content by

Natalie Zutter

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 fam, Publicity Coordinator Christina Orlando, 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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Orphan Black: The Next Chapter’s Midseason Finale Blows Clone Club Wide Open

I do know that for the sympathy of one living being, I would make peace with all. I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, then I will indulge the other.

And just like that, by invoking Mary Shelley by way of Kenneth Branagh, the youngest members of Orphan Black’s Clone Club take control of their future. It’s a welcome bombshell moment for Serial Box’s continuation, the first half of which has at times proceeded at a frustratingly slower pace than the television series. Even with the discovery of a whole new generation of clones unaffiliated with Project Leda, with clone swaps and border crossings, with various gene-centric plot threads, the first five episodes have clearly been building to this specific turning point. And this kind of breakthrough is why you undertake an experiment like Orphan Black: The Next Chapter—to tell a whole new story.

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8 Sweet, Funny, and 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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5 Frankenstein-Inspired Stories That Recontextualize the Monster

No sympathy may I ever find. […] The fallen angel becomes a malignant devil. Yet even that enemy of God and man had friends and associates in his desolation; I am alone.

Frankenstein’s monster—the miserable creature that Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley dreamed up before she even envisioned his maker—has always felt misunderstood. Shunned by society, turned bitter by rejection and fear, denied his request of a mate, this creation feels truly alone in the world—a theme that has resonated through two hundred years’ worth of updates and adaptations.

From the formula of a family-friendly sitcom to the pages of a comic book, whether drawing from Shelley’s original text or riffing upon the archetypal Universal Pictures monster, these five stories recontextualize Frankenstein within contemporary conversations about war and annihilation, sexuality and gender identity, artificial intelligence and humanity. In some retellings, the “monster” yearns for acceptance, while others reject the entire systems in which they are written—all doing their part to keep Mary Shelley’s horror story relevant today.

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Is the Future Optimistic or Pessimistic? N.K. Jemisin, Paul Tremblay, and More Look Forward in New Sci-Fi Collection

Black Crouch, author of Dark Matter and curator of Amazon Publishing’s new sci-fi short fiction collection Forward, had a pretty winning pitch to convince authors like N.K. Jemisin and Andy Weir to sign on: “You all have these incredibly high-pressure gigs you’re doing—this is no-pressure,” he recalled saying, at New York Comic-Con’s Forward panel. “This is just pure fun. Don’t you kinda just want to write something crazy that you would never think of writing as your next novel?”

As it turned out, those authors and more—Veronica Roth, Paul Tremblay, and Amor Towles—were very interested in dipping their toes into near- or far-futures for the space of a short story or novella. And so the collection, with six installments that each turn on a pivotal technological moment, was born. At NYCC, all of the contributors (minus Weir, who moderator Jason Kirk joked “had to science the shit out of something”) discussed the freedom to experiment with short fiction and what to pass on to future generations.

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“I Have Been Incredibly Privileged to Write the Full Arc of Fitz’s Story”: Robin Hobb on 25 Years of Assassin’s Apprentice

A quarter-century ago, the fantasy author who would come to be known as Robin Hobb got the idea for Assassin’s Apprentice in a fashion familiar to many a writer today: “When you’re working on a book and you get to the hard part,” Hobb (a.k.a. Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogden) recalled at New York Comic-Con, “this shiny other idea pops into your head that would be so much easier and so much fun to write.”

That idea—which she scrawled on a scrap of paper and shoved into her desk drawer, in this pre-computer age—was a question: What if magic was an addiction? And if that addiction was totally destructive? And so began Hobb’s The Realm of the Elderlings saga, starting with 1995’s Assassin’s Apprentice and concluding with Assassin’s Fate in 2017. At NYCC’s spotlight panel, Hobb and longtime editor Anne Groell reminisced on beloved fantasy sidekicks, how everything was tangled up with the Fool all along, and how Hobb never expected to see FitzChivalry Farseer through to his ending. Read on for highlights!

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“Now Is the Right Time for It More Than Ever”: Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra Revisit Y: The Last Man at NYCC

Did you know that Y: The Last Man was inspired in part by, as moderator (and former Vertigo editor) Heidi MacDonald teased Brian K. Vaughan at New York Comic-Con’s Revisiting Y: The Last Man panel, “a tawdry childhood fantasy about your babysitter”?

Little did Vaughan think that nearly twenty years later he would be sitting on a panel at NYCC, reflecting on a series that ran 60 issues when he and co-creator Pia Guerra didn’t expect it to last beyond six. “It wasn’t released, so much as it escaped,” he said in a panel that involved waxing nostalgic about their five-year collaboration and even a few coy hints about the forthcoming TV adaptation. Read on for highlights!

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