Tor.com content by

Natalie Zutter

Watch the Final Trailer for Ready Player One

Warner Bros has released the final trailer for its nostalgia fest Ready Player One before the movie’s release next month. While this trailer treads a lot of the same ground as previous ones, with the “Pure Imagination” cover and footage of Parzival leading a resolution in the digital OASIS, there’s also plenty of footage of Wade Watts, and certain fellow gunters, out in the real world.

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Tamora Pierce’s The Numair Chronicles Has Been 15 Years in the Making

Imagine a lanky, sarcastic, brilliant mage who, when he wasn’t shapeshifting into hawks, resembled Jeff Goldblum, only more awkward. The rare black-robe mage whose magical Gift was some of the most powerful of his generation. Got that visual? Then you have the hunkiest mage in fantasy circa 1992: Numair Salmalín.

By the time he becomes the teacher (and eventual love interest) of wild magic-bearing orphan Daine in Tamora Pierce’s The Immortals series, Numair has lived many lives: as a shapeshifting spy for the king of Tortall, before that as an impoverished street magician hiding from Carthak’s emperor mage who would have him beheaded, and, even further back, as mage-in-training Arram Draper.

I first met Numair Salmalín in the early 2000s. I’ve been waiting half my lifetime to meet Arram Draper.

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Why My Sci-Fi/Fantasy OTPs Are All Beta Couples

I’ve written tens of thousands of words of fanfiction for various fandoms, from Firefly to Tamora Pierce, and I’ve always found myself drawn not to those series’ main romantic leads, but to the Beta Couples. Onscreen and in the pages of books, while the main pairings were doing the eternal dance of UST-infused will-they-won’t-they, the supporting characters would partner up with an incredible amount of ease. Often, they’d wind up partnered with kids or other life changes 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. Only, 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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Love in the Star Wars Universe is a Lot More Realistic Now

Force-ghosts jumping from Imperial warships into apprentices’ bodies. Assassins falling in love with the Jedi they’re programmed to kill. Hapan queens trading one-night-stands for heirs. Reptilian crime lords spraying unsuspecting princesses with pheromones to broker a (eyebrow wiggle) trade. Jedi/Yuuzhan Vong hybrids caught between dead best friends/unrequited loves and their new, fallen-to-the-dark-side masters. Love—or, at least, sex and sometimes romance—in the Star Wars universe used to be a hot mess.

But what I grew up with as the Expanded Universe has now been mostly struck from the record—or, rather, redefined as “Star Wars Legends,” with an entirely new canon built around The Force Awakens and its subsequent new EU: prequel novels filling in the years between trilogies, tie-in comic books, and of course films like Rogue One and The Last Jedi. The introduction of new characters brings new romantic dramas that, surprisingly, are a lot stabler, healthier, or simply just more realistic than the soapy stories we’ve seen before.

That said, just because you take out the soapiness doesn’t mean you automatically get a happy ending.

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SFF Sexier (and Healthier) Than Fifty Shades of Grey

The third (and final) Fifty Shades movie—Fifty Shades Freed—opens this weekend, just in time for Valentine’s Day. While we’re glad those crazy kids are finally settling down, there’s no denying that the film and book series depict an unrealistic, unhealthy BDSM relationship.

But it doesn’t have to be this way—after all, sci-fi and fantasy authors have written believable power exchanges and sexual agency into their books and comics for decades. So instead of headdesking over Christian and Ana’s sexcapades, pick up these books by Jacqueline Carey, Octavia Butler, Matt Fraction, and more!

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Serenity Keeps Flying in New Firefly Novels

You can’t stop the signal: Firefly fans get to return to Joss Whedon’s sci-fi western ’verse with three new novels from Titan Books! While the adventures of Captain Malcolm Reynolds and the crew of Serenity have lived on far past the television series’ sole season in both the 2005 film Serenity and a number of comic book arcs for the last decade-plus, these are the first original Firefly novels to be published. The three books—the first coming in late 2018—will focus on Mal’s past with the Browncoats, will riff on The Magnificent Seven, and will engage with a popular sci-fi subgenre: generation ships!

