Giants in the Sky: Clive Barker’s “In the Hills, the Cities”

Welcome back to Reading the Weird, in which we get girl cooties all over weird fiction, cosmic horror, and Lovecraftiana—from its historical roots through its most recent branches.

This week, we cover Clive Barker’s “In the Hills, the Cities,” first published in Barker’s Books of Blood, Volume 1 in 1984. You can also find it in column favorite anthology The Weird. Spoilers ahead, but go read!

[“The shadows of the bodies darkened tracts of land the size of small towns…”]

Series: Reading the Weird

Waking Life: The Between by Tananarive Due

While I’ve loved Tananarive Due’s work as an executive producer, co-writer, and interview subject in Shudder’s Horror Noire, a documentary on Black horror films adapted from Robin R. Means Coleman’s book, and as a co-host of Octavia Tried to Tell Us, an ongoing discussion of Octavia E. Butler’s work and influence, I’ll admit I hadn’t gotten to her own fiction before this month. I finally reached The Between in my TBR stack, and I am so excited that I have a whole bunch of Due’s books left to read. Due’s debut novel threads supernatural scares together with real life terror to create a genuinely frightening horror story that is also a moving tale of familial devotion.

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Five Characters Who Make the Most of Minor Superpowers

Superhero fiction is rich in characters who won the superpower lottery. They are simultaneously invulnerable, able to fly, equipped with super-strength, super-speed, invulnerability, flight, shapeshifting, invisibility, intangibility, psychic powers, and the ability to create ice-cream out of nothing. It’s always useful to have at least one of those guys around and in fact the Legion of Super-Heroes (in an uncharacteristic moment of clarity) had a loophole in their “no duplicate powers” rule that allowed them to add as many Superboy-knockoffs as they could get.

However, do-anything lads or lasses (and their all-powerful wizard cousins over in fantasy) present the author with the problem of presenting these overpowered characters with challenges not immediately solved with little effort using their vast arsenal of abilities. In many ways, characters limited to one or two minor knacks are more fun from an author’s perspective, because weaker characters have to be ingenious (or at least lucky), rather than just bulldozing through their problems.

This makes for amusing reading, as the five works below will show.

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The Library of Glome: Literary Allusion in C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces

Where is Glome, exactly? And when does Till We Have Faces take place?

C.S. Lewis plays coy on both counts. The people (or at least the royalty) of Glome are fair-skinned and somewhere on the edge of the Greek empire, which narrows both the time and place, but Lewis has removed most signposts that would give us clarity on when exactly and where exactly Till We Have Faces takes place. No doubt this is completely on purpose. It’s “a myth retold” and it takes on the mythic timelessness that is common to the genre. The names of kings and rulers don’t lead us to anyone historical, and even the references to familiar stories are (mostly) to mythological stories, not historical events.

So we get plenty of references to the gods of ancient Greece and their stories. We get references to the Trojan War and particularly the beauty of Helen. There are throwaway comments about people like Oedipus, as well as the occasional allusion to historical figures (mostly philosophers) like Plato (Lewis can’t help it, he loves Plato) and Aristotle and Socrates. Still, there are precious few “real world” references to actual history, which is interesting given that this novel works hard to give one the impression of something that may have really happened.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Five Life Lessons From Ella Enchanted on the Novel’s 25th Anniversary

Some books are simply meant to be reread again and again. My well-loved copy of Ella Enchanted attests to this fact. With its wrinkled spine and its pages crisp with age, the novel is made more magical with each life milestone we’ve shared together. This year marks the book’s twenty-fifth birthday and the third time I’ve reached that “happily ever after.” I have now stepped into Ella’s adventures as a child, a teen, and an adult.

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Hearts of Stone

For over 35 years, the Wild Cards universe has been entertaining readers with stories of superpowered people in an alternate history. In Emma Newman’s “Hearts of Stone”, a young woman learns how to control her deadly powers from an unlikely ally.

Kerry —a.k.a Stonemaiden— is a monster. Or at least… she thinks she is. Ever since she turned her parents into granite statues, she lives in constant fear of hurting other people. To prove herself a hero–someone worthy of joining the Silver Helix–she embarks on her first field mission to Central London where she’s tasked with surveying a Russian diplomat named Kazimir Nazarenko. When she finally comes into contact with Kazimir, it becomes evident everything is not what it appears, leading her to question everything she’s been led to believe.

