Superhero comics are weird. That’s not meant as an insult—far from it. It’s just to say that there’s nothing prosaic about people who dress up in tights and spoil for fights with enemies who are generally even more bizarre than the heroes.
So when we talk about the Doom Patrol, understand that being known largely as the biggest weirdos in the DC stable, that’s really saying something.
Since the team’s creation in 1963 by writers Arnold Drake and Bob Haney and artist Bruno Premiani, they’ve been standard-bearers for the outré. Shaped by tragedy, their line-up has featured rejects of all types: some shunned for their comic book origins, others because they fall outside of real-world expectations of what’s “normal.” The team has always provided a home and family for the disabled, the queer, the ugly. That might help explain why they’ve never been popular with the mainstream, but it definitely explains why Doom Patrol engenders so much love.
Gerard Way (of My Chemical Romance, and more recently the comics mastermind behind Umbrella Academy) recently brought the team back with artist Nick Derington as part of DC’s experimental Young Animal imprint. That, in turn, seems to have generated enough interest to launch the team’s own TV series on DC’s subscription streaming service (oddly enough, the first episode of Doom Patrol dropped the same day the first season of Umbrella Academy hit Netflix). It’s heavy exposure for a series that has always thrived on the fringes. Will success spoil the Doom Patrol?
The similarities to Marvel’s X-Men, who also first appeared in 1963, just a few months after the Doom Patrol, might be entirely coincidental. Then again, maybe not: it has been debated for decades whether or not Stan Lee and co. came across the Doom Patrol concept via a bit of corporate skullduggery. Reed Tucker’s Slugfest: Inside the Epic, 50-year Battle between Marvel and DC, deals some pretty good dirt on the ways in which the rivalry between the venerable DC and the plucky upstart Marvel got ugly. So Marvel might have nabbed the idea. Then again, Doom Patrol might have been a twist on Marvel’s Fantastic Four—each company spent most of the ’60s chasing the other around.
Regardless, comparing the books opens a window on the state of superhero comics of the era. These were both teams of misfits and rejects who came together into slightly dysfunctional surrogate families led by disabled, cerebral, somewhat distant father figures. One of these wheelchair-using daddies had lots of hair, and the other had no hair whatsoever, so it’s not like they were entirely similar. In spite of their innovations, both books were initially successful but eventually fizzled (X-Men’s more mainstream success came only in the wake of a nothing-to-lose post-cancellation revival). While the mutants at Marvel eventually birthed some of the most successful books on the stands, the Doom Patrolers have remained outsiders, developing a cult following in part from the spectacular (and then-unprecedented) way the creative team ended their initial run.
The original Patrol consisted of four members: Chief Niles Caulder, the genius and mastermind who brought the team together; Cliff Steele, whose brain had been transplanted into a robot body following a racing accident; Rita Farr, an athlete and actress who developed stretching powers after huffing on a volcano during a location shoot; and Larry Trainor, a test pilot exposed to weird radioactivity in the upper atmosphere.
The horror-movie implications of Robotman’s status are pretty obvious—his brain is the last remaining bit of his human existence, stuffed into a metal skull atop a mechanical body incapable of any real sensation. Trainor, who takes the name Negative Man, can’t remove the full-body bandages that keep his radioactivity from harming others; luckily, he can control a shadow-like energy being independent of his body, but only for about a minute at a time, after which his helpless physical body will die. Like Cliff, he’s isolated from any real human contact. Rita Farr seems, at first glance, like the least freaky of the team of freaks. She can pass as totally normal, and her literal movie-star good looks remain intact. But she makes the choice everyday to forego the dream of 1960s womanhood: marriage would inevitably involve settling down and surrendering to normalcy—all things that she wants, but not as much as she wants to be a hero. In a sense, her willingness to give up the the perfect ’60s life and family in favor of living in a mansion with a bossy megalomaniac, a surly robot, and the radioactive guy with a crush, makes her just as much of a freak as the boys. She chooses a career.
At the series’ outset, the Chief assembles these sullen, reclusive individuals and offers them purpose. The resulting squabbling, dysfunctional family vibe was unique at DC, hewing much closer to Marvel’s house style, and the villains were as wild as anything in the comics, then or now: Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man; a brain in a jar called “The Brain”; and uplifted gorilla Monsieur Mallah, to name just a few. It’s fun stuff, with enough angst and weirdness to make the stories distinct, especially among the DC comics of the era. What really gave the team legs, though, was the way the creative team handled the book’s eventual cancellation: the heroes didn’t just fade away or walk off into the sunset. The October 1968 issue saw the entire team sacrifice itself to save a small fishing village from the machinations of the Nazi General Zahl and the Chief’s sometimes-love interest Madame Rouge. A memorable ending can be more effective than a successful run, which is perhaps why the Doom Patrol eventually came back.
Prolific writer Paul Kupperberg spent years keeping the flame alive, first in a series of one-off stories, and then with a full revival in 1987. Cliff, we learned, survived, as did the negative energy spirit that once inhabited Larry Trainor. The Chief’s estranged wife Arani Desai takes it upon herself to put together a new team. The book that followed isn’t bad, amping up the soap opera aspects of the storylines while otherwise leaning into the more superheroic aspects of the team. (I tend to think of some of the lesser-appreciated Doom Patrol runs the same way I think of the Doom Patrol-ers themselves: plucky outsiders that don’t get enough love.) The Kupperberg era simply has the misfortune of being overshadowed by what came next. After 18 issues of declining sales, Kupperberg was replaced by a hip young Glaswegian named Grant Morrison and artist Richard Case.
If the original run of Doom Patrol in the 1960s was groundbreaking, Morrison and Case’s book was utterly subversive. Weird, goofy, and meta at a time when that wasn’t yet a default mode for superhero comics, it brought together a new team after several members of the old met a tragic end (a Doom Patrol running theme). Here, Cliff Steele isn’t just a man with a robot body; he describes himself as a total amputee, complete with phantom bowel movements. Each of newcomer Kay Challis’ 64 personalities manifests a different superpower. As a portrait of dissociative identity disorder, symptoms like Kay’s probably don’t show up in the DSM-IV. But Morrison grounds her DID in real, and genuinely heartbreaking, childhood abuse of the kind that can trigger symptoms very similar to those experienced by “Crazy Jane.” Dorothy Spinner is a pre-teen with a facial deformity. Tellingly, she’s never drawn as Hollywood ugly (with, like, glasses and a mole). She’s drawn with the face of an ape, and it’s very believable that a sweet but very damaged young girl approaching puberty would have a rough time of it. The queer and biracial Rebis is an amalgam of Larry Trainor, the Negative spirit, and an African-American doctor named Eleanor Poole. Josh Clay is the most “normal” member of the team, but that normalcy is leavened by the the relative scarcity of black superheroes.
They’re occasionally joined by Flex Mentallo, Man of Muscle Mystery, and Danny the Street: a literal suburban street who also identifies as a cross-dresser and communicates in Polari, an old slang code used in Britain’s gay communities (he’s inspired by the British drag performer Danny LaRue). There are memorable adversaries (the Scissormen who cut people out of reality, the nihilistic Brotherhood of Dada, and Men from N.O.W.H.E.R.E. But the lines are always shifting, with classic-era arch-villain Mr. Nobody becoming a kinda/sorta ally and eventually runs for President with the Doom Patrol not standing in the way. And their final and most devastating adversary during this period isn’t a “bad guy” at all, but one of the team’s most important figures. It’s all much less about good vs. evil than it is about how damaged people engage with a world full of other damaged people who may have very different ideas.
