If you use the words “horror” and “New England” together in a sentence, most aficionados of the genre will think first of H.P. Lovecraft and the Salem witch trials. You should now include The Witch in that list, a tightly crafted and deeply unsettling film that was a hit at Sundance and Fantastic Fest, and which has a very strong claim to being one of the best horror films of the year.
Knowing what I do about the readership here at Tor.com, I’m guessing that if I say “hey, you really need to check out April and the Extraordinary World, because it’s a delightful animated adventure story about a scrappy young scientist and her talking cat, set in an alternate history steampunk France that feels like a mashup of Jules Verne, J.J. Grandville, and Hayao Miyazaki,” then—
Okay, a bunch of you are probably already gone, trying to figure out where and how and when you can see this lovely film, which just had its US premiere at Fantastic Fest. But just in case you need a little more information…
Cyberpunk may have been one of the 1980s’ most quintessential subgenre-movement-phenomena, and it also may have been one of the quickest to descend into self-parody. It was easy to get hung up on the aesthetics—chrome, casual violence, neon reflected in dirty puddles, mirrored sunglasses, neo-Orientalist imagery driven by fears of a economically dominant Japan—while only superficially engaging with the deeper themes of the technology-driven, corporation-dominated near-futures portrayed therein.
Then the Internet age proceeded to co-opt the vocabulary of cyberpunk, much as the world of espionage absorbed the lingo of John le Carré’s fictional spies. Brief resurgences via The Matrix and Snow Crash (which is more satirical than some people realize) notwithstanding, cyberpunk now seems like a quaint retro-future at best, and entirely moribund at worst.
At least it did until Sam Esmail’s television series Mr. Robot came along—and on the USA Network, of all places. In a recent Reddit AMA, Esmail stated that he “wanted to bring cyberpunk to TV,” and he has actually done it—and in the process, reinvented cyberpunk and made it valid again for the twenty-first century.
One of the intractable problems of getting older is that you will inevitably watch your heroes die. For a reader, there comes the day when the pleasure of opening a new book by a beloved author is tempered by the knowledge that this is the last new one you will ever read.
With The Shepherd’s Crown, that time has come for the readers of Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books—and the characters of the Discworld must also bid farewell to one of their most enduring citizens.
It might have seemed to some readers that Tula Lotay burst onto the comics scene from nowhere with her gorgeous art for the Warren Ellis-penned Supreme: Blue Rose, but she had already contributed work to such diverse titles as American Vampire, The Witching Hour, and Red Sonja—and, not incidentally, had founded the Thought Bubble comics festival, now one of the UK’s top comics conventions. I met with her after negotiating the terrifying badge line at San Diego Comic-Con on Wednesday, and talked with her about her work with Warren Ellis, her process, and the ways in which the internet has been—believe it or not—good for women in comics.
Combining elements of space opera and the Pinocchio-like adventures of an innocent robot boy, Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen’s Descender has been one of the big hits of the year in comics; before the first issue was released, Sony announced that it had secured the rights to develop a Descender film. Amidst the bustle of the convention floor at SDCC, I sat down with writer Jeff Lemire and artist Dustin Nguyen to talk about the place of artificial intelligence stories in the current zeitgeist, their collaborative process, and where Tim-21, his faithful robot dog, and homicidal friend and protector Driller would be going next.
For his Sunday morning spotlight at San Diego Comic-Con, Lev Grossman gave a talk about how he developed The Magicians, took audience questions, and also brought up Sera Gamble and John McNamara, co-creators of the forthcoming TV adaptation. And not only did we get a look at the extended trailer—we also got to see a clip from the show.
“Warning: we are going to be adulting, and if this is an issue, this might not be your Friday morning panel.”
With these words, moderator Maryelizabeth Yturralde opened the Sex and Science Fiction panel at San Diego Comic-Con, which featured writers Wesley Chu, Gini Koch, and Nick Cole, comics artist and illustrator Camilla d’Errico, and cartoonist and comics writer/artist Marisa Acocella Marchetto. As is often the case with panels on such dense, baggage-laden themes, it felt as if the discussion touched on a wide range of subjects within the larger subject of sex and sexuality, but lacked the time to really delve into any one of them. Still, the panel covered a number of interesting questions, and even some controversy.
The Science Fiction That Will Change Your Life panel is a regular highlight at San Diego Comic-Con, and will inevitably leave your wallet complaining over your latest haul at the bookstore (or on your e-reader of choice). This year’s panel, led by Annalee Newitz, featured Charlie Jane Anders, Jane Espenson, Javier Grillo-Marxuach, and Ernie Cline.
