Six Standalone Fantasy Novels that Stand Out


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There’s a certain satisfaction in picking up a fantasy novel and knowing it’s a standalone. For one, you won’t have to wait a year, or two, or even five before you find out what happens next. In that time you’ve invariably forgotten much of the first, or previous book anyway, so a lot of the time you have to reread to get up to speed. Also, you won’t end up picking up an interesting looking fantasy novel from the shelves, starting it, then realizing it’s actually book two of a trilogy, or book four in a ten book series.

With Blood of the Four, we wanted to build a big, epic world full of fascinating characters, and tell a story that comes to a definite end. The reader will hopefully end up satisfied, the story threads come together. Of course, that’s not to say there aren’t other stories that ...

Setting the Stakes in Storytelling


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Everyone turns up for a car chase at the end of the world, and the cars won’t start.

Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men is a movie of exquisite direction, and I’m madly in love with the action scenes. Violence in Cuarón’s movie is sudden and unemphasized: the camera doesn’t flinch, the sound mixing doesn’t dwell, and that gives the action a terrible power. Children of Men knows a subtle secret.

Clive Owen’s in a paramilitary compound with the last pregnant woman on Earth. He needs to sneak her away. In the early morning he creeps out, sabotages the other cars, bundles his friends into the last working automobile, and gets it rolling. But the car won’t start! Alarms start ringing. Gunmen converge.

So Clive and buddies have to get out and start pushing.

And it’s thrilling. It had me keyed up in a way car chases never do—even though it’s ...

Half-Assed in a Half-Shell — Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)


This post is by Keith R.A. DeCandido from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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While 1993’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III didn’t do well enough to warrant a fourth film, the heroes in a half-shell continued unabated in various forms throughout the rest of the 1990s and the 2000s, both in comic book and screen form. The most successful was the animated series, which ran from 1987-1996. That was followed by a live-action series called Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation in 1997, which only lasted a season; a 2007 animated sequel to the three live-action films called TMNT; and a new animated series from 2003-2009. Plus the Turtles continued to be published in comics from Mirage, as well as Image and more recently IDW.

And then in 2014, a new film was made.

In 2009, Nickelodeon purchased all the rights to the Ninja Turtles, lock, stock, and bo staff. This included an announcement of a new movie in development that Nickelodeon’s parent company ...

What Manga, Anime, and Japanese History Teaches Us About Loving Robots


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After losing to Angelique Kerber in the Australian Open a couple of years ago, tennis star Serena Williams said, “As much as I would like to be a robot, I am not. I try to. But, you know, I do the best that I can.”

The implication is that if Williams were a robot, she would be a perfect, match-winning machine. A consequence of being human is our inherent fallibility. How many Western narratives are built on this very premise of robotic perfection and efficiency?  The Terminator can, well, “terminate” with such precision because the T-800 is a cyborg from the future. Marvel’s Ultron is a superpowered threat because of the cutting-edge technology that goes into creating the villain. Ava’s advanced programming in Ex Machina makes us recognize that, of course, the A.I.’s cunning can outwit a human. And let’s not even talk about the menacing efficiency ...

Check Out the Good Omens Opening Credits (And Release Date!)


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For the perfect Friday treat, look no further than the opening credits sequence for the Good Omens television series!

And the release date, of course. Which you’re probably more excited about.

The animation style is truly delightful, and takes us through all the pitstops on the road to Armageddon:

There’s plenty of imagery from the Bible and various apocalyptic stories, as well as several key plot points from the book itself tossed into the mix. The theme is an enjoyably bizarre little tune that really sets the mood. And these credits came with an extra announcement! Opposite Frances McDormand’s God will be a Satan voiced by none other than Benedict Cumberbatch. Which seems an understandable side-step from Smaug the dragon, really.

Good Omens will be released on Prime Video on May 31st. Mark your calendars!