It could all be a whole lotta weird-for-the-sake-of-weird, but these are all real people with problems that aren’t just metaphors for real problems—they’re real problems. Cliff and the Chief’s disabilities, Dorothy’s lack of friends her own age, and the childhood sexual trauma that leads Kay to the mental hospital where the story begins. It’s not always easy to relate to super heroic angst, but these people’s problems and challenges bleed over into our world. Where this incarnation soars is not just in its wild story ideas and completely bonkers villains, but in its absolute commitment to the emotional reality of team members. As out there as things got during this era, they never stopped feeling like real human beings. Morrison’s run wasn’t an attempt to deconstruct superheroes so much as a triumphant effort to breathe new life into them.
Following Morrison’s groundbreaking run, Rachel Pollack took over, partnering first with Richard Case and then with the more abstract Ted McKeever. Those runs are not currently in print, though a reprint collection was recently announced and then quickly cancelled. Dorothy sets up housekeeping with Cliff and the Chief as her surrogate fathers, though the house they’ve chosen just happens to be a spiritual refuge for people who died there during sex accidents and a creepy doll named Charlie, so they’re never really alone. The two men are working through their own dramas while Dorothy’s just trying to get through puberty. Pollack leans into Morrison’s weirdness while adding layers distinctly her own: the challenges of Dorothy as a maturing young woman ostracized from society solely because of her appearance; the Kabbalah; and the introduction of Kate Godwin, a superhero who also happened to be a trans-woman and a bisexual former sex worker. It’s a vastly underrated run, building on the better-known stories that preceded it without merely aping what came before.
After Pollack’s run, the Doom Patrol lay fallow for several years. Three new series followed: one continuation and two reboots. Each has its virtues, none really caught fire… until late 2016, which brings us back to the beginning and the Gerard Way/Nick Derington series for Young Animal. Gleefully remixing elements from the team’s long history, this run introduces a point-of-view character named Casey Brinke, who serves as a guide to the Doom Patrol’s weird world. Of course, she’s not strictly normal herself: we quickly learn that she’s a creation of Danny the Street, enlisted to help save him from an intergalactic fast food consortium that wants Danny to use his life-giving powers to make their meat.
Like the best of Doom Patrol, Way and Derington’s issues are explicitly psychedelic while harboring more personal themes just below the surface. Coupled with the TV show, which more than deserves a second season, it feels like the next big boom in the team’s history, and it’s not a bad place to hop on board.
Last Tango in Cyberspace, the second novel from journalist Steven Kotler, is proof that an excess of style isn’t always a bad thing. It’s a cerebral cyberpunk mood piece about the ways culture is shaped and consumed by technology, couched in a twisty-conspiracy narrative about a drug that increases empathy among its users. It offers a fresh sort of cyberpunk, concerned less with the specifics of tech and more with its impact on a culture stratified into cults, sub-cults, and poly-tribes. With an emphasis on style and atmosphere, Kotler lays out the the differing ethoses of the novel’s various and vying factions, their specific cultural and social signifiers helping to support an intricate web of plots and counterplots.
Judah “Lion” Zorn is an em-tracker. His hyper-developed sense of empathy and pattern recognition allow him to expertly trace cultural and linguistic shifts, a skill useful to the corporations that employ him to figure out how to launch new products and identify the next exploitable trend. When his latest gig for a pharmaceutical company leads him to a bizarre murder scene, Lion suddenly finds himself at the center of a weird culture war involving an empathy drug, aggressive animal rights groups, mysterious disappearances, and a rather gruesome incident of taxidermy. Lion’s plans to finish the job and get out and stymied by his own empathic gifts, not to mention interference by the shadowy parties involved, which manipulate him via specific details of his life gleaned from his immersion in a privacy-free culture—from the battered paperback copy of Dune he carries everywhere (a major player in the conspiracy favors codenames drawn from Frank Herbert), to his preferred strain of marijuana (“Ghost Trainwreck #69”). In the end, Lion will face a choice: between slow social evolution and explosive cultural revolt.
If there’s one thing Last Tango in Cyberspace groks, it’s that significant technological shifts beget massive cultural ones. While Kotler does dream up an impressive array of future-tech, the book prefers to focus on the fallout that results. As Lion investigates the drug at the center of the plot, his journey also traces the interlocking “sub-cults” responsible for its spread, from a group of animal-rights terrorists who practice an extreme form of empathy, to a clan of fruit-smuggling retro gamers, to an informant who speaks in a code comprised of Apocalypse Now quotes. In a society built on heightened empathy, the blending and intersecting of culture results in numerous fusion restaurants and new musical genres, while corporations can research someone’s life and unlock the secrets of their greatest fears, the better to influence their actions. In detailing a system of interlocking (or clashing) social systems and ideologies, the novel deploys an array of pop-culture references and cultural signifiers to communicate deeper truths about the way corporations and technology shape our world, both now and five minutes into the future.
Approaching cyberpunk from a cultural and anthropological perspective rather than a technological one, Last Tango in Cyberspace crafts a compelling narrative, but truly excels in its pop-cultural worldbuilding (Lion and his informant share a kind of weird language of references centered around everything from Infinite Jest to goth music, illustrating the depth of their friendship as effectively as reams of exposition). It’s an unusual but entirely engaging book, awash in style and substance (and sometimes style as substance). It’s worth reading for its slick aesthetic alone—but it might also change the way you think about the future.
Today we are joined by guest author Anna Kashina—whose latest book, Shadowblade, is out now from Angry Robot—as she discusses the skillful presentation of sword fighting in fantasy novels.
My favorite genre—as a writer and as a reader—is historical adventure fantasy. I tend to pick medieval multicultural settings, with the level of technology preceding the invention of the firearms. As a writer, this gives me one very important tool: blades.
Top-level blademasters are recurring characters in my books, and central to my most recent novel, Shadowblade. For me this means doing lots of research about blade fighting techniques so that I can then pick the best weapons for all my characters, and populate the book with the coolest blade fights I can come up with.
Blade fighting is not just about weapons. There’s so much more that goes into being versatile and skilled with blades. One has to have superb reflexes, to be street-smart and stealthy, and to be a very quick thinker, among many other things. In my mind, this is also an irresistible set of qualities for a strong character.
I rarely go into all the technical details when describing blade fights. After all, it’s all about characters; the fights are only one tool that show off their interactions and their special qualities. Accordingly, my approach to describing blade fights usually goes one of two ways: the first is using the point of view of an expert who doesn’t see the need to focus on every move, but instead notes only a few that are especially well done. The second is from an amateur’s perspective, offering unbiased reactions without any technical knowledge, and thus relating directly to those readers who aren’t proficient with weapons themselves. (There is also a third way I’ve seen employed effectively, one that determinedly avoids describing any fights at all, only the results, leaving the rest to the reader’s imagination.)
In Shadowblade, a young girl, Naia, in training to become a top-level blademaster, accepts a very high profile, near-suicidal assignment for the Empire. Writing this book, I had an opportunity to employ both of my favorite points of view to describe blade fights. Naia starts out an amateur and can only admire the skill of some of the top warriors in her Order. Later on, as a ranked professional, she shifts into the expert mode. Being able to use both approaches in application to the same characterwas very gratifying.
I feel very special when I find a book that resonates with my own way of thinking about blade fights in fiction—but I find they are rare indeed. Here is a very short list of books that I think handle the subject well.
The Way of Shadows,by Brent Weeks
Highly skilled fights are the absolute centerpiece of this book, the story of a young street boy who escapes his gang and trains to become one of the most skilled assassins in the world. He goes through deadly challenges and humiliation, dangers and betrayal, and comes through it all as one of the best of the best. When you read this book, you believe that this is how this kind of training actually works; without glorifying the assassins’ profession, it carefully conveys the skill required to become a master. It’s not for the faint hearted, and on the gory side compared to the books I usually read, but the fights are worth it.
