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Natalie Zutter

How the Lady Warriors of The Tiger’s Daughter Slay Fantasy Tropes

In which I recreate my experience reading K. Arsenault Rivera’s The Tiger’s Daughter the only way that seems appropriate: through letters. Some spoilers for the novel.

Shefali. O-Shizuka. We need to talk.

You’re out of control. You run through palace gardens fending off tigers, and camp out on the Silver Steppes grappling with demons around the fire. You’re so convinced that you’ve been touched by the gods because you’ve been able to escape tiger attacks without getting mauled, just some claws to the shoulder.

You dream of patrolling the land—Shefali picking off demons from afar with your bow, or, for the ones that get too close, O-Shizuka slashing them with the sword. The two of you will be beholden to none of the responsibilities of the throne nor of the tribe, free to do nothing but play warrior until you have racked up enough demon kills to actually assume the title.

It’s a lovely dream, but one of you has to grow out of it. You can’t both be warriors.

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Embrace the Impossible with NaNoWriMo Pep Talks From Your Favorite SFF Authors!

Today, November 1, National Novel Writing Month begins! You have 30 days to write 50,000 (or more!) words without fear of outside readers or your own second-guessing. You get to throw all the writing rules out the window, except for the one where you sit down every day to write. Which is not to say that NaNoWriMo lacks structure—in fact, it’s all about support systems, from the forums to the pep talks from dozens of published authors, some of whom have attempted NaNoWriMo themselves. (And, in the case of some like Patrick Rothfuss, lost.) Because if you’re staring at the blank page on Day 1, or desperately sobbing your way through what seems like an irreparable plot mistake on Day 20, you’re going to need the moral support.

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Have a Peculiar Halloween with 8 Quirky Horror Stories

The thing about quirky horror is how slyly it tricks you.

Like many of its heroes and heroines, you crawl through a portal to another world, lured by the unbelievable hominess of a mirror world where everything is fantastical and fun, so much more so than real life. The mystical creatures seem cute—who doesn’t love button-eyes!—and everyone is oh-so-welcoming. They want to make you their queen, or their apprentice, or their eternal guest of honor. But the thing is, what seems normal in these quirky tales is actually quite horrifying back in the real world. Yet we can’t resist opening that mysterious door that has just appeared in the wall, or in the tree…

Read on for eight whimsical horror tales, but don’t forget to keep your wits about you.

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“Fantasy is the Realm of Idealism”: Tamora Pierce in Conversation with the Female Fantasy Authors She Inspired

V.E. Schwab was that kid. The one who, while hiking, always kept an eye out for cracks and stones in the shape of doorways. “I was always looking for a way into another place,” she explained at the NYCC panel Extraordinary Enchantments. Schwab added that she was always “taken with the idea of the proximity of magic [to the real world],” that sense of “you just haven’t found the key to that specific door yet, but that door is there.” Her own desires for a real-life portal fantasy has led her to seed those same hints into A Darker Shade of Magic and its sequels: “I always wanted to make my readers doubt their reality.”

Many of the other female fantasy authors on the panel discussed fantasy in terms of this sort of gateway to another realm, a way to flee the world they currently inhabited.

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N.K. Jemisin and Ann Leckie on What Makes a Classic Work of SFF and New Classics

“One of the markers of [the] current age is that we’re starting to talk about who sets the classics,” The Stone Sky author N.K. Jemisin said at NYCC’s recent panel The New Classics of SFF. In response to moderator Petra Mayer’s (from NPR Books) opening question—what makes a classic work of SFF?—Jemisin explained that having conversations about whose stories are central helps to expand what constitutes the canon of science fiction and fantasy works. The notion of a canon was Provenance author Ann Leckie’s contribution, likening it to her study of the classical canon of music in college. But where she received her training from one or two handpicked textbooks, today’s readers have the internet, which allows for so many conversations to be seen simultaneously. Leckie made the argument that there is no longer “a single list of canonical classics, but a bunch of intersecting and interpenetrating lists.”

