Tag Archives: Fantasy

Once Upon a Time: A Review of The Raven and Other Tales

 

Title: The Raven and Other Tales

Author: Joy V. Spicer

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: 2019

Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Historical

Length: 132 pages

Source: I received a free copy from Joy

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb: A raven appears on a cold winter’s night. An old woman helps a stranger find his way home. A young girl encounters a bad-tempered dwarf. Enter within, where magic is found alongside the ordinary, and things aren’t always what they seem. Where curiosity leads to a nightmare. Where ashes have the power to transform. And where stolen mortals are doomed to be forever lost in the forest.

Review:

This is a collection of ten short stories that are all firmly rooted in the fantasy genre. One of the coolest things Joy did with them was to briefly explain where her ideas for them came from after the conclusion of each story. I always enjoy learning where writers find inspiration for their work, so I was excited to have a sentence or two of explanation before beginning the next tale.

The most effective way I’ve found to review anthologies like this one is to pick about three of the stories in them that most accurately represent the over-arching themes and writing style in my opinion, describe their plots in a spoiler-free sentence or two, and then share my impressions of them. If any of these mini-reviews grab your attention, I’d heartily recommend checking out the whole book.

The Forest of the Others

Grace’s father and younger brother had wandered into a mysterious, forbidden forest and never come home again in “The Forest of the Others.” Three years after their disappearances, Grace ignored her mother’s warning to stay away from those trees and went into the forest to see if she could find out what happen to them.

I sure would have liked to see better communication between Grace and her mom. These woods were such an irresistible place in this universe that I think Grace would have still gone into them even if her mother had been more clear about how dangerous they were. It felt a little odd to me for someone who had already lost two relatives to what should have been an innocuous patch of land to be so vague about what she thought happened to them or why Grace should never break this rule.

This is something I’m saying as someone who loved everything else about this story. The dialogue was fresh and crisp. Grace’s character development was handled wonderfully. Her experiences in the woods made me shudder, although I’ll leave it up to future readers to discover why. The world-building was really nicely done, too, especially when it came to the mixture of emotions Grace had about the forest she wasn’t supposed to visit. All I needed was for Grace to know exactly why that area was forbidden before she decided to break that rule anyway.

Stranger at the Crossroads

Some of the tales in this collection were so short and filled with plot twists that I need to be pretty careful what I say about them for fear of wandering into spoiler territory.  “Stranger at the Crossroads” was one of them. In it, a woman who was walking down the road with her donkey met a stranger who wasn’t at all what he appeared to be.

Does this sound like a mystery or possibly something from the horror genre? Well, it wasn’t. The main character was such a brave and kind soul that her reaction to the unnerving stranger at the crossroads was as pleasantly surprising as it was creative. I enjoyed this entire anthology, but I must say that she was my favourite character of them all. I couldn’t have asked for a better protagonist on that particular day and in that specific time and place.

An Unlikely Friendship

In “An Unlikely Friendship,” a young girl named Meg met a grumpy dwarf in the middle of the woods one day while she was out searching for edible plants to feed her family. Meg’s friendship with Nev, the dwarf, was unexpected but a nice distraction from the grinding poverty she, her widowed mother, and two older sisters had struggled with for years.  Yes, this story was one of the ones mentioned in the blurb!

Meg’s personality was nicely written. She’d been taught to be kind to everyone she met. That’s a common trope in the fantasy and fairy tale genres, so I won’t go into much detail about it here. What was refreshing about this particular take on that lesson was how Meg reacted when it appeared that her kindness was not only going to be taken for granted but could very well lead her into a worse predicament than she’d been in when she was only poor and hungry.

This is the sort of twist to a genre that makes me want to come back for more.

 

I Love the Fuzzy Edges of Science Fiction

The other day I was having a conversation with someone about the types of science fiction we both like. After explaining to them the novels and TV shows from this genre that I’ve enjoyed the most over the years, they made a comment about how interested I seem to be in hard science fiction.

Well, yes. I do love hard science fiction.

There’s something inside of me that comes alive when an author or screenwriter takes a problem that scientists are currently attempting to solve and tries to guess where they’ll be on that issue twenty, a hundred, or five hundred years from how.

However, that isn’t where my love of this genre ends.

I love the fuzzy edges of science fiction, too.

