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Leah Schnelbach

How Could I Forget the Liberating Weirdness of Madeleine L’Engle?

Madeleine L’Engle was my first sci-fi. Maybe also my first fantasy. I read her before Lewis, Tolkien, Adams, Bradbury. I was 11 when I read A Wrinkle in Time, and I quickly burned through all the rest of her YA, and I even dug into her contemplative journals a bit later, as I began to study religion more seriously in my late teens.

My favorite was A Swiftly Tilting Planet (I’m embarrassed to tell you how often I’ve mumbled St. Patrick’s Breastplate into whichever adult beverage I’m using as cheap anesthetic to keep the wolves from the door over this past year) but I read all of her books in pieces, creating a patchwork quilt of memories. I loved the opening of this one, a particular death scene in that one, an oblique sexual encounter in another. Bright red curtains with geometrical patterns, The Star-Watching Rock, hot Nephilim with purple hair—the usual stuff. But in preparation for Ava DuVernay’s film adaptation of Wrinkle, I looked back over L’Engle’s oeuvre and I was struck, more than anything, by the sheer weirdness of her work.

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Duncan Jones’ Mute is the Weirdest Witness Fan Fiction I’ve Ever Seen

I saw Witness for the first time when I was about nine years old. In case you’ve never seen it, grumpy detective Harrison Ford has to go undercover in an Amish community, and naturally falls in love with both barn-raisings and Kelly McGillis, because who wouldn’t. It’s a great film, with a surprisingly vulnerable performance from Ford—but that’s not what I’m here to talk about. The reason the movie is called Witness, and the reason Ford has to go undercover, is that a tiny, shy Amish boy witnesses a gruesome murder in a train station. A man’s throat is slashed, and the boy stares in horror as he fights and falls to ground, blood gushing from his throat. This made a huge impact on me because it was the first time I realized that a person didn’t just die instantly if something like that happened. It took a long time for a person to lose enough blood to kill them, and it looked excruciating.

The reason I mention that is because that scene seems to be at the heart of what Duncan Jones was trying to do with Mute. I don’t think the film works, but there is a lot of fascinating stuff in it, some gorgeous imagery, and also some truly horrific violence. I’ll give you a non-spoiler review (though it does touch upon some plot points) below.

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“I Write for the Future I Want to Have”: Writing Advice from Mary Robinette Kowal and Cady Coleman’s Boskone Talk

Boskone 55 took place over the weekend of February 16-18, and featured Guest of Honor Mary Robinette Kowal, who balances careers in puppetry, costuming, voice acting and writing. During her Guest of Honor Hour, Kowal sat down with her friend, former astronaut (!!!)-turned-writer Cady Coleman, to talk about how all of her work converges to make her a better writer, especially where it concerns her forthcoming novel The Calculating Stars, building on the universe introduced in her Hugo Award-winning novelette “The Lady Astronaut of Mars.”

We’ve gathered some of the highlights of the talk below!

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Can We Talk About the Best/Worst Part of Alex Garland’s Annihilation?

I’ve been mulling Alex Garland’s Annihilation all weekend, looking at reactions to the film online; and between a torrent of tweets and other critics’ reviews, I think I figured out the thing that’s making it resonate for a certain segment of the population. This film has something very interesting to say about depression, and the fine line between suicidal ideation and self-destructive tendencies. I’m still not sure how I feel about it, personally, so I’m going to talk about it below to look at how the film handles some extremely heavy material. Be warned, this is a spoiler discussion of the film!

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The Tick is Currently the Best Thing That Exists

The second half of The Tick is even better than the first half. I am so happy this show is on the air, that Ben Edlund got another crack at the character, that they all took a chance on updating a beloved world knowing that people might reject another reboot. On of the best thing about watching The Tick is realizing that a story that began as a silly parody of superhero stories has outgrown most of those stories. There is more emotion and thematic heft in a 22-minute episode of this show than in half of the MCU, or any non-Wonder Woman DC movie.

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Beauty and Terror Collide in Alex Garland’s Annihilation

I’m honestly not sure what to say about Annihilation. The best I can come up with is: what if the worst parts of Contact had a child with the best parts of Arrival, which then had a torrid affair with The Fountain? The resulting progeny might look a lot like Annihilation. Which is to say: the parts I loved I really loved, and the parts that didn’t work for me nearly jarred me right out of the film.

An attempt at a non spoiler review lurks below.

