Gattaca is a Profound Sci-Fi Examination of the Human Soul

There’s a certain type of sci-fi story that we all know: visitors from beyond make contact with humans and teach us something important about who we are and where we’re heading. It’s in 2001, Arrival, and Independence Day—well, maybe not the last one so much, but you get the idea. One of the great things about Gattaca, Andrew Niccol’s 1997 masterpiece, is that it doesn’t need an outside other to deliver a powerful, moving message about humanity; instead of aliens, we get a meditative, deeply introspective examination of the human spirit that’s limited strictly to humans. The result, I’d argue, is one of the greatest sci-fi movies ever made.

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Picturing The Hobbit

The Hobbit has been inspiring artists and readers for generations, ever since its publication 80 years ago today. Artwise, I’ve always had a soft spot for The Hobbit; I love that it lends itself equally well to delightful and weighty interpretations. Below, let’s take a look at how just a few of the unofficial band of “Tolkien artists” have approached Bilbo’s story.

Above, Over Hill and Under Hill by Chris Rahn.

[The Hobbit as depicted in art over the decades]

Series: Picturing…

Murderbot is Back for a Third Adventure: Revealing Martha Wells’ Rogue Protocol

Last week, The Verge revealed the cover for Martha Wells’ Artificial Condition, the second book in the Murderbot Diaries series. Murderbot, a human-like android, has bucked its restrictive programming and would rather be left alone, away from humanity and small talk. Unfortunately for Murderbot, it keeps getting sucked back into adventure after adventure—and we couldn’t wait to reveal book three, Rogue Protocol. Check out the full cover by artist Jaime Jones below!

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H.G. Wells and the Speculative Dream of Astronomy

Old science magazines can be an unexpected source of pathos. I own a copy of National Geographic from February 1958 that features, among other topics, a long piece titled “Exploring Our Neighbor World, the Moon.” It was that February when the U.S. Senate convened a committee with the aim of establishing a new government agency to explore outer space. Several months later, NASA would be born. The first moon probes would not follow until shortly thereafter. So, this article, which describes in detail a stroll on the lunar surface, is largely a work of speculative fiction.

This is my favorite kind of writing about the moon, untainted by too much direct knowledge. I like, especially, H.G. Wells’ heroic effort in 1901—The First Men in the Moon is breathtaking because it was so far off the mark. When Dr. Cavor’s homemade space sphere lands in the basin of a vast crater, the surface appears dead on arrival: “a huge undulating plain, cold and gray, a gray that deepened eastward into the absolute raven darkness of the cliff shadow.”

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Even More Ways to Get in Trouble With Calculus: Bram Stoker’s “The Judge’s House”

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.

Today we’re looking at Bram Stoker’s “The Judge’s House,” first published in the December 5 1891 issue of Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News. Spoilers ahead.

[“‘It is,’ said the Doctor slowly, ‘the very rope which the hangman used for all the victims of the Judge’s judicial rancour!’”]

Series: The Lovecraft Reread

The Future Prize Pack Sweepstakes!

The future is here; the future is unknown. We’ve put together a Tor Books and Tor.com Publishing prize pack of four very different books about the here, now, and yet to come, and we want to send it to you!

One lucky reader will win copies of Annalee Newitz’s Autonomous, Martha Wells’ All Systems Red, Malka Older’s Infomocracy, and Cory Doctorow’s Walkaway.

In Infomocracy, it’s been twenty years and two election cycles since Information, a powerful search engine monopoly, pioneered the switch from warring nation-states to global micro-democracy. The corporate coalition party Heritage has won the last two elections. With another election on the horizon, the Supermajority is in tight contention, and everything’s on the line.

Walkaway takes place in a future when anyone can design and print the basic necessities of life—food, clothing, shelter—from a computer. There seems to be little reason to toil within the system. It’s still a dangerous world out there, the empty lands wrecked by climate change, dead cities hollowed out by industrial flight, shadows hiding predators animal and human alike—but when the initial pioneer walkaways flourish, more people join them. Then the walkaways discover the one thing the ultra-rich have never been able to buy: how to beat death. Now it’s war – a war that will turn the world upside down.

