Tor.com content by

Natalie Zutter

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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Brian K. Vaughan Gives the Latest Update on the Y: The Last Man TV Show

It’s been nearly twenty years since Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s landmark comic book series Y: The Last Man was published—and it has taken nearly as long to develop an adaptation that fits the tone and story of their post-apocalyptic series, about a plague that wipes out all of the men except for escape artist Yorick Brown and his monkey Ampersand. For a while, there were plans to turn the 60-issue series into a single feature film, to no avail. At New York Comic-Con 2019, Guerra joked that while a movie adaptation was never the perfect fit, they would have been OK with it because “it’d be like Buffy”—that is, even if it sucked, they could still always make a better TV series later.

The movie never happened, but a TV adaptation is coming to FX in 2020. During their Revisiting Y: The Last Man panel, Vaughan and Guerra shared a few details about the series and how it’s “the version that you guys deserve.”

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Heirs, Beware: Gideon the Ninth’s Surprising Blood Ties to The Westing Game

What do gooey haunted-castle space horror adventure Gideon the Ninth and The Westing Game, a children’s mystery set in an eccentric millionaire’s factory town, have in common? They both have “the” in the title!

No, but really: Despite Tamsyn Muir’s debut novel bringing to mind everything from Sweet Valley High to And Then There Were None, it bears an especial resemblance to Ellen Raskin’s 1979 classic. Both are locked-room mysteries in which sixteen relative strangers must solve a mystery that has something to do with the death and rebirth of an omnipotent man who has been pulling the strings on their entire lives. But more important than the answer is the reward—what they stand to gain from their participation. Their inheritance.

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Ad Astra is an Extended Parable About Absentee Fathers, But What For?

The near-future of James Gray’s beautiful but empty Ad Astra is, according to a helpful-but-still-frustratingly-vague title card, “a time of both hope and conflict.” Space travel is commercial (though still not entirely accessible), and humanity has erected an International Space Antennae tuned to pick up any potential signals from extraterrestrials. If only Earthlings were as proficient at deciphering their own emotional baggage. In particular need of direction is almost inhumanly dispassionate ISA astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt), who undertakes a top-secret mission to the edges of the solar system, urged on by the eternal, universal question: How can I better understand my father?

Er, I mean: Is there intelligent life out there? Ultimately, Ad Astra answers neither, its mood vacillating between pleasantly remote and emotionally overwrought, but it sure looks pretty while doing so.

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Stories Within Stories: 8 Instances of SFF Hyper-Worldbuilding

Authors build elaborate worlds through everything from carefully-chosen foods to amateur map-making to breathtakingly detailed wikis, their attention to detail a signal that these are worlds worthy of getting lost in. Often these are specific moments in the text, or a helpful hand-drawn atlas bookending the epic adventure, or a bonus feature that’s just a click away. But some storytellers go the extra mile, embedding worldbuilding details into their texts as a sort of “found footage”—fictional childhood stories, comic books, or newspaper clippings that appear as excerpts throughout the larger work, and sometimes spill out into the real world.

Crack a book, cross a bridge, hop a spaceship, and check out these eight stories that are wonderfully extra when it comes to worldbuilding, creating children’s stories that can hold up to the classics, spinning off into picture books drawn from your nightmares, or even spawning entirely new real-world book franchises. You know, like you do.

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What Does Serial Box’s Orphan Black: The Next Chapter Hold for the Clone Club?

The first indication that Serial Box’s Orphan Black: The Next Chapter shares DNA with its television series predecessor is in the episode titles. Following series creators Graeme Manson and John Fawcett’s penchant for quoting everything from Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species to Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s poem “Protest,” Serial Box’s stellar writing team (including Malka Older, Madeline Ashby, E.C. Myers, and more) draws inspiration from Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower.

The first episode, written by Older, is called “Our Needs to Shape Us,” taken from Butler’s passage in which a young woman creating a new belief system in the climate-ravaged early 2020s ponders to what level domination or even murder can be justified in order to establish a safe new community. The ends justifying the means was a regular debate on Orphan Black, in which the clones-turned-sestras fought to escape the organization that created them. Now, in this serialized continuation narrated by star Tatiana Maslany, the Clone Club are given the opportunity to reexamine their own needs—and what they’ll sacrifice to attain them—as the stakes rise beyond just Project Leda to encompass genetics and privacy on a global scale.

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“Being Vulnerable Does Not Make You Weak”: Lauren Shippen on Podcast-to-YA-Love-Story The Infinite Noise

As podcasts and especially audio fiction grow in popularity, the medium has seen a crossover from listening to reading: Welcome to Night ValeThe Adventure ZoneAlice Isn’t Dead, and Steal the Stars have all been adapted from fiction podcasts to books that expand the worlds between your headphones into engage your imagination in new ways. With The Infinite Noise, Lauren Shippen, creator of The Bright Sessions and The AM Archives, takes TBS’ most beloved love story—between superpowered empath Caleb and Adam, who “keeps him green”—and builds it out into a poignant story about the challenges of connecting with someone.

Shippen, who also wrote Stitcher’s forthcoming audio drama Marvels, talks the tricky shifts from writing dialogue-only scripts to prose novels, plus headcanons and finding strength in vulnerability.

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“No One Belongs Here”: The Handmaid’s Tale Season 3 Finale and Season 4 Predictions

“June did this,” an emotional Rita whispers to Luke upon their first meeting at an airport in Toronto, after stepping off a plane filled with fifty-odd escapees from Gilead. The entire third season of The Handmaid’s Tale, with its weird stop-and-start pace, summed up in a single line, and yet I couldn’t help having a similar reaction to Luke: OK? So why isn’t she here with them?

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“Your Fight is Over”, Until It’s Not: The 100 Breaks Its Own Rules About Death

By its third episode, The 100 telegraphed everything its viewers needed to know about its relationship to death. Wells Jaha had been set up as one of the ensemble’s protagonists: son of the Ark’s Chancellor who sent 100 juvenile delinquents to their deaths on an irradiated Earth, in love with his best friend Clarke Griffin, trying to emulate his father’s moral rule down on Earth while realizing how flawed the elder Jaha’s strictures are. He was learning, to quote the second episode title, “Earth Skills.”

Then, in “Earth Kills,” a little girl named Charlotte stabs him in the neck because his father killed her parents. RIP Wells Jaha, the Ned Stark of The 100, whose demise made it clear that no one on this show is safe.

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Don’t Cry Because it’s Over, Smile Because it Happened: Ari Aster’s Midsommar

To everything (turn, turn, turn) / There is a season (turn, turn, turn), The Byrds sang. If you listen closely, Ari Aster’s new horror film Midsommar says, you will hear the laughter behind a wrenching sob. No matter how awful it feels in the moment, you will wake up the next morning, and the next, and the next. Even the longest winter will always give way to spring. Whereas Hereditary, the writer/director’s debut feature, is about the sacrificial lamb meeting its preordained end, Midsommar concerns itself with the entire life cycle.

Which, yes, still includes death. Lots and lots and lots of death.

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