My Favorite Things with Merrin

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 Speculative Chic contributor, book club host, and salt-miner Merrin. What does she love when she’s not writing for the blog and reading for the book club? Spoiler alert: an author’s first foray into comics, blessings galore, an Emmy-winning actress bringing a dystopia to life with her voice alone, Star Wars meeting hockey, and Jurassic Park in the flesh! Kind of. Curious? Read on for more!

I actually have two favorite things involving the same author, so I’m going to just combine them. Sharon Shinn has been an instabuy for me since I first read Archangel in 1997. I eagerly await every book that dear woman writes and pre-order everything available (in hard copy, no less) so I have it on hand to read immediately.

In August, she released her first graphic novel, Shattered Warrior, which she collaborated on with artist Molly Knox Ostertag. The story follows Colleen Cavanaugh, a young woman whose homeworld is invaded by an alien race. The novel follows the story of her slowly burgeoning resistance to the invaders and the help she receives along the way. I don’t normally read graphic novels, but Shinn will get me to give almost anything a try.

My other favorite thing has to do with her Elementals series. These books, starting with Troubled Waters, center the story in a land governed by the idea that people are particularly attuned to the elements: air/soul, wood/bone, fire/mind, water/blood, and earth/flesh. Different attributes are ascribed to the elements: spirituality and grace to air, strength and steadfastness to wood, etc. There are temples throughout the land that have these attributes, or blessings, stamped on coins for people to draw. Different blessings might be drawn during different times, and it’s customary to draw them at particular moments, like a birth or marriage or the start of a trip.

A metalsmith named the Ring Lord made a full set of the blessings for purchase, so you better believe I snatched that up. I haven’t found the perfect bowl for them yet, but my plan is to have them out for visitors to draw blessings as they choose.

I first read (and was thoroughly scarred by) The Handmaid’s Tale back in college, but thanks to the fervor over Hulu’s adaptation (which I haven’t watched any of at this time), I was recently inspired to pick it up again to reread. Audible was advertising the new Claire Danes recording for the audiobook, so it seemed like a good use of my monthly credit.

Like, this book is terrifying. But it’s almost MORE terrifying when it’s read to you, because Claire Danes does a masterful job at seeming like she’s literally just telling you about this terrible stuff that is happening to her. I’d forgotten, in the… decade since I read it last, that it’s told in first person and is basically a diary of this woman’s ordeal as a handmaid. It’s even more painful and powerful when this litany of all of these tragic and horrible things that happen to this woman are read aloud to you.

I’ve listened to quite a few audiobooks, especially in the last six months or so, but this one is easily my favorite of any performance (except perhaps the Harry Potter audiobooks). Danes is a great actress and translated her emotive skills beautifully to this reading. There’s a line early on in the book when the character is crying through a line of dialogue, and I’ve honestly never, in the entire time I’ve been listening to audiobooks, heard someone convey that emotion that well in such a short amount of time.

I haven’t been able to keep up with podcasts as well as I used to because of all the audiobooks I’ve been mainlining, but one I never miss is Wolf 359. It’s a radio-drama style story about a small team of scientists orbiting the star Wolf 359. One of them, a radio technician named Doug Eiffel, intercepts a transmission that seems to come from an extraterrestrial source.

And that’s just where the weirdness starts. The station has portions of it that are blocked off to the station’s AI, Hera. The previous crew of the station died under suspicious circumstances that this present crew wasn’t aware of when they arrived on the station. And even though they’re out in the middle of nowhere orbiting this star, a ship shows up that seems to be carrying the captain of the last mission to use the station, even though it’s physically impossible for it to be her.

The podcast keeps adding and subtracting characters in fascinating and sometimes painfully sad ways, and so far I am here for all of it.

The story ends in December of this year, so if you do get started you won’t have too long to wait until you find out what happens at the end!

If you’re the kind of reader who reads contributor bios, you know that one of my other great passions in this life is hockey. This will be relevant, I swear. One of the best ways for a fan of anything to express their fandom in as low key a manner as possible is to buy the t-shirt, right? This is also true in sports, and the most expensive way to do that is to buy a game-worn jersey.

Now, I’m not a fan of many other sports. I casually watch basketball when, like, there’s literally nothing else on. Or when the Spurs are in the playoffs. So I don’t particularly know if they do the specialty jerseys that hockey does. St. Patrick’s Day? They’ve got a jersey for that. Hockey Fights Cancer? There’s a jersey for that. They even, last season, had a “Hockey is for everyone” month that featured t-shirts with rainbow logos.

