content by

Leah Schnelbach

Never Let Mei Go — The Expanse: “IFF”

The Expanse is back, and so am I! I’ve missed you, weird blue show. After Molly Templeton’s stellar write up of last week’s episode I’ll be reviewing The Expanse moving forward—but next week Molly will return with additional “Notes for Book Nerds,” since I’m still woefully behind on my reading…

Now, on to this week’s episode! “IFF”—“identification, friend or foe”did a great job of ratcheting up tensions that had already been pretty well ratcheted, but also offered a tiny bit resolution in the end.

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Making Rent in Gomorrah: Samuel R. Delany’s Driftglass

I have talked on this site before about my love of Samuel Delany. I came to Delany a bit late, which I regret—I think he would have been a force for good in my own writing style if I’d read him in high school. But once I fell for him I started collecting his books, and as a result, a large amount of my TBR Stack is older books of his that I ration out carefully so I don’t burn through his whole backlist too quickly. This week I finally read his short story collection, Driftglass.

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Where to Start with the Works of Martha Wells

Martha Wells got her start writing Godzilla fan-fiction  as a small child, creating enormous, detailed maps of Monster Island on typing paper. After spending her college years writing and attending workshops like Turkey City, she made her first sale in 1993, when Tor Books accepted her novel, The Element of Fire. Over the course of a twenty-five-year career, Wells has jumped between high fantasy in the Raksura series, court intrigue and magical knavery in her Ile-Rien books, and far-future tech conspiracy in the Murderbot Diaries. She’s written Star Wars tie-ins, and expanded the world of Magic: The Gathering, as well as writing wonderful YA and two innovative, highly original stand alone fantasy novels for adults.

Whether you like snarky droids or intricate magic, whether you prefer sprawling series or self-contained stories—Martha Wells has written something that belongs on your bookshelf. But when you go a little deeper in Wells’ work, you’ll notice one shining cord that runs through each story: unexpected protagonists.

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Celebrating Thirty Years of My Neighbor Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies

Two Studio Ghibli classics are turning thirty this year. One is Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro, and the other is Isao Takahata’s devastating Grave of the Fireflies. We initially planned to rerun this article in celebration of this anniversary. Sadly, we are also now honoring the iconic Takahata, who passed away on April 5th at age 82. In addition to mentoring the younger Miyazaki and co-founding Ghibli, Takahata produced all-time classics of Japanese cinema, pushing animation in new directions, and working tirelessly to perfect new forms. From Only Yesterday to Pom Poko to the stunning Tale of Princess Kaguya, all of his films deserve your attention.

But now we return to the studio’s seemingly strange choice to premiere My Neighbor Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies as a double feature in Japan. (I do not recommend recreating this experience!) Together, three decades ago, Miyazaki and Takahata gave us a new childhood icon, and an indelible portrait of the true cost of war.

Calling it a whiplash-inducing emotional rollercoaster is a bit of an understatement…

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Keanu Reeves’ Constantine is a Terrible Hellblazer Adaption, But a Damned Good Modern Noir

When Constantine briefly shone on NBC, one refrain was that no matter how bumpy the series’ run was, at least it wasn’t the Keanu Reeves version. But really, on re-watching 2005’s Constantine, I found it works—for all the reasons it shouldn’t. The fact that the actors were all given scripts that varied wildly in tone? Shouldn’t have worked. Casting Gavin Rossdale? Shouldn’t have worked. The costuming? OK, the costuming all works perfectly—Gabriel and Balthazar have both matched their socks to their ties! And the pocket squares… I can’t even think about the pocket squares.

But the biggest way Constantine works is by using Hellblazer as a jumping-off point, rather than a stone-carved outline to be slavishly followed. In doing so, it creates a moody piece of modern, metaphysical noir.

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Neil Gaiman’s How to Talk to Girls At Parties Gets an Official Trailer and a Release Date!

