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We settle down to talk about another classic work of fantasy: Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea series, specifically the first three novels, A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan and The Farthest Shore.

Also: dragons.

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Source of our theme song

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Part I

Nukes are Kind of Magic

Michal: Higgins is very clear that the introduction of nuclear weapons represents a cosmic-scale shift in humankind’s relationship with the supernatural. Up until this point, the citizens of the Vlast conceptualized power almost entirely through the stone angels. The remnants of their bodies are literally the source of the Vlast’s strength, experimenting with those remnants the primary driver of industrial development. The living stone angel is the apex for most of what power even means. However, not all focus has remained on the angels, and when scientists develop nuclear technology it upends the very idea of how power works in the Vlast. Before, the measure of power was how closely you communed with the stone angels, afterwards, we’ve flipped the hierarchy. Wolfhound Century spent so much time emphasizing the insignificance of the Vlast’s petty squabble when measured against the greater struggle between the angels and the forest. Here, humans suddenly grasp the power to destroy both and, if they choose, the Pollandore as well. When Chazia sees the destructive potential of this new technology she comes to recognize what Josef Kantor always knew; she can force the living stone angel to communicate with her instead of desperately trying to grab its attention as she had before. Kantor’s ambitions are greater but Chazia has the tools in place to accomplish her goals. Through scale of destruction humans can seize control of a higher place in the universe. Continue Reading »

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Amidst the Ruins

As promised, I’m bringing back Alasdair Czyrnyj to continue our discussion of Peter Higgins’ Wolfhound Empire trilogy. This time, we’re taking on the middle volume, Truth and Fear.

Truth and Fear is in many ways a departure from Wolfhound Century while drawing on many of same themes and inspirations. While the first novel was mainly an atmospheric piece, here we have a much greater focus on narrative and on relating the actions of the characters to the thrust of the story.

In Wolfhound Century, the assassination of the Novozhd that capped off the novel seemed to be largely a side-event, deflated from significance by how peripheral it was to the journey of Vissarion and Maroussia, but here the full consequences of the assassination come to the fore. The power struggles in Mirgorod to fill the vacuum left behind by the beloved dictator actually have consequences over the cosmic backdrop of the struggle between the stone angel and the forest, even eclipsing them. The delicate bureaucratic framework holding the Vlast together has fallen apart; truths suddenly puncture through the ideological shell that enclosed its citizens, and as the title suggests, also begets fear. The war with the Archipelago, so distant before, spills through towards the capital city: the Vlast has been losing, and the unwanted perception of loss once hidden away makes military disaster a reality.

Finally, the Pollandore awaits, promising a different future than either humankind, the stone angels, or the forest can create.

Alasdair, you’ve mentioned that you liked Truth and Fear more than Wolfhound Century. Does this change in focus have something to do with that? Continue Reading »

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We take a break from civilized life and get our barbarian groove on with a discussion of Robert E. Howard’s character Conan, focusing on the 1936 serialized novel The Hour of the Dragon. Topics include the wide-ranging influence of these stories, reprehensible anthropological themes within them, the enduring appeal of the character, approaches to world-building, and Hobbes’ Leviathan.

Download the Podcast (archive.org page)

Marie’s blog

Cory’s blog

Source of our theme song

Incidental tunes:

“Oppressive Gloom”
Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

On Light Novels

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A few posts back, I wrote that the closest antecedent to the classic western pulp market is East Asian “light novels”, not western e-publishing. Translations of these books are becoming more frequent, but there’s still a huge amount that’s yet to be licensed or officially translated and probably never will be. The insanely short release schedules and sheer volume of work, coupled with the general disinterest of western readers and publishers in tackling translations in the first place, dictates against us getting more than a small window into grab-and-go novels geared towards teenagers and people who want a quick read on their commute. Yet unlike other languages, Japanese, and to a lesser extent Chinese and Korean, has a dedicated and active fan translation community that brings out work we otherwise would never see. The legality of these projects is dicey, but oftentimes its the only way to read these works if you’re not fluent in the language of origin and the only way they’d ever come to the attention of English-language publishers in the first place.

What I found was that some forms of storytelling from older English pulp that has largely died out on this side of the ocean is alive and well in Japan, as well as a certain young adult ethos that characterized older middle-grade fiction but not the current predominate mode of YA. These features were especially noticeable in two series that I breezed through this year (both not officially translated, alas). Continue Reading »

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What does heaven look like? We find out by reading Steven Brust’s novel To Reign in Hell (1984).

Download the Podcast (archive.org page)

Marie’s blog

Cory’s blog

Source of our theme song

The Wolf Returns

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I always feel some trepidation when an author returns to a series after many years with a new installment—even when the book is good, it tends to miss something from the original, some spark that drove that series along. So, the news that Isuna Hasekura would release more Spice and Wolf came with some mixed feelings; Spice and Wolf was very much the comfort read I needed at the time I discovered it, but with seventeen books and a satisfying conclusion do we really need more? Continue Reading »