Alix E. Harrow

ALIX E. HARROW, who retired from our blog in 2014, is a part-time historian with a full-time desk job, a lot of opinions, and excessive library fines. Her short fiction has appeared in Shimmer, Strange Horizons, Tor.com, Apex, and other venues. She won a Hugo Award for her fiction in 2019. Alix and her husband live in Kentucky under the cheerful tyranny of their kids and pets. Find her at @AlixEHarrow on Twitter. Some of her favorite authors include Neil Gaiman, Ursula LeGuin, Lois McMaster Bujold, and Susanna Clarke.

Memory: Why Bujold is secretly revolutionary

Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold

My copy of Memory looks like it was reread several dozen times and then shoved in the bottom of a backpack and schlepped a few hundred thousand miles (it was). It’s my favorite book in Lois McMaster Bujold’s VORKOSIGAN SAGA, which is a series made up of some of my favorite books. But it isn’t high literature or uber-intellectual science fiction or the kind of book that people call “genre bending.” The plot is pure, fast-paced, crime-solving fun, like the rest of the series. It’s just a cheap paperback.

But it moved me, and continues to move me. This review is my attempt to understand how and why. After some thought and another rereading, I’ve come to suspect that it’s a book built on tiny, imperfectly perfect human interactions. The meat of Memory isn’t in the plasma arcs or crime-solving; it’s in Miles’ rambling, sarcastic inner voices, the stilted and wr... Read More

Dreamer’s Pool: The perilous business of being female in fantasy

Dreamer’s Pool by Juliet Marillier

Those who have read Juliet Marillier before know the drill: She produces exceptionally readable and endearing fantasy set in the medieval and ancient British Isles, revolving around women, myths, and magic. I adored Daughter of the Forest for its loving recreation of my absolute favorite fairy tale as a kid (the Six Swans).[1] The other SEVENWATERS books went by in a blur of kings and curses because I was on vacation and had to get through the entire series before my Mom left with her duffle bag of paperbacks.

Dreamer’s Pool is still about women, magic, and ancient Ireland. So if you liked SEVENWATERS, there’s no need to fear that Marillier is now writing about werewolf romances in Prague or... Read More

Steles of the Sky: As it was in the Beginning

Steles of the Sky by Elizabeth Bear

First, a confession: I’ve mostly given up on epic fantasy as a genre. I keep circling back to it because I remember the sense of soaring escape it gave me in eighth grade, but the story about intrepid heroes banding together to save the world from evil has long since lost its shine for me. The series I’ve slogged through recently — including the Hugo-nominated one, which rhymes with Peel of Lime — would only be useful to me if I needed to prop open a door on a breezy day, or start a fire in some kind of post-apocalyptic situation.

But then sometimes I stumble over an epic fantasy series that reminds me why I keep returning to it: because there’s something buried deep in the marrow of fantasy, well-hidden by pounds of Tolkien knock-offs and Dungeons & Dragons narratives, that resonates with the oldest and grandest of our stories. Because humans are story-telling animals, ma... Read More

Shattered Pillars: Still fantastic

Shattered Pillars by Elizabeth Bear

Elizabeth Bear’s entire ETERNAL SKY trilogy is now sitting in a neat row on my bookshelf. I adored the first book and consumed the second one so quickly it went by in a blur of semi-divine horses and cool but unpronounceable names. Before I read Steles of the Sky(released on April 10th), it’s worth pausing to reconsider the middle book in what might be one of my favorite fantasy series in recent years.

In Shattered Pillars, Temur and his band of loyal and enigmatic followers continue their quest. But the quest is stranger and less certain than it used to be. Temur wants to save Edene, his horse-riding lady-love, but also reclaim his grandfather’s throne and oust his rival Qori Buqa. In a vast and fractured political landscape dominated by independent city-states, this turns out to be ... Read More

GIVEAWAY! The Eternal Sky trilogy by Elizabeth Bear

Thanks to our friends at Tor, we've got a great giveaway offer today: All three novels in Elizabeth Bear's ETERNAL SKY trilogy!

After reading the first book, Range of Ghosts, our friend Stefan said "Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear is the best fantasy novel I’ve read all year, and you should read it too."

