When the seeds rained down from deep space, it may have been the first stage of an alien invasion—or something else entirely. How much time do we have left, and do we even understand what timescale to use? As a slow apocalypse blooms across the Earth, planets and plants, animals and microbes, all live and die and evolve at different scales. Is one human life long enough to unravel the mystery?
For today’s entertainment, I’m going to tell you about two short, enjoyable works of fiction. One’s a novella, and the other’s a novel, and both of them are very engaged in the project of having fun.
Series: Sleeps With Monsters
The Beginning Place and The Eye of the Heron are among the first of Ursula K. Le Guin novels to be re-released since her death in January 2018. They’re also two of her lesser-known works; published in 1980 and 1978 respectively, and each clocking in at around 200 pages, it’s not surprising that they’d be so easily lost in an oeuvre of 22 novels and countless shorter pieces, including seminal pieces like The Dispossessed and “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” The novels are “lesser” in other ways as well, which is not a thing that pleases me to say, since this is also the first review of her work that I’ve written since January.
Jonathan Lethem once said of Le Guin that she “can lift fiction to the level of poetry and compress it to the density of allegory.” And this is true of all her works, regardless of their greater or lesser qualities. The closer they lean into their allegorical structures, though, the more didactic they become, the less pleasure their poetry elicits. The Beginning Place—about two lost modern souls finding love in a pre-modern alternate universe—and The Eye of the Heron—about a nonviolent revolt on a former prison colony—are firmly in the category of allegory. They wear their themes on their sleeves; their characters are mouthpieces for ideas. But in spite of all that, the novels are still Le Guin, still full to burst with hope and truth—not just socio-political, but emotional. It’s a testament as much to Le Guin’s character and ethic as it is to her writing that these morality tales are still, well, not bad.
Welcome to your fall reading list! Excuse us: the start of your fall reading list. The menu is quite extensive: Can we interest you in some mermaids? Perhaps a vampire or two? Or maybe you’d like to start with a hag? If your tastes are bit more classic, maybe a gladiator? This month’s new releases range from old favorites given new life (The Complete Tales of Earthsea, a new book in the world of Anne McCaffrey’s dragons) to brand-new debuts (A Conspiracy of Truths, Mage Against the Machine) to stories and sequels and more. Baru is back! Charlaine Harris has a new series! What will you read first?
We’ve got movie sign…again! After giving us the Thanksgiving 2017 miracle of announcing the show’s renewal, The A.V. Club is now reporting that the new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 will flood into our televisions—and hearts—like so many quarts of gravy on Thursday, November 22.
Which, by the way? Is the show’s 30th anniversary! That’s right, the first-ever episode of MST3K premiered on Minneapolis’ KTMA on Thanksgiving Day, 1988.
The Interdependency, humanity’s interstellar empire, is on the verge of collapse. The Flow, the extra-dimensional conduit that makes travel between the stars possible, is disappearing, leaving entire star systems stranded. When it goes, human civilization may go with it—unless desperate measures can be taken.
Emperox Grayland II, the leader of the Interdependency, is ready to take those measures to help ensure the survival of billions. But nothing is ever that easy. Arrayed before her are those who believe the collapse of the Flow is a myth—or at the very least, an opportunity that can allow them to ascend to power.
While Grayland prepares for disaster, others are preparing for a civil war, a war that will take place in the halls of power, the markets of business and the altars of worship as much as it will take place between spaceships and battlefields. The Emperox and her allies are smart and resourceful, but then so are her enemies. Nothing about this power struggle will be simple or easy… and all of humanity will be caught in its widening gyre.
John Scalzi’s epic space-opera novel The Consuming Fire—the sequel to The Collapsing Empire—arrives October 16th from Tor Books. Read chapter one below, or head back to the beginning with the prologue!
When I’m building female characters, one of my aims is to make them anti-Smurfettes.
The “Smurfette Principle,” for those who haven’t heard of it, is the trope in which an ensemble cast has a bunch of dude characters who are all differentiated by salient qualities—the Smart Nerd One, the Rough Army Veteran, the Handsome Smooth-Talker, the Thief, and so on. Then the ensemble will include one woman, but her defining quality will be her femaleness. She is The Girl.
A huge part of the problem with Smurfettes is, of course, the paucity of female characters itself. But hand-in-hand with this, I think when a demographic is not well-represented, creators strive to make the character inoffensive. “We can’t do that with our female character, because what are we saying about women?!” Nothing, of course, if there are enough other women in the cast! If the Smart Nerd One and the Rough Army Veteran are women too, it relieves the pressure on The Girl to be a “strong female character” who is competent in all ways but never extreme enough to raise an eyebrow. The common wisdom nowadays is to counter this problem by pushing for more women, all types of women, which I fully agree with—but I want to go a step further.
V.E. Schwab is one of those authors you just have to read. Her books regularly appear on Best Of and Highly Anticipated lists, and rightfully so. She is a literary force to be reckoned with, a writer who packs more punch into a single chapter than most do in a whole series. With each new book, Schwab’s already finely honed skills get sharper and fiercer, and Vengeful is no exception.
There are some fun moments in the final trailer for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald: Jude Law enjoying being the master of understatement as Dumbledore, not to mention a soulful Mirror of Erised moment between his and Grindelwald’s younger selves; and Newt getting the upper hand, er, wand, on his brother Theseus.
