John Henry and universal health care

Oct. 17th, 2017 11:10 pm
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Posted by Fred Clark

"Muscular Christianity" is rooted in fear -- specifically in fear of the physically stronger, and more numerous, working class. Muscular Christianity took that fear and responded by saying, "We'd better starting working out."

Fibre in your diet

Oct. 17th, 2017 08:01 pm
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Posted by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee

Socktober is still a thing over here. I had a brief dalliance with the beginnings of a shawl at Knit City, but it didn’t quite take hold, though it might have stood a chance but for Megan. My mum loved clothes shopping and did heaps of it for all of us, so I was trying to be a good grandmother, and asked her what Elliot needed. She answered that he could use a sleeper or two, and that she likes the ones with feet. I went shopping, and had trouble finding footed ones that would fit him. (Being of average weight for his age but of a rather diminutive stature, our wee lad is a bit of a square.) I bought the one footed one I could find, and two that didn’t have feet, and forked them over to Meg. When I did, she mentioned that the reason she likes the footed ones is because his little feet get so cold at night and then she said maybe he needed more booties or socks or something like that and I felt a feeling that must be exactly like the way sharks feel when they pour the buckets of chum in the water.

I went the knitter equivalent of bananas. It was all I could think of. Babies are enough to set me off, but the thought of a cold baby who could only be saved by knitting? Lunatic. I was a lunatic with wool. My grandson had cold feet and I was unstoppable. Hours later:

littleblueonestoo 2017-10-17 greenalldone 2017-10-17

One pair with ribbed cuffs and a stockinette foot, and another pair where I kept the ribbing going on the top of the sock, and gave way to stockinette on only the bottom. (No pattern, though you can find lots on Ravelry if you look – wait, I did it for you. These ones by Kate Atherley look perfect.) The good news is that not only are his feet warm, they fit just fine:

greensockson 2017-10-17

Maybe a little big, but he’s growing fast, and they are apparently delicious.

greenoneisgoodtoo 2017-10-17 delicioussocks 2017-10-17

The green ones especially.

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Posted by Stefan Raets

When someone asks me for my personal favorite fantasy series, I usually hem and haw for a while and try to sneak at least two or three extra series into my answer. But if you were to force me, under threat of violence, to trim it down to just one, it would be Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos series. Vallista, the fifteenth novel in the long-running series, is due out on October 17th, making this an excellent time to try and convert some new readers to the Gospel of Taltos.

Explaining what exactly is so wonderful about this series is tricky, partly because it’s so unique and partly because it’s hard to do without including huge spoilers, but at its heart it’s the story of Vlad Taltos, a human assassin living in the Dragaeran Empire, as well as the story of the Dragaeran Empire itself.

At this point you may be groaning “not another assassin,” but let me assure you that Vlad is not your typical run-of-the-mill hood-wearing killer-for-hire that seemed to be on every other fantasy cover a few years back. Vlad is actually one of the most fascinating protagonists in current fantasy. At the start of the series, he’s a smart-ass, bon-vivant assassin and minor crime boss who enjoys good food and wine and has a great sarcastic sense of humor. A good part of the fun of reading this series is following the constant wise-cracks between Vlad and his reptilian familiar Loiosh. (“You’re pretty smart for a mammal, boss.”) As the series progresses, you learn more about Vlad’s past, putting his choice of occupation in an entirely new light, and you also see Vlad evolve into a surprisingly complex character. (On a personal note, as someone who’s been reading these novels for a couple of decades now, I find that my take on Vlad has evolved considerably as I’ve matured as a person and a reader.)

Dragaerans are basically tall humanoids who use sorcery and live for millennia. This may make you assume they’re like elves—and indeed some humans, like Vlad’s wonderful grandfather, refer to them as “elfs”—but the reality is far more surprising and unique. (This is where it’s very hard not to go into spoiler territory, so let’s just join Vlad’s “Noish-Pa” and think of them as elves for now.)

The Dragaeran Empire is an ancient society divided into seventeen Great Houses which all bear the name of, and some resemblance to, a real or mythical animal. So we have the Houses of the Orca and the Hawk, but also the Houses of the Dzur, Dragon, and Jhegaala. Humans aren’t part of the Dragaeran Empire, but Vlad’s father bought his son a title in the House of Jhereg, which is named after a reptilian scavenger and is basically the crime syndicate of the Empire. The Great Houses take turns running the Empire according to the Great Cycle; as the series begins, we’re just a few centuries into the reign of Empress Zerika of the House of the Phoenix.

Here’s the thing, though: I could go on for ages describing the more intricate details of this fantasy universe, but that’s only one of many reasons why these books are so much fun. Another reason is the way the series is structured, because the books weren’t written according to the internal chronology. The second novel (Yendi) takes place before the first one (Jhereg). The events described in Jhegaala, published in 2008, take place right between two books published over a decade earlier (Phoenix and Athyra), and if I understand correctly (not having read it yet), the forthcoming new novel Vallista takes place right before Hawk, which was published right before it.

If that sounds confusing, don’t worry: the details will fall into place as you progress through the series. Readers used to try to rearrange the novels and read them according to the internal chronology, but that became almost impossible when Dragon (1998) switched back and forth between separate branches of the timeline in each chapter of the novel. To preserve your sanity, I sincerely recommend just reading them in publication order.

Speaking of reading order: aside from the fifteen novels in the core series so far, there are also the “Khaavren Romances,” a trilogy (in which the third novel consists of three volumes by itself, so there are actually five of them) set several hundred years before the main series. Because Dragaerans live for millennia, several characters appear in both series, experiencing things that to Vlad (and most readers) will feel like historical events come to life. This is a very odd experience, only heightened by the narrator of the Romances, the esteemed Paarfi of Roundwood, whose incredibly verbose style (reminiscent of Alexandre Dumas, as the books’ titles suggests) takes some getting used to. There’s much more that can be written about these books—they really deserve a separate article—but just to return to the reading order: as with almost all prequels, don’t start with the Khaavren Romances. If you want to stick with publication order, the first one (The Phoenix Guards) was published between Phoenix and Athyra, or otherwise you can pretty much pick them up when you’ve read at least a few books in the main series. (For completion’s sake, there’s also The Brokedown Palace, a standalone novel set in Fenario, east of the Empire. I just now realize this may be the only novel by Brust I’ve never read, so I can’t really talk about how it fits into the series, but it’s clearly connected and I clearly need to read it.)

But back to the main series! Each novel (except, so far, Taltos) is named after one of the seventeen Dragaeran Houses, and in most cases, Vlad takes on some of the characteristics and attributes of that House throughout the novel, so e.g. in Dragon he ends up a soldier, and in Issola he becomes remarkably courteous. In Jhereg, Brust even applies this technique on the chapter level: each chapter begins with a quotation that connects back to one of the Houses, in the same order they appear in the Cycle, and Vlad does or says something that’s reminiscent of that House.

Brust also likes to play around with the internal structure of each novel in utterly delightful ways. My favorite example is Teckla, which starts off with a list of instructions for Vlad’s launderer-tailor. (“1 grey knit cotton shirt: remove wine stain from rt sleeve, black tallow from lft & repair cut in rt cuff.”) Each chapter starts off with a line from this (literal) laundry list and, at some point in the chapter, you find out how that item of clothing was damaged. Other novels in the series are structured around the menu for an elaborate meal (no one describes food as mouth-wateringly as Brust does, especially in the Valabar’s scenes in Dzur) or the various steps for casting a spell.

Now here’s the oddest thing about this series for me. Even though Brust is performing the literary equivalent of flying trapeze work with all his structural tricks and his convoluted chronology, the actual novels themselves are short (most of my ratty old paperbacks are around 300 pages), tightly written, and purely entertaining. You can read most of them in a few hours. Because the books are mostly self-contained, over the years they’ve started functioning similarly to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series for me: quick and entertaining novels that are still rewarding after multiple readings.

For a series that’s been going for over thirty years now (Jhereg was published in 1983!), it’s stayed remarkably consistent, so if all this enthusiastic rambling intrigued you, I recommend picking up The Book of Jhereg, an omnibus edition of the first three novels in the series.

Stefan Raets reads and reviews science fiction and fantasy whenever he isn’t distracted by less important things like eating and sleeping. His (sadly neglected) website is Far Beyond Reality.

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Posted by

Winter Tide Ruthanna Emrys

For 72 hours only, from now to the end of October 20th, Publishing is offering a free ebook download of Ruthanna Emrys’ Winter Tide when you sign up for their monthly newsletter.

Winter Tide is the first book in Emrys’ Lovecraftian saga about the last survivors of Innsmouth, which continues with Deep Roots in summer 2018.

This offer is available worldwide from 12 PM EST on October 17th to 12 PM EST on October 20th.

By signing up for the Publishing newsletter, you’ll receive updates on all of our titles and authors, plus excerpts, features, new acquisitions, sweepstakes and more.

Act fast and tell your friends!

Please note: If you already receive the Publishing newsletter, you still need to sign in for this program to get your free ebook.

If you’re experiencing technical difficulties, email “”.

* Publishing reserves the right to end this promotion at any time

More about Winter Tide

“Wicked for the Cthulhu Mythos” —Seanan McGuire on the Innsmouth Legacy

“Winter Tide is a weird, lyrical mystery — truly strange and compellingly grim. It’s an innovative gem that turns Lovecraft on his head with cleverness and heart” —Cherie Priest

After attacking Devil’s Reef in 1928, the U.S. government rounded up the people of Innsmouth and took them to the desert, far from their ocean, their Deep One ancestors, and their sleeping god Cthulhu. Only Aphra and Caleb Marsh survived the camps, and they emerged without a past or a future.

The government that stole Aphra’s life now needs her help. FBI agent Ron Spector believes that Communist spies have stolen dangerous magical secrets from Miskatonic University, secrets that could turn the Cold War hot in an instant, and hasten the end of the human race.

Aphra must return to the ruins of her home, gather scraps of her stolen history, and assemble a new family to face the darkness of human nature.

Winter Tide is the debut novel from Ruthanna Emrys, author of the Aphra Marsh story, “The Litany of Earth”—included here as a bonus.

And coming in July 2018…

Deep Roots

The Innsmouth Legacy continues with Deep Roots, arriving next year. See the cover reveal and read an interview with Ruthanna about the book at the Verge, and pre-order your copy now!

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Posted by Alex Brown

Hey you! Yeah, you. C’mere and take a seat. I’m about to tell you about a fantastic middle grade/young adult series by the amazing Nnedi Okorafor. The Akata Witch series is an electrifying tale about an inspiring African girl. It’s gorgeously written and filled with magic, excitement, and even a little romance. It beats the Chosen One trope at its own game with the help of West African deities and socio-cultural traditions. I know I always say “you need to read this,” but you really need to read this.

Sunny Nwazue is an albino girl born in America to Nigerian parents who returned to their homeland when she was young. At first, the transition is hard. Some of the girls at school call her “akata,” a derogatory term for African Americans, her father is almost oppressive in his patriarchy, and her brothers would rather flirt with girls than hang out with her. At 12 she sees the world coming to an end in the flame of a candle and discovers she’s the heir to powerful magic. Her new friends – pensive Orlu, feisty Sasha, and confident Chichi – yank her out of the world of the Lambs (regular ol’ humans) and into the world of Leopard people (humans with the ability to do magic) and the mystical, mythical beings they interact with. She is only a free agent, a mage born to non-magical parents, but there’s more magic in her family tree than she realizes.

One by one the children become apprentices to important Leopard people to hone their specific magical talents. As they learn, they earn chittim and rise in the educational hierarchy of their society. In Akata Witch, Sunny confronts a child-killer known as Black Hat Otokoto and her own insecurities. By the time Akata Warrior rolls around she’s brave enough to challenge a soul-stealing djinn, a lake monster with a grudge, and an ancient deity with a deadly vendetta. Strong, complex women and supportive, kind men ground her magical education and push her to grow her skills as a free agent. And always at Sunny’s side, even when she thinks she’s alone, is her spirit face, Anyanwu.

Akata Witch and Akata Warrior are frequently referred to as the Nigerian Harry Potter. Sure, she’s a Chosen One brimming with powerful ancestral magic who was raised in the non-magical world. And yes, her destiny is to battle a great evil with the help of her generous friends. But in Sunny’s story there’s a realness and harsh earnestness that HP lacks. Leopard People aren’t unforgiving but won’t let a crime go unpunished. Death and pain lurk in the shadows of her world, not just in the form of her nemesis but in everyday life. Africa is a continent marred by colonialism and exploitation; to build a magical world on that foundation is to imbue it with hardship. But the Akata Witch series isn’t dour and dark. Hope and happiness win out every time. Life is worth living because even in the darkest times, friends and family make everything better. Magic doesn’t make Sunny’s world better, it just changes the way she engages with it.