I read it a few months ago and remarked that "Range of Ghosts is what I always want high fantasy to be, and what it rarely is." I just finished the second book and I'm completely in love with this series. The final novel, Steles of the Sky, is being released today and I can't wait to read it. I... Read More

WWWednesday: April 2, 2014

Lists and Awards

I’ve only got one award on this week’s menu: the Hans Christian Andersen award for children’s fiction, which Wiki tells me is the “Nobel prize” of kid’s books. Thanks, crowdsourced reference work.

To make up for the lack of awards, I can provide a veritable cornucopia of reading lists. First, here’s Buzzfeed’s recommendations for new books based on the series you loved as a kid. This is a fantastic idea, except that I loved Harry Potter but found Lev Grossman’s The Magiciansto be about as self-consciously clever and narcissistic as a teenager’s diary entry (although I’m in the minority). Huffington Post has deployed Read More

WWWednesday: March 26, 2014

Lists and Awards

I’m list-lite this week, so here are Buzzfeed’s reasons that 2014 may be the best year for fantasy books in a long time. These aren’t necessarily my reasons that 2014 will be good for fantasy, because men-posing-with-medieval-weapons just isn’t my genre, but hey.

Articles and Such

And now for all the miscellany I could find! First, from Ryan, here’s a good Atlantic article asking why every YA action heroine has to be so tiny and fragile. Speaking as a girl who spent her middle school years hulking through the halls and reading YA fantasy about bird-boned girls who have mighty adventures—DUDE, WHY. Especially if they’re going to learn a weapon and ride into battle.
... Read More

WWWednesday: March 19, 2014

Lists and Awards

Drumroll: The Clarke Award shortlist has been announced! And it includes my BFF in book form, Ancillary Justiceas well as Kameron Hurley's The God's War.

And now most of the SFF award world is standing around waiting with baited breath for the Hugos and Nebulas, but you can read some thoughts on the “retro-Hugos” here if you like. I didn’t know they were a thing, and now I’m not sure I understand why they’re a thing.

Two prominent... Read More

WWWednesday: February 12, 2014

Lists and Awards

First, the Lambda Award nominees are up—this is a literary prize for LGBT fiction, which has had a historically friendly relationship with SFF. This year, I see that Nicola Griffith’s Hildhas been nominated. Chant with me: HILD, HILD, HILD.

Next we have the Spectrum Fantastic Art Award finalists. I know almost nothing about speculative art, but I know Tor.com has a very pretty blog post of some of the finalists’ work. On the subject of art, there’s also an amateur art contest being judged by Jane Lindskold. If I were submitting, which I ... Read More

Thoughtful Thursday: Fancasting for Gods

If you haven’t already heard, let me announce with great pleasure: Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and Anansi Boys are both officially being adapted as television series. Unless you’re one of the dedicated adaptation-haters—the ones that mutter angrily that Harry’s eyes are green, for the love of god, and announce to everyone that there were no elves at the Battle of Helm’s Deep—this is good news. Both these books are the kinds of action-and-witty-dialogue-filled pieces that work well on screen. Plus, Gaimain has previously refused to sell the rights to Anansi Boys because certain nameless producers wanted to whitewash his characters. So, there’s a real chanc... Read More

WWWednesday: February 26, 2014

Lists and Awards

First and most excitingly, the Nebula nominees have been announced! And it’s a neck-to-neck race between some of my favorite books from the last year, including Hild, Ancillary Justice, The Golem and the Jinni, The Ocean at the End of the Lane and A Stranger in Oolandria. If I had to choose between them (which I will never be asked to do), I’d melt into a puddle of indecisive tears. Also, this feels like it has to be some kind of a record for female and P... Read More

Silently and Very Fast: Fairy tales for your sentient robot

Silently and Very Fast by Catherynne Valente

I read the first few chapters of this novella as an act of faith, because Valente has earned my trust as a reader, and because Silently and Very Fast has an award and nomination list longer than most people’s entire short stories (it won the Locus Award for Best Novella, and was nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards). So I waded through dense cyber-fairytale imagery on the assumption that it would resolve itself into a story. It did. A very, very good one.

