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Each month, we look back over the media we loved in the previous month, from books to film to video games and more.


Cover of Hunger Makes The Wolf Cover of The Starlit Wood Cover of Travelers

Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells — This book has been getting a lot of buzz in my extended circles, and I'm pleased to say that it almost lived up to the hype. It's an appealing mix of a rollicking biker gang adventure, heart-wrenching family story, and fascinating world-building. I like the main character, Hob, a lot, but I was even more drawn to Mag, the younger-sister figure who, by the end of the book, seems poised to spearhead a revolution. The second book in the series is just recently out, and I'm pretty excited for what might come next.

The Starlit Wood by Comick Parisien and Navah Wolfe — Like all short story collections, this was a mixed bag, and I was less interested in the experimental/dark and heavy stories -- although that's more about my taste, not really commentary on their quality. I had already read and loved the Amal El-Mohtar story; other favorites were the stories by Charlie Jane Anders, Theodora Goss, Naomi Novik, Marjorie Liu, and Garth Nix.

Travelers created by Brad Wright — This Netflix original series, two seasons in, was recommended as a good watch for fans of Fringe. Although very different, I can see why it scratches the same itch for people: intelligent sci-fi with a strong found-family vibe and a strong arc plot. It tells the story of a team of time travelers coming back from our future to fix their past, taking over the bodies of people on the verge of death to use as cover identities. Although it has the structure of a procedural, it never has a "case of the week" feel; the various incidents build on each other, and have consequences from week to week. One thing I appreciate about made-for-Netflix television: there's no idea that someone might just be randomly tuning in to watch one episode, so we don't get filler eps or reams of backstory exposition. The most recognizable actor to most American audiences is Eric McCormick, Will of Will & Grace. He does a good job as the group's leader, but the rest of the main cast is even better. Be aware that there are a couple of romance storylines that, due to the way that Travelers occupy other people's bodies, raise major consent issues; fortunately, as with the similar issues in Fringe, they are treated as serious and, especially as of the end of the second season, are being dealt with.


Cover of Black Lightning Cover of Jade City Cover of Black Tides of Heaven

The Detectorists (Series 4) - This quiet, charming series, about the simple joy of having a nerdy hobby you love, comes to an end with this fourth series. I've loved seeing Mackenzie Crook's story about friendship, family, and metal detecting unfold; particularly because it's a show that presents a different vision of hetrosexual masculinity. Andy is a very gentle, educated man, unmotivated by money or a traditional career path, but still filled with passion for detecting and his family. Lance is a little bit of a fusspot, with a less than prestigious job, and an ex-wife who takes advantage, but isn't roundly castigated as he might be in other shows. The Detectorists pokes gentle fun at both main characters, and acknowledges that men worry they're falling short of a traditional masculine standard. However, largely the show is on their side, and their worries are short-lived; subsumed by their slow but happy lives, their friendship, and their shared hobby. I was very satisfied with the way various storylines ended, and would love for Mackenzie Crook to write another show soon.

I will just mention that This Detectorists is very male focused, although there are quite a few women in important supporting roles. I would love to see such a sensitive television treatment of female hobbyists one day. If you know of anything that might fit the bill please drop me a line in the comments.

Black Lightning (Episode One) - Ah, it's only Episode One, and I already love this show! I love that this show is filled to the brim with black actors and actresses. I love that the title character is a chromatic man, but the show starts off with a voiceover from a chromatic female character; signalling that this is a project where chromatic women get to have a voice. I am a huge believer that female voice over commentary in SFF media is a political device, so I just about melted when Jennifer Pierce's voice-over opened the show. I love how political this first episode is, and how passionate the Pierce family is (in many different ways) about civil rights. I loved the juxtaposition between the way Jefferson teaches the kids in his school, and how Lala teaches the kids in his gang. I loved the realness of the Pierce family (the jogging scene - heart explodes). And Jefferson/Lynn!! I ship it SO hard. I think we're a couple of episodes behind the US in the UK but please come talk to me about this show if you've been watching it.

Jade City by Fonda Lee - Jade City is the start of a strong new fantasy series set in a world full of magic, warfare, and politics. There's plenty of dramatic action, including duels, gun fights, and hostage situations. The clan system, world building, and the politics of the plot are all impressively intricate. And then there are the family relationships within the No Peak clan, which are all interesting and complex in their own way. These relationships intensely affect the personalities, and lives, of the individual characters; particularly when it comes to Shae, the Kauls prodigal daughter, who became one of my favourite characters as her story developed. It's fascinating to see how the idea, and the reality, of family affects each character, and to see a fantasy story built so firmly on the idea that family, and loyalty, is key. Highly recommended for fans of Peaky Blinders.

The Black Tides of Heaven by J. Y. Yang - J. Y. Yang's first Tensorate novella is so fantastic, and I'm incredibly annoyed I'll have to wait until my book buying ban is over to get to the second, linked story. The Black Tides of Heaven is a tale about deep family ties, revolution, gender identity, and magic. I strongly feel this is a story for people who loved Avatar: The Last Airbender because of the magic system, the political side to the story, and the family conflicts. However, I'm worried the ending might be a little too dark to allow a comparison of the two.

At the beginning of the novella, twins are born to the Protector of the Tensorate. The two children are bequeathed to the Abbot of the Grand Monastery as both the payment of a debt, and the avoidance of a debt. Mokoya and Akeha grow up well-aware that they are discarded children born in order to trick the Abbot. And as Mokoya starts to manifest visionary powers, becoming useful to their mother, Akeha feels even more unmoored and alone. This feeling only deepens as the twins grow up, and Mokoya becomes interested in a young man. As revolution approaches Akeha and Mokoya find themselves painfully separated, but also find the strength to start new, fulfilling lives apart.

One interesting aspects of the world J. Y. Yang has created is the way society approaches gender. The twins start their lives wearing 'genderfree' robes and, using the pronoun 'they' to describe themselves. Everyone in this world uses 'they' until they decide to announce or 'confirm' their gender. People can confirm their gender at any point in their life; some announcing it at a young age, and others waiting until much later.

J. Y. Yang makes sure to allow for multiple paths to confirmation. Mokoya, when questioned about being confirmed as a woman says, 'I didn't decide anything. I've always felt like one. A girl.' In contrast, Akeha finds it more difficult to confirm a gender. Growing up in a family largely composed of women, Akeha struggles to imagine confirmation as anything but the process of becoming a woman. As imagining themselves as a woman doesn't feel right, Akeha hopes to put off confirmation forever. Eventually, Akeha confirms himself as a man after slowly discovering that using male pronouns, and imagining dressing as a man, feels 'like cutting themselves open and finding another creature living inside.' Both Akeha and Mokoya visit confirmation doctors, who magically change the twin's biological features to match the gender they have each confirmed. However, Akeha's romantic partner Yongcheow confirms his gender but doesn't visit the doctors. There's also a hint at the slightly less utopian side of how confirmation can become a political tool, when Akeha and Mokoya's older, as yet unconfirmed, sibling Sonami makes a bargain, and becomes their sister. Yang has created a world with a multi-layered picture of how characters identify, and present, their own genders. They've then wrapped all of that up in a strong story about family and politics, which weaves together magic and technology. It has to be one of the most interesting SFF books of 2017.


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