Throne of Glass,by Sarah J. Maas
The main character, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien, starts off as a prisoner in the king’s salt mines. She is summoned by the Crown Prince to become his champion and face some of the worst in their kingdom to win the contest for her freedom. This book is a pure joy to read, and a great example of the very effective “expert” point of view: Celaena has finished her training and achieved her highly notorious reputation long before the start of the book. Every bit of her experience and skill shows—not just in the fights, but in every one of her interactions; she can keep people on their toes with just a glance. I highly recommend this book and the entire series it’s a part of.
Magic of Blood and Sea, by Cassandra Rose Clarke Assassins are creatures of shadows and blood magic. Dying by an assassin’s hand is the ultimate way to die, because no one could possibly expect you to escape them. With this introduction, we meet Naji, an attractive, mysterious, and complex blood magician, who moves through the shadows to unseeingly approach his victims. A curse binds him to a young pirate girl, and they are forced to travel together until they can find a way to break the spell. All we see of Naji’s blade work are the occasional glints of his steel—he moves too fast for the eye to follow. With all that, the way his fights are described is just so compelling that it is impossible to stop reading. This is a great example that when the details are left to the imagination, the resulting scene can be even more powerful.
Night Watch, by Terry Pratchett
I am aware that this choice is surprising; I greatly admire Terry Pratchett’s work, but Night Watch, while being one of my favorites of his books, is not really about assassins or blade fights. Yet, I think of it as featuring one of the best ways to describe fights: through not showing them at all. One passing character in this book is Lord Vetinari—the criminal who will later become the most effective ruler of Ankh Morpork. In Night Watch he is a young assassin who trails the main character—later to be Captain Vimes—and provides him with unseen help out of the toughest situations. Through glimpses of Vetinari, we learn some scarce secrets of the trade, such as that assassins’ favorite color is not black, but dark blue, because that is the color that blends the best with the darkness. We see Vetinari mostly as a silent shadow glimpsed over the rooftops, disappearing too fast for the eye to trace; no one has ever seen Vetinari with a weapon in hand, a seemingly reassuring thought that instead seems ominous and alarming. Other Terry Pratchett Discworld books occasionally show assassins as well, but this one stands out as the most memorable.
ASong of Ice and Fire, by George R.R. Martin Here I mention an entire series rather than just one book, because to me it is really just one continuous, very long novel. (Incidentally, I am one of the nearly extinct dinosaurs who never watched a single episode of the Games of Thrones TV series, so everything I say here relies directly from the books.) There are many sword fights in A Game of Thrones, most of them gory and realistic. Real, non-choreographed sword fights are rarely as long and spectacular as they appear in movies. They usually end very quickly, and with lethal disfiguring injuries. There are many of those in this series, but only one swordsman stands out for me because of his pure skill: Jaime Lannister. (Curiously enough, he becomes truly interesting as a character only after he loses his hand, and hence his superb sword skill.) To me, the power comes in the way he thinks of the sword fights, especially when he misses being able to do it the way he used to. It made me think of lightness, and fluidity, and technique, and the fun behind it for someone like him. It’s testament to the author’s superb ability for character development that Jaime, who starts off as a despicable villain, can turn around and become the most likable characters, despite my full awareness that he cannot possibly end up well (no spoilers). His sword skill is an integral part of him, even after he loses the ability.
Anna Kashina writes historical adventure fantasy, featuring exotic settings, martial arts, assassins, and elements of romance. Her Majat Code series, published by Angry Robot Books, UK, received two Prism Awards in 2015. She is a Russian by origin, and a scientist in her day job, and she freely draws on these backgrounds in her writing. Shadowblade is available now.
There is a lot going on in Seanan McGuire’s latest genre-blending, mind-bending novel Middlegame, most of it centered on two special, if not entirely unique, twins: Roger and Dodger.
Roger and Dodger (whose names rhyme for a reason, I swear) are initially the unwitting pawns in a century-spanning alchemical quest to embody the very forces of the universe into one powerful pair of siblings.
No big, right?
This scheme to rewrite reality requires a mathematically gifted twin (Dodger) and another who can bend words to their will (Roger). Kept apart for most of their lives so that they might manifest their powers without interference, Roger and Dodger have a pesky habit of finding their way to each other, more often than not via the mental “doorway” of their telepathic connection.
As the two grow up—and move in and out of each other’s lives—they begin to uncover the truly earth-shattering nature of their abilities, kicking off a race to prevent an apocalypse of their own making. While their bond is potentially catastrophic, it’s also the one undeniable tether that binds them—to the world, to each other, and to their own identities.
With that in mind, let’s celebrate some other complex twin sets in recent science fiction and fantasy (Jaime and Cersei most definitely excluded).
Down Among the Sticks and Bones, by Seanan McGuire
McGuire has a knack for troubled twosomes, as demonstrated by Jack and Jill, recurring stars of her Wayward Children series. Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children is a sanctuary for kids like Jack and Jill who’ve fallen down rabbit holes into new worlds, only to be spit back out again. Though we initially met the girls as residents there in Every Heart a Doorway (in which they play a key role), this origin story whisks us away to The Moors, the bleak world the twins discovered via a trip through an old trunk. In this land of monsters and mania, Jillian and Jacqueline, pegged into prim-and-proper roles of their suburban home, find their true selves, though their respective journeys threaten to tear apart their bond. Jack and Jill will be back next year in Come Tumbling Down.
False Hearts, by Laura Lam
After reading this indomitable thriller, I think you’ll agree with me in saying there are not enough conjoined-twin narratives in the world today. Admittedly, the sister protagonists at the heart of this novel, Tila and Taema, are formerly conjoined twins. But even a decade after the surgery that separated them, and the subsequent splintering of their lives, their bond remains unique—strong enough, certainly, to endure infiltration by an underground crime syndicate. When free-spirited Tila is accused of murder, reliable Taema is thrust into a world of secrets, danger, and terrifying dream-like drugs as she fights to save her sister’s neck.
Temper, by Nicky Drayden
Twins are the name of the game in this alt-future Cape Town, South Africa. In Drayden’s gonzo second novel, most everyone is one-half of a twin set, with each pair splitting between them a balance of vice and virtue. Brothers Kasim and Auben share an unnatural six-and-one balance: Kasim carries six virtues and one vice, while Auben boasts the opposite. That disparity makes a difference, all but ensuring Kasim will escape their family’s humble station while Auben is almost assuredly doomed to a difficult life. That is until the matter of demons arises and a fleet-footed race to shove the proverbial genie back into the bottle begins.
The Black Tides of Heaven and The Red Threads of Fortune, by JY Yang
In the first two of Yang’s Tensorate novellas, we follow twins Mokoya and Akeha through the years spent navigating their tumultuous world, Ea. By no stretch of the imagination are they identical, growing in divergent ways, developing distinct powers, and choosing sharply different life paths. Moreover, in a world in which gender is chosen at maturity, gifted soothsayer Mokoya opts to become female, while machine-minded Akeha becomes male. Both twins attempt to influence and shape the world in their own ways, and their eventual estrangement may be bridged only by rebellion.
In the Shadow of the Gods, by Rachel Dunne
Sibling relationships can be hard to manage. In Dunne’s Bound Gods series, they could destroy the world. Twins are considered a mark of evil in this world, namely because of the bound gods in question: Sororra and Fratarro, chained, separated, and cast down by their divine parents, yet still looming as a threat, should they ever be restored to power. Humanity is divided between those who follow the parent gods and those who remain loyal to the diminished twins. As is standard in matters divinely wrought, it’s the mortals who stand to lose as a war over the deities looms.