Sunny’s very existence confounds stereotypes. She is the embodiment of the in between. She’s Black but with pale skin, hair like “sour milk,” and “hazel eyes that look like God ran out of the right color.” At once Igbo and American, a confluence that leaves her feeling outside both identities. Her physical strength and sporty prowess makes her feel like a warrior, but society (Leopard and Lamb) discounts her abilities because of her gender. She’s no longer a child but not yet a teenager, a Leopard Person with a powerful genealogy and a great destiny but still disregarded as a lowly free agent. Watching her discover that what she thinks are contradictions are really complements and that she can determine her own fate is the best part of the series.

Now, I’m not Nigerian, nor am I albino, but as a light-skinned biracial Black girl raised in a predominately white area, I grew up surrounded by people who didn’t look like me and who went out of their way to point that out as often as possible. And as much as I wish I had Sunny Nwazue when I was a tween, it’s thrilling to think about all those kids who get to have her now. If we adults do our jobs right and promote Sunny as much as we do Harry, there will be a whole generation of kids who will grow up with the memory of Sunny breaking free of the chains of the patriarchy and defining herself on her own terms. Every teenager has felt in between at some point in their life, but not everyone knows what to do about it. Sunny shows them (especially Black girls) that they don’t have to be beholden to what society wants, that they can make their own way, even if adults don’t necessarily agree with their choices.

It’s worth taking a moment to discuss how the Akata Witch series treats disabilities. I think it’s fair to argue that Okorafor was mostly successful in turning the tables on the mystical disability trope. In her series, what a Lamb might consider a disability or a flaw is, for Leopard people, the basis for their magical abilities and a highly respected quality. But as Sunny becomes more powerful, her disability becomes less apparent. By the end of Akata Warrior, pretty much the only reminder we have of her albinism is her light skin, hair, and eyes. Most of the accompanying side effects like photophobia and issues with exposure to sunlight are more or less cured by her magic. On one hand, if we look at Sunny’s albinism as the physical manifestation of her magic, it makes sense that it would change as she grows into her powers. On the other hand, it also kinda turns her disability into decoration and strips most of the meaning from it.

Maybe how the Akata Witch series deals with disabilities works and maybe it doesn’t and maybe it’s a little of both. Maybe, like Sunny herself, there is no right or wrong but something in between. And that’s ok. But it’s also ok to want more than that. I trust Okorafor enough to believe her intent came from a place of respect, and I always say I’d rather have representation that tries but doesn’t quite stick the landing than to not try at all to the point of exclusion.

Nnedi Okorafor’s Akata Witch series isn’t perfect, but it’s damn near close. It’s everything I’ve always wanted from MG/YA fantasy fiction. Y’all can keep mining the same old wizards and dragons well. Okorafor and I will be over here freaking out over Igbo deities and West African cultural customs. I hope to Chukwu there’s a third book on the horizon, but I wouldn’t say no to a fourth or a fifth or a sixth or…

Alex Brown is a teen librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.

Robert Jordan Birthday Sweepstakes!

Oct. 17th, 2017 04:30 pm
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Posted by Sweepstakes

Robert Jordan birthday sweepstakes stories quote

In 1990, gleeman Thom Merrilin declaimed “You want stories?” through what was then a little-known fantasy novel called The Eye of the World.

Epic fantasy author Robert Jordan would provide those stories in abundance for the next three decades, crafting a rich epic we know now as The Wheel of Time.

In celebration of Robert Jordan’s birthday, wants to send one lucky winner a framed pressing of that seminal quote, in remembrance of that gleeman who came to town all those years ago, in honor of the stories he brought to life.

Comment in the post to enter!

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States and D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec). To enter, comment on this post beginning at 12:30 PM Eastern Time (ET) on October 17th. Sweepstakes ends at 12:00 PM ET on October 21st. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor:, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.

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Posted by Liz Bourke

Are we reaching some kind of critical mass this year in terms of queer content in books published by mainstream SFF imprints? Where queer people have a central role to play, and where, moreover, being queer does not end universally badly? Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that this year—including some novels I’ve read that aren’t published quite yet—is a banner year.

In the past, I’ve had short lists of works (outside niche presses with a romance focus) and of creators who included queer folk (who stayed alive! mostly) in their speculative fiction narratives. Every year since I discovered I was interested in this sort of thing, I’ve been adding to those lists, usually with a faint air of frustration that the selection wasn’t more varied (or in some cases, of a higher quality: it’s annoying to caveat with “it’s not all that well written, but at least it doesn’t bury its gays”). But this year is the first time I’ve come across an average of more than one new good book with at least one queer main character per month. Where things don’t end terribly badly.

This year, I’ve come across a whole eighteen new books with significant queer inclusion. (From mainstream imprints. This is important, because it means they are more likely to have bookshop distribution. People won’t necessarily have to go and specifically seek them out.) Five of them are novellas, but they’re substantial novellas. And this number represents only the new books I’ve read so far this year that represent worlds that aren’t almost entirely heterosexual. (And that aren’t genre romance. I like romance! Romance is fine. But sometimes I want other things to happen in the plot.) There may yet be one or two more. I have my fingers crossed for several—it’d be nice to have twenty-four as a number!—but that might be hoping for too much.

I have, it turns out, come across more books that include women who love women than those that include men who love men, and more of either than those that include trans characters—though there are a few. When it comes to nonbinary characters, the list is fairly short.

These books are good. They have queer main characters, for some variety of queer. And they’re here.

In no particular order, they comprise:

  • Ruthanna Emrys’s Winter Tide (the main character is asexual and the book is about found family), a reinterpretation of Lovecraft from the point of view of the so-called monsters.
  • Ellen Klages’s Passing Strange, which is an ode to, and a love story set in, 1940s San Francisco.
  • Kameron Hurley’s The Stars Are Legion (tagline: lesbians in spaaaaaace), a weird and brutal and brutally inventive and intensely biological space opera.
  • Sarah Fine’s The Cursed Queen, sequel to The Imposter Queen, about a young woman who discovers shocking things about herself. She has magic! She’s not who she always thought she was.
  • Tim Pratt’s The Wrong Stars (forthcoming November from Angry Robot Books), a gloriously pulpy space opera adventure that recalls both Killjoys and The Expanse, and which may be my favourite new space opera this year, or at least tied for first place.
  • R.E. Stearns’s Barbary Station (forthcoming November from Saga Press), is a story about space pirates, engineers in love, and murderous A.I. It ties with Tim Pratt’s The Wrong Stars for the title of my favourite new space opera.
  • K. Arsenault Rivera’s The Tiger’s Daughter is a gloriously lush epic fantasy romance, set in a world inspired by China and Mongolia. It’s beautiful and striking and has characters who stand out.
  • April Daniels’s Sovereign, sequel to Dreadnought, continues Dreadnought’s story of a superhero who also has to deal with transphobic bullshit.
  • Max Gladstone’s Ruin of Angels is the latest novel in his Hugo-nominated Craft sequence, a caper through a split-personality city built on ghosts, with his usual interrogation of capitalism and colonialism.
  • Adam Roberts’s The Real-Town Murders is a near-future locked-room murder that turns into an attempted political coup.
  • Ann Leckie’s Provenance, a standalone novel in the same universe as her Imperial Radch trilogy, which combines comedy-of-manners with political caper and coming-of-age adventure.
  • Melissa Caruso’s The Tethered Mage is a fantasy adventure set in a Venice-like city that may be on the brink of war.

The following novels also have nonbinary characters in various degrees of prominence: Ann Leckie’s Provenance, Elizabeth Bear’s The Stone in the Skull, Corey J. White’s Killing Gravity, R.E. Stearns’ Barbary Station, Sarah Gailey, River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow, J.Y. Yang’s The Black Tides of Heaven and The Red Threads of Fortune, and Foz Meadows’s A Tyranny of Queens.

I find this development promising. Especially since several of these novels include queer characters who aren’t white. I want to see inclusive speculative fiction, and I’m glad to have evidence that I’m far from the only one.

Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, is out now from Aqueduct Press. Find her at her blog, where she’s been known to talk about even more books thanks to her Patreon supporters. Or find her at her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council and the Abortion Rights Campaign.

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Posted by Erin Roberts

Effie Trinket and Katniss Everdeen the Hunger Games

If you’re a character in a piece of genre fiction these days, there’s a good chance you’re living in some kind of dystopian reality. From teenagers killing each other as blood sport to women forced into lives of terrified obedience by a system that views them as expendable vessels, there are so many flavors of fictional systematized cruelty these days that we’re beginning to question whether we’ve finally achieved “Peak Dystopia Fatigue,” at least when it comes to a particular brand of Blade Runner-esque futuristic urban hellscapes. But is that all there is to the genre? Just an endless slog of unrelenting bleakness? Is that what dystopias are all about?

Dystopian fiction, which comes from the Ancient Greek words “dys” (bad) and “topia” (place), lives up to its name by featuring worlds in which reality is cruel, suffering is extreme, and hope seems pointless. But not every horrible place is a dystopia—the trope usually features a world in which society itself is the problem—and not every dystopia is horrible in the same way. The social order is broken, but how? The system has been corrupted, but by whom? These futures may be bleak, but they are not interchangeable.

That said, while all unhappy worlds are unhappy in their own way, there are some broken realities that do show up in fiction time and time again and some dystopian nightmares that we can’t seem to shake. So if you’re living in a fictional reality that seems less than perfect, here are four questions to ask yourself to determine if you’re truly in a dystopia, or just having a really bad day.

Do You Think You’re In A Dystopia?

Brave New World Aldous Huxley

This might seem like an easy question. You wouldn’t be asking in the first place if you hadn’t been tipped off to your world’s dystopian nature by all the pain and destruction and nifty leather outfits. But not all dystopias are quite so apparent on the surface. You might be having a perfectly happy life, in a world full of perfectly happy people—happy, that is, because a horrible and painful secret is what truly makes your idyllic lives possible. In a False Utopia like yours, all that bliss comes at a terrible cost. In the classic Aldous Huxley novel Brave New World, for example, the drug soma and widespread conditioning help to keep the population carefree, but in truth, the society relies on forced conformity, dedication to the state over self, and a rigid caste system in order to function.

Even if you aren’t living a life that’s suspiciously free of conflict, as you and your neighbors cavort around in pure joy, you might be still in a dystopia. Maybe your life is just easier than you anticipated, and you’re discouraged from asking too many questions about where your food really comes from or what the shining wires around your house are for or what happens to the people who disappear on moonless nights. More likely than not, you’re in a Surprise! Dystopia, as you’ll soon find out when you learn that the food’s made of people (Soylent Green), the wires are deadly snares (Watership Down), and your people are being killed by the species that provides for all your needs (The Time Machine).

Don’t worry too much if you’re living the good life, though. Most of the time, if you’re in a dystopia, it’s painfully obvious: your life is on lockdown and the world is a cruel and unusual place. Which begs the question…


Who Is in Charge Here?

Shirley Jackson The Lottery

Are you under the thumb of an oppressive regime? Usually dystopias require some sort of force in order to keep the public in line. Whether it’s the totalitarian governments of The Man in the High Castle or the repressive theocracy of Mistborn: The Final Empire, a classic Centralized Dystopia will probably involve weapons and power concentrated under the control of a chosen few. Don’t be surprised if those in power are monitoring your thoughts and actions (1984), creating strict rules and roles that only benefit themselves (The Handmaid’s Tale), or restricting access to basic necessities for those not in favor (The Hunger Games). That’s how they keep themselves in power and you…not so much.

Doesn’t describe your world? You’re not off the hook yet; not all dystopias are created and maintained by a small group of power-mad despots. Maybe yours is a Systemic Dystopia, created when the population ceded power to a particular system over time until that system began to oppress people, not as a targeted measure, but as a way to make things easier for the people or groups that it favors. It might be Max Barry’s Jennifer Government, for example, in which corporations have unfettered power as a whole, but no single corporate entity controls the system. They do it through teamwork. Yay.

Or maybe no one specific group is in control of the system at all. There are a just few odd rules that you and your neighbors have decided to live by, like stoning one member of town to death every year (Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”) or collectively ignoring the child whose torture is necessary for your lives to go on as normal (Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”). Congrats, you’re in a Collective Dystopia, where the population as a whole has decided that a dystopian reality is for the greater good. Hope you can live with the fact that you were able to reach new depths of cruelty without being forced into it by some powerful outside group.

Most likely, though, your life is being controlled. After all, the centralized dystopia is the most common scenario when it comes to this type of fiction. So you know who’s in charge, but you have to ask…


Who Does the Suffering?

The Handmaid's Tale Hulu show

Let’s be clear; in your world, some people are suffering. (If they aren’t, and everything seems hunky dory, go back to question one.) Even more importantly, some people are suffering more than everyone else. Even if life is fairly bleak for you and most of the people you know, there is probably someone who is being tortured, or imprisoned, or killed in some new and inventively horrific way. But why them? What did they do to deserve such pain?

