Here we are again, back at the annual attempt to jumpstart my inert heart. Summer’s smoke scorched it dry and now I must perform an autumnal resurrection with mummy’s dust and witch’s brews, guttering candles and rattling chains. Can I be honest, though, Ray? I’m tired. Bone tired. I can’t recall when last soft rains came to wet these gargoyle lips and set free the words frozen in stone. I don’t know if I have the strength left to whistle monsters home to roost on cathedral eaves. I feel like Mars long abandoned by native civilization and colonizers alike, just fifty-six million square miles of red sand and dust-covered ruins and the trash of a thousand forgotten generations. I feel like a barren rock hurtling through space that has never known a single Halloween. Yet the full harvest moon shines a bright gold coin in the sky on this equinox eve and I’m gonna try, Ray, I really am, though what kind of jack-o’-lantern tree will grow from soil this parched I do not know. But with your words as my witness, I’ll try.
My Top 4 Underrated Inanimate Horror Movie Monsters
Horror movie monsters come in a variety of entertaining and terrifying tropes, but one of my favorites is the monstrous inanimate object. There’s a special additional thrill that comes from learning that the creature causing all the death and chaos shouldn’t even be sentient, let alone capable of wreaking havoc on humanity. Just look at the House on Ash Street in House of Leaves or the One Ring from The Lord of the Rings. To throw back to some even older classics, look at the Overwatch Hotel in The Shining or the 1958 Plymouth Fury from Christine. You could even argue that the concept of death, the overarching monster of the Final Destination series, is even less than inanimate – it’s not even corporeal. And what about AIs like the Red Queen in Resident Evil or GLaDOS from Portal? No matter how sophisticated they get, computers aren’t supposed to have that kind of agency!
There’s just something so delightfully chilling about inanimate objects terrorizing us, and I live for that goosebump-inducing moment in a horror movie when either you or the characters realize the innocuous object you’ve overlooked was the threat the whole time. Maybe it speaks to our buried instincts from the days of being hunter/gatherers; after all, if literally anything can secretly be out to harm us, then how do we watch out for predators? How do we know when we’re safe? Are we ever safe? Or perhaps it’s an offshoot of the Uncanny Valley and what terrifies us is the idea that an inanimate object, something which lacks everything we view as necessary to being “human”, can operate in very human ways. Maybe it’s easier to face a random human serial killer than the inhuman inscrutability of an object.
Either way, this trope rocks and I therefore want to give a shoutout to 4 of my favorite underrated inanimate horror movie monsters. Be forewarned, however; spoilers abound in the lines below! Also a lot of curse words because I’m very passionate about horror movies.
The Virus – Ringu
Anyone who knows me even moderately well probably knows that I watched The Ring as a young kid and it fucked me up for life. However, The Ring is also hands-down one of the best horror movies to ever come out of the US, especially so in terms of object horror, and if you get me started I can talk about this movie for hours. Horror fans will already be aware that The Ring is a remake of the Japanese film Ringu, of equally terrifying nature, but fewer may know that Ringu is based on a book of the same name by Koji Suzuki. If you’ve ever wondered why having someone else watch the video tape within 7 days will save you from Samara/Sadako’s terrorizing, read Ringu. Or just read the next paragraph, because… [SPOILER ALERT] you’re about to find out.
See, in Ringu our antagonist is Sadako, a young woman who carries two burdens at the time of her violent murder – her technopathic powers, from which the infamous tape is born, and the smallpox virus with which she has just been infected. The rage she experiences in her final moments causes the two to merge, and the recording of a videotape in the cabin built over her grave sets the resulting curse free. The reason, therefore, that showing the tape to another person will save you from a truly grim fate is that by doing so you are propagating the curse, and self-propagation is a virus’ main purpose. This “charm” is even included at the end of the tape – the dumbass teenagers who originally taped the terrifying video actually deleted that portion as a prank (but joke’s on them ’cause they didn’t make a copy of the video and they fuckin’ DIED). So in a way, all of the events in the Ringu universe stem not from a vengeful spirit but from the virus which bonded to that spirit’s powers, forming a unique curse with more intelligence and agency than most.
Y’know, in case you needed another reason to fear smallpox, a virus that could very easily be weaponized and used to wipe out large swathes of humanity. Seriously, it’s like Suzuki read The Demon in the Freezer and thought, “What if this… but SENTIENT AND PARANORMAL?”. Anyway, I think the virus explanation makes the whole thing so much cooler and creepier, so Ringu definitely gets a spot on this list.
The Body – The Autopsy of Jane Doe
The Autopsy of Jane Doe contains two of my favorite horror tropes – the inanimate horror monster (in this case the body dubbed ‘Jane Doe’) and the trope where every single thing that happens makes you as the viewer go “NOPE NOPE NOPE I’D BE OUTTA THERE” and yet the characters just keep moving ahead like nothing weird is happening. I like this trope both because you get to yell at the TV and you feel superior knowing you’d never make the same obvious mistakes. But in the case of The Autopsy of Jane Doe, I must admit that things start out… somewhat normally. An older couple is brutally killed in their home; during the investigation of the crime scene, a police officer finds the body of a young woman half-buried in the house’s unfinished basement. Weird, but not out of the realm of possibility, right? The body is taken to the local mortuary for an autopsy by the father and son team who run the place… [SPOILER ALERT]
And that’s when shit gets WEIRD. First, the body itself doesn’t make sense. Its opaque corneas suggest she’s been dead for a few days but rigor mortis hasn’t set in and when they cut into her she bleeds like the freshly dead. She also shows no signs of insect activity or other forms of decay, nor does her body show any evidence of the manner of death. So that’s weird, sure, but not scary weird. What’s scary weird is the stuff they find over the course of the autopsy, including…
1) A fresh white flower in her stomach which turns out to be jimsonweed, a plant with paralyzing properties which isn’t native to the area.
2) Her wrists and ankle bones are shattered (but again, no visible bruising), her lungs have been blackened as if she’s suffered 3rd degree burns, her tongue has been cut out, and many of her internal organs show massive scarring.
3) She’s missing a molar, but no worries! They find it in her stomach, wrapped in a cloth that contains a bunch of creepy symbols (which they also find on the inside of her skin, which is definitely where I keep my sigils too) and text that refers to Leviticus 20:27 and the year of the Salem Witch Trials.
4) Active brain cells. Like, her brain is totally functioning while her body is cold, drained of blood, and cut open. I’m no forensic pathologist or whatever but I’m pretty fucking sure that’s not how that works.
If all this wasn’t enough to make you go “NOPE” and get the fuck out, which our father and son autopsy team don’t, there’s also the fact that Jane Doe does not like anyone messing with her body. Every time they try to advance the autopsy weird shit happens, starting small with your usual creepy-old-timey-song-starts-playing-on-the-radio and escalating to full on apparitions, hallucinations, physical attacks, and just about everything else the paranormal can throw at you. For a corpse that literally never moves throughout the entire movie, not even for a cheesy jump-scare, this bitch can wreck shit up. And though I do feel bad about the dad dying, because Dad Stuff, I do very much enjoy watching this witch get revenge from the comfort of her morgue table.
The Plants – The Ruins
Google couldn’t decide if plants count as inanimate objects but there aren’t any plants on Earth that are as animate as the plants in The Ruins, so I’m including it either way. The Ruins is both a novel and movie about a group of American tourists who decide to visit a hidden and off-limits Mayan ruin while on vacation in Mexico (yes, they’re white, how’d you guess?). Despite being warned repeatedly by a local tribe, the group tramps all over the ruins and is then dismayed when this same tribe now won’t let them leave. Why not? Well… [SPOILER ALERT] the ruins are covered in a species of plant which is not only exceedingly dangerous, it can also grow on just about any surface if a few motes of its spore have touched it. The tourists are all covered in this spore and can’t be allowed to spread it into the jungle; if they do, the entire world could be doomed.
So what’s up with that, huh? They’re just plants, right? OHOHO. WRONG. These are the worst motherfucking plants around. Over the course of the book/movie we learn just how intelligent, dangerous, and downright cruel these leafy little fuckers can be. Because I love these plants so much, let’s break down some of their best features:
1) Acid sap: These plants may look harmless, but they’re actually filled with a highly acidic sap. They enjoy using this feature to melt the flesh of their victims, absorbing muscle and organs alike until only bones remain. Oh, and they rarely wait until you’re fully dead to do this. You just have to be immobile.
2) Spores and tendrils: Those spores I mentioned before? They get on everything and once they do, they start growing. And they grow FAST. In just a day or two you can have whole colonies of tiny baby plants growing on the tattered remains of your shirt or even in the crevices of your own skin. Oh, and did I mention the plants can also burrow into your flesh and grow equally well in there? They’re squirmy little fuckers, too, and move around when you try to cut them out.
3) Mimicry: The first shock twist in The Ruins comes as our doomed heroes are trying to find a cell phone that keeps ringing at the bottom of a mine shaft in the center of the ruins. They go through hell just to get down into the mine and after pushing through a dark, plant-filled side shaft they find the source of the ringing: a cracked, obviously dead cell phone clutched in the hands of a gruesome (and rather fresh) skeleton. Wait, if the phone’s not doing the ringing, then what is? You guessed it – THE PLANTS. These crafty little assholes can mimic any sound they hear. They use this ability to pit the tourists against each other and in the book they even mimic the sound of birds shrieking to warn the tribesmen that the tourists are trying to escape.
4) Planning: Even if somehow all of this seemed within the realm of possibility for a plant, their intelligence certainly isn’t. These plants are smart, if not smarter, than humans. They lay traps, disable survival supplies and tear down help messages, and have no problem playing the long game. For example, they selectively secrete their acidic sap so the rope the tourists use to drop into the mine shaft snaps, sending one man falling 30+ feet and resulting in him breaking his back. In addition to their uncanny mimicry, they also have the ability to learn human languages. As you can imagine, this causes all sorts of chaos as they mimic different people’s voices. The plants also aren’t above a little psychological warfare; they enjoy taunting the tourists with the ringing phone sound, even after its revealed the phone was a trap, and they torment a character who’s brother has also gone missing by saying, “Where is your brother? Your brother is here; your brother is dead,” in his native German.
This entry got kinda long but it’s because these plants are SO COOL and SO TERRIFYING and I love them. I have such a vivid memory of the first time I read the book and the moment I realized the plants were not only intelligent, but straight up evil – that’s some Goosebumps shit right there! Both the movie and book are definitely worth your time… as long as you have a strong stomach. This is horror at its bloodiest.
The Lasser Glass – Oculus
I should be honest with you: I came up with this entire article idea just so I could write about Oculus. Y’all, I LOVE Oculus. In the pantheon of inanimate objects that will fuck you up for fun and profit, Oculus reigns supreme. The movie starts with the reunion of a brother and sister who have been separated for years after the violent deaths of their parents. The sister remains convinced the true cause of their father’s murderous rampage was an antique mirror the family purchased several months before; her brother, however, has gone through extensive therapy and believes they both made up the mirror story as a way for their young minds to cope with the trauma of watching their father murder their mother. Well good news! They both get to test their theories because sis has hunted down the mirror, known as the Lasser Glass, and finagled it into the auction house where she works. Even better, the family home still sits empty, so she takes the mirror there to ensure the experiment’s repetition is exact. What could possibly go wrong?
