Building an Empire: Ian C. Esslemont’s Malazan Prequel, Dancer’s Lament

Prequels can be tricky things for authors. One obvious obstacle is that being a prequel, the story is robbed of at least some of its natural narrative tension, as readers already know that this or that character will not die, that this or that battle will not be won. Authors also run the risk of having painted themselves into narrative corners via the original work—this character has to do A to end up at C, this thingamabob has to appear because it’s the signature thingamabob of Character X and so on. In weaker prequels, it all feels very mechanical, as if the author just traced the lines backward and dutifully filled in the obvious and necessary plot points, character appearances, and portentous arrivals of requisite talismans. Even the author who successfully navigates all the prequel pitfalls can end up losing, à la an army of irate fans complaining, “Hey, that’s not how I imagined it happening!” Talk about a thankless task.

Well, it’s true that while reading Ian Cameron Esselmont’s Malazan prequel, Dancer’s Lament, I did several times think to myself, “That’s not how I imagined it happening!” And it’s also true that one or two signature thingamabobs (cough cough walking stick cough) make their appearance. But it was all to the good, because those moments are representative of the sort of balance between the familiar and the unexpected that is required of a good prequel. And Dancer’s Lament is just that. Equally impressive is that the prequel works just as fine as an entry point into the massive (and massively complex) Malazan universe. I’m not going to argue it’s a “better” entry point than Gardens of the Moon (by Steven Erikson), the usual starting point, but I would argue it’s a more accessible one.

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See Malka Older, author of Infomocracy, in June!

Malka Older’s near-future political thriller, Infomocracy, comes out next week, and she’s appearing in a number of cities on the East Coast over the summer to discuss her debut novel, her innovative take on elections, and her extensive history working in humanitarian aid all over the world. If you’re in New York City, Washington, D.C., or Massachusetts, check out where you can see Malka below the cut. Stay tuned for news on more events happening this summer!

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The Wheel of Time Reread Redux: The Dragon Reborn, Part 22

You gotta know when to walk away, Wheel of Time Reread Redux, and know when to run!

Today’s Redux post will cover Chapters 45 and 46 of The Dragon Reborn, originally reread in this post, and Chapter 47, originally reread in this post.

All original posts are listed in The Wheel of Time Reread Index here, and all Redux posts will also be archived there as well. (The Wheel of Time Master Index, as always, is here, which has links to news, reviews, interviews, and all manner of information about the Wheel of Time in general on

The Wheel of Time Reread is also available as an e-book series! Yay!

All Reread Redux posts will contain spoilers for the entire Wheel of Time series, so if you haven’t read, read at your own risk.

And now, the post!

[I wanna be a part of it/ Caemlyn, Caemlynnnnnn]

Series: The Wheel of Time Reread

Dwayne Johnson to Play Pulp “Superhero” Doc Savage

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who basically already plays a superhuman in the Fast and the Furious franchise, is stepping fully into the superhero realm with his new project: He’ll play scientist, inventor, and explorer Doc Savage, a.k.a. the “Man of Bronze,” a.k.a. the pulp legend who inspired Man of Steel Clark Kent. While various iterations of a Doc Savage movie have been in the works since at least 2008, Shane Black’s (Iron Man 3) project is set to be released in 2017.

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X-Men: Apocalypse Really Hopes You Remember Those Characters You Liked From Before

X-Men: Apocalypse is a story meant to bridge the gap between the previous generation of characters fans have been rooting for since 2011’s First Class, and the mutants they came to know from the first Bryan Singer films in the early aughts. Because of that, Apocalypse has quite a lot to of ground to cover, and a lot of characters to juggle.

Does the film manage that circus act? Um… very yes and very no.

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Robert Jordan: America’s Tolkien

In 2005, Lev Grossman of Time Magazine declared that George R. R. Martin was “the American Tolkien.” Since then, you’ll be able to find the phrase splashed on just about every one of Martin’s wonderful novels.

And for good reason, of course. That’s a really awesome blurb. I’d love it on my own novels. Or how about just “the American Pullman”? I would be totally cool with that, Mr. Grossman!

Unfortunately, I think that my series The Shards of Heaven—while it follows Philip Pullman’s superb His Dark Materials in ultimately positing a new origin story for the gods—would not be the right fit for the comparison. Pullman’s series is a parallel world fantasy fundamentally in dialogue with John Milton, William Blake, and C. S. Lewis; my series is a historical fantasy set during the time of Antony and Cleopatra that dialogues with history, legend, and myth. He and I are really doing different things. And the same kind of differentiation is true, I think, of Martin and Tolkien. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire might exist in the shadow of The Lord of the Rings—I’ve written elsewhere about its quasi-“medieval” setting—but they are tremendously different works in tone, scale, and intent. As terrific as his work is (and, seriously, you can put down the pitchforks if you’re a fan of Westeros), George R. R. Martin isn’t the American Tolkien.

[Robert Jordan is.]

Hammers on Bone Excerpt and Cover Reveal!

John Persons is a private investigator with a distasteful job from an unlikely client. He’s been hired by a ten-year-old to kill the kid’s stepdad, McKinsey. The man in question is abusive, abrasive, and abominable. He’s also a monster, which makes Persons the perfect thing to hunt him. Over the course of his ancient, arcane existence, he’s hunted gods and demons, and broken them in his teeth.

