Joe Haldeman’s Forever War

When I was in High School, I devoured Ender’s Game and Starship Troopers, but it wasn’t until I’d left graduate school that someone forced me to read The Forever War. When I did, I sort of missed the point of the book, and going back to it recently with this research, I’m finding that it’s a book that’s growing for me each time I read it. It’s certainly one of the best SF novels that I’ve ever read.

I’ve interviewed Joe several times already, and we included him in War Stories, with his story Graves leading off the TOC. Going back and looking at how his book was written has been something I’ve wanted to do for a while now, and after writing up this column, I have to say, I need to give the book another read to fully appreciate it, I think.

Go read Joe Haldeman’s Forever War over on Kirkus Reviews.

  • Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction, Brian Aldiss. Aldiss has some interesting points to make here about TFW and its placement in genre literature.
  • Gateways to Forever: The Story of the Science-Fiction Magazines from 1970 to 1980, Mike Ashley. Ashley notes where Haldeman began writing and where he was able to first publish his stories.
  • Science Fiction Writers Second Edition, Richard Bleiler. Blieler has a good biographical sketch of Haldeman in this edition.
  • The Forever War, Joe Haldeman. Haldeman himself has some things to say about his own book. My 1991 edition has a good author forward.
  • Sci-Fi Chronicles: A Visual History of the Galaxy’s Greatest Science Fiction, Guy Haley. This recently released book isn’t terribly academic, but it has a page devoted to Haldeman (written by Damien Walter). Overall, it’s a really neat, (dense) book with a TON of material. Good for flipping through.
  • Survey of Science Fiction Literature, vol 2, Frank Magill. Magill has a solid review of TFW in volume 2.
  • Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century, Vol. 2- The Man Who Learned Better, 1948-1988, William H. Patterson Jr. Patterson talks about Heinlein’s interactions with Haldeman in 1975 here.
  • Fights of Fancy: Armed Conflict in Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by George Slusser and Eric Rabkin. There’s a fantastic essay from Haldeman called Vietnam and other Alien Worlds, which is well worth reading. (Here’s a good source online.

Online Sources:

  • Interim Report: An Autobiographical Ramble by Joe Haldeman. This is a fantastic autobiography from Joe, which provides some extremely helpful details about his life.
  • Many, many thanks to Joe Haldeman himself, who agreed to be interviewed for this. I’ll post up our conversation at some point in the near future.

War Stories: In Stores Today!

At long last, War Stories: New Military Science Fiction is officially out in bookstores today! Co-edited by Jaym Gates and myself, the anthology takes a new look at warfare in science fiction, with the central focus of how the people who wage it and are caught up in it are impacted by the fighting.

Here’s the back-cover blurb:

War is everywhere. Not only among the firefights, in the sweat dripping from heavy armor and the clenching grip on your weapon, but also wedging itself deep into families, infiltrating our love letters, hovering in the air above our heads. It’s in our dreams and our text messages. At times it roars with adrenaline, while at others it slips in silently so it can sit beside you until you forget it’s there.

Join Joe Haldeman, Linda Nagata, Karin Lowachee, Ken Liu, Jay Posey, and more as they take you on a tour of the battlefields, from those hurtling through space in spaceships and winding along trails deep in the jungle with bullets whizzing overhead, to the ones hiding behind calm smiles, waiting patiently to reveal itself in those quiet moments when we feel safest. War Stories brings us 23 stories of the impacts of war, showcasing the systems, combat, armor, and aftermath without condemnation or glorification.

Instead, War Stories reveals the truth.

War is what we are.


The anthology contains 23 stories (21 original, 2 reprints), from some of the finest SF authors writing today. Needless to say, I’m very, very proud of this book, and after 2+ years of work, which included planning, soliciting, a kickstarter campaign, editing, and more, it’s finally here for the general public to read.

Interested? Here’s what you can do to help:

Not convinced yet? Here’s what some of the reviewers have said about the book:

“An essential set of stories for readers interested in military science fiction” – Paul Weimer, SF Signal

“Last came the ‘Aftermath.’ It was this group that hit hard and tried it’s best to give everyone a good, thorough mindfuck.” – Nathan, Fantasy Review Barn.

