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Science Fiction & Fantasy


51LFvOBsfBLContributer Matthew Mather-the author of The Atopia Chronicles, gives us a look at the inspiration behind his novel.

As Mark Twain once said, “Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting.” In post-apocalyptic science fiction, there have been many reasons mooted for the fall of the world, and I’m going to add one more—the Hydrocalypse. While much of the 20th century could be characterized as a fight  over oil, the 21st century might end up being a fight over water. This is one of the central themes for conflict in my post-apocalyptic novel The Atopia Chronicles.

As Jarrod Diamond illustrated so effectively in his book Collapse, complex societies in the past have almost all imploded as a result of the natural environment surrounding them being used up. This was easiest to document in isolated South Pacific islands, such as Easter Island, but examples abound such as the dichotomy between poor-and-struggling Haiti (which destroyed its natural environment) and green-and-prosperous Dominican (which didn’t) that occupy the two halves of Hispaniola Island.

Water equals food and industry. As temperatures rise and water tables drop, water will become an increasingly scarce and more expensive commodity in much of the world. In many municipalities across the US, water prices have more than doubled in the past decade.

The big fight because there are very few—if any—international treaties governing “upstream” water. Six of the greatest rivers in the world flow out of the Himalayas—there are over three-thousand cubic miles of freshwater stored in the glaciers (third only to Antarctica and Greenland in terms of stored fresh water) and these collectively provide fresh water to over 3 billion people, half of the world’s population. Two of these rivers (Yangtze and Yellow) flow into China, while the other four (Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra and Mekong) flow into India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Indochina peninsula (Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia). This will make for a complicated struggle in the 21st century, and that’s the backdrop to the Weather Wars starting in the world of my Atopia novels.

In the end, almost all of human conflict has been a story about resources. As natural resources become scarce, humans tend to fight for what’s left. But it’s not just a question of subsistence-level food or water. It’s a question of living standards. As we coast toward a maximum population of nine to ten billion humans in the middle of the 21st century, the biggest problem is that everyone wants to become middle-class—with cars and washing machines and big houses.

The solution? Virtual reality.

It’s been demonstrated that humans are as satisfied owning objects in virtual spaces as they are owning real, material objects—just as long as you can make the simulation good enough. The Atopia Chronicles is a story about Dr. Patricia Killiam in her quest to perfect the ultimate in synthetic reality, and then selling this into the world as a way of solving the resource crisis and stopping global conflict. But the hidden danger she unleashes in the process might be even worse.

New Heroes for New Days

91c4ZDFCn1L._SL1500_Contributor Fleetwood Robbins is an editor, writer, and speculative fiction enthusiast.

Often, separating who we are from what we do is a difficult proposition, which makes it very hard to make a transition from, say, normal society into, say, a post-apocalyptic wasteland. I am an editor, for example. I have very little know-how when it comes to the natural world and surviving in it. Should there be a zombie outbreak, I can swing a bat or pull a trigger, but forget about setting a snare or making a battery out of tinfoil and pennies. So what does my identity get me when the thing that gave me value in society suddenly has no more value? The short answer is that I would need to re-think what I can bring to the table, quickly. 

Fortunes change in an instant. When the president’s plane goes down in the convict colony of Manhattan, one the most notorious criminals in the nation can become the only hope for bringing out the commander-in-chief alive. A mild-mannered clerk at S-Mart, with the help of an intra-dimensional portal, can become a god-like warrior in the Middle Ages. These are the stories of the American Dream in many respects. Given the right circumstances, we can always become more than whom or what we are supposed to be.

That’s why I think Daryl is the best character on AMC’s Walking Dead. He was a self-confessed deadbeat, following his idiot brother from criminal enterprise to whatever redneck scheme they could cook up. Daryl’s loyalty to his brother was a detriment in the regular world, but in the face of the zombie plague his loyalty helps him create an identity for himself as protector and provider, a useful and trustworthy member of his tribe.

