What always struck me about Lloyd Alexander was that while his prose style is elegantly simple, the themes he explored never were. I recently finished the Westmark trilogy with the The Beggar Queen (1984) and was once again impressed by the ideas Alexander played with. The Westmark trilogy begins with a familiar pattern: a teenager gets inadvertently caught up in events much bigger than him and meets a young woman who turns out to be princess, well-trod territory if you’ve read The Chronicles of Prydain. By the end, however, the Westmark Trilogy is nothing less than Lloyd Alexander’s long mediation on the Age of the Enlightenment in Europe, one that’s remarkably mature and nuanced. These are books about the impact of the printing press and widespread literacy, on the rise of humanistic ideals, on absolutism and the end of monarchy, on the changing nature of warfare and, above all about revolutions: revolutions in philosophy, politics, science.

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An Unsung Story

“Home Untethered” is now up on the Unsung Stories website, and you can totally read it for free.

Also of note: this is the same small press that’s publishing a science-fantasy novel written in epic verse.

In the Mail Today…


..a pleasant surprise. The Winter 2014/2015 issue of On Spec, which includes a story by yours truly, and a cover that apparently depicts a homeless cyborg Jeff Bridges. (Billy Toufexis, I like your style.)

It’s 1962. Marijuana is legal in California, massive amounts of farmland was recently recovered from the Mediterranean, and human colonization of the Solar System has begun. Everything seems just peachy, if it wasn’t for the pesky fact that the Third Reich and Imperial Japan won the Second World War…

A discussion of Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle.

Download the Podcast (31 MB, right-click to save)

Source of our theme song



Fourteen tales of sword & sorcery by black authors set either in or places inspired by medieval Africa—Griots: A Sword and Soul Anthology (2011), edited by Milton Davis and Charles R. Saunders, is a great introduction to a movement that deserves a lot more attention from the fantasy community at large. The only story I didn’t finish was one that I literally could not read. More on that later.

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Terry Pratchett is gone.

I’m not going to post a tribute at length, others have done a better job. I will say this: he is an immensely important writer and his books contain the most incisive satire of the last 50 years. And sure, his books were funny, but they also had important things to say between, and often within, the funny bits. Like Small Gods, on religion, or Hogfather, on the nature of belief, or The Fifth Elephant, on injustice, or Soul Music, on rock and roll.

He means a lot to me. He means a lot to many. He’ll be missed, and deeply.

Astrology then and now

I had a short-term roommate in grad school who tried, via oblique and sundry ways, to determine around which time in the year I was born. I thought this odd (why be so round about asking?) until I overheard her chatting on her cell phone about how she just could not stand Scorpios.

Step back again to undergrad. This time, an ill-considered “wine party” that I should never have attended. At one point the host passed around a book of modernist poetry for us to read aloud, which should have been about the time I should have elected to leave. Anyhow, one of the guests (attending university, studying literature or philosophy or something of that sort) started explaining, with real conviction, how the cosmic rays from the stars can influence us, asking others about their place in the zodiac.

And then there’s my grandmother on my father’s side, who is otherwise a devout secularist and believer in science and nonetheless also believes in ghosts, folk magic and astrology.

There is some basic human connection on the story and language level towards the night sky as an indicator and influencer of life on Earth. Babylonian and Egyptian astrologers were meticulous in their observations, though the form of ancient astrology was far removed from today’s New Age mysticism. There are tablets and papyri exhaustively linking heavenly events to earthly phenomena on a wide rather than personal scale–and they are records of unusual and oftentimes impossible astral events and their meanings. The heavens provided prognosis for famine, catastrophe, and the like, but not whether you’d meet a tall stranger this week.

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