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Aidan Moher

The Rise and Fall of Shannara: The Last Druid by Terry Brooks

Terry Brooks published The Sword of Shannara to tremendous success in 1977. Alongside Stephen R. Donaldson, and backed by Judy-Lynn and Lester Del Rey, he filled the J.R.R. Tolkien-sized hole that had subsisted through the early ’70s, and helped reinvigorate the epic fantasy market. Even with all this success, however, it would have been a stretch to imagine that over 40 years later, Brooks would still be writing Shannara novels, and they’d still be selling like hot cakes.

Shannara is one of the most prolific and longest-running continuous fantasy series ever, but the release of The Last Druid, which concludes the ominously titled Fall of Shannara series, marks its conclusion. One of the series’s defining features is that it takes place over thousands of years, switching to a new generation of heroes every few books, and Brooks, now in his mid-70s, decided it was time to wrap things up by bringing the series to a chronological conclusion. After thousands of pages, Brooks is finally pulling together his various strings into a climatic conclusion that answers many of the series’ longest standing questions.

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Blazing High Seas Adventure: The Sin in the Steel by Ryan Van Loan

La Mancha and Sancho Panza. Thelma and Louise. Romy and Michele.

Like the best buddy pictures, Ryan Van Loan’s debut, The Sin in the Steel, finds all its heart in the space shared by its two wildly divergent protagonists, Buc and Eld. Brought together under unlikely circumstances, Buc is a young street kid with a mind and a mouth that race faster than anyone can keep up, and Eld is an ex-soldier that doesn’t say much. They’re known for getting the job done no matter the circumstances.

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The Striking Style of SFF Artist Galen Dara

“As a kid I cut my drawing teeth on fabulous winged beasts, magical weaponry and figures in outlandish costumes,” said Hugo Award-winning artist Galen Dara, whose clients include 47 North, Fantasy Flight Games, and Fireside Magazine. “The fantastical was always my wheelhouse. As a reader I value speculative fiction’s ability to be both delightful escapism and searing social commentary.”

Watching Dara’s career blossom has been one of the most delightful benefits of being a part of the SFF fan community over the past several years. She first gained popularity as a fan artist, producing vivid SFF art unlike anything else. In 2013, Dara won the Hugo Award for “Best Fan Artist.” Since then, she’s been nominated for several other high profile awards, including a couple more Hugos, the Chesleys, and the World Fantasy Award (which she won in 2016). Except now she’s competing among professionals instead of fans. It’s safe to say that Dara’s arrived.

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Escapism and Adventure in the SFF Art of Jenn Ravenna

Welcome back to Art of SFF—a column covering the best and brightest science fiction and fantasy artists. From newcomers to legends, Art of SFF pulls back the curtain to introduce you to the people behind your favourite book covers, films, and video games, and SFF-influenced art of all kinds. This time around, Jenn Ravenna joins us.

“My mother and father were immigrants who were always working overtime to support our family,” said Ravenna, a Seattle-based concept artist and illustrator who has worked for Wizards of the Coast, HarperCollins, XBOX, and Fantasy Flight Games, among many others. Science fiction and fantasy provide people in need of escapism with an opportunity for adventure, Ravenna said. They’re like a teleportation device to other worlds through various mediums—in art, books, video games, and film. “I had no siblings, so I was often left to my own devices. When I discovered science fiction in books and video games, I was immediately drawn to the endless possibility. It might sound sad, but it helped pass the time and make my world more interesting.”

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Hugo Spotlight: The World-Building Rewards of Yoon Ha Lee’s Revenant Gun

In the lead-up to the 2019 Hugo Awards, we’re taking time to appreciate this year’s novel and short fiction Finalists, and what makes each of them great.

If you’ve paid any attention to the SFF Awards scene in recent years, you’ll recognize Yoon Ha Lee and his Machineries of Empire trilogy. Each of the first two volumes, Ninefox Gambit and Raven Stratagem, picked up Hugo Award nominations for Best Novel, and Ninefox Gambit also landed on the Nebula ballot. Lee has long been respected for his short fiction, but his early career as a novelist has been even more dramatic and impressive. The first two volumes in the series blend impressively complex SFnal ideas with strong characterizations, an endless supply of imagination, seriously satisfying combat, and a labyrinthine military-political plot that develops at just the right speed.

It’s no surprise, then, that the final volume in the series, Revenant Gun, is another winner. What started in Ninefox Gambit reaches its stunning conclusion in one of 2018’s best science fiction novels, and cements Lee alongside Leckie as one of science fiction’s foremost authors.

