QUILTBAG+ Speculative Classics: A Matter of Oaths by Helen S. Wright

A Matter of Oaths is Helen S. Wright’s first and—so far—only novel, originally published in 1988 and re-released in 2017. It is a traditional space opera book with the mindbending, baroque elements characteristic of 1980s SF, but also with very clear queer themes: Two of the male protagonists and point of view characters are in a relationship with each other, and there are other queer characters as well. The gay elements are very matter-of-fact, and both clearly spelled out and treated as completely ordinary in the setting. A Matter of Oaths is not an issue book of any kind, but rather something that’s very much in demand right now: a space adventure with characters who just happen to be queer.

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The Gothic and Game of Thrones, Part I: The Burial of Sansa Stark

Let’s start with an unpopular opinion that I happen to hold: Sansa Stark and Theon Greyjoy are, by far, the two best characters in both George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series and the TV show based upon it. Don’t get me wrong, I have a deep fondness for Tyrion, I’m on board with Daenerys, Sam, Arya, Catelyn, Brienne and a whole slew of others. But Sansa and Theon are in a class by themselves. This is probably due, in no small part, to their position as Martin’s window into the Gothic, which is a genre that dominates my professional and personal life.

Martin’s series is most often compared to the works of epic fantasy writers like Tolkien and Robert Jordan. He cites historical fiction writers like Philippa Gregory, Bernard Cornwall, and Sharon Kay Penman as some of his biggest influences. With HBO’s adaptation, we have seen horror become a third dominant genre, especially with the hiring of The Descent’s Neil Marshall to direct two of the series’ biggest episodes (season two’s “Blackwater,” and season four’s “Watchers on the Wall”) …and, you know, all the zombies. But, in a series that is so focused on the ways in which people obtain, hoard, and lose political power, it is worth noting that the Gothic threads—especially those in Sansa and Theon’s plotlines—are some of the most explicit and nuanced in their discussion of that central theme. This is the first of two articles on the subject. In this one, we’ll discuss the general ways in which we might talk about Martin and the Gothic as well as do a deep dive into the life of Sansa Stark, the more obvious candidate for the mantle of Gothic heroine.

[Potential spoilers: This article discusses Game of Thrones through Season 7 and the Song of Ice and Fire books through The Winds of Winter preview chapters.]

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Series: HBO’s Game of Thrones

Exploring the People of Middle-earth: Glorfindel, Resurrected Hero and Spiritual Warrior

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 week’s installment focuses on Glorfindel, an Elf-lord with only a few appearances, who channels the divine power of the Other-world and whose presence in Middle-earth twice assures the survival of—well, basically everything.

Glorfindel has the double distinction of being, first of all, an elf whose name was so unique that Tolkien felt like it couldn’t be used again for anyone else; and second of all, an elf whose power was so great that he was specifically sent back to Middle-earth by the Valar to aid Elrond and Gandalf in the fight against Sauron. But his fame doesn’t end there: the tale of this particular character is also what drove Tolkien to almost tirelessly revise his theory of elvish reincarnation.

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A Brief History of Pamela Sargent’s Women of Wonder Anthologies

The 1970s may have been an era when most of the interesting new writers were women, but you sure would not know it from that era’s Best SF of the Year anthologies. These were almost always overwhelmingly male .

Women pushed back. They managed to fund and publish their own anthologies, filled with notable works by women—anthologies like 1976’s Aurora: Beyond Equality, edited by Vonda N. McIntyre and Susan Janice Anderson, and Virginia Kidd’s 1978 Millennial Women. Which brings us to Pamela Sargent’s Women of Wonder anthologies.

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Oathbringer Reread: Chapter Seventy-Four

Welcome back to the ongoing reread of Oathbringer, as we approach the Part Three Avalanche! No, it’s not starting just yet, but it soon will be; the anticipation is getting stronger with every passing chapter. This week, Shallan as Veil is out showing off, and Shallan as Shallan has trouble getting herself back. Cue up something ominous, and join in!

[Little red whirlwinds]

Series: Oathbringer Reread

The Normal(ish) Lovecraft: Wilfred Blanch Talman and H.P. Lovecraft’s “Two Black Bottles”

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 Wilfred Blanch Talman and H. P. Lovecraft’s “Two Black Bottles,” first published in the August 1927 issue of Weird Tales. Spoilers ahead.

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Series: The Lovecraft Reread

Studying the White Man: Pym by Mat Johnson

In 2016, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination published my survey “A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction” (now hosted here). Since then Tor.com has published 25 in-depth essays I wrote about some of the 42 works mentioned, and another essay by LaShawn Wanak on my collection Filter House. This month’s column is dedicated to Pym by Mat Johnson.

