#REVIEW: SCORPICA, by G. R. Macallister

The following are all true facts about my reading of G.R. Macallister’s Scorpica:

  • That I was offered a free digital copy of the book by its publicist in return for a fair review;
  • That, at about the 40% mark on the digital copy, I ordered the book in hardcover anyway;
  • That I am definitely buying the next book in the series;
  • That I am not sure at all how much I liked it.

This is an interesting one, y’all. Scorpica is a close relative of the recent microgenre known as “All of the XXX are gone,” where XXX is filled by, usually, an entire gender. I can think of a handful of examples– and, in fact, I have another on my TBR shelf right now— of this broad plot being used, and, well, it can be a tricky thing to write, at least partially because trans people exist, and one of the questions people might reasonably ask right away is whether you as an author are aware that trans people exist, and how you treat them within your book where all the wimminz went away, or whether you even acknowledge that they exist, can at the very least put your book at a disadvantage right away.

Scorpica doesn’t quite do that, as the issue here is that, in a fantasy world simply known as the Five Queendoms, female babies suddenly stop being born. Nothing happens to anyone who is currently alive, but the book goes fifteen years with no female infants being born anywhere in the Queendoms. The Queendoms themselves, as you might already suspect, are matriarchies, and the book employs a rotating POV among several characters scattered among at least most of the five countries, although most of the characters are at least tangentially connected to Scorpica, one of the five.

In a first for any work of fantasy I’ve ever read, the book starts off with not one but two babies being born, and it hit me while I was reading that I can’t really think of any detailed narrative descriptions of what giving birth is like that were 1) set in fictional worlds and 2) written by a woman. Macallister excels at describing how her characters are feeling, and her description of both the births is … harrowing, even though both of them end up going well. As the book goes on, and the nature of the problem becomes clear, it’s interesting to see how the different cultures represented in the Queendoms react to what becomes known as the Drought. The Scorpicans are presented as a very martial, Not Amazons type of culture, and it seems like they’re the most thoroughly matriarchal as well. I don’t know how many books are planned in this series, and it’ll be interesting to see if the next one shifts the focus from the mostly Scorpican characters to new characters from somewhere else.

And, well, this is sort of where I start having issues with the book. You all know how into worldbuilding I am. Give me a setting that I think is cool and I’m willing to overlook a lot, but if you get me into a place where I start nitpicking your worldbuilding your book and I may not end up getting along all that well. And the interesting thing here is that I do have a whole lot of questions about how this world works, but I liked it anyway, where I feel like this exact setting in the hands of a less talented author would have me writing a post with a whole lot of sarcastic bullet points ending in unanswered questions.

One thing I would definitely like to have seen, and I’m honestly surprised to be typing this, because as a straight white guy I’m not used to having to worry about representation: I need y’all to realize that this is not just a book about five queendoms and five matriarchal societies, this is a book where narratively speaking men barely even exist. The Scorpicae may literally be an all-female country; there is talk about sending male babies to something called the “Orphan House,” and as the Drought drags on they actually start taking unwanted female children from other countries. There are no male PoV characters, but there are also virtually no male minor characters. One PoV character ends up in a little gang of bandits for a while that has a pair of male twins in it, and there’s one dude who ends up fathering a child for one character who gets some dialogue while she’s deciding to let him impregnate her. That’s about it, and you’re never going to see him again afterwards. Several characters mention being married to men but their husbands play no role in the story.

Everyone– everyone, everyone, everyone— is at least a little bit bisexual, by the way. It’s the default, to the point where it’s generally barely worth commenting on.

At any rate, I’d like to have seen maybe one male character, if only because I really don’t know how men exist in the Queendoms. They’re treated as afterthoughts if not actually chattel in Scorpica, and there’s talk that one of the other Queendoms is considering raising their role in society late in the book, but by and large we don’t have any real idea what their lives are like, or even answers to questions like what fatherhood looks like in this world. Like, do none of the men in the Queendoms have any idea if they have children or not? Is this sort of like a societal flip-flop where men occupy low-status occupations? Are they cooking and cleaning and having dinner on the table when their wives get home? I don’t know!

