Flawed Futures Make for Better Stories: Ada Palmer’s Take on Utopian SF

At Readercon last summer, when I saw that Ada Palmer was hosting a kaffeeklatsch, I jumped at the chance to join in. Having just read her debut, Too Like The Lightning, a few months earlier, I was thrilled at the prospect of having an hour to sit with her and other fans and pick her brain about the vast, complicated world of Terra Ignota and the future of 2454 that she had painstakingly created. During the discussion, someone asked something about how she had written a utopia, to which Ada chuckled for a moment, possibly thinking over all the complications—all the wrenches she’d thrown into the gears, basically—when it came to creating her world. Then, she said, “Well, it’s not quite a utopia, as it is utopian,” which she went on to explain means that while the world itself is utopian in nature, the future itself is far from a perfect utopia. She’s actually gone into a bit more detail about this distinction on her blog, stating:

…[W]hen I talk about a “utopia”—a work intending to depict an ideal future—that is not quite the same as a work which is “utopian” i.e. addressing the idea of utopia, and using utopian positive elements in its future building, while still focusing on people, characters and events, and exploring or critiquing the positive future it depicts, rather than recommending it. 2454 as I imagine it is not a utopia. There are many flaws and uncomfortable elements…. It is using utopia and commenting on utopia without being a utopia.

Which, of course, got me thinking.

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Pilgrims and Rocks and the Origins of Thanksgiving

I intended to write an “origins of Thanksgiving” post last year, but the release of The Gates of Hell and day-job matters got in the way. I promised in a subsequent “Origins of Xmas” post that I’d do it next year, which a reader has reminded me is now this year … so here we go!

When we think of the historical origins of Thanksgiving, we tend to get an image like the one above.Praying Pilgrims and helpful Indians, amirite? By now we’ve distilled the images even further into simple symbolism that pre-school kids can craft in construction paper. For the pilgrims: black hats with buckles upon them. For the Indians: loincloths and feathered headbands. Turkey with gravy on the table, and nostalgia about peace amid a religiosity of thankfulness.

It’s all lovely, and I quite like Thanksgiving, but its important to distinguish our modern conceptions from the historical realities. Because as quaint as our images are of that “First Thanksgiving,” they’re pretty much all wrong.

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Series: Medieval Matters

Anakin Skywalker Was a Gray Jedi

“It’s time for the Jedi to end.”

Since Luke Skywalker dropped that bomb in the middle of the Star Wars universe in the first trailer for The Last Jedi, questions have been swirling:

Has Luke turned to the Dark Side?

Has he discovered something about the Jedi Order that will redefine what the term “Jedi” means?

Will Rey evolve past the binary Dark/Light Side and become the first (canonical) Gray Jedi?


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Sleeps With Monsters: Helen S. Wright’s A Matter of Oaths

Remember 1988? I don’t, not really—but then, I was two at the time.

People who were older than two in 1988 might remember Helen S. Wright’s A Matter of Oaths. Or then again, they might not: Wright seems to have published precisely one novel (at least, under that name) and at the time, it received little acclaim.

Nigh on thirty years later, republished with a foreword by Becky Chambers, I have to hope its fate will be vastly different. Because A Matter of Oaths deserves your attention. (And it’s one of those books, like Swordspoint, that I honestly didn’t think anyone was publishing in the eighties until I read it.)

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

The Malazan Authors’ Suggested Reading Order for the Series Is Not What You Would Expect

Spanning two authors and twenty-one books and counting, the Malazan series defines EPIC. With an awesome magic system, fantastic characters and world-building, and more than a couple of very angry gods, it’s a fantasy editor’s dream series. But when there is so much Malazan out there, new readers can’t help but ask “where do I start?”

And that is an excellent question, dear reader. So, I thought it would be best to take this question right to the source. I set out and asked the creators of the world of Malazan, Ian C. Esslemont and Steven Erikson, what they thought was the best order to experience the series. Keep in mind that what they provided is by no means definitive. So with the authors’ and editor’s stamp of approval, here is the best way to get the full Malazan experience.

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Binti: The Night Masquerade

Binti has returned to her home planet, believing that the violence of the Meduse has been left behind. Unfortunately, although her people are peaceful on the whole, the same cannot be said for the Khoush, who fan the flames of their ancient rivalry with the Meduse.

Far from her village when the conflicts start, Binti hurries home, but anger and resentment has already claimed the lives of many close to her.

Once again it is up to Binti, and her intriguing new friend Mwinyi, to intervene—though the elders of her people do not entirely trust her motives–and try to prevent a war that could wipe out her people, once and for all.

Don’t miss this essential concluding volume in Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti trilogy: Binti: The Night Masquerade, available January 16th from Tor.com Publishing.

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The Magicians’ Season Three Trailer is Going on a Quest

Magic is gone, but the Muntjac is ready for its close-up! The ship that takes Quentin on a tax-collecting adventure in Lev Grossman’s second Magicians novel, The Magician King, is likely to play a major role in season three of The Magicians, which is going to involve one heck of a quest: Just a little trip to get magic back, no big deal…

Check out the new trailer for season three, and let the theorizing begin!

[“I’ll send you on an epic quest.”]

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Memory, Chapters 21 and 22

Last week’s blog post, which purported to end with Chapter 19, actually covered Chapter 20. This week, we start with Chapter 21, in which Miles and Illyan have a meeting, and Miles’s mother comes home. In Chapter 22, Miles decides to turn ImpSec upside down and discovers a false entry in the evidence room logs.

