Sleeps With Monsters: The Women of Black Panther Are Amazing

Black Panther women

Seeing Black Panther was an experience. It’s a gorgeous film, with a strong storyline and probably the tightest narrative I’ve yet seen in a superhero film.* The Afrofuturism of the setting—technology so advanced it may as well magic, tied to what’s clearly a long historical tradition—is a glittering vision** of possibility, undercut with the tension between Wakanda’s technologically advanced isolationism and the scars of colonial imperialism that affect the rest of African history.

[Note: Possible spoilers ahead for Black Panther.]

It’s also a film that, while it centres on a man—and on questions of kingship, legitimacy, and responsibility—is the first superhero film I’ve ever seen to surround its main male character with women who are in many ways equally powerful, and who don’t depend on him for purpose or characterisation. No, seriously: this is the first superhero film I’ve ever seen—maybe the first SFF film I’ve ever ...

Lupita Nyong'o Nakia Black Panther
Letitia Wright Shuri Black Panther
Angela Bassett Queen Ramonda Black Panther
Danai Gurira Okoye Black Panther
Dora Milaje Black Panther

Literary Fusion: Pride and Prometheus by John Kessel

John Kessel is one of those much-lauded authors (with two Nebula Awards and a Shirley Jackson Award to his credit, among sundry other accolades) of whom I’d never heard before I was offered his latest book to review. Is Pride and Prometheus representative of his work and career? I don’t know, but I hope so. This is a fine, measured novel, deeply interested in the social conditions and conventions of its setting, and deeply interested, too, in human nature and human frailty.

It’s not nearly as fun as Theodora Goss’s The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter (Saga, 2017), which is working with some of the same influences—revisioning 19th-century popular fiction from a point of view that emphasises women’s choices and agency, and which interrogates the assumptions of the original texts. Kessel, while providing plenty of entertainment and an appealing female protagonist, falls more towards the literary genre’s examination of ...

Take Wing: The Philosopher’s Flight by Tom Miller

The Philosopher’s Flight, Tom Miller’s debut novel, is a book that could have gone wrong in so many ways. Instead, it went very right, and I’m still not quite sure how to feel about the ways in which it exceeded my expectations…

Except positively.

The Philosopher’s Flight sets itself in America—largely in Boston—in the years of the Great War. Since the late 1700s, in this world, people have been manipulating the natural world through the use of sigils and substances—a practice in part borrowed from colonised peoples and then industrialised. These “philosophers” (or “sigilists”) are predominantly women, because women are naturally better at this empirical sort of philosophy (which is definitely not magic) and as a result of actions undertaken by a woman and a volunteer corps of sigilists during the American civil war, they have a prestigious place in the armed forces and a significant role in ...

Sleeps With Monsters: Where Are the SFF Stories About Pregnancy and Child-rearing?

The literature of the fantastic is a fruitful place in which to examine gendered questions of power. People have been using it to talk about women’s place in society (and the place of gender in society) pretty much for as long as science fiction has been a recognisable genre. Joanna Russ and Ursula Le Guin are only two of the most instantly recognisable names whose work directly engaged these themes. But for all that, science fiction and fantasy—especially the pulpishly fun kind—is strangely reluctant to acknowledge a challenge to participation in demanding public life (or a physically ass-kicking one) faced primarily (though not only) by women.

Pretty sure you’ve already guessed what it is. But just to be sure—

Pregnancy. And the frequent result, parenting small children.

As I sit down to write this column, my brain is hopping around like a rabbit on steroids. (Metaphorically speaking.) For me, ...

Terrible Truths: The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

The Belles is Dhonielle Clayton’s debut solo novel. Published in the U.S. by Freeform Books (an imprint of Disney) and in the U.K. by Gollancz, it’s been attended by a certain amount of advance buzz and excitement: Clayton is an officer of nonprofit organisation We Need Diverse Books as well as a co-founder of small publishing house Cake Literary, and her first solo effort has many people deeply interested.

It’s always difficult for a much-hyped novel to live up to its advance praise. This doesn’t reflect on the book, but rather the expectations a reader brings to the experience of reading it. When it came to The Belles, my expectations were a little out of line with the kind of narrative that Clayton provided: this is a good book, but it feels very much like a debut novel. Its emotional beats lack the kind of complexity and ...

We Welcome Our New Plant Overlords: Semiosis by Sue Burke

Semiosis is Sue Burke’s first novel. It’s a braided narrative, taking place over several human generations, and involves questions of community, communication, power, civilisation, memory, history, and compromise. For all its ambition, Semiosis is a fairly slender volume. It’s also an easy read, and a pretty compelling one.

The novel opens with a small human colony—fifty-odd people set out, with a store of sperm and ova to avoid the problems of inbreeding—landed and settled, rather precariously, on a planet they have named Pax. They intend to create a utopia, free of the problems that dogged Earth: violence, religious oppression, inequality. But Pax is an older planet than Earth, and its biosphere has had longer to evolve. The colonists discover that some of Pax’s plants are intelligent in their own way. The first generation of colonists become, essentially, the servants of a plant they call the snow vine. Their story is ...

Sleeps With Monsters: The Adventures of Murderbot

Let’s talk about robots.

Or maybe murderbots.

Martha Wells is an amazing writer, whose work I’ve generally loved since first encountering The Element of Fire. When her novella All Systems Red came out last year from Publishing, it was a delight to see Wells turn her considerable talents to original science fiction—space operatic science fiction with a sense of humour and a deep well of kindness. This year will see two sequels published, Artificial Condition (May) and Rogue Protocol (August), and—not a word of a lie—they’re both really good.

SecUnits are sentient constructs (part machine, part organic, largely human in form and created in part with human tissue) that are owned by companies and used to provide security or protection to humans and/or property as needed. All Systems Red introduced us to one such SecUnit, one that refers to themself as “murderbot”—though never where the ...