content by

Leah Schnelbach

The Varied Life of Jack Vance

There’s one thing I’ve learned from researching our founding SFF authors: writers used to be a hell of a lot cooler. Not to insult any of our modern masters—far from it! They’re doing their best with the era they were dealt. But skim over the history of Harlan Ellison. Take a look at Robert Heinlein’s life, or Kurt Vonnegut’s, or Frank Herbert’s or Philip K. Dick’s. You’ll find stories of street brawls, epic rivalries, tumultuous love lives, hallucinations.

And then you get to Jack Vance, and the more you read the more you expect to learn that the man wrestled tigers for fun.

[Actually, he wrestled with more interesting things than tigers…]

Series: On This Day

What James Tiptree Jr. Can Teach Us About the Power of The SF Community

Ordinarily when I write an On This Day tribute, I find a theme to discuss. When you get to James Tiptree, Jr., however, finding a single theme becomes difficult.

Tiptree was born a century ago, on August 24, 1915, and then again in a grocery store in 1967. Over her life she was known as Alice Bradley, Alice Bradley Davey, Major Alice Bradley Sheldon, and Dr. Alice B. Sheldon, and she wrote as both James Tiptree, Jr. and Raccoona Sheldon. Throughout her life she performed a high wire act that combined genderfluidity with mythmaking. Some writers and fans have found the Tiptree theme to center on gender, on feminist history, on the power gained from anonymity, on queer identities in SFF. Obviously none of these themes are incorrect; what I’m focusing on, however, is the extraordinary story of Tiptree’s relationship to the SF community as a whole.

[Read more]

Series: On This Day

Ray Bradbury: The Best Writing Teacher You Could Ever Have

Today would have been Ray Bradbury’s 95th birthday, and there are many, many stories you can tell about Bradbury’s life and career: Fahrenheit 451 was written in nine days, and cost the young author $9.80 in typewriter rental fees; Truman Capote got “The Homecoming ” published in Mademoiselle after it was rejected by Weird Tales; it took several years of working with editors at Knopf to find his voice; Ray Harryhausen was the best man at his wedding, and the two were lifelong friends.

All of these make for a colorful life, but I really want to talk about Ray Bradbury: the best writing teacher you could ever have.

[Read More]

Series: On This Day

Diana Wynne Jones Subverted Fantasy Even as She Celebrated It

Diana Wynne Jones never quite took her fantasies seriously. Any time she had the chance to subvert your expectations of the brooding Byronic wizard, or the master enchanter, or the fantasy kingdom wracked by war, she took it. Taken as a whole, her books act as both a love letter and a critique to the Fantasy genre.

Born this day in 1934, she was raised by parents (both professional teachers) who neglected their children, remained emotionally distant, and only provided their three girls one book a year to share between them. What might have fostered resentment instead led Wynne Jones to be self-reliant: she made up for their lack of books by making up her own stories.

[Read More]

Series: On This Day

Discover Delight, Ingenuity and Joy with Stories for Chip: A Tribute to Samuel R. Delany!

It’s only fitting that Stories for Chip, an anthology honoring professional polymath Samuel R. Delany would feature a ridiculous variety of stories. It’s also only fitting that they would be inventive, incisive, and filled with joy. Edited by Nisi Shawl and Bill Campbell, Stories for Chip includes fiction from every corner of fiction both “literary” and “genre,” as well academic essays on Delany’s place in SFF, and a few personal reminiscences from friends.

That variety in and of itself tells you something vital about Delany: over his career he has written science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, porn, historical essays, writing advice, and comics, and he’s inspired people in every one of those realms. In a basic way, his very presence in the community inspires because how many black gay intellectuals who also run respected undergrad creative writing programs are there in SFF?

[Stories in this anthology like grains of sand…]

Ranking the Corpse Art of Hannibal!

From the depths of my mourning for Hannibal’s cancellation, I wanted to think about the good times, and focus on some of the show’s best corpse sculpture.

See that picture up there where Will Graham is happily fixing a boat motor, surrounded by his loving puppies? That is the last happy picture you will see in this post. This post is literally made of (fictional) dead people. So proceed with caution. Also, there will be spoilers for the ENTIRE SERIES.

[So, so many dead people.]

You Beautiful Monster: The 20-Year Struggle to Make Clive Barker’s Nightbreed

Clive Barker has had a bumpy film career. After writing scripts for Underworld and Rawhead Rex, and being underwhelmed with the results, he decided to try directing his stories himself. So he adapted his story “The Hellbound Heart,” and created the classic Hellraiser. Unfortunately, for the next movie he wanted to do a thoughtful, dark fantasy adaptation of his story “Cabal,” but his producers just really wanted a slasher movie.

[Because the world needed more of those…]

If Someone Asks You if You’re a God, Do You Say Yes?

It’s a perennial question among comics fans: flight or invisibility? This is a simple test to see where your values are. If you answer flight, you’re a free-spirited romantic. Invisibility? You’re a skeevy perv not fit for human society. Insist that those choices suck, and that you want something really cool like invincibility or teleportation? Then your friends will just yell at you.

[The real point of the question is to force you to make a choice.]

Crimson Peak‘s Feminist Gothic, Krampus is Coming for Christmas, and World of Warcraft Brings New Resonance to the Word Wow at the Legendary SDCC 2015 Panel!

The casts and crews of Crimson Peak, Krampus, and World of Warcraft invaded Hall H for the Legendary Films panel! And not to be too excitable, but I now want to see all three of these movies immediately. Check out the panel highlights below!

[Haunted Houses, Dark Christmases, and Orcs!]

