5 Groundbreaking Urban Fantasies With Unusual Settings

Urban fantasy. Everyone knows what it is these days. There is even a romance-novel category for it. But back when I started writing it, it was a very new “place” to set a fantasy novel—although to be fair, a lot of things that were once classified as “horror” would be classified as “urban fantasy” today, like Fritz Leiber’s Conjure Wife or my own Diana Tregarde books. But when I started the Bedlam’s Bard and SERRAted Edge series, it was brand new, and no one had ever considered putting elves in a mall or on a racetrack, making them qualify for the category of “groundbreaking.”

So I’ll toot my own horn a little and submit for your consideration (as Rod Serling used to say) both those series. The Bedlam’s Bard series, beginning with A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows, featured the debut of “mall elves”; the concept made sense to myself and co-writer Ellen Guon, because we posited elves as being tied to sacred groves, and many of the malls going up at the time in California had to be built around groves of native trees. The actual genesis of the series was a pen-and-ink sketch of a couple of bored looking teenage girls dressed in ‘80s hair and bling, loitering in a mall—and if you looked closely, you could see the pointed ears just barely sticking out of their hair. The SERRAted Edge series, on the other hand, was born of Larry and my mutual love of (real) sports car racing, and featured a division of Sports Car Club of America called the SouthEastern Road Racing Association. It asked, and answered the question, “What if elves never stopped challenging humans at crossroads, but just changed the (literal) vehicle of challenge?” And Baen came up with the tagline “Hot cars, fast elves, and kids on the run.”

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Sleeps With Monsters: Swords and Salvage

It seems appropriate to talk about Melissa Scott’s Finders and Ursula Vernon’s (writing as T. Kingfisher) Swordheart together. Although in terms of setting and tone they’re very different books—Finders is a space opera with elements of a thriller, a fast-paced adventure story that ends up shaped like an epic; Swordheart is a sword-and-sorcery story with a romance at its centre—they share an interest in relationships and in consequences, and in a certain underpinning of kindness that unites them despite their otherwise disparate elements.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Announcing Ormeshadow, the Debut Novella from Priya Sharma

Tor.com Publishing is proud to announce that consulting editor Ellen Datlow has acquired Ormeshadow, an historical novella by Priya Sharma about a farming family, the Belmans; of their estrangements, jealousies, adultery, abuse, and suicide, as seen through the eyes of Gideon Belman from childhood to young man. The Belman fabled fortune and personal myths are rooted in the Orme, land named from the Norse word dragon. The Orme legends become a cornerstone for Gideon when he loses everything that he loves.

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We Soldier On: Checking In With Outlander, “Down the Rabbit Hole”

At about the halfway point of any given Outlander season, our heroes usually wind up in a completely different country—sailing from Scotland to France, or shipwrecked in America by way of Jamaica. The stakes change, the theme song gets a cool new spin, and the latter half of the season is drastically altered.

But after three years, you gotta shake things up a bit. So it’s no surprise that the midpoint of Outlander season 4 is less concerned with changing the where so much as the when… and in doing so, creating not one, but two new sassenachs.

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How To Make Beer With Only What You Can Grow On A Generation Ship

Beer is the oldest human-made alcoholic beverage that we know about. People living in the Yellow River Valley (now in China) were brewing some sort of fermented grain alcohol around 9,000 B.C.E., and the first barley beer was probably made in the Zagros Mountains of Iran around 3,400 B.C.E. We’ve been drinking it, in all its ethanol-and-carbonation-filled glory, for pretty much as long as we’ve been people. Some of our earliest writing is even about beer: the Hymn to Ninkasi, the Mesopotamian goddess of beer, was not only a praise song but also a way of remembering the standard beer recipe. It stands to reason that, if humans manage to get off of earth and head for the vast reaches of the galaxy, we’d want to have some beer to drink along the way.

Which brings us to a conundrum: beer requires many ingredients that really grow best on a nice, healthy, soil-and-oxygen-rich planet. Spacefarers—particularly those on a generation ship or a self-sufficient space station, i.e. people who live in space—are going to have an interesting and difficult time making something that we’d recognize as beer, in the quantities humans tend to like to consume beer in. I recently had the pleasure, if that’s the right word for it, of trying to solve this problem for Lsel Station, a self-sufficient completely non-planetary location in my upcoming novel A Memory Called Empire, which is why I am now duty-bound to bring you the answer to how to make beer with only what you can grow on a generation ship.

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7 Books That Helped Me Survive 2018

This is the first year I’ve failed to meet my reading goal.

Every year of my life since I can remember, I’ve read at least one hundred books. This year, I’ve managed half of that. I can blame part of that on writing, and I can blame part of it on edits, critiques, and the abject hell that is moving—but if I’m honest, it’s just been a hard year. It’s been a hard year for everyone I know; the world is a hard place to be right now, and the small personal struggles we all face feel unbearably magnified. For so many of us, 2018 has been a year of loss and grief: we’ve lost jobs, pets, friendships, relationships, health, family members, children, and a good measure of hope.

It’s been a hard year, and I haven’t been reading as much as I usually do. When I have been reading, I’ve been gravitating toward books that are kind to their audience, that treat the reader like a partner rather than an adversary.

[Here are some of the books that helped me to navigate this impossible year]

Reading The Ruin of Kings: Chapters 10 and 11

Happy holidays, Tor.com! Would you like to celebrate with a discussion of demon prophecies and institutional slavery? Of course you would! So season appropriate, it’s amazing. So much so, in fact, that I have two chapters of it for you, yay!

This blog series will be covering the first 17 chapters of the forthcoming novel The Ruin of Kings, first of a five-book series by Jenn Lyons. Previous entries can be found here in the series index.

Today’s post will be covering Chapter 10, “Demon in the Streets”, and Chapter 11, “The Coming Storm”, which are available for your reading delectation right here.

Read it? Great! Then click on to find out what I thought!

[And yes, the Seanchan still suck and always will, kthxbi]

Series: The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons

The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons: Chapters 10 and 11

Debut author Jenn Lyons has created one of the funniest, most engrossing new epic fantasy novels of the 21st century in The Ruin of Kings. An eyebrow-raising cross between the intricacy of Brandon Sanderson’s worldbuilding and the snark of Patrick Rothfuss.

Which is why Tor.com is releasing one or two chapters per week, leading all the way up to the book’s release on February 5th, 2019!

Not only that, but our resident Wheel of Time expert Leigh Butler will be reading along and reacting with you. So when you’re done with this week’s chapter, head on over to Reading The Ruin of Kings for some fresh commentary.

Our journey continues…

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Series: The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons

Reading the Wheel of Time: The Truth You Hear in Robert Jordan’s The Great Hunt (Part 21)

Despite having been given glimpses of Moiraine and the Amyrlin Seat’s secret plans back in Chapter Four of The Great Hunt, I think this week’s chapters have given me the best example of Aes Sedai double-talk thus far in the read. What I enjoyed most about this week’s read was also the thing that had me grinding my teeth the whole time; because we got the section in which Liandrin used channeling to exert influence over Lady Amalisa, the reader knows more about Liandrin and her evil ways than Egwene and her friends do, and therefore has a much greater reason to be suspicious of her motives. In knowing that she is a Darkfriend (I feel quite safe in calling this one) I had the opportunity to examine the ways in which she avoided answering questions, or responded in such a way that convinced Nynaeve and Egwene of her sincerity without Liandrin actually speaking any falsehoods. Of course all Aes Sedai seem to be fairly adept at speaking guarded and concealed truth, but any member of the Black Ajah would have to be especially skilled at such duplicities.

Still, I feel like if the Aes Sedai took the prospect of the Black Ajah seriously, they could ostensibly ask a question that could not be gotten around; “Have you sworn allegiance to the Dark One, answer yes or no,” would probably do it. I bet Moiraine wishes she could walk the halls of the White Tower asking the other Aes Sedai that… and everyone would probably be super offended.

More on this later, but let’s get to the recap first.

[I have brought you where you must go.]

Series: Reading The Wheel of Time

Riding the White Horse Into the West

We began the year with a post about the White Horse Between the Worlds: the ancient belief that a white horse (or a grey, as most white horses technically are) possesses mystical powers; that he (or she) can walk from world to world, and stands watch on the border between the living and the dead. Now, as the year ends and the Solstice is upon us, we’re back in that liminal space. In that space is one of my favorite films of all time.

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Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, Chapters 16-19

One week before Winterfair, and Ivan is desperately trying to get his wife’s attention.

Tej is BUSY. Family are making a lot of demands on her time, which is just so typical of this holiday season. There’s a lot of pressure to pitch in and make things work and put family first. There are some domineering parents and grandparents.  Most of us are not using experimental chemicals to excavate bunkers located underneath government buildings while wearing fuzzy slippers for stealth, but otherwise, all of this sounds very familiar.

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Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Syfy’s Nightflyers Adaptation Makes Too Many Storytelling Mistakes

If you’ve been following the reviews of Syfy’s Nightflyers, based on the novella by George R. R. Martin, then you already know how this one is going to end: in a bloody mess. But like the show itself, I’m going to start with the ugly conclusion and rewind. Or, if you prefer a gorier analogy, we’re going to conduct an autopsy on this corpse to see which organs failed.

Why bother? Because if you’re interested in good storytelling, Nightflyers offers a useful illustration of some basic pitfalls to avoid.

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Good Omens, Part 9: It’s the End of the World as We Know It, And I Feel Fine

Here we are. The final battle. It all comes down to this. Welcome, my friends, to the end of the world. It’s been my absolute pleasure to be your guide, the Virgil to your Dante, for the last few weeks as we traveled the winding roads of Good Omens that have led us up to this point. This is where it all goes down. It’s finally time to see which side wins. Are you ready? Here we go…

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Series: Good Omens Reread

Star Wars is Really a Cautionary Tale About Devoting All Technological Advancements to Death

It’s called Star Wars. Not Star Trek, not Star Peace, not Star Friends, not even Star Tales. This gargantuan fictional universe is labeled with a title that guarantees the ability to travel space… and near-constant warfare.

We can debate the relative okay-ness of this focus from a moral standpoint, sure. But in reality, I think that Star Wars is accidentally teaching us the greatest lesson of all: It’s depicting what a universe looks like when you dedicate all of your research and technological advancements to war and destruction, and unwittingly showing us what an incredibly dark place that universe is. Because the Star Wars universe is a fun fictional playground for sure, a great place to build weird and wonderful stories… but it’s not a good place. Not by a longshot.

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Five Works of Hard Science Fiction That Bypass the Gatekeepers

Hard science fiction: is it actually a coherent subgenre or is it just an arbitrary body of work defined nebulously enough to facilitate gate keeping? On the one hand, I claim to be a fan of the stuff so it sure would be handy if it actually existed. On the other, a lot of works marketed as hard SF have features like psionics, faster than light travel, and an Earth spinning in the wrong direction  that seem pretty hard to reconcile with actual science.

Still, I think there’s a gap between hard SF defined so narrowly only Hal Clement could be said to have written it (if we ignore his FTL drives) and hard SF defined so broadly anything qualifies provided the author belongs to the right social circles … that this gap is large enough that examples do exist. Here are five examples of SF works  that are, to borrow Marissa Lingen’s definition:

playing with science.

and doing so with a verisimilitude that’s not just plot-enabling handwaving.

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