Apocalypse survival dream team

So being on the road bound for the AWP conference in LA means I’ll be missing tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead (and avidly avoiding any social media where spoilers could happen). To make up for this lack of zombies in my life, I’ve been thinking about which fictional characters would be best suited for the apocalypse. Mind you, we’re not necessarily talking about a zombie apocalypse here. Whether it’s the desolate loneliness of The Road or I Am Legend or the feudal savagery of Mad Max, surviving post-apocalypse takes a certain set of skills, and after much painstaking consideration, I’ve determined the 11 fictional characters I think would make the best team.

I set two rules as I embarked on this thought experiment:
1) Only one character from a given franchise (I can’t just take the whole X-Men team)
2) No characters from apocalypse survival books, shows, or movies (because that’s cheating)

So without further ado, my Apocalypse survival dream team:

 

The War Doctor (Doctor Who)
I would be doing myself a disservice if I didn’t take advantage of Time Lord technology (and a TARDIS). The Doctor would be happy to help—given how much he loves Earth and humans, he’d probably show up as soon as the world started ending. Of all the Doctor’s regenerations, the War Doctor has the best mentality for a survival situation. He knows he can’t save everybody and he’s willing to make the tough choices.

 

Odo (Star Trek: Deep Space 9)
The security chief of Deep Space 9 is a shape-shifter, undoubtedly a useful talent in dealing with a whole host of threats. He doesn’t need to eat, another helpful attribute when resources are scarce. Along with his physical attributes, Odo can read people better than most true humanoids. Having spent many years thinking he was the only one of his kind—and under the hostile eye of the Cardassians—Odo knows a thing or two about surviving.

 

Nynaeve (The Wheel of Time)
Medical supplies aren’t easy to come by in the apocalypse and trained doctors are an even rarer commodity. Trained in the Yellow Ajah of the Aes Sedai (the Healing powers branch of the magic users in the Wheel of Time series) Nynaeve is the strongest healer her world has seen in centuries. She could keep everyone in tip-top shape, no antibiotics needed. She also knows how to forage for herbs, and thanks to her strength in the One Power, would be a powerful asset in a fight.

 

Liet-Kynes (Dune)
Liet-Kynes was born and raised among the Fremen—arguably a harsher survival scenario than those presented in most apocalypses. Even more valuable, though, is Kynes’ green thumb. As the Imperial Planetologist to Arrakis, Kynes helped make green things grow in the harshest desert climate. Even if we’re talking nuclear fallout he could figure out a way to make the fields flourish.

 

Beetee (The Hunger Games)
The collapse of our technology-infused society would leave behind millions of computers, phones, and other machines. Useless to most people, but to an inventor and tinkerer like Beetee it’s the raw material for all kinds of gadgets and tools. Beetee survived two Hunger Games and an armed revolution by virtue of his ingenuity; regardless of its nature, the apocalypse would probably be just another day at the office.

 

Beatrix Kiddo (Kill Bill)
Over the course of the Kill Bill movies, the Bride is shot in the head, buried alive, and faces off against a mob of angry Japanese assassins. She’s a trained assassin herself, just as deadly with her bare hands as she is with a blade or gun. The tenacity with which she pursues her revenge through the movies shows she won’t give up, either, when things are tough.

 

Luke Cage (Cage, Jessica Jones)
If we’re talking a zombie apocalypse, Cage’s unbreakable skin means he doesn’t have to worry about getting bitten. Super strength adds to his usefulness and badassery. Cage is one of those roving super-heroes of the Marvel universe. Sometimes he’s the star and he can handle shit on his own, but he also teamed up with the Fantastic Four, the Defenders, and the Avengers at various points, showing he’s just as good as part of a team as he is solo.

 

Wolverine (X-Men)
Built-in weapons are a handy thing to have when it’s every man for himself. The adamantium skeleton and super speedy healing would be pretty handy, too, and while the idea of a zombie Wolverine is pretty damn terrifying, he’s too good of a survivor to ever let himself be turned.

 

Daenerys Stormborn (with her dragons) (A Song of Ice and Fire)
The intimidation factor of three fire-breathing dragons alone is worth the trouble of keeping them fed. Even if the Mother of Dragons didn’t have her children, though, she’s pretty badass in her own right. When she was sold to Khal Drogo as a teenager, Dany was little more than a slave; within a few months, she was a queen. Dany’s a natural leader who’s been in survival mode since she was born, giving her the ability to adapt to any situation.

 

Huckleberry Finn (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer)
Even a child in the 1800s knows how to survive without technology better than a modern person, and Huck Finn is no normal kid. He’s been outside society his entire life; the apocalypse won’t be much of an adjustment. Throughout his adventures, Huck is also pretty good at getting himself out of trouble—and though he typically is the one who got himself into it in the first place, the rest of the group should be able to help keep him in line.

 

Angus MacGyver (MacGyver)
Not only would MacGyver probably solve the apocalypse with a drinking straw and a paperclip, he’s got mad skills that would keep him—and everyone around him—alive. He knows how to think on his feet and use the tools and resources at hand to solve the problem. The fact that he uses violence only as the last resort also makes him a great moral compass, a necessary figure in any apocalypse survival scenario.

 

…and with those 11 guys (and gals) at my side, I’m pretty confident I’ll come through the apocalypse just fine. Who would you take with you to the end of the world? I’m sure I’m missing someone obvious, so let me know in the comments!

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Dune: A world-building review (part 2 of 2)

In the first half of this review, I looked at the physical content of Frank Herbert’s created universe in Dune, but that is really only half the story. The politics and religion of both Arrakis and the rest of the Imperium are the ultimate driving force of the narrative, serving as both setting and plot.

The first Dune book spends more time exploring the Fremen than it does the Landsraad and the Imperium. The Fremen are more unique to Dune and therefore both more interesting and in need of more introduction. Herbert starts with them knowing the reader will take longer to understand them, and doesn’t drop too many details on the Imperium in the first book, saving that discovery for later installments in the series.

Language
Herbert uses the invented Chakobsa language sparingly. There are fewer than a hundred words of it in the first book; only three full phrases are translated. Even among the Fremen, Chakobsa is spoken in full phrases mostly in rituals. Single words are sprinkled throughout in the titles and names given to the characters, like Usul (“the base of the pillar”) and Muad’Dib (“desert mouse”).

In the first Dune book, Chakobsa is used as a sign of either mystical knowledge or allegiance with the Fremen. When the Lady Jessica first meets the Shadout Mapes, she speaks a line of Chakobsa to prove herself a player in the Fremen prophecies, and does the same later, upon first arriving in Sietch Tabr. Being one of the few outlanders who can speak the Fremen tongue helps Jessica to be accepted by Stilgar and his sietch—it’s an access code indicating that she and Paul belong among the Fremen. The only time we see Fremen conversing in Chakobsa is when Stilgar and his people first find Paul and Jessica in the desert, before they realize Jessica can understand what they’re saying; here it is used in its original purpose as a hunter’s language to protect their words from the ears of outsiders.

Chakbosa is laced throughout the Missionaria Protectiva; it’s more the language of the Bene Gesserit than it is that of the Fremen. The Dune wiki entry on Chakobsa says both the Fremen and the Bene Gesserit likely started using it sometime after the first Wars of the Assassins (so sometime in the late 3300s AG; the events of Dune take place in 10191 AG). It’s also not clear whether the language was introduced to the ancestors of the Fremen on Arrakis, back when they were still on Poritrin, or at some point in between.

Herbert likely got the name from the historical secret language Chakobsa (“language of the hunters”) that was used by the Checen people, a Caucasian tribe from the North Caucasus area (what’s now the part of Russia just north of Georgia and Azerbaijan). The language in Dune is a hodgepodge of Romani and Arabic influences, a logical alignment for the reader who’s accustomed to associating the sound and speech patterns of Arabic with the desert landscapes of the Middle East.

Politics
The intrigue and scheming between the Great Houses in the Imperium is the direct cause for the events that play out in Dune. House Atreides and House Harkonnen have a long-standing feud that comes to a head on Arrakis. The other houses, jealous of House Atreides, stand back from the conflict; hints at a deeper conspiracy with the Emperor start early and grow to certainty by book’s end. This thread of the plot is approached from both sides in the narrative, something that Herbert’s third omniscient POV makes uniquely possible.

