Learning Empathy From Robots: How MST3K Helped Explain My Parents

This week marks a milestone for all of humanity—Saturday marks the 30th anniversary of the first broadcast of Mystery Science Theater 3000. The first ever episode, “The Green Slime” was shown on a small Minneapolis cable-access channel called KTMA on November 24, 1988.

There are many things to say about MST3K, (and eventually I plan to say all of them) but since this is Thanksgiving week I wanted to thank the show’s writers for helping me with a very specific issue I had as a kid.

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Celebrating 50 Years of Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn

I’m honestly not sure what I can say about The Last Unicorn that hasn’t been said before—folks were proclaiming the book a classic almost as soon as it was published, and certainly before I was born. Ursula K. Le Guin paid glowing tribute to Peter S. Beagle’s “particular magic,” Madeleine L’Engle described him as “one of my favorite writers,” and countless other readers, writers, and reviewers have heaped such a formidable mountain of praise at his door that it almost seems futile to approach, from down in the valley, and try to carve out some new flourish or clamber conveniently onto some hitherto unexplored perspective.

But even great monuments have their road signs, billboards, and tourist brochures, their aggressively fluorescent arrows pointing helpfully toward sites that absolutely should not be missed. So consider this post a roadside marker, a glossy pamphlet, a helpful map to a well-worn path that’s much-travelled for a reason: the world of The Last Unicorn is always worth visiting, and revisiting, even if you think you’ve seen it all before.

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Under Neon and Starlight: Revealing the Table of Contents for The Outcast Hours

The Outcast Hours is only our second anthology, but it is fair to say we already have a bit of a shtick: we like diverse thinking on universal themes.

With The Djinn Falls in Love, it was, well—djinn. One of the few truly global ‘creatures’ of lore. With The Outcast Hours, we wanted something that was equally relevant: something that every culture experiences. Rather than raid the bestiary again, we went higher concept—not to a particular myth, but to the source of myths. Something that everyone, everywhere, shares: the night. We all experience it; it affects everyone, everywhere, in every culture.

So that’s half the shtick: the universal theme.

The other half is where the real work comes in. To us, there’s no point in reading the same story two dozen times. The joy of something universal is that everyone approaches it from a different angle. To capture the breadth, the depth, the vastness that is the ‘night’, we needed wildly different perspectives. The Table of Contents represents our best efforts to capture this range.

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The Systems Aren’t the Problem: Doctor Who, “Kerblam!”

Doctor Who could have taken a rest after the stunning “Demons of the Punjab,” but that doesn’t seem to be the Thirteenth Doctor’s style. “Kerblam!” could have been the title of a game show on Nickelodeon in the 90s, but Doctor Who instead decided to use the name to explore themes of automation, obsolescence, and the value of human labor.

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Try Homemade Butterbeer for Your Next Holiday Feast!

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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A Knight’s Tale is the Best Medieval Film (No, Really)

If you’ve been following this column at all, you know that I enjoy teaching folks about the history of the real Middle Ages by pointing out the real issues with the reel Middle Ages.

This often leads to the misconceptions that I don’t “get” that many movies are meant to be “just fantasy” or that I hate most medieval movies. To such keen criticisms, I would reply that I totally get that fantasies aren’t meant to be historically accurate (though they clearly utilize that history and, fantasy or not, “teach” audiences about it), and oh my god I totally enjoy most medieval movies.

No. Scratch that. I adore most medieval movies — even the ones that cause me to roll my eyes at their historical inaccuracies.

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The Moldy West — Jonah Hex

While superheroes have always been the bread and butter of comic books, other subgenres have had their day in the sun. Two of the most popular have been Westerns and horror.

The 1970s saw a revival of the horror genre—Tomb of Dracula, Man-Thing, Swamp Thing, Ghost Rider, The Spectre, etc.—and in 1972, John Albano and Tony DeZuniga created Jonah Hex for DC’s All-Star Western, which was soon renamed Weird Western Tales. Hex mixed the ever-popular Western with the equally popular horror to provide tales of a scarred bounty hunter who dealt with monsters both human and supernatural.

[You get uglier every time I see you.]