Oculus does a good job of threading us along for a bit, with both siblings making good arguments for why their version of events is correct, but [SPOILER ALERT] when the healthy plants placed around the hungry mirror suddenly shrivel we know shit is about to go down. Sis is kind enough to enumerate the various grisly ends the Lasser Glass’ previous owners met, including their parents’, and it’s pretty damn clear the mirror likes to toy with its prey. While the mirror can’t physically run around to cause shenanigans (this isn’t Disney’s Beauty and the Beast), its power comes from twisting the perceived reality of those within its reach. With enough energy, gained by draining the lifeforce of living beings nearby, the Lasser Glass can manipulate all 5 human senses to do things like…
1) Trick you into starving or dehydrating yourself to death, along with messing with your perceptions of time in other ways.
2) Block your perception of pain so you don’t know you’re, say, smashing your own bones with a hammer, chewing through live power lines, or yanking out your teeth with pliers. Think you’re taking a stroll in the garden? WRONG. You’re walking into traffic.
3) Cause you to attack someone you love because you think they’re someone or something else. Oops, now your fiancé is dead. :(
4) Impersonate friends, family, or strangers, both in person and on the phone. How do you explain to your marriage counselor that you semi-cheated on your wife with a dead woman who came out of your ornate antique mirror?
5) Prevent you from damaging or otherwise disabling the mirror, or even just documenting the mirror’s abilities.
Let’s talk about that last point. One of the most chilling scenes in Oculus comes right after an intense argument between the siblings about whether or not the mirror is actually evil. This discussion takes place in another part of the house, away from the Lasser Glass. After it’s over, brother and sister head back to the room where the mirror has been hung. However, when they near the room they find the once healthy plants set out to measure the mirror’s reach have all been drained dry. Good thing sis was smart enough to set up an intricate surveillance system in the room holding the mirror to ensure any paranormal activity would be captured on tape! When they enter the room they see that the system has been completely disabled, the cameras turned to face one another. Aha! she thinks. We’ll just review the tapes to see what moved everything. Gonna catch this sneaky bitch in the act once and for all!
NOPE. The video shows the siblings dismantling the surveillance system themselves, including turning the cameras around, all while they have the argument they both could have sworn took place on the other side of the house. Surprise! The Lasser Glass ain’t messing around. This scene gives us our first true taste of the mirror’s strength; from this point onward neither the characters nor the viewer can ever be sure what’s real and what’s fabrication. Think you’re biting into a nice red apple? PSYCH, you just cut your mouth open biting into a lightbulb. OH WAIT, no, it was actually an apple all along. But if you had cut your mouth open, calling an ambulance wouldn’t be an option because the person on the other end of the phone is definitely not real. #SorryNotSorry
As far as we the viewer know, the Lasser Glass isn’t haunted by a dead orphan, cursed by an ancient mummy, or possessed by the Devil; it’s just a shiny bitch that loves fucking with people before it murders them. That’s possibly my favorite villain trope ever, which is probably why I love this movie so much. Like, it’s a pretty dark movie with a pretty bleak ending, but fuck if I don’t have such a good time watching that mirror terrorize people. The Lasser Glass has killed at least 11 other people on at least 8 other occasions in the past, ranging all the way back to 1754, and I would absolutely watch 8 more movies about those incidents. This trope just doesn’t get old!
So what do you think? Which of these way-too-animate inanimate horrors would you prefer to face? Which one gets the highest “NOPE” vote from you?
Forgive my lack of manners, I just /devour/ poetry
can never seem to let it breathe, take a sip
roll the vintage along my pallet and
discern dimensions of linguistic terroir.
I am just so /parched/ you see
I swig straight from the bottle like a boor
each syllable sweet as honeyed wine
divine versification rejuvenation!
But then the last stanza’s been swallowed
metaphors drying on my tongue
and I’m a desert /desperate/ for a drop
pining for poetry’s reprieve once more.
Behold, my 2020 book list! 2020 wasn’t kind to me reading-wise, as being part of my state’s covid response really messed up my overall schedule, so I read way fewer books this year than in most years. Still, I made up for that by reading some REALLY good books – including 26 with queer characters and at least 13 from authors of color. Highlights included The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home, The Shadow of Kyoshi, and the Locked Tomb, Broken Earth, and Ascendant trilogies. House of Leaves was good, but I was expecting it to have a higher body count and I wanted more spooky house shenanigans and less relationship angst.
Did you read any of these books? DO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT THEM WITH ME?? Let me know!
- All the Windwracked Stars – Elizabeth Bear
- The Grand Escape – Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
- Flaming Lioness: Ancient Hymns for Egyptian Goddesses – Chelsea Luellon Bolton
- By the Mountain Bound – Elizabeth Bear
- The Sea Thy Mistress – Elizabeth Bear
- She-ra and the Princesses of Power: Legend of the Fire Princess – Gigi D.G
- House of Leaves – Mark Z Danielewski
- Ice Ghosts: The Epic Hunt for the Lost Franklin Expedition – Paul Watson
- Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns From Sumer – Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer
- The Cat in Ancient Egypt – Jaromir Malek
- Karen Memory – Elizabeth Bear
- March Was Made of Yarn: Reflections on the Japanese Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Meltdown – Ed. by Elmer Luke and David Karashima
- Down With the Old Canoe: A Cultural History of the Titanic – Steven Biel
- Ghosts of the Tsunami: Death and Life in Japan’s Disaster Zone – Richard Lloyd Parry
- Deathless Divide (Dread Nation) – Justina Ireland
- Stone Mad: A Karen Memory Adventure – Elizabeth Bear
- The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home: A Welcome to Night Vale Novel – Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
- Lord of Strength and Power: Ancient Hymns for Wepwawet – Chelsea Luellon Bolton
- Descent to the Goddess: A Way of Initiation for Women – Sylvia Brinton Perera
- The Essential Rumi – Trans. by Coleman Barks
- The Best of Elizabeth Bear – Elizabeth Bear
- Mongrels – Stephen Graham Jones
- Gideon the Ninth (The Locked Tomb Trilogy Book 1) – Tamsyn Muir
- The Shadow of Kyoshi – FC Lee
- Harrow the Ninth (The Locked Tomb Trilogy Book 2) – Tamsyn Muir
- Drowning in the Floating World: Poems – Meg Eden
- Lord of the Ways: An Anthology for Wepwawet – Ed. Dianne Bolton
- Seven Devils – Laura Lam and Elizabeth May
- The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth Book 1) – N K Jemisin
- The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth Book 2) – N K Jemisin
- Heathen: Volume 3 – Natasha Alterici
- The Stone Sky (The Broken Earth Book 3) – N K Jemisin
- Dragon Pearl – Yoon Ha Lee
- Excuse Me, Are You A Witch? – Emily Horn and Pawet Pawlak
- Crow And Weasel – Barry Lopez and Tom Pohrt
- Girls of Paper and Fire – Natasha Ngan
- Wilder Girls – Rory Power
- The Scapegracers – Hannah Abigail Clarke
- The Deep – Rivers Solomon
- The Priory of the Orange Tree – Samantha Shannon
- Three for the Road: Stories from Dread Nation – Justina Ireland
- The Tiger’s Daughter (The Ascendant Trilogy Book 1) – K Arsenault Rivera
- The Phoenix Empress (The Ascendant Trilogy Book 2) – K Arsenault Rivera
- Girls of Storm and Shadow – Natasha Ngan
- Witch Pilgrim Heretic – K.D. Hume
- Titanic: Psychic Forewarnings of a Tragedy – George Behe
The library is, perhaps, Liberty Palace’s ultimate gift to Mage. It has been so very long since she was cast out of her first home, and so long since she has let her thoughts dwell on that time, that she had almost forgotten the reason for her banishment. The true reason, at least; not the council’s fabrications.
What her people had seen as a thirst for power was a thirst for knowledge, and a belief that all knowledge should be free to those who would seek it. Even knowledge which could be misused. Even knowledge which had been misused. But no, their fear ruled their hearts and clouded their minds. They locked that darker, truer knowledge away behind glass cases and sealed doors. They forced ignorance on their people. That was what she had rebelled against; not the lack of power, but the lack of choice.
It would not be an exaggeration to say the library in Liberty Palace contains every book which has ever existed. In fact, it would be an understatement. The library in Liberty Palace contains not just every book but every scroll, every parchment, every scrap of papyrus. It contains texts long lost to the histories of a thousand different times on a thousand different worlds. It contains writings no eyes but those of their authors have ever seen. It contains books thought mere myth from lands thought mere legend. Even given an eternity, one might not reach the end of the words contained in this one room.
Some of the texts do contain exceedingly dangerous information, of course. In the wrong hands such knowledge could enslave nations or destroy whole planets, slay gods or raise them from the dead, even tear apart the very fabric of space and time. But Mage has been there and done that, and her interest in such things is only academic now. She finds infinitely greater satisfaction in rushing to show her latest discovery to Alice or in spending an evening together by the fire translating and discussing some cryptic passage.
This is not a side of herself Mage shares often; even back on the island she guarded it closely, recalling with bitterness how easily her passion and knowledge could be turned against her. Yet it feels natural to bring these things to Alice, who finds them fascinating as well, and so Mage never notices the fond glances or amused smiles on her companion’s face. She doesn’t realize that Ali is watching a flower slowly uncurl upon a vine that has for so long grown only thorns.
Another year, another book list! Some of this year’s gems included Dread Nation, The Rise of Kyoshi, An Unkindness of Ghosts, and the Jacob’s Ladder trilogy. On the other hand, The Abominable was frankly quite abominable. Only 23 books with queer characters, though, so I gotta do better next year!
- The Illustrated Man – Ray Bradbury
- The Machineries of Joy – Ray Bradbury
- The Spoon River Anthology – Edgar Lee Masters
- The Terror: A Novel – Dan Simmons
- S Is For Space – Ray Bradbury
- Long After Midnight – Ray Bradbury
- The October Country – Ray Bradbury
- The Ruins – Scott Smith
- The Cat’s Pajamas Stories – Ray Bradbury
- Death In The Ice: The Mystery of the Franklin Expedition – Karen Ryan
- The Egyptian Book of the Dead: The Book of Going Forth By Day – Dr. Ogden Goelet
- The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien
- The Troop – Nick Cutter
- The Fellowship of the Ring – J.R.R Tolkien
- The Two Towers – J.R.R. Tolkien
- Dust (Jacob’s Ladder Book 1) – Elizabeth Bear
- The Return of the King – J.R.R. Tolkien
- Mutiny on the Bounty – Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall
- Men Against the Sea – Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall
- Pitcairn’s Island – Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall
- Chill (Jacob’s Ladder Book 2) – Elizabeth Bear
- The Archer’s Heart Book 1 – Astrid Amara
- The Archer’s Heart Book 2 – Astrid Amara
- The Archer’s Heart Book 3 – Astrid Amara
- Dread Nation – Justina Ireland
- An Unkindness of Ghosts – Rivers Solomon
- The House of Dust: A Symphony – Conrad Aiken
- The Fur Person – May Sarton
- Grail (Jacob’s Ladder Book 3) – Elizabeth Bear
- The Oathbound (Vows and Honor Book 1) – Mercedes Lackey
- Oathbreakers (Vows and Honor Book 2) – Mercedes Lackey
- The Ancient Egyptian Prayer Book – Tamara Siuda
- The Buying of Lot 37 (Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Volume 3) – Joseph Fink
- Oathblood (Vows and Honor Book 3) – Mercedes Lackey
- Magic in Ancient Egypt – Geraldine Pinch
- Dreamdark Book 1: Blackbringer – Laini Taylor
- Revered and Reviled: A Complete History of the Domestic Cat – L.A. Vocelle
- Hathor: A Reintroduction to an Ancient Egyptian Goddess – Lesley Jackson
- The Wicker King – K. Ancrum
- Who’s A Good Boy? (Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Volume 4) – Joseph Fink
- My Name Is Inanna – Tamara Albanna
- My Name Is The Morrigan – Tamara Albanna
- From a Cat’s View: An Anthology of Stories Told By Cats – Robin Praytor, et. al.
