While this TV show premiered in December, if you haven’t watched yet, then there’s no time like this minute to join us in celebrating Black History Month, and that these long winter days are drawing to a close, by snuggling up on the sofa of an evening and digging into some Sci-Fi TV show drama.
Kindred, Octavia E. Butler’s celebrated and critically acclaimed novel, has been adapted for television by writer and showrunner Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. This American Science Fiction TV Mini Series—available to watch on Hulu—at 8 episodes long, is perfectly binge worthy.
From FX/Hulu: Adapted from the celebrated novel Kindred, by Hugo Award-winner Octavia E. Butler, the FX series centers on “Dana James” (Mallori Johnson), a young Black woman and aspiring writer who has uprooted her life of familial obligation and relocated to Los Angeles, ready to claim a future that, for once, feels all her own. But, before she can settle into her new home, she finds herself being violently pulled back and forth in time. She emerges at a nineteenth-century plantation, a place remarkably and intimately linked with Dana and her family. An interracial romance threads through Dana’s past and present, and the clock is ticking as she struggles to confront secrets she never knew ran through her blood, in this genre-breaking exploration of the ties that bind.
Kindred stars Mallori Johnson as “Dana James,” Micah Stock as “Kevin Franklin,” Ryan Kwanten as “Thomas Weylin,” Gayle Rankin as “Margaret Weylin,” Austin Smith as “Luke,” David Alexander Kaplan as “Rufus Weylin,” Sophina Brown as “Sarah” and Sheria Irving as “Olivia.”
And when you’ve finished the show but still want more … this worthwhile TV show is backed up by an even better novel. (yessss!)
The TV show Kindred is adapted from the celebrated 1979 novel of the same name, written by Hugo Award Winner Octavia E. Butler.
“Octavia Butler is a writer who will be with us for a long, long time, and Kindred is that rare magical artifact … the novel one returns to, again and again.” —Harlan Ellison
—A Good Morning America 2021 Top Summer Read Pick
The visionary time-travel classic whose Black female hero is pulled through time to face the horrors of American slavery and explores the impacts of racism, sexism, and white supremacy then and now.
Dana’s torment begins when she suddenly vanishes on her 26th birthday from California, 1976, and is dragged through time to antebellum Maryland to rescue a boy named Rufus, heir to a slaveowner’s plantation. She soon realizes the purpose of her summons to the past: protect Rufus to ensure his assault of her Black ancestor so that she may one day be born. As she endures the traumas of slavery and the soul-crushing normalization of savagery, Dana fights to keep her autonomy and return to the present.
Richard Chwedyk sold his first story in 1990, won a Nebula in 2002, and has been active in the field for the past thirty-two years.
BENDING, BLENDING, AND NEVERENDING
Station Eternity by Mur Lafferty Ace October 2022 ISBN: 978-0-593-09811-0
Mallory Viridian, P.I., has moved to a self-aware, alien space station because she happens to be too good at her job of solving murders. Her problem is the collateral damage that comes with her success: people close to her keep getting killed. She sees it as a jinx which she might only beat by living in an alien environment. But more humans arrive at the station, and more murders occur. What’s a private eye to do?
The Terraformers by Annalee Newitz Tor January 2023 ISBN: 978-1-250-22801-7
I’ve been fascinated with the notion of terraforming since I first encountered it as a very young SF reader. Newitz seems to share that fascination at a number of levels: the reasons for doing it, the practical approaches to accomplishing such a task, and the questions more recently bounced around concerning the ethical nature of terraforming: if we make a planet more “earthlike,” do we mess with the natural ecology of the planet we propose to transform? Or even the natural ecology of space itself? We might declare a proposed planet lifeless or barren, but is it? By what standards do we measure the suitability of a planet to be terraformed? There is a great quote from a made-up environmental rescue team handbook used as an epigram: “Rivers might turn out to be people. Don’t make any assumptions.”
And these questions are very much at the heart of the novel, explored mostly from the perspective of Newitz’s protagonist, Destry. Her family has overseen the terraforming of the planet Sask-E for generations, and the responsibility has now fallen upon her. At a crucial moment, it is discovered that a volcano contains more than the usual exogeological “stuff”: a whole city—a populated city, too.
The Daughter of Dr. Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia Del Rey July 2022 ISBN: 978-0-593-35533-6
I will not pretend that I “understand” this miraculous novel—not yet at least. But I may pay it what Vladimir Nabokov considered the highest compliment any reader can give any novel: I was—am—enchanted by it.
In no way is it a sequel or follow-up or updating, or even a retelling, of that darkest of H. G. Wells’s scientific fables, The Island of Dr. Moreau. The skeleton of the novel is there, moved to a different place and time. An eccentric scientist is conducting research on an estate in the secluded jungles, aided by an overseer named Montgomery Laughton. Moreau’s daughter, Carlota, also lives there. Moreau thinks the isolation is good for her nerves, though the evidence argues otherwise. Along with some servants and a couple of occasional visitors, the only other occupants of the estate are the “hybrids.”
