Monday, October 17, 2016

TV Musings: Summer Sci-Fi

Recently, there has been a truly massive amount of science fiction and fantasy television to enjoy.  In fact, I believe there are around 100 active (airing, upcoming or returning) genre shows right now.  Put in that context, I feel like my watching habits are fairly modest, though I’d prefer to think I’m just highly selective and generally busy reading books.  Today I want to talk about the shows I have enjoyed in the summer of 2016.  All of the following shows have already been renewed, so there will be more to come next year! Did I miss one of your favorites?  Let me know in the comments!

Orphan Black (Season 4):  
Beware of spoilers for previous seasons in the second paragraph.

For anyone unfamiliar with the show, Orphan Black is the story of Sarah Manning, a con artist and single mother, who learns one day that she is a rogue clone from a clandestine, wide-reaching experiment. Over four seasons, Orphan Black has shown itself to be a show of consistently high quality, and has earned a number of awards that include an Emmy (for main actress Tatiana Maslany) as well as a Hugo Award for short form dramatic presentation.  Next year will bring us the final season, and I really hope the writers have an amazing ending in store.  For this year, I expect I’ll nominate “The Scandal of Altruism”, one of several particularly powerful episodes, for the Hugo award for short form dramatic presentation.

At the start of the fourth season, I was surprised to see the story jump in time to the days before clone Beth’s suicide.  The audience has only ever gotten to know Beth through the memories of others, so I was eager to see her world.  On the other hand, these past segments were emotionally intense, and it was hard to watch her suffer with the knowledge of how it would end.  When we returned to the modern day, things were lightened a bit with humor in the lives of criminal soccer mom Alison, ex-assassin Helena, and cosmetic conspiracy theorist Krystal.  Through the past and present, we learn more about Neolution, including the goals and origins of the movement. One last thing that I especially liked in this season is the continuing consideration of how Sarah’s self-absorption affects the people she loves.  Her relationship with Felix is a prime example, and I appreciated that we were able to see some aspects of his life that don’t revolve around Sarah’s drama.  

12 Monkeys (Season 2):

12 Monkeys is my favorite of Syfy’s latest serious scripted science fiction shows, and I’m happy that a third season has already been confirmed.  In a nutshell, the story is initially that of a small group of people who are trying to use time travel to prevent a plague that has wiped out most of humanity in their present.  By the second season, things have moved into a bit more mystical territory, and the main focus is to prevent the Army of the Twelve Monkeys (architects of the plague) from destroying time itself in order to live in an eternal now.

I was a little skeptical of the mystical turn, but the quality of the show was undiminished.  The plot is even more clever and intricate than the first season, and it continues to push the boundaries of how time travel can be used in storytelling.  I enjoyed seeing how Cole, Ramse, Cassie, Jennifer and Jones changed as they face the painful consequences of their actions in this and the previous season.  I really love this cast and how well they play off of one another. On a side note, I was slightly disappointed that Jennifer’s mental health problems were given a supernatural origin.  At the same time, Jennifer also sought psychiatric help and learned to manage her condition with medication, so the writers kind of took this both ways. I think I’ll probably nominate “Lullaby” for a Hugo this year, a fairly self-contained episode where our time travelers attempt to protect time by traveling backward and killing the inventor of time travel (Katarina Jones) just after the death of her daughter.

Stranger Things (Season 1):

I think I and pretty much everyone else on the internet enjoyed this one.  Netflix is putting out some really quality original programming these day. I didn’t know what to expect going in, except that it was some sort of 80’s style sci-fi thriller.  The story involves the disappearance of neighborhood kid Will, whose distraught friends come across a mysterious, frightened, and powerful young girl named “Eleven” during their search for him.  Eleven has escaped from some kind of government compound, whose activities may put the town in danger.

I really liked the consistency of the 80’s vibe (the set, behavior, costumes, etc.).  The story also had a sense of nostalgia, and it was easy to binge-watch the whole season.  I also liked that, while violent things happened, it wasn’t as grimdark as some shows get these days.  I think sometimes I just want to watch a story about people stopping a nefarious government plot and rescuing a little kid, and I don’t want it to have a depressing ending.  On a last note, I liked that this one didn’t go the route of having clueless adults and hero kids.  Each age group tried to solve the problems in front of them as best they could, and for the most part they all believed one another.