In All Systems Red‘s corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety. On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is. But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

Autonomous‘s Jack is an anti-patent scientist turned drug pirate, traversing the world as a pharmaceutical Robin Hood, fabricating cheap scrips for poor people. But her latest drug hack has left a trail of lethal overdoses as people become addicted to their work, doing repetitive tasks until they become unsafe or insane. Eliasz, a brooding military agent, and his robotic partner, Paladin, are hot on her trail. As they race to stop information about the sinister origins of Jack’s drug from getting out, they begin to form an uncommonly close bond that neither of them fully understand.

Comment in the post to enter!

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States and D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec). To enter, comment on this post beginning at 2:30 PM Eastern Time (ET) on September 20th. Sweepstakes ends at 12:00 PM ET on September 24th. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Tor.com, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.

A Long Day in Lychford

It’s a period of turmoil in Britain, with the country’s politicians electing to remove the UK from the European Union, despite ever-increasing evidence that the public no longer supports it. And the small town of Lychford is suffering.

But what can three rural witches do to guard against the unknown? And why are unwary hikers being led over the magical borders by their smartphones’ mapping software? And is the immigration question really important enough to kill for?

A Long Day in Lychford is the third book in Paul Cornell’s Witches of Lychford series, available October 10th from Tor.com Publishing.

[Read an Excerpt]

Witness Statement: Release by Patrick Ness

Happy as I hope we all are, on the whole, I expect each and every one of us has lived through a few bad days too.

Now I don’t mean those days when we have to deal with death or ill health or anything actively awful. I’m talking about those days that just suck a bunch; those days when nothing seems to go your way. Maybe it starts with a letter from the taxman and spirals up, up and away from there. Maybe the milk is spoiled so you can’t have your morning coffee. Maybe traffic makes you late for work even though you left early. Whatever the particulars, these are the days when everything that can go wrong does go wrong, and damn your plans.

These days don’t destroy us, because we’re reasonably well adjusted human beings. Tomorrow’s another day, we tell ourselves. It’s not like the world is ending or anything. But it is in Patrick Ness’ ninth novel. Like The Rest of Us Just Live Here and More Than This before it, Release is a smart and sensitive standalone story that mixes the mundane with the magical in order to underscore the extraordinary qualities of the ordinary. It’s a brief book about a bad day as bold and as beautiful as any finely-honed tome about the rise of Rome.

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Interstellar Poet Laureate: Tracy K. Smith

Last week, in the Thomas Jefferson Building auditorium at the Library of Congress, the newest U.S. Poet laureate, Tracy K. Smith, gave her inaugural reading.

Why am I writing about this on Tor.com, you might ask? Read on, friends. Smith has nerd cred to spare.

In grade school, Smith says she found poetry’s meter and rhyme scheme “akin to magic.” (from her memoir, Ordinary Light.) Sure sure, you say. Everyone tosses “magic” around. And the literary world in general sometimes seems to want nothing to do with science fiction, except to play with the shiny bits. But wait, there’s more…
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Limitless Imagination: Karel Zeman’s The Fabulous Baron Munchausen

In 1968, the late Brian Aldiss published Farewell, Fantastic Venus! This anthology, which reprinted writers as diverse as Edgar Rice Burroughs, Carl Sagan, C.S. Lewis, and Olaf Stapledon, celebrates the image of Venus that had once dominated science fiction stories—a planet full of jungles, swamps, adventure, and mystery—and would soon be forever eclipsed by the lifeless inferno the first space probes discovered.