It’s difficult to find the beginning of Silently and Very Fast; it’s one of those Ouroboros stories which loops and curls until it’s eating its own tail. At some point, it becomes clear that your narrator is Elefsis, a self-aware program that lives in the consciousness of the Uoya-Agostino family in a future version of Hokkaido. Elefsis is passed down through the generations in a surgically-i... Read More

WWWednesday: February 19, 2014

Lists and awards

This week the list-making and award-presenting elves of the literary world have been out in full force, so let me start by drawing your attention to the Kitschies. Recognizing the “most progressive, intelligent and entertaining works” of speculative fiction, they have announced their winners and finalists. Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being received the (coveted?) Red Tentacle for Best Novel, while Ancillary Justice got the Golden Tentacle for Best Debut. Ms. Leckie should probably just clear a shelf for awards ahead of time.

The James Tiptree, Jr. Award has also be... Read More

Moth and Spark: Cotton candy for the fantasy soul

Moth and Spark by Anne Leonard

Moth and Spark, Anne Leonard’s debut novel, is a member of a very specific and well-populated fantasy subgenre: a classic tale of high romance, sword fighting, dragon-riding, and faux-medieval politicking. It’s more or less the Anne McCaffrey and Patricia Briggs reading of my middle school years, read and re-read with all the critical discernment of a kid shoving cotton candy down her throat at the fair. Moth and Sparkwas cotton candy of the most typical sort — nothing but air and spun sugar, but still a sweet way to pass the time.

The plot is an old friend to romance and fantasy readers. Corin is the prince of a small but plucky kingdom ruled by a dangerous high king (are high kings ever okay dudes? Or exc... Read More

WWWednesday: February 12, 2014

Lists and articles

We are experiencing a list and award drought. Book buying sales might suffer, and the quality of the Websday post might decline, but we persevere! First, here’s a single, lonely list to tide you over: The zaniest alternate histories ever published, compiled by iO9. They’ll always make a list in our hour of need.

We’re also a little lite on articles, but here’s a really juicy one from SF Signal asking the provocative question: What’s wrong with epic fantasy? Other than, I assume, racial exclusion, problematic gender portrayals, obsessive Tolkein-ism, and an infestation of dragons.

At the opposite end of high fantasy, we’ve got high space. Read More

WWWednesday: February 5th, 2014

Lists and awards

An award for every man, woman, and child! First up, the British Science Fiction Association has announced their shortlist, which includes such near-to-my-heart things as Vandermeer’s Wonderbook, Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, and Sofia Samatar’s “Selkie Stories are for Losers.” Then there’s the Quantum Shorts flash fiction competition, which has released their shortlisted stories. Locus Magazine also has their reader’s survey and poll open for voting. And Strange Horizons has the results of their poll of reader’s favorites... Read More

WWWednesday: January 29, 2013

Lists and awards

And to think I used to live my life blissfully unaware that bloggers and awards committees were out there busily compiling lists of excellent books.

First, the awards news: Sofia Samatar has won the Crawford Award for an outstanding first fantasy novel, A Stranger in OlondriaThe Bram Stoker Award has also publicized their preliminary ballot, which is great for non-me people who read and love horror (I don’t do horror; I watched The Sixth Sense in 5th grade and it literally haunts me to this day and yes I am aware that most people don’t even consider it a horror movie).  The Clarke Awards have also released a li... Read More

The Bread We Eat in Dreams: A mythological menagerie

The Bread We Eat in Dreams by Catherynne Valente

The Bread We Eat in Dreams contains thirty-five of Catherynne Valente’s short stories and novellas, caught out in the wild and arranged neatly for the paying public. Ranging from delicate, herbivorous poems to novella-sized megafauna, these creatures display the ecological diversity of the Phylum of the Fantastic and the continued resonance of the Kingdom of Myth. For gentlemen-scientists and enthusiastic students of all things speculative, Valente’s story-menagerie is worth the visit.

Thirty-five stories cannot be summarized in any meaningful sense, particularly when they are such willful, strange, and wild stories. There are warped retellings of fairytales — at least one witch plucks an apple from a tree, and little red riding hood has grown awfully postmodern and bitter over the years (“The Red Girl”). There are dystopian future-worlds ruled by women with a hundred ha... Read More

WWWednesday: January 22, 2014

Lists and awards

Realization: There will never be a time when I do not have lists of books that all of us want and only some of us can afford and none of us have time to read. Here’s Wilder’s Book Review’s 10 books to look forward to in 2014. Am now interested in The Incorruptiblesbased purely on the woodblock sexiness of the cover.

