Rambling On

Anthony R. Cardno's Fiction and Commentary

TITLE: Bannerless

AUTHOR: Carrie Vaughn

352 pages, John Joseph Adams books, ISBN 9780544947306

Publication Date: July 11, 2017 (I received an uncorrected proof ARC in exchange for an honest review)

 

DESCRIPTION: (from the back cover): A mysterious murder in a dystopian future leads a novice investigator to question what she’s learned about the foundation of her population-controlled society.

Decades after economic and environmental collapse destroys much of civilization in the United States, the Coast Road region isn’t just surviving but thriving by some accounts, building something new on the ruins of what came before. A culture of population control has developed in which people, organized into households, must earn the children they bear by proving they can take care of them and are awarded symbolic banners to demonstrate this privilege. In the meantime, birth control is mandatory.  Enid of Haven is an Investigator, called on to mediate disputes and examine transgressions against the community. She’s young for the job and hasn’t yet handled a serious case. Now, though, a suspicious death requires her attention. The victim was an outcast, but might someone have taken dislike a step further and murdered him?  In a world defined by the disasters that happened a century before, the past is always present. But this investigation may reveal the cracks in Enid’s world and make her question what she really stands for.

 

MY RATING: Five out of five stars

 

MY THOUGHTS: I first encountered the post-apocalyptic world Carrie Vaughn reveals to us in such great detail in her new novel Bannerless in a short story of the same title back in 2015. That story, which introduced not only the world of the Coast Road communities but also lead character Enid, appeared in the anthology The End Has Come, part of John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey’s Apocalypse Triptych. Readers interested in seeing an older, more experienced Enid should seek out that anthology, or head over to Wired.com to read the story for free. You don’t need to have read the original story to understand Enid or the world she lives in. This novel shows us a younger Enid, discovering who she is and how she’s going to survive as an Investigator.

Let’s talk about the world-building first.

In this not-too-terribly-distant future, civilization as we know now it has collapsed due not to a single Extinction Level Event but a combination of “smaller” catastrophic events that build on each other the way a solid combination punch does in professional boxing: climate change combined with disease combined with overpopulation stagger humanity’s ability to cope and recover. But humanity never goes completely down for the count, and a generation or so later we have the Coast Road society: tied to the earth, supremely aware of how susceptible they are to drastic weather, depletion of natural resources, and the possibility of over-population. As a whole, at least in this particular region, humanity is hanging in there and still fighting. But as we see multiple times in this novel: those who don’t learn the lessons of the past are doomed to repeat them. Life in this near future is not easy, despite the content home lives of most of the characters. Fishing, hunting, harvesting, trading … all come with the threat of injury or death attached, and the world no longer has the medical-pharmaceutical-surgical capabilities it once did. Vaughn drives this home repeatedly: the world post-apocalypse will be lacking much of currently keeps people alive. The only difference between the world of Bannerless and, say, the medieval or Renaissance world is whether people know what they don’t have – and the characters in Bannerless are painfully aware (and frequently reminded) of what’s been lost.  That’s part of what I loved about the short story and the novel: this world is not so far in the future that our own “modern” world has been relegated to myth, but there are clear indications it is headed into that territory. This is important to the way resources, including the ability to have children, are allocated.  This future society’s approach to population control – enforced birth control until a household earns a banner and thus the right to conceive and raise a child – is likely to be the subject of many reviews of the book. Is the system Vaughn posits a fair one? Probably not, but then again many of our current laws aren’t either. Does it make sense in the context of the world Vaughn has built? Absolutely. I can easily imagine that fear of a return to overpopulation and the depletion of natural resources and increased diseases caused by it would lead to some extremes. But the author also makes it clear: birth control is being used to control population growth rather than some Puritanical “abstention from sex except when trying to procreate” rules. Sex in the world of Bannerless is natural and expected and exists in all its wide varieties and combinations of partners. No one is shamed or cast out because of it.

We explore this fascinating world and the selfless and selfish characters who inhabit it, through the eyes of Enid. Vaughn has structured the book so that alternating chapters show us Enid in her present, as a beginning Investigator encountering her first big complicated case, as well as Enid in her past, as a curious young woman experiencing Coast Road society outside of her home town. Of course, the past is prologue to the present; flashback details bleed over into the present the way they should when handled in a format like this. We the readers are essentially experiencing two mysteries at once: the possible murder of a loner in the present, and the question of how Enid became an investigator in the past.

