Jul 19 2019

Welcome to Lagos by Chibundu Onuzo

Welcome to Lagos begins well outside of the Nigerian metropolis, at a hot and dirty army outpost somewhere in the Niger delta: oil country, but also rebel country. Serving under a corrupt colonel and terrorizing local people is not what Chike Ameobi signed up for the army to do. After twelve months as an officer in that region of bad rations and pointless conflict, he’s had enough. During a nighttime raid, he and Private Yemi Oke leg it into the brush. It’ll be death if they get caught by either rebels or army, or possibly even just the local people, but death could come for them just as easily on patrol, or if the colonel finds out they weren’t shooting at civilians like the rest of their unit. On their way out, they discard parts of their uniforms. Then they hope for the best.

Early the next morning, they surprise a young man at a vulnerable moment. Chike and Yemi take him hostage, pressuring him to take them to the main road. “Whenever Chike described what happened next, he began by saying it was mythical. … He saw a girl appearing as if from the tree itself, her legs sprouting from the bole, her arms fro the brambles, her hair a compost of twigs and leaves.” (p. 21) She runs smack into their hostage, who improbably calls himself Fineboy; there is a brief tussle and then she faints. Her name is Isoken, she has gotten lost from her parents, and says she was attacked during the night by a group of men who wanted to rape her. Isoken leads them to a village where she has an uncle, but it turns out the uncle is not much better than the night gang. Four of the novel’s five main characters are now assembled. Oma, the fifth, joins them on the crowded bus to Lagos, wedged in the front seat with Chike. She is fleeing a husband who beats her.

At first it looks like Chike’s new, hodgepodge platoon will disperse as soon as they make it to the big city. Part of Onuzo’s art is how natural she makes it seem that these unlikely allies stay together amidst the teeming millions in Lagos, how chance encounters form bonds that overcome initial mistrust and build a group that looks after each other. Two additional strands of the novel follow first Ahmed Bakare, editor of the Nigerian Journal, son of a wealthy family who has come back from a banking job in England to try to make a positive difference in his native country. Corruption can kill a crusading paper more thoroughly than the violence that the army used in the old days; if word from on high gets around that no one should buy ads in the paper’s pages, it will run out of money sooner or later. Ahmed has to balance his ideals with the realities of staying in business and protecting his staff, knowing all the while that he is disappointing his parents by not pursuing a more conventional career in business or graft, or at least staying in England and angling for respectability. The other strand follows Chief Sandayo, soon to be former Minister of Education. He had risen from activism in the Yoruba lands of the southwest, where he built schools and improved education, to the political capital of Abuja, where intrigues eventually get the better of him and he flees just ahead of ignominy and possibly worse.

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2019/07/19/welcome-to-lagos-by-chibundu-onuzo/

Jul 10 2019

Two Dark Reigns (Three Dark Crowns #3) by Kendare Blake

Finally, a book I picked for meeeeee!

Nothing against the books sent to me for work, here or at CriminalElement.com, but dang, it’s nice to have free time again and the luxury of leisurely selecting from my back catalog, so to speak, what I’d like to read next. So, of course, I chose to enjoy the magnificent Kendare Blake’s magnificent Two Dark Reigns, silently screaming nearly throughout with emotion. Poor Katharine! I don’t normally have a lot of sympathy for murderous royalty but the poor girl has been stripped of so much agency that it feels almost churlish to blame her for all the bad shit she winds up doing.

Anyway, Katharine is queen now but not everyone is happy about it. The two weakest powered groups on Fennbirn — the oracles and the wargifted — are more than ready to elevate Jules to power, paving the way for a new system of government devoid of the Goddess’ blessing. Meanwhile, Arsinoe and Mirabella are navigating life off the island, but supernatural compulsions start pointing them back, having to do with the legacy of the last Blue Queen of Fennbirn, the fourth-born sister who immediately ascended the throne, dooming her siblings to death mere hours from the womb. Illian (sp? Sorry, I don’t have my Kindle handy) was a powerful elemental who created the mist that protects Fennbirn from the mainland and died aaaaaaages ago, so why would her ghost show up to two abdicating queens now?

