A Rare and Powerful Book of Magic: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Sunday, February 17th, 2019 | Posted by Thomas Parker

(1) Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

I’ve gotten used to being a decade or two behind the times. I just got Netflix a few weeks ago, I don’t have a cell phone, and I still cling to some vestigial regard for the political and civic institutions of my native land. Yeah, I know – I’m a real museum piece, sure to be coming soon to a display case near you, right next to a stuffed Neanderthal skinning a rabbit with his teeth.

So when I decided that the next book I read would be something recent, and having plucked it from THE PILE, I wasn’t distressed – or even much surprised – when I glanced at the copyright page and saw that this “new” book’s date of publication was 2004. 2004! There are tech billionaires who were in kindergarten then. (Heck, there are tech billionaires who are in kindergarten now.) So much for recent.

But none of that matters, because that not-nearly-as-new-as-I-thought-it-was book, Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, is, without qualification, one of the greatest fantasy novels I’ve ever read, and I started reading them when Richard Nixon was president.

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Analog, November 1979: A Retro-Review

Monday, February 11th, 2019 | Posted by Adrian Simmons

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The November 1979 Analog has probably the least appealing magazine cover I’ve ever seen. By Richard Anderson, for the story “Phoenix.” However, when we get to the story itself, that guy… that guy has seen some things, man.

Guest Editorial, by G. Harry Stine.

So… Harry Stine is a writer, space advocate, and a major founder of model rocketry, and he is unhappy with this whole idea that humans will never break the light speed barrier. So, as you do, he writes a bit of a hatchet-job on Albert Einstein, or at least those people lacking enough imagination to assume Einstein didn’t know what the hell he was talking about.

He was so successful at it, as a matter of fact, that a whole new cult of Keepers of the Faith have taken over and continue to look upon the Universe with the tunnel vision created by the blinders of their interpretations of Einstein’s work.

He goes on like this for easily 6 pages, hitting all the high points of various scientific ‘certainties’ that were exploded by later experimentations and observations. At least it wasn’t an article about telepathy…

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The Astounding Life of John W. Campbell

Wednesday, February 6th, 2019 | Posted by Thomas Parker

(1) Astounding-small (1) Astounding-back-small

Every now and then, amid your fevered cries for net neutrality, free soil and free silver, the restoration of the house of Stuart, more episodes of Firefly, or whatever other hopeless cause gets your blood racing and your family members fleeing (they recognize a wind-up to a full fledged rant when they hear one), against all odds the universe actually hears, takes note, and gives you precisely what you’ve asked for — not often, dammit, but sometimes.

Thus it was that after decades of buttonholing strangers and lecturing them on the nation’s desperate need for a biography of John W. Campbell, the pioneering science fiction writer and influential editor of Astounding Science Fiction (later Analog) from 1937 until his death in 1971, a couple of months ago I discovered that just such a book had finally been written. (Where did I find this out? I saw it mentioned on some fantasy web site or other… hold on… I’ll think of the name in a minute…)

I Immediately put Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction by Alec Nevala-Lee at the top of my Christmas list, and I have just finished devouring it, blurbs, book jacket, binding glue, and all. Give me a second to belch, and I’ll tell you what I thought.

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Tiny Epic Defenders and the Table-top gaming Renaissance

Sunday, February 3rd, 2019 | Posted by Nick Ozment

Tiny Epic Heroes

Funny how some of us predicted video games would virtually wipe out RPGs and board games, and yet here we are. We have entered a golden age of tabletop gaming. So many new games, with great graphics, great playing pieces, and game mechanics that expand on systems that have been tried, tested, and improved on for decades.

I’m certainly not the first to make this observation, but much of this game renaissance must be thanks to funding platforms like Kickstarter. No longer limited to what a few big corporations deemed were mass-marketable enough to release to retail outlets, we could now team up with a few hundred or a few thousand other people who wanted what we did and JUST PAY TO MAKE IT HAPPEN OURSELVES.

Also, tabletop games, for families, have become a welcome alternative to everyone having their heads planted on a screen in their own little world-shells. A way to gather the family collectively around a table again to interact face to face. But for online-game-savvy kids, old chestnuts like Sorry aren’t necessarily going to cut it (no knock on Sorry; I played the heck out of that game when I was about 6).

Just consider: We live at a time when the original TSR game Dungeon! has made a big comeback – a perfect starting point to introduce young players to the wonders that await with a flat surface, a few dice, and a little bit of imagination. And beyond Dungeon!there are now dozens of games that have picked up where that 1970s oldie-but-goody left off.

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Gender Boundaries Crumble in YA: The XY by Virginia Bergin

Friday, February 1st, 2019 | Posted by Elizabeth Galewski

Cover of Virginia Bergin's THE XY

Cover of Virginia Bergin’s THE XY

River drives her horse and cart through the woods as night falls. But when she sees a body lying in the middle of the road, her first emotion isn’t fear. It’s surprise.

