When the seeds rained down from deep space, it may have been the first stage of an alien invasion—or something else entirely. How much time do we have left, and do we even understand what timescale to use? As a slow apocalypse blooms across the Earth, planets and plants, animals and microbes, all live and die and evolve at different scales. Is one human life long enough to unravel the mystery?
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 E.F. Benson’s “The Room in the Tower,” first published in Benson’s The Room in the Tower and Other Stories in 1912. Trigger Warning for suicide, treated as a symptom of Evil. Spoilers ahead.
Series: The Lovecraft Reread
R.E. Stearns’ debut novel, Barbary Station, exploded its way close to my heart with its narrative of lesbian space engineers, pirates, and murderous AI. A measured, tensely claustrophobic narrative, it hinted that Stearns might be a voice to watch. Now in Mutiny at Vesta, Barbary Station‘s sequel, Stearns has written a worthy successor, one that makes me feel that tensely claustrophobic is the corner of slower-than-light space opera that Stearns has staked out as her playing field.
One can’t help but feel for Adda Karpe and Iridian Nassir, the protagonists of both Barbary Station and now Mutiny at Vesta. They may have each other—they may now be married to each other—but they seem to have a decided knack for setting their courses out of the frying pan and into the fire.
I am a voracious, enthusiastic reader of all things young adult and one of the things that interests me the most as a reader, reviewer, and editor is the way that we write about girls, how those stories are framed, and how we engage with them. Warning: this column contains girls. And spoilers. But mostly, girls.
Looking at folklore and old tales and reinterpreting them is nothing new, of course; the Brothers Grimm did just that 200 years ago, and SFF and YA authors have been engaging with this kind of material for a long time.
That said, I do feel like there has been a renewed interest in YA to reimagine fairytales through feminist, subversive, and diverse lenses, with stories focused on girls and their empowerment. I recently read three of these—three novels published this year, three retellings that take beloved stories/tropes and turn them upside down. The Surface Breaks by Louise O’Neill is a retelling of “The Little Mermaid” with a side of Slavic folklore and their Rusalka via an Irish history of policing women’s bodies. Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore is Swan Lake meets “Snow White and Rose Red” from a Latinx viewpoint. Finally, Damsel by Elana K. Arnold looks at the trope of the damsel in the dragon tower waiting to be rescued by a prince.
Fate, I observe somewhat unoriginally, is a funny thing—in both the strange and the ha-ha flavors. This is just as true in real life as it is in stories, though the dialogue in the stories generally tends to be a bit more polished.
I am continually both amused and bemused, therefore, whenever I think about how there’s a person out there who, by saying two short sentences to me, is ultimately responsible for shaping a huge portion of my life, my friends, my interests, my travels, my experiences, and even my career.
And I have absolutely no idea who this person is. And I never will.
He will forever only be that random guy in the University bookstore on Guadalupe Street in Austin, Texas who, sometime in 1997, paused in the science fiction/fantasy aisle next to an equally random girl staring at the shelves in total indecision, just long enough to point at a thick mass-market paperback with a blue-toned cover and say:
“You should try that one. It’s really good.”
Practical Magic is called a romantic comedy, and that’s funny because its leading man doesn’t show up until well over half the film’s runtime has elapsed. (It’s also based on a book of the same name, though they don’t resemble each other very much.) I suppose it is a romantic comedy in that many parts of the film are funny, and there’s a lot of romantic stuff in it. The romance is basically a tangent that occurs so that the story has a thought to end on, and it’s perfectly nice. But really, more than anything, Practical Magic is about how important it is for women to have other women in their lives for the sake of their empowerment and protection. And that’s really it.
Also witch stuff. And tequila.
Wherein the Dúnedain Are Made Better, Stronger, Faster, and Are Gifted With Huge Tracts o’ Land…and It Just Might Not Be Enough
In The Silmarillion, we don’t spend quite enough time in the Second Age to really get to know it—a chapter and a half, at best. And rather than walk through what does follow the First Age chronologically, Christopher Tolkien—who curated all of this for us after his father’s death—presents the next two ages of the history of Middle-earth in two basic pieces. Each overlaps the other but centers on its own events.
