content by

Natalie Zutter

“Being Vulnerable Does Not Make You Weak”: Lauren Shippen on Podcast-to-YA-Love-Story The Infinite Noise

As podcasts and especially audio fiction grow in popularity, the medium has seen a crossover from listening to reading: Welcome to Night ValeThe Adventure ZoneAlice Isn’t Dead, and Steal the Stars have all been adapted from fiction podcasts to books that expand the worlds between your headphones into engage your imagination in new ways. With The Infinite Noise, Lauren Shippen, creator of The Bright Sessions and The AM Archives, takes TBS’ most beloved love story—between superpowered empath Caleb and Adam, who “keeps him green”—and builds it out into a poignant story about the challenges of connecting with someone.

Shippen, who also wrote Stitcher’s forthcoming audio drama Marvels, talks the tricky shifts from writing dialogue-only scripts to prose novels, plus headcanons and finding strength in vulnerability.

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“No One Belongs Here”: The Handmaid’s Tale Season 3 Finale and Season 4 Predictions

“June did this,” an emotional Rita whispers to Luke upon their first meeting at an airport in Toronto, after stepping off a plane filled with fifty-odd escapees from Gilead. The entire third season of The Handmaid’s Tale, with its weird stop-and-start pace, summed up in a single line, and yet I couldn’t help having a similar reaction to Luke: OK? So why isn’t she here with them?

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“Your Fight is Over”, Until It’s Not: The 100 Breaks Its Own Rules About Death

By its third episode, The 100 telegraphed everything its viewers needed to know about its relationship to death. Wells Jaha had been set up as one of the ensemble’s protagonists: son of the Ark’s Chancellor who sent 100 juvenile delinquents to their deaths on an irradiated Earth, in love with his best friend Clarke Griffin, trying to emulate his father’s moral rule down on Earth while realizing how flawed the elder Jaha’s strictures are. He was learning, to quote the second episode title, “Earth Skills.”

Then, in “Earth Kills,” a little girl named Charlotte stabs him in the neck because his father killed her parents. RIP Wells Jaha, the Ned Stark of The 100, whose demise made it clear that no one on this show is safe.

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Don’t Cry Because it’s Over, Smile Because it Happened: Ari Aster’s Midsommar

To everything (turn, turn, turn) / There is a season (turn, turn, turn), The Byrds sang. If you listen closely, Ari Aster’s new horror film Midsommar says, you will hear the laughter behind a wrenching sob. No matter how awful it feels in the moment, you will wake up the next morning, and the next, and the next. Even the longest winter will always give way to spring. Whereas Hereditary, the writer/director’s debut feature, is about the sacrificial lamb meeting its preordained end, Midsommar concerns itself with the entire life cycle.

Which, yes, still includes death. Lots and lots and lots of death.

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8 Sweet, Funny, Thrilling Queer Fiction Podcasts

When Welcome to Night Vale premiered its pilot episode in 2012, there was plenty to hook listeners, as Cecil Baldwin’s mellifluous voice speaking Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor’s distinctive words immediately crafted an eerie atmosphere of familiar but not. But there was something else that made a compelling first impression: Cecil’s loving descriptions of Carlos, the scientist with the perfect hair. Queer representation on the fictional radio, as matter-of-fact as everything else in Night Vale.

Seven years on, queer characters are found in every corner of the expanding audio drama world. So this list of recommendations is by no means exhaustive; it is simply one starting point based on the SFF series I’ve laughed, gasped, and teared up at. From radio-show hosts caught up in romantic fanfic tropes to stories that aren’t about ships but just about being a queer person in the world, these eight fiction podcasts are something to be proud of.

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“All Knowledge Is Worth Having”: Quotidian Queerness in Kushiel’s Dart

Like many people my age, my first exposure to queer texts was through fanfiction. Reading Firefly and RENT slash back in the early 2000s was an education in male/male tension and longing and, yes, sex. I’ve traded the same joke back and forth with fellow female fans that I knew all about gay sex before I even learned any of the mechanics of heterosexual intercourse. Even so, it all felt very binary. A character was either gay or straight. If they had interactions with both men and women, one of these experiences was just an excuse before they “chose a side.”

My favorite fantasy novels also had a healthy amount of sex, from Ranita Glasswright exploring her options to Alanna of Trebond gladly courting three (male) suitors at once before deciding which one she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. But these were all straight romances, so the characters’ sexual orientation was not so much a defining feature as a given one; lady knights and female glasswrights alike chose male partners. Then I met Phèdre nó Delaunay.

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Black Mirror Season 5’s Standout Episode Addresses Black Male Queerness Through Virtual Reality

In the world of Black Mirror, the greatest tragedy occurs because of a moment of boredom. A man recounts driving down an unending stretch of road late at night—”and it’s boring,” he groans of that long, unbroken road, devoid of any stimulation or variety. It would be harsh, not to mention inaccurate, to call the latest season of Black Mirror boring, because a peek inside Charlie Brooker’s brain will always be amusing. However, five years into his dire predictions about humanity and technology, it’s getting harder and harder to be surprised.

In part it’s because we’ve seen the same narrative beats, presented more compellingly, in past installments: virtual reality as a space of freedom for queer identity; tragedy refracted and disseminated through social media; digital copies that assert their uniqueness even over their flesh-and-blood predecessors. But also this season’s three offerings, even the ones that skew more outlandish, also just feel much more contemporary than near-future. Yet despite some duds in execution, Black Mirror still provokes.

