FOALS: Birch Tree

I first came across the FOALS a couple of years ago with their song ‘Spanish Sahara‘. I don’t remember exactly what context, but I think it was one of those end-of-the-year film mashup sorts of things.

YouTube sent me over to this track from them, ‘Birch Tree’, off their latest album, What Went Down. This feels a little more energetic, and I’m digging the chorus. It’s keeping me accompanied this week while I write.

Ms Mr: Hurricane

There are some albums out there that just come out of nowhere and strike you: that’s what happened with me with Ms Mr’s debut album, Secondhand Rapture, and in particular, their song Hurricane.

I’m not sure where I first heard Hurricane, but it was something that just grabbed me. Lizzy Plapinger’s vocals are haunting, and there’s a nice intersection between her voice and music that accompanies her. I picked up the whole album on that song alone, and the entire thing is really good – it’s one of the few that I’ll throw on in the background while I’m writing.

They have a new album out now, How Does It Feel, which I haven’t listened to yet. I loved Secondhand Rapture quite a bit, and as with any sequel, I’m not sure if it’ll live up. But, I’ll give it a listen.

 

Fredric Brown’s Arena

I need to get back in the habit of posting up these. My latest column for Kirkus Reviews is all about Fredric Brown, the author behind the story ‘Arena’, and a couple of novels, including The Lights in the Sky are Stars, which I read a couple of years ago.

Brown was a prolific author, and one who wasn’t widely known outside of the genre, but someone who helped build its character.

Go read Fredric Brown’s Arena over on Kirkus Reviews.

A couple of other ones that I’ve written recently include Terry Brooks, Alan Dean Foster and Philip K. Dick.

Don’t You Give Up On Me, Lissie

Here’s an album I’m really looking forward to: Lissie’s Wild West, due out in February. The lead single is Don’t You Give Up On Me, which is a really catchy track from the first bit of guitar work to the chorus. Her debut album, Catching a Tiger is a great rock album that you really should listen to.

It’s been years since I’ve done any sort of proper music blogging. I miss it, because it put my ear to the ground and forced me to listen to a ton of new and upcoming artists. That’s actually how I got my start as a blogger: before I got into reviewing science fiction, I listened to a lot of music, and went to a lot of concerts. 

I sort of stopped when I started focusing on science fiction, because I’d hit a point where I realized that I had to either commit to it full or part time (hard, when I was only really doing it on lunch breaks, and with no internet), and because there’s only so many ways that you can describe an angsty, bearded artist wielding an acoustic guitar.

But, I’ve got some time now, and I’ve missed discovering new artists. I doubt that I’ll ever return to actual music criticism, but there’s plenty of albums out there that I want to share.

All The Birds In The Sky, Charlie Jane Anders

Here’s a book that I’ve been looking forward to for a long while, ever since it was first announced a couple of years ago: Charlie Jane Anders’ All The Birds In The Sky. It’s a stunning debut novel, one of the best that I’ve ever read.

If Charlie Jane’s name seems familiar, it’s probably because it is: she’s the editor of io9, and is my boss. So, take that as you will. I can’t say that my view on the book is completely unbiased, but I really enjoyed this novel.

The story is a fun mashup of fantasy and science fiction. There’s Patricia, who learns to talk to birds when she’s a young girl, and Laurence, who invents a time machine that takes him two minutes into the future. Their paths diverge in childhood, but converge back when the world is ending.

What I love about this book is CJA’s voice. It’s light, snarky, entertaining and sinks right in. I blew through this book in a handful of sittings, and I think that’s a testament to just how accessible it is. This isn’t a clunky genre book designed for hardcore genre readers, although there’s a lot to love for them as well.

I’ve been trying to think of comparable books that I’ve read, and the only thing that I can come up with is Lev Grossman’s The Magicians or Austin Grossman’s Soon I Will Be Invincible, but with a bit more weirdness. This is a strange book, but it’s the type of strange that you get when you’re writing and editing a site like io9. There’s a ton of genre love here, but also for a really great story of two characters, when you break everything right down.

