Political Upheaval in Shannara: The Skaar Invasion by Terry Brooks

I’ve written at length about not only what Terry Brooks means to the epic fantasy genre, but to me personally as a reader. His books blew the doors off the world I first discovered via Tolkien, but it was his generosity and kindness towards a young writer at Surrey International Writer’s Conference that set me on the path I travel today. Brooks is one of fantasy’s most prolific novelists, having written over 30 novels. Since 1996, he’s produced a novel a year—the release of which has become something of an event for me. Despite some inconsistency in quality over the years, I eagerly look forward to his new books, especially the Shannara novels.

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You Deserve This: The Handmaid’s Tale, “The Last Ceremony”

What’s worse: Thinking that you had endured that awful thing for the last time, only to have to go through it again without any emotional preparation? Or unexpectedly getting to experience something truly wonderful, and then not knowing if it is the last time you’ll do so? The Handmaid’s Tale poses these wrenching questions as it heads into the final arc of season 2, something of a ticking clock based on June’s soon-to-be-born baby.

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Abuse and Revenge in Grimms’ Fairy Tales: “The Juniper Tree”

In stark contrast to the long, intricate tales penned by other literary fairy tale writers, in particular those practicing their arts in French salons, most of the fairy tales collected and published by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm are quite short—in many cases, easily squeezed into just one or two pages, or even just a few paragraphs. One major exception: “The Juniper Tree,” one of the longest tales in the original 1812 Children’s and Household Tales, which also happens to be one of the most horrifying tales in the original collection.

[Warning: cannibalism, child abuse, and a ghost ahead.]

Five SFF Books in Which Art Matters

I love art and illustration. My childhood obsession with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood led to hours with art history texts. I’d need a fortnight just to properly do the Met. And so I love it when SFF books engage with art and culture, providing insight into the history of the world, their aesthetic, and their values. There are plenty of literary works revolving around art, and artists, but SFF provides a number of stories where art matters—to the story, to its society, and to its character.

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Series: Five Books About…

Man Against Machine: Great Sky River by Gregory Benford

In this bi-weekly series reviewing classic science fiction and fantasy books, Alan Brown looks at the front lines and frontiers of the field; books about soldiers and spacers, scientists and engineers, explorers and adventurers. Stories full of what Shakespeare used to refer to as “alarums and excursions”: battles, chases, clashes, and the stuff of excitement.

Some science fiction stories are, well, just more science fiction-y than other tales. The setting is further in the future, the location is further from our own out-of-the-way spiral arm of the galaxy, the protagonists are strange to us, and the antagonists are stranger still. We get a capital-letter, full dose of the SENSE OF WONDER that we love. And when you combine that with a story full of action, adventure, and jeopardy, you get something truly special. If you hadn’t guessed by now, Great Sky River by Gregory Benford, the subject of today’s review, is one of my all time favorite novels for all of these reasons.

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20 Summer Books We Cannot Wait to Read!

Happy longest day of the year! (Insert joke about more daylight hours-in-which-to-read here.) The solstice has us thinking about the months to come … and the books we’re going to read out in the sun, or under an umbrella, or with a frozen drink in hand. We’ll go to Havana with Laura van den Berg’s The Third Hotel, to space with Becky Chambers and Drew Williams, and to near-future Australia with Claire G. Coleman—for starters. There are series to begin (Sam Hawke’s Poison Wars!) and to wind up (Malka Older’s Centenal Cycle!) and a few intriguing standalones for those of you who wouldn’t want to finish a book one or two and not have the next book immediately on hand. (We understand.)

What are you planning to read between now and the autumnal equinox? Our picks are below—leave yours in the comments!

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Oathbringer Reread: Chapters Twenty-Six and Twenty-Seven

Lyn: Well… Ross and I are here again, brightlords and ladies, with—brace yourselves—another Dalinar flashback chapter. Strap yourselves in for a good Blackthorn-ing, because boy does Dalinar ever deliver on the death and destruction in this one (though not as much so, of course, as he will later on ::shudder::).

Ross: Yeah, I’d say things are smoldering right now, but later on, they really catch fire.

[Let me be stronger than those who would kill me.]

Series: Oathbringer Reread

The Most Scientifically Interesting Community in the U.S.: Welcome to Night Vale

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.

Today we’re looking at the first episode of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast, created by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor and voiced by Cecil Baldwin, first broadcast on March 15 2015 through Commonplace Books. Spoilers ahead.

[“A friendly desert community where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and mysterious lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep.”]

Series: The Lovecraft Reread

A Smuggler’s OTP: What is the Best Han Solo ‘Ship?

