Both a gripping independent novel and intriguing conclusion to the Books of the Elements (a four-volume set of fantasies set in Carce, an analog of ancient Rome), David Drake’s Air and Darkness is a complex journey through both real and magical places, set in a time when the supernatural is dominant. Battling magicians, spirits, gods, and forces from supernatural realities, soldier Corylus faces deadly dangers in a final battle not between good and evil, but in defense of logic and reality. Please enjoy this excerpt.
“Help us, Mother Matuta,” chanted Hedia as she danced sunwise in a circle with eleven women of the district. The priest Doclianus stood beside the altar in the center. It was of black local stones, crudely squared and laid without mortar—what you’d expect, forty miles from Carce and in the middle of nowhere.
“Help us, bringer of brightness! Help us, bringer of warmth!”
Hedia sniffed. Though the pre-dawn sky was light, it certainly hadn’t brought warmth.
The start of a new epic fantasy series by Jason Denzel, the founder of Dragonmount.
Mystic follows Pomella AnDone, a restless, low-born teenager who becomes a candidate for apprentice to the Mystics, a powerful group of people with the ability to manipulate the Myst: the energy that lives at the heart of the universe. Breaking law and tradition, Pomella undergoes trials against other candidates to prove her worthiness, but she must navigate a deadly world of intolerance and betrayal in the process of unraveling the secrets of the Myst. We hope you enjoy this excerpt.
CHAPTER ONE: SPRINGRISE
On the island of Moth, under a swollen moon, Pomella AnDone stormed out of her house, slamming the door behind her. She hurried, expecting Fathir’s yell to sound behind her. It was like waiting for thunder after a flash of lightning.
“You’re not a jagged noble!” he finally screamed from behind the door. “Cut your hair and know your place!”
WORD Bookstore is hosting a Radiance-inspired film contest!
Catherynne Valente has written a lot of books that take her readers to a lot of places—but her new novel is something special indeed. Severin Unck is the daughter of a famous filmmaker, and an artist in her own right. But when she vanishes from her latest film set, no one seems to know what happened. Told in screenplays, gossip columns, transcribed conversations, and more genres than you can count on one hand, Radiance is a glorious trip both backward and forward in time; it takes place in an alternate past where we traipse among the planets with ease.
In honor of the filmmaking Uncks and their event with Valente on October 20, WORD is now accepting submissions of your own short films inspired by Radiance. The judges are asking that the short films be inspired by the below excerpt from the book. Visit their site for more guidelines and information regarding the cinema contest.
From the Personal Reels of Percival Alfred Unck
[SEVERIN UNCK stands amid a tangle of cables on the set of The Abduction of Proserpine. Vampire extras mill around her, touching up their makeup, chatting, taking their teeth out to smoke. She is very small, perhaps four or five. She wears a black dress with a black bow and black stockings. Her face is painted deathly white. She looks up at a demonic ice dragon with sword whiskers and icicle teeth, a massive puppet managed by the renowned TALMADGE BRACE and his team. She does not see her Uncle Madge pulling on the puppet’s works. It towers over her. She stares at its tinfoil eyes intently, quietly, hands clasped behind her back. She rocks up on her toes.]
Did you eat that big old city all up?
[The ice dragon nods solemnly. His lines creak.]
What a bad thing you are. You ought to be pun-
[The ice dragon nods again. TALMADGE works his lines and pulleys just out of frame, slumping the creature’s snow-puff shoulders in deep shame. He can barely suppress his amusement.]
Catherynne M. Valente’s Radiance is a decopunk pulp SF alt-history space opera mystery set in a Hollywood—and solar system—very different from our own. This filmmaker family saga is told through reality TV, film, gossip magazines, and a meta-fictional narrative. Join Valente on tour, starting at New York Comic-Con; check out the full list of tour dates below.
Saturday, October 10
New York Comic-Con @ 5 p.m.
Signing at Tor Booth #2223
Sunday, October 11
New York Comic Con @ 1:30 p.m.
Panel: Get Out of Your Chair and Off the Planet! Room A10 (signing to follow)
Tuesday, October 20
WORD Bookstore Brooklyn @ 7 p.m.
