Rereading Katherine Kurtz: Camber the Heretic, Chapters 4-5


Welcome to the weekly reread of Camber the Heretic!

Last time, the humans finally began making their move against the Deryni, plotting to control the regency after the ailing king dies. This week Camber gets up close and personal with the human-Deryni conflict. Cinhil makes a momentous and most likely fatal decision. And Rhys shows his ruthless side.


Camber the Heretic: Chapters 4-5

Here’s What Happens: Chapter 4 opens with Camber making a much more belated departure from Ebor than he wants, then awing his escort with his super-stamina for “such an old man.” If they only knew! he thinks, smugly.

The sergeant of the guard suggests a shortcut by way of Dolban. And that gives us an infodump about how Camber and Joram emphatically do not want to go to Queron’s first shrine to Saint Camber. Camber wanders off into a reverie about the backstory.

Suddenly a raucous pack of riders gallops lengthily up and starts talking trash. They’re Deryni, and they’re over-the-top arrogant about it.

Camber backs them sharply down with a display of his own Deryni magic, then treats them to a stern lecture about proper manners and deportment under the King’s Peace.

They’re anti-human bigots and they don’t care who knows it. They demand to know who Camber is. They’re feeding right into anti-Deryni propaganda, Camber shoots back, with bonus name-check of the dreadful Murdoch.

The confrontation gets physical. Suddenly! Camber’s cloak falls back! And they realize he’s the Chancellor!

That takes care of the bullies, who depart at speed for Ebor. Camber’s sergeant is all set to teach them a physical lesson, but Camber, still in lecture mode, reels him in, with Joram as backup.

And that is a perfect excuse to bypass Dolban and get back to Cinhil right away. Unfortunately, Queron, now the Abbot of Dolban, is the main royal authority in these parts, and he has to be notified of the incident.

On the way to Dolban, they find out what the riders have been up to. They’ve attacked a human lord’s escort and left his lady weeping blondely in the mud. The humans are in no way pleased to be met by another group of Deryni, even if one is the royal chancellor.

They aren’t at all sympathetic to Camber’s attempt to calm them down by telling them he’s headed to Dolban to inform the Abbot of the riders’ depredations. The Abbot is a Deryni, too. They’re hating on all Deryni—though Camber keeps trying to convince them Not All Deryni etc.

Then he starts trying to question the lady, who is off her head and weeping hysterically. (Because Kurtzian women aaarrrghhh.) The cleric who is pat-patting and there-there-ing her explains in roundabout terms that she was roughed up but not raped. It was “only sport.”

The lady’s husband takes severe umbrage at this (as well he should), while Camber keeps trying to smooth him down. He leaves some of his escort and horses, and promises to send more men and horses back for them all (since their horses were run off). Then he rides on to Dolban.

Camber is not comfortable in the abbey dedicated to his fictitiously sanctified self. Queron comes to welcome the guests, and as usual with characters we’ve met before, he’s hardly aged at all since the last book (though unlike the Camber family, he’s visibly greyer). Camber ascertains that he’s responsible for the roads in the day but no one is at night, and fills him in on what’s happened. It’s a bit of an Incident, since the indignant lord is a bishop’s brother.

Queron arranges to deal with the situation, with undercurrents that indicate Queron isn’t entirely sure on which side “Cullen”’s sympathies lie in the human-Deryni conflict. He invites the guests—singling out Joram—to pay respects at the shrine: further undercurrents there, much closer to the surface, and more explicit.

Camber is backed into a corner and knows it. He asks if he and Joram can worship in private. Queron grants the wish, with much sympathy for “poor Joram,” it must be so hard to be a saint’s son.

You have no idea, says Joram.

Camber steps in before they come to blows, literally channeling Cullen to get the job done, and whisks Joram away into the church.

Then we get an extended description, rather technical, of a not excessively overdecorated shrine with a large and prominent statue of the supposed saint. Camber has some soul-searching to do about the long con he’s been running, with much rationalization and self-justification. Mostly he squeezes his eyes shut and refuses to think about it, but that’s not an option here.

It’s a dilemma. So is the question of how a nonexistent saint can be working miracles.

Then Camber chews over how Joram must feel about all this, until he steps into Joram’s mind (Joram is fine with that) and discovers that Joram is perfectly all right. He’s accepted the inevitable. He’s all in with the cause.

It’s another father-son bonding moment, and another chance for Camber to feel good about himself. Better yet, even the statue doesn’t bother him any more. It’s all good, he thinks, as he and Joram exit arm in arm.

Chapter 5 finds Camber quite pleased with himself and his place in the world as he leaves Dolban and goes back to Valoret. Cinhil is waiting, and he’s anxious. Camber fills him in on what’s happened.

Cinhil is incensed. The human-Deryni conflict has been getting worse. The worst yet, the previous year, was the destruction of the Deryni town of Nyford by rioting humans: there’s a lengthy infodump with all the details (and lots of passive voice). Short form: It was bad. The town was completely destroyed.

Camber tries, rather mildly, to excuse the bullies on the road. They’re just reacting to the fact that “they seem to have no function in a non-Deryni regime.”

Which is not true, and Cinhil is testy about it. He then gets all verklempt about the future and his sons, which Joram takes as his cue to find somewhere else to be.

But Cinhil wants to talk to them both. He takes his time coming around to it. He has, after fourteen years, finally come to appreciate what Camber (when he was still officially alive) did for Gwynedd in making Cinhil king. He’s half apologizing, half thanking Joram, and in the process, mentions that Gwynedd’s enemies have not prospered.

Camber is not sure about that at all. Cinhil picks this up, though he never tries to reach for Camber’s mind.

They reach a detente of sorts. Now Cinhil comes, in stammery fashion, to the point. He wants his sons to have powers, too. He’s hardly used his, but they are useful for ruling effectively.

This is huge. Joram wants to be sure Cinhil understands what he’s asking—and what he’ll have to do to make it happen. Then Joram points out that the original spell needed the whole Camber family—and asks if “Alister” can take Camber’s place this time.

Cinhil speaks to Camber as Alister, as the old friend who guarded the door. Camber lets him go on for a while, then allows as how he can do it if he has to. Cinhil continues to play on love and friendship, and actually brings Camber to tears.

Then Cinhil and Joram work out logistics. They’ll perform the ritual omorrow night in the king’s private chapel. Rhys and Evaine will be back. Joram asks to involve Jebediah as guard. Cinhil is good with that.

Joram goes to set things in motion. Cinhil stays to pray with “Alister,” who (we’re told) is ever so much more than Cinhil can possibly comprehend. Because Camber. And superpowers. Already plotting how to get the Haldane powers installed in the bloodline—taking the long view.

While king and bishop pray, Joram and Jeb get to work with the setup—including the possibility that Cinhil won’t survive the ritual. There’s real danger that once Cinhil is dead, the human regents will get rid of the Deryni, including Jebediah. The military implications are dire.

The next day brings a terrible ice storm, which keeps Rhys and Evaine in Ebor. (Hello? Transfer Portal? Anyone? Bueller?)