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

Novelist, Screenwriter, and Author of The Princess Bride William Goldman, 1931-2018

William Goldman, acclaimed author, screenwriter, raconteur, and chronicler of Broadway theater and Hollywood passed away yesterday at the age of 87. Goldman had a fascinating life and career, writing screenplays for classic movies in a broad array of genres, including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and All the President’s Men (1976), for which he won Academy Awards, The Stepford Wives (1975), A Bridge Too Far (1977) and Misery (1990). He also wrote the novel Marathon Man and the screenplay for the 1976 movie version starring Dustin Hoffman, Roy Scheider, and Laurence Olivier.

He is perhaps best known, though, for writing The Princess Bride, which was first published in 1973 and remains one of the most beloved stories of the last century. The movie version based on Goldman’s screenplay was directed and produced by Rob Reiner in 1987, and is easily one of the most delightful, most quotable, and most iconic comedy films of all time. If you’ve seen the movie and haven’t read the original novel, however, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy: Goldman’s writing, and his humor and intelligence, are worth experiencing firsthand. It’s an incredible book.

Born in Chicago in 1931, Goldman spent most of his life in New York, starting out as a novelist before his run as a sought-after screenwriter. In addition to his many fictional works, he also produced some rollicking non-fiction, such as The Season: A Candid Look at Broadway (1969) and 1983’s acerbic, often hilarious Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting. He was a gifted, funny, insightful writer who clearly cared deeply about the act of storytelling and the bonds it creates; he had a legendary career, and will be profoundly missed.

A Compelling Police Procedural (with Magic!): Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch

Lies Sleeping is the latest instalment in Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series of magical murder mysteries, set in London and featuring a London Metropolitan police force that really doesn’t want to have to admit that magic exists. Lies Sleeping is the seventh full-length novel in a series that also encompasses several graphic novels and at least one novella. Peter Grant’s London has depth, breadth, and a complex array of recurring characters, and every one of the novels can be relied on to start with a bang.

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History, Queer Romance, and Fantasy Combine in the Work of KJ Charles

I didn’t read any romance books growing up. Or at least, not anything that would today be categorized as Romance, with a capital R. As an immigrant child I mostly read books chosen for me by my parents, who were keen to make sure I retained the language we spoke at home and who didn’t always have a lot of available books to choose from, in the pre-digital age.

I did read a lot of science fiction and a lot of historical fiction, among other things: Asimov, Sheckley, Bradbury, Dumas, Sabatini, Jules Verne (all of whom I read in translation). In almost every genre, works by male authors tend to be considered the “classics” and “mandatory reads,” so perhaps that was why I read relatively few women authors. And perhaps that’s why now, as an adult, it’s particularly glaring to me that books categorized as Romance, overwhelmingly written by women, are so often shunned from the spotlight of mainstream SF/F, no matter how many science fiction or fantasy elements they contain.

So, let me tell you about KJ Charles, an author you should check out if you haven’t already, if you enjoy fantasy books.

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Mira Grant’s Murderous Mermaids Science Thriller Rolling in the Deep Optioned for Film

Rolling in the Deep, Mira Grant’s (a.k.a. Seanan McGuire) science horror novella about a documentary crew who venture into the Mariana Trench in search of a mermaid hoax, only to discover that mermaids are real and very deadly, is becoming a movie! Variety reports that Branded Pictures Entertainment will produce the adaptation, with Pet Sematary director Mary Lambert at the helm.

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Rivers of London Series Sweepstakes!

The seventh book in Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London urban fantasy series, Lies Sleeping, is available November 20th from DAW—and to celebrate, we want to send you a set of the whole series from DAW and Del Rey!

The Faceless Man, wanted for multiple counts of murder, fraud, and crimes against humanity, has been unmasked and is on the run. Peter Grant, Detective Constable and apprentice wizard, now plays a key role in an unprecedented joint operation to bring him to justice.

[Read on for more about the book, and comment in the post to enter!]

A Specialty in Transformation: Marina and Sergey Dyachenko’s Vita Nostra

Sasha Samokhina has always been an average sort of girl, if a bit overly studious—at least, that’s what she always thought before meeting the strange and imperious Farit Kozhennikov while on vacation with her mother. The bizarre tasks Kozhennikov sets her to as she goes through her final year of high school leave her with a pile of strange gold coins, used to pay for her entrance to a college she’s never heard of and has no desire to attend. But Kozhennikov gives her no choice but to attend the Institute of Special Technologies, where the lessons in Specialty are at first completely incomprehensible and the students’ transgressions and failures are punished by harm to their families. Yet Sasha continues to push forward in her studies… and soon she finds herself transformed as she discovers the truth of the “Special Technologies” she’s studying so fervently.

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