In the past, Enid falls heavily in love with a traveling musician named Dak and decides to leave Haven to experience the world with him. This Enid is a bit more head-strong, a bit less likely to take stock of a situation, a bit more likely to let her emotions lead her actions. And Dak enables this behavior with his charm and wit. These chapters are full of details that reveal not all Coast Road towns or homesteads are the same, showing Enid that not everyone is as comfortable (if that word can be used in this world) as her town of Haven is. Vaughn also drops hints as to what lies beyond the Coast Road, and it is my fervent hope that these distances will be explored more deeply in future installments because the small views we got were tantalizing. In these chapters, the characters Enid encounters (such as Petula house-head Fisher, her son Stev, and their town-mate Xander) help expand, or expound upon, the world-building.

In the present, Enid journeys with fellow Investigator, and childhood friend, Tomas, to the town of Pasadan. They’re answering a summons to investigate a mysterious death, but it quickly becomes obvious that internal town politics and failure to learn the lessons of the past are going to complicate what should be a fairly straightforward case. In these chapters, the world-building becomes less centered and more subtle as the author introduces the characters involved in, and spools out the details of, a fair-play, multi-suspect murder mystery. And it is very “fair play,” the kind of mystery, sans post-apocalyptic setting, I can imagine Sherlock Holmes or Hamish Macbeth solving. If the “possible suspects” are bit more archetypal (the battling town council members Philos and Ariana; the possible young lovers Miran and Kirk; even the disliked outcast victim Sero) and a bit less nuanced than the characters of the flashbacks, it can be accepted as part of the genre Vaughn is importing. They each do their job in providing clues and red herrings for the mystery as well as propelling Enid’s character arc. By the end of the novel, we can see shades of the older Enid of the short story.

What ties the alternating chapters together is the consistencies in Enid’s character. At both ages, she is willful and head-strong, apt to let emotions lead her. If the older Enid is more able to tamp anger down in service to the greater good, the younger Enid’s impetuousness serves that greater good almost as effectively. And at any age, Enid is a great listener and avid learner, which draws the reader into the world around her. She’s a character I’m interested in spending a lot more time with.

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Ye Olde Signal-Booster, Me!

I promise, for those who are missing them, the interviews will be returning. I’ve got a guest post from author Bryan Thomas Schmidt (@BryanThomasS on Twitter) coming up on the 30th, and I’m finalizing interviews with The Brothers Dube, Zach Mills and Mira Grant for the near future.

Tonight, though, it’s all about signal-boosting for friends and their projects/causes. I’m thinking about making this a weekly or bi-weekly thing.

 

First: if you have not yet gone to Youtube and checked out THE GROOVY PROJECT, well … here’s the short version. Students and faculty at the Madison-Oneida County Board of Cooperative Educational Services schools in central New York State wrote and filmed this anti-bullying, pro-acceptance video. Their initial goal was to try to go viral and get one million views in a twenty-four hour period. They hit over 10,000 in 24 hours, and over 13,000 within 32 hours. I’d like to see the momentum not die on this. Check it out below. Click through. Spread the word. It’s never too late to get it to go viral, right?

 

Second: We all know how much a fan of short stories I am. I write them, I read them, I talk about them all the time. There are three genre short story magazines currently engaged in Kickstarter projects. I’ve donated to all three, and I’m hoping my readers who love quality speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, horror) will donate even a couple of bucks. Or if you can’t donate, spread the word.  Here are the links:

NIGHTMARE —  new horror mag edited by John Joseph Adams (he of Lightspeed mag and a dozen excellent anthologies), needs just under $2,000 in pledges with 15 days to go. John is a wonderful editor, and I’d love to see him get this project off the ground to compliment Lightspeed magazine. You can also find him as @johnjosephadams on Twitter.

FIRESIDE — looking to fund their second issue and beyond. I backed the first issue & became the main character of “Temperance,” a story by Christie Yant. If #2 gets funded, my pledge nets me a main role in a story by Damien Walters Grintalis. So please, folks, ensure my streak and help fund this thing. Needs $4500 in pledges with 20 days to go. On Twitter, find @firesidemag and @talkwordy for more info.

CROSSED GENRES – okay, they hit their initial funding goal within the first day (meant to cover book publications over the coming year), but they’ve add a stretch goal that I think is great: reviving the magazine they started out with. So they can still use help getting to that stretch goal and beyond. On Twitter, find @crossedgenres or @metafrantic for more info.

Third: Speaking of writing. My friend Dennis Miller’s book ONE WOMAN’S VENGEANCE is now available in audiobook format! Go listen to it!

