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)


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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”


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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 ...

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


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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 ...

Gone to the Dogs: City by Clifford D. Simak


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In this bi-weekly series reviewing classic science fiction and fantasy books, Alan Brown looks at the front lines and frontiers of the field; books about soldiers and spacers, scientists and engineers, explorers and adventurers. Stories full of what Shakespeare used to refer to as “alarums and excursions”: battles, chases, clashes, and the stuff of excitement.

Sometimes, a book hits you like a ton of bricks. That’s what happened to me when I read City by Clifford D. Simak. It didn’t have a lot of adventure, or mighty heroes, chases, or battles in it, but I still found it absolutely enthralling. The humans are probably the least interesting characters in the book, with a collection of robots, dogs, ants, and other creatures stealing the stage. It’s one of the first books I ever encountered that dealt with the ultimate fate of the human race, and left a big impression on my ...

My Sci-Fi/Fantasy OTPs Are All Beta Couples


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I’ve written tens of thousands of words of fanfiction for various fandoms, and I’ve always found myself drawn not to the main romantic leads, but to the secondary Beta Couples. While the main pairings were doing the eternal dance of unresolved sexual tension will-they-won’t-they, the supporting characters would partner up with an incredible amount of ease. Sometimes they’d even wind up married or have kids before the main couple had even kissed! How I Met Your Mother has a great scene that visualizes this: while the main characters aimlessly make jokes about Canada, a couple in the background meets, gets married, gets pregnant, watches their kid graduate college, and grows old together.

In a nutshell, that’s the Beta Couple. Just add in Cylon copies, flash-forwards, Reaver fights, and straight-up magic when this archetype shows up in science fiction and fantasy.

When romantic stakes are part of a story alongside ...

beta couples OTPs Helo/Athena BSG Valentine's Day
beta couples OTPs Matrix/AndrAIa ReBoot Valentine's Day
beta couples OTPs Willow/Tara Valentine's Day
beta couples OTPs D'Argo/Chiana Valentine's Day
beta couples OTPs Victor/Sierra Valentine's Day

Oathbringer Reread: Chapter Sixty-Five


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Greetings, fellow soldiers and scholars! This week our intrepid friend Alice is imprisoned in an icy cage of power outages and snowstorms and hence won’t be joining us, but Aubree and I are ready to don our colorful caps and journey through the Oathgate to Azimir with Dalinar. What will he find here? Edgedancers? Noodles? Pancakes? Maybe even… essays and agreements?! Come along and find out on this week’s edition of Politics Made (Not) Fun and (Never) Easy!

Reminder: We’ll potentially be discussing spoilers for the entire novel in each reread. There are no greater Cosmere spoilers in this chapter’s reread, but if you haven’t read ALL of Oathbringer, best to wait to join us until you’re done.

Chapter Recap

WHO: Dalinar Kholin
WHERE: Azimir (L: For this map, I’ve included a simple color key and some approximate locations of armies mentioned in the chapter, as well as ...

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Life is Now a Movie: What Story is it Telling?


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At last, it’s nigh: the biopic of J.R.R. Tolkien that’s been steadily looming, though it was little more than a rumor until recent times. We got a few casting choices dropped like breadcrumbs over the last year, then some still images, and now we’ve got our first official trailer. Something to look at, theorize and marvel over until May 10 (or at least the next trailer drops).

Will this movie be like Finding Neverland or Goodbye Christopher Robin or The Man Who Invented Christmas? These biographical dramas sure are the rage now. So what’s in Tolkien’s, then? Let’s talk about it!

First off, all Tolkien-related media ought to be considered with a certain level of apprehension. It’s only fair. Even the best of Jackson’s adaptations pissed off book purists (which I am not; I loved them), so the bar should be placed…if not low, at least reasonably low-ish. ...

Fast Times at Miskatonic High: Molly Tanzer’s “The Thing on the Cheerleading Squad”


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Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

This week, we’re reading Molly Tanzer’s “The Thing on the Cheerleading Squad,” first published in the 2015 anthology, She Walks in Shadows, edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles. Spoilers ahead.

“There’s no heaven. There’s no hell. There’s only you, me and this.”

Summary

Veronica Waite, fresh from Bible Camp, is starting her junior year at Miskatonic High. She can’t understand why her friend Natalie’s in a bad mood. Just because Natalie had to work all vacation at the First Methodist day care and hasn’t made the varsity cheerleading squad (like Veronica) is no reason for her to get sore. Then Veronica’s cousin Asenath doesn’t get on the bus at her stop. Top student and ...

“Raise the Wild Cry”: The Cassandra by Sharma Shields


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Mildred Groves leaves her home for the first time in her life in 1944. In her early twenties, she has lived an isolated life in her small hometown where her only companions were her sharp-tongued, hypochondriac mother, her cruel and indifferent sister, and her weak-willed brother-in-law. But with the economy booming with war production and jobs ripe for the picking, she walks away from everything she knows. Really, she has no choice. A vision told her she would take a secretarial job at the newly built Hanford research facility in eastern Washington state. And so she goes.

Mildred has had visions of the future all her life, but they get more lurid and extreme at the camp. No matter who she tells or what she says, no one ever believes her, not even when they experience the very thing she predicted. Her Hanford friends are troubled by her sleepwalking, while ...

Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn Taught Me How To Love


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The Last Unicorn was the book that taught me how to love.

And it didn’t have anything to do with the doomed Prince Lír and the titular unicorn—although an immortal creature learning about regret certainly taught me other lessons. I first learned what true love was from Molly Grue and Schmendrick the magician.

In the novel—and bear with me if the story is already part of your bones—there is only one unicorn living free in the world. She realizes that she is the last and sets out to find her compatriots. Along the way she picks up Schmendrick (a magician who is attempting, and failing, to reach his full power) and Molly Grue (the fierce, but soft-hearted, former maid/cook for a group of Robin Hood wannabes). Molly and Schmendrick bristle at each other when they meet, but they put their bickering aside for a common goal: to help the unicorn. ...

How Do You “See” the Books You Read?


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Inevitably, when someone is trying to advocate reading over watching things on screens, some variation of this old joke gets made: “Books are like movies inside your head!” This assumes everyone can—and does—create a full mental picture when they read, complete with sets, landscapes, costumed characters, and easy-to-follow action.

But that’s not how it works for me.

I’m fascinated by the variety of ways people “see” (or don’t see) books as they’re reading them. Most of the people I know are those “movie” types, where everything plays out clearly, created by the firmament of their minds. It leaves me paralyzed with envy, as I try in vain to picture (ha) what that must be like. My visual imagination is apparently content to leave quite a lot to the imagination. There are whole fields of study dedicated to how visual imagination works, and even more about how to “train” ...

Artist Kip Rasmussen on Tolkien, The Silmarillion, and Raising Young Tolkien Fans


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When I first came across Kip Rasmussen’s work, I knew it was exceptional, and that I’d probably like everything he made. His paintings present all the best components of high fantasy: long hair flowing from beneath helms, brazen swords, gleaming spears, fire-breathing dragons, primordial godlike beings, imposing pinnacles of rock, and an insanely huge spider. Yup—these were scenes right out of J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium, instantly recognizable as features of Middle-earth. But curiously, only a few of them depict characters in The Lord of the Rings itself. Here was a Silmarillion-leaning artist. Oh, hell yeah.

When I contacted Kip to ask permission to use some of his work in my Silmarillion Primer, he just happened to be mulling over three ideas in his mental queue and he was quick to ask me to choose which subject he’d tackle next. I chose “Tulkas Chaining Morgoth,” so when he finished ...