Jonathan Strahan has also recently released the table of contents for Volume 8 of The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, and the gender, ethnicity, and even publication diversity is very much appreciated. High fives for helping to silence the old but-we’d-have-to-sacrifice-literary-quality-on-the-altar-of-political-correctness nonsense.

Oh, and there... Read More

Maze: Scary, surreal, and scattered

Maze by J.M. McDermott

J.M. McDermott’s Maze is about a maze. Or possibly the maze: An unending series of stone halls and corridors which lurks in our primordial past, populated by monstrous creatures, loops and fragments of non-linear time, and a ragged band of humans who somehow got stranded there. The maze is never revealed to have any moral or mechanical logic; it just is, and the people who live there just do. Maze operates as a disjointed series of narratives about the people who have fallen into the maze. There are glimpses of their past worlds (a spaceship, medieval France, dystopian Texas), but the bulk of the novel is about the gritty, ugly process of surviving in an inhospitable place. It’s surreal, scattered, gruesome, and sometimes excellent.

Many books with ambitions towards literary surrealism leave me floating in a haze of meaningless strangeness — oh look, I think, ... Read More

WWWednesday: January 15, 2014

Lists and awards

For some reason I keep thinking lists are over, but they’re obviously still going strong and who am I to complain. Amazon’s Omnivoracious has a list of SFF books coming up in 2014, compiled by Robin A. Rothman. iO9 also has their 2014 list up, and it’s long, annotated, and arranged by month. I might just cut and paste the whole thing into my calendar. Oh, and Strange Horizons had their reviewers pick their favorite books of 2013 last Monday and I somehow missed it.

There’s also, of course, a lot of various awards-related buzzing going on. Writertopia provides a useful list of writers eligibl... Read More

WWWednesday: January 8, 2014

Lists and awards

The days of list-abundance might be finally winding to a close. This week, all I’ve got for you are a couple of upcoming-books-in-January lists. First, My Bookish Ways has their SFF and YA list up. Kirkus Reviews also has a list of upcoming releases, including commentary and summaries. I’m especially intrigued by Jo Walton’s collected reviews in What Makes this Book So Great, and Chang-Rae Lee's On Such a Full Sea. Lastly, ... Read More

WWWednesday: January 1, 2014

Happy 2014, all ye subscribers to the Gregorian Calendar (you think I'm joking, but my Ethiopian roommate informed me that it's 2006 in Ethiopia right now, and New Year's is in September).  Also, writing that date was a struggle for me, I just want everyone to know.  If it had been on paper, I'd have been stuck trying to smoothly turn a 3 into a 4, which we all know is doomed to failure.

Awards and things arranged in lists

You see, there are actually several different species of end-of-the-year lists.  The commercial ones come out a couple of weeks before Christmas, with the sinister aim of encouraging you to buy a ton of books for your relatives.  Then there are more blogger-ly lists, which come out at the actual end of the year.  Without further ado:

i09 has provided a predictable-but-not-too-predictable Read More

WWWednesday: December 18, 2013

Welcome to Christmas-is-Officially-a-Week-Away mania, in which there are many lists made and gift guides hurriedly compiled. Unfortunately for me, most of these lists only apply to me, rather than the people I desperately need to find last-minute gifts for.

Lists and awards

There’s only one piece of award news this week: The Carl Brandon Parallax and Kindred Awards are open for nominations now, which recognizes the best speculative fiction dealing with race and ethnicity in 2013.

But what we lack in awards, we make up for in massive mid-December listing. There’s so many lists that I’m pulling out my emergency stash of bullet points:

Bookish.com’s list of the best sci-fi and fantasy of the year includes some familiar titles, but also some excellent mini-awards li... Read More

WWWednesday: December 11, 2013

Due to my lack of restraint, and an attempt to make this essay a little more legible for the speed-readers, this week’s post features subject headings and bullet points.

Lists and awards

First, Samuel “How were you not already a Grand Master” Delany has officially been made a Grand Master by the SFWA.  Delany’s work, which deals with the light themes of human sexuality, class and hierarchy, and the frayed edges of civilizations, has consistently pushed the boundaries of SFF subject matter.

And now to the lists!  First we’ve got The Guardian’s lovely list of the best science f... Read More

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