11 Stories of Sea Songs, Tragic Romances, and Selkies

We’ve always been suckers for good stories of the sea, and selkies are pretty much the best. Ethereal creatures who take the form of seals in the ocean, but then transform into supernaturally beautiful humans while on land: they’ve inspired tales for centuries. Selkies stories tend to be romantic tragedies: female selkies are trapped on land and slowly waste away when men hide their sealskins; fishermen wake to find their beloved wives gone back to the sea; selkie children spirited away to an aquatic life.

But lately people have been tweaking the selkie stories to give them, if not happy endings, at least slightly more hopeful ones. We’ve gathered up a few of our favorite modern selkies below—let us know those we missed in the comments!

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Steeplejack’s Final Stand: Guardian by A.J. Hartley

Ang has always been on the outside looking in. At home, she is the arrogant girl that betrayed her family by moving to the city. In Bar-Selehm, she is a Lani streetrat, barely worth a second glance. Even with her benefactor and his family, she can’t be sure of her place: did the progressive politician Josiah Willinghouse hire her as a spy in order to advance his political career, or because he truly cares for the poor and the oppressed?

When Willinghouse is accused of killing the prime minister, throwing the city to the brink of a racial civil war, Ang is forced to take a stand. Belonging can be a complicated thing. But when it comes to resisting violent oppression, knowing who your allies are becomes a matter of life and death.

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City-State Fantasy: City of Lies by Sam Hawke

One of the debates I’ve had with myself and others over the years I’ve been reading and reviewing fantasy is the question of the definition of “urban fantasy.” This mainly gets into the idea of secondary world fantasies and whether or not a story is set in a secondary world city, where the city is as much a character and changing and evolving place as any of the sentient characters. Are the Ankh-Morpork novels of Terry Pratchett urban fantasy? Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories, primarily set in the fascinating city of Lankhmar? The novels of Marshall Ryan Maresca, set in the Archduchy of Maradaine, and showing us an increasing number of facets of his city-state from different points of view and different social classes? Is there a good way to define novels that take this space and make it their own by calling them something better than epic fantasy or urban fantasy? And why do novels that operate in this space, let’s call it city-state fantasy, work? And how do they work when they work well?

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Charmed, I’m Sure: A Closer Look at Everyone’s Dream Prince

I will admit up front that I have a strange affection for Prince Charming. He inspired the Charming Tales (available at fine book portals everywhere), and got me started on the road to a career as an author, or at least a published author. However, what made me interested in writing a story about Prince Charming was not that he was a particularly interesting character, but that he was entirely uninteresting. In fairytales filled with iconic beautiful princesses like Cinderella, Snow White, Beauty, and Briar Rose, the prince is, almost without exception, a non-entity. In fact, in fairytales prince characters are comically nondescript and interchangeable. Would the stories of Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty or Snow White be any different if Prince Phillip or Prince Charming or Prince “Noname” (literally—the prince in Snow White is never given a name) were swapped?

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“Victory has defeated you” — The Dark Knight Rises

Christopher Nolan wasn’t a hundred percent sure that he wanted to return to the Batman well, as he was worried that he’d lose interest. He also was struggling to come up with third films in series that were well regarded. (Just on the superhero end of things, you’ve got Superman III, Batman Forever, X-Men: The Last Stand, and Spider-Man 3 as cautionary tales.) But once he and his Bat-collaborators David S. Goyer and Jonathan Nolan hit on the notion of using the “Knightfall” and “No Man’s Land” storylines from the comics for inspiration for, in essence, the end of Batman’s career, he found the story he wanted to tell.

[“My mother warned me about getting into cars with strange men.” “This isn’t a car.”]

Series: 4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch

How iZombie Became a Show About the Birth of a Minority Subculture

Zombie stories are about dehumanization, about what makes an entire population less than human and a threat to civilization itself, whether that’s racism (Night of the Living Dead) or consumerism (Dawn of the Dead), apathy (Shaun of the Dead) or rage (28 Days Later). The CW’s iZombie, on the other hand, is more interested in how zombies get their humanity back.

The show is very clear on the cause of zombification: trauma. Like her predecessor Veronica Mars—the titular protagonist of another mystery show by series creator Rob Thomas—Liv Moore (yes, that’s her name, the show loves puns) survives a violent assault and finds herself disconnected and numb afterwards, withdrawing from her family and friends and subject to mood swings and violent outbursts: all classic symptoms of trauma. She also turns chalk white and needs to eat a brain a week to stay sane, so the metaphor only extends so far. Still… like Veronica before her, Liv finds purpose by solving crimes, using her skills as a medical examiner and ability to experience the memories of the people she eats.

