content by

Martin Cahill

Understanding Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere

The Cosmere of Brandon Sanderson is a huge, overarching concept driving the narrative structure of his work, and while it may seem fairly straightforward on the surface, the deeper ramifications of these connections are going to be felt all across his books, especially going forward with the rest of his series.

So! Let’s get started. First question: What the heck is a Cosmere?

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Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence Could Fit Into Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere

It was during the end of Three Parts Dead, with its many reversals and its clash between different and intricate rule-based magic systems, that we both recognized the inner thrill of reading a new Brandon Sanderson story. Except…Three Parts Dead isn’t a Sanderson novel, it’s a Max Gladstone book from a few years back.

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Getting to Know The Stormlight Archive’s Dalinar Kholin: The Man That War Made

Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive may be an immense epic fantasy in the making, but its success can be attested to the finely focused crafting on a character level. While there are dozens of stories and many more points of view, Sanderson really focuses on a handful of characters, giving each of them their own focal book in which to explore their pasts, and what made them who they are. The Way of Kings belonged to Kaladin, a doctor turned soldier turned slave turned Windrunner, whose leadership and abilities are called upon time and again, even as he struggles with the guilt and trauma of his younger days. Words of Radiance belonged to Shallan Davar, whose scholarship and pursuit to secure her family’s future was thrown to the winds when her abilities as a Lightweaver are revealed, and she becomes embroiled in a secret society on Roshar.

And now, as we head into Oathbringer, we know it will be Dalinar Kholin’s novel, a man who has struggled to build and unite and lead, in a society that only knows him for his past brutality. We figured it’s time to dive back into what we know of him, how he became who he is, and what Oathbringer may teach us.

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The Evolution of an Epic Fantasy Writer

Springing onto the epic fantasy scene a few years ago with his debut novel, The Emperor’s Blades, Brian Staveley was clearly a writer of immense potential energy. His debut, the first in a trilogy, promised a family steeped in tragedy and power, facing hard choices while occupying a world of deep lore, chaotic forces, and endless mystery. And as the children of the Annurian Empire grew, so too did Staveley’s mastery and range in the telling of their story.

From The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, and through his newest novel Skullsworn, Staveley has continued to not only level up on a nuts-and-bolts level, but to push himself as a writer, delving further into those corners of the world where he finds himself unsure, and balancing along that narrative knife’s edge, pushes on and breaks into brighter worlds. Staveley not only has injected a major breath of fresh air into the epic fantasy genre, he has done so to the benefit of his writing, as each new book sees him getting better, taking more risks, and daring to tell stories from new perspectives.

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Flawed Futures Make for Better Stories: Ada Palmer and Utopian SF

At Readercon last summer, when I saw that Ada Palmer was hosting a kaffeeklatsch, I jumped at the chance to join in. Having just read her debut, Too Like The Lightning, a few months earlier, I was thrilled at the prospect of having an hour to sit with her and other fans and pick her brain about the vast, complicated world of Terra Ignota and the future of 2454 that she had painstakingly created. During the discussion, someone asked something about how she had written a utopia, to which Ada chuckled for a moment, possibly thinking over all the complications—all the wrenches she’d thrown into the gears, basically—when it came to creating her world. Then, she said, “Well, it’s not quite a utopia, as it is utopian,” which she went on to explain means that while the world itself is utopian in nature, the future itself is far from a perfect utopia. She’s actually gone into a bit more detail about this distinction on her blog, stating:

 …[W]hen I talk about a “utopia”–a work intending to depict an ideal future–that is not quite the same as a work which is “utopian” i.e. addressing the idea of utopia, and using utopian positive elements in its future building, while still focusing on people, characters and events, and exploring or critiquing the positive future it depicts, rather than recommending it. 2454 as I imagine it is not a utopia.  There are many flaws and uncomfortable elements…. It is using utopia and commenting on utopia without being a utopia.

Which, of course, got me thinking.