Fourth: Speaking of listening: my good friends The Dalliance are about ready to release their new album, BIRTH LOVE DEATH. It’ll be out everywhere on May 29th, but you can get copies before everyone else if you can make it to the Album Release Party on May 27th at The Room, 3 Production Drive in Brookfield, CT 06804. Full show info can be found on the event’s Facebook page.  And if you can’t make the May 27th show, there’s another release party on June 9th in Elmsford NY. The second event also has a Facebook Page! Tell them Anthony sent you, and I’ll see you at BOTH events!  Also, if you don’t know who The Dalliance is, well, they conveniently have a website! And their on Twitter as @thedalliance.

Fifth: Speaking of Touring, my buddies in Burnham are on the road again over the next few weeks. I’ll be seeing then on June 8th at The Raidant in Nutley, NJ, but there are three other gigs in the tri-state area in June. Twitter? @burnham

Sixth: Speaking of June, please don’t forget that although I won’t be physically at the Mahopac NY Relay For Life on June 2nd, it’s still a cause worth donating to. Here’s my personal donation page. And here’s an explanation of why I won’t be there this year after a run of 5 years straight.

Seventh: Speaking of fundraising, please remember that throughout the summer, The Shoe Crew is collecting new shoes to donate to the charity Shoes That Fit. They have a number of events around Southern California over the next few months, and if you can’t be there, they have ways for you to make a monetary donation. Check out their Facebook page for more info. Twitter? @ShoeCrew2012

And Eighth: We started this post with a musical message about acceptance, let’s end it the same way. My young Australian friend Frank Dixon (@frankdixon12 on Twitter) has written an inspirational and empowering new song, “Better Than That.”  Here’s the video:

 

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This week’s guest is editor John Joseph Adams, whose latest book is UNDER THE MOONS OF MARS, new short stories celebrating the 100th anniversary of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic hero John Carter of Mars.

 

the elusive John Joseph Adams in his natural habitat

John Joseph Adams  is the bestselling editor of Wastelands, The Living Dead (a World Fantasy Award finalist), The Living Dead 2, By Blood We Live, Federations, The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Brave New Worlds, The Way of the Wizard, and Lightspeed: Year One. Forthcoming anthologies include The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination (Tor Books) and Armored (Baen Books). In 2011, he was nominated for two Hugo Awards and two World Fantasy Awards. He has been called “the reigning king of the anthology world” by Barnes & Noble.com, and his books have been lauded as some of the best anthologies of all time. He is also the editor of Lightspeed Magazine, and is the co-host of The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast.

 

 

ANTHONY:   John, thanks for taking a few moments to chat with me about UNDER THE MOONS OF MARS. How did the project come about?

JOHN:  I’d heard that Disney was going to be adapting A Princess of Mars into a movie, and it sounded like–at LAST–the adaptation was finally going to happen. There had been a number of false-starts over the years, but it seemed like this one was finally going to happen, thanks in no small part to the success of (and SFX technological advancement provided by) Avatar. Being a fan of the original books, I was quite excited, and the idea of doing the “new adventures” of John Carter sprang to mind. It seemed like a good, marketable idea, and a book that would be a hell of a lot of fun, so I started putting together a proposal and recruiting authors for it. Once I started reaching out to people, the number of folks who were excited about it really reinforced my thought that it would be a great project, and luckily Simon & Schuster agreed and published the anthology.

ANTHONY:  The book features a fantastic line-up. Was there an open submission process or was it invitation only? Are there any authors you’d hoped would take part who weren’t able to?

JOHN:  The book was invitation-only; unfortunately, I had to keep it that way because I was under orders to keep the project secret basically until it was done being assembled; the publisher wanted to wait to announce it until we had a table of contents to show off. Also, I had recruited a pretty large number of authors for the book in the proposal stage, and I knew it would be unlikely that I’d have much extra room for anything beyond that. Plus, for a book like this one, which is a VERY specific topic, I knew if I did an open call for submissions, a lot of writers would end up with stories that they probably wouldn’t be able to sell anywhere else. Although the Barsoom stories are public domain, most short fiction venues are unlikely to run a story set in another author’s milieu.

Neil Gaiman and Michael Moorcock were both initially interested but ultimately couldn’t contribute due to their schedules, so that was disappointing. And there were a number of authors I would have loved to have on board who said no at the proposal stage for one reason or another. One contributing factor to this was that the anthology had to be put together on a pretty short timeline if we were going to have the book ready to publish to coincide with the release of the John Carter film.

The not-so-elusive John Carter, in his natural habitat

ANTHONY:  The preview for the book on Amazon mentions a number of great artists, like Charles Vess and Mike Kaluta, contributing story illustrations. How did you decide which artist to pair with which stories for the illustrations?