Then there is the headscratching reveal about Claudia Kim’s circus attraction character, who had featured in previous trailers but never been named, until now. And she’s someone we’ve met before…
Before diving into the list itself, I’d like to establish a few things: first, these are completely subjective rankings based on my own favorite series. The list takes into consideration things like prose, dialogue, characters, worldbuilding, and plot. In some cases, weight will be given more to phenomenal prose; in others, the focus will be on setting or characters or whatever the books’ major strengths happen to be.
It also ignores incomplete series, so you won’t see any love for The Kingkiller Chronicle or The Stormlight Archive, among others. Similarly, it ignores standalone books, so no Uprooted or The Windup Girl or Roadside Picnic.
Additionally, this list in many ways represents science fiction and fantasy of the past (mostly the late 20th century). It’s likely that a few of these will still be on my list in a decade, but SFF of the past few years has taken a much-needed turn toward more diverse viewpoints and voices. This means that I simply haven’t read some of the best new authors yet—and others, whom I have, don’t have their series finished. So while the largely male and white voices of the 1980-2010 era have provided some excellent groundwork, the future of science fiction and fantasy will undoubtedly feature more diverse voices at the top of the board.
For instance, I haven’t yet read the Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin (which is by all accounts a stunning literary work). Authors like Jemisin are sure to figure into future lists of this sort…and the opportunity to find and read new stories from new voices is one of the most exciting things about reading SFF.
That said, let’s dive on in!
What comes to mind when you hear Cinderella?
How about Beauty and the Beast?
I bet each of those titles conjures up a particular vision related to a well-known cartoon mouse. Don’t feel bad if that’s the case; it is for me as well. Let’s take a look at why that is, for many of us.
We’re excited to share the cover for Magic for Liars, a darkly enchanting debut novel from Hugo Award-winning author Sarah Gailey, author of the American Hippo novella duology.
Ivy Gamble was born without magic and never wanted it.
Ivy Gamble has an almost-sustainable career as a private investigator, and an empty apartment, and a slight drinking problem. She doesn’t in any way wish she was like Tabitha, her estranged, magically gifted twin sister.
Ivy Gamble is a liar.
I’m really loving my title for Week 9 of reading The Great Hunt. I also really loved the chapter titles for the this week’s section, Chapter 15 “Kinslayer” and Chapter 16 “In the Mirror of Darkness.” I get some of my questions about the ‘if’ world answered this week, and more questions are raised about Lews Therin Telamon and his ongoing battle with the Dark One. Obviously Lews Therin is a very significant Dragon because he lived during the Age of Legends and because he and his fellows were responsible for the Breaking of the World. He’s also going to be foremost in the minds of the people Rand encounters because he was the last known Dragon. But Ba’alzamon focuses on that identity a great deal in his most recent visit to Rand, and I found that curious.
Rand also makes another new/old friend this week in the form of Selene, who is the most immediately suspicious character we have encountered thus far in the read. Like there is no way she isn’t at least an agent of the Dark One, and she is very probably also Lanfear. Not much to guess at there, though unfortunately Rand and company aren’t nearly as suspicious of her story and motivations as I am.
Series: Reading The Wheel of Time
We’re starting Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance this week! This is such a fun book, and it’s full of IVAN who is sometimes a loutish caricature—like when he was seventeen and his mother was trying to get Aral to have a Serious Talk with him about swiving the maids—and sometimes secretly really clever—like when he found the weapon used to attack Simon Illyan. He’s the guy who turned a desk around in Ops HQ so that Miles could read Metzov’s records, and in the aftermath, he only forbade Miles to call him at work. He dropped Miles in a vat of ice, once, and remembering it helped Miles save Bel’s life four years later. I love him.
Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga
We want to send you an audiobook copy of V.E. Schwab’s Vengeful, available September 25th from Macmillan Audio!
Magneto and Professor X. Superman and Lex Luthor. Victor Vale and Eli Ever. Sydney and Serena Clarke. Great partnerships, now soured on the vine.
But Marcella Riggins needs no one. Flush from her brush with death, she’s finally gained the control she’s always sought—and will use her new-found power to bring the city of Merit to its knees. She’ll do whatever it takes, collecting her own sidekicks, and leveraging the two most infamous EOs, Victor Vale and Eli Ever, against each other once more.
With Marcella’s rise, new enmities create opportunity—and the stage of Merit City will once again be set for a final, terrible reckoning.
Green Rider was published when I was taking an extended break from the genre, during a period of Very Long Epic Fantasy Series, including one that’s done rather well on television. I heard about it because horses, had it in the TBR pile, but never quite got around to reading it. Then came this blog series, and multiple reader recommendations, and here we are.
Back in the day we would have reckoned this a clone of a clone of a clone, a distant descendant of Tolkien via D&D and the many Tolkien imitators of the Seventies and Eighties and early Nineties, but it’s a deft pastiche and there’s love in the way it follows its predecessors. It’s a direct descendant of Mercedes Lackey’s Herald series with a distinct dialogue going on, a lot of thinking and transforming. I’m very curious to know the chain of influence that led to the huge magical wall being broken by the evil Shadow Man with his zombie army—it’s not a Game of Thrones/ASOIAF reference, they’re just about contemporaneous, so, how? And most important for what I’m supposed to be doing here, it does the horses right. [Read more]