One Day You Wake Up and You Are Grown: Fairyland and the Secrets of Growing Up

There are a dozen essays a person could write about Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland series. One is entirely about the literary allusions and references. Another simply describes all her magical inventions and locations, from the Carriageless Horse to the Narrative Barometer, the Autumn Province to the Lonely Gaol. There’s a really good piece to be written about one of the rules of Fairyland-Below—what goes down must come up—and the way no one stays in the underworld for good, forever, even a shadow.

This is a different essay. This one is about change and subversion, and mostly about how magically a book can rewrite the story of growing up.

Note: this essay discusses plot points from Books 1-4, but contains no spoilers for Book 5.

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Five Wonder Women of the Middle Ages

So I watched Batman v Superman. You don’t need a medievalist wandering through your digital space just to pile on with the many things that went wrong with the film, so instead let me say this:

In a dark world of brooding boys, Wonder Woman’s every moment on screen was like the light of a sun threatening to break through the clouds. There were many reasons for this (number one: Gal Gadot is a terrific actress), but what struck me as I was watching the film was the fact that Wonder Woman seemed to be the only person on screen with a clear sense of purpose. No brooding and self-doubt and angst and what-not for her: Wonder Woman knows exactly who she is.

And who she is, obviously, is a woman who kicks ass.

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Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Borders of Infinity, “Labyrinth”

“Labyrinth,” the middle story of Borders of Infinity takes us to Jackson’s Whole, the Galactic Nexus’s official wretched hive of scum and villainy. We’re here to pick up Dr. Hugh Canaba, who Barrayar very much wants to involve in their genetics projects. Barrayar has genetics projects now. Which makes sense, because Barrayar has a tissue sample from Terrence Cee. We learned all about the potential multi-generational consequences of handing out your tissue samples in Ethan of Athos. Borders of Infinity was the sixth Vorkosigan book published, first appearing in 1989. This was thirteen years prior to the UN’s adoption of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, banning the recruitment of children under the age of 18 by guerrilla and non-state forces.

This reread has an index, which you can consult if you feel like exploring previous books and chapters. Spoilers are welcome in the comments if they are relevant to the discussion at hand. Comments that question the value and dignity of individuals, or that deny anyone’s right to exist, are emphatically NOT welcome. Please take note.

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Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

6 Books to Tide You Over Until Star Wars: The Last Jedi

For most Star Wars fans, there’s one true thing that surrounds us, and binds us. Sure, we may squabble about which movie is the best and argue over who Snoke really is (it’s the angry resurrected ghost of Qui-Gon Jinn, obvs), but we all agree that there’s no such thing as too much Star Wars. But the fact is, only so much Star Wars exists. Granted, when all’s told between movies, TV shows, canon novels, non-canon novels, video games, board games, and comics, there’s a lot of content out there. But it’s already been five months since Rogue One, and a grim reality is taking hold: there’s still 200 whole days that separate us from our next cinematic Star Wars fix. And if you’ve already read/watched/consumed everything there is to consume, you’re going to need to fill your time with… something.

Well, if you can’t have Star Wars, there’s always the next best thing: stuff that’s like Star Wars! Here’s six novels that can help tide you over until The Last Jedi drops in December.

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Horses in Space: Evolving the Equinoid Alien

When I first got to thinking (as one does) about horses in space, I had in mind Earth horses traveling on spaceships and living on alien planets. There’s another side to them however, if one is a science-fiction fan, and that is the idea of the equinoid alien.

Writers have based their aliens, iconic and otherwise, on any and all species of terrestrial creatures, from lions to lizards (and dinosaurs) and even saguaro cacti. But horses have tended to make their way into space with few modifications, and I haven’t seen or heard of any spacefaring sentients based on horses.

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How Long Did The Wheel of Time’s “Endless Summer” Last?

One of the many ways the The Dark One attempts to unmake the world in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series is by influencing the weather. When the series begins an unnaturally long chill has pressed itself over the land, and it is broken only by the emergence of the series’ savior, The Dragon Reborn. Later on in the series, the world (or at least the part of the world that we see) is beset by an endless summer. Heat pervades, drought persists, and there is no doubt that The Dark One is doing so in an attempt to smother the denizens of the world into submission. The threat is considered so great that the advancing plot of the entire series is eventually called to a halt so that this “endless summer” can be thwarted.