[Following an obsession with Poe to the South Pole…]

How Much Research Should You Do For Your Book?

Much has been written about the enormous importance of looking things up before you write about them so as to avoid ranking too high on the Dan Brown Scale of Did Not Do The Research—but there’s another side to this particular coin. As someone who spends a hell of a lot of time looking stuff up on the internet, I can affirm that it is, in fact, possible to do more research than you can actually use.

There are any number of methodologies for conducting research, but the one I generally end up following to start with, at least, is the Wiki rabbit hole. It’s ill-advised to rely on Wikipedia for all of your information, of course, but it’s a jumping-off point from which you can track down primary sources; it tells you what you need to look up next. It can also lead to some fairly bizarre search strings, and you can come out miles away from where you started, having lost hours, but it’s fun most of the time…except for when it’s frustrating. It is also possible to go too deep, to get hung up on some particular tiny detail that almost certainly isn’t important enough to warrant this level of focus, and find yourself bogged down and going nowhere. There’s a point where you have to pause and back away: you don’t need to get a degree in the subject, you just need to not get specific things hilariously wrong.

Such as physical setting. The original draft of what would become my novel Strange Practice was written before Google Street View existed, and much-younger me hadn’t bothered to look up maps of London in the middle of NaNoWriMo rush, so there were several instances of completely erroneous geography worth at least 7 Dan Browns. When I rewrote it a decade later, I was able to accurately describe the setting and the routes characters would have taken through the city, including the sewers—although I then had to take a lot of those details out again because they did not need to be on the page.

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Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive Book Four Shaping Up to Resemble The Way of Kings

In an update posted on April 16th in the Stormlight Archive subreddit, author Brandon Sanderson revealed a bit of how the next Stormlight Archive book, tentatively titled The Rhythm of War, is shaping up.

Amongst the updates regarding word counts and concurrent progress on Starsight (the sequel to Skyward), was an intriguing outline of what characters might be where after the events of Oathbringer.

Speculation ahead!

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4 Great Post-Harry Potter Works (That Aren’t Harry Potter)

I still remember finishing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in the middle of the night in summer 2007, crying as I turned the final page, mostly out of the catharsis of a solid series ending. Harry’s seven years at Hogwarts—which I spent about seven years experiencing in real time, between reading and waiting for the books from 2000 to 2007—is a compelling chapter of the larger wizarding world of J.K. Rowling. And while the series has since spun into a multimedia franchise, exploring both the past in the Fantastic Beasts movies and the future in Cursed Child, I’ve never felt the same connection to the expanded universe as I did to the original novels. But as someone who grew up writing fanfiction for a variety of fandoms—including, yes, 100-word Harry Potter drabbles—I feel that the real successors of Rowling’s incredible imagination are the variety of responses from a new generation of writers, in the pages of books and playing out across stage and screen.

A “normal” person pretends to be a mage, and poses vital questions about how magic affects the day-to-day. Magic-users craft spells out of pop culture touchstones and sing their way into battle. Background characters get to tell their side of the story. A former Chosen One faces the uncertainty of an adventure-free life. These new stories take Rowling’s building blocks and remix them into tales that look back at their source material, but also look forward.

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Different Ways of Exploring Blindness: Bird Box and The Luminous Dead

This essay is a continuation of “Constructing Blindness,” a series by Hugo Award finalist fanwriter Elsa Sjunneson-Henry.

“I’ve been blind from birth,” is what I usually tell people, even though it’s technically not true. The only world I can remember is the world of being blind, though, so it seems like a truth even if it isn’t precisely what’s true.

“Oh, I’m so sorry.” They reply, their voices sotto and hushed, as though to speak about my disability is scary or harmful. As though what’s obvious from the guide dog at my side (or the white cane in my hand) and the occluded cataract of my right eye is something I am trying to hide.

On the one hand, people are guilty for talking about my, as they might call it, deficiency. They are worried they are drawing attention to a difference which I’m more than happy to talk about—a personality trait which definitely makes people uncomfortable.

By the same token, though, people are fascinated. Many of them have never spoken to a blind person before; they are unaware of what it’s like to live the life that I do.

For most sighted people, the assumption is that there is only one kind of blindness. That no blind person wears glasses, that we cannot read, or use cell phones, that for all of us it is a resignation to the darkness.

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Sleeps With Monsters: Two Uneven SF Sequels

This week I’m going to talk about two sequels, one of which I liked a lot better than the other. Part of this is down to my enjoyment of the characters, but part of it, too, is that one of the novels is advertised as the second part of a duology, but it closes on a note that raises as many questions as it answers. The other novel makes no claims to completing its series arc, but it finishes in an emotionally satisfying place, even if it does leave a wide-open door for “further adventures”—and terrible threats.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

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