The background politics of Dune are complex, probably the most intricately constructed element of the entire world Herbert built. In another type of book, this would be the primary source of dramatic tension in the narrative—a thriller, for example, might look only through Atreides eyes, letting the reader discover their plots along with the characters. The revelation of Yueh as the traitor would be a major moment in the story. Instead, the reader knows about him from almost the beginning. The story that unfolds is less about the schemes leading to the betrayal than it is about the fall-out from it.

Following Leto’s death, the politics in Dune take on an interesting flavor. Paul certainly has to make some political decisions during his time with the Fremen but these are outside the schemes of the Imperium. We only see the actions of the great houses through chapters centered on the Harkonnens, and since it’s only the bad guys interacting with it, the Imperium takes on a more smarmy character as the book progresses. The reader sees the Harkonnens are just one branch of a bigger enemy even though the first Dune book shows very little detail of how the great houses conduct their business.

Based on the glossary, maps, and multiple appendices, I’m going to go out on a limb and say Herbert knew the politics of his universe in an insane amount of detail while he was writing this first book. That details about the Landsraad are so sparse shows an admirable restraint. The politics are the reason for the Atreides move to Arrakis, and for Duke Leto’s death, and for Paul’s exile among the Fremen; the Imperium is a lurking threat, but Herbert aligns the reader’s journey with Paul’s. When he’s living with the Fremen, his concern is with honing his skills, building his army, and attacking the Harkonnens. The rest of the galaxy is a matter for the future. Paul’s impending marriage to the Princess Irulan at the conclusion of the first book tells the reader he’s about to enter this larger world. By now thoroughly grounded in the story, we’re prepared for the journey.

Religion
It doesn’t seem entirely right to call the Bene Gesserit a religious organization, but it is at least responsible for the religion practiced among the Fremen through the Missionaria Protectiva, which Herbert’s “Terminology of the Imperium” describes as “the arm of the Bene Gesserit order charged with sowing infectious superstitions on primitive worlds, thus opening those regions to exploitation by the Bene Gesserit” (Dune, p. 849). The Fremen were one culture infused with these beliefs, a fact Jessica realizes from her first encounter with the Shadout Mapes.

Jessica is aware that the prophecies she’s fulfilling were seeded by the Bene Gesserit; Paul is, too, though he doesn’t exploit this fact as often. Yet there are still moments they fulfill some part of the prophecy they didn’t even know about. Paul’s prescience lends credence to the idea of future sight. The prophecies may have been planted here by the Bene Gesserit, but even so they seem to be coming true.

As of the First Dune book, the main goal of the Bene Gesserit is said to be the creation of the Kwisatz Haderach, a male Bene Gesserit “whose organic mental powers would bridge space and time” (Dune, p. 847). To accomplish this, Bene Gesserit women have spent generaitons as concubines to major bloodlines, using their political influence to arrange the inter-breeding of houses. To play her proper role in this program, the Lady Jessica was supposed to give birth to a girl (Bene Gesserit can control these things). Instead, she had Paul. Thanks to this act of defiance, the Kwisatz Haderach arrives a generation too early.

The eugenics program of the Bene Gesserit is scientific in that they have studied genetics  to find the perfect combinations. It is obviously political; in the process of arranging these bloodlines the Bene Gesserit have eyes and influence in every great house of the Imperium. The ultimate goal has a religious flavor: to create a Messiah who will grant them access to the male lines of the Other Memory. The Bene Gesserit aims for this Messiah, though, are political more than spiritual—they hope to use the Kwisatz Haderach to cement their control over the entire galaxy (from a plan 10,000 years in the making, I’d honestly expect nothing less).

Paul is the Kwisatz Haderach, if not the one the Bene Gesserit hoped for. His visions of the future show him and the Fremen on the path toward Jihad (a loaded term in our modern culture, but one that in this context means holy war). Paul doesn’t want the Jihad but it looms on his potential timelines regardless of what choices he makes. He finally realizes even his death won’t stop it; he would become a martyr, and the war would go on in his name.

Paul can see the future, but has limited control over it. The Bene Gesserit controlled the course of history, but their foresight was clouded when it came to the outcome. Though it may have started as a construct, the religion the Bene Gesserit established through the Missionaria Protectiva has a power all its own. The politics in Dune serve as the catalyst of the action, but this interplay of prophecy and destiny is ultimately its driving force.

