My Favorite Things with Carrie Vaughn

They might not be raindrops on roses or whiskers on kittens, but that doesn’t mean that we love them any less. Welcome to back to My Favorite Things, the weekly column where we grab someone in speculative circles to gab about the greatest in geek. This week, we sit down with Carrie Vaughn, author of Bannerlessa murder-mystery set in a dystopian future where population is heavily controlled, but that’s not all she’s published this year! 2017 has also seen her first space opera in the YA novel Martians Abroadand a self-published sequel to Voices of Dragons called Refuge of Dragons. But you may know Vaughn first and best by her Kitty Norville novels, a fifteen book urban fantasy series that wrapped up in 2015.

What does Carrie Vaughn love when she’s not writing about werewolves, vampires, space ships, dragons, or dystopian futures? Spoiler alert: lab rats, last padawans, the next Firefly, and, well, ducks. Trust me, it’ll make sense when you read on.


Ideally, I would talk about all my favorite post-apocalyptic and/or political science fiction stories in order to help promote my new novel Bannerless, a murder mystery about learning the lessons of the past and trying to build a sustainable future. But I’m one of those writers who tends to read and watch far outside of whatever it is I’m writing, to get myself out of whatever headspace I’ve gotten myself into.

Which may be why two of my favorite things right now are TV shows on Disney XD.

First, Lab Rats. Yes, I’m as surprised by this as you are. This is what comes of skimming Netflix in an unguarded moment. The description mentioned “bionic teens” and I had to give it a try. Six episodes straight through, and I was breathing into a paper bag and trying to figure out what I was doing with my life. The premise: ordinary teen Leo’s mother has just married a genius-billionaire-inventor who is not actually Tony Stark, and while exploring the mansion Leo discovers a secret lab in the basement housing three bionic teenagers, Adam, Bree and Chase. Because apparently Donald Davenport (played by Hal Sparks of Queer as Folk, yes I know!) has been performing experiments on children in secret and he’s not in jail yet? Leo and the bionic teens instantly bond, and Leo convinces Donald to let them go to school with him and learn about normal kid life. And also so they can protect him from bullies, but never mind that. Hijinks ensue, for four whole seasons plus a spin-off series. I love this show. It’s hilarious, in a really sophomoric bizarre Weird Al Yankovich kind of way (“That’s a choking hazard.” “Thanks for the warning!” “That wasn’t a warning.”). It’s ridiculous. But the four teen actors are utterly charming and sell the premise hard, so I can’t help but love spending time with them. The core of the show is about their family and what they’ll do to protect and look out for each other. While most of the episodes are half-hour sitcom stories (The teens are replaced by robot versions of themselves! Hijinks ensue!), a handful of episodes feature villains bent on world domination (including Donald’s evil brother Douglas!) and armies of androids and government agents determined to confiscate Donald’s work — it gets pretty dark. The laugh track in which the audience also cheers the kids’ victories is oddly affecting. Mostly because I’m cheering right along with it. When it seems like all TV shows are now actually 12-part stories requiring full days of binging, Lab Rats has complete stories in nice half-hour bites, which is nice.

Another Disney XD show with good stories in half-hour bites is Star Wars: Rebels. This one I had to be persuaded into — I never really got into Clone Wars, and this has the same stilted, flat CG style animation that I find unappealing. But the story…gosh, the story is brilliant: Rebels is about survivors’ guilt. It takes place a dozen years or so after the end of the prequels, and a few years before Rogue One (in fact, the ship, Ghost, and the droid, Chopper, get brief cameos in that film). The backstory: Kanan Jarrus was a young Padawan when Order 66 came down. His Jedi Master told him to run, and he did — and went as far underground as he could. He’s around 30 now, and part of a small band of rebels smuggling supplies and doing what they can to fight the Empire. Then, Kanan meets Ezra, a scrappy street kid who is clearly Force sensitive. Does Kanan attempt to train Ezra, to pass on what he knows of the Jedi and the Force? He certainly isn’t qualified — he was never even named a Knight. But who else is there? It’s one of the untold Star Wars stories that we knew must be there, that gives the Star Wars universe so much of its depth and texture, but we haven’t actually seen until now.  On top of that is all the usual fun Star Wars adventure, with ships and battles and aliens and derring-do, with a rag-tag crew of survivors and loners who’ve somehow made a family together. The main character of the show is actually Ezra, but I find Kanan incredibly compelling.