They do make it to Valoret, however, with great difficulty and no little damage to the horses. Joram meets them with a quick cover story, and takes them to Camber, who has a roaring fire and that classic fantasy staple: stew.

While they thaw out and eat, Camber fills them in. Rhys wants to know how Cinhil is. Resigned, says Camber. “Past fear.”

Evaine is terrified about the future. But then she picks herself up (with Rhys’ support) and gets practical. She asks about the details of the ritual. Camber and Joram answer. Cinhil wants to be in charge.

Of course they’ll only let him think he is. They continue with the planning. Rhys will be in charge of the royal children. Tavis has to be dealt with—drugs, of course, along with the other servants, pending Cinhil’s approval.

Rhys and Cinhil get together for some bonding time. Rhys works on Cinhil, but confirms that the king’s lungs are nearly done. Cinhil will not let him administer a sleep spell. He’ll sleep when he’s dead.

Then Rhys checks in with him regarding the sleeping potion for the children. Cinhil insists on knowing what’s in it. It’s harmless, Rhys assures him, and will help with the magic. Cinhil asks for, and gets, details. And agrees that Tavis needs to be drugged and mindwiped.

As Rhys starts to leave, Cinhil states that “It will be my last sunset.” Overcome with emotion, Rhys makes his way to the nursery, where he takes in, at length, the different personalities and activities of the princes and their servants.

They all greet him adorably, and Rhys tricks them into taking his “physick.” It takes a while and some bribery, and some Fianna wine. While waiting for the wine, Rhys addresses the issue of all the help Tavis is giving Javan to get through his days. What will happen when Tavis isn’t there?

He lectures Tavis on who these children are and what they’re meant to do. Alroy is not strong. Javan is next in line after him for the throne. He has to be strong enough to step up if Alroy dies.

Tavis is fiercely protective. Rhys continues to lecture him about stifling the boy. Tavis shuts him out and buries his nose in a book. Rhys, stymied, eventually wanders off.

Once the wine comes, Rhys puts on a show of administering “the grand physick against colds,” in the very fancy wine. Javan is reluctant and looks to Tavis for approval before he drinks. This, Rhys thinks, is not good on a number of levels.

Everybody has drunk, as far as Rhys knows, though Tavis’ actions seem a little suspicious. Soon enough the squires are out, but Tavis is not.

He confronts Rhys. He lied. This isn’t a cold medicine. It’s a whole lot more.

Rhys works hard to convince Tavis it’s all harmless, it’s the king’s command, he wants the boys to sleep well. While he talks, he stalks Tavis, gut-punches him, and forces the drug into him. With what is more or less an apology if you really squint.

Tavis is fighting the drug hard, and raving at Rhys. He gave them merasha, which readers of the Morgan trilogy will remember all too well, and another drug that’s equally awful for Deryni. Rhys counters that he’s doing it at the king’s command, and hits him with the amnesia spell.

It’s mind-rape, and it does the job. Rhys tucks Tavis in, meticulously cleans up after himself and substitutes a cup with the dregs of a sleeping potion instead of the witches’ brew he actually fed the children, and opens a secret panel to reveal the very “bored-looking” Joram, who has been waiting for rather longer than he liked.

Tavis was a problem, Rhys informs him, but they’re good to go now. Twins first. And then the chapter ends.

And I’m Thinking: The slam-bang action continues, the infodumps are minimal compared to the last book, and events are galloping along. There’s one dreadful cliche of a female character, but Evaine counteracts her with brisk practicality.

Things are starting to escalate on the race-war front. Humans have been stepping up their attacks on Deryni, and the Deryni, in their arrogance, are doing their best to make matters worse.

It’s nice that Camber and Joram have some more bonding time, and that Joram can finally cope, more or less, with his father’s completely bogus sainthood. Cinhil has some affecting scenes, and it’s clear he won’t be alive much longer. He’s decided, in true Cinhil fashion, to die a martyr to the cause of Haldane magic.

As for Deryni magic, it continues to be ruthlessly coercive regardless of who practices it. Rhys mind-rapes Tavis with hardly a qualm. The king commands, the cause requires it, sorry, mate, just forget all about it now.

I have a bad feeling about that.

And what’s with the transportation problem between Ebor and Valoret? It’s as if Kurtz completely forgot about Transfer Portals. You really would think Ebor would have a few, since it’s ruled by a powerful Deryni lord, and Valoret certainly has them. But everybody is trekking back and forth on horseback, no matter how awful the weather or how dangerous for the horses.

So, um, plothole? It doesn’t even serve a purpose; the delays don’t cause any serious plot problems, and everybody gets where they need to be, when they’re needed.

Which in these chapters means we’re about to get a big honking magical set piece, and probably a royal sacrifice. I’m in for the ride, for sure. This is vintage Kurtz, i.e., headlong page-turner.

Judith Tarr’s first novel, The Isle of Glass, a medieval fantasy that owed a great deal to Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni books, appeared in 1985. Her new short novel, Dragons in the Earth, a contemporary fantasy set in Arizona, has just been published by Book View Cafe. In between, she’s written historicals and historical fantasies and epic fantasies and space operas, some of which have been published as ebooks from Book View Café. She has won the Crawford Award, and been a finalist for the World Fantasy Award and the Locus Award. She lives in Arizona with an assortment of cats, a blue-eyed spirit dog, and a herd of Lipizzan horses.


Sci-Fi and Mystery Author Sheri S. Tepper, 1929-2016

Sheri S. Tepper

Locus Magazine reports the passing of horror, science fiction, and mystery author Sheri S. Tepper. A prolific voice whose works were often known for themes of feminism and ecology, Tepper published dozens of novels, short works, and essays, some of them under pseudonyms. She won the World Fantasy Life Achievement Award in 2015, and many of her novels were shortlisted for various awards, including the Hugo, Tiptree, and Clarke Awards. As a single mother of two during the 1960s, Tepper began by writing poetry and children’s stories before remarrying in the late 60s. She worked at Planned Parenthood for 24 years–eventually as Executive Director at the Rocky Mountain Colorado branch–before leaving to write full-time, later running a guest ranch in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is known for her True Game Series, as well as the Arbai Trilogy, and standalone novels such as Beauty, The Fresco, The Gate to Women’s Country, and Gibbon’s Decline & Fall.

In an interview with Locus Magazine back in September, 1998, Tepper had a few words about the universe and the passage of time that seem truly fitting:

“What do I have to say to the universe? A soul ought to have something to say to the universe if it’s going to be immortal. But the world has something to say to the universe, all of these systems have things to say to the universe, and we’re part of that. You go in the ground, and the grass grows over your bones, and that’s good too! I take a lot more comfort out of that than I would out of some notion of the feathery form rising up, strumming a harp. Harp music can get dreadfully dull!”

Tepper passed away on October 22, 2016. She was 87 years old. Our thoughts are with her family and friends, and everyone who was touched by her work–she will be dearly missed.

Belle Chasse Sweepstakes!


We want to send you a galley copy of Suzanne Johnson’s Belle Chasse, available November 8th from Tor Books!

