A Bookish Lineup For Spooky Season

BBE’s October Sneak Peek

October is finally here, and with it, the start of spooky season! Bring on the pumpkins, the apple cider, the black cats, and copious amounts of candy. Here at BBE, we have tried our very best to reflect the scary and supernatural in our book picks for this month. This is all with the caveat that Jennifer literally *cannot* handle any kind of horror or even suspense, so you won’t be seeing The Shining or Rosemary’s Baby down below – though there is one exception. What you can expect is some true crime, serial killers, haunted houses that draw the reader into their own madness, and finally, some mind-bending sci-fi thrill. Hold on to your butts!

This month, Jennifer is bringing in the big guns, one of her favorite books of all time: The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson. A beautifully written historical account about the building of the World’s Fair of 1893 in Chicago, this story is also intertwined with that of one of the most sinister serial killers of them all.

Our exception to the tame scary books requirement, Paige’s pick for this month is Mark Z. Danielewski’s horrifying House of Leaves. Look any list of all-time scariest books, guarantee this one will make the cut. Hopefully our mere discussion won’t give Jennifer nightmares.

Finally, our bonus Movie Magic episode for this month will be on Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation, recently turned blockbuster film starring Natalie Portman among others. One part sci-fi, one part thriller, one part mystery, one part horror, this book really does it all. Tune in to find out which one wins: book or movie.

And that is a wrap for our October Sneak Peek. To keep up with BBE this month, be sure to follow us on social media (linked above). If you are enjoying the podcast so far, we would dearly appreciate a review or you can send us an email. And finally, if you’d like to support the podcast, you can check out our Bookshop store, or our Patreon to get access to our full bonus episodes. Stay nerdy, bookish peeps!

Ghost of Sexual Harassers Past: Balancing Quality and Morality in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation

Show Notes for Episode 1.17

Check out the episode below!

Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right.

Isaac Asimov, Foundation

Quick Links from the Episode

Foundation, Isaac Asimov (1951)
  • The big three of science fiction (i.e. the folks considered to be the founding members of the modern genre): Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and Arthur C. Clarke.
  • Jennifer began her Asimov reading journey years ago, when she read Fantastic Voyage.
  • You can check out the Wikipedia article to learn more about Asimov, or this fan-run site.
  • If you do your due diligence on Asimov, however, you uncover a very disturbing past. Asimov amassed quite a notorious reputation among fans and in the field for his borderline predatory behavior.

Check out the trailer for Apple TV’s new show based on Isaac Asimov’s hit series:

If you are enjoying the podcast, please consider leaving us a review or following us on social media. If you’d like to support the podcast head on over to our Patreon for bonus content. Until next time, cheers!

Proto-Feminism in Science Fiction: The Left Hand of Darkness

Show Notes for Episode 2.5

Quick Links from the Episode

This amazing cover comes from the Ace paperbacks boxed set included the first four books from Le Guin’s Hainish Cycle series. The Left Hand of Darkness is #4.
  • Folio Facts: What is the oldest bookstore in the world? The answer is Livraria Bertrand, or Bertrand bookstore, in Lisbon, Portugal. First founded in 1732 by Pedro Faure, Bertrand has survived nearly three centuries of continuous operation. To learn more about this store, as well as other super old bookstores, check out this article. You can also read the Wikipedia article.
  • BBE Bookstore: Jennifer recently finished up reading Layla F. Saad’s Me & White Supremacy. A truly thought-provoking journaling guide, Jennifer has been finding a lot of value working through Saad’s 28-day program. Further investigation on the author revealed some interesting critiques of her expertise from within the activist community, though Jennifer still recommends checking this one out.
    • *Note: you won’t find this book in our Bookshop store as it felt wrong to profit off of sales of this book. However, you can find this book on Saad’s personal site, linked above.
  • Creatives’ Corner: Paige talks (Un)Well* on Netflix, a new series about the various strange faces of the giant that is the wellness industry. Everything from drinking breast milk, bee stings for Lyme disease, and essential oils are explored in each episode. A fascinating and science-backed approach to a lot of trends that have become hugely popular.
    • *Paige refers to the show on Netflix as “Wellness”. Oops!

Check out the Episode Below!

To learn what questions are unanswerable, and not to answer them: this skill is most needful in times of stress and darkness.

Ursula K Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness

Coming up next time, we’re diving into academia with Caroline Walker Bynum’s Holy Feast and Holy Fast. If you are enjoying the podcast, please consider leaving us a review or following us on social media. If you’d like to support the podcast, you can buy any of the books mentioned in this episode from our Bookshop store, or head on over to our Patreon for bonus content. Until next time, cheers!

