Science Pushes Open New Doors with Blood-Smeared Hands: Cixin Liu’s Ball Lightning

Yeah, yeah—you’ve already heard no shortage of praise for Chinese science-fiction writer Cixin Liu. But here’s the thing: He deserves all of it. Liu’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy—the remarkable, Hugo-winning series published in America as The Three Body Problem, The Dark Forest, and Death’s End—is just as mind-bending and breathtaking as its fans claim. (And, not for nothing, those fans include this guy.)

Until this week, the Remembrance trilogy and a scattering of short stories were all that English-speakers had of Liu’s unforgettable work. But with the American publication of Ball Lightning—a novel originally published in China in 2004, and now translated into English by Joel Martinsen, the translator of The Dark Forest—we finally have more Liu.

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Read Abbey Mei Otis’ “Sweetheart”

Paxton and the neighbor’s kid are inseparable—sweethearts, even, and Paxton barely six. He doesn’t mind her antennae and clicking mandibles at all….

We’re excited to share Abbey Mei Otis’ “Sweetheart,” originally published on in December 2010 and collected in Alien Virus Love Disaster: Stories, available now from Small Beer Press!

Otis’s short stories are contemporary fiction at its strongest: taking apart the supposed equality that is clearly just not there, putting humans under an alien microscope, putting humans under government control, putting kids from the moon into a small beach town and then the putting the rest of the town under the microscope as they react in ways we ope they would, and then, of course, in ways we’d hope they don’t. Otis has long been fascinated in using strange situations to explore dynamics of power, oppression, and grief, and the twelve stories collected here are at once a striking indictment of the present and a powerful warning about the future.

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Sleeps With Monsters: Astronaut Ladies

Mary Robinette Kowal’s novelette “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” won the 2014 Hugo Award in its category. Now Tor Books brings us a pair of novels about Elma York’s life before her final mission: even before Mars.

The simplest way to describe Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Calculating Stars and its sequel, The Fated Sky, is as an alternative history of the American space programme. But that’s not all it is: it’s a story about a young Jewish woman with an anxiety disorder using all the tools at her disposal to gain a place for herself in the astronaut programme, and building coalitions with other women to bring them with her. (It’s also a story about how that young woman, Elma York, benefits from white privilege and puts her foot in it with thoughtless bigoted assumptions, and how she keeps trying to learn better.)

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

Where Could the Shades of Magic Series Travel to Next?

Having reached the halfway point in A Darker Shade of Magic, it’s time to reconnoiter and talk about what the magic system in Schwab’s universe seems to convey about the timelines and centers of magical power. We’ve got the four Londons, of course, but the world is vast and magic is all over the place (or was, at any rate). Where could the story take us?

Here are a few of my thoughts so far…

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Series: Reading V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic

Paradise Not: Five Inhospitable Planets

There’s just something extra special about a backdrop of bubbling lava, snapping tentacles, poisonous forests, sinkholes, cracking ice, an unbreathable atmosphere, or the approach of a blistering sunrise that amps up the excitement factor. The story was probably already pretty good, but now everyone might die on the way to wherever they’re going. And they might die horribly because someone thought it was a good idea to visit Paradise Not.

That someone could easily be me. I have a habit of putting my characters in horrible places and I’m going to place the blame on some of my favorite books and movies. We’ll start with Ursula K. Le Guin, who is known for testing every limit her characters have—and then some…

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Series: Five Books About…

Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds

Stephen Leeds is perfectly sane. It’s his hallucinations who are mad.

A genius of unrivaled aptitude, Stephen can learn any new skill, vocation, or art in a matter of hours. However, to contain all of this, his mind creates hallucinatory people—Stephen calls them aspects—to hold and manifest the information. Wherever he goes, he is joined by a team of imaginary experts to give advice, interpretation, and explanation. He uses them to solve problems… for a price.

His brain is getting a little crowded and the aspects have a tendency of taking on lives of their own. When a company hires him to recover stolen property—a camera that can allegedly take pictures of the past—Stephen finds himself in an adventure crossing oceans and fighting terrorists. What he discovers may upend the foundation of three major world religions—and, perhaps, give him a vital clue into the true nature of his aspects.

A new novella collection from Brandon Sanderson, Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds includes Legion, Legion: Skin Deep and the brand new, shocking finale to Leeds’ story, Lies of the Beholder. Available September 18th from Tor Books.

[Read an Excerpt from “Legion”]

Reading the Wheel of Time: Stones on a Board in Robert Jordan’s The Great Hunt (Part 3)

A packed two chapters await us this week in the third installment of the Reading of The Great Hunt. We begin to see the machinations of Tar Valon, and how they are not nearly as united as the people outside the Tower might assume, learn more about politics, and witness several characters sneaking off on their own agendas.

I am very excited to see chapters from Moiraine! It’s different to see part of this story from the perspective from the character who, at least so far, seems to have the most knowledge of what is going on. It was also interesting to watch Jordan manipulate his close third person narration in order to show us Moiraine’s thoughts without giving too much away, and it was very interesting to discover that she and the Amyrlin have a secret plan that no one knows about.

Speaking of the Amyrlin, it took me awhile to make sense of the fact that the office is called the Amyrlin Seat, and that the woman who holds the office is also called the Amyrlin Seat. Calling her the Amyrlin makes sense, but it seems weird to call a person “seat.” I suppose it would be like calling a King or Queen “the throne,” and it does put the focus more on the office than it does upon the person. So perhaps that’s the point; to recognize the office and its duties rather than elevate the person holding it.

