Tor.com content by

Ada Palmer

Fiction and Excerpts [4]
All

Fiction and Excerpts [4]

Too Like the Lightning, Chapter 4

|| Mycroft Canner is a convict. For his crimes he is required, as is the custom of the 25th century, to wander the world being as useful as he can to all he meets. Carlyle Foster is a sensayer—a spiritual counselor in a world that has outlawed the public practice of religion, but which also knows that the inner lives of humans cannot be wished away.

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?

[Read more]

When We Try to Sort Writers Into ‘Plotter’ or ‘Pantser’

The more I talk to other authors about craft the clearer it is that novelists use a huge range of different planning styles. People talk about “Planners” vs. “Pantsers,” i.e., people who plan books and series in advance vs. people who plunge in and write by the seat of their pants. Each category contains a spectrum, for instance people who plan just the major plot points vs. people who plan every chapter. But even then, authors who are improvisational about some parts of storymaking can be very much plotters when it comes to others.

Characters, plot, and setting—or, for genre fiction, world building—are very visible. They tend to be what we talk about most when geeking out about a favorite book: a plot twist, a favorite character’s death, the awesome magic system or interstellar travel system. Sometimes an author will develop a world or characters in detail before writing but not outline the chapters or think through a plot. I develop the world first, then develop characters within the world, and then make my chapter-by-chapter outline. But even those stages of world building and character aren’t the first stage of my process. I want to talk about some of the less-conspicuous, less-discussed elements of a novel which, I think, a lot of writers—pantsers or plotters—begin with.

[Read more]

Writing a Future in Which You Choose Your Own Nation

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?

[Read more]

Help Refugees Through Science Fiction!

Science fiction and fantasy fans don’t just like reading about other, better worlds—we like working to make this world better, too. That’s been proved to me over and over during the past five years as, every spring, I’ve teamed up with other F&SF authors, with Tor Books and Tor.com, and with my undergraduate science fiction club to run the Vericon charity auction. With books and games and nerdy baked goods, we raise money for refugees, providing medical and legal aid, and stocking a refugee library. And this year, for the first time, anyone, anywhere can help out by bidding online on books and other items donated by your favorite fantasy and science fiction authors, including autographed books, advanced copies of forthcoming books, as well as other fun and nerdy goods like alien kitchen tools and blood cake.

[Read more]

Seven Surrenders

In a future of near-instantaneous global travel, of abundant provision for the needs of all, a future in which no one living can remember an actual war…a long era of stability threatens to come to an abrupt end.

For known only to a few, the leaders of the great Hives, nations without fixed location, have long conspired to keep the world stable, at the cost of just a little blood. A few secret murders, mathematically planned. So that no faction can ever dominate, and the balance holds. And yet the balance is beginning to give way.

Mycroft Canner, convict, sentenced to wander the globe in service to all, knows more about this conspiracy the than he can ever admit. Carlyle Foster, counselor, sensayer, has secrets as well, and they burden Carlyle beyond description. And both Mycroft and Carlyle are privy to the greatest secret of all: Bridger, the child who can bring inanimate objects to life.

Book two in the Terra Ignota series, Ada Palmer’s Seven Surrenders is available March 7th from Tor Books. Read an excerpt below, or check out the first four chapters of its predecessor, Too Like the Lightning.

[Read more]

Too Like the Lightning, Chapter 4

Mycroft Canner is a convict. For his crimes he is required, as is the custom of the 25th century, to wander the world being as useful as he can to all he meets. Carlyle Foster is a sensayer—a spiritual counselor in a world that has outlawed the public practice of religion, but which also knows that the inner lives of humans cannot be wished away.

The world into which Mycroft and Carlyle have been born is as strange to our 21st-century eyes as ours would be to a native of the 1500s. It is a hard-won utopia built on technologically-generated abundance, and also on complex and mandatory systems of labeling all public writing and speech. What seem to us normal gender distinctions are now distinctly taboo in most social situations. And most of the world’s population is affiliated with globe-girdling clans of the like-minded, whose endless economic and cultural competition is carefully managed by central planners of inestimable subtlety. And in this world, Mycroft and Carlyle have stumbled on the wild card that may destabilize the system: the boy Bridger, who can effortlessly make his wishes come true. Who can, it would seem, bring inanimate objects to life…

Ada Palmer’s debut novel Too Like the Lightning—available May 10th from Tor Books—is the first entry in the Terra Ignota series, which mixes Enlightenment-era philosophy with traditional science fiction. Read Chapter 3 below, or head back to the beginning with Chapter 1!

