The Stakes are Higher and the Ships are Smarter in Gareth L. Powell’s Fleet of Knives

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Victory wasn’t the end. Isn’t that always the way it goes? Gareth L. Powell’s Fleet of Knives returns to the universe of his British Science Fiction Award-nominated Embers of War (also one of this blog’s favorite books of 2018). Following their success (or, at least, survival) at the Gallery, Sal Konstanz and the crew of the sentient, Carnivore-class ship Trouble Dog are back at work for the House of Reclamation, having once again foresworn conflict in favor of a commitment to rendering aid and assistance to ships in need.

From the very beginning, though, clouds loom on the horizon. On their last mission, Sal and company released the Marble Armada, a million-strong sentient alien fleet left behind by an intelligence that had long since fled the galaxy. Having reawakened the so-called Fleet of Knives, the crew also provided it with a mission: to ensure that nothing like the devastating Archipelago War could ever happen again.

Well, it sounded like a good idea at the time.

Like all well-intentioned wishes in literature, unexpected consequences follow. Recruiting poet, death row inmate, and one-time genocidal military commander Ona Sudak as a liaison, the fleet intends to impose strict order on the galaxy. It begins destroying every military and defense system among the known worlds, no matter who gets in the way. The fleet is perfectly happy to kill thousands or millions if the math suggests more lives will be saved in the longer term.

Meanwhile, newcomer Johnny Schultz and the small crew aboard the Lucy’s Ghost are planning a raid on an ancient artifact, a failed generation ship of the of the mysterious alien race the Nymtoq; the ship’s name translates to “The Restless Itch for Foreign Soil.” The spaceborne reliquary in their sights is both a tomb and a memorial for the Nymtoq; as such, it’s not something the aliens would be pleased to see desecrated. Nonetheless, there are doubtless riches beyond imagining there, waiting to be claimed by a brave and somewhat desperate team.

Again, unexpected consequences ensue: Lucy’s Ghost is damaged by… something during the journey, leading the crew to abandon the vessel for the Restless Itch, which proves to be hardly a refuge at all. Though Trouble Dog has received their distress call and is on the way, the same extra-dimensional incursion that damaged Lucy’s Ghost has deposited vicious, mindless creatures in the vicinity and drawn the attention of the Marble Fleet. Oh, and the much displeased Nymtoq are also on the way.

Last year, Embers of War impressed me in the way it balanced flashy space opera set-pieces with a deep humanity. That quality remains a core virtue here. The minds that make up the Marble Fleet act without anything resembling empathy, ending countless lives in a coldly logical plan to end suffering. The human characters reckon with the idea in different ways, some acknowledging that eliminating war might ultimately prove worth all those deaths, few willing to entirely ignore the staggering cost. In giving the book over to a rotating cast of point-of-view characters, Powell ensures the massive stakes never overwhelm the perspectives of individuals hoping to survive what ultimately turns into a siege, with dangers oncoming from at least three different sides.

What truly sets this series apart is the fact that this sense of “humanity” isn’t limited to the strictly human characters (or even those of flesh and blood). Trouble Dog’s very alien, quite long-suffering engineer Nod chimes in on the action, as does a hybrid intelligence existing in the body of a young girl. At the heart of it all is Trouble Dog, sentient spaceship par excellence. Still haunted by her actions as a warship, Trouble Dog’s past and burgeoning sense of self place her at the moral center of this universe.

As did the first book in this series, this sequel delivers big-stakes space opera told on an intimate scale. Amid the big questions of morality and the dire threats facing the characters, the brisk pacing and sense of adventure make Fleet of Knives a fun and fulfilling read in the best space-opera tradition.

Fleet of Knives: An Embers of War Novel is available February 19.

The post The Stakes are Higher and the Ships are Smarter in Gareth L. Powell’s Fleet of Knives appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

The Rise Of The Video Game Selfie


Photo modes have been around for some time now, appearing in various video games. From Far Cry New Dawn to Spider-Man to Assassin’s Creed Origins, it seems more and more video games have been giving players the ability to become virtual photographers.

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Exclusive: The Ghostbusters Are Teaming Up With the Transformers to Save the World


There are few technologically-advanced threats to the world that the Transformers can’t handle just fine on their own, but if there’s one thing that can be said about Hasbro’s Cybertronian heroes, it’s that they’ve got an inexplicable fondness for teaming up with humans. And this time, io9 can exclusively reveal it’s…

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Netflix’s The Punisher and Jessica Jones Are Officially Cancelled


Frank Castle might still be stuck in the war zone of his mind, but Netflix’s The Punisher has come to an end after two seasons. His Marvel compatriot, Jessica Jones, will also see her story end—but it’ll be after the third season of Jessica Jones airs. This news comes courtesy of Deadline today.