“Put all this together and you have a superior anthology with one or two genuinely outstanding stories. ” – David Marshall, Thinking About Books

“Having read it I think I’ll need to go look up some more of those authors and add them to my reading list. Not one of the stories in the collection seemed like it didn’t belong there, and all of them had something novel and engaging about them.” – James Kemp, Themself.

“War Stories is a collection of military science fiction that at once salutes any and all who have ever worn a uniform in service to a nation, just as the stories collected here call into question what society demands of its warriors and how, in making those demands, society sometimes fails to consider the deeper question: Why am I asking this person to go if I am not willing to go myself?” – Aaron Sikes, Goodreads.

War Stories is pretty hefty military SF anthology that boasts a wonderfully diverse group of authors, including veterans and active duty military personnel. The twenty-three stories in this timely collection tackle contemporary issues (drones and robotization of war; privacy rights; colonialism; PTSD) with an eye to the future. The result is a rather imaginative glimpse into the future of warfare, and the impact these changes (and sometimes, lack thereof) have on all those involved: soldiers, civilians, robots, clones, and, yes, even aliens.” – Kelly, Goodreads.

“[O]verall, an excellent, eye-opening read that goes far beyond what I expected of this genre. “Lauren Smith, Violin in a Void.

Finally, if you’re in Vermont this Saturday, join myself, F. Brett Cox and James Cambias at Phoenix Books in Burlington, where we’ll read some selections from the book, answer questions and sign copies. Details are here.

Huge thanks are due to our 357 backers, my co-editor Jaym, Galen Dara for her fantastic artwork and our fantastic authors for their incredible stories.



A week ago, my grandmother went to the hospital for surgery: she had an aneurysm that acted as a ticking time bomb, and doctors were reasonably sure that they could fix it with an experimental surgery, grafting some arteries together. I received text messages over the course of the day from my sister. The projected seven-hour affair stretched into ten then twelve and finally, fourteen hours before everything was completed.

The next morning, she didn’t wake up.

It was Saturday morning when Keelia broke the news; the tests hadn’t gone well, and grandma was gone. Family members had gathered by her bedside at the end, and she had said her goodbyes before she passed.

I didn’t expect to learn that grandma had died. I knew that the surgery was risky, that there were always the possibilities of complications. But those complications were the ones that would mean she would be sitting in the hospital bed for a while longer that she expect. The shock left me numb, sad and reflective.
My best memories of Grandma take place in her long-time home in Lincoln. I remember the faded yellow clapboards clinging to the side of that farmhouse; the smooth wooden floors and the very steep stairs to the attic. I remember the living room where we watched grainy looney toons cartoons and the dark basement that we never quite ventured into. I remember the ramshackle barn where there rested a number of ancient things long forgotten. I remember the garden that sprouted up every couple of years. I remember bowls of m&ms that my sister, brother and I took liberal handfuls from, often with her encouragement.

Most of all, in this moment, I remember grandma seated at the kitchen table, in the center of the action at the many reunions, visits, dinners, birthdays and holidays. I can hear her voice, hoarse from years if smoking. I remember her exclamations and delight at our stories of what we had been up to.
I remember her visits to our home, when she turned on her stories and lost herself for the afternoon hours.

I remember the one time I ever drove grandma, driving her back home to Lincoln. Her hands gripped the seatbelt the entire way, even as I drove (under orders from my mother to take it slow), five miles under the speed limit. If that blue van still exists, the seatbelt likely still has the creases.
They moved from that home and it’s memories. Plaistow is she a new set of memories emerged. Here is where I would stop by on my way down or home to tell her of everything that was going on. It was in the back yard near the pool where she’d be sitting and talking during the summer parties. It was here where she met her first great grandson, and several months later, her second.
It’s the memories that create a family, the long tail of history and stories and emotions that form bonds that last a lifetime, inform our decisions and provide comfort in our later years. I can hear her voice over the chatter of those gatherings in Lincoln. I remember that car ride. I remember her visits and our conversations.