There’s also the comic Kanan: The Last Padawan put out by Marvel, available in two trade paperbacks, which is just lovely. For me, the Star Wars spin-offs — novels, comics, and so on — are at their best when they aren’t about the main characters from the films, but about stories that are implied by the world itself. The tales of pilots, smugglers, soldiers, one-time Jedi, and so on. All those folks in the background trying to get by.

To maintain any kind of credibility, I ought to talk about books. As of this writing, I’m reading A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers. This is the sequel to The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, which is just a great title, isn’t it? I hadn’t planned on reading this one. I liked the first one, but I didn’t love it. At least I didn’t think I did. It was light, an interesting world and engaging characters, but a little too much like a travelogue. However, in the year since I’ve read it I’ve found myself recommending it to a ton of people and giving copies away all over the place. Because really, it’s the closest thing I’ve seen to Firefly since Firefly. SF writers are always asking — how to get people who wouldn’t normally read science fiction into science fiction? Especially crunchy, space-faring, world-building based science fiction?  Well, this is a good book for that, with its supremely likeable characters and fascinating world. I’m finding the sequel just as deceptively engaging.

And now for something completely different on the geek spectrum. I was an avid birder as a kid. My family went camping all the time, and my grandfather, a biology professor at Idaho State University, gave me binoculars and a bird guide. When high school, college, and other interests came along, I fell out of the hobby, but in the last few years I’ve gotten back into it in a big way. Birding makes for a great mental health break — a couple of times a month, I spend a few hours in the wild, paying attention to the world around me. And trying to ID these pesky little critters who refuse to stand still and like to hide in trees. You know what I like to watch? Ducks. They just sit on the water, out in the open where you can see them. Anyway, I noticed my old bird guide was about 30 years out of date — this actually matters, because bird species are constantly getting split out into new species, lumped together into one species, their ranges change, and so on, as scientists gather new info and make new discoveries. All the in-the-know birders said The Sibley Guide to Birds was the new standard in bird ID books. And they were totally right! It features illustrations of many regional, age, and sex variations in plumage; includes in-depth discussions of how to differentiate species that look really similar (like the greater scaup versus the lesser scaup. Birding nightmare!); and maybe my favorite thing, it has pages that include all the species in a family, for quick-glance comparisons (all the ducks!). This thing is a massive, complicated book, and I love it. And it’s already out of date — the experts what decide these things split out the scrub jay into two separate species last year, the California scrub-jay and the Woodhouse’s scrub-jay. Ah well. Birding ho!


Carrie Vaughn is best known for her New York Times bestselling series of novels about a werewolf named Kitty who hosts a talk radio show for the supernaturally disadvantaged.  Her latest novels include a near-Earth space opera, Martians Abroad, from Tor Books, and a post-apocalyptic murder mystery, Bannerless, from John Joseph Adams Books.  She’s written several other contemporary fantasy and young adult novels, as well as upwards of 80 short stories.  She’s a contributor to the Wild Cards series of shared world superhero books edited by George R. R. Martin and a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop.  An Air Force brat, she survived her nomadic childhood and managed to put down roots in Boulder, Colorado.  Visit her at www.carrievaughn.com.

2 Comments

  • Shara White August 8, 2017 at 7:13 am

    I’ve really got to get to reading the Becky Chambers stuff. I’ve got the first book on my Kindle, and it’s just waiting for me!

    And I’ve been wanting to watch Rebels, but I can’t bring myself to do it without having finished Clone Wars, which I’m still in season 2 of. I mean, I know I could, technically, and people keep telling me I need to watch Rebels ASAP, but my brain has a hard time getting over the chronological order bump.

    Reply
  • SEG August 8, 2017 at 8:21 pm

    Of COURSE Carrie Vaughn watches Rebels. Could you be any more cool? Can’t wait to read Bannerless. Thanks for being awesome!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: