New Books and ARCs 6/5/20

Right on time for the first weekend in June, a brand new stack of new books and ARCs for your perusal. What here is calling to be added to your “to be read” pile? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Five Things: June 5, 2020

Here’s today’s five for you:

It’s a police riot: Or so Jamelle Bouie says in the New York Times, and there’s certainly been enough evidence in the last week to show that the police working the protests aren’t exactly treating the folks protesting the death of George Floyd with the same tender care and respect as they treat, say, a bunch of white dudes with semi-automatics screaming about their desire for a haircut. Greg Doucette has been collecting up video of the police in various places not exactly keeping order; currently he’s above 300, which makes it difficult for even the most persistent “#NotAllPolice” to keep finding excuses for them all. Or as Kumail Nanjiani notes:

I’ve written before about how and why it is I don’t fear the police, and indeed usually feel they are serving me well. But I also know that lack of fear, and positive experience with them, is strongly rooted in my whiteness, and that my lived experience isn’t the lived experience of so many of the people I know and care about. As Kumail notes, what’s happening now is lot of other people who like me have gotten the benefit of being on the white side of policing, are getting their faces rubbed into fact that policing is systematically racist and also concerned with its own perpetuation. All these videos, at least, make it much harder for police to argue against the first of those.

(Plus now the police have pissed off journalists by going after them, too. Yeah, that’s going to be remembered by the press for a long time, folks.)

Is Trump losing the evangelicals? Lol, I’ll tell you what, I’ll believe that when we get the exit polling in November and it shows either some significantly larger percentage of evangelicals voting Democratic (which I find deeply unlikely), or just staying home because they can’t bear to vote for Trump a second time (somewhat more likely, but still deeply unlikely). I suspect evangelical disapproval of Trump is like Susan Collins’ disapproval, i.e., a scrunching of the face to express concern, and then voting exactly the way Trump wants her to. Evangelicals have hitched their wagon to Trump; I suspect he’s going to run them right off a cliff. They will deserve it if he does.

Cate Blanchett vs. a Chainsaw: The result may surprise you! (Spoiler: It won’t. She’s fine. If she had done herself a serious harm, you wouldn’t be hearing it from me first, now, would you.) Personally Ms. Blanchett’s misadventure just reconfirms my general choice to avoid all serious machinery. I know my dexterity stats, and I want to keep all my limbs if at all possible (and also my head).

Space Force and trademarks: Okay, this is interesting to me — Netflix has beaten the United States government to trademarking the term “space force” around the world and the ramifications of that are discussed in the linked article. Like the writer of the article, I don’t suspect people are going to confuse the show with the military branch, but if I walk around with a Space Force t-shirt, someone might reasonably wonder if I’m promoting the show or showing enthusiasm for the military. I personally would have thought the government would have dealt with that, but then again, I was also surprised that Paramount hadn’t trademarked the term “Redshirt,” thus giving me free rein to use it for my book. So, I don’t know. Maybe I expect too much out of large organizations as regards their potential intellectual property.

The UK version of The Last Emperox has arrived at The Scalzi Compound. Here it is with its US sibling:

My UK edition is a trade paperback, because apparently that’s how I sell over there, which is, you know, fine. Whatever works, is my motto. Soon I’ll start getting copies of the various foreign language editions (well, soonish — it takes a while for translations and scheduling and so on). In case you’re wondering, no, it never gets old, seeing books with your name on them. Because you’re the author, I mean. Anyone can scribble their name on a book, you just need a Sharpie for that. But being there because you’re the author — hits a little different, as the kids say.

DreamHaven Books & Comics Fundraiser

A couple of days ago I posted about the fundraiser for Uncle Hugo’s, the science fiction bookstore that was razed to the ground last week during the protests in Minneapolis. At the same time, another science fiction bookstore, DreamHaven Books & Comics, took damage as well, although fortunately not as much. Nevertheless, damage was done, it was real, and DreamHaven owner Greg Ketter has set up a GoFundMe to help offset some of the costs.

Here’s the link to the DreamHaven GoFundMe. Check it out and if it’s something you can support, that would be great.

(And here’s the Uncle Hugo’s GoFundMe link again, just in case you missed it the first time.)

The Big Idea: Kester Grant

A dash of history, a pinch of literary invention, and a soupçon of imagination — all of these combine in The Court of Miracles to create author Kester Grant’s new novel. She’s here now to tell you how all these ingredients came together.

KESTER GRANT:

As I left the cinema after seeing Disney’s latest Jungle Book movie, I was mulling over the plot’s premise: young vulnerable man-cub is adopted into a dangerous jungle of wild animals. The jungle is ruled by a strict hierarchy, and the man-cub must adapt to the animals’ way of life and navigate his way among them.