Launch party with special refreshments and more to come!
Thursday, October 22
Third Place Books @ 7 p.m.
Friday, October 23
Powell’s Books (Cedar Hills Crossing) @ 7 p.m.
Saturday, October 24
The Last Bookstore @ 7:30 p.m.
Deco Punk Costume Contest + Reading + Signing
Los Angeles, CA
Monday, October 26
Tattered Cover (Colfax) @ 7 p.m.
Tuesday, October 27
Anderson’s Bookshop @ 7 p.m.
Thursday, October 29
Avid Bookshop @ 6:30 p.m.
Friday, October 30
Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café @ 7 p.m.
Thursday, November 5
Toadstool Bookshop @ 6:30 p.m.
Sunday, November 8
Phoenix Books @ 2 p.m.
Thursday, November 12
Gibson’s Bookstore @ 7 p.m.
The last time Sean Wyndham dabbled in dark magic, he accidentally summoned a havoc-wreaking blood familiar. After this catastrophe attracted the attention of the Elder Gods, Sean was offered the chance to study magic with a proper teacher. However, he soon becomes attracted to the dark, magical secret hidden deep within his new tutor’s vaulted library.
Sean and Eddy had hoisted their kayaks onto the roof of the Civic. They’d stuffed suitcases into the trunk, strapped bikes to the trunk rack, crammed the backseat with paddles and life vests, bike helmets and beach umbrellas. Now Eddy had gone home to pack books. She’d promised to limit herself to a single backpack, but even that was like shipping Coke to the Coke factory. She’d be working in the Miskatonic University Library, plus the Arkwright House had its own library, plus Horrocke’s Bookstore was five minutes from campus. Good thing the Civic could handle her fear of getting stranded on a bookless desert island between Providence and Arkham—Dad had made sure the car was in top shape before he handed Sean the keys.
Sean had expected to drive the Civic more after Dad got his new Accord, but for Dad to give it to him? That was the (forest green) cherry on top of a whole summer studying magic, another gift he hadn’t dared take for granted, even with Helen Arkwright and Professor Marvell arguing for it. The Servitor incident was a year behind them. Things had returned to normal, pretty much. So why would Dad risk Sean plunging them in another magical shit-storm?
Written by Ilana C. Myer
Recently at Bookcon I participated in a panel about villains in science fiction and fantasy, and it got me thinking. I have some pretty strong ideas about villains in fiction, which panel moderator Charlie Jane Anders’ incisive questions forced me to re-examine. And having these ideas clarified in one’s mind is invaluable for a writer’s toolbox.
I thought about how dissatisfied I often am with commentary on Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. One of the most common criticisms of Tolkien is that his characterization is “Manichean” (the critics’ word, not mine)—the good guys are very good, the bad guys very bad, and there’s no nuance. I’m done wondering if we read the same book. I’ll just lay out what I think, in the context of what it means to create an effective villain.
It’s true Sauron is not a multi-dimensional villain (despite Elrond’s assertion that he was once good, that “nothing is evil in the beginning”). If you want a complex villain in Tolkien you have to look to Gollum, Saruman, or even Denethor. A villain like Sauron is more of a dark force than a character. He has a different narrative purpose—to galvanize the protagonists, though not just to action. Sauron forces the heroes of Lord of the Rings onto the battleground of the psyche.
Through the Ring—an extension of Sauron—the protagonists contend with their own temptations, weaknesses, and most denied impulses. We see this most clearly in Gollum, who is corrupted by the Ring and presented as a mirror image of Frodo—the person Frodo is in danger of becoming. But we see it with other characters, too, such as Galadriel, whose secret desire for power is laid bare by the Ring. Far from consisting of bland, benign, cloyingly nice good guys, Lord of the Rings depicts characters struggling with what is most alluringly dark within themselves. Each character’s internal battle is unique, depending on the temptation that lies nearest his or her heart.