The first time I encountered this type of character was with Cottard from the Albert Camus classic, The Plague, and I believe he is the first character of this type. Cottard begins the story as a criminal. He is depressed and exhibits guilt for an unnamed crime. He even goes so far as to try to end his own life. His fortunes change when his city is quarantined with the bubonic plague. With the dire nature of the outbreak, his crime seems more distant. He finds himself in a position to be a valued member of the town as a black marketer. His criminality in this new context is a virtue.

I love the idea that vice can become virtue in the right situation, or that a different, more successful self can emerge from chaotic situations. There is a forthcoming book that is building a little buzz on this front. Due in August, Chimpanzee by Darin Bradley details a world on the wrong side of an economic collapse in which intellectual capital isn’t what it used to be. People unable to pay their student loans are subject to “repossession therapy” in which the government takes back a person’s education. Within the context of self-actualization in the face of cataclysmic change, Chimpanzee has a tremendous amount of promise. I, for one, am really looking forward to it.

But what about now?  What can I read today? Billed as Cast Away meets Apollo 13, The Martian by Andy Weir is a book about survival in the face of imminent death. This book is less about identity than the previous titles, but it certainly tackles reinvention and the reclamation of one’s situation. The lead character is a part of manned mission to Mars in which he is left behind for dead on the surface of the red planet. Let’s just say the character’s ingenuity and perseverance go way beyond DIY batteries in his struggle to stay alive.

I think we all hope for that turn in life’s current that will help us swim better and faster than we thought we could. Some may even hope for an apocalypse that will revalue society’s virtues. Fiction allows us to experience these inversals of fortune from a rather safe distance. When it’s very good fiction, it maybe even shows us a way to change our own lives for the better. Is there a book that has given you a new perspective on life, love, happiness . . . or the zombie apocalypse? Maybe you can point to other characters like Cottard who are able to reinvent themselves when things hit the fan (Thomas Covenant comes to mind). Tell us about it in the comments.

The Single Biggest Mistake of My Entire Creative Life

41NclV8WIkLOff to Be the Wizard author Scott Meyer reflects on how his past experiences have influenced his writing.

I am currently a novelist and a cartoonist, but before all that I was a stand-up comic. It was at the beginning of my comedy career that I made the single biggest mistake of my entire creative life.

No, it was not becoming a stand-up comic in the first place. (Though you could make that argument. Someday, have me tell you about the time I performed between rounds at a boxing match).

When I was a young comic trying to build up an act’s worth of material, I read any book or article I got my hands on that had anything to do with joke writing. One day I read that when Woody Allen was a stand-up, he wrote at least twenty jokes a day. I read that and thought, That’s fine for him. He’s a genius.

Having that thought, and believing it, was the biggest mistake of my creative life, possibly my entire life. By deciding that he could write twenty jokes a day because he was better than me, I also decided that I couldn’t, and even worse, gave myself permission not to even try. Instead, I bought into the idea that I could only write when I was feeling inspired.

I did write, and I came up with some material of which I am still quite proud, like my theory that Moby Dick was really about marriage. (The whale’s wearing white, and once Ahab’s lashed to it permanently, the whale gets rid of his friends and his boat!) Unfortunately, it took me forever to build up an act I was proud of, and once I had a joke that worked I was reluctant to replace it with something new. People who came to see me often got to where they could lip-synch my act, which is not as flattering for a comedian as it is for a band.

Eventually, I burned out on comedy. I still wanted a creative outlet, so I decided to try creating a comic strip. That’s when I started producing Basic Instructions.

The thing about a comic strip is that you have to produce it on a schedule. You can’t wait for inspiration. The word balloons must be filled. This time, I decided to actually try, instead of just deciding I wasn’t up to the challenge. As you may have guessed, I found that I could write on demand. I’m not saying that everything I write is brilliant, mind you, but in retrospect, neither did Woody Allen. I have certain standards, and if I don’t have any ideas that are up to those standards, I keep at it until I think of something else. Often, comics that I thought were only barely good enough to publish turn out to be reader favorites, which I find both encouraging and worrying.

When they saw my comic strip, almost all of my stand-up comic friends asked the same question: “How many of these do you think you’ll be able to do?”