(And, to make this clear, I have no problem with the idea that all of the PoV characters are women in and of itself, but in a book that is explicitly about a society that handles gender very differently from how we do, I think wondering about the male perspective on all this is fair. And while we might get into it in later books, it’s simply not there in this one.)

So, yeah: I’m in for the sequel, and I’m glad that the publicist put this on my radar, because I’d have missed it otherwise. There are definitely some flaws and big open questions here (and it’s worth pointing out that while Greer Macallister is an established author, this is her first foray into epic fantasy) and I ended up four-starring it on GR, but it’s absolutely something that I want to see more of. There’s a great sudden left turn at the end of the book– not quite a cliffhanger, I think, but the book sets you up to believe one thing is going to be happening through the series and then yanks the rug out from underneath you at the end, and I’m really curious to see where this goes next. If the notion of an explicitly feminist epic fantasy floats your boat, you should absolutely give Scorpica a look.

#REVIEW: Queen of the Unwanted, by Jenna Glass

So, if you’re going to make a series switch from hardcover to softcover after the first book comes out, which already guarantees the books on my shelf aren’t going to match, and then you’re going to compound not-matchiness by making sure that the cover design changes radically from the hardcover to the softcover editions, the least you can do is make the softcover editions awesome. And I have to admit it: this has me considering buying the first book again in paperback just so that they match, since the new versions look so Goddamned good.

This is one of the tricky ones. If you look at Goodreads reviews for either this book or the first book in the series, called The Women’s War, you’ll notice that they’re … we’ll say messy. The basic premise of this series, boiled way down, is that a group of women, forced into prostitution when their husbands chose to divorce them or they were deemed unnecessary in other ways, manage to make a fundamental change to the way magic works in their world to give women more agency. To wit: among other things, sexual assault now causes little bursts of magic to be released that can kill the man performing the assault. Magic is explicitly gendered in this series, and without going too deep into the weeds there is women’s magic, men’s magic, and ungendered magic, and while women’s magic has historically been suppressed and devalued, this spell also kicks women’s magic into much higher gear, also creating a wellspring of feminine magic in the middle of what was formerly a wasteland that quickly becomes a feminist kingdom. The main characters are all royalty of some stripe or another, although several of them are former royalty who have been forced to be Abigails (their word for the prostitutes,) one way or another this book is not especially concerned with regular people.

It’s also not especially concerned with gay people, or trans people, or people of color (but more on that bit in a moment,) and two of the three most evil people in the series are the only fat person (we are reminded, Bomber-like, of his fatness every time he is mentioned) and a woman with a facial disfigurement. There is also a blind woman who is One of the Good Guys, but it’s made clear very quickly that she’s not only Not Really Blind, but she’s quickly offered a cure (which, to give some credit, she doesn’t take.)

You can probably imagine that this has caused some controversy, particularly for a book that is pretty explicit about being about high-fantasy feminism. Like, when you tell me that whether you’re male or female can not only affect what kind of magic you can perform but what kind of magic you can see (magic, in this world, is performed by combining “motes” of what are basically magical elements that float around in the world, and so certain kinds of magical motes are easier to find in some places or another, and part of what determines your skill as a mage is how many different kinds of motes you can perceive in the first place,) I’m going to immediately start wondering about how trans people fit into your world, and I’d almost rather you terf it out and go strictly biologically than completely ignore that trans people exist.

And even laying aside the identity and representation concerns, there’s a persistent feeling throughout reading this book that Jenna Glass really didn’t bother thinking super hard about the aspects of her worldbuilding that she wasn’t interested in. For a book that is all about shifting alliances between rival kingdoms, a book where the phrase trade agreements shows up on nearly every page, she doesn’t seem to have much of an idea of how trade works, unless her various principalities and kingdoms are unimaginably small. One of her kingdoms is repeatedly described as the sole source of iron and gems for all the surrounding kingdoms, for example, and you get the feeling that the “trade agreements” between these countries are sometimes over a few pounds of metal. It’s surprisingly low-resolution compared to how well she brings in the political implications of, say, marriages between warring families. But trade? Just say “trade agreements” on every page or two and let the audience fill in the details. At one point after a book and a half you find out that two of the countries speak different languages, and I swear to you that she decided that on the spot so that she could have one character not quite understand what was going on around her. I’m not going to reread the first book to confirm that multiple languages hadn’t ever been mentioned, but they certainly hadn’t come up in the second until it was convenient. Stuff like that.

