SFF Board Games of 2017 (review)

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I’m in the Spring 2018 issue of BSFA’s “Vector” talking about board games, SFF, terraforming&the spectre of board-g*mergate. You can find out more about the issue or purchase it here.

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Paddington 2 (review)

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One night at after-work drinks, a developer on my girlfriend’s team announced without any irony that “Paddington 2 is sick.” “It’s like, really political,” he continued approvingly, his East London accent coming on especially strong a few beers in. Indeed, Paddington 2 is both sick and thoroughly political from start to finish. If the first film was “fuck UKIP, the children’s movie,” Paddington 2 maintains an unimpeachable level of craft, reinforces this stance and pushes itself to think and to say yet a little more.

Read full article here.

Nirvana in Fire / Lángyá Bǎng (review)

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In December of 2017, The Wind Blows in Chang Lin, the sequel to Nirvana in Fire, or Lángyá Bǎng, began airing in China. Though it is probable that many readers of this site were completely unaware of the event, it was without exaggeration one of the most anticipated releases in the world. The original Nirvana in Fire had, after all, been an incredible success both as an online serial novel and as a 2015 television series, “surpassing ten million views by its second day, and receiving a total number of daily internet views on iQiyi of over 3.3 billion by the end of the series. Nirvana in Fire was considered a social media phenomenon, generating 3.55 billion posts on Sina Weibo that praised its characters and story-line. As of December 2016, it has a total view of 13 billion views as reported by VLinkage.” [1]

Of course, a Chinese series may have 13 billion “legitimate” views, incredibly well-received Korean and Japanese syndications, and popular fan translations into various languages and yet raise not one whisper in Anglophone media discourse. There the boosterising think pieces sit, chewing the exhausted fat of a mediocre direct-to-Netflix serial with a title not even the pieces’ writers will clearly remember in two years’ time, exalting prestige television that uses its indisputably high production values to tell maybe three discrete, distended soap operatic stories which center middle-class white male subjectivity in played-out Modernist crisis say 80% of the time. We are given to understand that good television began existing a decade ago, exclusively in the US and maybe a little bit in the UK, with special mention of that Nordic crime thing you like, and that the world is even now bounded in the nutshell of the coastal borders of the US. The fact that this is nakedly market-driven, ahistorical nonsense—and frankly racist—is not particularly important to such analyses.

I am reviewing the original Nirvana in Fire now because, quite soon, the fansubs of the sequel will percolate out. They will be very imperfect, but they are all you will get, because there will be no official translations. [2] In order to engage with The Wind Blows in Chang Lin you will probably want to know something about the original Nirvana in Fire, which alas has the same translation issue. And the original is so revelatory that for all this you had better give it a go or I will come to your house and kill you in real life, I swear to god.

Read full article here.

Fiction Publication This Year

Still Out:

Rumpelstiltskin (urban fantasy, m/f erotica)
For who are so free as the sons of the waves? (historical fiction, m/m erotica, urban or high fantasy)
“she would cast him to the Wolf, the Wolf should have him” (historical fiction, m/f erotica, urban fantasy)
The Able and the Virtuous Consorts (historical fiction, f/f erotica)
Well-Fortified (historical fiction, horror, m/m erotica)
Lawful Evil (historical fiction, m/m erotica, urban fantasy)

Needs Resubmitted:

Coming Alongside (historical fiction, m/m erotica, arguably steampunkish)
If the sky holds (urban fantasy)
Senbazuru (m/m erotica)
Bunkmates (post-apocalyptic sf, m/m erotica)
Post-Production (m/m erotica)

Due to Be Published:

Couched in a Curious Bed
(historical fiction, m/genderfluid intersex erotica)
Solo Exhibition (m/f erotica, out March 8)
Rereading (f/f erotica, Owning It, out 28 March)
A Year Without the Taste of Meat (f/f romance, SF, kickstarter soon)

Out:

Bacchae (SF, out October 2017)
Too Frequent A Place (horror, historical fiction, fantasy, m/m erotica, out October 2017)
Dinner Plans (m/m erotica, out October 2017)

Brighton Fringe 2017

The Brighton Fringe is smaller than the Edinburgh Fringe, and judging by what I’ve seen of them, Brighton’s offerings don’t have quite the production values some (though decidedly not all) Edinburgh shows manage. But if Scotland leaves the UK and becomes an EU member in its own right, the English people who flock north to perform and spectate in August like confused and misdirected migrating birds may have to learn to love Brighton. God only knows what the theatrical work visa situation will look like for small companies then.

