You Meet a Man in an Inn: Jean Ray’s “The Mainz Psalter”

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

This week, we’re reading Jean Ray’s “The Mainz Psalter,” first published as “le Psautier de Mayence” in Le Bien Public in May 1930, and translated into English by Lowell Blair for the Ghouls in My Grave collection in 1965. Spoilers ahead.

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Series: The Lovecraft Reread

Fight With a Vim and You’re Dead Sure to Win: Adam Nemett’s We Can Save Us All

If there’s not an official sub-genre for “edgy, dissolute fantasy set at elite American universities,” we should step into the void and name it ourselves. Ivorypunk. GrimIvy. Because, let’s face it—the New England university setting is an immensely popular secondary world. Think of remote towns filled with disengaged, drug-addled youths: screwing their brains out, dodging classes, lazily committing felonies, also as part of their search for some sort of greater existential purpose. Add a touch of fantasy into the mix and the metaphoric stew gets all the thicker. From The Secret History to The Magicians (and the former is a fantasy novel, bring it), there’s a long, quasi-nihilistic-and-deeply-enjoyable tradition of reading about America’s best and brightest, snorting and bonking their way through a Quest for Meaning.

We Can Save Us All is the latest entry to this tradition. All the Bacchanalian misadventures and soul-searching, but, this time, caped and cloaked as superheroes. Adam Nemett’s debut novel features a group of disillusioned and dissolute Princeton students, groping around for their place in the universe. Our ostensible hero is David Fuffman, a sort of bearded (neckbearded, in fact!) everygeek. Committed to a (largely conceptual) love of comic books, romantic angst and the “cooler” parts of his grandfather’s wardrobe, David’s an oddball, even by Princeton standards.

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Read an Excerpt from Through Fiery Trials, David Weber’s Next Safehold Novel

With new alliances forged and old regimes fractured, Merlin—the cybernetic avatar of Earth’s last survivor and immortal beacon to humanity—and the colonies of Safehold have many adventures ahead in Through Fiery Trials, the continuation of David Weber’s military science fiction series. Available January 8th from Tor Books.

Those on the side of progressing humanity through advanced technology have finally triumphed over their oppressors. The unholy war between the small but mighty island realm of Charis and the radical, luddite Church of God’s Awaiting has come to an end.

However, even though a provisional veil of peace has fallen over human colonies, the quiet will not last. For Safefold is a broken world, and as international alliances shift and Charis charges on with its precarious mission of global industrialization, the shifting plates of the new world order are bound to clash.

Yet, an uncertain future isn’t the only danger Safehold faces. Long-thought buried secrets and prophetic promises come to light, proving time is a merciless warden who never forgets.

[Read an Excerpt]

What Really Happens After the Apocalypse

Right now, the largest and most deadly wildfire in California history is burning. Last year, Hurricane Harvey drowned southeast Texas under punishing, endless rain; a month ago, Hurricane Florence did the same to North Carolina. Apocalyptic-scale disasters happen every day (and more often now, as climate change intensifies weather patterns all over the world.) Apocalyptic disaster isn’t always the weather, either: it’s human-made, by war or by industrial accident; by system failure or simple individual error. Or it’s biological: the flu of 1918, the Ebola outbreaks in 2014.

In science fiction, apocalypse and what comes after is an enduring theme. Whether it’s pandemic (like in Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven and Stephen King’s The Stand), nuclear (such as Theodore Sturgeon’s short story “Thunder and Roses” or the 1984 BBC drama Threads), or environmental (Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140, and a slew of brilliant short fiction, including Tobias Buckell’s “A World to Die For” (Clarkesworld 2018) and Nnedi Okorafor’s “Spider the Artist” (Lightspeed 2011), disaster, apocalypse, and destruction fascinate the genre. If science fiction is, as sometimes described, a literature of ideas, then apocalyptic science fiction is the literature of how ideas go wrong—an exploration of all of our bad possible futures, and what might happen after.

Most of apocalyptic literature focuses on all the terrible ways that society goes wrong after a society-disrupting disaster, though. This is especially prevalent in television and film—think of The Walking Dead or 28 Days Later where, while the zombies might be the initial threat, most of the horrible violence is done by surviving humans to one another. This kind of focus on antisocial behavior—in fact, the belief that after a disaster humans will revert to some sort of ‘base state of nature’—reflects very common myths that exist throughout Western culture. We think that disaster situations cause panic, looting, assaults, the breakdown of social structures—and we make policy decisions based on that belief, assuming that crime rises during a crisis and that anti-crime enforcement is needed along with humanitarian aid.

But absolutely none of this is true.

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Twenty Rings, Seven Stones, and Middle-earth’s New Dark Lord

Wherein Sauron Hoodwinks the Elves, Forges His Trusty Ring, Unveils His New Tower, and Then, Having Had It Up to Here With All That Nonsense, Men and Elves Form the Last Alliance

The final section of The Silmarillion, “Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age” is basically the bridge between the Quenta, the downfall of Númenor, and The Lord of the Rings, even summarizing the high-level events of the War of the Ring. I’m sure anyone reading this Primer will already be well acquainted with that last event. Given the overlap in exposition between this section and The Lord of the Rings itself, I’m going to tie things together with Appendix B: The Tale of Years from Tolkien’s most famous book…with a dash and a few dollops from Unfinished Tales.