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War is Hell: The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley

It seems like we get one of these novels every decade or two—a retelling of Heinlein’s Starship Troopers with a modern twist of characterization, themes, or how the story is told, whether that’s time dilation, honest-to-goodness time travel, or bioengineering. Remarkably, not only do these retellings pop up regularly, but many, like Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War and Old Man’s War by John Scalzi, have gone on to become SF classics in their own right.

Kameron Hurley’s The Light Brigade is the latest in this line of novels to modernize Heinlein’s classic tale, and like those that have come before, it too is an important, critical look at the role of how war bends and warps modern society. It is also every bit as good as The Forever War and Old Man’s War, and has the potential to become the next great Military SF classic.

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Aftermath: The Education of Brother Thaddius by R.A. Salvatore

Like a lot of young kids growing up reading epic fantasy, R.A. Salvatore was one of my absolute favourite authors. Less traditionally, my path to becoming a Salvatore fan wasn’t through his popular Drizzt books (though I’d read and enjoy those later), but rather through his other brilliant epic fantasy, the DemonWars Saga. Over its seven books—comprised of two main trilogies and a bridge novel—DemonWars tells the harrowing, heartbreaking story of Corona, a world gifted with magical stones, the complex socio-political makings of its church, and the legendary Jilseponie Ault, who climbs her way from humble beginnings to become the most powerful magic user in the world. Mortalis, the fourth book that bridges the two trilogies, remains to this day one of the most affecting and beautiful novels I’ve ever read—it helped show a 17 year old reader that epic fantasy could be at once vast and intensely personal.

It was bittersweet to leave Corona behind with the publication of the final book in the series, 2003’s Immortalis—however, over the years, Salvatore has returned to the world, most recently with Child of a Mad God, a new epic fantasy that focuses on a previously unexplored region. It’s an excellent opportunity for long-time fans to return, and also a good jumping on point for new readers. Included with the paperback edition of Child of a Mad God is a novella originally published by Salvatore in 2014 titled The Education of Brother Thaddius. Unlike Salvatore’s previous returns to Corona—which were either set centuries before the DemonWars series, or in parts of the world only touched-upon by the series’ events—this novella is set in the immediate aftermath of Immortalis’s world-changing climax, and, as such, is a delight for long-time fans.

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Rise Up: Reckoning of Fallen Gods by R.A. Salvatore

Last year’s Child of a Mad God was a glorious return to the world of Corona. I love the world from R.A. Salvatore’s tremendously underrated DemonWars Saga, and appreciated the way he handled the transition to a new series in an old world. It had echoes of the past, but also felt like its own thing. Its sequel, Reckoning of Fallen Gods, returns to the cold, bloodless peak of Fireach Speur, and thrusts readers into a tale of revenge and comeuppance, epic magic, and personal journeys that will have world-changing implications.

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You Don’t Need to Understand Magic: The Gathering to Fully Enjoy Brandon Sanderson’s Children of the Nameless

Magic: The Gathering is the most successful and enduring trading card game of all time. It started life in 1993 when brilliant designer Richard Garfield and a plucky young company called Wizards of the Coast decided to expand on the growing market for fantasy games, and, well, since then it’s only become more and more popular. From 2008 to 2016, 20 billion (billion!) Magic cards were produced and sold. Most recently, Wizards of the Coast launched Magic: The Gathering Arena, a digital client that will provide new avenues for growth and introduce many more players to the game. While Magic is a card game, and many of its most intense stories are those that play out between opponents in tournament halls, around kitchen tables, or online, it’s also home to one of the longest running and deepest fantasy universes ever designed.

While the game’s core story is told through the cards themselves, ripe with flavour text and huge spectacles that play out flavourfully on the battlefield between players, Wizards of the Coast also supplements the story with short stories, novellas, and novels. Recently they’ve made a shift toward hiring high-end authors to help them pen the stories, and their biggest coup yet was snagging Brandon Sanderson, one of fantasy’s most popular and prolific authors, to write a new standalone novella called Children of the Nameless.

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Art of SFF: Charles Vess on Working with Ursula Le Guin on The Books of Earthsea

“Ursula was everything you’d expect her to be: biting wit, wasn’t going to suffer fools at all,” artist Charles Vess told me over the phone from his studio in Abingdon, Virginia. Vess, a long-time Ursula K. Le Guin fan, was chosen by Saga Press to illustrate their collection of Le Guin’s famous epic fantasy, The Books of Earthsea, a massive tome comprised of five novels and various pieces of short fiction. When speaking with Vess about the project, his passion for Le Guin’s work and his intimate experience with Earthsea was obvious.

