Bad Ideas 101: David Barr Kirtley’s “The Disciple”

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 David Barr Kirtley’s “The Disciple,” first published in the Summer 2002 issue of Weird Tales. Spoilers ahead.

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Series: The Lovecraft Reread

The Way of Thorn and Thunder by Daniel Heath Justice (Part 3)

So far in this column, I’ve already reviewed the first and second parts of The Way of Thorn and Thunder, and now we’re getting to the finale. I chose to review this book in three parts because it was originally published as three separate books, though I read the more recent re-release, which molds the trilogy into a one-book whole that is around 600 large-format pages long. Whew!

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Single Star System Space Opera; or, Those Pesky Belters, Revisited

Paul Weimer recently asked:

“I saw JJ’s comment above about Space Opera and wonder just how much space is required to make a Space Opera a Space Opera, as opposed to being something more akin to Planetary Romance.”

It’s an interesting question that prompted responses on File 770, Cora Buhlert’s blog, and no doubt elsewhere. There probably is no hard line between Space Opera and Planetary Romance; that does not mean we cannot argue incessantly discuss passionately where the line should be drawn. Here’s my two cents (rounded up to a nickel because Canada phased pennies out in 2013)…

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Finding Role Models in Madeleine L’Engle’s A House Like a Lotus

A House Like a Lotus bears many of the traits common to Madeleine L’Engle’s work: family members swap kids; a deeply eccentric adult mentors a deeply precocious child; ESP exists when convenient; half of the characters are the youngest/most eccentric members of old, old families; precocious children are abused at school; extraordinarily intelligent parents insist that precocious children stay in schools where they don’t learn anything because of the nebulous concept of “social intelligence” which in the L’Engle-verse seems to mean “learning to put up with idiots”; and, of course, international travel. But, other than that instance of convenient ESP, and one fictional terminal illness, Lotus is pretty straight realism.

Or, if you’ll humor me, pretty queer realism.

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A Decidedly Privileged Hero: The White Dragon, Part One

By her own admission, Anne McCaffrey had found Dragonquest (1971) very difficult to write, to the point where she more or less burned down the first draft and started again. Which understandably did not make her overly inclined to start writing its sequel—especially since she had other non-dragon books to write. But five years later she published a companion novel aimed at younger readers, Dragonsong (1976), swiftly followed by a sequel, Dragonsinger (1977), both set during the time of Dragonquest.

She clearly still had more to say about dragons.

This eventually led to a short story, “A Time When,” published by the New England Science Fiction Association in 1975, which McCaffrey expanded into a novel, The White Dragon (1978), one of the first science fiction books to land on The New York Times Best Seller list.

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Series: Dragonriders of Pern Reread

White Bears in Sugar Land: Juneteenth, Cages, and Afrofuturism

We resist enclosure. Deer roam forests. Vines colonize abandoned Coliseums. A human being held in solitary confinement will self-harm, scream, plead, kick doors, smear feces on their cell walls, and refuse food if there exists even the promise of seeing the sun for fifteen minutes of their day. There are many words in English for what that human being quests for: liberty, emancipation, freedom, independence. So much of the American project has been dousing its cultural fabric in these colors. No mention of brotherhood and precious little of equality. Justice is nowhere to be found. Peace, somewhere far off in the distance. Over the horizon, in fact. Those messy words presume an After, and they presume that this After is other than post-apocalypse. Liberty, emancipation, independence, without brotherhood or equality or justice or peace, presume utopia. Any alternative imagining can only be fiction.

An episode in the second season of Black Mirror, titled “White Bear,” dramatizes precisely this conundrum. The protagonist, a woman played by Lenora Crichlow, awakens with amnesia, haunted by a symbol that flickers on the television screen in her room and hunted by unreasoning pursuers. People on the street catch sight of her and immediately raise their cameraphones to record. Even as her pursuers shoot at her and those who have decided to aid her, the spectators remain just that. Spectators. They’re being held captive by a signal from a transmitter at a facility called “White Bear.” Get to White Bear, destroy the transmitter, and free the world from their stupor. When she and her confederate reach the transmitter, two hunters attack. In what is supposed to be the episode’s climax, she wrestles a shotgun away from one of her assailants, aims, and pulls the trigger.

Out comes confetti.

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Wastelands 3: The New Apocalypse Presents a Distinctly American Perspective on the End of the World

Wastelands: The New Apocalypse is the third volume in John Joseph Adams’ curated series of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic short stories. With this edition, the series now collects over 80 different stories of cataclysm, disaster, and general tribulation.

The New Apocalypse differs slightly from its predecessors, in that it includes original stories as well as carefully selected reprints. With over 30 stories included, there’s no perfect way to draw conclusions about the anthology—however, there are some clear patterns that emerge across the book.

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I Made Her From Clay: Broken Places & Outer Spaces by Nnedi Okorafor

Following her compelling talk, “Scifi stories that imagine a future Africa” (2017), the TED Books series now presents Nnedi Okorafor’s Broken Places & Outer Spaces. Part memoir, part craft text, the book is a personal narrative of the route Okorafor took to arrive at her career as a writer of science fiction. In the TED talk, she discusses the roots and influences of her science fiction as an Africanfuturist and reads selections from Binti and Lagoon; in this companion book her approach is more personal, focusing primarily on the life-changing experience of a scoliosis surgery that left her—a college athlete and track star—paralyzed.

Confined to her hospital room and laboring under the emotional and physical pain of her recovery, Okorafor first experiences her creative awakening—a process that comes in fits and starts, as does her rehabilitation. As she reflects on this experience in intense, intimate detail over the course of the book, she also explores what it means to be broken and rebuilt, to be made into something greater than the original form: a cyborg, a futurist, an artist.

