Chronicles #2), by Jeannie Lin, (December 1, InterMix)

Jin Soling can see that the Emperor is cracking, relying on Opium to drown his troubles. The Ch’ing Empire is failing, and war with the British is imminent, but the man to whom Soling was once engaged has a bold idea to save it. A leader within the Ministry of Engineering, Chang-wei suggests an alliance with Japan, whose scientists claim to have technical advancements that will turn the tide of the war. Japan has kept itself in isolation for the last two hundred years, cutting all diplomatic ties with the Ch’ing Empire. Chang-wei must enter the island nation in disguise to seek an alliance forbidden by the Japanese shogunate. Soling arranges her own passage on the airship to Japan. Once they land, they become targets of the shogunate’s armored assassins. Caught between two empires, in a land distrustful of foreigners, the deadly war machines are the least of their worries. Digital.

Tales of the Time Scouts, by Robert Asprin and Linda Evans, (December 1, Baen)

Omnibus. Two novels of time-traveling adventure. Includes Time Scout and Wagers of Sin. When an experiment on an orbiting space station went wrong, bad wrong, ripples in time washed over the Earth bringing global disaster. The survivors, beginning to rebuild, learned that they were now able to travel into the past, utilizing the remnant time strings. But first, the time strings had to be mapped. That was the job of the brave pioneers known as time scouts. Their occupation was only slightly less dangerous than front line combat, and when it was discovered that a time traveler who wasn’t extremely careful could zap himself out of existence, elaborate rules to prevent that evolved, and it was the job of the time scouts to enforce them.

The Rising (The Alchemy Wars #2), by Ian Tregillis, (December 1, Orbit)

Jax, a rogue Clakker, has wreaked havoc upon the Clockmakers’ Guild by destroying the Grand Forge. Reborn in the flames, he must begin his life as a free Clakker, but liberation proves its own burden. Berenice, formerly the legendary spymaster of New France, mastermind behind her nation’s attempts to undermine the Dutch Hegemony, has been banished from her homeland and captured by the Clockmakers Guild’s draconian secret police force. Meanwhile, Captain Hugo Longchamp is faced with rallying the beleaguered and untested defenders of Marseilles-in-the-West for the inevitable onslaught from the Brasswork Throne and its army of mechanical soldiers.



A Dream of Ice (EarthEnd Saga #2), by Gillian Anderson and Jeff Rovin, (December 8, Simon & Schuster/Simon451)

After uncovering a mystical link to the ancient civilization of Galderkhaan, child psychologist Caitlin O’Hara is left with strange new powers. She can heal her young patients with her mind and see things from other places and other times. As she learns more about her powers, she also realizes that someone is watching her, perhaps hunting her, and using her son to do it. Mikel Jasso, a field agent for a mysterious research organization, is searching for Galderkhaani ruins in Antarctica. After falling down a crevasse, he discovers the entire city has been preserved under ice and that the mysterious stone artifacts he’s been collecting are not as primitive as he thought. As Mikel and Caitlin work to uncover the mysteries of the Galderkhaani, they realize that the person hunting Caitlin and the stones may be connected in ways they never knew possible.

Nebula Awards Showcase 2015, edited by Greg Bear, (December 8, Pyr)

Anthology. The Nebula Awards Showcase volumes have been published annually since 1966, reprinting the winning and nominated stories of the Nebula Awards, voted on by the members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). This anthology includes the winners of the Andre Norton, Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master, Rhysling, and Dwarf Stars Awards, as well as the Nebula Award winners, and features Ann Leckie, Nalo Hopkinson, Rachel Swirsky, Aliette de Bodard, and Vylar Kaftan, with additional articles and poems by authors such as Robin Wayne Bailey, Samuel R. Delany, Terry A. Garey, Deborah P Kolodji, and Andrew Robert Sutton.

Warrior Women, edited by Paula Guran, (December 8, Prime)

Anthology. From fantastic legends and science fictional futures come compelling tales of powerful women-or those who discover strength they did not know they possessed-who fight because they must, for what they believe in, for those they love, to simply survive, or who glory in battle itself. Fierce or fearful, they are courageous and honorable-occasionally unscrupulous and tainted-but all warriors worthy of the name. Contributing authors include: Rachel Acks, Elizabeth Bear, Aliette de Bodard, Mary Gentle, Theodora Goss, Nalo Hopkinson, Tanya Huff, Kameron Hurley, Elaine Isaak, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Nancy Kress, Tanith Lee, Yoon Ha Lee, Ken Liu, Seanan McGuire, George R. R. Martin, Sharon Lee & Steve Miller, Elizabeth Moon, An Owomoyela, Robert Reed, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Jessica Reisman, Carrie Vaughn, and Jane Yolen.



Time and Time Again, by Ben Elton, (December 22, Thomas Dunne)

Ex-soldier Hugh Stanton learns from a Cambridge academic that time travel is possible and decides to return to June 1914 to prevent the First World War. It’s the 1st of June 1914 and Hugh Stanton, celebrated adventurer, is quite literally the loneliest man on earth. No one he has ever known or loved has been born yet. Perhaps now they never will be. Stanton knows that a great and terrible war is coming. A collective suicidal madness that will destroy European civilization and bring misery to millions in the century to come. He knows this because, for him, that century is already history. Somehow he must change that history. He must prevent the war. A war that will begin with a single bullet. But can a single bullet truly corrupt an entire century? And, if so, could another single bullet save it? (U.S. Release)



Detours, edited by Brian James Freeman, (December 31, Cemetery Dance)

Anthology. Every now and then your favorite author takes a detour while writing a new novel: a chapter gets chopped, a connected short story is dreamed up, an essay about the book’s origins is composed, or an oddity is created on a day off. Collected here together for the first time are detours by Stephen King, William Peter Blatty, Dean Koontz, Clive Barker, Peter Straub, Kelley Armstrong, Michael Koryta, David Morrell, Michael Marshall and Michael Marshall Smith, Chet Williamson, Poppy Z. Brite, Stewart O’Nan, and Owen King.

Suzanne Johnson is the author of the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series, and, as Susannah Sandlin, the Penton Legacy paranormal series and the upcoming Wilds of the Bayou suspense series. You can find her on Facebook and on her website.

Jessica Jones is a Primer on Gaslighting, and How to Protect Yourself Against It

Jessica Jones, Kilgrave

Jessica Jones has left most everyone I know with a lot to talk about. And there are plenty of reasons, of course–the show is smart, sassy, well-written, beautifully-acted, and features a female lead who is allowed to be as complex as women truly are.

It is also a show the puts female experiences of abuse and trauma under a microscope, and forces us to confront them.

Spoilers for season one of Jessica Jones, of course.

This is not to say that the show refuses to acknowledge other forms of abuse–Kilgrave’s victims are many and varied as human beings, and every single one of them is deeply traumatized by their exposure to him. But this show is about Jessica, and very specifically concerned with the experience of moving through the world as a woman, resulting in a sharp focus. There are discussions cropping up all over the internet; thoughts about rape culture, about privilege, about survivor’s guilt, and they are all fascinating. But one aspect of the show that constantly amazed me was how the it chose to highlight gaslighting as a favored play by abusers& and then proceed to show how one might protect themselves from such an attack.

For those who may not be familiar, gaslighting is a term that traces its origins to a 1938 play titled Gas Light (which was also adapted to film twice), a tale of a husband who uses subtle tricks and denials to convince his wife that she is losing her mind. It became a psychological term in the 1960s, the definition being “a form of mental abuse in which information is twisted or spun, selectively omitted to favor the abuser, or false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity.” It is a devastatingly effective tactic, allowing an abuser to more easily manipulate the subject of their choice.

Jessica Jones relationship (and I use that word with a cringe, because nothing so toxic should get such a benign title) with Kilgrave is the primary focus of this behavior because he is a master of the strategy. He is well-suited to this method of abuse; gaslighters are often psychologically labelled as narcissists, sociopaths, or some combination of the two. (And he is certainly the latter.) But whats more interesting is that Jessica seems to understand the function of this behavior, even if she may not know its technical term. And her methods of combatting it are both realistic and often highly effective.

We know that Jessica has undergone therapy to handle PTSD following her experiences under Kilgraves control. That therapy seems to be centered refocusing her realityrecalling the street where she grew up, and the streets surrounding it, etc. They are concrete places, anchors for her to call on in times of turmoil. Similarly, the defenses one creates to handle gaslighting are also about reasserting reality. One of the most potent things a victim of gaslighting can do (if they are able) is to consistently challenge their abusers lies. And that is precisely what Jessica does, over and over. Every time Kilgrave insists they were happy together, she tells him nothing could be further from the truth. Every time he tells her that she was sexually attracted to him, she counters with the fact that he raped her. Constantly stating the truth out loud is as much for her benefit is it is for his: it reconfirms her reality and prevents him from imposing his own onto her.