Rather than stepping through the proceedings of the panel as I usually do, I’m going to provide a list of the books, films, and TV shows that came up, with some of the commentary that accompanied each. Don’t blame me for your next Amazon/B&N/local bookstore of choice shopping spree—I only report these things.
At first glance, the panel description for Thursday evening’s “NASA: Turning Science Fiction into Science Fact” seemed like a bit of a dog’s breakfast—moderated by Jay Ferguson, otherwise known as Stan from Mad Men, featuring a zippy pre-recorded video briefing from the International Space Station, and including not only NASA scientists Amber Straughn (astrophysicist at the Godard Space Flight center), Kevin Hand (astrobiologist and planetary scientist), but also Adam Nimoy (son of actor Leonard Nimoy, currently developing a documentary called For the Love of Spock about his father and his most famous character), and Adithya Sood (producer of The Martian).
How, one might wonder, was this all going to come together?
There’s only so much I can really swallow of real-world politics before it all gets so bad that not even The Daily Show makes it any better. Political fiction, though—that I can’t get enough of, and frankly, the more cynical the better. I’m a huge fan of The Thick of It, and the US House of Cards was, disturbingly enough, my happy place for the last couple of months—though fans of that show will appreciate that it was really something to watch a certain very dramatic episode of House of Cards on the same day that HBO broadcast the now-infamous “The Rains of Castamere.”
And while I definitely enjoy the dragons, ice zombies, fire magic, and prophetic visions of both the Song of Ice and Fire novels and the Game of Thrones TV show, it’s the courtly intrigue that keeps me coming back for more. Cersei Lannister’s struggles to hold on to the power that the men of the court would take from her, Daenerys’s hard-knocks school of statecraft, Tywin’s ruthlessness, Tyrion’s desperate attempts to make something of himself in service of the kingdom, the charm offensive of the Tyrells—this is what really makes the books and the show for me. That the intrigue occasionally explodes into shocking and bloody violence is, perhaps, a bonus for those for whom contemporary political drama is a bit too arid.
Michael Moorcock has offered bits of autobiography here and there over the years, as in the brilliant “A Child’s Christmas in the Blitz,” and certain elements of his own life have contributed to his fiction, as with the family of David Mummery in Mother London. He’s also appeared “as himself” in his own fiction many a time. The Nomad of the Time Streams novels are presented as manuscripts that form the legacy of his grandfather, also named Michael Moorcock. He introduces The Adventures of Una Persson and Catherine Cornelius in the Twentieth Century stating that the book is drawn from “the unpublished memoirs of Miss Una Persson, the temporal adventuress,” memoirs that “exist partly in the form of notes in her own hand, partly in the form of tape-recorded interviews between myself and Miss Persson”; later, in The White Wolf’s Son, there is an interlude in which the lady pays him and his wife Linda a visit at his home in Lost Pines, Texas to fill him in on the further adventures of Elric of Melniboné. He even drags collaborator Walt Simonson into the metafictional stew in the Michael Moorcock’s Multiverse comic, making both of them players in the Game of Time.
The Whispering Swarm, the first book of his new Sanctuary of the White Friars series and Moorcock’s first new novel since the Doctor Who tie-in The Coming of the Terraphiles, is a heady blend of memoir, fantasy, history, and self-referential fiction. In a move reminiscent of his late friend J.G. Ballard’s The Kindness of Women, Moorcock presents—to borrow Ballard’s description of his own novel—a story of his life “seen through the mirror of the fiction prompted by that life.”
So I have a confession to make. When I read Gail Carriger’s previous Finishing School books, Etiquette and Espionage and Curtsies and Conspiracies, I hadn’t actually read the Parasol Protectorate books. On one hand, this lacuna in my library helped in that it allowed me to approach the Finishing School books as a hypothetical first-time YA reader might, without too much of the previous series to color my views—not knowing, for example, that the prototype aetherographic transmitter that everyone is so spun up about in the first book is in regular use by the time of Changeless, some few decades hence in Carriger’s world.
So—in the interim between Curtsies and Conspiracies and the new Waistcoats and Weaponry, I’ve caught myself up with the Parasol Protectorate, and it’s proved to be something of a mixed blessing in returning to the Finishing School. I appreciate certain characters more, but I also know things the characters don’t—and won’t for a while—and reading around that is unexpectedly difficult.
William Gibson is one of those great writers who is also a great talker; his collected interviews provide a brilliant director’s commentary on his work. In advance of the release of his new novel, The Peripheral, I talked to him by phone about London, the “raging dystopia” of rural America, urbanism and gentrification, the influences behind The Peripheral, his approach to writing science fiction, and why his own novel ended up giving him the creeps.
Spoilers for The Peripheral follow, at some length. Just so you know.
This is not so much a standalone review as it is a supplement to my non-spoiler review of William Gibson’s The Peripheral, addressing a few points that can’t be thoroughly discussed without giving a lot of things away (not least of which is the conclusion). If you haven’t read the book yet and want to avoid all spoilers, turn back now. Head to your bookstore or library or your ebook vendor of choice, read it, and come back here later. After this intro, expect heavy, heavy spoilers.
All right? Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Spoilers immediately ahead.
Let’s just get this out of the way: lots of people are going to say that The Peripheral is William Gibson’s return to science fiction. But what do they mean when they say that? Is it that he’s gone back to writing about some future time decades ahead of our own, extrapolating current technology into a future world where cheap consumer goods are made to order on 3D printers and paparazzi operate through tiny drone cameras?
Sure; by that definition, yes, Gibson is writing science fiction again. But he never really stopped. Although what’s variously known as the Blue Ant trilogy or the Bigend trilogy is set in the first decade of the twenty-first century (9/11, the Iraq war, the financial crisis), it’s rendered in queasily paranoid tones that make “our” world nearly as unfamiliar and otherworldly as cyberspace might have seemed in 1984 or portable VR goggles in 1993. Gibson is of the school of thought that science fiction is necessarily about the present in which it’s written, and The Peripheral, future setting notwithstanding, is in keeping with that philosophy. There are damaged young war veterans, a pervasive surveillance state, drones of all kinds, drastic economic inequality, and a powerful sense of impending manifold catastrophe.
David Cronenberg’s films always feel like science fiction; his cool, clinical approach gives a chilly sci-fi atmosphere even to such ostensibly “realistic” films as A History of Violence and Eastern Promises.
With his first novel, Consumed, Cronenberg turns this sensibility to fiction, and the result is—unsurprisingly, given Naked Lunch and Crash—more than a little flavored with William S. Burroughs and J.G. Ballard, and it also includes a fair amount of the classic Cronenbergian body horror of Dead Ringers. Like his films, it’s creepy and unsettling, packed with imagery that will lurk around your subconscious for days.
You could have spent your entire San Diego Comic-Con going to panels about diversity and feminism. Thursday had three panels in a row about women and genre: Female Heroes, Then and Now; Beyond Clichés: Creating Awesome Female Characters for Film, TV, Comics, Video Games, and Novels; and The Most Dangerous Women at Comic-Con: Positive Portrayals of Women in Pop Culture. Later that evening was the Transgender Trends panel, the first panel on that subject ever held at San Diego Comic-Con.
There were enough panels along these lines that it was actually physically impossible to attend them all, no matter how much you wanted to—The Black Panel was up against Gender in Comics on Friday morning, and Diversity in Genre Lit overlapped with Fantastic Females: Heroines in Paranormal Fantasy on Saturday. This is actually an excellent problem to have, even if it did mean a lot of scampering from one end of the convention center to the other (which, along with a misreading of my own schedule, led me to miss Beyond Clichés, which had reached capacity by the time I got there). It’s certainly an improvement on the days when there was just The Black Panel and maybe one or two Women in Comics panels across the entire weekend.
San Diego Comic-Con is the parable of the blind men and the elephant. It’s the Mirror of Erised. It’s the cave on Dagobah—what is in there is what you take with you. It is huge, it is sprawling, it contains multitudes, its name is Legion.
It’s been a few days and I’ve put a few more nights of actual sleep between me and the convention. I still have one more thing I want to write up—the best panel that I went to there, and why you should be reading Saga if you aren’t already—but I wanted to go ahead and get some thoughts on the whole business out there before the con hangover completely fades away and while the memories are still reasonably fresh.
Artist and illustrator Michael Cho has done covers for Marvel and DC, but this year he came to SDCC to talk about his new graphic novel Shoplifter, to be released by Pantheon in September. Shoplifter is the quiet, delicately-told story of Corinna Park, a writer in her mid-twenties who went from an English degree and dreams of writing novels to five years of writing copy at an advertising agency, a lonely apartment, and a terrible cat named Anais—with the occasional bit of (very) petty theft. Between panels, Cho took a moment to talk about the origins of Shoplifter, his comics process, and the difficulty of drawing bad-tempered cats.
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