Lion in Winter, or Pretty Little Liars?

Yesterday I told my daughter that she could watch the movie A Lion in Winter (Peter O’Toole, Katherine Hepburn, etc.) for school.

Fifteen minutes in I paused the film to make sure she was following the plot.

“Okay, so, Alais? Was engaged to Henry the Young King, but was having an affair with his father, Henry II. So then the Young King died, and Alais is still sleeping with her dead fiance’s father. So now Henry II wants her to marry his other son, John. And Alais’s brother, Philip, may or may not be in love with the OTHER son, Richard. Oh, and their mother Eleanor has been let out of jail just for Christmas. Henry put her in jail because she was inciting a rebellion against him. Oh, and she raised Alais as a child.”

J walked by. “What are you telling her? It sounds like an episode of Pretty Little Liars.”

I thought for less than a second.

“Yes,” I said, nodding. “Yes it does. European royal history is a LOT like a plot from Pretty Little Liars.”

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Steles of the Sky

Steles of the Sky concludes Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky trilogy. In this we find out the fate of Re Temur, Samarkar, and the host of characters that form the incredibly diverse cast of these books.

If you’ve read the first two, I expect you are already in possession of the third. If you have not read them, may I recommend you pick up a copy of the first book, Range of Ghosts? In brief, The Eternal Sky is epic fantasy as you have never seen it. It’s a fantasyland Central Asia which doesn’t have a fantasyland Europe to bounce off. (Bear mentioned on Twitter that, at some point, she might explain what happened to Europe in this world. Something about there only being scattered islands west of Russia, or something.) The Eternal Sky posits a highly complex world of shifting empires and faiths, and shows us a moment in which everything hangs in the balance, for everyone.

It’s very, very good.

What struck me most about Steles of the Sky, though, was not the complexity of the world-building (which, I swear to you, is a fucking delight unto mine eyes. I grew up on Map Books, and this is a Map Book for the records. For the ages. For all the damn awards.) but the complexity of the characters.

Every point of view character — and there are many, in this trilogy — has their own point of view.

This book is a masterclass unto itself in how to do such a thing right. How it is DONE. How it is done WELL. Every character has a reason for being where they are, doing what they are doing. They have their own, internally-generated motivations and goals. Each character is a human being and the plot never forgets that, not for a moment.

This is made even more delightful by the fact that half the main characters are women. And all of them are non-Europeans. (Hitting Europe with an asteroid, or whatever happened, will do that.) This book never forgets that it is not in fantasyland Europe. Its analogies and metaphors are generated from its myriad cultures. Its values and gods are generated in the same way. There is no Zeus-Analogy-God here.

And yet none of this is hard on the reader. Do you have any idea how wonderous that is? To make something so different from the reflexive, easy, Tolkein-riff and yet make it comprehensible? I reveled in these new cultures and worlds. I rolled in them, luxuriating in this thing that was just like the things I am conditioned to love, but so much better. Different. Greater. More.

The Eternal Sky makes the world wider, not smaller. It gives us as humans more room to become, more room to grow. These books are part of what makes us better people, more empathetic, more understanding, smarter, more compassionate. And these books make us enjoy the experience.

I want to point out one trope that I particularly enjoyed seeing punctured. There is a moment, near the end, when a character is granted their full and entire agency at long last. And said character uses that agency to try and kill a Good Character.

I loved that moment.

I loved that agency does not equal Good According to Me. I loved that evil was not made up entirely of enslavement, but also stemmed from selfish choices. I loved that the moment of truth and autonomy meant a doubling-down on Things I As a Reader Did Not Want. At least, for that particular character.

Good for them, doing what they wanted and not what a more conventional narrative would have demanded. Good for them, being a fully-realized character with their own motivations. And good for Bear to know how to do such a thing.

Thank you, Bear. Thank you for these books. I love them. I am so very pleased to hear that another trilogy in the same world is in the works. I look forward to it with all my heart.

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Operation Fourth Story

Apex Magazine wants YOU to subscribe!

We at Apex Magazine (you did know I’m the editor-in-chief of Apex, right?) are doing a subscriber drive for the next two weeks. We’re calling it Operation Fourth Story. We hope that enough of you subscribe that we might sustain a fourth piece of original fiction in each issue.

Apex Magazine is a semiprozine, according to SFWA. We PAY our writers and artists. We pay SFWA-qualifying rates. A few of us involved in the production of the magazine get paid. But the vast majority of those who make Apex? Are not paid for their work. They volunteer because they believe in the importance of magazines like Apex. They volunteer to be a part of this Hugo-Award-nominated magazine. They volunteer for the love of the work.