There are a series of far more specific tactics Kilgrave levies against Jessica (and everyone else) as well, his insistence of victimhood being a prime example. Asserting victimhood is a common plot by gaslighters, an effort to make their own victims feel horrible for taking them to task by asserting that they are the ones being being hurt. When discussing his childhood and the torturous experiments performed on him by his parents, Kilgrave actually says the words, So whos really the victim here? Its a brilliantly manipulative turn of phrase because it eclipses the people who he has abused; his status as a victim isnt simply worth note for the sake of allowing others to understand him better, he doesnt say I was also a victim of something terrible. He chooses to effectively erase the abuse they withstood at his hands because his abuse is more relevant. Who is really the victim? he asks& implying that he is and therefore she is not.

Jessica fortifies herself against this by continuing to dig for information. In doing so, she discovers Kilgraves parents and learns that he omitted key aspects of his history; specifically, the fact that his parents were doing those experiments on their son in an attempt to save his life. It doesnt change the fact that he truly suffered as a result, but the lie itself proves that he is attempting to construct the reality he prefers around Jessica.

The most effective form of gaslighting he uses on her concerns the death of Luke Cages wife, Reva. When she takes him to task for getting her to commit murder, he tells her that she clearly wanted to because he never told her to kill Revahe only told her to take care of her. This manages to get to Jessica because she has no defense against it; she has clearly learned to stop blaming herself for what Kilgrave did to her, but not to stop blaming herself for what he forced her to do to other people. It�is�gaslighting because its obvious that Kilgrave did intend for her to kill Lukes wife; he first encountered Jessica when she used her considerable strength to defend Malcolm from muggers. Part of her value to him was wrapped up in her powers, and he made that clear on their first meeting. He knew how she would take the order he gave her, even if it was worded vaguely.

But the place where his tactics fall apart entirely occurs when he tries to assert a very specific reality over Jessicathe moment where he insists that she wanted to stay with him because there were eighteen seconds where he was not exerting his control over her, and she stayed willingly. Jessica employs a defensive measure against him called a counterstory: she tells him precisely what happened in those eighteen seconds, going so far as to show him proof with the scar on her ear (which he told her to cut off for not listening to him). Telling the story keeps Jessicas perception of self clear while completely destroying Kilgraves narrative.

There are others cases of gaslighting used on the show as well, often employed far more subtly than Kilgraves brand. Simpsons behavior once he starts taking the combat drugs falls into this realm once he starts insisting to Trish that the behavior hes exhibiting is all down to the drugs themselves. That wasnt me, he tells her, when he shows up unannounced and uninvited to her workplace. The fact of the matter is, regardless of how the red pills are affecting him, he still is responsible for his actions while using them. In addition, he was the one who made the decision to take too many of them, against the instructions of his doctor. Trish defends herself against this by never falling for his placations after he gets violent in her presence; he gets one strike, and following that, she never truly trusts him again.

Trishs mother, Dorothy Walker, is clearly adept at using gaslighting to remove blame from herself. When she comes to visit Trish (something she is not supposed to do at all), she arrives with a gift: files dealing with Jessicas past and powers. She does this to gain goodwill, an olive branch toward regaining a relationship with her daughter, a relationship that she claims they could have reformed a long time ago if Trish has simply given her a chance. Shes reframing their narrative, placing all the blame on Trish for their lack of contact when she is solely responsible for that due to the abuse she subjected her daughter to in childhood. And this form of gaslighting, pointedly, nearly works on Trishuntil her mother brings up the possibility of Trish acting as a sponsor for their old neighbors bottled water company.

Id nearly forgotten how good you were, Trish says to her mother. By bringing up the sponsorship, Dorothy has revealed that the gift she came with was never a gift at allit was a lure to regain some control in Trishs life. And because the abuse that parents enact on their children can be such a difficult cycle to break, the first season of the show leaves it open-ended as to how much Trishs mother has succeeded and bridging that gap between them. We know that Trish has accepted her offer for all of the files on Jessica, indicating that at the very least, she is continuing that contact between them.

That Jessica Jones has managed to tackle such a difficult topic on more than one front has allowed for a deft and multifaceted portrayal of a serious problem that victims of abuse face. But what truly lifts the show above and beyond is its plain refusal to take a backseat viewJessica Jones is a show about fighting for your reality and truth, about refusing to be silenced by people who would have power over you. And the way that we see its central characters defend themselves against continuous abuse serves as a powerful lesson to anyone who is looking for a way out.

Its hard to think of a more valuable thing for a piece of fiction to do.

Emily Asher-Perrin�needed a show like this ages ago.�You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

Reading Melanie Rawns Skybowl: The Final Chapters


Welcome to the weekly Wednesday read of Skybowl! Finally weve reached the end. The long saga is over. The battles are done, the cast of hundreds get their various resolutions. Or hints at same, as lives go on (or not) and the world continues past the scope of the series.


Chapters 36-39 and Epilogue

Heres What Happens: In Chapter 36, the battle has ended with collapsed Vellantim and somewhat less flattened magic users. Maarken relays Pols order: the enemy are out but not dead, and are not to be killed. Sionell takes it on herself to pass this on. Chay sorts out Maarken and the rest.

Isriam and the High Warlord scuffle, and mostly knock each other out. The Warlord comes to, sees whats happened to his army, and bellows a challenge to Pol.

We see the next scene through Isriams eyes. Hes all over guilt about what hes failed to do. Then Fire blasts the Warlord.

Betheyn comforts Isriam. The rest of the women deal with Meiglans death. Sioned is in a rage. Shes not the one who destroyed the Warlord, Betheyn says. Pol did it.

Chay has to do more cleanup, first to see if Andry is alive, then to deal with Pol, who is fairly completely off his head. Some power through the White Crown puts him to sleep.

Ostvel deals with baby Larien, who was pulled into Pols great working. The baby recovers remarkably quickly.

More cleanup: Audrite takes stock of the children in the Attic. Jihan is still blazing with power.

At Goddess Keep, Elsen battles Norian to let him go to the fight. She plays the family card, and wins.

Edrel, out in the battle, also wins, in Elsens name. Heres another not-there battle scene. Next we know, Edrel is bleeding and senseless and Norian is weeping, but the good guys have won.

Theres no battle at Balarat, on stage or off. The castle is full of entranced sorcerers. We get the story from Nolly, the cook. Then people start collapsing, and Yarin is brought out, significantly the worse for wear.

Tirel gallops up with Idalian, Rohannon, and Aldiar and explains about Pol and the great working.

Andrev is unconscious with the rest, but isnt responding to stimuli. Then Tilal realizes his cloak pin has popped open and pierced his skin. Hes deadkilled by steel while Sunrunning.

As Tilal rages at the senseless waste, he receives a summons to Skybowl. Hes to take charge of disarming the enemy before they wake. Tilal swears none of them will ever wake again. (Spoiler: This is a fizzle. Never happens.)

Sioned takes stock, grieves, and gives orders. We learn that the sorcerer who put Pol to sleep is a woman. Sioned is tired, she has to process how she feels about everything including Pol killing with Fire, and now she has to sort Andry out, because hes too far gone to release his Sunrunners from the weaving. She ends the chapter being glad shes too tired to tell Tobin Andrev is dead and Andry is dying.

Chapter 37 opens with the hard stroke of fate (or karma as they might say in another world): It took Andry five days to die. In the process, Evarin is nearly destroyed, and Sioned puts him back together before going out to burn Meiglans body.

Andry is, by now, a dangerously radioactive and destructive weapon. Grim cleanup and disposal of the dead goes on.

Chay has to tell Tobin whats happened to Andry. His brain is broken. Hes lost not in shadows but in light. Pol might help him, but Pol is asleep and wont wake.

Finally Tobin tells Sioned to help Andry die the way she helped Meath.

Betheyn watches over Andry in the dark. He begs her to let him die. There is some brief discussion. Then Sioned opines that if they let the last daylight in, it will take him. Alasen also asks Sioned to help him. (Poignant, because Alasen was his first love.)

Andrys death scene. Very touching. Hes alone with his father, who opens the shutters to the lightChay has no magic, so is safe.

Andrys funeral. No sorcerers participate. A dragon mourns him. Tobin is the last to stay, watched over by Sioned. Chay grieves, having lost three of his sons.

Sionell watches over Pol as all this goes on. Finally he wakes. Hes cranky. Sionell tells him about Andry. He grieves for his number-one rival, but he grieves most for Tobin.

Sionell tells him whats going on, and fills him in on whats still to be done. Hes limp and passive. (True to his usual pattern.)

They go back and forth on what they want. When he falls asleep, the name he speaks is Meggie.

The captured Vellantim from Goddess Keep are loaded on three dragon ships and sent out from Goddess Keep. Antoun is on board, along with Edrel and Elsen.

Theres a lot of other cleanup, which is a bit hard to follow because its hard to tell whos where. Sorcerers are very (very) gradually being outed and integrated. Yarin is not in good condition. We learn that Camigina is the one who put Pol to sleep.

