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Writing The Magician King

The Magician KingI’m going to try to explain how I wrote The Magician King. This is harder than it sounds, because writing a novel is an extremely chaotic and abstract process. Or at least it is when I do it.

If you were watching me do it in time-lapse photography, like on a nature special, it would just look like me staring at my computer and occasionally typing and once in a while appearing to whack my head on my desk, which would actually just be me putting my head down and then waking up again, but in fast motion.

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A Gem in the Confines of Computer Game Packaging: Stories of Life on the Frontier

Frontier II: EliteI recently moved to Berkeley from abroad, and my father, in his desire to free up some space in the cellar, sent me over 20 boxes of childhood gadgets and memories. While sorting through such goodies as my radio-controlled windsurfer/car and my Tolkien encyclopedia, I stumbled upon a diamond in the rough: Stories of Life on the Frontier, a companion book to the 1993 Gametek/Konami computer game Frontier: Elite II.

Frontier, the fourth and last computer game I ever purchased, was a milestone in space-adventure games, thanks in large part to the vast and diverse universe which the player is allowed to explore. The game's author, David Braben, did an incredible job of worldbuilding. The almost 100 trillion celestial bodies are complemented by a rich backstory which is woven into the fabric of the game. I spent many an hour smuggling narcotics to the Sol system, carrying out missions for the Federation, and fighting space pirates. Like many other games of the time, Frontier supplements the in-game story with additional media: a map of the galaxy, a gazetteer, and the aforementioned collection of short stories.

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The Brilliance of Lev Grossman's The Magicians: The World Outside the Novel

The MagiciansFor those of you who haven't already, read Lev Grossman's novel The Magicians.  It's wonderful.  It's a novel that is both a familiar coming-of-age story, as well as a novel that plays with the comfortable conventions of fantasy literature.   And in many cases, it does more than play--as Elizabeth Simons wrote for us a few months ago, it challenges the reader in ways that are distinctly un-comfortable, but that open up new and exciting ways for thinking about fantasy literature.

So, in other words, read this novel.  Read it this weekend.  Why this weekend?  Because that will give you enough time to enjoy the whole thing before the sequel--The Magician King--is released on Tuesday.

And as much as I'm excited about finding out what happens next to Quentin Coldwater and his friends, the thing about The Magician King that I think I'm most looking forward to is seeing the ways in which it continues what I consider to be the most brilliant part of the first novel--the blurring of the line between the world of the novel and our real world.

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The Unexpected Fantastic: A Follow-Up

Three weeks ago, Megan Kurashige posted a challenge in her column "The Unexpected Fantastic" for readers to record themselves doing something normal and then watching it in slow motion.  She followed through on her own challenge, and wrote about it on her own blog, Immobile Explorations.  Her thoughts are reposted here, as is her video of her experiment.


Recently, I started writing a column for Fantasy Matters, a website devoted to the idea that fantasy literature matters. For the longest time, I couldn't decide what to write about. I like fantasy in stories, but I couldn't imagine what I might have to say about it on a regular basis. Fortunately, I have friends who are smarter than I am. Two of them suggested that I write about the magical things you don't expect to see. You're already obsessed with the peculiar and the specific, they said, so why don't you just write about that?

Two Sides of the Same Coin: Magic and Technology in Modern Fantasy Literature

The Abhorsen TrilogyOn the surface, magic and technology seem to be completely opposite of each other. After all, science is based on hard fact and logic, while magic involves waved hands and muttered nonsensical words. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, many fantasy authors have taken on the challenge of looking at them in connection with each other, possibly spurred by the need to think about the place of magic in our own technologically dominated era. Two authors in particular have created worlds with unusual magic-tech interactions—Garth Nix and Ilona Andrews. In Garth Nix’s Abhorsen trilogy, magic and technology exist separately on either side of a wall, and elements of one or the other can rarely cross that wall, while in Ilona Andrew’s Kate Daniels series, magic and technology exist in waves, with only one working in the world at a time. While on the surface, it seems like magic and technology in these worlds are antithetical, at the fundamental level they prove to be two sides of the same coin, both working towards the same purpose.

Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series begins in a parallel-Earth setting, with the feel of the 1920’s. There are cars, tanks, and guns in common existence. Airplanes are a novelty, but it is possible for young people to learn how to fly a plane and get certified. The government is set up much like it is in Britain, with a parliamentary system and several different parties contesting for seats. However, this is only the way of the world south of the Wall. North of the Wall, the world is much like a traditional fantasy world. People live in villages and travel around by foot or by horse if they are wealthy. Communication between villages is primarily through the courier system, or by magical means. The magic in the world is called the Charter, and is controlled through a vast number of Charter marks that can be spoken, written, or even visualized while whistling, humming, or singing. These two worlds are almost completely separated, which provides an intriguing duality to examine.

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