For over 35 years, the Wild Cards universe has been entertaining readers with stories of superpowered people in an alternate history. In Emma Newman’s “Hearts of Stone”, a young woman learns how to control her deadly powers from an unlikely ally.
Kerry —a.k.a Stonemaiden— is a monster. Or at least… she thinks she is. Ever since she turned her parents into granite statues, she lives in constant fear of hurting other people. To prove herself a hero–someone worthy of joining the Silver Helix–she embarks on her first field mission to Central London where she’s tasked with surveying a Russian diplomat named Kazimir Nazarenko. When she finally comes into contact with Kazimir, it becomes evident everything is not what it appears, leading her to question everything she’s been led to believe.
Note from the author: This story contains references to, and characters from, Russia and Ukraine. It was written in 2020, and was inspired by my fear of what was then a potential war, rather than any of the devastating events unfolding in Ukraine as a result of the Russian invasion in 2022.
It’s been two years since Jenna’s ex-boyfriend left her alone in East Texas heartbroken. Now he’s back in town and she wants to payback. One night, she stumbles upon a bloodthirsty Camaro that may be the key to carrying out her revenge.
Lord Ajax! First and greatest Ascendant; conqueror of the Martian machine-minds; mighty Steward of Leviathan’s Dominion! For a thousand years, Ajax has ruled the solar system’s worlds and moons with an iron fist. But history catches up with everyone—even an immortal tyrant. On the frozen dwarf planet Ceres, a scribe composes a record of his millennium-long rule. Unbeknownst to Ajax, her account contains a coded message that will spark a revolution.
This is how magic left the Kingdom and made room for democracy. Three supernatural beings created by an Omnipotent Mushroom God travel the multiverse until they are abandoned on a planet of stunning ecological diversity. They use their magic to rule over humans, but as their powers wane and a climate disaster looms, a young illiterate man is able to take the throne.
Superhero fiction is rich in characters who won the superpower lottery. They are simultaneously invulnerable, able to fly, equipped with super-strength, super-speed, invulnerability, flight, shapeshifting, invisibility, intangibility, psychic powers, and the ability to create ice-cream out of nothing. It’s always useful to have at least one of those guys around and in fact the Legion of Super-Heroes (in an uncharacteristic moment of clarity) had a loophole in their “no duplicate powers” rule that allowed them to add as many Superboy-knockoffs as they could get.
However, do-anything lads or lasses (and their all-powerful wizard cousins over in fantasy) present the author with the problem of presenting these overpowered characters with challenges not immediately solved with little effort using their vast arsenal of abilities. In many ways, characters limited to one or two minor knacks are more fun from an author’s perspective, because weaker characters have to be ingenious (or at least lucky), rather than just bulldozing through their problems.
This makes for amusing reading, as the five works below will show.
I learned early that television in general was inhospitable to my desires. To be a queer character on TV was to be in constant peril; a post-sweeps-week disappearance, a stray bullet, a snide joke that minimizes to the point of complete obliteration. Aside from some notable exceptions, which I would diligently watch despite a distinct lack of enjoyment (sorry, Bette and Tina), I learned that my desires were a media exception. An aberration. A fly in the soup of consumable content. This was in line with the pre-marriage equality world in which I grew up. I didn’t expect anything more from media or from the world because I didn’t have the right.
I love when story drives story. Fictional books within books (or movies, or TV shows) are deliciously meta, giving us an opportunity to reflect on and admire the power of the written word and acknowledging how text can impact us.
The trope pops up in any number of great stories and in every medium…and often, fictional texts within larger stories have dark implications, or hold hidden dangers, or reveal disturbing truths about the worlds in which they exist.
I’ve compiled, for your reading and viewing pleasure, a list of five fictional texts that appear within other stories—books that can bestow formidable powers, grim truths, or valuable knowledge, and which may exact a grim cost. Some are helpful and dangerous in equal measure, and some are potential weapons, laden with nefarious purpose…
History is full of stories about folks who dislike (or fear) their governments, have no way to alter said governments, and must relocate (or flee): Huguenots fleeing persecution in France, Irish fleeing famines that English colonialists ignored, and the Pilgrims fleeing Dutch religious tolerance all come to mind.
