The Cosmic Horror Of William M. Sloane

Over the last couple of  years, I’ve gotten more and more interested in the pulp era of science fiction, particularly of the science-horror genre, dominated by the likes of H.P. Lovecraft and his circle of fellow authors. Recently, the New York Review of Books sent me a copy of a very interesting looking omnibus, The Rim of Tomorrow, by William M. Sloane, introducing me to a new author of cosmic horror.

Looking into his background, he seems to have had a fairly minor role in the pulp world, but wrote two very interesting novels, now collected in this book. If Stephen King’s raving about it, he did something right.

Read The Cosmic Horror Of William M. Sloane over on Kirkus Reviews.


The Metamorphosis of Astounding Science Fiction

There’s few institutions like Astounding Science Fiction or editors like John W. Campbell Jr. Together, they are probably responsible for much of the tone and content of the science fiction genre in its formative years. Thus, during the tumultuous years of the 1960s, the changes to the magazine are an interesting example of how science fiction was changing: shedding one image and adapting, while positioning itself for the future.

The story of how Astounding Science Fiction became Analog Science Fact and Fiction is an interesting one, not only for what they changed, but what they didn’t change. I think that the changes and non-changes are part of the reason for why they’re still around today.

Go read The Metamorphosis of Astounding Science Fiction over on Kirkus Reviews.


  • Transformations: The Story of the Science-Fiction Magazines, 1950-1970, Mike Ashley. As always, Ashley’s work is in depth and detailed, and he provides some good background information on to how and why these changes came about.
  • I, Asimov, Isaac Asimov. Asimov has a couple of interesting words about Campbell towards the end of his life.
  • A Requiem For Astounding, Ava Rogers. This is a fannish book dedicated to the legacy of Astounding, which has some good information about the magazine and its history.
  • Astounding / Analog, Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. As always, there’s a wealth of good information at the SFE, about Astounding AND Analog.
  • Analog Website. Analog’s own history has some good revelations.

Fragmented: The Audio Podcast


My short story ‘Fragmented’ is now available as an audio podcast! Earlier this year, StarShipSofa opened up for submissions and I submitted it. A day later, I got an enthusiastic e-mail back from them saying that it blew them away, and that they’d love to publish it – that was a nice boost.

Here’s a bit of background on the origins of the story.

The story is narrated by Mikael Naramore, who did an incredible job bringing the story to life. Here’s his bio:

Mikael Naramore has worked in the audiobook industry since 2001 when, fresh out of college, he was hired as a recording engineer for publisher Brilliance Audio (now Brilliance Publishing, subsidiary of Over time, he transitioned to Director, all the while absorbing technique and nuance from the best actors in the business. To date, Mikael has narrated well over 100 titles, under his own and assumed names. Authors range from best-sellers Nora Roberts, Lisa Gardner, Edward Klein and Clive Barker to sci-fi rising stars Wesley Chu, Ramez Naam and Mark E. Cooper.

Seriously, he did a fantastic job: I can hardly believe that I actually wrote the story, and he knocked it out of the park, and I’m hearing things differently from how I wrote it.

Give it a listen here.

Unfortunately, the text isn’t up on Galaxy’s Edge online, but you can pick up the physical copy of the magazine from Barnes and Noble and

Help Peter Allen


As some of you know, I’m a member of the 501st Legion’s New England Garrison, a group that’s known for its charitable work in addition to its costuming. Over the years, we’ve helped out a lot of people, either by participating in walks or by visiting sick kids in hospitals. One of our own members in the NEG needs some help, and I’d like to spread the word a bit.

Peter is suffering from ALS, and we’ve heard that he doesn’t have a lot of time. A couple of years ago, the NEG met Peter because of his love of Star Wars: he had been hoping to join our group, but because of his illness, he couldn’t complete his costume. The Garrison stepped in and finished it for him, and inducted him as a member. He’s now in Hospice care, and doesn’t have a lot of time.

Peter’s family has set up a GoFundMe account to help with some expenses, and garrison members are starting to chip in. I’d like to encourage you to do so, if you can.

I can’t do much, but I can offer a bit of a carrot. If you make a donation of $30 or more, I’ll send you a copy of War Stories: New Military Science Fiction. If you’re you’re from outside the United States, donate at least $15 and I’ll get you an ebook copy (Sorry, shipping books internationally is just too time consuming and annoying). Here’s what you can do:

  1. Make the donation.
  2. Take a screenshot or forward me your receipt for said donation, and an address where I can mail you the book.
  3. I’ll send you a copy of the book. (And maybe another random one as well!)

My e-mail address is: liptakaa [at] gmail[dot]com.

Thanks in advance.

The Early Career of Leslie F. Stone

There’s been a bit of talk about how women didn’t write SF early on: that wasn’t ever the case. Ignoring some of the earlier female authors such as Mary Shelley, women were reading and writing fiction for SF magazines early on, abeit in smaller numbers than their male counterparts. One such author was Leslie F. Stone, who enjoyed a brief career in the 1930s.

Read up on The Early Career of Leslie F. Stone over on Kirkus Reviews.


  • Partners in Wonder: Women and the Birth of Science Fiction, 1926-1965, Eric Leif Davin. Davin’s book is a pretty exhaustive resource when it comes to women writing in the earlier days of science fiction, and he provides some excellent information on Stone here.
  • Daughters of Earth: Feminist Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century, Justine Larbalestier, Larbalestier has assembled a really interesting book of short stories and companion essays. Stone gets some good treatment here.
  • Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction, edited by Arthur B. Evans Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr., Joan Gordon, Veronica Hollinger, Rob Latham, and Carol McGuirk. This is a fantastic anthology, and there’s a good biographical sketch here.
  • The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction, by Justine Larbalestier. This book is a good examination of feminist SF during the early years.
  • SF Encyclopedia. As always, there’s a good examination of the author here.

Current Reading List


It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these posts. I’ve had a number of really cool looking books show up in the last month, and it’s turned my to-read list into something really spectacular.

The House of Shattered Wings, Aliette de Bodard

In the late twentieth century, the streets of Paris are lined with haunted ruins, the aftermath of a Great War between arcane powers. The Grand Magasins have been reduced to piles of debris, Notre-Dame is a burnt-out shell, and the Seine has turned black with ashes and rubble and the remnants of the spells that tore the city apart. But those that survived still retain their irrepressible appetite for novelty and distraction, and The Great Houses still vie for dominion over France’s once grand capital.

Once the most powerful and formidable, House Silverspires now lies in disarray. Its magic is ailing; its founder, Morningstar, has been missing for decades; and now something from the shadows stalks its people inside their very own walls.

Within the House, three very different people must come together: a naive but powerful Fallen angel; an alchemist with a self-destructive addiction; and a resentful young man wielding spells of unknown origin. They may be Silverspires’ salvation—or the architects of its last, irreversible fall. And if Silverspires falls, so may the city itself.

I’ve really enjoyed de Bodard’s short fiction in the past, and her debut novel looks like it’s an astonishingly good fantasy. I haven’t started it yet, but I’ve seen people whose judgement I trust really enjoy it, and I’m looking forward to this one.

The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet, Becky Chambers

When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn’t expecting much. The patched-up ship has seen better days, but it offers her everything she could possibly want: a spot to call home, a chance to explore the far-off corners of the galaxy, and some distance from her past.

And nothing could be further from what she’s known than the crew of the Wayfarer.

From Sissix, the exotic reptilian pilot, to Kizzy and Jenks, the chatty engineers who keep the ship running, to the noble captain Ashby, life aboard is chaotic and crazy—exactly what Rosemary wants. That is until the crew is offered the job of a lifetime tunneling wormholes through space to a distant planet. Sure, they’ll earn enough money to live comfortably for years, but risking her life wasn’t part of the job description.

The journey through the galaxy is full of excitement, adventure, and mishaps for the Wayfarerteam. And along the way, Rosemary comes to realize that a crew is a family, and that family isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the universe…as long as you actually like them.

I actually got this in earlier today, and read the first couple of chapters. So far, it’s really, really fun – a fun, adventurous space opera, something that I’ve always enjoyed.

Sorcerer To The Crown, Zen Cho

The Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, one of the most respected organizations throughout all of England, has long been tasked with maintaining magic within His Majesty’s lands. But lately, the once proper institute has fallen into disgrace, naming an altogether unsuitable gentleman—a freed slave who doesn’t even have a familiar—as their Sorcerer Royal, and allowing England’s once profuse stores of magic to slowly bleed dry. At least they haven’t stooped so low as to allow women to practice what is obviously a man’s profession…

At his wit’s end, Zacharias Wythe, Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers and eminently proficient magician, ventures to the border of Fairyland to discover why England’s magical stocks are drying up. But when his adventure brings him in contact with a most unusual comrade, a woman with immense power and an unfathomable gift, he sets on a path which will alter the nature of sorcery in all of Britain—and the world at large…

I’m not familiar with Cho’s work, but it looks like it’s an interesting fantasy novel set in London. Comparisons to the fantastic Suzanne Clarke are always welcome.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Seth Dickinson

Baru Cormorant believes any price is worth paying to liberate her people-even her soul.

