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Natalie Zutter

What I’m Dying to See in Yellowjackets Season 2

Buzz! Buzz! Buzz! After Yellowjackets came out of nowhere like the best kind of jump scare in late 2021, the wait for season 2 is almost over: On March 24, we’ll get some more answers about what really happened to the girls’ soccer team stranded in the woods for 19 months in 1996, and how that has affected the adult survivors 25 years later in 2021. (But not all the answers, since the Showtime series has already been renewed for a third season, with showrunners Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson operating on a five-year plan.) And it all comes back to the Wilderness

Spoilers ahead for season 1!

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Engaging in Fiction: Megan Whalen Turner Explores New Corners of Her World in Moira’s Pen

Hey, remember that time that Megan Whalen Turner concluded her Queen’s Thief series with Return of the Thief’s audaciously happy ending and I wrote a whole piece about challenging my biases about how epic fantasy series are supposed to end? It was a fitting close to an era, of both reading this series for twenty-five years and of my own writing about it. And then two years later, what does Turner do but release a completely unexpected, seemingly unnecessary, poignantly perfect coda in her new short story collection Moira’s Pen.

She got us again.

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Parenting an Idea in Saga

While preparing this piece, I came across a page of notes on Saga, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ long-running space fantasy comic, for a Space Opera Week that for some reason I was convinced never came to fruition. Imagine my surprise when I realized that not only did definitely explore the corners of space opera back in 2017… but I wrote about chasing hope across the universe in none other than Saga.

Blame it on baby brain. But here’s the thing: It’s been almost six years since then, with three more Saga trade paperbacks published in the interim (around a hiatus from 2018-2022), and I might as well be reading this series for the first time as a longtime BKV fan and newish parent—through a route much more convoluted than Marko and Alana’s, yet with a surprising number of parallels. That’s what makes Saga endure so well: Like Hazel, it grows into something new with every break and return, and its place within our comics universe—and its readers’ own personal universes—shifts. Having celebrated its ten-year anniversary a year ago, it hasn’t abandoned its opening line (This is how an idea becomes real), but rather has embraced how it’s not as simple as releasing an idea into the ether; you have to nurture it, even when you feel that you can’t possibly do so, to ensure its survival. And, most crucially, you have to let go of your expectations for what ideas your idea wants to create.

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Emery Robin’s The Stars Undying Immortalizes Cleopatra in an Unforgettable Retelling

Early on in The Stars Undying, Emery Robin’s Cleopatra-in-space-opera debut, the sci-fi analog for the infamous Egyptian queen has revealed herself to the Julius Caesar of interstellar expansion in a move that will be familiar to all of us who eagerly devoured ancient Egyptian history in sixth grade: Szayeti princess Altagracia Caviro Patramata has unrolled herself from a carpet to seduce Ceiao’s beloved commander Matheus Ceirran into joining her side to wrest back control of her planet Szayet (and her birthright, the Pearl of the Dead) from her own sister. Right before the kiss that will alter her kingdom and his empire, as he marvels at her crude yet effective gambit, Gracia quips, “Oh, please, Commander, tell me how you would have done it differently.”

There are a myriad of different approaches to a Cleopatra retelling, but Robin’s meticulous narrative choices dazzle. Though Robin follows the blueprints of the Cleopatra/Julius Caesar/Mark Antony love triangle, the space setting and the incorporation of technology (including some that approaches magic) elevate this trio of rulers and soldiers beyond their historical archetypes. This is a compelling (if slightly overlong) epic of couplings versus coups, worship versus heresy, memory versus immortality.

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Disney’s Lackluster Sequel Disenchanted Forgets Where It Came From

If Disney’s Enchanted was a sly-yet-still-sincere fairy tale mashup, its sequel Disenchanted is more like an overproduced, unnecessary remix, atonal and completely missing the point of the magical, musical synergy the first time around. The premise is certainly promising: Giselle (Amy Adams), the Andalasian maiden transported to the mean streets of New York City, has found her Happily Ever After in divorce lawyer Robert (Patrick Dempsey) and his sweet daughter Morgan (Rachel Covey). But enough years have passed since that HEA that this family—with Morgan (Gabriella Baldacchino) now a sarcastic teenager and a new baby in the mix—feel squeezed out of their Manhattan apartment and flee to the suburbs in the hopes of tapping into that magic again. But when naïve, well-meaning Giselle makes a wish for their lives to be more like a fairy tale, she traps them all in a disingenuous fantasy world—one that transforms her into the wicked stepmother.

Yet the movie never follows through on the relationship dynamics that were established before the spell; it misses every opportunity to have Giselle or Morgan actually say or do something wicked, something hurtful, that will need more than a wave of the wand to fix. Despite Enchanted having a whole song dedicated to how you have to tell someone how you feel, Disenchanted forgot the lesson, with the end result being a vacant-eyed, passive adventure into a briefly entertaining modern fairy tale.

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The Handmaid’s Tale Season 5 Finale: Sisterhood of the Traveling Moms

Even though this might be the first season of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale that June has spent basically no time in Gilead, these ten episodes have been full of herrings as red as a Handmaid’s robes. After teasing which of her men June was going to end up with—crossing the border into No Man’s Land with Luke, separated but then reunited, over and over; Nick pacing back and forth over the Gilead/Canada border, fraught phone calls and furtive hospital visits—of course this season wasn’t going to end on June deciding on one of them to run with.

Instead, it’s the last person she would have chosen, and yet in the moment I still burst out cackling because it’s the only outcome that makes sense.

But first, a murder truck and “Kokomo.”

