Finding Fantasy Inspiration in the Executioners of Medieval Europe


This post is by Margaret Owen from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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I’ve gotten a lot of questions in the last few months leading up to the release of my debut novel, but one of the most common ones is What inspired you to write this story? The answer is usually ‘It’s complicated’ (don’t sue me, Facebook, my estate is comprised of a modest artisanal skull collection and two delinquent cats and I guarantee it will not be worth it.) Most of my stories start as a vague primordial soup of concepts, and it’s only when lightning hits that something heaves itself out of the waters and demands to breathe.

For The Merciful Crow, that lightning struck circa October 2014. I’d had a handful of ideas floating around, but nothing really solidified until, in the midst of idly scrolling through Tumblr, I followed a link to an article on the lives of medieval executioners in Europe. There were many things that ...

Bad SF Ideas in Real Life: NASA’s Never-Realized Plans for Venus


This post is by James Davis Nicoll from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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Many readers may find the plots of some SF novels deeply implausible. “Who,” they ask, “would send astronauts off on an interstellar mission before verifying the Go Very Fast Now drive was faster than light and not merely as fast as light? Who would be silly enough to send colonists on a one-way mission to distant worlds on the basis of very limited data gathered by poorly programmed robots? Who would think threatening an alien race about whom little is known, save that they’ve been around for a million years, is a good idea?”

Some real people have bad ideas; we’re lucky that comparatively few of them become reality. Take, for example, a proposal to send humans to Venus. Not to land, but as a flyby.

After the Apollo program had landed humans on the Moon, the obvious question was, “What next?” Some proposals were carried out: ...

White Bears in Sugar Land: Juneteenth, Cages, and Afrofuturism


This post is by Tochi Onyebuchi from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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We resist enclosure. Deer roam forests. Vines colonize abandoned Coliseums. A human being held in solitary confinement will self-harm, scream, plead, kick doors, smear feces on their cell walls, and refuse food if there exists even the promise of seeing the sun for fifteen minutes of their day. There are many words in English for what that human being quests for: liberty, emancipation, freedom, independence. So much of the American project has been dousing its cultural fabric in these colors. No mention of brotherhood and precious little of equality. Justice is nowhere to be found. Peace, somewhere far off in the distance. Over the horizon, in fact. Those messy words presume an After, and they presume that this After is other than post-apocalypse. Liberty, emancipation, independence, without brotherhood or equality or justice or peace, presume utopia. Any alternative imagining can only be fiction.

An episode in the second season of ...

How Tea, History, and a Simulated Papal Election Inspired Lent


This post is by Jo Walton from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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Ever since I visited Florence in 2011, Florence has made it into whatever I’ve been writing, even when it’s set on a generation starship, or in Heaven, or in Plato’s Republic. Modern Florence got into My Real Children. But Lent is my Renaissance Florence book, and I went to Florence and stayed there for a couple of months when I was writing it. I went to the places where the book is set — the very rooms, as often as I could, which was a wonderful experience. Most of the places in most of my books are real, but sometimes they’re places where I haven’t been for a long time, and being able to actually pace out scenes and look out of real windows to see what the characters would be able to see was remarkably helpful, as well as fun.

I’ve just come back from Chicago, where I’ve ...

On the Cult of Originality: What Byzantine Literary Culture Can Tell Us About Fanfiction


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What are we going to do with the cult of originality? The set of pernicious beliefs that say: oh, all romances are the same, there’s always a happy ending, that can’t be real literature? Or, this book is full of tropes, it must be too commercial to be good? Or even: if you can’t write something entirely new, you aren’t writing real literature … and if you’re writing fanfiction, you must be ‘practicing’ until you’re ready to be original! I’m entirely sure most of you readers have heard—or even subscribe to—one or more of these beliefs about originality being a sign of artistic achievement. It’s an idea that’s baked into modern Western cultural criticism, particularly literary criticism.

And yet: we are surrounded by literature which is not original and which is successful, enjoyed, and persistent.

This literature is described as flawed, insufficient, not morally improving nor useful to the scholar; ...