It’s no surprise, therefore, that numerous science fiction authors have written about politically-motivated migration. Consider the five following works, representing only a small sample from a well-populated category…
The ancient Sanskrit epic the Ramayana is the story of Lord Rama’s quest to rescue his wife Sita from the evil clutches of the invincible demon king Ravana. Along with the Mahabharata, the Ramayana is a vital text in Hinduism, which means millions of people all over the world know it well, and would probably hold to high standard any story based on it.
Luckily for debut novelist, Vaishnavi Patel, many western readers would have absolutely no idea of the source material at all, and will probably enjoy what will be welcomed as a fresh new voice offering a diverse non euro-centric ‘fantasy’. Her new book Kaikeyi is touted as a feminist retelling of the story of a vilified queen from the Ramayana, the second wife of Dasharath of Ayodhya, a woman known for having forced Rama into exile for fourteen years, and so setting him on his personal hero’s journey. It’s been compared the Madeline Miller’s startling Circe, which is probably an unfair comparison, even for a novel less confused and untethered as Kaiyeki.
Welcome to Close Reads! In this series, Leah Schnelbach and guest authors will dig into the tiny, weird moments of pop culture—from books to theme songs to viral internet hits—that have burrowed into our minds, found rent-stabilized apartments, started community gardens, and refused to be forced out by corporate interests. This time out, author Liz Harmer looks back at a particularly unsettling episode of The X-Files, and muses on religious trauma.
The X-Files feels formative to me, in the same’ way Star Trek: the Next Generation does, in the way that TV still could in those pre-streaming days. Shows just came on—you didn’t choose them; they were bestowed upon you. But even though The X-Files was often unfurling in the background of my neighbourhood and in my own house, “Die Hand Die Verletzt,” a standalone episode from season 2, is the only episode I can remember with any specificity.
At the risk of sounding self-indulgent, let me point out that film criticism is not born in a vacuum. Much as I try to keep myself “pure”—not reading reviews, not consulting PR synopses (at least before my first viewing), going all the way to tackling people who say they’ve already seen the film to keep them from revealing what they thought of it—I still go into a screening with expectations and prejudices. I carry my personal baggage wherever I go, and there’s a lifetime in every word I write—including, to radically paraphrase Mary McCarthy, “if,” “and,” and “but.”
Cognizance of where I’ve been steers where I’m going. If I feel that A Monster Calls (2016) is a grievously undervalued film, I can’t discount that that opinion may well have roots in a particularly devastating event in my own life. The question I’m obligated to confront is: Do I factor my personal biases into my reviews and temper my evaluation accordingly, or do I accept them as a part of the things that form me, and stand by my judgement? How much do I let cognizance of the past alter my present…and future?
Welcome back to Reading The Wheel of Time. I’ve missed the column, and it’s great to be back at it. It’s a big week too, because we have finally gotten to one of the things I’ve been waiting for since basically the beginning: Nynaeve has figured out how to Heal stilling and gentling.
Other than being able to reverse the madness brought about by the taint and/or remove the taint from saidin all together, healing gentling is the biggest game changer for how the One Power is understood in Rand’s time. Granted, most men who are gentled tend to die before too long, but if even a few of them could be restored that would make a big difference for Rand, especially someone like Logain who is both powerful and experienced in wielding saidin. And of course there is also Siuan and Leane, who are characters I care for very much and with whom we’ve spent a lot of time. We’ve watched how they both tried to find something else to sustain them in the loss of such an intrinsic piece of themselves, the way they tried to pretend they weren’t hurting, the way Siuan sacrificed everything to continue doing the work she and Moiraine began so long ago. It’s a really wonderful moment when Nynaeve is able to give that piece back to them, even though the whole thing hasn’t gone quite to plan.