The line between sci-fi and fantasy exists, but often it’s so wispy that I barely feel the difference at all when I move between them. Neither one of these genres would be the same if it hadn’t been so heavily influenced by the other over the years. While I do tend to stick closer to the sci-fi side of the fence in general, I’m often pleasantly surprised when fantasy tropes wander over to say hello or when I notice a common science fiction plot twist in something I thought was going to be pure fantasy.

I’m pleased with how this cross-pollination works in other genres, too.  While I still don’t believe that every sci-fi story should have a romantic subplot, I appreciate the fact that authors are introducing audiences to things they might have not otherwise thought they’d enjoy. Mysteries aren’t my favourite genre, but I have started reading them on occasion thanks to repeated exposures to these types of storylines in science fiction and fantasy books that I otherwise found to be a perfect fit.

This is also a technique I’ve been using on friends and relatives in a straightforward sort of way. I’d never trick or push anyone into reading something that they’d find objectionable, but I have recommended stories to people that included elements of genres they don’t normally read if I thought they’d enjoy the plot in general.

For example, earlier this year I was discussing Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre with someone who has no interest at all in the romance genre. There were so many other things going on in that tale that I thought they’d really love it. In the end, they read it and thought it was well-worth their time.

The beautiful thing about science fiction is how difficult it can be to draw the line between where this genre ends and another one begins. There is sc-fi that politically motivated, apolitical, humorous, serious, hopeful, dystopian, barely there, the sole reason any of the characters bother to stumble out of their sleeping pods in whatever counts for morning on a planet with three suns, and so much more. It has crossed over with everything from romance to horror to mysteries to stories that are loosely based on real historical events.

It is this wide range of possibilities that keeps me coming back for more. Sometimes I wander into one corner of the genre and set up camp for a few months or years. Right now I have almost no interest at all in the dark, violent, or dystopian sections, for example, but there are so many other places to explore that I don’t think I’ll ever grow tired of seeking out new stories that somehow have sci-fi elements in them no matter how far they roam from home.

What’s your favourite kind of science fiction to read? How do you feel about stories that mix two or more genres together in general?

 

Reader Question: Should I Read Science Fiction or Fantasy?

Someone recently found this blog by googling the following question:

Should I read science fiction or fantasy?

I thought it was a great prompt for today’s post. Just like apples and pears are both types of fruit, fantasy and science fiction are part of the wider speculative fiction universe that also includes sub-genres like horror, dystopian, utopian, supernatural, science fantasy, and superhero fiction. Science fiction and fantasy share a lot of similarities, but they aren’t identical by any means.

On the off chance that they ever see this post, I’d be happy to give the person who did this search some personalized reading recommendations if they’re interested in such a thing.

Since I don’t know that person or what their tastes in reading material are like, I’m going to keep my advice as general as possible. The only assumption I’ll be making is that you were interested in exploring both of these sub-genres and are wondering which one you should dive into first.

Like most children in western cultures, fairy tales were my first taste of speculative fiction in general. I quickly developed a preference for the original, and often surprisingly macabre given the age group they were marketed to, versions of classic fairy tales, so I was soon introduced to the horror and supernatural genres as well through my insatiable appetite for as many new fairy tales as I could find at our local library.

There is so much overlap between the science fiction and fantasy, though, that I quickly found myself wandering deeper into the science fiction end of the spectrum. I now have a preference for hard science fiction, but I’ll never forget my love of fantasy or many of the other sub-genres under the speculative fiction umbrella.

The question of whether you should read fantasy or science fiction really depends on the sorts of stories you enjoy versus the ones that you don’t find so alluring. I’m going to be making some broad generalizations here that definitely won’t apply to every book or author out there. They may be helpful in steering the original visitor and everyone else reading this towards a specific section of the library or bookstore as you decide what you want to read next.

Science Fiction tends to be:

  • Realistic.
  • Related to what is, or could be, scientifically possible. For example, the discovery of a vaccine for AIDS or a cure for cancer.
  • Set in the present or future.
  • Rational. When someone weird happens, there is generally a logical reason for it.
  • More political (in many cases).
  • Interested in exploring specific ideas, ideologies, or conflicts. These themes can often be traced back to controversial subjects that are or were hotly debated when that specific book was first published.