You may know the podcast I work on, One True Pairing, but what you may not know is that I am a Star Wars devotee. Don’t get me started on this series. I’ve seen all the movies multiple times, including the the remastered versions which I have some OPINIONS on. I could get into my love of all of the (space)ships in the Star Wars franchise (because if you don’t want a TIE Interceptor then I literally don’t know what would ever make you happy) but that’s another post for another time.

So today, I’ll be talking about Han ’ships. My co-host Marissa and I covered Han and Leia in honor of the new movie, Solo: A Star Wars Story, on our last episode, but there’s only so much we can hit on in such a short time. And, because we are all about ’ships—any ships, really, up to and including space ships—I’ve expanded on that episode to include all of the best Han ’ships from the entire series.

Let’s get into it.

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Surreal SFF That Explores Humanity Through Language and Memory

The nature of identity is at the heart of an abundance of speculative fiction. It can be one of the best ways of exploring what makes a person unique and what sits at the heart of a particular person’s identity. In some fiction, this can be approached via heated philosophical discussion or rich metaphors; in the realm of science fiction and speculative fiction, these questions can be approached far more literally.

This year has brought with it a trio of books—two new, one in a new edition—that use surreal and speculative takes on memory and language to explore fundamental questions about the nature of humanity. The imagery and language in these books sizzles with uncanny takes on the nature of life and consciousness, but as far from the mundane as they go, their concerns remain deeply rooted in primal anxieties. Who are we? What makes us us? Is there a certain point beyond which I might become someone else, or forever lose my sense of selfhood?

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The Philosophy of Self-Destruction in Alex Garland’s Annihilation

28 Days Later was the first movie that had me stumbling out of the theater in a mind-fried daze. Back in 2002, I knew director Danny Boyle from Trainspotting and The Beach, both movies with some troubling themes, but I went in expecting nothing more than a fun zombie romp (this was, after all, long before zombies had infected every part of popular culture). But the movie sold the “humans are the real monsters” trope in a way I had never before seen. By the time Jim (Cillian Murphy) nearly attacks Selena (Naomi Harris) in his bloody rage, I no longer knew what to believe or expect. My friend and I were so shocked by what we’d just experienced that we drove 20 minutes in the wrong direction before realizing our error.

16 years later, I left Annihilation in a similar state. Working here as both writer and director, 28 Days Later screenwriter Alex Garland uses sci-fi tropes to raise questions about identity and existence, with a level of urgency found only classics such as Solaris, Stalker, and John Carpenter’s The Thing.

(Spoilers ahead.)

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How the Cloak & Dagger TV Miniseries Compares to the Original Comics

FreeForm’s new Cloak & Dagger miniseries is doing a very Netflix-style slow burn, as through the first three episodes, the title characters have barely had any screen time together. However, they’ve established quite a bit about Tyrone Johnson, Tandy Bowen, and their lives tinged with tragedy.

While showrunner Joe Pokaski and his team of writers have kept the basic structure of Cloak and Dagger, a significant number of details have been changed from their comic book origins. Herewith, an accounting of what we’ve seen so far.

[SPOILERS for the first three episodes of Cloak & Dagger]

Angband Strikes Back; or, The Battle of Unnumbered Tears

In Which the Noldor Regroup (Mostly), War is Renewed, Dwarves Join the Fray, Dragons Are Unleashed, Men Prove to Be Faithful and/or Faithless, and Húrin Wears a Very Special Coat of Arms

Well, we’re way past the middle of The Silmarillion. If there was a line chart that showed the fortunes of the Elves in the First Age, we’ve been seeing the data points starting to tank. The first big drop was the Battle of Sudden Flame, but now we’ve come to Chapter 20, “Of the Fifth Battle: Nirnaeth Arnoediad,” and this is when things really go south.

Literally, as well as figuratively: As the Noldor try to rally and regroup and gather what allies they can for a retaliation against Morgoth, the Dark Lord proves that he’s been thinking about war a lot more than they have and still has untold strength. And in this chapter, his arm grows long indeed, reaching out of Thangorodrim to the far ends of Beleriand. And, oh, yeah: the father of dragons is back for more.

[Aiya Eldalië ar Atanatári, utúlie’n aurë!]

Series: The Silmarillion Primer

Five Books About Motherhood and Dystopia

Everything is the same… and yet, not. Startling differences from the familiar world you thought you knew confront you at every turn: unfamiliar technologies, reductions of basic freedoms, new rules and authority figures that demand your obedience. Your understanding of the world and your place in it is tested. It’s nothing less than a challenge to your sense of self.

Are you a character in a work of dystopian fiction? Or are you just… uh, trying to deal with this whole parenting thing?

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Series: Five Books About…