open
Upgrade to a better browser, please.

Worlds Without End Blog

Forays into Fantasy: Arabian Fantasy and G. Willow Wilson’s Alif the Unseen Posted at 6:30 PM by Scott Lazerus

Scott Laz

Scott Lazerus is a Professor of Economics at Western State Colorado University in Gunnison, Colorado, and has been a science fiction fan since the 1970s. The Forays into Fantasy series is an exploration of the various threads of fantastic literature that have led to the wide variety of fantasy found today, from the perspective of an SF fan newly exploring the fantasy landscape. FiF examines some of the most interesting landmark books of the past, along with a few of today’s most acclaimed fantasies, building an understanding of the connections between fantasy’s origins, its touchstones, and its many strands of influence.

Editor’s Note: This post counts as a WoGF review for purposes of the December review poll.


Alif the UnseenSo far, these Forays into Fantasy have mostly ranged from the late nineteenth through the first half of the twentieth century. I’d previously read other seventeenth and eighteenth century fantasies recommended by Moorcock and Cawthorn in Fantasy: The 100 Best Books, a few of which are discussed in this post on the Gothic origins of modern fantasy. My goal for this reading project (along with, hopefully, reading some great books) has been to explore the history of the fantasy genre before beginning to review more modern fantasies, in order to give some historical context to what today’s fantasists are doing. This post will be my first step into the landscape of modern fantasy, with a look at G. Willow Wilson‘s World Fantasy Award-winner Alif the Unseen (2012). A big part of the appeal and originality of this novel is its engagement with current issues in the Middle East. It seems that Wilson, while writing Alif, anticipated the events of the Arab Spring, and the role of computers and social media in those uprisings. But the story also partakes of a fantasy tradition that stretches back to one of the eighteenth century roots of the modern genre—the development of Arabian fantasy subsequent to the appearance of translations of the stories that came to be known as the Arabian Nights. This review may also be the first to make a connection between G. Willow Wilson and L. Ron Hubbard (though I’d love to know if anyone got there before me!).

Read the rest of this entry »

WoGF Review: The Shore of Women by Pamela Sargent Posted at 8:15 AM by Scott Lazerus

Scott Laz

WWEnd Grand Master Reading ChallengeScott Lazerus came to Worlds Without End looking for a good list of books. He found David Pringle’s Best 100 Science Fiction Novels to his liking and is currently working his way through the list. He has posted many fine reviews for WWEnd including several for last year’s GMRC. Be sure to check out Scott’s excellent blog series Forays into Fantasy too!


The Shore of WomenCenturies from now, having survived worldwide nuclear devastation in underground shelters, people began returning to the surface as the Earth again became habitable. As the men and infertile women went out to explore, those women who remained behind in the shelters took on the responsibility of repopulation, making use only of men determined to be genetically undamaged. Believing that the destruction of the world was the result of male aggression, these women eventually moved inland and built new cities, protected from the outside by walls and force fields, and developed a matriarchal lesbian culture that maintained science and technology. Men were forced to remain outside in a primitive state, living in small bands and prevented from moving beyond Stone Age technology, having forgotten the truth of their own past, brought to the cities only to fulfill their role in in vitro fertilization. The women built a set of Shrines throughout the areas around the cities, where men could go to worship the “Lady”—their Goddess. In these shrines, men put on circlets that linked them telepathically to women in the city, who sometimes fed their minds erotic fantasies, and occasionally called them to the city for a “Blessing”—more virtual sex for the purpose of sperm “donation”.

Read the rest of this entry »

Forays into Fantasy: Fritz Leiber’s Conjure Wife and the Beginnings of Urban Fantasy Posted at 12:44 PM by Scott Lazerus

Scott Laz

Scott Lazerus is a Professor of Economics at Western State Colorado University in Gunnison, Colorado, and has been a science fiction fan since the 1970s. The Forays into Fantasy series is an exploration of the various threads of fantastic literature that have led to the wide variety of fantasy found today, from the perspective of an SF fan newly exploring the fantasy landscape. FiF examines some of the most interesting landmark books of the past, along with a few of today’s most acclaimed fantasies, building an understanding of the connections between fantasy’s origins, its touchstones, and its many strands of influence.


