content by

Ryan Britt

Happy Birthday, Madeleine L’Engle!

Today marks the birthday of an author who forever changed the way we feel about time travel, alternate dimensions, and dark and stormy nights. Madeleine L’Engle was born on November 29th in New York City and started writing almost right away. Her first story was composed at age 8, and she went on to pen a universe of novels, poems, and non-fiction throughout her amazing and inspirational career.

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Series: On This Day

The Ghost of Hayden Christensen: Why Anakin MUST Appear in Episode VII

The very end of the super-duper 2004 special edition of Return of the Jedi finds Luke gazing out to see Obi-Wan smiling, Yoda smiling, Anakin smiling, and the audience freaking out. Instead of Sebastian Shaw as an old Anakin, Hayden Christensen suddenly shimmered into view, smirking awkwardly, complete with his big Jedi mullet. And the haters began to hate. But, now with Episode VII so close to release, there’s paradoxically one person I don’t think they can leave out, and that person is Hayden Christensen! Here’s why the ghost of Hayden must return!

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An Alternate History Primer: The Man in the High Castle

Some alternate universes would be fun to visit, like a universe where I was born as a shape-shifting unicorn. Or that other universe where cheese quesadillas are legally required to be free. But an alternate universe you probably don’t want to vacation in is depicted in Philip K. Dick’s novel The Man in the High Castle: a world where WWII went super-differently than we remember. (Spoiler alert: someone other than the Allies won.) Poised to officially launch as an Amazon TV series this Friday, now is the perfect time to revisit the totally classic science fiction novel that started it all. Here’s everything you need to know/remember about the novel version of The Man in the High Castle.

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Get Ready to Love Mark Gatiss

“Can we just sit here and watch this Spider-Man cartoon?” Mark Gatiss smiles slyly but it’s not clear if he’s completely kidding. We’re sitting on a couch in The Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, New York where a small retro-TV is playing an appropriately retro episode of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. “I love cartoons,” Gatiss tells me. “Did you ever see the old Star Trek cartoon? It’s brilliant. It’s basically like season four.”

The guy sitting next to me might look like Mycroft Holmes, but he barely sounds like him at all. This guy is softer, more childlike, more down to talk about whatever, so long as those things are James Bond, Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Who, superheroes, Star Trek… In short, if you meet Mark Gatiss, you want to be best friends with him instantly.

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Listen, Kurt Vonnegut Changed Your Life

Today would have been the 93rd birthday of beloved author Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Throughout his career as a writer and a human being, Vonnegut shouldered many labels: sci-fi writer, satirist, humorist, humanist, political activist, and cranky old man. Luckily for us, he was all of those things and more.

But best of all, Kurt Vonnegut was a man who reminded us that our primary function on Earth is to “fart around, and don’t let anyone tell you any different.”

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Series: On This Day

The Spy Who Loved Clichés: Why Spectre Stumbles

In “Four Benches,” a play by Ethan Coen (of the Coen brothers) a worn-out British secret agent character bemoans that he can’t stand the “abstract concepts” his organization deals in because he’s left without “one single meaningful feeling word.” This could easily describe the entirety of Spectre, a new James Bond movie that while dismantling the great groundwork of its predecessor—Skyfall—also tries to remove meaning and feeling from every single scene.  And yet, somehow, it’s still marginally watchable.

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Lincoln Michel’s Upright Beasts Has Monsters Hiding in Every Page

There are a lot of analogies for why writing short stories is so difficult; but I think the image of someone constructing a jigsaw puzzle while totally unsure as to what the image is supposed to be is the most apt. To do this once in your life—write a killer short story—is a total miracle. But if you’re some kind deranged monster like Lincoln Michel, you can churn these puppies out in your sleep. And in Upright Beasts (his first collection) he mashes up every genre imaginable and packs his stories into a book that feels pregnant with other books.

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Series: Genre in the Mainstream

Lemony Snicket’s Why Is This Night Different From All Other Nights? is a Bittersweet Masterpiece

As a book critic, I’d say that few authors have the unique voice and quirky prose-styling of Daniel Handler. But as a reader and super-fan of both A Series of Unfortunate Events, and the newer series—All the Wrong Questions—I am convinced that the ability to casually break my heart is a dark super-power held only by Handler’s alter-ego: the author/fictional character known as Lemony Snicket.

And even though I know he’s not real, I’m weeping about Lemony Snicket right now. In his new book, the last in All the Wrong Questions—Why is this Night Different From All Other Nights? he’s really outdone himself.

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This Review Has Already Happened: Fox’s Minority Report

Despite supposedly being all about predicting the future, the 2002 film version of Minority Report is mostly about Tom Cruise running around. It was like he was jealous of Harrison Ford in The Fugitive and demanded that Steven Spielberg give him a movie with even more running plus cooler clothes. In fact, Minority Report the movie has such a cool aesthetic that Fox decided to base an entire TV show off of it.

How tired are you of hearing that such-and-such-show is a “procedural?” Yeah me too. But sorry! Minority Report the TV show is mostly a procedural with a weird dose of nostalgia for a movie that’s not really even all that classic.

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Doctor Who is More Fashionable Than Any Other TV Show

Ever since his eyebrows first filled our screens, Peter Capaldi’s incarnation of the Doctor has jarred us. Far from the swoon-inducing flirty charm of predecessors David Tennant and Matt Smith, Capaldi’s don’t-hug-me, acerbic Doctor told Clara (and all of us) last year “I’m not your boyfriend.” And yet, we’re all still in love with him! There’s a million answers to the question of why we still love the Doctor, but I believe there’s one basic reason for Who’s continued success that trumps all others.

Doctor Who has figured out how to stay relevant by continuing to define and redefine its own definition of “cool,” and by occasionally being very intentionally “uncool.”

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6 Crazy SF Books Featuring Dinos that are Somehow NOT Jurassic Park

If you’re like me, the best way to get ready for Jurassic World is not to binge-watching Parks and Recreation while wearing a Velociraptor mask, but instead to do some reading—while wearing a Velociraptor mask. But what are you going to do when you’ve finished re-reading Michael Crichton’s science-heavy page-turners Jurassic Park and The Lost World? Luckily there are still plenty of insane science fiction books with dinos running through them for you to devour and then blabber about about endlessly.

[Here are a few.]

Practically Speaking, Why Do We Hate CGI So Much?

The Star Wars panel at the 2015 San Diego Comic Con made one thing clear: J. J. Abrams hates CGI now. If the word “practical” wasn’t being bandied around in geek discussions last week, it is certainly the buzzword of the moment. From “practical effects” to “real sets,” seemingly all anyone had to say about The Force Awakens is that Abrams and company are throwing their computers out of the window because they want to make something real.

But, does everyone really hate CGI as much as we think we do? And if so, why?

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Sherlock Versus the Bees: Mr. Holmes

Early on in Mr. Holmes, Sir Ian McKellen’s 92-year-old version of the aging detective says “I was real, once.” This is funny, because if you know nothing about Sherlock Holmes you might think you are watching a biopic about THE REAL MAN BEHIND THE MYSTERY instead of a work of fiction based on a book, which in turn is based on other books. Bill Condon’s new film Mr. Holmes (adapted from Mitch Cullin’s 2005 novel A Slight Trick of the Mind) imagines a “real” version of Sherlock Holmes who is more contemplative and nuanced than perhaps any incarnation before.

But is nuanced and contemplative what we want of Mr. Sherlock Holmes? Because when you eliminate the hyperbole of adventure, what’s left for the world’s greatest detective?

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Five Super Villain Schemes So Crazy They Might Just Be Crazy

In the first Austin Powers film, Doctor Evil’s demand of one million dollars comes across as hilariously absurd, not only because he doesn’t understand economic inflation, but because we’re all used to super villains acting like idiots. Despicable Me further illustrates this tendency by having the plot of the movie center on the attempt to steal the Moon.

But what about supposedly serious (or at least not intentionally spoofy) villains with awful plans? Can we chalk up complications and ridiculousness to insanity? Perhaps. But there are some super villains who actually seem at least a little bit sane, and still somehow manage to enact schemes that are flawed to the point of being silly. Here are five of the most absurd super villain schemes, complete with my advice on what these big baddies should have done instead.

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