Tor.com content by

Jenn Northington

Welcome to Teen Wolf: The Final Season

Teen Wolf season 6 started with several very loud bangs—from a memory-erasing gun!—but before we dive into all that, let’s set the stage by revisiting the end of season 5. Everything worked out great for everyone in Beacon Hills, with the notable exception of Kira, who went away and may never graduate high school because desert warriors need to train her, or something. (For the record, I strenuously object.) Parrish finally knows that he is a black dog of doom, I mean hellhound, and now probably has to reconsider his life choices. Lydia had a giant hole in her head but seemed to be recovering just fine. Scott and Stiles are best bros again (hopefully forever) and Theo is gone (also hopefully forever). And we got Mason back from the Smoke Monster, I mean Beast of Gevaudan, for which I personally am grateful because it will mean Liam and Hayden get less screen time and that can only be a good thing. (I’m still coming to terms with this new crop of supernatural babies, I confess; it’s hard to measure up to the OG pack.) Malia’s mom was not actually able to murder her, huzzah! The other notable exception is that an undead Nazi war criminal escaped from the Dread Doctors’ tank, but we don’t appear to care about that yet. And now, onto the spoilers!

[Questions and predictions for the new season…]

The Compact Teen Wolf: Get Caught Up Before the Final Season

It’s time once again to talk about Teen Wolf, because the final season approaches! In about a month (November 15th, to be precise), we start our last adventure with my current favorite team of supernaturally gifted teenagers and their bewildered parents. As announced at San Diego ComicCon, Season 6 will end the show, and on their 100th episode no less. Other Tor writers have told you before, and eloquently as hell, why you should be watching. But in case you still need some persuading, I have a few questions for you:

  • Does the way Sherlock and Watson navigate the complexities of their friendship in Elementary speaks to you on a deep level?
  • Were the Scooby episodes of Buffy your favorite?
  • Are Jasper and Monty your platonic OTP?
  • Does the fact that “friendship is magic” seems to be the defining message of both Guardians of the Galaxy and Star Trek: Beyond fills you with unholy glee?
  • Do you enjoy a good screamfest?
  • Is occasional subpar CGI not a dealbreaker?

If you answered “Yes” to any/all of the above, you should be watching Teen Wolf. The plot reaches regular heights (as well as depths) but regardless of what Big Bad is driving the action, the characters are everything. Their relationships are believable; they are compelling; and if you give them half a chance, they will warm the cockles of your cold dead heart.

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Expanding Olondria: The Winged Histories, by Sofia Samatar

For those of us who discovered Sofia Samatar with her debut fantasy novel, A Stranger in Olondria (Small Beer Press, 2013), March 15 couldn’t come soon enough. I didn’t know what I wanted next, just that I wanted more, and in my most detailed daydreams I don’t think I could have conjured up The Winged Histories.

Told by four different women, it is a story of war; not epic battles of good and evil, but the attempt to make things right and the realities of violence wielded by one human against another, by one group against another. It’s about the aftermath of war, in which some things are better but others are worse. Above all, it’s a story about love—the terrible love that tears lives apart. Doomed love; impossible love; love that requires a rewriting of the rules, be it for a country, a person, or a story.

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Octavia Butler Will Change the Way You Look at Genre Fiction

The first Octavia Butler novel I ever read was Fledgling, and it was a revelation. While I had been taught by early exposure to Ursula Le Guin that genre fiction could be political, could comment on social and cultural morés, I never expected that someone would use vampires to discuss bigotry, racism, and slavery. It’s been almost a decade since I read it, but I doubt I’ll ever forget that sense of wonder.

And that, more than anything else, is why Butler ranks as one of my all-time favorites. Of course, her accomplishments are many—this is a woman who conquered both dyslexia and prejudice to become an award-winning writer and a MacArthur Fellow. Kindred alone is enough to put her in the ranks of influential sci-fi writers. But I am a lifelong genre fan and a somewhat-jaded reader, and I’ve read a lot of good books and many great ones too. So when I read, I’m looking for a return to that moment we’ve all felt, in which an author does something so original, so creative, so truly surprising, that it feels like your mind has been blown wide open. Octavia Butler’s books create that moment, time and again.

For the first U.S. World Book Night, I chose to hand out Kindred. There’s nothing simple about trying to convince strangers first, that you’re not trying to give them religious materials, and second, that they should take this sci-fi novel from you. And believe me, I dearly wanted to say, “Have you accepted Octavia Butler as your personal reading savior?” but wiser heads convinced me this was a bad idea. So instead, I often found myself babbling. “It’s not just a time travel novel,” I told people. “It’s a book that shows how you can use science fiction to talk about politics and society.” “It’s amazing. It will change the way you look at genre fiction.” “She’s the most famous female African-American sci-fi writer!”

I said all those things because they were true, but mostly because “It will astonish you,” doesn’t seem like enough of a pitch. But truthfully, that’s the highest praise I can give: Octavia Butler will astonish you.

This article was originally published June 22, 2013 on Tor.com.

Series: On This Day

The Religious Controversy Surrounding Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials

It’s easy to scoff at accusations of the promotion of witchcraft in the Harry Potter series, or of pornography in Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. But defending a book on the Banned Books list from charges that the author confirms—well, that’s a horse of a different color! Or is it?

Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series was number 8 on the Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books list for 2000-2009. In 2007, the Catholic League campaigned against The Golden Compass, declaring that it promoted atheism and attacked Christianity, in particular the Catholic church. In a later interview with the Guardian Pullman partially confirmed this, saying “In one way, I hope the wretched organisation will vanish entirely.”

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Series: Banned Books Week 2013

From Zima to the Deep Web: Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge

‘90s and ‘00s references; Mafioso and hackers and dotcom billionaires; unscrupulous government agents of uncertain affiliation; terrorism; conspiracy theories; underground videotapes; the Deep Web; murder; karaoke nights. These are a few of the things you will find in Thomas Pynchon’s newest novel, Bleeding Edge. If that doesn’t sound so far off from Neuromancer or Ready Player One it’s because, in essence, it’s not. Bleeding Edge is both a literary and a genre masterpiece, a cyberpunk epic and a memorial to the pre-9/11 world.

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Series: Genre in the Mainstream

Participatory Delusions: Sarah Bruni’s The Night Gwen Stacy Died

On the surface, it’s a simple enough plot: boy meets girl, then they run away together and have adventures in the big city. But there’s nothing simple about Sarah Bruni’s debut novel, The Night Gwen Stacy Died. As one layer after another gets added, the plot becomes a shifting landscape that the reader explores along with her characters. And as you explore the world of the novel—which is just familiar enough to make the differences all the more unsettling—you find yourself participating in their delusions, trying to negotiate the blurry boundaries between the imaginary and the real.

[Who is the hero, and who is the victim? And what are these coyotes doing here?]

Series: Genre in the Mainstream

Horror & Humor: Karen Russell’s Vampires in the Lemon Grove

The virtues of Karen Russell’s novel Swamplandia! have already been extolled in this column, and I am happy to report that her new short story collection, Vampires in the Lemon Grove, is tailor-made for fans of both magical realism and horror. Employing intensely awkward humor (think The Office) and melding it with dark sensibilities (think Poe), she’s written a book that belongs on your shelf next to Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, and Bas-Lag-era China Mieville. Russell’s subjects have grown up a bit—there are teenagers, but there are also dead presidents, ancient vampires, a middle-aged divorcé. And while Swamplandia! had plenty of darkness, the creepy factor has been dialed up here to the point where you might consider not reading certain stories after dusk.

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Series: Genre in the Mainstream

Space Aliens, Nuns, and Bob Dylan Populate Marie-Helene Bertino’s Safe as Houses

Every now and then you discover a new author just before their first book comes out. You read their work and are bowled over by it. And then you get to be the first one to tell everyone about it! At least, if you’re lucky.

Keeping this in mind, you’ll understand that I could not be more pleased to introduce you to Marie-Helene Bertino’s debut short story collection, Safe as Houses. In its pages, characters catch glimpses of their younger selves at stoplights and go on dates with idealized versions of their exes. Robbers steal macaroni valentines, and salesmen peddle beating human hearts. Flocks of hummingbirds manifest in the middle of shopping malls. An alien faxes notes on humanity back home. Bob Dylan comes to Thanksgiving dinner.

Taking the surreal as a given, these stories spin the world around and make the familiar new again.

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Series: Genre in the Mainstream

The Boundaries of Sanity & the Supernatural: Victor LaValle’s The Devil in Silver & Lucretia and the Kroons

Victor LaValle is no stranger to the supernatural, disturbed minds, or the borough of Queens! His first two novels, Big Machine and The Ecstatic, are set in Queens and include cult-survivors, paranormal investigations, and schizophrenia. But it would be a mistake to think that his new novel The Devil in Silver and companion novella Lucretia and the Kroons are covering the same ground. With these, LaValle leaves the plausible dark comedy behind and dives deep into the modern gothic novel.

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Series: Genre in the Mainstream

Secular and Mystical Sci-Fi: G. Willow Wilson’s Alif the Unseen

Politics and fiction can be a powerful combination; classics like Wells’ The Time Machine, Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, Brin’s Uplift series, all orbit around recognizable political quandaries. You can even see it on television (Battlestar Galactica, I am looking at you). But few authors chose to set these stories in the present, in our own world — a little distance, a new galaxy, a future time, these are almost de riguer.

In her debut novel (she’s written graphic novels before) Alif the Unseen, G. Willow Wilson has chosen to buck the trend, meshing the world of information technology with the mystical aspects of Islam and contemporary life to weird and captivating effect. I spent half the book thinking, “Where can this possibly go now?”, only to find out in the next chapter. Alif the Unseen is a true chimera, combining magic and technology, fantasy and sci-fi, the secular and the mystical, literature and genre.

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Series: Genre in the Mainstream

A Shimmer of the Unexpected: Why The Age of Miracles Delivers

Julia—the narrator of The Age of Miracles—is 11 years old when the world changes forever. It’s October, and time suddenly becomes elastic. One day, for no apparent reason, a day is suddenly 25 hours long. Three days later, 25:37 — and they continue to stretch. The Age of Miracles has the feel of an apocalyptic To Kill a Mockingbird or a more sober True Grit, with a knowing, worldly voice-over guiding the reader through the moment in her childhood that everything changed. Author Karen Thompson Walker takes the traditional literary trope of nostalgia for the timelessness of youth and makes of it a weird, subtly creepy, and engrossing novel in which time itself is a thing to fear.

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Series: Genre in the Mainstream

Genre in the Mainstream: Ryan Boudinot’s Blueprints of the Afterlife

It’s probably only recently that a novel as stuffed with genre conceits as Ryan Boudinot’s Blueprints of the Afterlife could be shelved in the literature section. Quantum computers, neurological hacking, time loops, commercialized cloning, all are solidly on the SF side of the fence. But Boudinot’s author background — McSweeney’s, Best American Nonrequired Reading, The Rumpus — and his first novel, Misconception (a coming-of-age story set during the first dot-com boom) swing him back toward the literary world. This combination is what makes Blueprints such a fantastic crossover book. At its heart it is the story of Luke Piper and Nick Fedderly, two brilliant and troubled young men, and how they changed the world — and you couldn’t pull it off without the genre elements.

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Series: Genre in the Mainstream