Fantasy tends to be:

  • Imaginative.
  • Related to things that will never be scientifically possible. For example, the existence of Hogwarts (*sob*) or a pet dog that suddenly begins speaking plain English.
  • Set in the past.
  • Supernatural and/or magical. When something weird happens, it is not generally explained rationally to the reader.
  • Less political (in many cases).
  • Interested in world-building. You stand a good chance of meeting dozens of characters and many different fictional cultures when reading fantasy, so their page counts can be dramatically bigger than a science fiction novel.

Again, there is a lot of overlap between these sub-genres and these lists shouldn’t be taken as a strict interpretation of what you’ll find in either one. There are many speculative stories out there that combine elements from both of these sub-genres together (along with many other themes), but many of them do tend to lean one way instead of the other.

This isn’t even to mention all of the other genres, from romance to mystery, that are often swirled into these tales as well. Figuring out how to label books these days is so complicated, especially for fans who don’t always enjoy seeing their favourite genre being mashed up with other styles of writing, that I think I’ll save a more detailed discussion of that aspect of it for another day.

Readers, what would you recommend to this person? is there a specific fantasy or science fiction author you think would be a nice introduction to their genre? Which types of speculative fiction do you tend to gravitate towards most often?

18 Science Fiction and Fantasy Shows I Can’t Wait to See in 2018-2019

Last year I blogged about the fourteen science fiction and fantasy series I was looking forward to watching during the 2017-2018 season. Wow, that was a lot of shows! Somehow I managed to continue watching almost all of them, though.

Today I’m talking about the shows I’m currently watching or will be watching during the 2018-2019 TV season. Once again, I’ll be sharing the release dates and a short explanation of why I’m interested in each one. This list looks like a long one, but many of these series will be finished long before the ones at the bottom of the list are aired. I love the fact that shows are staggered like that these days.

Also, I am a few seasons behind some of the items on this list. So expect to see them reappear in future updates on what I’m watching unless I suddenly stop watching a lot of current programs for some reason.

Disenchantment

Season 1 premiered this August. I’m currently watching it.

Calling all fans of Futurama! The creators of that series have something new for you.

Disenchantment was about a princess who befriended an elf and a demon and proceeded to have all kinds of PG-13 related adventures with them. Yes, this is an animated program. No, it’s not suitable for kids. There’s everything from sex to violence to substance abuse in this tale, so send the small, impressionable humans to bed before you watch it.

 

The Good Place 

Season 3 premiere: September 27.

So much of the stuff I want to say about this program would give away major spoilers for anyone who hasn’t watched the first two seasons yet. Needless to say, the characters have continued to explore the afterlife and learn just how complicated things can get when the line between heaven and hell becomes so blurry.

I would not recommend watching this to anyone who is easily offended or who has strong opinions about what, if anything, happens to people after they die. While the tone of it is tongue-in-cheek and friendly, this is something that will work better for viewers who are easygoing on this topic.

The Man in the High Castle

Season 3 premiere: October 5

If history had been a little different, the Axis powers could have won World War II. This series takes a look at what life would be like in the country formerly known as the United States this had happened. Germany and Japan split the U.S. up into sections in this universe, and everyone who wasn’t a Christian Aryan was in terrible danger.

I should warn all of you that this show can get very dark at times. It’s not something that anyone should watch if they’re easily triggered by references to Holocaust-like events.

Black Lightning

Season 2 premiere: October 9

Black Lightning has been changing my opinion of the superhero genre for the better thanks to everything that was going on in the main character’s life. I adored the complexity of his personality and life. He had to deal with everything from chasing down bad guys to repairing his relationship with his wife in the first season. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens to him and his family next.

The Orville

Season 2 premiere: December 30

I adored season one of this program. While it was originally written to be a lighthearted parody of the Star Trek universe, it felt much more like a Star Trek show than Discovery has so far. This isn’t a diss, either. I’m enjoying Discovery, but it doesn’t have the optimism about the future that I’d expect from this universe.

Luckily, The Orville picked up that slack beautifully in its first season. The characters dealt with some serious issues, but there was always a lighthearted undercurrent to their conflicts that reassured me that better days were coming for everyone in that universe. The world needs more material like this, especially now.

