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.

[Read more]

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.

[Read more]

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!

[Read more]

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.

[Read more]

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.

[Read more]

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.

[Read more]

Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Aftermath of a Revolution: Amnesty by Lara Elena Donnelly

Lara Elena Donnelly’s Amberlough series, which began in 2017’s Amberlough, continued with last year’s Armistice, and concludes (it seems) in this latest volume, Amnesty, has always focused on complicated people whose ethics are at best extremely flexible and at worst practically non-existent. None of these characters are good people: most of them are fundamentally selfish, frequently ambitious, and guided primarily by what they want, rather than any idea of their responsibility to other people. (Even their love affairs are, at root, fundamentally selfish.)

So it’s quite a triumph of craft that, nonetheless, Donnelly is able to make many of her characters understandable, relatable, and even sympathetic. Donnelly’s good at showing ordinary people—people who just want to get on, get ahead—caught and ground up in the gears of movements, moments, and politics that are bigger than they are.

[Read more]

Five Works Involving Weird, Unsettling Isolation

I have long been chasing the thrill I first experienced in first grade over the story of Cain and Abel in the Book of Genesis. Cain and Abel were, of course, two sons of Adam and Eve. Cain becomes jealous of Abel (the Lord’s favorite) and then murders him. As punishment he is banished to wander the earth, and Cain begs God to protect him from all the people he’ll encounter in his travels who will kill him. But Adam and Eve and family are the only people on Earth, right? So who are the people who will kill him? Who are those people?? This was creepiness and mystery and awe. These first-grade feelings have to do with an empty earth and a weird one, one in which not everything makes sense to its wanderers.

Other books have come close to provoking this reaction. Often these books are post-apocalyptic; often they feel Biblical. I realized I am fascinated by the way people put societies together—it’s my favorite thing about The Walking Dead, which I see as a series of political experiments. I am fascinated by a world that exists before or outside of civilization; I went through a real intrigued-by-Neanderthals stage because of this. Space movies, too, can inspire it.

Here are five books that have a strange “empty earth” quality and harken back to that young excited awe, the one I got again when I watched Lost, Snowpiercer, I Am Legend, and The Leftovers—a feeling I don’t exactly have a name for, except that it’s both awful and awesome.

[Read more]

Series: Five Books About…

Read the First Chapter of Jo Walton’s Lent

Young Girolamo’s life is a series of miracles.

It’s a miracle that he can see demons, plain as day, and that he can cast them out with the force of his will. It’s a miracle that he’s friends with Pico della Mirandola, the Count of Concordia. It’s a miracle that when Girolamo visits the deathbed of Lorenzo “the Magnificent,” the dying Medici is wreathed in celestial light, a surprise to everyone, Lorenzo included. It’s a miracle that when Charles VIII of France invades northern Italy, Girolamo meets him in the field, and convinces him to not only spare Florence but also protect it. It’s a miracle than whenever Girolamo preaches, crowds swoon. It’s a miracle that, despite the Pope’s determination to bring young Girolamo to heel, he’s still on the loose…and, now, running Florence in all but name.

That’s only the beginning. Because Girolamo Savanarola is not who—or what—he thinks he is. He will discover the truth about himself at the most startling possible time. And this will be only the beginning of his many lives.

Available May 28th from Tor Books, Jo Walton’s Lent is a magical re-imagining of the man who remade fifteenth-century Florence—in all its astonishing strangeness.

[Read more]

Our Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices.