Tor.com content by

Natalie Zutter

Bad Birthdays and Tragic Hugs: Checking in With Outlander

Can we all agree that this was the worst birthday ever for James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser? You can’t help but wonder if the universe has something against him for reaching 50, as Outlander season 5’s midseason episode is all about the constant bargaining of life in times of war. In the space of an hour, “The Ballad of Roger Mac” delivered the loss of a beloved character, an old favorite figuratively coming back from the dead, and one man’s fate hanging in the balance.

We were going to wait to tackle the midseason review until after “Famous Last Words” resolves that hell of a cliffhanger, but seeing as Outlander is taking a brief break before then, we thought it appropriate to give this episode the proper discussion it deserves.

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Twelve SFF Stories Told From Second-Person Perspective

Writing in second person—forgoing I or she/he/they of other perspectives in favor of that intensely-close, under-your-skin you—can, ironically, be rather alienating. Often it feels too intimate for the reader, or it distracts them from the story unfolding with questions of who is actually telling it. But when a writer commits to telling a story to you, about you, through you, the result can often be masterful—an extra layer of magic surrounding a sci-fi/fantasy/speculative tale and embedding the reader in the protagonist’s journey more intensely than even the most self-reflective first or closest-third could achieve.

Enjoy these dozen SFF tales, ranging from cheeky epistolary novella to intricate manifestations of grief to choose-your-own-adventure Shakespeare, that take on the trickiest perspective and make you (that’s you, the reader) forget you were ever skeptical.

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The Invisible Man’s Feminist Wish Fulfillment Feels Hollow

The opening scene of The Invisible Man, a genderswapped-perspective update of H.G. Wells’ story and Universal’s monster movie, is one of Elisabeth Moss’ finest performances, and she doesn’t even say a word. In the middle of the night, Cecilia opens her eyes and slips out of the bed she shares with her abusive boyfriend Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). Moving quietly even though she has drugged him as a precaution, Cee silently pads through their ultra-modern, hyper-surveilled beachside mansion, withdrawing the go bag she’s stashed away, filled with extra clothes, cash, and birth control. Despite a few heart-stopping noises that threaten to give her away, she manages to dodge the security cameras and make it out of their home and to the road, where her sister is waiting at 3:45 a.m. to whisk her away from her imprisonment. In the first few minutes, Cecilia is the one who’s invisible.

But as Leigh Whannell’s (Saw) adaptation progresses, the film gradually trades that subtlety for increasingly on-the-nose horror beats, culminating in an ending that is supposed to feel brutally satisfying, but instead undermines the entire reasoning driving this new take on the story.

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Badass Librarians Fight for Our Future in 2020

The heroes of the near future, of worlds starved for knowledge and restricted by authoritarian regimes, are genetically-engineered soldiers and six-shooter-toting horseback riders. They know how to cross unforgiving deserts teeming with poisonous snakes and vicious bandits, how to calculate the most brutally efficient combination of moves to neatly dispatch their enemies before they’ve even landed the first blow. And they’ll do it all with their most treasured tool in their hands or on their backs: a book.

Because they’re librarians. Every single one of them. Because the only people who are going to save our future are the ones who still know what the truth is, and who are willing to bring it to the people who need it most.

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Four Big Moments from the Outlander Season 5 Premiere

After an increasingly brutal fourth seasonOutlander marks its return with a party! In contrast to the dark irony of last year’s premiere “America the Beautiful,” “The Fiery Cross” delivers exactly what it says on the tin: one big, blazing eponymous event, and lots of little moments sprinkled around it like so many sparks. It’s not the most thrilling way to kick off the season, but there’s a nice warmth to it—sweet interludes of connection and tension for the fans who have eagerly followed the triumphs and tragedies of Clan Fraser. Considering that this season looks to be building up to the American Revolution, that calmness is probably welcome before everyone invariably winds up on opposite sides—and possibly affecting the course of history.

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8 of the Swooniest Fantasy Romances

This Valentine’s Day, your perfect date is obviously a book—the more achingly romantic, the better. We’ve got eight prospective dates for you, depending on if you want to be thrilled by an enemies-to-lovers tale, take sides in a love triangle, or wonder what could possibly happen when there’s only. one. bed. But these love (or something like it) stories aren’t just heady escapism—alongside the in-denial crushes and highly charged adjusting of collars is thoughtful commentary on consent, on meant-to-be and happily-ever-afters, even on the mere heartbeats separating love and death.

Find your ideal match, or choose them all! We’re open-minded.

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An Ode to My Favorite Obsession: 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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The Rise of Skywalker’s Weakest Narrative Choice Nearly Sinks the Story — Until It Works

There’s a moment, in the first half of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, upon which the final film in the Skywalker saga hinges. Regardless of your feelings by the end of the film, I think we can all agree that this no-turning-back point, which seems to set the tone for Rey’s journey of self-discovery as a Jedi, is unanimously devastating. Even in a series known for lopping off limbs and amassing a minimum of one major character death per film, this plot beat is a game changer.

And then, in the very next scene, J.J. Abrams immediately reverses it.

[Spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.]

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How Should Superheroes Be Rewarded?

The first time the Avengers save the world, all they want is a drink. And to try that schwarma place.

But over the years, as each subsequent appeal to save the world consistently raises the stakes, it prompts the question: If Earth keeps calling on the Avengers, what reward could possibly balance out those increasingly heightened risks? Are superheroes entitled to any recompense beyond the gratitude of the survivors? Grappling as it does with the duty to try versus the temptation of walking away from the fight, Avengers: Endgame also examines what, if anything, superheroes are owed.