Killjoys (Season 2):

Killjoys is another Syfy scripted show, which I thought showed a lot of promise in its first season. The show followed a team of three ‘killjoys’--Dutch, D’avin and John--who take on reclamation contracts for a living.  Dutch is the all-around leader, D’avin is a veteran who specializes in physical, and John is his little brother, who speciailzes in the technical side.  The end of the first season was a game changer, and the three of them became more embroiled in the violent politics of their star system.  After the events of the finale, they are still officially killjoys, but they only accept jobs that aid them in pursuing their own interests (allowing them to cross closed borders, etc.).

The world-building of the previous season pays off now, as there is a ton of story to tell in the Quad System.  I was impressed that just about every character in the show had their own arc. All the same, everything eventually ties neatly together into the broader story of the secrets of the system and the mysteries of Dutch’s past.  In more detail, the two major topics are the intentions behind the isolating wall that Qresh has put around Oldtown (in Westerly) after its bombing, and what is going on with the “Sixes”--sociopathic, self-healing assassins.  My only nitpicks about the show so far are pretty minor, such as the ridiculous spellings of the characters’ names (seriously, Khlyen? Pawter? D’avin?).  The end of the season marks another major shift in the premise, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.  I didn’t nominate any episode from season one for a Hugo, but I’m thinking that “Johnny Be Good” is award-worthy this time around.  

Dark Matter (Season 2):

Dark Matter is yet another Syfy show, and let me just say that I am loving how many space operas they have on their production list at the moment.  I thought the first season was promising, though it had some weaknesses.  Due to starting the series with mass amnesia, I felt like it took a really long time to firmly establish the characters beyond superficialities.  The world building is also a little unfocused, to the extent that I’m only starting to get a sense of the connections in their universe near the end of the second season.    

In the second season, the show suffered from a lack of focus.  Every single character had a subplot of their own, but they didn’t really seem to be building into anything larger.  There are hints of an imminent corporate war, but it doesn’t really seem to interest the crew of the Rasa all that much.  Also, with the way the story hops from one character’s personal story to another, sometimes the revelations and climaxes feel a little rushed.  On the positive side, all of these unconnected stories are really entertaining. There’s Portia’s history as a deadly science experiment, Android’s exploration of humanity, Ryo’s imperial succession family drama, tough-guy Markus’s uneasiness with his unsavory and grief-filled past, and more. I like the individual pieces, I just hope they build into something larger and more coherent in future seasons.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Read-Along: Kushiel's Mercy by Jacqueline Carey, Part 2

Welcome to week two of the read-along of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Mercy, book three of Imriel’s Trilogy and book six of Kushiel’s Legacy.  This week, I am the host, and the questions cover chapters 11 through 22.  If you’re interested in this and future read-alongs, check out our goodreads group.  As always, beware of spoilers below!

1) Imriel visits a few of the Houses with Astegal.  If you were to visit Carey's Terre d'Ange, would there be a particular house you'd be interested to see?

Imriel’s actions made it clear in this section that it could be fun to visit the Night Court even without the expectation of sex happening.  That made me think of what houses I would most want to see, just because I think they would be interesting places to pass an evening. I would find Bryony incredibly stressful, so it would be a definite no.  I think Eglantine would be a lot of fun, with all the creative arts on display.  Also, we haven’t seen too much of them, but I bet the people at Orchis (“Joy in laughter”) would be great company.  If I wanted to participate more fully, I’d probably go for Balm.

2) The Carthaginians scheme was some of the most blatant magic that I think we've seen in the series.  Given that there is a whole country of people who are not fooled, do you think they really expected to get away with it cleanly in the long-term?  Do you think they have an alternative plan?

I feel like the magic in this series is generally a lot more mystical and understated, and when it is more blatant it generally is only revealed to a small number of people.  I was therefore really surprised that this was an undeniable magic spell that affected the entire population of the City of Elua.  I was also a little disappointed, both because amnesia is such a common plot device and because this sets yet another external magical barrier to Imriel and Sidonie’s love.  I am finding that I like romance more when the conflicts are internal to the relationship, such as the differences in ideology between Phedre and Joscelin. On the other hand, what a nightmare!  After seeing just a fragment of what Imriel said and did while he was delirious, I can’t imagine the guilt he must feel.  It’s really good of Phedre and Joscelin to be able to not take any of that personally.