The Monster at the End of This Episode — Star Trek: Discovery’s “Saints of Imperfection”


This post is by Keith R.A. DeCandido from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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One of the themes of the second season of Discovery is fixing what was broken—or at least off-kilter—in the first season. Some of these are carried a bit too far. Honestly, I don’t need Pike not liking holographic communicators to “justify” why they didn’t have them in “The Cage” in 1964. (I also don’t need them to explain why the Enterprise used printouts in that failed pilot episode.)

But with this episode, they address one of the biggest fuckups of season one, the death of Hugh Culber in “Despite Yourself.”

First of all, full disclosure, this episode was written by Kirsten Beyer, who is an old friend of your humble reviewer.

Second of all, let’s address the elephant that has been taking up a lot of space in the room since “Despite Yourself” aired thirteen months ago. The solution to how Culber has been brought ...

Pull List: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and DIE and the Lure of Nostalgia


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Looking back on something you once loved deeply is a double-edged sword. Sometimes you revisit the past and find it not nearly as hospitable and compelling as you thought, and sometimes you find fresh new ways to engage with the material.

For this month’s Pull List we’re taking a trip down memory lane with two comics that take very different approaches to nostalgia. DIE asks what it means to confront the past while Buffy the Vampire Slayer excavates all the best bits from the way back when and pairs them with contemporary sensibilities. So when I tell you to call your local comic shop ASAP to place your order, you better be pulling out your phone.

 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

There has been a lot of chatter about the new Buffy comic book update, most of it some version of “OMG CAN’T WAIT!” I’m happy to announce that ...

The best recent crime and thrillers – review roundup


This post is by Laura Wilson from Books | The Guardian


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The Last by Hanna Jameson; To Kill the Truth by Sam Bourne; The Lost Man by Jane Harper; Flowers Over the Inferno by Ilaria Tuti; The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides; and Fade to Grey by John Lincoln

A closed-world murder mystery wrapped inside a post-apocalyptic thriller, The Last by Hanna Jameson (Viking, £12.99) is set in a remote Swiss hotel. American historian Jon Keller, there for a conference, reads about the end of the world on the internet. Nuclear attacks take out major cities and destroy communications until the 20 people remaining at L’Hôtel Sixiėme believe they may be the only survivors. They face food shortages, possible radiation sickness and despair, plus the body of a girl, apparently killed before the catastrophe, which has been found in a water tank. Jon, who takes it upon himself to provide a record of events, is determined to find the killer. ...

Tibor Fischer: ‘The book that changed my life? Hasn’t happened yet’


This post is by Tibor Fischer from Books | The Guardian


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The novelist on Tintin, Tom Wolfe and why Charles Willeford is the greatest writer of the 20th century

The book I am currently reading
Andrew Gimson’s Prime Ministers, the best general book on British politics I’ve ever come across. Learned, witty and wise, and splendidly illustrated by Martin Rowson, with great snippets for dinner parties. Take Henry Pelham, prime minister from 1743 to 54: “He lived without abusing his power and died poor.”

The book I wish I’d written
Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff. I read his account of the US space race with a mixture of elation and wonder, and the odd throb of despair (how will I ever write anything this good?).

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Andrea Levy had to fight for a recognition she truly deserved | Gary Younge


This post is by Gary Younge from Books | The Guardian


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The author whose politics were rooted in anti-racism defined achievement on her own terms

One of the last times I visited Andrea Levy, who died on Thursday evening, she chuckled with some mischief while describing the coffin of banana leaf and bamboo she had just picked out for herself.

Andrea had been living with cancer for some time and for the past few years had accepted it would claim her life eventually. She talked about her impending death in a matter-of-fact way, right down to parking arrangements for the funeral. She had processed it and, with characteristic fortitude, decided she would rather live with what was coming than die from what she had. “We’re all going to die,” she told me. “It’s just that I’ve got a pretty good idea when I’m going to die and you don’t.”

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Andrea Levy, chronicler of the Windrush generation, dies aged 62


This post is by Richard Lea from Books | The Guardian


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Award-winning author of Small Island had cancer

The writer Andrea Levy, who explored the experience of Jamaican British people in a series of novels over 20 years, has died aged 62 after the recurrence of a cancer first diagnosed six years ago.

