Vincent van Gogh Would Be Starry-Eyed At These Pop Culture Mashup Paintings

Artist Aja Trier‘s “van Gogh Never Saw” series of paintings came about because of an amusing misunderstanding: An education blog posted her painting of the Eiffel Tower inserted into Vincent van Gogh’s famous painting The Starry Night, incorrectly attributing it to the painter even though the Eiffel Tower was erected just a year before his death in 1890. Asking herself, “What else did van Gogh not see?”, Trier came up with these charming pop culture mashups, where everyone from Calvin and Hobbes to the TARDIS (and isn’t that a fitting touch, considering a certain Doctor Who episode) can enjoy this iconic nighttime scene.

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Down Among the Sticks and Bones Sweepstakes!

We want to send you a galley copy of Seanan McGuire’s Down Among the Sticks and Bones, available June 13th from Tor.com Publishing! Read an excerpt from the book here.

Twin sisters Jack and Jill were seventeen when they found their way home and were packed off to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.

This is the story of what happened first…

Jacqueline was her mother’s perfect daughter—polite and quiet, always dressed as a princess. If her mother was sometimes a little strict, it’s because crafting the perfect daughter takes discipline.

Jillian was her father’s perfect daughter—adventurous, thrill-seeking, and a bit of a tom-boy. He really would have preferred a son, but you work with what you’ve got.

They were five when they learned that grown-ups can’t be trusted.

They were twelve when they walked down the impossible staircase and discovered that the pretense of love can never be enough to prepare you a life filled with magic in a land filled with mad scientists and death and choices.

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 3:30 PM Eastern Time (ET) on April 28th. Sweepstakes ends at 12:00 PM ET on May 2nd. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Tor.com, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.

A Head for Heights: The History Behind Steeplejack

One of the final panels of the Bayeux tapestry depicts a man scaling the roof of a large church clutching a weathervane. The church may be the first incarnation of Westminster Abbey in London, and the man shown is someone once called a “steeple climber.” Such people worked to build, clean, and maintain tall structures; as their name suggests, the original work in medieval Britain focused largely on the spires and towers of high civic and ecclesiastical buildings. These were the guys who used systems of ladders and ropes to scale those otherwise inaccessible structures to fix up what the regular masons wouldn’t go near. While they may have been employed for long-term work during the construction of a major abbey like Westminster, their work was largely itinerant, and they travelled from town to town repairing church towers and the like, often combining the labor with a sideshow display of aerial acrobatics and feats of daring. It was a dangerous profession, as can easily be imagined when you consider working on a steeple like Saint Walburge, located in my hometown of Preston, which is a dizzying 309 feet high.

Records surviving from the 1760s depict the tools of the steeple-climber in terms that remain unchanged for the next two centuries: the bosun’s chair (a short plank or swath of heavy fabric on which someone might sit suspended), iron “dogs” (hooked spikes that were driven into masonry to anchor ropes or ladders), and staging scaffold. But church spires and clock towers alone wouldn’t provide much employment for steeplejacks. In the nineteenth century their work shifted to the more mundane, less elegant, and far more numerous structures which were sprouting all over England’s northwest: chimneys. The Industrial Revolution brought mills and factories and increasing mechanization, all steam-driven and fuelled by coal and coke, and their chimneys needed constant maintenance. The steeple climber was suddenly in regular demand, and some time around the 1860s they became known by a more-familiar title: steeplejack.

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Deadly Peril Done Right: Brian Staveley’s Skullsworn

You’ve probably noticed that there’s been some massive buzz about this bloke called Brian Staveley since the release of his debut, The Emperor’s Blades, in 2014. If you’re already a die-hard fan, it goes without saying that you’ll devour Skullsworn in mere days. If you’re anything like me—i.e. liked but didn’t love Staveley’s debut—then I can wholeheartedly recommend Skullsworn as the perfect opportunity to get reacquainted with his work.

Set in the same secondary world as The Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne yet featuring an entirely new cast, Skullsworn is a win/win for fans, doubters, holdouts, and newbies alike; as a standalone, it’s an ideal entry point to Staveley’s work. Furthermore, the focused first-person POV makes for a much more intimate and sympathetic reader/protagonist relationship than the multiple characters of the Unhewn Throne allowed. I’d even venture so far as to say that readers who found themselves frustrated with aspects of Staveley’s earlier series will be pleased to learn that Pyrre, the protagonist, is everything that Adare was not.

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Shared Destinies: Why Wealth Inequality Matters

In Cory Doctorow’s new novel Walkaway many in the youngest generation―now that anyone can design and print the basic necessities of life like food, clothing, and shelter―choose to do just that, walk away. But is it unkind to exit a society defined by daily toil that benefits the rich without helping others who don’t have that option?

Below, Doctorow explains the strains of history leading up to this question.

So much many of us are poor today than just a few decades ago; after the world wars’ orgies of capital destruction, wealth reached unprecedented levels of even distribution. After all, the poor had little to lose in the war, and the rich hedged their war-losses by loaning governments money to fight on, and so many of those debts were never paid. The next thirty years—the French call them “Les Trentes Glorieuses”—saw the creation of the GI Bill, the British and French welfare states, and the rise of an anti-capitalist, anti-war counterculture that reached its apex in the summer of ’68, when the world was on fire.

But since the malaise of the 1970s and the reboot of fiscal conservativism with Reagan, Thatcher and Mulroney, the gap between the rich and the poor has widened all over the world. The rich got a *lot* richer, and though the world’s economy grew, and though millions in China were lifted out of poverty, many millions in the “rich” world sank back down to pre-war levels of inequality—levels of inequality to rival France in 1789, when the Reign of Terror brought the guillotine and the massacres.

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All Systems Red

In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.

But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid—a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.

But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

A tense science fiction adventure, Martha Wells’ All Systems Red is available May 2nd from Tor.com Publishing.

[Read an Excerpt]

Man vs Militarized Nature: Killer

Welcome to Freaky Fridays, an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet serving up the oldest and mustiest forgotten paperbacks from the Seventies and Eighties for your dining pleasure.

Right now, we’re in the middle of calls for a brand new build-up in American military force, and we’re also confronting the reality of the asymmetrical battlefields of the future. New challenges require new military tactics and that often requires new weapons, but please let me state now, categorically and unequivocally, that the Pentagon should never develop weapons that include: giant spiders, doorways to other dimensions, evil rattlesnakes, spray-on marijuana, anti-Vietnamese piranhagenetically-engineered barracuda, robot killer sharks, shark-octopus hybrids, human-shark hybrids, or dinosaur-shark hybrids. Not even one dollar should be allocated to fund even the most preliminary research in those fields.

The entire film and publishing industry have spent decades warning us about the dangers of laser sharks and hyper-intelligent stingrays, but every time you turn around yet another military experiment has escaped back into the ocean where it eats its weight in happy-go-lucky swimmers on a daily basis. In case we missed the point, Killer warns us of the dangers in doing something even as seemingly innocent and foolproof as training a giant killer whale to become a super-smart, ultraviolent, weaponized sushi platter. Trust me, even this can go wrong.

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Guardians of the Galaxy Is A Story About Finding, and Choosing, Your Family

There’s a moment towards the end of classic British sitcom Spaced where Simon Pegg’s character, Tim Bisley, pleads with his landlady for forgiveness. The eventual scene where she forgives him, this being Spaced, involves a tank—but the first time Tim tries it, there’s one line that really strikes you, a line that’s repeated a few times in the final episode:

“They say the family of the twenty-first century is made up of friends, not relatives….”

Tim could have been talking about the Guardians of the Galaxy. (In fact, I like to think he probably is talking about them, right now, somewhere just off Meteor Street.) Guardians of the Galaxy may not be strictly a family film, but it’s one defined by family. The first two scenes alone set the stage as young Peter Quill, horrified and grief-stricken, refuses to see his dying mother for the last time. It’s a gut-wrenching moment, the last possible thing you’d expect at the start of an ostensible action-comedy superhero movie, and absolutely the opposite of every single opening scene we’ve seen in a Marvel movie. It shocks you, wakes you up, and is followed by a gear change that’s even more drastic.

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Spring 2017 Anime Preview: Can We Stop Adding “Re:” to Anime Titles Now?

Spring is here in all its glory, and the spring anime season is here in—well, I don’t know if I’d say glory, but it’s definitely here.

This season the anime gods have bestowed upon us a stable of quite exciting sequels, which I’ll get into further down, as well as a heap of rather less exciting but still quite watchable new shows. If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last few seasons, it’s that beggars can’t be choosers. As usual, I’ve watched a dizzying number of premieres and come to you, dear reader, with only the best: three new shows that you can start streaming right this moment. Oh and hey, did you know Attack on Titan is back?

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Science Straight Out of the Vorkosigan Saga: Uterine Replicators! (Sort of!)

Followers of the Vorkosigan Reread have known for a long time that Bujold’s works are inspirational in any number of ways. At least, I assume that’s why they’re following the reread. Last week, the Vorkosigan Series became one of the first ever to be nominated for a Best Series Hugo, and this week an article in Nature is describing work at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute on the development of a uterus-like life support system for premature infants! Bujold’s uterine replicator has played a major role in shaping the worlds of her books. It allowed for the creation of the Quaddies, and for their enslavement. It allows the all-male population of Athos to produce their precious and beloved children. It offered an alternative to abortion for Prince Serg’s victims. It lets the Star Creche on Cetaganda control reproduction without controlling interpersonal relationships. It lets Betan and Barrayaran mothers pursue dangerous careers in fields like space exploration and politics while their infants safely gestate in a controlled environment. And that’s just for starters. How close are we to developing a uterine replicator? Closer than we were!

