Stories That Helped Me Find the Power Within

Mystic by Jason Denzel
Written by Jason Denzel

Over the years, I’ve often described The Wheel of Time as being like a heavyweight boxing champ. It’s big, bulky, powerful, and capable to blasting you to the ground with a massive uppercut of prose and conflict. The upper echelon of characters command titanic powers, making them almost god-like in stature. Balefire roars from their hands. Mountains and oceans fall from the sky when they gesture. Whole armies move at their command. Even dreams submit to their will, making no enemy safe.

More than that, the story, 4 million words long, spreads across fourteen novels (plus a prequel), commanding respect. Nobody is soon going to usurp WoT’s crown as the biggest, most expansive epic of our time. Even George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire or Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive are unlikely to unseat the champ in terms of sheer volume.

Robert Jordan created a world that can be used as a textbook example of thorough world-building. (If you want evidence of that, look no further than The Wheel of Time Companion. Love it or hate it, if you can survive 14 rounds (err, novels) with it, The Wheel of Time will leave you flat on your ass.

You would think that, with all its heft, and given the mighty presence it’s played in my life, the WoT would be the most inspiring force behind my own writing. But you’d be wrong. It certainly plays a huge role—there’s no way, after living and breathing Jordan’s world for twenty years that it couldn’t influence me—but the book that I most often come back to as the one that lights me up from inside is Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea.

Where WoT is the reigning heavyweight champ, I’ve always seen Earthsea as that stoic kung-fu master who can floor you with a single finger. The book is only ten chapters long. Under 55,000 words in length. Yet the impact of Le Guin’s masterpiece is equal to the slam of Jordan’s magnum opus. With perfect prose, flawless style, and a timeless message that pierces straight to my heart, Le Guin crafted a story about a young man learning to become an apprentice wizard. About what it’s like to find power from within. And likewise, it’s about how our greatest enemies are ourselves.

Mystic is my response to those ideas. It draws inspiration from both Jordan and Le Guin while striving to be its own thing. This is my take on what it’s like to have to fight for your birthright when others would deny it to you. It’s about finding your true self, and in doing so, finding your inner heavyweight boxing, kung-fu master.

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Follow Jason Denzel on Twitter at @JasonDenzel, on the Dragonmount Facebook page and on his website.

R is for Robot

Made to Kill by Adam Christopher
Written by Adam Christopher

Y’know, there’s just something about robots that I like. Maybe it’s because they’re one of those rare creations that actually made the leap from sci-fi to the real world—what started out as a fictional concept of artificial workers ended up as real machines which build our cars and explore the solar system. Maybe it’s because robots are real that we can see what they might one day become. A warp drive that can take us to the next star in the blink of an eye is pure fantasy…but a walking, talking, thinking machine that can make coffee and take out the trash is tantalizingly possible.

Maybe I like robots because they’re just so damned retro, the term first coined in 1921 by Czech writer Karel Capek in his play, R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots). Here, the robots are synthetic, organic people, mass-produced in a factory—the Czech word “robota” meaning forced labor. A little different to what we would call a robot today, perhaps, but it’s the idea that’s key—artificial, manufactured life.

Robots may come and go according to science fiction fashion, but I have three particular favorites of my own.

D84 (Doctor Who: The Robots of Death, 1977)

It won’t surprise anyone to discover that one of my favorite Doctor Who stories is about a bunch of robots who throw Asimov’s three laws out the airlock and start slaughtering the human crew of a vast, floating sandminer that is sucking minerals from the dunes of a distant, unnamed planet. The robots, with their Art Deco stylings, are divided into three classes: Dums, mute worker drones; Vocs, the standard mechanical crewmen; and the Super Vocs, one of which runs the whole operation. As the story unfolds, it is revealed that one of the supposedly silent Dums—D84—can not only speak, but is a secret undercover agent on the trail of dangerous roboterrorist, Taren Capel.

Now, D84 is something of a hero of mine. Played with eerie calmness by Gregory de Polnay, he not only assists the Fourth Doctor and his companion, Leela, to uncover Taren Capel (hiding among the human crew of the sandminer) but, in a noble—and very human—act of self-sacrifice, destroys one of his killer kin to allow the Doctor’s plan to succeed.

