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If the books and TV show seem to be revelling in the worst aspects of human nature, that’s partly because those aspects are what Westeros helps us to recognize in ourselves.

In a recent interview with Vanity Fair, George R.R. Martin discussed the past, present, and future of his mega-popular series, A Song of Ice and Fire, and its television adaptation, Game of Thrones. Some of the most interesting moments in the interview concern the future of HBO series and the potential that it might catch up with Martin’s work on the novels.

“The minute you have a series [of books] and a book comes out,” Martin explained (surprising no one), “people immediately begin asking, ‘Where’s the next book?’ And the more successful the series is, the more people ask that question, and the more pressure you begin to feel.”

Martin’s struggle against that pressure is one of the most publicized and scrutinized stories to hit SFF fandom is the past decade. Here’s a creator working on a seminal work of fantasy, adored by millions of people around the world, who is also crushed under the weight of his fame, criticized for his own fannish activities (such as watching football, or attending conventions) and condemned for not writing fast enough. As if works the calibre of those he’s producing can come over night.

Prominence of this issue hit its peak when Neil Gaiman, another writer who understands the intricacies of dabbling in many mediums, wrote an open letter to Martin’s detractors. “George R.R. Martin is not your bitch,” he famously said. “This is a useful thing to know, perhaps a useful thing to point out when you find yourself thinking that possibly George is, indeed, your bitch, and should be out there typing what you want to read right now.

“People are not machines. Writers and artists aren’t machines.” Read More »

Rogues, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

“This one was an enormous amount of fun. We’re got something for everyone in Rogues,” said George R.R. Martin of the anthology. “SF, mystery, historical fiction, epic fantasy, sword and sorcery, comedy, tragedy, crime stories, mainstream. And rogues, cads, scalawags, con men, thieves, and scoundrels of all descriptions. If you love Harry Flashman and Cugel the Clever, as I do, this is the book for you.

“If there’s any bloody justice, some of these stories will contend for awards.”

I’ll say one thing, and one thing only: the Table of Contents is a hell of a lot more impressive than that cover.

  • George R.R. Martin “Everybody Loves a Rogue” (Introduction)
  • Joe Abercrombie “Tough Times All Over”
  • Gillian Flynn “What Do You Do?”
  • Matthew Hughes “The Inn of the Seven Blessings”
  • Joe R. Lansdale “Bent Twig”
  • Michael Swanwick “Tawny Petticoats”
  • David Ball “Provenance”
  • Carrie Vaughn “The Roaring Twenties”
  • Scott Lynch “A Year and a Day in Old Theradane”
  • Bradley Denton “Bad Brass”
  • Cherie Priest “Heavy Metal”
  • Daniel Abraham “The Meaning of Love”
  • Paul Cornell “A Better Way to Die”
  • Steven Saylor “Ill Seen in Tyre”
  • Garth Nix “A Cargo of Ivories”
  • Walter Jon Williams “Diamonds From Tequila”
  • Phyllis Eisenstein “The Caravan to Nowhere”
  • Lisa Tuttle “The Curious Affair of the Dead Wives”
  • Neil Gaiman “How the Marquis Got His Coat Back”
  • Connie Willis “Now Showing”
  • Patrick Rothfuss “The Lightning Tree”
  • “The Rogue Prince, or, the King’s Brother” by George R.R. Martin

With the announcement of the release date for the anthology, Martin also teased fans with information about his own contribution, “The Rogue Prince, or, the King’s Brother.” “[It] will tell the story of the years leading up to the calamitious events of ‘The Princess and the Queen’ during the reign of King Viserys I Targaryen, with particular attention to the role played by the king’s brother, Prince Daemon, a rogue if there ever was one.” Stop salivating, Westeros fans.

Rogues, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, is set for release on June 17th, 2014, as is available for preorder.

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

Buy City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

From circus life, to southern Americana, Bennett’s work is best known for examining the every day through a fantastical and revealing lens. “I saw notes of [Neil Gaiman] throughout,” said Justin Landon of Bennett’s The Troupe. “In the themes of gods and men, and the hidden worlds behind the curtain of reality. The City of Stairs, however, is Bennett’s first “secondary world” fantasy. A novel of “of statesmanship, spycraft, and diplomacy, set among ruined miracles and the fading divine,” as he described to Lightspeed Magazine’s Patrick J. Stephens.

City of Stairs was a book that kind of came in a flash,” Bennett said when I asked him to describe his latest novel. “I remember it very distinctly: I’d been reading Dark Star by Alan Furst, a terrific spy novel about a KGB agent in Nazi Germany, and I thought the Eastern European perspective was a really interesting and rare one: it explored how Poland was just wildly unprepared, operating as if this was still the 19th century, with 20th century warfare bearing down on them.

