Playful Metafiction: Paul Park’s A City Made of Words

Paul Park’s A City Made of Words is the latest volume in PM Press’s Outspoken Authors line of short science fiction collections. We’re now twenty-three volumes into the series, each of which combines an interview with the author, a bibliography of varying completeness, and some combination of new and reprinted writing—and until I read this new book, I thought I knew how they worked. There were, on the one hand, the collections that might serve as introductions, books like Elizabeth Hand’s Fire or John Crowley’s Totalitopia, concise proofs of the author’s value. On the other hand I counted such books as Samuel Delany’s The Atheist in the Attic and Michael Moorcock’s Modem Times 2.0 as essential reading for the committed that would challenge, mystify, or scare off neophytes.

With A City Made of Words, Park eludes my categories. I can’t decide whether this book is a perfect entry to the author’s work, or written for committed Park readers only. I suspect that the author intends this. Let me explain. 

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“I am not a foolish young girl!” — Sheena

Sheena, Queen of the Jungle was the first comic book to have a female lead, preceding Wonder Woman‘s 1941 debut by a good four years.

A creation of the Eisner/Iger Studio that produced tons of comic books in the 1930s, Sheena debuted in Wags magazine in 1937, and soon thereafter appeared regularly in both Jumbo Comics and her own title. Inspired by the works of W.H. Hudson (whose Rima, the “jungle girl” heroine of his 1904 novel Green Mansions, was an obvious inspiration for Sheena), Edgar Rice Burroughs, Rudyard Kipling, and H. Rider Haggard, Sheena would inspire many jungle queen-type characters.

Twice, Sheena has been adapted into television, in the 1950s starring Irish McCalla and in the 2000s starring Gena Lee Nolin, and between those, there was a movie in 1984.

[You will be welcome in Zukuru! The head man’s locust bean cakes- they will be your locust bean cakes! His fermented buffalo milk will be your fermented buffalo milk!]

Series: 4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch

Disney Isn’t Going Forward with Villain-Centric Book Of Enchantment Series

Disney will not produce an adaptation of Serena Valentino’s Book of Enchantment book series for its streaming platform, Disney+, reports Variety.  The news comes ahead of Disney’s D23 convention, which kicked off today in Anaheim, California.

Word broke earlier this year that the company was developing the series with producer Michael Seitzman (Code Black, Intelligence, and Quantico), designed as an “epic universe that weaves classic Disney tales told in a brand new way.”

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Sci-Fi & Fantasy Indie Bookseller Picks: Old Firehouse Books in Fort Collins, CO

I’ve been reading fantasy novels since I was tiny. My dad read me The Hobbit when I was 5 and that was it. I devoured everything from the Belgariad to Narnia, and grew into the Stormlight Archive and Star Wars novels. When I was hired at Old Firehouse Books, I was thrilled to find out that this general bookstore has a significant lean. We sell a little bit of everything, it’s true—fiction and non-fiction, kids and adult, new and used—but it’s well-known that about half the staff skews toward science-fiction and fantasy, if given the choice. We’re housed in the original fire station of Fort Collins, CO (the old fire pole is next door in the teashop we’re attached to), but the fact that our building is the inspiration for the fire station on Disney World’s Main Street, USA, must have bled some magic into the hearts of everyone who works here. There are more than a few of us who’d love to wander not to the past but to the far-off fictional future.

There’s just something immensely satisfying about escaping into not just a different story, but a whole different world (or a whole different solar system. Or galaxy. Or dimension).

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Read an Excerpt from Lifestyles of Gods and Monsters

Sixteen-year-old Ariadne’s whole life is curated and shared with the world. Her royal family’s entertainment empire is beloved by the tabloids, all over social media, and the hottest thing on television. The biggest moneymaker? The Labyrinth Contest, a TV extravaganza in which Ariadne leads fourteen teens into a maze to kill a monster. To win means endless glory; to lose means death. In ten seasons, no one has ever won.

