Fonda Lee on Star Trek: TNG, the Green Bone Saga, and the Transformative Power of Fantasy Diaspora Stories

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Today we are joined by Fonda Lee, author of the World Fantasy Award-winning “mob drama meets magic” epic fantasy Jade City, who discusses the importance of speculative books that created invented worlds as messy as our real one, filled with different cultures and differing experiences within those cultures. She begins, unexpectedly, with an ode to one of Star Trek’s least-heralded characters…

Alexander Rozhenko (son of Worf) was a minor character on Star Trek: The Next Generation, but he has long been, for me, one of the most unexpectedly memorable. Alexander is three-quarters Klingon, and has Klingon birth parents, but has lived among humans his entire life and never been to the Klingon homeworld. He goes by a human name. He likes jazz music and Wild West holodeck programs. Worf is constantly, overbearingly worried that his troubled son is “not Klingon enough.” Later in life, Alex is disparaged by fellow Klingons for his lack of battle prowess and overly human qualities. He struggles his whole life with determining what parts of his Klingon ancestry and his human upbringing truly comprise who he is as a person.

I felt for Alexander, son of Worf. As a Canadian-born child of immigrants who has never lived in Asia and who doesn’t speak the language of my grandparents (but who sure did watch a lot of Star Trek), I understood that the little Klingon boy and I had something in common. We’re both products of the wonderfully messy pattern of human (and Klingon) history, in which people leave behind the place of their ancestors for new lands and opportunities, creating divergent populations and cultures, encountering and mingling with others, creating new identities.

One of the things that has drawn me to science fiction over the years is the thematic exploration of diaspora. What happens when humankind takes to the stars and spreads far beyond its original homeland? How does the culture of the emigrants evolve? How does it interact with, assimilate into, and influence other groups that it comes into contact with? In what ways does it retain a connection to ancestry and tradition while carving out its own cultural identity? Planetary colonization and contact with alien species is a compelling context to explore some of these questions, and numerous science fiction authors have done so, with Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars, Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis series, James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse, and Becky Chambers The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet being only a few excellent examples.

I’ve found fewer stories of diaspora in fantasy. Epic fantasy, in particular, for so long rooted in settings analogous to medieval northern Europe, often offered a counter aesthetic: established cultural homogeneity—stories of birthright and blood nobility and people who could trace their ancestry back twenty generations to kings who had ruled over the same patch of land since the early mists of time. Magic was more often than not ancient, unchanging, and granted by destiny. Other cultures represented by elves, dwarves, and faerie folk were fundamentally different from humankind, often noble, but distinctly separate and essentially unknowable.

When my fantasy novel Jade City came out in 2017, some readers began commenting on how it felt almost “science fictional” in tone. Perhaps this was because it was set in an industrialized postwar secondary world with modern technology like cars and phones and guns. Perhaps it’s because the magic jade on the island of Kekon is treated so un-magically, as a scarce resource to be mined, sold, and fought over by governments and smugglers. In my mind, however, in writing an epic urban fantasy story about warring clans and succession, perhaps the most significant tradition I borrowed from science fiction is the recognition that cultures do not remain unchanged. Scientific advancement, human migration, politics, trade, modernization, and globalization exert powerful forces on all aspects of a society. Magic would be no exception.

My follow-up novel, Jade War, the second book in the Green Bone Saga, continues the family saga in Jade City but it is, in many ways, a story about diaspora.

Like most places in our own world, the fictional island of Kekon has been irrevocably affected by foreign contact, colonialism, war, and global commerce. People have emigrated, willingly or unwillingly, from Kekon to other countries, taking with them the cultural reverence for the magic jade of their homeland, but encountering people who fear, disdain, or greedily covet what is new and strange to them. The diaspora Kekonese exist in places where they are outnumbered, where laws and norms discriminate against their foreign traditions, where they are forgotten and even scorned by those back in the “old country.” They adapt; they build new communities, develop blended values and customs, adopt different measures of success. The hyphen-identity Kekonese in other countries are different from the Kekonese back on the island, and they are different from each other. I wanted to write a story that retained the perspective of my main characters but challenged their biases as well. I had created a fantasy culture; now I wanted to stretch it, to reject the assumptions of cultural monolith that plague our own world and the pages of our fiction, by exploring and acknowledging that there is not, contrary to the beliefs of some of my most persuasive main characters, one way to honor and wield the magic of one’s ancestors.

