Are you a writer? Do you like learning about the creative process, either for your own projects, or just cause you think it’s interesting? This post is about to make your day. As I’m sure you know, there is a booming industry of books on the art and craft of writing, from all sort of different authors, who cover all sorts of different angles. A new addition to the genre is soon to hit shelves, Charlie Jane Anders’ Never Say You Can’t Survive, originally a Tor.com column. By way of celebration of Anders’ book, I’ve rounded up 18 of my favorite craft books.
Sometimes you get a book that reminds you how to live. Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi can be interpreted in many ways, but so far, in the trudge through the Dead Marshes that is 2021, I’ve found it most helpful to think of it as an instruction manual.
The main character (who is called Piranesi even though he’s pretty sure his name is not Piranesi) is a perfect metaphor for our time. He lives in near-total isolation, in a House that is, as far as he knows, the entire World. Twice a week he spends a single hour with “The Other”, a man about twenty years his senior. Piranesi’s understanding is that he’s assisting the Other with an ongoing experiment, but his understanding is also that he has always lived in the House, and that he is somehow about 30 years old, but he also only seems to remember about five years of his life.
His understanding might be a little off.
As we reported a month ago, the campaign to #MakeMoreMST3K reached it’s initial goal in an impressive thirty-six hours. But wait, there’s more!
Friday night, Joel Hodgson and members of the new casts hosted a five-hour long telethon, featuring an eclectic collection of Very Special Guests (Dana Gould! Alex Winter!! Rockafire Explosion…?..!!!) which, in addition to being super fun, culminated in 36,581 backers breaking the old MST3K Kickstarter record and raising $6,519,019!
So we’re not just getting more MST3K, we’re getting a plethora of MST3K.
Back in 2014, Andy Weir’s The Martian became a surprise hit novel, and then an inevitable hit Matt Damon movie. The story of a man accidentally abandoned on Mars and his fight to survive by sciencing the shit out of his impossible situation was immediately captivating. Weir followed this up with Artemis, about a mystery on a moon colony, and now he’s back with an interstellar thriller, Project Hail Mary.
The NeverEnding Story was a classic children’s fantasy of the 1980s, right up there with The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, Legend, and The Last Unicorn in creating a latticework of terrifying puppets, questionable animation, and traumatizing storylines. It had an added allure for this small, library-loving nerd: it was about a book that never ended. Most fantasies just give you a perfunctory review of some scrolls or an ancient dusty text before galloping back into an action scene, but The NeverEnding Story is literally about a kid sitting in an attic and reading all day—making it both fantasy and Carverian realism as far as I was concerned.
Looking back at it as an adult (more or less), I was surprised by how well it holds up. True, you have to look past some extremely emphatic acting, and Falkor is slightly creepy now that I’m older—although compared to David Bowie’s tights and Molly Grue’s lamentation for her virginity lost youth, he’s really not that bad. But watching it again gave me a completely different experience, not just an exercise in nostalgia.
MST3K is BACK, baby! And this time it’s creating its own streaming platform! Once again, we have Kickstarter to thank for bringing us more movie riffing. On Wednesday April 7, Mystery Science Theater 3000 creator Joel Hodgson launched a new Kickstarter campaign to bring the show back again on a custom streaming platform if they could reach $2,000,000 raised in 30 days.
Only 36 hours later, the goal had been met.
Which means that we’ll be getting at least 3 new episodes with the current cast in 2022! Also, we’ll be getting a Gizmoplex!
Let us begin at the ending, where I tell you that the final page of this book is one of the most beautiful things I have ever read.
I’m not going to quote it here, because spoilers, but I want you to come into this essay knowing that if you read this book, and I hope you do, the ending will most likely make you cry, both because of the content and the sheer gorgeous writing. Téa Obreht’s Inland, a follow-up to her instant-classic The Tiger’s Wife, is a haunted Western. A frontier ghost story, it focuses on the kinds of people who don’t often get to star in tales of the Old West. It’s a funny, weird book, that has often, over the last few weeks, jumped into the front of my brain and demanded attention.
Birds of Paradise has two books wrestling within it. One is completely successful, while the other has moments of brilliance, but also a few more problems. Oliver K. Langmead has written a swooping, poetic novel that meditates on ecology and human’s responsibility to our home, that is also, at times, a bumpy road novel. Birds of Paradise gives us breathtaking passages about love, and heartfelt descriptions of natural beauty, and wraps them up in a battle between nigh-immortal beings, and grasping, grubby humans.