In my view, a good epic fantasy will usually have more than one kind of villain, or flawed hero. In George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire we have outright monsters like Gregor Clegane and Joffrey Baratheon, but also Jaime Lannister whom you might actually want to have a beer with. And then there are the White Walkers, unambiguously evil, the threat everyone will be forced to stand against. The complexity introduced by a variety of antagonists enriches the story.
My debut novel about poetry and enchantments, Last Song Before Night, is layered around several antagonists. One of these is a Court Poet who becomes twisted by dark magic. Others act from impulses painfully human, or as a result of irreparable hurt. Along the way they hold a dark mirror to the protagonists, revealing who they might become as a consequence of even one misstep—a wrong turn in the road.
The humanizing of an antagonist hinges on what they want—what we desire is where we are most vulnerable. A sympathetic antagonist challenges the reader, makes the reader conflicted about the outcome of the story. I’m of the mind that a conflicted reader is generally a good thing. So perhaps the compassionate author, who secretly loves all the characters, even the bad ones, is in truth the cruelest villain of all.
Written by Joan D. Vinge
Around 1970, feminism (“the radical notion that women are people” —Marie Shear) began inspiring many women to realize that if they loved science fiction, they could write it too. So they did, and became published writers of science fiction in significant numbers. The thing that impressed me about this trend was not just that editors actually bought their work, but that they published it with a woman’s name on it.
I felt that science fiction was actually living up to its reputation, sociopolitically as well as technologically—embracing change and acknowledging the movement toward greater equality between the sexes at a much faster rate than society in general. Women science fiction writers had seemingly been welcomed into the newly diverse field by a majority of readers.
In 1976 I was invited to write the cover story for Analog Magazine’s “Special Women’s Issue.” (This led a female friend to remark “Joan D. Vinge and her All-Girl Band,” and I responded that I “half expected it to contain recipes for ‘Martian Casseroles’.”) It was, I was perfectly aware, still a kind of publicity stunt…but the key word there was “publicity.” I felt that if it got people who were reluctant to read SF by women to give it a try, many of them would find they enjoyed the stories, and it would help all women writers. My cover story, “Eyes of Amber,” won me my first Hugo Award in 1978, for Best Novelette. (I found out that year that someone—in Vegas?—was making book on who was going to win the Hugos. The odds against “Eyes of Amber” were 40 to 1. I really wish I’d known that in time to put down a bet on it.)
By then, I had basically finished writing The Snow Queen, a novel in which I set out specifically to explore as wide a variety of female characters as I could (while neither ignoring male characters nor demonizing them). I did this because at the time there were still relatively few science fiction novels with even one female protagonist. The Snow Queen went on to give me some of the peak moments of my life: it got a rare quote from Arthur C. Clarke praising it, [the first edition] had a cover painting by Leo and Diane Dillon, an award-winning husband-and-wife team who were among my all-time favorite artists, and it won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1981.
Most of the science and technology that could make the future history of The Snow Queen a reality were still over the horizon when I wrote it. Some of the science was even considered impossible by researchers. Since then, however, advances in—for example—quantum physics have brought the existence of parallel dimensions and faster-than-light travel into the realm of serious science; advances in biology and computer technology have moved things like cloning and nanotechnology into public discourse.
On the other hand, the plot of The Snow Queen concerns ecological issues like climate change and the impact of population growth, as well as the threat of extinction faced by endangered species. It also deals with the kind of politics that inevitably lead to the technological-and-financial haves exploiting the have nots; with foreigners stripping a world of valuable resources, aided by the corrupt government of the exploited world; with strained relationships and tense interactions centered on equal rights, and conflict among people from various cultures who find each others’ values completely alien.
When I wrote about those issues in The Snow Queen, in the latter half of the 1970s, they were contemporary concerns that had emerged from “The Sixties,” an era of sociopolitical upheaval which reached a peak in the protest and eventual public repudiation of the Vietnam War, which was at its height from about 1965 to 1973.
It’s both gratifying (from a literary standpoint) and disheartening (from a social one) that thirty-five years after I wrote about issues that are as much social science as hard science, they’re still as relevant as they were then. I hope that readers of The Snow Queen will do a little “compare and contrast,” not just between the present day and the novel, but also between the present day and the last half century. In the meantime, I’m glad that science fiction—especially science fiction by women, and even a novel written over three decades ago—still has something to teach us about the present and the future.