As Persons investigates the horrible McKinsey, he realizes that he carries something far darker than the expected social evils. He’s infected with an alien presence, and he’s spreading that monstrosity far and wide. Luckily Persons is no stranger to the occult, being an ancient and magical intelligence himself. The question is whether the private dick can take down the abusive stepdad without releasing the holds on his own horrifying potential.

We’re pleased to reveal the cover for Cassandra Khaw’s Hammers on Bone, a new dark fantasy noir novella available October 11th from Publishing. Check out the full cover, illustrated by Jeffrey Alan Love and designed by Christine Foltzer, and read an exclusive excerpt below!

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Game of Thrones Season 6, Episode 6: “Blood of My Blood”

Seeing last week’s ending again in the “Previously on…” bit made me upset all over again.

Tonight’s episode proper kept it in the family. Some take this more literally than others. (Looking at you, Jaime and Cersei.) But elsewhere in King’s Landing, family members reunited, were torn apart, fought to stay together, and were also unspeakably horrible to one another.

But no one died! This was good for everyone—except for Arya, of course.

Major episode spoilers ahead.

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Series: HBO’s Game of Thrones

Neil Gaiman’s Likely Stories, Episodes 1 and 2: Clever, Unsettling, and Not To Be Missed

The first ten minutes of “Foreign Parts,” the first of four Neil Gaiman short stories to be adapted for TV in Neil Gaiman’s Likely Stories, are uncomfortable viewing. That’s partially due to the setup which follows Simon Powers (George Mackay), a man who is professionally cautious of very nearly everything besides his fondness for solitude and masturbation. Simon hasn’t had sex with anyone other than himself for three years, has a stable job, a stable life and absolutely no prospect of anything changing. Until he’s woken up by pain in his genitals and goes to the Doctor. Simon, it turns out has picked up an infection.

But from where? Or who?

For ten minutes you find yourself wondering if you really are about to watch a half hour drama about a not especially pleasant man’s urethra infection. For ten minutes, if you’re a Brit, you look at the dingy décor and the grumpily polite London that Simon moves through and wonder if that really is all there is to the country. For ten minutes, you hope desperately that the subplot involving the collapse of Doctor Benham’s marriage is actually going to work. For ten minutes you wonder if Gaiman’s Hitchcockian cameos on TV screens and radios will pay off.

[It all does.]

Paizo Announces New Starfinder Roleplaying Game

Paizo Inc., creators of the fantasy roleplaying game Pathfinder, have just revealed their plans to release an all-new science fantasy roleplaying game called Starfinder in August of 2017.

Set in the same universe as Pathfinder but thousands of years in the future, the Starfinder roleplaying game makes players the explorers of weird new worlds, where monsters and magic exist alongside spaceships and laser guns. While compatible with the Pathfinder RPG, Starfinder will be a complete standalone game, requiring only the Starfinder RPG Core Rulebook to play.

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Traumatic SFF Movie Moments (That I Loved and Watched Repeatedly)

(This is rerun of a post that originally ran on August 5th, 2015.)

As a child of the 80s, I grew up watching a lot of weird stuff. My parents love movies, from glorious technicolor musicals (hi, mom!) and classic comedies to Westerns and all Kubrick films (hey, dad!), and as the oldest kid I was their pop culture guinea pig as they tried their best to figure out what kind of entertainment would fly with little ones, and what would just straight-up freak us out. But of course, they soon found that mileage tends to vary in a big way—spooky movies that amused me to no end gave my younger brother crazy nightmares, while other scenes that completely disturbed me had zero effect on him, and so on. Kids are fun like that.

Of course, having a strong emotional reaction to a movie or a particular scene isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and sometimes the moments we find most upsetting end up sticking with us long after we’ve processed those emotions. I’m sure everyone has a list of the movies that deeply affected them, growing up, and we’d love to hear your stories in the comments, if you care to share! In the meantime, here are my own personal top five trauma-inducing movie moments from childhood (mostly), in no particular order…

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Highlights From Our “Five Books About…” Series to Build Your TBR Pile

Quick! Give us five books about dragons. Or girls disguising themselves as boys. Or magic systems with particularly high costs. When authors are releasing their new books out into the world, we like to pick their brains for a quintet of similar books that might have inspired them. Or, as with our “And Related Subjects” essays, we want authors to list books that have nothing to do with their creative process, but that address a fascinating topic or reversal in genre. Since 2015, we’ve been asking authors to share serious or cheeky book recommendations for our Five Books About… series. With over 100 lists, that’s close to 500 books to check out (minus any overlap, which are probably books you doubly want to check out). Read through some of our best lists (so far) for the books that compel great authors to write.

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Rereading Katherine Kurtz: Farewell to Morgan and Company

As I think about the reread of Katherine Kurtz’s first published trilogy before I move on to the second published series (which actually moves backward in time), what strikes me is that, for all their problems, their wobbles and plotholes, the first three books hold up amazingly well. I still love many of the things I loved then, and I see where my own writing picked up not only ideas and characters, but also Don’ts and No’s—things that made me say, even then, “Hell, no. It should be this way instead.”

And that’s all to the good. A baby writer should take inspiration from her predecessors, but also find ways to tell her own stories in her own way. [Read more]

Series: Rereading Katherine Kurtz