[Read more]

Too Like the Lightning, Chapter 3

Mycroft Canner is a convict. For his crimes he is required, as is the custom of the 25th century, to wander the world being as useful as he can to all he meets. Carlyle Foster is a sensayer—a spiritual counselor in a world that has outlawed the public practice of religion, but which also knows that the inner lives of humans cannot be wished away.

The world into which Mycroft and Carlyle have been born is as strange to our 21st-century eyes as ours would be to a native of the 1500s. It is a hard-won utopia built on technologically-generated abundance, and also on complex and mandatory systems of labeling all public writing and speech. What seem to us normal gender distinctions are now distinctly taboo in most social situations. And most of the world’s population is affiliated with globe-girdling clans of the like-minded, whose endless economic and cultural competition is carefully managed by central planners of inestimable subtlety. And in this world, Mycroft and Carlyle have stumbled on the wild card that may destabilize the system: the boy Bridger, who can effortlessly make his wishes come true. Who can, it would seem, bring inanimate objects to life…

Ada Palmer’s debut novel Too Like the Lightning—available May 10th from Tor Books—is the first entry in the Terra Ignota series, which mixes Enlightenment-era philosophy with traditional science fiction. Read Chapter 3 below, or head back to the beginning with Chapter 1!

[Read more]

Too Like the Lightning, Chapters 1 and 2

Mycroft Canner is a convict. For his crimes he is required, as is the custom of the 25th century, to wander the world being as useful as he can to all he meets. Carlyle Foster is a sensayer—a spiritual counselor in a world that has outlawed the public practice of religion, but which also knows that the inner lives of humans cannot be wished away.

The world into which Mycroft and Carlyle have been born is as strange to our 21st-century eyes as ours would be to a native of the 1500s. It is a hard-won utopia built on technologically-generated abundance, and also on complex and mandatory systems of labeling all public writing and speech. What seem to us normal gender distinctions are now distinctly taboo in most social situations. And most of the world’s population is affiliated with globe-girdling clans of the like-minded, whose endless economic and cultural competition is carefully managed by central planners of inestimable subtlety. And in this world, Mycroft and Carlyle have stumbled on the wild card that may destabilize the system: the boy Bridger, who can effortlessly make his wishes come true. Who can, it would seem, bring inanimate objects to life…

Ada Palmer’s debut novel Too Like the Lightning—available May 10th from Tor Books—is the first entry in the Terra Ignota series, which mixes Enlightenment-era philosophy with traditional science fiction. Read Chapters 1 and 2 below, and check back for additional excerpts later this week!

[Read more]

How Pacing Makes History into Story: Shakespeare’s Histories and The White Queen

One of the great pleasures of historical fiction is comparing how authors make different stories out of the same events. The Wars of The Roses (~1455 to 1487) furnish enough political twists, abrupt betrayals, implausible alliances, and mysterious deaths to weave into dozens of different accounts if storytellers (historians, novelists, or playwrights) make clever decisions when guessing or inserting motives. The historical record tells us what Person A did on X date, but our only accounts of why are biased and incomplete, and rating historical bias on a scale of 1 to 10, chroniclers from the period get a rating of “lives-around-the-corner-from-the-Royal-Headsman.” The what is fixed, but the why can have a thousand variations.

2016 will see the long-awaited second season of The Hollow Crown, a new BBC film series of Shakespeare’s histories, whose second season will cover the Wars of the Roses. That makes this a perfect moment to compare Shakespeare’s version with another recent television dramatization of the same events, The White Queen, adapted from Philippa Gregory’s Cousins’ War Series. In fact, I want to compare three versions of the Wars of the Roses. No, I don’t mean Game of Thrones, though it is a version in its way, and both The White Queen and Shakespeare’s versions are great ways to get your Game of Thrones fix if you need it. My three are: (1) The White Queen, (2) the second half of Shakespeare’s Henriad history sequence (Henry VI Parts 1, 2 and 3 plus Richard III), and (3) the most ubiquitous version by far, Richard III performed by itself.

[Read more]

Series: Shakespeare on Tor.com

Japan’s Folklore Chronicler, Shigeru Mizuki (1922-2015)

Have you ever been walking along and felt the creepy, unsettling feeling that something was watching you? You met Betobeto-san, an invisible yōkai, or folklore creature, who follows along behind people on paths and roads, especially at night. To get rid of the creepy feeling, simply step aside and say, “Betobeto-san, please, go on ahead,” and he will politely go on his way.

