Review: Bent Heavens – Horrific, Depressing, and Super Compelling

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Title: Bent Heavens
Author:
Daniel Kraus
Publisher:
Henry Holt and Co.

Genre(s): “YA” Horror, Contemporary
Subject(s): Alien abduction, torture

Release Date:
Feb 25th, 2020
Page Count: 304 (hardback)

Rating: 8.0/10

 

 

 

 

Liv Fleming’s father went missing more than two years ago, not long after he claimed to have been abducted by aliens. Liv has long accepted that he’s dead, though that doesn’t mean she has given up their traditions. Every Sunday, she and her lifelong friend Doug Monk trudge through the woods to check the traps Lee left behind, traps he set to catch the aliens he so desperately believed were after him.

But Liv is done with childhood fantasies. Done pretending she believes her father’s absurd theories. Done going through the motions for Doug’s sake. However, on the very day she chooses to destroy the traps, she discovers in one of them a creature so inhuman it can only be one thing. In that moment, she’s faced with a painful realization: her dad was telling the truth. And no one believed him.

Now, she and Doug have a choice to make. They can turn the alien over to the authorities…or they can take matters into their own hands.

CW: Depictions of physical torture, mutilation, (spoiler: human experimentation, body horror)

 

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Okay, listen.

This isn’t a nice book.

In fact, it’s a pretty damn depressing book.

It’s a book that roams the dark and shadowy place that Mufasa warns about. Nothing good can come of chasing it but death and singing hyenas.

Which is why I’m here, on my knees, asking you to chase read it.

Contradiction, thy name is Bent Heavens.

This is my third Daniel Kraus read (well, two and three-quarters–I still have to finish Zebulon Finch) and here’s what I’ve gathered about the guy so far: when you leaf through the pages of Dictionary: Daniel Kraus Edition, you’d find burnt holes under the entries “comfortable,” “pleasant,” and “simple.” Kraus doesn’t do soft. He doesn’t do pretty. Interpersonal horrors and intimate darkness–darkness made almost beautiful by its closeness–are spaces in which he thrives (which is why he works well with Guillermo del Toro, I suppose). He has a knack for taking discomfort and instinctual revulsion and turning them into compelling art.

Calling this book “art” might be an arguable point for some, but it is definitely compelling.

The first half is pretty slow, focused on the psychological ramifications of having a father who went missing and returned, telling everyone he’d been taken and experimented on by aliens, and then promptly disappeared again. It’s a stripped-down, realistic take of your typical abduction plotline; less of flashing lights and crop circles, and more of the abductee’s obsessions and fears and the toll they have on his family. It sets up the lonely and insulated environment for the main character quite well.

The second half is where things get truly heavy.

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: this story has alien torture. Not as graphic as I’d thought it would be, but still pretty graphic. One of the characters quotes and takes inspiration from George W. Bush’s policies on torture of al Qaeda prisoners, and they become the springboard for everything that follows. And there’s a lot that follows: an exploration of prisoner/prison guard psychology; the ease with which people dehumanize and justify their dehumanization. What happens when tragedy meets anger in an echo chamber, Kraus asks, and then proceeds to muddy waters by slipping weariness into the mix. And more so than the anger, the latter is what really stuck with me. Atrocities you commit because you’ve been ground down and you’re exhausted and it’s easier to let someone else’s rage fuel you than to scrounge up your own and realize you’re not that angry–at least, not enough to brutalize. No. Much easier to give someone else the reins and follow.

I think passivity is a difficult trait to portray, as you’re fighting against reader expectations of what a protagonist should be, with popular media teaching us to love active characters and scoff at the inactive ones, but the author does a brilliant job of it. There are scenes that ride the edge of suffocation and frustration, and I would’ve hated them if they weren’t written so honestly. At the same time, I hated them because they were written so honestly.

The prose is the biggest complaint I have. I wish Kraus had used the first-person POV; it’s where he works best, and it would fits the narrative better, making the introspective scenes more, well, introspective. But maybe that’s exactly why he didn’t use it. Because he wanted a buffer between the readers and everything that happens with the characters. A deep dive into Liv’s emotions might have been too raw. Regardless, the third person POV combined with Kraus’ style–surplus descriptions and use of adjectives–has the unfortunate side effect of making things comically overdramatic at the wrong moments. And while the dialogue is mostly fine, sometimes it gets a little cringey:

“You’re a barrel of monkeys today.”
“I didn’t ask for this ride.”
“Will you take ten chill pills?”