Conclusion
Looking at the first Dune book in a big picture sense, it is clear that this is only the reader’s first glimpse in a broad and complex world. The epigraphs staring each chapter, the past as viewed through Jessica’s journey in the spice agony, and Paul’s visions of the future all combine to give us a sense of the vastness of this universe, a vastness of time as well as space. This is a universe that existed long before the first chapter of Dune, and one that will continue long after. The details of both Arrakis and the rest of the Imperium feel as though they’ve grown organically through time, not as if they were assembled by an author to tell a story. Nothing in the Dune books exists without a purpose and a rationale. By taking care all the pieces fit together smoothly, Herbert created as flawless a universe as can exist in science fiction, one that remains relevant to both writers and readers over 50 years after its release.

Dune: A world-building review(part 1 of 2)

Dune is one of those books it’s effectively useless to review in a traditional sense. It doesn’t really matter to anyone if I like the book or not. It’s a classic, and it’s canon, and if you want to write science fiction, you have to read it. Full stop. I did my most recent re-read of Dune in this spirit—enjoying the story, sure, but trying to look beyond the story and see the underpinnings of Frank Herbert’s world and the way that he created it.

Because there’s a lot to look at with this world, I’ve split the post into two parts. This first post will look at the physical aspects of the invented world of Dune, while the next will explore the culture.

The World
The main setting for the first Dune book is the planet of Arrakis. We spend a brief time on the Atreides homeworld of Caladan, but this largely serves as a foil to the sparsity of the Arrakean landscape. The reader doesn’t need much to get a sense of Caladan’s lush greenery (and to understand it marks the Atreides as much strangers to Arrakis’ harsh climate as we are).

Arrakis is a single-biome desert world, making water the most precious commodity. The planet’s main—arguably only—resource is melange, also called spice, an addictive drug which increases a user’s lifespan, heightens their awareness, and can trigger prescience. To sweeten the dramatic pot, this melange is the means by which the Spacing Guild’s Navigators safely traverse the stars. Interstellar travel would be impossible without the spice. It is the single most valuable resource in the galaxy.

Stop to appreciate the beauty of this set-up for a second. Arrakis is a the sole source of the galaxy’s most prized resource, yet so unforgiving that its people recycle their own urine to get enough water to survive. The inherent conflict presented by this wealth disparity would on its own be enough to power a narrative. As a backdrop for Paul’s hero’s journey, it quickly establishes the motivations for the conflicts to follow, letting Herbert dive straight to the meat of the story.

Given that it’s a desert world the flora and fauna of Arrakis is limited, but what it lacks in variety is easily made up in grandeur. The sandworms of Dune not only give the deserts an extra level of danger and exoticism, they are the ultimate source of the melange, as revealed by the Fremen name for them (Shai-Hulud, or the Great Makers). We don’t see the first sandworm until chapter 15 (p. 200, in my paperback copy) and our introduction to the massive creature is suitably dramatic: it eats a crawler, one of the machines used to gather spice from the sand, large enough to carry several men. After this, it disappears back into the sands. Planetologist Liet-Kynes describes how tough the worms are earlier in the chapter; when Duke Leto asks how the worms are taken, Kynes answers “High voltage electrical shock applied separately to each ring segment is the only known way of killing and preserving an entire worm…Barring atomics, I know of no explosive powerful enough to destroy a large worm entirely.” (p. 188). (Much later, when the Lady Jessica is undergoing her spice agony, we see that the Fremen drown the worms to get the Water of Life, but this is a fairly useless method of dealing with worms on a desert planet). Less than half a page is devoted to the first sight of the worm, but with Kynes’ introduction it’s enough to give the reader a sense of its majesty.

The People
The Fremen of Arrakis are a product of their world. Their eyes are the solid blue of frequent spice consumption and their faces are callused by the tube of their stillsuits (garments designed to recapture all moisture from the body). They are fiercely secretive and distrustful of outsiders, and have a power structure based traditionally on strength of leadership and fighting prowess. Every aspect of Fremen culture follows logically from their being a desert people. This is an important lesson I think, too, for the prospective world builder: The people who inhabit your world should feel like they belong there (and if they don’t, you should have a good reason why).