Speculative fiction is uniquely equipped to tell stories about grief. With science fiction there’s a whole arsenal of clones, robots, and time travel that can allow mourners to confront their lost loved ones. In fantasy it’s easy to blur the lines between life and death and visit the dead. And obviously horror’s whole deal, from Frankenstein to ghost stories to zombie apocalypses, is about what happens when we confront death.
Thanks to WandaVision, I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.
If you like horror, Silent Hill, religious conspiracies, or love triangles, you should probably watch 30 Coins. If you enjoy yelling “WHAT???” and “ARE YOU KIDDING ME???” and “WHAT THE HELL IS THAT THING???” at your TV, you should definitely watch 30 Coins. And if you think that what Catholicism really needs is more human/spider hybrid monsters, I have fabulous news for you. Also a lot of questions.
The show’s 8-episode arc just wrapped up on HBOMax, after running on HBO Europe earlier in the winter. The overall arc is an excellent work of religious horror, but where the show truly shines is in committing to different types of horror in each episode, and it gives us everything from spooky ouija sessions to mirrors that might actually be inter-dimensional portals, to possessed revenants, but somehow director/writer Álex de la Iglesia and co-writer Jorge Guerricaechevarría make all of these elements tie into the overall conspiracy plot.
As we’ve learned from WandaVision, combining SFF elements and classic sitcom tropes can create delicious televisual chocolate and peanut butter. The rumored revival of classic ’90s sitcom Frasier made me think about how much fun it would be if one of these inevitable reboots did something really cool. Like, why not take some beloved characters and relocate them to a magical realm? Or fling them into SPACE?
Call it TGI-Fantasy. TGI-SFF? Or maybe Must-See-Sci-Fi.
Here you go.
Willy’s Wonderland is a would-be cult horror movie starring Nicolas Cage. I debated about instead sneaking in a review of Cage’s (severely underrated, IMO) turn in Martin Scorsese’s Bringing Out the Dead, and seeing how long I could sustain the bit, but I finally decided that I should, you know, do my actual job. And the more I thought about it, the more I found that I had something to say about this movie.
I’m certainly not going to say that Willy’s Wonderland is good, but it serves a purpose.
The first John Wick begins as a film we’ve seen many times before. A hitman has retired. He was drawn into “normal” life by love, and for a while he had a house in a suburb, drove his car at legal speeds, and went for romantic walks with his wife. The two of them probably had a takeout night, and a favorite Netflix series. But, as in all of these kinds of movies, the normal life is a short-lived idyll, violence begets violence, and the hitman is Pulled Back In.
The thing that makes Wick so beautiful is that what he gets Pulled Back Into is not the standard revenge fantasy. Instead being Pulled Back In means literally entering another world, hidden within pockets of our own. Because in addition to being a great action movie, John Wick is a portal fantasy.
I’ve been trying to think through how to write about The Stand. I really liked parts of it, and I bounced hard off other parts. But I think the moment that sums the show up best is that, towards the end of the series, there’s a scene where a character has sex with the Devil. The Devil usually appears as Alexander Skarsgård (exactly how I would appear if I were the Devil) but while the two character are having sex, his usual glamour slips a little, and the scene flashes between a romantic scenario in a rose petal-strewn hotel room with a naked Skarsgard, and some gross and rather violent writhing in a desert, which ends on a closeup of a terrifying monster screaming directly into the camera.
And then, we cut to a Geico ad!
This encapsulates the strongest part of The Stand, which is when it leans into the High Cheese with Serious Undertones And Actual Stakes that is Stephen King at his best. And packaging that between ad blocks adds a frisson of joy to the whole enterprise.
In May 1995 we received a bold vision of the future. A glittering world where physical cities merged with cities on the internet. Where bodyguards wore chainmail tank tops and carried pink, glitter-encrusted hand grenades. Where payphones still existed but you could phreak them with mobile, red plastic phones… which were almost as large and conspicuous as the payphones themselves. Where mini-discs were successful.
And the more I think about it, this vision wasn’t just a cyberpunk lark, it was a warning. A bleating klaxon of what awaited us.
That warning was Johnny Mnemonic.
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