I think my favorite part of this book was the way it portrayed the characters’ necessarily shifting allegiances and aims as they reacted to events and to each other: it was a shockingly sophisticated look at politics given that this is “merely” a YA fantasy novel. It’s hard not to root for each of the triplet queens as they struggle to break the chains of received history in order not only to survive but to preserve their beloved island. Honestly, the only non-triplet character I cared about was Billy, though Daphne-in-the-past was pretty cool too. And lol, the ending. Er, not the prophecy part (I’m pretty sure Arsinoe just assumed the worst, for some reason,) but the Pietyr part. He got what he deserved.

The WORST part of this book was ending it and discovering that the next (and last?) book in the series comes out in September. I’d thought that the whole series was completed so am just stewing at how much longer I have to wait than anticipated. That said, it’s back to the reading mines I go; hopefully, I will return here sooner rather than later!

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2019/07/10/two-dark-reigns-three-dark-crowns-3-by-kendare-blake/

Jun 26 2019

The Record Keeper by Agnes Gomillion

Hi, Frumious Readers! I feel like I’ve been away foreeeever, but it’s been crunch time over at my other reading job with CriminalElement.com so my apologies for being infrequent over here. Anyway, with Doug away for a bit, I’m glad to be back with this really great new novel sent to me by our friends at Titan Press. It’s thrilling to be part of their blog tour for The Record Keeper, and do check out the other sites that are covering this book, as well.

In a post-apocalyptic world, the only surviving habitable land is a slice of the east coast of what was once North America. After years of bitter fighting along racial lines, the three surviving superpowers — the white English, the Asian Clayskin and the black Kongo — sign a treaty known as the Niagara compromise, which gives the three races separate but equal rights. Well, “equal” because we all know what that really means. The English are tasked with researching agricultural advances, while the Clayskin serve as merchants and tradesman. The Kongo themselves form the bulk of the agricultural labor, though stratify themselves further with the ranks of First Brother and Second Brother, along the lines of physical characteristics. The First Brothers include Record Keepers like our heroine, Arika of House Cobane, who live lives of relative privilege. They’re supposed to look after and champion their field hand brethren, the Second Brothers, but — at the risk of repeating myself — we all know how that works.

Arika studies at the Schoolhouse run by the sadistic Englishwoman Jones (she has a first name but I couldn’t be arsed to look for it because she is the poster girl for white feminism and, obviously, sucks.) Arika’s overweening ambition is to graduate as valedictorian so she can become a Senator, thereby escaping the arbitrary racial rules of the nation and securing herself an unassailable position from where she can truly advocate for her race, First and Second Brothers alike. She clings to logic and order without realizing that both have been framed for her by a society that wants to keep her docile and conforming. When a new student comes to the Schoolhouse and jeopardizes her standing, she begins to realize that there’s more to the world than she’d accounted for, inspiring the spirit that Jones had tried to break so long ago to unbend itself anew.

Okay, first let’s talk about this novel’s few but unignorable flaws. First, it is desperately underwritten. This is Agnes Gomillion’s first book, and she will look back on it in the future with a wince, not because it’s bad (it’s actually really good) but because she’ll know where she should have done better, taking more time to elaborate on plot points and interior lives and emotions instead of rushing from one cool idea to another. I absolutely understand the excitement to get this rich, vivid world out of one’s brain and on to the page, but there are a ton of what feel like missed moments that should have been dwelled upon instead of quickly presented then moved away from. This could easily have been a book twice its size that I would still have devoured with glee.

The second comes at the end of the book, and involves torturing an unconscious person. Yes, that person absolutely sucks, and yes, I believe that revenge isn’t necessarily evil or unwarranted, but come on. I don’t go for the honor card often, but it’s not heroic to inflict pain for the sake of inflicting pain, and it’s cowardly to do that when the other person can’t fight back at all.