Sionell and Pol discuss Chiana and Rinhoel, who are being their sweet selves in a tower of, one presumes, Skybowl. Pol insists on evidence and the rule of law. He has no idea what to do with the prisoners.

The Isulkim arrive at Skybowl. (Pause while I am testy about random apostrophes. I have tried to be strong, for six books I have persevered, but GAH.)

(Random apostrophes are on the list of things not to do in fantasy naming. I think these books are one of the reasons for it.

(Anyway. Carrying on.)

There is a bit of backing and forthing about mutual hospitality. Then Kazanders three formidable wives arrive, demanding to see the woman who was worth the korrus life. It isnt about revenge. Its about respect.

The wives tell Pol that the Isulkim will guard the Vellantim (grrr apostrophes grr) on their march to Radzyn. He tells them hes making Sionell his regent in Cunaxa, and asks them to be her advisors about the Merida, especially the children. The chief wife is wise and fierce. She agrees.

As they leave, the chief wife gives Pol the gift of her name. This is huge. He responds in kind. One of the younger wives reveals a gift of prophecy, though she speaks of a past vision and not of the future.

They leave. Pol ponders all the losses. All the grief. All the waste. Including his guilt for sending Meiglan to Dragons Rest, thus causing her eventual death.

He reflects on who he is and what hes done and what hes gained and lost. Rohan reshaped the world in a way that makes it easy for Pol to do what he needs to, or what he wants. As hard as it all has been for him, in the end its still much easier and faster than it might have been, because of his father.

He can do it alone, right? Because of Rohan and Sioned and even Ianthe. Because of all they gave him, or made him.

The Vellantim are removed from� Skybowl. Maarken fills Pol in on all the various news and doings. They talk about the sorcerers, but Pol is sulky and doesnt wanna. So Maarken tells him other news, such as that Tobren now has a dragonthe one who chose Andry. The dragon comforts her.

The discussion of various plans and minutiae continues, first with Maarken, then with Ruala. They plan a New Year banquet.

Pol continues to be sulky and entitled, and to leave the messy daily stuff to everyone else. He does get busy with charters and seals and princely assignments and such. You know, prince stuff.

Isriam, much altered and broken, comes to tell him what happened at the sacrifice. Pol explains what happened and why Meiglan wasnt protected: he delegated the job to the sorcerers while he was fighting for control with Andry, and they opted to join the larger working. So hes feeling just as guilty as Isriam.

They go back and forth over what happened and what everybody did and who was at fault and who wasnt and who can be excused and who cant.

Betheyn comes in. Isriam ducks her and leaves. She and Pol discuss how Isriam is reasoning his way toward forgiving himself. She notes that Pol isnt.

They discuss this. She is just a little bit steely about it. Hes all anguished about Meiglan. Shes all, Her eyes were full of you. Hes all, Im so guilty, its so awful. Shes all, Everybody is guilty or no one is.

And so on and so forth. She gets testy. He finally turns a corner. Its usually Sionell who sorts him out like this, he says.

He sends her to Isriam. Then he reflects that Sionells not here. He misses her. And Meiglan.

He reflects on how he cant move on the way he ought to. He doesnt get it. This isnt a grand passion like Sioneds.

Its all guilt. On and on at length, its guilt. She never knew about Sionell.

Family interlude. Tobin is adorably cross. Chayla is adorably stern. Even Sioned is, well not adorable, lord no, but kind of monumentally cute about how Walvis is keeping the crowd of guests out of mischief.

Chayla leaves, sparkling. Tobin and Sioned watch the festivities and discuss Chaylas healing process and how Sioned doesnt know what to do for Pol.

This segues into an internal conversation with Rohans ghost voice about Pol and Andry, while Tobin talks aloud about the same subject. Sioned finishes the chapter by saying she feels useless. Also tired. (Coming down heavy on the foreshadowing here.) Tobin says thats normal for their age. Sioned isnt so sure.

In Chapter 38, Sioned is looking spectacular. The dress is a gift from Pol, recalling the (for many of us creepily) sexy Rialla dress he gave her years ago. This one is over-the-top flashy, and she wants to throttle him.

The twins are also gorgeously arrayed, as are various other family members.

And Aldiara, who is in tears over her hair. Sioned and Chayla do some expert hairdressing (including hair gelhello, Eighties!and some banter about its commercial possibilities). Hollis gives her a gift of jewels.

There is much banter and teasing and cuteness and a little romance: Tobins clued Chay in to Aldiaras imminent entry into the family.

Everybodys all gorgeous thanks to Pols generosity. Sioneds eyeing Sethric and Jeni and thinking about matchmaking, with ghost-Rohan kibitzing.

The gathering is in full swing. Jihan wants to know where Sionell is. Sioned doesnt know.

Sioned talks to Alasen about her gorgeous dress, which was liberated from Chianas wardrobe and extensively and tastefully remade. There is obligatory Chiana-dissing.

The social whirl continues. There is banter and teasing and family gossip. Ghost-Rohan inserts occasional comments.

Pol finally shows up, deliberately late and strategically unannounced, and startles Sioned half out of her skin. The banquet begins. We get the full menu, with the program for the entertainment.

Also, bad poetry. Lots and lots of bad poetry. Deliberately so: its supposed to be funny.


After dessert (described in detail), Pol hands out princedoms, with background and flashbacks to his decisions and his opinions thereon. Ghost-Rohan has a lot to say.

Sioned reflects at length about everybody, including various romances, various conflicts and interpersonal problems, and Pols various ways of dealing or not dealing with those for which hes responsible. Sioned has plans to meddle with some of these, and she doesnt care if ghost-Rohan approves.

Pol is being charming, teasing and bantering as applicable. Sioned reflects on the lies theyre telling to explain Jihan and Rislyn and further conceal the Ianthe/Lallante/Roelstra connection. Theyre laying it on Meiglan, since shes safely dead. Ghost-Rohan has an opinion on that, too.

More teasing and banter ensues. Finally Pol comes to Cunaxa, and Sionell, who is silent in accepting her new job. Then Meadowlord, about which Ostvel is adorable in Not Wanting It, as is Dannar in not being terribly upset about being heir to it.

The handing out of domains goes on. Sionell interrupts: she wants to give a manor to Visian and his people. Its Catchwater, the one Birioc came from, in the middle of Merida lands. Also, she wants Castle Pine to go to Meig. Pol is good with that.

Chay and Sioned try to figure out what shes doing. Meig is being placed to endear him to his people, a la Pol once upon a time, but they have no idea what Visians assignment is about.

Now princes are handing out subordinate holdings. Everybody gets something.

All thats left is Goddess Keep. Pol wont hand out that one. Antoun reveals that Andry revealed his choice of successor to Betheyn and Feylin: Chayla.

The family are shocked. Some are resigned. Others are absolutely not. Shes only sixteen!

Sioned shuts them down and gets the story out of Betheyn. Pol asks Chayla if she wants this. She says she does.

Sioned does the eye thing. Pol makes eyes back. No, he didnt know.

When thats all done, Pol takes his own oath, with new clauses: Hell defend all people of all stations, and hell never again kill with power or use his powers against those who keep faith with the law and with him. Then he adds that lawbreakers will face the justice of his triple rank and heritage.

Everybody roars approval. Ghost-Rohan is pleased. He is also pleased with Sioneds crowning touch: a dragon of Fire. Her last one, she vows to ghost-Rohan.

In Chapter 39, the wrap-up continues. Everybody is dancing in the hall. Pol has fixed up Rohans earringthe Fire didnt destroy itand is now wearing it. (Eeeuwww. Considering where it’s been. Eeeeuuuuwww.) Sioned doesnt disapprove.

The dance continues. Sioned makes sure Jeni and Sethric end up together. There is banter. There is teasing. Chay is impressed with Sioneds matchmaking skills.

Betheyn and Isriam settle matters, with nudges from Hollis and Tilal.

Chay has plans for Arlis and Elsen. They involve ships, including dragon ships. And a new fleet.

Sioned and Sionell discuss what Pol did to Chiana and Rinhoel, with flashback. Hes sent them to the Vellanti Islands. Thats nasty, Sionell says. Its just, says Sioned. Then she gets Sionell to explain about Catchwater. Its an old Merida stronghold, and the Isulkim will keep an eye on it for her.

(Sionell is good at this governing thing.)

The dance goes on. Rohannon and Aldiara end up as partners. Tobin is pleased.

Amiel and Tilal give some happy and lucrative payback to a physician and her soldier Chosenso the nobles arent the only ones getting rewards for service.

Chayla gets some surprises. Visian insists on accompanying her to Goddess Keepand Kazanders wives approve. They also have something to show her: Kazanders premature daughter, who is alive and well because of her.

Pause for lengthy digression about Chaylas taking over as Lady of Goddess Keep. Then the wives tell her they want to foster the baby with her when shes older. Chayla accepts, and Names her Andra.

Sioned is looking for Pol, intending to do some matchmaking regarding Sionell, but gets distracted by more matchmaking elsewhere.