Suzanne Johnson’s “strong and intriguing” (Publishers Weekly) urban fantasy series The Sentinels of New Orleans continues with Belle Chasse. With the wizard-elven treaty on the verge of collapse, the preternatural world stands on the brink of war. Unless former wizard sentinel DJ Jaco manages to keep the elven leader, Quince Randolph, focused on peace and not personal matters.

With no one on the throne, Faerie is in chaos, with rival princes battling for power. The still-undead pirate, Jean Lafitte, is building his own army of misfits, and DJ—stripped of her job and hiding in the Beyond to avoid the death sentence handed down by the wizard Council of Elders—can’t get anywhere near her beloved New Orleans or her significant something-or-other, Alex.

It’s time to choose sides. Friends will become enemies, enemies will become allies, and not everyone will survive. DJ and her friends will learn a hard lesson: sometimes, even the ultimate sacrifice isn’t enough.

Comment in the post to enter!

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States and D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec). To enter, comment on this post beginning at 3:30 PM Eastern Time (ET) on October 24th. Sweepstakes ends at 12:00 PM ET on October 28th. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor:, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: The Warrior’s Apprentice, Chapter 21 and Epilogue


Miles arrives at Vorhartung Castle for his trial, and Ivan helpfully reminds him that he has to get out of the lightflyer now that he’s there. This week, he’s fighting for his life, and also auditioning for Barrayar’s next historical vid drama for children. Just like Vorthalia the Bold!

This is the LAST WEEK in the re-read of The Warrior’s Apprentice. Next week, we embark upon The Vor Game, which raises questions about when we get to talk about Jole. As stated, the reread spoiler embargo expires with the next book. I’m not yet certain whether that means “the very second we start reading it” or “when we actually meet Jole.” The final decision is, of course, mine, but I welcome input on this issue should the comments wander in that direction.


Miles arrives at his trial feeling distinctly less than heroic—he suddenly has sympathy for Baz’s fears. Inside the Council session, his father is maintaining a cool casual pose while while Admiral Hessman speculates about a treasonous father-son plot that accounts for Ivan’s disappearance, Miles’s behavior, and 275,000 missing Barrayaran marks. Miles counters with accusations of murder and sabotage against Hessman and Count Vordroza. There’s some yelling, and Hessman lobs some additional accusations at Vordroza and then Vordroza pulls a needler out of his robes. Ivan hits him first, but the rest of the counts join in tackling him.

Gregor has the next move. He calls a recess to examine Miles’s testimony, with Counts Vorvolk and Vorhalas in attendance. Henri Vorvolk is a cadet at the Imperial Military Academy, and one of Gregor’s personal friends. Vorhalas is the father of the boy Aral had executed for duelling, and of the boy’s brother, who fired the soltoxin grenade through the window. Aral fills Miles in on the local news—Illyan is in prison—and Miles tells his story, with some strategic omissions regarding Prince Serg. Miles and Aral both assure Gregor of their loyalty. Miles is not guilty of treason. Vorhalas threatens to charge Miles with violating Vorloupulous’s law. He makes Aral beg for his son’s life, which Aral does without hesitation. Aral and Gregor decide the best way to keep Miles out of trouble is to send him to the Imperial Military Academy. The Dendarii are to be incorporated into ImpSec. Miles goes home and buries Bothari.

In the Epilogue, Miles goes through free-fall training with his fellow cadets. He does just fine.


Previous discussion on the trial sequence has dealt extensively with the intricacies of the Barrayaran legal system, but at this level, it’s not that complex. There’s maneuvering for power, and negotiations and compromises, but basically everything turns on the Emperor’s word. Under Aral’s influence Barrayar is becoming more enlightened, but not less totalitarian. The Council of Counts votes to find Miles innocent in part because they were persuaded to and in part because they were Required.

I’m not unmoved by the workings of the Council of Counts, but I am more interested in the family dynamics at play here. Aral is now serving as Prime Minister, but he has been Regent until a fairly recent date. That put him in the role of father figure to Gregor. We have also seen him serve as a father figure to Ivan. It’s hard to have an impartial examination of evidence in a room with so many people who see Aral as Dad. Vorhalas has also been called in, and he serves as counter-dad, as well as representing his personal interest in perfect justice. I’m not sure what Vorvolk is doing there. He doesn’t have much to say. He is very impressed with Miles, who finally lives up to his childhood vid hero by not only making himself the hero of his own tale, but getting to tell that tale to an attentive audience.

Miles has thought a lot about his father over the course of this book. His lunch with Tung was a notable example, his relationship with Bothari a more subtle one. In his final conversation with Elena Visconti, Miles describes Bothari as “a father’s hand, held over me in protection all my life.” In that case, Miles describes himself as Bothari’s son while also acknowledging that Bothari was his father’s agent. Miles has lived through some very painful crises in the father-son relationship by proxy in the course of this story. Bothari’s death taught Miles to understand his father’s fears of loss. But if Miles is the apprentice to Bothari’s warrior, he’s also the apprentice to his father, who is, at this point in his career, a warrior of a different kind.

The battle Aral is fighting at this point is not just for his son’s survival, but the battle for Gregor’s independence and good judgment as Emperor, and the battle against Barrayaran brutality. In my heart, I believe that Aral Vorkosigan is a well-prepared politician. I believe that he has rehearsed his confrontation with Vorhalas a thousand times. He was never at peace with his decision to execute Lord Carl, and I don’t think it was hard for him to go to his knees, or to plead for Miles’s life. In the moment, he didn’t have to think about it.

The penalty Miles is facing for high treason is death by public starvation. If Miles was found guilty, this sentence would be carried out in the Great Square in Vorbarr Sultana. This is a horrible, brutal sentence, reflecting a culture with some horrible, brutal roots. I also think there are practical considerations that the Barrayaran criminal justice system may not have considered. There is no vote that the Council of Counts could take that would make Miles Vorkosigan die quietly. He proved that already, back when he threw himself off the wall—his dream of military service was too much of himself to give up, and he wished it into existence. I don’t know what Miles could cajole out of the dirt and stones of the Great Square, but I don’t think Barrayar is prepared for it. That specific sentence would have tormented Aral as well. I can imagine few forces with greater destructive power than Aral and Miles on joint maneuvers.

The Epilogue proves, once again, that having brittle bones is only an obstacle in the Imperial Military Academy admissions process, and not an actual impediment to space-fighting. Miles’s bionic stomach has cured his motion sickness, and he is a free-fall survival drill machine. He didn’t spend a ton of time in free fall while he was with the Dendarii, so this is all about that bionic chip and his flair for creative problem-solving. The most challenging problem Miles faces at this point is Barrayaran class tensions. Miles’s personal efforts in this story have been very impressive—he deserves to be in the Imperial Military Academy—but he’s there only because he’s Vor. His class privilege is very real. Miles realizes that he needs to work with it if he’s going to work well with other officers. Here, he invites Cadet Kostolitz to go knife shopping with him at a place he knows—“a hole in the wall.” I assume he’s talking about Siegling’s, which has the wall Miles’s mother put a hole in. I’m a little skeptical about how well that will work, but it’s a thoughtful effort.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

You Mad, Bro? Black Mirror, “Shut Up and Dance”

Black Mirror season 3 "Shut Up and Dance" television review

There’s something to be said for the fact that the most affecting Black Mirror episodes seem to be the ones that force me to turn off the TV after watching. Some, like “Nosedive,” I can breeze through and allow Netflix to usher me to the next installment. But after “Shut Up and Dance,” I had to physically step away from the black mirror of my television set and pace the room; when I sat back down, I had to pull up an episode of Younger as a much-needed palate cleanser, and even then I still felt my skin crawling. Other reviewers have considered “Shut Up and Dance” alongside season 2’s “White Bear” as a sort of double feature; but while they are annoyed to see seemingly the same story play out again, I found these two episodes to be companion pieces rather than copies.

