content by

Alasdair Stuart

Announcing the 2018 Arthur C. Clarke Award Shortlist

The shortlist for the 2018 Clarke Award has just been announced. The Clarke is awarded to the best science fiction novel of the year and selected from a list of novels whose UK first edition was published in the previous calendar year. The judges for the award change every year, and this year’s panel includes:

  • Dave Hutchinson, British Science Fiction Association
  • Gaie Sebold, British Science Fiction Association
  • Paul March-Russell, Science Fiction Foundation
  • Kari Maund, Science Fiction Foundation
  • Charles Christian, SCI-FI-LONDON Film Festival

It’s an exciting list, in terms of variety—including three debuts and a range of novels that cover a wide slice of contemporary science fiction. Here are the details.

[Read the full shortlist…]

Expanding the Arrowverse: The Evolution of the TV Superhero

We’re in the home stretch for this season’s run of DC live action TV shows right now. Legends of Tomorrow recently wrapped up with a magnificent, over-caffeinated hour of maniacal invention while Black Lightning’s finale brought everything full circle back to the Pierce family and their future. Elsewhere, Supergirl is starting in on the back end of the season, The Flash has two episodes to go and has rarely been better than it is right now, and Arrow is finally course-correcting after a dismally uneven year.

So: Five core TV shows, not counting the various animated spinoffs, all from the same production house and all dealing with DC characters. Each one is successful, each one is popular, and each one, when laid out in chronological order of release shows us something fascinating. It shows us that, despite the endless, interminable claims that superhero TV is all the same, in reality, it’s a medium that is evolving at an increasingly rapid rate.

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11 Weird Moments We (Probably) Won’t See in Avengers: Infinity War

Infinity War is upon us. King T’Challa, the Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Spider-Man and the rest are coming together to face the greatest threat their universe has ever known; Thanos. Teased for years, the universe’s angriest purple man is finally here and he’s bringing doom with him.

The thing is though, he’s been here before and it got WEIRD. Avengers: Infinity War is adapted from Marvel Comics’ classic mini-series The Infinity Gauntlet. Over six issues, we watched as Thanos took over the universe and eradicated half of all life with a click of his fingers. Then: things got really complicated. Infinity Gauntlet is an acknowledged classic of modern western comics but what isn’t acknowledged is just how weird the whole event is. That means that some of the best flourishes and beats may not make it into the movie (or even into whatever Avengers 4 is).

So here, for your reading pleasure, are some of The Infinity Gauntlet’s best, and weirdest, parts. Spoilers for the comic mini-series ahead!

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The Walking Dead Rises Again, Against All Expectations

The last piece I wrote about the show was called “Is There Still Hope For The Walking Dead?” The temptation to title this one “…Yep.” was almost overwhelming.

It’s becoming almost a tradition to take a long look back at all the things The Walking Dead screws up in every season because, like any long running show, it does screw up an awful lot. The pacing is glacial, and the increasingly vast cast of characters is only well served by the plot and script about a third of the time. The show’s overt fondness for grimdark spectacle and repetition of narrative cycles (it’s Rick’s darkest hour, again!) is now built in irrevocably to every new season. And let’s not forget how many immensely troublesome child characters the show has featured—or the arbitrary, even controversial, removal of one of its longest-serving cast members earlier in the season. Every single one of these faults was front and center through Season 8. Every single one of these faults damaged the show. Most of them have damaged the show before, and I’m pretty certain a lot of them will do so again.

But…as the eighth season closes, The Walking Dead has done three impossible things. At least two of them have worked—and all of them have ensured the show will never be the same again.

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Duncan Jones’ Moon Is Still a 21st-century Classic

Mute, Duncan Jones’ long-awaited follow-up to Moon, hit Netflix last month, after a lengthy incubation period. It’s part of Netflix’s current trend of producing and/or acquiring somewhat esoteric genre movies, a trend which began with Bright and continued with The Cloverfield Paradox and Annihilation, up through imminent releases like The Titan. Often these releases are intended for overseas audiences, sometimes global, but the process is ongoing and has so far given us a wide slate of films that have varied from frequently great (Annihilation) to ones that seem to be setting up a far better sequel (Bright).

