New Books and ARCs, 4/30/18

I’m catching up on quite a few new books and ARCs that arrived at the Scalzi Compound while I was on tour. Here’s the first batch for this week, and there are some gems. See anything you like? Tell us in the comments!

The Big Idea: Tiffany Trent & Stephanie Burgis

When Stephanie Burgis found what she thought was a magical site, she discovered she wasn’t alone in that opinion — and thus, the fantasy anthology The Underwater Ballroom Society, edited by Burgis and Tiffany Trent. Where was this place and what was the attraction? Both editors are here to explain.

TIFFANT TRENT & STEPHANIE BURGIS:

From Steph:

There are some places in the world that were simply meant for magic.

Have you ever walked into a new place – or seen a striking, evocative photo – and thought: There really ought to be a story set here?

When I saw photos of the “underwater ballroom” at Witley Park, I let out a physical gasp of wonder. It was such an incredible concept. It was practically designed for fantasy fiction! I was desperate to read magical stories in that kind of underwater setting.

Because I was on Twitter at the time (as I often am), I said just that, quite idly. Of course I didn’t intend to do anything about it myself. I didn’t have the time to write a new novel, or even a novella, no matter how amazing that setting might be. I had contracts to fulfill! I had serious professional commitments!

…and, as it turned out, I had a lot of passionate friends who shared the same immediate, intuitive certainty that there had to be magic in a setting like that!

Tiffany Trent tweeted back to me within seconds: “Have been saving files and photos on this to write something about it for years…”

And when I replied, ” (Actually, you know what would be fun? An anthology of novelettes by different authors all using that concept!)” – more and more friends started raising their hands, all drawn by the sheer joy of the idea.

Everyone could see the potential. It was irresistible! How could a story with an underwater ballroom not be fun? How could it not be even better with magic or some other kind of speculative fiction concept?

Of course, we all had Serious, Grown-Up Authorial Commitments elsewhere…but sometimes, you just have to play in an underwater ballroom for a month or two regardless. Sometimes you just can’t resist diving in.

…Because some places were simply meant for magic.

 

From Tiffany:

As I say in the introduction to the anthology, it’s great to ask “what if?” but the next step is to say, “yes, we can.” I would never have dreamed if someone had asked me a year ago that the underwater ballroom I’d secretly been hoping to write about for years would end up as an anthology I co-edited with one of my dearest writer friends, filled to the brim with fabulous stories from writers I admire.

When writers jumped at the opportunity and Steph and I turned to one another and said, “Let’s do this thing,” every story that came in seemed like a small miracle. Each one of them is scintillating in its own way. The ballroom is a smuggler’s hiding spot. It’s the scene of a rock-and-roll showdown. It’s where a fury remembers herself. It’s the setpiece for a heist. Sometimes the ballroom shatters at the end. Sometimes the ballroom is filled with feasts and dancing. Sometimes the ballroom remains perilously empty, waiting for magic that never comes. Sometimes it’s a refuge against the dark.

And what has been most wonderful about this, beyond watching our writers build beautiful fantasies on the scaffold of an underwater ballroom, is the feedback we’ve gotten from all of our readers so far. Every advance reader has found something to love in this anthology. The word “fun” keeps getting repeated in every new review, and it’s exactly what we’d hoped for. In times like these, bringing readers such happiness, giving them escape and delight even if only for a few minutes, means the world.

This anthology has inspired a sea change, if you’ll forgive the pun. It’s reminded me why we do this work that we do. For all that writing can feel maddening and thankless, there are times when stories can bring magic, especially when seen through the shimmering glass of an underwater dome.

—-

The Underwater Ballroom Society: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|iBooks|Kobo|Smashwords

Visit Tiffany Trent’s site. Follow her on Twitter. Visit Stephanie Burgis’ site. Follow her on Twitter.

Thoughts on Avengers: Infinity War (and Yes, There are Spoilers)

I liked Avengers: Infinity War and in many ways it’s a technical cinematic (excuse the pun) marvel — it’s not an easy job to integrate this many storylines, characters and stars into a single movie and both give them all enough space to do their thing, and still keep the film hurtling inevitably toward a climax. In this regard, this film’s cinematic predecessors aren’t so much other superhero films as the Cecil De Mille-style biblical epics, the kind where big name stars were dropped in for even the smallest roles, and part of the experience was watching, say, Vincent Price vamp about as a ridiculously incongruent ancient Egyptian. This is that, except that the gods are played by Australians and Brits, and the plague in this case is Josh Brolin, underneath some impressive CGI.