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Books Make the Best Home: Ruthanna Emrys’ Winter Tide

I missed Winter Tide when it was first published—the simultaneous blessing/curse of working in publishing meaning that I am drowning in books at all times. I was excited to finally delve into Ruthanna Emrys’ debut novel, and not only am I glad I did so, but I’m hoping I get to the sequel a lot faster.

Because here is a book that understands the importance of books.

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Be the Angel You Want to See in America: The World Only Spins Forward by Isaac Butler and Dan Kois

Twenty-five years ago Tony Kushner’s Angels in America came to Broadway. It was an audacious work of theater, somehow meshing a realistic depiction of the havoc AIDS wreaks on a body, complex discussions of American political history, pissed-off angels, and Mormonism. The ghost of Ethel Rosenberg was a character, as was Roy Cohn. Gay and straight sex happened onstage. Audiences were confronted with both Kaposi’s Sarcoma lesions and emotional abuse.

And somehow, miraculously, the show was hilarious.

Now Isaac Butler and Dan Kois have undertaken the herculean labor of creating an oral history of the play, made up of interviews with hundreds of people, from Kushner himself all the way to college students studying the play. The result is an exhaustive look at creativity and theater that is nearly as exhilarating and fun to read as the play itself.

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When No One Else Will Stand Up and Fight the Obvious Evil: The “Unchosen Ones” of Fantasy

It is a truth long acknowledged that an epic quest needs a Chosen One. The One Character, Chosen by Fate, Long-Prophesied, riddled with Marks of Great Portent, whose Birth Was Foretold, and Who Will Bring Balance/Right Wrongs/Overthrow Injustice.

But what about those heroes who aren’t chosen? Who see all of their friends, all of their world, go quiet in the face of an obvious evil? What about those who take up the lightsaber, the armor, the Ring, knowing all the while that, at any moment, they could be revealed as frauds? Or die without making anything better?

Today, we’re celebrating the “Unchosen Ones”.

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SFF Sexier (and Healthier) Than Fifty Shades of Grey

The third (and final) Fifty Shades movie—Fifty Shades Freed—opens this weekend, just in time for Valentine’s Day. While we’re glad those crazy kids are finally settling down, there’s no denying that the film and book series depict an unrealistic, unhealthy BDSM relationship.

But it doesn’t have to be this way—after all, sci-fi and fantasy authors have written believable power exchanges and sexual agency into their books and comics for decades. So instead of headdesking over Christian and Ana’s sexcapades, pick up these books by Jacqueline Carey, Octavia Butler, Matt Fraction, and more!

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Hitting the Road with Bored of the Rings

In 1969 Doug Kenney and Henry Beard, editors of the prestigious comedy magazine The Harvard Lampoon (and soon-to-be creators of the National Lampoon) co-wrote a deeply silly parody of Lord of the Rings called, wait for it, Bored of the Rings. It turns out that a long, debauched scene at the book launch for Bored of the Rings features prominently in David Wain’s (somewhat fictionalized) recent biopic of Kenney, A Futile and Stupid Gesture. While I was watching the film I realized that (a) I had the book, and (b) I had somehow never read it. And thus this week’s TBR Stack is born!

I have to say, I was shocked by how many interesting comedic thoughts Kenney and Beard stuffed in under all the silliness.

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Always Be Uncomfortable: Brooke Bolander, Maria Dahvana Headley, and Amal El-Mohtar Talk Writing, History, and The Only Harmless Great Thing

Brooke Bolander, Maria Dahvana Headley, and Amal El-Mohtar came together at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe to discuss Bolander’s new book, The Only Harmless Great Thing, but what began as a book launch became a long, complex discussion of the power of storytelling, the horrors of capitalism, and the power of women who come together to record truth.

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[Spooky Ghost Noises]: Collected Ghost Stories by M. R. James

How have I missed M.R. James? I love ghost stories, I grew up reading horror, but somehow I’d never even read James’ most famous story, “Whistle and I’ll Come To You, My Lad”. But part of my original plan for TBR Stack was to work my way through the teetering towers of tomes that have made my apartment increasingly unlivable awesome, and I finally got to James! I’m not going in any particular order for this column (that way lies madness) but since I’d just read Colin Winnette’s brand new ghost book, The Job of the Wasp, I figured I’d keep the trend going. Luckily among my many stacks of books is the the 1992 Wordsworth Classics edition of James’ Collected Ghost Stories—a collection I greatly enjoyed.

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