Mute is something of the middle child in all this, and its reviews have reflected that. Slammed for being an unusual combination of cyberpunk and film noir, as well as for a script that touches on everything from Amish woodwork to the aftermath of Moon, it’s a choppy piece of work, to be sure, but there’s some real worth to it. If nothing else, Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux’s characters and their transition from Cyberpunk Hawkeye and Trapper John into something infinitely darker is compelling stuff, if you’ve got the stomach for it.

[Love it or hate it, Mute gives us a chance to celebrate everything that’s great about Moon…]

Essential Viewing: The Films of Guillermo del Toro

Let’s hear it for Guillermo del Toro, ladies and gentlemen! One of the most passionate and articulate advocates for genre (in particular) and narrative (in general) as a force for good finally picked up a long overdue best Director Oscar earlier this month. His prolific body of work is filled with movies that are worth your time, so if you’re looking for where to go next in his filmography (or just in need of some excellent rewatch options), here are some suggestions…

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Joss Whedon’s Exit is a Huge Opportunity for Batgirl and the DCEU

Joss Whedon has stepped away from the Batgirl movie, citing the fact he just didn’t have a story to tell. It’s an interesting moment of honesty but, regardless of your overall opinion of him, Whedon doesn’t matter in this instance. What does matter is that one of DC’s most iconic characters is in need of a director and scriptwriter, and DC have a massive opportunity to use that need to signal a sea change in their approach.

It’s not concrete, not yet, but in the wake of Wonder Woman’s success, DC finally seems intent on bringing some variety to their movie universe. We’ll see for sure when the first stills from Shazam! hit—those are due any day now, apparently. Regardless, there’s a real sense—embodied within the movie universe itself by the return of Superman—of hope coming to the DCEU for the first time in a while. A major change, for sure, and a welcome one at that. Batgirl is the perfect character to be in this pivotal position: a fundamentally hopeful, pragmatic heroine with one yellow Doc Marten in noir and the other in action adventure.

[Let’s look at some potentially game-changing writers and directors…]

Is There Still Hope for The Walking Dead?

The Walking Dead, which returns for the second half of its eight season this Sunday, finds itself in the midst of interesting times. Yet again. It feels like overly familiar territory, at this point. The Walking Dead is a show that excels at pushing its luck, knowing full well that there is fertile ground out beyond its viewers’ comfort zones—and trusting them to follow it loyally, out and back again.

In the first half of this season, for the first time, it may genuinely have gone too far.

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How Netflix is Changing Science Fiction (Beyond Big Marketing Gimmicks)

Sense8. Okja. Bright. The OA. Mute. Travelers. Dark. Altered Carbon. The Cloverfield Paradox. Plus The Expanse and Annihilation, internationally speaking. In the last few years Netflix has positioned itself as a hub for contemporary genre fiction TV and movies. And these titles are just the tip of the iceberg; Netflix’s anime slate is impressive too, not to mention their laundry list of other live action TV shows and movies.

In terms of the company’s recent SFF releases, the movie slate they’ve put together is worth taking a serious look at. Specifically, Bright, Mute, Annihilation, and The Cloverfield Paradox. Those four movies tell us a lot not only about Netflix’s approach, but also about the way mid-level, cerebral science fiction and fantasy is viewed in the west at the moment. While it’s not all bad news, it’s certainly not all good, either.

