My Favorite Things with Erin S. Bales

They might not be raindrops on roses or whiskers on kittens, but that doesn’t mean that we love them any less. Welcome 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 writer and editor Erin S. Bales! What does Erin love? Spoiler alert: dust, strange dogs, Mass Effect for your feet, and rainbows. Curious? Read on for more!

While my first and truest love will always be words and stories, I’m a bit of a pop culture magpie, and if there’s a way to nerd out about something, I’ll find it.

The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

What is Dust?

That is the question that drives most of the characters and readers through Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy and the accompanying novellas.

If you haven’t read them, the original books center on Lyra Belacqua (known by some as Lyra Silvertongue), a hoyden who lives in an alternate version of Oxford, England, as an orphan being haphazardly raised by the servants and scholars of Jordan College. In her universe, people’s souls exist outside of their bodies in the form of animals called dæmons. Children’s dæmons can, and often do, change forms. But, at a certain point, a person’s dæmon becomes fixed in a single form. For example, the dæmon of Lee Scorsby, a wayward Texan airship captain and one of the central characters of the spinoff novella Once Upon a Time in the North, is a female jackrabbit called Hester. (Most dæmons are the opposite gender of their humans — Lyra’s Pantalaimon is male — which can be read as an interesting commentary on the nature of sexuality, but that’s a much bigger conversation.)

In Lyra’s world, science and religion are inextricably linked, and the explorers and scholars have become obsessed with a substance called Dust. What it is and where it comes from is a subject that carries throughout the series, one that sends Lyra through multiple universes and into the middle of a cosmic war.

And it was apparently a question that continued to plague Pullman, because earlier this year it was announced he would be releasing another trilogy, one that he refers to as neither a prequel or a sequel to the original books, but a series of “equels.” According to Pullman, the first book will explain how Lyra came to live at Jordan College, the second will pick up twenty years later, and the third… “As for the third and final part, my lips are sealed.” (I imagine Pullman saying this sitting behind a big antique desk, his fingers tented Mr. Burns-style.)

As someone who was thoroughly enchanted and intrigued by the first three books — reading and writing a paper on The Golden Compass is one of the things that drove me to pursue a master’s in Children’s Lit — I can’t wait to revisit Lyra and the multiverses that surround her this month.

Strange Dogs by James S.A. Corey

Not long ago someone mentioned The Expanse television series, but I’d like to give a shout-out to the books.

Strange Dogs in the latest novella in the ever-growing Expanse series written by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck under the pen name James S.A. Corey. While some of the accompanying novellas explore the backstories of established characters, a few, like this one, introduce us to new characters on a new world, thereby fleshing out what is already a complex, vividly drawn universe.

Now I could go on and on about the myriad reasons why I adore the Expanse series. Every time a new book comes out, I reread the previous ones, and I love the crew of the Rocinante and a few of the other characters like they’re some of my best friends. These books are my comfort reading, which might seem odd for a space opera series, but I was raised on Star Trek, and while Corey’s world is darker — it feels like the growing pains needed to hopefully reach Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a brighter future — I suppose there will always be a part of me that longs to be part of a diverse, ragtag group of spacefarers. (See Mass Effect shoes below.)

But back to Strange Dogs… One of the things I really dig about the Expanse series is the way the authors play with genre. Yes, all of the novels fall under the space opera umbrella, but the first book, Leviathan Wakes, also contains a hard-boiled detective story. The second book, Caliban’s War, is spiced with political thriller. Abaddon’s Gate mashes together a bottleneck narrative with a survival story. Every book is different without ever straying too far from the series as a whole.

Strange Dogs is a sf/horror novella that invokes shades of Stephen King in the very best way. A young girl, a member of a hardscrabble settlement just trying to make sense of the planet on which they’re living, encounters a new…animal. They’re doglike creatures with synthetic elements and the ability to reproduce anything they put into their “mouths.” I can’t say more without giving the story away, but if sf/horror is your jam and you’re interested in dipping a toe into this series, then this is as good a place as any to start.

Me, I’ll be over here rereading the whole series while I wait for Persepolis Rising — the seventh book that comes out in December.

Mass Effect shoes, from Dani Mod Designs

Confession time: I’ve played the Mass Effect trilogy all the way through several times. Honestly, we’re probably talking into double digits. I love the games — yes, even the ending of Mass Effect 3 AND Andromeda. I’ve read the books and comics. I have the art books and the game guides. I have several different Funko Pop! figures. I own two backpacks, a purse, a phone case, and enough N7-labeled clothing to go out fully dressed. Some might (and have) called me obsessed, but as I stated above, there are parts of me that will always live on the USS Enterprise, the Rocinante, the Normandy, or the Wayfarer, from Becky Chambers’ incredible Wayfarer series. Hiraeth is a Welsh word that loosely translates as a yearning for a home that one cannot return to, that no longer exists, or perhaps never was. Well, I’ve got hiraeth up the yin-yang for my life in space that will never be.