But as impressively well put together as it is — and it is; after this, Civil War and The Winter Soldier, I’m perfectly willing to say that the Russo brothers are possibly the most adept action directors we have working in film right now — and as enjoyable and exciting as the film is in the moment (which, bluntly, is its remit as a superhero film: to keep you munching your popcorn delightedly as events transpire onscreen), the film suffers and for me is ultimately unsatisfying. Not for anything the film itself does or doesn’t do; again, this is an extraordinarily competent film, and enjoyable on every level, and a more than satisfactory funnel into which to pour the entire official Marvel universe to date. It suffers not because of what it does, but because of what I know.

And what do I know?

(and here is where I put the spoiler warning, so if you haven’t seen the film, go no further)

(although honestly since the film made $250 million domestically and $630 million worldwide in its first weekend, there doesn’t seem like there’s anyone who hasn’t seen this film by this point)

(even so, once again: spoiler warning)

(okay, that’s enough parenthetical grafs for right now)

What I know is that there’s no friggin’ way Spider-Man and Black Panther, to name just two, go out like punks.

This isn’t a question of story, this is a question of economics. Black Panther grossed $688 million in the US and $1.3 billion worldwide; even if a Black Panther 2 made half that (and it seems unlikely it would make just half that), it would still be one of the top five grossing films of its year. If you think Disney, of all companies, is going to leave that sort of money on the table, you are officially super high. Likewise, if you think Marvel is going to let Spider-Man, still their biggest and most well-known superhero, despite years of fumbling at the hands of Sony, lie fallow after they’ve just now reintegrated him into the official Marvel universe (and his most recent film did $880 million business worldwide), then, again, you are supremely buzzed, my friend.

Additionally, I’m well aware that on the Marvel schedule, there is another Avengers film, originally called Infinity War Part 2. It’s not called that anymore, but it’s not because Infinity War was meant to be its own stand-alone film in the Marvel continuity, or because the next Avengers film isn’t going to be Infinity War, Part 2; they just want to give it a cooler title. This was always going to be a film that was going to end on a cliff-hanger.

Knowing what I know about Marvel and Disney’s business, here’s what I felt when Black Panther turned into dust at the end of Infinity War, not for anything he did, but simply because he was part of the unlucky half of the thinking universe that fell under Thanos’ curse:

lol, yeah, okay there, Marvel. 

Likewise with Spider-Man; likewise with two-thirds of the Guardians of the Galaxy, and so on.

Again, to be clear: This is not the fault of Avengers: Infinity War. It hit its marks and hit them well, and the internal logic of the film holds up. Viewed from the inside of the film, the filmmakers didn’t shy away from what was necessary — they killed a shitload of characters, not only to illustrate the stakes, but to make the point of what Thanos’ scheme means to everyone in the universe.  It does just about everything right within its own framework. I could quibble at points here and there, but not with the overall film.

But Infinity War doesn’t exist only within its own framework; it exists as part of an overall business plan for Marvel and Disney. And, leaving aside the simple fact that comic book universes aren’t exactly a sterling model of finality in even the best of times, Marvel and Disney aren’t going to deprive themselves of consistent money-makers. Not just in the cinema but in merchandising, licensing and all other sorts of ancillary revenue streams.

And that, simply, lowers the stakes. People who were congratulating the Marvel universe for going all Game of Thrones on their characters misapprehend this fact about the films’ corporate masters. When George RR Martin kills someone, they (mostly) stay dead; there’s real risk there. In the case of Marvel, and of Infinity War, meh. They’ll be back. Most likely, they’ll all be back (yes, even Loki. As if they would waste that fan favorite).

So, while I very much enjoyed Infinity War, and would highly recommend it on its own merits, in a fundamental way I left the theater unengaged with it. It’s because I knew, more than in any other film in the Marvel universe to date, that its stakes were false. I mean, I could be wrong. I would be delighted to be wrong. But I know Disney, and I know Marvel, and I know their release schedule, and I know basic economics. And I know if you’re one of the largest entertainment companies on the planet, you don’t wipe out that sort of value, just for the sake of a single film, and one splash of box office income. It’s just not smart.

And thus the irony here that the real Infinity War spoiler for me was not a list of who lived and who died in the film, but a release schedule, and a company philosophy.