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Alex Brown

The Secrets We Keep and the Lies We Tell: Anna-Marie McLemore’s Blanca & Roja

Blanca & Roja is as haunting and beautiful as a frost-tinged forest at dusk. It is a poem stretched into prose then stitched around ancient fairy tales like a grandmother’s quilt. It is astonishing. Defiant. Wondrous. Cutting. Feverish. Dazzling. It is all of those things and so much more.

[“What marked me as part of my own family made the world love me a little less.”]

Womanly Arts: The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee

Mackenzi Lee’s The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy couldn’t have come out at a better time. Women are angry. We’re stepping up and raising our fists. We’re shouting at those who would silence us and resisting those who would pat us on the head and send us back to the kitchen. So thank Hera for Felicity Montague, Johanna Hoffman, and Sim Aldajah, for they are just as angry as the rest of us. No man dare stand in their way.

[“You deserve to take up space in this world.”]

All the World’s a Stage: For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig

Years ago, the Aquitans crossed the sea and invaded Chakrana. Now under strict colonial rule, Chakrans are second class citizens in their own land. Compliance is demanded by a distant king, and resistance is brutally put down by the Aquitan army. Despite the odds, the Chantray family has survived, using their skills as performers to appease the colonizers and remind the colonized of their stolen traditions. They are shadow players, artists who use paper cutouts, screens, and fire to tell ancient folktales through shadow puppetry. Jetta’s brother Akra used to perform with them before he was lured away to the army by the promise of a salary big enough to send home to his family. Akra stopped writing letters a year ago. He never returned. Today, it’s just Jetta and her parents traveling the countryside, a family with no home, no village, no history, no land.

After a disastrous bid to win a trip to Aquitan where she hopes to access a cure for her “malheur,” Jetta falls into the arms of Leo, a brooding, secretive dance hall owner with ties to the rebellion. Leo also has the unfortunate luck to be the illegitimate son of the head of the Aquitan army and a long dead Chakrana woman. Despised by both groups, he is trapped in a suffocating space between two worlds. Yet he has learned to navigate the borderland by exploiting his Aquitan power to benefit the impoverished Chakrans. Guided by Leo’s sordid ties, Jetta and her parents travel to the Chakrana capital for a last ditch attempt to sail to Aquitan. Disaster besets them at every turn, and death stalks them like a shadow.

[“She is still battered, still broken, but it is enough. Souls are so strong.”]

Magic, Superpowers, and the Undead in This Autumn’s Upcoming YA SFF

Tis the season for stories about queer teens of color fighting to save the world from utter destruction. Listen, a lot of times there are so few young adult science fiction or fantasy novels published in a season written by and about intersectionally diverse people that filling out this preview list is like trying to squeeze blood from a stone. This fall/winter, however, there were so many—especially #ownvoices!—that I couldn’t include them all without turning this into an ungainly longread. And when I say “so many,” what I really mean is “there are more YA SFF novels being published in just October than in November and December combined and I think I’m going to pass out from all the excitement.”

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Falling Down the Rabbit Hole: A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney

The night Alice’s father died in the hospital, Alice nearly died in a nearby alley. A Nightmare, a monstrous creature forged from human fears, would have killed her quickly and painfully had it not been for Addison Hatta and his too-sharp blades. He introduces her to Wonderland, a portal world full of magic and sadness. Nightmares come through Wonderland to our world, but because they’re created by humans only a human can kill them. Alice is one of those select humans. He offers to teach her, if she’s willing…

A few years later, Alice is at the top of her game. She dispatches Nightmares if not with ease than at least with some confidence. But between high school, her mom, and saving the world, it’s all getting to be a bit too much. Retirement sounds awfully appealing. Her dreams of hanging up her daggers are quashed when a mysterious villain begins sending Nightmares after Alice. The wicked Knight pushes Alice around like a pawn on a chessboard. Hatta keeping some Very Important Secrets from her isn’t helping matters. As Wonderland’s darkness begins to spread into the real world, Alice will have to risk her friendships, her mother’s trust, and even her life to save the day.

