The Book That Helped Me Expand My Horizons

In 1996, I was a history graduate student on the fast-track to burning out. When I looked across my professional horizon, I saw only frustration and defeat. I had been on the path to becoming a professor for a while and had one remaining hurdle—my dissertation. But my research in Italy had foundered upon the rocks of the Byzantine system that predated online searches. It was the good old days of hands-on archival work—dusty books in dimly lit recesses of moldering libraries. My research bordered on archeology as I shifted and sorted through papers, looking for the clue that might lead me to documents crucial to my dissertation.

After months of searching, I had, with the help of a librarian at the National Library in Florence, finally unearthed the documents I needed about Anna Maria Mozzoni, an Italian suffragist and feminist. They were in Turin. But the archive was closed until the first week in September. They would open four days after I was scheduled to return home. I had neither the funding nor the personal resources to prolong my trip. I left Italy without ever seeing the documents I had spent months looking for. Without them I would have to rewrite my entire thesis.

Back in California, I was at loose ends. The academic year would not start for another month, and I was stuck. For long hours, I sat at my desk, staring at the books and papers I had accumulated, wondering if I could write my dissertation without those documents in Italy, slowly coming to terms with the fact that I would need to come up with a new topic. I shifted from my desk to the couch and sat with my failure, unwilling to admit I no longer had the drive to continue. My housemate, concerned about me, returned one evening from her job at the local bookstore and handed me a book.

“Read this,” she said. Her tone and expression made it clear she would brook no argument. The book was Kate Elliott’s Jaran.

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Dragon Blade: Jackie Chan and John Cusack Reinvent History on the Silk Road

Oh my god.

Did you know that in 2015 John Cusack and Adrien Brody made a movie with Jackie friggin Chan about a missing Roman legion along the fabled Silk Road?

Hell yeah it exists. It’s called Dragon Blade (dir. Daniel Lee). It is, as the opening titles say, a story “inspired by true events.”

Which means, of course, it is going to be entirely bonkers.

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Series: Medieval Matters

I’ve Fallen for Who Now? The French Fairy Tale of “Bearskin”

We’re all fairly familiar with the tale of the girl who meets her prince at a ball. But what if the princess just happens to already be legally and religiously married—to an ogre? And is having just a few issues with her current personal appearance, by which I mean “sometimes she looks like a bear, although the sort of bear that collects flowers in the wood, not the sort of bear that eats people, although frankly, given the sort of story she’s in, she probably should be eating more people.”

You’d have the French salon fairy tale, “Bearskin.”

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Why Did it Take Me So Long to Read This?

Confession time: I don’t read much.

Some of the reasons I don’t read much will be familiar. For example: I don’t have time. I find the only real time I have to get reading done is the 30-40 minute subway ride from Brooklyn to One Police Plaza and back each day. When you factor in interruptions for spontaneous breakdance shows, or subway-car religious preaching that rips you out of your reverie, it’s even less time than you think.

[Some of the reasons will be less familiar, unless you write for a living.]

Oathbringer Reread: Chapter Three

Well, hello again! Good to see you all back with us today, as we travel back in time to the early days of the Kholin campaign to unify Alethkar. Today we’re reading Dalinar’s first flashback, when he was a terrifying teen. We’ll meet an old friend for the first time, as well as one who was a friend and became an enemy. Oh, and we’ll see where Dalinar got the nickname Blackthorn.

Reminder: we’ll potentially be discussing spoilers for the ENTIRE NOVEL in the reread and the comments. If you haven’t read ALL of Oathbringer, best to wait to join us until you’re done.

[Life was about momentum. Pick a direction and don’t let anything—man or storm—turn you aside.]

Series: Oathbringer Reread

You Wish It Were Forty-Two: Algernon Blackwood’s “The Man Who Found Out”

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.

Today we’re looking at Algernon Blackwood’s “The Man Who Found Out,” first published in the December 1912 issue of The Canadian Magazine. Spoilers ahead.

[“Here, in all the homely, friendly turmoil of a Charing Cross crowd, a curious feeling of cold passed over his heart…”]

Series: The Lovecraft Reread

Tangled Lands: The Blacksmith’s Daughter

From authors Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias Buckell comes The Tangled Lands, a fantasy novel told in four interlocking parts about a land crippled by the use of magic, and a tyrant who is trying to rebuild an empire—unless the people find a way to resist.

Khaim, The Blue City, is the last remaining city in a crumbled empire that overly relied upon magic until it became toxic. It is run by a tyrant known as The Jolly Mayor and his devious right hand, the last archmage in the world. Together they try to collect all the magic for themselves so they can control the citizens of the city. But when their decadence reaches new heights and begins to destroy the environment, the people stage an uprising to stop them.

Available February 27th from Saga Press, The Tangled Lands is an evocative and epic story of resistance and heroic sacrifice—it is a fantasy suited for our times.

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Pulp Adventure Meets Metafiction (or Vice Versa): Ned Beauman’s Madness Is Better Than Defeat

Go back a few decades in the realm of pulp storytelling, and they abound: stories of adventurers far from home, investigating ancient structures and discovering mysterious events there. There are entire subgenres dedicated to this, and the form has endured. While it’s not nearly as prevalent as it was in the early and mid-20th century, plenty of its DNA shows up in the Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider franchises. But the narrative template of a (generally white and male) hero uncovering lost cultures or artifacts from somewhere in Africa, Asia, or South America is one that hasn’t aged particularly well, and for good reason.

Embracing this narrative unconditionally can mean embracing a whole lot of racist, sexist, and/or colonialist baggage—not the greatest of storytelling decisions. More recent tales of adventure in distant lands have sought to correct this: a whole essay could be written about the arc of the Uncharted series of video games, the latest of which centers the narrative around two women of color. Mat Johnson’s Pym riffs considerably upon Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, but abounds with an implicit critique of the racial politics of Poe’s original story. Nevertheless, it’s also about a scientific adventurer facing impossible odds and uncanny adversaries while on a journey halfway across the world. Johnson’s novel is a prime example of how these older storytelling conventions can still charge a narrative in the present day, as long as a writer is willing to address the aspects of it that haven’t aged well.

And so, this brings us to the case of Ned Beauman’s Madness Is Better Than Defeat, which on the surface has plenty of familiar pulpy elements. There’s a mysterious temple in a remote jungle in Honduras, abundant secrets and duplicity, warring factions within the espionage community, betrayals, violence, and struggles among the wealthy and powerful. In telling this complex story, has Beauman found an equally deft way of bringing pulp tropes to the present day without stumbling, or are we dealing with a complex structure around a potentially retrograde plot?

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Beyond Hope and Despair: Teaching Climate Change

The logical reaction to learning about climate change is terminal despair. I realized this when I first learned enough of the basic physics of climate change to start including it in my physics classes, about ten years ago. Although the topic and its ramifications were keeping me up at night, I didn’t immediately realize that it would, naturally, have the same effect on my students. They reacted with despair, which in some cases mutated to anger, apathy, even denial. Knowing that governments and corporations were dragging their feet didn’t help. Even those who had wanted to do something about it found their enthusiasm waning in the face of a lifetime of experience being at the receiving end of other people’s agendas.

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Books Make the Best Home: Ruthanna Emrys’ Winter Tide

I missed Winter Tide when it was first published—the simultaneous blessing/curse of working in publishing meaning that I am drowning in books at all times. I was excited to finally delve into Ruthanna Emrys’ debut novel, and not only am I glad I did so, but I’m hoping I get to the sequel a lot faster.

Because here is a book that understands the importance of books.

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Mycelium Running: The Book That May Reveal Where Star Trek: Discovery Goes Next Season

In Episode 9 of After Trek, the roundtable talk show that airs after Star Trek: Discovery, Executive Producer Aaron Harberts said, “Everything we do on Star Trek comes out of character, and also as much as we can ground in science, so, shameless plug: get [the real-life mycelium expert and scientist] Paul Stamets’ book Mycelium Running. Give it a read…[it] will give you very, very good hints as to what’s going to happen.” So I did.

I bought the book, which is essentially a textbook for growing and interacting with mycelium and mushrooms, and I read it. I’d say I read it so you don’t have to, but the truth is: it’s a brilliant work of science, and everyone should give it a shot, especially if you’re a layperson like me. In addition to learning how to grow mushrooms from my one-bedroom New York City apartment (which I am enthusiastically now doing, by the way), I also learned a ton about Star Trek: Discovery’s past, present, and possible future.

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8 Books and Comics for Your Post-Black Panther Reading List

OK, so you’ve seen Black Panther half a dozen times now and can’t get it out of your head. What next? Don’t worry, dear reader, I got you covered. Here’s a little list of some comics and books to read to keep that Black Panther high going, covering work by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Christopher Priest, and Brian Michael Bendis to Nalo Hopkinson, Nisi Shawl, and Nnedi Okorafor, among others…

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Outpost Sweepstakes!

We want to send you a signed copy of W. Michael Gear’s Outpost, available now from DAW Books!

Donovan is a world of remarkable wealth, a habitable paradise of a planet. But Donovan’s wealth comes at a price. When the ship Turalon arrives in orbit, Supervisor Kalico Aguila discovers a failing colony, its government overthrown and the few remaining colonists now gone wild. Planetside, Talina Perez is one of three rulers of the Port Authority colony—the only law left in the one remaining town on Donovan. With the Corporate ship demanding answers about the things she’s done in the name of survival, Perez could lose everything, including her life.

For Dan Wirth, Donovan is a last chance. A psychopath with a death sentence looming over his head, he can’t wait to set foot on Port Authority. He will make one desperate play to grab a piece of the action—no matter who he has to corrupt, murder, or destroy. Captain Max Taggart has been The Corporation’s “go-to” guy when it comes to brutal enforcement. As the situation in Port Authority deteriorates, he’ll be faced with tough choices to control the wild Donovanians. Only Talina Perez stands in his way.

Just as matters spiral out of control, a ghost ship, the Freelander, appears in orbit. Missing for two years, she arrives with a crew dead of old age, and reeks of a bizarre death-cult ritual that deters any ship from attempting a return journey. And in the meantime, a brutal killer is stalking all of them, for Donovan plays its own complex and deadly game. The secrets of which are hidden in Talina Perez’s very blood.

Comment in the post to enter!

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