content by

Martin Cahill

Community, Revolution, and Power: How Long ‘til Black Future Month? by N. K. Jemisin

What started out as the topic of an essay written back in 2013 has now become the rallying cry behind multiple award-winning writer N. K. Jemisin’s first short story collection, How Long ’til Black Future Month? Following on the heels of her third Hugo win in three years for The Broken Earth trilogy, Jemisin’s new collection is an encapsulation of her artistic vision, from the start of her career to where she is today.

How Long ’til Black Future Month? illustrates time and again that Jemisin’s skill isn’t limited to novels, nor is it limited to worlds of epic fantasy; her short fiction shows that Jemisin just has talent, and it shines no matter the world.

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Over the Garden Wall is A Sweet, Strange Journey into The Unknown

If you’ve ever seen Over the Garden Wall, chances are you’ve seen it more than once—it’s a show that rewards repeat viewings. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a bit hard to explain—it’s an Emmy award-winning animated miniseries that first aired on the Cartoon Network in November, 2014. It’s weird, and beautiful, and not like anything else you’ve ever seen, and features the voice talents of Elijah Wood and Christopher Lloyd, along with John Cleese, Tim Curry, singer Chris Isaak, and opera singer Samuel Ramey, among others. I recently rewatched it, as I tend to do every November. Here’s why.

Everyone in my family dies in November.

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Old Enemies, Renewed: Barren by Peter V. Brett

The story of the Warded Man may be over, but there is still more narrative to be mined from the world of Peter V. Brett’s Demon Cycle series. His latest novella, Barren, finds everyone adjusting in the wake of the Warded Man’s deliverance of the ancient combat wards. Nowhere is that struggle seen more clearly than in Tibbet’s Brook, once home to Arlen Bales, the Warded Man, whose members have since begun to adjust to being able to fight back against the demons that appear at their doors every night.

Set during the final act of the last book of the Demon Cycle, The Core, Barren finds the demon princes organizing for one last push against humanity. With their new line of queens about to hatch and start looking for food, the Brook will be tested like they never have before. Leading us through that test is Selia, often called “Barren,” an elderly matriarch of the Brook who has recently rediscovered love, lust, and youth thanks to the infusion of magic she earns each night through fighting the demons. But with the reemergence of such vitality comes danger, as old enemies gain the same benefits and, seeing an opportunity, work to take Selia’s position as leader—and potentially take her life.

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Likes and Dislikes in a Spoiler Review for Brandon Sanderson’s Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds

Stephen Leeds is a man of many personalities. Or it may be more accurate to say persons. See, his mind has a certain ability, borne of mental illness, though not one anyone can quite put their finger on: in order to help him learn, cope with the world, or deal with new an unexpected events, Stephen can create new people in his brain, which he dubs aspects. These aspects help Stephen learn and store new information, but more than that, they’re created to help him get through the world. There’s his psychiatrist, his security expert, his historian and guide, and so many more, designed for different jobs: his survivalist, his photography expert, his forensic analyst, and more.

In Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds there was a lot to enjoy, and there were some things that let me down. Let’s discuss.

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Trauma and Triumph: Myke Cole’s The Queen of Crows

Myke Cole surprised readers last year when the author of primarily military fantasy fiction told the grim but complex story of a young woman named Heloise, living in a world where wizardry would summon devils into the world, and only the tyrannical Order could keep the people of the world safe.

In The Armored Saint, Heloise lives in Lutet with her mother and father, and does her best to obey them, help the town where she can, and spend time with her friend Basina, for whom she harbors a love beyond friendship. But throughout the book, we see time and again the brutality of this world: how the Order cuts down any who oppose them, no matter how small the infraction, and how they force other civilians to aid them in “the knitting,” a fancy name for utter destruction of a town and its citizens who they fear have been touched by wizardry.

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Outside the Lines: Unique Narrative Devices in Fantasy

There’s something appealing about a book that does things a little differently. Maybe it doesn’t break the rules, but bends them? Tries something new? Experiments with narrative? That’s absolutely my jam. I love when writers find new ways, new formats, and new styles to help elevate narration. Tricks of the trade that deliver information, or tell the reader something new, or force them to look at a story in a new way.

Inspired by a bevy of these tricks in Ruin of Kings, coming soon from Jenn Lyons, I thought I’d highlight a few other stories that utilize different devices to burst free from the housing of conventional narrative, and try to teach the reader something in the process.

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A Non-Spoiler Look at Brandon Sanderson’s Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds

Brandon Sanderson is well known for his high fantasy work, but he’s also known to stretch his wings and explore other worlds beyond the universe of the Cosmere. He’s got a science fiction epic in Skyward, and a trilogy about rampaging dystopian superheroes in The Reckoners Trilogy. And here, in the brand new novella collection, Legion: the Many Lives of Stephen Leeds, he has the sci-fi-infused noir adventures of Stephen Leeds, also known as Legion, an expert in just about everything. Well, sorry, not him, but the people in his head.