[A review.]

Rereading The Ruin of Kings: Chapters 42 and 43

Happy mid-June, Tor.com! I who am about to melt salute you, and also offer you this reread post, hurray!

This blog series will be covering The Ruin of Kings, the first novel of a five-book series by Jenn Lyons. Previous entries can be found here in the series index.

Today’s post will be covering Chapter 42, “The Younger Son”, and Chapter 43, “The Dragon’s Deal.” Please note that from this point forward, these posts will likely contain spoilers for the entire novel, so it’s recommended that you read the whole thing first before continuing on.

Got that? Great! Click on for the rest!

[The map was no help, FYI]

Series: The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons

5 Little Kid Fan Theories I Had About Star Trek: TNG’s “Best of Both Worlds” in the Summer of 1990

On June 18, 1990, Captain Jean-Luc Picard was assimilated into the Borg Collective and I was nine-years-old. The famous third season finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation was one of the first TV shows I was allowed to stay up late to watch, and for a variety of reasons I had a lot of feelings about it. And though I didn’t know it’s what I was doing at the time, that summer all I did was craft fan theories about the resolution of Picard’s Borg problem—more than a few those ideas involved time travel, and one idea definitely involved gambling…

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Good Fiction, Questionable Science: The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

Hello, and welcome to my new monthly(ish) column about language and linguistics in science fiction and fantasy! My name is Conni (CD) Covington, and I have MAs in both German and linguistics. I wrote my linguistics thesis on the effect of usage frequency on verbal morphology in a subset of German strong verbs (class VII), and my analysis suggests that there is a threshold frequency below which strong (“irregular”) verbs are most likely to become weak (“regular”). Catch me at a con, and I will happily talk your ear off about this! Broadly, I’m interested in how people use language: why a particular group of people uses a particular set of words and what it means to do so; whether it’s snuck or sneaked; what effects the massive increase in global communication allowed by social media is having on languages.

On the SFF end of things, I am a graduate of Viable Paradise 17 (2013), and I’ve had a few short stories published in anthologies. I tend to read or watch space opera-type stuff, like Bujold’s Vorkosigan series, CJ Cherryh’s Alliance-Union and Foreigner series, Yoon-Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire series, Babylon 5, and The Expanse. I enjoy mecha anime, mainly Gundam and Macross. I haven’t read a lot of fantasy recently, but Lord of the Rings was very formative when I read it the first time, aged 10. That sparked my interest in languages, like it did for a not-insignificant portion of my fellow linguists.

What is this column going to be about? I’ll be taking a look at the ways various authors use language in their works, and, in some cases, how linguists and linguistics are portrayed in fiction and media. I have a running list of works I want to talk about in a notebook—and I’ll take suggestions! Some of these topics will be positive, some will be neutral, and some things just make me want to hit my head against a wall.

[First order of business: Sapir-Whorf and SFF]

Five Horror Novels that Move Beyond the ‘Bury Your Gays’ Trope

It took me years to own my bisexuality. It also took me years to come to terms with my love of horror, for similar reasons. I come from a family harbouring a congenital obsession with a certain cartoon mouse and his media empire, and so my love of all things dark and gothic was not always well understood—even after The Nightmare Before Christmas gave me an outlet. Over the years, writing became my way of dealing with my difference, my stories stashed in hidden notebooks. I have become passionate about the ways dark and brutal stories can reach out to people in the depths of trauma and show them others have been there and that there are ways to cope, and maybe even a way out. I am excited by the opportunity to tell stories that would make another person feel less alone when things seem darkest.

In the past, horror authors often ‘buried their gays’, a practice that dooms queer characters or their partners to die by the end of the story. Think of homoerotic vampires such as Dracula or Carmilla, or the madness and suicide of Nell, Shirley Jackson’s queer-coded protagonist in The Haunting of Hill House. The genre’s high body count has made the death trope pervasive, but horror also has wonderful elements of the Gothic, which delights in the spaces between set categories, including gender and sexuality. As I learned all those years ago scribbling in my notebooks, horror allows us to safely explore our fears, and by doing so, put them behind us. Below, you’ll find five of my favourite horror novels which move beyond burying queer characters and into original narratives that are chilling in all the best ways.

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Series: Five Books About…

Reading The Wheel of Time: Is it Luck or Ta’veren Power in Robert Jordan’s The Dragon Reborn? (Part 17)

Hello friends and readers and readerfriends! Bit of a heads up, we’re only covering one chapter this week, so we can get back on a better rhythm that matches the thematic sections of The Dragon Reborn. Thus, this week will only cover Chapter 40, and next week will cover all of Perrin’s adventures in chapters 41-44.

Fortunately for us, Chapter 40, A Hero in the Night, is both fun and really interesting. It’s strange that we’re still getting to know Mat for the first time, despite all the history we have from The Eye of The World and The Great Hunt. I was particularly struck this week by Mat’s need to insist that he’s not as kind as he is, and the way he impulsively wants to help other people. If you had asked me before this chapter, I would certainly have said that Mat is the most selfish, or at least the most self-centered, of the Emond’s Field folks, but I hadn’t really expected him to have this view of himself, and I’m a little confused about where this impulse to insist that he doesn’t care is coming from. Self-preservation is my best guess. Or maybe Mat picked up somewhere that generosity is weakness? That doesn’t seem like a lesson he would have learned from his clever Da or any of the other folks of the Two Rivers, though. But perhaps his encounter with Aludra will shine some more light on the question.

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Series: Reading The Wheel of Time

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