Here Jemisin respectfully disagreed, pointing out that the “literary commons are not open to everybody just yet” and that there are still divides to be breached in terms of internet access. In fact, she said, “I don’t know how I feel about a canon anymore. … The sheer volume of books that exist out there means that a canon is no longer possible.” Instead, she focused on the notion of classics themselves, defining them as “the books that change your thinking, that blow your mind, that reorder your world.”

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How Conversations About AI Are Really Conversations About Everything But AI

When One Trick Pony writer/illustrator Nathan Hale did his research on how to draw a futuristic robot, he definitely shied away from giant, cool-looking mechas, because, in his words, they don’t seem feasible. After all, he reasoned, science fiction couldn’t even get a phone right: After 100 years of movies and television showing futuristic communications, not a single one predicted the small, black rectangle that’s become so ubiquitous.

“Like the stupid holographic chalkboard Tom Cruise uses [in Minority Report]—no one wants that!” he joke-raged at the NYCC panel It’s Technical: Our Future with Robots and More. “Nothing in the Star Wars universe is usable—that’s all garbage stuff. R2-D2 wouldn’t be able to get into the [NYCC] convention center!”

“I write giant, unbelievable robots,” Sleeping Giants author Sylvain Neuvel wryly interjected. Which illustrates exactly the reasoning behind the choice of panelists discussing our relationship to tech in the present and the future: They all have different takes, from the aforementioned robot debate to whether we’re more likely to travel via self-driving cars or virtual reality.

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Watch the First Trailer for Stephen King’s Castle Rock Anthology Series

“You have no idea what’s happening here, do you?” Hulu has released the first full trailer for its Stephen King shared-universe series Castle Rock, filled with images both eerie (what’s in that room?) and familiar (Shawshank bumper sticker!). While much of the plot is still a mystery, the cast—including former Carrie Sissy Spacek and current Pennywise Bill Skarsgard, playing entirely different roles—revealed some intriguing details at NYCC.

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Black Mirror Season 4 is Chock Full of Easter Eggs and Other Tidbits From NYCC

Would you believe us if we told you that Black Mirror creators Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones share a background in comedy? “I think it’s a similar muscle, to the worst-case scenario bit of your brain that thinks up jokes,” Brooker said at the NYCC panel, about the series whose alternate title might as well be (as a fan said during the Q&A) Bleak Bleak Jesus Christ This Is Bleak.

Before the NYCC panel, all we knew about season 4 were the six episode titles and intriguing glimpses. After the panel… well, it’s still very much under wraps, which is part of the fun of Black Mirror. “It’s a really tricky show to promote,” Brooker said, “because there’s no recurring characters from previous seasons, so you can’t say, ‘I’ll tell you what Jon Snow is up to now.’” He likened it to an unboxing video, or a box of chocolates: “You don’t know what the filling is gonna be, but you know it’s gonna be dark chocolate.”

That said, with the help of surprise moderator Jodie Foster (!) and a sneak-peek clip, we’ve rounded up some intel on Black Mirror season 4—including some support for the shared-universe theory!

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The Justice League Learns to Be a Team in New “Heroes” Trailer

In the latest (perhaps last) trailer for Justice League before it hits theaters, Batman and Wonder Woman are still grieving Superman, but there’s crime that needs foiling and a bunch of new baddies. So, they try their darnedest to get Aquaman, Flash, and Cyborg to assemble join their super-team. The Flash is adorable as always—that bit with the bat signal—but Aquaman is all about going it alone. Until, of course, he gets a helping hand during a big battle.

So, it’s the same growing pains the Avengers went through. Except that DC invoked Bowie with a cover of the very on-the-nose choice of “Heroes” to go with all the action.

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Most Likely to Succeed: Marvel’s Runaways

The pilot for Marvel and Hulu’s Runaways doesn’t culminate in a catchphrase-worthy moment like “Welcome to The OC, b—h!” Nor does it have Kristen Bell as Gossip Girl smugly narrating the goings-on of its preternaturally mature teenage protagonists. But there is a moment near the pilot’s big turning point that sums up The OC and Gossip Girl creators Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage’s take on Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona’s comic book series.

