Five Science Fiction Stories That Look Like Fantasy

Joan D. Vinge’s “Eyes of Amber” is (at time of writing) the latest Hugo finalist featured as part of my series Young People Read Old SFF. Many of the Young People liked the way a story that initially seemed high fantasy turned out to be science fiction. Readers (at least those who didn’t look at any of the covers for the various editions of Eyes of Amber, which always give the game away) could well believe they were reading a purely fantastic tale set in some secondary fantasy universe, rather than one set on Titan (as understood before the latest data collected by Voyager).

While Vinge’s story is arguably one of the finest examples of that particular sleight of hand (which explains the Hugo she won for it), Vinge is not the only author to deploy this strategy. Consider these five other works.

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Falling in Love With Speculative Poetry

Reading poetry sometimes feels like battling a giant squid: overwhelming, disorienting, and more than a little slippery. Poems can be elusive beings, evading comprehension and dissection. When you take an already chimeric beast and give it appendages of fantasy, science fiction, horror, or mythology—well, then it becomes another monster entirely.

Even just a few years ago, I would steer clear of poetry tables at book festivals, feeling that it was too frustrating of an artform to fully grasp. But now writing and reading poetry is a weekly pleasure for me, and I recently read the 2021 Rhysling Anthology—which specifically celebrates speculative poetry—from cover to cover.

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Ali Wong Will Star in the Animated Jentry Chau vs. the Underworld for Netflix

The next animated series in the works from Netflix has both an excellent cast and a delightful premise. Ali Wong will star in and executive produce Jentry Chau vs. the Underworld, which centers on a Chinese American teenager who doesn’t just have your average small-town struggles to contend with—she’s also being stalked by a demon king who wants her powers.

Or, as Netflix’s summary has it, “Jentry must now fight an entire underworld’s worth of monsters while balancing the horrors of high school.”

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Deconstructing the Chosen One: Lucha of the Night Forest by Tehlor Kay Mejia

Life is hell in the city of Robado. Los Ricos control everything, and people like Lucha and her sister Lis are left with the scraps. Unable to deal with their misery, many turn to Olvida, a mind-altering drug made from a plant that was once used to commune with the gods and find clarity. The drug leaves its users in a haze of uncomprehension and emptiness until it eventually erases every memory from their mind. The sisters’ mother turned to Olvida after the death of her husband, and now her addiction has gotten so bad they’re about to lose their home. Street rat turned crime lord Alán offers Lucha a deal she cannot refuse, but refuse it she does. The consequences of that choice set in motion a story that will change the world.

Just when all hope seems lost, an ancient godling appears. Salvador promises to help Lucha destroy Olvida forever. He teaches her how to harness her latent nature magic… and use it as a weapon against those who would harm her. Lucha and Lis escape into the Night Forest, the magical woods surrounding Robado. There they encounter Paz, a young devotee of a goddess banned by Los Ricos, who joins the sisters on their quest. In the Night Forest, dark secrets lurk. Lucha must trust her heart as much as her gut to survive what’s coming. 

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Paramount+ Is Officially Opening the Doors to Star Trek: Starfleet Academy

As long suspected, the next Star Trek series is Starfleet Academy. Paramount+ announced a series order for the latest addition to the Star Trek universe, which will “follow the adventures of a new class of Starfleet cadets as they come of age in one of the most legendary places in the galaxy.”

But when will this show take place? The full description offers a clue: This campus is going to be open “for the first time in over a century.”

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Perfect Monsters — Star Trek: Picard’s “Dominion”

One of the struggles in screenwriting is sometimes referred to as the Act 3 problem: Act 1 introduces everything, Act 2 gets the plot moving, and Act 4 is the climax and conclusion. But when you’re working in a proscribed format—like a one-hour TV show or a ten-episode season that tells a single story—sometimes you’re stuck spinning your wheels in Act 3. For a serialized ten-episode season of a TV show, that third act usually comes around the sixth or seventh episode.

Behold, the episode called “Dominion,” episode seven of Picard’s serialized third season, in which we actually learn quite a bit, but in which annoyingly little actually happens.

[I love a good fight when it’s fair—or when it’s not, I’m the one that’s cheating.]

Seven Scary Stories About Frightening Fungi

Mushrooms are having a moment right now. I don’t mean that in a “they’re a tasty addition to a meal” kind of way; rather, mushrooms have long been an insidious presence in horror fiction, and in recent years they’ve slowly crept their way out of the shadows and into the spotlight. If your first thought when it comes to mushrooms conjures up images of cheery red toadstools with white polka dots—the kind that a fairy or Smurf might want to live in—try again. (Those mushrooms are commonly known as fly agaric, by the way, and are actually hallucinogenic and poisonous.) Instead, think of rot and decay, of infectious spores and creeping mycelia.

The term “sporror” (spore horror) has been gaining traction lately, but while the term is newly coined, the subgenre has been festering away for many years. Here are seven unsettling stories about frightening fungi sure to creep their way into your subconscious…

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Style, Texture, Boundaries: On Being a Fluid Reader

For some of us readers, this is Kelly Link Week. The publication of her new collection, White  Cat, Black Dog, is cause for great celebration. That celebration began earlier this month with a profile in Vulture that included endearing details such as the names of Link’s chickens and a short history of her publishing career.

But what I got stuck on—hung up on, in the most enjoyable way—is a bit about stories and novels. “The novel hardens as you go on,” she says to the interviewer. “At a certain point the ambitions, even the shape, begin to feel inevitable. The short story stays fluid.”

Link is talking about writing, but my reading brain bit down on this and wouldn’t let go. What does inevitability—hardness—feel like in a novel, and where does fluidity lie? Can a novel stay fluid? And how do genre and style play into it?

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The Entire Cast of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Is Reuniting for Netflix’s Scott Pilgrim Anime Series

At this point, should we call Scott Pilgrim vs. the World a classic? It came out thirteen years ago and is one of the quirkiest, most enjoyable comic book adaptations—due in considerable part to its excellent cast.

Now, that cast—yes, including Captains Marvel and America—is reuniting, in full, for an anime Scott Pilgrim series that has original Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O’Malley as one of its showrunners.

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Enhancing the Diversity of the Community: Hilary Mantel’s Beyond Black (Part 6)

Welcome back to Reading the Weird, in which we get girl cooties all over weird fiction, cosmic horror, and Lovecraftiana—from its historical roots through its most recent branches.

This week, we continue Hilary Mantel’s Beyond Black with Chapter 7. The novel was first published in 2005. Spoilers ahead!

[“The world beyond the glass is the world of masculine action…”]

Series: Reading the Weird

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