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How Jordan Peele’s Get Out Made Low-Budget Horror Oscar-Worthy

Get Out is the first truly great western horror movie of the 21st Century. It’s Rosemary’s Baby for the post-millennial world, a social horror story that is seethingly angry, terrified, terrifying, and frequently hilarious. I work with horror for my day job—normally prose but often cinema too—and Get Out is one of the finest horror movies I have ever seen. Hell, it’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. It absolutely deserves every single one of its Oscar nominations—deserves to sweep the board, in fact. Whether it will do so is dependent on how fond the Academy is of World War II (odds are, far too much) and or sexy mermen (hopefully very), but even getting to this stage, to these awards? It’s unprecedented in about a dozen different ways.

That unprecedented success is particularly impressive when you consider its production history and realize that Get Out is the perfect expression of the same cinematic equation behind movies such as Insidious, Ouija, The Conjuring, and The Purge.

[Here’s how Peele and the Blumhouse model changed the game…]

Everything You Need to Know about Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams

Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams is a US/UK produced anthology series adapting ten of Dick’s short stories for the big screen. It’s very much in the Black Mirror style, presenting standalone episodes with strongly individual visual identities under a single banner. It starts airing in the US today (January 12th)) on Amazon Video—but thanks to some, shall we say, eccentric scheduling decisions, the first six episodes aired in the UK last year.

Here’s your guide to what to expect (avoiding major spoilers, of course), and which episodes to seek out!

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Great Holiday Movies in Which Everything Goes Wrong

So, the festive season is officially upon us. U.K. shopping centres are all playing the same jolly-but-also-intensely-misanthropic-and-grumpy mix tape they run every year, the supermarkets are trying to out-schmaltz each other with their ads, and festive jumpers are springing up all over the country like cheerful, pun-laden woolen triffids.

This all means one thing: the time for festive movies is at hand! And I’m not talking the never-ending stream of “It Happened One Christmas Eve” Lifetime movies, fun as they are. Oh no, this is the good stuff. The odd stuff. The stuff where things get weird. And sometimes, on occasion, explode.

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Directors Who Could Make Really Interesting Star Trek Films

Quentin Tarantino apparently has a great idea for a Star Trek movie. While that’s a “jumbo shrimp” sentence if ever you heard one, it’s also true. It’s an idea that the studio is so enamoured with that a writers’ room has been assembled in order to workshop it.

There are really two things going on here. The first is the slight possibility of Tarantino being given a Star Trek movie. I’ve personally not connected with his work for a while, but he’s got a serious reputation, a style all his own, and provided he can color inside the lines (at least mostly), a Tarantino Trek film could be fun. It could also be a hot mess, and the fact that a lot of people have run screaming from the news says a lot about how fractious and divisive his style and reputation are, at the current moment.

And, weirdly, that’s a good thing.

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Tom Baker and Douglas Adams Ride Again in “Shada,” The Lost Doctor Who Serial

“Shada” is a Doctor Who story that’s always been folded away in strange pockets of the show’s history (which, given the direction the plot ultimately takes, is oddly appropriate). Initially recorded as part of Season 17, which aired in 1979 and 1980, the serial was abandoned due to a labor strike at the BBC. Written by Douglas Adams and representing one of Tom Baker’s final appearances in the role, it sits between decades, at the edge of the Fourth Doctor’s tenure and just before the next regeneration. “Shada” has lingered in a state that’s been both well documented and frustratingly incomplete. Numerous attempts have been made to finish the story, including a Big Finish audio drama starring the Eighth Doctor, a novelization, and a video release with Baker explaining what happened in the scenes that were never shot. All of them have tried to close the circle that “Shada” opened decades ago. None have quite managed it as it was intended.

But now, at last, this story that has haunted Doctor Who in various forms for decades has been completed, using the surviving original cast (including Tom Baker), 1970s effects techniques and vintage equipment, and modern animation to complete the story. “Shada” was released as a digital download last week and will be available on DVD and Blu-Ray towards the end of the year. It’s still as confounding and contradictory in completion as it ever was as in fragments—which, somehow, seems both intensely Gallifreyan and extremely appropriate.

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