Jennifer Brozek will call in to talk with us about editing a shared world anthology, Jeff Sturgeon’s Last Cities of Earth Jennifer Brozek is a Hugo Award finalist and a multiple Bram Stoker Award finalist. Winner of the Australian Shadows Award for best edited publication, Jennifer has edited fifteen anthologies with more on the way, including the acclaimed Chicks Dig Gaming and Shattered Shields anthologies. Author of Apocalypse Girl Dreaming, Industry Talk, the Last Days of Salton Academy, and the acclaimed Melissa Allen series, she has more than seventy published short stories, and is the Creative Director of Apocalypse Ink Productions.
No. Sorry, my mistake. It’s not bad for the first five days of school. Take that, Harry Potter.
How do I know that book one was the first week? Because book two opens only a few hours after the end of book 1, and states she’s only been there five days.
If the books get any more dense, we’re going to have to call Rachel Griffin “Jack Bauer.”
And no. There are no spoilers in the opening. Trust me, that’s nothing without the context. Because it’s even MORE awesome in context.
And then, we have book two, The Raven, The Elf, And Rachel. The plot wraps up a lot of plot threads from book 1. And there’s a lot to wrap up: the raven that heralds the doom of worlds; the Outsiders from other worlds; the “Lightbringer,” the ones behind Moriarty; the one behind THAT threat; Rachel’s relationship status; the story behind Rachel’s father and his work as an agent … there’s an awful lot kicking around. And we aren’t even going to get into all of the new various and sundry plot elements.
In spy novels, most people will cite John Le Carre, usually for good reason. As far as I’m concerned, his crowning achievement were his George Smiley novels. The middle book of his Carla trilogy was called The Honorable Schoolboy— book 1, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, ended with the discovery of a mole in MI^, and his unmasking. Much of the second book is walking back the cat — going through the mole’s history and discovering exactly what havoc he hath wrought upon the spy service during his period working for the other team. Much of The Raven, The Elf, And Rachel proceeds forward in a similar manner. Book one was so dense, and the implications from them so vast, we essentially need an after action report just to get a good idea of the fallout.
In fact, the first 100 pages of The Raven, The Elf, And Rachel handles: recaping the first book, reintroducing the characters, walks back the cat on the enemies from book 1, as well as sets up the conflict going forward. Not bad, huh?
So, if you think that the first book ended a little abruptly, without any follow through, there’s a good reason for that. It would have added another 50-100 pages. This follows hot on the heels of book 1, only hours after the battle royale is over. Even Terry Goodkind waited for the next day before the blowback kicked in. But don’t worry, there is enough solid data here that you can read these books back to back without it being a problem. How do I know that? Because I have three other people I convinced to read these books who did just that. And I’m going from #2 directly to #3.
On a Superversive level, it works fine. We have good guys, bad guys, a relatively clear sense of right and wrong (Rachel’s a 13 year old who worries over right and wrong, so things go a little gray, as we are in her POV), a charming little romance in the middle, men are men, girls are girls, and there will be chivalry or THERE WILL BE DOOM. (Long story. Bit of an in joke. People who have read the novels will get it). So, yeah, I think it covers that threshold.
On a Pulp level, if that’s what you’re into, let’s see … we have dark demonic forces trying to destroy the world, human sacrifice, magical duels, divine protectors, small dragons, huge dragons, shape shifters who turn into dragons, a superhero, and a breakneck pace so fast that this one is the slower of the two novels, and I still finished 400 pages in a day. If that’s not Pulpy enough for you, I suggest reading the books to see everything I left out.
For those of you who fear the repetitive nature of YA books … no. Not at all. There is nothing repeated here. In fact, this one continues to wrap up plot threads left over from the first books — there actually were plot threads dangling, but I didn’t realize it with all the screaming, chaos, and running about in the grand shootout in the finale. I’m almost afraid to see how the series will end…. answer: in fire, probably.
And good God, the references. Everywhere. I think you need a degree in classical literature and be in on the jokes of three different languages and five different cultures in order to get all of the little hints and nods and such in the novels. But that’s a general observation, not specific to this book.
Now, I’ve seen that Jagi doesn’t like having her book compared ti Harry Potter. I know. It’s not fair to JK Rowling. But I’ve given book 1 to other people. And they read only 10% into Unexpected Enlightenment and decided that it was a deeper and richer world than Potter. And the farther in we go, the deeper everything is. Or maybe it just shows us how shallow Potter was and we never realized it. There are no johnny one-note characters here. Everyone has different emotions and moods and personalities. Hell, I think Rachel went through more emotions over the course of any five pages of The Raven, The Elf, And Rachel than the entire body of Hogwarts in 7 novels. That may be unfair, but I don’t think so.
In The Raven, The Elf, And Rachel, you see more sides to people we’ve already seen. Whether it’s the magical prince of Australia, or the Artful Dodger and his pet dragon, or even Vladimir von Dread (I’m almost certain that his family crest reads DREAD IS BAVARIA. BAVARIA IS DREAD, but I haven’t asked yet). In fact, if she ever wants to do an anthology, I call dibs on von Dread shorts, he’s just that interesting. It is a vast and colorful crew, and I suspect we’re going to see more of their own backstories as time goes on.
At the end of the day, the Rachel Griffin novels are very much in the tradition of Narnia. As one reviewer once sniffed, “These are too good to be wasted on children.” Heh.
SHORT VERSION: five out of five. Go read it.
Please enjoy this guest post by A.A. Leil, he contacted me about L. Jagi Lamplighters story in Forbidden Thoughts and wanted to offer a response. Please enjoy.
Sins of Omission
In the Forbidden Thoughts anthology we find a collection of stories meant to provoke thought and discussion about a number of modern issues. As a Muslim-American I found Test of the Prophet ripe for discussion, especially when juxtaposed with my recent publication in Sci Phi Journal, Platinum Blonde. Both deal with the source of violence in the Muslim world, but Test of the Prophet comes up with stereotyped answers that not only deride Islam but also depicts Jesus as a bully.
Jagi Lamplighter’s short story, Test of the Prophet (TotP), recounts a young Muslim woman’s journey to Pakistan to save her beloved cousin Kabir. Shazia learns from Kabir’s distraught sister that he has joined the Taliban. The idea that Kabir would join the Taliban clashes with Shazia’s memories of him as a kind and noble boy who wanted to make the world a better place. She resolves to save Kabir and finds him near the entrance to the Khyber Pass among a cadre of Daesh extremists, his sword raised and ready to behead a Pakistani soldier.
It is here that we arrive at the heart of the story, a vital and complex question: what is the source of violent extremism in the Muslim world? Shazia, who is gifted with the ability to see djinn, demons and angels, discovers a group of evil spirits surrounding the extremists to exert their influence on them. She calls for help, and the Angel Gabriel appears.
What follows is TotP’s exposition on the perceived ills of Islam as voiced by the demons and the Angel Gabriel, the ultimate gist of which is to identify the Prophet Muhammad (and his failure to pass Gabriel’s fictional test) as the root of violence in the Muslim world. The reason? Muhammad wrote falsehoods into the Quran in order to gain power for himself.
To prove this theory, TotP gives a very shallow recount of the migration of Muhammad and the early Muslims to the city of Medina. Speaking to Shazia, a ram-horned demon in TotP states that “the very first thing your Dog-rutting Prophet did—after receiving instructions from Oh-So-High-and-Mighty-Gabriel, here, telling him to be kind to the followers of the Slaughtered Lamb and the People of the Book—was to move to Medina and to put those very People of the Book to the sword.”
The historical record says otherwise. Lamplighter’s demon refers to Muhammad’s invitation to Medina to arbitrate between two battling clans that had drawn their Jewish clients into a bloody civil war. To bring peace to the region, Muhammad arranged for Medina’s Jewish, Muslim, and pagan clans to sign a mutual protection pact. The pact held for several years despite multiple attempts on Muhammad’s life. Eventually the pact would be tested when the Meccan army (the Meccans had long sought to extinguish the nascent Muslim community) laid siege to Medina.
None of these facts are mentioned in TotP.
The largest omission, however, revolves around the actions of the Jewish Banu Qurayza tribe during this siege. Upon learning that the Banu Qurayza intended to betray the pact and join the Meccan army, Muhammad tried keep them on his side. Despite this, the Banu Qurayza signaled the Meccan army that they were ready to act against Muhammad, but an exhausted and defeated Meccan army lifted siege and marched home, abandoning the Banu Qurayza.
The Muslim army then lay a 25-day siege upon the Banu Qurayza’s castle, which led to both sides agreeing to arbitrate. Rather than do so himself, Muhammed chose Sa’d ibn Muadh, a former ally of the Banu Qurayza, as judge. He ruled that the Banu Qurayza had committed treason by not honoring their agreement to protect Medina and ordered 700 men of the tribe to be executed. This is harsh, but it comes directly from Deuteronomy 20:12-14:
“If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. When the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the Lord your God gives you from your enemies.”
Given that Islam views itself as an extension of Judaism and Christianity, it should not come as a surprise that the Muslims in 622 A.D. acted by the example laid out by previous Abrahamic religions. But instead of crediting the executions to Deuteronomy, Lamplighter places the blame with Muhammad – who wasn’t even the judge.
TotP further attempts to justify its view of Islam with a revisionist characterization of the Crusades where Crusaders were shining lights of liberty and freedom and Muslims were just blood-thirsty expansionists who forced the conquered to convert or die. However, in Islam: The Straight Path, author John L. Esposito recounts a different picture. He states that “some Jewish and Christian communities (particularly those persecuted by the Orthodox Church) aided the invading armies, regarding them as less oppressive than their imperial masters.”
Entire chapters could be written on the further sins of omission riddled within TotP, from its selective descriptions jihad and polygamy to its cartoonish use of the word ‘infidel’, all of which serve to further stereotypes about Muslims. However, further exploration of those topics are beyond the scope of this piece and would distract from the greatest irony of TotP.
Once Shazia discovers that Kabir is about to murder the Pakistani soldier, her existence as a Muslim woman with her own ideas ends and she becomes an empty vessel. From the point of view of ToTP, she must be first cleansed of her Muslim beliefs so that she may become a prophet for a ‘new’ religion. A few of her cliche ‘say-it-aint-so’ moments notwithstanding, she weakly accepts the narrative that the Angel Gabriel and the demons feed her despite her life-long existence as a Muslim. It doesn’t occur to her that demons, as agents of Satan, may be lying to her in exactly the way both the Quran and Bible suggest. Or that Gabriel might not be an angel but a demon disguised as one.
As her desperation increases, she once again calls for help and now Jesus himself appears in the form of a lion, declaring that “last time, I came as a lamb and thus went meekly to the slaughter. That time has past. Soon, I shall come again. This time, I come as a Lion.” Shazia’s reaction is a stammering recognition that the lion is indeed Isa Ibn Maryam (“Jesus son of Mary” the Arabic name for Jesus as it is written in the Quran).
The Lion is not willing to act immediately on Shazia’s behalf, suggesting that though Isa Ibn Maryam is one name for him, invoking this version will not aid her now. She asks if she must convert, turn her back on her people, and drink (presumably) the blood of Christ. The Lion initially ignores her, choosing to neither confirm nor deny the requirement. After she presses the question further, the Lion roars, “Do you think me so small as that?”
Apparently the reader is supposed to think Jesus is exactly that small, because it is only when Shazia calls out “I banish thee in the name of Jesus Christ” does the Lion act to drive off the demon. Note that the Jesus of TotP refused to aid her when she invoked the Quranic version of his name.
To a Muslim, this is more than a simple invocation of Jesus’s name. The use of “Christ” is a forced acceptance of the idea that Jesus is the son of God, a notion that Islam rejects. As Mathew 26:63 explicitly connects the title of ‘Christ’ to the notion that Jesus is the son of God, Shazia’s invocation of the title is tantamount to a rejection of her Islamic beliefs and an acceptance of Jesus as God’s son and of God as his father.
In effect, TotP, which claims that Islam forces people to convert or die, concocts a scene in which Shazia is forced to convert or die.
And so, after thoroughly mischaracterizing the Prophet Muhammed and Islam, Test of the Prophet mischaracterizes Jesus as well. Neither the Jesus of the Bible nor the Jesus of the Quran would become Jesus the hostage-taker. Are we to believe that Jesus, who cured the sick and fed the poor, would not act to save someone whose life is at stake?
In John 8:1-11, Jesus saves the life of an adulterous woman despite the fact that she shows no explicit remorse for her actions and does not even ask for his help. He saves her first before telling her, “Go and sin no more.” In Luke 17:11-19, Jesus cleanses a group of lepers without asking them to repent for their sins, and in Luke 7:11-17, he resurrects a widow’s son not because the widow repented of anything, but out of compassion for her. The Gospels are replete with examples of Jesus saving individuals and only asking for their faith later (if at all). Why then would he treat Shazia so differently?
This is, in effect, “sinner’s prayer” Christianity: the idea that saying a few words in the right order will convey supernatural blessings even if the person doesn’t fully understand what she’s saying. And it bears noting that this form of salvation is coming under more and more criticism by Protestant theologians. Prayer doesn’t force God to act, nor is God’s ability to act restrained by a human’s failure to pray. Every Christian denomination agrees that God’s grace is given first, and humans may then choose how to respond to it.
By forcing Shazia to convert or lose everything, the story’s Jesus is overriding her free will. Meanwhile, salvation history shows that all along, God honors our free will, even when we make stupid or destructive decisions. Shazia’s conversion can’t be genuine if the alternative is death.
