“Where in your affidavit does it say you’re Black?”: Why Worldbuilding Can’t Neglect Race

“Where in your affidavit does it say you’re Black?”

I was on the witness stand, and opposing counsel had on a red tie. Suit jacket was either black or a dark enough blue that it might as well have been black. Pants either matched or were khakis. The details are a little fuzzy in my memory; I remember the essence of the kid rather than his specifics. But he was white and his tie was red. And it was too long.

There was a window to my right. Early afternoon sunlight gilded the desks behind which sat his clones. My representation was on the far side of the room.

“Where in your affidavit does it say you’re Black?”

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Jared Harris Says He Is Not Playing Doctor Octopus in Morbius

When the first teaser trailer for Morbius dropped last week, two Spider-Man-related Easter Eggs instantly caught our eye. But it looks like some fans have seized on a third detail—Jared Harris’ brief appearance as a seemingly innocuous childhood friend—to fuel a theory that the actor is secretly playing Doctor Octopus.

As exciting as that sounds, it’s very much not the case. Speaking to Variety at the 2020 SAG Awards, the actor completely debunked the rumors while nevertheless praising fans for their spidey senses.

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A Collaborative Effort: Andre Norton’s Return to Quag Keep

For the most part I’ve been reading and rereading Andre Norton’s solo novels. She wrote so many, and there are still quite a few left to go. Once in a while however I’ll pick up one of her collaborations, to round out a series or to satisfy my curiosity about what she intended to happen next.

Quag Keep has a typical abrupt Norton closing, and it’s typically open-ended as well. The adventure is finished but the adventurers from our world are still trapped in the world of the game. There are clear pointers toward a sequel, but Norton never got around to finishing it.

Jean Rabe’s posthumous collaboration answers quite a few of my questions about What Next.

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What Makes an Adaptation “Good” or “Bad”?

As many (many) hot takes in various media outlets have proclaimed: adaptations are all the rage. Of course, adaptations have been around since the earliest days of moving pictures—and have always varied wildly in quality and success. For every Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, there’s a Legend of Earthsea or a Queen of the Damned. And even the ones considered successful often have their fair share of unsatisfied fans. What is it about transforming a written work into a film (or miniseries, television show, etc.) that gets us so excited (or so worried)? It’s easy to guess why studios love adapting; having an existing, successful script and built-in audience is certainly an advantage. Considering how often hardcore fans are disappointed in the big-screen iteration of their beloved source material—and casual viewers couldn’t care less—I often wonder what keeps bringing us back for more. Is it simply curiosity, the tantalizing prospect of seeing what we’ve only imagined?

What kind of magic do you need to make a good adaptation? What even is a “good” adaptation? Is it a faithful reproduction of the source? Does it use the material as a springboard to create something different? Is it a blueprint, or is it an outline? When is a novel/story/comic the complete basis of a film or TV adaptation, and when is it just inspiration? Does it matter when you experience the original vs. the adapted version? I wish I had the space or the time to dive into these questions with the depth they deserve. For now, however, I’m hoping to scratch the surface a bit with a rather specific test case.

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5 Books That Leave You With Hope for Humanity

I gotta admit—I really struggle with dark, morally gray stories with heavy, bleak endings. I have to ration those kinds of books, limiting myself to one every 4 or 6 months. Most of it is because of depression, my constant shadow—past experience tells me that I’ll take on all those heavy emotions, and it’ll make for a pretty unpleasant week or so afterward. The rest? Personal preference for the shinier side of life.

Don’t get me wrong, I do think darker stories are important, especially as a way of processing trauma and addressing big issues. And hell, some people just like them! That’s cool. You do you. For me, though, I want to leave a book feeling like the world isn’t so bad, like there’s hope for us all if we can just keep going. And so, this list was born!

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Series: Five Books About…

Voices: An Ode to Black Science-Fiction & Fantasy Writers

In recent years there has been an uptick, if not an actual surge, of the works by fantasy writers of color finally, deservedly, entering the mainstream. These stories are as broad and wide sweeping as the culture itself. From The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton and Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, to N.K. Jemison’s The Fifth Season. Beautiful novels with intricate, fully imagined, complicated characters and worlds.