This may seem small potatoes compared to the prospect of such an upheaval, but the Edinburgh Fringe is a huge economic event (£4 million in ticket sales in 2016, not counting the 600+ Free Fringe shows which rely on donations [source] or the £142 million the Fringe generated for Edinburgh in 2010 [source]). It’s also a major part of the UK’s theatre lifecycle, the whole shape of which may change if the EdFringe becomes even more expensive and inconvenient to participate in than it already is.  While the EdFringe is great for Scotland’s economy, at present it’s often a loss-leading operation for performers: a risky, sometimes disastrous venture that, if they’re lucky, enables them to establish reputations and set up gigs for the rest of the year off the back of it.

Read full review here.

 

Moondial

Tristan and Iseult, by Rosemary Sutcliff

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Wiki characterises this as ‘a children’s novel’, which feels odd to me. It’s somewhat simplistic and it’s a novella, but it’s not really terribly child-friendly? Like, I wouldn’t call The Stranger a kid’s book because the prose is stripped back. This Tristan and Iseult isn’t so obviously child-inappropriate as that, but neither can I see the youth clamouring for it. I suppose it feels possibly YA or New Adult in that the protagonists are youngish for much of the action? It’s not precisely clear how old they are by the story’s end/their deaths (Arthuriana spoilers). But sometimes we say a thing is ‘for children’ when what we mean is simply that it’s not long or deeply complex (which is, obviously, a bit crap as a generic description).
 
This was a light, pleasant read, but it’s a bit overshadowed by the skill and beauty of TH White’s psychological approach and prose. It does behove writers and critics to ask themselves what a contribution aims to do differently, to expand on, to rethink in a subfield that includes Once and Future King, because you’re never not going to have that signal reworking in mind. White does cut the Tristan arc to keep Lancelot and Guinevere’s story-line neat (as-is, Malory crams in two confusing, conflicting major Iseults, and Sutcliff follows suit), to make it work as a piece of psychological realism/a moral question. Thus Sutcliff is giving something to modern Arthuriana reworking here by even attempting this tale. Yet I sort of wish she’d thrown herself into the project more? I’ve not yet read anything else by her, I just felt a sense of limitation here. Nothing in this reworking really took me.
 
That may be related to how uninterested this novel is in charm as an affect. You don’t get a sense of it from the characters or their doomed love, from the world or moments in the text, or in the relationship it’s trying to stage with its readers. This, along with the story’s unalleviated central concerns–doomed, unhappy love and sad, crunching betrayals that ruin male-male relationships and lives, also makes it hard to think of this as a children’s book. Tristan and Iseult is a blue-gray sort of story, cold and sparsely populated, shot through and sometimes illuminated by the strange copper-blood-purple red of Iseult’s often-referenced hair. It picks up a little on the feeling of some patches of Malory, and slightly anticipates Ishiguro’s Buried Giant. There’s some magic here, but of a constrained variety. The dwarf’s star-gazing could be a kind of Hild-like careful processing. There’s a dragon, but it might be any really threatening mundane animal–its effects are near-identical to those of a series of human conflicts over Iseult of the White Hands/territory.
 
There were quite good elements. That hair, and a time Tristan feels deeply disgusted with Iseult and himself for living a lie and betraying King Marc, and Marc himself, who does honestly love them both. But that itself was frustrating, because (and a friend joked this impulse was very MZB, and fair cop) you did just want them to work out some amenable arrangement, het or queer, nephew/uncle or no, and halt the slow, pointless death-waltz of the oncoming plot. 
 
I often get irked when people even joke that complicated relationships should be resolved, melted down, into the crucible of a threesome, because it seems a stupid way to think about relationship issues and plots, intent on liquidating productive or necessary tensions via artificial means. A threesome could and should have all the tensions of its constituent relationships. But there are some tensions that call for resolutions between characters on grounds of greater and more life-altering intimacy than heteronormative plot structures are prepared to allow. There are also ‘marriage plot’ problems that strike you as more of the moment of their writing than trans-temporal, describing the period they depict and speaking to the present reader. With more embedded social and psychological writing, Sutcliffe might have sold me on the painful irresolubility of the characters’ situation by walking me through it. As is, I’m just ‘why not both?’ing. Or rather, the problem is that Iseult doesn’t love Marc–that’s the central imbalance here. But then I know very little about their relationship, from her perspective. I don’t know the dimensions of their marriage, and what possibilities it affords. 
 