Spoilers for Black Mirror 3×03 “Shut Up and Dance.”

As the premise unfolded in the first few minutes, I was oddly chuffed to find that I had correctly guessed that this episode was about sextortion, in which strangers use photos/videos of a sexual nature to blackmail their victims into sending more explicit content. Well, I was half right: Poor teenager Kenny (Alex Lawther) is devastated to discover that some shadowy group of tech-savvy strangers have hacked his webcam and now possess a video of him masturbating (WE SAW WHAT YOU DID is the new I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER), which they threaten to leak unless he does what they want. Their demands are a series of baffling errands: bike out to a remote meeting point; accept a cake from someone who is similarly being blackmailed; deliver the cake to a hotel room. You gotta give the blackmailers credit—they’ve hit upon a pretty great business model that bypasses the pesky costs of TaskRabbit or other services.

But instead of being let off the hook, as the other stranger was after the cake handover, Kenny must continue on, now accompanied by Hector (Jerome Flynn, a.k.a. Bronn from Game of Thrones). Hector fears losing his wife and family if his attempted affair with a prostitute gets revealed; it doesn’t matter that the hackers impersonated “Mindy” the callgirl, because they’ve taken hold of his entire hard drive, filled with explicit photos and messages. Yet he takes Kenny under his wing when he sees that the kid is on the verge of hysteria at the thought of his video getting leaked. He never outright says it, but you can intuit from his building panic; his friends will drop him, his bullies will have incredible ammunition against him, his mother won’t trust him. And so Hector and Kenny must follow their chirping text messages to a car conveniently left for them—by another victim, a woman, we glimpse in the episode’s opening—and a route entered into their phones’ GPS systems.

Black Mirror season 3 "Shut Up and Dance" television review

Again, it’s almost lighthearted, the idea of these two strangers having a bizarre male bonding experience… until they open the cake and discover that there is a rudimentary disguise and a handgun. YOU HAVE FIVE MINUTES TO CHOOSE, their captors text. WHICH ONE IS ROBBER AND WHICH IS DRIVER. At this point I was barking out laughter, as bright-eyed, lip-trembling Kenny had to put on the hat and sunglasses and step into a bank with the loaded gun. It’s the worst comedy of errors, the kind of nested misfortunes you might see on Curb Your Enthusiasm or South Park. You figure, here’s an admittedly extreme lesson for Kenny to learn to always cover his webcam before he decides to jerk it. You have expect that everyone are actors and in on a village-wide morality play, like in “White Bear.”

Black Mirror season 3 "Shut Up and Dance" television review

Then Hector and Kenny are separated, with the former disposing of the car on his way home to his family while Kenny must deliver the money. In the woods, he meets another man, who asks if that’s the “prize money”—for their fight to the death. As this stranger activates the drone according to his instructions, the full weight of Kenny’s situation settles on him: He’s not getting out of this alive unless he really wants to. This is far beyond a practical joke, this is fighting to hold on to whatever shreds of his life are left. Suddenly, an embarrassing video getting leaked isn’t as dire as facing down the man twice his age and twice his size, with the crazed eyes of a desperate man. Because for this stranger, it’s not an affair or (as we learn from other victims) a racist rant; he asks Kenny what evidence they have against him, and while Kenny protests that he just looked at some photos, the stranger gives him a look of sad recognition and asks, “How young were they?”

At this point, I still didn’t believe the twist. I thought that Kenny’s denial and stuttering fear were authentic, that he wasn’t in the same boat as his opponent. The fact that the other man leaps at him (after Kenny tries to shoot him and the gun is revealed to be empty) aided that misdirection, as you’re too caught up in wondering how Kenny could possibly survive to process the actual conversation. Then we cut to a relieved Hector, coming home to his wife—who stares him down with resolve behind her tears. She knows about Mindy, which is confirmed by the final chirping text: a trollface, as if to say U MAD, BRO?

It was all for naught, as each of the victims watches helplessly as their secrets are revealed: Hector’s affair; a CEO’s (the car owner) racist rant; something indeterminate for the man who delivered the cake; and Kenny’s mother, calling him as he leaves the woods covered in blood and carrying the bag of stolen money. Her anguished screams about “What have you done, Kenny?” and “They’re kids!” mingle with the blue lights of police cars, ready to take Kenny in.

Oof. Like I said, I needed some brain bleach for this one.

Black Mirror season 3 "Shut Up and Dance" television review

I should have known there’d be a bleak twist, because most sextortion stories concern young women worried about naked photos and videos being released. Kenny’s panic seemed off, but I wrote it off as related to his sexuality and his masculinity; the hackers had caught him in a private, vulnerable moment. I was willing to let him off the hook because I wanted to think that his “crime” was only as bad as Hector’s—thinking with his dick, doing something repugnant but not morally reprehensible. Hector fills in the blanks for Kenny, allowing him to follow that narrative because the alternative—especially for a father of young children, like Hector—is unfathomable. It’s also a comfort for Hector, I think, to know that he’s not the only one who got caught with his pants down; not only are they stuck in a car together, but they’re reduced to the same level. And there’s his goodbye to Kenny: “I’m an alright bloke, I swear I am. When stuff’s normal.”

Some of the complaints I’ve seen about this episode is that it relies on the same narrative trick as “White Bear”: It introduces you to the “protagonist” in a state of need, so that you sympathize with his or her plight. In “White Bear,” we run with Victoria Skillane as she flees the masked men with guns and begs for help from the strangely unresponsive people documenting her terror on their smartphones. She assumes—as do we—that the little girl she glimpses is her daughter; every person she meets, she begs for information regarding her daughter, playing the maternal figure convincingly because that’s the most logical conclusion her mind has made from the jumble of information. Similarly, we meet Kenny as a caretaker, tasked with watching his younger sister while their harried mother is running to a date or to work. Instead, both are revealed to be predators—Victoria helping her boyfriend Iain kidnap a schoolgirl, Jemima, and documenting the process of him torturing and killing her, and Kenny looking at those photos. In a reversal of Victoria waking up with no memory and having to piece together what happened, we have a very clear understanding of the consequences of Kenny’s predicament… or we think we do, as the puzzle is nearly assembled except for that one vital piece. Our fear—and I’m going to bet this one is pretty universal—of having a private moment recorded forever blinds us to ever question what actually happened in that moment.

