Debarkle Chapter 36: February Part 1 — the slates

As January came to an end, Vox Day’s followers, the so-called ‘Dread Ilk’, were chomping at the bit. With one day left for registration for the 2015 Worldcon, Day encouraged his followers to sign up to support the Sad Puppies 3 campaign.

“We have the momentum. Last year, the Dread Ilk showed up in respectable force without me doing anything more than putting up a single post with a modified version of Sad Puppies 2. This year, we’re locked, loaded, and ready to be all that we can be. Trust me on that. About which more soon….”
Continue reading “Debarkle Chapter 36: February Part 1 — the slates”

Susan’s Salon: 2021 May 30/31

Please use the comment section to just chat about whatever you want. Susan’s Salon is posted early Monday (Australian Eastern Standard Time, which is still Sunday in most other countries). It’s fine to be sad, worried, vaccinated, unvaccinated-yet, angry or maybe even happy (or all of those things at once).

Please feel free to post what you like (either troubling news or pleasant distractions) in the comments for this open thread. [However, no cranky conflicts between each other in the comments.] Links, videos, cat pictures 🐈 etc are fine! Whatever you like and be nice to one another 😇

Through efficiency savings, we have managed to squeeze an extra Susan’s Salon into May.

A Debarkle Appendix

A reference post of things too tabular to contain within the next chapter.

In the last chapter I covered the announcement of Sad Puppies 3. In the comments to that thread, Brad crowd-sourced suggestions for the forthcoming slate. I’ve done a rough compilation of those suggestions here and semi-cleaned them up

Continue reading “A Debarkle Appendix”

Debarkle Chapter 35: January

[content warning: discussion of terror attacks, Islamophobic slurs, transphobia and racism]

January 2015 started as a normal year: fireworks over Sydney Harbour, global warming inching further to disaster and America embroiled in seemingly endless wars. On January 7, Europe and America were shocked by the mass shooting at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine in Paris. The attack was an Al-Qaeda connected terror operation in retaliation to the magazine’s satirical cartoons about the Prophet Mohammed. Although condemned by many Muslim groups, the attack would be exploited by far-right groups to promote Islamophobia and attacks on immigrants. Naturally, Vox Day blamed the attacks on “diversity” and renewed his support for overt anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-left violence by appealing to the example set by a far-right mass child-murderer:

Continue reading “Debarkle Chapter 35: January”

Debarkle Chapter 34: Part 3 Twenty Fifteen

The story so far…[1]

In 2005, right-wing columnist Vox Day and aspiring fantasy author Theodore Beale were revealed to be the same person and a member of the jury for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’s premier science fiction awards known as the Nebula. The after-effects of the lengthy blog discussion on his extreme views on women led to a long-running feud between Vox Day on the one hand and the notable editors at Tor Books Teresa and Patrick Nielsen Hayden. Day’s feud would also come to encompass best-selling science fiction author and later SFWA President John Scalzi.

Continue reading “Debarkle Chapter 34: Part 3 Twenty Fifteen”

Hugo 2021: Black Sun (Between Earth & Sky 1) by Rebecca Roanhorse

It is time for a big canvas, multi-character epic fantasy with duelling gods and political machinations. Rebecca Roanhorse follows four characters towards disaster as a holy city awaits a foretold solar eclipse.

The setting is a set of nations with a feel of pre-colonisation Americas, with influences drawn from multiple cultures. The alternating perspectives of the four protagonists make the world feel large and varied, with two people having to travel from other nations to reach the city of Tova and a third recently returned there. At the heart of the conflict is a generational crime in which the ruling Watchers murdered large numbers of the Carrion Crow clan many decades earlier. While the focus is on Tova and its religion, politics and magic, there is a strong sense of a bigger world with multiple cultures and languages.

Key to the world-building exposition is Xiala: an exiled sea captain who drinks too much and hails from the semi-aquatic Teek people — an all-female society of ocean-dwelling people of magical origin. Drawn into a contract to escape jail, she is tasked with taking a mysterious cargo across the sea to Tova, with strict instructions to get there before the capital-c Convergence. Xiala is a stranger to the politics and culture of Tova whereas the other three characters are already embroiled in events. However, each of the characters are to some degree outsiders.