- Avatar the Last Airbender: The Rise of Kyoshi (The Kyoshi Novels) – F. C. Yee
- The Abominable: A Novel – Dan Simmons
- Sekhmet and Bast: The Feline Powers of Egypt – Lesley Jackson
- Mesopotamian Goddesses: Unveiling Your Feminine Power – Weam Namou
- Cleopatra’s Daughter: A Novel – Michelle Moran
- Five Dark Fates (Three Dark Crowns Book 4) – Kendare Blake
- The Heretic Queen: A Novel – Michelle Moran
- Nefertiti: A Novel – Michelle Moran
- Remember Me – Christopher Pike
- The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt – Kara Cooney
- The Wicked and the Divine Vol. 9: Okay – Gillen McKelvie
- Tremontaine: Season 1 – Ellen Kushner, et. al.
- The Hidden Life of Deer: Lessons From the Natural World – Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
- Dewey: The Small Town Library Cat Who Touched the World – Vicki Myron
- Tremontaine: Season 2 – Ellen Kushner, et. al.
- Tremontaine: Season 3 – Ellen Kushner, et. al.
- Tremontaine: Season 4 – Ellen Kushner, et. al.
- Swordspoint – Ellen Kushner
- Heathen, Volume 1 – Natasha Alterici
- Heathen, Volume 2 – Natasha Alterici
- The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire Part 1 – Brian Konietzko and Michael Dante Dimartino
- The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire Part 2 – Brian Konietzko and Michael Dante Dimartino
- 100 Cats Who Changed History: History’s Most Influential Felines – Sam Stall
- Wormwood Forest: A Natural History of Chernobyl – Mary Mycio
They say the world of the dark sisters is all shadow and that is why only in the light of moon or flame may they appear in ours. If that were the case, I would never spend a moment in daylight again. I would shun the day and wake only once moonlight or candlelight could call you forth. I would only ever want you by my side, even if that meant I’d never feel the warmth of the sun again. Your presence would be worth any sacrifice. I would wait every day, every night, every heartbeat for you to step forth from your dark world. No matter how long it might take, I would wait. I will wait. I am here. Sister, will you join me?
There and Back Again, or: How The Hobbit Trilogy Let Me Down (and I’m clearly not over it)
So I’m a little late to this particular party (haha, party pun for ya), but having recently reread The Hobbit and finally finished the associated movie trilogy, I need to get some things off my chest. Before I get into all that, though, let’s establish my ring-cred so you understand why I feel so let down. The Fellowship of the Ring came out in theaters when I was in eighth grade and I, along with many of my friends, was immediately obsessed. I probably saw it ten or fifteen times in theaters and attended the midnight releases of the second and third movies in costume. My friends and I religiously attended our local Lord of the Rings (LOTR) convention and were so well known in the fantasy con/renaissance faire circuit that everyone called us The Fellowship. My room was filled with LOTR posters, figurines, replicas, games, books, trading cards, and just about every other related thing I could beg my parents to purchase. I even had a LOTR-themed birthday party with a buffet spread of which any hobbit would be proud. So when I say I was a fan, I mean it – and I still am. My wife and I routinely quote the books/movies and I’m currently rereading the trilogy. Hell, I took a LOTR-themed writing class in college! What I’m saying is, this is a love that will never die. I am loyal to LOTR until the end.
All that being said… I was supremely disappointed with the Hobbit movies. In fact, I was so disappointed by the first two that I didn’t even see the third one in theaters (sacrilege!). I rewatched them recently hoping to change my mind, thinking perhaps my expectations had just been too high the first time around, but my opinion remains the same: they’re just not good movies. And believe me, it truly pains me to admit that. I feel like I’m betraying a piece of my childhood merely by offering criticism where criticism is justly deserved. Maybe cloaked figures will show up at my door in the middle of the night to whisk me away to Mordor, or other fantasy fans will cross the street to avoid passing by me, yet still I have to speak this truth no matter how it breaks my geeky heart.
Many critics have already dissected the movies’ main weak points – mediocre special effects, bloated plots, and unnecessarily lengthy action scenes to name a few – so I won’t repeat them here, but all of these issues lead back to what I believe is the real flaw in the trilogy: its creators just tried too hard to recapture a magic that can’t be forced. You see this with many popular franchises that have become very dead and very beaten horses (like my beloved Jurassic Park, alas!), so it’s obviously an easy pit into which creators frequently stumble. The thought process seems to be something along the lines of, “They liked what we did last time, let’s just do that again exactly the same way” without actually considering what they did and why it was so successful. Sequels in these franchises become copy/paste plots with so many allusions to the previous movies that even the most faithful fan grows tired of being pandered to. We don’t want old characters and old plots dressed up in different outfits, we want new characters and new adventures!
The Hobbit trilogy tries so damn hard to be dark and edgy like LOTR and it just doesn’t work. It’s obvious the creators threw the book out the window, along with its humor and lighthearted vibe, and just pasted Bilbo and co. into the LOTR framework. All of our heroes are updated with tragic backstories and noble, selfless motives: Thorin becomes the burdened, exiled prince trying to save his remaining people, Bard is now a widower forced to smuggle so he can care for his young children, and the dwarf who falls in love with an elf (because every movie needs a star-crossed romance) is somehow stabbed with a morgul arrow so his lovely lady can dramatically save his life in the nick of time. It’s just all so cookie-cutter obvious and feels like LOTR played out with different actors. They even managed to shove Legolas in there because why not? We definitely need another ten-minute action scene of Legolas shooting arrows and surfing on vines.
There’s no heart in The Hobbit. I don’t doubt that it was a labor of love, of course, because you can’t produce a movie trilogy that complex without people who love what they’re doing, but it lacks the essential magic that made the first trilogy so captivating. The action scenes feel meaningless, primarily because there are so fucking many of them that you become oversaturated with the constant high-stakes drama, and the plot bits in between feel too repetitive to be truly engaging. By the third movie this horse is not only dead and beaten but practically unrecognizable as a once-living creature. All you really want to do now is kick some dirt over the remains and leave. And that sucks, honestly, because I went into this trilogy ready to renew my obsession with a childhood passion and yet came out of it feeling… well, tired, mostly. Like butter scraped over too much bread, if you know what I mean.
I didn’t really have a point to this rant; I mostly needed to get it out of my head so I would stop harassing my friends about it. I just… I really love the LOTR universe and I strongly believe The Hobbit could be made into a fantastic movie. By pandering to the box office, though, we missed out on that potential awesomeness and instead got a LOTR prequel trilogy that didn’t really add anything to the franchise. There’s probably a good metaphor here about what happens when you’re driven by money (*cough* gold *cough*) instead of a more noble desire, but I’m ready to bury this horse once and for all. Rest in peace, mellon.
Another year, another read list! And a great year it was with a mix of historical fiction, nonfiction, and a lot of revisiting books (mostly of the comic or fantasy persuasion) from my shelves that haven’t gotten any love in a long while. I didn’t read as much queer fiction as I usually do, but I made up for that with a good haul of queer comics. The highlight of the year was obviously Patrick O’Brian’s age of sail series lovingly dubbed by fans as the “Aubreyad” or the “Aubrey/Maturin novels”, which I already gushed about here.
- The Mauritius Command – Patrick O’Brian
- Desolation Island – Patrick O’Brian
- One Dark Throne (Three Dark Crowns Series #2) – Kendare Blake
- The Fortune of War – Patrick O’Brian
- The Surgeon’s Mate – Patrick O’Brian
- It Devours! A Welcome to Night Vale novel – Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
- The Young Queens (Three Dark Crowns Novella) – Kendare Blake
- The Wicked and the Divine Vol. 6: Imperial Phase Part 2 – Gillen McKelvie
- The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars Part 2 – Bryan Konietzko
- The Ionian Mission – Patrick O’Brian
- Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda – Becky Albertalli
- Treason’s Harbour – Patrick O’Brian
- The Far Side of the World – Patrick O’Brian
- They Both Die at the End – Adam Silvera
- Meditation for Beginners: Techniques for Awareness, Mindfulness, & Relaxation – Stephanie Clement
- Tarot Spreads and Layouts- Jeanne Fiorini
- The Reverse of the Medal – Patrick O’Brian
- Bingo Love – Tee Franklin and Jenn St-onge
- The Letter of Marque – Patrick O’Brian
- Heathen: Volume One – Natasha Alterici and Rachel Deering
- Kaibyo: The Supernatural Cats of Japan – Zack Davisson
- I Was the Cat – Paul Tobin and Benjamin Dewey
- Love is Love – IDW Publishing
- Wilde Stories 2017: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction – ed. Steve Burman
- My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness – Nagata Kabi
- The Biography of Goddess Inanna; Indomitable Queen of Heaven, Earth, and Almost Everything – Sandra Bart Heimann
- All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages – Saundra Mitchell et. al.
- Nagasaki: The Massacre of the Innocent and Unknowing – Craig Collie
- The Thirteen Gun Salute – Patrick O’Brian
- Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident – Donnie Eichar
- The Oracle Queen: A Three Dark Crowns Novella – Kendare Blake
- Circe: A Novel – Madeline Miller
- The Nutmeg of Consolation – Patrick O’Brian
- The Truelove – Patrick O’Brian
- The Wine-Dark Sea – Patrick O’Brian
- The Commodore – Patrick O’Brian
- Titanic: A Very Deceiving Night – Tim Maltin
- The Yellow Admiral – Patrick O’Brian
- The Hundred Days – Patrick O’Brian
- Yurei: The Japanese Ghost – Zack Davisson
- Band vs Band: Volume 1 – Kathleen Jacques
- Band vs Band: Volume 2 – Kathleen Jacques
- The Morrigan: Meeting the Great Queens – Morgan Daimler
- The Runes – Horik Svensson
- I Am a Cat – Soseki Natsume
- Blue at the Mizzen – Patrick O’Brian
- The Wicked and the Divine Vol 1: The Faust Act – Kieron Gillen
- The Wicked and the Divine Vol 2: Fandemonium – Kieron Gillen
- The Wicked and the Divine Vol 3: Commercial Suicide – Kieron Gillen
- The Wicked and the Divine Vol 4: Rising Action – Kieron Gillen
- The Wicked and the Divine Vol 5: Imperial Phase Part 1 – Kieron Gillen
- The Wicked and the Divine Vol 6: Imperial Phase Part 2 – Kieron Gillen
- Fairies: A Guide to the Celtic Fair Folk – Morgan Daimler
- Black Sun Rising – C.S. Friedman
- Locke and Key Vol. 1: Welcome to Lovecraft – Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
- Locke and Key Vol. 2: Head Games – Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
- Locke and Key Vol. 3: Crown of Shadows – Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
- Locke and Key Vol. 4: Keys to the Kingdom – Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
- Locke and Key Vol. 5: Clockworks – Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
- Locke and Key Vol. 6: Alpha and Omega – Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
- Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt – Yekaterina Barbash
- When True Night Falls – C.S. Friedman
- Crown of Shadows – C.S Friedman
- Becoming Dangerous: Witchy Femmes, Queer Conjurers, and Magical Rebels on Summoning the Power to Resist – Katie West
- Flesh and Spirit – Carol Berg
- Breath and Bone – Carol Berg
- The Poisoner’s Pocket Guide Vol 1: Book of Saturn – Coby Michael Ward
- Two Dark Reigns (Three Dark Crowns Series #3) – Kendare Blake
- Nine Princes in Amber (The Chronicles of Amber Book 1) – Roger Zelazny
- The Poisoner’s Pocket Guide Vol 2: Book of Mercury – Coby Michael Ward
- The Guns of Avalon (The Chronicles of Amber Book 2) – Roger Zelazny
- Sign of the Unicorn (The Chronicles of Amber Book 3) – Roger Zelazny
- The Hand of Oberon (The Chronicles of Amber Book 4) – Roger Zelazny
- The Wicked and the Divine Vol 7: Mothering Invention – Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie
- The Courts of Chaos (The Chronicles of Amber Book 5) – Roger Zelazny
- Sister Light, Sister Dark (Book 1 of the Great Alta Saga) – Jane Yolen
- Transformation (Rai Kirah Book 1) – Carol Berg
- Revelation (Rai Kirah Book 2) – Carol Berg
- White Jenna (Book 2 of the Great Alta Saga) – Jane Yolen
- Restoration (Rai Kirah Book 3) – Carol Berg
- Creatures of Light and Darkness – Roger Zelazny
- Eye of Cat – Roger Zelazny
- The Dream Master – Roger Zelazny
- The One-Armed Queen (Book 3 of the Great Alta Saga) – Jane Yolen
- Lord of Light – Roger Zelazny
- Unicorn Variations – Roger Zelazny
- A Night in the Lonesome October – Roger Zelazny
- The Ritual – Adam Nevill
- A Sound of Thunder and Other Stories – Ray Bradbury
Reading Master and Commander, or: Meet Your New Fandom
Last winter my father told me to read Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian. This might not seem very odd or momentous to you, but my father has been dead for eleven years. However, when I dreamed of us walking through a bookstore, looking for this exact title, I took the hint and grabbed the book off his shelf where the series has sat untouched all that time. I figured even if I didn’t like the book, I would read it in his honor and move on. Certainly I wasn’t going to attempt reading the entire 20-book series! I know next to nothing about the Napoleonic Wars, the British navy circa 1800, or Georgian society – while I might like the book okay, I just couldn’t imagine liking it enough to read the rest. So I started it with some trepidation… …and then my mind exploded and I developed a new and undeniably intense obsession. Hello, new fandom!