Robbie the Robot (Forbidden Planet, 1956)

An obvious choice, but you can’t argue with the most famous robot in all of science fiction. One of the first robots to be shown as a distinct character with his own personality, Robbie’s impressive 7-foot bulk is a true design classic. While the original prop is now part of a private collection, 1:1 replicas are available—George R.R. Martin even has one in his hallway.

Andromeda (A for Andromeda, 1961)

From the famous to the obscure, Andromeda is closer to the R.U.R. concept of robots, being an artificial, organic creation. In the story, a newly operational radio telescope immediately begins receiving signals from the Andromeda galaxy; the signals turn out to be plans for an advanced alien supercomputer. Once the computer is built, it gives instructions for the creation of Andromeda, played by Julie Christie in the original production and by Susan Hampshire in the 1962 sequel, The Andromeda Breakthrough. It might sound a little hokey, but A for Andromeda was co-written by famous cosmologist and astronomer Fred Hoyle with producer John Elliot and is a remarkably ambitious piece of early television sci-fi. The 2006 remake, starring Kelly Reilly as Andromeda and Tom Hardy as her creator, Fleming, is well worth tracking down.

And then there’s this robot called Ray…

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Follow Adam Christopher on Twitter at @ghostfinder and on his website.

Which Ajah Are You?

The Wheel of Time Companion
Written by Diana Pho, Associate Editor

Be she warrior, healer, hunter, negotiator, advocate, knowledge-seeker, philosopher, or spy, the women of the Aes Sedai come in all different types. Which one fits you best? Find out by reading these brief descriptions from The Wheel of Time Companion, and let us know where you’d belong if you were raised to the shawl!

Blue Ajah

Righteousness rallies you to its cause, whether it is standing up against a bully, advocating for the underdog, or leading a protest movement. You wave your banner high against the injustices you see in the world and consider your beliefs the core of your identity. Helping others takes priority over anything else and sometimes it’s hard not to be too selfless. While people may think you can be stubborn and arrogant, you’re an ethical person who always strives for the greater good.

About the Blue Ajah according to the Companion:

“The main thrust of the Blue Ajah was involvement in causes. Along with the Green Ajah, considered the most passionate of Aes Sedai in their beliefs, the Blue Ajah were most open to being swayed by emotion. No Blue sisters remained loyal to Elaida, though some Blues stayed away from the main body of the rebels because of the distances involved. They were adamant in their belief that Siuan was deposed illegally and stilled illegally, and for that alone Elaida deserved to be pulled down.”

Brown Ajah

Keeping your head between the covers of a book, tucked away in a corner of the library, is your ideal way to spend a rainy afternoon. Or perhaps you enjoy tinkering with mechanics in your garage, or coming up with some (not so) mad science at the lab. Some may think you’re a space-case (and maybe a bit frumpy), but that’s only because you’re too busy thinking about the important ideas and histories that fascinate you. Knowledge is power, after all.

About the Brown Ajah according to the Companion:

“The main thrust of the Brown Ajah was gathering knowledge; they were librarians, historians and natural historians, doing nothing in the physical sciences or toward invention. The Brown Ajah had a ruling council. Its number of members varied from five to thirteen, though always an odd number… The head of the council was sometimes referred to as the First Chair; most often, she was simply called “the head of the council,” reflecting the supposed egalitarian nature and the rather loose structure of the Brown, where sisters often lost themselves in one sort of research or another.”

Gray Ajah

The Gray Ajah are best described as the “middle child” of the Aes Sedai: the compromisers who make sure that everyone gets along. You’re great at debates because your intelligence enables you to see all sides and to ultimately be fair in your judgment. Some who identify with the Gray can appear to others to be quiet or aloof, but that’s only because you like to think before you speak. You can also be quite tactful and are able to get along with anyone, as well as being adept with words and avoiding—and helping others avoid awkward social situations.

About the Gray Ajah according to the Companion:

“The main thrust of the Gray Ajah was mediation and negotiation. The Ajah was ruled by a council of varying number, but always an odd number. The leader of the council was considered by Gray sisters to be the head of their Ajah and was known as the Head Clerk, but in fact she had less authority than most Ajah heads and had to depend on gaining consensus among the council members.”