Think of all this as proper stage setting for a reread of The Lord of the Rings. Now, this section is jam-packed with exposition, so I’m going to separate it into halves (one last time). But first, let’s recalibrate: We need to jump back to the start of the Second Age, long before the fall of Númenor.

[I perceive that you love this Middle-earth, as do I.]

Series: The Silmarillion Primer

Revisiting Tamora Pierce’s Tortall as the Mother of a Daughter

Earlier this year, Tamora Pierce released a new Tortall book, Tempest and Slaughter, the 19th novel set in Pierce’s rich universe. The book focuses on the early life of Numair Salmalín, known then as Arram Draper, and his time at the University of Carthak. Once I finished that book, I knew I had to go back and reread The Immortals quartet, which introduced Numair. And then I went back to the beginning to remind myself how it all started with Alanna and suddenly, I was rereading every Tortall book—even Tortall: A Spy’s Guide, which I hadn’t read before.

I love rereading books and do so often. It’s a different experience every time. Not only do I catch details that I skimmed over the first time in my desire to find out what happens next, I also get to experience books from a different perspective. In the case of Pierce’s books, I started reading them as a young girl. When I first read about Alanna’s adventures, I would lose myself in a fantasy where a girl could become a lady knight, proving herself in a world of men and performing heroic deeds. It felt magical, adventurous, and above all, empowering.

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The Word of Flesh and Soul

The language of the originators defines reality, every word warping the world to fit its meaning. Its study transforms the mind and body, and is closely guarded by stodgy, paranoid academics. These hidebound men don’t trust many students with their secrets, especially not women, and more especially not “madwomen.” Polymede and her lover Erishti believe they’ve made a discovery that could blow open the field’s unexamined assumptions, and they’re ready to face expulsion to make their mark. Of course, if they’re wrong, the language will make its mark on them instead.

[Read “The Word of Flesh and Soul”]

Vote for the Best Books of 2018 in the Goodreads Choice Awards Final Round!

It’s the Final Round of the 2018 Goodreads Choice Awards! The Opening Round and Semifinal Round have pared down the nominees to a final 10 choices in each category; among the finalists are Martha Wells’ Artificial Condition, John Scalzi’s Head On, Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti: The Night Masquerade, Seanan McGuire’s Beneath the Sugar Sky, V.E. Schwab’s Vengeful, Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone, and Jen Wang’s The Prince and the Dressmaker.

Below find your choices for the Final Round in science fiction, fantasy, horror, the Best of the Best, and more.

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Sleeps With Monsters: Unexpected Fun

I would never have heard about Abra Staffin-Wiebe’s The Unkindness of Ravens if Marissa Lingen hadn’t mentioned it on her blog. That would’ve been a shame: The Unkindness of Ravens is a lovely novella, and a compelling one.

The story sets itself in a land where eight lineages or Houses are under the protection of eight different gods, each with a different (animal) aspect. Those not part of the Houses, not accepted under the gods’ protection, are the “Scorned,” part of a caste of untouchable people, contact with whom creates ritual pollution for members of the Houses.

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

5 Overworked Fantasy Characters Who Could Use a Vacation

What with all the cursed jewelry and chthonic adversaries and apocalyptic prophecies to deal with, fantasy characters often seem a bit overworked and overstressed. Sure, these people might be fictional, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t treat themselves to a nice, relaxing holiday from time to time.

Now I have it on good authority that countless fantasy folk, from the Pale Man to Pyornkrachzark, read, so I thought this post would be the perfect opportunity to recommend some amusement parks for a few characters to visit over the holidays. As a world-renowned theme park enthusiast, I feel that writing this piece is my responsibility.

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Power and Compassion: Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

I’m not in love with Orbit Books’ whole list, but in recent years, they’re one publisher with a consistent and happy knack of publishing female authors whose works go straight to my happy place. Especially debut authors. Now Tasha Suri can join a roll-call that includes Ann Leckie, K.B. Wagers, and Melissa Caruso: debut authors that made me stop in my tracks and say: Yes. This. Give me MORE.

I’ve spent a week trying to figure out how to write this review, how to tell you exactly what I enjoyed about it, and why. That’s always an issue with books I find speak to me on an emotional level while also being technically adept: to be honest about what one loves is to expose a vulnerability, to lay bare something more often kept quiet.

Empire of Sand is an astonishingly accomplished debut, set in a richly realised world. It’s a novel about power and about colonialism. It’s a novel about unequal power relationships, and about the abuse of power. It’s a novel about trust and its lack, about choices and compromises. And at its heart, it’s a novel about compassion: about the risks, and the rewards, of choosing to be kind.

[Read more] Reviewers’ Choice: The Best Books of 2018

It’s been a year, hasn’t it? It started with losing Le Guin, and it’s hard to say it’s improved since then. But books? Those were good. We picked some favorites in the middle of the year, and now we’ve picked even more—some titles make a second appearance on this list, but as is usually the case, the second half of the year packed in a lot of winners. If your TBR stack isn’t already teetering, it will be after you read this list.

What did you love in this year’s reading?

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Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings Brought Tolkien from the Counterculture to the Big Screen

As you’ve probably heard, Amazon has announced that it’s producing a show set in Middle-earth, the world created by J.R.R. Tolkien in his landmark novels The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. With the new series reportedly headed into production in 2019, I thought it was time to revisit the various TV and big screen takes on Tolkien’s work that have appeared—with varying quality and results—over the last forty years.

Today we look at the first feature film adaptation of Tolkien, Ralph Bakshi’s animated The Lord of the Rings, released in November 1978.

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