“Stick Around”: A Schwarzenegger Movie Guide for the Uninitiated

For better or worse, Arnold Schwarzenegger occupies a prominent place in the science fiction and fantasy of the late 20th and early 21st century. Years from now, scholars of film will no doubt wonder how it happened: a muscleman from Austria with a thick accent and dubious acting chops somehow enjoyed an incredible run of blockbusters from the early 1980s to the late-1990s. Action stars of the past—like Steve McQueen or John Wayne—were generally respected as actors as well, with both being recognized by the Academy. Schwarzenegger, on the other hand, crafted himself into something entirely different, a pop cultural oddity combining athletics, politics, and (intentionally or not) comedy. While there are no Oscar nominations on the horizon for Arnold, virtually everything he says becomes a quotable line. And, improbably, he has successfully cashed in on the nostalgia craze of our time, making movies that relive his glory days.

The Expendables franchise notwithstanding, Arnold has not headlined a blockbuster since Batman and Robin (1997), and that disaster of a film proved to be a harbinger of a long decline. I’m therefore writing this for those people who remain mostly unfamiliar with his work. Especially those who have an annoying friend—let’s call him Robert—who constantly, incessantly quotes Arnold’s most memorable one-liners. Such people may wonder: where do I begin with the massive Schwarzenegger archive? Consider this a brief guide.

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You’ll Never Sink My Love of Battleship

There exists no convincing argument that movies should never be based on board games, because Clue exists, and therefore disproves any such argument. That said, the game of Battleship is a categorically stupid idea for a movie. Battleship is basically bingo with a bit of deductive strategy and no wacky prizes at the end. People in movies cannot sit around yelling YOU SUNK MY BATTLESHIP at each other, a fact which must have been clear to the people behind Battleship. Despite its dubious source material, Battleship is the one of the greatest dumb action movies of the early twenty-teens. Writers Jon and Erich Hoeber and director Peter Berg clearly took their Hasbro/Universal paychecks, gave the game a serious side-eye, and opted to keep just a few elements: big honkin’ battleships, cylindrical missile things, and goofy coordinates.

Everything else is newly made-up big dumb action movie gold.

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The Revolutionary Optimism of Iain M. Banks’ Culture Novels

I was all set to finish a piece on the characters who inhabit the world of Iain M. Banks’s Culture novels, the advanced space-humans and artificial intelligences that drive the novels with their struggles and adventures. I’ve gotten distracted from that original plan, though. For one thing, a bad case of news poisoning has endowed the following paragraph from Banks’s 1994 essay “A Few Notes on the Culture” with a lot more grim humor than they had around this time last year:

The market is a good example of evolution in action; the try-everything-and-see-what-works approach. This might provide a perfectly morally satisfactory resource-management system so long as there was absolutely no question of any sentient creature ever being treated purely as one of those resources. The market, for all its (profoundly inelegant) complexities, remains a crude and essentially blind system, and is—without the sort of drastic amendments liable to cripple the economic efficacy which is its greatest claimed asset—intrinsically incapable of distinguishing between simple non-use of matter resulting from processal superfluity and the acute, prolonged and wide-spread suffering of conscious beings.

This particular moment in history—when unfettered capitalism, oligarchy, and toxic forms of nationalism all too often tend to be the order of the day—is quite a time to be reading about a socialist post-scarcity interstellar civilization, and one can definitely be forgiven for approaching the novels in a spirit of escapism. But one can also find inspiration in the progressive and optimistic worldview that underpins Banks’s novels, which was neatly summarized by the man himself.

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It’s Time to Talk About The Ewok Adventures Because Life is Unfair Sometimes

Strap in, kiddies (and adults who I am calling kiddies), we’re going to have a nice chat about the strangest corner of the Star Wars universe that is completely unknown to the majority of children who grew up on the prequels and their successors. I’m talking about two whole made-for-tv movies that centered on those lovable fluffballs the Ewoks, and their forest moon full of fairies and witches and castles and all sorts of other crap that the Empire and Rebel Alliance didn’t seem to notice when they landed.

