Strange Company: An Introduction to C.S. Lewis’ Perelandra

I was pretty nervous about re-reading Perelandra. The last time I read it, several decades ago, it was pretty firmly in the top three of Lewis’ novels for me, and I was concerned that after all these years I might discover some fatal flaw that would make the book less enjoyable, less interesting, or less fun. I’m glad to say that although there was a lot to process, and a lot of scenes I had no memory of whatsoever (there are a fair number of multi-page philosophical rambles), and although I’m still trying to wrap my brain around what exactly Lewis was saying about gender, overall I still enjoyed the book a great deal and, indeed, it’s still one of my favorites.

Perelandra was one of Lewis’ favorites of his own work, too. Multiple times throughout his life he suggested it was the best thing he had written (in his later days he’d sometimes push it to second after Till We Have Faces), and there is a lot about the novel that brings together Lewis’ particular interests, skills, and thoughts. It’s a theological book and a space adventure at the same time, and successfully does both things at once… it never feels like two books fighting with each other.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Four SFF “Best Of…” Anthologies You Might Have Missed

Even in the 1970s, when I was an avid magazine reader, it was impossible to keep up with all the publications and all the stories. I relied on annual anthologies collecting the best short SF. At the time, such projects were helmed by Wollheim, del Rey, and Carr (I was just a bit late for Merrill). Although the Best Of annuals all had the same core mission, no two editorial teams had quite the same idea what “best” might be, so I didn’t end up buying the same short story over and over. When I did, it was an indication that story was worth the reader’s attention.

These days, there are many venues for short fiction, and there enough Best Of annuals that keeping track of them can be challenging. Of course, you’re all aware of the Horton, Clarke, and Strachan annuals; here are four that may be new to you.

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Nicolas Cage Is Going to Look Great in a Cape as Renfield’s Dracula

Time is a flat circle, or so that one TV show said, and everything old is constantly new again, and so it’s time. Time for a new generation to experience a cinematic Dracula played by an actor whose casting is so obvious, it seems impossible he hasn’t played the role before. In the ’90s, we got Gary Oldman as Dracula. This made perfect sense at the time. But the ’20s will also get the Dracula we deserve, and his name is Nicolas Cage.

Cage, according to The Hollywood Reporter, has joined the cast of Universal’s Renfield, the studio’s latest attempt to make Universal Monsters into a thing. (Previous attempts include that Tom Cruise Mummy movie.) Renfield is set to star Nicholas Hoult (X-Men: First Class) as Dracula’s flunkie, a human believed to be insane. (Tom Waits played him in the 1992 Dracula.)

Plot details have not been announced, but the movie is expected to be “comedic in tone.”

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The Construction of Language in Riddley Walker

I don’t recommend my favorite book, Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker, without a lot of caveats. People have gotten mad at me—legitimately mad—when they’ve heard me say “this is my favorite book” and interpreted that as “you should read it” even though I never said so, and then the first sentence is “On my naming day when I come 12 I gone front spear and kilt a wyld boar he parbly ben the las wyld pig on the Bundel Downs any how there hadnt ben none for a long time befor him nor I aint looking to see none agen.”

If you aren’t prepared for that sort of thing—and Riddley Walker, while very much a classic, also isn’t nearly as well-known as I think it deserves—it’s not unreasonable to be like “Jess what the fuck.”

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Series: Close Reads

Hugo Spotlight: Moving Through Trauma in Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi

In the lead-up to the 2021 Hugo Awards, we’re taking time to appreciate this year’s best novel Finalists, and what makes each of them great.

More than a decade passed between Susanna Clarke’s last literary offering, The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories, and Piranesi, her second novel. Clarke rose to fame with her devastatingly fantastic doorstopper of a debut, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. It’s hard to imagine anything living up to the heights that book set, but Piranesi does.

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Reading The Wheel of Time: A Trip to Shayol Ghul and Salidar in Robert Jordan’s Lord of Chaos (Part 1)

Hello hello, and welcome back once again to Reading The Wheel of Time! After two weeks away, I am very excited to be starting Lord of Chaos. Which has oddly lost the “The” that has been in every other title thus far in the series, and which I find oddly irksome for some reason. I guess it’s fitting that a book about a Lord of Chaos would dispense with the orderly nature of previous books, but as a result I can only hear the title in the voice of Jeff Goldblum, like the way he says “Lord of Thunder” in Thor: Ragnarok.