Pol is out by the lake, remembering a recent scene with his daughters and the pearls. Hes realized he has to keep them. He has a moment with the dragons, including Azhdeen, who abases himself: acknowledging Pol as master.

Pol doesnt like that. He says hell never take control that way again.

Sionell appears. Azhdeen approves. They talk about the mirror (returned to Riyan minus the jewels), the crown (buried deep with the shovel thrown away), and Rosseyn (trapped forever in the mirror by Lallantes hate).

They talk about power and passion, and about their dead. Pol declares his love for Sionell.

Scene break. Sioned finally slips out of the dance. She sees Pol and Sionell walking together, and feels a little smug. She listens for ghost-Rohan (having decided hes not a figment, hes real), but hes gone.

She takes a walk around the crater and down memory lane. She tells Rohan its over, they won. Pol is the heir they both wanted. She weaves light, and gives herself to it.

And thats it, except for her dragons scream of loss and grief. Sioned is gone. And thats the end.

&Well, not quite. An Epilogue wraps the series. Pol is back in Stronghold, reflecting on his past, his losses, his plans, and, in the present time, his daughters. Then he goes back to a recent memory: the rest of the scene with Sionell.

Sionell didn’t fling herself joyfully into his arms. She needs time. When Sioned saw them walking, they werent even in the friend zone, they were in the prince-and-vassal zone.

Pol is prepared to wait. In the friend zone. Not happily, but he doesnt have a choice. Hes quite down about it.

He does have a future. His daughters expect Stronghold to be rebuilt. They intend to start now, by washing the Flametower. Thats an ancient ritual and duty of the women in the immediate family in between rulers: cleansing the tower, then relighting the flame–bringing us full circle to the death of Zehava in the very first book. Pol considers logistics and decides who will guard the flame once its lit: the Isulkim.

He tells his daughters lets get to it. They remind him that its the womens job. He says hes starting a new tradition.

Everybody ends up helping. When its all ready, Pol goes up alone, pondering at some length the meaning of ritual and symbolism. Then he lights the fire. His fire. For all of them, for however long it would burn.

And Im thinking: So there we are. Ill do a wrap post next week, with thoughts about the whole series. Here, Im thinking, well, that sums it up. Sioned moves on to join Rohan. All the other survivors have lives to go to, families to take care of, damage to repair.

And theres Pol, being the great big solitary symbol: the one with the responsibility. The one they all agree to believe in. Faith being a very large component of human psychology–despite the frequent dissing of the superstitious Vellant’im and the cynical exploitation of the Goddess by Andry and his minions. This is true even if the one being believed in doesnt totally believe in himself. (Pols arrogance comes in handy here. He’s much less riven by self-doubt than Rohan was.)

Ill have more thoughts about that next week. I want to think about it for a while longer. Also about who the real protagonist is, and all the strong women characters, and a bunch of other things. If there’s anything you’d like me to address, let me know in comments, and I’ll see what I can do.

Meanwhile, what stands out to me right now is how alive this world is. It exists outside of the scope of the story. It will go on, and everybody will keep on living and teasing and fighting and loving. There are new surprises and new characters right up to the very end. Kazanders wivesoh, to see more of them, and the culture they come from. Want…!

Thats good worldbuilding.

Judith Tarr’s first novel, The Isle of Glass, appeared in 1985. Her new novel, Forgotten Suns, a space opera, was published by Book View Caf� in April. In between, shes written historicals and historical fantasies and epic fantasies, some of which have been reborn as ebooks from Book View Caf�. She has won the Crawford Award, and been a finalist for the World Fantasy Award and the Locus Award. She lives in Arizona with an assortment of cats, two dogs, and a herd of Lipizzan horses.</p

The Jessica Jones Paranoid Conspiracy Support Group


Hot off her Alias reread, Tansy Rayner Roberts reviews Netflixs�Jessica Jones. In this post: AKA�99 Friends and “AKA The Sandwich Saved Me.”�Spoilers for season 1.

“AKA 99 Friends”

Written by Hilly Hicks Jr
Directed by David Petrarca

Nothing plays like pictures in court.

Jessica gets a new client, and her paranoiaalready off the rails�thanks to the mystery photographer who has been stalking her on Kilgraves behalfhits previously untapped levels. Audrey Eastman seems on the level, an angry woman looking for pictures of her philandering husband Carlo to support her divorce, but Jessica cant be sure that this isnt another Kilgrave trap.

Trish, meanwhile, calls in a panic because Sergeant Will the murderous cop is back with a bemused friend, banging on her reinforced security door. Jessica realises that the poor guy is acting out because he thinks theres a dead body in the apartment.

JESSICA: He thinks he killed you. I recognise that look.

Trish and Jessica answer the door politely for proof of life, and let�Will in on the truth out of pity. At the sight of the bruises around her neck, he thinks hes a monster, and the more Jessica tries to explain, the angrier he gets.

Nice Guy Syndrome much? Will is ex-military, used to thinking of himself as a good, heroic person. What he did under Kilgraves influence contradicts�his very sense of selfand while Jessica knows exactly what hes going through, she doesnt have a lot of patience with his determination to protect Trish.

Jessica has her own plan to keep her friend safeand its awful. In a cringemaking scene, Trish makes a conciliatory statement on the radio to apologise for what she said about Kilgrave before.

Wow, so the theme of “compromises women make�to protect themselves from the violence of men” has always been a strong part of this show, but this episode is awash with it.

Jessica might be�keen on having a police officer in her Scooby gang (or indeed having a gang at all, she doesn’t do sidekicks), but Will is eager to be�usefulhe doesnt bat an eyelid when she asks him to track down security footage to help find Kilgraves spy.

Jessica is still not sure if Audrey Eastman is legit. She goes so far as to track the womans movements for 24 hours, on the grounds that Kilgraves power has never lasted more than 10 that she knows of, without having to be “topped up.”

Her spywork uncovers a surprise: Audrey is practicing handgun target practice in a secured warehouse, which suggests she doesnt just want a divorce from her cheating husband& Maybe its a good thing Jessica doesnt usually look this closely at her clients!

HOGARTH: You need to control yourself. You are coming off distinctly paranoid.

JESSICA: Everyone keeps saying that, its like a conspiracy.

Jessica Jones episode 5 review

After an unpleasant encounter between her girlfriend/assistant and her soon-to-be-ex-wife, Jeri Hogarth summons�Jessica to do what she does bestdigging up dirt on spouses. Jessica is distracted by Hogarth’s�office full of walk-insafter Hopes appearance on the radio, “Kilgrave made me do it” is the new favourite alibi for everyone�from major criminals�to knocked-up teenagers.

In a clever montage, Jessica sorts the legitimate Kilgrave victims from the liarsand we the viewers know enough to do the same. We already know that Kilgrave would never bother to seduce a teenager or her friends, but yes, he would make that man give him a great jacket, or make that woman play her cello for two days, or make that other woman smile incessantly.

Jessica encourages these witnesses to stay in contact, forming an unofficial “Victims of Kilgrave” therapy group. She loses her temper with Hogarth�when the lawyer gets misty-eyed about how Kilgrave is wasting his “gift” on indulgences&

Ah, moral ambiguities, we love them here.

Speaking of anger and paranoia, Will is not doing great. When he�brings Jessica�the security camera tape of herself, he�ends up screaming at Malcolm for looking at him funny while high.

In one of the super creepiest moments of the show so far (lotsa competition there!), Kilgrave communicates with Jessica via an adorable 8-year-old, who tells her “Patsy” Walker is safe thanks to the grovelling apology, and then starts swearing her head off about how Jessica is a bitch who could have stopped that bus. Cue awkward moment with the kids mother!

Will returns to Trishs door, far more concerned with “making things right” than respecting her wish to be left alone. He brings her a parcel and she agrees to open it without letting him inside. Turns outits a gun!

Wow, Will really does not get the whole Kilgrave situation, does he? If Trish isnt safe behind her reinforced steel with her extensive martial arts training, how would she be any safer with a handgun?�(It will certainly make it easier for Kilgrave to make her kill herself, as he has already threatened to do.)�Still, Trish is impressed�by the gesture.

Jessica tracks Carlo only to discover that he is with his wife& its a set-up. Audrey turns out to be an anti-super obsessive who is out to kill “gifted” people. Her mother was killed in “the incident” AKA the�Chitauri invasion of New York, and Audrey is so swept up in anger and blame that she is acting out by trying to murder�superheroes.

After the week shes had, Jessica loses it. She rants at them both, smashing up their place one piece of furniture at a time. Among other things, she yells about how her own parents died in a random accident, but she doesn’t go around killing all drivers:

JESSICA: 99. You want to know how many of us there are? The last time I counted, I had 99 gifted friends, in this borough alone. And now every single one of them is going to know about this shit that you tried to pull. And they hate attempted murder, they really do. Cops hate it too, because& its against the law.

Im assuming this is a lie, because the idea that Jessica has 99 friends, let alone superpowered ones, is highly unlikely. Her bluffing skills are excellent, though.