A Sober and Verbose Reflection on Robert A. Heinlein

Today we commemorate Robert A. Heinlein, who was born on this day in 1907. He is a giant in the science fiction genre, but like most giants, his path to literary greatness was tangled and circuitous. His naval career ended in the 1920s when tuberculosis scarred his lungs. He attempted real estate and silver mining, ran for political office in California, and only began writing to make a mortgage payment. His first story, “Life-Line,” was published in the August 1939 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, after Heinlein realized that Astounding paid more than the prize money for the contest he had originally entered. This began a long relationship with Astounding’s editor, John W. Campbell, who published much of Heinlein’s work through the 1940s.

[Read more]

Series: On This Day

Hiding From Mr. Sun? Here Are Some Shows To Catch Up On This Summer!

Don’t go outside! You know you’ll just burn. Stay inside where the air conditioning lives, and catch up on life’s greatest gift: streaming television.

We’ve picked out a few of the shows that we like the most, that also happen to be readily available for binge-watching. A few have just finished seasons, while others are launching into new ones, but in most cases you can easily watch these suckers over a weekend, if you want. We’ve also done our best to curate a few different flavors of geek TV, so there’s some comedy, some sci-fi, some Marvel, some whatever-the-hell-genre-the-Wachowskis-are… In short, there’s probably at least one show on this list that you’ll fall in love with.

[Read more]

Talking Villainy at BEA: The Big Bad Theory with Charlie Jane Anders!

You might expect a late-Sunday BEA panel to be a sedate affair, but The Big Bad Theory was anything but! Charlie Jane Anders, author of All the Birds in the Sky, moderated a lively discussion on the tropes of villainy with authors Ilana C. Myer, Scott Westerfeld, David Wellington, and Michael Buckley. If you’re trying to write a villain, these panelists have some excellent advice for you! Anders kicked things off by asking the audience to give her their best “villainous mwahahaha” – and the room responded with a truly terrifying enthusiasm.

[Panels need more Villainous Mwahahahas]

What Is The Frequency of Hope? Tomorrowland Never Quite Tells Us

Mad Max: Fury Road will remain firmly atop its pedestal as my favorite film of summer so far. Tomorrowland, despite all the hope and fairy dust, did not unseat it. And for anyone complaining that Fury Road had a “thin” plot… well, Tomorrowland’s plot is essentially: Hope is great! We should all have it! This is not to say it’s a bad film, but it is a simple one, and I am not its target audience. This is the kind of optimistic, gee whiz kids movie that the ’80s were particularly good at, and if you have a human under 14 in your home, you might want to drop it off at the theater and pick it up after.


We All Agree that Mad Max: Fury Road is Great. Here’s Why It’s Also Important.

Mad Max: Fury Road premiered to an avalanche of praise, with an astonishingly high Rotten Tomatoes score, an even higher IMDB score (it’s already at #23!), and nigh unanimous praise from everyone from The New Yorker to The Hollywood Reporter to The Mary Sue, with SBNation getting it best (I think) by saying that “Mad Max: Fury Road is a Movie Made with Caps Lock On.” Quite right. Many people also noted the film’s feminism and the environmental themes. But here was one thing I noticed: even in reviews that were a little more in-depth, many of them didn’t actually dig into what makes this film important, and how it is a giant step forward for the Mad Max series–a trilogy that seemed to go out with a hilariously over-the-top bang in 1985.

I want to take a closer look at why this film is so resonant. Spoilers abound for all the Mad Maxes (obviously) and for Thelma & Louise (come on, you’ve had, like, 50 years to watch it) and Game of Thrones (ugh). This post will discuss sexual violence, so tread carefully if you need to.

[We Are Not Things.]

The Hype is Real. Mad Max: Fury Road is One of The Best Films of the Year

The first half hour of Mad Max: Fury Road may be the greatest action movie I’ve ever seen. But then the film keeps going, keeps piling on more cars and more explosions and more perfectly choreographed fight scenes, and quickly becomes one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, period. Really this review should just be me writing GO SEE IT WHAT ARE YOU DOING TELL YOUR BOSS YOU’RE SICK AND GET YOUR ASS TO A THEATER RIGHT NOW, because honestly, anything less is unethical on my part.

[Oh what a lovely day!]

Should You Watch the Original Mad Max Trilogy?

The short answer is “Yes, of course, what the heck were you thinking not watching it?” But perhaps you need some convincing. Perhaps you missed Beyond Thunderdome each of the many times it was shown on a cable outlet, and are now leery of Tina Turner in a fright wig. Perhaps you think moviemakers couldn’t create a believable post-apocalyptic landscape in the (mostly) CGI-free days of the 1980s. Perhaps you just can’t with Mel Gibson. I understand. (Truly! Especially about that last one.) But I’m here to show you that the original Mad Max trilogy holds many wonders!

[Tina Turner’s hair is but one of them.]

Does Biology Need to Be Destiny in the Work of Joss Whedon?

Avengers: Age of Ultron is about a lot of things. The film is a conversation about monsters, gods, what is right, what is wrong. Ultron is a monster, by our standards, but he thinks of himself as a god. Is Tony a monster for creating him? Will Steve ever be able to leave the war behind? Will Hawkeye ever finish the dining room?

The biggest question that my friends and I have been discussing, however, is what we’ve all already started calling “The Black Widow Monster Scene.” There are several ways to interpret the exchange between Natasha and Bruce, all of which seem valid, in my opinion. But I specifically want to examine how this scene functions in the context of Joss Whedon’s overall work, and the popular perception of Whedon as a feminist writer. Simply put: let’s look at how often Whedon has relied on this trope of a woman’s power or uniqueness or, yes, monstrosity, being inseparable from her gender and sexuality—why, in Whedon’s stories of women’s power, does their strength and talent always need to be bound to their bodies and biology?

[Read more]