Clever Girl: The Devastating Hubris in Jurassic Park

Show Notes for Episode 2.4

Quick Links from the Episode

Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton 1993
  • Folio Facts: You may have heard of the Library of Alexandria, tragically lost in a fire. But have you heard of the sacking of the Library of Baghdad? Called Bayt al-Hikma, or the House of Wisdom, this enormous repository was the hub of caliph-sponsored scholarship in the Abbasid caliphate. Unfortunately this treasure was lost when the Mongols sacked Baghdad in 1258.
  • Dragon Teeth is the posthumous Michael Crichton book about fossil hunters and rival paleontologists Jennifer was referring to in the episode.
  • BBE Bookstore: This episode, Paige rants and raves over Tamsyn Muir’s hit debut novel, Gideon the Ninth and its sequel, Harrow the Ninth. Paige devoured these in a few short days, so you could say that she recommends them. Beware, strong language and bone necromancy lie ahead.
    • *links are affiliate links, we receive a small percentage of the sale*
  • Jennifer can confirm that Dr. Sattler stopped to help Harding treat a sick stegosaurus in the book, rather than the triceratops we see in the film.
  • Jennifer mentioned horseshoe crab blood but couldn’t remember why it is important to medical research. Hint: it is very important. The Atlantic has a great article on its historic use and attempts to transition towards synthetic versions, and horseshoe crab blood has become especially relevant in the current coronavirus pandemic. If and when a vaccine is developed, we will likely have these ancient creatures to thank for it.
  • Creatives’ Corner: This episode, Jennifer presents Samosas & Sirens, an awesome bookish Instagram account that has convinced Jennifer to read many of the non-podcast related reads she has completed this year. S & S was one of the first accounts we followed and they continue to create amazing content.

Dinosaur eats man…Woman inherits the Earth.

Ellie Sattler, Jurassic Park

Main Points from the Episode

  • According to Ian Malcolm, discovery is the rape of the natural world. Do you agree? Discussion was a mixed bag. Paige and Jennifer agree that many forms of scientific discovery have unintended and disastrous consequences on the natural world. We also agree that often scientific research can be competitive and motivated by greed, or a desire for fame, rather than purely altruistic desires. However, the statement Malcolm makes in the book is extremely black and white and we can’t quite get behind it.
  • Have we learned the lessons from Jurassic Park? Namely that humankind does not exercise enough caution in scientific discovery? First, it was impossible to not talk about The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks in this question, where examples of careless research abound. While scientific progress is important, Paige and Jennifer agreed that humans tend to underestimate the possible consequences of scientific research. One big example from our past would be atomic power, which was immediately used to create weapons. But on the other hand you have particle accelerators. People argued CERN shouldn’t be built because it might create a black hole, but would we rather have not built the CERN accelerator due to that astronomically small chance?
  • Aaaaand even though this isn’t a bonus Movie Magic episode…let’s talk about the movie! Basically we fangirl over Ellie Sattler, complain about how annoying Lex’s character is, and talk about great quotes from the movie. We also chat about the evolution of the relationship between Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler from book to early production to final cut. Some of the scenes we discuss are below!
The iconic scene where the characters (and the audience) get the first look at some dinosaurs!
This T-Rex scene still does not fail to terrify us, 20 years later.
Ellie Sattler, even more of a badass in the book than in the movie!

Coming up next time, Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. If you are enjoying the podcast, please consider leaving us a review or following us on social media. If you’d like to support the podcast, you can buy any of the books mentioned in this episode from our Bookshop store, or head on over to our Patreon for bonus content. Until next time, cheers!

August Sneak Peek

This August we are excited to bring back another round of Books We Love and Movie Magic. Listeners are extra lucky this month because there are three Mondays in August rather than two, which means four total episodes! We are bringing in some serious literary fire-power with these picks, so keep scrolling to check it out:

Apparently we really can’t get enough of giant classics, because after our Count of Monte Cristo episode, Paige is following up this month with Anna Karenina.

A true staple of Jennifer’s childhood (and beyond) obsession with dinosaurs, when it comes to sci-fi it doesn’t get much better than Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park.

Another oddity of this August, our bonus Movie Magic episode will drop before our last regular episode! We are ready for the drama.

Finishing out the month with another [sci-fi] classic, Paige will be raving about Ursula K. Le Guin’s groundbreaking The Left Hand of Darkness.

And that is a wrap for our August Sneak Peek. To keep up with BBE this season, be sure to follow us on social media. If you are enjoying the podcast so far, we would dearly appreciate a review or you can send us an email. And finally, if you’d like to support the podcast, you can check out our Bookshop store, or head on over to our Patreon to get access to our full bonus episodes (link below). Stay nerdy, bookish peeps!

May Sneak Peek

Well book nerds and book ninjas, we have entered the final month of Season 1! It seems like only yesterday we published our very first episode way back in January, and were subsequently shocked that people actually listened to it. Thanks to everyone that has tuned in all season, we can’t wait to come back better than ever for Season 2, starting July 2020.