Like many moviegoers, I grieved the death of Killmonger at the end of Black Panther more than any villain in recent cinematic memory. As part of the underprivileged Wakandan diaspora, Killmonger’s cultural experience shaped his world view, and who could fault him for it? Among the many barriers it broke, Black Panther put a big-budget speculative fiction story of intra-diaspora conflict on the big screen, and at a time when issues relating to human migration and citizenship affect our political and cultural conversations more than ever. Photos of detained migrants are all over the news. American-born congresswomen are told to “go back to where they came from.” Pundits debate refugee policies and whether immigration is still something America values. Evolving societies are messy; I suspect magic would not change that.

It’s often been said that good speculative fiction holds up a mirror. It pulls us out of the specificity of our world and connects us with underlying human truths. If this is the case, then I expect and look forward to an increasing number of fantasy stories that broaden the bounds of the genre, depicting peoples and cultures in all their glorious, fraught, far-flung nuance.

Jade War is available now.

The post Fonda Lee on Star Trek: TNG, the Green Bone Saga, and the Transformative Power of Fantasy Diaspora Stories appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

Read Game of Thrones’ Finale Script for a Glimpse at Some Bullshit


There were a lot of interesting ideas in Game of Thrones’ final episode, albeit ones dramatically rushed into, with disregard for actually setting them up over the course of a season (or several seasons) of television. Now, you can see some of the processes behind getting to where we got at the end of all things Game

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Second Verse: Revealing Carved from Stone and Dream: Los Nefilim, Book 2, by T. Frohock

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Earlier this year, we reviewed T. Frohock’s Where Oblivion Lives—a story of angels and demons, music and magic—and proclaimed it “mesmerizing.” Ever since, the first novel-length work in the author’s Los Nefilim series, about the supernatural beings who keep the peace between fallen angels and daimons, has haunted us like an enrapturing melody.

And that’s why we’re pleased to offer you a first look at the sequel, Carved from Stone and Dream, arriving next year from Harper Voyager. Below, check out the cover of he novel, learn why the author thinks it a perfect match for the story, and read an excerpt from the prologue.

Carved from Stone and Dream arrives in February 2020.

February 1939.

Catalonia has fallen. Los Nefilim is in retreat.

With the Nationalist forces hard on their heels, the members of Los Nefilim—Spanish Nephilim that possess the power to harness music and light in the supernatural war between the angels and daimons—make a desperate run for the French border.

Diago Alvarez, a singular being of angelic and daimonic descent, follows Guillermo and a small group of nefilim through the Pyrenees, where the ice is as treacherous as postwar loyalties—both can kill with a single slip. When a notebook of Los Nefilim’s undercover operatives falls into a traitor’s hands, Diago and Guillermo risk their lives to track it down. As they uncover a pocket realm deep within the Pyrenees, Diago discovers his family is held hostage.

Faced with an impossible choice: betray Los Nefilim, or watch his family die, Diago must nurture the daimonic song he has so long denied in order to save those he loves.

Cover design by Richard Aquan

“The overlay of shadow and light are two of Los Nefilim’s many themes, and Harper Voyager art director Richard Aquan has done a wonderful job of capturing the imagery so central to the books,” Frohock said. “In the cover art for Carved from Stone and Dream, we see the shades of underground tunnels and cells overlaying a face that might be angelic or daimonic. The colors are cold and ominous, much like the story itself, which documents Los Nefilim’s post-war flight across the Pyrenees.”

An excerpt follows, but first, a note from the author:

“The excerpt that follows is very brief, but it’s taken from the prologue, which was necessary for this particular book. With the events in Carved from Stone and Dream taking place several years after those in Where Oblivion Lives, I needed a quick way to bring the reader up to speed. I toyed with the idea of telegrams, and as I was searching for brief missives, I came across some old CIA reports online. Since both Los Nefilim and their French counterparts, Les Néphilim, are essentially secret service branches that serve the angels, I decided to use the CIA’s format and convey the information through the Inner Guard’s internal reports.”