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This Presidents’ Day, Let’s Celebrate the Fact That We Don’t Live in the Reality of Escape From LA


On that fateful day of November 8, 2016, we counted down science fiction’s most blatantly evil presidents, not anticipating that we’d soon be plunged into a real-life political situation that often feels utterly dystopian. But even at its worst, it’s still not as bad as the America seen in Escape From LA.

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The 7 Scariest Stories to Tell in the Dark

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

This August, the worst nightmares of a generation will come to life in the film adaptation of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Alvin Schwartz’s anthology of American folktales originally published in 1981.

Directed by André Øvredal and produced by Guillermo del Toro (fresh off all those awards for The Shape of Water), the film promises to string together many of the stories in the collection into an overarching narrative, preserving and subverting the anthological spirit of the original—or so the teaser trailers that aired during Super Bowl LIII would suggest.

But why is a recent Oscar-winning filmmaker producing an adaptation of a decades-old book aimed at elementary school kids? Well, probably because few books can claim to have made such an indelible impression of multiple generations’ worth of readers. By which I mean: for nearly 40 years, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark has been haunting my dreams, and probably yours too.

I still have the copies I grew up with, featuring illustrations by Stephen Gammell. With respect to Brett Helquist, the brilliant artist who provided artwork for newer editions, Gammell’s original drawings are unsurpassably terrifying. They shaped my nightmares for years.

The stark black-and-white pictures would, of course, be scary on their own — but combined with Schwartz’s straightforward retellings of folk horror stories,  they become something more than just scary. To put it simply, these books are haunting.

Each tale is a few pages long at most (if you haven’t looked at a copy since childhood, this will probably surprise you). The language is simple and accessible, so it makes sense that Scholastic would market the books as appropriate for children who read at a third-grade level. This, then, helps explain why Scary Stories and its two follow-ups have had such a lasting impact on those of us who read them as children: for many, they may represent our first exposure to literary horror.

Not all the stories hold up. As one might expect from American folktales, several of them rely on white peoples’ fear of indigenous people and immigrants. That said, the endnotes in each book underscore Schwartz’s interrogation of the roots of these stories, and are worth reading by anyone who wants to develop a deeper understanding of the ways American horror and urban legends have tended to reflect what things are scariest to those who have power to lose.

Whether or not the stories can withstand contemporary examination, they’ve certainly left deep grooves in the amygdalae of nearly 40 years’ worth of readers—including yours truly.

Which is to say: here are the seven Scary Stories that made me lose the most sleep as a child (with a large portion of the credit going to Gammell’s accompanying artwork).

That seems pretty scary, but I guess Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is recommended for children reading at a third-grade level so…

“The Hook”

This is the first time I read the story of John Q. Hookhand, and even at the time, I had questions. In this telling of the story, the Hookhand Man has escaped a prison; in other, more ableist versions, he’s escaped a mental institution. In my preferred telling, he’s a Scary Murder Guy Who Wants To Get You, and he’s got just the hook for the job. No matter how you tell it, Man Door Hand Hook Car Door is a classic, and Gammell’s sinewy illustration of the dismembered prosthetic in question amplifies the horror exactly as much as this story deserves.

I mean, that’s a toe. And that kid is creepy AF. But still, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is recommended for children reading at a third-grade level, so it’s fine.

“The Big Toe”

You know that thing of when you find a big toe sticking out of the ground, so you pull it up and bring it home and you and your parents eat it for dinner? #Relatable. But in this story, that foolproof plan somehow goes awry. “The Big Toe” is the first story in the first Scary Stories collection, and it gives the reader a good indication of just exactly what they’re about to get mixed up in.

Wait a minute. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is recommended for children reading at a… third-grade level?! 

“The Bride”

The Bride (featured in More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark) is ultimate little-kid-horror, because it involves a game of hide-and-seek gone terribly awry. As a kid, winning at hide-and-seek always came with an undercurrent of fear: what if no one ever finds you? What if no one ever finds you ever again?

We’re only given one glimpse of the inner monologue of the titular Bride: “They’ll never find me there,” she thought.”

And she’s right. She wins that game of hide-and-seek. Also she dies horribly, trapped in an old trunk, which is exactly the kind of place I would have picked to hide as a child if I had never read this cautionary tale. 

How old are these third-graders? Are these third-graders who emerged from the Lament Configuration?

“A New Horse”

Listen. I’m just going to give you the last line of the story, okay? It’s all you need to know:
There stood his wife with horseshoes nailed to her hands and feet.