Maybe the answer is “nothing.” If the suffering strikes people at random, you’re in a Lottery Dystopia. Suffering comes down to the luck of the draw. In some worlds, that luck is more obviously doled out, usually using some horrific version of a real-world game of chance, but in others there is a persistent danger that can kill or harm anyone in your world without warning, like a megalomaniacal God-like ruler who beheads random civilians in fits of anger (Mistborn).

Does that seem capricious and terrifying? Maybe your world isn’t quite so haphazard. In a Punitive Dystopia, suffering is used as strategy. Either it’s a way to punish those who step outside of the established system, even if they are doing nothing more than reading (Fahrenheit 451), or it helps to cull traits that are considered dangerous or unnecessary. Those traits vary from place to place—you might live in a world where one of every set of identical twins is “Sent to Elsewhere” (The Giver), or one where anyone who reaches the age of 30 is “Renewed” (Logan’s Run). In particularly bad cases, your world may even do both—in The Handmaid’s Tale, for instance, the Children of Ham are relocated, but dissenters within Gilead are either killed or sent to work in the deadly Colonies.

But whether the suffering in your world is wielded as a targeted weapon or strikes randomly like a bolt of lightning, who you are probably affects how likely you are to be impacted. After all, if you’re in the right group, you have less of a chance of being picked in a psychotic lottery and your social class would never be targeted for cruelty. So the real question is…


How Is Your Lot In Life Determined?

Divergent aptitude test

Social castes and population groupings are key to many dystopian lifestyles. Divergent has its factions; The Hunger Games has districts. And whether you’re dealing with a controlling government, a religious order, a corporate hegemony, or a home-grown cult, most dystopias have an odd obsession with being able to stamp everyone with a catchy label. These handy titles help to disguise the fact that whether or not your caste name or job title rolls off of the tongue, you’re stuck in it. Forever.

Did you enter your caste or social class at birth? You’re in an Inheritance Dystopia. Maybe you’re unlucky enough to be the descendant of the people who opposed your dystopia’s current ruling class (The Hunger Games) or you were specifically created for your role through breeding or genetic engineering (Brave New World). Whether it’s because of where you were born or because of your bloodline, your relative privilege, power, and freedom have been set from the moment you took your first breath.

Sorting Hat Dystopias, on the other hand, usually wait until later in life to assign you to your fate, based on what you’ve done so far or what the powers that be think you might do and be in the future. In Divergent, a test sorts each teenager when they turn sixteen years old, while The Giver starts even earlier, with assigned roles at age twelve based on aptitude. Once you’ve been assigned, though, the die is cast. You are who (and what) you are.

Both systems, in the end, take the agency away from you and everyone else in your world, constraining your opportunities and setting your fate based on factors you probably don’t have much control over. It’s the same overwhelming sense of restricted agency that you see throughout all of these different dystopias—everything from who bears the brunt of the system’s cruelty to whether you know you’re in a dystopia at all is taken out of your hands. Congratulations—you’ve found your dystopia! Now do exactly what we want you to do.

Maybe this is what makes dystopias so common, what draws us to the genre time and time again. In recent years, in fact, it seems as if we can’t get enough of them. While this type of bleak world is nothing new to science fiction and fantasy—the 1930s and 40s brought us dystopian novels like Brave New World1984, and Fahrenheit 451—the subgenre is currently having a major resurgence. While some may insist that we’re burned out on dystopian visions, sales of the classics are up, and new stories of oppressive governments and repressive societies are flying off the shelves.

Why? I’m not sure. Maybe we are drawn to tales of heroes and movements that go beyond simply opposing individual villains, tales about facing the greater evils, the systems that make these villains possible. Maybe we like the way these stories dare us to acknowledge and challenge the dystopian elements we may see in our own reality.

Maybe we like being able to do something about it.

After all, if you’re lucky enough to be the protagonist in a dystopian piece of literature, while you will probably suffer, you will also get the opportunity to make a choice for yourself. Whether your act of rebellion is big enough to take down an entire government or small enough that only you take pleasure in it, you will have the chance to determine your own fate. Perhaps it is no accident that in the 30s and 40s, a time of global conflicts, and today, a time in which the world seems more connected and yet more unstable than ever, we would yearn for stories about people who make a difference, no matter the cost.

The truth is, whether you see your dystopia in all of these types, or none of them—or even if you don’t live in a true dystopia at all—one thing is clear. Things aren’t going to fix themselves. Perhaps that’s what dystopian fiction does best, and why it remains more relevant than ever: it reminds us that we need to take action. It pushes us to step up, to speak out, to stand up for ourselves and to be an ally and advocate for others. It increases our awareness of our own rights and freedom, and our responsibilities to protect the freedom and the rights of others. It shows us what happens if we surrender, or waver, or fail. It inspires us to do better, to demand better, and to be better.

Here’s to your dystopia. Long may you fight.

Erin Roberts emerges from her own dystopia from time to time to write short stories, share her thoughts about the writing world, and send the occasional tweet. Follow her on Twitter at @nirele.

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Posted by Brandon Sanderson

Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson

Start reading Oathbringer, the new volume of Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive epic, right now. For free! is serializing the much-awaited third volume in the Stormlight Archive series every Tuesday until the novel’s November 14, 2017 release date.

Every installment is collected here in the Oathbringer index.

Need a refresher on the Stormlight Archive before beginning Oathbringer? Here’s a summary of what happened in Book 1: The Way of Kings and Book 2: Words of Radiance.

Spoiler warning: Comments will contain spoilers for previous Stormlight books, other works that take place in Sanderson’s cosmere (Elantris, Mistborn, Warbreaker, etc.), and the available chapters of Oathbringer, along with speculation regarding the chapters yet to come.


Chapter 22
The Darkness Within

I am no philosopher, to intrigue you with piercing questions.

—From Oathbringer, preface


Mraize. His face was crisscrossed by scars, one of which deformed his upper lip. Instead of his usual fashionable clothing, today he wore a Sadeas uniform, with a breastplate and a simple skullcap helm. He looked exactly like the other soldiers they’d passed, save for that face.

And the chicken on his shoulder.

A chicken. It was one of the stranger varieties, pure green and sleek, with a wicked beak. It looked much more like a predator than the bumbling things she’d seen sold in cages at markets.

But seriously. Who walked around with a pet chicken? They were for eating, right?

Adolin noted the chicken and raised an eyebrow, but Mraize didn’t give any sign that he knew Shallan. He slouched like the other soldiers, holding a halberd and glaring at Adolin.

Ialai hadn’t set out chairs for them. She sat with her hands in her lap, sleeved safehand beneath her freehand, lit by lamps on pedestals at either side of the room. She looked particularly vengeful by that unnatural flickering light.

“Did you know,” Ialai said, “that after whitespines make a kill, they will eat, then hide near the carcass?”

“It’s one of the dangers in hunting them, Brightness,” Adolin said. “You assume that you’re on the beast’s trail, but it might be lurking nearby.”

“I used to wonder at this behavior until I realized the kill will attract scavengers, and the whitespine is not picky. The ones that come to feast on its leavings become another meal themselves.”

The implication of the conversation seemed clear to Shallan. Why have you returned to the scene of the kill, Kholin?

“We want you to know, Brightness,” Adolin said, “that we take the murder of a highprince very seriously. We are doing everything we can to prevent this from happening again.”

Oh, Adolin…

“Of course you are,” Ialai said. “The other highprinces are now too afraid to stand up to you.”

Yes, he’d walked right into that one. But Shallan didn’t take over; this was Adolin’s task, and he’d invited her for support, not to speak for him. Honestly, she wouldn’t be doing much better. She’d just be making diff rent mistakes.

“Can you tell us of anyone who might have had the opportunity and motive for killing your husband?” Adolin said. “Other than my father, Brightness.”

“So even you admit that—”

“It’s strange,” Adolin snapped. “My mother always said she thought you were clever. She admired you, and wished she had your wit. Yet here, I see no proof of that. Honestly, do you really think that my father would withstand Sadeas’s insults for years—weather his betrayal on the Plains, suffer that dueling fiasco—only to assassinate him now? Once Sadeas was proven wrong about the Voidbringers, and my father’s position is secure? We both know my father wasn’t behind your husband’s death. To claim otherwise is simple idiocy.”

Shallan started. She hadn’t expected that from Adolin’s lips. Strikingly, it seemed to her to be the precise thing he’d needed to say. Cut away the courtly language. Deliver the straight and earnest truth.

Ialai leaned forward, inspecting Adolin and chewing on his words. If there was one thing Adolin could convey, it was authenticity.

“Fetch him a chair,” Ialai said to Mraize.

“Yes, Brightness,” he said, his voice thick with a rural accent that bordered on Herdazian.

Ialai then looked to Shallan. “And you. Make yourself useful. There are teas warming in the side room.”

Shallan sniffed at the treatment. She was no longer some inconsequential ward, to be ordered about. However, Mraize lurched off in the same direction she’d been told to go, so Shallan bore the indignity and stalked after him.

The next room was much smaller, cut out of the same stone as the others, but with a muted pattern of strata. Oranges and reds that blended together so evenly you could almost pretend the wall was all one hue. Ialai’s people had been using it for storage, as evidenced by the chairs in one corner. Shallan ignored the warm jugs of tea heating on fabrials on the counter and stepped close to Mraize.

“What are you doing here?” she hissed at him.

His chicken chirped softly, as if in agitation.

“I’m keeping an eye on that one,” he said, nodding toward the other room. Here, his voice became refined, losing the rural edge. “We have interest in her.”

“So she’s not one of you?” Shallan asked. “She’s not a… Ghostblood?”

“No,” he said, eyes narrowing. “She and her husband were too wild a variable for us to invite. Their motives are their own; I don’t think they align to those of anyone else, human or listener.”

“The fact that they’re crem didn’t enter into it, I suppose.”

“Morality is an axis that doesn’t interest us,” Mraize said calmly. “Only loyalty and power are relevant, for morality is as ephemeral as the changing weather. It depends upon the angle from which you view it. You will see, as you work with us, that I am right.”

“I’m not one of you,” Shallan hissed.

“For one so insistent,” Mraize said, picking up a chair, “you were certainly free in using our symbol last night.”

Shallan froze, then blushed furiously. So he knew about that? “I…”

“Your hunt is worthy,” Mraize said. “And you are allowed to rely upon our authority to achieve your goals. That is a benefit of your membership, so long as you do not abuse it.”

“And my brothers? Where are they? You promised to deliver them to me.”

“Patience, little knife. It has been but a few weeks since we rescued them. You will see my word fulfilled in that matter. Regardless, I have a task for you.”

“A task?” Shallan snapped, causing the chicken to chirp at her again. “Mraize, I’m not going to do some task for you people. You killed Jasnah.”

“An enemy combatant,” Mraize said. “Oh, don’t look at me like that. You know full well what that woman was capable of, and what she got herself into by attacking us. Do you blame your wonderfully moral Blackthorn for what he did in war? The countless people he slaughtered?”

“Don’t deflect your evils by pointing out the faults of others,” Shallan said. “I’m not going to further your cause. I don’t care how much you demand that I Soulcast for you, I’m not going to do it.”

“So quick to insist, yet you acknowledge your debt. One Soulcaster lost, destroyed. But we forgive these things, for missions undertaken. And before you object again, know that the task we require of you is one you’re already undertaking. Surely you have sensed the darkness in this place. The… wrongness.”

Shallan looked about the small room, flickering with shadows from a few candles on the counter.

“Your task,” Mraize said, “is to secure this location. Urithiru must remain strong if we are to properly use the advent of the Voidbringers.”

Use them?”

“Yes,” Mraize said. “This is a power we will control, but we must not let either side gain dominance yet. Secure Urithiru. Hunt the source of the darkness you feel, and expunge it. This is your task. And for it I will give payment in information.” He leaned closer to her and spoke a single word. “Helaran.”

He lifted the chair and walked out, adopting a more bumbling gait, stumbling and almost dropping the chair. Shallan stood there, stunned. Helaran. Her eldest brother had died in Alethkar—where he’d been for mysterious reasons.

Storms, what did Mraize know? She glared after him, outraged. How dare he tease with that name!

Don’t focus on Helaran right now. Those were dangerous thoughts, and she could not become Veil now. Shallan poured herself and Adolin cups of tea, then grabbed a chair under her arm and awkwardly navigated back out. She sat down beside Adolin, then handed him a cup. She took a sip and smiled at Ialai, who glared at her, then directed Mraize to fetch a cup.

“I think,” Ialai said to Adolin, “that if you honestly wish to solve this crime, you won’t be looking at my husband’s former enemies. Nobody had the opportunity or motives that you would find in your warcamp.”

Adolin sighed. “We established that—”

“I’m not saying Dalinar did this,” Ialai said. She seemed calm, but she gripped the sides of her chair with white-knuckled hands. And her eyes… makeup could not hide the redness. She’d been crying. She was truly upset.

Unless it was an act. I could fake crying, Shallan thought, if I knew that someone was coming to see me, and if I believed the act would strengthen my position.