When the Empire of Masks conquers her island home, overwrites her culture, criminalizes her customs, and murders one of her fathers, Baru vows to swallow her hate, join the Empire’s civil service, and claw her way high enough to set her people free.

Sent as an Imperial agent to distant Aurdwynn, another conquered country, Baru discovers it’s on the brink of rebellion. Drawn by the intriguing duchess Tain Hu into a circle of seditious dukes, Baru may be able to use her position to help. As she pursues a precarious balance between the rebels and a shadowy cabal within the Empire, she orchestrates a do-or-die gambit with freedom as the prize.

But the cost of winning the long game of saving her people may be far greater than Baru imagines.

I met Dickinson at ReaderCon, and got this book about the same time: I’m intrigued by the plot and the world that he’s set out.

The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin

A season of endings has begun.

It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world’s sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun.

It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter.

It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.

This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.

I loved Jemisin’s Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and while I haven’t picked up her others, this one has really captured my attention. I can’t wait to dig into it.

Speak, Louisa Hall

In a narrative that spans geography and time, from the Atlantic Ocean in the seventeenth century, to a correctional institute in Texas in the near future, and told from the perspectives of five very different characters, Speak considers what it means to be human, and what it means to be less than fully alive.

A young Puritan woman travels to the New World with her unwanted new husband. Alan Turing, the renowned mathematician and code breaker, writes letters to his best friend’s mother. A Jewish refugee and professor of computer science struggles to reconnect with his increasingly detached wife. An isolated and traumatized young girl exchanges messages with an intelligent software program. A former Silicon Valley Wunderkind is imprisoned for creating illegal lifelike dolls.

Each of these characters is attempting to communicate across gaps—to estranged spouses, lost friends, future readers, or a computer program that may or may not understand them. In dazzling and electrifying prose, Louisa Hall explores how the chasm between computer and human—shrinking rapidly with today’s technological advances—echoes the gaps that exist between ordinary people. Though each speaks from a distinct place and moment in time, all five characters share the need to express themselves while simultaneously wondering if they will ever be heard, or understood.

I’ve been reading this one for a little while now, and it’s an interesting one, with a story spanning centuries, from the distant past, to the near-ish future, ostensibly about robotics, but really about the types of stories that we tell. It’s interesting that the book’s title is Speak, given that the book is made up of written accounts from a really interesting cast of characters.

Landfall, Naomi J. Williams

In her wildly inventive debut novel, Naomi J. Williams reimagines the historical Lapérouse expedition, a voyage of exploration that left Brest in 1785 with two frigates, more than two hundred men, and overblown Enlightenment ideals and expectations, in a brave attempt to circumnavigate the globe for science and the glory of France.

Deeply grounded in historical fact but refracted through a powerful imagination, Landfallsfollows the exploits and heartbreaks not only of the men on the ships but also of the people affected by the voyage-indigenous people and other Europeans the explorers encountered, loved ones left waiting at home, and those who survived and remembered the expedition later. Each chapter is told from a different point of view and is set in a different part of the world, ranging from London to Tenerife, from Alaska to remote South Pacific islands to Siberia, and eventually back to France. The result is a beautifully written and absorbing tale of the high seas, scientific exploration, human tragedy, and the world on the cusp of the modern era.

I get a lot of books here at the house: most are ones that I’ll put aside, but every now and again, I find a book that absolutely catches my eye. This one looks excellent: a historical, nautical novel, about science. It’s an era that I really want to read up on, and I’m eager to see how it turns out.

A Planet For Rent, Yoss

In his bestselling A Planet for Rent, Yoss critiques ‘90s Cuba by drawing parallels with a possible Earth of the not-so-distant future. Wracked by economic and environmental problems, the desperate planet is rescued, for better or worse, by alien colonizers, who remake the planet as a tourist destination. Ruled over by a brutal interstellar bureaucracy, dispossessed humans seek better lives via the few routes available — working for the colonial police; eking out a living as black marketeers, drug dealers, or artists; prostituting themselves to exploitative extraterrestrial visitors — or facing the cold void of space in rickety illegal ships.

This book is one of the first Cuban science fiction novels to be translated and brought to the United States. I’m reviewing this book for Lightspeed Magazine in an upcoming issue, and I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read thus far.

Catching Up: Orson Scott Card and Margaret Atwood

I’ve been a bit behind on updating about Kirkus Reviews posts. I’ve published two in the last month, one about Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game and the other about Margaret Atwood.