When the gorgeous, mysterious Theseus arrives at the competition and asks Ariadne to help him to victory, she doesn’t expect to fall for him. He might be acting interested in her just to boost ratings. Their chemistry is undeniable, though, and she can help him survive. If he wins, the contest would end for good. But if she helps him, she doesn’t just endanger her family’s empire—the monster would have to die. And for Ariadne, his life might be the only one worth saving.

Ariadne’s every move is watched by the public and predestined by the gods, so how can she find a way to forge her own destiny and save the people she loves?

Emily Roberson’s debut Lifestyles of Gods and Monsters is a YA novel about celebrity culture, family dynamics, and finding love amidst it all. Available October 22nd from Farrar Straus & Giroux.

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Defying Genre Expectations: Troy Carrol Bucher’s Lies of Descent

You’ve heard this narrative before. Young people chosen because of a special bloodline, a special talent, a rare ability or heritage that they themselves don’t know about. Gather these special people, bring them to an isolated space, be it in the mountains, the world next door, a remote island. Possibly one or two of the chosen have an even more special talent than the usual. Train them in their heritage, preparing them to face against a threat to themselves, and possibly the entire world. It’s a well worn path for a SFF novel to take. Or Star Wars, for that matter.

In Troy Carrol Bucher’s epic fantasy novel Lies of Descent, first in The Fallen Gods War series flips that script and its expectations, early and often.

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Gene Wolfe’s The Shadow of the Torturer: Part 1

In pre-Internet times, it was hard for everyone who didn’t live in an English-speaking country to buy science fiction and fantasy made in the US or in the UK. It was far from impossible, but very often it wasn’t feasible: we had to send letters (yes!—paper ones, mind you) to bookstores, but the whole operation would only be interesting money-wise if we gathered in a four- or five-person group to buy, say, two or three dozen books. And I’m talking about used books, of course. Most of my English-language books during the Eighties and Nineties were acquired this way, including Neuromancer (but that is another story, as the narrator in Conan the Barbarian would say), in the notorious A Change of Hobbit bookstore, in California.

Some of them, however, I borrowed from friends who had been doing pretty much the same, or buying the occasional volume in one of the two bookstores in Rio that carried imported books. One of these friends I’d met in a course on translation—Pedro Ribeiro was an avid reader, as I was, but his interests tended more to the Fantasy side. He introduced me to many interesting writers, such as David Zindell (who remains to this day one of my favorite authors), and, naturally, Gene Wolfe.

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Exploring the People of Middle-earth: Denethor II, Steward of Gondor

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 installment looks at Denethor II, son of Ecthelion, Steward of Gondor, and father of Boromir and Faramir.

Over the years, and perhaps especially after the release of Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings, Denethor has become one of the most despised characters in Tolkien’s Middle-earth. His blatant favoritism of Boromir over Faramir seems to be at least one root of this hatred. But where did the Steward’s cruelty come from? And is there any reason we should extend an attempt at compassion to a man so twisted and broken with hate? Did Tolkien conceive of the character that way from the start?

The short answer to that last question is: no. In fact, Tolkien originally cast Denethor as a man who, while certainly stern and hardened by years of war and loss, showed flashes of compassion and tenderness that belie his later harshness. But I’m getting ahead of myself. What was he like in the beginning, and how did the Denethor we know and hate today emerge from the tangled threads of Tolkien’s relentless revisions?

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The Stubborn, Unshakeable Optimism of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451

I know what you’re thinking. You think that this is going to be one long tirade about how our world is becoming like the one Ray Bradbury depicts in Fahrenheit 451. Well, sorry (not sorry), to disappoint you, but I’m not going there. (You can already find plenty that on social media.)

It might seem like an oxymoron to refer to a book like Fahrenheit 451 as an “optimistic dystopia,” and, to be fair to those who think so, they’re correct—there’s an innate contradiction at the heart of the phrase. Dystopias, by their very nature, are supposed to be depictions of society at its bleakest. We don’t expect them to give readers any sense of optimism; if anything, their purpose is to scare us into correcting our current course and to aim for something better.

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