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Gaming Vicariously: Rolling the Dice with Critical Role

If you’ve ever participated in a role-playing game, you know that moment: when everything is on the line, the monster is this close to defeat, and you have the perfect opening. All you need is a little cooperation from your dice. You take a breath. Your party holds theirs. You toss the dice. And when it’s a success—or even better, a crit—that blooming bubble of joy, giddiness, and celebration bursts from you and your party, as your DM describes the moment of victory. If you miss that feeling of unrestrained, breathless happiness at the twists and turns to be found in a roleplaying game, then you’re probably the perfect audience for Critical Role.

Started by gaming and nerd channel Geek & Sundry in late 2014, Critical Role chronicles the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition adventure of eight professional voice actors and friends. They started playing Pathfinder together a year or so before Geek & Sundry asked them to take the game live and the show was born; now through the magic of the livestream channel Twitch, having migrated over to DnD, Dungeon Master Matthew Mercer and his seven friends gather together every Thursday at 7PM West Coast time to continue the harrowing, hilarious, and dramatic adventures of Vox Machina. A group of noble, lovable misfits who have become a family, our adventurers have fought everywhere from the depths of the Underdark to the heights of Gatshadow Mountain; they’ve traveled between planes, battled vampiric lords and ladies, savage Beholders, nobility from the Nine Hells, and most recently have dedicated themselves to the destruction of a vicious group of chromatic dragons who have razed the country they love.

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Hearts of Darkness: The Short Fiction of Shirley Jackson

December 14, 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of Shirley Jackson’s birth. To celebrate, we’re taking a look at some of her most memorable novels and short fiction.

If you asked anyone about a American short story that stuck with them for their entire lives, it would not shock me if they were to think for a moment, and then say, “that one story, ‘The Lottery,’” followed up with some form of, “that shit is fucked up.”

One of the seminal works of American short fiction, “The Lottery” is the most widely-read piece of Shirley Jackson’s to worm its way into the heart of many a reader, but it is far from her only piece worth of attention. While “The Lottery” remains her best known story, Jackson was a prolific writer of short fiction, and though her other stories may not have involved a signature pile of smooth stones, they all demonstrate what Shirley Jackson did best: examined the domestic and interior lives of the insular, the middle class, the lonely, the strange, the aloof, and the cruel, and artfully spun their stories like a stained-glass spider illuminating an indifferent, dark, sharp world.

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Brandon Sanderson’s Arcanum Unbounded: A Non-Spoiler Review

Brandon Sanderson, the epic fantasy sensation known for putting out tomes thicker than some cookbooks, has now put out a collection of short fiction which is actually just as large as some of his novels. (I’ll give you a moment to let all that sink in.) All play aside though, Arcanum Unbounded represents a first in several capacities. First, this is the never-before-collected of short fiction that Sanderson has written across his story universe, The Cosmere, now all together in one beautifully bound space. Second, and of more excitement, this is the first time we as readers are getting a full glimpse into the wider universe of the Cosmere, complete with star charts, constellations, and planet/realmic notations, with plenty of revelations to keep even the most avid Sanderson fan happy.

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Growing an Anthology Series: The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016

Last year, John Joseph Adams and guest editor Joe Hill introduced the inaugural edition of The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, bringing together twenty of the best stories published in the year 2014, a mixture of rockets and robots, magic and myths. That the rich worlds of science fiction and fantasy short fiction were finally getting their recognition in the mainstream was a joy to many, and Adams and Hill nailed it, crafting a brilliant collection that celebrated writers new and old, across a wide spectrum of identities, as accessible to newcomers as it was to seasoned readers.

And with such a success in the first volume, there inevitably came the question: what will next year’s look like? In the hands of Adams and guest editor Karen Joy Fowler, Volume Two continues to spotlight amazing writers exploring difficult and brilliant concepts, and while the overall styles of the story therein have a different cadence than Volume One, it makes them no less inspiring.

