content by

Natalie Zutter

Last Song Before Night is Written Like One of Its Own Epic Songs

In the land of Eivar, music and magic were once woven together inextricably. But when a small contingent of the Seers—poets who performed enchantments through song—turned to forbidden blood-magic, Davyd the Dreamweaver was forced to strip all Seers and poets of their magic: “A word was a word, no more.” Yet generations later, poems and their words retain nearly the same power as spells: Empires are built and undermined by poets who often wield more influence than even their royal sponsors. Ilana C. Myer’s debut novel Last Song Before Night tracks a group of young poets and their muses (their loves and enemies) as they unwittingly play into a prophecy to bring the magic back to Eivar.

The very words that Last Song Before Night venerates, protects, and unearths in turn shape the structure of the book itself. The narrative arcs and the characters adopt the style of the words they describe—that is, the epic poetry written and performed by both aspiring poets and disgraced Seers. Last Song Before Night reads less like a novel and more like the kind of song poets would sing, strumming their harps with fingers bedecked with Academy rings, about how the youngest generation of poets overturned the city of Tamryllin’s history of poetry and privilege.

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You Have No Choice But to Cry When Watching The Iron Giant for the First Time has done the impossible: It’s found someone who hasn’t seen The Iron Giant. But while I had never watched the movie, I was well aware of the emotional real estate it had carved into the hearts of most of my peers. I also knew that when I finally did watch it, I was going to have to walk away from the experience somehow changed: Feels, or it didn’t happen.

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How Evil SFF Empires Create Ideal Citizens

While they fall on somewhat different points of the morality spectrum, both the Imperial Radch and the Empire of Masks share the same goal: to colonize other alien (whether foreign lands or planets) cultures and convert these peoples into ideal citizens. Here, “ideal” doesn’t necessarily mean “right,” it means one who embodies the culture: uniformity among the many conquered peoples, with clearly-defined codes of conduct, and an aesthetic that sums up the society’s core values. It also comes at the expense of the varied cultures over which they steamroll, condemning and erasing diverse identities.

It’s horrifying and engrossing, and keeps us reading despite the revulsion that bubbles up. But what most keeps us engaged in Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice and Seth Dickinson’s The Traitor Baru Cormorant is the fact that both series’ protagonists—Justice of Toren One Esk, a.k.a. Breq, and Baru Cormorant—have personal vendettas against their systems while they’re in the process of trying to destroy them from the inside. Yet for all their rebellion, they are both on their way to becoming ideal citizens themselves.

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Court of Fives and the Importance of Making Race Explicit in YA Fantasy

At the We Need Diverse Books: In Our World and Beyond panel at BookCon 2015, Shadowshaper author Daniel José Older advocated for counter-narratives in sci-fi and fantasy that push back against the status quo. Authors can achieve this, he said, by considering “diverse rhythms, diverse narrative structures, diverse ways of being, diverse conflicts.”

When it comes to the creation of characters and cultures, homogeneity stands in the way of greater diversity, and vague descriptions surrounding characters of color feeds directly into that problematic homogeneity. Readers searching for their reflection in the books they consume bring their own assumptions and preferences to the character; and while vagueness regarding a character’s race can allow a wider range of readers to identify with a book’s protagonist, it can also weigh a character description in favor of white readers, sometimes leading to extreme cases of book covers being whitewashed.

That’s part of why Court of Fives, Kate Elliott’s first YA novel, is so refreshing. While its heroine, aspiring athlete Jessamy Tonor, is biracial, there is no ambiguity about her racial identification. Furthermore, the fact that her family is mixed-race is the crux of the novel’s dramatic conflict, making for a unique yet still universal story.

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New “Dystopian” Little Women Might be Missing the Point

Little Women is described as a hyper-stylized, gritty adaptation of the 1868 novel by Louisa May Alcott, in which disparate half-sisters Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy band together in order to survive the dystopic streets of Philadelphia and unravel a conspiracy that stretches far beyond anything they have ever imagined—all while trying not to kill each other in the process.

What the actual f***? Have The CW’s executives actually read Little Women? Probably not, though they likely patted themselves on the backs for having Rory Gilmore be seen reading it on Gilmore Girls a decade ago.

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The Ghostbusters 3 Movies That We Almost Got

Last year’s Sony email hack revealed a treasure trove of Hollywood intel, including Ivan Reitman’s proposal for a Ghostbusters 3 that would reunite the original Ghostbusters as well as pave the way for the next generation. In a 2013 email to Sony Pictures Entertainment co-chairman Amy Pascal, Reitman laid out the plot for what he called Ghostbusters: Alive Again. However, with Harold Ramis’ passing in 2014, this version was scrapped.

While it sounds like the strongest idea for a third installment, it’s definitely not the first. Ghostbusters 3 has stopped and started so many times since the 1990s, with at least five different versions rumored over the past 20 years. Read on for Dan Aykroyd’s multiple drafts, Reitman’s pitch, and what Ghostbusters 3 director Paul Feig is actually planning to do.

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Terminator: Genisys Changes History Yet Doesn’t Add Much New to the Franchise

Terminator: Genisys might as well be called Terminator: Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey. Partly because of the brief-but-important presence of Doctor Who‘s Matt Smith, but mostly because the franchise is rebooting itself with the ol’ “let’s create an alternate timeline” gambit. I’m a sucker for time travel stories that draw on and then recreate the past, so the premise seems interesting enough: In 2029, at the height of the War Against the Machines, John Connor (Jason Clarke) sends his loyal lieutenant Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back to 1984 to save his scared little mother Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) from the scary Terminators. Except that when buck-naked Kyle shows up in the past, badass Sarah and an older Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger, embracing his age) already know about the machines and pick Kyle up on their way to stop Judgment Day.

Some spoilers for Terminator: Genisys.

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Orphan Black: What’s Old is Neolution Again

Orphan Black 3×10 “History Yet to Be Written” is the first time I can think of the show truly living up to its opening credits, by completely mirroring the season 3 premiere. We opened on a technicolor baby shower and close on a family dinner at Bubbles that’s absurdly cheery when you consider the threat that lurks just at the fringes of this closer-knit-than-ever clan. It turns out that Castor and Leda were too busy with their good old-fashioned sibling rivalry to notice that a larger enemy has been biding its time, waiting for the perfect moment to reemerge.

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Which Type of Artificial Intelligence Would You Rather See in Our Future?

As time goes on, the notion of artificial intelligence becomes less of a sensational sci-fi concept and more of an eventuality. We have created and actively continue to construct algorithms that are responsive, intuitive, and precise—just look at social media that knows how to lure us in, sell to us, and keep us coming back. With each new algorithm, we get closer and closer to the kind of AI that will manifest itself in some sort of physical form(s) and bind its fate with ours.

Recent books, movies, television series, and comics all seem to have fallen on one of two sides in the type of AI they depict. Each is insidious in its own way, insofar as we’ve already seen the existence of early forms in our day-to-day lives. Furthermore, each says something grander (and scarier) about control, identity, and evolution.

[AI is coming, there’s little we can do to stop it. Time to pick your poison.]

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.

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Comic Book Creators Share How Diversity Bleeds Into Their Work

On the heels of We Need Diverse Books’ Diversity in SFF panel at BookCon two weeks ago, the second annual Special Edition: NYC also took time to focus on diversity and how it impacts some of the most popular comic book series and graphic novels being published today. The convention did so through three panels: Representation Beyond Characters: How Diversity Bleeds Into Work#BlackComicsMonth: Diversity in Comics, and Creating Comics: The Real Stories.

I was able to attend Representation Beyond Characters and Creating Comics. The former’s panelists were primarily people of color; the latter was all-female, including several women of color. Both talked about sneaking small but relatable details into worldbuilding, the difference between work-for-hire and creator-owned comics, and how publishers have responded to calls for greater diversity. Though the panels took place at different points during the con, they presented a refreshingly diverse lineup talking about real issues in modern storytelling.

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We Need Diverse Books Talks True, Political, Global Diversity in Sci-Fi and Fantasy

A year after its establishment, the We Need Diverse Books movement brought two engaging panels to BookCon 2015, partnering with bestselling authors to address the need for greater diversity in sci-fi and fantasy and children’s literature. In the panel In Our World and Beyond, SFF authors Kameron Hurley, Ken Liu, Nnedi Okorafor, and Daniel José Older, along with Saga Press Executive Editor Joe Monti, discussed the obstacles to depicting full representation of marginalized characters in SFF.

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Debut Tor Authors Play “Would You Rather: SFF Edition”

The “Tor Books class of 2015” (a.k.a. Tor Books’ next generation of debut authors) took to the stage at this year’s BookExpo America to talk about their forthcoming books. In keeping things college-themed, moderator John “Principal” Scalzi asked each panelist a series of Would You Rather questions—all about shadowy cabals, magical music, and sentient animals, of course.

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George Miller’s Justice League Would Have Changed Superhero Movies Drastically

Mad Max: Fury Road director George Miller almost made a Justice League movie, years before the Avengers made it to the big screen.

It’s one of the panoply of lost Hollywood projects, sunk by the 2007-08 writer’s strike and spoken of in the same terms as Tim Burton’s Superman Lives, Jodorowsky’s Dune, or Bob “Back to the Future” Gale’s Doctor Strange. Miller’s lost project Justice League: Mortal is back in the news because an Australian documentary team wants to show audiences what could have been. Judging from the scripts and other intel that have been leaked, the project had plenty of problems and could have fallen short. Except that now there’s a little movie called Mad Max: Fury Road that has us wondering just what Miller’s Justice League would have looked like, and how it might have impacted the DC and Marvel Cinematic Universes.

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No Strings, But Plenty of Switches in the Whedonverse

From the first trailer for Avengers: Age of Ultron, with its creepy rendition of Pinocchio’s “I’ve Got No Strings,” we know that Ultron seeks to free himself, and the human race, from the physical and metaphorical strings holding them down. But while he delights in the fact that, upon achieving artificial intelligence and something approaching the Singularity, “there are no strings on me,” there are still switches. Throughout the movie, characters (both good and bad) and plot developments are activated through the use of code words or literal buttons.

In fact, for the past ten years and more, in almost all of his properties, Joss Whedon has placed entire dramatic arcs around a switch being thrown. Sometimes it serves simply as a deus ex machina, but on other occasions, Whedon has used the trope to explore issues of control and ownership, over both men and women.

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Orphan Black Puts the Greater Good Above Its Clones: “The Weight of This Combination”

There has always been a difference between Project Leda and the Clone Club: Project Leda is the secret initiative that created Sarah Manning, her identical twin, and their genetic doubles and then sent them into the world so that their nature and nurture could be observed (and, once in a while, manipulated). The Clone Club is the tight-knit group of Leda clones—Sarah, Alison Hendrix, Cosima Niehaus, and, now, Helena—who have laughed, danced, cried, and lost together, (mostly) united against the Dyad Institute.

But now, with the start of Orphan Black season 3, the Clone Club must work with Dyad to protect Project Leda from those who would wipe it out completely. When a creepy member of Project Castor tells Sarah to “count your sisters,” he’s not just letting her know that one has gone missing—he’s making her think about every member of Leda.

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The Fake is a Lie in Ex Machina

Early on in Alex Garland’s tense, darkly funny, sci-fi psychological thriller Ex Machina, coder Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson) keenly points out that he hasn’t actually been summoned to his boss Nathan’s (Oscar Isaac) secluded mountain home to perform a Turing test. The basis of that test, you see, is that the examiner does not know that the subject is actually a machine. In this case, Nathan’s android prototype Ava (Alicia Vikander) is clearly inhuman, with her face and hands covered in synthetic skin but her insides laid bare in a mix of metal mesh and fiberglass components. Nathan’s aim is not to deceive Caleb as to Ava’s true form.

This is the only honest moment in the movie. The rest of this taut cautionary tale has the characters and the audience constantly sifting through layers of trickery and manipulation—from both humans and machines. The growing dread we share with Caleb is tempered by sweet, witty, and truly “wtf” moments, little pockets of humanity that only serve to further convince us that everyone is human… or everyone is a machine… or both. While Ex Machina isn’t perfect, as Garland’s directorial debut, it’s incredibly polished.

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Shakespeare Adaptations That Best Speak to Teens

Later in our Shakespeare on essay series, Emily Asher-Perrin will tell you about a high school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that was engineered to get teens excited about Shakespeare. It did not work. It also wasn’t the only scheme of its kind: There’s always some well-meaning drama teacher—or movie director—who wants to make Shakespeare speak to the youth of today. Whether that involves playing up the sex, drugs, and violence that characterize various works; dropping Shakespearean verse into a modern setting; or building something entirely new off the framework of a play—many have tried.

In the best of these adaptations, Shakespeare’s work serves as a jumping-off point for meditations on race, sexuality, and gender roles, with films that embrace diversity in more meaningful ways than just colorblind casting or genderswapping, and instead try to get to core truths about the human condition. (Often with outrageous musical numbers.)

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Series: Shakespeare on

Your Truth But Not Mine: Insurgent

To be honest, I didn’t have high hopes for Insurgent, the second movie in the Divergent trilogy based on Veronica Roth’s dystopian YA novels. The massive book was bogged down in Tris Prior’s self-loathing and self-sabotage, serving mostly as a link between the faction system in Divergent and the big, game-changing reveal that leads to Allegiant.

In the wake of Erudite (the intelligent faction, led by Kate Winslet as the faction-upholding Jeanine Matthews) enslaving the Dauntless army and using them to destroy selfless Abnegation, Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley), her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort), Four (Theo James), and Peter (Miles Teller, having way too much fun with his role) are fugitives on the run, looking for shelter and allies in the other factions, which just want to protect themselves from more fracturing.

However, like the Hunger Games adaptations, Insurgent the movie manages to stand apart from its source material, with a leaner plot and clearer stakes. While some plot points are dispensed of and some of the nuance lost, Insurgent makes fascinating commentary on generational divides and clinging to the old ways, better depicting the breakdown of a dystopian society.

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The Perfect Vessel: Kushiel’s Avatar, Part 2

Our reread of Kushiel’s Legacy comes to a close! Whereas last week we were really beaten down by Phèdre and Joscelin’s willing entry into the hell of Daršanga, here we end on a joyous note. Not unlike Phèdre, filled with the Name of God, we’re brimming with new knowledge and insight into the trilogy—plus at least one disagreement about how things settle after the epic end of Kushiel’s Avatar.

We’re going to get spoilery—because it turns out there is a ton of foreshadowing for later books and trilogies—so feel free to do the same in the comments. As Shemhazai said, all knowledge is worth having. And as he might have said… Reread as thou wilt!

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Series: Kushiel’s Reread