Magic meets spycraft? Works for us…

Inner Guard Division: Los Nefilim
Don Guillermo Ramírez, Capitán General
Servicio de Investigación Militar
SIM Report No. 49495
26 April 1938

To the Honorable Madame Sabine Rousseau, Capitaine Général, Les Néphilim:

At your urgent request, I am sending the closest members of my court into your safekeeping through Madame Lucile Perrault. It is in Los Nefilim’s best interest that Juanita accompany our daughter, Ysabel Ramírez, with the retinue so that Ysabel can benefit from her mother’s angelic guidance.

Until I can reach Paris, Ysabel is my voice in all matters regarding the Inner Guard and serves as my proxy. I’ve instructed her to establish a base of operations for Los Nefilim in Paris in order to facilitate the resettlement of nefilim displaced by the war. She will have my personal staff at her disposal. Although she is fifteen years old and in her firstborn life, she has trained for this role and exhibits sound acumen. Trust her as you would me.

The Republican mortals have planned one last offensive in the hopes of turning the war in their favor. We have advised them to pursue a different course, but the Popular Front suffers from continued infighting within its leadership. Achieving any form of accord between the groups grows more remote by the day. I will remain with Los Nefilim’s milicianos to offer the mortals support for as long as we’re able.


Inner Guard Division: Los Nefilim
General Miquel de Torrellas
Servicio de Investigación Militar
SIM Report No. 49785
10 February 1939

To the Honorable Madame Sabine Rousseau, Capitaine Général, Les Néphilim:

Catalonia has fallen. Los Nefilim is in retreat.

Our intelligence has uncovered a plot to send assassins after Don Guillermo and his daughter, Ysabel. Diago Alvarez, Carme Gebara, and Feran Perez are assigned to escort Don Guillermo to the French border via an undisclosed route. We severed communications with Don Guillermo on 5 February 1939 for his own safety. His whereabouts are currently unknown.

Even in retreat, our unit remains under heavy artillery fire. The Germans and Italians bomb civilians as they flee the Nationalist advance.

My unit will continue to provide support to the mortal refugees in the eastern sector as they cross the Pyrenees. We will approach the border at Le Perthus.

Watch for us.

Preorder Carved from Stone and Dream, available February 25, 2020

The post Second Verse: Revealing Carved from Stone and Dream: Los Nefilim, Book 2, by T. Frohock appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

Dark Phoenix’s VFX Supervisor Opens Up About the Astonishing Jean Grey That Could Have Been


Simon Kinberg’s Dark Phoenix will go down in history as one of the most perplexing of Fox’s X-Men films. It was a movie that didn’t seem to know what it wanted to be—or even who the X-Men are, frankly. One minute, the X-Men are jetting off into space to have a literally out-of-this-world adventure that brings them…

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5 Questions with Thrawn: Treason Author Timothy Zahn

In 5 Questions, talks to guests of The Star Wars Show for some additional, fun intel.

Thrawn: Treason, the new novel in which the Grand Admiral’s loyalty is tested by the Emperor himself, is finally here. Author Timothy Zahn stopped by The Star Wars Show this week to discuss the book and our favorite Imperial mastermind, but we had a few more questions for the creator of Thrawn…

When and where did you first see Star Wars?

The original movie, I saw it on the second night of release. The first night I was working at the computer lab on my thesis project, but I got there on the second night.

Leia at the medal ceremony.

If you could hang out with anyone in Star Wars, who would it be?

Oh, that’s an interesting question. For the fun of it, Han. For watching someone grow to be a responsible Jedi, Luke. For someone who is the anchor of it all, Leia.

Would you join the Rebellion or the Empire?

Well, the Rebellion is fighting for good and for truth and justice, [but] the Empire is probably more equipped to deal with the threat that Thrawn sees coming in. And frankly, the Empire’s got the coolest ships and uniforms, too.