Conjur WifeFritz Leiber (1910–1992) is indisputably one of the most important science fiction and fantasy writers of the twentieth century, recipient of the Science Fiction Writers of America’s Grand Master Award and the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement, as well as six Hugos and four Nebulas. His science fiction is some of the best of its era, including Gather, Darkness (1943), Hugo winner The Big Time (1958), and a series of great short stories for Galaxy during the 1950s. Despite his achievements in SF, he is better known today for his fantasy, due primarily to his sword and sorcery sequence featuring Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, which began with “Two Sought Adventure” (aka “The Jewels in the Forest”) in 1939, and continued throughout his long career (and which should be the subject for a future post in this series).

Leiber may also have been more comfortable writing fantasy, turning to science fiction at least in part due to the lack of fantasy publishing outlets following the demise of John W. Campbell’s Unknown magazine in 1943, after which science fiction would dominate the genre magazine (and eventually the book publishing) landscape until the 1970s. Due to Unknown’s market for sophisticated fantasy, the years 1939 to 1943 produced a disproportionate amount of great fantasy, much of which is still read today. Last year I wrote about three of these—Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp’s Enchanter stories, Jack Williamson’s Darker Than You Think, and A. E. Van Vogt’s The Book of Ptath—and as I return to this period in the history of fantasy, several additional Unknown stories will be looked at. Along with the first five Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories, Fritz Leiber’s contributions to Unknown include the classic “Smoke Ghost” (1941) and the novel Conjure Wife (1943), which was first published in book form, slightly revised and updated, in 1952 as part of the omnibus Witches Three.

Read the rest of this entry »

Hell Is Adaptations: The Innocents Posted at 11:23 AM by Scott Lazerus

Scott Laz

Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough, I said to myself . . . and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy (with the children) and horror (of their false friends) will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.

—Henry James, 1908 Preface to the New York Edition of The Turn of the Screw

In considering which genre film adaptations to take a look at for WWEnd’s new blog series, I thought I’d begin with that most unusual case—a successful film adaptation of one of my favorite novels; one that manages to respect the original story while using the tools of cinema to elucidate that story in ways not possible on the printed page. Instead of nitpicking the alterations from print to screen and wondering what in the world the filmmakers were thinking (which, unfortunately, tends to be my response to film adaptation of novels I admire, more often than not), upon re-watching The Innocents, the 1961 adaptation of Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, I found myself admiring the ways in which the filmmakers had added their own touches to the story, indicating a real understanding of the essential ambiguity that defines The Turn of the Screw, while not merely giving the audience a slavish recreation of the original.

Read the rest of this entry »

WoGF Review: The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett Posted at 6:40 PM by Scott Lazerus

Scott Laz

WWEnd Grand Master Reading ChallengeScott Lazerus came to Worlds Without End looking for a good list of books. He found David Pringle’s Best 100 Science Fiction Novels to his liking and is currently working his way through the list. He has posted many fine reviews for WWEnd including several for last year’s GMRC. Be sure to check out Scott’s excellent blog series Forays into Fantasy too!


The Long TomorrowOne possible definition of science fiction is that SF is about the potential effects of technology on humanity and the human environment. The potential of technology can create the “sense of wonder” that SF readers are often looking for, but technology can also be seen as a potential danger. Out of hand or out of our control, technology can become the source of our destruction—thus the cautionary dystopias of nuclear apocalypse and climate change that appear alongside more hopeful stories of space exploration and other wonders of the future.

