Guest Post from The Mandalorian Mercs!

Mandalorian Mercs logoWhen I was at San Diego Comic-Con, I had the pleasure of talking to some of the Mandalorian Mercs.  I was intrigued by the idea of combining cosplay and charity, so I asked if a representative from The Mercs would like to do a guest post.  Thank you so much, Sal Attinello Jr, for this post!  All comments below the pic are his.

The Mercs at San Diego Comic-Con

The Mercs at San Diego Comic-Con

The Mandalorian Mercs is the brain child of Tom Hutchens.  Tom loved Boba Fett and Jango Fett, the two Mandalorians from the Star Wars movies, so much that he made a set of Mandalorian armor that he could wear to conventions.  He noticed other people also wearing Mandalorian armor and thought it would be great if people who felt the same way could have a place to get together and share ideas and stories.  So in 2005, Tom founded the website www.mandalorianmercs.com with the goal of providing a place for those who love the Mandalorian warrior characters and culture that existed in the Star Wars movies, novels, and comics to share ideas and tips in building Mandalorian armor.  It quickly grew into a large Star Wars costuming club, at which time the Mandalorian Mercs Costume Club began attending conventions and charity events.

Three Mercs

Today, the Mandalorian Mercs Costume Club has grown to almost 1000 official members (an official member is a member who has built and completed a set of Mandalorian armor that meets club standards), and has become a full fledged 501 c (4) charitable organization, as well as being Lucasfilms licensed and approved.  The Mandalorian Mercs have chapters, which we call clans, all over the world, and we attend pop culture conventions, but mostly, we attend various charity events of all sizes where we help local charities all over the world.

Kaden'Dha Runi03

One of the proudest parts of being involved with the Mandalorian Mercs is all the work we do for children’s charities.  The Mandalorian Mercs has visited children’s hospitals around the world, and our own charity, Little Warrior International, collects donations to help support those children that do not get enough to eat, or we supply clothing, school supplies, and even scholarship funding to those children around the world who could not have these things on their own.

Makris Brik03

Naturally, a big part of the fun in being in the Mandalorian Mercs is getting to wear the armor at all the events.  After spending the time to actually build and create your armor, putting on the Mandalorian armor feels like a privledge and one definitely feels a sense of pride in the armor and in being a part of this club.  Plus, getting to work with Lucasfilms at various events around the world is also lots of fun.

Tyrian Kell-Ky'ram Runi-Racin Ky'ram-2

All in all, being a part of the Mandalorian Mercs Costume Club is fun and rewarding in ways I had not imagined when I first joined.  I have found that doing the charity work becomes a bigger motivation to put the armor on rather than just suiting up for the fun conventions.  In truth, being a part of the Mandalorian Mercs has profoundly changed my life for the better.  It has gotten me more involved in charity work, and has shown me the most rewarding things in life come from the giving of oneself to others.

War Stories Anthology Available for Pre-order!

cover of War StoriesTechnically, this is not a review.  I’m not reviewing War Stories due to a whopping conflict of interest – I’m currently writing the introduction for editor Jaym Gates’s next anthology, Genius Loci.  You’ll be hearing more about Genius Loci once the Kickstarter page is up and running.

So, this is not a review, but it is a shameless plug.  War Stories features some amazing authors, including Joe Haldeman, Ken Liu, Linda Nagata, and many others.  The anthology uses science fiction to examine war on many levels – how it impacts us at home, in our psyche, and on the battlefield.  The table of contents is divided into the following sections:

Part 1: Wartime Systems

Part 2: Combat

Part 3: Armored Force

Part 4: Aftermath

War Stories is currently available for preorder at Apex Publications.  Check it out!

An Interview With Setsu Uzme

cover of Happily Never AfterI’m so excited to have my evil twin Setsu Uzme as my guest today!  Setsu and I met briefly at Convolution 2013 and after about five minutes of conversation she had already become my little (but much taller, and in many ways more mature) sister.  A couple of conventions and lots of Facebook chats later, Setsu and I revel in being the odd couple in an on-going buddy movie featuring giant purple butterfly wings, glittery skulls, and lots and lots of weaponry.

Setsu agreed to be interviewed for Geek Girl in Love.  She talks about her current projects, how her martial arts practice influences her writing, and the problems with erasure of bisexuals in literature.

Congratulations on being published in Happily Never After!  What can you tell us about the anthology and about your story?