Magic for Liars, by Sarah Gailey
You’ll have to wait till June to read Sarah Gailey’s first novel, but it’s worth your wait—and your preorder. For private eye Ivy Gamble, the request was unusual from the start: the gruesome suspected murder of a faculty member at a magic academy. But the corpse may not be the case’s most unsettling element for Ivy; the Osthorne Academy for Young Mages just happens to be where her estranged twin, Tabitha, teaches the next generation of magical kids. The sisters’ relationship has been sour ever since Tabitha came into her magical abilities and Ivy, well, didn’t. Here they find themselves locked together again, and inside a twisted whodunit no less—long-term baggage and all.
Across the three grim, suspenseful novellas in the Voidwitch Saga (Killing Gravity, Void Black Shadow, Static Ruin), author Corey J. White developed a compelling, twisted space opera universe that blended elements of science fiction and fantasy with dark themes of subjugation and revenge. Good stuff—and certainly more than enough to get us excited about what the author might do next.
Now we know—and it’s something rather different: Next year, Tor.com Publishing will release White’s first novel, Repo Virtual, a cyberpunk novel than stages an elaborate heist across real and digital worlds.
Below, we reveal the official summery and cover at for the book, which arrives in April 2020.
Corey J. White’s debut novel Repo Virtual blurs the lines between the real and virtual in an action-packed cyberpunk heist story.
The city of Neo Songdo is a Russian doll of realities — augmented and virtual spaces anchored in the weight of the real. The smart city is designed to be read by machine vision while people see only the augmented facade of the corporate ideal. At night the stars are obscured by an intergalactic virtual war being waged by millions of players, while on the streets below people are forced to beg, steal, and hustle to survive.
Enter Julius Dax, online repoman and real-life thief. He’s been hired for a special job: stealing an unknown object from a reclusive tech billionaire. But when he finds out he’s stolen the first sentient AI, his payday gets a lot more complicated.
Image by Shutterstock; Design by Christine Foltzer
“I was so excited when I first saw Christine Foltzer’s cover design,” White said. “The intricate detail, the vibrant colors—I think it looks stunning. I also love the ways it subtly reflects the book itself: the firefly embedded in the image, which is one of the forms the AI takes, and the overlapping layers of the design suggesting layers of Virtual, Augmented, and ‘real’ reality.”
Corey J. White is a writer of science-fiction, horror, and other, harder to define stories. He studied writing at Griffith University on the Gold Coast, and is now based in Melbourne, Australia. The complete Voidwitch Saga is available now.
Pimp My Airship, by Maurice Broaddus
If the title doesn’t tell you as much, it’s clear Maurice Broaddus (Buffalo Soldier) is having a great deal of fun with his new adventure starring a poet named Sleepy, who is more interested in his words and his drugs than taking part in protests that will only earn him the wrong kind of attention. Unfortunately, a chance encounter with political agitator named (120 Degrees of) Knowledge Allah delivers lots of just that. Meanwhile, the father of a young heiress is murdered, upsetting the balance of her ordered world and throwing her in with Sleepy and Knowledge as they race across an alternate version of Indianapolis with a sky littered with airships, hoping to stay one step ahead of criminals and the authorities. Imagine the anarchic spirit of Sorry to Bother You given a turn away from body horror and toward steampunk.
Gather the Fortunes, by Bryan Camp
Bryan Camp’s sequel to his lauded debut The City of Lost Fortunes focuses on Renaissance “Renai” Raines, a young woman who died in 2011 and woke up in a New Orleans both alike and different from the one she knew. In this new reality, she’s a “psychopomp,’”helping dead souls to break their mortal chains and guiding them to an afterlife populated by whimsy and demons. When a young boy is killed in a drive-by shooting, his body and soul both vanish before Renai can do her thing, and she sets off to investigate with the help of her familiar, talking raven Salvatore. Renai’s search takes her—and the reader—on a tour of a eerie alternate world, as she slowly comes to realizes that if the missing spirit should escape its fate, the consequences will be dire for the entire population of New Orleans, both the living and the dead.
Triumphant, by Jack Campbell
The third entry in Campbell’s Genesis Fleet series—a prequel to the Lost Fleet saga—finds the colony of Glenlyon in desperate straits. After coming to the aid of their sister colony, Kosatka, and helping to repel an invasion, Glenlyon is unable to resist when the invasion comes to them. They have only one ship left, the Saber, commanded by Rob Geary, but all he can do is make trouble for the invaders, even as Mele Darcy and her marines fight desperate close-quarter battles and negotiator Lochan Nakamura fights a lonely diplomatic battle to convince other colonies to risk a measure of their independence to come to Glenlyon’s aid.
Queenslayer, by Sebastien de Castell
Kellen Argos is no great mage, but the outlaw spellslinger will need to step up quickly in order to survive his latest misadventure—seems he’s earned the ire of the queen for disrespecting the Daroman flag by accidentally wiping blood across it. The young queen gives him one chance to save his neck—he must beat her at a game of cards. But just when it seems the stakes couldn’t be any higher, the game reveals a threat to more than just Kellen’s bodily integrity—it seems someone wants the queen dead, too. This is the fifth book (of a planned six) in Sebastien de Castell’s rousing fantasy adventure series to be released within the last 12 months, with the final volume due later this year. It’s just as well, because fans of fast-moving stories filled with chase scenes, high drama, action, and smart dialogue will want to devour them one after another.
Warlock Holmes: The Sign of Nine, by G.S. Dennings
Fantasy and science fiction have never met a Sherlock Holmes retelling they didn’t like, and this is a good one. As the title suggest, the Warlock Holmes book mix a bit of magic into the mystery, resulting in a sly combo of sorcery and suspense. For the next case, Warlock Holmes’ assistant Dr. John Watson plays the victim: he’s been imbued with the essence of an ancient mummy, the sorcerer Xantharaxe, whose dissolved corpse made it into the good doctor’s bloodstream, granting him unusual prophetic powers that will only serve to complicate Watson’s love life, not to mention Holmes’ matchmaking efforts.
Broken Shadow, by Jaine Fenn
This follow-up to Hidden Sun completes British Science Fiction Award-winner Jaine Fenn’s Shadowlands duology, set in a world of contrasting shadowlands and bright alien skylands. The first book began the story of Rhia Harlyn, a well-born, science-minded woman in the shadowland Shen who put her skill for research and discovery to use after her brother disappeared, sending her off into the skylands to seek the truth behind his disappearance. There, she discovered things that changed her understanding of the way of the worlds—and now, her knowledge has resulted in accusations of heresy. With her brother forever changed by the arcane experiments of a mad scientist, Rhia has no one else to rely on. She again sets forth for the skylands, this time to save herself.
Year of the Orphan, by Daniel Findlay
The latest entry in the literary post-apocalyptic novel boom is described as a mix of The Road and Mad Max. It’s set in the dangerous, unforgiving Australian Outback in the wake of a world-altering disaster, and follows a young girl known only as Orphan, who scours the poisoned desert in search of scraps of technology left behind by a ruined civilization, trying to eke out a living by trading what meager items she can find to others in the System, an unforgiving fortress and, nasty as it is, one of the last outposts of humanity. But Orphan has a secret—she knows what killed the world. This makes her dangerous, and there are forces following her that may do anything to ensure her silence. Though the setting is richly imagined and the plot propulsive, you’ll want to read this one for Orphan’s voice—her story is told in a language of her own, the product of the hard and lonely life of a born survivor.