See, Stephen Leeds has a condition, but it’s unlike anything anyone has ever seen. His mind manifests what he calls aspects, complete personalities and people conjured from his brain, each an expert in something he is trying to learn about. Stephen has churned out dozens of these aspects in the last ten years or so—Ivy, his psychiatrist that walks with him and aids him in understanding human behavior; Tobias, the historian who helps him make sense of his surroundings and their impact—thanks to the tutelage of a mysterious woman named Sandra, since fled from his life. And when you have a person who can suddenly be an expert in photography, forensic science, engineering, quantum physics, Hebrew, and more, people want to either study him, or hire him.

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Everyday Magic: Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

If there’s one thing I’ve learned reading Robert Jackson Bennett, it’s that when you think you know what he’s going to do at any given moment, you’re most likely going to be wrong. You think he’ll go right; he goes left. You think he’s going to climb a fence, and instead he barrels right through. Most often, when he hits a dead end and you suspect this is where you catch him, he grins, steps onto the empty air and begins to walk into the sky.

And in his latest novel, Foundryside, Bennett is firing on all cylinders, taking what at first seems to be something a little standard, a little rote, and infusing exhilarating new life into it through expert writing, complicated and distinct characters, and an intriguing, deadly, wonderful new city called Tevanne, where reality can be shuffled like a deck of cards, provided you can justify it.

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Explore the Other Worlds of Brandon Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson may be known for his works of epic fantasy, but they’re certainly not all that he writes. With the release of his Legion omnibus forthcoming, as well as his new science fiction young adult novel, Skyward, due out later this fall, I wanted to highlight those works that exist outside the Cosmere (the name for Sanderson’s inter-connected universe of epic fantasy stories). If you enjoy science fiction, superheroes, strange magic, libraries full of secrets, and multiple personalities, then it’s time to learn about the other side of Sanderson!

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You’ve Won The Battle, Now What? Redemption’s Blade by Adrian Tchaikovsky

A staple of epic fantasy is the interrogation of good versus evil. A “Dark Lord” pursuing their own destructive ends, the civilizations caught in the middle of the war, and the forces of good and light doing their damnedest to push back against the shadow: It’s a tale as old as time, and the constant struggles between good and evil can begin to feel a bit stale and rote as the genre evolves. But with Redemption’s Blade, Adrian Tchaikovsky focuses the narrative not on the battle between good and evil, or on the far flung effects of its occurrence; rather, he starts it about five minutes after the war is over.

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It’s Time to Get Chosening: Kill the Farm Boy by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne

Kill the Farm Boy, the new comedy fantasy from accomplished novelists Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne, is not for the faint of heart—that is, if you find all manner of puns terrifying. For every moment in which other writers would stray from the joke in front of their nose, for every bit of back and forth, for every tantalizing smidgen of wordplay that some writers wouldn’t dive into, Dawson and Hearne plow straight ahead. They don’t so much lean into the crucial comedy of this novel as they do invite it out to dinner, feed it tacos and tequila, and record every bit of banter that results.

Kill the Farm Boy is a smart comedy, not only because it skewers modern tropes with a deft but direct hand, provides twists and turns to what should be a classic quest, or has representation in sorely needed ways, but because Dawson and Hearne know exactly when to dole out the humor amidst all this deconstruction of narrative.

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Over the Garden Wall: A Sweet, Strange Journey into The Unknown

If you’ve ever seen Over the Garden Wall, chances are you’ve seen it more than once—it’s a show that rewards repeat viewings. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a bit hard to explain—it’s an Emmy award-winning animated miniseries that first aired on the Cartoon Network in November, 2014. It’s weird, and beautiful, and not like anything else you’ve ever seen, and features the voice talents of Elijah Wood and Christopher Lloyd, along with John Cleese, Tim Curry, singer Chris Isaak, and opera singer Samuel Ramey, among others. I recently rewatched it, as I tend to do every November. Here’s why.

Everyone in my family dies in November.

[Spoilers Ahead.]

Flawed Futures Make for Better Stories: Ada Palmer’s Take on 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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Why The Name of the Wind Still Resonates Ten Years Later

I first read The Name of the Wind a few years after it had come out, and I inhaled it. Afterward, it stayed inside my heart, lighting me from within like a candle flame. It was intricate and beautiful and complex, a tale of two different times, and two very different men: the hero of our story, young and full of confidence, and the person he became in the wake of tragedy. Then, I reread it, recognizing and reliving everything again—and yet, I saw more. I saw that the tales told are the same tale, spun out over and over again in different ways. And it blew me away, this recognition of the way stories shift and change and warp over time. And then I read it a third time, and I saw the details of histories underlying the bones of the modern tale, and the rhymes in the words, and the hints of realities hovering beneath this one.

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In the Wake of the Everstorm: A Non-Spoiler Review of Brandon Sanderson’s Oathbringer

It will be difficult to review this without spoilers, but I will do my best. See, Oathbringer is a tome that readers that have been waiting for since mid-2014, almost four years ago. The third novel in Brandon Sanderson’s juggernaut, his magnum opus The Stormlight Archive, Oathbringer picks up right after the devastating ending of Words of Radiance, and catapults readers into a world beginning to topple. Because now, there’s no hiding from the truth. The Everstorm circles around the planet, bringing with it the spren of crimson lightning, waking the docile parshmen. And as they waken, the Knights Radiant must once again speak the ancient oaths, and work to defend humanity from Odium.

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