A24 has just posted an official trailer for John Cameron Mitchell’s punky adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s “How to Talk to Girls at Parties”! The story seems to veer in a somewhat different direction than Gaiman’s creepy story, with young rebel Enn, played by Alex Sharp, meeting Elle Fanning’s Zan at a party, and introducing her to a spiky, leather-clad underworld. Plus Nicole Kidman seems to be playing David Bowie? Whatever, we’re obviously onboard.

Click through for the full trailer!

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Mothers, Love, Bones: Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt

Any author who wants to write horror has a decision to make. Supernatural? Splatter? Is this horror featuring men with rusty weapons who chase down helpless people, or is this a ghost story by a campfire? Is there a cosmic battle driving humans mad? Is there a curse? A serial killer? A hook hand? Revenants? Demons?

Samantha Hunt’s third novel, Mr. Splitfoot, is a horror story, though the kind of horror that tends to bob and weave with the reader. This review will be split, like a cloven hoof. I will speak in vague generalities for about five paragraphs, and then I will dig into spoiler territory. This is a book that relies on surprise and plot twist, so if you haven’t read it, and would like to, be warned.

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15 of Our Favorite Character Resurrections in SFF

Resurrection isn’t just the basis for several long-running religions, it can also make for a game-changing plot point in fiction. After all, death is quite a hard reboot, and sometimes killing a character is exactly the shot in the arm a story needs – especially if it’s a fantasy epic, or a comics series that’s been going on a while. But then there’s the next problem—can you get even more of a jolt by bringing the character back? Will their death mean more if they have to contend with life again? If their grand sacrifice becomes a stand-in for a more explicitly religious event?

Since Easter is just around the corner, we’ve gathered some of our favorite takes on resurrection, and ranked them according to, um, data? Actually we just ranked them according to which ones we thought served their narratives best. Let us know if we missed any of your favorites in the comments!

(Potential spoilers ahead for A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones, The Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, and other SFF properties)

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The Gospel According to Monty Python

Easter looms on the holiday horizon! And as it falls on April Fool’s Day this year, my thoughts naturally turned to history’s greatest meeting point of religion and humor: Monty Python’s Life of Brian. But as I looked at the movie, and the controversy around it, I came to a startling realization.

Life of Brian can teach us how to live.

Unfortunately, a lot of the controversy around the film’s original release overshadowed its message. Because, unlike most Python movies, or most great comedies, it does have a message.

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The Most Realistic Surrealism I’ve Ever Read: The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington

Leonora Carrington was a surrealist painter and writer. She lived from 1917 to 2011, making her the last living surrealist. Here’s a thing, though: I’m not so sure she was a surrealist?

Like previous TBR Stack author Anna Kavan, Leonora Carrington went mad for a while, did a stint in an asylum, and wrote about it later. How many creative women have gone mad? And is it madness when you fall into despair at the state of your world? In Carrington’s case because her lover, Max Ernst, 26 years her senior, ditched her and fled into the American arms of Peggy Guggenheim when the Nazis invaded France.

I mean I can’t entirely blame him? If the Nazis come for me I don’t know what I’ll do—but I hope I’ll have the good grace not to leave a trail of terrified people in my wake. I hope I’ll find a way to bring them with me.

But Carrington got through it—went mad and healed, escaped her family, and spent the rest of her life on her own terms writing and painting and creating an international cross-cultural feminist dialogue between her home base of Mexico City and New York. Her complete stories have been gathered for a collection that is disturbing and gorgeous and everything I want in my brain.

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All of Us Are in Search of An Author: Lacking Character by Curtis White

Lacking Character is author Curtis White’s first work of fiction in fifteen years. The veteran surrealist has written books including Metaphysics in the Midwest, Memories of My Father Watching TV, and The Science Delusion: Asking the Big Questions in a Culture of Easy Answers—ranging from short fiction to novels to essays. His new outing is a novel-adjacent philosophical exercise. What counts as character? How do we delineate one individual from another? What divides man from beast, guinea pig from feral infant? Lacking Character dresses these questions up in thought experiments, humor, sex, and some really hilarious literary parodies, and like the best of these types of books, never comes to any conclusions about the state of the human mind—instead White lets readers draw their own conclusions.

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Series: Genre in the Mainstream

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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