An Illusion of Thieves, by Cate Glass
In the land of Costa Drago, magic is forbidden, and its is use punishable by death. Understandably, the magically gifted Romy has hidden her abilities and reinvented herself as Cataline, a courtesan to the Shadow Lord. In her role as Cataline, Romy can be intelligent, witty, and skilled with a sword, and she loves her engineered life. But when her brother Neri uses magic, putting his life in danger, Romy chooses to give it all up in order to save him. Returned to the slum of their youth, known as Lizard’s Alley, Romy and Neri must fight for survival without daring to use magic again—until Romy is informed of a nefarious plot to overthrow the lord she has come to love. To save him, she must learn to control the powers she has always feared; her resulting journey makes for a grand, romantic, fantastical adventure.
Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water, by Vylar Kaftan
This haunting novella from Nebula Award-winner Vylar Kaftan (The Weight of the Sunrise) opens on a woman named Bee, an inmate on a harsh prison planet criss-crossed with underground tunnels and gaping caverns. Bee can’t remember committing the crime that landed her in the darkness of Colel-Cab, but her only companion—fellow prisoner Chela—assures her it was terrible indeed; Chela says they are both telepaths, and responsible death of an an entire starship; certainly they belong below ground and isolated, where they can’t hurt anyone else. But then the two hear the distant voice of another telepath, and Bee is forced to reckon with a reality far removed from the one she has grown to accept. Using a harsh sci-fi setting to explore themes of trauma and emotional abuse, this is a powerful story, with a depth that defies its slim page count.
Starship Repo, by Patrick S. Tomlinson
Patrick S. Tomlinson’s new novel, following the highly amusingGate Crashers, combines the awe and discovery of a first-contact story with a bit of swashbuckling and a lot of hilarious absurdity. Despite receiving the ignominious name Firstname Lastname via clerical error, becoming one of the first humans to establish herself in the wider galaxy following humanity’s debut into galactic society should be a great honor. But living as one of the only humans on an alien space station isn’t quite the grand adventure Firstname expected, at least until she sneaks aboard a ship and finds herself joining a team of privateers that goes about “recovering” ships from the wealthiest of deadbeats all over the galaxy—in other words, a crew of interstellar repomen. Or, as some would call them, pirates. Tomlinson has crafted a space adventure with tongue planted firmly in cheek, filled with corny gags, absurd action sequences, and delightfully weird flourishes, including a living brain in a jar, a transgender member of race of crablike aliens, sentient tentacles, and an ’80s hair metal band. It’s utterly ludicrous, and that’s certainly not a bad thing.
For some reason, everyone is talking today about how important it is to nail the ending of an epic fantasy series. We can’t quite figure out why, but it sure is a fascinating topic. Epic fantasy faces challenges other genres don’t; while there are plenty of long and complex stories in literature, only epic fantasies have to explain magic systems, invent cultures wholesale, and keep track of a huge list of characters—often across three or seven or 14 books.
But, hey, if it was easy to write an epic fantasy—and especially to end one in satisfying fashion—we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Certainly there are plenty of books and series that end on a satisfying note—like the 15 listed here. We’re not claiming these are the only epic fantasies that end well—but they’re some of our favorite examples.
The Broken Earth trilogy, by N.K. Jemisin N.K. Jemisin stands with the most important working SFF writers for many reasons, not the least of which because her work displays a perfect combination of ambition and ability. Her books blends sci-fi and epic fantasy concepts with gritty and realistically-portrayed character relationships in a way that is thoroughly modern, while her technical flourishes—playing with point-of-view and second person narration—are deployed so confidently, readers don’t even realize just how hard they are to pull off. All three books in the Broken Earth trilogy won the Hugo Award for Best Novel, and the finale, The Stone Sky, stands as one of the most satisfying endings in fantasy history. After slowly and skillfully revealing the secrets of her world—a possible far-future Earth in which all of humanity survives on a single continent that is wracked by periodic apocalyptic events known as the Seasons and the sky is marked by the floating remnants of a past civilizationin the form of mysterious Obelisks—Jemisin hits the gas early in the third book, racing from earned reveal to earned character resolution in a rush of ecstatic storytelling. Best of all, she holds back one final satisfying secret until the very last, demonstrating an incredible level of control over her story.
The House War series, by Michelle West The House War series is an outgrowth of West’s Sun Sword series focusing on the character of Jewel Markess A’Terafin, and threads between that series and this one proliferate. You can read this series as a standalone, or allow yourself to be seduced into reading the rest of the books—there are no wrong answers here. Because this series tells the life story of a character who plays a big role in the other series—a character who can see the future, no less—West faced a special challenge: the resolution had to make sense in the larger context of both series, but she was also constrained by events described in the other books. The final book of the series (which was split into two when it metastasized in the writing) manages to pull everything together more or less perfectly.
Mordant’s Need, by Stephen R. Donaldson Donaldson’s other series get most of the attention, but let’s face it, the various Chronicles of Thomas Covenant don’t ever seem to actually end, do they? This duology, on the other hand, is tightly plotted and moves towards its conclusion with beautiful precision. It’s a surprising ending, but in no way a cheat. Set in a world where mirrors are the key to magic, with a protagonist who spends much of the story painfully passive, it’s a character-driven story in which each major player has an arc and an evolution that sees them stepping into the roles necessary for the climax to play out in a satisfying fashion. Donaldson plays a great trick on readers who are used to rooting for a “chosen one” character, setting up several possible heroes of destiny while the real story slowly unfolds in the background. The result is an ending that clicks into place with a satisfaction akin to finding a puzzle piece you didn’t even know you were missing.
The Malazan Book of the Fallen, by Steven Erickson Born out of plans for an expansive role-playing game, Steven Erickson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen is the epic fantasy reader’s epic fantasy, and often suggested (on Reddit, at least) as the best and most ambitious fantasy saga of all time. It’s a dense, challenging, and unforgiving series, dropping you headfirst into a frantic battle that is just one small skirmish in a vast conflict that stretches backward and forward in time and across a massive world filled with all varieties of magic, monsters, and living gods. It starts big and just gets bigger from there. The final book in the main series, The Crippled God, has its work cut out for it, yet somehow manages to tie off every single dangling thread readers might be wondering about—plus a few they might be surprised to discover were important in the first place. The final third of the book is just a series of one incredible battle after another, an ebb and flow of tension and release that carries you all the way to a note-perfect finale.
The Riddle-Master, by Patricia A. McKillip It’s hard enough to finish a fantasy series. It’s just as hard to pull off a truly surprising twist. It’s nearly impossible to pull off said twist in the final book of the series without making everything that comes before seem like either a cheat or in need of serious retconning. But McKillip does it, and so skillfully that you can reread whole series and appreciate it more for the pleasure of discovering the clues she littered throughout, and the structure she subtly built up to sell the twist. Set in a fantasy universe where the rulers of respective nations have a mystical connection to their realm, which ostensibly exists under the dominion of a mysterious High One, this series doesn’t get nearly the attention it deserves.
The Scavenger Trilogy, by K.J. Parker Parker’s complicated fantasy, set in an empire stressed by external raiders and internal conspiracies, requires your full attention—not least because by the second book, the twists start coming fast and furious. At the outset, the main character, Poldarn, wakes up on a battlefield with no memory. Given the name of a god by a woman he meets, Poldarn begins to suspect whoever he is, he’s not a very good person—and that he might be famous, or at least infamous, extremely important, and possibly destined to bring on the end of the world. The final book, Memory, piles on the revelations skillfully while managing to leave just a hint of mystery behind, ensuring the world remains fascinating through multiple rereads. Parker’s name has become synonymous with unreliable narrators, and this series certainly fits the bill there, but the payoff never feels like a cheat.
