An appreciation of two of speculative fiction’s greatest editors.

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It is difficult to overestimate the tremendous value of editors. The contributions that authors make to their respective fields, and their impact on the readers that encounter their work, can’t be overstated either, of course — but it is equally important to remember that no truly great author goes it alone; there are always strong editors behind the scenes, shaping the individual stories themselves as well as the publishing world at large. The Hugo Awards are named for an editor, after all.

Yet I can count most of the editors I recognize by name on one hand. Even with such a limited group to choose from, only two have had an extremely significant, identifiable impact on me as a reader: Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow. I could never hope to cover everything the two have contributed to the publishing world — their careers have stretched too far and are too varied and far-reaching for me to do them full justice. However, there are several projects that are worth looking at in order to appreciate their impact and get a sense of how influential their work has been, and continues to be. …

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Cover art from Cart and Cwidder by Diana Wynne Jones (HarperCollins, 2016 ed.)

The Dangers and Joys of Revisiting Formative Novels

I recently found myself combing through some boxes of old books and papers and came across a fascinating personal artifact. On the surface it’s a pretty unremarkable object, just a crumbling spiral-bound notebook covered in childish graffiti. But inside is over a decade of my life — a handwritten list of every book I read between 4th grade and college graduation. Looking through it was a bit like spelunking into the past, a unique look at the strata of different life stages, delineated by changes in handwriting and shifting interests like so many compressed layers of rock.

Paging through the tattered old list, I was seized by a sort of anthropological interest. If different parts of the list reflect phases of my life, what would happen if I took a deep dive into one of these distinct stages and revisited some of those stories? One place in particular caught my interest: from about the age of 12–15 there is a sort of genre bottleneck where my tastes suddenly narrowed from an indiscriminate mix of anything and everything to a very distinctive preference for fantasy and (to a lesser extent at the time) science fiction. There were dozens of titles to choose from, so I picked a handful of stories that conjured up particularly strong feelings, like sense memories that come back clearly even when my actual recollection of the stories is hazy (or nonexistent). …

Alice Hoffman returns to the world of Practical Magic in a new prequel.

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The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman, Published October 2017

I first read Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic in middle school, and I’ve read it multiple times over the last fifteen years. The film version — “adaptation” would be giving it too much credit — was a disappointment. While the film has gradually grown on me as a relic of late ’90s witchy pop culture (which certain corners of the internet have embraced wholeheartedly), it simply never captured the heart of the source material. In many ways, The Rules of Magic feels more like a prequel to the film than the novel.

Prequels are a tricky form to pull off under the best circumstances, even more so when the original story was written over two decades ago. Essentially reverse engineered, they can easily take on a paint-by-numbers quality rather than a more natural narrative flow. The Rules of Magic attempts to flesh out characters that were almost incidental in Practical Magic, continuing the saga of the unconventional Owens family by telling the story of Frances and Bridget Owens, known as Franny and Jet, the aunts who reluctantly raise Sally and Gillian in Practical Magic. Set primarily in New York City in the 1960s, it relies as much on real locations and big historical events (Vietnam, the Stonewall riots, etc) as it does on the established events of Practical Magic to shape the story. This reliance on preexisting events — whether fictional or real — constrains the story in odd ways and makes it feel fundamentally different from the original novel, even when it makes direct connections to the characters and locations of the earlier story. There is also the addition of Vincent, the lone male Owens in the matrilineal family line, someone never mentioned in Practical Magic, yet often the character most relevant to the major events of Rules of Magic. …


Amber Troska

Essayist, book reviewer, media critic. Non-compliant.

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