The first of these is the Akallabêth, a word that means “the Downfallen,” and specifically refers to the figurative and literal sinking of Númenor. You can always count on J.R.R. Tolkien to tell you something falls before he tells you it’s even a thing. Well, Númenor was a thing, and even casual readers of The Lord of the Rings will already know a thing or two about it. This is a phase of the book when Men finally take center stage, while Elves merely flit in from the wings once in a while.
While this is not a difficult story to follow, the gauntlet of both Elvish and Adûnaic (i.e. Númenórean) names can trip you up. Don’t let it! Sauron WANTS you to fall. Given the big ideas in this section, I’ll be tackling the Akallabêth (ah-CALL-la-beth) in two parts, which mostly amounts to the great rise and the watery fall of Númenor.
Series: The Silmarillion Primer
I suspect a lot of people’s minds ran in the same direction mine did at the news that a girl named Saga had pulled a fifteen hundred-year-old sword from a lake. Not all swords are Excalibur, of course, and the lake in question was in Sweden, but Britain could do worse than seeing if Saga has any interest in becoming Prime Minister.
All of which reminded me of Arthuriana, and my first and favorite Arthur novel, Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Lantern Bearers (1959). The novel takes its title from a statement by Eugenus the Physician:
“We are the lantern bearers, my friend; for us to keep something burning, to carry what light we can forward into the darkness and the wind.”
Arthur (or Artos, as he is called in this book) plays only a supporting role, but it’s enough of a role for this to be the ur-Arthur story for me.
Liz Gorinsky, Hugo Award-winning long form editor, is starting her own publishing company—Erewhon Books. Named for the Samuel Butler Victorian utopian novel Erewhon, the company will focus on novel-length works of speculative fiction, especially those which might appeal to both science fiction and fantasy readers and fans of mainstream fiction who enjoy work with speculative elements.
A provocative story about the relationship between the humans on a British airbase and the AI security system that guards that base. When a group of humans are killed, the question is who is responsible and why.
We want to send you a copy of Zack Handlen and Todd VanDerWerff’s Monsters of the Week: The Complete Critical Companion to The X-Files, available now from Abrams Press! And as a bonus, each book will come with a bookplate signed by the authors and X-Files creator Chris Carter!
In 1993, Fox debuted a strange new television show called The X-Files. Little did anyone suspect that the series would become one of the network’s biggest hits—and change the landscape of television in the process. Now, on the occasion of the show’s 25th anniversary, TV critics Zack Handlen and Todd VanDerWerff unpack exactly what made this haunting show so groundbreaking. Witty and insightful reviews of every episode of the series, revised and updated from the authors’ popular A.V. Club recaps, leave no mystery unsolved and no monster unexplained. This crucial collection even includes exclusive interviews with some of the stars and screenwriters, as well as an original foreword by X-Files creator and showrunner Chris Carter. This complete critical companion is the definitive guide whether you’re a lifelong viewer wanting to relive memories of watching the show when it first aired or a new fan uncovering the conspiracy for the first time.
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Due to the vagaries of e-publishing (and my personal preferences), I continue to only read Lois McMaster Bujold’s self-published novellas after Subterranean Press has picked them up and published them in gorgeous hardcover. The latest of these is Mira’s Last Dance, the fifth Penric and Desdemona novella to be published, and a direct sequel to Penric’s Mission.
Series: Sleeps With Monsters
Nnedi Okorafor recently took to Facebook to announce her first nonfiction book! In Broken Places & Outer Spaces, the Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author of the Binti trilogy and Akata Witch will look back at how travels in her her youth and a traumatic incident during her teen years shaped her creative life—particularly her love of science fiction and the fantastic.
Mike Flanagan’s adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House is easily one of the best things I’ve seen on Netflix. It’s consistently scary and moving, creepy and heartfelt, and creates one of the best, most multi-dimensional views of a family I’ve seen since Six Feet Under.
And as a work of horror, Hill House works because it’s an adaptation. It takes Shirley Jackson’s novel as more of a sketch than a blueprint, and it frees itself to riff on the horror genre as a whole.
Seven years ago, Victoria Schwab’s first novel, The Near Witch, was published by Disney/Hyperion. Within two years, the book was out of print, and became what the author known now as V.E. Schwab describes as “a strange and vaguely mythic story, one readers heard of, but couldn’t find.” Now, Titan Books is reviving that mythic story by reissuing The Near Witch with a haunting new cover and a new introduction by Schwab.