The Dagger and the Coin, by Daniel Abraham
Daniel Abraham actually has two series that would fit perfectly on this list, but this blog has already covered the other one—The Long Price Quartet—at some length, so we’re going with this almost as impressive followup. If Long Price was Abraham’s attempt to craft an atypical epic fantasy, The Dagger and the Coin is his attempt to perfect the more traditional form. All the tropes are here, from plucky orphans who rise to positions of power, to gods that mettle in mortal affairs, to ruling despots who strike fear into the hearts of their suspects. But even when he’s using all the usual toys, Abraham refuses to play by the rules. His chosen one hero is a girl who exercises her might by manipulating coin rather than wielding a blade. His evil ruler is a booksmart, physically unimposing geek who is seduced by power and falls prey to his own ego and insecurities. His dark gods may or may not be real, and his dragons are long gone from the world, which is still shaped by their influence. In the fifth book, The Spider’s War, the saga reaches a truly magnificent conclusion; if anything, the satisfying scope of the action is overmatched by the emotional catharsis you’ll receive from following his damaged, headstrong, all-too-human characters to their fitting ends.
The Curse of Chalion, by Lois McMaster Bujold You don’t need multiple books to make an epic, and a great ending is a great ending, so we’re going to call out the finale of The Curse of Chalion, a novel that can be enjoyed as a standalone adventure, or in tandem with the loosely connected sequel set in the same world (Paladin of Souls, which is itself a great standalone adventure with a wonderful ending). Both the story and universe of The Curse of Chalion are fully fleshed out, however, and you don’t need to read the second volume to be satisfied (though you’ll undoubtedly want to anyway). Based loosely on our world’s history, Bujold’s second foray into epic fantasy tells the tale of Caz, a knight of Chalion, who returns home from a disastrous war campaign burdened by betrayal and longing only for peace and rest—but instead finds himself drawn into the mystery of the curse that has doomed the royal family. Filled with vivid characters and the sort of inversions and subversions of fantasy tropes that fans of A Song of Ice and Fire will appreciate, The Curse of Chalion does it all—and in less than 500 pages.
The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
This one makes the list for two reasons. Not only does the fourteenth volume of The Wheel of Time, A Memory of Light, bring the saga of “Dragon Reborn” Rand al’Thor and his companions’ fight against the Dark One—the force of ultimate evil in the universe—to a suitably epic and emotional end, it does so even though it was written after the death of the series’ original author. When he was chosen to work through the notes and outlines left behind by Robert Jordan after his untimely passing, Brandon Sanderson faced a seemingly impossible task. Jordan himself had struggled to bring his ever-expanding epic in for a landing; how could any other author even attempt such a thing? Yet impossibly, Sanderson did, managing to tie off plot threads scattered across a dozen earlier books and provide mostly satisfying conclusions to an army’s worth of character arcs while also attempting to mirror the style of another author. And sure, it took him three 1,000-page books instead of the one he (and Jordan) had originally planned, but considering the stakes—would The Wheel of Time become an epic for the ages or a cautionary tale about the dangers of outsized authorial ambition?—it’s hard to imagine a better ending.
The Mistborn Trilogy, by Brandon Sanderson Brandon Sanderson also deserves credit for his ability to end his own stories well. Certainly he is one of the most influential modern writers of epic fantasy, and for two basic reasons: one, he’s a master of craft, most notably in his detailed worldbuilding and his development of rigorous magic systems (the system in this series, Allomancy, involves the manipulation of ingested metals that give users superhuman abilities; it’s part of a larger meta-system Sanderson has been slowly revealing for years across multiple vaguely related series). Two, he’s so good at pulling off plot twists, it’s almost spooky. Mistborn deploys a lot of classic fantasy tropes in new ways, including the age-old idea of the ancient prophecy that will determine the fate of the world—and the way he reveals the full ramifications of that prophecy in the final book of the trilogy is nothing short of genius. Everything you thought was wrong, but in gloriously right ways, and as the mysteries that have plagued the characters over the course of three increasingly fat volumes fall into place, you realize the story is even bigger than you thought.
The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb In epic fantasy, it doesn’t get much better than when a book delivers really good dragons. Sure, elves are cool, as are magic rings, and mighty warriors, and kings of destiny, but… dragons are the best. Robin Hobb is a good friend of George R.R. Martin, and at least as skilled at deploying dragons effectively. What’s great about the ending of the Farseer trilogy (which, satisfying as it is, isn’t really the ending—the trilogy is followed by many more books in related and sequel series)—aside from, you know, the presence of an army of dragons that arrives via most unusual means—is the rich emotion beneath the spectacle, as the main characters each gets a moment to shine. The protagonist, FitzChivalry Farseer, is far from a perfect hero and endures more failure than most fictional characters would be able to withstand, a fact that makes his final triumph all the sweeter. This story of assassins doesn’t end with gratuitous violence or a sudden heel turn, opting instead for an intelligent and compassionate application of magic.
The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, by Brian Staveley
This recent, under-the-radar series is modern epic fantasy at its best. It’s a tale of political intrigue, war, rebellion, gods, monks, fighters, and family, with a thoroughly constructed world and fully realized characters. It’s a coming of age tale that follows the three children of a recently assassinated emperor: Kaden, the heir who’s gone to study with monks; Valyn, who has joined the Kettral, an elite military force that trains with and flies around on huge hawks; and Adare, the emperor’s only daughter, who fights to keep her father’s empire from crumbling from within as the Minister of Finance. But it’s also not just about the hardships these three face; it’s also about a greater war that’s been waged for centuries, a war all three of them are thrust into as the unwitting pawns of an ancient race of immortal beings. It’s incredibly difficult to create a world as expansive as this one, and harder still to neatly tie off so many disparate narrative threads. Staveley does a fantastic job of it.
Kushiel’s Legacy, by Jacqueline Carey Carey is another author who has returned multiple times to the same fantasy setting, producing a trilogy of trilogies that explore different points on the timeline. When is comes to her Kushiel series, which began with 2001’s Kushiel’s Dart, you needn’t read all nine volumes to be truly satisfied. The ending she reaches with book three closes out the story of protagonist Phèdre nó Delaunay de Montrève—a courtesan in service to a god who inhabits a complex world inspired by Renaissance France—in a manner approaching perfection. In her youth, Phèdre, a girl with an “ill-luck name,” sold into indentured servitude in the Night Court, high-end pleasure houses catering to specialized sexual proclivities. However, she has a greater destiny as an anguissette, a chosen of a god, who is given the power (and the task) to experience pain as pleasure. This status vaults her into a position of political import, and it soon becomes apparent that the still waters of her supposedly peaceful nation conceal plots, desires, and ambitions, and a vast conspiracy with the potential to bring the whole of society down. Phèdre sets off down a road that crosses a dozen countries and a dozen years, endures multiple periods of slavery and torture, and participates on a full-scale war in her quest to keep her country together. Delivered in Carey’s poetic prose, it’s a story as much about sex and intrigue as one woman’s coming of age.
Blackdog, by K. Johansen The notion of deities and demons having a corporeal existence in a fantasy world isn’t a new one, but Johansen’s novel takes a different approach: while most of the gods and goddesses in this world remain in “spirit” form unless invoked or interacted with by mortals, one goddess chooses to inhabit the body of a human girl from birth to death, repeating the process again and again. She begins each cycle as a fragile youth, and as the book begins, a duplicitous wizard arrives with an army at his back and plans to capture and enslave her, throwing the world into chaos. Richly observed, excitingly plotted, and crammed with world-building detail, Blackdog is a fantastic, satisfying, and entirely self-contained adventure.