I’m here now to pass on the favor by telling you why you should read what is quite possibly the best western historical fiction of the 20th century, if not western fiction in general. But let’s start at the beginning. I’m betting most of you have no idea who Patrick O’Brian is or what Master and Commander is about, but you may know more than you think. Remember Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, that boat movie that came out in the early 2000s, the one with Russel Crowe and Paul Bettany as BFFs Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin? If you don’t, ask your dad – I think the movie is required viewing for all fathers. Either way, I will try with my mediocre literary powers to convince you why you should read this entire series right now. So here we go!
Master and Commander throws us into a world at war – it’s the year 1800 and Napoleon is fucking shit up all over Europe, much to the chagrin of the British Navy and her allies. Against this historical backdrop we are taken all across the world, from the icy waters of the Arctic to the blazing deserts of Africa, from the prim and proper society of Georgian England to deserted tropical islands beset by pirates, and everywhere in between. Many books take you to other places but this series does so with a depth of detail and historical accuracy that will leave you feeling like an expert historian.
But I don’t know anything about that time period! you say. Never fear! You don’t particularly need to. Look, high school history class failed me too – I know more about Napoleon from Assassin’s Creed: Unity than I do from any teacher I’ve ever had. Thankfully O’Brian understands the need for accessibility and flawlessly weaves any necessary explanations or information into the text in a way that educates without boring. As for the immense amount of nautical terms thrown back and forth, the reader is comforted in knowing Stephen Maturin has no idea what they mean either. However, I promise you that upon completing the series you could convince anyone that you’re an expert in early 19th century naval history, social status and etiquette, biology, ornithology, entomology, hydrography, naturalism, mathematics, astronomy, religion, medicine, imperialism and colonialism, and just about any other topic you could think of. The amount of research O’Brian had to do to make these books so believable is absolutely mind boggling.
This series is most commonly referred to as the “Aubrey/Maturin novels” or the “Aubreyad”, as the two main characters are naval captain Jack Aubrey and doctor/naturalist/spy Stephen Maturin. Theirs is one of the most beautiful, realistic, and enduring friendships I’ve encountered in any form of media and forms the true heart of the series. These two are such utter dorks that you can’t help but fall in love with them and turn eagerly to their next set of adventures.
On the outside Jack Aubrey is an ambitious naval captain who passionately loves the navy, his crew, and doing anything to foil Britain’s enemies by sea. On deck he’s a dashing master of his ship, called “Lucky Jack Aubrey” for his skill in battle and his frequent taking of prize ships. He bears a number of nasty scars as evidence of his firm belief that a captain must lead, not direct from the sidelines as his men head into danger. Even more, Jack is a man who sees the silver lining in every bad situation and always manages a smile in the face of danger or disaster. His seemingly endless fount of optimism endears him to the reader immediately, especially since we are offered glimpses of the emotional turmoil beneath which he hides not from pride but from the necessity of leadership. I would sail into battle with this man in a heartbeat.
On the inside, however, Jack Aubrey is a big squishy teddy bear and the king of dad jokes (even before he becomes a father). This man finds puns so funny that he laughs at his own before he says them, and laughs even when he can’t think of one to fit the situation. He’s just so tickled by puns and it’s adorable. He’s also quite fond of food and good alcohol, as well as a talented amateur violinist and astronomer. Jack appears at first like our usual dashing hero, eager for battle and flirting with all the pretty ladies, but this James Bond facade masks a dorky, good-humored man with a heart of gold who loves his family and friends fiercely. I love him so much it hurts.
On the outside Stephen Maturin is a singularly intelligent and talented surgeon and famed naturalist with a focus on ornithology (i.e. a huge fucking dork). He’s the most hopeless landlubber ever to fall into the ocean while trying to board a ship, his mastery of multiple languages no help when it comes to naval jargon, and the crew of the HMS Surprise has to constantly keep him from dying at sea. Stephen will go to extreme lengths to observe a particularly interesting bird and can happily monologue for hours about a new species of beetle. He’s your classic nerd: cranky, socially and physically awkward, unkempt, and simultaneously unbelievably smart and totally oblivious to everything around him. He’s everything I want to be.
On the inside, however, Stephen is a man driven by love of his home countries, Ireland and Catalonia, and his resulting abhorrence of all forms of colonialism and oppression, especially slavery. This leads him to become a valuable member of Britain’s spy network to stop Napoleon. Few characters know his secret but the reader is gifted with insight into Stephen’s activities and we come to understand just how dangerous an enemy he can be and how valuable an ally. Stephen’s nerdiness and clumsiness lead to some of the best laughs in the series, yet he can be colder and scarier than any other character. What he is at his core is a good man driven by higher principles and a truly exceptional love for weird birds.
Jack and Stephen might have stolen my heart by the end of the first paragraph (in which they get into a fight at a musical concert because Jack won’t stop air conducting), but the secondary characters are where this series truly outshines its contemporaries. Every single side character is as richly developed and complex as our protagonists and will capture your heart just as easily. From Jack’s loyal crew and officers to Stephen’s odd collection of wayward souls (many of whom are ex-slaves), both men manage to form an extended family of lovable and loving characters. One of my personal favorites is Tom Pullings, one of Jack’s young officers whom we watch grow from little midshipmen to captain of his own ship. His utter adoration for Jack is so sweet it makes me want to throw my book across the room:
“…All except for Pullings, who had the watch, and was walking the quarterdeck with his hands behind his back, pacing in as close an imitation of Captain Aubrey as his form could manage, and remembering, every now and then, to look stern, devilish, as like a right tartar as possible, in spite of his bubbling happiness.”
I know what you’re thinking. That’s great, but this just isn’t my genre. I know I’m gonna be bored. I need magic/sci-fi/paranormal-whatever. And you know what? That is FALSE. Look, I have extremely high standards for my fiction and while I’m a sci-fi/fantasy girl at heart, I’m drawn primarily these days to queer speculative fiction. Historical fiction set in 18th century England is not at all my cup of tea (pun intended)… or so I thought. But please understand the gravity of the following statement:
I have never read a more beautiful, well-written work of fiction than this series in my entire life.
It’s true! In just one book Patrick O’Brian surpassed Ray Bradbury as my Biggest Writing Hero Ever and every single book in the series is as fantastic as the next – how often does that happen? The prose is flawless, at once accessible and laden with historical accuracy, a fast-paced read rich with minute detail. What O’Brian does best, though, is his weaving of subtle humor into every scene; a reader paying close attention is rewarded with some truly humorous, one might even say silly, little scenes and asides. I have to share my two favorites, though they’re a little long:
“The sloth sneezed, and looking up, Jack caught its gaze fixed upon him; its inverted face had an expression of anxiety and concern. ‘Try a piece of this, old cock,’ he said, dipping his cake in the grog and proffering the sop. ‘It might put a little heart into you.’ The sloth sighed, closed its eyes, but gently absorbed the piece, and sighed again.
Some minutes later he felt a touch on his knee; the sloth had silently climbed down and it was standing there, its beady eyes looking up into his face, bright with expectation. More cake, more grog; growing confidence and esteem. After this, as soon as the drum had beat the retreat, the sloth would meet him, hurrying towards the door on its uneven legs: it was given its own bowl and would grip it with its claws, lowering its round face into it and pursing its lips to drink. Sometimes it went to sleep in this position, bowed over the emptiness.
“In this bucket,” said Stephen, walking into the cabin, “in this small half-bucket, now, I have the population of Dublin, London and Paris combined: these animalculae – what is the matter with the sloth?” It was curled on Jack’s knee, breathing heavily: its bowl and Jack’s glass stood empty on the table. Stephen picked it up, peered into its affable, bleary face, shoot it, and hung it upon its rope. It seized hold with one fore and one hind foot, letting the others dangle limp, and went to sleep.
Stephen looked sharply round, saw the decanter, smelt to the sloth, and cried, “Jack, you have debauched my sloth.””
And from the very first book in the series…
“‘I was contemplating on the Pongo,’ Stephen said aloud as the door opened and Jack walked in with a look of eager expectation, carrying a roll of music.
‘I am sure you were,’ cried Jack. ‘A damned creditable thing to be contemplating on, too. Now be a good fellow and take your other foot out of that basin—why on earth did you put it in?—and pull on your stockings, I beg. We have not a moment to lose. No, not blue stockings: we are going on to Mrs Harte’s party—to her rout.’
‘Must I put on silk stockings?’
‘Certainly you must put on silk stockings. And do show a leg, my dear chap: we shall be late, without you spread a little more canvas.’
‘You are always in such a hurry,’ said Stephen peevishly, groping among his possessions. A Montpellier snake glided out with a dry rustling sound and traversed the room in a series of extraordinarily elegant curves, its head held up some eighteen inches above the ground.
‘Oh, oh, oh,’ cried Jack, leaping on to a chair. ‘A snake!’
‘Will these do?’ asked Stephen. ‘They have a hole in them.’
‘Is it poisonous?’
‘Extremely so. I dare say it will attack you, directly. I have very little doubt of it. Was I to put the silk stockings over my worsted stockings, sure the hole would not show: but then, I should stifle with heat. Do not you find it uncommonly hot?’
‘Oh, it must be two fathoms long. Tell me, is it really poisonous? On your oath now?’
‘If you thrust your hand down its throat as far as its back teeth you may meet a little venom; but not otherwise. Malpolon monspessulanus is a very innocent serpent. I think of carrying a dozen aboard, for the rats—ah, if only I had more time, and if it were not for this foolish, illiberal persecution of reptiles … What a pitiful figure you do cut upon that chair, to be sure. Barney, Barney, buck or doe, Has kept me out of Channel Row,’ he sang to the serpent; and, deaf as an adder though it was, it looked happily into his face while he carried it away.”