My second complaint isn’t really a complaint, just another rendition of Why the Hell Is This Marketed As YA. I’ve looked at Kraus’s books in the past and thought, “I’m not sure what age group this belongs to,” and that feeling is doubled here. It’s very mature, despite the high school characters, and the themes would feel more at home in an adult horror/thriller.

If nothing else, though, I recommend it for the ending because it’s probably the most bonkers thing I’ve read in a while. I’d call it entertaining if I didn’t feel bad about finding it entertaining. Horrifically delightful? Delightfully horrific? It’s like watching a train plummet straight into a ravine, and then seeing a land kraken erupt out of nowhere and bash the locomotive to pieces. And you can only laugh at the chaos inbetween whispers of “What the fuck.”

So yeah. Not a nice book.

It’s twisted and claustrophobic and heartbreaking and–

And I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

So, come on, Simba. Take a walk on the dark side.

 

(Review copy provided by the publisher for an honest review)

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News & Review: The Hanged Man (Tarot Sequence 2) – I Got Blurbed On a Book Cover

So um. A thing happened several months ago.

Well, okay, a bunch of things happened. And they’re all interconnected and relevant to THE thing I want to talk about, so let’s just go through them in chronological order. Imagine the countdown from Hamilton‘s “Ten Duel Commandments.”

 

☀️ Number one! ☀️

I got to read one of my top two most anticipated books of the year–AKA K.D. Edwards’ The Hanged Man (yes, The Hanged Man that I’ve been blathering about on Twitter and doing promo for)–and I wrote a review for it on Goodreads.

 

☀️ Number two! ☀️

My brain tried to coerce me. “Listen. I know have your hands full with a day job and volunteer work and art studies and a blog and, like, social obligations–whatever those are–but don’t you think doing a release promo for this book would be fun? And sexy?”

And friends, I’m a sucker. I fell for it.

 

☀️ Number three! ☀️

I was asked if I wanted to be featured on the book as a blurb, and once I gathered my jaw off the floor, I immediately said yes. Elation was closely followed by “Oh shit, I only spent 20 minutes writing that review.” But my thought was that it was going to be inside the book, within the first few pages, and squashed between a handful of blurbs from other bloggers. So no biggie if it’s not super polished, right?

 

☀️ Number four! ☀️

I got an email with the final proof of the cover.

…….Eh? Cover??

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Scott Reintgen! T. Frohock! And… *squints* this other person?

Ahem. Yes! Hi! Hello!

Imposter Syndrome, meet the pointy end of my sword. (Named “This is so beyond what I was expecting that my brain didn’t even have a chance to freak out”)

The Tarot Sequence series has been a source of incredible opportunities and friendships, and the fact that my first blurb opportunity was for this book says something loud and precious. And I’ll be holding onto it for a while.

Also, did you know publishers allowed swearing on their full-release covers?? Because I didn’t, and this was a VERY cool way of finding out.

 


 

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Author: K.D. Edwards
Genre(s): Urban Fantasy, LitRPG (lite)
Subject(s)/Theme(s): LGBTQ+ (everyone), Found Family
Publisher: Pyr
Release Date: December 17th, 2019
Page Count: 386 (paperback)

Rating: 10/10*

(*There’s a lot of bias with this rating. Like, a LOT. It’s a beautifully muddied water of personal relationships and life events…and I wouldn’t have it any other way.)

CW: talk and implications of sexual abuse, rape, and pedophilia

 

Hey, K.D? Sequel Syndrome just called. It wants you to send some pillows and blankets to the titanium coffin you just buried it in.

Clearly The Hanged Man is the product of a mortal man making deals with a high demon, because it has no business–none whatsoever–being this damn good. Disgusting, paradoxical levels of good.

I mean, we’ve seen New Atlantis before, we know these characters, so the honeymoon glow should have worn off at least a little, because that’s how sequels tend to go. The world shouldn’t feel just as heartpounding and unexpected as the first time I read The Last Sun–like the jolt of a first kiss experienced over and over again. There is ZERO logic to that.

And yet. And yet.

This book takes everything you loved about The Last Sun and takes it up a level. And another. And another. And then just when you think, “Well, that has to be the peak,” it smiles and takes you up into another building stacked on top of this one. Because the last 1/3 of the book? Fucking brace yourselves. It is an unending, head-spinning series of revelations and backs against the wall and consequent choices–choices that left me yelling and shaking with adrenaline–and Atlantean magic pushed beyond limits to mesmerizing results. It’s characters navigating their vulnerabilities and fears with one another, and I lost track of the number of times I cried.

