Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: A Civil Campaign, Epilogue

Barrayaran culture is made up of many parts. On the one hand, they have a feudal political system that glorifies the military. On the other hand, they have absolutely gorgeous weddings. (Although these have moderated in recent years, the planet’s rabid anti-mutant biases mean that most Barrayarans refuse to acknowledge the existence of individuals who deviate from the standard “two hands” configuration.)

Anyway, GORGEOUS weddings. Very meaningful. Lots of groats. In the run-up to the wedding, we learn that Miles can effectively deploy his reputation as a murderer against people who believe, well, that he’s a murderer. He didn’t like those people anyway, so this is very convenient. The rest of Gregor’s wedding is also very educational.

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Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

White Horse in the Moonlight: Mary Stewart’s Airs Above the Ground

If you ask a Lipizzan enthusiast in the US how they first became enamored of the breed, there’s a very short list of books and films that comes up immediately. Prominent on that list is the Disney film, “The Miracle of the White Stallions,” and Mary Stewart’s 1965 suspense novel, Airs Above the Ground.

Stewart was not, as far as I know, a horse person, and the book is not a horse book. It’s about a young woman searching for her husband in the Austrian countryside, and international drug smuggling, and, incidentally, one of Austria’s greatest treasures, the Lipizzan horses of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna. In the mid-Sixties, between the film and the Spanish Riding School’s 1964 tour of the US, the Dancing White Horses of Vienna were very much in the news, and Stewart seems to have caught the bug along with many others. Being Mary Stewart, superb writer of romantic suspense, she did her homework thoroughly, and built a thriller plot around the magical white horses. [Read more]

Beyond the Psychedelic: Taty Went West Heads for Parts Unknown

Sometimes a narrative begins in a familiar place: with someone embarking on a journey, for instance. Nikhil Singh’s novel Taty Went West is like that—the first sentence of the second chapter seems to usher the reader into familiar territory. “The piggy bank bought her a bus ticket to nowhere fast,” Singh writes, tapping into a longstanding tradition of young people venturing out into parts unknown. (As if to make this more explicit, Singh includes a nod to the Beat Generation later in the novel.) Taty is a young woman frustrated by suburban life, tuned in to her favorite songs on her Walkman. She’s in search of something bigger, a larger and more compelling world. This is a familiar story, right?

It’s not a familiar story. That bus ticket’s bought in the second chapter. The one before that sets up an altogether stranger milieu, and one that hints at the bizarre scenarios to come.

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Five Fantastical Heroines in Great Children’s Books

My first children’s novel, Candy, is out now from Scholastic UK, and forthcoming soon in several European countries. This is as surprising to me as it must be for anyone who realises my last book in the UK was about Adolf Hitler, but there you go! Candy is about a 12 year old girl detective, Nelle Faulkner, in a world where chocolate has been made illegal and children now run the candy gangs…

Which got me thinking of some of the classic heroines in children’s books that continue to have such a resonance to this day, and who must have been in the back of my mind as I was writing! No doubt I’ve missed many—Meg from A Wrinkle in Time? George from the Famous Five? Anna from Mister God, This is Anna? Dorothy? Hermione? You tell me!—but these five in particular stood out for me as I was writing.

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Series: Five Books About…

Incredibles 2 is a GREAT Action Movie, with an Even Greater Message

I don’t know if Disney•Pixar’s Incredibles 2 is the best superhero movie this year (I mean, Black Panther) but it is the first time this year that as I walked through the theater to leave, I seriously considered ducking into the 10pm showing and watching it all over again immediately. It also has the greatest action I’ve ever seen in a super hero movie—the only thing that even comes close is the opening of X2, with Nightcrawler bamfing through the White House. The action sequences are breathtaking in the sense that I literally held my breath during a couple of them. And again, as a hardbitten, cynical movie critic I tend to spend my movie time watching myself watch the movie, gauging audience reactions, analyzing themes. Here I was just…happy.

And yet! There were also enough messy, contradictory ideas built into the film that I was able to think about it, too.

Before we go below the cut: The first few paragraphs of this review are non-spoiler, but I do go into a bit more depth later on. I’ll warn you before we get into spoiler territory. Also, and more important: there are flashing lights and hypnotic screens in the film that might be triggering if you have epilepsy, so please be cautious if you need to.
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Fighting Erasure: Women SF Writers of the 1970s, Part VIII

In this foray into the past, I cover women fantasy and science fiction authors who debuted between 1970 and 1979. In stark contrast to the previous instalment, this essay covers a sparsely populated range of the alphabet. Accordingly, it will include authors whose surnames begin with N, those whose surname begins with O, and those who begin with P. Even so, it’s not as long as the M entry.

Previous instalments in this series cover women writers with last names beginning with A through F, those beginning with G, those beginning with H, those beginning with I & J, those beginning with Kthose beginning with L, and those beginning with M.

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Star Wars Can Survive Its Cinematic Universe By Doing What It Already Does Best

Are cinematic universes inherently bad?

Star Wars was sold to Disney in 2012, and the result brought that galaxy far, far away into the 21st century—specifically, it guaranteed that Star Wars would expand beyond Episodes I-IX in the Skywalker Saga and continue on and on into the future. No longer a singular modern myth, we will now be watching Star Wars at the cinemas seemingly until the end of time.

Not everyone is into that idea. But Star Wars is actually better outfitted for this future than most.

