content by

Leah Schnelbach

Permeable Borders: Tears of the Trufflepig by Fernando A. Flores

There is a lot of book packed into Tears of the Trufflepig. There’s a story of grief that may prove unshakeable. A story of political and economic oppression. A story of environmental catastrophe, and a gang war, and a mythical beast, and of the power dreams can hold over us.

This is Fernando A. Flores’ debut novel. He’s previously published a short story collection, Death to the Bullshit Artists of South Texas, released by Host Publications in 2018. In Trufflepig he gives us an alt-/near-/quasi-/somewhat dystopic- future that is funny and weird, but with a dark undertow of social commentary that will keep it unspooling in your mind after you finish reading.

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Building (and Breaking) the Myth of the American Astronaut

For forty years, media about the space program held to a rigidly binary public image: astronauts were the manliest men who ever manned. They were test pilots, physically tough, able to scoff at pain, laughing in the face of death as they flew into space all in the name of beating the Russkies to the moon. They were backed by close-knit teams of engineers—white men with crewcuts, black plastic glasses, white shirts tucked into black slacks, pocket protectors, and slide rules. Men who barked numbers at each other, along with sentences like “Work the problem, people!” and “We’re not losing an American in space!” and who would, maybe, well up just a little bit when their flyboys finally came back on the comms. They were just as tough and just as manly, but like, nerd-manly.

There was no room in these capsules or HQs for women. The women of the space program were, resolutely, wives. Long-suffering, stoic, perfectly dressed and coiffed, wrangling their children and keeping their homes and posing for Life magazine. They formed their own crew. They met up for sewing circles and fondue parties. They smiled bravely during launches. And, when a man was lost, NASA would call them and send them off to the house of the latest widow, so they could be there before the officials showed up with the news. So she could be there to keep the press at bay, and watch the kids while the latest widow locked herself in the bedroom with a drink and prepared her statement.

Will you be surprised if I tell you that it was never this simple?

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Avengers: Endgame Is a Secular Meditation on Death, Resurrection, and a Cathartic Afterlife

We were having an early dinner before watching Avengers: Endgame, and someone suggested placing bets on predictions for the film. (Just for points—we’re all broke.) My one and only prediction was that they were going to steal Titanic’s ending and that the final scene would be a door opening into a 1940s USO hall with Peggy in her WWII dress uniform, waiting to finally have her dance with Cap. “Steve goes to Heaven, everyone else lives.”

I wasn’t exactly right, but my joke landed closer than I expected?

[Spoilers ahead.]

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Snapture vs. Rapture: Where Avengers: Infinity War Sticks With Biblical Lore, And Where It Departs

We were talking about how the remaining Avengers found Fury’s beeper.

Let me back up. The ending of Avengers: Infinity War draws on imagery from a rather surprising corner of popular culture, and I want to dig into it, but but I’ll need to get into very spoilery territory for the Avengers: Infinity War and Captain Marvel, so click through only if you’re caught up!

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Finding the Throbbing Heart of a City: The Municipalists by Seth Fried

The Municipalists, Seth Fried’s debut novel, is a futuristic noir that isn’t quite a noir; a bumpy buddy cop story where the cops are a career bureaucrat and computer program, and most of the outsized emotions belong to the computer program; a love letter to cities that actually looks at the ways cities are destroyed by systemic inequality.

It’s also deeply, constantly funny, and able to transform from a breezy page-turner into a serious exploration of class and trauma in a few well-turned sentences.

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The Tick’s Incredible Second Season Asks Us All to Make a Choice

First things first: The Tick Season 2 is even better than Season 1. Full of surprises, high wire puns, surprisingly effective action sequences, and a couple of different moments that made me tear up. All the acting is perfect. There is a person-sized Easter egg for longtime Tick fans. There are new heroes, new stirring Tick speeches, some excellent Walter moments. There are dance parties. While Arthur continues being the show’s main focus, this season gives us real narrative arcs for Dot and Overkill, and gives Dangerboat some time to shine.

But it’s more than that: With this season, The Tick takes its place next to the most morally important cultural commentaries that have been produced in the last three years.

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The Tick Is Back Early and it’s Better than Ever!

Are you at work? Is your job important? Because unless you work in an ER or are currently teaching our nation’s children you should probably ditch and skedaddle on home because Amazon just released The Tick a day early! It’s all right there where you can see it! And while I only had time to watch the opening episodes last night, I’m happy to say they were as charming as last season—one episode in particular might even be the series’ best yet.