The UK Pirate Radio Revolution


This post is by Tim Maughan from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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It’s way past midnight and I’m crammed into the back seat of a small car we’ve hotboxed with ganja smoke. Tinny, distorted music rolls out of the car’s flimsy speakers. It’s jungle. The signal, too, is weak, and the music is drowned out by the white noise of a failing analogue radio transmission.

And then we’re rising as the car rounds the concrete spiral of a motorway overpass, escaping the damp, crumbling, claustrophobic streets below. I’m in my early twenties. I gaze out of the window, and at that second the music cuts to full FM clarity: the rattling snares and hi-hats are razor sharp, the bass line rumbles through the car, and an MC chats over it all in some mash-up of cockney and Jamaican slang. Through the windows the wall of a brutalist tower rises around us, and I realize why the music has snapped into place: up ...

Kingdom of Heaven’s Disappointing Crusade Against History


This post is by Michael Livingston from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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In both my scholarship and my fiction, my mind has been on war of late.

I think that’s why I’ve decided to take a breather from my workloads by queuing up Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut (2006).

First, I must tell you that I saw Kingdom of Heaven when it first came out in theaters in 2005. It was both disappointing and exhausting: the main arc of the protagonist made no sense, the pacing was odd, and the historical events were portrayed, well, super wrong. Also, and I must get this out of the way upfront, I’m not a fan of Orlando Bloom in this kind of role. I don’t know what Hollywood was thinking by casting him as a crusader knight. It’s especially odd when so much of the rest of the cast is perfection.

Anyway, I saw it in the theaters, was very much not ...

Did Henry VI have a sex coach in his marriage bed?


This post is by Dalya Alberge from Books | The Guardian


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The medieval monarch and his queen, Margaret of Anjou, were not alone at night, historian Lauren Johnson reveals

For more than eight years, Henry VI and his queen struggled to produce an heir. Now it has emerged that the couple were not alone in their endeavours in the royal bedchamber.

The historian Lauren Johnson has unearthed evidence showing that when Margaret of Anjou visited her husband’s bedroom for marital relations, they were sometimes joined by trusted courtiers.

Continue reading...

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


This post is by Jonathan Alexandratos from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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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 ...

Outlander Season Finale: Who Are the “Men of Worth” in Season 4?


This post is by Natalie Zutter from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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Outlander season 4 finale "Man of Worth" Roger Brianna Stephen Bonnet Jamie Claire

After last year’s Outlander finale, which literally shipwrecked Claire and Jamie onto the shores of America, I was expecting a bigger cliffhanger ending to this season—that the letter the redcoats delivered to Jamie at River Run would be conscripting the poor Scot to fight on their side in the American Revolution. Then I remembered that it was only 1770, and that the next big war was a few years (or, I’m going to assume, one season) away. Instead, the season 4 finale, filled with resolutions both neat and messy, ends on Jamie getting a much more pressing, one-on-one assignment that reemphasizes this season’s enduring question: Can a good man do a bad thing and remain a “Man of Worth”?

Spoilers for Outlander season 4.

The thing is, it’s difficult to care too much about Jamie being ordered to hunt down Murtagh on behalf of Governor Tryon, because it seems too ...

Outlander season 4 finale "Man of Worth" Roger Brianna Stephen Bonnet Jamie Claire
Outlander season 4 finale "Man of Worth" Roger Brianna Stephen Bonnet Jamie Claire
Outlander season 4 finale "Man of Worth" Roger Brianna Stephen Bonnet Jamie Claire
Outlander season 4 finale "Man of Worth" Young Ian Mohawk
Outlander season 4 finale "Man of Worth" Mohawk Otter Tooth
Outlander season 4 finale "Man of Worth" Roger Brianna Stephen Bonnet Jamie Claire

Outlaw King Is a Lot Smarter About History Than Braveheart


This post is by Michael Livingston from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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So I more or less eviscerated Braveheart in my last column, and along the way more than one person asked about how Mel Gibson’s history hack compares to a new film dealing with the same period: Netflix’s Outlaw King (Dir. David Mackenzie), starring Chris Pine as Robert the Bruce—as the movie and popular tradition call him—the guy whose nickname really was Braveheart.

