A Busy Person’s Primer for Game of Thrones Season 8

Eight. Years.

Can you believe it? Am I talking about Game of Thrones’ epic run or just how long it feels like we’ve been enduring this final hiatus? I need “it’s-not-TV-it’s-HBO” prestige television like Cersei needs wine. If the new trailer tells us anything, it’s time to drink all the Dornish red, eat every fucking chicken in the room, and smoke ’em if ya got ’em—dragons, I mean—because the end isn’t nigh: it’s here.

And I’ve rewatched every episode of the series so you don’t have to.

Here’s what you need to know going into season 8.

Major spoilers ahead. Obviously. 

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Five Books About Running Away to Join a Space Pirate Crew

Disclaimer: If you’re hoping for a hard sci-fi piracy list, know that I chose these novels for the characters and events, although several of them benefit from stellar worldbuilding too. I also want you to know that I almost started this list with I Was Kidnapped by Lesbian Pirates from Outer Space by Megan Rose Gedris, AKA Rosalarian. However, it’s impossible to find the first and last issues of the comic at a reasonable price, and I want to offer you novels to read. So instead, please check out my five favorite books about running away from one’s problems to join a space pirate crew.

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Series: Five Books About…

A Future in the Author’s Backyard: The New Edition of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Always Coming Home

However believable you find Ursula K. Le Guin’s imagined worlds, you cannot visit the planet Gethen and cross its frozen plains, nor can you join the commune on Anarres or sail the archipelagos of Earthsea. The town of Klatsand, from Searoad, has an address in Oregon, but you can’t drive or fly there. You may, however visit where the Kesh people “might be going to have lived a long, long time from now.” They’ll perhaps live in Northern California, in the Napa Valley, and one of their towns might sit where the Le Guin family had a summer house. In Always Coming Home, her longest and strangest novel, just reissued by the Library of America, Ursula K. Le Guin built a utopia in her backyard.

A warning: If you read solely for plot, Always Coming Home might seem an exercise in Never Reaching the Point, and I’d encourage you to read The Lathe of Heaven or a volume of Earthsea in its stead. This novel represents a culmination of the anthropological or societal bent in Le Guin’s fiction. Le Guin’s first three novels were republished as Worlds of Exile and Illusionworlds, not tales or stories. The Left Hand of Darkness alternates plot chapters with bits of Winter’s lore and excerpts of its stories; while The Dispossessed, “An Ambiguous Utopia,” announces its social interests in its very subtitle. Always Coming Home doesn’t abandon narrative, but it comes close: This is a book that aspires to placehood.

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Earnest Voices: New Suns, edited by Nisi Shawl

Though New Suns is simply presented as an anthology of short fiction by people of colour, without any over arching theme, a great many of the stories in the collection focus on what it means to be the other—or become the other. But of course they do. This comes as no surprise, though some readers may be slightly disappointed when many of the stories don’t quite push at this enough, holding back just that little bit that stops from deeper exploration of their narrative.

For some, it is that the short story format isn’t quite long enough to explore what they’re thinking (and so some of the stories come across as excerpts, which isn’t necessarily a negative aspect). For some it’s just a matter of undeveloped skill at addressing heavier, more complicated themes in equally complicated settings. Regardless, New Suns is an earnest compilation of voices from many ethnicities and backgrounds, making it a nice little package for those looking to read the narratives of writers exploring their experiences as people of colour, and as marginalised people .

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“I think I’m starting to like this” — The Flash (1990)

The success of 1989’s Batman led to a flurry of activity from Warner Bros. as they tried to cash in on that film’s combination of high box office, good word of mouth, and through-the-roof merchandise sales.

One of the ones that actually made it to air was a TV series featuring the Flash, which only lasted for one season in 1990-1991.

[“You made me when you killed my brother.” “I killed a lot of men’s brothers.”]

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

Kurt Vonnegut and the Science Fiction Writers’ Lodge

In Back to School, Rodney Dangerfield’s character Thornton Melon is assigned a paper on Kurt Vonnegut’s novels. Melon shirks responsibility and instead pays Vonnegut himself to write the essay. Unfortunately, the paper earns an F for the obvious forgery and the following critique from Melon’s professor: “Whoever did write this doesn’t know the first thing about Kurt Vonnegut.”

And perhaps Professor Turner is right. After all, Vonnegut didn’t even know he was a genre writer until reviewers got hold of his first novel, Player Piano. Two decades (and several novels) later, Vonnegut cheekily admitted, “I didn’t know that [it was science fiction]. I supposed that I was writing a novel about life.”