Like with Arrakis itself, Herbert first introduces us to the Fremen in small glimpses through the eyes of outsiders. Given their violent and isolationist tendencies, the Fremen could have functioned just as well as powerful villains in the series as they do as allies to the heroes. Herbert gives us our first clue as to where our sympathies should fall when Duke Leto describes the Fremen as “a deep thorn in the Harkonnen side” (p. 81). When the Lady Jessica asks Duke Leto if anyone from Arrakis can be trusted, his response is “anyone who hates Harkonnens.” This is an answer for the reader, as well.

The first on-page Fremen is the Shadout Mapes, the Atreides housekeeper. Shadout is a Fremen title meaning “well-dipper” (that this is a title of respect again ties us back into the importance of water on Arrakis). Lady Jessica’s first encounter with the Shadout Mapes establishes the connection of the Fremen to the Bene Gesserit’s Missionaria Protectiva. This paves the way for Paul and Jessica to hide among them (the main narrative value of the revelation) but also shows that the Fremen have a longer history than most give them credit for.

Herbert simultaneously builds both the reality of the Fremen and the mystique surrounding them. One of the most iconic images from Dune is of the Fremen riding into battle on the backs of Great Makers. Fremen are so badass that sandworms are their form of transportation over long distances—so badass that their children learn to ride them; when Paul mounts his own worm at age 18, he’s considered a late bloomer.

The badassery of the Fremen is justified by their environment, a very important aspect of their believability as characters. There is a rationale behind their brutality, a necessity to their impressive skills. Paul’s even greater badassery is given similar basis in his upbringing, which included both Bene Gesserit and Mentat training. This is no backwoods farmboy thrust into the hero’s role; this is a man who was raised to lead, and though he exceeds even Bene Gesserit expectations, the fact that there is a logic and design behind his ability justifies his incredible power.

Technology
Herbert takes a unique approach to technology for a science fiction writer: his world has absolutely no computers. Again, he is careful to provide historical motivation in the text to justify this thought experiment. The Butlerian Jihad, which took place more than 10,000 years before the events of the novels, led to the outlawing of “thinking machines” (AI and computers). This did two important things for technology in his story:

1) It allowed him to break away from the robot trope that was so prevalent in sci-fi up to this point.

2) It set the Duniverse along a different technological path than current society, limiting the comparisons between real-world technologies and the ones Herbert uses in his book—in other words, it makes it age better than sci-fi set at a closer point in the future.

The lack of computers puts the responsibility for higher thought back in the human realm. It allows for (arguably demands) the existence of the Mentats, who serve as “human computers.” It also sets up the necessity of the Spacing Guild, since there are no computers to plot safe courses through the cosmos. Dune would not be the same book without this technological restriction; the rules you place on an invented world are just as important as the landscape in establishing the setting.

The dangers of relying too heavily on technology are one theme present throughout the first Dune book. We learn early on from Liet-Kynes that sandworms are attracted to personal shields—that particular technology is a hindrance more than a help out in the open desert. When Jamis challenges Paul in Sietch Tabr, Jessica notes her son’s small hesitations during the fight, the result of learning hand-to-hand combat against someone wearing a personal shield; that Paul grew up with that technology is, on Arrakis, a hindrance. The Fremen, of course, have their own unique technologies (the stillsuits that keep them alive in the desert, the dew collectors used to grow their plants). Dune‘s overall attitude toward technology is not one of outright rejection, simply one of caution. Survival means using the right technology for the situation.

 

(Click here if you want to check out part 2)

On Trills and Time Lords

Jadzia Dax’s death in episode 6.26 of Deep Space 9 (“Tears of the Prophets”) is one of the few scenes from the series I have clear memories of watching as a kid. It was shocking, and crushing, on the first view—this is Star Trek, after all, not a show generally inclined toward killing off its main characters, and Jadzia was far from a red-shirt. I could never warm up to Ezri Dax my first time with the series. Like Worf on the show, I looked at her and could only see how much she wasn’t Jadzia.

I suppose I should back up a second for non-Trekkies. Jadzia Dax is a species known as a Trill. On the outside, they essentially look like humans with spots running down from their temples. What makes Trills truly unique is the symbiont, a worm-like being to which the humanoid Trill bodies can serve host. Symbionts are exceptionally long lived (the Dax symbiont is around 300) and retain the memories of all the hosts they join with—memories that are accessible by the current host. To be joined with a symbiont is a great honor in Trill society; applicants undergo rigorous testing and preparation to make sure they’re up for the task.

Ezri’s case is special, though. She never studied to be joined; she just happened to be the closest Trill when the Dax symbiont found itself in need of a host. In the early episodes of season 7, we see her struggling to adapt to the seven lifetimes of new memories inside her head, while the people who knew Jadzia are trying to figure out how to interact with this person who has her memories but isn’t her.

Watching these episodes now, I can’t help but think of Doctor Who and his regenerations. With each regeneration, the Doctor has to re-learn himself. It’s not only his face that changes but his tastes, his temperament, the way he thinks about the world. He has the memories of the old Doctor, but he’s a new man.

Jadzia was the seventh Dax host. The one immediately before was a man named Curzon, who had been a mentor and close friend of Captain Sisko before the start of DS9. Sisko calls Jadzia “old man” throughout, the name he used to call Curzon Dax. Having seen this transition happen before, Sisko is the least phased by the transition from Jadzia to Ezri—in a sense analogous to River Song, who’s seen the Doctor at enough points along his timeline to adapt to his many selves better than his companions, who have come to love and trust a man who is, for all practical purposes, dead.

Though it happened off-screen, I would imagine the transition from Curzon to Jadzia could be likened to the Doctor’s twelfth regeneration (from David Tennant to Matt Smith) in terms of its narrative impact—a relatively clean break with the characters from his past. There are a few like River Song who interact with both the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors, but for the most part no one is comparing him to the man he was before.

The transition from Jadzia to Ezri feels to me more like the thirteenth regeneration (from Matt Smith to Peter Capaldi). The Doctor goes from a lovably awkward nerd to an older, cynical, abrasive man—he keeps much of the awkward, but loses the charm. Worse, the new Doctor finds himself judged through the eyes of Clara, who has trouble accepting him as the same man she knew.

Good characters always change, if we spend long enough following them. With Trills and Time Lords, the transformations are more drastic, and the really interesting thing about these species is that they inherently raise the question of what makes you a self. They may share memories, but Ezri Dax is a completely new character from Jadzia. Sharing little besides memories, can you call the regenerations of the Doctor the same character? If your manner changed, your preferences, your face—would you still be you? I’m going to try to give Ezri more of a shot this time around, in any case. She may not be Jadzia, but as Quark tells Doctor Bashir: she’s the next best thing.

How To Carry Bigfoot Home

How To Carry Bigfoot Home
Chris Tarry
128 pages (13 stories)
Red Hen Press

Read this if you like: Kelly Link, Raymond Carver, Haruki Murakami
tl;dr summary: Quirky merger of cryptids and fantasy with real-world settings and emotions.

So with AWP again quickly approaching, I figured it was about time to read all the books I bought at the conference last year and never got around to. This book is one of those. I bought it knowing nothing about the author or the stories, pretty much on the appeal of the title and cover alone (which have a pretty high level of appeal, you have to admit):

bigfoot pic

…also I was at the Red Hen Press table which gave me confidence I’d like it, since I don’t think I’ve ever not liked a book put out by Red Hen.

The first two stories (“Here Be Dragons” and “Nennorluk Goes Down Deep”) have this wonderful disjointedness about them. The interest came for me in how the characters and the setting/plot were just ever so slightly out of sync. In “Here Be Dragons” there’s this scam artist/dragon hunter turn stay at home dad—and anachronism isn’t quite the right word, but it’s the one I keep thinking. A stay at home dad in Medieval Europe feels like the inverse world to Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet: a casual modern tone and culture superimposed over a fantasy landscape. Or—

(ahead thar be spoilers!)

—the way it goes down at the end of “Nennorluk Goes Down Deep.” The whole time it’s this touching (and very literary) story of loss and the friendship between two old drunks, and when Sammy (the younger old drunk) joins a fishing crew hired to find a sea monster, of course I’m thinking the sea monster is a metaphor, right? It represents his addiction or his former dreams and life, maybe even his relationship with his daughter? But no, not a metaphor. Nennorluk is, in fact, an actual sea monster. The story ends when he eats the ship.

(end of spoilers)

Things like that.

Feels kind of weird to add a spoilers tag to a review of a short story collection but this collection warrants it. I hesitate to say there are twists because that makes it sound like a gimmick, but the unexpected turns some of the stories take is part of their magic and you’d lose something from your first read if you knew what was coming.

