Tag: fantasy

New Books in Science Fiction and Fantasy: Meagan Spooner’s Skylark

Check out the third episode of New Books in Science and Fantasy, in which I interview Meagan Spooner about Skylark.

The summary:

Lark Ainsley lives within a near-hermetically sealed city located in a world scarred and depleted by magical wars. The Architects, who oversee the City, maintain it by harvesting the non-renewable magical energy found in each of the city’s inhabitants. But something goes wrong on Lark’s “Harvest Day,” and she soon finds herself on a quest to find safety outside the City’s walls–where the disappearance of magic has rendered the landscape a wasteland full of sadness and danger.

There’s also a very positive review of the book at Popcorn Reads.


Pastiche Fantasy in Song of Ice and Fire

There’s much to like about what George R.R. Martin does in his juggernaut of a fantasy franchise: his juggling of a ginormous cast of compelling characters, his willingness to kill and maim those characters in horrible ways, and his relentless critique of the way that high fantasy handles class and gender.

I appreciate that there’s something barking mad about demanding ‘realism’ in fricking high fantasy, but medieval Europe was not populated by well-fed and endearing freeholders, chivalrous knights, and free-thinking warrior-maidens. And let’s not even get started on whether the political economy of feudal society is compatible with low-cost extra-dimensional energy sources.

Given all of the ways in which Martin breaks with tropes found in the bulk of high fantasy, it can be easy to forget the degree to which his underlaying fantasy architecture is dungeons-and-dragons level pastiche — complete with Dire Wolves, cliché “barbarian” steppe nomads, pseudo-vikings, and other flotsam and jetsam from Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.

The series even refers to the undead as “wights.” We’re in pure Monster Manual territory here. Our good friend Colin Wight’s last name does not mean “sinister undead dude.” The etymology of “wight” as “undead creature” derives, as I understand it, from a misreading of Tolkien. 
In the early part of the Fellowship of the Ring (in a section that gets cut in the major audio and film adaptations) the Halflings face an undead creature called a “barrow-wight.” This simply translates as “barrow man” or “barrow creature.” So what we have is kind of metonym that developed within the fantasy genre and diffused down to Martin.
There’s nothing wrong with this.* Much of the “breakout” high-fantasy series of the last few decades, such as Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time and Eddings’ Belgariad, were arguably even more pastiche — and not even remotely subversive. 
I suppose we could make a case that its pedestrian fantastical elements enhance the critical dimensions of A Song of Ice and Fire. Perhaps it might turn out that Martin’s subversive instincts extend not only to issues of class, gender, and power, but also to the so-far ambiguous status of the distant history of Westeros. But still… the underlying world-building is glaringly bereft of imagination given the other strengths of the books. 
… And, of course, after I finished writing I searched for “song of ice and fire pastiche” and found this ground well-trodden. Here’s an example: a thoughtful discussion in the context of computer role-playing games
*Heck, I wish I could find people to play tabletop fantasy rpgs with!

New Books in Science Fiction and Fantasy: D.B. Jackson’s Thieftaker

My second NBinSFF podcast is live

D.B. Jackson” is David B. Coe’s pen name for his new historical-fantasy series, The Thieftaker Chronicles. Thieftaker (Tor Books, 2012) centers on Ethan Kaille, a private detective and conjurer, as he investigates a murder in colonial Boston. David, who received a Ph.D. in U.S. history from Stanford University before embarking on a career as a novelist, weaves in plenty of period details and historical personages into an alternate Boston where conjuration is real, albeit suppressed by the authorities. David maintains a page of resources for those interested in his well-researched setting. He also is a co-founder of, and co-writer for, a blogdedicated to assisting aspiring speculative-fiction and fantasy authors with all aspects of the craft.

You can read the rest the rest and listen to the podcast at the New Books Network.


Crowdsource Request: New Books in SF and Fantasy

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I am now chief interviewer for the New Books Network‘s SF and Fantasy channel. I’ve got some exciting authors lined up for launch, and a few more who have agreed to record in September. But my response rate has dropped off dramatically in the last two weeks.

In retrospect, August might not have been the best time to start interviewing.

Anyway, I’m hoping that many of the outstanding requests will come through. But I also need a longer list of authors to pester contact, especially if I’m going to bank enough interviews to start the channel at two podcasts per month. 
So, loyal Duck readers, do you have any suggestions for SF and Fantasy books and authors? Books with 2012 publications dates are best, but I can potentially discuss older works, particularly if there’s a new “hook.” How about someone you’d love to hear an interview with — and even better, have a backchannel for that question you’ve always wanted answered?

PS: I don’t know how many people have checked out the Duck of Minerva podcasts, but that side project seems to be moving along well. I’m lining up more interview subjects, including some “big names” in the field. If you have comments or suggestions for topics related to that endeavor, consider this an open thread.


Podcasts and Space Hamsters and Shoulder Dragons, oh my!

Two items of business:

First, I am pleased to announce that the Duck of Minerva now comes with podcasts. I am doubly pleased to announce that I resisted the urge to refer to them as “duckcasts” (you can thank me in comments). I am running the podcast feed on a separate blog. You can subscribe to our podcasts either via that blog’s Feedburner feed or its original atom feed (to do so within iTunes, go to “Advanced” and then choose “Subscribe to Podcast” and paste the feed URL).

I will also make sure that links to the audiofiles appear on a new page accessible from the tab bar — a link to Podcast No. 1 is already there. In general, I will try to alert readers to the appearance of a new podcast — assuming that there are more to come — in the form of a post on the Duck; those posts will also be a good place for feedback and commentary.

Second, I am excited to let you all know that I have agreed to become the interviewer for a Science Fiction and Fantasy channel at the New Books Network (NBN). There is a stub channel already in existence (it consists of a cross-post from a different channel). The “real” channel won’t be live for at least a month, as I’m trying to “bank” interviews to provide a cushion for regular updates at launch. I’m thrilled, and more than a little humbled, by the quality of the authors who have already agreed — whether in principle or in practice — to appear on the podcast. 

I hope the synergistic character of the two items is already apparent. I’ve got shiny new equipment for the NBN interviews, and it seems a shame not to get more use out of it. At the same time, I’ve got a lot of work to do to become an effective interviewer (cf. the first Duck podcast, in which PTJ and I talk too fast and I seem to be operating with a -5 coherence penalty). Thus, the more chances I get to podcast the better. 

What do I have in mind for the Duck? Interviews and discussions among the Duck crew for a start. Maybe some interviews with authors of IR books. Perhaps we can get some of our field’s “big names,” let alone young and up-and-coming scholars, to have a brief, recorded chat with us. 

While the NBN channel will be updated on a schedule, I am not sure that this will be possible at the Duck due to the multiple demands on all of our time. Of course, this may prove another failed experiment. We will see. 

PS: if you have comments on the first podcast or what you’d like to see hear in future ones, leave them here.


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