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My Immortal Author Identifies Herself and Announces New Book




What is the Bermuda Triangle? Where did Atlantis go? Who is so vain that Carly Simon wrote a song about them?  Ancient mystery still unsolved. But one of the great mysteries of the world HAS been solved today. As reported by Buzzfeed, the author of the (in)famous Harry Potter fan fiction epic “My Immortal” has revealed herself to the world. Not only that, but she has announced that she is releasing a book all about how that piece of internet history came to be.

“My Immortal” began life on as a serialized story released between 2006 and 2007. Written by “Tara Gilesbie” under the username “XXXbloodyrists666XXX,” the story follows the adventures of Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way, a “goff” attending Hogwarts as a member of Slytherin House. Throughout the story, she makes out with Draco, seduces Tom Riddle, and attends a My Chemical Romance concert in Hogsmeade.

Famous for its strange spelling, purple prose, and “unique” take on the Harry Potter universe, the fanfic became known, according to some, as the worst fanfiction ever written. Since its release, “My Immortal” has inspired countless derivative works, dramatic readings, and Youtube animations. But in the ten years since its release, the identity of the author has been a mystery. Until now.

Following a press release from publisher Wednesday Books and some hard-boiled investigation by a Tumblr user named pipistrella, the author of “My Immortal” was revealed to be Rose Christo, the 27-year-old author of the Gives Light series. Her next book will not be a part of that series. Instead, it will be a memoir detailing her experiences in the foster system that led to the creation of “My Immortal.”

The book, titled Under the Same Stars, will detail how she used the fanfiction community as a way to find her little brother, from whom she had been separated from by the foster system. Written with the aid of a beloved foster sister on a school computer, “My Immortal” was a bait to gain the attention of the world at large. Christo, who descends from the Cree and Lenape tribes, also intends for the book to shed light on the difficulties children, particularly Native American children, face in the foster system.

Under the Same Stars will be published by Wednesday Books and is set for release on May 29, 2018.

Image courtesy of Wednesday Books


Author, Editor, Podcaster, Media Junkie.
Currently working towards an MFA and trying to get a sci-fi novel published. If you have a dog, I’d very much like to pet it. Operating out of Wichita and Indianapolis.



GRRM’s The Hero is a strong commentary on war



Several covers of George R R Martin's books

Part of the GRRM Reading Project.

We started our journey through the works of George R. R. Martin (GRRM) with his early amateur writing, published for the first time in the Dreamsongs collection. Like The Fortress or And Death His Legacy, GRRM wrote The Hero during his college years. It marks an important point in his career: this is Martin’s first professionally published story. That’s right, our boy GRRM went pro!

The long story behind its publication is told in the autobiographical segments of Dreamsongs. I recommend you all to read it, since it’s an interesting account on the backstage of publishing in early ‘70s and what it meant to start a career in writing. Written in late ‘60s, The Hero was published for the first time in the February, 1971 issue of Galaxy.

How well did it age?

From here on, spoilers for The Hero. Due to the nature of the points chosen for analysis, that segment contains spoilers as well.

The Hero follows Field Officer John Kagen, a soldier from the Terran Expeditionary Force on a quest to conquer new planets. The natives of those planets are no match for Terran technology, in all the glory of its Hollywood Science

Back at the outpost, Kagen has orders to see Major Grady about this pesky little thing he wants:

“My term of enlistment is up within two weeks, Major. I don’t plan to reenlist. So I’ve requested transportation to Earth. That’s all there is to it.”

After twenty years of service, Kagen is entitled to retire with full pension. Major Grady doesn’t want him to leave, citing his great records and all the excitement that is to come now that they’re close to open war against the Hrangan Empire. Despite his insistence, Kagen is adamant about retiring and settling specifically on Earth. Born in one of the War Worlds that provide soldiers while Earth provides high-ranking officers, Kagen wants to see what he’s been fighting for all those years. He’s getting bored of fighting and feels he’s getting older and slower. Also:

As you say, everyone on Earth must know me. I’m a hero. […] On Wellington I’m just one of hundreds of old vets. Hell, every one of the troopers who does retire heads back to his old barracks. But on Earth I’ll be a celebrity. Why, I’ll be the fastest, strongest guy on the whole damn planet. That’s got to have some advantages.

