Five Books to Read After Your Planet Explodes

So: your home planet has been destroyed. Or maybe not your home planet; maybe just the planet you were currently residing on. Either way, you find yourself suddenly without a planet (always an awkward position to be in), but at least with a spacecraft and an interstellar library of choice Earth works to tide you over on the long hyperspace journey to whatever world is nearest, which hopefully has not also been destroyed (though you never can tell). Thankfully, you were smart enough to load up your ship’s computer with the entire archive of Tor.com articles, and you can refer to this helpful list to choose the correct title to comfort you in the vast emptiness of space…

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John Bellairs Taught Me Magic is Real, But Not Without Consequences

You know the story: boy discovers there’s a world of witches and wizards, where friends come in the forms of a courageous girls and aging professors, where sinister forces stir in ancient tombs and only he, riddled with self-doubt from behind his glasses, can stop them.

You do realize I’m not talking about Harry Potter.

It’s Lewis Barnavelt, obviously. You know, by John Bellairs? Wait, YOU DON’T KNOW JOHN BELLAIRS?

My inner eleven-year-old gets a little defensive about Bellairs, because he’s my J.K. Rowling.

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“I just want you to meet a super guy” — Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman

Superman has always been a trailblazer: besides pretty much singlehandedly starting the notion of superhero comics when he was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in 1938, the first live-action, radio, and animated adaptations of superheroes featured the man of steel, and the first TV show based on a superhero was The Adventures of Superman starring George Reeves. The first superhero feature film that wasn’t tied to television was 1978’s Superman, and in the 2010s, Superman would lead off DC’s attempt at a cinematic universe with Man of Steel (which we’ll cover next week).

In the midst of the revived interest in the 1990s in DC’s characters in cinema (the Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher Batman films), animation (Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League), and television (Superboy, The Flash), ABC gave us Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.

[“Well, one thing’s for sure, nobody’s going to be looking at your face.” “Mom!” “Well, they don’t call them tights for nothing!”]

Series: 4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch

Valdemar, Pern, and the Real World Horse-Human Bond

Science fiction and fantasy have a long tradition of cultures and characters based on Earth animals. Cherryh’s Chanur, to cite one of my favorite examples. Space whales in multiple space operas (I love me some space whales). And most relevant here, Mercedes Lackey’s Companions, who are openly based on horses, and dragons, who are not—but Anne McCaffrey told me herself that the origins of Pern’s dragons are a particular breed of horses and the riders who serve them.

In both cases, we have magical, marginally mortal creatures of high intelligence, who communicate telepathically with their Chosen or Impressed riders. Choosing of Heralds happens usually in young adulthood, though there’s no age limit on the process, and Companions do so in their adult form. Dragons Impress at hatching, again on young adult humans usually. The result is a deep, lifelong bond between the human and the animal, which when broken tends to result in the death of the bereaved partner.

[Real-world horses can’t compare, can they?]

Death, Here is Thy Sting — Star Trek: Discovery’s “The Red Angel”

Death is all over tonight’s incredibly intense episode of Discovery, from the very first scene to the very last.

It starts with something I would not have credited them doing with the death of so minor a character as Airiam: a funeral. Usually such pomp and circumstance is reserved for people in the opening credits, and the fact that they went to this trouble for a minor character was a welcome change from the norm, where the characters’ reactions to other characters’ deaths depends entirely upon their actors’ billing. It shows that the writers remember that, even though the viewers barely knew Airiam, the crew of Discovery knew her damn well.

[“Admiral, we have a solution.” “I’m cringing already.”]

Science Fiction and the Philosophical “Ship of Theseus” Problem

The Ship of Theseus is a thought experiment first posited by Plutarch in Life of Theseus. It goes a little something like this:

A ship goes out in a storm and is damaged. Upon returning to shore, the ship is repaired, with parts of it being replaced in the process. Again and again the ship goes out, and again it is repaired, until eventually every single component of the ship, every plank of wood, has been replaced.

Is the repaired ship still the same ship that first went out into the storm? And if not, then at what point did it become a different ship?

Now, say you collected every part of the ship that was discarded during repairs, and you used these parts to rebuild the ship. With the two ships side-by-side, which one would be the true Ship of Theseus? Or would it be both? Or neither?

There’s no single answer to the problem, no correct one, just the looming question: what is the intrinsic thingness of a thing? But the thought experiment has captured my attention because, even though it is thousands of years old, it’s still relevant today. It’s given me a new way to look at some of my favourite bits of pop-culture, some of the technologies used in science fiction, and by extension, a valid frame by which to look at some of the technologies we may be using in the future.

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A Shaky Resolution: Luna: Moon Rising by Ian McDonald

Award-winning author Ian McDonald began his Luna trilogy in Luna: New Moon, and continued it in Luna: Wolf Moon. Now, in Luna: Moon Rising, the trilogy reaches its conclusion as the war that has raged between the Five Dragons of the Moon (and now has drawn representatives of Earth into the fray) enters its newest stage.

There’s just one major problem with Luna: Moon Rising: it doesn’t feel like a conclusion. It feels, in fact, a lot more like a prologue, like the end of an opening act of some much larger arc. For every thread that’s brought to some kind of conclusion, another one spreads its wings.