Brand said, fiercely, in a breaking voice. “You’re my boy. You can do anything. Anything.”


Things get darker (more so than I’d expected). Stakes are much higher. The banter and the jokes are even better. And the worldbuilding is off the charts. We also get to see Rune and Brand interacting with small children, to hilarious and surprisingly good results, and that’s something I can’t get enough of.

Oh, and for those who felt that TLS was a bit of a white sausage fest (and I say that with affection)–rest assured! Several new major characters make their appearance in this book, many of them female and/or POC, and they’re all written with exquisite care.

This beautiful messy family just got a lot bigger and I cannot wait for everyone to experience it.

 

☀️ My Review of The Last Sun (Tarot Sequence 1)


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Crawling Out of Cave Hiatus: What I’ve Been Up to, 2020 Blog Goals (Changes are Afoot…)

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Hello friends!!!

I am crawling out of my hibernation cave like a big grumpy bear in need of more sleep and less stress to say, I’M BACK.

*Poses*

*Scattered applause*

Launching and organizing a book promotion took up much of my time for the past two months (I’ll have to write up my experiences with it sometime in the future), and my energy meter was scraping bottom by the time December was over. Combined with some family drama and mental health issues, and well, 2020 wasn’t exactly off to a roaring start.

But I’ve missed everyone in the community and missed writing posts, and I have some plans slowly cooking up that I’m excited to unveil in the (hopefully!) near future.

So here I am! And with a few 2020 blog goals I’ve set for myself:

 

Healthier Relationship with ARCs and Reviews

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You might recall me moaning about being in a reading slump back in October. Well, the Wendigo quest did NOT go well and my slump continued into early January (ending about a week ago, praise the bookish gods). Zero books were read, ARC or otherwise, and…and it was actually somewhat liberating in a way. At least, it gave me some time to think about what I want as a reviewer/blogger and to remind myself that keeping up with the latest books is not the be-all and end-all. Perspective was kind of, sort of gained.

Here’s the thing. I think ARCs are great. It’s great that publishers are willing to work with reviewers to help promote their authors and form a nice little symbiotic relationship (though sometimes this veers close to less-than-mutual territory–but that’s a topic for another day). And there’s always a feeling of gratification that comes with each accepted request. Like a “You’re #1!” sticker slapped onto my forehead telling me, hey, maybe I’m doing something right with all this.

You know what’s not super great? The stress.

The stress of being behind on ARCs. The stress of not enjoying the ARCs I’m reading and oh god does DNFing 4 books in a row make me a terrible reviewer??  I felt guilty about being behind, but didn’t have the energy pick up a different book, and the whole thing started to spiral into a bad cycle. Hence the slump.

And that’s the last thing I want from my blog. I don’t want this to be a space that feeds my brain demons–they’re fat enough already. I want it to be an escape. A place I can feel excited about returning to at the end of the day.

So yes. Healthier relationship with ARCs. The HOW is something I’m still trying to figure out (right now it involves selective requests and reading without taking copious notes), and I’ll definitely have more to say on the subject soon.

 

 

Changes to the Blog and Review Format

*Rubbing hands* There are some changes I’m hoping to roll out in the next few months:

 

1. An overhaul of the blog’s theme

Not the wordpress theme, but rather the foundation(?) of the blog. I guess it’s more accurate to say that I’m going to build the blog’s theme, because right now it doesn’t really have one. At least, not anything cohesive that ties all my posts together.

But there’s an idea that popped into my head a few weeks ago that I just. can’t. stop. thinking about, and I think it’ll be very cool if I can make it work. It’s a little weird and requires some preparation, but I like the challenge and, moreover, I think I can have a lot of fun with it. And that’s the ultimate goal here.

Vague explanations are vague. Stay tuned!

 

2. Mixes of “traditional” long form (word) reviews, and short creative reviews

I love writing reviews. Like…70% of the time. The other 30% is an uncomfortable zone of “What are words?????” and “The only thing I can say about this book is that I have nothing to say about this book.”

I want to stop beating myself by trying to write something I don’t want to write. So I’m gonna experiment with different, less wordy formats. Which means bullet points! Subsections! And art! Because sometimes I can’t dig up 300 words about a book to save my life, but I can think of a dozen ideas for fanart. Which is weird, but hey.