“Then what are you saying?” Adolin asked.

“History is rife with examples of soldiers assuming orders when there were none,” Ialai said. “I agree that Dalinar would never knife an old friend in dark quarters. His soldiers may not be so inhibited. You want to know who did this, Adolin Kholin? Look among your own ranks. I would wager the princedom that somewhere in the Kholin army is a man who thought to do his highprince a service.”

“And the other murders?” Shallan said.

“I do not know the mind of this person,” Ialai said. “Maybe they have a taste for it now? In any case, I think we can agree this meeting serves no further purpose.” She stood up. “Good day, Adolin Kholin. I hope you will share what you discover with me, so that my own investigator can be better informed.”

“I suppose,” Adolin said, standing. “Who is leading your investigation? I’ll send him reports.”

“His name is Meridas Amaram. I believe you know him.”

Shallan gaped. “Amaram? Highmarshal Amaram?”

“Of course,” Ialai said. “He is among my husband’s most acclaimed generals.”

Amaram. He’d killed her brother. She glanced at Mraize, who kept his expression neutral. Storms, what did he know? She still didn’t understand where Helaran had gotten his Shardblade. What had led him to clash with Amaram in the first place?

“Amaram is here?” Adolin asked. “When?”

“He arrived with the last caravan and scavenging crew that you brought through the Oathgate. He didn’t make himself known to the tower, but to me alone. We have been seeing to his needs, as he was caught out in a storm with his attendants. He assures me he will return to duty soon, and will make finding my husband’s murderer a priority.”

“I see,” Adolin said.

He looked to Shallan, and she nodded, still stunned. Together they collected her soldiers from right inside the door, and left into the hallway beyond.

“Amaram,” Adolin hissed. “Bridgeboy isn’t going to be happy about this. They have a vendetta, those two.”

Not just Kaladin.

“Father originally appointed Amaram to refound the Knights Radiant,” Adolin continued. “If Ialai has taken him in after he was so soundly discredited… The mere act of it calls Father a liar, doesn’t it? Shallan?”

She shook herself and took a deep breath. Helaran was long dead. She would worry about getting answers from Mraize later.

“It depends on how she spins things,” she said softly, walking beside Adolin. “But yes, she implies that Dalinar is at the least overly judgmental in his treatment of Amaram. She’s reinforcing her side as an alternative to your father’s rule.”

Adolin sighed. “I’d have thought that without Sadeas, maybe it would get easier.”

“Politics is involved, Adolin—so by definition it can’t be easy.” She took his arm, wrapping hers around it as they passed another group of hostile guards.

“I’m terrible at this,” Adolin said softly. “I got so annoyed in there, I almost punched her. You watch, Shallan. I’ll ruin this.”

“Will you? Because I think you’re right about there being multiple killers.”

“What? Really?”

She nodded. “I heard some things while I was out last night.”

“When you weren’t staggering around drunk, you mean.”

“I’ll have you know I’m a very graceful drunk, Adolin Kholin. Let’s go…” She trailed off as a pair of scribes ran past in the hallway, heading toward Ialai’s rooms at a shocking speed. Guards marched after them.

Adolin caught one by the arm, nearly provoking a fight as the man cursed at the blue uniform. The fellow, fortunately, recognized Adolin’s face and held himself back, hand moving off the axe in a sling to his side.

“Brightlord,” the man said, reluctant.

“What is this?” Adolin said. He nodded down the hall. “Why is everyone suddenly talking at that guard post farther along?”

“News from the coast,” the guard finally said. “Stormwall spotted in New Natanan. The highstorms. They’ve returned.”



Chapter 23
Storming Strange

I am no poet, to delight you with clever allusions.

—From Oathbringer, preface


I don’t got any meat to sell,” the old lighteyes said as he led Kaladin into the storm bunker. “But your brightlord and his men can weather in here, and for cheap.” He waved his cane toward the large hollow building. It reminded Kaladin of the barracks on the Shattered Plains—long and narrow, with one small end pointed eastward.

“We’ll need it to ourselves,” Kaladin said. “My brightlord values his privacy.”

The elderly man glanced at Kaladin, taking in the blue uniform. Now that the Weeping had passed, it looked better. He wouldn’t wear it to an officer’s review, but he’d spent some good time scrubbing out the stains and polishing the buttons.

Kholin uniform in Vamah lands. It could imply a host of things. Hopefully one of them was not “This Kholin offi er has joined a bunch of runaway parshmen.”

“I can give you the whole bunker,” the merchant said. “Was supposed to be renting it to some caravans out of Revolar, but they didn’t show.”

“What happened?”

“Don’t know,” he said. “But it’s storming strange, I’d say. Three caravans, with different masters and goods, all gone silent. Not even a runner to give me word. Glad I took ten percent up front.”

Revolar. It was Vamah’s seat, the largest city between here and Kholinar.

“We’ll take the bunker,” Kaladin said, handing over some dun spheres. “And whatever food you can spare.”

“Not much, by an army’s scale. Maybe a sack of longroots or two. Some lavis. Was expectin’ one of those caravans to resupply me.” He shook his head, expression distant. “Strange times, Corporal. That wrong-way storm. You reckon it will keep coming back?”

Kaladin nodded. The Everstorm had hit again the day before, its second occurrence—not counting the initial one that had only come in the far east. Kaladin and the parshmen had weathered this one, upon warning from the unseen spren, in an abandoned mine.

“Strange times,” the old man said again. “Well, if you do need meat, there’s been a nest of wild hogs rooting about in the ravine to the south of here. This is Highlord Cadilar’s land though, so um.… Well, you just understand that.” If Kaladin’s fictional “brightlord” was traveling on the king’s orders, they could hunt the lands. If not, killing another highlord’s hogs would be poaching.

The old man spoke like a backwater farmer, light yellow eyes notwithstanding, but he’d obviously made something of himself running a waystop. A lonely life, but the money was probably quite good.

“Let’s see what food I can find you here,” the old man said. “Follow along. Now, you’re sure a storm is coming?”

“I have charts promising it.”

“Well, bless the Almighty and Heralds for that, I suppose. Will catch some people surprised, but it will be nice to be able to work my spanreed again.”

Kaladin followed the man to a stone rootshed on the leeward edge of his home, and haggled—briefly—for three sacks of vegetables. “One other thing,” Kaladin added. “You can’t watch the army arrive.”

“What? Corporal, it’s my duty to see your people settled in—”

“My brightlord is a very private person. It’s important nobody know of our passing. Very important.” He laid his hand on his belt knife.

The lighteyed man just sniffed. “I can be trusted to hold my tongue, soldier. And don’t threaten me. I’m sixth dahn.” He raised his chin, but when he hobbled back into his house, he shut the door tight and pulled closed the stormshutters.

Kaladin transferred the three sacks into the bunker, then hiked out to where he’d left the parshmen. He kept glancing about for Syl, but of course he saw nothing. The Voidspren was following him, hidden, likely to make sure he didn’t do anything underhanded.

They made it back right before the storm.

Khen, Sah, and the others had wanted to wait until dark—unwilling to trust that the old lighteyes wouldn’t spy on them. But the wind had started blowing, and they’d finally believed Kaladin that a storm was imminent.

Kaladin stood by the bunker’s doorway, anxious as the parshmen piled in. They’d picked up other groups in the last few days, led by unseen Voidspren that he was told darted away once their charges were delivered. Their numbers were now verging on a hundred, including the children and elderly. Nobody would tell Kaladin their end goal, only that the spren had a destination in mind.

Khen was last through the door; the large, muscled parshwoman lingered, as if she wanted to watch the storm. Finally she took their spheres— most of which they’d stolen from him—and locked the sack into the iron-banded lantern on the wall outside. She waved Kaladin through the door, then followed, barring it closed.

“You did well, human,” she said to Kaladin. “I’ll speak for you when we reach the gathering.”

“Thanks,” Kaladin said. Outside, the stormwall hit the bunker, making the stones shake and the very ground rattle.

The parshmen settled down to wait. Hesh dug into the sacks and inspected the vegetables with a critical eye. She’d worked the kitchens of a manor.

Kaladin settled with his back to the wall, feeling the storm rage outside. Strange, how he could hate the mild Weeping so much, yet feel a thrill when he heard thunder beyond these stones. That storm had tried its best to kill him on several occasions. He felt a kinship to it—but still a wariness. It was a sergeant who was too brutal in training his recruits.

The storm would renew the gems outside, which included not only spheres, but the larger gemstones he’d been carrying. Once renewed, he— well, the parshmen—would have a wealth of Stormlight.

He needed to make a decision. How long could he delay flying back to the Shattered Plains? Even if he had to stop at a larger city to trade his dun spheres for infused ones, he could probably make it in under a day.

He couldn’t dally forever. What were they doing at Urithiru? What was the word from the rest of the world? The questions hounded him. Once, he had been happy to worry only about his own squad. After that, he’d been willing to look after a battalion. Since when had the state of the entire world become his concern?

I need to steal back my spanreed at the very least, and send a message to Brightness Navani.

Something flickered at the edge of his vision. Syl had come back? He glanced toward her, a question on his lips, and barely stopped the words as he realized his error.

The spren beside him was glowing yellow, not blue-white. The tiny woman stood on a translucent pillar of golden stone that had risen from the ground to put her even with Kaladin’s gaze. It, like the spren herself, was the yellow-white color of the center of a flame.

She wore a flowing dress that covered her legs entirely. Hands behind her back, she inspected him. Her face was shaped oddly—narrow, but with large, childlike eyes. Like someone from Shinovar.

Kaladin jumped, which caused the little spren to smile.

Pretend you don’t know anything about spren like her, Kaladin thought. “Um. Uh… I can see you.”

“Because I want you to,” she said. “You are an odd one.”

“Why… why do you want me to see you?”

“So we can talk.” She started to stroll around him, and at each step, a spike of yellow stone shot up from the ground and met her bare foot. “Why are you still here, human?”

“Your parshmen took me captive.”

“Your mother teach you to lie like that?” she asked, sounding amused. “They’re less than a month old. Congratulations on fooling them.” She stopped and smiled at him. “I’m a tad older than a month.”

“The world is changing,” Kaladin said. “The country is in upheaval. I guess I want to see where this goes.”

She contemplated him. Fortunately, he had a good excuse for the bead of sweat that trickled down the side of his face. Facing a strangely intelligent, glowing yellow spren would unnerve anyone, not just a man with too many things to hide.

“Would you fight for us, deserter?” she asked.

“Would I be allowed?”

“My kind aren’t nearly as inclined toward discrimination as yours. If you can carry a spear and take orders, then I certainly wouldn’t turn you away.” She folded her arms, smiling in a strangely knowing way. “The final decision won’t be mine. I am but a messenger.”

“Where can I find out for certain?”

“At our destination.”

“Which is…”

“Close enough,” the spren said. “Why? You have pressing appointments elsewhere? Off for a beard trim perhaps, or a lunch date with your grandmother?”

Kaladin rubbed at his face. He’d almost been able to forget about the hairs that prickled at the sides of his mouth.

“Tell me,” the spren asked, “how did you know that there would be a highstorm tonight?”

“Felt it,” Kaladin said, “in my bones.”

“Humans cannot feel storms, regardless of the body part in question.”

He shrugged. “Seemed like the right time for one, with the Weeping having stopped and all.”

She didn’t nod or give any visible sign of what she thought of that comment. She merely held her knowing smile, then faded from his view.



Chapter 24
Men of Blood and Sorrow

I have no doubt that you are smarter than I am. I can only relate what happened, what I have done, and then let you draw conclusions.

—From Oathbringer, preface

Dalinar remembered.

Her name had been Evi. She’d been tall and willowy, with pale yellow hair—not true golden, like the hair of the Iriali, but striking in its own right.

She’d been quiet. Shy, both she and her brother, for all that they’d been willing to flee their homeland in an act of courage. They’d brought Shardplate, and…

That was all that had emerged over the last few days. The rest was still a blur. He could recall meeting Evi, courting her—awkwardly, since both knew it was an arrangement of political necessity—and eventually entering into a causal betrothal.

He didn’t remember love, but he did remember attraction.

The memories brought questions, like cremlings emerging from their hollows after the rain. He ignored them, standing straight-backed with a line of guards on the field in front of Urithiru, suffering a bitter wind from the west. This wide plateau held some dumps of wood, as part of this space would probably end up becoming a lumberyard.

Behind him, the end of a rope blew in the wind, smacking a pile of wood again and again. A pair of windspren danced past, in the shapes of little people.

Why am I remembering Evi now? Dalinar wondered. And why have I recovered only my first memories of our time together?

He had always remembered the difficult years following Evi’s death, which had culminated in his being drunk and useless on the night Szeth, the Assassin in White, had killed his brother. He assumed that he’d gone to the Nightwatcher to be rid of the pain at losing her, and the spren had taken his other memories as payment. He didn’t know for certain, but that seemed right.