Which is to say, not close!

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Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Mother May I: Borne by Jeff VanderMeer

Following his triumphant trek through Area X in the cerebral Southern Reach series, Jeff VanderMeer mounts a more modest yet no less affecting expedition into uncharted territory by way of Borne, a surprisingly beautiful book about a blob which behaves like a boy and the broken woman who takes him in.

Her name is Rachel, and when she was little, she “wanted to be a writer, or at least something other than a refugee. Not a trap-maker. Not a scavenger. Not a killer.” But we are what the world makes us, and no poxy author would have lasted long in the world in which this novel’s narrator was raised:

Once, it was different. Once, people had homes and parents and went to schools. Cities existed within countries and those countries had leaders. Travel could be for adventure or recreation, not survival. But by the time I was grown up, the wider context was a sick joke. Incredible, how a slip could become a freefall and a freefall could become a hell where we lived on as ghosts in a haunted world.

There is hope even in this haunted hellscape, however, and it takes a strange shape, as hope tends to: that of “a hybrid of sea anemone and squid: a sleek vase with rippling colours” Rachel finds in the festering fur of a skyscraper-sized flying bear called Mord.

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Divine Cities Sweepstakes!

The third book in Robert Jackson Bennett’s Divine Cities series, City of Miracles, is available May 2nd from Broadway Books—and we want to send you a set of all three books in the series!

Revenge. It’s something Sigrud je Harkvaldsson is very, very good at. Maybe the only thing.

So when he learns that his oldest friend and ally, former Prime Minister Shara Komayd, has been assassinated, he knows exactly what to do—and that no mortal force can stop him from meting out the suffering Shara’s killers deserve.

Yet as Sigrud pursues his quarry with his customary terrifying efficiency, he begins to fear that this battle is an unwinnable one. Because discovering the truth behind Shara’s death will require him to take up arms in a secret, decades-long war, face down an angry young god, and unravel the last mysteries of Bulikov, the city of miracles itself. And—perhaps most daunting of all—finally face the truth about his own cursed existence.

Comment in the post to enter—and read on for a sneak peek from City of Miracles!

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Firebrand

Once a steeplejack, Anglet Sutonga is used to scaling the heights of Bar-Selehm. Nowadays she assists politician Josiah Willinghouse behind the scenes of Parliament. The latest threat to the city-state: Government plans for a secret weapon are stolen and feared to be sold to the rival nation of Grappoli. The investigation leads right to the doorsteps of Elitus, one of the most exclusive social clubs in the city. In order to catch the thief, Ang must pretend to be a foreign princess and infiltrate Elitus. But Ang is far from royal material, so Willinghouse enlists help from the exacting Madam Nahreem.

Yet Ang has other things on her mind. Refugees are trickling into the city, fleeing Grappoli-fueled conflicts in the north. A demagogue in Parliament is proposing extreme measures to get rid of them, and she soon discovers that one theft could spark a conflagration of conspiracy that threatens the most vulnerable of Bar-Selehm. Unless she can stop it.

Author A. J. Hartley returns to his intriguing, 19th-century South African-inspired fantasy world in Firebrand, an adrenaline-pounding adventure available from Tor Teen.

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The Power of Art: Community Development Through Writing

One of the things I’m passionate about is community development. In trying to figure out how to do this using writing, I became a part of an arts collective called The Learning Tree. We’re a group of organized neighbors that specializes in Asset Based Community Development (ABCD). We identify and invest in the individuals, organizations, and the community to see and celebrate the abundance in our neighborhood. Simply put, our neighbors are our business partners.

The community I work in, like other communities, is rich with gifted talented individuals who care about each other and their community but don’t have financial stability. The problem is that poor people aren’t being seen. There is a misrepresentation of poor people, in terms of who they are and what their capacity is to effect change within their communities. The dominant narrative about poor people or neighborhoods is that they are impoverished, broken, and filled with needs. Most stories of the poor focus on their economic and personal failures. Stories define a people. Stories reflect a people. Stories shape our perception, from the news to media to politics. The thing about stories, to paraphrase Neil Gaiman, is that it’s easy to let a bad one in you. Once labeled, it’s a constant battle not to live into that label.

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Fur, Comedy, and Lawsuits: Monsters, Inc.

By 2000, Pixar was doing well enough that Steve Jobs finally—finally—agreed to let the company move from its then-shoddy offices in a questionable neighborhood to a brand new production facility. Taking advice from old Disney hands, who remembered the way that an earlier change in production facilities had led to less communication and creativity between artists, Pixar created a large, open space that would, the company hoped, encourage conversation and collaboration. And just in time—Pixar had new projects in the works that presented new technical challenges, including animating individual strands of fur and creating a new underwater world. No longer content with studying fantastic parts of the regular world, Pixar was now ready to create an entirely new world of its own, inhabited by monsters. Friendly monsters, at that.

If the studio could manage the fur.

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