I’m sad that there won’t be more of those memories, but the ones I have are more than enough to keep her alive for me for the years to come.

Interview with Larry Niven

A while ago, I wrote about Larry Niven and his novel Ringworld for Kirkus Reviews. In doing so, I interviewed Mr. Niven, and he was kind enough to answer my questions about the genesis of the book. Here’s our conversation:

Andrew Liptak: You’re well known for your ‘Known Space’ stories. What prompted you to link them together as you wrote, and how did this affect the stories as you wrote them?

Larry Niven: Heinlein and Anderson and others had done linked stories. It seemed an obvious labor-saving move. Equally obvious: if the story idea didn’t fit my universe, build another for it.

Often the effect was that a story written for its own sake generated more stories.

Lately the various series are generating stories in other minds.
AL: How did you come to open up Known Space to other authors?

LN: James Patrick Baen suggested doing that. I told him that Known Space was mine and I wouldn’t share. Five minutes later I was saying, “We could open up the Man-Kzin Wars. I don’t do war stories.” It all derived from that: fifteen volumes of the Kzinti, and then five written with Ed Lerner.

AL: Ringworld is arguably one of your best known novels: what can you tell me about how this story was conceived and written? What was the writing, submission and publication process like?

LN: I was gearing up to terminate the Known Space series when I thought of Ringworld. I think I did the obvious but at this late date I’m no longer sure. The obvious: take the equator out of a ping-pong-ball Dyson sphere—the only useful part—spin it up and terraform the inside.

I was visiting bibliophiles when I borrowed a text and got the formula for spin gravity. Otherwise I’d have used bad math to write bad scenery.

I was at Madiera Beach at the Knights’ writers conference, when I thought of the Eye Storm. I tried to describe it to Betty Ballantine. Maybe it got through.

I wrote the ending as quick as I could. It felt like the book was getting huge.
That cover was done from my sketch, but by someone who just didn’t get it. I’ve seen much better Ringworld illos since.

AL: How did your background in mathematics help you with writing and describing the book and Ringworld?

LN: I don’t think the math helped as much as the mathematician’s way of thinking. Building logic towers from premises wrung out of thin air. Mathematics is a game.

AL: Ringworld won the Hugo and Nebula in 1971, Ditmar in 1972 and placed 1st in the Locus poll that year: what was the winning streak like for you?

LN: Unique. I haven’t won a Hugo since 1976. I only won the one Nebula. You should know that I worried about Ringworld. I was afraid it would be laughed off the stage.

AL: What do you think appealed to readers for such a reaction for the book?

LN: The Ringworld is a wonderful mental plaything. THE INTEGRAL TREES is better science fiction, but it’s not as easy to play with the ideas.

AL: You note in your introduction that you never planned to continue the Ringworld story, but fans prompted you do continue. How did you go about putting together Ringworld Engineers from there?

LN: It kind of shaped itself. Beginnings are difficult; I started Louis Wu at the bottom of a lost career, the opposite of Ringworld. I’d been ignoring the hominid races; I began building them. It ran from there.

AL: Do you have any future plans for Ringworld?

LN: No.

AL: Your novels are considered to be ‘Hard Science Fiction’, and I’ve heard stories about your first published story, Coldest Place in reaction to that (regarding Mercury). Who were your influences when it came to writing in this particular style?

LN: “Hard” science fiction was pretty soft when I started writing. FTL, psi powers, teleportation and many other notions were fair game. These days I try to hew closer to what we think we know. My influences were Poul Anderson, Jack Vance, Arthur C. Clarke, Fritz Leiber…all the greats of that era.

AL: Were there any real-world influences (such as the space race) on Ringworld or the Known Space books? How do you think the Mercury/Gemini/Apollo missions impacted Science Fiction as a genre?

LN: I was pretty ignorant of the facts of daily life, politics, history. I didn’t get into those matters until I started collaborating. So reality didn’t have much effect on my writing early on.