 


 

If there are any posts you wrote in the last two months that you’re super proud of and want to share, please LINK THEM in the comments and I shall do my best to check them out. And I’m not just saying that to be nice. My inbox is in shambles and my reader feed isn’t much better, so please. Help a girl out. 😛

Wishing everyone a belated happy holidays and a happy 2020! Looking forward to another year of geeking out over fictional worlds with you all~

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Traits I Like in Characters (Sorted by Character Class/Type)

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by  The Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s topic is “Traits I Like in Characters,” but I decided to get a little more specific, because honestly, there are a LOT of traits that I like in characters.

And a couple of years ago I realized that there are specific trait + character class combinations that I like more than others. And traits that I usually find annoying in one class I love in another. For example–thieves (rogues) and sarcasm? Been there done that. But sarcasm in, say…a medic type of character? Much more interesting.

So these are some of my favourite traits for specific character classes/types.

 


🔪 Rogues 🔪

 

Pirate Captains (or any leader figures, really):

1. Courteousness

I have a **thing** with people–er, characters–who have power and status and aren’t good, per se, but are sticklers about manners and respecting personal boundaries.

Just because you rob innocents out in the sea and commit a murder or two or a dozen every now and then, doesn’t mean you have to be rude about it.

 

2. Casual, Confident Confidence

This is actually a trait I’m meh about in assassins and thieves. But give me a feathered hat, a parrot, and a show of authority and POOF, magic happens, I guess.

These characters are capable and dangerous–cross them and they’ll run you through with a knife without a hitch in their moral compass–and everyone knows it, including themselves. But the confidence isn’t a forced act they have to put on. It’s like a second skin for them, and they know exactly when to dial it down and when to blast it in full-force. That awareness and control is a sexy, sexy thing.

 

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Favourite Example(s):

– Isabela (aka my video game wife) from Dragon Age 2

 

Assassins:

1. Kindness and Empathy

Because I’m a contrarian. And I fall hard for kindness in any type of character.

But genuine kindness in someone whose job is anything but kind–someone who deals out cold, calculated death on a regular basis–is something that’s especially attractive and fascinating to me. The fact that they’re able to retain their humanity when there’s so much blood on their hands is nothing short of incredible.

 

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Favourite Example(s):

FitzChivalry (Realm of the Elderings series by Robin Hobb)
Girton (The Blood of Assassins series by R.J. Barker)

 

2. Spiritual

Nothing hotter than an assassin who debates religious philosophy with you and says a nice prayer for your passing after they stick a knife between your ribs, eh?

(I’m 100% serious here)

 

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Favourite Example(s):

Thane Krios (Mass Effect 2 & 3)

 


🔮 Magic Users 🔮

 

Witches and Wizards:

1. Sarcastic

This is how I always want my sarcasm. Served with a big bowl of fireballs.

See, being a spellcaster is hard life, folks. You’re the easiest target in battle. You’re more often than not shoved into the role of a sidekick (when you’re not being burned at the stake, that is). And who gets most of the credit and glory at the end of the day? Yeah. The guy with the pointy stick.

So a wizardy or witchy type of character with a sarcastic, I’ve-had-enough-of-this-shit attitude is…cathartic? Satisfying? Something along those lines.

 

2. Brassy with Low Tolerance for Idiots

See above? I especially love female witches/wizards who are like this, because we can never have enough loud, outspoken women in fiction.

 

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Favourite example(s):

– Joan Clayton (Penny Dreadful)

 

Seers/Prophets:

3. Childlike Wonder

I look at seerhood in most stories as more of a curse than a gift. And as with assassins, I think it’d be incredibly difficult to retain your humanity (or sanity) in this particular line of work. So, to me, a seer who possesses a kind of bright-eyed innocence, even with the weight of millions and millions of lives bearing down on them, is someone to be treasured.

 

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Favourite example(s):

Quinn (The Tarot Sequence series by K.D. Edwards)

 


⚔️ Warrior/Fighter ⚔️

1. Shy/Introverted

This isn’t a character I come across all too often, and I’d love to see that remedied. Because people who enjoy charging into the thick of a fight, blades and guns drawn, don’t necessarily have to be extroverts. They may be anxious about socializing and quiet in a crowded room, which is perfectly fine and should be more normalized, in my opinion.