Visit Joan D. Vinge on her website.
Written by Catherynne M. Valente
Over the last many years, I have darted back and forth between children’s literature and adult fiction like a banged-up cargo ship between space-ports. It’s a strange balancing act: remembering when I am and am not allowed to swear, to use five-syllable words and sub-clauses, to depict sex, murder, despair, or a solar system populated with worlds nothing like the ones New Horizons sees.
Now, with Radiance, my first adult novel in four years about to be unleashed upon the world, I look at that funny little hardback beast, stuffed full of a Venus with breathable air and scarlet swamps, and feel a familiar tingle of trepidation: am I allowed to do that?
There’s been a strong trend of late toward more realistic science fiction. No faster than light travel, no bug-eyed monsters, no getting around the colossal difficulties of human-space relations that we have had to face over the last 70 years of scientific advancement. Where once the horror in SF might have been a menace from Mars, now it is more often the scarcity of water and air, and the nearness of an unforgiving vacuum. And this is good and necessary work—fiction gives us a place to explore how things which have not yet happened will change our psychologies, so that we will not be caught unaware. But that is not the only use of fiction, or even of science fiction.
I didn’t want to write a book about the nine (yes, I said nine!) worlds of our solar system as I know them to be now. Perhaps it’s the children’s writer in me talking: as a child I dreamed of sailing on Venus and being a cowboy on Mars, of running around on the plains of Saturn looking up at the rings. Pulp science fiction gave us adventures that we know now could never happen—and it broke my heart a little when I realized that, very probably, no one would ever get to be a cowboy on Mars.
It’s a kind of grim coming of age. As a kid you can build a fort of Zelazny paperbacks and live in it quite happily. But eventually you grow up, and accept the hardness of hard SF.
But when it came time to write my first Real Big Girl Science Fiction Novel, I wanted to write about those dream worlds. I wanted to write with the freedom of Silver Age SF, without worrying about whether it was grittily realistic. After all, I didn’t get into writing speculative fiction to write about the real world. But I couldn’t help worrying. Because I am a fantasy writer—wouldn’t people take me less seriously if I wrote about floating cities on Neptune? If I didn’t fully explain the drive mechanisms on my beautiful art deco ships? If I didn’t grow up and accept the reality of eight empty worlds hostile to life and the vast spaces between them? If I let the planets I drew pictures of as a child come alive? Am I allowed to do that? Science fiction gets a larger share of literary respect than fantasy because of its utility—it isn’t about the real, honest world now, but it is about the real honest world as it might be soon, and therefore the kinds of people who are very concerned with policing the imagination will, grudgingly, allow science fiction a seat at the literary table with the big kids (albeit one with a missing leg and gum stuck underneath). The more grounded in reality, the better. What could be the utility of going backward, into that pulp paradise, to find my Venus among the many that were once thought possible?
The simplest answer is: I just really, really wanted to. I longed to. I had a solar system in my heart screaming to get out. A really big dream—and that’s the utility of it. Unrealistic fiction, even and especially science fiction, allows us to dream big. To boldly go. To not have to have The Talk where you find out that Santa Claus doesn’t exist and there are no purple space-buffalo on Pluto. Or at least not to believe it completely. Like fairy tales, our dreams of our nearest neighbors are archetypal, bone-deep. They say everything about us. Before you venture out, what you hope to find down the lane is as true as what’s really there. And who knows—one day, these fantastical planets may be real worlds. Terraforming may give us a watery Venus, a Saturn where a child can stand, even cowboys on Mars. Science is not an endpoint, and even the most realistic of hard SF can’t say anything about the physics we might discover in a hundred years. And beside the steely SF of Facing Reality, the SF of Something Impossible ought still to have a place.
Radiance dwells in an alternate universe where such things, such planets, such physics, such cowboys, are already alive and bustling and messily complicated. It’s the place I always wanted to live in.
And I’m finally allowed to go there.