Green Ajah

You are the life of the party! Frequently identifying as social butterflies, people of the Green Ajah are known for their boisterous and flirty attitude. Fashion may also be important to you, and you never leave the house without properly coordinating your outfit and checking your hair in the mirror twice. The amount of care you put into your appearance, however, doesn’t undercut how seriously you take your responsibilities, and as easygoing as you may be, you can also sometimes act too bluntly.

About the Green Ajah according to the Companion:

“The main thrust of the Green Ajah was to hold itself ready for Tarmon Gai’don. It became known as the Battle Ajah during the Trolloc Wars. The hierarchy in the Ajah was rather military. The authority of the Captain-General, the head of the Ajah, was quite thorough and far-reaching. She was assisted by her seconds, the First Strategist and the First Tactician. Green Ajah members were permitted to bond multiple Warders.”

Red Ajah

The Red Ajah are hardcore, determined to reach their goals. You can be competitive and when it comes to any project, whether it’s business or pleasure, your attitude is, “Go big or go home.” While others may see your aggressiveness as a turn-off, you don’t care about what they think, generally hanging out with like-minded people. Team sports are one of your big passions, though you are also into activities that physically challenge you, like Wildness Adventure trips, rock-climbing, or running marathons.

About the Red Ajah according to the Companion:

“The main thrust of the Red Ajah was hunting down men who could channel. The head of the Red Ajah was called the Highest, or simply Highest, and considered the equal of the Amyrlin Seat by most Reds, unless a Red was the Amyrlin Seat, and sometimes even then. The Highest had autocratic powers of command, more so than in any other Ajah. At the time of the Last Battle, there were approximately two hundred members of the Red Ajah, making it the largest.”

Yellow Ajah

“Do No Harm” is what the Yellow Ajah live by. You identify with the caregivers and the nurturers of the world and instinctively seek to mend whatever (or whoever) is broken. You are quite a caring person, but no one should underestimate you or think you are weak. People who identify with the Yellow Ajah are champions for the injured and the sick, and will go to great lengths to protect them. Doctors, ambulance drivers, life guards, and field medics all stand under the yellow banner.

About the Yellow Ajah according to the Companion:

“The main thrust of the Yellow Ajah was the study of Healing, though what they knew, prior to the revelations of Nynaeve, was actually just a form of rough-and-ready battlefield first aid from the War of the Shadow. There were a number of ways to apply the weaves for different results, but in the main, they really were variations on one set of weaves. The First Weaver, the head of the Yellow Ajah, had, in many ways, as autocratic powers as those of the Green or Red. There were approximately 120 members just prior to the Last Battle.”

White Ajah

White Ajahs are the cold logicians of the Aes Sedai, and you may be seen as the ice queen by your peers. No matter—while everyone else spends way too much time and energy worrying over their mundane affairs, you dedicate yourself to higher thought. Religion or spiritualism isn’t your thing, and your bedside reading might include texts from thinkers like Martin Heidegger, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Graham Harman. While you distance yourself from the secular, ultimately, you see objective, unbiased truth as the solution to changing the world.

About the White Ajah according to the Companion:

“Sisters of this Ajah abstained from matters of the world and worldly knowledge, and instead devoted themselves to questions of philosophy and truth. Aside from the First Weaver, the head of the Ajah, there was no internal structure whatsoever… It was believed by many sisters in other Ajahs that the White Ajah was the only one without an Ajah set of eyes-and-ears and that they had no real interest in the world. This was not true, though their Ajah network was indeed small. Even the Whites—as a group, anyway—wanted to try to manipulate world events, along strictly logical lines, of course.”

Black Ajah

You may think of yourself as the black sheep of the group, the outcast. This doesn’t necessarily mean you are ostracized or even lonely—it’s just that you see the world in a unique way and choose to align yourself with the darker side of things. The world sees the mask you put on, not your secret self. Others may describe you as two-faced, but they’re the real fools. Instead, you remain true to your cause, even if it’s something others don’t agree with.

About the Black Ajah according to the Companion:

“A covert organization within the White Tower composed of sisters who gave their allegiance to the Dark One. The Black Ajah was about the same size as the Red Ajah, i.e., over two hundred members. They renounced the oaths sworn on the Oath Rod, and replaced them with three others (see Black Oaths). The Black Ajah had a cell organization of threes, called hearts; most members typically knew only two other members plus one outside their heart.”

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My Big Bad Theory

Last Song Before Night by Ilana C. Myer
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.