 


🤷 Normal People 🤷

 

Public Servants:

1. Unwavering Moral Conviction

Listen, I love vigilantes and anti-heroes as much as the next person. Characters who “break bad” because they believe society is rigged, and flirting with the dark side is the only way to achieve justice in the long run. They make for fantastic stories.

But I love the flip side of it even more: public servants who stay within the limits of the law because they believe, with every ounce of their being, that you can’t right wrongs with more wrongs. These characters never waver in their convictions, even when those around them–people they love and trust–are choosing to discard the law and societal order for personal gain. Or if they do waver, if they end up going through moments of crisis, they come out on the other side even stronger.

I may not always agree with them, but I find these characters admirable regardless.

 

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Psycho-Pass

Favourite Example(s):

Akane Tsunemori (Psycho-Pass)
Mulagesh (The City of Blades by Robert Bennett Jackson)

 

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Sooooo, if there are any cocky pirate captains and good-hearted assassins reading this…*cough* My DMs are open

Blog Tour + Giveaway: The Babysitters Coven by Kate Williams

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I’m thrilled to present a spotlight and a giveaway (US only) for Kate Williams’ upcoming The Babysitters Coven! I’ll be posting a mini review for it after the tour ends.

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Title:
The Babysitters Coven
Author: Kate Williams
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Release Date: September 17th, 2019
Genre(s): YA Paranormal
Subjects and Themes: Witches, Female Friendships
Page Count: 368 (hardback)

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Adventures in Babysitting meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer in this funny, action-packed novel about a coven of witchy babysitters who realize their calling to protect the innocent and save the world from an onslaught of evil. 

Seventeen-year-old Esme Pearl has a babysitters club. She knows it’s kinda lame, but what else is she supposed to do? Get a job? Gross. Besides, Esme likes babysitting, and she’s good at it.

And lately Esme needs all the cash she can get, because it seems like destruction follows her wherever she goes. Let’s just say she owes some people a new tree.

Enter Cassandra Heaven. She’s Instagram-model hot, dresses like she found her clothes in a dumpster, and has a rebellious streak as gnarly as the cafeteria food. So why is Cassandra willing to do anything, even take on a potty-training two-year-old, to join Esme’s babysitters club?

The answer lies in a mysterious note Cassandra’s mother left her: “Find the babysitters. Love, Mom.”

Turns out, Esme and Cassandra have more in common than they think, and they’re about to discover what being a babysitter really means: a heroic lineage of superpowers, magic rituals, and saving the innocent from seriously terrifying evil. And all before the parents get home.

 

 

About the Author

kate williams
I’m a YA write or die, originally from Kansas but now living in California. I’ve written for Cosmopolitan, NYLON and Seventeen, amongst other magazines, and worked with brands including Urban Outfitters, Vans and Calvin Klein.
The Babysitters Coven is my first novel, but fingers crossed it won’t be my last.

WebsiteGoodreads | Instagram

 

 

Giveaway (US ONLY)

You have a chance to win 1 finished copy of the book! ENTER HERE

 

 

Tour Schedule 

September 11th

The Unofficial Addiction Book Fan Club – Welcome Post

 

September 12th

Moonlight Rendezvous – Review + Favourite Quotes

Bookmark Lit – Review + Cover Colours

TBR and Beyond – Review + Playlist + Dream Cast

The Reading Chemist  – Review

Musings From An Addicted Reader – Review

 

September 13th

Here’s to happy Endings – Review

Hauntedbybooks – Review + Favourite Quotes

Flipping Through the Pages – Review

Phannie the ginger bookworm  – Review + Favourite Quotes

The Bibliophagist – Review

 

September 14th

Confessions of a YA Reader – Review + Favourite Quotes

Ambivert words – Review + Favourite Quotes

The Art of Living – Review

Pages Below the Vaulted Sky – Review

The Book Dutchesses – Review + Favourite Quotes

 

September 15th

The Book Nut – Review + Playlist

Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile – Review

The Layaway Dragon – Review + Favourite Quotes

Kait Plus Books – Review + Favourite Quotes

A Dream Within A Dream – Review

 

September 16th

Bookish Geek – Review

Artsy Draft – Review + Favourite Quotes

We Live and Breathe Books – Review

Bookish In Bed – Review + Favourite Quotes

The Desert Bibliophile – Review

 

September 17th

Wishful Endings – Review

Novel Nerd Faction – Review

Lili Lost in a Book – Review

The Mind of a Book Dragon – Review + Playlist

Lost in Storyland – Review

Diversity Spotlight Thursday: SFF Music Mania

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Hmm? What’s that noise, you ask?

