What Made Us Toys “R” Us Kids? Romanticism, Consumerism, and Nostalgia

Canadian literary critic Northrop Frye argued that where you are is as important as who you are. Just as one affects their environment, people are, in turn, affected by those same surroundings. The Romantic poets located this exchange in nature, turning their work toward subjects ruminating on not only their own individuality, but the natural world in which that rumination occurred. It is therefore only logical, in the highly commercial, Capitalist late 20th and early 21st Century United States, that this symbiosis of person and place can be housed, at least for some, in the malls and chain stores freckled across the American landscape.

For me, this was Toys “R” Us. It has been a permanent fixture throughout my 32 years, just as it’s been for the lives of many of my Millennial peers. In light of last week’s announcement that the chain will be going out of business, much is being reported about the people who made, and ultimately eroded, this place—but there’s much more to be said about the place that made the people. The Toys “R” Us Kids. Those for whom the place precedes the person.

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Writing the Distant Future of Global Politics

What if citizenship wasn’t something we’re born with, but something we choose when we grow up? In the Terra Ignota future, giant nations called “Hives” are equally distributed all around the world, so every house on a block, and even every person in a house, gets to choose which laws to live by, and which government represents that individual’s views the most. It’s an extension into the future of the many diasporas which already characterize our present, since increasingly easy transportation and communication mean that families, school friends, social groups, ethnic groups, language groups, and political parties are already more often spread over large areas than residing all together. In this future each of those groups can be part of one self-governing nation, with laws that fit their values, even while all living spread over the same space.

Readers of Too Like the Lightning have enjoyed playing the “Which Hive would you join?” game, but this system is very different from a Sorting Hat, or a personality quiz, for a simple reason: people aren’t assigned to Hives. In this world you choose, freely and for yourself when you come of age, which of the many worldwide nations best fits your ideals. And, even better, you can switch nations as easily as signing up for a different school club, so if a change in policy or rulers makes you feel your government no longer reflects your values, you can choose again. But what are the options?

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Why the Hell Are These Books Out of Print?

About two years ago, I reviewed Raphael Carter’s The Fortunate Fall. I could not add a link that would allow readers to purchase the book because as far as I could tell, The Fortunate Fall has been out of print for more than twenty years. I was astounded because I had the impression that the book was warmly regarded. The evidence suggests it was warmly regarded by a small number of very vocal fans1.

I tend to expect that many others will love the same books that I do. I have been proved wrong again and again. Books that I love are not reprinted. Even in this era of ebooks, all but a few lucky books come forth like flowers and wither: they slip away like shadows and do not endure. Ah, the sorrows of the reader!

Not to mention the author….

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Monsters Bearing Bouquets: R.A. Kaelin’s “Mnemeros”

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.

Today we’re looking at R.A. Kaelin’s “Mnemeros,” first published in 2015 in Lynn Jamneck’s Dreams From the Witch House anthology. Spoilers ahead.

[“Some names are like keys; they swing doors wide open that are best left shut.”]

Series: The Lovecraft Reread

Collaborating with His Reader: Theodore Sturgeon’s Some of Your Blood

…but first, a word:

As first lines go, the one that opens Theodore Sturgeon’s slim 1961 novel Some of Your Blood is deceptively simple. Just four little words, but already—thanks to those ellipses, thanks to that in medias res “but first”—Sturgeon pulls off two tricks: He creates instant suspense, and he draws the reader in as a conspirator. You didn’t know you were in the middle of hearing a secret before you opened the cover of this book, but thanks to that nameless narrator, now you do. And with the power of punctuation—that colon!—you embark on the story of “George,” a mental patient kicked out of the army for assaulting an officer.

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Series: That Was Awesome! Writers on Writing

Come for the Health, Stay for the Self-Improvement — One Writer’s Martial Arts Journey

In this ongoing series, we ask SF/F authors to describe a specialty in their lives that has nothing (or very little) to do with writing. Join us as we discover what draws authors to their various hobbies, how they fit into their daily lives, and how they inform the author’s literary identity!

Writing is a very sedentary profession. You spend most of your time sitting at a computer. Thanks to the march of technology, you don’t even need to get up from that computer to do research anymore, as most of what you might need to look up is accessible from the same machine that you’re writing on.

In my twenties, this was hardly an issue. I was young, I was energetic, I was active. But by the time I hit the age of 35, the warranty had run out, as it were. My doctor stared at my growing belly, my hiatal hernia, the prescription pain meds for my constant knee and foot pain, and said, “Hey, maybe you should try exercising, y’know, once.”