When it becomes clar that Kagen knows his rights and won’t step down, Grady tries to reach his gun. Kagen stops him, but is seized by the tractor beams protecting Grady’s office. Still, Grady decides to give Kagen what he wants.

On the day of his retirement, Kagen takes a shuttlecraft for a starship to Earth. He’s kept in place with tractor beams for the liftoff, but instead of releasing him the tractor beams get tighter and tighter, to the point of hurting him.

“‘Cut it out!’ he cried, his voice shrill with pain. ‘You’re killing me. Damn you, you’re killing me!’ And suddenly he realized he was right.”

In the outpost, the perpetually bored Grady tells his aide to space Kagen’s corpse, release a fake news note on his death blaming the Hrangan Empire, and send his medals to the barracks museum in Kagen’s homeworld.

On Corps and Corpses

There are many reasons why I’m a fan of GRRM’s work, but when it comes to stories like A Song of Ice and Fire his skill with characters and worldbuilding stands out. To my disappointment, those two aspects fell flat in The Hero during my first read. It was only with time, thinking about the story and its themes, that I came to appreciate what GRRM was trying to achieve.

The story has only three named characters, but Ragelli doesn’t really count because he simply exists. Kagen and Grady have better characterization and we can tell more about their motivations and personalities, but they still feel quite bland.

The story constantly emphasizes how bored Grady is, and I think it’s part of the point that GRRM is trying to make with this character. He seems very aloof, seeing soldiers and natives as nothing but tools to achieve his goals. He clearly considers War Worlders second-class citizens, to the point of feeling offended with the idea of Kagen moving to Earth. Overall he reads as a sharp criticism against the people responsible for wars, who hide behind desks disregarding the lives of soldiers and civilians alike.

Kagen barely has any inner life and the only information we have about his personal motivations comes during his conversation with Grady. He feels more machine than human, particularly when he meets a group of natives early in the story:

One began to speak. He never finished.
During the brief flickering instant before the natives’ fingers began to tighten on their triggers, Kagen did not pause, Kagen did not hesitate, Kagen did not think. Kagen killed.
Kagen spun, still reacting, searching for the next foe. He was alone.

His reaction feels almost automatic, and it’s an effective moment to show how this violence has become a part of Kagen’s routine. His apparent lack of inner life does have a point: after twenty years of service that translated into killing, maiming, and conquering, there seems to be a little less humanity left in him. Kagen dedicated his life to military service and it took everything it could from him, both physically and emotionally. Even his death will serve to further an agenda against his personal wishes.

So both Kagen and Grady have a reason behind what feels like an apparent lack of characterization, but I wonder if the execution was done effectively or if they’re more commentaries than characters. 

The setting suffers from a similar problem, because for the most part it feels very generic. There are a few hints of something more interesting underneath the surface: the near paranoia of the Terran Expeditionary Force, the fact that soldiers are expected to be on drugs to keep their performance, the hinted conditioning of soldiers in the War Worlds, the dynamic between Earthers and War Worlders… but most of this isn’t explored.

I suspect this also has a point: it’s not about this planet in particular or these people in particular, but the pattern on this military and those behaviors that GRRM denounces. The fact that the setting is so generic turns it into a surrogate for any real life conflict the reader may see on it. We never learn the reasons behind this conflict, but it doesn’t really matter.

So both characters and setting share this quality, an apparent blandness that is almost the point. I can’t say how well it worked for me, but I can understand why they were written this way.

What I can’t really understand is again the lack of diversity. Yes, I’m going to insist on this in every single story of this reading project, because it’s becoming a pattern in GRRM’s early writing. All his stories are about men, presumably white, straight, cis, etc. I say “presumably” because I don’t like the idea of assuming whiteness or heterosexuality as default, but he doesn’t give us any hint that this may not be the case. I realize the story has very few characters, but women aren’t even mentioned.

War… war never changes

The most interesting aspect of The Hero for me is GRRM’s commentary on war. Different readers may have a different reading since each country has different views on war and military forces—as for me, coming from a country that experienced a long military dictatorship in a not so distant past, I must confess I’m not very fond of the guys. It’s useful, however, to keep in mind the context during which The Hero was written.

