Tag Archives: science fiction

Book Review: The Daughter Star

cover image for The Daughter StarNobody writes a sullen woman like Susan Jane Bigelow. Don’t get me wrong; they have their reasons for their moodiness. Stuck on something of a forced sabbatical with their repressive family in a repressive country, girlfriend unreachable, this corner of the galaxy about to get into an interplanetary war—there are a lot of stresses on young women like Marta Grayline. Bigelow settles us into the tension almost immediately with two quick flashes of prologue, and then we’re immersed in Marta’s world, a familiar story for some of us, even in this far-future science fiction setup: can I hide my queerness while I’m spending time with my relatives?

Marta has tried in full earnestness mode to find her place, even if her choices began with an intense need to leave her home country, Gideon, on the gravity-heavy planet Nea. It’s almost as if it took so much energy to get distance from her preacher father and smothering family that Marta doesn’t have much left for self-confidence. And yet it’s that very sense of self that Marta needs to make a difference in the war between Nea and Adastre. And maybe conversely, it’s the painfulness of coming from a closed family in a closed country on a less-than planet that fuels Marta’s drive. Bigelow does a great job of layering on the sadness and strife that come with the legacy of paternal choices made for an entire people.

Marta finds herself commanded to join her planet’s forces in the war effort, and her little sister Beth worms her way in as an enlistee. Beth is a great foil for Marta: we’re not sure of her intentions for a good long while, and although she’s certainly from the same building blocks as Marta, she seems to be making different choices than her big sister has. There are a few warning flags as they find their way out of Gideon, but Marta is so excited to be back in her element that she overlooks them. Bigelow gives us just enough in the way of tone and word choice that we should be worried for the sisters, because of course outer space during war is not the same as piloting a trade ship in peacetime. Soon enough Marta’s ship is destroyed and she finds herself a captive on a space station, a clear prisoner of the crew there. And now the alien Abrax who were responsible for the Earth’s demise and who have been unseen for hundreds of years, make their reappearance. Bigelow does a great job of touching these presumably distant points back together—what does one young woman’s legacy, one man’s decision made once upon a time, one family’s grip on a made-up tradition all have in common?

Read the book and find out. Highly recommended. The Daughter Star will stick around in my head for a long while.

 

Friday Flash: The Tree Planters

He grabs a seedling out of the thick canvas bag and drops it in the hollow pole. Schuuuck as the baby slides down, the quiet noise almost a song by the time it reaches the bottom of the tube. The seedling only sits ready to be planted for a moment before it takes its place in the brand new soil, the very youngest in a staggered row of conifers.

two suns, dawn or duskThe first sun isn’t quite over the ridge yet, but Hax is ready for it, or more accurately, he’s tired of squinting in the pre-dawn light. He and his coworker Marnie will have three solid hours of planting before the second sunrise, and then they’ll need to take cover because radiation from two stars is harsh on human skin. Like, third-degree burns harsh. So many people have died trying to make Valus habitable that Hax and Marnie have lost faith in the capabilities of the Health Service.

Schuuk. Marnie tamps down the moist dirt with her boot, just enough for the seedling to stay put but not break stride. She and Hax have an ongoing bet about who can get more trees in the ground in a day, a week, a mountaintop. So far for the week she’s ahead by 327. It’s too close a margin, in her opinion.

On the next peak ahead they can see the soil-laying machine, like a gigantic bulldozer working in reverse. It’s as close to Earth soil compositions as anyone out here can create. But it stinks like rotten broccoli and after a day of seeding the mountain, they get back to base reeking of it. The smell is so bad Marnie is grateful for her oxygen mask. Read More…

Zombie Defense by the Seasons

from Jillian McDonald blogThrow a stick at any bookstore over 2,500 square feet and you’ll hit at least three books on surviving the zombie apocalypse. Weapons guides and DIY, symptoms to look out for, protective clothing, how to shop for your garden variety gas mask, it’s in print and readily available. But there are other factors that can affect human survival, and seasonal shift is often overlooked as one of these. So let’s take the seasons in turn, starting with spring, and help uncover methods of defense that we can use no matter when we’re fighting for the future of our species.

SPRING

Fortunately the days are getting longer, so there is less opportunity for zombie hordes to accumulate in the dark of night and make mob attacks. There are also no tall crops at this point in the year, unless a region has been growing winter wheat, so it will be harder for zombies to make their way quietly through crop fields (of course this matters not at all in urban areas). Spring also comes with a new generation of wildlife, which can be observed to help identify where bands of zombies may be hiding out. But be warned; depending on the kind of zombification that’s happening, mammals in general may also be zombies, so you may need to pay special attention when litters of new small animals are underfoot, because they may not be very clever defenders against the undead and will become a new source of infection for humans. BONUS FOR MOUNTAIN AREAS: Spring also often means strong river runoff from melting snow, which can be used to wipe out zombies, carrying them away in streams and creeks, where they can be rounded up downstream. Also keep an eye on frozen lakes, because as the season progresses these can be used to take out whole groups of zombies by luring them to thinner areas where they can fall into the icy water and get trapped. Read More…

Fixing House After the Zombie Apocalypse

boarded up houseAt some point, any zombie apocalypse had to move into a new phase–zombies eventually run out of human brains to eat, humans find a way to reverse zombification, thus beginning a new chapter in humankind, or humans defeat the zombie onslaught. Of course there was another option–people dying out completely. But human history has shown us capable of responding to almost any threat, and so we found a way of succeeding even when all seemed lost. So many theories about surviving zombie attacks have focused on battling zombies, avoiding zombies, and discerning whether a loved one has become a zombie, it has largely slipped through the cracks of culture that even zombie doomsdays must end.