Put another way, “there is no compulsion in religion (Quran 2:256).”
As stated earlier, TotP poses a complex and important question as to the source of violence in the Islamic world. Through convenient sins of omission, it paints a negative view of Muhammad to arrive at a pat answer to this question. Yet when Lamplighter’s characters misrepresent not only Islam but Jesus, how can a reader view the story’s answers as in any way credible?
Last year, without knowing about Lamplighter’s story, I also wrote a response to violence in the Muslim world with the story Platinum Blonde, published in SciPhi Journal on February 6th. In Platinum Blonde, Adam, a young man who has been indoctrinated with an extremist interpretation of Islam by his father, decides to teach a Muslim family a violent lesson for singing and dancing in the streets and for not enforcing the hijab upon their daughter. Adam sticks to the plan despite his own misgivings and despite some outside pushback, but in the end he tries to go through with the homicide. And in the end, the character Najat pronounces this judgment on Adam: “He thought he knew God, but he really only knew his father.”
The essence of Najat’s lament is this: an individual’s religious belief system, when acquired through the intercession of fallible sources, is in of itself fallible. Despite Adam’s belief that killing the dancing girl was an act of faith in God, it was in fact an act of faith in his human, and extremist, father.
This is similar to Lampligher’s answer, but she puts the extremism and the hatred into the mouth of Muhammad rather than into the methods of transmission and teaching. She blames the source rather than the human interference.
Platinum Blonde therefore suggests that the source of violence in the Muslim world originates from interpretations of the Quran, not the Quran itself or any imagined additions that Muhammed may have made. The idea that some Muslims’ belief systems are derived from the faulty interpretations of parents, friends, and imams may not fully answer the question posed by TotP and Platinum Blonde, but it does open the door to discussing these questions in a more thoughtful fashion. Through an unbiased study of history from the birth of Islam, to the Crusades, to Islam’s Golden Age, the rise and influence of Wahhabism, all the way to how the partitioning of the Middle-East echoes in the modern world, we may step through this door. Bolstered by an understanding of the differences between culture and religion and the realization that the actions of individuals often do not align with the guidance of religious doctrine, we may begin to walk towards the answer. Christians and Muslims can walk there together.
One more provision, however, is required if we really wish to answer the question of violence in the Muslim world. We must understand the Quran, like the Bible, is not a book that can be read the way one would read an instructional guide, a history book, or a memoir. For in reality, it is in any particular section any of these things, and the discerning reader must understand that which ‘genre’ they are reading depends on which sura(chapter) and aya(verse) of the Quran they are reading.
None of the critique written about Test of the Prophet is to say that you shouldn’t read it. To the contrary, you should. Read it, and also read Platinum Blonde for the questions they raise and the discussions they initiate. If the answers these stories posit don’t ring true for you, seek your own answers, but do so with an open, sincere heart unfettered by the politics of the day, and do not do so in isolation of those who hold viewpoints different from your own. It is only through the earnest exchange of ideas that we may arrive at answers to complex questions.
You can find more from A.A. Leil at his website http://www.aaleil.com/
We think of snow as tame, but no! It can creep, it can roll, it can even explode!
11 Alarming Weather Flukes That Happen When it Gets Really Cold
Top image: An ice volcano erupts, Michigan Tech Geology Department
It’s been a bit nippy out lately. And by “a bit nippy,” I mean the world we once knew has been replaced by an ice-bound hellscape. On the plus side, this means we get to see some of nature’s weirder responses to extreme cold. Here are 11 strange things that happen when the temperature gets too low — and why they happen.
So, for those who have been living under a rock (at least, for those who read this blog who have been living under a rock), the Hugo awards have been announced. There are several notable things about it, but in terms of this blog the biggest are these:
1) Jeffro Johnson, who invited us to write for the Castalia House blog, has been nominated! Congrats to him.
2) Our own Brian Niemeier has been nominated for the John W. Campbell award! Congrats to him and L. Jagi Lamplighter, his editor.
3) Jason Rennie has been nominated for multiple categories! The Sci Phi Journal has been nominated for best semiprozine and…
4) Superversive SF has been nominated!
But wait. There’s one more notable point here:
5) These have all been nominated the same year that “Space Raptor Butt Invasion” has been nominated.
This point deserves some talking about. And get ready, because I’m probably going to disagree with my peers…but not in the way you think.
It’s no secret that the Rabid Puppies dominated in a way that is unprecedented in the history of the Hugos. It was an SJW massacre of epic proportions. But what does this mean?