AL: What can you tell me about the Galaxy Magazine pro/anti war ad?

LN: They made me decide. I chose to win a war we were already fighting. The truth may be more complicated, but they wouldn’t let me sit it out.

AL: Can you tell me a little more about this? Who made you decide, the magazine? What was their motivations for placing such an ad?

LN: Damon and Kate Wilhelm Knight gathered writers to a mutual criticism circle, once a year. One year they invited the conservatives to stay out while their like minded colleagues formed that first list advising an end to the Vietnam War. I did not appreciate being treated so, and when Poul shaped a counterattack, I joined it.

AL: What was your relationship with the Dangerous Visions anthology? (Aside from publishing a story in it – I saw that you were thanked in the acknowledgements).

LN: I loaned Harlan money. (It was paid back.) And I wrote an early story.

AL: Ringworlds have become popularized artifacts in science fiction: are you pleased to see this idea take off? Where did the idea of a Ringworld come from?

LN: Sure I’m pleased to have influenced the field, that way and others. Sometime the whole field looks like an ongoing conversation covering centuries.

The Ringworld derives from Dyson (Dyson sphere) via SF writers (who took it for a ping pong ball 93,000,000 miles in radius, with a star at the center) to the notion that you can’t have gravity generators, so you have to spin the thing, but now the air and water all cover just the equator…

AL: Are we ever going to see an adaptation of Ringworld on the big or small screen? I saw that SyFy had announced it last year, almost a decade after they originally announced it.

LN: SyFy has cancelled again.

AL: That’s a shame. Do you hope to see an adaptation made?

LN: I might not live that long.

AL: There’s a critical essay out there that compares Ringworld to The Wizard of Oz. Are these comparisons accurate or intended? Was Oz an influence for you?

LN: That critic convinced me completely. Yes, I loved the OZ books when I was in grade school, but I didn’t realize I was using the plot line. It just felt right.

AL: When did you first come across science fiction? Why have you remained a reader and writer in the genre?

LN: First there were fair tales (including the OZ books.) Then, Heinlein and a bunch of other writers of juveniles.

AL: Were you a magazine fan at all, or part of Fandom before you became a writer? If so, where there any authors that were a particular influence, stylistically?

LN: I was a magazine and anthology fan, but I’d barely heard of Fandom. When I knew I wanted to become a pro writer, I tracked them down.

AL: A friend of mine who’s working on her PhD in soil ecology has two questions: In Bowl of Heaven, human intentions and behavior are misunderstood by the other sentient creatures they encounter, leading to conflict that could have been avoided if both species better understood one another. Do you think this also happens here on Earth, and if so, what implications does it have for efforts to preserve ecosystems and biodiversity? How could environmentalists and policy-makers benefit from reading Bowl of Heaven? How could the ideas explored in Bowl of Heaven help set research agendas for scientists studying animal behavior?

LN: Misunderstandings have caused conflicts through the ages, but less often today. Communications are better. Today conflict arises from real differences.
Biodiversity and ecosystems should be preserved…but won’t be until someone can make that economically feasible.

Reading Bowl of Heaven will make smart people smarter. The lessons are in there. Research agendas in animal behavior? I’m not sure. Ask Greg Benford.


There’s been others championing Ringworld – Lev Grossman recently published a great look over at Time.


I’m happy to say that I am now represented by Kelli Christiansen of Bibliobibuli Professional Editorial Services, who recently made the jump from the editorial side of the publishing industry to representing clients. I met her last year while she was representing a publisher, and while that didn’t pan out, she remained interested and excited about the project that proposed early on. She’ll continue to work with myself and my wife on it in the near future. She has an excellent background in the types of books that I’d like to be researching and writing, and it felt like an immediate fit.

We’ve got a couple of proposals in the fire right now, both non-fiction, which will hopefully come to something in the reasonably near future.

In the meantime, time to write!


Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time

One of my favorite books is easily A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle. I can’t remember when I first read it, but when I went back to it a couple of years ago, I was struck by its prose and outstanding story.

