Jumanji: The Next Level Is Fun But Ultimately Forgettable

Live long enough, and you see your beloved childhood films grow into franchises in their own right. As time goes on, and the box office gods make their pronouncements, these franchises eventually spawn sequels-to-sequels that hew more closely to their immediate predecessors than to the source material. Yes, as Danny DeVito’s cranky Grandpa Eddie says in Jumanji: The Next Level, “getting old sucks.”

Moreso than another pretty gem, that’s the puzzle at the center of the second installment in the Jumanji-as-video-game movies: How do we grow into new people, appreciating the wisdom of experience, without mourning the people we used to be? What do we do if we think we liked those old people more? As with the 2017 sequel/reboot, there’s surprising thematic depth that is nonetheless under-served by a jungle adventure that’s just not thrilling enough to make an adequate contrast.

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Back to the Drawing Board — Star Trek’s “The Girl Who Made the Stars” and “Ephraim and Dot”

Back in the 1970s, Star Trek was proving more popular in syndicated reruns than it ever was as a new show on NBC in the 1960s. Gene Roddenberry was looking for ways to capitalize on that popularity, and while attempts to revive the show in live-action were made—a movie, then a TV show, then a movie again, which finally happened in 1979—he also succeeded in reviving the series via animation by doing a deal with Filmation for an animated show that lasted twenty-two episodes.

For the first time since that animated series ended in 1974, Star Trek has produced an animated episode. In fact, they’ve done two.

[“Computer, aluminum. I mean lu…” “Illuminate?” “That’s what I said! Make it brighter!”]

The Mandalorian Remembers Why Hanging Out With College Buddies Is a Bad Idea in Chapter 6, “The Prisoner”

You know, when you grow up and you have a kid, sometimes the people you used to hang out with as a young impulsive twenty-something just don’t fit with your lifestyle anymore? The Mandalorian is about to learn that lesson hard.

Of course, when you’re broke and can’t pick out your jobs all that carefully, it’s not entirely your fault.


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“His name is Captain Sparklefingers!” — Shazam!

In 1940, superheroes had become the biggest thing in comics, thanks mostly to the huge success National Periodical Publications (what is now DC) with both Superman and Batman over the previous year or two. So we got lots more superheroes being created in the shadow of a world war in Europe: Timely Comics (what is now Marvel) gave us Captain America and the Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch, National also gave us Wonder Woman and the Green Lantern and the Flash, and Fawcett Publications gave us a character originally known as Captain Thunder, later Captain Marvel, who later became a DC character and who these days is known as Shazam because Timely is now called Marvel. Oh, what a tangled web we weave…

[I can see why Rocky climbed up all the way here.]

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

10 SFF Audiobooks for Holiday Traveling

With the holiday season now in full-swing, it can be easy to teeter on the edge of full-on panic mode. For all the delights the season can bring, it is also ripe with potential frustrations and the possibility of anxiety-inducing calamity. There’s the planning, the shopping, the cooking, the gift wrapping—and perhaps most trying of all, the travel. Basically, during the holidays—perhaps more than any other time of year—we can all use a moment (or several) of escape. Whether you’re looking to veg out during a gift-wrapping session, a plane ride’s worth of distraction, or a way for everyone to pass the time during a family car trip, a great audiobook is just the ticket. Here are a few of our sci-fi and fantasy favorites to bring you through this yuletide season with at least a modicum of your sanity.

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“What in the hell did you do?” The Expanse: “New Terra” and “Jetsam”

FINALLY. It’s been a long wait for season four of The Expanse, and it’s finally here and ready for bingeing. (No one made any weekend plans, right?) After some generally spoiler-free first impressions of the season (tl;dr version: The show remains great!), it’s time to dig in.

(Spoilers for episodes 1 and 2, “New Terra” and “Jetsam.”)

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SFF Needs More Incompetent Autocrats

One of SFF’s grand traditions is carefully filing the serial numbers off historical events (the American Revolutionary War, perhaps, or the Napoleonic Wars), or famous and classic works (Lord of the Rings, the Hornblower series, Zulu), and re-purposing the result as SFF. This is usually known as “research” (See Tom Lehrer on this point). Examples abound—my disinclination to deal with crowds of irate authors protesting at my door precludes naming them here.

