The beginnings of a tentative friendship between two roboticists complicate over career envy, female beauty, and a stolen robot designed to resemble a famous Korean actor.
You’ve heard this narrative before. Young people chosen because of a special bloodline, a special talent, a rare ability or heritage that they themselves don’t know about. Gather these special people, bring them to an isolated space, be it in the mountains, the world next door, a remote island. Possibly one or two of the chosen have an even more special talent than the usual. Train them in their heritage, preparing them to face against a threat to themselves, and possibly the entire world. It’s a well worn path for a SFF novel to take. Or Star Wars, for that matter.
In Troy Carrol Bucher’s epic fantasy novel Lies of Descent, first in The Fallen Gods War series flips that script and its expectations, early and often.
In pre-Internet times, it was hard for everyone who didn’t live in an English-speaking country to buy science fiction and fantasy made in the US or in the UK. It was far from impossible, but very often it wasn’t feasible: we had to send letters (yes!—paper ones, mind you) to bookstores, but the whole operation would only be interesting money-wise if we gathered in a four- or five-person group to buy, say, two or three dozen books. And I’m talking about used books, of course. Most of my English-language books during the Eighties and Nineties were acquired this way, including Neuromancer (but that is another story, as the narrator in Conan the Barbarian would say), in the notorious A Change of Hobbit bookstore, in California.
Some of them, however, I borrowed from friends who had been doing pretty much the same, or buying the occasional volume in one of the two bookstores in Rio that carried imported books. One of these friends I’d met in a course on translation—Pedro Ribeiro was an avid reader, as I was, but his interests tended more to the Fantasy side. He introduced me to many interesting writers, such as David Zindell (who remains to this day one of my favorite authors), and, naturally, Gene Wolfe.
In this biweekly series, we’re 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 looks at Denethor II, son of Ecthelion, Steward of Gondor, and father of Boromir and Faramir.
Over the years, and perhaps especially after the release of Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings, Denethor has become one of the most despised characters in Tolkien’s Middle-earth. His blatant favoritism of Boromir over Faramir seems to be at least one root of this hatred. But where did the Steward’s cruelty come from? And is there any reason we should extend an attempt at compassion to a man so twisted and broken with hate? Did Tolkien conceive of the character that way from the start?
The short answer to that last question is: no. In fact, Tolkien originally cast Denethor as a man who, while certainly stern and hardened by years of war and loss, showed flashes of compassion and tenderness that belie his later harshness. But I’m getting ahead of myself. What was he like in the beginning, and how did the Denethor we know and hate today emerge from the tangled threads of Tolkien’s relentless revisions?
I know what you’re thinking. You think that this is going to be one long tirade about how our world is becoming like the one Ray Bradbury depicts in Fahrenheit 451. Well, sorry (not sorry), to disappoint you, but I’m not going there. (You can already find plenty that on social media.)
It might seem like an oxymoron to refer to a book like Fahrenheit 451 as an “optimistic dystopia,” and, to be fair to those who think so, they’re correct—there’s an innate contradiction at the heart of the phrase. Dystopias, by their very nature, are supposed to be depictions of society at its bleakest. We don’t expect them to give readers any sense of optimism; if anything, their purpose is to scare us into correcting our current course and to aim for something better.
Greetings fellow travelers! Join Alice and I in welcoming back Szeth to the pages of the Stormlight Archive! It’s been a long time since we’ve seen him (last time was in Edgedancer) and he’s definitely found himself in unusual surroundings, having fallen in with the Skybreakers. And speaking of unusual surroundings, Kaladin and company are still trapped in Shadesmar. Let’s check in with them and see how everyone’s favorite bridgeboy is doing, shall we?
Series: Oathbringer Reread
You can tell an epic story at any length; sometimes a standalone fantasy can traverse just as much narrative space as an entire trilogy. But when it comes to fantasy worlds that we can explore every inch of, we are particularly fond of series with nine books or more. Yep, you heard us: we want trilogies upon trilogies (with the occasional side duology/quartet) in our favorite long-running SFF series. From alternate histories to fantasy that slowly becomes science fiction, from lady knights to more than a few telepathic dragons, from sagas that span one generation to multiple centuries, these series are so expansive and immersive that reading them feels not just like visiting a new world, but like coming home.