[“I’m protecting the world. Who’d protect me?”]

Killer Obsessions: V.E. Schwab’s Vengeful

V.E. Schwab is one of those authors you just have to read. Her books regularly appear on Best Of and Highly Anticipated lists, and rightfully so. She is a literary force to be reckoned with, a writer who packs more punch into a single chapter than most do in a whole series. With each new book, Schwab’s already finely honed skills get sharper and fiercer, and Vengeful is no exception.

[“Every end is a new beginning.”]

How It Feels to Want to Watch Doctor Who Again

I miss Doctor Who. There was a time when I watched it fervently, reverently, passionately. It was something I put on when I was stressed or overwhelmed or needed to be reminded of the good things in life. The relationship wasn’t perfect, but it was powerful and affirming.

Until suddenly it wasn’t.

The show twisted into something unrecognizable and unpleasant. And so I abandoned Doctor Who just as it had abandoned me.

If you asked me in 2016 if I would ever watch Doctor Who again, I probably would’ve shaken my head and sighed. The chances of the show making the kind of changes necessary to pull me back seemed slim to none. But here we are, fall 2018, and I am so excited about the Season 11 premiere that I can barely stand it.

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Pull List: Beginnings and Endings in Euthanauts and The Wilds

When is the end is not the end? The two indie comics featured in this month’s Pull List aim to answer just that. While Euthanauts examines life after death, The Wilds travels through survival and undeath in the age of the apocalypse. Each take well-worn tropes and twist them into the unconventional, and they do it with an eye toward diversity. I hope you’ve cleared some space in your subscriptions box…

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Fall 2018 TV: What’s New, What’s Old, And What’s Best Forgotten

And we’re back with’s annual television schedule! covering premieres of science fiction/fantasy and adjacent shows. This season spells bad news for science fiction and fantasy fans. If the fall schedule is any indication, our nationwide SFF fever has broken, and the comedown is apparently a rash of procedurals and family dramas or sitcoms.

With the obvious exception of the CW, broadcast networks seem to have tired of fantastical settings and technobabble, with most of the new projects launching on streaming sites or cable, many as children’s animated shows. A few geeky or geeky-adjacent shows—like iZombie, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Roswell New Mexico—won’t appear until 2019. Otherwise, it’s a pretty dreary slate.

So here’s a list that’s not as long as it could be of all the new and returning science fiction, fantasy, horror, and speculative-adjacent shows for the Fall 2018 television season. New shows are in bold.

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Epic Poetry + Space Opera + YA Fantasy = A Spark of White Fire by Sangu Mandanna

Esmae has a secret, one that when revealed will reshape the galaxy. For most of her life she thought she was alone, an orphaned girl left to a foundling home on the the spaceship Wychstar. But when Amba, the goddess of war, shared the dark truth of her birth, Esmae knew she was fated for greater things. Years later, King Darshan proposes a nearly competition with a indestructible, sentient ship, the Titania, as the prize. Darshan tilts the game in favor of the exiled prince Alexi, whom he hopes will use it with his brother Bear to take back throne of Kali from their usurper uncle Elvar. Instead, Esmae wins and announces her secret: she is Alexi’s long lost twin. And the match of fate is struck.

[“This is your chance, Esmae. Use it.”]

Home Sweet Home: Nova Ren Suma’s A Room Away From the Wolves

Bina Tremper is out of options. Her stepsisters make her life a living hell, her stepfather has no interest in her, and her mother is sick of her constant lying. Eventually her mother kicks her out of the house; it’s only supposed to be temporary, she says, a month crashing with church friends, just long enough for hostilities to cool down. Bina has other ideas. Her mother once told her about the Catherine House, a group home in Manhattan where she sought refuge from Bina’s abusive biological father. After a violent incident at a high school party in the woods, Bina runs away to New York City.

