Welcome to the first installment of our new science fiction and fantasy newsletter, Swords & Spaceships! I’ll be gathering news from in and around our favorite genres, and including reviews of some of my favorite reads. Let’s get to it.
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Space is the place, y’all. In real-life news:
– Tabby’s Star, or KIC 8462852, has been making headlines due to inexplicable dimming. Scientists have been monitoring the star to try to determine why it’s not behaving in a scientifical way, and the best they can come up with is that it’s not NOT aliens.
– Not only is there a potentially habitable planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, but there is probably water on Jupiter’s moon Europa.
– Elon Musk is planning to colonize Mars, and eat a lot of pizza on the way. (Seriously.)
With all this science-fact in the offing, maybe we will get actual hoverboards and generation ships sooner rather than later. What does it mean for science fiction? My hope is a flood of new space opera! Especially since the chances of me being able to afford a spot in Elon Musk’s bright and shiny future are slim to none.
Medieval England is apparently also the place. As you may have heard, Guy Ritchie is making a King Arthur film starring Charlie Hunnam as a street-fighter who, well, pulls a sword from a stone. If the trailer is any indication this will be a glorious mess, and my body is ready. The next Transformers movie will also have a King Arthur cameo — we shall never speak of this again. And apparently Fox has decided that Arthur should join modern times as a graffiti artist (?!) who teams up with his cop ex-girlfriend Gwen (!?!!) to fight the forces of darkness (!???????). But I have saved the best news for last: Lev Grossman (The Magicians series) is writing an Arthurian novel! INSERT CONFETTI TREBUCHET HERE. The Bright Sword will pick up with the fall of Camelot, and features a band of misfit knights and Merlin’s apprentice. Inquiring minds want to know: how does Mordred fit into all of this? And exactly which minor knights will make appearances? I feel like I need an Arthurian fantasy league to adequately prepare.
And now, this week’s reviews.
Stories of Your Life and Others, by Ted Chiang
While it is more properly classified as speculative rather than science fiction, we’re counting it because ALIENS. This collection has been floating around in one form or another for years. The first story, “Tower of Babylon,” won the Nebula Award in 1990. Tor first published the collection in 2002, Small Beer Press republished it in 2010, and Vintage has just re-issued it this June. When you read it, you’ll understand why: it’s incredible in its range and vision. Whether he’s writing about Industrial-era golems or ancient Babylonians or modern-day super-geniuses, Chiang has an eye for the details that make the unbelievable feel real. The title story, “Story of Your Life,” is an absolute knock-out, with one of the most satisfying twists I’ve read in a while and some of the hardest-to-conceptualize aliens since China Mieville’s Embassytown. Arrival, a feature-film adaptation of the story, will be released in November and it looks pretty amazing. Since it’s clear from the trailer that they’re taking liberties with the storyline, you’ll definitely want to read it first. (And even if you’re not going to see the movie, you want to read it anyway.)
The Mirror Empire, Kameron Hurley
It’s been some time since I read an epic fantasy that delighted and enthralled me as much as The Mirror Empire, the first book in the Worldbreaker Saga. If you also missed it when it came out in 2014, I invite you to catch up with me! While the narrative jumps between a few characters the linchpin is Lilia, an orphan with strange and disturbing memories of the moment she lost her mother. As she comes of age, the world around her is coming undone. Savage forces are attacking many countries’ lines of defense, and the political situation is not exactly ripe for alliance. Hurley has built a dark and complicated world with multiple cultures and gender roles, and in the process has breathed fresh air into second-world fantasy. If you’re out of NK Jemisin to read, are waiting on the newest installment of A Song of Ice and Fire, or just really like swords and politics and magic and So Much Stabbing, pick this up. The second novel in the series, Empire Ascendant, is out already and the third is slated for next year.
And that’s our show! May you live long and prosper; see you in two weeks.