Books have always been a refuge for me. Not a unique sentiment but a profoundly true one for me. Growing up largely in South-East Asia and moving between various countries in that region with the odd years back in the United States; I quickly learned that no matter where I ended up as long as I had a good book with me, I’d be alright. That carried over into my adult life where pretty much every job I’ve held has been with books. In the fall of 2017, I started as a bookseller at Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, NC and count myself truly lucky to have ended up here.
Yesterday, fandom was rocked by the devastating news that Spider-Man has been exiled from the Marvel Cinematic Universe because of a failed deal between Sony and Disney. (At least for now–negotiations aren’t completely dead and this could just be a power play to make one side give in.) Fingers were pointed, jimmies were rustled, and as the implications set in (Will Spider-Man have to be recast yet again? How many times are they going to make Uncle Ben die? How DARE they? etc.), social media exploded with calls to #SaveSpidey.
(Possible spoilers for Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home, so click at your own peril.)
As podcasts and especially audio fiction grow in popularity, the medium has seen a crossover from listening to reading: Welcome to Night Vale, The Adventure Zone, Alice Isn’t Dead, and Steal the Stars have all been adapted from fiction podcasts to books that expand the worlds between your headphones into engage your imagination in new ways. With The Infinite Noise, Lauren Shippen, creator of The Bright Sessions and The AM Archives, takes TBS’ most beloved love story—between superpowered empath Caleb and Adam, who “keeps him green”—and builds it out into a poignant story about the challenges of connecting with someone.
Shippen, who also wrote Stitcher’s forthcoming audio drama Marvels, talks the tricky shifts from writing dialogue-only scripts to prose novels, plus headcanons and finding strength in vulnerability.
One of the first things I watched when I signed up for Netflix was a suspense serial from the silent film era called Phantomas, and while it was very enlightening to see this first step in the evolution of recorded crime dramas, ultimately it… wasn’t very good. Maybe that’s not fair—it had its moments, but I would have a hard time recommending it to anyone but the most curious film archivists.
Thanks to the growth of streaming services, a vast archive of antique entertainment is now easily accessible to the public, though whether it should be or not is a matter of personal opinion. In the case of the Flash Gordon serials that Universal created from 1936 to 1940, the debate over such material’s worth is a significant matter to science fiction fans. The serials, starring Larry “Buster” Crabbe as Flash (a character who had first appeared in newspaper comic strips a few years prior) made a powerful impression which is evident in much of the sci-fi films and shows that followed. You can see a clear impact on EC comics like Weird Science, on the original Star Trek, and of course the 1980 Flash Gordon film. George Lucas acknowledged the influence of the serials on Star Wars—a film he made when he was unable to acquire the Flash Gordon film rights.
With Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark still in theaters, Guillermo del Toro is treating us to another literary horror adaptation containing one or two creepy illustrations. This one is called Antlers, an adaptation of Nick Antosca’s short story “The Quiet Boy,” and Fox Searchlight just released its atmospheric first teaser.
I don’t do nostalgia. I tend to think that looking back is a trap, a quicksand that will pull you down into a belief that your culture and your era was somehow superior to what kids are into now. I hate (hate) the endless recycling of older properties. If you’re going to revisit a show or a book, give it a new angle or a twist or a quirk. The new She-Ra, for instance, queers an already pretty queer show, and the new Rocko introduces a trans character—they’re telling stories that weren’t really tellable in the ’80s and ’90s. They justify their existence.
Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus doesn’t quite give us a new twist, but by ignoring all the obvious nostalgia opportunities and focusing on a solid, ridiculous story, Jhonen Vasquez has given us a return to form that turns out to be incredibly fun.
A clan storyteller unfolds the tale of Seonag and the wolves, and the wolves and the waves.
New York’s friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is leaving the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
As reported by Deadline, Sony and Disney have failed to reach new agreement terms after months of negotiations and have essentially nixed producer Kevin Feige and Marvel’s involvement from further Spider-Man films.
So we just have a few questions, the first one being How dare you?