Five Fantastical Contraceptives (and Why We Need More)

Fantasy has evolved from the days of Tolkien and and Lewis. We’re largely passed the era of true good versus true evil, wading into the perilous landscape of moral ambiguity. We still have elves and goblins, but sometimes the former are the bad ones and the latter are the good ones. And, in a shift that Tolkien with his refined Catholic sensibilities would doubtless disapprove of, it has become increasingly acceptable to have sex scenes in fantasy novels.

In the decades since Lord of the Rings, as people began to actually talk about—and write about—sexuality more and more frankly, fantasy authors have had to face an interesting challenge. Writers often insert a modern view of sexuality into their novels, and today we live in a world in which many people have relatively easy access to contraception—while still far from universal, access is greater than at any other time—which radically changes the ways we think about and engage in sex. But most fantasy worlds don’t have condoms or birth control pills, so authors have to come up with creative solutions. Some of these have real historical precedents, and some are unabashedly fantastical.

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A Little Alien Magic: Andre Norton’s Forerunner

By 1981, readers had a very good idea what to expect of an Andre Norton novel. Forerunner did not disappoint.

It’s all there. The plucky protagonist of unknown origins and unsuspected powers. The character of opposite gender who seems to have everything under control, but really doesn’t. The loyal animal partners. The villainous pursuers. The lengthy quest through an alien landscape. The ruins of unimaginable age and mystery. The mysterious power objects just waiting to be discovered by our characters.

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Die Hard is Great, but Shane Black is the King of the Christmas Explosion

Another holiday, another hot take…. But seriously, this annual “Die Hard is the best Christmas film ever” thing has gone bananas. There are so many Christmas films out there—why has this become the hill we die on?

I’m going to be extra aggravating and contrary because Die Hard is not the greatest Christmas movie ever. But there is someone in Hollywood who regularly cracks out amazing Christmas films. He happens to be the guy who named Die Hard.

[It’s Shane Black]

5 of the Coolest Cats in Space

The cat is on the floor, looking up at me and yelling as I type this. My original plan was for a piece on ‘Pets In Space’, but she’s threatened to vomit on my bed, under the covers, if I don’t focus solely on cats. Why? Because cats are better than dogs. I am typing this of my own free will. Please send salmon.

In all seriousness though, even dog lovers have to admit that cats would make better pets aboard a space craft: they don’t require as much food as any but the smallest dogs, unlike many dog breeds they don’t need a lot of space to run around, and they’re great at catching the rodents chewing on the cables of the life-support system.

Now, with that debate settled, let’s look at some of the best cats in space across literature, comics, film, and video games.

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“Smokin’!” — The Mask and Son of the Mask

The Mask started out as a concept Mike Richardson came up with for a sketch in APA-5, an amateur press fanzine Richardson was involved with in 1985. Later on, Richardson formed Dark Horse Comics, and gave the concept to Mark Badger, who did a feature called The Masque in the anthology comic Dark Horse Presents. The more familiar version—with the big green head, the massive teeth, and the general mode of chaos—debuted in Mayhem in 1989, eventually getting his own four-issue miniseries, the first of several, in 1991, which continued throughout the 1990s.

They were popular enough to become part of Dark Horse Entertainment’s stable of films, for which it was one of their biggest hits.

[There can’t be two idiots with pajamas like these…]

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

Over the Garden Wall: A Sweet, Strange Journey into The Unknown

If you’ve ever seen Over the Garden Wall, chances are you’ve seen it more than once—it’s a show that rewards repeat viewings. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a bit hard to explain—it’s an Emmy award-winning animated miniseries that first aired on the Cartoon Network in November, 2014. It’s weird, and beautiful, and not like anything else you’ve ever seen, and features the voice talents of Elijah Wood and Christopher Lloyd, along with John Cleese, Tim Curry, singer Chris Isaak, and opera singer Samuel Ramey, among others. I recently rewatched it, as I tend to do every November. Here’s why.

Everyone in my family dies in November.

[Spoilers Ahead.]

The Only Harmless Great Thing Sweepstakes!

We want to send you a galley copy of Brooke Bolander’s The Only Harmless Great Thing, available January 23rd from Tor.com Publishing!

The Only Harmless Great Thing is a heart-wrenching alternative history that imagines an intersection between the Radium Girls and noble, sentient elephants.

In the early years of the 20th century, a group of female factory workers in Newark, New Jersey, slowly died of radiation poisoning. Around the same time, an Indian elephant was deliberately put to death by electricity in Coney Island.

These are the facts.

Now these two tragedies are intertwined in a dark alternate history of rage, radioactivity, and injustice crying out to be righted. Prepare yourself for a wrenching journey that crosses eras, chronicling histories of cruelty both grand and petty in search of meaning and justice.

Comment in the post to enter!

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States and D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec). To enter, comment on this post beginning at 3:30 PM Eastern Time (ET) on December 14th. Sweepstakes ends at 12:00 PM ET on December 18th. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Tor.com, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.

Eight Kloo Horn Players Sadly Absent from Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I’m sure when you were a kid watching Star Wars, you just assumed that the instruments being played by Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes (note: if you just called them “the cantina band” I’m really not sure what to do with you) were variants on instruments that you have already seen or played upon. Look, it’s an oboe! That one’s a space saxophone! How wrong you were, my young friend. How misguided. That instrument that Figrin D’an is playing is called a kloo horn. It’s totally different from our lousy Earth instruments. (It’s not.) And the Star Wars universe is full of musicians who loved that instrument, at least according to the Legends canon.

Here are eight of their stories. Eight. There are eight whole stories here, somehow. Eight’s gotta be a magic number somewhere, right?

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Ursula K. Le Guin’s Essential Internet Writing, Now Between Two Covers

No Time to Spare, a collection of nonfiction drawn from Ursula K. Le Guin’s blog, draws its title from a statement she made at the very beginning of her first full post: “I am going to be eighty-one next week. I have no time to spare.” Anyone looking at her career must wonder if she ever had spare time. After all, in addition to her science fiction and fantasy novels and collections, almost any one of her which could cap a lesser writer’s career, she’s published realistic fiction, a dozen volumes of poetry, several essay collections, a writing guide, and translations from both Portuguese and Chinese. I’m probably forgetting several things: the list of Le Guin’s publications that opens No Time to Spare, though it runs two pages, is far from complete.

Le Guin attributes her decision to start a blog to reading a selection of Portuguese Nobel winner José Saramago’s internet writing, though with, she avers, “less political and moral weight.” I do not know the Portuguese for “blog,” but perhaps it’s more euphonious than the English word, which Le Guin hates: “it sounds like a sodden tree trunk in a bog, or maybe an obstruction in the nasal passage.” In any case, the form suits her. Le Guin is, in fact, a better political thinker than the great Saramago, and even the essays she worries are most “trivially personal” are so animated and so entertaining that no reader can skip them.

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