Thank you so much! These are odd, off-kilter, strange and spooky tales that riff on fairy story themes. My story, The Rumpled Man, takes place in a far-flung future where the last city rests under an electrified dome that keeps out everything from animals to contagions. When two street kids steal from a strange new vendor at the Armer’s Market, their friends start disappearing. It riffs very loosely on Rumpelstiltskin, and I wondered what fairies and goblins would get up to once humanity had destroyed the natural world. I also loved Christina Elaine Collins’ story “The Law of Mirrors.” It’s a really great collection.

Tell us a little bit about your background in martial arts.  How does that background affect your writing?

I’ve been in and out of dojos since I was itty-bitty, and spent some time studying at a Daoist monastery in central China. I have a lot of fun writing fights from formal encounters to down-and-dirty brawls. Training has affected my writing because I have to read body language all the time. I can tell when two combatants are dancing, and when they’re trying to kill each other. Both are valid scenes as long as they’re entertaining and move the story along; but they’re only a small portion of the toolbox. The realism of a fight doesn’t draw most people in. What does is the meaning behind the fight, its causes and results.

Those causes and results are tied to suffering. Martial arts is much more about how to cope with suffering than how to inflict it on others. All of the push-ups and injuries in the world mean nothing unless you understand what it means to hurt. Those responses, conscious or otherwise, dictate how we’ll behave when our bodies are pushed past their limit, or when we’ve exhausted our options and hit a wall, or what happens when you reject your orders. What bolsters one student might destroy another, and any teacher worth their salt knows this.

Self-development, the hero’s journey, story arcs — they all follow the same idea: suffering brings change. In some cases it’s beneficial, and the person becomes more confident and compassionate. In some cases it’s too much, and they either internalize and inflict, or shut down completely. Those tells are all over a person, from how they move to their sense of humor.

As a bisexual woman, are there any representations of bisexual people in literature or other media that you find exceptionally praiseworthy or objectionable?  Why?  What are the common misconceptions about bisexuality and what, if any, stories avoid those misconceptions?

I can’t point to any characters that self-identify as bisexual. Jack Harkness from the Doctor Who franchise might be an example, but I don’t think his bisexuality defines him so much as his easygoing and flirtatious nature, which isn’t something you can expect of all bisexuals.

Erasure is still a pretty big problem. Many characters who exhibit bisexual behavior are quick to be labeled as straight or gay… as though it’s important to assign them to a ‘team.’ We’re often fetishized by heterosexuals, and mistrusted by homosexuals because of the misconception that we’re non-monogamous, or worse, going through a phase. I’ve been more welcome in lesbian spaces if I identify as ‘queer’ rather than ‘bi,’ which says a lot about that perception. Everyone’s still finding their feet, and it’s an especially loaded topic when civil-rights legislation is still up for grabs because of rampant ignorance and hatred.

As a personal preference, and I want to be clear that I’m not representing anyone else’s experience but my own — I think sexuality is a facet of someone’s personality rather than a defining characteristic, and I’ll extend that to men and women of trans experience. I feel relieved when I meet others who may have shared my challenges, but ultimately what makes a person interesting and engaging is who they are. That goes both for fiction and real life.

What projects are you working on now?  I have inside intel (from you) that you are working on a novel.  SPILL EVERYTHING.

I have two novels in the works. The first is a fantasy series about a woman raised by humans, who must choose between the humans she loves and the feral race that abandoned her. It’s a lot like “Frozen” for adults. The first two books are done and I’m working on the third.

Since those books aren’t yet available, let me direct you to some pieces available in audio!

Sherri’s Playhouse is putting on a production of my play about an accountant with a demon in her head, who must choose between normalcy and taking on a quest to understand exactly what that demon is.

I’m almost done with my first airship novel, and my story, “Burying the Coin” is a prequel to that. I wanted to write a swashbuckling, womanizing captain who is also a woman — and Karelia popped into my head. I asked her why she’s so carefree, and she told me it’s because she never wants to feel too deeply again. You can find out what she means by that on Podcastle.

 

History’s Hidden Heroes: Sheik Umar Khan, Samuel Brisbane, Sam Mutooro Muhumuza

Dr. Sheik Umar Khan

Dr. Sheik Umar Khan

This month’s History’s Hidden Heroes is absolutely heartbreaking.  Dr. Sheik Umar Khan, a doctor from Sierra Leone who led the fight against the Ebola virus in that country, died on July 29, 2014, of the virus.  Dr. Samuel Brisbane, one of the top physicians in Liberia, died of the disease on July 26, and Dr. Samuel Mutooro Muhumuza, from Uganda, died on July 2.

