Five Books With Kickass Moms

Several years ago, I became a parent. The birth of my child was a transformative experience, and, since then, I’ve been drawn to stories about parents — their relationships with their children, the way parenthood affects their decisions, the endless possibilities for familial relationships. The day your first child is born, you wake up as Bilbo Baggins — naive, selfish — but then, suddenly, you are thrust into the role of Gandalf — teacher, protector.

Science Fiction and Fantasy is full of parents — loving parents (Lily Potter) and awful parents (King Robert Baratheon), incredible parents (Cordelia Vorkosigan) and mysterious parents (Tam al’Thor), and all around kickass parents (Zamira Drakasha). Parenthood affects them all differently, challenges their motivations, and changes the way they interact with the world around them. Without children, they would all be dramatically different people (even King Robert).

Today, I’m going to look at four fantasy novels and one series that feature kickass/brilliant/funny/interesting moms. They all ...

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Art of SFF: Escapism and Adventure with Jenn Ravenna

Welcome back to Art of SFF—a column covering the best and brightest science fiction and fantasy artists. From newcomers to legends, Art of SFF pulls back the curtain to introduce you to the people behind your favourite book covers, films, and video games, and SFF-influenced art of all kinds. This time around, Jenn Ravenna joins us.

“My mother and father were immigrants who were always working overtime to support our family,” said Ravenna, a Seattle-based concept artist and illustrator who has worked for Wizards of the Coast, HarperCollins, XBOX, and Fantasy Flight Games, among many others. Science fiction and fantasy provide people in need of escapism with an opportunity for adventure, Ravenna said. They’re like a teleportation device to other worlds through various mediums—in art, books, video games, and film. “I had no siblings, so I was often left to my own devices. When I discovered science fiction in ...

Slow Dancing: Fire Dance by Ilana C. Myer

Ilana C. Myer’s debut novel, Last Song Before Night, was a dazzling epic fantasy that mixed the scope and world-building the genre is known for with beautiful prose and a slow-building plot that crescendos into something spectacular. Myer has cited the legendary Guy Gavriel Kay as a major influence in her writing, and his fingerprints were all over Last Song in the way it paid close attention the delicate, intricate relationships between its various characters, and how its personal conflicts were often more important than the overarching global conflicts. Myer’s debut was a confluence of many aspects that make epic fantasy a standout genre for me.

To say I was excited for its standalone sequel is a major understatement. Unfortunately, despite sharing many of its predecessor’s strengths, Fire Dance suffers from too many structural and pacing issues to live up to my (admittedly high) expectations. Like a dancer unable ...

Art of SFF: A Portrait of Djamila Knopf

Djamila Knopf Art

Welcome back to Art of SFF—a column covering the best and brightest science fiction and fantasy artists. From newcomers to legends, Art of SFF pulls back the curtain to introduce you to the people behind your favourite book covers, films, and video games, and SFF-influenced art of all kinds. This time around, we chat with Djamila Knopf.

“The most amazing thing about art is that there are no limitations,” said the Leipzeig, Germany-based artist. “It allows us to travel through worlds that go far beyond our own. If I’m being honest, I see it mostly as a form of wish fulfilment. It gives me the chance to explore things that I otherwise couldn’t, and that’s especially true for science fiction and fantasy.”

Knopf cut her teeth on line-based and anime-inspired artwork, but after she decided to try her hand at professional illustration, she adopted a more “realistic and highly-rendered style” ...

Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn by Djamila Knopf
Simon and Miriamele by Djamila Knopf
Ace of Wands — Sketch
Ace of Wands — Color and Shadow

Powered Up: The Armored Saint by Myke Cole

The hoofbeats seemed to continue endlessly. The sound of the chains rose as they drew closer. Heloise could see the links playing out behind the horses, dragging in the dirt. A dead woman slid past Heloise, green and bloated, caked with road filth. She was wrapped in the long, gray ropes of her innards, tangled in the metal links until Heloise couldn’t tell her guts from the chains. The horses dragged another body beside her, wrapped in metal like a silkworm in molt.

Heloise’s gorge rose at the stink and she gagged, clapping a hand to her mouth. Another moment and they would be past. Please don’t notice us. Please ride on.

The jangling ceased as the riders halted. (Ch. 1)

From its opening pages, it’s clear that The Armored Saint isn’t messing around. The first volume in Myke Cole’s new epic fantasy series, it’s the gut-punching story of Heloise ...