Note from the author: This story contains references to, and characters from, Russia and Ukraine. It was written in 2020, and was inspired by my fear of what was then a potential war, rather than any of the devastating events unfolding in Ukraine as a result of the Russian invasion in 2022.

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Series: Wild Cards on Tor.com

“They Loved Each Other”: Director Deborah Chow Reveals Why Vader Was Brought Back in Obi-Wan Show

To bring Vader back or to not bring Vader back? The execs at Lucasfilm hotly debated whether to have Hayden Christensen back as the Sith Lord in the upcoming Disney+ series Obi-Wan Kenobi. As we now know, the ultimate decision was yes, and in a recent interview, Obi-Wan director Deborah Chow shared why it was important for her for Vader and Obi-Wan to meet once again before the events of A New Hope.

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Epic Fantasy to Get Lost In: The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah

Chelsea Abdullah’s The Stardust Thief takes place, as the book’s first words tell us, neither here nor there but long ago. In this long ago time, there are jinn in the world—magical beings whose silver blood brings forth life where it lands. For reasons we do not know (at first), the Sultan of Madinne has ordered all jinn to be killed on sight. There is even a cabal of Forty Thieves tasked with hunting them down, resulting in lush oases where they are massacred. It is beautiful and horrible, as one character describes it, and it is both the backdrop and the driving force of the story that unfolds.

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11 Unique SF Tales Involving the Education of Clones

Whether you’ve got a replica, a doppelgänger, or a straight-up clone, having a duplicate of some sort certainly helps you move through life a little bit easier, from a temporary stand-in to a more permanent kind of donor. But they have to know how to successfully emulate their source material, right? Which means that you probably have to train them up. Here are a few of those times that training your duplicate (knowingly or unintentionally, closely or indirectly) came in handy…

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Sophomore Slump — Star Trek: Picard Second Season Overview

After show-running the first season of Star Trek: Picard, Michael Chabon buggered off to work on the TV version of his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay rather than continue to run the day-to-day of Picard (though he still gets an executive producer credit, which comes with a nice paycheck; nice work if you can get it).

He was replaced by Terry Matalas. While he’s probably best known as the co-creator and co-show-runner of the TV version of 12 Monkeys, it’s worth noting that he got his start as a production assistant on Voyager and Enterprise. And the first thing Matalas did was trash most of what Chabon did, and put his stamp on it (bringing back 1990s Trek characters and doing time travel)…

[Look up…]

The Language of Chinese Dreams Is Science Fiction — And Sometimes They’re Nightmares

On the restless night of June 3, 1989, a young engineer visiting Beijing for a trade conference had a nightmare. He dreamt of a battalion of children fighting in a whiteout blizzard under the penetrating light of a supernova—that is, the sun was about to go out. The next morning, tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square to clear the thousands of protesters who had occupied it for months demanding more openness and democracy in China. The nightmare in the dreams of June 3rd and the nightmare in the reality of June 4th inspired Liu Cixin to write his first novel, The Supernova Era, though it would not be published for more than 10 years. Liu Cixin is easily the most prominent science fiction author in China today, and his Three Body Problem trilogy made waves when its first volume won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2015. But his writing career, and by association the flourishing of Chinese science fiction in the wake of Three Body’s success, began with a dream.

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Series: R.F. Kuang Guest Editor for Tor.com

Please Adapt: Darcie Little Badger’s Elatsoe

So far in my “Please Adapt” column, I’ve covered a beloved bestseller and a fan-favorite epic fantasy series, both of which are some of SFF’s top contenders for film or TV adaptation. Today, I want to feature a book that might be less familiar to a potential mainstream audience: Darcie Little Badger’s debut novel, Elatsoe.

To call the novel a “lesser-known” book would likely be a misnomer; Elatsoe certainly garnered its fair share of praise. It earned a slot on TIME Magazine’s “100 Best Fantasy Books” list and a spot on Publishers Weekly’s Best of 2020. I hopped aboard the hype train too, giving Elatsoe a 9/10 in my original review.

In spite of this success, Elatsoe is still finding its way into the hands and hearts of many SFF readers, and if you haven’t read it, you should add it to your list! It’s a novel that tells a unique, compelling story brimming with legends and magic—a story that’s ready-made for the onscreen treatment.

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