As for the Carthaginians, I am wondering whether they don’t expect for this particular trick to last indefinitely.  It seems like the most likely outcome would be civil war in Terre d’Ange, as people who were outside the capital rebel against Queen Ysandre’s bizarre choices.  Even Drustan is likely to turn against Ysandre, because his mind will heal as soon as he goes home.  If Terre d’Ange sends support for Carthage in Aragonia, the troops and leaders should be restored to their right minds in time to turn on Carthage.  Maybe the goal of the Carthaginians was just to eliminate Terre d’Ange as a political and military force, and they chose marrying Sidonie as the method most likely to bring about the kind of outrage that could cause a civil war?

3) Barquiel l'Envers goes from a petty antagonist to one of Imriel's only allies.  Does this change your opinion of him?  Do you think this adventure will alter his perception of Imriel?

I was surprised by this turn of events!  So far, it has been influencing my opinion of Barquiel.  I guess we now have confirmation that Barquiel genuinely thought Imriel was a manipulative liar taking advantage of Sidonie.  He seemed so surprised to realize that Imriel really did love her.  I think that saving Terre d’Ange together is bound to bring them closer together, even if they’ll never really be friends.

4) We finally see Melisande again!  What do you think of what she has become?  Do you think she still deserves execution for her crimes?
It seems she has turned into a surprisingly good person, despite being a sociopath.  She made one comment about her growing realization of her own heartlessness, and I wondered if she used to think that everyone was like her.  Perhaps she grew up thinking that no one had a conscience, but people just all quietly agreed to abide by a certain set of convoluted rules for some reason.  She must have then seen herself not as doing anything monstrous, but just being the only one who realized that the rules were breakable.  I feel a little more sympathetic to her than I used to, but I still think she needs to face the consequences for her crimes.  

5) What do you think will be Imriel's key to change out of the form and mind of Leander?  Do you think you would be willing to undergo such a transformation?  

I realize the first part is maybe not something that folks re-reading can answer, but I was wondering what he will choose.  Sidonie’s safeword? A kiss from Sunjata (they wouldn’t even have to tell him the reason for the required kiss)?  I am very curious to see!  As for the second, the transformation sounds horrifying to me.  I would never want to do something that would change my self that way.  If it was the only way to save the person I loved, though, I guess I would have to do it.

Other Things:

--I had a moment of anachronistic confusion about the needle.  I assumed it was a syringe with some kind of drug.  It wasn’t until Imriel was talking with Jeanne that I realized there were no syringes in this time period, and it was actually a magical needle.

--I like that Imriel has respect for people he has slept with in the past (such as Jeanne).  I think that’s a perk of a less sexist society.

--I hope things don’t turn out too badly for Cythera.  They made the point that if the spell is undone, it will be obvious where Imriel got the help from.

--I also hope Barquiel is in a position to look for the stone.  He was going to try to reason with Ysandre, and the spell is going to make her angry and aggressive.  He is not the most level-headed person, either… I really hope he isn’t in jail by the time Imriel’s letter arrives.   

--I wonder how much of Melisande’s habit of buying and freeing slaves is influenced by her horror at what happened to Imriel.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Read-Along: Kushiel's Mercy by Jacqueline Carey Part 1

Welcome once again to the continuing read-along of Jacqueline Carey’s series, Kushiel’s Legacy, organized by Susan of Dab of Darkness.  We begin this week with book six, Kushiel’s Mercy, which is the final volume of Imriel’s story.  Feel free to join us, or to join the SFF Readalongs goodreads group to participate in this or future read-alongs!  The schedule this time is as follows, where each week a different blog will propose reading questions and we will all answer in a Sunday blog post:

Oct.  9th Week 1: Chpts. 1-10 (Hosted by Dab of Darkness)
Oct. 16th Week 2: Chpts. 11-22 (Hosted by Tethyan Books)
Oct. 23rd Week 3: Chpts. 23-35 (Hosted by Emma Wolf)
Oct. 30th Week 4: Chpts. 36-49 (Hosted by Emma Wolf)
Nov. 6th Week 5: Chpts. 50-62 (Hosted by Lynn’s Book Blog)
Nov. 13th Week 6: Chpts. 63-75 (Hosted by Tethyan Books)
Nov. 20th Week 7: Chpts. 76-END (Hosted by Over the Effing Rainbow)

As listed above, this week’s questions are courtesy of Susan from Dab of Darkness.