We got nominated because of a slate. This is slate voting. It’s time we all admit it – Sad Puppies is not that, and wasn’t at the very least since Brad Torgerson started taking reader input into account, but the Rabid Puppies absolutely are. It is the slate of Vox Day. And honestly, I think everybody here knows that. We know “Space Raptor Butt Invasion”, a parody story by a guy who calls himself “Chuck Tingle”, was not going to be nominated unless people voted based entirely on Vox Day’s orders, and in impressively consistent concert. This is pretty much undeniable.
And truthfully, that’s why Superversive SF was nominated. We’re a pretty new blog, with a lot of relatively little known writers among us. Take me. I’ve edited one book and published a few short stories and articles. Not a lot of people have heard of me. Josh also hasn’t published anything but short stories yet (looking forward to “Do Buddhas Dream of Enlightened Sheep”!). And we’re two of the blog’s more prolific posters.
This isn’t an insult. I think Josh is a terrific writer. I asked Josh to be in “God, Robot” because I loved the stories of his I read. I think his articles are great. As I said, I’m really looking forward to his novel. But, as of now, he’s not very well known. As for me, “God, Robot” has gotten great reviews so far, and for an anthology out for a short period of time, with only eight contributors and published by an indie publishing house, we have a relatively decent number of reviews – eleven with only one below five stars, at four. So I certainly haven’t been doing too badly myself as I try to grow something of a reputation.
To put this another way – John C. Wright, who almost certainly got more votes than we did, did not get nominated, because the novel category gets way more votes than the best Fanzine category. We got nominated because this was a category without a lot of voters that was easily able to be dominated by the Rabid Puppies slate. Combined with our presence on the Sad Puppies list we were pretty much a lock.
Does this bother anybody? It shouldn’t. It doesn’t bother me. We’ve been growing a fanbase since we started, and the fact that the Sads AND the Rabids both had us on their lists does mean we’re leaving a mark. I don’t believe we were picked as a parody, for the simple reason that Castalia likes our work enough to give us a weekly column on their increasingly popular blog. An anthology unassociated with us recently opened up submissions for superversive stories. We’re doing very well, and this only gets us more exposure. This is great!
And yet, if we weren’t on the Rabid Puppies slate, we still probably wouldn’t be on the Hugo shortlist. So why doesn’t this bother me? My answer is simple: I agree with what Vox Day is doing.
Vox is not trying to “fix” the Hugos. He’s trying to nuke them, and frankly, he’s already succeeded.
Actually, that’s not really true. He’s not trying to nuke them. He’s trying to expose them, and he has. The Hugos are a joke. Anything with “Space Raptor Butt Invasion” on its list of award nominees is not to be taken seriously. It’s still an honor to be nominated if you weren’t picked as a thumb in the nose because it means you’ve attracted the attention of some fairly big players in the sci-fi world, but the fact is that Vox has proven that the Hugos are so irrelevant that the Most Hated Man in Science Fiction is able to get a relatively small group of volunteers to dominate it in a way that should be impossible if the awards mean anything at all. The Hugos have a little over 4,000 nominees this year. To put this in perspective, Dragon Con, which is starting its own awards, attracted over 65,000 people. And even that is a fraction of the millions of sci-fi fans throughout the country.
The rabid puppies didn’t do anything to the Hugo awards. They just exposed the Hugos as an insular group of back-patting leftists easily overwhelmed by a rather small force of right-wing sci-fi fans. The Hugos were already dead. The Sad Puppies valiantly tried to fix them. They failed. It’s time to show the world what they really are: A joke.
So, I’m honored to be on the Rabid Puppies slate. I’m honored to be part of a group doing its small part to expose SJW’s and turn the tide of the culture war, even if we’re only a small part. And congratulations to the Hugo nominees – you’re part of something bigger than yourself. That’s something to be proud of.
UPDATE: Mike Glyer at File 770 says this about the article:
Like Anthony M at the Hugo-nominated Superversive SF blog who is thoroughly okay with the reason that happened, so why should you have any problem?
I will note that it is a rather sleazy trick to pretend that my argument was anything close to “I don’t have a problem, so neither should you.” That’s not what I said.
I’d explain what I did say, but then I just wrote an article about the subject. And now Mike Glyer has just assured that a bunch of people will think they know the content of said article without actually reading it. So thanks, said the author sarcastically.
Shockingly surprising as it might be Cracked.com has some excellent advice in 5 Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Own Life (Without Knowing It). This 10 minute read is probably well worth your time, it has advice on getting the right perspective on things that are important to you.
Short list had an interesting video up on why modern movies don’t entrance like they used too. It is called the WETA effect.
I’m slightly skeptical because Alien and Aliens were great films but I have zero experience of sneaking around in dark places with monsters around.