Timeless

Movie premiere: late 2018

Technically, the last TV season of this show ended this past spring. There is a two-hour movie about the characters in it coming at the end of this year, though, so I’m including it on this list. I’m glad the fans are going to have a proper goodbye for it. The time travel in this story was really well done. I especially liked the fact that the characters who weren’t white men acknowledged how difficult certain eras would be for them to visit due to the prejudices and laws of those times.  hoping there will be plenty of that in the sendoff.

 

Star Trek: Discovery

Season 2 premiere: January 2019

Despite my comments above, I actually did enjoy the first season of Discovery. There was a huge plot twist in it that I didn’t see coming ahead of time. I can’t say anything else about that without giving away spoilers, but I am looking forward to seeing where this series goes next and if it begins to feel more friendly and hopeful like other Star Trek tales.  (Although I am hoping that the second season will flesh out the secondary characters. So far, only the main characters have gotten attention from the storyline).

Roswell, New Mexico

Season 1 premiere: April 29, 2019

This is a reboot of Roswell, a science fiction show about aliens living on Earth in the early 2000s that I liked quite a bit back in the day.

Like the reboot for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I’d prefer to see this universe revisited in its current form. This doesn’t stop me from feeling excited at revisiting this universe in whatever form it will take.

The Handmaid’s Tale

Season 3 premiere: April 2019

Anyone who has followed this blog over the past few years already knows how much I adore The Handmaid’s Tale, so I won’t repeat myself.

Needless to say, I’m already counting down the weeks until season 3 is here.

Castle Rock

Season 2 premiere: 2019. I have yet to begin season 1, but plan to start it soon.

Two words for you: Stephen King. Every time a TV show comes out that is based on something he wrote, my ears perk up. This was no exception to that rule.

Lucifer

Season 4 premiere: 2019

First this show was cancelled, and now it’s somehow coming back for another season.

All I know is that I have a huge crush on Lucifer. Yes, he’s (sort of) the Lucifer you’d expect someone with that name to be. That is, he is the devil in this universe, but he’s not evil. Children love him, and he only harms people who have already hurt innocent folks. Everyone else is pretty safe around him unless they happened to be horribly annoyed by shameless flirting.

The Magicians

Season 4 premiere: 2019

I have four words for you: Harry Potter for adults. While this isn’t set in the Potterverse, the characters in it do attend a school for magic and end up having all sorts of unauthorized adventures when their professors aren’t looking.

It took me a couple of tries to get into the first season, but now I can’t get enough of this series.

Cloak & Dagger

Season 2 premiere: 2019

Not only are there two superheroes in this story, their powers complement each other perfectly.

I’m also watching this one with the hope that when a romance develops between the main characters, their racial differences won’t be a source of conflict for the plot in any way. One of the beautiful things about living in Toronto is seeing interracial couples living their ordinary lives together without it being a big deal. While I know this definitely isn’t true for every community (or even in every single Torontonian household, to be honest), I think it’s high time for screenwriters to stop assuming that every interracial relationship is fraught with conflicts over race and culture.

That is such an old-fashioned and unhelpful way of perceiving the world, especially if you’re on the outside looking in at someone else’s relationship.

Glitch

Season 3 premiere: 2019

Some of the characters in this show were people who came back to life from the dead without being zombies, vampires, or ghosts. One moment they were corpses, and the next they’d come to life.

I can’t say much else about the premise without giving away massive spoilers, but I’ve loved the character and plot development so far. It’s going to be pretty interesting to see what happens now that more and more townsfolk have realized that some of their new neighbours are actually people who lived there decades and even a few centuries ago.

 

Stranger Things

Season 3 premiere: mid-2019

The first two seasons of this show were filled with stuff that happened in the 1980s but would be frowned upon today. For example, smoking was ubiquitous, and children weren’t supervised well back then.

This isn’t the only reason why I’m looking forward to seeing what happens to the town of Hawkins, Indiana, but it is one of them.

Luke Cage

Season 3 premiere: late 2019 (tentatively)

So, it turns out that I might like superhero shows more than I thought I did. When I first began working on this post, I hadn’t fully realized how many different superhero shows I watch.

One of the coolest things about Luke Cage was how close he was to various members of his community. Some of my favourite scenes so far have showed him talking to his neighbours and trying to figure out how to improve all of their lives. The social justice aspect of the storyline is what originally pulled me in and what has kept me coming back for more.

Black Mirror

Season 5 premiere: unknown, but I’m hoping it will show up in 2019.

