The Altarpiece of the Virgin of the Milk, the Breast of Spanish Renaissance Art

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015 | Posted by Sean McLachlan


Photo copyright Sean McLachlan.

In a previous post about Salamanca, Spain, I talked about Salamanca cathedral’s rich collection of Medieval and Renaissance art, inlcuding a splended retablo and some rare wall paintings. Like many cathedrals in this country, it also houses a small museum of some of its treasures. One of the most unusual items is the Altarpiece of the Virgin of the Milk.

It dates to the second half of the 16th century and was produced by an unknown artist. At its center is a breastfeeding Virgin, “La Virgen de la Leche,” part of a tradition of such depictions dating back to at least the 12th century. She is surrounded by other images detailing her Bible story and also related religious figures. Above is her Coronation. On the upper left is the Annunciation, and to the upper right the Archangel Gabriel.  To the left is the Assumption of Mary, to the right the Birth and Adoration of Jesus.

It gets weirder in the lower register, with Saint Agatha on the lower left offering a plate of breasts to Saints Cosmas and Damien. On the lower right Saint Margaret rounds out the picture.


Photo copyright Sean McLachlan.

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The Future of Fantasy: The Best New Releases in July

Monday, July 27th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Bone-Swans-CSE-Cooney-small Last First Snow-small The-Great-Bazaar-and-Brayans-Gold-small

We’re more than three quarters of the way through July, and I’ve barely scratched the surface on the 30 new books we covered in The Best New Releases in June. If I want to get caught up, I’ll have to cut back on late-night superhero movie marathons with my kids (and probably sleeping, and eating.)

July’s crop of new fantasy releases includes some terrific work from C.S.E. Cooney. Peter V. Brett, Max Gladstone, Wesley Chu, Lou Anders, Melinda Snodgrass, Victor Milan, Chris Willrich, Elizabeth Bear, Nnedi Okorafor, D.B. Jackson, and many others. There are 33 in the list this month, so let’s get started.

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Fantasia Diary 2015, Day 4: Therapy for a Vampire, Bridgend, Assassination Classroom, Ludo, and Who Killed Captain Alex?: Uganda’s First Action Movie

Friday, July 24th, 2015 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Therapy for a VampireLate last Friday night, the 17th of July (or early the next morning, to be precise), I was unable to keep from smiling as my city was cheerfully demolished by a crew of Ugandans, cheered on by a Fantasia Festival crowd. It was a wonderful end to an already very surreal day.

After having gotten not quite enough sleep the night before, I was at my fifth movie of the day. Even more than usual, each film had been wildly at odds with the one before it. I’d started at 12:45 with the Austrian period comedy Therapy for a Vampire, in which one of the undead seeks psychological help from Sigmund Freud. I followed that with Bridgend, a dark teen drama with some horror overtones, based on true events. Both of those had been at the small De Sève Theatre, and after a bite to eat, I went to the big Hall Theatre at 7:40 to watch the Japanese comedy Assassination Classroom, in which prep school students try to kill their alien professor before he blows up the Earth. After that, I ran back across the street to catch the world première of the transgressive Indian horror film Ludo. And then stuck around to watch the presentation of Who Killed Captain Alex?: Uganda’s First Action Movie. Which also involved the destruction of Montréal.

But let me go through these things in full, starting with Therapy for a Vampire. In fact, I’ll start a bit before that, with a short film that was screened before the main feature: The Mill at Calder’s End. Directed by Kevin McTurk from his own story, with a script by Ryan Murphy, it’s a gothic horror film set in the late Victorian or Edwardian era. And it’s done with puppets. They’re highly detailed — the IMDB tells me “36 inch tall bunraku rod puppets” — and convey the atmosphere wonderfully. The story follows a young man who’s inherited the family lands, along with the curse accompanying said lands. He investigates, and faces the same horror his ancestors faced before him.

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Hugh Hancock and Why Geeks Love Lovecraftian Magic

Thursday, July 23rd, 2015 | Posted by M Harold Page


If you like the short film, you might enjoy his — NSFW– Carcosa Lovecraftian web comic.

How come geeks like Lovecraftian magic so much?

Writing on Charles Stross’s blog, Hugh Hancock, Machinima guru turned live-action filmmaker and web comic — um – maker(?) who — disclaimer! — has been a mate since he threw me through a pile of chairs, thus curing the suspected RSI in my shoulder — thinks it’s because Lovecraft pings the things that horrify geeks:

What if too much knowledge really was bad?

What if there were no life hack to divert the apocalypse?

What if the Inquisition were right?!!?

Obviously he’s onto something. It is all pretty horrifying and creates a wonderful double bind; we readers simultaneously want the protagonist to satisfy our curiosity, and at the same time want them to flee the horrid fate that will result.

However, I think there’s more than Horror at work.

Before I go on to explain why, go and watch his short Lovecraftian film HOWTO Demon Summoning so we have a common reference point (and because it’s funny and horrific, and makes surprising use of CGI given Hugh is an indy filmmaker).


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Clarkesworld 106 Now on Sale

Friday, July 17th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Clarkesworld-106-smallIn his editorial this issue, Editor-in-Chief Neil Clarke recalls the birth of the magazine at Readercon:

Our ninth anniversary will occur in October, but the magazine was born at Readercon. At the Friday night Meet the Pros(e) party, Sean Wallace and I got into a long discussion about online magazines spurred on by SciFiction’s recent closure. [SciFiction was the Sci Fi channel’s online magazine and its demise was a huge blow to the perceived credibility of the medium.] That night, we spent hours trying to figure out why so many online magazines had failed and what it would take to make one succeed. Sleep-deprived and a bit too overconfident, we came up with a business model we thought would work. By the end of the weekend, it was a done deal: I was launching a magazine. Nine years later, that wild little experiment is turning into what I hope will become my career. Not bad for something I stumbled into with no prior experience.

Over the past nine years, Clarkesworld has become one of the most important magazines in the field, a three-time winner of the Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine. In 2013 it received more Hugo nominations for short fiction than all the leading print magazines (Asimov’s, Analog, and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction) combined, and last November the magazine was awarded a World Fantasy Award.

Issue #106 of Clarkesworld has seven stories — five new, and two reprints — from Sam J. Miller, Kay Chronister, Natalia Theodoridou, Pan Haitian, Yoon Ha Lee, Keith Brooke, and Adam Roberts.

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Every Kind of Story, All At Once: Salman Rushdie’s The Enchantress of Florence

Saturday, July 11th, 2015 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

The Enchantress of FlorenceIn some ways Salman Rushdie’s 2008 novel The Enchantress of Florence feels like a classic pulp fantasy entertainment. A bit less than a hundred years ago you could find a lot of pulp set in India, central Asia, and the Middle East: Harold Lamb recounting colourful histories of the great Mongol conquerors and Timur-Leng; Fritz Leiber imagining a pair of sword-wielding comrades he’d later recast as heroes of no-when; Arthur D. Howden Smith telling of the adventures of the Grey Maiden, the first sword made of iron; Talbot Mundy presenting theosophy-inflected occult sagas; Robert E. Howard, perhaps inspired by Lamb, writing grim war tales of battles against Genghis Khan and his great general Subotai. It’s interesting that when Michael Chabon tried his hand at a pulp-style adventure novel, he set it in Khazaria.

Naturally there are an awful lot of differences between The Enchantress of Florence and the pulp tales. Rushdie’s prose is more baroque even than Leiber’s. The structure of the book’s vastly more intricate, a narrative maze of stories and stories-within-stories. And, of course, The Enchantress of Florence is written as it were from the east looking west, rather than the reverse.

Still: it is a story set in a time of swordsmanship and adventure — the late sixteenth century, to be precise — and it glories in the lurid and the larger-than-life. It’s a tale of emperors and kings and generals, of subtle enchantresses and the brutality of war. It’s a book fascinated by what used to be called romance, by action and magic. And if its style and structure are more elaborate than anything in the pulps, that’s a sign that Rushdie’s book is actually even more charged with storytelling energy: with humour and grotesques and sex and politics and death and all kinds of things, one following fast upon another.

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The 2015 Hugo Shortlist, Short Fiction: A Review

Thursday, July 9th, 2015 | Posted by Rich Horton

2011 Hugo Award-smallI promised to read all the short fiction Hugo nominees, and report on them, so here you go.

I’ll begin by mentioning that I haven’t come close to reading the novel nominees: I have only read Ancillary Sword, by my almost-neighbor Ann Leckie, and while I quite enjoyed it I thought it not as good as Ancillary Justice. A middle-book thing, in some ways – in other ways, I think this post by lightreads gets at some of the problems I had pretty well.

I’m also about halfway through The Three-Body Problem, by Cixin Liu –- I’m not sure what to think yet. There’s some neat ideas, but some of them seem distinctly pulpy, and the writing is a bit dodgy. We’ll see how it works out in the end.