Anyway, those aside, this is a fascinating dystopian take on the rule of divide and conquer perpetrated historically by white Europeans and perpetuated by their minority subjects upon their own bodies. It’s got excellent historical chops as well as sci-fi bonafides: I loved the idea of the Helix and the fangirl references to Frederick Douglass. I’m very interested in seeing where Ms Gomillion goes with this next, as I’m intrigued by the whole Obi Solomon thing as well as by the forces that seemingly lie coiled in Arika’s breast. Sequel please, and soon!

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2019/06/26/the-record-keeper-by-agnes-gomillion-2/

Jun 23 2019

Off to the Wabe

Perhaps to gyre and gimble. Back in mid-July.

In the meantime, I have become a supporting member of Dublin 2019, an Irish Worldcon. I’m gutted that I won’t be able to attend in person, but what can ya do?

Dublin 2019

I had an amazing time at Worldcon 75 in Helsinki, and enjoyed being a Hugo voter for the first time that year, so I am taking up the task again this year. I’ve already read two of the six nominees for Best Novel — Space Opera by Catherynne Valente (which Doreen also read) and Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee. Doreen and I have both read the first Binti novella; the third one is a finalist this year. Doreen has read the first three Muderbot novellas; the second is a Hugo finalist in 2019. Doreen has read Beneath the Sugar Sky, which is a finalist this year; she and I have both read other novellas in the Wayward Children series. Among the Best Series nominees, I have written about several of Charles Stross‘ Laundry books. Doreen and I have both written about Yoon Ha Lee‘s Machineries of Empire series.

Good reading ahead as I pedal through southern Germany.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2019/06/23/off-to-the-wabe/

Jun 22 2019

My Real Children by Jo Walton

In 2015 Patricia Cowan has passed getting on in years and is definitely old. She’s reasonably well taken care of in the home where she lives now. She’s often confused, though, sometimes very confused, “VC” as it says in the notes the nurses and aides make. She’s not surprised, though; her mother struggled with dementia in her later years, too. She remembers her childhood well, the years during World War II that she spent at Oxford. And then.

“It was when she thought of her children that she was most truly confused. Sometimes she knew with solid certainty that she had four children, and five more stillbirths: nine times giving birth in floods of blood and pain, and of those, four surviving. At other times she knew equally well that she had two children, both born by caesarian section late in her life after she had given up hope. Two children of her body, and another, a stepchild, dearest of them all. When any of them visited she knew them, knew how many of them there were, and the other knowledge felt like a dream. She couldn’t understand how she could be so muddled. If she saw Philip she knew that he was one of her three children, yet if she saw Cathy she knew she was one of her four children. She recognized them and felt that mother’s ache.” (pp. 10–11)

My Real Children by Jo Walton

My Real Children tells the stories of those two lives. They start from the same childhood, the same wartime experiences and studies at Oxford. They share the same college boyfriend, the separation when she takes a teaching job after her degree while he goes on to finish, the letters that they exchange, letters that sustained her, letters that convinced her she was part of a great romance, letters that buoyed her as a young woman far from her fiancee, letters interrupted one day by a phone call. Mark, her intended, has gotten a very bad mark on his Oxford degree. The future of scholarship and philosophy that he had imagined is not to be.

“I won’t get a fellowship. I’ll have to become a schoolmaster. I’m calling to say I want to release you from our engagement now that I have no prospects.” Hysteria rose in his tones.
“But that’s ridiculous. I’ll stand by you, you know I will. I’ll wait as long as you like.”
“I won’t let you down, I promised to marry you, but you’ll have to marry me now or never!” Mark said.
Patty felt faint … She did not want to be a burden to Mark, to marry him when he could not afford to start a family. As a married woman she would not be permitted to teach, and what else did an English degree qualify her to do? Besides, if they married, she’d soon have a baby, and she’d be unable to work. Yet she couldn’t bear to give him up, to have his letters stop, for him to go out of her life.
“Oh Mark,” she said. “If it’s to be now or never then—”

The chapter ends. In the next chapter, she says “now” and in the one following “never!” That fulcrum levers Patty into two different worlds, one in which she is soon known as Tricia, marries Mark, does indeed start a family with him in short order, and in which all struggle with the strictures of the time that diminish his prospects and circumscribe hers even more tightly. In the timeline where she turns him down, she finds that without Mark’s letters, the school where Pat, as Patricia comes to be known, teaches is even more isolated and dreadful. Almost the sole ray of light is when a university friend invites her to come along on a trip to Italy during the summer break. “She replied to Marjorie and said she would go. … She could be miserable in Rome just as well as in Twickenham.” (p. 66) But of course she is not miserable. Pat begins a love affair that will last all of her life; she falls in love with Italy itself.