Also, there’s literally a chapter in one book where our heroes escape from France by buying a recently skinned bear, turning it into a costume, and tricking everyone into believing Stephen is a traveling entertainer and Jack is his pet bear. They walk hundreds of miles to the freedom of the Spanish border over harsh terrain, sometimes acting for pennies in the town square, as Jack just suffers in this stuffy, slowly spoiling meat suit and no one suspects a thing. IT’S THE BEST.
These books aren’t just about laughs, though. They elicit emotions across the spectrum from joy to sorrow, anger to triumph, disbelief to nerve-wracking anticipation. They utterly captivate the reader from page one – twenty books won’t be enough once you get caught up in the Aubreyad! I’ve never read a series that made me want to simultaneously hug and throw my books as often as this series and I truly will be bereft when I finish the last book. This is a stunning example of “genre” fiction raised to the very heights of literature and a must-read for anyone who appreciates complex characterization and masterful prose. You will not be disappointed, I can absolutely promise you that.
Top 10 Fiction Books with Feline Main Characters
If you haven’t noticed, I’m kind of a cat person. Next to queer literature, cat literature is probably the genre I read most. When it comes to cat fiction I’ve read a good number of the non-children’s books out there and so I know the genre has some real hidden gems. Therefore, I want to share my top ten cat books so other cat lovers out there can check them out!
10. Warriors – Erin Hunter
If the immensely popular cat series Warriors had existed when I was a kid it would have been my number one obsession. Even as an adult the books hold a certain charm despite being marketed to readers less than half my age. The first set of six books center around Rusty, a pet kitten who finds himself thrown into the world of the “clans” – tribes of feral cats who live in unsteady alliance in the forest beyond his home. Our protagonist desperately wants to leave his comfy “housepet” life and become a warrior, cats who defend their clans and are therefore respected and admired. But is there more to this majestic, adventurous life than meets our young hero’s eye? You’ll have to find out for yourself!
These books can feel a little formulaic after a while, but characterization and action keep them interesting and the first six, which compose the first main plot line, are quite worth your reading time. Despite being aimed at young readers, though, these books have some gruesome and painful moments. The life of a feral cat isn’t easy, and the books thankfully don’t sugarcoat this issue too much. They’re a good balance of whimsy, reality, and that special something that all animal books seem to share.
The first book in the series is Warriors: Into the Wild.
9. Ghatti’s Tale – Gayle Greeno
Remember in the late 80s and early 90s when fantasy novels went through that popular phase of having human characters bonded with magical animals? And it was amazing because who doesn’t want to communicate telepathically with their animal BFF? Well, this craze produced the Ghatti series, which involves the bonding of humans stranded on the planet Methuen with alien creatures which look like very large housecats. These creatures, called ghatti, can read human minds in order to sense emotions, deception, etc. Bonded pairs therefore have become an integral part of society called Seekers, traveling from town to town to solve disputes and crimes. This first trilogy follows the human Doyce and her ghatta Khar’pern, who are being targeted by an unknown force hostile to the Seekers. Detailed world-building and loveable characters round out an interesting and well-executed sci-fi/fantasy concept in this series, one that fans of similar books like The Heralds of Valdemar with come to love as well.
The first book in the original trilogy is Finders-Seekers.
8. The Incredible Journey – Sheila Burnford
Here’s a little factoid about me: Homeward Bound always makes me cry. Always. I can probably make myself cry just thinking about it, honestly. I can’t even watch the scene when Sassy goes over the waterfall, even though I know she’ll be okay. So I was a little nervous about reading The Incredible Journey, the book on which the movie is based. I’m pretty sure the book made me cry too, but it was so worth the read. The animals don’t talk like our trio in the movie, but the book still captures their personalities, determination, and the magnitude of their adventure. The Incredible Journey is a must-read for anyone who likes the movie, and is a powerful (if fictional) testament to the devotion of our beloved pets.
7. Catfantastic – ed. Andre Norton
In the 80s and 90s anthologies called “[insert noun]+fantastic” seemed to be very popular in the sci-fi/fantasy community. Of these series, Catfantastic was obviously the best because it was about cats. The collection of five anthologies features sci-fi/fantasy stories from a variety of well-known authors who approach the feline subject in a myriad of ways. Unlike other anthologies, many of the stories in the Catfantastic books build on earlier stories, giving readers a chance to revisit favorite characters and settings. Like all good anthologies, the stories in these books run the gamut from humor to horror, hard sci-fi to high fantasy, and everything in between. They’re hidden jewels you’re likely to find in your local used book store; if not, you can get them off Amazon for real cheap. Totally worth the cost of shipping, I promise!
The first book in the series is Catfantastic: Nine Lives and Fifteen Tales.
6. Yeshua’s Cats – C.L. Francisco
You’re wary of that title, aren’t you? You’re wondering why I, proud pagan and (newbie) witch, am reading Christian fiction. Well, obviously because it has cats in it and you can’t be too picky about your cat fiction. I’m so, so glad I have this series a chance though. The first book in the Yeshua’s Cats series is told from the point of view of a cat named Mari who is healed by Yeshua after a vicious dog attack. She then travels with him for many years, including the year of his crucifixion. Through her we see the (obviously fictional) origins of a lot of his teachings, and the Yeshua painted by C. L. Francisco is one of immense patience, love, and understanding. The book is beautiful, touching, and at times heart-wrenching, as are all of its sequels/prequels. There are currently five books in the series, some focusing on other cats whose lives have been touched in some way by Yeshua, and I’ve loved each one.
Before you ask, the books really aren’t that preachy. As a follower of Bast, I was highly sensitive to anything in the books that felt judgmental of pagan religions and was overall pretty satisfied with how other religions are handled in the books. The “mother goddess” believed in by the cats of this world is explained as simply a different face of the Christian god, instead of something fake or demonic. This is still Christian fiction, of course, so it’s not entirely free of Christian themes, but I think non-Christian cat lovers will still enjoy these books and appreciate this particular cat-loving depiction of Jesus.
The first book in the series is The Gospel According to Yeshua’s Cat.
5. Tomorrow’s Sphinx – Clare Bell
Tomorrow’s Sphinx is a rare book, even when used, but so worth tracking down. I probably checked it out from the library a hundred times as a kid; some scenes from it are forever branded in my mind. The book is set on a far future earth and follows Kichebo, a black cheetah whose unnatural coloring causes her to become alienated from her family. When she discovers an abandoned human toddler and chooses to care for the creature, she’s thrown into a strange psychic link between herself and another black cheetah – one living during the reign of Tutankhamen. Kichebo must understand how and why this bond exists while protecting her new cub not only from other predators, but from the strange creatures in the sky.
Tomorrow’s Sphinx sounds super weird when you try to explain the plot, but it comes together masterfully in a strange, beautiful tale of the bonds possible between human and animal. If you get the opportunity, give this book a chance; you won’t regret it.
4. The Named – Clare Bell
Clare Bell is on this list twice for a good reason: her books capture the essential wildness of big cats while establishing feline characters and societies as believable as our own. She is probably most known for her Named series, books set on an unspecified planet during a prehistoric age in which the top species are not humans but large, highly intelligent cats who call themselves the Named. The series follows Ratha, a young adult who is banished from her clan when she accidentally discovers how to tend and wield fire – what she calls her “creature”. Her journey will take her to very dark places, both physically and emotionally, but she will come to lead the Named into a new era. For a book about prehistoric cats, this series manages to touch on a variety of different issues such as xenophobia, PTSD, abuse, betrayal and forgiveness, mental illness, and what it means to be part of something bigger than yourself. These books are absolutely a must-read for any cat lover – but I’m warning you now, you’re gonna cry.
The first book in The Named series is Ratha’s Creature.
3. Varjak Paw – S.F. Said
You know how you sometimes read a children’s book as an adult and think “this is way more disturbing than it should be”? That’s Varjak Paw. The book is aimed at third through seventh graders, but the content is creepy enough (including the illustrations!) to not only satisfy an adult reader, but to help it stand out among its competition. Varjak Paw tells the story of young Varjak, a kitten who lives with his family in an idealic house away from the rest of the world. However, when a threatening gentleman takes over the care of the cats, Varjak escapes the house to find help and winds up in the middle of a mystery bigger than anything he could imagine. He must use the newfound powers given to him by his ancestor and the assistance of an unlikely group of friends to save his family and all the cats who have been disappearing without a trace.
Varjak Paw is book one of the duology; be sure to check out its sequel, The Outlaw Varjak Paw, which is a direct continuation of the events in the first book. Varjak is an unforgettable protagonist who will have you cheering for him from page one.
2. Tailchaser’s Song – Tad Williams
If you’re a cat lover, you knew this book would be on the list. And it deserves to be; it’s a beautiful, heartfelt story that masterfully weaves fantasy, horror, and adventure into a tale worthy of Tolkien or C.S Lewis. Fritti Tailchaser, our courageous young hero, goes on a quest to find his friend after she disappears. Much like Varjak, Tailchaser uncovers a mystery much bigger than any could have expected – one that will have him facing off with the gods themselves to save his very species.
Like many of the other books on this list, Tailchaser’s Song is partly so engaging because it builds us an entire world for our feline protagonists. The book includes vocabulary, religion, and social etiquette unique to the cats of this world that feel completely real. Despite being thrown into an entirely different society from the first page, the reader lands on their feet (pun intended) and becomes entirely immersed in the fantasy world Tad Williams is building.
I utterly love this book, but it does come with a warning: it has some seriously dark themes and several disturbing scenes. It’s a hard read sometimes, but one that will leave you in that perfect post-book daze.
1. The Wild Road – Gabriel King
I’ve seen this book compared to Watership Down, which is fair in the sense that they are both sweeping epics focusing on the lives of everyday animals and both are astoundingly good. The Wild Road, however, employs fantasy elements in a way which Watership Down does not, making it more comparable to Tailchaser’s Song. Also like Tailchaser’s Song, this book is dark. Not just dark for a kid’s book, I mean DARK dark. It deals with the topic of animal experimentation, after all, and the villain known only as the Alchemist is as evil as they come. However, the blend of fantasy and horror, combined with an unforgettable ragtag group of animals who must band together to stop the Alchemist, makes this book beautifully heart-wrenching in all the right ways. Like Tailchaser and Varjak Paw, little Tag must leave the safety of his home to save a world he knows nothing about – and to do so he will grow and change in so many ways.
The Wild Road is my #1 absolutely must read cat book. Definitely read its sequel, The Golden Cat, as well to see how the story plays out.
Caution: Apparently two more books came out in the series last year, much to my surprise. They have no reviews on Amazon, though, and seem to focus on human characters with pet cats, so… read at your own risk, I guess. Seems fishy to me. The first two books are AMAZING, though, and you should probably end there.
Honorable mention: The Unadoptables – Margaret Chiavetta
I promote this fledgling webcomic on every social media site possible because it deserves so much more attention and acclaim that it receives. The story centers on a cat cafe where all the resident cats are up for adoption. The twist, however, is that the cats are what most people would consider “unadoptable” in some way; too sick, too old, too aloof, pair bonded, etc. The story follows both the cats and the humans who run the cafe, where all are hopeful that the next visitor will take one of the kitties home. The cats are all loveable characters in their own way, of course, but the human characters shine as well (and are some great POC representation, too) and in general the comic gives you a lot of warm fuzzy feelings. It has its tenser moments, though, as you’ll see if you check out the first story arc!
Check out The Unadoptables and consider supporting them on Patreon to get a sneak peek at new pages, character designs, and other cool behind-the-scenes stuff!
Think another cat book should be on this list? Let me know, I want to read all of the cat books that ever existed!