Hours later, Will and Trish are still talking through the security door, and its starting to look a lot more like a date (or at least a friendly therapy session). We learn more about Patsy Walker, teen star, and her tie-in merchandise, while�Will confesses his own obsession with saving people via a frankly disturbing GI Joe anecdote. Finally, she decides to let him in.

TRISH: I might shoot you by accident.

WILL: Its worth the risk.

Jessicas survivor therapy group pays offnot in closure, but by providing useful�evidence. A gutting confession by one of the victims of how he abandoned his baby son by the side of the road because Kilgrave wanted to ride around in his car provides a clue as to who Jessicas photo-stalker really is&

When she follows the blue-and-white scarfed man via the security footage, there he is. And oh. Its Malcolm.

Comics and Continuity:

You shoot at me, Ill pull the bullet out of my ruined jacket and shove it up your ass with my pinky finger, and who do you think thats going to hurt more?

This line is taken directly from the pages of�Alias, delivered to someone equally deserving of scorn as Audrey Eastman. It’s pretty great that�Audrey immediately wings Jessica with a bullet to see if its true.

Door Report:

Its fixed! Jessica actually unlocks her door to let Audrey into her officeand she assists�Malcolm with his key-turning skills, because hes too befuddled�to make it through his own door. Jessica is a key-turning champion.

She also snaps a chain on Audreys warehouse door, partly shatters�Hogarths glass wall�to make a point, and does a lot of furniture damage to the Eastmans apartment.

The main door featured in this one is Trishs reinforced security door, which is still in good nick despite Wills best efforts�to physically beat it down. I wonder if the durability of that door is going to be plot relevant later?


“AKA The Sandwich Saved Me”

Written by Dana Baratta
Directed by Stephen Surjik

So many questions are answered in this episode, hooray!

With an “Eighteen Months Ago”�tagline, we learn about Jessicas life before Kilgraveher run of crappy jobs, her stubborn refusal to use her strength for anything other than making a point to assholes, and Trishs own desire to live a heroic life vicariously through Jessica.

Im delighted to see that Jessica is the same bad attitude wrapped in a grouch wrapped in a hoodie before and after Kilgraveshes basically Daria without a college degree. Her sarcasm and defensiveness is exactly the same, not a result of trauma (or at least, not this trauma).

Trishs longing for Jessica to act out her own superhero fantasies explains so much about her in the present day (the militant training regime, etc) and I love that shes the one who came up with the name Jewel as well as the costume.

While Jessica constantly deflects her friends attempts to push her into the role of superhero, she still cant help doing good and helping people when she can. In one notable scene, she rescues a small child from a traffic accident while dressed like a hoagie/sub sandwich.

We also see a tantalising hint of where Jessicas real skills lie, as she peaces out of a cubicle job having not only liberated office supplies for her own amusement, but also having traced the dodgy financial crimes of her supervisor through the computer system.

Back in the present day, the comparison between “before Kilgrave” and “after Kilgrave” is horribly relevant with the raw�revelation that Malcolm is Kilgraves spy. Jessica sees a picture of the kid from just six months ago where he looks happy and healthybefore he became a junkie.

And thats Kilgraves secrethe isnt only relying on his powers. Meeting Malcolm every day at the same time to receive pictures wasnt enough to ensure his compliance via mind control, so he set himself up as his dealer instead, swapping the daily photos for drugs. Which of course means, he had to get him hooked in the first place&

Weve had four episodes of Malcolm bumbling around, high and twitchy and basically harmless as background wallpaper of what a rough neighbourhood Jessica lives in, what a gritty world she takes for granted, and her general kindness when it comes to troubled youth. With this reveal,�Jessica still sees�him as a victim rather than a traitor, which shows us yet again what a good person she is under�her sharp tongue and resting bitchface.�Every time she finds another of Kilgrave’s victims, she adds a new person to her list of people to save.

This new information is�the key to catching Kilgrave, as Jessica�finds out when she follows Malcolm and spots the pattern: he goes to the park every day at the same time, wearing his blue striped scarf, and a different stranger approaches him with instructions as to where Kilgrave is waiting for him for the swap.

For those who have commented on Jessica’s limited wardrobe in the show, take note of the different variations of her stalking outfits, particularly the way she uses a�variety of hoodies and caps in different combinations.

Jessica goes to tell Trish that its time to hero up (she doesnt drive and plans for Trish to drive the getaway vehicle) only to find a surprise policeman in her best friends bed.�Bonus points for Will going down on Trish in this scene; its not a sex act that we see nearly enough of in TV drama, and makes me think more kindly of him generally. It is hilarious that his response to Jessica interrupting their sex is to be aggressively�shirtless in the following scene.

Will clearly wants in on the operation, citing his special ops�background and experience, but Jessica rails against his involvement. The two of them wrangle over every detail, while Trish watches in amusement, well aware that her BFF and new man are fighting over her as much as they are over the correct way to kidnap a man in a nice suit during�broad daylight.

The negotiation scene was one I found very believable. My partner thought�Will was suspicious in the way he kept talking over the women and trying to control the decision making process, and therefore might still be under Kilgraves influence. I replied that no, thats just a really believable interaction when a man feels he has more expertise than the women in the room. As is pointed out in the narrative itself, he does have a lot of relevant expertise, but also has some major points of ignorance, especially about Jessicas capabilities. Also, Wills own experience with Kilgrave means Jessica has good reason not to trust whether he will stick with the “Save Hope” program rather than killing Kilgrave outright.

Speaking of Hope, there’s a brief aside in this episode where she calls Jessica to come to prison, needing money. Hope has clearly been hardened by her time in prison as an accused murderer, and is expecting trouble. Like Jessica’s paranoia, hers bears out when she is attacked in her own bunk.

Wills greatest contribution to the mission is a site in which to keep Kilgrave once they have captured hima conveniently abandoned “safe house” floor in a warehouse district, including a sealed, soundproofed wall. At one point,�Jessica and Will, separated by the soundproofing, use�the opportunity to vocalise their distrust of each other without causing further conflict. Lets hope neither of them read lips?

I also really appreciated the scene where�Trish and Will are arguing about Jessica, and she asked him if he trusted her. His response is “With what?”, because�hes not willing to commit to that statement without context. Will is a fascinating�character, so wrapped up in his own definitions of what the right thing is to do that he remains a wild card. I can’t help thinking that his righteous attitude is going to take him down a dark path…

960 (1)

The mission goes off brilliantly at first, with Jessica enjoying the chance to punch an unconscious Kilgrave on their way to the safe house. Team Anaesthesia Dart Gun For The Win! It goes wrong when they realise that Kilgrave�has a tracker on him, and are promptly attacked by a mob of his security operatives.

The fight scene is gruelling, especially with its�use of tasersTrish is taken out with the first use of this weapon, whereas Jessica is tased repeatedly and she and Will fight a long and bloody battle. Most of the men get away, rescuing with Kilgraves unconscious body.

Will attempts to torture the remaining guy for information, but Jessica quickly realises the truth: This isnt one of Kilgraves mind control victims at all. Its just a dude who works for a private security company. Her mistake was thinking that Kilgrave would rely entirely on his power, but hes much cannier than thathe’s hiring employees, too! Damn it. Why cant he be a less intelligent super villain with fewer of his bases covered?

Trish is gutted that she�was the weakest link in the fight, and Jessica cant summon the energy to make her feel better about it. Instead, she goes home to sort out the one person she can helpmaybeMalcolm.

After rescuing him from a new supplier, Jessica handcuffs him to her bathroom sink and prepares to help him through withdrawal. He is miserable and angry, and confesses�that he wasnt always under Kilgraves mind control. Often, he simply took the pictures for the drugs.

Jessica digs her heels in, refusing to make a distinction between Malcolms addiction and what he did under mind control, because they are equally Kilgraves fault. She leaves�him with the choice as to whether or not to continue as a junkie, by giving him access to that days payment.

Kilgrave calls Jessica,�wondering why she didnt kill him when she had the chance. He makes her an offer, to protect Malcolm by replacing himsending one photo a day, and dont forget to smile.

Another flashback shows us exactly how Kilgrave found Jessica (while saving a mugging victim who turns out to be Malcolm) and took her under his power. This is why Malcolm insists she can’t save him “again.”

Back in the present day, Jessica checks on Malcolm and when she sees he has ditched�the drugs in the toilet, sends Kilgrave a selfie.

Ugh, ugh, ugh.

Jessica Jones selfie Kilgrave

Comics and Continuity:

This beginning to feel as much like Trishs origin story as it is Jessicas. I hope we see Trish put on a mask and a Hellcat costume by the end of the season, and that she ends up as part of the Defenders team! She has the mad fighting skills.

Jessicas refusal to wear a mask is very cute, up there with The Incredibles and “no capes!” for its commentary on Superhero Problems 101. (Also, the image of Trish with the mask askew on her face is reminiscent of Daredevil’s ninja costume, as well as hinting at Hellcat.)

