One of those maxims they tell you in art fundamentals courses in university is that drawing or painting isn’t just the technical aspects of arranging a medium on paper but is also a way of seeing. The way light falls on an object, the spatial relationships in a scene, the perspective, the texture, all cast a-slant so you can recognize how to translate three dimensional space onto a two dimensional surface.

Let me extend that–in studying the dominant modes of artistic expression throughout history, you can gain some insight into how people in the past saw the world. Or rather, how the artists among them were trained to process what they saw. Cultural differences encoded in paint, the major shifts in intellectual history reflected (driven?) by what artists chose to depict and how.

Let me extend that further–if we’re to visually represent the past in our historical fictions, one means to put the audience into a frame of mind that reflects the period and culture, to make them try to think, as best we can, like the culture we’re choosing to depict and so sympathize with the characters and their worldview, is to represent them as they represented themselves.

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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.


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