We’ve all seen movies and TV shows in which there is a crisis in a foreign country, usually Africa, and white doctors from America and Europe rush in to save the day.  Health workers from all over the world have come to Africa to fight the Ebola virus, at enormous risk to their own lives.  As of this moment, American doctor Kent Brantly is in grave condition in Liberia.  The heroism of doctors, nurses, and aides who come from overseas to assist other countries in times of crisis absolutely cannot be overstated.

But I want to highlight the efforts of the West African doctors Dr. Sheik Umar Khan, Dr. Samuel Brisbane, and Dr. Samuel Mutooro Muhumuza, because I think that we like to tell ourselves a story about Africa.  It’s a story about a place with no resources of its own, no universities, no people with knowledge or competence.  It’s a colonial story, one in which “The White Man’s Burden”, as described by Rudyard Kipling, is to help the helpless and ignorant people of The Third World.  It’s a story about a helpless princess who needs a white knight.  The lives of these three doctors suggest that a more accurate story would be  about a knight who has incurred an injury (let’s face it – a really, really awful injury) in battle and who needs assistance from a comrade.

I hope that the visibility of doctors, nurses, and aides who are African residents and who are of African descent will challenge us to change our story.  Dr. Sheik Umar Khan, Dr. Samuel Brisbane, and Dr. Samuel Mutooro Muhumuza were not only competent – they were highly regarded experts in and out of their countries of origin.  They were leaders in their fields.  They weren’t ignorant or helpless.  West Africa needs our help.  But I want our future stories to reflect that regions like West Africa also have competent people who know stuff – who are experts.

The Hugo Awards Results Are In!

featured-hugo-awardsHere’s the winners of the 2014 Hugo Awards!

Best Novel:

“Ancillary Justice”, by Ann Leckie

Best Novella:

“Equoid” by Charles Stross

Best Novelette:

“The Lady Astronaut of Mars” by Mary Robinette Kowal

Best Short Story:

“The Water That Falls on You From Nowhere”, John Chu

Best Related Work:

“We Have Always Fought”, by Kameron Hurley

Best Graphic Story:

“Time”, Randall Munroe, XKCD

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form:

“Gravity”, written by Alfonso Cuaron and Jonas Curari

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form:

Game of Thrones, “The Rains of Castamere”

Best Editor, Short Form:

Ellen Datlow

Best Editor, Long Form:

Ginger Buchanan

Best Professional Artist:

Julie Dillon

Best Semiprozine:

Lightspeed Magazine

Best Fanzine:  

A Dribble of Ink

Best Fancast:

SF Signal Podcast

Best Fan Writer:  

Kameron Hurley

Best Fan Artist:

Sarah Webb

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer:

Sofia Samatar

Many thanks to those who live tweeted the ceremony, making this post possible!

When Magic and Myth Meet Main Street – Notes from San Diego Comic-Con

San Diego Comic Con logoOne of my favorite panels at San Diego Comic-Con this year was the panel, “When Myth and Magic Meet Main Street”.

This panel featured Jim Butcher (Dresden Files), Seanan McGuire (October Daye series, InCrytpid series), Richard Kadrey (Sandman Slim series), Amber Benson (Death’s Daughter series), Greg van Eekhout (California Bones) and Anton Strout (Incarnate).

I owe a lavish apology to Greg and Anton.  I was sitting so far in the back of the room that I couldn’t see their end of the table, so when they talked not only could I not hear very well but I also couldn’t see which one of them was talking.  Although I don’t quote them much here, please take it from me that they are intelligent, well-spoken people with thoughtful and funny things to say.  This year was quite the learning experience in terms of how to cover and event like San Diego Comic-Con and I hope to be better prepared next year.