The thing is, though, IF you can get past all that– and I absolutely would not blame you for a single second if you declined to even try— the book that is here is pretty fucking compelling. What Jenna Glass does really well is write characters, and she’s done a good job over these two books of filling her pages with characters with competing and overlapping sets of interests and national cultures and setting them against each other. It took me forever to get the second book ordered and then to actually pick it up once I had it on the shelf, but now that I have, I feel dumb about taking so long and want to quickly order the final book of the trilogy, which is already out. So it turns out to be one of those books that I can’t really recommend, because of the various bits of sleeve and sloppiness, but I can accurately report my own reaction to the book and let y’all decide, right? So, yeah: I read this, and I enjoyed it, but it’s a mess, and it might be worth it for you to check it out and maybe it might not, so make your own call.

Let’s talk about the race thing for a second. It is interesting to me that the only characters in this book who the book takes care to describe physically are people from Nandel. Nandel is in the north– it’s the iron-and-gems country– and it’s the most openly misogynist of all the various cultures that exist in this book. Nandelites are also repeatedly described as being blonde, blue-eyed, and pale. Over and over again, in fact, and any time anyone else is referred to in terms of their skin color it’s always a shade of brown, although frequently Glass also tosses in a reference to working outside or something, so you never know just what anyone is supposed to look like. I’m going to point out real quick that a world where only whiteness is considered interesting enough to comment on might be a world where brown skin is the default, and then also point out that if everybody is brown except for these handful of characters (none of whom are primary POV characters) then Glass could certainly have been a hell of a lot clearer about it, as this is roughly akin to J.K. Rowling suddenly claiming that Hermione was always meant to be black because her hair is curly.

I will leave it as an exercise to the reader whether that makes any meaningful difference. I suspect not, but YMMV, as always.

A brief statement on Warren Ellis

TW: Sexual misconduct, not directly described.

No one has asked, and I’m certain I would be just fine were I not to say anything at all, particularly anything I’m treating seriously enough that I’m calling it a Statement, but:

I have, on many occasions in the past, recommended Warren Ellis’ comic book and novel work in this space and others. He was, for many years, my favorite comic book writer, and I have a ton of his work in my house. I consider several of his comics to be among my favorite series of all time. His newsletter was the direct inspiration for my book Skylights, and he is mentioned in the introduction to that book. I have at least two books he has autographed and may well have more, although I have never met him in person.

In June of 2020 Ellis was accused of sexual misconduct by what eventually ended up being dozens of women; far, far too many to make it remotely reasonable to question or investigate any of their stories. Eventually nearly a hundred women came forward with some sort of story involving Ellis and emotional or sexual indecency, misconduct, or assault.

Ellis responded by publishing a brief statement in which he … well, didn’t quite deny all of the allegations, but certainly denied the context in which many if not all of them took place, and issued an apology that was rapidly deemed insufficient by, as far as I can tell, everyone involved. He then closed his mailing list and his Twitter account and went away for a while. While his statement mentioned making restitution for his behavior, he has not done so in any way that anyone involved has noticed.

Image Comics has recently announced that Ellis and artist Ben Templesmith will be collaborating on a revival of Fell, a series the two worked on in the early 2000s. While I am aware that there is no one out there calling out for my opinion in this matter, and other than a vague feeling of possibly unjustifiable betrayal I am absolutely not one of the people Ellis has harmed, I will not be purchasing or reading any of his work in the future until his half-assed apology is replaced with actual definable action steps to rectify and heal some of the trauma he has caused. If you’d like to see what that might look like, I’d recommend looking at the statement from So Many Of Us that is on their front page.

Until that has happened, I am done with him and any of his future work in any medium, and I will continue to not recommend his past work either, regardless of my feelings about it at the time it was released.

A Christmas abortion story

I don’t know how many of you are familiar with this terrible show. If not, well, it’s fuckin’ terrible, and it’s on Hulu, and you should probably watch an episode or two because it is terrible in a uniquely addictive way, like, I hate it but I can’t get enough of it.