The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien And yes, last but certainly not least is the mother of all modern epics. Look, The Lord of the Rings winds up on 95 percent of literary listicles for a reason. Aside from being one of the foundational works in the genre, it’s also timeless, even as writers that followed it have riffed on or subverted (hello, GRRM) the tropes Tolkien established here—and much of that has to do with the pitch-perfect ending. At the close, all the kings and warriors and wizards of Middle Earth are no match for Sauron and his evil minions, but a pair of desperately tired halflings and an ancient, ruined creature whose universe has narrowed to a single object somehow defeat him—by failing. Not only are all the characters true to themselves to the end, but all of the plot threads converge elegantly, reaching a suitably epic climax and following it up with a lengthy denouement (the scouring of the shire; the sad partings) that ensures the larger themes hit home.
Greetings, and welcome! My name is Ben, and you have stumbled upon the ONLY Game of Thrones recap on the entire internet. Week to week I will be breaking down each episode of season 8, giving out highly prestigious awards, and wrapping everything up with a haiku.
Season 8, Episode 6: “The Iron Throne”
As I read the last few sentences of Stephen King’s epic seven-book Dark Tower series, I found myself feeling rather dejected. After thousands of pages, dozens of well crafted characters, and some of the most interesting lore I’d ever come across, I could only think… is that all there is? A series I’d been following for decades was over, leaving me with only a litany of complaints about everything from characterization to the pacing.
At the time, I think I lacked a bit of perspective on just how incredibly difficult it is to wrap up a story so sprawling. I don’t want to give Benioff and Weiss (and George R.R. Martin, if some of these same shortcomings aren’t corrected on the page) a pass for some of narrative choices made these last two seasons, but ending Game of Thrones was always going to be a problem. The show has always been at its best when it puts its characters into a room and lets them explore their experiences. When you are writing a story that involves dragons and battle, the endgame is naturally going to involve more fire and swords than dialogue. I always suspected that this show was destined to let a lot of us down in the end. The decision to condense these last two seasons from twenty episodes into thirteen certainly now strikes me as not only the wrong one, but a sign of a fundamental misunderstanding of the story being told.
Still, as the credits rolled for the final time last night, I felt incredibly grateful to have experienced this show from week to week and year to year. My problems with seasons 7 and 8 make the Red Wedding no less visceral, the battle of Blackwater Bay no less exhilarating, Ayra’s and Sansa’s journeys no less moving. The rushed ending doesn’t negate the incredible journey I’ve followed down the King’s Road these last eight seasons.
That buildup might give you the idea I’m going to eviscerate this episode, and I am. Well, half of it anyway.
The first 40 minutes slowed the pace enough to let the story breathe in the wake of episode 5’s apocalyptic firestorm at King’s Landing. Tyrion’s walk through the corpse-strewn rubble was quiet, reflective, and heartbreaking. His reaction to finding his brother beneath the Red Keep is likely the clip that will earn Peter Dinklage another Emmy.
After Tyrion is imprisoned, his conversation with Jon provides another particularly strong part of the episode, even if it did act as something of a narrative bandaid. It’s almost as if the writers were unsure if the audience bought Dany’s heel turn; making Tyrion walk us through the warning signs was a bit on-the-nose, but necessary to get Jon where he needed to be for the episode and series to reach its inevitable endpoint; there was no way Daenerys wasn’t dying after the last episode’s massacre, but Jon’s turn had to make something approaching sense, and I think it did. As I said earlier, scenes like these where two characters can just exist in a room are the backbone of this show.
And so Jon meets Dany at the foot of the Iron Throne with murder on his mind. If some of the dialogue doesn’t quite track—Jon begs for Tyrion to be spared; had Dany agreed, would he have still killed her? What would that prove?—the execution no pun intended) of Daenerys’ death was fairly satisfying. It’s hard for the moment to land with the weight that the writers undoubtedly wanted it to, considering how rushed was both Jon and Dany’s romance and her eventual heel turn, but as a scene, it worked. Especially Drogon then went full Simba with the Queen’s corpse and then flew away with her to mourn (but not before slagging the Iron Throne (guess dragons are into heavy symbolism).
The look on Dany’s face as she realizes Jon has betrayed her one last time is so painful because, despite her pivot to Mad Queen status, this is a character we’ve cheered on for a long time, and one who truly was acting out of a misguided desire to fix a broken world by any means necessary. It wasn’t the ending I wanted, but it was the one the show (and undoubtedly the novels, should they ever be published) demanded. If I have substantial problems with the journey, the destination seems right, somehow.
In the aftermath of Daenerys’ death we jump ahead in time a few weeks, conveniently skipping over a few impossible scenes—we’re supposed to believe that Grey Worm didn’t immediately kill Jon and Tyrion in the wake of Dany’s death, and was content to just wait around for all of the (dwindling) lords and ladies of Westeros to show up for planning session? Weirdly, Tyrion starts the meeting as a prisoner, but a few minutes into it, he has basically single-handedly chosen the new king of Westeros. You’d think people would eventually stop listening to the guy.
And how about that choice of king? I will give Thrones some credit there: I definitely did not see Bran coming. Twist aside, it struck me as an underwhelming (and baffling) choice—not the least because, despite what Tyrion says, his story wasn’t all that great, and the show gave us no reason to believe that anyone else in Westeros would trust that he is actually the magical repository of human history he claims to be. He didn’t even use any of his powers to prove the point! The rate at which the crisis of succession is resolved feels like a slap in the face to viewers who may recall that we’ve spent eight seasons on the fight for the throne. Suddenly a bunch of characters we haven’t seen in several seasons (or ever) hold a quick vote, and no one much disagrees—we’ll get to Sansa in a second—and that’s it? Cersei would not be amused.
King Bran talks Grey Worm into letting Tyrion not only live but serve as Hand of the King? OK, sure. At least it make senses that Jon’s fate would be a little more complicated; it was still hard to accept Grey Worm letting his queen’s killer live, but if Jaime Lannister got to survive killing a king, I suppose Jon can kill the same king’s heir.
With my major problems with the finale outlined above, I’ll also try to end on a high note; upon all of a day’s worth of reflection, I was left feeling satisfied about where things ended up for many of the characters.
The way Jon’s arc wrapped up makes sense. He can’t go back to being a Stark, and he’s no Targaryen; having him end up detached from the other main characters (and likely living out his days beyond the wall) was a wise choice. He became the Queenslayer, a label that will follow him until the end of his days. Best to go where he can try to forget the past.
Speaking of slayers, perhaps the best resolution of the episode was Brienne’s choice to finish Jaime’s entry in the book of the Kingsguard, updating it to reflect the gray areas that lived in his character. Much like Jon’s, Jaime’s choice to end the Mad King’s life was much more complicated than history will remember it to be and that the history books will reflect. That being said, he still doesn’t deserve your tears Brienne!
Sansa being named Queen in the North feels right—she has in many ways become the strongest and wisest of them all—as does Arya’s decision to sail off the edge of the map. The former has spent years growing into the leader her people need, while the latter came to realize that she needed to learn how to be a person again. I know a lot of people wanted Arya to kill Cersei or Daenerys, but in retrospect, it seems like that was never where her arc was headed. That she took The Hound’s advice to not let herself be consumed by rage provided an ultimately more satisfying end; I didn’t want for her to have to live with the weight of having ended yet more lives, as much as her potential victims may have deserved to meet with the God of Death.
Perhaps best of all is the fact that I can now imagine where this world goes from here; a good ending must also hold the future within it. I can foresee the arguments that will consume this strange new small council, which somehow includes Bronn of all people. I can imagine Sansa’s long and careful rule in the North. I can even see the coming of the next rebellion against the Throne. While in theory Bran should be able to avoid making some of the past (and future) mistakes, simply by the nature of his powers, we know that Westeros is not that simple, and pat as it is in some ways, the ending doesn’t really seem to suggest otherwise.