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Halloween Ends Fails to Bring the Rebooted Horror Franchise Full Circle

Halloween Ends opens its main action with a voiceover from none other than Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), in what initially seems like a cheeky nod to the inciting action of the 2018 Halloween reboot: Is she recording a podcast?? After the duo of opportunistic true-crime enthusiasts got eviscerated in a gas station for trying to goad Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney) back into stalking Laurie with intent to finally kill her, would Laurie have gotten her darkly comic revenge by turning her admittedly very lucrative life story into entertainment, very Only Murders in Haddonfield?

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Meg Elison’s Number One Fan Rewrites Misery for the Modern SFF Publishing World

One of the most unforgettably chilling moments in Number One Fan, Meg Elison’s gender-swapped update of Stephen King’s horror classic Misery, happens in the opening pages: Urban fantasy author Eli Grey has just gotten into a rideshare with a male driver, only to get a notification that her female driver has cancelled her ride. Rather than note that red flag, Eli automatically assumes that she must have booked two rides—whatever makes it her fault for the mixup, and not worth confronting why a strange man might have picked her up at the airport. As the ride stretches on uncomfortably, Eli twists herself into mental knots justifying her mistake rather than looking for any malevolent intent. And then she gets roofied and wakes up in the basement of—you guessed it—her number one fan.

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Falling for Language, and Translation as Destruction: R.F. Kuang’s Babel

It’s rare that a book title so perfectly communicates the breadth of its story at a glance. But when R.F. Kuang’s book deal was first announced in 2021, how could we not spend the intervening year eagerly waiting to crack the spine on Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution? It tells us everything to expect tonally but also nothing of the emotional journey that will take place in this alternate-history fantasy doorstopper.

This is a scrupulously researched, ruthlessly cutting rejoinder to books like Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, except that the murder around which this cohort of students is bound in blood is the attempted fall of colonialism. (Well, and also a literal murder. Several, really. It’s a very bloody book.)

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The Handmaid’s Tale Season 5 Premiere: The Judgment of Gilead is June vs. Serena

With the confirmation that Hulu has renewed The Handmaid’s Tale for a sixth and final season, there’s a relief in finally hitting the home stretch. The last few seasons have tended toward the repetitive, making big swings back and forth between poles so often that each plot “twist” begins to lose its resonance: June (Elisabeth Moss) is leaving Gilead. No, she’s going back in for Hannah. No, she’s in Canada. Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) is leaving Fred. Wait, she’s back on his side, at least for appearances. Nope, it’s all part of her long game in finally cutting ties with Gilead and its Commander. Except that she’s pregnant. But now, lucky Serena, Fred is dead.

The same swing happens between the two women themselves, who constantly trade positions of power relative to one another. It’s a compelling dynamic, as they have loads of fraught history and are especially engaging to watch on the rare occasions that they work together, but something needs to actually change. If all we watch for the next two seasons is two white women play the game of who has the higher ground, The Handmaid’s Tale will fumble its own potential legacy.

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You’ve Got a Charming Fantasy Romance: The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy by Megan Bannen

In Megan Bannen’s adult fantasy romance debut The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy, magic is almost an afterthought: The Shrek-like fantasy town of Eternity leans more toward steampunk, dotted with gaslight lamps and amphibious autoduck vehicles. The reader almost forgets about the presence of magic, until a nimkilim (or animal mail carrier) hops or flies to the door with a letter, or when a drudge (or zombie) shambles into town.

Despite the You’ve Got Mail comparisons—and though the characters are certainly well-read (with Mercy an especial fan of demigod/mortal romance)—it’s not bookstores that are in competition, but funeral homes. The business of death is booming, thanks to an overabundance of drudges to be prepared for the afterlife. But the real magic—the spark that startles ordinary people and makes them believe in something impossible—comes in the form of a letter to A Friend, where a pen and a lonely impulse transforms virtual strangers into correspondents, confidantes, and potentially something more.

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Tamsyn Muir on Lyctorhood as Genderfuckery and Greasy Bible Study in Nona the Ninth

The best way that I can sum up the experience of reading Nona the Ninth is (and I say as much below in this interview) like watching Captain America: The Winter Soldier and sitting on your hands screaming at Cap to realize that it’s Bucky!!! beneath the mask. Every memorable line in Tamsyn Muir’s The Locked Tomb series is embedded in layers of context, like skeletons buried just below the surface of the Ninth House. So even though we don’t know who Nona is at the start of the third novel (despite having a bevy of theories), it quickly becomes apparent that we know her world and that we recognize the people she loves, even if they’re known by different names.

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The Other Side: The Time Traveler’s Wife, “Episode Six”

After six episodes and 150-plus jumps back and forth across the timeline, Clare Abshire has officially accepted the mantle of The Time Traveler’s Wife, and Henry DeTamble has become… the jerk who got a vasectomy (or is he??). Steven Moffat’s brilliant-if-imperfect adaptation has wrapped its first (and potentially only) season with, what else, a timey-wimey wedding that honors the layered love story these half-dozen episodes have depicted, while still staying true to the minor tragedies of their relationship that Audrey Niffenegger laid out in her lovely, dark book.

But if this show has taught us anything, it’s that there aren’t really endings or beginnings, just returning to new and familiar moments over and over again. Which is to say, let’s end our watch on a high note, appreciating just how many things went wrong for this season (series?) finale to turn out near-perfectly right.

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Bottomless Brunch: The Time Traveler’s Wife, “Episode Four”

This is it—lo those many years ago, when I said I wanted Steven Moffat to turn The Time Traveler’s Wife into a Coupling-esque farce, this is what I meant. This fourth episode is my favorite of the season, though the pilot is close behind, and the finale finds its own fun ways to futz with time. But today it’s brunch with two time travelers, an ex-(??)girlfriend, and Clare’s many romantic experiments post- and pre-Henry. It’s clever and awkward and a little sexy and deeply tragic.

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