Small Stories, Big Worlds: Why I Love Epic Stories That Stay Personal

You know when you’re reading Lord of the Rings, and you really wish the book would just let us spend some time with Rosie Cotton while she’s busy slinging ale at the Green Dragon?

Or is that just me?

Fans of science fiction and fantasy love good worldbuilding. But setting the stage by creating a magnificent new realm usually means the plot focuses on major historical arcs in said world. Once you’ve set up so much, developed all the minute detail, it makes sense to do the broad strokes and really create a mythology. How to Save the World; How to Win the War; How to Shape Reality With a Few Simple Building Blocks. They make great blockbuster film trilogies. They demand the creations of fan wikis and doorstopper guidebooks. They are the stories we take comfort in whenever the world seems a bit too claustrophobic.

[But there’s something special about the stories that start small…]

I Belong Where the People Are: Disability and The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water made me feel less human.

On the surface, there are many things to like about The Shape of Water. The main characters, the ones in the right, they are all outsiders. They are people like me. With the exception of Children of a Lesser God, it is the first time I have ever seen a disabled woman as an object of desire. It is the first time I have seen someone swear in sign in a mainstream film. It is one of the only films out there to address some of my feelings about my body or depict them on screen. Let’s be honest, Children of a Lesser God was made in 1986. That’s 31 years of film history. That’s my entire life.

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Gonzo Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles RPG Has Everything You’d Ever Want

Transdimensional Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles may very well be the greatest role-playing game sourcebook of all time. I’m not even being slightly hyperbolic. It is a book that talks about everything from dinosaurs to time travel, from wizards to parallel dimensions.

I suppose I should start a little further back: do you know that Palladium published the TMNT game, called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness? Well they did, and while the game is built on the rickety foundation of the Palladium system, the “Bio-E” mini-system for mutating your character from everyday animal into an anthropomorphic version is incredibly elegant. Transdimensional TMNT takes the “Strangeness” part of “…and Other Strangeness” and cranks it up to eleven. The real kicker, though, is that it has perhaps the most cogent system for time travel that I’ve ever seen, period.

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“We are still Starfleet” — Star Trek Discovery‘s “The Wolf Inside”

It really does suck to be Michael Burnham.

I mean, first you had the whole thing with her parents being killed, and then she was raised on a planet that isn’t exactly kind and benevolent toward humans (or much of anybody), she got screwed out of going to Vulcan Space School, and then she got her captain and about 8000 other people killed in an incident that started a brutal war. And then she got herself assigned to a ship run by a loony with PTSD whose first officer is her former shipmate who hates her living guts.

And all of that is as nothing compared to the crap she goes through in “The Wolf Inside.” I got dinged last week for not putting up sufficient spoiler alerts, so SPOILER ALERT! LOTSA SPOILERS FOR “THE WOLF INSIDE” IN THIS POST! ABANDON ALL HOPE, YE WHO ENTER HERE!

[Do you not bow before your emperor?]

Precociousness and Telekinesis: Rereading Roald Dahl’s Matilda

Matilda, published in 1988, is one of Roald Dahl’s longest and most intricate novels for children. The story of a highly precocious little girl who slowly develops powers of telekinesis, it focuses more on issues of destiny, education and employment than his usual subjects of wordplay, terror and disgusting things, though the book still has more than one incident that will delight kids who love disgusting things more than it will adults.

Richer and more questioning than most of his other novels, it may not be entirely successful, but it offers kids, and possibly grown-ups, a lot to think about.

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When Tropes Go Bad, Australian Edition: Horses Acting Up Down Under

As we transition (in my case terribly slowly) from the time out of time that is the end of the year to plain ordinary reality, I’ve been bingeing one of my favorite television series, the Australian hit show McLeod’s Daughters. This isn’t genre, exactly, but it is horse-related, and it plays with various film tropes about horses and other livestock.

Pause here to note that this show, which aired over eight seasons beginning in 2001, was developed and written by women, and featured a group of women running a cattle station in the Australian outback. Running it well, having adventures, dealing with men both good and very bad (including rape and infidelity, but also more normal and healthy relationships—nothing non-hetero, but we take what we can get). We can only dream of such a show in the US.

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The 10 Best Comics Written by Alan Moore

Let’s talk about the best of Alan Moore’s comic book work. Looking at his career, what should we designate as the capital-b Best of the Best? What ten comics would be the ultimate incarnation of Moore’s genre-bending, highly-influential comic book scripting?

