Some of the Best Tor.com Non-Fiction in 2017 (Thus Far)

Tor.com publishes between 3000 and 4000 non-fiction articles each year. Within that mix of news and book reviews and essays and columns are inevitably certain articles about science fiction and fantasy that hit you in a memorable way and make you go “wow”—pieces of writing that sit in your mind, conversing with you long after you’ve finished reading them.

Here are 10 such pieces (plus one bonus!) published on Tor.com in 2017 from amongst the 100+ that immediately stood out to us, along with the reasons why they made us go “wow”! Of course, every reader will have different favorites, so if there’s an article from the last year that has stuck with you or made you think differently, please share in the comments…

(Articles appear in order of publication.)

 

Mama Day Gloria Naylor

Expanded Course in the History of Black Science Fiction (Series) by Nisi Shawl

Why it made us “wow!”: This monthly series (which started in December 2016) expands on author Nisi Shawl’s 2016 article “A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction.” by delving into specific sci-fi/fantasy works from black SFF authors that have made key, and often overlooked, contributions to the ongoing dialogue of the sci-fi/fantasy genres.

Shawl begins with Gloria Naylor’s Mama Day, a novel that resonates with her in a deeply personal way, touching on memories and meanings on a level that can only be reached when you see your life reflected in the fiction that you love.


 

David G. Hartwell

Photo by Kathryn Cramer

David Hartwell’s Last Gift to Me: Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun by Theresa DeLucci (March 13, 2017)

Why it made us “wow!”: You’ll need some tissues for this one. In early 2016, Tor Books and the book industry at large lost one of its most beloved figures: editor David G. Hartwell. One year later we asked our co-worker Theresa DeLucci to write about Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun. What resulted was an unexpected tribute to David, the story of one of his characteristically generous gestures, and how this personal remembrance became intertwined with Gene Wolfe’s seminal tale.

DeLucci’s recollection stands as a much-needed reminder that being loving and generous in our cultivation of science and fantasy stories is just as important as the stories themselves.


 

A Closed and Common Orbit cover, UK edition

My Alien Family: Writing Across Cultures in Science Fiction by Becky Chambers (March 14, 2017)

Why it made us “wow!”: Think of a joke which you love and that your best friend doesn’t. That’s how you write aliens. Now think about how you two are best friends anyway. That’s how you create a family out of your cavalcade of fictional aliens.

It’s more complicated than that, but Becky Chambers’ personal essay doesn’t make it seem complicated, and that clarity in turn makes us more excited than ever to create and embrace stories about people who are different in any number of ways.


 

Selection from “Feast of Centaurs” by Edoardo Ettore Forti, c.1890s

So How Does a Centaur Eat, Anyway? by Judith Tarr (April 3, 2017)

Why it made us “wow!”: We half-jokingly asked our resident sci-fi/fantasy horse expert Judith Tarr how centaurs eat (since they’d have human and horse stomachs—or would they?!) and what resulted was the most horrifying article we have EVER published.

…it just keeps going. In the best way.


 

Let’s Talk About Marvel Comics, the “Diversity Doesn’t Sell” Myth, and What Diversity Really Means by Alex Brown (April 5, 2017)

Why it made us “wow!”: This wasn’t the first time a publisher has posited that “diversity doesn’t sell”, and it won’t be the last, which is probably one of the many reasons behind archivist Alex Brown’s marvelous takedown of the myth that diversity doesn’t sell. Brown pulls apart Marvel Comics’ argument apart, piece by piece, explaining the marketing errors, sales histories, talent mismanagement, distribution chokepoints, and demographic practices that actually tend to be behind faltering sales. In short: you can take an honest look at your business practices and sell more books, or you can blame the “diversity” boogeyman and continue losing money.


 

Evil Dead

Evil Dead poster.

The Peril of Being Disbelieved: Horror and the Intuition of Women by Emily Asher-Perrin (April 13, 2017)

Why it made us “wow!”: Emily Asher-Perrin analyses the classic horror trope of the woman-in-danger, but the neglect and contempt for women that she describes doesn’t sound fictional at all…

She tried to tell you about the dangers. Why didn’t you believe her?


 

Galadriel Cate Blanchett mournful

The Trial of Galadriel by Jeff LaSala (April 18, 2017)

Why it made us “wow!”: Imagine sitting around a campfire and being told wondrous stories about near-immortal elves and wizards. Stories that add depth and color to one of your favorite fantasy trilogies (be it book, movie, or both), stories that need no prior knowledge, just willing eyes and ears. That is the ephemeral atmosphere that Jeff LaSala creates within his retellings of The Silmarillion and other Middle-earth histories, and his wonderful overview of Galadriel’s life is particularly entertaining, considering how central and persistent she is to the mythology of Middle-earth.


 

Wonder Woman A Ms Book

Growing Up, Wonder Woman Was the Hero I Really Wanted to Be by Charlie Jane Anders (May 31, 2017)

Why it made us “wow!”: Charlie Jane Anders is one of sci-fi/fantasy’s most distinguished commentators, but even so it’s rare to read an article quite like this disquisition on Wonder Woman’s fictional history: an essay that manages to be at once personal and universal. Taken altogether, the piece is a fascinating glimpse at what motivates the actions of persons both real and fictional, and an entertaining example of just how non-existent the barrier between the real and the unreal can be on a personal level.


 

Staten Island Ferry scene Spider-Man Homecoming

Giving History a Better Ending: Marvel, Terrorism, and the Aftermath of 9/11 by Leah Schnelbach (August 22, 2017)

Why it made us “wow!”: Leah Schnelbach lays out a very detailed argument describing a hidden element behind our collective love for Marvel movies: They allow us to rewrite history so that 9/11 is thwarted, so that the 21st century becomes a century of heroes and not (as it has been thus far) a century of terror and unreason.

(You may or may not need a stiff drink after reading.)


 

Lish McBride Terry Pratchett hug meeting in person fan story

Photo courtesy of Lish McBride

Good Idols: Terry Pratchett & the Appropriate Hug by Lish McBride (August 22, 2017)

Why it made us “wow!”: At first it seems like author Lish McBride is simply talking about her abiding love of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, but then something surprising happens: the story has a twist, a golden ticket is somehow involved… and suddenly McBride is getting a hug from her idol on his final book tour.

Think magic isn’t real? Read Lish’s story about Terry Pratchett.


 

Bonus!

Horsehead Nebula; Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI)

The Art of Asterculture by Sarah Gailey (May 10, 2017)

Why it made us “wow!”: “Star-wine is very difficult to make. It’s a complex and sometimes dangerous process. But one must have a hobby, and this is mine…”

What more do you need?

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