“Such a poser!” — Black Widow

From August 2017 – January 2020, Keith R.A. DeCandido took a weekly look at every live-action movie based on a superhero comic that had been made to date in the weekly “4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch.” He has been revisiting the feature every six months or so to look back at the new releases in the previous half-year. This week we kick off the latest revisiting with Black Widow, followed in the weeks to come by The Suicide Squad, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Venom: Let There Be Carnage and Eternals.

Marvel’s age of heroes started in 1961 with the introduction of the Fantastic Four, and in those early Cold War-era days, many of the villains the various Marvel heroes faced were Communists of some manner or other. Cold War sensibilities influenced the origin stories of the FF (beating the “Commies” into space), the Hulk (a “Commie” agent sabotaged the bomb test), and Iron Man (Stark was in Southeast Asia selling weapons being used to fight the “Commies”).

One of the many villains from behind the Iron Curtain introduced in those early days was the Black Widow.

[“Don’t do this.” “Do what?” “Come after me. I mean, you’re embarrassing yourself—it looks desperate.”]

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

Hugo Spotlight: Your Problems Follow You Into Space in Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Relentless Moon

In the lead-up to the 2021 Hugo Awards, we’re taking time to appreciate this year’s best novel Finalists, and what makes each of them great.

The Relentless Moon marks roughly the halfway point of Mary Robinette Kowal’s Lady Astronaut series, at least considering how many books have been published and/or announced so far. It’s fitting, then, that the 2020 novel represents a shift in how her punch-card-punk alternate-universe series addresses its own premise: The first two novels, The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky, are about humanity’s rush to figure out a way off-planet before The Meteor’s climate cataclysm renders the Earth completely uninhabitable. The Relentless Moon doesn’t have all the answers yet—but by transforming into a tense spy thriller set in a claustrophobic lunar colony, it picks that equation back up and continues to work toward a solution with a fresh set of eyes.

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Genres in Translation: Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Elder Race

There’s something inherently intriguing about a narrative that seems to be one genre and then turns out to be another—especially when it’s a work of fantasy that turns out to be a work of science fiction. There’s Arthur C. Clarke’s famous quote, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s Hard to Be a God, Samuel R. Delany’s The Einstein Intersection, and Iain M. Banks’s Inversions would all fall into this category as well.

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Strange Company: An Introduction to C.S. Lewis’ Perelandra

I was pretty nervous about re-reading Perelandra. The last time I read it, several decades ago, it was pretty firmly in the top three of Lewis’ novels for me, and I was concerned that after all these years I might discover some fatal flaw that would make the book less enjoyable, less interesting, or less fun. I’m glad to say that although there was a lot to process, and a lot of scenes I had no memory of whatsoever (there are a fair number of multi-page philosophical rambles), and although I’m still trying to wrap my brain around what exactly Lewis was saying about gender, overall I still enjoyed the book a great deal and, indeed, it’s still one of my favorites.

Perelandra was one of Lewis’ favorites of his own work, too. Multiple times throughout his life he suggested it was the best thing he had written (in his later days he’d sometimes push it to second after Till We Have Faces), and there is a lot about the novel that brings together Lewis’ particular interests, skills, and thoughts. It’s a theological book and a space adventure at the same time, and successfully does both things at once… it never feels like two books fighting with each other.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Four SFF “Best Of…” Anthologies You Might Have Missed

Even in the 1970s, when I was an avid magazine reader, it was impossible to keep up with all the publications and all the stories. I relied on annual anthologies collecting the best short SF. At the time, such projects were helmed by Wollheim, del Rey, and Carr (I was just a bit late for Merrill). Although the Best Of annuals all had the same core mission, no two editorial teams had quite the same idea what “best” might be, so I didn’t end up buying the same short story over and over. When I did, it was an indication that story was worth the reader’s attention.

These days, there are many venues for short fiction, and there enough Best Of annuals that keeping track of them can be challenging. Of course, you’re all aware of the Horton, Clarke, and Strahan annuals; here are four that may be new to you.

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Nicolas Cage Is Going to Look Great in a Cape as Renfield’s Dracula

Time is a flat circle, or so that one TV show said, and everything old is constantly new again, and so it’s time. Time for a new generation to experience a cinematic Dracula played by an actor whose casting is so obvious, it seems impossible he hasn’t played the role before. In the ’90s, we got Gary Oldman as Dracula. This made perfect sense at the time. But the ’20s will also get the Dracula we deserve, and his name is Nicolas Cage.