So far, I’ve created over 900 installments of the comic, most of which are available in book form. Now I’ve also completed two novels, Off to Be the Wizard and Spell or High Water. I am finishing work on a third novel, which I hope to have out by the end of the year. People tell me they’re amazed by my output. That’s flattering, but I’m irritated that it took me so long to really get started.

The hero of my novels is a man in his early twenties who makes a lot of mistakes. That’s me writing what I know.

Author Seeking Ax Murderer

51071eN1hrLAnia Alhborn, the author of The Bird Eater gives us a glimpse into her childhood and her inspiration behind writing horror.

I recall watching a Stephen King interview on YouTube. It was one of those auditorium jobs. Fans were allowed to shimmy up to the microphone and ask their favorite author their deepest, most burning questions. Sitting at my computer, I patiently waited for the inquiry I knew was coming. It came like clockwork. “What happened to you?” a fan asked Stephen. The crowd erupts into laughter while Stephen looks bemused.

I can relate to that look. It gets tiring explaining that you’re as normal as the next guy, you just have a really weird imagination. Most people aren’t satisfied with that non-answer. They want trauma. They yearn for demons spilling out of childhood closets. But if the answer is always “nothing happened”, what is it about horror authors that make them write what they write?

To that I say: some people are born under a bad sign, and some are born under a dark one. For those of us who write in this genre, our imagination consistently leads us into the shadows. We see the gruesome possibilities other people ignore or are too afraid to dream up themselves. That’s simply the nature of who we are. It’s the way we were made.

As a kid, I was drawn to things like cemeteries and horror movies and abandoned buildings for no reason at all. My parents certainly didn’t encourage me to snoop around an ivy-covered shack that could have housed a hungry witch, and they didn’t pull back the chain link for me while I snuck into the cemetery that butted up against our yard. My mother didn’t know what she was renting when I slid The Exorcist across the counter at the video store. I still remember holding my breath on that one, hoping she wouldn’t notice that it was about demons and kids, praying that I wouldn’t be given marching orders to go pick out some lame Disney flick instead. I’ve always loved Halloween, even after being chased by a masked lunatic wielding a real, buzzing chainsaw over his head. You’d think that would have turned any kid off of the candy-grubbing holiday for good. Not me. I just started daydreaming about those crazed people, about demons and monsters and haunted cemeteries and what a kid like me would do if I had to face them alone. I had as normal a childhood as anyone else, but I remember those scary moments the most fondly. Horror, it seems, is simply in my blood.

Some say, “you must really like scaring people”. Yes, I do, but I also like scaring myself. Writing books like The Bird Eater takes me back to my childhood—the haunted house, the possibility of a sharp-toothed kid leering in the shadows. How I wish I could relive that single Halloween night. Perhaps that’s what we’re all dreaming of when we tuck into bed with a new horror novel. We’re hoping to relive misspent youth. We want to run from the ax murderer. We hope that he’s waiting for us, patiently poised with the edge of his blade glinting in the moonlight. We love horror because fear is an exquisite emotion. It makes our nerves stand on end and reminds us that we can still kick and scream. And as long as we can still do that, surely, we must still be alive.

Steampunk By Definition

51DdHpfKOSLRichard Ellis Preston, Jr., author of The Chronicles of the Pneumatic Zeppelin series, makes a game attempt to explain what steampunk is to the steampunk beginner and provide a roadmap of books for getting started.

What might I recommend as the ‘best of steampunk?’ Perhaps it might be best to take a step back at the start and ask ourselves ‘what is steampunk,’ exactly? Steampunk as a subgenre of science fiction is often equally familiar and confusing to people when they first stumble across it. That’s because steampunk is thematically and environmentally absorbent by nature and this inclusive, sprawling quality makes its definition nebulous and difficult to nail down. Since there are so many people just discovering steampunk I have tailored the book list below for beginners, including a primer.

One of the essential introductory books for the steampunk reader is The Steampunk Bible by Jeff VanderMeer, which employs lavish pictures and illustrations to explore the birth, development and myriad tangents of the steampunk movement. VanderMeer also supplies a playful ‘what is steampunk?’ equation which I rather like: “STEAMPUNK = Mad Scientist Inventor [invention (steam x airship or metal man/baroque stylings) x (pseudo) Victorian Setting] + progressive or reactionary politics x adventure plot.” A recognizable Victorian-Edwardian veneer is essential to the steampunk milieu but its literature can (and often does) race down the rabbit hole after that.