Well, that’s the sound of a dead meme rising from the ashes. Diversity Spotlight Thursday is back, baby.

So this is a weekly meme that was created by Aimal from Bookshelves & Paperbacks (though she’s not hosting it anymore), and the idea is that each week you come up with three books for three different categories: a diverse book you’ve read and want to recommend; a diverse book that’s already been released and is in your TBR; and a diverse book that hasn’t been released yet. And the topics–if you want to have them–are yours to choose.

This time, though, I’m gonna change the rules a bit and expand the categories to include all fictional media, not just books. And my chosen theme for this week is SFF stories that revolve around music.

Also, I feel like I’ve been kind of absent in terms of posting and replying and blog hopping, so I’m hoping to catch up and kick myself back into gear in the next couple of weeks.

 


What I Recommend

 

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Dane, a spun-out musician spending the winter in Cleveland, Ohio, has two main goals: keeping his job at the Pepper Heights Zoo and trying not to waste all his time on Grindr. What he doesn’t expect is to get swept into a story about dreams, about forevers, about flickering lights, about unexplained deaths, about relentless change, and about the parts of ourselves that we wish other people knew to look for. Oh, and also a murderous zebra.

Reps: gay mc, queer side characters

Dreamboy is a fairly new fiction podcast (just started late last year as part of the Nightvale Presents group) and it is an atmospheric, psychedelic, sensual wonder of an experience unlike anything else I’ve listened to. And Dane Terry, the co-creator of the show, is a goddamn Renaissance man. He composes the score, writes the scripts, voices the main character, and he does it all with such skill that would almost make you angry if it weren’t for the fact that he’s also funny and charming and just an all-around genuine person.

The story itself is super weird (and, in that sense, definitely deserves the Nightvale badge) but it’s also one with a lot of heart and poetry. And the music, guys. The music is fucking everything–just as much of a character in the story as the actual characters.

It’s also very NSFW, so I don’t recommend blasting it on speakers at full volume during your next family gathering.

 


 

Released But Have Yet to Try

 

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In the Before, when the government didn’t prohibit large public gatherings, Luce Cannon was on top of the world. One of her songs had just taken off and she was on her way to becoming a star. Now, in the After, terror attacks and deadly viruses have led the government to ban concerts, and Luce’s connection to the world–her music, her purpose–is closed off forever. She does what she has to do: she performs in illegal concerts to a small but passionate community, always evading the law.

Rosemary Laws barely remembers the Before times. She spends her days in Hoodspace, helping customers order all of their goods online for drone delivery–no physical contact with humans needed. By lucky chance, she finds a new job and a new calling: discover amazing musicians and bring their concerts to everyone via virtual reality. The only catch is that she’ll have to do something she’s never done before and go out in public. Find the illegal concerts and bring musicians into the limelight they deserve. But when she sees how the world could actually be, that won’t be enough.

Release date: September 10th, 2019
Reps: a full queer cast

I’ve been slowly reading through Sarah Pinsker’s short story collection Sooner or Later Everything Falls into the See, and I’ve been loving it, so I’m hoping her first novel will be just as good, if not more. I was planning on getting to it last month but life had different ideas, so fingers crossed for September!

 


 

Not Yet Released

 

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After a surprising upheaval, the nation of Tamryllin has a new ruler: Elissan Diar, who proclaims himself the first Poet King. Not all in court is happy with this regime change, as Rianna secretly schemes against him while she investigates a mysterious weapon he hides in the bowels of the palace.

Meanwhile, a civil war rages in a distant land, and former Court Poet Lin Amaristoth gathers allies old and new to return to Tamryllin in time to stop the coronation. For the Poet King’s ascension is connected with a darker, more sinister prophecy which threatens to unleash a battle out of legend unless Lin and her friends can stop it.

Release Date: March 24th, 2020
Reps: queer side characters

I have the motherlode of TBRs this month and I’m deliriously excited for so many on the list, but The Poet King in particular is special (“excited” doesn’t even begin to cover it). It’s one of my most anticipated releases of 2020, and it’s the conclusion to a fantasy trilogy that has skyrocketed to being one of my all-time favourites, and Ilana to an autobuy author. These books are steeped in music and artistry and the power of them, and they mean so much to me. Pre-reading offerings are probably in order.

