content by

Leah Schnelbach

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind: A New Kind of Action Hero

Over 30 years ago—in March of 1984—Hayao Miyazaki’s first original movie soared into theaters. This was Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, and it proved a watershed moment in the history of anime. Here was a film built around real thematic concerns, with a heroine who fronted an action movie without becoming an action cliché. Here monsters were revealed to be good, and humans were revealed to be… complicated. Here, Miyazaki created a film that would serve as a template for the rest of his career.

And maybe best of all, Nausicaä’s success led to the foundation of Studio Ghibli the following year.

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John Scalzi is Optimistic about Cockroaches, Novels, and the Future of Science Fiction

John Scalzi made his reputation when he serialized Old Man’s War online, and attracted a huge readership and the notice of Tor Books’ Patrick Nielsen Hayden. Now he’s tackling a brand new space opera, The Collapsing Empire. He recently spoke with the good folks of The Verge about his new book, the future of publishing, and the power of optimism. Check out a few highlights below!

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Heroic Choices are Never Easy. The Expanse: “The Weeping Somnambulist”

This week’s episode of The Expanse, “The Weeping Somnambulist” continued with the crazy switchback emotional reversals. After packing a rollercoaster of trauma into Meng’s storyline last week: becoming a refugee, losing his daughter, deepening a friendship, watching that friend die, and, finally, discovering that his daughter might still be alive, we now get another tiny micro-tragedy, and the terrible choices that have to be made by Bobbie Draper.

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9 Emotional Books That Had Our Readers in Tears

Last month we asked you which books are guaranteed to make you cry, and you came through with dozens of tearstained comments. In looking through our open thread of Books that Punched us in the Tear Ducts, it becomes clear that Cormac McCarthy and Robin Hobb have a lot to answer for, and that you will all be mourning Dobby for the foreseeable future. I’ve rounded up some of the top picks, and added a few of our own, so if you need a good literary cry we have you covered.

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In Space, No One Can Hear You Abuse Refugees. The Expanse: “Pyre”

If last week’s episode of The Expanse was all about how “important” people deal with the aftermath of trauma, this week’s was all about trauma on the ground. We get to see the Ganymede refugee crisis from a different angle, as well as the Belters’ perspective on Fred Johnson’s rule of Tycho Station.

We don’t go to Earth or Mars this time, but remain in the Belt for the whole heartbreaking episode. I’ve recapped the highlights below—join me, won’t you?

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20 Classic Mystery Science Theater 3000 Episodes Premiere on Netflix Today!

Are you ready for the return of Mystery Science Theater 3000 next month? Are you, like some of us here, quivering with anticipation? Just in case you can’t wait another thirty interminable days for more riffs, Shout Factory has released twenty classic episodes on Netflix, and they’re premiering today! The best part is they’ve included fantastic episodes from both the Joel and the Mike eras, so you can revisit both hosts’ styles before Jonah Ray steps into the jumpsuit next month.

Check out the whole list below.
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Hayao Miyazaki Finds Lupin III’s Heart in The Castle of Cagliostro

Hayao Miyazaki’s 1979 directorial debut, The Castle of Cagliostro, predates the founding of Studio Ghibli. But it lays the groundwork for many of the themes that will pop up throughout the later classics that came from the Studio. Looking back at the film, it’s clear that even right out of the gate, working as a “director for hire,” and using someone else’s characters, Miyazaki still found a way to make a Miyazaki movie.

In revisiting the film, I found that it’s still a fantastic rollercoaster, zipping from rollicking heist to poignant romance to oddly dark melodrama easily, all the while punctuated by goofy, slapstick humor. On paper, this shouldn’t work, but it adds up to a marvelous film that shows many of Miyazaki’s hallmarks already firmly in place. Join me as I discuss the themes and highlights of the film—please be aware of spoilers going forward.

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The Void of Space is No Match for the Weight of History: Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfař

Jaroslav Kalfař’s funny and moving debut novel, Spaceman of Bohemia, begins pragmatically enough: The Czech Republic’s first astronaut is hurtling through space, and he misses the hell out of his wife. As details are sketched in we learn that we are slightly in the future, and that Jakub Procházka has been flung into the cosmos because a purple cloud of some sort of space dust has collected between Earth and Venus, giving our night sky a purplish tint, and promising answers to whichever country can get up there and collect a sample. Jakub is just the astrophysicist for the job, and Czechia rallies its populace and funding from the private sector to turn the mission into a national act of morale boosting.

Obviously the cracks begin to show almost immediately.

Jakub and his wife, Lenka, have been trying to get pregnant, it hasn’t worked, and Lenka might be leaving him.

Jakub himself is the son of a communist party member who did some terrible things on Moscow’s behalf, and Jakub has some baggage because of it.

Weirdest of all? The enormous, many-eyed, red-lipped alien space-spider who seems to have taken up residence in his ship.

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Series: Genre in the Mainstream

Zen Pencils Tells the Inspirational Story of Stephen King’s Writing Desk

Many of you reading this site will know that the greatest book of writing advice ever written, ever, ever, ever, is Stephen King’s On Writing. There is a particularly important passage in that book where King encapsulates his entire writing career, his battle with substance abuse, and his belief in art’s purpose into one brief anecdote about his writing desk. I remember being especially struck by the story the first time I read it, so I was pleased to see it turned into a touching comic by Zen Pencils!

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Secrets, Lies and an Epstein Drive! The Expanse: “Paradigm Shift”

The Expanse continues its run of great episodes this week with “Paradigm Shift”—we go back in time to meet Solomon Epstein, inventor of the Epstein Drive; bounce between proto-molecule shenanigans in the Belt and political machinations on Earth; and check back in with Bobbie Draper, whose mission to Ganymede is not quite what she expected…

I’ve recapped the highlights below!

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Mystery Science Theater 3000 Will Get Movie Sign on April 14th!

Netflix has given us the news we’ve been waiting for: MST3K will premiere on April 14th! And to be extra swell, they shared a new cast photo. The new cast features Jonah Ray as host Jonah Heston, Hampton Yount as Crow, and Baron Vaughn as Tom Servo, plus Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt as a new generation of Mad Scientists hell-bent on mayhem.

Now who’s joining us in the theater?

The Unlikely Philosophy of Joe Versus the Volcano

Please enjoy this repost of an article that originally ran on April 12, 2016. 

At the dawn of the ’90s, a film was released that was so quirky, so weird, and so darkly philosophical that people who turned up expecting a typical romantic comedy were left confused and dismayed. That film was Joe Versus the Volcano, and it is a near-masterpiece of cinema.

There are a number of ways one could approach Joe Versus the Volcano. You could look at it in terms of writer and director John Patrick Shanley’s career, or Tom Hanks’. You could analyze the film’s recurring duck and lightning imagery. You could look at it as a self-help text, or apply Campbell’s Hero Arc to it. I’m going to try to look at it a little differently. JVtV is actually an examination of morality, death, and more particularly the preparation for death that most people in the West do their best to avoid. The film celebrates and then subverts movie clichés to create a pointed commentary on what people value, and what they choose to ignore. Plus it’s also really funny!

[May you live to be a thousand years old.]