Flawed Gem: Child of a Mad God by R.A. Salvatore

My path into fantasy literature was a typical one. I started with J.R.R. Tolkien, moved on to Terry Brooks, and then jumped over to R.A. Salvatore. It wasn’t Salvatore’s legendary Drizzt Do’Urden books that captured my attention, however, but rather his under-appreciated DemonWars Saga. Where the Drizzt novels were sword & sorcery standalones, the DemonWars Saga was a sprawling, multi-volume epic fantasy that told the story of Corona. It was a familiar fantasy world full of goblins and elves, kings, rangers, and a church that held a vast horde of magic gemstones, which granted their bearers the ability to send forth bolts of lightning, fly, heal the wounded, and travel vast distances by separating their spirit from their corporeal body. The DemonWars Saga was perfect for 17-year-old me, and still holds a special place in my heart. (So much so that I’ve never reread the series, for ...

The Broad, Luminous Worlds of SFF Artist Richard Anderson

“I’ve always been intrigued by science fiction and fantasy,” revealed Richard Anderson, a concept artist and illustrator whose list of clients includes Tor Books, Marvel Studios, and Disney. In fact, you can’t turn around in the science fiction and fantasy (SFF) aisle at the bookstore without bumping into one of his covers. From Kameron Hurley to Brian Staveley and Elizabeth Bear, he’s worked with many of today’s most exciting science fiction and fantasy writers, and his style is becoming ubiquitous with modern SFF.

It’s no coincidence—SFF dominated his childhood. It all began when his older brother encouraged him to watch classic fantasy films, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s hilariously dubbed Conan and Ridley Scott’s classic Legend. “Those films sparked my fascination with worlds outside of ours, inspiring me to draw my own. I love the creativity and imagination of going beyond the world we know—into my own ‘fantasy.’”

...

Richard Anderson's sketches for River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

Worth a Thousand Words: Above the Timberline by Gregory Manchess

One of my many roles in life is being the dad to a bright and creative three year old who loves story time. So, I read a lot (a looooooooot) of kids’ books each day. So, cracking open Greg Manchess’s Above the Timberline felt familiar, despite being unlike anything I’d ever read before. Like a kids’ book, you’re greeted with bold, engaging illustrations, and splashes of text that accentuate the visual storytelling.

Reading Above the Timberline feels at once like something unique—a vivid and whole rendition of a storyteller’s vision—while also bringing back waves of nostalgia as I remembered reading the same books my daughter now enjoys, and the way I would sink into the visual and literary creations of their authors.

Immediately, you’re struck by the elegance and beauty of Manchess’s art. There’s a richness to it, a depth and history that seems to extend far beyond the pages. Manchess is deservedly considered a ...

Art of SFF: Galen Dara’s Daring Style

Welcome back to Art of SFF—a column covering the best and brightest science fiction and fantasy artists. From newcomers to legends, Art of SFF pulls back the curtain to introduce you to the people behind your favourite book covers, films, and video games, and SFF-influenced art of all kinds. This month, we chat with Hugo Award-winner Galen Dara. “As a kid I cut my drawing teeth on fabulous winged beasts, magical weaponry and figures in outlandish costumes,” said Dara, whose clients include 47 North, Fantasy Flight Games, and Fireside Magazine. “The fantastical was always my wheelhouse. As a reader I value speculative fiction’s ability to be both delightful escapism and searing social commentary.” Watching Dara’s career blossom has been one of the most delightful benefits of being a part of the SFF fan community over the past several years. She first gained popularity as a fan artist, producing ...

War Never Ends: Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee

Yoon Ha Lee’s debut, Ninefox Gambit, made history last year when it joined a small handful of novels to earn prestigious nominations for the Hugo, Nebula, and Arthur C. Clarke Awards. Ann Leckie’s tour-de-force, Ancillary Justice, did the same in 2014, winning all three awards, which puts Lee’s accomplishment into perspective. (And that’s not the only similarity between the trilogies, but we’ll get to that later.) Lee was already well known for his terrific short fiction, including his 2013 collection, Conservation in Shadow, but Ninefox Gambit put him on the map in a big way. Fitting nicely into the vacuum left by Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy, which concluded with Ancillary Mercy in 2015, Ninefox Gambit was a skilled mix of “military SF with blood, guts, math, and heart.” Ninefox Gambit is a book everyone seems to love, yet it’s also dense at times, and ...

