Steampunk is one of the more niche genres of fiction around, never having made it into the mainstream lexicon of literature. Steampunk as a genre is defined by setting and technology. Imagine a world where steam-power became the dominate energy source and defined the aesthetic for the world. Grimy cities full of pipes and fog. Electrical contraptions plucked straight from the mind of Nikola Tesla. Airships dominating the sky as the primary form of transportation. Steampunk as a genre is what happens when creators take the inherent fascination with everything Victorian and turn-of-the-century, and imagine a world where technology continued upon that path. Victorian sensibilities and imperialism coupled with science-fiction technologies. Overall, the steampunk aesthetic is one of the most fascinating.
Superheroes hold a special place in our hearts. There is a certain allure to watching men and women with super powers fight evil and save the world time and again. Even since their inception in the pages of comic books and novels, superheroes have dominated our pop culture. Everyone knows Batman, Superman, Captain America, and Spider-Man. The Marvel Cinematic Universe reintroduced us to Iron Man, Captain Marvel, Black Panther, and more. Today, superheroes dominate. Part of our allure is the power fantasy. We want to be these people and posses their powers. Part of it is pure spectacle. The Battle of New York in the first Avengers film remains an action masterpiece. But part of our attention revolves around the story of Icarus. We enjoy watching these powerful people come low and being reminded that they are still mortal.
Vasilia Petrovna has been branded a witch. Since she was a child, she could see and speak with the chyerti, spirits from Eastern European, whom the people around Vasya seems to have forgotten. Vasilia is forced to leave home after defending her village from Medved, the bear, the spirit of chaos and life, in Katherine Arden’s first novel, The Bear and the Nightingale. In her second novel, The Girl in the Tower, Vasilia travels to Moscow in the guise of a boy and a hero to the Russian people after assisting the Grand Prince destroy a group of bandits. Vasilia helped save the city, but not before her arrogance and lack of caution exposed her disguise to disguise. While the city is safe, the danger Vasilia is greater than ever at the start of The Winter of the Witch.
Vasilia Petrovna is a witch. She sees spirits where others see only shadows. She talks to her horse, and understands his responses. She has met Morozko, the Winter king and spirit of death, and Medved, the Bear and the Eater. She remembers the old ways, the chyerti, even as the Russia around her steadily embraces Christianity. She is wild and free while other women are trapped in marriage or convents. Vasya is the heroine of Katherine Arden’s Winternight Trilogy and one of several girls in towers in The Girl in the Tower, part two of Arden’s fairy tale inspired trilogy. At the end of the first novel, The Bear and the Nightingale, Vasya saved her village and helped seal away Medved, the Bear. Because of both her abilities and personality, Vasya has been forced from home and branded a witch.
European folklore has always been a major inspiration for modern fantasy, but there is something special about the folklore from Eastern Europe and Russia. Cold winters and dark forests have proved to be a fertile breeding ground for all manner of fireside tales. Baba Yaga roams the woods, flying on her pestle or controlling her house walking on chicken legs. Chernobog haunts both nightmares and Disney movies, making an unforgettable appearance in Fantasia. The land can be cold and inhospitable, but this same land brought us the domovoi, guardian of the hearth, and the vazilda, guardian of horses. The land can be cold, but the one who inhabit it can be very warm.
The first episode of Doctor Who aired on November 23rd, 1963. William Hartnell starred as The First Doctor, although he would not known to be only the first until a couple years later when, as part of a plot device, the Doctor regenerated into another body played by another actor. This is a character who travels through time with their companions, solving problems and resolving conflicts. There have been Thirteen doctors to date, with a few unnumbered appearing in small roles. The latest episode aired on January 1st, 2019. Like the title character, Doctor Who transforms itself for newer generations while maintaining a place in the heart of pop culture. This is a show that means so much to so many and the world is better for it.
Science-fiction takes many forms, but there are two archetypes which nearly all science-fiction stories fall into. First, there is the hard sci-fi. The Expanse, The Three-Body Problem, anything by Robert A. Heinlein. These are the stories which pay extra attention to the technologies of the future and go to great lengths to explain exactly how races have progressed to their points. This type of science-fiction can be literary, it can be intellectual, and it can be gritty. On the other end of the spectrum is the space opera. Star Wars, Firefly, A Princess of Mars. In space operas the technology is present, but is not central to the story. These stories are all about the characters. Where hard sci-fi series can fluctuate between multiple viewpoints, space operas relish in following an individual or a group of characters throughout their adventure. As our world changes and progresses, hard science-fiction and sometimes feel outdated, but space operas are timeless. Polaris Rising is very much a space opera.
The history of European contact with the New World is full of exaggerated tales of discovery and colonization, and lacking in tales of conquest and enslavement. The Spanish and Portuguese carved up South America while England and France moved into North America and established their own colonies. Native tribes all over the continent fell to steel and industry until only shadows remained of their former empires. But, over four hundred years before these Europeans “discovered” the New World, there were the Vikings, and they did not stay for long.
The history of Italy is a history of vendetta and strife. The time Italy has spent unified is nothing compared to how long humans have inhabited the boot. From the fall of the Roman Empire to the establishment of the Kingdom of Italy in the nineteenth century, Italy has consisted of independent city-states, each vying for control of the land. Even the Catholic Church became involved in the struggle when they ruled the Papal States in the center of Italy. This long history is defined by vendettas between cities and near constant skirmishes. The reasons for such strife were usually inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. Little understood arguments between rival families, heirs running off with the daughters of trade rivals. Deepest Blue may take place in a magical city sequestered from the world, but the problems plaguing the city are familiar to all Italians.
Fantasy has been dominated by Western inspirations and European locales for years. Even when books transported characters to decidedly non-Western environments, the heroes were still white. But non-European inspired stories have always been there. Everyone wants to see their selves reflected in the stories they read, and consumers of fantasy understand representation more than most. In the last decade or so, the literary world has seen more high-profile fantasy books coming from non-western authors in non-western settings. The Poppy War is one such book, bringing readers to a world inspired by China. However, this fantasy is not for the faint of heart. Like the real-world country’s history, this book is blood and war.