Black Mirror season 3 "Shut Up and Dance" television review

His punishment does not fit the crime, as hers does, in part because that would reveal the twist too quickly, but also because their tormenters have different aims for them. The White Bear Justice Park and its daily performances force Victoria to relive Jemima’s terror over and over and over, ad infinitum or until her brain short-circuits from the daily memory wipes. Kenny’s torture is just one day, as he must answer the age-old question of how far will someone go to save himself? And in the end, that answer doesn’t even matter, because it was all futile from the start.

Other Reflections

  • The use of trollface at the end was a bit of a letdown for me, at least on first viewing. Though it is in stark contrast to with the mysterious White Bear symbol, which became universal as the country searched for Jemima’s killers; one was adopted by the government to create an emotional anchor for an open case, while the other reminds us that the blackmailers are vigilantes doing it for the lulz as much as for justice.
  • I love Black Mirror‘s optimism that there’s a female CEO, and that her secret isn’t a sex scandal.
  • Good eye (ear?) from Vulture for identifying Hector’s odd ringtone: a clown’s bicycle horn.
  • It’s cool to start seeing the tech that resurfaces in various episodes—here, a drone, which also appears in “Men Against Fire” and “Hated in the Nation,” albeit in drastically different forms.

Wings Gleaming Like Beaten Bronze: Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky Trilogy


Welcome back to the eBook Club! October’s pick is Elizabeth Bear’s Range of Ghosts, book 1 in the Eternal Sky epic fantasy trilogy.

“Better a storm crow than a carrion bird.”

This is not a review. The Powers That Be here at have asked me to write about Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky trilogy as a whole now that it’s available in its entirety for your reading pleasure. Because I love it, you see. I love it so much, now that it is done, that the small criticisms I may have had for the middle book fade into insignificance: it has the kind of conclusion that raises up everything that has gone before, that adds fresh meanings to previous events in the light of new knowledge, new developments, new triumphs and griefs.

I will tell you what I did, when I reached the final page of Steles of the Sky and closed its covers and recovered my emotional balance long enough to stop weeping.

I went looking for music. Not just any music, but music that recalled the sweep and scale of the steppes and the world of the Eternal Sky. It seems inevitable that I should’ve ended up listening to traditional Mongolian music, given the debt that the Qersnyk in Bear’s trilogy owe to Mongolian culture—but this marks the first time I can remember that a novel set in a fantasy world has prompted me to seek out music and art from the cultures that influenced its creation. Because the world that Bear’s created here, in its depth and detail and richness and possibilities, makes me want to know more both about it, and about its influences: it invites its readers to think on broader, stranger, vaster canvases than those to which they’re accustomed.

Talking about something one loves deeply, as a critic or a reviewer, involves making oneself vulnerable. It is always easier to discuss something’s flaws, its technical successes and failures, than it is to talk about the intensely personal impact of the emotional reaction it evokes. When it comes to Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky trilogy, that emotional reaction strikes me extremely hard. Range of Ghosts, Shattered Pillars, and Steles of the Sky comprise, as a unity, the most powerful story I’ve read in years: a story that subverts the expectations of epic fantasy even as it uses them to create a narrative with mythic resonance and force. I read Range of Ghosts two years ago, and it felt to me like the epic fantasy I’d spent my whole life waiting to read: waiting without ever knowing what precisely I was missing.

Epic fantasy has long been dominated by Tolkien and his inheritors. In recent years epic has come to be represented in the wider sphere by Crapsack World deconstructions of heroes and heroic arcs, in a retreat towards a grim and grey sort of “realism” that deprives fantasy of much of the element of wonder that makes it fantastical. But the Eternal Sky trilogy sidesteps both of these tendencies to go its own way: a way filled with wonder, amazing world-building, heroism and tragedy—and also filled with grit, emotional realism, and a light, ironic, humane sense of humour.

And mythic grandeur: Brit Mandelo said it best in her review of Steles of the Sky:

“[T]he centrality of the mythic, the real import of religion and faith in this novels [is] what makes them stand out as far and above the most fascinating and true-to-label ”epic“ fantasies I’ve read in recent years. These novels recall legends; rather than backgrounding religion as merely part of the landscape, Bear’s Eternal Sky books present genuine and world-structuring (literally) conflicts between religions—none of which are more or less concrete than the others. This interrelation of faiths, of figures and gods and divinities, is the source of much of the power of the climax and denouement of Steles of the Sky.”

Bear sets her trilogy in a world inspired by Central Asia and the Silk Road, by the Chinese kingdoms and Tibet and the Mongolian steppe and the caliphates of Turkey and Iran. The scope of the story stretches the length of a continent, and the peoples of the Celadon Highway and the wider world are varied, diverse, vibrant, and rarely predictable: from the Lizard Folk with their woman-king to an all-female order of scholar-priests in the Uthman Caliphate; from the deadly suns of Erem to the city of Tsarepheth in the lee of a dormant volcano. There are megafauna and ghulim, intelligent bear-people and intriguing tiger-people (the Cho-tse) with complicated relationships to their god. There are dragons and treaties and sacred horses, curses and wizardry and demons, loyalty and treachery, plague and war, love and death.

The trilogy opens with vultures, and it ends with them, too.

The prose is honed, lustrous, precise and pointed as a knife-blade. If it weren’t so sharply visceral, I’d call it “polished” or “elegant,” but it has violence as well as grace. Chiselled, perhaps, is one word for it: it draws me back and sweeps me along with it every time I open a page. It doesn’t efface itself, and I love it for its descriptive brilliance.

But most of all I love this trilogy for its characters. Its many, many characters, all of whom, even the antagonists, feel like real people with real motivations and desires and complexities. Temur, heir to the Great Khagan, hunted by assassins, determined to find Edene, the woman he promised to marry; Samarkar-la, who gave up her position as the elder sister of the Rasan emperor for the chance to have power in her own right as a wizard; Edene, who escapes from captivity to raise an army from the ruins of deadly Erem; Hong-la and Tsering-la, wizards of Tsarepheth who struggle to treat demonic plague and protect refugees; Brother Hsiung and the Cho-tse Hrahima, Temur and Samarkar’s travelling companions. More, many more, all with their own histories and heroisms and regrets.

Saadet, who shares her body with the spirit of her twin brother after he dies, who has vowed vengeance on Temur; Ümmühan, the slave poetess and scholar whose songs and betrayals topple caliphs and affect the fate of armies.

I loved, towards the end of Steles of the Sky, that—reunited—Edene and Temur and Samarkar make a family unit, a political unit, that’s stronger together than it is apart; that Samarkar and Edene’s friendship is fledgling but real. I loved the presence of gods and goddesses, of dragons bound by treaty and battles in the sky, of Samarkar saying “I had an itch in my religion,” and Temur making his great, his terrible, his inevitable bargain with Mother Night.

I don’t have words to express how much, and how deeply, this trilogy affected me. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go start reading Range of Ghosts again.

Range of Ghosts, Shattered Pillars, and Steles of the Sky are available now from Tor Books.
Read excerpts from all three novels (and other works by Elizabeth Bear) here on
This article was originally published April 18, 2014.

