“For the longest time I didn’t know how to write short stories,” Jo Walton notes in the oddball introduction to her first full-length collection, Starlings. And indeed, while Starlings is a collection, calling it a short-story collection is something of a misnomer: the book is instead a jumble-sale assemblage of jokes, opening chapters to unwritten novels, poetry, point-of-view exercises, and speculative fictions interspersed with Walton’s commentaries on her own work—which are as likely to be complaints about permanently delayed payments as they are insights into her work.
Fiction and Excerpts 
Twenty-two years after the publication of his extraordinary novel The Golden Compass, a passport into an intoxicating universe of infinite marvels, Philip Pullman has returned to the parallel world he created with the first installment in a new trilogy.
La Belle Sauvage opens a decade or so prior to the events of The Golden Compass. Eleven-year-old Malcolm Polstead, the son of an innkeeper, is an inquisitive, intelligent, and resourceful boy who spends his time helping out his parents, picking fights with Alice Polstrow, a cranky teenage girl who works at the inn, and loitering about at the Priory of Godstow, where the tolerant and kindly nuns give him free rein. His quiet life is abruptly upended by a series of events, beginning with his discovery of a mysterious message from Oakley Street, a secret society working in opposition to the increasingly authoritarian Church, which is tightening its hold on the government.
Like most people who grow up to be writers, I was a pretty weird kid. It will perhaps not entirely surprise you to learn that I was not a popular child; I spent the majority of my elementary-school recesses looking for dragons in the woods alone. I dressed as Raistlin three Halloweens in a row. I was certain that magic slumbered within me—not sleight of hand, but the real weather-altering enemy-smiting fireball-hurling stuff—waiting patiently for me to find the key to unlocking it. Other children were not kind to me, so I kept reading. There’s not a single doorstop-sized fantasy epic published between The Sword of Shannara and Sunrunner’s Fire that I haven’t read at least once (when I realized, belatedly, that this predilection was not endearing me to my peers, I took to disguising the telltale sword-and-naked-lady covers of my preferred reading material with a reusable cloth book cover; this concession, however, did not make me popular).
Tad Williams’ first novel, Tailchaser’s Song, was published in 1985. It follows the adventures of Fritti Tailchaser, a young feral cat whose love interest, Hushpad, disappears suddenly and mysteriously. Fritti’s search for his beloved takes him through multiple cats’ societies, a magnificently creepy underground city ruled by a diabolically Rabelaisian cat-god whose throne is a mountain of dying animals, legendary cat heroes in disguise, a kingdom of squirrels, and a complex and extensive cats’ mythology complete with creation stories and a family of cat deities. I read it so many times as a kid that my copy’s covers literally fell off. I can still quote parts of it from memory. When Williams’ next book came out in 1989, I was more than ready. I was obsessed.
The Dragonbone Chair isn’t about cats, but it’s so marvelously complex and vivid that my ten-year-old self was willing to overlook this flaw.
The first thing you should know about Nicky Drayden’s wildly imagined debut is that it’s really, really fun. You’ll bounce from tormented more-than-besties Muzi and Elkin’s first sexual experience (under the influence of a hallucinogen that unlocks their inner dolphin and crab selves, obvs) to a demigoddess moonlighting as a nail tech who plans to destroy the human race to a robot uprising to a young lady who is More Than She Seems to a global superstar and impossible diva whose friendly neighborhood drug dealer is the only person who knows her Dark Secret to an aspiring government official with a very overbearing mother and a secret life as a charismatic transgender pop star. And that’s just the first few chapters.
Spinning between the perspectives of multiple main characters, the seemingly divergent storylines of The Prey of Gods soon begin to intersect in—spoiler alert—unexpected and often delightful ways.
“Blue is a Darkness Weakened by Light” is about a lonely young woman, recently moved to the big city, who is looking for love. What she finds is a friend and confidante who is much older and wiser than she.
I’ve long been a fan of speculative fiction writer Kat Howard’s lyrical fairytale mashups, whether it’s her stunning collaborative work (as in The End of the Sentence with Maria Dahvana Headley, a gleeful and gory Western by way of Old Norse myth) or her beautiful short fiction (Howard’s numerous accolades include multiple year’s best and best-of anthologies and a World Fantasy Award nomination). (I’m such a fan, in fact, that I published one of Howard’s stories myself.)
Howard’s debut novel, Roses and Rot, releases this month, and it has all of her distinctive hallmarks: gorgeous prose, riveting storytelling, sources that range from Scottish ballads to Shakespeare, a hellish dilemma, and, at its heart, a heroine who’s learning hard lessons about art, sacrifice, and love. When I finished it I turned back to the first page and read it again. Howard was gracious enough to sit down for a conversation on myth, magic, and monsters.
Eighteen-year-old Tally is absolutely sure of everything: her genius, the love of her adoptive family, the loyalty of her best friend, Shane, and her future career as a Nobel prize-winning astronomer. There’s no room in her tidy world for heartbreak or uncertainty—or the charismatic, troubled mother who abandoned her soon after she was born.
But when a sudden discovery upends her fiercely ordered world, Tally sets out on an unexpected quest to seek out the reclusive musician who may hold the key to her past—and instead finds Maddy, an enigmatic and beautiful girl who will unlock the door to her future. The deeper she falls in love with Maddy, the more Tally begins to realize that the universe is bigger—and more complicated—than she ever imagined. Can Tally face the truth about her family—and find her way home in time to save herself from its consequences?
About a Girl—available July 14th from St. Martin’s Press—is the powerful and entrancing conclusion to Sarah McCarry’s Metamorphoses trilogy.
Critical darling Nova Ren Suma is already well-known for her gorgeous, genre-hopping, and distinctly sinister body of work. We talked about memory, ghosts, and unreliable and monstrous girls in advance of the March 23rd publication of her newest novel, The Walls Around Us, which is already garnering rave reviews.