The Costume, you guys. The Jewel outfit that Trish holds up hopefully for Jessica in the flashback is exactly what she wore in the comics! It makes so much senseI had been wondering about that, because Jewel never entirely made sense as an identity that had come directly out of Jessicas psyche, and makes even less sense with this especially nihilistic, sarcastic version of Jessica.�If it turns out Trish has a pink wig somewhere in her wardrobe, I will be delighted. Though I will be completely OK with us never seeing Jessica actually wear the Jewel outfit or persona. Shes too cool for jewels.�(Knightress, maybe& though there isnt the excuse that all the other names were taken…)

When Kilgrave first approaches Jessica and shows such delight in her powers, she has a chance to take a superhero name for herself (it would obviously please him), but instead she speaks the truth: her hero name is Jessica Jones.

Under his�influence, she speaks the truth: that she does it to help people. Its a very different scene to the equivalent moment in the Alias comics, where “Jewel”�was in the midst of a full-blown�superhero career�when he took her. That’s not the only tonal shift. Were used to seeing Kilgrave all dark, growly, sinister and slightly broken but here in this flashback�hes charming and practically giddy at meeting a real-life superhero.

Still creepy as hell, of course, but somehow lighter and less troubled.�Its important to remember that while Jessica, Malcolm and the others are deeply damaged�after Kilgrave, Kilgrave is living in an after Jessica Jones” world. He has taken some damage as well.

Not nearly enough, but I live in hope.

Door Report:

No doors were damaged, rendered useless, crunched or otherwise harmed in the making of this motion picture.

Tansy Rayner Roberts is a Marvel Comics tragic, and a Hugo Award winning blogger and podcaster. Tansys latest piece of published short fiction is Fake Geek Girl at the Review of Australian Fiction, and she writes comics reviews on her own blog. You can find TansyRR on Twitter & Tumblr, sign up for her Author Newsletter, and listen to her on Galactic Suburbia or the <a href="https://veri

The Man in the High Castle: Worldbuilding, Reality, and You

TMITHC, Flag with Swastika

In addition to Netflix’s�Jessica Jones, I also bingewatched Amazon Studios’�The Man in the High Castle over this past weekend. This experience was interesting, as it represented the twin poles of current geek culturetwo wildly different, equally complex takes on fantastical universes. Where Jessica Jones is deeply personal, dealing with intimate trauma and healing, The Man in the High Castle is an inventive, heady look at politics, that uses an alternate history to ask questions about society and humanity as a whole.

While both are emotionally wrenching, and feature nearly perfect performances from an absurdly deep bench of actors, the thing that stood out to me most in TMITHC was its worldbuilding. The plot of the show diverges significantly from that of the book, but it’s still fairly simple: The Allies lost World War II. In 1947, a bomb was dropped on Washington, D.C., and the Imperial Japanese Army and the Nazis divided the United States, with a swath of Neutral Territories cutting across the Rocky Mountains. Anyone not conforming to the Nazis’ ubermensch ideals has been exterminated, and both halves of the country live under tight fascistic control. In San Francisco, Juliana Crane ends up with a film that shows a very different outcome of World War II, and tries to smuggle it to the Resistance in the Neutral Territory, and Trade Minster Tagomi worries that Japan is weakening and becoming vulnerable to a Nazi takeover. Meanwhile, the Obergruppenf�hrer�of New York, John Smith, tries to use his agents to ferret out the East Coast Resistance, while investigating a plot to assassinate Hitler. See? Simple. But the plot is just a frame to hang an entire world on.�The broad strokes the show makes are extremely impressive, such as this already iconic shot of Times Square bedecked in Nazi insignias:

TMIHC, Times Square

But is goes far deeper than that. Every phone has the swastika-and-eagle stamp of the Greater Reich. The women of San Francisco hold themselves more like Japanese women of an earlier generation, with their heads tucked down, eyes politely averted. They walk with shorter steps, and often hold their hands folded in front of them. Everyone has their papers on them at all times. The family of Obergruppenf�hrer�Smith behaves, on the surface, much like an upper-middle-class American family would in the early 60s: Mother is both put on a pedestal and expected to be subservient to her husband; son is dutiful in school but occasionally teases his pop; younger sisters are seen but almost never heard; golden retriever is friendly. But son is also annoyed by the kids in class who show too much individuality, and he cant wait to go see colonized Africa. Mother is pleased that people with congenital disorders are mercifully euthanized rather than having to live unfulfilling lives. Younger sisters are both maybe a little too quiet.

The show captures a frozen moment, where society has reached 1962 without the social upheavals of the 1950s. There has been no Civil Rights movement, no Claudette Colvin or Rosa Parks, because all non-whites have either been exterminated or fled to the Neutral territory of the Rockies. There has been no underground Beat poetry to tempt a certain type of teenthat sort of stuff would all be in the Neutral Territories where no suburban kid could get them. There have�been no EC or MAD or Timely comics to destabilize a younger childs brain, because all of their creators were Jewish. In case this wasnt clear, the Jews were murdered over a decade ago, when the Nazis assimilated the United States at the end of the ’40s. There is no rock’n’roll, because there is Negro music and acceptable music, and the two do not meet. There will be no Velvet Underground because, not only is Lou Reed half-Jewish, he also would have been euthanized the day his parents took him to a hospital for mental health issues.

TMITHC, Hitler on TV

By far the most upsetting aspect of the show for memore even than the horrific interrogation of the half-Jewish Frank Frinkwas VA Day: a holiday celebrating the liberation of the United States.The day is an amalgamation of Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July, a day of national rest punctuated by fireworks, turkey, and apple pie. In the evening, everyone gathers around the TV to watch the parades in Berlin, and obviously listen to the�F�hrers annual speech, while they eat snacks. The show presents this perfectly. Its a matter-of-fact family holiday, exactly like watching the Macys Parade or a Thanksgiving football game.

I spent my binge of the show trying to track my own reactions. Why were the New York portions of the show more upsetting to me than those in San Francisco? Was it just that New York has become my home, so it felt more personal? Or is it that swastikas hold an emotional resonance beyond that of Imperialist Japan? While I know that the Japanese Army committed atrocities in China during World War II, theyve never taken hold of the American imagination the way images of the Holocaust have. I was thinking about this when I saw a controversy around the show thats going on right now, in New York.

For non-New Yorkers: the subway system here is, um& if not fully Lovecraftian, at the least non-Euclidean. Imagine if you took a plate of well-buttered spaghetti, threw it up in the air, and then encouraged several cats to have a wrestling match in the resulting pile. Its my understanding that thats how the train lines in the city were designed. Buried within the impressive tangle is an utterly straightforward train called the S. S stands for Shuttle, and it runs back and forth between Times Square station and Grand Central Terminal, to make it slightly easier for people to commute from Midtowns East Side to West Side. (There is a second S that serves a similar purpose in Brooklyn, but were focused on Manhattans S right now.) Its the simplest train in the city, it runs on a tight schedule, and when you get on it, you always know exactly where youll end up, because theres only one stop. The weird thing about this train is that it is often uniquely branded, and completely wrapped in advertisements for one particular TV show or a type of soda. What does this have to do with an alternate history TV show about Nazis, you may ask? Well, this:


This was the S yesterday, when it was been branded with The�Man in the High Castle. Which means that thousands of innocent commuters stepped into a nightmare at 8:00am, blinked sleepily around, and wondered where the hell they were.�One of those commuters was Ann Toback, who is the head of The Workmens Circle, an organization that was founded in the 1890s to foster Jewish identity through culture and social justice causes. She talked to Gothamist about the branding, saying:

Half the seats in my car had Nazi insignias inside an American flag, while the other half had the Japanese flag in a style like the World War II design& so I had a choice, and I chose to sit on the Nazi insignia because I really didnt want to stare at it.

Now, the ads have already been pulled, and I want to make it very clear that I think there were better ways to promote the show. But this also made me think about a very different type of worldbuilding. By allowing the shows reality to bleed into our reality, the marketing team over at Amazon has (whether they know it or not) underscored the themes that Philip K. Dick explored in the book, and which Frank Spotnitz took in a somewhat new direction in his adaptation.

In the book version�of The Man in the High Castle, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is a novel-within-a-novel that tells of a different timeline, in which the Allies defeated the Axis. In the show, The Grasshopper is a series of films, each one different from the next, that show multiple alternate timelines. Some have the Allies winning. Some are about Stalins life after the war. Some show San Francisco decimated by an atomic bomb. Its implied that there are hundreds of these films, each telling a different story. Are the dispatches from other worlds, sliding alongside the one in the show? Are they fictions? Whos creating them, and to what purpose? Some of the characters see them as an inspiration, while others think that theyre pointless distractions, and others consider them dangerous.

By bringing the symbols of an alternate timeline into our world, the ad campaign is reinforcing the shows intent to ask people to think about the world as it is now and as it could be. It forces people (possibly completely unfairly) to make a choice: Do�I sit in front of the Nazi insignia so I cant see it? Do I close my eyes? Which side of the train is more offensive, and why? In a way, these people are enacting the thought experiment that Dick began with the book to really ask what the point and power of storytelling can be.