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Follow Ilana C. Myer on Twitter at @IlanaCT and on her website.

On The Radical Notion That Women Are People

The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge
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.

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Visit Joan D. Vinge on her website.

To Trip the Space Fantastic: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Unrealistic Science Fiction

Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
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.

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Follow Catherynne M. Valente on Twitter at @catvalente and on her website. Entry: Skymouth

Copyright Fran Wilde 2013(Last Modified: 11 August, 2015 at 16:43:24 by Fran Wilde, skymouth historian)

I set out to write a straightforward explanation of the monsters in Updraft—honest. But (as my dear and patient editor knows far too well), straight isn’t always one of my primary directions. I love to tell things slant. So instead, I give you a first-ever (but hopefully not last) entry in The Torpedia—a collaborative cataloging of flora and fauna particular to Tor Books.


For other uses, see skymouth (disambiguation).

[Image File 1: carving: city scene featuring stylized skymouth tentacles, or clouds. In style of mid-Rise era. Artist: post author. [1]]

[Image File 2: carving: skymouth attacking tower, in style of the late Rise era. Medium: bone. Attributed to legendary artist Jainiat Lith*, or possibly a conglomeration of individuals. [Torpedia note: file missing or corrupted.]]

The skymouth (/sky*mouth/ or /skaɪ-mauʊð/)[2] is a creature of traditional song and legend featuring unusually large proportions and appetite. Skymouths travel in packs within and above the clouds. Their passage through a city quadrant is known as a migration. Reports of individual skymouths plucking fliers unsuspecting from the skies without warning have been received. [Torpedia Warning to post author: preceding claim not verified by a secondary source. Please verify or remove. Second notice.]

A skymouth—as opposed to any other airborne predator within and around the bone towers—is first distinguished by one or more of the following:

  • A distinct lack of birds in the area.
  • An oily roil to air currents.
  • A pronounced turmoil within and around gardens and terraces.
  • Screaming from nearby towers.
  • The sounding of bone horns to warn citizens to take cover.

Species classification: nominally cephalopod, with pronounced skin abnormalities (camouflaging behaviors, repelling surfaces), unceasing hunger, and a giant oral cavity lined with glass teeth. Omnivore.

[Torpedia Editor Note: we believe “cephalopod” is a term of art in this instance. Our copy editor has suggested “highly aggressive tentacular creature of size”. Review of this term is underway by committee.]

Few reports from survivors exist. One record from a tower observer indicates:

“A squall broke hard against the tower, threatening a loose shutter. Then the balcony’s planters toppled and the circling guards scattered. One guard, the slowest, jerked to a halt in the air and flew, impossibly, backwards. His leg yanked high, flipping his body as it went, until he hung upside down in the air. He flailed for his quiver, spilling arrows, as the sky opened below him, red and wet and filled with glass teeth. The air blurred as slick, invisible limbs tore away his brown silk wings, then lowered what the monster wanted into its mouth.

By the time his scream reached us, the guard had disappeared from the sky.” ~ Kirit Densira, Densira Tower[3]

Updraft by Fran Wilde
History and appearance in culture: Skymouths appear in songs and carvings across history, including—it is believed—the Ginth Panorama from the mid-Rise period. [Torpedia Warning to Post Author: as the Ginth Panorama is currently being reassembled by scholars, this claim requires verification. First warning.]

Cultural impact: Skymouths have been associated with bad luck by many citizens, including all hunters, city councilmen, and most tower residents. Actions taken to ward off skymouths include symbolic gestures, the closing of shutters, and—in rare cases—the expulsion of extremely unlucky or unsafe citizens, lest they attract a skymouth to the vicinity.

Population impact: the number of skymouth-related deaths in the bone towers is unknown.

Notes & Research Used:

  1. Source: Author’s private journal. All rights reserved.
  2. Pronunciation guide as told to author by aural experts, known as Singers.
  3. Source: Updraft (Tor 2015), by Fran Wilde. ISBN: 0765377837

About the author: Noted skymouth historian Fran Wilde’s short stories have appeared in publications including Asimov’s, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Nature, and Fran’s debut novel Updraft is out now. Fran lives in Philadelphia and can be found on Twitter, Facebook, and on her website.

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Martinis and Dior: Cocktail Culture on the Moon

Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald
Written by Ian McDonald

I like details. Little things tell me everything about people, their society, their hopes and fears, the sky above them, the rock beneath them.

