Review: The Devourers

The Devourers , Indra Das’s debut novel, is an intoxicating and troublesome tale of an Indian history professor being enmeshed in a cycle of outcast “werewolves” interacting with humans throughout the centuries. It is not what I expected. But I don’t think I’m disappointed. I like The Devourers, but I’m not in love with it, either.

Das’s take on werewolves, or shapeshifters, or rakshasas, or the myriad other terms for them is interesting and unique. But it is also very familiar territory for the readers of urban fantasy.

The Devourers is a beautifully written novel. The language is flowing and enticing. The reader, like Alok (the history professor who acts as the frame narrator), is enmeshed into the story of Fenrir and Cyrah before they even know it.

The limited cast is amazingly well done and realized. Especially Alok and the mysterious “half werewolf.” The bitter loneliness, the act of romantic mystery that hides, perhaps an even deeper loneliness is excellent. Cyrah, the lone woman of consequence in the novel (which is a problem), is a masterful creation. Her story, her character is absolutely compelling.

But she is also too modern. For a woman of the Mughal Empire, she reads as if she is a modern Indian woman. The same problem, honestly, also flaws Fenrir and Gevaudan. The two read as modern or postmodern human men, not centuries old non humans.

The plot is engrossing and flows nicely. The Mughal Empire narrative is gorgeous and surprising. This is not paranormal romance. Rather, The Devourers is best described as literary dark fantasy. The Kolkata narrative is a romance in the way these type or narratives are (Alok is a closeted gay or bisexual man and rakshasa culture tends to bisexuality). It is beautiful and bittersweet. And transformative.

That is, I think, the key to The Devourers: Transformation. Alok is transformed by the Stranger. The Stranger is transformed by Alok. Fenrir is transformed by Cyrah. Cyrah is transformed by her experiences hunting Fenrir. A shapeshifter is defined by their transformative nature, the human form and the other form.

The Devourers is not a perfect novel. But it is a rich and evocative one. I found it enjoyable. But not without its flaws.

Review: Three Parts Dead

Tara Abernathy is a probationary associate at Kelethras, Albrecht, and Ao. Her first job? Aid her mentor, Elayne Kevarian, in resurrecting a dead god. Not an easy feat. Not when there are forces seeking to impede the process. Such is a blurb for Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone. This first book in The Craft Sequence is a very good, if slightly uneven, read.

The biggest selling point for Three Parts Dead is the world building. Think China Mieville unburdened by politics. The world is weird and fun. There are gods, there is lots of magic (here called Craft), there are gargoyles, fantasy cyborgs, etc. Alt Coulumb, the city where the action is mainly set, is an amazing creation that lures the reader into to an experience.

A setting can only do so much, though. Characters, too, must sell the work. The characters are well done.Tara Abernathy is a wonderful protagonist. Elayne Kevarian is even more compelling. Abelard, a supporting protagonist, is serviceable.

However, I came away feeling that the characters could have been more original. I felt that I had read these characters before. Several times.

The plot is really good. I especially love the villain’s scheme. It is a thing of beauty (if evil plots can be described as beautiful). The unraveling of the villain’s scheme, too, is a thing of beauty. The action, both magical and mundane, are very well done.

My biggest problem with Three Parts Dead, however, is how obvious the main antagonist is. The moment he first appears on the page, the reader knows he is the bad guy. You don’t know how, but you know. I wish it weren’t so obvious.

A secondary problem I have is that I am not fond of the epilogue at all.

All the negatives aside, though, I really enjoyed Three Parts Dead. I checked it out from the library, and I want to own it. And I want to check out the other books in the series.

Why I Never Got Into Harry Potter

Harry Potter is one of the most important book series of my generation. But, despite my many attempts to read it, I have never gotten into it. Why?

Time.

I read in phases. My children’s novel phase lasted from the age of seven to about fourteen. I read Charlotte’s Web, the first two Little House books, The Last of the Really Great WhangadoodlesTales of a Fourth Grade NothingSuper Fudge, and many so many more. By the time I turned fourteen my attention had inexorably shifted to more adult fare.

The problem is that the end of my children’s novel phase came in 1997. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone did not come out in the U.S. until 1998.

By the time I first heard about Harry Potter, it was 2000 and I was too cool to read it. Or I just didn’t care. Or something.

By the time I figured I should check it out, I was well into my bachelor of arts in English Literature. So attempting to read Harry Potter has been a rather painful experience ever since.

