Strange Stars

As the 1960s drew to a close, and mankind trained its telescopes on other worlds, old conventions gave way to a new kind of hedonistic freedom that celebrated sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll. Derided as nerdy or dismissed as fluff, science fiction rarely gets credit for its catalyzing effect on this revolution. In Strange Stars, Jason Heller recasts sci-fi and pop music as parallel cultural forces that depended on one another to expand the horizons of books, music, and out-of-this-world imagery.

In doing so, he presents a whole generation of revered musicians as the sci-fi-obsessed conjurers they really were: from Sun Ra lecturing on the black man in the cosmos, to Pink Floyd jamming live over the broadcast of the Apollo 11 moon landing; from a wave of Star Wars disco chart toppers and synthesiser-wielding post-punks, to Jimi Hendrix distilling the “purplish haze” he discovered in a pulp novel into psychedelic ...

The Demanding, Essential Work of Samuel Delany: The Atheist in the Attic

Sometimes it seems as if all the publishers and bookstores of the land are engaged in a conspiracy to make Samuel Delany appear less unusual than he is. All of his fiction, whether autobiographical, experimental, pornographic, or some combination of the three, is shelved under “science fiction,” and while a given edition of Dhalgren might or might not advertise its million-seller status, it’s unlikely that any back cover copy will address that book’s games with structure, experiments in typography, or literal unendingness. It’s not until you actually open the books that you realize you’re in the hands of one of SF’s great experimenters. Sometimes Delany himself seems to be in on this game of concealment. His author biography coyly states, for example, that “his four-volume series Return to Nevèrÿon is sword-and-sorcery,” as if he were a latter-day Robert E. Howard, eliding any sense that these strange books, with their disquisitions ...

Five Non-Fiction Books About Fairies in the Real World

Lots of novels, including my Tufa series, deal with fairies. The first stories we hear are usually fairy tales of some sort, whether involving actual fairies or merely set in a world where they’re possible. But fairies aren’t just relegated to fiction; in many places their reality is accepted just like guitars and the internet. These aren’t small chaste creatures flitting between flowers, either: true fairies are often large, warlike, and terrifying. And even when they are small, it’s best to treat them as if they could still kick your ass, which is why they get referred to by euphemisms such as the Good People or (my favorite) the Other Crowd.

As a writer who enjoys diving down research rabbit holes, I’ve read many books about real fairies. Here are five of my favorites.

The earliest major work to describe real encounters with the fairy folk was probably The Secret ...

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Be the Angel You Want to See in America: The World Only Spins Forward by Isaac Butler and Dan Kois

Twenty-five years ago Tony Kushner’s Angels in America came to Broadway. It was an audacious work of theater, somehow meshing a realistic depiction of the havoc AIDS wreaks on a body, complex discussions of American political history, pissed-off angels, and Mormonism. The ghost of Ethel Rosenberg was a character, as was Roy Cohn. Gay and straight sex happened onstage. Audiences were confronted with both Kaposi’s Sarcoma lesions and emotional abuse.

And somehow, miraculously, the show was hilarious.

Now Isaac Butler and Dan Kois have undertaken the herculean labor of creating an oral history of the play, made up of interviews with hundreds of people, from Kushner himself all the way to college students studying the play. The result is an exhaustive look at creativity and theater that is nearly as exhilarating and fun to read as the play itself.

Let’s begin with a tiny bit of backstory. ...

Some of the Best Tor.com Non-Fiction in 2017 (Thus Far)

Tor.com publishes between 3000 and 4000 non-fiction articles each year. Within that mix of news and book reviews and essays and columns are inevitably certain articles about science fiction and fantasy that hit you in a memorable way and make you go “wow”—pieces of writing that sit in your mind, conversing with you long after you’ve finished reading them.

Here are 10 such pieces (plus one bonus!) published on Tor.com in 2017 from amongst the 100+ that immediately stood out to us, along with the reasons why they made us go “wow”! Of course, every reader will have different favorites, so if there’s an article from the last year that has stuck with you or made you think differently, please share in the comments…

(Articles appear in order of publication.)

