content by

Molly Templeton

Why Canto Bight is Vital to The Last Jedi

Plenty of things about Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi have been divisive, but few have been as derided as the Canto Bight sequence.

The whole thing is just a disgracefully bad bit of storytelling.”

“…feels pointless and tacked on…”

But the Canto Bight stuff is a bit of a drag…”

“…an unnecessary sequence at the casino city of Canto Bight that goes straight from a political sermon into a plot hole…”

Was it put there as a merchandising tool, a way to sell space pony plushies and several dozen more figurines? Does it fail to advance the story at all? Does it matter?

No, and no, and yes. Canto Bight is neither a fluffy diversion nor a tacked-on way to find something to do with Rose and Finn. It’s absolutely vital to the themes of The Last Jedi, and if you took it out, you’d lose more than just a few lines of dialogue about morality and wealth in the galaxy.

Canto Bight isn’t really about the rich people at all. It’s about the reality of life under a fascist First Order, and about unsung, unflashy work that needs to be done to fix the galaxy.

Spoilers for The Last Jedi follow.

[Read more]

Glitter and Grime: Would You Want to Go to Star Wars’ Canto Bight?

If The Last Jedi is the Star Wars feast we’ve been waiting for all year, Canto Bight is an odd appetizer platter, an array of tidbits that you might find unnecessary—or you might find appealingly curious.

Why do we get a whole book centered on Canto Bight, of all the Star Wars locations? The casino city was teased in Vanity Fair this summer, when Rian Johnson described it as “a playground, basically, for rich assholes.” One glittering city on the desert planet of Cantonica, it sits next to a giant manmade sea and is largely a resort city for the wealthy and glitzy. It’s so fancy, it has rare Alderaanian trees—or what people claim are Alderaanian trees. This city has its own mythology, as Mira Grant (the pen name of Seanan McGuire) explains in “The Wine in Dreams”:

It began, as most beautiful things do, with money, with ambition, and with deceit. “Come to Canto Bight, the greatest city of pleasures the galaxy has ever known,” they cried, and if they lied in the beginning, the ones who carry the cry now are telling the complete and utter truth. They crafted reality out of story.

[Or did they?]

The Magicians’ Season Three Trailer is Going on a Quest

Magic is gone, but the Muntjac is ready for its close-up! The ship that takes Quentin on a tax-collecting adventure in Lev Grossman’s second Magicians novel, The Magician King, is likely to play a major role in season three of The Magicians, which is going to involve one heck of a quest: Just a little trip to get magic back, no big deal…

Check out the new trailer for season three, and let the theorizing begin!

[“I’ll send you on an epic quest.”]

Revolutionary Whimsy: Where to Start Reading Frances Hardinge

Unlike many fantasy and young adult heroes and heroines, Frances Hardinge’s main characters aren’t chosen ones. They’re the other kind: misfits, orphans, oddballs, changelings. They’re young women chafing against responsibilities, sexist societies, the nature of their own existence. These characters are primarily interested in survival, though that focus has a tendency to align with bigger things: freedom, or justice, or knowledge.

After finishing A Face Like Glass, I went head-over-heels for Hardinge, and binge-read everything else I could get my hands on in the span of a few weeks. Each one of her books makes its own argument for why you ought to be reading Hardinge—but since you might not have time to read five or six or eight books right this second, here are three places you might start. These aren’t necessarily my favorite Hardinge tales, but each of them, in its own way, presents a common Hardinge theme: a world reshaped, in large part thanks to the choices of a stubborn girl.

[Read more]

Revisiting Patricia A. McKillip’s The Forgotten Beasts of Eld

What do you remember when you think of books you read long, long ago? Plot? Character? Setting? Or something more nebulous?

I tend to remember how a book felt, which is about as nebulous as things get. There’s usually one lingering image in my very visual-reader brain, as well. Jo Clayton’s Serroi books feel defiant, a small green girl in a looming landscape. Melanie Rawn’s dragon books are regal, but there’s one image of a picnic that I can never shake, and another of a valley.

Patricia A. McKillip’s The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, on the other hand, is a mountain home, a dragon, solitude, and defensiveness. Rereading the book, which Tachyon Publications just reissued, was a singular experience: marrying those feelings with what actually happens in the book, which both is and is not what I remember.