Ender’s Game is probably one of my favorite genre novels: it’s one that I picked up when I was in high school, and I’ve read it every couple of years since then: it’s gotten better with each reading.

Card is a controversial author, to say the least, and while I don’t agree at all with him on a bunch of his stances, this is an instance where I’ve simply had to separate the author and the story from one another. Card himself noted that he attempts to remove any type of monologuing from his books, as his own views won’t necessarily make sense in a far-future or speculative environment.

Orson Scott Card’s Career-Defining Story, Ender’s Game

I read Atwood’s Handmaiden’s Tale a while back, and it’s still a haunting book: enormously relevant today, it’s probably one of the better dystopian novels that I’ve picked up. I’ve picked up a number of her short stories, but I haven’t read her other novels, something that I now feel the need to do.

Atwood also has a curious take on genre fiction, and it formed the basis of my look at her career.

Genre and Margaret Atwood

Armada Is Fucking Terrible

Ernie Cline’s novel Armada dropped last week with an enormous publicity campaign that’s sure to get this book selling exceptionally well. Cline has been riding high on his debut novel, Ready Player One, an Easter-egg infused novel that hit the nerd sweet spot with a hefty dose of references and nostalgia. The problem with Armada is that it’s absolutely, fucking terrible.

The plot is basic. A spacecraft drops by the school of one high school gamer, Zack Lightman, and tells him what absolutely every gamer wants to hear: Aliens are about to attack Earth and a secret military organization has shepherded video games, movies, novels and television shows to help attune humanity into fighting back against the alien invaders. On top of all that, Lightman’s one of the top gamers in the world, and that because of his scores in Armada, he’s one of the last best hopes for humanity. He’s brought to a secret base on the Moon, where he meets his long-lost (and presumed dead) father, who’s helping to oversee the counter attack.

I enjoyed Ready Player One quite a bit: it was a fun read that had some neat recursive things going for it: it was a book about a video game that relied on the tropes and conventions of real-world video game history, and it worked well enough. Armada is a pretty far cry away from this, going through a story that’s essentially a rehash of Ender’s Game and The Last Starfighter. Hardly a sentence goes by without Cline dropping a reference to something from the 1980s, and as it becomes more cringe-worthy, it feels as though Cline is simply stuck in the past, unable or unwilling to grow beyond geek-man-child stage and reenter the present.

This bothers me a great deal. The decade was responsible for an incredible surge of creative properties, but it isn’t the only decade when it comes to science fiction or fantasy; you’d never guess it from the endless references. Geeks have always been interested in shibboleth, sorting out who belongs and who doesn’t in nerd circles. Cline, throughout Ready Player One and Armada, drops references to everything from films to television to games to the occasional novel, and seems to be establishing a sort of precedent: if you don’t recognize these sacred tomes, you don’t belong. If you haven’t put in the hours that Zack Lightman and Wade Watts have in establishing their own geek cred, you’re not a ‘true’ geek worthy of the title.

There’s been a bunch of stories that have been incredibly popular that seem to do this sort of listing: Cline’s novels, for one, but also shows such as The Big Bang Theory, is essentially lightly-improvised lines of dialogue strung together with a whole bunch of ‘in the know’ references to any number of geek things. The obsession with checking off the boxes and making a set of qualifications to weed out outsiders isn’t anything new to the science fiction or fantasy circles, but it’s tiring to see after such a long history.

There’s the story of a geek guy meeting a geek girl, where he interrupts her when she expresses an interest in Star Wars or Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica and interrogates her on the minutia of the world. I’ve seen it happen before (hell, I’ve probably done it myself), and it’s just flat out not good for any sort of community. There’s the personal stories of that one lone geek at high school who gets picked on or slammed into a locker for carrying around a Star Wars novel, D&D Manual or Magic: The Gathering Cards, and how the stories that they read carried them through those dark times. Never mind that High School isn’t some sort of fantasy quest to be metaphorically endured, I sometimes wonder about the widespread validity of those stories, or if it’s just a story that we tell ourselves as part of our collective nerd mythology. As books like this and shows such as The Big Bang Theory have demonstrated (not to mention my hometown, where you can spot shirts of Superman, Flash and Green Lantern on the local rednecks) Geek stories appeal to just about everyone, especially now. I think it says more about the high school kid with problems getting along with his classmates and less to do with the kid who blew through Ender’s Game for the tenth time.

