Tor.com content by

Natalie Zutter

Backwards and in Heels: Russian Doll, Happy Death Day, and How Women Survive Time Loop Stories

If Nadia Vulvokov and Theresa “Tree” Gelbman met in the women’s bathroom at a party, they would see little in common, standing side-by-side looking into the mirror: 36-year-old redheaded game designer next to 22-year-old blonde co-ed, the latter too good for this and the former too checked-out to care. But these women are linked by time, by death, and by one Phil Connors.

Over twenty-five years ago, Groundhog Day introduced one of the best-known interpretations of the time loop story, with a particular focus on self-improvement via existential crisis and some morbid humor. A quarter-century later, thanks to one-off TV episodes and a growing number of entire movies and TV series dedicated to the premise, the time loop is a veritable subgenre—and Phil’s near-infinite journey of self-discovery has provided the blueprint for new narratives to riff upon, to subvert, and, most importantly, to gender-swap.

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6 Badass Female Time Travelers Who Get the Job Done

There is no single archetype of the female time traveler. She may be a young newlywed on her honeymoon, or a septuagenarian acting as a secret government weapon. She is black, or white, or from a future less concerned with skin color (but concerned with plenty otherwise). She is a writer, a river rehabilitator, a veteran of a World War. And no two travelers make the same passage through time and space: each of these intricate tales are brought about by everything from futuristic machinery to nanotechnology to magical stones.

Join us under the cut to meet six timestream-hopping women who have left their mark on history!

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My Sci-Fi/Fantasy OTPs Are All Beta Couples

I’ve written tens of thousands of words of fanfiction for various fandoms, and I’ve always found myself drawn not to the main romantic leads, but to the secondary Beta Couples. While the main pairings were doing the eternal dance of unresolved sexual tension will-they-won’t-they, the supporting characters would partner up with an incredible amount of ease. Sometimes they’d even wind up married or have kids before the main couple had even kissed! How I Met Your Mother has a great scene that visualizes this: while the main characters aimlessly make jokes about Canada, a couple in the background meets, gets married, gets pregnant, watches their kid graduate college, and grows old together.

In a nutshell, that’s the Beta Couple. Just add in Cylon copies, flash-forwards, Reaver fights, and straight-up magic when this archetype shows up in science fiction and fantasy.

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How To Tell If You’re Crushing on a Book

“It’s OK to Have a Crush on a Fictional Character!” proclaims one of the headlines that comes up after googling the notion of a “book crush.” A bit overenthusiastic in its reassurance, but I should hope so, considering the adoring supporting evidence for the Mr. Darcys and Christian Greys and Peeta Mellarks (and, dare I say, at least on my timeline, the Gideon Navs) of the literary universe. But that’s not exactly what I’m talking about here.

Have you ever developed a crush… on a book itself? Was the experience of reading itself enough to make you giggly, lightheaded, short of breath, flushed, self-conscious but also delighted? Feeling like you’d tapped in to some story that felt impossibly tailored for you, hitting all your narrative buttons? That you then denied all “psh! it can’t be!” even as you tried to play it off like you weren’t hanging on every word on every page you couldn’t turn fast enough?

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The LEGO Movie 2 “Grows Up,” But Did It Need To?

You can only do The Sixth Sense once. You can’t duplicate The Usual Suspects. Making a sequel to a movie with an excellent, world-recontextualizing twist necessarily means that the follow-up will lack that element of surprise, and have to make up for it in another, usually much more meta, way. The twist of 2014’s The LEGO Movie came as such a shock because audiences had gone into what they believed was a kids’ movie and were bopping in their seats to the surprisingly infectious “Everything is Awesome,” thinking the animation was the most complex thing about the film. To reveal that all of it—Emmet, Wyldstyle/Lucy, President Business, the Kragle, the Special—were orchestrated by a real-world kid working out his frustrations with his absent perfectionist father was akin to looking at the bottom of the coffee mug and seeing “Kobayashi” stamped on the porcelain.

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part ventures out into the world beyond Bricksburg to build a story around the boy Finn, now an adolescent, and his younger sister Brianna, who’s old enough to play with his LEGOs using her comparatively childish Duplos. Their sibling rivalry literally shapes Emmet (Chris Pratt) and Lucy’s (Elizabeth Banks) world into a gritty-slash-glittery, Mad Max-versus-Jupiter Ascending sequel, replacing some of the guileless delight of the original with heavy-handed lessons about balancing multiple sides of oneself.

Read on for our non-spoiler review.

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5 Requests I Have for Megan Whalen Turner’s Return of The Thief

So, so, so. After discovering that there was more than one sequel to The Thief about a decade after every other Megan Whalen Turner fan, I’ve gotten caught up on The Queen’s Thief series by devouring A Conspiracy of Kings (a weekend spent on the couch occasionally putting down the book to exclaim “ugh how is it so GOOD”) and Thick as Thieves (tearing up at my desk over the final pages). I was emotionally wrung out but also in the perfect headspace to pick up the sixth (and final, alas) book in this consistently brilliant and heartbreaking series.

Unfortunately, Return of The Thief just moved its publication date from March 2019 to summer 2020; however, considering the average five-year wait between installments, this delay is but a short wait to weather. Anyone who has been astounded by the twists and revelations in the past five volumes would agree that Return of The Thief will be well worth the time it takes to craft. And in the meantime, we readers can craft our wishlists for the series conclusion twenty-plus years in the making!

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Y: The Last Man TV Adaptation Will Premiere in 2020

After ordering a pilot last year, FX has finally given a series pickup to Y, the television adaptation of Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s funny, grim, heartbreaking comic book series. Running from 2002-2007, the Vertigo Comics series followed Yorick Brown, the last surviving cisgender man on Earth following a plague that wipes out every organism with a Y chromosome (aside from his monkey buddy Ampersand), and the surviving women chasing him down for a dozen different reasons related to the survival of the human race.

Michael Green (American Gods, Logan, Blade Runner 2049) and Aïda Mashaka Croal (Luke Cage) will serve as showrunners and executive producers; Vaughan will also be an EP, helping to develop the adaptation from one serialized medium to another. The pickup was announced at the Television Critics Association’s winter tour today, with the added news that the series is expected to premiere on FX sometime in 2020.

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Outlander Season Finale: Who Are the “Men of Worth” in Season 4?

After last year’s Outlander finale, which literally shipwrecked Claire and Jamie onto the shores of America, I was expecting a bigger cliffhanger ending to this season—that the letter the redcoats delivered to Jamie at River Run would be conscripting the poor Scot to fight on their side in the American Revolution. Then I remembered that it was only 1770, and that the next big war was a few years (or, I’m going to assume, one season) away. Instead, the season 4 finale, filled with resolutions both neat and messy, ends on Jamie getting a much more pressing, one-on-one assignment that reemphasizes this season’s enduring question: Can a good man do a bad thing and remain a “Man of Worth”?

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Black Mirror: Bandersnatch Is Its Own Perfect Example of the Illusion of Free Will

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is without a doubt the series’ most ambitious experiment in storytelling—and that’s saying a lot, since last season kicked off with an entire Galaxy Quest-esque episode. With Bandersnatch, Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones abandon virtual realities for branching realities, putting control of the rumored 300+ minutes of footage into the hands of their audience. Through dozens of decision trees (which look just like the logo from “White Bear”), passive viewers become active players, deciding everything from what cassette troubled programmer Stefan (Dunkirk’s Fionn Whitehead) listens to on the bus to how to answer his increasingly existential pleas as his fate unspools.

It’s an intrepid move on the part not only of the creators but also Netflix itself, as one of the streaming service’s primary jokes is its tendency to prod viewers into confirming that, yes, they are still watching Friends 20 episodes in. But by the time you’ve satisfied yourself with the second or seventh ending of Bandersnatch, the story is less and less able to match the caliber of the experience of it; go down too many alternate paths, and the format begins to outshine the content. Then again, when was the last time you remembered the plot of a Choose Your Own Adventure novel after closing it?

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Why I’m Obsessed with the Outlander Theme Song(s)

Sing me a song of a lass that is gone
Say, could that lass be I?

