Five SFF Takes on Reality TV

Reality TV is a horror show. Except when it’s hilarious. Few genres can walk that fine line between sublimely terrifying and divinely ridiculous, which makes reality TV a particularly special kind of programming. It’s no surprise that Squid Game, last year’s must-watch series and this year’s Emmy Award darling, became such a big hit with the idea of a reality TV show aired to a tiny, elite audience that paired children’s games (and glorious sets that reminded us of the playground or nursery) with bloodshed. Now Netflix (which aired the series) is even creating an actual Squid Game: The Challenge reality competition series. No bloodshed, of course, but 456 contestants will be able to scramble for $4.56 million, the biggest cash prize a competition show has ever offered.

When reality TV goes to the movies, however, there tends to be approximately 90 percent less fun and games and 100 percent more totalitarianism. Here are five instances of reality TV reimagined for the big screen, and there’s a commonality to nearly all of these movies: The shows live in lurid colors (often crimson) and their ubiquity is trumpeted in exclamation points: They’re the Most Watched TV Shows Ever!!! in their dystopian near futures… a phrase that implicates all of us in the audience along with the warped minds who came up with the concepts in the first place.

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How to Keep Fighting: Romance & Rebellion in Suleikha Snyder’s Third Shift Series

Here’s where I confess my most significant shortcoming as an SFF romance critic: The only paranormal romances I had read before this year were Meljean Brook’s Guardian series. They are classics for sure, but perceptive romance readers will correctly detect that this also means I have never read not even one single shifter romance. No, I had never read the Psy-Changeling series. No, the Immortals After Dark books either. No, obviously not the books by that one lady who tried to copyright the omegaverse. Luckily, the romance genre is a welcoming one, and I anticipate with pleasing expectation that my readers will drop their paranormal recs in the comments (especially paranormals by BIPOC and other marginalized authors).

For my first! ever! shifter! novel!, I doubled up and read the first two books in Suleikha Snyder’s Third Shift series (more, hopefully, to come in the future!).

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The Creator of Veep and the Director of Skyfall Are Making a Superhero Comedy for HBO

“Superhero” and “comedy” are two words that aren’t always the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups of SFF storytelling. The combination can be great! But it’s rarely a sure thing.

But when you have “superhero” and “comedy” and “cowritten by Armando Iannucci,” well, that combination is quite promising. According to Variety, HBO has ordered a pilot episode of The Franchise, a series about superhero movies with a concept from director Sam Mendes (Skyfall, 1917) and a story co-written by Iannucci.

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Man in the Mirror: Worlds of the Imperium and The Other Side of Time by Keith Laumer

In this bi-weekly series reviewing classic science fiction and fantasy books, Alan Brown looks at the front lines and frontiers of the field; books about soldiers and spacers, scientists and engineers, explorers and adventurers. Stories full of what Shakespeare used to refer to as “alarums and excursions”: battles, chases, clashes, and the stuff of excitement.

Today I’m taking a look at two alternate world books by Keith Laumer, from the days when novels were short and briskly paced. And Laumer was a master of that form. I’d been searching for some good summer reading, and these certainly fit the bill. The books are full of alternate versions of people we recognize from our own history, and the hero even gets to meet an alternate version of himself at one point. What can be more fun than playing the game of “what if…?”

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How to Paint With Words: 6 Descriptive Works of SFF

Mervyn Peake, famously the author of the unfinished Gormenghast series, was also a well-respected illustrator—the British Library referred to him as “arguably the finest children’s illustrator of the mid-20th century.” His style was frequently expressive and gestural, dark and grotesque; he produced portraits of his own characters that were intimately suggestive of their foibles and eccentricities.

I am not a visual artist, nor do I have a background in art history. Nevertheless, while reading Titus Groan, I was struck by the intensely visual quality of Peake’s prose.

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Series: That Was Awesome! Writers on Writing

On Remaking Myths: Tolkien, D&D, Medusa, and Way Too Many Minotaurs

Recently, I was one of the guests of honor at Mythmoot, an annual speculative literature conference hosted by Signum University. That is a sentence I still feel like I haven’t squared with properly. I was asked to give a keynote, to share the metaphoric stage with Dr. Faith Acker, Dr. Michael Drout, Dr. Tom Shippey, and of course Signum’s president, Dr. Corey Olsen (aka the Tolkien Professor)—all scholars, professors, and industry luminaries. I can scarcely wrap my head around it all even now. In that same company were dozens of attendees and other presenters who gave illuminating and well-researched talks. It was an amazing experience and a memorable weekend.

Mythmoot rolls around every June and is usually hosted at the National Conference Center (NCC) in Leesburg, Virginia. If you’re interested in future conferences but can’t make it, you can attend digitally. They’ve been making it a hybrid (in-person and remote) event for two years now. Signum University also hosts a number of smaller regional “moots” throughout the year—like Mountain Moot (CO) in September, New England Moot (NH) in October, or even their first overseas one coming next January, OzMoot (Brisbane, Australia). Well worth looking into!

So anyway, this year was Mythmoot IX, and the theme was Remaking Myth. With Signum’s blessing (and of course’s own approval), here follows a contextually adjusted writeup of my Mythmoot keynote on this theme, which I titled “Dungeons & Dragons & Silmarils; or, The Modern Mythologizer.

[What if the Minotaur knew how to knit?]

There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Pac-Man Movie and We Have Questions

It was only a matter of time. We’ve had movies based on a ton of video games (Mortal Kombat, Tomb Raider, Uncharted, Super Mario Bros., so many more) and even the occasional board game (listen, they did the impossible with Battleship). People love mining existing intellectual property for totally unnecessary adaptations! So why not? Why not go back in time to the early days of arcade games? Why not make Pac-Man into a movie? He’s already been a cartoon.

Well. It all makes sense, in our modern world, until you read a few key words: live-action Pac-Man movie.

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Star Trek: Enterprise Rewatch: “Singularity”

Written by Chris Black
Directed by Patrick Norris
Season 2, Episode 9
Production episode 035
Original air date: November 20, 2002
Date: August 14, 2152

Captain’s star log. We see that everyone on Enterprise is unconscious, except for T’Pol, who dictates a log explaining what the hell happened.

Enterprise is approaching a singularity that is part of a trinary system. While the Vulcans have charted thousand of black holes, this is the first one on record to be in a trinary system, so they head toward it.

[I lowered it—by one centimeter.]

Series: Star Trek: Enterprise Rewatch

How Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Reimagines the “Hero’s Journey” for the Better

It’s been said before in a multitude of ways, but it does bear repeating: The Hero’s Journey has fucked us up as a culture.

That probably sounds harsh to some, but there’s an important core of truth in the sentiment. In a century that is currently being defined by our absorption in superhero narratives, the pop culture consuming public has been inundated with stories about larger than life figures who commit feats of great heroism. Usually those feats require untold physical strength, unique moral fiber, adamantium will. We only have room for people who commit acts that are writ large, on a mountain face or across the multitude of screens we use every day, and we aren’t stopping to consider how that might shape our beliefs about what in life is worthwhile, or how we can best offer our help to others.

Which is why Captain Pike’s arc in Strange New Worlds is honestly a thing of beauty.

[Spoilers for season one of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds and season two of Star Trek: Discovery.]

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