Here’s some highlights:

  • Jim Butcher was asked why he sets his books in Chicago.  His answer:  “Because my writing teacher wouldn’t let me set them in Missouri”.
  • Seanan McGuire said this about her decision to write urban fantasy:  “Fairy Tales are the urban fantasy of their time.  I moved my fairy tales from dark forests to dark alleys”.
  • Seanan, who reports having put herself through college by writing Harlequin romances, said that she dislikes writing sex scenes.  Accordingly, one of her favorite scenes to write was the one in Discount Armegeddon in which Verity must get the mice who worship her to give her and her lover privacy by brining them with friend chicken.
  • Amber Benson, on the other hand, rather enjoys writing sex scenes.  She said that she only blushes because she likes to write in public (places like Starbucks).
  • Jim Butcher said, “Sometimes there are places in the world that need to be destroyed, and I might as well do it in as spectacular a fashion as possible.  I shall eviscerate them in fiction!”
  • Richard Kadrey’s advice to writers was “Write!  Carry a notebook, write stuff down, and finish what you start”.  I wrote those words immediately in the notebook I was carrying around and I still feel smug about it.
  • Seanan and Amber both cautioned against comparing you output to that of other authors.  Their advice was “Write, read, write, and don’t measure yourself against other people”.

This was the first panel that I covered (or attempted to cover and I learned a lot about writing and a lot about what to do and not to do in order to cover a panel!  The big thing I took away from this was the message to write and write and read and then write some more.  What a fun, inspiring group of people!

Updates on Romance in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Convolution

vampire heart on a black backgroundI have good news and bad news today.  Bad news first: many of you have asked what ever happened to Romance in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, my upcoming book?  It was posted for preorder and seemed to be a done deal.  Alas, the publishing world is an unstable place and my publisher ultimately decided not to publish the book – so it’s looking for a new home.  The good news is that they have returned the rights, so eventually Romance in Buffy will find a new home (probably with a new cover).  At this time, I don’t know whether it will be self-published or reside with a new publisher.  But I’ll let you all know what happens, and I thank all of you who pre-ordered for your support.

The good news is that I will be a featured guest at Convolution 2014!  This convention is taking place on September 26 – 28, at the Hyatt Regency SFO in Burlingame, CA.

I’m so excited about this convention.  It’s large enough that there’s a ton of great programming and gaming options and small enough that I can actually talk to people.  Check them out on Facebook or online!

A partial list of guests in no particular order:

Marie Brennan

Gail Carriger

Todd McCafferey

Tanya Huff

Tanya Guen

Kevin R. Grazier, PhD

Michael A. Stackpole

Jeff Sturgeon

I am so excited.  I’m looking forward to participating in a number of panels and events – stay tuned for a schooled, and please come visit!  I’d love to meet you!

A Conversation with Lev Grossman, author of The Magician’s Land

Lev Grossman

Lev Grossman’s book, The Magician’s Land, is the final installment in the acclaimed Magician’s trilogy – and it’s out today!  His publisher shared this great interview – I especially enjoy the section where he talks about trying to diminish genre snobbery.

Q: People considered The Magicians to be Harry Potter for grown-ups and an homage to writers like C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling. But in THE MAGICIAN’S LAND, Quentin is nearly thirty years-old. Can we expect any new allusions to those books? How has the series grown up over the years?

 

A: On some level all the Magicians books are written as a conversation with Lewis and Rowling. It’s a complicated conversation – sometimes it’s affectionate, occasionally it’s rather heated – and it continues in The Magician’s Land. I thought Rowling let Harry off a little easy by never showing him to us at 30. We never really saw him having to deal with his traumatic past – his abusive childhood, his experience of violence and death, his massive world-saving celebrity as a teenager – and struggling to figure out what the rest of his life is about. Those are things Quentin has to do in The Magician’s Land. When you’re a magician, and there’s no ultimate evil to defeat, when you’re not a kid anymore, what is magic for?

As for Lewis, Narnia fans will pick up echoes of The Magician’s Nephew and The Last Battle, the stories of Narnia’s creation and of its destruction. Lewis made a bit of fetish of childhood and innocence: Narnia was a place for children, and when you grow up and get interested in adult things, you lose that special magic. You see that in Peter Pan too – it’s one of the dominant tropes of 20th century fantasy. In The Magician’s Land I wanted to think not just about what you lose when you grow up, but what you might gain. You lose the magic of innocence and wonder, but do you gain a richer, more complex kind of magic?

 cover of The Magicians

Q: You come from a family of serious academics. What was their reaction when you chose to write genre fiction rather than something more “literary”?

 

A: It sounds funny to say it, but writing The Magicians was a serious act of rebellion for me. Coming from the family I do, it was an act of calculated treason. I had to nerve myself up to do it. But I had to – it was the only way I could say what I wanted to say. I couldn’t do anything else.

I think it’s fair to say that reactions were mixed. My mom was cautiously enthusiastic, and my brother and sister have been hugely helpful with the books. But I don’t think my father ever read any of The Magicians books.

