content by

Jared Shurin

Our Cyberpunk Year

This is 2021. And as I write this, 4,000 people have married their virtual assistants, luxury fashion brands are making millions auctioning off virtual clothing, and Harvard psychiatrists have issued a plea for advertisers to please restrain themselves from hacking people’s dreams.

We live in a cyberpunk world.

The fact that reality is increasingly, unabashedly, cyberpunk is one of the two prevailing narratives around this strange and provocative genre. The second is, of course, that ‘cyberpunk is dead’. It flared up in the 1980s and was gone by the 1990s. A genre that supposedly started, and ended, with Mirrorshades.

These two narratives—life is cyberpunk and cyberpunk is dead—are not inherently contradictory. The challenge with any form of science fiction is out-racing the exponentially increasing weirdness of the world around us. Relevance today is obsolescence tomorrow, and cyberpunk, with its grounded, near-future focus, is particularly susceptible to the latter. Cyberpunk fiction is dead because reality overtook it.

Or so they would have you believe.

[Trust no one.]

Sword Stone Table and the Metaverse of Camelot

Sword Stone Table is a new anthology of original fiction inspired by Arthurian myth. Edited by Swapna Krishna and Jenn Northington, it expands and explores one of the most familiar mythic cycles in Western fantasy, with a particular focus on gathering new perspectives.

Sword Stone Table is an anthology with a lot to say. It is an ambitious, thematically-sound anthology, with a robust central thesis. The Round Table, it posits, is universal. The traditional stories are simply one version of an infinity of retellings: the archetypes, tropes, and narratives at the heart of Arthurian legend are universal. The anthology sets out not to ‘enlarge’ the Table, but to show a multiplicity of Tables: Round Tables that include the voices and experiences of marginalised groups, throughout space, time, and realities.

[Let the shadow fall where it will]

George Romero & Daniel Kraus’ The Living Dead — A Book Out of Time

The Living Dead (2020) is a full life’s work of undeath. It is the ultimate expression of George Romero’s vision, carefully curated, expanded andultimately—fulfilled by Daniel Kraus.

One of the most fascinating parts of the novel is Kraus’ afterword, explaining how The Living Dead came together and the decisions he made in writing it; it is an ode to collaboration that will be of interest to more than just publishing geeks. If anything, Kraus undersells his own contributions: Romero’s work, although visionary, is often self-contradictory and incomplete. Kraus pulls together fragments across media formats—and time—unites them, and extends them into a single, holistic narrative.

[Lurch forward]

Eight Ways to Approach the Work of K.J. Parker

Almost five years ago (!), I wrote a beginner’s guide to K.J. Parker for this very site. “Starting with first principles” is still up, and, although 2015 feels like a distant and more innocent time, I’m still standing by every word.

Unlike 2015, however, I can’t pretend that Parker is ‘merely’ a cult author. Parker’s production of short stories, novellas, collections and novels has been matched only by his critical acclaim. Suffice to say that Parker’s brilliance is no longer a secret. But even if Parker hipsterism (Holtsterism) is passé, the author’s quality remains undiminished. The recent albums are just as good as the first one. But Parker’s prodigious output makes the dilemma of choosing one’s first Parker all the more difficult. So where to begin? Parker’s works cunningly defy any sort of simple classification—if I were the sort to ascribe authorial intent, I would shake my fist and declare the author was being deliberately difficult. But there are some themes and trends, or, perhaps better put: axes.

[Let’s get to grinding]

Hex Life and Why We Need Our Witches

Hex Life is a collection of 18 “wicked new tales of witchery”, edited by Christopher Golden and Rachel Autumn Deering. The witchery—an excellent word!—within takes many forms. There are fairy tales—gothic, contemporary, traditional and revisionist; haunting parables; dark comedies; scary stories, and even a few urban fantasies.

The range is fitting, as the concept of the witch is a diverse and long-lived archetype, and one that lends itself to many angles of exploration. Hex Life is particularly interesting when set against the backdrop of modern witchcraft, and its increasingly mainstream cultural presence. Contemporary witchcraft, at least in this popularised form, is “a combination of the aesthetic and the search for something spiritual”, according to Elisabeth Krohn, founder of Sabat. In a chaotic era, where so many people are searching for meaning, self-empowerment, or simply faith, the traditions and practices of witchcraft have stepped in to fill that void for many.

[Read more]

Joe Abercrombie’s A Little Hatred: A Book at War With Its Past

What must it feel like to live in your own legend?

This is one of the key themes of Joe Abercrombie’s books: characters swept up in their own narrative, sometimes willingly, more often not. The burden of being a Named Man or a hero; the heart of the narrative, the one in the spotlight and the storybook.

[A Little Hatred continues the theme…]

Winning Isn’t Everything, it’s the Only Thing: Welcome to The Gameshouse

Claire North’s The Gameshouse was first published in 2015, as a series of three, interconnected, digital-only novellas. In 2019, at long last, the three are collected into a single volume, and in a format where it can sit snugly on the shelf alongside North’s other works.

In case the laudatory flavour of that introduction is in any way misleading, let me be clear: I wholly believe The Gameshouse is one of the ‘single’ best works of modern fantasy. Nor, thanks to its unusual path to publication, is this recency bias. I’ve had four years to read and re-read The Gameshouse, and it gets better every time.

[Read more]

Wastelands 3: The New Apocalypse Presents a Distinctly American Perspective on the End of the World

Wastelands: The New Apocalypse is the third volume in John Joseph Adams’ curated series of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic short stories. With this edition, the series now collects over 80 different stories of cataclysm, disaster, and general tribulation.