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The Art of Survival in Imaginary Worlds: N.K. Jemisin, Robert Jackson Bennett, and Sarah Beth Durst

Moderated by fantasy and science fiction writer Alice Sola Kim, this incredibly well-attended panel at the Brooklyn Book Festival featured Robert Jackson Bennett, N. K. Jemisin, and Sarah Beth Durst sitting down to discuss the use of politics, power dynamics, social systems, and threats in their various fantasy worlds—each of which includes dangers not just on a physical level, but in myriad forms such as colonial and social oppression, toxic social structures, geographic fragility, and magical/divine retribution. For an hour, the authors delved into their construction of these worlds, how and why they chose themes and struggles to focus on, and the ways in which they are able to skirt by people’s perceptions of the fantasy genre in order to explore real-world issues they find concerning or fascinating.

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Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence Feels Like it Could Fit Into Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere

It was during the end of Three Parts Dead, with its many reversals and its clash between different and intricate rule-based magic systems, that we both recognized the inner thrill of reading a new Brandon Sanderson story. Except…Three Parts Dead isn’t a Sanderson novel, it’s a Max Gladstone book from a few years back.

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Why Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence is So. Damn. Powerful.

It’s a typical morning, as typical as they come. You wake up and shower, listening to your favorite shock jockey blab on the air. You make a cup of coffee and read the paper, all the while keeping an eye on the clock. You hail a cab, and despite the intense traffic, you manage to make your way to work and even manage to impress your boss.

Except that in this world, your shock jockey is a rogue elemental riding the airwaves, spreading gossip. Your cab could be a riderless carriage that touts you around the bustling streets, or possibly a giant dragonfly like creature, whose legs wrap around your body and fly you to work. Your office is probably a giant glass pyramid, fitting into the city like a perfect puzzle piece. And your boss? Yeah, he’s an immortal sorcerer whose constant tampering with the forces of the universe has caused his flesh to fall away, and remain in this life as a skeleton in a business suit, a Deathless King.

Welcome to the Craft Sequence. You’re going to want to pick your jaw up off the floor if you expect to get any respect around here, kid.

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The Cosmere Gets Graphic: Brandon Sanderson’s White Sand, Volume 1

Though it was one of his earliest projects, Brandon Sanderson just couldn’t seem to find the right way to bring White Sand to the world. Going through several drafts, it ended up sitting on his desk looking for the proper way to emerge, despite it being one of his favorite projects to work on. And now with his other series and obligations to juggle, Sanderson feared that he’d never get a chance to put out White Sand.

But, as he states in his opening essay, when approached by comic book company Dynamite for consideration for a project, Sanderson looked back at his desk and had an idea. White Sand the graphic novel was born, a new Sanderson Cosmere story in an entirely new medium for him and for the first time, manned by a whole new creative team. And while it’s a departure from his normal medium, the same Sanderson charm, style, and magic is present, despite some awkward moments.

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What To Expect (So Far) From Brandon Sanderson’s Third Stormlight Archive Book

It’s been almost two years since Words of Radiance lashed itself onto our hearts, and as Brandon has put several projects to rest, his increasing time on Stormlight Book 3, currently titled Oathbringer, has Sanderfans everywhere shaking with anticipation.

Oathbringer is still very much in-process, and a release date is unknown, but that hasn’t stopped Sanderson from reading first drafts of chapters, or releasing rough snippets online! So just how much has been revealed so far from the third book in the Stormlight Archive series?

Spoilers ahead, of course.

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City of Lights, City of Blades: Resonant Narratives

I went through a pretty odd experience this past fall. My brain had successfully split and was submerged in two fictional worlds at once—All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett. Many wouldn’t find this remarkable, but as a reader who laser-focuses onto whatever they’re reading, this was a very new experience. Not only that, but the two worlds I was occupying were seemingly fathoms apart. One was a devastated landscape that had gone through the hell of occupation and was trying to take that pain and turn it into something new and bolder, something brighter to light the way into the future. The other was France just before, during, and after World War II.

Hey, wait a minute . . .

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