O Beautiful, for Sassenach, for auburn waves of hair… The Droughtlander is over, and Outlander season 4 is here! We got to see the premiere, “America the Beautiful,” last month at New York Comic-Con and had to hold our tongues about the episode’s more brutal and shocking moments. But now that it’s aired, there is so much to talk about! Read on for the biggest moments and the most pressing questions, and share your own thoughts in the comments!
Happy National Novel Writing Month! 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.
If you attend a remote summer camp, you have to know there’s a non-zero chance that you’ll get stalked through the woods by a killer with a mask and a machete. If you cheat Death on a plane/the highway/a roller coaster, you can’t be surprised when it comes after you in your daily life in increasingly creative ways. If you pick up the phone when you’re home alone, you’re rolling the dice on whether the voice on the other side of the line wants you dead. Horror is filled with these (and other) scenarios that don’t exactly say that you’re asking for death and dismemberment, but you really should know better by now.
You Might Be the Killer, an entertaining horror-movie riff that began its life as a masterpiece in Twitter improv, engages with these horror tropes and a larger debate about free will: Should you find yourself running through a campground, splattered in blood, are you doomed to be added to the growing kill count by a slow-stalking, relentless killer? …Wait, you’re the one holding the machete and wearing the mask? Ohh, then we have a very different problem. Unfortunately, the answers this movie raises are less than satisfactory.
John Whitman’s 12-book Galaxy of Fear series was the Star Wars Expanded Universe’s attempt to tap into the middle-grade horror market of the late ’90s—bringing Goosebumps to a galaxy far, far away. The series introduced two adorable Alderaanian orphans under the care of their mysterious shape-shifting anthropologist uncle Hoole, and set them loose into every random corner of the Star Wars universe, occasionally crossing paths all the fan favorites from the original (and at the time, only) film trilogy: Luke provides Tash some one-on-one lessons in the Force, while Boba Fett shows up to save Zak from space zombies. Thrawn’s in there somewhere, too, as badass as ever.
These character cameos made Galaxy of Fear the ultimate self-insert fiction—except if you preferred nightmares to fantasies. Because while R.L. Stine’s haunted ventriloquist dummies and egg monsters rarely provoked much of a reaction beyond, well, goosebumps, Galaxy of Fear was the stuff of your deepest, darkest fears: slimy bump monsters, boneworms that sucked you dry, brain-swapping spider robot monks, cute li’l babies that could turn people into goo and suck them up… The kind of body horror and under-the-bed monsters you would never associate with lightsabers and Death Stars and the Force.
After a successful inaugural year, The Neukom Institute for Computational Science at Dartmouth College has announced the 2019 Neukom Institute Literary Arts Awards. Established in 2017, the award honors speculative fiction works in book form (debuts and otherwise) as well as plays. It also recognizes the relationship between science and the arts, the latter which the award website describes as “[a]cting as gadfly for the good, provocateur and satirist when the sciences overreach, but also far-seeing prophets of scientific potential.”
The inaugural winners were Juan Martinez for Best Worst American (in the debut category), Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station and Corinne Duyvis’ On the Edge of Gone (in the open book category), and Jessica Andrewartha’s play Choices People Make.
While they fall on somewhat different points of the morality spectrum, both the Imperial Radch and the Empire of Masks share the same goal: to colonize other alien (whether foreign lands or planets) cultures and convert these peoples into ideal citizens. Here, “ideal” doesn’t necessarily mean “right,” it means one who embodies the culture: uniformity among the many conquered peoples, with clearly-defined codes of conduct, and an aesthetic that sums up the society’s core values. It also comes at the expense of the varied cultures over which they steamroll, condemning and erasing diverse identities.
It’s horrifying and engrossing, and keeps us reading despite the revulsion that bubbles up. But what most keeps us engaged in Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice and Seth Dickinson’s The Traitor Baru Cormorant is the fact that both series’ protagonists—Justice of Toren One Esk, a.k.a. Breq, and Baru Cormorant—have personal vendettas against their systems while they’re in the process of trying to destroy them from the inside. Yet for all their rebellion, they are both on their way to becoming ideal citizens themselves.
It doesn’t seem likely that a nearly beat-for-beat reboot could put such a new spin on old material, yet such is the case with The CW’s forthcoming Roswell, New Mexico. I missed the original series when it premiered in 1999—a combination of being a tad too young, and also Buffy the Vampire Slayer taking up all my too-young-to-be-watching-this time. So at first I didn’t realize that the new series, rebooted by Carina Adly MacKenzie (The Originals), retreads nearly every plot beat of the twenty-year-old pilot—but aging the main characters by ten years and layering the plot with an added dimension of immigration issues makes it a story worth retelling.