Reminder: This reread has an index, which you can consult if you feel like exploring previous books and chapters. Spoilers are welcome in the comments if they are relevant to the discussion at hand. Non-spoiler comments should also be relevant to the discussion at hand. Like Earth, Barrayar and other places in the galactic nexus live out sets of cultural practices that range from beautiful to genocidal. Regardless of what may be commonplace as a cultural practice in any place at any time, comments that question the value and dignity of individuals, or that deny anyone’s right to exist, are emphatically NOT welcome. Please take note.

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Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

The One Book That Helped Me Find Myself: The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe

That one book that changed my life is The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe. A brilliant teacher, Mrs. Church, had introduced my small middle-school class to the great poet and writer, and my extreme interest in “The Raven” meant my academic parents were happy to immediately procure a copy of his collected works. This book, a soon tattered and dog-eared paperback, set my course entirely.

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5 Things I Love About A Wrinkle in Time’s Second Trailer

I love A Wrinkle in Time. It was my first sci-fi—before AWIT I exclusively read realistic dramas about horses and/or dogs (who usually died by the end)—so encountering a world just adjacent to our own, in a story that merrily hopped across planets, discussed religious faith, philosophy, the concept of individualism, was thrilling to me.

To say I’m excited for Ava DuVernay and Jennifer Lee’s take on it is a vast understatement. I’ll attempt to sum up why I’m jumping up and down in anticipation below, with a list of Five Things I Love. Join me, won’t you?

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Smurfette Saves the World: Andre Norton’s Ordeal in Otherwhere

Ordeal in Otherwhere takes us back somewhat circuitously to Warlock, this time with a female protagonist. The story opens in a very similar way to Storm Over Warlock: our viewpoint character is running away from a disaster and struggling frantically to survive. This time, it’s a young woman, Charis Nordholm. The antagonists are human, the planet is a new colony called Demeter, and the disaster is a plague that attacks only adult men. The closer those men are to the government service, the more likely they are to contract the disease.

Charis is a service kid, following her father around from post to post. Her father, Anders Nordholm, has died, without any great emotional outpouring on Charis’ part; mostly she’s preoccupied with staying alive and out of the clutches of the extreme religious conservatives who have taken over the colony. She succeeds for a while, but naively lets herself be captured when a spacer lands and turns out not to be the rescue she expected.

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The Art of Harry Potter Sweepstakes!

We want to send you a copy of Marc Sumerak’s The Art of Harry Potter, available November 21st from Harper Design!

Since the release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the Harry Potter film series has become one of the most popular and successful in the world. Beautifully crafted and presented in a deluxe, large format with lavish production values, these pages present a visual chronicle of the work by artists and filmmakers to bring the wizarding world to life onscreen.

Bursting with hundreds of rare and unpublished works of art, including production paintings, concept sketches, storyboards, blueprints, and more, this collectible book is the definitive tome on the visual legacy of the Harry Potter films. Fans will recognize beloved characters, creatures, locations, and more as they embark on a journey through the wizarding world, from the depths of Gringotts to the heights of Hogwarts Castle.

The Art of Harry Potter is available exclusively at Barnes and Noble through January 2018.

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 1:30 PM Eastern Time (ET) on November 20th. Sweepstakes ends at 12:00 PM ET on November 24th. 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.

Things We’re Pretty Sure Theseus Scamander Would Say to Us

All you have to do is take one glimpse at that Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald cast photo, and you know—Theseus Scamander is nastier than a barrel of hippogriff droppings. He’s the odious, be-cheekboned cousin that everyone “forgets” to invite to holiday dinners. We want Mad-Eye Moody to show up and turn this guy into a ferret, pronto. It’s hard not to feel bad for Newt already, and that’s without mentioning that older bro is affianced to his former BFF and school crush, Leta Lestrange.

Theseus Scamander: Winner of the Severus Snape “You’re the Worst” Trophy 2017

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All the Known Portal Worlds in Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children Series

In Every Heart a Doorway, the first novella in the stellar Wayward Children series, author Seanan McGuire explores what happens when children who disappeared into magical worlds returned to the real world. Her portal worlds are connected to our own through magic doors. Not just any child can cross the threshold; something innate in their being or in the other world draws them in.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a prequel showing how Jacqueline and Jillian became Jack and Jill during their time in one of those other worlds. The consequences of leaving your home world for the real one come to roost in the forthcoming third novella, Beneath the Sugar Sky. Although the Wayward Children series is only three novellas (so far), McGuire has built a vast multiverse, one I tried to organize here.

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Beneath the Sugar Sky (Wayward Children #3)

Beneath the Sugar Sky, the third book in McGuire’s Wayward Children series, returns to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children in a standalone contemporary fantasy for fans of all ages. At this magical boarding school, children who have experienced fantasy adventures are reintroduced to the “real” world.

When Rini lands with a literal splash in the pond behind Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, the last thing she expects to find is that her mother, Sumi, died years before Rini was even conceived. But Rini can’t let Reality get in the way of her quest—not when she has an entire world to save! (Much more common than one would suppose.)

If she can’t find a way to restore her mother, Rini will have more than a world to save: she will never have been born in the first place. And in a world without magic, she doesn’t have long before Reality notices her existence and washes her away. Good thing the student body is well-acquainted with quests…

A tale of friendship, baking, and derring-do.

Warning: May contain nuts.

Available January 9th from Tor.com Publishing.

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