Well, let’s press Play on today’s column and find out!

OK. We start off with a pretty standard opening of Ye Olde Historical Note, intended to situate an unfamiliar audience with where we are at.

It’s 1304. William Wallace is on the run. The Scots are split between supporters of two families—that of John Comyn and that of Robert Bruce—but they’re unified in that their general rebellion against the English has failed. As we start the movie, King Edward I of England is laying siege to the last ...

How to Destroy Civilization and Not Be Boring


This post is by James Davis Nicoll from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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So you’ve decided to destroy your fictional civilization and for reasons of verisimilitude, you want to draw on a historical model. Your first thought may be to rotoscope the collapse of the Western Roman Empire … and why not? It worked so well for Isaac Asimov. The problem is it worked for a lot of other authors, too—the Fall of Rome is well-chewed gristle at this juncture. Perhaps other models would make a nice change?

Granted, other models may not be as well known as the Roman one, at least to Western readers. Generations of Westerners learned Latin and read Roman history; generations read Gibbon’s Decline and Fall.

Plus, other collapses were, no doubt, so thorough that we have no inkling they even happened.

Still, there are some collapses and calamities about which we have some knowledge. I have a few suggestions.

 

Boom, Baby, Boom

Volcán de Fuego eruption ...

Delicate Magics: Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Kingdoms of Elfin


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


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At the entrance to the town they put on visibility. It made them no warmer, and impaired their self-esteem.

In the last decade of her life, author Sylvia Townsend Warner (1893-1978) told an interviewer that “I want to write about something different.”

That different turned out to be fairy tales. Warner had played with themes of magic and enchantment in her work before, and always had an interest in folklore, but for this project, she tried something a bit different: interconnected stories of other and fairy. Most were published in The New Yorker from 1972-1975, and collected in the last book printed in Warner’s lifetime: Kingdoms of Elfin (1976). Regrettably out of print for decades, the collection is now being reissued by Handheld Press, with a foreward by Greer Gilman, an introduction by Ingrid Hotz-Davies, and extensive footnotes by Kate McDonald.

Warner came from a comfortable, well-educated family. ...

Delicate Magics: Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Kingdoms of Elfin


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


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At the entrance to the town they put on visibility. It made them no warmer, and impaired their self-esteem.

In the last decade of her life, author Sylvia Townsend Warner (1893-1978) told an interviewer that “I want to write about something different.”

That different turned out to be fairy tales. Warner had played with themes of magic and enchantment in her work before, and always had an interest in folklore, but for this project, she tried something a bit different: interconnected stories of other and fairy. Most were published in The New Yorker from 1972-1975, and collected in the last book printed in Warner’s lifetime: Kingdoms of Elfin (1976). Regrettably out of print for decades, the collection is now being reissued by Handheld Press, with a foreward by Greer Gilman, an introduction by Ingrid Hotz-Davies, and extensive footnotes by Kate McDonald.

Warner came from a comfortable, well-educated family. ...

The Best Arthurian Novels for Fans of Actual History


This post is by James Davis Nicoll from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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I suspect a lot of people’s minds ran in the same direction mine did at the news that a girl named Saga had pulled a fifteen hundred-year-old sword from a lake. Not all swords are Excalibur, of course, and the lake in question was in Sweden, but Britain could do worse than seeing if Saga has any interest in becoming Prime Minister.

All of which reminded me of Arthuriana, and my first and favorite Arthur novel, Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Lantern Bearers (1959). The novel takes its title from a statement by Eugenus the Physician:

“We are the lantern bearers, my friend; for us to keep something burning, to carry what light we can forward into the darkness and the wind.”

Arthur (or Artos, as he is called in this book) plays only a supporting role, but it’s enough of a role for this to be the ur-Arthur story for ...

Brush Up on Ancient Warfare in Myke Cole’s Legion versus Phalanx


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From the time of Ancient Sumeria, the heavy infantry phalanx dominated the battlefield. Armed with spears or pikes, standing shoulder to shoulder, and with overlapping shields, they presented an impenetrable wall of wood and metal to the enemy. It was the phalanx that allowed Greece to become the dominant power in the Western world. That is, until the Romans developed the legion and cracked the phalanx.

In Legion versus Phalanx—available October 18th from Osprey Publishing—Cole weighs the two fighting forces against each other. Covering the period in which the legion and phalanx clashed (280—168 BC), he looks at each formation in detail—delving into their tactics, arms, and equipment, organization and the deployment. It then examines six key battles in which legion battled phalanx: Heraclea (280 BC), Asculum (279 BC), Beneventum (275 BC), Cynoscephalae (197 BC), Magnesia (190 BC), and Pydna (168 BC)—battles that determined the fate of the ancient ...

The Ark of the Covenant Got Locked in a Warehouse Because the Government Thought Indiana Jones Was Full of Sh*t


This post is by Emily Asher-Perrin from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones, Ark of the Covenant

Everyone loves the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark because it’s the punchline to a joke that you never realized the film set you up for. The government claims that they have “top men” working on the mysteries that lie within the awesome divine relic, only for us to see the ark get shut up in a box and deposited in the recesses of a fully stocked warehouse, where it will likely never be found again. But let’s be honest here—do we really think that was the best possible solution? Given the havoc that the ark brought down upon the Nazis, why did the US government simply pack it away?

Think about this: Indiana Jones makes it back from his mission to retrieve the Ark of the Covenant. Said mission was initially given to him by two government stooges from Army Intelligence who approached Jones to find out why ...

Peter Sawyer obituary


This post is by Ian Wood from Books | The Guardian


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Influential scholar of the Vikings who challenged the standard view of them as invaders and destroyers

Peter Sawyer, who has died aged 90, was perhaps the most influential scholar of the Vikings and their activities in the last 70 years. His book The Age of the Vikings (1962) radically challenged the current orthodoxy, presenting the Vikings as “traders not raiders”. Peter did not deny their destructiveness, but he challenged its scale by looking hard at the question of Viking numbers, and at their ships, and by pointing to the destruction carried out by their contemporaries.

The debates opened up by the book have lasted through to the present, and while the position set out by Peter in 1962 has been modified, there has been no going back to the earlier image of destruction. As the runologist Ray Page noted in his review: “The Vikings will never be the same again....

Bruckheimer Make Boom with the “Real” King Arthur (2004)


This post is by Michael Livingston from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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I’ve said it before, in talking about the brilliance of Firelord, Parke Godwin’s novel of Arthur, that I can trace my choice of professional study, at some deep level, to a love of Arthur and his knights. Sure, Arthur is kind of a nebbish in a lot of the tales—which makes me all the more amazed at what Godwin did with him—but there’s just a lot of great stuff in the vast mythic complex that surrounds him.

King Arthur, as I tell my students, is like a little snowball rolled off the top of a tall, snowy peak. It gathers snow to it as it rolls, getting bigger and bigger until it’s really hard to find any trace of the original little clump of stuff that started it off.

Which is one way of explaining why anyone who tells you they know who the real King Arthur was… is ...

Bill, Ted, and the End of History


This post is by Kate Heartfield from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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In February 1989, audiences saw, for the first time, a young Keanu Reeves lean close to a young Alex Winter and declare, “Strange things are afoot at the Circle-K.”

It was a critical moment, not only in the plot of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, but in pop culture. As the movie posters had it, history was about to be rewritten by two guys who couldn’t spell. It was a goofy movie, and most of the critics didn’t get it. Teenagers did, though. For those of us who were young in 1989, Bill and Ted gave us exactly the time travel movie we needed.

Now they might be able to do it again.

A new Bill and Ted movie is in pre-production. There are reasons to be circumspect; people have been talking about a new Bill and Ted movie for years. And the franchise that followed Excellent Adventure...