“This is some Narnia s–t,” Alex Wilder (Rhenzy Feliz) whispers upon discovering the secret passageway in his own house leading to the lair for the Pride, the cabal of villains made up of the six kids’ respective parents. Joke aside, this is the Runaways’ Narnia moment: They’re about to enter the figurative wardrobe, a short trip into an entirely new world that will strip them of their innocence and force them to become heroes.

[Click through for our non-spoiler review of Runaways!]

Punk Meets Aliens in the How to Talk to Girls at Parties Trailer

We’ve been hearing about John Cameron Mitchell’s (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s short story “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” for a while now, but now there’s a new trailer to show how Mitchell has broadened the scope of Gaiman’s 18 pages about the gripping awkwardness of boy/girl parties into an otherworldly tale about the anarchy of punk clashing with an alien culture that punishes individuality and rebellion.

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Watch the First Trailer for Hulu and Marvel’s Runaways!

With the Runaways cast grinning widely on the New York Comic-Con stage, Marvel Television’s executive VP Jeph Loeb teased the crowd: “Do they want to see a clip? Do they want to see a clip… that’s 53 minutes long?”

Yep—Loeb rewarded fans of Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona’s Marvel Comics series with a screening of the Runaways pilot, six weeks ahead of its premiere. Read our non-spoiler review here, and click through for the first teaser for the series.

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Learn the Creepy History of Robert the Doll in New Lore Footage

Don’t you want to play with Robert?

Robert just wants to be friends.

Robert can be your very best friend… so long as you don’t cross him.

When asked which episodes of the wildly popular folklore podcast Lore they decided to adapt for television, podcast creator (and co-executive producer of Amazon Studios’ mixed-media adaptation) Aaron Mahnke joked that they went for the “hardcore favorites”: haunted houses, cursed objects, you know the drill. So, it’s no surprise that at New York Comic-Con they showed a clip from the Lore episode starring everyone’s favorite possessed doll, Robert.

But, in typical Lore fashion, there’s so much more behind that eerily vacant gaze.

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There Can Be Only One (of Me): The Horror of Encountering Your Double

If you meet your double, you should kill him.

Alfred Hitchcock utters this aphorism in Johan Grimonprez’s 2009 film Double Take. It rings with familiar folkloric wisdom, hitting a number of primal chords: Shock at seeing yourself in the flesh, outside the confines of a mirror. Revulsion at this unnatural creature. Knowledge, bone-deep, that both of you cannot share the same space.

But why can’t doppelgängers (literally, “double-goers”) coexist alongside their originals? Is it a matter of overpopulation, of space-time-continuum paradoxes, or just the sheer awkwardness of two bodies inhabiting one life? We don’t know, because almost none of the stories get that far. The outcome has been preordained. That’s why we thrill to the familiar image of identical figures locked in symmetrical combat, sympathize with a clone conditioned to kill her sestras, nod knowingly when two doubles enter a room knowing that only one will exit. It’s a narrative ingrained so deeply that we don’t blink at what it requires of its heroes—not just murder, but murder of the self.

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How Modern Horror Franchises Have Embraced Creepypasta to Stay Relevant

Horror cinema has been a self-aware genre for at least twenty years, if you count 1996’s hyper-meta slasher flick Scream as the start of the era—longer if you take into account Abbott and Costello meeting Frankenstein in 1948 or Evil Dead II parodying its predecessor in 1987. But in recent years, horror’s tendency toward metafiction has become even more granular. Whereas the classic franchises commented on the genre of horror itself, modern films are looking within their own bodies of work. In the last year, two “modern classic” franchises have reinvented themselves: Both Blair Witch (2016) and Rings (2017) reference their source material—that is, their original films—by treating them as “creepypasta,” the next evolution of urban legends for those who grew up on the internet.

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