Tor.com content by

Bridget McGovern

Hard Concepts, Passionate Things: The Sublime Art of Maurice Sendak

On June 10th, 1928, Maurice Sendak was born in Brooklyn, New York, and the world of children’s literature gained one of its greatest artists (although it would take a few more years before that fact became apparent…). At the age of twelve, Sendak walked into a movie theater to see Walt Disney’s Fantasia and walked out hell-bent on becoming an illustrator, and so he did—starting out by providing the art for a science textbook, Atomics for the Millions, and quickly becoming a sought-after illustrator of children’s books throughout the 1950s.

The best, as they say, was yet to come.

[Let the wild rumpus start…]

Series: On This Day

An Updated Mega-List of SFF Bunnies (and Other Strange, Rabbit-Type Creatures)

In the folklore of various cultures and ancient civilizations, rabbits have represented a kind of Trickster figure. In Chinese, Japanese, and Korean mythology, rabbits live on the moon. The Aztecs worshipped a group of deities known as the Centzon Totochtin, a group of 400 hard-partying rabbits who were the gods of drunkenness. And in a slightly more recent mythos, bunnies were the bête noir of a certain thousand-year-old former vengeance demon.

As we head into the weekend, I’d like to take a minute to pay tribute to some of the more memorable bunnies and assorted rabbit-like creatures who have hopped, time-traveled, and occasionally slaughtered their way through science fiction and fantasy, beginning (in no particular order), with everybody’s favorite hard-drinking, invisible lagomorph….

[Follow me down the SFF rabbit hole]

What Changes To Expect in Game of Thrones Season Five

Thanks to the various casting news updates, set photos, teasers, and trailers released by HBO over the last several months, it’s become abundantly clear that the coming season of Game of Thrones is going to be diverging from its source material in the Song of Ice and Fire novels to a greater degree than ever before.

With the premiere of Season Five just a few weeks away, let’s pour out some Dornish red, roll up our heavily-embroidered sleeves and take stock of some of the biggest changes in store for fans of the series: which characters we won’t be seeing, which plotlines have been significantly altered or expedited, and which unexpected pairings and new partnerships we’ll be following as the show pushes forward into unfamiliar territory….

[Spoilers for all of the novels and seasons 1-4 of the HBO series]

Series: HBO’s Game of Thrones

Bastards with Fancy Accents

For better or worse, the stereotype of the “Evil Brit” is certainly nothing new; Hollywood has been using classically trained actors to class up its films since the dawn of the talkies, recruiting many of its early stars from the British stage. I was surprised, however, when we began planning Magnificent Bastards week, just how many of my favorite male villains fit into the category of Charming-Yet-Menacing Aristocrat. And, while this isn’t necessarily true of my favorite female villains, most of my favorite bad guys have English accents. I can’t be the only one who feels this way: check out the list below and tell me if I’m wrong…

[Having fun being evil, and looking good doing it]

Of Great Bastards, Lightning Lords, Blackfish, and Onion Knights: Why Game of Thrones Nicknames Are the Best

Nicknames can be a mixed bag—sometimes they signal affection, admiration, or acceptance, and sometimes they’re a form of taunting, a devastating insult that lingers like a malicious ghost, inescapable. In the Song of Ice and Fire series, nicknames can be obvious, or ironic, affectionate or scathing, incredibly apt or impossibly unfair, but whether merited or misleading, such names often provide a window onto a deeper understanding of the characters that bear them.

In a world where people are so often not what they seem, where identities are changed, hidden, lost, and invented out of strategy or necessity, the names people pick up along the way are often far more telling than given names. Nicknames can point to the messy complexities hiding behind the public persona, the accepted version of events, the official history—they are stories to be unraveled, posing as punchlines: they tell all the truth, but tell it slant.

[Nicknames can also be incredibly entertaining…]

Joy, Sorrow, Regret, and Reassurance: The Singular Beauty of The Last Unicorn

Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn, while sometimes categorized as YA, is generally hailed as a story for all ages. As much as I love the book, I didn’t read it until I was in college, so my initial introduction into Beagle’s world (like many fans my age, I suspect) came courtesy of the 1982 Rankin/Bass animated movie of the same name.

While I can’t speak to the experience of reading the novel as a child, I certainly believe that a story as beautifully crafted and enduring as this one will resonate with readers of various ages and experience. I’d argue that the movie also has plenty to recommend it to adult fantasy fans, and is far more advanced in its themes than the vast majority of animated children’s entertainment. And while it stays very true to the book in many ways, the film manages to foreground certain elements of the original story that give it a very powerful, very unique appeal for children. Don’t get me wrong: it’s kind of a strange film, but therein lies its magic. It speaks to younger viewers in a manner that very few films ever do.