What is your desert island Star Wars movie?

Empire Strikes Back.

Say something nice about Darth Vader.

[Laughs] He was offered redemption and he took it. Many are offered redemption, and they don’t. He took it at whatever it was going to cost him.

Watch Timothy Zahn discuss Thrawn: Treason on this week’s episode of The Star Wars Show below!

Thrawn: Treason is available now. All Star Wars, all the time.

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5 Questions with Thrawn: Treason Author Timothy Zahn

The Weirdest, Most Wonderful Fantasy of 2019? Michael Swanwick’s The Iron Dragon’s Mother

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Michael Swanwick’s The Iron Dragon’s Mother promises to tell the epic story of Caitlin, the magical scion of a Faerie house, who rides on an iron dragon inhabited by the soul of a real one in a war over the stealing of children’s souls. As it turns out, the reality of it is a lot more complicated, and a hell of a lot weirder—which probably won’t surprise readers of the author’s acclaimed earlier works, including the spiritual prequel to this one, The Iron Dragon’s Daughter, published in 1993 (The Dragons of Babelpublished in 2008, completes the informal trilogy).

It’s safe to say that Swanwick’s style is unique, intelligent, and unpredictable.

This is ostensibly the tale of Caitlin of the House of Sans Merci, the titular iron dragon’s rider. But the beginning is fully grounded in our world, in a nursing home where Helen, a former Hollywood producer and teller of tales, is enduring her last days.

Even in her twilight years, Helen makes up stories, both her own and those of her nurses (The Night Nurse… That could be made interesting. A rigidly moral woman. Who takes it upon herself to convert her charges. But here’s the hook. Knowing what backsliders human beings are. Whenever she does save one. The night nurse immediately kills them”).

As Helen dies, she sends herself into the void, hoping to avoid oblivion. Instead, she encounters Caitlin. The two women’s stories come together in a tale that combines myths from all over the world, involving tricksters, witches, sunken continents, lost loves, and doomed families.

No, this is not your average fantasy. It is an utterly unique work by a singular imagination.

How unique? During Caitlin’s flight against charges of being a traitor, one of her encounters is with a pregnant locomotive inhabited by a fire spirit. Caitlin has to be a midwife for the fire spirit, hoping that all will be well until a new engine arrives to house the newborn:

The locomotive lay on its side, a black iron hulk beached on the sterile shore of existence. But simultaneously, Cat saw it as a titanic woman—a giantess, possibly even a goddess—made of roiling smoke and re and steam and shamelessly naked. This apparition turned her head to stare with one unblinking eye, central on her forehead, at Cat. Her expression was as arrogant and aloof as any dragon’s but also bore the marks of calm under suffering. Hers was a greatness untouched by malice. Cat had to fight the impulse to fall to her knees.

Cait makes an excellent guide through this surreal landscape—and if she is perhaps a shade too naive or stubborn, well, Helen has snark enough for both of them. Cait is hoping to unravel mysteries left behind in the wake of her father’s death, and especially that of her brother’s disappearance shortly thereafter. She’s suspected of the murder of one or both of them, and she’s being hunted for the crimes, which only adds to the dangers she and Helen face on the road. And, as the encounter with the fire spirit proves, the road already offers so many perils.

Those who appreciate densely layered will be pleased to learn that this one rewards rereading, if only to catch all the allusions and pinpoint the pinpoint the moments sourced from our own myths. The witch from Hansel and Gretl is easy to spot. Some are more masked.

The problems of the Faerie world overlap fantastically with those of our own: consider the office of conspiracies, where boredom becomes Cait’s biggest problem, or the idea that all it takes is a good lawyer/magical creature to sort out a problem, cutting through the contracts and red tape of whatever dimension you happen to be inhabiting.

As Cait finds answers, Helen must complete her own journey. How she does so brings her back to the beginning of the novel, and will hold particular resonance for everyone who’s watched over an elderly loved one in decline.

What a strange, marvelous book this is.

The Iron Dragon’s Mother is available now.