Leigh Brackett plays with this dichotomy masterfully in The Long Tomorrow (1955), the story of two teenage cousins brought up in Piper’s Run—a community of “New Mennonites” in Ohio eighty years after a nuclear war destroyed most U.S. cities. (The details of the war itself are not presented, but apparently the U.S. “won”, for whatever it’s worth.) In the aftermath of the Destruction, as the nuclear devastation has come to be known, fundamentalist religious groups have gained political power, enforcing, with popular support, an anti-technological society supported by the Thirtieth Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibits the growth of any town’s population beyond one thousand people, or the number of buildings beyond two hundred per square mile. The cultural mores of the Amish and the Mennonites dominate America, and more violent anti-technology sects threaten death by stoning for anyone caught with illegal technology—“the terror brought the great boiling up of faith that birthed new sects and strengthened the old ones.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Forays into Fantasy: David Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus Posted at 3:02 PM by Scott Lazerus

Scott Laz

Scott Lazerus is a Professor of Economics at Western State Colorado University in Gunnison, Colorado, and has been a science fiction fan since the 1970s. The Forays into Fantasy series is an exploration of the various threads of fantastic literature that have led to the wide variety of fantasy found today, from the perspective of an SF fan newly exploring the fantasy landscape. FiF examines some of the most interesting landmark books of the past, along with a few of today’s most acclaimed fantasies, building an understanding of the connections between fantasy’s origins, its touchstones, and its many strands of influence.


A Voyage to ArcturusDavid Lindsay (1876-1945), born in Scotland and relocated to London, was successful in the insurance industry prior to World War I, in which he served, despite being forty years old upon enlistment. The effect of the unprecedented suffering and destruction of the Great War on those who served in it, and on European society, was profound. Whether or not his wartime experience was the impetus, Lindsay decided after the war, despite his age and previous business success, to attempt a full-time writing career, publishing his first novel, A Voyage to Arcturus, in 1920, at which time it was nearly ignored, selling a grand total of 596 copies before slipping into obscurity. His subsequent novels also sold poorly, and he was unable to publish anything after 1932, dying in 1945 as the result of an abscess related to dental neglect.

A Voyage to Arcturus, however, was not entirely forgotten, and the novel gained influential proponents, especially C. S. Lewis, who credited the novel as a major inspiration for Out of the Silent Planet (1938) and its two sequels, which picked up on Lindsay’s use of a foreign planet as a setting for metaphysical speculation. It was reprinted in the United Kingdom in 1946, finally receiving a U.S. publication in 1963, followed by a Ballantine paperback reissue in 1968 as part of that publisher’s effort to capitalize on the huge success of the paperback publication of The Lord of the Rings by reprinting other older fantasy works. It has remained in print ever since, being chosen by James Cawthorn and Michael Moorcock as one of the hundred best fantasy novels for their 1991 book, and entering the Fantasy Masterworks collection in 2003. In fact, it shows up on just about every critical list of important fantasy novels. It is now in the public domain, and so easily available, including by way of free electronic editions, a good example of which can be found here.

Read the rest of this entry »

Forays into Fantasy: Gertrude Barrows Bennett’s The Citadel of Fear Posted at 9:40 PM by Scott Lazerus

Scott Laz

Scott Lazerus is a Professor of Economics at Western State Colorado University in Gunnison, Colorado, and has been a science fiction fan since the 1970s. The Forays into Fantasy series is an exploration of the various threads of fantastic literature that have led to the wide variety of fantasy found today, from the perspective of an SF fan newly exploring the fantasy landscape. FiF will examine some of the most interesting landmark books of the past, along with a few of today’s most acclaimed fantasies, building an understanding of the connections between fantasy’s origins, its touchstones, and its many strands of influence.


The Citadel of FearIn the midst of the Women of Genre Fiction Challenge, I’d like to direct your attention to Gertrude Barrows Bennett—possibly the most important female writer of speculative fiction that you’ve probably never heard of. Her sustained run of fantasy fiction published between 1917 and 1923—around a dozen stories, including five novels—have led to a growing acceptance of her importance to the history of the genre, following decades of neglect.