Cage, according to The Hollywood Reporter, has joined the cast of Universal’s Renfield, the studio’s latest attempt to make Universal Monsters into a thing. (Previous attempts include that Tom Cruise Mummy movie.) Renfield is set to star Nicholas Hoult (X-Men: First Class) as Dracula’s flunkie, a human believed to be insane. (Tom Waits played him in the 1992 Dracula.)

Plot details have not been announced, but the movie is expected to be “comedic in tone.”

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The Construction of Language in Riddley Walker

I don’t recommend my favorite book, Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker, without a lot of caveats. People have gotten mad at me—legitimately mad—when they’ve heard me say “this is my favorite book” and interpreted that as “you should read it” even though I never said so, and then the first sentence is “On my naming day when I come 12 I gone front spear and kilt a wyld boar he parbly ben the las wyld pig on the Bundel Downs any how there hadnt ben none for a long time befor him nor I aint looking to see none agen.”

If you aren’t prepared for that sort of thing—and Riddley Walker, while very much a classic, also isn’t nearly as well-known as I think it deserves—it’s not unreasonable to be like “Jess what the fuck.”

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Series: Close Reads

Hugo Spotlight: Moving Through Trauma in Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi

In the lead-up to the 2021 Hugo Awards, we’re taking time to appreciate this year’s best novel Finalists, and what makes each of them great.

More than a decade passed between Susanna Clarke’s last literary offering, The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories, and Piranesi, her second novel. Clarke rose to fame with her devastatingly fantastic doorstopper of a debut, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. It’s hard to imagine anything living up to the heights that book set, but Piranesi does.

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Reading The Wheel of Time: A Trip to Shayol Ghul and Salidar in Robert Jordan’s Lord of Chaos (Part 1)

Hello hello, and welcome back once again to Reading The Wheel of Time! After two weeks away, I am very excited to be starting Lord of Chaos. Which has oddly lost the “The” that has been in every other title thus far in the series, and which I find oddly irksome for some reason. I guess it’s fitting that a book about a Lord of Chaos would dispense with the orderly nature of previous books, but as a result I can only hear the title in the voice of Jeff Goldblum, like the way he says “Lord of Thunder” in Thor: Ragnarok.

More to the point, I’ve been getting some tutoring in summaries from Tor.com’s own Emmet Asher-Perrin, and I’m going to start running those sections very differently. I mean, you all have read the books, you don’t need an extensive blow-by-blow from me every week! And what better time to test my newfound skills and resist my completist tendencies than with this immensely long slog of a prologue that opens Lord of Chaos. We’re going to ease in by covering half of the Prologue, up through Elayne’s section.

Are you ready? I’m ready. Let’s do this thing.

[Severing. That was what it was called, what you name stilling for women and gentling for men.]

Series: Reading The Wheel of Time

Exploring the Darker Side of Found Family

I love a good found family story. I know I’m not alone; it’s a popular and beloved trope for a reason. At this time of year in particular, when there is so much pressure to do family stuff, regardless of how one might feel about family, stories about families of choice can be especially appealing.

It doesn’t have to be about yearning or loss or escapism either. (I actually like my family just fine, even when my sisters wrongly and outrageously insist that their cats are cuter than my cats.) No matter what our individual circumstances are, there is rich emotional drama to be mined from stories about people who find and care for and keep each other regardless of how the whims of the universe threw them together. Comfort and support, trust and understanding, familiarity and fondness—these are the things a family of choice is made of, and spending time with them in fiction can be delightful.

But—there’s always a but—if you are like me, and there lives inside you still the child who spent more time giving your Barbies safety-scissor buzz-cuts and shoebox funerals than you ever spent making them play house, sometimes you look at those warm, squishy, soft, soothing scenarios with a wild glint in your eye, and you think, “Sure, okay, but what if it goes horribly wrong?”

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The Finest Scribe in Aldgate: Revealing Kelly Robson’s High Times in the Low Parliament

The tale of a flirtatious scribe, several irritable fairies, and some rather important votes….

We’re thrilled to share the cover of Kelly Robson’s High Times in the Low Parliament, a lighthearted romp through an 18th-century London (alternately, per the author, “a lesbian stoner buddy comedy with fairies—about Brexit”)—arriving August 9, 2022 with Tordotcom Publishing.

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