Bargains with the Nightwatcher were supposed to be permanent. Damning, even. So what was happening to him?

Dalinar glanced at his bracer clocks, strapped to his forearm. Five minutes late. Storms. He’d been wearing the thing barely a few days, and already he was counting minutes like a scribe.

The second of the two watch faces—which would count down to the next highstorm—still hadn’t been engaged. A single highstorm had come, blessedly, carrying Stormlight to renew spheres. It seemed like so long since they’d had enough of that.

However, it would take until the next highstorm for the scribes to make guesses at the current pattern. Even then they could be wrong, as the Weeping had lasted far longer than it should have. Centuries—millennia— of careful records might now be obsolete.

Once, that alone would have been a catastrophe. It threatened to ruin planting seasons and cause famines, to upend travel and shipping, disrupting trade. Unfortunately, in the face of the Everstorm and the Voidbringers, it was barely third on the list of cataclysms.

The cold wind blew at him again. Before them, the grand plateau of Urithiru was ringed by ten large platforms, each raised about ten feet high, with steps up beside a ramp for carts. At the center of each one was a small building containing the device that—

With a bright flash, an expanding wave of Stormlight spread outward from the center of the second platform from the left. When the Light faded, Dalinar led his troop of honor guards up the wide steps to the top. They crossed to the building at the center, where a small group of people had stepped out and were now gawking at Urithiru, surrounded by awespren.

Dalinar smiled. The sight of a tower as wide as a city and as tall as a small mountain… well, there wasn’t anything else like it in the world.

At the head of the newcomers was a man in burnt orange robes. Aged, with a kindly, clean-shaven face, he stood with his head tipped back and jaw lowered as he regarded the city. Near him stood a woman with silvery hair pulled up in a bun. Adrotagia, the head Kharbranthian scribe.

Some thought she was the true power behind the throne; others guessed it was that other scribe, the one they had left running Kharbranth in its king’s absence. Whoever it was, they kept Taravangian as a figurehead— and Dalinar was happy to work through him to get to Jah Keved and Kharbranth. This man had been a friend to Gavilar; that was good enough for Dalinar. And he was more than glad to have at least one other monarch at Urithiru.

Taravangian smiled at Dalinar, then licked his lips. He seemed to have forgotten what he wanted to say, and had to glance at the woman beside him for support. She whispered, and he spoke loudly after the reminder.

“Blackthorn,” Taravangian said. “It is an honor to meet you again. It has been too long.”

“Your Majesty,” Dalinar said. “Thank you so much for responding to my call.” Dalinar had met Taravangian several times, years ago. He remembered a man of quiet, keen intelligence.

That was gone now. Taravangian had always been humble, and had kept to himself, so most didn’t know he’d been intelligent once—before his strange illness five years ago, which Navani was fairly certain covered an apoplexy that had permanently wounded his mental capacities.

Adrotagia touched Taravangian’s arm and nodded toward someone standing with the Kharbranthian guards: a middle-aged lighteyed woman wearing a skirt and blouse, after a Southern style, with the top buttons of the blouse undone. Her hair was short in a boyish cut, and she wore gloves on both hands.

The strange woman stretched her right hand over her head, and a Shardblade appeared in it. She rested it with the flat side against her shoulder.

“Ah yes,” Taravangian said. “Introductions! Blackthorn, this is the newest Knight Radiant. Malata of Jah Keved.”

King Taravangian gawked like a child as they rode the lift toward the top of the tower. He leaned over the side far enough that his large Thaylen bodyguard rested a careful hand on the king’s shoulder, just in case.

“So many levels,” Taravangian said. “And this balcony. Tell me, Brightlord. What makes it move?”

His sincerity was so unexpected. Dalinar had been around Alethi politicians so much that he found honesty an obscure thing, like a language he no longer spoke.

“My engineers are still studying the lifts,” Dalinar said. “It has to do with conjoined fabrials, they believe, with gears to modulate speed.”

Taravangian blinked. “Oh. I meant… is this Stormlight? Or is someone pulling somewhere? We had parshmen do ours, back in Kharbranth.”

“Stormlight,” Dalinar said. “We had to replace the gemstones with infused ones to make it work.”

“Ah.” He shook his head, grinning.

In Alethkar, this man would never have been able to hold a throne after the apoplexy struck him. An unscrupulous family would have removed him by assassination. In other families, someone would have challenged him for his throne. He’d have been forced to fight or abdicate.

Or… well, someone might have muscled him out of power, and acted like king in all but name. Dalinar sighed softly, but kept a firm grip on his guilt.

Taravangian wasn’t Alethi. In Kharbranth—which didn’t wage war—a mild, congenial figurehead made more sense. The city was supposed to be unassuming, unthreatening. It was a twist of luck that Taravangian had also been crowned king of Jah Keved, once one of the most powerful kingdoms on Roshar, following its civil war.

He would normally have had trouble keeping that throne, but perhaps Dalinar might lend him some support—or at least authority—through association. Dalinar certainly intended to do everything he could.

“Your Majesty,” Dalinar said, stepping closer to Taravangian. “How well guarded is Vedenar? I have a great number of troops with too much idle time. I could easily spare a battalion or two to help secure the city. We can’t afford to lose the Oathgate to the enemy.”

Taravangian glanced at Adrotagia.

She answered for him. “The city is secure, Brightlord. You needn’t fear. The parshmen made one push for the city, but there are still many Veden troops available. We fended the enemy off, and they withdrew eastward.”

Toward Alethkar, Dalinar thought.

Taravangian again looked out into the wide central column, lit from the sheer glass window to the east. “Ah, how I wish this day hadn’t come.”

“You sound as if you anticipated it, Your Majesty,” Dalinar said.

Taravangian laughed softly. “Don’t you? Anticipate sorrow, I mean? Sadness… loss…”

“I try not to hasten my expectations in either direction,” Dalinar said. “The soldier’s way. Deal with today’s problems, then sleep and deal with tomorrow’s problems tomorrow.”

Taravangian nodded. “I remember, as a child, listening to an ardent pray to the Almighty on my behalf as glyphwards burned nearby. I remember thinking… surely the sorrows can’t be past us. Surely the evils didn’t actually end. If they had, wouldn’t we be back in the Tranquiline Halls even now?” He looked toward Dalinar, and surprisingly there were tears in his pale grey eyes. “I do not think you and I are destined for such a glorious place. Men of blood and sorrow don’t get an ending like that, Dalinar Kholin.”

Dalinar found himself without a reply. Adrotagia gripped Taravangian on the forearm with a comforting gesture, and the old king turned away, hiding his emotional outburst. What had happened in Vedenar must have troubled him deeply—the death of the previous king, the field of slaughter.

They rode the rest of the way in silence, and Dalinar took the chance to study Taravangian’s Surgebinder. She’d been the one to unlock—then activate—the Veden Oathgate on the other side, which she’d managed after some careful instructions from Navani. Now the woman, Malata, leaned idly against the side of the balcony. She hadn’t spoken much during their tour of the first three levels, and when she looked at Dalinar, she always seemed to have a hint of a smile on her lips.

She carried a wealth of spheres in her skirt pocket; the light shone through the fabric. Perhaps that was why she smiled. He himself felt relieved to have Light at his fingertips again—and not only because it meant the Alethi Soulcasters could get back to work, using their emeralds to transform rock to grain to feed the hungry people of the tower.

Navani met them at the top level, immaculate in an ornate silver and black havah, her hair in a bun and stabbed through with hairspikes meant to resemble Shardblades. She greeted Taravangian warmly, then clasped hands with Adrotagia. After a greeting, Navani stepped back and let Teshav guide Taravangian and his little retinue into what they were calling the Initiation Room.

Navani herself drew Dalinar to the side. “Well?” she whispered.

“He’s as sincere as ever,” Dalinar said softly. “But…”

“Dense?” she asked.

“Dear, I’m dense. This man has become an idiot.”

“You’re not dense, Dalinar,” she said. “You’re rugged. Practical.”

“I’ve no illusions as to the thickness of my skull, gemheart. It’s done right by me on more than one occasion—better a thick head than a broken one. But I don’t know that Taravangian in his current state will be of much use.”

“Bah,” Navani said. “We’ve more than enough clever people around us, Dalinar. Taravangian was always a friend to Alethkar during your brother’s reign, and a little illness shouldn’t change our treatment of him.”

“You’re right, of course.…” He trailed off “There’s an earnestness to him, Navani. And a melancholy I hadn’t remembered. Was that always there?”

“Yes, actually.” She checked her own arm clock, like his own, though with a few more gemstones attached. Some kind of new fabrial she was tinkering with.

“Any news from Captain Kaladin?”

She shook her head. It had been days since his last check-in, but he’d likely run out of infused rubies. Now that the highstorms had returned, they’d expected something.

In the room, Teshav gestured to the various pillars, each representing an order of Knight Radiant. Dalinar and Navani waited in the doorway, separated from the rest.

“What of the Surgebinder?” Navani whispered.

“A Releaser. Dustbringer, though they don’t like the term. She claims her spren told her that.” He rubbed his chin. “I don’t like how she smiles.”

“If she’s truly a Radiant,” Navani said, “can she be anything but trustworthy? Would the spren pick someone who would act against the best interests of the orders?”

Another question he didn’t know the answer to. He’d need to see if he could determine whether her Shardblade was only that, or if it might be another Honorblade in disguise.

The touring group moved down a set of steps toward the meeting chamber, which took up most of the penultimate level and sloped down to the level below. Dalinar and Navani trailed after them.

Navani, he thought. On my arm. It still gave him a heady, surreal feeling. Dreamlike, as if this were one of his visions. He could vividly remember desiring her. Thinking about her, captivated by the way she talked, the things she knew, the look of her hands as she sketched—or, storms, as she did something as simple as raising a spoon to her lips. He remembered staring at her.

He remembered a specific day on a battlefield, when he had almost let his jealousy of his brother lead him too far—and was surprised to feel Evi slipping into that memory. Her presence colored the old, crusty memory of those war days with his brother.

“My memories continue to return,” he said softly as they paused at the door into the conference room. “I can only assume that eventually it will all come back.”

“That shouldn’t be happening.”

“I thought the same. But really, who can say? The Old Magic is said to be inscrutable.”

“No,” Navani said, folding her arms, getting a stern expression on her face—as if angry with a stubborn child. “In each case I’ve looked into, the boon and curse both lasted until death.”

“Each case?” Dalinar said. “How many did you find?”

“About three hundred at this point,” Navani said. “It’s been difficult to get any time from the researchers at the Palanaeum; everyone the world over is demanding research into the Voidbringers. Fortunately, His Majesty’s impending visit here earned me special consideration, and I had some credit. They say it’s best to patronize the place in person—at least Jasnah always said…”

She took a breath, steadying herself before continuing. “In any case, Dalinar, the research is definitive. We haven’t been able to find a single case where the effects of the Old Magic wore off—and it’s not like people haven’t tried over the centuries. Lore about people dealing with their curses, and seeking any cure for them, is practically its own genre. As my researcher said, ‘Old Magic curses aren’t like a hangover, Brightness.’ ”

She looked up at Dalinar, and must have seen the emotion in his face, for she cocked her head. “What?” she asked.

“I’ve never had anyone to share this burden with,” he said softly. “Thank you.”

“I didn’t find anything.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Could you at least confirm with the Stormfather again that his bond with you is absolutely, for sure not what’s causing the memories to come back?”

“I’ll see.”

The Stormfather rumbled. Why would she want me to say more? I have spoken, and spren do not change like men. This is not my doing. It is not the bond.

“He says it’s not him,” Dalinar said. “He’s… annoyed at you for asking again.”

She kept her arms crossed. This was something she shared with her daughter, a characteristic frustration with problems she couldn’t solve. As if she were disappointed in the facts for not arranging themselves more helpfully.

“Maybe,” she said, “something was different about the deal you made. If you can recount your visit to me sometime—with as much detail as you can remember—I’ll compare it to other accounts.”

He shook his head. “There wasn’t much. The Valley had a lot of plants. And… I remember… I asked to have my pain taken away, and she took memories too. I think?” He shrugged, then noticed Navani pursing her lips, her stare sharpening. “I’m sorry. I—”

“It’s not you,” Navani said. “It’s the Nightwatcher. Giving you a deal when you were probably too distraught to think straight, then erasing your memory of the details?”

“She’s a spren. I don’t think we can expect her to play by—or even understand—our rules.” He wished he could give her more, but even if he could dredge up something, this wasn’t the time. They should be paying attention to their guests.

Teshav had finished pointing out the strange glass panes on the inner walls that seemed like windows, only clouded. She moved on to the pairs of discs on the floor and ceiling that looked something like the top and bottom of a pillar that had been removed—a feature of a number of rooms they’d explored.

Once that was done, Taravangian and Adrotagia returned to the top of the room, near the windows. The new Radiant, Malata, lounged in a seat near the wall-mounted sigil of the Dustbringers, staring at it.