[“They passed down all the roads long ago, and the Red Bull ran close behind them and covered their footprints…”]

Feuding Targaryens: A Non-Spoiler Review of George R. R. Martin’s “The Rogue Prince, or, A King’s Brother”

As one might suspect from the title, “The Rogue Prince” from the upcoming Rogues anthology is a companion piece to Martin’s “The Princess and The Queen, Or, The Blacks and The Greens,” which capped off last year’s Dangerous Women anthology. Once again, the story is framed as a formal history set forth by Archmaester Gyldayn of the Citadel of Oldtown, whose dedication to the sober and serious task of recording the dynastic struggles of the Targaryen clan can’t entirely stifle the rich strain of scandalous rumor and gossip woven throughout the official record.

“The Rogue Prince” fills in much of the backstory leading up to the extremely bloody events of “The Princess and The Queen,” in which competing branches of the ruling house waged a violent war of succession which brought the Targaryens and their dragons to the brink of extinction, almost two hundred years before the events of A Game of Thrones. Chronicling the familial tensions and personal hostilities that eventually grew into the full-scale bloodletting known as the Dance of the Dragons, this new story is “a consideration of the early life, adventures, misdeeds, and marriages of Prince Daemon Targaryen,” who wreaked all kinds of sexy, swashbuckling havoc during the reign of his mild-mannered brother, King Viserys I.

[Prince Daemon was Trouble—with a capital “T” and that rhymes with “D” and that stands for DRAGONS.]

Even More SFF Bunnies (and Other Strange, Rabbit-Type Creatures)

In the folklore of various cultures and ancient civilizations, rabbits have represented a kind of Trickster figure; in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean mythology, rabbits live on the moon. The Aztecs worshipped a group of deities known as the Centzon Totochtin, a group of 400 hard-partying rabbits who were the gods of drunkenness, and in a slightly more recent mythos, bunnies were the bête noir of a certain thousand-year-old former vengeance demon.

As we head into the weekend, I’d like to take a minute to pay tribute to some of the more memorable bunnies and assorted rabbit-like creatures who have hopped, time-traveled, and occasionally slaughtered their way through science fiction and fantasy, beginning (in no particular order), with everybody’s favorite hard-drinking, invisible lagomorph….

[Follow me down the SFF rabbit hole]

Of Great Bastards, Lightning Lords, Blackfish, and Onion Knights: Why Game of Thrones Nicknames Are the Best

Nicknames can be a mixed bag—sometimes they signal affection, admiration, or acceptance, and sometimes they’re a form of taunting, a devastating insult that lingers like a malicious ghost, inescapable. In the Song of Ice and Fire series, nicknames can be obvious, or ironic, affectionate or scathing, incredibly apt or impossibly unfair, but whether merited or misleading, such names often provide a window onto a deeper understanding of the characters that bear them.

In a world where people are so often not what they seem, where identities are changed, hidden, lost, and invented out of strategy or necessity, the names people pick up along the way are often far more telling than given names. Nicknames can point to the messy complexities hiding behind the public persona, the accepted version of events, the official history—they are stories to be unraveled, posing as punchlines: they tell all the truth, but tell it slant.

[Nicknames can also be incredibly entertaining…]

Series: A Song of Ice and Fire

The Game of Thrones Guide to Love and Romance

We’re just about six weeks out from the return of HBO’s Game of Thrones and all of the craziness that entails—but first, let’s talk about Valentine’s Day. Whichever historical version of St. Valentine you subscribe to, tradition is pretty clear about the fact that his life ended in violent martyrdom: beaten first with clubs and/or stones, and then beheaded. Sometime in the High Middle Ages, he became associated with the tradition of courtly love and romance, which is probably why we celebrate February 14th with cards and chocolate and not a sackful of blunt instruments and nasty sharp things. (I mean, unless that’s your scene; I’m not here to judge.)

No matter how you slice it, any holiday that manages to combine unspeakable violence, sex, money, love, romance, religion, confusing historical vagaries, politics, legend, and at least one execution into something we celebrate by stuffing sweets into our faces is a Westerosi holiday in my book…

[Release the doves! Or maybe bake them into a pie!]

