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Martha Wells wrote something called The Fall of Ile-Rien and it’s my big obsession now. The Wizard Hunters, The Ships of Air, The Gate of Gods – remember those titles. I check in on r/fantasy on Reddit pretty regularly and it’s choked with discussions about the same fantasy series that are all by guys with beards and are all unfinished and now I’m wondering why they’re not talking about this, which is a complete trilogy with a satisfying ending and is pretty much perfect.

I mean this has wizards who dress in tuxedos or flower print dresses in a 1920s-ish kind of central Europe and there are sentient magical spheres and culture clashes with matriarchal tropical island people and there are airships, so many airships, and war and adventure and romance and portals between different dimensions and giant ruins from long-dead ancient civilizations, and it’s all just beautifully rendered and evocative and imaginative. But it’s not just the world(s), which are intricate and detailed and feel alive, but after reading so many books lately where the characters are all kind of nondescript reflections of each other, Martha Wells breathes life and personality into everyone; her characters are so well-formed and complex and distinct whether good or bad and watching them interact is a huge pleasure. But mainly there are sorcerers flying around in zeppelins and that’s exactly what I needed in my life right now.

So, The Fall of Ile-Rien: you should read it. I’m leaving everything vague because I really do want people to go in blind and enjoy it fresh. It’s all the good parts you remembered about 90s fantasy including the zeppelins. It is distilled excellence and me blabbering too much about it would ruin it. So just go and read it.

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What to say about The Traitor Baru Cormorant? Just before publication in 2015, it seemed like a concentrated effort to torpedo the book occurred over several prominent SFF review sites and blogs; then shortly after publication came all the counter-arguments and effusive praise, and then it abruptly dropped off my RSS feed. Now it’s three years on with its sequel set for publication in October, and I’ve finally read it.

Seth Dickinson creates a secondary world custom-built for postcolonial theory, or at least that’s how things appear in the first few chapters. The Masquerade, a Granbretanean-style maritime “imperial republic” modelled after the British Empire but where everyone wears masks because masks are cool, conquers Baru Cormorant’s homeland of Taranoke by using paper money. She’s picked up by their schools, educated, and goes out into the world as an imperial accountant in the far-off northern nation of Aurdwynn. (more…)

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I read Spring Log II almost immediately after finishing Wolf and Parchment. Volume 19 of Spice and Wolf continues the gentler peak into the day-to-day life of a married couple that we saw in Spring Log I: another collection of short stories and novellas that run in more-or-less chronological order after a short flashback to an earlier time. Isuna Hasekura has come into his own with short fiction with these last two volumes, choosing character-focused pieces that explore close relationships and emotional states, quite the change from some of the clumsier offerings in the Side Colours volumes of the main Spice and Wolf series. Notably, a good chunk of this book comes comfortably from the wolf goddess Holo’s point of view rather than that of her husband Lawrence, a perspective largely absent from the novels in the series proper. (more…)

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Another smattering of thoughts for the month, as I just couldn’t come up with topics that quite warranted an article of their own. Up today: Pornokitsch, the Hugos, and Wolf and Parchment.

End of an era

1qdtdbod_400x400Pornokitsch shut down at the end of March and will not be posting new content. It’s a bit unusual to talk about a favourite website these days, but Pornokitsch was mine. They posted articles regularly on science fiction, fantasy, pop culture ephemera, cheesy music, historical oddities, old pulp paperbacks, and the occasional short story. It was a diverse mix fueled by the passions of the editors Jared Shurin and Anne Perry and their countless contributors from across the sff world. (more…)

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Steven Brust wrote a Firefly novel?

I heard about My Own Kind of Freedom at the tail end of an announcement of an official line of Firefly tie-in novels. I admit that the tie-in news didn’t interest me at all, but what did get my attention was learning that over a decade ago, Steven Brust wrote a Firefly novel on spec and submitted it for publication, was ultimately turned down, and released the finished work under Creative Commons Licence as a free ebook. Like Scott Lynch’s Queen of the Iron Sands, the combination of author and subject matter was too perfect to resist. (more…)

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Few people put Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind at the top of Hayao Miyazaki’s filmography, though there is a sizable contingent who absolutely love the film. At the same time, while Miyazaki’s first original feature-length film has been eclipsed by what he made under Studio Ghibli, you can’t deny the importance of that first work in the pattern of his career. Nausicaä contains the seed for all the work that came after: the visual sensibility, the treatment and choice of characters, the pacing, and most obviously, the underlying themes. It has the mark of an early passion project that encompasses an entire creative vision: everything Miyazaki wanted to express poured into a single story, which would then grow and change and spread to his future creative projects.

It’s not as obvious in the film as in the manga which he had to draw and write in order to get his dream-movie produced in the first place. The manga of Nausicaä began in 1982, before the film’s earnest development and wasn’t completed until 1994, long after that film’s release. Considering the long timespan, it’s hard to hold up the complete run of Nausicaä as an “early work” in the way you would the 1984 film, but it still functions as an incubator for other ideas, a forgotten centrepiece (at least in North America) to his particular brand of visual storytelling.

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Stalin, Stalin, wherefore art thou Stalin?

Part I

Alasdair: But even the Lodka cannot outrun Rizhin forever. As Lom searches the abandoned Lodka for Chazia’s secret archive, he is followed inside by Rizhin’s police agents, tasked by the President-Commander with demolishing the building. Despite the best efforts of the vyrdalak sisters, they succeed in their mission, and the Lodka, the final landmark of old Mirgorod, goes up in flames. And yet there is something curious about this event. In spite of the destruction of centuries worth of police files and confiscated artifacts, the novel emphatically describes the Lodka’s demise as “a good thing.” The immolation of the Lodka is another in the trilogy’s endless series of historical breaks, but it is one with a double meaning. On the one hand, it severs the last link Rizhin’s Mirgorod has with the Mirgorod of the Novozhd, the Mirgorod we were introduced to all the way back in Wolfhound Century. However, the demolition is also the first major act of Lom’s campaign to free the Vlast of the angel’s (and by extension, Rizhin’s) influence once and for all. (more…)

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