After starting to write as a hobby in her early 30s, Levy published three novels in the 1990s that brought her positive reviews and steady sales. But her fourth novel, Small Island, launched her into the literary big league, winning the 2004 Orange prize, the Whitbread book of the year and the Commonwealth Writers’ prize, selling more than 1m copies around the world and inspiring a 2009 BBC adaptation.

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Eric Hobsbawm by Richard J Evans review – Marxist intellectual, national treasure


This post is by Stefan Collini from Books | The Guardian


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A richly detailed biography reveals Hobsbawm’s inner life, and underlines how he became the world’s Top Historian and a literary star

As a 17-year-old London schoolboy, Eric Hobsbawm solemnly confided to his diary in 1934: “I am an intellectual through and through – with all the weakness of an intellectual – inhibitions, complexes etc.” It’s an endearing glimpse – part self-criticism, part self-importance, part the recognisable tendency of the bookish teenage boy to rationalise Trouble With Girls. Hobsbawm went on to become a professor, a political guru and eventually something of a national treasure. But for the rest of his long life (he died in 2012), he remained above all an intellectual, in several of the senses of that protean term.

As a youth, he was something of a prodigy. Growing up in an Anglo-Austrian Jewish family in Vienna, Berlin and London, he was bilingual in English and German, ...

The Spirit of Science Fiction by Roberto Bolaño review – a hymn to Mexico City


This post is by Chloe Aridjis from Books | The Guardian


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It may not have been intended for publication, but the novel’s exuberant spirit offers an insight into Bolaño’s later work

Motorcycles are the vehicles of choice in The Spirit of Science Fiction; one in particular, a stolen brown Benelli called Aztec Princess, carves its erratic path through the pages of the novel, stalling and starting, testing its engine as it changes speed and direction. Midway through the book, the narrative itself begins to feel like a motorbike being revved, a loud growl that every now and then accelerates into glee and abandon before slipping back into a more tentative mode.

The Chilean author Roberto Bolaño is best known for his effervescent novel The Savage Detectives, first published in English in 2007, four years after his death, and the epic 2666. The latest genie to emerge from his seemingly inexhaustible archive, The Spirit of Science Fiction, was ...

Why I lied: after Dan Mallory, authors who faked their stories on what happened next


This post is by Leo Benedictus from Books | The Guardian


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Does the true identity of a writer really matter? Authors who fabricated literary personas share how their fantasies became nightmares

On the first day of this year’s Jaipur literary festival, the American novelist AJ Finn, real name Dan Mallory, was interviewed on stage. He talked about enjoying the success of The Woman in the Window, the thriller he wrote in one year, in one draft, which made him a multimillionaire. He talked about his diagnosis with bipolar II disorder, and the parallel between women’s struggle to be taken seriously and that experienced by people with mental health problems. He also mentioned some of the drawbacks of success. “I am dealing with a particularly unpleasant journalist in the US,” he told news18.com after the event. “This particular journalist, and there have been a few others, hears that I or someone else has a mental health issue, ...

James K Baxter: venerated poet’s letters about marital rape rock New Zealand


This post is by Eleanor Ainge Roy in Dunedin from Books | The Guardian


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Collection of writings just released includes references to rape of then-wife Jackie Sturm, herself an acclaimed poet and author

A new collection of letters from one of New Zealand’s most significant poets, James K Baxter, that includes a blunt admission of marital rape is causing shockwaves through the literary community.

Baxter died in Auckland in 1972 but remains one of New Zealand’s literary giants. He achieved international attention in the late 1950s after Oxford University Press published his poetry collection, In Fires Of No Return.

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A Transformed Woman: Madame d’Aulnoy’s “The White Cat.”


This post is by Mari Ness from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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“Either become a woman, or make me a cat.”

The image of a beast hiding deep within an enchanted forest in an enchanted castle, waiting to be transformed through love, is generally associated with, well, male beasts. The beasts also typically have a frightening appearance: they are often bears, or lions, or something too terrifying to describe.