The New Apocalypse differs slightly from its predecessors, in that it includes original stories as well as carefully selected reprints. With over 30 stories included, there’s no perfect way to draw conclusions about the anthology—however, there are some clear patterns that emerge across the book.

[Read more]

An Unquiet Revolution: A People’s Future of the United States

There are a couple of ways to judge an anthology.

The simplest way to appraise one is to reduce the book down to its constituent parts. An anthology is, after all, a collection of stories. And A People’s Future of the United States—edited by Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams—is, indeed, a collection of stories. 25 original stories, from a veritable Who’s Who of contemporary American speculative writers.

[Read more]

“Home is Waiting for You” — The Space-faring Futures of AfroSFv3

AfroSF Volume 3 is—exactly as the title would indicate—the third volume in a series of original fiction by contemporary African writers. The first two volumes, published in 2012 and 2015, featured authors that have now become household names for genre readers, including Nnedi Okorafor, Sarah Lotz, and Tade Thompson. The third volume, with a dozen stories commissioned by Ivor Hartmann, continues the series’ commitment to introducing contemporary African writers to readers around the world.

The theme, loosely, is space. As Hartmann notes in his introduction: “We are ineffably drawn to it, and equally terrified by it. We have created endless mythologies, sciences, and even religions, in the quest to understand it.” It is, Hartmann says succinctly, an “astronomical wilderness.”

[Read more]

Under Neon and Starlight: Revealing the Table of Contents for The Outcast Hours

The Outcast Hours is only our second anthology, but it is fair to say we already have a bit of a shtick: we like diverse thinking on universal themes.

With The Djinn Falls in Love, it was, well—djinn. One of the few truly global ‘creatures’ of lore. With The Outcast Hours, we wanted something that was equally relevant: something that every culture experiences. Rather than raid the bestiary again, we went higher concept—not to a particular myth, but to the source of myths. Something that everyone, everywhere, shares: the night. We all experience it; it affects everyone, everywhere, in every culture.

So that’s half the shtick: the universal theme.

The other half is where the real work comes in. To us, there’s no point in reading the same story two dozen times. The joy of something universal is that everyone approaches it from a different angle. To capture the breadth, the depth, the vastness that is the ‘night’, we needed wildly different perspectives. The Table of Contents represents our best efforts to capture this range.

[Read more]

Fight With a Vim and You’re Dead Sure to Win: Adam Nemett’s We Can Save Us All

If there’s not an official sub-genre for “edgy, dissolute fantasy set at elite American universities,” we should step into the void and name it ourselves. Ivorypunk. GrimIvy. Because, let’s face it—the New England university setting is an immensely popular secondary world. Think of remote towns filled with disengaged, drug-addled youths: screwing their brains out, dodging classes, lazily committing felonies, also as part of their search for some sort of greater existential purpose. Add a touch of fantasy into the mix and the metaphoric stew gets all the thicker. From The Secret History to The Magicians (and the former is a fantasy novel, bring it), there’s a long, quasi-nihilistic-and-deeply-enjoyable tradition of reading about America’s best and brightest, snorting and bonking their way through a Quest for Meaning.

We Can Save Us All is the latest entry to this tradition. All the Bacchanalian misadventures and soul-searching, but, this time, caped and cloaked as superheroes. Adam Nemett’s debut novel features a group of disillusioned and dissolute Princeton students, groping around for their place in the universe. Our ostensible hero is David Fuffman, a sort of bearded (neckbearded, in fact!) everygeek. Committed to a (largely conceptual) love of comic books, romantic angst and the “cooler” parts of his grandfather’s wardrobe, David’s an oddball, even by Princeton standards.

[Read more]

Why Was 2006 Such An Epic Year for Epic Fantasy?

If you’re a fantasy reader (and, if you’re reading this, I suspect you are), 2006 was a vintage year. One for the ages, like 2005 for Bordeaux, or 1994 for Magic: The Gathering. The Class of 2006 includes Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself, Naomi Novik’s His Majesty’s Dragon, Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora and Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn: The Final Empire. All of which, remarkably, are debuts (except Mistborn, but Elantris was only the year before and Mistborn was the breakout hit, so we’ll roll with it). And hey, if we stretch the strict definition of “2006,” we can even include Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind in the mix as well.

These are five authors that have dominated the contemporary fantasy scene, and to think that they all published more or less simultaneously is, well, kind of ridiculous.

[So how did it happen?]

The Jinn Are Everywhere (Including In These 6 Books)

Jinn are everywhere. Every culture has them; they lurk in every literary tradition.

On one hand, it makes collecting a list of “jinn” reading an impossible challenge—there’s simply no way to represent all the ways in which the jinn appear. It is the sort of task that, in a classic story, the feisty protagonist would trick a jinn into solving instead.

On the other hand, the size of the task is so impossible that we needn’t even attempt it. Wherever you are, whatever you read—rest assured that there’s a jinn for you.

So rather than trying to cover the vast range of jinn in books, we’ve selected a few of our very favourites—fiction and non-fiction, old and new, fantastical and literary.

[Read more]

The Dragonlance Chronicles Reread: It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over

Thank you for sticking with us for eighteen months, three books, sixty posts (75,000 words!), and seven guest posts! We’ve fought dragons, marvelled at Goldmoon’s hair, escaped death knights and (endlessly) argued over Laurana’s agency. WE’RE ALL THE REAL HEROES.

To wrap things up in a fun—and hopefully interactive—way, we’ve decided to interview ourselves. A simple 10 (+1) question discussion, easily numbered, so you can take part in the comments! Please chime in, and answer the questions you want, or make any other comment you’d like. We’re easy!

[Read more]

Series: Dragonlance Reread

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