My favorite so far has been Star Wars night.

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This isn’t one that every team has done, the way the others are. But my local AHL team, the Texas Stars, did a Star Wars night two seasons ago that I just happened to decide to go to. I didn’t even know when I’d purchased the tickets that it was Star Wars night, that was just a happy coincidence. They auctioned off the practice-worn jerseys in a silent auction during the first two periods and wonder of wonders, I actually bid enough to win one, the jersey of defenseman Mattias Backman. I got to meet him, have my picture taken with him, and now have the jersey hanging in my closet to be paraded out at the slightest provocation.

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Sadly, Backman has been dropped from the team and is now playing in Europe, but I get to keep this killer jersey and the money went to a good cause, so I still think I won.

If you count favorites by how many times I have watched a movie, Jurassic Park is up among my top five. I have loved that movie since the first time I saw it on my parents’ incredibly tiny old TV in 1994. My one regret has always been that I never saw it in theaters. I don’t know that it even occurred to my parents to go, but I was also 12 at the time.

As much as I love the iconic one liners, the way Jeff Goldblum stalks across a set growling out his lines, and nitpicking movie versus book differences, one of my favorite things about the movie has always been the soundtrack. And this isn’t really a surprise, John Williams is responsible for some of the most famous soundtrack themes in movie history. Who is Darth Vader without “The Imperial March”, after all? Would Jaws be as scary without that terrifying da-dum da-dum da-dum? How would we have ever made contact in Close Encounters of the Third Kind?

Look, the man has made a lot of really good music, and one of my favorite things that city symphonies have started doing recently is showing a movie while they play the soundtrack. So just this past June, when the Houston Symphony presented the soundtrack of Jurassic Park while the movie played on a big screen above the stage, I drove all the way there after work on a Friday just to listen to it happen.

If you ever get a chance to go to one of these, I highly recommend them. It’s hard to hear the dialogue of the movie over the soundtrack, but since you’ve basically gone to a concert, that shouldn’t really be a concern. I’d just suggest going to a movie you’re really familiar with. I can quote the entirety of Jurassic Park without assistance, so that wasn’t an issue for me here. My heart literally swelled in my chest as I watched the brachiosaurus tip up on his back legs while the main theme swelled, and Grant fell to his knees. It was glorious.

Merrin has enough feelings about things to literally choke elephants, though why you would want to, she’ll never know. She has been known to argue passionately and loudly in public spaces on whether or not there were elves at Helm’s Deep in the books (there weren’t) and whether or not sleeping counts as time travel (it doesn’t). Her other life’s passions include watching a lot of hockey (an oddity here in Texas) and abusing parenthetical asides (she likes to think of it as the narrator voice breaking into reality). She funds her costly obsessions by working at a non-profit in Austin.

Likes: thigh holsters, flak vests, movies and tv shows that depict space accurately, elves, magic.

Dislikes: The Big Bang Theory (don’t get her started), R-rated violence, the end of Mass Effect 3.

You can also find her on twitter and goodreads.


  • Kelly McCarty October 23, 2017 at 1:04 pm

    I am not an audio book person at all, but hearing The Handmaid’s Talent radio as if Offred is telling you the story would be chilling. The soundtrack to a movie at the Symphony sounds really cool.

    • Merrin October 25, 2017 at 9:27 am

      I never was, they always made me sleepy, but after getting into listening to podcasts I decided to give them another try and now I’m hooked.

  • Shara White October 23, 2017 at 7:12 pm

    Claire Danes is amazing and I’m tempted to pick up the audiobook just to hear her read it, because given her body of work on Homeland alone, I’d be tempted, but after hearing you describe it? Damn!

    Such mad props for the Jurassic Park soundtrack. I’m so jealous! That would be glorious to hear in person! I never saw the film in theaters either, but when it was re-released in 3D a few years ago, I dragged my husband and we shelled out the bucks for the IMAX version. 🙂 I still don’t regret it.

    That hockey jersey is awesome! Yay for Star Wars night!

    • Merrin October 25, 2017 at 9:26 am

      I highly recommend listening to it for her narration alone. Like. The book is great, but it’s EVEN GREATER when read by her.

      I actually also saw JP in 3D IMAX (with the same friend I went to the symphony with) and that was a trip and a half. So much cooler on an enormous screen like that.


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