[Read more]

Finders Keepers: Spellbook of the Lost and Found by Moïra Fowley-Doyle

“That night, everybody lost something,” Moïra Fowley-Doyle’s Spellbook of the Lost and Found begins. “Not everybody noticed.” The lost things are small or large, tangible or less so, valuable or personal or some combination of the above. They slipped away during a bonfire party, the kind that goes on probably too long and ends when you fall asleep in a field in the wee hours of the morning.

And somehow, Fowley-Doyle’s sentences feel like those nights—like the lull at the end of a party when questionable choices are so easy to make. Olive wakes up the next day missing a shoe and her best friend, Rose. She and Rose went to the party to get drunk and cry, which seems like a perfectly valid reason to go to a party. But three other girls—Holly, Laurel, and Ash—went because their diaries were missing.

It’s what they found that sets Spellbook in motion.

[Read more]

Winter Is Seriously Here: What Happened on Season Six of Game of Thrones

If you’ve got ten or so hours to spare between now and July 16th, I highly recommend binge-devouring season six of Game of Thrones, even—or maybe especially—if you watched it when it aired last year. What seemed, week to week, like an inconsistent, fairly unsatisfying season (certain moments aside) turns out to be a solid stretch of narrative setup and motion when you gulp it down in a sitting or three. Every season of intrigue and betrayal moves the narrative forward, but finally, by the end of season three, the pieces are in intriguing place on the board—places that suggest season seven will be a battle of consolidation and compromise as various parties begin to take the Night King’s threat seriously.

There’s going to be war. Everyone’s talking about it. But who’s left to fight?

[Read more]

You Cannot Sink My Love for Battleship

There exists no convincing argument that movies should never be based on board games, because Clue exists, and therefore disproves any such argument. That said, the game of Battleship is a categorically stupid idea for a movie. Battleship is basically bingo with a bit of deductive strategy and no wacky prizes at the end. People in movies cannot sit around yelling YOU SUNK MY BATTLESHIP at each other, a fact which must have been clear to the people behind Battleship. Despite its dubious source material, Battleship is the one of the greatest dumb action movies of the early twenty-teens. Writers Jon and Erich Hoeber and director Peter Berg clearly took their Hasbro/Universal paychecks, gave the game a serious side-eye, and opted to keep just a few elements: big honkin’ battleships, cylindrical missile things, and goofy coordinates.

Everything else is newly made-up big dumb action movie gold.

[Read more]

A Story Radiating Across the Stars: C.A. Higgins’ Lightless Series

C.A. Higgins’ Lightless begins aboard a unique spaceship, the Ananke, that has a black hole for a heart. That’s how Althea Bastet sees it, anyway. Though she’s the ship’s engineer, her practical skills are tangled up with her affection for the ship she thinks of as hers. The black hole powers the ship and its purpose, but Althea dreams that of the black hole as a heart, a bloody, embodied thing.

Althea can tell when something is wrong aboard her ship, and at the opening of Higgins’ series, she knows. Lightless takes places entirely aboard the Ananke; it’s not exactly a locked-ship story, as other characters come and go, but the cat-and-mouse game that drives one of its storylines makes the ship feel claustrophobic. But Lightless is only the first in the trilogy, and while Higgins’ tale never leaves the Ananke entirely, the subsequent books—Supernova and the closing Radiate, which comes out next week—spread across the entire solar system. It’s a surprise, to move from Lightless’s narrow hallways to the surface of Mars and beyond, but Higgins’ shifts in viewpoint are effortless. She seeds each book’s story in the pages of the previous books, connecting everyone in a narrative that loops back on itself. Though the perspective is different, Radiate begins where the action of Lightless starts: with Matthew Gale (called Mattie) and Leontios Ivanov (called Ivan) boarding the Ananke.

Some spoilers for Lightless and general discussion of Supernova and Radiate follow.

[Read more]

Series: Space Opera Week

Would You Like to Smell Divine? Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s New American Gods Scents

It’s because of American Gods that I have a sprawling perfume collection. Ten years ago, Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab—BPAL for short—released their first line of scents based on Neil Gaiman’s novel, and I found I could no longer resist the temptation to find out what these beloved fictional characters might smell like.

If you are turning up your nose, thinking, Oh no, not perfume, I hate that stuff, wait! So was I. I loathed perfume. I held my breath walking past perfume counters, leaving a wide berth around the salespeople positioned to offer customers a spritz of something terrifying. When I saw references to BPAL online, I scrolled a little faster, certain it was not relevant to me.

But there is nothing like a story to make a person change her mind about a thing.