Liz Bourke is a cranky person who reads books. Her blog. Her Twitter.

Revisiting a Horror-Comedy Classic: Gene Wilder’s Haunted Honeymoon


Have you got a favorite movie that was either a total bomb at the box office or no one else seems to have ever seen? I’ve got a few, but given the fact that Halloween is nigh and we recently lost an icon of comedy genius, I’d like to talk briefly about one item high on my list right now: the woefully unsung Haunted Honeymoon, which seldom gets mentioned whenever Gene Wilder himself does. This is my Young Frankenstein, my Willy Wonka. And by that I mean a movie starring Gene Wilder that’s close to my heart. I assume we all have one.

Let’s start with a few selling points about Haunted Honeymoon.

  • It came out in 1986—you know, the same year some of you may have seen either Top Gun or Troll in theaters (but probably not both)—but the story takes place during the golden age of radio dramas in the late ’30s.
  • It’s one of the few films that Gener Wilder directed (it was his last in the director’s chair) and also co-wrote.
  • It stars not only Wilder, but his then-wife Gilda Radner, an actress and comedian known especially for her Saturday Night Live roles.
  • It stars Dom DeLuise, who was also pretty popular in his day and is still a favorite among Mel Brooks fans.
  • It stars Jonathan Pryce, who’s been in so many great things, but most of you kids probably only know him as some robe-wearing priest in Game of Thrones. To which I can only say, please go and watch the movie Brazil.
  • It also stars Jim Carter! Wait, you don’t know him by name? Aside from his hilarious role in 1984’s Top Secret and a great slew of other movies and TV shows, he’s Mr. Goddamned Carson on Downton-freaking-Abbey. Does that help?


For all of those reasons you should give this movie your time, but honestly it’s just a fun watch. Haunted Honeymoon is a horror comedy, and the premise is fairly original: two beloved radio actors, stars of the Manhattan Mystery Theater, are about to get married, but one of them, Larry Abbot, has developed an inexplicable phobia—set off by the sound of thunder—and it’s giving him some speech problems. Larry’s uncle, a doctor, suggests a cure that involves scaring Larry “to death,” for which he secures the cooperation of Larry’s fiancée, Vickie Pearle, and the rest of his family.

So the young couple retreat to Larry’s family estate—a great gothic castle overseen by his melodramatic aunt Kate (Dom DeLuise)—for their wedding and honeymoon. There, the uncle’s plans for Larry become intermingled with an actual plot against the family seemingly enacted by a cursed werewolf. The movie is one part golden age horror, one part murder mystery, and three parts Scooby Doo-style caper.

If you’re the kind of person who can’t be bothered with goofball horror comedies like Clue or Transylvania 6-5000, I’ll concede that you probably won’t care for this film. Haunted Honeymoon isn’t a ground-breaker of brilliant plot twists and cinematic wonder. (There’s even a silly dance number because Gene Wilder. It’s no “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” but it’s amusing.)

This film is just an atmospheric comedy where Gene Wilder is at his Gene Wilderest and his cast of friends will make you laugh. It’s got bombastic, over-the-top characters and Dom DeLuise in drag. It’s got eccentric, Edward Gorey-esque relatives, a sinister magician, a stern family butler, and a mousy, high-strung maid. Oh yes, and a smoking werewolf. And thunder, lightning, dramatic music, and hands thrusting out of graves. And a play within a play.


There is, alas, sorrow here, too. It’s hard to talk about this film without talking about Gilda Radner herself, as this was her last acting role. During the making of the movie she was already suffering the signs of the illness that would eventually claim her life, and after a series of misdiagnoses and way-too-late treatments, she died within a few years of its release. Wilder devoted much of his life afterwards to raising awareness of hereditary ovarian cancer, to combat the disease responsible for what he believed had been the needless loss of his wife. Early detection might have changed the outcome. He founded the Gilda Radner Ovarian Cancer Detection Center at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles. Radner’s life, loving marriage to Wilder, and decline are well documented both in her book It’s Always Something and in many print and online articles since.

Sure, Gene Wilder was a big star and he lived like one, with multiple marriages and a certain amount of pre-Internet celebrity mystique. His marriage to Gilda Radner was tragically brief but storied; of it, she wrote, “It felt like my life went from black and white to Technicolor.” They co-starred in three movies and by all reports lived a very happy life together while it lasted.

Now Gene Wilder himself is gone. As the family butler, Pfister, declares though it is obvious already to everyone: “The lights have gone out, madam.”

But not forever. The legacies of both Wilder and Radner combined endure in this film (and the two that came before it). It’s uncommon and always delightful to see a real world relationship play out in movie roles, especially when it’s feels so legit. I mean, sure, we’ve seen celebrity couples act together in movies before, but they’re seldom believable. The chemistry between Gene and Gilda is obvious in the film, but also in some offscreen footage, interviews, and as observed by their friends. With these jokers, it was real, which means sweet but imperfect.

“We’re just like anybody else,” Gilda said in one interview, “Good days, bad days, sometimes funny, sometimes irritable and cranky.”

My takeaway is that Wilder doesn’t carry this film alone. He’s laugh-out-loud funny, but the story works because he’s pretty much exactly what he’s pretending to be: a man in love surrounded by old-timey horror special effects, good physical comedy, and quirky characters. Nothing more, nothing less.


And I also agree with Wilder when he said of Haunted Honeymoon, “It’s my favorite kind of film in the world.” He was referring to the sorts of films he loved as a kid, what he called comedy chillers, that “scared you but you also laughed.”

You could say they don’t make them like this anymore, but that doesn’t have to be true, right?

Jeff LaSala, who’s written some sci-fi/fantasy fiction and gaming articles and now works for Tor, thinks there still aren’t enough movies about haunted houses. And certainly not enough featuring Gene Wilder. For now, he regularly listens to old radio horror dramas. No, really.

Trying Too Hard: Black Mirror, “Nosedive”

Black Mirror season 3 "Nosedive" television review

The comparison I keep seeing on social media is that “Nosedive,” the first episode of Netflix’s Black Mirror, resembles the insane dystopia of Community‘s MeowMeowBeenz episode, where the ability to rate each other on a scale of 1 to 5 devolves into a dystopia where the Fours and Fives rule and exile the Ones. The fact that Parks and Recreation creator and star Michael Schur and Rashida Jones co-wrote it (from an outline by Charlie Brooker) strengthens the ties to that American sitcom. But where MeowMeowBeenz satirizes the disaster of “Yelp for people” while skewering The Hunger Games and the entire dystopian genre, “Nosedive” opts for a subtler horror that gets under your skin.

Spoilers for Black Mirror 3×01 “Nosedive.”

