Five SFF Stories About Hermits, Recluses, and Loners

I recently reread a classic Canadian thriller and the second thing that struck me about it was the fact that the protagonist’s coping mechanism for escaping disaster—complete isolation—failed so abjectly.

This is far from the only piece of fiction to explore isolation. Consider these five works from the previous millennium.

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Star Trek: Enterprise Rewatch: “Vanishing Point”

“Vanishing Point”
Written by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga
Directed by David Straiton
Season 2, Episode 10
Production episode 036
Original air date: November 27, 2002
Date: unknown

Captain’s star log. Tucker and Sato are checking out ruins on a planet, but a diamagnetic storm is moving in faster than expected, so they have to risk taking the transporter. Tucker beams up first at Sato’s insistence, as she doesn’t want to beam up until she knows Tucker made it through safely.

Sato feels out of sorts after her first time through the transporter, and Archer gives her the rest of the day off. She’s the subject of some good-natured teasing in the mess hall, with Reed, Tucker, and Mayweather telling her the story of Cyrus Ramsey, who was lost in an early transporter test and who is now the subject of dozens of ghost stories. Sato has never heard of Ramsey, and is sorry to have heard of him now.

[That’s a pretty big jigsaw puzzle…]

Series: Star Trek: Enterprise Rewatch

Guillermo del Toro Offers a Peek Into His Cabinet of Curiosities

“Each of the episodes has a whole world,” Guillermo del Toro says in the new teaser for Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities, the upcoming Netflix anthology series that boasts an astonishing lineup of directors, writers, and performers. This trailer isn’t so much a look at the show itself as a glimpse into its backstory: why del Toro wanted to make it, what he wants to say, and how cool (and horrifying) the practical effects look.

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The Sandman’s Standout Episode Is a Great Work of Adaptation

There’s a lot of pressure on the (hopefully) first season of The Sandman. The show had to cover the first two major arcs of an iconic comics series, introduce dozens of new characters, and multiple fantasy realms, all while finding a consistent tone in a story that starts as a series of episodic chapters before turning epic, and starts as horror before turning into fantasy. (They also had to ditch a bunch of DC Comics continuity.) And, just as the comics had to do back in the ‘80s, the show needed to find a way to keep people invested after the bloody meatgrinder of John Dee’s visit to the 24-hour diner.

In the comics run, Issue #8, “The Sound of Her Wings”, is when The Sandman becomes The Sandman. It reestablishes the story’s theme, gives us new empathy for Dream, and introduces Dream’s sister, Death. It’s also a nigh-perfect issue, a compact jewel of a story that feels enormous. So in the midst of the pressure to get The Sandman as a whole right, the episode that adapted “The Sound of Her Wings” needed to capture a certain spirit to lead viewers onto solid ground, and send them off into the second half of the season.

I think Episode Six does this beautifully well, and it does it through tiny choices in adaptation.

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The Ultimate Fantasy Beast: The Dragon

When it comes to fantastic beasts, the one, the only, the genuine original, is the dragon. Dragons are fantasy. So much so that one of the most popular examples of all, Anne McCaffrey’s Dragons of Pern, despite its origins in good old-fashioned spacefaring science fiction, not only carries the label of fantasy, it’s inspired numerous younger authors.

Dragons are everywhere. Just about everyone has a version. Many are based on the Western dragon: scaled, winged, breathes fire. Some incline toward the Eastern variety: sinuous, often wingless, allied with air and water. They’re magical, mystical, and immensely powerful.

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Damn, That’s Good: Pseudo-Profanity as SFF Worldbuilding

You’re reading your latest SFF obsession and you hit a string of back-to-back profanities: “Fuck! Shit! Damn!” The rogue stubbed her toe during a challenging stretch of a treacherous climb. 

I see segments like this and I chuckle. There’s an odd, intangible pleasure in seeing a swear word taking up space on a page. “Hey, I say that when I stub my toe, too!” (Of course, I’m not climbing cliffs or buildings. I last stubbed my toe chasing my cat, who refuses to swallow his pill.)

SFF authors have proven time and again that profanity can be an art form. I look to Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastard sequence as the gold standard, here—the series elevates swearing to the realm of artistic achievement. But for every book blending the familiar profanities we know and love with magical lands and spacefaring civilizations, there’s a work that substitutes new terms that take the place of common expletives to great effect. 

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Lisa Frankenstein Features Cole Sprouse as a Victorian Corpse and That’s Really All We Need to Know

Lisa Frankenstein, the feature debut of director Zelda Williams, has a lot going for it, but this one detail is just too good: Cole Sprouse (Riverdale’s Jughead Jones, above) plays a “handsome Victorian corpse” who is reanimated by an unpopular high school student in 1989. Important question: Can we have him in lacy collars and velvet? Please? (Note: I do not care if this is historically accurate. The heart wants what the heart wants.)

The very loose take on Frankenstein is written by Diablo Cody, who knows her way around teen horror (Jennifer’s Body).

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Exploring the Depths of Middle-earth With Artist Kip Rasmussen

When I first came across Kip Rasmussen’s work, I knew it was exceptional, and that I’d probably like everything he made. His paintings present all the best components of high fantasy: long hair flowing from beneath helms, brazen swords, gleaming spears, fire-breathing dragons, primordial godlike beings, imposing pinnacles of rock, and an insanely huge spider. Yup—these were scenes right out of J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium, instantly recognizable as features of Middle-earth. But curiously, only a few of them depict characters in The Lord of the Rings itself. Here was a Silmarillion-leaning artist. Oh, hell yeah.

When I contacted Kip to ask permission to use some of his work in my Silmarillion Primer, he just happened to be mulling over three ideas in his mental queue and he was quick to ask me to choose which subject he’d tackle next. I chose “Tulkas Chaining Morgoth,” so when he finished it later, it was right on time for the War of Wrath segment of the Primer. That made me very happy. And now, once again, I’m debuting a new painting in this article: Kip’s take on that legendary conflict between a certain lionhearted shield-maiden and a certain overconfident lord of carrion.

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A Very Metaphysical Techno-Satire: Adam Roberts’ The This

In the years before social media turned into an outright nightmare most of the time and the algorithm powering YouTube veered past the uncanny valley and into something monstrous, there was a moment when random things would come up online that had the power to delight. Among them: people coming up with attack ad-style videos about 19th century philosophers. I have no idea what the context behind these was, but the Kierkegaard and Kant ones were and are hilarious. (There was also an attack ad directed at Nietzsche which seems to be lost to history.) You wouldn’t necessarily think that this combination would work, but it does.

Such is the case, too, with Adam Roberts’ memorably-titled The This. In his notes following the novel, Roberts writes that the writings of Hegel were a primary source of inspiration for him, and that this novel “follows, and is in some respects in dialogue with, an earlier Kant-novel of mine called The Thing Itself.” But while that novel was set in the recent past, The This is largely set in the near future—except, of course, for the scenes set in the bardo.

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Yellowjackets Continues Its Excellent Casting, Adding Lauren Ambrose for Season 2

There’s a new adult in the Yellowjackets cast—which means at least one more of the ’90s teens survived their harrowing crash in the wilderness. Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under) has been cast as an adult version of one character, and fans of the show can probably guess who. But in the interest of spoiler protocol, you’ll have to read on to find out!

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