 

Q: The Magicians books have stirred up a lot of controversy among readers. They attack or invert the most sacred conventions of fantasy, and as a result, have divided the fantasy world. Can you speak a bit about this diverse reader response?

 

A: No question, the Magicians books are polarizing. They’re supposed to be. The same way Neuromancer did with science fiction, and Watchmen did with superhero comics, the Magicians books ask hard questions about fantasy. What kinds of people would really do magic, if it were really, and what would the practice of magic do to them? What would really go on in a school for magic, with a bunch of teenagers in a fairy castle being given supernatural powers? What would happen if you put in all the depression and the violence and the blowjobs and the drinking that Rowling leaves out? What would happen to those kids after they graduated? What would happen if you sent these kids through the looking glass, into a magical land that was in the grip of a civil war?

These aren’t the kinds of questions everybody wants asked, but that’s how genres evolve. Watchmen was a brutal interrogation of the superhero genre – and it was also the greatest superhero story ever written. You couldn’t write a comic book the same way after Watchmen was published.I’m not saying the Magicians books are the greatest fantasy novels ever written, but they’re asking the same kinds of questions.

 cover of The Magician King

Q: What were your major influences from science fiction or fantasy genres? What about more mainstream, literary works? How do you see these manifesting themselves in THE MAGICIAN’S LAND?

 

A: What got me started writing The Magicians was reading Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell in 2004. There were several novels around that time that did things with fantasy that had never been done before, used it to say things that had never been said before. George R.R. Martin’s books were like that, and so were Neil Gaiman’s, especially American Gods. So were Kelly Link’s. When I read those books, I knew that I had to be a part of whatever they were doing.

I also have a bit of an academic background – I spent a few years in graduate school, and I studied the literary canon, particularly the history of the novel, pretty intensely – and that comes out in the Magicians books too. You can find bits of Proust in them, and Fitzgerald, Woolf, Donne, Joyce, Chaucer, T.S. Eliot. You can find a lot of Evelyn Waugh – Brakebills owes a lot to Hogwarts, but it owes a lot more to the Oxford of Brideshead Revisited. I wanted to see what happens when you take techniques and tropes from literary fiction and transport them, illegally, across genre lines.

 

Q: As a literary critic, you’ve worked to promote the value and respectability of genre fiction – one year you put George R.R. Martin at the top of Time’s list of books of the year. You did the same with Susanna Clarke and John Green. Does that fit in with what you do as a writer of fiction?

 

A: In my own nerdy way I’m trying to start a revolution, or maybe I’m just trying to join one that got started without me. It’s a literary revolution, but not the usual kind, where people who are writing difficult, avant garde literature figure out a way to make it even more difficult and avant garde. I’m talking about a revolution of pleasure, where the question of a book’s worth is de-coupled from the question of whether or not it’s hard or unpleasant to read.

Q: If The Magicians, The Magician King, and THE MAGICIAN’S LAND were made into movies or a television series, who would you envision playing Quentin and his friends?

 

A: The challenge with the Magicians characters is to convey a lot of intelligence, and also to not be overly good-looking. They’re a clever lot, and they’re also very real – they look like real people. Ben Whishaw has probably aged out of the Quentin role, but people mention him to me a lot, and that seems right. Sometimes I pictured specific actors while I was writing – Eliot, for example, I imagine as something like Richard E. Grant in Withnail and I. I often imagine Alice as Thora Birch from Ghost World.

 cover of The Magician's Land

Q: There are a lot of tech references in The Magicians books that would seem more at home in science fiction than fantasy, ie. the origin of magic is described in hacker language. Why did you choose to juxtapose so much tech with magic?

 

A: I’m very committed to the project of making the Magicians books feel real, and to that end I made a deal with myself: everything that’s real in our world would be real in Quentin’s. And that means including contemporary technology, cell phones and the Internet and so on.

But beyond that, I think the same people who are interested in technology in our world would be drawn to magic if it were real, as much as the Wiccan crowd. Magic is interesting and complicated and powerful the same way technology is, and it requires some of the same mental discipline.

Also, I’m a science fiction writer manqué. I like the way SF writers look at the world. I like to think I write about magic the way good SF writers write about technology.

 

Q: You have a degree in comparative literature from Harvard but dropped out before getting your Ph.D. from Yale. What made you decide not to become an academic yourself?