How do you react to that? What do you say to your wife, who was, until a moment ago, a horse? What do you do about these horseshoes? What questions does this raise about your marriage? Worse: what questions does it answer?

Oh, I get it, the demons have stolen the souls of the third-graders and possessed their bodies, right?

“Just Delicious”

This story, from Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones,  lives up to its name. “Just Delicious” has everything you could possibly want: trickery, cannibalism, organ-theft, and justice for an abusive monster of a husband. All I want in life is to write a short horror story that captures the grotesque beauty of Mina, the main character, eating a piece of liver that she cooked to perfection — only to realize that her husband will be furious if there isn’t a liver for him to eat when he gets home.

Oh, don’t worry reader: Mina gets a liver for her husband to eat. Mina is very resourceful. The only problem arises when the person she took the liver from decides that they want it back.


“The Red Spot”

A cool thing when you’re a teenager is when you have a pimple, the kind that hurts a lot, and you suddenly remember this story you read when you were a kid, about a girl who gets a red spot on her face, and it hurts, and it turns into a boil, and after a few days it bursts open and hundreds of baby spiders come streaming out!

This is fine. Everything’s fine.



Listen. I just reread this story so I could write about it for this essay, and I am sweating profusely.

Here’s the premise: Two farmers make a man out of straw, and they name him Harold and treat him pretty terribly, and he becomes real. The phrase “He climbed up on the roof and trotted back and forth, like a horse on its hind legs” comes into play, which is an image none of us ever needed.

Mark Oshiro, author of Anger is a Gift and noted Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark enthusiast, has this to say about Harold: “Many of Schwartz’s stories are horrifying, but there’s a particular place in the darkest part of my mind for Harold. There’s a sense of terrible inevitability to that story, and the final image is so deeply upsetting, suggesting that there’s only one outcome for Alfred.”

Oh, right, I almost forgot to tell you the final image: Harold, standing up on the roof, stretching out a bloody skin to dry in the sun.

So. You know. Sleep tight.

All three volumes of the Scary Stories series—with original artwork!—are available now in a boxed set. 

Sarah Gailey is the author of the forthcoming novel Magic for Liars. Incidentally, she’s never sleeping again.

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Bucket’s List Extra: 7 Fun Facts from “The Core Problem” – Star Wars Resistance

Star Wars Resistance is here! The animated series follows Kazuda “Kaz” Xiono, a young pilot recruited by the Resistance and tasked with a top-secret mission to spy on the growing threat of the First Order. Visit following each episode for “Bucket’s List Extra,” an expansion of our weekly fun-facts video series Bucket’s List, often featuring never-before-seen concept art and stills from the show. In this installment, we look at “The Core Problem.”

Bucket’s List Extra – “The Core Problem”

Rucklin's racer in Star Wars Resistance.

1. We got one!

In a rare instance of Jarek Yeager having a paying customer within an episode, the garage is currently working on a green ship of unknown make, which in truth is a reuse of the model of Rucklin’s racer, standing in as another vessel.

Poe Dameron with the map to Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

2. The mission is about to begin…

Poe having to depart for Jakku on General Leia’s orders and taking BB-8 with him is an indicator of how close the series is coming to the events of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Starkiller Base in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

3. I have a bad feeling about this.

With cored planets, and a star killed…whatever might the First Order be up to?

The Millennium Falcon flies near a gravity well during the Kessel Run in Solo: A Star Wars Story.

4. Look out for gravity!

A gravity well is any concentration of gravity that affects starship navigation. They may be artificial (like those used in Imperial Interdictor cruisers in Star Wars Rebels) or natural (like the one found in the heart of the Kessel Run seen in Solo: A Star Wars Story). The one at the heart of the cored planetoid may be a strange mix of both: a side effect of technology.

Poe Dameron and Kaz Xiono face the POV of a probe droid in Star Wars Resistance.

5. Stay on target.

This episode introduces a new probe droid design for the First Order. The original episode outline first called it a “science probe.” Its point-of-view photoreceptor image has the word “TARGET” in Aurebesh on display.

A young Twi'lek holds a tooka doll in Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

Kaz with a tooka doll atop the Fireball.

6. Tooka time.

Kaz picks up a tooka doll from the village ruins. Tooka dolls have been kids playthings in Star Wars since the first season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars and have also appeared in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and in Torra’s room in this series.

Elia and Kel in Star Wars Resistance.

7. Symbol story.

Sharp-eyed viewers may have spotted that among the village ruins is the same symbol worn on a bracelet once owned by Kel and Eila.

In case you missed this week’s Bucket’s List video, check it out below!

Bucket’s List

Star Wars Resistance airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Disney Channel. All Star Wars, all the time.