But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. First, let’s do the recap.
Something that I love about horror, no matter its subgenre, is when it can take something harmless and ordinary—like a rubber ball, or a button, or a VHS tape—and turn it into a symbol of terror. We see this phenomenon play out in horror movies all the time—you can barely mention the Final Destination franchise without someone bringing up that the second installment spooked them out of driving near lumber trucks forever—but what about books that shape how you interact with stuff that really shouldn’t be that scary?
Here are five horror novels that, at some point in my life, really made me rethink what sort of stuff I keep lying around my house.
The latest trailer for Thor: Love and Thunder begins with Korg (director Taika Waititi) telling the story of the space viking, Thor Odinson (Chris Hemsworth), and while Korg’s story gets off track real quick, it is, for the brief moment it happens, perfection. Can Korg narrate the whole film? We need his take on the first appearance of Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale).
The first season of Star Wars: Andorhas yet to air, but showrunner Tony Gilroy is drawing back the curtain about where the series begins and what legacy characters may have some unexpected moments for long-time fans of the franchise.
A warning before I go on: below are very mild spoilers for the beginning of Andor. If you want to go into the show without knowing anything about the story or the characters, stop reading now!
First, Peter S. Beagle got the rights to his work back. Then news broke that new live-action and musical versions of The Last Unicorn are in the works. And now there’s something equally exciting on the way: new fiction set in the world of The Last Unicorn. Next spring, Ace Books will publish Beagle’s The Way Home, a collection containing two novellas set in the world of his beloved story.
Should you want to refresh your memory of that story, though, you can pick up an updated edition of The Last Unicorn, with the author’s preferred text and an introduction from Patrick Rothfuss. This edition—which also marks the first time the novel is available as an ebook—will be out this July.
Dan Chaon’s Sleepwalk is a high speed and darkly comic road trip through a near future America with a big hearted mercenary, from beloved and acclaimed novelist Dan Chaon.—and we want to send you a copy!
Sleepwalk’s hero, Will Bear, is a man with so many aliases that he simply thinks of himself as the Barely Blur. At fifty years old, he’s been living off the grid for over half his life. He’s never had a real job, never paid taxes, never been in a committed relationship. A good-natured henchman with a complicated and lonely past and a passion for LSD microdosing, he spends his time hopscotching across state lines in his beloved camper van, running sometimes shady often dangerous errands for a powerful and ruthless operation he’s never troubled himself to learn too much about. He has lots of connections, but no true ties. His longest relationships are with an old rescue dog that has post-traumatic stress and a childhood friend as deeply entrenched in the underworld as he is, who, lately, he’s less and less sure he can trust.
So… it would seem that I’m in the minority for really enjoying Steven Moffat’s adaptation of The Time Traveler’s Wife. This is not the first time I’ve championed something other critics have panned, but I do want to clarify what I like about it. Because listen, this is not going to bring together an incredible fandom like Our Flag Means Death or even demonstrate the near-perfection of a book adaptation like Station Eleven. But it’s engaging twenty-year-old source material in a new way, and it’s clear that Moffat has been waiting a long time to do this. So that’s what has enraptured me with each episode, on both first watch and rewatch.
I also appreciate how episodic it is; last week was the first date that Henry messes up, while this week’s second date has Henry getting his first lesson in actually being vulnerable with his future wife, by way of some Moffat cleverness.
Star Trek: Enterprise First Season Original air dates: September 2001 – May 2002 Executive Producers: Rick Berman, Brannon Braga
Captain’s log. Ninety years after first contact with the Vulcans, Earth has united under a single government and is ready to explore space more thoroughly beyond a few colonies here and there. Under the strict (some think too strict) guidance of the Vulcans, they do so.
Netflix has been teasing this for an entire year. The incredibly expensive fourth season of the streaming hit Stranger Things premieres this Friday, and they really don’t want you to forget. So here’s one! more! trailer—a quick minute of doom, gloom, and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) intoning, “Never tell me the odds.”