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Spellbound : The Familiar Faces Creating the Story for Magic: The Gathering

If someone asked me how I got into fantasy, I’d bring up the summer of ’96. I was 12 years old and had just graduated elementary school. Enjoying one of the longest summers of my life. One day stands out vividly above the rest. It was hot, sunny—brilliant and full of possibility, in the way that only summer vacation can be. I was with my dad, driving to southern Vancouver Island so that he could meet with someone who worked for his online scriptwriting workshop. The drive was about an hour, but it felt shorter. I wasn’t looking out the window, or chatting with my dad; instead, my nose was buried in my mom’s battered copy of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.

I was in the car with my dad, but I was also in Middle-earth alongside Bilbo, Gandalf, and the dwarfs. This might not seem like a remarkable introduction to fantasy, but it was for me. I grew up treating fantasy with disdain—dismissing it for being full of unicorns, princesses, rainbows, and the sort. (Who’d’ve thought that 20 years later I’d be looking for exactly those things in the books I read?) Instead, I was a remarkably loyal science fiction fan. However, Tolkien’s novel of loyalty and adventure, danger, magic, and friendship showed me the error of my thinking, and convinced me that, hey, fantasy is cool. I became a voracious fantasy reader after that—an obsession I still live with today.

However, my roots as a fantasy fan go back farther than that—which I’m only realizing as I write this article.

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Among The Stars: The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal

Picture this: It’s the 1960s. Earth was flattened by a meteor, and humanity’s time is ticking as temperatures rise and catastrophic climate change looms like a spectre. A young, world-famous astronaut, pilot, and mathematician bounds through the tunnels of Bradbury, a human-populated moonbase with Mars on her mind. It’s a gorgeous, electrifying concept executed flawlessly by Mary Robinette Kowal.

The Fated Sky is the second volume in a prequel duology to Kowal’s Hugo Award-winning novelette, “The Lady Astronaut of Mars.” The first volume, The Calculating Stars, which I enjoyed tremendously, introduced readers to a young Elma York, who readers met in the novelette as the titular “Lady Astronaut of Mars,” and tells the story of her involvement in humanity’s reach for the stars after a catastrophic meteor strike wipes out most of the United State’s eastern seaboard. One of the reasons “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” was notable was due to its fascinating alternate history which saw humanity colonize Mars in the mid-late 20th century. How they got there remained a bit of a mystery in the novelette, but the whole process is revealed, in calculated, well-researched and thrilling detail, in The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky.

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One Giant Leap: The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

It’s no secret that I’m an immense Mary Robinette Kowal fan. Just check out my review of Ghost Talkers. But it’s not just her fiction that impresses me, but also her kindliness, generosity, and willingness to share knowledge with the rest of the writing community through her blog, Twitter, and as part of the Writing Excuses crew.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2014 Hugo Awards ceremony, Kowal was kind enough to take me and another fellow winner under her wing, guiding us through the craziness that followed. She was basking in her own victory that night, but also took the time to give her time and attention to others that needed it.

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Political Upheaval in Shannara: The Skaar Invasion by Terry Brooks

I’ve written at length about not only what Terry Brooks means to the epic fantasy genre, but to me personally as a reader. His books blew the doors off the world I first discovered via Tolkien, but it was his generosity and kindness towards a young writer at Surrey International Writer’s Conference that set me on the path I travel today. Brooks is one of fantasy’s most prolific novelists, having written over 30 novels. Since 1996, he’s produced a novel a year—the release of which has become something of an event for me. Despite some inconsistency in quality over the years, I eagerly look forward to his new books, especially the Shannara novels.

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Undying: Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee

If you’ve paid any attention to the SFF Awards scene in recent years, you’ll recognize Yoon Ha Lee and his Machineries of Empire trilogy. Each of the first two volumes, Ninefox Gambit and Raven Stratagem, picked up Hugo Award nominations for Best Novel, and Ninefox Gambit also landed on the Nebula ballot. Lee has long been respected for his short fiction, but his early career as a novelist has been even more dramatic and impressive. The first two volumes in the series blend impressively complex SFnal ideas with strong characterizations, an endless supply of imagination, seriously satisfying combat, and a labyrinthine military-political plot that develops at just the right speed.

It’s no surprise, then, that the final volume in the series, Revenant Gun, is another winner. What started in Ninefox Gambit reaches its stunning conclusion in one of 2018’s best science fiction novels, and cements Lee alongside Leckie as one of science fiction’s foremost authors.

[Read more]

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