So when I find a universe that really clicks for me, I tend to cling onto it with Lenny-esque abandon, and when my friend Danielle began painting shoes, I knew I had to have some Mass Effect kicks of my very own. And behold!

The Mass Effect logo is pretty self-explanatory. Why didn’t I do a Paragon and a Renegade image? I’ve tried to play Renegade several times, and I never make it past talking to Jenkins. Seriously. There are some Renegade choices I prefer along the way, especially in Mass Effect 2 — headbutts for Gatavog Uvenk, anyone? — but I’m a Paragon girl at heart, and on every playthrough I end up cheerfully helping everyone and their mom in the Milky Way. For the record, I’m also a FemShep girl. Not only do I prefer playing a female characters when they’re available, but Jennifer Hale acts circles around Mark Meer.

I’m also a Garrus girl. I tried working things out with Kaiden. I took a spin with Thane, but for me, Spacer- or Survivor-flavored Paragon Shepard plus Garrus equals the trilogy’s OTP. Garrus is adorkable. He’s the only companion who always joins Shepard without question and who doesn’t pout if/when she doesn’t take his advice. He researches relations with a human woman! His dates are shooting and dancing! Be still this nerd girl’s beating heart.

On the other shoe is a quote from another one of my favorite characters, Dr. Mordin Solus. Between ME2 and ME3, Mordin has a large emotional arc, and his final delivery of this line always brings a tear to my eye. (Okay, I sob like baby.)

The N7 and Andromeda Initiative’s logos are again self-explanatory. As is the presence of the space hamster, if you know the games well. It’s a silly, on-going joke in the Mass Effect universe, and one of my personal favorites. “Go for the eyes!”

I had to sneak in an homage to Tali’s very special alcohol delivery system. It’s her Emergency Induction Port, aka a straw.

At the end of the day, I’m not really a fanfic reader/writer, but I’ve definitely spent my fair share of time imagining additional adventures with Shepard and Ryder’s companions, wishing I could spend time aboard the Normandy SR-2, the Citadel, or the Tempest. Preferably on a day where no one’s being boarded by the Collectors, invaded by the Reapers, or challenged by the Kett.

Bonus Item: Rainbow, Kesha

I’ve been a Kesha fan for a while. Really, ever since I saw this fan-made Kesha/Star Trek mashup from MissSheenie. I’m a sucker for pop songs with catchy hooks and unapologetic divas who refuse to conform. Pink, Lady Gaga, Sia — all my girls. Like so many others, I was appalled when I learned everything Kesha had allegedly endured at the hands of her producer (for the record, I say “allegedly” because he wasn’t convicted of anything, not because I don’t believe her) and then heartbroken when that judge refused to dissolve her contract. If you were out of the loop on this one, you can find the whole story here.

So I was excited to see a happy-looking Kesha appear as a judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race earlier this year. I was even more excited to learn of her new album, Rainbow. Then I listened to it, and my excitement went over the moon.

Rainbow is a triumph. It is at turns powerful and devastating and silly and unapologetically bombastic, with catchy hooks aplenty. The song that will probably hit hardest is “Praying,” the number that most directly confronts everything she’s been through. But while you might come for “Praying,” “Hymn,” or “Rainbow,” all testaments to Kesha’s inner strength as a person and an artist, you have to stay for the sexy “Boots,” the sharp-edged “Hunt You Down,” and “Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Candle to You),” her duet with the always amazing Dolly Parton.

But to tie this album back to spec fic, you have to hear the elegiac “Spaceship,” a song about dying and returning to the star stuff of which we’re made. And you can’t miss “Godzilla,” her cautionary tale of what happens when you take a giant monster to the mall or to meet your mom. Heck, at the end of the day — and I say this as someone who rarely purchases entire albums, especially in this day and age — Rainbow is well worth a listen from beginning to end.

Erin S. Bales graduated from Illinois State University with degrees in English and Children’s Literature. After a few years spent working in libraries, she returned to school and graduated from Seton Hill University with an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction. She currently lives in a suburb of Chicago, where she writes epic fantasy, science fiction, and cozy mysteries. She is represented by Margaret Bail at Fuse Literary Agency, and also works online as an editor for a fiction publisher.

Find her on Twitter and Instagram @Bibliomaniacal1.


  • Heidi Ruby Miller October 2, 2017 at 7:48 am

    Okay, okay, so I’m going to have to start on the EXPANSE series. Thanks for the rec, Erin! And thank you to Speculative Chic for bringing us Erin’s favorite things.

    • Erin Bales October 2, 2017 at 3:28 pm

      Yay! Let me know what you think of it! 😀

  • Shara White October 3, 2017 at 7:35 pm

    Those custom shoes are awesome. That is so, so cool! Also glad to see some love for the Expanse novellas. While I’m woefully behind on this series, I adored the novellas that I read!

  • kendrame October 4, 2017 at 10:45 am

    Yes, to all of Mass Effect.


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