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Visit the Fantasy Worlds of L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

L.E. Modesitt, Jr., is one of science fiction and fantasy’s bestselling and most prolific authors. Since signing his first contract with Tor in 1983, he has written over 60 novels, moving between science fiction and fantasy, 18-book epics and standalones. The fantasy worlds he dreams up tackle issues of balance between order and chaos, harmony with nature, and the sociopolitical ramifications of magic-users on society and culture. What’s more, each series features a different, detailed magical system and painstakingly constructed millennia-long timeline of its history. Modesitt also likes to jump back and forth by generations or even centuries within his series, strengthening the fibers of those fictional histories with new stories.

His latest novel, Outcasts of Order, is the 20th book in the long-running Saga of Recluce series—if you’re itching to learn more about the world of Recluce, or Modesitt’s other fantasy universes, read on!

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Starless Audio Excerpt

Destined from birth to serve as protector of the princess Zariya, Khai is trained in the arts of killing and stealth by a warrior sect in the deep desert; yet there is one profound truth that has been withheld from him…

Jacqueline Carey’s lush and sensual standalone fantasy Starless brings listeners to an epic world where exiled gods live among humans, and a hero whose journey will resonate long after the last chapter concludes. Listen to an excerpt from the audiobook below, read by Caitlin Davies.

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Hereditary is the Rare Horror Movie That Feels Oh So Human

The moment that I knew we were in for something special with Hereditary was the scene where miniaturist Annie Graham (Toni Collette) thinks she sees her mother’s spirit in her workroom. It’s a typical horror-movie shot of a shadowy figure ominously lurking in a darkened corner, distinct enough to elicit gasps but indistinct enough that it could just be a trick of the light. A scene later, there’s no wringing of hands from Annie, no self-denying rationalizations: Instead, she’s googling hauntings, because she saw something, dammit.

I loved that the heroine of a horror movie didn’t second-guess her instinct, that we got to skip the requisite scene where someone tells her “there is a dark presence in this house” and she doesn’t believe it. Annie knows that her life is saturated in darkness, because she survived a dysfunctional family. Even before the death of her estranged mother—an event which kicks off the film’s brutal series of events—Annie already had ghosts in her home. And that’s what makes Hereditary so successful—it’s frightening, and funny, and fuuuucked up, in ways that only humans can be to one another.

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My Terrible Children Are Both Fake Geeks

We all know that there is really only one reason we have kids. I mean, yeah, there’s the whole “walking bag of donateable organs and blood” part. But the real reason one has children, the true reason, is so that you can fill up their bizarre little brains with your own pet affections, vigilantly programming them to love the things you love, and also to love you, I guess. It’s like having a parrot, but instead of teaching them to say the things you want, it’s to have the emotional bonds to the pop culture that you want.

Friends, I am going to straight up say this right here—I have miserably failed in my efforts to indoctrinate my children with the appropriate pop culture references. Well, I say that I have failed, but I feel like at least 70% of the burden of failure rests on my two very bad garbage sons, who have both proven to be just dogshit at liking the right things.

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“We’re all in this together” — Fantastic Four (2005)

Dubbed “the world’s greatest comic magazine,” Fantastic Four changed comics when it was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1961. At the time, DC (or National Periodical Publications) was having huge success rebooting their superhero comics, with new versions of the Flash and Green Lantern and renewed interest in Batman and Superman and Wonder Woman—and they also had a huge team book in Justice League of America.

Over at Marvel (or Timely Publications), whose bread and butter was mostly monster comics at this point, they decided to cash in on the trend with their own superhero team, though this one was less like the Justice League and more of a family of adventurers, more akin to Challengers of the Unknown. They were the first of many new superheroes to debut from the company, quickly followed by the Hulk, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor, Daredevil, and more, including another couple of team books, X-Men and Avengers.

Even though the Fantastic Four were eclipsed in straight-up popularity by Spider-Man in the 1960s and 1970s, the X-Men in the 1980s and the 1990s, and the Avengers in the 2000s and 2010s, the FF always remained the rock-solid foundation of the Marvel age of heroes.

In comics, anyhow. In movies, not so much.

[“Don’t even think about it!” “Never do.”]

Series: 4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch

How to Play Hilketa, the Robot-Smashing Sport in John Scalzi’s Head On

Hilketa is a sport, first played in the United States, in which two teams of eleven players attempt to score points, primarily by tearing off the head of one of the opposing players and either throwing or carrying the head through goal posts. Other points may be accrued through defensive or offensive action. Because of the violent nature of the sport, no human bodies are on the field during play; all play is performed with personal transports (“threeps”). Because of this, and due to the fact that until very recently all threeps were operated by people with Haden’s Syndrome, to this day all professional Hilketa athletes are “Hadens.”

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On Gardner Dozois, Short Fiction, and 150 “New” Writers For Your Consideration

On Sunday May 27th Gardner Dozois passed away. On Friday June 1st, essentially through happenstance, I ended up buying several boxes containing hundreds of used copies of Analog and Asimov’s, most of the latter from Dozois’s incredible editorial reign. Unpacking these and perusing their contents accentuated the sense of loss I’d been experiencing since Dozois died, but the experience also hit me in another way. The sheer volume of his editorial contributions was staggering. (And I wasn’t even thinking of his thirty-five years of annual reprint Year’s Best collections, or his many other anthologies, or his consistently interesting short fiction reviews in Locus). How many writers had Dozois discovered and encouraged and promoted over the years? How many voices had he amplified?

In a 2013 interview, Dozois said, “Even after all these years, finding a really first-rate story is still a thrill, one I want to share with others.” I know I’m not alone in feeling a deep sense of gratitude that Dozois did indeed share so many first-rate stories with us through the decades.

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