When I began writing Luna, I knew I would be building a world from scratch, but also one that adhered to the constraints of the physical realities of the moon. The Moon may have been Heinlein’s Harsh Mistress but we’ve learned a lot about Lady Luna since and she’s got leaner and meaner. A lot meaner. I wanted those facts to shape the world and lives of my characters, from low gravity to moon dust, which is seriously nasty stuff. I suppose it’s a “hard science fiction” book—though that’s an expression I hate. Hard science technically shapes the lives, loves, jealousies and ambitions of every one of my moon’s one point seven million citizens.

That’s where the Martinis come in. Booze, sex and getting off your head. These are fundamentals to the human species; nail them and you have a way into a world. What do you drink on the Moon? To me, that was an important question, and answering it opened up windows on every aspect of my created world.

Wine? It would be criminal to dedicate large percentages of rare carbon and water to grow a crop that doesn’t really have any other purpose than to produce booze.

Beer? Even worse. Barley, wheat and rice are inefficient crops—they succeed because of the space the surface of our planet affords them. Agricultural space is limited on the moon—building surface farms risks exposure to radiation and constant crop (and pest) mutations. So; no beer, but also little grain. Rice, wheat, flour are luxury foods.

But: spirit alcohol. Yes! You can make it from anything. Vodka and gin! Liquor opened up an entire world for me. My moon is a cocktail culture. The underground cities run on three different time zones so it’s always Happy Hour somewhere. The Cortas have their own signature cocktail; the Blue Moon. (I tried it, oh my beloveds. When I write a book, I sink deep into the mindset of the characters—it’s like method acting. I have become a real gin connoisseur/bore. My favourite? The light and fragrant Monkey 47 from the Black Forest in Germany. I do it for you, dear readers.)

And so, Dior. Because when you picture a Martini glass, you picture it in the gloved hand of Audrey Hepburn. And then I had it all. I didn’t want a Moon of people in coveralls and shorts and tank tops—these are people who have mastered 3D printing. If you can print clothes, why not in the style of one of the most elegant eras in fashion history? The 1950s. Dior and Balenciaga, Balmain and Jacques Fath.

That’s how I world-build. Cocktails and circle dresses.

The perfect Martini? Gin, of course. A good London gin, nothing too fancy. Chill the glass, be generous. Stir ten times (never shake) and add homeopathic levels of Martini Bianco. One olive, speared. Chin chin!

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Follow Ian MacDonald on Twitter at @ianmcdonald and on Facebook.

At Last, the Night Has a Hero

Midian Unmade Edited by Joseph Nassise and Del Howison
Written by Joseph Nassise

“At last, the night has a hero.” That was the subtitle given to the short novel, “Cabal,” by horror fantasist Clive Barker when it was first published in 1988 and I have to admit, it’s pretty catchy. Rather cool, too, in some indefinable way. But then again, the whole book is like that.

“Cabal” was first published in 1988, as part of the sixth and final installment in Barker’s Books of Blood series in the United States and as a stand-alone edition in the United Kingdom. Two years later the story was adapted into the film, Nightbreed, written and directed by Clive himself. I discovered both the book and the film about the same time and began my love affair with the Tribes of the Moon.

The hero in question is a young man by the name of Aaron Boone. When the reader first meets him in the opening scenes of “Cabal,” he is being treated by a psychiatrist named Decker for an unspecified mental disorder. To Boone’s surprise and horror, he soon learns, through Decker, that he is responsible for the savage murders of eleven people. This is too much for him to bear and Boone tries to kill himself. When that simple act fails, he attempts to escape his fate by fleeing to the legendary city of Midian, the place “where the monsters dwell” in the wilds of Canada, a place he has been regularly seeing in his dreams for some time.

Boone sees himself as a monster, and he hopes to find sanctuary in Midian, among those he considers his own kind. What he doesn’t realize is that the so-called monsters don’t consider themselves to be monsters at all. In fact, they reserve that label for humanity, for what else would they call those who have hounded, hunted, and slaughtered them through the centuries?