The first time I saw the opening lyrics to Outlander’s theme song posted on a friend’s Facebook post, I thought it sounded ridiculous, way too on-the-nose to start every episode by acknowledging the series’ premise. YES WE GET IT CLAIRE YOU DISAPPEARED.

That was before I actually listened to it, and watched the title sequence—and then, like Claire at Craigh na Dun, I fell hard. Now, I forbid my husband from fast-forwarding through the credits every time we watch… and considering that we binged a season at a time to get caught up in a matter of weeks, that means I’ve got it well memorized. But why do I find this particular TV opening so compelling?

The answer, I think, is that it presses all of my nerd buttons: it’s a remix of a mashup, with an excellent invocation of Rule 63. It is the platonic ideal of a TV theme song.

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Evil Rites of Passage: Runaways Season 2 Premiere “Gimmie Shelter”

The first scene in Runaways’ season 2 premiere not only is a great little nod to Spaceballs, but also sets the thematic tone for the sophomore season of Marvel and Hulu’s children-of-supervillains series: the members of Pride rush to the police station, believing that their children have been apprehended after missing only 24 hours… only to walk in on a group of lookalikes who are complete strangers. “Those aren’t our kids,” Geoffrey Wilder snaps, as if it should be so easy for the cops to recognize their children—but the truth is that nobody knows who the Runaways really are, not even the Runaways themselves.

Season 1 established the adolescent rite of passage of learning that your parents are not only imperfect, but actually evil, but the Runaways haven’t automatically become one big happy family. Learning the truth about their parents was one thing; this season, they have to examine their own complicated heritages and figure out which of their tangled bonds—to parents and to each other—to honor, and which bonds need to be snipped.

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We Soldier On: Checking In With Outlander, “Down the Rabbit Hole”

At about the halfway point of any given Outlander season, our heroes usually wind up in a completely different country—sailing from Scotland to France, or shipwrecked in America by way of Jamaica. The stakes change, the theme song gets a cool new spin, and the latter half of the season is drastically altered.

But after three years, you gotta shake things up a bit. So it’s no surprise that the midpoint of Outlander season 4 is less concerned with changing the where so much as the when… and in doing so, creating not one, but two new sassenachs.

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How Animorphs and ReBoot Used Cheesiness to Get Away With Telling Important Stories of Trauma

Even today, even in the era of mainstream geekdom and publicly embracing guilty pleasures, I still cannot recommend two formative pieces of genre work from my childhood (the mid-’90s to early ’00s) without caveats. One was the first book series that I committed to with unabashed zeal, buying new installments monthly and absorbing myself in its world (nay, universe) for half a decade. The other was the TV series that first brought me online reading and then writing fanfiction; it was also my first lesson in the exhilaration-followed-by-disappointment of seeing a beloved series come back from cancellation not-quite-right. Animorphs and ReBoot shaped me as a fan and a writer; they were the first places where I learned how to make your characters grow with their audience, and how to depict war and its indelible consequences.

They are also cheesy as all get-out, with their ’90s-tastic Photoshop morphing book covers and CGI characters rapid-fire riffing on pop culture. But it was this unapologetically cartoonish packaging that made both series brilliant Trojan horses of a sort, ferrying impressively dark tales of trauma and recovery they might not have otherwise gotten away with.

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Curiouser and Curiouser Retellings of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Snacks that make you shrink (or grow gigantic), mad tea parties, murderous croquet: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a bonkers enough story on its own that it’s impressive to see the ways in which so many authors have been able to retell it.

In these thrillers and pastiches and history lessons, Alice Liddell is a princess on the run, a mad inmate, or only a tangential part of the story; some retellings focus on other citizens of Wonderland, from the maligned White Rabbit to the misunderstood Queen of Hearts. No matter which of the many ways into Wonderland these writers choose, the stories are as enticing as a bottle that says DRINK ME.

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Margaret Atwood Announces The Testaments, a Sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale

When The Handmaid’s Tale was published in 1985, it ended on an ambiguous note, as Offred was carried away from her household in the Eyes’ van, to a destination unknown: “into the darkness,” she ponders, “or else the light.” Now, Margaret Atwood is finally answering the question of what happened to the eponymous Handmaid, in a sequel titled The Testaments, which will be published in September 2019.

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