 

 

What in the Worldbuilding: Sports in Sci-Fi and Fantasy (Where are they?)

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I’m so, so excited to unveil What in the Worldbuilding, a new blog post series where I’m going to be discussing all things worldbuilding in stories. Because I love stories and I love worldbuilding and I love rambling about them even more.

For the first couple of posts, I’ll be talking about some elements of worldbuilding that, in my opinion, don’t get enough screen/pagetime in SFF media (and see where my brain takes things from there).

And we’re starting with sports. Because this is something that’s always been a mystery to me: how is that these elaborate SFF worlds come with their own ecology and political landscape and four fictional languages with five dialects each, but so rarely feature their own sporting events?

 

Okay, First of all: Sports? Who Cares?

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*Slowly raises hand*

A quick “you didn’t ask for my life story but here it is anyway.” My parents are massive tennis fans and they introduced me into the sport very early, with my dad coaching in the early stages. Same thing with swimming (well, minus the coaching. My dad didn’t fare well in water and I actually ended up teaching him once I got my lifeguard license, which was a nice little pay-it-forward moment). There’s a meditative, cerebral quality to both that’s belied by their physical intensity and that lends to a deep attraction for me.

So I grew up tangled in this hopeless relationship with the two–fueled in part by the fact that I was good at them, but mostly by the fact that I just loved the hell out of them–and they’re as much a part of my identity as books. And crazy enough, I like seeing my real-life passions and experiences represented in media.

But passion isn’t required for one to understand the worldwide significance of sports. And to talk about what sports can bring to a SFF world, I think we need to look at their significance in our world.

 

Sports and Cultural History

Sports can tell us a lot about a culture and its history. Asian martial arts, for example, are rooted in eastern religion and philosophy. I won’t be talking about dancing in this WITW post (that’s for a later one), but it is widely considered to be a sport, and many of the modern forms we see today have their foundations in historical, traditional dances.

Everyone and their grandmother knows Canada bleeds hockey. But curling is just as strong of a national symbol here. Brought into the country by Scottish immigrants, it spread westward as the Canadian Pacific Railway extended its reach and more and more small towns began appearing on the map. So, for us, curling represents long winter months and fledgling communities coming together in solidarity and friendly competition.

The nuances are endless and the inclusion of them in a SFF world can make it so much richer.

 

Sports and Nationalism

Sports is one of the major drivers of national identity and what often unites entire countries together. The Olympics, for example, have become homegrounds for national pride and displays of physical prowess that somehow translates to the overall excellence of a nation. And if we look at the measures that some countries would take, and have taken, in order to stamp and seal their supremacy in these events, it becomes impossible to think of sports as mere forms of entertainment. Authoritarian regimes make use of sports to propagate their ideology in a more palatable way. And even with a democratic country like South Korea there’s an intense nationalistic fervor when it comes to sports, which I often found ugly (because it’s led to mass harassment of athletes) and at odds with the general image of the country .

So many politically-driven stories out there where juggernaut nations vie for power, and so few of them utilize sports as a form of diplomacy and a show of nationalistic strength. That seems strange to me. Whether we like it or not, sports will always be intertwined with politics–its reflection and extension–and I desperately want to see writers use that more.

 


Putting the political implications aside, here’s an undeniable truth:

 

Made-up Sports are Cool

And they become especially cool when they involve magic and future technologies and pieces of a fictional culture. I love brainstorming all the different sports that could exist in a world with a specific magic system (how, for example, Allomancy from Mistborn might translate to a competitive setting), and how they would evolve as the magic evolves.

Also, I’m attracted to the idea that punchy, flashy, dangerous forms of power can be used for more than mass weapons of war. That they can be transformed into something equally physical, but in a more positive and fun setting.

So let’s take a look at some examples of SFF sports in media. Starting with the most famous of them all…

 

Quidditch

My thoughts on J.K. Rowling most days is an intersection of “Oh god, what now” and “Please just stop,” but there’s no denying Harry Potter has become an indelible foundation for modern pop culture and a well of inspiration for many, many writers. Since its inception, magical schools have become a staple of fantasy.

So what surprises me is that the series hasn’t also ushered in a wave of magical sports in fantasy. I mean, Quidditch is such an important part of the HP world. As a bastardization of soccer–sorry, “football”–and other real world sports, it offers familiarity alongside high octane speed and the thrill of microviolence, with an unexpected sweetness to the idea of players protecting teammates from homicidal balls (aka bludgers). It’s brilliantly constructed.

