Mur Lafferty is one of the worst-kept secrets in science fiction and fantasy publishing. "Secret" in that her fiction has not been widely published (until now). "Worst-kept" in that she has been such a force of nature -- the podcaster's podcaster, author of a huge corpus of excellent self-published work, and a skilled editor currently running Escape Pod -- that anyone who's been paying attention has known that there were great things coming from her.
Great things have come from her. The Shambling Guide to New York City is the first volume in a new series of books about Zoe Norris, a book editor who stumbles into a job editing a line of travel guides for monsters, demons, golem-makers, sprites, death-gods and other supernatural members of the coterie, a hidden-in-plain-sight secret society of the supernatural.
The volume opens with a desperate, out-of-work Zoe prowling the streets of New York, looking for a publishing job -- any publishing job. She finds herself chasing down a mysterious advertisement for an editor for Underground Press, which turns out to be the hobby-business of an ancient vampire with a modern idea. Phil, the owner, wants to produce the first-ever line of tour-guides for travelling coterie. And it just so happens that Zoe's last job was editing a successful line of (human) travel guides, a gig she excelled at and would have held still save for her philandering boss, who neglected to mention that he was married (to a psycho police chief!) before he seduced her.
After being rebuffed, Zoe bulls her way into the job, only to discover that she has bitten off more than she can chew -- or rather, that several monsters are vying for chance to bite off a rather large chunk of her. Chief among them is a sleazy incubus who is fixated on having sex with her and feeding off her sexual energy (workplace harassment is complicated in the coterie).
From this, the story is off and running, and it never pauses for breath -- there's love, war, humor and a lot of heart, and by the time it's done, you know exactly why so many writers have been buzzing about Mur Lafferty for so many years. It's as strong a debut as I can remember reading, and I can't wait for the follow-on volumes.
Where did the European werewolf come from and why did this particular mythology become so powerful that we're still telling stories about it today?
In a fascinating talk recorded at Skepticon 5 last month, Deborah Hyde discusses the history of lycanthropy and its various roles in European society. Lycanthropy was more than one thing, Hyde explains. It functioned as a legitimate medical diagnosis — usually denoting some kind of psychotic break. It served as a placeholder to explain anything particularly horrific — like the case of a French serial killer. And, probably most importantly, lycanthropy went hand-in-hand with witchcraft as part of the Inquisition.
Hyde is the editor of The Skeptic magazine and she blogs about the cultural history of belief in the supernatural. As part of this talk, she's tracked down cases of werewolf trials in the 16th and 17th centuries and attempted to understand why people were charged with lycanthropy, what connected those cases to one another, and the role the trials played in the history of religious liberty. Great stuff!
High concept from the Hairpin's Mallory Ortberg: "Text-messages from a ghost:"
hey im gaunting you ok
Do you mean haunting
yeah sorry i don’t have any fingers
so im poltergeisting a stick to help me text this
Who is this?
oh sorry im a ghost
So do you live inside this phone
yeah kind of