So, go read it. It’s a wonderful book.

A Darker Shade of Magic, by V.E. Schwab

I’m trying to make it a point to read up on some of the books that I missed over the last couple of years. One, V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic came recommended from all corners of the internet, and it lives up nicely to those reviews.

Schwab has put together a really intriguing world: four of them, in fact. A select few can travel between worlds. Kell is one such individual, and he travels between Grey, Red and White Londons. At one point, magic was commonplace throughout the worlds, before Black London fell to corruption. White London is cold and brutal, while Red London is decadent. Only Grey London is largely without magic, and when Kell stumbles upon a secret, he’s saved by Lila, a street thief from Grey London, and plunged into a deeper conspiracy.

I really loved this book: it sucked me in and didn’t let go. Schwab has paced her story really well, populating it with really fun characters and some distinct worlds that gripped me from beginning to end.

The story is straight forward: Kell discovers a remnant of Black London, and there are people who want to use it to their own ends. He has to resist the token’s power in order to save himself and his friends.

It’s a fun adventure, plain and simple. I’m already looking forward to the next, A Gathering of Shadows, which is due out in a couple of months.

These Are The Best Things I Wrote In 2015

 

2015 was a really great year in a lot of ways. I began working at io9/Gizmodo as their weekend editor, as well as Barnes and Noble’s SciFi and Fantasy blog.

Over the course of the year, I had the chance to write some pieces that I’m really pleased with, and I rounded them up here.

Word broke that the first standalone Star Wars film would be called Rogue One, which got me excited, because hey! Rogue Squadron! The film isn’t the about Rogue Squadron, but it’s fun to dream. I wrote up a short history for Barnes and Noble. Before Star Wars: Rogue One Takes Off, a History of the X-Wing Series

The Expanse have been some of my favorite books, and when the television show went into production, I began writing about how the entire story came together. This piece had me interviewing a bunch of people, and visiting the set of the show up in Toronto. Evolution of a Space Epic: James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse

In March, I was a guest at Vericon, where Ken Liu was discussing translations and that got me thinking about the history of Chinese science fiction. I began researching, and it turned into a fantastic history. Narratives of Modernization: China’s History of Science Fiction

I’ve been a long-time Star Wars EU fan, eating up the books throughout high school. As the new films were coming up, I decided that I wanted to look a bit deeper into the history behind the SWEU, how it formed and where it headed. This turned into a five part series that I’m very, very proud of.

I’ve also wanted to write for Clarkesworld, and when the opportunity came up to write some nonfiction for them, I looked into the history of Mars and science fiction in Destination: Mars.

I’ve been writing for io9 and Gizmodo now for years, but as their Weekend Editor, I’ve been working for them directly now. It’s a very fun job, and I’ve gotten to write up a bunch of high-profile reviews and features for them.

In particular, I got to write up a couple of detailed histories on two highly visible (thanks to NASA) points in the Solar System, Ceres and Pluto. These were a ton of fun to research and write:

Finally, for Kirkus Reviews, I’ve been continuing my column on the history of science fiction. This has been a fun year, but the post that stands out the most for me is about Kim Stanley Robinson, and his Mars trilogy: Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars.

In other places, Fragmented was recorded as a podcast, I tore a book to shreds and got to interview one of my favorite authors at one of my favorite bookstores. Oh, and met Colin Trevorrow, who’ll be directing Star Wars: Episode 9.

Now, I’ve left work at Norwich to do this full time. I’ve got a bunch of projects in the works, and I’m excited to see just what comes up in the next 12 months.

Freelancing

609cf35a-4f29-470b-b8fe-fd5844e3acb5On December 23rd, I left my job at Norwich University. It’s one of those things that’s been a long time coming. As I began to do more work with places like io9 and Barnes and Noble, I came to a conclusion: I can do one of those two jobs well, but not both. So, I opted for the one that brought me more satisfaction.

