I’m off to British FantasyCon! I’m on two panels, Representing Sexuality (Saturday 1:30 PM) and “No, Seriously, We Have Always Fought: Developing Historical Awareness in SFF” (Saturday 6 PM).
To explain the latter, it’s to discuss strategies for making people aware of older SFF works that deal with what people think of as “modern” themes, without dismissing the experiences of newer SFF readers or falling into the trap of prescribing a “canon” of literature.
Otherwise, I’ll be helping out with the Eastercon 2024/Glasgow in 2024 Worldcon Bid table intermittently throughout the event, so if you want to say hi, come round!
The LEXX pick up Norb, the child who escaped the hillbilly clans in episode 2.8, drifting in space, and before you can say “it’s been a while since they touched base with the Mantrid storyline,” he turns out to be an undead Trojan horse for Mantrid’s self-replicating autonomous zombie arms.
This story has some great moments of genuine horror, with the sense of strangeness reinforced by the fact that, 790’s usual protestations of love for Xev aside, this is a completely sex-free episode. On the downside, they again have more episode than plot, and while the effects are again on the upward curve there’s some rather obvious repetition of footage.
The LEXX discovers an all-male monastic society who reproduce by cloning and have never seen a woman in real life, and before you can say “party’s at Xev’s place!” it is. A generally cheerful, life-affirming, sex-positive and even queer-positive story (Stan initially rebuffs the advances of one of the monks, but eventually decides, Chuck Tingle fashion, that love is love), with an interesting philosophical twist (the monks are the guardians of all the knowledge in the universe, but only one of them’s allowed to actually know what it is– and he’s the one who disapproves of all this sexual hedonism). I also liked the implication that Stan is getting over the trauma of his previous same-sex encounters and is at least theoretically capable of forming a positive relationship with a man. The CGI backgrounds are outstanding, but Kai seems to be bizarrely in angry mode, and also strangely insistent that only heterosexual sex can lead to reproduction, which is surprising since at least three of the people he shares a ship with weren’t created through it.
I’ve just come back from my first holiday outside the house since 2019, namely a week in Whitby, Yorkshire.
Unexpectedly, Whitby turns out to be very much like the overlapping cities in China Mieville’s novel The City and the City (Wikipedia link if you haven’t read it and want a quick summary). In that you are either Here For A Seaside Holiday, or you are a Goth. And people from both groups walk in the same spaces, go to the same attractions, eat at the same restaurants, and yet do not acknowledge each other’s existence.
This insight brought to you after the umpteenth time of being blanked by a citizen of Ul Seaside, since apparently I live in Gothzel, and to see me would cause them to commit Breach.
This is also not a matter of self-assigning necessarily, nor is it possible to belong to both Whitby simultaneously. I expected to be able to speak with the citizens of Ul Seaside at least when I was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, but it seems that if those jeans are purple and the T-shirt depicts Dolores Abernathy from the television series Westworld, you are too Goth for Ul Seaside and are immediately consigned to Gothzel.
There seems to be one time when it’s legitimately possible to do this (apart from if you’re a shopkeeper, who seem to be able to sell to anyone), and that’s when you’re admiring someone’s dog. You can cross over and say “who’s a lovely Staffie then?” But after that it’s back to your Whitby, and stay there.
The crew find a camper-van full of teenagers in suspended animation. There’s a jock, a fat guy, a bully, a party girl and a virgin, and before you can say “wow, all that setup needs to become an American-style slasher-horror movie is a serial killer,” Kai’s woken up and is butchering his way through them in the classic approved horror movie order. It’s really a lot of fun, particularly after watching “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” last week, to see the tropes in reverse, with the story being from the point of view of the murderer/s rather than the victims.
Finally, this episode we get to see what toilets are like on the LEXX, which really doesn’t disappoint.
The crew of the LEXX find a crashed prison ship and, before you can say “790 doesn’t get much to do this series, does it?” 790 has figured out how to fuse itself with the cyborg pilot of the ship and, in a state of sexual confusion, sets out to rape Stan. Xev and Kai, however, can’t help because they are finding out the hard way that in the LEXX-verse it’s always a bad idea to try and free the prisoners.
There’s some good body horror (the prisoners are physically confined to their cells by having their hearts removed), Lyekka seems to be becoming a full crewmember of sorts (which helps the ostensible gender balance a bit), and the 790 storyline’s actually less offensive than I was expecting, particularly in comparison to the earlier storyline involving Stan and rape. Probably because in this case 1) it’s clear that it’s not 790 who’s behind it, and he’s actively trying to stop it, and 2) it’s not played for cheap homophobic titillation, but as part of the sadistic dominance culture of the prison ship. Your mileage may, however, vary.
The crew of the LEXX go down to a pleasure station and before you can say “isn’t this the third time they’ve done this plot?” it turns out to be a honey-trap, and Stan finds himself standing trial for war crimes, of which he is in fact guilty (not a spoiler if you’ve seen S1).
There’s some clunky bits– it takes Xev 50 minutes of screen time to realise that if Stan is executed, they can’t fly the LEXX, and although the Chief Prosecutor gets all the lines, her delivery’s so wooden you could miss them easily– but the final third is a rather deep meditation on justice versus compassion that’s impressively nuanced and ambivalent. Despite the presence of killer mealworms.
The ship encounters a TV satellite station where hapless travellers must compete for ratings in programmes with android presenters where losers meet a gruesome fate-worse-than-death, and before you can say “did Russell T. Davies watch this series by any chance?” Kai is having to climb out of cold storage and rescue Xev, Stan and 790 from their own libidos yet again.
Kai gets all the lines, for a change, and the Xev storyline does a good job of subverting the usual sexploitation tropes (as she first dominates a harem of handsome male androids and then forces the audience to recognise her humanity in a way they clearly don’t like). Nonetheless, the series still feels like it’s floundering, with the premise for going down to the station handwaved rather than emerging from the characters and situation, and the resulting action predictable.
For the fourth consecutive year, I’m in Best of British Sf! This year it’s with “The Lori,” my mil-SF story for Clarkesworld about trauma and forgiveness. And look at the company I’m in! Click this link to preorder.