Bennett (1884–1948) turned to writing when her journalist/explorer husband died while on an expedition, soon followed by her father, leaving her with a newborn daughter and invalid mother to support. She seems to have stopped writing after her mother’s death. Following her disappearance from public view, and prior to the idea being debunked in 1952, it was quite widely believed that Francis Stevens—the pseudonym under which Bennett’s work was published—was actually a penname of A. Merritt, probably the most popular and influential fantasy writer of the first third of the twentieth century (though much less well-known today). It turns out; however, that the similarities of their writings, which led readers to assume “Stevens” was Merritt, were quite likely the result of Bennett’s own influence on Merritt, who acknowledged his admiration for her works, and the inspiration he received from them. (Mention has also been made of H. P. Lovecraft’s endorsement of her work, but this story seems to have been apocryphal.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Be My Enemy by Ian McDonald Posted at 4:58 PM by Scott Lazerus

Scott Laz

Scott Lazerus is a Professor of Economics at Western State Colorado University in Gunnison, Colorado, and has been a science fiction fan since the 1970s. Scott’s Forays into Fantasy series is an exploration of the various threads of fantastic literature that have led to the wide variety of fantasy found today, from the perspective of an SF fan newly exploring the fantasy landscape. FiF will examine some of the most interesting landmark books of the past, along with a few of today’s most acclaimed fantasies, in an attempt to understand the connections between fantasy’s origins, its touchstones, and its many strands of influence.


Be My EnemyNo Letdown in the Everness Series

The adventures of teenage genius Everett Singh and his Earth 3 “electropunk” airship crew companions continue in Ian McDonald‘s second installment of the young adult Everness series, Be My Enemy (2012). I enjoyed this one even more than the first (Planesrunner), as McDonald uses an adventure romp through the multiverse to bring out one science fictional concept after another, while still managing to further explore his characters and their relationships, especially that between Everett and Sen, the adopted daughter of Everness‘s captain and Everett’s partner in adventure. The search for Everett’s father continues, as does the pursuit of Everett by the villainous Order responsible for his father’s disappearance.

(Insert Planesrunner spoiler alert here!) At the end of the previous novel, Everett had used his Infundibulum technology, which allows travel anywhere in the multiverse, to escape evil villainess Charlotte Villers and her colleagues from the Order—the still shady group determined to maintain control over travel within the multiverse, and thus willing to do whatever is necessary to get their hands on Everett’s Infundibulum—to escape to an unexplored alternate Earth currently in the grip of an ice age. But Charlotte, now with her “alternate” from another Earth, Charles Villiers, in tow, is able to track them, leading them to jump once again, this time back to Everett’s (and our) Earth.

Read the rest of this entry »

Forays into Fantasy: Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast Posted at 7:29 AM by Scott Lazerus

Scott Laz

Scott Lazerus is a Professor of Economics at Western State Colorado University in Gunnison, Colorado, and has been a science fiction fan since the 1970s. The Forays into Fantasy series is an exploration of the various threads of fantastic literature that have led to the wide variety of fantasy found today, from the perspective of an SF fan newly exploring the fantasy landscape. FiF will examine some of the most interesting landmark books of the past, along with a few of today’s most acclaimed fantasies, in an attempt to understand the connections between fantasy’s origins, its touchstones, and its many strands of influence.


