Station Eleven, Mr. Burns, and (Re)telling Stories to Survive

There seem to be two types of people, a friend observed to me this week: Those who have absolutely no interest in pandemic narratives at this particular point in history, and those who are strangely soothed by reading about how fictional characters respond to a world paused, and then halted, by a hypothetical disease that suddenly seems very familiar. Despite being in the latter camp, it’s not as if I take any grim satisfaction in how the early days of the Georgia Flu in Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven eerily mirror some of our current supermarket-sweeping, social-distancing status quo. Nor do I long to inhabit the post-electric world of Anne Washburn’s incredible play Mr. Burns.

Even Mandel herself has joked that people might want to wait a few months before actually reading Station Eleven, emphasizing the book’s hopeful future over our bleak present. But I would argue that now is the exact right time to get to know both the novel’s Traveling Symphony—who bring Shakespeare and classical music through post-apocalyptic towns—and Mr. Burns’ nameless theater troupe, who filter The Simpsons through oral tradition and eventually transform it into choral mythology. It’s not the pandemic that is central to either work, but rather how both tackle the aftermath. That is, the stories that the survivors tell one another in worlds that need to be lit by something other than electricity. So, what can these works tell us, as we struggle to adapt to our current crisis, about the importance of connection, memory, art, and storytelling?

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Oathbringer Reread: Chapter One Hundred Twenty-Two

Welcome back, friends, to the penultimate installment of the Oathbringer reread. It’s been a long ride, but we hope you’ve all enjoyed it! This week ties up a handful of loose ends, and sets the stage for events to progress over the next (in-world) year before Rhythm of War picks up. We’ll check in on most of our favorite characters to see where they are and what they’re doing, now that Odium’s anticipated “easy victory” has fallen apart and his forces have withdrawn.

[Oh my. Now this should be interesting.]

Series: Oathbringer Reread

Netflix’s Space Force Comedy Will Debut On May 29th

Just as Netflix is set to lose The Office to NBC’s upcoming streaming service next January, it’s about to gain a replacement: Space Force. Created by Greg Daniels (and reuniting him with Steve Carrell), the series will be a workplace comedy “about the people tasked with creating Space Force.”

Today, Netflix announced when we’ll get to see the show: it’ll debut on May 29th.

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Two Households, Not Exactly Alike in Dignity: Caitlín Kiernan’s “Love is Forbidden, We Croak and Howl”

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 Caitlín Kiernan’s “Love is Forbidden, We Croak and Howl,” first published in Sirenia Digest #78, in 2010; the version reviewed here is from the 2012 Lovecraft’s Monsters anthology edited by Ellen Datlow. Spoilers ahead.

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Series: The Lovecraft Reread

Queer Pining and a Reckoning of Empire: Emily Skrutskie’s Bonds of Brass

The propulsive first book in Emily Skrutskie’s Bloodright trilogy, Bonds of Brass is an action-packed, incisively clever, and unapologetically queer space opera. Skrutskie balances burgeoning galaxy-wide revolution with deliciously tender pining to craft a page-turning adventure simmering with slow-burn romance and an indictment of empire.

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Sleeps With Monsters: What to Read When the Whole World’s Falling Apart, Part 3

Another week, another column with reading recommendations to hide under a rock with!

But first, some bad news. We’re living through the kind of disaster that hits hard at the publishing and bookselling industry. For one thing, the supply chain for paper and books is pretty screwed up right now. I’m normally not a fan of promoting capitalistic responses to disaster mitigation, but right now, if you can afford to buy or preorder books (from independent booksellers, or as ebooks)… think seriously about not putting it off. A lot of books that would’ve come out this summer and autumn are probably going to be delayed or come out in ebook-first versions.

And I don’t know about you, but on a very personal level, I dread running out of new entertainment before I’m allowed to go more than 2km from my house again.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Internal Circumstances Are the Only Thing You Can Control: Mourning The Magicians

There’s so much I want to talk about with this show—not just the ending, but so many moments along the way. I want to talk about all the episodes that made me cry; about the beauty of “A Life in the Day”; about Margo’s desert journey with lizard-king Eliot; about how much I want to believe in a swearing Santa Claus who gives exactly the things you don’t know you need. I want to talk about the cruel whimsy of gods and the incredible skill with which the show’s writers balanced people doing shitty, selfish things with deep understanding of exactly why they were doing them.

