One of my favorite podcasts is Escape Pod, which brings a new science fiction short story every week. I particularly liked this week’s episode, “Cat Pictures, Please” by Naomi Kritzer.
Many stories that feature advanced artificial intelligence programs seem to focus on ones that want to destroy humanity, from Wargames‘ WOPR and Terminator‘s Skynet to The 100‘s Allie.
Kritzer imagines an A.I. that wants to be helpful… but her story also asks us to think about how much algorithms already control our lives.
Check it out if you have a half hour to spare.
Star Wars: Canto Bight has the honor to be the first book I read in 2018. One of a handful of releases as part of the “Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Canto Bight sets out to tell us more about the casino city that is featured in the new Star Wars film.
Thing is, I don’t know how many people care. While I enjoyed Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I liked spending time with the characters we already knew and meeting Rose Tico. I liked the crystal foxes and the porgs. I did not care very much about the new ships and locations Rian Johnson included in his movie, because they just weren’t that important or memorable.
And that’s a shame, because Canto Bight is worth a look. It’s a fun collection of novellas that do explore Johnson’s otherworldly Monte Carlo.
- Saladin Ahmed gives us a tale of a moisture vaporator “salesbeing of the year” who won the vacation of a lifetime and an assassin who’s working one last job who end up crossing paths in Canto Bight
- Mira Grant tells us about the best sommelier in the galaxy, two mysterious sisters and the wine of dreams in a story that explores the lengths people will go to build a legend
- Rae Carson offers us a masseur, a crime boss and a story about how family changes us.
- and Jackson Miller writes about a small-time professional gambler who has an amazing run of luck and learns when to play his system and when to trust in fortune.
If you’re thinking that these don’t really sound like Star Wars stories, you’d be right. Take away a wookiee here, a mention of Alderaan there and you’d have four stories that could be easily rewritten for any science fiction anthology with a casino theme. But I enjoyed them anyway, particularly Grant’s story about the Grammus sisters.
Canto Bight may never capture the imagination of a generation of fans the way the Mos Eisley cantina or Jabba’s Palace did thirty plus years ago. But that probably has less to do with Canto Bight than it does with Disney – in 2018, we can pretty much count on a new Star Wars movie every year for as long as they make money. The original Star Wars was in theaters for over a year and was one of the first movies a lot of us bought on VHS. We watched it so many times, the cantina couldn’t fail to make an impression. That’s not really the case now.
But if you enjoy short-form fiction, whether you care about Star Wars or not, I think you might like Star Wars: Canto Bight.
If you enjoy fantasy novels but are getting tired of Lord of the Rings clones and stories about pretty vampires or fallen angels set in the present day, check out S. A. Chakraborty’s debut novel, The City of Brass.
Opening in 18th century Cairo, Chakraborty tells the tale of Nahri, a con artist whose gift for languages and talent for healing have inspired unfulfilled dreams of earning enough to go legit and learn to be a bonafide healer. While she doesn’t believe in a magical world, the people of her time do — and that offers opportunities for profit.
When Nahri decides to improvise during an exorcism ceremony, she accidentally calls a djinn warrior named Dara to her side. She also attracts the attention of ifrit that want to kill her, and gets caught up in a conflict that goes back to the time of Suleiman (or Solomon, as most Western readers would know him.)
The City of Brass is the first book in a planned trilogy, and it has the standard romantic triangle and plot elements that are staples of modern fantasy… but it’s still an entertaining tale well told. Where the story shines is in the love Chakraborty has for the magical world of Islamic lore and mythology that is at the heart of The City of Brass.
Go check it out so you can join me in eagerly awaiting the next part of the story.
I’m going to try something new and recommend books that I enjoyed reading.
First up is Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids, which might have been inspired by watching Scooby-Doo after reading H.P. Lovecraft.
Peter, Kerrie, Andy, and Nate, along with their canine companion Sean, achieved notoriety as the Blyton Summer Detective Club. They solved a number of small-town mysteries, which were occasionally unbelievable schemes perpetrated by a man in a bad Halloween costume.
Then they grew up, grew apart, and tried to go on with their lives. But their last case still haunted them, and that’s where Meddling Kids picks up the action. Andy (please don’t call her Andrea) gets the members of the gang back together to investigate what really happened during their final case as preteen detectives 13 years earlier.
Cantero creates a satisfying mystery, complete with all sorts of fun nods to the two genres he’s working with. But there’s also a touching love story and a tale about growing up to be found here.
There are some odd stylistic choices — for example every so often, Cantero abandons traditional prose for a movie script format. It feels very odd the first few times he does it, but I got used to it after that.
Meddling Kids is a fun read that I’d recommend to any grown-up kids out there.