Dalinar and Navani climbed the steps to stand by Taravangian. “Breathtaking, isn’t it?” Dalinar asked. “An even better view than from the lift.”

“Overwhelming,” Taravangian said. “So much space. We think… we think that we are the most important things on Roshar. Yet so much of Roshar is empty of us.”

Dalinar cocked his head. Yes… perhaps some of the old Taravangian lingered in there somewhere.

“Is this where you’ll have us meet?” Adrotagia asked, nodding toward the room. “When you’ve gathered all the monarchs, will this be our council chamber?”

“No,” Dalinar said. “This seems too much like a lecture hall. I don’t want the monarchs to feel as if they’re being preached to.”

“And… when will they come?” Taravangian asked, hopeful. “I am looking forward to meeting the others. The king of Azir… didn’t you tell me there was a new one, Adrotagia? I know Queen Fen—she’s very nice. Will we be inviting the Shin? So mysterious. Do they even have a king? Don’t they live in tribes or something? Like Marati barbarians?”

Adrotagia tapped his arm fondly, but looked to Dalinar, obviously curious about the other monarchs.

Dalinar cleared his throat, but Navani spoke.

“So far, Your Majesty,” she said, “you are the only one who has heeded our warning call.”

Silence followed.

“Thaylenah?” Adrotagia asked hopefully.

“We’ve exchanged communications on five separate occasions,” Navani said. “In each one, the queen has dodged our requests. Azir has been even more stubborn.”

“Iri dismissed us almost outright,” Dalinar said with a sigh. “Neither Marabethia nor Rira would respond to the initial request. There’s no real government in the Reshi Isles or some of the middle states. Babatharnam’s Most Ancient has been coy, and most of the Makabaki states imply that they’re waiting for Azir to make a decision. The Shin sent only a quick reply to congratulate us, whatever that means.”

“Hateful people,” Taravangian said. “Murdering so many worthy monarchs!”

“Um, yes,” Dalinar said, uncomfortable at the king’s sudden change in attitude. “Our primary focus has been on places with Oathgates, for strategic reasons. Azir, Thaylen City, and Iri seem most essential. However, we’ve made overtures to everyone who will listen, Oathgate or no. New Natanan is being coy so far, and the Herdazians think I’m trying to trick them. The Tukari scribes keep claiming they will bring my words to their god-king.”

Navani cleared her throat. “We actually got a reply from him, just a bit ago. Teshav’s ward was monitoring the spanreeds. It’s not exactly encouraging.”

“I’d like to hear it anyway.”

She nodded, and went to collect it from Teshav. Adrotagia gave him a questioning glance, but he didn’t dismiss the two of them. He wanted them to feel they were part of an alliance, and perhaps they would have insights that would prove helpful.

Navani returned with a single sheet of paper. Dalinar couldn’t read the script on it, but the lines seemed sweeping and grand—imperious.

“ ‘A warning,’” Navani read, “ ‘from Tezim the Great, last and first man, Herald of Heralds and bearer of the Oathpact. His grandness, immortality, and power be praised. Lift up your heads and hear, men of the east, of your God’s proclamation.

“ ‘None are Radiant but him. His fury is ignited by your pitiful claims, and your unlawful capture of his holy city is an act of rebellion, depravity, and wickedness. Open your gates, men of the east, to his righteous soldiers and deliver unto him your spoils.

“ ‘Renounce your foolish claims and swear yourselves to him. The judgment of the final storm has come to destroy all men, and only his path will lead to deliverance. He deigns to send you this single mandate, and will not speak it again. Even this is far above what your carnal natures deserve.’ ”

She lowered the paper.

“Wow,” Adrotagia said. “Well, at least it’s clear.”

Taravangian scratched at his head, brow furrowed, as if he didn’t agree with that statement at all.

“I guess,” Dalinar said, “we can cross the Tukari off our list of possible allies.”

“I’d rather have the Emuli anyway,” Navani said. “Their soldiers might be less capable, but they’re also… well, not crazy.

“So… we are alone?” Taravangian said, looking from Dalinar to Adrotagia, uncertain.

“We are alone, Your Majesty,” Dalinar said. “The end of the world has come, and still nobody will listen.”

Taravangian nodded to himself. “Where do we attack first? Herdaz? My aides say it is the traditional first step for an Alethi aggression, but they also point out that if you could somehow take Thaylenah, you’d completely control the Straits and even the Depths.”

Dalinar listened to the words with dismay. It was the obvious assumption. So clear that even simpleminded Taravangian saw it. What else to make of Alethkar proposing a union? Alethkar, the great conquerors? Led by the Blackthorn, the man who had united his own kingdom by the sword?

It was the suspicion that had tainted every conversation with the other monarchs. Storms, he thought. Taravangian didn’t come because he believed in my grand alliance. He assumed that if he didn’t, I wouldn’t send my armies to Herdaz or Thaylenah—I’d send them to Jah Keved. To him.

“We’re not going to attack anyone,” Dalinar said. “Our focus is on the Voidbringers, the true enemy. We will win the other kingdoms with diplomacy.”

Taravangian frowned. “But—”

Adrotagia, however, touched him on the arm and quieted him. “Of course, Brightlord,” she said to Dalinar. “We understand.”

She thought he was lying.

And are you?

What would he do if nobody listened? How would he save Roshar without the Oathgates? Without resources?

If our plan to reclaim Kholinar works, he thought, wouldn’t it make sense to take the other gates the same way? Nobody would be able to fight both us and the Voidbringers. We could seize their capitals and force them—for their own good— to join our unified war effort.

He’d been willing to conquer Alethkar for its own good. He’d been willing to seize the kingship in all but name, again for the good of his people.

How far would he go for the good of all Roshar? How far would he go to prepare them for the coming of that enemy? A champion with nine shadows.

I will unite instead of divide.

He found himself standing at that window beside Taravangian, staring out over the mountains, his memories of Evi carrying with them a fresh and dangerous perspective.


Oathbringer: The Stormlight Archive Book 3 copyright © 2017 Dragonsteel Entertainment, LLC

Rabbi Roundtable at the Forward

Oct. 17th, 2017 04:13 am
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Posted by (Velveteen Rabbi)

Rabbi-roundtable-1508161760The good folks at the the Forward have started up a new series they're calling Rabbi Roundtable. They chose 17 rabbis from across the denominational spectrum, and they're posing questions to us and sharing our answers. 

The first one of these has just gone live, and the question they chose to ask this week is, "What is the biggest threat facing the Jewish people today?" Here are our answers: Rabbi Roundtable / What's the Biggest Threat to the Jewish People? Deep thanks to the editors at the Forward for including me as a leading voice of Jewish Renewal.

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Posted by Fred Clark

French, like many other vocal "conservatives," doesn't understand what consent means and doesn't understand it's moral significance. Specifically, he's deeply confused about the distinction between necessary and sufficient.
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Posted by Emily Nordling

Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View book review

The new trailer for The Last Jedi was not the only exciting Star Wars news this past week. In celebration of A New Hope’s 40th anniversary, Del Rey has published an anthology of 40 stories that weave in and out of the original film. Whether it’s Greedo, Antilles or the red droid (you know the one), A New Hope is bursting at the seams with weird and fantastic side characters. Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View hands those characters over to 43 weird and fantastic authors. The set-list alone is amazing: scifi heavyweights (Nnedi Okorafor, Ken Liu), seasoned SW veterans (Jason Fry, Jeffrey Brown), comic book writers (Kelly Sue DeConnick, Kieron Gillen), and media luminaries (Griffin McElroy, Mallory Ortberg) offer up a diverse range of tone, form, and lore.

There’s nothing new under two suns in a sprawling franchise that’s celebrating its 40th year. What the Expanded Universe hasn’t covered, fanfiction has laid its messy, beautiful little hands on. But the EU has already been reshuffled by the reboot, and the playground feels fresh and new. Where there’s still love for a story, there’s still room to explore it—and there is still a whole lot of love in the galaxy for scrappy, fresh-faced rebels destroying evil galactic empires.

The original story of A New Hope is still in place in FACPOV, and that structure is one of the anthology’s best features. Instead of collecting a patchwork of stories inspired by the movie, the book presents the stories in chronological order, so that it reads as a montage or mashup of the original. As Luke, Leia, and Han’s story progresses, FACPOV reveals what is happening in the background. Dreams are thwarted, love is rekindled, incident reports are filed, the music goes on. Some stories are tied more closely to the main story than others, whether by theme or action. The most tried-and-true theme of Star Wars—scrappy nobodies trying to find their place in the universe—appears often, and is unique each time.

Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View book reviewIn general (though with 43 talented writers, there are almost as many exceptions as rules), the most successful stories in the anthology are the ones that focus on characters that live their lives on the margins of the main action. The unnamed are just more ripe for the picking: Authors don’t have to rely on canon for their narratives, and are free to tug on brand-new heartstrings. In her story “The Baptist,” for instance, Nnedi Okorafor creates a backstory for Omi, the garbage-eating alien aboard the Death Star. In “The Red One,” Rae Carson imagines the inner turmoil of the droid that Luke and Uncle Ben leave behind when they adopt R2. Again and again, we see aliens, droids, and NPCs trying to make a life under the empire, suffering or making light of it, and sometimes both.

The stories that experiment with form are some of the best as well. One of my favorites of the lot, Glen Weldon’s “Of MSE-6 and Men” is presented as a series of MSE-6 diagnostic reports. Unlike some of the other, more Turing-testable droids that populate the anthology, this MSE-6 unit is as dry and unfeeling as they come. And yet, amazingly, the little guy orchestrates a blossoming love affair between a stormtrooper and his superior officer, carrying messages, and beeping and booping at all the right times. The story legitimately made me cry laughing, and the title is, though I’m loathe to admit it, kind of perfect. Weldon knows how to make a dry format funny, and how to make, for all intents and purposes—they are the bad guys, after all—unlovable characters lovable.

Another stand-out story is “The Kloo Horn Cantina Caper,” by comics writing power couple Kelly Sue DeConnick and Matt Fraction. Somehow, in a 30-page story, DeConnick and Fraction manage to pull off an ensemble cast. A group of low-lives, The Muftak and Kabe among them, swindle, snitch, and steal from one another while slumming it in the cantina on Tatooine. The hot topic this week? The famous Kloo horn of Lirin D’avi, played all too briefly by the legend’s down-on-his-luck son. If there were any manners present, I’d call “Caper” a comedy of manners—characters are constantly crossing and double-crossing paths, misunderstanding and ultimately loving one another in their own strange ways. Like so many of the other stories about villains and criminals in FACPOV, this one has a lot of heart to it. Stealing and murder aside, these cantina crawlers are just doing their best with what they have.

Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View book reviewThere are many other great stories in this collection that I don’t have space to talk about, but rest assured that if you see a name on the contributors list that you love, it’s well worth the read. And if the contents of the FACPOV alone haven’t sold you, perhaps its secret mission will: Proceeds from the book’s sales will go to First Book, a childhood literacy organization. Nothing supports rebellion quite like putting knowledge in the hands of kids that aren’t supposed to have it.

A full list of contributors, stories, and characters can be found here.

Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View is available now from Del Rey.

Emily Nordling is a library assistant and perpetual student in Chicago, IL.

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Posted by Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga Memory

This week’s chapters deal with Miles’s 30th birthday. Happy birthday, Miles!  

My copy of Memory was purchased from the Oberlin College Cooperative Bookstore shortly after I turned twenty. That was a very different time to be reading about Miles turning thirty than now, almost exactly twenty-one years later. Thirty seemed old then. I sort of got what Miles said to Martin about middle age being a moveable feast, always ten years older than you are, but it really hit home on this read. Miles is striking me as shockingly young this week because I finally noticed that his birthday means that he must have been killed at twenty-nine. Or possibly at twenty-eight—it was a long convalescence. He’s been leading the Dendarii for slightly more than a decade, and he’s been assigned to ImpSec for approximately seven years. Rank notwithstanding, his career has been meteoric; he has come an incredibly long way as a result of a few impulsive decisions he made to impress a girl while vacationing at age seventeen. Gregor has already asked him not to return the the Dendarii, but I think he needs to go further. Miles is Not Safe to be out of direct Imperial control. He’s dangerous; he needs a job.  

Miles chooses to deal with his birthday mainly through avoidance. He retreats to Vorkosigan Surleau with Martin, puts off looking through his mail, and visits Silvy Vale. Miles gets a lot of birthday mail. He’s a popular guy. This is a nice way for Bujold to remind readers of all the characters here and their relationships to Miles. Quinn, for example, is a little perplexed and stiff. My favorite is the video message from Aral and Cordelia, who reminisce about where they were at thirty. They point out some mistakes that they made, and how in the long run, the consequences were what they’re doing now. They seem fairly pleased with their personal outcomes. They end their message with the super-affectionate salutation, “Communicate, dammit!” I love them. I want to read a book about their noble struggle against the worm plague on Sergyar. In my heart of hearts, I think their message to Miles should be reassuring. My heart is not the most interesting place the impact of the message is measured—Miles has created a weird competition with his father, the youngest Admiral in the Imperial fleet. Somehow, Miles has done this without noticing that promotion to that level required time behind a desk as well as time on a ship. Aral is not only not participating in that competition, he doesn’t appear to know or care about it. I’m glad, because Miles’s notions of career success are completely arbitrary and self-imposed. Some of them came from his grandfather, but no one required him to take Count Piotr seriously, and even Miles isn’t sure he does anymore.