Vintage Shannara: The Black Elfstone by Terry Brooks

Terry Brooks’ early Shannara novels had a tremendous impact on me as a young reader. (Say what you will about The Sword of Shannarait helped save epic fantasy.) While I was introduced to epic fantasy by J.R.R. Tolkien, it was Brooks who cemented my lifelong love for the genre. Those books, from Sword all the way to the conclusion of The Heritage of Shannara, were expansive and entertaining, chock full of new, interesting ideas (which, in a stroke of genius on Brooks’ part, piggybacked off of familiar elements from earlier volumes.) They swept me away and ignited my imagination with each new volume. Unfortunately, Brooks was unable to maintain momentum, and, in an effort to move onto a once-yearly publishing schedule, his novels began to slim down and started to shed their most redeeming qualities. I remember the first time I was disappointed by a Terry Brooks ...

Pearly White: River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

If you’re a regular Tor.com reader, you’re already familiar with Sarah Gailey and her brilliant Women of Harry Potter series, which received a deserved Hugo nomination for Best Related Work. Gailey also earned her way onto the John W. Campbell Award shortlist, which recognizes the best new voices in science fiction and fantasy. Remarkably, Gailey did so without ever having published anything longer than a short story. One quick look at her resume, though—I recommend starting with “Of Blood and Bronze” (Devilfish Review, 2016) or “Homesick” (Fireside, 2016)—and it’s clear why she’s included alongside other terrific authors like Ada Palmer and Kelly Robson. Gailey’s stories maintain a razor-sharp balance between amusing and emotionally affecting; her characters are interesting and unpredictable; her prose is brisk, her dialogue sharp. Gailey’s debut novella, River of Teeth, has everything that makes these short stories great, with the added benefit of room to breathe. As Gailey explains ...

Divine Grub: Food of the Gods by Cassandra Khaw

Rupert Wong is an investigator by day and cannibal chef by night. A whipping boy for the gods, he will tantalize your tastebuds and set your mouth watering … as long as there’s human meat around. Things go sideways when Ao Qin, Dragon of the South, god of the seas, bursts into Rupert’s apartment and ropes him into investigating a grisly murder. Success means Rupert gets to live another day; failure means nothing more or less than a one-way ticket to Diyu, the Chinese hell. Grab your jockstrap, and strap on your kevlar, because Food of the Gods doesn’t fight fair. Cassandra Khaw burst onto the scene last year with her gut-punching debut novella, Hammer of Bones—a modern Lovecraftian noir that’s not for the squeamish, but hits all the right notes. To say I was excited for her full length debut is an easy understatement. It’s not often that an emerging writer so effortlessly combines classic inspirations with ...

Aboriginal Sci-Fi: Take Us To Your Chief by Drew Hayden Taylor

“First Nations and science fiction don’t usually go together,” admits Drew Hayden Taylor in the introduction to his new short story collection, Take Us to Your Chief. A popular Ojibway author, essayist, and playwright, Taylor is best well known for his amusing and incisive non-fiction (Funny, You Don’t Look Like One), and as the editor of several non-fiction anthologies (Me Sexy and Me Funny) about Aboriginal culture and society. With Take Us to Your Chief, Taylor is taking on a new challenge by bringing together his experience as a leading writer on the First Nations people of Canada and his childhood love of science fiction. “In fact,” Taylor continues, “they could be considered rather unusual topics to mention in the same sentence, much like fish and bicycles. As genre fiction goes, they are practically strangers, except for maybe the occasional parallel universe story.” Taylor grew ...

Kindling Hope: Brimstone by Cherie Priest

Cherie Priest is perhaps best known for her Hugo- and Nebula-nominated Clockwork Century series—a bombastic steampunk explosion of alternate history America, air pirates, and zombie epidemics. It’s fun with a capital F. It’s also a far cry from her latest novel, Brimstone, which trades airships for clairvoyants and chihuahuas, and the threat of toxic gas for more personal demons. It’s not a departure for Priest, as it piggybacks off of Priest’s unrelated 2016 novel, The Family Plot—a similarly haunting portrait of Americana—but it is another feather in her cap, as she continues to prove herself one of the most versatile writers of American speculative fiction. Alice Dartle is a young clairvoyant, newly arrived to Cassadaga, Florida (an honest-to-goodness town of clairvoyants in Florida), where she is seeking training and hoping to find a welcoming community in a world that is still reeling from war. Tomás Cordero, a skilled and passionate tailor, has ...