And fans love it so much they turned it into an actual international sport.

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Credit: Scott Audette/Reuters

(Fun fact: I joined my university’s Quidditch club during undergrad and played for a couple of sessions before deciding that running around and inadvertently crashing into people with a stick between my legs was bound to send me to the hospital at some point.)

So why don’t we see more Quidditches in fictional worlds? If there’s room for intricate magic systems and made-up history that goes back thousands of years, surely there’s room for more inventive forms of sports that go beyond gladiatorial combat and racing.

Speaking of which….

 

Racing — Lots and Lots of Racing

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Left to right: Death Rally (Tales from the Borderlands); Chocobo racing (Final Fantasy); Podracing (Star Wars)

Racing is probably the most common one you’ll find in these stories. And with a simple format that allows for such a wide breadth of customization, it’s not hard to see why. Swap a horse with a giant yellow bird, or a car with a small flying vehicle, and you have yourself a made-up sport that’s unique enough to engage and entertain but doesn’t require a lot of meticulous ground-up writing.

Alex White’s A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe is a somewhat recent sci-fi book that features racing. Via race cars, specifically, which might seem pretty mundane if you don’t count the fact that they require magic to operate.

 

The Gentleman Bastards

I’m going to be talking more about The Gentleman Bastards in future WITW posts because Lynch does a lot of small yet effective things with his worldbuilding that add an incredible amount of depth to the series.

And The Lies of Lock Lamora is the one example I can think of that features sports with regional and class distinction.

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Let’s take the Teeth Show, a gladiatorial sport unique to Camorr in which female fighters, and only female fighters, go head-to-head with leaping sharks. It’s a grisly, gaudy show of acrobatics and power, and while it’s enjoyed by the poor and rich and everyone in between, there’s a distinct middle to upper class flavour to it–aristocrats and merchants watching from their boats, sipping wine and conducting business while the fight plays out in the background. The luxury of partaking in violence without actually partaking in violence.

Then there’s Handball, which is a team sport played by the lower classes of southern Therin. There’s nothing showy or magical about handball (it’s pretty similar to our world’s version), and we never actually see any of the characters playing it, but what I love about it is that it comes with its own little history of origin and an allegory that may or may not be true but still serves as a valuable lesson for the audience (i.e. when it comes to revenge, either have a long memory or don’t procrastinate). That’s what makes it unique to this world.

The teeth show and handball serve three purposes: they add layers to the worldbuilding, they entertain the readers, and, perhaps most importantly, they tie in with the story that is being told, making it richer and more dynamic.

 


So why do sports get overlooked?

Let’s put on our speculation hats, shall we?

Possibility 1: SFF writers aren’t sports fans.

I’ll scribble in a big fat “REJECTED” for this one. The idea that geeks and sports don’t mesh is an outdated one, and I know for a fact that there are writers who are also sports fans. That being said, I’ve yet to meet another SFF nerd who also plays and watches tennis. But statistically speaking they have to be out there somewhere (and I will find you).

 

Possibility 2: SFF writers enjoy sports, but not enough to be comfortable and interested in writing about them.

…Maybe? At least, I’m sure it applies to some writers.

 

Possibility 3: Sports isn’t something people consciously associate with SFF stories

When we see “sci-fi and fantasy,” we immediately think space battles and gods and dragons and political intrigue and quests to save the world. Maybe sports just don’t cross people’s minds. And maybe people feel, especially with linear stories, there just isn’t room to showcase an activity that’s meant to be for recreation and competition. Not when there are life-or-death events brewing around every corner.

 

Possibility 4: Lack of a solid foundation for sports in SFF stories

I don’t know, maybe if Tolkien and Lewis and all those other classic SFF authors had included made-up sports in their stories, we’d see more of them today.

 

Possibility 5: A combination of multiple factors (including the ones above)

Probably a lazy answer but also probably the best of the bunch.

The thing is, I’m really not sure what deters writers from including sports in their worlds. It’s not like I can snap my fingers and pin the problem on societal hangups or prejudices. Sports is…sports. Innocuous (for the most part), exciting, and popular in the real world but not so much in fictional ones, evidently.

And I don’t know about you, but I would really like to see that changed.

 

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What are your thoughts on all this? Also, sneak me your sport-centric SFF recommendations!