GRRM wrote this story in the late ‘60s, during Cold War. We know from the autobiographical segments of Dreamsongs that he opposed the war in Vietnam and even applied for conscientious objector status. When we consider those circumstances, we can see their influence in the story.

The Hero isn’t even subtle on its sharp criticism on war. We never learn the reasons of the conflict between Earth and the Hrangan Empire, so the whole thing feels somewhat pointless. It’s two major nations measuring forces against each other in a cold war, conquered people and territories be damned, but we never understand what they’re fighting for besides this expansionism. It doesn’t help that Kagen himself says he wants to see what he’s been fighting for, implying he doesn’t know that yet.

What we do see of this conflict are its consequences, from the vivid description of the assault of a nameless city in the story’s opening scene to everything that happens with Kagen. Furthermore, we have no reason to believe that Kagen’s exhaustion or his drug use are exceptions. It’s just how it is.

Those issues, the character of Kagen as a whole, and his dynamic with Grady remind me a lot of the way GRRM handles war in A Song of Ice and Fire (ASOIAF). I’ve seen fans defending that ASOIAF is an anti-war statement, but I don’t think that’s the case. It’s hard not to see a point in conflicts like Robert’s Rebellion or the war against the Lannisters, even if we don’t agree with how they were conducted. I think ASOIAF, much like The Hero, wants you to think about the consequences of war. It argues that the people fighting this war or suffering its effects more directly are often not the ones that will benefit from it.

I see echoes of Kagen’s story in the famous “broken man speech” from A Feast for Crows. The speech is too long to copy on its entirety, but it deserves its place among the most well-remembered lines in ASOIAF:

“One day they look around and realize all their friends and kin are gone, that they are fighting beside strangers beneath a banner that they hardly recognize. They don’t know where they are or how to get back home and the lord they’re fighting for does not know their names, yet here he comes, shouting for them to form up, to make a line with their spears and scythes and sharpened hoes, to stand their ground. And the knights come down on them, faceless men clad all in steel, and the iron thunder of their charge seems to fill the world . . . And the man breaks.”

One could argue that Kagen is a broken man, or a man in the verge of breaking. War isn’t glorious, but now there’s no going back. And who is he fighting this conflict for, anyway? He gave so much of himself, physically and emotionally, and it was sort of… expected?

The ending is perhaps the sharpest criticism of all: what do we do with our war heroes? Once the war is done and we took everything we wanted from them, what do we do? Do we fulfill whatever promises that sent them away from home? Do they get rest, peace, an exciting life for themselves? Are they honored as heroes or celebrities? Or do we honor just their medals, but not the person carrying them? What do we do with that person?

Closing thoughts

Despite its shortness and shortcomings, The Hero was a surprisingly deep story. It’s still not classic GRRM destroying our hearts with his sweet, sweet themes, but he’s getting there.

The story’s commentary on war and the treatment of war heroes are surprisingly contemporary. It’s not the first time one of GRRM’s old stories touches issues similar to the ones we’ve been dealing with, and I suspect it won’t be the last time either. It’s not very subtle and the execution isn’t perfect, but I think The Hero is very successful in making the reader question those issues in real life.

Next time: haunted highways and genre mash-up await us in “Exit to San Breta”


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The Force Resurfaces in Legends of Luke Skywalker




So, with Ken Liu’s Legends of Luke Skywalker Luke is finally really back to the extended canon of new Star Wars. Of course, it is not his first official appearance. He took part in many adventures in the comics series, for example; but, Legends of Luke Skywalker is the first new canon novel installment to focus on the Jedi and his personal path. The first to give us a close-up on him.

It is quite understandable why Luke stayed on the margins of larger story for so long. Luke is the centerpiece of The Last Jedi, after all. So, when dealing with his character and plot, they have to avoid both spoilers and a chance for out of character actions. Which is great, by the way, as such caution is new for Star Wars.

All that to say, Ken Liu had a very complex mission cut out for him. And oh my, did he succeed! Gretchen wrote a really deep and insightful essay on how the book acts as a manifesto of New Canon’s overarching goals, particularly the emphasis on diverse storytelling. Me, I’m going to take a different route and talk a bit about the world- and character-building aspects of the book and how they relate to the Expanded Universe (EU).