I have long maintained that there are only two kinds of readers: those who are obsessed with Kelly Link’s work, and those who have yet to discover it. If you number among that pathetically bereft latter category, you can console yourself with the thought that the delights that lie in store for you are, quite literally, unimaginable, because there is no possible way any ordinary person can imagine something as rare and strange as a Kelly Link story.
Beloved by her peers and treasured by her readers, Link’s stories serve as portals into worlds both familiar and dazzlingly bizarre, and her latest collection—her first in six years, and her first for adults in nearly a decade—is, if anything, even more assured and wise and fantastically weird than her previous books. Her characters here are, many of them, older and sadder and a little more cynical than in her previous books, but they have lost none of the wicked charm and sleight-of-hand that mark them distinctly as hers.
Not much is known about Apollonios Rhodios (Apollonios of Rhodes); a poet and scholar who lived in Alexandria in the third century BCE, he likely served as the royally appointed head of the Alexandrian Library. Though he produced at least one other significant piece, only one of his poetical works, the Argonautika, has survived more or less intact as a manuscript copied and recopied for hundreds of years by hand. While clearly influenced by Homer, Apollonios also retains his own distinctive voice, and the Argonautika is a vivid, gorgeous tapestry of bad deeds, bad dudes, and one very special teenage girl.
Poet Aaron Poochigian’s recent verse translation (titled Jason and the Argonauts) for Penguin is an accessible, nimble, and often beautiful edition of Apollonios Rhodios’s epic; his footnotes are thorough but useful and concise, and his approach is respectful to the text but not reverent (he describes Rhodios’s voice as “endearing” as well as elastic, which it often is).
I’ve long been a fan of Kat Howard and Maria Dahvana Headley’s fiction; both writers have a magician’s knack for mixing up the uncanny with the real, resulting in haunting stories that stick with you for a long time. I was thrilled to hear they’d joined forces for The End of the Sentence, a collaboratively written novella available now from Subterranean Press—and even more thrilled upon reading it to discover that it was every bit as deliciously creepy and gorgeously terrifying as I’d hoped.
I chatted a bit with Kat and Maria about monsters, love, co-writing, and kissing scenes.
I’ve been a fan of Emily St. John Mandel ever since her first novel, Last Night in Montreal, came out in 2009; she’s a stunningly beautiful writer whose complex, flawed, and well-drawn characters linger with you long after you set her books down.
Now, with the release of Station Eleven—a big, brilliant, ambitious, genre-bending novel that follows a traveling troupe of Shakespearean actors roaming a postapocalyptic world—she’s poised for blockbuster success. Effortlessly combining her flawless craftsmanship, rich insights, and compelling characters with big-budget visions of the end of the world, Station Eleven is hands-down one of my favorite books of the year.
It’s been great to see a renewed media and reader focus on diversity in literature lately, but when we talk about diversity in the United States we typically focus on writers based in the US and UK.
I talked with writer and editor Charles Tan, who lives and works in the Philippines, about what issues around diversity look like from an international perspective.
Maia is a teenage piano prodigy and dutiful daughter, imprisoned in the oppressive silence of her adoptive parents’ house like a princess in an ivory tower. Cass is a street rat, witch, and runaway, scraping by with her wits and her knack for a five-fingered discount. When a chance encounter brings the two girls together, an unlikely friendship blossoms that will soon change the course of both their lives.
Cass springs Maia from the jail of the only world she’s ever known, and Maia’s only too happy to make a break for it. But Cass didn’t reckon on Jason, the hypnotic blue-eyed rocker who’d capture Maia’s heart as soon as Cass set her free—and Cass isn’t the only one who’s noticed Maia’s extraordinary gifts. Is Cass strong enough to battle the ancient evil she’s unwittingly awakened—or has she walked into a trap that will destroy everything she cares about? In this time, like in any time, love is a dangerous game.
Sarah McCarry’s Dirty Wings is available July 15th from St Martin’s Press.
Fairytale retellings are a framework I never tire of; I grew up on Terri Windling’s Fairy Tale series and Robin McKinley’s timeless retellings of “Beauty and the Beast” and other classic stories, and have been unable to resist a good Grimm’s makeover ever since. Here are four of my (by no means exclusive) favorites, both old and new.
- Ruthanna Emrys and Anne M. Pillsworth You Wish It Were Forty-Two: Algernon Blackwood’s “The Man Who Found Out” 14 hours ago
- Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias S. Buckell Tangled Lands: The Blacksmith’s Daughter 15 hours ago
- Tobias Carroll Pulp Adventure Meets Metafiction (or Vice Versa): Ned Beauman’s Madness Is Better Than Defeat 16 hours ago
- Vandana Singh Beyond Hope and Despair: Teaching Climate Change 16 hours ago
- Leah Schnelbach Books Make the Best Home: Ruthanna Emrys’ Winter Tide 17 hours ago
- Stubby the Rocket Amazon Studios to Bring Iain M. Banks’s Culture to the Small Screen 18 hours ago
- Jonathan Alexandratos Mycelium Running: The Book That May Reveal Where Star Trek: Discovery Goes Next Season 18 hours ago
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- Mycelium Running: The Book That May Reveal Where Star Trek: Discovery Goes Next Season 2 hours ago on
- We Come in Pieces — Star Trek Discovery First Season Overview 2 hours ago on
- Fighting Erasure: Women SF Writers of the 1970s, A Through F 3 hours ago on
- We Come in Pieces — Star Trek Discovery First Season Overview 3 hours ago on
- Patrick Rothfuss Announces The Name of the Wind Tenth Anniversary Edition and Shares Updates on The Kingkiller Chronicle Book 3 3 hours ago on