“And one day I was vacuuming the house and Turner Classic Movies was on, showing a 1930s satire about the nobility of a fictional Eastern European nation, and I thought it’d be interesting to write about a diplomat trying to navigate this densely complicated and Balkanized area, someone dealing with both the dreadful tedium of bureaucracy while also juggling the stressful, nervous-breakdown-inducing spycraft going on in the background.

“And I remember thinking, ‘Well, all these countries are mad at this diplomat. But why?’

“And the answer came back immediately: ‘Why, because her country killed all their gods, of course.’ And that was that.”

An atmospheric and intrigue-filled novel of dead gods, buried histories, and a mysterious, protean city—from one of America’s most acclaimed young SF writers.

The city of Bulikov once wielded the powers of the gods to conquer the world, enslaving and brutalizing millions—until its divine protectors were killed. Now Bulikov has become just another colonial outpost of the world’s new geopolitical power, but the surreal landscape of the city itself—first shaped, now shattered, by the thousands of miracles its guardians once worked upon it—stands as a constant, haunting reminder of its former supremacy.

Into this broken city steps Shara Thivani. Officially, the unassuming young woman is just another junior diplomat sent by Bulikov’s oppressors. Unofficially, she is one of her country’s most accomplished spies, dispatched to catch a murderer. But as Shara pursues the killer, she starts to suspect that the beings who ruled this terrible place may not be as dead as they seem—and that Bulikov’s cruel reign may not yet be over.

“It felt like one of those rare watershed moments, and I instantly pictured this delicate,” Bennett described. “Highly political global state, where one empire has been dashed and another one’s arisen, but history weighs down on everything that’s happening in every moment. The gods are dead, sure, but if one nation remembers them, are they really gone? If they are still observing the practices of an absent god, can that god truly be said to be absent? And can anyone accurately remember history? Doesn’t the process of remembering something, by default, change it, warp it, twist it to your own ends?

“And that was what the book became.”

If this novel is a departure for Bennett, it comes with a lot of challenges and expectations for the Shirley Award winning author. Early buzz, however, is mighty fine. “[City of Stairs is] a rich, layered, thoughtful story, full of gods and magic and characters that feel unflinchingly true,” said Jim C. Hines.

City of Stairs is a book about how the past is both ever-present, and inaccessible, about absent gods who still subtly influence the modern world, despite their absence,” Bennett described to me. And, if that doesn’t get you excited, well, then… Bulikov help you. City of Stairs is due for release on September 9th, 2014 from Broadway Books.

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It’s no secret that I believe we need to do a better job at engaging in positive discussion about genre’s best works in relation to award season. We’re really good at getting annoyed, upset and frothy at the mouth about some things (as Abigail Nussbuam recently wrote about with much finer words, and more hands, than I could ever hope for), and it’s important to also apply that passion and energy to screaming loudly enthusiastically about the books, films, and people we love.

Over the past six months, I’ve discussed my own ever-evolving list of recommendations for Hugo nomination. I’ll do so once more before the close of the nomination period on March 31st, 2014. However, those posts are very distinctly one person’s opinion, and the genre fanscape is much larger than one opinion (no matter how highly I think of it.) In fact, the reason that I’ve decided to post various versions of my ever changing nomination ballot is because the good people of the Internet (they do exist, we’re not all bad!) have alerted me to so much cool stuff that I’ve had no choice but to revise my ballot several times.

So, here I’m curating a collection of publishing Hugo Award recommendations, in the hopes that you (like me) might find something of value in there that makes it onto your final ballot (if you’re a Hugo voter), or just makes you smile. Read More »

The Sword & Laser Anthology, edited by Veronica Belmont and Tom Merritt

The Sword & Laser book club, spearheaded by fantasy geek Veronica Belmont and science fiction geek Tom Merritt, is one of the most vibrant and enthusiastic fan communities on the ‘net. In addition to the book club, Belmont and Merritt also host a podcast and a weekly video show, which feature discussion about all the hooplah (good and bad) in fandom, book club discussion, and interviews with some of the genres’ most popular authors.

As if that wasn’t enough, the busy duo saw an opportunity afforded to them by their loving community of fans: an anthology of new writers. I reached out to Veronica Belmont to discuss the anthology, which is just a few weeks away from release, and features some pretty great stories (including one from me!).

“The Sword & Laser Anthology is almost two years in the making, at this point,” Belmont explained when I asked her about the origins of the anthology. “We’d been planning it for a long time, but we officially started accepting submissions in March of 2013. Building this community, which has existed since 2007, we realized very early that we had many talented writers among our listeners, and we wanted to give them an opportunity have their voices heard as well. That’s basically where the idea came from.” Read More »