Good Retcons and Bad B-Plots — Star Trek Discovery’s “Lethe”

One of the most challenging things one can do when creating serial narrative is retroactive continuity, or retcon: filling in a gap or establishing something about a character or situation that was previously unknown.

When done properly, it can bring an entire character into focus. (To use a comic book example, when Magneto was established as a Holocaust survivor.) When done improperly, of course, it can be disastrous. (To use another comic book example, establishing that Norman Osborn raped Gwen Stacey, and she mothered children from that.)

Star Trek has, over five decades, engaged in such retcons any number of times (my three favorites are establishing that Worf accidentally killed someone as a teenager, that Bashir was genetically enhanced, and that Troi had a baby sister who died), and in “Lethe” we have one of their most successful.

[“Computer, add salsa.”]

Let It Go: Strange Weather by Joe Hill

“After writing a couple seven-hundred-page novels back-to-back,” Joe Hill has it in the afterword to his electric new collection, “it felt particularly important to get lean and mean,” and Strange Weather is exactly that: it’s not long, and damn it, it’s nasty.

A striking selection of novellas ranging from the playfully apocalyptic to the wickedly political, Strange Weather starts with an actual flash in “Snapshot,” the unsettling story of a boy who crosses paths with a man in possession of a magical camera. This old Polaroid captures more than just those Kodak moments, of course: it captures the very memories of those moments, in sum leaving its subjects with holes in their souls.

Michael Figlione is just a kid when “Snapshot” begins, so when he sees his old babysitter Shelly Beukes walking around the street they share, barefoot and swearing, he assumes she’s simply senile. As a decent human being he does the decent thing and takes her home to her husband, who gives Michael ten bucks for his trouble. It’s only when he goes to the local truck stop to spend his earnings and sees a creepy guy pointing a camera like a pistol that Shelly’s seemingly insane story—about a man who’s been stealing her essential self, picture by painful picture—starts to make sense.

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The 13th Doctor Might Have Three New Companions!

In an announcement over the weekend, it was revealed that the Thirteenth Doctor—played by Jodie Whittaker—will be accompanied by three series regulars in Doctor Who‘s new season. There is no word on whether any of this trio will travel in the TARDIS (giving them the sacred “companion” title), but it seems safe to assume we’re headed in that direction. So who are these lovely folks and how will they fit into the tapestry of Whovian history?

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Farewell to the Witch World: Norton and Crispin’s Songsmith

I’m glad I let myself be talked into reading Songsmith. It’s a nice coda for the Witch World books, and it was a good, fast read, with engaging characters and some enjoyable reunions.

Andre Norton and A.C. Crispin make a good writing team. Norton’s distinctive worldbuilding meshes well with Crispin’s skillful characterization (and horse details!) and lovely prose.

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Primal Fears and Haunted Paths: The Thin Line Between Fairy Tales and Horror Stories

In Through the Woods, Emily Carroll’s 2014 collection of comics, the narratives being told feel timeless. They echo the fairy tales of ages past; they feature dwindling families, majestic homes containing awful secrets, and ominous figures biding their time in order to carry out horrific deeds. Told one way, Carroll’s tales could be the sort of story one tells drowsy children as a kind of moral instruction or cautionary tale. Told the way they are in this book, with immersive images, distorted figures, and monstrous forms enveloped in the landscape, the effect is much closer to outright horror. It’s magnificently unnerving, meticulous in its storytelling, and a harrowing example of how hard it can be to discern the line between fairy tale and horror story.

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Travel Along with Mad Max: Fury Road in an Illustrated Map

Oh what a day, what a lovely day!

After tackling the world of literature in Plotted: A Literary Atlas, artist Andrew DeGraff has set his sites on movies with Cinemaps—visualizing the stories of 35 films as singular landscapes, charting the progression of their characters throughout. The results are beautiful maps that enhance classic films like North by Northwest and Fargo, as well as genre favorites from King Kong to Back to the Future.

We were especially thrilled by this glorious take on Mad Max: Fury Road. Witness!

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Check Out the Stunning Endpapers in Brandon Sanderson’s Oathbringer

Readers of Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive epic got a lush visual treat for the hardcover release of Words of Radiance: vibrant endpapers depicting more characters from Sanderson’s fantasy series! For those who are wondering if that practice will continue for Oathbringer, the forthcoming third Stormlight volume, the answer is: yes!

