Five SFF Books About Road Trips

To my mind, a road trip is not an exodus or a flight from danger. It can start with one of those things but only transcends to “road trip” status when the danger is over, and the participants are looking for the next thing. Road trips are exploratory and often recreational, more ‘let’s see what’s around the next bend’ and less ‘if we don’t keep moving, we’ll have to eat grandpa.’

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Series: Five Books About…

Small Monsters

All its life, a small monster with emerald scales has been a source of never-ending food to larger and more powerful creatures who feast on the small monster’s limbs each time one regrows. This is the story of how the small monster meets an industrious artist and reforms into someone new—someone who can’t be eaten.

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Read an Excerpt From the First English Translation of the Classic Japanese Novel How Do You Live?

First published in 1937, Genzaburō Yoshino’s How Do You Live? has long been acknowledged in Japan as a crossover classic for young readers. Academy Award–winning animator Hayao Miyazaki has called it his favorite childhood book and announced plans to emerge from retirement to make it the basis of a final film.

We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from the novel’s first English edition, translated by Bruno Navasky—available October 26th from Algonquin Books.

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Claudia Black’s Sci-Fi Advice to a Young James McAvoy Proves Timeless

Once upon a time, Aeryn Sun gave Mr. Tumnus some advice.

To be accurate, Mr. Tumnus wasn’t Mr. Tumnus yet. He was just James McAvoy, a young actor in Syfy’s Dune miniseries. But Aeryn Sun was, as she always is, actress Claudia Black. As one of the stars of Farscape, she was invited to Syfy’s premieres. And at one of those, she spoke to James McAvoy—who never forgot what she said.

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Beware the Evil Eye in Within These Wicked Walls by Lauren Blackwood

Within These Wicked Walls, Lauren Blackwood’s debut YA fantasy novel, is marketed as an Ethiopian-inspired imagining of Jane Eyre. The description fits, but I’d argue that it doesn’t do the book justice—there are elements of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, yes, but Within These Wicked Walls is its own story, one that has magic and heartache as well as romance.

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Halloween Kills Is a Cautionary Tale Against True Crime and Vigilante Justice

It’s all the podcasters’ fault. At least, that seems to be the narrative progressing from David Gordon Green’s 2018 Halloween reboot to its covid-delayed sequel, Halloween Kills—that there’s a straight line from Jefferson Hall’s true crime podcaster shaking the Michael Myers mask in the man’s face, roaring for a reaction to the first generation of Michael’s surviving victims taking up baseball bats, screaming “EVIL DIES TONIGHT!” and seeking to… unmask Michael Myers? What seems intended as a redemptive sequel about a town exorcising its Bogeyman instead turns into The Purge: Haddonfield and sacrifices one of its best new characters in a perfect demonstration of the problem with middle-movie syndrome.

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Droning and Dread: How Hereditary Gets Under Your Skin

Welcome to Close Reads! In this series, Leah Schnelbach and guest authors will dig into the tiny, weird moments of pop culture—from books to theme songs to viral internet hits—that have burrowed into our minds, found rent-stabilized apartments, started community gardens, and refused to be forced out by corporate interests. This time out, writer and Marvel editor Sarah Brunstad slaps headphones on our ears and creeps us all the hell out with Colin Stetson’s soundtrack to Hereditary.

“It’s something we have to either make peace with or not.”

Ari Aster was referring to the fear of death and the unknown, but I haven’t heard a better thesis statement for Aster’s feature film directorial debut, the 2018 horror film Hereditary, whose peace with the devil now resonates with America’s own, very real, demonic possession by the hand of a pandemic demon.

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Series: Close Reads

Tricks, Treats, and Halloween Hijinks: Richie Tanskersley Cusick’s Trick or Treat and R.L. Stine’s Halloween Night duo

Elements of horror are naturally central to all of the books within this tradition, from Fear Street to Point Horror and beyond. But when the ‘90s teen horror trend collides with Halloween, there’s a whole different level of scares to be had with Halloween tricks, the looming fun—and potential danger—of Halloween parties, and costume-fueled subterfuge, confusion, and terror.