The only episode I’ve seen so far from this series was 4.1, “USS Callister.” It was about a massive multiplayer online game populated by sentient digital clones who were treated very poorly by the man who created them. When the clones realized that the world they’re living in isn’t real, they had to try to decide how or if to escape their circumstances.

I was so impressed by the storytelling and writing quality that I’ve added Black Mirror to my to-watch list. I’m hoping to catch up on as many of the other episodes during the winter of 2018-2019 as possible.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (no photo available yet for this one).

Season 1 of the rebooted premiere: unknown, but I’m hoping it will show up in 2019.

To be honest, I don’t know if Buffy the Vampire Slayer will be rebooted in 2019 or come out at some point after that. Either way, I’ll be curious to see how this universe is reimagined for a new generation.

What science fiction and fantasy shows will you be watching between now and next summer?

Classic Fantasy Films I’ve Never Seen

Last week I listed many of the classic science fiction films I’ve never seen. This week I’ll be sharing the fantasy films I’ve never seen.

When I was a little girl, my siblings and I weren’t allowed to read or watch most things that had to do with ghosts, witches, or magic. (C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series was one of the exceptions to this).

This rule was created for religious reasons, and our parents eventually changed their minds on that topic.  I’m just glad that they realized that stories about magic aren’t actually harmful before the Harry Potter series came out!

Generally, I’m more interested in the science fiction genre than I am fantasy, so I haven’t felt the urge to watch as many of the old fantasy flicks as I did the scifi ones. Maybe someday I will go through this list and check it out after I’ve finished my current to-watch list, though.

It’s always kind of funny when someone makes a reference to a well-known fantasy tale and I have no earthly idea what they’re talking about. This is even more true when they’re about the same age as me and assume that everyone grew up watching that stuff.

Just like I did last week, I’ll be including the year a film was published if I know that story has since been retold.

  • TIme Bandits
  • Lost Horizon
  • The Purple Rose of Cairo
  • Orlando
  • The NeverEnding Story
  • Big
  • Conan the Barbarian
  • Willow
  • Princess Mononoke
  • Jason and the Argonauts
  • Highlander
  • The Secret of Nimh
  • Ladyhawke
  • The Holy Mountain
  • The Fall
  • Clash of the Titans
  • The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
  • Wings of Desire
  • Excalibur (1981)
  • My Neighbour Toto
  • The Dark Crystal
  • Spirited Away
  • King Kong
  • Jack the Giant Slayer
  • Bridge to Terabithia
  • The Witches of Eastwick
  • Hook
  • The City of Lost Children
  • The Frighteners
  • Life of Brian (and most other Monty Python films!)
  • Life of Pi

What classic fantasy films have you never seen? Were you allowed to read and watch stories that referenced magic when you were a kid? I know my childhood was a little out of the ordinary in certain ways, so I try not to assume that everyone has had the same experiences in life.

3 Embarrassing Things I’ve Learned From Books

Today I have three embarrassing stories to share with you. Before I dive into them, let me explain a few things about my childhood to the new readers of my blog. I grew up in a series of small towns and rural communities in the United States. I was also homeschooled for the first several… Read More

If Minecraft Was a Fantasy Story, This Is What It Would Be Like

The only thing Steve remembered about his past was his name. His first memory of the land called Minecraft was of standing alone at dawn in an eerie forest whose trees came tumbling down if you hit them. He was wearing a shirt and a pair of pants but was otherwise alone and defenceless against the… Read More

Saturday Seven: Non-Human Protagonists

Saturday Seven is hosted by Long and Short Reviews.   Raise your hand if you love xenofiction! There’s something about experiencing the world through non-human eyes that makes just about any plot more exciting to me. I ended up coming up with so many books for this list that I’m going to have to revisit… Read More

How to Survive a Paranormal Storyline

  Congratulations on your new home, job, vacation spot, construction project, antique gift, or other plot device that has invited a restless spirit into your formerly-peaceftul storyline! While most of the characters who take the time to look up what to expect in a haunting are the protagonists, I’d like to give a special shout-out… Read More

Winter Worlds I’d Like to Visit

Toronto has been enjoying milder winter weather this past week or two, but it looks like our temperatures are soon going to plummet once again. Every time this has happened during the winter of 2017-2018, my mind has drifted to the stories I’ve read about imaginary or otherworldly wintery places that appealed to me for… Read More