Let me be clear: Rowling’s writing style in Harry Potter is aimed at children. Yes, it can appeal to adults as well. But not all adults. I, personally, do not find the style typically found in children’s novels to be palatable or enjoyable. The sole exception has been The Phantom Tollbooth.

Now, if I were ten years younger, if I turned fourteen in 2007, I might be singing a very different tune. But I was born in 1983 not 1993. So, I’m not.

Star Trek: Discovery

Star Trek is finally returning to television! Okay, it is going to a streaming service after premiering on CBS. But at least there is a new Star Trek series! I am honestly both excited and pessimistic about the new series. And, of course, there is the looming issue of how I am going to watch it.

Not much is known about the new series. Although more is known now than it was a month ago.

We know the series is titled Star Trek: Discovery. We know that the ship will generally draw visual inspiration from the attempts to produce a second Star Trek series before the movies were settled upon.

We know that the protagonist is a woman. We know that she will be a junior officer rather than the usual captain. We know that there is a good chance that her actress will be a woman of color. We know that Star Trek: Discovery will continue the tradition of having diverse casts (including an out LGBT actor). We know there will be an out LGBT character.

We know that the series takes place five to ten years before Kirk’s five year mission in the Prime Timeline. We know it touches upon some part of Star Trek history. What that is, we don’t know.

We don’t know the cast, yet. We don’t know how the final visuals will turn out. We don’t know a lot of the details.

Everything else is rumor, speculation, and make believe.

I am excited about Star Trek continuing to be diverse in cast and character composition. Star Trek has always been diverse. And is stronger for that diversity, even if it fails to live up to its potential.

I am not excited about the setting. I’ve never been as big a fan of Star Trek as I am a fan of the later spin offs. I don’t want another prequel like Enterprise. I want to find out what happened to the Federation after the Dominion War. I want to find out if the Romulan Empire survived the destruction of Romulus. I want a new leap forward.

But I get that with Star Trek turning fifty there will be a nostalgic push to revisit the 2200s.

Will I watch it? I want to. But I am not in love with the idea of Star Trek: Discovery being exclusive after the premier on CBS All Access.

I get why CBS is going this route. They want to build their streaming brand.

But it is unfortunate for consumers who will now have to pay $5.99 a month to watch Star Trek: Discovery.

The added cost would be worth it if CBS All Access had anything else a consumer would be interested in. Writing for myself, CBS has nothing of interest except for Star Trek. So, do I want to spend the money for one series?

I need more solid information before I make that decision.

Sulu vs. Sulu

In Star Trek Beyond, Hikaru Sulu (portrayed by John Cho [formerly portrayed by George Takei]), will be revealed to be in a same sex relationship. Well past damn time there is a LGBTQ character in Star Trek! So I’m doing a happy dance (even though I am not fond of the reboot/ new timeline). And it is being reported that there will be LGBTQ representation in the new Star Trek television series. So excited for that! (even if I’ll have to get CBS All Access to watch it).

But there is controversy over Sulu’s gayness. Or bisexuality. Should a new character have been created instead? How does George Takei and his opinions factor into this?

(I’m not going to argue for what seems like the hundredth time defending diversity and inclusion. If you don’t get why it is so important by now, I’m not going to waste my valuable time on it.)

Sulu being depicted in a same sex relationship serves a number of functions. It rights a wrong in Star Trek that has been allowed to persist for far too long. It honors George Takei. It is narratively efficient. And the character already has a characterization (which promotes the narrative efficiency).

George Takei, however, has voiced his disappointment with the decision. Rather than recasting or queering a preexisting character, he has voiced support for creating a new character to be the vanguard of LGBTQ representation. His reasoning, if I have it right, is because he played Sulu as straight and Roddenberry wrote him as straight (even if they wanted to add some queerness at the time of the original series). I can see Takei’s point. Seeing your work discarded (even if it is an alternate version in some form) has to be frustrating. Especially when the discarding comes with the intent to honor.

Both sides, I think, have good points.

Queering Sulu is more efficient. Precious narrative time is not going to be wasted on introducing a new character. A new character who, let us all face it, will not have the impact or staying power of Sulu (as Iceman proved when he became the most prominent gay superhero after his coming out). There is also, as Simon Pegg points out, the perception of the new LGBTQ character as “The LGBTQ Character.”

A very compelling case for queering Sulu, I think. (Assuming he is even straight in the primary timeline. There has been some debate over whether or not there are explicit references to his sexuality in Star Trek and the subsequent movies he appears in.I really cannot comment on this with any authority, myself. I am a fan of Star Trek, but I am not as fond of the original series as I am the later series.)