What’s more astonishing is that it was rejected dozens of times from publishers, before going on to win one of the major awards for YA literature. Moreover, it’s still highly relevant to any teenager or young reader today.

Go read Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time over on Kirkus Reviews.


  • Madeleine L’Engle Herself: Reflections on a Writing Life, Madeleine L’Engle. This was a moderately useful book, as it contained some biographical elements.
  • Listening for Madeleine: A Portrait of Madeleine L’Engle in Many Voices, Leonard Marcus. This is an astounding book, and I wish that each one of the authors that I’ve looked at had something similar. It’s an entire book of oral histories, conducted with people who worked with or who were close with L’Engle. It’s a fantastic source.

Online Sources:

  • Madeleine L’Engle: Short biographical sketch from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
  • The Storyteller: Fact, fiction, and the books of Madeleine L’Engle. This is a fantastic article on the life of L’Engle, and Zarin does a great job parsing out the complexity of her character. It’s well worth a read.
  • Obituary. L’Engle’s obituary from the New York Times, which provides some interesting details about her life.
  • L’Engle, Madeleine. Biographical entry from the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.
  • ALA’s Banned Books Page. The American Library Association’s home page for their Banned Books week, which includes links to the lists of books that are frequently challenged and banned.

Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s Roadside Picnic

A couple of years ago, I picked up a book to review for SF Signal, looking for something different. That book was Roadside Picnic, by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, and it turned out to be one of those books that quietly never quite left my head.

Thinking about Roadside Picnic and its authors, as well as our last column on Stanislaw Lem, we get a good starting point for examining how science fiction developed outside of the United States. Given that a lot of SF has been published here in the US, we appear to be a leader in the genre, for better or worse.

At the same time, we forget, ignore or simply don’t realize that authors such as Lem and the Strugatskys were as big as the giants in the United States: on par with Bradbury, Asimov or Heinlein. Examining their publishing experiences and approaches to the genre is good to highlight the limits and potential of genre, but also where US authors and fans tend to put on blinders for the world around them.

As awareness of foreign SF grows (see Clarksworld’s Chinese SF project, funding now), it’s important to realize that a) this isn’t a new phenomenon, and b) SF isn’t limited to the United States and England.

On top of all that, go read Roadside Picnic. It’s a phenomenal book.

Go read Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s Roadside Picnic over on Kirkus Reviews.


  • Russian Experimental Fiction: Resisting Ideology after Utopia, Edith Clowes. This is a particularly detailed volume on Russian literature, and partiularly looks at the science fiction’s complicated relationship with utopian fiction and their own country’s political history. This particular book looks at how the Strugatsky’s works fit into this.
  • Science Fiction after 1900: From the Steam Man to the Stars, Brooks Landon. Landon discusses the brothers at length, with a fairly good analysis of their works.
  • Survey of Science Fiction Literature, Frank Magill. There’s an excellent review of Roadside Picnic here.
  • Soviet Fiction Since Stalin: Science, Politics and Literature, Rosalind J. Marsh. This book has a good look at works of the brothers.
  • The Strugatsky Brothers, Stephen Potts. This is a short book, but a good overview of the brother’s works and career.
  • The History of Science Fiction, Adam Roberts. Roberts has a couple of paragraphs of the brother’s career and how it fits into a bigger picture.
  • Critical Encounters II: Writers and Themes in Science Fiction, edited by Robert Staicar. There’s an excellent essay about the brothers here.
  • Roadside Picnic, Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. This was my introduction to the brothers: the 2012 translation, which threw me at first, then drew me in completely. It’s a Weird book, while also a Hard SF one at the same time. It still sticks in my mind, years after reading it. Ursula K. Le Guin opens the book, while Boris provided an afterword.

Online Sources:

  • SF Encyclopedia. As always, the SF Encyclopedia has a good, comprehensive entry on the subject, particularly when it comes to their placement in the genre.