The wife and I have started season 3. She has somehow already watched all five (Five? Sure. It could be as many as twelve; I have no idea) seasons already and is rewatching them with me. At the end of Season 2, one character found out a woman he’d recently had sex with was pregnant. I believe his entire reaction to this news was the single word “Fuck.” And then the season ended.

And do you know what happened at the beginning of Season 3?

She told him she’d had an abortion, and he was cool with that, and that was the end of the storyline. It was barely a three-minute conversation, with not a trace of remorse on either one of their parts. It has not been mentioned since.

And I gotta be honest: it was fucking refreshing. Because with any other show this would have been a half-season fucking ordeal, and there would have been endless conversations about it, and then it probably wouldn’t have happened.

But this one? Yeah. Season 2 cliffhanger, done and dusted four minutes into Season 3.

I approve.

In which I provide examples

I had the distinct displeasure of encountering this ignorant piece of pigshit earlier today:

If you find naming five women you admire a “challenge,” you need to not only have the fucking sense to not say that on the internet where God and fuckin’ everybody can see it, you need to re-evaluate literally every single aspect of your life, because, and I cannot emphasize this enough, you done fucked up. You done fucked up and you are fucked up, and fuck you double for putting this ignant shit where I’m gonna find it during a week where I’ve got enough bullshit weighing me down already without your dumb ass.

You can’t come up with five women you admire? Here, motherfucker, have a list of a hundred women I admire, drawn almost entirely from living women (a few forced their way onto the list anyway; you’ll know them when you see them) and exclusively from women you should have heard of. It took me maybe fifteen minutes. If I included people I know who aren’t famous, I could easily fucking double this. If I took a few hours to do it and think about it carefully rather than creating it quickly, I could triple it.

Stupid fucking bastard. I hate men.

One hundred women I, Luther M. Siler, personally admire, sorted by first name. If you don’t know who they are, look them the fuck up.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Alfre Woodard
Alicia Keys
Alyssa Milano
Amanda Marcotte
Angela Bassett
Angela Davis
Anita Sarkeesian
April Daniels
Aretha Franklin
Ava DuVernay
Ayanna Pressley
bell hooks
Betty White
Bonnie Raitt
Bree Newsome
Brooke Bolander
Cardi B
Carrie Fisher
Charlize Theron
Cherie Priest
Chloë Grace Moretz
Chrissy Teigen
Christa McAuliffe
Cicely Tyson
Claudette Colvin
Claudia Gray
Daisy Ridley
Danai Gurira
Elena Kagan
Elizabeth Warren
Emma Gonzalez
Emma Watson
Erykah Badu
Eve Ewing
G. Willow Wilson
Gail Simone
Hannah Gadsby
Hillary Clinton
Ijeoma Oluo
Ilhan Omar
Imani Gandy
J. K. Rowling
Janeane Garofalo
Janelle Monáe
Janis Joplin
Jodie Foster
Joy Reid
Judi Dench
Kamala Harris
Kameron Hurley
Kate McKinnon
Kathy Bates
Katie Bouman
Kelly Sue DeConnick
Kyrsten Sinema
Lauryn Hill
Laverne Cox
Leslie Jones
Linda Tirado
Lupita Nyong’o
Macy Gray
Mae Jemison
Maisie Williams
Malala Yousafzai
Maxine Waters
Mazie Hirono
Michelle Obama
Millie Bobby Brown
Ming-Na Wen
Missy Elliott
Mother Jones
N.K. Jemisin
Nancy Pelosi
Nnedi Okorafor
Noelle Stevenson
Oprah Winfrey
Patricia Okoumou
Queen Latifah
Rachel Caine
Rachel Maddow
Rashida Tlaib
Rivers Solomon
Ruth Bader Ginsberg
Sally Ride
Sandra Cisneros
Sandra Day O’Connor
Serena Williams
Sigourney Weaver
Sonia Sotomayor
Stevie Nicks
Tammy Duckworth
Tatiana Maslany
Toni Morrison
Uma Thurman
Uzoamaka Aduba
Viola Davis
Wanda Sykes
Zoe Saldana