Scroll on for a Sneak Peek of the picks we are covering in May:

The first pick for Books We Hate this month, Paige selected another grimdark fantasy, Brian Staveley’s The Emperor’s Blades.

Jennifer’s final Thrift Store Find pick is a sci-fi classic, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation. Jennifer typically dislikes sci-fi, so we will see how this goes? There may be some crossover with Books We Hate this week.

Jennifer has tried to read through Jane Eyre several times…and failed every time. Will Paige make it through? Will she become another adoring fan of this Bronte classic?

Written by a Mayan Elder and priest, The Book of Destiny is Paige’s final Thrift Store Find of the season. Apparently this book will help BBE unlock their destinies and fulfill their true potential. Quite a finale for the regular season!

This month’s bonus episode is our last Deep Dive episode into the world of Tolkien. Posthumously published, The Silmarillion is Jennifer’s favorite Tolkien work and she can’t wait to hear what Paige thinks. Full episode available only through Patreon.

And that is a wrap for our May Sneak Peek! Follow the links below to keep up with BBE on social media during our break. If you would like to support the podcast, you can head on over to our Patreon (also linked below). Stay nerdy, bookish peeps!

Show Notes – Episode 1.8

Basically, Things Fall Apart: Critiquing Jay Lake’s Green

Quick Links from the Episode:

  • Here are links to Lake’s entry on Wikipedia, as well as the Tor memorial Jennifer mentioned in this week’s episode.
  • Here’s an article from The Oregonian that details Lake’s struggles with cancer and his uniquely positive response. This is also where we learn that Green was inspired by his daughter, though the ebook version also includes a dedication to his daughter (see below).
  • Lake’s blog about his cancer experience seems to have since been archived, but his author blog is still up here.
Green, Jay Lake (2007)

Our first Book We Hate pick of March, the premise of author Jay Lake’s book, Green, seemed promising when Paige picked it up years ago. The cover was intriguing as well, liberally painted with the titular color. The basic plot is interesting enough: a girl is sold into slavery and transported far from her homeland to train and serve as a courtesan of sorts in the Pomegranate Court. Despite being taken from a young age, the girl does not lose her rebellious spirit, and eventually makes her own path, bringing down those are responsible for her suffering. Unfortunately for Paige, the last two-thirds of the book did not live up to the hype.

Jay Lake was an acclaimed author before passing away from cancer in 2014. Lake’s father was a U.S. foreign service officer, so he grew up in a variety of exotic locales, including Taiwan and Nigeria, before finishing high school and attending college in the United States. Lake is only the second science fiction and fantasy author that BBE has reviewed and had a promising start to his writing career, winning the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in Science Fiction in 2004. Ultimately Lake published more than 300 stories and nine novels. Unfortunately, he was first diagnosed with cancer in 2008, and after a protracted battle with the disease passed away only a year after publishing the final book in the trilogy that Green began.

As Paige points out at the beginning of the episode, Green gets off to a decent start, but rapidly deteriorates after the first third or so of the book. The early writing style is intriguing with image-driven, almost lyrical prose that can be difficult to keep straight, but is pleasing to read nonetheless. The story is told supposedly from the perspective of the character, Green, as a child, but with intercessions into the childhood memories by a much older Green. This odd mix of part-present, part-past makes for an extremely unbelievable child narrator, with an awareness unlikely to be found in a three year old.

Lake credits his daughter as the inspiration for the story in this dedication.

The plot quickly loses its way as Green loses hers. Following her revenge upon the Duke of Copper Downs who was ultimately responsible for the child trafficking Green had been sucked into, she finds that her home is no longer open to her. While taken in by an order of assassin-priestesses of the Lily Goddess, Green remains directionless and the plot itself seems to be random events strung together. More disturbing, however, are the numerous questionable sex scenes that adolescent Green is involved in, including with older authority figures – what we would recognize today as pedophilia and statutory rape.

Green could have been the start to an empowering female saga. The characters in the story are mostly women. In fact, they are predominantly strong women who stand up for their beliefs or for others. However, because of Lake’s dubious choice of age for his protagonist, Green’s exploration of her sexuality into more mature areas such as BDSM and inter-species sex seems inappropriate and is uncomfortable to read. Any arguments about a different age/time/world crumble in the face of Green’s willing participation in her own exploitation by those with power over her.

As if these more challenging themes were not enough, the story really falls apart towards the end of the book. Points that are evidently critical to the story are explained poorly or not at all, the prime example being religion suddenly becoming the center of the plot though it was barely touched on in the majority of the novel. All this to say, Jennifer gave Green two stars out of five – for the merit of the first part of the story – and would not recommend it to any bookish peeps.

