Over on Kotaku (!!!, what is my life?), I’ve got a longread the explores the connection between the new wave of SFF writers and the influence of Golden Age Japanese RPGs (from the 16- and 32-bit era, like Final Fantasy 7, Chrono Trigger, Suikoden 2, etc.) I’ve been working on it for a long, long time and I’m so proud it’s finally out there for everyone to read.
When I think back to my childhood and teenage years, when my literary tastes were being forged in the crucible of youthful emotion and impressionism, particular scenes come to life: Sam carrying Frodo up Mt. Doom. The Reaper chasing Wil Ohmsford through the Westland. Marle hugging Crono on top of Death Peak.
Most fantasy readers won’t need a reminder of what books the first two scenes come from (Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien and The Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks), and most Kotaku readers won’t miss the reference to the classic Japanese role-playing game Chrono Trigger. And for some, all three of those works are of equal importance. Today’s fantasy novelists are just as likely to have been inspired by JRPGs as they are J.R.R. Tolkien. For some authors, Celes’ performance at the Opera House is just as much of a storytelling touchstone as young Simon fleeing Pryrates beneath the Hayholt.
It was an absolute pleasure to chat with various SFF writers about the topic. When I first started conceptualizing the piece, I had this vision of me showing up on Twitter like a naked dude at a graduation—everyone staring at me funny because I was the only one writer inspired by Golden Age JRPGs. Based by the overwhelmingly positive response on Twitter, this is obviously not the case.
I had to cut A TON of content from the interviews and first draft, so check back soon for a post featuring some of my favourite out takes that didn’t make it into the final article.
I’ve got reviews piling up these days, and, can just point out how blessed we are to be living in such a rich, wonderful time for SFF literature? Some seriously good books coming out these days, and my most recent reviews cover two of the best fantasy novels of the year: Empire of Grass by Tad Williams and A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay.
One of the benefits of being a part of the vast SFF community is making great friends. One of the benefits of those great friends is the opportunity to read their books early. I consider myself fortunate to count Sarah Gailey among those friends. They’re smart, funny, dynamic, and have a range to their writing that few other authors can match. I had an opportunity to read their first novel a couple of years ago, back when it had a different title, and it’s not an exaggeration to say I’ve been on the edge of my seat WAITING until it was released ever since then so I could scream at everybody I know to read it. It’s out now, called Magic for Liars, I’ve read the final version, and, y’all, it’s GOOD.
(In the interest of full disclosure, I felt my previous involvement with the novel meant it would be in poor taste for me to review it for a professional venue—but, here on my blog, I can say whatever I want. So:
Recently, I had the chance to read two very different but equally kick ass science fiction novels by two brilliant women. Funny enough, they’re also both published by Saga Press, a relatively new imprint that has been producing some of the genre’s best novels over the past few years. So, cheers to Joe Monti and Navah Wolfe at Saga for their vision and taste.
The Books of Earthsea, by Ursula K. Le Guin Le Guin’s dragons, which Hugo-nominated author and B&N SFF Blog favorite Max Gladstone once described as “the gold standard,” are next to none. They are complex, beautiful, powerful, and melancholy, and they serve many purposes throughout Le Guin’s work, far beyond the standard “gold-hoarding monster” trope. More recently, legendary artist Charles Vess described how it took him years to get Le Guin’s dragons just right. There’s a deeply rooted sense of wisdom in all of Le Guin’s books, but it is perhaps through her dragons that this element of her writing is best embodied. Le Guin redefined what a dragon could be, and we’re still experiencing the rippling effect of her influence over the genre in series like Robin Hobb’s The Realm of the Elderlings or Naomi Novik’s Temeraire.
It’s no secret at this point that I’m a big Magic: The Gathering fan. I’ve been playing the game since I was a wee one in elementary school (I think my first booster pack was Ice Age), and it still holds a large chunk of my attention. (I’m working on a Selesnya Tokens deck on Arena as we speak.) I’m also a pretty big Brandon Sanderson fan. So, Sanderson’s latest novella, a Magic tie-in called Children of the Nameless, is a huge confluence of my favourites.