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Series: Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson

SFF Authors Share How Star Wars Inspired Them “A Long Time Ago”

“[L]et’s be honest: we never had Star Wars,” Amberlough author Lara Elena Donnelly writes on Unbound Worlds. “We had all the ephemera that unfurled from the ineffable magic of those first three films. Star Wars was—and remains—critically important in nerdy millennial circles. It’s a touchstone by which we immediately recognize our people. It’s a way of connecting with older generations, including our parents, and newbie nerds like our younger siblings, our students, and our children. But it was never ours.”

Until, that is, she saw The Force Awakens in theaters two years ago.

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Tor Teen Acquires “Coming of Age in Outer Space” Trilogy from Charlie Jane Anders

Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author and io9 co-founder Charlie Jane Anders mashed up technology and witchcraft in her debut novel All the Birds in the Sky. Now, in her latest project, she’ll be journeying into space and delving into the teenage psyche, in a new young adult science fiction trilogy recently acquired by Tor Teen.

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Crafting a Shardblade for Brandon Sanderson

During Brandon Sanderson’s book tour for Words of Radiance, super-fan Val Alston traveled from Mexico to attend a signing event at The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, Arizona in order to meet the author and present him with this amazing homemade Shardblade!

We reached out to Val to get the full scoop on the design and creation of the Shardblade, and he was nice enough to share his story. Check out Val’s process below, including some in-progress photos!

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Deadhouse Landing

Returning readers to the turbulent early history of what would become the Malazan Empire, Deadhouse Landing is the second chapter in Ian C. Esslemont’s thrilling new epic fantasy sequence—available November 14th from Tor Books.

After the disappointments of Li Heng, Dancer and Kellanved wash up on a small insignificant island named Malaz. Immediately, of course, Kellanved plans to take it over. To do so they join forces with a small band of Napans who have fled a civil war on their own home island. The plan, however, soon goes awry as Kellanved develops a strange and dangerous fascination for a mysterious ancient structure found on the island.

Dancer faces a hard choice: should he give up on his partnership? Especially when the fellow’s obsession with shadows and ancient artefacts brings the both of them alarmingly close to death and destruction. After all, who in his right mind would actually wish to enter the Deadhouse?

[Read an Excerpt]

The Best and Worst of the ’90s Teen Horror Movie Craze

Hot take: Final Destination is a better film than just about any 21st century horror movie to date. Argue all you want, but it doesn’t change the fact that late-1990s and early-2000s era horror movies are awesome. I’ll take Disturbing Behavior over The Human Centipede any day.

The late-1990s and early-2000s were a transitional period in horror movies and for a brief, shining moment, B-horror movies reigned. During this period the villain shifts from a deranged outsider (the height of popularity in the 1970s and 1980s) to one of the cast on the poster secretly hellbent on revenge. Even thrillers got in on the action, with Dead Man’s Curve, Gossip, and The Skulls. Then as J-horror influenced ghost stories rose in popularity and with torture porn on the horizon, the teen slasher fell by the wayside. The post-9/11 horror movie world wasn’t interested in watching a bunch of pretty people get picked off by dorks leaving disgruntled valentines. There was a last gasp in the mid-aughts as studios re-upped their obsession with 3D and blended gore gimmicks with teen slashers, but they never reached the same level of popularity.

[Come take a walk down memory lane…]

Chronicling Japanese Folklore: The Ghosts and Monsters of Shigeru Mizuki

Have you ever been walking along and felt the creepy, unsettling feeling that something was watching you? You may have met Betobeto-san, an invisible yōkai, or folklore creature, who follows along behind people on paths and roads, especially at night. To get rid of the creepy feeling, simply step aside and say, “Betobeto-san, please, go on ahead,” and he will politely go on his way.

What we know of Betobeto-san and hundreds of other fantastic creatures of Japan’s folklore tradition, we know largely thanks to the anthropological efforts of historian, biographer and folklorist, Shigeru Mizuki, one of the pillars of Japan’s post-WWII manga boom. A magnificent storyteller, Mizuki recorded, for the first time, hundreds of tales of ghosts and demons from Japan’s endangered rural folklore tradition, and with them one very special tale: his own experience of growing up in Japan in the 1920s through 1940s, when parades of water sprites and sparkling fox spirits gave way to parades of tanks and warships.

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