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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Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties to Be Adapted as Black Mirror-esque Anthology Series

Since Carmen Maria Machado’s short fiction collection Her Body and Other Parties was published last October, individual stories have emerged as their own conversation pieces: the stark, sexist horror of “The Husband Stitch,” a retelling of that eerie favorite urban legend about the woman with the green ribbon around her neck; the brutally clever “Especially Heinous,” told through micro-recaps of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit; and so forth. It’s fitting, then, that the television adaptation of Machado’s collection is being pitched as an anthology series described as a feminist Black Mirror.

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Existentialism in SPAAAAACE: The Expanse, “Dandelion Sky”

This was a surprisingly talky episode of The Expanse! “Dandelion Sky” touched on free will, determinism, the nature of consciousness, the nature of fear…there was a lot going on as our intrepid space people drew ever closer to The Ring. There are spoilers below, obviously, but also a content warning as I’ll be talking about suicide, specifically how it was depicted in this episode, so if you need to tread carefully or simply not read that part I’ll drop another warning in when we get there. (And if you haven’t seen the episode yet, note that it shows a suicide, in a blunt, graphic scene, so if that’s something you don’t want in your head, just read a recap for this one.)

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Fairy Tales in Conversation: “Princess Minute and King Floridor” by the Comte de Caylus

Anne Claude Philippe de Tubières-Grimoard de Pastels de Lévis, comte de Caylus, marquis d’Esternay, baron de Branscac (1692-1765), generally known by the considerably shorter name of Comte de Caylus, not only had the enviable honor of having about the longest name yet of anyone discussed in this series, but also of being the grandson of a first cousin of Madame de Maintenon, known to history as the second, secret wife of Louis XIV. This in turn ensured that he and his mother had access to the very cream of French society—and the French salons, where fairy tales still remained a prime source of amusement.

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We Believe the Women: The Handmaid’s Tale, “Smart Power”

It is frankly astonishing timing that this is the very week in which The Handmaid’s Tale sends Commander Waterford, Serena Joy, and Nick to represent Gilead up north for diplomatic talks with Canada. Fred cites Ofglen’s bombing as an “opening”—of course he would call it that—for both sides to speak, though it’s unclear what, if anything, Gilead realistically thinks it can offer to a conversation in which it is clearly at a disadvantage. For all of Fred’s bravado, it seems to be damage control, maintaining the fiction that they suffered a terrorist attack, that Gilead is still very much a useful neighbor and maybe even ally.

But to do that, he needs Serena Joy to do what she did at that university years ago: show that women in Gilead are neither oppressed nor voiceless; “show them a strong Gilead Wife.” Her dilemma is a fascinating reversal of Offred’s last season, when the Mexican trade delegation came to Gilead: she must lie through her teeth that this is a worthwhile life for a woman; to say anything else would be treason. But that doesn’t mean she’s not tempted to imagine a way out.

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Deep Roots

Ruthanna Emrys’ Innsmouth Legacy, which began with Winter Tide and continues with Deep Roots, confronts H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos head-on, boldly upturning his fear of the unknown with a heart-warming story of found family, acceptance, and perseverance in the face of human cruelty and the cosmic apathy of the universe. Emrys brings together a family of outsiders, bridging the gaps between the many people marginalized by the homogenizing pressure of 1940s America.

Aphra Marsh, descendant of the People of the Water, has survived Deep One internment camps and made a grudging peace with the government that destroyed her home and exterminated her people on land. Deep Roots continues Aphra’s journey to rebuild her life and family on land, as she tracks down long-lost relatives. She must repopulate Innsmouth or risk seeing it torn down by greedy developers, but as she searches she discovers that people have been going missing. She will have to unravel the mystery, or risk seeing her way of life slip away.

Deep Roots is available July 10th from Publishing.