Richie Tanskersley Cusick’s Trick or Treat and R.L. Stine’s duo of Halloween Night and Halloween Night II are excellent examples of this ‘90s teen horror Halloween tradition. In each of these books, in addition to just trying to survive, the characters face the challenge of figuring out whether their lives are actually in danger or if the seeming threat is an ultimately harmless Halloween prank that just went a little too far, and just whose face resides behind those Halloween masks.

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Superstition Was a Compass: Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw

To celebrate an upcoming wedding between two of their number, a group of friends who grew up together in Malaysia reunite to spend one night in a crumbling Heian-era manor house. Ghostly thrill-seeking used to be their lifeblood, so an ancient mansion built on the bones of an entombed bride-to-be and more than two hundred companion girls holds a certain appeal. After all, what better place could there be to prepare for a marriage and blow an obscene amount of their near-billionaire friend Phillip’s inheritance?

However, the drawing together opens old wounds—jealousies, romantic failures, abandonments, privileges and cruelties—especially for Cat, who’s fresh off a six month long recovery from a serious depressive episode. But histories far nastier than their interpersonal squabbles lurk within the creaking foundations of the manor house… and the ghost of a centuries-dead bride has designs on the guests interrupting her estate’s moldering quiet. She’s bound to be getting a little lonely, buried down in the dirt.

[A review essay, with spoilers.]

Series: Queering SFF

The Mystery of Aes Sedai Agelessness

I have now read the first five books of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, as well as about half of the prequel novel New Spring, and it’s been fascinating to watch the complexities of the story, and the world, unfold. There are quite a few mysteries that it may take a long time to get any resolution on—there are still nine more books to go, after all—but one thing in particular has caught my attention lately. There is something about Aes Sedai agelessness that just doesn’t add up. So I decided this week to go back through my reading and see if I could puzzle out the mystery of Aes Sedai agelessness, and how the Power really does—or does not—affect the age and appearance of a channeler.

[That ageless look marked her as surely as her shawl.]

Series: Reading The Wheel of Time

Chivalry Is Undead: Kink, Sword Lesbians, and The Locked Tomb

What’s the deal with dykes and swords? From beloved ’90s franchises such as Revolutionary Girl Utena and Xena to She-Ra today, sapphic swordswomen aren’t exactly over-represented, but they show up just often enough that if you’re a certain kind of queer nerd, you’re familiar with the trope. The hashtag #swordlesbian has over 9 million views on TikTok, 2019 gave us viral bisexual sword wives, and last year the independent roleplaying game Thirsty Sword Lesbians raised almost $300,000 on Kickstarter, beating its initial goal fifteen times over.

More than that, Sword Lesbians seem to be having a moment in SFF literature right now. In the last few years books such as Gideon the Ninth, The Traitor Baru Cormorant, and The Unspoken Name have established a subgenre of speculative fiction all about codependent women with swords. These aren’t just stories about swords, they’re stories about queer relationships, kink, the roles we play for one another, and the ways we negotiate them. They’re stories about chivalry.

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The First Annual Ursula K. Le Guin Prize for Fiction will be Awarded in 2022!

One of the best questions a writer can ask themselves is: What Would Ursula K. Le Guin Do? Asking this question can lead to inventive, unconventional storytelling, and thought experiments that might result in a better world. And this question will now be on the minds of the jurors of the first annual Ursula K. Le Guin Prize for Fiction, which will be awarded next year!

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5 Books for People Who Crave More Vampires

When the weather turns cooler and the nights grow longer, when leaves begin to turn the color of pumpkins, that’s when it comes: the hunger. It starts softly. A horror movie here. A spooky comic there. Then it grows, and if you’re anything like me, before you know it, you find yourself elbow-deep in novels. The hunger never really goes away; it just sleeps. It waits. And vampire books are like vampires themselves: one feeding just isn’t going to cut it.

Vampire fans have been pretty lucky for the past couple of years. Between Stephanie Meyer’s return to the world of Twilight with Midnight Sun and Jay Kristoff’s Empire of the Vampire—the bastard lovechild of The Witcher, Interview with a Vampire, and Castlevania—we’ve had plenty to sink our teeth into. But with everything going on in the world, you might have missed some new vampire books that absolutely deserve to be added to the Bram Stoker canon.

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Series: Five Books About…

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