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Part Prophecy, Part Warning: Revealing Aliya Whiteley’s The Arrival of Missives

In the aftermath of the Great War, Shirley Fearn dreams of challenging the conventions of rural England, where life is as predictable as the changing of the seasons. The scarred veteran Mr. Tiller, left disfigured by an impossible accident on the battlefields of France, brings with him a message: part prophecy, part warning. Will it prevent her mastering her own destiny? As the village prepares for the annual May Day celebrations, where a new queen will be crowned and the future will be reborn again, Shirley must choose: change or renewal?

We’re pleased to share the full US cover and a preview excerpt from Aliya Whiteley’s The Arrival of Missives, publishing November 6th with Titan Books!

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Wonderbook Sweepstakes!

We want to send you a copy of Jeff VanderMeers’s revised and expanded Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction, available now from Abrams!

Wonderbook has become the definitive guide to writing science fiction and fantasy by offering an accessible, example-rich approach that emphasizes the importance of playfulness as well as pragmatism. It also exploits the visual nature of genre culture and employs bold, full-color drawings, maps, renderings, and visualizations to stimulate creative thinking. On top of all that, the book features sidebars and essays from some of the biggest names working in the field today, including George R. R. Martin, Lev Grossman, Neil Gaiman, Michael Moorcock, and Karen Joy Fowler.

For the fifth anniversary of the original publication, Jeff VanderMeer has added an additional 50 pages of diagrams, illustrations, and writing exercises creating the ultimate volume of inspiring advice that is also a stunning and inspiring object.

Clink below to check out an excerpt from the book, and comment in the post to enter!

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Metamorphica

A brilliant and daring novel that reimagines Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Zachary Mason’s Metamorphica is available now from Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

In the tradition of his bestselling debut novel The Lost Books of the Odyssey, Mason transforms Ovid’s epic poem of endless transformation. It reimagines the stories of Narcissus, Pygmalion and Galatea, Midas and Atalanta, and strings them together like the stars in constellations—even Ovid becomes a story. It’s as though the ancient mythologies had been rewritten by Borges or Calvino; Metamorphica is an archipelago in which to linger for a while; it reflects a little light from the morning of the world.

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The Fairy Tale Trials of Younger Sons: “The Golden Goose”

Sometimes I’m astonished that so many youngest sons—especially third sons, or seventh sons—make it out of fairy tales alive, or don’t decide to just walk out of the fairy tale, deciding they’ve had enough abuse. I mean, sure, many of them end up married to lovely princesses, ruling over half a kingdom—though given that many of them have also barely met their brides before marriage, and have little to no training in administration, I find myself kinda wondering just how well they’ll do as kings.

And then of course, there’s everything that happens to them in fairy tales, with “The Golden Goose” as perhaps the shining example.

Forgive the pun.

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Building A Family: Deep Roots by Ruthanna Emrys

Winter Tide, Ruthanna Emrys’s accomplished and astonishing debut novel, was an intense and intimate subversion of the Lovecraftian mythos, told from the point of view of Aphra Marsh, the eldest of two survivors of the United States’ genocide of Innsmouth. In Winter Tide, Aphra made reluctant common cause with FBI agent Ron Spector (though not with his suspicious colleagues) and accidentally accreted a family around her. Winter Tide is a novel about the importance of kindness in the face of an indifferent universe, and I love it beyond reason.

I may love Deep Roots even more.

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Let There Be Light: The Handmaid’s Tale, “The Word”

“Gilead is within you” has been the rallying cry all season for The Handmaid’s Tale, and it has seemed to describe the Handmaids. The imagery is apt: something implanted without their consent, its growth within them beyond their control, until it eclipses any remaining sense of their former selves. But the real danger, as June, and Serena, have come to learn, is to Gilead’s next generation, born with this defect and destined to know nothing but this world.

Season 2 has been building pretty clearly to some form of internal revolt; the only question has been the who and the why. Eden’s transgression, and the monstrous way in which Gilead makes an example of her, fill in the latter blank. Is it any surprise, then, that this is what makes Serena and the other Wives finally step up?

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Five Novels Dealing With Time Travel

Time travel in sci-fi literature tends to be approached in two fundamentally different ways, and these two ways correspond to whether time is seen as objective or subjective. The brute force approach, as I’ll call it, ties in with our common sense intuition that time is an objective feature of reality, that it would keep ticking away regardless of whether or not anyone was there to measure it. In this approach, a machine or device is created (or discovered) that somehow allows its user to travel through time in a non-standard way. The mind travel approach, on the other hand, comports with Einsteinian and Kantian considerations about the mind-dependence of time; in it, travelling into the past is shown to be possible through a sort of rigorous mental training or discipline, with no recourse to technology required.

Personally I find the mind travel approach more compelling, but here I want to touch on and recommend two novels from each camp—and one curious outlier.

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Series: Five Books About…