Tor.com content by

Ryan Britt

Harlan Ellison Taught Me How to Be Interesting

In the 1990s I was watching a promo documentary about Babylon 5—likely playing out its 5th season on TNT at the time—and in it J. Michael Straczynski related the best piece of writing advice his friend Harlan Ellison ever gave him, which was something to the effect of “stop sucking.” This might be one of those fuzzy memories where the meaning I derived from it is more real than the actual quote, but it stuck with me. Harlan Ellison inspired a lot of writers and provided a gateway for many of us into New Wave science fiction. And he did it with a lot of personality.

Today is his 81st birthday, and I’m sending him this birthday card.

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Series: On This Day

The First Season of CW’s The Flash Was a Massive Pop-Paradox

In contrast with something like Marvel’s new Daredevil series, The Flash comes across a little schmaltzy—like the guy who is pretending to like hardcore rock, but who gets freaked out at a real mosh pit. In truth, I am always that guy in real life, so I like The Flash more than Daredevil even though I’d have to admit Daredevil is “better.” But The Flash is great at what it does: it’s a paradoxical throwback that’s more satisfying than maybe it should be.

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5 Aspects of Science Fiction That Are Far From Childish

In the second season of Simon Pegg’s excellent sitcom Spaced, we see his character Tim burning all of his Star Wars memorabilia just like Luke burns Vader’s body in Return of the Jedi. Pegg’s character Tim does this in response to his hatred of The Phantom Menace, but is Simon Pegg now doing the same thing with Spaced? Quoted recently in an interview for Radio Times, Pegg insinuated that our cultural obsession with sci-fi might be a bit “childish.”

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7 Bizarre James Bond/Star Wars Connections

So, Daniel Craig is going to play a stormtrooper in Star Wars: Episode VII. Pretty weird, right? Nope. The world of secret agent 007 and that galaxy far, far away is more tangled up than you might have thought. There are now going to be seven Star Wars movies and we all know James Bond’s number is 007. So, here are seven connections between James Bond and Star Wars that are for your eyes only and everyone else’s eyes, too. Uselessful minutia ahead!

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Han Solo Has Always Been the Lead of Star Wars

We’ll never really know if it was the money or a mind-trick that convinced Han Solo to ferry Luke, Obi-Wan, and the droids to Alderaan, and the riddle of the actor who played Solo for three movies is equally unclear. Fittingly, or jarringly, Harrison Ford’s relationship with Star Wars is exactly like his character; always picking “Should I Stay our Should I Go,” by the Clash as his karaoke song with one boot out the door. Ford almost wasn’t in The Empire Strikes Back and wanted Han to die in Return of the Jedi. When it was announced that he would appear in Episode VII, flippant rumors circulated that he was the co-lead, along with two of the younger actors.

But none of this should come as any surprise, because Han Solo has always been the lead of the classic Star Wars films.

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5 Extremely Accurate Predictions For Star Trek Beyond

Remember Star Trek? It was your favorite before you started freaking out about the new Star Wars movies. Sure, things have been a little bumpy since Star Trek Into Darkness made its googly-eyed way across the screen, and some have worried that it may have cast a dismal pall over the entire franchise, stalling it completely. The story of Star Trek 3‘s development didn’t help in that regard: one director left (J. J. Abrams) and the next got kind of fired (Roberto Orci), and for awhile nobody seemed to have a clue as to what would happen next.

But our faith holds strong! More recently, Simon Pegg was brought on as a co-writer for Star Trek 3 and things have started looking up. The movie now has a rumored-to-be-true title—Star Trek Beyondwhich matches stylistically with Simon Pegg’s statement that the next Star Trek film will return the series to its explorative roots. What could all of this mean? Here are five predictions based on nothing but circumstantial evidence, hunches, and my own Trekkie excitement.

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The Old Guy Action Comeback: I’m Getting Too Old for This Sh*t

We’re all pretty excited now that Harrison Ford has actually reappeared as Han Solo in the latest Star Wars trailer. But this is hardly the first time an old-guy action hero has gotten back in the saddle only to declare in one form or another that he’s “getting too old for this sh*t.” Harrison Ford himself has made an action-comeback several times already (Hollywood Homicide, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) and we all know that the Die Hard franchise has turned out to be even harder to kill than John McClane.

So, what’s the deal? Is there a bizarre cultural obsession with old guy comebacks?

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No Joke — Adam West and Burt Ward Will Play Batman and Robin Again!

Ben Affleck already has competition for the bat-cowl! In 2016, sometime around/before/after Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice premiers in theatres, another classic Batman will be returning. And this Batman isn’t dark and brooding, but he is really good at lecturing you about littering, germs, and his belief in criminal rehabilitation. That’s right! The most hyperbolic and deadpan Batman is back! Adam West and his faithful companion, Burt Ward, will play Batman and Robin again in a brand new animated film.

Over this past weekend, West and Ward announced the project at event called Mad Monster Party in Charlotte, NC. Holy unexpected treat! Few details are available, but the film will be a 90-minute length feature and will serve as a 50th anniversary special, commemorating 1966’s debut of Batman.

Never forget: West and Ward have done this before; back in 1977 there was brief cartoon called The New Adventures of Batman in which they also did the voices. No word yet on whether Bat-Mite will show up to “help” the dynamic duo in the new film.

[News via Consequence of Sound]

9 Weird Things We Learn About Luke’s Brain in Heir to the Jedi

Del Rey recently released the second third new Star Wars novel in the line of Star Wars novels which will be crazily scrutinized because they have been deemed officially part of the “canon” of Star Wars. This started last fall  A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller, which is a prequel to the show Rebels. It was followed by James Luceno’s Tarkin. Now we get our very first “canon” Star Wars novel featuring characters from the original trilogy; Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne. And it’s told to us through the viewpoint of Luke Skywalker himself. Prior to this book, the most notable Star Wars novel told in the first person was Michael Stackpole’s I, Jedi, which was awesome but doesn’t put inside the head of any of the original trilogy characters, so Heir to the Jedi is something of a rarity. From power converters to pet phrases, here’s what we learn about how Luke really sees everything.

 

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A New-New Hope: Star Wars: Rebels Had a Pretty Great First Season

Undoubtedly, for a lot of contemporary younglings, Star Wars is something they first experience as a cartoon show, rather than a series of movies. And can we really blame them? Since 2008, there’s been hundreds hours of cartoon-Star Wars permeating the ether in the form of The Clone Wars, and now, Rebels. Years ago, this really bugged me, and occasionally, I still have a hard time taking cartoon-Star Wars seriously. But with the season finale of Rebels having just concluded, even a scoundrel like me has to admit that—like The Clone Wars before it—Rebels shaped up to be more powerful (and respectable) than we could have possibly imagined.

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When Originality Isn’t So Original: The Matrix, Jupiter Ascending, and the Wachowski Conundrum

I feel guilty talking trash about the Wachowskis’ new film Jupiter Ascending. It feels like mocking a family member or old friend who has fallen on hard times. The sibling duo of Lana and Andy Wachowski have produced precisely one classic science fiction epic—1999’s The Matrix—which is something most people don’t even dream of doing.

Now they’re back and the reviews of their latest—Jupiter Ascending—are mostly awful. And yet, should we feel guilty about disliking it? If we don’t like Jupiter Ascending, we may be in of danger hating on the idea “original” science fiction films and making said kinds of movies extinct. But is this supposedly original movie original at all?

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If Science Fiction Can’t Be the Enemy, Then Your Movie Doesn’t Deserve Recognition? On the Interstellar Oscars Snub

The 2015 Oscar nominations are out and everybody is delighted and upset. Some actors, like Selma’s David Oyelowo, were obviously slighted just as some actors, like Eddie Redmayne’s performance as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, were honored. Meta-fictional genre-blending film Birdman also got plenty of nominations, which should make people happy who love movies about Raymond Carver and comic books. But there’s a planet-sized hole in the nominees list and that is the exclusion of one of the best and most heartfelt science fiction film in years: Interstellar. The reason why this movie didn’t get nominated for anything other than “Original Score,” is because mainstream media gatekeepers and a big portion of audiences still don’t really care for a science fiction movie about science fiction.

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Most Citizens of the Star Wars Galaxy are Probably Totally Illiterate

Not once in any Star Wars movie does someone pick up a book or newspaper, magazine, literary journal, or chapbook handmade by an aspiring Jawa poet. If something is read by someone in Star Wars, it’s almost certainly off of a screen (and even then, maybe being translated by a droid), and it’s definitely not for entertainment purposes. As early as the 1990s-era expanded Star Wars books and comic books, we’re introduced to ancient Jedi “texts” called holocrons, which are basically talking holographic video recordings. Just how long has the Star Wars universe been reliant on fancy technology to transfer information as opposed to the written word? Is it possible that a good number of people in Star Wars are completely illiterate?

[It seems likely!]

A Science Fiction Halo Rests Slantedly Over Isaac Asimov’s Amiable Head

No one knows the exact date of Isaac Asimov’s birth…not even the amazing Asimov himself! In Memory Yet Green, citing dodgy birth records, the author writes that his birthday could be as early as October 19th, 1919, but that he celebrates it as January 2nd, 1920.

Who are we to argue with Asimov’s calculations? Happy birthday, Professor Asimov!  

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Series: On This Day

7 Credible Ways The Incredibles 2 Could Work

Earlier this year, news broke that Brad Bird and Pixar will develop a sequel to the beloved Pixar superhero/super family movie, The Incredibles. Despite its popularity and genuine heart, this Pixar film never got a sequel, owing largely to creator/director Brad Bird’s fear of not being able to live up to the quality of the first story.

So, it’s been 10 years since we’ve seen the family Parr and their super-friends (like Frozone!) in action. But was it better to leave a good thing alone? No! The Parrs are the best Pixar thing ever and a sequel would be amazing. Here’s seven totally reasonable directions a sequel could take.

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God Bless Pastiche! The 7 Best Non-Traditional Christmas Carols of Film and TV

If I had a pet reindeer, or any kind of creature that resembled a fawn or Bambi-style animal, I’d name it Dickens. Come on. How adorable would it be to have a little pet deer named Dickens? Here Dickens! Come have a sugar cube! That’s a good little Dickens. What’s your favorite story? What’s that you say, “A Christmas Carol?” Well, I don’t feel like reading to you, because you’re a little deer, so let’s watch a movie or a TV special instead. Whatyda say?

And then, as a gift to Dickens, I would have to compile a list of movie and TV adaptations of Charles Dickens’s awesome book—A Christmas Carol—and I’d want those adaptations to be somehow a little bit different from their source material, because deers like stuff that’s new.

What are the best non-traditional versions of A Christmas Carol? These.

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I’ll Just Have a Little Lava, Thanks: The Top of the Volcano: The Award Winning Stories of Harlan Ellison

A few weeks ago, I participated in a big marathon reading of Moby Dick in New York City and while many people read from ornately bound editions of the giant novel, I was thrilled to be using my dog-eared paperback copy with totally pulpy cover art and a corny plot summary to match—a MADMAN DRIVEN INSANE BY A WHALE!

What I’m saying is, I’m not crazy about “classy” reissues, so I’ve had a hard time with the new Harlan Ellison omnibus: The Top of the Volcano. It’s such a freaking tome. Ellison is the bomb, and I love (most) of these stories. But should he be read like this? All fancy?

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The Man Who Demolished Boring Science Fiction: Alfred Bester

Thinking about telepaths when telepaths are in the room is hard because they know you’re thinking about them. This is why—on most days—I’m glad I never actually had the chance to meet science fiction legend Alfred Bester, because my thoughts about him would have been disgustingly gushing and I’m sure he would have heard those thoughts because he was likely a real deal telepath and I would have been embarrassed. I’m kidding. I’m super sad I didn’t get to meet him! (But he was probably a real telepath…)

Today would have been Bester’s 102nd birthday. He won the first Hugo award for a novel ever, and made everything in SF way more fun. Here’s why he’s still the best.

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Series: On This Day

Philip K. Dick Scanned Our Brains, Darkly

In his afterword to a 1977 paperback collection called The Best of Philip K. Dick, PKD writes about the notion of questioning reality. At one point, Dick says the world made “sense” to him:

“I used to dig in the garden, and there isn’t anything fantastic or ultradimensional about crab grass…unless you are a sf writer, in which case, pretty soon you’re viewing crabgrass with suspicion. What are its real motives? And who sent it in the first place? The question I always found myself asking was, What is it really?”

Looking back on his work today, on the 86th anniversary of Dick’s birthday, the escape from the conspiracy of the mundane is a concept that certainly dominates the oeuvre of perhaps the most famous science fiction author ever. And why not? Don’t we all wish our lives were a little more interesting, a little more fantastic than perhaps they are?

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Series: On This Day

Celebrating Arthur C. Clarke’s Odyssey

Today we mark what would have been the 97th birthday of the great Arthur C. Clarke. Often credited with making fantastic predictions in his science fiction that actually came true, Clarke is among the most recognized and celebrated authors of the previous century. Perhaps the hardest of “hard science fiction” writers, Clarke was the authority on futurism and concepts both mind-bending and fascinatingly plausible. Known best for the novel 2001: A Space Odyssey and the epic film of the same name, Arthur C. Clarke is probably the writer most responsible for making futuristic space travel look realistic in our mind’s eye.

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Series: On This Day