And so the two Patricias separate in 1949, grow to maturity, have families, survive heartbreak and trauma, live rich and full lives, and reunite, as it were, as a very confused patient in 2015. Neither of the worlds that Patricia knows is ours. It’s been a little while since I finished the book, and details of which events go in which timeline have faded, but the Soviets win the race to the moon in one of them. That may or may not be the one in which the superpower confrontation under JFK went down in history as the Cuban nuclear exchange (limited, fortunately; otherwise, one alternate history would have been much shorter than the other), and other tit-for-tat nuclear exchanges — between India and Pakistan, for instance — are a recurring part of international politics. Tricia’s timeline has more advanced space travel than Pat’s or ours; there’s a moon base, and academics spending a year there for research is routine by the 1990s. Pat’s has better biology, and a set of guidebooks to Italy by one P.A. Cowan.

Of the Tricia’s four children who survive, the oldest is named Doug, which was fun for me. Although he has his own tragedies, which was of course less so.

In both worlds, Walton reflects on the burdens that women bear, and how so many systems work together to make them heavier. She writes of how larger currents of history ripple into the lives of ordinary people. My Real Children is not a fantasy of political agency; its characters do not shape the worlds that they live in, but they do contain those worlds and by showing them to readers, Walton invites reflection on life within more familiar constraints of gender, of class, of nationality, of background. Patricia’s stories are rich and well-told, two biographies equally real for readers, full of people with their own lives and tales. Now and never, forever and ever, in whichever world.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2019/06/22/my-real-children-by-jo-walton/

Jun 19 2019

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Becoming really is that good. Here’s a lengthy excerpt from the beginning.

“There’s a lot I still don’t know about America, about life, about what the future might bring. But I do know myself. My father, Fraser, taught me to work hard, laugh often, and keep my word. My mother, Marian, showed me how to think for myself and to use my voice. Together, in our cramped apartment on the South Side of Chicago, they helped me see the value in our story, in my story, in the larger story of our country. Even when it’s not pretty or perfect. Even when it’s more real than you want it to be. Your story is what you have, what you will always have. It is something to own.

“For eight years, I lived in the White House, a place with more stairs than I can count—plus elevators, a bowling alley, and an in-house florist. … Our meals were cooked by a team of world-class chefs and delivered by professionals more highly trained than those at any five-star restaurant or hotel. Secret service agents, with their earpieces and guns and deliberately flat expressions, stood outside our doors, doing their best to stay out of our family’s private life. We got used to it, eventually, sort of—the strange grandeur of our new home and also the constant, quiet presence of others.
“The White House is where our two girls played ball in the hallways and climbed trees on the South Lawn. It’s where Barack sat up late at night, poring over briefings and drafts of speeches in the Treaty Room, and where Sunny, one of our dogs, sometimes pooped on the rug. … There were days when I felt suffocated by the fact that our windows had to be kept shut for security, that I couldn’t get some fresh air without causing a fuss. There were other times when I’d be awestruck by the white magnolias blooming outside, the everyday bustle of government business, the majesty of a military welcome. There were days, weeks, and months when I hated politics. And there were moments when the beauty of this country and its people so overwhelmed me that I couldn’t speak.
“Then it was over. … And when it ends, when you walk out the door that last time from the world’s most famous address, you’re left in many ways to find yourself again.
Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2019/06/19/becoming-by-michelle-obama/

Jun 17 2019

Der Vater eines Mörders by Alfred Andersch

In May 1928, the director of an old-fashioned high school in Munich enters a ninth grade classical Greek class to check and see how the students are coming along with their lessons. Der Vater eines Mörders tells how one student, Franz Kien, experienced the hour, what he saw and heard, what he thought and felt. Andersch describes the hour in exquisite detail, from the relations within the class to what Kien thinks about his regular teacher, to Kien’s observations about the changing power dynamics within the class as the director quizzes one student after another, sidelining the regular teacher and giving lessons, most of them inadvertent, that reach well beyond Greek.