Im not sure The Man in the High Castle was a completely successful�TV adaptationit ends on a decidedly ambiguous note that made me wonder if it was worth the time I invested, and it also left so many plotlines unresolved that I found myself a little annoyed. But what it did well was powerful. Clearly,�Im still thinking about it several days later. Ill still be thinking about it for quite some time.

Obviously as as a U.S. citizen, I have some conflicted emotions here. I love my country. I hate many aspects of my country. I hate many of the things the forefathers and mothers of my country did. I hate the Nazis. I have German heritage. My grandfather was a Secret Service agent who defended FDR, and toured the bombed-out shell of Berlin with Truman. Im weirdly comfortable with Nazi paraphernalia, because I grew with it around the house, but it was in a very specific context: trophies taken from a defeated enemy, but my grandfather, who was on the right side. While my grandfather was collecting Iron Crosses to bring home, my partners grandmother was fleeing across the Austrian Alps, after escaping the Nazi factory shed been forced to work in.

Given all that, it’s safe to say that this show was an emotional workout for me. But far more interesting I think is the intellectual workout. Given the current political climate, the refugee crisis in Europe, the constant fear of terrorism, the attacks on Black Lives Matter protesters, it would be easy to say that The�Man in the High Castle is more relevant than ever.

But thats a comforting fiction.

TMITHC has been relevant since it was written. It will always be relevant. The Nazis, and their admirers, we will always have with us.

The United States is not a countryits an idea. We have no racial identity here, because European settlers did their best to eradicate that. What we do have is a shared history that is reinvented and retconned and rebooted literally every moment. Were an evolving idea, but as PKD would be the first to gently whisper as the dentists meds took effectwe can change the idea. Were making the U.S. up as we go along. So, when I say worldbuildingIm not just referring to the fact that they CGId some swastikas onto the old Times building, and Im not just referring to the way Alexa Davalos learned Aikido and practiced standing like a Japanese-influenced woman in 1963. Were all building the world right now.

PKD reminds us that there are many versions of history, many turns it can take. In one, marriage equality was never passed. In another, women have full reproductive rights across the nation. In one, the U.S. welcomes all the refugees who come to its shores, and offers them a haven from the misery theyre escaping. In another, state governments claim rights they dont actually have to shut them out. In one, everyone in this nation remembers that we came from somewhere else (except for those of us who didnt) and tries to imagine a better world.

Leah Schnelbach would rather live in an idea than anywhere else. Come build a world with her on <a href="" target="_blank"

Forgotten Bestsellers: Coma by Robin Cook

Coma by Robin Cook

Today’s bestsellers are tomorrow’s remainders and Forgotten Bestsellers will run for the next six weeks as a reminder that we were once all in a lather over books that people barely even remember anymore. Have we forgotten great works of literature? Or were these books never more than literary mayflies in the first place? What better time of year than the holiday season for us to remember that all flesh is dust and everything must die?

Everyone thinks they’ve read a Robin Cook novel.

Brain,�Fever,�Outbreak,�Mutation,�Toxin,�Shock,�Seizure…an endless string of terse nouns splashed across paperback covers in airports everywhere. But just when you think you’ve got Robin Cook pegged, he throws a curveball by adding an adjective to his titles: Fatal Cure, Acceptable Risk, Mortal Fear, Harmful Intent. Cook is an ophthalmologist and an author, a man who has checked eyes and written bestsellers with equal frequency, but the one book to rule them all is Coma, his first big hit, written in 1977, which spawned a hit movie directed by Michael Crichton. With 34 books under his belt he is as inescapable as your annual eye appointment, but is he any good?

Consider Coma.

It wasn’t actually Cook’s first book. Five years previously he’d written The Year of the Intern, a sincere, heartfelt novel about life as a medical resident, which no one cared about. Stung by its failure he vowed to write a bestseller, so he sat down with a bunch of blockbuster books (Jaws for one) and tried to figure out their formula. I hardly need to point out that this is exactly what you would expect a doctor to do. And if Coma is anything, it’s formulaic.

The engine that drives this bus is Cook’s realization that organ transplant technology was well on its way to being perfected, but the problem with the procedure was a supply-side one: there simply weren’t enough raw materials. Couple that with the fact that, “I decided early on that one of my recurrent themes would be to decry the intrusion of business in medicine,” and the only thing surprising about the plot of Coma is that no one had come up with it before.

ComaSusan Wheeler is one of those beautiful, brilliant, driven medical students who is constantly either inspiring double takes in her male colleagues or looking in the mirror and wondering if she’s a doctor or a woman, and why can’t she be both, dammit. In other words, she’s a creature of 70’s bestselling fiction. On her first day as a trainee at Boston Memorial she decides that she’s a woman, dammit, and she allows herself to flirt with an attractive patient on his way into surgery for a routine procedure. They make a date for coffee, but something goes wrong with the anesthesia and he goes into…a COMA.

Determined not to be stood up for coffee, Susan researches what happened to her date and discovers Boston Memorial’s dirty secret: their rates for patients lapsing into coma during surgery are above the norm. Susan believes that she might be on the trail of a new syndrome but her teachers and supervisors tell her to drop this mad crusade. Instead, she uses com-pew-tors to analyze her data and the shadowy figures running this conspiracy decide that enough is enough. If com-pew-tors are getting involved then Susan Wheeler must be stopped! So they hire a hitman to attack Susan, then change their minds and decide to send him back to murder her also too and as well. In the meantime, Susan’s falling in love with Mark Bellows, the attractive and arrogant surgery resident who is her supervisor.

Cook wasn’t kidding when he said that he had figured out the formula. There’s a chase, a narrow escape, a betrayal by a trusted authority figure, and a final scene with a striking standout image which you’ve seen on the posters for the movie: a massive room with comatose patients suspended from wires stretching out into the distance. Formula isn’t always bad, however, and Cook makes sure that the climax of his book happens in the last 20 pages, about three pages from the end he puts Susan in mortal peril that seems inescapable, then he brings in a previous plot point, now forgotten, that turns out to be the hinge that leads to her dramatic rescue as the police arrive, the bad guy is arrested, and quite literally before the bad guy even gets a chance for a final dramatic monologue, the book is over.

Coma is nothing if it’s not efficient, and the whole “Big business is stealing organs from comatose patients to sell to rich Arabs” conspiracy is realistically thought out. He originally wrote the novel as a screenplay, a format whose influence can still be seen in the fact that the novel begins each chapter with a scene description rather than dialogue or action, which gives it a brisk, businesslike tone and keeps too much personal style from intruding. Cook has also figured out that other part of the bestseller formula: readers like to learn things. Read a John Grisham and you’ll learn about the legal system, read a Tom Clancy and you’ll learn (way too much) about military hardware, read a Clive Cussler and you’ll learn about deep sea diving, and read a Robin Cook and you’ll learn about medicine. A lot about medicine. A whole lot about medicine.

In the section of his Wikipedia page marked “Private Life” it reads, “Cook’s medical thrillers are designed, in part, to keep the public aware of both the technological possibilities of modern medicine and the ensuing socio-ethical problems which come along with it.” Cook hammers this home in interview after interview: he wants to educate people. This is an admirable goal but it means that his books feature dry lectures on every aspect of medicine, and in Coma this tendency is already evident. Cook views his books as teaching tools and that causes them to lapse into the plodding rhythms of a lecturer unaccustomed to interruption. It’s a failing he shares with Michael Crichton, another MD-turned-author.

Coma spent 13 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list when it came out, mostly lingering around position 13 or 14, occasionally rising as high as position eight. It was made into a movie, and launched Cook’s brand, and the rest has been a long string of books with plots that sound suspiciously like Coma:

  • “Lynn Pierce, a fourth-year medical student at South Carolina’s Mason-Dixon University, thinks she has her life figured out. But when her otherwise healthy boyfriend, Carl, enters the hospital for routine surgery, her neatly ordered life is thrown into total chaos.” (Host, 2015)
  • “Dr. Laurie Montgomery and Dr. Jack Stapleton confront a ballooning series of puzzling hospital deaths of young, healthy people who have just undergone successful routine surgery.” (Marker, 2005)
  • “A medical student and a nurse investigate medulloblastoma cases. By the time they uncover the truth about seemingly ground-breaking cures, the pair run afoul of the law, their medical colleagues, and the powerful, enigmatic director of the Forbes Center.” (Terminal, 1995)
  • “A gigantic drug firm has offered an aspiring young doctor a lucrative job that will help support his pregnant wife. It could make their dreams come trueor their nightmares…” (Mindbend, 1985)
  • “Charles Martel is a brilliant cancer researcher who discovers that his own daughter is the victim of leukemia. The cause: a chemical plant conspiracy that not only promises to kill her, but will destroy him as a doctor and a man if he tries to fight it…” (Fever, 1982)

There’s nothing wrong with this formula, and Coma is probably the book in which it feels freshest. But it’s interesting to note that Cook only turned to his formula after his first, non-formulaic novel was rejected by the reading public, and it’s even more interesting that the success of Coma didn’t make him want to repeat it right away. His follow-up novel? Sphinx, about Erica Baron, a young Egyptologist investigating the mysteries of an ancient Egyptian statue in Cairo. It wasn’t a hit. His next book? Well, you don’t have to teach Robin Cook the same lesson thrice. It was Brain, in which, “Two doctors place their lives in jeopardy to find out why a young woman died on the operating tableand had her brain secretly removed.”

