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Friday Five: 5 Branches of the British Royal Family in SF

The BFGWelcome to the family, KateBot! As your final software downloads, here's a quick overview of the new inlaws...

Alien Lizards. The "Reptoid Hypothesis" is fairly well-documented outside of SF as well, thanks to the diligent David Icke. Lavie Tidhar's The Bookman gives them a slightly more empathetic spin. The Royals are still alien lizard people, but The Bookman explores where they came from, why they're here and what they're doing about it. Our favourite part? The neocon teen rebels that get complicated piercings so they look more snakey (snakier?)

Giant Slayers. Fear not, if you're under attack by cannibal giants, the Queen's the woman to call. In Roald Dahl's The BFG, lovely Sophie figures out that the giants are coming and goes straight to the woman in charge. The Queen doesn't just mobilize the army to defend against the monstrous menace, she also serves the friendly giant a lavish breakfast. That's class.

(Creepy) Alien Lizards. Warren Ellis didn't have the longest run on Hellblazer, but he certainly made an impact. In one story (later collected in Setting Sun), John Constantine spills the real story of the Alien Lizard Royals to a naive reporter. Let it suffice that Princess Diana had a rough time of it, but she's still better off than the poor corgis. 

Vampires. Kim Newman wrote the definitive book on the bloodsucking monarchy with Anno Dracula. The famous vampire has done well for himself and married the widowed Queen Victoria. As a result, the entire upper crust (and some of the lower) is now of a decidedlysanguine disposition. 

Elder Gods. Neil Gaiman's "A Study in Emerald" reminds us that there are worse things than alien lizards: enormous alien balls of protoplasmic tentacled goo. "A Study in Emerald", arguably Mr. Gaiman's best short story (high praise!) is a clever pastiche of Sherlock Holmes that has the master detective solving a murder that takes him all the way up to the top. With twist after twist, a set of reveals worthy of Philip K. Dick, the reader is never certain who the good guy actually is in the story. One thing's for certain, it ain't the squamous Queen.

And one more...

Foxy SpacePunk Ninjas. Our latest favourite interpretation of the Royal Family? Liz 10 from the Doctor Who episode, "The Beast Below". Sophie Okonedo steals the show as the latest in the carefully-managed line of Windsors. She's a feisty one, too - planning a revolution against, er, herself. God Save the Queen, 'cause the she's our last hope when the clockwork Smilers come...

Which SF monarchs did we miss? Which is your favorite? Take a break from watching the wedding and tell us in the comments...

New Releases: The Viking Dead by Toby Venables

The Tomes of the Dead: Viking DeadIt is 976 AD. Bjolf and his motley crew are having a run of bad luck. They've had wind of a cushy, easily-raidable village on the back end of beyond. But when they show up, axes sharpened and ready to raid, Bjolf's men discover that a rival band of vikings have already looted it. Worse yet, the rival band (bigger, meaner and better equipped) are still in the area. Bjolf rapidly goes from predator to prey - forced to return to his ship at a very un-Viking-like run. 

The Hrafn, Bjolf's ship, loses her pursuers at sea - helped by a convenient (if terrifying) fog. The Vikings wash up in a strange and spooky land. The natives live huddled behind an enormous wooden stockade - the reason for which becomes apparent when the first zombies stagger out of the forest.

Just to be clear, The Viking Dead is about Vikings... fighting zombies. 

And, just to be completely clear, it is awesome.

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New Releases: Sea of Ghosts by Alan Campbell

Sea of GhostsSea of Ghosts is the stunning new release from Alan Campbell, and the first in the Gravedigger Chronicles. Ostensibly some sort of epic fantasy, Sea of Ghosts follows the misadventures of a disgraced military hero as he navigates through a grim and relentless world.

Our hero, such as he is, is Captain Thomas Granger. As the leader of a unit forlornly nicknamed "The Gravediggers", he's an impressive man. The reader catches Granger in his full glory at the start of the book, when the Captain and his unit defeat an Unmer warlock. The Unmer are the (supposedly) defeated enemies of humanity - a sorcerous, aquatic race with the ability to create lavishly complex magical artifacts. Despite the warlock's obvious advantage, the Gravediggers do a bit of ass-kicking. They're cool, collected and on top of the world.

