Upping the Ante: A Review of Lev Grossman's The Magician King

The Magician KingWe've been talking a lot this week (and last) about how great Lev Grossman's first novel The Magicians is--it leads to exciting discussions when you teach it, it's clever and subtle in its characterization, and it provocatively blurs the boundary between fantasy and reality.  I imagine that we could say a good deal more as well, passing our favorite bits of the novel back and forth, debating the meaning of the ending, and parsing all the different allusions that Grossman makes to other works.

In short, The Magicians is great because it makes you think and because it's fun.  In fact, I've read some posts around the internet that were disappointed that there was a sequel because they were worried that nothing could be as awesome as The Magicians.

They were wrong.  The Magician King is not just as good as The Magicians--it's better.

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Midweek Fiction: Theodora Goss, "The Mad Scientist's Daughter"

Theodora Goss is another writer who appeared at the original Fantasy Matters convention. While there, she read part of "Singing of Mount Abora," a story I loved so much I purchased the anthology it was in (Logorrhea: Good Words Make Good Stories) without knowing anything other than I needed to know what happened at the end of Goss's story.

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The Unexpected Fantastic: An Interview with Harry Bolles

The MagiciansMy favorite line in The Magicians by Lev Grossman is: "Quentin did a magic trick. Nobody noticed." This is followed, a few paragraphs later, by: "It was a very small trick, a basic one-handed sleight with a nickel. He did it in his coat pocket where nobody could see. He did it again, then he did it backward." It is such an utterly perfect and beautiful introduction to a character, and one that predisposed me to liking him because, if there's one thing that I have always loved, it's watching magic tricks.

A bit less than a year ago, I went out to dinner to celebrate the birthday of a very dear friend. It was an excellent dinner, in one of those dimly lit, but extravagantly delicious San Francisco restaurants, and while we sat at our large, basement table, one of our mutual friends reached into his pockets and produced some playing cards and a tiny pouch of coins. He did some magic tricks, beautifully astonishing things with coins and cards. With competence and speed, Harry made the coins vanish and the cards switch places, and it was a quietly perfect extravagance in the midst of cocktail detritus and rumpled napkins.

When I asked Harry whether he would answer a few questions about magic for Fantasy Matters, he kindly sent these wonderful answers.

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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