I want to talk about Alice, and how so much of her anger comes from how much she doesn’t change enough, how she’s brittle and wise and always scared of losing, and how that doesn’t protect her when the loss comes. I want to talk about destroying in order to create, and that smile on Margo’s face at the end. And I want to talk about how these characters aren’t heroes.

They aren’t anti-heroes, either. The Magicians isn’t a show about redefining what it means to be a hero, but it is, in part, about asking whether that’s even a useful way to measure anything. It’s what Quentin Coldwater has to get over: the dream of being a chosen one. It turns out that it’s a lot more effective to simply do what needs to be done, even when it’s the opposite of heroic—when it’s robbing a bank or tripping magic balls or literally bottling up your emotions or just accepting the good and bad of your internal circumstances.

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

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It Is Your Destiny: 5 Conversations About Becoming the “Chosen One”

I grew up on chosen one stories, and if you like science fiction and fantasy—which, duh, you’re here, aren’t you?—you probably did too. They are everywhere. I always loved them, and I still do, whether they use this trope straightforwardly or get playful with it. I love the interplay between destiny and choice, and the inherent loneliness of specialness; I love the fear of an important purpose, and the craving for it. But one of my favorite parts of every chosen one story is The Conversation. You know, the one where the character finds out they’re “chosen,” and has to decide whether to walk the path that’s been set for them.

You can find out a lot about the story you’re in by how they tackle this conversation. Here are some of the most memorable ones of my life.

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Series: Five Books About…

Will the Circle Be Unbroken?: Sword in the Stars by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy

I wish I had Cori McCarthy and Amy Rose Capetta’s Once & Future and Sword in the Stars when I was a teenager. This duology would’ve changed my whole life in myriad ways if it fell into my hands in high school. I needed a book full of badass, racially diverse, queer, feminist teens taking on fascism and the patriarchy like Arthur needed Excalibur. Although I’m almost two decades away from my teen years now, I’m still so, so, so happy I get to have this series in my life.

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A Wizard of Earthsea: The Unsung Song of the Shadow

A biweekly series, The Ursula K. Le Guin Reread explores anew the transformative writing, exciting worlds, and radical stories that changed countless lives. This week we’ll be covering A Wizard of Earthsea, first published by Parnassus Press in 1968. My edition is Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Graphia Imprint, 2012, and this installment of the reread covers the entire novel.

Every generation has its wizards.

At least since Tolkien’s Gandalf made the character-type approachable, if distant; an aid, ally, and possible friend, rather than a mystery, threat, or oaf—the subject of Christian damnation and Disneyan animation. True that’s not many generations of wizard-havers, but upon rereading Le Guin’s first major fantasy novel, and her first work ostensibly for children, I cannot help but feel a bit let down that my generation grew up with the middlebrow juggernaut of the Harry Potter series and the lowbrow action of Faerûn’s Elminster, instead of with Le Guin’s excerpts of the mythic Deed of Ged. (Just a bit, mind you.)

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Series: The Ursula K. Le Guin Reread

Why Greg Egan Is Science Fiction’s Next Superstar

“Why isn’t Greg Egan a superstar?” Jon Evans tackled this question on in 2008. More than a decade later, perhaps the relevant question is: “Why isn’t Greg Egan’s fiction getting film or TV adaptations?” Egan’s body of work is seminal and canonical; he is the author of award-winning and cutting-edge science fiction that could easily be the basis for eye-popping and thought-provoking adaptations into other media.

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“I wish for fanart.” Highlights From #TorDotRead’s Second Discussion of The Goblin Emperor!

Our Socially Distant Read Along of The Goblin Emperor continues! This week we discussed Chapters 5 – 10, which meant attending Maia’s coronation, and meeting his ridiculously complex royal family.

There was also, predictably, much general squeeing about our favorite Goblin. We’ve rounded up a few highlights below!

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