That is, until the second chapter. Captain Granger unwisely mouths off to Emperor Hu and the Gravediggers suddenly find themselves wanted men. Some stay, hoping to hide in the Emperor's own shadow. Granger flees to the far end of the empire, the prison city of Ethugru. There, Granger spends several years hiding in miserable safety until, against odds, his past comes to haunt him. Granger has, previously unbeknowst to him, a daughter, Ianthe. Ianthe has eerie psychic abilities - which makes her a valuable trophy to the local crimelord, the Emperor and the guild of psychics that protect humanity from the Unmer menace (for a price). Granger is rudely jostled from his shell and thrown into a whirlpool of the world's most powerful players.

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Underground Reading: Shadowdale by Richard Awlinson

Shadowdale"The Film".
"The Book of the Film".
"The Comic Book of the Film".
"The Wii Game of the Film".

This is "crossmedia" - the technique of telling the same story across multiple platforms. It is the traditional way of milking a media property for sweet, sweet money, and, by gum, it still works.

Now, owners of media properties are looking for ways to extend this further - not just more channels, but also more stories. Thus was born "transmedia"- one of the hottest buzzwords of 2011.

The Matrix is one of the best examples of this. The trilogy (which, unfortunately, means I've now referenced Matrix 2 and 3 on Pornokitsch, something I'd vowed never to do) tells one story. The animated shorts (distributed online and on DVD) tell prequels and side-stories. The Matrix Online video game continues the story further, past the end of the films. 

Star Wars and Pokemon are also exceptional examples of transmedia storytelling. They not only exist in every possible channel but also every channel (book, comic, action figure, movie, animated series, video game...) adds new, canonical content into the mix. They're not the only ones. Joss Whedon used comic books to write another "season" of Buffy, Avatar: The Video Game explored different aspects of Pandora, etc, etc. (Doctor Who is probably a definitional exception, as it eschews continuity. Nor, however, is it crossmedia. The books aren't repeating the same story as the television show, but nor do they all build into the same world.) 

In all the transmedia examples above (and many, many more), the lead has come from a Big Broadcast Media. The movie or the television show gets millions upon millions of viewers, so the media owner extends the property to slurp up more of their lovely dollars. Can a transmedia property be led by a non-broadcast channel? 

Or course. And, not that we should toot our collective horns too loudly, but genre's been doing this for years. Decades, even. Just look at role-playing games.

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New Releases: Desdaemona by Ben Macallan

DesdaemonaDesdaemona is the young adult urban fantasy debut from "Ben Macallan", one of the pen names of the experienced writer, Chaz Brenchley. Mr. Brenchley is the author of the ambitious Outremer series of epic fantasies and some outstanding stand-alone horror and dark fantasy novels.

The hero of Desdaemona is Jordan, who seems like an ordinary seventeen year old (down to the traditionally-dubious fashion and hair decisions). It is quickly revealed that Jordan is anything but normal. He's got a bit of magic (mostly in his left hand) and a lot of occult trivia. Jordan, as per the urban fantasy YA standards, knows things, things about the real (imaginary) world. To spice things up, he's also on the run from powerful, unnamed enemies.

Perhaps it is this last point that best defines Jordan's character. He's perpetually on the lam, a twitchy, rat-like survivor type. He's an expert on paranoia and escape routes. Desdaemona is told in the first person and the reader is swimming, cover-to-cover, in Jordan's desperation. Still, despite his neurotic instincts (or because of them), Jordan tries to be a good guy - he's got a soft spot for other runaways and does his best to protect them and make sure they safely go home.

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Underground Reading: Vanishing Ladies by Ed McBain

Vanishing-ladiesMany an older novel has used the idea of "white slavery" as a plot or a subplot, although these  books read today as fluffy, improbable, or even outright ridiculous. But what if I were to tell you that there's a novel out there which not only uses the idea of white slavery to good effect, but it even has something meaningful to say about prostitution, sexual freedom, sexual exploitation, and the laws that states - and the State - enact in attempts to speak to these concerns?

Will you sleep a little easier tonight when you learn that this novel not only exists, but it's by crime author extraordinaire Ed McBain, author of the 87th Precinct novels?  Friends, I speak the truth.  That novel is out there.  And it's great.

