Five Upbeat SF Classics Featuring Barely Any Doom!

[Warning: May contain sarcasm.]

Not to take a side in the struggle between Merril et al.’s New Wave and more traditional science fiction and fantasy, but…

One may admire the artistry of the stories in anthologies like England Swings SF, even if one eventually tires of the pessimistic tone taken by such young scamps as Ellison, Spinrad, and Ballard. Why can’t these authors be more like their venerable predecessors? Here are five instances of the sunnily optimistic science fiction that exemplified the genre in the days before the younger set decided to indulge in such gloomy literary prose.

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Sleeps With Monsters: Water Horse by Melissa Scott

Melissa Scott’s career spans, at this point, four decades. Perhaps best known for her Astreiant fantasy novels (initially written with her late partner Lisa A. Barnett, and later alone), she’s also written innovative science fiction, space opera, and tie-in novels for Stargate and gen:Lock. Her most recent original novel, the space opera Finders, came out from small press Candlemark and Gleam: a vivid and lively novel full of character and intrigue.

Now with Water Horse (Candlemark and Gleam, June 2021) Scott returns to fantasy with a self-contained volume of war, weirdness, and people strained to their breaking point by a generations-long war.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

The Huntington Awards Debut Octavia E. Butler Fellowship to Alyssa Collins

Last year, the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens, which houses the archives of the late Octavia E. Butler, announced that it would be awarding a fellowship to scholars working with her “ideas and issues,” to the tune of $50,000.

Now, the organization has revealed its first recipient of the fellowship: Alyssa Collins, an assistant professor of English Language and Literature and African American Studies at the University of South Carolina.

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“Blood Follows Vein”: Witches Steeped in Gold by Ciannon Smart

In alternating points of view, Witches Steeped in Gold centers on two antagonistic young women, Alumbrar witch Jazmyne Cariot and Obeah witch Iraya “Ira” Adair. As the only daughter and heir to Aiyca’s matriarchal throne, Jazmyne has been preparing to become doyenne her entire life. Her mother, a cold woman so obsessed with political strategy that she has no room left for relationships, sees Jazmyne not as her child but as a tool to continue her power even after she’s gone. Locked away in a dungeon for the last decade, Ira is the last living heir of the former Obeah rulers of Aiyca, the ones deposed and murdered by Doyenne Cariot. Sent to train as a guard, Ira is constantly foiled in her attempts at resistance.

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Changing While Standing Still: The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers

Contemporary life is a busy thing, full of demands and schedules and deadlines and destinations. The same holds true in Becky Chambers’ Wayfarer universe, where a cadre of sapient species are part of an intergalactic civilization called the Galactic Commons (GC, for short) with its own rules, expectations, and inequities.

It’s natural for those in the GC—just like it’s natural for us humans on Earth—to get lost in the day-to-day of one’s own life and the immediate stressors and concerns that go with it. And it’s equally jarring—as the year that was 2020 has shown all of us—when the routine and freedoms we took for granted get upended.

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Ava DuVernay’s Wings of Fire Animated Series Lands at Netflix

More dragons are coming! Ava DuVernay’s animated adaptation of Tui T. Sutherland’s Wings of Fire series, which was announced last year, has found a home at Netflix. The fantasy series for young readers will transform into 10-episode animated event series, executive produced by DuVernay. Dan Milano (Glitch Techs) and Christa Starr (Mystery Science Theater 3000) will write the adaptation and share showrunner duties with Justin Ridge (Star Wars Resistance).

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Reading The Wheel of Time: War Is a Waste in Robert Jordan’s The Fires of Heaven (Part 25)

Welcome back once again to Reading The Wheel of Time! We have finally come to the climactic climax at Cairhien (how’s that for alliteration?) which means a lot of choices that people have been struggling with. Mat has to confront what his leaving Rand means for the fight. Egwene and Aviendha have to honor their commitment to using the One Power in battle, despite the rules that govern both Aes Sedai and Wise Ones. And Rand has to face the consequences at the end of the road Couladin’s usurpation attempt has led him down.

Recapping battles is very hard, as it turns out, and this battle has been the first that has felt really important for me to really recap in depth, rather than glossing over it the way I have most of the action scenes that have come before it. Also the chapters are quite long! So I’ve decided to cover Chapter 43 and the first section of Chapter 44, which is from Rand’s point of view and covers the destruction of the tower.

You know, it’s funny, I complain all the time that Egwene and Elayne’s names are too easy to mix up, but the thing that really got me in this week’s recap is that I have been thoroughly trained to always capitalize the world “tower.”

Brains are funny things, aren’t they? Just ask Mat, with his many lives’ worth of memories and the dice always spinning in his head.

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Series: Reading The Wheel of Time

Enter the Fold: Indie Tabletop RPGs to Play if You Love Shadow and Bone

The Shadow and Bone Netflix series is so close we can almost touch Ben Barnes’ scruffy 5 o’clock shadow he’s been effortlessly maintaining.

With a rich fantasy world that author Leigh Bardugo has styled ‘Tsarpunk’, the Shadow and Bone series is full of engaging characters, elemental magic, and, of course, a hell of a lot of darkness. As Netflix adapts the first five books of the Grishaverse into a show, we’ve only gotten hints about what the content’s going to be like, and where it will differ or align with the books. We know the (approximate) cast, the episode titles, and… that’s about it.

Now, while it is a shame that nobody has snatched up the IP rights to the Grishaverse series for its own Tabletop Role Playing Game, it’s not really a huge problem if you ask me. If you love the Grisha, Ravka, the crows of Ketterdam, Fjerdan’s druskelle, and, yes, even the Darkling, don’t worry. There are games out there, just waiting to be played, threads ready to pulled, tales of steampunk magic just waiting to be told. We, intrepid adventurers, do not wait to be told what will happen. We make our own stories.

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Understanding Horses: Caring for Wise Elders

Keeping the elder horse fed and healthy is as much an art as a science. Horses, like humans, change as they age, and every individual is different. Even the speed at which they age: breeding and genetics, time and miles, wear and tear, all have something to do with how well or how fast a horse grows old. One horse may be broken down in their mid-teens or even earlier; another may still be lively and vigorous well up in their twenties or even thirties—especially if they’re a pony. Ponies are famously long-lived.

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