Last year, New York City, and really the entire northeastern United States, experienced the hottest summer in recorded history. This endless steamroom of a season was probably what Rand, Mat, Egwene, and company had to suffer through in The Wheel of Time. As we gear up for another potential four month-long heatwave, I got to wondering: how long did the world of Jordan’s Wheel of Time have to hold out?

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It’s All in the Rigging: 9 of the Best Boats in Fantasy

Once upon a time (cough, August 6, 2013, actually), published “I Hate Boats,” by Carl Engle-Laird. Carl’s gone on to brilliant things, but I still want to argue with him about the post, and especially this sentence in particular: “Whenever my beloved protagonists get on a boat, I groan, put the book on the table, and pace around the room muttering angrily to myself, alarming friends and loved ones.”

Carl, now that you’re a big-deal editor at, I’m finally ready to tell you that I feel exactly the opposite way. I love boats, and when I see one in a book, I feel a lot of hope. I grew up sailing on the Chesapeake Bay, reading nautical histories, and what I want in my fiction is a boat that feels real and suits the plot. When a book takes me over water, I’m eagerly looking for the most seaworthy craft.

Such boats do exist! I am pretty sure we agree on this, because when you said, “The sad thing is that I think stories about boats and sailors can be incredibly compelling. A vessel on the open sea is a full, totally enclosed world unto itself…,” I nodded enthusiastically. But you left your readers a warning, “Don’t just treat your sea voyage as an opportunity to have things happen to your helpless protagonists, who don’t know any more about how to sail than you do. If you do, the only result will be wasted pages,” and I wanted you to know that they’re out there, those exciting boats you seek!

[To prove it, I made a list of my favorites.]

Who Could Play This Merry Fellow? Dreamcasting Tom Bombadil

We were discussing Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings adaptations, and arguing the relative merits of the Extended Editions versus the Theatrical Releases. (Leah prefers Extended, Emily prefers Theatrical. We’re both correct.) Emily pointed out that there should have been a DVD extra of Bombadil material, and then, naturally, that led to a dreamcasting of Bombadil. We gave ourselves a few restrictions—these had to be people who would have fit the role in 1999-ish, when they would have been hired for The Fellowship of the Ring, and all of the actors have been cast on the assumption that supermodel Claudia Schiffer is playing Goldberry…

So, hey! Come derry dol! Hop along, my hearties! Hobbits! Ponies all! readers! We are fond of parties. Now let the fun begin! Let us sing together… or at least take a look at our picks, and tell us yours in the comments.

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Corey J. White on Space Witches, Misfits, and Found Families

Killing Gravity by Corey J. White follows Mars Xi as she makes her way through life. And through space. Mars is a fiercely competent, brutally efficient woman who can kill you with her mind. But whether she knows it or not, Mars is about to get the last thing she expected: help. And she’s going to need it, because the past is far from done with her or her newfound friends…

It’s a great novella: character- and idea-heavy, but action-packed and light on its feet. I talked to Corey about Killing Gravity, how he writes, and the future.

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Apollo 8 Sweepstakes!

We want to send you a copy of Jeffrey Kluger’s Apollo 8: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon, available now from Henry Holt!

In August 1968, NASA made a bold decision: in just sixteen weeks, the United States would launch humankind’s first flight to the moon. Only the year before, three astronauts had burned to death in their spacecraft, and since then the Apollo program had suffered one setback after another. Meanwhile, the Russians were winning the space race, the Cold War was getting hotter by the month, and President Kennedy’s promise to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade seemed sure to be broken. But when Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders were summoned to a secret meeting and told of the dangerous mission, they instantly signed on.

Written with all the color and verve of the best narrative non-fiction, Apollo 8 takes us from Mission Control to the astronaut’s homes, from the test labs to the launch pad. The race to prepare an untested rocket for an unprecedented journey paves the way for the hair-raising trip to the moon. Then, on Christmas Eve, a nation that has suffered a horrendous year of assassinations and war is heartened by an inspiring message from the trio of astronauts in lunar orbit. And when the mission is over—after the first view of the far side of the moon, the first earth-rise, and the first re-entry through the earth’s atmosphere following a flight to deep space—the impossible dream of walking on the moon suddenly seems within reach.

Here is the tale of a mission that was both a calculated risk and a wild crapshoot, a stirring account of how three American heroes forever changed our view of the home planet.

Comment in the post to enter!