Then it struck me—if you remove the words animal, jungle, and man-cub, that’s exactly the same premise as Oliver Twista young, naïve boy is adopted into a dangerous criminal world. . . .

Marveling at previously unseen threads of commonality, my brain grabbed the next link in the chain, this time from my favorite classic, Les Misérablesyoung, naïve Cosette is left to the charge of the criminal Thénardier and his gang of murderous burglars.

In Victor Hugo’s masterpiece, Cosette is soon rescued by the fugitive Jean Valjean and given a life of safety and comfort. Yet the aspect I had found so compelling in The Jungle Book and Oliver Twist was the characters learning to navigate the dangerous new society. I started to compose a story in which Cosette is thrust into a larger criminal society, and I didn’t have to look much further for more ideas than Hugo’s second most popular work, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.

In Paris in the 1600s, a large portion of the population was wretchedly poor. Begging, thievery, and prostitution were rife. The slum districts were known as the “Courts of Miracles” because of the cynical belief that beggars, who faked injuries to gain more alms, could relax their roles there and were thus “miraculously” healed. A popular Parisian urban legend states that in these slums, criminals, migrants, and unwanted people had formed an organized criminal society. Although historically untrue, Hugo adopted these ideas, presenting them as a part of the world of Hunchback.

The underground criminal society, the titular “Miracle Court” of my debut book, came full circle back to The Jungle Book. I extrapolated the animal clans and their customs and strict laws onto a world of criminals, divided into guilds according to crime: Assassins, Thieves, Beggars, Prostitutes . . . I wove the strict rules and hierarchies that they would live by.

But it didn’t seem enough to have them simply exist. I also wanted to create a feeling of rich, layered otherness for the Miracle Court. So I researched countercultures: how they are formed and what makes them different. Our day-to-day language and expressions, our western curses and oaths, and our celebrations and customs often stem from religion or historical events that form our cultural identities.

The first Parisian police chief, Gabriel Nicolas de la Reynie, was tasked with eradicating with the city’s crime problem. He achieved his goal by clearing out the slums, arresting anyone found within no matter whether they had committed a crime. This included the imprisonment and institutionalization of many poor, foreign, and unwanted members of society (the disabled and the sick), as well as a vast swath of criminals. I made this event the birthplace of my Miracle Court, adding Paris’s long history of violent persecution of religious and ethnic minorities to de la Reynie’s purge. I posited that within the dark walls of the city’s prisons, the Wretched, who had been displaced, killed, and institutionalized, formed an underground society in order to protect each other against their powerful enemies.

One of Europe’s oldest folktales is the ballad of Ysengrim the wolf and his long war against the wily fox Rennart. With the Miracle Court’s “birth” in place, I wove a mythology that served as the basis for their counter-society. I created a brother for de la Reynie and had him stand against the purges and so get swept up in them, losing his family, title, and position in de la Reynie’s quest to clean up the city. De la Reynie became Ysengrim the boar, and his brother, Rennart the fox.

Thus, the Wretched don’t curse by the devil but rather say, “Ysengrim take you!” In the mythology of their people’s origin, Ysengrim is the true villain. When surprised they cry “Rennart’s eyes!”—Rennart being one of their founding fathers. When they gather, each member of the court bears a candle in memory of the darkness of the prisons where their people first came together. All their laws are also created to preserve and protect their society. Their Guild of Letters—devoted to spying and white-collar crime—does not exist solely for illegal profit but also to create a vast library of knowledge that might enable them to safely neutralize any of the Miracle Court’s enemies and thereby protect their people.

In order to make Paris a city thick with paranoia and conspiracy, I took one turn from historical truth by having the French Revolution come close to succeeding, but ultimately failing. The leaders heads were mounted on pikes outside the royal palace, and the paranoid nobility was left ever watchful for any signs of further uprising. To this I added another other urban legend of the era—the idea that the nobility was poisoning the city’s wells to keep the numbers of the poor down in order to prevent uprisings. I wove this into the story as fact. Thus, setting up deeply entrenched factions within the city—the nobility who were almost overthrown by the failed revolution had seen the violent retribution the poor would have subjected them to. The Wretched, who knew they could trust neither the nobility nor the average Parisian, formed their own society to protect themselves and the man on the street, some of whom believed in the cause of the revolution.

Into this murky jungle of opposing factions, comes one little girl: Cosette, along with her Bagheera-like mentor Eponine “Nina” Thénardier, Black Cat of the Thieves Guild. The two of them are caught between these societies at odds with each other.

—-

The Court of Miracles: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.