More to the point, I’ve been getting some tutoring in summaries from’s own Emmet Asher-Perrin, and I’m going to start running those sections very differently. I mean, you all have read the books, you don’t need an extensive blow-by-blow from me every week! And what better time to test my newfound skills and resist my completist tendencies than with this immensely long slog of a prologue that opens Lord of Chaos. We’re going to ease in by covering half of the Prologue, up through Elayne’s section.

Are you ready? I’m ready. Let’s do this thing.

[Severing. That was what it was called, what you name stilling for women and gentling for men.]

Series: Reading The Wheel of Time

Exploring the Darker Side of Found Family

I love a good found family story. I know I’m not alone; it’s a popular and beloved trope for a reason. At this time of year in particular, when there is so much pressure to do family stuff, regardless of how one might feel about family, stories about families of choice can be especially appealing.

It doesn’t have to be about yearning or loss or escapism either. (I actually like my family just fine, even when my sisters wrongly and outrageously insist that their cats are cuter than my cats.) No matter what our individual circumstances are, there is rich emotional drama to be mined from stories about people who find and care for and keep each other regardless of how the whims of the universe threw them together. Comfort and support, trust and understanding, familiarity and fondness—these are the things a family of choice is made of, and spending time with them in fiction can be delightful.

But—there’s always a but—if you are like me, and there lives inside you still the child who spent more time giving your Barbies safety-scissor buzz-cuts and shoebox funerals than you ever spent making them play house, sometimes you look at those warm, squishy, soft, soothing scenarios with a wild glint in your eye, and you think, “Sure, okay, but what if it goes horribly wrong?”

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The Finest Scribe in Aldgate: Revealing Kelly Robson’s High Times in the Low Parliament

The tale of a flirtatious scribe, several irritable fairies, and some rather important votes….

We’re thrilled to share the cover of Kelly Robson’s High Times in the Low Parliament, a lighthearted romp through an 18th-century London (alternately, per the author, “a lesbian stoner buddy comedy with fairies—about Brexit”)—arriving August 9, 2022 with Tordotcom Publishing.

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Teaser for Korean Sci-Fi Series The Silent Sea Shows a Mysterious Trip to the Moon Doesn’t Turn Out So Great

Netflix’s The Silent Sea is a Korean sci-fi thriller where sometime in the future, the Earth is one big desert and one team is tasked go to the moon to retrieve a mysterious sample from an abandoned lab that will presumably save humanity. Does that spark your interest? Good news—Netflix dropped a trailer today to give us a tease of what the film is about.

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Writing Horses: Saddles and Styles of Riding

My post on Saddles 101 gave rise to a whole sequence of reader questions. I love reader questions. Here I’m going to answer one particular set, which is best summed up in Troyce’s comment:

An interesting addendum to this essay would be one about the style of riding and how the rider sits.

As I noted in my post, a saddle is a structure designed to serve as an interface between the rider’s seat and legs and the horse’s back. It can be as basic as a piece of leather or other flexible, breathable material (fabric, synthetic) shaped to the horse, with some form of attachment that holds it in place—again, most basically, a strap around the horse’s barrel. There may be additional straps to stabilize it fore (a breast collar) and/or aft (a crupper). (And maybe a second girth or cinch in a Western saddle.)

But here we’re talking about how the structure of the saddle determines where and how the rider sits on the horse’s back. Some of that is style, i.e. form, and some is function. The definition of what “looks good on a horse” has a lot to do with style, but it’s also related to the optimal way to stay on board when the horse does whatever the style of riding is about.

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A Heartwarming Combo of Wholesome and Gruesome: A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske

Pity Robin Blythe, one of two protagonists in Freya Marske’s debut fantasy novel A Marvellous Light. Not only is he stuck with a new job he doesn’t want; not only does said job land him squarely in the teeth of the Edwardian bureaucracy; but his very first day at work features the unsettling revelation—delivered by the colorless and bookish Edwin Courcey, liaison to the Magical Assembly—that magic is real, followed by a spot of abduction in the London streets. Robin’s assailants want him to find a contract hidden from them by Robin’s missing (let’s be real, dead) predecessor, and they place a curse on him to motivate him to find the contract and bring it to them.

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Wheel of Time Showrunner Fought to Keep ‘Weep for Manetheren’ Scene in Show

Prime Video’s adaptation of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series has some definite changes from its source material. One thing that showrunner Rafe Judkins made sure was in the show, however, was the four-minute “Weep for Manetheren” scene in episode two, where Mat (Barney Harris) starts a singalong about Manetheren, and Moiraine (Rosamund Pike) tells the young folks from Two Rivers the story of how the ancient city stood up to Trollocs many years ago.

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