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MST3K Has Renewal Sign!

That’s right, Netflix has renewed the beloved show for a 12th season! This news was announced by creator Joel Hodgson, test subject Jonah “Heston” Ray, and Mad Scientist Felicia Day at the end of the annual Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day Marathon!

Hiiii-keeba! Check out the announcement below!

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Brandon Sanderson’s Oathbringer Debuts at #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List

Oathbringer, the eagerly awaited third volume in Brandon Sanderson’s epic Stormlight Archive fantasy series, has debuted at #1 on the New York Times Hardcover Fiction Bestseller list!

Congratulations to the author and his hard-working prep team!

For those who have finished the book and want to talk about the surprises and implications, check out the full spoiler review.

If you’re interested in picking up Oathbringer but aren’t sure how to jump on, here’s a handy refresher of what occurred in the first two Stormlight Archive novels.

Embrace the Holiday Tension with A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving is the least of the Big Three Peanuts holiday specials. The Peanuts Gang’s take on Halloween gave us The Great Pumpkin, and A Charlie Brown Christmas became the standard by which all other Christmas specials were judged. When the Gang tackled Thanksgiving, however, there just wasn’t as much to dig into.

Or so I remembered.

But rewatching it, I found that the show packed a surprising amount of depth in between all the Snoopy shenanigans and toast-buttering montages. In fact if you look closely enough, I think you might find a statement about what it means to be an American.

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The Sausage Princess, or, Reshaping the Bizarre Structure of Fairy Tales

So there’s a Grimm Brothers fairy tale about a mouse, a bird, and a talking sausage who live together. (I am not making this up.) The sausage is the cook. In order to season food, she—yes, she’s identified as a female sausage—jumps into the pan and slithers around, sweating grease and spices on the food.

Anyway, one day the bird decides that the mouse and the sausage have it too easy and they all switch jobs. The sausage goes out to gather wood and is set upon by a dog, who claims (I am still not making this up) that the sausage is guilty of carrying forged letters and thus he is allowed to eat her. The bird sees this, goes home, and tells the mouse. They decide to stay together in memory of their friend the sausage, but then the mouse does the cooking, jumps into the pot like the sausage, and is of course roasted alive. The bird, horrified, accidentally sets the house on fire and drowns in the well trying to get water to put it out.

The moral of this story is presumably that everyone’s job is hard and you should just keep your eyes on your own work, and also that mice are not bright and talking sausages are often guilty of postal fraud.

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Running Away from Its Roots — Marvel’s The Punisher Season One

Netflix’s little corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been focused on more street-level stuff rather than big battles to save the world. The highest stakes we’ve seen have been to save a neighborhood or a city or maybe just a few people, but that’s often enough.

The Punisher both continues that trend and subverts it. Unlike every other protagonist in an MCU film and a Netflix show in particular, Frank Castle doesn’t have powers (Daredevil has his super-senses, Iron Fist has his titular ability, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones have super-strength) or extranormal enhancements (armor, webbing, magic hammer, shrink ray). And nobody really gets saved here, which is fitting, as the Punisher isn’t a hero. What this is more about is exposing corruption.

Show-runner Steve Lightfoot (who is inexplicably listed as the “creator” of the show) takes this all about ten steps further by completely removing Castle from any semblance of the MCU.

[SPOILERS for this series and the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe]

We Tried Homemade Butterbeer Four Ways!

We set out on a dangerous mission: to build a better butterbeer. We searched through recipes! We gleaned truths from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter! We scoffed at cream soda! And finally, just in time for a slew of winter holidays, we created and tested four drinks that just might set a new bar for fantasy-based beverages. But perhaps the truth can only be known once each and every one of you has created and tested these recipes? Click through for four of the yummiest—dare we say…magical?—concoctions we could hope to imbibe.

Only one thing is certain.

WE BLAME J.K. ROWLING FOR THE SUGAR HANGOVER WE STILL HAVE.

Now read on, gentle traveler, and join us for some serious DIY Hogsmeade shenanigans.