 

A: I can’t even remember what made me decide I wanted to be one in the first place, except that I was unemployed and wanted to read books and talk about them as much as possible. Which I did get to do, and I loved it. But I knew from watching my parents that the life of an academic is not a glamorous one. It is frequently an underpaid and inglorious one, except for the superstars, and it quickly became apparent that I wasn’t going to be one of those. Fortunately I married one instead.

 

Q: You have an identical twin brother, Austin Grossman, who is also a Harvard grad and successful fantasy novelist. Why do you think you’ve traveled such similar paths professionally? How do you think growing up as twins shaped your writing, respectively?

 

A: It’s a mystery. I don’t know if twins have much more insight into it than regular people have. Austin was a very successful video game designer in his 20s, whereas I spent most of that decade looking for a career of any kind. But then somehow, for some reason, we re-converged. It happens all the time, not just with our writing. We live on opposite coasts, and only see each other a few times a year, but there’s always some uncanny coincidence in what we’re doing, or wearing, or listening to, or reading.

Though I’m very conscious of the differences in our work too. We’ve read the same things, seen the same movies, and watched the same shows, so our cultural points of reference are all the same. We know all the same words. But he writes only in the first person, and I only write in the third person. We use the same raw materials to construct very different stories.

The Grossman Twins

Q. Over the past decade, fantasy has become more accepted in mainstream and literary circles. What do you think has changed and where do you see the genre going? Does fantasy get the respect it deserves among scholars?

 

A. A lot has changed for fantasy in the last decade or so. The 1990’s were all about science fiction—Star Wars, Star Trek, the Matrix—but something changed around the turn of the millennium. After 2001 the popular imagination became focused on fantasy — Harry Potter and Twilight and The Lord of the Rings. En masse, we turned to fantasy for something we needed and weren’t finding elsewhere. What that is, it’s hard to say, but it’s led to a glorious resurgence of the genre. Fantasy is evolving and maturing. It’s definitely not just for kids anymore. Writers like Neil Gaiman, Susanna Clarke, China Mieville, George RR Martin and Kelly Link are making it more complex and interesting and sophisticated and powerful than it ever was before.

But no, as far as I can tell, it still gets very little respect from the academy.
Q: What’s your favorite part of writing outside of reality?

 

A: What makes fantasy interesting to me is what it can’t do. Magic doesn’t solve everybody’s problems. You have characters who are capable of drawing energy from invisible sources, making it crackle from their fingers, performing miracles. But when they’re done, they’re still who they are. Life is still life. Magic doesn’t change relationships. It doesn’t fix your neuroses. Those basic problems are still what they were, and they have to be solved the old-fashioned way, just like in any other novel.

Book Review: The Long Mars, by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

cover of The Long MarsThe Long Mars is the third book in the Long Earth series, a series with five planned books (total).  This series has always worked more as a conceptual experiment than as series of novels, and The Long Mars is the most glaring example of this in the series to date.  The concepts remain engaging but the story does not.

In The Long Earth, humans became able to “step” across parallel worlds.  They travelled as individual explorers and as pioneering groups who set up homesteads.  They mined new lands for resources and hid in them for refuge.  The economic, theological, social, and political ramifications of this are explored in The Long War and The Long Mars.

These ramifications are truly fascinating.  Pages and pages are devoted to nothing but descriptions of one world following another as airships step across them.  In The Long Mars, there’s an earth where jellyfish are the dominant life form and another one in which tiny crabs build tiny but elaborate cities in the sand.  There are boring earths consisting of endless fields or grass or algae.  There are worlds that are barren.  The book does a great job of conveying the diversity of the earths, and the combination of wonder and boredom that people experience when the take long journeys across thousands of earths in a year.

The problem with this installment is that, even more than in the past books, the story is too disjointed to make any cohesive or compelling narrative.  I skimmed a lot – and so did the authors, who often start paragraphs with “Four years later…”  The characters are engaging but there’s no time to build a relationship with them because the narrative keeps jumping around.  At this point in the series, they are barely characters at all – they function as plot propellent.  And the idea that living on one of the Long Earths caused the creation of a new human species is far less believable or interesting than the previous books’ depiction of how humans would struggle with this new technology.

The Long Mars isn’t terrible overall.  As a collection of concepts it’s wonderful.  But it was very easy to pick it up and put it down and skim over it.  It’s a great thought experiment but a fractured, disappointing novel.  I’m still looking forward to the next books, though, because I want to see what’s on the next Earth and the next Mars.  The thoughts stay compelling even when the characters and plot don’t.