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?


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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...

SFF Archaeology: Excavating the Superhero World of the Wild Card Series


This post is by Katie Rask from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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Many superhero tales and urban fantasies take place in metropolitan environments, often sites of old settlements and with convoluted layers of material history. Such is the case in the Wild Card series, which primarily takes place in New York City, beginning in 1946. You might not know it, but in many cities across the United States, busy archaeologists are constantly at work. It’s especially true in the oldest cities, or those with a history of intense occupation, where layers of previous habitation exist beneath modern city streets.

In some parts of the world the archaeology of urban living is more visible, such as in Mesopotamia, where cities’ occupation layers rise up from the ground, one on top of another in archaeological formations called ‘tells.’ Excavations in heavily-developed modern cities, on the other hand, reveal pockets of archaeological evidence intermixed and cut through with more recent human activity. So, what ...

Assassin’s Creed Origins Makes Cleopatra’s Egypt Real


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


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I am not a gamer by any stretch of the imagination, so this won’t be your typical video game review.

I don’t think so, anyway. Because I don’t read video game reviews, either.

A couple years ago I bought an Xbox One for the family. I used it for the Blu-Ray player and Pandora. The kids used it for Minecraft.

The idea that I would use it for gaming wasn’t too much on my radar.

Not that I haven’t played games before. I’m not a n00b, kidz. (Please do picture your friend’s dad saying this, preferably whilst throwing ‘signs’, yo.)

It’s just that … well, I’m sorta old. And my own previous video game loves were largely of two varieties. Back in my NES days, I loved Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which in my PC days morphed into an abiding love of Civ-style games (full-add-on Civ4 is ...

1968: the year that changed America


This post is by Hendrik Hertzberg from Books | The Guardian


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The cliche says that if you can remember the Sixties, you weren’t really there. But Hendrik Hertzberg remembers the decade’s most explosive year very well indeed

Where were you in the 1960s? And what were you? A toddler, a grade schooler, a teenager? A young adult? Were you already old enough to form your own memories? Or were you old enough but in the “if you can remember The Sixties you really weren’t there” category?

Of course, if you’re like most people, you were nowhere. You hadn’t been born yet. You didn’t exist. But wherever and whatever you were or weren’t, it’s a safe bet that you’ve heard about The Sixties – quite enough, maybe. Ad nauseam, maybe.

Continue reading...

Gallows Superstitions and the Bodies of the Condemned


This post is by Viola Carr from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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While writing my steampunk murder mysteries, I read a lot about dead bodies and hangings. Gallows superstitions—those associated with executions—were rife in Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Got a hanged man’s corpse? Don’t know what to do now?

Here are a few ideas from the pages of history:

Use him for science

If you were a medical student, you needed corpses to dissect. Unfortunately for you, folks were fussy about the fate of their fleshly remains. To be dissected was shameful and undignified, and in the pre-antibiotic age of epidemics, stories of prematurely diagnosed death were rife: fear of being “buried alive” and cut up before you’d fully expired was real. Not to mention that on Judgment Day, the dead were supposed to rise from the grave to be changed—if you weren’t buried according to Christian rites, your soul was in serious trouble.

So in 18...

Medieval Bodies by Jack Hartnell – history illuminated by the human body


This post is by PD Smith from Books | The Guardian


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A rich study of the middle ages in Europe and the Middle East, brings this much maligned period to life

While Abbess Chiara Vengente lay dying in August 1308, she told the nuns of the Umbrian monastery in Montefalco that Christ was in her heart, sustaining her. When she died the nuns were astonished that after five days her body had still not decayed. Recalling her words, one of the sisters took a razor to the heart and sliced it in half: inside lay a very small image of Christ on the cross, with several tiny objects from the Passion, including the nails hammered into Christ’s body, all “wrought from the flesh of Chiara’s heart itself”.

The art historian Jack Hartnell tells this extraordinary story in his wonderfully rich study of the Middle Ages. Lasting from about 300 to 1500, the period has been characterised since the Enlightenment as an ...

The Vory: Russia’s Super Mafia review – a kleptocracy in the making


This post is by Oliver Bullough from Books | The Guardian


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Mark Galeotti’s timely account of the Russian underworld charts its rise from Soviet-era gangsters to Kremlin collaborators under Putin

I once met a former dissident who spent eight miserable years in a Soviet labour camp. While there, he contracted tuberculosis and ended up in an isolation centre, a prison within a prison – a place of danger and squalor even by the standards of the Soviet camps.

Kirill was a Muscovite, intellectual and Jewish, all characteristics likely to attract special treatment from the prison guards and their stooges, who he still called by the prison term “bitches”. His life was saved, however, from the unlikeliest of directions. A vor-v-zakone – a “thief-in-law” Soviet mafia boss – offered him protection in exchange for conversation and games of chess.

Continue reading...

Fintan O’Toole: five books to understand the Irish border


This post is by Fintan O'Toole from Books | The Guardian


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Acts of kindness at the height of the Troubles and a peaceful walk before the Brexit vote – writers explore a frontier under fresh threat

In All Silver and No Brass: An Irish Christmas Mumming, his wonderful study of traditions in County Fermanagh, on the northern side of the Irish border, the US anthropologist Henry Glassie evokes in a few sentences the terror of the early 1970s, when the Troubles were at their worst: “People at work on their farms in the soft green Fermanagh countryside have been suddenly, brutally murdered. You never know when the next stranger on the street will be a bitter bastard with a gun. The nights are lonely. The wind howls cold on the streets.”

It is a bleak picture, but it serves in Glassie’s book as a backdrop to the sweetness and energy of the people whose lives and culture he studied. ...

Rose Tremain: ‘I don’t want to write for vengeance. It’s cheap and angry’


This post is by Lisa Allardice from Books | The Guardian


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A cruel mother, an absent father, a beloved nanny ... the writer on the ‘frozen world’ of her childhood, and why she wishes she had won the Booker prize

“Do you love me? Do you love me?” Rose Tremain’s mother kept asking her daughter at the end of her life. “And I’d say: ‘Yes, of course I do.’ But I never have and I never will because you didn’t show me love when I needed it,” the novelist says now, as if her mother, Jane, were in the room with us.

After more than 40 years of not drawing on her own life in her fiction, Tremain has written a memoir. This slim, elegant – sometimes shocking – study of maternal failure is also a love letter to her nanny, “the kindest person I’ve ever known”, the author’s “saviour” and “angel”. Her childhood, she writes in Rosie: Scenes from ...