[A spoiler review of Black Mirror season 5]

What Will It Take to Overthrow Gilead in The Handmaid’s Tale Season 3?

The Handmaid’s Tale certainly delights in its own striking visuals. Hulu’s dystopian series kicks off season 3 with the Waterfords’ home on fire—the bedroom, site of Ceremonial rapes; the kitchen, full of quiet rebellions; the empty nursery, all going up in flames. It seems to say we’re going to burn this shit down, borrowing a refrain from protests (in person and on social media) by those who have had enough. Or, a few episodes later, there’s the admittedly badass shot of Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) and June (Elisabeth Moss) coolly lighting up cigarettes side-by-side in a room, co-conspirators and, briefly, equals.

But in terms of actual destruction or change, it’s all just smoke. Last season, June turned her back on her chance of escape, handing baby Nichole to Emily (Alexis Bledel) to ferry to Canada and walking back into Gilead to rescue her other daughter, Hannah. And, presumably, burn it all down. But halfway through the third season, Gilead is far from revolution. A few revs, but not nearly enough to shatter the status quo.

[A non-spoiler review of The Handmaid’s Tale season 3.]

Magic x Mayhem for Tor Authors: Loving Jerks, Centering Women’s Voices, and Tossing Safety Nets

“Fantasy is a reaction to reality,” Vengeful author V.E. Schwab said at Tor’s BookCon panel Magic x Mayhem in Science Fiction & Fantasy. “It is reality plus ‘what if’?” In the case of Magic x Mayhem, it’s what if we shifted away from good-versus-evil narratives to more messy, morally ambiguous characters? Like a private detective who lies to everyone but especially herself. Or a swordswoman used to looking out only for herself, who must stand up for the Ninth House of her birth. Or, Schwab’s favorite, villains.

Charlie Jane Anders (The City in the Middle of the Night) moderated a spirited panel featuring Tor Books and Publishing authors Schwab, Tamsyn Muir (Gideon the Ninth), Sarah Gailey (Magic for Liars), Annalee Newitz (The Future of Another Timeline), and Kel Kade (Fate of the Fallen). Read on for nonbinary robots, intersectional feminism, and the most interesting parts of writing morally complex SFF worlds.

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Rebecca Roanhorse and N.K. Jemisin on Writing Themselves into Speculative Fiction

“I grew up reading the same white boys on quests that everyone else did,” Rebecca Roanhorse said at BookCon’s most excellent Mashup of Time, Space, and Media, as the Trail of Lightning author sat down with N.K. Jemisin to talk creating and adapting speculative fiction. A mashup of time, or perhaps a freezing of it—the conversation lasted a mere half hour, yet every minute was interesting. From these two women of color commiserating over the white boy quests they read in childhood, to writing figures more like themselves into future quests, this panel was as varied as the definition of spec fic itself.

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N.K. Jemisin, Joe Hill, Marissa Meyer, and Marie Lu Talk Worldbuilding at BookCon

Day 2 of BookCon brought together a quartet of authors of impress imaginations to discuss The Magic of Worldbuilding and the worldbuilding of magic, from characters coming to N.K. Jemisin (the Broken Earth trilogy) in dreams to Marissa Meyer (Renegades) making a superhero and a supervillain fall in love. Plus, Marie Lu (Rebel) explained what she needed to write in order to return to the Legend universe, and Joe Hill (NOS4A2) pondered the really vital worldbuilding questions behind A Quiet Place.

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What Makes a Story Epic? YA Authors Connect Across Genres at BookCon

What does a young maji trying to restore magic have in common with a plus-size girl entering a teen beauty pageant? Despite taking place in such different settings, both stories—Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone and Julie Murphy’s Dumplin—are epic in their emotional stakes. Along with Cassandra Clare (The Red Scrolls of Magic) and Jason Reynolds (Long Way Down), they spent the BookCon panel Epic YA discussing how to balance expansive worlds with relatable characters, and how sometimes the most epic moments are the smallest ones.

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Geeking Out About Fanfiction with Publishing Authors at BookCon!

The BookCon panel For Fans, By Fans: Fanfiction Addiction can best be summed up by the moment when Riot Baby author Tochi Onyebuchi mentioned a Superman fanfic about Martha Kent shooting every time traveler who tries to kill baby Clark—and then an audience member piped up with the name of the fic, and suddenly all the attendees were distracted bookmarking Empty Graves by Unpretty to read after they were finished gushing about fanfiction.

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Rainbow Rowell Talks Wayward Son Headcanons and Harry Potter at BookCon

In the four years since her Harry Potter-inspired fantasy Carry On was published, author Rainbow Rowell said at BookCon, even when she was immersed in other projects, “the back of my brain never leaves Baz Pitch.” And who could blame her? For all that Carry On is an excellent subversion of the Chosen One archetype, its most memorable character is cranky queer vampire Tyrannus “Baz” Basilton Grimm-Pitch, who finds himself in love with his roommate/enemy, the aforementioned Chosen One Simon Snow. And with this fall’s follow-up Wayward Son, readers get more of Baz’s story.

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Netflix Reveals Black Mirror Season 5 Episode Titles and Teasers

The first trailer for Netflix’s Black Mirror season 5 (coming in just a few weeks) teased plenty of eye-popping visuals and potential storylines for its impressive roster of guest stars, while still keeping most of the plot blurry. With just a few weeks until the new season drops, Netflix has shared three new teasers, one for each episode, revealing the titles for each dystopian near-future tale. This time around, virtual assistants, fertility apps, and ride-shares are the pieces of tech that bring out the worst in their human consumers.

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