Serapio (the aforementioned cargo) is a young man with mysterious powers over crows. Raised far away from Tova, he is heading home to the land of his mother. Okoa is a leading warrior of the Carrion Crow clan and like all the warriors of the Sky Made clans that mean he gets to ride a magical oversized version of his clan’s signature creature i.e. a giant crow. Pulled home to Tova by the death of his mother the matriarch of the clan, Okoa finds himself amid the lingering political and cultural tensions of Tova. Finally, Naranpa has found herself at the apex of Tova’s religious hierarchy as the Sun Priest but her lowly origin among Tova’s underclass leaves her far more powerless than her high office would suggest.

Magic, violence and cruelty run through the book but there are tender moments and the four characters are each out of their depth in quite different ways as long-laid plans draw them towards the same point in time. In particular, Serapio’s back story as a child is distressing, as he has been shaped into a magical weapon of vengeance. He is though, an excellent example of how Roanhorse makes use of the familiar tropes of epic fantasy and subverts them. Both he and to a lesser extent Naranpa have elements of the classic chosen-one trope of fantasy but neither of them in a wholly conventional sense and Serapio with a substantial sense of a dark force reborn.

The audiobook manages the frequent shifts in character perspective by using multiple narrators. That helps with the initial chapters where the reader is plunged into the rich world Roanhorse has created.

I thoroughly enjoyed this and despite the scale of the world-building, I found myself immersed into the setting very quickly. It is a book with a sense of bigness to it with quite different magical elements to it distinct to the individual characters. The growing tension as chapter by chapter we get closer to what will clearly be a very bad day for all concerned, is well executed and if I hadn’t been using the audiobook version I would probably have rushed through the final chapters.

I’ve enjoyed other works by Roanhorse but this is definitely a more skilful and mature work from a writer who started with a lot of promise. It sits in that sweet spot of delivering the vibe of the big magical saga but with enough innovation in setting and magic to feel fresh and original.

Good stuff…but we’ve also got to look at this as a candidate for the Hugo Award for Best Novel. That is a tricky question. Definitely deserves to be a finalist. I found it to be expertly crafted and original. It is an excellent example of what current science fiction and fantasy can offer a reader. However, it is also very much book 1 of a longer narrative and faces all the issues that epic fantasy has when competing in the Hugo Awards. Book 1 of a series can win Hugo Awards, in recent years Ancillary Justice, The Fifth Season, The Three-Body Problem are each the first book in a series and also stand-out winners in what is already a highly elite set of books. Yet, Black Sun really feels like we’ve stopped in mid-flight in a way those novels don’t. It’s more than just that there is more to come but that the immediate arc of the story is left hanging.

The book stops at a sensible point but it really is hard to evaluate the story as a complete thing in itself. Of the four characters, Serapio has the fullest story arc but Xiala is the most complete character. We learn a lot about Naranpa but I felt like I was only beginning to get a sense of her as a character. Okoa feels like his story has barely begun. The underlying questions of revenge for historic wrongs versus reconciliation have only partly been touched on by the end of the book. None of that is a criticism of Roanhorse’s craft, quite the opposite. The pacing of the character’s arcs here is a smart choice for building a complex multi-volume narrative. But…I feel like I’m back to the Tad Williams problem we discussed recently. It’s hard for epic fantasy because book 1 is only a beginning.

Is that unfair? Part of the negative aspect of the Hugo Awards is where we find fault in excellent books by judging them against unreasonable criteria. Gosh, Black Sun didn’t quite manage to pull off the trick that The Fifth Season managed to create a story that has the natural momentum of a beginning while the satisfaction of a complete novel! Fancy that – didn’t quite make all the elements of one of the most highly praised books of this century! Shocking! Yeah, it’s unfair and it is part of the unfairness of picking out the best-of-the-best-of-the-best. I’ll have no complaints if Black Sun wins, probably won’t be my number one pick but the Hugo Awards should reward writers showing consummate skill in the genre and Black Sun would be a worthy winner.

Susan’s Salon: 2021 May 23/24

Please use the comment section to just chat about whatever you want. Susan’s Salon is posted early Monday (Australian Eastern Standard Time, which is still Sunday in most other countries). It’s fine to be sad, worried, vaccinated, unvaccinated-yet, angry or maybe even happy (or all of those things at once).

Please feel free to post what you like (either troubling news or pleasant distractions) in the comments for this open thread. [However, no cranky conflicts between each other in the comments.] Links, videos, cat pictures 🐈 etc are fine! Whatever you like and be nice to one another 😇

For those following old calendars, happy Whitsuntide

Short note…

The missing Debarkle chapter has been completed…If you left a comment on the placeholder chapter, then I have unapproved it just in case you find your earlier comment now incongruous. If you are happy for it to stay, I can reapprove it and it will re-appear as was – just let me know.