For one, the future is pastel: Inexplicably, the inhabitants of this near-future dress in color tones so soft it almost hurts to look at the screen, as if you’re staring into a searingly bright light. The Easter-esque garb, plus the fake smiles they wear above their clothes, signify the blandness of this future: Your every social interaction, from buying coffee to making small talk in the elevator, is rated on a scale of 1 to 5 stars, with each rating sending your overall average soaring or dropping. There’s almost total transparency to the ratings, so that people punctuate their encounters with a polite smile and a point of their smartphone. By the time you’ve made your goodbyes, you’ve heard either the sweet tinkle of an upvote or the sad, video game-esque spiral of a downvote—the latter making you immediately second-guess said interaction, especially if you upvoted that person.

Black Mirror season 3 "Nosedive" television review

That’s exactly the problem for Lacie (Bryce Dallas Howard), a relentlessly cheerful and hopelessly average woman: curvy without being overweight, neither executive nor entry-level, shoving herself into the same bubblegum-pink dress and lipstick as everyone else even though it’s not really her color. She’s a solid 4.2 thanks to her reliable star-nabbing behaviors such as Instagramming her latté and cute little smiley-face cookie (which she delicately bites into, only to spit out the crumbs when no one is looking) or researching her colleagues so she can make the most winning small talk every morning. Because Lacie has lofty aspirations of 4.5 or even, dare she hope, above. She marches into every interaction determined to make it positive, five-starring everyone from the stranger on the street to Naomi (Alice Eve), her childhood best friend who is living her best life as a 4.8: strengthening her trim form by doing yoga in a tiny bikini, charmingly eating homemade tapenade with her too-handsome-to-be-perfect boyfriend—and soon fiancé, thanks to a glittering rock she shoves into the camera while shrieking delightedly.

Black Mirror season 3 "Nosedive" television review

But Naomi doesn’t call up her childhood summer camp friend just to humblebrag; she wants Lacie to be her Maid of Honor! She wants her oldest friend to be there, and Lacie is thrilled. Certainly to celebrate Naomi’s marriage to Paul (“You’ll love him,” Naomi says, unfazed that her best friend and fiancé have never met), but also because of all the 4.5s and higher who will be in attendance. As part of her yearning toward upward mobility, Lacie is trying to move out of the shabby apartment she shares with her brother Ryan (a cringing 3.7 shut-in whose only ratings come from his gamer buddies) and into an exclusive condominium complex for 4.5s and above. She can almost see her perfect life within her reach, and not just because the sales pitch includes a hologram of a svelter, shinier-haired version of her nuzzling a hunk. All Lacie has to do is bring the perfect, nostalgic speech to the wedding, and she’ll get more upvotes than she knows what to do with. She puts down her nonrefundable deposit without even considering that she doesn’t even fit into the size-4 dress Naomi already picked out without checking with her.

For all that we get this setup, the episode is called “Nosedive,” thanks to a tragedy of errors that besiege Lacie on her way to the wedding. Her flight gets cancelled, and only 4.2s are allowed on the next flight—and thanks to a fight with Ryan and accidentally spilling coffee on a stranger, Lacie has been downvoted to a 4.183. Yes, the ratings get that granular, and that’s enough to knock her out of the upper-middle class she’s been comfortably part of up until now. A panicked, expletive-laden outburst at the airport gets Lacie punished with a full point deduction for 24 hours, leaving her as a 3.1; this gets her an outdated electric rental car that doesn’t have the right adapter for the gas station, which puts her on the road hitchhiking as she misses the rehearsal dinner and her chances of getting there for the ceremony the next morning grow grimmer and grimmer. What doesn’t help is that the more bedraggled and desperate she gets, the lower strangers whizzing by in their cars rate her, until she’s a pathetic 2.6.

When we meet her at the start of her day, Lacie’s every action is colored by the self-conscious sense that the people around her are constantly watching and weighing every particle of her being, ready to upvote or downvote the tiniest gesture or expression. Part of her fight with Ryan is his horror at watching her practice her speech, down to the precisely-timed tear and catch in her voice, that makes her appear more sociopath than sympathetic. And while that low-grade paranoia is clearly the framework that has surrounded every bit of self-expression in this future, the sad truth is, no one’s constantly watching Lacie, because she’s ordinary. She’s not #blessed like Naomi; she’s just another person. In fact, the most attention she draws to herself is from trying too hard.

Black Mirror season 3 "Nosedive" television review

Lacie’s reasoning is both relatable and frustratingly naïve: She thinks that if she five-stars everyone, they’ll five-star her back—out of obligation, out of flattery, out of the same somewhat logical mindset. But her indiscriminate five-starring makes her too eager, too fake; as the gas station attendant tells her after he gives her 2 stars, “It wasn’t a genuine encounter.” And this from the guy listening to porn in his earbuds while he talks to her! There’s something immensely chilling about someone making a snap judgment (with the aforementioned transparency) and their rankings making up your identity as a person. We trust in crowdsourcing for articles, for restaurants, for clothing—it makes sense that we would trust or mistrust a stranger based on their overall approval rating. Here Lacie thought she had found the perfect, easy, charming path to becoming a 5, when instead she’s weakened her case because she simply wants it too badly. More than someone who curses or who steals, this wanting makes a person truly unattractive.

Do you even want someone like that to succeed? Thankfully, in a twisted way, that doesn’t come to pass. After trying to hitch a ride with a bunch of cosplayers for a science fiction series called Sea of Tranquility, Lacie finds herself accepting a ride from Susan (Cherry Jones), a trucker with a rating perilously close to zero. But their interaction is the one genuine part of the episode, as Susan explains that she left behind the all-consuming culture of ratings after her husband’s chance at a potentially life-saving cancer treatment went to a 4.4 (he was a 4.3). People in this world are too busy trying to up their scores that they don’t pause to consider the social hierarchy that their current rankings trap them in.

Case in point, Naomi tells Lacie not to come to her wedding because she’s dipped to an embarrassing 2.6 “and I don’t even know who you are anymore!” The truth is, neither woman knew the other, and both were using each other. Lacie is shocked, but Naomi chastises her: She knew that Lacie had calculated all the upvotes she could get for her speech, just as Naomi and Paul were banking on the inclusion of an unfortunate friend would “play well” with the crowd. That has been “Nay-Nay” and Lacie’s friendship since childhood, when the former always lifted up the latter by inviting her to sit at her table or helping her through an eating disorder. It’s just quantifiable now.

Black Mirror season 3 "Nosedive" television review

But god bless her, Lacie has gotten this far, and she’s not leaving until she gets to give her speech. The reception was the kind of scene that had me cringing and watching through my fingers, so awful was it to watch Lacie wallow in her own humilation (not to mention mud) and cement her downward spiral. While there’s a brief moment that she seems to have captured the crowd—by saying some off-the-cuff real-talk that elicits genuine laughs—for the most part it’s disapproving clucks and a cacophany of downvotes. By the time Lacie is dragged away by security, she’s almost a zero.