The post The Weirdest, Most Wonderful Fantasy of 2019? Michael Swanwick’s The Iron Dragon’s Mother appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

Cobie Smulders Had No Clue About Her Spider-Man: Far From Home Reveal


Gwyneth Paltrow isn’t the only one who was in the dark about their role in a Spider-Man film—although, in this case, it wasn’t actually Cobie Smulders’ fault. The actress shared how she had no idea about her character’s major Spider-Man: Far From Home twist until about a week before it came out, and that a little…

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The Ascent to Godhood Brings Ends the Acclaimed Tensorate Series on a Powerful, Personal Note

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

The Protector is dead. After decades of ruthless rule, the tyrant is no more. Millions struggle to process the passing of such an iconic figure, but for one woman, the loss is much more personal. She drowns her sorrows, drinking to lessen the death of someone dear to her. What does it matter that it was she who led a rebellion against the Protector? Does it matter that they became the bitterest of enemies, when they were once as close as two people can be? There is a history to be unpacked here, and Lady Han, the leader of the Machinist revolution, will tell you the whole thing—just buy her a damn drink first, won’t you?

JY Yang returns one last time to the Protectorate for the final installment of the Tensorate novella series. Though the trappings of Asian-influenced epic fantasy as as present as ever, The Ascent to Godhood ends the series on a personal note: it is an intimate story of love, friendship, sorrow, and survival.

While the first two books of the Tensorate are told in a traditional third-person style, Yang switched things up with their third novella, The Descent of Monsters, which unfolded in epistolary format, via journals, records, investigation notes, and more. The Ascent to Godhood is another inventive departure: all of the details of this story are told from the very limited first-person narrative of Lady Han, while she is drunk and in mourning, speaking to an unnamed other who has asked her to share the tale. Though there are hints as to the interviewer’s identity—vague suggestions of how this stories interlaces with the others in the series—the novella belongs to Lady Han alone.

The earlier novellas largely stand alone, fleshing out Yang’s fantasy world via stories told from the viewpoints of the youngest children of the Protector, or from that of an outsider, or even by one of the workers within the machinery of the Protectorate. Through them all, the true feelings of the Protector have always remained mysterious. At times appearing cold, at others, quite brutal, the Protector has been an unknowable quantity throughout the Tensorate series. Through the eyes of Lady Han, we finally learn of who the Protector was before taking on the mantle—what made her the ruthless, calculating, and dangerous ruler we came to know in the previous books. Yang also threads through her story the origins of the Protectorate itself, revealing how the land itself changed along with the people ruling it, and explores the story of Lady Han herself: a young girl born on the outskirts of the world, sold like a commodity into  a strange and secret world of royalty and espionage. Han’s world changes when she meets the woman who would grow to be the Protector. The roles they play in each other’s lives set the stage for revolution.

Yang’s prose weaves sorrow into every page, never letting the reader forget the narrator is in great pain; every moment recounted is another in which Lady Han misses awoman she loved with all her heart. The story is wound tight, never lingering too long on a single moment, suggesting recollection is a painful act for Lady Han, whose relationship with the Protector is striated with veins of privilege, power, and emotion. As Lady Han recounts their love, the struggles they endured, and the final injustices that split them apart, we discover the seeds of a revolution within a deeply personal tragedy. The choices we make determine who we are and how others see us; some loves cannot stand up to the choices those involved feel they have to make. It is this inevitability that sets the Protector and Lady Han down their respective roads, and knowing where they are going to end up doesn’t make their journeys any less painful.

The Ascent to Godhood brings a brilliant story cycle (the recipient of Hugo and Nebula award nominations, among many others) to a powerful end, but not a final one. There is still magic and advancement in this world, and neither will slow due to the death of a monarch. There are still struggles on both sides, and neither will pause for the changing of a guard. There is still love and loss; neither stop for a woman drinking herself into oblivion over her own grief. There is still a Protectorate, and there is a new Protector, and neither will mourn for long, because power doesn’t stop for anything. But in this moment, this night at a bar, a woman remembers the one she loved. The least we can do is stop for a moment, and hear her story.

 Explore the entire Tensorate series by JY Yang.

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