Still don’t know if I’ve got the balance right but I think it is lot clearer why I wanted it there.

Review: Army of the Dead (Netflix movie)

Zak Snyder picks up the pace after the portentously dull “Snyder Cut” of Justice League. Army of the Dead is marketed as a mash-up of the zombie movie and heist movie genres and the good news is that is exactly what it is.

The set-up has its own pre-titles sequence, when an army convoy goes horribly wrong, unleashing something on the city of Los Vegas. The cleverest party of the movie happens during the titles which pack in the plot of a conventional zombie-outbreak movie in a short sequence. Las Vegas succumbs to zombies (cue zombie showgirls, zombie Elvis etc) and we meet a set of survivors who somehow stay one step ahead of the shambling hordes but have to make bitter sacrifices on the way.

At the start of the movie proper, Las Vegas is walled off, America has eliminated zombies in the rest of the country but many of the poorer survivors from Las Vegas are still stuck in refugee camps near the walls of the city. You can take the refugee camp scenes either as dig at America’s treatment of immigrants or Snyder making a dig at covid restrictions — both elements are there and Snyder’s libertarianism works well in this kind of context where he applies a healthy cynicism to government power. Theo Rossi’s creepy and abusive camp guard is certainly dressed to look like he could be working for ICE. In a far more dubious casting choice, Snyder has former Trump-presidency White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer play “male pundit” (according to IMDB) on a TV news clip trying to justify the continued incarceration of refugees from Vegas. You could spend a lot of time trying to unpack that but it really is just the usual Zak Snyder having interesting but disconnected thoughts that wobble between overly sincere to superficially cynical.

Don’t let that put you off though. This is a zombie-heist movie and that is what Snyder delivers. Dave Bautista, who barely survived the opening title sequence, is recruited by a Japanese billionaire to infiltrate the walled-off Vegas and break into the billionaire’s casino and steal back millions of dollars that have already been written off by the billionaire’s insurance company. This means Bautista has to:

  • get the team back together i.e. recruit the survivors he escaped Las Vegas with
  • recruit the key experts (helicopter pilot, safecracker etc)
  • reconnect with his estranged adult daughter

All good stuff. Of course there are hidden agendas and dubious members of the team and potential betrayals in the offing.

Snyder’s visual design is typically very good and having a reliable template to work with for a plot, his habit of creating films that are just stylistically appealing scenes stitched together in a sequence is less of a problem than usual. Vegas has classic slow zombies but also smarter and more organised fast zombies, which keeps the tension high through the film. There is also a zombie tiger, which is a delightfully horrible bit of CGI magic and also makes me start liking Zak Snyder. It is a gratuitous addition but a good gratuitous addition.

I shan’t recount the rest of the plot. You can figure out most of it and that the simple get-in-get-out plan goes awry in multiple ways.

I was nearly at the end of the film and I wasn’t cross at Zak Snyder or bored. Yes, the film still had that feeling that Snyder stitches his films together based on a playlist of songs but he so very nearly made it to the end without anything as cringe-making awful as using Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah in Watchmen. Very nearly made it. Almost there Zak. Yet, just as every heist movie has to have the plucky gang of misfits nearly make it out and yet somehow fail at the last moment, so Zak has to trip up at the end.

What’s the most simplistic but utterly wrong choice of a song to include in a zombie movie? A choice that you might get by Googling the word “zombie song” and then realising that is a stupid way to pick songs for a zombie movie? Did you pick Zombie by the Cranberries? A song in which Dolores O’Riordan expresses her sadness and frustration with the history of violence in Northern Ireland after the death of two children in North West of England in an IRA bombing ( If you did pick that and then thought “no…not even Zak Snyder would be that crass” then I’m sorry to disappoint you, he really is exactly that crass.

On the positive side, it isn’t a boring Zak Snyder film and there’s some good performances by the cast. Also, bonus point for the zombie tiger.

On the negative side, it is still a Zak Snyder film.

And while I’m linking to horrible blogs…

I’m just putting this here because it is actually largely non-awful and in places informative, as well as relevant to some issues we’ve been discussing recently. Larry Correia posted this essay on his blog entitled “Why are there so many Mormon writers?”

Clearly there is an iterative factor that there are so many because there are so many i.e. once you get enough people doing an activity, then there is more support for doing the activity, creating a virtuous circle.

Anyway, I thought it was largely not terrible.