Meeting Luke Skywalker

But did we actually meet him? Ken Liu himself advises us against this assumption:

“Without giving away spoilers, I do want to caution the reader against assuming that any of the Luke-like figures they encounter in the book is in fact Luke Skywalker. Sometimes we retell legends not just by recounting the stories, but by emulating their heroes.”

However, having read the book, I think we can assume that we did in fact, as did the people telling us these stories, meet Luke Skywalker and walk with him for a while. That’s the assumption I’ll be working with in this piece, that this novel gives us actual insight into what the Luke Skywalker of New Canon did, said, and is like.

And this person we met is somewhat of a stranger to us, especially to those of us who are accustomed to the much less closed off, much more outgoing and social-oriented Luke of the EU. It is difficult to imagine the  Luke of Legends changing girlfriends once an issue/novel and being a prototypical Masculine Hero of the whole Galaxy.  It’s hard to imagine Legends Luke in this (perfectly canon; those women are physically attracted to him because he’s a Jedi, you see) situation:

Luke Skywalker

This is not fanart

The Luke we meet in Liu’s book is a dreamer, a hermit,  a pilgrim. We see him interacting with other people and see that despite being friendly and helpful he is very closed person. He seems estranged from the others—all the more as years pass.

What Does Being a Jedi Mean?

This Luke, unlike his EU counterpart, comes with a question: “How does one be a Jedi?”. Which is understandable, given that this Luke, unlike his older counterpart, is created in the post-prequel era.

Before those movies there was no true definition of what a Jedi was, apart from the general idea of being a Force-user. Thus, Luke could both be a Jedi and adventure around the Galaxy with random girls who leave him as soon as a story arc ends. He could even afford to marry the most fanbase-acclaimed of them, Mara Jade.

Even more so, he could afford to create his own Jedi Order with only such vague rules regarding what it meant to be a Jedi as existed among the authors at that time. Those Jedi married each other and lived with their families in a Jedi temple; they kinda practiced some Force technique or another; they served the New Republic. They fought the Dark Side, too—which mostly meant “some weird guys who believe they are new Sith.” The Dark Side as “something bad within a person” was generally just that: something bad, like envy, hatred, or anger. They were spiritual, of course, but again, it was a very vague spiritualism and adapted to the needs of the authors. Nothing was standardized.

The Luke we encounter in Legends of Luke Skywalker exists in the post-prequel universe. This shows not only in a quick mention of Padme Amidala, but also in how the Jedi theme is presented. A Jedi is meant to be an ascetic, selfless person now. With no attachments and no interest in the outside world, apart from serving the Republic they are sworn to protect that is.

And while Luke is not quite free from being interested in worldly matters, he is still much closer to that ideal than he ever was in the EU.

As a side note, I find it interesting that while Luke’s character has changed because the concept of Jedi has changed, Star Wars: Rebels provides us with a very old-fashioned New Jedi Order-like figure in Kanan. But old (and by “old” I mean “pre-prequel”) EU traces in the series are a subject for a different essay, I think.

The Force And Luke

So, as our main hero is a Jedi, he has to deal with the Force, has he not?

And this book is rich in Force worldbuilding. Some of it is fairly traditional; we see people talk about Dark Side and Light Side, using familiar tricks and all that. Some of it is truly revolutionary, and I can’t help thinking if it may be connected to The Last Jedi.

I mean “Fishing in the Deluge,” of course, which included a idea truly new idea for the Star Wars universe: that using the Force in and of itself may be wrong, or at least inherently prone to distortion. If the Force is what it is believed to be, why try bending it to your will? Better devote yourself to it, and let it flow freely and do its job. This is interesting as a religious view, as well; it reminds me of Orthodox prayer “do not what I want, please, but what Thou think would be better.”

Along with “Big Inside,” Legends also provides us with glimpses of non-Jedi Force-using communities. While they are very different from each other—one is primitive fishermen tribe, the other a highly organized society with the ability to weave time itself, one deems using the Force always wrong and other has mastered things nigh impossible with it—they share important elements. They both are post-prequel creations. They both seek freedom from attachments, for example, though not in the same way as each other, or the same way as the Jedi do.

