Good morning, Squiders! Today I’ve got The Divinity Bureau by Tessa Clare, a dystopian romance, for you.
Good morning, Squiders! Today I’ve got The Divinity Bureau by Tessa Clare, a dystopian romance, for you.
Alas, Squiders, today we come to the end of our scifi trope series, and we end with alternate universes, which are a personal favorite of mine (which seems to be a trend). WordPress handily keeps track of blog posts I’ve started, and there’s one from, oh, six years ago that is entitled “Alternate Universes” and the entirety of the post is “ARE AWESOME WOO.”
Good job, me.
Related to this (and to be included in this discussion) are parallel universes, which are almost exactly the same thing.
An alternate universe is a universe existing alongside our own, usually with slight changes (or sometimes major changes). These can be accessed in some manner that helps the plot along (or, alternately, the alt universe can stick its nose into our universe, usually with disastrous results).
TV Tropes lists ten specific variations of alternate universes:
(As a side note, TV Tropes is a bit like Wikipedia and you can lose hours in there, so be careful.)
Like most of the scifi tropes we’ve looked at, alternate universes can be used pretty much any way you want. They can be used to explore aspects of humanity, causality, or history. They can be used as backdrops for adventure, romance, and exploration. You can have a new universe every week, or have a number of universes intricately connected.
What are your favorite uses of alternate universes, Squiders? I recently started V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic series, which deals with alternate universes in a fantasy setting. And, of course, Star Trek makes excellent use of this trope through episodes like Mirror, Mirror and even my very favorite Next Gen episode, Inner Light.
Time travel! My other trope-y love. I have been known to pick up media based solely on the fact that they included time travel even if all other signs pointed to the whole idea being terrible.
But there’s so many things you can do with a time travel story! You can do fish-out-of-water stories (i.e., character ends up in incorrect time, either past or future–I mean, it’s the whole premise of Futurama, but even Mark Twain got in on the action). You can explore a past time period through a modern lens. You can stick dinosaurs wherever the hell you want them. You can have wacky shenanigans or tragic separation. The possibilities are truly endless. (As are the time travel related tropes, yikes.)
TVTropes has categories for time travel stories as well, although it breaks it up into nine:
It also notes four methods of time travel:
Time travel can be the main plot point of a story or in the background; it can be something that comes up once or twice in a series and is never mentioned again, or something used every week. It can be used to explore history, humanity, the future, time itself, cause and effect–you name it. Or it can just be the pretty box around an adventure or romance story.
It does seem to seep into all scifi series eventually, though, doesn’t it? I mean, even if we discount time travel-oriented series like Doctor Who or Quantum Leap, you get it in Star Trek, Stargate, Supernatural…even Fraggle Rock has a time travel episode.
But I still love it.
Favorite time travel stories or tropes, squiders? I’m pretty indiscriminate, though I will say that I thought Connie Willis’s Blackout/All Clear duology was magnificent. (And I’m fond of Connie Willis in general.)
We’ve been in Iceland! Sneaky, I know. And I wanted to highlight an MVP of this–and several other–trips: my Osprey Porter 46 backpack.
(Oooh, I see it comes in colors now! Back in the day it only came in black.)
This bag has been with me on four continents over the past seven and a half years. You see, back in May 2010, my husband and I were about to embark on our first big trip as a couple, a 17-day trip across Germany, Denmark, and a tiny bit of Austria. We’d found our guru in Rick Steves, who recommended packing in a carry-on sized backpack so a number of reasons, which, off the top of my head, were:
We took this advice to heart, bought a few different bags to try, and ended up with the Osprey based on comfort (I’ve worn the bag, completely packed, on an 8-mile hike over a mountain in Japan with no issues), storage space, and general awesomeness. (For example, the backpack straps can be folded in, essentially turning the bag into a suitcase.)
(Here I am wearing the pack on our first day in Germany–in a little town called Bacharach. You can see my thoughts on the steepness of the hill.)
We’ve used these packs exclusively for all our international travel. They’ve been with us in Copenhagen and Berlin, in Cuzco and Lima, in Toyko and Kyoto, and now in Reykjavik and the countryside beyond. We’ve never had issues getting everything we needed into them, though we were a bit worried this time, with the amount of layers/boots we were taking. But everything worked fine.
The bags have weathered well too. One of the clips to help tighten the straps on the outside of the bag broke on my husband’s bag after Japan, but Osprey sent us a replacement for free.
Anyway, this bag is great. I highly recommend it. Everything fits great (we use packing cubes to keep things organized), there’s always room for souvenirs, they’re super comfortable, and we never have to wait to go places.
Do you have something that’s been indispensable for traveling, squiders?
Oh, squiders. I love Faster-than-Light (FTL) travel. I love it a lot. It opens up the universe for exploration, gives us the chance to meet new species every week and touch down on a new planet.
Of course, it also breaks the laws of physics, which has made it a bit of a black sheep in science fiction circles recently. Relativistically, nothing can go faster than the speed of light, and then there’s time dilation and other things you technically need to worry about.
And there’s some really excellent science fiction out there that deals with interstellar travel in a way that’s scientifically plausible (The Forever War comes to mind, which made the engineer in me positively giddy). But I don’t mind it when we invent made up things to hand wave it away either for the sake of story.
TVTropes breaks FTL travel into three main categories:
These categories seem fairly sufficient to me–they cover everything from Star Trek to Star Wars to Stargate (although that is people moving and not a spaceship, but ehhhh, I’ll allow it). The portal/wormhole version of this trope seems to be most popular right now, which can either fall into jump drives or hyperdrives depending on what happens once you go through the portal. That’s probably because no one understands wormholes well enough to know how they work (or if they even exist) which allows better leverage for writers playing around with cool things.
I will admit to be rather partial to the warp drive version of this trope, probably because I was raised on nothing but books and Star Trek. Yes, I have two engineering degrees. Yes, I have taken more physics courses than most people can name. And, actually, I am better at quantum physics than some more mundane versions (::shakes fist:: Right hand rule!). But I love it undyingly anyway. How can you not?
Well, I mean, I suppose you can take it too far. I’ve certainly read books where I’ve shaken my head at the FTL mechanism. But I think the issue there tends to be that they’re trying to take themselves too seriously, focusing too much on technology which isn’t realistic or working.
Another way writers get around FTL travel (and its physics-breakage) is by shrinking space (i.e., making everything closer together than it really is). If everything is closer together, then it (obviously) takes less time to get places. This has its own problems of course (such as the fact that the universe is expanding) but hey, you do what works for the story.
How do you feel about FTL travel, squiders? Do you mind some types more than others? Do you avoid it? Do you love it? What’s your favorite FTL mechanism/series?
Hooray! Another one off the shelf for your enjoyment. Neither my husband or me cop to buying this. I mean, look at the cover.
This has no elements that would entice my husband. It’s bright. It’s colorful. No one is immediately dying. (My husband tends towards darker fantasy.)
But I dislike vampires. A lot. I so rarely pick up any sort of media that includes them, and there one is, right in the title.
(It probably was me. But what was I thinking?)
Maybe I thought it would be a romp. I do like romps.
Anyway! I bought this book at a library book sale in 2015 and now I have read it, and we can talk about it.
Title: The Goldcamp Vampire
Author: Elizabeth Scarborough
Genre: Historical fantasy
Publication Year: 1987
Pros: Occasional fun capers and no one cares about there being a vampire, not even the Mounties
Cons: Wanting to beat viewpoint character over the head with something
I wanted to like this a lot more than I did. It’s fairly ridiculous, and no one’s fooling anyone, and also no one cares and it’s glorious. But I felt like the prose was dense and I admit to skimming when it got bogged down in description, and I wasn’t too fond of the main character, who often couldn’t see the forest for the trees.
(Goodreads includes a longer title: The Goldcamp Vampire, or the Sanguinary Sourdough, though I’m not sure where sourdough comes into it.)
This is also the second book in the series, the first being The Drastic Dragon of Draco, Texas. I have not read that book or this author previously.
Pelagia Harper, also known as Valentine Lovelace (author), has recently lost her father, so when his mistress offers her a chance to make a new life in the Yukon, she goes along with it, thinking she’ll at least have a good story to tell. There is a weird addition to the party, however–they’ll need to escort the coffin of the mistress’s new employer’s former partner with them.
By the time they reach their end destination, several people around them have died seemingly randomly, and Pelagia/Valentine has been implicated in at least one of their murders. So the mistress and her employer insist on hiding her in plain sight by dying her hair and making her a flamenco dancer at their saloon, answering to the name of Corazon and speaking no English.
So you can see what sort of book this is. I wish I had liked Pelagia/Valentine better. Besides the name confusion (as she rarely thinks of herself by name, and those around her have practically half-a-dozen names she’s referred to), she’s older (in her ’30s), an author, has dealt with supernatural creatures previously, and isn’t afraid to go to other people’s rescue. I should like her. But I didn’t. Nor was I too wild about most of the side characters, of which there are a couple dozen, which are sometimes hard to keep track of. I did like Larsson, Lomax, and Jack London, and occasionally Vasily Vladovitch. Oh, and the cat.