1) So far, what do you think of the variety of responses people have to Imriel's and Sidonie's relationship?  

I think it is pretty much as to be expected.  People who have been personally harmed by Melisande find it harder to not blame her son in her absence. The younger generation, who have no emotional connection to Melisande’s actions, are much more able to see Imriel as an individual.

On the other hand, I feel like Ysandre’s reaction is hypocritical in the extreme and is exacerbating the political situation.  As queen, she should be setting an example for her people to follow.  Instead, she is turning her back on a decade of claiming to accept Imriel into d’Angeline nobility.  She could have maintained that guilt is not transmitted genetically, and that Imriel is indeed not responsible for actions committed by someone else before his birth.  That level-headedness likely would have swayed some who disapprove of the relationship.  I understand the narrative need for Imriel to hunt down his mother, but I really wish that could have come about in another way.

2) Imriel starts the hunt for Melisande. What do you think of his efforts so far? Could you hand over a wayward relative to the authorities?

I approve of the way his search begins.  There’s no reason for him to go running out the door when he has no idea where to start looking. Also, I love that Phedre and Joscelin are going with him, whenever he does find a destination!  I hope they all make it through this adventure safely.

As for the second question, I don’t think I would have any trouble in this particular sort of situation.  His wayward relative is someone he doesn’t know and doesn’t love, and I believe he agrees that she deserves execution for her crimes.  I think the only difficult parts would be that he knows she loves him (or at least the idea of him, since she doesn’t actually know him), and a feeling of repeating the pain of executing Berlik.

3) Sidonie makes her first ventures into the spicier side of the love arts. Comment away!

I really liked how this part of the story progressed.  I am still jealous of their information resources in this fictional world, as so much of it would be useful for so many people in reality.  I’ve been a little skeptical of “Showings” in the past, but in this case I think it would be really helpful for teaching purposes.  

On another note, these were actually Imriel’s first genuine ventures into the spicier side of the love arts as well, so it was interesting watching them explore everything together.  I liked how they focused on making sure everything was fun for both of them, and that there was no expectation that they would engage in this kind of intimacy all the time. I also felt that they had a much healthier relationship with the idea of a safeword than Phedre in her youth.  It is a tool for communication, not a challenge!

4) The priesthood weighs in on Sidonie's and Imriel's relationship. Do you think Imriel's words were the clincher, or do you think the priests had mostly made up their minds before the meeting?

I would imagine they’d more or less already made up their minds.  Sidonie’s been talking with the priesthood for a while, so they have a pretty clear view of the relationship from her.  I would have thought that all Imriel would need to do is not seem shifty and dishonest.  His vague statement about going after Melisande seemed to make an impact, but I don’t really see why the priesthood would assume something like that was proof of romantic love.  

5) It's been two years since Imriel last celebrated the Longest Night in the D'Angeline fashion. What was the most interesting part of this night for you?

Probably Barquiel l’Envers getting kicked out of it.  He has really let his irrational hatred of Imriel poison his own life.  He’s lost so much as a result of his unreasoning pursuit of making Imriel unhappy, and it doesn’t seem to have deterred him one bit.  At this point, I would almost not be surprised if he hid Melisande, just to thwart Imriel’s wedding plans.

6) We catch our first glimpse of the Carthaginians and the general Astegal. What do you think of their tribute?

Aside from the Unseen Guild angle, I feel like the Carthaginian government must have some kind of ulterior motive.  I haven’t figured out what it is yet.  As for the Unseen Guild, I’m wondering if the two spies are of different factions. If so, which one wants to betray Melisande?  Or does Melisande just want to see her son again at this point, so the correct directions will come from her loyal spy?  I assume she is not planning to be executed, but she probably has some plan in play that will allow her to see Imriel again.

Other Thoughts:

--The Alban situation seems like a real mess.  I understand Alais is pushing for her own power, but changing a matrilineal system into a patrilineal system does not seem like it would be particularly good for women in the future.  Also, I really don’t see how Drustan could ever agree to it, given recent Alban history.

--I guess we’re going to Cythera soon?

--I’m glad Imriel is keeping his promises.  I expect Alais will be wanting that puppy soon.

--It seems like Mavros has become one of Imriel’s best friends over the last few books.  I am glad that he is able to show Imriel a more positive side of the Shahrizai heritage.

--I wonder what Ysandre would do if Sidonie decided she was going to accompany Imriel on his hunt for Melisande?