A Good Horror Story Needs to Be Sincere

I watch a lot of horror movies. However many you’re thinking right now, I regret to inform you that you have woefully underestimated the number of horror movies that I have watched in my lifetime. I watch a lot of horror movies. My earliest cinematic memories involve horror movies—Alien when I was three years old, sitting on my uncle’s lap in the living room of our old apartment; The Blob after a midnight trip to the emergency vet to have a cattail removed from my cat’s eye; Critters in my grandmother’s living room, elbows buried in the plush beige carpet, dreaming of marrying the handsome red-haired boy in the lead role. So many horror movies. The only form of media that has arguably had more of an influence on me than the horror movie is the superhero comic book (which is a whole different kettle of worms).

The standards of horror have changed with time, of course. The things we’re afraid of now and the things we were afraid of fifty years ago are not the same, and neither are the avatars we choose to face those fears. We’ve gone from jut-jawed heroes to final girls to clever kids to slackers who somehow stumbled into the wrong movie, and when it’s been successful, it’s been incredible, and when it’s failed, we haven’t even needed to talk about it, because everyone knows. But there’s one ingredient to a really good horror movie that has never changed—that I don’t think ever will change—that I think we need to think about a little harder.

Sincerity.

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Dragons and Scholars, and the Stories of My Heart

I grew up with dragons and scholars: the rồng, the dragons of my mother’s and grandmother’s tales, old and wise spirits that lived beneath the rivers and seas who brought rain and floods to bless the fields and the harvest. Rồng are a meld of animals: they have the antlers of a deer, the mane of a lion, the body of a snake, though they also have short, stubby legs.

They can be born from eggs, but the legend I grew up with was that of the Dragon’s Gate, which is a waterfall at the top of a legendary mountain. Carps can swim upstream against the current, but they have to be strong and brave to leap over that final waterfall, and those who do transform into a dragon: the dragon’s scales are meant to recall their origin from the fish.

[In the fairytales or fantasy I consumed, I seldom found these…]

On the Origins of Modern Biology and the Fantastic: Part 7 — Robert A. Heinlein and DNA Replication

“Acting per se, like all art, is a process of abstracting, of retaining only significant detail. But in impersonation any detail can be significant.” – The Great Lorenzo, Double Star by Robert Heinlein

In Robert Anson Heinlein’s Double Star (1956), the down-on-his-luck actor “The Great Lorenzo” (aka Lawrence Smythe) is recruited by the frantic political team of John Bonaforte, a VIP in solar system politics who has been kidnapped to cause a diplomatic crisis. Hired to impersonate Bonaforte, over the course of a series of escalating complications, Smythe not only becomes sympathetic to Bonaforte’s politics, but inhabits his role so perfectly that when Bonaforte drops dead on election night, Smythe permanently becomes Bonaforte. It is a light-hearted comedy about topics near and dear to its author’s heart—politics, space travel, moralizing, and shaving the numbers off of old tropes (in this case the classic body double plot)—that won the third ever Hugo Award for Best Novel and is widely regarded to be Heinlein’s best novel.

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Oathbringer Reread: Chapter Fifty-Two

Good day (or night depending on your time zone), faithful rereaders! Welcome back to Roshar for a… well, I was going to say “a very special episode of the Oathbringer Reread,” but let’s be honest, there’s nothing too terribly special going on in this chapter, unless you count parental abandonment “special.” We’ll be doing a bit of theorizing about the Thrill as well as lots of discussion about the Kholin family dynamics, so roll up your sleeves and prepare those comments as we dive in.

[Four glorious years.]

Series: Oathbringer Reread

Dreams Come True (Unfortunately): E.F. Benson’s “The Room in the Tower”

Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

This week, we’re reading E.F. Benson’s “The Room in the Tower,” first published in Benson’s The Room in the Tower and Other Stories in 1912. Trigger Warning for suicide, treated as a symptom of Evil. Spoilers ahead.

[“Jack will show you your room: I have given you the room in the tower.”]

Series: The Lovecraft Reread

Corporate Space Piracy: Mutiny at Vesta by R.E. Stearns

R.E. Stearns’ debut novel, Barbary Station, exploded its way close to my heart with its narrative of lesbian space engineers, pirates, and murderous AI. A measured, tensely claustrophobic narrative, it hinted that Stearns might be a voice to watch. Now in Mutiny at Vesta, Barbary Station‘s sequel, Stearns has written a worthy successor, one that makes me feel that tensely claustrophobic is the corner of slower-than-light space opera that Stearns has staked out as her playing field.

One can’t help but feel for Adda Karpe and Iridian Nassir, the protagonists of both Barbary Station and now Mutiny at Vesta. They may have each other—they may now be married to each other—but they seem to have a decided knack for setting their courses out of the frying pan and into the fire.

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Writing Girls and Rethinking Fairytales

I am a voracious, enthusiastic reader of all things young adult and one of the things that interests me the most as a reader, reviewer, and editor is the way that we write about girls, how those stories are framed, and how we engage with them. Warning: this column contains girls. And spoilers. But mostly, girls.

Looking at folklore and old tales and reinterpreting them is nothing new, of course; the Brothers Grimm did just that 200 years ago, and SFF and YA authors have been engaging with this kind of material for a long time.