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Falling in Love with the Enemy: Sweet Black Waves by Kristina Pérez

When she was little, Lady Branwen’s life was blown apart when her parents were murdered by Kernyv raiders. The king and queen took her in and raised her as one of their own. Now at nineteen, she a lady-in-waiting to her cousin Princess Eseult. Essy is fiesty yet fragile, a girl determined to live a life she chooses even if it means disregarding all her responsibilities. Branny, on the other hand, is content to be in her cousin’s shadow, but beneath her wallflower attitude is a fire waiting to be lit. The boy with the match is Tristan, a Kernyvman who washes up on Iveriu’s shore. After Branwen saves his life, the truth of his past comes out and threatens the passion welling up between them.

For years, longer than anyone can remember, Kernyv and Iveriu have been enemies, but Tristan’s arrival and the message he brings from his king offer a chance at peace. Yet when Essy insists on marrying for love rather than for political control, as is her duty as princess, the fate of two nations is put at risk. All the while, ancient magic calls to Branny, pushing her to discover the depth and breadth of her gods-given abilities. The gods have a vested interest in her and her true love, but it may not be for the reason she thinks. As a healer and liaison between humans and the Land, Branwen is destined to heal anything and everything from people to the monarchy to her own damaged heart. If Branwen can’t get Essy to play her part—and keep Tristan alive long enough to make it back to Kernyv—all hope is lost.

[“Not you without me, not me without you.”]

Tactical Combat, Fantasy Adventure, and Political Intrigue: Five Books About Intricate Games

I’ve loved games since childhood, everything from tag to the medieval imagery of chess to Dungeons & Dragons and first-person shooters. (I am terrible at first-person shooters, but sometimes it’s just cathartic to shoot pixel bad guys. Or, in my case, to be shot by them?) As a corollary, this meant that I also enjoy books related to games. Sometimes they’re about game-playing, and sometimes they’re set in the world of a game. Sometimes, as with gamebooks or Choose Your Own Adventure, the book is the game itself!

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Series: Five Books About…

On the Origins of Modern Biology and the Fantastic: Part 4 — Edgar Rice Burroughs and Theodosius Dobzhansky

Science and science fiction are indelibly intertwined, each inspiring the other since their modern birth in the Victorian Era. Good science fiction, like a sound scientific theory, involves thorough worldbuilding, avoids logical inconsistencies, and progressively deeper interrogations reveal further harmonies. This series explores the connection between the evolution of biology and science fiction into the modern era.

“I have ever been prone to seek adventure and to investigate and experiment where wiser men would have left well enough alone.” —John Carter, A Princess of Mars

Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom is a dying world, where competition for diminishing resources has encouraged the devolution of the surviving species into a hardened and warlike state. John Carter, a cavalry officer who falls asleep in a cave in Arizona and is astral projected to Barsoom, must fight for what he thinks is is right, sometimes save the world, and always get the girl. From 1912 to 1941, readers of the pulp magazines followed John Carter, his descendants, and various other characters through alien landscapes filled with romance and danger, peppered with plant monsters, brain creatures, and 15-foot-tall telepathic four-armed martians with radium guns riding atop galloping lizard dogs—a world where men were strong, women were prone to fainting, and the bad guys’ mustaches itched for a good twirling.

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Gender, Disability, and Prophecy: Jacqueline Carey on Writing Standalone Epic Fantasy Starless

When I asked Jacqueline Carey if a particular aspect of her new fantasy novel Starless had required extensive research, she laughed and pointed out that this was her eighteenth novel—which is to say, she has amassed a lot of background research over the years. The standalone epic, about a fierce warrior destined to guard a courageous princess even if it means going to the ends of the earth to return the stars to the sky, hinges on a Scattered Prophecy: each character possesses a piece of it, and can only solve it by bringing the different parts together.

Talking to Carey, author of the Kushiel’s Legacy books and other series, about the influences behind Starless is like piecing together the Scattered Prophecy: there’s the practice of bacha posh, octopus gods dreamed up at parties, YouTube videos on proper bola throwing, a dash of Lovecraft, and a spin on Le Guin. And just like Starless’ prophecy, each piece is vital.

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