But the Catherine House is not what it seems. Time stands still on the property. It feels at once ancient, contemporary, and outside the bounds of space and time. Although ostensibly the girls living there are all fairly recent arrivals, Bina gets the sense that some have been there too long, long enough to forget what life is like outside, long enough to become part of the fabric of the house. They are Catherine’s girls in more ways than one. Bina needs the Catherine House as much as the house needs her. The longer she stays in the house, the harder it becomes to leave, especially when her enigmatic and chaotic downstairs neighbor Monet Mathis begins to pull her deeper and deeper into darkness.

[“She’d know where to find me, if she chose to look.”]

Rebels, Colonizers, and Those Caught In Between: Mirage by Somaiya Daud

Young adult fiction is glutted with stories of royal court intrigue, romance between nobles and commoners, and princesses vying for power. Few, however, are set in an interplanetary space opera. With Mirage, Somaiya Daud goes one step further and uses both backdrops to sneak in a take down of colonialism, and from the perspective of the colonized, no less.

[“How could I keep myself, preserve myself, if I had none of myself left?”]

Ancient Gods and Deadly Magic: The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark

It’s the 1880s and the Civil War has gone cold but racist rage still simmers. In this alternate history, California was settled by the Russians rather than Spain or Great Britain, the southwest belongs to New Mexico, and the Union and the Confederates are locked in a tense truce. New Orleans is a bastion of neutrality in a sea of slavery, an independent city-state where all are welcome to trade, even those with ill-intent. Men like the Rebels, a faction of the Confederates still fighting for secession.

On the streets of that fair city lives Creeper, a 13-year-old pickpocket who carries within her an ancient, unfathomable power: the goddess Oya. When Creeper happens upon a deal that could reignite the war, she decides to trade information for a chance to see the world. She strikes a deal with Ann-Marie, an airship captain from the Free Isles (Haiti and the decolonized Caribbean Islands), and the two hatch a plot to save the world. Nothing ever goes according to plan, though, and when humans play with power they cannot control it is the gods who must intervene. New Orleans hangs in the balance, torn between the racist white men willing to destroy the earth for their cause and the stubborn Black women who must risk their lives to stop them.

[“The magic of those old Afrikin gods is part of this city…”]

Pull List: Nancy Drew and Submerged Tackle the Mysteries of Life and Death

At first blush, Nancy Drew and Submerged seem like an odd pairing. One is a young adult mystery series about a wisecracking teen investigating several murders in her hometown, and the other a retelling of the Orpheus myth set in the storm-drenched subways of New York. But they line up more than you think. Each takes an old, trope-laden tale and refreshes it with diversity and new perspectives. On a deeper level, both examine what it means to live a life you didn’t intend due to circumstances beyond your control, and the lengths we’ll go to protect the people we care about. Plus, both are awesome stories that aren’t getting nearly as much attention as they deserve, and who doesn’t love chatting about underdog comics?

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Queers! In! SPAAAAAACE!!! Emily Skrutskie’s Hullmetal Girls

Aisha Un-Haad is out of options. Her parents are dead, her brother is dying of a terrible disease, and her sister is about to start working in the dangerous dyeworks. Without money, their lives will get exponentially worse. Aisha does the only thing she can: surrender her freedom to become a mechanically enhanced soldier. Called Scelas, they are living weapons for the oppressive regime that rules the fleet of generation ships on which the last humans live.

Key Tanaka has little memory of her life before becoming a Scela or what drove her to undergo the life-threatening procedure. Aisha wants to protect her family, and Key to unlock her missing memories. In order to do that they and their teammates, willful Praava and awkward Woojin, must join the ranks of the Scela elite. But what happens when they’re ordered to kill, maim, and conspire against citizens at the behest of a corrupt leadership? Body horror, issues of consent, and body dysmorphia abound in this tense novel.

[“I was human. You’re better now, the exo insists.”]

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