That said, I do feel like there has been a renewed interest in YA to reimagine fairytales through feminist, subversive, and diverse lenses, with stories focused on girls and their empowerment. I recently read three of these—three novels published this year, three retellings that take beloved stories/tropes and turn them upside down. The Surface Breaks by Louise O’Neill is a retelling of “The Little Mermaid” with a side of Slavic folklore and their Rusalka via an Irish history of policing women’s bodies. Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore is Swan Lake meets “Snow White and Rose Red” from a Latinx viewpoint. Finally, Damsel by Elana K. Arnold looks at the trope of the damsel in the dragon tower waiting to be rescued by a prince.

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Why You Should Read Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World

Fate, I observe somewhat unoriginally, is a funny thing—in both the strange and the ha-ha flavors. This is just as true in real life as it is in stories, though the dialogue in the stories generally tends to be a bit more polished.

I am continually both amused and bemused, therefore, whenever I think about how there’s a person out there who, by saying two short sentences to me, is ultimately responsible for shaping a huge portion of my life, my friends, my interests, my travels, my experiences, and even my career.

And I have absolutely no idea who this person is. And I never will.

He will forever only be that random guy in the University bookstore on Guadalupe Street in Austin, Texas who, sometime in 1997, paused in the science fiction/fantasy aisle next to an equally random girl staring at the shelves in total indecision, just long enough to point at a thick mass-market paperback with a blue-toned cover and say:

“You should try that one. It’s really good.”

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Happy 20th Anniversary to Practical Magic, the Witchy Rom-Com That’s Really About the Bonds Between Women

Practical Magic is called a romantic comedy, and that’s funny because its leading man doesn’t show up until well over half the film’s runtime has elapsed. (It’s also based on a book of the same name, though they don’t resemble each other very much.) I suppose it is a romantic comedy in that many parts of the film are funny, and there’s a lot of romantic stuff in it. The romance is basically a tangent that occurs so that the story has a thought to end on, and it’s perfectly nice. But really, more than anything, Practical Magic is about how important it is for women to have other women in their lives for the sake of their empowerment and protection. And that’s really it.

Also witch stuff. And tequila.

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Grace Under Pressure: The Rise of Númenor

Wherein the Dúnedain Are Made Better, Stronger, Faster, and Are Gifted With Huge Tracts o’ Land…and It Just Might Not Be Enough

In The Silmarillion, we don’t spend quite enough time in the Second Age to really get to know it—a chapter and a half, at best. And rather than walk through what does follow the First Age chronologically, Christopher Tolkien—who curated all of this for us after his father’s death—presents the next two ages of the history of Middle-earth in two basic pieces. Each overlaps the other but centers on its own events.

The first of these is the Akallabêth, a word that means “the Downfallen,” and specifically refers to the figurative and literal sinking of Númenor. You can always count on J.R.R. Tolkien to tell you something falls before he tells you it’s even a thing. Well, Númenor was a thing, and even casual readers of The Lord of the Rings will already know a thing or two about it. This is a phase of the book when Men finally take center stage, while Elves merely flit in from the wings once in a while.

While this is not a difficult story to follow, the gauntlet of both Elvish and Adûnaic (i.e. Númenórean) names can trip you up. Don’t let it! Sauron WANTS you to fall. Given the big ideas in this section, I’ll be tackling the Akallabêth (ah-CALL-la-beth) in two parts, which mostly amounts to the great rise and the watery fall of Númenor.

[“Why do the Lords of the West sit there in peace undending, while we must die and go not whither?]

Series: The Silmarillion Primer

The Best Arthurian Novels for Fans of Actual History

I suspect a lot of people’s minds ran in the same direction mine did at the news that a girl named Saga had pulled a fifteen hundred-year-old sword from a lake. Not all swords are Excalibur, of course, and the lake in question was in Sweden, but Britain could do worse than seeing if Saga has any interest in becoming Prime Minister.

All of which reminded me of Arthuriana, and my first and favorite Arthur novel, Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Lantern Bearers (1959). The novel takes its title from a statement by Eugenus the Physician:

“We are the lantern bearers, my friend; for us to keep something burning, to carry what light we can forward into the darkness and the wind.”

Arthur (or Artos, as he is called in this book) plays only a supporting role, but it’s enough of a role for this to be the ur-Arthur story for me.

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Hugo Award-Winning Editor Liz Gorinsky Launches New Publishing Company Erewhon Books

Liz Gorinsky, Hugo Award-winning long form editor, is starting her own publishing company—Erewhon Books. Named for the Samuel Butler Victorian utopian novel Erewhon, the company will focus on novel-length works of speculative fiction, especially those which might appeal to both science fiction and fantasy readers and fans of mainstream fiction who enjoy work with speculative elements.

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Monsters of the Week Sweepstakes!

We want to send you a copy of Zack Handlen and Todd VanDerWerff’s Monsters of the Week: The Complete Critical Companion to The X-Files, available now from Abrams Press! And as a bonus, each book will come with a bookplate signed by the authors and X-Files creator Chris Carter!

In 1993, Fox debuted a strange new television show called The X-Files. Little did anyone suspect that the series would become one of the network’s biggest hits—and change the landscape of television in the process. Now, on the occasion of the show’s 25th anniversary, TV critics Zack Handlen and Todd VanDerWerff unpack exactly what made this haunting show so groundbreaking. Witty and insightful reviews of every episode of the series, revised and updated from the authors’ popular A.V. Club recaps, leave no mystery unsolved and no monster unexplained. This crucial collection even includes exclusive interviews with some of the stars and screenwriters, as well as an original foreword by X-Files creator and showrunner Chris Carter. This complete critical companion is the definitive guide whether you’re a lifelong viewer wanting to relive memories of watching the show when it first aired or a new fan uncovering the conspiracy for the first time.

Comment in the post to enter!

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