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States and D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec). To enter, comment on this post beginning at 1:30 PM Eastern Time (ET) on May 26th. Sweepstakes ends at 12:00 PM ET on May 30th. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor:, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.

What Beavers Can Teach Us About Hope, Resilience, and the End of the World

The process of evolution can provide some jarring examples of what animals must do in order to survive. Predation, warfare, cannibalism, kidnapping, fratricide—all of these things can be considered normal in nature. Learning about them for the first time can be shocking, even depressing, especially when we consider the implications for our own species. And yet, the meat grinder of natural selection has also encouraged some altruistic traits, such as loyalty, empathy, sacrifice, and even love. One animal in particular that encompasses these gentler qualities is the astonishing, resilient, clever American beaver, an animal that has some surprising things to tell us about kinship and survival in the face of upheaval and extinction.

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Bringing an Uzi to a Vampire Fight: Nightblood

Welcome to Freaky Fridays where paperbacks are still on the racks and they’re full of sexy vampires and the even sexier men in leather trench coats who kill them.

If you thought ‘Salem’s Lot needed more automatic weapons, then T. Chris Martindale’s Nightblood is for you. In the Seventies and Eighties the rugged, emotionally repressed tough guy who was equally comfortable with both guns and lovemaking was the leading man of choice. The hottest ticket in male hunkdom was the Vietnam vet because he’d seen such things that he was basically Rutger Hauer at the end of Blade Runner only he didn’t dye his hair. But after Anne Rice’s slim-hipped, glam vampires took over horror in the mid-Eighties they provided horror writers with a template from which all future leading men would be forged, giving rise to a legion of edgy male leads who were conflicted, tormented about their motivations and, when they confronted their nemesis, were subjected to a speech about how they’re both the same underneath the skin.

Martindale saw that trend and said, “Oh, hell no.” He took Anne Rice’s sensitive vampires and machine gunned them into kibble. He set them on fire. He stuck bombs down their pants. His book’s hero? A Vietnam vet dedicated to avenging evil, wearing a trench coat and toting an uzi. A man as reliable as a divorced dad, roaming the country, parking outside lovers lanes and spying on them from his creeper van to, erm, make sure no vampires were about. Or anything. Instead of doubting himself, he was sure of his abilities to kick ass. Instead of worrying about whether gazing into the abyss would turn him into an abyss too, he worried about making pipe bombs. Instead of carrying baggage, he carried an uzi. Ladies, put on your running shoes because this stud is single!

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You Cannot Sink My Love for Battleship

There exists no convincing argument that movies should never be based on board games, because Clue exists, and therefore disproves any such argument. That said, the game of Battleship is a categorically stupid idea for a movie. Battleship is basically bingo with a bit of deductive strategy and no wacky prizes at the end. People in movies cannot sit around yelling YOU SUNK MY BATTLESHIP at each other, a fact which must have been clear to the people behind Battleship. Despite its dubious source material, Battleship is the one of the greatest dumb action movies of the early twenty-teens. Writers Jon and Erich Hoeber and director Peter Berg clearly took their Hasbro/Universal paychecks, gave the game a serious side-eye, and opted to keep just a few elements: big honkin’ battleships, cylindrical missile things, and goofy coordinates.

Everything else is newly made-up big dumb action movie gold.

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Jeff VanderMeer Talks Borne, Hyperobjects, and Florida Wildlife

Jeff VanderMeer is a master of combining ecological concerns with a dark, weird speculative fiction. His Southern Reach Trilogy followed an uncanny event that created “Area X”, and the subsequent expeditions to explore the region, mining Nature itself to find the beauty and horror that comes with a radical shift in ecology. His latest novel, Borne, takes us to a future city, where people attempt to carve out lives after decades of societal collapse and environmental upheaval—you can read Niall Alexander’s review here. Rachel, a young refugee, scavenges for food and tech in order to survive with her partner, a former biotech engineer named Wick. Rachel discovers a particularly mysterious biotech while scavenging, and rather than turning it over to Wick’s experiments, she keeps it, names it Borne, and raises it like a child. Hilarity ensues, as does heartbreak, terror, and musing on the nature of survival and humanity’s role on Earth… and that’s all before you get to the skyscraper-sized flying bear.

VanderMeer is currently on a book tour for Borne, but he graciously took time to answer a few of my questions about the novel, and to discuss his love of the environment and the “New Weird.” He also shared a video of the Florida coastline that inspired Area X.

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