Der Vater eines Moerders

Why, though? Why did one of post-war Germany’s most renowned authors turn to that May afternoon at a distance of more than half a century for the subject of the last work that he completed during his lifetime? The explanation is in the work’s title, although the explanation of the title does not come until the half-way point in this 80-page novella.

Despite its short length, Der Vater eines Mörders addresses but does not answer the big question of twentieth-century Germany: how did Hitler happen? The book is set in Munich, which the Nazis regarded as the “capital of the movement” (in contrast to Berlin, which was the capital of the Reich both before and after their seizure of power). Five years before the book takes place, Hitler and his crew had attempted a coup in Munich but had been stopped by the republican authorities’ use of force. Hitler had been sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for treason, though he served less than one. In the month that the book takes place his ban from public speaking had been lifted; he and his party had of course been active in Munich the whole time.

The school where Der Vater eines Mörders takes place is not just any high school in Munich. It’s the Wittelsbacher Gymnasium, a secondary school named for Bavaria’s ruling house. Wittelsbacher is a real school; Carl Orff, for example, attended. It is one of the “humanistic gymnasiums,” a type of school in the German-speaking world that emphasize classical learning, teaching Latin and ancient Greek to all students. In the early 20th century, only these schools were allowed to give the credential that allowed students to enroll in any type of university studies; graduates of non-humanistic schools had limits placed on their choice of university education. Education at a humanistic gymnasium was and is considered a means of entering Germany’s elite.

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2019/06/17/der-vater-eines-morders-by-alfred-andersch/

Jun 15 2019

The Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner

“No one sends for a niece they’ve never seen before just to annoy her family and ruin her life. That, at least, is what I thought. This was before I had ever been to the city. I had never been in a duel, or held a sword myself. I had never kissed anyone, or had anyone try to kill me, or worn a velvet cloak. I had certainly never met my uncle the Mad Duke. Once I met him, much was explained.” (p. 3)

That’s how you open the follow-up to a perfect book. The Privilege of the Sword starts about fifteen years after Swordspoint, and follows the fortunes of Katherine, the first-person narrator who was born around the time of the other novel’s events and raised as a proper country gentlewoman in one of the lesser branches of the Tremontaine family. She helps her mother in managing their modest estates, keeping track of the spoons and suchlike, until one day. Duke Tremontaine has been hounding his sister’s family with lawsuits over bits of property, never quite ruining them, but also giving them to know that if he ever turned his resources to the task, he surely could. Katherine’s family has been adjusted to the death of her father; one brother has gone to the city to try to make his fortune, the other cannot be spared because he is actually good at farming and stewardship, while Katherine and her mother keep up the domestic side of things, as well as appearances. Mother and daughter both harbor hopes that she will go to the city and make a good match. They are getting by when the lawsuits return, threatening to tie up their income and cost more lawyers than they can possibly afford. And then a letter arrives, turning things upside down again.

“And now here was the Mad Duke, actually inviting us to the city to be his guests at Tremontaine House. My mother looked troubled, but I knew such an invitation could mean only one thing: an end to the horrible lawsuits, the awful letters. Surely all was forgiven and forgotten. We would go to town and take our place among the nobility there at last, with parties and dancing and music and jewels and clothes—I threw my arms around my mother’s waist and hugged her warmly. ‘Oh, Mama! I knew no one could stay angry with you forever. I am so happy for you!’
“But she pulled away from me. ‘Don’t be. The entire thing is ridiculous. It’s out of the question.” (p. 6)

Katherine is mistaken; much of the novel’s early parts are concerned with how very many different things Katherine is mistaken about.

