content by

Leah Schnelbach

Abandon the Newspeak and Drink the Soma: Aldous Huxley Humble-Brags in a Letter to George Orwell

When George Orwell finished his classic dystopia, Nineteen Eighty-Four, he eagerly had a copy sent off to his high school French teacher.

His high school French teacher, Aldous Huxley.

When the author of A Brave New World wrote back, he praised his former student’s book as “fine” and “profoundly important”—but he also seemingly couldn’t resist writing (at some length!) about how his own vision of the future was better (or at least more accurate in its predictions)…

[Read the full letter]

Maria Dahvana Headley and Victor LaValle in Conversation Over Frankenstein

This summer marks the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein—and it holds a special place in our hearts as one of the forerunners of modern science fiction. While the book wasn’t published until 1818, the story was first conceived in 1816 during an iconic tale-spinning session she shared with Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, Claire Clairmont, and John Polidori while on a particularly rainy holiday in Geneva.

We wanted to take a moment to celebrate the novel, and we could think of no better way than asking authors Victor LaValle (The Ballad of Black Tom) and Maria Dahvana Headley (Magonia) to talk about Mary Shelley, Victor Frankenstein, and their various creations. Victor and Maria were kind enough to meet with me, Katharine Duckett (of Publishing), and Irene Gallo for a lunchtime chat about monsters, motherhood, and Promethean desires, and I’ve done my best to round up the highlights of our conversation below!

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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.

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Series: On This Day

Is the World Ready for a Post-Watchmen Tick?

Well are you, chum? Honestly, I didn’t think I was, but Amazon’s new reboot of The Tick won me over by the end of the pilot. When I saw the images of Peter Serafinowicz in the suit I was apprehensive. I loved the original live-action version of The Tick, because in addition to Patrick Warburton being seemingly cosmically ordained to play the role, David Burke (Arthur), Nestor Carbonell (Batmanuel), and Liz Vassey (Captain Liberty) were also perfect, and director Barry Sonnenfeld managed to create fully-realized world around the characters. It was distinct from the comic and cartoon, but just as funny. But that first shot of Serafinowicz? The suit looked weird. It looked like a suit. I had visions of uncanny valleys dancing in my head.

I’m happy to say that, at least in the opening episode, The Tick makes the suit work. And it makes everything about the show work by embracing and then oh-so-gently mocking the current gritty superhero landscape.

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From Carrie to Annie Wilkes, Everything is Connected in This Flowchart of The Stephen King Universe!

Flowchart designer and Stephen King fan Gillian James of Tessiegirl Design has created the ultimate Stephen King Universe Flowchart! She first fell in love with Mr. King’s words in 5th grade, when a classmate brought her mother’s copy of Carrie to school. The kids all took turns reading aloud, and naturally, when James’ mom absolutely forbade her to keep reading it, she devoured the rest! Now she’s expressing her love of the man’s work through an intricate, possibly-migraine-inducing chart. It maps connections between King’s two favorite towns, Derry and Castle Rock, and even tracks books where the towns are only referenced. After some feedback from other King fans, James threaded All World of The Dark Tower series into the chart as well. The resulting work provides what I assume is a nigh-perfect map of Stephen King’s teeming brain.

Click through to explore the full, embiggenable image, but keep in mind that much like King’s oeuvre, this sucker is huge.

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Learning Through Loss: Kubo and The Two Strings

Kubo and The Two Strings is an extraordinary film that marries complex themes with some of the most beautiful animation I’ve ever seen. Please be warned, this review will turn into a discussion and get into spoiler territory in a few paragraphs, so I’ll start with my condensed review, in case you’re still on the fence:

GO SEE IT. Go see it as soon as you can, because it’s a beautiful film, it uses a singular combination of origami and stop motion to tell its story. It’s the best Laika production since Coraline, and it’s telling a vital story about stories, human identity, and death. (Why is everything about death lately? The people running the simulation we’re all in are getting really repetitive. We should complain to someone.)

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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.

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Series: On This Day

Dream Casting Tom Bombadil for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings

We were discussing Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings adaptations, and arguing the relative merits of the Extended Editions versus the Theatrical Releases. (Leah prefers Extended, Emily prefers Theatrical. We’re both correct.) Emily pointed out that there should have been a DVD extra of Bombadil material, and then, naturally, that led to a dreamcasting of Bombadil. We gave ourselves a few restrictions—these had to be people who would have fit the role in 1999/2000, when they would have been hired for The Fellowship of the Ring, and all of the actors have been cast on the assumption that supermodel Claudia Schiffer is playing Goldberry…

So, hey! Come derry dol! Hop along, my hearties! Hobbits! Ponies all! readers! We are fond of parties. Now let the fun begin! Let us sing together… or at least take a look at our picks, and tell us yours in the comments.

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I Never Thought this Joke Could Ever Be… This Close to Me

Artist Butcher Billy has created a fantastic series called the Post-Punk Supervillain Squad, and it is every bit as wonderful as it sounds. Billy has collected a true Rogue’s Gallery of Punk ad New Wave stars, and, with slight change in make-up, transformed them into formidable foes! Crank up Unknown Pleasures and bask in this art.

[I’ve been looking so long at these pictures of Harley Quinn that I almost believe that they’re real.]

Check out the Trailer for The Iron Giant Documentary, The Giant’s Dream!

A long time ago, in a world much like our own, a young animator named Brad Bird attempted to make the Greatest Animated Film of All Time. Some say he succeeded, but alas, his film, The Iron Giant, flopped at the box office, and was widely regarded as a failure until it began attracting a sizable cult on DVD. A new Signature Edition of The Iron Giant is coming to DVD and Blu-ray this fall, which is great, but we at wouldn’t ordinarily report on it. However…this Signature Edition will also include a brand-new documentary on the making of the film!

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Django Wexler Shoulders His Musket and Talks about The Guns of Empire!

Django Wexler’s latest novel, The Guns of Empire, is the fourth book in the The Shadow Campaigns. Based in the Napoleonic Wars, Wexler’s fantasy combines muskets and bayonets with magic, and draws on military history to create a world of brutal battles and fascinating gender politics. The Guns of Empire was unleashed into the world just last week, and Wexler took to reddit to answer questions about research, Napoleon, gaming, and his love of anime. I’ve rounded up a few highlights below!

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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.

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Series: On This Day

Patrick Rothfuss on Why It Took 15 Years to Write The Name of the Wind

WIRED Book Club just wrapped up their readthrough of The Name of the Wind and to cap off their introduction into The Kingkiller Chronicles, they have interviewed author Patrick Rothfuss about his writing process, magic systems, and why he considers his first draft such a “hot mess.”

Perhaps the most inspiring bit for writers is Rothfuss’ admission that it took 15 years to shape his first novel from an initial draft into the addictive magical romp we love. A lot of personal growth and work went into crafting The Name of the Wind.

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Neil Gaiman’s Inner Workings are Explored in New Documentary Dream Dangerously

“I want to make shit up. I want to write it down. I want to make people happy.”

Neil Gaiman has written many wonderful stories over the years, but I think I may like his idea of a punk manifesto the best. These lines form the crie de coeur of a new documentary, Neil Gaiman: Dream Dangerously, which is now available to rent or purchase on Vimeo. If you’re a Gaiman fan, or an artist of any stripe, this film will almost certainly hold some treasures for you.

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