2017 wasn’t my best reading year ever; I blame that whole planning-a-wedding thing. Still, I managed to read a total of 65 books (okay, books AND comics), including 31 with queer characters or content and 42 by non-male authors. Also, I read Atlas Shrugged, which I think should be counted as a feat unto itself (it’s good! but also hella looooong).
- Wilde Stories 2016: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction – ed. Steve Berman
- Bedtime Stories for Cats – Leigh Anne Jasheway
- Catfantastic Vol. 2 – Andre Norton and Martin Harry Greenburg
- Catfantastic Vol. 3 – Andre Norton and Martin Harry Greenburg
- Rejected Princesses: Tales of History’s Boldest Heroines, Hellions, and Heretics – Jason Porath
- Your Magickal Cat: Feline Magic, Lore, and Worship – Gerina Dunwich
- Great Speeches on Gay Rights – Ed. James Daley
- Catfantastic Vol. 4 – Andre Norton and Martin Harry Greenburg
- Catfantastic Vol. 5 – Andre Norton and Martin Harry Greenburg
- Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand
- Heiresses of Russ 2016: The Year’s Best Lesbian Speculative Fiction – Ed. A M Dellamonica and Steve Berman
- The King of the Cats and Other Feline Fairy Tales – ed. John Richard Stephens
- The Tribe of Tiger – Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
- Summer in Orcus – T. Kingfisher
- Mystery Cats – ed. Lilian Jackson Braun & Patricia Highsmith
- Toad Words and Other Stories – T. Kingfisher
- The Moment of Change: An Anthology of Feminist Speculative Poetry – ed. Rose Lemberg
- Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell – Susanna Clarke
- A Song of War: A Novel of Troy – Stephanie Thornton et. al.
- The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories – Susanna Clarke
- Keeper of the Dawn – Dianna Gunn
- Arcane Perfection – ed. Pat Mosley, et. al.
- An Alphabet of Embers: An Anthology of Unclassifiables – ed. Rose Lemberg
- Tailchaser’s Song – Tad Williams
- A Year of Ravens: A Novel of Boudica’s Rebellion – E. Knight et. al.
- Watership Down – Richard Adams
- Jackalope Wives and Other Stories – T. Kingfisher
- Paradise Lost – John Milton
- The Wicked and the Divine, Book 5: Imperial Phase I – Kieron Gillen
- Summerwode (The Wode Book 4) – J Tullos Hennig
- The Miseducation of Cameron Post – Emily M Danforth
- The First Time She Drowned – Kerry Kletter
- Iron Peter: A Year in the Mythopoetic Life of New York City – Charles Ortleb
- Lumberjanes Vol 1: Beware the Kitten Holy – Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis
- Dreadnought: Nemesis Book 1 – April Daniels
- The Price of Salt – Patricia Highsmith
- Two Boys Kissing – David Levithan
- Scourge of the Righteous Haddock – Ashley Schwellenbach
- The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars Part 1 – Irene Koh et. al.
- The Wheel Diver – Ashley Schwellenbach
- Through the Woods – Emily Carroll
- Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel – Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
- Lumberjanes Vol 2: Friendship to the Max! – Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis
- Lumberjanes Vol 3: A Terrible Plan – Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis
- Lumberjanes Vol 4: Out of Time – Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis
- Mystery of the White Lions: Children of the Sun God – Linda Tucker
- Lumberjanes Vol 5: Band Together – Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis
- Lumberjanes Vol 6: Sink or Swim – Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis
- The Steel Remains (A Land Fit for Heroes) – Richard K. Morgan
- A Short History of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson
- Homer’s Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned About Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat – Gwen Cooper
- Journey from Yesterday – Roma Niles Burke
- Facing the Wave: A Journey in the Wake of the Tsunami – Gretel Erhlich
- The Cold Commands (A Land Fit for Heroes) – Richard K. Morgan
- The Dark Defiles (A Land Fit for Heroes) – Richard K. Morgan
- Psychic Abilities for Beginners: Awaken Your Intuitive Senses – Melanie Barnum
- How To Meet & Work with Spirit Guides – Ted Andrews
- Mostly Void, Partially Stars: Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Volume 1 – Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
- Master and Commander – Patrick O’Brian
- The Great Glowing Coils of the Universe: Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Volume 2 – Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
- Intuition: Knowing Beyond Logic – Osho
- Post Captain – Patrick O’Brian
- H.M.S Surprise – Patrick O’Brian
- Yeshua’s Loom: A Tapestry of Cats (Yeshua’s Cats Book 5) – C L Francisco
- The Essential Rumi – trans. Coleman Barks
Flame-foot, farthest walker
Your hunter speaks
In need he walks
In need but never in fear”
– First-Walker prayer, Tailchaser’s Song
As Fritti Tailchaser spoke this prayer into the darkness of his final moments, goosebumps crept up my arms. Though ancient texts do not name Tangaloor Firefoot or his brothers as children of Kemet’s Bast, in the moment I read that passage Her presence was overwhelming. I felt compelled to memorize the prayer, should I ever need to call on Lord Tangaloor’s aid, and I have been mentally repeating it like a mantra for days. I can’t seem to let it go; its words slip over my tongue like prayer beads and bring me as much comfort.
The experience has me considering the role fiction can play in our worship, and in the wills of the gods themselves. After all, the gods speak to us in myriad ways. If we listen, we find their messages are everywhere, in forms and faces we might not expect. I think it is thus with Bast, who can be found in the religion of the felines in Tailchaser’s Song (Tad Williams) and the creation myth in The Wild Road (Gabriel King). Rereading these books as an adult, I finally recognize Bast’s purposeful influence in these stories. Their authors are extremely talented, and I don’t mean to say they couldn’t invent such a story on their own, but Her role is too obvious for me to overlook. When I mentally smack my head for not realizing the connection sooner, I hear Her gentle laughter. She made these stories come into being. She wanted them to be read. She wants them to mean something to me. They feel like scripture, like missing pieces, but I can’t yet figure out where they fit. If my thoughts seem scattered and incomplete, it’s because they are. I’m going mostly by feeling, here.
Below are the creation stories from both Tailchaser’s Song and The Wild Road. I feel compelled to preserve them somewhere, to make them available to other followers of Bast. Do with them what you will – and let me know if you feel the same power within their lines as I do. Luck dancing, friends!
[ I read a lot of fantastic books this year, especially in the realms of non-fiction (29 books), queer fiction (15 books – rather low for me), and just about anything featuring cats (19 books). I challenged myself with Guns, Germs, and Steel near the end of the year, and will be picking up Atlas Shrugged on January 1st. Then maybe I’ll just read comic books for the rest of the year… (joking!)]
- The Outlaw Varjak Paw – S.F Said
- Babylon’s Ark: The Incredible Wartime Rescue of the Baghdad Zoo – Lawrence Anthony
- Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia – Jean Sasson
- I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban – Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb
- The Good Man of Nanking: The Diaries of John Rabe – John E. Woods
- Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War – Karen Abbott
- Ten Days in a Mad-House – Nellie Bly
- The Demon in the Freezer: A True Story – Richard Preston
- The Wicked and the Divine Vol. One: The Faust Act – Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie
- Descent to the Goddess: A Way of Initiation for Women – Sylvia Brinton Perera
- The World Peace Diet: Eating for Spiritual Health and Social Harmony – Will Tuttle
- In the Wake of the Goddesses: Women, Culture, and the Biblical Transformation of Pagan Myth – Tikva Frymer-Kensky
- Unit 731 Testimony – Hal Gold
- Outsider in the White House – Bernie Sanders and John Nichols
- Survivor – Chuck Palahniuk
- Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers – Mary Roach
- Ashes and Snow – Gregory Colbert
- The Wicked and the Divine Vol. Two: Fandemonium – Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie
- My Sister’s Keeper – Jodie Picoult
- In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom – Yeonmi Park
- Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America – Jon Mooallem
- Prisoner of Tehran: One Woman’s Story of Survival Inside an Iranian Prison – Marina Nemat
- The Art of Forgetting: Rider – Joanne Hall
- The Wicked and the Divine Vol. Three: Commercial Suicide – Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie
- Geisha: A Life – Mineko Iwasaki
- The Art of Forgetting: Nomad – Joanne Hall
- The Wild Road – Gabriel King
- Vestal – Ashley Schwellenbach
- Nimona – Noelle Stevenson
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – JK Rowling
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – JK Rowling
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – JK Rowling
- The Raven and the Reindeer – T. Kingfisher
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – JK Rowling
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – JK Rowling
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – JK Rowling
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – JK Rowling
- You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost): A Memoir – Felicia Day
- Sharp Ends: Stories from the World of the First Law – Joe Abercrombie
- Catfantastic: Nine Lives and Fifteen Tales – ed. Andre Norton and Martin H. Greenberg
- Beast of Never, Cat of God: The Search for the Eastern Puma – Bob Butz
- The Golden Cat – Gabriel King
- Shadow Cat: Encountering the American Mountain Lion – ed. Susan Ewing and Elizabeth Grossman
- North of Hope: A Daughter’s Arctic Journey – Shannon Huffman Polson
- Inanna, Lady of Largest Heart: Poems of the Sumerian High Priestess – Betty De Shong Meador and Judy Grahn
- The Scourge of the Righteous Haddock – Ashley Schwellenbach
- Swallow You Whole – Jasper Black
- The Red Tent – Anita Diamant
- Delphi Complete Works of Sappho – Sappho of Lesbos
- The Sign of the Cat – Lynne Jonell
- Suicide Watch – Kelley York
- Sinful Cinderella (Dark Fairy Tale Queen Series Book 1) – Anita Valle
- Part of the Pride: My Life Among the Big Cats of Africa – Kevin Richardson and Tony Park
- Ellie Jordan, Ghost Trapper – JL Bryan
- Tarot: Plain and Simple – Anthony Louis
- Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – JK Rowling
- Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books – Azar Nafisi
- The Ghatti’s Tale, Book One: Finders-Seekers – Gayle Greeno
- Heiresses of Russ 2015: The Year’s Best Lesbian Speculative Fiction – ed. Steve Berman and Jean Roberta
- The Ghatti’s Tale, Book Two: Mindspeaker’s Call – Gayle Greeno
- The Tygrine Cat – Inbali Iserles
- The Ghatti’s Tale, Book Three: Exile’s Return – Gayle Greeno
- The Wicked and the Divine Vol. Four: Rising Action – Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie
- Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories – ed. D. Alexander Ward and Doug Murano
- Egyptian Paganism for Beginners: Bring the Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt Into Daily Life – Jocelyn Almond
- The Gayer-Anderson Cat (British Museum Objects in Focus) – Neal Spencer
- Cat Born to the Purple: A Sequel to Yeshua’s Cat (Yeshua’s Cats Book 4) – C. L. Francisco
- This Is How You Die: Stories of the Inscrutable, Infallible, Inescapable Machine of Death – ed. Ryan North, et. al.