What we know of Betobeto-san and hundreds of other fantastic creatures of Japan’s folklore tradition, we know largely thanks to the anthropological efforts of historian, biographer and folklorist, Shigeru Mizuki, one of the pillars of Japan’s post-WWII manga boom, who passed away yesterday at the age of 93. A magnificent storyteller, Mizuki recorded, for the first time, hundreds of tales of ghosts and demons from Japan’s endangered rural folklore tradition, and with them one very special tale: his own experience of growing up in Japan in the 1920s through 1940s, when parades of water sprites and sparkling fox spirits gave way to parades of tanks and warships.

[Read more]

When Less Plot is More Play: Love’s Labour’s Lost vs. Pericles Prince of Tyre

Today I will take on the unsurprising thesis that Love’s Labour’s Lost is a better play than Pericles Prince of Tyre. The very fact that thesis does not surprise us is itself important, since it means we all agree a play about royal heroes, alluring princesses, evil kings, loyal nobles, dastardly assassins, incest, famine, shipwreck, infanticide, pirates, slavery, prostitution, and divine intervention is less exciting than one about some people flirting for two hours to no particular end.

The simple conclusion that it’s a bad idea to pack too much plot into a 20,000 word story (on the short end for a modern novella), but by digging deeper I hope we can look, both at plot, and at the many things which aren’t plot that make up the length of a play or story, and how those other components can make a giant epic spanning five kingdoms and two decades less gripping than Love’s Labour’s Lost, which I choose for comparison because it is not merely a story about nothing, but, in many ways, a story about less than nothing.

[Read more]

Series: Shakespeare on Tor.com

The Hollow Crown: Shakespeare’s Histories in the Age of Netflix

Most genre fans who know about the 2012 BBC television film series The Hollow Crown know it because of its big name cast: Jeremy Irons, Tom Hiddleston, John Hurt, Patrick Stewart, Ben Whishaw (Cloud Atlas and Skyfall Bond’s new Q) and Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey). And now that series 2 has signed Benedict Cumberbatch and Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville, the fan squeal almost threatens to drown out the writer credit: Shakespeare.

There have been many discussions of how Netflix, Tivo and their ilk have transformed TV consumption, production and money flow, but I spent the last year watching a pile of different (filmed and live) versions of Shakespeare’s Richard/Henry sequence in order to focus in on how the Netflix era has directly impacted, of all things, our interpretations of Shakespeare, and what that tells us about historical and fantasy TV in general.

[Read More]

Series: Shakespeare on Tor.com

Which 21st Century Comics Will Be Remembered in 50 years?

What qualities make a comic or graphic novel linger in the genre’s memory? Which comics of 2000-2014 will we still be reading and discussing in 2064?

This was the subject of a panel at the recent LonCon, at which, comics authors Maura McHugh, David Baillie and Hannah Berry, publisher John Anderson, and comics enthusiasts Adam Rakunas and myself discussed the famous, the obscure, the deserving, and the overhyped in the last fifteen years of international comics publishing. We also looked back at comics from 50 years ago, to see what qualities have helped past titles stand the test of time.

[So who made the cut?]

Does Thor Qualify as a Disney Princess?

The recent fuss about the new female Thor, combined with the fact that Disney owns Marvel Entertainment, has sparked jokes about whether this makes Thor a Disney Princess. Disney says the Marvel movieverse is separate from their Princess line, but it’s still a remarkably telling question if we take it seriously and actually look at what qualities make a Disney Princess, which Thor has, and what this shows about the Disney-patented princess obsession which has such an enormous impact on millions of kids (especially girls) and on our culture as a whole.

Before anyone protests that the new female Thor isn’t actually Odin’s son, but a different person carrying Mjollnir, we can look instead at Thor from Marvel’s Earth X, when the thunder god actually was transformed into a woman (Marvel has no shortages of any given character being turned into any given thing).

[Read More]

How History Can Be Used in Fiction: The Borgias vs. Borgia: Faith and Fear

There was a Borgia boom in 2011 when, aiming to capitalize on the commercial success of The Tudors, the television world realized there was one obvious way to up the ante. Not one but two completely unrelated Borgia TV series were made in 2011. Many have run across the American Showtime series The Borgias, but fewer people know about Borgia, also called Borgia: Faith and Fear, a French-German-Czech production released (in English) in the Anglophone world via Netflix. I am watching both and enjoying both. This unique phenomenon, two TV series made in the same year, modeled on the same earlier series and treating the same historical characters and events, is an amazing chance to look at different ways history can be used in fiction.

[Read More]