Deathless Gods by P. C. Hodgell Baen October 2022 ISBN: 978-1-9821-9216-7
And in her latest novel, Deathless Gods, you can find yourself recognizing contemporary concerns and attitudes in the midst of a world that otherwise seems so far away from our own, yet does so without conceding to giving characters contemporary idioms or attitudes.
The plot, as usual, is too dense to be summarized here with any justice, but be assured that Hodgell’s storytelling skills will keep you from becoming lost.
Penric’s Labors by Lois McMaster Bujold Baen November 2022 ISBN: 978-1-9821-9224-2
This book, however, seems a good place to start for uninitiated fantasy readers (science fiction readers will need to look elsewhere). Besides, it’s not a novel, but three novellas, and they’re not tied together like the old “fixups” of days of yore. I love novellas, and these especially.
This is the third collection (if I’m counting correctly) devoted to the sorcerer Learned Penric and his temple demon Desdemona. Penric may be no Miles Vorkosigan (but then who is?) but he is an affable, compelling, and fully engaging character. He doesn’t hold a candle to Desdemona, though. The interplay between them would make enjoyable reading enough, but Bujold has engineered these three novellas with more than requisite thrills and wit. Each novella builds on the previous one to expand upon our understanding and appreciation of “Pen and Des” and their world. I can only imagine new readers becoming thoroughly captivated with her storytelling here.
Gunfight on Europa Station edited by David Boop Baen November 2022 (mass market; fp November 2021) ISBN: 978-1-9821-9227-3
David Boop has gathered some fine work here. Funny, exciting, suspenseful, meditative—a great variety of styles and content. All good stuff. I’m especially fond of Boop’s own contribution, “Last Stand at Europa Station A,” and the stories by Elizabeth Moon, Jane Lindskold, Alan Dean Foster, Martin L. Shoemaker, and Alex Shvartsman. Also of note, as a special favorite, is the collaboration by Cat Rambo and J. R. Martin, “Riders of the Endless Void.”
There’s something here for everyone.
Except my mom.
Sword and Planet edited by Christopher Ruocchio Baen September 2022 (mass market; first printing December 2021) ISBN: 978-1-9821-9214-3
I started teaching a science fiction litf class last fall. Better late than never. One of the things I’ve discovered is that a significant contingent of my students believe that the term “science fiction” is indistinguishable, nay synonymous, with “space opera.” It has been my goal all term to disabuse them of this erroneous simplification.
However, if they’re going to read space opera, or a brand of it that resembles heroic fantasy with warp drives, and a copy of the David Hartwell- Kathryn Cramer-edited The Space Opera Renaissance isn’t handy, they can do worse than to dig into this compact and absorbing collection of original stories.
Yes, they are mashups of science and magic, but more often than not the science comes out on top, and in a satisfying (and often witty) way.
The Dabare Snake Launcher by Joelle Presby Baen November 2022 ISBN: 978-1-9821-9225-9
Joelle Presby’s novel is about the construction and initial operation of the first space elevator, and it’s located in west Africa. “Dabarre,” we are told at the outset, is a Fulani term that means a piece of machinery fashioned from repurposed parts that either works perfectly—or not at all. So, some sense of the “stakes” is pretty clear as well. The voice and structure of the novel are fairly traditional, but it has a great cast of characters and is an exciting story, filled with all the wit and neat ideas we love to find in good science fiction. This novel left me feeling very optimistic. If not for the planet, then for the form of literature we love so much.
Our yule logs have been burned, the Winter Solstice is passed, and we find ourselves, as Dr. Who once said, “Halfway out of the darkness.” And while January is “The Gate of the New Year,” and a time for setting fresh resolutions, this, winter’s second month, is literally and figuratively us … coming of the dark.
Most of us have heard of, or are at least somewhat familiar with, the story of Santa Claus.
Popular in the US, Old Saint Nick is a jolly, red-suited fellow who’s belly shakes like a bowl full of jelly when he laughs, and on Christmas Eve night, flies around in a sleigh pulled by magic reindeer, eating cookies and delivering gifts to the children of the world. For the children on his naughty list, however, nothing in their stockings but fat lumps of coal.
For all the gift giving and magic flying, there are darker sides to this popular holiday figure.
In some parts of the world, dark creatures come out in the winter—some hungry, some mischievous—and some ‘not so merry’ myths that give new meaning to the word ‘sleigh’ …
Tis the Season here at Signals From the Edge, and since it’s the start of December (and several holiday celebrations), we figured what better to go with those twinkling lights than a few books full of wonder and speculation. So grab a gingerbread cookie or two, toss some marshmallows in your hot cocoa, wrap yourself up in your favorite blanket, and prepare to dive in …
Richard Chwedyk sold his first story in 1990, won a Nebula in 2002, and has been active in the field for the past thirty-two years.
In previous columns, I’ve said a lot already about my love for short fiction. I don’t need to repeat myself, but I will (as Joseph Epstein wrote, “A teacher is someone who can never say anything once.”), though in keeping with the subject, I’ll be brief.