- The Girls of No Return – Erin Saldin
- BaneWreaker: Volume 1 of The Sundering – Jacqueline Carey
- Godslayer: Volume 2 of The Sundering – Jacqueline Carey
- The Island of the Blue Dolphins – Scott O’Dell
- Moth – S.E. Diemer
- Julie of the Wolves – Jean Craighead George
- The Book of Lost Things – John Connolly
- To Reign in Hell: A Novel – Steven Brust
- The Call of the Wild – Jack London
- Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies – Jared Diamond
- White Fang – Jack London
- Three Dark Crowns – Kendare Blake
Moth: Darker, Realer, and (Way) Gayer than The Hunger Games
“Five years ago, I wrote a YA novel. Like all my novels, it had a lesbian MC. But this one was different from anything I’d done before. With this novel, I got an agent. It was put out on submission & every editor who read it said it was awesome. But. Well written. But. It was too controversial. Something that they said, and I quote, “American kids wouldn’t believe.” … I wrote it because I was angry. And anger, right now, is SO important. Anger will save us. Anger will give us strength, help keep us brave. I’m releasing the book editors said was too controversial. The book that made them uncomfortable. The book American kids “wouldn’t believe.” I told this story for all of us. For every pain I’ve suffered. For every pain you’ve suffered. Stay angry. Stay brave. Don’t fall asleep.” – S.E. Diemer
Back when The Hunger Games fandom first exploded, the books were recommended to me by my sister when I told her I was looking for more fiction with “badass women”. I read the books, mildly enjoyed the first two, and rolled my eyes through much of the third. I didn’t hate them, but they didn’t speak to me like they did to so many others. In the end, I think that’s because the world they’re set in, an unspoken but clearly post-apocalyptic-style future North America, didn’t feel realistic. The story was good – dark, but full of hope; real, but just fantastical enough to keep you reading – but I didn’t believe it. I didn’t believe Panem was once my America, and so the terrible future in the books never felt like a real threat.
Cut to the recent US election. Cut to the quote I shared above. Cut to Moth, a book about a future America where being black, queer, non-Christian, dissenting, outspoken, even just a little too rebellious can get you sent to re-education camps to be burned, electrocuted, and brainwashed (if you’re lucky) – or simply killed. This book, like The Hunger Games, is YA. It’s meant for teenagers, for the exact audience editors apparently didn’t think would buy its setting. Let me tell you – I buy it. Because this isn’t post-apocalypse, this isn’t mutant monsters, this isn’t crazy sci-fi technology and vast conspiracies…
This is North Korea. Now. Everything that happens in this book, everything our heroine experiences, has happened or does currently happen in countries across the world. It’s not impossible to imagine queer kids being forced to undergo traumatizing, sometimes deadly attempts to “fix” them. That happens. It’s not impossible to have a character whose father is killed just because his skin is dark. That happens. It’s not impossible to learn about an underground railroad ferrying kids up to Canada (the border of which is soon to be blocked by a giant “freedom” wall), nor that the European Union has cut off all aide to the country. Those things happen all the time, and have throughout history.
This is an America ruled by a dictator who claims to speak the very will of God. There are no mutants or science experiments here – just fanatical people who think the world should run their way because They Are Right. I don’t know about you, but these days that doesn’t seem like such a far-fetched future.
This book has its little flaws, like all books do, but no major detractors. More importantly, what it has at its core is the anger and fear not of someone looking into a possible sci-fi future hundreds of years from now, but someone living right here with us who sees a path our country could easily take. As much as we’d like to pretend democracy is unassailable, our form of government is as vulnerable to corruption and dissolution as any other. Will we ever become a totalitarian dictatorship in which we gleefully watch children murder each other for food and fame in gigantic stadiums full of technological death traps? Probably not. Will we ever become a theocracy in which dissenters are “re-educated” to fit the Christian model of good citizens? Maybe, yeah.
So read this book. It’s worth it.
(For those who need it, here are the book’s major trigger warnings: Homophobia, racism, physical and mental/emotional abuse, suicide, violence)
“What do you mean, you’re not coming back?” Anna stopped cold in the corridor, staring after her girlfriend as if not quite believing what she had heard. Jessryn turned back to see she had stopped walking, then took hold of her robe and pulled her to one side. “Are you telling me are?” she whispered furiously, keeping her voice low so as not to be heard over the sound of students moving between classes. “Of course!” Anna made no such attempt. “We have to!”
“It’s not our fight, Anna,” Jessryn glanced around, but no one seemed to be eavesdropping on their conversation. She moved closer to Anna and lowered her voice further, just in case. “My family’s going into hiding once the school year’s over. They want to wait for things to calm down, or fall out, or whatever’s going to happen. It’s not safe here anymore, not at Hogwarts and not in this country; I doubt even this continent. I don’t know where we’ll go, but you can bet it will be far, far away from here.” She cupped Anna’s face in one slightly trembling hand. “You should come with us. You’d be safer.”
“I’m not running away like a coward,” Anna stuck her bottom lip out, a stubborn expression Jessryn normally adored – now it only made her go cold. “So I’m a coward?” she asked, dropping her hand. Anna’s mouth fell open. “No! No, I just mean… this is our school. It’s been like a home to us the last six years. If it comes to a fight, shouldn’t we defend it?”
“Not if it costs us our lives,” Jessryn turned away, desperate to end the conversation. They rarely quarreled, and never over anything this serious; neither of them was saying what they really meant, or how they really felt. “I don’t want to talk about this right now. We’ll be late for Potions.” And with that she stalked off down the hallway, willing herself not to listen to check if Anna followed.
[ And MORE questions about Tanim and Daren, courtesy of the girlfriend. Once again, if you have any of your own, leave them in the comments below. Thanks! ]
19) If they could own any famous piece of art, what would they own?
I think Tanim would want to own Michelangelo’s Pieta. I mean, go big or go home, right? Tanim would appreciate the piece for its pure artistry, but also for the emotional impact of it as well. He in some ways is drawn to the story of Christ, though that’s another question for another day. I can also see Tanim preferring classical art and antiquities more than modern art, mostly because he would have been raised around fine art and probably be kind of a snob.
I think Daren might like to own The Anguished Man, or a similarly creepy and supposedly cursed/haunted work of art. He’d half want to own it just to prove he wasn’t afraid of a stupid rumor, and half to see if the rumor was actually true. I think he’d relish the challenge of facing off a ghost or whatever was causing trouble, and be secretly pleased to be able to say a big “fuck you” to the spirit world, as well as the real world. Or maybe he’d just enjoy the chaos it would cause for those around him – who knows?
20) If they were in the Inception universe, what would their totems be?
Daren’s totem would be his silver lighter. Only he would know its specific weight and feel (smooth, but dented and scuffed in certain placed), and only he would know if it would light in the dream or not. Tanim’s totem would be a bullet modified to a specific weight and filled with a rolled up slip of paper instead of gunpowder. Only he would know the weight of the bullet and what was written on the paper. I think Tanim would need a very original and complex totem, because he could otherwise be lost in the dream quite easily.
Oh, and although she didn’t ask, let me expand on this enough to say Tanim would be the dreamer and Daren the architect. And yes, it would be as creepy and terrifying as that sounds. I might have to write something about that… hmm…
21) What gardening implement would each of them use as a murder weapon?
Tanim would go for something blunt – maybe a shovel or a hatchet of some sort. Or a hammer, if that counts as a gardening tool. Daren would, of course, go for something sharp – maybe shears, a cultivator, or a small saw. He’d love a scythe, of course. I think either of them would have fun with a nail gun.
22) If they were gods from The Wicked and the Divine, what would their stage personas look like?
Being the Sun and Moon, they would probably perform together. They would both dress in all black, though Tanim would show more skin, and both would wear stylized half-masks – silver for Daren and gold for Tanim. They would also wear silver and gold jewelry, respectively, with a celestial/pagan theme. Their style of dress and music would be very reminiscent of Placebo. The one thing I’m not sure about is their hair… I’m not sure if it would be long, like their original Sun and Moon forms, or more modern. They might switch between the two. After all, they’re gods.
23) What would they dress up as for Halloween?
Well, I’ve already written something where they dressed up as Vicious and Vincent from Cowboy Bebop, but that was just me being a fangirl. (It totally works, though!) Anyway, I can see Tanim really getting into the Halloween spirit. I bet in his single years he loved having a holiday completely themed around being anonymous for the night. I could see him going as anything for which he could wear a nice suit and maybe a mask; vampire, demon, Phantom of the Opera, Dorian Gray, perhaps a particularly well dressed werewolf. (Oh! Or Baphomet from WicDiv.) I’m not sure how easy it would be to get Daren to wear a Halloween costume, though. He might refuse to dress up, wear his usual all black, and get mistaken for the Grim Reaper anyway. Or a vampire. Or a ghost. Or a murderer. I mean, really, Daren’s scary enough that he doesn’t really need a costume. And everyone would do a double-take when they realized the knife in his hand wasn’t fake. That being said, the man looks pretty damn cool with skull makeup.
24) What books would they re-read often?
Tanim would probably re-read the Under the Poppy trilogy by Kathe Koja and Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner often. He might also really like Roger Zelazney’s Chronicles of Amber; I can see him identifying in many ways with the main character, Corwin. I think Tanim would also like queer fiction, especially queer speculative fiction, so he’d read things like the Wilde Stories collections that come out every year and other collections by Steve Berman.
Daren would probably re-read a lot of Kathe Koja’s work, especially Strange Angels, The Cipher, and Bad Brains. I can definitely see him liking her strange, almost delusional style of writing and her supremely fucked up characters. I think he’d also like Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill and other similar horror, especially anything by Lee Thomas.
I’m not sure if either of them would be drawn to a book like Bel Canto, but I know they’d both love the ending – though for different reasons. And I think they would both be drawn to reading religious books like the Bible, Quran, and Torah, though again for different reasons.
[ I read a total of 76 books this year. As you can tell, I was on a bit of a cat kick thanks to becoming a follower of Bast – but I managed to fit in quite a few queer books too, as well as some Classics and even some poetry. All in all it was a good year for reading, though I don’t think my heart will ever recover from Bel Canto or The Bastards’ Paradise. ]
- Clariel – Garth Nix
- The Gospel According to Yeshua’s Cat (Yeshua’s Cats Book 1) – C.L. Francisco
- A Cat Out of Egypt: The Prequel to Yeshua’s Cat (Yeshua’s Cats Book 2) – C.L Francisco
- Per-Bast: A Tale of Cats in Ancient Egypt – Lara-Dawn Stiegler
- Make Much of Me – Kayla Bashe
- The Incredible Journey – Sheila Burnford
- Varjak Paw – Sf Said
- Ratha’s Creature (The Named) – Clare Bell
- Clan Ground (The Named) – Clare Bell
- Ratha and Thistle-Chaser (The Named) – Clare Bell
- Tomorrow’s Sphinx – Clare Bell
- Ratha’s Challenge (The Named) – Clare Bell
- Ratha’s Courage (The Named) – Clare Bell
- Warriors #1: Into the Wild – Erin Hunter
- Warriors #2: Fire and Ice – Erin Hunter
- Warriors #3: Forest of Secrets – Erin Hunter
- Warriors #4: Rising Storm – Erin Hunter
- Warriors #5: A Dangerous Path – Erin Hunter
- Warriors #6: The Darkest Hour – Erin Hunter
- Warriors: The New Prophecy #1: Midnight – Erin Hunter
- Warriors: The New Prophecy #2: Moonrise – Erin Hunter
- Warriors: The New Prophecy #3: Dawn – Erin Hunter
- Warriors: The New Prophecy #4: Starlight – Erin Hunter
- Warriors: The New Prophecy #5: Twilight – Erin Hunter
- Warriors: The New Prophecy #6: Sunset – Erin Hunter
- Warriors: Power of Three #1: The Sight – Erin Hunter
- Irregulars: Stories by Nicole Kimberling, Josh Lanyon, Ginn Hale, and Astrid Amara
- Downtime – Tamara Allen
- A Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii – Stephanie Dray, et. al
- The Seventh Bride – T. Kingfisher
- Strange Angels – Kathe Koja
- Hogfather – Terry Pratchett
- Invoking the Egyptian Gods – Judith Page and Ken Biles
- Shadowscapes Companion – Stephanie Pui-Mun Law and Barbara Moore
- Deerskin – Robin McKinley
- A Night to Remember – Walter Lord
- Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
- Hell’s Pawn – Jay Bell
- Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes: A No-Bullshit Guide to World Mythology – Cory O’Brien
- Bad Brains – Kathe Koja
- The Mythic Tarot – Juliet Sharman-Burke, Liz Greene
- Song of Bast – Judith Page
- Swordspoint – Ellen Kushner
- Blue on Black – Carole Cummings
- Don’t Date a Writer – Maj Alyasa
- Bel Canto – Ann Patchett
- Lost – Gregory Maguire
- Wilde Stories 2015: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction – Steve Berman, et. al.