And then, if any humans have made it unscathed, it will be time to start living again. Read More…

The Metaphor Translations: Androids Among Us

Blade Runner film still/Sean YoungI’ve been fascinated by the concept of the humanoid robot, or android, as long as I’ve been reading science fiction, and fortunately there are loads of examples out there for people who find themselves fascinated by such things. Although at first it may seem like androids make a simple statement about our humanity—or lack thereof—I think there are different ways that androids play into a commentary on our species. And in terms of narrative, they’re characters, sometimes even the protagonist, they’ve been used as themes, reflections, and on occasion are the plot itself. So with a fondness for the non-carbon community, let’s look at some messages in popular culture that come from how androids have been conceptualized. Read More…

LGBT Themes and Science Fiction: Fast Friends

This post originally appeared over at GayYA.org.

from the Hubble space telescopeI write speculative fiction, usually somewhere between soft science fiction and magical realism, and often, though not exclusively, with LGBT themes and characters. I suppose I could write more mainstream stories, but I like to twist things up and mess with the universe, and besides, I’m a genre geek. I swear this is less from a God complex perspective, and more about playfulness and political intent. Metaphors for transition, coming out, family acceptance, and the like can replace a description of the real thing, and in so doing, open up some space away from angst so more time can be spent appreciating some of the other aspects of these moments.Personally, I’m over angst, having racked up enough of those moments through two whole puberties! But as a writer for young adult and crossover audiences, I’m invested in finding ways to depict all of that cortisol-inducing stress, especially as it relates to LGBT themes. So I opt to find a different geography, a reinvention of time, nifty gadgets and alien species to push, instead of resolve, tension. Read More…

When Zombies Attack Walla Walla

zombie movie posterEven small towns as isolated as Walla Walla, Washington, may fall prey to a zombie outbreak at some point, especially given the global nature of travel and commerce. Although only two state highways connect to the city, it does receive regular cargo shipments by truck and by rail, and it does house a working airport with connections to Seattle, a major seaport and airport on the West Coast. Looking at the nature, history, and geography of Walla Walla can help identify concrete strategies for defending against and surviving a zombie attack when it comes to the area. Strengths and weaknesses of the region, and specific tactics will be the subject of the rest of this brochure. Read More…

Why I Miss Octavia Butler

Like a flailing restaurant patron who has a chunk of beef stuck in his windpipe, I write speculative fiction. It’s a messy process, of combing through research so I retain a kernel of accuracy in the story, say of physics or history, of plot points and character sketches, scratched out, erased, and written over in my notebooks. There are many notecards and scraps of paper tucked into my journals, so many that I tend to break the bindings of lesser-made books. Don’t forget this detail, that sub-theme, this one scene that keeps popping up in my daydreams. I go back, rewrite, reconceive, get frustrated, re-execute, finally feel satisfied.

Octavia Butler and her booksIt could very well be that all of my energy is in vain, and none of it is any good. I think it’s healthy for writers to drink a cup of hubris with a side of humility every so often. There is so little that keeps us honest. Writing is supposed to be sellable, and to make it to the commercial market, it needs to be definable—what’s the synopsis, who’s the audience, is it like any other bestseller out there, what’s the genre? It had better not fit in too many boxes, or the marketing department at the publisher will implode like an old Vegas casino.

Octavia Butler was one of those writers who defied pretty much everything in publishing—its tightness on genre categories, certainly, but also its expectations around audience appeal, topics that could be covered in fiction, and what bestselling authors should look and sound like. Read More…

The Metaphor Translations: What Monsters Come to Kill Us

This is an occasional series on popular culture tropes and narratives. Previously I looked at doomsday narratives.

werewolves from fanpop.comIt could be that vampire popular culture is on the wane, and if so, I for one am good with it. I’ve had it with evil-possessed, remnants of humanity’s whimpering stories, or the good-girl-meets-renegade-vampire paranormal romance. There are loads more creatures, myths, and epic battles to create and explore. But underneath the cult favorites of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Twilight, and True Blood, what do these monsters say about our fears? Our culture? I’ll try to come up with some possibilities.

So in the spirit of the Halloween season, here is a non-exhaustive list (I’ve left out aliens, androids, and machines for another post) of the beings that go bump in the night, and why they haunt us. Of course there are more ways to interpret these creatures, so if you’ve got another take on it, please let us know in the comments—I’d love to hear people’s thoughts!

Read More…

The Metaphor Translations: Doomsday Narratives

doomsday movie still

This is the first in a series on narrative deconstruction, looking at tropes.

The other day on NPR, they were talking about Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Seriously, public radio hosted an hour of discussion that sounded more like a promo for a movie and its expected series of new films than journalistic reporting. I need to dig a little now and see if NPR has received any money from 20th Century Fox, the attention on the film’s production and narrative was so all-encompassing.

At some point they got to conversing about why we have a fascination with this idea of our ancestors uprising against us. Is it a narrative about anxiety, or tension about our place in the world? Cultural control issues? Read More…

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