For example, my steampunk adventure series The Chronicles of the Pneumatic Zeppelin follows the journey of an airship crew across the post-apocalyptic, snowbound landscape of southern California with a zebra-striped alien race called Martians (though they aren’t from Mars) and loose extraterrestrial beasties thrown into the mix. This series is first and foremost an adventure romp, a sort of steampunk Robin Hood or Pirates of the Caribbean.

For younger readers (and adults) the Leviathan Series by Scott Westerfield is a wonderful place to start reading steampunk. Set in the era of the Great War, Westerfield’s youthful characters exist on a battlefield where one side (German/Austro-Hungarian Clankers) use steam-driven iron machines and the other side (British Darwinists) employ biologically engineered weapons.

Many new steampunk readers cut their teeth on Boneshaker (The Clockwork Century) by Cherie Priest, a book considered by many to be one of the mainstays of the subgenre and a sci-fi essential. A section of Civil War era Seattle has been turned into a dead zone by the release of a mysterious blight gas. The contaminated area is walled off, abandoning it to the hordes of zombies, air pirates and criminals trapped within—and of course the heroes must follow their quest inside.

Lastly, it is also fun to remember that the steampunk subgenre has many splinter subgenres of its own, such as dieselpunk, alchemypunk and gaslight romance. I would highly recommend The Daedalus Incident by Michael Martinez (alchemypunk) which is a grand time-travel tale where an 18th century Royal Navy Frigate collides with the future Joint Space Command on Mars.

I hope this recommended reading list helps you get started in the many wonderful worlds of steampunk. And while steampunk can and often does explore serious themes it is nice to remember that steampunk is a lot of fun. I’d like to leave you with the words of the aviator/explorer character Charles Muntz as he stands on the boarding ramp of his magnificent airship in the movie UP: “Adventure is out there!”

A Steamtrunk of Steampunk

51rjyJwz30LContributor Fleetwood Robbins is an editor, writer, and speculative fiction enthusiast.

In May of 2008, the New York Times, the bastion of the stodgy East Coast intelligentsia, ran an article on steampunk. To many, myself included, the article seemed a death knell for an artistic movement that began in the late 1980s with the literature of James Blaylock, K. W. Jeter (who actually coined the term), and Tim Powers.

Their three books—Homunculus, Infernal Devices, and The Anubis Gates, respectively—stand as the cornerstone for the genre. And unless you’re hardcore, this is perhaps the first time you’ve heard of them (allowances given to Powers and the critical acclaim received for his time-travel classic).

This is because, today, in 2014, steampunk has broken the boundaries of genre literature to influence all manner of artistic expression, whether it be fashion, film, art, music, or literature. Only a week or two ago, aspiring fashion designers on the Lifetime television show Project Runway: Under the Gunn were asked to deliver their version of “steampunk chic.” You can imagine there were plenty of gears.

The point is that many people encounter steampunk outside of literature. The books mentioned above represent a genre in it’s infancy. Now, after twenty five years, I think it’s safe to say that steampunk has established itself as a movement—as a lasting expression of our fascination with retro-futurism. With so much dire portent in our news media, it’s no wonder that fantasists look to project a future that is influenced by the romance of past ages.

In Neal Stephenson’s quasi-steampunk novel The Diamond Age, there is a group of people who take this to the extreme, isolating themselves from a what they see as a dissolute world by adopting the manner and mores of Victorian England. They are but one “phyle” or tribe in the future Stephenson imagines, but consider that the neoVictorians exist alongside stupefying levels of nanotechnology and artificial intelligence, and you get a glimpse into a future built on the foundations of antique virtues and present-day speculation.

This is why Stephenson’s book is only quasi-steampunk, in my opinion. For something to truly hit the mark we’re looking for in the genre, one must imagine a path-not-taken world in which any number of fantastic conventions can be applied, whether it be magic, elaborate advances in the fastidious tech of clockwork...even vampires.