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The Cloverfield Paradox Undoes Itself Trying to Be Two Different Movies

Ten years ago, all J.J. Abrams’ company Bad Robot had to do was tweet a date (1/18/08) and a poster with something lurking over New York City, and fans were hooked months before the found-footage sci-fi movie came out. But while the past decade has seen two more installments ostensibly existing in the same Cloverfield mythos, each one’s release has been handled more unevenly than the last: 10 Cloverfield Lane was announced a mere two months before it came out (to mostly positive reviews), and then there was the film formerly known as God Particle. A science fiction thriller with Abrams’ stamp, it was delayed over and over, losing its release date to the untitled third Cloverfield film until Netflix dropped a shocker on Super Bowl Sunday: God Particle was actually The Cloverfield Paradox, and fans could stream it immediately following the game.

But while the method of delivery evoked breathless excitement over social media, the actual movie—about what happens when you smash together two realities—falls far short. Oh-so-ironically, it’s because it mirrors its own plot too well: The Cloverfield Paradox could be a creepy space horror thriller, or it could fill in some key blanks about that monster attack in New York City ten years ago. Attempting to embody both realities just leaves the movie spinning off into the far reaches of the Cloververse.

Spoilers for The Cloverfield Paradox.

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The Elephant in the Room: The Only Harmless Great Thing Solves the Atomic Priesthood Problem

There’s a reason why we haven’t heard of the atomic priesthood.

It sounds like incredible fodder for awesome dystopian stories: To protect future generations from nuclear fallout, but also to account for evolving languages and social mores, establish a religion whose “priests” pass down knowledge of how to avoid radiation zones. Knowledge, and a healthy bit of fear, zhuzhing the truth to make nuclear fallout akin to a supernatural danger—putting the fear of God, as it were, in our descendants.

So how come this concept doesn’t have its own TV Tropes page chock full of examples? Because in the 1950s and ‘60s, Isaac Asimov and Walter M. Miller, Jr. already played out that scenario in Foundation and A Canticle for Leibowitz, respectively, and found the results uninspiring: egomania, power-grabbing, and buying into their own fake dogma are just some of the reasons why human nature ruins this hypothetical scenario. So by the time that nuclear semiotician Thomas Sebeok was proposing a real-life atomic priesthood in the 1980s, the idea had already been roundly dismissed.

We narcissistic meatbags can’t be trusted with this hypothetical mission. The solution? Beg elephants to perform that emotional labor instead.

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The Super Gang Assembles for the New Avengers: Infinity War Teaser

This is it. It’s all leading to this. “This” being Captain America with some sort of gauntlets replacing his signature shield, Bucky back in action, and—what is Peter Parker doing on Thanos’ ship in space?! Someone tell our sweet cinnamon roll to get the hell back to Earth.

It’s the new teaser for Avengers: Infinity War, which dropped during the Super Bowl.

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6 Books to Read After The Only Harmless Great Thing

You’ve just finished Brooke Bolander’s The Only Harmless Great Thing, and maybe you’re blinking back tears at the Many Mothers’ song of man’s undoing, “the joining, teaching, come-together song.” Maybe you’re angry at the injustices endured by humans and elephants alike. Maybe you don’t yet know how to feel and are still sitting with this powerful tale. But I bet you want more.

While this satisfying, self-contained novella draws a clear line from a reimagining of Topsy and the Radium Girls to an alternate future reshaped by the elephant’s fate, there are so many plot threads that deserve their own detours. This list is all about exploring those branching paths: There’s further reading on Topsy’s long life and the Radium Girls’ drastically shortened ones, in exhaustively researched and compassionately presented nonfiction. Or, if The Only Harmless Great Thing has whetted your appetite for more speculative tales of sentient elephants and nuclear warnings, you’ll find new additions to your TBR stack that will make it feel like Topsy, Regan, and Kat are all still with you. And if Bolander’s language is what grabbed you, then we’ve got a lyrical, David Bowie-loving poet we’d like to introduce you to…

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Black Mirror’s Shared Universe Focuses on the Rights of Digital Persons

From its start as an under-the-radar series, Black Mirror had no problem flirting with the notion that all of these soul-destroying stories could happen in a shared universe. Charlie Brooker would regularly throw in winking Easter eggs to the loyal (and eagle-eyed) fans: episodes featuring a news story included a ticker with hints as to how other installments turned out, like the trial of Victoria Skillane or the development of MASS technology; Prime Minister Callow’s indiscretion with a pig in the very first episode follows him throughout the entire series; and even season 4 had a shot of one character reading a comic book based, inexplicably, on the dystopian plot of “15 Million Merits.”

Yet even if these events conceivably occurred in the same contained world, there was never the sense of a throughline, or one guiding story—until now. So, which concept has Black Mirror decided to commit to, to the extent of detailed worldbuilding and incisive commentary? Artificial intelligence.

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