Gormenghast was released in 1950, the same year as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The Lord of the Rings would soon follow. These latter two works may be seen as the defining fantasies of the second half of the twentieth century, altering the landscape of the field, popularizing the secondary world fantasy and setting the stage for the advent of fantasy as a commercial genre in the late 1960s. As well as developing an enduring popularity that continues into the present, these books (especially, or course, The Lord of the Rings) have been more influential on fantasy literature than anything since. And yet, though it is not read as widely as these two contemporaries, Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast novels, conceived in that same post-war period in England, seem to me to be just as important. Unlike Tolkien and Lewis, Peake has not inspired hordes of imitators or greatly influenced the direction of commercial fantasy. The influence of Mervyn Peake could not be based on imitating the plot structure or external trappings of his creation—the books are too idiosyncratic for that to be a temptation. Rather, the strand of Peake’s influence can be seen in those writers of modern fantasy who have rejected the commercial allure of Tolkien-like epic fantasy in order to pursue their own personal fantastic visions, and those for whom character, theme, and style are at least as important as plot and exterior world-building.

This is not to say that world-building is not important in Peake’s works, but it is not of the sort that epic fantasy fans will be looking for. The inhabitants of Gormenghast can only be defined in relation to the environment their forebears created for them, and this environment—Gormenghast castle and it’s immediate natural surroundings—is described in such visual terms that the setting is evoked in a way rarely achieved, and this setting is arguably more interesting than any individual character. But this world-building is focused interiorly on the isolated castle. There’s no need for a map to track the characters’ progress, and the outside world is never described in the first two Gormenghast novels. This aspect adds to the strangeness and dislocation created by Peake’s writing, since the reader knows nothing of the larger world in which Gormenghast is situated. The result is a strange combination of dislocation and concreteness.  We do not know where or when Gormenghast exists, yet it comes to seem entirely real on its own terms. The concreteness of the castle setting is further enhanced by the fact that Gormenghast seemingly has not changed for centuries, possibly millennia (aside from a slow deterioration), and it is this fact that creates the conflict that first become apparent in the first Gormenghast novel, Titus Groan (1946, see previous post), and comes to a head in the second, Gormenghast (1950).

Read the rest of this entry »

Forays into Fantasy: William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land Posted at 5:50 PM by Scott Lazerus

Scott Laz

Scott Lazerus is a Professor of Economics at Western State Colorado University in Gunnison, Colorado, and has been a science fiction fan since the 1970s. The Forays into Fantasy series is an exploration of the various threads of fantastic literature that have led to the wide variety of fantasy found today, from the perspective of an SF fan newly exploring the fantasy landscape. FiF will examine some of the most interesting landmark books of the past, along with a few of today’s most acclaimed fantasies, in an attempt to understand the connections between fantasy’s origins, its touchstones, and its many strands of influence.


The Night LandIn an earlier Foray into Fantasy, I looked at William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland (1908) as an influential early precursor of the weird tale, a difficult-to-define subgenre of fantasy portraying incursions of the inexplicable or uncanny into our consensual reality. Since then, I’ve been looking forward to reading The Night Land (1912), Hodgson’s fourth and final novel, which, though sometimes cited as his masterpiece, is not as often read today due to its length and distracting pseudo-archaic English. While it certainly has touches of the weird, The Night Land is also an amalgamation of fantasy, science fiction, horror, and romance, its uniqueness compounded by its extremely unusual narrative viewpoint.

The first chapter tells of the courtship and marriage of Mirdath and the unnamed narrator. Based on the writing style and details of the setting, it seems to take place in England in the seventeenth century, though this is not specified. When Mirdath dies in childbirth, the narrator, who idealized his wife with an intense degree of sentimentality, is plunged into despair. Somehow, whether through some form of clairvoyant reincarnation or psychic time travel (the ambiguous possibility of both mystical and science fictional interpretations is characteristic of the novel), he finds himself occupying the mind of a young man living on the dying earth millions of years in the future, after the sun has stopped emitting visible light, and humanity has retreated into the “Great Redoubt”—a giant metal pyramid powered by the “Earth Current” and protected from the malevolent forces of the Night Land by a sort of force field. The remainder of the novel is narrated from the perspective of this seventeenth century Englishman, now with the knowledge of the young man of the future whose mind he co-occupies, describing this future dying earth and his quest to regain his lost love—a journey through a blighted landscape teeming with evil creatures.

Read the rest of this entry »