Is it anachronistic language? Deadly logic rabbitholes? Or knowing the parameters of an epic fantasy society and then in comes a deus ex machina to completely upend the laws of the world? Patrick Rothfuss (author of The Kingkiller Chronicle) and R.A. Salvatore (who has returned to the Forgotten Realms with a new Drizzt Do’Urden trilogy) sat down with NPR Books’ Petra Mayer at NYCC to talk about what draws them in to epic worlds as readers, and what they endeavor to avoid as writers so as to keep readers engaged in their respective sagas.
For the first time, a season of Outlander begins without Claire worrying about traveling through time—whether forward to Frank, or back to Jamie. After years of bouncing between different times and identities, Dr. Randall/Mrs. Fraser chooses to live in linear time… it just happens to be in 1760s North Carolina. America, too, is the first home that Claire chooses—the first place in which she and Jamie must carve out a life, with neither Scottish clans nor French contacts to rely upon. This duality seems to be the theme of Outlander season 4: the choice is yours to make, but your reward may be nothing but hardship, and that’s the American Dream.
The key theme of Women in [Everything]: Intersectional Feminism Across Genres, one of the first panels at NYCC, was listening: Susana Polo, Comics Editor at Polygon and founder of The Mary Sue, reflected that the first time that she identified as an intersectional feminist was when she realized that “I better start listening” to queer women (at the time, she identified as straight), to women who didn’t pass as white, and other groups. Comics artist Wendy Xu (Mooncakes) chimed in that “[t]he main thing to do is just listen to people who are different from you, who have different life experiences. Practice active listening.”
We were glad to listen to this panel, which also included io9 Deputy Editor Jill Pantozzi, The City in the Middle of the Night author Charlie Jane Anders, cartoonist Christina “Steenz” Stewart (Archival Quality), and moderator Sam Maggs (Girl Squads). Discussion ranged from the panelists’ favorite female characters in SFF currently (the Doctor and Sabrina Spellman, both with big presences at NYCC, got shout-outs) to grappling with representation issues like the Avengers’ Black Widow problem.
Starz screened the first episode of Outlander season 4 at NYCC, a full month ahead of its premiere—a delight for the fans attending, but that will make the Droughtlander even longer for those still waiting. We’ll have more on soon (spoiler: it’s GREAT), but in the meantime, Starz has soothed the burn somewhat by releasing the brand-new opening titles for season 4! As you know, this is very much my jam, and the new titles for Claire and Jamie’s adventures in the New World do not disappoint.
The first teaser for The Boys, Amazon Prime’s adaptation of Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s dark graphic novel about blue-collar vigilantes taking down corrupt superheroes, is a bit of in-universe programming: a commercial for Vought, the agency that manages caped crusaders through the kinds of careers more commonly seen for celebrities or politicians. It’s a short clip but nonetheless gives you a sense of the world that Eric Kripke (Supernatural) and Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Preacher) are adapting for television.
I am getting major Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders feels in the very best way from the first full-length trailer for Netflix and Dreamworks Television’s She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. While the first teaser introduced us to Adora by way of her responding to the Sword of Protection, this season 1 trailer establishes her fascinating arc from a member of the Evil Horde to the promised leader of the Princess Rebellion.
The first scene in Runaways’ season 2 premiere not only is a great little nod to Spaceballs, but also sets the thematic tone for the sophomore season of Marvel and Hulu’s children-of-supervillains series: the members of Pride rush to the police station, believing that their children have been apprehended after missing only 24 hours… only to walk in on a group of lookalikes who are complete strangers. “Those aren’t our kids,” Geoffrey Wilder snaps, as if it should be so easy for the cops to recognize their children—but the truth is that nobody knows who the Runaways really are, not even the Runaways themselves.
Season 1 established the adolescent rite of passage of learning that your parents are not only imperfect, but actually evil, but the Runaways haven’t automatically become one big happy family. Learning the truth about their parents was one thing; this season, they have to examine their own complicated heritages and figure out which of their tangled bonds—to parents and to each other—to honor, and which bonds need to be snipped.
“I have no idea who you are,” an audience member said during one of the Q&A portions of NYCC’s Patrick Rothfuss spotlight—prompting uproarious laughter from the attendees and the epic fantasy author himself. “My friend has been talking about you for a year,” the person went on, “drags me here—you’re hysterically funny—I still don’t know what you write.”
“Well, a lot of people know me from the gaming community,” Rothfuss responded, adding that “if people know of me because of books, it’s because I write fantasy books. Heroic fantasy,” he clarified, casting about for a subgenre, “epic fantasy, big thick fantasy.”
While Rothfuss did take questions about The Kingkiller Chronicle during the spotlight (sorry, no book 3 updates), the most entertaining moment of the night was when he took a question about that other facet of his life—Dungeons & Dragons, specifically, advice for first-time DMs.
“To clarify,” Rothfuss began, to the laughter of attendees spotting the punchline ahead, a DM is of course a Dungeon Master—no, not that kind of Dungeon Master. But then there was a shared moment of wait, this joke could have legs, and the author known for hiding secret meanings in his prose launched into what turned into a rather hilarious series of double entendres.
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