But, our voices have always been here, in the background, creating stories. Martin Delany, the first African American to attend Harvard Medical school, is credited with writing what is considered the first book of fantasy by a person of color: Blake or the Huts of America in 1857, the story of an escaped slave who travels throughout the Americas, and Cuba in a quest to unite all Blacks against slavery. Imperium in Imperio in 1899 by Sutton Griggs tells the story of two men involved in a secret organization dedicated to eliminating injustice and creating an independent black state inside of Texas. Even the famed civil rights activist, author, and historian W.E.B. DuBois wrote a piece of science fiction called The Comet, about a post-apocalyptic New York, where the only survivors, and hope for the human race, are a working class black man and a wealthy white woman.

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Oddballs vs. Graboids: Celebrating 30 Years of Tremors

When it comes to creature features—the horror subgenre built around monstrous beasts and the spectacular havoc they tend to wreak—two decades stand out. The atomic anxiety of the 1950s gave birth to classics such as Godzilla, as well as generating future Mystery Science Theater 3000 fare like The Crawling Eye. Then, as the conservative revival of the 1980s took hold in the U.S., filmmakers critiqued the movement and resulting cultural shifts via darker, more cynical features such as David Cronenberg’s The Fly and John Carpenter’s The Thing. 

Although praised less rarely, the 1990s also saw its fair share of films that share significant DNA with classic creature features, from Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster Jurassic Park to the Renny Harlin schlock favorite Deep Blue Sea. Unlike their predecessors, however, these movies were often upbeat and fun, escapist films that celebrated the strangeness of the monster instead of the vileness of humanity. In these movies, man is rarely the true monster. 

No movie signaled this change in approach better than Tremors, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this month. With its impressive practical monster effects and cast of small-town oddballs, Tremors changed the direction of creature features to something wackier and more fun, but no less interesting.

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Posthumously Published Works by Late, Great Authors of SFF

As evidenced by our previous discussion, it’s easy to ask “more please” when the author in question is still alive. The desire for new books and stories becomes far more frustrating when author existence failure is the primary obstacle.

Stephen Robinett, for example, first published under the regrettable pen name Tak Hallus. Over the course of about a decade he published enough short pieces to fill a collection (Projections,1979) as well as three science fiction novels: Mindwipe (1976), published as Steve Hahn, Stargate (1976), and The Man Responsible (1978). Robinett later published two mystery novels: Final Option (1990) and Unfinished Business (1990). After that, silence. Over the years, I wondered on and off what ever became of him. An obituary cleared up the mystery: sadly, he’d died in 2004. Ah well. I’ve not read Mindwipe (because it was from Laser Books; do I need to explain that? Editor: yes you do ) but his short work was top-shelf and his novels were always engaging.

Still, even an author’s demise doesn’t always rule out the possibility of new works, or at least new editions of works previously overlooked or rescued from obscurity. As the following authors show, death is not, necessarily, the end of the story…

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Head Down the Rabbit Hole in Parker Peevyhouse’s Strange Exit

Strange Exit is Parker Peevyhouse’s second novel. In her first novel, Echo Room, she explores the depths, twists, and turns of the human mind in a sci-fi escape room setting. In this story, she continues along that same vein against the backdrop of a virtual reality machine aboard a failing spaceship.

The story opens with a 17-year-old Lake walking the streets of a post- Nuclear Winter San Francisco in search of survivors to save. The roads are mostly empty. Her encounters with others are few and far between, but she doesn’t give up. No matter how things appear, she knows there are more survivors and that it’s up to her to rescue them. She tries her luck at what’s left of the San Francisco Zoo. There are no animals left, but she comes across a boy named Taren and his dog in the Tiger House.

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In Memory of Neil Peart: Fantasy, Science Fiction, and the Mystic Rhythms of Rush

News broke last Friday about the passing of Neil Peart, the drummer, lyricist, and philosophical heart of the Canadian band Rush. His departure from the circles of our world far, far too early (he was a mere 67) has left many of us grieving in ways that celebrity deaths normally do not. There’s a kind of shockwave effect running through the fandom. And here’s the thing: the guy was extremely private (in a band known for its privacy). It’s hard to miss the man himself—none of us knew him personally. Peart himself wrote, speaking of his adoring fans, “I can’t pretend the stranger is a long-awaited friend.” But losing that secluded presence of a man who produced what he produced—that we can grieve.

But wait, what business does this tribute to a rock legend—yea, even one counted among the greatest drummers of all time—have on a site devoted primarily to science fiction and fantasy? If you’re familiar with Rush, you already know why. And if you don’t, please indulge me.

[“When I heard that he was gone / I felt a shadow cross my heart”]

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