Tor.com content by

Leah Schnelbach

Problem Child: First Born by Caroline Thompson

Long before Caroline Thompson wrote the screenplays for Edward Scissorhands or The Nightmare Before Christmas, she wrote this dark, deeply weird novel called First Born. She sold director Penelope Spheeris the rights to the film adaptation for $1, and adapted her first novel into her first screenplay. The film was never made, but it launched Thompson on a new career in Hollywood, and she soon met Tim Burton at a studio party. The two bonded over feeling like nerdy outcasts in a room full of Hollywood insiders.

As a lifelong Tim Burton fan, I’ve been meaning to read this book ever since I first found out Thompson had written it. It took me a while to track a copy down, but even after I had it I was nervous about cracking it open. Would it be worth it? Does the book offer a glimpse at the writer who would later pen some of my favorite movies? I only knew that the plot concerned abortion, and that it was literary horror.

The book is both more and less than what that description promises.

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A Definitive Ranking of Bryan Fuller’s Greatest Female Characters

The Fullerverse is the fantastic array of televisual delights curated, written, and showrun by one Bryan Fuller. As a writer who has talked about his love of Wonder Woman, Princess Leia, and the Bionic Woman, Fuller has made a point of creating three-dimensional, complex female characters on each of his shows—not just cardboard “strong female characters” or bland ass-kickers, but women with different strengths and weaknesses, beliefs, and, most of all, believable inner lives.

This week saw the premiere of American Gods’ fourth episode, “Git Gone,” which gives Laura Moon a backstory she never had in Neil Gaiman’s novel. It also honors Fuller’s tradition of women who live their lives (and die their deaths) on their own terms. The more I thought about Laura, the more I wanted to look back at more of Fuller’s female characters. They’re all great, but who’s the best?

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They Sent a Poet: Samuel R. Delany’s Babel-17

Samuel R. Delany’s Babel-17 has the basic elements of a space opera: interstellar travel, a multi-talented captain, a ragtag crew, a brave pilot, space skirmishes, a few stop-offs on a couple of different planets, high-level espionage, romantic entanglements, and even a James Bond-style battle during an elegant dinner.

It’s where the story subverts a typical space opera that things get really interesting. The captain? A telepathic Chinese woman who happens to be the most famous poet of her age. The espionage? Comes in the form of a language, Babel-17, that reprograms people’s brains as they learn it. The pilot? A man who’s had enough surgery done that he stands ten feet tall, and has the head, paws, and fangs of a Saber-toothed cat. The romantic entanglements? Occur between a variety of people, but never in quite the form you’re expecting.

The most important narrative thread of Babel-17 turns out not to be the ramshackle plot, which bounces us across a couple of different planets and ships, but rather the question of whether communication between two people is possible.

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Hallelujah! American Gods Renewed for Second Season

We’re getting more American Gods! Deadline has reported that Starz renewed the show for a second season, which is expected to premiere in mid-2018. Season one premiered on April 30th to rapturous reviews.

The show, which is being adapted from Neil Gaiman’s 2001 novel by Bryan Fuller and Michael Green, stars Ian McShane as the deceptively charming conman Mr. Wednesday, and Ricky Whittle as his bodyguard/apprentice, Shadow Moon.

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The Quest for Truth and Popsicles: Daniel Pinkwater’s Borgel

The original idea for TBR Stack was to read my way through a bunch of books I’ve allowed to pile up on my shelves (and desk, and floor, and dining table, and kitchen counter, and did I mention the floor…) but for the next two installments I will be revisiting books I have already read—I promise I have a good reason, though! This week’s book, Borgel, is a fantastically silly sci-fi by Daniel Pinkwater, who is, in my opinion (not to mention Cory Doctorow’s) not only one of the best YA writers ever, but also a life-changing force in the life of a reader. I decided to reread Borgel for the first time in more than a decade after reading Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus two weeks ago. I was captivated by Carter’s line, “You can do anything you like, as long as nobody takes you seriously” which led me back to Pinkwater.

Now if I was to tell you that this book was about a quest for God, you’d probably run in the other direction, right? So it’s a good thing this is actually a time travel adventure about the quest for a sentient popsicle.

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The Newest It Trailer Highlights the Humor within the Horror!

The latest trailer for Stephen King’s It puts the horror on hold for a while to showcase the friendship of the Loser’s Club! This should come as a relief to fans of the book—while the novel is terrifying, it’s the bond between the kids who are fighting IT that give the story it’s heart. Even better? This trailer highlights the role of Bev, plus the banter between Richie Tozier and Eddie Kaspbrack, and hints that there will be as much humor as horror.

But don’t worry…the horror shows up by the end. Click through for the full trailer!

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Finding Darkness Within the Humor of Sjón’s The Whispering Muse

When I scanned my TBR Stack for a book to read this week, Sjon’s 2005 title, The Whispering Muse, jumped right out at me. I’ve been meaning to read Sjón for years (any Björk lyricist is OK by me) and I was intrigued by the way The Whispering Muse plucked figures from Greek mythology, mashed them up with Norse counterparts, and rolled the whole thing into a weird, marvelously deadpan modern-ish story, which then weaves into a much darker modern-ish story. Here is the opening sentence of this book:

I, Valdimar Haraldsson, was in my twenty-seventh year when I embarked on the publication of a small journal devoted to my chief preoccupation, the link between fish consumption and the superiority of the Nordic race.

Now that is the way to open a book if you want me to keep reading.