Save the stake or sun, it seems there is no keeping the undead down. Consider Soulless—a novel, the cover tells us, “of vampires, werewolves and parasols.” It is the first book in a series called The Parasol Protectorate by Gail Carriger, in which she seamlessly integrates the romance of Victorian novels with steampunk staples like dirigibles and supernatural elements common to paranormal fantasy. It’s the perfect book to lure you away from that doorstop you’ve had on the nightstand all cuffing season.

If you’re more into a YA/alternate history vibe with your steampunk there is Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. Also the first in a series, Leviathan traces the journey of its young heroes as a fantastical Europe gears up for World War I, complete with living airships. Westerfeld creates a vivid setting and populates it with good characters. Throw in some really cool illustrations, and the book imparts a great experience of the genre.

Steampunk has many faces. It’s all part of the DIY license present in the constituent punk ethos. Cherie Priest takes it in her own direction when she sets her novel Boneshaker in the American west, amid a gold rush Seattle rife with zombies.

Zombies in Seattle? What’s punk about that, you ask? Well, imagine Escape from New York meets Jules Verne. I think there’s even a Trail of Dead song about it.

Anyway, I can’t close this thing out without mentioning one book that only exists in print: Jeff Vandermeer’s Steampunk Bible: An Illustrated Guide to the Imaginary World of Airships, Corsetts and Goggles, Mad Scientists, and Strange Literature. In addition to being a great object to look at, the Steampunk Bible not only examines to current cultural condition of the movement, it also looks back at its history, giving readers an excellent picture of how it came to be what it is today.

It all shows that rumors of steampunk’s demise were greatly exaggerated.


The Barrow: A Closer Look

91DCOg-FwNL._SL1500_Mark Smylie, the author of the "The Barrow", gives us a closer look at his newest novel.

The Barrow is my first prose novel. I’ve been working in comics for a reasonably long while, including a stint doing my own fantasy comic, Artesia. That comic book series was epic military fantasy, following a captain’s rise to power in the midst of a ruinous war, full of politics, logistics, tactics. But for The Barrow I wanted to step back and introduce the same setting and world to a new audience in a quieter, smaller, and perhaps darker way.

A lot of different influences and ideas went into the book, but in part The Barrow can be considered an ode to years of fantasy roleplaying, following a disparate and desperate crew of malcontents as they follow a map that they believe will lead them to the barrow of a long-dead evil wizard and within it, a great treasure: Gladringer, the fabled sword of the High Kings of the Middle Kingdoms. Of course, nothing is really as it seems. The book is divided into three parts—meeting the cast of characters in an urban setting, then an overland journey, and then the grim finale in the barrow of the title—as a mirror to the three classic acts of adventure games and films (city/journey/dungeon).

The selection offered to you now follows one Gilgwyr, owner of an infamous brothel in the capital city of Therapoli Magni, as he makes his way to the Forum of said city seeking replacements for several members of their ill-fated crew who have already met an early and unfortunate demise.

Continue reading "The Barrow: A Closer Look" »

Gateway Fantasy: A Song of Ice and Fire

81Bedp56r5L._SL1500_Contributor Fleetwood Robbins is an editor, writer, and speculative fiction enthusiast.

Let me tell you the story of “Jimmy,” a mild-mannered salary man from Peoria, Illinois.  He loved Lord of the Rings as a kid. In fact you couldn’t get him to shut up about it, but when he became a man he thought to put aside “childish” things. Jimmy was content to spend his entertainment hours watching the Sopranos and Mad Men. He made forays into Deadwood and was surprised to identify so strongly with Breaking Bad’s antihero Walter White.

Then on fateful Sunday, a mysterious stranger bedecked in finery from a faraway land stepped into his living room and took him down a rabbit hole from which he has yet to emerge. That stranger was the HBO series Game of Thrones. It opened Jimmy up to a fantasy realm of sex, violence, and betrayal that he hadn’t experienced elsewhere. Further, there was an unpredictability to the show that always kept Jimmy on the edge of his seat. It always kept him wanting more. Soon television wasn’t enough.

He went to the books for more, and that’s where things started getting serious. Now Jimmy is leading conversations at the water cooler about Jon Snow’s parentage. Now he has his own Frey Pie Theory.