I like and respect that Iseult of Cornwall née Ireland’s an intelligent but difficult woman, who makes Iseult of the White Hands roll her eyes with good reason at the concussion (‘I loved him mooooost’ ‘well idk about that bitch, but he loved YOU more, so sure, be First Wife’). Sutcliff’s decision to eschew the ‘doomed to love one another by fate/an accident with a magical cup’ impetus feels like a good one, but it cuts down on another wonder-element of the text and really, how different was her treatment for having made this change? She wants an irresistible, quick-setting, not deeply motivated pull between these characters (who have reason to be drawn to one another, she just doesn’t end up illustrating this process all that much) and she gets it, cup or no. Sometimes the Olde Timey Celtic dialogue feels odd and lumpy, which is all the odder because there’s little dialogue in the book. I don’t know how self-consistent this dialogue feels, and I wonder what sources she’s drawing from here. The first half works better for me than the second, which meanders a bit. This is somewhat consistent with the source material, but then she’s shaping this telling, so I do hold her a bit accountable.
 
A solid, middle of the road sort of book, but I’m not sure there’s a reader who’ll LOVE it. At least it doesn’t feel as awful, forced and unnecessary as all the on-trend ‘my publisher made me do it’ fairy tale retellings glutting the market.

Nonfiction End of Year Review, Award Eligibility

AWARDS

A while ago some nice people suggested Boucher, Backbone and Blake – the legacy of Blakes 7 might be Hugo-eligible under a few categories. There’s Best Related Work, there’s Best Fan Writer, etc. THIS IS VERY KIND. THANK YOU.

HOWEVER:

I really feel Best Related Work needs to go to the report, editorial and companion essays by Brian J. White, Tobias Buckell, Justina Ireland, Mikki Kendall, Nisi Shawl, Troy Wiggins, Cecily Kane and N.K. Jemisin that together comprise “#BlackSpecFic: A Fireside Fiction Company special report”.

This collaborative project calls attention to a foundational issue in SFFnal publishing, representing the best traditions of critical, self-reflective and progressive work this award exists to recognise. Academically and practically, it is a necessary investigative report. The very model of its presentation is exciting and polyvocal, and it’d be great to see the award recognise this digital mixed-media format. Several great writers and thinkers made substantive contributions to the project. Others offered valuable reactions after the fact. The report and associated documents attracted international media attention, gave rise to editorial shifts on major SFF publications’ boards, and hopefully will spur further inclusive developments.

We should not let the memory of this work fade or its sharp, timely conclusions be overlooked. The report needs acted on, in a continuous praxis, and I believe it should also be recognised. This would show that we all feel the horrible inequalities it frankly delineates are a blight on the field, and that we are collectively serious about redressing them in the interests of both fairness and richer art. It would not definitively do so: only continuous work to dismantle systemic racism will accomplish this. But recognising the report as the most important piece of genre-related writing/the Best Related Work this year seems to me simply a just acknowledgement of a fait accompli.

As for me, I’d be happy to be considered for fan writer (though really I also think it’s past time for Abigail Nussbaum and/or Maureen K Speller to be acknowledged in that or some other capacity, but frogtea.gif).

END OF YEAR WRITING REVIEW:

STRANGE HORIZONS:

2016 In Review Part One  (my part: 270)
Yonderland (2276)

Age of Adeline (in the publishing queue, 2236)

***

OTHER PUBLICATIONS:

“Control the Computer, Control the Ship”, B7 and tech SFRA paper (promised to Foundation) (4kish atm)
“From ‘Shalom Aleichem’ to ‘Live Long and Prosper’: Engaging with Post-War American Jewish Identity via Star Trek: The Original Series“: forthcoming in “Set Phasers to Teach” (6666 with all notes)
Piece on P&P&Z (still homeless, 2980)
Piece on Love&Friendship (still homeless, 4315)

***

BLOG

FILM:

LITERATURE:

King John (2866)
Funny Girl (1426)

Sasha Regan’s All Male HMS Pinafore (1143)

NONFIC TOTAL: 84,265

***

FICTION:

Rereading (4,600, out with an anthology, waiting to hear back)

***

FANFIC:

281965 words, broken down in the end of year fic meme on my lj

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Personal story planning, correspondence, essays and private-lj blogging:
endless

TOTAL (minus the substantial last category): 370,830 words this year, ‘published’ in one form or another

Bit less fiction than last year, and I really suspect less nonfic, but then moving was hideous and drawn out, mental health’s been bad and this year was draining all-’round.