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Redshirts, Red Angels, and Red Herrings — Star Trek: Discovery’s “Project Daedalus”

One of my least favorite tropes of dramatic fiction in general and the Star Trek franchise in particular is the Redshirt Phenomenon. I’ve discussed this particular practice elsewhere on this site, but the short version is: It’s the laziest of lazy writing, showing that a situation is dangerous by killing a character, but that character barely qualifies as such, as it’s generally an extra or a person we barely know and don’t really care about.

“Project Daedalus” manages to embrace, invert, and reject the Redshirt Phenomenon all at the same time, and I honestly still haven’t figured out how I feel about it.

[What is it about the look on my face that suggests I’ve changed my mind?]

The Tao of Sir Terry: Pratchett and Philosophy

“Build a man a fire and he’s warm for a day,” I say. “But set a man on fire and he’s warm for the rest of his life. Tao of Pratchett. I live by it.” —Jim Butcher, Cold Days (2012)

That’s “Sir Terry” to you, Dresden… but other than that, the only wizard listed in the yellow pages is right on the money.

Terry Pratchett is best known for his incompetent wizards, dragon-wielding policemen, and anthropomorphic personifications who SPEAK LIKE THIS. And we love him for it. Once we’re done chuckling at Nanny Ogg’s not-so-subtle innuendos and the song about the knob on the end of the wizard’s staff, however, there’s so much more going on beneath the surface of a Pratchett novel. The real reason Pratchett’s work resonates so deeply with so many people around the world—and will continue to do so for decades to come—is that every one of his stories tugs at a deep, philosophical thread that sneaks up under the cover of action and punny dialogue to mug you faster than a denizen of the Shades.

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The Fantastical Food of Fantasy Fiction

Two words for you: Turkish Delight.

In a discussion of food in the fantasy genre, we may as well start with one of most well-known examples. When I read the Narnia books at age 12—an age when I fervently wanted magic to be real—I was overwhelmed with curiosity about this mysterious confection called Turkish Delight. I mean, it had to be really good for Edmund Pevensie to sell off his family to the White Witch.

The Narnia books were not favorites of mine—my preference went to Prydain—but that mention of Turkish Delight stuck with me. Later in my teen years when I visited a Cost Plus World Market for the first time, I encountered the candy for sale. I had to buy it.

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Fugue States in a Fragmented London: Lord by João Gilberto Noll

What happens when a profound alienation from the world takes a turn for the surreal? While it’s not explicitly a tale of the fantastic, Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled avoids realism as it tells the story of a musician whose circumstances are in a state of constant flux; add a mysterious device or two and you’d have a prime Philip K. Dick-style narrative on your hands. Michael McDowell’s Toplin eschews the outright supernaturalism of some of his other works but abounds with plenty of horror nonetheless.

The last few years have seen an abundance of work by the late Brazilian writer João Gilberto Noll being translated into English: first Quiet Creature on the Corner and Atlantic Hotel, and now Lord. (Adam Morris translated the preceding two novels; Edgar Garbelotto handled translation duties for Lord.) All three novels tell tales of profound alienation from the outside world. The narrator of Quiet Creature on the Corner is imprisoned in a space where time seems to move differently for various people, while Atlantic Hotel centers around a man who arrives at the hotel in question and finds that his identity is in a state of constant flux. Lord is somewhat more buttoned-down, at least at first: Its narrator is an aging Brazilian writer visiting London who finds himself extremely disoriented upon his arrival in a new city.

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Beyond Boundaries: My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by Amos Tutuola

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 24 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 an appreciation of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by Amos Tutuola.

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JG Ballard and Forty Years of the Future

Ballardian—resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in JG Ballard’s novels and stories, especially dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments.”

–Oxford English Dictionary

“It seems to me that what most of us have to fear for the future is not that something terrible is going to happen, but rather that nothing is going to happen… I could sum up the future in one word, and that word is boring. The future is going to be boring.”

–JG Ballard, 1991

Drained swimming pools and drowned cities, crashed cars and deserted highways—the term “Ballardian” has not just entered dictionaries but also the public and media consciousness in the years since the author’s death. But by doing so there is a danger that some sense of meaning has been lost; that by becoming a soundbite to be thrown about by lazy critics, journalists and even politicians it has not just lost multiple layers of nuance, but come to represent something Ballard never intended—a cliche of inhumanity and dystopia associated with a man that, contrary to popular perception, never celebrated either.

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Sail into the Honorverse: On Basilisk Station by David Weber

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.

David Weber is one of today’s most popular military science fiction authors. Fans of this sub-genre like their stories not only full of action, but rich in detail and background information, and that’s what Weber delivers—especially in his Honor Harrington series, which follows a space navy officer clearly inspired by an earlier fictional creation, C. S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower. The series has been extremely successful, and readers can look forward to spending a long time immersed in this fictional universe, or “Honorverse,” which now spans over thirty novels and story collections.

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