The finances involved in Apex, or any similar semipro magazine, are tight. We want, VERY much, to give you more content. More stories, more interviews, more poetry. But to do that, we need the income with which to pay our contributors.

I want to give you more stories each month. You should see the stuff I have waiting! But I cannot, nor do I want to, publish without paying.

Help pay these amazing writers. Help us get more fantastic short fiction out into the world. Subscribe to Apex Magazine.

Thank you.

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Apex Magazine: Operation Fourth Story

Apex Magazine wants to add a fourth original short story to the magazine each month. To pay for this, we are hoping for 250 new subscribers to the magazine.

Over the next two weeks (April 3rd to April 17th) we’re going to be showcasing Apex Magazine – and short fiction in general – here on the Apex blog and across the web. Every day we’ll have guest posts from authors, editors, and bloggers about the importance of short fiction. Several bloggers will be reviewing issues of Apex Magazine, and there will be guest posts and interviews with the Apex Magazine crew popping up everywhere.

Our goal is to get 250 new subscribers. If we meet this goal, then we’ll have the revenue to add a fourth piece of original short fiction to every issue. That means more stories from the authors we love, more new talent being found amid the slush piles. It means Apex Magazine will bigger and better than ever.

Go, look at the blog!

Subscribers get their choice of free ebooks from Apex Magazine. In addition, we are giving away a Kindle Paperwhite. The blog post details the many ways you can support and subscribe to Apex, including Weightless Books, Kindle, and Patreon, to name a few.

Check it out. Apex is going strong, and we hope to make it stronger. We’d like your help to do that.

Thank you.

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Did I mention it’s spring?

Yes, we had an ice storm Monday night.

Whatevs.

It melted.

This is no thaw; thing is Spring.

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April issue of Apex Magazine!

Issue 59 of Apex Magazine is live!

Fiction

“Perfect” by Haddayr Copley-Woods
“Steel Snowflakes in My Skull” by Tom Piccirilli
“The Cultist’s Son” by Ferrett Steinmetz
“Repairing the World” by John Chu
“Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary” by Pamela Dean (eBook/subscriber exclusive)
“The Violent Century — Excerpt” by Lavie Tidhar (eBook/subscriber exclusive)

Poetry

“Cogs” by Beth Cato
“Unlabelled Core c. Zanclean (5.33 Ma)” by Michele Bannister
“Aristeia” by Sonya Taaffe
“Tell Me the World is a Forest” by Chris Lynch

Nonfiction

“Resolute: Notes from the Editor-in-Chief” by Sigrid Ellis
“After Our Bodies Fail” by Abra Staffin-Wiebe
“Apex Author Interview with Ferrett Steinmetz” by Maggie Slater
“Apex Cover Artist Interview with Mehrdad Isvandi” by Loraine Sammy

As always, you can read the issue for free at the website.

You can, however, also subscribe! Subscription gets the magazine pushed to you each month, to your email or Kindle or other tablet device. If you, like me, intend to go read great short fiction each month but just never remember when you are at your computer, subscription may be the answer!

We really enjoyed this issue. I hope you do, too!

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What are you reading and watching?

Wiscon is a convention that is all about the conversations. Conversations in panels, in hallways, at meals, in parties. It’s a convention made of conversations.

Each year before Wiscon I try to suss out what people are going to be talking about. Which books, movies, or television series are catching the imagination and moment. And, time permitting, I try to read or watch at least a few of those things.

This year I am hoping that folks will have read The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker. It’s a look at the immigrant experience in New York City around the turn of the twentieth century through a carefully thought-out and imaginative lens. One of the narrators is a golem. Another is a jinni. I am finding the book to be an engaging read.

I am also hoping that others will have read Elizabeth Bear’s Steles of the Sky, which I deeply loved for a host of reasons.

I am also catching up on some television. I’ve finished House of Cards season two. I intend to finish American Horror Story: Coven in the next few weeks. Right now I am beginning Elementary season two.

So!

:chinhands:

What are you watching? What are you reading? Whether or not you are going to Wiscon this year, what works of fiction or non-fiction are you and your friends talking about? Comics? Podcasts? Blogs? What has engaged your attention?

Do, please, tell me in the comments. NOT links, PLEASE, as link-heavy comments get marked as spam. But do tell me what you like about the thing in question, if you have time –

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