Closing Thoughts

It was a hasty essay, I freely admit it, but I hope you’ll still see some value in it. For the final thought, I want to talk about how this book gives us a glimpse of Luke after Kylo Ren’s fall. I am talking about the first story, that from Dwoogan: “The Myth Buster.”

Given that Luke had already gone missing by the time Dwoogan meets the mysterious man in the teahouse, this event would likely be after the tragedy. And this gives a whole new meaning to his words about the Dark Side…

“The heroes of the New Republic didn’t think of themselves as heroes. They thought of themselves as ordinary men and women who did what had to be done to restore freedom and justice to the galaxy. For me to challenge her would have been giving in to fear, fear that their reputations, rather than their deeds, were what mattered. It would have led to anger, anger that they were not worshipped by everyone who benefited from their sacrifices. It would have led to hate, hate that the truth was not enough by itself. But that would have been giving in to the dark side.” (p. 55)

Makes you think, huh?

Images courtesy Del Rey and Marvel Star Wars

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Book Review: Shattered, by Lee Winter




I’ve been looking forward to reviewing another book by Lee Winter for a while. Her book, The Red Files, about a May-December relationship between two journalists on the case was an engaging read, and I expected nothing less from this book. This review does contain minor spoilers, but more in regards to craft than content.

Shattered leans into Shattergirl, a first-generation alien/superhero who has gone off the grid. Lena Martin, an alien tracker, is tasked with finding Shattergirl and figuring out where she’s been for the last 18 months. From this premise, we follow Lena to Socotra, otherwise known as the Island of Bliss, to track the missing superhero and figure out how to bring her in.

I expected that this book would take much longer to get to the point. Often, when reading a book where one character must find another, the author labors under building up the mystery character, with the detective character spending chapter after chapter following false leads, missing connections. The tension of the book is contingent on finding the mystery character. What this often leads to is a pacing issue, where the action of the story is backloaded, leading to a tedious start, an arduous middle, and frequently an unsatisfying ending. Winter, however, is far too deft of a writer to do that to us. She instead, comes out in front of the pacing issues, and after setting up the world with only as much detail as the reader would need, makes sure that a quarter of the way in, we’re at the tension of the story.

What works more than anything in this story, is the tension between Shattergirl (who goes by Nyah once she warms up a bit) and Lena. Lena, who poses as a writer so as not to immediately give herself away, begins to interrogate Nyah. And while it is revealed that Nyah knew all along that she was indeed a tracker, the sharp tongues and wit between the two sets the stage for further relational development.

Winter has the ability to profoundly flesh out a character without dropping information. Characteristics are dropped in during moments of suspense, without much staging, allowing for a roundness that I don’t usually see unless I am 5 books into a series. The way characters are painted allows for broad strokes, providing only the most necessary and relevant information first, then going in with finer detail later. This allows for the plot and action to take center stage, and for the characters to be more complimentary.

What struck me most about this book was the angle of looking at celebrity and heroism. The way Lena’s perspective changes through the book, both in response to her job and to Nyah reflects that of the reader. Lena can’t be bothered to have a personal life because she is renowned in her field, leaving her only with the soft reminder of humanity in her apartment neighbor. Nyah, who is adored by the world as a hero, is burdened with the pressure of trying to save everyone, and crushed by the weight of the vulnerable ones she can’t save. Lena, who spent her childhood admiring Nyah for her heroism, is knocked down a peg to the reality of what heroism really looks like.

In a book filled with grace and profound observations, I wish more than anything that this book was longer, or that it had a movie deal or something. Winter has a way of crafting stories that feel real and raw and cut past genre or the obvious direction a book could go in. My only criticism for such a short book is waiting for the other shoe to drop. This book builds itself up to the highest peak, and with thirty pages left, you as the reader are left wondering where exactly all this build up is going. I won’t say that it doesn’t have a satisfying ending, because it does, but the reading experience is certainly unique.

You can find Shattered by Lee Winter by clicking here.

*An earlier version of this review incorrectly identified Lee Winter as Lee Winters. This has been corrected and we regret the error.

Images Courtesy of YLVA Publishing

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