From a writerly perspective, the thing I found most compelling about How To Carry Bigfoot Home was the way Tarry built the lives of his characters in the course of the narrative. In “For the Likes of John Muir,” the way he uses the mysterious wedding guest to fill in Richard’s life story builds a beautiful dramatic irony. The most impressive example of this, though, is the story “Lonely Fish.” In four pages, Terry paints the protagonist’s entire life without even giving the reader her name, making a story about a disconnected foot floating in a lake feel heartwarming and touching.

This is a very clever collection. Now and then, it perhaps gets a little too clever, or should I say relies a bit too much on clever (“M.V.P.” and “City Hall Pair-Bonding Study” felt guilty of that) but overall Red Hen Press has come through for me again. As both a writer and a reader, How to Carry Bigfoot Home is well worth checking out.

Season six is (apparently) a very good year

One of the long-term goals I was able to undertake when Netflix entered my life was a re-watch of all things Star Trek. I grew up watching Next Generation and The Original Series and saw most of Voyager (and mostly in order, even) thanks to SpikeTV’s propensity for playing marathons in the afternoon in the early ‘00s. I’d seen less than half of Deep Space Nine, though, and not in any kind of logical sequence, so I started there. I’m glad I did, too—DS9 is a gold mine from a world building perspective, and it plays with politics and religion more overtly and more boldly than any of the previous installments dared.

And that’s a long winding tangent to explore in the future.

So I’m late in the re-watch of DS9 now, is the point—a little less than halfway through the sixth season out of seven. Season five ended with a multi-episode saga where Sisko and crew lost DS9 to the Cardassians (backed by the Dominion), a thread that was resolved early in season six with their triumphant return and their battle to reclaim it.

Since then, things have been….quieter. There have been some fights, sure, and some close calls; the Dominion is always lurking in the background. Overall, though, it’s back to that episodic, day in the life format so familiar to fans of TOS. Our heroes are always safe, and the stories wrap up cleanly in an hour. The last three episodes have seen a runabout piloted by Dax shrining to the size of a terrier just in time for a Jem’Hadar attack (“One Little Ship” S6 Ep14), a vision of Sisko’s in which he’s a science fiction writer in 1950s New York and Deep Space Nine is his story (“Far Beyond the Stars” S6 Ep13), and a Quark-focused episode in which long-time bar patron Morn leaves him a stolen fortune (“Who Mourns for Morn?” S6 Ep12).

And I’m loving every minute of it. I love the flimsy pseudo-scientific “oh, it’s an anomaly” excuse for their Isaac Asimov shenanigans, love watching the fire and ice marriage of Worf and Dax, adore the absurdity of Dr. Bashir playing Quark at Tongo. These kinds of episodes might not be so intense, but after following the characters for six seasons, it feels like hanging out with friends.

The reason I started thinking about this was because another of my favorite shows, The Walking Dead, is also (oddly enough) at about the halfway point of its sixth season.

(This is the part of the post I should mention that there are spoilers ahead if you’re not caught up on TWD and you care about such things.)

The mid-season finale ended with Rick and friends walking hand-in-hand through the zombie herd that had just broken through Alexandria’s walls. Deanna was dead, Maggie was trapped on a woefully unstable platform, and with Judith strapped to Carl and Sam proving he has no right still being alive this far into the apocalypse, things weren’t looking so good for our brave heroes, either. The mid-season premier turned the mood around, ending with an epic walker slaughter montage that’s as close to a feel good moment as the show’s delivered since Beth and Darryl burned the moonshiner’s shack back in season four.

And they’ve kept them coming. The next episode was the apocalypse version of a buddy comedy, Rick and Darryl on the road finding ninja Jesus. Then last Sunday it was the group’s first interaction with Hilltop, portends of more danger on the horizon but mostly just Rick being badass and Abraham using inappropriate pancake metaphors.

DS9 is not exactly a new show, and I know enough about how it progresses to know not everyone escapes the series unscathed. Given Walking Dead’s generally high mortality rate, I can’t imagine season six will end with the whole group still alive, either. I understand that this is just a temporary reprieve—but man, is it nice to just enjoy a fun episode once in a while, without having to keep track of all the plots and character threads, and without being tensed up the whole time wondering who’s about to die. It’s a temporary reprieve, but I hope it lasts just a little bit longer.