The body doesn’t look like any she’s ever seen. It’s clearly human, but it has no breasts. There’s hair on its face, and a strange lumpiness rises between its legs.

It’s an XY. A male.

River has never encountered an XY before. Boys and men all live in hermetically sealed Sanctuaries where they won’t contract a lethal virus. The rest of the planet has been given over to women, who are immune. Any boy or man who leaves one of the Sanctuaries dies within 24 hours.

When River rouses the XY to consciousness, he attacks her, steals her knife, threatens to kill her, and eats her food without permission. River has never encountered anyone who would behave so badly before.

The XY – his name is Mason – says he’s been on the run in women’s country for five days. But only now does he fall ill. Losing his faculties, he releases her once again.

Watching him writhe on the road, River knows this male creature – this boy named Mason – is going to die. He knows it, too. He said as much to her.

She knows the humane thing to do. Her community’s code requires her to put him out of his misery. She’s given mercy to injured animals before.

But she just can’t bring herself to draw her blade across his neck. He’s a human being.

It takes three hours, but she carts Mason back to her village. The appearance of the first XY to survive the virus for more than a day reveals rifts in this community of women. Some race to heal him. Others want him to die. Caught in the middle, River finds herself lying for the first time in her life. Everything in her safe existence starts to unravel.

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Embers to Ashes: Earth Abides by George R. Stewart

Sunday, January 27th, 2019 | Posted by Thomas Parker

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Maybe it’s just the times we live in, but I increasingly find myself drawn to narratives of defeat: Confederate military memoirs, histories of the Decline and Fall of This and That, accounts of Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow or Custer’s Last Stand. I suppose that’s why this summer, forty years after I blew it off when it was assigned in one of my first college classes, I finally got around to reading Earth Abides.

George R. Stewart’s 1949 post-apocalyptic novel is one of the most famous one-offs in the history of science fiction; it won the first International Fantasy Award in 1951, and in all the decades since, the book has rarely been out of print.

Stewart was primarily an English professor and historian and an only occasional novelist. In his first specialty he wrote books on English verse technique and composition; in the latter his most well-known works are a history of the Donner party, Ordeal by Hunger (1936), and a finely detailed, minute-by-minute account of the climax of the battle of Gettysburg, Pickett’s Charge (1959). Storm (1941) and Fire (1948), two novels Stewart wrote before his sole foray into science fiction, show his concern with large, impersonal forces and their effects on the enduring land and the ephemeral creatures that inhabit it. His most famous book takes that scientific detachment and interest in process many steps further, to powerful effect.

Earth Abides tells the story of Isherwood Smith, a young college student who lives in Berkeley, California. When the book begins, Ish is camping in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, doing the fieldwork necessary for his graduate thesis, The Ecology of the Black Creek Area, intended to be an investigation of “the relationships, past and present, of men and plants and animals” in the region. The thesis will never be written, though Ish will spend the rest of his life wrestling with fundamental questions regarding the connections between human beings and the natural world they so briefly occupy.

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In 500 Words or Less: Alice Payne Arrives by Kate Heartfield

Friday, January 25th, 2019 | Posted by Brandon Crilly

Alice Payne Arrives-small Alice Payne Arrives-back-small

Alice Payne Arrives
by Kate Heartfield
Tor (176 pages, $15.99 paperback, $3.99 eBook, November 6, 2018)

Has anyone else noticed that time travel fiction still seems to be REALLY popular? Don’t get me wrong, I’m a massive Whovian, and some of my favorite books and movies involve time travel. But I feel like time travel is everywhere. Tom Sweterlitsch’s The Gone World has gotten a ton of acclaim. Gregory Benford’s Timescape series continued this year with Rewrite, about people using time travel to change events (usually selfishly), and Maria V. Snyder combines far-future SF with time travel investigation in Navigating the Stars. Hells, I reviewed Derek Künsken’s The Quantum Magician and discussed its time travel elements, and I even sold a time travel story of my own in 2018 – twice. My point is that time travel is still hot, somehow, and it doesn’t seem to be cooling down.

The idea of “time travel wars” and competing forces trying to rewrite history isn’t a new concept. I think its popularity now is a symptom of people feeling like the world is spiralling out of control, and that’s definitely a component to Kate Heartfield’s Alice Payne Arrives, the first in what I’m told will be a series of novellas from Tor. In this particular slant on time travel, two rival organizations are fighting to correct the course of history – one with a heavy hand and the other trying to slow them down – resulting in a story that jumps between multiple periods, in a world that’s already different than our own because of repeated time travel. As a history teacher I found this really compelling, especially with focuses on the First World War and earlier 18th and 19th century society.

