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Reviews of Recent Science Fiction and Fantasy at The Guardian

I was invited to cover for the Guardian 's regular SFF columnist, Lisa Tuttle, this month, and my reviews are up today. I was a bit nervous about the experience—five books is a big commitment of time and energy, and readers of this blog know that I'm not accustomed to summing up my thoughts on anything in 200 words or less. But I ended up having a lot of fun, mainly because the books discussed were a varied bunch, several of which weren't even on my radar before the column's editor, Justine Jordan, suggested them. The column discusses The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean, a twist on the vampire story that has more than a little of The Handmaid's Tale in its DNA. The Pallbearers Club by Paul Tremblay, a horror author whom I've been hearing good things about for years, so it was great to have an opportunity to sample his stuff. Extinction by Bradley Somer, part of the rising tide of climate fiction we've been seeing in recent years, but with a very interesting

Recent Reading: True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee by Abraham Riesman

I wouldn't normally have picked up this biography. For one thing, I read hardly any nonfiction, and for another, I don't actually have that much interest in Stan Lee. For as much as I've written and thought about the MCU, my interest in most of its characters and stories started with the movies. And for all that I found Lee's cameos in those movies, and his red carpet appearances, charming, I also couldn't help but feel suspicious towards the displays of reverence towards him. Did this guy actually make an important contribution to 20th century culture, I wondered, or was he just the last man standing when something he was connected to started making a ton of money? The fact that True Believer is Hugo-nominated, and that Riesman and I are twitter friends, is what spurred me to pick up the book. Which was fortunate, because this biography not only goes a long way towards answering my question, the portrait it paints of Lee is absolutely fascinating. He comes off as

Four Comments on Netflix's Persuasion

Last week I wrote about the dubious pleasure of reading or watching something so hilariously terrible, you have to tell everyone about it. Most bad things aren't like that, though. Usually, when a book or movie or TV show are bad, they're bad in a boring, depressing way that makes you sad for all the energy expended on them. Such is the case with Netflix's film adaptation of Jane Austen's Persuasion , directed by Carrie Cracknell and with a screenplay by Ron Bass and Alice Victoria Winslow. When the trailer for the film dropped last month, full of pratfalls and fourth-wall-breaking asides to the camera, Austen fans reared back in dismay. Why take Austen's saddest, most mature novel and reimagine it as a Fleabag -esque comedy in which the heroine muses, of the man who got away, "we're worse than exes; we're friends"? The film itself, however, is hardly worthy of all that outrage. It's bad, but doesn't even have the decency to be interestin

Recent Reading: A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine

I enjoyed the first volume in Martine's space opera series, A Memory Called Empire , though I fell short of its general acclaim (it went on to win the Hugo, and was nominated for the Nebula and the Clarke). To me it paled beside the other lauded space operas of the last decade, lacking their clarity of purpose and inventive worldbuilding choices. The sequel works better, for various structural and thematic reasons. But it still leaves me wondering what this series adds to the field that justifies the accolades it has received. Memory introduced us to Mahit Dzmare, newly-appointed ambassador from the small, independent space station Lsel to the neighboring Tleixcalaan empire. Like most people on Lsel, Mahit carries the personality imprint of her predecessor in the position, Yskandr Aghavn, whose memories and experience are meant to merge into her own personality. But when she arrives at the imperial court, Mahit discovers that the imprint has been sabotaged, and that the older Yska

Review: The Time Traveler's Wife, Season 1 at Strange Horizons

One thing that has happened as I've gotten older and more experienced as a critic is that I tend to write fewer outright pans. Life is too short to spend consuming things that you hate, much less expending the mental energy to explain and illustrate why they should be hated. But every now and then, a work comes along that hits just the right sweet spot, so terrible that there are only bad things to say about it, but in a way that makes it impossible to look away, and which compels you to share your dismay with everyone else. HBO Max's The Time Traveler's Wife , based on the bestselling novel by Audrey Niffenegger and adapted by TV wunderkind Steven Moffat, is such a work. Over at Strange Horizons , I try to summarize the many ways in which this show fails. More importantly, I try to figure out whether the root of the show's badness lies in the original novel—whose problems have been amply elaborated upon over the last twenty years—or in the no less problematic showrunn

Recent Reading: Civilizations by Laurent Binet

The author of HHhH returns with another book that blurs the lines between fiction and nonfiction. Technically, Civilizations —which imagines a world where the social and economic collapse that had devastated the Inca empire around the time of Columbus's arrival in the Americas doesn't occur, and instead it's the Inca who colonize Europe—is an alternate history, maybe even science fiction. But the narrative's tone is removed, relating its events like a historical lecture—albeit one with a wry, slightly mocking tone—interspersed with journal excerpts, letters, official documents, and even bits of poetry. There are no real characters, just historical figures, more important for their influence on events than for their psychology, and although the narrator occasionally makes personal asides, their identity and reasons for laying out this history remain opaque. I'm much more comfortable describing Civilizations as a work of creative nonfiction than science fiction, but

Review: Russian Doll, Season 2 at Strange Horizons

My review of the second season of Russian Doll appears today at Strange Horizons . As I write in the review, Russian Doll is almost more interesting for how it reflects the vicissitudes of the streaming era, and Netflix's wavering fortunes over the last few years, than for the story it tells. Its second season joins several other shows that should by all rights have been one-and-done, but which were brought back due to enthusiastic audience response and platforms desperate for content, only to be met by a resounding shrug from audiences who had already moved on. The season itself, meanwhile, lacks the tight plotting and evocative central McGuffin of the first season, but it still has significant charms, even if these often come down getting to spend more time with the characters, and in the situations, that were so delightful last season. Russian Doll 's first season felt almost like a precision instrument (a precision that contrasted nicely with Nadia's chaotic nature),