SFF is also quite fond of plots featuring all-powerful autocrats. Some of these autocrats (Patricians, Empresses of the Twenty Universes, whatever) are…well, pleasant may not be the right word, but “dedicated” may do. Dedicated to a greater good, that is, not personal enrichment or aggrandizement. Others are black-clad villains who would certainly twirl their moustaches, had they moustaches to twirl. But good or bad, most SFFnal autocrats tend to be quite competent.

[Lamentably, actual real-life autocrats are not always competent.]

Allow the Witcher Himself to Read You The Witcher

It’s become increasingly clear that Netflix cast one of (if not the) biggest Witcher fanboys on earth as Geralt of Rivia. Henry Cavill has not shied away from letting his nerd flag fly, gushing about both the books and the games in nigh every interview. And now, he wants to share the love for the uninitiated. With just one week left until all 8 episodes come out, Netflix has released a new video of the Witcher himself reading from The Witcher books.

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The Sword of the Lictor, Part 3: Weaponless in the Wilderness

The most recent installment of this reread showed us some of the horrors of Urth in the form of a few monsters (from that world or not) that cross Severian’s path as he leaves the city of Thrax behind him. His journey continues in this last section of the book, taking him very far—this time accompanied by a boy, the young Severian, who he adopts as a son. They won’t be short on adventure—and, in a way, they will face new monsters, as well.

Severian—our Severian—ponders which direction he should take. He knows he can’t descend far, for the Archon of Thrax is sure to be waiting for him, not to mention Agia. So he decides to go to the northeast, where stands the highest peak he had seen so far. At least half of that mountain is covered in snow. He imagines that even hard-bitten dimarchi won’t follow him there.

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Series: Rereading Gene Wolfe

Best Young Adult Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror of 2019

This was an awesome year for young adult speculative fiction. It feels like a metric ton of YA was published this year, and most of it hovered somewhere between “so good” and “I’m dying from the greatness.” We were blessed with so much awesome young adult science fiction, fantasy, and horror this year that it took me a week to pair down my best ofs to the best of the best, and it’s still super long. So here you have it, my list of some of the best YA speculative fiction of 2019.

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His Dark Materials Fails to Deliver a Much-Needed Update of the Original Books

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about my disappointment with some of the continued racist tropes that the His Dark Materials television series inherited from its source novels. Some of the responses seemed to indicate surprise that Pullman’s iconic and beloved series contained any racism whatsoever. I want to be clear and careful here: Pullman’s series contains few to no instances of overt racism like we might find in the works H.P. Lovecraft or Rudyard Kipling. But what His Dark Materials (the book series) does contain and what His Dark Materials (the TV show) has unfortunately continued with are a number of subtle racist and colonialist tropes that the show would have done well to rewrite and rethink.

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Rey Should Choose to Adopt the Skywalker Name, Not Be Retconned Into the Family

Star Wars: The Last Jedi left many fans with the answer they’d been hoping for—Rey is not a Skywalker! In fact, Rey’s parentage is of no importance whatsoever. It seemed like we got lucky and the new generation would not be related to this dominant clan of hyper-capable Force-users (with the exception of Kylo Ren). But now Episode IX is sneaking up on us, and according to director and writer J.J. Abrams: “I don’t want to say that what happens in Episode 8 [didn’t happen]. We have honored that. But I will say that there’s more to the story than you’ve seen.”

So… there’s still more to the “Rey’s parents” saga ahead.

Can we still just say no to this?

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“Writing Saved My Life.” Highlights from Tochi Onyebuchi’s Tor.com Live Q&A

Tochi Onyebuchi is making his adult fiction debut with a brand-new book, Riot Baby! A complex narrative that follows young Kev and his sister Ella, who develops god-like super powers, Riot Baby deals with race, family, and trauma though a sci-fi lens.

Ahead of its January release, the author dropped by Tor.com HQ for a live Q&A, where we talked about anime, superheroes, the Black American experience, writing anger as strength, and more. Here were some of the highlights.

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