Personally, I am reticent to promote the recast or queering of characters as an absolute good thing. Recasting/ queering must improve upon the original. It must, I believe, provide new avenues of narrative and characterization. Sometimes, editing existing characters is a sign of lazy writers, no matter how well the intent. A new character, well written and with a compelling narrative, can create a whole new fandom. (Pity no one takes the time).

Ultimately, I think Sulu in a same sex romance is the better option. Star Trek Beyond is only two hours. Not much time to introduce an original character with a compelling character and narrative that lifts him or her above the usual cast of forgettable original characters in Star Trek films.

 

LGBT Superheroes, Why We Need Them

I’ve been meaning to write a post dealing with the importance of having LGBT superheroes. But, as luck would have it, Brett White, assistant editor at Comic Book Resources, has  written an eloquent and powerful blog post titled “Marvel, DC and the Current State of LGBT Superheroes.” Read it.

It can be found at: http://www.comicbookresources.com/article/marvel-dc-current-state-of-lgbt-superheroes-in-your-face-jam

The Signal Goes Dark: RIP SFSignal

SFSignal has been an important part of my morning routine for years now. It was my go to site for everything science fiction and fantasy since I first encountered it many years ago. On Thursday, SFSignal published its last post. The signal has gone dark.

SFSignal will be deeply missed by the community. But I am confident that the spirit of the site will live on as John DeNardo and all those who made it possible go on to new horizons.

Spectre: The Review

Last night, I finally watched Spectre. This surprisingly complex film has quickly become one of my favorite Bond films.

I write surprisingly complex because one does not expect much complexity from a Bond film. Bond gets briefing, uncovers villain’s plans (of which some inkling may or may not be known prior to briefing), and foils it soon after being assigned the mission. Most bond films do not go far beyond that formula. Spectre is far more than that.

Of course, there is the standard plot formula, it wouldn’t be a Bond film without it. But there is more.There is the further exploration of Bond’s history (which only the Craig films have tackled). There is the M driven subplot in which he tries to preserve MI-6 with both Bond and Max Denbigh trying to shutter it. Moneypenny and Q are pulled by their loyalties to both M and Bond. Madeleine Swann confronts her past and her complicated relationship with her nefarious father. Said father has his own private war with you know who using Bond as his proxy. There is so much going on. I love it.

With such complexity, one would fear that director Sam Mendes would get bogged down and the film would become too busy. No. The film never struggles with juggling so many plots.

The acting is very good. From Craig’s always outstanding performance to Dave Bautista’s amazing physical presence, I think the entire cast did a marvelous job.

I love this movie. I want to buy it. Like now.

But the movie isn’t without flaws. Spoilers may be ahead. You are warned.

I, personally, am not fond of many of the nostalgic call backs. Ben Whishaw’s Q is markedly different from Desmond Llewellyn’s Q. Why put Q (BW) in the lab producing gadgets when his true talent lies in his computer skills? (In fact, I wonder why Q could not have taken on Denbigh’s role as the creator of the Nine Eyes program.) And do not get me started on Chrisoph Waltz cosplaying Donald Pleasance. That may be the most iconic rendering of Blofeld, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t stupid.

Those annoyances aside, I really loved this movie. Like I said, I want to go out and buy it now.

 

What I’ve Learned

What have I learned in the almost three months since my last post?

Writing is a year round endeavor, not a stressful thirty day slog in November with an army of writer’s blocks to contend with.

I am a planner. But my planning is by the seat of my pants.

I have a lot of ideas. These ideas could develop into any number of stories. Finding the right one is a pain.

Patience is a virtue for a writer. It sometimes takes a long while to get a needed insight into an idea or work in progress to make it actually work out.

A project that looks easy at first glance is often anything but in the actual writing.

I need to learn not to be so rigid when it comes to my projects.

 

Defeat

National Novel Writing Month is a bust. I didn’t even get off the ground.

I intended to write The Journey. But challenges rose up that forced me to rethink my plans for the project. And, in a further bit of pain in my rear, I’m questioning my overall plans for several of my projects. Theme of my life, it seems.

So, where do I go from here?
That is what I’m working on.

I still want to write The Journey, but I also want to limit any “actual” portal fantasy to just the multi world epic I’m planning. I really don’t know what to do, here. Yet.

The Magic Project has gotten bigger and bigger, assimilating more and more projects. I don’t know if I like this. Do I want to write a mammoth series or limit myself to smaller works (if you can call about 1,500 pages for a trilogy small)?

The truth is I really need to go back and figure out what I want to do. Maybe I’ll have better answers before the year ends.