Do you know a “Jimmy?” Maybe you even are a “Jimmy.” You’re probably asking yourself: "What’s next? Where do I go from here?" Well, I am here as your friendly Kindle pusherman to provide a few titles to help you get your fantasy fix.

George R. R. Martin didn’t write these books in a vacuum. He had a ton of inspiration from history and from other fantasy writers. One of the series he credits with showing him that a fantasy didn’t have to stick to some of the more tired conventions of the genre is Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, a trilogy by Tad Williams that begins with The Dragonbone Chair.  For whatever reason, Mr. Williams never reached the audience he deserves for this series, but it’s really among the best fantasies around. It’s long, immersive, and well written. And, most importantly, it’s complete, which is not always a given for the genre.

If you’re in the mood for another gateway into even less charted regions of the fantasy landscape, you might go with Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, which begins a series of books that deals with “history, warfare, medicine, sex, violence, spirituality, honor, betrayal, vengeance, hope and despair, relationships, the building and destruction of families and societies, time travel, moral ambiguity, swords, herbs, horses, gambling (with cards, dice, and lives), voyages of daring, [and] journeys of both body and soul,” just to name a few of the themes she covers. This comes from the author herself, and she isn’t kidding. She has what you want from a fantasy series.

But if it’s not quite medieval (in the Tarantino sense) enough, try Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy, beginning with Assassin’s Apprentice, the story of a bastard with royal blood raised to serve his estranged family as an assassin.

For the deep cuts, I’m going to recommend a fantasy for the more jaded Jimmys in the world—those readers who might like a side of sex and violence to go with the typical meat and mead of fantasy fare. Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy is for you. Book 1, The Blade Itself is a character-driven fantasy with cinematic pacing and fight scenes that could serve as choreography for a Kurosawa movie.

Hopefully, one or two of these books will help to get that fantasy monkey off your back. If not, I know there are others out there that will. Please feel free to use the comments to tell all of the Jimmys in the world what fantasies you read to fill the intermezzos in A Song of Ice and Fire. I know I’m always looking for something new to read.

Where Does Inspiration Come From?

91Fq-ziH-gL._SL1500_Kim Harrison, who is the author of "The Undead Pool", shares with us her inspirations in her writing.

Next time you’re at a writer conference and you’re lucky enough to be included in a group of imaginative, quick-thinking writer types, listen, because at some point, an aspiring writer is going to turn to their hero and, with stars in their eyes, lovingly ask, “Where do you get your inspiration from!”

Then watch as horror, or perhaps dismay, runs across said author’s eyes.

Truly, this is a compliment, an affirmation that the world and characters we’ve created have become so real that it seems impossible that there isn't one tiny chunk of inspiration that we can point to and say, “There! That thing!” And in a lot of cases, that’s true. Music, TV, coffee commercials, popular fiction, a man on a bus; I’ve heard from other authors who can clearly pinpoint the exact moment and source of an idea they turn into inspiration.

Me? Not so much. At least, not until I can look back in hindsight.

The evolution of inspiration has always been a mystery to me, but here at the end of the Hollows series, I can clearly point and say the motivation behind the beginning of the Hollows was desperation, pure and simple, and you can see it in general oddness of the first chapter of Dead Witch Walking. I was trying to attract editor and agent attention at a time when it seemed only sexually explicit and just downright weird stuff was making print in the SF/fantasy short story market. So a witch, a vampire, and a pixy walk into a bar. My kind of weird.

But the story progressed, and what began as desperation eventually calmed into the realization that I could slow down and tell my story as I wanted. Inspiration began to leak into the pages from what I was seeing around me and dealing with every day.

Ten years ago, GMO produce wasn’t the big headliner that it is now, but I didn’t like that monarch butterflies were dying from corn pollen, and so a GMO tomato was behind a world-changing plague. My awareness of bullies, not just on the school ground, but at the office as well, surfaced as militant Weres bent on domination. Same-sex couples inspired a long-running thread of Ivy and Rachel’s almost-relationship torn apart by overwhelming emotional baggage. Addiction and spousal abuse figured into my vampires at a time when much of the popular fiction made the vampire something to admire. Terrorism threats on the street became a violent human group bent on genocide of other non-human species. And finally, the idea that friendship, trust, and determination can surmount all of the above and make for happy endings trumps them all—at least for those who survive.