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Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2019/06/15/the-privilege-of-the-sword-by-ellen-kushner/

Jun 15 2019

A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge

A Deepness in the Sky is about as close to opposite of Just One Damned Thing After Another as it’s possible to be and still have both books inhabit the same genre. Deepness is big (774 pages in the mass market paperback edition that I have), full of carefully worked out ideas about space and science and technology and progress, plays faithfully within the known laws of physics with just a few exceptions, features aliens and at least two different kinds of humans, offers interplanetary battles, speculates about alternative economic arrangements, considers carefully what a slower-than-light interstellar collection of civilizations would be like, and much more. Deepness won the Hugo in 2000 for best novel.

It’s also a total slog.

Honestly, there was more life in the first forty pages of One Damned Thing than in the first four hundred of Deepness. I don’t know what happened; Deepness is set in the same Milky Way as A Fire Upon the Deep, which is terrific. Fire has at least as many nifty ideas, not least that our galaxy has several different zones in which the laws of physics behave differently. Out toward the edge, FTL travel, superintelligent AIs, and many other attributes of the technological singularity are not only possible, they occur with predictable regularity. Further in, none of these are possible; they are known to the characters of Deepness as the “Failed Dreams.” Fire has a memorable alien: a dog-like creature whose consciousness only arises in packs. They struck me as plausible, convincing, and truly different from human consciousness. That’s more or less a trifecta of science fiction creature creation.

There are aliens in Deepness; Vinge calls them spiders, but they talk like post-WWII white Californians. I was reading Ada Palmer‘s Seven Surrenders at the same time I was reading A Deepness in the Sky, and I found Palmer’s far-future humans far stranger than either of Vinge’s non-earth human civilizations or his aliens. There’s an argument from the text that the spiders are (through translators) presenting themselves as less alien than they actually are and thus manipulating for their own reasons the humans who have entered the spiders’ star system. It’s plausible, but (a) I’m not sure that I buy it, and (b) it doesn’t change the experience of reading the many, many chapters that take place before that explanation can make any sense. That experience had me very close to uttering the Eight Deadly Words.

Part of why I didn’t is that the setup of Deepness is genuinely nifty. The main site of the action is a system called On-Off, named for a star whose intensity rises and falls drastically over periods of time that are, by cosmic standards, extremely short. For the planet orbiting On-Off in the habitable zone, that means summers that last for many years followed by equally lengthy winters chilly enough for most of the atmosphere to freeze solid. (Seasons more extreme than Westeros; A Game of Thrones was published just a few months before Deepness. Ursula K. Le Guin, for example, posited a similar but less stark environment in her second novel, Planet of Exile in the mid-1960s.) Improbably, life has evolved on this planet, and just as improbably, it has achieved sentience and civilization, adapted to the need to go into hibernation and survive underground until the next thaw. Two starfaring civilizations have been observing On-Off for centuries, enough to know its profile and when it will change states. As luck, or the authorial hand, would have it, both civilizations have chosen to send expeditions to On-Off to catch the beginning of the next On phase.

One civilization, the Qeng Ho, is a loosely knit collection of trading systems and clans, tied together by common approaches to combating cultural drift, by families that control the interstellar fleets, and by a few extraordinary individuals who ration their conscious years carefully among decades or even centuries spent in cold sleep between the stars. The other, the Emergents, control a far smaller number of star systems, but do it much more tightly through tight hierarchies and a means to focus human mental abilities so tightly that they exceed the computation available in that part of the galaxy.

It’s an interesting set-up. Unfortunately, I found the characters one-note, going clickety-clack through their various machinations until the plot engine reached the high point it had been climbing toward through all those pages. It was too much for too little, in the end. There’s another book in the set, Children of the Sky. I own it, and may eventually read it. Online resources tell me it’s a direct sequel to A Fire Upon the Deep– That gives me hope that it’s more engaging than A Deepness in the Sky.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2019/06/15/a-deepness-in-the-sky-by-vernor-vinge/

Jun 14 2019

An Interview With G. S. Denning, author of The Sign Of Nine

Q. I’ve never done a follow-up interview before! I’d like first to thank you for the delightful first interview we conducted. What new and delightful things have you encountered since last we spoke that you’d like to share with our readers?