Joy, Sorrow, Regret, and Reassurance: The Singular Beauty of The Last Unicorn

Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn, while sometimes categorized as YA, is generally hailed as a story for all ages. As much as I love the book, I didn’t read it until I was in college, so my initial introduction into Beagle’s world (like many fans my age, I suspect) came courtesy of the 1982 Rankin/Bass animated movie of the same name.

While I can’t speak to the experience of reading the novel as a child, I certainly believe that a story as beautifully crafted and enduring as this one will resonate with readers of various ages and experience. I’d argue that the movie also has plenty to recommend it to adult fantasy fans, and is far more advanced in its themes than the vast majority of animated children’s entertainment. And while it stays very true to the book in many ways, the film manages to foreground certain elements of the original story that give it a very powerful, very unique appeal for children. Don’t get me wrong: it’s kind of a strange film, but therein lies its magic. It speaks to younger viewers in a manner that very few films ever do.

[“They passed down all the roads long ago, and the Red Bull ran close behind them and covered their footprints…”]

“Haven’t you ever been in a fairy tale before?”: Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn

I’m honestly not sure what I can say about The Last Unicorn that hasn’t been said before—folks were proclaiming the book a classic almost as soon as it was published, and certainly before I was born. Ursula K. Le Guin has paid tribute to Peter S. Beagle’s “particular magic,” Madeleine L’Engle described him as “one of my favorite writers,” and countless other readers, writers, and reviewers have heaped such a formidable mountain of praise at his door that it almost seems futile to approach, from down in the valley, and try to carve out some new flourish or clamber conveniently onto some hitherto unexplored perspective.

But even great monuments have their road signs, billboards, and tourist brochures, their aggressively fluorescent arrows pointing helpfully toward sites that really shouldn’t be missed. So consider this post a roadside marker, a glossy pamphlet, a helpful map to a well-worn path that’s much-travelled for a reason: the world of The Last Unicorn is always worth visiting, and revisiting, even if you think you’ve seen it all before.

[“The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone.”]

Supreme Holiday Weirdness: Rankin, Bass, and L. Frank Baum Ask, Should We Just Let Santa Die Already?

Hearken unto me, little children. I grew up during the 1980s, when something called the Video Cassette Recorder was still the red hot, razor sharp, cutting-edge of technology. While it seems hard to believe nowadays, the bulky black rectangle, perched like a crude, mass-market facsimile of the Monolith from 2001 glowered ominously from the heights of our family entertainment center and was worshiped as a household god, which might be why my brother kept trying to feed it his Cheerios all the time (that did not end well). For me, the VCR was just a magical purveyor of Fraggle Rock and Cyndi Lauper videos; for my father, I now realize, it became a means of ruthlessly hunting down and capturing every single televised holiday special aired in the tri-state area between the late 70s and the mid-90s.

The amazing thing is that most of these tapes still survive to this day, having somehow escaped both the trauma of having soggy cereal dumped into the VCR and my manic Mystery Science Theater taping-sprees of yore (Hey! Joel said to keep circulating the tapes—if that meant recording a Gamera movie over some lesser sibling’s first baby steps, so be it. I have no regrets). The upshot of all this is that my siblings and I have had access to A LOT of really strange, Christmas-themed entertainment, and yet every year we return to one of our collective favorites: the 1985 Rankin/Bass adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus, also known as The World’s Most Bizarre Animated Christmas Special…EVER.

[Below the fold: L. Frank Baum is crazy. So are puppets. Also? Dragons hate Santa.]

11 Odd, Campy, and Surreal Holiday Specials that Should be Classics

Several years ago around this time, I wrote a post about some of my favorite bizarro holiday specials to help ring in our very first Tor.com Cthulhumas/Life Day/Krampusnacht/Solstice celebration. While a lot has changed since 2008, my abiding love of strange and unusual holiday-inspired lunacy is as strong as ever, so please enjoy this updated guide to some classic (or should-be classic) yuletide entertainment….

[From recent to retro, 11 shows to make the holidays a little bit more surreal…]

Twin Peaks Wins the Creepiest Christmas Carol Award, 23 Years Running

Okay, everybody—time to don some flannel, strap on your discman, and time travel back to the strange and magical world of 1990. For a brief, shining moment, Americans’ favorite pastime involved huddling around their giant TVs and bulky recording devices to find out what bizarre happenings would unfold each week in the town of Twin Peaks, Washington, and David Lynch was the reigning king of network television.

Sound crazy? It was. Also crazy? This bizarro version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” as performed by Twin Peaks cast members, including Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), recorded by KROQ radio DJs at the height of the show’s popularity.

[Never forget: The owls are not what they seem…]

Bastards with Fancy Accents

For better or worse, the stereotype of the “Evil Brit” is certainly nothing new; Hollywood has been using classically trained actors to class up its films since the dawn of the talkies, recruiting many of its early stars from the British stage. I was surprised, however, when we began planning Magnificent Bastards week, just how many of my favorite male villains fit into the category of Charming-Yet-Menacing Aristocrat. And, while this isn’t necessarily true of my favorite female villains, most of my favorite bad guys have English accents. I can’t be the only one who feels this way: check out the list below and tell me if I’m wrong…

[Having fun being evil, and looking good doing it]

Series: Magnificent Bastards on Tor.com

Valyrian Roots: A Non-Spoiler Review of George R. R. Martin’s “The Princess and The Queen, Or, The Blacks and The Greens”

George R. R. Martin’s contribution to the Dangerous Women anthology purports to be an official history of one of the darkest and bloodiest chapters in the annals of the Seven Kingdoms, detailing the events of the infamous civil war known as The Dance of the Dragons. Given the relative darkness and bloodiness of most of the historical snippets strewn like grisly breadcrumbs throughout the Song of Ice and Fire novels, fans of the series should know enough to brace themselves for a wild ride…and Martin does not fail to deliver.

Set almost 170 years before the events of A Game of Thrones (80 years before the Dunk and Egg stories), the tale begins with the death of the king, Viserys I Targaryen. Viserys had long declared that his eldest daughter, Rhaenyra Targaryen, the only surviving child of his first marriage, would succeed him as heir to the Iron Throne. His second marriage had also produced children, however, including several adult sons, and upon his passing the newly widowed Queen claims the throne for her eldest son, Aegon. The stage is set for an epic war of succession between the two branches of House Targaryen, a conflict waged on land, sea, and in the air, as the competing royals turn their dragons against one another, bringing both dragons and the Targaryens themselves to the brink of extinction.

[How to Train Your Dragon (…to destroy your rival for the Iron Throne).]

Series: Dangerous Women on Tor.com

Casting Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind

Ever since the announcement that 20th Century Fox has optioned the TV rights to The Kingkiller Chronicles, I’ve been obsessing over the prospect of casting the series…and I know I’m not the only one. Of course, this is a game people have been playing since The Name of the Wind came out in 2007—Patrick Rothfuss even weighed in early on, tapping a few actors and actresses for different roles. Back in 2008, he pictured Natalie Portman as Denna, for example, Morena Baccarin as Fela, and Neil Patrick Harris as Bast. Far be it from me to disagree with the author, but let’s take a look at some other possibilities…

[Casting The Name of the Wind, and beyond.]

Ten Characters I Love (But Don’t Expect To See) in World War Z

As the movie adaptation of Max Brooks’s blockbuster novel approaches—it’s finally due out in U.S. theaters this Friday—I’m keeping an open mind. The movie might be great, or it might be just mediocre, and there’s a decent chance it’ll stink on ice. But the one thing I’m not expecting is for it to be very much like the book on which it’s based.

The complaint I’ve been hearing most about the trailer is how the filmmakers have changed the zombies from shambling, Romero-esque undead hordes to an unstoppable swarm of speedy power-zombies. Personally, I’m not much bothered by that change—faster zombies are probably a better fit for the movie they’ve produced, which looks like a pretty conventional action movie.

It’s true that in writing World War Z, Brooks was inspired by George Romero’s zombies—but he was also inspired (perhaps even more directly) by the work of author/historian Studs Terkel.

[Oral histories versus action flicks, and the ten best characters you probably won’t meet in World War Z: The Movie]

Nitpicks and Not Being a Know-It-All: Talking to Your Friends About Game of Thrones (When They Haven’t Read the Books)

When people talk about the mainstreaming of geek culture, the evolution of George R. R. Martin’s hugely popular Song of Ice and Fire series into the pop culture juggernaut that is HBO’s Game of Thrones is invariably noted as a sterling example of the mainstreaming trend. As always, I’m happy to see the fantasy genre making a splash and drawing new fans and new readers in—but as with any adaption, there’s bound to be a divide between two fan factions: those who’ve read the original books, and those who haven’t.

[Warning: If you have not read the books, you should probably not read this post, because there be spoilers and your head might explode.]

Series: HBO’s Game of Thrones