This juxtaposition is part and parcel of what makes “Cabal” so intriguing. In Barker’s world there is beauty in the monstrous. There is darkness in the light. There is horror in the normal and the familiar. And he shows that to us without hesitation or subterfuge. Characters that are supposed to represent the good of society—the doctor, the cop, the priest—are all figures of darkness. The doctor, Decker, is the actual killer. His plan to escape the swift hand of justice by pinning the killings on Boone falls apart when the younger man flees. The officer of the law whom Decker enlists to track down Boone is an egomaniac concerned only with his own brand of justice. The priest, the supposed moral compass of the authorities, is nothing more than a hypocrite.

Boone, on the other hand, represents the opposite path. His conversion from human to Nightbreed to the savior known as Cabal takes him on a journey from the human to the monstrous. Far from being a figure of evil, however, he becomes the savior of the Tribes of the Moon, tasked with rebuilding the city of Midian and saving the breed from destruction by those with far less humanity than they.

The stories in Midian Unmade: Tales of Clive Barker’s Nightbreed are all extensions of this theme. Co-editor Del Howison and I sought to pick up where Clive left off, to select stories that not only illustrated what happened to the Nightbreed after the destruction of their beloved city of Midian, but also asked the reader to look deeper, to see beyond the surface, and to handle their expectations with care.

In “Cabal,” the night had a hero and his name was Boone. In Midian Unmade: Tales of Clive Barker’s Nightbreed, the night has many heroes and they are never what you expect them to be.

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Follow Joseph Nassise on Twitter at @Jnassise, on Facebook, or visit him online.

A Brief History of the Notorious Tricksters Darger and Surplus

Chasing the Phoenix by Michael Swanwick
Written by Michael Swanwick

Darger and Surplus, post-utopian con men extraordinaire, were born in a moment of idle whimsy. I had the desire to write about a talking dog. So I stood one up on two legs and dressed him as if he had just stepped out of a Mother Goose illustration—with lace at his wrists and a silver knobbed cane in one paw. Because he needed a place to be, I put him on the docks of a future London. Because he needed somebody to talk to, I introduced Aubrey Darger, a nondescript man unencumbered with honesty.

At which point, the two rogues seized control of what was to become “The Dog Said Bow-Wow” and ran off with it, leaving me trotting in their wake, scribbling furiously and crying, “Wait! Sirs? Wait for me!”

At the end of their first adventure, Darger and Surplus accidentally set fire to London. This was their original sin, an act whose consequences would follow them forever. Over the next several stories (there will be more) they bounced about a de-industrialized but biologically sophisticated Europe, always setting out for one destination and arriving somewhere else. The boys being nothing if not distractible. In Prague, they unleashed a plague of golems. In Germany, Darger was eaten by a dragon. Always, they were headed for Moscow, where they planned to run the greatest scam of their careers.

Prior to discovering Sir Blackthorpe Ravenscairn de Plus Precieux (Surplus’s full name), and his mentor, I had never written series characters. I didn’t write stories whose protagonists would want to return for more. Darger and Surplus, however, were oblivious. They believed that they were good people having an excellent time. In both respects, they were completely deluded. But as long as they were having fun, so was I.

One day, casting about for what to write next, I realized that the time had come for my heroes to finally reach Russia. Recognizing that such a long-anticipated event would require a full novel to chronicle, I wrote Dancing With Bears. I will not say whether or not Moscow, a city I love, suffered the same fate as London.

By this time, it was clear to me, though not to them, that the rascals were on an inadvertent voyage around the world. So, at the end of their Russian adventure, it only made sense that they should continue eastward.

Thus, in Chasing the Phoenix, their newest adventure, the melancholic Darger and the dog of action Surplus find themselves conquering China. Literally, I mean. With armies and such.

Beyond the last page of that novel, there are more discoveries to come. Surplus has to return to the Demesne of Western Vermont to confront his origins. He was, after all, a product of the gene-mills of Winooski, and someone there had reasons for creating him. Darger has to return to the slums of Mayfair to learn the fate of his own mentor, and to see what has become of London during his long absence.

Here I will share with you a secret: Darger and Surplus are not the random factors that they would seem to be. They are catalysts. Their adventures are, in ways both large and small, changing the world. Should they ever reach London—and if they do, this will not be their final adventure, but it will be the last one I record—they will find the world transformed. The age they were born into, with all its glories and limitations, will be over.

They will see the new age in its infancy. But they will never know it was their doing.

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Follow Michael Swanwick on Twitter at @MichaelSwanwick, or visit him online.