Within this archetype story, we always complain that we wished that there were more people who were into Star Wars, D&D and McCaffrey’s Pern novels, but when it comes to the end of the day, we seem to filter out the people who we don’t perceive as being good enough, unless their interests and backgrounds line up perfectly with our own. I’ve seen many people get worked up over the quality of other costumers at conventions and how they’ve only jumped on some sort of bandwagon because science fiction and fantasy movies dominate the box office.

Some people might be attracted to it because it’s popular and because they saw a film/book/game that looked cool with plenty of people watching/reading/playing it. But so what? Why do you need to be born in the mid-1970s to properly appreciate standing in line for Star Wars or ET? Are you really less of a fan of The Lord of the Rings if you saw the films in the theaters and rushed to the store to pick up the books because you enjoyed it so much? Personally, I want as many people as possible to read/watch/enjoy science fiction and fantasy, so that we can have a richer community of fellow nerds.

This isn’t a good book on a story side, by any stretch of the imagination. Where Ready Player One was entertaining and goofy, this just got tedious and annoying to read. The references had a point in the story – it was a hunt for Easter eggs. Here, they’re just annoying and don’t really serve any point other than to establish, over and over again, that Lightman (read: Cline) is a nerdy kid. We get that from the first couple of pages. Armada feels very much like Cline trying to find some way to make a nerdy adolescent existence mean something greater than it really is. But in doing so, he sets out to define what exactly a geek is, and that vision is limited only to the references he lists off, which is a pretty limiting list of things: science fiction / fantasy did some pretty cool things in the 1990s/2000s, but you would hardly guess it from what Cline/His characters list off.

I really despise this manufactured image of a geek-man-child and related stories, as much as I’m made uncomfortable by the people who rush to fill the role. Armada is a book that rushes to fill that role, and in doing so, it ignores just about everything that makes a book readable: likable characters, a plot that makes sense (seriously, the ending is a pretty spectacular failure), and good supporting characters and elements that support the story rather than prop it up. When it isn’t cringe-worthy to read, it’s Picard-facepalm worthy when it comes to actually being a good story. Any novel that ends with (SPOILERS) something completely out of left field along the lines of ‘and then the aliens came and cured cancer, entered us into an intergalactic hegemony and then everyone lived happily ever after the end’, you’ve got a serious fucking problem. Maybe Cline is doing something more clever – subverting the tropes of video games to pull out a satirical work of fiction that makes us think differently about the genre. If that’s the case, you’d never guess under the weight of its failure of characters and story.

This is wish-fulfillment fiction, through and through, from the situation Lightman finds himself in to the few constructed, idealized women who appear in the book. Wish fulfillment isn’t necessarily bad: what person playing a video game hasn’t wanted to save the world? But how many people use it to define their existence? Lightman, in saving the world, has his many hours validated. He even puts in a scene at the end where his accomplishments are acknowledged by the high school bully who beat up on him!

Armada would work perfectly if there was some recursive thing about it that made all the references make sense. There’s been plenty of books / movies like this that went heavy on the nostalgia: John Scalzi’s Redshirts comes to mind, along with Austin Grossman’s fantastic novel You or even movies like Galaxy Quest. But the thing that made those books / movies excellent aren’t in Armada: it’s just an annoying, tedious read that made me want to throw the book across the room when I finished it.

Lev Grossman: The Full Interview

Last month, Phoenix Books of Burlington asked me to take part in their first ‘interview-style’ event with Lev Grossman, and they’ve just put the entirety of the interview up on the web for you to watch. This was a lot of fun to take part in. I’m a huge fan of the Magicians trilogy, and getting to interview Grossman about them was a lot of fun.


The Pioneering Clare Winger Harris

I have a short post up this week at Kirkus Reviews. I’ve been looking at writing more about some of the women who wrote in the genre, and came across one, Clare Winger Harris, who seems to have been one of the earliest, at least under her own name. There’s not much out there about her, but she proves to be a really interesting subject.

Go read The Pioneering Clare Winger Harris over on Kirkus Reviews.


  • Time Machines: The Story of the Science-Fiction Pulp Magazines from the Beginning to 1950, by Mike Ashley. Ashley’s books are excellent. A bit pedantic, but great sources for this era of science fiction history. There’s some good information here.
  • Partners in Wonder: Women and the birth of science fiction, 1926-1965 by Eric Leif Davin. There’s some weird complications with this book, but it’s overall a good source to work from. This has some good information on Harris and her career.


  • Clare Winger Harris. This site has a lot of information about Harris. There’s no sources, but I’ve seen enough cross-connections with other places that make me think that it’s accurate.
  • Harris, Clare Winger. The SFE has a succinct, useful post.