That was mostly decided by Lizzy Bromley & Tom Daly at Simon & Schuster and my agent, Joe Monti. I was consulted, and I could have taken a more active role in those decisions, but I’m no art director, and I don’t really have a lot of connections to many artists, so I was happy to have someone else take the lead. I was pleased to see Mike Cavallaro participate, as I’m a huge fan of the graphic novel he did with Jane Yolen called Foiled. Likewise John Picacio, who I’ve been a fan of for years, and, of course, it’s an honor and a privilege to have work by Charles Vess. And it was also really cool, of course, to be exposed to artists I wasn’t as familiar with previously.

You can actually view all of the illustrations on the anthology’s website, johnjosephadams.com/barsoom.

ANTHONY:  John Carter is easily Edgar Rice Burroughs’ second most popular creation after Tarzan, even though Burroughs didn’t write anywhere near as many books about Carter and in fact half of the Barsoom novels focus on other characters. What do you think is the enduring appeal of John Carter in particular and Barsoom in general?
JOHN:  On the most basic level, the Barsoom stories are just great adventure stories, and so they’re sort of inherently appealing. But they also cross all kinds of genre boundaries. They’re obstensibly science fiction, but they feel a lot like fantasy, and there are elements from other genres as well, certainly romance and western fiction to name a few.

I think that as kids, we all wanted to be able to travel to Mars, and wouldn’t it be great if we could and it turned out to be the fantastical place with strange and interesting aliens and beautiful princesses? And a lot of us still have such dreams–so I think that’s a large part of what makes it so appealing–and enduring.

ANTHONY:  2012 is also Tarzan’s 100th anniversary, and Burroughs’ Pellucidar series hits 100 in 2014. Are you involved at all in anniversary anthologies for those books?

JOHN:  I’m not–at least not at the moment! For Tarzan, it would be too late to do anything to celebrate the anniversary, obviously, but Pellucidar…who knows!

ANTHONY:  What other books do you have coming our way this year?

JOHN:  As we’ve discussed, Under the Moons of Mars: New Adventures on Barsoom just came out.

Coming up in April, I have Armored, an anthology of stories about mecha and power armor, from Baen. It includes stories by Jack Campbell, Brandon Sanderson, Tanya Huff, Daniel H. Wilson, Alastair Reynolds, Carrie Vaughn, and others.

I’m also currently wrapping up work on two reprint anthologies. One is an anthology of epic/high fantasy fiction to be called Epic, which will be coming out from Tachyon Publications this fall. And due out this summer from Night Shade Books is Other Worlds Than These, an anthology of portal fantasies and parallel worlds stories. And, as usual, I’ve got a couple of other things in the works that I can’t officially talk about yet, but I hope to be able to announce soon.

Then, in February 2013, I’ll have The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination, from Tor. That one features stories by Carrie Vaughn, Alan Dean Foster, Daniel H. Wilson, David Farland, Seanan McGuire, and Naomi Novik, among others, plus an original short novel by Diana Gabaldon.

ANTHONY:  And my usual closing question: What is your favorite book, and what would you say to someone who hasn’t read it to convince them that they should?

JOHN:  The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester. When I read that book, it BLEW MY MIND. After reading it, my reading life became all about finding other books like that one. Up to that point, I’d read a number of sf novels that I liked a great deal, and still to this day remember fondly, but it wasn’t until The Stars My Destination that I realized the heights that science fiction was capable of attaining, and it wasn’t until then that I narrowed my reading focus almost exclusively to sf in my efforts to find more books that effected me in that same way.

There’s a paragraph in the book from the early part of chapter one that describes “common man” protagonist Gully Foyle’s state of mind. He’s been stuck, as the lone survivor, on a spaceship for 170 days, and watches as another ship approaches his, ignores his distress call, and leaves him to die:

He had reached a dead end. He had been content to drift from moment to moment of existence for thirty years like some heavily armored creature […] but now he was adrift in space for one hundred and seventy days, and the key to his awakening was in the lock. Presently it would turn and open the door to holocaust.

So that’s the key to Gully’s awakening. I think of The Stars My Destination as mine.

ANTHONY: Thanks again, John! Always a pleasure!

 

You can follow John Joseph Adams on Twitter as @JohnJosephAdams and you can see more about all of his books by visiting his website.

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Wow, that title sounds fancy, doesn’t it?