[Read more]

Assassins, Pirates, or Dragons: Where to Start With Robin Hobb

Choosing a Robin Hobb book to start with isn’t just choosing a series—it’s choosing a doorway into a huge, interconnected world. All but one of Hobb’s trilogies make up a giant tale told in many pieces (the oddball is the Soldier Son series). They span continents and decades, damaging leadership and ecological damage, traumatic childhood and challenging coming-of-age.

And you can start in several places. If you’re a completist, you’ll probably start at the beginning, but if you’re not, you can choose based on character, or location, or focus. Would you like a young man with royal blood, or a headstrong young woman fighting to lead the family business? Prefer your dragon-centric tales set in a strange, deadly landscape? Would you like to explore a bustling port town in a series where family drama involves magical ships? Or do you like your fantasy set in castles and keeps, fully engaged with the foibles and flaws of royalty?

[Read more]

Where Do We Go From Here? The Magicians, “We Have Brought You Little Cakes”

What if your whole life was just The Breakfast Club for a chaotically whimsical god?

The Magicians’ second season finale begins with a voiceover summary, a notion that sounds terrible until you discover that the voiceover is from none other than Ember, god of Fillory, who describes everything that’s happened in relation to how much it entertained him. These characters, with all the trials they’ve been through? Just the wacky hijinks of Quentin Coldwater and pals: the addict, the victim, the bitch, the scowl, and the martyr. Just tropes that have ceased to entertain Ember.

Ember, however, knows how to entertain; his version of the story is just as off-color as the real thing, and he does Margo’s voice for good goofy measure. “The danger of sublimated trauma is a major theme in our story,” he notes. “Character is destiny.”

But he also says the candy witch from the season premiere will pay off, and she doesn’t. At least not yet.

How reliable is narrator-Ember? How written is the story in each character’s book, tucked away in the Library? How many choices were made to bring the story to this point? The first season of The Magicians was about growing up, a coming-of-age tale with major trauma, but the second is about something just as difficult, and just as ongoing: surviving.

[“Wanna put some pants on and help me save all of magic?”]

No Fate But What We Make: The Magicians, “Ramifications”

Please welcome back to the stage the great… Mayakovsky! He may be exiled to Antarctica, but Eliot, this week, refers to him as Earth’s greatest magician. One with a guilty conscience, a dark past, and a small arsenal of magical batteries.

Probably you see where this is going. But “Ramifications” takes the magicians’ stories in unexpected directions. More than one of this week’s drastically plot-advancing turns, I really didn’t see coming—and at least one of them I’m still unsure about. But at some point along the way, I started to trust this show. It makes mistakes (cough god jizz cough), but it makes them in service of complicated, emotionally resonant storytelling that works on multiple levels, while doing a dizzyingly excellent job of using plot to advance character. When characters stagnate on this show, it’s on purpose.

But right now, everyone’s growing and changing and adapting at a breakneck—and downright painful–pace.

Except Josh. He’s just stoned.

[Read more]

Dream Casting The Raven Cycle

I think I speak for a reasonable portion of the internet when I say I am both incredibly excited and super wary about the idea of a Raven Cycle TV show. How will they get it right? Will there be actual teenagers on the show? What if it turns into The Vampire Diaries, but with Welsh kings and psychics? (Don’t get me wrong: I love TVD, but this is a whole different can of worms.) Readers have really, really, really strong feelings about the characters in Maggie Stiefvater’s novels, and there’s simply no way one show can meet everyone’s casting requirements.

That said, the minute this news went out, I started trying to figure out who should play our Raven Boys, our psychics, and our Blue. I’ve got some ideas. Maybe you’ve got some too?

One caveat: I’m mostly talking about just the characters appearing in book one, The Raven Boys, for simplicity’s sake!

[Read more]

Bowling in the Underworld: The Magicians, “The Rattening”

If “The Rattening” isn’t a Buffy nod, I don’t know what is. Why rats? Why do only some of the people in Castle Whitespire turn into rats, and not others? What other power is messing with Fillory? I have so many questions, and this is only one of this week’s super-intense, quietly game-changing incidents. Senator Gaines starts to understand the range of his powers, Penny makes a new friend, Reynard shows his hand (or at least part of it), Margo gets blamed for everything, and Julia…

Julia’s confusing me a little bit right now. Just how much does not having a shade change a person? Not so long ago she was saying she’s broken, and now she’s making choices that—on the surface, at least—have no benefit for her.

But maybe they do.

[“Welcome to the underworld! Please take a number.”]