Art of SFF: Richard Anderson’s Broad, Luminous Worlds

Welcome to Art of SFF—a new column covering the best and brightest science fiction and fantasy artists. From newcomers to legends, Art of SFF pulls back the curtain to introduce you to the people behind your favourite book covers, films, and video games, and SFF-influenced art of all kinds. This month, we chat with the prolific Richard Anderson. “I’ve always been intrigued by science fiction and fantasy,” revealed Richard Anderson, a concept artist and illustrator whose list of clients includes Tor Books, Marvel Studios, and Disney. In fact, you can’t turn around in the science fiction and fantasy (SFF) aisle at the bookstore without bumping into one of his covers. From Kameron Hurley and Joe M. McDermott, to Brian Staveley and Elizabeth Bear, he’s worked with many of today’s most exciting science fiction and fantasy writers, and his style is becoming ubiquitous with modern SFF. It’s no coincidence—SFF dominated his childhood. It all began when ...
Richard Anderson's sketches for River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

Far from Timid: Shy Knives by Sam Sykes

shyknives Over the past year or two, I’ve become a big fan of Paizo’s Pathfinder Tales—a series of tie-in novels set in the world of Golarion, home to the popular tabletop RPG, Pathfinder. When I first discovered them, with Wendy N. Wagner’s Skinwalkers, I was searching for great contemporary sword & sorcery novels; something in the style of Howard and Lieber, but written with a more modern approach to world-building, gender, race, etc. Pathfinder Tales offered all of that and more. Each entry is unique and standalone, offering a new experience wrapped up in a familiar setting. The creators of Pathfinder, including James L. Sutter, have done a wonderful job of creating the perfect fantasy playground, and then hiring great writers to tear it apart and build it back up again. “I think the biggest thing is that I’m giving [the authors] just the world,” Sutter told me in an ...

Spirited: Mary Robinette Kowal’s Ghost Talkers

Ghost Talkers Mary Robinette Kowal Ghost Talkers treads familiar ground. In fact, the ground is so well-trodden by the boots of hundreds of novels, films, documentaries, and video games that it’s nothing but a once lush field of grass turned to mud and boot prints. You’d be forgiven for avoiding yet another narrative set to the backdrop of the Great War—but, like all good narratives, Ghost Talkers rises above the over-familiarity of its setting to offering something unique. Meet the Spirit Corps—the titular “ghosts talkers”—a group of men and women who use their occult magic to communicate with the spirits of dead soldiers, giving the British forces a leg-up against their enemies during World War I. From Helen to Edna, Mr. Haden to Mrs. Richardson, each member of the Spirit Corps feels real and motivated. Relationships linger between them, not always tied to Ginger Stuyvesant, Ghost Talkers’ hero. You get the sense that much happens ...

SFF Against Cancer: Shawn Speakman on Unfettered II

Unfettered2-Speakman Shawn Speakman’s Unfettered (Grim Oak Press, 2013) was released to well deserved fanfare and celebration. Not only did it have a star-studded line-up featuring fan favorite authors such as Patrick Rothfuss, Jacqueline Carey, Tad Williams, and Naomi Novik, it was also a near-and-dear project for Speakman’s friends and family. In 2011, Speakman was diagnosed with cancer—he was successfully treated, but accrued massive medical debts as a result. Unfettered was born from his desire to pay off that debt and avoid declaring medical bankruptcy. Many prominent authors donated stories to the project, and the book was a huge success for Speakman personally and for science fiction and fantasy readers everywhere. “These stories remind readers that modern fantasy fiction rests firmly on Beowulf,” said John Ruch of Paste Magazine in his review of Unfettered. “In that ancient monster-slaying tale, generosity and fellowship prove the hallmarks of a king, and braving indescribable ...
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Stealing the Future: Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

ninefox-gambit-yoon-ha-lee I have a confession to make. When I finished the first chapter of Ninefox Gambit, the debut novel from noted short fiction author Yoon Ha Lee, I thought that was all I would read. It wasn’t clicking with me. I found the world confusing, the action gruesome, and the pace difficult to keep up with. I could recognize that novel’s quality, and the originality that Lee is known for, but other books beckoned, and there was an easy, lazy whisper at the back of my head. “It’s just not for you,” it said. I listened, and moved onto another book. Yet, here I am reviewing it. Funny thing happened. That whisper was replaced by another voice—one that kept speculating about Ninefox Gambit‘s opening salvo. Then a couple of readers I respect began to rave about the book, and that voice in my head grew louder and louder, until it was ...