Two obituaries for Boris, one in the Independent and one in the New York Times helped provide some details of their lives, as well as some critical look at their careers:

I hate to do it, but I had to rely a bit on Wikipedia’s entry for the brothers, which provided some minor details, although I tried to rely on entries that were backed up with sources.

Stanislaw Lem and His Push For Deeper Thinking

Almost ten years ago now, I picked up a copy of Stanislaw Lem’s novel Solaris and was struck at how different it was compared to a number of the other books I was reading at the time. It was an interesting and probing novel, one that I don’t think I fully understood at the time. (I still don’t).

Lem is an author who is truly uninhibited by genre convention. Last column, I looked a Ursula K. Le Guin, and have been thinking quite a bit about how science fiction authors began to put themselves into a box midway through the century when it came to ‘hard’ science fiction. Limiting a story in some regards requires one to limit one’s own imagination: after all, we’re talking about fiction, where authors can make up whatever they choose. Lem was one of the authors who could make up a considerable story and then deliver it.

Go read Stanislaw Lem and His Push For Deeper Thinking over on Kirkus Reviews.


  • Trillion Year Spree, Brian W. Aldiss. Aldiss has a delightfully snarky section devoted to Lem and his works here: both recognizing his brilliance, but also deplicating his attitude towards his fellow authors as well.
  • Transformations: The Story of the Science Fiction Magazines from 1950 to 1970, Mike Ashley. This work has a couple of sections on Lem, which were very helpful in figuring out where he first was translated into English.
  • Gateways to Forever: The Story of the Science-Fiction Magazines from 1970 to 1980, Mike Ashley. This installment of Ashley’s series contains quite a bit more information on Lem’s interactions with the SF community in the 1970s.
  • Science Fiction Writers, Second Edition. Richard Bleiler. This book of thumbnail biographies contains one on Lem by Peter Swirski, which is an excellent survey of Lem’s life and works.
  • Science Fiction After 1900: From the Steam Man to the Stars, Brooks Landon. This book provided some excellent information on Lem’s legacy.
  • Survey of Science Fiction Literature vol 5, William Magill. Magill’s text contains an excellent analysis of Lem’s Solaris, which helped me understand the book a bit better.
  • Across the Wounded Galaxies: Interviews With Contemporary American Science Fiction Writers, edited by Larry McCaffrey. This is an excellent book of interviews, and while Lem isn’t interviewed, he is brought up a couple of times.

The Left and Right Hands of Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin is one of science fiction’s greats: her stories Left Hand of Darkness, A Wizard of Earthsea and The Dispossessed rank among the genre’s best works, and she moves easily between science fiction and fantasy, writing things that science fiction authors had barely touched before she came onto the scene. To say she was influential is to undersell one’s words.

I have to say, of all of Le Guin’s works that I’ve read, the ones that I’ve enjoyed the most was A Wizard of Earthsea, which I read years ago. Of all the fantasy novels I’ve picked up, it’s probably one of the ones that’s stuck with me the most.

I’ll say this once: there’s some columns that have come together quickly. Others are far harder to put together: case in point, trying to summarize the influence of one of the genre’s greatest living figures, Ursula K. Le Guin. Never mind that her fiction still challenges me and makes me feel incredibly tiny, or that her words are something that I can hardly imagine coming close to in style or grace. This was a hard one to write, but rewarding, all the same.

Go read The Left and Right Hands of Ursula K. Le Guin over on Kirkus Reviews.


  • Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction, Brian Aldiss. Aldiss devotes a number of pages to Le Guin and her influence on the genre, holding her critically at arm’s length, which is interesting to see: few authors have really had this treatment in this particular book. He acknowledges her stance in the genre, but chastise her for being preachy.
  • In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination, Margaret Atwood. Atwood actually dedicated this collection of essays (which is very reminiscent of Language of the Night), and devotes one essay to her, where she discusses her fiction in a very useful way.
  • Ursula K. Le Guin: A Critical Companion, by Susan Bernadro and Graham J. Murphy. This is a dedicated volume on Le Guin, and I found it to be exceptionally helpful with some publication details and commentary on her works, especially the stories I haven’t read (yet).
  • Understanding Ursula K. Le Guin, by Elizabeth Cummings. Another critical survey, this one likewise had some helpful commentary and details.
  • The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Essays on Science Fiction, by Samuel R. Delany. Delany’s complicated survey of the genre is a dense, detailed one, and contains a good section on The Disposessed.
  • The Dreams Our Stuff is Made Of: How Science Fiction Conquered the World, by Thomas Disch. Disch’s history is a decent one that I’ve used before, but I was a little surprised to see him absolutely castigate Le Guin and other feminist authors here.
  • The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction, by Ursula K. Le Guin. Le Guin’s book of essays on science fiction and introductions to her book is possibly one of the best non-fiction books that I’ve read on the subject. It’s an excellent demonstration that Le Guin is an utterly powerful, brilliant and intimidating figure in the genre.

Online Sources:

The Magician’s Land, by Lev Grossman

Lev Grossman’s Magicians and The Magician King have both had a particular impact on me as a reader. I picked up The Magicians right around the time I was getting out of graduate school and existing in this strange period where I had little direction and less ambition to do much of anything. I picked up and loved The Magician King even more when it was released. And now, with The Magician’s Land, the trilogy comes to a triumphant close. It’s a bittersweet realization, because these three novels feel as though they spoke to me throughout my twenties. Now, with the close of the trilogy, it’s all about moving on. 

(Some spoilers)

The Magician’s Land picks up shortly after Quentin is unceremoniously dumped out of Fillory and returned to Earth. He’s lost the place in which he most cared about after saving the world, and he finds himself welcomed back to Brakebills as a new instructor before he’s recruited for a mysterious task. All the while, Fillory is coming to an end, where Eliot, Janet, Josh and Poppy race to figure out how to save their world from destruction. It’s hard to say more, lest too much of the book is spoiled, but to say the least, Grossman goes all out with this particular story.

The Magician’s Land threw me a bit when I first started reading it: there’s a lot of play here in the structure of the book. Grossman loops back and forth with various storylines, starting in one place, going back and setting events into motion across several worlds. It’s complicated, most likely warrants another couple of readings, and I’m completely happy with that. Each of the books have played with undermining some of the more traditional fantasy tropes, but with each, Grossman has experimented with style, and The Magician’s Land tops the lot nicely. The duel running storylines of The Magician King really made the book for me, and the four or so threads that we play with here work out nicely.

As The Magician’s Land feels like Grossman’s most complicated work, it’s also the most grown up. Where The Magicians looked at learning and growing one’s identity along with one’s surroundings, The Magician King is all about finding a purpose with one’s life. This book, on the other hand, is a sort of coming of age novel, one where Quentin sets about literally building a new world and direction for his life.

This is where the trilogy as a whole speaks to me. I first picked up The Magicians at a point where I could relate to Quentin, and later, The Magician King in my late twenties, when I was starting to settle into a career and family life. The Magician’s Land comes at a point when I’m leaving my twenties. I own a house, am part of a family, have various professional and personal responsibilities. I’ve changed somewhat from the person I was in 2009. Quentin has as well, gone from a fairly insufferable magician to someone far more mature.

Grossman’s worlds have grown as well. The Magicians simply featured Fillory and our own world, plus some tantalizing hints of others. King introduced us to the greater magical world here on Earth, but Land is a grand tour of this fantastic world. The strangeness of Fillory explodes into view, complex and artificial at the same time. The magical world within Earth gets some greater context, and the idea of a place is a central concept of this book: where does one go, and what lengths does one go to to make their own home? There’s a sense of moving on throughout here: Quentin is kicked out of Fillory (all the while Fillory is vanishing), from Brakebills and he loses his father. In many ways, it’s not too similar from what we normally experience: we leave home, all that’s familiar to us, and to survive, we must build our own, whether it’s a house and family, a fantasy world, or a new life. Grossman covers all the bases here, and with it, brings the Magicians trilogy to a close. It’s a fitting and heartwrenching at points, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.