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Godzilla Raids Again/Gigantis the Fire Monster (1955)

Saturday, January 19th, 2019 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

godzilla-raids-again-japanese-poster-1It was disheartening to sum up the recent Godzilla anime trilogy, the only Japanese Godzilla films I never plan to rewatch. Even with the Hollywood mega-millions epic Godzilla: King of the Monsters only a few months away, the feeling of deflation within my favorite movie franchise made it necessary for me to plug a bit of hope into my schedule immediately. Not by watching a great Godzilla film, mind you, but by watching a mediocre Godzilla film. Why? Because it’s the best way to remember how even lesser entries in the series can offer some enjoyment. Like watching Godzilla actually move. This is a radical concept the anime filmmakers let slip past them.

Thus I present Godzilla Raids Again, a middle-of-the-road G-movie that’s mostly faded into obscurity despite its prime position as the first Godzilla sequel.

To date, Toho Studios has released thirty-two feature-length Godzilla films. In any series with such longevity, a few installments slip off the pop culture radar. But it’s almost never the second movie that suffers this fate. The first sequel to a smash hit, regardless of quality, is a major event. The many films that come after are where the grayness of oblivion sets in.

Yet Godzilla Raids Again, released in 1955 only six months after the original, is one of the least seen of the Showa Era Godzilla movies. Many viewers outside Japan are unaware it exists. If they are, they may not know it’s a Godzilla film at all because it was released in the US and much of the rest of the world as Gigantis the Fire Monster. Godzilla’s name not only vanished from the title, it vanished from the dubbing. Not until 2006 did a North American DVD containing both the Japanese and US versions bring the film out with the classic monster’s name reattached. The DVD producers digitally superimposed the title Godzilla Raids Again over the spot where Gigantis the Fire Monster once appeared … although the dubbing with the name “Gigantis” remained.

How Godzilla became Gigantis and then pulled a cultural vanishing act is quite the tale. But let’s first look at the actual Godzilla Raids Again, which is its own strange story and a stopgap moment in the early history of the Japanese giant monster (kaiju) film.

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Mage: The Hero Denied 14

Friday, January 18th, 2019 | Posted by MichaelPenkas

Mage 14So we’re down to the penultimate issue of the entire Mage trilogy. Obviously, I’m not expecting any big reveals until the very last issue, so this one is just going to let things simmer just a little bit further until the boil.

We begin with the reveal that Magda and Hugo did NOT kill a Gracklethorn last issue, instead just knocking her out. When two of her sisters find her, they set her free, then start squabbling about what to do about their prisoners escaping. Their argument is interrupted when Karol walks in holding the Fisher King.

The scene shifts to Hugo and Magda walking through a cavern. Magda mentions that the doorway they entered through disappeared, so they can’t go back the way they came. She then reasons that “it had an entrance, which means that it has to have an exit as well.” And while that’s not technically true, she’s likely just saying that to calm her son. Up next, Hugo sees a troll with his magic glasses and knocks it off a cliff with a magic light bulb before it can sneak up on his mother. Before they can go any further, Magda’s wedding ring lights up, which apparently signifies that it’s detected Kevin nearby.

We cut to a scene of Kevin holding Excalibur, which suggests that the Magda’s ring didn’t detect him so much as detect the ignition of his magic. After killing what looks like the entire Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual, Kevin is asked by Mirth if he’s all right. It’s at this point that Kevin mentions (for I believe the first time in this series) that his hands sometimes hurt after he uses his power. Mirth explains that, while Kevin’s power continues to grow, it will become more than he can handle. As Kevin, Mirth, and Miranda continue through the caves, we see the little imp hiding behind a rock, observing them.

Cut back to the Fisher King, who explains that he’s finally come out of hiding so that he can bear witness to the “moment of confluence.” He does a whole nine-panel spread of shape-shifting to show that he can assume a variety of forms and a variety of names and that none of them really matter. Olga is about to kill him, when Karol reminds her that the Umbra Sprite needs him alive for the ritual. This is the ritual that the Umbra Sprite has been planning since the very beginning of Hero Discovered. Of course, at this point, the Gracklethorns have no idea where their mother is or how to reach her.

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Three Miles Around but Infinitely Deep: Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock

Tuesday, January 15th, 2019 | Posted by James Van Pelt

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Here’s a shout-out for one of my favorite books, Robert Holdstock’s amazing, 1985, World Fantasy award winning novel Mythago Wood. Holdstock’s book dovetailed neatly with my other favorite of that time, David Brin’s The Postman.

I really can’t recommend Mythago Wood enough. In a time when everyone else was echoing Tolkien, Holdstock created a completely different take on fantasy (rural fantasy — if that’s a genre). I loved this story of two brothers, their estranged and absent father, and a patch of wood that was only three miles around but infinitely deep.

Of all the books I’ve read, none has impacted me as strongly at the end as this novel. Endings are hard, so when I read a perfect one, I take notice.

Stylistically, Holdstock nailed it too. I didn’t notice the smoothness and rhythm of his work at first, but on subsequent rereads I paid much more attention to his sentence and paragraph building. He has taught me a lot. If you are looking for an outstanding read to start your 2019, give Mythago Wood a try.

I’m always looking for my next, great novel. Do you have a recommendation of a book that exists in your personal canon of classics?

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