 

Mama Day Gloria Naylor

Expanded Course in the History of Black Science Fiction (Series) by Nisi Shawl

Why it made us “wow!”...

David G. Hartwell
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Galadriel Cate Blanchett mournful
Wonder Woman A Ms Book
Staten Island Ferry scene Spider-Man Homecoming
Lish McBride Terry Pratchett hug meeting in person fan story

Sleeping With Monsters

< p class="frontmatter">We’re pleased to share Kate Elliott’s introduction to Liz Bourke’s essay collection, Sleeping With Monsters—some of which are taken from her column here at Tor.com. Bourke’s subjects range from the nature of epic fantasy—is it a naturally conservative sort of literature?— to Mass Effect’s decision to allow players to play as a female hero, and from discussions of little-known writers to some of the most popular works in the field.

Bourke herself writes that the collection’s purpose is ”to be a little loud and angry. To celebrate the work of women in the science fiction and fantasy (SFF) field. To offer a snapshot, a limited glimpse, of what I think is best, most fun, most interesting.” A provocative, immensely readable collection of essays about the science fiction and fantasy field, from the perspective of a feminist and a historian, Sleeping With Monsters is an entertaining ...

Five Books That Make Epic Drama Out of Space-Faring History

Space travel has always been an operatic exercise. Igniting millions of pounds of explosive fuel inside a machine carrying a crew of human beings and flinging rocket and living payload into the void at thousands of miles per hour is not the stuff of chamber music. It’s a big, crashing, multi-part symphony of noise and light and life and drama. Some books, however, capture that power more than others. It was the narrative pyrotechnics of space that drew me to write Apollo 13 with astronaut Jim Lovell and, now, to return to that great trove of space tales with Apollo 8. I can, of course, hardly be objective about the five books that best turn space history into dramas. So leaving it to others to judge my own, here are the five that have thrilled me most.  

A Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin

The great sweep of ...

Not So Good A Gay Man

< p class="frontmatter">Not So Good a Gay Man is the compelling memoir of author, screenwriter, and activist Frank M. Robinson—available June 6th from Tor Books.

Frank M. Robinson (1926-2014) accomplished a great deal in his long life, working in magazine publishing, including a stint for Playboy, and writing science fiction such as The Power, The Dark Beyond the Stars, and thrillers such as The Glass Inferno (filmed as The Towering Inferno). Robinson also passionately engaged in politics, fighting for gay rights, and most famously writing speeches for his good friend Harvey Milk in San Francisco.

This deeply personal autobiography, addressed to a friend in the gay community, explains the life of one gay man over eight decades in America. By turns witty, charming, and poignant, this memoir grants insights into Robinson’s work not just as a journalist and writer, but as a gay man navigating the often perilous ...

Science Fiction Dialogues: Seven Stellar Interview Books

Conversations with Robert Silverberg Alvaro Zinos-Amaro

Science fiction is often characterized as being at least partially in dialogue with itself, as some authors explicitly respond to others’ ideas in fictional form, creating an ongoing “story conversation” in which notions are fictionally investigated and re-investigated from contrasting angles and differing sensibilities. Of course, there’s also another, more literal tradition of thought-provoking conversation within the field: probing interviews and books of transcribed conversations.

Today I’d like to highlight seven such volumes—in addition to illuminating the fascinating personalities and lives of their subjects, these books offer invaluable perspectives on the genre’s history and on the creative processes of some of its finest practitioners.

 

Being Gardner Dozois (2001) by Michael Swanwick

Being Gardner Dozois Michael SwanwickA brilliant writer and five-time Hugo winner, Michael Swanwick interviews one of the field’s most-beloved figures, Gardner Dozois, widely known as an editor (he’s won fifteen Hugos as “Best Professional Editor”) but also a fantastic writer in his ...

Dream Makers Charles Platt interviews
Pioneers of Wonder interviews
Conversations with Ursula K. Le Guin
Conversations with Octavia Butler
Conversations with Samuel R. Delany
Borges at Eighty: Conversations
Gene Roddenberry The Last Conversation
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5 Books to Read If You Loved Hidden Figures

hiddenfigures-readinglist You probably haven’t heard of Hidden Figures. It’s not a big deal, just a small movie about black women who worked as human computers at NASA in the 1950s and 1960s. It certainly doesn’t have “Oscar worthy” discussion surrounding it, and there’s no way it’s currently the biggest movie in the United States. Oh, who am I kidding, Hidden Figures is all of those things, and for great reason! This movie that celebrates the accomplishments and contributions of black women to our space program (and the amazing book that it’s based on) is winning acclaim right and left. If you loved this movie, and would like to know more about women who worked on the space program or contributed to space science (and have since been lost to history), check out these amazing books.


Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, From Missiles to the Moon to ...

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The Craft of the Uncanny: Lessons in Storytelling from Percy, Gaiman, and Delany

writing-percydelanygaiman Every writer creates stories differently, and finding a method that works best for you is an essential part of being a writer. There are plenty of ways to learn about the craft, from workshops to creative writing programs to online courses. Any and all of these can impart a sense of form, offer examples of stories or novels that illustrate particular narrative strengths, and help a writer fortify their own abilities and aesthetics. Another way to explore the craft of storytelling is, of course, to read about it. Over the years and decades, numerous writers have offered their thoughts and advice based on what they’ve learned–and, in some cases, taught. When factoring in advice that focuses primarily on writing about the speculative, the fantastic, or the uncanny, even more wrinkles develop. But there are a small group of writers who’ve tackled the subject–most recently, Benjamin Percy’s Thrill Me: Essays on ...
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Westworld and Superintelligence: Life Finds a Way

westworldsuperintelligence02 What will you do when the robots rise against us? We know it’s coming; even in a show like Westworld, where the robots (or “hosts”) are specifically designed not to hurt humans, they find a way. “Life finds a way,” as Jeff Goldblum said in the seminal classic of our time. But are these robots alive? And do they qualify as a superintelligent, smart enough to be an existential threat to humans? Let’s talk artificial intelligence in Westworld through the lens of Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies by Nick Bostrom. For many people, Bostrom’s book, released in 2014, is the definitive answer to the questions, “Will we eventually create an artificial intelligence powerful enough to doom ourselves? If so, how?” Bill Gates named it as one of two books we need to read in order to understand artificial intelligence. It’s safe to say that Superintelligence can help us understand ...
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It Was The Best of Times, It Was The Worst of Times: James Gleick’s Time Travel: A History

timetravelhistory If it’s true, as Alain de Botton has written, that “Most of what makes a book ‘good’ is that we are reading it at the right moment for us,” then maybe this wasn’t the ideal moment for me to have read James Gleick’s latest book, Time Travel: A History. On the whole, though, I did have a good time. There’s much to commend. Gleick guides us on a fascinating survey of cultural attitudes towards time and how those have changed over time. He also recaps key scientific ideas about the physics of time and its most intriguing philosophical conundrums—such as the question of whether it actually exists. And, as promised by the book’s title, Gleick covers examples of time travel as depicted in literature and film, with particular emphasis on genre classics and enduring time travel tropes. But this isn’t really a history of time travel, in the sense of ...

Science and the City

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< p class="frontmatter">Cities are a big deal. More people now live in them than don’t, and with a growing world population, the urban jungle is only going to get busier in the coming decades. But how often do we stop to think about what makes our cities work? Cities are built using some of the most creative and revolutionary science and engineering ideas—from steel structures that scrape the sky to glass cables that help us communicate at the speed of light—but most of us are too busy to notice. Science and the City is your guidebook to that hidden world, helping you to uncover some of the remarkable technologies that keep the world’s great metropolises moving. Laurie Winkless takes us around cities in six continents to find out how they’re dealing with the challenges of feeding, housing, powering and connecting more people than ever before. In this book, you’ll meet urban pioneers ...

Tetris: The Games People Play

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< p class="frontmatter">It is, perhaps, the perfect video game. Simple yet addictive, Tetris delivers an irresistible, unending puzzle that has players hooked. Play it long enough and you’ll see those brightly colored geometric shapes everywhere. You’ll see them in your dreams.

Alexey Pajitnov had big ideas about games. In 1984, he created Tetris in his spare time while developing software for the Soviet government. Once Tetris emerged from behind the Iron Curtain, it was an instant hit. Nintendo, Atari, Sega—game developers big and small all wanted Tetris. A bidding war was sparked, followed by clandestine trips to Moscow, backroom deals, innumerable miscommunications, and outright theft.

Author and cartoonist Box Brown untangles this complex history and delves deep into the role games play in art, culture, and commerce. For the first time and in unparalleled detail, Tetris: The Games People Play tells the true story of the world’s most popular video game in ...

Colorful Heroes: The Origins of Marvel’s Iron Fist and Luke Cage

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< p class="frontmatter">Remember the days when every comic book captured your imagination, and took you to new and exciting places? When you didn’t apologize for loving the comic books and creators that gave you bliss? In Comic Book Fever, George Khoury (author of The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore and Kimota: The Miracleman Companion) presents a “love letter” to his personal golden age of comics, 1976-1986, covering all the things that made those comics great—the top artists, the coolest stories, and even the best ads!

Inside this full-color book are new articles, interviews, and images about the people, places, characters, titles, moments, and good times that inspired and thrilled us in the Bronze Age: Neal Adams, John Romita, George Pérez, Marv Wolfman, Alan Moore, Denny O’Neil, Jim Starlin, José Luis García-López, The Hernandez Brothers, The Buscema Brothers, Stan Lee, Jack Davis, Jack Kirby, Kevin Eastman, Chris Claremont, Gerry Conway, Frank ...

Comic Book Fever: The Neverending Story of Star Wars

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< p class="frontmatter">Remember the days when every comic book captured your imagination, and took you to new and exciting places? When you didn’t apologize for loving the comic books and creators that gave you bliss? In Comic Book Fever, George Khoury (author of The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore and Kimota: The Miracleman Companion) presents a “love letter” to his personal golden age of comics, 1976-1986, covering all the things that made those comics great—the top artists, the coolest stories, and even the best ads!

Inside this full-color book are new articles, interviews, and images about the people, places, characters, titles, moments, and good times that inspired and thrilled us in the Bronze Age: Neal Adams, John Romita, George Pérez, Marv Wolfman, Alan Moore, Denny O’Neil, Jim Starlin, José Luis García-López, The Hernandez Brothers, The Buscema Brothers, Stan Lee, Jack Davis, Jack Kirby, Kevin Eastman, Chris Claremont, Gerry Conway, Frank ...

Raiders!

Raiders-paperback

< p class="frontmatter">In 1982, in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, Chris Strompolos, eleven, asked Eric Zala, twelve, a question: “Would you like to help me do a remake Raiders of the Lost Ark? I’m playing Indiana Jones.”

And they did it. Every shot, every line of dialogue, every stunt. They borrowed and collected costumes, convinced neighborhood kids to wear grass skirts and play natives, cast a fifteen-year-old as Indy’s love interest, rounded up seven thousand snakes (sort of), built the Ark, the Idol, the huge boulder, found a desert in Mississippi, and melted the bad guys’ faces off.

It took seven years.

Along the way, Chris had his first kiss (on camera), they nearly burned down the house and incinerated Eric, lived through parents getting divorced and remarried, and watched their friendship disintegrate.

Now available in paperback from St. Martin’s Press, Alan Eisenstock’s Raiders! is the official companion book to the award-winning, feature-length documentary, ...

A Space Unicorn Tale: The REAL Story Behind the Creation of Uncanny Magazine

uncanny-logo In 2014, we told you about the long history of Uncanny Magazine, starting with its pulp magazine origins in the 1930s. Then in 2015, we spun the tale of the future history of Uncanny Magazine, going a million years into the magazine’s future. Reader, we lied. A lot. The biggest lie of all, though, is on every cover of Uncanny—right at the bottom. Editors-in-Chief Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas have nothing to do with creation of each issue. They’re not even real people, just actors who go to conventions and podcast a little. It’s time to reveal the truth. The truth that has been hiding in plain sight the whole time. The Space Unicorn mascot is real. Not only are they real, they edit and publish every single issue of Uncanny Magazine by utilizing their abilities to travel through a series of portals to infinite ...