A. I’ve never done a follow-up interview, either. First! Double-first! Let’s do this.

Well, since we last spoke, Warlock Holmes has moved into its dark middle chapter. Book 4 and 5 are sort of the “Empire” section. I’m spending two years making all my characters and the readers who care for them suffer! Bwaaa-ha-ha!

Q. Irene has definitely been my favorite female character in your books so far, a view that has only been encouraged by the depiction of the dire Mary Morstan in The Sign Of Nine. Can I look forward to an eventual showdown between Irene and Mary in the final book in the series?

AI thought about that. I thought about having Mary present in all the following books (and this series might go to 8 or 9, if I get to parody all 60 Holmes stories). But there’s one big thing in the way of that: she dissapears from the original stories. Suddenly, she’s just… gone. I could write her in, but I’m already trying to get Adler and Moriarty bigger roles and I’m in danger of not being a very effective parody if I stray too far from the originals. I’ve got a fine balance to maintain, here. Now—without engaging in too many spoilers—there is a showdown planned for Mary. But I won’t promise it’s necessarily with Irene. All I’ll say is that my Mary is not just going to fade away. My readers will know exactly what happens with my Mary Morstan. Oh, yes they will… *rubs hands and cackles in a dark corner*

Q. While romance has always been a significant interest of Watson’s, much to the bewilderment of Holmes, it’s really the friendship between the two men that is the sustaining relationship of any fiction about them. What are your thoughts on the importance of friendship vs romance?

A. I have always thought people put too much distance between the two. The best romances are not usually the people who are just hot for each others’ pants. They occur between people who have a fundamental connection to which attraction can be added. Friendship is a great basis for this. In the case of Watson and Irene, it’s respect. Watson is fascinated with her because she’s smarter than him. She keeps besting him. So, of course, he can’t think about anyone else. By the end of book 5 (which I know is a long way away for you guys, sorry) I’ve made it pretty clear why she likes him. Because he’s a good man. Like Han Solo, he always says he’s playing it safe and looking out for himself, but he never does. He puts his wellbeing and safety aside to help others all the time. He even tries to help Irene (though she doesn’t need it). After all the shallow, awful men she’s accustomed to, she can’t help but admire how good he is. She knows Holmes is good. She knows Watson is good. They respect each other for it. She respects them. They keep calling her a murderer and a liar—which she knows she is—and she just has this frustration that she’s not allowed into their “good-person” club.

Q. You’ve been a big proponent of geek culture becoming mainstream. With two of the biggest geek properties in popular media, the Avengers and Game Of Thrones, recently winding down their effective main stories, what other stories do you think will come to the forefront, Sherlock and Lovecraft aside?

A. Honestly, I think there’s going to be a bit of a vaccum for a while. And yes, I know there’s never been so much geek-friendly entertainment. I know there’s never been such a focus on writing in television. But still, I have this fear that everyone is going to rush to try to fill that void. And the things they’re going to throw in are going to be like… well… like Penny Dreadful—based on a flavor that they know we geeks will like; filled with a lot of cool ideas and cool visuals; but definitely not the finished, polished, complete packages that are prepared to fill the shoes that have just been vacated.

That said: hey, Netflix, call me! You want to start doing movies, eh? How about movies, supported by streamed episodes of the same IP? Because there were 4 Holmes novels and 56 short stories. That’s 4 longer movies and 56 smaller episodes of Warlock Holmes that I’ll let you have for little more than the promise you’ll do them well.

And that’s the big thing for whatever geek-dynasty is going to supplant the MCU and GoT: you need to do that stuff really well. Even GoT faltered at the end. Star Wars has blown up the Death Star 3 bloody times! Don’t try to fool us. Be bold! Craft something marvelous!

Q. Speaking of Lovecraft, I know you’ve been very interested in seeing what other authors do with the setting now that it’s public domain. Do you have any recommendations of such that you’ve enjoyed so far? And do you think you’ll ever turn your hand to it yourself?

A. Well, in a sense, I am. There has always been an idea in Warlock Holmes that magic is dark and bad. That gods are not what we expect. That the idea of the human soul or immortality is laughable. And that outside our comfortable little reality are horrible, evil beings that would crush us utterly if they ever got in here. I owe most of my paycheck to Arthur Conan Doyle, sure, but Lovecraft should get a cut, too.