As a Magic fan, I loved Children of the Nameless, but the best thing about it is that you don’t have to be familiar with the game or its ongoing story AT ALL to enjoy Sanderson’s work.
An excerpt from my review:
By this point, if you’re familiar with Magic or Brandon Sanderson’s fiction, it’s probably safe to say that you enjoy certain elements of fantasy: lots of magic, big set pieces, huge casts of characters, and epic stories. Children of the Nameless is a great coming together of all the things that make Magic, epic fantasy, and Brandon Sanderson’s fiction so great—all in a concise, energetic, and fun package that will appeal to all sorts of readers.
Let’s get this out of the way: Children of the Nameless is a terrific gothic fantasy story regardless of your familiarity with Magic. In fact, for the first third of the book, you wouldn’t even know it was set in a universe that Sanderson didn’t create himself, and even by the end the connections to the game’s ongoing storyline are light and more portentous than anything. Anybody can read and enjoy Children of the Nameless.
You won’t find tips for writing tighter dialogue, cleaner prose, better transitions. There’s nothing inside its pages about how to make your action scenes sing, improve your descriptions, or increase your word count. It’s not a worldbuilding bible.
My genre fiction bread and butter is definitely epic fantasy. So, naturally, my two latest reviews, both on the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog, are near-future thrillers that dig deep into current socio-political issues through their action-packed plots.
Street Freaks by Terry Brooks
Street Freaks is Terry Brooks like you’ve never read him before, but it also manages to strike a fine balance between the bold and the familiar. If you’ve finished Red Rising and The Darkest Minds, and are looking for more, this one will satisfy. It’s fun, progressive, relentlessly paced, and full-to-the-brim with interesting people. Unlike epic fantasy in the ’70s, science fiction doesn’t need saving exactly, but Street Freaks shows that Brooks has it, no matter the genre.
Red Moon is another wonderful Kim Stanley Robinson novel, and all that implies. If it lacks the scope of some of his earlier works, it more than makes up for it with the ambitiousness of its themes, its breakneck pace, and its thoughtful examination of the way societies evolve organically during times of upheaval.
If Andy Weir’s Artemis showed us the perils of surviving on the moon. Red Moon takes it one step beyond, showing us the uncertainly that comes from powerful competing interests vying for control of a new resource—even one that’s been staring us in the face for at least as long as we’ve been around to look up at the sky, and wonder.
It’s impossible to understate how obsessed I was with dinosaurs during my youth. I devoured the thick textbook-style tome that covered dozens of dinos, each with its own detailed sketch, to-scale comparisons against humans, maps detailing where they lived. It had it all. It was beautiful. By the time I was nine, I’d moved onto Michael Crichton’s classic Jurassic Park. I still vividly remember sitting in the movie theatre, lights dimming, and trying, frantically, to finish the novel before the film started. I didn’t quite manage it, but was quite pleased, hours later, to discover the the ending of the book is quite different than the film. I’m sure my parents heard about all the differences between the book and the film for weeks.
I was dino crazy.
As a teen and adult, I wasn’t quite so vociferous in my dino fandom, it was replaced instead by a newfound love for epic fantasy, but I’ve always been drawn to their vast history and all the millions of question marks that remain about our planet’s most enduring species.
Steve Brusatte’s The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs is the absolute best re-entry point I could ask for as a formerly-dino crazy kid who, as an adult, wants to learn more about the history of dinosaurs. It’s thorough and academic, but not at the expense of being readable and charismatic. It’s clear that Brusatte is more than a dry scientist—so much of his passion and knowledge about the subject shines through with his clear, often humourous voice. At times, especially during the first couple of chapters, he can become a little self-referential, dropping extensive lists of names and anecdotes about his fellow palaeontologists, but once he digs into the history of the dinosaurs, everything is smooth sailing.
At this point in my life, most of my knowledge of dinosaurs has dwindled to not much more than “it happened in Jurassic Park.” I’ve been pleased with Brusatte’s work both from the perspective of easing me back into the dinosaur world, but also his efficacy as a narrator and storyteller. There’s something epic and beautiful about the way he writes about the slow, labyrinthine rise and inevitable, tragic fall of the dinosaurs.