I dunno. I’d give it a 3 out of 5 stars. So not good, but not bad. If you like romps involving the Yukon, the Gold Rush, and vampires, hey, here’s a book for you. There’s also a were-moose.
Read anything else by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough? Would you recommend anything?
Good morning, squiders! I hope your Thursday finds you well.
Today we’ll be looking at aliens. Aliens come in a number of different flavors. You have your friendly aliens like E.T. You have your invading aliens ala Independence Day. You have aliens who have their own cultures and beliefs and goals, which can be presented in a totally unfamiliar way (such as insectoid aliens from Ender’s Game or Starship Troopers) or as friendly, relate-able faces that showcase different aspects of humanity.
(Alien has stopped looking like a word.)
“Alien” is a word that has been used in English for hundreds of years. My Internet combing tells me that it came into usage in the 1300s as a word meaning a foreigner (a usage it still has, though perhaps less common) or an outsider. I’m getting mixed results on the word as meaning “someone from another planet.” One sources says 1920s. Another accredits it to John Wood Campbell in 1953 in Analog magazine. Who knows? Apparently not the Internet.
(On the other hand, the word “extraterrestrial,” which is perhaps more explicit in its definition, was first used in 1848, according to Merriam-Webster.)
Aliens have evolved throughout science fiction. Early science fiction, which often has adventurers exploring far-off-but-not-really locales such as the Moon or Mars, usually has extraterrestrial beings that are close to human beings (I’m looking at you, A Princess of Mars).
Indeed, a lot of science fiction tends toward fairly human aliens. We touched on this a few weeks ago, but part of this is because science fiction tends to be an exploration of humanity, and by representing different alien species as different aspects of humanity (::coughStarTrekcough::) you can explore humanity as a whole. Another reason is because if an alien has an aspect of humanity to them, it makes them more relate-able to a human audience. If a character is supposed to be sympathetic, they’ll often have a human element to them.
Alternately, inhuman aliens are often portrayed as “evil” or in opposition to humanity. This isn’t always true–writers often turn this trope on its head by focusing on the miscommunication between two species with little in common. But almost all of your “evil” alien species are inhuman in appearance or actions. Series with multiple alien species sometimes make this more apparent. If you watched Falling Skies a few years back, contrast the Espheni and the Skitters (the bad guys) versus the more human-sympathetic Volm. Or take Doctor Who, where the Time Lords are literally indistinguishable in appearance from humans, versus anything that decides to try and eat Earth at any particular moment. (See particularly: Daleks.)
What are you favorite aliens, Squiders? Favorite exploration of alien vs humanity themes? Likelihood of an ancient, powerful society seeding other planets with life and/or rescuing the dinosaurs so they can earn their sentience and eat us in the future?
Ah, squiders, it’s been a long time since we’ve visited with Landsquid and Alpaca and those lot, but I found out today what a baby camel looks like, and it is amazing.
Look at those legs. They go on forever. It’s a fluffy, ungainful mess.
I mean, look at it.
They’re adorable. And will still probably spit in your face.
This has been your camel interlude. See you Thursday, squiders.
We’re done! It’s a miracle.
Oh, squiders. This one started out so much better. There were other characters! There was a clear plot! And then it spiraled down into insanity still. Sigh.
Goodreads tells me that this book was nominated for best novel for the World Fantasy Awards in 1986, so I’m just going to assume that 1986 was a bad year for fantasy novels. (Actually, further research tells me books like Redwall, Howl’s Moving Castle, and The Light Fantastic came out in 1986, so maybe we were awarding awards based on how smart we thought books were that year. Do you know what I mean? Where something is totally incomprehensible, so it must be because you’re not smart enough to understand it, not that it’s just a mess?)
I feel like we got an incomplete story. At the end of Undersea, Finn/Llugh/Ar Elon had disappeared instead of leading his people to war, as had been foreshadowed through both Yearwood and Undersea. And as it doesn’t seem like Paul Hazel wrote any more books related to this (there seems to be a fourth book, The Wealdwife’s Tale, which is not directly related), apparently that will just never be finished up.
Winterking takes place at some unspecified time which I assume is roughly the 1930s. It’s after WWI (as I assume the “Great War” is referring to) and there are cars, yet if it wasn’t for those clues, I would assume it was earlier, sometime in the 1800s, because despite taking place in New England somewhere, it feels distinctly like Regency-era novels I’ve read in terms of setting/conventions. I had to keep reminding myself that this was supposed to be the New World because it felt like we were in England.
(Of course, it’s not really New England and it could literally be any time, but that leads us into the messy part of this and I’m not ready for that yet.)