I think if I ever tried Lovecraft more directly, my take would be this: my protagonist is basically Cthulhu. He sees the humans and all they’ve built and he’s fascinated. He wants to experience it all. He wants to fanboy over all of it. He wants to be loved and included and have what people have: good friends with whom to enjoy all the marvels humans have created. Unfortunately, he’s 200 feet tall and destroys all he touches. And his only friends are the kind of humans who are glad he does. Poor fella.

As far as what I’ve seen that’s fun like that… hm… I see so little now that I spend 40 hours a week at my day-job, 25 hours a week on Holmes, and still try to have time for my wife and two young girls. Hell, I don’t even sleep that much. Oh! Here’s one! Go back and check out the much-ignored Todd and the Book of Pure Evil. Basically, it’s like dirtier, funnier, Canadian Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Q. In our last interview, we talked about your very intriguing YA novel, a sort of Romeo and Juliet with intrepid adventurers on one side and mad scientists on the other. Will we be able to look forward to reading that in print in the near future?

A. The project isn’t dead, really, but it is delayed. Honestly, Wonder-Woman, Squirel-Girl and Black Panther have done a lot of what it was trying to do: say welcome to a more diverse range of comic-book lovers. And since my writing hours are limited, Titan Books and my agent want to see that spent on Warlock. And they’re right. I have this cold, creeping dread of being time-crunched into putting out a bad book. Bad books last forever. My grandkids will be judging me on that. Marketing is wise. Sleeping is wise. But most importantly, I’ve got to spend my time making sure I’ve got a worthy book 5.

Q. What other projects are you working on with the Warlock Holmes series winding down?

A. Well… It isn’t. Titan has only purchased 5 books—and that’s normal. They’ve got to make sure I keep bringing in enough dough to support more, before they commit to making anything unprofitable. But I know it would take me 8 to 9 books to finish the series off. And… I don’t know… I’m so married to this series now that I think I’d finish it, even if Titan gave me the boot. I hate leaving stories unfinished, and I know how to finish this one.

Q. The Graphic Audio version of your books so far is so much fun, and I’m not ordinarily a fan of audiobooks myself. Are there any other media adaptations of Warlock Holmes forthcoming?

A. Yeah. I love those guys. And they just keep getting better. I enjoyed their version of my first and second books, but by book 3… well, let me just say: I’ll probably never read my own third book again. I’ll just listen to those guys’ radio-play version. They’ve agreed to do The Sign of Nine and I’m so happy!

No other adaptations on the horizon. We have had 3 film nibbles and a rumor that the Veep writers were adapting Warlock, but nothing with any teeth, so far. Don’t give up, though. I haven’t.

Q. On the subject of media adaptation, what would be your dream casting of a Warlock Holmes movie?

A. Right now I’m on a kick where I’d like to see it color-swapped or gender swapped. I’ve wanted to be more of an ally for geekdom as an opt-in culture. Unfortunately, the first project I’ve gotten into the public eye is very old, very white male-centric. But, come on, try and tell me that Key and Peele would make a fantastic Holmes/Watson duo. You know who else would make a charming Watson? Masie Williams. And I hear she just came available. I totally want to see Masie looking put-upon in a fake moustache, don’t you?

Q. You and I both love this series, but go ahead and tell the readers why you love this latest installment, The Sign Of Nine!

A. I think the real strength of Sign of Nine is in Watson’s drug-dream scenes. Don’t get me wrong, the fact that I go almost 20 pages without a joke in one of them gave me cold, hard terror-sweats. But they’re worth it. They give insight to the villains and the larger world of the story which—assuming my readers have been along for this whole ride—it was rather time for. I didn’t want this to come as a total addendum, absolutely outside the frame of the story. So, I made sure that even if the dreams themselves were extraneous, the price Watson paid to get them was central to the arch of the book. And—without spoiling too much—that price sets up book 5.


Author Links:

g s denning


The Sign Of Nine was published May 21st 2019 and is available via all good book sellers. My review of the book itself may be found here.

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