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Leia’s Bounty Hunter Disguise Brings My Favorite Fantasy Trope to Star Wars

When I was nine, on a weekly trip to the local Toys R Us, I glimpsed my hero in miniature: Leia Organa, in her Boushh disguise, hanging on the racks alongside the other Star Wars action figures. I hemmed and hawed over whether to ask my parents to buy her before deciding that it didn’t make sense because I already had Leia—that is, the classic Princess Leia action figure, complete with real fabric for her signature white dress. But by the time we were back at Toys R Us the next week, and I had decided I would add this figure to my collection, Boushh had disappeared. Someone else had taken them home. I was bereft; in the early-Internet era of 1998, I couldn’t easily order it online—even eBay was relatively new back then. It would be a decade or more before I would come across another Boushh figure; at the time, I was more and more convinced that I had dreamt that such a toy even existed.

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2010-2019: A Decade of Change in Science Fiction & Fantasy

This December brings us to the close of a truly extraordinary and transformative decade for SFF. Epic series like The Wheel of Time finally concluded as A Song of Ice and Fire rose to mainstream prominence on television (with Wheel of Time to follow suit?). Newer stars like N.K. Jemisin rose, while familiar faces like Neil Gaiman published some of their most innovative work yet. We saw the rise of fiction that dealt directly with the ongoing Climate Crisis, works that wrestled with the tumultuous political shifts, cozy space opera, gritty space opera, and literal space opera, with like, actual singing. Zombies faded from favor while orcs and goblins and fishmen found their time to shine. Readers went from celebrating Strong Female Characters to asking for Complicated Female Characters, and the literary landscape became much more inclusive for writers who had previously been marginalized. And, as in every decade, the villains threatened to steal the show entirely.

Four members of the Tor.com fam, Publicity Coordinator Christina Orlando, Tor.com writers Leah Schnelbach and Natalie Zutter, and Tor Books’ Senior Marketing Manager Renata Sweeney sat down for a rollicking, five-hour-long conversation about the decade in genre, discussing trends, favorite books, the heroes and villains who have stuck with them, and even a look forward to some titles that will help define the next decade.

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Jumanji: The Next Level Is Fun But Ultimately Forgettable

Live long enough, and you see your beloved childhood films grow into franchises in their own right. As time goes on, and the box office gods make their pronouncements, these franchises eventually spawn sequels-to-sequels that hew more closely to their immediate predecessors than to the source material. Yes, as Danny DeVito’s cranky Grandpa Eddie says in Jumanji: The Next Level, “getting old sucks.”

Moreso than another pretty gem, that’s the puzzle at the center of the second installment in the Jumanji-as-video-game movies: How do we grow into new people, appreciating the wisdom of experience, without mourning the people we used to be? What do we do if we think we liked those old people more? As with the 2017 sequel/reboot, there’s surprising thematic depth that is nonetheless under-served by a jungle adventure that’s just not thrilling enough to make an adequate contrast.

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Serial Box’s Orphan Black: The Next Chapter Is a Mostly Successful Experiment in Transmedia Storytelling

It is no easy feat to translate the success of Orphan Black the TV series, which was so predicated on the visual aspect of Tatiana Maslany’s riveting performances, to the page. Serial Box’s stable of writers (Madeline Ashby, Mishell Baker, Heli Kennedy, E.C. Myers, Malka Older, Lindsay Smith) have ably wrangled the TV show’s five years of science-thriller worldbuilding and over a dozen unique characters into a sequel that should satisfy fans in plenty of individual moments, if not potentially overall. It was an ambitious experiment, changing the very DNA of the story by crossing over into a vastly different medium with its own perks and drawbacks. Yet the spirit of Clone Club shines through the final episodes of Orphan Black: The Next Chapter, which see younger Clone Club members Kira and Charlotte surpassing their predecessors to save the world on their own terms—and which opens up a variety of futures for both generations of clones.

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Be Better Than Yesterday: Star Wars: Resistance Reborn by Rebecca Roanhorse

After Star Wars: The Last Jedi came out in late 2017, plenty of fans were furious with Poe Dameron for his disobedience and mutiny that helped whittle down the Resistance to nearly nothing. But at the start of Rebecca Roanhorse’s Resistance Reborn, no one is more upset with the beautiful-haired pilot than Poe himself. The book, which bridges the gap between The Last Jedi and the forthcoming Episode IX, The Rise of Skywalker, acts as a Poe Dameron Redemption Tour of sorts: Seeing as his actions led to most of the Resistance’s ships getting blown up, he is now tasked with finding new ships and new bodies. That means pilots, sure, but also potentially some Rebellion leaders who can provide a shot in the arm to General Leia Organa’s floundering Resistance. It’s a thin enough plot stretched over nearly 300 pages, but the Hugo and Nebula Award-winning Roanhorse (Storm of Locusts) amplifies the patchy plot with tender character moments and thought-provoking questions about what it means to occupy the gray space between good and evil in the Star Wars universe.

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11 Moments From Tamora Pierce’s Tortall Series That Would Make Great TV

Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books always seemed like one of those fantasy series that would never see an adaptation. With more than 20 books spanning over 200 years, with the central protagonists growing from teenagers to almost middle age, it seemed like too epic of an undertaking. But isn’t that the case for all the best stories? Now, Lionsgate and Playground Entertainment are embarking on the quest to adapt Pierce’s classic novels for television, all starting with stubborn Alanna of Trebond disguising herself as a boy to train as a knight.

As a fan of these books since I was the same age as Alanna when she cut her hair and rode to the city of Corus with an impossible plan, I’ve grown up with Tortall and can only dream of how it will translate from page to screen. Here are just some of the moments from the Song of the Lioness, The Immortals, Protector of the Small, and more that would make excellent epic fantasy television.

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