I’m now completely freelance, and I’m excited by the possibilities (let’s check in on that in a couple of months), and the time that it’ll afford me to research and explore some interesting things.

I haven’t left Norwich completely – there’s a saying: Norwich Forever! and ever and ever. – I’m now teaching for their undergraduate program. My first class, ENG250B, Crime and Literature, begins today.

In addition to that, I’ve got an impressive stack of books that I’ve been wanting to read and review (which I can now do), a bunch of science fiction / fantasy / science / history topics that I want to dig into, and a couple of enterprise projects that I’ll be doing. Then, there’s a couple of TV recaps that I’m doing, as well as my regular Kirkus column.

What excites me more, however, is what I can now say ‘YES’ to. There’s a couple of places that I’ve spoken with about writing, but have never really had the time to do anything with. Plus, my cat is happy that I’m home. He’s already climbed into my lap to take a nap.

Building A Galaxy Far Far Away: The Story Behind The Star Wars Expanded Universe

splinter

So, I’ve got a major series of articles going up on Barnes and Noble this week: Building A Galaxy Far Far Away: The History of the Star Wars Expanded Universe.

heir

I’m very excited for this series. It started out as something that I thought would be a fairly short article. As I researched more, there was more to the story, and it grew.

shadows

I want to thank the following individuals for their cooperation, time and interviews:

  • Alan Dean Foster
  • Barbara Hambley
  • Martha Wells
  • Steve Perry
  • Troy Denning
  • Kevin J. Anderson
  • Daniel Abraham
  • Lou Aronica
  • Kristine Kathryn Rusch
  • Matthew Stover
  • Bill Slavicsek
  • Betsy Mitchell
  • Lucy Wilson
  • Kathy Tyers
  • David J. Williams
  • David Wolverton
  • Elaine Cunningham

neworder

I also need to thank two other people: Elizabeth Templeton, who’s been diligently proofreading my work before I submit it, and Joel Cunningham, who’s been editing the entire thing. Without them, this series wouldn’t nearly be as good.

All in all, this comes to about 35 pages of material, or 16,000 words. It’s a labor of love, and I have to say, I really want to go back and burn my way through the EU like I used to in High School.

Here’s the entire series:

There were a bunch of books that were instrumental in having this come together. Interviews and other sources that I didn’t conduct have been linked to in the piece itself:

  • Star Wars: The Essential Readers’ Guide, Pablo Hidalgo
  • The Secret History of Star Wars, Michael Kaminski
  • The Making of Star Wars / Empire Strikes Back, J.W. Rinzler
  • How Star Wars Conquered the Universe, by Chris Taylor
  • The Secrets of Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire, Mark Cotta Vaz

 

Narratives of Modernization: China’s History Of Science Fiction

china

I have a new feature article up on Barnes and Noble’s Science Fiction and Fantasy blog titled Narratives of Modernization: China’s History Of Science Fiction.

This particular article was a long time coming: earlier this year, I attended Vericon as a guest. Ken Liu was the Guest of Honor, and had a lot of things to say about translating science fiction, and had a presentation called Heroic Translators, which was a really interesting talk.

He spoke about how translation worked, and how Chinese translators really had to play with language to get science fiction ported over from western languages to their own.

Along the way, I realized that I didn’t know anything about Chinese history, other than the fantastic novel that Ken had just translated: Liu Cixin’s Three Body Problem.

This led to a bit of an exploration on my part, and what turned into an incredibly difficult article to write. I had taken courses in Chinese Military history while taking my Master’s, and I struggled with what was really an unfamiliar tradition. While researching this article, I also had to brush up on the last century of Chinese history, in order to provide the proper context for how this strain of science fiction emerged. What I thought would be a fairly straight forward article turned out to be a much more complicated and interesting one – the best sort of stories.

I used a bunch of sources and interviews for this, all of which are linked in the article, but I would be remiss if I didn’t thank Ken for answering a bunch of my questions over the last couple of months, and for providing some of the inspiration for this piece in the first place.