I’m glad you asked!

Here’s the All-Time Alan Moore Top 10, as determined by me, the guy who has reread all of the Alan Moore comics and written about 100,000 words on the topic. All of the Alan Moore comics are worth reading (well, maybe not all of the later Extreme or Wildstorm work, but even those have something interesting going on at times), but these are the cherries on top of the ice cream sundae that is the Alan Moore oeuvre.

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Read Binti: The Night Masquerade, Chapter 1

Binti has returned to her home planet, believing that the violence of the Meduse has been left behind. Unfortunately, although her people are peaceful on the whole, the same cannot be said for the Khoush, who fan the flames of their ancient rivalry with the Meduse.

Far from her village when the conflicts start, Binti hurries home, but anger and resentment has already claimed the lives of many close to her.

Once again it is up to Binti, and her intriguing new friend Mwinyi, to intervene—though the elders of her people do not entirely trust her motives—and try to prevent a war that could wipe out her people, once and for all.

Don’t miss this essential concluding volume in Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti trilogy: Binti: The Night Masquerade, available January 16th from Publishing.

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Conceptual Mass: Gnomon by Nick Harkaway

It’s been nearly ten years since Nick Harkaway kung fu kicked his way into fiction with The Gone-Away World, a Douglas Adams-esque epic that announced the arrival of an author with an imagination to die for—and a sublimely sardonic sense of humour, too. There were of course those critics quick to dismiss him when he flexed some of the same muscles a second time in the underrated Angelmaker, but his next novel, 2014’s terrific yet tragic Tigerman, showed that Harkway had more to offer than madcap shenanigans punctuated by fits of wit.

Make that much more, if Gnomon is anything to go on: it’s easily his most ambitious book, and arguably his best yet. It’s certainly his biggest. Constructed like Cloud Atlas—and at least as long—its vast canvas takes in tales of inexplicable ancient history, our appallingly prescient present and, fittingly, the far flung future, all of which orbit Gnomon’s central Orwellian thread like spy satellites on an imminent collision course.

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Hit Comics Properties that Became Movie Flops — Steel and Spawn

The seeds of this week’s superhero movie rewatch—both 1997 releases—were sown in 1992.

At DC, there were four monthly titles starring Superman: Action Comics, The Adventures of Superman, Man of Steel, and Superman. In ’92, “The Death of Superman” was the major storyline running through all four titles, culminating in the man of steel’s death at the hands of Doomsday. Four heroes took on the mantle of Superman following his death, one in each of those titles. In Man of Steel by Louise Simonson & Jon Bogdanove, they focused on John Henry Irons, a ballistics expert who created a suit of armor and called himself Steel.

At Marvel, several of the company’s most popular artists—Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Marc Silvestri, Erik Larsen, and Todd McFarlane—left Marvel to form their own creator-owned company, Image Comics. McFarlane’s contribution to Image’s first wave of titles was a dark hero known as Spawn.

Both heroes starred in their own live-action movies five years after their debuts.

[You sent me to hell, Jason! I’m here to return the favor!]

Series: 4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch

Everything You Need to Know about Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams

Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams is a US/UK produced anthology series adapting ten of Dick’s short stories for the big screen. It’s very much in the Black Mirror style, presenting standalone episodes with strongly individual visual identities under a single banner. It starts airing in the US today (January 12th)) on Amazon Video—but thanks to some, shall we say, eccentric scheduling decisions, the first six episodes aired in the UK last year.

Here’s your guide to what to expect (avoiding major spoilers, of course), and which episodes to seek out!

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Charles Stross’s Dark State (Audio Excerpt)

We’re excited to share an audio excerpt from Charles Stross’ Dark State, a sleek and provocative techno-thriller set in The Merchant Princes multi-verse. Dark State ups the ante on the already volatile situations laid out in Empire Games, as Stross dives deep into the underbelly of paratime espionage, nuclear warfare, and state surveillance.

Listen to Chapter 2 below, read by Kate Reading. (You can read Chapter 1 here.)

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“There’s More Here Than You’re Willing to See”: Watch the Altered Carbon Trailer

With just a handful of weeks until the premiere of Altered Carbon, Netflix has released a full trailer for its adaptation of Richard K. Morgan’s cyberpunk noir novel. In the trailer, soldier-turned-revolutionary Takeshi Kovacs is resurrected against his will, to solve the murder of a rich man, in a future where humans can transfer their consciousness between bodies, or “sleeves,” in order to attain immortality.

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