Miles intended the trip to Silvy Vale as a pilgrimage. He wants to burn an offering on Reina Csurik’s grave. He finds the site flooded by a new hydroelectric dam. Silvy Vale also has a new Speaker—Lem Csurik—and a new school, led by Harra. The community responds to Miles’s arrival with an impromptu celebration. Martin gets to trade dance moves with the locals and learn some life lessons about maple mead. Miles wanders off to the water’s edge for a deep conversation with Lem, Harra, and more maple mead. He bares his soul to them about his seizures and his medical discharge. Lem is a mostly silent presence here, circulating the jug of mead PRN. Harra is more vocal—Harra is feudal, but not in a servile way. Feudal systems are supposed to work through mutual obligations. Miles and Aral have both commented on the Vorkosigan tradition of Imperial service as a hidden tax on the district. Harra didn’t need to hear their commentary—she knew. She’s grateful for Miles’s attendance at her graduation from teachers’ college (and so am I—that was a really meaningful and touching thing for Miles to do), and she’s pleased that he will be spending more time in the district. Lem and Harra have done a lot for Silvy Vale, but like every other Barrayaran who doesn’t have a Vor in their name, they don’t have a vote in the Council of Counts. They’re not interested in killing the Vor beast; they want someone who has the skill and the authority to put the Vor beast in a harness. This scene is often noted for Harra’s simple wisdom about dealing with loss and tragedy—she says you just go on, and she talks about her life as the offering she burns—but her political views, which are not so much opinions as attitudes and assumptions that she and Miles have always shared (not in the sense of having talked about them, but in the sense of both having been marinated in them), are in the process of moving to the forefront of the story.  

The third notable feature of Miles’s birthday is his egregious failure to deploy Ma Kosti. It’s one thing for Miles to slink off to his family’s lake house to face the enormous weight and consequence of his thirtieth birthday alone. A ludicrous and overdramatic thing, wow, thirty, I mean, in today’s terms that’s a mere decade away from being included in the group protected by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. But I can understand where Miles is coming from. He feels like his life is over, and hearing the clock strike thirty isn’t helping his creeping sense of mortality. The house at Vorkosigan Surleau is staffed so Miles doesn’t have to fend for himself or eat Martin’s cooking (although, if I had to guess, I would guess that Martin’s cooking is totally passable, if not particularly fancy). There are rolls. That’s useful. Ma Kosti needed a job because she was bored. It seems like a bad move for Miles to leave her in the capital while he mourns the things he did in his twenties. She might get bored again! A birthday isn’t really different from any other day, Miles notes, in that each day makes you the oldest you’ve ever been. SO TRUE. You know what else isn’t different from any other day? They’re all improved by an awesome meat paste sandwich and a spiced peach tart.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

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Posted by Judith Tarr

Eye of the World

Every so often when I put up an article in this series on SFF Equines, the commenters give me all kinds of ideas for new articles. And they ask great questions. Last time was no exception.

This batch of questions centers around a couple of common themes, namely horse breeds and riding. I’ll take the shortest one first, and then circle out from there.

Before I begin, I (who suck mightily at tooting my own horn) should disclose that I have written an ebook that answers most of these questions in greater depth, and offers a primer on horses in general. It’s called Writing Horses: The Fine Art of Getting It Right, and it’s available from most ebook outlets. There’s even an audiobook. (The link goes to the publisher’s website.)

Still, we all know it’s a lot easier to read specific answers to one’s specific questions. Also, a lot more fun.

* * *

Let’s start with cecrow, who asked:

So how do you make a horse go? Inquiring minds of non-horse-people want to know.

This is one of those deceptively simple concepts that can lead to some very not-right versions in film and fiction.

No, leaping on the horse and yelling Hyaah! does not make a horse go.

Nor does flapping one’s elbows harder the faster the horse runs.

Shaking the reins doesn’t do it, either.

Or kneeing the horse in the flank from the saddle, which requires the rider to remove her leg, lean waaayyyy down, and goose the horse directly in front of the upper joint of the hindleg (called the stifle) with the severed limb.

How do you make a horse go?

Horses are trained from birth to move away from pressure. Mom does it to get the baby to move where she wants it to go. When it comes time to ride the horse (too often around age two, more optimally around age four or older), the rider signals the horse with leg pressure. Apply lower leg, horse moves forward.

There are finer points and nuances and variations—a well-trained horse with an expert rider will respond to a signal so subtle it’s almost subliminal, the release of a breath, the intention of forward—but that’s the basic signal. As the trainers say, “Leg means go, rein means stop.” Horse moves off the leg, stops at touch of the rein. Turn is either rein on neck (American Western/cowboy style) or direct pressure of rein in direction horse needs to go (many other styles). Want to go faster? More leg, again with some fine-tuning, but watch your favorite horse film where the rider kicks the horse to get him moving. That’s yelling and not subtle at all, but it is clear what the rider is doing.

The part of the leg that’s doing this is the lower leg—the calf/shin. Spur on ankle may be a factor for cowboy or knight or whoever. Spur turns up the volume a lot. This can be good if done right. Can be damaging if not. We used to call a certain very famous trainer “Old Bloody Spurs” for a reason.

The knee is not doing it. Often you may read, “He pressed with his knees,” but in actual practice, squeezing the knees squirts the rider up like a watermelon seed. What the rider may do instead is kick with his lower legs and heels, and the horse may run off or he may buck, but he is going, and the rider is likely to be much more secure than if he’s trying to lock his knees.

* * *

Lilaer asked a somewhat similar question, but somewhat broader:

The last point, about the Mongolian Derby, makes me wonder something. The horses are Mongolian, while the riders are probably wealthy Western tourists, right? So… that means that all horses understand all riders the world over? Is there just one uh… riding language? One human-horse language?

That’s right. There are different signal sets, different cues in different styles, like the turning methods I mentioned above. But the basic point of movement away from pressure is pretty much universal. An experienced rider will verify a few basic signals, get on the horse, and be able to make herself understood fairly quickly.

Because no matter what equipment she’s using or what the specific signals are, the bottom line is still the human sitting on the horse’s back. Human conformation working with its parameters, horse conformation likewise. Rider’s weight, seat, legs, hands. Horse’s back, neck, and sides. That’s the universal language, though the dialects will vary.

What about voice? you might ask. Horses are quite verbal and can acquire a vocabulary that may exceed that of a smart dog. Humans do use voice commands, sometimes extensively—especially when teaching tricks and working from the ground. Clicker training, too: that works great with horses.

But again, the language of touch and contact is most efficient when riding, and most effective when horse and rider are well trained. Horses are cosmic masters of body language and movement. Humans who tune in to that can ride pretty much any horse, anywhere the horse happens to live.

* * *

Karen had a more eclectic set of questions, which I’ve excerpted here. I’ll tackle the others another time.

Tell us about palfrey and coursers, and Icelandic ponies. Also those glossy horses, akhal-teke.

Palfreys were the riding horses of the middle ages—the ladies’ mounts, the knights’ transport between battles, the all-purpose vehicles of the time. They were more lightly built than the big war horses, and they were expected to be calm and sensible.

They were often gaited. Normal horse gaits are walk, trot or jog, canter or lope, and gallop. Canter is an easy three-beat gait (called galop in Europe which leads to confusion). Gallop is a four-beat run—that’s what you see horses doing in the Kentucky Derby. It’s fast and there’s pounding and there’s wind whipping your hair.

Some horses naturally default to additional gaits—it’s a wiring thing. Modern gaited horses do things like the rack, the stepping pace, the foxtrot, the running walk, the paso fino. Medieval horses ambled, which could be any or all of the modern gaited-horse moves.

The point of these is comfort for the rider. The walk and canter are pretty easy to sit. But walk doesn’t get you there very fast, and horses can’t canter or gallop nonstop for long periods. The gait they default to when they need to cover ground without excessive effort but a walk is too slow, is the trot.

The trot is a two-beat gait, and while some horses have a nice smooth jog (US Western horses are trained to smooth and slow it way down), the truth is, it’s hard to sit. It’s also hell on the back. Modern riders developed a movement called posting (from the post riders of the eighteenth century who did it to keep their teeth from rattling out of their heads) or rising trot, which once you get the hang of it is pretty easy and doable with or without stirrups, but it’s rather athletic. Really works those abs.

The amble in all its forms is smooth. It’s a party trick to carry an egg in a spoon while gaiting, extra points given for doing it bareback, and never dropping the egg. Full glass of water, too. Never spilling a drop.

I mean look at this. (Keyboard alert. Remove all ingestible liquids from vicinity while watching.)

That’s smooth. Extremely easy on the back. Horse can keep it up for a long time. Rider can sit it all day long.

That’s what your palfrey can do. The courser or destrier, the war horse of the West, is a completely different type of animal. He’s bigger, to carry the weight of the armored knight. He’s accordingly more massive. He’s a lot more aggressive—yes, he’s probably a stallion. He is not supposed to be gentle or kind. He’s a fighting machine.

While I was getting up to date on medieval war horses, I came across this from a few months ago. Scroll down to the second article about the Art Institute of Chicago. What’s interesting here is that the Art Institute had sets of fifteenth-century armor, and they needed horse models to fit it. They tried the American Quarter Horse, which is a quite chunky and sturdy animal, but the armor was too big. They tried a draft horse—supposedly a descendant of the Great Horse—and the armor was too small.

What they found was a breed of horse from a little later, which was just the right size. And that was the Lipizzaner, which is a short, stocky, sturdy animal that looks pretty much exactly like the horses Leonardo Da Vinci loved to draw and paint and sculpt. So that’s a living example of the late-medieval war horse. Not as big as you might think, and quite a bit more agile than the draft horses we have now. They’re still doing fighting moves, too, in places like Vienna and Tempel Farms.

The Icelandic horse (not pony despite its size—they’re different subspecies) is a short, very sturdy, highly cold-tolerant animal, supposedly bred for a thousand years without the addition of any other breeding stock. It’s the horse you want when winter comes—through your Westerosi knight may kick at riding a horse so short the knight’s feet barely clear the ground. The Mountain might have to stay in the south. Which is probably not a bad thing.

A major selling point of this breed is that it’s gaited, and therefore is a very smooth ride. The signature gait, the tolt, can cover serious ground, and the horse can keep it up for quite a long time.

As for the Akhal-Teke, this is a straight-out fantasy horse, and it’s totally real. It’s a rare breed from Turkmenistan in central Asia, and tends to be tall and narrow. If it were a dog, it would be a greyhound or a Saluki. It can have a challenging temperament: lots of brains, low idiot tolerance.

The thing that sets it apart from other breeds is its coat. This is the horse who looks as if he’s been brushed with gold. He has a distinctive shimmering sheen. It’s unusual and striking and very beautiful.

As I said. Fantasy horse.


That’s it for this week. If you have questions you’d like me to answer in a future article, ask in comments, and I’ll see what I can do.

Judith Tarr is a lifelong horse person. She supports her habit by writing works of fantasy and science fiction as well as historical novels, many of which have been published as ebooks by Book View Cafe. Her most recent short novel, Dragons in the Earth, features a herd of magical horses, and her space opera, Forgotten Suns, features both terrestrial horses and an alien horselike species (and space whales!). She lives near Tucson, Arizona with a herd of Lipizzans, a clowder of cats, and a blue-eyed dog.

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Posted by Keith DeCandido

Star Trek: Discovery episode Choose Your Pain

In 1966, Star Trek put a black woman and an Asian man on the bridge, and made them senior officers, a year later adding a Russian man to the mix. In an era of civil rights unrest, war in southeast Asia, and the ongoing cold war with the Soviet Union, showing those three working together with the white folks (not to mention the pointy-eared alien) was huge.

In 1993, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine put a black man at the top of the ensemble, and had an Arab doctor. The former was so radical that it had rarely been seen before or since, and the latter is also vanishingly rare.

And now, in 2017, Star Trek Discovery finally gives us a main character on a Trek TV show who is not heterosexual.

It’s kind of appalling that it took until the last year or so for any Trek to acknowledge that there might be homosexuals in the future that aren’t in the Mirror Universe. Stabs were taken at it, particularly on DS9 (“Rejoined,” the aforementioned MU episodes), as well as TNG‘s spectacularly lame-ass attempt to address gender issues in “The Outcast,” but it wasn’t until Star Trek Beyond gave Sulu a husband that we even got a hint of it.