Grady Hendrix has written for publications ranging from Playboy to World Literature Today and his latest novel is Horrorst�r, about a haunted Ik

Was the Death Star the Atomic Bomb of the Star Wars Galaxy?

Star Wars atomic bomb Starkiller

Did the original Star Wars trilogy kick off an arms race that we’ll be seeing the results of in The Force Awakens?

I am so pumped up about the new Star Wars movie that I’m having dreams about it, but even as excited as I am, I still have to admit that the villains having a “Starkiller” weapon feels absolutely silly. The name brings me back to recess on the elementary school playground, and the kind of playfully impossible escalation that occurs between children playing make believe. “I shoot my mega laser at you!” “Yeah, well, I shoot my INFINITY laser at you!”*

*This always works.

I mean…come on, First Order. Wasn’t a planet-destroying Death Star bad-ass enough for you? It was certainly good enough for Darth Vader, and at least one of you quietly strokes his fire-gnarled mask as a form of stress relief. I promise I’ll still take you seriously if you build a Super Death Star. There’s no need for all these overblown star-killing theatrics.

Then I thought…actually, there probably is.

The Force Awakens takes place thirty years after Return of the Jedi, which means that the galaxy has had plenty of time to get accustomed to the idea of a moon-sized space station that can blow up planets. The fact that the Rebellion blew up not one, but two of these “Death Stars” in the span of five years has most likely left the impression that making Death Stars is a really stupid idea. They take so much work to build, and are always taken down by one hot shot in an X-Wing. Sure, the idea of a weapon capable of destroying a planet is fearsome, but thanks to Luke and His Rowdy Friends, that fearsomeness is tempered with just how ridiculously useless such a weapon has historically been in practice. Even when you take into account the tragedy of Alderaan’s demise.

In our own history, the development, use, and symbolic threat of the atomic bomb shares a few of the Death Star’s historical characteristics. Atomic bombs are a really stupid idea; not because they’re so hard to build and easy to thwart, but because the destruction they wreak is so indiscriminate and final. Atomic bombs are fearsome, but decades under their shadow has tempered that fearsomeness in our day to day lives. As individuals there’s nothing we can do to survive or stop a nuclear exchange, so any worry that we carry eventually exhausts itself. Even when you take into account the tragedy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

I imagine that the ordinary citizens of the Star Wars galaxy feel that way about Death Stars after a while. There’s nothing they can do to stop or survive a Death Star, so any worry or fear regarding them eventually exhausts itself. After a few decades, Death Stars probably even seem quaint, a symbol of a previous age of insanity, before the galaxy became tired of overblown, resource-intensive, wars.

This shot from the first real Force Awakens trailer says it all, really. The days when Star Destroyers soared effortlessly through the skies are gone.

Star Destroyer Jakku

Perhaps Kylo Ren and the First Order constructed a star-killing weapon in an attempt to pierce this jadedness, escalating to the next thing that seems impossible, now that planet-destroying lasers are almost rote.

There are some tactical benefits to a star-killing weapon versus a planet-killing weapon, as well. For example, an interplanetary civilization is more likely to have its resources scattered throughout a star system, instead of centered on one planet. Alderaan may have been destroyed by the Death Star, but that would still miss settlements on other stellar bodies within Alderaan’s solar system. It would also miss any shipyards or mining facilities that aren’t directly orbiting the main planet. For star-faring civilizations, destroying one planet in a star system doesn’t entirely eliminate that civilization’s ability to strike back. It certainly didn’t for the Rebellion.

Destroying a star in a way that makes it go nova takes care of this problem, though. A star’s destruction would eliminate almost everything in that system in a single shot. There are ancillary benefits to creating such a wide swath of destruction, too. The communication relays and hyperspace routes that the galaxy depends on undoubtedly rely on accurate location data for all known star systems. Blowing up those star systems pokes holes in those hyperspace lanes and communication relays, forcing reroutes and disconnecting not just the destroyed star system, but its surrounding systems from the galaxy at large. Considering the natural complexity of any galaxy-wide networks, it probably wouldn’t take too many attacks to snarl traffic and communication within an entire quadrant of the galaxy.

It’s also possible that nobody remembers Death Stars, and that the First Order is simply repeating the mistakes of history in constructing their Starkiller Base. Rey and Finn only seem to know about the Empire and the Rebellion as myth, after all, and the Death Stars were only a small part of that myth.

Han Solo it&quot;s true

There’s another, more insidious, reason behind why the First Order would feel the need to construct a “Starkiller” weapon, though, and it mirrors our own experiences with the invention of the atomic bomb. Starkiller Base is the result of an arms race that has been ongoing since the first Death Star was completed.

We don’t know the finer details of the time between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, but we know that the Empire dissolved over the following decade and the similar-but-smaller First Order formed out of that dissolution. We also know that while the Rebellion began to grow into a governing body, it hasn’t re-formed into the mighty Republic we saw in the prequel trilogy. The fighting continues between the two sides, leaving wreckage scattered across the galaxy. Princess Leia hasn’t become President Leia or Chancellor Leia, she’s General Leia, and she’s been fighting for a long time.

We see that Leia’s Resistance has continued developing its star fighter technology–there are newer, shinier X-Wings–but did the Resistance stop there? Or did it also develop its own Death Star after the events of the Return of the Jedi?

The idea of the Rebellion/Resistance using Death Star planet-destroying technology is anathema to their ideals. But atomic bombs are anathema to our own ideals, too, yet we still develop and build them as deterrents. As the Rebellion whittled the Empire down, post-Jedi, it’s possible that they built their own planet-destroying laser as a deterrent. The Empire could try to build another Death Star, but if the Rebellion has one, too, then that approach becomes kind of pointless.

This kind of arms race could feature heavily in the story of The Force Awakens, actually, as one of the characters is intimately tied to the ravages of the Death Star superweapon. In fact, the very first time we see her, she’s holding the plans for it in her hand.

Leia A New Hope Death Star plans


General Leia.

Did Leia create her own Death Star laser in the decades between Jedi and Force Awakens? Her arguing for its creation as a deterrent wouldn’t seem out of character, for one. It also brings up a whole host of interesting questions for her character. You can imagine the huge argument Leia and Luke would have over this kind of action, with Leia arguing tactics and Luke arguing over their legacy as Skywalkers. Luke would point out that the last Skywalker who built the superweapon fell to the Dark Side. Leia would take a more nuanced view, arguing that not everything automatically equates to Dark or Light, and further, she’s not their dad. That temptation doesn’t exist for her as it does for Luke.

Leia would also probably argue that the spread of planet-destroying technology isn’t an “if,” but a “when,” so it’s possibly more responsible to take control of that process and focus it on deterrence rather than offense, as the Empire did. And who is more qualified to take up this responsibility than her? Luke, after all, wasn’t there to see the Death Star being used on his home planet. It’s not like Leia isn’t aware of the evil inherent in a superweapon. She is in fact, the only person in the entire galaxy capable of building a superweapon and using it responsibly.

General Leia Force Awakens

Is this why Luke is gone from The Force Awakens? Did Leia go ahead with building a planet-destroying laser, driving Luke away? If so, is Luke coming back because Leia’s plan to use the Resistance’s laser as a deterrent simply lead to the development of a planet-laser-trumping Starkiller superweapon?

Is it then the duty of this new generation of heroes–Rey, Finn, Poe, and whatever Kylo is–to not repeat the mistakes of their previous generation? To toss superweapons aside? To truly be a new hope?

Chris Lough was a new hope once, but then he got lame. He writes other things on

Watch the First Trailer for Captain America: Civil War!

Captain America: Civil War trailer

Welp, they had me at “Buck,” but sure, let’s watch two-and-a-half minutes of the first trailer for Captain America: Civil War.

Interestingly, the ideological divide that puts Cap and Tony Stark on opposite sides seems to start with Bucky Barnes (makes sense, seeing as they’ve reframed Civil War within a Captain America sequel) and then brings in the “are they superheroes or vigilantes?” excuse.

“If we can’t accept limitations, we’re no better than the bad guys.”

“That’s not the way I see it.”

Sounds like Tony’s still feeling some guilt from Avengers: Age of Ultron.

“Sometimes I want to punch you in your perfect teeth.”


“Sorry, Tony. You know I wouldn’t do this if I had any other choice. But he’s my friend.”

“So was I.”

AUGH. Bring it on: