Here at the start of the holiday season, it’s easy to feel harried and also beset by stuff. Also, there’s the encroachment of eternal darkness that we all feel inside. Which is only compounded by the fact that it’s dark all the time, for those of us settling in to welcome winter in the northern hemisphere.
So we wanted to talk about all the nerdy things that made us happy this year. A little note to ourselves and everyone else, to fill us with warm fuzzies. Like hot cocoa for your brain.
The opening line of Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey
For the longest time, translations of Homer’s epic poem opened with grandiose invocations of “O Muse!” and the traditional epithets about the “wine-dark sea.” But in her landmark, lovely new translation, Wilson cuts to the heart of the matter: “Tell me about a complicated man.”
The best part is, it’s fully backed by the original text. In actuality, it’s one of several options Wilson could have chosen, but as she told The New York Times, “This is the best I can get toward the truth.” —Natalie
Miranda Otto on Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
(Small spoilers, but it’s fine, trust me.)
In the third episode of this show, prickly Aunt Zelda, having temporarily lost her powers, is hiding behind giant sunglasses and losing hunks of hair—without magic, she’s aging at a rapid rate. When this is reversed, Zelda stands, pulls off her glasses, and crows, “Praise Satan—I’m young again!” as she pats her wonderful face. It’s a little moment, and it’s subversive as all hell. Miranda Otto is fiftyish. Fiftyish women are hard to come by in on-screen SFF, and I treasure every one of them. But to go it a step further and have a woman over 30 dare celebrate her youth? Reader, I cheered. —Molly
The Doctor might be Banksy (of course she isn’t. Or is she?)
There are already so many things to love about the Thirteenth Doctor as played by Jodie Whittaker, and that’s without bringing up the biscuit compartment that the TARDIS provided to her, or her inability to make smalltalk. But a more teasing aspect of her nature came to the forefront during the otherwise heartfelt “Rosa,” when the Doctor suggested to companion Graham that she might be the infamous street-artist Banksy, then recanted, then doubled-down. The Doctor often failed to have a good sense of humor about himself in the past, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem for Thirteen. —Emily
Shuri’s salute to T’Challa
Followed, of course, by Shuri and T’Challa’s secret handshake. Of all the many many many things I loved about Black Panther, I think the relationship between the royal siblings of Wakanda was my favorite. —Leah
Also everything that Shuri does, in general. Shuri’s existence. —Emily
Literally every line Zach McGowan growls on every show
No, I’m not done talking about Black Sails, and I never will be, but this isn’t just about the ridiculously growly voice McGowan uses as the pirate I hated but have come to love, Charles Vane. It’s also about his line delivery as Prince Roan on The 100, and his preposterous, Arrow-villain-level Russian accent on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.; it’s about how Emily and Natalie and I sometimes wonder if he goes through life speaking like that, just, like, ordering coffee like Vane orders his crew around. —Molly
A whole universe of SFF audio drama
Last year Tor Labs put out the sexy, heartbreaking SF noir audio drama Steal the Stars, but did you know that there are nearly as many SFF audio dramas as there are stars? For fans of Becky Chambers, there’s the cozy, found-family adventures of The Strange Case of Starship Iris. Girl in Space explores the loneliness of space with quirk, while Wolf 359 tackles capitalism and mental illness against the backdrop of space opera. On the fantasy side, there’s medieval medical comedy Alba Salix, Royal Physician, which follows the eponymous long-suffering witch as she tends to every kind of patient, from peasants to the king himself. And in-between, back in our time and place, is the conspiracy theory thriller Limetown and The Bright Sessions, which highlights the humanity in the “atypical” mutant population. These are but a few of the offerings out there; if you like what you hear, definitely check out the #audiodramasunday hashtag on Twitter for more recommendations. —Natalie
The hilarious Stony vs. Ironstrange ship battles post-Avengers: Infinity War
I love watching the tides of fandom roll, especially ship wars. (“Ship” meaning romantic pairings in this case, not vessels on sea or in space.) Not the mean sides of it, of course, but the part where fans recognize the amusement to be had in switching allegiances between one super couple or another. The biggest shift of the Marvel Cinematic Universe ship wars occurred this year as a result of Tony Stark’s unexpected chemistry with Doctor Strange in Infinity War, and suddenly the godfather ship of the MCU and Marvel Comics, Stony—that’s Captain America and Iron Man—was left on the shore, awaiting rescue. Countless memes were produced showing a bearded, sad Cap, desperate to repair his relationship with Tony, only to find himself dropped through a portal or blocked by the sudden materialization of the Sorcerer Supreme. The fact that Strange is set to be Peter’s other super-dad in the upcoming Spider-Man: Far From Home has only fanned these flames to Great Chicago Fire levels.
This is the type of goofy, catty trash that I live for, and I’m not even ashamed of it. —Emily
Daredevil’s prison fight sequence
With an eleven-minute-long, continuous shot, no-freaking-cuts at all (!!!!!) prison fight, Daredevil made its iconic hallway battle look like a playground slap-fight. And it’s only one of three (three!!!!!!) incredible fight sequences. So beautiful. —Leah
Lando Calrissian’s wardrobe
This year provided us with two windows into the mind and walk-in closet of one of the Star Wars galaxy’s greatest scoundrels. Between Solo: A Star Wars Story and Daniel Jose Older’s Last Shot, fans were treated to one helluva fashion show. Lando swaggered and strutted his way through page and screen in a veritable kaleidoscope of fine couture, and nothing else could compare to him.
More of this, please. MORE. —Emily
The first 35 minutes of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
I got to see it at New York Comic-Con, and it made me cry, and it’s already my favorite Spider-movie. —Leah
Meeting Karen + Georgia from My Favorite Murder
You might not be surprised to learn there is some overlap between writing about SFF and identifying as a murderino. Once Macmillan acquired Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered, it was fun to be in on the secret (before it was announced), to meet and brainstorm with my fellow Flatiron murderinos, and eventually to get to shake hands with Karen and Georgia themselves. Their voices have been such a source of comfort and much-needed humor in the past two years, and it’s always a delight when the people attached to the voices are just as genuine. —Natalie
“Guest Starring John Noble”
Legends of Tomorrow brings me joy every single week, but this episode is one of the best examples of the show doubling down on its joyful absurdity: Realizing that their enemy Mallus sounds a lot like John Noble (uh, because he is), the Legends travel back to the filming of Lord of the Rings in order to secretly record John Noble as he says some lines—lines Denethor would never say—that they’ll use as part of a trick. It’s nerd-meta on nerd-meta, and you love it or you don’t. I’m all in. —Molly
Every single thing Peter Parker does in Avengers: Infinity War
Faced with alien horror, Peter immediately leaps into action and ignores all of Mr. Stark’s direct orders to go back to Queens, because he’s a hero, dammit. His interaction with all the other superheroes are perfect, and then we get to that one particular sequence that I don’t want to spoil but Tom Holland takes what could have been a good scene and makes it one of the most emotionally resonant moments in film this year, and he improvised it.
Ugh why isn’t the next movie out already. —Leah
The spiritual successor to The Courtship of Princess Leia
Thanks to weekly fanfiction recommendation newsletter The Rec Center (the best part of any Friday), I was introduced to the incredible epic landscape with a blur of conquerors: a post-The Force Awakens AU in which Rey discovers that her parents were Teneniel Djo and Prince Isolder of the Hapes Cluster—making her the new Expanded Universe’s version of warrior-princess Tenel Ka, except here she’s Kira Ka Djo, a.k.a. the Chume’da. As this fanfic was started before The Last Jedi, it establishes the complete inverse of Rey’s discovery about her parents—instead of being nobodies, they were somebodies; they were in fact the rulers of the entire Hapes Cluster, her birthright and her eventual future.
But there’s more! Meanwhile, Kylo Ren has become Emperor of the First Order, and the only way to maintain peace with the powerful Hapans is a political marriage. With the Chume’da. YEP.
I need to establish that I do not ship Reylo. That said, this is an excellent space fantasy romance novel about two opponents in a political marriage realizing their growing attraction to one another and even maybe slowly falling in love. Fanfic author diasterisms writes Rey and Ben’s (the sign he’s becoming good again) shared trauma of abandonment with sensitivity, and her take on complicated, lavish, cunning, matriarchal Hapan culture within the framework of the new EU is excellent. Plus, after The Last Jedi came out about halfway through the writing of this epic, she’s started incorporating moments from the movie, like Rey and Kylo Ren’s Force mind-meld, into her AU. Be warned: This fanfic is also filthy as all get-out, so best to read on your phone instead of your work computer (sorry, HR). —Natalie
“The Bent-Neck Lady,” The Haunting of Hill House
The entire episode is fantastic, but it’s the last five minutes or so that give us a horror reveal, that, like all the best moments of The Haunting of Hill House, is equal parts bloodcurdling and gut-wrenching. —Leah
The rise of Bisexual Lighting
I wish this was the title of a superhero film, because I WANT THAT SUPERHERO. But for now, I will happily celebrate this awesome lesson on the power of lighting in film. Kyle Kallgren explores the intersectionality of lighting choices, looking at how the pink, purple, and blue tones that have become popular in film not only recall the standard of Bi Pride, but are also friendlier to black and brown skin that often appears washed out in the “standard” lighting of Hollywood movies. He points out the Bi Lighting isn’t just a fun punchline for a meme, but has immediate positive consequences for non-white actors, musicians, and dancers.
Also he briefly touches on Sleeping Beauty, and I’d like to state for the record that not only was that my favorite Disney movie when I was a smol Leah, but also that moment Flora and Merryweather accidentally turn Aurora’s dress into a Bi Pride Extravaganza was my favorite moment in the film. Although maybe I didn’t realize why until a few years later. And also also? This is the first time one of these YouTube Explains It All-type videos has ever made me cry. —Leah
The wedding vows of Nomi Marks and Amanita Caplan in Sense8’s finale
At the end of this beautiful show—that I will spend the rest of my life trying to get other people to watch and learn from—we were given a beautiful wedding that was a long time coming. Nomi and Amanita tied the knot with friends, family, and their Sensate cluster at the top of the freaking Eiffel Tower. Weddings are hard to write, okay? There’s a pattern to them and a form, and most people don’t know how to express love verbally because it’s too big and awkward and unknowable. It’s so difficult to keep away from cliché. But Amanita began her vows with a rumination on how humans treat emotion, how we are distrustful of feelings, and how they move us regardless. It was a stunning declaration of love, an incredibly tough act to follow. And then it was Nomi’s turn, and she admitted that she didn’t really like vows, or the idea that you could make a promise and count on its permanence. She continued:
“My life, especially these past two years, is a testament to the fact that things change, people change. But with you, that doesn’t scare me. It actually makes me happy. It makes me excited, because I can think of no better life than watching Amanita Caplan change, watching her evolve and grow. I want to see everything that you become.”
It was a crystallizing moment that lifted every particle of pain from my body. And when I think about how love feels, in all its visceral and messy glory, this will forever be the moment the springs to mind. —Emily
Chidi Anagonye yells Nietzsche at a random Australian drug dealer
The thing that made me the happiest in all of 2018? The moment on The Good Place when Chidi Anagonye embraces nihilism. “‘God is dead. God remains dead, and we have killed him. Who will wipe this blood off us? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent?’ Friedrich Nietzsche, 1882.” Like, Chidi even cites the year of the quote to the drug dealer.
Reader, I had to pause the episode to walk around in quiet circles of joy. —Leah
Paddington 2 is a perfect movie. It is like a giant hug for one’s battered soul. That is all. —Molly