“Choose Your Pain,” however, goes full-tilt boogie, firmly establishing that Stamets is in a long-term, cohabitational relationship with Dr. Hugh Culber (played by Wilson Cruz, so it’s not only a male-male couple, it’s an interracial one!).

Star Trek Discovery episode Choose Your Pain Culber and Stametz

This particular lack has been maddening, because Trek has, over the last five decades, been very good about showing that things will be better in the future, at least as long as you’re not gay. Being black doesn’t stop Uhura or La Forge or Sisko or Burnham from becoming officers in Starfleet. Being female doesn’t stop Janeway or Hernandez or Georgiou from being captains (no matter what Janice Lester might think…). We’ve seen interracial couples, interspecies couples, but never same-sex couples.

Until the last couple years, and the first was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment with Sulu (well, two moments—the other was his realization that the Yorktown was the target and he glances at a picture of husband and kid). Now, though, we have an actual honest-to-goodness opening-credits regular who’s not heterosexual. (I hasten to add that this only applies to the screen iterations of Trek. The tie-in fiction has had plenty of different sexualities represented over the years, and it’s way past fucking time that the main canon caught up to the ancillary fiction.)

We don’t actually find that out until the end of the episode, though, and it’s an amusing coda to the public bickering we’ve gotten over two episodes between Stamets and Culber. (It reminds me favorably of the end of the first episode of Hill Street Blues that Frank Furillo and Joyce Davenport, who’ve been at odds in the precinct all episode, are revealed in the last scene to be lovers.)

Apropos of nothing, I also like that Culber isn’t the chief medical officer. Discovery is continuing its pattern of showing us the other guys on the ship, it isn’t just the senior staff. Yes, we’re seeing lots of Lorca and Saru, but our other main characters are the people working on one particular project on the ship (the most important of the 300 or so at the moment, but not the only one). Stamets isn’t the chief engineer, Culber isn’t the CMO, and Tilly’s just a cadet.

Anyhow, what about the episode itself? Parts of it are brilliant, parts of it, not so much.

First of all, we have two direct connections to the greater Star Trek universe, the first being Saru’s asking for a list of great captains and getting April, Archer, Decker, Georgiou, and Pike. (Speaking as someone who wrote an entire novella that had Decker as the main character, I’m loving seeing him there.)

The second, of course, is Rainn Wilson’s superb turn as Harcourt Fenton Mudd. Wilson does an amazing job here, simultaneously channeling Roger C. Carmel but still giving very much a Rainn Wilson performance.

Star Trek Discovery episode Choose Your Pain Rainn Wilson as Harcourt Fenton Mudd

Though this leads me to my biggest problem with the episode, which is Lorca and Tyler (hey, look, Shazad Latif finally showed up after being in the credits for four episodes!) leaving Mudd behind. In a word: no. And again I say: no. Mudd is a Federation citizen. Yes, he sold them out, but that means you bring his ass back to Federation space so he can stand trial. You do not leave him with the enemy. Leaving aside that it makes no sense from a compassionate standpoint (though that’s a big deal when we’re talking Trek), it also makes no sense from a tactical perspective. Even if you accept that Lorca is a dick—which he totally is—there’s still no logic to leaving Mudd behind.

Too many Stupid Television Tricks in this episode. I really want to take every single scriptwriter for TV shows and movies and shake them by the shoulders until they understand that surveillance in prison cells is extremely common. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve seen prisoners making plans or having private conversations in prison cells and then either a) being able to fool the bad guys because of the plans they made in the cell or b) being surprised that there’s a listening device and/or one of the prisoners is, in fact, a mole. “Choose Your Pain” gives us b), and it’s idiotic. Hell, the episode that introduced the Klingons established that Klingons themselves are always under surveillance. They wouldn’t need a listening device on Mudd’s pet bug (a bug on a bug!) when they could just put sensors in there, and Lorca should know that.

Also when they escape, why is it Lorca’s so willing to vaporize other Klingons, but only wound L’Rell? Because L’Rell’s a regular, so we can’t kill her! Except plot-wise, that makes no sense.

Speaking of things that make no sense, we have Lorca’s backstory. A captain who killed his entire crew rather than have them fall into Klingon hands—and then he gets a plum assignment with tons of autonomy? That doesn’t track at all. I’m willing to wait and see on that one, because we’re getting a description after the fact. There could be a lot more to that. At least, I hope there is, because if that really is what happened to Lorca at the top of the war, he should at worst be in the cell next to Burnham and at best be at a desk on Earth pushing paper.

Star Trek Discovery episode Choose Your Pain Captain Lorca

Back on the Discovery, though, we get the good stuff. The ongoing dynamic between Burnham and Saru is phenomenal, beautifully played by Sonequa Martin-Green and Doug Jones. I love how Saru is the only person who can break through Burnham’s Vulcan mask, and I like the reveal as to why Saru truly resents Burnham: she denied him the opportunity to be Georgiou’s first officer that she had. Burnham giving Saru the telescope she was willed is a nice touch at the end.

Saru’s methodical approach to being acting captain is fun to see, also, with him calling up the names of great captains and seeing how he compares and where he’s deficient. I also like him deciding not to compile that data at the end, because he knows he made the right decision.

Star Trek Discovery episode Choose Your Pain Saru

I’m also glad to see that everyone’s realizing that torturing a living being isn’t the ideal way to achieve your nifty-keeno science project. Unfortunately there’s a war on in general and a kidnapped captain in particular, so that has to be put that aside in order to rescue Lorca.

The ending is totally Star Trek. Once Lorca is rescued, Saru knows that they can’t keep torturing a living being (especially one that might be sentient, as Culber informs us), so he all but orders Burnham to set it free (his exact words are to “save its life”), and makes sure to do so before Lorca has been cleared to return to duty, because we all know Lorca won’t give a shit.

Good news: Burnham’s solution of transferring tardigrade DNA to a human seems to work, as Stamets injects himself and uses the spore drive to get them out of enemy territory. Bad news: something seems to be horribly wrong with Stamets, based on the horror-movie moment at the end when his reflection moved at a different speed. Curiouser and curiouser…

Keith R.A. DeCandido is going for his third-degree black belt in Kenshikai karate this week. By the time next week’s Discovery review appears, he hopes to have that third stripe on his belt, assuming all goes well during the three-day promotion process. The appropriate salutation would not be “good luck,” but rather the Japanese phrase, “ganbatte,” which means, “try your best.”

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Posted by Matthew Keeley

Two feelings predominated my first reading of Gene Wolfe: awe and trepidation. The awe was for Wolfe’s mastery of prose, tone, setting, voice, mood, and incident: I had not realized that science fiction could be so fraught with meaning, so numinous and so horrifying, or that any writer could so successfully marry apocalyptic drama, baroque landscapes, and violent action with pensive introspection and rueful reflection. The trepidation? I didn’t know that anyone could sustain this level of accomplishment for four volumes and a thousand pages. Could he really be this good? As it turns out, he really was.

After twenty pages of The Shadow of the Torturer, I wanted nothing more than to set aside my schoolwork and social life and read all four volumes of The Book of the New Sun cover to cover. But, reflecting that this would leave me without any New Sun books to read for the first time, I decided to pace myself: I would not read the books all in a row, but would force myself to read at least one other novel between each New Sun volume.

I was impressed with my self-restraint until I came across Gene Wolfe’s essay on Tolkien, and the manner of his awestruck first reading of The Lord of the Rings: lest he finish too quickly, he allowed himself just one chapter a night, though he would permit himself to re-read any chapters he’d already finished. That anecdote, I think, is a telling one: Wolfe is a re-reader, and a patient one, and he writes books that will work for readers like him. Yet, like Tolkien, he has a love for saga, adventure, and mystery, for clashing swords, daring escapes, and heroic feats. Too often, I think, appreciations of Wolfe focus on the most esoteric and difficult aspects of his writing while neglecting the abundance of plot and spectacle he provides.

I’ve already mentioned difficulty, so I must admit that Wolfe’s literary reputation is a little forbidding, and likely always will be. Wolfe trips up his readers, lets major plots resolve unrecorded between books, and leaves crucial mysteries unsolved. He is neither trustworthy nor predictable. That being so, it’s vitally important, for me at least, to distinguish between Gene Wolfe, trickster author and expert manipulator of readers, and Gene Wolfe, human being. Gene Wolfe, the author, can be strict, even cruel: he demands close reading and closer re-reading; he expects both dedication and intelligence, and does not deign to clarify or explicate. Gene Wolfe, the man, is very different.

The first time I ever went to a science fiction convention, it was because I knew Gene Wolfe would be there. In the summer of 2009, I was an underemployed recent college graduate who needed to be careful with his expenses: I was between jobs and living at home, with no real income. But when I learned that Wolfe would be attending Readercon, just fifty miles away, I knew that I had to go and meet him. I paid the eighty-dollar registration fee, asked to borrow my dad’s car, and drove the fifty miles to the con.

I arrived twenty minutes or so before the first panel of the day and took a seat in the middle of the room. I thought I’d sit and read the convention schedule and plan the remainder of my day, but when I looked up from the schedule, I saw Gene Wolfe sitting at the front of the hall with his wife, Rosemary. I’m not now and was even less then the sort of person who feels comfortable introducing himself to strangers I admire, but I screwed up my courage, walked up to the front of the hall, and introduced myself as a great fan. I braced for dismissal, but I needn’t have worried: Wolfe was the soul of graciousness. He thanked me for my support, introduced me to Rosemary, and made a point of saying hello every time our paths crossed for the rest of the weekend.

Writers have permission to be mercurial and difficult; being personally insufferable seems to track with being widely celebrated. Alas for Wolfe’s renown, my pleasant experience meeting Wolfe is hardly unusual. I’m a member of Urth, the Gene Wolfe mailing list, and so I’ve heard a few stories. One of the list’s core members has maintained a long-term and mostly long-distance friendship with Wolfe, but had the opportunity to spend time with his favorite author at WindyCon 2008. Writer and fan were supposed to meet for breakfast, but instead Wolfe and his family learned that their friend had been rushed to the hospital early that morning. Wolfe and his daughter spent much of the con’s remaining time visiting their friend, speaking with his family in England, managing insurance concerns, and generally making the best of a bad situation. There was even, I’m told, some well-intentioned fraud: only family members could visit the ER, and so at least one Wolfe got through the door as the American relative of the ailing Englishman.

One last personal anecdote. I work in publishing, but had a hard time making inroads into the book world after I graduated college: I knew no one in the industry, and no one I knew seemed to know anyone, either. After that first Readercon, I wrote to David Hartwell, by then Wolfe’s editor of thirty years and long his most devoted supporter. I introduced myself, told him I’d bought a few books from him at his Readercon booth, and asked if I might possibly just maybe have a short informational interview with him. He agreed, and scheduled a lunch near the Flatiron Building.

I hadn’t told David that I’d be taking a four-hour bus ride to New York expressly to meet him, and he was a little embarrassed when he found out, but I could never regret that trip. As we sat at lunch—he’d already shown me the Tor office and wowed me with the Hugo perched on the corner of his desk—we talked about all the authors he had known and edited. I knew he’d worked with Robert Heinlein, but hadn’t realized he’d edited Philip K. Dick, too; of course I had to ask what they had been like. He loved all these writers, and wanted others to appreciate them as he did, but the way he talked about Wolfe was different. Midway through our meal, after we’d finished discussing Neil Gaiman’s comics, David put down his fork, looked me in the eye, and asked “Now what do you think of Gene Wolfe?”

This was clearly an important question; I sense that to some extent David’s opinion of me would depend on how I responded. And so I answered honestly, saying that he was my favorite science fiction writer, that The Book of the New Sun was a masterpiece, and that I would read anything he wrote. My words may, in fact, have degenerated into incoherence as I tried to summarize all of Wolfe’s achievements. Coherent or not, I still stand by that answer today.

This is the first of a series of essays, and I admit it’s an odd start. In the coming weeks I’ll be going into Gene Wolfe’s works in greater detail, examining his style, offering suggestions on where to start with his work, examining The Book of the New Sun at greater length, and picking out a few titles I think deserve more attention. I’ll be spending the rest of this series immersed in Wolfe’s books, but for my first post, I wanted to briefly reflect for a moment on the writer away from the page, with appreciation and respect.

Matt Keeley reads too much and watches too many movies; he is helped in the former by his day job in the publishing industry. You can find him on Twitter at @mattkeeley.

On stillness after the holidays

Oct. 16th, 2017 08:07 am
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Posted by (Velveteen Rabbi)


...This is our time to rest, like bulbs cradled in the embrace of the earth. It’s time to slow our breathing, like the shavasana pose that ends many yoga classes. We’ve been pouring out our hearts: now it’s time to wait and see what flows in to replenish us. Like the trees, like the bulbs, our souls need to lie fallow....


That's from my latest essay for The Wisdom Daily.

Read the whole thing: Why the stillness after the wave of Jewish holidays is so important


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