Short fiction represents the heartbeat of these forms we love, science fiction and fantasy. It’s not tied down to narrative and stylistic structures publishers believe are compulsory for “saleable” prose. Any subject, any style can be explored with the single proviso that it be interesting.
Even the novels discussed here demonstrate the craft and vision received by working in short forms. Big things may not always come in small packages, but the odds are pretty good that size doesn’t always matter.
The Year’s Best Fantasy, Volume One edited by Paula Guran Pyr August 2022 ISBN: 978-1-64506-048-2
This volume represents something that we’ve needed for a long time. It was 2009 when the last David G. Hartwell/Kathryn Cramer-edited Year’sBestFantasy volume came out, and Pyr should be applauded not merely for putting out this volume, but for choosing Paula Guran as its editor. She has wide-ranging tastes and a keen eye for significant work in a field that has grown so large so swiftly. And she has done so in a perfectly manageable format. The book comes in at a comparatively slim 439 pages. Like the Hartwell/Cramer anthologies, it provides a comprehensible overview without overwhelming the reader.
The Best of James Van Pelt by James Van Pelt Fairwood Press August 2022 ISBN: 978-1-933846-21-7
If you’re a constant reader of magazines, as I am, print or online, James Van Pelt is one of those names you encounter with frequency, and in a good way, because no matter what else may be in that issue’s contents you are assured of at least one good story, well told. For that very reason we tend to take him for granted. And we shouldn’t.
Wergen: The Alien Love War by Mercurio D. Rivera NewCon Press November 2021 ISBN: 978-1-914953-01-9
As well as Rivera knows his Wergens, he knows his humans even better. That doesn’t sound like high praise, but it is. Many SF writers who work out alien cultures down to minutiae often have a blind spot for human complexity. Or perhaps they have transferred that complexity into their aliens. Rivera conveys our complex and often contradictory nature with honesty and integrity. This is what science fiction can do at its best, and what Rivera does on every page of this extraordinary volume.
Forkpoints by Sheila Finch Aqueduct Press June 2022 ISBN: 978-1-61976-218-3
Sheila Finch’s short fiction has always been literate and fascinating. She finds new ways of looking at old SF concepts where she doesn’t invent a few concepts of her own. One of the things I have most appreciated about her Xenolinguistics stories is she makes the struggle to communicate, and to comprehend what’s communicated, into captivating SF.
1812: The Rivers of War by Eric Flint Baen August 2022 ISBN: 978-1-9821-9197-9
This book arrived a few weeks before I heard of the sad passing of its author. I usually don’t review works by Eric Flint because—what’s there to say? He was fine author of consistent quality. Probably one of the two or three authors most responsible for the popularity of alternative history fiction. If you like that kind of work, you knew of him already. He never let his readers down.
A City in the North by Marta Randall Warner Books May 1976 ISBN: 978-044694062-3
Let us now praise Marta Randall. The 1970s by any estimation was a tumultuous era, and preconceptions at every level were being challenged. The setting and characters of A City in the North may not resemble any aspect of that era, but they echo it. The implicit questioning of established norms haunts every page. Nothing here is entirely as it seems.
The Jigsaw Assasin by Catherine Asaro July 2022 Baen ISBN: 978-1-9821-9196-2
I shouldn’t have to mention a new Catherina Asaro novel because Catherine Asaro fans know where to find her books and know how to get them. But I hadn’t read a Major Bhaajan novel in some time, and I’ve grown fond of her tough, no-nonsense P.I., and all the gritty nuances of Undercity, though the story here is set in Selei City. A series of murders, assassination attempts, plots and foreboding intrigues that could be red herrings or the key to the whole McGonigle—you’ve got it all here. Science fiction or hard-boiled noir decked out in space opera greasepaint? Hey, a physicist can’t help being a physicist, even when she’s writing highly suspenseful SF thrillers.
Hot Moon by Alan Smale Caezik July 2022 ISBN: 978-1-64710-050-6
I recognized Smale from his shorter fiction (and of that, his early fantasy stories), so I thought I’d dip into it to see what he was doing. The dip kept me reading through the night, to the last page. This is a highly inventive, brilliantly conceived alternative history where the Apollo program wasn’t shelved after 1972. The U.S. has space stations and bases on the Moon’s surface, and the Soviet Union is still around, making trouble as the story begins in 1979. Smale, whose “day job” is a NASA astronomer, has worked out all the details and hardware with mind-boggling plausibility. All his characters act, feel, and sound real. First-rate hard SF.
The Serpent by David Drake Baen July 2022 ISBN: 978-1-9821-9198-6
You might not think a melding of Arthurian legend and science fiction could be successfully executed, but this is David Drake, and he pulls it off splendidly (with a little help from OrlandoFurioso). He keeps things moving and does so with an economy of language that is in itself a kind of magic, bringing it all in at 246 pages. He’s done it before but, arguably, not as well.