I admit that this description of a British science fiction anthology from 1968 may seem an odd way to open an article on a film made seven years earlier behind the Iron Curtain, yet Aldiss’s anthology kept coming to mind as I watched Czech director Karel Zeman’s 1961 Baron Prášil, better known to Western audiences as The Fabulous Baron Munchausen. Zeman’s film opens with Tony, a stolid astronaut (or cosmonaut—we never do learn his nationality), sensibly clad in a bulky spacesuit, exiting his space capsule to plant his flag and make his giant leap for mankind. He is, of course, perturbed when he sees a whole path of footprints stretching away from his capsule.

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The Punisher Trailer is Here To Exact Vengeance Upon Us All

Marvel and Netflix have given us a new look at Jon Bernthal as The Punisher! And it is dark, violent, and is basically the most PUNISHER thing that ever PUNISHED. Be warned that there is a straight-up murder shown in the first few seconds of the trailer…but, well, it’s called The Punisher for a reason. Plus, as always, the Netflix/Marvel music cues are more perfect than perfect.

Click through for the full trailer!

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The Great Stephen King Reread: Doctor Sleep

STEPHEN KING: I am going to write a book.

PUBLISHER: Hooray!

STEPHEN KING: It will be a sequel to The Shining, and Carrie will be in it.

PUBLISHER: But HawtRoland1208 already did that on KingFanFictionForum.net.

STEPHEN KING: It will have vampires.

PUBLISHER: Vampires are sexy.

STEPHEN KING: My vampires will be old and drive R/Vs and torture children to death.

PUBLISHER: You look tired. Are you tired? Maybe you should skip the book and take a beach vacation instead.

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Series: The Great Stephen King Reread

Listen to Steal the Stars Episode 8: “The Walls of the Maze”

Steal the Stars is the story of Dakota Prentiss and Matt Salem, two government employees guarding the biggest secret in the world: a crashed UFO. Despite being forbidden to fraternize, Dak and Matt fall in love and decide to escape to a better life on the wings of an incredibly dangerous plan: they’re going to steal the alien body they’ve been guarding and sell the secret of its existence.

If you haven’t yet listened to Tor Labs’ sci-fi noir audio drama written by Mac Rogers and produced by Gideon Media, you can read our non-spoiler review and catch up on the first seven episodes: “Warm Bodies,” “Three Dogs,” “Turndown Service,” “Power Through,” “Lifers,” “900 Microns,” and “Altered Voices.” Then click through for this week’s installment, in which Dak takes a field trip!

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Welcome to the Silmarillion Primer: An Introduction

Welcome to the Silmarillion Primer, wherein I discuss, praise, and adoringly poke fun at J.R.R. Tolkien’s seminal work in a series of essays, spanning twenty or so installments, as a prep for its would-be readers. I’d warn you that there will be spoilers, but honestly, spoilers just aren’t a thing to the good professor and he sure wouldn’t have cared (hey man, Frodo lives!). But more on that later.

[Sit and hearken, and be glad.]

Why Blade Runner is More Relevant Than Ever

When the original Blade Runner film was released in 1982 to mediocre box-office sales and lukewarm reviews, few could predict the film would have such a lasting legacy. For nearly three decades, the film’s neon-saturated, overcrowded, rain-swept dystopia served as the default backdrop for dozens, if not hundreds of science-fiction films. Even the Star Wars prequels borrowed (or ripped-off) the film’s noirish cyberdream vision for some of its urban landscapes. But more so than its look, Blade Runner’s themes have survived long past its inception date.

Consider the future Blade Runner that posits for November, 2019: a society of haves and have-nots. A world where the rich literally dwell above the poor in luxury skyscrapers, or migrate Off-world with personal servants/slaves. Meanwhile, the mass of citizens crowds below, eking out dreary lives, struggling against entropy and despair to make frayed ends meet. It’s a world of crumbling infrastructure and collapsing social order, a world of decadence and decay. Take away the neon and the incessant rain, the flying cars and the Off-world colonies, and you have a world not too different from the one we inhabit today.

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