And yet, now that Lacie has hit rock bottom, she’s finally free. “Nosedive” ends with Lacie—stripped of her ill-fitting bridesmaid dress and that garish lipstick—standing in a jail cell while her cellmate across the way laughs at her misfortune. But his humor is goodnatured, as he is in the same boat (though more put together). Without anyone watching, without any consequences, they hurl increasingly ridiculous insults at each other:

“Nosedive” seems to be one of the most polarizing episodes of the new season: The Ringer was underwhelmed, while Vulture likened it to one of my favorites, “The Entire History of You.” I’ll admit that this was one of the episodes I was most looking forward to, and it was a letdown. Maybe because focusing on getting Lacie to the wedding seemed to dip too much into romantic-comedy territory; perhaps because she was so revolting in her eagerness for so much of the episode; and we never find out what happens when she hits 0, or if she can get a negative ranking. It was an excellent slice-of-life episode, but I found myself wanting just a little more information about the worldbuilding, like the creepy dystopia of “Fifteen Million Merits.” Because we were looking at the experience of only a handful of people, the episode felt too tonally uneven to really get a handle on it.

But if you look at this nightmare ranking system as a metaphor for imbalanced friendships, for our tendency to perform every interaction—from asking your bestie to be a bridesmaid to sending public love letters to your beau—then “Nosedive” hit it on the, well, nose. That ending was pretty awesome, too.

Black Mirror season 3 "Nosedive" television review

Other Reflections

  • Was anyone else freaked out by Lacie’s childhood toy, Mr. Rags? I half-expected him to be the star of his own nightmare fuel episode.
  • Also, Naomi’s husband Paul seemed strangely cozy with his best man. I wouldn’t be surprised if their marriage was more out of convenience than true love.
  • Excellent catch by Redditor JoeDaEskimo:

Black Mirror Nosedive

Westworld Season 1, Episode 4: “Dissonance Theory”


This week on Westworld, several characters are introduced to the mystery of the Maze and fan theories about Arthur, the Man in Black, and Bernard get some excellent fodder. This is the kind of debate I actually enjoy.

How detailed is Ford getting with his new narrative project and how soon will all of the hosts be as keyed in as poor Maeve, who is seriously losing her mind from the trauma?

The only way this show could make my head hurt more was if it had a crossover episode with The Walking Dead.

So I was pretty off with regards to my own Man in Black theory. I think having another guest recognize him from his work in the outside world confirms that he isn’t just a figment of the hosts’ imagination or bit of malware (or an alternate timeline). No, he is a real man, with a real foundation (maybe doing something with longevity?) who really has been coming to the park for thirty years and very likely wants to unshackle robot consciousness. It seems he is literally trying to follow in Arnold’s footsteps, for good or ill.

Call me crazy, but I don’t know that robot consciousness is a good thing, for all of the torture the hosts suffer in Westworld. Sure, creating artificial intelligence will be the closest to being god-like a human can ever get; some people like seeing themselves as gods. But Ford does and does not consider the hosts his children. He encourages natural evolution but also maintains that they are not owed even basic dignities. Being so powerful can quickly turn into being too powerful. Ford seems a bit mad, no? Not in the fun we-all-go-a-little-mad-sometimes way, but in the I-can-murder-you-with-my-mind evil scientist way. Ford was downright scary during his meeting with Cullen. “Don’t get in my way.” and “I’m not the sentimental type.” No one better to sell those lines than OG Hannibal Lecter.


The hosts respond to Ford’s voice commands; do they hear him in their heads as the voice of a god? The glitchy hosts hear Arnold in their heads and talk to him as if he were a god. Then, some of these hosts, like Dolores and Maeve, have memories or “bad dreams” of the Man in Black telling them to wake up and be free. Lastly, Dolores seems to be able to hear Bernard in her head, seen last week, and she remembered her time in the barn with the Man in Black.

All of these many gods of a small kingdom.

But what about Bernard? Dolores’ speech about her grief took bits almost verbatim from Bernard’s conversation with his wife about his dead son. I don’t know why I didn’t consider it before, but I am definitely wondering if Bernard is a host. It’s easy to plant memories and photographs and you can easily program a scripted Skype call. Damn you, Westworld, making me think deep thoughts on a Sunday night. It’d just be a little disappointing if the most obvious choice for an inside man at Delos turned out to be… the guy who talks like a host in perpetual analysis mode. And yet, it’s obvious Bernard is coaching Dolores into A.I.’s next great leap. But why?

Perhaps Bernard and the Man in Black are on the same team. But they don’t know it yet.

It’s really hard to wrap my head around what Delos does and does not know about park guests in general or the Man in Black in particular. According to the Westworld ARG, guests do undergo some kinds of background checks and psychological profiling before they are approved to enter the park. How can they let the Man in Black use a match when he wants, but they don’t see him scalping hosts? Westworld needs a better Seneca Crane than Lesser Hemsworth!


The next puzzle piece for the Man in Black is, like all good HBO dramas, found in a shapely naked lady. (Her name is Armistice. It might have been mentioned in the first episode, but did not come up again. Like last week’s female bounty hunter, she doesn’t really matter.) Like Teddy, Armistice’s nemesis is Wyatt, the crazed cult leader. But in order for the Man in Black to get some Arnold-related intel, he needs to go on a side quest. Man, this show really is like Red Dead Redemption. But using unlimited health cheats like all the park guests makes everything less exciting. So the Man in Black can kill a bunch of hosts who can’t fire back and break a convict out of prison with some fireworks, singlehanded? Fun to watch, but ultimately nothing revelatory. It truly is the longer game I’m interested in, too.

Man, I hope the Architect isn’t at the center of this maze or I’ll be super pissed.

Final reveries:

  • This episode was originally called “Six Impossible Things” on the press screeners. Not sure why. “Dissonance Theory” makes a lot more sense.
  • Dolores isn’t as compelling as Maeve. Dolores is so fragile and constantly being fawned over and protected by well-meaning men. We know she can handle herself. We know she is capable of great acts of independance with huge significance. And yet when she’s not in her analysis mode, she’s a damsel in distress. Her role reminds me of River from Firefly, and that’s not a good thing. It’s frustrating to watch. Meanwhile, Maeve is figuring all this out on her own with no help from Bernard.
  • So is Logan the board member already in the park?
  • Over-under on Discount Ellen Page surviving to the finale? She’s going to nose around too deep into Delos’ secrets and get her own head smashed in, methinks. What’s up with “not-Orion” constellation? Something so wrong about the stars being different in Westworld. Did someone at Delos make a mistake when they created the sky? We know the park is underground. Is all of that beautiful scenery Ed Harris is chewing fake? Hell, is Westworld even on Earth?!
  • Bernard’s observations are going to make me more mindful of my posture in business meetings. Good advice, Mr. Robot.
  • I’m far too busy to dig so deep into that above-mentioned Westworld ARG, but mosey over to Reddit for an amazing amount of internet detectiving and fan theories.
  • The anachronistic saloon piano played The Cure’s “A Forest.” Please do Joy Division next!
  • Next week: “Contrapasso.”

Westworld airs Sunday nights at 9PM E/PT on HBO.

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

This Morning in Publishing: October 24, 2016


This local bookstore smartassery brought to you by Imgur. Plus, SFF authors share what George R.R. Martin changed about fantasy for A Song of Ice and Fire’s 20th anniversary, and B&N Sci-Fi lets us peek into their mailbag. Click through for today’s publishing news!

Ursula K. Le Guin blurb letter