So where does inspiration come from? Everywhere and anything. The storyteller knows.


I Wish It Weren’t Over!

51KOAfltTRLContributor Fleetwood Robbins is an editor, writer, and speculative fiction enthusiast. 

To wish that a book never ends is a great compliment to the writer. Sometimes we fall so deeply in love with characters and the worlds they inhabit that finishing a book is like saying good-bye to intimate friends. I’ve felt this way about a few books in my time as a reader, but never more so than when reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell by Susanna Clarke.

I didn’t even think I would like the book before I started it. I had never been a reader of the Victorian novels that clearly inspired Ms. Clarke, nor was I particularly into the mannerpunk of writers like Ellen Kushner (although it should be mentioned that her novel The Priviledge of the Sword is part of a highly-regarded series that is considered the epitome of the subgenre).

I was so taken in by Clarke’s work that I preferred it to almost everything else I was engaged in at the time, eschewing all sorts of social engagements in favor of reading. When it did finally end, I was a little disappointed, not in the ending itself—which I actually found to be every bit as grand and magnificent as Mr. Norell’s first public demonstration of English magic—but in the fact that the story was over.

It was a small consolation to have The Ladies of Grace Adieu to follow it up, a collection of short stories that expands upon “the ways in which Faerie can impinge upon our own quotidian world.” I say “small consolation” because only a couple of the stories relate directly to the characters and events of Jonathan Strange. Nevertheless, the collection offered me a sort of interstitial space to ease myself back into the real world. It was a breakfast Bloody Mary, just enough to get me right but not so much as to send me on another bender. Did I want more? Of course. Will I get it? I will probably have to content myself with the miniseries being shot for the BBC.

Ultimately, the desire for something to go on and on is rather selfish. Why should what readers want dictate the course of a character’s arc? There are certainly books and series that we wish hadn’t ended, but in the very wish for an extended life, we might heap years more woe on our favorite characters. Imagine, for example, that Tolkien just kept writing Lord of the Rings. You saw how pissed Frodo was when he thought Samwise ate the last of their elven bread. I don’t think they could have gone on much longer. And what about the scorn we would reserve for Peter Jackson, who strung us along with thirty minutes of dwarves doing dishes in part one of The Hobbit? Imagine Harry’s humiliation at facing an eighth year at Hogwarts? We need the ending. We need resolution in the stories we read because our lives so often lack a true denouement. Even so, there are some series I would have loved to keep reading.

The Thraxas novels of Martin Scott (a pseudonym for Martin Millar of Good Faeries of New York and Lonely Werewolf Girl fame) certainly rank on that list. Set in a pretty deep medieval fantasy setting, these books subvert the genre by not taking themselves too seriously. The titular character Thraxas is an overweight glutton who likes to drink. He is also the “cheapest Sorcerous Investigator in the whole magical city of Turai.” Starting with book 1, aptly titled Thraxas, is probably best given the chronological nature of the stories. But in reading any book in the series you will find a fair helping of humor, action, fantasy and farce. In that respect, it might be comparable to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. With nine books in the Thraxas series, you can certainly occupy your evenings.

As for other endings I wish were simply other beginnings, I would love to read more of the Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons. I could spend a lot of time writing about the structure of the series and how the books are related, but the essential message I want to get across is that I loved Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion when I read them. Simmons moves his characters through space and time with a facility that belies the difficulty of presenting universe in which those concepts are mutable.

I had to wait a while for Endymion and The Rise of Endymion, which are the second two books in the series, but they definitely satisfied my craving for intelligent space opera. Once you develop a taste for those novels, it’s hard to be satisfied with substitutes.  On the other hand, if I hadn’t been so eager to fill the void Mr. Simmons left in my imagination, I might never have stumbled onto the Culture novels of Iain M. Banks, or even Peter Hamilton’s Commonwealth Saga. And that, my friends, would have been a great shame indeed.