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Taking Flight with Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a reader gets home, opens her front door, and is promptly crushed to death by the tower of books that has taken over every square inch of her home. Granted, it’s not a great joke, but it is my life. My stacks of books To Be Read are gradually taking over my living, work, and, um, everything space. In an effort to clear some out, I’ll be reading one book a week—fantasy, sci-fi, horror, whatever—and reporting back.

This week, I’m reading and spewing thoughts about Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus. Angela Carter was a writer who joyously blurred the lines between literary fiction, fantasy, and fairy tale, and who often used her work to examine gender roles and sexuality. Nights at the Circus was her eighth novel, published in 1984, and… well, the plot bumps and sprawls around half of the world through dozens of characters, but mostly follows a woman who might be part-swan. Cool, right? There is only one problem… this book is so overstuffed with ideas, plot points, conspiracies, and general insanity that it’s been difficult to find one element to focus on.

What would Angela Carter do?

[“You can do anything you like, as long as nobody takes you seriously.”]

We’ve Seen Your New Favorite Show, and It’s American Gods

At least, American Gods is now my favorite show. Like a lot of Gaiman fans, I read American Gods back in 2001 and loved it. I was already studying American religion, and I thought Gaiman’s book was the best representation of American faith, culture, and diversity I’d ever read. I’ve seen the first four episodes of Bryan Fuller and Michael Green’s adaptation—premiering on Starz this Sunday—and if anything it’s even more representative of the country we’re living in right now. I’ll talk about a few of the highlights below, but I’ll avoid plot points and anything remotely spoilery, because ruining anything for those of you who haven’t watched it would be, well, a sin.

[And that’s the last religion pun, I promise.]

Orlando Jones and Crispin Glover Discuss Race, Fashion, and Breaking Down Barriers in American Gods

Orlando Jones and Crispin Glover turned out to be an inspired pairing for the American Gods press event. Jones is a lively extrovert, laughing and joking with his interviewers, until he turns on a dime to give serious explanations about the true nature of Mr. Nancy. Crispin Glover, on the other hand, is quiet and reserved—until he turns on a dime to decry the increasing influence of corporate thinking on American life. The two men are also huge fans of each other, with Jones comparing Glover’s thoughtfulness to his friend, Laurence Fishburne, and Glover praising Jones for being a great spokesperson for their show.

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American Gods Showrunners Talk Sex; Reveal Favorite Deities

Be warned: this post contains sex and blatant deity favoritism. During a press event for the upcoming Starz show American Gods, showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green mused on comic book pantheons, the nature of worship, and the unique challenges of adapting “god sex” from Neil Gaiman’s novel to the screen.

This might seem like an odd juxtaposition, but if you’ve read American Gods you know that the book tackles sexuality in a unique way. Since many of the book’s divine figures come from a time when sex was simply part of worship, there are several scenes of amorous encounters between humans and deities. This led to particular challenges for the showrunners.

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Actor Bruce Langley on Playing American Gods’ Technical Boy

I am extremely excited for American Gods. I’m also firmly in the “Bryan Fuller is a perfect person who should get to do whatever he wants on TV” camp, so learning that he would be combining his talents with Neil Gaiman’s fills me with joy. The one thing that made me (and at least some of the rest of you) a little nervous was the Technical Boy.

American Gods is a brilliant book, but the Technical Boy was something of a late-90s, early-00’s nerd stereotype: an overweight, acne-riddled, emotionally stunted, arrogant kid who couldn’t speak to humanity, and had a special viciousness toward women. Given the ascendancy of what used to be considered “nerd culture”, and how much out relationship with technology has changed over the last 17 years, it was obvious that this vision would need to be updated. The glimpse of Tech Boy seen in American Gods’ first episode laid many of my fears to rest, but getting to attend a press junket and listen to the actor behind Tech Boy, Bruce Langley, talk about his work on the role checked on my fears, got them a glass of water, and put the nightlight on before lullabying them back to sleep.

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Bodies in Space: Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Book of Joan

Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Book of Joan is so much more than just a retelling of the story of Joan of Arc. Let’s get plot out of the way: In the near future, the Water Wars have ravaged the Earth. Those who are too young or weak to fight are crushed by a constant roving battle. One group gathers around Jean de Men, a charismatic but brutal leader who would exploit the planet’s resources until there is nothing left; the other around Joan of Dirt, a young woman warrior. Rather than hearing the voice of God, this Joan hears the voice of the Earth itself, a song that is being sung by the dirt, the trees, the water, the air…but this is no Disney ballad—it’s a song of fury and pain, and when it enters Joan’s mind it changes her life irrevocably.

From this ecologically-minded update of Joan of Arc Lidia Yuknavitch creates a masterful book that is concerned with the stories we tell ourselves, and how we choose to tell those stories. When humanity is at its endpoint, facing its ultimate destruction, what story will we whisper into the dark?

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Series: Genre in the Mainstream

Mystery Science Theater 3000 is Coming Back! But Is It Better than Ever?

Is it… bold? Could it possibly even be… extry bold?

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend an early screening of the new MST3K episode in New York. At first I was so nervous and excited that it took a few minutes for me to, um, really just relax. What if it sucked? What if Jonah Ray didn’t work as a host? Or if the Bots had come back…wrong? Or if I hated Tom Servo’s new voice? Worst of all: what if it just wasn’t funny?

Well, I’m ecstatic to say, fellow MSTies, that in this reviewer’s exceedingly unhumble, nigh Servo-esque opinion, the new episode is great! I will tell you why, and I will do it without spoiling anything, because I want all of my fellow MSTies to enjoy the show this weekend.

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