So, to the novellas. The final list of nominees is:

Big Boys Don’t Cry, Tom Kratman
“Flow,” Arlan Andrews, Sr.
One Bright Star to Guide Them, John C. Wright
“Pale Realms of Shade,” John C. Wright
“The Plural of Helen of Troy,” John C. Wright

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Building a World in a Vacant Lot: The Circus of Dr. Lao

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015 | Posted by Thomas Parker

The Circus of Dr Lao Bison 2nd Edition-smallFantasy, like all life-consuming obsessions (fly fishing, stamp collecting, running for public office) has a language all its own, one that can seem arcane and incomprehensible to the uninitiated. Polder, thinning, underlier, Dark Lord, secondary world, Hidden Monarch, threshold, time abyss, mythago – each of these names a vital fantasy concept or device, and of all such terms, none is more important to the modern genre than worldbuilding.

Worldbuilding is, according to Wikipedia, (the greatest repository of fantasy on the internet) the process of “developing an imaginary setting with coherent qualities such as a history, geography, and ecology,” and it “often involves the creation of maps, a backstory, and people for the world.”

In worldbuilding as in so many other things, it was J.R.R. Tolkien who set the standard for all who followed. His Middle Earth, with its immensely deep and detailed history, cosmogony, and geography, was worldbuilding on an unprecedented scale, even to the creation of complete languages for the various races that inhabit this invented milieu.

Post-Tolkien fantasy is largely the story of the primacy of this kind of worldbuilding, as the maps, glossaries, and genealogies that pad the backs of so many fat paperbacks attest, and almost all epic fantasies published since The Lord of the Rings owe a large debt to Tolkien and his example. But all writers are worldbuilders, Hemingway and Updike as much as Jordan and Martin, and perfect as the Tolkien method is for a particular kind of tale, there are many ways to create a believable world — even a fantasy one.

The kind of construction exemplified in The Lord of the Rings is largely external, which is well suited to Tolkien’s rather formal purposes. There is another kind of worldbuilding, however, one less concerned with royal lines and the names of rivers than with what might be called the mythic geography of ordinary life. A superb example of this kind of work is Charles G. Finney’s The Circus of Dr. Lao. Published in 1935, it is one of the greatest fantasy novels ever written; indeed, in some moods I’m inclined to think that it is the greatest of them all.

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Galaxy Science Fiction, October 1952: A Retro-Review

Sunday, July 5th, 2015 | Posted by Matthew Wuertz

Galaxy Science Fiction October 1952 back-small Galaxy Science Fiction October 1952 cover-small

Galaxy celebrated its second birthday (and start of its third year) with a cover depicting some of its staff and contributors (illustrated by E. A. Emshwiller). The artwork wrapped around the back (interrupted by the spine) and included a “key” on the inside cover to identify each person, including the robot and alien.

October 1952 Cover Key

Editor H. L. Gold is on the left on the front cover, halfway down the picture, shown in a blue suit and holding a cup. (Click on the images above for bigger versions.)

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Future Treasures: The Empress Game by Rhonda Mason

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Empress Game-smallTitan Books has been doing some terrific stuff recently, especially in the realm of intriguing fantasy series. So when they sent me an advance proof of Rhonda Mason’s The Empress Game, the first installment in a promising new space fantasy coming out later this month, I promised myself I’d read it.

And I totally failed. I told myself I probably wouldn’t have liked it, anyway. And then Liz Bourke totally trashed that theory, with this stellar review over at, calling it an “old-fashioned pulp space opera”:

Rhonda Mason’s science fiction debut — first in a projected trilogy — is unashamedly old-fashioned pulp space opera… Kayla Reunimon makes a living through brutal gladiatorial combat in an arena on a world that probably counts as a classic space opera “hive of scum and villainy.” She used to be an Ordochian princess, trained to protect her psychic twin, until an Imperial-supported coup overthrew her government and killed most of her family. She escaped with her last surviving younger brother, but without resources, they’ve been stranded, and Kayla has kept them safe and fed as best her training allows. But when a mysterious stranger approaches her with an offer she can’t refuse — an offer he won’t permit her to refuse — their precarious equilibrium is irretrievably altered. The stranger — Malkor — might offer them their best hope of survival, because their enemies are closing in…

This is a novel about fighting princesses. And family. But you pretty much had me at gladiatorial princesses. I’m not going to pretend this is particularly admirable of me, but I’m terribly afraid I like that trope far, far too much. I can forgive a novel a lot for combining angst and violence in an entertaining way, and The Empress Game does that.

Looks like I’m going to have to read it after all. The Empress Game will be published by Titan Books on July 14, 2015. It is 352 pages, priced at $14.95 in trade paperback and $9.99 for the digital edition. The cover artist is uncredited.

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