"This story line will make Hieronymus Bosch look like he was doodling kittens," Lee Sizemore brags. He's the head of the "narrative department" at Westworld, a frontier-themed vacation park where customers act out their darkest fantasies. A special little something I call the ourobouros." Self-cannibalism and the snake that eats its own tail: that's a fair description of "Westworld," a come-hither drama that introduces itself as a science-fiction thriller about cyborgs who become self-aware, then reveals its true identity as what happens when an HBO drama struggles to do the same. Created by the husband-and-wife team of Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, "Westworld" is explicitly, and often wittily, an exploitation series about exploitation, full of naked bodies that are meant to make us think about nudity and violence that comments on violence.
Politics has been obsessing a lot of people lately, and Ursula K. Le Guin is far from immune to bouts of political anger. In an e-mail to me last winter, she wrote that she felt "eaten up" with frustration at the ongoing occupation of an eastern Oregon wildlife refuge by an armed band of antigovernment agitators led by the brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy. She was distressed by the damage they had done to scientific programs and to historical artifacts belonging to the local Paiute tribe, and critical of the F.B.I. for being so slow to remove these "hairy gunslinging fake cowboys" from public property. She had been mildly cheered up, she added, by following a Twitter feed with the hashtag #BundyEroticFanFic. The high desert of eastern Oregon is one of Le Guin's places.
But while Miéville is a deeply political writer--in 2001, he ran for the House of Commons as a socialist, and he has since worked to form a new political party, called Left Unity--the novel feels more madcap than allegorical. To him, the Surrealists were "incredibly brave political radicals, incredibly insurgent figures. The Surrealists' positions on things like empire and so forth were decades ahead of many of their contemporaries, including their self-styled radical contemporaries." As with his love of science fiction and fantasy, Miéville's love of Surrealism can be traced back to his youth.
Even if they made no difference to the history of Y.A. fiction, or fantasy fiction--and they do--Catherynne Valente's five Fairyland novels would matter in the history of publishing: "The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Craft of Her Own Making," released in 2009, began as a crowdfunded Internet project, won a Nebula award from the Science Fiction Writers of America (the first bestowed on a Web-only novel), then jumped to trade re-publication and Y.A. best-sellerdom two years later. Four traditionally published sequels followed; the last, "The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home," came out this spring. The books are portal fantasy: a hero from our Earth--in this case, a "girl named September," just turned twelve as the first installment begins--finds her way into a world where magic works; quests and mishaps ensue. Fairyland's precedents are obvious and plentiful, as the books gladly acknowledge. Valente has said that her chatty, omniscient narrator descends from J. M. Barrie's "Peter Pan"; September belongs in a line of young Chosen Ones that extends back (at least) to Oz, via Narnia.