With Jennifer Holliday, a 2011 highlight

It’s December 31. I am hanging out, as I do every New Years Eve, with my college friends/adopted siblings. Jon & Cindi (and their son Xavier) are hosting, as always. Scott & Margaret are here with son and daughter Jared and Morgyn. Peggy is here with her son Max. Plus there are two dogs, a cat, a rabbit. Assorted local family and friends will drop in, too. It’s always a dual celebration, as Jon’s birthday is January 1.

Typically, this is not the ideal setting for long rambling thoughts about the past year. But we’re having a lull at the moment. Three of the four kids are reading quietly. So are half of the adults. So now seems to be the time.

I’ll admit it’s been a rough year. Car problems, financial problems, lots and lots of work travel bouncing me all over the country (especially these last few months). I’ve been a real cranky-pants at times, so the first order of business is thanking everyone who has put up with that crankiness, and everyone who helped me deal with what at times felt like insurmountable problems. They are too numerous to list here: if you are among them, you know who you are and I thank you.

On the writing side of things, the year was a mixed bag. I didn’t manage to complete either AMBERGRIN HALL or CHRISTMAS GHOSTS, my long-simmering novel and novella. Both are so close to completion it almost hurts, and I’ve made progress on untangling the plot knots of the first and filling in the hole in the plot of the second, but still … didn’t finish them. That is a goal for 2012. On the positive side, I sold my first genre short story, a science fiction tale for the SPACE BATTLES anthology edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt and due out mid-2012. That felt terrific. Also, it seems like this year’s sales of THE FIRFLAKE were better than last year’s. This is an guess on my part, but it feels like I had more emails and tweets telling me “I’m buying your book” this year than I did last. It might have helped that I joined Goodreads in an effort to help advertise the book, and that I spent more time posting on the book’s Facebook page.

Reading-wise, having joined Goodreads has helped me keep even better track of what I read and what I thought (although I’m still behind on writing reviews of some of what I read, and likely won’t get those done before tonight’s festivities start). I’ll wait until later this week to post my “Favorites of 2011” final list. Between office and on-line bookclubs, and writing book reviews for ICARUS and CHELSEA STATION magazines, I’ve also read a lot of authors I’d never read before as well as revisiting old favorites.

Probably the biggest accomplishment of 2011 has been the increased use of this website. I added a second short story (“Canopus,” joining “Invisible Me”), and I made the decision to start blogging regularly. When I made that decision, I had no idea I would end up developing an almost-weekly Interview feature. It’s all Anthony Garguila‘s fault. Although his didn’t end up being the first interview I ran (that honor went to author Evelyn Lafont), it was meeting him at a high school band reunion he attended with his mother that instigated the whole “interviewing creative people” thing. I’ve had the honor of interviewing up-and-coming authors like Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Linda Poitevin, Chad Helder and Christie Yant; genre pros like Jay Lake and Jeremy C. Shipp; friends Dennis Miller and Joseph Pittman; and career authors like Lawrence Block. I’ve interviewed artists (Lynn Bennett-MacKenzie), editors (Ellen Datlow), webcomics creators (Namesake, School Spirit, Cura Te Ipsum, Multiplex), actors (Brandon Tyler Russell) and musicians ranging from indy artists like Casey Stratton and Matt Lande to teen pop-rockers Burnham and Hollywood Ending. I’ve learned a lot about interviewing, and I’ve learned a lot about the creative process as it manifests in different fields.

2012 looks to get off to a good start for interviews as well. Carolyn Gray (author of A Red-Tainted Silence and Long Way Home) and actors Austin MacDonald and Sarah Desjardins and Brad and Todd Mann are all due up in January. Author Kaaron Warren, editor John Joseph Adams and singer Jennifer Holliday will be along in February.

What I’m loving about the interviews is that they’re fun. This isn’t my day job, it’s a hobby I’m enjoying quite a bit. One of the things that has helped me interview so many interesting people has been Twitter. I’m grateful for the friends I’ve made through that site, including but not limited to the folks named in the preceding few paragraphs, as well as Marianne Burnham, Helen MacDonald, Desiree Russell, Leigh Geraghty, Nina Diamond, Tomatito Adams, Sabrina Vourvoulias and too many others to name them all.

Bringing things full circle: despite the rough patches of the year, my health has been largely good and the travel has enabled me to spend far more time with the friends and family scattered around the country than I would have otherwise. As always, I end the year thankful for my health and for the love that continues to lift me up. Whether you’re a friend for decades or someone I’ve just gotten to know thanks to social media: thank you.

Here’s to a 2012 that is full of love, fun, health, peace and prosperity for all of us. Catch you next year!

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