But sometimes, that enchanted beast is a girl. As in Madame d’Aulnoy’s novelette, “The White Cat.”

Marie-Catherine Le Jumel de Barneville, Comtesse d’Aulnoy, (1650-1705) lived a life that was either mostly fabulous or mostly fabricated, depending upon precisely who you spoke to. One of those fabulous fabrications: accusing her husband of committing high treason, an allegation that eventually forced her to flee France for a time. Despite her exile, she later purchased a house in Paris in the late 1680s, without her estranged husband’s assistance but with his at least tacit ...

I Must Be Writing for Both of Us: Wild Life by Molly Gloss


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Set in the Pacific Northwest at the turn of the twentieth century, Wild Life takes the narrative frame of a journal, written across a period of weeks, by Charlotte Bridger Drummond—single mother of five boys, ardent public feminist, professional adventure-romance writer—wherein she has a wilderness experience of her own. Her housekeeper’s granddaughter has gone missing on a trip with her father to the logging camp where he works. Charlotte, repulsed by the company of men but functional within it, takes it upon herself to join the search, as the housekeeper is too old and the mother too frail. At once a work of historical fiction, a speculative romance in the traditional sense, and a broader feminist commentary on genre fiction, Gloss’s novel is a subtle and thorough piece of art.

Originally published in 2000, almost twenty years ago, Wild Life is nonetheless recent enough to have a digital trail of ...

QUILTBAG+ Speculative Classics: Hadriana in All My Dreams by René Depestre


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Hadriana in All My Dreams by René Depestre is considered one of the major works of 20th century Haitian literature—when I picked up the new English translation by Kaiama L. Glover, however, I wasn’t aware that I would also be able to include it in my QUILTBAG+ SFF Classics column. Yet the title character, Hadriana, displays attraction to people regardless of gender, and at a key point in the novel, she describes her sexual awakening with another young woman. This wasn’t the book I had been planning on reviewing this week, but I was very happy that it fit into the column.

I did know going in that Hadriana in All My Dreams would have speculative relevance: The book is an extended subversion of Western zombie stories, which freely appropriate Haitian traditions. Here, we get a zombie tale, but it is not the zombie tale we are familiar with from ...

Speaking Truth Through Time Loops: Russian Doll and “Now Wait for This Week”


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A woman in New York City finds herself doomed to perpetually celebrate her early-mid-life birthday, cycling through the same rote interactions with friends and searching for a way to escape the pattern while struggling to convince anyone of what she’s going through. This describes the plot of the Netflix series Russian Doll, but it also encapsulates the essence of Alice Sola Kim’s short story “Now Wait for This Week,” which appears in Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams’ anthology A People’s Future of the United States and bears striking similarities to the show.

In Russian Doll, the protagonist, Nadia, resurrects in the bathroom of her birthday party every time she dies, which usually doesn’t take more than a few hours; in Kim’s story, the narrator’s friend Bonnie finds herself reliving the same week over and over, ending up back at her birthday, death or no. Both narratives build ...

Game over: why haven’t dating guides woken up to new sexual politics?


This post is by Sian Cain from Books | The Guardian


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A domestic violence charity had called for the end of Neil Strauss’ pickup artist book The Game – but dating guides aimed at both women and men are full of retrograde advice

Before writing The Game, Neil Strauss was a self-described “lump of nerd”. But his 2005 bestseller, which has shifted more than 3m copies around the world (270,000 in the UK), revealed the secrets of his midlife transformation into a ladies’ man, through time spent in the company of professional pickup artists. Techniques revealed by Strauss – practised long before his book, but never before exposed to such a big audience – included “negging” (making negative comments to lower a woman’s self-esteem so she’ll stay to earn approval) and “cavemanning” (aggressively escalating physical contact).

None of this reads very well in 2019 and this week, the director of women’s charity Zero Tolerance Rachel Adamson called for UK publisher Canongate ...