In closing, I would urge those of you who are upset about aspects of this final season to remember the good times, and why we cared so much about these characters in the first place. There’s probably nothing the writers could’ve done to satisfy everyone, but in the end, they did what not even George R.R. Martin seems able to do: they brought this dragon in for a landing.
And now, my watch has ended.
A few random thoughts:
—When Jon Snow said that “the war is over” I really wanted the ghost of Ygritte to appear and spout her catchphrase one last time.
—I like the idea that the new small council feels less need for a Master of Whisperers and a Master of War, even if Tyrion did say those positions will be filled some day; consider it a necessary reminder that peace never lasts.
—Tormund was one of the season MVPs, and I’m a little bummed he didn’t get a line of dialogue in that final, artful montage.
—The visuals that accompanied Dany’s speech to her troops felt a little too Star Wars to me, but I still enjoyed the spectacle of the moment.
—Edmure being told to sit down during the king’s moot in the dragon pit provided a welcome bit of levity in an otherwise unavoidably expository scene. As he started to speak I wondered if perhaps he did have some profound bit of wisdom to share. Nope. This man is, was, and always will be a doofus. Also, if I wasn’t already sold on her, this moment sealed it: Sansa is my queen.
—Bronn finally getting a castle from the Lannisters came off as more a joke than anything. I think his arc was one of several casualties of the shortened season, but then, the writers always liked him a bit more than was justified by the narrative.
—Samwell almost inventing democracy, only to be laughed down, was the worst joke the show has ever attempted.
“You master of grammar now, too?” —Sir Bronn of the Blackwater
“Now Varys’ ashes can tell my ashes…see, I told you” —Tyrion, pondering his potential execution
“Why do you think I came all this way?” —Bran with the mic drop on becoming King
—The first (and last) “Self Indulgent Camera Wink of the Year” award goes to Samwell for bringing out an actual copy of a book called “A Song of Ice and Fire.” Just because it worked for Bilbo…
—The highly coveted “Best Boy of the Episode” award goes to Ghost, who by all accounts is a VERY GOOD BOY YES HE IS. Jon finally petting his direwolf felt like a direct response to all of the criticism the show faced over the marked lack of Ghost over the past few seasons. (Runner-up: Drogon.)
—The last “We Miss You and Wish You Weren’t Murdered in Horrifying Fashion” award goes to Ned Stark. His execution was the catalyst for almost everything that happened on this show. It was hard not to think about Ned as we watched snow covering King’s Landing, as his constant warning finally came to pass. Winter indeed has come, but maybe it won’t be as bad as he made it sound.
And Now, a Haiku by Tyrion
Seriously how many times
Has this happened to me?
What did you think of the finale? Are you hoping for a different ending on the page?
Last night, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America handed out the 2018 Nebula Awards, recognizing the best sci-fi and fantasy books and short stories published in 2018. The winners were, predictably, out of this world—and we mean that literally in the case of the winner for Best Novel.
As we predicted, Mary Robinette Kowal took home the night’s top award for The Calculating Stars, an 1950s alternate history story of a women-led space race to Mars. “It’s filled with Mars!” Kowal exclaimed to open her acceptance speech, during which she praised the uniform excellence of her fellow nominees.
It’s certainly difficult to argue with her. The entire ballot—from Best Novel to Best Short Story—was packed with more than worthy winners, including many vying for their first Nebulas.
See the complete list of winners and nominees below:
WINNER: “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington”, by P. Djèlí Clark (Fireside)
“Interview for the End of the World”, by Rhett C. Bruno (Bridge Across the Stars) “Going Dark”, by Richard Fox (Backblast Area Clear) “And Yet”, by A.T. Greenblatt (Uncanny, March/April 2018) “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies”, by Alix E. Harrow (Apex, February 2018) “The Court Magician”, by Sarah Pinsker (Lightspeed, January 2018)
Best Game Writing
WINNER: Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, by Charlie Brooker (House of Tomorrow & Netflix)
The Road to Canterbury, by Kate Heartfield God of War, by Matt Sophos, Richard Zangrande Gaubert, Cory Barlog, Orion Walker & Adam Dolin Rent-A-Vice, by Natalia Theodoridou The Martian Job, by M. Darusha Wehm
The Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation
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If you follow Catherynne M. Valente on Twitter, you’ve probably seen her Tweeting about something called “Eurovision.” Even if you haven’t, you might have heard a little something about her book Space Opera being “Eurovision in space.”
Today, she joins us to explain what Eurovision is, why she loves it—and why you might already too, even if this is the first time you’ve heard the word.
If you live in America, you may have had trouble watching the Eurovision Song Contest this year (tomorrow is the last day). For three years, it broadcast here, and Americans slowly started to wake up to the utterly amazing spectacle already in progress across the pond, but not so in 2019.
I hope you will find a way to catch the finale; it is not to be missed. I have spent many years now trying to enlighten my countrymen to the glories of this glam rock Super Bowl of the Soul.
I won’t make my pitch here, except to say: it’s The X-Factor meets Miss Universe meets WWI and it is, in all its highs and lows, camp and class, tawdriness and tears, a must for life on Planet Earth. You can find my many longer pleas and exhortations elsewhere, and most passionately, in my Eurovision-in-space novel Space Opera.
I will say that, even if you are just hearing the word for the first time, and even if you live in America, you probably already know more about Eurovision than you think.
Eurovision is an engine for a certain genre of European pop music, and thus it makes its way over the pond in trickles and drips. ABBA is the most famous example; they won the contest in 1974, launching them into global stardom. Celine Dion won in 1988.
These are names everyone knows—but I can usually blow minds with the fact that the song “Cottoneyed Joe,” an wedding music staple in America, was in fact written by a Swedish band called Rednex who were later thrown out of Eurovision (representing Romania) for performing a song not specifically written for the event.
Household names, even here among the purple mountains majesty, including Olivia Newton-John, Englebert Humperdinck, Katrina and the Waves, t.A.T.u, and Bonnie Tyler, have all sung for various nations in the contest—some starting their careers, some ending them, some reaching for a bit of former glory.
Recently, it’s less the music than the spectacle that has seeped into American culture. Stephen Colbert has poked fun at it on his show; Will Farrell is working on a feature length parody for Netflix as we speak. With the rise of drag as a mainstream art form (Eurovision has long been a welcoming space for LGBT art and artists), images of Conchita Wurst, in full beard and full gown, appeared everywhere for a brief moment, though often without context. Social media lights up with discussion of the fashion and staging, even if the songs don’t often chart in the U.S. American acts have begun to perform during the judging interval, notably Justin Timberlake in 2015 and Madonna this year.
Bit by bit, Eurovision slowly arrives on our shores. And as Australia and other countries not, strictly speaking, part of Europe begin to participate, and Eurovision Asia threatens to actually happen some year or another, the august song contest comes closer and closer to being a global phenomenon. I have never thought America should participate—the concept of not voting for your own country would rub many of us the wrong way, and despite someone trying to do a honky-tonk song nearly every year, I’m not sure our musical tastes would fit with the in-crowd. We have enough cultural hegemony. Not every event has to include us.
But damn, we should be watching it. It will fill you up with absurdity and glitter and weirdness, give you a little hope for humanity, and leave you humming songs no one at your office has ever heard of for weeks.
Eurovision is life, Eurovision is love. It was invented to unify a war-torn continent and allow everyone to put aside politics in favor of, if only for a moment, art both high and low. There’s nothing more human and divine than that, little more necessary right now than that, and however you can access it, I’d recommend gluing yourself to the screen for the finale this weekend.
Catherynne M. Valente is the author of Space Opera, a, er, space opera inspired by Eurovision. It’s just as wonderful as you might imagine (not to mention a 2019 Hugo Award nominee).