[On to the read, to meet the Amyrlin, a Red Ajah, and a new wave of Whitecloaks.]

Series: Reading The Wheel of Time

Clipping’s Hugo-Nominated Song “The Deep” to Become Afrofuturist Novel from Saga Press

Saga Press announced today that it would publish The Deep, an Afrofuturist novel based on the song of the same name by rap group Clipping (often stylized as clipping.) which includes Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, and Jonathan Snipes. Nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation – Short Form, “The Deep” envisions an underwater culture of the descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slavers. Rivers Solomon, author of An Unkindness of Ghosts and a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, will write the novel, to be published in June 2019.

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Linnea Hartsuyker’s Golden Wolf Saga Sweepstakes!

The Sea Queen, the sequel to Linnea Hartsuyker’s The Half-Drowned King, is available August 14th from Harper—and to celebrate, we want to send you a copy of each book!

Six years after The Half-Drowned King, Ragnvald Eysteinsson is now king of Sogn, but fighting battles for King Harald keeps him away from home, as he confronts treachery and navigates a political landscape that grows more dangerous the higher he rises.

Ragnvald’s sister Svanhild has found the freedom and adventure she craves at the side of the rebel explorer Solvi Hunthiofsson, though not without a cost. She longs for a home where her quiet son can grow strong, and a place where she can put down roots, even as Solvi’s ambition draws him back to Norway’s battles again and keeps her divided from her brother.

As a growing rebellion unites King Harald’s enemies, Ragnvald suspects that some Norse nobles are not loyal to Harald’s dream of a unified Norway. He sets a plan in motion to defeat all of his enemies, and bring his sister back to his side, while Svanhild finds herself with no easy decisions, and no choices that will leave her truly free. Their actions will hold irrevocable repercussions for the fates of those they love and for Norway itself.

Comment in the post to enter!

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States and D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec). To enter, comment on this post beginning at 3:30 PM Eastern Time (ET) on August 13th. Sweepstakes ends at 12:00 PM ET on August 17th. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor:, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Diplomatic Immunity, Chapter 6

Welcome back to the reread, where we are dealing with chapter 6 of Diplomatic Immunity. We get to go to the ballet! Nicol will be performing with the orchestra and has arranged a box so that Miles and Ekaterin can watch a performance with Bel and Garnet Five. I love this chapter because I love ballet. It’s one of the legacies of my time in Arizona—Ib Anderson’s production of Don Quixote was life-changing. I also love Quaddies, and this trip to the ballet is a crash course in Quaddie culture. What we saw back in Falling Free was the roots of this culture, born in a struggle in which the only options were freedom and annihilation. This, two centuries later, has clear links to that early history while celebrating contemporary Quaddie autonomy.

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Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Dig to the Insides: Alien Virus Love Disaster by Abbey Mei Otis

Abbey Mei Otis’s first long-form collection, Alien Virus Love Disaster: Stories, is a powerful debut volume published by the perennially impressive Small Beer Press. The book contains twelve stories with publication dates spanning the past eight years, including “Sweetheart” which appeared on in 2010. Otis’s fiction has a dynamic blend of contemporary and speculative approaches, diamond-edged and furious in her exploration of power, oppression, and grief.

The titular story also serves as a statement of themes: outsider or abject characters; viral, haunting, gruesome physicality; hunger mixed with passion and crooked adoration; cataclysm before-during-and-after. It isn’t a pleasant or simple experience for the audience. The bodies in Otis’s short fiction are subject to a grim though often lyrical brutality, one step too far for comfort at all times, and their suffering does not generally lead to a positive outcome.

[A review.]

A Celestial Summer Reread: The Heavenly Horse from the Outermost West

This is a beautiful book, beautifully written, infused with love of horses. It’s a lovely story in the mode of Watership Down and The Wind in the Willows, not to mention the Narnia books. Talking animals, strong moral code, more than a hint of the numinous.

When I first read it I enjoyed it, but it didn’t make the powerful impression on me that it’s made on so many others. It’s iconic, people are always begging me to write about it, and so there was no question that I’d include it in this series. But it never made it to my constant-reread rota.

Now I think I understand why.

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“In Search of Doors”: Read V.E. Schwab’s 2018 J.R.R. Tolkien Lecture on Fantasy Literature

Earlier this year, author V.E. Schwab delivered the sixth annual J.R.R. Tolkien Lecture on Fantasy Literature at Pembroke College, Oxford. With her permission, we are proud to present the text of that lecture; you can also find a complete video of the lecture and the excellent Q&A session that followed here, and also embedded below.

I have a confession to make:

I haven’t read The Lord of the Rings, or The Hobbit. I do not consider myself a well-versed fan of Tolkien, let alone an expert. I have nothing against the titular author of this lecture series, of course—in fact, when I was awarded the immense opportunity of delivering this talk, I considered dropping everything to read those books. Not because I wanted to, but because how could I step up to this podium otherwise? Fluency, if not fandom, felt expected of me.

Which is exactly why, in the end, I chose not to. I have a very strong belief that reading should be an act of love, of joy, of willing discovery. That when we force someone across the wrong literary threshold, we risk turning them away instead of ushering them through.

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