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The Book of Flora

In the wake of the apocalypse, Flora has come of age in a highly gendered post-plague society where females have become a precious, coveted, hunted, and endangered commodity. But Flora does not participate in the economy that trades in bodies. An anathema in a world that prizes procreation above all else, she is an outsider everywhere she goes, including the thriving all-female city of Shy.

Now navigating a blighted landscape, Flora, her friends, and a sullen young slave she adopts as her own child leave their oppressive pasts behind to find their place in the world. They seek refuge aboard a ship where gender is fluid, where the dynamic is uneasy, and where rumors flow of a bold new reproductive strategy.

When the promise of a miraculous hope for humanity’s future tears Flora’s makeshift family asunder, she must choose: protect the safe haven she’s built or risk everything to defy oppression, whatever its provenance.

Book three in the Road to Nowhere series, Meg Elison’s The Book of Flora is available April 23rd from 47North. Read an excerpt below!

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Six Bulky Classics Delivered by the Science Fiction Book Club

One benefit of being a reader of a certain vintage—old enough to remember inkwells in school desks, say, if not old enough to have used a dip pen —is the giddy joy of encountering insert ads in mass market paperbacks. It wasn’t just that they weakened the spines of the books or that some of them were youth-inappropriate cigarette ads. A fair fraction of them were variations on this ad.

Founded in the early 1950s, the mail order Science Fiction Book Club was a godsend for isolated readers like myself . Not only did they automatically send out books until actively stopped (a wonderful way for chronic procrastinators to encounter new authors), but they offered wonderful collections, anthologies, and omnibuses of unusual size. These were tomes heavy enough to stun a moose. For SF addicts, these books were like being able to order our drug of choice by the 100kg sack.

[Here favourites from the Before Times]

4 Theories For What Pepper Potts is Doing in Avengers: Endgame

The Avengers: Endgame trailers are meant to leave us with many questions because that’s what trailers do, particularly when they are teasing the end to a decade-long film arc. But it’s easy to get stuck on just one of those questions, which is what happens to me every time Tony Stark starts recording that message through his Iron Man helmet at the start of the trailer. Because we know the message is supposed to try and make it’s way back to Earth somehow, but there is something that we don’t know—where is Pepper Potts?

There are many potential answers to this question, but the more obvious one is devastating, and the trailers won’t tell us, so I’m going to think it through for my own peace of mind.

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Exploring the People of Middle-earth: Míriel, Historian of the Noldor (Part 2)

In this biweekly series, we’ll be exploring the evolution of both major and minor figures in Tolkien’s legendarium, tracing the transformations of these characters through drafts and early manuscripts through to the finished work. This installment is the second of a two-part exploration of the Noldorin weaver and historian, Míriel. Feel free to request characters in the comments below!

It would be nice if the story ended where we left it last time. There’s resolution of sorts, and the threads appear to be neatly tied together. Míriel gets her corporeal form back; Finwë is reunited (more or less) with his first love; Míriel graciously accepts Finwë’s choice of Indis and even praises her and her sons for the ways in which they’ll eventually redress Fëanor’s wrongs. Míriel then becomes a sort of family historian whose tapestries are so intricate and vibrant that they look alive. She’s able to recognize that her decision, even if it was an error of judgment on her part, did not lead exclusively to evil ends. But, predictably, Tolkien couldn’t leave it alone. It apparently bothered him that Míriel was in some sense at fault for Fëanor’s later actions because she chose to abandon her family so abruptly. Indeed, her own words, “I erred in leaving thee and our son” (X 248), condemn her.

But what could be done? We’ve seen already the various manipulations of reason the Valar go through to untangle this particularly messy situation. None of them work; there’s always another objection to be made. The text itself, “Of the Statute of Finwë and Míriel,” never actually comes to a conclusion about its most belabored question: Was Míriel at fault? Would things have gone down differently if she had stuck around or reincarnated?

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Magic for Liars: Prologue

Ivy Gamble was born without magic and never wanted it. Ivy Gamble is perfectly happy with her life—or at least, she’s perfectly fine. She doesn’t in any way wish she was like Tabitha, her estranged, gifted twin sister.

Ivy Gamble is a liar.

When a gruesome murder is discovered at The Osthorne Academy of Young Mages, where her estranged twin sister teaches Theoretical Magic, reluctant detective Ivy Gamble is pulled into the world of untold power and dangerous secrets. She will have to find a murderer and reclaim her sister—without losing herself.

Sarah Gailey’s Magic For Liars is available June 4th from Tor Books. Read the prologue below, and stay tuned for additional chapters soon!

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Cthulhu Versus the Long Island Expressway: N.K. Jemisin’s “The City Born Great”

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

This week, we’re reading N.K. Jemisin’s “The City Born Great,” first published on Tor.com in September 2016. Spoilers ahead.

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Series: The Lovecraft Reread

War is Hell: The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley

It seems like we get one of these novels every decade or two—a retelling of Heinlein’s Starship Troopers with a modern twist of characterization, themes, or how the story is told, whether that’s time dilation, honest-to-goodness time travel, or bioengineering. Remarkably, not only do these retellings pop up regularly, but many, like Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War and Old Man’s War by John Scalzi, have gone on to become SF classics in their own right.

Kameron Hurley’s The Light Brigade is the latest in this line of novels to modernize Heinlein’s classic tale, and like those that have come before, it too is an important, critical look at the role of how war bends and warps modern society. It is also every bit as good as The Forever War and Old Man’s War, and has the potential to become the next great Military SF classic.

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