- Bryony and Roses – T. Kingfisher
- The Fox’s Tower and Other Tales – Yoon Ha Lee
- Listening to Cougar – Marc Bekoff and Cara Blessley Lowe
- Wolfs-own: Ghost – Carole Cummings
- Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet – John Bradshaw
- Bast and Sekhmet: Eyes of Ra – Storm Constantine and Louise Coquio
- Heiresses of Russ 2011: The Year’s Best Lesbian Speculative Fiction – JoSelle Vanderhooft, et. al.
- Heiresses of Russ 2012: The Year’s Best Lesbian Speculative Fiction – Katherine Fabian, et. al.
- Heiresses of Russ 2014: The Year’s Best Lesbian Speculative Fiction – Steve Berman, et. al.
- Winterwode (The Wode Book 3) – J Tullos Hennig
- The Queen of the Sky Who Rules Over All of the Gods: A Devotional Anthology in Honor of Bast – ed. By Rebecca Buchanan
- Where Thy Dark Eye Glances: Queering Edgar Allen Poe – ed. Steve Berman
- World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War – Max Brooks
- Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe – Benjamin Alire Saenz
- The Halloween Tree – Ray Bradbury
- Lord of the White Hell: Book One – Ginn Hale
- Lord of the White Hell: Book Two – Ginn Hale
- Strange Things in the Woods – Steve Stockton
- Ghost Stories of Washington – Barbara Smith
- The Bastards’ Paradise – Kathe Koja
- The Cats of Rekem: The Sequel to Yeshua’s Cat (Yeshua’s Cats Book 3) – C. L. Francisco
- The Nine Emotional Lives of Cats: A Journey into the Feline Heart – Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson
- Champion of the Scarlet Wolf Book 1 (The Cadeleonian Series Book 3) – Ginn Hale
- Champion of the Scarlet Wolf Book 2 (The Cadeleonian Series Book 4) – Ginn Hale
- Innocence – Jane Mendelsohn
- Sharp Teeth – Toby Barlow
- The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
- The Conqueror’s Wife: A Novel of Alexander the Great – Stephanie Thornton
“Dum spiro te amo”
kiss and raise a fist
give your bow, gentlemen
this stage won’t forget
[ If you haven’t read Kathe Koja’s stunning work Under the Poppy, or its equally as heart-wrenching and powerful sequels The Mercury Waltz and just-released The Bastards’ Paradise, do yourself a favor… read them all. Now. ]
Devotion to the Mother Cat
I’m now three months in to my devotion to Bast. So far things are going well – She seems to approve of my approach to devotion and is clear when She wants something done, or done differently. One thing I have found, though, is that it can be difficult to fit devotions into a busy day, especially if you don’t have the time/energy/wellness to conduct something extended. I know most spiritual people struggle with this, so I thought I’d just mention some of the simple things I do during the week for Bast.
1) Music – I’m lucky that I can often listen to music in my cubicle at work. This gives me an opportunity to honor Bast during the day while otherwise being a boring adult. Below are some of the songs Bast enjoys (with Youtube links):
The Lion King Broadway soundtrack (especially Grasslands Chant, The Lioness Hunt, and Shadowland)
When You Believe – The Prince of Egypt soundtrack
Alegria – Cirque du Soleil
Adiemus – Karl Jenkins/Enya
Awake and In the Land of Twilight – Yuki Kajiura
2) Reading – One thing Bast demanded pretty quickly in my devotion was a focus on cat fiction. Since January I’ve literally only read books with feline characters and She absolutely loves them. Below are some of the books I’d definitely recommend not just to followers of Bast, but to anyone who likes feline fiction – or just really good books in general. (Be warned, though; all of these books are darker than you’d expect and at least two of the Warriors books so far have made me bawl.)
The Named series – Clare Bell
The Warriors series – Erin Hunter
Yeshua’s Cats (books 1 and 2) – C.L. Francisco
Tomorrow’s Sphinx – Clare Bell
Varjak Paw – Sf Said
The Incredible Journey – Sheila Burnford
Per-Bast: A Tale of Cats in Ancient Egypt – Lara-Dawn Stiegler
3) Jewelry – I’ve been a cat person since I was born, so I already had a lot of cat jewelry when Bast came calling. I’ve asked Her to bless these pieces one by one as I wear them, and now consider them symbols of my devotion. I’ll choose certain ones to wear on days when I feel I need extra strength, guidance, or protection, or just when I want to feel closer to Her.
4) Writing and Art – Two ways I try to honor Bast in my spare time are through writing and art. I can handle the writing part – hymns, prayers, etc – pretty easily, but art not so much. So I’ve taken up practicing drawing cats, mostly doodles on my notes at work, and when I get home I sometimes play dollmaker games online and make depictions of Bast. I think Bast enjoys these because I put time and effort into them, so even though I’m not the one actually drawing the picture, I’m still being creative and thoughtful in Her honor.
we’ll lose all the greats in time
mighty shoes to fill
Dear favorite character,
There’s no easy way to cushion this blow, no delicate way to break this news, so I’m just going to say it:
You’re going to die.
I’m sorry. There’s no avoiding it. It’s a curse I’ve inflicted upon you, one neither of us can reverse. It’s easier to simply try to accept your fate, as I do. Once I realize who you are, I know it’s over. There’s no hope. The ending is written in blood. I’ll still mourn you – gods, how I’ll mourn you – but I know it’s inevitable.
Please don’t ask me for exceptions to the rule. There are none. It doesn’t matter who you are, whether you’re just a minor character or on the cover of the comic. You might be a villain who just redeemed themselves, or a friend who just betrayed the good guys. You might be the antihero, the best friend, the mentor, the star-crossed lover, the silent guardian, the cute sidekick. Human or animal, young or old, good or evil. It doesn’t matter. Nothing will keep you safe.
Even the form of media doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you live in the book; you’ll die in the movie (I’m looking at you, Muldoon). It doesn’t matter if you live in the movie; you’ll die in the book (and you, Malcolm). It doesn’t matter if you’re off the show; they’ll bring you back in season four just to kill you off (I can’t say your name yet – I’m not ready). You’ll be the only one to die in a Disney movie or a children’s book. On a show filled with violence, in a movie where everyone dies, your death will still be the worst. There’s a very good chance you’ll be played by Sean Bean.
I can’t tell you for sure when it will happen. It may be when you’ve just grasped a small measure of happiness for the first time; it may be when you think you are most triumphant or have revenged a lost lover; it may be after a long, painful battle against your worst enemy or a cruel illness. It might even be so completely unexpected, so shocking and nonsensical, that your death will leave me staring wordlessly at nothing, trying to comprehend what just happened. You might even do it yourself, as if hastening the ending you already know is inevitable.
I really am sorry. I didn’t mean to get you messed up in all this. You’re just so interesting or creepy or cute or cruel or tragic, and I like you, and now you’re completely fucked. That’s just the way the world works, apparently. You’re not the first, and you won’t be the last. But I’ll always remember you.
P.S If you have white hair, I’m especially sorry. And no, I wouldn’t ask why if I were you. Some things are better left unknown.
[ This year has been very busy with new job(s), moving, several illnesses, and other things, so I didn’t read nearly as many books as usual. However, I think most of the books I did read were of good quality so hopefully that makes up for my low number. I read 20 books this year with GRSM (gender, romantic, and sexual orientation minorities) main characters; it probably would have been more but I got distracted near the end of the year by historical fiction. Extreme praises go to The Mercury Waltz, The Tiger Queens, and Conservation of Shadows. ]
- ElfQuest: The Quest Begins (novel) – Wendi and Richard Pini
- The Mercury Waltz – Kathe Koja
- Night Shadows: Queer Horror – Various
- Unspeakable Horror: From the Shadows of the Closet – ed. Vince Liaguno and Chad Helder
- Project Unicorn, Volume 2 – Sarah Diemer and Jennifer Diemer
- Sappho’s Fables, Volume 1 – Jennifer Diemer and Elora Bishop
- Heiresses of Russ 2013: The Year’s Best Lesbian Speculative Fiction – various
- Roses and Thorns: Beauty and the Beast Retold – Chris Anne Wolfe
- Fire Logic – Laurie J Marks
- The Queen’s Librarian – Carole Cummings
- American Studies – Mark Merlis
- ElfQuest: Journey to Sorrow’s End (novel) – Wendi and Richard Pini
- The Lies of Locke Lamora – Scott Lynch
- Dawn of Darkness – Lee Brandenburg
- Funeral Games – Mary Renault
- Red Seas Under Red Skies – Scott Lynch
- The Republic of Thieves – Scott Lynch
- Ash – Malinda Lo
- Greenwode – J Tullos Hennig
- The October Country – Ray Bradbury
- Long After Midnight – Ray Bradbury
- The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury
- Wilde Stories 2014 – Steve Berman
- Half a King – Joe Abercrombie
- The Princess Bride – William Golding*
- Ebenezer – Joselle Vanderhoof
- Ask the Passengers – A.S. King
- The Betrayal – R.L. Stein*
- The Girls of No Return – Erin Saldin
- Conservation of Shadows – Yoon Ha Lee
- The Secret – R.L. Stein*
- The Girl From the Well – Rin Chupeco
- Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis – Alexis Coe
- Tipping the Velvet – Sarah Waters
- Fingersmith – Sarah Waters
- Shadows on the Moon – Zoe Marriott
- The Burning – R.L. Stein*
- The Bread We Eat in Dreams – Catherynne M. Valente
- Carmilla – J. Sheridan LeFanu
- The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson
- The Tiger Queens: The Women of Genghis Khan – Stephanie Thornton
- The Phantom of the Opera – Gaston Leroux*
- Starvation Heights: A True Story of Murder and Malice in the Woods of the Pacific Northwest – Gregg Olsen
- Daughter of the Gods: A Novel of Ancient Egypt – Stephanie Thornton
*Books read out loud by my wonderful girlfriend.
With a twist she slips from the officer’s grasp and runs for the dock, legs pumping, perching a second on the railing to gather energy before launching into the water with a dive that cuts the icy waves. Above the surface chaos erupts, shouting and arguing, but she is too deep and too far already to catch words. She swims. Limbs slicing through the water like blades, sharper than the Exacto knife she’d wielded in triumphant frenzy, she swims. Away from the useless counselors. Away from the father who buys love with diamonds and Gucci. Away from the memory of a mother, somewhere and yet nowhere. Away from the gnawing emptiness inside that makes her control, manipulate, destroy everything and everyone who reaches out. They will catch her, but until they do she swims toward the horizon and thinks only of the water buoying her forward.
[ Had a dream I was several different characters from The Girls of No Return, a book about a wilderness camp for delinquent girls. I very much recommend it! ]
Bradbury has followed me through the years, both companion and guide, close to my side as any holy book. I have read him in dorm rooms late at night and New Mexican laundromats at high noon; in hotel rooms in Switzerland and Portland; on trains down the continent, planes across the ocean, buses through the city; in the deepest wilderness and in bed by sick, slumbering lovers. I have read him when I needed rekindling, when I needed reminding, when I needed a rescue. I have read him desperately, ravenously, wondrously.