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Flawed Futures Make for Better Stories: Ada Palmer’s Take on Utopian SF

At Readercon last summer, when I saw that Ada Palmer was hosting a kaffeeklatsch, I jumped at the chance to join in. Having just read her debut, Too Like The Lightning, a few months earlier, I was thrilled at the prospect of having an hour to sit with her and other fans and pick her brain about the vast, complicated world of Terra Ignota and the future of 2454 that she had painstakingly created. During the discussion, someone asked something about how she had written a utopia, to which Ada chuckled for a moment, possibly thinking over all the complications—all the wrenches she’d thrown into the gears, basically—when it came to creating her world. Then, she said, “Well, it’s not quite a utopia, as it is utopian,” which she went on to explain means that while the world itself is utopian in nature, the future itself is far from a perfect utopia. She’s actually gone into a bit more detail about this distinction on her blog, stating:

…[W]hen I talk about a “utopia”—a work intending to depict an ideal future—that is not quite the same as a work which is “utopian” i.e. addressing the idea of utopia, and using utopian positive elements in its future building, while still focusing on people, characters and events, and exploring or critiquing the positive future it depicts, rather than recommending it. 2454 as I imagine it is not a utopia. There are many flaws and uncomfortable elements…. It is using utopia and commenting on utopia without being a utopia.

Which, of course, got me thinking.

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Pilgrims and Rocks and the Origins of Thanksgiving

I intended to write an “origins of Thanksgiving” post last year, but the release of The Gates of Hell and day-job matters got in the way. I promised in a subsequent “Origins of Xmas” post that I’d do it next year, which a reader has reminded me is now this year … so here we go!

When we think of the historical origins of Thanksgiving, we tend to get an image like the one above.Praying Pilgrims and helpful Indians, amirite? By now we’ve distilled the images even further into simple symbolism that pre-school kids can craft in construction paper. For the pilgrims: black hats with buckles upon them. For the Indians: loincloths and feathered headbands. Turkey with gravy on the table, and nostalgia about peace amid a religiosity of thankfulness.

It’s all lovely, and I quite like Thanksgiving, but its important to distinguish our modern conceptions from the historical realities. Because as quaint as our images are of that “First Thanksgiving,” they’re pretty much all wrong.

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Series: Medieval Matters

Anakin Skywalker Was a Gray Jedi

“It’s time for the Jedi to end.”

Since Luke Skywalker dropped that bomb in the middle of the Star Wars universe in the first trailer for The Last Jedi, questions have been swirling:

Has Luke turned to the Dark Side?

Has he discovered something about the Jedi Order that will redefine what the term “Jedi” means?

Will Rey evolve past the binary Dark/Light Side and become the first (canonical) Gray Jedi?

GIVE US MORE PORGS.

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Sleeps With Monsters: Helen S. Wright’s A Matter of Oaths

Remember 1988? I don’t, not really—but then, I was two at the time.

People who were older than two in 1988 might remember Helen S. Wright’s A Matter of Oaths. Or then again, they might not: Wright seems to have published precisely one novel (at least, under that name) and at the time, it received little acclaim.

Nigh on thirty years later, republished with a foreword by Becky Chambers, I have to hope its fate will be vastly different. Because A Matter of Oaths deserves your attention. (And it’s one of those books, like Swordspoint, that I honestly didn’t think anyone was publishing in the eighties until I read it.)

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Series: Sleeps With Monsters

The Malazan Authors’ Suggested Reading Order for the Series Is Not What You Would Expect

Spanning two authors and twenty-one books and counting, the Malazan series defines EPIC. With an awesome magic system, fantastic characters and world-building, and more than a couple of very angry gods, it’s a fantasy editor’s dream series. But when there is so much Malazan out there, new readers can’t help but ask “where do I start?”

And that is an excellent question, dear reader. So, I thought it would be best to take this question right to the source. I set out and asked the creators of the world of Malazan, Ian C. Esslemont and Steven Erikson, what they thought was the best order to experience the series. Keep in mind that what they provided is by no means definitive. So with the authors’ and editor’s stamp of approval, here is the best way to get the full Malazan experience.

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