Tune in next Monday for Episode 1.9. If you’re enjoying the podcast so far, please leave us a review and follow us on social media. Be sure to check out our Patreon for bonus BBE content as well, including bonus episodes (all links below). Until next time!

Show Notes – Episode 1.4

Time for Reflection: BBE Talks The Mirror Empire

The Mirror Empire (2014)

The time has come for our second Books We Hate episode. This week, BBE is breaking down Kameron Hurley’s The Mirror Empire. This contribution to the grimdark subgenre of fantasy was picked by Paige, who was originally drawn in by the cover work (see photo), with it’s dark and shadowy allure, as well as the summary on the back of the book, which seemed suitably action-packed and intriguing. However, the love affair ended for Paige nearly as soon as she began to read. Despite a promising start, the large cast of characters seemed insistent on making bad, selfish, or downright evil choices. After over five hundred pages, it didn’t seem like things were going to get better, but Paige nevertheless persevered and attempted the second installment in the Worldbreaker Saga: Empire Ascendant. Much to her disappointment, the characters were still even less likable than before, so she gave it up…and handed it over to Jennifer to read for the BBE podcast. But did Jennifer feel quite the same way about The Mirror Empire?

Kameron Hurley is a decorated science fiction and fantasy author. Hurley studied history at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal in South Africa. Hurley’s historical background is evident in her writings, particularly her specialization in resistance movements. This background likely also contributed to Hurley’s work being classified as grimdark fantasy, generally reserved for books with the most brutal, dark, and violent themes. In an article with Mahvesh Murad for Tor.com, Hurley addresses this categorization of her novel, arguing that in fact she finds her work to be rather tame in comparison to the horrifying reality found in human history.

Echoing some of the sentiments in Murad’s article, BBE’s discussion of The Mirror Empire revealed that the complexity of the plot and the number of characters and cultures to keep track of, leaves the reader wanting. While some authors may be able to weave together story lines into tapestries, The Mirror Empire is significantly more disjointed. Hurley herself admitted that the book took tons of work to get into shape, even mentioning sobering structural edits from her editor, but over the course of our discussion, it became clear neither of us is convinced the book is the best it could be. Both Paige and Jennifer struggled to get acclimated to all the many elements Hurley included. In addition to having to learn a new magic system, new environments (with added bonus of carnivorous plants and tame bears), and an intricate plot with multiple POV characters, Hurley has also constructed three different social systems that incorporate numerous gender pronouns, polyamory, and even ritual cannibalism. It is A LOT to get a handle on. Jennifer also found certain parts of the text to be more problematic than others. For example, Hurley’s inversion of the traditional patriarchal model in the Dorinah Empire was undoubtedly meant to be thought-provoking in combination with the many other explorations of gender Hurley includes. However, Jennifer found it to be unimaginative in it’s straightforward imposition of male stereotypes onto females. In these particular portions it should also be noted there is sexual violence that may be triggering for the reader. With all these elements combined with short chapters and swiftly shifting POV’s, The Mirror Empire does not make for a coherent read.

Overall, while Jennifer didn’t hate The Mirror Empire like Paige did, but she wasn’t in love either, giving it three out of five stars. There was good along with the bad. Even though the plot is enormously complex, it is inventive in many ways, and has a truly interesting premise and other world building elements. Hurley’s explorations of gender and inverting social norms are also something to be commended even though Paige and Jennifer did not necessarily enjoy the outcome. Tune in to listen to all this and much more, and be sure to check out the links below, especially if you are interested in finding more examples of LGBTQ+ in the SFF genre!

Here’s a list of links you may find illuminating:

  • Here’s the review on The Mirror Empire from Sword & Laser mentioned in the episode.
  • Here’s another review with interview excerpts from Hurley from Tor.
  • Check out Kameron Hurley’s personal website if you are interested in learning more about her works, including the recently released third installment in the Worldbreaker Saga, The Broken Heavens.

And check out this list if you want more examples of LGBTQ+ in the science fiction/fantasy genre:

  • The Fifth Season, JK Jemisin
  • The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula le Guin
  • Fire Logic, Laurie J. Marks
  • Priory of the Orange Tree, Samantha Shannon
  • The Tiger’s Daughter, K. Arsenault Rivera
  • Huntress, Malinda Lo
  • Kushiel’s Dart, Jacqueline Carey
  • The Raven Tower, Ann Leckie
  • Gideon the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir
  • The Rain Wilds Chronicles, Robin John
  • Luck in the Shadows, Lynn Flwelling
  • The Black Tides of Heaven, JY Yang
  • This list is obviously extremely brief, there are some EXCELLENT lists on The Illustrated Page and Book Riot. The Illustrated Page list is even broken down into what areas of the spectrum you are interested in.

Tune in next Monday for Episode 1.5. Follow us on social media if that is your thing, and be sure to check out our Patreon for extra BBE content, including bonus episodes!