That suggestion started me on a journey that took me to some amazing places I never imagined I’d visit.

[Fall down seven times, get up eight times…]

Ada Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning Is A Future Worth Having

I read Ada Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning four times before it was even published.

It’s quite a common experience when you’re a teenager to read a book that blows you away, that causes the top of your head to come off and your brain to rearrange itself and be a better more interesting brain thereafter. I’ve talked about this a lot, both in posts here and also fictionally in Among Others, it’s one of the fundamental experiences of the SF reading kid. It’s a much less common experience when you’re grown up. I read books now and I think “Oh I like this! This is a really great example of that thing”. I may get immersed in a book and hyperventilate but I won’t finish a book and think “Wait, who am I? Why is the world like this? Do I even have a head?” This did that to me, it gave me that experience of reading SF when SF was new to me, the feeling that I am a different and better person because I read this, and not only that but a better and more ambitious writer.

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Pull List: Abbott and Destroyer Take On Black Lives Matter

This month we’re stepping away from Big Two superhero comics to spend some time with two of BOOM! Studios’ best new series, Destroyer and Abbott. Although the two titles couldn’t be more unrelated in setting story, but both have killer hooks (literally), fantastic creative teams, and a similar underlying theme. If these aren’t already on your shelves, you have some catching up to do.

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The Most Realistic Surrealism I’ve Ever Read: The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington

Leonora Carrington was a surrealist painter and writer. She lived from 1917 to 2011, making her the last living surrealist. Here’s a thing, though: I’m not so sure she was a surrealist?

Like previous TBR Stack author Anna Kavan, Leonora Carrington went mad for a while, did a stint in an asylum, and wrote about it later. How many creative women have gone mad? And is it madness when you fall into despair at the state of your world? In Carrington’s case because her lover, Max Ernst, 26 years her senior, ditched her and fled into the American arms of Peggy Guggenheim when the Nazis invaded France.

I mean I can’t entirely blame him? If the Nazis come for me I don’t know what I’ll do—but I hope I’ll have the good grace not to leave a trail of terrified people in my wake. I hope I’ll find a way to bring them with me.

But Carrington got through it—went mad and healed, escaped her family, and spent the rest of her life on her own terms writing and painting and creating an international cross-cultural feminist dialogue between her home base of Mexico City and New York. Her complete stories have been gathered for a collection that is disturbing and gorgeous and everything I want in my brain.

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On the Origins of Modern Biology and the Fantastic: Part 1 – Verne and Darwin

“We may brave human laws, but we cannot resist natural ones.” –Captain Nemo in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

Science and science fiction are indelibly intertwined, each inspiring the other since their modern birth in the Victorian Era. Both employ similar feats of the imagination—to hold an idea of a world in your mind, and test the boundaries of that world through experimentation. In the case of science, you formulate a theory and conduct a series of tests against that theory to see if it can be disproved by the results. In the case of science fiction, you formulate a reality, and conduct characters through the logical implications of that reality. Good science fiction, like a sound scientific theory, involves thorough worldbuilding, avoids logical inconsistencies, and progressively deeper interrogations reveal further harmonies. This series will explore the connection between the evolution of biology and science fiction into the modern era.

[Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea starts with a mystery.]

Life Lessons from a Murderbot: Reading All Systems Red as a Trans Woman

I was tearing up at the end of All Systems Red, and I wasn’t sure why. Yes, it was sad that Murderbot was leaving its friends and colleagues, and a promised life of safety, behind. But there was something more, something to do with the entire arc of Murderbot’s journey from a SecUnit—seen more or less as a lethal appliance—to a trusted and capable member of a team of humans.

For me as a trans woman, All Systems Red’s concoction of heartbreak and ever-present anxiety felt achingly familiar to me (even as Murderbot’s narration and dry delivery cracked me up more often than not), as I looked back at various pressure points in my own transition. The novella has a lot to say about building a personal identity on the fly.

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“Do Not Board This Ship”: Watch the First Teaser for Syfy’s Adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s Nightflyers

Nightflyers is a haunted house story on a starship,” George R.R. Martin says in Syfy’s first behind-the-scenes teaser for its adaptation of his sci-fi/horror novella. “It’s Psycho in space.” Though the video is only a minute long, it’s filled with shots both behind and in front of the camera: the ambitious set and special effects that go into pulling this eerie story out of Martin’s mind, as well as a hint of the gory terrors befalling the crew of the Nightflyer.

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