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Pet Sematary Acknowledges that Death is Inevitable; Cats are Monsters

The latest Pet Sematary is a fun update on the book and 1989 film (well, “fun” if you like horror, at least) with a few innovations I won’t spoil. Best of all, it commits to being a horror film: compact, gory in places and creepy in others, with just enough depth given to characters that you’re concerned for them, but without the need to justify its existence of its genre by over-intellectualizing.

If you’ve come to this movie you want to be scared and look at yucky things. This movie understands that, and will scare you and show you many yucky things.

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The Deep Social Justice Roots of The Twilight Zone

The update of The Twilight Zone had me at “What dimension are you even in?”

The more I think about it, the more excited I am, because I think the time is perfect for The Twilight Zone to come back. Our current reality is a fractured and terrifying place, with some forces trying to recreate the exact 1950s fauxtopia that Rod Serling railed against in the original version of The Twilight Zone, while other forces are trying to drag us into what might, if we’re very lucky, turn out to be a sustainable future. We have technology and innovation that make us, essentially, gods—and once we get that pesky mortality thing beat we will be unstoppable—except, of course, that human nature is probably going to screw us over at every turn.

And that’s where the original Twilight Zone was so good: Serling knew that to reckon with human nature was to ricochet between unbearable depths and impossible heights. In order to reflect that, his show had to balance demands that humans do better, already, with shots of pure hope. He knew to lighten his moralizing with occasional pure silliness. The show keeps coming back in new formats because something in this combination speaks to people, and each new reboot spends at least some time on that foundation of social justice that Serling laid back in the 1950s.

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What We Do in the Shadows TV Series Is the Most Fun You’ll Have with Vampires

What We Do in the Shadows—the television spin-off of New Zealand’s best-ever cult vampire mockumentary—is absolutely delightful and I would be failing in my duties as a pop cultural critic if I didn’t strongly advise that you watch it.

And yes, you can watch it without having seen the original film.

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An “Alternative” Captain Marvel Soundtrack

When I saw Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1, my only disappointment was that the music wasn’t integral enough. 10cc’s opening number is vital to setting the tone for the film, and the mood shift over to Redbone’s “Come Get Your Love” is equally important. But other than that? The only reason these songs are important is because they’re talismans of Peter Quill’s mom. He loves them because she gave them to him, but if he’d lived a regular life on Earth these would not be the songs he found meaning in. My hope in going into Captain Marvel was that we were about to see a kid who grew up in the ’90s and got dropped back on Earth at some unspecified time, with her angst and her flannel and her anger. And I dearly hoped that she had a riot grrrl past that would fuel her superheroic triumph.

But Carol Danvers isn’t a ’90s kid. She’s a ’90s adult. And the songs on the soundtrack aren’t particularly important to her—she loves Heart and Lita Ford. The one band shirt of her own that she wears? Guns N’ Roses. The one concert stub that we see in Maria Rambeau’s Carol Collection? Also Guns N’ Roses.

She was a metal kid, not a riot grrrl.

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6 Questions I Want Answered by Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel is finally finally finally coming to theaters, and I’m seriously impressed with how much I’ve kept it together during the long, wintery wait.


Here are some of my most tremulous questions and the dearest hopes I’ve pondered as we all collectively prepare for Carol Danvers. (Add yours in the comments!)

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A Quiet Hero’s Journey: Processing Trauma in Fantasy

In The Goblin Emperor an airship explodes, killing the emperor and his three eldest sons. We later learn that this was not an accident, but the work of assassins. Later still, we learn that those assassins have been apprehended. Why am I telling you all of this? Doesn’t this ruin the book?

Not remotely, because the book isn’t about any of that. All of those action scenes, the scenes that would be in the trailer for Goblin Emperor: The Movie, happen off-page. Rather than showing us action sequences we’ve seen a thousand times, the book spends its time dealing honestly with aftermaths. As I read it I was reminded of another book that, on the surface, is quite different: Jo Walton’s Hugo-winning Among Others.

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Victor LaValle, N.K. Jemisin, Maria Dahvana Headley, Sam J. Miller, and Alice Sola Kim Discuss A People’s Future of the United States

A vibrant new anthology from editors Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams, A People’s Future of the United States (a riff on Howard Zinn’s classic work of corrective scholarship, A People’s History of the United States) features some of the most exciting SFF authors writing today telling stories of resistance “that would challenge oppressive American myths, release us from the chokehold of our history, and give us new futures to believe in.”

Most of the stories in the anthology take place after a catastrophic event, and most track the struggles of marginalized people who are under even greater threat than usual. In celebration of the book’s launch, the New York Public Library hosted a rousing conversation between LaValle and four of his contributors: N.K. Jemisin, Maria Dahvana Headley, Sam J. Miller, and Alice Sola Kim. I’ve gathered up some of the highlights of the evening.

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