Hunger — Fickle and Radical: Claire Kohda’s Woman, Eating

Lydia is just another twenty-something year old living in London. Fresh out of art school and trying to hazard a trajectory through the world, she finally washes her hands of her mother, who’s in ailing mental health, by committing her to a home in Margate. She nabs an internship at a prestigious gallery, the OTA, rents a studio in a collective artists’ space and wills herself to refine her aesthetic practice. She yearns for community, but more often than not finds herself alone, scrolling food videos on Youtube. So far so familiar. Only there’s a catch. Lydia is a vampire.

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Secrets and Lies — Star Trek: Strange New Worlds: “Ghosts of Illyria”

Back in 1989, D.C. Fontana—who was the story editor for most of the original series’ first two seasons, the show-runner for the animated series, the uncredited co-creator of TNG, and who wrote for all those shows as well as one DS9 episode, many of which were excellent and influential episodes—wrote a Trek novel called Vulcan’s Glory. It took place prior to “The Cage” (and retroactively, shortly after the Short TrekQ & A“), and chronicled Spock’s first mission on the Enterprise.

It also established that Number One was a genetically engineered human from the colony of Illyria, a backstory that was used in several other works of tie-in fiction (notably 2010’s The Children of Kings by David Stern and 2016’s Legacies trilogy by David Mack, Greg Cox, and Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore).

Said backstory has now been incorporated into the onscreen canon, with an interesting twist…

[I welcome that conversation.]

Wilderness and Survival in R.L. Stine’s The Overnight and Carol Ellis’s Camp Fear 

Sometimes getting back to nature can be a perfect break from the day-to-day demands and stressors of modern life: the wind in the trees, stars overhead, fresh air, maybe an invigorating hike or a cozy night spent around a campfire. For the protagonists of ‘90s teen horror novels, the wilderness offers this escape, as well as a chance to get out from under the constant surveillance of their parents and (to a lesser extent) away from the social stratification of their communal peer group. However, while the high school hallways of teen horror are wild enough, the great outdoors holds its own set of challenges and dangers. The teens in R.L. Stine’s The Overnight (1989) and Carol Ellis’s Camp Fear (1993) venture into the woods and find a whole new set of horrors. 

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Vivid and Erratic Storytelling: All the Seas of the World by Guy Gavriel Kay

My first foray into Guy Gavriel Kay’s writing has been one of the most artful instances of unintentional edging I’ve had in a long time. In theory, All the Seas of the World is an easy sell, with real-world historical inspirations, and an elaborate pirate setting (I do love Black Sails) done in what the publisher describes as his signature “quarter turn to the fantastic” style. Kay is best known for these types of historical fantasies—dramatic fiction that draws from defining eras of past centuries, encompassing everything from a reimagined Tang Dynasty to a range of alternate medieval Europes. All the Seas of the World follows the same formula against a backdrop of religious war and seafaring corsair culture with Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flavors.

Actually getting through Seas was, at turns, gripping and frustrating. For historical fantasies of this scope—the kind of far-reaching stories that flit across oceans and kingdoms and mention ten names in one breath—the first few chapters are often a rude baptism of worldbuilding, jargon, and geography that really takes time to sink in. Generally speaking, getting accustomed to this particular kind of historical genre is an acquired taste, as well as an acquired skill in learning to move along without getting overwhelmed by the frequency and volume of details and stylistic shifts.

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Five Stories in Which Aliens Attempt to Reshape the Earth

The term “terraforming” was first used in Jack Williamson’s 1941 story “Collision Orbit.” As you know, Bob, terraforming is the process of transforming an environment hostile to Terrestrial life into a habitable environment. Humans have been doing this in a minor way for millennia, even before they started domesticating plants. But what we’re talking about here is going from “you die outside the dome” to “you can go outside, breathe the air, and plant a garden.”

Sapients from other worlds might also want to reshape other planets to suit their needs and tastes. Call it “xenoforming.” Perhaps they might want to xenoform our planet. There’s no guarantee that what suits us would suit them… and considerable dramatic potential if it does not, particularly if the aliens have better tech than we do. H.G. Wells was an early pioneer of this conceit in his The War of the Worlds—the Red Weed pushes aside terrestrial plants, at least for a time—but he is hardly the only author to use the idea. Consider these five works about hostile xenoforming.

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Rhythm of War Reread: Chapter Seventy-Nine

Lyn: Hello, my lovely Cosmere Chickens?! Guess who’s back?

Paige: Lyndsey’s kindly filling in for Alice who has to be out with senior stuff for her daughter.

L: I’m so thrilled to be back, too. Even if it’s only for a few weeks. So, where are we? (Bet you all forgot how gif-happy I can be, didn’t you?) Is Kaladin happy yet? Has Shallan overcome her inner turmoil? Are Adolin and Dalinar on speaking terms again?

P: There’s SOOO much.

L: Oh, right. I forgot. It’s a Stormlight book. No one’s likely to be happy for a long, long time…

[It struck him anew that he was alone.]

Series: Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

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

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