We follow Wykeham, whom I originally thought was Finn but I’m pretty sure is actually supposed to be Wyck, who was present for most of Undersea though not seemingly of any import til the end. (Remember when I was talking about allegories about youth?) Finn gave him his cloak early-ish in Undersea which apparently made it so he could never age, and so he’s just gone on, forever, pretending to be his own son, in what’s a fairly standard I’m-immortal-and-this-is-how-I-don’t-seem-too-suspicious way. That part was interesting.
And then it gets messy. So apparently Wykeham has the ability to remake the world, or at least a little section of it, whenever things start to not go his way, or whenever Duinn (the god of death) gets too close. I assuming Duinn is Finn/Llugh/Ar Elon, that this is the name he did not give in the last book, though this is never explicit. So I could be completely wrong.
So Duinn gets too close, and there’s something about Indians burning churches (I really just…did not understand what the Indians ever had to do with anything. They’re in there from the beginning, and at first, before the whole world remaking madness cropped up, I assumed they were just your standard Native Americans handled indelicately because it was the ’80s. But later on I think they’re more of an indicator of how close Duinn is to catching up to Wykeham.) and Wykeham gathers nine men to him to remake the world again, and he uses the memories from himself and the nine to create the world, so it keeps people and conventions and things that people want in it.
And then, and I’m just trying to make sense of the madness, something goes wrong with the new world creation, because it’s snowing, and there’s still Indians, and the stone kings from the first book, and I think the implication is that the women (who left during the actual world remaking) got into the process accidentally, or at least Nora did, since she didn’t get all the way away (distracted by Duinn) during the remaking, and also because she’s Wykeham’s daughter, and maybe somehow has some of the same ability.
AND THEN THE BOOK JUST STOPS so there’s STILL NO RESOLUTION.
Anyway, if you’ve read these along with me, I’m sorry. Also, I hope you followed what happened better than I did.
Have a good weekend, Squiders!
Hey, guys! We’re doing this today rather than Thursday because we’ve got our Winterking discussion then. (Are you guys reading that with me? At first I thought it was better but we seem to be delving back into familiar confusion as we near the end.)
So today we’ll talk about robots. Who doesn’t love robots? Well, technophobes or people waiting for the Singularity, I suppose.
According to NPR, the word robot was created in 1920 for Karel Capek’s play, Rossum’s Universal Robots (RUR). In the play, robots are biological, but have no feelings, and are used to do all the jobs that humans don’t want to do. “Robot” comes from the Old Church Slavonic word “rabota,” which means servitude of forced labor.
That being said, despite the image that is generally rendered by the world–a futuristic machine that does various tasks–robots have actually been around for quite some time, mostly in the forms of automatons, which are machines created to do a specific purpose and are usually self-contained (i.e., they don’t need external control). Stories from ancient times often include automatons, and several from the 1700s-1900s still exist.
(Automatons gained some public interest from the success of the book/movie The Invention of Hugo Cabret.)
Automatons often feature fairly strongly in steampunk media (such as the webcomic Girl Genius) though the capabilities of various automatons are somewhat exaggerated past what is historically accurate (which is a feature in steampunk anyway).
Despite living in an age of robotics now, most people still get that 1950s-era Lost in Space Robot sort of image. Or the Cybermen from Doctor Who. Or Rosie from the Jetsons. It’s hard to look at a Roomba and see the connection.
(Speaking of Roombas, my partner and I recently kickstarted a robot by the same company called Tertill, who is designed to weed your garden for you. I am SO excited. I hate weeding. Anyway.)
And, of course, scifi has branched out from your classic mid-century robots. Androids are an especially large area of interest, because it allows us to explore questions such as what it means to be human, what constitutes as life, etc. If a robot looks human, acts human, are they human? Where is the delineation between man and machine?
(Actually, for a look at a world where AI are accepted as a lifeform, you might look at the webcomic Questionable Content. It starts off as a slice-of-life comic, but has added more and more AI characters and focused more on them and how they fit into the world as the comic has gone on.)
You really can–and scifi does–go over with this trope. I read a very interesting short story in one of those Best Of collections not too long ago, about a robot whose job is to keep the outside of a spaceship repaired. You can do more humanoid, or stick with more modern-day robots, where they have a single function, often something that humans won’t or can’t do. You can look at humanity through machines or just have them as background flavor in your space adventure. They can develop sentience or not.
You can have them overthrow their creators or be locked down by the laws of robotics.
(TVTropes has 47 subtropes under “Robot.”)
Who are your favorite robots? I’m partial to Data, Bender, R2D2 and K-2SO (I really like snarky robots it turns out), and Johnny 5 (…is alive!). Favorite book/show/movie that includes robots?