Now an almost hilariously bizarre concern, the idea of white slavery was the source of major social anxiety in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  As opposed to "traditional" forms of slavery, whereby (non-white) folk are kidnapped or bought by other (often white) people, transported to a foreign location, and forced into appalling labor and living conditions without remuneration, white slavery is generally understood to occur when (white) girls are kidnapped or bought by (often, non-white) people and forced into prostitution.  By modern standards, the concerns about white slavery appear weird at best, and incomprehensibly hysterical at worst - but dig a little deeper and legitimate worries about underage prostitution, sexual exploitation, and even the ugly face of imperialist policies begin to manifest.

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Monsters & Mullets: Dragonslayer (1981)

397px-DragonslayerPosterWe've talked a bit about revisionist takes on genre already this week, albeit in terms of novels.  It's only appropriate, then, that we tackle revisionist cinema, as well.

It took us two days to make it through today's Monsters & Mullets feature.  If we hadn't been watching it for the purposes of review, we probably never would have finished it.  Dragonslayer's not great but it's also not terrible - at least, not on par with a few of our other features.  Dragonslayer, however, is this: an hour and forty minutes of draggy-ass dull.  Many of our other features have been enlivened, if not redeemed, by something: a charismatic actor, or maybe an interesting sub-plot.  But Dragonslayer has none of these things.  Indeed, Dragonslayer has the opposite of these things: bored actors and boring storylines.

The movie also stands as a testament to the problems inherent in revisionist storytelling.  In theory, Dragonslayer is a film that puts paid to the old fashioned hero quest, being as it's about an unlikable and ineffective guy who thinks he's gaining power and authority but ultimately, discovers he's been nothing more than the pawn of the people he trusted.  This is really interesting stuff, folks!  This has the potential to redefine the entire genre!

Again, in theory, Dragonslayer is a mischeveious, revisionist take on the high fantasy hero quest.  In practice, it's a boring, derivative, billion-hour-long slog about the unlikable doing the unthinkable in service of the unknowable.  Let's have at it, shall we?

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The Wisdom of Our Crowd

Bald EagleThe question of book blogger "independence" is raised frequently and, although the ensuing debate seldom varies, the question does deserve to surface occasionally. 

"Independence" is an individual attribute - an ethical position best left to each individual site, feed or Livejournal owner. Do bloggers have a duty to provide objective reviews? Do bloggers have a duty to repay publishers? Do bloggers have a duty to encourage authors? Do bloggers have a "duty" at all? Each blogger can wrestle (or ignore) these questions as they see fit. We've got our own answers, but they only apply to us. 

A collective attribute, however, is intelligence. Two reviews from highly-regarded platforms (The New York Times and Slate) recently prompted a collective backlash from the fantasy blogging Community-with-a-C. They had the opportunity to say something that our team found not just offensive, but wrong. Or, less politely, "stupid".

In contrast, are we - the genre book blogging Community - any smarter?

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Underground Reading: Edge - The Loner by George G. Gilman

The LonerThe Loner is the first book in the long-running Edge series by George G. Gilman (Terry Harknett). From 1972 to 1989, Josiah "Edge" Hedge shot, stabbed, slashed and generally mayhemmed n' mayhacked his way through an astonishing 61 volumes of Western adventure. (63 if you count the two cross-overs with Gilman's other character, the equally destructive Adam Steele).

Edge is billed as a "new kind of Western hero" - a self-consciously revisionist approach to the John Ford / Zane Grey tradition. The traditional Western featured a chivalric, blue-eyed knight errant - forced reluctantly into battle, kind to women and babies, combining "aww shucks" Americana and apple pie heroism. In contrast, Edge, a whiskey-fueled engine of mean, is a studied act of rebellion. 

As far as origin stories go, the plot of The Loner isn't atypical. Captain Josiah Hedge returns from the Civil War to find his brother murdered at the hands of renegade soldiers. Vowing revenge, "Edge" (a malapropism that quickly sticks) travels from Iowa to Arizona in search of the killers. 

The story's set-piece action sequences are equally familiar: a wagon train attacked by Indians, a dynamite-driven jailbreak, an outlaw hideout in a bandit cave. But Mr. Gilman breaks from tradition by populating his West with a legion of shameless villains. There are no innocents in Edge's world, including the man himself.

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